[UC San Diego psychologists Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt] ran three experiments with a total of 12 short stories. Three types of stories were studied: ironic-twist, mystery and literary. Each story—classics by the likes of John Updike, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Raymond Carver—was presented as-is (without a spoiler), with a prefatory spoiler paragraph or with that same paragraph incorporated into the story as though it were a part of it. Each version of each story was read by at least 30 subjects. Data from subjects who had read the stories previously were excluded.
Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man’s daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck.
The same held true for mysteries. Knowing ahead of time that Poirot will discover that the apparent target of attempted murder is, in fact, the perpetrator not only didn’t hurt enjoyment of the story but actually improved it.
Subjects liked the literary, evocative stories least overall, but still preferred the spoiled versions over the unspoiled ones.
The next time you stub your toe, take out a telescope and look at your foot through the wrong end: According to researchers at Oxford University, such visual distortions have a powerful effect on how we perceive pain.
The scientists found that subjects who looked at a wounded hand through the right end of a pair of binoculars felt more pain and experienced increased swelling in that limb. But when the binoculars were flipped around, the suffering and swelling were lessened dramatically.
Researchers at Northwestern have found that feeling powerless leads people to shell out for expensive status items to bolster their egos — explaining why those deep in debt continue to spend. “After recalling situations where they were powerless, participants were willing to pay more for items that signal status, like silk ties and fur coats, but not products like minivans and dryers. They also agreed to pay more for a framed picture of their university if it was portrayed as rare and exclusive.” Okay, can’t really comprehend a situation demeaning enough that we’d be willing to pay any amount of money for a framed picture of our alma mater but who hasn’t restored a flagging sense of self with a handsome necktie from time to time? [Science Daily]
Researchers found that people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down while in that posture concerning whether they were qualified for a job.
On the other hand, those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept these written-down feelings about their own qualifications.
The results show how our body posture can affect not only what others think about us, but also how we think about ourselves, said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
“Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people,” Petty said. “But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you’re in.”
Lewis Terman, the inventor of the Stanford-Binet IQ test, came to a similar conclusion. He spent decades following a large sample of “gifted” students, searching for evidence that his measurement of intelligence was linked to real world success. While the most accomplished men did have slightly higher scores, Terman also found that other traits, such as “perseverance,” were much more pertinent. Terman concluded that one of the most fundamental tasks of modern psychology was to figure out why intelligence is not a more important part of achievement: “Why this is so, and what circumstances affect the fruition of human talent, are questions of such transcendent importance that they should be investigated by every method that promises the slightest reduction of our present ignorance.”
Unfortunately, in the decades following Terman’s declaration, little progress was made on the subject. Because intelligence was so easy to measure - the IQ test could be given to schoolchildren, and often took less than an hour - it continued to dominate research on individual achievement.
The end result, says James J. Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, is that “there was a generation of social scientists who focused almost exclusively on trying to raise IQ and academic test scores. The assumption was that intelligence is what mattered and what could be measured, and so everything else, all these non-cognitive traits like grit and self-control, shouldn’t be bothered with.”
A classic experiment involved asking people to donate to help hungry children in West Africa. One group was asked to help a seven-year-old girl named Rokia, in the country of Mali. A second was asked to donate to help millions of hungry children. A third was asked to help Rokia but was provided with statistical information that gave them a larger context for her hunger. Not surprisingly, people donated more than twice as much to help Rokia as to help millions of children. But it turned out that even providing background information on African hunger diminished empathy, so people were much less willing to help Rokia when she represented a broader problem. Donors didn’t want to help ease a crisis personi fied by a child; they just wanted to help one person—and to hell with the crisis.
As we all vaguely know, one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. As Mother Teresa said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” Professor Slovic calls the first reaction “psychic numbing.” But Slovic wanted to know at what point the number of victims triggers psychic numbing. He set out to find out, and his findings were deeply depressing.
In one of Slovic’s experiments, people were asked to donate to Rokia or, in other cases, to a similar hungry boy, Moussa. In each case, research subjects were quite willing to help and donated generously either to Rokia or to Moussa. But when people were asked to donate to Rokia and Moussa together, with their photographs side by side, donations decreased. Slovic found that our empathy begins to fade when the number of victims reaches just two. As he puts it: “The more who die, the less we care.”
A practical application of these concepts came during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The white government there had imprisoned many brave activists, and there was a global campaign focusing on freeing these political prisoners. It never gained traction, however, until the organizers had the idea of refocusing it on an individual and came up with the slogan “Free Mandela!” Once there was a face on the movement, it resonated far more widely—and, ultimately, helped topple apartheid.
Guilt in its many varieties — Puritan, Catholic, Jewish, etc. — has often gotten a bad rap, but psychologists keep finding evidence of its usefulness. Too little guilt clearly has a downside — most obviously in sociopaths who feel no remorse, but also in kindergartners who smack other children and snatch their toys. Children typically start to feel guilt in their second year of life, says Grazyna Kochanska, who has been tracking children’s development for two decades in her laboratory at the University of Iowa….
“Children respond with acute and intense tension and negative emotions when they are tempted to misbehave, or even anticipate violating norms and rules,” Dr. Kochanska said. “They remember, often subconsciously, how awful they have felt in the past.”
In Dr. Kochanska’s latest studies, published in the August issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, she and colleagues found that 2-year-olds who showed more chagrin during the broken-toy experiment went on to have fewer behavioral problems over the next five years. That was true even for the ones who scored low on tests measuring their ability to focus on tasks and suppress strong desires to act impulsively.
Creativity is commonly thought of as a personality trait that resides within the individual. We count on creative people to produce the songs, movies, and books we love; to invent the new gadgets that can change our lives; and to discover the new scientific theories and philosophies that can change the way we view the world. Over the past several years, however, social psychologists have discovered that creativity is not only a characteristic of the individual, but may also change depending on the situation and context. The question, of course, is what those situations are: what makes us more creative at times and less creative at others?
One answer is psychological distance. According to the construal level theory (CLT) of psychological distance, anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves falls into the “psychologically distant” category. It’s also possible to induce a state of “psychological distance” simply by changing the way we think about a particular problem, such as attempting to take another person’s perspective, or by thinking of the question as if it were unreal and unlikely. In this new paper, by Lile Jia and colleagues at Indiana University at Bloomington, scientists have demonstrated that increasing psychological distance so that a problem feels farther away can actually increase creativity.
For years, Republicans have been trying to create a large investor class with policies like private Social Security accounts, medical savings accounts and education vouchers. These policies were based on the belief that investors are careful, rational actors who make optimal decisions. There was little allowance made for the frailty of the decision-making process, let alone the mass delusions that led to the current crack-up.
Democrats also have an unfaced crisis. Democratic discussions of the stimulus package also rest on a mechanical, dehumanized view of the economy. You pump in a certain amount of money and “the economy” spits out a certain number of jobs. Democratic economists issue highly specific accounts of multiplier effects — whether a dollar of spending creates $1.20 or $1.40 of economic activity. . . .
Mechanistic thinkers on the right and left pose as rigorous empiricists. But empiricism built on an inaccurate view of human nature is just a prison.
Internet | The meaning of LOLcats, explained by a Psychology Today editor: “Just as the dogs in the New Yorker cartoons don’t represent actual dogs, these cats don’t represent cats at all, but people. By using cats, icanhascheezburger can access themes more tragic and poignant than it could using people.” [Salon]
Does the nature of psychotic delusions change over the centuries? Or are “crazy” people crazy in the same ways regardless of where and when they lived and died?
Slovenian researchers analyzed more than 120 years’ worth of patient reports from the Ljubljana mental hospital, and their findings suggest that psychotic delusions are profoundly shaped by contemporary society, with the technology of the day—be it the telegraph or the television—playing a prominent role. The researchers also found that the “persecution delusion” (a paranoid narrative in which the subject feels hounded by evildoers) is a relatively modern phenomenon: a reaction to the possibility of nuclear war and to Cold War conspiracy flicks like The Manchurian Candidate. In this sense, schizophrenic delusions are a twisted mirror to the world we live in.
In 1904, the Anti-Tipping Society of America sprang up in Georgia, and its 100,000 members signed pledges not to tip anyone for a year. Leagues of traveling salesmen opposed the tip, as did most labor unions. In 1909, Washington became the first of six states to pass an anti-tipping law. But tipping persisted. The new laws rarely were enforced, and when they were, they did not hold up in court. By 1926, every anti-tipping law had been repealed.
The finding from our first study, that when you make people feel poor they play more, is especially sad since playing the lottery is on average a massively losing proposition. The propensity of low income individuals to play the lottery has the perverse effect of exacerbating their poverty. Although there are no easy solutions to the problem, one obvious one would be to cease marketing and advertising that targets the poor. It probably makes sense for the state to sell lottery tickets, because otherwise they will be sold by organized crime. However, does it really make sense for the state to be inducing, through advertising, poor people to play who wouldn’t play in the absence of such inducement?
Similarly, states could promote and offer more games that appeal to wealthier players, such as Powerball, and not those popular with poorer players, such as instant scratch-off tickets. Another obvious solution, though one that is even less likely to be implemented, would be for the state to increase the payout on the tickets, and perhaps to increase the number of moderate size prizes.
Finally, a third option would be for financial institutions to issue investment instruments that have lottery-like qualities (for example, offered in small amounts, available at many convenient points of purchase, provide a small chance of a large upside) but offer a positive rate of return, providing the pleasure of playing the lottery without the steep cost. In many other countries “prize bonds” or other savings instruments are available that pay lottery winnings in place of, or in addition to, regular interest. Regulations in the United States have stymied the development of such offerings.
Even after controlling for variables such as race, income and education levels, a state’s dominant personality turns out to be strongly linked to certain outcomes. Amiable states, like Minnesota, tend to be lower in crime. Dutiful states—an eclectic bunch that includes New Mexico, North Carolina and Utah—produce a disproportionate share of mathematicians. States that rank high in openness to new ideas are quite creative, as measured by per-capita patent production. But they’re also high-crime and a bit aloof. Apparently, Californians don’t much like socializing, the research suggests.
Why is making a determination so taxing? Evidence implicates two important components: commitment and tradeoff resolution. The first is predicated on the notion that committing to a given course requires switching from a state of deliberation to one of implementation. In other words, you have to make a transition from thinking about options to actually following through on a decision. This switch, according to Vohs, requires executive resources. In a parallel investigation, Yale University professor Nathan Novemsky and his colleagues suggest that the mere act of resolving tradeoffs may be depleting. For example, in one study, the scientists show that people who had to rate the attractiveness of different options were much less depleted than those who had to actually make choices between the very same options.
In his column, Brooks suggests that the “cognitive revolution” in the study of religion will likely encourage belief systems that focus on “self-transcendence” but discourage “the idea of a personal God.” The more genuinely cognitive trend in contemporary science of religion does not directly bear upon whether one should hold any given religious beliefs, but if it offers any clues as to which religious beliefs are likely to remain resilient in the future, it suggests that belief in personal gods aren’t going anywhere soon. A common refrain in CSR is the naturalness of belief in supernatural agents or gods. In his review of the cognitive and evolutionary studies of religion, anthropologist Scott Atran writes: “Supernatural agency is the most culturally recurrent, cognitively relevant, and evolutionarily compelling concept in religion. The concept of the supernatural is culturally derived from an innate cognitive schema.”
Bumper stickers such as “Make Love, Not War” and “More Trees, Less Bush” speak volumes about a vehicle’s driver — but maybe not in the way they might hope. People who customize their cars with stickers and other adornments are more prone to road rage than other people, according to researchers in Colorado… .
The researchers recorded whether people had added seat covers, bumper stickers, special paint jobs, stereos and even plastic dashboard toys… . People who had a larger number of personalized items on or in their car were 16% more likely to engage in road rage, the researchers report in the journal Applied Social Psychology.
“The number of territory markers predicted road rage better than vehicle value, condition or any of the things that we normally associate with aggressive driving,” say Szlemko. What’s more, only the number of bumper stickers, and not their content, predicted road rage — so “Jesus saves” may be just as worrying to fellow drivers as “Don’t mess with Texas”.
Szlemko admits that he is not entirely surprised by the results. “We have to remember that humans are animals too,” he says. “It’s unrealistic to believe that we should not be territorial.”