Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis


Can people differentiate what they know from what they do not? Several lines of research suggest that people are not always accurate judges of their knowledge and often overestimate how much they know. Research on overconfidence finds that people commonly judge the accuracy of their judgments too favorably and typically overestimate how well they perform everyday tasks relative to other people. Work on the illusion of explanatory depth demonstrates that participants tend to think they have a better understanding of how objects work (e.g., a ballpoint pen) than they can demonstrate when that understanding is put to the test.

At times, people even claim knowledge they cannot possibly have, because the object of their knowledge does not exist, a phenomenon known as overclaiming. For example, in the late 1970s, nearly a third of American respondents expressed an opinion about the “1975 Public Affairs Act” when asked about it directly, even though the act was a complete fiction. Approximately a fifth of consumers report having used products that are actually nonexistent. More recent research has asked participants to rate their familiarity with a mix of real and nonexistent concepts, names, and events in domains such as philosophy, life sciences, physical sciences, and literature. Participants reported being familiar with the real items but also, to a lesser degree, with the nonexistent ones. […]

What underlies assertions of such impossible knowledge? We found that people overclaim to the extent that they perceive their personal expertise favorably. […]

A sizable body of work on how people evaluate their own knowledge suggests that they rely not only on a direct examination of their mental contents but also on a feeling of knowing. Notably, a feeling of knowing is often only weakly predictive of actual knowledge and appears to be informed, at least in part, by top-down inferences about what should be or probably is known. We theorized that such inferences are drawn from people’s preconceived notions about their expertise, inducing a feeling of knowing that then prompts overclaiming.

{ Psychological Science | PDF }

We are for the dark


Decades of research have shown that humans are so-called cognitive misers. When we approach a problem, our natural default is to tap the least tiring cognitive process. Typically this is what psychologists call type 1 thinking, famously described by Nobel Prize–winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman as automatic, intuitive processes that are not very strenuous.

This is in contrast to type 2 thinking, which is slower and involves processing more cues in the environment. Defaulting to type 1 makes evolutionary sense: if we can solve a problem more simply, we can bank extra mental capacity for completing other tasks. A problem arises, however, when the simple cues available are either insufficient or vastly inferior to the more complex cues at hand.

Exactly this kind of conflict can occur when someone chooses to believe a personal opinion over scientific evidence or statistics.

{ Scientific American | Continue reading }

‘Love is joy with the accompanying idea of an external cause.’ –Spinoza


Past research showed that people accumulate more knowledge about other people and objects they like compared to those they dislike. More knowledge is commonly assumed to lead to more differentiated mental representations; therefore, people should perceive others they like as less similar to one another than others they dislike.

We predict the opposite outcome based on the density hypothesis; accordingly, positive impressions are less diverse than negative impressions as there are only a few ways to be liked but many ways to be disliked. Therefore, people should perceive liked others as more similar to one another than disliked others even though they have more knowledge about liked others.

Seven experiments confirm this counterintuitive prediction and show a strong association between liking and perceived similarity in person perception.

{ Journal of Experimental Social Psychology | Continue reading }

‘We have art lest we perish from the truth.’ –Nietzsche


What happens to us as we accrue knowledge and experience, as we become experts in a field? Competence follows. Effortlessness follows. But certain downsides can follow too. We reported recently on how experts are vulnerable to an overclaiming error – falsely feeling familiar with things that seem true of a domain but aren’t. Now a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology explores how feelings of expertise can lead us to be more dogmatic towards new ideas.

{ BPS | Continue reading }

Be careful not to gamble on a guy with a suitcase and a ticket getting out of here


In Experiment 1 (N = 218), where female participants rated male facial attractiveness, the facilitative effect of smiling was present when judging long-term partners but absent for short-term partners. This pattern was observed for East Asians as well as for Europeans. […]

Related to this issue, Morrison et al. (2013) compared the attractiveness of faces displaying the six basic emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise). Faces with a happy expression were rated to be more attractive than faces with the other emotions, but they were rated as attractive as neutral ones.

{ Evolutionary Psychology | Continue reading }

related { Transferring the expressions of one person’s face to the other in realtime }

And then he’s drunk and never even told her that he cared


This research examines the role of alcohol consumption on self-perceived attractiveness. Study 1, carried out in a barroom (N= 19), showed that the more alcoholic drinks customers consumed, the more attractive they thought they were.

In Study 2, 94 non-student participants in a bogus taste-test study were given either an alcoholic beverage (target BAL [blood alcohol level]= 0.10 g/100 ml) or a non-alcoholic beverage, with half of each group believing they had consumed alcohol and half believing they had not (balanced placebo design). After consuming beverages, they delivered a speech and rated how attractive, bright, original, and funny they thought they were. The speeches were videotaped and rated by 22 independent judges. Results showed that participants who thought they had consumed alcohol gave themselves more positive self-evaluations. However, ratings from independent judges showed that this boost in self-evaluation was unrelated to actual performance.

{ British Journal of Psychology | PDF }

When you have craved truth as you crave air, then you will know what truth is


We review recent evidence revealing that the mere willingness to engage analytic reasoning as a means to override intuitive “gut feelings” is a meaningful predictor of key psychological outcomes in diverse areas of everyday life. For example, those with a more analytic thinking style are more skeptical about religious, paranormal, and conspiratorial concepts. In addition, analytic thinking relates to having less traditional moral values, making less emotional or disgust-based moral judgments, and being less cooperative and more rationally self-interested in social dilemmas. Analytic thinkers are even less likely to offload thinking to smartphone technology and may be more creative.

{ SSRN | Continue reading }

oil on canvas { Alberto Giacometti, Portrait of Pierre Josse, 1961 }

Prank your future self by wasting your life


Health has been identified as an important variable involved in mate choice. Unhealthy organisms are generally less able to provide reproductively important resources to partners and offspring and are more likely to pass on communicable disease.

Research on human mate preferences has shown that both men and women prefer healthy mates. Yet to date, little research has examined how health relates to one’s own mating experiences. In the present study, 164 participants (87 women) who were currently in heterosexual romantic relationships completed measures of frequency and severity of health problems, anticipated partner infidelity, and intensity of jealousy felt in their current relationship. […]

[I]ndividuals who believe they are in poor health are also likely to perceive themselves to be at a mating disadvantage. Results indicated that self-reported poor health, in terms of both frequency and severity of health symptoms, predicted a greater perception that one’s partner would commit an infidelity as well as increased romantic jealousy. Anticipated partner infidelity mediated the links between health problems and jealousy, suggesting that unhealthy individuals perceive their partners as being more likely to mate with an intrasexual (same-sex) rival, in turn facilitating jealousy.

{ Evolutionary Psychology | PDF }

It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself


A new study from Duke University finds that adolescents ages 10 to 16 can be more analytical in their economic choices than many slightly older young adults. […]

Scott Huettel, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke: “The new results point to the idea that we should not think of adolescents as being irrational. What’s different about them is they don’t use simple rules as effectively.”

Such simple rules are the mental shortcuts people take in decision-making—often to their benefit—as they age and gain more experience. Most adults apply the “don’t drink and drive” rule, for example, to avoid getting in a car with someone who’s been drinking. In contrast, teens may more carefully weigh this decision.

“Adolescents are going to be more likely to use cost-benefit analysis than the (simple rules) that adults use.” […]

Other research has shown that adolescents aren’t necessarily more risk-seeking but that they are more sensitive to good outcomes compared with adults.

{ Science Beta | Continue reading }

photo { Vasantha Yogananthan }

‘Every word is a prejudice.’ –Nietzsche


In daily life, we frequently encounter false claims in the form of consumer advertisements, political propaganda, and rumors. Repetition may be one way that insidious misconceptions, such as the belief that vitamin C prevents the common cold, enter our knowledge base. Research on the illusory truth effect demonstrates that repeated statements are easier to process, and subsequently perceived to be more truthful, than new statements.

The prevailing assumption in the literature has been that knowledge constrains this effect (i.e., repeating the statement “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” will not make you believe it). We tested this assumption. […]

Contrary to prior suppositions, illusory truth effects occurred even when participants knew better. […] Participants demonstrated knowledge neglect, or the failure to rely on stored knowledge, in the face of fluent processing experiences.

{ Journal of Experimental Psychology | Continue reading }

‘It’s about a guy who acts like he knows everything and then comes back crawling on his knees, which has happened to me so many times.’ —Claire Boucher


An experiment was carried out in a French bar. A waitress briefly touched (or not) the forearm of a patron when asking him/her what he/she want to drink. Results show that touch increases tipping behavior although giving a tip to a waitress in a bar is unusual in France. The familiarity of tactile contact in France was used to explain our results.

{ International Journal of Hospitality Management | Continue reading }

still { Ingmar Bergman, The Passion of Anna, 1969 }

A tweeker will steal your stuff and then help you look for it


“Despite the common belief that remembering our mistakes will help us make better decisions in the present,” says the study’s lead author, “we actually find that thinking about our failures at self-control leads us to repeat them and indulge in the present, so it’s not helpful at all.”

{ EurekAlert | Continue reading }