science

The same equations have the same solutions

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Connecting with others increases happiness, but strangers in close proximity routinely ignore each other. Why? Two reasons seem likely: Either solitude is a more positive experience than interacting with strangers, or people misunderstand the consequences of distant social connections. […]

Prior research suggests that acting extroverted—that is, acting bold, assertive, energetic, active, adventurous, and talkative (the exact list has varied by study)—in laboratory experiments involving group tasks like solving jigsaw puzzles and planning a day together, generally leads to greater positive affect than acting introverted—lethargic, passive, and quiet—in those same situations. […]

Connecting with a stranger is positive even when it is inconsistent with the prevailing social norm. […]

Our experiments tested interactions that lasted anywhere from a few minutes to as long as 40 minutes, but they did not require repeated interactions or particularly long interactions with the same random stranger. Nobody in the connection condition, for instance, spent the weekend with a stranger on a train. Indeed, some research suggests that liking for a stranger may peak at a relatively short interaction, and then decline over time as more is learned about another person.

If, however, the amount of time spent in conversation with a distant stranger is inversely related to its pleasantness at some point along the time spectrum, then this only makes the results of our experiments even more surprising. On trains, busses, and waiting rooms, the duration of the conversation is relatively limited. These could be the kinds of brief “social snacks” with distant others that are maximally pleasant, and yet people still routinely avoid them.

{ Journal of Experimental Psychology: General | PDF | More: These Psychologists Think We’d Be Happier If We Talked to Strangers More }

photo { Robert Adams, Our Lives and Our Children, 1981 }

Everyone’s trying to be who they’re not

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Major theories propose that spontaneous responding to others’ actions involves mirroring, or direct matching.

Responding to facial expressions is assumed to follow this matching principle: People smile to smiles and frown to frowns.

We demonstrate here that social power fundamentally changes spontaneous facial mimicry of emotional expressions, thereby challenging the direct-matching principle.

{ Journal of Experimental Psychology: General | PDF }

Lube in my eye

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In general, we can detect a lie only about 54% of the time. […] We may not be very good detectors of lies, but as a species we are incredibly good at lying. […]

The more intelligent an animal is, the more likely it is to lie, which puts us humans right at the top of the ladder. Research has also shown that the best liars are also the best at detecting lies. […]

Given our increasing intelligence and the fairly basic methods used in lie detection, it seems unlikely that we’ll produce lie detectors that can pass muster in the near future. We have yet to fully understand the underlying psychological processes of lying so asking a machine to code it is ambitious, to say the least.

{ The Conversation | Continue reading }

images { Tilman Zitzmann | 2 }

‘Several excuses are always less convincing than one.’ —Aldous Huxley

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In the U.S., couples with daughters are somewhat more likely to divorce than couples with sons. Many scholars have read those numbers as evidence that daughters cause divorce. […]

Previous studies have argued that fathers prefer boys and are more likely to stay in marriages that produce sons. Conversely, the argument runs, men are more likely to leave a marriage that produces daughters. That scholarly claim has been around for decades, and has gained a following in popular culture. […]

A new research from Duke University suggests something quite different may be at play. […] Throughout the life course, girls and women are generally hardier than boys and men. At every age from birth to age 100, boys and men die in greater proportions than girls and women. Epidemiological evidence also suggests that the female survival advantage actually begins in utero. These more robust female embryos may be better able to withstand stresses to pregnancy, the new paper argues, including stresses caused by relationship conflict.

Based on an analysis of longitudinal data from a nationally representative sample of U.S. residents from 1979 to 2010, Hamoudi and Nobles say a couple’s level of relationship conflict predicts their likelihood of subsequent divorce.

Strikingly, the authors also found that a couple’s level of relationship conflict at a given time also predicted the sex of children born to that couple at later points in time. Women who reported higher levels of marital conflict were more likely in subsequent years to give birth to girls, rather than boys.

{ EurekAlert | Continue reading }

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How would it be possible, if salvation were ready to our hand, and could without great labour be found, that it should be by almost all men neglected? But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.

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An extensive literature addresses citizen ignorance, but very little research focuses on misperceptions. Can these false or unsubstantiated beliefs about politics be corrected? […] Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a ‘‘backfire effect’’ in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.

{ Springer Science+Business Media | PDF }

I ain’t got no money, I ain’t like those other guys you hang around

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{ DNA tests prove your close friends are probably distant relatives }

images { 1 | 2 }

What the phone say? Then it must be Carly…

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Study: A 3 Second Interruption Doubles Your Odds of Messing Up

It’s called “contextual jitter” — in the time it takes to silence your cell phone, you’ve already lost track of what you were doing.

When their attention was shifted from the task at hand for a mere 2.8 seconds, they became twice as likely to mess up the sequence. The error rate tripled when the interruptions averaged 4.4 seconds.

{ The Atlantic | Continue reading }

Crying (due to loss of tooth)

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Recent experimental studies show that emotions can have a significant effect on the way we think, decide, and solve problems. This paper presents a series of four experiments on how emotions affect logical reasoning.

In two experiments different groups of participants first had to pass a manipulated intelligence test. Their emotional state was altered by giving them feedback, that they performed excellent, poor or on average. Then they completed a set of logical inference problems (with if p, then q statements) either in a Wason selection task paradigm or problems from the logical propositional calculus.

Problem content also had either a positive, negative or neutral emotional value. Results showed a clear effect of emotions on reasoning performance. Participants in negative mood performed worse than participants in positive mood, but both groups were outperformed by the neutral mood reasoners.

Problem content also had an effect on reasoning performance. In a second set of experiments, participants with exam or spider phobia solved logical problems with contents that were related to their anxiety disorder (spiders or exams). Spider phobic participants’ performance was lowered by the spider-content, while exam anxious participants were not affected by the exam-related problem content.

Overall, unlike some previous studies, no evidence was found that performance is improved when emotion and content are congruent. These results have consequences for cognitive reasoning research and also for cognitively oriented psychotherapy and the treatment of disorders like depression and anxiety.

{ Frontiers | Continue reading }

photo { Ester Grass Vergara }

‘Imagine how much harder physics would be if electrons had feelings.’ –Richard Feynman

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Trivers (1976) introduced his theory of self-deception over three decades ago. According to his theory, individuals deceive themselves to better deceive others by placing truthful information in the unconscious while consciously presenting false information to others as well as the self without leaving cues to be detected of deception. […]

Humans and other primates live in hierarchical social groups where status influences resource distribution. High-status individuals who attained their position either by force or social intelligence have more resources than low-status individuals and have the power to punish the latter for rule violations. Low-status individuals who are under constant surveillance often attempt to hide resources from high-status individuals. In this case, low-status individuals should be more motivated to deceive, whereas high-status individuals should be more motivated to detect deception. High-status individuals have more honest means (through force or by changing the rules) to acquire resources than do low-status individuals. High-status individuals also have more resources—including information leading to the deception detection—and the means to punish deceivers. In contrast, low-status individuals are more limited detectors who may face revenge for detecting deception. Detecting deception does not enhance fitness if the detector is unable to punish but may be retaliated by the deceiver. There is thus more pressure to perfect deception when one has the need to deceive but also faces increased chances to be caught and punished. The same pressure to better deceive is much reduced when one expects little punishment from the detector if caught deceiving or has other honest means to pursue the same fitness gains. Social status may therefore shift selection pressure to favor low-status individuals over high-status individuals as fearful deceivers and the high-status individuals over low-status individuals as vigilant detectors. Thus, Trivers’ arms race between deception and detection is likely to have played out between low-status deceivers and high-status detectors, leading to people deceiving themselves to better deceive high- rather than low- or equal-status others. […]

According to Trivers (2000), a blatant deceiver keeps both true and false information in the conscious mind but presents only falsehoods to others. In doing so, the deceiver may leave clues about the truth due to its conscious access. A self-deceiver keeps only false information in consciousness. Lying to others and to the self at the same time, the self-deceiver thus leaves no clues about the truth retained in the unconscious mind. […]

Memory and its distortion may be temporarily employed first to keep truthful information away from both self and others and later to retrieve accurate information to benefit the self. Using a dual-retrieval paradigm, we tested the hypothesis that people are likely to deceive themselves to better deceive high- rather than equal-status others.

College student participants were explicitly instructed (Study 1 and 2) or induced (Study 3) to deceive either a high-status teacher or an equal-status fellow student. When interacting with the high- but not equal-status target, participants in three studies genuinely remembered fewer previously studied items than they did on a second memory test alone without the deceiving target.

The results support the view that self-deception responds to status hierarchy that registers probabilities of deception detection such that people are more likely to self-deceive high- rather than equal-status others.

{ Evolution Psychology | PDF }

art { Eric Yahnker }

‘Impatience asks for the impossible, wants to reach the goal without the means of getting there.’ —Hegel

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Drawing on theorizing and research suggesting that people are motivated to view their world as an orderly and predictable place in which people get what they deserve, the authors proposed that (a) random and uncontrollable bad outcomes will lower self-esteem and (b) this, in turn, will lead to the adoption of self-defeating beliefs and behaviors.

Four experiments demonstrated that participants who experienced or recalled bad (vs. good) breaks devalued their self-esteem (Studies 1a and 1b), and that decrements in self-esteem (whether arrived at through misfortune or failure experience) increase beliefs about deserving bad outcomes (Studies 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b). Five studies (Studies 3–7) extended these findings by showing that this, in turn, can engender a wide array of self-defeating beliefs and behaviors, including claimed self-handicapping ahead of an ability test (Study 3), the preference for others to view the self less favorably (Studies 4–5), chronic self-handicapping and thoughts of physical self-harm (Study 6), and choosing to receive negative feedback during an ability test (Study 7).

The current findings highlight the important role that concerns about deservingness play in the link between lower self-esteem and patterns of self-defeating beliefs and behaviors. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

{ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology | PDF }

Sit on a happy face

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When humans fight hand-to-hand the face is usually the primary target and the bones that suffer the highest rates of fracture are the parts of the skull that exhibit the greatest increase in robusticity during the evolution of basal hominins. These bones are also the most sexually dimorphic parts of the skull in both australopiths and humans. In this review, we suggest that many of the facial features that characterize early hominins evolved to protect the face from injury during fighting with fists. Specifically, the trend towards a more orthognathic face; the bunodont form and expansion of the postcanine teeth; the increased robusticity of the orbit; the increased robusticity of the masticatory system, including the mandibular corpus and condyle, zygoma, and anterior pillars of the maxilla; and the enlarged jaw adductor musculature are traits that may represent protective buttressing of the face.

If the protective buttressing hypothesis is correct, the primary differences in the face of robust versus gracile australopiths may be more a function of differences in mating system than differences in diet as is generally assumed. In this scenario, the evolution of reduced facial robusticity in Homo is associated with the evolution of reduced strength of the upper body and, therefore, with reduced striking power.

The protective buttressing hypothesis provides a functional explanation for the puzzling observation that although humans do not fight by biting our species exhibits pronounced sexual dimorphism in the strength and power of the jaw and neck musculature. The protective buttressing hypothesis is also consistent with observations that modern humans can accurately assess a male’s strength and fighting ability from facial shape and voice quality.

{ Biological Reviews | Continue reading }

Satan has power and controls things

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This study compared the effectiveness of four classic moral stories in promoting honesty in 3- to 7-year-olds. Surprisingly, the stories of “Pinocchio” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” failed to reduce lying in children. In contrast, the apocryphal story of “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” significantly increased truth telling. Further results suggest that the reason for the difference in honesty-promoting effectiveness between the “George Washington” story and the other stories was that the former emphasizes the positive consequences of honesty, whereas the latter focus on the negative consequences of dishonesty.

{ Psychological Science | PDF }

art { Sara Cwynar, Print Test Panel (Darkroom Manuals), 2013 }