Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Monday, September 17, 2012
Monday, August 20, 2012
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Can we improve our own and other people's lives with the simple power of suggestion? How strong is the power of suggestion? Is it really possible to change how people think by making small changes to their expectations? One of the most famous demonstrations is the placebo effect: the idea that fake drugs can make us better. But psychological research is filled with all sorts of other findings about how simple suggestions can affect the way people think and perceive the world. Here are nine examples from a new article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science (Michael et al., 2012): 1. Intelligence boost You can boost intelligence by handing out a placebo and telling them it's cognition enhancing: "....when people take the phony cognition-enhancing drug R273, they tend to expect it to improve their alertness, so they engage in more effortful monitoring but misattribute their improved performance to R273 (Clifasefi et al., 2007)." It would probably do the opposite if you told them the drug would make them more stupid. In fact this has been done, sort of, with alcohol... 2. More gullible Just as you can make people think they're more intelligent, you can also make them more gullible: "...giving people phony vodka tonics made them more susceptible to misleading information..." (Assefi & Garry, 2003) Of course you can get the same effect with several real vodka tonics, but this way is healthier (and cheaper). 3. Hallucinations Want to get hallucinogenic effects without all the bother of actually taking illegal drugs? Use the power of psychology: "We administered suggestions to see a gray-scale pattern as colored and a colored pattern in shades of gray to 30 high suggestible and eight low suggestible students." The highly suggestible individuals saw colour in the shades of gray. (Mazzoni et al, 2009) OK, it's not a very exciting hallucination, but maybe with practice you could work up to full Hunter S. Thompson-type madness (or maybe not!). 4. Tasty chocolate Telling people how luxurious and expensive food is makes them experience it as more luxurious. So, tell them their chocolate is Swiss, not Chinese: "...when students tasted unbranded chocolate and were told, either before or after tasting, that it was from Switzerland or from China, those who were told beforehand that the chocolate was Swiss reported that they liked it more." (Wilcox, Roggeveen, & Grewal, 2011). 5. I'm watching you The 'Hawthorne effect' is one of the most famous in psychology. This is the idea that people's behaviour changes simply as a result of being observed. In the original studies on factory workers at the Hawthorne factory in Illinois, researchers found that changing the physical working conditions (like lighting) did not have consistent effects on productivity. Instead it was the very fact that people were being studied and were receiving attention from their managers that affected how hard they worked. Posted in PsyBlog.com 6/26/2012
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
During the first half of the 20th century, many psychologists believed that showing affection towards children was merely a sentimental gesture that served no real purpose. Behaviorist John B. Watson once even went so far as to warn parents, "When you are tempted to pet your child, remember that mother love is a dangerous instrument." According to many thinkers of the day, affection would only spread diseases and lead to adult psychological problems. During this time, psychologists were motivated to prove their field as a rigorous science. The behaviorist movement dominated psychology and urged researchers to study only observable and measurable behaviors. An American psychologist named Harry Harlow, however, became interested in studying a topic that was not so easy to quantify and measure: love. In a series of controversial experiments conducted in 1960s, Harlow demonstrated the powerful effects of love. By showing the devastating effects of deprivation on young rhesus monkeys, Harlow revealed the importance of a mother's love for healthy childhood development. His experiments were often unethical and shockingly cruel, yet they uncovered fundamental truths that have heavily influenced our understanding of child development. The Wire Mother Experiment: Harlow noted that very little attention had been devoted to the experimental research of love. "Because of the dearth of experimentation, theories about the fundamental nature of affection have evolved at the level of observation, intuition, and discerning guesswork, whether these have been proposed by psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, physicians, or psychoanalyst," he noted (Harlow, 1958). Many of the existing theories of love centered on the idea that the earliest attachment between a mother and child was merely a means for the child to obtain food, relieve thirst, and avoid pain. Harlow, however, believed that this behavioral view of mother-child attachment was an inadequate explanation. Harlow’s most famous experiment involved giving young rhesus monkeys a choice between two different "mothers." One was made of soft terrycloth, but provided no food. The other was made of wire, but provided food from an attached baby bottle. Harlow removed young monkeys from their natural mothers a few hours after birth and left them to be "raised" by these mother surrogates. The experiment demonstrated that the baby monkeys spent significantly more time with their cloth mother than with their wire mother. "These data make it obvious that contact comfort is a variable of overwhelming importance in the development of affectional response, whereas lactation is a variable of negligible importance," Harlow explained (1958). Fear, Security, and Attachment: In a later experiment, Harlow demonstrated that young monkeys would also turn to their cloth surrogate mother for comfort and security. Using a strange situation similar to the one created by attachment researcher Mary Ainsworth, Harlow allowed the young monkeys to explore a room either in the presence of their surrogate mother or in her absence. Monkeys in the presence of their mother would use her as a secure base to explore the room. When the surrogate mothers were removed from the room, the effects were dramatic. The young monkeys no longer had their secure base to explore the room and would often freeze up, crouch, rock, scream, and cry. The Impact of Harlow’s Research: While many experts derided the importance of parental love and affection, Harlow’s experiments offered irrefutable proof that love is vital for normal childhood development. Additional experiments by Harlow revealed the long-term devastation caused by deprivation, leading to profound psychological and emotional distress and even death. Harlow’s work, as well as important research by psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, helped influence key changes in how orphanages, adoption agencies, social services groups and child care providers approached the care of children. While Harry Harlow's work led to acclaim and generated a wealth of research on love, affection, and interpersonal relationships, his own personal life soon began to crumble. After the terminal illness of his wife, he became engulfed by alcoholism and depression, eventually becoming estranged from his own children. Colleagues frequently described him as sarcastic, mean-spirited, misanthropic, chauvinistic, and cruel. Yet Harlow's enduring legacy reinforced the importance of emotional support, affection, and love in the development of children. By Kendra Cherry
Monday, June 4, 2012
The Tipping Point Sunshine makes us nicer, inducing us to want to help others. On sunny days, regardless of the temperature, we answer more survey questions from people with clipboards and tip more generously. In dark Atlantic City hotel rooms, people give higher tips if the bellhop tells them it's sunny outside than they do if he tells them it's cloudy. Nice days put us in a good mood, which engenders helping and generosity, explains David Strohmetz, a psychologist at Monmouth University. "When we're in a good mood, we want to maintain that mood." The Wisdom of Clouds The weather even affects college applications, helping determine which types of applicants are admitted. Applicants who are strong academically are more likely to be admitted on cloudy days, whereas candidates who are strong socially are more likely to be admitted on sunny ones. Cloudy days call to mind thoughts of staying inside to read or study, explains Uri Simonsohn, the behavioral economist at the University of California at San Diego who conducted the study. A previous study found that cloudy forecasts prime people to think about academics. Summer Stock Sunshine influences the stock market, which is three times more likely to go up when it's sunny in the city of the exchange. Investors feel happier on sunny days, but mistakenly attribute that happiness to stocks' prospects, explains David Hirshleifer, a finance professor at the University of California at Irvine. "It's a halo effect," says Hirshleifer. "A generalized optimism latches on." Season Tickets We buy more lottery tickets on cloudy days—not to boost our mood, but because weather-induced bad moods deplete self-control, making us more vulnerable to temptation. Darkness at Noon Suicides go up in warmer months. Seeing others frolic outside reinforces depressing feelings, says Michael Puniskis of Middlesex University. And sunshine may give depressed people the energy to finally take action. The Sin Also Rises On less sunny days, we compensate artificially, using more alcohol, coffee, tobacco, and chocolate to stimulate ourselves and elevate our mood. Bright Light, Big Cities How many hours of sunlight do American cities get per day? Phoenix: 10.3 Los Angeles: 8.8 Atlanta: 7.6 New York: 7.4 Chicago: 7.2 Seattle: 5.6 By Jay Dixit
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Thursday, February 9, 2012
People visit social networking sites such as Facebook for many reasons, including the positive emotional experience that people enjoy and want to repeat, according to an article in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.. The article is available free online.*
Measurements of physical and psychological responses such as breathing rate, brain activation, and pupil dilation, designed to assess a person's psychophysiological state, were collected in a group of individuals participating in either a relaxing or stressful task or being online on their own personal Facebook account. The results revealed a significantly different experience for stress or relaxation exposure compared to the response to Facebook.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
For centuries, gossip has been dismissed as salacious, idle chatter that can damage reputations and erode trust. But a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests rumor-mongering can have positive outcomes such as helping us police bad behavior, prevent exploitation and lower stress.
"Gossip gets a bad rap, but we're finding evidence that it plays a critical role in the maintenance of social order," said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a coauthor of the study published in this month's online issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The study also found that gossip can be therapeutic. Volunteers' heart rates increased when they witnessed someone behaving badly, but this increase was tempered when they were able to pass on the information to alert others.
"Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to make people feel better, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip," Willer said.
So strong is the urge to warn others about unsavory characters that participants in the UC Berkeley study sacrificed money to send a "gossip note" to warn those about to play against cheaters in economic trust games. Overall, the findings indicate that people need not feel bad about revealing the vices of others, especially if it helps save someone from exploitation, the researchers said.
"We shouldn't feel guilty for gossiping if the gossip helps prevent others from being taken advantage of," said Matthew Feinberg, a UC Berkeley social psychologist and lead author of the paper.
The study focused on "prosocial" gossip that "has the function of warning others about untrustworthy or dishonest people," said Willer, as opposed to the voyeuristic rumor-mongering about the ups and downs of such tabloid celebrities as Kim Kardashian and Charlie Sheen.
In a series of four experiments, researchers used games in which the players' generosity toward each other was measured by how many dollars or points they shared. In the first experiment, 51 volunteers were hooked up to heart rate monitors as they observed the scores of two people playing the game. After a couple of rounds, the observers could see that one player was not playing by the rules and was hoarding all the points.
Observers' heart rates increased as they witnessed the cheating, and most seized the opportunity to slip a "gossip note" to warn a new player that his or her contender was unlikely to play fair. The experience of passing on the information calmed this rise in heart rate.
"Passing on the gossip note ameliorated their negative feelings and tempered their frustration," Willer said. "Gossiping made them feel better."
In the second experiment, 111 participants filled out questionnaires about their level of altruism and cooperativeness. They then observed monitors showing the scores from three rounds of the economic trust game, and saw that one player was cheating.
The more prosocial observers reported feeling frustrated by the betrayal and then relieved to be given a chance to pass a gossip note to the next player to prevent exploitation.
"A central reason for engaging in gossip was to help others out - more so than just to talk trash about the selfish individual," Feinberg said. "Also, the higher participants scored on being altruistic, the more likely they were to experience negative emotions after witnessing the selfish behavior and the more likely they were to engage in the gossip."
To raise the stakes, participants in the third experiment were asked to go so far as to sacrifice the pay they received to be in the study if they wanted to send a gossip note. Moreover, their sacrifice would not negatively impact the selfish player's score. Still, a large majority of observers agreed to take the financial hit just to send the gossip note.
"People paid money to gossip even when they couldn't affect the selfish person's outcome," Feinberg said.
In the final study, 300 participants from around the country were recruited via Craigslist to play several rounds of the economic trust game online. They played using raffle tickets that would be entered in a drawing for a $50 cash prize - an extra incentive to hold on to as many raffle tickets as possible.
Some players were told that the observers during a break could pass a gossip note to players in the next round to alert them to individuals not playing fairly. The threat of being the subject of negative gossip spurred virtually all the players to act more generously, especially those who had scored low on an altruism questionnaire taken prior to the game.
Together, the results from all four experiments show that "when we observe someone behave in an immoral way, we get frustrated," Willer said. "But being able to communicate this information to others who could be helped makes us feel better."
Saturday, January 7, 2012
ScienceDaily (Jan. 6, 2012) — Older people tend to be happier. But why? Some psychologists believe that cognitive processes are responsible -- in particular, focusing on and remembering positive events and leaving behind negative ones; those processes, they think, help older people regulate their emotions, letting them view life in a sunnier light. "There is a lot of good theory about this age difference in happiness," says psychologist Derek M. Isaacowitz of Northeastern University, "but much of the research does not provide direct evidence" of the links between such phenomena and actual happiness.
In a new article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, Isaacowitz and the late Fredda Blanchard-Fields of Georgia Institute of Technology argue for more rigorous research.
Researchers, including the authors, have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less. Other studies have discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods -- for instance, pruning social circles of friends or acquaintances who might bring them down. Still other work finds that older adults learn to let go of loss and disappointment over unachieved goals, and hew their goals toward greater wellbeing.
What's missing, say the authors, are consistently demonstrated direct links between these strategies and phenomena and changes of mood for the better. One reason, Isaacowitz suggests, is that lab tests yield results that are not straightforward. "When we try to use those cognitive processes to predict change of mood, they don't always do so," he explains. "Sometimes looking at positive pictures doesn't make people feel better." A closer review of the literature also reveals contradictions. Some people -- younger ones, for instance -- may make themselves feel better by accentuating the negative in others' situations or characteristics. And whereas some psychologists find that high scores on certain cognitive tests correlate in older people with the ability to keep their spirits up, other researchers hypothesize that happiness in later life is an effect of cognitive losses -- which force older people to concentrate on simpler, happier thoughts.
More rigorous methods probably won't overthrow the current theories, says Isaacowitz, but they will complicate the picture. "It won't be as easy to say old people are happier. But even if they are happier on average, we still want to know in what situations does this particular strategy make this particular person with these particular qualities or strengths feel good."