Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Researchers Tie Simple Scent To Increased Retail Sales

Scientists and business people have known for decades that certain scents - pine boughs at Christmas, baked cookies in a house for sale - can get customers in the buying spirit. Eric Spangenberg, a pioneer in the field and dean of the Washington State University College of Business, has been homing in on just what makes the most commercially inspiring odor. Spangenberg and colleagues at WSU and in Switzerland recently found that a simple scent works best. Writing in the Journal of Retailing, the researchers describe exposing hundreds of Swiss shoppers to simple and complex scents. Cash register receipts and in-store interviews revealed a significant bump in sales when the uncomplicated scent was in the air. "What we showed was that the simple scent was more effective," says Spangenberg. The researchers say the scent is more easily processed, freeing the customer's mind to focus on shopping. But when that "bandwidth" is unavailable customers don't perform cognitive tasks as effectively, says Spangenberg. Working with Andreas Herrmann at Switzerland's University of St. Gallen, Spangenberg, marketing professor David Sprott and marketing doctoral candidate Manja Zidansek developed two scents: a simple orange scent and a more complicated orange-basil blended with green tea. Over 18 weekdays, the researchers watched more than 400 customers in a St. Gallen home decorations store as the air held the simple scent, the complex scent or no particular scent at all. The researchers noticed that one group of about 100 people on average spent 20 percent more money, buying more items. They had shopped in the presence of the simple scent. In a series of separate experiments, WSU researchers had undergraduate students solve word problems under the different scent conditions. They found participants solved more problems and in less time when the simple scent was in the air than with the complicated one or no scent at all. The simple scent, say the researchers, contributed to "processing fluency," the ease with which one can cognitively process an olfactory cue. The research, says Spangenberg, underscores the need to understand how a scent is affecting customers. Just because pine boughs or baked cookies smell good doesn't mean they will lead to sales. "Most people are processing it at an unconscious level, but it is impacting them," says Spangenberg. "The important thing from the retailer's perspective and the marketer's perspective is that a pleasant scent isn't necessarily an effective scent."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Question of Forgiveness

A classic Buddhist proverb states: “Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Forgiveness is one of the most important lessons life has to offer, but it is also one of the more difficult sentiments to learn and practice. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, empirical research confirms the proverb’s message. “Forgiving people are less likely to be hateful, depressed, hostile, anxious, angry, and neurotic,” Lyubomirsky says. “They are more likely to be happier, healthier, more agreeable, and more serene. They are better able to empathize with others and to be spiritual or religious. People who forgive hurts in relationships are more capable of reestablishing closeness. Finally, the inability to forgive is associated with persistent rumination or dwelling on revenge, while forgiving allows a person to move on.” Lyubomirsky notes that when we feel wronged, our first inclination is to respond negatively. I tend to believe the notion that people are inherently good, and while some may make poor choices or behave inappropriately, they do not hurt others intentionally. While forgiveness releases inner animosity, it does not imply that you must reconcile a relationship with the person who caused pain. Of course boundaries may be needed for your own emotional threshold; forgiving someone is absolving feelings of contempt and allowing yourself to attain peace of mind. So how can we practice forgiveness? The How of Happiness suggests that garnering empathy allows a new perspective to unfold and forgiveness comes more easily. When we try to understand the other person’s emotions, thoughts and feelings, while also realizing that they too have a story of their own, forgiving their actions suddenly becomes more plausible. Lyubomirsky advises us to practice empathy in our daily routines every time a person does something that’s not easy to comprehend. Why do you think he or she behaved that way? What elements could be contributing to this situation? Is he or she going through something that’s stressful? Did he or she grow up in an abusive household? We’re not making excuses for others or justifying their actions, but we are learning to figure out the place that they’re coming from. Now let’s look at the other end of the equation, the uglier side. Sometimes the anger, the regrets, the angst over a situation-gone-wrong, leads us to look in the mirror; sometimes, we need to forgive ourselves. I’ll never forget an excerpt from Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love that hit the nail on the head in terms of this infamous internal struggle. During Elizabeth’s stay at an ashram in India, she meets Richard, her personal mentor with a tough-love mentality, who helps her on her quest for happiness. During one of their many heart-to-heart conversations, she conveys the guilt she’s been harboring from the dissolution of her marriage and ultimately leaving her husband. “I’m waiting for him to forgive me, to release me,” she says. Richard looks at her, before assertively stating “waiting for him to forgive you is a damn waste of time: forgive yourself.” Practicing forgiveness, with ourselves or with others involved, may be challenging, but will surely be beneficial in terms of our mental well-being. Alden Tan contributed a blog post to about letting go of his anger, which can certainly foster a forgiving nature as well. “Let it go, not just for a better future, but also because you’re a good person,” he writes. “And a good person isn’t angry most of the time. Instead, he sees beauty in the world and strives for a positive life, in which others around him can be inspired too. Choose to let go of your anger so you can be that person.” Lauren Suval

Monday, August 20, 2012

Spirituality Correlates to Better Mental Health Regardless of Religion, Say Researchers

ScienceDaily (Aug. 20, 2012) — Despite differences in rituals and beliefs among the world's major religions, spirituality often enhances health regardless of a person's faith, according to University of Missouri researchers. The MU researchers believe that health care providers could take advantage of this correlation between health -- particularly mental health -- and spirituality by tailoring treatments and rehabilitation programs to accommodate an individual's spiritual inclinations. "In many ways, the results of our study support the idea that spirituality functions as a personality trait," said Dan Cohen, assistant teaching professor of religious studies at MU and one of the co-authors of the study. "With increased spirituality people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe. What was interesting was that frequency of participation in religious activities or the perceived degree of congregational support was not found to be significant in the relationships between personality, spirituality, religion and health." The MU study used the results of three surveys to determine if correlations existed among participants' self-reported mental and physical health, personality factors, and spirituality in Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants. Across all five faiths, a greater degree of spirituality was related to better mental health, specifically lower levels of neuroticism and greater extraversion. Forgiveness was the only spiritual trait predictive of mental health after personality variables were considered. "Our prior research shows that the mental health of people recovering from different medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury, appears to be related significantly to positive spiritual beliefs and especially congregational support and spiritual interventions," said Cohen. "Spiritual beliefs may be a coping device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress." Cohen believes spirituality may help people's mental health by reducing their self-centeredness and developing their sense of belonging to a larger whole. Many different faith traditions encourage spirituality though they use different names for the process. A Christian monk wouldn't say he had attained Nirvana, nor would a Buddhist monk say he had communed with Jesus Christ, but they may well be referring to similar phenomena. "Health workers may also benefit from learning how to minimize the negative side of a patient's spirituality, which may manifest itself in the tendency to view misfortune as a divine curse." As the authors note, spiritual interventions such as religious-based counseling, meditation, and forgiveness protocols may enhance spiritually-based beliefs, practices, and coping strategies in positive ways. The benefits of a more spiritual personality may go beyond an individual's mental health. Cohen believes that the selflessness that comes with spirituality enhances characteristics that are important for fostering a global society based on the virtues of peace and cooperation. The paper, "Relationships among Spirituality, Religious Practices, Personality Factors, and Health for Five Different Faiths" was published in the Journal of Religion and Health. The lead author was Brick Johnstone of the MU Department of Health Psychology. The paper's other authors were Dong Yoon of the MU School of Social Work, Laura Schopp of the MU Department of Health Psychology, Guy McCormack now at Samuel Merritt University, Marian L. Smith now of Via Cristi Hospital, and James Campbell of the MU School of Medicine.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

9 Simple Suggestions That Change People’s Perceptions

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: " 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 6/26/2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Science of Love: Harry Harlow & the Nature of Affection

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 strange and surprising ways the sun affects what we do.

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

Personality Traits May Determine How Long A Person Lives

Personality traits may play a role in how long an individual lives, say researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology of Yeshiva University. After evaluating the personalities of 243 individuals aged 100+ (centenarians), the team found that the majority shared similar personality traits, such as being optimistic, easygoing, outgoing, staying engaged in activities and enjoying laugher. These findings indicate that these types of traits may contribute to longevity. The study is published online in the journal Aging. The researchers findings derive from Einstein's Longevity Genes Project, which includes more than 500 Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews aged 95+ as well as 700 of their children. The team selected Ashkenazi Jews as they are genetically homogeneous, this making it easier for the researchers to detect genetic variations. Results from earlier studies have suggest that personality comes from underlying genetic mechanisms that may directly impact health. In this study, the team developed a brief measure (the Personality Outlook Profile Scale [POPS]) of personality in centenarians, in order to identify genetically-based personality characteristics of 243 centenarians. Nir Barzilai, M.D., the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair of Aging Research, director of Einstein's Institute for Aging Research and co-corresponding author of the study, explained: "When I started working with centenarians, I thought we'd find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery. But when we assessed the personalities of these 243 centenarians, we found qualities that clearly reflect a positive attitude towards life. Most were outgoing, optimistic and easygoing. They considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network. They expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up." Furthermore, the team found that the centenarians had higher scores for being conscientious and lower scores for displaying neurotic personality compared with a representative sample of the U.S. population. Dr. Barzilai said: "Some evidence indicates that personality can change between the ages of 70 and 100, so we don't know whether our centenarians have maintained their personality traits across their entire lifespans. Nevertheless, our findings suggest that centenarians share particular personality traits and that genetically-based aspects of personality may play an important role in achieving both good health and exceptional longevity." Written By Grace Rattue Copyright: Medical News Today

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Facebook Use Elevates Mood

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

The Social And Psychological Benefits Of Gossip

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

Designs made in the Brain vs. the Universe

An interesting photograph showing how the design of our brains are almost identical to the designs in our universe...

Why Are Older People Happier?

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."