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: "...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

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