1. Study suggests feeling the pain of failure may help with rebound

    September 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University press release:

    Feeling the pain of failure leads to more effort to correct your mistake than simply thinking about what went wrong, according to a new study.

    Researchers found that people who just thought about a failure tended to make excuses for why they were unsuccessful and didn’t try harder when faced with a similar situation. In contrast, people who focused on their emotions following a failure put forth more effort when they tried again.

    “All the advice tells you not to dwell on your mistakes, to not feel bad,” said Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and professor of marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

    “But we found the opposite. When faced with a failure, it is better to focus on one’s emotions — when people concentrate on how bad they feel and how they don’t want to experience these feelings again, they are more likely to try harder the next time.”

    While thinking about how to improve from past mistakes might help — this study didn’t examine that — the researchers found that people who reflect on a failure do not tend to focus on ways to avoid a similar mistake.

    When asked to think about their mistakes, most people focus on protecting their ego, Malkoc said. They think about how the failure wasn’t their fault, or how it wasn’t that big of a deal, anyway.

    “If your thoughts are all about how to distance yourself from the failure, you’re not going to learn from your mistakes,” she said.

    Malkoc conducted the study with Noelle Nelson of the University of Kansas and Baba Shiv of Stanford University. Their results appear online in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.

    The researchers conducted several studies. In one, 98 college students were asked to price search online for a blender with specific characteristics, and with the possibility of winning a cash prize if they found the lowest price.

    Before they found out if they won, half the participants were told to focus on their emotional response to winning or losing, while the other half were instructed to focus on their thoughts about how they did. They were told they would write about their response afterward.

    The price search task was rigged, though, and all participants found out that the lowest price was $3.27 less than what they found.

    After writing about their failure, the students had a chance to redeem themselves.

    The researchers wanted to find out if the effort put forth by participants in a new task would be related to whether they focused on their thoughts or emotions involving the previous failure. The researchers believed that a task similar to their failed job – in this case a search for the lowest price – would trigger participants into recalling their unsuccessful attempt, while an unrelated job would not.

    So the participants were given another task. Half were asked to search for a gift book for a friend that was the best fit for their limited college-student budget. In other words, they were looking for the lowest price, as they were instructed in the first task.

    The other half of the participants were given a non-similar task, which was to search for a book that would be the best choice as a gift for their friend.

    The results showed emotional responses to failure motivated participants much more than cognitive ones when they were faced with a similar task.

    Emotionally motivated participants spent nearly 25 percent more time searching for a low-priced book than did participants who had only thought about — rather than dwelled on the pain of – their earlier failure.

    There was no significant difference in effort made by participants when the second task wasn’t like the first (when they were searching for the best gift, rather than the cheapest).

    “When the participants focused on how bad they felt about failing the first time, they tried harder than others when they had another similar opportunity,” Malkoc said.

    “But the situation has to be similar enough to trigger the pain of the initial failure.”

    One reason why an emotional response to failure may be more effective than a cognitive one is the nature of people’s thoughts about their mistakes.

    When the researchers analyzed what participants who thought about their failure wrote about, they found significantly more self-protective thoughts (“This wasn’t my fault,” “I could not have found it even if I tried”) than they did self-improvement thoughts (“I know how I can do better next time”).

    Unfortunately, that may be the default mode for most people, at least in many everyday situations.

    In another similar study, the researchers didn’t tell some participants how to respond to their failures. They found that these people tended to produce cognitive responses rather than emotional ones, and those cognitive responses were the kinds that protected themselves rather than focused on self-improvement.

    Malkoc said that in most real-life situations, people probably have both cognitive and emotional responses to their failures. But the important thing to remember is not to avoid the emotional pain of failing, but to use that pain to fuel improvement.

    “Emotional responses to failure can hurt. They make you feel bad. That’s why people often choose to think self-protective thoughts after they make mistakes,” she said.

    “But if you focus on how bad you feel, you’re going to work harder to find a solution and make sure you don’t make the same mistake again.”


  2. Study identifies neurons associated with thirst

    September 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Association for the Advancement of Science press release:

    Scientists have identified a subgroup of neurons in mice that drive a critical instinct – thirst. Activity of the neurons decreased as the mice consumed more water, suggesting that they play a direct role in the primordial emotion. Previous research suggests that a certain region of the brain, the median preoptic nucleus (MnPO), contributes to the sensation of thirst, yet the exact underlying mechanisms have remained largely unknown. To gain a better understanding, William E. Allen et al. analyzed RNA expression within the MnPO of mice that had been deprived of water for 48 hours, identifying a cluster of excitatory neurons of interest. When the researchers used optogenetics to inhibit these neurons, mice reduced their water consumption; in contrast, photoactivation of the neurons in water-satiated animals prompted them to increase their water consumption. In mice trained to press a lever to access water, the rate of lever-pressing corresponded with a decrease in neural activity over time, suggesting that MnPO neuron activity appears to adjust for water intake. Remarkably, mice provided an opportunity to shut off photoactivation of MnPO neurons by lever pressing did so vigorously, ending the undesirable feeling of thirst. The researchers also identified ways in which these MnPO thirst neurons are connected to a variety of other brain regions, which could translate thirst drive into specific goal-directed actions, they say. A Perspective by Claire Gizowski and Charles W. Bourque discusses these findings in greater detail.


  3. Study suggests that expressive writing can help worriers perform a stressful task more efficiently

    by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    Chronic worriers, take note: Simply writing about your feelings may help you perform an upcoming stressful task more efficiently, finds a Michigan State University study that measured participants’ brain activity.

    The research, funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, provides the first neural evidence for the benefits of expressive writing, said lead author Hans Schroder, an MSU doctoral student in psychology and a clinical intern at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital.

    Worrying takes up cognitive resources; it’s kind of like people who struggle with worry are constantly multitasking — they are doing one task and trying to monitor and suppress their worries at the same time,” Schroder said. “Our findings show that if you get these worries out of your head through expressive writing, those cognitive resources are freed up to work toward the task you’re completing and you become more efficient.”

    Schroder conducted the study at Michigan State with Jason Moser, associate professor of psychology and director of MSU’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, and Tim Moran, a Spartan graduate who’s now a research scientist at Emory University. The findings are published online in the journal Psychophysiology.

    For the study, college students identified as chronically anxious through a validated screening measure completed a computer-based “flanker task” that measured their response accuracy and reaction times. Before the task, about half of the participants wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings about the upcoming task for eight minutes; the other half, in the control condition, wrote about what they did the day before.

    While the two groups performed at about the same level for speed and accuracy, the expressive-writing group performed the flanker task more efficiently, meaning they used fewer brain resources, measured with electroencephalography, or EEG, in the process.

    Moser uses a car analogy to describe the effect. “Here, worried college students who wrote about their worries were able to offload these worries and run more like a brand new Prius,” he said, “whereas the worried students who didn’t offload their worries ran more like a ’74 Impala – guzzling more brain gas to achieve the same outcomes on the task.”

    While much previous research has shown that expressive writing can help individuals process past traumas or stressful events, the current study suggests the same technique can help people — especially worriers — prepare for stressful tasks in the future.

    Expressive writing makes the mind work less hard on upcoming stressful tasks, which is what worriers often get “burned out” over, their worried minds working harder and hotter,” Moser said. “This technique takes the edge off their brains so they can perform the task with a ‘cooler head.'”


  4. Study suggests optimal dating platform may be determined by level of comfort with rejection

    by Ashley

    From the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences press release:

    Looking for love online? You are not alone. Nearly 50 percent of the American public knows someone who has used an online dating site and 5 percent of Americans who are married or in committed relationships today met their significant other online. But with so many different online dating platforms, how can users know which one will best meet their needs? According to a new study in the INFORMS journal Management Science, it all depends on if you are comfortable with rejection. If not, be prepared to pay more.

    The study, “Competing by Restricting Choice: The Case of Search Platforms,” explained that most sites, such as Match.com, compete by building the largest user base possible, and provide users with access to unlimited profiles on the platform. Others, such as eHarmony.com, pursue user growth with the same intensity, but allow users to only view and contact a limited number of others on the platform. However, despite the limited choice, eHarmony’s customers are willing to pay an average of 25 percent more than Match’s customers.

    The study authors, Hanna Halaburda of the Bank of Canada and New York University, Mikolaj Piskorksi of IMD Business School, and Pinar Yildirim of the University of Pennsylvania, created a stylized model of online, heterosexual dating which found that increasing the number of potential matches has a positive effect due to larger choice, but also a negative effect due to competition between users of the same sex.

    Therefore by offering its members access to a large number of profiles, Match’s users are also more likely to experience rejection, as each of their potential matches will have access to a larger number of options, increasing the competition among members. With access to only a limited number of profiles, eHarmony users are more likely to successfully and more rapidly identify a match with another user, who because of limited choice, is less likely to reject them.

    “Online dating platforms that restrict choice, like eHarmony, exist and prosper alongside platforms that offer more choice, like Match.com,” said Halaburda. “On a platform that offers more choice, agents also face more competition as their candidates also enjoy a larger choice set.”

    Ultimately, for online dating users who can tolerate rejection and aren’t bothered by a potentially longer timeframe to identify a match, Match.com provides much greater choice of options. However, for users who are looking to more quickly identify a potential mutual match, eHarmony limits competition that may result in rejection.


  5. Study looks at features that make a song hit the top of the charts

    by Ashley

    From the INSEAD press release:

    People like to say that mainstream music all tends to sound similar. While this is true to an extent, an analysis of more than 26,000 songs by researchers at INSEAD and Columbia Business School shows that breakout songs — the songs that hit the very top of the charts — are those that conform to current musical preferences while infusing a modicum of individuality.

    Noah Askin, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, and Michael Mauskapf, Assistant Professor of Management at Columbia Business School, analysed the acoustic attributes of more than 26,000 songs that appear on Billboard’s Hot 100 from its beginning in 1958 to 2016. Data on 11 acoustic features, such as a song’s key, mode and tempo, were collected from The Echo Nest, a music intelligence and data platform now owned by Spotify. Their results were recently published in the American Sociological Review in a paper titled What Makes Popular Culture Popular? Product Features and Optimal Differentiation in Music.

    The researchers found that hitting the top of the charts involves finding the right balance between familiarity and novelty.

    “The songs that reach the highest echelons of the charts bear some similarity to other popular songs that are out at the same time, but they must be unique in certain ways in order to differentiate themselves,” said Askin. “Adele’s songs are great examples of the perfect typicality: she has been tremendously successful with that little bit of differentiation.”

    Mauskapf added, “There’s a perception in the industry that top songs can be reverse-engineered based on what audiences are more likely to listen to or buy. But our findings show that ‘hit song science’ will only get an artist so far – it’s very difficult to predict what kinds of songs other musicians will release, and when audiences will find them to be “optimally distinct.”

    Behind the Research

    The study accounted for elements that could account for a song’s chart performance, such as the artist’s previous success or the prominence of their record label. It also took into account artists’ unique characteristics (such as their star factor and style), their labels’ marketing budgets, and the prevailing competition all play a part in pop culture.

    Analysing the data with these considerations in place, the researchers devised a “typicality” score to compare the acoustic footprint of each song to that of all the songs that appeared on the charts in the year prior to its release. This score essentially captures how much a given song sounds like its peers.

    “We found that songs with a somewhat below average typicality score tended to do better on the Hot 100. To have the best chance of reaching the very top of the charts, a song needs to stand out from its competition, but not so much as to alienate listeners,” said Mauskapf.

    Predicting the Future of Pop Culture?

    The authors believe the study also has implications for popular culture more generally, as well as the success of innovations. Up to this point, scholars have established that the success of cultural products rests heavily on a variety of factors including marketing budgets, producers’ prior success, the context of the release (e.g., demand trends), and relative genre popularity. Askin and Mauskapf’s study looks at an under-researched element in this equation–how the cultural content of the product positions it for success–and finds the importance of balancing novelty and familiarity.

    “What becomes popular next is likely to be slightly differentiated from the last round of hits, leading to a constant evolution of what is popular. Popularity is a moving target, but the context always remains relevant. This is at least as much art as it is science,” said Askin.

    To learn more about the cutting-edge research at INSEAD, please visit insead.edu/news or knowledge.insead.edu.


  6. Study suggests you are what you think you eat

    September 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) press release:

    Despite eating the same breakfast, made from the same ingredients, people consumed more calories throughout the day when they believed that one of the breakfasts was less substantial than the other.

    The research, funded by the Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services at the Rowett Institute, is the key finding of research led by Steven Brown from Sheffield Hallam University which is being presented today at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology.

    Previous studies have investigated the link between how filling we expect liquids (e.g. drinks) or semi-solids (e.g. smoothies/soups) to be and people’s subsequent feelings of hunger up to three hours later.

    These initial expectations have also been shown to be an important determinant of how much people eat at a meal provided a short time later. The current research shows that a similar effect can be seen when using solid foods (i.e. an omelette) and that the influence of those expectations is still present after a longer period of time (four hours later and the total day’s calorific intake).

    A total of 26 participants took part. Over two visits, participants believed they were eating either a two or four egg omelette for breakfast. However, both of the omelettes actually contained three eggs.

    When the participants believed that the omelette was smaller they reported themselves to be significantly hungrier after two hours, they consumed significantly more of a pasta lunch and, in total, consumed significantly more calories throughout the day than when the same participants believed that they were eating a larger omelette.

    Steven Brown said, “Previous studies have shown that a person’s expectations can have an impact on their subsequent feelings of hunger and fullness and, to a degree, their later calorie consumption. Our work builds on this with the introduction of solid food and measured people’s subsequent consumption four hours later, a period of time more indicative of the gap between breakfast and lunch.

    “We were also able to measure participants’ consumption throughout the rest of the day and found that total intake was lower when participants believed that they had eaten a larger breakfast.

    “As part of the study, we were able to take blood samples from participants throughout their visits. Having analysed levels of ghrelin, a known hunger hormone, our data also suggest that changes in reported hunger and the differences in later consumption are not due to a differences in participants’ physical response to the food.

    Therefore, memory for prior consumption, as opposed to physiological factors, may be a better target for investigating why expectations for a meal have an effect on subsequent feelings of hunger and calorie intake.”


  7. How do close relationships lead to longer life?

    September 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    While recent research has shown that loneliness can play a role in early death, psychologists are also concerned with the mechanisms by which social relationships and close personal ties affect health. A special issue of American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association, offers an overview of the science and makes the case for psychological scientists to work together to make close relationships a public health priority.

    “The articles in this special issue represent state-of-the-art work on the central issues in the study of close relationships and health. They draw from relationship science and health psychology, two areas of scientific inquiry with independent histories and distinct domains,” special issue editor Christine Dunkel Schetter, PhD, wrote in the introduction. “The goal of this special issue is to bridge the gap between these two specialties to improve the quality and usefulness of future research and practice.”

    Articles focus on topics including how healthy relationships early in life affect physical and mental health in childhood and beyond; the role of intimate relationships in coronary heart disease; the need to focus on partners when treating someone with chronic disease; and the increasingly complex biological pathways involved linking relationships to health.

    “The challenge remains to translate existing and future knowledge into interventions to improve social relationships for the benefit of physical and mental health,” wrote Dunkel Schetter, of the University of California, Los Angeles.


  8. Study suggests conversation is faster when words are accompanied by gestures

    by Ashley

    From the Springer press release:

    When someone asks a question during a conversation, their conversation partner answers more quickly if the questioner also moves their hands or head to accompany their words. These are the findings of a study led by Judith Holler of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. The study is published in Springer’s journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review and focusses on how gestures influence language processing.

    The transition between turns taken during a conversation is astonishingly fast, with a mere 200 milliseconds typically elapsing between the contribution of one speaker to the next. Such speed means that people must be able to comprehend, produce and coordinate their contributions to a conversation in good time.

    To study the role of gestures during conversation, Holler and her colleagues, Kobin Kendrick and Stephen Levinson, analyzed the interaction of seven groups of three participants. The groups were left alone in a recording suite for twenty minutes, during which their interaction was filmed with three high-definition video cameras. The researchers analyzed the question-response sequences in particular because these are so prevalent in conversations. Holler and her team found that there was a strong visual component to most questions being asked and answered during the conversations. These took the form of bodily signals such as communicative head or hand movements.

    Bodily signals appear to profoundly influence language processing in interaction,” says Holler. “Questions accompanied by gestures lead to shorter turn transition times — that is, to faster responses — than questions without gestures, and responses come even earlier when gestures end before compared to after the question turn has ended.”

    This means that gestures that end early may give us an early visual cue that the speaker is about to end, thus helping us to respond faster. But, at least for those cases in which gestures did not end early, it also means that the additional information conveyed by head and hand gestures may help us process or predict what is being said in conversation.

    “The empirical findings presented here provide a first glimpse of the possible role of the body in the psycholinguistic processes underpinning human communication,” explains Holler. “They also provide a stepping stone for investigating these processes and mechanisms in much more depth in the future.”


  9. Study suggests drivers find it harder to ignore a ringing phone than to ignore the risk

    by Ashley

    From the Queensland University of Technology press release:

    Drivers find it difficult to ignore a ringing phone but they do ignore the dangers, with a new QUT study revealing almost 50 per cent believe locating and answering a ringing phone is not as risky as talking and texting.

    The research undertaken by QUT’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety — Queensland (CARRS-Q) and published in the PLOS ONE journal has found locating a ringing phone, checking who is calling, and rejecting or answering the call, is the most frequent mobile phone task undertaken by drivers.

    Lead researcher Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios said drivers did not believe that locating and answering a ringing phone was as risky as talking, texting or browsing.

    “The study of 484 Queensland drivers found 45 per cent admit to locating and answering a ringing phone, compared to 28 per cent who reported speaking on a handheld device.

    “Also concerning is that more drivers reported looking at a screen for more than 2 seconds or locating and answering a ringing phone, than they did talking on a handheld phone, texting or browsing.”

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said when considering the risk of these different mobile phone tasks, most drivers underestimated the distracting dangers of passive phone use.

    Finding and reaching for a ringing phone is perceived by drivers as having a mid-range crash risk, however research has showed that this task is one of the most risky activities a driver can engage in,” he said.

    “This is because drivers are likely to adapt their driving behaviour when talking, texting and browsing, by reducing their speed, increasing their distance from the vehicle in front and scanning their environment more frequently.

    “On the other hand, a ringing mobile phone can occur at any time without giving time for the driver to adapt their behaviour and therefore increases the likelihood of a crash. “This mismatch in perception of risk is a major concern revealed by the study.”

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said using a mobile phone while driving had been shown to increase crash risk four-fold.

    “Novice drivers are particularly at risk as they are more likely to drive while using a mobile phone.”

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said other findings in the study included:

    • Despite the research, 12 per cent drivers still don’t believe talking on a handheld phone is dangerous
    • Drivers actively avoid police detection, with about 70 per cent admitting to being on the lookout for police when using their phone
    • Drivers keep their phones low and cover them to evade police detection
    • On a typical day, drivers are more likely to look at their mobile phone for more than 2 seconds, than they are to text or browse

  10. Contagious yawning more closely associated with perceptual sensitivity than empathy

    September 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Tohoku University press release:

    Contagious yawning is a universal phenomenon, but why it happens remains a mystery.

    A new study out of Tohoku University suggests that contrary to common belief that the yawning contagion is associated with empathy, it is in fact, more likely that perceptual sensitivity is to blame.

    In the study, healthy volunteers were shown photos and videos of people yawning. The intention was to induce contagious yawning. The participants were observed through hidden cameras, which recorded their reactions, and an eye-tracking machine, which registered their gazing patterns.

    To test the participants’ sensitivity towards yawning expressions, they were later given 60 photos containing four intensity levels of yawning, and asked to judge (yes/no) if the person in each photo was yawning.

    For control comparisons, participants were also shown 60 happy and 60 angry photos with four intensity levels, after which they were asked if the people in the photos looked happy/angry.

    Researchers found that those who were more likely to detect yawning from a face were also more likely to be induced to yawn. However, sensitivity to happy or angry faces appeared to have little relation to the frequency of contagious yawning.

    To study whether contagious yawning relates to empathy in healthy people, the participants’ autistic tendency (or AQ, autistic quotient measured by an autism-spectrum quotient questionnaire) was measured but showed little effect. However, female participants in the study registered a significantly higher susceptibility towards catching a yawn contagiously.

    The study, titled “Yawning Detection Sensitivity and Yawning Contagion” was published in i-Perception on August 25, 2017. It is the first study to investigate the perceptual limitations on yawning contagion behavior in a non-clinical population.

    “Recent clinical observations showed that individuals diagnosed with Autism or Schizophrenia did not yawn contagiously like typical individuals. This has led many to think that impaired social ability (e.g. empathy) might contribute to a person’s inability to yawn contagiously,” said lead researcher, Dr. Chia-huei Tseng, an associate professor at the Research Institute of Electrical Communication (RIEC) at Tohoku University. However, it is unknown if the clinical speculations also apply to the general population.

    “We find that for non-clinical population, perceptual ability is more closely related to contagious yawning than empathy is,” said Tseng. “Since it’s been documented that people with autism tend to suffer from impaired perception such as an atypical eye gazing on faces and a difficulty in judging facial emotions, it’s possible that their perceptual limitation causes them to be unable to detect someone else’s yawning expression. This is a possible explanation for their lack of contagious yawning.”