1. Study suggests commonplace jokes may normalize experiences of sexual misconduct

    November 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Taylor & Francis press release:

    Commonplace suggestive jokes, such as “that’s what she said,” normalize and dismiss the horror of sexual misconduct experiences, experts suggest in a new essay published in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, a National Communication Association publication.

    The recent wave of sexual assault and harassment allegations against prominent actors, politicians, media figures, and others highlights the need to condemn inappropriate and misogynistic behavior, and to provide support and encouragement to victims.

    Communication scholars Matthew R. Meier of West Chester University of Pennsylvania and Christopher A. Medjesky of the University of Findlay argue that off-hand, common remarks such as the “that’s what she said” joke are deeply entrenched in modern society, and contribute to humorizing and legitimizing sexual misconduct.

    The first notable “that’s what she said” joke occurred during a scene in the 1992 film Wayne’s World; however, it became a running joke in the hit television show The Office, leading to “dozens of internet memes, video compilations, and even fansites dedicated to cataloguing occurrences and creating new versions of the joke.” After analyzing multiple examples of the joke used in the show, the authors argue that the “that’s what she said” joke serves as an analog to the rhetoric of rape culture.

    By discrediting and even silencing victims, this type of humor conditions audiences to ignore — and worse, to laugh at — inappropriate sexual behavior.

    Furthermore, the authors suggest that these types of comments contribute to dangerous societal and cultural norms by ultimately reinforcing the oppressive ideologies they represent, despite the intentions or naivete of the people making the jokes.

    The authors argue that the “that’s what she said” joke cycle is part of a larger discourse that not only becomes culturally commonplace, but also reinforces dangerous ideologies that are so entrenched in contemporary life that we end up laughing at something that isn’t funny at all.


  2. Study looks at language often used by people with ADHD on Twitter

    by Ashley

    From the University of Pennsylvania press release:

    What can Twitter reveal about people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD? Quite a bit about what life is like for someone with the condition, according to findings published by University of Pennsylvania researchers Sharath Chandra Guntuku and Lyle Ungar in the Journal of Attention Disorders. Twitter data might also provide clues to help facilitate more effective treatments.

    “On social media, where you can post your mental state freely, you get a lot of insight into what these people are going through, which might be rare in a clinical setting,” said Guntuku, a postdoctoral researcher working with the World Well-Being Project in the School of Arts and Sciences and the Penn Medicine Center for Digital Health. “In brief 30- or 60-minute sessions with patients, clinicians might not get all manifestations of the condition, but on social media you have the full spectrum.”

    Guntuku and Ungar, a professor of computer and information science with appointments in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Arts and Sciences, the Wharton School and Penn Medicine, turned to Twitter to try to understand what people with ADHD spend their time talking about. The researchers collected 1.3 million publicly available tweets posted by almost 1,400 users who had self-reported diagnoses of ADHD, plus an equivalent control set that matched the original group in age, gender and duration of overall social-media activity. They then ran models looking at factors like personality and posting frequency.

    “Some of the findings are in line with what’s already known in the ADHD literature,” Guntuku said. For example, social-media posters in the experimental group often talked about using marijuana for medicinal purposes. “Our coauthor, Russell Ramsay, who treats people with ADHD, said this is something he’s observed in conversations with patients,” Guntuku added.

    The researchers also found that people with ADHD tended to post messages related to lack of focus, self-regulation, intention and failure, as well as expressions of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. They often used words like “hate,” “disappointed,” “cry” and “sad” more frequently than the control group and often posted during hours of the day when the majority of people sleep, from midnight to 6 a.m.

    “People with ADHD are experiencing more mood swings and more negativity,” Ungar said. “They tend to have problems self-regulating.”

    This could partially explain why they enjoy social media’s quick feedback loop, he said. A well-timed or intriguing tweet could yield a positive response within minutes, propelling continued use of the online outlet.

    Using information gleaned from this study and others, Ungar and Guntuku said they plan to build condition-specific apps that offer insight into several conditions, including ADHD, stress, anxiety, depression and opioid addiction. They aim to factor in facets of individuals, their personality or how severe their ADHD is, for instance, as well as what triggers particular symptoms.

    The applications will also include mini-interventions. A recommendation for someone who can’t sleep might be to turn off the phone an hour before going to bed. If anxiety or stress is the major factor, the app might suggest an easy exercise like taking a deep breath, then counting to 10 and back to zero.

    “If you’re prone to certain problems, certain things set you off; the idea is to help set you back on track,” Ungar said.

    Better understanding ADHD has the potential to help clinicians treat such patients more successfully, but having this information also has a downside: It can reveal aspects of a person’s personality unintentionally, simply by analyzing words posted on Twitter. The researchers also acknowledge that the 50-50 split of ADHD to non-ADHD study participants isn’t true to life; only about 8 percent of adults in the U.S. have the disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In addition, people in this study self-reported an ADHD diagnosis rather than having such a determination come from a physician interaction or medical record.

    Despite these limitations, the researchers say the work has strong potential to help clinicians understand the varying manifestations of ADHD, and it could be used as a complementary feedback tool to give ADHD sufferers personal insights.

    “The facets of better-studied conditions like depression are pretty well understood,” Ungar said. “ADHD is less well studied. Understanding the components that some people have or don’t have, the range of coping mechanisms that people use — that all leads to a better understanding of the condition.”


  3. Study suggests performance appraisal success depends on frequent feedback and good standard setting

    November 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Leicester press release:

    Appraisal of employees often gets a bad press, but recent research suggests if it involves frequent feedback between the formal appraisal and good prior planning and communication of standards then it can be successful and appreciated by employees.

    The research, conducted by Stephen Wood at the University of Leicester and Shaun Pichler and Gerard Beenen, both at the California State University, Fullerton, is based on a meta-analysis of existing research. It shows that acceptability of appraisals is enhanced when feedback is frequent and standards are set and clear to employees but also that these two things have a synergistic relationship, so feedback has a greater effect when standard setting is good.

    Professor Shaun Pichler commenting on the results said: “People like receiving feedback, yet all too often employees do not get it. The research suggests that appraisal is unlikely to motivate employees, without frequent feedback throughout the review cycle and their being given meaningful performance standards.”

    The implications for practice are that rather than abandoning appraisals or continuing to treat that as an annual ritual, more attention should be paid to feedback and standard setting than is all too often the case. It is important that in standard setting and feedback the potential trade-offs between goals is acknowledged. And the existence of multiple or conflicting goals is not used to justify a fatalistic approach to appraisal, that it can never really be much use. Standards make appraisal and feedback easier so the appraisal does not need to focus on the person; and they can be defined as ideals and not obligations so the appraisal can focus on development and not ensuring obligations have been fulfilled.

    Professor Stephen Wood, of the University of Leicester School of Business, said: “All too often appraisal is treated as a once-a-year ritual or conceived as monitoring people’s performance, but with well communicated expectations and good quality feedback, it can be transformed from a tool of performance management to a potentially vital high-involvement management practice.”

    Just as feedback transforms the traditional attitude survey to a high-involvement management practice – the survey feedback method – so feedback transforms appraisal.


  4. Researchers teach computer to recognize emotions in speech

    November 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the National Research University Higher School of Economics press release:

    Experts of the Faculty of Informatics, Mathematics, and Computer Science at the Higher School of Economics have created an automatic system capable of identifying emotions in the sound of a voice. Their report was presented at a major international conference – Neuroinformatics-2017. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-66604-4_18

    For a long time, computers have successfully converted speech into text. However, the emotional component, which is important for conveying meaning, has been neglected. For example, for the same question ‘Is everything okay?’, people can answer ‘Of course it is!’ with different intonations: calm, provoking, cheerful, etc. And the reactions will be completely different.

    Neural networks are processors connected with each other and capable of learning, analysis and synthesis. This smart system surpasses traditional algorithms in that the interaction between a person and computer becomes more interactive.

    HSE researchers Anastasia Popova, Alexander Rassadin and Alexander Ponomarenko have trained a neural network to recognize eight different emotions: neutral, calm, happy, sad, angry, scared, disgusted, and surprised. In 70% of cases the computer identified the emotion correctly, say the researchers.

    The researchers have transformed the sound into images – spectrograms – which allowed them to work with sound using the methods applied for image recognition. A deep learning convolutional neural network with VGG-16 architecture was used in the research.

    The researchers note that the programme successfully distinguishes neutral and calm tones, while happiness and surprise are not always recognized well. Happiness is often perceived as fear and sadness, and surprise is interpreted as disgust.


  5. Energy firm study suggests branding influences customer switching, not deals

    November 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of East Anglia press release:

    Energy companies in the UK are using specific branding approaches instead of product innovation to keep customers, according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

    While previous research has tended to focus on pricing, this study looked at the branding strategies and personalities of the Big Six energy firms — British Gas, SSE, EDF Energy, E.ON UK, npower and Scottish Power — and whether this is increasing consumer loyalty and therefore reducing switching behaviour. The Big Six represent more than 90 per cent of all energy supplied in the UK consumer sector.

    Focusing on the electricity market between 2013 — when the number of customers switching providers reached its lowest level — and 2015, the researchers find that brand personality consistency over time is important.

    Consistent brands, such as EDF Energy, performed better as they saw decreases in switching compared to firms, like npower and Scottish Energy, that had significantly changed their brand personality position or communicated inconsistently in this period.

    Providers that had a significantly different brand personality position between marketing communication channels, such as their website and annual report, also had more switching than those that remained consistent. Interestingly, the majority of the brands studied were inconsistent on this measure.

    The findings are published in the journal European Management Review.

    Lead author Dr Richard Rutter, a visiting research fellow at UEA’s Norwich Business School and assistant professor at the Australian College of Kuwait, said: “This research demonstrates the long-term importance of corporate branding in the energy sector and that brand personality does have an impact on customer retention.

    “The Big Six energy providers recognise the power of brand identity when attempting to persuade consumers to switch providers. Rather than doing so simply on the basis of superior financial offers, they are increasingly looking to build a long-term brand personality with which consumers will identify.

    “These organisations wish to be viewed as customer-focused and as offering a fair deal to consumers. There seem to be subtle but important differences in the ways that each company is choosing to communicate with its domestic audience and some are more effective than others.”

    Concentrating on companies’ communication through their websites and annual reports, the researchers examined what brand personality dimensions — defined as sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness — were communicated most strongly and how consistently each organisation communicated its brand between the website and annual report. They then assessed the organisation’s performance, measured by consumer loyalty or switching behaviour.

    They found that brands communicating excitement more strongly, such as EDF Energy, had the lowest levels of switching. The findings also suggest an ideal brand personality for the UK energy sector: low to medium levels of sincerity and competence and high levels of excitement and ruggedness communicated through the website lead to better performance. The authors say the annual report should maintain this, but also communicate a higher level of competence.

    Co-author Prof Konstantinos Chalvatzis, of Norwich Business School and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, said: “Under scrutiny from the public and politicians, the energy sector is changing rapidly. Branding within the energy sector has become increasingly important, as energy firms seek to attract and, importantly, retain customers.

    “We find that certain energy brands, for example EDF Energy have communicated their personality consistently, while others, such as npower and British Gas, seem to have repositioned themselves. A strong brand personality alone is not enough to prevent consumer switching, rather, particular dimensions of personality are more favourable than others and the relevance of specific personality traits can change.”

    The authors, who also include Prof Stuart Roper of the University of Huddersfield and Prof Fiona Lettice of Norwich Business School, recommend that firms should not drastically change their branding each year. Brand managers should also consider how to increase the communication of excitement in relation to their brands without being inauthentic, and ensure that their brand is consistent over time and between different marketing media.

    Relatively quick gains could be made by reviewing external communications for consistency of language and message. The findings also highlight the need for greater emphasis on competence related language, particularly when delivering negative information.


  6. Improving the impact of research through storytelling

    November 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the De Gruyter Open press release:

    Scientists and researchers often find it challenging to get people interested in their work. It is possible to be a leading expert in a field and still be unfamiliar outside the modest circle of colleagues in the same field. How to raise awareness through the media is the subject of an article Eva Czaran, Malcolm Wolski, and Joanna Richardson, all of Griffith University, Australia, in their paper “Improving research impact through the use of media” published in De Gruyter’s open access journal Open Information Science.

    The paper shows how difficult it is to tell the story of a research project well and suggests that the promotion of research through visual storytelling could be useful in many scientific endeavors. To ensure success, researchers must be supported by their institutions to develop storytelling skills and present them using visual media.

    The paper presents a Four Phase Media Development Model which highlights the key steps a researcher or a media professional must take when developing a media product. The model is simple. It includes scoping, development, release and review. Scoping involves thinking about what the researcher needs so the message can be kept simple. It includes identifying the audience, deciding which visual approach to take, showing what the research changes in the world and finding a story to tell about that research. Next is the development phase: writing and creating the film. Then a release date that makes sense for the project is chosen, and then eight months later the success of the project is measured and evaluated.

    This model is very easy to put into practice, and it can be used to train researchers without requiring more funding.

    Ian Birch, Director ICT Strategy and Architecture, Auckland University of Technology said, “We believe that there is great potential to apply your model across various institutes and research studies. We were also impressed that the approach had already demonstrated its positive impact in generating research funding from new sources.”

    Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele, Director of Social Marketing at Griffith University added, “This video has bought direct interest in our work. I wouldn’t change the process we used. It has really delivered, more than I dreamed it would.”


  7. Study suggests risk of oversharing in conversation increases with age

    November 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Edinburgh press release:

    The risk of oversharing in conversation — or providing a listener with too much irrelevant detail — increases as we age, research suggests.

    Tests carried out on a group of 100 people show the thinking skills that influence how we respond to people’s points of view deteriorate with age.

    Linguists used a series of computerised listening and visual tests to assess thinking skills in the group, whose ages ranged from 17 to 84 years old.

    The team tested how participants’ attention skills — the ability to concentrate on one thing and ignore another — influenced their ability to consider a partner’s perspective in conversation.

    The researchers, from The University of Edinburgh and Northwestern University in Illinois, completed two listening tests to assess two types of attention skills.

    Firstly, they tracked inhibition — the ability to focus and ignore distracting information.

    Then they monitored switching — the ability to shift focus between two different sounds and filter relevant information.

    Researchers asked participants to describe one of four objects to a partner who could only see three of the objects. The researchers found older participants were more likely to mention details about the hidden object, revealing irrelevant information to their partner.

    The team found an age-related decline in attention switching skills, and that this ability determined how older adults responded to their partner’s perspective.

    For younger adults, their ability to filter distracting information was what determined their ability to consider others’ perspectives more effectively.

    Lead researcher Madeleine Long, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, said: “The study identified two attentional functions that influence whether we consider another’s point of view and how that changes as we age. This is particularly important for older adults who are more susceptible to revealing private information.

    “We hope these findings can be used to design targeted training that helps older adults improve these skills and avoid embarrassing and potential risky communicative errors.”


  8. Study suggests hearing an opinion spoken aloud humanizes the person behind it

    November 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    People attribute more humanlike qualities to those expressing opinions they disagree with when the opinions are spoken as opposed to written, according to new research in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The findings explore how specific aspects of speech, such as intonation and frequent pauses, may serve as cues that humanize the people who are speaking, making them seem more intellectual and emotionally warm than those whose opinions are written.

    “Our findings show that even when the content is the same, the medium through which it is expressed can affect evaluations of the communicator,” says lead researcher Juliana Schroeder of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. “It is possible that variance in communicators’ natural cues in their voices, such as tone, can convey their thoughtfulness.”

    “Preliminary evidence from one of our studies suggests that the medium by which an opinion is expressed may even influence how persuasive it is,” she adds.

    In previous research, Schroeder investigated how the medium of communication affects how recruiters evaluate job candidates. In the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election in the US, she and coauthors Michael Kardas and Nicholas Epley (both of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business) hypothesized that this question might be especially relevant in the context of controversial political and social issues.

    In one experiment, the researchers video-recorded six participants as they expressed their actual opinions on one of three polarizing political and social topics: abortion, the US war in Afghanistan, or rap versus country music. For each topic, one person expressed their opinions in favor of the issue and one against.

    The researchers then randomly assigned a separate group of online participants to receive one of the messages — some saw the full video, some heard only the audio, and some received a transcript.

    Afterwards, these online participants reported whether the communicator seemed to possess sophisticated intellect — they rated, for example, the extent to which he or she seemed “refined and cultured,” “rational and logical,” and “like an adult, not a child” relative to average person. They also reported the communicator’s emotional warmth relative to the average person — they evaluated the degree to which he or she seemed “superficial,” “emotional, responsive, warm,” and “mechanical and cold, like a robot.”

    The results showed that the medium of communication mattered particularly when the communicator and the evaluator disagreed on an issue: Participants judged communicators who expressed an opposing opinion via video or audio as more humanlike — that is, more sophisticated and warm — than those who described their opposing opinions in text form.

    Participants who watched a video and those who listened to audio gave similar ratings, suggesting that visual cues visual cues are not additionally necessary to endow a speaker with human qualities — an audio clip is sufficient.

    Two additional experiments, in which communicators explained why they supported a particular candidate in the 2016 US Presidential election, replicated this pattern of results. Preliminary data from one of the experiments suggested that participants also found messages communicated by voice to be more persuasive than those communicated by text, regardless of whether that text was written by the communicator or was a transcription of a speech.

    The three experiments produced less consistent results, however, when the communicator and evaluator were in agreement.

    A fourth experiment revealed that specific variations in how people speak — such as differences in intonation and the degree to which they pause — may help to explain why people perceive speakers as possessing more humanlike qualities than writers.

    “Whereas existing research demonstrates that cues in speech increase accurate understanding of mental states, our experiments demonstrate that a person’s voice reveals something more fundamental: the presence of a humanlike mind capable of thinking and feeling,” Schroeder and coauthors write in their paper.

    This may become increasingly important as modern technology changes the way that people interact and communicate.

    If mutual appreciation and understanding of the mind of another person is the goal of social interaction, then it may be best for the person’s voice to be heard,” the researchers conclude.


  9. Study suggests dogs are more expressive when someone is looking

    October 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth press release:

    Dogs produce more facial expressions when humans are looking at them, according to new research from the University of Portsmouth.

    Scientists at the University’s Dog Cognition Centre are the first to find clear evidence dogs move their faces in direct response to human attention. Dogs don’t respond with more facial expressions upon seeing tasty food, suggesting that dogs produce facial expressions to communicate and not just because they are excited.

    Brow raising, which makes the eyes look bigger — so-called puppy dog eyes — was the dogs’ most commonly used expression in this research.

    Dog cognition expert Dr Juliane Kaminski led the study, which is published in Scientific Reports.

    She said: “We can now be confident that the production of facial expressions made by dogs are dependent on the attention state of their audience and are not just a result of dogs being excited. In our study they produced far more expressions when someone was watching, but seeing food treats did not have the same effect.

    “The findings appear to support evidence dogs are sensitive to humans’ attention and that expressions are potentially active attempts to communicate, not simple emotional displays.”

    Most mammals produce facial expressions — such expressions are considered an important part of an animal’s behavioural repertoire — but it has long been assumed that animal facial expressions, including some human facial expressions, are involuntary and dependent on an individual’s emotional state rather than being flexible responses to the audience

    Dr Kaminski said it’s possible dogs’ facial expressions have changed as part of the process of becoming domesticated.

    The researchers studied 24 dogs of various breeds, aged one to 12. All were family pets. Each dog was tied by a lead a metre away from a person, and the dogs’ faces were filmed throughout a range of exchanges, from the person being oriented towards the dog, to being distracted and with her body turned away from the dog.

    The dogs’ facial expressions were measured using DogFACS, an anatomically based coding system which gives a reliable and standardised measurement of facial changes linked to underlying muscle movement.

    Co-author and facial expression expert Professor Bridget Waller said “DogFACS captures movements from all the different muscles in the canine face, many of which are capable of producing very subtle and brief facial movements.

    “FACS systems were originally developed for humans, but have since been modified for use with other animals such as primates and dogs.”

    Dr Kaminski said: “Domestic dogs have a unique history — they have lived alongside humans for 30,000 years and during that time selection pressures seem to have acted on dogs’ ability to communicate with us.

    “We knew domestic dogs paid attention to how attentive a human is — in a previous study we found, for example, that dogs stole food more often when the human’s eyes were closed or they had their back turned. In another study, we found dogs follow the gaze of a human if the human first establishes eye contact with the dog, so the dog knows the gaze-shift is directed at them.

    “This study moves forward what we understand about dog cognition. We now know dogs make more facial expressions when the human is paying attention.”

    It is impossible yet to say whether dogs’ behaviour in this and other studies is evidence dogs have flexible understanding of another individual’s perspective — that they truly understand another individual’s mental state — or if their behaviour is hardwired, or even a learned response to seeing the face or eyes of another individual.

    Puppy dog eyes is a facial expression which, in humans, closely resembles sadness. This potentially makes humans more empathetic towards the dog who uses the expression, or because it makes the dog’s eyes appear bigger and more infant-like — potentially tapping into humans’ preference for child-like characteristics. Regardless of the mechanism, humans are particularly responsive to that expression in dogs.

    Previous research has shown some apes can also modify their facial expressions depending on their audience, but until now, dogs’ abilities to do use facial expression to communicate with humans hadn’t been systematically examined.


  10. Study looks at timbre shifting in “baby talk”

    October 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Cell Press press release:

    When talking with their young infants, parents instinctively use “baby talk,” a unique form of speech including exaggerated pitch contours and short, repetitive phrases. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on October 12 have found another unique feature of the way mothers talk to their babies: they shift the timbre of their voice in a rather specific way. The findings hold true regardless of a mother’s native language.

    “We use timbre, the tone color or unique quality of a sound, all the time to distinguish people, animals, and instruments,” says Elise Piazza from Princeton University. “We found that mothers alter this basic quality of their voices when speaking to infants, and they do so in a highly consistent way across many diverse languages.”

    Timbre is the reason it’s so easy to discern idiosyncratic voices — the famously velvety sound of Barry White, the nasal tone of Gilbert Gottfried, and the gravelly sound of Tom Waits — even if they’re all singing the same note, Piazza explains.

    Piazza and her colleagues at the Princeton Baby Lab, including Marius Catalin Iordan and Casey Lew-Williams, are generally interested in the way children learn to detect structure in the voices around them during early language acquisition. In the new study, they decided to focus on the vocal cues that parents adjust during baby talk without even realizing they’re doing it.

    The researchers recorded 12 English-speaking mothers while they played with and read to their 7- to 12-month-old infants. They also recorded those mothers while they spoke to another adult.

    After quantifying each mother’s unique vocal fingerprint using a concise measure of timbre, the researchers found that a computer could reliably tell the difference between infant- and adult-directed speech. In fact, using an approach called machine learning, the researchers found that a computer could learn to differentiate baby talk from normal speech based on just one second of speech data. The researchers verified that those differences couldn’t be explained by pitch or background noise.

    The next question was whether those differences would hold true in mothers speaking other languages. The researchers enlisted another group of 12 mothers who spoke nine different languages, including Spanish, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, German, French, Hebrew, Mandarin, and Cantonese. Remarkably, they found that the timbre shift observed in English-speaking mothers was highly consistent across those languages from around the world.

    “The machine learning algorithm, when trained on English data alone, could immediately distinguish adult-directed from infant-directed speech in a test set of non-English recordings and vice versa when trained on non-English data, showing strong generalizability of this effect across languages,” Piazza says. “Thus, shifts in timbre between adult-directed and infant-directed speech may represent a universal form of communication that mothers implicitly use to engage their babies and support their language learning.”

    The researchers say the next step is to explore how the timbre shift helps infants in learning. They suspect that the unique timbre fingerprint could help babies learn to differentiate and direct their attention to their mother’s voice from the time they are born.

    And don’t worry, dads. While the study was done in mothers to keep the pitches more consistent across study participants, the researchers say it’s likely the results will apply to fathers, too.