1. Study suggests photos are more credible but cartoons are more persuasive when conveying a message

    May 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) press release:

    If you’re creating a message to educate, inform, or persuade, don’t underestimate the power of a well-executed cartoon. A new study at the University of Illinois suggests if you’re trying to convince the public to change their stance on a topic such as wind energy, you may be more successful if you use a cartoon rather than a photograph.

    “Photographs were shown to be more credible, but cartoons were more likely to change behavior,” says U of I agricultural communications professor Lulu Rodriguez who led the study. “A cartoon grabs people’s attention long enough to deliver the message. That’s what you need in today’s message-heavy atmosphere. Why not use a tool that has proven ability to cut through the others and inform people in a way that actually works?”

    In the study, participants were shown one of two versions of the same set of brochures. Each set was designed to debunk a myth about wind energy, the intent being to give readers scientific information about wind energy and assuage their fears. Each pair of brochures was identical in design, text, color, size, etc. The only difference was that the originally designed brochures featured a beautiful, professional photograph of wind turbines, while the look-alike brochures created for the study swapped out the photograph with a cartoon.

    “You have to spend more time with a cartoon to figure out the meaning of the illustrations, and the situation,” Rodriguez says. “People look at cartoons longer, so they’re more cognitively engaged with the cartoon. Usually it includes humor and people work hard at figuring out the punch line. The photos used to represent wind energy on the original brochures were just beautiful scenic shots of the turbine blades or a landscape dotted with turbines so people didn’t look at them as long.”

    Interestingly, the respondents said the content was better in the cartoon brochures (even though the text was identical), but the credibility was lower than the brochures using photographs.

    “It may be because of the more light-hearted approach of cartoons,” Rodriquez says. “Cartoons make a topic like wind energy, which may be a bit scary to people, more accessible. But this notion of credibility is a different issue. We teach students to be conversational in writing. Don’t put on your ‘tuxedo’ language. And yet, people associate big words with credibility.”

    Rodriguez says the use of comics has already been shown to be effective in explaining scientific concepts and principles in high school chemistry classrooms. (Rodriguez is also the director of the agricultural communications program in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and the College of Media.) She says she has not seen the comparison of photos versus cartoons studied in non-classroom settings.

    In addition to educational settings, the power of cartoons to persuade can be of value to agencies working to educate the public about a science-laden concept — one for which they would like to change opinion, intentions, or behaviors.

    “My interest is in making science more accessible to the public,” Rodriguez says. “This study offers real recommendations to communicate science better to a general audience. Understanding the science helps get people past whatever might be controversial about a scientific breakthrough or innovation. The controversies usually arise out of a lack of understanding.”

    In terms of wind energy, Rodriguez says, people worry about claims that the turbines kill birds, when in fact, cars kill more birds. “We kept hearing scientists say that people do not fully understand wind energy. So we thought, how can we deflect that misunderstanding?”

    Rodriguez cites communicating about GMOs as another possible case in which incorporating cartoons may inform people.

    “Most people don’t know about all the regulatory layers at the local and national level involved in producing GMOs. If you try to describe that for people in text, they may not get it or they may not be motivated to read lines and lines of words. Perhaps a cartoon showing safety regulations or the similarity of genetic engineering to natural crossing of plants would be more convincing,” she says.

    “I have a colleague who actually did this to explain how they got the vitamin A into golden rice using a cartoonish infographic. Not very scientific — but people get it. It’s a lot easier to explain complex scientific concepts that way.”

    Rodriguez admits that text and photos may be the easier route to take.

    “Truth be told, this is easy to recommend, but cartoons and effective information graphics are difficult to create. You have to hire someone with real skills to do it. Making things easier to understand is a difficult thing to do,” she says. “And, when people hire an advertising agency to create a brochure for their product or cause, they may lean toward using photos because they convey prestige or credibility. It may be difficult to convince them to use a cartoon because they think it reduces the classiness of the brochure.”

    The article, “The impact of comics on knowledge, attitude and behavioural intentions related to wind energy,” is published in an issue of the Journal of Visual Literacy.


  2. Study examines psychological effect of mixing energy drinks with alcohol

    by Ashley

    From the INSEAD press release:

    Energy drinks adverts high on risk taking and a lack of inhibition, profoundly influence the way young people believe they are intoxicated when they are mixing them with alcohol. When told an energy drink is mixed in their vodka cocktails, young men feel more intoxicated, daring, and sexually self-confident, new research suggests. The effects of intoxication were stronger in those who believe that energy drinks boost the effect of liquor.

    Previous studies suggested that mixing energy drinks with alcohol could mask the effects of liquor, leading consumers to believe they weren’t drunk but, in a trial of 154 young men at the Paris-based INSEAD Sorbonne University Behavioral Lab, the opposite was found to be true.

    The study participants were told they would drink a cocktail of an energy drink, vodka and fruit juice. Although all drinks had the same ingredients, they had different labels: Red Bull & vodka, a vodka cocktail or a fruit juice cocktail. The effect of the label alone on participants’ self-assessment of intoxication was remarkable.

    Researchers found that participants who believed they were drinking an energy drink and alcohol cocktail were more likely to believe themselves quite drunk and uninhibited. This was especially true among those who had a strong belief that mixing energy drinks with liquor would boost the effects of liquor.

    Labeling the same cocktail as vodka & Red Bull increased perceived intoxication by 51%, compared to labelling it a vodka cocktail or a fruit juice cocktail. It also increased the young men’s intentions to approach and “chat up” women, and their confidence that they would welcome it. Finally, it led also to more risk-taking in a gambling game. All these effects were stronger for the participants who most strongly believed that energy drinks boost the effects of alcohol and that being intoxicated reduces inhibitions and increases risk-taking.

    On the positive side, the authors found that the Red Bull & vodka label increased intentions to wait before getting behind the wheel of a car by 14 minutes because of the perceived intoxication.

    Yann Cornil, Assistant Professor of the Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, Pierre Chandon, the L’Oréal Chaired Professor of Marketing, Innovation and Creativity at INSEAD, and Aradhna Krishna, the Dwight F. Benton Professor of Marketing at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, published the results of their study in paper “Does Red Bull Give Wings to Vodka? Placebo Effects of Marketing Labels on Perceived Intoxication and Risky Attitudes and Behaviors,” forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

    “Red Bull has long used the slogan ‘Red Bull gives you wings,’ but our study shows that this type of advertising can make people think it has intoxicating qualities when it doesn’t,” said lead author Cornil. “Essentially, when alcohol is mixed with an energy drink and people are aware of it, they feel like they’re more intoxicated simply because the marketing says they should feel that way.”

    Labelling functions as a “placebo” in this study. People read “placebo” and see “fake” but the marketing placebo effect is a real psychological effect in which a brand influences consumers’ expectations and, as a result, their behavior.

    This study shows for the first time that there is a causal effect of mixing alcohol and energy drinks on perceived intoxication and real behaviors driven by the expectation that energy drinks boost the effects of alcohol, rather than the contents of the cocktails. All participants had the same drink yet their belief about what they were drinking had an impact on their behavior.

    “Beliefs that people have about a product can be just as important as the ingredients of the product itself,” said Chandon, co-author and director of the INSEAD Sorbonne Behavioral Lab. “Regulations and codes of conduct should consider the psychological — and not just physiological — effects of products.”

    According to the researchers, the findings highlight a need for policymakers and consumer protection groups to re-examine how energy drinks are advertised and labelled.

    “Given the psychological effects of energy-drink marketing, energy drink marketers should be banned from touting the disinhibiting effects of their ingredients,” said Cornil.

    “The silver lining was that emphasizing the energy drink in the cocktail made the participants less likely to drive,” said study co-author Krishna. “It seems that drunk-driving education is working enough to make people think hard about driving when they are feeling drunk.”

    This article has implications for consumers of energy drinks and alcohol, government regulators, and those who market new products which could be pitched in way that encourages reckless behavior.


  3. Study looks at what drives rejection amongst children

    May 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Children learn how to make friends and interact with others in the first few years of school. Unfortunately, rejection is part of daily life in a classroom and we can all remember the bitter feeling of being left out by classmates. Some children suffer widespread rejection at school and this can this can have a long-term effect.

    In an effort to reduce negative relationships, research has traditionally focused on the behaviour of the disliked child, asking, ‘What did they do to warrant rejection?’ Blaming rejection on a child’s behaviour, however, does not explain why an aggressive child might sometimes be a popular classmate. In addition, the bad behaviour of a rejected child may not actually be the cause, but rather the consequence, of being rejected.

    New research, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, approaches this subject in a different way. It asked the children doing the rejecting, the ‘rejecters’, for the reasons they disliked certain children. The study revealed the act of rejection is complex — the behaviour of the rejected child is only partly, or not at all, to blame.

    “We find that the rejected child’s behaviour does not lead directly or inevitably to rejection,” says Francisco Juan García Bacete, a Professor in the Department of Developmental, Educational and Social Psychology and Methodology, at the Jaume I University, Spain. “Instead, what actually leads to rejection are the rejecters’ interpretations of the child’s behaviour, and whether they think it will have a negative impact on themselves or their social group.”

    Professor Garcia Bacete and his co-authors interviewed hundreds of 5- to 7-year olds and asked them to describe who, in their class, they liked least and why. The researchers were left with a long list of reasons, such as “I don’t like playing football,” “He’s boring,” “He’s new,” and “She cheats,” to sort through to find common themes. To do this, they used a method called ‘Grounded Theory‘.

    “Grounded Theory starts from the reasons provided by the children and, by constantly comparing them, categories emerge that explain differences between the motives for rejection,” describes Professor Garcia Bacete. “So rather than forcing the data to be grouped under preconceived headings, we let the data speak for itself.”

    He continues, “Most of the reasons could be grouped under what the rejected child does, says or tries, such as aggression, dominance, problematic social and school behaviours, and disturbance of wellbeing. However, we also noticed that these reasons came with context — specifically, which classmates or groups were involved in the rejection and the frequency it happened.”

    It became clear they had discovered that rejection does not appear to be the direct result of the behaviour of the disliked child, but whether the rejecters saw this behaviour as harmful to the needs of themselves or their friends.

    The Grounded Theory method also revealed two new categories of reasons that do not usually appear in traditional rejection studies — preference and unfamiliarity. Professor Garcia Bacete explains, “Preference highlights the power of particular likes and dislikes in that it strengthens personal identities. Sometimes it manifests in a negative context, for example, when prejudices are shared, which reinforces the feeling of belonging to a group.” He continues, “Reasons governed by unfamiliarity highlight our tendency towards choosing and doing what has already been preferred and done, or the fear and mistrust to what is unknown or unfamiliar.”

    The authors hope this study will provide a solid framework for developing programs to tackle rejection. “This research highlights the importance of teaching children how to be aware of and tackle negative reputations, stereotypes and prejudices, as well as understanding the consequences of their behaviour on themselves and others. Positive relationships should be encouraged — you should respect others, not just your friends.” concludes Professor García Bacete.

    Further research hopes to delve deeper and examine if there are particular reasons that lead to persistent rejection. Additionally, research should focus on the relationship between the rejecter and rejected child, examining how other children may influence the reasons for rejecting a peer.


  4. Study suggests experience of beauty requires one to think

    May 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Cell Press press release:

    Does the experience of beauty require a person to think? And can sensuous pleasures, like eating or sex, be beautiful? Such questions have long preoccupied philosophers, with Immanuel Kant making the famous claim that beauty requires thought, unlike sensuous pleasure, which, he said, can never be beautiful. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on May 11 who have put these philosophical notions to the test in a series of psychological experiments say that Kant was right on one count and wrong on the other.

    Their findings show that distractions do indeed detract from the experience of beauty. In other words, it takes thought to experience beauty when looking at a beautiful image. On the other hand, their evidence shows that sensuous pleasures also can be beautiful.

    “We find that beauty, when it happens, is strongly pleasurable, and that strong pleasure is always beautiful,” says Denis Pelli at New York University. “Strong pleasure and beauty both require thought.”

    To explore these philosophical theories in the new study, Pelli and Aenne Brielmann asked 62 people to indicate how much pleasure and beauty they felt while they saw an image, tasted a candy, or touched a soft teddy bear. The researchers showed each person many different images, some beautiful, some merely nice, and others neutral, like a chair in a furniture catalog. Participants then rated their experience of each object on a four-point beauty scale.

    In another round of the same experiment, participants were asked to repeat what they’d done earlier, this time while they were distracted with a secondary task. In that task, participants heard a series of letters and were asked to press a button any time they heard the same letter they’d heard two letters before.

    The researchers found that the experience of non-beautiful objects wasn’t changed by the distraction. But, distraction took away from the experience of beauty when a person was shown an image earlier deemed beautiful. In other words, Kant was right. Beauty does require thought.

    However, contrary to Kant’s proposal that sensual pleasures can never be beautiful, about 30 percent of participants said they’d definitely experienced beauty after sucking on a candy or touching a soft teddy bear.

    Surprised by that, the researchers decided to follow up. They asked some participants who had responded “definitely yes” for beauty on candy trials what they’d meant. As Brielmann and Pelli report, “most of them remarked that sucking candy had personal meaning for them, like a fond childhood memory. One participant replied, ‘Of course, anything can be beautiful.'”

    “Our findings show that many other things besides art can be beautiful — even candy,” Brielmann says. “But for maximum pleasure, nothing beats undistracted beauty.”

    The findings highlight the fact that beauty, subjective and ephemeral as it is, can still be measured and mathematically modelled, the researchers say. Such scientific explorations of beauty have practical application as well.

    “These are important insights for people who want to create beauty, such as artists or museum curators,” Brielmann adds. “You should, for example, not distract people in museums if you want them to find beauty in the art.”

    The researchers plan to continue this line of investigation in hopes to answer questions about the role of beauty in our lives. For instance, they ask, “Are there people who cannot experience beauty? What role does beauty play in decision making? Is a sense of beauty necessary for creativity? And, is ugliness the opposite of beauty or is it a separate dimension?”


  5. Live interactions with robots increase their perceived human likeness

    by Ashley

    From the International Communication Association press release:

    Most human interactions with robots come from behind a screen. Whether it’s fiction or a real-life interaction, rarely are we put face to face with a robot. This poses a significant barrier when we look towards a future where robots will be part of our everyday lives. How do we break down this barrier? A recent study by researchers at the University of Koblenz-Landau, University of Wurzburg, and Arts Electronica Futurelab, found that people who watched live interactions with a robot were more likely to consider the robot to have more human-like qualities.

    Constanze Schreiner (University of Koblenz-Landau), Martina Mara (Ars Electronica Futuerlab), and Markus Appel (University of Wurzburg) will present their findings at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association in San Diego, CA. Using a Roboy robot, participants observed one of three experimental human robot interactons (HRI); either in real life, in virtual reality (VR) on a 3D screen, or on a 2D screen. The scripted HRI between Roboy and the human technician was 4:25 minutes long. During that time, participants saw Roboy assisting the human in organizing appointments, conducting web searches and finding a birthday present for his mom.

    The data analyzed revealed that observing a live interaction or alternatively encountering the robot in a VR lead to more perceived realness. Furthermore, the kind of presentation influenced perceived human-likeness. Participants who observed a real HRI reported the highest perceived human-likeness. Particularly interesting is that participants who were introduced to Roboy in VR perceived the robot as less human-like than participants who watched a live HRI, whereas these two groups did not differentiate in regard of perceived realness.

    Usually, experimental studies interested in HRI and participants’ evaluations of humanoid service robots — due to limited resources — need to fall back on video stimuli. This is the first study using participants’ evaluations of a humanoid service robot when observed either on a 2D video, in 3D virtual reality, or in real life.

    “Many people will have their first encounter with a service robot over the next decade. Service robots are designed to communicate with humans in humanlike ways and assist them in various aspects of their daily routine. Potential areas of application range from hospitals and nursing homes to hotels and the users’ households,” said Schreiner. “To date, however, most people still only know such robots from the Internet or TV and are still skeptical about the idea of sharing their personal lives with robots, especially when it comes to machines of highly human-like appearance.”

    “When R2-D2 Hops off the Screen: A Service Robot Encountered in Real Life Appears More Real and Humanlike Than on Video or in VR,” by Constanze Schreiner, Martina Mara, and Markus Appel; to be presented at the 67th Annual International Communication Association Conference, San Diego, CA, 25-29 May 2017.


  6. Study debunks myth that red candies make one happier

    May 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Queensland University of Technology press release:

    A test to assess the effect of red Smarties on happiness has been used to teach the often “dull” or “boring” concepts of clinical research.

    The study, published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health, was based on a mock randomised control trial (RCT) across three countries and involved students at QUT and health professionals in Canada and Malaysia.

    Health professionals and students who were learning to understand what makes good research and how clinical trials are run became the participants in the study.

    They were given a package at the start of the lecture which included a programmed infrared clicker to collect data and a small fun pack of unseen Smarties that were either red or yellow.

    Their level of happiness was recorded on a scale of 1-10 at the start and end of the lecture, during which they blindly consumed the chocolate while observed by a fellow participant.

    Lead researcher QUT Professor Philip Baker said it was interesting that the results found eating red Smarties had no impact on happiness over the yellow candy-coated chocolate.

    “Red is often associated with feelings of happiness and the trial tested this assumption,” Professor Baker said.

    “We had hypothesised if the lecture was boring or difficult to understand and it would have resulted in a significant loss in happiness in all groups, however, the happiness data indicated that the participants’ mood remained unchanged.

    “This debunks the myth that red Smarties increase happiness and as a result a ‘lived in’ trial can turn a complex epidemiology lecture into an interesting teaching technique.

    “It also shows that epidemiology and the study of research methods can be fun and engaging.”

    Professor Baker from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation joined Faculty of Health’s Associate Professor Daniel Francis and QUT Business School Professor Abby Cathcart in the development and design of the trial.

    He said the mock trial illustrated the importance of minimising bias and the challenges of conducting quality research using a hands-on and visual approach.

    Professor Philip Baker said the aim was to apply and assess an authentic teaching approach to epidemiology and critical appraisal — with learners as participants rather than “just lecturing at students.”

    “Students get involved in the clinical trial and thereby learn complex scientific techniques first-hand in a fun way,” Professor Baker said.


  7. Study suggests moviegoers’ taste in movies is idiosyncratic and at odds with critics’ preferences

    May 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    Our taste in movies is notably idiosyncratic, and not linked to the demographic traits that studios target, finds new study on film preferences. The work also shows that moviegoers’ ratings are not necessarily in line with those of critics.

    “What we find enjoyable in movies is strikingly subjective — so much so that the industry’s targeting of film goers by broad demographic categories seems off the mark,” says Pascal Wallisch, a clinical assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and the senior author of the study, which appears in the journal Projections.

    “Critics may be adept at evaluating films, but that doesn’t mean their assessments will accurately predict how much the public will like what they see,” adds co-author Jake Whritner, a graduate of the Cinema Studies Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and currently part of the Cognitive and Data Science Lab at Rutgers University-Newark.

    Over the past century, filmmakers have sought to control viewers’ attention through different editing and shooting techniques, with the assumption that the audience will respond in the same way.

    However, while neural and attentional processing has been extensively examined, the level of agreement in the appraisal of movies among viewers has not been studied. Similarly, while past research has analyzed the relationship between reviews and box-office success as well as agreement among critics for films, none have explored agreement between critics and the general public.

    To address these questions, the researchers considered more than 200 major motion pictures, taking into account popularity, financial success, and critics’ reviews. They then surveyed over 3,000 participants, asking them to give a rating of how much they liked each of the films in the sample that they had previously seen. The researchers also asked participants to provide demographic information (e.g., age, gender) and whether they consider movie critics’ recommendations in choosing which movies to see.

    Finally, Wallisch and Whritner gathered reviews from 42 publicly accessible critics or rating sites (e.g., IMDb) for each of the films in the sample.

    The results generally showed low levels of correlation in movie preferences among study participants. However, there were some patterns. As the number of jointly seen films increased, so did the correlation of the ratings for such films — at least up to a point. When the number of ratings for a given film reached between 100 and 120, correlation grew to its highest point — but as this number continued to increase, correlation for that film’s ratings began to dip, before spiking up again at around 180 commonly seen films.

    Looking at demographics, the survey showed greater agreement in film ratings among male participants than among females — and this difference between genders was statistically significant. However, agreement among both men and women in films was relatively low. There was also little correlation between movie ratings and age — however, because the overall sample skewed younger, the significance of this result is limited. In general, neither gender nor age had much of an effect on inter-subjective agreement. Overall, the low inter-subjective agreement could account for all the vehement disagreements between people on whether or not a given movie was good: on average, one could expect a 1.25-star difference in disagreement on a scale from 0 to 4 stars.

    Turning to correlations with movie critics, the connection between the ratings of critics and any given participant was no better than the average correlation between participants. Even a critic as well regarded as the late Roger Ebert did no better in predicting how well someone would like a movie than a randomly picked participant in the sample. In contrast, critics agreed with each other relatively strongly. In fact, the best predictor of a critic’s response to a film was that of other critics while the best predictor of a non-critics’ response were the aggregated evaluations of other non-critics such as those on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) — but not the aggregated ratings of critics such as Rotten Tomatoes. So it is not the aggregation of ratings per se that improves predictability, but aggregation of non-critic ratings.

    “Something about being a critic seems to make the recommendations of critics unsuitable for predicting the movie taste of regular people,” the authors conclude. “This study is the first to quantify this in an adequately powered fashion, and it helps to explain why people often perceive critics to be out of touch.

    “There are some people in our sample who are ‘superpredictors’ — they perform as well as the best aggregated non-critic ratings when it comes to predicting average non-critics will like. Short of these exceptional predictors, if someone seeks recommendations about what to see, their best bet is to either consult sites that aggregate individual judgements, or to find other individuals or critics with similar tastes.”


  8. Study looks at how personalities change under the influence of alcohol

    by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    People typically report substantive changes to their personality when they become intoxicated, but observations from outsiders suggest less drastic differences between “sober” and “drunk” personalities, according to research published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “We were surprised to find such a discrepancy between drinkers’ perceptions of their own alcohol-induced personalities and how observers perceived them,” says psychological scientist Rachel Winograd of the University of Missouri, St. Louis — Missouri Institute of Mental Health. “Participants reported experiencing differences in all factors of the Five Factor Model of personality, but extraversion was the only factor robustly perceived to be different across participants in alcohol and sober conditions.”

    Winograd and colleagues speculate that this discrepancy may come down to inherent differences in point of view:

    “We believe both the participants and raters were both accurate and inaccurate — the raters reliably reported what was visible to them and the participants experienced internal changes that were real to them but imperceptible to observers,” she explains.

    The idea that we transform into different people when we’re under the influence is a popular one. And systematic differences in an individual’s sober behavior and their drunken behaviors can even inform clinical determinations about whether someone has a drinking problem. But the science on “drunk personality” as a concept is less clear. In Winograd’s previous studies, participants reliably reported that their personality changes when they imbibe, but experimental evidence for this kind of global change was lacking.

    Winograd and colleagues decided to bring the question into the lab, where they could carefully calibrate alcohol consumption and closely monitor individual behavior. They recruited 156 participants, who completed an initial survey gauging their typical alcohol consumption and their perceptions of their own “typical sober” personality and “typical drunk” personality.

    Later, the participants came to the lab in friend groups of 3 or 4, where the researchers administered a baseline breathalyzer test and measured the participants’ height and weight. Over the course of about 15 minutes, each participant consumed beverages — some drank Sprite, while others consumed individually-tailored vodka and Sprite cocktails designed to produce a blood alcohol content of about .09.

    After a 15-minute absorption period, the friends worked through a series of fun group activities — including discussion questions and logic puzzles — intended to elicit a variety of personality traits and behaviors.

    The participants completed personality measures at two points during the lab session. And outside observers used video recordings to complete standardized assessments of each individual’s personality traits.

    As expected, participants’ ratings indicated change in all five of the major personality factors. After drinking, participants reported lower levels of conscientiousness, openness to experience, and agreeableness, and they reported higher levels of extraversion and emotional stability (the inverse of neuroticism).

    The observers, on the other hand, noted fewer differences across the sober and intoxicated participants’ personality traits. In fact, observer ratings indicated reliable differences in only one personality factor: extraversion. Specifically, participants who had consumed alcohol were rated higher on three facets of extraversion: gregariousness, assertiveness, and levels of activity.

    Given that extraversion is the most outwardly visible personality factor, it makes sense that both parties noted differences in this trait, the researchers argue.

    They acknowledge, however, that they cannot rule out other influences — such as participants’ own expectations of their drunk personality — that may have contributed to the discrepancy in ratings.

    “Of course, we also would love to see these findings replicated outside of the lab — in bars, at parties, and in homes where people actually do their drinking,” says Winograd.

    “Most importantly, we need to see how this work is most relevant in the clinical realm and can be effectively included in interventions to help reduce any negative impact of alcohol on peoples’ lives,” she concludes.


  9. Sound projection: Are Stradivarius violins really better?

    May 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the CNRS press release:

    Researchers at the Institut Jean Le Rond d’Alembert (CNRS/UPMC) have shown that recently-made violins have better sound projection1than those built by the famous violinmaker Antonio Stradivarius. This study, published in the journal PNAS on May 8th 2017, also shows that, despite the prestige of these old Italian violins, listeners prefer the sound made by recent instruments and cannot distinguish the two.

    Sound projection is the capacity of a musical instrument to fill the space of a concert hall, to carry to the back of the room, and to rise above the sound of an orchestra. It is particularly important for soloists. Sound projection of 17th and 18th century Italian violins, notably those of Stradivarius, is often considered better than more recent violins. The research group of Claudia Fritz, CNRS researcher at Institut Jean Le Rond d’Alembert (CNRS/UPMC)2, in collaboration with the American violinmaker Joseph Curtin, wanted to test this supposed superiority. To do this they conducted two experiments involving 137 listeners: 55 in an auditorium in Paris and 82 in a New York concert hall. The listeners had to judge nine pairs of violins, each consisting of an old violin and a recent one3, following two criteria: sound projection and personal preference. So as to avoid bias, the experiments were performed double blind, concealing the identities of the violins from both the musicians and the audience.

    The results of the study showed that on average the listeners preferred the recent instruments to the Stradivarius violins and found that they had better projection. Furthermore, neither the violinists nor the listeners were able to systematically distinguish the two kinds of violin. Two other blind studies, conducted by the same team in 2010 and 2012, had already shown that violinists preferred recent instruments to famous Italian violins, while being unable to distinguish between them.

    This study reveals that, contrary to popular belief, soloists would do better to favor recently-made violins for their competitions, auditions and concerts, on the condition that the violins’ origin remains unknown to the jury and listeners. Moreover, encouraging violinists to do blind tests would allow them to choose an instrument without being influenced by the prestige of the name of a famous violinmaker.

    1 Sound projection is the capacity of an instrument to fill the space of a concert hall, to carry to the back of the room, and to rise above the sound of an orchestra.

    2 Claudia Fritz was awarded the CNRS bronze medal in 2016.

    3 The violins were selected at random from three recent violins (under 10 years old) and three Stradivarius.

     


  10. Study suggests that smiling may make one appear older

    May 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Western Ontario press release:

    Turn that frown upside-down? Not if you’re keen on looking younger, you shouldn’t.

    A new study shows that smiling can make you appear to be two years older than if you wear a poker face. And if you reacted to that finding with a look of surprise — well, that expression might just have dropped years from your visage.

    “We associate smiling with positive values and youth,” said study co-author Melvyn Goodale, director of the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University. “Think of all the skin-care and toothpaste companies that sell the same idea every day.”

    But this study — in which researchers flashed images of people with smiling, neutral and surprised expressions — showed the opposite: participants perceived the surprised faces as the youngest and smiling faces the oldest.

    “The striking thing was that when we asked participants afterwards about their perceptions, they erroneously recalled that they had identified smiling faces as the youngest ones,” Goodale said. “They were completely blind to the fact they had ‘aged’ the happy-looking faces. Their perceptions and their beliefs were polar opposites.”

    Goodale said the aging effect of a smile stems from people’s inability to ignore the wrinkles that form around the eyes during smiling. A look of surprise, on the other hand, smooths any wrinkles.

    “It may seem counter-intuitive, but the study shows that people can sincerely believe one thing and then behave in a completely different way,” Goodale said.