1. Study suggests voice and scent play a role in attractiveness

    May 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Attractiveness isn’t just a matter of good looks, but also the right voice and scent, highlights a mini review in Frontiers in Psychology.

    “Recently, most reviews have focused on visual attractiveness — for example, face or body attractiveness,” says Agata Groyecka, lead author of the review and a researcher at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. “However, literature about other senses and their role in social relations has grown rapidly and should not be neglected.”

    Whether by an off-putting body odor or a grating voice, it’s easy to understand how the nose and ears are just as important as the eyes in noticing how attractive someone is. It’s not particularly surprising that attractiveness spans more than just physical appearance, but most research has focused on looks, neglecting vocal and olfactory factors.

    “Perceiving others through all three channels gives a more reliable and broader variety of information about them,” says Groyecka.

    Groyecka and her collaborators recently combed through over 30 years of literature to provide a brief overview of the few studies that have looked into the role of voice and scent. While not extensive, this research field has already given insight into the quantity and variety of information that can be gathered by these other senses — which it turns out can be quite a lot.

    Some findings are relatively intuitive, such as people guessing gender and age based on voice alone. But listeners have also proven to be skilled at detecting an unexpected range of characteristics from a voice, including the dominance, cooperativeness, emotional state, and even the body size of the speaker.

    Even more surprisingly, other studies have shown that people can correctly deduce very similar types of information based on scent alone. Recent brain imaging studies also suggest that combinations — sight and smell, for example — appear to be synergistic, producing even stronger reactions than would be expected from summing the individual responses.

    Perceived attractiveness impacts day-to-day life in a variety of ways, influencing not only romantic relationships, but also friendships and professional interactions. Without incorporating such information, psychological studies of everyday decision making and social communication can’t capture the whole picture. Groyecka’s review also highlights a variety of proposed evolutionary explanations for these multisensory aspects of attraction, such as the utility of having traits that can be detected both from a distance (voice and looks), as well as up close (scent).

    “I hope that this review will inspire researchers to further explore the role of audition and olfaction in social relations,” says Groyecka.


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

    May 24, 2017 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’OrĂ©al 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 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?”


  4. 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.


  5. 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.


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

    May 19, 2017 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.


  7. 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.

     


  8. 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.


  9. Study looks at how we perceive fictional characters

    May 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    The Sopranos‘ Tony Soprano and Walter White from Breaking Bad rank among recent television drama’s most notorious protagonists, each of questionable morality. So, here’s the question: Do you like them?

    If you answered “yes” as many people do, a recently published paper by a University at Buffalo researcher suggests why people might feel good about characters who do bad things.

    The research has implications ranging from better understanding our relationship to fictional narratives, to possibly improving the effectiveness of character-based public service campaigns, according to lead author Matthew Grizzard, an assistant professor in UB’s Department of Communication and an expert on the cognitive, emotional and psychobiological effects of media entertainment.

    The results, with co-authors Jialing Huang, Kaitlin Fitzgerald, Changhyun Ahn and Haoran Chu, all UB graduate students, appear in the journal Communication Research.

    Grizzard says the reasons an audience may like or dislike a character has been a key question for media researchers since the 1970s.

    Morality matters. Viewers tend to like the good guys and dislike the bad guys. But Grizzard’s study, which builds on previous research, also suggests that we don’t necessarily need to see behavior to make a distinction between the hero and the villain.

    Grizzard’s study manipulated what characters looked like and measured audience perceptions. They hoped to find out whether simple differences in appearance — for example black clothes compared to lighter colors — would be enough for viewers to categorize a character as a hero or villain.

    Earlier research, meantime, had found that heroes and villains differ in morality but not competence.

    “Villains aren’t just immoral. They’re good at being bad,” according to Grizzard.

    The previous research gave Grizzard’s research team a pattern for determining whether they were activating perceptions of heroes and villains or whether they were simply creating biases unrelated to narrative characters.

    “If our data had come out where the heroic-looking character was both more moral and more competent than the villain, then we probably just created a bias. But because the hero was more moral than the villain but equally competent, we’re more confident that visuals can activate perceptions of heroic and villainous characters,” says Grizzard.

    Beyond an understanding of how visuals can influence perceptions of character, the findings indicate that judgments of characters depend on comparisons audiences make between characters — and the order of introduction plays a role.

    Heroes were judged to be more heroic when they appeared after a villain and villains were judged to be more villainous when they appeared after a hero.

    “What’s happening here is that we’re not making isolated judgements about these characters using some objective standard of morality,” says Grizzard. “We’re constantly making comparisons about these characters and the forces they face.”

    With Walter White, for example, the audience sees the evolution of a character whose ethics progressively spiral downward from season to season, and yet audiences remained loyal to him. That loyalty surprised Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan.

    Gilligan said in an interview that at some point he thought the audience would turn against the character. But Grizzard points out that the show’s antagonists concurrently get worse along with White.

    “We see a trend where White is not decreasing by himself. There’s likely to be a constant comparison with other characters,” says Grizzard. “So White is probably benefiting from the comparisons the audience is making.”

    Grizzard says it’s a polarization effect. The hero seems better when compared to the villain’s darkness while the villain seems worse when viewed in the hero’s light.

    But being bad isn’t, well, all bad, at least in the world of fictional narrative. It comes with certain advantages, according to Grizzard.

    “We find that characters who are perceived as villains get a bigger boost from the good actions or apparent altruism than heroes, like the Severus Snape character from the Harry Potter books and films.”

    These findings could be informative for public service campaigns or tele-novellas that try to promote certain behaviors.

    “It shows the importance of how these characters are framed,” he says.


  10. Judging moral character: A matter of principle, not good deeds

    May 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the UC Berkeley press release:

    People may instinctively know right from wrong, but determining if someone has good moral character is not a black and white endeavor.

    According to new research by Berkeley-Haas Assoc. Prof. Clayton Critcher, people evaluate others’ moral character — being honest, principled, and virtuous — not simply by their deeds, but also by the context that determines how such decisions are made. Furthermore, the research found that what differentiates the characteristics of moral character (from positive yet nonmoral attributes) is that such qualities are non-negotiable in social relationships.

    “Judgments about moral character are ultimately judgments about whether we trust and would be willing to invest in a person,” says Critcher.

    Critcher, who studies social psychology in the Haas Marketing Group, writes about his findings in a recent book chapter, “What Do We Evaluate When We Evaluate Moral Character?” co-authored with Erik Helzer of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. The chapter will soon be published in the Atlas of Moral Psychology, from Guilford Press.

    But how do people detect whether good moral character is present? The findings suggest that people can do what is considered the wrong thing but actually be judged more moral for that decision. How?

    Imagine a social media company with access to its clients’ personal information and interactions. The government wants access to the user database for terrorist surveillance purposes, but it is up to the CEO to decide whether to violate the company’s privacy code. Is he considered a more moral person by complying with the request, or by refusing it? Critcher’s work shows that even people who think the CEO should hand over the data to the government consider the CEO to have better moral character if he does the opposite and adheres to the privacy policy.

    “For the CEO who sticks to a moral rule — even when we think a deviation could be justified — we are more confident he will behave in sensible, principled ways in the future,” says Critcher.

    In one experiment, Critcher asked 186 undergraduates to evaluate 40 positive personality traits by rating them on two dimensions: 1) how much each trait reflected moral character, and 2) whether the participants would or would not be willing to have a social relationship with someone who lacked that quality.

    “The two dimensions were correlated at .87, which means the two are almost the same thing. It is about the highest correlation I have ever seen in psychological research,” Critcher says. “What makes moral traits special is that their absence is a deal breaker, even when compared to qualities that the participants deemed just as positive.”

    But did people see these traits as essential because they were seen to be moral? The research team answered that question by leading people to construe the exact same trait as either moral or nonmoral. Research participants were shown 13 traits that the researchers deemed ambiguously moral (e.g., reasonable). Some participants were first exposed to traits that were clearly non-moral (e.g., imaginative); afterward, they found the ambiguous traits morally relevant. In contrast, other participants who first saw traits that were clearly moral (e.g., honorable) deemed the ambiguous traits as non-moral.

    Inducing people to see these 13 ambiguous qualities as more moral also caused them to deem these qualities as more essential for their social relationships. In short, participants considered good moral character to be synonymous with justifying a social investment.

    But here’s the conundrum: If people don’t want to invest in others who lack moral character, how do they ever learn whether new potential relationship partners have that requisite character? Perhaps people escape this dilemma by assuming the best about an individual’s moral character until they learn otherwise.

    “When we first meet someone, we can directly observe their attractiveness, and a short conversation can reveal a lot about their basic social graces, but typically their moral character is not on direct display. In fact, learning if someone is trustworthy often requires us to trust them first,” says Critcher.

    To that end, a third experiment revealed how optimism about an individual’s moral character helps people avoid this conundrum.

    “When people first meet someone, they tend to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to morality. People don’t start with the same optimism about their sense of humor, musical, or intellectual ability,” says Critcher. “It’s an adaptive optimism — one that encourages us to operate on enough faith that we can at least learn whether they are worthy of a social investment — until they prove us wrong.”

    See the paper: http://haas.org/2oVz0qS