1. Facial models suggest less may be more for a successful smile

    July 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the PLOS press release:

    Research using computer-animated 3D faces suggests that less is more for a successful smile, according to a study published June 28, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Nathaniel Helwig from the University of Minnesota, US, and colleagues.

    Facial cues are an important form of nonverbal communication in social interactions, and previous studies indicate that computer-generated facial models can be useful for systematically studying how changes in expression over space and time affect how people read faces. The authors of the present study presented a series of 3D computer-animated facial models to 802 participants. Each model’s expression was altered by varying the mouth angle, extent of smile and the degree to which teeth were on show, as well as how symmetrically the smile developed, and participants were asked to rate smiles based on effectiveness, genuineness, pleasantness and perceived emotional intent.

    The researchers found that a successful smile — one that is rated effective, genuine and pleasant — may contradict the “more is always better” principle, as a bigger smile which shows more teeth may in fact be perceived less well. Successful smiles therefore have an optimal balance of teeth, mouth angle and smile extent to hit a smile ‘sweet spot’. Smiles were also rated as more successful if they developed quite symmetrically, with the left and right side of the faces being synced to within 125 milliseconds.

    According to the authors, using 3D computer amination may help to develop a more complete spatiotemporal understanding of our emotional perceptions of facial expression. Since some people have medical conditions such as stroke which hinder facial expressions, with possible psychological and social consequences, these results could also inform current medical practices for facial reanimation surgery and rehabilitation.


  2. Artists and architects think differently compared to other people

    July 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University College London press release:

    Architects, painters and sculptors conceive of spaces in different ways from other people and from each other, finds a new study by UCL and Bangor University researchers.

    When asked to talk about images of places, painters are more likely to describe the depicted space as a two-dimensional image, while architects are more likely to focus on paths and the boundaries of the space.

    “We found that painters, sculptors and architects consistently showed signs of their profession when talking about the spaces we showed them, and all three groups had more elaborate, detailed descriptions than people in unrelated professions,” said senior author Dr Hugo Spiers (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences).

    For the study, published in Cognitive Science, the researchers brought in 16 people from each of the three professions — they all had at least eight years of experience and included Sir Anthony Gormley — alongside 16 participants without any relevant background, who acted as controls. The participants were presented with a Google Street View image, a painting of St. Peter’s Basilica, and a computer-generated surreal scene. They had to describe the environment, explain how they would explore the space, and suggest changes to the environment in the image.

    The researchers categorised elements of the responses for both qualitative and quantitative analyses using a novel technique called Cognitive Discourse Analysis, developed by one of the co-authors, Dr Thora Tenbrink (Bangor University), designed to highlight aspects of thought that underlie linguistic choices, beyond what speakers are consciously aware of.

    “By looking at language systematically we found some consistent patterns, which turned out to be quite revealing,” Dr Tenbrink said.

    The painters tended to shift between describing the scene as a 3D space or as a 2D image. Architects were more likely to describe barriers and boundaries of the space, and used more dynamic terms, while sculptors’ responses were between the two. Painters and architects also differed in how they described the furthest point of the space, as painters called it the ‘back’ and architects called it the ‘end.’ The control participants gave less elaborate responses, which the authors say went beyond just a lack of expert terminology.

    “Our study has provided evidence that your career may well change the way you think. There’s already extensive research into how culture changes cognition, but here we’ve found that even within the same culture, people of different professions differ in how they appreciate the world,” said Dr Spiers.

    “Our findings also raise the possibility that people who are already inclined to see the world as a 2D image, or who focus on the borders of a space, may be more inclined to pursue painting or architecture,” he said.

    “In their day-to-day work, artists and architects have a heightened awareness of their surroundings, which seems to have a deep influence on the way they conceive of space,” said the study’s first author, Claudia Cialone (now based at the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Australian National University). “We hope our research will lead to further studies into the spatial cognition of other professionals, which could help devise new ways of understanding, representing and communicating space for ourselves.”


  3. Slow motion makes soccer referees more likely to give a red card

    July 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the KU Leuven press release:

    Video assistant refereeing in soccer has to be used with caution. Researchers at KU Leuven (University of Leuven), Belgium, have shown that refs are more likely to give red when they see a foul committed in slow motion, even when a yellow card is more justifiable. This is because fouls viewed in slow motion appear to be more serious.

    Soccer referees and the decisions they make are the subject of very heated debates in the canteen, at the kitchen table, and in the TV studio. soccer fans keep a vigilant eye on their every move and decision. These high demands have led to professionalization: more and more elite referees are full-time professionals and follow specific training programmes. Another consequence are the experiments with video assistant refereeing, whereby video assistant referees (VARs) support the referees and check the accuracy of decisions by replaying game situations in real time and in slow motion.

    Under the supervision of Professor Wim Helsen, sport scientist at KU Leuven and referee training expert, Jochim Spitz wrote a PhD on the impact of slow motion videos on soccer referees’ perception and decision-making process. He found that the effect of slow motion greatly depends on the type of decision that the referee has to make, as well as on the situation.

    For technical decisions on whether or not a foul was committed, watching slow motion videos only improved the accuracy in corner kick situations. “Corner kicks always involve many players, so slow motion may help spot the right fouls in the commotion,” Spitz explains.

    But for disciplinary sanctions on whether or not to give a card — and if so, which one — slow motion had a significant impact on the decision-making process. “We asked 88 European referees to take a disciplinary sanction for 60 game situations — yellow, red, or no card at all. They had to assess half of the situations after watching a video in real time and the other half based on slow motion videos. For each of these situations, a panel of UEFA experts had given us a benchmark decision. We found that referees judge more harshly when they are exposed to fouls in slow motion. In situations for which the benchmark decision was a yellow card, 20% percent of the referees gave red after watching the video in slow motion. In real time this was only 10%.”

    “The reason is that fouls viewed in slow motion appear to be more serious” Professor Werner Helsen explains. “This has major implications for the adequate use of video technology in soccer. Based on the results of this study, the International soccer Association Board (IFAB) has already issued guidelines for the use of slow motion videos: they can only be used to determine whether a foul was committed inside or outside the penalty area, or to locate the impact of a tackle on the opponent’s body.”


  4. Sport feels less strenuous if you believe it’s doing you good

    July 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Freiburg press release:

    “Sport is too much like hard work.” For many, that is reason enough to pass when it comes to exercise. But does sport really have to make you break into a sweat? Psychologist Hendrik Mothes of the Department of Sport Science at the University of Freiburg and his team discovered that one’s own expectations have a major influence on just how strenuous one perceives a unit of sport to be. The researchers also found that how the person doing the sport felt about himself or herself played a big role in this feeling of strain. Moreover, it can sometimes be smart to enlist help from supposedly useful sports products — if you believe in them. The results of the study have been published in PLOS ONE.

    The research team invited 78 men and women between 18 and 32 into the laboratory, where these test persons rode a stationary bicycle-ergometer for 30 minutes. Beforehand, they were asked to say how athletic they thought they were. And they were asked to put on a compression shirt produced by a well-known sporting goods manufacturer. During their exercise, they were asked every five minutes what level of strenuousness they were experiencing. Right before the exercise, the participants were assigned to different groups and shown one of several short films that either stressed the positive health effects of the coming cycling activity, or dampened the expectations. And the compression shirts were mentioned: In some of the films, the shirts were praised as an additional help in cycling, while other films indicated that they would make the test persons’ sweating comparable. “What the participants did not know was that we used these film clips with the aim of influencing their expectations of the coming cycling session,” Mothes says.

    The results showed, as expected, a self-fulfilling prophecy that the training unit was less strenuous for the test persons when they started out with a positive attitude. The more athletic the participants perceived themselves to be, the stronger this effect was. However, positive expectations did not help participants who considered themselves not very athletic. They found the training unit strenuous anyway. The researchers also found that believing in the compression shirt helped. To the subjects who considered themselves athletic, it made no difference; but for those who said they weren’t much good at sports, there was quite an effect. “Merely the belief that the shirt would help, did help the ‘unsporty’ subjects to have a lower perception of strenuousness during the exercise,” Mothes explains.

    These findings are further evidence that the placebo effect works when you do sport. And they show that is it does make a difference what you think about sport and its effects. “Not least, the findings impressively show for all those who don’t consider themselves to be great sportsmen and -women – the right product really can make sport more pleasant, if ‘only’ you believe in it.”


  5. Study suggests video games can change your brain

    July 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Scientists have collected and summarized studies looking at how video games can shape our brains and behavior. Research to date suggests that playing video games can change the brain regions responsible for attention and visuospatial skills and make them more efficient. The researchers also looked at studies exploring brain regions associated with the reward system, and how these are related to video game addiction.

    Do you play video games? If so, you aren’t alone. Video games are becoming more common and are increasingly enjoyed by adults. The average age of gamers has been increasing, and was estimated to be 35 in 2016. Changing technology also means that more people are exposed to video games. Many committed gamers play on desktop computers or consoles, but a new breed of casual gamers has emerged, who play on smartphones and tablets at spare moments throughout the day, like their morning commute. So, we know that video games are an increasingly common form of entertainment, but do they have any effect on our brains and behavior?

    Over the years, the media have made various sensationalist claims about video games and their effect on our health and happiness. “Games have sometimes been praised or demonized, often without real data backing up those claims. Moreover, gaming is a popular activity, so everyone seems to have strong opinions on the topic,” says Marc Palaus, first author on the review, recently published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

    Palaus and his colleagues wanted to see if any trends had emerged from the research to date concerning how video games affect the structure and activity of our brains. They collected the results from 116 scientific studies, 22 of which looked at structural changes in the brain and 100 of which looked at changes in brain functionality and/or behavior.

    The studies show that playing video games can change how our brains perform, and even their structure. For example, playing video games affects our attention, and some studies found that gamers show improvements in several types of attention, such as sustained attention or selective attention. The brain regions involved in attention are also more efficient in gamers and require less activation to sustain attention on demanding tasks.

    There is also evidence that video games can increase the size and efficiency of brain regions related to visuospatial skills. For example, the right hippocampus was enlarged in both long-term gamers and volunteers following a video game training program.

    Video games can also be addictive, and this kind of addiction is called “Internet gaming disorder.” Researchers have found functional and structural changes in the neural reward system in gaming addicts, in part by exposing them to gaming cues that cause cravings and monitoring their neural responses. These neural changes are basically the same as those seen in other addictive disorders.

    So, what do all these brain changes mean? “We focused on how the brain reacts to video game exposure, but these effects do not always translate to real-life changes,” says Palaus. As video games are still quite new, the research into their effects is still in its infancy. For example, we are still working out what aspects of games affect which brain regions and how. “It’s likely that video games have both positive (on attention, visual and motor skills) and negative aspects (risk of addiction), and it is essential we embrace this complexity,” explains Palaus.


  6. Stereotypes still affect women’s career aspirations in STEM topics

    July 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, the so-called STEM subjects, are traditionally male dominated and it is well established that females remain underrepresented in such programmes to this day. This gender discrepancy has been a hot topic among researchers and advocates who seek to understand this phenomenon to ultimately close or at least reduce the gap. For the few females who successfully end up in STEM programmes, one would assume they overcame the barriers and are less prone to stereotype views. But is this so?

    Professor Bernhard Ertl from the Universität der Bundeswehr München, in Germany et.al. took a closer look at this topic in their recent study “The Impact of Gender Stereotypes on the Self-Concept of Female Students in STEM Subjects with an Under-Representation of Females” published in Frontiers for Psychology.

    The study involved 296 women from different German universities who are all enrolled in a STEM programme with less than 30% females. It aimed at investigating the impact of stereotypes and the role of family, school and society on the self-concept of females already studying these scientific subjects. Stereotypes impact a person’s self-assessment and lower their sense of competence, ability and self-confidence, i.e. the self-concept.

    “We were astonished that stereotypes about STEM still corrupt the self-concept of female students who already crossed several barriers and found their way into a STEM subject with a quite low proportion of females.” states Professor Ertl.

    Even though the students participating in the study presumably had good grades in STEM, stereotypes still corrupted their self-concept. The STEM career path is considered untypical by many of the students’ social environments and in some instances, was met with surprise or even scepticism. One of the reasons for this might lie in stereotypes that attribute girls’ achievements to diligence instead of talent.

    Professor Ertl expands “Stereotypes are grounded in society and therefore it is important for us to know the effect of our stereotypes on individuals’ self-concepts, achievements and career decisions.” The study points to the fact that family can have a negative impact on female students’ self-concept and initiatives that directly seek to support the students may actually backfire and reinforce the stereotypical views instead.

    Indirect support has proven to be more effective. This involves for instance giving children the opportunity to have positive experiences in science related subjects or by giving them the chance to meet role models that are enthusiastic about their STEM professions. Such measures may boost the self-concept of female students in STEM programmes, more so than direct encouragement.

    To conclude, study co-author Professor Manuela Paechter highlights the key learnings from the study for education “We should realise that supporting students may have ambiguous effects. Consider this paradox: If we perceive a student as not sufficiently gifted by the standards of our implicit stereotypes, we may communicate this opinion subconsciously whilst at the same time giving them support. Even if well intentioned, such behaviour will foil the hoped-for effects. Instead, teaching subjects like physics while linking them to how they explain daily life phenomena could attract more girls (and also more boys). ”


  7. Negative tweets can trash TV programs for other viewers

    July 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Negative social media comments about a television show tend to lower enjoyment for other viewers, while positive comments may not significantly boost their enjoyment, according to researchers.

    Participants in a study who saw negative messages — in the form of tweets — flash on a television screen while watching a sitcom clip were more likely to say other people would rate the show negatively, said S. Shyam Sundar, distinguished professor of communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Penn State. Participants also were more likely to agree that people would not recommend the program to their friends, he added.

    People who saw the negative tweets were less likely to enjoy the program because they thought other people didn’t like it,” said Sundar. “It was directly affected by what they thought others thought.”

    Researchers refer to this phenomenon — when people adopt beliefs and ideas because they think others hold similar beliefs — as the “bandwagon effect,” said T. Franklin Waddell, assistant professor of journalism, University of Florida, who worked with Sundar. While the bandwagon effect is typically a strong motivation for media users, the researchers were surprised at just how powerful the effect was in this study. The researchers, who released their findings in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, initially thought that other variables, such as the need to be unique and the need for affiliation, would dampen the bandwagon effect.

    “We had expected that negative comments would only affect certain types of viewers who are predisposed to follow the crowd, but surprisingly, these findings were quite consistent across a variety of different personality types,” said Waddell.

    The bandwagon effect manifests in several ways in various forms of media and social media, added Sundar.

    “The bandwagon effect could be in the form of star ratings, the number of viewers, number of views, number of shares, for example,” said Sundar. “And, as in this case, the effect could be positive or negative.”

    Waddell said that it did not take much to trigger the bandwagon effect in this study.

    “While you might only see two or three comments during a television program, this small handful of comments is enough for viewers to automatically make judgments about how viewers as a whole feel towards programming,” said Waddell. “These perceptions of group opinion, in turn, can cause viewers to hop on — or hop off — the bandwagon for a television show.”

    Because the negative comments affected participants more than the positive ones, the researchers suggest that a negativity bias may be at work.

    “The negativity bias suggests that individuals may be more likely to recall and be persuaded by negative information, rather than positive information,” said Sundar. “Positive news — when good things happen — doesn’t seem to be as memorable for us compared to when something negative happens.”

    While the researchers placed the tweets at the beginning and near the end of the clip, the timing of the comments had no significant difference on the effect, according to Sundar.

    Waddell added that, although more research is needed, the findings may help broadcasters better understand how online and social media affect traditional news and entertainment.

    “The effects we found are small, which is to be expected given that people base their enjoyment of television programming on a variety of reasons, with online comments simply being one part of the larger puzzle overall,” said Waddell. “With that said, this study does contribute to a larger body of work, which consistently shows that negative comments undercut media credibility and enjoyment, from online news to popular television shows. In short, the benefits that broadcasters might hope to achieve through social television, such as bolstering enjoyment, and the actual reality of how comments affect viewers, appear to be in competition with one another.”

    A total of 196 participants watched a 10-minute clip of the pilot episode for “30 Rock,” a popular sitcom that ran on NBC from 2006 until 2013. During the episode, groups who were exposed to positive social media messages saw tweets, such as “i LOVE this show!” and “#30rock = awesome.” Subjects in the negative condition saw messages including “i HATE this show!” and “#30rock = awful.”

    The first message appeared at the 2-minute mark of the clip and the second one flashed at about the 9-minute mark.

    Because the commenters in this study were anonymous, the researchers said that future research may look at whether identifying commenters influences the bandwagon effect.


  8. Perceptions about body image linked to increased alcohol, tobacco use for teens

    by Ashley

    From the University of Missouri-Columbia press release:

    How teenagers perceive their appearance, including their body image, can have significant impacts on health and wellness. Prior body image research has shown that people with negative body image are more likely to develop eating disorders and are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem. Now, Virginia Ramseyer Winter, a body image expert and an assistant professor in the University of Missouri’s School of Social Work, found negative body image also is associated with increased tobacco and alcohol use, with implications for both young men and women. Notably, she also found relationships between substance use and perceived attractiveness, with girls who believe they are very good looking being more likely to drink.

    “We know alcohol and tobacco can have detrimental health effects, especially for teenagers,” Ramseyer Winter said. “I wanted to see if the perception of being overweight and negative body image leads to engaging in unhealthy or risky substance use behaviors. Understanding the relationship means that interventions and policies aimed at improving body image among teenage populations might improve overall health.”

    Ramseyer Winter and her co-authors, Andrea Kennedy and Elizabeth O’Neill, used data from a national survey of American teenagers to determine the associations between perceived size and weight, perceived attractiveness, and levels of alcohol and tobacco use. The researchers found that perceived size and attractiveness were significantly related to substance use. Adolescent girls who perceived their body size to be too fat were more likely to use alcohol and tobacco. Boys who thought they were too skinny were more likely to smoke, and boys who considered themselves fat were more likely to binge drink.

    “While poor body image disproportionately affects females, our findings indicate that body image also impacts young males,” Ramseyer Winter said. “For example, it’s possible that boys who identified their bodies as too thin use tobacco to maintain body size, putting their health at risk.”

    In addition to body size, the researchers looked at the connection between perceived attractiveness and substance use. Girls who thought they were not at all good looking were more likely to smoke. Girls who thought they were very good looking were more likely to binge drink. Ramseyer Winter suggests this is because attractiveness may be associated with popularity, which is related to increased alcohol use.

    To improve body image awareness, Ramseyer Winter suggested that parents, schools and health providers need to be aware of body shaming language and correct such behavior to help children identify with positive body image messages. Body shaming language can affect teenagers who have both positive and negative perceptions of themselves.

    “Adolescent tobacco and alcohol use: the influence of body image,” recently was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse. Kennedy is a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California and O’Neill is a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas. The MU School of Social Work is in the College of Human Environmental Sciences.


  9. Study suggests authenticity key to landing a new job

    July 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University College London press release:

    At job interviews, relax and be yourself — if you’re good, being yourself may be the best way to secure a job offer, according to a new study involving UCL researchers.

    Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the study by UCL, Bocconi University, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and London Business School, found that high-quality candidates who strive to present themselves accurately during the interview process significantly increase the likelihood of receiving a job offer.

    “People are often encouraged to only present the best aspects of themselves at interview so they appear more attractive to employers, but what we’ve found is that high-quality candidates — the top 10% — fare much better when they present who they really are. Unfortunately, the same isn’t true for poorer quality candidates who can actually damage their chances of being offered the job by being more authentic,” explained co-author Dr SunYoung Lee (UCL School of Management).

    The research focused on the concept of ‘self-verification‘, which refers to individuals’ drive to be known and understood by others according to their firmly held beliefs and feelings about themselves.

    To date, self-verifying behaviour was known to positively influence outcomes that unfold over time, such as the process of integration in a new organization. This paper shows, for the first time, that self-verification can have important effects in short-term interpersonal interactions as well, as in the hiring process.

    Lead author, Dr Celia Moore (Bocconi University), said: “In a job interview, we often try to present ourselves as perfect. Our study proves this instinct wrong. Interviewers perceive an overly polished self-representation as inauthentic and potentially misrepresentative. But ultimately, if you are a high-quality candidate, you can be yourself on the job market. You can be honest and authentic. And if you are, you will be more likely to get a job.” The researchers conducted three studies — two field studies looking at the importance of self-verification for groups of professionals applying for different jobs and a third experimental study testing the mechanism behind the effects observed.

    In the two field studies, prior to job interviews, candidates reported their self-verification drive, and their quality was evaluated in face-to-face interviews. The results of the studies were normalised for gender, age and race.

    The first study investigated a sample of 1,240 teachers from around the globe who applied for placements in the U.S. The candidates that had been evaluated as high quality had a 51% likelihood of receiving a placement, but this increased to 73% for those who also had a strong drive to self-verify. The second study replicated this effect in a radically different sample by assessing 333 lawyers applying for positions in a branch of the U.S. military. For this group, high quality candidates increased their chances of receiving a job offer five-fold, from 3% to 17%, if they also had a strong drive to self-verify. This effect was only seen in high-quality candidates, and for those rated as low-quality, the drive to self-verify weakened their position. The third study was designed to test the mechanism behind this effect. For this, the researchers surveyed 300 people on their self-verification striving and selected those who were extremely high and extremely low in the distribution. The individuals participated in a mock job interview, which were then transcribed and submitted to text analysis.

    It revealed differences in candidates’ language use as a function of their self-verification drive. People with a strong self-verification drive communicated in a more fluid way about themselves, and were ultimately perceived as more authentic and less misrepresentative. The team say that these perceptions ultimately explain why high-self-verifying candidate can flourish on the job market.


  10. Study suggests adults more influenced by prior knowledge, beliefs than children when first viewing paintings

    by Ashley

    From the PLOS press release:

    Adults rely more on top-down processing than children when observing paintings by van Gogh, according to a study published June 21, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Francesco Walker from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and colleagues.

    Analyzing eye movements can indicate how individuals direct their attention to build an overall impression of a painting. Previous studies have shown that children tend to be guided by visual stimuli — bottom-up processes — whereas adults are more influenced by their prior knowledge or beliefs — top-down factors — to guide perception.

    Whilst previous research in this area has been conducted in artificial settings, the authors of the present study tracked the eye movements of 12 adults and 12 children when viewing five paintings in a museum setting at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. The paintings were chosen to be new to the participants, whose gaze patterns were recorded both before and after hearing descriptions of the paintings. The researchers found that adults made an average of 63 fixations on the surface of the paintings during the 30 second viewing period, while children made an average of 53 fixations.

    When viewing the paintings freely, the children focused first on the stand-out, ‘salient’ features of the paintings, indicating bottom-up processing. However, after hearing the painting descriptions, they paid attention to less noticeable features first, indicating that their new knowledge was influencing their attention in top-down processing. Adults appeared to focus initially on non-salient features both before and after hearing a description, suggesting that top-down processing was dominating their viewing processes throughout.

    This research suggests that it is possible to investigate eye movements in museums, and analyses using larger samples could continue to investigate how children and adults perceive art in this natural setting.