1. Study suggests hair cortisol levels predict which mothers are more likely to suffer postpartum depression

    November 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Granada press release:

    Researchers from the University of Granada (UGR), who belong to the Brain, Mind and Behavior Research Center (CIMCYC, from its abbreviation in Spanish) and the Faculty of Psychology, have proven that cortisol levels (a steroid hormone secreted as a response to stress) present in the hair of pregnant women during the first or third trimesters of pregnancy may indicate which of them are more likely to suffer postpartum depression.

    Their work, published in the PLoS ONE journal, showed that hair cortisol levels in women who developed postpartum depression were higher throughout pregnancy than those seen in women who hadn’t developed it, being that difference statistically more significant during the first and third trimesters.

    The UGR researchers carried out their study doing a follow-up on 44 pregnant women throughout the whole gestation period and after giving birth. Each trimester the mothers underwent a series of tests that evaluated their stress and psychopathological symptoms while simultaneously taking hair samples from which the researchers extracted the cortisol corresponding to the last three months.

    The following days after labor the researchers evaluated the mothers’ emotional state in order to assess who among them had developed postpartum depression.

    Quarterly psychopathological symptoms

    Additionally, the results of the study showed that the participants which developed postpartum depression showed higher levels of somatization during the first trimester. During the second trimester they showed higher levels of somatization, obsession-compulsion, depression and anxiety, and during the third trimester they showed higher levels of somatization and pregnancy-specific stress. Therefore, all those symptoms along with higher levels of cortisol would be indicators of a future postpartum depression.

    As María Isabel Peralta Ramírez, lead researcher of the project says, the consequences of those results are very important in the prevention of postpartum depression, “since they show that there are various altered psychological and hormonal variables throughout the whole gestation period in comparison to those women who will not suffer postpartum depression. Detecting those differences is the key to anticipate the psychological state of the mother as well as the consequences for the baby that said state could mean.”

    This study belongs to the GESTASTRESS research project, in the research excellence framework of the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. Its primary goal has been to assess the effects of psychological stress on the mother throughout the whole gestation period as well as on birth variables, and on the baby’s stress and neurodevelopment.


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

    by Ashley

    From the University of Leicester press release:

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

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

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

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

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

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


  3. Study suggests celebrity and status may not always help companies

    by Ashley

    From the University of Notre Dame press release:

    Businesses that have attracted lots of positive media coverage and are also affiliated with high-status venture capitalists or underwriters may seem like poster children for corporate success. But new research from the University of Notre Dame shows this kind of attention may be too much of a good thing.

    The study “Safe Bets or Hot Hands? How Status and Celebrity Influence Strategic Alliance Formations by Newly Public Firms” defines the media attention aspect as “celebrity” and the venture capitalist and underwriter affiliations as “status.” Together, they serve as lenses that influence how people process other information about a firm, according to researcher Tim Hubbard, assistant professor of management in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. But possessing both assets–celebrity and status together–is actually more of a disadvantage than possessing one or the other.

    “We show that possessing multiple social approval assets might not always be beneficial,” says Hubbard. “The relative predictability of high-status firms conflicts with the rebel nature of celebrities. It’s like looking through two different–and incompatible–lenses at the same time.”

    This challenges the assumption that accumulating such assets is always beneficial. The study– co-authored by Timothy Pollock, Michael Pfarrer and Violina Rindova and forthcoming in The Academy of Management Journal–shows that managers need to think about these assets in context.

    The researchers studied 347 internet tech startups that went public in the late 1990s and early 2000s, looking at whether they had celebrity and/or high status. They examined how many strategic alliances each firm had one year after going public, based on how potential alliances viewed the firm’s underpricing (change in stock price on the first day of trading).

    While celebrities were plentiful during this period, not all had high status. For example, MapQuest, Peapod, Salon and VerticalNet were all darlings, but were not backed by the highest status actors. Some–such as Pets.com, E-loan and Infoseek–were able to attain both celebrity and high status. All of these firms had varying degrees of success in attracting strategic alliance partners.

    “Celebrity played a big part in alliance formation when the firm had high underpricing, where the stock price experienced a ‘pop’ on the first day of trading,” Hubbard says, pointing to software and consulting services company Ariba as an example. The stock price almost tripled on its first day of trading in January 2002. By the end of its first year, it had 23 strategic alliances, compared to the average number of 2.4 alliances for sample firms in the study.

    “We also discovered that firms with both celebrity and high status had fewer partners one year after their initial public offering,” says Hubbard. High status firms had 1.65 fewer alliances if they had celebrity, compared to if they didn’t.

    “It changes our perspective on how these two intangible resources influence stakeholders,” he says. “Instead of only considering the baseline benefits of status or celebrity, we need to look at how these assets color stakeholders’ perceptions of other information.”

    Hubbard hopes the research can help managers better understand the nuances of intangible assets.

    “Viewing a firm through two different lenses can be difficult,” he says. “Rather than trying to gather every intangible asset, managers should consider which ones complement their organization. Not every firm needs to be a celebrity, and not every celebrity needs to have high status.”


  4. Study looks at perceptions of what nature is

    November 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Washington press release:

    Think, for a moment, about the last time you were out in nature. Were you in a city park? At a campground? On the beach? In the mountains?

    Now consider: What was this place like in your parents’ time? Your grandparents’? In many cases, the parks, beaches and campgrounds of today are surrounded by more development, or are themselves more developed, than they were decades ago.

    But to you, they still feel like nature.

    That’s what University of Washington psychology professor Peter Kahn calls “environmental generational amnesia” — the idea that each generation perceives the environment into which it’s born, no matter how developed, urbanized or polluted, as the norm. And so what each generation comes to think of as “nature” is relative, based on what it’s exposed to.

    In a new paper, which Kahn co-authored with doctoral student Thea Weiss, in the latest issue of Children, Youth and Environments, they argue that more frequent and meaningful interactions with nature can enhance our connection to — and definition of — the natural world.

    “There’s a shifting baseline of what we consider the environment, and as that baseline becomes impoverished, we don’t even see it,” Kahn said. “If we just try to teach people the importance of nature, that’s not going to work. They have to interact with it.”

    For years, Kahn has examined how people perceive and impact the environment. As cities grow and open spaces shrink, it is environmental generational amnesia, Kahn argues, that enables development to continue relentlessly. Each generation inherits a new baseline for what nature is, and what “normal” surroundings are.

    During his early years in academia, Kahn studied children’s concepts of the environment in Houston, one of the largest and most polluted cities in the country. He found that, when children were asked about air pollution, most could explain it and point out other cities that were polluted — but not their own.

    “With each ensuing generation, the amount of environmental degradation increases, but each generation tends to perceive that degraded condition as the nondegraded condition, as the normal experience,” Kahn and Weiss wrote in their paper.

    Research has linked exposure to the outdoors with physical and mental health benefits, greater ability to focus and communicate with others and an overall improvement in quality of life. At the same time, health conditions connected to sedentary lifestyles, such as diabetes and obesity, are on the rise.

    One solution is to provide opportunities — for children and adults — for encounters with “big nature.” By big, Kahn means wild, in the most traditional sense: old-growth forests, unshackled rivers and untamed species like grizzly bears and native trout.

    But “big nature,” he concedes, is also relative: To a child in a city, playing in a fountain is an experience with a natural element. Kahn said he tries to be realistic about how and where people live; interacting with nature can mean accessing what is available, while aspiring to what is not.

    Interacting with nature makes a difference in how people view and move in the world, Kahn said.

    To gain perspective on what children learn from nature, the authors turned to a Seattle preschool, Fiddleheads Forest School, where director Kit Harrington has created a curriculum shaped by the outdoors. There, the authors observed children developing skills that adults might take for granted but that are only learned through the experience of being outside: mimicking bird calls, digging in the dirt and even protecting one’s body during a fall.

    “Knowing how to do that is not a given,” Kahn said. “We have an entire generation that spends so much time in front of screens that, when they do go out into nature, they don’t know how to interact with it, or handle themselves.”

    Meaningful interactions with nature not only can teach, but also help people rejuvenate, reflect and recognize the importance of the outdoors. If a bike path, playground or trailhead is the closest nature to you, then you should take advantage of it. Developing a “nature language” — encountering the environment in ways large and small that result in positive feelings — can begin to reverse environmental generational amnesia.

    In Seattle, the city’s largest park can serve as a laboratory for how people interact with nature. To that end, Kahn and his research group are collecting feedback from Discovery Park visitors about their experience there. The effort is a way, Kahn said, to give voice to the perspectives and experiences of people who visit the park and to learn what nature means to them.

    “A park of that size allows for interactions with nature that are almost impossible to have in the city. It’s not enough, but it’s better than not having it,” Kahn said. “A bigger park is better than a smaller park, and a smaller park is better than no park.

    “You can’t take nature for granted anywhere. Even in Seattle.”


  5. Chimp study points to the origins of disgust

    by Ashley

    From the Kyoto University press release:

    Chimpanzees do some pretty disgusting things.

    In their natural habitats, chimpanzees are known to pick up seeds from feces and re-ingest them. In captivity, some practice coprophagy: the deliberate ingestion of feces. These behaviors usually involve their own fecal matter, or that of their closest family members. If presented with feces and other bodily fluids from others, however, that’s an entirely different story.

    In 2015, researchers from Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute went to the Primate Center at the ‘Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville’ (CIRMF) in Gabon to test whether chimpanzees are grossed out by some of the same things as humans, particularly those that are sources of infectious disease.

    Avoiding biological contaminants is a well-known manifestation of the adaptive system of disgust. In theory, animals evolved with this system to protect themselves from pathogens and parasites, which are often associated with media or substrates that invoke our sense of disgust. For example, bodily products are universal disgust elicitors in humans, but until now we did not know whether they also elicit similar reactions in our primate cousins.

    In a new study published in Royal Society Open Science, researchers found evidence that exposure to biological contaminants — ie feces, blood, semen — via vision, smell, and touch, influences feeding choices even in chimpanzees.

    A series of novel experiments show that chimpanzees delay eating food items placed atop replica feces compared to the more benign brown foam; generally stay further away from the smell of potential biological contaminants; and recoil from food items associated with soft and moist substrates.

    “If chimpanzees and other primates can discern contamination risk via different cues, individuals with higher sensitivities to feces and other bodily fluids may be less infected, which could have important health benefits,” explains Cecile Sarabian, the lead author of the study.

    “Moreover, such results may have implications for animal welfare and management. We can better inform staff and keepers about the adaptive value of such sensitivity and its flexibility, as well as identify which individuals may be more at risk of infection and therefore require more attention.”

    While visual and olfactory cues of biological contaminants made the chimps hesitate before chowing down, it did not stop them from feeding entirely. However, tactile information seemed to elicit the strongest aversive reaction.

    When the researchers presented chimpanzees with an opaque box where they could reach in for food placed atop a soft and moist piece of dough, the chimps recoiled immediately after making contact. They did not, however, react the same way if the food was placed atop a piece of rope.

    Chimpanzees, therefore, spontaneously react just like humans when blindly touching soft and moist substrates, which incidentally are expected to be rich in biological contaminants compared to hard and dry substances.

    “While anyone watching the reactions of these chimpanzees in the tactile experiments can empathize with them, it’s premature to say that they feel the same as we might in that situation” cautions Andrew MacIntosh, senior author on the study. “What’s great about these experiments, though, is that the observed responses are functionally similar to what ours would be, providing evidence that the mechanism underlying their behavior could be similar to ours.”

    “These experiments hint at the origins of disgust in humans, and help us better understand the protective function of this emotion” concludes Cecile Sarabian. “We are currently in the process of expanding our ‘disgusting’ work to include other primate and non-primate species.”


  6. Researchers design social mobile gaming that boosts rehabilitation for physically impaired patients

    by Ashley

    From the Imperial College London press release:

    The researchers from Imperial have designed a video game called Balloon Buddies, which is a tool that enables those recovering from conditions such as a stroke to engage and play together with healthy volunteers such as therapists and family members as a form of rehabilitation.

    Balloon Buddies is designed to level the playing field by allowing healthy participants to support the less abled player. The researchers have shown that this type of collaboration makes it more rewarding for the less-abled partner, more challenging for the better partner, and overall more fun for both, as they have to continuously work together to score points.

    The team have trialled Balloon Buddies by getting patients to play it on their own in single player mode and then partnered with healthy volunteers during dual player gameplay. They found that the performance of the patient was boosted when they played with a healthy volunteer, compared to if they were playing the game on their own. In addition, they found that the poorer a patient’s single player performance was, the greater the improvement seen when they played with another during dual-player mode.

    These findings published today in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation (JNER), suggest that by increasing engagement with healthy volunteers, compared to playing alone, patients may be more likely to increase the effort they put into training, which could ultimately lead to greater gains in physical performance.

    While the pilot study was limited to 16 patients and 32 healthy participants playing in 16 pairs, the researchers believe this form of rehabilitation through gaming may be beneficial to patients recovering from other illnesses such as musculoskeletal injuries, arthritis, and cerebral palsy. The researchers are aiming to further develop the game alongside new multiplayer concepts and show that it can be used in different settings including patients training with their therapist or with other patients, in community centres or even remotely at home.

    Dr Michael Mace, lead author from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, said: “Video games are a great way of providing repetitive exercise to help patients recover from debilitating illnesses. However, most games are designed for users to play on their own, which can actually discourage and isolate many patients. We developed the Balloon Buddy game to enable patients to train with their friends, family or caregivers in a collaborative and playful manner. The technology is still being developed, but we have shown that playing jointly with another individual may lead to increased engagement and better outcomes for patients.”

    Balloon Buddies uses animation, sounds, and vibration-feedback, similar to conventional video games. It requires users to balance a ball on a beam, which is lifted at each of its ends by balloons controlled by the players. The main aim of the game is for the players to vary the height of the beam so that the ball collides with moving targets in order to collect points. Players are also required to work together to keep the beam horizontal so that the ball doesn’t roll off the platform. It is played with a wireless handgrip called GripAble, enabling people with arm weakness to control video games on any standard tablet device.

    In the study, the researchers tested the game on 16 patients who had arm weakness following a stroke with a healthy volunteer over three months at Charing Cross Hospital, which is part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, in 2016. Previously, the game was also tested on 16 healthy pairs with different baseline abilities.

    The team will now carry out a larger study to examine whether the game leads to more efficient learning and to examine if patients are more motivated to train for longer periods. They will also explore social implications of interaction such as the effect of patients playing with a relative versus a stranger.


  7. Study suggests visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

    November 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Vanderbilt University press release:

    Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn’t mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

    That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people’s visual ability and that these variations are not associated with individuals’ general intelligence, or IQ. The research is reported in a paper titled “Domain-specific and domain-general individual differences in visual object recognition” published in the September issue of the journal Cognition and the implications are discussed in a review article in press at Current Directions in Psychological Science.

    “People may think they can tell how good they are at identifying objects visually,” said Isabel Gauthier, David K. Wilson Professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University, who headed the study. “But it turns out that they are not very good at evaluating their own skills relative to others.”

    In the past, research in visual object recognition has focused largely on what people have in common, but Gauthier became interested in the question of how much visual ability varies among individuals. To answer this question, she and her colleagues had to develop a new test, which they call the Novel Object Memory Test (NOMT), to measure people’s ability to identify unfamiliar objects.

    Gauthier first wanted to gauge public opinions about visual skills. She did so by surveying 100 laypeople using the Amazon Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing service. She found that respondents generally consider visual tasks as fairly different from other tasks related to general intelligence. She also discovered that they feel there is less variation in people’s visual skills than there is in non-visual skills such as verbal and math ability.

    The main problem that Gauthier and colleagues had to address in assessing individuals’ innate visual recognition ability was familiarity. The more time a person spends learning about specific types of objects, such as faces, cars or birds, the better they get at identifying them. As a result, performance on visual recognition tests that use images of common objects are a complex mixture of people’s visual ability and their experience with these objects. Importantly, they have proven to be a poor predictor of how well someone can learn to identify objects in a new domain.

    Gauthier addressed this problem by using novel computer-generated creatures called greebles, sheinbugs and ziggerins to study visual recognition. The basic test consists of studying six target creatures, followed by a number of test trials displaying creatures in sets of three. Each set contains a creature from the target group along with two unfamiliar creatures, and the participant is asked to pick out the creature that is familiar.

    Analyzing the results from more than 2000 subjects, Gauthier and colleagues discovered that the ability to recognize one kind of creature was well predicted by how well subjects could recognize the other kind, although these objects were visually quite different. This confirmed the new test can predict the ability to learn new categories.

    The psychologists also used performance on several IQ-related tests and determined that the visual ability measured on the NOMT is distinct from and independent of general intelligence.

    “This is quite exciting because performance on cognitive skills is almost always associated with general intelligence,” Gauthier said. “It suggests that we really can learn something new about people using these tests, over and beyond all the abilities we already know how to measure.” Although the study confirms the popular intuition that visual skill is different from general intelligence, it found that individual variations in visual ability are much larger than most people think. For instance, on one metric, called the coefficient of variation, the spread of people was wider on the NOMT than on a nonverbal IQ test.

    “A lot of jobs and hobbies depend on visual skills,” Gauthier said. “Because they are independent of general intelligence, the next step is to explore how we can use these tests in real-world applications where performance could not be well predicted before.”


  8. Study examines CBT use for chronic pain

    by Ashley

    From the Wolters Kluwer Health press release:

    By teaching patients better strategies for coping with chronic pain, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a valuable treatment alternative for the millions of Americans taking opioids for noncancer pain, according to an article in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice. The journal is published by Wolters Kluwer.

    “Cognitive behavioral therapy is a useful and empirically based method of treatment for pain disorders that can decrease reliance on the excessive use of opiates,” write Drs. Muhammad Hassan Majeed of Natchaug Hospital, Mansfield Center, Conn., and Donna M. Sudak of Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia. They discuss evidence supporting the use of CBT to avoid or reduce the use of opioids for chronic pain.

    CBT Offers Effective, Safer Alternative to Opioids for Chronic Pain

    Rising use of opioid (sometimes called opiate) medications to treat chronic noncancer pain is a major contributor to the US opioid crisis. But despite the aggressive marketing and prescribing of these powerful painkillers, there has been little change in the amount and severity of pain reported by Americans over the past decade. “There is no evidence that supports the use of opioids for the treatment of chronic pain for more than one year, and chronic use increases the serious risks of misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose, and death,” Drs. Majeed and Sudak write.

    They believe that CBT is an important alternative to opioids for treatment of chronic pain. The goal of CBT is to help patients change the way they think about and manage their pain. The idea is not that pain (in the absence of tissue damage) “is all in your head” — but rather that all pain is “in the head.” Cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients understand that pain is a stressor and, like other stressors, is something they can adapt to and cope with.

    Interventions may include relaxation training, scheduling pleasant activities, cognitive restructuring, and guided exercise — all in the context of an “empathic and validating” relationship with the therapist. These interventions “have the potential to relieve pain intensity, improve the quality of life, and improve physical and emotional function,” according to the authors.

    “Therapy helps the patient see that emotional and psychological factors influence perception of pain and behaviors that are associated with having pain,” Drs. Majeed and Sudak write. “Therapy…puts in place cognitive and behavioral strategies to help patients cope more successfully.”

    The authors cite several recent original studies and review articles supporting the effectiveness of CBT and other alternative approaches for chronic pain. Studies suggest that CBT has a “top-down” effect on pain control and perception of painful stimuli. It can also normalize reductions in the brain’s gray matter volume, which are thought to result from the effects of chronic stress.

    Cognitive behavioral therapy is moderately effective in reducing pain scores, while avoiding or reducing the opioid risks of overuse, addiction, overdose, and death. It can be used as a standalone treatment; in combination with other treatments, including effective non-opioid medications; or as part of efforts to reduce the opioid doses required to control chronic pain.

    Unfortunately, CBT and other nondrug treatments are underused due to unfamiliarity, time pressure, patient demands, ease of prescribing medications, and low reimbursement rates. Drs. Majeed and Sudak note that significant investment of resources will be needed to train practitioners and to widely integrate the use of CBT into chronic pain treatment. The authors suggest that the President’s Commission on the opioid crisis might fund such training programs as a preventive strategy to curb opioid abuse.

    “There is a need for a paradigm shift from a biomedical to a biopsychosocial model for effective pain treatment and prevention of opioid use disorder,” Dr. Majeed comments. “Increased use of CBT as an alternative to opioids may help to ease the clinical, financial, and social burden of pain disorders on society.”


  9. Modeling social interactions to improve collective decision-making

    November 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the CNRS press release:

    How are we affected by other peoples’ opinions? To answer this question, scientists[1] at the CNRS, Inra and Université Toulouse 1 Capitole conducted a study in France and Japan, quantifying this impact on our decisions. They identified five behaviors common to both countries: a majority of subjects make a compromise between their opinion and that of others (59% of people in France), some hold to their opinion (29% in France), whereas others follow faithfully, amplify or contradict the information they receive. The study also shows how social information can help a group collectively improve its performance and the precision of its estimates. From this analysis, a model has been developed that reproduces the results of the study and predicts the performance of a group depending on the amount and quality of information exchanged between its members. The long-term goal would be to develop algorithms for decision-making support tools. The results of this study were published on November 6, 2017 in PNAS.

    The fast growth of digital technologies and content availability is making us interact more with others. Increasingly, social networks are becoming important sources of information that we choose to take account of or ignore. Many e-commerce sites make extensive use of review and scoring systems, which allow their customers to use the opinions of others to make their own choices. Without even considering false information, that is sometimes difficult to detect, we are each exposed to too much information to process it correctly every time.

    These observations call for the development of tools to help in collective decision-making, which could assist with processing information and making decisions in a group that uses social interactions. The group of researchers involved in the study focused on the impact of social information, i.e., the way that others affect what we do. Under what conditions can this social information increase the effectiveness of our collective decision-making?

    The experiments involved 186 people in France and 180 in Japan. Each participant had to estimate values, such as Gandhi’s age when he died, or the number of stars in our galaxy, and give a degree of confidence in their answer. After the first stage, the average of the previous participants’ responses — the social information-was given to them, and the subject had to reply again to give a final estimate. One of the unique features of this study is the introduction of virtual agents who were controlled by the researchers without the knowledge of the participants — and always gave the correct answer. These agents, whose number varied, therefore favorably influenced the social information sent to subjects.

    This work shows how social information leads the group to collectively improve its performance and the precision of its estimations. It can also accurately measure how sensitive subjects are to social information. The researchers identified five sensitivity profiles that are independent of cultural bias, because they are present in both countries. In France, an analysis of almost 11,000 responses shows that 29% of the people sampled hold to their opinion, 4% strictly follow the information given to them, and 59% find a compromise between their initial opinion and the social information. Thinking that the rest of the group has, the same way as they did, underestimated their initial response, 6% of people amplify the social information received. Finally, 2% end up contradicting their own estimation and that of the group, most often without being able to justify their decision. In addition, the further a participant’s personal feeling is from the social information received, the more sensitive this subject is to the information. In another more surprising result, the scientists have shown that the performance of a group may be improved by a limited quantity of incorrect information, which compensates for a human cognitive bias that underestimates quantities.

    Based on these experiments, a mathematical model has been developed. It faithfully reproduces the social information sensitivity mechanisms observed experimentally and predicts the impact of the amount and quality of information exchanged between the individuals in a group on their collective performance. A better understanding of the governing processes of how social information influences individual choices and collective information opens new perspectives. Personalized algorithms could be developed to anticipate the different types of answers according to the form of social information received. This could contribute to improving cooperation and collaboration on the scale of groups.

    Note:

    [1] The French laboratories involved in this study:

    The Centre de recherches sur la cognition animale (CNRS/Université Toulouse III — Paul Sabatier)

    The Laboratoire de physique théorique (CNRS/Université Toulouse III — Paul Sabatier)

    TSE Recherche (CNRS/Université Toulouse 1 Capitole/INRA/EHESS) a Toulouse school of economics laboratory


  10. Study proposes more consumer-focused approach to wine

    November 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    The traditional pairing of wine and food too often misses the mark — leaving people confused and intimidated — and should be scrapped in favor of a more consumer-focused approach, a new study indicates.

    The research by Michigan State University hospitality scholars suggests people generally fit into certain wine-drinking categories, or “vinotypes,” and that servers and sommeliers should consider these preferences when suggesting a wine.

    Ordering beef roast for dinner? A traditional wine recommendation would be Cabernet Sauvignon. But why would a server suggest a bold red wine if the customer hates it? Let the patron drink his or her beloved Riesling with the meal, said Carl Borchgrevink, a former chef and restaurant manager and lead author on the study.

    “The palate rules — not someone else’s idea of which wine we should drink with our food,” said Borchgrevink, associate professor and interim director of MSU’s School of Hospitality Business. “They shouldn’t try to intimidate you into buying a certain wine. Instead, they should be asking you what you like.”

    Borchgrevink and culinary expert Allan Sherwin conducted the first scientific study examining the premise of Tim Hanni’s vinotype theory. Hanni, in a play on “phenotype,” proposed that vinotypes are determined by both genetics and environment and that such tastes change over time based on experiences.

    Hanni, a chef and one of the first Americans to earn the designation “Master of Wine,” has proposed four primary vinotypes: “sweet,” “hypersensitive,” “sensitive” and “tolerant.” The categories range from those who like sweet, fruity whites (sweet vinotype) to those who enjoy bold, strong reds (tolerant), and everyone in between.

    Hanni also created a series of criteria to determine vinotypes. If you like sweet beverages such as soda and salt your food liberally, for example, you trend toward the sweet vinotype. But if strong black coffee and intense flavors are your thing, you’re more apt to fall in the tolerant camp.

    For the study, MSU researchers surveyed a group of adults on food and beverage preferences and consumption patterns. They also held a reception with 12 stations where the participants rated the food and wine presented at each station individually, and then together.

    The results were conclusive: Hanni’s premise has merit. The researchers were able to predict wine preferences based on consumption patterns and preferences.

    Next, MSU researchers will test the vintoype theory outright by working with scholars globally. Borchgrevink said separate studies are being planned with partners from around the United States, as well as from Hong Kong, France and other areas.

    The work has implications for both restaurants and wine stores, which should train their staff members on the vinotype approach and find questions to ask consumers that can reveal their wine preferences, the study says.

    But the main focus is the wine-drinker, who should learn to trust their own palate and not necessarily depend on the so-called experts, said Sherwin, the Dr. Lewis J. and Mrs. Ruth E. Minor Chef-Professor of Culinary Management at MSU.

    “At the end of the day it’s going to be the consumer that has the final say,” Sherwin said. “They’re going to be the arbiter.”

    The study is published in the International Journal of Wine Business Research.