1. Spending on public higher education overlooks net benefits as investment in state’s future

    March 14, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign media release:

    school busIn spite of the overwhelming evidence of a skills deficit, a depressed middle class and growing inequality, the state of Illinois continues to underinvest in public higher education. But considering higher education funding as an investment that lowers state welfare and prison costs, generates tax revenues and leads to economic growth in the future — and not as mere consumption spending — could reframe the debate, according to an article by a University of Illinois expert in the economics of education.

    In the face of recent dramatic examples, including the $300 million in cuts to the University of Wisconsin budget and, in Illinois, the failure to fund public universities and MAP grants for 2016 together with the governor’s proposed cuts for 2017, the investment-versus-spending distinction is a vital one, said Walter W. McMahon, an emeritus professor of economics and of educational organization and leadership at the University of Illinois.

    “Since this curtailed investment in human capital would otherwise contribute heavily not only to a state’s economic growth and development but also in ways estimated in the article — to higher state tax revenue and lower Medicaid, child care, welfare and criminal justice system costs — it’s disheartening to see this disinvestment trend by our public officials,” said McMahon, also the author of “Higher Learning, Greater Good: The Private & Social Benefits of Higher Education,” published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Published in the Journal of Education Finance, the article develops the total return of public education relative to the full costs to the state of Illinois, the key criteria for determining whether there is under- or over-investment for the most efficient statewide development.

    McMahon concluded that public education in Illinois contributes to investment returns of 9.5 percent for K-12; 15.3 percent for community college; and 13.4 percent for university, respectively, for every dollar that’s spent — returns that are well above the 7.2 percent the money would have earned if invested in an index fund that tracked returns of the S&P 500, McMahon noted.

    (Updated calculations based on the newest earnings data at each education level, corrected for dropouts and other factors, show returns relative to costs of 12.9 percent at two-year institutions and 12.3 percent at the four-year institutions.)

    “These earnings-based and total social rates of return both show that higher education is economically very efficient — in fact, more efficient than the average corporation in the S&P 500,” McMahon said.

    This measure of efficiency trumps any possible overspending on administrative costs cited by critics, so it’s not surprising that U.S. higher education is widely regarded as the best in the world, according to McMahon.

    The effects are not just on better-paying jobs but are also on many outcomes beyond earnings, from better health and child development to political stability and lower criminal justice costs,” he said. “Furthermore, the returns last for the 65 years or so remaining in the typical graduate’s lifecycle.

    “All told, the state of Illinois’ education investment pays for itself every 2.3 years in state budget savings alone.”

    The return to the state is considerably larger if nonmonetary outcomes are considered.

    “A major opportunity being missed is estimating the effects of higher education on state tax revenues and on budgeted state tax costs for health care, welfare, child support and the criminal justice system,” McMahon said. “Beyond these state budget savings, I also found about a 30 percent total return that includes these wider health and other benefits to statewide development.”

    The paper’s implications for the state’s fiscal health and human capital ought to be of immediate concern to Illinois legislators and policymakers.

    The disconnect with objective benefit-cost analysis suggests the need for a new strategy in making decisions about public education financing,” McMahon said. “Legislators are often focused on infrastructure issues like bridges and roads, to the extent that public education gets short shrift. Nobody likes taxes, which, if the funds are invested in education where there is a future return, are a form of forced saving. But this type of saving and investment has a huge payoff. And if done thoughtfully, it is crucial to the state’s growth, development and fiscal health.”

    Another way of looking at the issue is that “one can also look at the same numbers as estimating the damage to the state from cuts, if they are not restored,” McMahon said.

    “In Illinois, what is happening is not just a disaster for higher education but also a growing disaster for the state budget, as time passes,” he said. “It’s a disaster for economic growth and the business climate, and a disaster for broader development and well-being of the state. Allowing Chicago State to close and not funding MAP grants, which forces students to drop out of school without the necessary skills to succeed in the working world — all of that will have serious implications for the state of Illinois that should be fairly obvious.”


  2. Lenient return policies lead to increased purchases

    January 25, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Texas at Dallas media release:

    Shopping4In 2014, product returns totaled about $280 million across all U.S. retailers. New research from UT Dallas examined existing studies on return policies to quantify the policies’ effect on consumers’ purchase and return behavior.

    UT Dallas doctoral candidate Ryan Freling, who is studying marketing in the Naveen Jindal School of Management, conducted the meta-analysis with UT Arlington associate professor of marketing Dr. Narayan Janakiraman and doctoral candidate Holly Syrdal. The study recently was published online in the Journal of Retailing.

    The meta-analysis is the first attempt to understand the return policy literature quantitatively and prove that lenient policies positively affect purchase and return decisions, Freling said.

    “In general, firms use return policies to increase purchases but don’t want to increase returns, which are costly. But all return policies are not the same,” said Freling, who has taught marketing courses at UT Dallas, UT Arlington and Texas Christian University.

    The researchers collected and sifted through dozens of research papers that examined purchases, returns or both. They eventually focused on 21 papers from fields including economics, marketing, decision science, consumer psychology and operations research.

    The study challenges the underlying assumption that all return policies affect purchases and returns in a similar manner. It suggests that this is not the case, as retailers tend to impose restrictions to dissuade returns or offer leniency to encourage purchases by manipulating five return policy elements: time, money, effort, scope and exchange.

    Overall, lenient return policies led to increased purchases, the study found. The researchers also found a positive effect — smaller, but still significant — of policy leniency on returns.

    For example, leniency in scope increased returns.

    “In the pre-purchase stage, consumers might think about the costs and benefits of making a purchase,” Freling said. “If the return policy is lenient in scope — if a sale item can be returned — a consumer might say, ‘Oh this is on sale. It seems like a good value. I’ll buy it, and if it’s not the right color or fit, I’ll return it.’

    Freling said the study shows that return policy leniency should depend on the retailer’s objectives. If a retailer wants to stimulate purchases, offering more lenient monetary policies and low-effort policies may be effective.

    If a retailer wishes to curb returns, longer deadlines to make a return would be more effective. The study found that leniency in time reduced return rates. Freling said a possible explanation is the endowment effect, which suggests that the longer consumers possess a product, the more attached to it they become and less likely they are to return it.

    “The cost of dealing with returns affects the bottom line,” he said. “You want to look at the different dimensions of a return policy, because you may be able to manipulate the policy to achieve your goals.”

    With online sales becoming a more important aspect of the retail industry — it totaled $2.72 billion on Black Friday last year, up 14 percent from 2014 — Freling said future research should investigate the impact of return policies on e-commerce.

    Return Policy Factors

    The researchers classify return policy leniency as varying along five elements.

    • Time: Retailers commonly specify deadlines in their return policies (e.g., a 30-day policy, a 90-day policy). Policies that provide a longer length of time to return products are more lenient.
    • Monetary: Lenient return policies allow for a full refund of the amount paid for the product, while strict policies allow for only a portion of the purchase price to be refunded.
    • Effort: Some retailers create “hassles” for customers returning products (e.g., requiring the original receipt, tags or product packaging be retained). Return policies requiring less effort from consumers are more lenient.
    • Scope: Stores limit items they consider “return-worthy.” For example, products purchased on sale may not be eligible for return. Policies with a greater scope of “return-worthy” items are more lenient.
    • Exchange: While some retailers offer cash refunds, others offer store credit or product exchange for the returned item. Return policies that allow cash refunds are more lenient.

  3. How, when and where could affect outcome of psychological treatment

    January 21, 2016 by Ashley

    From the BioMed Central media release:

    support_group_therapyMeeting patients’ preferences for the time and place of their psychological treatment may affect their perception of treatment outcome, a cross-sectional survey by researchers from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Imperial College London involving 14,587 respondents suggests.

    The study, published in the open access journal BMC Psychiatry, examined treatment preferences of patients involved in the National Audit of Psychological Therapies according to five aspects: venue, time of day, gender of therapist, language that the treatment was delivered in, and therapy type. For each of these features, patients were asked to rate whether or not they had a strong preference and if they were given enough choice. They were also asked to evaluate their satisfaction with treatment outcome using a five-point scale.

    A total of 86% of patients expressed a preference for at least one of the five aspects — time of day and location being the two most popular preferences. Out of those patients, 36.7% said that at least one of their preferences had not been met. Lead researcher, Mike Crawford, said: “People who have preferences for how, when and where psychological treatment is delivered that are not met, are less likely to report that they were helped by the treatment.”

    The researchers analyzed data from anonymous survey results of patients who received treatment from 184 NHS services in England and Wales in 2012-13. They wanted to determine to what degree patients express preferences regarding certain aspects of their psychological treatment, whether they feel that these preferences are met and how that impacts their perception of the treatment outcome.

    The study relied on quantitative survey data based on patient recall rather than qualitative interviews and evaluated perception of outcome, rather than evaluating the outcome itself. Thus, it could not explore whether patients whose preferences were not met went on to benefit less from treatment, or whether the perception of poor outcome was attributed to unmet preferences retrospectively when patients completed the survey.

    Providers of psychological treatment in the UK are encouraged to offer patients choices about their treatments, despite limited information on people’s preferences and a lack of evidence of how meeting these preferences affects therapy outcome. The researchers suggest that their findings highlight the importance of assessing and meeting patient preferences and offering patients adequate choice.

    Mike Crawford said: “Psychological treatment services need to recognize that people often have preferences for how, when and where treatment is delivered. Treatment may be more effective when patient preferences are met by the service.”


  4. Study examines effect of psychology on markets

    July 9, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Caltech press release via EurekAlert!:

    chart_diagramWhen it comes to economics versus psychology, score one for psychology.

    Economists argue that markets usually reflect rational behavior—that is, the dominant players in a market, such as the hedge-fund managers who make billions of dollars’ worth of trades, almost always make well-informed and objective decisions. Psychologists, on the other hand, say that markets are not immune from human irrationality, whether that irrationality is due to optimism, fear, greed, or other forces.

    Now, a new analysis published in the XX issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) supports the latter case, showing that markets are indeed susceptible to psychological phenomena. “There’s this tug-of-war between economics and psychology, and in this round, psychology wins,” says Colin Camerer, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the corresponding author of the paper.

    Indeed, it is difficult to claim that markets are immune to apparent irrationality in human behavior. “The recent financial crisis really has shaken a lot of people’s faith,” Camerer says. Despite the faith of many that markets would organize allocations of capital in ways that are efficient, he notes, the government still had to bail out banks, and millions of people lost their homes.

    In their analysis, the researchers studied an effect called partition dependence, in which breaking down—or partitioning—the possible outcomes of an event in great detail makes people think that those outcomes are more likely to happen. The reason, psychologists say, is that providing specific scenarios makes them more explicit in people’s minds. “Whatever we’re thinking about, seems more likely,” Camerer explains.

    For example, if you are asked to predict the next presidential election, you may say that a Democrat has a 50/50 chance of winning and a Republican has a 50/50 chance of winning. But if you are asked about the odds that a particular candidate from each party might win—for example, Hillary Clinton versus Chris Christie—you are likely to envision one of them in the White House, causing you to overestimate his or her odds.

    The researchers looked for this bias in a variety of prediction markets, in which people bet on future events. In these markets, participants buy and sell claims on specific outcomes, and the prices of those claims—as set by the market—reflect people’s beliefs about how likely it is that each of those outcomes will happen. Say, for example, that the price for a claim that the Miami Heat will win 16 games during the NBA playoffs is $6.50 for a $10 return. That means that, in the collective judgment of the traders, Miami has a 65 percent chance of winning 16 games.

    The researchers created two prediction markets via laboratory experiments and studied two others in the real world. In one lab experiment, which took place in 2006, volunteers traded claims on how many games an NBA team would win during the 2006 playoffs and how many goals a team would score in the 2006 World Cup. The volunteers traded claims on 16 teams each for the NBA playoffs and the World Cup.

    In the basketball case, one group of volunteers was asked to bet on whether the Miami Heat would win 4 playoff games, 8 games, or some other range. Another group was given a range of 4 games, which combined the two intervals offered to the first group. Then, the volunteers traded claims on each of the intervals within their respective groups. As with all prediction markets, the price of a traded claim reflected the traders’ estimations of whether the total number of games won by the Heat would fall within a particular range.

    Economic theory says that the first group’s perceived probability of the Heat winning 4 games and its perceived probability of winning 8 games should add up to a total close to the second group’s perceived probability of the team winning 4 games. But when they added the numbers up, the researchers found instead that the first group thought the likelihood of the team winning 4 or 8 games higher than did the second group, which was asked about the probability of them winning 4 games. All of this suggests that framing the possible outcomes in terms of more specific intervals caused people to think that those outcomes were more likely.

    The researchers observed similar results in a second, similar lab experiment, and in two studies of natural markets—one involving a series of 153 prediction markets run by Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs, and another involving long-shot horses in horse races.

    People tend to bet more money on a long-shot horse, because of its higher potential payoff, and they also tend to overestimate the chance that such a horse will win. Statistically, however, a horse’s chance of winning a particular race is the same regardless of how many other horses it’s racing against—a horse who habitually wins just five percent of the time will continue to do so whether it is racing against fields of 5 or of 11. But when the researchers looked at horse-race data from 1992 through 2001—a total of 6.3 million starts—they found that bettors were subject to the partition bias, believing that long-shot horses had higher odds of winning when they were racing against fewer horses.

    While partition dependence has been looked at in the past in specific lab experiments, it hadn’t been studied in prediction markets, Camerer says. What makes this particular analysis powerful is that the researchers observed evidence for this phenomenon in a wide range of studies—short, well-controlled laboratory experiments; markets involving intelligent, well-informed traders at major financial institutions; and nine years of horse-racing data.


  5. Study links teens’ self-consciousness with specific brain, physiological responses

    by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release via EurekAlert!:

    twin_teen_girlsTeenagers are famously self-conscious, acutely aware and concerned about what their peers think of them. A new study reveals that this self-consciousness is linked with specific physiological and brain responses that seem to emerge and peak in adolescence.

    “Our study identifies adolescence as a unique period of the lifespan in which self-conscious emotion, physiological reactivity, and activity in specific brain areas converge and peak in response to being evaluated by others,” says psychological scientist and lead researcher Leah Somerville of Harvard University.

    The findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggest that teens’ sensitivity to social evaluation might be explained by shifts in physiological and brain function during adolescence, in addition to the numerous sociocultural changes that take place during the teen years.

    Somerville and colleagues wanted to investigate whether just being looked at — a minimal social-evaluation situation — might register with greater importance, arousal, and intensity for adolescents than for either children or adults. The researchers hypothesized that late-developing regions of the brain, such as the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), could play a unique role in the way teens monitor these types of social evaluative contexts.

    The researchers had 69 participants, ranging in age from 8 to almost 23 years old, come to the lab and complete measures that gauged emotional, physiological, and neural responses to social evaluation.

    They told the participants that they would be testing a new video camera embedded in the head coil of a functional MRI scanner. The participants watched a screen indicating whether the camera was “off,” “warming up,” or “on”, and were told that a same-sex peer of about the same age would be watching the video feed and would be able to see them when the camera was on. In reality, there was no camera in the MRI machine.

    The consistency and strength of the resulting data took the researchers by surprise:

    “We were concerned about whether simply being looked at was a strong enough ‘social evaluation’ to evoke emotional, physiological and neural responses,” says Somerville. “Our findings suggest that being watched, and to some extent anticipating being watched, were sufficient to elicit self-conscious emotional responses at each level of measurement.

    Specifically, participants’ self-reported embarrassment, physiological arousal, and MPFC activation showed reactivity to social evaluation that seemed to converge and peak during adolescence.

    Adolescent participants also showed increased functional connectivity between the MPFC and striatum, an area of the brain that mediates motivated behaviors and actions. Somerville and colleagues speculate that the MPFC-striatum pathway may be a route by which social evaluative contexts influence behavior.

    The link may provide an initial clue as to why teens often engage in riskier behaviors when they’re with their peers.


  6. Study examines reasons for nostalgia

    by Ashley

    From the Carnegie Mellon University press release via HealthCanal:

    memory vanishingThe present often compares poorly to the past.

    When looking back on the movies, television shows, road trips and life more generally, we often perceive our past experiences as better than the same kinds of experiences we have today. These are known as “nostalgic preferences” — believing that past experiences were superior to their present counterparts.

    But was the past really better, or is this perception a trick that our minds play on us? New research at Carnegie Mellon University finds that the workings of memory seem to filter our view of the past with rose-colored glasses, biasing what we remember in ways that profoundly impact how we evaluate the past in comparison to the present.

    Carey K. Morewedge, associate professor of marketing and the BP Junior Faculty Chair at CMU’s Tepper School of Business, examined how memory biases create these nostalgic preferences over time by analyzing how people rate television shows and movies of the past and present in his research titled “It Was a Most Unusual time: How Memory Bias Engenders Nostalgic Preferences.” His study is in press at the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.

    “Participants in the experiments exhibited nostalgic preferences for both movies and TV programs,” Morewedge said. “Films and shows from years past were consistently rated as having been better than the films and shows of the present. Moreover, the results of the experiments suggest that a bias in memory is responsible for these preferences.”

    Previous research has demonstrated that people show an asymmetry in what they remember of the past, in that they are quicker to forget negative rather than positive autobiographical memories, or personal past experiences. When it comes to films and television programs, for example, we readily remember our favorites of both the past and present, and all the bad films and shows of the present, but forget the bad films and shows of the past.

    Professor Morewedge’s research suggests that when we evaluate categories of experiences, we neglect to account for what we have forgotten. Thus, we base our judgment of the past on its best moments, but base our judgment of the present on all of its good and bad moments.

    Participants in the studies exhibited a tendency to recall movies and shows from both the past and present that were similarly good. When asked to recall any particular film or show, they most often remembered their favorite. However, participants also tended to evaluate all films and shows of the past based on the best examples they recalled, more so than in their evaluations of present offerings. This gave rise to their nostalgic preferences.

    Memory seems to operate much like a record store, stocking the hits of the past, and both the hits and the duds of the present. Rather than recognize this bias, however, we mistakenly believe that what we remember is representative of the entire category of experiences, giving rise to nostalgic preferences,” Morewedge explained.

    In addition to helping to explain our natural tendency to view the past as better than the present, these findings have useful implications for business and industry. Reminding people that past practices had as many (if not more) downsides than present practices may help employees learn to embrace a more diverse workforce and modern ways of working.

    These findings also can be useful to the entertainment industry, as it looks to recapture the positive perceptions that the public holds for older films and television programs. It also is a good lesson for marketing, brand and communications professionals who need to understand how their customer and audience’s perceptions change over time.


  7. Study suggests impulsivity may correlate with altruism in close relationships

    by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release via ScienceDaily:

    support_friends_resiliencyWhen faced with the choice of sacrificing time and energy for a loved one or taking the self-centered route, people’s first impulse is to think of others, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    For decades psychologists have assumed that the first impulse is selfish and that it takes self-control to behave in a pro-social manner,” says lead researcher Francesca Righetti of VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “We did not believe that this was true in every context, and especially not in close relationships.”

    Righetti and colleagues sought to examine whether impulsivity, in close relationships, might actually benefit others.

    They found that participants whose self-control was taxed (and were thus more impulsive) were more willing to sacrifice time and energy for their romantic partner or best friend than participants whose self-control wasn’t taxed.

    In one study, to find out whether they would sacrifice in actual practice, the researchers told couples they would have to talk to 12 strangers and ask them embarrassing questions. The participants didn’t know that they wouldn’t actually have to follow through with the task.

    Participants with high self-control opted to split the burden right down the middle — assigning six strangers to themselves and six strangers to their partner. But participants with low self-control opted to take on more of the burden, sacrificing their own comfort to spare their partners.

    A final experiment revealed that married individuals low in trait self-control sacrificed more for their partners, yet were also less forgiving of their transgressions — presumably because self-control is required to override the focus on the wrongdoing and think instead about the relationship as a whole.

    While sacrificing for a partner may help to build the relationship on a day-to-day basis, Righetti and colleagues note that it could backfire over the long-term, compromising individuals’ ability to maintain a balance between personal and relationship-related concerns.

    This balance is a perennial issue for anyone in a close relationship:

    “Whether it’s about which activities to engage in during free time, whose friends to go out with, or which city to live in, relationship partners often face a divergence of interests — what is most preferred by one partner is not preferred by the other,” notes Righetti.

    The field of research is relatively new, so the jury is still out on what effects sacrifice has on relationship well-being, but Righetti is hopeful that research over the next few years will shed more light on the link.

    Co-authors on this research include Catrin Finkenauer, also of VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Eli Finkel of Northwestern University.

    This research was supported by grants from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.


  8. Study suggests winning sounds on slot machines reinforce feelings of reward

    July 8, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release via AlphaGalileo:

    gambling_slot_machineWinning sounds on slot machines make gambling more exciting, according to a new study by Mike Dixon and colleagues from the University of Waterloo in Canada. Moreover, their work shows that sounds also cause players to overestimate the number of times they won while playing on slot machines. The study is published online in Springer’s Journal of Gambling Studies.

    Sound has always been an integral part of the slot machine playing experience. Since the early 1900s, players have been rewarded with a ringing bell every time they have a winning combination. Today’s slot machines average about 400 sound effects.

    Modern slot machines allow players to wager on multiple lines. When they spin and lose, the machine goes quiet. When they spin and win more than their wager, they hear a celebratory song. Interestingly, when they spin and win back less than their wager (bet $1.00 and win back 20 cents) they still hear the celebratory songs despite the fact that overall they lost money on these spins. Dixon and colleagues sought to see if these celebratory sounds could hide the fact that players were losing money on these so-called ‘losses disguised as wins.’

    Dixon and team measured gamblers’ physiological responses to various slot machine game outcomes – wins, losses and losses disguised as wins – with and without sound during play. During slot machine play, palms may sweat, which increases skin conductance – a measure of arousal.

    A total of 96 gamblers played two sessions on a slot machine simulator. In one session, both wins and ‘losses disguised as wins’ were accompanied by rolling sounds and celebratory winning jingles, as well as visual feedback. In a second session, the sounds were turned off and players only received visual feedback. The researchers measured the participants’ skin conductance and heart rate responses to the various outcomes. At the end of play, the gamblers were asked which session they preferred and why. They also estimated how many spins they had won back more than they wagered.

    Sound influenced the overall levels of arousal of players. Skin conductance responses were significantly greater in the session with sound than in the session without sound. Players also rated the noisy session as more arousing than the quiet session. The majority of players preferred the playing session where wins were accompanied by sounds, which suggests that not only do sounds make playing more exciting, players enjoy this extra level of excitement.

    Sounds also contributed to players overestimating their number of wins. While this overestimation occurred both in the quiet and noisy sessions, it was significantly higher in the session with sound – 24 percent versus 15 percent in the session without sound. The authors suggest that sounds may be an integral part of ‘the disguise’ in losses disguised as wins, causing players to think that they have won more often during a playtime session than they actually have.

    The authors conclude: “Although sounds may have contributed to players’ enjoyment of the game, sound may also lead to an overestimation of winning. Both of these effects may contribute to gambling problems, such as misbeliefs about the true chances of winning, and persistence that some players experience when playing slot machines.


  9. Study suggests physical environment may affect likelihood of dishonest behaviour

    by Ashley

    From the Columbia Business School press release via HealthCanal:

    hispanic_bossA new study from researchers at leading business schools reveals that expansive physical settings (e.g. having a big desk to stretch out while doing work or a large driver’s seat in an automobile) can cause individuals to feel more powerful, and in turn these feelings of power can elicit more dishonest behavior such as stealing, cheating, and even traffic violations.

    “In everyday working and living environments, our body postures are incidentally expanded and contracted by our surroundings — by the seats in our cars, the furniture in and around workspaces, even the hallways in our offices — and these environments directly influence the propensity of dishonest behavior in our everyday lives,” said Andy Yap, a key author of the research who spearheaded its development during his time at Columbia Business School.

    The study states that while individuals may pay very little attention to ordinary and seemingly innocuous shifts in bodily posture, these subtle postural shifts can have tremendous impact on our thoughts, feelings and behavior. Building on previous research that expansive postures can lead to a state of power, and power can lead to dishonest behavior, the study found that expanded, nonverbal postures forced upon individuals by their environments could influence decisions and behaviors in ways that render people less honest.

    “This is a real concern. Our research shows that office managers should pay attention to the ergonomics of their workspaces. The results suggest that these physical spaces have tangible and real-world impact on our behaviors,” said Andy Yap.

    The research includes findings from four studies conducted in the field and the laboratory. One study manipulated the expansiveness of workspaces in the lab and tested whether “incidentally” expanded bodies (shaped organically by one’s environment) led to more dishonesty on a test (see Figure 1). Another experiment examined if participants in a more expansive driver’s seat would be more likely to “hit and run” when incentivized to go fast in a video–game driving simulation (see Figure 2).

    To extend results to a real–world context, an observational field study tested the ecological validity of the effect by examining whether automobile drivers’ seat size predicted the violation of parking laws in New York City. The field study revealed that automobiles with more expansive driver’s seats were more likely to be illegally parked on New York City streets.

    The research, titled The Ergonomics of Dishonesty, will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. It is co–authored by Andy Yap, a former PhD student at Columbia Business School and currently a visiting professor at MIT Sloan School of Management; Abbie Wazlawek, a PhD student at Columbia Business School; Brian Lucas, a PhD student at Kellogg School of Management; Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School; and Dana Carney, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.


  10. Study suggests giving children non-verbal clues about words boosts vocabularies

    by Ashley

    From the University of Chicago press release via MedicalXpress:

    studying problemsThe clues that parents give toddlers about words can make a big difference in how deep their vocabularies are when they enter school, new research at the University of Chicago shows.

    By using words to reference objects in the visual environment, parents can help young children learn new words, according to the research. It also explores the difficult-to-measure quality of non-verbal clues to word meaning during interactions between parents and children learning to speak. For example, saying, “There goes the zebra” while visiting the zoo helps a child learn the word “zebra” faster than saying, “Let’s go to see the zebra.”

    Differences in the quality of parents’ non-verbal clues to toddlers (what children can see when their parents are talking) explain about a quarter (22 percent) of the differences in those same children’s vocabularies when they enter kindergarten, researchers found. The results are reported in the paper, “Quality of early parent input predicts child vocabulary three years later,” published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “Children’s vocabularies vary greatly in size by the time they enter school,” said lead author Erica Cartmill, a postdoctoral scholar at UChicago. “Because preschool vocabulary is a major predictor of subsequent school success, this variability must be taken seriously and its sources understood.”

    Scholars have found that the number of words youngsters hear greatly influences their vocabularies. Parents with higher socioeconomic status—those with higher income and more education—typically talk more to their children and accordingly boost their vocabularies, research has shown.

    That advantage for higher-income families doesn’t show up in the quality research, however.

    “What was surprising in this study was that social economic status did not have an impact on quality. Parents of lower social economic status were just as likely to provide high-quality experiences for their children as were parents of higher status,” said co-author Susan Goldin-Meadow, the Beardsley Ruml Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at UChicago.

    Although scholars have amassed impressive evidence that the number of words children hear—the quantity of their linguistic input—has an impact on vocabulary development, measuring the quality of the verbal environment—including non-verbal clues to word meaning—has proved much more difficult.

    To measure quality, the research team reviewed videotapes of everyday interactions between 50 primary caregivers, almost all mothers, and their children (14 to 18 months old). The mothers and children, from a range of social and economic backgrounds, were taped for 90-minute periods as they went about their days, playing and engaging in other activities.

    The team then showed 40-second vignettes from these videotapes to 218 adults with the sound track muted. Based on the interaction between the child and parent, the adults were asked to guess what word the parent in each vignette used when a beep was sounded on the tape.

    A beep might occur, for instance, in a parent’s silenced speech for the word “book” as a child approaches a bookshelf or brings a book to the mother to start storytime. In this scenario, the word was easy to guess because the mother labeled objects as the child saw and experienced them. In other tapes, viewers were unable to guess the word that was beeped during the conversation, as there were few immediate clues to the meaning of the parent’s words. Vignettes containing words that were easy to guess provided high-quality clues to word meaning.

    Although there were no differences in the quality of the interactions based on parents’ backgrounds, the team did find significant individual differences among the parents studied. Some parents provided non-verbal clues about words only 5 percent of the time, while others provided clues 38 percent of the time, the study found.

    The study also found that the number of words parents used was not related to the quality of the verbal exchanges.

    Early quantity and quality accounted for different aspects of the variance found in the later vocabulary outcome measure,” the authors wrote. In other words, how much parents talk to their children (quantity), and how parents use words in relation to the non-verbal environment (quality) provided different kinds of input into early language development.

    “However, parents who talk more are, by definition, offering their children more words, and the more words a child hears, the more likely it will be for that child to hear a particular word in a high-quality learning situation,” they added. This suggests that higher-income families’ vocabulary advantage comes from a greater quantity of input, which leads to a greater number of high-quality word-learning opportunities. Making effective use of non-verbal cues may be a good way for parents to get their children started on the road to language.

    Joining Cartmill and Goldin-Meadow as authors were University of Pennsylvania scholars Lila Gleitman, professor emerita of psychology; John Trueswell, professor of psychology; Benjamin Armstrong, a research assistant; and Tamara Medina, assistant professor of psychology at Drexel University.