1. Study suggests believing you have fewer friends than your peers can contribute to unhappiness

    September 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia press release:

    Feel like everyone else has more friends than you do? You’re not alone– but merely believing this is true could affect your happiness. A new study from the University of British Columbia, Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School has found that new university students consistently think their peers have more friends and spend more time socializing than they do. Even when that’s untrue, simply believing so affected students’ wellbeing and sense of belonging.

    “We know the size of your social networks has a significant effect on happiness and wellbeing,” said study lead author Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School who carried out the research while a PhD candidate at UBC. “But our research shows that even mere beliefs you have about your peers’ social networks has an impact on your happiness.”

    The researchers used data collected from a survey of 1,099 first-year students at UBC. Students were asked how many friends they had made and to estimate how many friends their peers had made since starting school in September.

    The researchers found a greater proportion of students (48 per cent) believed other students had made more close friends than they did. Thirty-one per cent believed the opposite.

    A second survey tracking 389 students across their first year found students who believed their peers had more friends at the beginning of the year reported lower levels of wellbeing.

    However, several months later, the same students who thought their peers had moderately more friends than they did at the beginning of the year reported making more friends compared to students who thought their peers had many more friends.

    “We think students are motivated to make more friends if they think their peers only have one or two more friends than they do,” said Whillans. “But if they feel like the gap is too big, it’s almost as if they give up and feel it isn’t even worth trying.”

    Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and assistant professor in the UBC department of psychology, said the public nature of social activities is likely why students feel their peers are doing better socially.

    “Since social activities, like eating or studying with others, tend to happen in cafes and libraries where they are easily seen, students might overestimate how much their peers are socializing because they don’t see them eating and studying alone,” said Chen.

    The findings could help inform university initiatives to support students’ transition to university life, possibly through an intervention to correct social misperceptions and promote friendship formation, said Chen.

    More research is needed to determine whether the same pattern emerges among new immigrants, or people moving to a new city or starting a new job, said Chen.

    “These feelings and perceptions are probably the strongest when people first enter a new social environment, but most of us probably experience them at some point in our lives,” she said.


  2. Study suggests belief in free will affects causal attributions when judging others’ behavior

    September 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Ghent University press release:

    Six studies demonstrate that believing in free will increases the correspondence bias and predicts prescribed punishment and reward behavior.

    Free will is a cornerstone of our society, and psychological research demonstrates that questioning its existence impacts social behavior. In six studies, we tested whether believing in free will is related to the correspondence bias, which reflects people’s automatic tendency to overestimate the influence of internal as compared to external factors when interpreting others’ behavior.

    All studies demonstrate a positive relationship between the strength of the belief in free will and the correspondence bias. Moreover, in two experimental studies, we showed that weakening participants’ belief in free will leads to a reduction of the correspondence bias. Finally, the last study demonstrates that believing in free will predicts prescribed punishment and reward behavior, and that this relation is mediated by the correspondence bias.

    Overall, these studies show that believing in free will impacts fundamental social-cognitive processes that are involved in the understanding of others’ behavior.


  3. Study suggests music can alter evaluation of male faces’ attractiveness

    September 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Vienna press release:

    Music is a worldwide phenomenon and part of every culture, but the origin of music remains a longstanding puzzle. Why do people invest so much energy, time and money in music? Various theories have been proposed, some of which emphasize the biological and social aspects of music. For instance, Charles Darwin said, within the framework of his theory of evolution that music has developed through sexual selection. The motor and cognitive abilities necessary for making music serve as an indicator for good genes and thus increase the reproductive success. This is similar to the singing of birds in the mating season. “There are currently few empirical findings that support Darwin’s theory on the origin of music. We wanted to use a new experimental paradigm to investigate the role of music in choosing a mating partner” says Manuela Marin, the leader of the study and former associate of the Institute for Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods at the University of Vienna.

    In the current study, Marin and her colleagues investigated the impact of musical exposure on the subjective evaluations of opposite-sex faces. “Facial attractiveness is one of the most important physical characteristics that can influence the choice of a partner. We wanted to find out how music can alter the perception of this feature” says Helmut Leder from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Vienna. Since music, especially before the advent of modern technology, has always been experienced in the here and now, and mostly in a social context, it is plausible to assume that music could positively influence the visual perception of faces. “There is some evidence in the psychological literature that so-called arousal transfer effects can occur if two stimuli are processed consecutively. The processing of the first stimulus produces internal arousal, i.e. increased physiological activity, which is then attributed to the second stimulus. This mostly unconscious mechanism can then influence our actions, in this case, the choice of a partner” explains Manuela Marin.

    In their experiment, the scientists presented heterosexual participants with instrumental musical excerpts that varied in their emotional content, followed by a photograph of a face from the opposite sex with a neutral facial expression. The face was assessed in terms of its attractiveness on a scale. In addition, participants were asked to rate whether they would date the person pictured. In the control condition only faces without music were presented. There were three groups of participants: women in the fertile phase of their cycle, women in the nonfertile phase of their cycle, and men. These groups were similar in their musical preferences and musical training, as well as in their mood before the experiment and in their relationship status. The results showed that female participants rated the male faces as more attractive and were more willing to date the men pictured when previously exposed to music. The fertility cycle did not have a large influence on the ratings. Overall, highly stimulating and complex music led to the greatest effect compared to the control condition. This effect was not present among male participants.

    These results are promising and open up new possibilities to investigate the role of music in partner selection in connection with aspects of physical attractiveness. “Our goal is to replicate these results in a larger sample and to modify some aspects of the experiment. For example, we would like to clarify whether musical abilities and creativity can compensate partially for deficiencies in terms of physical appearance and fitness” says Bruno Gingras from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Innsbruck. Helmut Leder adds: “Our results also recall the well-known Capilano Suspension Bridge experiment of Dutton and Aaron from the early 1970s. In that case, male participants crossed either a suspension bridge or a sturdy bridge and were then interviewed by an attractive female confederate who gave them her phone number. Participants who walked over the suspension bridge were much more likely to contact her later. We are planning similar experiments with music in a social context.”

    These results could have broad implications: “There is an increasing number of empirical findings showing that music has the power to influence human behavior with regard to partner selection. But how can Darwin’s theory be reconciled with other biological and social theories on the genesis of music? Music can promote social cohesion, and it also plays a role in the mother-child relationship. Until we understand these connections, there will be a long way to go” concluded Manuela Marin.


  4. Study suggests sportspeople can face retirement identity crisis

    by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth press release:

    New research shows how top-level sportspeople can struggle to adjust to life after retirement, with their identities continuing to be defined by their former careers.

    The research, published in the journal Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, illustrates how some athletes struggle to adjust socially and psychologically following retirement. Previous studies have shown that in the most extreme cases it can lead to depression, eating disorders and substance abuse.

    The study was led by Dr Francesca Cavallerio of Anglia Ruskin University, who worked alongside Dr Chris Wagstaff of the University of Portsmouth and Dr Ross Wadey of St Mary’s University.

    Dr Wagstaff said: “Adapting to retirement is difficult for many people in society and this is particularly the case in elite sport. Such environments are characterised by very clear social and cultural expectations. In order to be successful, athletes typically conform to and associate success with these cultural norms.

    “This study showed that, unfortunately, when athletes retire many struggle to identify with anything other than their sport, which for many, has been the principal focus of their life for many years. Therefore, sport organisations must do more to support the non-sport lives of their athletes.”

    Dr Cavallerio, a Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University, interviewed female gymnasts who had retired from elite-level competition and found that their stories followed one of three narratives or storylines: Entangled, Going forward and Making sense.

    For instance, some former gymnasts who were identified as entangled had their identities completely defined by their former athletic self and the values instilled in them when they competed. They struggled to adapt to life after gymnastics and suffered from low confidence, low self-esteem, and a lack of drive towards new goals and experiences.

    The going forward former athletes were able to develop different identities to that of a gymnast at the same time as they were competing at a high level. Once their gymnastics careers were over, they were able to make the most of what they had learnt in sport to help their future development.

    Those in the making sense group fell somewhere in between, not confident enough to be going forward but struggling not to remain entangled in their former life. Future experiences were likely to decide whether they would more closely follow the going forward or entangled narratives.

    Dr Cavallerio said: “Sport continues to embrace the early identification and development of talented athletes. In many sports, the age at which people begin training at a professional level is getting younger.

    “Our study shows that how athletes are treated and influenced at a young age can have an effect on how they deal with retirement.

    “The issues we observed should be of interest to clubs and governing bodies across a range of sports. On a practical level they should be encouraging young athletes to develop a non-sporting identity at the same time as a sporting identity, and have a range of interests and friendships outside of their sport.”


  5. Study suggests teens’ ability to consider the intentions of others linked to structural changes in the brain

    September 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Dartmouth College press release:

    When it comes to the concept of fairness, teenagers’ ability to consider the intentions of others appears to be linked to structural changes underway in the brain, according to a Dartmouth-led study published by Scientific Reports. The study is the first to provide evidence linking structural changes with behavioral changes within this context. (See video: https://youtu.be/uLv5da5wvus.) Understanding the intentions of others is fundamental to human cooperation and how we exist as social beings.

    Understanding the intentions of others is fundamental to human cooperation and how we exist as social beings. Previous studies have demonstrated that certain areas of the social brain relating to how we care about others or “social inference,” continue to undergo cortical development until late adolescence. As demonstrated by the following time-lapse video, these changes include the thinning of the brain’s cortex, which likely reflect synaptic reorganization in how brain regions are connected and communicate with each other. The study is the first to provide evidence linking structural changes with behavioral changes in the brain within the context of fairness concerns.

    For the study, participants between nine and 23-years old took part in an ultimatum game based on the exchange of money. Proposers first selected between two different divisions of $10, and responders then decided whether to accept or reject the chosen division. Researchers evaluated how participants used two different cognitive strategies when making their decision using computational modeling, and then investigated how these processes correlated with measurements of participants’ cortical thickness, as obtained through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

    Younger players tended to want to minimize the difference in the division of the money, whereby everyone gets the same amount but as players became older, they were more inclined to consider the other player’s intentions. This shift from a simple rule-based egalitarian strategy to a more sophisticated strategy that considers both the other player’s intentions and notions of reciprocity, was observed during late adolescence. This gradual shift coincided with cortical thinning in the brain, specifically, in areas of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which is involved with how we view others’ mental states, and posterior temporal cortex, which is involved in visual perception particularly in processing facial information.

    “This work provides converging evidence in line with other research that the computation of inferring intentions is processed in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex,” said senior author Luke Chang, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the director of the Computational Social Affective Neuroscience Laboratory (Cosan Lab) at Dartmouth. “We were surprised that this shift in preference for considering others’ intentions occurred so late in development. Of course, younger children can infer the intentions of others, but we see that this ability continues to be refined well into late adolescence. This finding has potential implications regarding how much autonomy this age group should be given when making important social and ethical decisions, such as purchasing weapons, going to war, and serving on juries,” added Chang.


  6. Study suggests apologising for socially rejecting someone may make them feel worse

    September 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Imagine you find out that your friend meets with mutual co-workers for lunch every Friday. You ask to join, but your friend declines your request. Could the way they phrased this rejection make you feel more or less hurt about being snubbed?

    A new study published in the open-access journal, Frontiers in Psychology, reveals that saying sorry when making a social rejection can have the opposite effect of its intention.

    “Contrary to popular belief, apologies don’t soften the blow of rejections,” says Dr. Gili Freedman, lead author of this study, currently based at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA.

    “Most people have had the experience of wanting to minimize the hurt of the person they are rejecting. But how exactly do you do that? Our research finds that despite their good intentions, people are going about it the wrong way. They often apologize, but that makes people feel worse and that they have to forgive the rejector before they are ready.”

    Previous research has focused on the target of the rejection, rather than those who carry it out and how they do it. There can be times when people cannot accept all invitations or wish to avoid a social encounter, but little is known about how they can protect the feelings of those being rejected.

    Social norms dictate that we should forgive someone if they apologize, which puts the targets of social rejection in a difficult position if they aren’t ready to do this or think the apology is insincere. With that in mind, Dr. Freedman performed several different tests to assess how often apologies were included in a social rejection and how the recipients felt and responded to them.

    “We approached over a thousand people who were in town for various festivals so we could get a wide range of participants by capitalizing on the free time that people had while waiting in queues.”

    They found 39% of people included an apology when asked to write a ‘good way of saying no’ to a social request, such as being able to meet up or to be roommates again. When asked how they would feel when put in this position themselves, those people shown a rejection containing an apology reported higher feelings of hurt.

    Dr. Freedman then carried out specially designed face-to-face rejection experiments to account for the fact that people don’t like to admit negative feelings, such as the pain of rejection.

    “We know that people often don’t want to admit that they have hurt feelings, so in some of the studies, we looked at how much people wanted to seek revenge,” explains Dr. Freedman. “Specifically, we looked at the degree to which rejectees imposed an unpleasant taste test of hot sauce on their rejectors.”

    It showed that those offered an apology when rejected from a set of group tasks, which included a taste test of hot sauce, exacted revenge by allocating more sauce to the person who had rejected them. This was despite being told they had a strong aversion spicy food!

    Lastly, the researchers asked participants to view a video of a rejection in action, to assess if feelings of forgiveness can be affected. Those who saw the recipient receiving an apology thought they would feel more obliged to express forgiveness, despite not feeling it.

    Dr. Freedman hopes to further this research by examining if the rejector is actually protecting their own feelings when apologizing.

    “It is possible that rejectors may feel better about themselves if they apologize. We intend to examine when rejectors are motivated to feel better about themselves and when they would rather put the rejectee’s needs ahead of their own.”


  7. Study suggests understanding perceptions of reputation, identity offers opportunity

    September 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Notre Dame press release:

    Though we are taught from an early age not to judge others, we can use our perceptions of others to work toward positive outcomes, both socially and professionally, according to a study from the University of Notre Dame.

    Recognizing when our understanding of someone differs from that individual’s self-perception and also from how others see that same person can provide important insights into managing those relationships, according to “Knowledge of identity and reputation: Do people have knowledge of others’ perceptions?” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Brittany Solomon, research assistant professor of management and organization in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

    The research found that, regardless of how people personally view another person, they also are aware of how that person sees themselves, as well as how they are generally perceived by others.

    “Understanding others’ subjective realities can enhance empathy, cooperation and communication and may also influence one’s own opinions,” Solomon says. “This can prompt people to deliberate and even re-evaluate their own views or enable them to influence others.”

    Specifically, Solomon examined the extent to which people have insight into another person’s identity and reputation. Hundreds of study participants were asked to provide a range of personality perceptions from different points of view, while their friends and acquaintances did the same to show whether people can really see beyond their own views and accurately realize others’ perceptions.

    “Any time you’re interacting with other people, understanding their perspectives is important,” Solomon says. “For example, if I’m a manager or supervisor and I’m trying to motivate an employee, I can assign tasks that will really highlight their strengths or help boost self-esteem in areas of weakness. This approach can affirm people’s identities, build confidence and help uncover hidden talents.”

    Solomon, who studies personality as a predictor of a variety of individual and organizational level outcomes such as job satisfaction and career success, says the research results can greatly improve team dynamics.

    “If you know that one person is seen in positive or negative ways, you can highlight their attributes that perhaps other group members aren’t aware of,” Solomon says. “Or, you could avoid potential conflict by not grouping certain individuals together in the first place.”

    It’s not about determining whose perception is right or wrong. It’s about recognizing that multiple perspectives exist and how that awareness can help inform our interactions with one another.

    “People’s self-perceptions obviously are going to be skewed,” Solomon says. “What matters is that we’re aware of each other’s subjective realities. I think that sometimes people get along because they mistakenly assume everyone is on the same page. The more insight we have into the discrepancies and views of others makes our interactions legitimate. Ultimately, we don’t want to live in a world where we are deluded.”

    The findings can prove valuable in most contexts of life, including negotiation.

    The person who has greater insight into an opponent’s identity can, of course, leverage that information in various ways to win,” Solomon says. “Much of life involves interacting with others. As a friend, parent or teacher, understanding someone else’s identity can help that other person feel understood and provide the groundwork for effective motivation.”


  8. Lively tunes boost sales in crowded stores

    September 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Journal of Retailing at New York University press release:

    If a store is crowded, people tend to buy more if the sound system is playing a fast-paced song rather than a ballad. That’s what a team of researchers found in a field experiment across a chain of grocery convenience stores in Northern Europe.

    The researchers — Klemens M. Knoeferle of the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo; Vilhelm Camillus Paus, of Saatchi & Saatchi in Oslo; and Alexander Vossen of the University of Siegen, in Germany — conducted a longitudinal experiment to determine whether and to what extent music played a role in influencing shoppers when stores were more or less crowded. The authors noted that customer spending tracked an inverted U-shape as stores became more crowded. They found that when stores weren’t crowded, music had little effect, but as social density increased, music with an up-tempo beat spurred spending.

    In “An Upbeat Crowd: Fast In-store Music Alleviates Negative Effects of High Social Density on Customers’ Spending,” appearing in the September issue of The Journal of Retailing, the authors describe a six-week field experiment in 2014 that tested the interaction between manipulated music tempo and measured social density. The sample included 460 small stores and recorded a total of 43,676 observations about shopping basket value (SBV) and the number of purchased items. Compared with no music, as a store became more crowded, the average SBV was roughly 8 percent greater. The authors also observed that SBV was higher due to shoppers’ buying more items rather than more expensive ones.

    Managerial implications were clear: first, the authors say, retail managers should be aware of crowding’s effect on spending patterns and find ways to control it; second, ambient music is a relatively easy tool for retailers to mitigate crowding effects; and third, the authors provide a metric for measuring when social density demands some lively tunes. In addition, when customers are few, retailers might save royalty fees by not playing music, and because fast music in crowded stores motivated customers to buy more low-priced items, managers should prepare for a run on impulse purchases.


  9. Close friendships in high school predict improvements in mental health in young adulthood

    September 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    Adolescence is a time of social challenges and changing expectations. While relationships with peers may be important for youth at this time, do they also have implications over time? A new longitudinal study suggests that the types of peer relationships youth make in high school matter for mental health through young adulthood. The study, authored by researchers at the University of Virginia, is published in the journal Child Development.

    “Our research found that the quality of friendships during adolescence may directly predict aspects of long-term mental and emotional health,” according to Rachel K. Narr, PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia, who led the study. “High school students with higher-quality best friendships tended to improve in several aspects of mental health over time, while teens who were popular among their peers during high school may be more prone to social anxiety later in life.”

    The study looked at a community sample of 169 adolescents over 10 years, from the time they were age 15 to when they were 25. The youth were racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse, with 58% Caucasian, 29% African American, and 8% of mixed race/ethnicity, and with median family income $40,000 to $59,999. Adolescents were assessed annually, answering questions about who their closest friends were, reporting on their friendships, and participating in interviews and assessments exploring such feelings as anxiety, social acceptance, self-worth, and symptoms of depression; teens’ close friends also reported on their friendships and were interviewed.

    High-quality friendships were defined as close friendships with a degree of attachment and support, and those that allow for intimate exchanges. Friendship quality was determined from reports by participants’ best friends at age 15. Popularity was defined as the number of peers in the teens’ grade who ranked them as someone they would like to spend time with, and was measured using nominations from all the teens.

    Researchers found that teens who prioritized close friendships at age 15 had lower social anxiety, an increased sense of self-worth, and fewer symptoms of depression by the time they reached age 25 than their peers. Conversely, teens who were broadly sought after in high school — that is, those who were popular among their peers — had higher levels of social anxiety as young adults.

    Neither having a strong best friendship nor being more popular predicted short-term changes in mental health, the researchers note. These differences only became apparent later and they appeared regardless of youth’s experiences in the interim.

    The study’s conclusion: Experiencing strong, intimate friendships during adolescence may help promote long-term mental health. The researchers suggest that this may be because positive experiences with friends help bolster positive feelings about oneself during a stage of life when personal identity is being developed. Also, close friendships may set adolescents on a trajectory to expect and therefore encourage supportive experiences in the future.

    The study also determined that there was a low relation between teens having high-quality friendships and being more sought after by their peers, suggesting that although some teens manage both popularity and close friendship well, and attract both due to similar characteristics, for the most part, these two types of social success are due to different personal attributes.

    “Our study affirms that forming strong close friendships is likely one of the most critical pieces of the teenage social experience,” explains Joseph Allen, Hugh P. Kelly Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, who coauthored the study. “Being well-liked by a large group of people cannot take the place of forging deep, supportive friendships. And these experiences stay with us, over and above what happens later. As technology makes it increasingly easy to build a social network of superficial friends, focusing time and attention on cultivating close connections with a few individuals should be a priority.”


  10. Study examines eye patterns and anxiety in children

    September 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – Riverside press release:

    We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues — it helps us understand a person’s emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. But researchers have known far less about eye gazing patterns in children.

    According to new research by Kalina Michalska, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, we now know that anxious children tend to avoid making eye contact, and this has consequences for how they experience fear. The shorter and less frequently they look at the eyes of others, the more likely they are to be afraid of them, even when there may be no reason to be. Her study, “Anxiety Symptoms and Children’s Eye Gaze During Fear Learning,” was published in the journal The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

    “Looking at someone’s eyes helps us understand whether a person is feeling sad, angry, fearful, or surprised. As adults, we then make decisions about how to respond and what to do next. But, we know much less about eye patterns in children — so, understanding those patterns can help us learn more about the development of social learning,” Michalska said.

    Researchers addressed three main questions:

    1. Do children spend more time looking at the eyes of a face that’s paired with something threatening, but not expressing an emotion at that moment?

    2. Would children who were more anxious avoid looking at the eye region, similar to what has previously been observed in adults?

    3. Would avoiding eye contact affect how afraid children were of the face they saw?

    To examine these questions, Michalska and the team of researchers showed 82 children, 9 to 13 years old, images of two women’s faces on a computer screen. The computer was equipped with an eye tracking device that allowed them to measure where on the screen children were looking, and for how long. The participants were originally shown each of the two women a total of four times. Next, one of the images was paired with a loud scream and a fearful expression, and the other one was not. At the end, children saw both faces again without any sound or scream.

    “The question we were interested in was whether children would spend more time looking at the eyes of a face that was paired with a scream than the face that was not paired with a scream, during that second phase,” Michalska said.

    “We examined participants’ eye contact when the face was not expressing any emotions, to determine if children make more eye contact with someone who is associated with something bad or threatening, even when they are not expressing fear at that moment. We also looked at whether children’s anxiety scores were related to how long children made eye contact.”

    The following three conclusions can be drawn from the study:

    1. All children spent more time looking at the eyes of a face that was paired with the loud scream than the face that was not paired with the scream, suggesting they pay attention to potential threats even in the absence of outward cues.

    2. Children who were more anxious avoided eye contact during all three phases of the experiment, for both kinds of faces. This had consequences for how afraid they were of the faces.

    3. The more children avoided eye contact, the more afraid they were of the faces.

    The conclusions suggest that children spend more time looking at the eyes of a face when previously paired with something frightening suggesting they pay more attention to potentially threatening information as a way to learn more about the situation and plan what to do next.

    However, anxious children tend to avoid making eye contact, which leads to greater fear experience. Even though avoiding eye contact may reduce anxiety in the short term, the study finds that — over time — children may be missing out on important social information. This includes that a person may no longer be threatening or scary, and yet the child continues feeling fearful of that person.