1. Listening to happy music may enhance divergent creativity

    September 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the PLOS press release:

    Listening to happy music may help generate more, innovative solutions compared to listening to silence, according to a study published September 6, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Simone Ritter from Radboud University, The Netherlands and Sam Ferguson from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia.

    Creativity is an important quality in our complex, fast-changing world, as it allows us to generate innovative solutions for a wide range of problems and come up with fresh ideas. The question of what facilitates creative cognition has long been studied, and while music has previously been shown to benefit cognition, little is known about how listening to music affects creative cognition specifically.

    To investigate the effect of music on creative cognition, researchers had 155 participants complete questionnaires and split them into experimental groups. Each group listened to one of four different types of music that were categorized as calm, happy, sad, or anxious, depending on their emotional valence (positive, negative) and arousal (high, low), while one control group listened to silence. After the music started playing, participants performed various cognitive tasks that tested their divergent and convergent creative thinking. Participants who came up with the most original and useful solutions to a task scored higher in divergent creativity, while participants who came up with the single best possible solution to a task scored higher in convergent creativity.

    The researchers found that listening to happy music, which they define as classical music that is positive valence and high in arousal, facilitates more divergent creative thinking compared to silence. The authors suggest that the variables involved in the happy music condition may enhance flexibility in thinking, so that additional solutions might be considered by the participant that may not have occurred to them as readily if they were performing the task in silence.

    This study shows that creative cognition may be enhanced through music, and further research could explore how different ambient sounds might affect creativity and include participants of diverse cultures, age groups, and levels of music experience. The authors suggest that their study may also demonstrate that music listening could promote creative thinking in inexpensive and efficient ways in various scientific, educational and organizational settings.


  2. Study suggests stress behaviours may have evolved to lessen aggression

    by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth press release:

    Scratching is more than an itch — when it is sparked by stress, it appears to reduce aggression from others and lessen the chance of conflict.

    Scratching can be a sign of stress in many primates, including humans.

    Research by Jamie Whitehouse from the University of Portsmouth, is the first to suggest that these stress behaviours can be responded to by others, and that they might have evolved as a communication tool to help social cohesion.

    The research, published in Scientific Reports, raises the question whether human scratching and similar self-directed stress behaviours serve a similar function.

    Jamie said: “Observable stress behaviours could have evolved as a way of reducing aggression in socially complex species of primates. Showing others you are stressed could benefit both the scratcher and those watching, because both parties can then avoid conflict.”

    The research team conducted behavioural observations of 45 rhesus macaques from a group of 200, on the 35-acre island of Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico. The team monitored the naturally occurring social interactions between these animals over a period of eight months.

    The researchers found that scratching in the monkeys was more likely to occur in times of heightened stress, such as being close to high-ranking individuals or to non-friends.

    Stress scratching significantly lowered the likelihood of a scratching monkey being attacked.

    The likelihood of aggression when a high ranking monkey approached a lower ranking monkey was 75 per cent if no scratching took place, and only 50 per cent when the lower ranking monkey scratched.

    Scratching also reduced the chance of aggression between individuals who did not have a strong social bond.

    Jamie said: “As scratching can be a sign of social stress, potential attackers might be avoiding attacking obviously stressed individuals because such individuals could behave unpredictably or be weakened by their stress, meaning an attack could be either risky or unnecessary.

    “By revealing stress to others, we are helping them predict what we might do, so the situation becomes more transparent. Transparency ultimately reduces the need for conflict, which benefits everyone and promotes a more socially cohesive group.”

    The researchers expect the findings will lead to a better understanding of stress and the evolution of stress in humans as well as how we manage stress in captive animals.


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

    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.


  4. Study examines gap between feelings and content on Twitter

    by Ashley

    From the University of Warwick press release:

    Twitter is an unreliable witness to the world’s emotions, according to University of Warwick sociology expert Dr Eric Jensen.

    In a new paper, Dr Jensen, Associate Professor in the University of Warwick’s Department of Sociology, highlights the risks of assuming that Twitter accurately reflects real life.

    With over 300 million monthly active users around the globe sharing their thoughts in 140 characters or less, Dr Jensen acknowledges that studies based on Twitter data are “particularly alluring” to researchers and the media. However, he cautions against this “big data gold rush,” pointing out that there is no evidence that social media content shared on Twitter is a truthful reflection of how its users feel.

    Twitter users have developed their own unique cultural behaviour, conversations and identities, which shape the ways in which they present their views online. Social convention, power relationships and identity influence online conversation just as much as off-line interactions, but in ways that are not yet fully understood.

    Dr Jensen also highlights the problems of drawing broader conclusions from a sample of Twitter users. It has been proven in several studies that Twitter users are not representative of the general population. In just one example, men are much more likely to use Twitter than women. Prolific users who tweet many times a day may be over-represented in any sample dataset.

    Commenting on his findings, Dr Jensen said: “Twitter users present only one side of themselves on social media, shielding their true feelings for good reasons, such as professional reputation. There is clearly a large gap between what people post on social media and how they really feel, but how exactly people manage the relationship between their offline and social media identities is still being uncovered.

    He continued: “When researchers find themselves with easily accessible data, there is a temptation to apply those data to interesting research questions and populations — even when there are limitations in the representativeness of the sample.

    Dr Jensen added: “Enthusiasm for accessing digital data should not outpace sound research methodology.”

    The paper, Putting the methodological brakes on claims to measure national happiness through Twitter: methodological limitations in social media analytics, is published in PLOS ONE today.


  5. Study sheds new light on how brain operates like GPS

    September 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Florida State University press release:

    Every time you walk out of a building, you immediately see where you’re at and then step toward a destination. Whether you turn left, right or go straight ahead, you don’t even think about it. Simple, right?

    Not exactly. The brain performs a complex calculation that works a lot like the Global Positioning System.

    Florida State University’s Aaron Wilber, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience, has discovered new insights into how the brain is organized to help a person navigate through life. His findings were published today in the September issue of the journal Neuron.

    “We have not had a clear understanding of what happens when you step out of a subway tunnel, take in your surroundings and have that moment where you instantly know where you are,” Wilber said. “Now we’re getting closer to understanding that.”

    Wilber wanted to get a clearer picture of how a person makes the transition from seeing a scene and then translating the image into a plan for navigation.

    The parietal cortex is the part of the brain that helps make that happen. It integrates information coming in from various senses and helps a person understand what action to take as a result. The response gets recorded as a memory with help from other parts of the brain, creating a “map” of the location that a person can recall to help get around from place to place.

    Then in the future a person can link that same view, or even just a part of it, to the brain’s map and know what action to take.

    Wilber discovered how the parietal cortex allows us to perform the appropriate action for a particular location.

    Lots of single cells in that region take in streams of sensory information to help a person get oriented, but those individual cells also cluster together in larger modules that work together. Those modules in the parietal cortex generate a physical response and, at the same time, are able to reconfigure themselves as a person learns and makes memories.

    “These different modules are talking to each other and seem to be changing their connections just like single cells change their connections,” Wilber said. “But now we’re talking about large groups of cells becoming wired up in different ways as you learn and remember how to make a series of actions as you go about your day-to-day business.”

    Wilber’s team was able to make recordings of various areas in a rat’s brain and found certain regions showed distinct patterns of activity, and those areas were associated with a particular action. Researchers converted those patterns of activity into graphical illustrations, which offered a visual model of brain activity patterns.

    The team then documented an identical sequence of patterns in certain areas of the brain every time the animal performed a series of actions. In fact, the illustrations were so accurate, researchers could identify the animal’s specific behavior just by looking at the brain activity patterns without ever seeing the actual physical action.

    Wilber continued making recordings when the rat slept and, based on the graphical waveforms, discovered the animal actually replayed the same actions in the brain during dreaming. But the dream sequence played out in fast forward at a rate about four times faster than real-life speed.

    “We think these fast-forward ‘dreams’ we observe in rats could explain why in humans when you dream and wake up, you think a lot more time passed than actually has because your dreams happen at high speed or fast forward,” Wilber said. “Maybe dreams happen in fast forward because that would make it easier to create new connections in your brain as you sleep.”

    As those new connections form, Wilber said, then the next time you go to the store you remember how to get there because your brain has linked your previous actions with certain places, such as turning right at a certain intersection.

    Wilber ultimately wants to understand how that process breaks down in people with Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological disorders. He recently received funding from the National Institutes of Health to pursue this research.


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

    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.


  7. Studies suggest “power poses” don’t work

    by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    The claim that holding a “power pose” can improve your life became wildly popular several years ago, fueling the second most-watched TED talk ever but also casting doubts about the science behind the assertion.

    Now comes the most definitive evidence to date — a wave of scientific studies spearheaded by a Michigan State University researcher — suggesting that power poses do not improve your life.

    “This new evidence joins an existing body of research questioning the claim by power pose advocates that making your body more physically expansive — such as standing with your legs spread and your hands on your hips — can actually make you more likely to succeed in life,” said Joseph Cesario, MSU associate professor of psychology.

    Cesario co-edits a scientific journal, Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology, that recently published seven studies, all of which attempted — unsuccessfully — to replicate and extend the effects of power pose research. In other words, none of the studies showed positive effects of power poses on any behavioral measure, such as how well you perform in a job interview. The studies were even reviewed by Dana Carney, a University of California Berkeley professor who was one of the authors of the original power pose research.

    In addition, Cesario and MSU graduate student David Johnson recently published four new studies testing whether holding power poses impacted important behaviors such as how well you do in a business negotiation. The work, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, again found no evidence that making yourself expansive mattered at all.

    “There is currently little reason to continue to strongly believe,” Cesario said, “that holding these expansive poses will meaningfully affect people’s lives, especially the lives of the low-status or powerless people.”

    Led by Carney and Amy Cuddy from Harvard University, the original power pose study, in 2010, suggested that holding such poses can make you more likely to succeed in life, especially if you are “chronically powerless because of lack of resources, low hierarchical rank or membership in a low-power social group.”

    Cuddy’s June 2012 TED talk, now with more than 42 million views, argued that “power posing” — or standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — will boost feelings of confidence and will have an impact on one’s chances for success, such as in a job interview.

    When you’re alone before the interview, Cuddy recommends, hold a power pose for two minutes — whether that’s standing with hands on hips, leaning over a table with your fingertips on the surface, or perhaps seated with your feet on the table and your arms folded behind your head.

    “Share [this science] with people, because the people who can use it the most are the ones with no resources and no technology and no status and no power,” Cuddy concludes the TED talk. “Give it to them because they can do it in private. They need their bodies, privacy and two minutes, and it can significantly change the outcomes of their life.”

    But the new research stands in stark contrast to Cuddy’s claim. Cesario’s research and the findings from the journal he co-edits do find that holding power poses makes people feel more powerful, but that’s where the effect ends.

    “Feeling powerful may feel good, but on its own does not translate into powerful or effective behaviors,” Cesario said. “These new studies, with more total participants than nearly every other study on the topic, show — unequivocally — that power poses have no effects on any behavioral or cognitive measure.”

    In several of the experiments by MSU’s Cesario and Johnson, for example, participants watched Cuddy’s TED talk, held a power pose and then completed a negotiation task with another participant. The participants who held the power poses did no better than their partners.

    In addition, the seven studies that appear in a special issue of Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology also fail to replicate the power pose effects.

    “Based on the papers in the special issue, and prior replication attempts, one could conclude that the power pose effect on behavioral outcomes does not replicate,” the researchers, including Cesario and Dana Carney, write in the journal.

    Carney puts it even more bluntly in a previously posted statement on her website: “As evidence has come in over these past 2-plus years, my views have updated to reflect the evidence. As such, I do not believe that power pose effects are real.”


  8. Open communication and emotional closeness linked to fewer low sexual interest problems

    September 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Southampton press release:

    British women living with a partner are more than twice as likely to lack interest in sex compared to men living with a partner, according to a new study published in the BMJ Open.

    Women in relationships lasting more than a year are more likely to report lacking interest in sex than those in relationships lasting one year or less.

    The findings come from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) which is the largest scientific study of sexual health lifestyles in Britain.

    Natsal-3 was carried out by researchers at University College London, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and NatCen Social Research. The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, with support from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department of Health.

    The nationally representative survey interviewed 6,669 women and 4,839 men aged between 16 and 74 who reported at least one sexual partner in the past year. Overall, 34 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men reported lacking interest in sex. Half of these people – 62 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men – said that they were distressed by their lack of interest in sex.

    Those who found it always easy to talk about sex with their partner were less likely to report lacking interest. This was true for men as well as women.

    Professor Cynthia Graham, of the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton and lead author on the paper, said: “Our findings show us the importance of the relational context in understanding low sexual interest in both men and women. For women in particular, the quality and length of relationship and communication with their partners are important in their experience of sexual interest. It highlights the need to assess and – if necessary – treat sexual interest problems in a holistic and relationship-, as well as gender-specific way.”

    The study also revealed other things linked to low interest in sex in men and women:

    • Reporting an STI in the last year
    • Ever experiencing sex against your will
    • Poor mental and physical health
    • Not feeling emotionally close to partner during sex

    It also found things linked to low interest in sex among women only:

    • Having three or more partners in the past year
    • Having children under five years old in the household
    • Not sharing the same sexual likes and dislikes as partner

    Co-author Dr Kirstin Mitchell, at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, commented: “The findings on the strong association between open sexual communication and a reduced likelihood of sexual interest problems emphasise the importance of providing a broad sexual and relationships education rather than limiting attention only to adverse consequences of sex and how to prevent them.”


  9. Study suggests feeling the pain of failure may help with rebound

    by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University press release:

    Feeling the pain of failure leads to more effort to correct your mistake than simply thinking about what went wrong, according to a new study.

    Researchers found that people who just thought about a failure tended to make excuses for why they were unsuccessful and didn’t try harder when faced with a similar situation. In contrast, people who focused on their emotions following a failure put forth more effort when they tried again.

    “All the advice tells you not to dwell on your mistakes, to not feel bad,” said Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and professor of marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

    “But we found the opposite. When faced with a failure, it is better to focus on one’s emotions — when people concentrate on how bad they feel and how they don’t want to experience these feelings again, they are more likely to try harder the next time.”

    While thinking about how to improve from past mistakes might help — this study didn’t examine that — the researchers found that people who reflect on a failure do not tend to focus on ways to avoid a similar mistake.

    When asked to think about their mistakes, most people focus on protecting their ego, Malkoc said. They think about how the failure wasn’t their fault, or how it wasn’t that big of a deal, anyway.

    “If your thoughts are all about how to distance yourself from the failure, you’re not going to learn from your mistakes,” she said.

    Malkoc conducted the study with Noelle Nelson of the University of Kansas and Baba Shiv of Stanford University. Their results appear online in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.

    The researchers conducted several studies. In one, 98 college students were asked to price search online for a blender with specific characteristics, and with the possibility of winning a cash prize if they found the lowest price.

    Before they found out if they won, half the participants were told to focus on their emotional response to winning or losing, while the other half were instructed to focus on their thoughts about how they did. They were told they would write about their response afterward.

    The price search task was rigged, though, and all participants found out that the lowest price was $3.27 less than what they found.

    After writing about their failure, the students had a chance to redeem themselves.

    The researchers wanted to find out if the effort put forth by participants in a new task would be related to whether they focused on their thoughts or emotions involving the previous failure. The researchers believed that a task similar to their failed job – in this case a search for the lowest price – would trigger participants into recalling their unsuccessful attempt, while an unrelated job would not.

    So the participants were given another task. Half were asked to search for a gift book for a friend that was the best fit for their limited college-student budget. In other words, they were looking for the lowest price, as they were instructed in the first task.

    The other half of the participants were given a non-similar task, which was to search for a book that would be the best choice as a gift for their friend.

    The results showed emotional responses to failure motivated participants much more than cognitive ones when they were faced with a similar task.

    Emotionally motivated participants spent nearly 25 percent more time searching for a low-priced book than did participants who had only thought about — rather than dwelled on the pain of – their earlier failure.

    There was no significant difference in effort made by participants when the second task wasn’t like the first (when they were searching for the best gift, rather than the cheapest).

    “When the participants focused on how bad they felt about failing the first time, they tried harder than others when they had another similar opportunity,” Malkoc said.

    “But the situation has to be similar enough to trigger the pain of the initial failure.”

    One reason why an emotional response to failure may be more effective than a cognitive one is the nature of people’s thoughts about their mistakes.

    When the researchers analyzed what participants who thought about their failure wrote about, they found significantly more self-protective thoughts (“This wasn’t my fault,” “I could not have found it even if I tried”) than they did self-improvement thoughts (“I know how I can do better next time”).

    Unfortunately, that may be the default mode for most people, at least in many everyday situations.

    In another similar study, the researchers didn’t tell some participants how to respond to their failures. They found that these people tended to produce cognitive responses rather than emotional ones, and those cognitive responses were the kinds that protected themselves rather than focused on self-improvement.

    Malkoc said that in most real-life situations, people probably have both cognitive and emotional responses to their failures. But the important thing to remember is not to avoid the emotional pain of failing, but to use that pain to fuel improvement.

    “Emotional responses to failure can hurt. They make you feel bad. That’s why people often choose to think self-protective thoughts after they make mistakes,” she said.

    “But if you focus on how bad you feel, you’re going to work harder to find a solution and make sure you don’t make the same mistake again.”


  10. Study identifies neurons associated with thirst

    September 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Association for the Advancement of Science press release:

    Scientists have identified a subgroup of neurons in mice that drive a critical instinct – thirst. Activity of the neurons decreased as the mice consumed more water, suggesting that they play a direct role in the primordial emotion. Previous research suggests that a certain region of the brain, the median preoptic nucleus (MnPO), contributes to the sensation of thirst, yet the exact underlying mechanisms have remained largely unknown. To gain a better understanding, William E. Allen et al. analyzed RNA expression within the MnPO of mice that had been deprived of water for 48 hours, identifying a cluster of excitatory neurons of interest. When the researchers used optogenetics to inhibit these neurons, mice reduced their water consumption; in contrast, photoactivation of the neurons in water-satiated animals prompted them to increase their water consumption. In mice trained to press a lever to access water, the rate of lever-pressing corresponded with a decrease in neural activity over time, suggesting that MnPO neuron activity appears to adjust for water intake. Remarkably, mice provided an opportunity to shut off photoactivation of MnPO neurons by lever pressing did so vigorously, ending the undesirable feeling of thirst. The researchers also identified ways in which these MnPO thirst neurons are connected to a variety of other brain regions, which could translate thirst drive into specific goal-directed actions, they say. A Perspective by Claire Gizowski and Charles W. Bourque discusses these findings in greater detail.