1. Study looks at how well we perceive other people’s stress levels in the workplace

    November 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Friends of Tel Aviv University press release:

    A new Tel Aviv University study finds that people often project their own experiences with stress onto their colleagues and employees, causing miscommunication and, often, missed opportunities.

    “This study is the first to show that our own psychological mindset determines how we judge other peoples’ responses to stress — specifically, whether we perceive stress as positive or negative,” said principal investigator Prof. Sharon Toker of TAU’s Coller School of Management.

    The research was published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

    The positives and negatives of stress

    “This research informs the way managers assess their employees’ ability to take on different workloads. It may also inform our relationships with our spouses — or with our children,” Prof. Toker says. “For example, a typical ‘tiger mom’ is sure that stress is a good thing. She may simply not see how burned out her child may be.”

    Experiments conducted by Prof. Toker and researchers Prof. Daniel Heller and Nili Ben-Avi, also of TAU’s Coller School of Management, found that a person’s individual stress mindset colors the way he or she will perceive a colleague or employee’s health, work productivity and degree of burnout.

    “If a manager perceives that a certain employee doesn’t suffer from stress, that manager will be more likely to consider the employee worthy of promotion,” Prof. Toker says. “But because the manager believes that stress is a positive quality that leads to self-sufficiency, the manager will also be less likely to offer assistance if the employee needs it,” Prof. Toker says.

    Prof. Toker and her colleagues recruited 377 American employees for an online “stress-at-work” questionnaire. Participants were asked to read a description of “Ben,” a fictitious employee who works long hours, has a managerial position and needs to multitask. The employees then rated his burnout levels and completed a stress mindset questionnaire about Ben.

    The more participants saw stress as positive and enhancing, the more they perceived Ben as experiencing less burnout and consequently rated him as more worthy of being promoted,” Prof. Toker says.

    Changing minds

    The researchers also wanted to see whether they could change people’s perceptions of stress and consequently change the way they perceive other peoples’ stress. They conducted a series of further experiments among 600 employed Israelis and Americans to determine whether their stress mindset can be cultivated or changed.

    The researchers randomly assigned the employees to “enhancing” or “debilitating” stress mindset groups of 120-350 people. Using a technique called “priming” — prompting participants to think of the word “stress” in either positive or negative terms — the participants were asked to write about past stress experiences in either a “positive/enhancing” or “negative/debilitating” way. They were then asked to read a description of Ben’s workload and assess Ben’s burnout, rate of productivity and psychosomatic symptoms.

    Participants were also asked whether Ben should be promoted and whether they would be willing to help him with his workload.

    “Study participants who were primed to have a positive/enhancing stress mindset rated Ben as suffering less from stress-related symptoms and were consequently more likely to recommend Ben for promotion. They were also less likely to offer him help,” Prof. Heller says. “But those primed to feel as though stress was debilitating/negative felt that Ben was more burned out and consequently less fit to be promoted.”

    “Your stress mindset will affect your judgement of other people’s stress responses,” Ben-Avi concludes. “But we have shown that even if stress affects you positively, it can distort the way you see your colleagues, your employees, your spouses, even your own children. We should be very careful about assessing other people’s stress levels.”


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

    November 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Notre Dame press release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  3. Study looks at perceptions of what nature is

    November 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Washington press release:

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

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

    But to you, they still feel like nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  4. Study examines CBT use for chronic pain

    November 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Wolters Kluwer Health press release:

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

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

    CBT Offers Effective, Safer Alternative to Opioids for Chronic Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  5. How spatial navigation correlates with language

    November 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the National Research University Higher School of Economics press release:

    Cognitive neuroscientists from the Higher School of Economics and Aarhus University experimentally demonstrate how spatial navigation impacts language comprehension. The results of the study have been published in NeuroImage.

    Language is a complicated cognitive function, which is performed not only by local brain modules, but by a distributed network of cortical generators. Physical experience such as movement and spatial motion play an important role in psychological experiences and cognitive function, which is related to how an individual mentally constructs the meaning of a sentence.

    Nikola Vukovic and Yury Shtyrov carried out an experiment at the HSE Centre for Cognition & Decision Making, which explains the relations between the systems responsible for spatial navigation and language. Using neurophysiological data, they describe brain mechanisms that support navigation systems use in both spatial and linguistic tasks.

    “When we read or hear stories about characters, we have to represent the inherently different perspectives people have on objects and events, and ‘put ourselves in their shoes’. Our study is the first to show that our brain mentally simulates sentence perspective by using non-linguistic areas typically in charge of visuo-spatial thought” says Dr. Nikola Vukovic, the scientist who was chiefly responsible for devising and running the experiment.

    Previous studies have shown that humans have certain spatial preferences that are based either on one’s body (egocentric) or are independent from it (allocentric). Although not absolute and subject to change in various situations, these preferences define how an individual perceives the surrounding space and how they plan and understand navigation in this space.

    The participants of the experiment solved two types of tasks. The first was a computer-based spatial navigation task involving movement through a twisting virtual tunnel, at the end of which they had to indicate the beginning of the tunnel. The shape of the tunnel was designed so that people with egocentric and allocentric perspectives estimated the starting point differently. This difference in their subjective estimates helped the researchers split the participants according to their reference frame predispositions.

    The second task involved understanding simple sentences and matching them with pictures. The pictures differed in terms of their perspective, and the same story could be described using first (“I”) or second person pronouns (“You”). The participants had to choose which pictures best matched the situation described by the sentence.

    During the experiment, electrical brain activity was recorded in all participants with the use of continuous electroencephalographic (EEG) data. Spectral perturbations registered by EEG demonstrated that a lot of areas responsible for navigation were active during the completion of both types of tasks. One of the most interesting facts for the researchers was that activation of areas when hearing the sentences also depended on the type of individual’s spatial preferences.

    Brain activity when solving a language task is related to a individuals’ egocentric or allocentric perspective, as well as their brain activity in the navigation task. The correlation between navigation and linguistic activities proves that these phenomena are truly connected’, emphasized Yury Shtyrov, leading research fellow at the HSE Centre for Cognition & Decision Making and professor at Aarhus University, where he directs MEG/EEG research. ‘Furthermore, in the process of language comprehension we saw activation in well-known brain navigation systems, which were previously believed to make no contribution to speech comprehension’.

    These data may one day be used by neurobiologists and health professionals. For example, in some types of aphasia, comprehension of motion-related words suffers, and knowledge on the correlation between the navigation and language systems in the brain could help in the search for mechanisms to restore these links.


  6. Study suggests spending decisions are influenced by adaptation in neural circuits

    November 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Washington University School of Medicine press release:

    The British have a pithy way of describing people who dither over spending 20 cents more for premium ice cream but happily drop an extra $5,000 for a fancier house: penny wise and pound foolish.

    Now, a new study suggests that being penny wise and pound foolish is not so much a failure of judgment as it is a function of how our brains tally the value of objects that vary widely in worth.

    Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that when monkeys are faced with a choice between two options, the firing of neurons activated in the brain adjusts to reflect the enormity of the decision. Such an approach would explain why the same person can see 20 cents as a lot one moment and $5,000 as a little the next, the researchers said.

    “Everybody recognizes this behavior, because everybody does it,” said senior author Camillo Padoa-Schioppa, PhD, an associate professor of neuroscience, of economics and of biomedical engineering. “This paper explains where those judgments originate. The same neural circuit underlies decisions that range from a few dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. We found that a system that adapts to the range of values ensures maximal payoff.”

    The study is available online in Nature Communications.

    While you are contemplating whether to order a scoop of vanilla or strawberry ice cream, a part of your brain just above the eyes is very busy. Brain scans have shown that blood flow to a brain area known as the orbitofrontal cortex increases as people weigh their options.

    Neurons in this part of the brain also become active when a monkey is faced with a choice. As the animal tries to decide between a sip of, say, apple juice or grape juice, two sets of neurons in its orbitofrontal cortex fire off electrical pulses. One set reflects how much the monkey wants apple juice; the other set corresponds to the animal’s interest in grape juice. The faster the neurons fire, the more highly the monkey values that option.

    A similar process likely occurs as people make decisions, the researchers said. But what happens to firing rates when a person stops thinking about ice cream and starts thinking about houses? A house might be hundreds of thousands of times more valuable than a cup of ice cream, but neurons cannot fire pulses 100,000 times faster. The speed at which they can fire maxes out at about 500 spikes per second.

    To find out how neurons cope with different values, Padoa-Schioppa and colleagues repeatedly gave monkeys a choice between two juices, offered in the range of 0 to 2 drops. After a break, the same two juices were offered in the range of 0 to 10 drops. The researchers recorded which neurons were active — and how quickly they were firing — as the monkeys made their choices.

    The researchers discovered that the neurons’ firing rates reset between the two sessions. In the first session the maximum firing rate corresponded to the option of two drops of juice, and in the second it corresponded to 10 drops of juice. In other words, the same change in how rapidly the neuron fired corresponded to a fine distinction in value when the range was narrow, and a coarse distinction when the range was broad.

    “As we adapt to large values, we lose some ability to consider smaller values,” Padoa-Schioppa said. “This is why salesmen try so hard to sell you upgrades when you’re buying a car. Spending $100 to add on a radio seems like no big deal if you’re already spending $20,000 on a car. But if you already have a car and you are thinking of spending $100 for a radio, suddenly it seems like a lot. They know that people don’t come back and buy the radio later.”

    While having adaptable neurons allows us effectively to shop for items ranging in value from groceries to cars to houses, it does introduce a theoretical quirk: It should be possible to change someone’s preferences simply by adjusting the range of each option. For example, by offering a large range of apple juice and a small range of grape juice, the researchers could make a drop of apple juice look less valuable than a drop of grape juice, convincing an apple-loving monkey to select grape juice instead.

    When they changed the ranges of the juices, however, the researchers found that the monkeys did not fall for it. Apple-loving monkeys continued to choose apple juice.

    The researchers concluded that making a choice between two juices is not a simple matter of comparing the firing rates of the apple-juice neurons to the firing rates of the grape-juice neurons. Instead, neurons pegged to each option feed into a neural circuit that processes the data and corrects for differences in scale.

    It’s a system optimized for making the best possible choice — the one that reflects true preferences over a vast range of values, even though some detail gets lost at the higher end.

    “It was a puzzle: How does the brain handle this enormous variability?” said Padoa-Schioppa. “We showed that a circuit that has adaptation and corrects for it ensures maximal payoff. And these findings have implications for understanding why people make the choices they do. There’s a good neurological reason for behavior that might seem illogical.”


  7. Energy firm study suggests branding influences customer switching, not deals

    by Ashley

    From the University of East Anglia press release:

    Energy companies in the UK are using specific branding approaches instead of product innovation to keep customers, according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

    While previous research has tended to focus on pricing, this study looked at the branding strategies and personalities of the Big Six energy firms — British Gas, SSE, EDF Energy, E.ON UK, npower and Scottish Power — and whether this is increasing consumer loyalty and therefore reducing switching behaviour. The Big Six represent more than 90 per cent of all energy supplied in the UK consumer sector.

    Focusing on the electricity market between 2013 — when the number of customers switching providers reached its lowest level — and 2015, the researchers find that brand personality consistency over time is important.

    Consistent brands, such as EDF Energy, performed better as they saw decreases in switching compared to firms, like npower and Scottish Energy, that had significantly changed their brand personality position or communicated inconsistently in this period.

    Providers that had a significantly different brand personality position between marketing communication channels, such as their website and annual report, also had more switching than those that remained consistent. Interestingly, the majority of the brands studied were inconsistent on this measure.

    The findings are published in the journal European Management Review.

    Lead author Dr Richard Rutter, a visiting research fellow at UEA’s Norwich Business School and assistant professor at the Australian College of Kuwait, said: “This research demonstrates the long-term importance of corporate branding in the energy sector and that brand personality does have an impact on customer retention.

    “The Big Six energy providers recognise the power of brand identity when attempting to persuade consumers to switch providers. Rather than doing so simply on the basis of superior financial offers, they are increasingly looking to build a long-term brand personality with which consumers will identify.

    “These organisations wish to be viewed as customer-focused and as offering a fair deal to consumers. There seem to be subtle but important differences in the ways that each company is choosing to communicate with its domestic audience and some are more effective than others.”

    Concentrating on companies’ communication through their websites and annual reports, the researchers examined what brand personality dimensions — defined as sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness — were communicated most strongly and how consistently each organisation communicated its brand between the website and annual report. They then assessed the organisation’s performance, measured by consumer loyalty or switching behaviour.

    They found that brands communicating excitement more strongly, such as EDF Energy, had the lowest levels of switching. The findings also suggest an ideal brand personality for the UK energy sector: low to medium levels of sincerity and competence and high levels of excitement and ruggedness communicated through the website lead to better performance. The authors say the annual report should maintain this, but also communicate a higher level of competence.

    Co-author Prof Konstantinos Chalvatzis, of Norwich Business School and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, said: “Under scrutiny from the public and politicians, the energy sector is changing rapidly. Branding within the energy sector has become increasingly important, as energy firms seek to attract and, importantly, retain customers.

    “We find that certain energy brands, for example EDF Energy have communicated their personality consistently, while others, such as npower and British Gas, seem to have repositioned themselves. A strong brand personality alone is not enough to prevent consumer switching, rather, particular dimensions of personality are more favourable than others and the relevance of specific personality traits can change.”

    The authors, who also include Prof Stuart Roper of the University of Huddersfield and Prof Fiona Lettice of Norwich Business School, recommend that firms should not drastically change their branding each year. Brand managers should also consider how to increase the communication of excitement in relation to their brands without being inauthentic, and ensure that their brand is consistent over time and between different marketing media.

    Relatively quick gains could be made by reviewing external communications for consistency of language and message. The findings also highlight the need for greater emphasis on competence related language, particularly when delivering negative information.


  8. Study suggests absentee dads affect how women interpret interest from men

    November 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Utah press release:

    Women who grow up without a caring father, or who even are reminded of painful and disappointing experiences with their father, see more sexual intent in men.

    New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that women who were reminded of a time that their dad was absent from their lives — or who actually experienced poor quality fathering while growing up — perceived greater mating intent in the described behaviors of a hypothetical male dating partner and when talking with a man. These women also “saw” more sexual arousal when viewing images of men’s faces.

    “This research underscores an important psychological change — perceiving greater sexual interest among men — that could increase a woman’s likelihood of engaging in unrestricted or risky sexual behavior in response to growing up with a disengaged father,” said Danielle J. DelPriore, a University of Utah postdoctoral fellow and lead author.

    The new research was co-authored by University of Utah psychology professor Bruce J. Ellis, and professor Sarah E. Hill and graduate student Randi Proffitt Leyva of the Department of Psychology at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas.

    DelPriore noted that research has long shown relationships between a dad’s behavior and a daughter’s sexual development, from when she becomes sexually mature to when she first engages in sexual activity. But, DelPriore said, “we don’t really know how one leads to the other.”

    Some research has suggested a potential genetic explanation, with men who are genetically inclined to engage in socially deviant or risky behaviors being more likely to have daughters with the same inclinations. The new study suggests that shared genes are not the whole story.

    The authors employed a randomized design to demonstrate cause-and-effect relationships. They were able to show that being reminded of painful and disappointing experiences with one’s father caused daughters to increase their perceptions of men’s sexual interest, “a shift that is linked with greater engagement in sexual behavior,” DelPriore said.

    The researchers ran five different studies in which half of the female participants were randomly assigned to remember a time when their birth father was absent from an important life event. For comparison purposes, the other half of the participants across studies were either asked to recall a time that their father was present, or that their mother was absent, for an important event.

    The second phase of each study prompted the women to rate the sexual and romantic interest of men based on the following: described behavior of a hypothetical dating partner (from holding hands to flirting), viewing male facial portraits, or interacting with a potential partner via a video screen.

    In each study, the researchers found evidence that women who were reminded of painful and disappointing experiences with their fathers subsequently perceived greater mating intent among the men. Similar results were not found when women were reminded of disappointing experiences with their mothers.

    Many of the research participants were from intact families and did not actually experience the father’s absence from the home while growing up. However, one study specifically included participants whose parents had separated or divorced during childhood. Women in this study had many real-life experiences with father absence and disengagement on which they could draw.

    Significantly, reminding a woman of a time her father was absent for an event and actually growing up with a disengaged father produced similar results.

    “The experiments test the effect of making salient feelings of pain, loss and disappointment related to the father on a daughter’s sexual perceptions,” DelPriore said, “and using this approach allowed us to capture psychological shifts that could help shape women’s mating behavior. Importantly, we found evidence of similar shifts taking place in response to women’s actual exposures to harsh and deviant fathering while they were growing up.”


  9. Study suggests younger siblings impacted more by parental favouritism

    November 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brigham Young University press release:

    A new study by BYU School of Family Life assistant professor Alex Jensen revealed that the perception of favoritism may have more effect on a child-parent relationship than was previously considered.

    Specifically, Jensen found that favoritism is linked more to younger siblings’ parent-child relationships than with the older siblings’. If the younger sibling feels like they’re the favorite and the parents agree, their relationship is strengthened. If they don’t feel like the favorite and the parents agree with that, the opposite happens. Surprisingly with older siblings, whether they feel favored or not, it has no major impact on the relationship.

    What could be the reason behind this difference? Jensen says social comparison — one sibling comparing himself to the other — is the culprit.

    “It’s not that first-borns don’t ever think about their siblings and themselves in reference to them,” Jensen said. “It’s just not as active of a part of their daily life. My guess is it’s probably rarer that parents will say to an older sibling, ‘Why can’t you be more like your younger sibling?’ It’s more likely to happen the other way around.”

    The data in the study were collected from a longitudinal study with more than 300 families, each with two teenage children.

    To measure levels of favoritism, researchers looked at responses from both the children and their parents. The children were asked what their relationship with their parents is like while their parents were asked how much warmth and conflict they experienced with their children. They found that children, on average, have more warmth and more conflict with their mothers, but the rates of change in relationship for both mother and father were similar.

    The study looked at families with two children, but Jensen believes that the data would show similar results for larger families as well.

    “If you had to ask me, ‘Do we see the same thing with the second born and third born?’ I think probably so,” Jensen said. “The youngest kid looks up to everybody, the next youngest kid looks up to everyone older than them, and it just kind of goes up the line.”

    While parents may think treating their children equally is the best way to mitigate any negative effects, Jensen says this is not the case.

    When parents are more loving and they’re more supportive and consistent with all of the kids, the favoritism tends to not matter as much,” Jensen said. “Some parents feel like ‘I need to treat them the same.’ What I would say is ‘No you need to treat them fairly, but not equally.’ If you focus on it being okay to treat them differently because they’re different people and have different needs, that’s OK.”

    The study was published in the Journal of Adolescence. Susan M. McHale, a professor at The Pennsylvania State University, was the coauthor.


  10. Study suggests hearing an opinion spoken aloud humanizes the person behind it

    November 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    People attribute more humanlike qualities to those expressing opinions they disagree with when the opinions are spoken as opposed to written, according to new research in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The findings explore how specific aspects of speech, such as intonation and frequent pauses, may serve as cues that humanize the people who are speaking, making them seem more intellectual and emotionally warm than those whose opinions are written.

    “Our findings show that even when the content is the same, the medium through which it is expressed can affect evaluations of the communicator,” says lead researcher Juliana Schroeder of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. “It is possible that variance in communicators’ natural cues in their voices, such as tone, can convey their thoughtfulness.”

    “Preliminary evidence from one of our studies suggests that the medium by which an opinion is expressed may even influence how persuasive it is,” she adds.

    In previous research, Schroeder investigated how the medium of communication affects how recruiters evaluate job candidates. In the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election in the US, she and coauthors Michael Kardas and Nicholas Epley (both of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business) hypothesized that this question might be especially relevant in the context of controversial political and social issues.

    In one experiment, the researchers video-recorded six participants as they expressed their actual opinions on one of three polarizing political and social topics: abortion, the US war in Afghanistan, or rap versus country music. For each topic, one person expressed their opinions in favor of the issue and one against.

    The researchers then randomly assigned a separate group of online participants to receive one of the messages — some saw the full video, some heard only the audio, and some received a transcript.

    Afterwards, these online participants reported whether the communicator seemed to possess sophisticated intellect — they rated, for example, the extent to which he or she seemed “refined and cultured,” “rational and logical,” and “like an adult, not a child” relative to average person. They also reported the communicator’s emotional warmth relative to the average person — they evaluated the degree to which he or she seemed “superficial,” “emotional, responsive, warm,” and “mechanical and cold, like a robot.”

    The results showed that the medium of communication mattered particularly when the communicator and the evaluator disagreed on an issue: Participants judged communicators who expressed an opposing opinion via video or audio as more humanlike — that is, more sophisticated and warm — than those who described their opposing opinions in text form.

    Participants who watched a video and those who listened to audio gave similar ratings, suggesting that visual cues visual cues are not additionally necessary to endow a speaker with human qualities — an audio clip is sufficient.

    Two additional experiments, in which communicators explained why they supported a particular candidate in the 2016 US Presidential election, replicated this pattern of results. Preliminary data from one of the experiments suggested that participants also found messages communicated by voice to be more persuasive than those communicated by text, regardless of whether that text was written by the communicator or was a transcription of a speech.

    The three experiments produced less consistent results, however, when the communicator and evaluator were in agreement.

    A fourth experiment revealed that specific variations in how people speak — such as differences in intonation and the degree to which they pause — may help to explain why people perceive speakers as possessing more humanlike qualities than writers.

    “Whereas existing research demonstrates that cues in speech increase accurate understanding of mental states, our experiments demonstrate that a person’s voice reveals something more fundamental: the presence of a humanlike mind capable of thinking and feeling,” Schroeder and coauthors write in their paper.

    This may become increasingly important as modern technology changes the way that people interact and communicate.

    If mutual appreciation and understanding of the mind of another person is the goal of social interaction, then it may be best for the person’s voice to be heard,” the researchers conclude.