1. Study links non-fearful social withdrawal to creativity

    November 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    Everyone needs an occasional break from the social ramble, though spending too much time alone can be unhealthy and there is growing evidence that the psychosocial effects of too much solitude can last a lifetime.

    But newly published research by a University at Buffalo psychologist suggests that not all forms of social withdrawal are detrimental.

    In fact, the research findings published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences suggest that one form of social withdrawal, referred to as unsociability, is not only unrelated to negative outcomes, but linked positively to creativity.

    “Motivation matters,” says Julie Bowker, an associate professor in UB’s Department of Psychology and lead author of the study, which is the first study of social withdrawal to include a positive outcome.

    “We have to understand why someone is withdrawing to understand the associated risks and benefits,” she says.

    Bowker’s study results are reminiscent of realities that surface in literature, from Thoreau’s retreat to Walden to Thomas Merton’s work as a cloistered monk, but for all the conversation and examples about the benefits of withdrawing to nature or reconnecting to the self, the pursuit has remained something that hasn’t been well investigated in the psychological literature, according to Bowker.

    Until now.

    “When people think about the costs associated with social withdrawal, often times they adopt a developmental perspective,” she says. “During childhood and adolescence, the idea is that if you’re removing yourself too much from your peers, then you’re missing out on positive interactions like receiving social support, developing social skills and other benefits of interacting with your peers.

    “This may be why there has been such an emphasis on the negative effects of avoiding and withdrawing from peers.”

    But, in recent years, Bowker says there is growing recognition for the different reasons why youth withdraw from and avoid peers, and that the risk associated with withdrawal depends on the underlying reason or motivation.

    Some people withdraw out of fear or anxiety. This type of social withdrawal is associated with shyness. Others appear to withdraw because they dislike social interaction. They are considered socially avoidant.

    But some people withdraw due to non-fearful preferences for solitude. These individuals enjoy spending time alone, reading or working on their computers. They are unsociable. Unlike shyness and avoidance, research consistently shows that unsociability is unrelated to negative outcomes. But, Bowker’s study is the first to link it to a positive outcome, creativity.

    “Although unsociable youth spend more time alone than with others, we know that they spend some time with peers. They are not antisocial. They don’t initiate interaction, but also don’t appear to turn down social invitations from peers. Therefore, they may get just enough peer interaction so that when they are alone, they are able to enjoy that solitude. They’re able to think creatively and develop new ideas — like an artist in a studio or the academic in his or her office,” says Bowker.

    In the study, shyness and avoidance were related negatively to creativity. Bowker thinks that “shy and avoidant individuals may be unable to use their solitude time happily and productively, maybe because they are distracted by their negative cognitions and fears.”

    For the study, 295 participants reported on their different motivations for social withdrawal. Other self-report measures assessed creativity, anxiety sensitivity, depressive symptoms, aggression, and the behavioral approach system (BAS), which regulates approach behaviors and desires, and the behavioral inhibition system (BIS), which regulates avoidant behaviors and desires.

    Bowker says there is some overlap in the types of social withdrawal. Someone might be high in shyness, but also have some tendency toward unsociability. But, the results from her study show that when the research controls for all the subtypes, the three types of social withdrawal are related differently to outcomes. Not only was unsociability related positively to creativity, but the study findings also showed other unique associations, such as a positive link between shyness and anxiety sensitivity.

    “Over the years, unsociability has been characterized as a relatively benign form of social withdrawal. But, with the new findings linking it to creativity, we think unsociability may be better characterized as a potentially beneficial form of social withdrawal.”


  2. Brain region that motivates behavior change discovered

    October 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pennsylvania press release:

    Have you ever been stuck in a rut, going through the same motions day in and day out? How do you motivate to change your behavior?

    Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Columbia University and Duke University now better understand how this happens, and it has to do with a region in the brain called the posterior cingulate cortex. They learned that neurons in this central location ramp up firing rates, peaking just before a divergent behavior occurs. They published their findings in the journal Neuron.

    “The circuits in our brain that allow us to focus on a particular task, especially a task that leads to reward, are well known,” said Michael Platt, the James S. Riepe University Professor in Penn’s psychology, neuroscience and marketing departments. “These evolved very early in the history of life on this planet.”

    What’s less established is which trigger in the brain causes people to break from a routine, especially when doing so poses potential risks.

    Two experiments the research team conducted — one called the patch-leaving task, the other dubbed the traveling salesman — provided some important insights.

    In the first, Platt and colleagues looked at the foraging behaviors of rhesus macaques, a non-human primate species the researchers have studied both in the lab and in the wild. The animals had the choice between harvesting a juice reward that depleted over time but was guaranteed and immediate or moving to a new “patch,” which would require more time and energy but offered a potentially larger reward.

    “Imagine you’re picking berries in a tree,” he said. “At first it’s easy, but after a while you have to climb farther and farther out on weaker branches to get the berries, most of which probably aren’t ripe. At some point it makes sense to take the time and energy to go to the next tree.”

    To understand the second experiment, think about an effective traveling salesman. The merchant moves from door to door, interacting with people in the hopes of making a deal. Not everyone purchases a product, though there is an ideal pattern for success. Once the salesman understands this, he follows that pattern until it stops working and a behavior change is necessary for continued prosperity.

    Monkeys in the traveling-salesman experiment had the option to visit six different locations, two of which contained rewards, one large and one small. The reward spots were randomized, and they changed each time the experiment ran.

    “The optimal solution is to develop a routine where you visit all of them in a circle. That’s the best you can do; you go from nearest neighbor to next neighbor. That’s what monkeys do in the wild. That’s what bumblebees do in the wild,” Platt said. “Occasionally, these animals break off to explore for something that might be better, kind of like what people do in a grocery store. Suddenly monkeys here would break off and go out of order. We didn’t know why.”

    Simultaneous to watching the macaques’ behavior in both experiments, Platt and his colleagues recorded neuron behavior in the posterior cingulate cortex. Neural activity there built up until it peaked, at which point the animals changed course, revealing correlational evidence that this spike in brain function leads to the divergent thinking and action rather than happens because of it.

    “If you increased activity in the area exogenously, if I put an electrode in there and stimulated, then you would break off from the routine, you would become more exploratory,” Platt said. “Similarly, if you could suppress activity, you’d see the opposite. You’d become hyper-focused on one option, and you may never make a change.”

    These findings have potential business applications in terms of innovation and exploration. Techniques that directly activate the posterior cingulate cortex like brain stimulation or game play that promotes distraction, particularly within situations that don’t allow a routine to form, can lead to more creativity.

    People who have more activity there have more mind-wandering, and they tend to be more creative,” according to Platt. “It suggests that capacity to be more creative evolved for a very specific purpose, which is to allow you to forage efficiently in a landscape that’s always changing.”


  3. Study shows untapped creativity in workforce

    October 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Lehigh University press release:

    With the U.S. economy less reliant on manufacturing, creativity and innovation are of increasing value. Arts graduates, and others who have developed and honed their creative skills, can be critical assets.

    There are millions of arts and design graduates in the U.S. workforce. Research shows that the majority of arts alumni — over 90% — have worked in nonarts-related jobs at some point in their lives.

    However, according to the authors of a new study that looks at how people with arts degrees view their creativity as translatable to their current jobs, many arts alumni are not channeling their creative skills and abilities across the economy.

    The study will be published in the November edition of American Behavioral Scientist in an article called: “‘I Don’t Take My Tuba to Work at Microsoft’: Arts Graduates and the Portability of Creative Identity.” In it, researchers Danielle J. Lindemann (Lehigh University), Steven J. Tepper (Arizona State University) and Heather Laine Talley (Tzedek Social Justice Fellowship) use data from the 2010 administration of the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project and a study of double majors conducted with the support of the Teagle Foundation to explore the translatability of arts alumni’s creative skills to their current jobs.

    The authors found that many arts alumni — in both arts-related and nonarts jobs — are not leveraging their creativity across their lives. They explain that though workplace context factors — such as working environments that do not encourage creativity -play a role, individuals with creative training may be limiting themselves because their own senses of creativity are too narrow. These individuals believe their artistic training and creative skills are relevant in some contexts but not others.

    “We were able to get information about thousands of people with arts degrees, and the jobs they have now, and find out how they think about the relationship between their arts training and their occupational trajectories,” says Lindemann. “Specifically, the SNAAP sample size was large enough that we could look at people who received the same training and ended up in the same occupations and compare their orientations toward their current jobs. That’s never been done before on this scale.”

    “Side-by-side narratives”

    According to Lindemann, the researchers were interested in the concept of “creative identity” — how people who think of themselves as creative, and who are trained to be creative, do or do not view that creativity as “portable” into various occupational contexts.

    “Do arts graduates who now work as attorneys, teachers, computer programmers, etc. feel that their creative training is relevant to their work?” she asks.

    For the SNAAP portion of the project, they were mainly interested in a question that asked respondents to explain, in their own words, “how your arts training is or is not relevant to your current work.” The study found that people with similar training who are working in similar jobs interpret the relationship between their creativity and their work differently.

    For example, one former music major in describing the applicability of his arts training, wrote:

    “Relevant in working with others and needing to consider people skills like in the band. Not relevant because I don’t take my tuba to work at Microsoft.”

    Another individual explained:

    “I use the technical skills on my instruments as a tool and backdrop for most of the creative work I do, with or without the instrument.”

    The authors write that their preliminary evidence suggest “that one factor in these divergent responses may be respondents’ creative identity — the extent to which these individuals viewed themselves as creative, and, specifically, their sense of how their own creativity extended across contexts. For some, creativity was portable into their current jobs while, for others, it was not. Some took their tubas to the office, in a figurative sense, while others left them at home.”

    Lindemann adds: “I think for me the most striking thing was the side-by-side narratives of people who worked in the exact same job and who had such different thoughts about whether their creative training was applicable to their jobs.”

    An example of such a “side by side comparison” are the responses of two arts-graduates-turned-attorneys. One indicated that his creative training translated to the legal sphere:

    “The communication skills and creative thinking I learned at [arts school] really help with lawyering.”

    Another attorney, on the other hand, did not view his arts training as relevant to his work. In fact, he described the “creative” domain of the arts in opposition to the “thinking” zone of the law:

    “I’m a lawyer. Arts is creative. Law is thinking.”

    “One person who works as an attorney will say that his creative training is invaluable to his ability to do his work, while another will say it’s irrelevant, because the law involves ‘thinking,’ not ‘creativity.’ Why is that?” says Lindemann. “Some of those differences may be due to workplace context or their specific positions in their firms, but, as we explore in the article, we think their identities as ‘creative people’ play a crucial role as well.”

    Does more artistic training translate into greater creative satisfaction?

    In their analysis, the researchers look at arts graduates who spend the majority of their working time in an occupation outside of the arts. They found that 51.8% of undergraduate arts alumni report being “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with their opportunity to be creative in their work. By comparison, 60.3% of graduate alumni say they are “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with their opportunity to be creative in their work.

    The authors find that there is a positive relationship between increased artistic training and satisfaction with opportunity to be creative in what might be seen as “noncreative” jobs.

    They write: “If we think about educational level as a rough proxy for commitment to creative identity, these results bolster the findings we have indicated above: arts alumni with more ‘salient’ creative identities are more likely to experience their creativity as durable in ‘noncreative’ contexts.”

    In addition to being of interest to those with a stake in workforce development, the study results may be particularly relevant to arts educators. According to the authors, while most arts curricula focus on preparing students for specialized arts careers, the vast majority of arts graduates end up working in other contexts.

    The authors write: “The way that students are socialized in arts school has consequences. Romanticizing the work of artists to too great an extent may produce students who take too narrow a view of what it means to think creatively and to engage in artistic work. Arts educators may wish to draw on our results in setting the stage for how their students think about their creative capacities in the workplace, both in arts fields and beyond.”


  4. To kickstart creativity, offer money, not plaudits, study finds

    October 12, 2017 by Ashley

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

    How should employers reward creative types for turning in fresh, inventive work: with a plaque or a party recognizing their achievement, or with cold, hard cash? According to new research co-written by a University of Illinois expert in product development and marketing, it’s all about the money, honey.

    In contexts where a premium is placed on being original, social recognition as a reward for an especially imaginative piece of work doesn’t necessarily enhance creativity, says published research co-written by Ravi Mehta, a professor of business administration at Illinois.

    “The general consensus in the research literature on creativity is that money hurts creativity,” Mehta said. “But most of that prior research was conducted with children as the test subjects, and the participants were not specifically told that the reward was for being creative. So what is it about the contingency of rewards that impacts creativity, and would adults respond to all types of creativity-contingent rewards the same way?”

    Across five experiments, Mehta and his co-authors examined the role of creativity-contingent monetary rewards versus creativity-contingent social-recognition rewards on creative performance, providing new insights into the underlying motivational processes through which these rewards affect creativity.

    The experiments demonstrated that, within the context of creativity contingency, monetary rewards induce “a performance focus,” while social-recognition rewards induce “a normative focus,” according to the paper. The researchers found that the former enhances one’s motivation to be original, thereby leading to more inventiveness in a creative task, while the latter hurts it.

    “We found that if you tell people to be creative and then give them monetary rewards, they will be more creative,” Mehta said. “But wouldn’t the same be true of all rewards? If you tell people to be creative and then give them a social-recognition reward instead of money, then they’ll be just as creative as those you reward with money, right? We found no empirical evidence for that.”

    Mehta said social recognition is “all about people knowing about you and your work, and thereby influencing one to act more in accordance with social norms,” whereas creativity means “coming up with something different, something novel, something that is not the norm.”

    “As adults, we don’t want to come up with something that’s too radical, too out-there, especially when we know that our peers will be judging us,” he said. “Most of our daily activities as working adults are about adhering to social norms. We don’t want to stand out too much.”

    But when a monetary reward is dangled, people amp up their performance and consciously try to “blow the doors off the competition” in terms of creativity, Mehta said.

    “When you ask someone to be creative, you’re asking them to be transgressive, to think beyond social norms and thought processes that are not automatic,” he said. “That’s why a social-recognition reward kills creativity, because it makes creators more risk-averse. It appeals to conformity, to not standing out, which drives you to the middle, not the edge. It compels you to fall in line with social norms, and there’s less motivation to be creative.

    “People who value creativity value the bizarre, the stuff that’s out there. Therefore, they’re less likely to care about the approval of others, or a sense of belonging with their peers.”

    The research has practical applications for how people generate creative ideas, and how to motivate creative-class employees.

    “There’s a trend among companies for crowdsourcing ideas or user-generated content,” Mehta said. “Virtually all social media is user- or consumer-driven. This ought to point them in the right direction: Money talks, but social recognition doesn’t.”

    The research also is applicable to people who work at ad agencies or in creative fields.

    “A little caveat, though: People in those fields are expected to be creative, so social recognition also would work for them,” Mehta said. “But more money certainly wouldn’t hurt them, either. In that case, both rewards would lead to more creativity.”

    The paper will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.


  5. Seeking feedback not always sufficient for stimulating creativity

    October 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA) press release:

    It is widely believed that seeking feedback from colleagues, managers, friends and family enhances employees’ creativity. But is this always the case? No, a positive effect depends on the work environment. This is the conclusion of new joint research study led by UvA work and organizational psychologist Roy Sijbom. The team’s findings were recently published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

    The notion that obtaining external feedback about one’s ideas is essential for increasing creativity is deeply rooted in society. For example, entrepreneurs are encouraged to engage customers in order to ascertain whether their business model is viable and academics attend conferences to obtain feedback on their research results. An implicit assumption is that individuals who have obtained feedback will also actually (be able to) utilize it.

    ‘The idea is simple: seeking feedback from different sources – also known as feedback source variety — benefits one’s creativity since it leads to a greater diversity of viewpoints’, says Sijbom. ‘And the more diverse the viewpoints, the more it benefits one’s creativity because by combining and integrating all the different viewpoints new perspectives will emerge that in turn will result in more creativity. The question, however, is whether these beneficial effects always occur.’

    The researchers examined how specific characteristics of the immediate work environment influence the relationship between feedback source variety and creative performance. They hereby focused on two elements that are typical for contemporary work environments: the perceived rate of change of performance standards (performance dynamism) and the extent to which employees feel they have sufficient time to develop creative ideas at work (experienced creative time pressure). ‘We discovered an exponential relationship between the search for input from a variety of feedback sources and creativity, but only when performance standards within an organization are changing and when a relatively low creative time pressure is experienced‘, says Sijbom.

    Sijbom offers several recommendations: ‘The most important is that when an organization stimulates feedback seeking, it needs to ensure that the work environment is optimal enough to utilize the benefits of feedback. In a more concrete sense, organizations can, for example, consider using feedback workshops in which employees are encouraged to reflect on diverse feedback and equipped with techniques and strategies on how to incorporate feedback in their daily work. In addition, managers should not only stimulate their employees to actively cultivate relationships with potential feedback sources within and outside the organization, but also provide sufficient time to process the feedback obtained from these relationships.’

    The research project consisted of two studies. In the first study, the researchers used online questionnaires to obtain data from 1,031 employees who work in consultancy. In the second study, 181 ‘caretakers’ — nurses and other care professionals — in hospitals were asked to complete a survey, but the creative achievements were assessed by their direct managers.


  6. 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.


  7. New approach to teaching music improvisation enhances creativity

    July 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    As World Music Day is approaching, taking place each year on 21 June, many are looking forward to the musical events in the streets or parks and the atmosphere it brings with it. Watching musicians perform can be impressive, even more so when they improvise. The performers produce their works in real-time and while improvising, they manage several processes simultaneously including generating melodic and rhythmic sequences, coordinating performance with other musicians in an ensemble and evaluating internal and external stimuli. All this is done with the overall goal of creating aesthetically appealing music. It keeps some of us wondering, how they do it and whether this can be learned at all.

    In fact, improvisation is being taught in music education and often focuses on the development of techniques. Dr Michele Biasutti, Associate Professor at the University of Padua in Italy however examined how to go beyond these current practices in his recent paper “Pedagogical applications of cognitive research on musical improvisation.” Based on a literature review, the aim was to develop a model that looks at developing processes for improvisation that enhance creativity.

    “Practices such as playing by ear is underexposed in current teaching approaches, which stress notated instruction and exercises such as scales and chords. Instead, I propose an approach that is based on the development of cognitive processes that enhance creativity and the abilities of the players to reflect on their performance skills,” states Biasutti.

    Improvisation is a complex and multidimensional act that involves creativity and performance behaviours in real-time. It also requires processes such as sensory and perceptual encoding, motor control and performance monitoring as well as storing and recalling memory.

    “A teaching approach based on the development of processes could be beneficial in music improvisation at several levels. A process-oriented teaching method can provide inputs for developing specific skills such as problem solving and critical thinking to assist the reflective practice during improvisation. The target processes were the following: anticipation, use of repertoire, emotive communication, feedback and flow,” explains Biasutti.

    This process approach encourages students to think about their creative processes and to self-assess their experiences, thus developing a more complete awareness about the activities performed. In the past, teaching and learning consisted of information being passed-on, memorised and repeated. Now, students have to increasingly find their own knowledge by using information in creative ways, which requires a shift in how students are taught. The paper suggests that this could be achieved by teaching improvisation abilities, whereby teachers become more of facilitators who shift the focus from the evaluation of learning outcomes to the quality of processes that lead to improvisational expertise.

    Biasutti concludes “There are several educational benefits to developing improvisational skills also for other disciplines. Improvisation could be considered an adaptive behaviour to a real-time unpredicted event. The response can be shaped through creativity and the divergent skillset that improvisation fosters. Improvisation could become a teaching technique to be used in educational contexts. Promoting improvisational skills would allow the students to develop the ability to adapt to tomorrow’s changing world, providing tools for lifelong learning.”


  8. Scientists improve people’s creativity through electrical brain stimulation

    June 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Queen Mary University of London press release:

    Scientists have found a way to improve creativity through brain stimulation, according to researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Goldsmiths University of London.

    They achieved this by temporarily suppressing a key part of the frontal brain called the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), which is involved in most of our thinking and reasoning.

    The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, show that participants who received the intervention showed an enhanced ability to ‘think outside the box’.

    “We solve problems by applying rules we learn from experience, and the DLPFC plays a key role in automating this process,” commented Dr Caroline Di Bernardi Luft, first author from QMUL’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences who conducted the research while previously working at Goldsmiths University of London, with Dr Michael Banissy and Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya.

    “It works fine most of the time, but fails spectacularly when we encounter new problems which require a new style of thinking — our past experience can indeed block our creativity. To break this mental fixation, we need to loosen up our learned rules,” added Dr Luft.

    The researchers used a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which involved passing a weak constant electrical current through saline-soaked electrodes positioned over the scalp to modulate the excitability of the DLPFC. Depending on the direction of the current flow, DLPFC was temporarily suppressed or activated. The very low currents applied ensured that it would not cause any harm or unpleasant sensation.

    Sixty participants were tested on their creative problem solving ability before and after receiving one of the following interventions: DLPFC being suppressed, DLPFC being activated, and DLPFC being unstimulated. The participants solved “matchstick problems,” some of which are hard, because to solve these problems, participants need to relax the learnt rules of arithmetic and algebra.

    The participants whose DLPFC was temporarily suppressed by the electrical stimulation were more likely to solve hard problems than other participants whose DLPFC was activated or not stimulated. This demonstrates that suppressing DLPFC briefly can help breaking mental assumptions learned from experience and thinking outside the box.

    But the researchers also observed that these participants got worse at solving problems with a higher working memory demand (where many items are needed to be held in mind at once). These problems require the participants to try a number of different moves until finding the solution, which means they have to keep track of their mental operations.

    “These results are important because they show the potential of improving mental functions relevant for creativity by non-invasive brain stimulation methods,” commented Dr Luft.

    “However, our results also suggest that potential applications of this technique will have to consider the target cognitive effects in more detail rather than just assuming tDCS can improve cognition as claimed by some companies which are starting to sell tDCS machines for home users,” she added.

    “I would say that we are not yet in a position to wear an electrical hat and start stimulating our brain hoping for a blanket cognitive gain.”


  9. Personality factors are best defense against losing your job to a robot

    May 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Houston press release:

    Worried robots will take your job? Researchers say people who are more intelligent and who showed an interest in the arts and sciences during high school are less likely to fall victim to automation.

    Later educational attainment mattered, but researchers said the findings highlight the importance of personality traits, intelligence and vocational interests in determining how well people fare in a changing labor market. The work was published this week in the European Journal of Personality.

    “Robots can’t perform as well as humans when it comes to complex social interactions,” said Rodica Damian, assistant professor of social and personality psychology at the University of Houston and lead author of the study. “Humans also outperform machines when it comes to tasks that require creativity and a high degree of complexity that is not routine. As soon as you require flexibility, the human does better.”

    Researchers used a dataset of 346,660 people from the American Institutes of Research, which tracked a representative sample of Americans over 50 years, looking at personality traits and vocational interests in adolescence, along with intelligence and socioeconomic status. It is the first study to look at how a variety of personality and background factors predict whether a person will select jobs that are more (or less) likely to be automated in the future.

    “We found that regardless of social background, people with higher levels of intelligence, higher levels of maturity and extraversion, higher interests in arts and sciences … tended to select (or be selected) into less computerizable jobs 11 and 50 years later,” they wrote.

    In addition to Damian, the researchers included Marion Spengler of the University of Tuebingen and Brent W. Roberts of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    Damian said the findings suggest traditional education may not be fully equipped to address upcoming changes in the labor market, although she acknowledged the educational system has changed since the research subjects were in school in the 1960s.

    “Perhaps we should consider training personality characteristics that will help prepare people for future jobs,” she said.

    The researchers found that every 15-point increase in IQ predicted a 7 percent drop in the probability of one’s job being computerized, the equivalent of saving 10.19 million people from losing their future careers to computerization if it were extrapolated across the entire U.S. population. Similarly, an increase of one standard deviation in maturity or in scientific interests — equal to an increase of 1 point on a 5-point scale, such as moving from being indifferent to scientific activities to liking them fairly well — across the U.S. population would each be equivalent to 2.9 million people avoiding a job loss to computerization.

    While IQ is not easily changed, a solution could be to find effective interventions to increase some personality traits — doing well in social interactions, for example, or being industrious — or interest in activities related to the arts and sciences, Damian said.

    Machine learning and big data will allow the number of tasks that machines can perform better than humans to increase so rapidly that merely increasing educational levels won’t be enough to keep up with job automation, she said. “The edge is in unique human skills.”

    Still, that can correlate with more education, and the researchers say an across-the-board increase in U.S. education levels could mean millions fewer jobs at risk. Targeting at-risk groups would yield significant benefits, she said.

    And while skeptics question whether the labor market will be able to absorb millions of higher skilled workers, Damian looks at it differently.

    “By preparing more people, at least more people will have a fighting chance,” she said.


  10. Alternating skimpy sleep with sleep marathons hurts attention, creativity in young adults

    May 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Baylor University press release:

    Skimping on sleep, followed by “catch-up” days with long snoozes, is tied to worse cognition — both in attention and creativityin young adults, in particular those tackling major projects, Baylor University researchers have found.

    “The more variability they showed in their night-to-night sleep, the worse their cognition declined across the week,” said study co-author Michael Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

    “When completing term projects, students restrict sleep, then rebound on sleep, then repeat,” he said. “Major projects which call for numerous tasks and deadlines — more so than for tests — seem to contribute to sleep variability.”

    The study of interior design students is published online in the Journal of Interior Design. It also has implications for art, architecture, graphic design and other disciplines that use a model of design studio-based instruction, researchers said.

    Interior design is “a strange culture, one where sleep deprivation is almost a badge of honor,” said lead author Elise King, assistant professor of interior design in Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.

    Staying up late to work on a project is not seen as procrastination but considered by some students and faculty members to be a tradition and a normal part of studio-based curricula to prepare them for their careers, she said.

    “Since the general public still doesn’t understand the profession of interior design, and mistakenly thinks we’re the same as decorators, there is a sense that you want to work harder and prove them wrong,” King said. “But recently, we’ve seen the consequences of that type of thinking: anxiety, depression and other mental health issues — and also the dangers of driving while sleep deprived.”

    The study challenges a common myth — that “the best design ideas only come in the middle of the night,” King said. But researchers found the opposite — that “consistent habits are at least as important as total length of sleep,” Scullin said.

    Irregular sleep is a negative for “executive attention” — intense focus for planning, making decisions, correcting errors and dealing with novelty. Erratic sleep also has a negative effect on creativity, the study found.

    The National Sleep Foundation recommends that young adults have seven to nine hours of sleep each day. But for the 28 interior design students in the Baylor study, sleep was short and fragmented. Only one participant slept seven hours or more nightly; 79 percent slept fewer than seven hours at least three nights during the week.

    “Most students think they’re getting about four more hours of sleep each week than they actually are,” Scullin said.

    “Projects are often lengthy, with final due dates looming weeks or months in the future,” King said. “The stress of juggling several projects, each with multiple deadlines, is likely to contribute to students’ tendency to cycle between several days of poor sleep leading up to a project due date, followed by a catch-up day with 10 or more sleep hours.”

    Researchers measured sleep patterns through actigraphy, with students wearing wristbands to track movement. Students also kept daily diaries on the quantity and quality of their sleep.

    “The wristband is somewhat similar to Fitbit devices, but much more reliable in detection, including the many brief awakenings during sleep that affect sleep quality,” Scullin said.

    All participants completed two cognitive testing sessions for creativity and executive attention — each about an hour long and in a laboratory. The sessions were done on the first and last day of the study at the same time of day.

    “What we call ‘creativity’ is often people’s ability to see the link between things that at first glance seem unrelated, and one of the tests taps into that ability,” Scullin said.

    An example: participants are given three words that are loosely connected — such as “sore,”‘ “shoulder” and “sweat” — and asked to figure out a fourth word that would connect them all.

    “What first comes to mind are words related to exercise, but in this case, no single exercise word really works. Instead, the ‘creative’ and correct answer is ‘cold,'” Scullin said.

    Meanwhile, executive attention — “working” memory — enables people to hold memories for a short time while doing a separate task. In the study, participants completed a task in which they saw a grid with black and white squares.

    “They had to decide very quickly whether that grid was symmetrical or not. Symmetry decisions by themselves are easy,” Scullin said. “But after each decision, participants were shown a grid with one square highlighted in red. Then they made another symmetry decision, followed by a different square highlighted in red. They repeat that cycle up to five times before being asked to recall all the square locations in the correct order. It’s very challenging to cycle between those two tasks and keep the square locations in mind.”

    Further investigation with a greater range of students across multiple studio-based majors and multiple universities would be valuable, researchers said.

    “Interior design programs are changing,” King said. “People are open to the conversation and willing to discuss ways to reduce that pressure on our students and encourage them to be healthier.”