1. 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.


  2. Study suggests motivation may be less limited than we think

    September 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Toronto press release:

    After a long day of work and carefully watching what you eat, you might expect your self-control to slip a little by kicking back and cracking open a bag of potato chips.

    But according to new U of T Scarborough research, self-control may be less limited than we often believe. In fact, there may be no noticeable dip in our motivation and ability to do something as long as we switch up tasks throughout the day.

    “While people get tired doing one specific task over a period of time, we found no evidence that they had less motivation or ability to complete tasks throughout the day,” says Dan Randles, a postdoctoral fellow in Professor Michael Inzlicht’s lab at U of T Scarborough.

    Self-control is the ability to focus on or exert effort on a task that isn’t immediately rewarding. “It’s doing something not because you enjoy it, but because it’s connected to a larger goal and you want to see it through,” explains Randles.

    The prevailing theory in psychology about self-control is that it can get exhausted internally the more we use it. Some studies have suggested that depleted glucose reserves in the brain could be responsible. But as Randles notes, most studies on self-control depletion have been done in the lab, and some, including studies on glucose, have been difficult to replicate and remain controversial.

    “This doesn’t mean all studies on self-control are wrong, but at least for that one, attempts to replicate it have found no evidence for the effect,” he says.

    Randles and Inzlicht worked with Iain Harlow, Vice President of Science at the adaptive learning company Cerego. Together, they found that people experience worsened ability while doing a single difficult memory task, and that their performance begins to decline around the 30-minute mark with a notable drop in performance around 50 minutes.

    These findings echo similar studies in the past, but what’s unique is that they found no evidence that ability to complete the task decreased throughout the day, and in fact found that motivation to complete it actually increased.

    “This finding is especially important for intellectually demanding tasks like learning,” says Harlow. “It fits with research showing that you remember more of what you learn when you review it frequently but in short bursts.”

    “Our results are consistent with theories showing that people lose motivation within a specific task, but at odds with theories that argue self-control is general resource that can be exhausted,” adds Randles.

    He says there may be a few reasons why we have stable self-control throughout the day but that it can limited within a single task. One important reason could be that we have several longer-term goals to achieve and that we’re sensitive to putting in enough effort to complete them all. So too much effort in one task may rob other important goals, notes Randles.

    While there are more than 200 studies that show doing a task requiring impulse control and mental effort can lead to a drop-in self-control when switching to an unrelated task, it’s rarely really been tested in a natural setting. This is what’s unique about this study — it’s one of the first to observe self-control in a natural setting over a full 24-hour period.

    The researchers gathered data from more than 16,000 students who completed voluntary learning and review exercises over several months using Cerego’s adaptive learning platform.

    “The data from Cerego offered a unique opportunity because it showed us exactly when people were willing to engage in a difficult mental activity and for how long,” says Randles.

    “The fact participants got worse at a single task speaks to how effortful they found it, and despite the difficulty, we found no evidence whatsoever that their ability or motivation decreased up until the point they got tired late at night.”


  3. People who view their relationships as supportive may confidently strive for growth

    September 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    If you’re one of those lucky individuals with high motivation and who actively pursues personal growth goals, thank your family and friends who support you.

    People who view their relationships as supportive may confidently strive for growth, new University of Michigan research shows.

    U-M researchers used data from samples from the United States and Japan to determine if personal growth is an outcome of an individual’s traits or the positive relationships they have with others.

    In Study 1, about 200 participants were randomly assigned to one of three relationship conditions: supportive, nonsupportive and neutral. In the two main conditions, some had to consider a person in their life with whom they felt comfortable (or not) and did not worry (did worry) about being abandoned by them. The neutral group had to consider an acquaintance for whom they did not have strong feelings.

    Participants read a hypothetical scenario in which they had to choose between a higher-paying job with high familiarity (Company A) or a lower-paying job that required learning that would help their long-term career development (Company B).

    Among those in the supportive relationship condition, 65 percent selected Company B, whereas 40 percent of those in the nonsupportive condition chose the same company. Fifty percent of the neutral group picked Company B.

    Participants who thought about a supportive person were more willing to choose a job that promoted personal growth, even at lower pay, in part because they had more self-confidence, the study indicated.

    Studies 2 and 3 analyzed people’s perceptions of the support received from family and friends to determine personal growth tendencies in two cultures.

    Using data from the Survey of Midlife Development in the United States, more than 3,800 participants in Study 2 rated the support received from family and friends. The questions included: “How much does your family (do your friends) really care about you?” and “How much can you open up to them if you need to talk about your worries?” They also rated their willingness to develop their potential and grow as a person, as well as self-confidence.

    People who reported their relationships to be supportive had a greater willingness to grow personally and felt more self-confident, the study showed. The results were similar in the data from the Survey of Midlife Development in Japan, which sampled about 1,000 people.

    The more supportive people judged their relationships to be, the higher their personal growth tendencies, even in a culture that puts more emphasis on the collective rather than the individual,” said David Lee, the study’s lead author who obtained his doctorate in psychology at U-M.

    Overall, the findings support the “I-through-We” perspective, which means the social tendency to connect with others, and the individual tendency to strive and grow as individuals, are not mutually exclusive and may augment and magnify each other.

    “In other words, relationships do not necessarily conflict with but help sustain one’s personal growth,” said Oscar Ybarra, U-M professor of psychology and of management and organizations.

    The findings thus address both the importance of distinguishing yourself from others by fulfilling personal goals, but also being a good group member by fulfilling social obligations and cultivating supportive relationships.

    Building positive social connections with others should put people in a good position to receive social support that is instrumental to personal growth, as well as allowing people to strike a balance between two fundamental values: to strive and connect,” said Lee, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State University.


  4. Voter behavior influenced by hot weather

    August 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Political rebellions and riots have been associated with warmer weather, but until now, there has been little research on its potential influence on peaceful and democratic political behavior. A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, has uncovered a connection between changes in temperature and voting behavior in the United States of America.

    “We found that increases in state-level temperatures from one election to another are related to increases in state-level voter turnout, and increases in votes for the incumbent party,” says Jasper Van Assche, who completed this research in the Department of Developmental, Personality and Social Psychology at Ghent University, Belgium.

    “Voter behavior data from each state was collected for all the U.S. presidential elections from 1960 to 2016 and compared to the difference between maximum temperature on voting day and that of the previous election day,” explains Van Assche. “We found that for every 10C increase in temperature, voter turnout increased by 1.4%.”

    The study also revealed that a rise in temperature motivated some citizens to cast their vote for the smaller political parties (Greens, Libertarians, Independents). Counteracting this, was the finding that warmer weather was a stronger motivator for some citizens to vote for the government currently in power.

    “Although these effects are rather small compared to the ‘usual suspects’ that predict voting, they might play a role in close races,” says Van Assche.

    The study details one such case; the 2000 presidential election. Applying the findings of the study, Van Assche and his co-authors suggests a mere 10C (1.8oF) increase in temperature may have made Al Gore the 43rd U.S. President instead of George W. Bush, as Gore would have won in Florida.

    Van Assche is keen to explain that his results were not affected by other factors that can influence voter behavior.

    “Importantly, the relationship between voter behavior and turnout remained true even when we took into account the ‘usual suspects’ that can have an effect — the president being available for reappointment, the incumbent president being elected or not (Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford were Vice Presidents), presidential approval ratings, whether the president’s party had a majority in Congress during the two last years, and change in state gross domestic product (GDP), amongst others.”

    The study analyzed changes in temperature (an increase or decrease in temperature on voting day, when compared to the previous election day), rather than absolute temperature because of the latter’s potential effects on the results. An absolute temperature of 30oC would be a normal temperature for California, but hot in Alaska. Moreover, absolute temperature can be linked to other factors that may affect voting behavior. For example, poverty is generally higher in countries with hotter climates.

    It is hoped that future studies will delve deeper and increase our knowledge of what can influence voter behavior.

    “There is a large amount of research on voter behavior, but little attention has been paid to the seemingly illogical factors that can influence the way people vote. Future studies could expand our understanding by tapping into smaller levels of analyses (e.g., cities or counties) or by including emotions (such as anger) which might explain some of the effects,” concludes Van Assche.


  5. ‘Robin Hood effects’ on motivation in math

    August 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Universität Tübingen press release:

    Students from families with little interest in math benefit more from a school intervention program that aims at increasing math motivation than do students whose parents regard math as important. A study by researchers at the Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology indicates the intervention program has a “Robin Hood effect” which reduces the “motivational gap” between students from different family backgrounds because new information about the importance of math is made accessible to underprivileged students. Something known as the “Matthew effect” did not take place in this study. The “Matthew effect” says that students who already have good foundations and are therefore more privileged, profit most from an intervention. The results of the study were recently published in Developmental Psychology.

    The Tübingen researchers first analyzed data on the attitudes towards math of roughly 1,900 German ninth-grade students and their parents. The students then took part in a teaching unit about the usefulness of math that was conducted by the researchers. In a presentation, they were given important information about the significance of mathematics for students’ future careers and their daily life. Afterwards they either wrote an essay about the usefulness of math or evaluated interview quotations about math’s relevance.

    At six weeks and at five months after the intervention, the students were again asked about their motivation towards math. The intervention showed several “Robin Hood effects” on the students’ utility and attainment values as well as on students’ effort: the motivation of students from families with little interest in math was more positively affected than the motivation of students from families with greater interest in the subject. Yet the differential effects were observed only five months after the teaching unit. Six weeks after the intervention no differential effects were apparent. “Our assumption was that there would be a delayed effect on the motivation of less privileged students, since it would take some time for them to reflect on and internalize the information they received during the teaching unit,” explains Isabelle Häfner. This so-called “sleeper-effect” grows stronger the more time passes, she adds.

    The study results also suggest that it is not the socioeconomic status of their families — education, income and occupation — that is central for students’ motivation to learn, but rather their parents’ interest in a subject. “If parents are interested in math for example, this might affect the way they spend their free time. They spend more time talking about a subject with their children, thereby passing on their interest in it,” says Häfner. Students from families with little interest in math, on the other hand, do not have access to this kind of information. When they receive it at school, they may profit more greatly because the novelty of the information encourages them to reflect on it. One of the two project leaders and director of the Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology, Ulrich Trautwein, stresses the importance of this finding: “Often children who are already privileged are those who end up benefitting from additional programs. Our results highlight the potential of classroom interventions to reduce motivational gaps between students from families with fewer and students from families with greater motivational resources.”


  6. New mindfulness method helps coaches, athletes score

    August 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    When it comes to success in sports, coaches and athletes understand that there’s a mental component, but many don’t have an understanding of how to prepare psychologically. That’s where the concept of mindfulness can be beneficial, via a program to help athletes and coaches at all levels develop that mental edge and improve their performance.

    “It’s been suggested that many coaches regard sport as at least 50 percent mental when competing against opponents of similar ability. In some sports, that percentage can be as high as 80 to 90 percent mental,” said Keith Kaufman, PhD, a Washington, DC-area sport psychology practitioner and research associate at The Catholic University of America presenting at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. His six-session program, developed in collaboration with Carol Glass, PhD, also of The Catholic University of America, and clinical psychologist Timothy Pineau, PhD, is outlined in the book “Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement,” to be published by APA later this month.

    A number of psychological studies support the importance of mental preparation, according to Kaufman. One involved more than 200 Canadian athletes from the 1984 Olympics who were assessed for three major readiness factors: mental, physical and technical. Of the three, only mental readiness was significantly associated with how successful they were at the Olympics.

    “With popular belief and scientific evidence being in such harmony, one might expect that mental training would be a top priority within the athletic community. However, curiously, this is not the case,” said Kaufman. “We have met so many athletes and coaches who know that mental factors, such as concentrating, relaxing and letting go of thoughts and feelings, can aid performance, but have no idea how to actually do those things under the pressures of training and competition.”

    Kaufman outlined a multi-step program he and his co-authors developed based on the practice of mindfulness, by which coaches and athletes at all levels can increase their mental readiness.

    Mindfulness entails being aware of the present moment and accepting things as they are without judgment. When people are able simply to watch experiences come and go, rather than latch onto and overthink them, they are better able to intentionally shift their focus to their performance rather than distracting negative experiences such as anxiety, Kaufman said.

    “For example, an athlete could identify that ‘right now, I’m having the thought that I can’t finish this race,’ so rather than reflecting an objective truth, it’s seen as just a thought,” said Kaufman.

    The program itself consists of six group-based sessions that contain educational, discussion and experiential components, as well as recommendations for daily home practice. The training begins with sedentary mindfulness practice, where participants are instructed to focus on experiences like eating and breathing, but gradually more and more movement is incorporated, culminating in a sport-specific meditation in which athletes or coaches apply a mindful style of attention to their actual sport performance. In addition to formal exercises, the program emphasizes informal mindfulness practice, which involves engaging in daily activities with mindful intention, helping participants to integrate mindfulness into their workouts, practices and competitions, as well as everyday life.

    The training is easily adapted to accommodate any sport at any level, from amateur to professional, he said. It can also be adapted for use by a single performer or by those in other high-pressure domains such as the performing arts or business.

    Recent research cited by Kaufman points to the significant potential for this approach. Two studies involving 81 university athletes found that athletes who completed the program showed significant increases in various dimensions of mindfulness and flow, which is the mental construct often associated with being “in the zone.” They also rated their own performance higher and experienced less sport-related anxiety. At a follow-up months later, these gains were maintained and in one of the studies, involving two teams that had losing records the previous year, both had winning seasons following mindful sport performance enhancement.

    “We wrote this book so that sport psychologists, athletes, coaches, psychotherapists with clients who are athletes or performing artists, researchers, educators and anyone else interested in applications of mindfulness for their own personal fitness or performance can have access to a complete guide to mindful sport performance enhancement exercises, materials and theory,” he said. “No background in psychology, mindfulness or the sport sciences is required to benefit from the content.”


  7. Study suggests exercise incentives do little to spur gym-going

    August 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Case Western Reserve University press release:

    Even among people who had just joined a gym and expected to visit regularly, getting paid to exercise did little to make their commitment stick, according to a new study from Case Western Reserve University.

    The rewards also had no lasting effect: gym visits stabilized after the modest incentives ended.

    Despite timing incentives to when people were already more motivated to exercise, the approach proved ineffective in initiating a healthy behavior that continues to elude most Americans: only 21 percent get a recommended amount of weekly exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

    “They wanted to exercise regularly, and yet their behavior did not match their intent, even with a reward,” said Mariana Carrera, an assistant professor of economics at the Weatherhead School of Management and co-author of the study. “People thought earning the incentive would be easy but were way overoptimistic about how often they’d go.”

    In the study, new gym members intended to visit three times per week but ended up averaging one weekly visit by the end of the six-week study.

    Nearly 95 percent said they expected to visit the gym more than once per week. But by the end of the third month, only about a third had.

    The experiment

    For visiting the gym nine total times during the study (an average of 1.5 times per week), participants were promised one of three modest rewards: a $30 Amazon gift card; a prize item, such as a blender, of equivalent value; or a $60 Amazon gift card. A control group received a $30 Amazon gift card regardless of how often they visited. (The value of incentives was based on what gyms were likely to offer.)

    After the first week, 14 percent did not visit the gym again.

    Incentivized participants showed a slight increase in gym visits in the sixth week — their last chance to make enough visits to earn their prize. But overall, those given incentives made only 0.14 more visits per week than those promised no reward at all.

    Focusing on people when they’re ready to make a change may be misguided,” said Carrera. “Maybe the internal motivation that gets a person to start a gym membership is unrelated to what drives them to earn financial incentives. What’s clear was there was no complementarity in lumping these two motivations together.”

    The group promised the $60 gift card also did not visit the gym more often than those given the $30 gift card or prize.

    Researchers thought that selecting the prize item at the outset might create a sense of ownership and prove to be a more powerful motivator, because failing to hit the target visit rate might feel like a loss. However, while the item induced slightly more visits, the difference was insignificant.


  8. Academic motivation suffers when economic mobility seems out of reach

    July 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Northwestern University press release:

    New studies from Northwestern University show that high school and college students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds are much less motivated to overcome academic hardships when they have doubts about the likelihood of people from their backgrounds achieving upward mobility.

    The new studies extend previous research demonstrating that low-SES students who see education as a viable path to upward mobility are more inclined to succeed in their educational pursuits despite the numerous academic barriers facing students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    “Prior research has shown that students from low-SES backgrounds are motivated to persist during difficult academic experiences when they feel school can concretely contribute to future socioeconomic success,” said Alexander Browman, lead author of the studies and a recent Ph.D. graduate in psychology from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. “Our new studies extend this work by showing that this motivational pathway can be affected by whether or not they feel that that goal of achieving socioeconomic mobility is ultimately possible in the society in which they live.”

    In three studies, the researchers either measured students’ beliefs about how attainable mobility was in their society or presented them with information that suggested that mobility was more or less likely to occur in their society. They found that students from lower-SES backgrounds who had or were led to hold doubts about the likelihood of mobility were less inclined to persist when they faced academic difficulty.

    The authors highlight that these findings suggest new potential intervention strategies for motivating students to persist when they experience difficulty at school.

    At the same time, they emphasize that their results do not imply that low-SES students who underperform do so simply because they hold misguided beliefs about mobility that can be casually corrected.

    “The belief among some low-SES youth and young adults that mobility is unrealistic in their society is likely deep-seated, resulting from a lifetime of concrete experiences that cast doubt upon the plausibility that people from their background can experience mobility in that society,” Browman said. “What this implies is that in order to promote meaningful sustained academic effort, researchers, educators and policymakers should consider what sorts of systemic changes to the educational environment might provide these students with concrete routes to mobility that are viable for students from their backgrounds.”


  9. Meaningless accelerating scores yield better performance

    July 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Seemingly any behavior can be “gamified” and awarded digital points these days, from tracking the steps you’ve walked to the online purchases you’ve made and even the chores you’ve completed. Tracking behavior in this way helps to spur further action and new research shows that even meaningless scores can serve as effective motivators, as long as those scores are accelerating.

    The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “We all know that people like high scores, but what is less known is how to give scores,” says researcher Luxi Shen of the Chinese University of Hong Kong Business School. “Our research shows that what matters is neither how high the score is nor how fast the score increases, but rather the way it increases: It’s most motivating if the score first increases at a relatively slow rate and then increases faster and faster.”

    “In this current digital age, it’s easy to imagine a number on the panel of a digital device to nudge people to change their actions,” adds co-author Christopher K. Hsee of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “And it can help practitioners from game designers to marketers make better use of scores and points to influence behavior.”

    Shen and Hsee became curious about the relationship between scores and behavior after noticing their own fascination with the scores provided on some exercise machines and healthy-eating websites.

    “Those changing numbers made no sense to either of us and neither did our obsession with these numbers,” explains Shen. “We started with asking ourselves: If we could design a score that changes with our performance, what would a good design look like? How can we improve our performance by designing the pattern of change?”

    Drawing on existing theory, Shen and Hsee hypothesized that people would have a hard time gauging a score’s rate of change (velocity), a number that is difficult to evaluate without another score for comparison. But people might be more sensitive to a score’s acceleration, or how quickly the rate of change increases, because they can sense that the number is going up more quickly over time. This acceleration may give the sense that they’re doing increasingly better even when they know the score isn’t tied to actual performance.

    In three related experiments, the researchers asked participants to type a target word as many times as they could within a 3-minute period. An onscreen display showed participants the number of times they had entered the word and the elapsed time. Some participants also saw a score at the center of this display — they were told the number did not reflect their performance but would increase according to a predetermined pattern.

    The results were clear: People who saw an accelerating score outperformed their peers, typing the target words more times within the 3-minute window compared with those who saw a score that increased more slowly over time (decelerating score), a score that increased at a constant rate, or no score at all.

    Additional data from an online experiment showed that participants were uniquely sensitive to acceleration: They reported that the accelerating score increased faster relative to decelerating scores and scores that increased at a constant rate. Even though the accelerating score had the same final velocity as the “fast” score that increased at a constant rate, participants reported that the accelerating score increased faster.

    To find out whether this acceleration effect would hold up in the context of real-world behavior, Shen and Hsee took their experiment to the gym. Again, they found that participants who saw an arbitrary accelerating score exerted more effort, taking more steps on a step machine compared with those who saw a decelerating score or no score. This effect that did not dissipate over four successive rounds of testing. The findings suggest that an accelerating score can help motivate people to keep going, even when completing a physically demanding task.

    The acceleration effect may even hold up over the course of a whole day. Data from an online study showed that participants completed more surveys over an 8-hour period if they saw an accelerating score compared with a decelerating score.

    The researchers say that this accelerating score — what they call the X number — could have a wide variety of useful applications.

    “Our findings can help designers to strategically structure numerical feedback in a way that costs virtually nothing but has a meaningful impact, whether they’re working on an exercise machine, a video game, a loyalty program, or a public policy,” says Shen. “Practically, we hope to see empirical validation of the X number in other real-life contexts for good deeds, such as strategic designs of an accelerating X number to motivate people to pay credit card bills on time, save energy, invest in retirement accounts, use public transportation, recycle, donate to charitable causes, and so on.”


  10. Study suggests making art activates brain’s reward pathway

    June 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Drexel University press release:

    Your brain’s reward pathways become active during art-making activities like doodling, according to a new Drexel University study.

    Girija Kaimal, EdD, assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, led a team that used fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) technology to measure blood flow in the areas of the brain related to rewards while study participants completed a variety of art-making projects.

    “This shows that there might be inherent pleasure in doing art activities independent of the end results. Sometimes, we tend to be very critical of what we do because we have internalized, societal judgements of what is good or bad art and, therefore, who is skilled and who is not,” said Kaimal of the study that was published The Arts in Psychotherapy. “We might be reducing or neglecting a simple potential source of rewards perceived by the brain. And this biologocial proof could potentially challenge some of our assumptions about ourselves.”

    For the study, co-authored by Drexel faculty including Jennifer Nasser, PhD, and Hasan Ayaz, PhD, 26 participants wore fNIRS headbands while they completed three different art activities (each with rest periods between). For three minutes each, the participants colored in a mandala, doodled within or around a circle marked on a paper, and had a free-drawing session.

    During all three activities, there was a measured increase in bloodflow in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, compared to rest periods where bloodflow decreased to normal rates.

    The prefrontal cortex is related to regulating our thoughts, feelings and actions. It is also related to emotional and motivational systems and part of the wiring for our brain’s reward circuit. So seeing increased bloodflow in these areas likely means a person is experiencing feels related to being rewarded.

    There were some distinctions between the activities in the data collected.

    Doodling in or around the circle had the highest average measured bloodflow increase in the reward pathway compared to free-drawing (the next highest) and coloring. However, the difference between each form of art-making was not statistically significant, according to analysis.

    “There were some emergent differences but we did not have a large-enough sample in this initial study to draw any definitive conclusions,” Kaimal said.

    It was noted and tracked which participants in the study considered themselves artists so that their results could be compared to non-artists. In that way, Kaimal and her team hoped to understand whether past experience played a factor in triggering feelings of reward.

    Doodling seemed to initiate the most brain activity in artists, but free-drawing was observed to be about the same for artists and non-artists. Interestingly, the set coloring activity actually resulted in negative brain activity in artists.

    “I think artists might have felt very constrained by the pre-drawn shapes and the limited choice of media,” Kaimal explained. “They might also have felt some frustration that they could not complete the image in the short time.”

    Again, however, these results regarding artists versus non-artists proved statistically insignificant, which might actually track with Kaimal’s previous research that found experience-level did not have a bearing on the stress-reduction benefits people had while making art.

    Overall, though, the finding that any form of art-making resulted in the significant activation of feelings of reward are compelling, especially for art therapists who see art as a valuable tool for mental health.

    In fact, in surveys administered to the participants after the activities were complete, respondents indicated that they felt more like they had “good ideas” and could “solve problems” than before the activities. Participants even said they felt the three-minute time spans for art-making weren’t long enough.

    “There are several implications of this study’s findings,” Kaimal said. “They indicate an inherent potential for evoking positive emotions through art-making — and doodling especially. Doodling is something we all have experience with and might re-imagine as a democratizing, skill independent, judgment-free pleasurable activity.”

    Additionally, Kaimal felt that the findings of increased self-opinion were intriguing.

    “There might be inherent aspects to visual self-expression that evoke both pleasure and a sense of creative agency in ourselves,” she said.