Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saturday, September 29, 2012

How shared physical activity helps you connect and influence

In this month's Psychology Today, Matt Huston mentions a couple of interesting pieces of research that show how shared physical activity binds us together.

Scott Wiltermuth of the University of Southern California found that students were twice as likely to acquiesce to a confederate's unethical suggestion if they had previously worked together to move plastic cups in a synchronized sequence.

In an earlier study, students who sang "O Canada" in unison before playing an economics game were more likely to make decisions for collective rather than individual gain.

Spouses who commute to work in the same direction are more satisfied with their marriages, regardless of whether they actually travel together, reports a study by Xun Huang in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Even newly acquainted duos like each other more when they are told to walk to a task in the same direction.

Think of the possibilities. International leaders trying to reach consensus, managers looking to gel and motivate teams, even parents getting children to listen and act appropriately.  I think we've just uncovered the reason why golf games work so well as sales tools.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How repetition increases believability

Turns out the more times you hear something, the more likely you are to believe it.  Repetition is the key and it doesn't seem to matter much whether you hear it from multiple people or via multiple media or from one person multiple times. A study by Kimberlee Weaver and colleagues published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that one person in a group expressing the same opinion three times had 90% of the effect of three different people in a group expressing the same opinion. (Weaver et al., 2007).

So how does that play out in our daily lives? Advertisers and influencers repeat the same message over and over. Familiarity doesn't breed contempt, in fact it does exactly the opposite -  it breeds attraction. When an opinion is repeatedly broadcast at us by the same organization, not only do we believe it, but we're also likely to believe it represents the general opinion. That's despite the fact it is analogous to the same person repeating themselves over and over again.

Where does this effect come from? The study's authors argue it comes down to memory. Because repetition increases the accessibility of an opinion, we assume it has a high prevalence. In everyday life we are likely to hear the same opinion many times in different places. We then put all these together to judge the general mood of a group. When one person repeats their opinion, we simply over apply the rule.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Improve honesty by moving the signature line to the top of the form

Research suggests the IRS might be able to improve tax payer's honesty by moving the signature line to the top of the form, such that signers declare that they will tell the truth rather than that they have told the truth. The findings, based on several experiments, are published in a the paper, When to Sign on the Dotted Line? Signing First Makes Ethics Salient and Decreases Dishonest Self-Reports, written by Lisa L. Shu, Francesca Gino, and Max H. Bazerman of Harvard Business School, Nina Mazar of the University of Toronto, and Dan Ariely of Duke University.

"A lot of prior work has focused on the consequences of unethical decision-making and the factors that lead people to be unethical," says Lisa Shu, a doctoral candidate in Organizational Behavior at HBS. "This drove us to want to explore the flip side. We know a lot about when and why people cheat based on our lab and field studies; we thought it was now time to examine how to prevent people from cheating."

The key, according to the researchers, lies in increasing ethical salience: inducing people to pay greater attention to their moral standards and examine the integrity of their behavior when it counts the most.

"A signature is a way to highlight the fact that you're about to do something important, and that it's going to be a reflection of the self," says Francesca Gino, an associate professor in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at HBS. "Attaching a signature to a pledge of honesty is a way of effectively linking identity to morality."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

5 Ways to Boost Cognitive Capacity

A 2008 study on fluid intelligence and working memory by Jaeggi, Buschkuehl, Jonides, and Perrig showed for the first time, that it might actually be possible to increase intelligence through training. Up until this point it was assumed that intelligence was genetic, remained relatively fixed, and could not be improved in any lasting way. Among the study's findings:
  1. Fluid intelligence is trainable
  2. The training and subsequent gains are dose-dependent - meaning, the more you train, the more you gain. 
  3. Anyone can increase their cognitive ability, no matter what your starting point is.
  4. The effect can be gained by training on tasks that don't resemble the test questions (typical intelligence test questions)

Writing about this study in Scientific American, author and Behavioral Therapist Andrea Kuszewski provides us with five ways to increase fluid intelligence and cognitive ability:

  1. Seek Novelty
  2. Challenge Yourself
  3. Think Creatively
  4. Do Things the Hard Way
  5. Network

1. Seek Novelty.
When you seek novelty, you create new synaptic connections with every new activity you engage in. These connections build on each other, increasing your neural activity, creating more connections to build on other connections.

Constantly exposing yourself to new things puts your brain in a primed state for learning. Novelty also triggers dopamine, which not only kicks motivation into high gear, it also stimulates the creation of new neurons—and prepares your brain for learning.

2. Challenge Yourself.
Challenging yourself is about more than keeping your brain active and involves more than mental games and puzzles. Work by scientist Richard Haier shows that intense training on novel mental activities (in this case the video game Tetris) can produce increased brain activity and cognitive growth initially, but that activity drops off. Why the drop? Once the brain figured out how to play the game, and got really good at it, it got lazy. It didn’t need to work as hard in order to play the game well, so the cognitive energy went somewhere else instead.

In order to keep your brain making new connections and keeping them active, you need to keep moving on to another challenging activity as soon as you reach the point of mastery in the one you are engaging in. You want to be in a constant state of slight discomfort, struggling to barely achieve whatever it is you are trying to do. This keeps your brain on its toes, so to speak.

3. Think Creatively.
Creative thinking is about using both sides of your brain, focusing on a diverse range of topics and subjects, making remote associations between ideas, switching back and forth between conventional and unconventional thinking.

4. Do Things the Hard Way.
Your brain needs exercise the same way your body needs exercise. If you stop using your problem-solving skills, spatial skills, logical skills, and cognitive skills, your mental muscles will atrophy much the same way your physical muscles would without use.

We have a variety of modern conveniences and technologies that help make things easy for us. GPS tells us how to navigate the city, auto spellcheck and grammar check keep us from having to remember how a word is spelled or whether to use a common or semicolon. These are great conveniences, but they do little to build brainpower. If you want to increase cognitive capacity, one of the best things you can do is say no to shortcuts and use your brain.

5. Network.
By networking with other people - either through social media such as Facebook or Linked-In, or in face-to-face interactions - you are exposing yourself to the kinds of situations that are going to make items 1-4 much easier to achieve. By exposing yourself to new people, ideas and environments, you are  opening yourself up to new opportunities for cognitive growth.

Full article by Kuszewski

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The connection between physical sensations and higher cognitive powers

In Body of Thought, a fascinating article by Siri Carpenter in Scientific American Mind we learn about the connection between physical sensations and higher cognitive powers. In particular, we learn how seemingly trivial sensations and actions like smiling or frowning or holding a smooth or rough object can influence high-level psychological processes such as social judgment, language comprehension, visual perception and even reasoning.

Psychologist Lawrence Barsalou at Emory University talks about how a few brave scientists in the 80s began to challenge the view that the body is just an input-out device for the brain. They suggested instead that higher cognitive processes are grounded in bodily experience and the brains low level sensory and motor circuits don't just feed into cognition; they are cognition.

Though ridiculed at the time, by the late 90s, evidence started trickling in, then later pouring in to support their thesis. Barsalou notes studies that show that:
  • holding a hot cup of coffee or being in a comfortably heated room warms a person's feelings toward strangers
  • striking an open expansive "power pose" prompts people to make bolder decisions
  • wearing a heavy backpack makes hills look steeper
  • a water bottle looks closer when you are thirsty
  • moving objects upward versus downward speeds recall for positive memories
  • sitting on a hard chair turns mild-mannered undergraduates into hard-headed negotiators.

Results of a now classic study by Fritz Strack at the University of Wurzburg in German, shows that smiling (even fake smiling) can affect how we feel and interpret information. Strack and colleagues found that people rated Far Side cartoons as funnier when they were holding a pen between their teeth, without allowing it to touch their lips ( a pose that activates muscles used for smiling). Those findings indicate that the face sends important feedback to the brain, which it then uses to interpret information about the world.

A 2009 study by neurologist Bernard Haslinger at the Munich University found that Botox injections to the forehead not only paralyzed frown muscles, but also jammed the neural circuits needed to fully process negative emotion. It seems if you can't physically make a frown, you're less likely to be sad.

It seems we also project immoral behavior onto body parts. Psychologist Norbert Schwarz at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor found that people rated hand sanitizer more highly after lying via e-mail and mouthwash more highly after lying via voicemail.

Monday, January 30, 2012

How do you persuade people to keep appointments?

People who fail to show up for appointments cost organizations big bucks. A study in the UK showed that missed GP and hospital appointments costs the National Health Service more than 700 million pounds annually. Research carried out in liaison with the NHS Bedfordshire found that three behavior-change interventions can lead to a dramatic reduction in the numbers of people who fail to turn up for appointments:
  1. Getting patients to confirm their appointment by verbally repeating the details to the receptionist. 
  2. Getting patients to write the appointment down themselves (rather than the receptionist doing it for them).
  3. Placing positive messages around the GP practices confirming that attending appointments is the "social norm".
In the case of the Bedfordshire research, the techniques lead to a reduction of 30% in the number of no-shows for NHS appointments. Organizers estimated that if the interventions were replicated nationally, they could deliver savings of up to 250 million pounds annually.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Studies show we're subconsciously drawn to people who look like us

Next time you find yourself seated in a roomful of strangers, take a look around. What you're likely to find is people who look alike end up sitting beside each other. Sean Mackinnon, Christian Jordan and Anne Wilson did research for the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin where they looked at seating patterns. They found that people tend to sit closer to people who share their physical traits. People with glasses sit closer to other people with glasses. People with long hair sit closer to other people with long hair.

It seems we subconsciously assume people who look like us also think like us, like the same things we do and have similar values and attitudes. We're more comfortable and more likely to open up the more physical characteristics we share.

Same thing happens at a cocktail party. Watch people pick out a stranger to talk to and chances are they'll pick out someone with similar physical attributes. My friend Dr. Karen Stephenson describes it this way:

"In the small talk of cocktail parties, humans are at a random walk, desperately seeking points of similarity through visibility: height, girth, dress, gender, race, accent, hair and eye color, etc. Reading the audience and working a room are ancient skills encoded in us by our forebears who sat cheek by jowl around the campfire; an earlier and more primordial form of cocktail party. I confess to having attended countless cocktail parties and continue to be amazed how, after just a few drinks, I end up with people who like me in some way - same experiences, same clothes, same interest, etc. It's not the alcohol talking, but the ancient drive of seeking similarity: 'You look like me, you think like me, you dress like me...you're one of us'."

Here's an interesting aside. Take a look at the picture on the right. That's Dr. Karen (on the left) around the time she made that comment (late 90s) and me during the same time period when I first starting doing research in this area which later became part of the book Axis of Influence - How Credibility and Likability Intersect to Drive Success. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Re-wiring the brain to save for the future

Two recent articles provide interesting insight into how the brain works - why most of us tend to opt for instant gratification over future rewards, what that means for our financial futures and how we might re-wire those neural pathways.

Sharon Begley's article in Newsweek - Stop You Can't Afford It - How science unveils how your brain is hard-wired when it comes to spending - and how you can reboot it provides a fascinating journey through neuroscience brain mapping.  It turns out the brains of those who naturally default to save or delay gratification are different from those who opt for immediate rewards. What's more, scientists are looking at ways to amp up the save circuits and amp down the spends.

Even though brain scans suggests hard-wiring, brains can learn. How do they learn?  Through practice, researchers say.  Scientists also found that a squirt of the hormone oxytocin - known as the "love hormone" because of the role it plays in bonding - makes people more patient and likely to opt for future rewards over instant gratification.

One of the keys to changing the brain circuitry is the ability to project yourself into the future and see the future you. It seems we can't get excited about saving for something we can't see or feel connected to.

The second article Face Reality With Aged-Morphed Photos (Wired - Nov 1)  references work by Jeremy Bailenson, head of Stanford’s virtual reality lab and coauthor of the book Infinite Reality. Bailenson discovered that avatars or virtual versions of our selves can help us make positive changes, including saving for retirement.

Most people view their future selves as strangers, which makes them reluctant to put away money for a later date. But Bailenson and his team discovered that if people view a virtual version of themselves digitally aged by several decades, that hesitation disappears instantly. In one study, contributions to hypothetical retirement accounts went up by 30 percent.