Explainer video: How to influence others

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is Robert Cialdini's absolute classic book outlining six principles that you can use to convince people to do things and/or defend yourself against coercion. I hadn't seen this 2012 animated explainer video above narrated by Cialdini and Steve Martin, not the comedian but rather co-author of Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.

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The Decoy Effect, a psychological trick that can influence what you buy and who you vote for

The Decoy Effect is a simple but powerful trick that marketers use to influence you to buy something that is bigger or more expensive than you need or want. I fall for this every time I go to the movies and think I'm going to buy the medium popcorn but end up getting the large because it costs just a few cents more. The medium popcorn is the decoy that nudges you to buy the large. But social psychologists have also studied the Decoy Effect outside retail environments. From the BBC News:

The decoy effect might also influence our voting in elections, and recruitment decisions. In these kinds of situations, the “decoy” may appear by accident rather than having been deliberately placed in the selection, but if you do come across two candidates who are similar, but one is slightly superior to the other, it will heighten your regard for them compared to the other competitors...

On a more positive note, scientists in the UK have also started to consider whether the decoy effect might be used to encourage people to make healthier life choices. Christian Von Wagner, a reader in behavioural science and health at University College London, for instance, recently explored people’s intentions to undergo a vital – but unpleasant – screening for colorectal cancer. He found that given the choice between arranging an appointment for the screening or not having the procedure at all, many people chose not to go. But if he also presented them with a third option – an appointment at a less convenient hospital with a longer waiting time, ie, the decoy – the uptake was greater.

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How to build empathy with robots

Trying to see the world through someone else's eyes is a great way to build empathy and understanding between people. Turns out, this approach -- when taken literally -- also works with robots. Researchers from the University of Bourgogne, University of Trento, and their colleagues used a head-mounted display to put people "inside" a robot and then studied their "likeability and closeness towards the robot."

"We have demonstrated that by 'beaming' a participant into a robot we can change his or her attitude towards the robot," says University of Trento psychologist Francesco Pavani.

"By 'beaming', we mean that we gave the participants the illusion that they were looking through the robot's eyes, moving its head as if it were their head, look in the mirror and see themselves as a robot."

"Unlike exercises in which the participants couldn't t move the robot's head or do that in a coordinated manner with other body movements, in our study the experience of walking in the shoes of a robot led the participants to adopt a friendlier attitude, to perceive them as socially closer."

From the abstract of their scientific paper published in Scientific Reports:

When participant’ and robot’s head movements were correlated, participants felt that they were incorporated into the robot with a sense of agency. Critically, the robot they embodied was judged more likeable and socially closer. Remarkably, we found that the beaming experience with correlated head movements and corresponding sensation of embodiment and social proximity, was independent of robots’ humanoid’s appearance.

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Oregon now excuses students for "mental health days"

Oregon governor Kate Brown signed a bill that excuses public school students for taking "mental health days" just as they are excused for other illnesses. The bill was spearheaded by youth activists. From the Associated Press:

(Eighteen-year-old Hailey) Hardcastle, who plans to attend the University of Oregon in the fall, said she and fellow youth leaders drafted the measure to respond to a mental health crisis in schools and to “encourage kids to admit when they’re struggling.”

Debbie Plotnik, vice president of the nonprofit advocacy group Mental Health America, said implementing the idea in schools was important step in challenging the way society approaches mental health issues.

“We need to say it’s just as OK to take care for mental health reasons as it is to care for a broken bone or a physical illness,” she said.

(Image: "Conceptual illustration of mental health" by Quince Media, (CC BY-SA 4.0)) Read the rest

Eminent psychologists condemn "emotion detection" systems as being grounded in junk science

One of the more extravagant claims made by tech companies is that they can detect emotions by analyzing photos of our faces with machine learning systems. The premise is sometimes dressed up in claims about "micro-expressions" that are below the threshold of human detection, though some vendors have made billions getting security agencies to let them train officers in "behavior detection" grounded in this premise. Read the rest

A "Fake News Game" that "vaccinates" players against disinformation

Bad News is a free webgame created by two Cambridge psych researchers; in a 15-minute session, it challenges players to learn about and deploy six tactics used in disinformation campaigns ("polarisation, invoking emotions, spreading conspiracy theories, trolling people online, deflecting blame, and impersonating fake accounts"). Read the rest

People more likely to return lost wallets if there's cash inside

You might think that when someone finds a wallet on the street, they're less likely to return it if there's cash inside. But you'd be wrong. According to a new three-year study across multiple countries, people are more inclined to return wallets stuffed with money. The more cash, the more likely they'll turn it over to the rightful owner. From the New York Times:

“The evidence suggests that people tend to care about the welfare of others and they have an aversion to seeing themselves as a thief,” said Alain Cohn, a study author and assistant professor of information at the University of Michigan. People given wallets with more money have more to gain from dishonesty, but that also increases “the psychological cost of the dishonest act...."

Christian Zünd, a doctoral student and co-author, said a survey they conducted found that “without money, not reporting a wallet doesn’t feel like stealing. With money, however, it suddenly feels like stealing and it feels even more like stealing when the money in the wallet increases...."

The researchers surveyed people to see if they expected bigger rewards for returning more money; they didn’t.

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How con artists use the Ouija board effect for their scams

In 1851, Michael Faraday secretly measured the muscle movements of Ouija board users who believed that the planchette was under ghostly control. According to Faraday, the users were unconsciously moving their muscles and but truly thought a spirit was pushing the planchette. A few decades later, physiologist William Carpenter dubbed this the "ideomotor effect." To this day, the ideomotor effect is a powerful phenomena and one that scammers have used to sell bogus "scientific" instruments. From the Wellcome Collection:

For example, in 2014, James McCormick, a British businessman, was convicted of selling fake bomb detectors to various international police forces. McCormick’s devices were marketed as using principles similar to dowsing, with extreme life-or-death stakes. The operator was supposed hold the device, called the ‘ADE 651’, like a wand, and allow its subtle movements to direct them towards dangerous substances.

The devices themselves have been determined to be entirely non-functional. But thanks in part to the ideomotor effect, they could easily feel functional, especially if the operator were confident in their legitimacy.

Since the late 1990s, non-functional detection devices with names such as ‘Sniffex’, ‘GT 200’ and ‘Alpha 6’ were sold by various scammers to governments throughout the world, including those of Iraq, Egypt, Syria, India, Thailand and Mexico. The World Peace Foundation of Tufts University, which tracks corruption related to international arms trading, estimates that fake bomb detectors generated more than $100 million in profit between 1999 and 2010.

"The psychology of Ouija" (Wellcome Collection via Daily Grail)

Vintage image: SFO Museum Read the rest

Experiencing awe is linked to decreased inflammation

In the Savvy Pscychologist, clinician Ellen Hendriksen of Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, looks at the profound psychological and physiological impacts of feeling awe, whether it comes from looking up at the expansive night sky or hearing an incredible musical performance. She reflects on scientific evidence that awe makes us "feel small" and humble, nicer, and expands our worldview, all of which seem like fairly obvious effects. But Hendriksen also points to a recent curious study published in the journal Emotion showing that "awe is linked to decreased inflammation." The University of Toronto researchers had examined whether amusement, compassion, contentment, joy, love, pride, and awe resulted in "lower levels of a marker of inflammation called interleukin-6, or IL-6, which has been linked to diseases as diverse as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and diabetes." From the Savvy Psychologist:

Why on earth might standing on a mountaintop connect with our levels of inflammation? One hypothesis is that proinflammatory cytokines like IL-6 lead to physical and social withdrawal—curling up in your den and resting speeds recovery from illness or injury more quickly than pushing through. By contrast, awe triggers the opposite: an urge to explore and experience more. It’s unclear whether awe reduces inflammation or reduced inflammation makes us seek out awe, but either way, the two seem to be linked.

"Awe: The Most Incredible Emotion and Its Spectacular Effects"

Here's the scientific study: "Positive affect and markers of inflammation: discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines" (Emotion)

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Scientific tips on how to cram for an exam

ASAP Science provides some excellent tips for intensive, last-minute studying of just about any subject where you need to remember a lot of information. The video covers a lot of ground, from memory palaces and cortisol to metacognition to other things I can't remember because I didn't study enough.

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Man has alligator as emotional support animal

Joei Henney, 65, of Strinestown, Pennsylvania has an alligator as his registered emotional support animal. According to Henney, the 5-foot alligator, named Wally, helps Henney manage his depression. Apparently, the reptile is very generous with his hugs. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

A man who answered an e-mail from a reporter about Wally from the web site Service Dog Registration of America said, "Our therapist would never approve a client to have an alligator as an emotional support animal. "

Henney’s doctor did.

“My doctor wanted to put me on depression medicine, and I hate taking medicine. I had Wally, and when I came home and was around him, it was all OK," he said. “My doctor knew about Wally and figured it works, so why not?”

Wally, Henney cautioned, is still a wild animal, one that could tear his arm off now, and do worse later...

“He has never tried to bite no one,” Henney said. “I don’t push him on to people. I tell people to respect him, not fear him. He will not hurt you.”

images: Joie Henney/Facebook Read the rest

Rigorous new scientific study: Link between kids screen time and their well-being is highly overstated

In a heavy-duty new scientific paper published this week, University of Oxford researchers argue that the association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use is tiny. Really tiny. From Scientific American:

(The paper by experimental psychologist Andrew Przybylski and grad student Amy Orben) reveals the pitfalls of the statistical methods scientists have employed and offers a more rigorous alternative. And, importantly, it uses data on more than 350,000 adolescents to show persuasively that, at a population level, technology use has a nearly negligible effect on adolescent psychological well-being, measured in a range of questions addressing depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, pro-social behavior, peer-relationship problems and the like. Technology use tilts the needle less than half a percent away from feeling emotionally sound. For context, eating potatoes is associated with nearly the same degree of effect and wearing glasses has a more negative impact on adolescent mental health...

“We’re trying to move from this mind-set of cherry-picking one result to a more holistic picture of the data set,” Przybylski says. “A key part of that is being able to put these extremely miniscule effects of screens on young people in real-world context.”

Not surprisingly though, your mileage may vary. Not surprisingly, it all depends on the kid and what they're actually doing on the screen.

In a previous paper, Przybylski and colleague Netta Weinstein demonstrated a “Goldilocks” effect showing moderate use of technology—about one to two hours per day on weekdays and slightly more on weekends—was “not intrinsically harmful,” but higher levels of indulgence could be.

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Visual Disturbances: what eye-tracking and 187 unlicensed clips reveal about change blindness and our perception of films

My most recent essay film, Visual Disturbances, premiered in the open access journal [in]Transition yesterday. This open access journal features peer reviewed academic video essays and showcases a wide variety of film and media analysis. Visual Disturbances uses some cutting-edge eye tracking visualizations to explore how film audiences both perceive and mis-perceive movies. Read the rest

The neuroscience of creativity (and yes, right brain/left brain is mostly bullshit)

Anna Abraham literally wrote the book on creativity and the brain. The Leeds Beckett University psychology professor is the author of a new textbook titled The Neuroscience of Creativity. From an interview with Abraham by psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman in Scientific American:

SBK: Why does the myth of the “creative right brain” still persist? Is there any truth at all to this myth?

AA: Like most persistent myths, even if some seed of truth was associated with the initial development of the idea, the claim so stated amounts to a lazy generalization and is incorrect. The brain’s right hemisphere is not a separate organ whose workings can be regarded in isolation from that of the left hemisphere in most human beings. It is also incorrect to conclude that the left brain is uncreative. In fact even the earliest scholars who explored the brain lateralization in relation to creativity emphasized the importance of both hemispheres. Indeed this is what was held to be unique about creativity compared to other highly lateralized psychological functions. In an era which saw the uncovering of the dominant involvement of one hemisphere over the other for many functions, and the left hemisphere received preeminent status for its crucial role in complex functions like language, a push against the tide by emphasizing the need to also recognize the importance of the right hemisphere for complex functions like creativity somehow got translated over time into the only ‘creative right brain’ meme. It is the sort of thing that routinely happens when crafting accessible sound bites to convey scientific findings.

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Is it better to read a book or listen to it?

Daniel Willingham, a University of Virginia psychologist who wrote "The Reading Mind," says that the most common question he receives these days is the following: “Is it cheating if I listen to an audiobook for my book club?” In a New York Times essay, Willingham parses the benefits and drawbacks of both formats. Which one is better? Of course personally preference and convenience matter, but Willingham argues that generally right now when it comes to listening or reading a book, there is "equivalence for easy texts and an advantage to print for hard ones." For example, audio books provide prosody, the intonation, tone, and rhythm of the words. Sometimes, hearing those cues helps us understand the material. But not always. From the NYT:

For example, one study compared how well students learned about a scientific subject from a 22-minute podcast versus a printed article. Although students spent equivalent time with each format, on a written quiz two days later the readers scored 81 percent and the listeners 59 percent.

What happened? Note that the subject matter was difficult, and the goal wasn’t pleasure but learning. Both factors make us read differently. When we focus, we slow down. We reread the hard bits. We stop and think. Each is easier with print than with a podcast.

Print also supports readers through difficult content via signals to organization like paragraphs and headings, conventions missing from audio. Experiments show readers actually take longer to read the first sentence of a paragraph because they know it probably contains the foundational idea for what’s to come.

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Why some people hate Jews and Asian-Americans

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy and her colleagues have developed a "theory of prejudice" that goes deeper than a simplistic us-versus-them mindset. According to her research, when the world feels volatile or the economy is tanking, groups that are stereotyped as both "cold" ("unfriendly" and "untrustworthy") and "competent" ("ambitious, intelligent and skillful") are more likely to be targeted for, um, extermination. According to Cuddy's op-ed in the the New York Times, "a widespread stereotype of Jewish people, like that of other socioeconomically successful minorities such as Asian-Americans, falls in the competent-but-cold quadrant."

People assume that socioeconomically successful groups must be competent and that disadvantaged groups must be incompetent. Likewise, groups that are viewed as competitors — for status, for resources — get stereotyped as cold, whereas groups that are viewed as allies get stereotyped as warm...

In-groups and “cultural reference” groups (the middle class and Christians are common examples in the United States) are stereotyped as warm and competent — a wholly positive category. In stark contrast, groups on society’s margins who are blamed for their plight and viewed as a drain on resources (common examples include homeless people and drug addicts) are stereotyped as cold and incompetent — a wholly negative category. Discrimination against groups stereotyped in this way is typically expressed through disregard, stigmatizing and ostracizing...

But when times get tough, envious prejudices can ignite. Societal breakdown, harsh economies or political turmoil can activate resentment toward high-status minorities, who are seen as competitors for limited resources or even dangerous enemies.

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Scientists study the psychology of death metal

Psychology professor William Forde Thompson of Australia's Macquarie University and his colleagues have published a series of scientific papers about the appeal of death metal. The scientists were surprised to learn that death metal fans aren't particularly angry or violent people and actually in a happy place whilst head-banging to the likes of Morbid Angel (above) and Cannibal Corpse (below). The research reminds me of how my dad was always so surprised at my love for goth music even though I was a generally happy teen. From Scientific American:

“It’s the paradox of enjoying a negative emotion that I was interested in,” says Thompson, a professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. “Why are people interested in music that seems to induce a negative emotion, when in everyday life we tend to avoid situations that will induce a negative emotion?” A number of studies have explored the emotional appeal of sad music, Thompson notes. But relatively little research has examined the emotional effects of listening to music that is downright violent.

Thompson’s work has produced some intriguing insights. The biggest surprise? “The ubiquitous stereotype of death metal fans—fans of music that contains violent themes and explicitly violent lyrics—[is] that they are angry people with violent tendencies,” Thompson says. “What we are finding is that they are not angry people. They’re not enjoying anger when they listen to the music, but they are in fact experiencing a range of positive emotions...."

Chris Pervelis, a founding member and guitarist of the band Internal Bleeding (whose songs include Gutted Human Sacrifice [below] and The Pageantry of Savagery), is confident that the positive emotions he experiences when he plays and listens to Death Metal are the real thing.

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