Contagiousness: It’s contagious! Happiness was contagious in 2008, then loneliness last year, and don’t forget being fat. Now it’s generosity that spreads like the flu across social networks, according to James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis (who were both behind the happiness study). Their new study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
To test out whether generosity spreads, the scientists devised a game. In groups of four, each person had 20 “credits,” some of which they could decide to toss into a common fund for all the players. The scoring was set up so that giving to the fund was costly unless the other players did it too: If everyone kept their money, they’d have the 20 credits, but if everyone put all they could into the fund, each player would end up with 32. However, the players had no way to know how generous the others were being. The best payoff would come if everyone gave all their money — but without knowing what others were doing, it always made sense to keep one’s money and skim from the generosity of others [Wired.com].
Researchers are making the case that a person’s political views cause them to see with a tinted perspective.
Scientists showed undergraduate students a series of digitally darkened or lightened photos of President Barack Obama last fall, and asked them which photos best represented him as a person. The results were striking: while self-described liberals tended to pick the digitally lightened photos of the president, self-described conservative students more frequently picked the darkened images. The more one agrees with a politician, in other words, the lighter his skin tone seems; the less you agree, the darker it becomes [Newsweek]. The study will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Yawning is contagious. So too, it seems, are being fat, being sad, and a host of other things that we social creatures tend to pick up from each other. In a study published this week in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, scientists picked out one more trait that could be contagious among connected people: making bad business decisions.
Researchers had already confirmed that people have a hard time letting go of their own bad investments. For example, someone who buys a lemon of a car or a dilapidated house will, instead of owning up that it was a mistake and cutting their losses, continue to commit to the project and pour more money, effort and emotions into it [Los Angeles Times]. The key finding in this study, however, was that this bad business psychology can spread to others.
Following up on today’s earlier post about alcohol and brain injuries, we bring you a study on alcohol and risk taking behavior. It seems obvious that drinking alcohol would lead to immediate risk taking, but does drinking as a teenager lead to risk taking behavior as an adult? Some researchers have suspected as much, but they haven’t been able to rule out the possibility that risk-prone people simply start drinking at an earlier age. So a research group chose an obvious course of action to test the idea—they got a bunch of rats drunk and let them gamble.
The researchers tested two groups of genetically identical rats, one group that was fed a normal diet and another that boozed it up. To get the rats drunk, the researchers borrowed the tried-and-true approach of frat boys everywhere—they fed them Jell-O shots. The rats went on a 20 day bender and were tested for risky behavior 3 weeks later, when they were adults, using a gambling task. The animals learned that pressing one lever produced small but certain rewards in the form of small sugar pellets and an adjacent lever yielded bigger rewards—more pellets—but paid off less frequently. The researchers rigged the game so that in some testing sessions choosing the certain reward was the best overall strategy, while in other sessions the “risky” lever yielded the greatest overall payoff [ScienceNOW Daily News].
A person can witness an event in real life, see a doctored video of the same event, and then convince themselves that what they saw on the video is what actually happened, according to a recent study that casts doubt on the reliability of eyewitness testimony.
Psychologists set up an experiment where they filmed two people sitting side by side–one experimental subject and one researcher pretending to be a participant–playing a gambling game where they bet phony money on whether or not they could answer multiple choice questions correctly. They were told that the person with the most money at the end would win a prize.
It may not come as much of a surprise to dog-owners, but it seems that dogs and babies share similar logical abilities, as shown by a study published in Science.
Experimenters started out with a classic logic experiment, which goes like this: researchers hide a toy in location “A” multiple times while looking at a 10-month-old baby and talking to him (“Look, I have this nice ball!”). When asked to find the toy, the baby always goes to location “A.” The experimenter then hides the toy at location “B,” again while interacting with the baby. But this time, when asked to find the toy, the baby continues to search for it at location “A.” The findings hold, even when a team changes experimenters midtest. Researchers believe that infants make this error because they believe the adults have taught them something fundamental about the world (i.e., “Your toy will always be at location ‘A'”) [ScienceNow].
If you’re trying to get people to work together, carrots may prove more useful than sticks–that is, rewarding cooperation might motivate people more than punishing them, according to a study published in Science.
Test subjects played the “public goods game,” in which they have to decide whether or not to donate money to the group’s pot. The pot is multiplied and redistributed equally, regardless of who contributes and who doesn’t. When people play a pure version of the game, the temptation to freeload – reap the rewards without contributing anything – often leads to rapidly disintegrating cooperation [New Scientist]. But researchers found that when players were given the choice to either reward their fellow players for good behavior, or punish them for failing to donate, rewarding others yielded a larger payoff for the group as a whole. Groups that could reward each other earned much higher payoffs than those that could only punish, or those that could do neither [ScienceBlogs].
80beats: Stressed Out Lab Rats Become Creatures of Habit
80beats: “Expert” But Bad Financial Advice Turns Off Decision-Making in the Brain
80beats: In Terms of Enjoyment, Other People Know You Better Than You Do
It’s a movie cliche: the moment when the lost traveler intersects a set of footprints, only to realize that the prints where made by his very own boot soles. The hero then realizes, with plunging heart, that he’s been walking in circles while trying to walk a straight course through the featureless expanse. Now a small study has shown that the cliche is true. Without the sun, a compass or a landmark, people trying to follow a straight course through a forest or a desert ended up back where they started [HealthDay News].
In the first experiment, six participants tried to follow a straight course through a forest in Germany, in an area where the land is flat and the trees quickly begin to look alike. The two subjects who walked on a sunny day stayed on a fairly straight course (as tracked by a GPS device), except for the first 15 minutes when the sun was behind the clouds. But the four who walked on an overcast day repeatedly traveled in circles, sometimes crossing their own paths after only 10 minutes. Says lead researcher Jan Souman: “They didn’t really believe when we showed them afterwards…. I think that’s certainly a point to take away, people may feel very confident about the direction where they’re going but it’s not certain” [ABC News].
Chronically stressed rats make decisions based on habit, new research has shown, even when those habits no longer produce the maximum benefit. Researchers say the stressed out rats’ inability to adapt to changing circumstances seems similar to the human response to chronic stress. How often do we talk about burned-out people who are just going through the motions? [ABC News]
In the study, published in Science, the researchers subjected the rats to several tests. In one experiment, the rats were trained to press a lever to receive a reward (either food pellets or sucrose). After two weeks of training, they were given full access to the reward and allowed to consume as much as they desired. When presented with the lever again, control animals stopped pressing the lever, but stressed animals didn’t. If you get the dessert for free, [study coauthor Rui] Costa said, there’s no need to work for it. “That’s what control animals do,” but stressed animals work anyway [The Scientist].
It’s the date of your dreams. As the waiter pours the wine, you’re pouring on the charm. Then it happens: You uncork the most embarrassing, oafish and inappropriate thing you’ve ever uttered. And as a look of pure get-me-out-of-here takes hold on your date’s face, you think, “How on Earth could I have said that!” [Toronto Star] Now, Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner suggests that the embarrassing phenomenon of putting your foot in your mouth comes from your brain’s overzealous attempt to avoid social gaffes.
Wegner describes accumulating evidence that suggests many of our embarrassing moments are the result of miscommunications between conscious and unconscious mental processes [LiveScience]. Sitting across the table from your date, you may consciously run through the worst possible things you could say: an insulting remark regarding her ethnicity, perhaps, or an inappropriate sexual allusion. While your conscious mind then moves on to other subjects, the unconscious mind begins a ceaseless scan for those unwelcome thoughts. It’s that monitoring mechanism that can lead to trouble.