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Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

How to Be Sure Your Waiter Brings You Decaf (And Thwart Tiger Attacks Too!)

You’ve just finished a dinner at a nice restaurant and you order decaf coffee instead of regular so that you won’t have trouble falling asleep. A few minutes later, your server brings you a steaming cup of Joe. You want to drink, but you’re worried it might have caffeine. At this point, I normally ask something like “Are you sure this is decaffeinated?”

But my friend (and newly tenured colleague) Yair Listokin tells me that Oprah suggests that we ask instead: “Is this regular coffee?” Or, “Are you sure this is regular coffee?”

It’s not fool proof, but asking “is it regular” will let you find out whether the waiter is willing to say “yes” to any question, possibly to avoid the extra work of having to go get a replacement? Framing the question doesn’t work if the restaurant follows the “after 8 p.m. or so, all the coffee is decaf” convention.

A Study in Child Cooperation: Sweden vs. Colombia

The behavior of children continues to be of interest for both economists and Freakonomics. Back in May, we looked at research by the German economist Martin Kocher showing that young children are generally less risk-averse than adults.
Now, a working paper by Juan-Camilo Cardenas, Anna Dreber, Emma von Essen and Eva Ranehill at the Stockholm School of Economics compares the cooperative behavior of Swedish children and Colombian children using the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, which explores how two parties cooperate in the absence of communication.

Security Overkill, Diaper-Changing Edition

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about security overkill. This includes not just the notion of “security theater” — security measures meant to inspire comfort by mere show of force/complexity — but the many instances in which someone places a layer of security between me and my everyday activities with no apparent benefit whatsoever.
My bank would surely argue that its many and various anti-fraud measures are valuable but in truth a) they are meant to protect the bank, not me; and b) they are cumbersome to the point of ridiculous. It’s gotten to where I can predict which credit-card charge will trigger the bank’s idiot algorithm and freeze my account because it didn’t like the Zip code where I used the card.
And security overkill has trickled down into the civilian world. When the class parents at my kids’ school send out a list of parent contact info at the start of each school year, it comes via a password-protected Excel spreadsheet. Keep in mind this list doesn’t contain Social Security numbers or bank information — just names, addresses, and phone numbers of the kids’ parents. I can imagine the day several months hence when someone actually needs to use the list and will find herself locked out by the long-forgotten password.

The Agreeable Power of Sugar

New research (summarized in the BPS Research Digest) confirms an old cliche: you are what you eat. A team of psychologists recently found that not only are sweets-lovers perceived as more agreeable, but they may actually be more agreeable:

Students who rated their own personality as more agreeable also tended to have a stronger preference (than their less agreeable peers) for sweet foods and drinks. Among a different set of students, a stronger preference for sweet foods correlated positively with their willingness to volunteer their time, unpaid, for a separate unrelated study – considered by the researchers as a sign of prosocial behavior.

Customers, Social Media and the Internet's Silent Majority

A new article in MIT’s Sloan Management Review written by marketing professors Wendy W. Moe, David A. Schweidel and Michael Trusov sheds some light on how people use the internet to interact with products and with each other, specifically in terms of what spurs and defines social media comments. In recent research, the authors examined the comment ratings and sales of a popular unnamed company, studying 2,436 individuals writing about 200 products. They ask: “[H]ow accurately do these conversations represent the true underlying sentiment of a product’s customers?” Here’s what they found:

News for Dieters: Old Habits Die Hard

If you’re trying to lose weight, making a small change might help. A new study (summarized by the BPS Research Digest) finds that using the non-dominant hand can significantly reduce the kind of habitual eating that many indulge in without even noticing.
Psychologists invited 158 subjects to watch movie trailers in either a movie theater or a university department meeting room and provided participants (some habitual popcorn eaters, some not) with either stale or fresh popcorn. They found that “in the cinema setting the habitual popcorn eaters ate just as much of the popcorn when it was stale as when it was fresh.

Author Steven Pinker Answers Your Questions

Last week we solicited your questions for author and Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker on his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. You responded quickly with more than 50 questions. Now, Pinker is back with his answers to 10 of them. The result is a fascinating discussion (exactly the kind we like to have around here) on the roots of violence, the rationale for wars of the past and what a decrease in violence says about modern society. As always, thanks to everyone for participating.

Q Any thoughts on the negative side effects of decreased violence? Overpopulation? More sedentary populations? Decreased role for survival of the fittest? Not to say that violence is preferable, just wondering about the downsides of peace. – BL1Y

Nazis, Sunken Ships, and a 67 Year-Old Game of Telephone

This is a guest post by Jeff Mosenkis, a freelance producer with Freakonomics Radio who holds a Ph.D. in psychology and comparative human development.
Nazis, Sunken Ships, And a 60 Year-Old Game of Telephone
By Jeff Mosenkis
Did you hear the one about the two statisticians who go deer hunting? The first one misses his shot ten feet to the right of the deer; the second one misses ten feet to the left of the deer. They then high five each other and shout “Got him!”
While the quantitative method might not work for hunting, it apparently does for finding sunken warships. NPR’s Alix Spiegel reported this remarkable story about two Australian cognitive psychologists who used a statistical distribution to find two sunken World War II ships, 67 years after they were lost.
On the evening of November 19, 1941, the HMAS Sydney was off the coast of Western Australia when it exchanged fire with the German HSK Kormoran, and sunk with all 645 crewmen aboard. It was a national tragedy, particularly because nobody knew exactly what happened to the ship and why it sunk. The German crew scuttled their damaged ship, and 317 surviving German sailors were picked up in lifeboats at sea or on shore and interrogated.

Blind to Our Own Blindness: Wisdom from Danny Kahneman

I recently had the chance to read an advance copy of an outstanding book by Daniel Kahneman entitled Thinking, Fast and Slow. The book will be published this fall.
Among the hundreds of interesting ideas in the book, there is one that I simply can’t get out of my head. Referring to how our minds work, Kahneman writes that not only are we sometimes “blind to the obvious,” but also we are “blind to our blindness.” For me, that one sentence summarizes a fundamental insight of his life’s work.
It’s one of those simple insights which is obvious when you think about it, but somehow incredibly easy to forget when mesmerized by the happenings of everyday life, leading to poor decision making.
Coming up with a good name for a problem is often an important part of coming up with a solution. So I’m thankful to Kahneman for planting the phrase “blind to my own blindness” in my brain. The next time I’m about to mindlessly make a terrible choice, I’m hoping that phrase will forcefully interject itself into my internal dialogue, causing me to think more clearly about my decision.
More likely, it will only be after the fact that I become aware that I was blind to my own blindness in a particular setting. At least I’ll have a succinct way of beating myself up.

Why Do We Fail to Do What's Right? Bring Your Questions for Authors of Blind Spots

We recently published a guest post on the ethics of the decision-making that led to the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster. That post was adapted from a new book called Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It. The authors are Max Bazerman, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Ann Tenbrunsel, a professor of business ethics at Notre Dame.
Blind Spots looks into the gap between our intended and actual behavior; why we often overestimate our ability to do what’s right; and how we convince ourselves to do what we want rather than what we should. The authors tie their theory to a string of recent blowups, including: baseball’s steroid scandal, Enron’s collapse, Bernie Madoff‘s fraud, and corruption in the tobacco industry.
Brazerman and Tenbrunsel have agreed to answer your questions, so fire away in the comments section. As with all our Q&A’s, we’ll post their answers in short course.

I Feel Your Pain: The Empathy of Torture, a Guest Post by Jeff Mosenkis

A guest post from Jeff Mosenkis, on how empathy affects how we feel about torture. Mosenkis holds a Ph.D. in Psychology and Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago. His research has focused on the intersections of social, cultural and organizational psychologies.
I Feel Your Pain: The Empathy of Torture
By Jeff Mosenkis

Senator John McCain re-entered the waterboarding/torture debate this month, first with an op-ed in The Washington Post, then on the Senate floor, taking issue with both the efficacy and morals of enhanced interrogation techniques, asserting that several of them are indeed torture. From McCain’s op-ed:

Much of this debate is a definitional one: whether any or all of these methods constitute torture. I believe some of them do, especially waterboarding, which is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form of torture. As such, they are prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.

McCain’s anti-torture stance is well-documented and been consistent throughout his political career. But a new study adds some scientific insight into why he feels the way he does.

How Richard Feynman Thought

I am fascinated by how we can improve our thinking and problem solving and enjoy learning about and from masters of those arts. My interest was therefore caught by the advice on thinking given in a review of Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science. The reviewer, George Johnson, writes:

This triumph came early in his [Feynman’s] career. His later thinking (about solid-state physics, for example, or quantum cosmology) was just as original. Maybe sometimes too original, Krauss suggests. Science usually proceeds by building on what came before. The maverick in Feynman kept him from accepting even the most established ideas until he had torn them apart and reassembled the pieces. That led to a deeper understanding, but his time might have been better spent at the cutting edge…“He continued to push physics forward as few modern scientists have,” Krauss [the biographer] writes, “but he tended to lead from the rear or, at best, from a side flank.”

Measuring Peer Effects

A new study from psychologists Jamil Zaki, Jessica Schirmer, and Jason P. Mitchell relies on brain scans to evaluate the effects of peer influences. “Participants rated the attractiveness of faces and subsequently learned how their peers rated each face. Participants were then scanned using fMRI while they rated each face a second time,” explain the authors. “These second ratings were . . .

Eyeballing the Forbidden Fruit

Ordering your significant other to ignore the attractive person at the next table might backfire, according to a new study.

The Price of Regret

How much would you pay to avoid regrets? A new study (gated) by psychologists Niels van de Ven and Marcel Zeelenberg finds that people are willing to forgo direct benefits in order to avoid regrets.

The Entrepreneur's Brain

How do great entrepreneurs think? That’s the question that Saras Sarasvathy set out to answer in a recent study.

Happy to Wait

“Emotions have historically received a bum rap from decision researchers” write economists John Ifcher and Homa Zarghamee. In a forthcoming paper called Happiness and Time Preference: The Effect of Positive Affect in a Random-Assignment Experiment, they address the tricky and oft-ignored role of emotion in decision-making.

Should We Be Surprised at Political Bias in Academia?

Ruh-Roh. John Tierney in today’s Times: “… Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology … polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center [during the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology], starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.”

Is Climate-Change Hysteria Bad for the Environment?

A new study called “Apocalypse Soon?” by the psychologists Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer (summarized by the BPS Research Digest) finds that, for people who implicitly believe the world is fair, dire warnings about climate change may make them more skeptical about the concept.

Need to Turn Off His Sex Drive? Cry

What happens to men when women cry? A new study finds that, as in mice, human tears may serve a “chemosignaling function.” Specifically, female tears seem to reduce male sexual arousal.

Radio in Progress: One Upside of Aging

We’re working on a Freakonomics Radio episode about pain. One component is the very interesting research by Daniel Kahneman and Donald Redelmeier about how colonoscopy patients remember the pain of the procedure, and how that memory can be manipulated (to dim the memory of the pain) so that patients aren’t reluctant to return for their next colonoscopy.

Zyzmor's Revenge?

In the SuperFreakonomics section about various “birth effects,” we cited some research about the downside of having a surname that begins with a letter late in the alphabet: It is common practice, especially among economists, to co-write academic papers and list the authors alphabetically by last name. What does this mean for an economist who happened to be born Albert Zyzmor instead of, say, Albert Aab? Two (real) economists addressed this question and found that, all else being equal, Dr. Aab would be more likely to gain tenure at a top university, become a fellow in the Econometric Society (hooray!), and even win the Nobel Prize.

Predicting What You'll Want to Eat

A collaboration between Kraft and Intel has produced a machine that scans your face to predict what you might want to eat (or, more precisely, what it can sell you to eat).

The "Global Implications" of Coffee in Meetings

In stressful meetings, does coffee help or harm the situation? Lindsay St. Claire, Robert C. Hayward and Peter J. Rogers attempted to answer that question in a new study, which is summarized here by the BPS Research Digest: “For two men collaborating or negotiating under stressful circumstances, caffeine consumption was bad news, undermining their performance and confidence. By contrast, for pairs of women, drinking caffeine often had a beneficial effect on these same factors. The researchers can’t be sure, but they think the differential effect of caffeine on men and women may have to do with the fact that women tend to respond to stress in a collaborative, mutually protective style (known as ‘tend and befriend’) whereas men usually exhibit a fight or flight response.”

We Hold These Truths to Be Universal

The behavioral revolution in economics and psychology has successfully identified and named close to three dozen biases (my favorite behavioral folk song defines them in verse). I had thought that these biases transcended issues of culture. Indeed, both neoclassical and behavioral economists were united in a belief that cultural variables were of secondary importance when it came to the deep drivers of behavior. But a series of experiments now has me thinking that the underlying heuristics are less universal.

Behavioral Economics, the Law, and the Regulators

Truth on the Market is hosting an online forum on behavioral law and economics, the “Free to Choose?” symposium. So far, people like David Levine, Ronald Mann and Christopher Sprigman have taken their turns.

A Response to Psychic Research

James Alcock of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry responds to Cornell professor Darryl Bern’s controversial recent research on psi effects.

Are Cornell Students Psychic?

Cornell psychology professor Daryl Bem has demonstrated “numerous ‘retroactive’ psi effects – that is, phenomena that are inexplicable according to current scientific knowledge” among hundreds of Cornell students.