Subliminal Message

Kevin Lewis

December 13, 2009

You Are How You Eat: Fast Food and Impatience

Chen-Bo Zhong & Sanford DeVoe
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Based on recent advancements in the behavioral priming literature, this paper explores how incidental exposure to fast food can induce impatient behaviors and choices outside of the eating domain. We found in three experiments that even an unconscious exposure to fast food symbols can automatically increase reading speed when under no time pressure and that thinking about fast food increases preferences for time-saving products while there are potentially many other product dimensions to consider. More strikingly, we found that the mere exposure to fast food symbols reduced people's willingness to save and led them to prefer immediate gain over greater future return, ultimately harming their economic interest. Thus, the way we eat has far reaching influences (often unconscious) on behaviors and choices unrelated to eating.


Weather to go to college

Uri Simonsohn
Economic Journal, forthcoming

Does current utility bias predictions of future utility for high stakes decisions? Here I provide field evidence consistent with such Projection Bias in one of life's most thought-about decisions: college enrolment. After arguing and documenting with survey evidence that cloudiness increases the appeal of academic activities, I analyse the enrolment decisions of 1,284 prospective students who visited a university known for its academic strengths and recreational weaknesses. Consistent with the notion that current weather conditions influence decisions about future academic activities, I find that an increase in cloudcover of one standard deviation on the day of the visit is associated with an increase in the probability of enrolment of 9 percentage points.


What does doodling do?

Jackie Andrade
Applied Cognitive Psychology, January 2010, Pages 100-106

Doodling is a way of passing the time when bored by a lecture or telephone call. Does it improve or hinder attention to the primary task? To answer this question, 40 participants monitored a monotonous mock telephone message for the names of people coming to a party. Half of the group was randomly assigned to a doodling condition where they shaded printed shapes while listening to the telephone call. The doodling group performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test. Unlike many dual task situations, doodling while working can be beneficial. Future research could test whether doodling aids cognitive performance by reducing daydreaming.


Social Power Increases Implicit Prejudice

Ana Guinote, Guillermo Willis & Cristiana Martellotta
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

The effects of power on implicit and explicit attitudes towards racial groups were examined. In Study 1, participants who had power showed a stronger facilitation of positive words after exposure to White faces, and negative words after exposure to Black faces, compared to participants who did not have power. In Study 2, powerful participants, compared to controls and powerless participants, showed more positive affective responses to Chinese pictographs that followed White compared to Black faces. Power did, however, not affect explicit racial attitudes. In Study 3, powerful participants showed greater racial prejudice toward Arabs in an Implicit Association Test than did powerless participants. This effect was driven by the power of the perceiver rather than the power of the target. Implications of these findings are discussed.


The Priming Effects of Avatars in Virtual Settings

Jorge Peña, Jeffrey Hancock & Nicholas Merola
Communication Research, December 2009, Pages 838-856

The study extends research on the Proteus effect by demonstrating that avatars can prime negative attitudes and cognition in desktop virtual settings. Experiment 1 shows that, after virtual group discussions, participants using black-cloaked avatars developed more aggressive intentions and attitudes but less group cohesion than those using white-cloaked avatars. In Experiment 2, individual participants using a Ku Klux Klan (KKK)-associated avatar created more aggressive Thematic Apperception Test stories in comparison to a control group. Participants using the KKK avatar also wrote less affiliative stories in comparison to those employing avatars dressed as doctors. Overall, the resulting pattern of activation of negative thoughts (i.e., aggression) coupled with the inhibition of inconsistent thoughts (i.e., cohesion, affiliation) is consistent with principles of current priming models and provides initial evidence for automatic cognitive priming in virtual settings.


Predicting Soccer Matches After Unconscious and Conscious Thought as a Function of Expertise

Ap Dijksterhuis, Maarten Bos, Andries van der Leij & Rick van Baaren
Psychological Science, November 2009, Pages 1381-1387

In two experiments, we investigated the effects of expertise and mode of thought on the accuracy of people's predictions. Both experts and nonexperts predicted the results of soccer matches after conscious thought, after unconscious thought, or immediately. In Experiment 1, experts who thought unconsciously outperformed participants in all other conditions. Whereas unconscious thinkers showed a correlation between expertise and accuracy of prediction, no such relation was observed for conscious thinkers or for immediate decision makers. In Experiment 2, this general pattern was replicated. In addition, experts who thought unconsciously were better at applying diagnostic information than experts who thought consciously or who decided immediately. The results are consistent with unconscious-thought theory.


Expertise makes the world slow down: Judgements of duration are influenced by domain knowledge

Matthew Rhodes & David McCabe
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, December 2009, Pages 2313-2319

Experts often appear to perceive time differently from novices. The current study thus examined perceptions of time as a function of domain expertise. Specifically, individuals with high or low levels of knowledge of American football made judgements of duration for briefly presented words that were unrelated to football (e.g., rooster), football specific (e.g., touchdown), or ambiguous (e.g., huddle). Results showed that high-knowledge individuals judged football-specific words as having been presented for a longer duration than unrelated or ambiguous words. In contrast, low-knowledge participants exhibited no systematic differences in judgements of duration based on the type of word presented. These findings are discussed within a fluency attribution framework, which suggests that experts' fluent perception of domain-relevant stimuli leads to the subjective impression that time slows down in one's domain of expertise.


The Thermometer of Social Relations: Mapping Social Proximity on Temperature

Hans IJzerman & Gün Semin
Psychological Science, October 2009, Pages 1214-1220

"Holding warm feelings toward someone" and "giving someone the cold shoulder" indicate different levels of social proximity. In this article, we show effects of temperature that go beyond these metaphors people live by. In three experiments, warmer conditions, compared with colder conditions, induced (a) greater social proximity, (b) use of more concrete language, and (c) a more relational focus. Different temperature conditions were created by either handing participants warm or cold beverages (Experiment 1) or placing them in comfortable warm or cold ambient conditions (Experiments 2 and 3). These studies corroborate recent findings in the field of grounded cognition revealing that concrete experiences ground abstract concepts with which they are coexperienced. Our studies show a systemic interdependence among language, perception, and social proximity: Environmentally induced conditions shape not only language use, but also the perception and construal of social relationships.


What's in a name? Subliminally activating trusting behavior

Li Huang & Keith Murnighan
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, forthcoming

Because the choice to trust is inherently risky, people naturally assess others' trustworthiness before they engage in trusting actions. The research reported here suggests that the trust development process may start before the conscious assessment of trustworthiness, via the activation of a relational schema. We present three experiments that examined the automatic, non-conscious activation of interpersonal trusting behavior via a variety of subliminal cues: positive or negative, relational or non-relational, and trust-related or not. In all three studies, subliminal relational cues influenced subsequent trusting behavior, apparently without conscious awareness. Results from the third study also indicated that subliminal relational cues that were specifically trust-related influenced trustors' expectations of the likelihood of reciprocity. Overall, the data provide initial evidence that the development of interpersonal trust can start before and beneath conscious awareness.


Prejudicial Attitudes Toward Older Adults May Be Exaggerated When People Feel Vulnerable to Infectious Disease: Evidence and Implications

Lesley Duncan & Mark Schaller
Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, December 2009, Pages 97-115

Prejudice against elderly people ("ageism") is an issue of increasing social concern, but the psychological roots of ageism are only partially understood. Recent theorizing suggests that ageism may result, in part, from fallible cue-based disease-avoidance mechanisms. The perception of subjectively atypical physical features (including features associated with aging) may implicitly activate aversive semantic concepts (implicit ageism), and this implicit ageism is likely to emerge among perceivers who are especially worried about the transmission of infectious diseases. We report an experiment (N = 88) that provides the first empirical test of this hypothesis. Results revealed that implicit ageism is predicted by the interactive effects of chronic perceptions of vulnerability to infectious disease and by the temporary salience of disease-causing pathogens. Moreover, these effects are moderated by perceivers' cultural background. Implications for public policy are discussed.


Preserved Implicit Knowledge of a Forgotten Childhood Language

Jeffrey Bowers, Sven Mattys & Suzanne Gage
Psychological Science, September 2009, Pages 1064-1069

Previous research suggests that a language learned during early childhood is completely forgotten when contact to that language is severed. In contrast with these findings, we report leftover traces of early language exposure in individuals in their adult years, despite a complete absence of explicit memory for the language. Specifically, native English individuals under age 40 selectively relearned subtle Hindi or Zulu sound contrasts that they once knew. However, individuals over 40 failed to show any relearning, and young control participants with no previous exposure to Hindi or Zulu showed no learning. This research highlights the lasting impact of early language experience in shaping speech perception, and the value of exposing children to foreign languages even if such exposure does not continue into adulthood.


Long-term memory for the terrorist attack of September 11: Flashbulb memories, event memories, and the factors that influence their retention

William Hirst, Elizabeth Phelps, Randy Buckner, Andrew Budson, Alexandru Cuc, John Gabrieli, Marcia Johnson, Cindy Lustig, Keith Lyle, Mara Mather, Robert Meksin, Karen Mitchell, Kevin Ochsner, Daniel Schacter, Jon Simons & Chandan Vaidya
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, May 2009, Pages 161-176

More than 3,000 individuals from 7 U.S. cities reported on their memories of learning of the terrorist attacks of September 11, as well as details about the attack, 1 week, 11 months, and/or 35 months after the assault. Some studies of flashbulb memories examining long-term retention show slowing in the rate of forgetting after a year, whereas others demonstrate accelerated forgetting. This article indicates that (a) the rate of forgetting for flashbulb memories and event memory (memory for details about the event itself) slows after a year, (b) the strong emotional reactions elicited by flashbulb events are remembered poorly, worse than nonemotional features such as where and from whom one learned of the attack, and (c) the content of flashbulb and event memories stabilizes after a year. The results are discussed in terms of community memory practices.

to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.