Kevin Lewis

December 08, 2012

"I'll Have One of Each": How Separating Rewards Into (Meaningless) Categories Increases Motivation

Scott Wiltermuth & Francesca Gino
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

We propose that separating rewards into categories can increase motivation, even when those categories are meaningless. Across six experiments, people were more motivated to obtain one reward from one category and another reward from another category than they were to obtain two rewards from a pool that included all items from either reward category. As a result, they worked longer when potential rewards for their work were separated into meaningless categories. This categorization effect persisted regardless of whether the rewards were presented using a gain or loss frame. Using both moderation and mediation analyses, we found that categorizing rewards had these positive effects on motivation by increasing the degree to which people felt they would "miss out" if they did not obtain the second reward. We discuss implications for research on motivation and incentives.


The Effect of Local Violence on Children's Attention and Impulse Control

Patrick Sharkey et al.
American Journal of Public Health, December 2012, Pages 2287-2293

Objectives: We examined whether the burden of violence in a child's community environment alters the child's behavior and functioning in the classroom setting.

Methods: To identify the effects of local violence, we exploited variation in the timing of local homicides, based on data from the Chicago Police Department, relative to the timing of interview assessments conducted as part of a randomized controlled trial conducted with preschoolers in Head Start programs from 2004-2006, the Chicago School Readiness Project. We compared children's scores when exposed to recent local violence with scores when no recent violence had occurred to identify causal effects.

Results: When children were assessed within a week of a homicide that occurred near their home, they exhibited lower levels of attention and impulse control and lower preacademic skills. The analysis showed strong positive effects of local violence on parental distress, providing suggestive evidence that parental responses may be a likely pathway by which local violence affects young children.

Conclusions: Exposure to homicide generates acute psychological distress among caregivers and impairs children's self-regulatory behavior and cognitive functioning.


Mobilizing Unused Resources: Using the Placebo Concept to Enhance Cognitive Performance

Ulrich Weger & Stephen Loughnan
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, forthcoming

People have significant psychological resources to improve their well-being and performance, but these resources often go unused and could be better harnessed. In the medical domain, it is well established that these resources can be mobilized under certain conditions, for example in the context of the placebo-effect. Here we explored whether the placebo principle can be used to enhance cognitive performance. To do so, we employed a modified placebo induction - a bogus priming method that we told participants would unconsciously enhance their knowledge; and that they should hence trust their skills in an upcoming knowledge test. Participant performance was indeed enhanced, compared to a group that did not think the priming process would improve their knowledge. The study documents the relevance of the placebo effect outside the medical and therapeutic setting.


Reading between the lines: Subtle stereotype threat cues can motivate performance

Allison Seitchik, Jeremy Jamieson & Stephen Harkins
Social Influence, forthcoming

This research examined the impact of subtle stereotype threat cues (i.e., no mention of group differences) on motivation. Recent research suggests that blatant manipulations of threat motivate targets to attempt to disprove relevant stereotypes, but this motivation can, in turn, undermine performance. On the other hand, research suggests that subtle cues lead individuals to expend resources so as to reduce uncertainty about the presence of bias. We tested the possibility that subtle threat could also motivate individuals to try to disprove stereotypes. The results indicate that similar to blatant threat, subtle threat cues motivated participants, and this motivation directly led to worse performance in this research because of an over-reliance on traditional solution approaches and a lack of flexibility (i.e., inflexible perseverance).


A theory of self-control and naïveté: The blights of willpower and blessings of temptation

Kristian Ove Myrseth & Conny Wollbrant
Journal of Economic Psychology, forthcoming

We model self-control conflict as an agent's stochastic struggle against a visceral influence that impels the agent to act sub-optimally. The agent holds costly pre-commitment technology to avoid the conflict altogether and may decide whether to procure pre-commitment or to confront the visceral influence. We examine naïve expectations for the strength of the visceral influence; naïve expectations lead the agent to exaggerate the expected utility of resisting temptation and so mistakenly forego pre-commitment. Contrary to accepted wisdom, our analysis reveals conditions under which higher willpower - and lower visceral influence - reduces welfare. Our analysis, therefore, calls into question policy measures that influence willpower and visceral influences.


Subjective time perception and behavioral activation system strength predict delay of gratification ability

Andrea Corvi et al.
Motivation and Emotion, December 2012, Pages 483-490

This study investigated the relationship between subjective time perception and behavioral impulsivity in a healthy, undergraduate population. Data were collected from 62 participants on internal clock speed (ICS, a measure of subjective time perception), behavioral impulsivity, intelligence, and Behavioral Inhibition and Activation Strengths (BIS and BAS). As expected, after controlling for other significant predictors, ICS accounted for a significant amount of variance in behavioral impulsivity. Surprisingly, participants who had slower ICSs were more behaviorally impulsive than participants who had faster ICSs. In addition, and as anticipated, participants who had less accurate ICSs were significantly more impulsive than participants who were more accurate. Last, higher BAS significantly predicted decreased behavioral impulsivity. Results are discussed in terms of current theory relating ICS to impulsivity, and a new theoretical framework is advanced.


Self-awareness Without Awareness? Implicit Self-focused Attention and Behavioral Self-regulation

Paul Silvia & Ann Phillips
Self and Identity, Spring 2012, Pages 114-127

Objective self-awareness theory contends that focusing attention on the self initiates an automatic comparison of self to standards. To gain evidence for automatic self-standard comparison processes, two experiments manipulated attention to self with subliminal first-name priming. People completed a computer-based parity task after being instructed that the standard was to be fast or to be accurate. Subliminal first-name priming increased behavioral adherence to the explicit standard. When told to be fast, self-focused people made more mistakes and had faster response times; when told to be accurate, self-focused people made fewer mistakes. A manipulation of conscious self-awareness (via a mirror) had the same self-regulatory effects. The findings suggest that comparing self to standards can occur automatically and that it is attention to self, not awareness of the self per se, that evokes self-evaluation.


Nonconscious Goals Can Shape What People Want to Feel

Maya Tamir, Brett Ford & Erin Ryan
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

Goals can determine what people want to feel (e.g., Tamir, Mitchell, & Gross, 2008), but can they do so even when they are primed outside of conscious awareness? In two studies, participants wanted to feel significantly less angry after they were implicitly primed with a collaboration goal, compared to a neutral prime. These effects were found with different implicit priming manipulations, direct and indirect measures of emotional preferences, and when controlling for concurrent emotional experiences. The effects were obtained in social contexts in which the potential for collaboration was relatively higher (Study 1) and lower (Study 2). Also, similar effects were found when collaboration was activated nonconsciously (Studies 1-2) and consciously (Study 2). By showing that nonconscious goals can shape emotional preferences, we demonstrate that what people want to feel can be determined by factors they are unaware of.


Effort increases sensitivity to reward and loss magnitude in the human brain

J. Hernandez Lallement et al.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, forthcoming

It is ecologically adaptive that the amount of effort invested to achieve a reward increases the relevance of the resulting outcome. Here, we investigated the effect of effort on activity in reward and loss processing brain areas by using functional magnetic resonance imaging. 28 subjects were endowed with monetary rewards of randomly varying magnitude after performing arithmetic calculations that were either difficult (high effort), easy (low effort) or already solved (no effort). Subsequently, a forced donation took place, where a varying part of the endowment was transferred to a charity organization, causing a loss for the subject. Results show that reward magnitude positively modulates activity in reward-processing brain areas (subgenual anterior cingulate cortex and nucleus accumbens) only in the high effort condition. Furthermore, anterior insular activity was positively modulated by loss magnitude only after high effort. The results strongly suggest an increasing relevance of outcomes with increasing previous effort.


An explicit cue improves creative analogical reasoning

Adam Green et al.
Intelligence, November-December 2012, Pages 598-603

Creativity is likely to be related to intelligence, though the nature of this relationship remains largely unresolved and few studies have examined creativity in the context of measures traditionally related to intelligence. Like intelligence, creativity has often been studied as a static trait or as subject to change over long durations through training or education. By contrast, creativity as a dynamic state, particularly as a state that is subject to conscious augmentation within short time durations, has been less well-studied. Here, we tested the hypothesis that performance on a task of creative intelligence (creative analogical reasoning) can be improved through the deliberate effort to be creative. Specifically, we tested whether an explicit cue to "think creatively" would elicit better identification of creative analogies among 40 participants performing a four-term verbal analogical reasoning task. Consistent with our hypothesis, on creativity cue trials, the participants were 1) more likely to accurately identify highly creative analogies as valid, and 2) no more likely to inaccurately identify false analogies as valid. This pattern of results indicates that, consistent with a widely accepted standard for measuring creativity, the cue was successful in eliciting responses that were not only novel (divergent) but were also appropriate (bounded by task constraints). The findings show, in a within-subjects design, that deliberately attempting to augment creative state can enhance performance on a reasoning task with objective criteria. These findings are discussed with respect to the state vs. trait distinction in creativity and likely neural mechanisms of creative reasoning.


Self-Affirmation Can Enable Goal Disengagement

Kathleen Vohs, Ji Kyung Park & Brandon Schmeichel
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Much research has shown that after being self-affirmed, people respond to challenges in healthy, productive ways, including better task performance. The current research demonstrates that self-affirmation can also deflate motivation and performance, a pattern consistent with goal disengagement. We posited that being self-affirmed and then attempting but failing at a task would lead people to retreat from the goal. In support of this hypothesis, 4 experiments found that the combination of self-affirmation and the experience of failure led to demotivation and effort reduction. Experiment 1 found that self-affirmed participants, more so than nonaffirmed participants, reported being open to goal disengagement. Experiment 2 found that affirming core values before trying a task beset with failure reduced task motivation and performance. Experiment 3 demonstrated the robustness of the effect and found that failure on one task reduced motivation and performance on a new but related task. Experiment 4 revealed that being self-affirmed and experiencing failure caused participants to feel less capable of pursuing their goals, which produced poorer performance. These findings suggest that affirming the self can lead people to internalize the implications of failure, which in turn leads to goal disengagement.


Distinguishing sluggish cognitive tempo from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adults

Russell Barkley
Journal of Abnormal Psychology, November 2012, Pages 978-990

Researchers who study subtypes of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children have identified a subset having a sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT) typified by symptoms of daydreaming, mental confusion, sluggish-lethargic behavior, and hypoactivity, among others who differ in many respects from ADHD. No studies have examined the nature and correlates of SCT in adults. This study sought to do so using a general population sample in which those having high levels of SCT symptoms were identified (≥95th percentile) and compared to adults having high levels of ADHD symptoms and adults having both SCT and ADHD symptoms. From a representative sample of 1,249 U.S. adults 18-96 years four groups were created: (a) high levels of SCT but not ADHD ( N = 33), (b) high levels of ADHD but not SCT ( N = 46), (c) high levels of both SCT and ADHD ( N = 39), and (d) the remaining adults as a control group (N = 1,131). As in children, SCT formed a distinct dimension from ADHD symptoms that was unrelated to age, sex, or ethnicity. Adults in both ADHD groups were younger than those with SCT only or control adults. The SCT-only group had less education than the control group, whereas both SCT groups earned less annual income than the control or ADHD-only group. More individuals in the combined group were out of work on disability. In their EF, both SCT groups reported greater difficulties with self-organization and problem solving than controls or the ADHD-only group. Otherwise, the SCT + ADHD group reported significantly greater problems with all other domains of EF than the other groups. But both the SCT-only and ADHD-only groups had significantly more EF difficulties than controls though not differing from each other. A similar pattern was evident on most ratings of psychosocial impairment, except in work and education where SCT was more impairing than ADHD alone and in driving where ADHD was more impairing. SCT contributed unique variance to EF deficits and psychosocial impairment apart from ADHD inattention and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. Results further suggested that a symptom threshold of 5 or more out of 9 along with a requirement of impairment would result in 5.1% of the population as having SCT. It is concluded that SCT may be a separate disorder from ADHD yet with comorbidity occurring in approximately half of all cases of each.


Avoidance goal pursuit depletes self-regulatory resources

Daniela Oertig et al.
Journal of Personality, forthcoming

Objective: Research on the strength model of self-regulation is burgeoning, but little empirical work has focused on the link between distinct types of daily goal pursuit and the depletion of self-regulatory resources. Here we conducted two studies on the link between avoidance goals and resource depletion.

Method: Study 1 (283 [228 female] Caucasians, ages 18-51) investigated the concurrent and longitudinal relations between avoidance goals and resource depletion over a one month period. Study 2 (132 [93 female] Caucasians, ages 18-49) investigated the concurrent and longitudinal relations between avoidance goals and resource depletion over a one month period and explored resource depletion as a mediator of the avoidance goal to subjective well-being relation.

Results: Studies 1 and 2 documented both a concurrent and a longitudinal negative relationship between avoidance goals and self-regulatory resources, and Study 2 additionally showed that self-regulatory resources mediate the negative link between avoidance goals and subjective well-being. Ancillary analyses demonstrated that the results observed in the two studies were independent of neuroticism.

Conclusions: These findings advance knowledge in both the resource depletion and avoidance goal literatures, and bolster the view that avoidance goal pursuit over time represents a self-regulatory vulnerability.


The creative spark of death: The effects of mortality salience and personal need for structure on creativity

Clay Routledge & Jacob Juhl
Motivation and Emotion, December 2012, Pages 478-482

Previous research indicates that the awareness of death can be a barrier to creative expression. Specifically, when mortality is rendered salient, creativity is inhibited. However, no studies have considered how individual differences may impact the effect of mortality salience on creativity. Past research has found that mortality salience increases explorative thought processes for individuals low in personal need for structure. Thus, for these people, mortality salience may increase, not decrease, creativity. The current study examined this possibility. Personal need for structure was measured, mortality salience was experimentally manipulated, and creativity was assessed. As predicted, mortality salience increased creativity amongst individuals low in personal need for structure. No effect of mortality salience was observed amongst individuals high in personal need for structure.


Psychological Skills Do Not Always Help Performance: The Moderating Role of Narcissism

Ross Roberts et al.
Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, forthcoming

Psychological skills are typically viewed as beneficial to performance in competition. Conversely, narcissists appear to thrive in competitive environments so should not need psychological skills to the same degree as less narcissistic individuals. To investigate this moderating hypothesis high-standard ice-skaters completed measures of narcissism, psychological skills, and anxiety before performing their competition routine during training. A week later, participants performed the same routine in competition. Performance was operationalized as the difference between competition and training scores. Moderated regression analyses revealed that narcissism moderated the relationship between psychological skills and performance. Psychological skill effectiveness depends on an individual's degree of narcissism.


Self-Determination, Self-Regulation, and the Brain: Autonomy Improves Performance by Enhancing Neuroaffective Responsiveness to Self-Regulation Failure

Lisa Legault & Michael Inzlicht
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

The importance of autonomous motivation in improving self-regulation has been a focal topic of motivation research for almost 3 decades. Despite this extensive research, however, there has not yet been a mechanistic account of how autonomous motivation works to boost self-regulatory functioning. To address this issue, we examined the role of autonomy in 2 basic self-regulation tasks while recording a neural signal of self-regulation failure (i.e., the error-related negativity; ERN). Based on the notion that autonomy improves self-regulation, we anticipated that autonomous motivation would enhance neuroaffective responsiveness to self-regulatory failure and thus improve performance relative to controlled motivation. In Study 1 (N = 43), we found that trait autonomy was positively associated with self-regulatory performance and that this effect was mediated by increased brain-based sensitivity to self-regulation failure, as demonstrated by a larger ERN. Study 2 (N = 55) replicated and extended this pattern using an experimental manipulation of autonomy; when autonomous motivation was contextually supported, task performance increased relative to those for whom autonomy was undermined and those in a neutral condition. In addition, this effect was mediated by both increased perceptions of autonomy and larger ERN amplitudes. These findings offer deeper insight into the links among motivational orientation, brain-based performance monitoring, and self-regulation.


Intending or Pretending? Automatic Evaluations of Goal Cues Discriminate True and False Intentions

Karl Ask et al.
Applied Cognitive Psychology, forthcoming

This research presents a novel approach to discriminating between true and deceptive statements about intended future behavior. Arguing that true intentions are goal-directed, we predict that people who genuinely intend to pursue a reported goal will implicitly evaluate goal-relevant cues positively, whereas people who do not intend to pursue the goal will not. Participants in an experiment were instructed to tell the truth about a planned future behavior (true intention) or to falsely report that same behavior to mask their actual mock-criminal intention (false intention). As predicted, an evaluative priming task showed that participants with true intention exhibited implicit positive evaluations of cues relevant to the reported goal, whereas participants with false intention did not. Subsequent analyses showed that implicit positivity significantly discriminated between true and false intentions. The findings are discussed in terms of theoretical contributions and implications for the development of future detection tools.

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