Get control

Kevin Lewis

November 08, 2014

The Origins of Savings Behavior

Henrik Cronqvist & Stephan Siegel
Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming

Analyzing the savings behavior of a large sample of identical and fraternal twins, we find that genetic differences explain about 33 percent of the variation in savings propensities across individuals. Individuals are born with a persistent genetic predisposition to a specific savings behavior. Parenting contributes to the variation in savings rates among younger individuals, but its effect decays over time. The environment when growing up (e.g., parents’ wealth) moderates genetic effects. Finally, savings behavior is genetically correlated with income growth, smoking, and obesity, suggesting that the genetic component of savings behavior reflects genetic variation in time preferences or self-control.


The Decimal Effect: Behavioral and Neural Bases for a Novel Influence on Intertemporal Choice in Healthy Individuals and in ADHD

Catherine Fassbender et al.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, November 2014, Pages 2455-2468

We identify a novel contextual variable that alters the evaluation of delayed rewards in healthy participants and those diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When intertemporal choices are constructed of monetary outcomes with rounded values (e.g., $25.00), discount rates are greater than when the rewards have nonzero decimal values (e.g., $25.12). This finding is well explained within a dual system framework for temporal discounting in which preferences are constructed from separate affective and deliberative processes. Specifically, we find that round dollar values produce greater positive affect than do nonzero decimal values. This suggests that relative involvement of affective processes may underlie our observed difference in intertemporal preferences. Furthermore, we demonstrate that intertemporal choices with rounded values recruit greater brain responses in the nucleus accumbens to a degree that correlates with the size of the behavioral effect across participants. Our demonstration that a simple contextual manipulation can alter self-control in ADHD has implications for treatment of individuals with disorders of impulsivity. Overall, the decimal effect highlights mechanisms by which the properties of a reward bias perceived value and consequent preferences.


The slow and fast life histories of early birds and night owls: Their future- or present-orientation accounts for their sexually monogamous or promiscuous tendencies

Davide Ponzi et al.
Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming

In this study we tested the hypothesis that inter-individual variation in morningness-eveningness (i.e., chronotype) is associated with variation in a composite measure of life history (the mini-K) such that morning-types (i.e., early birds) exhibit traits typically associated with slow life histories while evening-types (i.e., night owls) exhibit traits typically associated with fast life histories. In addition, we tested the hypothesis that time perspective may be one of the psychological mechanisms mediating the relationship between chronotype and socio-sexuality. Study participants were 95 heterosexual young men, most of whom were university students. Chronotype, life-history traits, socio-sexuality, and time perspective were assessed with well-established self-report measures. Variations in chronotype and in life-history traits were significantly associated in the direction predicted by our hypothesis. Consistent with our second hypothesis, time perspective emerged as a significant mediator of the association between chronotype and socio-sexuality so that the future orientation of morning-types was associated with their long-term mating orientation and relatively low sexual experience, while the present orientation of evening-types was associated with their short-term mating orientation and greater sexual experience. Our study provides the first evidence that variation in chronotype may be adaptive and elucidates one of the psychological mechanisms underlying the life history and reproductive strategies of male early birds and night owls.


The Benefits of Simply Observing: Mindful Attention Modulates the Link Between Motivation and Behavior

Esther Papies et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Mindful attention, a central component of mindfulness meditation, can be conceived as becoming aware of one’s thoughts and experiences and being able to observe them as transient mental events. Here, we present a series of studies demonstrating the effects of applying this metacognitive perspective to one’s spontaneous reward responses when encountering attractive stimuli. Taking a grounded cognition perspective, we argue that reward simulations in response to attractive stimuli contribute to appetitive behavior and that motivational states and traits enhance these simulations. Directing mindful attention at these thoughts and seeing them as mere mental events should break this link, such that motivational states and traits no longer affect reward simulations and appetitive behavior. To test this account, we trained participants to observe their thoughts in reaction to appetitive stimuli as mental events, using a brief procedure designed for nonmeditators. Across 3 experiments, we found that adopting the mindful attention perspective reduced the effects of motivational states and traits on appetitive behavior in 2 domains, in both the laboratory and the field. Specifically, after applying mindful attention, participants’ sexual motivation no longer made opposite-sex others seem more attractive and thus desirable as partners. Similarly, participants’ levels of hunger no longer boosted the attractiveness of unhealthy foods, resulting in healthier eating choices. We discuss these results in the context of mechanisms and applications of mindful attention and explore how mindfulness and mindful attention can be conceptualized in psychological research more generally.


Video racing games increase actual health-related risk-taking behavior

Andreas Kastenmüller, Andreas, Peter Fischer & Julia Fischer
Psychology of Popular Media Culture, October 2014, Pages 190-194

The present study investigated whether the consumption of risk-glorifying video games increases health-related risk-taking in real life. Participants were assigned to 1 of 2 conditions, whereby they either played a risk-glorifying video racing game or a risk-neutral video game for 25 minutes. Afterward, they were given the option of a saliva test in the context of a medical checkup. Our data showed that exposure to risk-glorifying video games (video racing games) increases actual general health-related risk-taking behavior. That is, players of risk-glorifying video games were significantly less likely to participate in the health checkup test than players of risk-neutral games. The potentially negative effect of risk-glorifying media on public health needs to be considered by science and politics. This is the first study showing that exposure to risk-glorifying video games actually increases real-life health-related risk-taking behavior. In addition, it is the first study showing that the impact of risk-glorifying video games is not content-specific, as it carries over from one risk-taking domain (i.e., risky driving in video games) to another completely unrelated risk-outcome domain (health-related risk-taking).


“Latent” infection with Toxoplasma gondii: Association with trait aggression and impulsivity in healthy adults

Thomas Cook et al.
Journal of Psychiatric Research, forthcoming

Background: Latent chronic infection with Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), a common neurotropic pathogen, has been previously linked with suicidal self-directed violence (SSDV). We sought to determine if latent infection with T. gondii is associated with trait aggression and impulsivity, intermediate phenotypes for suicidal behavior, in psychiatrically healthy adults.

Methods: Traits of aggression and impulsivity were analyzed in relationship to IgG antibody seropositivity for T. gondii and two other latent neurotropic infections, herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1) and cytomegalovirus (CMV. One thousand community-residing adults residing in the Munich metropolitan area with no Axis I or II conditions by SCID for DSM-IV (510 men, 490 women, mean age 53.6 ± 15.8, range 20-74). Plasma samples were tested for IgG antibodies to T. gondii, HSV-1 and CMV by ELISA. Self-reported ratings of trait aggression scores (Questionnaire for Measuring Factors of Aggression [FAF]) and trait impulsivity (Sensation-Seeking Scale-V [SSS-V]) were analyzed using linear multivariate methods.

Results: T. gondii IgG seropositivity was significantly associated with higher trait reactive aggression scores among women (p<.01), but not among men. T. gondii-positivity was also associated with higher impulsive sensation-seeking (SSS-V Disinhibition) among younger men (p < .01) aged 20-59 years old (median age = 60). All associations with HSV-1 and CMV were not significant.

Conclusions: Aggression and impulsivity, personality traits considered as endophenotypes for SSDV, are associated with latent T.gondii infection in a gender and age-specific manner, and could be further investigated as prognostic and treatment targets in T.gondii-positive individuals at risk for SSDV.


The effect of construal level on risk-taking

Eva Lermer et al.
European Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming

In a series of studies, we examined the influence of people's mind-set (construal level (CL): abstract versus concrete) on their risk-taking behavior. We measured differences in CL (study 1, CL as trait) and manipulated CL (studies 1–5, CL as state) with different priming methods, which were unrelated to the dependent variable of risk-taking behavior (studies 1, 3, 4, and 5: Balloon Analog Risk Task; study 2: Angling Risk Task). In all studies, abstract CL resulted in greater risk-taking compared with concrete CL, which led to lower risk-taking. Risky and safe game strategies mediated the CL effect on risk-taking. A concrete mind-set increased the safe game strategy, whereas an abstract mind-set increased the risky game strategy. Furthermore, different potential mediators were explored (i.e., focus on payoffs and probabilities, prevention versus promotion focus, attention to pros versus cons, and mood). A concrete mind-set increased prevention strategies and a negative mood when compared with an abstract mind-set. In turn, an abstract mind-set increased attention to pros (of an action).


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