Hooked on a feeling

Kevin Lewis

November 28, 2015

Experiencing haptic roughness promotes empathy

Chen Wang, Rui (Juliet) Zhu & Todd Handy
Journal of Consumer Psychology, forthcoming

Eliciting empathy plays a significant role in encouraging charitable donations. However, we know little about how incidental, contextual cues can facilitate empathy. In a series of behavioral, neuroscience, and field studies, we show that incidental exposure to haptic sensation of roughness (vs. smoothness) increases individuals' attention to the unfortunate others. Such heightened attention subsequently leads to enhanced empathic responses. These findings not only underscore the power of subtle contextual cues on shaping important behaviors, but also point to the possibility of developing novel intervention strategies for promoting empathy and prosociality.


Human emotions track changes in the acoustic environment

Weiyi Ma & William Forde Thompson
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 24 November 2015, Pages 14563–14568

Emotional responses to biologically significant events are essential for human survival. Do human emotions lawfully track changes in the acoustic environment? Here we report that changes in acoustic attributes that are well known to interact with human emotions in speech and music also trigger systematic emotional responses when they occur in environmental sounds, including sounds of human actions, animal calls, machinery, or natural phenomena, such as wind and rain. Three changes in acoustic attributes known to signal emotional states in speech and music were imposed upon 24 environmental sounds. Evaluations of stimuli indicated that human emotions track such changes in environmental sounds just as they do for speech and music. Such changes not only influenced evaluations of the sounds themselves, they also affected the way accompanying facial expressions were interpreted emotionally. The findings illustrate that human emotions are highly attuned to changes in the acoustic environment, and reignite a discussion of Charles Darwin’s hypothesis that speech and music originated from a common emotional signal system based on the imitation and modification of environmental sounds.


Crossmodal Communication: Sound Frequency Influences Consumer Responses to Color Lightness

Henrik Hagtvedt & Adam Brasel
Journal of Marketing Research, forthcoming

This research demonstrates that the synesthetic crossmodal correspondence between sound frequency and color lightness can guide visual attention: High-frequency (low-frequency) sounds guide visual attention toward light-colored (dark-colored) objects. Three eye tracking studies indicate that this influence is automatic; it arises without goals or conscious awareness, it appears to take precedence over the influence from a simultaneously occurring semantic correspondence, and it even operates despite explicit instructions to the contrary. Two additional studies highlight the potential role for this influence in marketing contexts. In Study 4, the audio frequency in a soundtrack guides visual attention in a commercial, as evidenced by recall of marketing messages. In Study 5, customers in a supermarket exposed to high-frequency (vs. low-frequency) music are more likely to purchase products from a shelf with light (vs. dark) décor.


Impact of Brand or Generic Labeling on Medication Effectiveness and Side Effects

Kate Faasse et al.
Health Psychology, forthcoming

Objective: Branding medication with a known pharmaceutical company name or product name bestows on the drug an added assurance of authenticity and effectiveness compared to a generic preparation. This study examined the impact of brand name and generic labeling on medication effectiveness and side effects.

Method: 87 undergraduate students with frequent headaches took part in the study. Using a within-subjects counterbalanced design, each participant took tablets labeled either as brand name “Nurofen” or “Generic Ibuprofen” to treat each of 4 headaches. In reality, half of the tablets were placebos, and half were active ibuprofen (400 mg). Participants recorded their headache pain on a verbal descriptor and visual analogue scale prior to taking the tablets, and again 1 hour afterward. Medication side effects were also reported.

Results: Pain reduction following the use of brand name labeled tablets was similar in active ibuprofen or a placebo. However, if the tablets had a generic label, placebo tablets were significantly less effective compared to active ibuprofen. Fewer side effects were attributed to placebo tablets with brand name labeling compared to the same placebo tablets with a generic label.

Conclusions: Branding of a tablet appears to have conferred a treatment benefit in the absence of an active ingredient, while generic labeled tablets were substantially less effective if they contained no active ingredient. Branding is also associated with reduced attribution of side effects to placebo tablets. Future interventions to improve perceptions of generics may have utility in improving treatment outcomes from generic drugs.


The smell of death: Evidence that putrescine elicits threat management mechanisms

Arnaud Wisman & Ilan Shrira
Frontiers in Psychology, August 2015

The ability to detect and respond to chemosensory threat cues in the environment plays a vital role in survival across species. However, little is known about which chemical compounds can act as olfactory threat signals in humans. We hypothesized that brief exposure to putrescine, a chemical compound produced by the breakdown of fatty acids in the decaying tissue of dead bodies, can function as a chemosensory warning signal, activating threat management responses (e.g., heightened alertness, fight-or-flight responses). This hypothesis was tested by gaging people’s responses to conscious and non-conscious exposure to putrescine. In Experiment 1, putrescine increased vigilance, as measured by a reaction time task. In Experiments 2 and 3, brief exposure to putrescine (vs. ammonia and a scentless control condition) prompted participants to walk away faster from the exposure site. Experiment 3 also showed that putrescine elicited implicit cognitions related to escape and threat. Experiment 4 found that exposure to putrescine, presented here below the threshold of conscious awareness, increased hostility toward an out-group member. Together, the results are the first to indicate that humans can process putrescine as a warning signal that mobilizes protective responses to deal with relevant threats. The implications of these results are briefly discussed.


Leveling Mountains: Purpose Attenuates Links Between Perceptions of Effort and Steepness

Anthony Burrow, Patrick Hill & Rachel Sumner
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, January 2016, Pages 94-103

People tend to overestimate the steepness of slopes, especially when they appraise the effort necessary to ascend them as greater. Recent studies, however, suggest the way individuals perceive visual stimuli may rely heavily on their personal motivations. In four studies (N = 517), purpose in life was tested as a motivational framework influencing how appraised effort relates to slope perception. Studies 1 and 2 found the amount of effort participants appraised necessary to ascend several virtual slopes was related to greater overestimation of their steepness. Yet, this relationship was attenuated by purpose assessed both as a disposition and experimental manipulation. Studies 3 and 4 replicated these findings using actual hills, again showing links between the amount of effort thought required to ascend them and their perceived angle were diminished by greater purpose. The discussion addresses implications of purpose as a broad motivational framework that shapes how individuals see their environment.


Self-Rated Health in Healthy Adults and Susceptibility to the Common Cold

Sheldon Cohen, Denise Janicki-Deverts & William Doyle
Psychosomatic Medicine, November/December 2015, Pages 959–968

Objectives: To explore the association of self-rated health (SRH) with host resistance to illness after exposure to a common cold virus and identify mechanisms linking SRH to future health status.

Methods: We analyzed archival data from 360 healthy adults (mean [standard deviation] age = 33.07 [10.69] years, 45.6% women). Each person completed validated questionnaires that assessed SRH (excellent, very good, good, fair, poor), socioemotional factors, and health practices and was subsequently exposed to a common cold virus and monitored for 5 days for clinical illness (infection and objective signs of illness).

Results: Poorer SRH was associated in a graded fashion with greater susceptibility to developing clinical illness (good/fair versus excellent: odds ratio = 3.21, 95% confidence interval = 1.47–6.99; very good versus excellent: odds ratio = 2.60, 95% confidence interval = 1.27–5.32), independent of age, sex, race, prechallenge immunity (specific antibody), body mass, season, education, and income. Greater illness risk was not attributable to infection, but to increased likelihood of developing objective signs of illness once infected. Poorer SRH also correlated with poorer health practices, increased stress, lower positive emotions, and other socioemotional factors. However, none of these (alone or together) accounted for the association between SRH and host resistance. Additional data (separate study) indicated that history of having colds was unrelated to susceptibility and hence also did not account for the SRH link with immunocompetence.

Conclusions: Poorer SRH is associated with poorer immunocompetence, possibly reflecting sensitivity to sensations associated with premorbid immune dysfunction. In turn, poorer immune function may be a major contributing mechanism linking SRH to future health.

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