Just doing it

Kevin Lewis

December 03, 2017

Can the positive effects of inspiration be extended to different domains?
Jack Klein, Trevor Case & Julie Fitness
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, forthcoming


It is presently unknown whether inspiration extends across different domains: can a salesperson, for example, be inspired by a successful athlete? The present study investigated whether inspirational content must be relevant to a subsequent task to improve performance. Participants (N = 70) wrote about a time they felt inspired in a sporting context (domain-relevant), creative context (domain-irrelevant); or amused (positive control). Participants then held a handgrip, with the option of giving up or continuing to exhaustion. Regardless of the relevance of the inspirational content to the performance task, inspired participants were less likely to give up than controls. This is the first research to show that the benefits of inspiration reach beyond the domain defined by the inspiring event.

Boredom increases impulsiveness: A meaning-regulation perspective
Andrew Moynihan, Eric Igou & Wijnand van Tilburg
Social Psychology, September/October 2017, Pages 293-309


High (vs. low) levels of boredom are associated with greater (vs. lesser) impulsiveness. It is important to examine the psychological processes that link boredom and impulsiveness to understand this relationship. We propose that heightened impulsiveness in response to boredom partly stems from people’s attempts to deal with meaninglessness when bored. In Studies 1–2, we found that perceived meaninglessness, characteristic of boredom, mediated the relationship between boredom and impulsiveness. In Study 3, we additionally hypothesized that self-awareness serves as a catalyst of boredom-induced impulsiveness by highlighting meaninglessness. Accordingly, Study 3 showed that manipulated boredom promoted impulsiveness through meaninglessness, particularly at greater levels of self-awareness. These studies support our hypothesis that impulsiveness is a response to boredom and the meaninglessness that boredom signals.

Modulating musical reward sensitivity up and down with transcranial magnetic stimulation
Ernest Mas-Herrero, Alain Dagher & Robert Zatorre
Nature Human Behaviour, November 2017


Humans have the unique capacity to experience pleasure from aesthetic stimuli, such as art and music. Recent neuroimaging findings with music have led to a model in which mesolimbic striatal circuits interact with cortical systems to generate expectancies leading to pleasure. However, neuroimaging approaches are correlational. Here, we provide causal evidence for the model by combining transcranial magnetic stimulation over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to directly modulate fronto-striatal function bidirectionally together with measures of pleasure and motivation during music listening. Our results show that perceived pleasure, psychophysiological measures of emotional arousal, and the monetary value assigned to music, are all significantly increased by exciting fronto-striatal pathways, whereas inhibition of this system leads to decreases in all of these variables compared with sham stimulation. These findings support the hypothesis that fronto-striatal function causally mediates both the affective responses and motivational aspects of music-induced reward, and provide insights into how aesthetic responses emerge in the human brain.

Positive valence music restores executive control over sustained attention
Carryl Baldwin & Bridget Lewis
PLoS ONE, November 2017


Music sometimes improves performance in sustained attention tasks. But the type of music employed in previous investigations has varied considerably, which can account for equivocal results. Progress has been hampered by lack of a systematic database of music varying in key characteristics like tempo and valence. The aims of this study were to establish a database of popular music varying along the dimensions of tempo and valence and to examine the impact of music varying along these dimensions on restoring attentional resources following performance of a sustained attention to response task (SART) vigil. Sixty-nine participants rated popular musical selections that varied in valence and tempo to establish a database of four musical types: fast tempo positive valence, fast tempo negative valence, slow tempo positive valence, and slow tempo negative valence. A second group of 89 participants performed two blocks of the SART task interspersed with either no break or a rest break consisting of 1 of the 4 types of music or silence. Presenting positive valence music (particularly of slow tempo) during an intermission between two successive blocks of the SART significantly decreased miss rates relative to negative valence music or silence. Results support an attentional restoration theory of the impact of music on sustained attention, rather than arousal theory and demonstrate a means of restoring sustained attention. Further, the results establish the validity of a music database that will facilitate further investigations of the impact of music on performance.

Self-Control: Knowledge or Perishable Resource?
Marco Palma et al.
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, January 2018, Pages 80-94


The self-control literature suggests two main short-run models with contradictory predictions. By perceiving self-control as a knowledge or perishable resource, those models report a positive and negative impact, respectively, of an initial self-control act on subsequent self-control ability. Using biometric data to monitor compliance enabled us to develop a unified self-control model, reconciling the diverging results in the literature. We find evidence of a dual impact of an initial self-control act on subsequent impulse buying self-control ability. Specifically, while an initial moderate self-control act enhances subsequent self-control ability, exerting self-control beyond a certain threshold causes fatigue reducing subsequent self-control ability.

The effect of acute pain on risky and intertemporal choice
Lina Koppel et al.
Experimental Economics, December 2017, Pages 878–893


Pain is a highly salient and attention-demanding experience that motivates people to act. We investigated the effect of pain on decision making by delivering acute thermal pain to participants’ forearm while they made risky and intertemporal choices involving money. Participants (n = 107) were more risk seeking under pain than in a no-pain control condition when decisions involved gains but not when they involved equivalent losses. Pain also resulted in greater preference for immediate (smaller) over future (larger) monetary rewards. We interpret these results as a motivation to offset the aversive, pain-induced state, where monetary rewards become more appealing under pain than under no pain and when delivered sooner rather than later. Our findings add to the long-standing debate regarding the role of intuition and reflection in decision making.

Personal conflict impairs performance on an unrelated self-control task: Lingering costs of uncertainty and conflict
Jessica Alquist et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, January 2018, Pages 157-160


People have the ability to make important choices in their lives, but deliberating about these choices can have costs. The present study was designed to test the hypothesis that writing about conflicted personal goals and values (conflict condition) would impair self-control on an unrelated subsequent task as compared to writing about clear personal goals and values (clarity condition). Personal conflict activates the behavioral inhibition system (BIS; Hirsh, Mar, & Peterson, 2012), which may make it harder for participants to successfully execute self-control. In this large (N = 337), pre-registered study participants in the conflict condition performed worse on anagrams than participants in the clarity condition, and the effect of condition on anagram performance was mediated by a subjective uncertainty measure of BIS activation. This suggests that BIS activation leads to poor self-control. Moreover, given that conflict is inherent in the exercise of self-control, results point to BIS activation as a mechanism for why initial acts of self-control impair self-control on subsequent, unrelated tasks.

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