Open Your Mind

Kevin Lewis

February 04, 2012

Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories

Michael Wood, Karen Douglas & Robbie Sutton
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

Conspiracy theories can form a monological belief system: A self-sustaining worldview comprised of a network of mutually supportive beliefs. The present research shows that even mutually incompatible conspiracy theories are positively correlated in endorsement. In Study 1 (n = 137), the more participants believed that Princess Diana faked her own death, the more they believed that she was murdered. In Study 2 (n = 102), the more participants believed that Osama Bin Laden was already dead when U.S. special forces raided his compound in Pakistan, the more they believed he is still alive. Hierarchical regression models showed that mutually incompatible conspiracy theories are positively associated because both are associated with the view that the authorities are engaged in a cover-up (Study 2). The monological nature of conspiracy belief appears to be driven not by conspiracy theories directly supporting one another but by broader beliefs supporting conspiracy theories in general.


Feeling the Future: The Emotional Oracle Effect

Michel Tuan Pham, Leonard Lee & Andrew Stephen
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming

Eight studies reveal an intriguing phenomenon: Individuals who have higher trust in their feelings can predict the outcomes of future events better than individuals with lower trust in their feelings. This emotional oracle effect was found across a variety of prediction domains, including (a) the 2008 U.S. Democratic presidential nomination, (b) movie box-office success, (c) the winner of American Idol, (d) the stock market, (e) college football, and even (f) the weather. It is mostly high trust in feelings that improves prediction accuracy rather than low trust in feelings that impairs it. However, the effect occurs only among individuals who possess sufficient background knowledge about the prediction domain, and dissipates when the prediction criterion becomes inherently unpredictable. The authors hypothesize that the effect arises because trusting one's feelings encourages access to a "privileged window" into the vast amount of predictive information that people learn, often unconsciously, about their environments.


Reducing Information Avoidance Through Affirmation

Jennifer Howell & James Shepperd
Psychological Science, February 2012, Pages 141-145

Although screening for medical problems can have health benefits, the potentially threatening nature of the results can lead people to avoid screening. In three studies, we examined whether affirming people's self-worth reduces their avoidance of medical-screening feedback. Participants completed an online risk calculator for a fictitious medical condition and then were offered a choice to receive or not receive their risk feedback. Our results showed that affirmation decreased participants' avoidance of risk feedback (Study 1) and eliminated the increased avoidance typically observed when risk feedback might obligate people to engage in undesired behavior (Study 2) and when feedback is about risk for an untreatable disease (Study 3). These findings suggest that affirmation may be an effective strategy for increasing rates of medical screening.


Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving

Andrew Jarosz, Gregory Colflesh & Jennifer Wiley
Consciousness and Cognition, forthcoming

That alcohol provides a benefit to creative processes has long been assumed by popular culture, but to date has not been tested. The current experiment tested the effects of moderate alcohol intoxication on a common creative problem solving task, the Remote Associates Test (RAT). Individuals were brought to a blood alcohol content of approximately .075, and, after reaching peak intoxication, completed a battery of RAT items. Intoxicated individuals solved more RAT items, in less time, and were more likely to perceive their solutions as the result of a sudden insight. Results are interpreted from an attentional control perspective.


The Presenter's Paradox

Kimberlee Weaver, Stephen Garcia & Norbert Schwartz
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming

This analysis introduces the Presenter's Paradox. Robust findings in impression formation demonstrate that perceivers' judgments show a weighted averaging pattern, which results in less favorable evaluations when mildly favorable information is added to highly favorable information. Across seven studies, we show that presenters do not anticipate this averaging pattern on the part of evaluators and instead design presentations that include all of the favorable information available. This additive strategy ("more is better") hurts presenters in the perceivers' eyes because mildly favorable information dilutes the impact of highly favorable information. For example, presenters choose to spend more money to make a product bundle look more costly, even though doing so actually cheapened its value from the evaluators' perspective (study 1). Additional studies demonstrate the robustness of the effect, investigate the psychological processes underlying it, and examine its implications for a variety of marketing contexts.


Foresight, insight, oversight, and hindsight in scientific discovery: How sighted were Galileo's telescopic sightings?

Dean Simonton
Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, forthcoming

Galileo Galilei's celebrated contributions to astronomy are used as case studies in the psychology of scientific discovery. Particular attention was devoted to the involvement of foresight, insight, oversight, and hindsight. These four mental acts concern, in divergent ways, the relative degree of "sightedness" in Galileo's discovery process and accordingly have implications for evaluating the blind-variation and selective-retention (BVSR) theory of creativity and discovery. Scrutiny of the biographical and historical details indicates that Galileo's mental processes were far less sighted than often depicted in retrospective accounts. Hindsight biases clearly tend to underline his insights and foresights while ignoring his very frequent and substantial oversights. Of special importance was how Galileo was able to create a domain-specific expertise where no such expertise previously existed - in part by exploiting his extensive knowledge and skill in the visual arts. Galileo's success as an astronomer was founded partly and "blindly" on his artistic avocations. The investigation closes by briefly discussing Antonie van Leeuwenhoek's similar creation of microscopic biology. This parallel case indicates that Galileo's telescopic astronomy was probably not unique as an illustration of how scientific discovery works in practice.


Embodied Metaphors and Creative "Acts"

Angela Leung et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Creativity is a highly sought after skill. To inspire people's creativity, prescriptive advice in the form of metaphors abound: We are encouraged to think outside the box, to consider the problem on one hand, then on the other hand, and to put two and two together to achieve creative breakthroughs. These metaphors suggest a connection between concrete bodily experiences and creative cognition. Inspired by recent advances on body-mind linkages under the emerging vernacular of embodied cognition, we explored for the first time whether enacting metaphors for creativity enhances creative problem-solving. In five studies, findings revealed that both physically and psychologically embodying creative metaphors promote fluency, flexibility, and/or originality in problem-solving. Going beyond prior research that focused primarily on the kind of embodiment that primes preexisting knowledge, we provide the first evidence that embodiment can also activate cognitive processes conducive for generating previously unknown ideas and connections.


Protective Factors for Adults From Low-Childhood Socioeconomic Circumstances: The Benefits of Shift-and-Persist for Allostatic Load

Edith Chen et al.
Psychosomatic Medicine, forthcoming

Objective: Low socioeconomic status (SES) early in life is one of the most well-established social predictors of poor health. However, little is understood about why some adults who grew up in low-SES environments do not have poor health outcomes. This study examined whether the psychological characteristic of "shift-and-persist" protects adults from the physiological risks of growing up in low-SES households. Shift-and-persist consists of reframing appraisals of current stressors more positively (shifting), while simultaneously persisting with a focus on the future. We hypothesized that this characteristic would be associated with reduced physiological risk in low-childhood SES individuals.

Methods: A national sample of 1207 adults (aged 25-74 years) from the Survey of Midlife Development in the United States completed psychological questionnaires and were queried about parent education. Biologic assessments consisted of 24 different measures across seven physiological systems, from which a composite measure representing cumulative physiological risk (allostatic load) was derived.

Results: Among adults who grew up in low-SES households, those who engaged in high-shift-and-high-persist strategies had the lowest allostatic load (b = -0.15, p = .04). No benefit of shift-and-persist was found for those from higher-childhood SES backgrounds (p = .36).

Conclusions: Identifying the health-related protective qualities that naturally occur in some low-SES individuals represents one important approach for developing future health improvement interventions for those who start out life low in SES. Moreover, the psychological qualities that are protective from future disease risk for those from low-SES backgrounds are different from those beneficial to high-SES individuals.


Empathy Manipulation Impacts Music-Induced Emotions: A Psychophysiological Study on Opera

Andrei Miu & Felicia Rodica Balteş
PLoS ONE, January 2012, e30618

This study investigated the effects of voluntarily empathizing with a musical performer (i.e., cognitive empathy) on music-induced emotions and their underlying physiological activity. N = 56 participants watched video-clips of two operatic compositions performed in concerts, with low or high empathy instructions. Heart rate and heart rate variability, skin conductance level (SCL), and respiration rate (RR) were measured during music listening, and music-induced emotions were quantified using the Geneva Emotional Music Scale immediately after music listening. Listening to the aria with sad content in a high empathy condition facilitated the emotion of nostalgia and decreased SCL, in comparison to the low empathy condition. Listening to the song with happy content in a high empathy condition also facilitated the emotion of power and increased RR, in comparison to the low empathy condition. To our knowledge, this study offers the first experimental evidence that cognitive empathy influences emotion psychophysiology during music listening.


Saving the Last for Best: A Positivity Bias for End Experiences

Ed O'Brien & Phoebe Ellsworth
Psychological Science, February 2012, Pages 163-165

"The research reported here demonstrates the power of endings in everyday life. Furthermore, unlike most prior research, it assessed participants' feelings as the endings occurred rather than retrospectively. Participants who knew they were eating the final chocolate of a taste test enjoyed it more, preferred it to other chocolates, and rated the overall experience as more enjoyable than participants who thought they were just eating one more chocolate in a series. These results are especially intriguing because the 'end' was somewhat artificial and impermanent (i.e., participants could still eat chocolates after finishing our experiment). This suggests that the same experience is viewed as better simply because people are aware that it is the last in a series, and this awareness influences subsequent evaluations and preferences."


Follow the crowd in a new direction: When conformity pressure facilitates group creativity (and when it does not)

Jack Goncalo & Michelle Duguid
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, forthcoming

Adopting a person by situation interaction approach, we identified conditions under which conformity pressure can either stifle or boost group creativity depending on the joint effects of norm content and group personality composition. Using a 2 × 2 × 2 experimental design, we hypothesized and found that pressure to adhere to an individualistic norm boosted creativity in groups whose members scored low on the Creative Personality Scale (Gough, 1979), but stifled creativity in groups whose members scored high on that measure. Our findings suggest that conformity pressure may be a viable mechanism for boosting group creativity, but only among those who lack creative talent.


Working Memory Benefits Creative Insight, Musical Improvisation, and Original Ideation Through Maintained Task-Focused Attention

Carsten De Dreu et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

Anecdotes from creative eminences suggest that executive control plays an important role in creativity, but scientific evidence is sparse. Invoking the Dual Pathway to Creativity Model, the authors hypothesize that working memory capacity (WMC) relates to creative performance because it enables persistent, focused, and systematic combining of elements and possibilities (persistence). Study 1 indeed showed that under cognitive load, participants performed worse on a creative insight task. Study 2 revealed positive associations between time-on-task and creativity among individuals high but not low in WMC, even after controlling for general intelligence. Study 3 revealed that across trials, semiprofessional cellists performed increasingly more creative improvisations when they had high rather than low WMC. Study 4 showed that WMC predicts original ideation because it allows persistent (rather than flexible) processing. The authors conclude that WMC benefits creativity because it enables the individual to maintain attention focused on the task and prevents undesirable mind wandering.


Tie my hands, tie my eyes

Ettore Ambrosini, Corrado Sinigaglia & Marcello Costantini
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, forthcoming

Previous studies have demonstrated that motor abilities allow us not only to execute our own actions and to predict their consequences, but also to predict others' actions and their consequences. But just how deeply are motor abilities implicated in action observation? If an observer is prevented from acting while witnessing others' actions, will this impact on their making sense of others' behavior? We recorded proactive eye movements while participants observed an actor grasping objects. The participants' hands were either freely resting on the table or tied behind their back. Proactivity of gaze behavior was dramatically impaired when participants observed others' actions with their hands tied. Since we don't literally perceive actions with our hands, the effect may be explained by the hypothesis that effective observation of action depends not only on motor abilities but on being in a position to exercise them. This suggests, for the first time, that actions are observed best when we are actually in the position to perform them.


The Role of Bolstering and Counterarguing Mind-Sets in Persuasion

Alison Jing Xu & Robert Wyer
Journal of Consumer Research, February 2012, Pages 920-932

The effect of a persuasive communication on individuals' attitudes can be influenced by the cognitive behavior they have performed in an earlier, unrelated situation. Inducing participants to make supportive elaborations about a series of propositions activated a bolstering mind-set that increased the effectiveness of an unrelated advertisement they encountered subsequently. However, inducing participants to refute the implications of a series of propositions activated a counterarguing mind-set that decreased the ad's effectiveness. These mind-sets had more impact when the cognitive behavior they activated differed from the behavior that would occur in the absence of these mind-sets. When the implications of a persuasive message were difficult to refute, inducing a counterarguing mind-set increased its effectiveness. Finally, watching a political speech or debate activated different mind-sets, depending on participants' a priori attitude toward the politicians involved, and these mind-sets influenced the impact of an unrelated commercial they considered later.


The Wisdom of the Crowd in Combinatorial Problems

Sheng Kung Michael Yi et al.
Cognitive Science, forthcoming

The "wisdom of the crowd" phenomenon refers to the finding that the aggregate of a set of proposed solutions from a group of individuals performs better than the majority of individual solutions. Most often, wisdom of the crowd effects have been investigated for problems that require single numerical estimates. We investigate whether the effect can also be observed for problems where the answer requires the coordination of multiple pieces of information. We focus on combinatorial problems such as the planar Euclidean traveling salesperson problem, minimum spanning tree problem, and a spanning tree memory task. We develop aggregation methods that combine common solution fragments into a global solution and demonstrate that these aggregate solutions outperform the majority of individual solutions. These case studies suggest that the wisdom of the crowd phenomenon might be broadly applicable to problem-solving and decision-making situations that go beyond the estimation of single numbers.


Disliked Music can be Better for Performance than Liked Music

Nick Perham & Martinne Sykora
Applied Cognitive Psychology, forthcoming

Although liked music is known to improve performance through boosting one's mood and arousal, both liked music and disliked music impair serial recall performance. Given that the key acoustical feature of this impairment is the acoustical variation, it is possible that some music may contain less acoustical variation and so produce less impairment. In this situation, unliked, unfamiliar music could be better for performance than liked, familiar music. This study tested this by asking participants to serially recall eight-item lists in either quiet, liked or disliked music conditions. Results showed that performance was significantly poorer in both music conditions compared with quiet. More importantly, performance in the liked music condition was significantly poorer than in the disliked music condition. These findings provide further illustration of the irrelevant sound effect and limitations of the impact of liked music on cognition.


The role of medial prefrontal cortex in theory of mind: A deep rTMS study

Laura Krause et al.
Behavioural Brain Research, 1 March 2012, Pages 87-90

Neuroimaging studies suggest that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) plays a central role in cognitive theory of mind (ToM). This can be assessed more definitively, however, using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). Sixteen healthy participants (10 females, 6 males) completed tasks assessing cognitive and affective ToM following low-frequency deep rTMS to bilateral mPFC in active-stimulation and placebo-stimulation sessions. There was no effect of deep rTMS on either cognitive or affective ToM performance. When examining self-reported empathy, however, there was evidence for a double dissociation: deep rTMS disrupted affective ToM performance for those with high self-reported empathy, but improved affective ToM performance for those with low self-reported empathy. mPFC appears to play a role in affective ToM processing, but the present study suggest that stimulation outcomes are dependent on baseline empathic abilities.


Dopamine receptor D4 gene variation predicts preschoolers' developing theory of mind

Christine Lackner et al.
Developmental Science, forthcoming

Individual differences in preschoolers' understanding that human action is caused by internal mental states, or representational theory of mind (RTM), are heritable, as are developmental disorders such as autism in which RTM is particularly impaired. We investigated whether polymorphisms of genes affecting dopamine (DA) utilization and metabolism constitute part of the molecular basis of this heritability. Seventy-three 42- to 54-month-olds were given a battery of RTM tasks along with other task batteries that measured executive functioning and representational understanding more generally. Polymorphisms of the dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4) were associated with RTM performance such that preschoolers with shorter alleles outperformed those with one or more longer alleles. However, polymorphisms of the catechol-O-methyl transferase gene (COMT) and the dopamine transporter gene (DAT1) genes were not associated with children's RTM performance. Further tests showed that the association between DRD4 allele length and RTM performance was not attributable to a common association with executive functioning or representational understanding more generally. We conclude that DRD4 receptors, likely via their effects on frontal lobe development and functioning, may represent a neuromaturational constraint governing the stereotypical and universal trajectory of RTM development.


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