Paralysis deniers could be helped by seeing video of themselves

People with limb paralysis caused by a recent stroke or brain injury often deny that they have a problem - a condition known as "anosognosia". As well as being a neurological curiosity, anosognosia has serious practical implications. Such patients often won't cooperate in rehabilitation exercises or will deny they need certain medications. Now Aikaterini Fotopoulou and colleagues think they may have stumbled on a way to ameliorate the condition.

The intervention involves the patient watching a video of themselves attempting to perform a given movement instruction. Fotopoulou's team tested this on a 67-year-old women who for 22 days since her stroke had displayed anosognosia for her left-sided paralysis. For example, when asked to reach the doctor's hand with her left hand, she would consistently use her right hand. She knew it was her right hand but couldn't or wouldn't explain why she hadn't reached with her left.

By contrast, when the woman was shown a 90 second video clip of herself performing these tests, she showed sudden and immediate insight into her condition. "I cannot move at all," she said. Asked what made her change her mind, she said: "The video. I did not realise I looked like this." Anosognosic symptoms do usually fade with time, but not in an abrupt fashion like this.

The researchers explained that different regions in the brain support a first-person and third-person recognition of ourselves and it's possible that the areas supporting a third-person perspective were spared in this woman (and likely will be in many other people with anosognosia too), thus allowing her to appreciate the reality of her condition on the video.

Another explanation for the finding is that there may be a difference between a patient's insight during an attempted movement and their insight when watching themselves retrospectively.

This would be consistent with another recent study by Fotopoulou's group, in which patients with anosognosia had to judge whether a prosthetic hand, made to look like their own, had moved or not. The patients, but not controls, were more likely to erroneously report the hand had moved if they'd simultaneously been planning a movement of their own. In other words, the patient's intention to move seemed to override the visual feedback showing that no movement had occurred. In the current study, the patient may have understood events when watching the video because she wasn't engaged in any concurrent attempt to move.

ResearchBlogging.orgFotopoulou, A., Rudd, A., Holmes, P., & Kopelman, M. (2009). Self-observation reinstates motor awareness in anosognosia for hemiplegia Neuropsychologia, 47 (5), 1256-1260 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.01.018
You have read this article Brain / Cognition / Unusual case studies with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

The Special Issue Spotter

We trawl the world's journals so you don't have to:

The Psychology of Health Disparities Among African Americans (Journal of Black Psychology).

Music and Intergroup Relations Research (Group Processes & Intergroup Relations).

Are high self-control and self-esteem always a good thing? Two Sides to Every Self-process: The Pros and Cons (Self and Identity).

Psychotherapy and therapeutic photography (European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling).

Personality and Culture (European Journal of Personality).

Borderline Personality Disorder (Personality and Mental Health).

Personality and Assessment at Age 40: Reflections on the Past Person–Situation Debate and Emerging Directions of Future Person-Situation Integration (Journal of Research in Personality).

Debates and Critiques within Investigative Psychology (Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling).

Autism and talent (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B).
You have read this article Special Issue Spotter with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

How Obama could be bad for racial equality

America may have a Black president, but the country's racial inequalities, in relation to education, health, incarceration, and wealth, remain rife. In two new studies, psychologists have documented effects that suggest the election of President Obama could, ironically, exacerbate this racial inequality rather than help eradicate it.

Daniel Effron and colleagues presented dozens of predominantly White undergrad students with one of two scenarios that would reveal their favouritism towards White people: one was a hiring decision, the other related to the allocation of funds to communities. Crucially, the students were asked to make their choices about the hiring or funding either before or after they had declared whether they planned to vote for Barack Obama, in what was then the upcoming Presidential election.

Students who declared their intention to vote for Obama before making the hiring/funding decisions subsequently showed more favouritism towards White people than did students who made their decisions first. A third study showed this effect was particularly apparent among more racially prejudiced students.

"Our findings raise the possibility that the opportunity to vote for an African-American for President could have reduced some voters' concerns about appearing prejudiced, thereby ironically increasing the likelihood that they would favour Whites in subsequent decisions," the researchers said.

In a separate study, Cheryl Kaiser and colleagues compared the support of dozens of predominantly White undergrad students for anti-racist social policies ten days prior to, and one week after, the election of President Obama. They found that support for anti-racist social policies - for example, encouraging diversity in business - was lower after Obama's election compared with before. The students also stated that America had made more progress towards racial progress, and they expressed more support for meritocracy, when asked after Obama's election compared with when they were asked before.

"Barack Obama's presidential victory may have ironic and unintended consequences for remedying racial injustice in the United States," Kaiser's team said. "Specifically, construing President Barack Obama's victory as an achievement in race relations may hinder efforts to eliminate the racial disparities that continue to plague and divide the United States."

ResearchBlogging.orgKaiser, C., Drury, B., Spalding, K., Cheryan, S., & O’Brien, L. (2009). The ironic consequences of Obama’s election: Decreased support for social justice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (3), 556-559 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.01.006

Effron, D., Cameron, J., & Monin, B. (2009). Endorsing Obama licenses favoring Whites. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (3), 590-593 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.02.001
You have read this article Political / Social with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

It's those Voodoo correlations again ... brain imagers accused of "double dipping"

This time there's no explicit naming and shaming, and the title may not be as colourful, but a new study out today in prestige journal Nature Neuroscience echoes many of the same concerns voiced earlier this year in the leaked paper "Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience" (since renamed as "Puzzlingly High Correlations ..."). And the new paper's implications are surely just as profound for the cognitive neuroscience community.

Nikolaus Kriegeskorte and colleagues analysed all the fMRI studies published in Nature, Science, Nature Neuroscience, Neuron and Journal of Neuroscience, in 2008, and found that 42 per cent of these 134 papers were guilty of performing at least one non-independent selective analysis - what Kriegeskorte's team dub "double dipping".

This is the procedure, also condemned by the Voodoo paper, in which researchers first perform an all-over analysis to find a brain region(s) that responds to the condition of interest, before going on to test their hypothesis on data collected in just that brain region. The cardinal sin is that the same data are used in both stages.

A similarly flawed approach can be seen in brain imaging studies that claim to be able to discern a presented stimulus from patterns of activity recorded in a given brain area. These are the kind of studies that lead to "mind reading" headlines in the popular press. In this case, the alleged statistical crime is to use the same data for the training phase of pattern extraction and the subsequent hypothesis testing phase.

Kriegeskorte's claim is not that all the studies guilty of this procedure are invalid, but that their data will have been distorted to varying degrees. "To decide which neuroscientific claims hold, the community needs to carefully consider each particular case, guided by both neuroscientific and statistical expertise," they wrote.

To support their case, Kriegeskorte's team performed two "mock" experiments of the "region of interest" and "pattern extraction" types. In each case they showed how double-dipping can drastically distort results. For example, in a mock pattern-information analysis they achieved a significant result with double-dipping even after feeding purely random data into the analysis.

The ramifications of these statistical observations don't end with brain imaging. They also have implications for work with electroencephalography, in which researchers are prone to use the same data for selecting relevant channels and testing hypotheses, and for research using single-cell recording.

"A circular analysis is one whose assumptions distort its results," the authors concluded. "We have demonstrated that practices that are widespread in neuroimaging are affected by circularity."

UPDATE: A freely available PDF of supplementary info, including how to spot circular analyses and a proposed policy for preventing distortion of data, is now available at Nature Neuroscience. 

ResearchBlogging.orgKriegeskorte, N., Simmons, W.K., Bellgowan, P.S.F., & Baker, C.I. (2009). Circular analysis in systems neuroscience: the dangers of double dipping Nature Neuroscience. In Press.
You have read this article Brain / Methodological with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

Classroom lighting could be harming pupils' performance

Lighting conditions in UK classrooms could be needlessly harming children's school performance, psychologists have claimed. Mark Winterbottom and Arnold Wilkins assessed 90 classrooms in 11 secondary schools across the UK during the Summer of 2006.

Past research has shown that fluorescent lights that flicker imperceptibly at a rate of 100Hz are harmful to mental performance. They're easily replaced by more efficient and less harmful lights, yet Winterbottom and Wilkins found 20 per cent of classrooms were lit solely by the harmful variety. In the remaining classrooms, an average of 90 per cent of lighting was of the harmful variety.

Excess or inadequate luminance is another problem in classrooms, usually caused by a lack of control over lighting in different areas of a room. The researchers found that luminance exceeded recommended levels in 88 per cent of the classrooms they investigated. More fine-tuned light control and more use and servicing of blinds could easily ameliorate these issues.

Another lighting problem, brought about since the introduction of data projectors into classrooms, is glare reflecting off the projection screen into pupils' eyes. The researchers found that all bar one of the classrooms they studied had equipment arranged in such a way as to exacerbate this problem, with projectors on the ceiling and screens mounted vertically. The situation can be improved by tilting the screen upwards slightly, so that the glare is directed towards the ceiling.

"Most of these problems are unnecessary and appear due to poor policy decisions," Winterbottom and Wilkins concluded. "In most cases, action to correct the problems would be simple, and any costs would be offset in the medium term, due to increased efficiency, reduction of wastage, and benefits in terms of health of pupils and staff."

ResearchBlogging.orgWinterbottom, M., & Wilkins, A. (2009). Lighting and discomfort in the classroom. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29 (1), 63-75 DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2008.11.007
You have read this article Educational / environmental with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!


Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

Children's understanding of common psychological problems.

Exposure to violent games and films makes us less likely to help others.

Stalkers of royalty.

Does the stereotype of single people (without a romantic partner) hold up to scrutiny?

People stand taller when they're generating words about pride.

Do you have photos on your desk?A new measure of territoriality at work.

Everything you could possibly want to know about Broca's area.

New insights into why people deliberately harm themselves.

We've been using fingerprints to catch criminals for over a century. But just how good are people at comparing fingerprints?

Being drunk is no excuse for thinking a teenage girl is older than she really is.
You have read this article Extras with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

What do children make of robot dogs?

Whether something is living or not is a crucial distinction, and it's one that children already understand by the age of five. What then do children make of the latest generation of robot pets - toys designed to be as "alive" as possible? It's a surprisingly little researched area, but with the shuttle rate of technological advance in toy-land, it's one that's bound to become increasingly relevant.

Gail Melson and colleagues filmed 72 kids, aged 7 to 15 years, playing for 45 minutes with a Sony Aibo robot dog  and for 45 minutes playing with a real-life pooch of the Australian Shepherd breed. The Sony 210 Aibo dog was the most advanced robot dog at the time this research was conducted. It was capable of walking after a pink ball, kicking and headbutting it. It could also shake itself, sit down, lie down, offer its paw, learn, and display positive and negative emotion via lights.

As well as filming the children, the researchers also asked them questions about the biological (e.g. does X eat?), mental (e.g. can X feel happy?), and social (e.g. does X like you?) properties of the two dogs, as well as their moral standing (e.g. is it OK or not OK to hit X?). 

The picture that emerged was mixed. On the one hand, the children clearly saw the real dog as more real and alive than the robot dog. They also examined the robot dog as if it were an object rather than a creature - prodding it and picking it up. On the other hand, there were signs that the children saw the robot dog as more than a mere toy. For example, over 80 per cent of the children spoke and gave commands to the robot dog as often as they did to the real dog. Nearly half the children petted the robot dog gently at least once, despite its metallic surface. Moreover, the children were no more likely to say it was okay to hit the robot dog than they were to say it was okay to hit the real dog! In all cases there was a trend for older children to see the robot dog as less real.

"These children were surprisingly willing to treat the robot dog as 'dog like'," the researchers concluded. "...[S]uch findings may be evidence of the emergence of a new ontological category, neither artifact nor living being."

ResearchBlogging.orgMelson, G., Kahn Jr., P., Beck, A., Friedman, B., Roberts, T., Garrett, E., & Gill, B. (2009). Children's behavior toward and understanding of robotic and living dogs. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30 (2), 92-102 DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2008.10.011
You have read this article Developmental with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

Ageist youths more likely to have heart problems in old age

A longitudinal study has identified a link between people's belief in age stereotypes when they're younger and their likelihood of suffering a cardiovascular illness when they get older.

Becca Levy and colleagues used data collected from 1968 onwards from 386 people regarding their belief in age stereotypes. The participants, who were aged 36.5 years on average when first approached, had stated their agreement with views like "old people are helpless".

Levy's team then looked to see which participants had suffered a cardiovascular illness such as heart attack or stroke between 1968 and 2007. There were 89 such cardiovascular events in total.

Amazingly, participants who earlier held negative views about older people were subsequently more likely to suffer a cardiovascular illness over the next 38 years, than were the participants who had held more positive views about ageing. For example, 30 years after the questions about ageing, 25 per cent of those who'd espoused negative views had suffered an illness compared with just 13 per cent of those who'd held positive views.

Crucially, this association held even after controlling for a raft of other factors that might have explained the link, including health at baseline, family medical history and body mass index at baseline. "This finding suggests that programmes aimed at reducing the negative age stereotypes of younger individuals could benefit their cardiovascular health when they become older individuals," the researchers said.

The Digest asked Becca Levy what the possible mechanism underlying the link between earlier views and later health could be. "In previous studies we have found that age stereotype can impact how older individuals take in stressors," she said, "such that those with exposure to more negative age stereotypes tended to have an exaggerated cardiovascular response to stressors whereas those exposed to more positive age stereotypes tend to be protected." In other words, people's own age prejudices could be making them more vulnerable to the harmful effects of stress later in life. Another possibility, Levy said, was that people with negative views of old age tend to take less good care of themselves as they get older - perhaps attending fewer health appointments or performing less exercise.

ResearchBlogging.orgLevy, B., Zonderman, A., Slade, M., & Ferrucci, L. (2009). Age Stereotypes Held Earlier in Life Predict Cardiovascular Events in Later Life. Psychological Science, 20 (3), 296-298 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02298.x
You have read this article Health with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

Simple psychological intervention boosts school performance of ethnic minority students

Fear of failure at school can be crippling, especially for ethnic minority students. Research shows it's all too common for them to fear that their own poor performance will reinforce negative stereotypes. Unfortunately this anxiety only serves to undermine their achievement, thus perpetuating the cycle. Now Geoff Cohen and colleagues have shown a simple psychological intervention based on self-affirmation can help prevent this downward spiral, leading to academic benefits up to two years' later.

The intervention involved twelve-year-old students at an American school choosing one or more values, such as relationships with friends or family, music, art, politics, and so on, and then spending 10 minutes writing about why those values were important to them. Doing this has been shown in past research to reduce stress and to bolster people's ability to withstand the threat of failure.

Students in the intervention group did this three to five times over the course of a year. To test whether the intervention needs boosting, half of these students subsequently repeated the intervention two to four times over a second yearly period, whilst the other half did not.

For African American students, completing this intervention had a beneficial effect on their academic grades both early on in the study and at the end of the two-year period (a boost of approximately half a grade), compared with students who completed a neutral control intervention, which required them to write about their morning routine. Students completing the intervention were also less likely to be put into a remediation class for poorly performing students.

African American students who were lower performers at the study start showed greater benefit from the intervention, thus supporting the researchers' contention that the intervention works by putting the brakes on a negative cycle.

Moreover, the African American students who received the intervention in just the first year showed just as much benefit two years on as did those students who carried on receiving the intervention throughout the study. This shows that the effect of the intervention is long-lasting and does not need to be boosted over time. European American students, in the majority at the school, did not benefit from the intervention, regardless of their initial academic performance.

"The findings demonstrate how initial psychological processes, triggered by an apparently subtle intervention, can have psychological and pragmatic effects that perpetuate themselves over extended time spans," the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgGeoffrey Cohen, Julio Garcia, Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, Nancy Apfel, & Patricia Brzustoski (2009). Recursive Processes in Self-Affirmation: Intervening to Close the Minority Achievement Gap. Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1170769
You have read this article Educational / Social with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

Eating a BLT at the BBC - we love our acronyms but are they really words?

Here in the UK we love our acronyms. Whether we're watching the BBC, proud of the RAF, donating to the RSPCA, or taking the car in for its MOT, Marc Brysbaert and colleagues observe in their new study that the sheer number of acronyms can be overwhelming for foreigners visiting the country. Such practicalities aside, acronyms represent a further curiosity for psychologists studying language because they seem to be treated by fluent speakers as if they are words and yet they break all the orthographic rules of the language. Consider the BBC - no proper words in English lack a vowel, start with BB, or end with BC.

To test whether acronyms really are treated like words, Brysbaert's team used a procedure known as "masked associative priming". This is the finding that a target word is recognised more quickly as a word if it is preceded by a subliminally presented (i.e. one presented too quickly to be consciously seen) word with a related meaning. For example, asked to say as quickly as possible whether "toad" is a real word or not, participants will be much quicker to respond if "toad" was preceded by subliminal presentation of "frog".

For this experiment, Brysbaert and his colleagues used acronyms in an associative priming task and found that, just like words, they too exert a priming effect. Twenty-four participants were faster to recognise a string of letters as a real word when it was preceded by a related acronym - for example, "sandwich" preceded by subliminal presentation of "BLT" (which stands for bacon, lettuce and tomato). The effect shows that the meaning of the acronyms was decoded rapidly, without conscious awareness, just as happens with prime words. What's more, the effect was found whether acronyms were shown as all capitals, as they are normally encountered, or in a mix of lower and upper case, further showing that they really do seem to be treated like proper words.

"Whether this may be interpreted as an encouragement to further increase the number of acronyms in the English language is a different matter that cannot be addressed on the basis of the present data," the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgBrysbaert, M., Speybroeck, S., & Vanderelst, D. (2009). Is there room for the BBC in the mental lexicon? On the recognition of acronyms. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-11 DOI: 10.1080/17470210802585471
You have read this article Language with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

The Special Issue Spotter

We trawl the web so you don't have to:

Out Now: Celebrating a century of psychological research (British Journal of Psychology). Over the past 100 years, the British Journal of Psychology has helped to shape the history of psychology with influential articles written by world class researchers. Volume 100 celebrates with a special issue.

Intergenerational transmission of antisocial behaviour (Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health).

Political reconciliation (Political Psychology).

Ageing, cognition and neuroscience (European Journal of Cognitive Psychology).

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Developmental Psychobiology).

Mind, Meaning, and Language: Wittgenstein's Relevance for Psychology (New Ideas in Psychology).
You have read this article Special Issue Spotter with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

We like to exploit the luck of others

Psychologists have documented the many irrational ways we think about luck, from the fact we prefer to make our own choice in gambling games (thus increasing our sense of control) to our belief in lucky runs or hot numbers. Now Michael Wohl and Michael Enzle have extended this research by showing that we are prepared to hand over control to others if we believe they are likely to be luckier than we are. Wohl and Enzle call this "illusion of control by proxy".

Across three experiments, university students interacted with what they thought were other participants but were really stooges working for the researchers. If one of these other "participants" described themselves as really lucky, or as being in the middle of a lucky run, the participants were far more likely to want them to pick a scratch card, or to spin a roulette wheel on their behalf, than were students in a control condition with partners who didn't describe themselves as lucky. In the final experiment, student participants chose to gamble more money when their "partner" described him or herself as particularly lucky and had been given the responsibility of spinning the wheel.

"The traditional understanding of illusory control would predict that our participants would want to take direct control over the game. Instead our research showed that people readily gave up the opportunity to engage in play to maximise their perceived chance of winning," the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgWohl, M., & Enzle, M. (2009). Illusion of control by proxy: Placing one's fate in the hands of another. British Journal of Social Psychology, 48 (1), 183-200 DOI: 10.1348/014466607X258696
You have read this article Social with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

Covent Garden ballet dancers have been lifting their legs higher and higher

For the last 50 years or more, ballet dancers performing The Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden have been raising their legs progressively higher. This trend, identified by Elena Daprati and colleagues, provides a wonderful example of how aesthetic form evolves over time, reflecting a mix of changing audience taste and artistic creativity.

Deprati's team collected photographic and video archive material from performances of a single piece of choreography - the "Rose Adagio" of Act 1 of The Sleeping Beauty - that has been performed in near identical fashion for decades according to strict tradition.

Despite the strict rules, the researchers found that between 1946 and 2004 dancers have been progressively increasing the vertical angle of their leg raises. The dancers' aim appears to have been to increase the vertical line of their whole body, rather than to merely raise their leg as high as possible. If leg height was the aim, then we'd expect to see body position lean outwards to aid leg height, but in fact body position has remained relatively constant.

It's unlikely this trend for steeper leg angles is simply a reflection of dancers becoming more bendy and agile over the years. The same trend was seen even for relatively easy positions in which the leg-raising dancer is supported by a partner.

Moreover, the researchers converted the old and new dance positions into stick men and quadrilateral shapes (by connecting the end point of each limb), and found that 12 non-expert participants consistently showed a preference for the more modern positions.

It's not clear whether this means audience taste has been influenced by the dancers' steeper leg raises (this seems unlikely given the participants were non-expert) or if instead the dancers have aspired to meet audience taste and demand. Most likely, the consistent yet gradual change over time reflects an interaction between artistic innovation and audience aesthetic taste. It would be fascinating to know what an audience from the 1940s would make of the new style. Alas, this is surely impossible to test. Even if participants were recruited who enjoyed ballet in the 1940s, their tastes could well have been influenced over the years.

"At a time of increasing interaction between science and art, our work makes the strong and timely methodological point that artistic culture can be studied scientifically," the researchers said. "Artistic culture, like other human behaviours, is dynamic, measurable, and rooted in human sensory and motor experience."

ResearchBlogging.orgDaprati, E., Iosa, M., & Haggard, P. (2009). A Dance to the Music of Time: Aesthetically-Relevant Changes in Body Posture in Performing Art. PLoS ONE, 4 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005023
You have read this article Art / Cognition with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!


Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

Neurons identified that respond to scratching only when itchy.

The psychophysics of brightness.

People with autism and associated conditions may show deficits in emotion and face processing but they still exhibit a sensitivity to angry faces, as neuro-typical people do.

Aren't I fascinating? - we find it difficult to disengage attention from our own face. However, other highly-familar, high status faces had a similar effect.

Clients who get to choose what kind of treatment they receive tend to do slightly better in therapy and are less likely to drop out, meta-analysis shows.

Too much feedback can be a bad thing.

The benefits of elevation, gratitude, and admiration.

The psychology of swearing (review paper).
You have read this article Extras with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

Research Digest on Facebook

Last week Twitter, this week Facebook. That's right, you can now become a fan of the Digest over on Facebook. Please tell your friends and help spread the word about our free reports on the latest psychology research.
You have read this article Announcements with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

How to improve group decision making

When it operates efficiently, a group's decision making will nearly always outperform the ability of any one of its members working on their own. This is especially the case if the group is formed of diverse members. One problem: groups rarely work efficiently.

A new meta-analysis (pdf) of 72 studies, involving 4,795 groups and over 17,000 individuals has shown that groups tend to spend most of their time discussing the information shared by members, which is therefore redundant, rather than discussing information known only to one or a minority of members. This is important because those groups that do share unique information tend to make better decisions.

Another important factor is how much group members talk to each other. Ironically, Jessica Mesmer-Magnus and Leslie DeChurch found that groups that talked more tended to share less unique information.

"What this suggests is that teams who talk more amongst themselves aren’t necessarily sharing useful information. Therefore, they’re not actually coming to a better result. Rather, it’s more important what the teams are talking about, than how much they are talking," said Mesmer-Magnus.

Groups were also found to perform better when they engaged in so-called "intellective tasks" - that is, when they attempted to solve a problem where a correct answer exists, rather than seeking a consensus opinion or judgment.

Another important factor was discussion structure. Groups particularly benefited from sharing unique information when they employed a highly structured, more focused method of discussion.

"Teams typically possess an informational advantage over individuals, enabling diverse personal experiences, cultural viewpoints, areas of specialization, and educational backgrounds to bring forth a rich pool of information on which to base decision alternatives and relevant criteria," the researchers concluded. "However, the current findings confirm that although sharing information is important to team outcomes, teams fail to share information when they most need to do so."

Link to related Digest items, such as "forget brainstorming, try brainwriting".

ResearchBlogging.orgMesmer-Magnus, J., & DeChurch, L. (2009). Information sharing and team performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94 (2), 535-546 DOI: 10.1037/a0013773
You have read this article Decision making / Occupational with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

Adults still challenged by Piagetian task

Jean Piaget, the celebrated Swiss psychologist who founded "genetic epistemology" - the study of how knowledge develops - believed that children's understanding of the world advances in discrete stages. Central to his theory was the idea that the stage a child is at can be revealed by the mistakes they make on key tasks. Now Gaelle Leroux and colleagues have scanned the brains of adults performing one of these tasks, and they've argued their results reveal evidence of child-like thinking in the adult brain.

The task they used is the so-called "conservation of number" task. Present a child younger than seven with two rows of items (buttons, for example) and ask them to say whether the two rows contain an equal number of items or not. You'll probably find that they base their answer on the length of the rows, regardless of the actual number of items in each row. The error reveals the child's use of an inappropriate "length=number" strategy.

When Leroux's team asked nine men to perform this task, they took longer to answer when the longer row wasn't necessarily the row with most items, compared with an easier condition, in which row length and number of items always matched. Moreover, the more difficult condition, involving length-number mismatches, was associated with increased activity in a swathe of brain areas compared with the easier condition. These regions included frontal regions such as the middle frontal gyrus and anterior cingulate cortex, which are known to be involved in inhibitory control.

The researchers said their findings show that the adults were having to inhibit a child-like tendency to follow the erroneous "length=number" strategy. They also noted that these frontal brain areas involved in inhibitory control are known to develop later in childhood than other areas which are associated with more basic functions. "These developmental findings support the idea of a crucial role of executive frontal areas in solving a task like Piaget's," they said, "as they mature precisely during a period when children become able to inhibit the perceptual bias - age 7."

ResearchBlogging.orgGaëlle Leroux, Jeanne Spiess, Laure Zago, Sandrine Rossi, Amélie Lubin, Marie-Renée Turbelin, Bernard Mazoyer, Nathalie Tzourio-Mazoyer, Olivier Houdé, Marc Joliot (2009). Adult brains don't fully overcome biases that lead to incorrect performance during cognitive development: an fMRI study in young adults completing a Piaget-like task. Developmental Science, 12 (2), 326-338 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2008.00785.x
You have read this article Brain / Developmental with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

Threat of terrorism boosts people's self-esteem

Terrorists seek to subdue and coerce their targets, but ironically they may end up doing just the opposite. That's the implication of new research by Inbal Gurari and colleagues, who've shown that thinking about terrorism enhances people's self-esteem, as measured by an implicit test.

Fifty-two Jewish Irsaelis were told about recent terrorist attacks that had taken place in their country, and they were asked to indicate how many times over the last six months they'd been near to where those attacks occurred. The idea was that this would make them think about how close to danger they'd been. Participants who did this before their self-esteem was measured subsequently showed enhanced self-esteem compared with participants who had their self-esteem measured first, before thinking about the attacks.

The implicit measure of self-esteem was rather ingenious. Participants had to rate their preference for numbers and letters. Those participants displaying an abnormally high preference for letters that corresponded to their initials and to numbers corresponding to their birthday, were judged to have enhanced self-esteem.

The findings are consistent with "terror-management theory", which is the idea that reminders of our mortality leads us to seek comfort by boosting our self-esteem and seeking meaning in the world. The findings also match the way populations have been seen to respond after real-life terrorist attacks. For example, after 9/11 the American flag was flown, religious attendance rocketed and government approval ratings soared.

"The current research suggests that the goals of terrorism - to demoralise a population - may be thwarted in part by our automatic tendency to protect ourselves under mortality salience conditions," the researchers said.

Link to related Digest item: "How thoughts of death turn to joy".
Link to further related Digest item: "Baghdad teenagers show heightened sense of self in the face of war".

ResearchBlogging.orgGurari, I., Strube, M., & Hetts, J. (2009). Death? Be Proud! The Ironic Effects of Terror Salience on Implicit Self-Esteem Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39 (2), 494-507 DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2008.00448.x
You have read this article Political / Social with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

Is less always more? Testing the limits of the choice paradox

When traditional economics claimed that consumers can only gain from having more choice, the supermarkets listened - just look at the explosion in breakfast cereal offerings! But psychology has gone and complicated things by showing that more choice can often leave people feeling less satisfied and less likely to make a purchase.

Consider the seminal paper by Iyengar and Lepper (pdf) that showed 30 per cent of participants offered a choice of 6 jams bought one, compared with just 3 per cent of participants offered 24 different jams. It seems we can be paralysed by having too much choice, perhaps because feeling you've made the wrong choice is unpleasant, and the more options there are, the more likely it is that we'll choose the wrong one.

But now Benjamin Scheibehenne and colleagues have waded into the topic with the claim that the "too-much-choice effect" has in fact failed to appear in many experiments, and with the real-life observation that shops that offer more consumer choice tend to be more successful.

In a series of experiments, Scheibehenne's team tested 598 participants who were asked to choose from among restaurants, charities and music downloads. Throughout, they varied factors that they hoped might explain why the too-much-choice effect sometimes occurs and sometimes doesn't.

Examples of these factors included the need to justify one's choice; the perceived variety of choice, as opposed to actual amount of choice; the mean attractiveness of a range of choices; cultural differences (they tested German and US students); and individual differences such as people's tendency to maximise - that is, their consistent desire to find the perfect option.

For most of the experiments, the too-much-choice effect wasn't actually observed and when it was, the only relevant factor which increased the effect was the need to justify one's choice.

"The fact that most of the variables that we tested were not sufficient to elicit choice overload suggests that the too-much-choice effect is less robust than previously thought," the researchers said.

Link to Barry Schwartz talking about the paradox of choice.

ResearchBlogging.orgScheibehenne, B., Greifeneder, R., & Todd, P. (2009). What moderates the too-much-choice effect? Psychology and Marketing, 26 (3), 229-253 DOI: 10.1002/mar.20271
You have read this article Decision making with the title April 2009. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!