100 Things You Should Know About People: #76 — Anticipation Trumps The Actual Experience

Ad for 4 weeks vacationYou are planning a trip, 7 months away, with your sister to the Cayman Islands. The two of you talk on the phone at least once a week, discuss the snorkeling you plan to do, and talk about the restaurants that are close to the place you are staying. You look forward to the trip for a long time.

Anticipation vs. reality — Contrast that with the actual experience of the trip and you may find that the anticipation was better than the trip. In fact, Terence Mitchell (1997) conducted research on just this situation. He studied people who were taking either a trip to Europe, a short trip over the USA Thanksgiving holiday weekend, or a 3-week bicycle tour of California.

Trip ratings differ — Before the event people looked forward to the trip with positive emotions, but during the trip their ratings of the trip were not that positive. The little disappointments that always occur while traveling colored their emotional landscape to the point where they felt less positive about the trip in general. Interestingly, a few days after the trip, the memories became rosy again.

How to Have A Great Vacation and Great Memories — While we are on the subject of vacations, here are some interesting bits of information from a variety of research. To get the most enjoyment out of vacations:

  • Several short vacations are better than one long one
  • How the vacation ends affects your long term memory of it more than what happened at the beginning or middle
  • Having an intense “peak” experience makes you more likely to remember the trip positively, even if the intense experience wasn’t necessarily positive
  • Interrupting a trip makes you enjoy the uninterrupted part even more

What do you think? If you ask customers for feedback on a product or website should you ask them while they are doing it? Or later when things are “rosy”? And if you say you want to get more “honest” feedback, which is the more honest?

For those of you who like to read the research:

Mitchell, T. R., Thompson, L., Peterson, E., & Cronk, R. (1997). Temporal adjustments in the evaluation of events: The “rosy view”. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33(4), 421-448.

 

 

 

100 Things You Should Know About People: #75 — The More Difficult Something Is To Attain, The More People Like It

Picture of man climbing up a rock face
Photo by T. Voekler

You’ve heard about fraternities that have difficult initiation rituals to get in. The idea is that if an organization is hard to get into, then the people in it like it even more than if entry was not so difficult.

More difficult = more like — The first research on this initiation effect was done by Elliott Aronson at Stanford University in 1959. Aronson set up three initiation scenarios (severe, medium and mild, although the severe was not really that severe) and randomly assigned people to the conditions. He did indeed find that the more difficult the initiation, the more people liked the group.

Cognitive dissonance theory — Leon Festinger was the social psychologist who developed the idea of cognitive dissonance theory, and Aronson uses the theory to explain why people like groups that they had to endure hardship to join. People go through this painful experience only to find themselves part of a group that is not all that exciting or interesting. But that sets up a conflict (dissonance) in their thought process – if it’s boring and uninteresting, why did I submit myself to pain and hardship? In order to reduce the dissonance then, you therefore decide that the group is really important and worthwhile. Then it makes sense that you were willing to go through all of that pain.

Scarcity and exclusivity — In addition to the theory of cognitive dissonance to explain this phenomenon, I also think scarcity comes into play. If it’s difficult to join the group then not very many people can do it. I might not be able to make it in, then I would lose out. So if I went through a lot of pain it must be good.

What do you think? Do you find you like things better if they are difficult? Does this mean we should design products that are hard to use so that people will decide in the end it was worth it? (I hope not!)

And for those of you who like to read OLD research:

Aronson, Elliot, & Mills, J. (1959). The Effect of Severity of Initiation On Liking For A Group. U.S. Army Leadership Human Research Unit.

Festinger, L., Riecken, H.W., & Schachter, S. (1956). When Prophecy Fails. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

 

 

 

100 Things You Should Know About People: #74 — Listening To Music Releases Dopamine In The Brain

 

Woman listening to music on headphones

Have you ever been listening to a piece of music and experienced intense pleasure, even chills? Valorie Salimpoor and team (2010) conducted research that shows that listening to music can release the neurotransmitter dopamine.

A wide range of music — The researchers used PET (positron emission tomography) scans, fMRI, and psychophysiological measures such as heart rate to measure reactions while people listened to music. The participants provided music that they said gave them intense pleasure and chills. The range of music varied, from classical, folk, jazz, elecronica, rock pop, tango, and more.

Pleasure vs. anticipated pleasure — The researchers saw the same pattern of brain and body activity when people were listening to their music as they see when people feel euphoria and craving when they get a reward. The experience of pleasure corresponded with dopamine release in one part of the brain (striatal dopaminergic system). When people were anticipating a pleasurable part of the music (participants were listening to their favorite music, so they knew what part of the music was coming next), then there was a dopamine release in a different part of the brain (nucleus accumbens).

Somewhat related is the very interesting TED talk by Benjamin Zander on Music and Passion.

What do you think? Do you get “chills” listening to music? Do you think the anticipation is as good as, or better than the experience?

And if you like to read the research:

Salimpoor, Valorie, N., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K., Dagher, A., & Zatorre, R. (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature Neuroscience.

 

 

100 Things You Should Know About People: #70 — People Are Happier Busy And With A Challenge

Picture of a bee with the words "Busy Bee"Consider this scenario: You just landed at an airport and now you have to walk to the baggage claim to pick up your luggage. It takes you 12 minutes to walk there. When you arrive your luggage is coming onto the carousel. How impatient do you feel?

Contrast that with this scenario: You just landed at an airport, and the walk to the luggage carousel takes 2 minutes. But then you stand around waiting 10 minutes for your luggage to appear. How impatient do you feel now? In both cases you it took you 12 minutes to pick up your luggage, but chances are you are much more impatient, and much more unhappy in the second scenario where you have to stand around and wait.

The paradox — Research by Christopher Hsee and colleagues shows that you are happier when you are busy. This is somewhat of a paradox. In another post I write about the research that shows that people are actually lazy. Unless people have a reason for being active, they choose to do nothing, thereby conserving energy. But doing nothing makes people impatient and unhappy.

We love a challenge — Hsee asked participants to study a bracelet. Then he gave them the option of either spending fifteen minutes waiting with nothing to do (they thought they were waiting for the next part of the experiment), or spending the same time taking the bracelet apart and re-building it while waiting. Some of the participants were given the option of rebuilding it into its original configuration, and others were given the option to re-assemble the bracelet into a different design.

Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #70 — People Are Happier Busy And With A Challenge”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #68 — Smells Evoke Emotions and Memories

Picture of a nose

Do you have a type of food that makes you feel a certain way? When you smell it you have an emotional reaction? For me it is kasha. Kasha is a form of buckwheat. You cook the buckwheat kernals in oil and then boil them (with salt, pepper, onion, and garlic).  I’ve never met very many people that have actually eaten kasha, much less know what kasha is.

When I smell kasha cooking I get a big smile on my face and I feel happy. This is because my mom used to cook kasha. I have a positive emotional memory of my mom when I smell kasha cooking.

A special path for smells — The thalamus is a part of the brain that is between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain. One of the functions of the thalamus is to process sensory information and send it to the appropriate part of the cortex. For example, visual information comes from the retina, goes to the thalamus and then gets routed to the primary visual cortex. All of the senses send their data to the thalamus before the information goes anywhere else, with the exception of smell. The olfactory system does not go through the thalamus. When you smell something, that sensory data goes right to your amygdala. The amygdala is where emotional information is processed. This is why people react emotionally to smells: You smell a flower and it makes you happy. You smell rotten meat and it makes you feel disgusted. The amygdala is right next to the memory centers of the brain. This is also why you can smell something and have memories invoked.

Smells from a web site? — For a reasonable amount of money you can now buy an olfactory machine that hooks up to your PC, and software that emits many different scents (forest, ocean, turkey, chocolate, etc).  It’s the ScentScape from ScentSciences (www.scentsciences.com)

What do you think? Is there a smell in your favorite websites future?

 

100 Things You Should Know About People: #66 — Emotions Are Tied To Muscle Movement

Botox is a popular cosmetic procedure to reduce facial wrinkles. Botox is injected into various muscles, for instance in the face, and it paralyzes the muscles thereby causing the wrinkles to “relax”. It’s been known for a while that one of the side effects of Botox treatments are that people can’t fully express emotions (for example, they can’t move the muscles that would show they were angry, or even happy). New research shows another interesting side effect – people who have Botox injections can’t feel emotions either.

Muscles and feeling are tied together — If you can’t move your muscles to make a facial expression you can’t feel the emotion that goes with the expression. So if you have recently received a Botox injection and you go to a movie that is sad, you will not feel sad because you won’t be able to move the muscles in your face that go with feeling sad. Moving muscles and feeling emotions are linked.

Botox injections — Joshua Davis (2010) from Barnard College and his team tested this idea with some research. They injected people with either Botox or Restylane. Restylane is a substance that when injected fills out sagging skin, but does not limit muscle movement like Botox does. Before and after injecting the participants, they showed them emotionally charged videos. The Botox group showed much less emotional reaction to the videos after the injections. Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #66 — Emotions Are Tied To Muscle Movement”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #65 — Seven Emotions Are Universal

If you go to the other side of the world and interact with people there, can you recognize the emotions they are feeling by looking at their facial expressions? Paul Ekman says the answer is yes. He has been studying emotions for many years and in different geographies and cultures. He has identified seven emotions that seem to be universal:

  • Joy
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Contempt
  • Surprise
  • Disgust
  • Fear

What is an emotion? — Considering how important emotions are in our everyday life, there is not as much research on emotions as you might think. In order to study emotions it’s necessary to define them first. Scientists studying emotions contrast them with moods and attitudes:

Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #65 — Seven Emotions Are Universal”