100 Things You Should Know About People: #95 — People Decide Who And What Is Alive By The Eyes

In a previous post, I talked about the special part of the brain that is for recognizing faces. New research by Christine Looser shows that “the eyes have it” when it comes to faces.

When is a face human and alive? — Christine Looser takes pictures of people and then morphs them in stages into inanimate manniquin faces. She shows the stages and has people decide when the picture is no longer a human and alive. Here is an example of the pictures she uses:

 

Man's face morphing from human to mannequin
When does the face stop being alive?

Her research found that there is a spot, about 75% down the continuum, where people say they are not people/alive anymore. She also found that people primarily use the eyes to decide if a picture is human and alive.

What do you think? Starting from the left, which face is “no longer alive”?

And if you like to read the research:

Looser, Christine E. & Wheatley, T. (2010). The tipping point of animacy: How, when, and where we perceive life in a face. Psychological Science, 21(12), 1854–1862.

 

 

100 Things You Should Know About People: #87 — Speaker and Listener Brains Sync

picture of people listening to a speaker at a conferenceWhen you listen to someone talking your brain starts working in sync with the speaker. Greg Stephens (2010) put participants in his research study in an fMRI machine and had them record or listen to recordings of other people talking. What he found is that as someone is listening to someone else talk, the brains patterns of the two people start to couple, or mirror each other. There is a slight delay, which corresponds to the time it takes for the communication to occur. Several different brain areas were synced. He compared this with having people listen to someone talk in a language they did not understand. In that case the brains do not sync up.

Syncing + anticipation = understanding — In Stephen’s study, the more the brains were synced up the more the listener understood the ideas and message from the speaker. And by watching what parts of the brain were lighting up, Stephens could see that the parts of the brain that have to do with prediction and anticipation were active. The more active they were, the more successful was the communication.

Social parts light up too — Stephens noted that the parts of the brain that have to do with social interaction were also synced, including areas are known to be involved in processing social information crucial for successful  communication, including the capacity to discern the beliefs, desires, and goals of others.

What do you think? Have you been synced with any speakers lately?

Stephens, Greg, Silbert, L., & Hasson, U. (2010). Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 27, 2010.

 

 

100 Things You Should Know About People: #81 — Intrinsic Rewards Trump Extrinsic Rewards

Picture of a Good Drawing CertificateLet’s say you are an art teacher, and you want to encourage your students to spend more time practicing their drawing. You create a “Good Drawing Certificate” to give to your students. If your goal is to have them draw more, and for them to stick with it, how should you give them the certificate? Should you give them one every time they draw? Or only sometimes? Lepper, Greene and Nisbett conducted research on this question way back in 1973. They divided children into 3 groups:

Group 1, the Expected Group — The researchers showed the children the “Good Drawing Certificate” and asked if they wanted to draw in order to get the certificate.

Group 2, the Unexpected group — The researchers asked the children if they wanted to draw, but didn’t mention anything about a certificate. After the children spent time drawing, they received an (unexpected) drawing certificate.

Group 3, the Control Group — The researchers asked the children if they wanted to draw, but didn’t mention a certificate and didn’t give them one.

What happened 2 weeks later? — The real part of the experiment came 2 weeks later. During playtime the drawing tools were put out in the room. The children weren’t asked anything about drawing, the tools were just put in the room and available. So what happened?  Children in Groups 2 and 3, the Unexpected and the Control Groups spent the most time drawing. The children in Group 1, the ones who had received an expected reward, spent the least time drawing. “Contingent” rewards (rewards given based on specific behavior that is spelled out ahead of time) resulted in less of the desired behavior. Later the researchers went on to do more studies like this, and with adults as well as children, finding similar results.

What do you think? Do you use intrinsic or extrinsic rewards at your workplace? At your website?

And if you like to read the research:

Lepper, M., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic rewards. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 129-137.

 

 

 

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: #71 — People Like Pastoral Scenes

Landscape painting by Frederic Church
People Like Pastoral Scenes

Walk into any hotel, house, office building, museum, art gallery, or any place where there are paintings or photographs hanging on the wall, and chances are that you will see a pastoral landscape.

Looking for protection, food, and water — According to Denis Dutton, a philosopher and the author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution, this is because of evolution and the Pleistocene era. (see Dutton’s TED talk: http://bit.ly/cIj9uo). Dutton says that this typical landscape scene includes hills, water, trees (that are good for hiding in if a predator comes by), birds and animals, and a path moving through the scene. This is an ideal landscape for humans (protection, water, food).

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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.

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100 Things You Should Know About People: #69 — Your Brain Craves Surprises

Picture of Lucille Ball looking surprisedIn Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I talk about the role of the “old” brain in scanning the environment looking for anything that is dangerous. This also means that the unconscious, old brain is looking for anything that is new or novel.

Water vs. fruit juice — Research by Gregory Berns (2001) shows that the human brain is not only looking for the unexpected, it actually craves the unexpected. Berns used a computer-controlled device to squirt either water or fruit juice into people’s mouths while their brains were being scanned by an fMRI device. Sometimes the participants could predict when they were going to get a squirt, but other times it was unpredictable. The researchers thought that they would see activity based on what people liked. For example, if people liked juice then they would see activity in the nucleus accumbens area of the brain. The nucleus accumbens is the part of the brain that is active when people are experiencing pleasurable events.

Liking surprise — The nucleus accumbens was most active when the squirt was unexpected. It was the surprise that showed activity, not the preferred liquid.

Berns must have enjoyed the research since he was surprised himself!

What do you think? Are you surprised that people crave surprise?

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

Berns, Gregory S., McClure, S., Pagnoni, G., & Montague, P. (2001). Predictability modulates human brain response to reward. The Journal of Neuroscience, 21(8), 2793–2798.

 

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: #64 — Groups Are Swayed By A Dominant Personality

Picture of Meeting In the last blog post I talked about how groups end up making faulty decisions. How many times have you been part of a group discussion and decision-making process and there is one person who is dominating the conversation and the decision. Just because decisions are made in a group setting doesn’t mean that the entire group really made the decision. Many people give up in the presence of one or more dominant group members, and may not speak up at all.

Why does the leader become the leader? — Anderson and Kilduff (2009) researched group decision-making. They formed groups of four students each and had them solve math problems from the GMAT (a standardized test for admission to graduate business school programs).

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