Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

Psychology News & Resources

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Facebook

Author Credit: futurecomms.co.uk

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The Psychology Behind Facebook
A new study from Boston University has looked at why people use Facebook. But not in the conventional ‘to keep in touch with friends’ or ‘to share photos’ sense. Oh no, this is FAR more interesting.

The study looks at human needs (think Maslow) and attempts to explain where Facebook fits within that context. The authors’ proposition is that Facebook (and other social networks) meets two primary human needs. The first is the need to belong to a sociodemographic group of like-minded people (linked to self-esteem and self-worth). Given this ‘need to belong’, it is hypothesised that there are differences in the way people use and share on Facebook according to cultural factors (individualistic v collectivist cultures). The thing is, some studies have suggested that being active on Facebook may not improve self-esteem, so we may be kidding ourselves if that’s (partly) why we use it!
The second need is the need for self-presentation. Further studies suggest that the person people portray on Facebook IS the real person, not an idealised version. BUT, it’s a person as seen through a socially-desirable filter. In other words, we present ourselves as highly sociable, lovable and popular even if we sit in our bedrooms in the dark playing World of Warcraft ten hours a day. There’s an aspirational element to our online selves. And hey, for me that’s certainly true – I’m a miserable sod in real life!

It’s a fascinating topic area, an understanding of which could really help marketers. Click the Source link below to read more about this study and lots of associated material. But in the meantime, stop showing off on Facebook and start just being yourself :o)

(Source: readwriteweb.com)

January 20, 2012 Posted by | Addiction, Cognition, Identity, Internet, Intimate Relationshps, research, Social Psychology, Technology | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“They All Look Alike To Me”: Here’s Why “They” Do

Source : ScienceDaily (July 1, 2011) —

Read The Original Article Here

Northwestern University researchers have provided new biological evidence suggesting that the brain works differently when memorizing the face of a person from one’s own race than when memorizing a face from another race.

Their study — which used EEG recordings to measure brain activity — sheds light on a well-documented phenomenon known as the “other-race effect.” One of the most replicated psychology findings, the other-race effect finds that people are less likely to remember a face from a racial group different from their own.

“Scientists have put forward numerous ideas about why people do not recognize other-race faces as well as same-race faces,” says Northwestern psychology professor Ken Paller, who with psychology professor Joan Chiao and Heather Lucas co-authored “Why some faces won’t be remembered: Brain potentials illuminate successful versus unsuccessful encoding for same-race and other-race faces.”

The discovery of a neural marker of successful encoding of other-race faces will help put these ideas to the test, according to Paller, who directs the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

“The ability to accurately remember faces is an important social skill with potentially serious consequences,” says doctoral student Lucas, lead author of the recently published study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. “It’s merely embarrassing to forget your spouse’s boss, but when an eyewitness incorrectly remembers a face, the consequence can be a wrongful criminal conviction,” she adds.

The Northwestern team found that brain activity increases in the very first 200 to 250 milliseconds upon seeing both same-race and other-race faces. To their surprise, however, they found that the amplitude of that increased brain activity only predicts whether an other-race face (not a same-race face) is later remembered.

“There appears to be a critical phase shortly after an other-race face appears that determines whether or not that face will be remembered or forgotten,” Lucas says. “In other words, the process of laying down a memory begins almost immediately after one first sees the face.”

Previous research has associated this very early phase — what is known as the N200 brain potential — with the perceptual process of individuation. That process involves identifying personally unique facial features such as the shape of the eyes and nose and the spatial configuration of various facial features.

When the researchers asked the 18 white study participants to view same-race faces and to commit them to memory, the individuation process indexed by N200 appeared “almost automatic — so robust and reliable that it actually was irrelevant as to whether a face was remembered or not,” says Lucas.

Minutes later, the participants were given a recognition test that included new faces along with some that were previously viewed. The researchers analyzed brain activity during initial face viewing as a function of whether or not each face was ultimately remembered or forgotten on the recognition test.

The N200 waves were large for all same-race faces, regardless of whether or not they later were successfully remembered. In contrast, N200 waves were larger for other-race faces that were remembered than for other-race faces that were forgotten.

Of course, not all same-race faces were successfully recognized, the researchers say. Accordingly, their study also identified brain activity that predicted whether or not a same-race face would be remembered. A specific brain wave starting at about 300 milliseconds and lasting for several hundred milliseconds was associated with what the psychologists call “elaborative encoding.”

In contrast to individuation (which involves rapidly identifying unique physical attributes from faces), elaborative encoding is a more deliberate process of inferring attributes. For example, you might note that a face reminds you of someone you know, that its expression appears friendly or shy, or it looks like the face of a scientist or police officer.

Making these types of social inferences increases the likelihood that a face will be remembered.

“However, this strategy only works if the process of individuation also occurred successfully — that is, if the physical attributes unique to a particular face already have been committed to memory,” Lucas says. “And our study found that individuation is not always engaged with other-race faces.”

Why is individuation so fragile for other-race faces? One possibility, the researchers say, is that many people simply have less practice seeing and remembering other-race faces.

“People tend to have more frequent and extensive interactions with same-race than with other-race individuals, particularly racial majority members,” Lucas says. As a result, their brains may be less adept at finding the facial information that distinguishes other-race faces from one another compared to distinguishing among faces of their own racial group.

Another possible explanation involves “social categorization,” or the tendency to group others into social categories by race. “Prior research has found that when we label and group others according to race we end up focusing more on attributes that group members tend to have in common — such as skin color — and less on attributes that individuate one group member from others,” Lucas says.

As a result, smaller N200 brain potentials for other-race faces — particularly those that were not remembered later — could indicate that race-specifying features of these faces were given more attention.

The Northwestern researchers expect future research to build on their findings in the continuing effort to better understand the other-race effect. “That research also will need to focus more on face recognition in minorities, given that the bulk of research to date has examined majority-white populations,” Lucas says.

Read The Original Article Here
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July 6, 2011 Posted by | Cognition, Identity, research, Social Psychology | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Great Pyramid: Did Maslow Get The Hierarchy Of Needs Right?

Maslow’s Pyramid of Human Needs Put to the Test

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

For more than 60 years, psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs has served as a model by which many judge life satisfaction. But his theory has never been subjected to scientific validation.

A new global study tested Maslow’s concepts and sequence, in a way that reflects life in the 21st century.

“Anyone who has ever completed a psychology class has heard of Abraham Maslow and his theory of needs,” said University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology Dr. Ed Diener, who led the study. “But the nagging question has always been: Where is the proof? Students learn the theory, but scientific research backing this theory is rarely mentioned.”

Maslow’s pyramid of human needs begins with a base that signifies an individual’s basic needs (for food, sleep and sex). Safety and security came next, then love and belonging, then esteem and, finally, at the pyramid’s peak, a quality he called “self-actualization.”

Maslow proposed that people who have these needs fulfilled should be happier than those who don’t.

In the new study, U of I researchers put Maslow’s ideas to the test with data from 123 countries representing every major region of the world.

To determine current perceptions, the researchers turned to the Gallup World Poll, which conducted surveys in 155 countries from 2005 to 2010, and included questions about money, food, shelter, safety, social support, feeling respected, being self-directed, having a sense of mastery, and the experience of positive or negative emotions.

The researchers found that fulfillment of a diversity of needs, as defined by Maslow, do appear to be universal and important to individual happiness. But the order in which “higher” and “lower” needs are met has little bearing on how much they contribute to life satisfaction and enjoyment, Diener said.

They also found that individuals identified life satisfaction (the way an individual ranked his or her life on a scale from worst to best) with fulfillment of basic life needs.

The satisfaction of higher needs – for social support, respect, autonomy or mastery – was “more strongly related to enjoying life, having more positive feelings and less negative feelings,” Diener said.

 

An important finding, Diener said, is that the research indicated that people have higher life evaluations when others in society also have their needs fulfilled.

“Thus life satisfaction is not just an individual affair, but depends substantially also on the quality of life of one’s fellow citizens,” he said.

“Our findings suggest that Maslow’s theory is largely correct. In cultures all over the world the fulfillment of his proposed needs correlates with happiness,” Diener said.

“However, an important departure from Maslow’s theory is that we found that a person can report having good social relationships and self-actualization even if their basic needs and safety needs are not completely fulfilled.”

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July 5, 2011 Posted by | Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, anxiety, Cognition, Identity, research, Resilience, Social Psychology, Spirituality | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The “Science” Of Physical Attractiveness: Now You Can Participate In The Research Online

Scientists in Australia and Hong Kong have conducted a comprehensive study to discover how different body measurements correspond with ratings of female attractiveness.

The study, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, found that across cultural divides young, tall and long armed women were considered the most attractive.

You can participate in the ongoing research at www.bodylab.biz The current research online involves the rating of male and /or female body shape and male facial attractiveness.

Physical attractiveness is an important determining factor for evolutionary, social and economic success,” said lead author Robert Brooks from the University of New South Wales. “The dimensions of someone’s body can tell observers if that person is suitable as a potential mate, a long term partner or perhaps the threat they pose as a sexual competitor.”

Traditional studies of attractiveness have been bound to the Darwinian idea of natural selection, which argues that an individual will always choose the best possible mate that circumstances will allow. Such studies have focused on torso, waist, bust and hip measurements. In this study the team measured the attractiveness of scans of 96 bodies of Chinese women who were either students or volunteers, aged between 2049 years of age.

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Videos of the models were shown to a sample of 92 Australian adults, 40 men and 52 women, aged between 18 to 58 years of age, and mostly of European descent. They then compared the attractiveness ratings given by the Australian group to the ratings from a group in Hong Kong to avoid cultural bias.

Both sample groups were asked to rate the models’ attractiveness on a 7 point scale; on average the raters took just 5.35 seconds to rate each model. The team then explored the statistical results, focusing on age, body weight and a range of length and girth measurements.

The results showed that there was a strong level of agreement between the 4 groups of Australian men and women, and Hong Kong men and women, with scans of younger, taller and lighter women being rated as more attractive. Women with narrow waists, especially relative to their height, were also considered much more attractive.

The study also revealed that BMI (Body mass index) and HWR (Hip to waist ratio) were both strong predictors of attractiveness. Scans of taller women who had longer arms were also rated highly, however leg size did not contribute significantly to the ratings.

“Our results showed consistent attractiveness ratings by men and women and by Hong Kong Chinese and Australian raters, suggesting considerable cross cultural consistency,” concluded Brooks. “In part this may be due to shared media experiences. Nonetheless when models are stripped of their most obvious racial and cultural features, the features that make bodies attractive tend to be shared by men and women across cultural divides.”

Brooks and his colleagues have taken their studies of the complexities of male and female attractiveness online at www.bodylab.biz.

Source: Wiley Blackwell

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October 4, 2010 Posted by | Cognition, Intimate Relationshps, Marriage, research, Sex & Sexuality, Social Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

People Vs Possessions: What Matters The Most?

Credit: Sciencedaily.com

In the first study of its kind, researchers have found compelling evidence that our best and worst experiences in life are likely to involve not individual accomplishments, but interaction with other people and the fulfillment of an urge for social connection.

The findings, which run contrary to implications of previous research, are reported in “What Makes Us Feel the Best Also Makes Us Feel the Worst: The Emotional Impact of Independent and Interdependent Experiences.” The study reports on research conducted at the University at Buffalo and will appear in the forthcoming print issue of Self and Identity.

Co-author Shira Gabriel, PhD, associate professor of psychology at UB, says, “Most of us spend much of our time and effort focused on individual achievements such as work, hobbies and schooling.

“However this research suggests that the events that end up being most important in our lives, the events that bring us the most happiness and also carry the potential for the most pain, are social events — moments of connecting to others and feeling their connections to us.”

Gabriel says that much research in social psychology has explicitly or implicitly implied that events experienced independent of other individuals are central to explaining our most intense emotional experiences.

“We found, however, “she says, “that it was not independent events or individual achievements like winning awards or completing tasks that affected participants the most, but the moments when close relationships began or ended; when people fell in love or found a new friend; when a loved one died or broke their hearts. In short, it was the moments of connecting to others that that touched peoples’ lives the most.”

The researchers included principal author Lisa Jaremka, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Mauricio Cavallo, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, both graduates of UB.

A total of 376 subjects participated in the four studies that formed the basis of the researchers’ conclusions.

Study 1 involved college students who were asked to describe the most positive and negative emotional experiences of their lives. Overwhelmingly, and without regard for the sex of participants, they were much more likely to describe social events as the most positive and negative thing they had ever experienced (as compared to independent events).

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Study 2, replicated and extended Study 1, with similar results, and focused on middle-aged participants who were asked to report on a recent intense emotional experience.

Study 3 provided evidence that the strong emotional impact of interdependent (i.e., social) events reported in the first two studies was not due to the fact that social events were more salient than independent events.

Study 4 demonstrated that when thinking about both social and independent events, participants rate the social events as far more impactful than independent events. Study 4 also demonstrated that social events gain their emotional punch from our need to belong.

Gabriel’s research and expertise focuses on the social nature of the self, including social aspects of self-construal, the social functions of the self, the need to belong and gender differences in strategies for connecting to others.
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August 30, 2010 Posted by | Cognition, Health Psychology, Intimate Relationshps, Marriage, Positive Psychology, Resilience, Social Psychology | , , | 2 Comments

Narcissism, Self-Esteem & Facebook

Following on from yesterday’s post on disinhibition and social networking, I came across this post from Dr Shock MD’s blog commenting on THIS RESEARCH PAPER (pdf) Credit to Dr Shock (excerpted). Interesting?

In normal every day life with face to face contact the physical characteristics and knowledge about social background form the identity of your contact. It’s stable and three dimensional. You know that person, it’s therefor very difficult for the other to claim another identity or create impressions inconsistent with how you know him or her. Online identity is a different topic. You can create ideal identities not necessarily overlapping your real identity. It’s a controlled setting in which you can create different identities from the person you really are. Moreover, from research it has been shown that people act differently in social networking environments when compared to those interacting in anonymous settings. Online self representation can vary according to the nature of the setting.

What is the relationship between offline personality and online self representation on facebook?

A recent study looked at the effects of narcissism and self esteem on online social activity and self promotion. The researchers included 50 male and 50 female facebook owners, they were randomly recruited at York university, their age ranged from 18 to 25 years. The facebook pages were rated and the participants took 4 questionnaires about demographic information, facebook activity, self esteem (the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale) and narcissism (the Narcissism Personality Inventory).

Five features of the Facebook page were coded for the extent to which they were self-promoting: (a) the About Me section, (b) the Main Photo, (c) the first 20 pictures on the View Photos of Me section, (d) the Notes section, and (e) the Status Updates section.

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Self promotion was distinguished as any descriptive or visual information that appeared to attempt to persuade others about one’s own positive qualities. For instance posting ‘‘My Celebrity Look-alikes”. Use of picture enhancement etc.

They found a strong relationship between narcissism and lower self esteem with greater facebook activity as well as more promotional self content. Gender did not influence these relationships.

This is another study implying that narcissism can be detected in facebook, the previous study is also discussed on this blog: The Dangers of Facebook. Gender differences were found in another study but on risk taking attitudes. Men with profiles on social networking sites are higher in risk taking behavior and less worried about privacy issues compared to women.

In research looking at other personality factors, the Big Five was used amongst facebook users. As discussed in a previous post on this blog: personality factors are not as influential as expected on using Facebook. The Big Five is probably not a very good instrument to investigate personality traits and facebook use.

Mehdizadeh, S. (2010). Self-Presentation 2.0: Narcissism and Self-Esteem on Facebook Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 13 (4), 357364

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August 25, 2010 Posted by | Education, Identity, Internet, Personality Disorder, Social Psychology, Technology | , | 7 Comments

What Were You Thinking? The Causes Of Online Disinhibition

The online disinhibition effect has cost people their jobs, their income and their relationships, yet many are still oblivious to it.

Credit: Re-posted from PsyBlog

The first famous case of someone allegedly losing their job from indiscreet remarks made online was in 2002. Heather Armstrong, author of the blog ‘dooce’, claimed she was fired after her colleagues discovered she’d been lampooning them online.

In internet terms getting fired for a blog rant is ancient news; to make the headlines now your indiscretions have to be on Twitter or Facebook. One recent example was this girl who was ‘Facebook fired’ after she said exactly what she thought of her boss on Facebook after a bad day at work.

What she’d forgotten was they were Facebook friends, so the update would appear front and centre the next time he logged into Facebook. She might as well have said it straight to his face and, for good measure, kicked him in the shins.

These are two examples of what psychologists call the ‘online disinhibition effect’, the idea that when online people feel less inhibited by social conventions. Compared with face-to-face interactions, online we feel freer to do and say what we want and, as a result, often do and say things we shouldn’t.

Internet psychologist John Suler has written about six characteristics of the internet which lead to radical changes in our online behaviour (Suler, 2004):

1. Anonymity

Online people feel they can’t be identified in the same way they can when they’re in public. It’s similar to going out in a costume at night with a mask on to cover the face (see research on deindividuation). That sense of disconnection from our normal personality allows new ways of behaving. People may even consider their online behaviours to arise from an online alter ego.

Ironically, though, some people are far less anonymous online than offline. Because of the online disinhibition effect some share too much on their social networking profiles, sometimes even things they wouldn’t admit to their closest friends. It’s easy to forget that you don’t need espionage training to type someone’s name into Google.

2. Invisibility

Because others can’t see us online, we don’t have to worry about how we look to others and what emotional signals we are sending through facial expressions.

Imagine, for example, that you’re telling a friend about a distressing experience face-to-face. You may feel the urge to try and hide the depth of your emotion from them, which stops you telling the story. Online, however, you can continue to tell the story without giving away how bad it really is.

It can allow us to open up about things that we can’t discuss face-to-face. Online support groups rely on this openness to allow members to discuss their deepest hopes and fears. This is one of the potentially positive aspects of the online disinhibition effect, as long as users protect their privacy and identity.

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3. Stop/start communication

Face-to-face we see people’s reactions to what we’ve said or done immediately. That tends to put us off upsetting them or risking their judgement.

Online there are no such restrictions: because of online asynchronicity it’s possible to say something and wait 24 hours before reading the response, or never read it at all.

This cuts both ways. So-called ‘internet trolls’ are people who post to discussion forums or other online groups with the express purpose of stirring up controversy (known online as flame wars). They are experts in a kind of emotional hit-and-run. On the other hand, people who have difficulty when communicating face-to-face can become eloquent and courteous when online.

The majority of us probably fall somewhere in between these two extreme positions. Nevertheless the lack of instant feedback from other people’s body language causes all sorts of communication failures online. One of the most common causes of these failures is jokes. Without the accompanying body language, friendly jibes are easily misunderstood and interactions can quickly take a turn for the worse.

4. Voices in your head

The very act of reading online can create a surprisingly intimate connection. Because other people’s words are in our heads, we may merge them with our own internal monologues.

While humans have been reading novels and letters for centuries, these are relatively formal modes of communication, and it’s only in the last decade that online communication has brought the intimacy of a letter to informal, everyday conversation.

5. An imaginary world

The anonymity, invisibility and fantasy elements of online activities encourage us to think that the usual rules don’t apply. Like a science fiction escape fantasy, the net allows us to be who we want and do what we want, both good and bad.

The problem is that when life becomes a game that can be left behind at the flick of a switch, it’s easy to throw responsibility out of the window.

6. No police

We all fear disapproval and punishment, but this imaginary world appears to have no police and no authority figures. Although there are people with authority online, it’s difficult to tell who they are. There is no internet government, no one person in charge of it all. So people feel freer online: away from authority, social convention and conformity.

Of course the idea that authority doesn’t exist online is fantasy because the policeman exists inside all of us, to a greater or lesser extent.

Wing it

These factors work together to create a world in which we can feel freer. But this freedom is an illusion maintained by the online experience of invisibility, anonymity and lack of immediate, visceral, emotional feedback from others, or at least our ability to turn that feedback off.

Perhaps this is freedom: some people do report feeling closer to their real selves when online. But there’s a reason we developed all those social inhibitions in the old-fashioned, offline world. They stop us offending other people, which helps us keep our jobs and maintain our relationships. That’s not to say that the internet can’t help us build relationships with others or find jobs, it clearly can. It’s just that we tend to be less aware of both how much our behaviour can change online and the potential drawbacks to these changes.

Every now and then we need reminding that the internet is still a relatively fresh invention and, socially, we are still coming to terms with it. Long-established niceties of face-to-face behaviour haven’t yet taken hold online and, in the absence of precedent, we have to wing it.

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August 24, 2010 Posted by | Addiction, Bullying, Health Psychology, Internet, Social Psychology, Technology | , , , | 8 Comments

Mum’s The Word: Pregnant Mums Prefer Their Mother’s Advice To Their Doctor’s Advice

Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London have found that pregnant and postnatal women, while wanting to do the best for their baby, do not follow medical advice without question and are more likely to adopt practices their mothers and grandmothers carried out during their pregnancies.

The study by Professor Paula Nicolson and Dr Rebekah Fox from the Department of Health and Social Care at Royal Holloway is published in the Journal of Health Psychology and explores three recent generations of women’s experiences of pregnancy, questioning those who gave birth in the 1970s, 1980s and 2000s.

The women who were interviewed said they knew their mothers and grandmothers had their best interests at heart when they offered them advice. For the older women questioned, the advice from their female relations was their main source of information.

The 1980s and 2000s group, however, had to reconcile what they heard from older generations with direct advice from their doctors, midwives and health visitors as well as the numerous health messages on the web and self-help books.

Professor Nicolson says, “It is much to the credit of contemporary women that despite the unprecedented pressures from the media, medicine and the ‘pregnancy police’ that they are still able to filter-in the advice that really suits them from all these sources. Each of the three generations found ways to ‘resist’ what they considered inappropriate pressures from advisors and were more likely to follow advice given to them from their mothers and grandmothers even if it went against the medical professions advice.

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“Women tend to discuss the advice they are given with their female relatives and this leads to resistance to some types of advice. For example, despite being advised to cut down on caffeine during pregnancy one woman we questioned said she continued to drink tea because her grandmother told her it relieved her morning sickness.”

Professor Nicolson says women who take notice of general public health information about what is a healthy lifestyle, i.e not smoking, taking regular exercise, not taking drugs and drinking alcohol in moderation are those who are most likely to be in-tune with their bodies and can therefore ‘use’ guidelines but not be constrained by them.

She added: “Taking all the guidelines too seriously leads to anxieties. Lack of self-confidence also can lead to worry about ‘doing the wrong thing’ which is potentially more harmful than taking the odd glass of wine or eating soft cheese.”

Source: Sciencedaily

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May 17, 2010 Posted by | Education, Health Psychology, Parenting, Social Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winners Are Grinners: Even If There’s Nothing to Win!

Whether it’s for money, marbles or chalk, the brains of reward-driven people keep their game faces on, helping them win at every step of the way. Surprisingly, they win most often when there is no reward.

Read Abstract Here

That’s the finding of neuroscientists at Washington University in St. Louis, who tested 31 randomly selected subjects with word games, some of which had monetary rewards of either 25 or 75 cents per correct answer, others of which had no money attached.

Subjects were given a short list of five words to memorize in a matter of seconds, then a 3.5-second interval or pause, then a few seconds to respond to a solitary word that either had been on the list or had not. Test performance had no consequence in some trials, but in others, a computer graded the responses, providing an opportunity to win either 25 cent or 75 cents for quick and accurate answers. Even during these periods, subjects were sometimes alerted that their performance would not be rewarded on that trial.

Prior to testing, subjects were submitted to a battery of personality tests that rated their degree of competitiveness and their sensitivity to monetary rewards.

Designed to test the hypothesis that excitement in the brains of the most monetary-reward-sensitive subjects would slacken during trials that did not pay, the study is co-authored by Koji Jimura, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher, and Todd Braver, PhD, a professor, both based in psychology in Arts & Sciences. Braver is also a member of the neuroscience program and radiology department in the university’s School of Medicine.

But the researchers found a paradoxical result: the performance of the most reward-driven individuals was actually most improved – relative to the less reward-driven – in the trials that paid nothing, not the ones in which there was money at stake.

Even more striking was that the brain scans taken using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) showed a change in the pattern of activity during the non-rewarded trials within the lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), located right behind the outer corner of the eyebrow, an area that is strongly linked to intelligence, goal-driven behavior and cognitive strategies. The change in lateral PFC activity was statistically linked to the extra behavioral benefits  observed in the reward-driven individuals.

The researchers suggest that this change in lateral PFC activity patterns represents a flexible shift in response to the motivational importance of the task, translating this into a superior task strategy that the researchers term “proactive cognitive control.” In other words, once the rewarding motivational context is established in the brain indicating there is a goal-driven contest at hand, the brain actually rallies its neuronal troops and readies itself for the next trial, whether it’s for money or not.

“It sounds reasonable now, but when I happened upon this result, I couldn’t believe it because we expected the opposite results,” says Jimura, first author of the paper. “I had to analyze the data thoroughly to persuade myself. The important finding of our study is that the brains of these reward- sensitive individuals do not respond to the reward information on individual trials. Instead, it shows that they have persistent motivation, even in the absence of a reward. You’d think you’d have to reward them on every trial to do well. But it seems that their brains recognized the rewarding motivational context that carried over across all the trials.”

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The finding sheds more light on the workings of the lateral PFC and provides potential behavioral clues about personality, motivation, goals and cognitive strategies. The research has important implications for understanding the nature of persistent motivation, how the brain creates such states, and why some people seem to be able to use motivation more effectively than others. By understanding the brain circuitry involved, it might be possible to create motivational situations that are more effective for all individuals, not just the most reward-driven ones, or to develop drug therapies for individuals that suffer from chronic motivational problems.Their results are published April 26 in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Everyone knows of competitive people who have to win, whether in a game of HORSE, golf or the office NCAA basketball tournament pool. The findings might tell researchers something about the competitive drive.

The researchers are interested in the signaling chain that ignites the prefrontal cortex when it acts on reward-driven impulses, and they speculate that the brain chemical dopamine could be involved. That could be a potential direction of future studies. Dopamine neurons, once thought to be involved in a host of pleasurable situations, but now considered more of learning or predictive signal, might respond to cues that let the lateral PFC know that it’s in for something good. This signal might help to keep information about the goals, rules or best strategies for the task active in mind to increase the chances of obtaining the desired outcome.

In the context of this study, when a 75-cent reward is available for a trial, the dopamine-releasing neurons could be sending signals to the lateral PFC that “jump start” it to do the right procedures to get a reward.

“It would be like the dopamine neurons recognize a cup of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and tell the lateral PFC the right action strategy to get the reward – to grab a spoon and bring the ice cream to your mouth,” says Braver. “We think that the dopamine neurons fires to the cue rather than the reward itself, especially after the brain learns the relationship between the two. We’d like to explore that some more.”

They also are interested in the “reward carryover state,” or the proactive cognitive strategy that keeps the brain excited even in gaps, such as pauses between trials or trials without rewards. They might consider a study in which rewards are far fewer.

“It’s possible we’d see more slackers with less rewards,” Braver says. “That might have an effect on the reward carryover state. There are a host of interesting further questions that this work brings up which we plan to pursue.”

Source: Washington University in St. Louis,
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April 28, 2010 Posted by | Addiction, brain, Cognition, research, Social Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Violent Video Games & Kids: Definitive Study Shows Both Short & Long Term Harmful Effects

Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson has made much of his life’s work studying how violent video game play affects youth behavior. And he says a new study he led, analyzing 130 research reports on more than 130,000 subjects worldwide, proves conclusively that exposure to violent video games makes more aggressive, less caring kids — regardless of their age, sex or culture.

Read the original research paper (PDF)

The study was published in the March 2010 issue of the Psychological Bulletin, an American Psychological Association journal. It reports that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive thoughts and behavior, and decreased empathy and prosocial behavior in youths.

“We can now say with utmost confidence that regardless of research method — that is experimental, correlational, or longitudinal — and regardless of the cultures tested in this study [East and West], you get the same effects,” said Anderson, who is also director of Iowa State’s Center for the Study of Violence. “And the effects are that exposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in both short-term and long-term contexts. Such exposure also increases aggressive thinking and aggressive affect, and decreases prosocial behavior.”

The study was conducted by a team of eight researchers, including ISU psychology graduate students Edward Swing and Muniba Saleem; and Brad Bushman, a former Iowa State psychology professor who now is on the faculty at the University of Michigan. Also on the team were the top video game researchers from Japan — Akiko Shibuya from Keio University and Nobuko Ihori from Ochanomizu University — and Hannah Rothstein, a noted scholar on meta-analytic review from the City University of New York.

Meta-analytic procedure used in research

The team used meta-analytic procedures — the statistical methods used to analyze and combine results from previous, related literature — to test the effects of violent video game play on the behaviors, thoughts and feelings of the individuals, ranging from elementary school-aged children to college undergraduates.

The research also included new longitudinal data which provided further confirmation that playing violent video games is a causal risk factor for long-term harmful outcomes.

“These are not huge effects — not on the order of joining a gang vs. not joining a gang,” said Anderson. “But these effects are also not trivial in size. It is one risk factor for future aggression and other sort of negative outcomes. And it’s a risk factor that’s easy for an individual parent to deal with — at least, easier than changing most other known risk factors for aggression and violence, such as poverty or one’s genetic structure.”

The analysis found that violent video game effects are significant in both Eastern and Western cultures, in males and females, and in all age groups. Although there are good theoretical reasons to expect the long-term harmful effects to be higher in younger, pre-teen youths, there was only weak evidence of such age effects.

Time to refocus the public policy debate

The researchers conclude that the study has important implications for public policy debates, including development and testing of potential intervention strategies designed to reduce the harmful effects of playing violent video games.

“From a public policy standpoint, it’s time to get off the question of, ‘Are there real and serious effects?’ That’s been answered and answered repeatedly,” Anderson said. “It’s now time to move on to a more constructive question like, ‘How do we make it easier for parents — within the limits of culture, society and law — to provide a healthier childhood for their kids?'”

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But Anderson knows it will take time for the creation and implementation of effective new policies. And until then, there is plenty parents can do to protect their kids at home.

“Just like your child’s diet and the foods you have available for them to eat in the house, you should be able to control the content of the video games they have available to play in your home,” he said. “And you should be able to explain to them why certain kinds of games are not allowed in the house — conveying your own values. You should convey the message that one should always be looking for more constructive solutions to disagreements and conflict.”

Anderson says the new study may be his last meta-analysis on violent video games because of its definitive findings. Largely because of his extensive work on violent video game effects, Anderson was chosen as one of the three 2010 American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientist Lecturers

Read the original research paper (PDF)

Source: Iowa State University
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April 25, 2010 Posted by | Adolescence, Books, Bullying, Child Behavior, Internet, Parenting, research, Social Psychology, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments