Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

Psychology News & Resources

Fast Food, Fast You! How Fast Food Makes You Impatient

Like it or not, the golden arches of McDonalds are one of the most easily recognised icons of the modern world. The culture they represent is one of instant gratification and saved time, of ready-made food that can be bought cheaply and eaten immediately. Many studies have looked at the effects of these foods on our waistlines, but their symbols and brands are such a pervasive part of our lives that you’d expect them to influence the way we think too.

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And so they do – Chen-Bo Zhong and Sanford DeVoe have found that fast food can actually induce haste and impatience, in ways that have nothing to do with eating. They showed that subliminal exposure to fast food symbols, such as McDonalds’ golden arches, can actually increase people’s reading speed. Just thinking about these foods can boost our preferences for time-saving goods and even nudge us towards financial decisions that value immediate gains over future returns. Fast food, it seems, is very appropriately named.

Zhong and DeVoe asked 57 students to stare at the centre of a computer screen while ignoring a stream of objects flashing past in the corners. For some of the students, these flashes included the logos of McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, Taco Bell, Burger King and Wendy’s, all appearing for just 12 milliseconds. We can’t consciously recognise images that appear this quickly and, indeed, none of the students said that they saw anything other than blocks of colour.

The students were then asked to read out a 320-word description of Toronto and those who had subconsciously seen the fast food logos were faster. Even though they had no time limit, they whizzed through the text in just 70 seconds. The other students, who were shown blocks of colours in place of the logos, took a more leisurely 84 seconds.

Zhong and DeVoe also found that thoughts of fast food could sway students towards more efficient, time-saving products. They asked 91 students to complete a marketing survey by saying how much they wanted each of five product pairs. One option in each pair was more time-efficient (as rated by an independent panel of 54 people), such as 2-in-1 shampoo rather than regular shampoo or a four-slice toaster versus a one-slice one.

If the students had previously thought about the last time they ate at a fast food joint, they were more likely to prefer the time-saving products that students who had thought about their last visit to the grocery store. Zhong and DeVoe say that this supports their idea that thinking about fast-food makes people impatient. [This seems to be]  the weakest part of their study, for products like 2-in-1 shampoo are as much about saving money (perhaps more so) as they are about saving time. Fast food is not only served quickly but priced cheaply, and it may be this aspect that altered the students’ preference.

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However, the duo addressed this issue in their third experiment. They randomly asked 58 students to judge one of four different logos on their aesthetic qualities, including those of McDonald’s, KFC and two cheap diners. Later, they were told that they could either have $3 immediately or a larger sum in a week. They had to say how much it would take to make them delay their windfall.

As predicted, those who considered the fast food logos were more impatient, and demanded significantly more money to forego their smaller immediate payment in favour of a larger future one. It seems that they put a greater price on instant gratification over larger future returns

Of course, these results can’t tell us if fast food actually contributes to a culture of impatience and hurry, or if it’s just a symptom of it. Nor do they say anything about whether this effect is good or bad. That would all depend on context. As Zhong and DeVoe note, a brisk walking speed is a good thing if you’re trying to get to a meeting but it would be a sign of impatience if you’re aiming for a leisurely stroll in the park.

Their study does, however, suggest that fast food and the need to save time are inextricably linked in our minds so that even familiar brands can make us behave more hastily. They could even affect our economic decisions, harming our finances in the long run. As Zhong and DeVoe say, even our leisure activites are “experienced through the coloured glasses of impatience” and “it is possible that a fast food culture that extols saving time not only changes the way people eat, but also fundamentally alters the way they experience events”

Read the original research paper (PDF)

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April 17, 2010 Posted by | Books, Cognition, Eating Disorder, Health Psychology, research, Social Psychology, stress, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

You Can Trust Me More Than You Can Trust Them: Cynicism & The Trust Gap

Read the original research paper HERE (PDF)

Credit: Jeremy Dean from Psyblog

How do people come to believe that others are so much less trustworthy than themselves?

Much as we might prefer otherwise, there’s solid evidence that, on average, people are quite cynical. When thinking about strangers, studies have shown that people think others are more selfishly motivated than they really are and that others are less helpful than they really are.

Similarly in financial games psychologists have run in the lab, people are remarkably cynical about the trustworthiness of others. In one experiment people honored the trust placed in them between 80 and 90 percent of the time, but only estimated that others would honor their trust about 50 percent of the time.

Our cynicism towards strangers may develop as early as 7 years old (Mills & Keil, 2005). Surprisingly people are even overly cynical about their loved ones, assuming they will behave more selfishly than they really do (Kruger & Gilovich, 1999).

What could create such a huge gap between how people behave themselves and how they think others behave?

Trust me

People often say that it’s experience that breeds this cynicism rather than a failing in human nature. This is true, but only in a special way.

Think about it like this: the first time you trust a stranger and are betrayed, it makes sense to avoid trusting other strangers in the future. The problem is that when we don’t ever trust strangers, we never find out how trustworthy people in general really are. As a result our estimation of them is governed by fear.

If this argument is correct, it is lack of experience that leads to people’s cynicism, specifically not enough positive experiences of trusting strangers. This idea is tested in a new study published in Psychological Science. Fetchenhauer and Dunning (2010) set up a kind of ideal world in the lab where people were given accurate information about the trustworthiness of strangers to see if that would reduce their cynicism.

They recruited 120 participants to take part in a game of economic trust. Each person was given €7.50 and asked if they’d like to hand it to another person. If the other person made the same decision the pot would increase to €30. They were then asked to estimate whether the other person would opt to give them their half of the total winnings.

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The participants watched 56 short videos of the people they were playing against. The researchers set up two experimental conditions, one to mimic what happens in the real world and one to test an ideal world scenario:

1. Real life condition: in this group participants were only told about the other person’s decision when they decided to trust them. The idea is that this condition simulates real life. You only find out if others are trustworthy when you decide to trust them. If you don’t trust someone you never find out whether or not they are trustworthy.

2. Ideal world condition: here participants were given feedback about the trustworthiness of other people whether or not they decided to trust them. This simulates an ideal-world condition where we all know from experience just how trustworthy people are (i.e. much more trustworthy than we think!)

Breaking down cynicism

Once again this study showed that people are remarkably cynical about strangers. Participants in this study thought that only 52 percent of the people they saw in the videos could be trusted to share their winnings. But the actual level of trustworthiness was a solid 80 percent. There’s the cynicism.

That cynicism was quickly broken down, though, by giving participants accurate feedback about others’ trustworthiness. People in the ideal world condition noticed that others could be trusted (they upped their estimate to 71 percent) and were also more trusting themselves, handing over the money 70.1 percent of the time.

People in the ideal world condition could even be seen shedding their cynicism as the study went on, becoming more trusting as they noticed that others were trustworthy. This suggests people aren’t inherently cynical, it’s just that we don’t get enough practice at trusting.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

Unfortunately we don’t live in the ideal world condition and have to put up with only receiving feedback when we decide to trust others. This leaves us in the position of trusting to psychology studies like this one to tell us that other people are more trustworthy than we imagine (or at least people who take part in psychology studies are!).

Trusting others is also a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, just as we find in interpersonal attraction. If you try trusting others you’ll find they frequently repay that trust, leading you to be more trusting. On the other hand if you never trust anyone, except those nearest and dearest, then you’ll end up more cynical about strangers.

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Read the original research paper HERE (PDF)

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April 1, 2010 Posted by | Books, brain, Cognition, Health Psychology, research, Resilience | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Multitasking: New Study Challenges Previous Cognitive Theory But Shows That Only A Few “Supertaskers” Can Drive And Phone

Read The Original Research Paper HERE (PDF – internal link)

A new study from University of Utah psychologists found a small group of people with an extraordinary ability to multitask: Unlike 97.5 percent of those studied, they can safely drive while chatting on a cell phone.

These individuals – described by the researchers as “supertaskers” – constitute only 2.5 percent of the population. They are so named for their ability to successfully do two things at once: in this case, talk on a cell phone while operating a driving simulator without noticeable impairment.

Jason Watson, a University of Utah psychologist, negotiates cybertraffic in a driving simulator used to study driver distractions such as cell phones and testing. While many people think they can safely drive and talk on a cell phone at the same time, Watson's new study shows only one in 40 is a "supertasker" who can perform both tasks at once without impairment of abilities measured in the study. Credit: Valoree Dowell, University of Utah

The study, conducted by psychologists Jason Watson and David Strayer, is now in press for publication later this year in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

This finding is important not because it shows people can drive well while on the phone – the study confirms that the vast majority cannot – but because it challenges current theories of multitasking. Further research may lead eventually to new understanding of regions of the brain that are responsible for supertaskers’ extraordinary performance.

“According to cognitive theory, these individuals ought not to exist,” says Watson. “Yet, clearly they do, so we use the supertasker term as a convenient way to describe their exceptional multitasking ability. Given the number of individuals who routinely talk on the phone while driving, one would have hoped that there would be a greater percentage of supertaskers. And while we’d probably all like to think we are the exception to the rule, the odds are overwhelmingly against it. In fact, the odds of being a supertasker are about as good as your chances of flipping a coin and getting five heads in a row.”

The researchers assessed the performance of 200 participants over a single task (simulated freeway driving), and again with a second demanding activity added (a cell phone conversation that involved memorizing words and solving math problems). Performance was then measured in four areas—braking reaction time, following distance, memory, and math execution.

As expected, results showed that for the group, performance suffered across the board while driving and talking on a hands-free cell phone.

For those who were not supertaskers and who talked on a cell phone while driving the simulators, it took 20 percent longer to hit the brakes when needed and following distances increased 30 percent as the drivers failed to keep pace with simulated traffic while driving. Memory performance declined 11 percent, and the ability to do math problems fell 3 percent.

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However, when supertaskers talked while driving, they displayed no change in their normal braking times, following distances or math ability, and their memory abilities actually improved 3 percent.

The results are in line with Strayer’s prior studies showing that driving performance routinely declines under “dual-task conditions” – namely talking on a cell phone while driving – and is comparable to the impairment seen in drunken drivers.

Yet contrary to current understanding in this area, the small number of supertaskers showed no impairment on the measurements of either driving or cell conversation when in combination. Further, researchers found that these individuals’ performance even on the single tasks was markedly better than the control group.

“There is clearly something special about the supertaskers,” says Strayer. “Why can they do something that most of us cannot? Psychologists may need to rethink what they know about multitasking in light of this new evidence. We may learn from these very rare individuals that the multitasking regions of the brain are different and that there may be a genetic basis for this difference. That is very exciting. Stay tuned.”

Watson and Strayer are now studying expert fighter pilots under the assumption that those who can pilot a jet aircraft are also likely to have extraordinary multitasking ability.

The current value society puts on multitasking is relatively new, note the authors. As technology expands throughout our environment and daily lives, it may be that everyone – perhaps even supertaskers – eventually will reach the limits of their ability to divide attention across several tasks.

“As technology spreads, it will be very useful to better understand the brain’s processing capabilities, and perhaps to isolate potential markers that predict extraordinary ability, especially for high-performance professions,” Watson concludes.

Information from University of Utah

Read The Original Research Paper HERE (PDF – internal link)

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March 31, 2010 Posted by | anxiety, Books, brain, Cognition, Health Psychology, research, stress, Technology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pack Up Your Troubles And (Apparently) Smile: Physical Enclosure Helps Psychological Closure

Read the original research paper HERE (Free PDF-internal link)

ScienceDaily (Mar. 25, 2010) — Finding it hard to get over a failed love interest? Just can’t get details of a bad financial move out of your head.

A new study from the Rotman School of Management suggests you might want to stick something related to your disappointment in a box or envelope if you want to feel better. In four separate experiments researchers found that the physical act of enclosing materials related to an unpleasant experience, such as a written recollection about it, improved people’s negative feelings towards the event and created psychological closure. Enclosing materials unrelated to the experience did not work as well.

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“If you tell people, ‘You’ve got to move on,’ that doesn’t work,” said Dilip Soman, who holds the Corus Chair in Communication Strategy at the Rotman School and is also a professor of marketing, who co-wrote the paper with colleagues Xiuping Li from the National University of Singapore and Liyuan Wei from City University of Hong Kong. “What works is when people enclose materials that are relevant to the negative memories they have. It works because people aren’t trying to explicitly control their emotions.”

While the market implications might not be immediately obvious, Prof. Soman believes the findings point to new angles on such things as fast pick-up courier services and pre-paid mortgage deals that relieve people’s sense of debt burden. If people realize that the memory of past events or tasks can be distracting, perhaps there is a market for products and services that can enclose or take away memories of that task.

The paper is to be published in Psychological Science.

Read the original research paper HERE (Free PDF-internal link)

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March 29, 2010 Posted by | Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, anxiety, Books, Cognition, depression, Positive Psychology, Resilience, Spirituality | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kids Who Bully Want Status But Long For Affection

Read The Original Research Paper HERE (Free PDF-internal link)

From ScienceDaily (Mar. 27, 2010) — Bullying is common in classrooms around the world: About 15 percent of children are victimized, leading to depression, anxiety, loneliness, and other negative outcomes. What’s driving bullies to behave the way they do? According to a new large-scale Dutch study, most bullies are motivated by the pursuit of status and affection.

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The longitudinal study was conducted by researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. It appears in the March/April 2010 issue of the journal Child Development.

In their work, the researchers questioned almost 500 elementary-school children ages 9 to 12. Based on their findings, they conclude that bullies generally choose to gain status by dominating their victims. But at the same time, they try to reduce the chances that they’ll end up on the outs with other classmates by choosing as victims children who are weak and not well-liked by others. In short, even bullies care a lot about others’ affection and don’t want to lose it.

Gender also plays a role. For example, the study finds that at this age, bullies only care about not losing affection from classmates of their own gender. So when boys bully boys, it doesn’t matter whether girls approve or disapprove. The same holds for girls. Moreover, boys will bully only those girls that aren’t well liked by other boys, regardless of what girls think about it, and girls will do the same in their bullying of boys.

“To understand the complex nature of acceptance and rejection, it’s necessary to distinguish the gender of the bully, the gender of the target, and the gender of the classmates who accept and reject bullies and victims,” according to René Veenstra, professor of sociology at the University of Groningen, who led the study.

Read The Original Research Paper HERE (Free PDF-internal link)

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March 28, 2010 Posted by | Adolescence, Bullying, Child Behavior, Identity, Parenting | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Attractive Lady Makes The Boys Go Gaga:Testosterone And Risk Taking Behavior

Read The Original Research Paper HERE (Free PDF-internal link)

From UNIS : University of Queensland research suggests that the presence of a beautiful woman can lead men to throw caution to the wind. Professor Bill von Hippel and doctoral student Richard Ronay, from UQ’s School of Psychology, have been examining the links between physical risk-taking in young men and the presence of attractive women.

To examine this issue, they conducted a field experiment with young male skateboarders and found the skateboarders took more risks at the skate park when they were observed by an attractive female experimenter than when they were observed by a male experimenter.

This increased risk-taking led to more successes but also more crash landings in front of the female observer.

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Professor von Hippel and Mr Ronay also measured testosterone from participants’ saliva, and found that the skateboarders’ increased risk taking was caused by elevated testosterone levels brought about by the presence of the attractive female.

According to the researchers these findings suggest an evolutionary basis for male risk-taking.

“Historically, men have competed with each other for access to fertile women and the winners of those competitions are the ones who pass on their genes to future generations. Risk-taking would have been inherent in such a competitive mating strategy,” said Professor von Hippel.

“Our results suggest that displays of physical risk-taking might best be understood as hormonally fuelled advertisements of health and vigour aimed at potential mates, and signals of strength, fitness, and daring intended to intimidate potential rivals.”

The researchers point out that although evolution may have favoured males who engage in risky behaviour to attract females, such behaviours can also be detrimental in terms of survival.

“Other instances of physical risk-taking that contribute to men’s early mortality, such as dangerous driving and physical aggression, might also be influenced by increases in testosterone brought about by the presence of attractive women.”

Read The Original Research Paper HERE (Free PDF-internal link)

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March 27, 2010 Posted by | Adolescence, Cognition, Identity, Intimate Relationshps, Sex & Sexuality, Social Psychology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Academic Dishonesty = Fail: Procrastination & Copying Homework Increases Failure Rate Irrespective of Aptitude

Read The Original Research Paper HERE (PDF)

From ScienceDaily (Mar. 21, 2010) — The history of students who copy homework from classmates may be as old as school itself. But in today’s age of lecture-hall laptops and online coursework, how prevalent and damaging to the education of students has such academic dishonesty become?

According to research published online March 18 in Physical Review Special Topics: Physics Education Research, it turns out that unnoticed student cheating is a significant cause of course failure nationally.

A researcher from the University of Kansas has teamed up with colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to get a better handle on copying in college in the 21st century.

Young-Jin Lee, assistant professor of educational technology at KU, and the Research in Learning, Assessing and Tutoring Effectively group at MIT spent four years seeing how many copied answers MIT students submitted to MasteringPhysics, an online homework tutoring system.

“MIT freshmen are required to take physics,” said Lee. “Homework was given through a Web-based tutor that our group had developed. We analyzed when they logged in, when they logged out, what kind of problems they solved and what kinds of hints they used.”

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Lee said that it was easy to spot students who had obtained answers from classmates before completing the homework.

“We ran into very interesting students who could solve the problems — very hard problems — in less than one minute, without making any mistakes,” said Lee.

Students also were asked to complete an anonymous survey about the frequency of their homework copying. (According to the survey, students nationally admit to engaging in more academic dishonesty than MIT students.)

Among the researchers’ most notable findings:

* Students who procrastinated also copied more often. Those who started their homework three days ahead of deadline copied less than 10 percent of their problems, while those who drug their feet until the last minute were repetitive copiers.

The students who copied frequently had about three times the chance of failing the course.

* Results of the survey show that students are twice as likely to copy on written homework than on online homework.

* This study showed that doing all the homework assigned is “a surer route to exam success” than a preexisting aptitude for physics.

“People believe that students copy because of their poor academic skills,” Lee said. “But we found that repetitive copiers — students who copy over 30 percent of their homework problems — had enough knowledge, at least at the beginning of the semester. But they didn’t put enough effort in. They didn’t start their homework long enough ahead of time, as compared to noncopiers.”

Because repetitive copiers don’t adequately learn physics topics on which they copy the homework, Lee said, the research strongly implies that copying caused declining performance on analytic test problems later in the semester.

“Even though everyone knows not doing homework is bad for learning, no one knows how bad it is,” said Lee. “Now we have a quantitative measurement. It could make an A student get B or even C.”

At the beginning of a semester, the researchers found that copying was not as widespread as it was late in the semester.

“Obviously, the amount of copying was not so prevalent because the academic load was not as much at the beginning of the semester,” said Lee. “In order to copy solutions, the students need to build their networks. They need to get to know each other so that they can ask for the answers.”

But the KU researcher and his MIT colleagues also demonstrated that changes to college course formats — such as breaking up large lecture classes into smaller “studio” classes, increasing interactions between teaching staff and students, changing the grading system — could reduce student copying fourfold.

Read The Original Research Paper HERE (PDF)

Adapted from materials provided by University of Kansas

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March 22, 2010 Posted by | Adolescence, anxiety, Cognition, Education, stress, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Improve Self Control and Impulsivity Through Abstract Thinking

Read Original Research Paper HERE (Free PDF internal link)

[A] New study shows that self-control can be automatically, unconsciously bolstered by abstract thinking.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just spontaneously and automatically exercise self-control, without all that painful back-and-forth battle with ourselves?

Just automatically resist that cake and choose the apple; or suddenly find ourselves out jogging without resorting to self-blackmail […]

Unfortunately so often temptation wins. And experiments show that when we are run down from exercising self-discipline all day, we become even more likely to give in to temptation.

Apple or candy bar?

[Previous studies suggest ]that self-control can be increased by thinking abstractly about our goals. This suggests we should see our actions as just one part of a larger plan, rather than focusing on the details of what we’re doing. The power of abstract thinking may offer a way for us to increase our self-control without really trying.

But how does thinking abstractly about our goals increase our self-control? In a recent article published in Psychological Science, Fujita and Han (2009) wondered if our unconscious mind is somehow pitching in to help out. They used an implicit association test as a way of measuring people’s unconscious thoughts about eating either an apple or a tempting candy bar.

Before taking this test people were put into either an abstract or concrete mode of thinking. Participants were split into two groups with each asked to think about maintaining good personal relationships, but in different ways. One group thought about why we need to maintain good relationships (abstract, high-level) while the other focused on how we maintain good relationships (concrete, low-level).

As you can see, for the purposes of this experiment, the reason participants were thinking abstractly didn’t matter so much. That’s because when we think abstractly about one thing, we tend to carry on thinking in an abstract mode about anything else that’s put in front of us, including the choice between an apple and a candy bar.

Automatic, unconscious self-control

The results showed that, when participants were thinking concretely, they tended to unconsciously see candy bars in a positive light and apples in a negative light. But this was reversed when participants were thinking abstractly. Just as predicted, abstract thinking automatically made people unconsciously think of candy bars as the devil’s own food.

To back this up they asked participants in the two conditions whether they would like an apple or a candy bar, right now. They found that when participants were thinking in a concrete low-level way, they chose the apple over the candy bar only 50% of the time. But when they were thinking abstractly this percentage shot up to 76%. Not bad for such a simple manipulation.

So it seems you can bolster resistance to temptation by thinking abstractly about the goal you want to obtain because it causes your mind to automatically associate temptations with negativity. Hey presto, more self-control and thank you unconscious mind.

Why not try applying this to whatever you are finding difficult to achieve?

Read Original Research Paper HERE (Free PDF internal link)

Adapted from an article posted at PsyBlog 03/10

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March 21, 2010 Posted by | Cognition, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | , , , , | Leave a comment

Men Are From Earth, Women are from Earth: Do Studies Show That Gender Has Little Or No Bearing on Personality, Cognition and Leadership?

From American Psychogical Association http://www.apa.org

The Truth about Gender “Differences”

Mars-Venus sex differences appear to be as mythical as the Man in the Moon. A 2005 analysis of 46 meta-analyses that were conducted during the last two decades of the 20th century underscores that men and women are basically alike in terms of personality, cognitive ability and leadership. Psychologist Janet Shibley Hyde, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, discovered that males and females from childhood to adulthood are more alike than different on most psychological variables, resulting in what she calls a gender similarities hypothesis. Using meta-analytical techniques that revolutionized the study of gender differences starting in the 1980s, she analyzed how prior research assessed the impact of gender on many psychological traits and abilities, including cognitive abilities, verbal and nonverbal communication, aggression, leadership, self-esteem, moral reasoning and motor behaviors.

Hyde observed that across the dozens of studies, consistent with the gender similarities hypothesis, gender differences had either no or a very small effect on most of the psychological variables examined. Only a few main differences appeared: Compared with women, men could throw farther, were more physically aggressive, masturbated more, and held more positive attitudes about sex in uncommitted relationships.

Furthermore, Hyde found that gender differences seem to depend on the context in which they were measured. In studies designed to eliminate gender norms, researchers demonstrated that gender roles and social context strongly determined a person’s actions. For example, after participants in one experiment were told that they would not be identified as male or female, nor did they wear any identification, none conformed to stereotypes about their sex when given the chance to be aggressive. In fact, they did the opposite of what would be expected – women were more aggressive and men were more passive.

Finally, Hyde’s 2005 report looked into the developmental course of possible gender differences – how any apparent gap may open or close over time. The analysis presented evidence that gender differences fluctuate with age, growing smaller or larger at different times in the life span. This fluctuation indicates again that any differences are not stable.

Learning Gender-Difference Myths

Media depictions of men and women as fundamentally “different” appear to perpetuate misconceptions – despite the lack of evidence. The resulting “urban legends” of gender difference can affect men and women at work and at home, as parents and as partners. As an example, workplace studies show that women who go against the caring, nurturing feminine stereotype may pay dearly for it when being hired or evaluated. And when it comes to personal relationships, best-selling books and popular magazines often claim that women and men don’t get along because they communicate too differently. Hyde suggests instead that men and women stop talking prematurely because they have been led to believe that they can’t change supposedly “innate” sex-based traits.

Hyde has observed that children also suffer the consequences of exaggerated claims of gender difference — for example, the widespread belief that boys are better than girls in math. However, according to her meta-analysis, boys and girls perform equally well in math until high school, at which point boys do gain a small advantage. That may not reflect biology as much as social expectations, many psychologists believe. For example, the original Teen Talk Barbie ™, before she was pulled from the market after consumer protest, said, “Math class is tough.”

As a result of stereotyped thinking, mathematically talented elementary-school girls may be overlooked by parents who have lower expectations for a daughter’s success in math. Hyde cites prior research showing that parents’ expectations of their children’s success in math relate strongly to the children’s self-confidence and performance.

Moving Past Myth

Hyde and her colleagues hope that people use the consistent evidence that males and females are basically alike to alleviate misunderstanding and correct unequal treatment. Hyde is far from alone in her observation that the clear misrepresentation of sex differences, given the lack of evidence, harms men and women of all ages. In a September 2005 press release on her research issued by the American Psychological Association (APA), she said, “The claims [of gender difference] can hurt women’s opportunities in the workplace, dissuade couples from trying to resolve conflict and communication problems and cause unnecessary obstacles that hurt children and adolescents’ self-esteem.”

Psychologist Diane Halpern, PhD, a professor at Claremont College and past-president (2005) of the American Psychological Association, points out that even where there are patterns of cognitive differences between males and females, “differences are not deficiencies.” She continues, “Even when differences are found, we cannot conclude that they are immutable because the continuous interplay of biological and environmental influences can change the size and direction of the effects some time in the future.”

The differences that are supported by the evidence cause concern, she believes, because they are sometimes used to support prejudicial beliefs and discriminatory actions against girls and women. She suggests that anyone reading about gender differences consider whether the size of the differences are large enough to be meaningful, recognize that biological and environmental variables interact and influence one other, and remember that the conclusions that we accept today could change in the future.

Cited Research

Archer, J. (2004). Sex differences in aggression in real-world settings: A meta-analytic review. Review of General Psychology, 8, 291-322.

Barnett, R. & Rivers, C. (2004). Same difference: How gender myths are hurting our relationships, our children, and our jobs. New York: Basic Books.

Eaton, W. O., & Enns, L. R. (1986). Sex differences in human motor activity level. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 19-28.

Feingold, A. (1994). Gender differences in personality: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 429-456.

Halpern, D. F. (2000). Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities (3rd Edition). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, Associates, Inc. Publishers.

Halpern, D. F. (2004). A cognitive-process taxonomy for sex differences in cognitive abilities. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13 (4), 135-139.

Hyde, J. S., Fennema, E., & Lamon, S. (1990). Gender differences in mathematics performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 107, 139-155.

Hyde, J. S. (2005). The Gender Similarities Hypothesis. American Psychologist, Vol. 60, No. 6.

Leaper, C. & Smith, T. E. (2004). A meta-analytic review of gender variations in children’s language use: Talkativeness, affiliative speech, and assertive speech. Developmental Psychology, 40, 993-1027.

Oliver, M. B. & Hyde, J. S. (1993). Gender differences in sexuality: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 29-51.

Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M. & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4-28.

Voyer, D., Voyer, S., & Bryden, M. P., (1995). Magnitude of sex differences in spatial abilities: A meta-analysis and consideration of critical variables. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 250-270.


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March 14, 2010 Posted by | Cognition, Education, General, Identity, Social Psychology | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It Takes HOW Long to Form a Habit?: Research Shows a Curved Relationship Between Practice and Automaticity. (Repost)

Reposted due to popularity!

Say you want to create a new habit, whether it’s taking more exercise, eating more healthily or writing a blog post every day, how often does it need to be performed before it no longer requires Herculean self control?

Clearly it’s going to depend on the type of habit you’re trying to form and how single-minded you are in pursuing your goal. But are there any general guidelines for how long it takes before behaviours become automatic?

Ask Google and you’ll get a figure of somewhere between 21 and 28 days. In fact there’s no solid evidence for this number at all. The 21 day myth may well come from a book published in 1960 by a plastic surgeon. Dr Maxwell Maltz noticed that amputees took, on average, 21 days to adjust to the loss of a limb and he argued that people take 21 days to adjust to any major life changes.

Unless you’re in the habit of sawing off your own arm, this is not particularly relevant.

Doing without thinking

Now, however, there is some psychological research on this question in a paper recently published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. Phillippa Lally and colleagues from University College London recruited 96 people who were interested in forming a new habit such as eating a piece of fruit with lunch or doing a 15 minute run each day Lally et al. (2009). Participants were then asked daily how automatic their chosen behaviours felt. These questions included things like whether the behaviour was ‘hard not to do’ and could be done ‘without thinking’.

When the researchers examined the different habits, many of the participants showed a curved relationship between practice and automaticity of the form depicted below (solid line). On average a plateau in automaticity was reached after 66 days. In other words it had become as much of a habit as it was ever going to become.

Click on image to read reviews

habit_graph2

This graph shows that early practice was rewarded with greater increases in automaticity and gains tailed off as participants reached their maximum automaticity for that behaviour.

Although the average was 66 days, there was marked variation in how long habits took to form, anywhere from 18 days up to 254 days in the habits examined in this study. As you’d imagine, drinking a daily glass of water became automatic very quickly but doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast required more dedication (above, dotted lines). The researchers also noted that:

  • Missing a single day did not reduce the chance of forming a habit.
  • A sub-group took much longer than the others to form their habits, perhaps suggesting some people are ‘habit-resistant’.
  • Other types of habits may well take much longer.

No small change

What this study reveals is that when we want to develop a relatively simple habit like eating a piece of fruit each day or taking a 10 minute walk, it could take us over two months of daily repetitions before the behaviour becomes a habit. And, while this research suggests that skipping single days isn’t detrimental in the long-term, it’s those early repetitions that give us the greatest boost in automaticity.

Unfortunately it seems there’s no such thing as small change: the much-repeated 21 days to form a habit is a considerable underestimation unless your only goal in life is drinking glasses of water.

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Source: psyblog.com
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March 13, 2010 Posted by | Cognition, General, Health Psychology, Social Psychology | , , , , , | 1 Comment