Tag Archives: Psychology

On Happiness

In honor of one of my new year resolution in 2015 to write a new blog post every week, this will be my last weekly post of 2015. It still does not feel like the end of the year came and went. Ever since my friend asked me about my reflections this past year (which I admit I have completely forgotten to reflect on), I have been doing more thinking and formulating my new year resolution for 2016. No doubt, I will be revisiting the post I wrote last year for some guidelines.

But today, I want to write about happiness. It always amazes and sometimes confuses me how researchers can study this topic. Inherently a subjective matter, happiness is a fluctuating, hard-to-verify measurement unlike other more steady cousins, such as income or GDP. This disadvantage has led some major fields, including Economics, to stay away from tackling this so-called “fluffy” measurement. At the same time, it has intrigued many Psychologists and prompted subfields such as positive psychology.

Lottery Winners and Accident Victims 

In a study by Philip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, they asked a bunch of lottery winners and paraplegics about their happiness levels. The hypothesis is that those who had won the lottery will be much happier than others, while those who had lost a limb will be unhappier than others. Not a crazy hypothesis.

People were asked to rate their happiness on a scale of 0 to 5 (a 6 point scale) of how positive or negative the event (lottery/accident) was. Surprisingly, the ratings of happiness between the two groups, lottery winners and accident victims, were not that different from each other. Don’t get me wrong – in statistics terms, they were significant, but not by much, considering their difference in magnitude. The average happiness rating for lottery winners was 3.78, while for accident victims it was 1.28 (reminder: this was on a 6-point scale).

Now, the measure used in this experiment is a pretty bad one using only one question and a self-reported survey. People are pretty bad at defining something as broad as “happiness”, everyone interprets the word differently, and self-reported measures are not always honest. So, it is better to compare within subjects, meaning we get the same person to answer the questions so that it’s at least a comparable definition of “happiness”. With this, they found another interesting fact: the happiness level did not increase or decrease after winning the lottery OR after being paralyzed from below the waist.

Wait what? what happened? This is because people adapt to situations extremely quickly. Before we win the lottery, we think that our lives will change dramatically afterwards and we will be super happy. However, a few things happen after you really win the lottery. The usual activities you used to do are less enjoyable now; fun things now feel boring. Secondly, habituation occurs and having lottery cash becomes your new baseline. The same effect goes for paraplegics in the opposite direction.

This paper is one of the more famous experiments showing that happiness is all relative to our baseline. To me, it also remarkably shows how easy we adapt to new environments. For example, you might be convinced that working towards that huge promotion next year will make you happier, but you’ll quickly adjust to it – so don’t spend your whole life in the office and enjoy life! You might think that breaking up with your loved one means you’ll never be happy again, but you’ll adjust to a new norm and soon be happy again.

2016 looks like a year of changes and uncertainty for me, but I’m certain with humans superb adapting ability, it will be a happy year regardless. I wish you all great happiness in 2016! HAPPY NEW YEAR 🙂

With love,

Steph

Source: Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative?. Journal of personality and social psychology, 36(8), 917.

Advertisements

Could you watch my laptop?

“Would you mind keeping an eye on my computer?” I asked, wanting to get a refill for my coffee.

“Yeah, sure” responds the stranger sitting next to me.

This conversation might sound familiar to those of you who frequent coffee shops and cafés alone and stay there for hours on end. At some point, you’ll need to go to the bathroom, want another cup of coffee, or maybe a chocolate croissant as well.

When I came back to my computer, said stranger asks, “Why would you trust me with your computer?”

Caught off guard, I pause for a second and said, “I don’t have a reason to, but Psychology research suggests….”

Yes, yes, I quoted research to a complete stranger at a coffee shop (don’t judge). In all seriousness, here is what research said about asking strangers to watch your stuff for you –

Beach Blanket Study

In the summer of 1972, Psychologist Tom Moriarty set up 56 fake thefts to happen at Jones Beach in New York. They were interested in seeing whether people witnessing the theft would intervene and stop the crime from happening.

Here is how the experiment went – a “confederate” (probably was a research assistant like myself) would lay a beach blanket somewhere close to where an individual, a couple, or a family might have set up their beach blanket and basking in the sunshine. Then, for half the time, the confederate would listen to the portable radio for 2 minutes, and then say to the people in the next blanket, “excuse me, I’m going out for a swim, would you watch my things?” For the other half of the time, the confederate would listen to the radio for 2 minutes, then engage in some unrelated conversation and leave for his or her swim.

While the beach blanket and the portable radio were unattended, another research assistant would come and pretend to steal the radio. The question is: would those people in the beach blanket next to them witnessing the crime stop the stealer?

In the condition where the strangers agreed to watch the portable radio, the strangers stopped the thief 95% of the time! Comparatively, those who engaged the stranger in some unrelated conversation, saw only 20% of thefts being interrupted. That’s a huge effect from just kindly asking your neighbor to watch out for your things. 1 short second to save your portable radio! (well, I think that would be equivalent to your macbook in 2015 terms right?)

Even though I ask my neighbor to watch my things every time I leave the table, I question this experiment for several reasons. This experiment set-up confounds another famous marketing experiment, where people are more likely to allow you to cut the line if you provide them with a reason (any reason) [Langer, Blank, & Chanowitz, 1978]. In the blanket study, in addition to asking the stranger to watch the radio and blanket, the confederate also provided a reason “I’m going out for a swim”, which might have exaggerated the percentage of people who would agree to watching things for you. (Do I have to explain that I’m going to the bathroom?) Which leads to another question, is it necessary that the person says yes to your request? Or would they still chase after the thief for you even if they said no?

Before I read about more studies that addresses my coffee shop habits and self-control issues at the dessert shelf (see previously: compromise effect at sbux, and choice overload problem) I would suggest you ask the person next to you to watch your things before leaving the table. It might just save your laptop and backpack while you wait for your latte.

Love,

S (back in asia in t-3 days!)

Sources:

Moriarty, Thomas. “Crime, commitment, and the responsive bystander: Two field experiments.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 31.2 (1975): 370.

Langer, Ellen J., Arthur Blank, and Benzion Chanowitz. “The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of” placebic” information in interpersonal interaction.” Journal of personality and social psychology 36.6 (1978): 635.

Fruit Salad or Chocolate?

We are approaching the end of the year and counting down the days to the holidays! I spent this past week mostly reading academic papers from Psychology and Consumer Research journals on a topic that would be relevant to all of us as we step into the holiday season. This study is widely cited in popular books, such as How We Decide and probably in social psych or marketing course. It is about self-control.

It’s one of the many experiments out there that try to study self-control in a lab setting. Before we begin, I should be cautious and should warn you about the danger of juggling words such as self-control, willpower, cognitive load, processing power around. Though they might sound like the same thing to us (e.g. basically you’re saying I shopped online today and shouldn’t have?), the mechanism underlying each of these words might be very different. In this experiment, researchers Shiv and Fedorikhin called it “Processing Resources”.

Heart and Mind in Conflict

Imagine this: you’re taking a psych course and are required to register for these lab studies in order to get credit for the course. You walk in to the lab and the experimenter tells you a 7-digit number that you have to memorize, a number that you have to repeat to the experimenter in another room. You get a map of where you’re supposed to go. Before you go though, go over to the cart and choose a dessert you want! yum. these studies aren’t so bad, are they? You get to pick between chocolate and fruit salad. After you make your choice, you walk over to the second room according to the map, and then recall the 7-digit number you were asked to memorize. You think you’ll still remember the 7-digits?

You do? Good for you! The bad news is that your memorization skills wasn’t what they’re interested in. Instead, what they wanted to know is whether you picked the chocolate or the fruit salad from the dessert cart. They manipulated something else too; they didn’t give everyone 7 digits to remember, some of your classmates only had to remember 2 digits! In a classic cognitive load manipulation study, remembering 7 digits is called “high load”, while remembering 2 digits is called “low load”. (They can also vary the digit-length, ask you to remember words instead of numbers, do math problems, etc.)

As you can imagine, it wasn’t very difficult to remember these digits so most people recalled them perfectly. However, they did find effects on the dessert choices. Those who had to memorize 7 digits were significantly more likely to choose the chocolate than those who memorized 2 digits only. (This is all assuming that chocolate is less healthy than fruit salad; which could very well be another debate for another time). The researchers claim that those in the 7 digit condition used their limited processing resources to memorize the string of numbers, leaving them with less willpower to resist the chocolate temptation. Those in the 2 digit condition, had more willpower left to make the healthier decision by choosing the fruit salad.

More generally, self-control is a limited resource that gets depleted over time. If you need to do something that requires a lot of self-control, conserve your willpower by focusing on that one task. It’s not likely that you would be memorizing some meaningless 7-digit number in your everyday life, but you might have your mind on the news or a family dispute or what to eat for dinner. Know that these concurrent thoughts will be pulling your processing ability away. This might be something to keep in mind as you go christmas shopping: you’re more likely to impulse buy that thing you shouldn’t buy if your mind is loaded with other busy thoughts!

Happy weekend everybody.

love,
Steph

 

Source: Shiv, B.; Fedorikhin, A. “Heart and Mind in Conflict: The Interplay of Affect and Cognition in Consumer Decision Making” Journal of Consumer Research, Vol 26 (1999). 

(Dis)Honest: Do you Lie?

Of course you do. Everyone lies. Everyone openly admits to lying. Yet, we still think of ourselves as perfectly good, lovely people. Hm. This topic has intrigued Dan Ariely, a behavioral economists and psychologist to study it in depth and to subsequently write a book, direct a documentary, and create an online project about it.

The book, called Dishonesty: The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty attempts to explain how people cheat. One of the main findings is that few people in society cheat a lot (think: WSJ front page), but a lot of people cheat a little (think: you, me, him, her, etc). The economic cost of everyone cheating a little bit actually adds up to be so much greater than the cost of those few individuals who make it to jail cheating a lot at once.

In his studies, Dan Ariely and his team at Duke’s Center for Advanced Insights tried many different ways to get people to cheat. For example, they asked people to solve a set of math questions and told them that they would be paid for how many questions they got correct. After time is up, subjects were instructed to count how many questions they got right, walk to the front of the room, SHRED their answer sheet, and then verbally report how many they got correct. The researchers did not and will not know what their real score was – did they cheat?

What they found was that 90% of people cheated. 90%!!! Almost everyone was okay with cheating on that math test. I’m sure if you and I were in that experiment, we would have cheated too. They tested this effect across gender, cultures, age, and found universally the same result.

There are many other interesting things that Dan Ariely has done and I’ll outline a few here:

  • The documentary with the same title as his book. I personally really liked it. It’s a little long (~1 hour 45 mins), but it was filled with story after story of interesting people who started a small lie, and then it over time snowballed into these HUGE lies that went out of control. They ended up going to jail and/or losing everything. If anything, it served to scare me about the consequences of lying.IMG_4353
  • He spoke at several Ted Talks (this link is for the dishonesty one) that you might want to check out. I’ve had the fortune of listening to Dan speak several times now, including last week at Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy and he’s a great speaker. He has a knack for holding his audiences’ attention through his stories and jokes, and engaging his audience while revealing stunning facts (e.g. the one about 90% people lying). Highly recommend it!
  • Irrational Card Game is on Kickstarter now. His lab is full of creative people and this is one of the products they came up with. It’ll be a fun way to learn about behavioral economics in general and looks super fun! pb ordered me a set and I cannot wait to play it! 🙂
  • Phone apps to help you. This is news to me as I was researching about this blog post. They made several phone apps with fun surveys like “what is the best pick up line you know”; there’s another one that looks like it targets procrastinators. Excited to check these out!

I’ll be in Chicago next weekend for Halloween 🙂 and move-out 😦

Have a great week ahead,

xx Steph

Reducing Youth Violence

I was listening to a Freakonomics’ podcast “I don’t know what you’ve done with my husband but he’s a changed man” episode and learned something related to the topic of this blog that I want to share with you.

The episode was on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is a type of psychotherapy in which Psychologists and patients work to overcome difficulties through discussions and problem solving. Most of the time, it means changing one’s thinking, actions, or emotional responses to their surroundings.

Chicago was mentioned several times in the podcast. Ever since living in Chicago, I have had a tendency of getting very excited about the topic being discussed when Chicago is mentioned. I feel that the general population is referring to Chicago more and more now, or is that my illusion? Either way, I decided to look more into BAM (Becoming A Man), a youth program in Chicago that was mentioned in the podcast.

The program is super interesting. It’s part of University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, where they implement research-based policies to reduce crime and violence. This program, BAM, was a one-year program aimed to reduce youth gun violence that is so prevalent in Chicago. In addition, they wanted to reduce skiving and school dropouts.

The Crime Lab went into schools and taught Grade 7-10 males on a variety of social cognitive skills, including self-control, conflict resolution, and social information processing. These are crucial knowledge for everyday functions that is curiously not taught as part of the school curriculum.

Results from the implementation were remarkable. Before the program, the average youth missed 6 weeks of school and had a grade point average of D+. After the program, students missed fewer classes and performed better. More importantly, they were 10–23% more likely to graduate and violent crime arrests reduced by a whooping 44%!

The long-term effects of this program are still being evaluated. The after effects of an experiment are something that is important to think about when implementing programs in the real world. Firstly, the results of the program itself could have positive or negative impact on the participants (though you hope that it’s positive of course!) However, researchers should also think about what happens to the participants after the experiment is “over”. The long-term impact might range from positive, where the situation continues to become better, neutral, where there’s no impact, or worst-case negative, where it has adverse effects. In this case, the worst case scenario could be that the Grade 7-10 males immediately resorted to gun violence after the program because they didn’t have cognitive behavioral therapy sessions anymore.

Hope this was new and educational! It was for me. Have a productive week!

Steph

 

Source: University of Chicago Crime Lab Research and Policy Brief – “BAM – Sports Edition”

Social Norm

One of the most frequently quoted Psychologists in my marketing classes was Robert Cialdini. He has a PhD in Psychology and spends most of his research in the field of Marketing, commonly interpreted as the application of psychology. Many of his work has every day applications, so I’ll eventually cover all of them on the blog, but today I’ll talk about Social Norms.

If you’ve stayed at a hotel, have you seen a card in the bathroom that asked you to reuse your towels? More likely than not, the card referenced something about saving water or saving the environment. Cialdini sneakily changed the words on some of the hotel guests’ cards. These are the four variations –

(1) HELP SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT

(2) PARTNER WITH US TO HELP SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT

(3) JOIN YOUR FELLOW GUESTS IN HELPING TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT

(4) JOIN GUESTS THAT HAVE STAYED IN THIS SAME ROOM TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT

Which one do you think had the biggest compliance in reusing towels?

Both (3) and (4) use the Social Norm appeal, meaning that they mention others who are just like you (who stayed at the hotel). Knowing that others similar to you have reused the towel motivates you to do the same. (4), however, takes it a step further and makes the connection with other guests who have stayed in the exact same room. Does this work? After all, you don’t know the guests who have stayed before you, and probably don’t care.

It absolutely does work! Cialdini and his collaborators found that (3) increased towel reuse by 26% compared to (1). This is a huge increase given that they only changed one line on the card. What’s more remarkable is that in (4), they found a 33% increase in towel reuse participation compared to (1).

Using the power of social psychology in creative ways can have powerful impact. In this case, it helped effectively reduce water and electricity usage. In our daily lives, try to establish social norm to increase compliance to your idea – it could be getting your friend to go to a party with you, or increasing attendance to your next Meet-Up event.

Have a great week!
Steph

A Summer Weekend (Guest Post)

By my friend, Jenny Xia, who also wrote about Eataly exactly a year ago

Having lived in DC for the past year, I couldn’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed by how much bigger Chicago seemed in comparison. As Steph and I explored the city, I began to convince myself that Chicago has to be larger than NYC. In a moment of nerdiness, I Googled this and it turns out that NYC’s over 30% bigger in square mileage.

It also turns out that I experienced a psychology phenomenon called the “contrast effect.” The term describes how undergoing two contrasting experiences can skew a person’s perception of the latter event. During my stay with Steph, Chicago seemed enormous, though I probably wouldn’t feel the same way if I had been visiting her from NYC. In a way, the cognitive bias worked in my favor as it made my visit to Chicago feel even more exciting and the city grander.

The rest of the weekend Steph and I spent together was as exciting as the day Steph recapped in her last post, here’s some of our activities that weekend:

  1. Touring Pilsen

Continue reading A Summer Weekend (Guest Post)

COLORING BOOK

My good friend Jenny was visited me in Chicago this weekend. It was a memorable weekend exploring different chi-neighborhoods, attending local cultural events, and showing her my chi-city life (i.e. brunch/workout/drink). In fact, we did so many fun things this past three days, I can’t decide which one to highlight, but stay tuned for my post next week for some of the things we did 🙂

SecretGardenShe also surprised me with a gift – thank you love!! It’s a coloring book called Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book, which has elaborate garden designs to color in. She also bought me a set of 24 color pencils, something that I haven’t touched for way too many years. Along with the present, she also expressed that coloring has therapeutic effects, which intrigued me to read more about this. 
ColorPencilSetof24
It turns out that coloring book for adults have become so popular that it makes the Top 10 Bestseller Book on Amazon. It is becoming a phenomenon not just within the US but also worldwide, where people are using these beautifully outlined pages as a way to de-stress or lower their anxiety levels.

Research has supported that this works! In an experiment, people were asked to complete an anxiety-inducing task, and then after engage in 20-minutes of coloring session. They were either coloring 1) on a blank piece of paper; 2) on a plaid design (below) that is basically crisscrossing of straight lines ;3) on a mandala, an elaborate and repetitive pattern often seen in Indian religions and associated with meditation. PlaidDesignThey found that after 20 minutes, those who colored the plaid design or the mandala had significantly lower anxiety levels, whereas those who merely colored on blank paper did not relieve any stress. Additionally, they found that there is no difference in how much stress was reduced between coloring the mandala, which is much more difficult to design, and the simple crossing lines that could be drawn on Word. However, I suspect that the reason all the coloring books out there right now are closer to the mandala designs is because marketers and designers would opt for the fancier and prettier option to attract consumer attention. Shoppers might be less intrigued to buy a coloring book made of just straight lines, which I could probably draw with a ruler and a piece of paper myself. PagesinsideSecretGardenCannot wait to start coloring these beautiful pages in the Secret Garden! While I have a set of 24 color pencils, the participants in the experiment only had 6. I wonder if having 4x more choices will make me more stressed out – a choice-overload problem?

MyfriendJennyandI

Miss you already! With Love, Steph

Competence in Appearance – Who are you voting for?

If you were following US news around November 4th, you would know that it was the Midterm Elections. If you were like 36% of the US population, you would have participated in the vote. If you were like me, you would have voted for the first time.

 

But do you know who those people are you voted for?

 

How does one decide who to vote for?

 tumblr_m6a758s7df1qggc1ko1_400

 

Continue reading Competence in Appearance – Who are you voting for?

What are your actions saying?

Self-Perception Theory is when you determine your beliefs/attitudes based on your actions.

 

This is contrary to conventional wisdom. Usually, we have an attitude towards an object/person/event etc. From there, we will choose actions that are in line with our attitudes.

 

What I Believe –> How I Act

 

However, sometimes we’ll do something strange. We’ll reverse the logic. We’ll reason:

 

How I Act –> What I believe

 

This suggests that we look at our actions (as if from a 3rd party perspective) and make judgments about our thoughts. Sound a little weird?

 

"Smiling" Condition
“Smiling” Condition

 

"Angry" Condition
“Angry” Condition

An experiment showed that when people were asked to bite on a pencil (using the muscles that make a smile), they report to be HAPPIER afterwards than people who were asked to hold a pencil on their upper lip (using the muscles that make a frown).

 

 

 

 

 

A personal example is when I went to Six Flags in December 2010.

 

My college friends and I were on a road trip in Cali, and visited Six Flags Magic Mountain in LA. It was surprisingly cold, and the temperature even dropped down to 32°F after sunset.

 

It was already pitch black when we were waiting for our last ride – X2. With dives, flips, and twists, along with fire flames and flashing lights – the whole shebang – it was no ordinary ride. At that point, I started to shiver.

 

X2 Ride with flames
X2 Ride with flames

I’m not normally scared of roller coasters. Like others, I’ll feel the rush of adrenaline and a mixture of excitement and nervousness. But I’ll never SHIVER.

 

…I guess I’m just EXCEPTIONALLY scared about this ride?

 

Here, I looked at my movement (shivering) and decided my attitude (I’m scared of the ride).

 

In hindsight, I wasn’t shaking because of the ride. I was shaking because it was freezing cold! … in California!

 

When we experience things that are ambiguous or novel (like going on that ride for the first time), we’ll likely take clues from our own actions to verbalize our attitudes even though it might not always be reflective of our true thoughts.

 

Can you think of a time you used your actions to make judgments about your attitudes?

 

+S