Category Archives: Blog

Hidden Brain Puzzle # 39: Power Increases Risk of Infidelity Among Both Men and Women

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The seemingly endless stream of sex scandals by powerful politicians in the United States raises a question: Does this say something about men, or does it say something about power?

New research suggests that power, not being a guy, is the corrupting factor. Powerful people tend to see themselves as more attractive than they really are and, more importantly, tend to believe that others see them as more attractive than others really do. Power also seems to change how people think about risk — power gets people to focus on potential rewards and ignore the potential downside. Add it all up and you get a far higher propensity for infidelity among both powerful men and powerful women.

In the latest Hidden Brain Puzzle, posted as always on the Facebook page, I asked:

Hidden Brain Puzzle # 39: Having power increases the odds that

A) Both men and women engage in infidelity
B) Men engage in infidelity
C) Women engage in infidelity
D) Neither men nor women engage in infidelity

The correct answer is A. For a fuller explanation, listen to this piece I just did — my first for NPR.

Hidden Brain Puzzle # 39: Having power increases the odds that
A) Both men and women engage in infidelity
B) Men engage in infidelity
C) Women engage in infidelity
D) Neither men nor women engage in infidelity

Hidden Brain Puzzle # 31: Tragedy Increases Cooperation and Prosocial Behavior

By | Blog, Business, Cool Findings, Diversity, Evolution, Group Behavior, Morality, Puzzle | No Comments

http://bit.ly/g4zBIF Tragedy tends to bring out the best in people, according to new research into cooperative behavior. The more people are affected by tragedy, the more they cooperate and engage in “prosocial” behavior.

In a study of 2,447 residents in five provinces at the epicenter of a 2008 earthquake in China, researchers found that residents who were hardest hit were more generous with their help than people who were slightly affected or not affected at all. The study, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, was co-authored by Li-Lin Rao, Ru Han, Xiao-Peng Ren, Xin-Wen Bai, Rui Zheng, Huan Liu, Zuo-Jun Wang, Jin-Zhen Li, Kan Zhang and Shu Li.

In a puzzle posted on The Hidden Brain’s Facebook fan page, where all puzzles get posted first, I asked:

After a natural disaster, the people most likely to behave in prosocial (cooperative) ways are
A) Those worst affected
B) Those least affected
C) Those in the middle

The correct answer is A.

The researchers wrote, “residents in more devastated areas demonstrated more prosocial behavior, but the degree of prosocial behavior declined with the passage of time. These findings suggest that prosocial behavior can be induced in individuals by being at a disadvantage. Indirect evidence for our claim includes the fact that commitment works best under harsh conditions: the more individuals are challenged by nature to survive, the more compelled they are to cooperate with each other in durable relationships.”

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Why Juan Williams Fears Muslims at Airports

By | Blog, Diversity, Evolution, Group Behavior, Law, Morality, News and Topical Issues, Politics, Prejudice, Terrorism | No Comments

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Ever hear of the phenomenon called an “illusory correlation”? It explains why commentator Williams, who was recently fired from NPR, associates Muslims at airports with terrorists.

I am going to be writing my next column for Slate about this issue. To whet your appetite, here’s a radio interview about illusory correlations and other biases with Steve Fast of WJBC. 

Hidden Brain Puzzle # 29: Women in Satisfied Relationships Bring Work Related Stress Home

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Lots of people come home from work feeling upset. But it turns out there are systematic gender differences in the way heterosexual men and women bring work-related unpleasant feelings home.

Men, on average, tend to shield their families from unpleasant things that happened at work, and the more satisifed men are in their relationships, the more they seem to shield their families from work-related stressors. Whether or not these men are actually pursuing an effective strategy is questionable, however, because the data suggests that men often tend to withdraw from their emotions as a way to not bring unpleasant conversations and interactions from work to the dinner table.

Women, by contrast, tend to be more open about what happened at work, and the happier they are in their personal relationships, the more likely they are to bring work related stressors home. In a new study, researchers Zhaoli Song, Maw-Der Foo, Marilyn A. Uy, and Shuhua Sun explored the effects of the ongoing recession – and the challenge of finding work for those who are unemployed – on domestic dynamics.

One possible explanation for this is previous research that shows that men are slower than women (on average) to calm down after a stressful event, which may be why men tend to compartmentalize their lives — it’s a way to avoid dealing with painful feelings that would take a long time to process. Women on the other hand seem to be better able to deal with their feelings in an open manner, and to calm down more quickly after experiencing stressful emotions.

I recently posted a puzzle on my Facebook page – all puzzles are posted here first, so click on the “Like” button at www.facebook.com/hiddenbrain to hear about new puzzles: At the end of a long, hard and stressful day, couples often bring their problems home from work. Among heterosexuals, the group most likely to vent anger that is brought home from work are
A) Men in satisfied relationships
B) Men in dissatisfied relationships
C) Women in satisfied relationships
D) Women in dissatisfied relationships

The correct answer is C.

In a paper in The Journal of Applied Psychology, the researchers said, “gender differences were amplified for participants with greater marital satisfaction. Women in more satisfying marriages were more likely than dissatisfied women to increase their angry behavior toward their husbands after busier workdays. By contrast, men in more satisfying marriages were less likely than their maritally dissatisfied counterparts to be angrier and more critical toward their wives after negatively arousing workdays. These gender differences in angry responses may reflect different goals in intimate relationships and different responses to negative emotional arousal. Past research suggests that men tend to disengage when negatively aroused whereas women prefer to engage with others and talk about their distress more directly. In laboratory based research on marital interaction, husbands displayed larger autonomic nervous system responses to conflictual discussions with their wives and recovered more slowly from this physiological arousal than wives did. This gender based physiological difference might lead men to rely more on strategies such as withdrawal and avoidance of angry interactions to facilitate their recovery from negative affective arousal after a difficult workday. Women may not be compelled to “compartmentalize” their affective workday experience in this way and, in fact, may be more likely to want to engage with and talk about their stressful day with their partners. The existence of these gender patterns is supported by previous research showing that men were more likely than women to attempt to prevent their job distress from entering the marital relationship.”

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Hidden Brain Puzzle # 24: Negative-Emotions-Diminished-by-Difficult-Mental-Challenges

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Have you ever noticed when you are sad or angry that doing something mentally difficult — solving a puzzle or remembering a poem — tends to make you temporarily “forget” to be sad or angry? The moment you finish the difficult and engrossing task, the negative emotion often comes right back.

New research suggests that this phenomenon occurs because emotions are mentally taxing; they take up brain resources. When you focus your brain on something challenging, mental resources that were being previously devoted to producing and experiencing the negative emotion are now being pulled away to solve the puzzle or remember the poem. This is why you experience less of the emotion.

Here is a puzzle I posted recently on The Hidden Brain’s Facebook page, which is where all puzzles get their first airing. (Navigate over and click on the LIKE button if you want to be alerted about future puzzles — you’ll have to login to Facebook first.)

People experience less sadness, fear and other negative emotions when they …
A) Try to remember the lines of a poem memorized many years before
B) Count backward from 1 to 100 in steps of 7
C) Focus intensely on the negative emotion
D) Multiply the numbers 14 and 23 in their heads

The correct answer(s): A, B, C and D

The hidden brain mechanism involved here is that different experiences/tasks often compete for the same brain resources, and one way to diminish the effects of a negative emotion is to use up some of the resources needed to produce/experience that emotion in some difficult mental task.

I based this puzzle on new research by Assaf Kron, Yaacov Schul, Asher Cohen and Ran R. Hassin who found that “the intensity of both negative and positive feelings diminished under a cognitive load.”

One of the interesting dimensions of the research is that it showed that concentrating on the negative emotion itself — as opposed to experiencing the emotion — also decreased its effects. Concentrating (ie. thinking about) an emotion takes up mental resources. I’ve personally found that when I hurt myself — stub a toe for example — focusing intensely on the pain (thinking about whether the sensation feels like burning, tingling or pressure etc) — reduces my experience of the pain. Probably the same phenomenon at work.

Take note that the same thing holds true for positive emotions as well. What this means is that if you are experiencing a particularly lovely emotion, don’t imagine you can experience the emotion with the same intensity while typing on your blackberry at the same time!

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Hidden Brain Puzzle # 21: Botox Shots Reduce Emotional Expression as Well as Emotions Themselves

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People who use Botox for cosmetic reasons report that they are able to use their faces in less mobile ways. That’s not surprising, given that botox impairs the muscles that produce wrinkles in the forehead and other areas. One byproduct of smoother skin is that users are not able to register emotional expressions in the way they could before. New research shows that reducing expressiveness tends to reduce the intensity of the underlying emotions, too.

I posted this puzzle recently on The Hidden Brain’s Facebook Page — all my puzzles get posted here first, so if you haven’t done so already, please subscribe to the page by logging into Facebook, navigating over to the page and clicking on the LIKE button. It’s free and fun.

Hidden Brain Puzzle #21: Botox injections tend to make the faces of cosmetics-users somewhat immobile. Limiting the full range of facial expressions tends to
A) Make users experience emotions less strongly
B) Makes no difference to the emotions users experience
C) Makes users experience emotions somewhat more strongly
D) Makes users experience emotions much more strongly

The correct answer is A.

I based this puzzle on research by Joshua Davis and Ann Senghas, who found that disabling (or limiting) the expression of an emotion reduces the emotion itself. This matches with work done in the other direction — and a staple piece of counseling advice. When you fake an emotion such as happiness by smiling a lot, the production of the expression of an emotion tends to produce the emotion, too.

In a press statement from Barnard, where Davis and Senghas work, Davis said: “In a bigger picture sense, the work fits with common beliefs, such as ‘fake it till you make it’ … with the advent of Botox, it is now possible to work with people who have a temporary, reversible paralysis in muscles that are involved in facial expressions. The muscle paralysis allows us to isolate the effects of facial expression and the subsequent sensory feedback to the brain that would follow from other factors, such as intentions relating to one’s expressions, and motor commands to make an expression. With Botox, a person can respond otherwise normally to an emotional event, (such as) a sad movie scene, but will have less movement in the facial muscles that have been injected, and therefore less feedback to the brain about such facial expressivity. It thus allows for a test of whether facial expressions and the sensory feedback from them to the brain can influence our emotions.”

One of the more interesting philosophical dimensions of this research is the questions it raises about some of our cherished assumptions about the nature of individual identity. Most of us think we would be the same person minus a hand or a leg; certainly that a new kidney or a heart makes us no different as individuals. This thesis implicitly argues that our identity is located our brains. The new research, along with a bunch of other experiments and insights, suggests that our belief is not true. Happiness and sadness do not reside only in the brain; they also reside in the body.

John Milton once said that, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” One mustn’t quibble with poets, who are in the business of artistic truth and not literal truth, but there is growing evidence that the home for emotions as well as other cognitive functions is in the body as well (as much?) as in the brain.

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Hidden Brain Puzzle # 19: Gentle Reassurance Prompts People to Take Bigger Risks

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One of the interesting dimensions of the hidden brain is the way in which seemingly unrelated experiences are brought together in the unconscious mind. People who are given a warm drink to hold, for example, might be more likely to experience an interpersonal interaction as being warm, even though the cup of coffee has nothing to do with the interaction.

Here’s a puzzle I recently posted on The Hidden Brain’s Facebook page, which is where all puzzles get aired first:

You are considering a financial investment. You are likely to take a bigger risk if
A) A man lightly touches your shoulder before you invest
B) A woman lightly touches your shoulder before you invest
C) A man shakes your hand firmly before you invest
D) A woman shakes your hand firmly before you invest

The correct answer is B.

I based this puzzle on some interesting research by Jonathan Levav and Jennifer J. Argo, who found that when a woman patted volunteers on the back, they were more likely to take bigger risks than if the woman merely spoke to them or if a man patted them on their back. When a woman shook the hands of volunteers it had a similar effect, but was not as strong as a reassuring pat.

The researchers speculate that the effect may be because of the associations people tend to have with a mother’s touch, and that the sense of reassurance this produces is what prompts people to take greater risks.

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You are considering a financial investment. You are likely to take a bigger risk if
A) A man lightly touches your shoulder before you invest
B) A woman lightly touches your shoulder before you invest
C) A man shakes your hand firmly before you invest
D) A woman shakes your hand firmly before you invest

Hidden Brain Puzzle # 18: Both Men and Women Lower Their Voices to Convey Romantic Interest

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http://bit.ly/dmLFFq

Both men and women change the pitch of their voices when they are trying to convey romantic interest, but the nature of those voice changes might surprise you. Psychologist Susan Hughes at Albright College recently asked a group of college students to leave voice mail messages via Skype to a fictitious person. The psychologist found that men lowered the pitch of their voices when addressing someone they found attractive. No surprise there. Hughes expected women trying to convey romantic interest to use higher pitched and more “feminine” voices, but she discovered the opposite was true. Women also lowered the pitch of their voices to communicate interest.

Here’s the puzzle I posted recently on The Hidden Brain’s Facebook page — all puzzles get posted here first.

When people speak to a person they find attractive — and when they want to arouse mutual interest — a study in the United States recently found that
A) Both men and women raise the pitch of their voices
B) Men raise the pitch of their voices and women lower the pitch of their voices
C) Men lower the pitch of their voices and women raise the pitch of their voices
D) Both men and women lower the pitch of their voices

The correct answer is D.

It is unclear whether this behavior is limited to the United States and to our present context. It’s possible that at other times and in other places, women raised the pitch of their voices to communicate interest.

“There appears to be a common stereotype in our culture that deems a sexy female voice as one that sounds husky, breathy, and lower-pitched,” Albright said in a news release about the study, which is to be published later this year in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. “This suggests that the motivation to display a sexy/seductive female voice may conflict with the motivation to sound more feminine … When a woman naturally lowers her voice, it may be perceived as her attempt to sound more seductive or attractive, and therefore serves as a signal of her romantic interest.”

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Supreme Court Fight: The Unconscious Power of Frames

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President Barack Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court highlights the power of frames in politics. In recent years, conservative presidents have appointed conservative justices, whereas liberal presidents have appointed moderates.

Supreme Court Justice nominee Elena Kagan herself once noted the irony inherent in this process. In the University of Chicago Law Review, she noted, “Herein lies one of the mysteries of modern confirmation politics: The Republican Party has an ambitious judicial agenda and the Democratic Party has next to none, why is the former labeled the party of judicial restraint and the latter the party of judicial activism?”

Why does this happen? It has to do with the power of framing an issue. Once the issue has been framed as “judicial activism” (as opposed to, say, “judicial passivity”) the frame determines how much leeway presidents from both political parties have. Republican presidents appoint ever more conservative justices on the grounds that they will back the status quo and avoid activism, and Democratic presidents appoint ever more moderate justices, to avoid being tarred with the “judicial activist” brush.

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