Category Archives: Evolution

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

By | Blog, Business, Cool Findings, Evolution, Group Behavior, Law, Morality, News and Topical Issues, Politics | No Comments

http://bit.ly/iJaSBC

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 #34: Why Ka-Boom! and Ka-Ching! Go Together

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

http://bit.ly/gSxoLE

Anger can make people want things more, according to a counterintuitive new study which found that when people associate a product with anger, they desire it more.

Henk Aarts of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and his colleagues showed people a number of objects such as pens and mugs. Before the picture of the object appeared on a screen, Aarts subliminally primed his volunteers with an angry, fearful or neutral face. He found that people later reported wanting the object more when they had been primed with the angry face rather than the fearful face. They also exerted more physical effort in acquiring the object in a subsequent test.

Aarts thinks there is an evolutionary reason for the phenomenon: In a statement issued via Psychological Science, where the paper was published, he said, that in competitive environments such as the struggle over a limited food supply or in battle, “If the food does not make you angry or doesn’t produce aggression in your system, you may starve and lose the battle.”

In a recent puzzle posted on the Hidden Brain’s Facebook page, I asked:

You have to decide whether to buy something. You are most likely to make the purchase when
A) You are angry
B) You are fearful
C) You are angry and fearful
D) You are neither angry nor fearful

The correct answer is A.

Does this theory explain the behavior of all those angry couples we see in movies who patch up fights by having sex?

Tell your friends to sign up to receive puzzles at the Facebook Page of The Hidden Brain.

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.”

Tell your Facebook friends about this finding by clicking on SHARE.

Why Juan Williams Fears Muslims at Airports

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

http://bit.ly/dkYwC7

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 # 28: Attractiveness Works Against Subordinates When Managers are Unattractive

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

http://bit.ly/9IMj7P

A variety of research studies show that attractiveness helps people in a variety of professional settings. Defendents in the criminal justice system and children in daycare get away with more lenient punishments when they are attractive, compared to when they are not.

But new research shows that there is a downside to being attractive — when people evaluating you are peers, but are not attractive themselves. Subordinates who are attractive are penalized by managers who are unattractive, according to new research by Maria Agthe, Matthias Spörrle and Jon K. Maner.

In many ways, the research confirms an intuition most of us have — while attractive people are, well, attractive, our hidden brain can also perceive them as potential threats. Interestingly, the bias was only observed among same-sex participants — meaning unattractive male managers discriminated against attractive male subordinates and unattractive female managers discriminated against attractive female subordinates.

A recent puzzle I posted on the Hidden Brain’s Facebook fan page (where all puzzles get aired first) read:

When a manager evaluates a subordinate belonging to the same sex, the manager is most likely to give a negative review when
A) The manager is attractive and the subordinate is not
B) The subordinate is attractive and the manager is not
C) Both the manager and subordinate are attractive
D) Neither the manager nor the subordinate are attractive

The correct answer is B.

Liked this? Please click on the Suggest To Friends link on The Hidden Brain’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/hiddenbrain) to alert your friends to new puzzles and ideas. Please also read my new column in Slate — at www.slate.com/hiddenbrain

Hidden Brain Puzzle # 28: Attractiveness Works Against Subordinates When Managers are Unattractive

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

By | Blog, Cool Findings, Evolution, Puzzle | No Comments

http://bit.ly/a1SvXX

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.

Liked this blog post? Please click on the Suggest To Friends link on The Hidden Brain’s Facebook page to alert your friends to new puzzles and interesting ideas.

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

By | Blog, Cool Findings, Evolution, Puzzle | No Comments

http://bit.ly/ctGnUE

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.

Liked this puzzle? Click on the LIKE button at The Hidden Brain’s Facebook page — http://www.facebook.com/hiddenbrain


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

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

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.”

Liked this puzzle? Click on the LIKE button at The Hidden Brain’s Facebook page — http://www.facebook.com/hiddenbrain — and on SUGGEST TO FRIENDS under the photo on the Facebook Page to recommend it to your friends.

Hidden Brain Puzzle # 15: Food Cravings Can Be Countered by Visual Imagery

By | Cool Findings, Evolution, Puzzle | No Comments

http://bit.ly/cRBePK

A significant component of food craving involves mentally “seeing” the tempting food, and food cravings can be countered by distracting the mind with unrelated imagery, according to new research.

Let’s say you crave a cookie. The best way to fight the temptation is to
A) Think about the cardiovascular risks that come with obesity
B) Remind yourself about how you want to look in a swimsuit
C) Eat the cookie and tell yourself it will be the last cookie you’ll eat
D) Focus on an untuned TV set’s random black and white dots

The correct answer is D.

I based this puzzle on research by Eva Kemps and Marika Tiggemann. The researchers noticed that food cravings are different than general hunger. When we crave something, we crave just that thing — only the chocolate-chip cookie will suffice, not ice-cream or a fruit tart. Much of this craving involves mentally imagining the cookie, down to small details, and imaginging how delicious it would taste etc. The researchers speculate that one reason cravings may be difficult to counter is that cravings “use up” significant amounts of the hidden brain’s resources, leaving little room for the kind of mental processing that advises us against eating unhealthy food.

Volunteers gripped by food cravings reported reductions in these cravings when they were asked to visualize specific images in their minds, such as a rainbow. In another experiment, volunteers asked to watch black and white dots on a monitor, very similar to the flickering TV screen described in option D, reported reductions in their food cravings.

I’m struck by how similar adult minds are to those of small children. (When you come to think about it, why should they be different — the minds of adults grow out of children’s minds.) Just as you can distract small children who want a cookie by suggesting an alternate activity, it appears you can do the same to your adult mind. In both cases, what is happening is that the conscious mind is finding a way to override the impulses of the hidden brain.

If you liked this puzzle, please sign up to receive future puzzles at the Hidden Brain’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/hiddenbrain) Click on the LIKE button or, if you are already a fan, click on SUGGEST TO FRIENDS.

U.S. Census: List Your Race as BLACK, since all humans are descended from African ancestors

By | Cool Findings, Diversity, Evolution, Politics | No Comments

http://bit.ly/djT3aB

The Southern Legal Resource Center wants people to list their race as “Confederate Southern American” on their U.S. Census form. I think all Americans should list their race as BLACK — because humans are all descended from African ancestors.

If you agree, TELL YOUR FRIENDS about this idea. Census workers are currently visiting the homes of millions of people who have not yet completed their census forms.

There is strong scientific evidence that all humans have African ancestors. See, for example, this article in Science. Some of the best evidence comes from research biologists, who study how genes spread through the human population. Rebecca Cann, Mark Stoneking and Allan Wilson studied the DNA of people from five disparate geographical regions in the world. The researchers found that all the people had mitochondrial DNA that could be traced back to a single woman in Africa who lived 200,000 years ago.

The Southern Legal Resource Center wants you to list your race as Confederate Southern American. Wouldn’t you rather trust the science?

Become a fan of The Hidden Brain’s Facebook page. Tell your friends about this idea by clicking on the SUGGEST TO FRIENDS link beneath the photo on The Hidden Brain’s facebook fan page.