Uncommon knowledge

How class affects your brain

Most of the kids who attend top colleges come from affluent families. As if that isn’t discouraging enough for kids from lower-class families, a new study at Northwestern University suggests that, even for kids who’ve already made it to a top university, coming from a lower-class background can wear them down. After talking about their own academic achievement, lower-class students ate more candy and had more trouble with self-control than more affluent students. This didn’t happen when they talked about a nonacademic topic, suggesting that lower-class students are more self-conscious about their academic status; the psychological pressure of discussing it wears them out. However, the researchers did find a way to psychologically undermine students from all backgrounds more equally: comparing them to students at an even more elite university!

Johnson, S. et al., ”Middle Class and Marginal? Socioeconomic Status, Stigma, and Self-Regulation at an Elite University,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Mom, get away!

One of the stereotypes of a detached personality is that such a person will not only avoid close relationships but must not have been loved by his or her mother. In a novel experiment, researchers found that the word “mom” does indeed have an automatic negative association for these people. The researchers asked people to stand in front of a screen that randomly displayed various words and push a lever as fast as possible upon seeing the words. People with more detached personalities pushed the lever away faster than other people in response to the word “mom” but not in response to other words.

Fraley, C. & Marks, M., “Pushing Mom Away: Embodied Cognition and Avoidant Attachment,” Journal of Research in Personality (forthcoming).

I am yours

A longstanding feminist critique of dating culture is that men are expected to be promiscuous, while women are expected to be loyal, doting partners. This may be unfair, but evolutionary psychology would suggest that women are compelled to signal their faithfulness to prospective partners because men can’t be certain about paternity, and are therefore wary of unfaithful women. In a recent study, women who were made to think about long-term romance reported that they wouldn’t want to go to a concert with — and would otherwise distance themselves from — another woman who is unfaithful to the men she dates. Women were not as put off by the company of a cheater if they were made to think about short-term romance or just hanging out with friends. Although men had a generally negative reaction towards a cheating friend, this reaction wasn’t particularly sensitive to the romantic context, suggesting that the signaling of faithfulness is more important for women.

Dosmukhambetova, D. & Manstead, A., “Strategic Reactions to Unfaithfulness: Female Self-Presentation in the Context of Mate Attraction Is Linked to Uncertainty of Paternity,” Evolution and Human Behavior (March 2011).

Sorting the dead

TV crime dramas like “CSI” usually present the autopsy as a clear-cut analytical exercise. However, criminal investigators and medical examiners are prone to biases just like everyone else. Comparing a nationally representative sample of death certificates to survey responses from next of kin, researchers found that the racial identity of decedents was often misclassified — at a rate of about 1 percent for whites, and up to almost 9 percent for Native Americans. Worse, misclassification to a particular race was more likely if the cause of death fit the stereotype for that race: Death by cirrhosis was associated with misclassification as Native American, while being murdered was associated with misclassification as black.

Noymer, A. et al., “Cause of Death Affects Racial Classification on Death Certificates,” PLoS ONE (January 2011).

Speed thinking

In the race to boost brain performance, some British psychologists have found one trick: the click. When various mental tasks were preceded by several seconds of clicking — compared to silence or white noise — people’s minds seemed to perform a little bit better. Not only was this the case for reaction times to basic stimuli, but math problems were solved slightly faster, data was recalled a little bit more fluently, and previously seen pictures were more likely to be recognized. The authors of the study aren’t exactly sure how clicks produce this effect but figure that the clicks might speed up the perception of time, speeding up the underlying thought process.

Jones, L. et al., “Click Trains and the Rate of Information Processing: Does ‘Speeding Up’ Subjective Time Make Other Psychological Processes Run Faster?” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (February 2011).

Uncommon knowledge

Hug to win!

Normally, touching co-workers is a big no-no. Unless you want your team to win. That’s the implication of a recent analysis of all NBA basketball teams during the 2008-2009 regular season. Researchers recorded all non-game-play touching (e.g., fist bumps, head slaps, high fives, hugs) among players in a game during the early part of the season. The amount of touching in this one game predicted both player and team performance the rest of the season, even when controlling for preseason expectations and early season performance. The relationship also held when controlling for player salary, which was highly correlated with touching. The overall effect of touching on performance appears to operate by increasing cooperation and trust among teammates.

Kraus, M. et al., “Tactile Communication, Cooperation, and Performance: An Ethological Study of the NBA,” Emotion (October 2010).

Protesting too much

It might seem odd that political partisans argue their ideology so fervently, even when faced with reasonable counter-arguments. Yet, recent research seems to confirm what many psychologists have long suspected — that self-doubt tends to increase the energy people put into persuading others. In one experiment, when people were asked to defend their opinion on the use of animals in laboratory testing, they wrote a longer defense if they wrote it with their nondominant hand (which is supposed to undermine confidence). In other experiments, people expended more effort to persuade others of their dietary or computer preferences if they had been asked to think about uncertain situations. Interestingly, the effect of doubt was attenuated if the person’s sense of self had also been affirmed.

Gal, D. & Rucker, D., “When in Doubt, Shout! Paradoxical Influences of Doubt on Proselytizing,” Psychological Science (November 2010).

Hard to read, easy to learn

Most economists will tell you that education is a key driver of economic competitiveness — for individuals and nations alike. So, when innovations come along that boost learning at little or no cost, we should pay close attention. And that’s exactly the secret behind one innovation suggested by a new study. Researchers gave people 90 seconds to memorize fictitious biology data and then distracted them for another 15 minutes. People who had been given the data in a somewhat-hard-to-read font recalled 87 percent of the data correctly vs. 73 percent for an easy-to-read font. To see if this could be repeated in real classrooms, the researchers asked teachers in a public high school in Ohio to hand out worksheets in somewhat-hard-to-read fonts to one of their sections, while worksheets in easy-to-read fonts were handed out to another section. Students in the sections with the harder-to-read fonts performed better on tests.

Diemand-Yauman, C. et al., “Fortune Favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of Disfluency on Educational Outcomes,” Cognition (forthcoming).

Kindler, gentler roughnecks

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is undoubtedly one of the defining events of 2010. Among the factors that may have contributed to the accident was the safety culture aboard the rig. In a recent case study, professors at Harvard and Stanford spent time aboard two other rigs whose culture underwent a profound change. Although the initial motivation for the change was safety, the new operational culture also reformed the macho culture that normally prevails in the male-dominated industry. In the old days, as one rig manager put it: “They decided who the driller was by fighting. If the job came open, the one that was left standing was the driller. It was that rowdy.” After the changes, the workers discussed things more openly, were more supportive of each other, and didn’t try to show how tough they were all the time.

Ely, R. & Meyerson, D., “An Organizational Approach to Undoing Gender: The Unlikely Case of Offshore Oil Platforms,” Research in Organizational Behavior (forthcoming).

Can bad things make you happier?

To quote Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” But is this really the case? Sure, it’s reasonable to expect that we can all adapt to suffering up to a point, but could it be that the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” are the key to happiness? Researchers surveyed a representative sample of Americans over the course of several years and found that well-being is related to the amount of prior adversity (e.g., sickness, violence, bereavement, family hardship, disaster), and that it follows a particular pattern: Experiencing some adversity in the past seemed to contribute to a sense of well-being, but too much trouble in the past — or too little — and the sense of well-being dropped.

Seery, M. et al., “Whatever Does Not Kill Us: Cumulative Lifetime Adversity, Vulnerability, and Resilience,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist

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Full article: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/11/21/hug_to_win/

Uncommon knowledge

Walmart makes us fat

One cause of increasing obesity is cheap food. Therefore, it should be no coincidence that the largest company in the world — whose motto is “Save money. Live better.” — may contribute to obesity. And, indeed, the geographic expansion of Walmart stores can explain 10.5 percent of the rise in American obesity since the late 1980s, according to a new study. This translates into a 2.3 percentage point increase in the probability of being obese for residents — especially women, low-income married people, and those in rural areas — near a Walmart store. Nevertheless, Walmart can still justify its motto; the extra medical cost associated with this obesity was only 5.6 percent of the savings enjoyed by the Walmart shoppers.

Courtemanche, C. & Carden, A., “Supersizing Supercenters? The Impact of Walmart Supercenters on Body Mass Index and Obesity,” Journal of Urban Economics (forthcoming).

We really do want to be more like Sweden

As the political fight over taxes and spending heats up in Washington again, it’s worth asking just how divided Americans are on the question of economic inequality. A recent study suggests that there is more consensus than one would assume. A nationally representative sample of people was shown three unlabeled pie charts representing an equal distribution of wealth, the mildly unequal distribution found in Sweden, or the more unequal distribution found in the United States. The overwhelming majority of people preferred the Swedish distribution over the United States distribution or the equal distribution. Even more surprising, this preference was similar for men and women, Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor.

Norton, M. & Ariely, D., “Building a Better America — One Wealth Quintile at a Time,” Perspectives on Psychological Science (forthcoming).

God or government?

When people think of a higher power, they tend to think of God. But, technically, there’s another higher power: government. And a team of researchers has found that the two entities serve as psychological substitutes for each other. For example, people in Malaysia were more apt to believe in a controlling God — a God that “is in control of events in the universe” — just before an election than just after an election. The mere fact that political uncertainty was higher before the election was enough to boost faith in that kind of involved deity. The same thing happened to Canadians after reading a fictitious news article predicting a fractured parliament, yet belief in a controlling God diminished if government was portrayed as a stabilizing force. Conversely, if people read a fictitious scientific article claiming that God intervenes in world affairs, they were less likely to support government. One implication of this phenomenon is that increasing instability in American politics may drive people to God — and to political candidates like Mike Huckabee.

Kay, A. et al., “For God (or) Country: The Hydraulic Relation between Government Instability and Belief in Religious Sources of Control,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (November 2010).

Blind, but not race-blind

Do blind people see race? To find out, a sociologist interviewed dozens of blind people, particularly those who had been blind since birth. Although they can’t literally see someone’s race, it seems that they do understand race in visual terms, by internalizing the way sighted people talk about race. For example, one blind white respondent noted that “white is pretty generic to me….Most black people look pretty much the same with a few exceptions. Of course it always depends on the person, but in general, they look pretty much the same I think.” This bolsters the notion that skin color is about more than just coloring; it incorporates a broad set of social characterizations about what it means to be “black” or “white.”

Obasogie, O., “Do Blind People See Race? Social, Legal, and Theoretical Considerations,” Law & Society Review (September/December 2010).

Get a grip

Next time you find yourself in need of extra willpower, firm up. In one experiment, researchers asked people to grab a pen in their left hand while they immersed their right hand in a bucket of ice water. Squeezing the pen allowed people to keep their hands in the ice water significantly longer than people who were asked to hold the pen loosely. In another experiment, after being primed to think about being healthy, people were asked to drink what they were told was a health tonic (but was really just diluted vinegar). Those who were also asked to contract their calf muscles and keep their heels lifted off the floor while drinking were able to drink more of the unpleasant tonic than people who didn’t lift their heels. The same pattern occurred when people were asked to grasp a pen when approaching a snack bar for healthy items: The firm grip made it easier to resist buying unhealthy snacks.

Hung, I. & Labroo, A., “From Firm Muscles to Firm Willpower: Understanding the Role of Embodied Cognition in Self-Regulation,” Journal of Consumer Research (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.

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Full article: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/11/14/walmart_makes_us_fat/

Uncommon knowledge

The Honorable Senator’s buddies

These days, party affiliation seems to be the best predictor of whether a politician supports or opposes a particular policy. However, special interests still manage to drive a lot of votes, and one special interest — the politician’s own social network — has a measurable effect. Researchers at Harvard Business School found that members of Congress are significantly influenced by colleagues who happen to be alumni from the same school, especially if a vote is close and less important to home-state business interests. For votes that are important to home-state business interests, having more executives who went to the same school as the politician makes it more likely that the politician will vote in their favor. The importance of social networks even plays out on the Senate floor: How a senator votes is influenced by those senators who are seated nearby, above and beyond the influence of party and state.

Cohen, L. & Malloy, C., “Friends in High Places,” National Bureau of Economic Research (October 2010).

Just don’t make a single mistake

Women have slowly but surely advanced into traditionally male-dominated occupations, and some men have ventured into traditionally female-dominated roles. Yet, according to a new study, both women and men are in a precarious position in these domains. When people were asked to rate the competence of a male president of a women’s college or a female police chief — roles that don’t fit stereotypes — they were much less forgiving when he or she made a mistake. The same reaction occurred in the case of a female CEO of an aerospace engineering firm and a female chief judge.

Brescoll, V. et al., “Hard Won and Easily Lost: The Fragile Status of Leaders in Gender-Stereotype-Incongruent Occupations,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Go easy, he only hurt 10,000 people

Our legal system is grounded in notions of due process and reasonableness. Unfortunately, new research suggests a disturbing paradox: People tend to assign less punishment for harm to more people. When asked to judge fraud, people reacted more harshly to the offender if he had defrauded three people than if he had defrauded 30 people. Likewise, when asked to judge the culpability of executives of a food processing company who had knowingly shipped tainted food, people reacted more harshly if there were two victims than if there were 20 victims. People were also more willing to go along with a coverup if there were more victims. These effects were attenuated — though not reversed — if one of the victims was specifically identified. Nevertheless, an analysis of US jury verdicts in toxic liability cases revealed the same pattern: a significant negative correlation between the number of plaintiffs and punitive damages.

Nordgren, L. & McDonnell, M.-H., “The Scope-Severity Paradox: Why Doing More Harm Is Judged to Be Less Harmful,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

The look of a lawyer

Maybe you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you’d be smart to judge a lawyer from his yearbook photo. Ratings of “facial dominance” and “maturity” of the managing partners of top US law firms from both their college yearbooks and current professional photos were associated with the profitability of their firms. It’s not clear whether faces just happen to reflect a personality already destined to be successful, or whether the faces themselves, in fitting a certain stereotype of success, help open doors.

Rule, N. & Ambady, N., “Judgments of Power from College Yearbook Photos and Later Career Success,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

Boys, girls, and competition

Males are seen as more competitive, especially in areas like sports, business, and technology, and this competitive attitude is often credited for their relative success. But does this supposed competitive advantage actually exist? Several economists ran an experiment with elementary school students to find the answer. Each student was matched against another student to see who would get the most questions right on a timed math quiz. Students were re-matched and re-quizzed several times in the course of an hour. Boys did significantly better on the first quiz, but then their competitive advantage petered out. They did no better than the girls on subsequent quizzes. In fact, boys’ superior performance on the first quiz couldn’t even be reproduced in another trial two weeks later. So while the boys seemed to experience an initial jolt of competitive juices, the spur of competition doesn’t appear to be a durable explanation for the gender gap. Still, as the authors note, if boys seek out competitive situations more than girls do — even if boys aren’t inherently better competitors — that may be enough to give them an edge.

Cotton, C. et al., “The Gender Gap Cracks Under Pressure: A Detailed Look at Male and Female Performance Differences during Competitions,” National Bureau of Economic Research (October 2010).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.

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Full article: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/11/07/the_honorable_senators_buddies?

Uncommon knowledge

Do you swear to tell the truth?

Getting kids to tell the truth can be challenging. Most parents likely think that talking with their kids about the morality of lying is the best approach, but new work suggests another way. Researchers asked kids between the ages of 8 and 16 to take a trivia test and told them that they would win $10 if they answered all the questions correctly. The kids were also told that the answers were inside the testing booklet but to not cheat, even though they’d be left in a room alone. What the kids didn’t know was that a couple of the questions had no real answers, and the experiment was being recorded by hidden cameras. After finishing the test, the kids were asked whether they had peeked at the answers. The majority of them had indeed cheated, and the overwhelming majority of those who peeked lied about it when first asked. Asking the kids to think about the morality of lying made little difference in getting the kids to recant. However, if the kids were asked to promise to tell the truth — the same approach used in the legal system — a significant number of the liars recanted.

Evans, A. & Lee, K., “Promising to Tell the Truth Makes 8- to 16-year-olds More Honest,” Behavioral Sciences & the Law (forthcoming).

If you send me to my room, the terrorists have won

Terrorism is bad enough as a security threat, but a team of researchers in Europe has found that thinking about terrorism can affect how we treat our own children. After being shown pictures of terrorism or reading or writing about terrorism, both parents and nonparents endorsed stricter parenting practices. Moreover, this pattern was confirmed with an experiment on actual behavior inside homes. After seeing pictures of terrorism, parents were more impatient, and showed more negative facial expressions, toward their children.

Fischer, P. et al., “Causal Evidence that Terrorism Salience Increases Authoritarian Parenting Practices,” Social Psychology (Fall 2010).

The case for making homework a choice

Motivating kids to learn is at the heart of education. According to a new study, there is a simple but effective way to encourage kids to want to learn on their own: give them a choice. In an experiment, high school students who were allowed to choose their homework assignments (covering the same material) reported more interest, enjoyment, and competence regarding their homework, and they scored higher on a subsequent test of the material.

Patall, E. et al., “The Effectiveness and Relative Importance of Choice in the Classroom,” Journal of Educational Psychology (forthcoming).

The ‘freeze’ response

In the wild, animals are known to freeze if they sense danger lurking nearby. This behavior — including bradycardia (slowed heart rate) — has been demonstrated in humans, too. But, of course, we aren’t usually being hunted in our neighborhoods and workplaces, so researchers wondered if the same effect also occurs for social threats. Women were fitted with biometric sensors and asked to stand on a motion-measuring platform while viewing different facial expressions. When they saw angry faces, the women “froze” — their bodies swayed less, and their heart rates dropped.

Roelofs, K. et al., “Facing Freeze: Social Threat Induces Bodily Freeze in Humans,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.

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Full article and photo: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/10/24/do_you_swear_to_tell_the_truth/

Uncommon knowledge

The seamy side of victory

Elections have consequences, as some politicians are known to say. Unfortunately, one of those consequences is not very politically correct. An analysis of Google searches around the time of the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections found that there were more queries for pornography right after the election in states that voted for the party that prevailed at the national level. In other words, residents of red states were more interested in pornography right after Bush won reelection in 2004, while residents of blue states were more interested in pornography right after the Democrats won in 2006 and 2008. The authors attribute this to testosterone, which has been shown to rise in people after they win a competition.

Markey, P. & Markey, C., ”Changes in Pornography-Seeking Behaviors following Political Elections: An Examination of the Challenge Hypothesis,” Evolution and Human Behavior (forthcoming).

Posing matters

The stereotype of a boss has him sitting at his desk in the corner office with his feet kicked up and arms stretched out, whereas the stereotype of a subordinate has him hunched over in his cubicle. This is no accident, and it’s not just symbolic. A new study has found that differences in the way one sits or stands induce different psychological and physiological effects. Experimental subjects were told they were part of a study on the placement of electrocardiography electrodes and were asked to hold their bodies in a couple of positions, one minute at a time. For half of the subjects, the two positions represented high-power poses, expansive with limbs stretched out. For the other subjects, the two positions represented low-power poses, contracted with limbs held inward. Subjects who had been positioned in a high-power pose subsequently felt more powerful, and were more willing to take a gamble.

Carney, D. et al., ”Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Half a conversation, fully annoying

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that using a cellphone makes it harder to pay attention to other things going on around you. Thus, many states now restrict cellphone use while driving. Now, with a new study, it looks like they may have to consider curbing conversations by passengers, too. When people could hear one side of a phone conversation in the background, they performed worse on tasks that demanded attention. This did not happen to people overhearing the full dialogue, a monologue, or when the audio of the conversation was filtered so that its content could not be understood. All of this suggests that unpredictable speech is an extra distraction and may also explain why overhearing a cellphone conversation at a party or a movie can be more annoying than overhearing other conversations.

Emberson, L. et al., ”Overheard Cell-Phone Conversations: When Less Speech Is More Distracting,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

The power of preoccupation

Whenever you’re trying to take it easy or just trying to fall asleep, do you find yourself preoccupied with something stressful, like a deadline or a presentation? Although it’s normal, it doesn’t really seem like a good use of time. Yet, according to a team of researchers, it may be just that. After people were told that they’d be taking a geography test–recalling the names of all 50 states–in the near future, they then had more trouble getting geographical thoughts out of their minds during an intervening task that was supposed to clear their minds instead. People who were told they wouldn’t have to take the test, or who were told they would simply be counting the letters in states’ names as fast as possible, had almost no thoughts about geography in the intervening task. This suggests that the brain is only forcing itself to prepare in the face of a challenge that could benefit from preparation.

Morsella, E. et al., ”The Spontaneous Thoughts of the Night: How Future Tasks Breed Intrusive Cognitions,” Social Cognition (October 2010).

The good-guy penalty

For fans of the TV show ”Survivor,” this study will come as no surprise, though it did surprise the researchers behind it. They expected–and found–that people have a dim view of someone in a group who takes a lot and contributes little. However, they also found that people have a dim view of someone who takes little and contributes a lot. It’s not that group members consider such a benevolent person to be clueless or unpredictable–in fact, a person who takes little and contributes little is fine–it’s just that the person’s benevolence raises the standards for everyone else, and that doesn’t seem to win many friends.

Parks, C. & Stone, A., ”The Desire to Expel Unselfish Members from the Group,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (August 2010).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.

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Full article: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/10/10/the_seamy_side_of_victory/

Uncommon knowledge

What makes people vote

Although an important role for the government is helping poor people, the poor themselves are less likely to vote than more affluent citizens. Some of this may be due to transportation or job constraints, but an experiment with public housing residents in Boston before the 2007 municipal elections confirms that motivation plays a big role. Residents were divided into three groups. The first group was not contacted. The second group was visited where they lived, and urged to vote. And the final group received visits, but also copies of their turnout history. While a simple face-to-face appeal improved the odds that someone would vote from around 10 percent to the 15-20 percent range, showing voters their turnout history boosted the voting odds to around 25 percent. 

Davenport, T., “Public Accountability and Political Participation: Effects of a Face-to-Face Feedback Intervention on Voter Turnout of Public Housing Residents,” Political Behavior (September 2010).  

The age advantage

Many parents delay their kids’ entry into kindergarten to make sure their kids are at the top of the class from a developmental standpoint. A recent study is sure to reinforce this strategy. Compared to kids born right after the age-eligibility cutoff date, kids born right before the cutoff date are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As a result, kids born right before the cutoff date are more likely to be using drugs like Ritalin, and this disparity persists as they move into higher grades. The author of the study found that teachers were much more likely than parents to report concerns about ADHD — consistent with the theory that some teachers are misinterpreting normal age-related behavioral differences in the classroom. 

Elder, T., “The Importance of Relative Standards in ADHD Diagnoses: Evidence Based on Exact Birth Dates,” Journal of Health Economics (September 2010).  

Time is more than money

Contrary to the old saying, time is not always money. A researcher at a top business school has found that thinking about time causes people to behave differently than thinking about money. In one experiment, people who walked into a cafe were asked to fill out a questionnaire — laced with words related to either time or money — after which participants continued to go about their business in the cafe, while being surreptitiously watched. Those who had been exposed to words about money spent more time working; those who had been exposed to words about time spent more time socializing. When participants exited the cafe, those who had been exposed to words about time were happier, on account of their socializing. 

Mogilner, C., “The Pursuit of Happiness: Time, Money, and Social Connection,” Psychological Science (September 2010).  

When not to interrupt

You’re just about to complete that 20-page report. You’ve spent hours on it. All of a sudden, your boss walks up and asks you to work on something else. How frustrating! And new research suggests that your productivity on the next task will take a hit. In several experiments, people were asked to complete a task (e.g., sorting cards, finding hidden words) and were then interrupted early in the task, late in the task, or after completion. People who had been interrupted late in the previous task were significantly more impaired on the subsequent task. The authors attribute this to the extra self-control — and associated mental depletion — required to break away from a task just as you’re about to finish it. 

Freeman, N. & Muraven, M., “Don’t Interrupt Me! Task Interruption Depletes the Self’s Limited Resources,” Motivation and Emotion (September 2010).  

We misunderstand our friends

How well do you know your friends? Researchers at Yahoo conducted a survey via Facebook in early 2008 to gauge actual and perceived agreement among friends regarding politics. For example, “Does [your friend] sympathize with the Israelis more than the Palestinians in the Middle East situation?” or “Would [your friend] pay higher taxes for the government to provide universal health care?” Although friends agreed more than strangers, there was still plenty of disagreement. There was also more ignorance of each other’s positions than one might expect, even among friends who discussed politics, and especially in areas where positions differed. Instead of relying on issue-specific discussion, friends seem to be projecting their own views and stereotypes on each other. 

Goel, S. et al., “Real and Perceived Attitude Agreement in Social Networks,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).  

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. 

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Full article: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/10/03/what_makes_people_vote/