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So here's the ChangingMinds Blog, from site author, David Straker. This is my more personal ramblings, though mostly about changing minds in some shape or form. Please do add your comments via the archive or the right-hand column below.  -- Dave


Sunday 26-October-14

Listen to the conscientiousness of the handshake (if you're a male interviewer)

Why do we shake hands with people when we greet? The tradition goes back a long way, as do other forms of greeting. The basic principle of the handshake is to use your dominant hand, which for most people is the right hand and offer it forward, showing that you do not have a weapon. When both people do this, the next step is to grasp the other person's hand. This creates human physical contact, which is a deep thing in connecting with others. The sensation goes back to our youngest days when we were in close physical contact with our mother and creates a warm feeling of one-ness with the other person. In other words it creates liking and trust, which are fundamental parts of a good relationship.

The handshake also tells you more about what is going on in the other person's mind. A 'bone-crusher' squeeze by them tells you that they seek to be dominant and care little for the pain they may cause you. On the other hand, a limp hand betrays someone who may be rather weak or timid. A longer handshake may indicate desire. Other factors in greetings include moisture, duration, what the other hand does and further elements of body language, such as how close you get and eye contact.

And now there is a new finding. In research, Frank Bernieri and Kristen Petty found another interesting factor. They first selected ten men and ten women, each with different Big Five personality profiles. These were then introduced to over 100 subjects who were subsequently asked to rank the men and women against the Big Five personality factors of extraversion, neuroticism, openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness. Unsurprisingly, they identified extraversion fairly well. What was less expected was that male subjects were also good at identifying conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is a good indicator of how hard people work, making this a useful extra tool for interviewers.

Why does this work only for men? The researchers guessed that it might be because handshakes are a bigger deal for men, and so they get greater practice. You seldom get powerful grips from women. Men, on the other hand are always competing with one another for who will be the alpha male, even in a brief conversation, and handshakes include signals about this. Women in business, they guessed (their subjects were students) might also have developed this skill.

Bernieri, F., and Petty, K. (2011). The influence of handshakes on first impression accuracy. Social Influence, 6, 2, 78-87

Sunday 19-October-14

Better than sex

What's better than sex? Well I guess there are many views on that, from 'nothing' to standing on the beach in the Maldives watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean. But, by and large, we tend to enjoy sex rather a lot. Well, good sex anyway. It's not surprising, because it's a basic need for propagation of the species. If sex wasn't nice, we wouldn't be here. There are gender differences in this that perhaps should be noted. For men sex is relatively straightforward, but women face the prospective pain of childbirth and still dive between the sheets. This perhaps explains why men get aroused more easily, although the ultimate pleasure gained by men or women is maybe difficult to assess.

So perhaps it isn't surprising that the question of 'What's better than sex' has been the subject of research. Not directly, of course. Researchers sampling various hedonistic alternatives would probably not be taken too seriously in the academic press. So instead Brad Bushman and colleagues asked college students, who are usually known for their lack of inhibitions around sex, how much they liked various pleasant activities, including sex. In this, they were asked about activities that build self-esteem to greater or lesser extent, with self-esteem coming from such as getting good marks in an exam or just people paying them a friendly compliment. To their surprise, they found that the highest scoring activities were those where the student received a good boost to their self-esteem. In another study, they gave the students a test and then let them think that if they waited they might get a higher mark. Those for who self-esteem was more important generally preferred to wait.

In other words, feeling good about yourself is more important than feeling good, particularly if you do not currently feel so good about yourself. This is an important point when thinking about changing minds. If you can focus on how the other person feels about themself, especially if self-esteem seems important for them, you will probably be more successful in getting them to think differently. More generally, rather than just use the persuasion methods that you like using, watch and listen first, then customize what you do to what is important for the other person, whatever that is.

Bushman, B., Moeller, S., and Crocker, J. (2010). Sweets, Sex, or Self-Esteem? Comparing the Value of Self-Esteem Boosts with Other Pleasant Rewards. Journal of Personality

Sunday 12-October-14

How Losing Can Help You Win

We all like to win. Or perhaps we just don't like to lose, which is why some people don't try. The problem is that, in many of the competitive situations we find ourselves in, there is only one winner and lots of losers. So why the tricky title above? How can losing help you win?

Researchers  Berger and Pope studied over 18,000 basketball games, comparing half-time scores with the final results. As you might expect from a good team, in those games where the half-time score showed one team ahead, the chances were that they would also win the whole game. In fact for every two points a team was ahead at half time, there was an additional six to eight percent chance they would win. A fascinating difference, however, appeared when the scores were close. In these cases, the team that was just behind had a much higher chance of winning. In fact a team that was one point behind at half time was significantly more likely to win in the end.

The just-behind motivation principle works in all kinds of other circumstances. In races, it is known that being out front is harder and that being tucked behind the leader is a great place to be so you can sprint past them just before the finishing line. Berger and Pope showed this in simple laboratory experiments, where people told to quickly press a button got faster when they thought they were just behind the leader (note that this did not work for a third-placed person). Further analysis of this effect showed a close relationship with self-belief. If we think 'I can do it', then we give ourselves the extra energy to work harder and put on that extra burst that gets us to the podium.

There are important lessons here for more mundane workplaces and life in general. If you tell people that they are just behind competitors, they will work harder than if you note that your competitors are way ahead.

Berger, J., and Pope, D. (2011). Can Losing Lead to Winning? Management Science,  57, 5, 817

Sunday 05-October-14

Feng Shui, curves and good-enough explanations

Feng Shui is an interesting Chinese philosophy about arranging rooms, buildings and even your life. It falls into what some call 'woo-woo', non-scientific nonsense or just the realm of the mysterious. Science has little time for such systems, although both assume invisible forces within the universe. And what if there was something to it? It can be a trap to dismiss out of hand things that have sustained attention and adherents for many years. The question is 'what is really happening here?'. The system itself uses all kinds of mysterious terminology and non-scientific ideas such as 'chi' or 'life force'. Yet what if this was an ancient way of describing the experience of something that exists. The principle of science is to make up explanations for things that happen and then keep them for as long as the explanation works and until a better explanation appears.

One of the ideas of Feng Shui is that curves are better than angles. And it is generally true. If you walk into a house or room with plenty of curves, it kind of feels nice. Researchers Dazkir and Read showed this when they asked over a hundred subjects to rate computer-generated rooms in terms of how comfortable the room made them feel (pleasure) and whether they would like to spend more time there (approach). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, they very largely preferred the curved furniture.

But why? Was it the mystery of Feng Shui as the curves facilitated the flow of chi around the room? Or was it something more mundane.

Sadly, it seems that there is a simple explanation for this. When we look at any object, we know it is a 'thing' because we trace the outline of it before fitting the shape to an internal library of objects. In doing this, our eyes detect lines through contrasted edges and then follow the lines to complete the shape. Following lines is a bit like driving a car. The easiest drive is straight lines. But when we come to corners, if the bend is sharp, then we have to brake heavily, slow right down and ensure we keep on the road. But if the bend is curved, the drive is much easier. Not only this, but curves also add interest as they reveal new possibilities, breaking the boredom of a long straight road. Overall, then, our eyes like curves.

There are many other phenomena like this, where the explanations that people give help them make sense of their feelings, even though the explanations are wrong. A wrong explanation is, after all, more comfortable than no explanation. In this way, we rationalize much of what we experience, not because we are correct but because we have a deep need to explain.

Dazkir, S. and Read, M. (2012). Furniture Forms and Their Influence on Our Emotional Responses Toward Interior Environments. Environment and Behavior, 44, 5, 722-732

Sunday 28-September-14

Intelligent Design, the Reversal Trap and Persuasion

There is a dilemma that religious people may face, which is conflict between faith and the evidence of science. Religions are usually based on ancient writings, when science and technology was nowhere near what it has become over the past century or so. Today, science tells us that we evolved from apes and that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old.  Religions that stray into such areas disagree, for example the Bible says that the Earth is only 6000 years old.

One of the questions that is important is that of deity, of the existence of an all-powerful God. When you have such a god, then everything can be attributed to him (and it usually is a him). One of the 'proofs' of God's existence is that of 'Intelligent Design', where it is concluded that the universe would not be governed by such simple mathematical equations unless it was created with purpose by a great intelligence.

Aside from the fallacies in this argument, it falls into a deeper trap, of trying to defeat the other side by using their own arguments against them. While this reversal might seem a clever move, its mistake is that adopting the thinking of the other side accepts this approach this as valid, and so weakens its own case. Religions are based on unquestioned belief. Why do they need to use science to 'prove' a truth that cannot be proven? Do the people who propose ID lack faith?

What is perhaps the problem is that many people, including scientists and religious adherents, want there to be one true way. In fact there are many systems of belief (and if you look closely enough, there is one per person). Even science is based on belief. Belief is assumed truth, and each group assume their canon is true and all others are false. Yet like parallel universes, belief systems can exist concurrently and only become problematic when they try to intersect.

There is yet a value for religion in the idea of Intelligent Design, not so much as a solid argument that proves God's existence, but more that just contemplating the idea of ID changes your thinking, even if you are not religious. In research related to this principle, Tracy, Hart and Martens found that if you reminded psychology students of their own mortality, they would be find ID ideas more appealing. However, students of natural sciences went the other way. Having studied evolutionary theory and science more closely, just the mention of an opposing view seemed to make them become more entrenched. The persuasive effect of ID on the psychology students, the researchers found, could be neutralized by priming them with natural science thoughts.

A learning from this is that you may be able to get people to accept ideas they know are not true by triggering a related need or fear (death, in this study). You can also harden views that are already held with some conviction by providing opposing views that are easily refuted.

Tracy, J., Hart, J., and Martens, J. (2011). Death and Science: The Existential Underpinnings of Belief in Intelligent Design and Discomfort with Evolution. PLoS ONE, 6 (3)

Sunday 21-September-14

How women choose a mate

How do women choose a mate? There are certainly plenty of men who would like to know.

The evolutionary drivers would first point to seeking men who are able to defend and feed the woman and their children, so power is classically attractive, and may be indicated with such as strength, affluence, influence over others and general cleverness. However, men tend to stray, so loyalty must also be important. And of course the woman would not want the man's power turned against her, so kindness is a valued attribute.

But what about beauty? Do women follow 'shallow' men who are so easily seduced by physical features? Researchers Wilbur and Campbella offered female subjects a choice of four mates with varying ambition and attractiveness and found that indeed, women were attracted by good-looking men, though more so when considering short-term sexual encounters, and particularly when the women were open to such relationships. But this all changed when they were thinking about longer-term romantic relationships, even for flighty women, when ambition (which itself is longer-term) became more attractive.

This research underlines two opposing factors that drive much more than just mate selection. The extent to which we think in the short term or the long term has an enormous effect on both our decision and our lives. For those who can think further out, a longer-term perspective will let them reap many future rewards, yet many of us are so smitten with the short term and the present value of things that we often choose a bit of jam today over more jam tomorrow. This is also made worse where temptation is deliberately projected at us by capitalist media throughout the day.

Back in the mating world, men are classically driven by the short term. Nature has told them to spread their seed and so they easily head for quick gratification. Yet when they take time to think, they can also take a longer-term perspective and beyond those that seek the 'eye candy' of a beautiful mate that makes other men envious, there is greater sense in seeking a woman who will be a good companion into later life.

Christopher J. Wilbur and Lorne Campbella, (2010). What do women want? An interactionist account of women’s mate preferences, Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 7,749-754



For more, see the ChangingMinds Blog! Archive or the Blogs by subject. To comment on any blog, click on the blog either in the archive or in the column to the right.


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