Category Archives: Thinking

Thinking

Mindfulness Meditation Improves Decisions, Reduces Sunk-Cost Bias

Sigal Barsade

Sigal Barsade

Brief meditation sessions can reduce the tendency to base current decisions on past “sunk costs,” reported Wharton’s Sigal Barsade, with Andrew C. Hafenbrack and Zoe Kinias of INSEAD.

Andrew Hafenbrack

Andrew Hafenbrack

Sunk-cost bias” is the prevalent tendency to continue unsuccessful actions after time and money have been invested.
Frequent examples include:

  • Holding poorly-performing stock market investments,
  • Staying in abusive interpersonal relationships,
  • Continuing failing military engagements.
Zoe Kinias

Zoe Kinias

In these cases, people tend to focus on past behaviors rather than current circumstances, leading to emotion-driven decision biases.

Meditation practices can:

  • Enable increased focus on the present moment,
  • Shift attention away from past and future actions,
  • Reduce negative emotions.
Kirk Brown

Kirk Brown

Barsade, Hafenbrack, and Kinias asked volunteers to complete Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, a widely used trait-mindfulness scale developed by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Kirk Brown and Richard Ryan of University of Rochester.

Richard Ryan

Richard Ryan

They also measured participants’ ability to resist “sunk cost” bias using Adult Decision-Making Competence Inventory, developed by Leeds University’s Wändi Bruine de Bruin with Baruch Fischhoff of Carnegie Mellon and  RAND Corporation’s Andrew M. Parker.

Wändi Bruine de Bruin

Wändi Bruine de Bruin

In a decision task, participants could choose to take an action or to do nothing, as a measure of vulnerability to sunk-cost bias.
Propensity to take action indicated resistance to the sunk-cost bias, whereas those who took no action were seen as influenced by the sunk-cost bias.

Baruch Fischhoff

Baruch Fischhoff

Volunteers who listened to a 15-minute focused-breathing guided meditation were more likely to choose action and resist the sunk-cost bias than those who had not heard the meditation instruction.

Andrew M Parker

Andrew M Parker

Barsade’s team controlled for participants’ age and trait self-esteem, noting that, “People who mediated focused less on the past and future, which led to them experiencing less negative emotion. That helped them reduce the sunk-cost bias.

Jochen Reb

Jochen Reb

Mindful attention also enables negotiators to craft better deals by “claiming a larger share of the bargaining zone” in distributive (“fixed pie”) negotiations, found Singapore Management University’s Jochen Reb, Jayanth Narayanan of National University of Singapore, and University of California, Hastings College of the Law’s Darshan Brach.
These effective negotiators also expressed greater satisfaction with the     negotiation process and outcome. 

JAYANTH NARAYANAN

JAYANTH NARAYANAN

Mindful attention also leads to a lower negativity bias, the tendency to weigh negative information more heavily than positive, reported Virginia Commonwealth University’s Laura G. Kiken and Natalie J. Shook of West Virginia University.

They assessed negativity bias with BeanFest, a computer game developed by Shook, with Ohio State’s Russell Fazio and J. Richard Eiser of University of Sheffield.

Natalie Shook

Natalie Shook

This task asks participants to associate novel stimuli with positive or negative outcomes during attitude formation exercises.

Russell Fazio

Russell Fazio

Volunteers who listened to a mindfulness induction correctly classified positive and negative stimuli more equally, expressed greater optimism, and demonstrated less negativity bias in attitude formation than those in the control condition.

J Richard Eiser

J Richard Eiser

Mindful attention improves decision-making and enhances negotiation outcomes by reducing biases linked to negative emotions.
As a result, taking a brief mental break (“time-out”) during decision-making can improve choices and reduce the likelihood that “let the wrong emotions cloud the decision-making process.”

-*How do you evoke reduce bias in making decisions and crafting negotiation proposals?

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Anxiety Undermines Negotiation Performance

Maurice Schweitzer

Maurice Schweitzer

Anxious negotiators make lower first offers, exit earlier, and earn lower profits  due to their “low self-efficacy” beliefs, according to Harvard’s Alison Wood Brooks and Maurice E. Schweitzer of University of Pennsylvania,

Alison Wood Brooks

Alison Wood Brooks

Brooks and Schweitzer induced anxious feelings or neutral reactions during continuous “shrinking-pie” negotiation tasks.
Compared with negotiators experiencing neutral feelings, negotiators who feel anxious typically expect to achieve lower profits, present more cautious offers, and respond more cautiously to propositions presented by negotiation counterparts.

Anxious negotiators who achieved poor bargaining outcomes did not manage emotions with cognitive strategies including:

Julie Norem

Julie Norem

  • Strategic optimism, indicated by expecting positive outcomes without anxiety or detailed reflection, according to University of Miami’s Stacie Spencer and Julie Norem of Wellesley,
  • Reattribution, identified by considering alternate interpretations of events to increase optimism and self-efficacy beliefs,
  • Defensive pessimism, marked by high motivation toward achievement coupled with negative expectations for future challenges, leading to increased effort and preparation, according to Wellesley College’s Julie Norem and Edward Chang of University of Michigan.
Edward Chang

Edward Chang

Norem and Cantor concluded that defensive pessimists performed worse when “encouraged by telling them that that based on their academic performance, they should expect to perform well on anagram and puzzle tasks.

Among university students, defensive pessimism was related to lower self-esteem, self-criticism, pessimism, and discounting previous successful performances when they began university studies, according to Norem and Brown’s Jasmina Burdzovic Andreas.

Jasmina Burdzovic Andreas

Jasmina Burdzovic Andreas

However, their longitudinal study demonstrated that self-esteem increased to almost the same levels as optimists during their four years of university study.
Pessimists’ precautionary countermeasures may have resulted in strong performance, which built credible self-esteem.

Defensive pessimism’s positive performance outcomes suggest that this cognitive strategy is an effective, if uncomfortable, approach to managing anxiety and performance motivation.

-*How do you manage anxiety in high-stakes negotiations?

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Are You Excited Yet? Anxiety as Positive “Excitement” to Improve Performance

Alison Wood Brooks

Alison Wood Brooks

People can improve task performance in public speaking, mathematical problem solving, and karaoke singing, by reappraising anxiety as “excitement,” according to Harvard’s Alison Wood Brooks.

Using silent self-talk messages (“I am excited”) or reading self-direction messages (“Get excited!”) fosters an “opportunity mind-set” by increasing “congruence” between physical arousal and situational appraisal.

Jeremy Jamieson

“Excitement” is typically viewed as a positive, pleasant emotion that can improve performance, according to Harvard’s Jeremy Jamieson and colleagues, whereas anxiety drains working memory capacity, and decreases self-confidence, self-efficacy, and performance before or during a task, according to Michael W. Eysenck of University of London.

Despite these differences in emotional experience, anxiety and excitement have similar physiological arousal profiles, but different effects on performance.

Michael Eysenck

Trying to transform anxiety into calmness is usually ineffective due to the large shift from negative emotion to neutral or positive emotion and from physiological activation to low arousal levels, noted Brooks.

Stefan Hofmann

Stefan Hofmann

Such efforts to calm physiological arousal during anxiety can result in a paradoxical increase in the suppressed emotion, reported Stefan Hofmann of Boston University and colleagues.
However, most people in Woods’ studies inaccurately believed that this is the best way to handle anxiety.

Stanley Schachter

Stanley Schachter

These similarities and differences can lead to confusing the two experiences, demonstrated in much-cited studies by Columbia’s Stanley Schacter and Jerome Singer of SUNY.
Anxiety’s similarity to excitement can be used to advantage by intentionally relabeling uncomfortably high “anxiety” as pleasant excitement to reduce anxiety’s negative impact on performance.

Jerome Singer

Jerome Singer

Brooks provoked anxiety by telling volunteers that they would present an impromptu, videotaped speech.

For some participants, she reduced anxiety by mentioning that it is “normal” to feel discomfort and asked them to “take a realistic perspective on this task, by recognizing that there is no reason to feel anxiousand “the situation does not present a threat to you…there are no negative consequences to be concerned with.”
She also told volunteers to say aloud randomly-assigned self-statements like “I am excited.”

People who stated I am excitedbefore their speech were rated as more persuasive, more competent more confident, and more persistent (spoke longer), than participants who said “I am calm.”

Brooks evaluated peoples’ reactions to another anxiety-provoking task, performing a karaoke song for an audience, and rated by program’s voice recognition software for “singing accuracy” based on:

  • Volume (quiet-loud),
  • Pitch (distance from true pitch),
  • Note duration (accuracy of breaks between notes).

This score determined participants’ payment for participating in the study.

Before performing, she asked participants to make a randomly-assigned self-statement:

  • “I am anxious,”
  • “I am excited,”
  • “I am calm,”
  • “I am angry.”
  • “I am sad.”
  • No statement.

Following their performance, volunteers rated their anxiety, excitement, and confidence in their singing ability.
People who said that they were “excited” had higher pulse rates than other groups, confirming that self-statements can affect physical experiences of emotion.

In addition, volunteers who said “I am excited” has the highest scores for singing accuracy and also for “singing self-efficacy”, a measure of confidence in ability.

In contrast, those who said, “I am anxious” had the lowest scores for singing accuracy, suggesting that focus on anxiety is associated with lower performance.

Brooks elicited anxiety on “a very difficult IQ test…under time pressure” that would determine their payment for participation.
To evoke further anxiety, she concluded, “Good luck minimizing your loss.”

Before the test, participants read a statement:

  • “Try to remain calm” or
  • “Try to get excited.”

Those instructed to “get excited” produced more correct answers than those who tried to “remain calm.”

Reappraising anxiety as “excitement” increased the subjective experience of “excitement” instead of anxiety, and improved subsequent performance in each of these tasks.

Reappraisal as “excitement” is congruent with physiological arousal common to both anxiety and excitement, so volunteers were more likely to agree with this characterization than with the arousal incongruent” description of calmness.

Stéphane Côté

Stéphane Côté

Arousal-congruent reappraisals primed an “opportunity mind-set” and a stress-is-enhancing mind-set, found University of Toronto’s Stéphane Côté and Christopher Miners.
These appraisals enabled superior performance across different anxiety-arousing situations.

In contrast, inauthentic emotional displays can be physically and psychologically demanding, and tend to reduce performance.

People have “profound control and influence …over our own emotions,” according to Woods, who concluded that “Saying “I am excited” represents a simple, minimal intervention…to prime an opportunity mind-set and improve performance…

Advising employees to say “I am excited” before important performance tasks or simply encouraging them to “get excited” may increase their confidence, improve performance, and boost beliefs in their ability to perform well in the future.”

 -*How effective have you found focusing on “excitement” instead of “calm” in managing anxiety?

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Transference in Everyday Life Biases Memory, Emotions

-*Ever catch yourself re-enacting scenarios from your past, but with different people?

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

 Sigmund Freud described this experience as “transference,” redirecting feelings toward one person onto a different individual in the present.

The current recipient of feelings may have different characteristics, motivations, and behaviors than the original person, but something about the present individual triggers a repeat of earlier feelings and actions.

Susan Andersen

Susan Andersen

NYU’s Susan Andersen and Alana Baum demonstrated transference in lab studies when they asked volunteers for descriptions of important people in their lives for whom they had positive feelings or negative feelings.
To contrast the results, Andersen and Baum also presented descriptions of other people’s significant others.

Later, Anderson and Baum described a person seated next door, using either the emotionally-positive or emotionally-negative descriptions of someone from the volunteer’s life or someone else’s life.

Participants more accurately recalled the stranger next door’s description when it resembled their own significant other.
Recall was enhanced because the salient features of the significant other’s description were memorable when assigned to a new person, suggesting transference.

In addition, biased inference and memory is based on “accessibility” and distinctiveness of the earlier triggering memory, according to Anderson’s collaborators Steve W. Cole and Noah Glassman.

Transference is an outgrowth of attachment to others in the past, according to Queens College’s Claudia Chloe Brumbaugh and R. Chris Fraley University of Illinois.

R. Chris Fraley

R. Chris Fraley

In their research , participants learned about two potential dating partners:  One description resembled a romantic partner from the person’s past, whereas another description matched another participant’s former partner.

These volunteers reported feeling both less avoidant and more anxious toward potential dating partners described as similar to previous significant others.
Brumbaugh and Fraley noted that participants “applied attachment representations of past partners” to any potential future partner, but to a greater extent when the new partner was described as resembling an important past partner.

Susan Fiske

Susan Fiske

Earlier, Princeton’s Susan Fiske described this transfer of affective responses to a new individual as schema-triggered affect.
Andersen used this framework and a socio-cognitive explanation in a paper with Berkeley’s Serena Chen.

Serena Chen

Serena Chen

People modify views of themselves and others in transference situations, found Katrina Hinkley and Andersen.
Volunteers also demonstrated biased recall of details about a new person when a representation of an earlier significant other was activated.
Participants’ list of the new person’s attributes changed on re-test to include elements of the self when the participant had been with the former significant person.

Michael Kraus

Michael Kraus

Transference occurs even when a target person possesses an attribute incompatible with the significant other’s characteristics, found University of Illinois’s Michael W. Kraus with Berkeley’s Chen, Victoria A. Lee, and Laura D. Straus.

Participants demonstrated transference in biased memories and judgments about a person they perceived as similar to a former significant other.

This effect was manipulated to elicit positive impressions even when the target was from an ethnic out-group, suggesting ways to reduce stigma and discrimination by evoking positive transference from past experiences to present actors.

Baum and Anderson demonstrated that transient mood during a current transference experience is related to one’s positive or negative interpersonal role with the significant other, and whether this role is consistent with the new person’s role.

They observed that participants’ transient mood was more positive when the target of their transference resembled their own significant other and occupied a similar role to the original person.

These findings suggest that transference in the workplace can be problematic when employees react to one another as they responded to others from the past, introducing unconscious emotional elements to work situations.

-*How do you manage transference reactions in work and social situations?

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The Attractiveness Bias: “Cheerleader Effect”, Positive Attributions, and “Distinctive Accuracy”

Edward Vul

Edward Vul

Want to be seen as more attractive?  Be part of a group.

Individuals were rated as more attractive when they were observed in a group rather than alone, reported University of California, San Diego’s Drew Walker and Edward Vul.

This occurs because the brain’s perceptual system computes a statistical summary representation – “an ensemble,” and is biased toward perceiving the ensemble average as attractive, they wrote.

Individuals are perceived as more similar to the average group face, and this average face is more attractive than group members’ individual faces, thanks to a perceptual bias called the ”cheerleader effect.

Individuals who are judged attractive are also ascribed positive characteristics including good health, good genes, intelligence, and success as a result of attribution bias.

Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham

Further, there’s consensus across cultures and genders on ratings of physical attractiveness, found University of Louisville’s Michael R. Cunningham, Anita P. Barbee, Perri B. Druen, who collaborated with Alan R. Roberts of Indiana University and Chung Yuan Christian University’s Cheng-Huan Wu.

Features rated as most attractive for women include: 

  • High cheekbones and forehead,
  • Fuller lips,
  • Large, clear eyes,
  • Shorter jaw,
  • Narrower chin.
Alan Roberts

Alan Roberts

Women’s weight wasn’t as relevant to attractiveness as a waist-to-hips ratio of 7:10 and Body Mass Index (BMI) of 20.85.

Preferred characteristics for men were a large jaw and brow, prominent cheekbones, and broad chin, with a waist-to-hips ratio for men is 9:10 and about 12 percent body fat.
Smooth skin, shiny hair, and facial symmetry were rated as attractive for both women and men.

Genevieve Lorenzo

Genevieve Lorenzo

Physical attractiveness focuses observers’ attention on attractive individuals, and enables more accurate assessments of personality traits based on brief interactions, according to University of British Columbia’s Genevieve Lorenzo and Jeremy Biesanz with Lauren Human of University of California, San Francisco.

Jeremy Biesanz

Jeremy Biesanz

Observers more accurately identified personality traits of physically attractive people  and these ratings were more similar to attractive people’s self-reported personality traits (“distinctive accuracy”).

Lauren Human

Lauren Human

These volunteers showed a positive bias toward attractive people and accurately identified the relative ordering of attractive participants’ Big Five personality traits (extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experience, and emotional stability ⁄ neuroticism).

Nicholas Rule

Nicholas Rule

In addition, raters accurately evaluated CEOs’ competence, dominance, likeability, maturity and trustworthiness by viewing photographs of the executives’ faces in a study by University of Toronto’s Nicholas Rule and Nalini Ambady, then of Tufts.

Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady

Thirty volunteers assessed CEOs’ “leadership success” based on appearance alone, and these rating were very significantly related to profitability of the organizations the CEOs led.

John Graham

John Graham

CEOs and non-executives unconsciously compete in a “corporate beauty contest,” and those viewed as attractive are assigned positive attributions, asserted John Graham, Campbell Harvey and Manju Puri of Duke.

Photos of more than 100 white male chief executive officers of large and small companies were paired with with photos of non-executives with similar facial features, hairstyles and clothing.

Campbell Harvey

Campbell Harvey

Nearly 2,000 participants assessed photos and rated CEOs as competent and attractive more frequently than non-executives.
However, volunteers were less likely to rate CEOs as likeable and trustworthy.

Those rated as “competent” earned more money, but in this study, CEO appearance wasn’t associated with company profitability.

Elaine Wong

Elaine Wong

Specific facial structures, not just attributed personality traits, were associated with superior business results, according to University of Wisconsin’s Elaine Wong and Michael P. Haselhuhn working with Margaret E. Ormiston of London Business School.

Firms that achieved superior financial results tended to have male CEOs with wider faces relative to facial height, particularly among organizations with “cognitively simple leadership teams.”

Margaret Ormiston

Margaret Ormiston

Evolutionary biology suggests that facial structure may be perceived as possessing trustworthy leadership skills, leading to attributions of competence, and igniting loyalty to follow.

-*What positive bias do you observe toward attractive individuals in the workplace? 

-*How do you harness the positive bias toward attractive individuals?

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How Accurate are Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance?

Appearance, including facial expression, posture, and clothing provide important visual communications to observers.

Laura Naumann

Laura Naumann

Simine Vazire

Simine Vazire

To evaluate observers’ accuracy in judging personality traits based on the appearance of people they didn’t know, Sonoma State University’s Laura Naumann, with Simine Vazire of Washington University in St. Louis, University of Cambridge’s Peter Rentfrow, and Samuel Gosling of University of Texas at Austin asked volunteers to rate 10 personality traits.

Peter Rentfrow

Peter Rentfrow

These characteristics included Big Five Personality Traits –  Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, proposed by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae of the U.S. National Institutes of Health .

In addition, participants assessed likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity, and political orientation) of people pictured full-body photographs.

Samuel Gosling

Samuel Gosling

These measures were compared with ratings by the photographed person and people acquainted with the individual.

Paul Costa

Paul Costa

Observers’ judgments were accurate when they rated extraversion, self-esteem, and religiosity among people photographed in a “standardized” pose, and were correct for more personality traits when judging photographs in spontaneous poses and facial expressions.
This suggests that candid photographs provide more accurate cues to some personality characteristics than planned poses.

Robert McCrae

Robert McCrae

Static cues such as clothing style, and dynamic cues including facial expression and posture provided “cue validity” that enabled observers to make accurate judgments of personality characteristics by “cue utilization.”

John Irving

John Irving

These findings confirmed that observers make accurate inferences about some personality characterics based on visual cues, validating novelist John Irving’s assertion through his narrator, John Wheelwright, in A Prayer for Owen Meany: “Things often are as they appear. First impressions matter.

-*How accurate are your judgments of personality traits in people you don’t already know?
-*How accurate are other people’s inferences about your personality traits?

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Inferring, Predicting Others’ Thoughts, Intentions, Behavior

Developing accurate inferences about others’ expectations and likely actions is essential for successful social interactions.

Demis Hassabis

Demis Hassabis

The brain’s process to develop predictions about others’ thoughts and behaviors was investigated by University College London’s Demis Hassabis, with R. Nathan Spreng of Cornell University, Vrije Universiteit’s Andrei A. Rusu, Harvard’s Clifford A. Robbins and Daniel Schacter, and Raymond A. Mar of York University.

R. Nathan Spreng

R. Nathan Spreng

Volunteers read about four fictional protagonists’ personality traits (Agreeableness, Extraversion), then imagined each character’s behaviors in different situations.
Each volunteer then participated in fMRI brain scans.

Andrei Rusu

Andrei Rusu

Medial prefrontal cortex activity in the brain was associated with accurate inferences about protagonists’ personality characteristics and behaviors, demonstrating that “brain activity can reveal whom someone is thinking about.

Clifford Robbins

Clifford Robbins

Lateral temporal cingulate cortex activity occurred when participants accurately determined protagonists’ degree of agreeableness, whereas activity in the posterior cingulate cortex activity was associated with correct judgments of protagonists’ degree of extraversion.

Daniel Schachter

Daniel Schachter

Brain regions responsible for processing inferences of personality traits and behaviors are functionally coupled with areas that differentiate people’s identities, found Hassabis’s group.

Raymond Mar

Raymond Mar

This means that specific brain regions “code” inferred personality traits in others and synthesize these characteristics into “personality models” that represent individuals and their likely behavior in new situations.

Matthew Hertenstein

Matthew Hertenstein

People can even infer others’ emotional intentions through unseen touchreported Matthew Hertenstein with DePauw University colleagues Brittany Bulleit and Ariane Jaskolka, UC Berkeley’s Dacher Keltner and Betsy App of University of Denver.

Brittany Bulleit-Ariane Jaskolka

Brittany Bulleit-Ariane Jaskolka

Two hundred volunteers in the United States and Spain accurately perceived anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy conveyed by unseen touch, but not happiness, sadness, surprise, embarrassment, envy, or pride.

Dacher Keltner

Observers also accurately identified emotions conveyed by participants’ “tactile displays” when they touched paired volunteers.

Betsy App

Betsy App

Gian Gonzaga of UCLA collaborated with Keltner and University of Wisconsin’s Daniel Ward to investigate male-female communication pairs’ ability to infer and detect emotion

Gian Gonzaga

Gian Gonzaga

Guided by Keltner’s “approach/inhibition theory of power,” the researchers attributed high power to one volunteer in a communication pair, then compared communications when both people were in an equal-power condition between women and men.

Participants endowed with high power showed behavioral disinhibition, and made less accurate judgments of the communication partner’s emotion.
In contrast, individuals in the low-power role demonstrated more behavioral inhibition and reported greater self-consciousness and anxiety.

Men in engaged in power behaviors even when participants were attributed equal power, and
this behavior was less apparent when both participants were men.
This finding confirms the continuing existence of power differentials between women and men and he team confirmed gender-related “emotion blindness” when male-female pairs misinterpreted each other’s attempts to convey specific emotions. 

Male pairs accurately detected anger, but men did not understand women’s attempts to convey anger in male-female pairs.
Likewise, women did not accurately detect men’s attempts to convey compassion, but female pairs accurately perceived expressions of happiness.

Sympathy was accurately communicated only when at least one woman was in the volunteer pair, demonstrating gender-related limitations to accurate empathy and emotionally intelligent interpersonal inferences.

-*How do you develop accurate inferences about others’ opinions and likely behaviors?
-*How do you revise your models of others’ personalities?

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