Tag Archives: cognitive load

Stress Increases Women’s Performance and Empathic Attunement, but not Men’s

Livia Tomova

Livia Tomova

Task performance, social interaction skills, and empathic attunement increase for women under stress, but not for men.
Women seek social support (“become prosocial”), but men turn toward themselves and away from others when they experience stress, according to University of Vienna’s Livia Tomova and Claus Lamm with Bernadette von Dawans and Markus Heinrichs of University of Freiburg, and Giorgia Silani, International School for Advanced Studies, SISSA-ISAS, Trieste

Claus Lamm

Claus Lamm

Tomova’s team evaluated the impact of stress on 20 women and 20 men, elicited by Clemens Kirschbaum, Karl-Martin Pirke, and Dirk Hellhammer’s (Universität) Trier Social Stress Test, in which participants delivered a speech and performed mental arithmetic in front of an audience.

Bernadette von Dawans

Bernadette von Dawans

Tomova and team measured “self-other distinctions” during three types of tasks:

  • Imitated movements  (perceptual-motor task): “Move objects on a shelf according to the instructions of a director,” requiring participants to “disentangle their own visual perspective” from that of the director,
  • Identifying  one’s  own  emotions or  other  people’s  emotions  (emotional  task),  or
  • Making a judgment from another person’s perspective (cognitive task).
Markus Heinrichs

Markus Heinrichs

As a comparison, 20 men and 20 women completed non-stressful activities like “easy counting.”

Women and men showed similar physiological reactions to stress, but stress decreased men’s performance in all tasks.
In contrast, women’s performance on all tasks improved under stress

Giorgia Silani

Giorgia Silani

Specifically, women who experienced stress demonstrated more accurate understanding of others’ perspective than non-stressed women and men.
However, men under stress showed less ability to accurately detect others’ probable thoughts and feelings.

Walter Cannon

Walter Cannon

Studies of stress were pioneered by Harvard’s Walter Cannon, who described the fight-or-flight response in1914, and popularized by Hans Selye of Université de Montréal.  

Hans Selye

Hans Selye

People can cope with stress by:

  • Seeking social support or
  • Reducing “internal cognitive load” that requires additional coping efforts.

One way to reduce “internal cognitive load” is to disconnect from others’ perspective and emotional experience through reducing empathy.
Besides this process of “mentalizing,” empathy also requires people to distinguish their representations of themselves from representations of others.

Clemens Kirschbaum

Clemens Kirschbaum

Women under stress “flexibly disambiguate” mental representations of themselves from others and increase “self-other distinction,” found Tomova’s research group.
This cognitive style enables women to more accurately perceive others’ perspective, enabling more empathic interaction with others in a “tend-and-befriend” approach.

In contrast, men under stress typically turn inward with “increased egocentricity” to conserve mental and emotional resources for “flight-or-flight” responses, leading to less adaptive social interactions.

Dirk Hellhammer

Dirk Hellhammer

These differences may be rooted in gender-specific learning experiences and biological differences including higher levels of oxytocin (a hormone that mediates social behaviors) among women who experienced stress, noted Tomova’s research team.
As a result, women may seek more frequently seek social support, may interact with others more empathically, and may be rewarded with external help in a reinforcing cycle.

Nikolas Rose

Nikolas Rose

Social support can improve performance and reduce stress, probably because the brain is “wired for sociality,” according to King’s College London’s Nikolas Rose and Joelle Abi-Rached of Harvard.

Gender differences in performance under stress are associated with different styles of “sociality” and empathic insight.

-*How do you maintain task performance and “Emotional Intelligence” of empathy when experiencing stress?

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Low-Stakes Testing Improves Learning Retention, Retrieval

Henry L. Roediger III

Henry L. Roediger III

Few people enjoy having knowledge gaps exposed by formal testing, but those who receive this corrective feedback are more likely to retain information over time, according to studies by Washington University’s Henry L. Roediger III and Jeffrey D. Karpicke.

Mary Pyc

Mary Pyc

Their work confirms considerable previous research, and the idea that testing acts as a “meditator” to retrieve stored information, suggested by Kent State University’s Mary A. Pyc and Katherine A. Rawson.

Katherine A. Rawson

Katherine A. Rawson

Participants in Roediger and Karpicke’s investigation read texts and were tested by writing as much as they recalled of selected sections, rather than completing a multiple choice test or writing a critical thinking essay on the topic.
Volunteers recalled about 70 percent of the ideas they’d read, then re-read the
remaining passages that were not tested.

Jeffrey D. Karpicke

Jeffrey D. Karpicke

Delayed testing on both sets of readings occurred after two days or seven days, and volunteers were significantly more able to remember material on which they’d been tested.

Roediger and Karpicke noted that testing requires people to retrieve knowledge from memory, rather than merely acquire information as when reading or listening to a lecture.
The testing effect, also known as the retrieval practice effect, strengthens learning by embedding information in memory.

Karl Szpunar

Karl Szpunar

Most effective testing is integrated into learning with frequent, low-stakes checkpoints in contrast to less frequent, higher-stakes testing in the traditional British education system, they suggested.

Novall Y. Khan

Novall Y. Khan

Additionally, “interpolated testing” during learning activities enables people to sustain attention, reduce mind wandering, test anxiety, and perceived “cognitive load,” found Harvard’s Karl K. Szpunar, Novall Y. Khan, and Daniel L. Schacter.

Sarah L. Eddy

Sarah L. Eddy

The testing effect can benefit people who have previously under-performed relative to their peers, and are under-represented in courses, reported University of Washington’s Sarah L Eddy and Mary Pat Wenderoth with Sara E Brownell of Arizona State University.

Mary Pat Wenderoth

Mary Pat Wenderoth

They evaluated women’s academic achievement and participation in class discussions in more than 20 large university biology courses.

Sara E. Brownell

Sara E. Brownell

Unlike in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, 60% of the students were women.
However, they responded to only 40% of questions posed by the instructor during classes, much less than their representation in the course.
In addition, these women achieved lower exam scores than men with similar overall academic performance.

Daniel Schachter

Daniel Schachter

However, when the researchers introduced frequent, low-stakes testing – even without providing test results – women’s information retention and accessing significantly improved.

Frequent low-stakes testing integrated into learning activities leads to longer-term information comprehension, retention, and application – and this frequent exposure to a sometimes-feared or disliked activity can reduce avoidant reactions.

-*How effective do you find frequent tests to increase recall and retention of learning materials?

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Paradox of Potential vs Achievement in Job Search

Zachary Tormala

Zachary Tormala

When hiring or promoting, the person’s potential can trump actual accomplishments, according to Stanford’s Zakary Tormala, with Jayson Jia of University of Hong Kong and Harvard’s Michael Norton.

Jayson Shi Jia

Jayson Shi Jia

The paradox of potential occurs because possibility seems to engender greater interest and cognitive effort due to its uncertain outcome, in examples ranging across:

  • Basketball player evaluations,
  • Hiring decisions,
  • Salary offers,
  • Graduate school admissions recommendations,
  • Judgments of artistic talent,
  • Intentions to visit an untried restaurant.
Michael Norton

Michael Norton

Tormala and team demonstrated this effect by presenting identical statistics for a hypothetical NBA basketball player, then describing the data “predictions” or as “actual performance.”
Participants were more likely to judge that the player would become an All-Star player when they viewed “predicted” statistics rather than “actual” performance records.

Volunteers also evaluated a job applicant more favorably when the person performed well on an “Assessment of Leadership Potential rather than on an “Assessment of Leadership Achievement.”

Tormala’s group extended the investigation to evaluate impact of an upcoming comedian’s ”accomplishment” compared with “potential” when they posted different Facebook advertisements:

  • “Critics say he has become the next big thing”
  • “Critics say he could become the next big thing.”

The “potential” ads produced more than three times more click-throughs and five times more fan ratings.

In other studies, Tormala and team compared descriptions of an achievement and potential:

  • “This person has won an award for his work”
  • “This person could win an award for his work.”

“Potential” stimulated greater interest and cognitive information processing, resulting in more favorable reactions to the target person.

Derek Rucker

Derek Rucker

With Stanford colleague Daniella Kupor and Derek D. Rucker of Northwestern University, Tormala and Norton found that the preference for potential disappeared for people who don’t like uncertainty, and in situations that require higher degrees of certainty.

They noted that when people thoughtfully consider challenging decisions, such as in a Blackjack game, bystanders form positive impressions of others and become more willing to be influenced by them.
However, observers form negative opinions of people who “overthink” simple choices (demonstrate lack “thought calibration”), and are less willing to be influenced by them.

The appeal of potential applies to abstract enjoyable experiences, according to Southern Methodist University’s T. Andrew Poehlman and George Newman of Yale.

T Andrew Poehlman

T Andrew Poehlman

They found that the lure of “potential” makes people more likely to “consume inferior performances” in the present, but may not enjoy them.

Poehlman and Newman argued that “potential” is less influential when experienced in the past, and is less attractive when potential is associated with utilitarian dimensions.

George Newman

George Newman

These findings point to the value of:

  • Positioning one’s own “potential” as well as others’ “potential” to increase persuasiveness of support and advocacy,
  • Considering whether candidates with “potential” seem more appealing than those with greater experience – and whether potential is the appropriate selection criterion.

-*How frequently do you see people hired, promoted, and rewarded for “potential” instead of actual achievement?

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