Tag Archives: Yaacov Trope

Reframing Non-Comparable Choices to Make Them Simpler, More Satisfying

Life’s most baffling decisions are among non-comparable choices: “apples-to-oranges” comparisons.

Eunice Kim

Eunice Kim

University of Toronto’s Eunice Kim Cho collaborated with Uzma Khan of Stanford and Yale’s Ravi Dhar to investigate whether non-comparable choices may be made easier and more satisfying by changing their “level of representation,” or decision context.

Uzma Khan

Uzma Khan

Cho and team drew on Construal Level Theory (CLT) discussed by NYU’s Yaacov Trope, Nira Liberman of Tel Aviv University and Cheryl Wakslak, now of USC, to differentiate decisions construed as concrete, specific, contextualized, and personal from more abstract, distant options based on future time, remote space, social distance, and hypothetical probability.

Ravi Dhar

Ravi Dhar

Trope and team reported that these differing construals can determine people’s predictions, decisions, and behavior.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

Kim’s team offered volunteers a gift card and asked half of the participants to choose between comparable choices (different types of chess sets or different types of consumer electronics).

Nira Liberman

Nira Liberman

The remaining subjects chose between non-comparable options (chess set vs. cheese sampler or consumer electronic device vs. event tickets), and all  participants chose between these options for themselves (specific context) or for an acquaintance (abstract context).

Cheryl Wakslak

Cheryl Wakslak

When people chose for themselves, at the more personal, specific construal level, they found it easier to select between more similar choices, the two chess sets, but not the dissimilar choice of chess set vs. cheese platter.

In contrast, when participants chose a gift for a more socially-distant person, an acquaintance, they found it easier to select between dissimilar items.
Kim and team concluded that it’s easier to make dissimilar choices when the options are represented at a higher level of abstraction to enable “big picture thinking.”

Marketers use this principle to position dissimilar choices more abstractly, like “level of enjoyment” rather than focusing on specific specific product features, to help consumers make decisions more quickly.

Decision-making ease is crucial because it is associated with greater satisfaction with the decision.
When taking a decision is complex and stressful, many people doubt the decision and feel less content.

Jens Forster

Jens Forster

Liberman and Jens Forster, now of University of Amsterdam, demonstrated that complex, non-comparable, or confusing choices are associated with lower decision satisfaction and greater likelihood of choosing the previously rejected option in a subsequent decision.

Individuals can consider more abstract, “big-picture” criteria when deciding between differing options, such as equal expenditures on a a material possession or an experience, to increase ease and speed of decision-making.

The next post considers which type of purchase – material or experiential – most people find more satisfying.

-*How do you make decisions when the choices are not directly comparable?

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Increase Feelings of Power by Listening to Music with Strong Bass Beat

Dennis Hsu

Dennis Hsu

Listening to music with specific emotional qualities has been associated with productivity, performance, creative problem solving, endurance, decreased pain sensitivity, and decision biases, outlined in previous blog posts.

Loran Nordgren

Loran Nordgren

Subjective power feelings are an additional outcome of listening to music with substantial bass beat, reported Northwestern University’s Dennis Y. Hsu, Loran F. Nordgren, Derek D. Rucker, Li Huang, and Columbia’s Adam D. Galinsky.

Derek D. Rucker

Derek D. Rucker

Hsu’s team found that power-inducing music produced enhanced:

  • Abstract thinking
  • Illusions of control
  • Willingness to volunteer first for a potentially stressful task.
Li Huang

Li Huang

Subjective feelings of power are important contributors to workplace performance because they associated with confidence and self-efficacy, which influence willingness to persist in accomplishing challenging tasks.

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

More than 75 volunteers listened to an original, two-minute instrumental composition with either a prominent bass line or a subdued bass element in Team Hsu’s investigation.
Participants rated their feelings of power, dominance and determination along with their sense of happiness, excitement, and enthusiasm.

Pamela K. Smith

Pamela K. Smith

People who listened to the heavy-bass music said they experienced greater feelings of power than those who listened to the more subdued variation, but the increased bass element did not affect feelings of happiness or excitement.
Those who heard the composition with prominent bass elements also produced more power-related terms in a word-completion test.

Daniël Wigboldus

Daniël Wigboldus

Likewise, those who heard familiar “high-power music” such as Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” volunteered to be the first participants in a debate competition and scored higher on a test measuring abstract thinking, compared with people who listened to widely-known “low-power music” like “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

Ap Dijksterhuis

Ap Dijksterhuis

Feeling powerful is more important than actually possessing power in achieving superior performance, confirmed by University of California San Diego’s Pamela K. Smith with Daniël H.J. Wigboldus of Radboud University Nijmegen, and University of Amsterdam’s Ap Dijksterhuisc.
They reported this well-validated finding and expanded Smith’s previous report, with NYU’s Yaacov Trope, that people’s subjective sense of power is partly determined by individual information processing style.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

Smith’s team found that people who demonstrated abstract thought reported greater sense of power, greater preference for high-power roles, and more feelings of control over the environment, compared with people who were primed to use concrete thinking.

Subjective feelings of power can be enhanced by listening to music with a prominent bass element, in addition to writing “power primes” and assuming expansive body postures.

-*How do you increase your personal experience of power?

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Concrete Helping Acts Increase “Helpers High” Happiness more than Abstract Goals

Melanie Rudd

Melanie Rudd

People experience greater happiness when they perform specific “prosocial” actions, like trying to make someone smile, rather than pursuing an abstract objective like “trying to make someone happy,” according to University of Houston’s Melanie Rudd, Jennifer Aaker of Stanford and Harvard’s Michael I. Norton.

Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer Aaker

Fifty volunteers were asked to “make someone happy,” or to “make someone smile,” in exchange for a gift card.
When they completed the task, participants described how they accomplished their assignment, and the degree of happiness they experienced.

Michael Norton

Michael Norton

Participants who completed the specific goal, “getting someone to smile,” reported greater happiness than those who worked toward the more abstract, “higher construal level” goal of “making someone happy” – no matter which action they performed to achieve the goal.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

Specific goals have a “low construal level”, according to Construal Level Theory (CLT), discussed by NYU’s Yaacov Trope and Nira Liberman of Tel Aviv University.
CLT distinguishes concrete, specific, contextualized, and personal actions from more abstract, distant options based on future time, remote space, social distance, and hypothetical probability.
Team Rudd’s findings demonstrate the emotional impact associated with completing specific prosocial tasks.

Nira Liberman

Nira Liberman

Rudd and team posited that concrete goals reduce the gap between expected and actual impact of one’s actions, and increase goal clarity, measurability, and achievability while setting more realistic outcome expectations.
The team evaluated this speculation by asking participants to rate the degree of similarity between the actual outcome and their expectations before they performed the specific or general task.
Those who performed the more specific action also reported greater similarity between expectations and actual outcomes, as well as experiencing more happiness as a result of their prosocial actions.

Edwin Locke

Edwin Locke

Abstractly-framed goals focus on “why”, broader meaning, and larger purpose, whereas concretely-stated objectives target the “how, found University of Maryland’s Edwin Locke and Gary Latham of University of Toronto.

Gary Latham

Gary Latham

Similarly, smaller expectation-reality gaps were linked to greater satisfaction, happiness, and well-being in research by University of Leiden’s Riël Vermunt and Herman Steensma. 

Riël Vermunt

Riël Vermunt

Rudd’s group replicated Vermunt and Steensma’s findings, for people had a previous friendship or no previous relationship with the beneficiary, and when the prosocial acts varied in magnitude.

Herman Steensma

Herman Steensma

Participants experienced similar degrees of happiness in performing small or large kind deeds, as long as thee specified actions like “increasing recycling of unneeded materials” instead of “supporting environmental sustainability.”

Volunteers were consistently inaccurate in predicting which charitable acts would make them feel most happy 24 hours after they completed the task.

Gal Zauberman

Gal Zauberman

Participants predicted that performing the abstract, “high construal level” task of “making someone happy” would make them happier than the specific task of “trying to make someone smile” – but they actually experienced greater happiness after they did a specific good deed.
Likewise, Wharton’s Gal Zauberman and John G. Lynch of Duke also found that volunteers had inaccurate expectations about future outcomes.

Anyone who has been disappointed when ambitious goals to help others did not result in the desired outcome understands the problems of “donor fatigue” or “helper burnout,” when there is a significant discrepancy between helper expectation and actual outcome.

Carolyn Schwartz

Carolyn Schwartz

This anecdotal experience is confirmed by University of Massachusetts Medical School’s University of Massachusetts’s Carolyn Schwarz, Yunsheng Ma, and George Reed, with Janice Bell Meisenhelder of Emmanuel College, who found that discrepancies between expectations and outcomes are linked to giver unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Allan Luks

Allan Luks

Rudd and team’s research suggests that much-needed helpers can experience a Helper’s High instead of “helper burnout” when their goals are concretely defined.
Helper’s High is even associated with improved physical health in addition to happiness, according to Fordham University’s Allan Luks.

Helping others is also associated with higher levels of mental health, found Schwartz’s group, although they found less relationship with physical health than Luks.

William Harbaugh

William Harbaugh

The Helper’s High has a physiological basis: “Pleasure centers of the brain” are activated when people make voluntary charitable donations as well as after receiving money for oneself, and even more than when individuals agree to a tax-like transfers to a charity, reported University of Oregon’s William T. Harbaugh and Ulrich Mayr, with Daniel R. Burghart of NYU.

Individuals can increase their experience of happiness by engaging in specific kind acts toward others, and philanthropic organizations can increase volunteer retention by framing requests as concrete, “low construal level” actions.

-*To what extent do specific prosocial actions increase your personal happiness?

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Body Language Conveys Emotions more Intelligibly than Facial Expressions

Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman

Numerous studies, pioneered by Paul Ekman of University of California, San Francisco, argue that facial expressions provide an accurate, consistent, universal “tell” to underlying emotions.

However, body language more accurately conveys intense emotions than facial Ekman Emotion Stock photoexpressions, according to Hebrew University’s Hillel Aviezer,Yaacov Trope of NYU, and Princeton University’s Alexander Todorov.

Three groups of 15 people judged intense emotions, including pain, pleasure, victory, defeat, grief and joy, portrayed in stock photographs of:

  • facial expressions alone or
  • body language alone or
  • both facial and body expressions.
Hillel Aviezer

Hillel Aviezer

Volunteers assigned more accurate inferences of pictured emotion based on body language, alone or combined with facial expressions, than judgments based on facial context alone.

These results challenge presumption that the face best communicates feeling, yet most participants believe that they rely on facial expression was their most important cue in making inferences.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

More than half the volunteers reported that they use facial expression to judge underlying emotions, a bias labeled “illusory facial affect” by Aviezer and team.

Some participants did not view the photos, but heard a description of the content.
The vast majority – 80 percent – said they “would” rely solely on the face when determining the emotion.
The remainder said they would consider the face and body together, yet not one participant indicated that body language alone would be the most important guide to emotion.

Alexander Todorov

Alexander Todorov

Another experiment presented volunteers with altered photos that combined one intense emotional expressed in the face with an opposing “peak” emotion portrayed by the body language.
Volunteers more often judged the emotion associated with the body, although they thought that facial expression was more indicative of underlying emotional experience.

A different condition demonstrated that most participants provided inaccurate judgments of six emotional states portrayed by faces alone:  They judged positive facial expressions as negative more frequently than the actual negative expressions.

Aviezer, Trope, and Todorov argue that facial expressions can be ambiguous and subjective when viewed without the context of body, particularly during intense emotional expressions.

Jamin Halberstadt

Jamin Halberstadt

Jamin Halberstadt of University of Otago explained Team Aviezer’s findings by noting “…bodily context is the expression of emotion…the face reveals a general intensity of feeling but doesn’t communicate what the person is feeling exactly. The body is where the valid information comes from during intense feelings.”

Piotr Winkielman

Piotr Winkielman

His expertise is based on earlier research with University of California at San Diego’s Piotr Winkielman, Paula Niedenthal of University of Wisconsin and University of Clermont-Ferrand’s Nathalie Dalle.
They demonstrated the important role of expectancy in reading, experiencing, and recalling emotions expressed by ambiguous facial photographs.

Paula Niedenthal

Paula Niedenthal

Halberstadt’s team used electromyography (EMG) to evaluate volunteers’ muscle mimicry responses and memory of photos portraying ambiguous faces when associated with emotion labels like “angry” or “happy”, and when the same photos were presented without labels.

Nathalie Dalle

Nathalie Dalle

Participants displayed more EMG activity associated with smiling when they viewed faces labeled “happy” than “angry,” and remembered faces labeled “happy” as happier than faced coded “angry” even though the photographed expressions were ambiguous.

When participants spontaneously mimicked emotions labeled with a specific affect label, they were more likely to remember this emotion.
Since the photos were ambiguous, this recall represents memory bias, based on expecting, then mirroring an expected emotion. 

SPOT-Dept Homeland SecBody language’s greater accuracy than facial expression as a measure of emotion, has important implications for mission critical interrogation and security-screening techniques.

One example is the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, which was based on Ekman’s facial expression research, but did not account for bodily expression as an indicator of underlying emotion.

Team Aviezer’s findings argue that emotion-screening procedures, as well as everyday workplace interactions, should evaluate both cues from both the body and the face to form most accurate judgments of others’ likely emotional states.  

-*Which cues do you find most helpful in judging other people’s emotional states when interacting with them?

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