Posts Tagged Featured

Overconfidence Drives Social Status, Even When Unfounded


Overconfidence Drives Social Status, Even When UnfoundedBelieving that you are cool, hip, talented, clever, and better than most, may lead to admiration and prestige, and, unfortunately, detrimental consequences.

In a new study, scientists came to the conclusion that individuals develop a cocky self-perception as a means to enhance social status.

Researchers have long known that many people are frequently overconfident — that they tend to believe they are more physically talented, socially adept, and skilled at their job than they actually are.

Investigators also say that overconfidence can often have a detrimental effect on an individual’s performance and decision-making.

Still the allure of social status promotes overconfidence, said Cameron Anderson, Ph.D.,  a co-author of the study, to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Our studies found that overconfidence helped people attain social status. People who believed they were better than others, even when they weren’t, were given a higher place in the social ladder. And the motive to attain higher social status thus spurred overconfidence,” said Anderson.

Experts say that social status is the respect, prominence, and influence individuals enjoy in the eyes of others.

Within work groups, for example, higher status individuals tend to be more admired, listened to, and have more sway over the group’s discussions and decisions.

Researchers say these “alphas” of the group have more clout and prestige than other members. Anderson believes the new findings are important because they help shed light on a longstanding puzzle: why overconfidence is so common, in spite of its risks.

In the study Anderson found that falsely believing one is better than others has profound social benefits for the individual. Moreover, these findings suggest one reason why in organizational settings, incompetent people are so often promoted over their more competent peers.

“In organizations, people are very easily swayed by others’ confidence even when that confidence is unjustified,” Anderson said. “Displays of confidence are given an inordinate amount of weight.”

In fact, the researchers say that organizations would benefit from taking individuals’ confidence with a grain of salt. Yes, confidence can be a sign of a person’s actual abilities, but it is often not a very good sign.

In the study, the authors conducted six experiments to measure why people become overconfident and how overconfidence equates to a rise in social stature. For example:

In one of the experiments, researchers examined 242 MBA students in their project teams and asked them to look over a list of historical names, historical events, and books and poems, and then to identify which ones they knew or recognized.

Terms included Maximilien Robespierre, Lusitania, Wounded Knee, Pygmalion, and Doctor Faustus. Unbeknownst to the participants, some of the names were made up.

These so-called “foils” included Bonnie Prince Lorenzo, Queen Shaddock, Galileo Lovano, Murphy’s Last Ride, and Windemere Wild. The researchers deemed those who picked the most foils the most overly confident because they believed they were more knowledgeable than they actually were.

In a survey at the end of the semester, those same overly confident individuals (who said they had recognized the most foils) achieved the highest social status within their groups.

It is important to note that group members did not think of their high status peers as overconfident, but simply that they were terrific.

“This overconfidence did not come across as narcissistic,” said Anderson. “The most overconfident people were considered the most beloved.”

Another experiment sought to discover the types of behaviors that make overconfident people appear to be so wonderful (even when they were not).

Behaviors such as body language, vocal tone, rates of participation were captured on video as groups worked together in a laboratory setting.

These videos revealed that overconfident individuals spoke more often, spoke with a confident vocal tone, provided more information and answers, and acted calmly and relaxed as they worked with their peers. In fact, overconfident individuals were more convincing in their displays of ability than individuals who were actually highly competent.

“These big participators were not obnoxious, they didn’t say, ‘I’m really good at this.’ Instead, their behavior was much more subtle. They simply participated more and exhibited more comfort with the task – even though they were no more competent than anyone else,” Anderson said.

Two final studies found that it is the “desire” for status that encourages people to be more overconfident.

For example, in Study 6, participants read one of two stories and were asked to imagine themselves as the protagonist in the story. The first story was a simple, bland narrative of losing then finding one’s keys.

The second story asked the reader to imagine him/herself getting a new job with a prestigious company. The job had many opportunities to obtain higher status, including a promotion, a bonus, and a fast track to the top. Those participants who read the new job scenario rated their desire for status much higher than those who read the story of the lost keys.

After they were finished reading, participants were asked to rate themselves on a number of competencies such as critical thinking skills, intelligence, and the ability to work in teams.

Those who had read the new job story (which stimulated their desire for status) rated their skills and talent much higher than did the first group. Their desire for status amplified their overconfidence.

So, if overconfidence is a natural tendency for some, how can individuals recognize that this may be a potential flaw rather than an asset?

Anderson and other members of the research team believe their study will give people the incentive to look for more objective displays of ability and merit in others, instead of overvaluing unsubstantiated confidence.

Source: University of California – Berkeley Haas School of Business

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Thinking About Giving Inspires People to Help Others


Thinking About Giving Inspires People to Help OthersResearchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan have found that reflecting on what we’ve given, rather than what we’ve received, may lead us to be more helpful toward others.

The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In the study, Adam Grant and Jane Dutton wanted to understand how reflection, in the form of expressive writing, might influence prosocial behavior.

They found that the receipt of gifts or favors from another person might cause an individual to be obliged to help that person, but the motivation to help doesn’t necessarily extend to other people.

Moreover, reflecting on what we’ve received from others may even cause us to feel dependent and indebted. This finding lead the researchers to wonder whether thinking about times when we have given to others might be more effective in promoting helping.

They hypothesized that reflecting on giving could lead a person to see herself as a benefactor, strengthening identity as a caring, helpful individual and motivating one to take action to benefit others.

In their first experiment, the researchers studied fundraisers whose job was to solicit alumni donations to support various programs at a university.

The researchers randomly split the fundraisers into two groups: One group wrote journal entries about recent experiences of feeling grateful for receiving a benefit and the other group wrote journal entries about recent experiences in which they made a contribution that enabled other people to feel grateful.

Grant and Dutton then measured how many calls each fundraiser made per hour in the two weeks before and the two weeks after the week that they spent journaling. Because the fundraisers were paid a fixed hourly rate, with no fundraising goals or incentives, the number of calls they made reflected voluntary effort to help raise funds for the university.

As the researchers hypothesized, the fundraisers who wrote about giving for just two or three days increased their hourly calls by more than 29 percent in the following two weeks. The fundraisers who wrote about receiving, however, showed no change in the number hourly calls made.

In a second experiment, the researchers randomly assigned college students to one of three groups, requiring them to list three ways they had recently given help, list three ways they had recently received help, or list three different foods they had eaten in the last week.

When the participants came to the university’s behavioral lab a few weeks later to pick up their payment for participating in the study, they were given a form describing the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. On the form, the participants were asked whether they would like to donate any portion of their $5 payment to an earthquake relief fund.

Nearly 50 percent of participants who had reflected on giving donated, compared to 21 percent in the beneficiary group and 13 percent in the control cohort.

Grant and Dutton believe that the findings from these two experiments have important real-world implications.

“Helping, giving, volunteering, and other actions undertaken to benefit others play a critical role in protecting health, promoting education, fighting poverty and hunger, and providing disaster relief,” the researchers write.

Experts believe self-reflection is a powerful tool to motivate helping and volunteering behaviors that benefit individuals and communities. And, as a general rule, we should reflect on positive experiences and think about what we’ve given to others—not only what we’ve received.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Woman writing in a journal photo by shutterstock.

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Face in the Mirror More Distorted in Schizophrenia


Face in the Mirror More Distorted in SchizophreniaIndividuals with schizophrenia experience more intense perceptual illusions while gazing into a mirror than do healthy people, according to a new study.

The new research also showed that patients with schizophrenia were more likely to believe the illusions they see in the mirror were real.

The research highlights the underlying ego dysfunction and body dysmorphic disorder found in schizophrenia.

According to the researchers, gazing at one’s own reflected face under low light can lead to ghostly experiences called “strange-face in the mirror” illusions. No study has previously focused on mirror gazing in schizophrenic patients, who already experience delirium, hallucination and self mis-attribution.

Stefano Zago of the University of Milan conducted the study to compare strange-face apparitions in response to mirror gazing in 16 patients with schizophrenia and 21 mentally healthy controls.

Subjects took a 7-minute mirror-gazing test, after which they filled out a specially designed questionnaire asking them to describe their strange-face perceptions.

The results show a number of differences between patients with schizophrenia and mentally healthy controls.  Patients on average reported a greater total number of strange faces than controls, at 2.8 versus 1.5.

The types of strange faces also differed between patients and controls. Hugely deformed features were seen by all schizophrenia patients and 71% of controls, archetypal faces by 50% of patients and 19% of controls, and monstrous faces by 88% of patients and 29% of controls. Patients’ archetypical and monster faces were typically described as satanic beings.

Furthermore, patients tended to report greater intensity in the strange faces and were more likely to say that they felt real than controls.

Of note, mentally healthy participants felt dissociative experiences during the strange-face illusions and never identified with them.

Overall, the research suggests that strange-face illusions in schizophrenia can be caused by ego dysfunction, body dysmorphic disorder, or by misattribution of self-agency, said Zago.

The research is published in Schizophrenia Research.

Source:  Schizophrenia Research

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Stress Changes Learning in the Brain


Stress Changes Learning in the BrainA new experiment from German scientists suggests stress invokes our brain to use different and more complex processes during learning.

In the study, cognitive psychologists Drs. Lars Schwabe and Oliver Wolf discovered that the presence or absence of stress is associated with use of different brain regions and different strategies in the learning process.

Stress appears to make the brain work harder and use a more complex approach when learning. Study findings are reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Researchers discovered that non-stressed individuals applied a deliberate learning strategy, while stressed subjects relied more on their gut feeling.

“These results demonstrate for the first time that stress has an influence on which of the different memory systems the brain turns on,” said Schwabe.

In the study researchers analyzed the data from 59 subjects. Two groups were assigned with one group asked to immerse one hand into ice-cold water for three minutes (while being observed by video surveillance).

As expected, this activity stressed the subjects with data collected and confirmed by hormone assays.

The other group was asked to immerse one of their hands in warm water. Then both the stressed and non-stressed individuals completed a task called weather prediction. The task involved having subjects look at playing cards with different symbols and then using the cards to predict which combinations of cards forecast rain and which sunshine.

Each combination of cards was associated with a certain probability of good or bad weather. People apply differently complex strategies in order to master the task.

During the weather prediction task, the researchers recorded the brain activity with MRI.

Researchers found that both stressed and non-stressed subjects learned to predict the weather according to the symbols. However, the way in which they learned the task varied.

Non-stressed participants focused on individual symbols and not on combinations of symbols. They consciously pursued a simple strategy.

The MRI data showed that they activated a brain region in the medial temporal lobe – the hippocampus, which is important for long-term memory.

Stressed subjects, on the other hand, applied a more complex strategy.

They made their decisions based on the combination of symbols. They did this, however, subconsciously, i.e. they were not able to formulate their strategy in words.

In this group of stress participants, brain scans showed that the so-called striatum in the mid-brain was activated — a brain region that is responsible for more unconscious learning.

“Stress interferes with conscious, purposeful learning, which is dependent upon the hippocampus,” concluded Schwabe. “So that makes the brain use other resources. In the case of stress, the striatum controls behavior — which saves the learning achievement.”

Source: Ruhr-University Bochum

Abstract of the brain with key photo by shutterstock.

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Upfront Bonus to Teachers Improves Student Performance


Upfront Bonus to Teachers Improves Student PerformanceEducational reform is receiving considerable attention these days, and a new study suggests prepaying teachers appears to improve student academic performance.

Paying an upfront bonus does come with a caveat as part of the money must be returned if student performance fails to improve, say University of Chicago researchers.

The study showed that students gained as much as a 10 percentile increase in their scores compared to students with similar backgrounds — if their teacher received a bonus at the beginning of the year, with conditions attached.

There was no gain for students when teachers were offered the bonus at the end of the school year, the research found.

“This is the first experimental study to demonstrate that teacher merit pay can have a significant impact on student performance in the U.S.,” said economist John List, Ph.D., an author of the study.

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economics Research, reflects the findings of other studies in psychology and behavioral economics.

“The results of our experiment are consistent with over 30 years of psychological and economic research on the power of loss aversion to motivate behavior: Students whose teachers in the ‘loss’ treatment of the experiment showed large and significant gains in their math test scores,” said List, a professor in economics at UChicago.

Timing of the incentive made a significant difference.

“In line with previous studies in the United States, we did not find an impact of teacher incentives that are framed as gains (the reward coming at the end of the year),” he added.

The study comes amid a growing wave of interest of finding ways to provide teacher incentives to increase student performance — as usually assessed by student achievement on standardized tests. Unfortunately, most of the current incentive programs have not shown value, the scholars said.

The new study depends on a formula developed by Dr. Derek Neal, professor of economics at UChicago, and Gadi Barlevy, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

They devised the “pay for percentile” method of measuring teacher performance by comparing individual students with similar backgrounds and achievement to see what impact a teacher had on their learning.

The scholars used the formula in an experiment in Chicago Heights, Ill., a community 30 miles south of Chicago. The community has nine kindergarten to eighth-grade schools with a total enrollment of 3,200 students. Its achievement rates are below state average, and 98 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

At the beginning of the school year, the teachers were introduced to the experiment and offered an opportunity to participate. A total of 150 of the 160 teachers agreed to join in the study, which was supported by the local teachers union.

The teachers were randomly assigned to a control group as well as a group given a bonus at the beginning of the year, a group that could receive the bonus at the end of the year, and a group made up of teachers who worked in teams. Money for the bonuses was provided from private sources.

One group of teachers in the study was given a $4,000 bonus at the beginning of the year and told it would be reduced by an amount reflecting their students’ performance — the more the students’ standardized scores increased, the more of the bonus their teacher could keep. Another group of teachers was told they would receive a $4,000 bonus if their students improved during the year.

The incentives were based on rewarding teachers with $80 for each percentile of increase in their students’ mathematics performance over the district average. They could, depending on exceptional student performance, receive up to $8,000 under the plan — the equivalent of 16 percent of the average teacher salary in the district.

The students were tested with the ThinkLink Predictive Assessment, a standardized, non-high-stakes diagnostic tool that is aligned with state achievement tests.

Thomas Amadio, superintendent of Chicago Heights Elementary School District 170, where the experiment was conducted, said the study shows the value of merit pay as an encouragement for better teacher performance.

“Teachers do have challenges, and classes can vary from year to year in how well they perform. Testing students individually to see their growth is a valuable measure, however,” he said.

Teachers responsible for that growth should be rewarded, he said.

Source: University of Chicago

Teacher and students in a classroom photo by shutterstock.

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Honesty May Be Best Policy for Mental, Physical Health


Honesty May Be Best Policy for Mental, Physical HealthA provocative new study suggests that telling the truth when tempted to lie can significantly improve a person’s mental and physical health.

University of Notre Dame researchers presented their study, called the “Science of Honesty,” at the American Psychological Association’s 120th Annual Convention.

“Recent evidence indicates that Americans average about 11 lies per week. We wanted to find out if living more honestly can actually cause better health,” said lead author Anita E. Kelly, Ph.D.

“We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health.”

In the study, researchers evaluated 110 people over a 10 week period. Thirty-four percent of the sample were adults in the community and 66 percent were college students. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 71 years, with an average age of 31.

During the investigation, approximately half the participants were instructed to stop telling major and minor lies for the 10 weeks. The other half served as a control group that received no special instructions about lying.

Both groups came to the laboratory each week to complete health and relationship measures and to take a polygraph test assessing the number of major and white lies they had told that week.

Researchers discovered that over the course of the study, the association between less lying and improved health was significantly stronger for participants in the no-lie group.

For example, when participants in the no-lie group told three fewer white lies than they did in other weeks, they experienced on average about four fewer mental-health complaints, such as feeling tense or melancholy, and about three fewer physical complaints, such as sore throats and headaches.

In contrast, when control group members told three fewer white lies, they experienced two fewer mental-health complaints and about one less physical complaint. The pattern was similar for major lies, Kelly said.

Compared to the control group, participants in the more truthful group told significantly fewer lies across the 10-week study, and by the fifth week, they saw themselves as more honest, Kelly said.

When participants across both groups lied less in a given week, they reported their physical health and mental health to be significantly better that week. Researchers discovered that a week with less lies was also correlated with improved personal relationships and enhanced social networks.

At the end of the 10 weeks, participants in the no-lie group described their efforts to keep from lying to others in their day-to-day interactions.

Some said they realized they could simply tell the truth about their daily accomplishments rather than exaggerate, while others said they stopped making false excuses for being late or failing to complete tasks, Kelly said. Others said that they learned to avoid lying by responding to a troubling question with another question to distract the person, she said.

Because the findings are new they will be submitted for scientific review and publication later this year, Kelly said.

Source: American Psychological Association

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Early Relationships Key to Happiness


Positive social relationships in childhood and adolescence are the key to adult happiness, according to new research.

Researchers at Deakin University and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia also found that academic achievement had little effect on adult well-being.

A team of researchers led by Craig Olsson, Ph.D., analyzed data for 804 people, who were followed for 32 years in the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (DMHDS) in New Zealand.

They particularly focused on the relationship between social connectedness in childhood, language development in childhood, social connectedness in adolescence, academic achievement in adolescence, and well-being in adulthood.

Social connectedness in childhood was defined by parent and teacher ratings of the child being liked, not being alone, and the child’s level of confidence. Social connectedness in adolescence was demonstrated by social attachments with parents and peers, as well as participation in youth groups and sporting clubs.

The researchers found a strong connection between child and adolescent social connectedness and adult well-being, noting this illustrates the “enduring significance of positive social relationships over the lifespan to adulthood.”

The researchers also found that the connection from early language development, through adolescent academic achievement, to adult well-being was weak, which is in line with existing research showing a lack of association between socioeconomic prosperity and happiness.

The analysis also suggests that the social and academic paths are not related to one another, and may actually be parallel paths, the researchers said.

“If these pathways are separate, then positive social development across childhood and adolescence requires investments beyond development of the academic curriculum,” the researchers conclude.

The study is published online in Journal of Happiness Studies.

Source: Springer

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