Friday, May 31, 2013

Quick hits on three other studies.

Quick hits on three other studies from Cognition & Emotion (v27, n4).

There are three other abstracts that I read, but I am out of blogging time so here are the basic findings and you can think about them on your own:

·         Storbeck:  We have known for some time that people focus more on details when in bad moods and more on the big picture when in good moods.  In this study, he induced good, bad, and neutral moods and then presented words on a screen that had unique spatial locations and fonts.  As expected, test subjects were better at remembering these details when in bad moods.  But what is new is that when they were instructed to pay attention to the location and the font, the effect disappeared.  So it seems that the reason bad moods have this effect is that we are more likely to pay attention to details when encoding the information, not benefits in the storage process or the remembering process.  

·         Notebaert, Crombez, Van Damme, Durnez, andTheeuwes found something similar.  We have also known that threatening stimuli are better at attracting attention than unthreatening stimuli.  Again, the effect disappeared when the test subjects were instructed to look at the screen location where the threatening information was going to appear.  So the effect is due to increases in encoding rather than increase in storing or remembering.

·         Mama, Ben-Haim, and Algom looked at the Stroop Test and the Emotional variation of the Stroop Test.  Past research has shown that emotional and threat words take longer to name in a Stroop test.  What they added is that if the emotion and the color are correlated in the coding, the emotional words are named faster rather than slower.  So emotion can be used as a benefit to performance rather than decrement if we know it an advance and can incorporate it into the design. 

Who do you trust

Fourth in a series on Cognition and Emotion (v27, n4)

I have blogged before on the ideas of initial trust and ongoing trust.  Initial trust is that instinct you get when you first meet someone.  It turns out that the more similar the person is to you, in a variety of ways (some of which would shock you), the more you trust them on first impression.

But ongoing trust is a little more dependable.  It is more based on their past behavior.  If they have followed through in the past, we trust them.  If not, we don't.

A study by Campellone and Kring found something interesting.   They wanted to know if a person's facial expression of emotion had an effect on initial and ongoing trust.  They had their test subjects play a trust game with a partner who either looked happy (which should have higher initial trust) or angry (which should have lower initial trust).  Then this partner either behaved in accordance with their facial expression or the opposite. 

It turned out that after one round of the game, the behavior had a bigger effect than the facial expression, but the facial expression still did have an effect.  If the partner looked and acted trustworthy, the test subject trusted them more than if they acted trustworthy but didn't have any facial expression cues or had angry facial expressions.

Then as the test subjects got experience with the partner, they stopped paying attention at all to the facial expression.  No matter how happy the partner looked, if they acted untrustworthy they weren't trusted.

So if you are one of those smooth operators who thinks they can get their way with a cool smile, watch out.  You can fool many people once, or even twice.  But over time, we eventually learn to ignore the smile.

Anger, disgust, and mitigating factors

Third in the series from Cognition & Emotion

This one is one of my VERY favorite topics because it has to do with judging the immoral activities of others.  Whether you like it or not, we are often forced to do this, either when sitting on a jury, being a parent, or being a boss at work.  It also comes up a lot now with terrorist investigations, foreign policy, and other political issues.

A study by Piazza, Russell, and Sousa looked at what happens when someone’s immoral acts makes us either angry or disgusted.  You can imagine different kinds of immoral acts eliciting these different emotions in us.   For example, a thief might make us more angry than disgusted.  The study looked at how willing we are, when judging these people and their acts, to consider mitigating circumstances.

It turns out that when the immoral act makes us angry, we lose our ability to consider mitigating circumstances.  But disgust doesn’t.   There is something different in the brain circuitry between anger and disgust that influences the way it biases our judgment. 

I guess the takeaway here is that if you want to do something immoral and then make up an excuse for it, do something disgusting not angering.  And when you are judging someone else, be careful if you are angry, because there might be a legitimate mitigating factor that you are not considering.

what we think we are thinking is not really what we are thinking.

Second in the series from Cognition & Emotion (v27, n4). 

This is one of my favorite topics – when we look inside our heads to figure out what we are thinking and we get it exactly wrong. 

Moran and Bar-Anan looked at this in a very subtle way.  They played either a very annoying noise or a piece of pleasant music.  Each one ended with a signal.  The signal itself wasn’t annoying or pleasant itself, but signaled that the annoying or pleasant sounds were about to end.  Kind of like Pavlov’s dog, the subjects of the study soon learned this connection - that the signal meant that the noise or the music was going to end. 

Then they asked the subjects to rate how much they liked or disliked the signal.  What would you expect?  Would they prefer the signal that ended the annoying noise?  Or would they prefer the signal that ended the pleasant music?

The conscious ratings of preference fell pretty much where you would expect.  When a signal ended pleasant music, the subjects reported that they didn’t like it so much.  They were disappointed that the nice music was ending.  But when the signal ended annoying noise, the subjects reported that they liked it.  They were happy that the annoying noise was ending.

But here is where it gets interesting.  They also used some automatic measures of preference. I need to read the full paper to find out if it was fMRI or EEG or Emotiv facial expression reading.  But they used some kind of system that looks at what your unconscious brain is thinking.  As we have seen before, these unconscious thoughts have more of an effect on what you do most of the time than your conscious thoughts.

And it turns out that your unconscious thoughts were exactly the opposite of your conscious ones.  The signal that ended the pleasant music activated pleasantness and the signal that ended the annoying noise activated annoyance.

Here is my explanation of the difference.  You can tell me if you agree.  When the annoying noise is playing, the annoyed parts of the brain are activated.  So when the signal sounds to end it, there is still some activation there.  Your conscious brain uses logic to decide that something ending annoyance should be good.  But the leftover electrical activity is still zipping around in the annoyance area. 

Which one is really stronger?  As usual, random emotional electrical activity zipping around beats out logic every time.  As much as we try to fool ourselves, we are not logical rational beings.  Isn’t it great ?!?!?

motivation, emotion, and making good decisions

The latest issue of Cognition & Emotion (Volume 27,Issue 4) just came out and I received the abstracts by email.  I have not read the entire papers (yet), but even the abstracts have some fascinating results that I thought I would share today.  If you trust my quick interpretations, it could save you from having to go find the papers yourself.

Here is the first one:

In general, our thinking is often strongly impacted by the mood we are in.  I am sure this resonates with your own experience.  Being in a good mood changes the way we look at otherwise neutral events.  Same with being in a bad mood.  Even if the mood is totally unrelated to what you are doing.  How often have you snapped at someone for no reason just because you are in a bad mood?  Or done something nice for someone for no reason except that you are feeling good? 

Most of the time, this probably doesn’t make much of a difference.  But other times, like big decisions at work, driving, or whatever, we really want to suppress the effects of our mood and just make the best decision possible.

A paper by Riemer and Viswanathan finds some new wrinkles in this.  They found that when we are making decisions based on things we see in the outside world, we are better at suppressing the effects of these strong moods when we are not very motivated by whatever we are deciding on.  On the other hand, when we are making judgments based on things we are accessing from our memories, we are better at suppressing the strong mood when we are highly motivated by the decision.

I have several thoughts on why this might be true, but I want to read the entire paper before jumping to any conclusions.  What do you think?