Neurotics don’t just avoid action: They dislike it, study finds

That person we all seem to know who we say is neurotic and unable to take action? Turns out he or she isn’t unable to act but simply doesn’t want to.A study of nearly 4,000 college students in 19 countries has uncovered new details about why neurotic people may avoid making decisions and moving forward with life. Turns out that when they are asked if action is positive, favorable, good, they just don’t like it as much as non-neurotics. Therefore persuasive communications and other interventions may be useful if they simply alter neurotics’ attitudes toward inaction.These findings come the study “Neuroticism and Attitudes Toward Action in 19 Countries.” It is published in the Journal of Personality and was written by Molly E. Ireland, Texas Tech University; Justin Hepler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Hong Li, Battelle Center for Analytics and Public Health; and Dolores Albarracn -the principal investigator of the study– from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.”You’re so neurotic!” It’s a phrase that’s tossed about casually, but what exactly is neuroticism? It is a personality trait defined by the experience of chronic negative affect — including sadness, anxiety, irritability, and self-consciousness — that is easily triggered and difficult to control. Neurotic people tend to avoid acting when confronted with major and minor life stressors, leading to negative life consequences.The researchers sought to determine whether and under what conditions neuroticism is associated with favorable or unfavorable representations of action and inaction. They investigated whether depression and anxiety would decrease proactive behavior among neurotic individuals, and whether a person’s collectivistic tendencies — considering the social consequences of one’s behavior before acting — would moderate the negative associations between neuroticism and action/inaction. The study found neurotics look at action less favorably and inaction more favorably than emotionally stable people do.”People who are less emotionally stable have less positive attitudes towards action and more positive attitudes toward inaction,” the authors wrote. “Furthermore, anxiety was primarily responsible for neurotic individuals’ less positive attitudes toward action. …

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Husband’s health, attitude loom large for happy long-term marriages

A husband’s agreeable personality and good health appear crucial to preventing conflict among older couples who have been together a long time, according to a study from University of Chicago researchers.The report found that such characteristics in wives play less of a role in limiting marital conflict, perhaps because of different expectations among women and men in durable relationships.”Wives report more conflict if their husband is in poor health,” said the study’s lead author, James Iveniuk, PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology. “If the wife is in poor health, there doesn’t seem to be any difference in terms of the quality of the marriage for the husband.”The study, “Marital Conflict in Older Couples: Positivity, Personality, and Health,” reports results from a national survey with data analyzed from 953 heterosexual couples who were married or cohabitating. The study participants ranged in age from 63 to 90 years old and the average length of their relationships was 39 years.The survey of older adults participating in the National Social Life Health and Aging Project, funded by the National Institute on Aging, compared the characteristics of the husbands to the characteristics of their wives and vice versa based on interviews with each person in which they were asked to describe themselves.Iveniuk and co-authors found many gender differences when they examined personality traits including openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and anxiety. They added a new measure called “positivity,” an overarching characteristic described as a person’s overall desire to be seen in a positive light. “Wives whose husbands show higher levels of positivity reported less conflict. However, the wives’ positivity had no association with their husbands’ reports of conflict,” Iveniuk said.Co-author Linda J. Waite, Lucy Flower Professor of Urban Sociology and director of the Center on Aging at NORC, says the study’s measurement of marital conflict could be summarized as, “How much does your spouse bother you?” The clashes are not primarily about fighting or violence, but rather whether one spouse criticizes the other, makes too many demands, or generally gets on the other person’s nerves.Another finding is that men who describe themselves as neurotic or extraverts tend to have wives who complain more about the quality of the marriage. Men with self-described neurotic wives may consider worrying to be a more “gender-appropriate” role for women. Husbands reported more criticism and demands from their wives overall, but also higher levels of emotional support.”Several previous studies have been about the implications of marital status on health,” Waite says. “This research allows us to examine individual marriages and not ‘married people.’ We have the reports on the quality of the marriage from each person, about their own personality and their own health.”The researchers suggest that future studies might examine the question of whether low levels of conflict in marriages require not only the absence of frustrating factors, such as poor health and negative traits, but also a better balance of emotional responsibilities between husbands and wives. …

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Even fact will not change first impressions

Knowledge is power, yet new research suggests that a person’s appearance alone can trump knowledge. First impressions are so powerful that they can override what we are told about people. A new study found that even when told whether a person was gay or straight, participants generally identified the person’s sexual orientation based on how they looked — even if it contradicted the facts presented to them.”We judge books by their covers, and we can’t help but do it,” says Nicholas Rule of the University of Toronto. “With effort, we can overcome this to some extent, but we are continually tasked with needing to correct ourselves.” The less time we have to make our judgments, the more likely we are to go with our gut, even over fact, he says.A series of recent studies, presented today at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) annual conference in Austin, shows that appearance shapes everything from whether we ultimately end up liking someone to our assessment of their sexual orientation or trustworthiness. And researchers say that whether a first impression occurs online versus in person is important. While we may be able to size up someone’s personality from a Facebook photo, it will often be more negative impression than one formed face-to-face.Appearance trumps fact”As soon as one sees another person, an impression is formed,” Rule says. “This happens so quickly — just a small fraction of a second — that what we see can sometimes dominate what we know.”In the study on first impressions of sexual orientation, Rule and colleagues showed 100 participants photos of 20 men, identifying them either as gay or straight. The photos had been previously coded based on a consensus opinion on whether the men “looked” gay or straight, which accurately matched to their real-life sexual orientations. The researchers then tested participants’ recall of the men’s sexual orientations several times to ensure perfect memorization.After this learning phase, the researchers then showed participants the faces again, varying the amount of time they had to categorize the men’s sexual orientations. The less time they had to categorize the faces, the more likely the participants were to categorize the men according to whether they looked gay or straight rather than what they had been told about their sexuality. …

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Another reason to not mix work, family: Money makes parenting less meaningful, study suggests

Money and parenting don’t mix. That’s according to new research that suggests that merely thinking about money diminishes the meaning people derive from parenting. The study is one among a growing number that identifies when, why, and how parenthood is associated with happiness or misery.”The relationship between parenthood and well-being is not one and the same for all parents,” says Kostadin Kushlev of the University of British Columbia. While this may seems like an obvious claim, social scientists until now have yet to identify the psychological and demographic factors that influence parental happiness.New research being presented today at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) conference in Austin offers not only insight into the link between money and parental well-being but also a new model for understanding a variety of factors that affect whether parents are happier or less happy than their childless counterparts.Money creates conflicting goalsFascinated by research suggesting that parenting is linked to lower well-being, Kushlev and his adviser Elizabeth Dunn sought to determine which aspects of life might influence how much pleasure and pain people got out of being parents. They specifically looked at the influence of wealth on meaning in parenthood.In one recently published study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, they found that a having a higher socioeconomic status lowers people’s sense of meaning while taking care of their children but not during other daily activities. In a field study in the same paper, they found that showing people images of money while filling out a questionnaire at a festival with their children also reduced their levels of meaning in life.In a new study, the researchers took the research a step further — showing some participants money while testing the influence of parents’ objectives when they were taking care of their children at a festival. The researchers asked one group of parents to read a paragraph about the festival in terms of productivity and achievement, while another group read about the festival in the context of satisfying the needs of their children with no expectation for direct return. They then surveyed both groups about parenting and sense of meaning. “This design allowed us to see whether money compromises meaning because of the conflict between the goals associated with money and the goals and the behaviors that parenting normally demands,” Kushlev says.They found that activating goals for both money-making and satisfying the needs of their children at the same time did indeed form a conflict: It made parents feel that what they were doing was less meaningful.Furthermore, they found this effect most pronounced in women. “Money seems to compromise meaning for mothers but not for fathers when they are spending time with their children,” Kushlev says. …

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Matchmaking this Valentine’s Day: How it can bring you the most happiness

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, you may be thinking of pairing up two friends for a date. If you follow your instinct to play Cupid, it’ll pay off in happiness — not necessarily for the new couple, but definitely for you.According to new research, matchmaking, a time-honored tradition, brings intrinsic happiness to the matchmaker. To maximize the psychological benefits of matchmaking, you should take care to introduce two people who not only seem compatible but who would be unlikely to meet otherwise, researchers say.”At some point, most people have made matches between others — like grabbing two strangers by the arm at a party and introducing them to each other — or can think of a friend notorious for their efforts to make introductions,” says Lalin Anik, a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She notes that the rising popularity of social networking websites such as Facebook and LinkedIn has made matchmaking effortless and central to social life.Anik, with her colleague Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School, conducted an in-depth investigation of modern-day matchmaking, examining what motivates us to match others — even when it often goes wrong — and how we can reap the emotional benefits of socially linking others. In four studies, to be presented this week at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) annual conference in Austin, they used surveys, computer games, and in-lab social interactions to show when and why making matches between others boosts happiness.In one study, the researchers asked groups of participants to engage in a brief “get acquainted” task in the laboratory. They then asked participants to pair others in the group: One group of participants had to match pairs that they thought would get along; another group tried to match pairs that they thought would not get along; and a third group matched people on the basis of a random characteristic — their social security numbers. Participants who selected pairs of people who they thought would bond became happier as a result of their matchmaking. Those in the other two groups felt the same as they did before the task.In another study, the researchers created a simple computer game in which participants saw a target face and selected one of three other faces with whom they thought the target would best or worst get along. Once again, the matchmakers had the best experience and were willing to play the game much longer than participants asked to pair people on the basis of mutual dislike.Some participants received monetary rewards for each match made, while others did not. Interestingly, the researchers found that paying people diminished their interest in the game. …

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Are you big pharma’s new target market?

By 2018, it is estimated that the global pharmaceutical market will be worth more than $1.3 trillion USD. To corner their share of profits, established drug companies have to fight fierce competition from generic products, adhere to stringent government regulations and sway a consumer base that is better informed than ever before.New research from Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business shows that Big Pharma has begun these efforts by embracing “brand personality,” a marketing strategy traditionally employed by consumer-focused companies like Apple, Coca-Cola and Harley-Davidson.By imbuing their brands with human characteristics, pharmaceutical companies can boost sales by developing direct relationships with their consumers. The result: patients are more likely to ask their physician to prescribe specific brand-name medication.”Brand personalities can transform products from being merely functional to having emotional value in the eyes of the consumer,” says marketing professor Lea Katsanis, a co-author of the study that recently appeared in the Journal of Consumer Marketing.”Pharmaceutical companies give their brands personality traits by relying on physical attributes, practical functions, user imagery and usage contexts. As a result, brand names like Viagra, Lipitor and Prozac become shorthand for the drugs themselves.”To carry out the study, Katsanis and co-author Erica Leonard, a recent graduate of Concordia’s Master of Science in Marketing program, used an online survey to poll a total of 483 U.S. respondents. They rated 15 well-known prescription medications based on 22 different personality traits, such as dependability, optimism, anxiousness and elegance. The study included blockbuster drugs from Big Pharma companies such as Pfizer, Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline.The results show that prescription drug brand personality, as perceived by consumers, has two distinct dimensions: competence and innovativeness.Consumers typically applied terms such as dependable, reliable, responsible, successful, stable, practical and solution-oriented” to branded drugs, thus showing a preference for overall competence. Words like unique, innovative and original related to the “innovativeness” of the drug in question.”Our findings can help marketers better understand how competing brands are positioned and act accordingly to ensure their products remain distinctive. One way of achieving this could be to appropriately focus more on either the competence or innovativeness dimensions,” says Katsanis.”From a consumer perspective, prescription drug brand personality may make health-related issues more approachable and less intimidating, facilitating physician-patient interactions by making patients more familiar with the medications used to treat what ails them.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Concordia University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Musical ages: How our taste in music changes over a lifetime

Oct. 15, 2013 — The explosion in music consumption over the last century has made ‘what you listen to’ an important personality construct — as well as the root of many social and cultural tribes — and, for many people, their self-perception is closely associated with musical preference. We would perhaps be reluctant to admit that our taste in music alters — softens even — as we get older.Now, a new study suggests that — while our engagement with it may decline — music stays important to us as we get older, but the music we like adapts to the particular ‘life challenges’ we face at different stages of our lives.It would seem that, unless you die before you get old, your taste in music will probably change to meet social and psychological needs.One theory put forward by researchers, based on the study, is that we come to music to experiment with identity and define ourselves, and then use it as a social vehicle to establish our group and find a mate, and later as a more solitary expression of our intellect, status and greater emotional understanding.Researchers say the study is the first to “comprehensively document” the ways people engage with music “from adolescence to middle age.” The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.Using data gathered from more than a quarter of a million people over a ten year period, researchers divided musical genres into five broad, “empirically derived” categories they call the MUSIC model — mellow, unpretentious, sophisticated, intense, contemporary — and plotted the patterns of preference across age-groups.These five categories incorporate multiple genres that share common musical and psychological traits — such as loudness and complexity.”The project started with a common conception that musical taste does not evolve after young adulthood. Most academic research to date supported this claim, but — based on other areas of psychological research and our own experiences — we were not convinced this was the case,” said Arielle Bonneville-Roussy from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, who led the study.The study found that, unsurprisingly, the first great musical age is adolescence — defined by a short, sharp burst of ‘intense’ and the start of a steady climb of ‘contemporary’. ‘Intense’ music — such as punk and metal — peaks in adolescence and declines in early adulthood, while ‘contemporary’ music — such as pop and rap — begins a rise that plateaus until early middle age.”Teenage years are often dominated by the need to establish identity, and music is a cheap, effective way to do this,” said Dr Jason Rentfrow, senior researcher on the study.”Adolescents’ quest for independence often takes the shape of a juxtaposed stance to the perceived ‘status quo’, that of parents and the establishment. ‘Intense’ music, seen as aggressive, tense and characterised by loud, distorted sounds has the rebellious connotations that allow adolescents to stake a claim for the autonomy that is one of this period’s key ‘life challenges’.”As ‘intense’ gives way to the rising tide of ‘contemporary’ and introduction of ‘mellow’ — such as electronic and R & B — in early adulthood, the next musical age emerges. These two “preference dimensions” are considered “romantic, emotionally positive and danceable,” write the researchers.”Once people overcome the need for autonomy, the next ‘life challenge’ concerns finding love and being loved — people who appreciate this ‘you’ that has emerged,” said Rentfrow.”What we took away from the results is that these forms of music reinforce the desire for intimacy and complement settings where people come together with the goal of establishing close relationships — parties, bars, clubs and so on.”Whereas the first musical age is about asserting independence, the next appears to be more about gaining acceptance from others.”As we settle down and middle age begins to creep in, the last musical age, as identified by the researchers, is dominated by ‘sophisticated’ — such as jazz and classical — and ‘unpretentious’ — such as country, folk and blues.Researchers write that both these dimensions are seen as “positive and relaxing” — with ‘sophisticated’ indicating the complex aesthetic of high culture that could be linked to social status and perceived intellect, while ‘unpretentious’ echoes sentiments of family, love and loss — emotionally direct music that speaks to the experiences most will have had by this life stage.”As we settle into ourselves and acquire more resources to express ourselves — career, home, family, car — music remains an extension of this, and at this stage there are aspects of wanting to promote social status, intellect and wealth that play into the increased gravitation towards ‘sophisticated’ music,” said Rentfrow, “as social standing is seen as a key ‘life challenge’ to be achieved by this point.””At the same time, for many this life stage is frequently exhausted by work and family, and there is a requirement for relaxing, emotive music for those rare down times that reflects the other major ‘life challenge’ of this stage — that of nurturing a family and maintaining long-term relationships, perhaps the hardest of all.”Adds Bonneville-Roussy: “Due to our very large sample size, gathered from online forms and social media channels, we were able to find very robust age trends in musical taste. I find it fascinating to see how seemingly trivial behaviour such as music listening relates to so many psychological aspects, such as personality and age.”

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Low-voiced men love ’em and leave ’em, yet still attract more women

Oct. 16, 2013 — Men with low-pitched voices have an advantage in attracting women, even though women know they’re not likely to stick around for long.Researchers at McMaster University have found that women were more attracted to men with masculine voices, at least for short-term relationships.Those men were also seen as more likely to cheat and unsuitable for a longer relationship, such as marriage.The study, published online in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, offers insight into the evolution of the human voice and how we choose our mates.“The sound of someone’s voice can affect how we think of them,” explains Jillian O’Connor, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour and lead author of the study.“Until now, it’s been unclear why women would like the voices of men who might cheat. But we found that the more women thought these men would cheat, the more they were attracted to them for a brief relationship when they are less worried about fidelity.”For the study, 87 women listened to men’s voices that were manipulated electronically to sound higher or lower, and then chose who they thought was more likely to cheat on their romantic partner.Researchers also asked the participants to choose the voice they thought was more attractive for a long-term versus a short-term relationship.“From an evolutionary perspective, these perceptions of future sexual infidelity may be adaptive,” explains David Feinberg, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour.“The consequences of infidelity are very high whether it is emotional or financial and this research suggests that humans have evolved as a protection mechanism to avoid long-term partners who may cheat,” he says.

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Personality interactions between animals may dictate outcomes in the wild

Sep. 4, 2013 — Examining the varying personality types of multiple animal species at once — in addition to common single-species studies — could help biologists better predict ecological outcomes, according to a recent University of Pittsburgh study.By observing the interplay in a common predator-prey system (the jumping spider and the house cricket), a team of Pitt biologists found that it was the interactions between the personality types of two species that best predicted survival outcomes — and not the personality types of either species alone. Their findings were highlighted in the September print issue of Behavioral Ecology.”If we’re interested in really understanding how individual personalities influence ecology, then we also have to acknowledge and accept that the personalities of many species or groups are also important,” said Jonathan Pruitt, assistant professor of behavioral ecology in the Department of Biological Sciences within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.The team began by tracking both species’ activity levels to determine “personality” or behavior types. They started with the predator, collecting a population of spiders from Pitt’s Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology. The researchers charted individual spiders’ activity within a five-minute span, seeing how far they could climb to the top of a vile. Their activity levels were measured, and the tests were repeated over four weeks to ensure that individuals’ behavior was repeatable. The team found that some individuals were consistently highly active, whereas other individuals of the same species were more sedentary.The crickets, which were collected commercially, had a bit of a different test, given their prey status. With room to move in an open field, the Pitt biologists monitored the crickets’ reaction times to a new place and their distance covered within five minutes. To ensure repeatability, this test was repeated over 10 days, once every other day. …

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Why parenting can never have a rule book: Children’s genetics significantly affect how they are parented

Sep. 3, 2013 — Any parent will tell you that there is no simple recipe for raising a child. Being a parent means getting hefty doses of advice — often unsolicited — from others. But such advice often fails to consider a critical factor: the child. A new review of dozens of studies involving more than 14,600 pairs of twins shows that children’s genetics significantly affect how they are parented.”There is a lot of pressure on parents these days to produce children that excel in everything, socially and academically,” says Reut Avinun of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Since children are not born tabula rasa, I felt it was important to explore their side of the story, to show how they can affect their environment, and specifically parental behavior.” Most studies of parenting look at only the reverse, how parents affect their children’s experiences.To explore the flip side, Avinun and Ariel Knafo looked to twins. They reasoned that if parents treat identical twins, who share 100 percent of their genes, more similarly than non-identical twins, who share on average 50 percent of their genes, then it suggests that the child’s genes shape parenting.Indeed, across 32 studies of twins, they found that children’s genetically-influenced characteristics do affect parental behavior. As published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, they estimated that 23 percent of differences in parenting is due to a child’s genetics. The genotype-related differences are ways that the children evoke different responses from their environment. For example, a child that is antisocial is more likely to elicit harsh discipline from parents than a more social child.In one recent study, Knafo’s research group found that boys with less self-control are more likely to experience lower levels of positive maternal behavior. …

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Why do haters have to hate? Newly identified personality trait holds clues

Aug. 26, 2013 — New research has uncovered the reason why some people seem to dislike everything while others seem to like everything. Apparently, it’s all part of our individual personality — a dimension that researchers have coined “dispositional attitude.”People with a positive dispositional attitude have a strong tendency to like things, whereas people with a negative dispositional attitude have a strong tendency to dislike things, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The journal article, “Attitudes without objects: Evidence for a dispositional attitude, its measurement, and its consequences,” was written by Justin Hepler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dolores Albarracín, Ph.D., the Martin Fishbein Chair of Communication and Professor of Psychology at Penn.”The dispositional attitude construct represents a new perspective in which attitudes are not simply a function of the properties of the stimuli under consideration, but are also a function of the properties of the evaluator,” wrote the authors. “[For example], at first glance, it may not seem useful to know someone’s feelings about architecture when assessing their feelings about health care. After all, health care and architecture are independent stimuli with unique sets of properties, so attitudes toward these objects should also be independent.”However, they note, there is still one critical factor that an individual’s attitudes will have in common: the individual who formed the attitudes. “Some people may simply be more prone to focusing on positive features and others on negative features,” Hepler said.To discover whether people differ in the tendency to like or dislike things, Hepler and Albarracín created a scale that requires people to report their attitudes toward a wide variety of unrelated stimuli, such as architecture, cold showers, politics, and soccer. Upon knowing how much people (dis)like these specific things, the responses were then averaged together to calculate their dispositional attitude (i.e., to calculate how much they tend to like or dislike things in general). The theory is that if individuals differ in the general tendency to like versus dislike objects, attitudes toward independent objects may actually be related. Throughout the studies the researchers found that people with generally positive dispositional attitudes are more open than people with generally negative dispositional attitudes. …

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Why do haters have to hate?

Aug. 26, 2013 — New research has uncovered the reason why some people seem to dislike everything while others seem to like everything. Apparently, it’s all part of our individual personality — a dimension that researchers have coined “dispositional attitude.”People with a positive dispositional attitude have a strong tendency to like things, whereas people with a negative dispositional attitude have a strong tendency to dislike things, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The journal article, “Attitudes without objects: Evidence for a dispositional attitude, its measurement, and its consequences,” was written by Justin Hepler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dolores Albarracín, Ph.D., the Martin Fishbein Chair of Communication and Professor of Psychology at Penn.”The dispositional attitude construct represents a new perspective in which attitudes are not simply a function of the properties of the stimuli under consideration, but are also a function of the properties of the evaluator,” wrote the authors. “[For example], at first glance, it may not seem useful to know someone’s feelings about architecture when assessing their feelings about health care. After all, health care and architecture are independent stimuli with unique sets of properties, so attitudes toward these objects should also be independent.”However, they note, there is still one critical factor that an individual’s attitudes will have in common: the individual who formed the attitudes. “Some people may simply be more prone to focusing on positive features and others on negative features,” Hepler said.To discover whether people differ in the tendency to like or dislike things, Hepler and Albarracín created a scale that requires people to report their attitudes toward a wide variety of unrelated stimuli, such as architecture, cold showers, politics, and soccer. Upon knowing how much people (dis)like these specific things, the responses were then averaged together to calculate their dispositional attitude (i.e., to calculate how much they tend to like or dislike things in general). The theory is that if individuals differ in the general tendency to like versus dislike objects, attitudes toward independent objects may actually be related. Throughout the studies the researchers found that people with generally positive dispositional attitudes are more open than people with generally negative dispositional attitudes. …

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Unattractive people more likely to be bullied at work

July 17, 2013 — It’s common knowledge that high school can be a cruel environment where attractive students are considered “popular,” and unattractive kids often get bullied. While that type of petty behavior is expected to vanish with adulthood, new research proves it does not.Colleagues can be just as immature as classmates.The study by Timothy Judge, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, and Brent Scott from Michigan State University is the first to link attractiveness to cruelty in the workplace.In “Beauty, Personality, and Affect as Antecedents of Counterproductive Work Behavior Receipt,” recently published in Human Performance, the researchers examine counterproductive work behavior and its effect on employees. They show that physical attractiveness plays as much of a role as personality in how a person is treated in the workplace.The researchers surveyed 114 workers at a health care facility, asking them how often their co-workers treated them cruelly, including saying hurtful things, acting rudely and making fun of them. Through digital photos, the workers’ “attractiveness” was then judged by others who didn’t know them.”Our research is novel because it focuses on how coworkers treat attractive and unattractive colleagues,” says Judge, who specializes in management psychology, gender, leadership personality and career and life success. “We find that unattractive individuals are more likely the subject of rude, uncivil and even cruel treatment by their coworkers. And, not only do we, as a society, perceive attractive and unattractive coworkers differently, we act on those perceptions in ways that are hurtful.”Considerable research has been done in psychology, management and economics demonstrating that “beauty is good” for labor market outcomes, such as earnings, performance ratings and career success. Attractive people are more self-confident and have higher self-esteem and they are perceived as more intelligent and moral. Research even indicates that seeing attractive individuals puts us in a better mood.”Given that physical attractiveness is not a bona fide occupational qualification for most jobs, our new findings are problematic for society,” Judge says. “Worse, research reliably shows that we’re more influenced by attractiveness than we are willing to admit.”It’s a problem with no easy solution, especially given the increasingly visual nature of communication, according to Judge, who has written and been interviewed extensively about his gender, ambition and work stress research, among other studies.”Awareness is surely one important step,” Judge says. “If we recognize our biases and are more open and honest about their pervasiveness, we’ll be in much better shape to combat the influence.”

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Putting the right worker in the right job

July 9, 2013 — Carrots and sticks have long been the favored tool for business managers looking to motivate their workers, whether it’s to encourage with the promise of a raise, or to threaten with firing.But a new study from the University of Iowa suggests that an employee’s personality is also a strong motivator of an employee’s behavior. Mick Mount and Ning Li, management and organization professors in the Tippie College of Business, note that a growing body of evidence suggests that if a worker’s personality doesn’t fit the job requirements, he or she will not be motivated by external factors, no matter how tasty the carrot or painful the stick.They’ve used that observation in a newly published paper that lays out a Grand Theory of what makes people tick at the office.”Our approach shifts the traditional perspective that employee motivational forces are primarily imposed by external situational factors to a view that individual motivation is generated by the pursuit of high-order goals that emanate from one’s personality traits,” they write in their paper, ” The Theory of Purposeful Work Behavior,” published recently in the Academy of Management Review.Mount and Li reviewed decades of research by behavioral scientists to create their theory that tries to explain why people do what they do at work. The theory can help businesses engage in better hiring and training practices to make sure the right worker is in the right job. By determining why smart people who work hard sometimes fail and sometimes succeed, employers can develop tools that motivate workers to perform more effectively. The theory uses what is called the Five Factor Model (FFM), which captures five broad dimensions of personality that are used to describe human personality: extroversion/introversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience. Behavioral scientists for decades have used the FFM to see how people perform at work and interrelate with each other, and it’s proven remarkably effective at explaining human behavior.The Mount and Li theory differs from past research in that it ties FFM personality types to the work environment and the nature of the person’s job. In their integrated theory, workers’ personality traits create high-order goals that they strive to attain in their lives. When the characteristics of their jobs are aligned with their high-order goals, Mount and Li found they tend to be more productive workers.”Striving to naturally express personality traits leads us to invest more personal resources — mental attention, emotional connections, and energetic activity — to fulfill particular types of higher-order goals,” they write. “These implicit goals represent essential, enduring personal agendas that reside at the top of the individual’s goal hierarchy.”They say that if our job allows us to work towards one of those four higher-order goals — status, autonomy, achievement, and communion, or being with other people — then we find a level of psychological fulfillment that intrinsically motivates us to perform our jobs well. If not, then the worker is too bored to care.So, for instance, if an employee is an ambitious, go-getting extrovert whose high-order goal in life is status, then it will be hard for an employer to motivate the person if he or she works in a repetitive job with no advancement opportunity.Conversely, if a worker is a shy, retiring type whose goal is autonomy, he or she will not be motivated to perform better by promises of a promotion to management because the last thing he or she wants is to be in charge of other people.”The implication for businesses, then, is that we first need to understand which goals matter to employees and then match those goals to characteristics of jobs so we can make work more meaningful and intrinsically motivating to the person,” Mount says.The paper was co-authored with Murray Barrick of Texas A&M University.

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Live fast, die young: Long-lived mice are less active, biologists find

July 4, 2013 — Female mice with a high life expectancy are less active and less explorative. They also eat less than their fellow females with a lower life expectancy. Behavioral biologists from the University of Zurich reveal that there is a correlation between longevity and personality for female house mice, and a minimum amount of boldness is necessary for them to survive.Risky behavior can lead to premature death — in humans. Anna Lindholm and her doctoral student Yannick Auclair investigated whether this also applies to animals by studying the behavior of 82 house mice. They recorded boldness, activity level, exploration tendency and energy intake of female and male house mice with two different allelic variants on chromosome 17, thereby testing predictions of “life-history theory” on how individuals invest optimally in growth and reproduction. According to this theory, individuals with a greater life expectancy will express reactive personality traits and will be shy, less active and less explorative than individuals with a lower survival expectation.Is personality reflected in life expectancy?Female mice of the t haplotype, one of the two genetic variants on chromosome 17, are known to live longer. The t haplotype in house mice is a naturally occurring selfish genetic element that is transmitted to 90 percent of the offspring by t carrying males. Embryos that inherit a t copy from both parents, however, die before birth. With his experiment, Yannick Auclair wanted to investigate whether there was a correlation between this selfish genetic element and the personality of the mice.Live fast, die young — even in miceThe researchers reveal that the longer-lived t haplotype females are less active than the shorter-lived non-carrier females. They also consume less food, are less explorative and thus express reactive personality traits favouring cautiousness and energy conservation, as predicted by theory. …

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Christians tweet more happily, less analytically than atheists

June 26, 2013 — A computer analysis of nearly 2 million text messages (tweets) on the online social network Twitter found that Christians use more positive words, fewer negative words and engage in less analytical thinking than atheists. Christians also were more likely than atheists to tweet about their social relationships, the researchers found.The findings are reported in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science.”Whether religious people experience more or less happiness is an important question in itself,” the authors of the new analysis wrote. “But to truly understand how religion and happiness are related we must also understand why the two may be related.”To identify Christian and atheist Twitter users, the researchers studied the tweets of more than 16,000 followers of a few prominent Christian and atheist personalities on Twitter. They analyzed the tweets for their emotional content (the use of more positive or negative words), the frequency of words (such as “friend” and “brother”) that are related to social processes, and the frequency of their use of words (such as “because” and “think”) that are associated with an analytical thinking style.Overall, tweets by Christians had more positive and less negative content than tweets by atheists, the researchers report. A less analytical thinking style among Christians and more frequent use of social words were correlated with the use of words indicating positive emotions, the researchers also said.”If religious people are indeed happier than nonreligious people, differences in social support and thinking style may help to explain why,” said University of Illinois graduate student Ryan Ritter, who conducted the research with U. of I. psychology professor Jesse Preston and graduate student Ivan Hernandez.The findings are also in line with other studies linking greater levels of social connectedness to higher well-being, Ritter said.”Religious communities are very social. Just being a member of a religious group connects people to others, and it may be this social connection that can make people happier,” Preston said. “On the other hand, atheists had a more analytical thinking style in their tweets than Christians, which at extremes can make people less happy.”Previous research has found a positive association between religion and well-being among Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims. But most such studies rely on individuals to report how satisfied they are with their lives or their experience of positive and negative emotions at a given time.”What’s great about Twitter is that people are reporting their experiences — good or bad — as they occur,” Preston said. …

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City slicker or country bumpkin: City-life changes blackbird personalities

June 19, 2013 — The origins of a young animal might have a significant impact on its behaviour later on in life. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany, have been able to demonstrate in hand-reared blackbirds that urban-born individuals are less curious and more cautious about new objects than their country counterparts. This study sheds light on an interesting debate on whether personality differences between rural and urban birds are behavioural adjustments to urban environments, or if there is an underlying evolutionary basis to the existence of different personalities in urban habitats.It’s something pet owners have always known: animals have personalities too. More than 100 species have so far been identified by scientists where individuals consistently follow distinct behavioural strategies and behave in similar ways in a variety of situations. Scientists believe that such differences may also be important in adapting to new habitats.Urbanization has considerably changed the living conditions of many wild animals. Animals living in urban areas need to cope with new anthropogenically-altered living conditions. A textbook example is the European blackbird (Turdus merula). Historically a forest-dweller, the blackbird is now one of the most common bird species found in our cities. In these new habitats, the blackbird has changed its behaviour in many ways: urban blackbirds migrate less in the winter, breed earlier, and live in higher densities than their forest conspecifics.Cities might be also responsible for fundamental changes in the behaviour of wild animals across the globe. A team from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell analysed existing studies on differences between urban and rural populations of various species. …

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Healthy habits die hard: In times of stress, people lean on established routines — even healthy ones

May 27, 2013 — Stress and exhaustion may turn us into zombies, but a novel study shows that mindless behavior doesn’t just lead to overeating and shopping sprees — it can also cause us to stick with behaviors that are good for us.

Across five experiments appearing in the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association, the researchers provide an important new twist to the established idea that we have finite resources for self-regulation, meaning it’s harder to take control of our actions when we’re already stressed or tired.

Turns out we’re just as likely to default to positive habits, such as eating a healthy breakfast or going to the gym, as we are to self-sabotage. Led by Wendy Wood and David Neal of USC, this research shows that lack of control doesn’t automatically mean indulgence or hedonism — it’s the underlying routine that matters, for better or worse.

“When we try to change our behavior, we strategize about our motivation and self-control. But what we should be thinking about instead is how to set up new habits. Habits persist even when we’re tired and don’t have the energy to exert self-control,” says Wood, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at USC, who holds joint appointments in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the USC Marshall School of Business.

Wood, who serves as vice dean for social sciences at USC Dornsife, is one of the world’s leading experts on habit, the automatic behaviors that make it possible for us to function everyday (imagine if we had to relearn every morning how to brush our teeth or what route to take to work).

Learned habits also play a big role in our health; research has shown that exercise, overeating and smoking are significant risk factors for major diseases. Indeed, obesity and smoking are the two primary reasons Americans die before people in other high-income countries, according to a recent National Academy of Sciences report led by Eileen Crimmins of the USC Davis School of Gerontology.

But while most disease prevention efforts focus on self-control, the latest research from Wood shows that the best way to prevent disease might be knowing how to let go: “Everybody gets stressed. The whole focus on controlling your behavior may not actually be the best way to get people to meet goals,” she said. “If you are somebody who doesn’t have a lot of willpower, our study showed that habits are even more important.”

For example, in one experiment Wood and her co-investigators followed students for a semester, including during exams. They found that during testing periods, when students were stressed and sleep-deprived, they were even more likely to stick to old habits. It was as if they didn’t have the energy to do something new, Wood explains.

Students who ate unhealthy breakfasts during the semester — such as pastries or doughnuts — ate even more of the junk food during exams. But the same was true of oatmeal eaters: those in the habit of eating a healthy breakfast were also more likely to stick to routine and ate especially well in the morning when under pressure.

Similarly, students who had a habit of reading the editorial pages in the newspaper everyday during the semester were more likely to perform this habit during exams — even when they were limited in time. And regular gym-goers were even more likely to go to the gym when stressed.

“You might expect that, when students were stressed and had little time, they wouldn’t read the paper at all, but instead they fell back on their reading habits,” Wood says. “Habits don’t require much willpower and thought and deliberation.”

Wood continues: “So, the central question for behavior change efforts should be, how can you form healthy, productive habits? What we know about habit formation is that you want to make the behavior easy to perform, so that people repeat it often and it becomes part of their daily routine.”

Aimee Drolet of UCLA was a co-author of the study.

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Task master: Categorizing rewards improves motivation

May 29, 2013 — What truly inspires individuals to perform at their very best? When it comes to motivating others and ourselves, it turns out offering rewards in defined categories, even when they are largely meaningless, can heighten motivation. According to recent research co-authored by Scott S. Wiltermuth, assistant professor of management and organization at USC’s Marshall School of Business, even if the rewards are the similar — and the categories arbitrary — the very act of segmenting rewards motivates people to perform better and longer, even on menial tasks.

Wiltermuth’s study, “‘l’ll Have One of Each’: How Separating Rewards into (Meaningless) Categories Increases Motivation,” co-authored with Francesca Gino, associate professor of business administration at Harvard University, was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Through the study, Wiltermuth and Gino found that individuals were more motivated by obtaining one reward from one category and an additional reward from a separate category than by choosing two rewards from a pool that included all items from either reward category. As a result, they worked longer when potential rewards for work were separated into categories regardless of the prize value. Categorizing rewards had positive effects on motivation by increasing the degree to which participants felt they would “miss out” if they did not obtain the second reward.

In a series of six related experiments, participants were asked to do mundane tasks for either 10- or 20-minute increments for a set number of rewards. Items from a dollar store were presented as prizes.

In the first experiment, participants were told that if they transcribed copy for 10 minutes they could take home one item, and if they worked for 20 minutes they could take two items. The first group was told they could take two items from either bin, while another group was told they could take one item from one bin and, if they worked longer, a second item from the second bin. The researchers found that while only 10 percent of those who could take items from either bin without conditions transcribed for 20 minutes, 34 percent of the group whose prizes were from segmented categories did so. Thus, mentally separating these perks into bins or categories increased participants’ time commitment to the transcription by playing into their desire to minimize the risk of “missing out.”

In a later experiment to test the “missing out” theory, the researchers again offered items from two bins, plus an added condition whereby there were four different bins from which to choose. When four bins were present, telling participants that they could select one item from one category and another from a second category did not improve motivation. Participants were not as excited by obtaining the second reward because there were still two more categories or bins that remained inaccessible.

“It was really the desire to eliminate the fear of missing out that led to people work hard when there were two different categories,” said Wiltermuth. “If they couldn’t eliminate the fear of missing out, which would be the case when they had more categories of items, they didn’t work very hard. They were at levels comparable to the single category.”

“This also could apply to individual goals in the context of, dieting, for example. Wiltermuth, said, “If I drop five pounds, I might get this type of reward. If I drop another five pounds, I’m going to get another type of reward.”

In sum motivation boils down to this says Wiltermuth, “Instead of presenting one big reward, set up a few small rewards. Even if they’re not all that different, making people think they are different can get people to devote increased effort in pursuit of those goals.” “Creating excitement just simply by categorizing rewards could be a key way to get people to try harder, and devote more time to tasks.”

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