There are plenty of things you can do in a five minute break at work — talk to a colleague, make a cup of tea or coffee, or even go outside for some fresh air. But with the advent of digital technology, many of us now spend the short lulls in our day doing something else: looking at our phones.
Previous research has already suggested (fairly unsurprisingly) that smartphone use increases as we get more bored or fatigued. It makes sense: if you’re doing a particularly tedious task at work, you’re much more likely to want to spend a few minutes scrolling on your phone than if you’re doing something deeply engaging.
But does looking at your phone actually relieve boredom? A new study from Jonas Dora and colleagues at Radboud University, available as a preprint at PsyArXiv, seems to suggest not.
Deadlines, though stressful, can be a pretty good motivator. Knowing you have to submit some work by a particular date can make it easier to get things done; you simply have to get on with it. This also goes for non-professional deadlines — trying to get in shape by the time you run a specific race, for example, can be a lot more motivating than a more vague and nebulous desire to get fit.
You’re exhausted. You’ve had a long day at work before coming home to make dinner, do some chores and relax, and now it’s time for bed. But for some reason — despite the fact you’ve been struggling to stay awake all day — you can’t quite bring yourself to stop what you’re doing and go to sleep.
If this sounds familiar, you’ll be pleased to hear that you’re not the only one who lacks willpower when it’s time to go to bed. It’s so widespread, in fact, that Katharina Bernecker from the Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien and Veronika Job at the Technical University of Dresden have investigated what could be driving the phenomenon in a new paper published in the British Journal of Psychology.
Imagine taking a two-week holiday to the Bahamas. Sand, sea, and reef — who wouldn’t love it? I mean, personally, though I would love aspects of it, I’m quickly bored on a beach, I’m too nervous of deep water to dive and excessive sun brings me out in a rash. But that’s just me. Anyone else would just adore it….right?
This, it turns out, is a classic example of a bias, dubbed the overestimation bias, revealed in a new paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. In a series of studies involving thousands of participants, Minah Jung at New York University and colleagues found that we over-estimate how much other people will enjoy, pay for or wait for a desirable experience or object. The team thinks this is because while we can appreciate that a predominantly positive experience may have some downsides for us personally, we tend to assume that for somebody else, it will be more purely perfect.
We love a puzzle here at Research Digest — so here’s a couple from a recent paper in Cognition. See whether you can unscramble the anagrams in the following sentences (read on for the answers!):
The Cocos Islands are part of idnionsea
eeebyoshn kill more people worldwide each year than all poisonous snakes combined
If you successfully solved the anagrams, you may have experienced an “Aha!” or “Eureka” moment: a flash of insight where the solution suddenly becomes clear, perhaps after you have spent a while completely stumped. Usually when we experience these moments we have indeed arrived at the correct answer — they don’t tend to occur as much when we’ve stumbled upon an incorrect solution. And in fact, researchers have suggested that we even use Aha! moments as a quick way to judge the veracity of a solution or idea — they provide a kind of gut feeling which tells us that whathas just popped into our mind is probably correct.
But relying on these experiences to gauge the truth of an idea can sometimes backfire, according to the authors of the new paper. The team found that experiencing sudden moments of insight when deciphering a statement can make people more likely to believe that it is true — even when it isn’t.
“The sense of self is a hallmark of human experience. Each of us maintains a constellation of personal memories and personality traits that collectively define ‘who we really are'”.
So begins a new paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which reveals that who you “are” can easily be manipulated. Just imagining somebody else can alter all kinds of aspects of how you see yourself, even including your personality and memories.
Is your mental library a haven of accurate and well-informed facts, or are there mistruths hiding on the shelves? It’s natural to assume that we update our beliefs in line with the most recent and well-established evidence. But what really happens to our views when a celebrity endorses a product that becomes discredited by science, or when a newspaper publishes a story which is later retracted?
A recent paper from the Journal of Consumer Psychology presents a novel take on this topic, by investigating the continued influence effect. Anne Hamby and colleagues suggest that our likelihood of continuing to believe retracted information depends on whether or not it helps us to understand the cause-and-effect structure of an event. Crucially, the team proposes, we would rather have a complete understanding of why things happen than a perspective which is more accurate, but less complete.
Imagine that tomorrow a catastrophe wipes out 99% of the world’s population. That’s clearly not a desirable scenario — we would all agree that a peaceful, continued existence is preferable. Now imagine that the disaster kills everyone, wiping out the human race. Most of us would rate that as an even worse occurrence.
But how do we see the relative severity of these different possibilities? Is there a bigger difference between nothing happening and 99% of people dying, or between 99% and 100% of people being wiped out?
This thought-experiment was first posed by the philosopher Derek Parfit, who thought most people would believe the first difference is greater — after all, going from business-as-usual to almost total annihilation is a big step. He, on the other hand, felt the second difference was greater by far: even if just a tiny fraction of humans survive, civilisation could continue for millions of years, but if humanity is wiped from the face of the Earth, then it’s all over.
Now a new study in Scientific Reports has found that, like Parfit predicted, most people don’t seem to share his view of human extinction as a “uniquely bad” catastrophe — until they are forced to go beyond their gut feeling and reflect on what extinction really means in the long term.
Log on to Twitter, open a newspaper or turn on the news and you’ll soon see just how prevalent anti-Muslim sentiment is, as well as how likely collective blame is to be placed on the group as a whole for actions perpetrated by a few Islamic extremists. Though American mass shootings are far more likely to be perpetrated by white men than Muslims, collective blame is rarely assigned to that group — instead, they are characterised as “lone wolves”, even when they explicitly belong to or espouse the views of neo-Nazi, white supremacist or misogynistic hate groups.
When a gym recently opened up near my house, I was determined to go regularly and make the most of the facilities. And I did — for about a month. But gradually, my visits became fewer and further between, until I realised I was paying for a bunch of machines and slabs of metal that I hadn’t touched in weeks. Guiltily, I cancelled my membership.
But perhaps I have my personality to blame. A new study tracking gym users has honed in one key factor that is related to how often they visit: their “planfulness”. This aspect of our personality, say the researchers, could be “uniquely useful” for predicting a range of goal-directed behaviours.