Category: Decision making

Background music can make us less cautious

By Emma Young

Background music is a feature of most people’s everyday lives. Whether it’s while driving, at the gym, at home, or even at work, we often have music playing while we’re doing something else. Research into precisely how this affects our behaviour, emotions and cognitive processes have provided mixed findings, however. One of the reasons, argue Agustín Perez Santangelo at the University of Buenos Aires and colleagues, is there are so many variables, both in terms of the type of music used in the studies, and also the aspects of performance being measured — so it’s no wonder that results have been inconsistent.

Santangelo’s team decided, therefore, to explore changes in just one musical variable — tempo — and to look for effects on two individual aspects of decision-making: speed and accuracy. And they report in their paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, that background music did indeed have an effect: it made the participants less cautious.

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Decisions made by human experts can be as inscrutable as those made by algorithms — but we don’t realise it

By Emma Young

Let’s say you’ve been found guilty of stealing a car. Would you prefer that a judge decided your punishment — or an algorithm?

Algorithms are increasingly taking over from people in making decisions in everything from the hiring of new employees to healthcare, as well as criminal punishment. But, as the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General note, there is mounting public concern about just how algorithms reach their decisions. In some US states, for example, companies that use algorithms in hiring are now obliged to explain the steps of the process.

However, “this emphasis on making algorithmic decision-making transparent, although well-motivated, raises a paradox,” argue Andrea Bonezzi at New York University and colleagues.

Judges, recruiters and doctors aren’t required to explain every decision. So why do we have such a problem with algorithms doing the same thing? The team thinks it’s because we misguidedly believe that we understand human decision-making better than algorithmic decision-making. In fact, they argue, human decision-makers “are often just as much of a black box as the algorithms that are meant to replace them”.

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Aha! moments give a “ring of truth” to completely unrelated statements

By Matthew Warren

Word puzzles are all the rage right now. But if you’ve already done today’s Wordle, here are some anagrams to keep you going until tomorrow:

Reality is only a matter of…..   tvesrecipep

Free will is a powerful….. oinliusl

If you managed to solve the anagrams at the end of these statements, you may have experienced a “Eureka” or “Aha!” moment, in which the solution suddenly seemed to appear, perhaps accompanied by a sense of happiness or relief. And if you did, according to a new study in Scientific Reports, you’d be more likely to believe that the statement itself is true.

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We put more effort into avoiding losses than making gains

By Emma Young

The discovery that we care more about losses than equivalent gains has been hugely influential in behavioural economics. The idea was introduced back in 1979, in a paper by Dan Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Since then, it’s been demonstrated in a huge range of settings, and led to some effective interventions for everything from sales teams to students. Take this finding from 2016: when students are given maximum grade points at the start of the semester and then lose points according to their performance in exams and assignments, they do better in the end than students who start with zero points and must work to accrue grade points instead.

It’s often assumed that these interventions work because people choose to exert more effort to avoid losses than to make equivalent gains. But there has been only limited work to explore this, write Ana Farinha and Tiago Maia at the University of Lisbon, in their new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. So the pair set out to investigate. They used an experimental set-up that focused not on task performance — as is generally the case in this field of research — but rather on how much effort participants opted to make to avoid losses or make gains.

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Researchers have identified a “hidden source of regret”: our tendency to overrate the choices we (almost) make

By Matthew Warren

We often feel regret when we learn that an opportunity we rejected has turned out really well. Think about that investment you didn’t make that has now shot up in value, for example, or the person you never asked out who is now living a happily married life.

But what happens when we never find out the outcome of that potential, rejected opportunity? If we don’t know what could have been, then it might seem like we shouldn’t feel much regret. But according to a new series of studies in Psychological Science by Daniel Feiler from Darmouth College and Johannes Müller-Trede from the University of Navarra, we sometimes feel more regret in these situations.

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Conflicting health information can compromise our attention

By Emily Reynolds

We get our information about health from many sources. Sometimes we seek advice from doctors or other medical professionals; sometimes we talk to friends or family; we read newspapers and watch TV; and we diagnose ourselves with rare and alarming afflictions with the help of the internet.

In some ways, this variety offers a democratisation of knowledge, a way for more of us to understand what’s going on with our health. But what happens when this information contradicts itself? This is the subject of a new study from a team at Rutgers University, published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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To beat procrastination, avoid deadlines — unless they’re short

By Emily Reynolds

Procrastination can get to the best of us. Whether we’re avoiding going to bed, failing to study, or trying to avoid a hated task at work, sometimes it just feels easier to put something off than get it out of the way. For those waiting for chronic procrastinators to deliver, the dilemma is how best to encourage them to do so on time.

A new study, published in Economic Inquiry, provides some suggestions. While shorter deadlines were, perhaps unsurprisingly, more likely to see results than longer deadlines, the most responses were delivered when there was no deadline at all.

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Instructions Don’t Always Help Us To Do Better At A Task

By Emma Young

You might hate following instructions on how to do something, but there’s no avoiding them. Training on everything from how to drive a car to read an X-ray starts with explicit instructions — whether verbal or written, as the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance point out. In fact, Luke Rosedahl at UC, Santa Barbara and colleagues write, “This practice is so widely accepted that scholarship primarily focuses on how to provide instructions, not whether these instructions help or not.” Now the team reports that for learning how to do well at certain tasks, they do not help at all.

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Teaching People The Value Of Scientific Consensus Can Help To Correct False Beliefs

By Emma Young

How do we change beliefs that are contrary to the scientific consensus? Given that such misperceptions can be harmful to the believers, their families, and even to broader society, research in this area is vital. Now Aart van Stekelenburg at Radboud University and colleagues report preliminary but promising work finding that a brief training exercise on the value of scientific consensus, and how to look for it, can help. Their paper in Psychological Science suggests that this could be a more effective approach than just communicating what the scientific consensus is — at least, for some false beliefs.

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Older People Are More Likely To Avoid Finding Out Information Like Genetic Disease Risk Or Spousal Infidelity

By Emma Young

If proof of the existence or otherwise of a god-like deity was available, would you want to see it? What if you had access to a file that revealed whether your partner had ever been unfaithful? And would you take a new genetic test that would indicate whether you have a mutation linked to an incurable disease?

“All men, by nature, desire to know,” wrote Aristotle, more than 2,000 years ago. In fact, as the authors of a new paper in Psychology and Aging point out, philosophers have long viewed people as having a thirst for knowledge, and a drive to resolve uncertainty. However, as Ralph Hertwig at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany and his colleagues also note, there are times when we prefer not to know the truth, and even bury our heads in the sand. Older people are often seen as being more prone to doing this. And the team’s research now suggests that this is indeed the case: people aged over 51 were more likely than younger people to choose to remain ignorant of information that would have an emotional impact on them — perhaps a positive impact, but perhaps a negative one.

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