Picture the scene: you’re attending a regular medical checkup, fielding questions about your health and lifestyle, when your doctor tells you they can accurately estimate your life expectancy from your answers. Would you want to hear the truth, no matter how brutal it might be? Or would you prefer to live in ignorance?
If you belong to the latter category, you’re not alone. A new study in Management Science has found that many of us would rather avoid stressful or uncomfortable truths — even if they might benefit us.
Ensuring you’re well-informed before making a choice is, on the whole, a sensible thing to do. This is especially true of big decisions — just pretending you’ve read the terms and conditions of a new website might be okay, but we’re unlikely to be so lax about our health or finances.
You’ll probably be familiar with the idea of behavioural “nudges” — interventions that encourage people to make better choices, without changing the actual options available. As a concept, nudging has become hugely popular, with at least 200 “nudge units” in governments and institutions around the world. We’ve certainly reported on a few studies finding that simple nudges encourage people to give more to charity, and help people to make healthier soft drink choices from fast food menus, for example. You might be forgiven for thinking, then, that there are no limits to what nudging can do….
Well, a recent set of studies designed to “nudge” commuters’ behaviour, published in Nature Human Behaviour and involving a total of almost 69,000 people, has found that there definitely are limits. “The failure of these well-powered experiments … highlights both the difficulty of changing commuter behaviour and the importance of publishing null results to build cumulative knowledge about how to encourage sustainable travel,” write Ariella S. Kristal and Ashley V. Whillans, of Harvard Business School.
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.
Is it really believable that Hillary Clinton operated a child sex ring out of a pizza shop — or that Donald Trump was prepared to deport his wife, Melania, after a fight at the White House? Though both these headlines seem obviously false, they were shared millions of times on social media.
The sharing of misinformation — including such blatantly false “fake news” — is of course a serious problem. According to a popular interpretation of why it happens, when deciding what to share, social media users don’t care if a “news” item is true or not, so long as it furthers their own agenda: that is, we are in a “post-truth” era. One recent study suggested, for example, that knowing something is false has little impact on the likelihood of sharing. However, a new paper by a team of researchers from MIT and the University of Regina in Canada further challenges that bleak view.
The studies reported in the paper, available as a preprint on PsyArXiv, suggest that in fact, social media users do care whether an item is accurate or not — they just get distracted by other motives (such as wanting to secure new followers or likes) when deciding what to share. As part of their study, the researchers also showed that a simple intervention that targeted a group of oblivious Twitter users increased the quality of the news that they shared. “Our results translate directly into a scalable anti-misinformation intervention that is easily implementable by social media platforms,” they write.
“What’s the name of that actor again? The one who was on that show? Oh, it’s right on the tip of my tongue..!”
That “tip-of-the-tongue” state — where we feel that we’re just on the verge of recalling a word or name — is probably familiar to us all. And it’s been the subject of much research by psycholinguists, who think it happens when we’re able to retrieve a concept or meaning, but not translate that into the letters and sounds of a word.
Now a new study in Memory & Cognition has found that when people experience tip-of-the-tongue states, they also become more likely to take risks — suggesting that the phenomenon can exert a surprising influence on completely unrelated behaviour.
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.
Rhetoric around climate change often calls on us to think of future generations: if we don’t suffer the effects, then our children and our children’s children will. For some, this sense of obligation could be motivating. But for others, the distant time frame may be a barrier to truly grappling with the issue.
Now, a new study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests one method to get people thinking about their duty to future generations is to think about the past.
Over the last few years, so-called “fake news” — purposefully untrue misinformation spread online — has become more and more of a concern. From extensive media coverage of the issue to government committees being set up for its investigation, fake news is at the top of the agenda — and more often than we’d like, on top of our newsfeeds.
But how does exposure to misinformation impact the way we respond to it? A new study, published in Psychological Science, suggests that the more we see it, the more we’re likely to spread it. And considering the fact that fake news is more likely to go viral than real news, this could have worrying implications.
When you have a disagreement with your boss, how do you respond? Do you consider that you might be at fault and try to consider the other’s viewpoint? Or do you dig in your heels and demand that other people come around to your way of thinking? In other words, do you make wise, practical decisions, or are you prone to being stubborn and petty in the face of criticism? Continue reading “Why Fear Of Rejection Prevents Us From Making Wise Decisions”→