Archive for June, 2009

The science of persuasion

Alex Moskalyuk provides a great summary of one of the most accessible pop psych books on the market, Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, by Noah Goldstein and Steve Martin. The authors draw from the fields of social psychology and behavioral economics to ground the “science of persuasion” in some fascinating research.

Among Alex’s summaries are some great tips for waiters looking to increase their take-home pay:

#11) How restaurant mints are a personalized affair. Let’s a say a restaurant provides mints for its customers on the way out. If the amount of tips per week is the baseline for that restaurant, let’s make the waiters include a mint as they give the check to the customer. The tips go up by 3.3%. However, when the waiters offer the mints themselves, prior to signing the check, the tipping amount went up by 14.1%. In yet another experiment, the waiter would present the patrons with 1 mint per guest, then give them the check, then turning around to leave, then, as if remembering something sudden, turning around and giving them yet another mint per guest. Result? 23% increase in tips, as this signaled high amount of personalization.

#31) Verbalization helps interaction. Waiters who repeat customers’ order to them make 70% more in tips than waiters who just say “Okay”. Our mind subconsciously appreciates the effort taken to ensure the things are perfectly right.

Summaries on chapters 29 and 30 were fun and interesting:

#29) Similarities raise the response rate. A person named Cindy Johnson received a survey request by mail from someone named Cynthia Johannson. Someone named John Smith received a survey from Gregory Jordan. The name similarity in the first case (note that it’s just phonetic similarity, none of the names are the same) brought up the response rate to 56% vs. regular 30%.

#30) People like the sound of their name, and that defines their vocation. There are three times as many dentists named Dennis as any other names. Number of Florences living in Florida is disproportionately high, same goes for Louises living in Louisiana.

More here.

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

June 18, 2009 at 2:32 am Leave a comment

Moved to learn

Research indicates exercise primes students for learning — Fit children may have less stress, longer attention spans, better memories and be more prepared to learn, according to recent research. Struggling students who took a physical-education class prior to an algebra class improved their test scores by 20.4%, compared with 3.9% improvement for other students, according to data from an Illinois high school. Click to read “A Fit Body Means a Fit Mind,” an article by Vanessa Richardson published in the June edition of Edutopia magazine that describes the research and science about how physical activity, especially strength and cardio exercises,  helps kids to boost their brainpower in schools.

June 5, 2009 at 5:42 am Leave a comment

Stereotype threat effects on black and white athletic performance

Some of my research is focused on the language used in school and sport setting, and how words have the ability to significantly shape the way we internalize beliefs about ability, and thus, affect our performance. Here is some information about one of the earliest and most influential experimental studies about stereotype threat and athletic performance…

Stone, J., Lynch, C. I., Sjomeling, M., & Darley, J. M. (1999). Stereotype threat effects on black and white athletic performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1213-1227. [Download here]

This summary of the research by Stone et al. comes from ReducingStereotypeThreat.org, an absolutely incredible resource — for academics and the general public alike — that lucidly explains and makes accessible the stereotype threat literature :

In these studies, Black and White undergraduates were asked to complete a task involving golf skills, but the description of the task was varied to create a condition of stereotype threat for each group in one condition. In Experiment 1, participants were led to believe that the task required natural sports ability or required athletic intelligence. Based on culturally-shared stereotypes, these descriptions should introduce stereotype threat for White and Black participants, respectively. In fact, Blacks did perform better on the task when it was described as reflecting natural sports ability than when it was based on athletic intelligence, and Whites showed the opposite pattern. Experiment 2 focused on White participants who completed the task under high (“natural athletic ability”) or low (“sports psychology”) stereotype threat descriptions. Again, White students performed more poorly when the task was believed to reflect natural ability, but this did not occur for students who indicated that athletic performance was unrelated to their self-worth. In addition, task description did not affect students if their attention had been drawn to assessing the quality of the la in which the test was performed, indicating that distraction might undermine stereotype threat. These studies show that stereotype threat is a general phenomenon that can affect performance when a stereotype of poor performance implicates a valued social identity.

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

June 4, 2009 at 3:25 pm 2 comments

Attention Surfeit Hypoactivity Disorder and mindful Twittering: The paradoxical, Zenlike state of focused distraction

New York magazine recently published a fantastic piece by Sam Anderson titled, “In Defense of Distraction.”

Anderson plays the role of philosopher, historian, pop social scientist, and futurist as he ruminates about the influence of technology on the wiring of our brains, and on our abilities to engage in meaningful personal relationships. In the article, he imagines the personal computer as the perfect B.F. Skinner box, because of “the variable ratio schedule” of the Internet; shapes the morality debate among scientists about  use of neuroenhancers, and explains why some are worried about “species-typical upper bound limits” of cognition;  outlines the weaknesses of lifehacking; and, ultimately, explains how to “embrace the poverty of attention.” The science of neuroplasticity and meditation are also explored:

The most promising solution to our attention problem [may also be] the most ancient: meditation. Neuroscientists have become obsessed, in recent years, with Buddhists, whose attentional discipline can apparently confer all kinds of benefits even on non-Buddhists. (Some psychologists predict that, in the same way we go out for a jog now, in the future we’ll all do daily 20-to-30-minute “secular attentional workouts.”) Meditation can make your attention less “sticky,” able to notice images flashing by in such quick succession that regular brains would miss them. It has also been shown to elevate your mood, which can then recursively stoke your attention: Research shows that positive emotions cause your visual field to expand. The brains of Buddhist monks asked to meditate on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion” show instant and remarkable changes: Their left prefrontal cortices (responsible for positive emotions) go into overdrive, they produce gamma waves 30 times more powerful than novice meditators, and their wave activity is coordinated in a way often seen in patients under anesthesia.

Click here to read the article.

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

June 4, 2009 at 1:11 am Leave a comment

“As cost of sports rise, students balk at fees”

“Athletics are the front porch of the university. It’s not the most important room in the house, but it is the most visible.”

— Steve Barnes, athletic director at Utah State University, as quoted in a NYT article about growing student resistance across campuses nationwide to increase their fees for athletic programs.

June 3, 2009 at 11:08 pm Leave a comment


Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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