32 Ways To Quickly And Easily Improve Your Life

Here’s a collection of posts that tell you “how to” improve something in your life — generally in a quick and easy fashion. (None of us seem too keen on difficult things that take a long time.)

They’re almost all based on science, not just some random guy on the internet’s opinion.


To resist temptation, exaggerate the threat

Your ability to resist that tempting cookie depends on how a big a threat you perceive it to be, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Authors Ying Zhang, Szu-Chi Huang and Susan M. Broniarczyk (all University of Texas at Austin) studied techniques that enable us resist food and other temptations. 'Four experiments show that when consumers encounter temptations that conflict with their long-term goals, one self-control mechanism is to exaggerate the negativity of the temptation as a way to resist, a process we call counteractive construal,' the researchers write.

For example, in one study, female participants were asked to estimate the calories in a cookie. Half the participants were told that they have the option of receiving the cookie as a complimentary gift for participation and half were not. The results showed that consumers with a strong dieting goal construed the cookie as having more calories and being more damaging to the attainment of their long-term goal of losing weight.

Another study demonstrated that counteractive construal is helpful in situations that involve a self-control conflict. In a study of 93 college students, the researchers found that students with a high grade-point average were more likely than other participants to estimate an upcoming party to last longer and take more time away from studying. Those students consequently reported lower intent to attend the party, but only when their academic goal was made salient.

The authors also found that environmental stimuli such as posters could subtly activate people's long-term diet goals and lead them to engage in counteractive construal. In one study, female participants entered a room that either had posters depicting fit models or nature scenery. 'Participants who were exposed to posters depicting fit models (goal-priming stimuli) were more likely to exaggerate the calories in a tempting drink that they expected to consume later on, and consequently consumed less when offered the drink,' the authors write.

'The mental construal of temptations may be distorted when people experience a self-control conflict, and such distorted construal, rather than accurate representations, determines consumers' actual consumption, helping them resist the temptation and maintaining their long-term goal,' the authors conclude.

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To make yourself happy, think about the absence of a positive event

The authors hypothesized that thinking about the absence of a positive event from one's life would improve affective states more than thinking about the presence of a positive event but that people would not predict this when making affective forecasts. In Studies 1 and 2, college students wrote about the ways in which a positive event might never have happened and was surprising or how it became part of their life and was unsurprising. As predicted, people in the former condition reported more positive affective states. In Study 3, college student forecasters failed to anticipate this effect. In Study 4, Internet respondents and university staff members who wrote about how they might never have met their romantic partner were more satisfied with their relationship than were those who wrote about how they did meet their partner. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for the literatures on gratitude induction and counterfactual reasoning.

Source: 'It's a wonderful life: Mentally subtracting positive events improves people's affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts.' from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To seem more credible when complaining, get angry

You've gotta get emotional. Smiling can help. And if it's not a highly justified complaint, you'll look more credible by getting ANGRY:

Emotion displays do not only signal emotions but also have social signal value. A study was conducted to test the hypothesis that expressing anger when complaining may lead to positive outcomes for the complainant because anger signals goal obstruction and hence the presence of real harm. The results suggest that the social signal value of anger enhances the credibility of the complainant and hence leads to better compensation, but only when the complaint itself presents room for doubt. For highly justified complaints the additional expression of anger does not add information and is discounted. In contrast, showing an affiliative-smiling demeanor was found to enhance credibility for both types of complaints. Overall, the present research confirmed the important role of emotion expressions as social signals. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Source: 'When scowling may be a good thing: The influence of anger expressions on credibility' European Journal of Social Psychology Volume 39 Issue 4, Pages 631 - 638

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To fight nightmares, play video games

A study shows that because gamers frequently 'resolve threats' during game play they would experience fewer 'threat severity variables' in their dreams. That's right: blowing away zombies and defending the USA on your Xbox could mean fewer nightmares:

Revonsuo proposes an evolutionary theory of dreaming in which dreams allow an individual to prepare for real world threats in the safety of the virtual setting of the dream world. Based upon previous work examining the dreams of video game players, it was hypothesized that high-end gamers would experience fewer threat simulation dreams because of frequent threat resolution rehearsal during game play. Subjects were asked to report a night before dream and fill out surveys regarding their gaming history, media use, and dream experiences. Using a factor analysis, support for the main hypothesis was found. Individuals with a history of game play experienced fewer threat severity variables in their dreams.

Source: The relationship between video game play and threat simulation dreams. from Dreaming - Vol 19, Iss 4 by Gackenbach, Jayne; Kuruvilla, Beena

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To make good experiences more pleasurable, get interrupted

Six studies demonstrate that interrupting a consumption experience can make pleasant experiences more enjoyable and unpleasant experiences more irritating, even though consumers avoid breaks in pleasant experiences and choose breaks in unpleasant experiences. Across a variety of hedonic experiences (e.g., listening to noises or songs, sitting in a massage chair), the authors observe that breaks disrupt hedonic adaptation and, as a result, intensify the subsequent experience.

Source: 'Interrupted Consumption: Disrupting Adaptation to Hedonic Experiences' from the Journal of Marketing Research

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To avoid senility, don't retire

Some studies suggest that people can maintain their cognitive abilities through 'mental exercise.' This has not been unequivocally proven. Retirement is associated with a large change in a person's daily routine and environment. In this paper, the authors propose two mechanisms how retirement may lead to cognitive decline. For many people retirement leads to a less stimulating daily environment. In addition, the prospect of retirement reduces the incentive to engage in mentally stimulating activities on the job. They investigate the effect of retirement on cognition empirically using cross-nationally comparable surveys of older persons in the United States, England, and 11 European countries in 2004. They find that early retirement has a significant negative impact on the cognitive ability of people in their early 60s that is both quantitatively important and causal. Identification is achieved using national pension policies as instruments for endogenous retirement.

Source: Mental Retirement from Rand Working Paper Series WR-711

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

Take a 10 minute nap

Study Objectives:The purposes of this study were to compare the benefits of different length naps relative to no nap and to analyse the electroencephalographic elements that may account for the benefits.

Design:A repeated-measures design included 5 experimental conditions: a no-nap control and naps of precisely 5, 10, 20, and 30 minutes of sleep.

Setting:Nocturnal sleep restricted to about 5 hours in participants' homes was followed by afternoon naps at 3:00 PM and 3 hours of postnap testing conducted in a controlled laboratory environment.Participants:20-four healthy, young adults who were good sleepers and not regular nappers.

Measurements and Results:The 5-minute nap produced few benefits in comparison with the no-nap control. The 10-minute nap produced immediate improvements in all outcome measures (including sleep latency, subjective sleepiness, fatigue, vigor, and cognitive performance), with some of these benefits maintained for as long as 155 minutes. The 20- minute nap was associated with improvements emerging 35 minutes after napping and lasting up to 125 minutes after napping. The 30-minute nap produced a period of impaired alertness and performance immediately after napping, indicative of sleep inertia, followed by improvements lasting up to 155 minutes after the nap.

Conclusions:These findings suggest that the 10-minute nap was overall the most effective afternoon nap duration of the nap lengths examined in this study. The implications from these results also suggest a need to consider a process occurring in the first 10 minutes of sleep that may account for the benefits associated with brief naps.

Source: 'A Brief Afternoon Nap Following Nocturnal Sleep Restriction: Which Nap Duration is Most Recuperative?' from the journal 'Sleep'

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

The secret to getting a job is networking

Yeah, you've heard that a million times already. I can show you what it really does and why it's one of the most important things to focus on:

We assess the information spillovers generated by the exchange of job-related information within networks of fellow workers exploiting administrative records covering all employment relationships established in a specific local labour market over 20 years. We recover individual-specific networks of former colleagues for a sample of workers exogenously displaced by firm closures and relate their subsequent unemployment duration to the share of employed contacts at displacement date. Individual-specific networks and the longitudinal dimension of the data allow to account for most plausible sources of omitted variable bias. In particular, identification rests on within-closure within-neighbourhood and within-skill comparisons conditional of a wide range of predictors for the displaced and his contacts' employment status, such as lagged wages and labour market attachment. We find that contacts' current employment rate has statistically significant effects on unemployment duration: a one standard deviation increase in the network employment rate reduces unemployment duration by about 8 per cent; as a benchmark, a one standard deviation increase in own wage at displacement is associated with a 10 per cent lower unemployment duration. These effects are magnified if contacts recently searched for a job and if their current employer is closer, both in space and in skills requirements, to the displaced. We find that stronger ties and lower competition for the available information also speed up re-employment. A number of specification checks and indirect tests suggests the estimated spillover effect of contacts' current employment status is driven by information exchange rather than by other interaction mechanisms.

Source: 'People I know: Job Search and Social Networks' from Centre for Economic Policy Research

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To improve performance in anything, think about the stereotype of someone who excels at it

Previous research has shown that activating a stereotype can influence subsequent behaviour in a stereotype-consistent way. The present research investigates the role of self-efficacy beliefs in this effect. Specifically, we demonstrate that being primed with the stereotype of professors increases knowledge confidence compared to being primed with a less educated profession (Experiments 1 and 2), and that these higher self-efficacy beliefs result in higher performance at a general knowledge test (Experiment 2). These findings are corroborated in Experiment 3 that shows that participants primed with the stereotype of athletes show higher persistence in a physical exercise than participants primed with a stereotype less associated with persistence. Again, behaviour was mediated by self-efficacy beliefs. The findings are in line with the active-self account (Wheeler & Petty, 2001; Wheeler, DeMarree, & Petty, 2007) that proposes that priming with a stereotype influences a person's behaviour through altered self-representations.

Source: 'Think of Capable Others and You Can Make It! Self-Efficacy Mediates the Effect of Stereotype Activation on behaviour' from the journal 'Social Cognition'

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To eat less and spend less, reduce portions

The authors demonstrate that partitioning an aggregate quantity of a resource (e.g., food, money) into smaller units reduces the consumed quantity or the rate of consumption of that resource. Partitions draw attention to the consumption decision by introducing a small transaction cost; that is, they provide more decision-making opportunities so that prudent consumers can control consumption. Thus, people are better able to constrain consumption when resources associated with a desirable activity (which they are trying to control) are partitioned rather than when they are aggregated. This effect of partitioning is demonstrated for the consumption of chocolates (Study 1) and gambles (Study 2). In Study 3, process measures reveal that partitioning increases recall accuracy and decision times. Importantly, the effect of partitioning diminishes when consumers are not trying to regulate consumption (Studies 1 and 3). Finally, Study 4 explores how habituation may decrease the amount of attention that partitions draw to consumption. In this context, partitions control consumption to a greater extent when the nature of partitions changes frequently

Source: 'The effects of partitions on controlling consumption' from the Journal of Marketing Research

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To improve your vision, play video games

Many sceptics agree that gamers are fast, but that they become less accurate as their speed of play increases. Dye and colleagues find the opposite: Gamers don't lose accuracy (in the game or in lab tests) as they get faster. The scientists believe that this is a result of the gamer's improved visual cognition. Playing video games enhances performance on mental rotation skills, visual and spatial memory, and tasks requiring divided attention.

The scientists conclude that training with video games may serve to reduce gender differences in visual and spatial processing, and thwart some of the cognitive declines that come with ageing.

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To improve your maths skills, think out loud

Those students who think aloud while solving a mathematical problem can solve it faster and have more possibilities of finding the right solution that those who do not do it. Likewise, drawing or making a pictorial representation relating to the also contributed to its solution.

Those are the conclusions of a study carried out at the University of Granada (Spain), which has been recently published in the journal 'Revista de investigación psicoeductiva' and the Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology.

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To improve your kid, praise his effort, not his intelligence

To save money on entertainment, live in the past

To spot a liar, look for short sentences, hesitation and other signs of mental stress

So are there any reliable indicators of mendacity? Tics - fidgeting, stuttering - are mistakenly attributed to cheats across many societies (psychologist Charles Bond has noted this belief in 63 countries) without recourse to scientific proof. Ditto the avoidance of eye contact - dropping your inquisitor's gaze is often given anecdotally as confirmation of guilt.

'Eye contact has been proven the least accurate thing to watch for,' says Stan Walters, author of The Truth About Lying. 'Most reliable cues typically come from the voice, in specific, the words.' Professor Richard Wiseman of Hertfordshire University is the UK's leading authority on the subject. He says that common sense is the lie-buster's best weapon, and affirms that it is aural rather than visual clues that are key.

Wiseman's 1994 experiment on Tomorrow's World and BBC radio had 30,000 participants watching or listening to two interviews he conducted with Robin Day. In one, Day told the truth; in the other he lied. Viewers could not spot the lie: there was a near-50/50 vote. Radio listeners, however, achieved over 70 per cent accuracy.

'Lying taxes the mind,' Wiseman explains. 'It involves thinking about what is plausible. People tend to repeat phrases, give shorter answers, and hesitate more. They will try to distance themselves from the lie, so use far more impersonal language. Liars often reduce the number of times that they say words like 'I', 'me', and 'mine'. To detect deception, look for aural signs associated with having to think hard.'

According to the Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, another side-effect of lying that forensic interrogators will look for is the avoidance of verbal contractions - using 'I am' instead of 'I'm' and so on. Nature reported another study by Ioannis Pavlidis of Honeywell Laboratories in Minnesota. He established that many people blush when they are telling a lie - a subtle, but detectable, phenomenon. Pavlidis has developed a thermal-imaging technique that he says detects deceit by recording thermal patterns in people's faces. He's shown this technique to have an accuracy rate comparable to that of polygraph examination by experts, and says his method has vast potential for application in rapid or remote security screening (at airports and border crossings, for example), without the need for skilled staff or physical contact.

True story. Honest.

via wired.co.uk From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To convince ambivalent people, pile on the information

To tell if someone is in love with you, see if they mimic you

People who feel a connection naturally mimic each other. People who felt strongly about a romantic relationship they were in did not mimic an attractive, opposite-sex third party nearly as much:

Based on the recent literature indicating that nonconsciousbehavioral mimicry is partly goal directed, three studies examined,and supported, the hypothesis that people who are involved ina romantic relationship nonconsciously mimic an attractive opposite-sex other to a lesser extent than people not involved in a relationship.Moreover, Studies 2 and 3 revealed that romantically involved persons tended to mimic an attractive alternative less to the extent that they were more close to their current partner. Finally,Study 3 provided preliminary support for a potential underlying mechanism, revealing that the effect of relationship status on level of mimicry displayed toward an opposite-sex other is mediated by perceived attractiveness of the opposite-sex other.The present findings suggest that behavioural mimicry serve san implicit self-regulatory function in relationship maintenance.Implications for both the literature on relationship maintenance and the literature on behavioural mimicry are discussed.

Source: 'Mimicking Attractive Opposite-Sex Others: The Role of Romantic Relationship Status' from Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

Consume caffeine in small, frequent amounts

Via Caffeine: A User's Guide to Getting Optimally Wired by Chris Chatham.

1) Consume in small, frequent amounts.

Between 20-200mg per hour may be an optimal dose for cognitive function.

2) Play to your cognitive strengths while wired.

Caffeine may increase the speed with which you work, may decrease attentional lapses, and may even benefit recall - but is less likely to benefit more complex cognitive functions, and may even hurt others. Plan accordingly (and preferably prior to consuming caffeine!)

3) Play to caffeine's strengths.

Caffeine's effects can be maximized or minimized depending on what else is in your system at the time. (Definitely add sugar. Grapefruit juice may prolong the effects of caffeine, while nicotine may speed up the body's metabolism of it.)

4) Know when to stop - and when to start again.

Although you may not grow strongly tolerant to caffeine, you can become dependent on it and suffer withdrawal symptoms. Balance these concerns with the cognitive and health benefits associated with caffeine consumption - and appropriately timed resumption. (For some, withdrawal from caffeine addiction can set in after 12-24 hours and last 2-9 days. Keep in mind that recall is best when the retrieval state matched the encoding state, i.e. if you were caffeinated when you learned it, be caffeinated when you're trying to remember it.)

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To improve your memory, use gestures

To lose weight, make a public commitment

Subjects in the long-term group that tested as having low SNI--in other words, low susceptibility to social pressure--achieved an average of 90% of their weight loss goals. In contrast, individuals who tested as having high SNI exceeded their weight loss goals by a significant margin: an average of nearly 105%.

What this study tells us is that in general the public commitment principle produces results, especially if the commitment is long-term. But, in the mix of people who make the commitment, those who genuinely fear social disapproval--not a personality trait usually given very high marks--will likely succeed the most. Those who couldn't care less what others think are, ironically, more likely to come up short.

Source: neuronarrative.wordpress.com
From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To boast without pissing people off, you need to get them to ask about the topic

Over a hundred undergrads read a conversation between two people - a 'show-off' called Avi who boasted about his A-grade in stats exams, and his friend. Crucially, there were four versions of the conversation, with each undergrad participant reading one version. In two versions, the friend raised the topic of the exam before he either did nor did not ask Avi what grade he got; in the other two versions, Avi first raised the topic of the exam, which either did or did not provoke a question from his friend about what grade he got. In every version Avi ended up boasting that he got an 'A+'. Afterwards, the students rated Avi's character.

The crux of it: context is everything when it comes to boasting. If Avi's friend raised the topic of the exams, Avi received favourable ratings in terms of his boastfulness and likability, regardless of whether he was actually asked what grade he got. By contrast, if Avi raised the topic of the exams, but failed to provoke a question, then his likeability suffered and he was seen as more of a boaster. In other words, to pull off a successful boast, you need it to be appropriate to the conversation. If your friend, colleague, or date raises the topic, you can go ahead and pull a relevant boast in safety. Alternatively, if you're forced to turn the conversation onto the required topic then you must succeed in provoking a question from your conversation partner. If there's no question and you raised the topic then any boast you make will leave you looking like a big-head.

via bps-research-digest.blogspot.com From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To reduce pain, spend time with or even think about loved ones

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, investigated whether the pain-reducing effects of social support can be activated with a photograph of a supporter instead of the real thing. Previous research has demonstrated that activating mental representations of individuals can produce effects similar to the person being there. But in this study researchers wanted to know if a photograph could produce an effect similar to someone in pain holding a loved one's hand -- a higher benchmark to achieve.

The subjects were 28 women in long-term relationships. They were brought into a testing room and their partners were brought into another to have photos taken. The women underwent testing to determine their pain thresholds via thermal stimulation. Once the thresholds were established for each subject, they were then exposed to a series of conditions while experiencing pain, including (1) holding the hand of their partner as he sat behind a curtain, (2) holding a squeeze ball, (3) holding the hand of a stranger, (4) viewing a photograph of their partner on a computer screen, (5) viewing a photograph of a male stranger, and (6) viewing nothing. Subjects rated each condition's unpleasantness on a 21-box numerical scale (the Gracely Box Scale, used in similar previous studies).

Here's what happened: As expected, holding their partner's hand resulted in significantly reduced pain ratings when compared to holding an object or a stranger's hand. Viewing their partner's photograph also produced significant pain reduction when compared to the object and stranger conditions. Interestingly, viewing a photo was also marginally MORE effective than holding their partner's hand.

What seems to be happening here is that our brains can be primed to conjure mental associations with being loved and supported just by viewing a photo -- and this priming is potent enough to actually reduce how much pain is felt. And, as the results suggest, in some cases a photo may be even more effective than the real thing.

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To be more persistent, cross your arms

Two experiments investigated the hypothesis that arm crossing serves as a proprioceptive cue for perseverance within achievement settings. Experiment 1 found that inducing participants to cross their arms led to greater persistence on an unsolvable anagram. Experiment 2 revealed that arm crossing led to better performance on solvable anagrams, and that this effect was mediated by greater persistence. No differences in comfort, instruction adherence, or mood were observed between the arms crossed and control conditions, and participants appeared to be unaware of the effect of arm crossing on their behaviour. Implications of the findings are discussed in terms of the interplay between proprioceptive cues and contextual meaning.

Source: 'The effect of arm crossing on persistence and performance' from European Journal of Social Psychology

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To counteract loneliness, be nostalgic

Four studies tested whether nostalgia can counteract reductions in perceived social support caused by loneliness. Loneliness reduced perceptions of social support but increased nostalgia. Nostalgia, in turn, increased perceptions of social support. Thus, loneliness affected perceived social support in two distinct ways. Whereas the direct effect of loneliness was to reduce perceived social support, the indirect effect of loneliness was to increase perceived social support via nostalgia. This restorative function of nostalgia was particularly apparent among resilient persons. Nostalgia is a psychological resource that protects and fosters mental health.

Source: 'Counteracting Loneliness: On the Restorative Function of Nostalgia' in the journal 'Psychological Science'

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To worry less, think about positives (yes, this is self-fulfilling)

Nobody can really stop paying attention, our brains don't work like that. What you can do is shift your attention. Focusing on the possible benign outcomes of whatever you're worrying about has been shown to help:

This research investigated whether increasing access to benign outcomes of ambiguous events decreases excessive worry. Participants reporting high levels of worry were assigned either to practice in accessing benign meanings of threat-related homographs and emotionally ambiguous scenarios or to a control condition in which threatening or benign meanings were accessed with equal frequency. Results were assessed by use of a breathing focus task that involved categorising the valence of thought intrusions before and after an instructed worry period and a test of working memory capacity available to participants while worrying. In comparison with the control group, the benign group reported fewer negative thought intrusions (as rated by both participants and an assessor) and less anxiety during the breathing focus task and showed greater residual working memory capacity while worrying. These findings suggest that enhancing access to benign outcomes is an effective method of reducing both the persistence of worry and its detrimental consequences. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved)

Source: 'Looking on the bright side: Accessing benign meanings reduces worry.' from Journal of Abnormal Psychology

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To fight depression, write about your feelings

This study examined whether ruminative style moderated the effects of expressive writing. 60-nine participants were assessed for ruminative style and depression symptoms at the beginning of their 1st college semester. Participants were then randomised to either an expressive writing or a control writing condition. Changes in depression symptoms were assessed 2, 4, and 6 months later. Results showed that a brooding ruminative style moderated the effects of expressive writing such that among those assigned to the expressive writing condition, individuals with greater brooding scores reported significantly fewer depression symptoms at all of the follow-up assessments relative to individuals with lower brooding scores. In contrast, reflective pondering ruminative style did not moderate the effects of expressive writing on depression symptoms. These findings suggest that expressive writing could be used as a means of reducing depression symptoms among those with a maladaptive ruminative tendency to brood.

Source: 'Expressive writing buffers against maladaptive rumination.' from the journal 'Emotion'

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

Be moderately overconfident

Risk-averse people might say it pays to not be too confident. Others might feel being as realistic as possible makes sense. Being overconfident can clearly be dangerous because you can get in way over your head (I personally believe there is no such thing as a 'pretty good' alligator wrestler.)

According to a paper by Bruce Weinberg at Ohio State, moderate overconfidence looks like the way to go. It's enough to push you to try new things and set your goals high:

People use information about their ability to choose tasks. If more challenging tasks provide more accurate information about ability, people who care about and who are risk averse over their perception of their own ability will choose tasks that are not sufficiently challenging. Overestimation of ability raises utility by deluding people into believing that they are more able than they are in fact. Moderate overestimation of ability and overestimation of the precision of initial information leads people to choose tasks that raise expected output, however extreme overconfidence leads people to undertake tasks that are excessively challenging. Consistent with our results, psychologists have found that moderate overconfidence is both pervasive and advantageous and that people maintain such beliefs by underweighting new information about their ability.

Source: 'A Model of Overconfidence' from IZA Discussion Paper No. 4285, July 2009

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

Don't study in groups

Humans routinely encode and retrieve experiences in interactive, collaborative contexts. Yet much of what we know about human memory comes from research on individuals working in isolation. Some recent research has examined collaboration during retrieval, but not much is known about how collaboration during encoding affects memory. We examined this issue. Participants created episodes by elaborating on study materials alone or collaboratively, and they later performed a cued-recall task alone, with the study partner, or with a different partner (Experiment 1). Collaborative encoding impaired recall. This counterintuitive outcome was found for both individual and group recall, even when the same partners collaborated across encoding and retrieval. This impairment was significantly reduced, but persisted, when the encoding instructions encouraged free-flowing collaboration (Experiment 2). Thus, the collaborative-encoding deficit is robust in nature and likely occurs because collaborative encoding produces less effective cues for later retrieval.

Source: 'When two is too many: Collaborative encoding impairs memory' from Memory & Cognition

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To be more altruistic, spend time in nature

Four studies examined the effects of nature on valuing intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations. Intrinsic aspirations reflected prosocial and other-focused value orientations, and extrinsic aspirations predicted self-focused value orientations. Participants immersed in natural environments reported higher valuing of intrinsic aspirations and lower valuing of extrinsic aspirations, whereas those immersed in non-natural environments reported increased valuing of extrinsic aspirations and no change of intrinsic aspirations. Three studies explored experiences of nature relatedness and autonomy as underlying mechanisms of these effects, showing that nature immersion elicited these processes whereas non-nature immersion thwarted them and that they in turn predicted higher intrinsic and lower extrinsic aspirations. Studies 3 and 4 also extended the paradigm by testing these effects on generous decision making indicative of valuing intrinsic versus extrinsic aspirations.

Source: 'Can Nature Make Us More Caring? Effects of Immersion in Nature on Intrinsic Aspirations and Generosity' from Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To reduce heartache, put stuff in a box

This research investigates whether the physical act of enclosing an emotionally laden stimulus can help alleviate the associated negative emotions. Four experiments found support for this claim. Using recalled negative experiences such as regretted past-decisions and unsatisfied strong desires, we showed in Experiments 1A and 1B that emotional negativity was reduced for participants who placed a written recollection of such experiences inside an envelope. However, enclosing a stimulus unrelated to the emotional experience did not have the same effect (Experiment 2). In Experiment 3, we showed that the effect were not driven by participants simply doing something extra with the materials, and that the effect of physical enclosure was mediated by the psychological closure that participants felt towards the event.

Source: 'Sealing the Emotions Genie: The Effects of Physical Enclosure on Psychological Closure', soon to be published in Psychological Science

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To make people like you more, mimic them

Mimicry has benefits for people in social interactions. However, evidence regarding the consequences of mimicry is incomplete. First, research on mimicry has particularly focused on effects of being mimicked. Secondly, on the side of the mimicker evidence is correlational or lacks real interaction data. The present study investigated effects for mimickers and mimickees in face-to-face interaction. Feelings towards the immediate interaction partner and the interaction in which mimicry takes place were measured after an interaction between two participants in which mimicry did or did not occur. Results revealed that mimickers and mimickees became more affectively attuned to each other due to bidirectional influences of mimicry. Additionally, both mimickers and mimickees reported more feelings of having bonded with each other and rated the interaction as smoother.

Source: 'Mimicry in social interaction: Benefits for mimickers, mimickees, and their interaction' from British Journal of Psychology, Volume 101, Number 2, May 2010 , pp. 311-323(13)

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

To lower your cholesterol, kiss more

Affection exchange theory and previous research suggest that affectionate behaviour has stress-ameliorating effects. On this basis, we hypothesized that increasing affectionate behaviour would effect improvements in physical and psychological conditions known to be exacerbated by stress. This study tested this proposition by examining the effects of increased romantic kissing on blood lipids, perceived stress, depression, and relationship satisfaction. 50-two healthy adults who were in marital or cohabiting romantic relationships provided self-report data for psychological outcomes and blood samples for hematological tests, and were then randomly assigned to experimental and control groups for a 6-week trial. Those in the experimental group were instructed to increase the frequency of romantic kissing in their relationships; those in the control group received no such instructions. After 6 weeks, psychological and hematological tests were repeated. Relative to the control group, the experimental group experienced improvements in perceived stress, relationship satisfaction, and total serum cholesterol.

Source: 'Kissing in Marital and Cohabiting Relationships: Effects on Blood Lipids, Stress, and Relationship Satisfaction' from Western Journal of Communication

From Eric Barker's Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Follow him on Twitter.

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