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Archive for April 2008

Is Happiness Having What You Want, Wanting What You Have, Or Both?

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Some argue that happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have. This maxim sounds reasonable enough, but can it be tested, and if so, is it true?

It turns out it can be tested. Texas Tech University psychologist Jeff Larsen and Amie McKibban of Wichita State University asked undergraduates to indicate whether they possessed 52 different material items, such as a car, a stereo or a bed.

Their results, which appear in the April issue of the Association for Psychological Science’s journal, Psychological Science, suggest that people can grow accustomed to their possessions and thereby derive less happiness from them.

They also suggest, however, that people can continue to want the things they have and that those who do so can achieve greater happiness.

“Simply having a bunch of things is not the key to happiness,” Larsen said. “Our data show that you also need to appreciate those things you have. It’s also important to keep your desire for things you don’t own in check.”

If the students owned a car, the researchers asked them to rate how much they wanted the car they had. If they didn’t have a car, they were asked to rate how much they wanted one.

Larsen and McKibban then calculated the extent to which people want what they have and have what they want. Their findings show that wanting what you have is not the same as having what you want. While people who have what they want tend to desire those items, the correlation between the two was far from perfect.

The researchers found that people who want more of what they have tend to be happier than those who want less of what they have. However, people who have more of what they want tend to be happier than those who have less of what they want.

Psychol Sci. 2008 Apr;19(4):371-7.
Is happiness having what you want, wanting what you have, or both?
Larsen JT, McKibban AR.

Texas Tech University.

Rabbi Hyman Schachtel (1954) proposed that “happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have” (p. 37). In two studies, we tested Schachtel’s maxim by asking participants whether or not they had and the extent to which they wanted each of 52 material items. To quantify how much people wanted what they had, we identified what they had and the extent to which they wanted those things. To quantify how much people had what they wanted, we identified how much they wanted and whether or not they had each item. Both variables accounted for unique variance in happiness. Moreover, the extent to which people wanted what they had partially mediated effects of gratitude and maximization on happiness, and the extent to which they had what they wanted partially mediated the effect of maximization. Results indicate that happiness is both wanting what you have and having what you want.

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Written by huehueteotl

April 29, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Posted in Psychology

Cause And Effect: Cause An Affect

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Most people agree that emotions can be caused by a specific event and that the person experiencing it is aware of the cause, such as a child’s excitement at the sound of an ice cream truck. But recent research suggests emotions also can be unconsciously evoked and manipulated.

Psychologists Kirsten Ruys and Diedrick Stapel of the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research at Tillburg University in The Netherlands have uncovered the first empirical evidence to suggest humans do not need to be aware of the event that caused their mood or feelings in order to be affected by it. The scientists hypothesized that, since humans have evolved to respond quickly and unconsciously to stimuli, they should be able to react to an emotional event without full awareness: “You are likely to live longer if you immediately stop moving at the sight of a growling grizzly bear and do not need full awareness for such a response to be instigated,” explained Ruys and Stapel.

The researchers measured people’s thoughts, feelings and behavior to determine whether specific emotions were induced without awareness of their cause—a study based on the theory implying that, due to natural selection, humans should be able to detect specific emotion-evoking information automatically. Participants were separated into three groups and were told that very short flashes would appear on a computer screen. They were then instructed to press the ‘R’ key if it appeared on the right side of the screen or the ‘L’ key if it appeared on the left.

In actuality, the ‘flashes’ were subliminal images selected to elicit fear, disgust or no emotion at all. The images flashed at varying speeds making it impossible for the participants to be fully conscious of their presence. In other words, the participants were unaware that they were viewing images of growling dogs and dirty toilets or even neutral images, such as horses or chairs.

The participants then underwent three tests to measure the effect of the images on their cognition, feelings and behavior. For the cognitive measure, they completed word fragments with a variety of words including those that expressed disgust, fear, anger, generally negative, generally positive and neutral feelings. Next, participants rated the overall positivity or negativity of their mood and the extent to which they felt fearful, disgusted, satisfied, relieved, proud, angry, shameful and joyful on 7-point scales.

During the behavioral measure, participants were asked to take part in either a ‘strange food test’ or a ‘scary movie test,’ assuming that, for example, those who were exposed to the disgusting images would want to avoid the possibility of eating something unpleasant. At the end of the study, the researchers asked gradually more specific questions about the subliminal images to gauge the participants’ awareness of the study’s purpose and intent.

The intriguing results strongly support the psychologists’ theory. Those participants who viewed only the disgust-inducing subliminal images were more likely to use disgust words in the word-completion task, to describe their feelings with the disgust words and to choose to take the ‘scary movie test.’ The same held true for those who viewed only the fear-inducing images—they also were more likely to use words related to fear and to take the ‘strange food test.’

The psychologists also found that after quick (120ms) speed exposures to emotional stimuli, a general, negative mood developed accompanied by a specific emotion, such as fear after seeing fearful pictures. After the super-quick (40ms) speed exposure, only a general negative mood was induced without a specific emotion involved. These empirical findings are the first to demonstrate that specific emotions can be evoked without awareness of the cause and that a person’s global mood can develop into a specific emotion.

And while the study did not investigate how an individual eventually becomes conscious of their emotions, the scientists did pose an additional hypothesis: “When emotions are full-blown, people become aware of their emotions by perceiving their own actions and bodily reactions; likewise, when emotions are weak, people fail to notice their weakly-related actions and bodily reactions.”

Psychol Sci. 2008 Apr;19(4):385-91.
The secret life of emotions.
Ruys KI, Stapel DA.

Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research, Tilburg University.

The possibility of unconsciously evoked emotions is often denied because awareness of an emotion’s cause is considered to be precisely what produces the emotion. However, we argue that because emotional responding is important for successful living, both global and specific emotional responses can be induced without awareness. The present research used quick and super-quick subliminal priming techniques, and cognitive, feelings, and behavioral measures, to test this hypothesis. Our results show that both global moods and specific emotions can be evoked without conscious awareness of their cause.

Written by huehueteotl

April 29, 2008 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Psychology

Cause And Effect: Cause An Affect

leave a comment »

Most people agree that emotions can be caused by a specific event and that the person experiencing it is aware of the cause, such as a child’s excitement at the sound of an ice cream truck. But recent research suggests emotions also can be unconsciously evoked and manipulated.

Psychologists Kirsten Ruys and Diedrick Stapel of the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research at Tillburg University in The Netherlands have uncovered the first empirical evidence to suggest humans do not need to be aware of the event that caused their mood or feelings in order to be affected by it. The scientists hypothesized that, since humans have evolved to respond quickly and unconsciously to stimuli, they should be able to react to an emotional event without full awareness: “You are likely to live longer if you immediately stop moving at the sight of a growling grizzly bear and do not need full awareness for such a response to be instigated,” explained Ruys and Stapel.

The researchers measured people’s thoughts, feelings and behavior to determine whether specific emotions were induced without awareness of their cause—a study based on the theory implying that, due to natural selection, humans should be able to detect specific emotion-evoking information automatically. Participants were separated into three groups and were told that very short flashes would appear on a computer screen. They were then instructed to press the ‘R’ key if it appeared on the right side of the screen or the ‘L’ key if it appeared on the left.

In actuality, the ‘flashes’ were subliminal images selected to elicit fear, disgust or no emotion at all. The images flashed at varying speeds making it impossible for the participants to be fully conscious of their presence. In other words, the participants were unaware that they were viewing images of growling dogs and dirty toilets or even neutral images, such as horses or chairs.

The participants then underwent three tests to measure the effect of the images on their cognition, feelings and behavior. For the cognitive measure, they completed word fragments with a variety of words including those that expressed disgust, fear, anger, generally negative, generally positive and neutral feelings. Next, participants rated the overall positivity or negativity of their mood and the extent to which they felt fearful, disgusted, satisfied, relieved, proud, angry, shameful and joyful on 7-point scales.

During the behavioral measure, participants were asked to take part in either a ‘strange food test’ or a ‘scary movie test,’ assuming that, for example, those who were exposed to the disgusting images would want to avoid the possibility of eating something unpleasant. At the end of the study, the researchers asked gradually more specific questions about the subliminal images to gauge the participants’ awareness of the study’s purpose and intent.

The intriguing results strongly support the psychologists’ theory. Those participants who viewed only the disgust-inducing subliminal images were more likely to use disgust words in the word-completion task, to describe their feelings with the disgust words and to choose to take the ‘scary movie test.’ The same held true for those who viewed only the fear-inducing images—they also were more likely to use words related to fear and to take the ‘strange food test.’

The psychologists also found that after quick (120ms) speed exposures to emotional stimuli, a general, negative mood developed accompanied by a specific emotion, such as fear after seeing fearful pictures. After the super-quick (40ms) speed exposure, only a general negative mood was induced without a specific emotion involved. These empirical findings are the first to demonstrate that specific emotions can be evoked without awareness of the cause and that a person’s global mood can develop into a specific emotion.

And while the study did not investigate how an individual eventually becomes conscious of their emotions, the scientists did pose an additional hypothesis: “When emotions are full-blown, people become aware of their emotions by perceiving their own actions and bodily reactions; likewise, when emotions are weak, people fail to notice their weakly-related actions and bodily reactions.”

Psychol Sci. 2008 Apr;19(4):385-91.
The secret life of emotions.
Ruys KI, Stapel DA.

Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research, Tilburg University.

The possibility of unconsciously evoked emotions is often denied because awareness of an emotion’s cause is considered to be precisely what produces the emotion. However, we argue that because emotional responding is important for successful living, both global and specific emotional responses can be induced without awareness. The present research used quick and super-quick subliminal priming techniques, and cognitive, feelings, and behavioral measures, to test this hypothesis. Our results show that both global moods and specific emotions can be evoked without conscious awareness of their cause.

Written by huehueteotl

April 29, 2008 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Psychology

Human Protein May Offer Novel Target For Blocking HIV Infection: Successful In Lab

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A research group supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has uncovered a new route for attacking the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that may offer a way to circumvent problems with drug resistance. In findings published April 28 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report that they have blocked HIV infection in the test tube by inactivating a human protein expressed in key immune cells.

Most of the drugs now used to fight HIV, which is the retrovirus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), target the virus’s own proteins. However, because HIV has a high rate of genetic mutation, those viral targets change quickly and lead to the emergence of drug-resistant viral strains. Doctors have tried to outmaneuver the rapidly mutating virus by prescribing multi-drug regimens or switching drugs. But such strategies can increase the risk of toxic side effects, be difficult for patients to follow and are not always successful. Recently, interest has grown in attacking HIV on a new front by developing drugs that target proteins of human cells, which are far less prone to mutations than are viral proteins.

In the new study, Pamela Schwartzberg, M.D., Ph.D., a senior investigator at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of NIH; Andrew J. Henderson, Ph.D., of Boston University; and their colleagues found that when they interfered with a human protein called interleukin-2-inducible T cell kinase (ITK) they inhibited HIV infection of key human immune cells, called T cells. ITK is a signaling protein that activates T cells as part of the body’s healthy immune response.

“This new insight represents an important contribution to HIV research,” said NHGRI Scientific Director Eric D. Green, M.D., Ph.D. “Finding a cellular target that can be inhibited so as to block HIV validates a novel concept and is an exciting model for deriving potential new HIV therapies.”

When HIV enters the body, it infects T cells and takes over the activities of these white blood cells so that the virus can replicate. Eventually, HIV infection compromises the entire immune system and causes AIDS. The new work shows that without active ITK protein, HIV cannot effectively take advantage of many signaling pathways within T cells, which in turn slows or blocks the spread of the virus.

“We were pleased and excited to realize the outcome of our approach,” Dr. Schwartzberg said. “Suppression of the ITK protein caused many of the pathways that HIV uses to be less active, thereby inhibiting or slowing HIV replication.”

In their laboratory experiments, the researchers used a chemical inhibitor and a type of genetic inhibitor, called RNA interference, to inactivate ITK in human T cells. Then, the T cells were exposed to HIV, and the researchers studied the effects of ITK inactivation upon various stages of HIV’s infection and replication cycle. Suppression of ITK reduced HIV’s ability to enter T cells and have its genetic material transcribed into new virus particles. However, ITK suppression did not interfere significantly with T cells’ normal ability to survive, and mice deficient in ITK were able to ward off other types of viral infection, although antiviral responses were delayed.

“ITK turns out to be a great target to examine,” said Dr. Schwartzberg, noting that researchers had been concerned that blocking other human proteins involved in HIV replication might kill or otherwise impair the normal functions of T cells.

According to Dr. Schwartzberg, ITK already is being investigated as a therapeutic target for asthma and other diseases that affect immune response. In people with asthma, ITK is required to activate T cells, triggering lung inflammation and production of excess mucus.

“There are several companies who have published research about ITK inhibitors as part of their target program,” Schwartzberg said. “We hope that others will extend our findings and that ITK inhibitors will be pursued as HIV therapies.”

Published online on April 28, 2008
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0709659105
OPEN ACCESS ARTICLE

Julie A. Readinger, Gillian M. Schiralli, Jian-Kang Jiang, Craig J. Thomas, Avery August, Andrew J. Henderson, and Pamela L. Schwartzberg
Selective targeting of ITK blocks multiple steps of HIV replication

Abstract

Treatment for HIV has relied on the use of antiretroviral agents that can be subject to the development of resistant viruses. The study of inhibitors directed against cellular proteins required for HIV replication is therefore of growing interest. Inducible T cell kinase (ITK) is a Tec family tyrosine kinase that regulates T cell receptor (TCR)-induced activation of PLC{gamma}-1, Ca2+ mobilization and transcription factor activation, and actin rearrangement downstream of both TCR and chemokine receptors. Because productive infection of T cells with HIV requires T cell activation, chemokine receptors and actin reorganization, we asked whether ITK affects HIV infection using ITK-specific siRNA, a kinase-inactive ITK mutant or an ITK inhibitor. We demonstrate that loss of ITK function resulted in marked reductions in intracellular p24 levels upon HIV infection. Loss of ITK function after establishment of HIV infection also decreased virus spread within the culture. Inhibition of ITK did not affect expression of the HIV coreceptors CD4 or CXCR4 but partially blocked HIV viral entry, an effect that correlated with decreased actin polarization to gp120. Additionally, ITK was required for efficient HIV transcription, and overexpression of ITK increased both viral transcription and virus-like particle formation. Our data suggest that inhibition of ITK blocks HIV infection by affecting multiple steps of HIV replication.

T cell signaling | transcription | tyrosine kinase | viral entry | kinase inhibitors

Written by huehueteotl

April 29, 2008 at 9:12 pm

Posted in HIV

When Positive Thinking Leads To Financial Irresponsibility Like Compulsive Gambling

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Everyone probably has experienced one way or the other: Émile Coué meant well with his positive thinking, but created, unintentionally, a trap that leaves many a life in disaster. Looking on the bright side can lead to irresponsible financial behavior as well, reveals an article in the Journal of Consumer Research. In a series of studies, Elizabeth Cowley (University of Sydney) examines repeat gambling in the face of loss. She finds that people often engage in too much positive thinking, selectively focusing on one win among hundreds of losses when they think back on the overall experience.

https://i0.wp.com/www.cap.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/70D85BDE-97AA-4172-94A7-6A07C370BAFB/0/gamblingdice_300_rfpfull.jpg

“When we want to justify engaging in an activity which could potentially be irresponsible — like gambling — we may need to distort our memory of the past to rationalize the decision,” Cowley explains. “People who have frequently spent more money than planned on gambling edit their memories of the past in order to justify gambling again.”

For example, Cowley had participants in one study play a computer game in which they could win credits with the financial equivalent of one cent per credit. Each participant played the game 300 times. Everyone experienced one big win and one big loss. But for the other 298 games, one half of the group experienced all small losses, while the other experienced all small wins.

Cowley also manipulated the distance between the big win and the big loss.

A week later, participants were surveyed for their memories of the experience. Surprisingly, Cowley found that even some losers remembered having a positive experience. If the big win and the big loss occurred far apart, losers had fond memories and indicated a willingness to spend their own money on the game.

As Cowley explains, the further apart the big win and the big loss, the easier it was for losers to isolate their memories and focus only on the positive, a “silver lining” effect.

“The tendency to segregate positive and negative events in a mixed-loss experience is based on the logic that remembering a large gain allows people to feel good even when the objective outcome was negative,” Cowley says.

Conversely, Cowley found that winners — those who experienced 298 small wins — were happier when the big win and the big loss were closer together, allowing them to lump all the games together and ignore the big loss. She termed this the “cancellation effect.”

“When the outcome of an experience including both positive and negative events results in a net gain, people look for ways to integrate positive and negative events to reduce, if not cancel, the pain associated with the negative events,” Cowley explains.

The research is the first to consider a motivated memory explanation for justifying irresponsible behavior. Apparently, positive thinking can sometimes be negative.

JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. • Vol. 0 •
All rights reserved. 0093-5301/2008/3501-0006$10.00
DOI: 10.1086/527267

The Perils of Hedonic Editing

Elizabeth Cowley*

Retrospective hedonic editing occurs when people combine events to frame a previous experience in its most positive light. Although reflecting positively on the past has psychological and physiological benefits, it may also be used to justify potentially irresponsible behavior. In a gambling context the consequences may be perilous. The results of study 1 show that when they have the opportunity, potentially irresponsible gamblers use hedonic editing strategies to reconstruct the past as more positive. The more positive memory provides them with evidence to support their desired outcome—playing again. The results of studies 2 and 3 reveal that the processes underlying hedonic editing include both the temporal categorization of positive and negative events and the strategic allocation of attention. Study 3 also investigates the independence of motivation and opportunity.

Written by huehueteotl

April 23, 2008 at 9:08 am

Why Fondness Makes Us Poor Judges, But Dislike Is Spot-on

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How good are we at guessing other people’s likes and dislikes? Ever bring a favorite dish to a potluck — only to watch it go uneaten? Or receive an unwelcome shock when a cherished product is discontinued for lack of sales? People have the tendency to assume the whole world likes what we like, reveals new research from the June 2008 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. However, we don’t generalize the same way when it comes to things we hate.

https://i0.wp.com/snapshotsofgod.com/images/magiceye.gif

Ambiguity – Look twice, as in Magic-Eye-Images, so in buying decisions…

“The degree of false consensus depends on whether a person likes or dislikes an item,” explain Andrew D. Gershoff (University of Michigan), Ashesh Mukherjee (McGill University), and Anirban Mukhopadhyay (University of Michigan).

Participants in one study were asked to choose a movie they like. They were then asked to guess what percentage of their peers liked the movie as well. On average, people estimated that 51.2 percent of other people also liked the movie, a significant overestimate. They also estimated that only 18.2 percent of people, on average, disliked it — a reflection of the belief that more people agree with us than disagree.

In contrast, when asked to choose a movie they dislike and make the same estimate, participants were less self-centered: they thought people would agree and disagree with their opinion in roughly the same numbers.

As the researchers explain, “This finding arises from a deeper truth about the human mind, namely that things we like are seen to contain primarily good characteristics, while things we dislike are seen to contain a mix of bad, neutral, or good characteristics.”

We might even like everything about an item — except for one unforgivable, deal-breaking trait.

“This difference leads us to make more exaggerated predictions that people like the same things we do, compared to predictions that people will dislike the same things that we dislike,” the researchers add.

Another study of ice cream sundaes found that those who liked a certain flavor combination — say, mint ice cream with walnuts and hot fudge — overestimated that people would share their fondness for the sundae by 9.9 percent. Those who disliked it only overestimated that people would share their repulsion by 0.8 percent.

They conclude: “Our research indicates that decision-makers in such situations need to be highly sensitive to the danger of over-projecting their own likes, more so than their own dislikes.”

JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. • Vol. 33 • March 2007
All rights reserved. 0093-5301/2007/3304-0009$10.00

DOI: 10.1086/510223

Few Ways to Love, but Many Ways to Hate: Attribute Ambiguity and the Positivity Effect in Agent Evaluation

Andrew D. Gershoff

Ashesh Mukherjee

Anirban Mukhopadhyay

Recent research has identified a positivity effect in consumers’ evaluations of agents, such as friends and professional critics, who provide word-of-mouth evaluations and recommendations. Specifically, agreement with an agent on previously loved alternatives is perceived as more diagnostic of the agent’s suitability than agreement on previously hated alternatives. This article argues that the positivity effect arises from greater ambiguity about attribute ratings of hated versus loved alternatives. Three studies support this by showing that the effect is moderated by the number of attributes, the number of alternatives, and the revelation of an agent’s attribute ratings, and is mediated by attribute ambiguity.

Written by huehueteotl

April 23, 2008 at 9:04 am

Pepsi or Coke?

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A can of Coke next to the word “awesome”; a can of Pepsi next to a picture of a happy couple. Seem too basic to be effective advertising? Prior research has shown that reported attitudes towards brands are not affected by such simple juxtapositions. However, a new paper in the June 2008 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research examines our implicit opinions — and finds that we may actually be more susceptible than we think.

Bryan Gibson (Central Michigan University) showed undergraduate psychology students pairings of well-known cola brands with words and images. Some had positive associations: a field of flowers, the word “awesome,” or a mother holding a child. Others had negative associations: people at a gravesite, the word “terrifying,” or a person in a contamination suit.

Participants were then distracted by an unrelated cognitive task — memorizing an eight-digit number — and offered a can of Coke or Pepsi to take home with them.

When distracted, those who were initially neutral towards both brands strongly tended to choose the brand that had been paired with positive images or words in the earlier task. Importantly, this happened even when the participant couldn’t remember which brand had been paired with positive information, Gibson reports.

Those who had an established preference for one brand before the experiment, as established by a pre-test, were not affected by the inclusion of a distracting task while making their choices.

“These results have implications regarding how consumer attitudes are formed, and how they are then applied in brand choice situations,” Gibson explains. “This suggests that implicit product attitudes may play a greater role in product choice when the consumer is distracted or making an impulse purchase.”

JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. • Vol. 0 •
All rights reserved. 0093-5301/2008/3501-0011$10.00
DOI: 10.1086/527341
Can Evaluative Conditioning Change Attitudes toward Mature Brands? New Evidence from the Implicit Association Test

Bryan Gibson*

Two experiments ( ) explored the effects of evaluative conditioning on mature brands. Explicit attitudes for mature brands were unaffected by evaluative conditioning. Experiment 1 showed, however, that evaluative conditioning changed implicit attitudes toward Coke and Pepsi. This occurred only for participants who initially had no strong preference for either brand. Contingency awareness was not necessary to change implicit brand attitudes. Experiment 2 showed that brand choice was related to the altered implicit attitudes, but only when choice was made under cognitive load. Implications of these data for evaluative conditioning specifically, and for consumer research in general, are considered.

Electronically published January 18, 2008

Written by huehueteotl

April 23, 2008 at 7:41 am

Posted in Psychology