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tidbits 2015Here it is, the penultimate (that means one more is coming!) 2015 collection of things you may find intriguing to know (or not) that we found in our travels but to which we do not choose to devote an entire post. For the most part, these tidbits are based in scientific research and have helped some academic somewhere to obtain tenure. And for that, they deserve to be publicized in some form—right?

Men—are you strangely drawn to women with ponytails? 

No? Then you reflect some new research just published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology and you likely prefer women whose “hair falls naturally on her neck, shoulders and upper back”. This is one in a series of articles by academic researcher Nicolas Guégen and his female confederates. Guégen (who appears to do some fairly odd research) had the confederates walk down the street with their hair either loose, or in a ponytail or in a bun and had them “accidentally drop a glove”. And they found that men (although not women) were more likely to help women with their hair down (as opposed to those in a bun or ponytail). In the event you are interested, Guégen has also done experiments which prove men prefer women in high heels and that men approach women with larger breasts more often than they approach women not as well endowed. And yes. He has indeed made tenure with this “body of work”. At the risk of digressing, it also leaves us to wonder what organizations funded his research grants.

Solving a problem like an earworm… 

We’ve been intrigued with the concept of earworms for a number of years now as previous blog posts attest. What is an earworm? It is something most of us have experienced—in brief, it’s when a song gets stuck in your head and will not go away. For most of us, it lasts briefly (although it may not feel that way)—yet for some, it becomes chronic.

But this has got to be some kind of record! Here’s a woman who’s had the same earworm for more than three decades! It’s just nine notes from a tune she has never been able to name. And as you might imagine, she is writing about the research on how to stop an earworm. She also says none of those techniques worked for her—but in all fairness—she can’t do one of them since she has no idea what the song is from whence her earworm sprang. Another candidate for publication in the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

Are tattooed college student women trying to disassociate from their past?

Speaking of odd topics for tenure—how about college women with tattoos? [And on a completely unrelated note, tattoos are also a topic with which we’ve been intrigued. But when you are faced with a venire full of tattoos, where else are you going to turn for understanding about whether it should matter to your case?]  Jerome Koch has made his academic path on the topic of tattoos and college students—starting in 2002 and continuing through the present. In an upcoming article for Social Science Journal (cited below), Koch found that women are twice as likely as men to want to have tattoos removed—presumably in an effort to dissociate from their past. However, the addition of a tattoo could also serve the same desire to dissociate from their pasts. Hmmm. Perhaps you will see a full blog post on that article after all!

You know you’ve been wondering about the evidentiary impact of emoticons and emojis

Well, wonder no more because Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP covers the literature on the issue and even shows us the difference between emoticons (the traditional made from keyboard symbols) and emojis (the modern version of the emoticon—😂—this  one is ‘tears of joy’ which apparently has appeared in  nearly 1B tweets in the last two years). This is an entertaining and amusing read since they review litigation in which emoticons and emojis prominently feature.

Koch, J., Roberts, A., Armstrong, M., & Owen, D. (2015). Tattoos, gender, and well-being among American college students. The Social Science Journal DOI: 10.1016/j.soscij.2015.08.001


Comments Off on Ponytails, earworms, tattoos on college women,  and emoticons

Banishing the earworm

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
posted by Rita Handrich

EarwormRemember the earworm? It’s “a song or melody that keeps repeating in one’s mind”. Most commonly referenced in everyday situations as “I can’t make this song stop playing over and over again in my head!” In 2010, we wrote about a case whose narrative was reduced to a country-western song. Fortunately for us, we worked defense on that case and so our task was to subtly turn up the volume. But, we guessed (in that blog post) at some ways to banish the earworm if we had been on the plaintiff side. And now, we have new research on earworm eradication!

First, the researchers identify some common beliefs about song earworms. As a public service we pass them along so that they will be stuck in your head.

Annoying music is not really more likely to turn into an earworm. More often earworms are songs you actually like and hearing them can result in an earworm occurring.

Particular music characteristics such as simplicity or repetitiveness does not increase chances of the song becoming an earworm. If this were the case, we would often share earworms (and end up with the same songs stuck in our heads). Song earworms tend to be highly individual and not universally shared.

Here is the truth (at least for now) on what causes earworms in the form of a repetitious song:

Musical training does make you more prone to earworms as does being someone for whom music is important or someone who listens to music throughout the day. People in these groups are exposed to more music and thus have a higher chance of song earworms.

Earworms tend to be snippets of a song and not the entire song. Some researchers say it is possible the snippet of song remains ‘stuck’ in your brain due to a lack of completion which your brain returns to in an attempt to close that loop. If that is accurate, it’s possible that listening to the entire song can clear the earworm for you. And it’s possible that listening to the entire song will only make it worse since, according to this research, hearing a song can trigger earworm recurrence!

Earworms tend to recur when you experience a song snippet in your head and then engage in an either engrossing or mindless task. So avoid sudoku and daily activities that don’t demand much of you when you have recently had an earworm. (This could be a research-based rationale for why you should not empty the dishwasher.)

It’s a fun study. But unfortunately this study has nothing to add to our recommendations of how to mitigate the earworm in your case narrative gone sudsy, country-western song. For that, you’ll just have to visit our original post on what to do, when and if that earworm happens. Almost every case story contains an “earworm fact” or two when told compellingly. The challenge is to know how to amplify, diminish, or avoid the musical association.

Hyman, I., Burland, N., Duskin, H., Cook, M., Roy, C., McGrath, J., & Roundhill, R. (2012). Going Gaga: Investigating, Creating, and Manipulating the Song Stuck in My Head. Applied Cognitive Psychology DOI: 10.1002/acp.2897



Here’s another this-and-that post documenting things you need to know but that we don’t want to do a whole post about–so you get a plethora of factoids that will entertain your family and entrance your co-workers. Or at least be sort of fun to read and (probably) as awe-inspiring as the stack of vegetables and fruit illustrating the post.

Just don’t do it: How bringing up politics ruins your workplace

You probably know this already since many people say their Facebook feeds are a toxic combination of politics and rage these days. So. Bringing up politics up at work is now officially a bad thing. We used to think that being exposed to varying ideas in the workplace broadened all our world views. But that was before this round of extreme political polarization and the strong feelings on both sides of the aisle. Here’s a survey from Wakefield Research and workplace consultants Betterworks that gives factual information on workplace conflict surrounding politics. While reading it won’t make you feel that much better, it will certainly tell you that your own workplace is not the only one so negatively charged (and give you some tips on dealing with employees obsessively checking social media).

Can you trick narcissists into actually feeling empathy?

Recent research says yes you can—simply by reminding them to take the other person’s perspective. In short, the researchers found that those high in narcissistic traits (but not meeting diagnostic criteria) were able to demonstrate perspective-taking but they had to be directed to do so. We have talked about this when it comes to implicit racial biases so the idea is not entirely new, but it is an interesting idea that narcissists would not even consider basic empathy (i.e., imagining the other person’s perspective) unless prompted to do so.

More on beards—this time in healthcare

Just like tattoos, we have covered beards a lot here and addressed issues related to beards like women’s preferences in long-term relationships, bearded men and sexism, extra punitiveness towards bearded men, bearded experts in East Texas, genetics and your bushy beard, and even identifying the elusive lumbersexual on your jury. There is so much debate and research about beards that we’ll give you that link again so you can catch up on all things beard in this blog. Mostly the only question never adequately addressed is “what is it about beards that mobilizes any sort of attitude at all?”

This particular controversy on beards has apparently been going on since the 1800s so it is a bit surprising we don’t have something on it already. Doctors. Should they have beards? Is it a hygiene issue? Should they be able to look older, wiser, and more knowledgeable than they may be chronologically by growing a beard? Scientific American blogs has an entry telling us (among other things) that “beards retained microorganisms and toxin despite washing with soap and water” and that bearded surgeons should “avoid wiggling the face mask” to prevent bacterial contamination during surgery. There are multiple other studies cited that come down on both sides of this hygiene debate. You will want to know about this one. Even though your life won’t be improved by the debate.

Earworms—they’re back!!!!

We’ve also blogged about earworms a number of times (hey—it’s an important topic!) Buzzfeed recently published a list of pop songs likely to get stuck in your head—which is what an earworm is—by definition. As a public service, here is one of our top choices for “most likely to give you an earworm” pop song.

And now that you have that list of songs to give you earworms—here’s recent research giving you a “cure” for the earworm. Chew some gum! The researchers say when you are chewing gum your brain is unable to form the associations essential for the creation and maintenance of an ear worm. Okay then. We can’t say if it’s true (and apparently it doesn’t work for everyone) but go buy some gum (it’s for science).

Throwing out advances in knowledge (is that what we want to do?)

We have lived in The Age of Reason (aka the Enlightenment) since emerging from the darkness and magical thinking of the Middle Ages. A new opinion piece from Daniel J. Levitin, an educator (published at the Daily Beast) asks us to consider whether we really want to live in an era where we avoid rational thought. It’s a brief and well-written piece that will give you talking points on why a return to the Middle Ages or even the 1950s is not a goal for which we should strive.

Beaman, CP, Powell, K, & Rapley, E (2015). Want to block eagworms from conscious awareness? Buy gum! The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,, 68 (6), 1049-1057.

Hepper EG, Hart CM, & Sedikides C (2014). Moving Narcissus: Can Narcissists Be Empathic? Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 40 (9), 1079-1091 PMID: 24878930


Comments Off on Don’t do this at work, beards, ear worms, narcissists, &  discarding advances in knowledge

winking emoticon[Spoiler alert: Don’t do it. And especially don’t do it on a group message. But if you must, make it clear you are kidding.]

We have covered the use of emoticons in legal settings before, but here’s a research article looking at what helps the receiver understand the context in which your written comments are intended. Are you serious, or are you joking? Were you playing it straight, or going for a laugh? Confusion arises in texts and email communication where you cannot use tone of voice or a grin to ensure your recipient understands the intent of your message. We’ve all heard of this sort of miscommunication and many of us had it happen to us.

Science to the rescue. You may never be misunderstood again.

UK researchers wanted to see if various emoticons and punctuation would result in a clearer understanding of the writer’s intent. They did two separate experiments which involved almost 200 undergraduate students. In experiment one, the students read text-based messages containing either praise or criticism with context made very clear. In the second experiment, no context was explicitly described so that the message could be taken either literally or sarcastically.

While in this post we are using “modern” versions of the emoticons which are quite prevalent (and likely at the bottom of your ‘edit menu’ in many applications), these researchers used the aging punctuation marks in their messages. So they offered a “wink face” ;-), or a “tongue face” :-P, or an ellipsis (…) versus exclamation mark (!) as devices to test for understanding of sarcasm.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when the context was explicit and unambiguous (e.g., “Tanya had noticed that Jenny had put on a great deal of weight” and so Tanya said to Jenny, “I see the diet is going well”)—neither emoticons nor punctuation (e.g., ellipsis, exclamation point or emoticon) helped the research participants see it as more sarcastic—the sarcasm seemed obvious to them.

On the other hand, when the situation was less explicit and more ambiguous, the winking face emoticon was most effective in helping participants see the message as sarcastic. That is, the participants were more likely to take a message as sarcasm rather than literally if it was accompanied by the winking face emoticon.

In short, if you want to be certain your written and potentially ambiguous message is interpreted as communicating sarcasm, use a winking emoticon. And thus reduce your risk for potential misunderstanding. 😜

Filik R, Țurcan A, Thompson D, Harvey N, Davies H, & Turner A (2015). Sarcasm and emoticons: Comprehension and emotional impact. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-17 PMID: 26513274


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random little tidbits 0610Every once in a while we find tidbits that we don’t wish to devote an entire post to but that we think worth sharing. Think of these as party trivia or sound bytes to help you seem intriguing and perhaps more well-read.

The importance of moving:

You’ve seen that infographic on how sitting is killing us all? New research says there are simple ways to counteract that deadly habit. To make it even better—it’s free and something everyone can do. Move. The research itself focuses on walking and you may prefer running, rowing, biking, yoga, or some other activity that suits your fitness and ability level. The formula is simple: Two minutes of walking offsets health harms of an hour sitting. Just standing alone doesn’t do it. You have to move.

You are unique. Your parents are the ones who are so predictable:

Privacy on the internet is really not a thing. But a couple of websites purporting to be able to guess your age (here and here) could make you think you are embarrassingly predictable. They ask for your given name and then tell you how old you are—it’s mortifying. But. We are here to support you. You, yourself are a truly unique and spontaneous creature. Your parents, though? Totally predictable. There are other websites that will (given your responses to a few questions) guess your educational level, your gender (this one pegged me incorrectly), and pretty much anything else you plug into an internet search (e.g., guess my __________). It’s all based on statistical algorithms but still often a bit unnerving.

Online harassment in the form of menacing behavior:

There is an online debate as to whether online harassment truly exists. Of course it exists. According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, up to 40% of adult internet users have experienced some form of harassment online (mostly involving name-calling or attempts to embarrass someone). Pew offers a nicely designed graphic looking at how men and women experience differing varieties of online harassment. Women are more distressed than men by online harassment. This is a good data-based evidence of the existence of online harassment. Although, one might consider that the person who says online harassment does not exist is likely not worthy of the effort expended to educate.

online harassment

Is it worth your time to publish in academic journals?

It may seem an odd question given the imperative of publication in peer-reviewed journals if you want to achieve tenure at nearly all universities. The answer to the question appears to be “it depends on whether your goal is sharing the knowledge”. Recently, an opinion column on this issue saying only about 10 people ever actually read papers in academic journals. And just last year, a more comprehensive paper argued that sometimes only the editor(s) and the actual author(s) of the paper actually read articles published in academic journals. That’s a pretty sad (and lonely) number of people who are not racing to the library to read your hard work. We know a place (The Jury Expert) that does a whole lot better than that at seeing your hard work to print and getting it read. You might want to think about doing two versions of your work: one for tenure and one for people to actually read and learn from your efforts.

Banish the ear worm!

Finally! In January of 2013 we wrote about some ways to get rid of an ear worm (that thing that happens when a song gets stuck in your head). The recommendations for removing the pesky ear worm just didn’t seem that credible but it was the findings from the research study so we went ahead with it. Now, science marches on and finally, two years and some months later, we have a new study saying you don’t have to not play Sudoku or take on mentally challenging tasks. Instead of depriving yourself, buy some gum and chew it. As the abstract explains so very clearly: “The data support a link between articulatory motor programming and the appearance in consciousness of both voluntary and unwanted musical recollections.”. (All that means is you now have a research-backed reason for chewing gum: It helps remove ear worms.)

Beaman, C., Powell, K., & Rapley, E. (2015). Want to block earworms from conscious awareness? B(u)y gum! The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 68 (6), 1049-1057 DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2015.1034142


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