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Archive for the ‘Self Presentation’ Category

Pitfalls of the prevaricator 

Friday, April 10, 2015
posted by Rita Handrich

prevaricatorTypically we write about newly published research here at The Jury Room. But one of our favorite blogs (Mind Hacks) wrote about this article and then we went to read the actual article and discovered it was authored by some of our favorite researchers. To top it all off, it’s about liars and deception. So today, you are getting a study published in 2011—still in this decade, and still worth knowing about.

In short, the article describes experiments where participants were given IQ and general knowledge tests but some of them received question sheets with the answers “accidentally” printed on the bottom of the sheet. You will not likely be shocked to learn that the group that had the answers achieved higher average scores than those who did not have the answers at the bottom of their sheets. So the researchers passed out a second test sheet and asked participants to look at it and predict how they would perform on the follow-up test. Would they do about the same, better, or worse? This time, no answers were “accidentally” printed on the bottom of the sheet. Did those who had the answers to the first sheet acknowledge they would do more poorly on the second  test? No. They thought they would do even better.

The researchers say this is indicative of self-deception on the part of the cheaters. In other words, they tricked themselves into thinking they were smarter than they actually were. Their predicted and actual test scores (illustrated in this figure taken from the article itself) shows that tendency for self-deception clearly. (The control group did not have the answers and the answers group did.) The Mind Hacks post has a terrific summary of the actual experiments, so take a look at that and we’ll talk about the rest of the work.

prevaricator post insertSelf-deception is a special category of lying. People who live this way—are addicted to the thrill of deception so much that they forget that they made it up in the first place— are prone to being caught in their lies. Because facts and history usually find their way to the surface, it is subject to sudden discovery, like any other effort to live a secret life.

We all hate to be deceived—but what about when we deceive ourselves as well as others? We just blogged about a study purporting that Republicans self-deceive more than Democrats but our guess is self-deception is something we all share to one degree or another. The authors cite examples from 2005 of those who have been caught lying and seemed to have come to believe their own lies. And there are certainly ample current day examples of what is described as self-deception in the news. Brian Williams called it “conflating” in his public apology recently.

Essentially, this research shows that liars think they are smarter than they actually are and ultimately, they are exposed. The researchers put it this way, “self-deception that occurs at the level of the individual can be intensified in a social context, when the rewards that accrue as the result of self-deception are reinforced by others”. The researchers go on to say that while we all may engage in questionable behavior sometimes, for the liar who feels good about his or her lying, the questionable behavior results in a reward of feeling superior, confident, sneaky, or otherwise being in a one-up position.

The downside, unbeknownst to the successful prevaricator, is that they come to see themselves as trickier and smarter than they truly are and thus place themselves in situations where they are ultimately caught and often, publicly shamed.

It’s a feel-good finding for anyone who has ever been lied to—which is surely all of us. While the liar “may get away with it this time”, ultimately, “character will out”. It is heartening to see these top academic researchers reassure us that self-deception may bring some benefit in the short-term but it is ultimately costly to the liar and their deception will eventually become known.

Chance Z, Norton MI, Gino F, & Ariely D (2011). Temporal view of the costs and benefits of self-deception. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108 Suppl 3, 15655-9 PMID: 21383150


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Hipsters, SnapChat, Beer Goggles, and Pain 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene

hipsterHere is another post detailing things you simply must be aware of but to which we don’t wish to devote an entire post. These might be seen as water-cooler topics or simply things that make you a much more interesting conversationalist. Or something like that.

Why hipsters all look the same (it’s just math)

You know you’ve wondered about this and now (thanks to us) you have the answer. The hipster tries to be a unique individual, but, over time, we (the non-hipsters) begin to emulate their dress and it ends up in collective conformity, says Paul Smaldino in the journal Royal Society Open Science. You can read about this in the actual math-heavy article, or you can read a summary over at Discovery Blogs where they conclude with this life-altering statement:

“Your self-expression may make you look like everyone else, but it could also throw a fork in the cultural evolution of the entire world.”

Drink alcohol and be at your most attractive

You know about the idea of beer goggles, wherein an adequate level of alcohol consumption make others look more attractive (at closing time). But did you know that drinking also makes you look more attractive to the sober observer? At least if you don’t over-do it! Researchers had sober people look at two photographs of the same person—before and after consuming a “low dose of alcohol”—and indicate which photograph the sober person thought most attractive. Two “small glasses of wine” made people seem more attractive but four of those same “small glasses of wine” made them less attractive. The authors speculate about this finding. “In addition to perceiving others as more attractive, a mildly intoxicated alcohol consumer may also be perceived as more attractive by others. This, in turn, may play a role in the relationship between alcohol consumption and risky behavior.” Using alcohol to enhance charm appears to be a slippery slope.

Gender, pain and internet commenters

Here’s another interesting experiment written up at The Crux blog. To the long-standing debate over whether males or females have higher pain tolerance, here is an answer: it is men. At least according to this (male) writer. He does comment that the heightened sense of pain women experience is made worse by bias: “According to research, nurses devote more time to treating a male patients’ pain. It’s also why, when they wake up from surgery, women get fewer pain killers, weight for weight, than men”. There are other interesting factoids in the post and the comments from readers are an interesting read. Off-topic comments by trolls are just not a thing at this blog’s site!

Jealousy? Facebook yes, but Snapchat? More!

As the younger generation departs Facebook for Instagram, Pinterest, and the “self-destructing app Snapchat”, it should not come as a surprise that academic researchers are not far behind. We’ve all seen the studies of Facebook and divorce or relationship breakups—but Snapchat may end up being even more powerful than Facebook in this regard. Researchers examined whether Snapchat or Facebook use elicited more jealousy and found that Snapchat did since “Snapchat was used more for flirting and finding new love interests”. This is, according to the authors, the first direct comparison of Snapchat and Facebook. There will likely be more to come.

Utz S, Muscanell N, & Khalid C (2015). Snapchat elicits more jealousy than facebook: a comparison of snapchat and facebook use. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking, 18 (3), 141-6 PMID: 25667961

Smaldino, P., & Epstein, J. (2015). Social conformity despite individual preferences for distinctiveness Royal Society Open Science, 2 (3), 140437-140437 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.140437


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happy conservativeA number of studies have been published that report conservatives are happier than liberals. These studies have historically resulted in “comment wars” between readers who are either conservative and support the findings or readers who are liberal and do not support the findings. Suffice to say that ultimately, in the comment sections, neither group appears to be very happy.

A new study is now out that says the old studies are based on self-reports of conservatives and liberals and thus are biased by the conservatives’ “self-enhancing style of self-report”. (Since the authors are mostly from California, they might be liberals. Another blog post on this article elicits the sorts of comments typically seen from both liberals and conservatives.) But, back to this article.

Researchers examined self-reports of happiness among participants at the website (a research site that allows people to complete questionnaires for researchers). They found (in a sample of 1,433) that the politically conservative participants reported they were higher in “subjective well-being” and their self-reports of higher levels of happiness (relative to liberals) were consistent with other self-reports published in the past.

However, the researchers also found conservatives to have higher scores on “self-deceptive enhancement” than did liberals. In other words, conservatives described themselves as happier than they were. After some sophisticated statistical analysis, the researchers conclude that the difference in “subjective well-being” reports of liberals and conservatives was “fully attributable to the conservatives stronger tendency to engage in self-enhancement”.

In other words, conservatives are not really happier. They just say they are happier. The researchers see this as the conservatives’ tendency to self-deceive. (Liberals everywhere are likely jumping up and down in jubilation.)

The authors go on to say that the use of self-reports in scientific research does not take into account the difference between “genuine and superficial presentations of happiness”. So once they had statistically removed the difference in happiness between liberals and conservatives, the researchers went on to examine “more objective” public data sources.

While this sounds like a reasonable follow-up, the “more objective” sources the researchers examined were social media sites (Twitter and LinkedIn) and the Congressional Record. On Twitter, they analyzed tweets of those following the Democratic Party and those following the Republican Party.

“Republican Party subscribers’ updates were significantly less likely to contain positive emotion words, joviality words, and happy emoticons, and significantly more likely to contain negative emotion words.”

They also looked at profile photographs on LinkedIn. (Yes. They looked at profile photos on a networking website.) The photos were looked at objectively [?] and analyzed “to distinguish between genuine and superficial expressions of happiness”.

“Smiles were marginally more intense among employees at ideologically liberal organizations. Individuals at conservative organizations expressed significantly less intense facial action in the muscles around the eyes that indicate genuine feelings of happiness.”

And finally, they went to the Congressional Record and examined 18 years worth of Democrat and Republican comments taken down in the Congressional Record.

“Democrats used a “higher ratio of positive to negative affect words” than their Republican counterparts.”

We think they started out well. Controlling for something like “self-deception” is clever. But then somehow, it seems they jumped the shark. Tweets and LinkedIn photos and politicians’ on-the-record comments? If anything, those sources primarily reflect what the author thinks is effective marketing strategy. And who knows why people put things into the Congressional Record? Sometimes it is debate, sometimes it is canned, but it is all calculated to please supporters and get re-elected. These researchers would have done better to stop while they were ahead, since the follow-up “proof in objective data” is hardly objective data. But we’ve discussed the likelihood of retaining information about headlines rather than the actual research article before. The headlines on this one proclaim that conservatives are not happier than liberals…both groups are about the same in happiness. Let’s just leave it at that.

Wojcik SP, Hovasapian A, Graham J, Motyl M, & Ditto PH (2015). Conservatives report, but liberals display, greater happiness. Science (New York, N.Y.), 347 (6227), 1243-6 PMID: 25766233


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i-am-powerfulWe have written about power poses and other strategies to help yourself feel powerful.  Be clear, though—you do not become more powerful by doing such things, but it might make you feel that way, which in itself can be communicated as confidence or authority. This post isn’t about how to make yourself feel powerful, it is about those who perceive themselves as already powerful. In short, those who see themselves as powerful draw more inspiration from themselves than they do from others. It apparently doesn’t matter if you really are powerful, only that you think you are powerful. The authors begin by quoting from Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar acceptance speech in 2014.

McConaughey “recalled someone asking him ‘Who’s your hero?’. He replied: “You know who it is? It’s me in ten years”. [snip] Apparently, Matthew McConaughey derives inspiration from his future self.”

So the researchers took a look at how this happens. How do you draw inspiration from yourself rather than drawing inspiration from the example of others. They give the example of the sort of  person we have all encountered, who goes on and on about their accomplishments and experiences. The dynamic is not only one exemplified by famous actors.

The researchers planned four separate studies with 555 participants across all four studies (3 studies performed with Dutch undergraduates and one with undergraduates at UC Berkeley). In the first three experiments all participants completed a measure of their personal sense of power, and other tasks (including writing tasks and various efforts to measure how the participants were “inspired”). In the final study, the researchers “primed” the participants to experience either a high or low sense of personal power. What the researchers wanted to know was if the participants who felt “powerful” would report they drew more inspiration from themselves than they drew from others.

Their findings are consistent with Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar speech (even in the fourth study where participants were “primed” for high power sense of self rather than just reporting it was the way they saw themselves).

The powerful are more inspired by their own experiences than are those that do not see themselves as powerful.

And the powerful are more inspired by their own experiences than by the experiences of others.

The authors conclude that the reason powerful people talk more, are poor perspective takers, are less prone to consider the opinions of others, and less likely to take expert advice (all findings in previous research) is because “the powerful prefer to entertain their own rather than other people’s experiences and ideas, because they are more inspired by their own internal states than by those of others”. The authors close by returning to consider the case of Matthew McConaughey. They say,

“Inspiration is always within reach for their powerful—entertaining their own uplifting experiences is enough to spark the flame.”

It brings to mind how important it is to look at how a persuasive person with high socio-economic status and confidence  (a “powerful” person) may function in jury deliberations. If you want to avoid having a jury dominated by this person, take the time to teach all jurors “how to deliberate” so if they feel run over by jurors who feel empowered to drive the verdict—others have ammunition with which to disrupt that intention.

Van Kleef, G., Oveis, C., Homan, A., van der Lowe, I., & Keltner, D. (2015). Power Gets You High: The Powerful Are More Inspired by Themselves Than by Others Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550614566857


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williams and stewartI grew up listening to the television news with (Uncle) Walter Cronkite and my dad every night. I had a morbid fascination with his recitation of the body count of soldiers in the Vietnam War and silently said his sign-off line along with him: “And that’s the way it was…” and then a repeat of the day’s date. Walter Cronkite reported the news. He had credibility and gravitas. He was a cultural icon in a more innocent time.

Flash forward to the present and I have not watched the evening news with any regularity for at least two decades. There is simply no need with breaking news alerts and NPR while I am on the road. So when the Brian Williams “misremembers” memes began, after his story of being shot down in a helicopter was refuted, I was saddened, but neither surprised nor particularly interested. But the buzz turned to scandal and scandal  turned to NBC news dropping Mr. Williams name from the show title. Conservative websites published “32 Lies” that Williams told regularly about his experiences. He was mocked mercilessly on the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special. Time Magazine wondered if Williams was a narcissistic liar or the victim of false memories.

Brian Williams is likely not the only well-known news personality to embellish his experiences and even to tell stories easily proven to be untrue. Yet, he seems to have believed nothing bad would happen to him even if he continued to exhibit very poor judgment. Just like Anthony Wiener. Eliot Spitzer. Tiger Woods. Even David Letterman (on whose show Brian Williams told falsehoods to a national audience). And so on. David Letterman appears to have not forgotten the glare of the spotlight when his own deceptions were made public. He combined his support of Brian Williams with a Top 10 List of Things Brian Williams Has Said That May or May Not Be True on a recent show and said he believes this will “blow over” and it will all “be fine”.

But how can we trust the mass media when a highly respected and well-liked spokesperson for the media has fallen so publicly and so hard? Well, says Gallup Polls, we don’t trust the mass media anyway and while Brian Williams’ actions may reinforce that distrust, he certainly has not created the distrust of the mass media. One Gallup chart shows clearly that TV news now enjoys less confidence from the American people than any institution in the country—other than Congress! A second chart shows how dramatically our trust in television news has been declining for the past two decades.

brian williams insert 2

So Brian Williams’ “misremembering” and offering a glib apology that only made things worse will hardly sink all of television news. That ship appears to have sailed, largely propelled by the cable news industry. In some ways, I miss the days when Uncle Walter intoned and I believed. But I was a kid then and the news cycle is very different. Faster. Constant. Now I have more information about the world from a multitude of sources. I understand how various media outlets slant their reporting to meet political ideology demands, the demographics of their desired audience, or biased but real demands of their owners. Frankly, as I have considered all this attention for Brian Williams’ falsehoods, it has been hard for me to think anything but, “what will we do without Jon Stewart?”. That, to me, is the larger loss as I contemplate my own news consumption habits. And the answer may turn out to be John Oliver.


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