Friday, January 9, 2009

Happiness is Contagious

Happiness is Contagious!

Our social brains are {happily} vulnerable to the emotional happiness of those around us. Both Harvard and University of California medical researchers working together have just reported (December, 2008) that happiness spreads like a virus through social networks (friends, family, co-workers, teammates, neighbors).

Your happiness can influence (and IS, in turn, influenced by) the happiness of the folks you hang out with. But wait, there’s more! The study showed that your perceptions of being happy not only increase with the happiness of your friends, but also with the friends’ friends’ friends. People you do not know and have never met. A big scholarly “Wow!”

If you love statistics, they’ve got plenty [though the concept is intriguing without numbers]:

• Someone close to you who is happy increases your chances of then becoming happy by 15%.
• Second-degree social contacts (friend of a friend, husband of a friend, co-worker of a friend, for example) still increases your chances of then becoming happy by 10%.
• Even third-degree social contacts who are happy (friend of a friend of a friend) increase your chances of becoming happy by 6%.

We’ve always known that people increase their chances of being somewhat happy by HAVING friends. Now we know that we can really bolster our happiness by choosing to associate with HAPPIER people. Further, we know that our own states of happiness are {happily, again} influencing the friends of our friends . . .

What about sadness—is it contagious, too? Fortunately, not so much. Yes, someone in our own social network can bum us out with their gloom, but it seems to spread less rapidly and less effectively.

Check out the study online in the British Medical Journal, which analyzed happiness scales from 1983 to 2003 of thousands of participants, who were asked to name family members, close friends, co-workers, and neighbors. As a result, more than 50,000 social ties were analyzed to examine the spread of happiness through groups.

“Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: Longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham heart study,” James H. Fowler and Nicolas A. Christakis, BMJ, December, 2008.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Your Brain on Passionate Love


Yesterday, new insights from brain scans and the study of romantic love were released that demonstrate the powerful way our brains respond to love: “The Science Behind Love,” January 4, 2009. Previous research seemed to support the conclusion that passionate love does not last over a lifetime. New results from the brain scans of couples who report themselves still in love decades later seem to support the conclusion that for some of us, true love indures!

Excerpts from the article:

Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York have shown that the traditionally sorry path of sexual love - a downward spiral from lust to indifference over the space of a decade - is not an iron rule. Scanning the brains of people who have been together for 20 years, the scientists found that about one in 10 couples still display elements of “limerence”, the psychologists’ term for the obsessive behaviour of new lovers. They enjoy “intensive companionship and sexual liveliness” but without the anxieties and tensions of early love. They are generous, calm and deeply attached. The scientists call them swans (swans mate for life). This is good news for the 10%, if not for the remaining 90% gripped by marital fatigue. But Arthur Aron, leader of the researchers, says the majority can learn from the minority. One clue he has found is that the swans share experiences and avoid stress. This may be a symptom rather than a cause, but Aron, 64, and his wife are copying the swans anyway in the hope of enjoying a little limerence themselves.

If we cannot all be swans, the other good news is that Aron’s team has established a biological basis for romance. Science has long dismissed the idea of love as “culturally determined”, existing only in societies that believe in it. But Aron and co have found identical brain patterns in lovers from New York to Beijing. Unromantically, they say love is born in the brain’s reward-seeking circuitry, not the heart, but we are no worse off for that. Love matters. It is not confined to Christmas repeats of Love Actually and other daft (but really not so wide of the mark) Richard Curtis films. The absence of love from generation to generation led to the death of Baby P and other outbreaks of depravity that scarred 2008. As we face the tempests of 2009, love must remain the “ever-fixed mark” that is never shaken.

One of the top researchers on the brain and love is Dr. Helen Fisher. Great link:
“Scanning Brain for Insights on Love, Romance and Rejection: Early Results”

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Social-Thinking, Part I


Be not swept off your feet by the vividness of the impression,
but say, “Impression, wait for me a little.
Let me see what you are and what you represent.”

Social cognition scholars study how people make sense of other people (as well as how they make sense of themselves). Social cognition tells us about our social thinking.

Yardstick #1. Real world events I already know about. One of the ways a person thinks about other people is by comparing them to real world events. Things a person has experienced may become the yardstick by which deception and exaggeration, for example.

Yardstick #2. What I think I would have done. A second way a person approaches thinking about the behaviors of the people is by comparing them to their imagination of how they think they would have behaved under the circumstances (neglecting to account for the fact that based on their personality and life choices, they likely would never be in that situation!). The framing yardstick for judging the behavior of another person is always “I.”

Attributions: What did she DO that?

Why wasn’t I invited? Why did he say it THAT way? Why did he get fired? Why did she give me that gift? Why didn’t he call me? Everyday life presents events to persons that require explanation—about causes. Persons are asked to identify what factors gave rise to what outcomes. Various theories of attribution deal with how people use information to arrive at causal explanations for events, examining what information people use and what information they ignore.

The Curious Case of the Fundamental Attribution Error

When a person (social perceiver) is WRONG about what caused something to happen, theat person has made a normal everyday causal attribution error. One of the primary sources for error in judging what caused a social behavior is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error.

The nature of social perception is that people judge the behaviors of other people differently than they judge their own behaviors—even when the acts are the same! The Fundamental Attribution Error explains that it is normal for a person to assume, for example, that their own mistakes are due to situational factors—but the mistakes of other people are caused by the kind of people they are.

I’m having a bad day [situation] v. You are rude [personality].
I was graded unfairly v. She is a lazy student.
I was given too many jobs to do at the same time v. He is a disorganized person.
I was provoked v. You are aggressive.
I had a headache when you asked me v. He is such a hostile person!

My behaviors are driven by temporary situations outside my personality, while the same behaviors from others seem to be driven (to me) by on-going personality flaws.

When thinking this way about other people, a person is more like a personality psychologist, who decides that an act (or failure to act) stemmed from internal dispositions or traits. The diagnosis is quick—and it sticks.

The person is not ALWAYS wrong, of course—people do sometimes behave in certain ways because of the kind of people they are. However, a person is likely to discount the more pervasive influence of situations on another person’s behavior, even when a situational constraint is obvious. This attributional error is aggravated by the fact that situational influences (both historical and immediate) are frequently invisible, while the individual doing the act is perceptually prominent. The assault is more prominent than what preceded the assault. The crash is more prominent than the physical situation that framed it.

This me-other attributional error helps us understand how we all make sense of other people differently than we make sense of our own mistakes and behaviors. Researchers have consistently found that when people are instructed to see their own behaviors as “outside observers” or to see the behaviors of others “with myself in that role” the effect is reversed. People who switch roles become more empathetic about the behaviors of someone they were observing, applying more situational reasoning in their explanations for behaviors.

[Imaginatively insert cartoon here of woman talking to her cat (who has a struggling rodent in its paws): “Now how would you feel if the mouse did that to you?”]

Friday, January 2, 2009


My research into color-perception has culminated in some practical suggestions for trial lawyers, but it applies to those of us in retail, marketing, or, in fact, folks who want to understand more about how we all see "differently:"

Red is the first color to disappear from a child’s crayon box and the last color emitted by a dying star. It is the color of fire, blood, roses for lovers, and the ruby slippers that returned Dorothy to the warmth of home.
Recio (1996) Red

“Sans le Rouge rien ne va plus.”
Advertising slogan with a strong visual subtext, appearing under a picture in which Little Red Riding Hood’s scarlet cloak has been bleached white.
(The wolf walks away, disinterested.)

Excerpted from the book, PRACTICAL JURY DYNAMICS2 (2007)

The Influence of Color Perception.

While color affects every aspect of our lives today, it is one of the most under-attended to factors in trial. Color surrounds us, clothes us, affects our food choices, and warns us of dangers. We rely upon color at traffic intersections, we use color to tell us which substances are poison, and we buy products based upon the color-appeal they have, both consciously and unconsciously. Since color is a persuasion tool, but its perception is biologically based, it is worth considering as we explore a juror’s brain.

Notwithstanding the vital communication role of color, lawyers generally have only a vague awareness of what color is, how it is perceived, and what the physiological and socialized reactions of a juror are to colors in the courtroom. What an attorney, a witness, or a client wears will include choices of color; charts, tables, and power point presentations are full of color choices; information about a juror’s mood and culture can be embedded in the colors the juror chooses. In a practical sense, what is important to know about color?

• Color is actually an illusion, since the world is completely colorless. Color is a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum band that connects all things, each color only differing by vibrations and wave length. The appearance of color is the result of an interactive visual process and exists only in the observer’s brain. The sensation of color depends solely on the brain’s interpretation of signals coming from the eyes.
• Color experience and color interpretation of each person are light dependent. Lighting conditions will change the colors witnesses see and remember. Color constantly changes because light constantly changes (which might explain witness confusions about color).
• Jurors, like all of us, are color conditioned. This is a subtle effect, but it produces color biases, based upon what we were taught as children and within our original cultures. A strong color-bias is related to food; add a little blue food coloring to potatoes and it becomes inedible to most people, while adding red coloring to tofu produces the opposite effect. One of the strongest Western biases is the consistent use of white to design good and black to designate evil. (Courtroom clothing choices ought to take into account cultural and regional color taboos and biases, because they may influence jurors subliminally.)
• Color not only affects our eyes but has the ability to penetrate our bodies, with a marked effect on biological systems. Certain light waves are needed for Vitamin D (ultraviolet radiation) and some people are photosensitive, breaking out in rashes in sunlight. In one intriguing experiment, men were found to loose physical strength when looking at the color pink. In one famous color experiment, the commander of the Santa Clara County Jail in San Jose, California painted one of the holding cells pink. Detainees (15 to a cell) were described as humorous and restful in the pink room. The study was much publicized until someone was inadvertently left in a pink cell for four hours and went berserk (consistent, however, with animal studies). It turns out that the soothing pink effect only lasts about thirty minutes (enough, perhaps to calm young children who need time outs).
• Color has persuasive power and helps sell products. Color is considered part of the message in advertising and advertisers have invested heavily in color studies. Red symbolizes eroticism or power, lilac is used to portray sentimental sensuality, and pink to express tenderness and motherly love. When the product marketer wants people to feel important or prestigious, violet, golden yellow, or black may be used. Since consumers are exposed to thousands of advertising messages, for a product to be noticed, color is essential. Orange and red draw the most attention. Colors seem to trick a consumer’s perceptions. When consumers were asked to judge the quality of coffee in four colors of containers (red, blue, brown, yellow), 75% reported the coffee from the brown container was too strong, 85% found the coffee in the red container to be rich and full-bodied, and the coffee in the blue container was ranked too mild, with the yellow too weak. All containers held the same coffee, so this is a robust finding. When women were asked to test identical face creams, they consistently ranked the pink cream milder and kinder to sensitive skins, as well as more efficient than the white cream. One of the most startling studies pre-tested laundry detergent packages. The same detergent, but different colored packages: women ranked the yellow package as too strong (claiming it even destroyed some clothing), the blue package not strong enough to get things clean, but the third box, blue and yellow, was considered marvelous (hence, the number of laundry detergents using these colors). Yellow signified strength for customers and blue gentleness; together, they were just right.
• Color can enhance the perceived characteristics of a product or object. It is a well-known marketing fact that people buy psychological and social satisfaction, rather than products. We have a lot to learn from these findings. Avoiding triggering unwanted negative reactions may be the primary lesson. We can accomplish this by reading more and paying attention.
• People have idiosyncratic emotional memories associated with some colors, which they are usually aware of and can describe.
• In 1995 in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court deemed color such a potent brand identifier that a particular shade alone could serve as a legally defensible trademark.

A summary of findings on general color associations in mainstream United States follows, to encourage reading more rather than end the search, since there are shading and hue differences that are important:

Red Strength, vivacity, virility, dynamism, warmth, fortifying. Associated with blood and fire, love and courage, lust, murder, rage, and joy. A significant color in every culture.

Orange Radiation, communication, action, generosity, fire burning in the hearth. Often the color that is loved or hated.

Yellow Most luminous of all colors, first noticed, loudest, brightest. So readily seen that yellow cars are involved in fewer accidents than cars of any other color.

Green Growth, hope, quiet color with a sunny character. Negatively associated with queasiness and poisoning; extraterrestrials are often portrayed as green, so it is connected with supernatural. When asked to create something creepy, children select green or purple.

Blue Relaxation, most favored color in Western culture, inner spiritual life, dreamlike quality. Brings in sky and sea, therefore infinity, serenity. Blue ribbons are first place winners. The favorite color of American men.

Violet Meditative, mystical, mysterious, dignity. Sensuality, decadence, sorrow. The shortest wavelength of the spectrum with the highest energy level.

Gray Symbolic of indecision and inertia, associated with monotony and depression.

White Lightness, truce, healing, coolness, moonlight, medical profession, cleanliness. The best selling paint.

The colors a person chooses to wear are probably the product of two things: color conditioning and self-image. The colors jurors wear can give you a lot of information about them, if you consider more than one court day. We are socialized to believe we look better in certain colors and that we should not wear others. The variety of colors a juror does (or does not) wear, the comparison of one juror’s colors with those of the other jurors, or the color connections between jurors (color-cliquing, particularly women who may be socialized to notice such things) can be useful information.

Color-busyness can be distracting to jurors, as they try to make sense of both color, content, and underlying meaning of evidence. While we tend to prepare charts, for example, based on colors we like, studies indicate that the most-remembered/retained information was on yellow-black or black-yellow charts (that is, the lettering was one color, the background the other). State license plates were once frequently in these two colors as it was considered that police could read them best. (On that same note, yellow cars get more tickets than other colors.) The brain’s capacity to store or lose information is, in fact, our next consideration.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Book Thinking

January 1, I sit surrounded by books, good friends all,
so I know of no better post today than this one: