Making sense of it

Kevin Lewis

November 03, 2019

Socially transmitted placebo effects
Pin-Hao Chen et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming

Medical treatments typically occur in the context of a social interaction between healthcare providers and patients. Although decades of research have demonstrated that patients’ expectations can dramatically affect treatment outcomes, less is known about the influence of providers’ expectations. Here we systematically manipulated providers’ expectations in a simulated clinical interaction involving administration of thermal pain and found that patients’ subjective experiences of pain were directly modulated by providers’ expectations of treatment success, as reflected in the patients’ subjective ratings, skin conductance responses and facial expression behaviours. The belief manipulation also affected patients’ perceptions of providers’ empathy during the pain procedure and manifested as subtle changes in providers’ facial expression behaviours during the clinical interaction. Importantly, these findings were replicated in two more independent samples. Together, our results provide evidence of a socially transmitted placebo effect, highlighting how healthcare providers’ behaviour and cognitive mindsets can affect clinical interactions.

The impact of dynamic status changes within competitive rank-ordered hierarchies
Hemant Kakkar, Niro Sivanathan & Nathan Pettit
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming

Jockeying and competing for higher status is an inherent feature of rank-ordered hierarchies. Despite theoretically acknowledging rank changes within hierarchies, the extant literature has ignored the role of competitors’ dynamic movements on a focal actor’s resulting behavior. By using a dynamic lens to examine these movement in competitive situations, we examine how positive change in a competitor’s rank - that is, positive status momentum - affects a focal actor’s psychology and resulting performance. We consider the real-world contexts of 5.2 million observations of chess tournaments and 117,762 observations of professional tennis players and find that a focal actor’s performance in both cognitive and physical competitions is negatively impacted when facing a competitor with positive momentum. Additionally, 4 experimental studies reveal that a competitor’s positive momentum results in the focal actor’s positive projection of the competitor’s future rank, which, in turn, increases the psychological threat for the actor. Collectively, our findings advance the social hierarchy literature by helping to elucidate the manner in which rank-ordered hierarchies are negotiated and disrupted over time.

Presentation Matters: The Effect of Wrapping Neatness on Gift Attitudes
Jessica Rixom, Erick Mas & Brett Rixom
Journal of Consumer Psychology, forthcoming

While gift‐givers typically wrap gifts prior to presenting them, little is known about the effect of how the gift is wrapped on recipients’ expectations and attitudes toward the gift inside. We propose that when recipients open a gift from a friend, they like it less when the giver has wrapped it neatly as opposed to sloppily and we draw on expectation disconfirmation theory to explain the effect. Specifically, recipients set higher (lower) expectations for neatly (sloppily)‐wrapped gifts, making it harder (easier) for the gifts to meet these expectations, resulting in contrast effects that lead to less (more) positive attitudes toward the gifts once unwrapped. However, when the gift‐giver is an acquaintance, there is ambiguity in the relationship status and wrapping neatness serves as a cue about the relationship rather than the gift itself. This leads to assimilation effects where the recipient likes the gift more when neatly wrapped. We assess these effects across three studies and find that they hold for desirable, neutral, and undesirable gifts, as well as with both hypothetical and real gifts.

Putting a Negative Spin on it: Using Fidget‐spinners Can Impair Memory for a Video Lecture
Julia Soares & Benjamin Storm
Applied Cognitive Psychology, forthcoming

Fidget‐spinners have experienced a rapid rise in popularity, at least partially because they are marketed as attentional aides with the potential to enhance student learning. In the current study, college‐aged students watched educational videos while either using a fidget‐spinner or not. Using a fidget‐spinner was associated with increased reports of attentional lapses, diminished judgments of learning, and impaired performance on a memory test for the material covered in the video. The adverse effect on learning was observed regardless of whether the use of fidget‐spinners was manipulated between‐subjects (Experiment 1) or within‐subjects (Experiment 2), and was observed even when the sample and analysis were limited to participants who came into the study with neutral or positive views on the use of fidget‐spinners. These results suggest that if fidget‐spinners are beneficial for learning, such benefits are relatively limited or at least do not extend to the conditions present in the current study.

Symbolic Sequence Effects on Consumers’ Judgments of Truth for Brand Claims
Dan King & Sumitra Auschaitrakul
Journal of Consumer Psychology, forthcoming

We introduce symbolic sequence effects - the consequences of whether the sequence of the initial letters of a pair of words (e.g., a word representing a putative cause and another word representing a putative effect) conforms to the structure of symbolic sequences that are stored in the mind as overlearned natural language traces (“natural sequence”). We synthesize insights from psychophysics as well as numerical and natural language symbolic representations to demonstrate that consumers are able to unconsciously perceive the mere sequence of symbols contained in a brand claim, and that this sequence information influences judgments of truth. Across three experiments, we showed that when a brand claim is structured in a way that is consistent with the natural sequence of symbols (“A causes B” rather than “B causes A”), people experience feelings of sequential fluency, which in turn influences judgments of truth. This occurs despite the inability of participants to attribute the true source of the feelings. Our results suggest that carefully designed brand claims are likely to benefit from this natural sequencing. These findings provide important contributions to the literatures on processing fluency, branding, and advertising. These findings also have sobering societal implications and warn that fake news might be more persuasive if the perpetrators understand symbolic sequencing techniques.

On the Other Hand…: Enhancing Promotional Effectiveness with Haptic Cues
Virginie Maille, Maureen Morrin & Ryann Reynolds-McIlnay
Journal of Marketing Research, forthcoming

People like graspable objects more when the objects are located on the dominant-hand side of their body or when the handles point toward their dominant-hand side. However, many products do not have handles or are not graspable (e.g., services, objects hanging on the wall). Can nongraspable products nevertheless benefit from the effects of appealing to viewers’ dominant hands? The present research shows that, yes, consumers respond more positively to nongraspable products if a haptic cue (an object that is graspable or suggestive of hand action) is located within the same visual field as the target and is positioned to appeal to the viewer’s dominant hand. This result is driven by the creation and transfer of perceived ownership from cue to target. These findings extend the use of haptic cues to nongraspable products and uncover the critical role played by perceived ownership, including its ability to transfer from one object to another located in the same visual field. Moreover, the current research demonstrates situations in which the use of haptic cues will not enhance response.

The Influence of the Phonetic Elements of a Name on Risk Assessment
Keith Botner, Arul Mishra & Himanshu Mishra
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming

The authors propose that the phonetic elements of a name affect risk perception. Specifically, it is found that people prefer a name that evokes volatility when faced with a risky prospect, but prefer a name that evokes calmness when faced with a safe prospect. The authors posit that a volatile (versus calm) prospect name results in more perceived fluctuations, and thus greater movement from, the given risk level. Therefore, a volatile prospect name results in a wider range of probabilities compared to a calm prospect name. The authors test the proposed effect and the role of the phonetic elements of a name using real-world data and controlled studies within diverse consumer domains (e.g., product evaluations, wagering, and branding). Findings contribute to the larger theoretical area of phonetic symbolism and provide guidance for practitioners trying to maximize preference for a given product, service, or policy.

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