Recent quotes:

outsiders see the big picture

One of the interesting "side effects" of this project was the discovery of the great connectedness of the yellow nodes -- the outside contractors -- in this project. They were better integrated in the knowledge flows of this project than any other group -- they reached more people, over shorter paths. Of course, the bad news is that these contractors will all leave at the end of the project, and the company will no longer have access to their knowledge. The company did not want to lose key knowledge from, and about, the project. They set up regular knowledge-sharing sessions where key network nodes would share their wisdom, experience and learning about the project. This allowed the knowledge to flow from the well-connected contractors back into the regular organization.

Musical mystery: Researchers examine science behind performer movements -- ScienceDaily

While some assumed the role as leaders, and others followers, researchers found the leaders were far more influential in the ensemble. They also found the degree of body sway communication among the musicians was connected to their perceptions of how well they performed together. "Although we are often not consciously aware of it, non-verbal communications between people is common in many situations and influences who we like and who we don't like," explains Dan Bosnyak, a researcher and technical director at McMaster's LIVELab, where the work was conducted. "The methodology developed in this study could be useful for understanding many different types of group behaviour, such as understanding communication problems in autistic children or determining the best crowd control procedures for an emergency evacuation," he says.

How to Have Difficult Conversations When You Don’t Like Conflict

People who shy away from conflict often spend a huge amount of time mentally rewording their thoughts. Although it might feel like useful preparation, ruminating over what to say can hijack your mind for the entire workday and sometimes even late into the night. And tough conversations rarely go as planned anyway. So take the pressure off yourself. You don’t actually need to talk that much during a difficult conversation. Instead, focus on listening, reflecting, and observing.

Diverse populations make rational collective decisions -- ScienceDaily

The team found that individual ants had different yet consistent preferences. Some of the ants were happy to feed on either of the two solutions. Picky ants refused to feed from either. A third "middle" group consistently chose the solution with a higher concentration. These varied choices demonstrated that individual ants had individual thresholds to the sucrose concentration and made yes/no binary decisions accordingly. The researchers then fed each colony again with the differing sucrose solutions and found that the majority of the ants in all six experimental colonies chose the 4.0% sucrose solution, without being influenced by other ants in the colony. The "collective" decision of the colony was thus for the more nourishing solution. "Importantly, neither ants with a low threshold and high threshold contributed to the collective decision making, since the former didn't care about the concentration and the latter refused both concentrations. Thus, the decision maker was the middle group which preferred the higher concentration," says Hasegawa. "The study demonstrates simple yes/no judgements by individuals can lead to a collective rational decision, without using quality-graded responses, when they have diverse thresholds in the population," he continued. This mechanism can be applied to various fields including brain science, behavioural science, swarm robotics and consensus decision-making in human societies, conclude the researchers.

Building a better 'bot': Artificial intelligence helps human groups -- ScienceDaily

In a series of experiments using teams of human players and robotic AI players, the inclusion of "bots" boosted the performance of human groups and the individual players, researchers found. The study appears in the May 18 edition of the journal Nature. "Much of the current conversation about artificial intelligence has to do with whether AI is a substitute for human beings. We believe the conversation should be about AI as a complement to human beings," said Nicholas Christakis, co-director of the Yale Institute for Network Science (YINS) and senior author of the study. Christakis is a professor of sociology, ecology & evolutionary biology, biomedical engineering, and medicine at Yale. The study adds to a growing body of Yale research into the complex dynamics of human social networks and how those networks influence everything from economic inequality to group violence. In this case, Christakis and first author Hirokazu Shirado conducted an experiment involving an online game that required groups of people to coordinate their actions for a collective goal. The human players also interacted with anonymous bots that were programmed with three levels of behavioral randomness -- meaning the AI bots sometimes deliberately made mistakes. In addition, sometimes the bots were placed in different parts of the social network. More than 4,000 people participated in the experiment, which used a Yale-developed software called breadboard. "We mixed people and machines into one system, interacting on a level playing field," Shirado explained. "We wanted to ask, 'Can you program the bots in simple ways?' and does that help human performance?" The answer to both questions is yes, the researchers said. Not only did the inclusion of bots aid the overall performance of human players, it proved particularly beneficial when tasks became more difficult, the study found. The bots accelerated the median time for groups to solve problems by 55.6%. Furthermore, the researchers said, the experiment showed a cascade effect of improved performance by humans in the study. People whose performance improved when working with the bots subsequently influenced other human players to raise their game.

We're motivated to stay ahead more than to catch up? (Relates to fear of losing?)

Peer effects in running are also heterogeneous across relationship types. For example, runners are more influenced by peers whose performance is slightly worse, but not far worse, than their own as well as by those who perform slightly better, but not far better, than they do (Fig. 2a). Moreover, less active runners influence more active runners more than more active runners influence less active runners (Fig. 2b). These results are corroborated by heterogeneity across consistent and inconsistent runners. Inconsistent runners influence consistent runners more than consistent runners influence inconsistent runners (Fig. 2c). Social comparisons may provide an explanation for these results. Festinger’s social comparison theory proposes that we self-evaluate by comparing ourselves to others27. But, in the context of exercise, a debate exists about whether we make upward comparisons to those performing better than ourselves28 or downward comparisons to those performing worse than ourselves29. Comparisons to those ahead of us may motivate our own self-improvement, while comparisons to those behind us may create ‘competitive behaviour to protect one’s superiority’ (27, p. 126). Our findings are consistent with both arguments, but the effects are much larger for downward comparisons than for upward comparisons.

Personality differences uncovered between students at different US universities – Research Digest

larger universities tended to have more extraverted students; more urban and diverse universities had more open-minded students;  universities requiring letters of recommendation had more agreeable students; public colleges had less agreeable students than private colleges; and more expensive colleges had higher trait Neuroticism. Differences like these could reflect students with particular personality profiles being drawn to particular institutions; selection could be at play, in the sense of university selectors showing a preference for particular personality types; and also students’ personalities could be shaped by the culture of their university.

When Pixels Collide

Each pixel you see was placed by hand. Each icon, each flag, each meme created painstakingly by millions of people who had nothing in common except an Internet connection. Somehow, someway, what happened in Reddit over those 72 hours was the birth of Art.

The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews - The New York Times

In one experiment, we had student subjects interview other students and then predict their grade point averages for the following semester. The prediction was to be based on the interview, the student’s course schedule and his or her past G.P.A. (We explained that past G.P.A. was historically the best predictor of future grades at their school.) In addition to predicting the G.P.A. of the interviewee, our subjects also predicted the performance of a student they did not meet, based only on that student’s course schedule and past G.P.A. […] In the end, our subjects’ G.P.A. predictions were significantly more accurate for the students they did not meet. The interviews had been counterproductive.

The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews -

People who study personnel psychology have long understood this. In 1979, for example, the Texas Legislature required the University of Texas Medical School at Houston to increase its incoming class size by 50 students late in the season. The additional 50 students that the school admitted had reached the interview phase of the application process but initially, following their interviews, were rejected. A team of researchers later found that these students did just as well as their other classmates in terms of attrition, academic performance, clinical performance (which involves rapport with patients and supervisors) and honors earned. The judgment of the interviewers, in other words, added nothing of relevance to the admissions process.

Under challenge: Girls' confidence level, not math ability hinders path to science degrees -- ScienceDaily

The research team found perception gaps are even wider at the upper levels of mathematics ability -- among those students with the most talent and potential in these fields. Boys are significantly more confident in challenging mathematics contexts than otherwise identically talented girls. Specifically, boys rated their ability 27 percent higher than girls did. Perceived ability under challenge was measured using a nationally representative longitudinal study that followed 10th grade students over a six-year period until two years after high school. A series of questions in the 10th and 12th grade surveys asked students to indicate their level of agreement with statements such as "I'm certain I can understand the most difficult material presented in math texts."

Primary care doctoring

Other studies found that people with a primary-care physician as their usual source of care had lower subsequent five-year mortality rates than others, regardless of their initial health. In the United Kingdom, where family physicians are paid to practice in deprived areas, a ten-per-cent increase in the primary-care supply was shown to improve people’s health so much that you could add ten years to everyone’s life and still not match the benefit. Another study examined health-care reforms in Spain that focussed on strengthening primary care in various regions—by, for instance, building more clinics, extending their hours, and paying for home visits. After ten years, mortality fell in the areas where the reforms were made, and it fell more in those areas which received the reforms earlier. Likewise, reforms in California that provided all Medicaid recipients with primary-care physicians resulted in lower hospitalization rates.

IBM is ending its decades-old remote work policy — Quartz

Team proximity appears to help foster better new ideas. One Harvard study found that researchers who worked in close physical proximity produced more impactful papers. Another report used data from badges that collect data on employee interaction to argue that employees who have more chance encounters and unplanned interaction perform better. This idea, known as the “water cooler effect,” has been embraced by the most successful technology companies. Steve Jobs was obsessed with creating unplanned meetings, going so far as to propose building all of the bathrooms in Pixar’s offices in only one part of the building to encourage them (luckily for Pixar employees, someone vetoed this idea). Facebook offers workers a $10,000 bonus if they live near headquarters.

More trust = giving more, expecting kharma

To measure trust and its reciprocation (trustworthiness) objectively, my team used a strategic decision task developed by researchers in the lab of Vernon Smith, a Nobel laureate in economics. In our experiment, a participant chooses an amount of money to send to a stranger via computer, knowing that the money will triple in amount and understanding that the recipient may or may not share the spoils. Therein lies the conflict: The recipient can either keep all the cash or be trustworthy and share it with the sender. To measure oxytocin levels during the exchange, my colleagues and I developed a protocol to draw blood from people’s arms before and immediately after they made decisions to trust others (if they were senders) or to be trustworthy (if they were receivers). Because we didn’t want to influence their behavior, we didn’t tell participants what the study was about, even though there was no way they could consciously control how much oxytocin they produced. We found that the more money people received (denoting greater trust on the part of senders), the more oxytocin their brains produced. And the amount of oxytocin recipients produced predicted how trustworthy—that is, how likely to share the money—they would be. Since the brain generates messaging chemicals all the time, it was possible we had simply observed random changes in oxytocin. To prove that it causes trust, we safely administered doses of synthetic oxytocin into living human brains (through a nasal spray). Comparing participants who received a real dose with those who received a placebo, we found that giving people 24 IU of synthetic oxytocin more than doubled the amount of money they sent to a stranger.

The Neuroscience of Trust

Respondents whose companies were in the top quartile indicated they had 106% more energy and were 76% more engaged at work than respondents whose firms were in the bottom quartile. They also reported being 50% more productive—which is consistent with our objective measures of productivity from studies we have done with employees at work. Trust had a major impact on employee loyalty as well: Compared with employees at low-trust companies, 50% more of those working at high-trust organizations planned to stay with their employer over the next year, and 88% more said they would recommend their company to family and friends as a place to work.

To succeed, plan to fail (occasionally)

Do Vale conducted a pair of diet-related experiments. A ‘straight striving group’ was asked to adhere to a strict regimen of 1,500 calories per day with limited food choices, while an ‘intermittent striving’ group was given an even stricter diet of 1,300 calories with limited choices; however, after six days of strict dieting the second group was allowed one day of 2,700 calories with unlimited food choices. Do Vale found that the ‘intermittent’ strivers had higher self-regulatory abilities, while generating a greater variety of strategies to overcome food temptations: they were more motivated to see the diet through. Participants in the ‘straight striving’ group, meanwhile, were more likely to quit the diet and report emotional setbacks when they accidentally overate. It follows that, so long as it is planned, it is often good to be bad. ‘The only way to get rid of temptation,’ Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray, ‘is to yield to it.’

Plan to fail (occasionally)

Rita Coelho do Vale is an assistant professor at the Católica Lisbon School of Business and Economics, where she researches the human decision-making process with respect to self-regulation. She says that we not only can but should engage in behaviour antithetical to our ultimate goals. In experiments conducted with Rik Pieters and Marcel Zeelenberg, and published in January 2016 in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, do Vale surveyed the way people go about achieving their goals. She concluded that it is better to make plans to fail intermittently – to splurge on occasional luxuries when saving for a house; to have a slice of chocolate cake when trying to shed a few pounds – than to end up failing anyway and getting so demoralised you give up your goal altogether. ‘It’s something that’s so obvious, but no one has ever studied these phenomena,’ do Vale told me. ‘We all plan for breaks during the day – coffee, a nap – and we know that we will feel better after these rests. But with goals we simply don’t think like this.’

Animals, like humans, place a higher value on what requires more effort.

We have examined the justification of effort effect in animals and found a pattern similar to the one in humans but we propose a simpler underlying mechanism: contrast between the greater effort and the resulting reward that follows. The contrast model predicts that any relatively aversive event will result in a preference for a reward (or for the signal of a reward) that follows. Much evidence supports this model: Signals for reward are preferred if they are preceded by having to make a greater number of responses, encountering a longer delay, or experiencing the absence of food (when food is presented on other trials). Contrast has also been found when the signals are associated with greater rather than less food restriction. We have also found a shift toward the preference of a food location that requires greater effort to obtain. Analogous effects have been found in humans (both children and adults) using similar procedures.

How many friends can you have?

The Dunbar number is actually a series of them. The best known, a hundred and fifty, is the number of people we call casual friends—the people, say, you’d invite to a large party. (In reality, it’s a range: a hundred at the low end and two hundred for the more social of us.) From there, through qualitative interviews coupled with analysis of experimental and survey data, Dunbar discovered that the number grows and decreases according to a precise formula, roughly a “rule of three.” The next step down, fifty, is the number of people we call close friends—perhaps the people you’d invite to a group dinner. You see them often, but not so much that you consider them to be true intimates. Then there’s the circle of fifteen: the friends that you can turn to for sympathy when you need it, the ones you can confide in about most things. The most intimate Dunbar number, five, is your close support group. These are your best friends (and often family members). On the flipside, groups can extend to five hundred, the acquaintance level, and to fifteen hundred, the absolute limit—the people for whom you can put a name to a face.

All together or all apart

The researchers then had the teams complete a decision-making activity (in this case, act as top management for a fictional Hollywood studio tasked with green-lighting the production of one or more screenplays) and then answer a survey about the experience wherein they rated other team members. "We learned that if you want to have a clear leader emerge, you are better off having them all located face to face or all working remotely," Reeves said. "It's when you start mixing and matching -- some on site, some virtual -- that's when the real confusion comes into play."

Compromise nearly guaranteed when a woman is involved in decision-making pairs: Study finds when making joint decisions, men need to prove masculinity, 'push away' from compromise -- ScienceDaily

"The compromise effect basically emerges in any pair when there is a woman. However, surprisingly, when you have men choosing together, they actually tend to push away from the compromise option and select one of the extreme options. Say two men are choosing a car and the cars they are considering differ on safety and fuel efficiency -- they will either go for the safest car or the one that offers them the most fuel efficiency, but they won't choose an option that offers a little of both." In contrast, individuals and mixed-gender and female-female pairs will likely go for the middle option since it seems reasonable and is easily justified.

Pocket: My List

Just be optimistic about the future of your relationship. In a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Edward Lemay, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, found people who predicted that they would be satisfied with their relationship in the future were more committed to their partners and treated them more kindly in the present-day.
Overall, guests asked to make a specific commitment and who were given a pin were most likely to hang towels for re-use, and they hung a greater proportion of their used towels than guests in the other conditions.  These guests were also more likely to turn out the lights when leaving the room than guests in other conditions.  Interestingly, those guests given a Friend of the Environment pin who did not get any message were actually less likely to hang towels for re-use than those in other conditions.   Advertisement Guests who agreed to the general goal to save energy were at best slightly more likely than those who received no message at all.  Thus, the general goal had little impact on people’s behavior.  This finding is interesting, because people were somewhat more willing to commit to the general goal than to the specific one.

What Great Listeners Actually Do

To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehended it well enough to  want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.

Twitter stops buying ping pong tables

Asked why Twitter stopped buying tables, spokesman Jim Prosser says: “I guess we bought really sturdy ones.” Twitter spokeswoman Natalie Miyake says: “Honestly, we’re more of a Pop-A-Shot company now,” referring to an indoor basketball game. Is the tech bubble popping? Ping pong offers an answer, and the tables are turning. “Last year, the first quarter was hot” for tables, says Mr. Ng, who thinks sales track the tech economy. Now “there’s a general slowdown.”

When to dig

As a little girl, she used to help dig a grave before winter came. “You knew someone was going to die,” she says, and if the ground was frozen, the body would have no place to go. “As a kid, you would think: That could be anybody. That could be me.”