The Returns of Giving


Illustration by M.R. Trower

When I moved to Durham for graduate school, I wanted to immediately start volunteering. As a student, I’m aware that time is a relentless constraint. Getting enough sleep, doing work, socializing, and having time to decompress are all priorities. So it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and resistant to the idea of giving up more precious spare time to help others, even if the cause is important.

However, I knew that if I waited I would use my busy schedule as an excuse not to get involved. By pre-committing, I would be obligated to continue even as the semester became busier . I wanted to volunteer as a way to connect to my community and keep perspective that sometimes gets lost in the minutiae of research.

But what I didn’t realize was that I was inadvertently helping my future self feel less stressed when things got busy. Research finds that ironically, giving time to others actually can make us feel as though we have more of it ourselves.

This benefit of spending time on others seems counterintuitive. From a completely objective perspective, spending time on others reduces the minutes you have in a day—those don’t change. And indeed, we are actually less likely to take the time to help others if we’re short on time. However, if we do volunteer, our subjective perception of how much time we have can increase and affect our productivity and well-being.

Mogilner, Chance, and Norton (2012) found that giving time (volunteering or helping a friend) was more effective in increasing perceptions of future time than were wasting time, spending time on oneself, or unexpected free time. Moreover, they found that those who gave their time were more likely to commit more time and follow through on additional surveys. The mediator of this effect was self-efficacy. People feel more capable after taking the time to help others. Spending time on others may implicitly signal extra time, but also increased self-efficacy may make us feel that we can accomplish more with our time, effectively expanding it.

Sometimes, how much time we feel we have is actually more important than how much time we actually have. Because within a range, our feelings about time affect our happiness, stress levels, and productivity more than the actual number of hours.

Does this mean we shouldn’t indulge in TV, Facebook, or relaxing with friends? Of course not—the benefits of giving time aren’t infinite. Given the objective constraints, giving too much time will increase stress and won’t make use feel like we have more time.

Nevertheless, this discrepancy between how we expect volunteering to affect our sense of time, and how it actually does, is important for better budgeting our time. I have noticed that when I get home after volunteering, I immediately respond to all the emails that have been piling up, focus better on my work projects, and feel more accomplished by the end of the night. Despite having less time, I tend to use it more effectively.

Indeed, this mismatch between prediction and results applies to budgeting money as well: although people predict that they will be happier spending money on themselves, they actually feel better and wealthier spending on others.

When we are feeling the constraints of money, time or something else, we may actually help ourselves by giving to others. Moreover, for those who care less about the fuzzy concept of well-being, there are hints in the research suggesting that not only does giving to others affect our outlook, but it also might actually make us more efficient and productive.

~Dianna Amasino~

Last Night’s Dishonesty Debate

Last night, legendary philosopher Peter Singer, distinguished psychologist Paul Bloom, and our very own expert behavioral economist Dan Ariely had a cross-Coursera “debate” on the ins and outs of dishonesty, morality, and ethics. Watch the fun and insightful discussion below, and skim the highlights on our twitter account or under the hashtag #dishonestydebate!

Duke Losing and the Joy of Underdogs


I am a scientist and occasional season ticket holder at Duke. So on Friday, I was understandably sad with the Duke loss. But as I watched the rest of America celebrate on Twitter, I felt no anger toward everyone else’s joy. Because everyone else got to experience the same joy that I long to experience each time I watch a top seed (that isn’t Duke) playing a low seed. Like so many, I want to see the underdog win.

Because no matter whether you’re a punk or prep, a janitor or CEO, or work at Mercer or even Duke, at times you feel like an underdog. Maybe you’ve been given the lowest step on the economic ladder, maybe you’re a struggling artist, or maybe you’re a scientist battling to modernize research. At the end of the day, so many of us feel like underdogs and we want nothing more than to see another underdog succeed.

Luckily for us, we can count on the annual March Madness to provide a few underdog success stories. And then millions of us can flock to a momentary allegiance with a college we have to use Google Maps to locate. In the past it has been George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Butler, and this year we’ve momentarily been given quite a few more.

In America, especially compared to other countries, the underdog narrative is an honorable and relatable narrative. From the American patriots in 1776 to the George Mason Patriots in 2006, the story has always been part of this country’s culture.

From March Madness to Luke Skywalker, we Americans crave more and more stories about underdogs. We demand it in every fictional and nonfictional story. Even the more privileged characters in popular storylines, such as the elite James Bond or billionaire Tony Stark must at sometime become outcast underdogs. If they didn’t we wouldn’t relate to them. The narrative is so much a part of our culture that politicians are forced to conform to the underdog narrative, even if they really don’t fit it.

In fact, the narrative is so strong that Neeru Paharia of Georgetown University and colleagues named a psychological effect after it, simply naming it “The Underdog Effect.” They found that groups (e.g. companies or maybe even basketball teams) can gain goodwill from others when they present themselves as underdogs. This effect was stronger for people who personally related with the narrative and stronger in cultures where the narrative was more prevalent (e.g. America).

More than ever, today we need these stories. Many political pundits on both sides of the spectrum have argued that the hope of the American underdog dream is fading. For this reason we are desperate to keep this important hope alive. Believing that an underdog will win in Texas this year might be a good way to keep the flame of that hope burning.

If only for my sake, that hope didn’t require a Duke loss. Oh well. Time for me to start rooting for a school I know nothing about. I need to leave you all now. I’ve got some Google mapping to do.

~Troy Campbell~


The Starbucks Effect


The Effect
When we order a fancy drink at Starbucks (or some fancier coffee house) with funny language, we believe we are sophisticated connoisseurs. But when others do the exact same thing, we just see them as annoying poseurs.

The Problem
But we don’t just believe we are hot stuff when we order at Starbucks, we also believe that other people will think we are hot stuff. This “self-serving” bias can be dangerous.

Across domains, people believe their dates will be won over by their charm, entrepreneurs believe investors will be won over by their ideas, and “connoisseurs” believe everyone will be won over by their “sophistication.”

It’s one thing to believe you are great, but it’s another thing to project your grand self-perceptions on the others’ perceptions of you. This is when biases can start to multiply and problems can go so awry. While this may not lead to tragic results in a Starbucks line, it can in love, politics, business, and academia.

~By M.R. Trower and Troy Campbell~

~Illustration by M.R. Trower~

Studies across cultures: A useful guide.

Our resident artist, M.R. Trower sketches during our lab meetings.

Our resident artist, M.R. Trower, sketches during our lab meetings.

Cross-cultural research is becoming increasingly popular, but many researchers are failing to understand the unique challenges it poses. Cross cultural psychology explores how culture influences behavior and attitudes, and cultural psychologists aim to study subjects from two or more cultures using equivalent methods of measurements (Triandis & Brislin, 1984).  

This research can often be difficult to conduct, and as someone in the midst of working through these problems in our lab, I’ve noticed some of these difficulties. I’m sharing what I’ve learned here as a quick guide to both help other researchers design better studies and help readers know enough background to better evaluate this research.

Five Challenges of Cross Cultural Research
1. Design:

The research question and design should be very clear before embarking on cross-cultural research. And when I say clear, I mean crystal clear. What are the specific hypotheses? What analysis will you run? Do you have variables that will allow you to run those tests? Do you have proper controls?

Always start with a pilot study with at least one of the target cultures (or a population in your home country), because it’s surprising how many things sometimes just don’t work. For instance, when conducting survey research, it’s important to test your constructs, such as sub-scales. If you’re going to spend thousands of dollars and months working on a project, make sure your scales work with your population, and don’t just assume it’ll work based on past research.

2. Translations:

How can you express the exact same idea in several languages? Or in the same language but to different cultural populations, such as British vs. American, or urban vs. rural? Again, pilot testing is key. Don’t just show it to a few research assistants who speak the language, get it out to the people that you’ll be studying.

How should you actually translate? We recommend the forward-backward method, where the translated document is translated back to the original language for comparison.

3. Consistency:

As a cross-cultural researcher, you must standardize processes, settings, and other factors of your research so that the only difference between your samples is their culture. Prepare documents like protocols and scripts for experimenters, and go over them again and again. Different cultures have different customs and social behaviors, and those social behaviors, even if they’re as small as how to administer a survey in a coffee shop, cannot vary across studies without jeopardizing the data. This is problematic when you have just one culture, one survey, and one research assistant. When you have ten cultures, one survey in different languages, and many research assistants across the globe, things can get very messy, fast. Remember though, if things are messy, then it’s important to be honest about it in the write up. In the modern age of ‘imperfect’ data, reviewers are looking for and respectful of honesty.

4. Cultural Customs:

Try to have a local person or team who is willing to be involved in the implementation of the project; they will contribute greatly with local advice and organization.

There will be many local factors that you won’t be aware of if you’re not familiar with the culture. For example, you may not know where to collect data, how to deal with local businesses while asking permission, or even how to approach subjects in a nice and professional way. Things like these may vary across countries, and locals are the only ones who can fill you in. It’s also important to understand all these differences before collecting data. For instance, a methodology might work well in one cultural but, because of social norms, not in another. Again, pilot test and know as much as you can ahead of time.

5. Paying Participants:

Does your study involve paying participants? If so, make sure to adjust that payment considering the cost of living of each country. Remember $1 in the USA is not the same as $1 in other countries, so you must make payments equivalent! We recommend indexes like the Purchasing Power Parity Index (World Bank) or the Big Mac Index (The Economist). Also consider whether your samples are used to being paid to do experiments and if your payment varies from this normal payment model.

In the end, the most important thing to remember with cross-cultural psychology is to plan ahead. When evaluating cross-cultural research in journals or news articles, the critical reader should consider what factors the researchers might have overlooked.

One final consideration is to remember that all research is only part of the puzzle. There is no definitive cross-cultural psychological paper, and there never will be. So it’s important to keep each finding in perspective.

~Ximena Garcia-Rada~

Further readings about cross-cultural psychology:

- Keith, K. Cross-Cultural Psychology: Contemporary Themes and Perspectives.

- Shiraev, E. B. & Levy, D. A. (2010). Cross-cultural psychology: critical thinking and contemporary applications (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn Bacon.

- Triandis, H. C., & Brislin, R. W. (1984). Cross-cultural psychology. American Psychologist, 39(9), 1006-1016. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.39.9.1006

- Hofstede, G., Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations

Working with Advanced Hindsight: Undergraduate Perspective

We often get asked what it’s like to work in the Center for Advanced Hindsight. So, we thought we’d give you a peek into our daily lives with our new series called “Working With Advanced Hindsight.” To see more about the nature of our lab, check out the photos and content on our Facebook page.

To begin our series, let’s start with the youngest people in the lab: our wonderful undergraduate research assistants. The lab takes on a few undergraduate students as research assistants each semester, and their responsibilities cover a wide range — from doing background research for new studies to running the actual experiments. To better understand what working at CAH as a research assistant is like, we’ve asked five of our current research assistants a few questions.

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 8.13.16 AM

Q. Why did you join the lab?

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 3.53.52 PMKatie: “I applied because the research was awesome. But I joined because at my interview it was made clear that if I put in the effort, I would really be part of the research experience and that I would be part of creating and carrying out ideas. Today I know that some of the words and graphics I came up with to study a brainstorming session at the age of 19 will be in an academic journal article one day. It’s an amazing way to start off freshman year.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 4.15.11 PMTyler:  “Before I learned about the study of behavioral economics, I had never realized that economics was applicable to things other than business. Suddenly, I was able to understand things from what beer people will order in a restaurant to how people derive happiness from work. I wanted to be more involved with and surrounded by these ideas.”

Q. What is it like to work at the lab?

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 3.54.07 PM Shannon: “You oftentimes hear academics talk about their research and publications as if they are the only ones  working on a project. But at the CAH lab, I’ve learned the importance of collaboration and cooperation. We edit  each other’s surveys, help each other’s experiments, and collectively work together as a team.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 8.13.58 AMMinn Htet: “I see myself as a generalist. The great thing about CAH is that it is truly interdisciplinary and the work we do here is connected to many different things across disciplines. From historians to neuroscientists, CAH is a crossroads of ideas.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 3.53.33 PMMichael: “Working at CAH brings an interesting dichotomy of intensive yet fun research to each day. It’s fun and frustrating. And I am not just saying that, sometimes everything is just frustration — that’s science.”

Q. What is challenging about being a RA at the lab?

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 3.53.52 PM Katie: “Creating a good experiment can be challenging. For instance you may want to make people “feel calm” in  the lab. Not only does one have to consider how to create “calm”, the researcher also has to worry about how to  measure it and how differently people react to stimuli intended to induce “calmness.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 8.13.58 AMMinn Htet: “Research is not just about developing a knowledge set, it’s about learning how to ask and answer questions. And answering questions is hard, isolating constructs and truly producing new knowledge is really tricky.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 4.15.11 PMTyler: “I had never realized that there were so many variables that needed to be controlled for and that oftentimes an idea needs to be tested in a variety of different ways in order to fully assess whether it is the ‘explanatory variable’ that is causing a certain outcome.”

Q. What have you learnt?

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 3.53.52 PMKatie: “It sounds cheesy, but research doesn’t just mean sitting in a lab running numbers or counting cells. Research also requires creativity and innovation.  Ideas are important. Also, as in any aspect of life, the ability to write well is necessary.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 3.54.07 PM Shannon: “Being a researcher can be immensely diverse– from running  a study at a downtown restaurant, to  working alone for hours on a tedious survey, to having animated discussions about what to write for a popular  press article, I have discovered that there are a lot of different facets to this type of life, even as an RA.”

 Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 3.53.33 PMMichael: “I’ve realized maintaining enthusiasm in the face opposition is paramount to good research. “