What is the Impact of Facebook Unfriending?

Pretty female college student  in the library
© Photographer: Lightpoet |

High school friends often first to go

Two studies from the University of Colorado Denver are shedding new light on the most common type of `friend’ to be unfriended on Facebook and their emotional responses to it.

The studies, published earlier this year, show that the most likely person to be unfriended is a high school acquaintance.

“The most common reason for unfriending someone from high school is that the person posted polarizing comments often about religion or politics,” said Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student in the Computer Science and Information Systems program at the CU Denver Business School. “The other big reason for unfriending was frequent, uninteresting posts.”

Sibona’s first study examined `context collapse and unfriending behaviors’ on Facebook and his second looked at `the emotional response to being unfriended.’

Both studies were based on a survey of 1,077 people conducted on Twitter.

The first study found that the top five kinds of people respondents unfriended were:

  1. High School friends
  2. Other
  3. Friend of a friend
  4. Work friends
  5. Common interest friend

“We found that people often unfriend co-workers for their actions in the real world rather than anything they post on Facebook,” Sibona said.

One reason he believes high school friends are top targets for unfriending is that their political and religious beliefs may not have been as strong when they were younger. And if those beliefs have grown more strident over time, it becomes easier to offend others.

“Your high school friends may not know your current political or religious beliefs and you may be quite vocal about them,” Sibona said. “And one thing about social media is that online disagreements escalate much more quickly.”

The second study looked at the emotional impact of being unfriended.

Sibona found a range of emotions connected to unfriending, from being bothered to being amused.

The most common responses to being unfriended were:

  1. I was surprised
  2. It bothered me
  3. I was amused
  4. I felt sad

“The strongest predictor is how close you were at the peak of your friendship when the unfriending happened,” said Sibona, who has studied the real world consequences of Facebook unfriending since 2010. “You may be more bothered and saddened if your best friend unfriends you.”

The study found four factors that predicted someone’s emotional response to being unfriended. Two factors predicted that a user would be negatively affected – if the unfriended person was once a close friend to the one who unfriended them and how closely the person monitored their own friend’s list.

Two other factors predicted that a user would be less negatively affected – if difficulties were discussed between the friends before the unfriending and if the person unfriended talked about it with others after the unfriending.

The research showed that unfriending happens more often to friends who were once close than to those who are acquaintances.

“Despite the preponderance of weak ties throughout online social networks, these findings help to place unfriending within the greater context of relationship dissolution,” the study said.

Sibona said that the ‘one size fits all’ method of ending digital relationships is unique but with real world consequences that warrant additional research.

“If you have a lot of friends on Facebook, the cost of maintaining those friendships is pretty low,” he said. “So if you make a conscious effort to push a button to get rid of someone, that can hurt.”

 

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Using and Owning Luxury Items Affects Your “Feel Good” Factor!

Portrait of beauty young luxury woman
© Photographer: Mariia Sniegirova |

 

It means more to people to own a luxury product or brand than to have the privilege of simply using one. Just using an affordable luxury item you don’t own can, in fact, dampen the feel good factor that normally surrounds such products.

To test the link between luxury consumption and subjective well-being, researchers Liselot Hudders and Mario Pandelaere of Ghent University in Belgium presented 307 study participants with luxury and ordinary versions of either a durable pen, or a consumable block of chocolate. One group of respondents knew they could take the chocolate or pen home with them, while the other only had the opportunity to test or taste it. All the participants evaluated the products on a number of dimensions, including quality, exclusivity and luxuriance, and also answered a questionnaire about their own sense of well-being.

Pens and chocolates were selected because they are almost equally appealing to people in the sample, which consisted of mostly young people. These items were chosen also because their luxury versions are not overly expensive. More frugal consumers are generally willing to pay premiums for well-designed, well-engineered and well-crafted moderate luxury goods, which are – unlike very high-end luxuries such as sports cars and yachts – produced in high volumes.

The respondents who were able to keep the luxury versions of the products they tested were more satisfied with life than the participants who received the low-budget versions. On the other hand, the well-being of participants who could not keep the luxury versions they evaluated was significantly lower than that of respondents who evaluated the plain versions. Another interesting finding from the non-ownership category is that these participants were significantly more satisfied with their life after using the chocolate than after using the pen.

“The finding that people are more satisfied with life when they own luxury products than when they only get to use them is in line with prior research that equates consumption with ownership,” says Hudders. “In contrast, the mere use or mere knowledge of luxury products seems to be detrimental for one’s satisfaction with life.”

 

This research was published in the Applied Research in Quality of Life journal.

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What Is Working Memory and How It Affects You

Memory and brain upgrade
© Photographer: Flynt
Working memory—the ability to hold information in your mind, think about it, and use it to guide behavior—develops through childhood and adolescence, and is key for successful performance at school and work.

Previous research with young children has documented socioeconomic disparities in performance on tasks of working memory. Now a new longitudinal study has found that differences in working memory that exist at age 10 persist through the end of adolescence. The study also found that parents’ education—one common measure of socioeconomic status—is related to children’s performance on tasks of working memory, and that neighborhood characteristics—another common measure of socioeconomic status—are not.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, West Chester University, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, appears in the journal Child Development.

“Understanding the development of disparities in working memory has implications for education,” according to Daniel A. Hackman, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Pittsburgh who led the study when he was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. “Persistent disparities are a potential source of differences in academic achievement as students age and as the demands of both school work and the social environment increase.

“Our findings highlight the potential value of programs that promote developing working memory early as a way to prevent disparities in achievement,” Hackman continues. “The fact that parents’ education predicts working memory suggests that parenting practices and home environments may be important for this aspect of cognitive development and as a fruitful area for intervention and prevention.”

To look at the rate of change in working memory in relation to different measures of socioeconomic status, the researchers studied more than three hundred 10- through 13-year-olds from urban public and parochial schools over four years. The sample of children was racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. Each child completed a number of tasks of working memory across the four-year period. The researchers gathered information on how many years of education the parents of each child had completed, as well as on neighborhood characteristics, looking—for example—at the degree to which people in a child’s neighborhood lived below the poverty line, were unemployed, or received public assistance.

Neither parents’ education nor living in a disadvantaged neighborhood was found to be associated with the rate of growth in working memory across the four-year period. Lower parental education was found to be tied to differences in working memory that emerged by age 10 and continued through adolescence. However, neighborhood characteristics were not related to working memory performance.

The study suggests that disparities seen in adolescence and adulthood start earlier in childhood and that school doesn’t close the gap in working memory for children ages 10 and above. Generally, children whose parents had fewer years of education don’t catch up or fall further behind by the end of adolescence, when working memory performance reaches mature levels.

That said, the findings of this study do not suggest that working memory is not malleable. Interventions that strengthen working memory in children, such as training games, may help children with lower levels of working memory improve and reduce disparities.

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Why Are Women More Intuitive Than Men?

Intuition
© Photographer: Antaratma Microstock Images © Elena Ray |

 

Spanish scientists suggest that women are “more intuitive” than men due to a biological component, which would predispose women to adopt a “less reflexive” attitude to their lives than men

So-called “female intuition” could actually have a biological component, related to the lower prenatal exposure to testosterone women receive in the womb. This would lead them to have a “more intuitive and less reflective” attitude to life than men. These are the results of a study carried out by Spanish researchers from the University of Granada, the Barcelona Pompeu Fabra University and the Middlesex University of London, in an article recently published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

According to previous studies, prenatal exposure to testosterone affects developments in the brain that determine, to some extent, behavioural trends and tendencies throughout the lives of each individual, including humans. Males receive a higher amount of prenatal testosterone, which, according to scientists, has an influence on that they, for example, take more risks and be more empathic than women.

Intuitive thought can be defined as that which is processed automatically and unconsciously and which, therefore, requires little cognitive effort. On the other extreme is reflexive thought, which takes greater effort and conscious analysis. The former is based on sensations and is more “emotional”, while the latter is analytical and more “rational”. In certain situations, to “let yourself be led” by intuition will be better than stopping to think. In other situations, the opposite will occur.

Men are less intuitive

The authors of the study wondered whether exposure to testosterone also has an effect on men being “less intuitive” and “more reflexive” than women, for which they carried out a series of experiments on over 600 students from the University of Granada Faculty of Economics and Business Studies.

For their analyses, the researchers used a prenatal testosterone marker, called “digital ratio”. This is obtained by dividing the length of the forefinger by the length of the ring finger of the same hand. “The lower the ratio, the greater the prenatal testosterone received and, therefore, the more “masculine” the cerebral disposition, regardless of the person’s gender. Men, obviously, have a lower average digital ratio than women”, as pointed out by Antonio Manuel Espin, lecturer at the Dept. of Economic Theory and History (University of Granada, Spain) and one of the authors of this article.

Cognitive Reflection Test

The participants first responded to a series of questionnaires, among which was the so-called Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT), a test that precisely measures the dichotomy between intuition and reflection. The CRT consists of three simple algebraic questions that, given how they are presented, generate intuitive answers that come automatically but which are incorrect. To get the right answer, the individual has to stop to reflect and realize that the first answer that came into his/her head was incorrect.

Using only three questions, this test has proved to be capable of predicting a whole range of behaviours, some of which are so strange as believing in God or in the supernatural – which relates positively to answering the test intuitively. Espin points out that “what is most important here is that women tend to give more intuitive answers, whilst men respond in a more reflexive way. In other words, in this specific test, which penalizes intuitive thought, men generally do better than women”.

Following the tests, the researchers scanned the participants’ hands to measure finger length and calculate the digital ratio.

The results were clear. Men responded better to the CRT than women but, among the latter, those that showed a more “masculine” (ie, lower) digital ratio, answered as equally well as the men. “To be more specific, what we found was an indication that prenatal exposure to testosterone predisposes people to adopt a more reflexive and less intuitive mindset. Furthermore, this effect seems to be stronger among women”.

 

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Does group size affect decision-making accuracy?

Decision-making
© Photographer: Arne9001

The trope that the likelihood of an accurate group decision increases with the abundance of brains involved might not hold up when a collective faces a variety of factors — as often happens in life and nature. Instead, Princeton University researchers report that smaller groups actually tend to make more accurate decisions while larger assemblies may become excessively focused on only certain pieces of information.

The findings present a significant caveat to what is known about collective intelligence, or the “wisdom of crowds,” wherein individual observations — even if imperfect — coalesces into a single, accurate group decision. A classic example of crowd wisdom is English statistician Sir Francis Galton’s 1907 observation of a contest in which villagers attempted to guess the weight of an ox. Although not one of the 787 estimates was correct, the average of the guessed weights was a mere one-pound short of the animal’s recorded heft. Along those lines, the consensus has been that group decisions are enhanced as more individuals have input.

But collective decision-making has rarely been tested under complex, “realistic” circumstances where information comes from multiple sources, the Princeton researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In these scenarios, crowd wisdom peaks early then becomes less accurate as more individuals become involved, explained senior author Iain Couzin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

“This is an extension of the wisdom-of-crowds theory that allows us to relax the assumption that being in big groups is always the best way to make a decision,” Couzin said.

“It’s a starting point that opens up the possibility of capturing collective decision-making in a more realistic environment,” he said. “When we do see small groups of animals or organisms making decisions they are not necessarily compromising accuracy. They might actually do worse if more individuals were involved. I think that’s the new insight.”

Couzin and first author Albert Kao, a graduate student of ecology and evolutionary biology in Couzin’s group, created a theoretical model in which a “group” had to decide between two potential food sources. The group’s decision accuracy was determined by how well individuals could use two types of information: One that was known to all members of the group — known as correlated information — and another that was perceived by only some individuals, or uncorrelated information. The researchers found that the communal ability to pool both pieces of information into a correct, or accurate, decision was highest in a band of five to 20. After that, the accurate decision increasingly eluded the expanding group.

IMAGE: The findings present a significant caveat to what is known about collective intelligence, or the “wisdom of crowds, ” wherein individual observations coalesces into a single, accurate group decision.The consensus has…Click here for more information.

At work, Kao said, was the dynamic between correlated and uncorrelated cues. With more individuals, that which is known by all members comes to dominate the decision-making process. The uncorrelated information gets drowned out, even if individuals within the group are still well aware of it.

In smaller groups, on the other hand, the lesser-known cues nonetheless earn as much consideration as the more common information. This is due to the more random nature of small groups, which is known as “noise” and typically seen as an unwelcome distraction. Couzin and Kao, however, found that noise is surprisingly advantageous in these smaller arrangements.

“It’s surprising that noise can enhance the collective decision,” Kao said. “The typical assumption is that the larger the group, the greater the collective intelligence.

“We found that if you increase group size, you see the wisdom-of-crowds benefit, but if the group gets too large there is an over-reliance on high-correlation information,” he said. “You would find yourself in a situation where the group uses that information to the point that it dominates the group’s decision-making.”

None of this is to suggest that large groups would benefit from axing members, Couzin said. The size threshold he and Kao found corresponds with the number of individuals making the decisions, not the size of the group overall. The researchers cite numerous studies — including many from Couzin’s lab — showing that decisions in animal groups such as schools of fish can often fall to a select few members. These organisms can exhibit highly coordinated movements despite vast numbers of individuals. (Such hierarchies could help animals realize a dual benefit of efficient decision-making and defense via strength-in-numbers, Kao said.)

“What’s important is the number of individuals making the decision,” Couzin said. “Just looking at group size per se is not necessarily relevant. It depends on the number of individuals making the decision.”

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Are the poor the only ones living from hand-to-mouth?

Breaking into Piggy Bank
© Photographer: Frannyanne |
Stimulus programs designed to boost the economy quickly by getting cash into the hands of people likely to turn around and spend it may not be the best approach after all.

According to researchers from Princeton University and New York University who analyzed information on the finances of U.S. households from 1989 to 2010, sending cash to just the very poor may not be the right approach.

“What we found is that households that have the lowest liquid wealth — where liquid wealth is defined as basically anything other than housing and retirement accounts — tend to spend a large part of their stimulus checks, but many of those households aren’t the poorest in terms of income or net worth,” said Greg Kaplan, an assistant professor of economics at Princeton. “That’s the group we call the wealthy hand-to-mouth.”

Thirty to 40 percent of U.S. households live hand-to-mouth, consuming all of their disposable income. Two-thirds of those households fall into a category described as the “wealthy hand-to-mouth,” according to the work by Kaplan, Giovanni Violante, the William R. Berkley Term Professor of Economics at New York University, and Justin Weidner, a graduate student in economics at Princeton.

The median income of “wealthy hand-to-mouth” households is middle class — roughly $40,000 a year — and they have a median illiquid wealth of about $50,000. But because they have little cash on hand, they react to swings in income more like the poor than like the wealthy, Kaplan said. The poor hand-to-mouth, in contrast, have little cash on hand and little illiquid wealth.

Hand to mouth graph 350

Kaplan said the research has at least two significant implications for economic stimulus programs.

“The first is in thinking about the optimal way to target stimulus payments in order to get the biggest bang for the buck in terms of spending,” he said. “The conventional wisdom has been that you want to give them [stimulus payments] to the poorest of the poor. Our work suggests that to maximize the amount spent you may want to pay out to people at middle-class levels of income as well as the lowest levels.”

Another important implication, Kaplan said, is that while the wealthy hand-to-mouth are as likely to spend small stimulus checks as their poorer counterparts, the same is not true for larger stimulus checks. As the size of the payout increases, the wealthy hand-to-mouth are more likely to begin saving some of the money, reducing its effectiveness as a boost to the economy.

But why would a household with substantial illiquid wealth find itself short of cash? Kaplan said it can make sense for households to put money in illiquid assets — such as housing or retirement accounts — that offer high returns or substantial value even if it means the households then find themselves with little cash on hand. Also, the households may have recently purchased a house, using much of their liquid wealth as a down payment, Kaplan said. The researchers found that, on average, households held wealthy hand-to-mouth status for about 3.5 years.

Jonathan Parker, the International Programs Professor in Management and a professor of finance at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, said the examination of the wealthy hand-to-mouth households highlights policy issues that go beyond economic-stimulus programs.

“Overall, this is a very nice example of social science advancing our understanding of how policies aimed at long-term issues like the adequacy of retirement saving have important implications for household liquidity and the ability of people to maintain their current standard of living in the face of adverse income changes or spending demands,” Parker said.

The researchers also looked at household finances in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain. The percentage of hand-to-mouth households varied widely from nation to nation, but in all nations most of those who live hand-to-mouth qualify as wealthy hand-to-mouth.

“It seems to be a common phenomenon that if you want to target people with a high propensity to consume, you should look at people who have money tied up in illiquid wealth,” Kaplan said.

 

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Will Taking Notes by Hand Improve Long-Term Comprehension?

hand taking note
© Photographer: Amanaimages

Research shows that taking notes by hand is better than taking notes on a laptop for remembering conceptual information over the long term.

Walk into any university lecture hall and you’re likely to see row upon row of students sitting behind glowing laptop screens. Laptops in class have been controversial, due mostly to the many opportunities for distraction that they provide (online shopping, browsing Reddit, or playing solitaire, just to name a few). But few studies have examined how effective laptops are for the students who diligently take notes.

“Our new findings suggest that even when laptops are used as intended — and not for buying things on Amazon during class — they may still be harming academic performance,” says psychological scientist Pam Mueller of Princeton University, lead author of the study.

Mueller was prompted to investigate the question after her own experience of switching from laptop to pen and paper as a graduate teaching assistant:

“I felt like I’d gotten so much more out of the lecture that day,” says Mueller, who was working with psychology researcher Daniel Oppenheimer at the time. “Danny said that he’d had a related experience in a faculty meeting: He was taking notes on his computer, and looked up and realized that he had no idea what the person was actually talking about.”

Mueller and Oppenheimer, who is now at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, conducted a series of studies to investigate whether their intuitions about laptop and longhand note-taking were true.

In the first study, 65 college students watched one of five TED Talks covering topics that were interesting but not common knowledge. The students, who watched the talks in small groups, were either given laptops (disconnected from Internet) or notebooks, and were told to use whatever strategy they normally used to take notes.

The students then completed three distractor tasks, including a taxing working memory task. A full 30 minutes later, they had to answer factual-recall questions (e.g., “Approximately how many years ago did the Indus civilization exist?”) and conceptual-application questions (e.g., “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?”) based on the lecture they had watched.

The results revealed that while the two types of note-takers performed equally well on questions that involved recalling facts, laptop note-takers performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions.

The notes from laptop users contained more words and more verbatim overlap with the lecture, compared to the notes that were written by hand. Overall, students who took more notes performed better, but so did those who had less verbatim overlap, suggesting that the benefit of having more content is canceled out by “mindless transcription.”

“It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently,” the researchers write.

Surprisingly, the researchers saw similar results even when they explicitly instructed the students to avoid taking verbatim notes, suggesting that the urge to do so when typing is hard to overcome.

The researchers also found that longhand note takers still beat laptop note takers on recall one week later when participants were given a chance to review their notes before taking the recall test. Once again, the amount of verbatim overlap was associated with worse performance on conceptual items.

“I don’t anticipate that we’ll get a mass of people switching back to notebooks,” says Mueller, “but there are several new stylus technologies out there, and those may be the way to go to have an electronic record of one’s notes, while also having the benefit of being forced to process information as it comes in, rather than mindlessly transcribing it.”

“Ultimately, the take-home message is that people should be more aware of how they are choosing to take notes, both in terms of the medium and the strategy,” Mueller concludes.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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