Thursday, August 30, 2012

Red gold: the effects of the colour red on tipping of waitresses Recent research has found that male patrons tip French waitresses more generously when they are wearing something red. This effect has been found for red lipstick (as opposed to pink or brown lipstick, or none at all) (Guéguen & Jacob, 2012b), a red shirt as opposed to another colour (Guéguen & Jacob, 2012a), and a red ornament worn in the hair (as opposed to no ornaments) (Jacob, Guéguen, & Delfosse, 2012). Lipstick and shirt colour only affected the tipping of male patrons, but interestingly enough both male and female patrons tipped a waitress more generously when she wore something red in her hair. The authors of these papers suggested that waitresses could use this information to increase their income, although whether or not this could have unintended consequences has not yet been explored.

These findings build on research that has shown that men rate women as more sexually attractive when they are associated with the colour red (Elliot & Niesta, 2008). For example, men who were shown a black-and-white photo of a woman rated her as more attractive when the photo was on a red background as opposed to a white one. Female participants on the other hand did not differ in their ratings of how attractive a target woman was based on background colour. Additionally, men indicated more interest in dating a woman, more interest in engaging in sexual behaviour with her, and more willingness to spend money on her, if she was wearing a red rather than a blue shirt. Interestingly, men in these studies were largely unaware that the presence of the colour red was having an effect on them. Furthermore, presence of the colour red had no impact on men’s rating of other highly valued qualities, such as the woman’s kindness, intelligence, or likeability. This means that the colour red does not influence attractiveness by giving the impression of being a nicer person generally, but has a specific effect on sexual desirability.

Another research paper found that women wearing red as opposed to another colour were perceived by men as more interested in having sex and that this perceived sexual receptivity led to increased sexual attraction to the woman (Pazda, Elliot, & Greitemeyer, 2012). Whether or not women choose to wear red because they actually are interested in having sex is not yet known. The authors cautioned that the perception that women wearing red are more receptive to sexual advances could lead to misunderstandings and unwanted sexual attention from men.
The findings on the effects of colour red on men’s perception of women suggests that male restaurant patrons tip waitresses wearing red more generously not only because they perceive them as more attractive but as more sexually receptive. Guéguen and Jacob (2012b) proposed that when male patrons tip more generously they are unconsciously attempting to attract the waitress’ attention. Therefore, generous tips could be interpreted as courtship gifts by male patrons. Men therefore may use tips to demonstrate their status and wealth and so tip more than women do (Lynn & Simons, 2000). Guéguen & Jacob (2012a, 2012b) proposed that allowing waitresses to wear a red shirt or red lipstick may increase their income, as it results in increased tipping by males and has no negative impact on females. Based on the findings so far, wearing an ornament in the hair may be the most effective strategy for waitresses as even female patrons then give better tips, although why this would be the case is not clear. However, perhaps a note of caution needs to be sounded. Wearing red might inadvertently result in unwanted sexual attention from male patrons and the perception that the waitresses are ‘easy’. Future research studies could investigate patrons’ attitudes to waitstaff to determine if these effects do in fact occur and whether there is an increased risk of sexual harassment. Additionally, a recent study suggests that red only increases the attractiveness of young women, but has no effect for women in their forties (Schwarz & Singer). Therefore, older waitresses may not receive any benefits from this strategy.
Having considered tipping of female staff, the question arises as to whether male waiters are likely to benefit from wearing red. Research has not addressed this, but I suspect it is unlikely. Men are perceived by women as more attractive and higher in social status when they wear red (Elliot et al., 2010). However, research on tipping has found that attractiveness is associated with better tips for female but not male wait staff (Lynn & Simons, 2000). Among males but not females, better tips were associated with better self-reported competence. The effect of attractiveness on waitresses’ tips could be due to the higher societal value placed on attractiveness for females than males. The corollary seems to be that there is a higher societal value on competence in males than in females. However, the same study suggested that both sexes can increase their tipping income by being attentive to the individual needs of customers. Tipping may be a form of courtship gifting by men, but it is unusual for women to attract male interest with gifts. Future research could examine whether male waiters can earn increased tips through alterations to their presentation.

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© Scott McGreal. Please do not reproduce without permission. Brief excerpts may be quoted as long as a link to the original article is provided. 

This article also appears on Psychology Today on my blog Unique - Like Everybody Else.

Elliot, A. J., & Niesta, D. (2008). Romantic red: Red enhances men's attraction to women Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5, 1150-1164 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.95.5.1150
Elliot, A. J., Kayer, D. N., Greitemeyer, T., Lichtenfeld, S., Gramzow, R. G., & Maier, M. A. (2010). Red, Rank, and Romance in Women Viewing Men. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 139(3), 399-417. doi: 10.1037/a0019689
Guéguen, N., & Jacob, C. (2012a). Clothing Color and Tipping: Gentlemen Patrons Give More Tips to Waitresses With Red Clothes. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research. doi: 10.1177/1096348012442546
Guéguen, N., & Jacob, C. (2012b). Lipstick and tipping behavior: When red lipstick enhance waitresses tips. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 31(4), 1333-1335. doi: 10.1016/j.ijhm.2012.03.012
Jacob, C., Guéguen, N., & Delfosse, C. (2012). She Wore Something in Her Hair: The Effect of Ornamentation on Tipping. Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management, 21(4), 414-420. doi: 10.1080/19368623.2012.624296
Lynn, M., & Simons, T. (2000). Predictors of male and female servers’ average tip earnings. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 241-252.
Pazda, A. D., Elliot, A. J., & Greitemeyer, T. (2012). Sexy red: Perceived sexual receptivity mediates the red-attraction relation in men viewing woman. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(3), 787-790. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.12.009
Schwarz, S., & Singer, M. Romantic red revisited: Red enhances men's attraction to young, but not menopausal women. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology(0). doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.08.004

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Opening the mind: where scepticism and superstition meet
As noted in a previous posting, a number of recent papers have found that religious and paranormal beliefs were positively associated with “intuitive” thinking and negatively associated with “analytical” thinking. One of these studies (Shenhav, Rand, & Greene, 2011) investigated personality traits and found that openness to experience had a moderate negative correlation with belief in God, suggesting that the more open to experience people are, the less likely they are to believe. Interestingly this correlation (r = -.32) was larger than the correlation between analytical thinking and God belief (r = -.18), indicating that openness to experience may have a stronger impact on belief than thinking style. Shenhav et al. found that priming intuitive thinking could increase reported belief in God, whereas priming analytical thinking could decrease it. Subsequent studies confirmed that priming analytical thinking reduced both religious and paranormal beliefs (Gervais & Norenzayan, 2012; Pennycook, Cheyne, Seli, Koehler,& Fugelsang, 2012). This raises an intriguing possibility that priming openness to experience could have an influence on supernatural belief, although due to the ambiguous nature of openness to experience the results could encompass both increased scepticism or increased superstition.

Openness to experience is a broad feature of personality associated with intellectual curiosity, artistic interests, questioning of traditional values and authority, and willingness to explore new experiences and activities. Openness to experience is positively related to a construct called need for cognition, which is associated with analytical thinking. A survey conducted by the Center for Inquiry found that openness to experience was the personality trait that most strongly distinguished between those who considered themselves religious and those who did not, with the latter scoring higher on this trait (Galen, 2009). However, openness to experience is also positively correlated with paranormal beliefs (Smith, Johnson, & Hathaway, 2009), magical thinking (DeYoung, Grazioplene, & Peterson, 2012) and mystical experience (MacDonald, 2000). Paradoxically perhaps, openness to experience thus encompasses a rather diverse set of characteristics, some of which would seem to support disbelief in religion, whereas others seem to support mystical and spiritual ideas. 

 Sceptical scientists and believers in the occult alike tend to be high in openness to experience

It has been argued that these diverse aspects of openness to experience all share an underlying theme of cognitive exploration of both inner and outer experience (DeYoung, et al., 2012). People who are high in openness to experience are interested in unconventional ideas and have a willingness to question traditional values and beliefs. This might help to explain why both paranormal believers and atheists (who generally tend to be sceptical of all supernatural beliefs) tend to be high in openness to experience. Atheists are willing to question traditional religious beliefs and form their own opinions. People who believe in the paranormal may be attracted to paranormal phenomena because they are outside mainstream experience. Where atheists and paranormal believers may differ is in narrower aspects of personality encompassed by openness to experience. De Young et al. proposed that the traits encompassed by openness to experience fall along a spectrum with the more intellectual aspects, such as need for cognition at one end, and the more unusual experiential traits, such as fantasy-proneness and magical thinking at the other end. People who endorse paranormal beliefs may be more open to fantasy (Smith, et al., 2009) and more prone to unusual perceptual experiences (DeYoung, et al., 2012). Atheists on the other hand tend to self-identify as intellectuals and tend to attribute their lack of belief to their interest in logic and rationality (Caldwell-Harris, Wilson, LoTempio, & Beit-Hallahmi, 2011). Interestingly, although openness to experience and intelligence are moderately positively correlated, in the Shenhav et al. study measures of intelligence had almost no relationship with belief in God. This suggests that belief is more closely related to personality preferences than actual intellectual ability. 

Due to the heterogeneity of the construct, priming openness to experience could have ambiguous effects on supernatural beliefs. The idea of priming openness to experience might seem implausible because personality traits such as openness to experience are usually thought of as enduring characteristics of a person that remain stable over time. Stable traits may be contrasted with more transient states that reflect changes in a person’s mood. For example, some people may be generally sociable (a trait) yet at any given moment how sociable they feel (their state) may vary with their mood. Research has found that stable personality traits have corresponding states and that it is possible to experimentally induce temporary changes in these states (Schutte, Malouff, Segrera, Wolf, & Rodgers, 2003). This was done by asking people to concentrate on imagining themselves in a number of situations where they were acting as if they were in a particular state. For example, state extraversion was induced by asking them to imagine they were the centre of attention at a party. State openness to experience was induced by asking a person to imagine they were having an intellectual discussion. The experimenters found that the inductions did produce significant increases in personality states associated with openness to experience.

As far as I know, no experiments have been done to test whether priming state openness to experience would affect supernatural beliefs. For example a person might be asked to imagine what it would be like to have a very unconventional lifestyle. One reasonable prediction would be that priming openness to experience could reduce more conventional forms of religious belief, but could also increase receptivity to paranormal or mystical ideas. Priming manipulations focusing on narrower aspects of openness might produce more specific results. Thus, asking someone to imagine they were having an intellectual discussion might produce more general scepticism, whereas asking someone to imagine what it would be like to have a rich fantasy life might produce receptivity to more mystical types of thought and experience. Studies that primed analytical thinking did not assess how durable the effects on religious beliefs were. Priming states of openness might have only a transitory effect on a person's beliefs. Nevertheless, research into this area would help shed light on the processes underlying both rational and non-rational beliefs.

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© Scott McGreal. Please do not reproduce without permission. Brief excerpts may be quoted as long as a link to the original article is provided.  

This article also appears on Psychology Today on my blog Unique - Like Everybody Else.

Other posts discussing the possibilities of priming
Reason Versus Faith? The Interplay of Intuition and Rationality In Supernatural Belief

Think Like a Man: Effects of Gender Priming on Cognition
Turning the Wheels of the MInd - Clockwise movements increase openness to experience

 Caldwell-Harris, C. L., Wilson, A. L., LoTempio, E., & Beit-Hallahmi, B. (2011). Exploring the atheist personality: well-being, awe, and magical thinking in atheists, Buddhists, and Christians. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 14 (7), 659-672 DOI: 10.1080/13674676.2010.509847
DeYoung, C. G., Grazioplene, R. G., & Peterson, J. B. (2012). From madness to genius: The Openness/Intellect trait domain as a paradoxical simplex.  Journal of Research in Personality, 46 (1), 63-78 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2011.12.003
Galen, L. W. (2009). Profiles of the godless: Results from a survey of the nonreligious. Free Inquiry, 41-45.
Gervais WM, & Norenzayan A (2012). Analytic thinking promotes religious disbelief. Science (New York, N.Y.), 336 (6080), 493-6 PMID: 22539725
MacDonald, D. A. (2000). Spirituality: Description, Measurement, and Relation to the Five Factor Model of Personality. Journal of Personality, 68(1), 153-197. doi: 10.1111/1467-6494.t01-1-00094
 Pennycook, G., Cheyne, J. A., Seli, P., Koehler, D. J., & Fugelsang, J. A. (2012). Analytic cognitive style predicts religious and paranormal belief  Cognition, 123 (3), 335-346 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.03.003
Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., Segrera, E., Wolf, A., & Rodgers, L. (2003). States reflecting the Big Five dimensions. Personality and Individual Differences, 34(4), 591-603. doi: 10.1016/s0191-8869(02)00031-4
Shenhav, A., Rand, D., & Greene, J. (2011). Divine intuition: Cognitive style influences belief in God Journal of Experimental Psychology: General DOI: 10.1037/a0025391
Smith, C. L., Johnson, J. L., & Hathaway, W. (2009). Personality Contributions to Belief in Paranormal Phenomena. Individual Differences Research, 7(2), 85-96.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Reason versus faith? The interplay of intuition and rationality in supernatural belief
Recent papers (Gervais & Norenzayan, 2012; Pennycook, Cheyne, Seli, Koehler, & Fugelsang, 2012; Shenhav,Rand, & Greene, 2011) have suggested that religious and paranormal beliefs are supported by “intuitive” thought processes and that engaging in “analytical” thought processes can weaken these beliefs, at least temporarily. These studies have fascinating implications for the development of non-rational beliefs and suggest possibilities for challenging such beliefs. These studies consider intuition and analytical thought as opposed systems, and while this is frequently applicable, previous research has found that in some people these two modes of thought co-exist to a high degree and their combination supports supernatural beliefs.

These studies are based on a “dual process” model of thought that proposes the existence of two parallel information processing modes. The first mode, sometimes called the experiential system, is intuitive, emotional and immediate. The second mode, sometimes called the rational system, is reflective, logical, and deliberative, and hence takes more time to process information than the intuitive system. There are individual differences in the degree to which people prefer to use either of these systems. Recent studies have found that people who show a greater inclination towards the use of intuitive thinking were more likely to endorse belief in God and the afterlife (Shenhav, et al., 2011) as well as in paranormal phenomena, including psychic powers, witchcraft, astrology and so on (Pennycook, et al., 2012). Pennycook et al. even classified belief in God along a spectrum from most conventional (a personal God exists), through the less conventional (belief in an impersonal higher power or an inactive God), and through into degrees of disbelief (agnosticism and atheism). They found that more conventional God beliefs were associated with more intuitive responses, whereas less conventional beliefs and disbelief were associated with more analytical responses.

Even more intriguing were the results of experimental interventions to manipulate intuitive versus analytical thinking. Belief in God was strengthened by a writing intervention designed to either increase confidence in one’s intuition or reduce confidence in one’s rationality (Shenhav, et al., 2011). Conversely, belief in God was weakened by decreasing confidence in intuition or increasing confidence in rationality. A series of experiments in which rationality was primed were also found to decrease belief in God (Gervais & Norenzayan, 2012). The primes used included viewing a picture of Rodin’s “Thinker”, reading words associated with analytical thinking (think, reason, analyze, ponder, rational), and, remarkably, reading a questionnaire in a difficult to read font. Previous research has found that information presented in a difficult to read font improves subsequent performance on tests of analytical thinking. Notably, none of these interventions involved any form of argumentation against religious belief or any mention of belief at all. People were simply asked to perform these tasks and then they answered questions about their beliefs.  

These findings have interesting implications for attempts at persuasion for or against religious beliefs. Encouraging people to trust their intuitions or gut feelings in matters unrelated to religion could increase a person’s subsequent receptivity to religious or supernatural ideas. Conversely, encouraging intellectual discussion or even having people read unrelated material in a hard-to-read font could elicit scepticism about such things. The studies cited could not address how durable these effects are likely to be, so it is possible that such interventions might have only transient effects.

The quote is attributed to Martin Luther, 1569.

 The findings of the studies do provide evidence that religious and supernatural beliefs are associated with intuitive thinking and that scepticism about religion is associated with analytical thinking. However, it would be premature to conclude that such beliefs are best viewed in terms of a dichotomy in which intuitive and analytical thinking are by nature opposed to each other. Such a dichotomy seems to be implied by statements by Pennycook et al. that: “initial intuitions during problem-solving often pre-empt further analysis” (p. 336) and “An analytic cognitive style will typically involve a broader assessment of problem elements as well as an examination and critical evaluation of intuitions.” The task used to assess preference for intuitive or analytical thinking actually involves asking people to solve problems where there is an intuitively appealing but incorrect answer, so that to reach the correct answer the person must reject their initial intuition. The nature of the task itself therefore sets up a dichotomy in which intuition and reflection are incompatible. This may well be applicable much of the time but there is some intriguing evidence that the two modes of thought sometimes operate in a parallel rather than a conflicting manner. This parallel operation has been found to have implications of its own for supernatural beliefs.

The dual-process model originally proposed that the two modes are independent of each other and as a result although some people habitually prefer one mode over the other, some people actually prefer to use both, while some people have little preference for either. One study sorted people into four clusters based on their respective preferences for the two modes of thought and examined their patterns of belief (Wolfradt, Oubaid, Straube, Bischoff, & Mischo, 1999). The cluster who had high preferences for both intuitive and analytical thought (“complementary thinkers”) actually had the highest rates of paranormal belief of all four clusters and also scored higher on measures of magical thinking compared to the cluster with high analytical and low intuitive thinking (“rational thinkers”). Wolfradt et al. suggested that: “A simultaneous processing style leads potentially to a disinhibition of associations which fosters irrational thinking” (p. 828).

 The potentially complementary relationship between intuitive and analytical modes of thought seems to shed some light on religious beliefs among scientists. Scientists are vocationally committed to empiricism and therefore would be expected to be naturally high on analytical thinking. Scientists are generally expected to reject beliefs that are not based on evidence and surveys have found that the majority of scientists are not religious. However, there are a substantial minority of scientists who are religious (one study found as many as 40%) and this poses a question about why people who are committed to evidence-based propositions in their work would simultaneously accept faith-based beliefs in their private lives (MacPherson & Kelly, 2011). The MacPherson and Kelly study found that although scientists as a group were generally less religious than non-scientists, they also scored higher in creativity and magical thinking. Additionally, among these scientists, religious belief, creativity, and magical thinking were all positively correlated. This suggests that among scientists there is a subgroup that is religious, creative and accepting of unconventional views of reality. The authors suggested that religious and paranormal beliefs may be linked to creativity and that these may form part of a broader psychological dimension known as transliminality. Transliminality involves the crossing of psychological material into and out of awareness. People who are high in transliminality may feel more able to accommodate the apparent tension between rational and non-rational ideas. This notion seems similar to that of Wolfradt et al. who proposed that the “complementary” thinking style fosters loose associations that support magical thinking associated with paranormal beliefs.

Future research could examine what effects experimental manipulations of analytical thinking might have on complementary thinkers, such as religious scientists. It seems possible that in order to decrease the religious beliefs of a complementary thinker it would be necessary not only to strengthen their analytical thinking but to weaken their reliance on intuition. Such research might be of particular interest for example to those who are concerned about the increasing prominence of non-evidence based treatments such as alternative medicine in educational institutions.  

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© Scott McGreal. Please do not reproduce without permission. Brief excerpts may be quoted as long as a link to the original article is provided. 

          Gervais, W. M., & Norenzayan, A. (2012). Analytic Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief Science, 336 (6080), 493-496 DOI: 10.1126/science.1215647
MacPherson, J. S., & Kelly, S. W. (2011). Creativity and positive schizotypy influence the conflict between science and religion. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(4), 446-450. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.11.002
           Pennycook, G., Cheyne, J. A., Seli, P., Koehler, D. J., & Fugelsang, J. A. (2012). Analytic cognitive style predicts religious and paranormal belief  Cognition, 123 (3), 335-346 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.03.003
Shenhav, A., Rand, D., & Greene, J. (2011). Divine intuition: Cognitive style influences belief in God Journal of Experimental Psychology: General DOI: 10.1037/a0025391
Wolfradt, U., Oubaid, V., Straube, E. R., Bischoff, N., & Mischo, J. (1999). Thinking styles, schizotypal traits and anomalous experiences. Personality and Individual Differences, 27(5), 821-830. doi: 10.1016/s0191-8869(99)00031-8

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Is there something wrong with people who do not use Facebook?
Recent news stories have suggested that employers may be reluctant to hire people without a Facebook profile on the grounds that Facebook usage has become so common that not having an account is seen as somehow abnormal. This concern appears to have been compounded by a lurid report in a German newspaper that alleged mass killers James Holmes and Anders Behring Breivik did not have Facebook accounts, leading to the rather hysterical conclusion that not having an account “could be the first sign that you are a mass murderer.”

"Hey, there's that guy with no Facebook account! He must be Jack the Ripper!"
(Image source: The Illustrated London News, 1888)

Is there any substance to these concerns? Research suggests that although not having a Facebook account might be unusual nowadays it is hardly cause for alarm. Indeed, the fact that someone has an account is hardly a credential of mental health either, and may be associated with its own problems, admittedly minor ones.

An Australian study examined personality differences between people with and without Facebook accounts (Ryan & Xenos, 2011).  People with an account were found to be more extraverted and narcissistic, whereas those without an account were found to be more conscientious and also shyer. They also found that those without an account experienced more social loneliness, but those with an account experienced more family loneliness. They also looked at time spent on Facebook per day among users and found time spent was positively correlated with neuroticism and loneliness and negatively correlated with conscientiousness. All of these effects tended to be small. These findings seem comparable to those of a study comparing users of Facebook and Twitter respectively which found that people who preferred Facebook tended to be more extraverted and sociable compared to Twitter users, but also more neurotic and less intellectually oriented (Hughes, Rowe, Batey, & Lee, 2012).

Discrimination against non-users of Facebook is not only unfair it is unwarranted.

What might this suggest to a potential employer concerned about whether an applicant has a Facebook account or not? On the one hand those who have an account will tend to be more outgoing and less shy, which would be important in jobs involving a great deal of face-to-face interaction. On the other hand, those who do not have an account tend to be higher in conscientiousness, suggesting they are more likely to be hard working, persevering and achievement oriented. In fact, conscientiousness has been found to be one of the strongest personality predictors of job performance across all professions. Furthermore, the more time a day a person spends on Facebook, the less time they are doing actual work and the more time they are likely to be whining about their personal problems. People who do not have a Facebook account also tend to be somewhat less narcissistic, that is, less egotistical and exhibitionistic. Employers concerned about someone not being on Facebook might instead want to consider the desirability of hiring applicants who think that “everything is about me” and who lack a strong work ethic. Narcissism is also a member of what personality psychologists call “the dark triad” of personality, along with such antisocial characteristics as psychopathy and Machiavellianism (Jakobwitz & Egan, 2006). Although there is no evidence that Facebook usage has anything at all to do either way with being a homicidal maniac, the fact that narcissism has a known relationship with antisocial traits would seem to suggest that people who do not have Facebook accounts are actually less likely to commit atrocities. All of these considerations should of course be tempered by the fact that all of the effects reported by these research studies have been small in size. So, looking at things scientifically, knowing that someone does or does not have a Facebook account is not likely to be a strong indicator of the character of the person, and is hardly concern for panic either way.    

Personally, I think a more worrying trend than people not having Facebook accounts, is revealed by cases of employers in the U.S. demanding that job applicants hand over their Facebook passwords or “friend” their bosses so that the latter can snoop on them. Perhaps, all this hysteria about some people not having accounts is really a cloak to justify an increasing invasion of privacy. Surely, trying to stigmatise or marginalise people who choose not to conform to popular social trends and demanding access to people’s private communications are hardly compatible with the values of liberal democracy.

This post also appears on my blog at Psychology Today Unique - Like Everybody Else.

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© Scott McGreal. Please do not reproduce without permission. Brief excerpts may be quoted as long as a link to the original article is provided.  

         Hughes, D. J., Rowe, M., Batey, M., & Lee, A. (2012). A tale of two sites: Twitter vs. Facebook and the personality predictors of social media usage. Computers in Human Behavior, 28 (2), 561-569 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2011.11.001
          Jakobwitz, S., & Egan, V. (2006). The dark triad and normal personality traits Personality and Individual Differences, 40 (2), 331-339 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2005.07.006
         Ryan, T., & Xenos, S. (2011). Who uses Facebook? An investigation into the relationship between the Big Five, shyness, narcissism, loneliness, and Facebook usage. Computers in Human Behavior, 27 (5), 1658-1664 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2011.02.004

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What does a General Factor of Personality really represent? A number of research studies suggest that there is a general factor of personality (GFP) at the apex of the hierarchy of personality traits (Musek, 2007). Evidence for this derives from studies examining correlations between the factors in the Big Five model of personality. Proponents of the Big Five model have argued that the five factors are independent of each other and represent the most basic personality factors. In contrast, proponents of a GFP have argued that this "Big One" is a real substantial trait. Rushton and Irwing (2011) even argued that high scores on the GFP represent : "good personality" as opposed to a "difficult" one. They stated that: “Individuals high on the GFP are altruistic, agreeable, relaxed, conscientious, sociable, and open, with high levels of well-being and self-esteem…. The GFP can be viewed as a dimension of social effectiveness.” They have argued that this general factor is a product of natural selection.

On the other hand, other researchers have argued that the big five personality factors are actually independent of each other and that the general factor is a statistical artefact (Ashton, Lee, Goldberg, & de Vries, 2009; de Vries, 2011). Ashton et al. (2009) argued that correlations between personality factors can be explained without invoking higher order factors. They argued that these correlations are due to the existence of blended personality traits that combine features of two or more factors. For example, interpersonal circumplex models feature traits based on various combinations of extraversion and agreeableness. Notably, the combination of high extraversion and low agreeableness is associated with a socially dominant style of interpersonal behaviour. It could be argued that this particular style is favoured by natural selection in men because interpersonal dominance is attractive to females looking for high status mates. However, if the GFP has developed through natural selection than the more "socially desirable" combination of high extraversion and high agreeableness would be expected to be the norm.

Ashton et al. argued that certain combinations of personality factors are considered socially important. For example, the combination of high agreeableness and conscientiousness, and low neuroticism tend to describe someone who is well socialised and well-behaved. Correlations between factors might represent the special importance of certain combinations of traits rather than true higher order factors. Research by de Vries (2011) using two different personality measures found that a distinctly different GFP emerged from each of these factors and that they were negatively correlated with each other. He concluded that a GFP is an artefact of the measure and analysis used. Danay and Ziegler (2011) used a multirater approach and found that the GFP was not consistent across self-reports and peer-ratings. They argued that the appearance of the GFP reflects impression management. That is, people try to convince others that they are more agreeable, conscientious, and emotionally stable than they really are. The GFP may represent skill in impression management. However, this interpretation is based on purely correlational data, and the authors acknowledge that the GFP may have no substance.

Muncer (2011) has also argued that there is no evidence that natural selection would favour a single general factor. The environments humans have lived in throughout their evolutionary development have been varied and subject to change. For natural selection to favour a GFP would require that environmental conditions have nearly always favoured a homogenous suite of personality characteristics that have varied in a uniform way, which does not seem likely.

If the GFP is not a substantive personality trait, then how to explain findings that measures of the GFP are associated with subjective well-being, self-esteem and social desirability? It is possible that the Big Five personality traits are indeed independent in regards to their aetiology, e.g. their genetic basis. The hypothetical GFP might represent a particular cluster of traits that happens to be associated with particular outcomes, such as subjective well-being. As noted earlier, interpersonal circumplex models describe traits associated with combinations of two independent factors. Cloninger has also catalogued and described different combinations of the three character traits of self-directedness, cooperativeness, and self-transcendence and provided names for all eight possible combinations (Josefsson et al., 2011). For example, someone high on all three is the "creative" type, whereas someone low on all three is the "depressed" type. Someone on high on self-transcendence and low on the other two traits has the "disorganised" or "schizotypal" combination. Cloninger has not proposed a general factor of character traits, yet he clearly considers the ‘creative’ type as the most "mature". Similarly, it might be more appropriate to consider the so-called general factor of personality, not as a higher-order continuous factor, but as a particular combination of traits that happens to be socially desirable and associated with high subjective well-being and self-esteem. The GFP might be an especially prominent blend of traits due to these associations. Other combinations of traits might usefully be described and their correlates studied.

This approach could help us better understand personality in the context of natural selection. Women tend to be higher than men on some of the ‘desirable’ traits such as agreeableness and conscientiousness yet they are also higher on the ‘undesirable’ trait of neuroticism. If the GFP were the most basic factor of personality this would be difficult to understand. However, from the viewpoint of natural selection it is readily understandable that females would be both highly nurturing (agreeable) and risk avoidant due to anxiety (associated with neuroticism). Conversely, natural selection seems to have favoured boldness and dominance in men, which again does not fit in with selection for a GFP, but instead suggests that particular combinations of traits would be adaptive for particular social roles. Some researchers have proposed that different combinations of masculine traits might be favoured by sexual selection depending on changing social circumstances. For example, highly aggressive males would be favoured in societies characterised by ongoing violent conflict, but disdained in more stable peaceful societies. Therefore, rather than proposing that there is general factor atop the hierarchy of personality, it seems more likely there are a variety of possible combinations of several basic personality traits that could be favoured by natural selection in different circumstances. Additionally, within a given society different combinations of traits may be adaptive within particular social niches. Some researchers (Coyne & Thomas, 2008) have suggested that psychopaths have developed a predatory "cheater-hawk" strategy (combining cheating and aggression) that may be ‘adaptive’ in some sense for people who are unlikely to prosper using more socially acceptable strategies. Psychopathy combines elements of low agreeableness, high boldness, and low fear, a suite of characteristics that do not fit into a homogenous GFP wherein all socially desirable traits vary together. Therefore, even though particular combinations of traits may be regarded by some as representing a "good personality", what is most adaptive from an individual's perspective probably depends on their social context.

Further Reading
Personality's "Big One" Revisited: The Allure of the Dark Side - follow up to the present article, presents new evidence against a general factor of personality.

What is an Intelligent Personality? - discusses the relationship between personality and various concepts of intelligence, particularly in regard to claims that a general factor of personality is correlated with general intelligence. 

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© Scott McGreal. Please do not reproduce without permission. Brief excerpts may be quoted as long as a link to the original article is provided. 

This article also appears on Psychology Today on my blog Unique - Like Everybody Else.

Ashton, M. C., Lee, K., Goldberg, L. R., & de Vries, R. E. (2009). Higher Order Factors of Personality: Do They Exist?  Personality and Social Psychology Review, 13 (2), 79-91 DOI: 10.1177/1088868309338467
Coyne, S. M., & Thomas, T. J. (2008). Psychopathy, aggression, and cheating behavior: A test of the Cheater–Hawk hypothesis. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 1105–1115. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2007.11.002
Danay, E., & Ziegler, M. (2011). Is there really a single factor of personality? A multirater approach to the apex of personality. Journal of Research in Personality. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2011.07.003
de Vries, R. E. (2011). No evidence for a General Factor of Personality in the HEXACO Personality Inventory.  Journal of Research in Personality, 45 (2), 229-232 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2010.12.002
Josefsson, K., Cloninger, C. R., Hintsanen, M., Jokela, M., Pulkki-Råback, L., & Keltikangas-Järvinen, L. (2011). Associations of personality profiles with various aspects of well-being: A population-based study. Journal of affective disorders, 133(1), 265-273. 
Muncer, S. J. (2011). The general factor of personality: Evaluating the evidence from meta-analysis, confirmatory factor analysis and evolutionary theory. Personality and Individual Differences, 51 (6), 775-778 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.06.029
Musek, Janet (2007). A general factor of personality: Evidence for the Big One in the five-factor model. Journal of Research in Personality, 41 (6), 1213-1233 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2007.02.003
Rushton, J. P., & Irwing, P. (2011). The General Factor of Personality: Normal and Abnormal. In T. Chamorro-Premuzic, S. v. Stumm & A. Furnham (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Individual Differences ( First ed.): Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Problems with the Cold Winters theory of intelligence

There is continuing controversy about inter-ethnic differences in IQ and why these might exist. Richard Lynn (Kanazawa, 2012; Richard Lynn, 1987) proposed that Europeans and Asians are more intelligent than Africans because during their evolutionary history they faced the challenge of surviving in environments featuring extremely cold winters. He claimed that survival in cold conditions would have created selection pressures for greater intelligence. Africans on the other hand live in tropical conditions all year round and hence did not need as much intelligence. Lynn (2006) has presented data correlating the intelligence of different ethnic groups with the severity of their winter climates. However, there are some anomalies in his data and the theory itself is based on questionable assumptions.  

The theory of cold winters proposes that survival in colder climates poses two evolutionarily novel problems that would have required high intelligence to solve: finding food and keeping warm (Kanazawa, 2012). Kanazawa (2012) explains Lynn's theory with fairly sweeping statements about how easy it was to obtain food in Africa, whereas people in more northerly latitudes had to rely more extensively on hunting, which presumably required more intelligence. He cites a statement by Lynn “that hunting in the grasslands of Eurasia is more difficult than hunting in the woodlands of Africa because the former does not provide cover for the hunters.” This claim seems rather bizarre in light of the fact that modern humans are thought to have evolved on the African savannah, that is, open grasslands, and so African hunters would have therefore needed to solve the problem of hunting without tree cover. Kanazawa (2012) goes on to elaborate why Eurasian hunters were supposedly more sophisticated than their African counterparts:
Effective hunting thus presents a whole host of new adaptive problems for our ancestors in Eurasia to solve, including the coordination of different hunters for a single goal and the manufacture and use of hunting weapons. These problems were largely unencountered by their counterparts left behind in sub-Saharan Africa. These novel adaptive problems exerted strong selection pressures for higher intelligence.
Really? Does Kanazawa suppose that ancient African peoples did not know how to coordinate hunting parties or manufacture and use hunting weapons? Recent evidence indicates that humans have been hunting for at least two million years. Modern pygmies and Bushmen are known to hunt elephant and giraffe. Would not hunting these large animals pose adaptive problems involving coordination of hunting parties? Furthermore, some non-human carnivores, such as lions and wolves, hunt in coordinated packs with admirable efficiency. Although these animals are relatively intelligent I do not think anyone would seriously suppose that they require the intellectual capacities of humans to perform these feats.

Kanazawa argues that in cold climates producing fire is more difficult because there are fewer natural brush fires where fire can be obtained without making it. Also, in cold climates producing warm clothing and adequate shelter is more difficult. But what evidence is there that early humans needed a high level of intelligence to do these things? Neanderthals lived in Ice Age conditions for thousands of years and therefore faced these exact problems. Furthermore, Neanderthals were known to hunt European megafauna. Somehow they learned how to coordinate hunting parties to kill very large, very dangerous animals.  Does this mean they were more intelligent than the first modern humans living in Africa? I have never heard any scientist seriously propose that this is the case. The Neanderthal tool repertoire was much more limited than that of their Cro-Magnon contemporaries yet they somehow managed to survive for millennia with rather crude tools. Neanderthals do not seem to have developed any art forms, yet all races of modern humans, even the ones Lynn considers the least intelligent have developed art. Lynn (2006) acknowledges that anatomically modern humans first appeared in Africa. Yet he does not explain why it is that the modern human race that evolved in tropical Africa developed greater intelligence and cognitive sophistication compared to their Neanderthal relatives who had been surviving in harsh Ice Age conditions for so many millennia.
Were our Neanderthal cousins deep thinkers?

Lynn (2006) presents data on IQ, brain size, and winter temperatures for a wide range of human racial groups to support his theory that colder winters are associated with higher IQ and larger brains. However, he does note anomalies in the data. The peoples of the Arctic endure the harshest winter conditions of all. Lynn’s hypothesis would seem to predict that they would have the highest intelligence and the largest brain size of any race. Lynn’s review found that on average they did have larger brains than any other race. He has argued that generally speaking, average brain size is correlated with average IQ within a given human population. However, the median IQ of Arctic peoples according to Lynn’s data is 91. This is within the normal range but clearly not ‘superior’. Arctic people have been found to have unusually strong visual memory that exceeds that of Europeans. Europeans who have travelled with the Inuit have remarked upon their extraordinary ability to traverse apparently featureless terrain and closely observe the smallest landmarks and memorise their spatial locations. Lynn argued that this enhanced visual memory is a result of natural selection in their Arctic environment. Strong visual memory has also been noted among desert dwelling Australian Aboriginals, where it may have been an adaptation to life in a desert environment (Kearins, 1981). Lynn (2006, p. 144) argued that high intelligence requires large populations to develop because mutations, being chance events, are more likely to occur in large populations. Arctic people have smaller populations than Asians or Europeans and therefore mutations beneficial to intelligence did not occur. He argues that in Arctic peoples some of their larger brain size may be devoted specifically to visual memory. Strangely enough, he claims that Australian Aboriginals have smaller brain sizes compared to most other races, yet like Arctic peoples some Aboriginal tribes have apparently developed enhanced visual memory. To be fair, at least one study reported that Australian Aboriginals had a larger right visual cortex than Europeans, a part of the brain associated with spatial ability. He does not explain why natural selection among Arctic peoples would result in larger brain sizes or enhanced visual memory yet the same evolutionary pressures associated with a cold environment would not also produce higher intelligence. Arctic peoples have clear physical adaptations to the cold, such as short, stocky bodies well-suited to conserving heat. Additionally, some scientists have argued that a large brain is an adaptation to the cold that also helps to conserve heat. Neanderthals are striking for having had larger average brain sizes than modern humans, which has been argued to be an adaptation to the cold climate, yet they were clearly less cognitively sophisticated than modern humans. His argument about beneficial mutations occurring only in large populations seems like nothing more than special pleading. Furthermore, he acknowledges that some races, such as Pacific Islanders have smaller brains than Australian Aboriginals, yet they have higher average IQs (Table 16.2).

  When anatomically modern humans first appeared in tropical Africa, more primitive hominids, such as Homo erectus, had been living throughout Eurasia for over a million years. If cold winters were a stimulus to the development of greater intelligence it is not clear why modern humans developed such high intelligence in a tropical climate. Furthermore there is no compelling reason to suppose that survival in cold climates actually requires higher intelligence than survival in the tropics. It could be argued that survival in the tropics poses special challenges that would require intelligence, such as coping with tropical diseases and parasites. The explanation for why there are persisting inter-ethnic differences in mean IQ scores remains unclear (Neisser et al., 1996). Richard Lynn believes that these differences are due to evolved genetic differences between distinct racial groups but this view is not widely accepted in academia. His theory of cold winters as an explanation for this phenomenon does not seem at all plausible.

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© Scott McGreal. Please do not reproduce without permission. Brief excerpts may be quoted as long as a link to the original article is provided.  


Kanazawa, Satoshi (2012). The evolution of general intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences, 53 (2), 90-93 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.05.015
Kearins, J. M. (1981). Visual spatial memory in Australian Aboriginal children of desert regions. Cognitive Psychology, 13(3), 434-460. doi: 10.1016/0010-0285(81)90017-7
Lynn, R. (1987). The intelligence of the Mongoloids: A psychometric, evolutionary and neurological theory. Personality and Individual Differences, 8(6), 813-844. doi: 10.1016/0191-8869(87)90135-8
Lynn, R. (2006). Race differences in intelligence: an evolutionary analysis: Washington Summit Publishers.
Neisser et al. (1996). Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns
 American Psychologist, 51 (2), 77-101 DOI: 10.1037//0003-066X.51.2.77