Monthly Archives: February 2011

ABC Begins

Last April in the thrill of Apple’s iGizmo success I looked deeply into the Persuasion Palantir and saw ABC – the Apple Broadcasting Company.  I might be right.

Consider Apple’s bombshell move to require a 30% fee on all publishers selling product through Apple apps at iTunes.  Jobs built a network of that prime 18-45 market and now he’s opening the toll booth.  If you want to play on his device, you have to pay.

In communication concepts, Apple has built a mass mediated network similar to radio and TV networks, but Jobs makes the devices and the software and now sells access to that network.  And consider how he slowly moved into this.  First the devices, then iTunes, then open development of apps.

Jobs owns Reception in the Cascade with his ABC.

An Experimental Test of Practical Persuasion for Pickups

What’s a good pickup line?

Keith Weber, Alan Goodboy, and Jake Cayanus provide an experimental test to answer that question for the Eternal Pursuit.  I’ll bet the results will surprise you.

They shot videotapes of the same professional actors displaying a social scene in a bar with onlookers, a bartender, and the key roles of the Guy and the Chick.  They shot five different pickup lines, but otherwise the scene was the same in each video, varying only with the pickup line the Guy used on the Chick (the video went to black immediately after the line and did not show any response from the Chick).  College adults were randomly assigned to view just one of the five videos then rate the appropriateness and effectiveness of the Guy’s pickup line with the Chick.

Here are the five different pickup tactics.

1.  Direct Introduction.  The Guy approaches the Chick and says, “Hi, my name is Josh.  What’s your name?”

2.  Direct Compliment.  “I had to tell you how fine you are.”

3.  Humor Attempt.  “Do you think I look like Johnny Depp?”

4.  Cute-Flippant Line.  “You must be tired because you’ve been running through my mind all night.”

5.  Third-Party Introduction.  Someone who knows the Chick accompanies the Guy over to her and says, “Hi, Kayla, this is my friend Josh.”

Put your money down.  Which pickup lines are the winners?  Okay, now here are the results.

Hands down, the best pickup line for both appropriateness and effectiveness as rated by both male and female viewers was . . . the Third-Party Introduction.  The least appropriate and effective line as rated again by both males and females was the Cute-Flippant Line.

Now, Weber et al. report considerably more information in this study and you can chase it down in the journal, Communication Research Reports, 2010, volume 27.  They detail nuances concerning the relative impact of perceived attractiveness, nonverbal immediacy, and others on the outcomes, but the main point is clear:  Ride in on an existing relationship.

Hey, Guys, with Chicks follow the Rules.

More Is the Enemy of Less.

P.S. Keith Weber and I worked together at WVU a number of years ago in my large lecture mass media course.  I had to step in with Keith when he was ready to rumble with a jerk student who owned a long and well deserved reputation as a fool who later went on to a successful career in the NFL while remaining a world class punk through it all.  It was a good thing that I had to step in between them because I wanted to drop kick the jerk myself which would have been entirely inappropriate since I was the professor and the jerk was my student.  Keith just got there first and I got to act like a peacemaker.

P.P.S.  The WVU Football program had a great relationship with the faculty back in my day.  In a different incident with a different jerk player (who also went onto a successful NFL career), I simply called the assistant running academics for the football team and explained my problem with the punk.  The next class session half the assistant coaches on the team showed up for the class and seated themselves in strategic locations throughout the lecture hall.  They stayed for the next several class sessions.  Don Nehlen ran a great program back then and knew how to keep guys on course.  Sure was fun watching the look on the kid’s face when he saw all those coaches in the hall.  Comm 80 was a gas and I still miss it.  Sports Beat.  Rock Breaks.  Batman and Vicki Vale.  Rockers.  Playboy’s WVU Girls of the Big East.  Let’s Goooooooo!  Mountaineers!

General ELM then back to Persuasion ELM

You’ll recall the recent post on General ELM where we considered a persuasion theory, the Elaboration Likelihood Model, as a general social cognition blueprint for understanding all kinds of practical thought and action.  We looked at Bodenhausen’s experiments on person perception, circadian rhythm, and Kahneman and Tversky’s heuristics to see the General ELM.  In those studies the combination of circadian preference (early bird or night owl) with time of day (morning, afternoon, or night) manipulated WATTage (high or low) which then controlled whether people were more likely to use the similarity heuristic to stereotype people.  Sure enough, low WATTers (night owls in the morning; early birds at night) ambled along the Peripheral Route with stereotype while high WATTers did not.  So, General ELM, right?

Now, if you are a stone cold persuasion maniac, you might dismiss:  Sure this works with person perception and stereotyping because circadian rhythms also affect molecular pathways in the P300 circuitry (see Dewey, Duit, and Howe, 1854; Ernest, Lee, Tryon, with others, 1902, for fabricated illustrations!), but such experimental tomfoolery with time of day and rhythm would have no impact in a true persuasion experiment.  Thus, run the Bodenhausen protocol with Args rather than Stereotypes and this all goes away!

So, consider then, Martin and Marrington’s 2005 PAID study, Morningness–eveningness orientation, optimal time-of-day and attitude change: Evidence for the systematic processing of a persuasive communication.  M & M replicate the time and rhythm WATTage manipulation, but run true persuasion variables instead of those person perception thingies.  They had participants react to persuasive Args on, well, here’s how Martin and Marrington put it:

Phase two: Persuasive message. Participants were informed that the researchers were interested in the issue of voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill, and that research had revealed that students at their University were divided in their attitudes towards voluntary euthanasia. Six anti-euthanasia arguments were then presented . . .

Students then read the Args and followed a fairly standard ELM protocol with measures for attitudes, thought-listing, message recall (less standard – see failed Hovland studies on message recall and attitude change, right?).  The ELM claim is that high WATT students (proper combination of time and rhythm) should go Central Route and these Args while the low WATTs (bad cross of time and rhythm) won’t.  Here’s Table 1 which shows it all nicely.  Click to enlarge if needed.

These are the means and standard deviations for each condition (gee, wouldn’t it be nice if Observational Prospective Propeller Heads included M and SD in their reports?).  Of course, we don’t have the inferential statistics in the table, but you see the predicted movement.  M-types in the Morning (the first column) and E-types in the Evening (the last column) show more change than the bad crosses (middle two columns).  And, in fact, these results are statistically significant at the standard .05 alpha and at Small plus Windowpane effects (39/61 or r = .22).

Martin and Marrington conclude,

What is more, our present  findings support a key hypothesis of the ELM concerning central-route (or systematic) processing, in that the level of message-congruent thinking was found to mediate the amount of attitude change (see Petty & Cacioppo, 1986; Petty & Wegener, 1998).

And, for what it’s worth, I’d agree.

Let’s follow the circle.  We start with Persuasion ELM.  We then veer off with Bodenhausen’s ELMish extension from WATTage, Args, and Atts to WATTage, K & T heuristics, and stereotyping and see General ELM.  And, now with Martin and Marrington we circle back to Persuasion ELM on the same time and rhythm manipulation but with Args and Attitudes not Heuristics and Stereotypes.

With persuasion science it is never just one study or even many replications; it is the web of findings across different constructs over long time periods with many different researchers.  Scientific knowledge is wide, deep, and interconnected.  You can always spot the dilettante who reasons from one study into zealotry.

P.S.  M & M found messy results with the message recall variable.  They were not able to get the beautiful triple interaction and just a simple effect on one side.  As Hovland’s team found, message recall is often only a correlate and not a cause of attitude change.  If you read the message recall literature from Hovland on you see the self correcting effect of experimental research and of peer review literature plus that beautiful web of knowledge.

Nudging or Pushing, Calorie Counts Fail Again

Elbel, Gyamfi, and Kersh join the parade of disconfirmation for calorie counts on menus.  Here’s a selection from the abstract.


Natural experiment: Survey and receipt data were collected from low-income areas in NYC, and Newark, NJ (as a comparison city), before and after mandatory labeling began in NYC. Study restaurants included four of the largest chains located in NYC and Newark: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.


A total of 349 children and adolescents aged 1–17 years who visited the restaurants with their parents (69%) or alone (31%) before or after labeling was introduced. In total, 90% were from racial or ethnic minority groups.


We found no statistically significant differences in calories purchased before and after labeling; many adolescents reported noticing calorie labels after their introduction (57% in NYC) and a few considered the information when ordering (9%). Approximately 35% of adolescents ate fast food six or more times per week and 72% of adolescents reported that taste was the most important factor in their meal selection. Adolescents in our sample reported that parents have some influence on their meal selection.


Adolescents in low-income communities notice calorie information at similar rates as adults, although they report being slightly less responsive to it than adults. We did not find evidence that labeling influenced adolescent food choice or parental food choices for children in this population.

This will be my last post on any new disconfirming studies even though you can be assured there will be many more published.  What’s the point?  Bad Science Is Persuasive and unfortunately for bad scientists, science tends to be self-correcting.

The more interesting persuasion angle on this story is how the True Believers react to the disconfirmation.  I’ve predicted a Dissonance response which means that all this bad news will only strengthen their beliefs and intensify their actions, just like the followers of Mrs. Keech.  You might check out the websites for the Usual Gang of Suspects on this to see what they are saying.  Are they modifying their drive for change or re-energizing for another push?

Good science is tough on bad science, but if you’re a persuasion maven, this is just another opportunity!

General ELM

While the ELM is most widely understood and researched as a persuasion theory, it can be used to understand all human social cognition including processes like choice, decisions, stereotyping, planning, economic behavior, and on and on.  When people are “thinking” in any reasonable sense of the word, then WATTage is in the scene, and ELM directs the play.  And since virtually all interesting, volitional, and changeable human thought and action requires WATTage, please consider the ELM as a flexible theory for explaining why and how humans think and act.  To illustrate this flexibility I’m going to look at an older set of experiments that looked at stereotyping, circadian rhythms, and the Kahneman and Tversky model of cognition.

Galen Bodenhausen conducted two experiments in 1990 that employ variables not typically associated with persuasion and the ELM, but deliver results that are entirely predictable and consistent with the theory.  Bodenhausen had people show up to a lab during the morning, afternoon, or evening to complete a standard person perception task related to stereotyping.  For example, you’d read a list of attributes about a person that are stereotyped as common qualities.  Kahneman and Tversky describe a Similarity Heuristic where people can carelessly link ideas, objects, or people into the same category because they share superficial similarities.  It’s a top of the head heuristic.  Now, oftentimes similar things can be identical, so the Similarity Heuristic often works.

You can see how this applies with the person perception task on stereotyping.  With this heuristic, people make probability estimates based on the apparent similarity of the event or characteristic being judged to a representative stereotype. People show a strong tendency to believe that the conjunction of a representative (stereotypic) and an unrepresentative element is more probable than the probability of the unrepresentative element in isolation.  Stated another way, when people are using a stereotype as a Peripheral Route Cue they will assimilate a nonstereotyped attribute into that stereotype anyway.  Here’s how Bodenhausen handled this.  He had people read a list of attributes like this.

  • Bill likes sharp pencils.
  • Bill enjoys working with numbers.
  • Bill is precise.
  • Bill is neat.
  • Bill understands decimals.

After reading this list of stereotyped attributes, everyone would be given a descriptor that illustrates a heuristic from the work of Kahneman and Tversky.  With our example, they’d read:

  • Bill is an accountant who plays saxophone as a hobby.

If you are using the Similarity Heuristic, you are more likely to believe the conjunction.  Thus, people who are working top of the head with the Similarity Heuristic would be more likely to believe that accountants play the saxophone simply because the two (unrelated) attributes are read together at the same time while the person is that Low WATT, Peripheral Route processing, Cue-ing along with the stereotype.

Now, recall that Bodenhausen had people take this person perception task either during the morning, afternoon, or evening.  In addition to the stereotyping test, Bodenhausen also had the participants complete a self report measure of circadian rhythm to establish whether the person was either an “early bird” or a “night owl.”  He then crossed when the person did the experiment with that circadian score so that he had two categories:  You took the stereotyping test when you were “in” your rhythm (early bird taking the test in the morning, for example) or when you were “out” of your rhythm (a night owl taking the test in the morning).

Realize that this crossing of time (of day) and rhythm (of circadia) manipulates WATTage.  On a fairly large scale of abstraction, when night owls are processing at night, they are Higher WATT than during the day, especially morning.  And, when early birds are processing in the morning, they are Higher WATT than later in the day, especially evening.  Does this actually happen?  Here’s what Bodenhausen found.

94% of subjects with “morning” personalities committed the conjunction fallacy during an evening experimental session (n = 16), while only 71% did so in the morning (n = 14). Conversely, subjects with “evening” personalities were more likely to commit this fallacy during a morning experimental session (92%, n = 12) than during the evening (70%, n = 17). In an analysis of error rates, the interaction of personality type and time of testing was significant, F(1, 55) = 4.55, p < .05.

The effect size here is a Small plus Windowpane, about 40/60.

Bodenhausen ran a second study on stereotyping for a court case that manipulated perceive race with a person’s name (Robert Garner versus Roberto Garcia, for example).  Again, he used the circadian rhythm and time of day to manipulate WATTage as participants read a transcript then assigned guilt ratings.  As the following Result demonstrates, the predicted interaction between WATTage and stereotyping heuristic obtained.

For morning types perceived stereotyped targets to be more likely to be guilty in the afternoon and evening than the morning, F(1, 44) = 5.16, p < .05. For evening types, perceptions of the stereotyped targets’ guilt were significantly greater in the morning than in the afternoon or evening, F(1, 47) = 4.39, p < .05.

The effect size here is a Medium Windowpane, about 35/65.  How do you interpret these findings?  Here’s how Bodenhausen put it.

The results obtained in these studies have a number of interesting implications.  First and foremost, they support the view that stereotypes function as judgmental heuristics and, as such, are likely to be more influential under circumstances in which people are less motivated or less able to engage in more systematic and careful judgment strategies (Bodenhausen & Lichtenstein, 1987; Chaiken et al., 1989).

I’d now like to drive a theoretical truck through this empirical opening.  WATTage, Arguments, and Cues can be understood as highly abstract constructs that apply not just to standard persuasion variables (involvement, arguments about Senior Comprehensives, cues about source credibility), but all types of human cognition and action.  WATTage is the crucial variable in all this, with thoughtfulness, that Long Conversation in the Head, as the determinant of Route of Processing and all That implies.

Now, I’m not the first guy to see this basic Dual Process Model.  Shelly Chaiken and Yaacov Trope edited a fabulous book on Dual Process Theories (1999) that presented dozens of these ideas together in one book.  Here’s just a quick, abbreviated, and short list.

  1. Impressions: Piecemeal vs Category (Fiske)
  2. Persuasion: Central vs Peripheral (Petty and Cacioppo)
  3. Behavior: Automatic vs Controlled (Bargh)
  4. Behavior: Mindful vs Mindless (Langer)
  5. Persuasion: Heuristic vs Systematic (Chaiken)
  6. Att Activation: Deliberate vs Spontaneous (Fazio)
  7. Memory: Elaboration vs Activation (Anderson)
  8. Decisions: System 1 vs System 2 (Kahneman and Tversky)

There’s much more in the book and if you truly pant for the weariness of great knowledge, this book may slake your thirst.  Best of all, most of the chapter authors in this collection smartly observed the generality of two processes controlled through what I call the WATTage switch.

Now, the nuance.  Yes, there are large differences between the theories and you can go places with Susan Fiske’s model of person perception you cannot with a General ELM.  And, yes, you could pick a different theory and make it the General over the others with interesting advantages.  And, yes, I am a cheerleader for the ELM who cannot see through my blind eyes which means I’m just a shouter.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

But, a General ELM provides an extremely effective practical blueprint for thinking about, planning, executing, and evaluating any and all real time, real world, here-and-now human thought and action.  If you are a scientist, this is a weak Argument, but I’m not writing about persuasion here just for scientists.  Isn’t that what you do in the peer-review literature?  I’m trying to make persuasion science work in everyday life.

General ELM is the best way for that.

Persuasion In Love, Again

So, what happens when you combine persuasion with love?  Here’s one take.

I just co-wrote a book called “Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage & Dirty Dishes,” in which I take some well-established ideas from the dismal science and use them to show couples how they can improve their marriages. One of the first things people say when they hear about the book is something to the effect of, “Isn’t that kind of unromantic?” Well, yeah. But what’s romantic about dishes, laundry, diapers, bills, mortgages, in-laws, TiVo, company picnics, circular arguments, BlackBerries, hamsters, PTA meetings, and all the million other little things that go into a marriage and detract from the actual romance between two people who once loved each other so much they decided to keep each other company for the rest of their lives?

Paula Szuchman then offers five tactics for women with their men.  Women, you want a better marriage?

Talk less.

Lose weight.

Do the dishes.

Put out.


As a public persuasion maven, I agree and nominate Szuchman for a Peitho Award.  All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere and there’s not an ounce of sincerity in her approach.

Ask a random sample of married men and you know that at least three of these behaviors will show up on every man’s list, with Put Out and Talk Less nearly universal.  If you relabel, “Scheme,” as Think Before You Act, what married person, man or woman, wouldn’t want that from their partner?

I have no doubt that in most marriages these tactics, whether called Behavioral Economics or Persuasion, would produce changes.  That said and acknowledged, I strongly disagree with the marriage of persuasion with love.  In a prior post I quoted Saint Paul and William Shakespeare as expert sources on the meaning of love, then noted the corrosive effect of persuasion upon it.

Persuasion disrupts, distracts, and dissolves love.  Persuasion surveils your lover to understand how best to make a change.  Persuasion puts your preferences in your lover.  And, even if the your lover benefits from this change, it is still a change you created in his head, heart, or body that he had ignored, dismissed, or resisted.  Persuasion is not love.

Please read the rest of the post for my argument, but realize on this Valentine’s Day:

It’s not about the Other Guy, Stupid; It’s About Us.

Pretty Persuasion Pictures

One of the coolest predictions from any persuasion theory is the triple interaction of WATT, Arg, and Cue in the Elaboration Likelihood Model.  In ideal form, the theory predicts this:

On the y-axis is the attitude scale.  The two panels represent low and high WATT, respectively.  On the x-axis, you find Cue strength at negative and positive and within the body of the graph you find Argument quality at strong and weak.  Under low WATT processing the theory predicts a Cue effect while under high WATT processing the theory predicts an Arg effect.  Furthermore, the double interaction of WATT and Arg and WATT and Cue are also significant.  They show that beautiful fan effect with the fan opening for Args and closing for Cues as shown in this ideal theory form.  First, the Cue graph.

Now, the Arg.

The fun part for a gear head is noting that if you compute the main effect for WATTage, Arg, or Cue, you get nothing.  In other words, the mean attitude for low WATT versus high WATT shows no difference, for positive Cue versus negative Cue shows no difference, and also for strong Arg versus weak Arg.  No main effects, but just those cool double and triple interactions.

Best of all, you can obtain these interactions in the real world if you know what you are doing.  Consider the first published example (PDF) from the 1981 JPSP by Petty, Cacioppo, and Goldman.  This study employed the now familiar protocol with the topic of Senior Comp Exams for university students with WATTage (involvement manipulated through time – it will happen this year versus it will happen in ten years), Argument Quality (strong versus weak), and Cue strength (expert or amateur).

Each participant is randomly assigned to one of eight conditions in the 2 X 2 X 2 design.  They get an “editorial” that provides the timing (now or much later) for WATTage, then a description of the writer (expert researcher or a kid’s high school report), and finally the actually arguments (compelling reasoning with evidence, facts, and statistics or “my friend took Comps and he said he got a good job.”)  After reading the editorial, everyone then completes attitude measures, a thought listing, and responses to various ancillary items.  Here’s the Table of descriptive statistics.  Click to enlarge if needed.

Now, the pretty picture.  The graph of those means.


The first time I met Rich Petty I asked him when he thought the theory was right.  He lit up like a little kid and almost shouted, “The Petty, Cacioppo, and Goldman study!”  When you look at that pretty persuasion picture of the obtained triple interaction, you might understand his enthusiasm.  Imagine you’ve been pounding away on this idea since you were an undergraduate and then you nail the triple and the two doubles.

You may not know this, but Rich invented the ELM when he was an undergraduate poly sci major at UVa.  He took a psych class pretty much on a lark.  As an assignment he wrote a paper on what he called the two routes to persuasion, one based on a careful examination of relevant information and the other following more . . . uh . . . peripheral elements.  You need to note that Rich devised this in the mid 1970s when the study of persuasion and attitudes was a mess.  Wicker’s infamous 1969 review had pretty much stoned the area, turning it into a vast wasteland.  Nobody had any good answers.

Rich then decided to pursue psychology and entered the grad program at The Ohio State University where he met another new grad student in the program, John Cacioppo.  In that first year, Rich and John were assigned to work with a visiting professor, Robert Cialdini.  Small world.  Then the ELM really took off (along with Shelly Chaiken’s fabulous work with the Heuristic Systematic Model) and everyone forgot about Wicker’s review.

I enter the picture invisibly about now.  Melanie and I both took the scenic route for our doctorates and finished them considerably older in our lives.  For example, Rich and I are the same age, but Rich earned his doc in 1977 and I finished mine in 1988.  Melanie was working on hers at UMissouri in the early 1980s where Rich worked as a new prof.  Melanie took a seminar from Rich.  She’d bring home her readings for her seminars and I’d devour them, write down questions, and Melanie would return to seminar the next week and ask them, then bring back the replies.  Thus, I was communicating with Rich while he was in full stride with the ELM without the either of us knowing the Other Guy.

Flash forward several years and now I’m at WVU just completed with the doc and working as an assistant professor.  I’ve been given the shot at persuasion due to the departure of another prof and I’m back in that literature again and everything I’m reading that has Rich’s name on it.  So, I write to him and we start a correspondence about various persuasion issues, most notably the infamous Michigan State critics and that long and winding road to Weapons Of No Persuasion.  Rich invites me over for a visit which turns out to be January 28, 1990.

I know the date exactly because as I drove over to Columbus from Morgantown, I listened to the Super Bowl broadcast on the radio. The San Francisco Forty-Niners destroyed the Denver Broncos 55-10 on my pleasant drive that evening.  The signal faded in and out as I drove through the mountains and everytime I regained the signal Joe Montana had thrown a touchdown.  So, when I arrived at Rich’s house we sat in the kitchen and briefly talked about the Super Bowl.  Then I asked him when he thought the ELM was good and he gave me that excited reply.

He then asked me if I knew Melanie Booth-Butterfield.  He remembered her from that seminar in 1982.  That’s when I told him about my invisible correspondence coursework through Melanie in that seminar and he shined on about that 1981 study.

Pretty persuasion pictures.

strong Arguments from the 1960s, baby

“We gotta just . . . (exhale) . . . let it all be . . . (exhale) . . . cause it will all be however it’s gonna . . . (applause) . . . (4+20 guitar and vocals).”

Stephen Stills Big Sur4+20” by Stephen Stills is a great song for anyone who plays acoustic guitar.  Open E tuning at E-E-E-E-B-E.  Man, when you can’t hit the longball, learn this.  Especially on Mr. Martin.  The chicks dig it.  Even 3rd millennial chicks, man.

“I embrace the many colored beast, I grow weary of the torment, can there be no peace?”

Of course, for me it goes “. . . four and fifty years ago . . .” but it still plays long.

Same with Neil Young’s “Old Man.”  Swap out the lyrics  “. . . young man, look at my life, I’m a lot like you are . . .”  Chicks and dudes dig that, too.  Makes you look deep.  Especially if you stay in the shadows, wear a hat, and pick a Martin.

Neil Young Old Man

Can hardly notice the lines and the grey.  That’s persuasion, baby.

The New Phonebook Is Here: Health Psych 2011, Number 1!

The latest news in brief from the first number of 2011 from the journal, Health  Psychology.  Things are going to start happening now!

Brain Aerobics

I’m not nearly convinced that physical activity for longer life is a true, important, or easy proposition, but physical activity does have other uses.  And, if you do the research properly, you can find and demonstrate true, important, and relatively easy applications.  Consider this fabulous effort by Davis, C. L., Tomporowski, P. D., McDowell, J. E., Austin, B. P., Miller, P. H., Yanasak, N. E., and Naglieri, J. A.  They conducted a series of interlinked studies investigating the effects of exercise on overweight children for cognitive impact on executive function and achievement.  I cannot do justice to the work in an abstract, but if you have any interest in physical activity or in doing great research, read this article.  They actually use neuroimaging to demonstrate something other than they got a grant.  Read this, too, if you are in love with the Observational Tooth Fairy and enthralled with those huge biased samples with Sophistical Statistical whizbangery – tell me you don’t see the scientific difference with this research.

Davis, C. L., Tomporowski, P. D., McDowell, J. E., Austin, B. P., Miller, P. H., Yanasak, N. E., and Naglieri, J. A. (2011). Exercise improves executive function and achievement and alters brain activation in overweight children: A randomized, controlled trial. Health Psychology, 30(1), 91-98.



Objective: This experiment tested the hypothesis that exercise would improve executive function. Design: Sedentary, overweight 7- to 11-year-old children (N = 171, 56% girls, 61% Black, M ± SD age = 9.3 ± 1.0 years, body mass index [BMI] = 26 ± 4.6 kg/m2, BMI z-score = 2.1 ± 0.4) were randomized to 13 ± 1.6 weeks of an exercise program (20 or 40 min/day), or a control condition. Main Outcome Measures: Blinded, standardized psychological evaluations (Cognitive Assessment System and Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement III) assessed cognition and academic achievement. Functional MRI measured brain activity during executive function tasks. Results: Intent to treat analysis revealed dose-response benefits of exercise on executive function and mathematics achievement. Preliminary evidence of increased bilateral prefrontal cortex activity and reduced bilateral posterior parietal cortex activity attributable to exercise was also observed. Conclusion: Consistent with results obtained in older adults, a specific improvement on executive function and brain activation changes attributable to exercise were observed. The cognitive and achievement results add evidence of dose-response and extend experimental evidence into childhood. This study provides information on an educational outcome. Besides its importance for maintaining weight and reducing health risks during a childhood obesity epidemic, physical activity may prove to be a simple, important method of enhancing aspects of children’s mental functioning that are central to cognitive development. This information may persuade educators to implement vigorous physical activity.

A Sigh Is Just a . . . Sign of Depression

Practical people often disdain science because science is so impractical with all the controls and comparisons and counting and theory, theory, theory.  Man, can’t you make it obvious?  Here’s a well done study looking at the relationship between sighs in normal activity and clinical depression with a small sample of women diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.  Robbins, M. L., Mehl, M. R., Holleran, S. E., & Kasle, S. carefully observed people during their normal daily activity who were wearing sensitive recording devices.  These devices picked up the amount and rate of sighing.  That information was then correlated with standard clinical measures of depression.  They obtained Very Large Windowpane effects, 15/85.  Look at this scatterplot.

This is a very small sample and the external validity is, as the authors note, uncertain.  And, if you’ve read enough research you know how often the first time someone finds something, they often find a large effect that doesn’t replicate.  If you do research, this is an interesting area to pursue.  If you just like something practical, realize that if someone you know well starts sighing much more often than usual, it could be related to depression.

Robbins, M. L., Mehl, M. R., Holleran, S. E., & Kasle, S. (2011). Naturalistically observed sighing and depression in rheumatoid arthritis patients: A preliminary study. Health Psychology, 30(1), 129-133.



Objective: This study tested the degree to which naturalistically observed sighing in daily life is a behavioral indicator of depression and reported physical symptoms (i.e., experienced pain and flare days) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. Design: Thirteen RA patients wore the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR), an observational ambulatory assessment tool, for two weekends (Friday through Sunday) approximately one month apart. The EAR periodically recorded snippets of ambient sounds from participants’ momentary environments (50 s every 18 min). Sighs were coded from the sampled ambient sounds. Main Outcome Measures: Depression was assessed with the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale and the Beck Depression Inventory. Pain during the past month was assessed with a 10-cm visual-analog scale, and number of flare days during the prior 6 months was reported. Results: Sighing was significantly and strongly related to patients’ levels of depression and nonsignificantly and less strongly related to their reported pain and number of flare days. Conclusion: The findings suggest that sighing can serve as an observable marker of depression in RA patients. Because the sample size was small, the findings should be considered preliminary.

Change and Maintenance with Exercise

Run or die and all that, but can you get people off the sofa and more importantly, keep them off the sofa?  Fjeldsoe, B., Neuhaus, M., Winkler, E., & Eakin, E. conduct a great systematic review of the exercise literature, not for a meta, but rather to understand what we know and don’t know in a much broader sense.  They find that while a lot of intervention aimed at getting people off the sofa are out there, most don’t go into that maintenance phase of staying off the sofa.  Under their “conservative” criteria, most studies do not follow long term habit formation nor do they demonstrate that it occurs.  The implications for future research are very strong here.

Fjeldsoe, B., Neuhaus, M., Winkler, E., & Eakin, E. (2011). Systematic review of maintenance of behavior change following physical activity and dietary interventions. Health Psychology, 30(1), 99-109.



Objective: In the past decade, there has been no systematic review of the evidence for maintenance of physical activity and/or dietary behavior change following intervention (follow-up). This systematic review addressed three questions: 1) How frequently do trials report on maintenance of behavior change? 2) How frequently do interventions achieve maintenance of behavior change? 3) What sample, methodologic, or intervention characteristics are common to trials achieving maintenance? Design: Systematic review of trials that evaluated a physical activity and/or dietary behavior change intervention among adults, with measurement at preintervention, postintervention, and at least 3 months following intervention completion (follow-up). Main Outcome Measures: Maintenance of behavior change was defined as a significant between-groups difference at postintervention and at follow-up, for one or more physical activity and/or dietary outcome. Results: Maintenance outcomes were reported in 35% of the 157 intervention trials initially considered for review. Of the 29 trials that met all inclusion criteria, 21 (72%) achieved maintenance. Characteristics common to trials achieving maintenance included those related to sample characteristics (targeting women), study methods (higher attrition and pretrial behavioral screening), and intervention characteristics (longer duration [>24 weeks], face-to-face contact, use of more intervention strategies [>6], and use of follow-up prompts). Conclusions: Maintenance of physical activity and dietary behavior change is not often reported; when it is, it is often achieved. To advance the evidence, the field needs consensus on reporting of maintenance outcomes, controlled evaluations of intervention strategies to promote maintenance, and more detailed reporting of interventions.

The Pleasures of Pain

Just one more lap, kids, then we can hit the bar, have a Martini, and do something that will actually lead to longer life.  Ruby, Dunn, Gillis, and Viel explore the persuasion problem with exercise – people expect to hate doing it, but then feel better later.  In a series of well constructed experiments, Ruby et al. determine that people seriously overestimate how much they hate exercise and seriously underestimate how much better they feel later (Medium Windowpane effects).  Really, it’s good for you.  At least in your head.

Ruby, M. B., Dunn, E. W., Perrino, A., Gillis, R., & Viel, S. (2011). The invisible benefits of exercise. Health Psychology, 30(1), 67-74. doi:10.1037/a0021859


Objective: To examine whether—and why—people underestimate how much they enjoy exercise. Design: Across four studies, 279 adults predicted how much they would enjoy exercising, or reported their actual feelings after exercising. Main Outcome Measures: Main outcome measures were predicted and actual enjoyment ratings of exercise routines, as well as intention to exercise. Results: Participants significantly underestimated how much they would enjoy exercising; this affective forecasting bias emerged consistently for group and individual exercise, and moderate and challenging workouts spanning a wide range of forms, from yoga and Pilates to aerobic exercise and weight training (Studies 1 and 2). We argue that this bias stems largely from forecasting myopia, whereby people place disproportionate weight on the beginning of a workout, which is typically unpleasant. We demonstrate that forecasting myopia can be harnessed (Study 3) or overcome (Study 4), thereby increasing expected enjoyment of exercise. Finally, Study 4 provides evidence for a mediational model, in which improving people’s expected enjoyment of exercise leads to increased intention to exercise. Conclusion: People underestimate how much they enjoy exercise because of a myopic focus on the unpleasant beginning of exercise, but this tendency can be harnessed or overcome, potentially increasing intention to exercise.