Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cold and Lonely

Here's a lovely little bit of social psychology. It shows that some of our common metaphors correlate with a genuine association in experience, in this case between social exclusion and physical coldness. If you don't have a subscription, you can currently get a preprint of the paper here. Among other mentions of this research in the media, is this piece in the New York Times.

This is the abstract:
Metaphors such as icy stare depict social exclusion using cold-related concepts; they are not to be taken literally and certainly do not imply reduced temperature. Two experiments, however, revealed that social exclusion literally feels cold. Experiment 1 found that participants who recalled a social-exclusion experience gave lower estimates of room temperature than did participants who recalled an inclusion experience. In Experiment 2, social exclusion was directly induced through an on-line virtual interaction, and participants who were excluded reported greater desire for warm food and drink than did participants who were included. These findings are consistent with the embodied view of cognition and support the notion that social perception involves physical and perceptual content. The psychologicalexperience of coldness not only aids understanding of social interaction, but also is an integral part of the experience of social exclusion.

The paper does pretty much what it says on the box. In experiment 1 a total of 65 subjects (undergraduate students, the rat of social psychology) were told they would perform a series of unrelated tasks. In the first they recalled either an experience where they felt very socialy excluded, or socially included. Then they were asked to estimate the temperature in the room. Subjects who had recalled being excluded gave lower estimates (their mean estimate was about 2.5 degrees Centrigrade lower) than subjects who had recalled being included.

In experiment 2 a total of 52 subjects played the popular cyberball game (in which a virtual ball is passed between the player and two virtual players, with the fraction of passes to the subject being a proxy for levels of inclusion). They were then asked to rate the desirability of 5 different products including a warm drink and a warm food and a cold drink and a cold food. Excluded subjects rated the warm food and drink as more desirable (by about 1 point on a 7 point Likert scale) than controls, while rating the cold food and drink neither better nor worse.

So if you're wondering whether your guests feel welcome or not, ask whether they want tea or a soda...

As so often with social psychology, the interesting result is described in terms of a fairly qualitative theory sketch in terms of 'schemas'. It would be good to know more about this from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience.

For related articles on this blog, see this one on morality and cleanliness (also with Chen-Bo Zhong as first author), and this one on social support and the perception of gradients.

Disclaimer: I have no idea whether the Jackie Frost Ensemble, or the "Cold Lonely Blues" are any good - the album cover image was just one of the top few hits for 'cold lonely' on Google Images.

Chen-Bo Zhong, Geoffrey J. Leonardelli (2008). Cold and Lonely: Does Social Exclusion Literally Feel Cold? Psychological Science, 19 (9), 838-842 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02165.x

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Praxis number 5

PraxisWelcome to the 5th issue of the Praxis carnival – the carnival that’s about the work of science. I got a bunch of interesting contributions, and thank all who took the trouble. The next issue will be hosted by PodBlack Cat on the 15th of January 2009.

BY THE WAY: I was doing nicely working on hosting this carnival, until over 90% of the submissions arrived with only one day, and that a weekend when I was traveling and being a full-time dad, before the publication deadline.* Some did not really get a proper look over, and this is a shorter than usual edition of Praxis. I'm going to pass everything in the pile that didn't get a fair look in time to PodBlack Cat who is hosting the next edition. And maybe Blog Carnivals should be like many other kinds of events - the deadline for submission being some definite time that is more than a nanosecond before publication?

A couple of general topics came up more than once, and I’ll chat about those first, then finish with the strays and orphans where only one contribution was on a specific topic.

First up, the important matter of the representation of women in science. This includes simple numerical representation, but also the self-presentation of women, and what others think and say about it, and what that makes female scientists think about themselves. One of the postings is at On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess by Dr Isis, and the other by Dr Free-Ride at Adventures in Ethics and Science.

Really, the fact that these discussions take place at all shows that there is still a problem. Men seem only discuss what being a scientist does to their image of themselves as men to make jokes – at least if they survive high school. But blogs are a great way to have some of the discussion we need to have about this. (Still on gender, although not representation in the same sense, Drug Monkey has a thoughtful piece on the tendency towards male-based research.)

Then there are a couple of pieces about seminars. First a good piece by Dr Isis about the importance of going to seminars, including ones that aren’t in ‘your’ area. Then there’s one in Uncertain Principles about the problem of scheduling seminars, and a poll at FemaleScienceProfessor on the same topic. As most of us know, there's a lot of anecdotal evidence and strongly held opinion about these scheduling questions. It would be nice to see some actual science (y'know, with measurements and stuff) on this topic.

Turning to the strays and orphans there’s a fine piece about Open Access (OA) written in the form of a letter from the future by someone battling with the costs imposed by rent-seeking copyright hogs at The Quantum Pontiff. There are various arguments for OA, but I think the best one is the one directed at the self-interest of the publishing scientist, who only loses by limiting access. And this is a lively and original presentation of that argument.

The Skeptical OB writes on the costs of politicians embracing alternative medicine (Booo!) in the case of former SA president Mbeki’s AIDS denialism. This piece reports on the important recent PNAS paper attempting to quantify the human cost of the denialism and foot-dragging over the causes of AIDS, and prescribing antiretrovirals. (They reckon around a third of a million lives, 35 thousand infants born infected...)

Michael Nielsen has a lively discussion of the '10,000 hour rule', as pushed into popular discussion by Malcolm Gladwell's new book "Outliers". There's good evidence that 10,000 hours of 'deliberate practice' is what it takes to get to be top at anything, and Nielsen asks what this might mean in the case of science.

Another piece on MudPhudder deals with the problem of choosing a research project. (There’s a related post on choosing a topic.) Both are important questions for the fledgling scientist.

Gobbledygook has a selective and diverting digest of the results of a survey of over 30 blog posts responding to 10 questions about science blogging. There are also links to the 30+ original posts.

Finally a fairly narrative piece at PodBlack, where the next issue of this carnival will be hosted, partly about dealing with pseudoscience, but also about the challenges of surviving research trips.

Actually no, that's not final. There's also the announcement relating the latest round of the Open Laboratory, at A Blog Around the Clock. The announcement is that the deadline has been reached, the review process is underway, but you can get links to earlier editions of this initiative, and look at the submissions.

So that's the latest Praxis. Please report link bugs and other mishaps - I'll fix them as fast as I can.

* And I made the error of letting text intended to end up as html anywhere near Microsoft Word, and ended up with a mess and a foul temper. When, oh when, will I learn?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lint interview

Well, my cup runneth over. There's also an interview with Jeff Lint in this issue of All The Rage (opens as PDF).

Choice excerpts include:
LINT: [...] So my idea of an acceptable hero is some sort of a spider with multiple eyes like rally car headlights who, when issued an order, will jet tears of hilarity from the entire bank of eyes and tell a friend later while adapting a submarine for spaceflight: 'I hadn't the heart to obey such a moron.' You know. This means that a different sort of story happens - the characters aren’t blandly reactive and the story isn’t a machine.
AG : You killed a stranger.
LINT: No I didn’t kill him. I sort of barreled into him on a sunny day and broke the front end of his face.
AG : His nose?
LINT: He’d probably call it that. Anyway, it was hard work and paid nothing. The situation didn’t allow either of us much latitude. And it wasn’t very encouraging.
There's also a page of adverts from an issue of The Caterer that are bound to evoke uneasy nostalgia here.

LINT the Movie

Fans of Jeff Lint (and who wouldn't be one) will be pleased to hear that there's a forthcoming movie about the author of such baffling and remarkable works as "The Stupid Conversation". You can check out the MySpace page of the movie.

Note that it is the movie, and not Lint himself, who is 92 years old and in the South of the United Kingdom. Lint's age, not to mention the number of times he has died and the precise circumstances in each case, remain hotly disputed. It is unlikely that the film will shed any light on these matters, although it is to be hoped that it stokes the flames with suitable lack of effort.

(The inclusion of Chekov in the poster is unlikely to settle ongoing arguments over Lint's never filmed episode of Star Trek, that so vexed Gene Roddenberry.)