A Scientifically Sound Way to Improve Your Chances With The Opposite Sex

New research sheds light on human decision making that can make you appear more attractive to potential partners.

When we are looking for love, it’s hard to know who to turn to for advice. Romantic films seem unrealistic, friends advice never gets you anywhere, and when you ask the rest of the internet what’s the best way to ’meet attractive people’, it points you to some rather questionable websites. If you’re on the hunt for love, this week’s Reality Swipe is for you! We have dug out some scientifically sound advice that will make you appear more attractive to the opposite sex, courtesy of one of the world’s most gifted Behavioural Economist… yes, you read that right, Economist. The people we usually consult to learn about the state of the economy, we should be asking them about the state of our love lives.

A Behavioural Economist is slightly different to a normal Economist. Most Economists will study human activity in terms of financial rewards. They try to predict markets, estimate price structures and keep watch for any potential fiscal crisis that may be coming (you only have to look back a few years to get an idea of how badly they are doing with that). Behavioural Economists are very different. They are concerned with how people act in general; it could be argued that they are closer aliened with psychologists rather than their partners that study the economy. This is why they are the perfect people to find insights into human behaviour, and one area they are starting to explain is how we all make decisions. This insight all started when Dan Ariely was looking to subscribe to a magazine online.

When Dan Ariely came to subscribe ‘The Economist’, his favourite magazine, he was greeted with the following 3 options:

Option 1, One Year Online Subscription – $59

Option 2, One Year Print Subscription – $125

Option 3, One Year Print & Online Subscription – $125

Re-read the following options. If you wanted to subscribe to the magazine what option would you pick? More importantly, is there one you wouldn’t pick? There is an obvious mistake.

Did you spot it? The mistake is, for those not paying attention, that anyone subscribing using Option 2 is wasting their money. This is because the Print Subscription is the same price as Print & Online Subscription. Getting less for the same amount of money is an obvious bad choice. So if this option is pointless, why have it as an option at all? Dan Ariely didn’t subscribe to the magazine. Instead, after reading this, he started research into how people make decisions. The first thing he did was run an experiment using the same offer that the magazine posed to him. What he found was astonishing.

When people were shown all 3 subscription options, 84% of people went for Option 3, the most expensive option, and hardly anyone picked Option 2. This was repeated and Option 2, the one nobody picked as it was the obvious bad choice, was removed.  This simple change dramatically affected the result. When it was a choice between Option 1 and Option 3 The amount of people choosing the online and paper subscriptions (Option 3) dropped from 84% to 32%. Option 2 may seem pointless, and is rarely picked, but its presence impacts the final result. Having a bad option can change how people pick.

He found this when he repeated this experiment using 2 holiday destinations. If you ask people to choose between a free holiday to Rome that is all inclusive or Paris all inclusive, half will pick one and half the other. If you offer them to pick between Rome all inclusive, Paris all inclusive or Rome half board a significant amount more will pick Rome (and vice versa when the Paris is presented with the obvious worse option.) he also found that this applies to dating.

Ariely set up an experiment where he used two portraits, one he named Tom and the other Jerry. He showed there photos to participants in his experiment.  Like in the choice between the holidays to Paris and Rome, the female participants saw hardly any difference between the two. Then they showed different groups Tom and Jerry’s photos again. The difference this time was they added a third picture. The third photo was either an ugly version of Tom or Jerry (see photo below).  Once again, like in the experiments before, participants reacted to an obvious bad choice. Like the newspaper subscription, and the holiday experiment when a women was asked to pick the most attractive person, far more people favoured Tom when the line up included the ugly version of him, and Jerry when his edited photo was the third choice. This effect has now been replicated for men choosing women and worked exactly the same. No matter what it is, holiday, subscribing to a newspaper or finding someone attractive, people are far more likely to favour an option if it is accompanied with a obvious slightly worse option.

What we can take from Ariely work is that our decisions can be manipulated far easier than we would believe. There is still so much more to uncover about how humans make decisions, but this new breed of Economists are starting to understand it better. For those yet to work out the tip, the idea works the same as in all the experiments we have just discussed. To greatly improve your chances of someone finding you attractive make sure there is an obvious slightly worse option. Put simply; If you’re picking an internet dating profile picture, find one where you’re standing next to a friend who looks like an uglier version of you. Or, if you are going out to a bar, give that friend in the photo a ring and take him with you. It will increase your chances of impressing.

Tom & Jerry

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The Science of Friendship

 

A scientific insight into the best way to make friends.

 

How many friends do you have? In the social media era we find ourselves in, sites like Facebook make it far easier to quantify than it ever has been. The internet does a fantastic job of giving you a daily summery of the amount of friends you have, but while fantastically precise, it cannot quite capture the real ‘magic’ behind what you get in a friendship. While Oscar Wild brilliantly claimed that true friends are people who would, “stab you in the front” personally, I believe C.S. Lewis described the connection with another person better when he said, “it is one of those things that gives value to survival.” Even on them few occasions they drive us so mad that we feel like we could not live with our friends, deep down we know, we couldn’t live without them.

Interactions between people have become a keen interest for some of the world’s leading neuroscientists, giving us some amazing insights to how the brain reacts to friendship. One intriguing finding that has been found is that rejection by someone you are connecting with really hurts, and not just emotionally. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a scan to monitor what area of the brain is in use, scientist at UCLA found that areas of the brain respond to the rejection of another human in an incredibly similar way as we do if we are suffering physical pain. In an experiment to test how people’s brains react to being rejected by a possible friend, they found that when someone was ignoring the participant, areas within the brain react almost identically as if we had been physically hurt. Matthew D. Lieberman, one of the paper’s authors and an assistant professor of psychology claims that, “physical and social pain may be more similar than we realized.”

If connecting with people and making friends is so important how can we get the best results when trying to do it? When first meeting someone, it would seem like common sense that both of you would want to show the positive aspects of your personality to each other. To illustrate this, try the following thought experiment…

You are in a movie rental shop; you strike up a conversation with someone who you would like to become friends with. You are both chatting away and they ask the question, “Name me one film you have seen in the last week?” luckily, in the last week you have seen 2 films. The first, Was a critically acclaimed film that is highly regarded by film fans (think, you would be happy for people to see you walking down the street with the DVD case in your hand). The second was a film that has been a guilty pleasure of yours (think, if you bought it you would want to keep it in the carrier bag when walking home, but you could tell your parents you watched it.) What one do you tell the stranger you have seen?

Pick the first movie? The vast majority of people presented with this situation, or others similar, do as well. It is common sense that showing the best side of yourself would make you more likeable, yet new research indicates this might not be the correct way to approach making friends. Like on so many occasions, the data shows that our conventional wisdoms are mistaken on a grand scale.

Dr Arthur Aron of Stony Brook University wanted to explore the possibility of finding a way that would make strangers bond, form close friendships, and maybe even find a little bit of romance in a short amount of time. In this experiment on “fast friends” they arranged participants in pairs, giving them 36 questions that they were both asked to discuss openly for an hour. The questions started needing only limited amounts of self-disclosure. Initially posing questions like, ‘if you could have anyone for dinner dead or alive who would it be?’ This gradually escalated needing the participants to expose more of their vulnerable aspects, posing questions like, ‘when do you think a decision you made took your life in the wrong direction, and how would you change that if you could?’ This worked better than predicted as pairs reported feeling unusually close to the person they had shared their answers with. In a statistically significant amount of pairings, participants that had been randomly placed together had exchanged contact details and wanted to meet up again. most even carried on chatting well over the allotted hour. They concluded that this connection is based not just on reciprocal self-disclosure – Being vulnerable with each other – but on gradually escalating reciprocal self-disclosure. In follow up studies, Dr Aron found that there was in fact the case and there is real connecting power in exposing your vulnerability.

Research like Dr Aron’s will never provide a complete walk through guide to making friends. There are many factors that play a role in connecting to people, but we hope this you can use the insights shown by this experiment to help improve your connections out there in the world. Next time you find yourself in a situation where you have the option to expose a vulnerable part of yourself, go for it! Self-disclosure, at the right time, can make a relationship. Pleases let us know how, or indeed if, this research works in your life via twitter, we are on @RealitySwipe, see you next week Swipers!

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The Rise and the Fall of a Violent Society

How new research can explain the unexpected world wide trends in violent crime reduction.

When someone mentions ‘Lead’ what springs to mind? Chemistry enthusiasts are shouting arrogantly at their screens that, “it it has an atomic number of 82” and, “that the symbol for it is ‘Pb’ which comes from leads Latin name Plumbum”. Plumbers are well acquainted with Lead from their faithful solder, used to join copper pipes making a firm and water tight seal. Roofers will know lead only to well as its malleable surface is perfect for the flashing on the roofs of your houses. But for the rest of us, I can safely assume that we are thinking of a somewhat uninteresting lump of grey metal that isn’t all that good for us when it is in our bodies. But we are wrong! Lead is not an uninteresting lump of grey metal that is rather bad for you, but instead, the most aggressive violent criminal that society has ever seen…

Crime, in western society on a whole, is falling. In the UK there were 9.1m reported crimes in 2011/12, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales. That is down from 9.7m the previous year, and a whopping 27.2% lower than ten years ago. It is not just the petty stuff. The Office for National Statistics agrees that violent crime had fallen by 7%, and the murder rate has fallen by 14%. Over in the States it is the same story. Murder and robbery rates nearly halved from 1991-98. This phenomenon has saved thousands of lives and spared many more potential victims of crime. The pace of the reduction slowed in the late 90’s but new FBI figures show another sharp drop in crime that began around 2008 and is still continuing now, despite the recent high unemployment. This trend is happening all over the world. But, why?

Many people have stepped up to the plate to explain why this is happening. The first person to stamp his claim that he was the reason the sharp fall in crime was the former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. In 1982, along with a fair few social scientists, he argued that repairing vandalism in urban areas prevented further crime, an idea known as ‘Broken Windows Theory’. This is still a prominent idea in criminology, but here at Reality Bites we are not buying it. Crime fell in a vast amount of cities over that period, and most did not change their policing policy in the slightest. Whilst this idea of nipping crime in the bud by clamping down on less serious crimes may well affect crime rates, it can’t be responsible for the overall reduction in worldwide violent crime. Sorry Giuliani, no credit for you on this one.

Unlike Rudy Giuliani’s claims, there are lots of proposed theories that are highly likely to be linked to this dramatic drop in crime. A study released last month by Researchers in Texas – working with the Centre for European Economics – suggested video games were keeping young people off the streets, and therefore, away from crime. John Conklin, a sociologist at Tufts University, argues a significant factor behind the fall in crime in the 1990s was the fact that more criminals were locked up and therefore making them unable to offend. A controversial theory was also put forward by economist Steven Levitt, arguing that the

in America after the Supreme Court ruling in 1973 on Roe Vs Wade meant that fewer children were born into socially deprived families. Levitt argues that this stopped unwanted babies in the 1970s and 80s from becoming adolescent criminals in the decades that followed. These can all explain parts of the trend but we are yet to see an argument that shows the driving force that is lowering the crime rate. That was until we came across research from Rick Nevin.

back in 1994 Nevin was working for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development seeing if there would be any befits from removing lead paint from old houses. Recent studies had indicated that Lead poisoning can lead to complications later in life, including lower IQ, hyperactivity, behavioural problems, and learning disabilities. Nevin was the first person to float the idea that maybe reducing lead exposure had an effect on violent crime too?

For the non mechanics among us, I must tell you about a man called Thomas Midgley. An Ohio born inventor who’s mechanical genius was only surpassed by a amazing ability for his inventions to, unintentionally, destroy the world. After inventing CFCs (a gas used in refrigerants, but you may have come across them before they was phased out in aerosol cans) which after he died scientist discovered were destroying the ozone, Midgley set his mind to a completely different problem. A long standing problem with diesel engine at the time was a problem called ’Engine Knock’, where a distinctive knocking noise is caused by the air and fuel mixture being too lean. Midgley realized that by adding lead to petrol solved the problem, but unknown to him, left large amounts of Leaded Gasoline in the air. This was later banned at various stages around the world, and we began to see atmospheric lead levels slowly decline.

Nevin realised this when researching crime rates so compared them to charts showing the rise and fall of atmospheric lead. The charts show Lead emissions rose steadily from the early ’40s until the early ’70s. Then, as leaded gasoline was banned, and unleaded was introduced, emissions plummeted. Violent crime rates mirrored this upside-down U pattern, only offset by about 20 years. The data showed in places where uses of leaded gasoline declined slowly, so did crime. Where it declined quickly, crime also declined quickly. Nevin concluded that if you add a lag time of 23 years, lead emissions from auto mobiles explain the vast majority of the variation in violent crime. Toddlers who inhale high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. His research showed this was not just in America. Everywhere he could get crime statistics, and data on atmospherics lead levels, you can see an identical situation. Further studies on this by Howard Mielke, working with Sammy Zahran, furthered this research and found that there was an over whelming correlation of atmospheric lead levels and crime even on a street by street basis. Looking at six US cities they found that even at this concentrated level, when they overlay maps showing high quantities of atmospheric Lead with the crime hot spot maps, they match up.

This idea is not only backed up by statistics, but by common sense. Top scientists have known for years that lead poisoning causes damage to our brains. In 1995, the American Academy of Paediatrics reviewed 18 scientific studies on the correlation between a child’s mental abilities and lead levels in their blood and found that the relationship between lead levels and IQ deficits was “remarkably consistent”. A study by Herbert Needleman in 1996 measured boy’s behaviour at age 7 and again at age 11and found that those who had more lead in their bones consistently had more reports of aggressive and delinquent behaviour, and problems paying attention. They were more likely to engage in antisocial activities like vandalism, truancy, and shoplifting. Furthermore, their behaviour got worse as they grew older. There is no end to studies that link lead to these types of behaviours. Modern research shows that lead poising tends to affect our use of our pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain associated with personality expression, decision making and moderating social behaviour – so baring in mind this research, can we be surprised with Nevin’s findings?

This isn’t a problem that will be solved over night. Even if we did remove every drop of atmospheric lead from our streets we would not completely solve violent crime as there is a vast amounts of causes for it, but can we really ignore this? Like most good science, this has fallen on deaf ears. There is minimal political push around the world for this to be addressed. Most politicians, like good old Rudy Giuliani, are happy claiming that there policies are the reason for this drop in crime, but like usual statistics can expose what is really going on. There are two things we believe that everyone should take from this. First, around the world we are cutting Environmental health departments as we strive to save money, cut deficits and reduce country debts. But is this really saving money? If you add up the cost of processing all that crime; including policing, court fees, prisons, etc it would tower over spending on the environment. Support our environmental departments; don’t let politicians talk you into believing that we cannot afford to run them. And second, if you ever plan on being an inventor, please read more about Thomas Midgley and whatever you do, don’t follow in his footsteps.

One of the Graphs from Nevins study

One of the Graphs from Nevins study

Nevin – Understanding international crime trends: The legacy of preschool lead exposure

http://pic.plover.com/Nevin/Nevin2007.pdf

Howard Mielke – The urban rise and fall of air lead (Pb) and the latent surge and retreat of societal violence

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412012000566

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Welcome to Reality Swipe

Reality Swipe is the champion of Science, Statistics and Research! Here we look at what’s happening in the news. The difference? well instead of taking a random stab at causes for an issue – the tactic chosen by most social commentators – we try to strip away any bias, spontaneous reaction and presumptions then use research to get to the heart of the problem. Striving for the reality behind anything, despite how murky the water gets! Warning, there may be attempts at jokes. I’ll apologies for them now….

Feel free to join in with the discussion! Comment on what you like or tweet me on @RealitySwipe

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