Digest

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 ‘Loving’ doubles charitable donations
In Social Influence

French researchers say that adding the text ‘donating=loving’ to a charitable collection box almost doubled the amount of money they raised.

Nicolas Guéguen and Lubomir Lamy placed opaque collection boxes in 14 bakeries in Brittany for two weeks. All the boxes featured the following text in French: ‘Women students in business trying to organise a humanitarian action in Togo. We are relying on your support’, together with a picture of a young African woman with an infant in her arms. Some boxes had this additional text in French just below the money slot: ‘DONATING=LOVING’; others had the text ‘DONATING=HELPING’; whilst others had no further text below the slot. Different box types were placed in different bakeries on different days and the amount of money collected each day was recorded.The text on the donation boxes made a profound difference. On average, almost twice as much money was raised daily in boxes with the ‘donating=loving’ text, as compared with the ‘donating=helping’ boxes and the boxes with no additional text (€1.04 per day vs. €0.62 and €0.54; the effect size was d = 2.09). ‘Given the high effect size…we can conclude that evoking love is a powerful technique to enhance people’s altruistic behaviour,’ the researchers said. In contrast, the difference in the amount of money left in ‘donating=helping’ boxes and boxes without additional text was not statistically significant.
Guéguen (Behavioral Sciences, Université de Bretagne-Sud, Vannes, France) and Lamy (Université de Paris) think that the word ‘loving’ acts as a prime, activating related concepts such as compassion, support and solidarity, and thereby encourages behaviour consistent with those ideas. Such an explanation would fit the wider literature showing how our motivations and attitudes can be influenced by words and objects without us realising it. For example, one previous study showed how exposure to ageing-related words like ‘retired’ led participants to walk away more slowly after an experiment. Other research found a poster of a pair of eyes on a wall led to greater use of an honesty box in a university canteen. Previous research by Guéguen and Lamy has further shown how asking a male passerby for directions to ‘Saint Valentine Street’ as opposed to ‘Saint Martin Street’ makes them subsequently more likely to help a nearby woman who’s had her phone stolen, presumably because of the automatic activation of romance-related concepts.

Why should the text ‘donating=helping’ not have had a similar beneficial effect on giving behaviour? Guéguen and Lamy think this might be due to a compensatory counter-reaction against words that are perceived as too much like a command. Indeed, in French, the verb donner to donate is also used to order someone to do something.

However, why this reactance should have happened with ‘donating=helping’ and not with ‘donating=loving’ isn’t entirely clear. Another reason for the impotence of the word ‘helping’, the researchers said, is its redundancy – it was really just repeating the plea for support in the main text.

The measure of giving was crude, which is a weakness of the study. We don’t know whether the ‘donating=loving’ text led more people to donate, or to more generous giving among those people who donated.
‘Despite the shortcomings of our study, the results will no doubt be of interest to those involved in philanthropic planning and support assessment in the aresas of corporate giving, nonprofit organisations, charitable foundations, and grants,’ the researchers said. ‘Conducted in a field setting, the experiment demonstrates how a simple, low-cost intervention can increase charitable giving.’ 

 

Scientists’ struggles help inspire students
In the Journal of Educational Psychology

Science suffers from an image problem. Many students see the subject as too difficult, and they think scientists are aloof boffins with big brains. A new study out of Taiwan tests the benefits of teaching high-school physics pupils about the struggles of eminent physicists – Galileo, Newton and Einstein.

Over the course of three computer-based lessons during one week, 88 low-achieving students were taught not just about the relevant theories developed by these characters but also about their frustrations and perseverance. For instance, they heard about Newton’s hard work and inquisitive nature (including his comment ‘I keep the subject constantly before me, till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into the full and clear light’.), and they heard about Einstein’s efforts, but ultimate failure, in seeking to develop a unified field theory – an endeavour that he spent the last 25 years of his life working on.
For comparison, a further 93 students completed the three computer-based lessons on the relevant theories but without any background information on the scientists, and 90 more completed a version in which they heard achievement-based background information on the scientists, including their key discoveries and dates.
Learning about scientists’ struggles had several important benefits versus the other two conditions. Students in the struggles condition developed more rounded, less stereotypical images of the scientists, seeing them as people who worked hard. For students who had no initial interest in science, the information about struggles boosted their interest in the subject. Struggles-based background info also improved students’ delayed (a week later) recall of the theoretical material, and it increased their success at complex open-ended problem-solving tasks based on the lesson material.

Huang-Yao Hong and Xiadong Lin-Siegler, who made these findings, think the benefit of struggle-based background info for students’ recall may have to do with helping the students to build connections between different key concepts, and with increasing their emotional and cognitive reactions to the course material. Similarly, the researchers think that the struggle-oriented background information helps students see the interconnections between theories, which aids complex problem-solving.

Future research is needed to differentiate the effects of struggle-based information related to the scientists’ work and their personal lives. Also, the findings need to be tested in a different cultural context and over a longer time period.

‘By helping students see the real human struggles behind science, we can inspire greater interest and learning to benefit future generations of scientists,’ Hong and Lin-Siegler said.


Recovering patients describe battles with ‘anorexia voice’
In Psychology and Health

People with anorexia find comfort in their illness at first, but then it becomes overpowering and they end up battling for control of their own minds. That’s according to Sarah Williams and Marie Reid, who conducted an online focus group and e-mail interviews with 14 people recovering from anorexia nervosa, aged 21 to 50 and including two men.

A consistent theme to emerge was that anorexia at first provided a sense of control and identity. The participants recalled enjoying striving for perfection. They saw thinness as an ideal that was within their means to reach. ‘Anorexia became a friend,’ said Natalie,* ‘When I was alone… I knew that at least I had A.’ Jon said: ‘It was a way to control what was happening to me on a day-to-day basis, and also my weight.’

Eventually though, rather than being a solution, anorexia became a problem all of its own. Said Lisa: ‘I call my anorexia “the demon” who controls my thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions.’ Jon: ‘It’s like there are two people in my head: the part that knows what needs to be done and the part of me that is trying to lead me astray. Ana is the part that is leading me astray and dominates me.’

‘Having developed the anorexic voice, participants came to feel that it was to an extent split from their authentic selves,’ said Williams and Reid. The research pair explained how their findings, placed in the context of similar results from past studies, provided useful ideas for therapeutic intervention. In particular, they suggested the need for recovering anorexia clients to acknowledge other positions beyond the anorexia voice and their own authentic self. ‘Wellness cannot simply be the absence of anorexia nervosa symptoms because this can intensify the inner battle with the anorexic voice,’ they said.
Williams and Reid advised using therapy to help build clients’ sense of self.  ‘This study suggests that this means developing the self beyond an ambivalent conflict between the authentic self and the anorexic voice,’ they said. ‘This would allow a new more positive dominant position to develop.’

One approach that may be particularly suitable, according to Williams and Reid, is emotion-focused therapy (EFT). A technique used in EFT is for clients to address an empty chair, which represents their critical ‘anorexia voice’. With the aid of the therapist, this can lead to a softening of the anorexic critic and the fostering of a new dominant position in the self. However, the researchers cautioned that there are ‘as yet…no studies investigating the efficacy of externalisation techniques such as those used in EFT and this warrants further attention.’

*     The names used here are the pseudonyms that appear in the paper.

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