Category Archives: research

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Computer Science Solves Successful Fiction

Computer scientists over at Stony Brook University have figured out what makes one fiction book more successful over another.

“Predicting the success of literary works poses a massive dilemma for publishers and aspiring writers alike,” said Assistant Professor Yejin Choi. “We examined the quantitative connection between writing style and successful literature. Based on novels across different genres, we investigated the predictive power of statistical stylometry in discriminating successful literary works, and identified the stylistic elements that are more prominent in successful writings.”

Choi and colleagues found that frequent use of words such as “and,” “but,” and “or” are more often used in successful books, along with prepositions, nouns, and pronouns. Verbs, adverbs, and foreign words are more often used in less successful books, along with topical, extreme, and negative words.

“Successful” was defined by Project Gutenberg download counts, and the research team studied eight genres—adventure, mystery, historical fiction, fiction, science-fiction, love stories, short stories, and poetry.

“For a small number of novels, we also considered award recipients—such as Pulitzer and Nobel prizes—and Amazon sales records in order to define a novel’s success,” Choi said. “Additionally, we extended our empirical study to movie scripts, where we quantified a film’s success based on the average review scores at imdb.com.”

Choi believes the research is the first of its kind.

“To the best of our knowledge, our work is the first that provides quantitative insights into the connection between the writing style and the success of literary works,” Choi said. “Previous work has attempted to gain insights into the ‘secret recipe’ of successful books. But most of these studies were qualitative, based on a dozen books, and focused primarily on high-level content—the personalities of protagonists and antagonists and the plots. Our work examines a considerably larger collection—800 books—over multiple genres, providing insights into lexical, syntactic, and discourse patterns that characterize the writing styles commonly shared among the successful literature.”

(photo credit: orangeacid via photopin cc)

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Ugly Employees Are Targets of Abuse at Work

Looks shouldn’t matter, but they do, especially in the workplace. That’s the conclusion two researchers came to in a study about counterproductive work behavior (CWB), defined as “behavior intended to hurt the organization or other members of the organization.” They wanted to know why particular employees are targets of abuse.

“Over the years, much attention has been devoted to understanding CWB and its related concepts,” wrote Brent A. Scott and Timothy A. Judge in “Beauty, Personality, and Affect as Antecedents of Counterproductive Work Behavior Receipt.” “We tested a model that positioned CWB receipt as a function of employees’ personality (neuroticism, agreeableness), their appearance (physical attractiveness) and the negative emotions felt toward those employees by their coworkers.”

Two studies showed that disagreeable and physically unattractive employees received more abuse from their coworkers, coworker negative emotion felt toward employees was associated with CWB receipt, and the relationship between employee agreeableness and CWB receipt was due, in part, to coworker negative emotion, the authors write.

“For managers, knowing who the targets of harmful behaviors such as CWB are likely to be may help them to monitor susceptible employees to prevent them from becoming victims or to provide counseling and social support if prevention attempts fail,” Scott and Judge wrote. “For employees, although it is difficult to alter one’s physical attractiveness and, presumably, one’s level of agreeableness, employees should realize that, whether fair or unfair, appearances and personality matter in the workplace.”

(Image via Flickr: Lin Pernille Kristensen/Creative Commons)

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Singing Helps You Learn a Foreign Language

French Flag

I’ve been learning French for the past few months. My method, via Memrise, is to learn 1,000 words, while also learning phrases. It’s a slow process, but it’s starting to stick.

Perhaps, though, I should set my language lessons to a tune. According to a new study in Memory & Cognition, singing in a foreign language can improve learning of the language.

Take it away news:

Adults who listened to short Hungarian phrases and then sang them back performed better than those who spoke the phrases, researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Reid School of Music found. People who sang the phrases back also fared better than those who repeated the phrases by speaking them rhythmically.

Three randomly assigned groups of twenty adults took part in a series of five tests. The singing group performed the best in four of the five tests.

In one test, participants who learned through singing performed twice as well as participants who learned by speaking the phrases. Those who learned by singing were also able to recall the Hungarian phrases with greater accuracy in the longer term.

Hungarian was chosen because it is unfamiliar to most English speakers and a difficult language to master, with a completely different structure and sound system to the Germanic or Romance languages, such as Spanish and French.

Dr. Karen M. Ludke, who conducted the research as part of her Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development, said: “This study provides the first experimental evidence that a listen-and-repeat singing method can support foreign language learning, and opens the door for future research in this area. One question is whether melody could provide an extra cue to jog people’s memory, helping them recall foreign words and phrases more easily.”

I’m sure there are plenty of French songs I can use to help with my learning the language. In fact, I’ll cue up some Serge Gainsbourg right this minute.

(Image: Jawbone Radio)

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New Interactive Projector Being Built

Now this looks cool. Carnegie Mellon University researchers recently developed an interactive touch interface. It’s called “World Kit,” and a user can project it on to any flat service. It’s currently bulky, as you’ll see in the video; however, the researchers are working on getting it down to the size of a light bulb.

How would you use something like this in your home or business?

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The Piano by Leo

It Takes More Than Practice

It’s a well-known belief that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at a skill. However, a Michigan State University psychology professor is tapping the brakes on that axiom.

“Practice is indeed important to reach an elite level of performance, but this paper makes an overwhelming case that it isn’t enough,” Zach Hambrick said.

Hambrick suggests that natural talent and other factors are major influences.

“The evidence is quite clear that some people do reach an elite level of performance without copious practice, while other people fail to do so despite copious practice,” he wrote in the journal Intelligence. Ah, this may explain why I’m still struggling with piano lessons.

In looking at 14 studies of chess players and musicians, Hambrick found that practice only contributed to about one-third of the differences in skills among them.

Hambrick says that intelligence, innate ability, the age at which someone starts learning an activity, and working memory capacity could all contribute to the other two-thirds differences in skills.

Don’t worry. There’s some good news.

“If people are given an accurate assessment of their abilities and the likelihood of achieving certain goals given those abilities, they may gravitate toward domains in which they have a realistic chance of becoming an expert through deliberate practice,” he said.

In other words, build on your strengths and not your weaknesses.

–By Jason Hensel

(Source material: Michigan state University. Image via Flickr: Leo/Creative Commons.) 

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The Mediterranean Diet Benefits

Days of wine and salad by Jeremy KeithI like wine. Well, okay, I love wine. Red wine. Cabernet. Malbec. Sangiovese. Those are three of my favorite things. I also like salads, chicken, olive oil, and nuts. I’m pretty much describing the Mediterranean diet, something that I’d heard about and never looked into. However, a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine caught my attention.

It turns out that, “Among persons at high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events” in the study’s participants. The reduction in cardiovascular disease was up to 30 percent.

Let’s get to the wine, though. Those in the Mediterranean diet group in the study were told they could drink at least seven glasses of wine a week with their meals. The key phrase here is “at least.” Moderation with anything is usually the correct path to take; however, what’s moderate for one person (or society) may be too much or too little for others. One study showed that residents of the Greek Island Ikaria drink up to four glasses of wine a day and live long, healthy lives.

If you’re going to have a long and healthy life, then you surely want to have a fully functional brain. The Mediterranean diet has that covered, too. According to a University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) study, the diet can preserve memory.

“The study found that in healthy people, those who more closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 19 percent less likely to develop problems with their thinking and memory skills,” Bob Shepard reported for UAB News.

(Of course, if you want to help improve your memory, you can always make a fist. Researchers at Montclair State University found that clenching your right hand helps form stronger memories, while clenching your left hand helps with recollection.)

Because of all these recent studies, I’m working on making the Mediterranean diet more a part of my lifestyle. It should be easy. I already have the wine part down.

– By Jason Hensel

(Image via Flickr: Jeremy Keith/Creative Commons)

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4 Words That Set Pinterest Apart From Other Sites

Pinterest logoI’m trying to get into Pinterest. It’s difficult, though, because I have too many other social media channels to focus on. I know it’s a valuable application, and I should put more effort into it.

In fact, let’s take a look at what researchers from Georgia Tech and the University of Minnesota found out about the site in a recent study:

1.    Female users have more re-pins, regardless of geographical location.
2.    Men typically have more followers on Pinterest than women.
3.    Four verbs set Pinterest apart from Twitter: “use,” “look,” “want” and “need.”

“Those four verbs uniquely describe Pinterest and are particularly interesting,” said Georgia Tech assistant professor Eric Gilbert, who runs the Comp.Social Lab. “Words encapsulate the intent of people, revealing the motivations behind their actions. You can use the word ‘this’ after all of these verbs, reflecting the ‘things’ at the core of Pinterest. Many press articles have focused on Pinterest’s commercial potential, and here we see verbs illustrating that consumption truly lies at the heart of the site.”

The researchers examined more than 200,000 pins.

“We wanted to take a closer look at Pinterest because of its differences compared to other social media, including its focus on pictures and products and the large proportion of women users,” said University of Minnesota professor Loren Terveen, a co-author of the study. “These findings are an important early snapshot of Pinterest that help us begin to understand people’s activity on this site.”

The researchers say that understanding motivations behind Pinterest is beneficial for businesses that want to use the site for marketing.

“There are several social networking sites that marketers and advertisers can take advantage of these days,” Gilbert said. “After conducting this research, if I had to choose where to put my money and marketing, Pinterest would probably be my first choice.”

(Story materials via Georgia Tech.)

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When to Avoid Face-to-Face Meetings

Baltic Development ForumImagine you are planning to meet someone for a business deal. You have the choice to either meet face to face or virtually. Which would you choose?

Your answer should depend on if the other person is more powerful than you.

Michael Taylor from Imperial College London presented this finding at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Harrogate this week. Taylor and his co-researchers ran two studies of identical negotiations; one face to face, the other virtually. Both times, those less powerful performed better negotiations virtually compared to when they conducted them face to face.

“It looks as though it is a good idea for less powerful parties to negotiate from remote locations rather than face to face,” Taylor said. “When people negotiate from further apart, it affects their whole way of thinking. This can mean the contextual details of the negotiations, such as power hierarchies, have less impact on the outcome. This has implications for team negotiation and shared decision-making in the workplace.”

In addition to those two examples, what are some other implications of this research?

(Story quote from the British Psychological Society. Image via Flickr: Baltic Development Forum/Creative Commons.)

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Study Says Women Make Better Leaders Than Men

World Leaders Draw Attention to Central Role of Women’s Political Participation in Democracy by UN WomenResearchers at McMaster University in Canada would like to set everyone straight: Women make for better corporate leaders than males. The reason is because females are “more likely to consider the rights of others and to take a cooperative approach to decision-making.”

“We’ve known for some time that companies that have more women on their boards have better results,” said Chris Bart, a professor of strategic management at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University. “Our findings show that having women on the board is no longer just the right thing but also the smart thing to do. Companies with few female directors may actually be shortchanging their investors.”

Bart and co-researcher Gregory McQueen, a McMaster graduate and senior executive associate dean at A.T. Still University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, found that male board directors preferred rules, regulations, and traditional business practices when making decisions.  They found that females were less constrained, willing to mess with the status quo, and “tend to use cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building more often – and more effectively – in order to make sound decisions.”

Women and men can view the world differently, and from my experience, women tend to approach the world holistically more than men. However, to generalize both sexes starts you down a wooded path that only ends in you getting lost. I’m not saying anything new when I say that people should be viewed individually. But every day a different study comes out that wants to put people in boxes. I understand why; the brain spends less energy if something is routine. Having to learn something new is a resource drain. If you stop, though, and take the time to learn about someone – personally and professionally – then you’ll both be better off. You’ll find that your decisions more balanced, and you’ll consider history and the opinions of others more often than not.

Do you think women make better leaders than men? Or is the whole issue sexist?

(Story materials via McMaster University/Julia Thomson. Image via Flickr: UN Women/Creative Commons.)

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Facebook Use Can Increase Cognitive Performance

grandma joan writing her nightly e-mail message to the family by Sean DreilingerJokes about elderly people using technology are plentiful. Yes, it can be humorous to tease those that have a hard time with technology. But the truth is that there are benefits if the elderly (really, any age) are willing to learn something new. Let’s take Facebook, for instance.

Janelle Wohltmann, a psychology graduate student at the University of Arizona, found that people over the age of 65 who learned to use Facebook saw an increase in cognitive performance and became more connected socially.

Yes, you read that correctly. Being connected socially increases cognitive skills. The kicker is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a face-to-face connection.

“The idea evolved from two bodies of research,” Wohltmann said. “One, there is evidence to suggest that staying more cognitively engaged – learning new skills, not just becoming a couch potato when you retire but staying active – leads to better cognitive performing. It’s kind of this ‘use it or lose it’ hypothesis.

“There’s also a large body of literature showing that people who are more socially engaged, are less lonely, have more social support and are more socially integrated are also doing better cognitively in older age,” she continued.

More research is needed to determine if Facebook’s social aspect truly contributed to better cognitive performances. Still, Wohltmann feels that the site’s complex interaction is a key component in boosting cognitive behaviors.

“The Facebook interface is actually quite complex,” she said. “The big difference between the online diary and Facebook is that when you create a diary entry, you create the entry, you save it and that’s all you see, versus if you’re on Facebook, several people are posting new things, so new information is constantly getting posted.

“You’re seeing this new information coming in, and you need to focus on the new information and get rid of the old information, or keep it in mind if you want to go back and reference it later, so you have to constantly update what’s there in your attention,” she continued.

This gives hope to anyone that isn’t able to get out and meet people, either by situation or choice. If you can be social online, then you can boost your cognitive abilities. And I’m sure this can expand to include anyone who plays games such as Call of Duty, where you’re playing alongside or against other players.

No, this doesn’t take away from the value of face-to-face interaction and its many benefits, but it does show that our brains can clearly define “social” in more ways than we usually allow in our minds.

(Story materials from the University of Arizona/Alexis Blue. Image via Flickr: Sean Dreilinger/Creative Commons.)

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