Explore the fascinating
science of the human mind!

What makes us happy? How can we help people with depressive disorder? Is it possible to improve intelligence?... Scientists all over the world seek to find answers to these questions. Let's take a look at their findings...

"Only a few items left!"

Reactance Theory in Consumer Psychology

Psychology of PersuasionUsually reactance shields us from persuasion attempts. Because we do not want to be treated like marionettes, but we want to decide on our own.
We hate it when our freedom gets threatened and as a result we often
counteract. Unfortunately, our counteraction is often utilized by marketing experts...



Does Being Attractive Always Help?

Sometimes good looks can be of disadvantage...

Does being attractive always help

In almost all areas of life attractive people are preferred.

In this episode we take a look at the (extremely rare) cases in which attractive people are disadvantaged.





Mental Accounting

When our self-regulation strategy is used against us

mental accounting

In real life most of us usually have only one or two accounts at the bank.
According to the Nobel laureates Tversky and Kahnemann the situation in our mind is quite different:

They assume that we have mental accounts for all the different areas of life (vacation, education, entertainment, etc.). On the one hand these mental accounts allow us to save money for longterm goals (e.g. leave account). On the other hand mental accounting can also be exploited deliberately by marketing experts and sales people ...



Predicting Elections - Child's Play

Can children predict the outcome of elections?


In many situations we rely on our gut feeling.
When we see a person we sometimes decide within milliseconds whether we like him/her or not.
But how strong is the influence of first impressions on the outcome of political elections



In clever experiments researchers were able to show that even children rely on first impressions and that their judgements could be used to predict elections.



Is Justice Really Blind?

How our Decisions can be influenced by radiant Beauty...


In many depictions the goddess of justice (lady justice) is presented with a blindfold.

By that it shall be expressed that before the law all men are equal - regardless of their position or their appearance. 

But is this really true?







Mind Reading made Easy

What's your number?

Mind Reading

Mind Readers like Derren Brown do not really read your mind.
They mainly use magic tricks.

But sometimes they also use psychological knowledge to predict, what is going to be your next number...







The Halo Effect

 How our Decisions can be influenced by radiant Beauty...

Halo EffectIn the 1920s Edward Thorndike discovered that when people were asked to rate another person, their ratings were strongly influenced by single personality traits (e.g. appearance).
He called this phenomenon the "halo effect"...







 How exact is the test?

Reliability Reliability is one of the most important quality aspects of measurement instruments. It can be fatal if measurement instruments are not reliable. But how can you determine the reliability of a psychological test or questionnaire

To estimate reliability several methods can be used, which have pros and cons: 
a) test-retest reliability method
b) parallel-forms method
c) split-half method
d) Internal consistency


"Love is in the Air" - Does Music make you more helpful?

 ... and more compliant to a courtship request?


Music may not only be used to influence our consumer behaviour. Fortunately music has another - much more valuable - effect:
Music can bring people together. 

It can make people more helpful (Fried & Berkowitz, 1979) or even more receptive to romantic courtship requests (Jacob, Guéguen & Boulbry, 2010).

But what kind of music is particularly effective? Is it sufficient to trigger a certain mood, or do the song lyrics (the "message") play a role as well?

Rethinking Fear and Stress

Arousal = Energy

For a long time a high stress level was associated wit negative health outcomes.
In recent years, however, emerging evidence suggests, that it is not only stress itself that causes health problems but also our attitude towards stress

Thus in new experiments (e.g. Beltzer, Nock, Peters & Jamieson, 2014) scientists tested, how to restructure our dysfunctional thought patterns.
The results are promising ...

Influencing Consumers via Music? (Part 3)

Music in Advertising


Marketing experts make use of the power of music extensively.
In almost all commercials music is one of the key design elements.
But what kind of music leads to skyrocketing sales rates?
Research suggests that it is especially important, that the music fits the product.

But how big are the effects?
Is it sufficient to play French music to make customers buy more French wine?


Influencing Consumers via Music? (Part 2)

Effects of Speed, Volume and Musical Key


Music can influence our emotions and our behavior.
But what happens when scientist play around with the controls?
Does it make any difference whether a song is played fast or slow, loud or soft or in d major vs. d minor?

Researchers have been studying the influence of these variables on our behaviour for many years. One interesting dependent variable - we all can relate to - is our drinking behaviour...

Influencing Consumers via Music? (Part 1)

Good Music = Good Business?

Music_Consumer Psychology

Without doubt: Music is powerful. It can inspire, it can be uplifting and exhilarating. But can music put us in a buying frenzy?

In many shops or restaurants music is used to entice us to stay longer. The idea behind this is clear:
Those who stay longer, will probably consume more.

But does it really pay off?
How large are the effects of music?
What kind of music seems to be particularly effective?


Subliminal Marketing Revealed: Influencing Consumer Behaviour via Music, Scents, ... and Subliminal Messages?

Do Subliminal Messages Really Work?

Subliminal MarketingMany manipulation techniques of the advertising industry bypass our conscious mind.
Sometimes it is a quiet background music, a pleasant scent or even the behaviour of the people around us that influence our behaviour in a subtle way.




However, if we are asked: "Why did you buy this?" We often provide rational explanations. Certainly, this is a specialty of our brain: To make up rational reasons for sometimes irrational behavior...


Sport Psychology: Does Mental Practice Really Work? 

It's all in the mind...

Mental PracticeThanks to brain research we know that it is sufficient to think of a movement (e.g. the service in tennis) to activate almost the same areas of the brain that are involved in the actual movement.

In addition, we also know that the repeated use of "information highways" in the brain (associated neurons) is a central feature of many learning processes.
So one could conclude: Mental practice must be working.

But is it really that easy?
After all, an extremely important component is missing: Feedback from the environment. Was the imagined movement really successful?
So how effective is mental practice in comparison to physical practice?
Let's take a look at the research...


Physical Exercise for Depression

Running Away from Bad Mood?

Exercise DepressionAlmost everyone knows the satisfying feeling that sets in after a physical exertion: Your body awareness intensifies and you get the feeling that you made it.
But is physical exercise also effective against major depressive disorder (MDD)?
In recent times there is increasing evidence that physical exercise can have positive effects for people with MDD.

For example, Blumenthal et al. (1999, 2007) observed no significant differences between an
 antidepressant (sertraline) and an aerobic exercise training.
It seems that exercise is one of the few antidepressants with positive side effects ...

The Psychology of Persuasion

The Elaboration Likelihood Model (Petty & Cacioppo)


Whether in advertising, in politics or in everyday conversation with acquaintances or friends: Persuasion is omnipresent.
Especially in advertising, persuasion attempts are rarely based on substantial arguments.
Instead, marketers often introduce (supposed) experts, celebrities or seducing
background music. Quite often even beautiful models are photoshopped and speaker voices are
made even more enjoyable by sound designers.

But are we really fooled by these superficial characteristics? And if so - under what circumstances?

The Elaboration Likelihood Model(ELM) by Petty & Cacioppo yields reliable predictions.


Delayed Gratification - Influences of Culture and Religion

Does American Culture make you less patient?


The ability to delay short-term rewards in favor of future achievements, can be beneficial in many situations. Therefore it is important to find out whether this ability is a congenital or learned characteristic. Although the influence of genes can not be denied (e.g. Anokhin et al. 2011) particularly cross-cultural studies  (e.g. East vs. West) provide evidence for the importance of the environment.

For Example:
Can the mere thought of American culture make you more impatient (Chen et al. 2011)? 
And: Are Catholics less patient than Calvinists (Paglieri et al. 2013)?

The Marshmallow Test: Is it really about self-control?

New Explanations for an old Experiment

Marshmallow Test_Walter Mischel_self-control_social trust

For a long time the famous "marshmallow studies" by Walter Mischel were regarded as prototypical experiments to measure self-control. However, in some studies only low correlations to other measures of self-control were observed. Thus, in recent years alternative hypotheses were tested.
For example: If the delay of gratification task is regarded as a problem solving situation, longer waiting times could be explained by problem solving skills (intelligence).

Other scientists hypothesize, that the decision to wait might be linked to the amount of
 trust in the experimenter (Kidd et al. 2013).
But are these new research approaches adequate to explain the amazing predictive power of the marshmallow experiment?

Confirmatory Factor Analysis

How good is your factor model?

Confirmatory Factor Analysis

In intelligence research, personality research and other research fields of psychology, factor analytic models are used to structurize the variables' jungle.
For example: To simplify the variable structure of a personality questionnaire several questions (items), that are supposed to measure the same construct are grouped to one (latent) factor (e.g. extraversion).

But does this group of items really measure extraversion? Maybe some of the items "load" on a different factor. And maybe other aspects of the model have flaws as well...
How well a factor model fits the data can be examined by a confirmatory factor analysis.


Mischel's Marshmallow Experiments Revisited

Delay of Gratification at age four predicts life success?

Marshmallow_Walter Mischel_experiment

Only few experiments drew as much attention as the famous "marshmallow experiments" by Walter Mischel. To test the ability of self-control, Mischel & Co. confronted hundreds of children with a difficult decision:
"You can either eat a small amount of sweets (e.g. one marshmallowright now or you wait for a larger amount of sweets (e.g. two marshmallows)."

Many years later the researchers observed an amazing correlation (Mischel et al., 1988; Shoda et al., 1990): Those children who had been able to delay the gratification, were rated higher in social competence, frustration tolerance and academic success. In addition, they even showed better performance in the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). However, especially the calculated correlations with the SAT scores were based on a very small sample (N = 35). Therefore the recently published replication by Duckworth, Tsukayama and Kirby (2013) is highly important to back up the results of the original marshmallow experiments. 

Self-Control Outdoes Intelligence?

Is Self-Control the best predictor of life success?


A few years ago, many researchers were in agreement: By far the most important requirement for education and vocational success is a high mental capacity (intelligence). However, even the best intelligence tests can not explain all variance in life success. Every once in a while a highly intelligent student gets dropped out of the education system without finishing (underachiever), whereas another student who scored below average in an intelligence test, ends up with a fantastic academic career (overachiever). Recent studies (e.g. Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Moffitt et al 2011) suggest that such "irregularities" mainly come about due to the factor of self-control (also: self-discipline,
). Amazingly, in some studies self-discipline proved to be a better predictor than intelligence...


Validity - Does your test measure, what it is supposed to measure?

One of the most important quality aspects in psychological testing


Using bad measuring instruments can have disastrous consequences. Therefore newly developed tests, questionaires, etc. have to meet the highest standards. Along with reliability and objectivity validity is one of the most important quality criteria. An instrument is regarded as valid, if it measures, what it is supposed to measure. For example: A (supposed) intelligence test which measures creativity or sustained attention may be reliable, but it is not valid.

In this episode we will discuss the different methods to validate a measuring instrument:
- face validtiy
- criterion validity
  > predictive
  > postdictive
- construct validity
  > discriminant construct validity
  > concurrent construct validity

Poverty and Intelligence 

The poors' poor intelligence and self-control

  People living in poverty often show counterproductive behaviors. On average, poor people use less preventive health care (Katz & Hofer, 1994), are less attentive parents (McLoyd, 1998) and have trouble managing their finances (Barr, 2012).
While some people take these findings as an opportunity to express accusations ("No wonder, they are poor, they are behaving silly!") recent studies suggest, that
poverty itself can cause cognitive costs.

For instance, in a sample of Indian sugarcane farmers Mani et al. (2013) observed, that one single person had different intelligence test scores in times of poverty (pre-harvest) and times of wealth (post-harvest).


Manipulation revealed: Mind Reading Experiment 

The Theory of Reactance by Jack Brehm

manipulation_reactance_psychology_mind reading"Tidy up your room!" - "Not now ..."
"You will never make it." - "I will prove it to you ..." 

We do not like it when someone tells us what we can do and what we cannot do. If we fear a restriction of our freedom, we often respond with reactance.
But are there ways to avoid reactant behaviour? In the studies of Gueguen & Pascual (2000, 2006) a "magic formula" yielded promising results...


Manipulation revealed: Influencing Intelligence via Priming and Placebo Effects

Does thinking about a professor make you more intelligent...?

Manipulation_Intelligence_Dijksterhuis_ShanksSay "silk" ten times. Now, spell "silk." What do cows drink?
Answer: "Milk. No, wait...!"

Many people know about this game or at least similar ones, but only few know the psychological effect that is responsible for our wrong answers: Priming.
During priming neural networks are preactivated without our knowing. Since some concepts in the brain are closely associated with each other, the activation of one concept (such as "silk"), prepares the activation of another one (such als "milk").

But how huge are priming effects really?
For example: Does thinking about a professor increase your intelligence?
And: What effects can placebos have on our mental capacity?

Does Mindfulness Meditation improve Intelligence and Happiness?

The studies of Mrazek et al. (2012; 2013) and Killingsworth & Gilbert (2010)

Mindfulness MeditationIn the hustle and bustle of everyday life our mind is rarely at rest. In almost 50% of the time our thoughts are wandering. We are either living through past experiences or simulating future events.
Rarely this stream of thought is broken by becoming aware of the here and now.
There's growing evidence that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010).
But is our mental performance suffering as well?

In fact Mrazek et al. (2012) observed a solid negative correlation (r = -.70) between mind wandering and general aptitude.
 In addition, Mrazek et al. (2013) were able to show that a reduction of mind wandering results in better mental performance:
After just two weeks of mindfulness meditation participants not only reported less mind wandering, but they also showed significantly better performance in a working memory task (OSPAN) and the Graduate Record Examination.

Does physical exercise improve your Intelligence?

Effects of coordination training (Life Kinetik, dancing) and aerobic exercise on cognitive abilities

sports_intelligence_psychologyDoes coordination training improve mental processing speed?
Some of the first scientific analyses of an adaptive coordination training (Life-Kinetic) yielded promising results.
For instance, in a
 study conducted by Matthias Grünke (2011), children with learning difficulties participated in 15 Life-Kinetic sessions (lasting 25min.). In comparison to an active control group the coordination-training group significantly improved their performance in an attention task and a task of fluid intelligence

And who would have thought that learning new dance steps might be an appropriate means to stimulate the grey cells (Kattenstroth et al. 2012.) - even in old age.
At the end of the episode, we will take a look at studies on the effects of aerobic exercise (jogging, walking, Nordic walking, etc.). Are training programs effective in reducing Alzheimer's and cognitive decline?


Multitrait- Multimethod- Analysis

Convergent and discriminant construct validation

Multitrait- Multimethod- MatrixWhenever a new instrument (e.g. questionnaire, test, etc.) is developed to detect a psychological construct (e.g. intelligence, creativity, depression, etc.), the developer has to prove that his new instrument actually measures what it is supposed to measure (validity).
In fact, if an (alleged) intelligence test does not measure intelligence but creativity or test anxiety, one could jump to wrong conclusions. The consequences can be devastating.

The multitrait-multimethod analysis developed by Campbell and Fiske (1959) provides one way to examine the construct validity of an instrument.


Sleep and Intelligence

How important is a healthy sleep for your mental performance?

sleep and intelligenceAlthough we are exposed to potential attackers in sleep, sleep is one of evolution's winners.
But what is happening during sleep?
Why does our brain need to sleep?

Recent studies (e.g. Ji and Wilson, 2007) support the hypothesis of a replay of experiences during sleep. By repeating experiences of the day memory contents can be (re-)structured and solidified.

But not only our memory seems to benefit from excursions into the realm of dreams. In particular, the results of some sleep deprivation experiments (e.g. Lo et al., 2012), point to the importance of a healthy sleep on cognitive performance (continuous attention, working memory, etc.).
Furthermore: In particular, in light of the circadian rhythm the following question arises: When should a business day (or school day) begin?