Monthly Archives: June 2010

How a Woman’s Touch Can Make You Risk it All

If you’re a man who has patronized Vegas casinos, this scenario might sound familiar to you.

You’re standing at the Craps table and have already rolled a couple of times, losing money each time. You throw another roll, this time thankfully making back the money you lost.

Just then, from the corner of your eye, you notice that an attractive woman seems to be interested in your game (and perhaps you). You throw another roll and win again. You’re debating whether to quit while you’re ahead and cash out, but your concentration is broken by the woman who is now smiling at you and says, “You’re really doing great” as she reaches out and touches you gently on your back.

Not only do you decide to keep playing, but you significantly increase your bet. You lose, but she encourages you again with another touch, and you bet again.

What’s going on here? Are you simply so caught up in trying to impress this woman that you keep betting even though you’re in the hole?  Perhaps.  But according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Science, the reason might go deeper than that.

Participants were tested to see if they would take risks, such as investing money or making a substantial gamble. Before taking the risk, they were greeted in one of three different ways: (1) by a female or male researcher with a light touch on the shoulder, (2) a handshake, or (3) no physical contact at all. At the end of the experiment, participants filled out surveys that assessed how secure they felt.

The researchers found that participants who were touched on the shoulder felt more secure and took bigger risks than those who weren’t—but only if they were touched by a woman. The effect was stronger for a touch than for a handshake, but disappeared entirely for participants who were touched by a man.

The interesting part about this is that the same finding was found for men and women who were touched by a woman, suggesting that this is not solely a sexual attraction effect.

The researchers draw a line between this finding to previous research on how a woman’s touch affects an infant, making the child feel more secure and comfortable. It’s entirely possible that a woman’s touch works the same on adults—making them feel more secure and willing to take risks.

Which brings us back to the casino scenario. What do you think are the chances that the woman in question works for the casino and is planted in the crowd to make sure guys like you keep playing?

Don’t feel bad, but they’re a lot higher than the chances you’ll keep winning.

4 Comments

Filed under About Research

Ask, Don’t Tell, and Get it Done

Are you the sort of person who routinely tells yourself that you probably can’t achieve whatever it is you’d like to achieve? Does the voice in your head say things like, “Be realistic, you can’t really do this.”  And perhaps, fed up with positive self-talk mumbo jumbo in the media, you think that the only self-talk worth listening to is the “realistic” kind—the kind that tells you how it is. 

Well, whatever your feelings about positive psychology and its many spin-offs, there is some decent research with something to say about all of this—and your little voice should be listening. Research by University of Illinois Professor Dolores Albarracin and her team has shown that those who ask themselves whether they will perform a task generally do better than those who tell themselves that they will.

But first, a slight digression. If you have young kids or even early teens (or just have the misfortune of watching children’s TV shows), you may be familiar with the show “Bob the Builder.”  Bob is a positive little man with serious intentions about building and fixing things.  Prior to taking on any given task, he loudly asks himself and his team, “Can we fix it?”  To which his team responds, “Yes we can!”   Now, compare this approach with that of the Little Engine Who Could, who’s oft repeated success phrase was, “I think I can, I think I can…”  In a nutshell, the research we’re about to discuss wanted to know which approach works best.

Researchers tested these two different motivational approaches first by telling study participants to either spend a minute wondering whether they would complete a task or telling themselves they would. The participants showed more success on an anagram task (rearranging words to create different words) when they asked themselves whether they would complete it than when they told themselves they would.

In another experiment, students were asked to write two seemingly unrelated sentences, starting with either “I Will” or “Will I,” and then work on the same anagram task. Participants did better when they wrote, “Will I” even though they had no idea that the word writing related to the anagram task.  A final experiment added the dimension of having participants complete a test designed to gauge motivation levels.  Again, the participants who asked themselves whether they would complete the task did better on the task, and scored significantly higher on the motivation test.

In other words, by asking themselves a question, people were more likely to build their own motivation than if they simply told themselves they’d get it done.

The takeaway for us: that little voice has a point, sort of.  Telling ourselves that we can achieve a goal may not get us very far. Asking ourselves, on the other hand, can bear significant fruit, indeed. Retool your self-talk to focus on the questions instead of presupposing answers, and allow your mind to build motivation around the questions.

A short-cut:  just remember the battle cry of Bob the Builder.

5 Comments

Filed under About Perception, About Research