Sunglasses and Honesty

This is part of my – Learnings from Human Experiments (LHE) series

In four separate experiments by researchers at Harvard Business School, Duke University, and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, participants were asked to wear either real or knock-off sunglasses under the guise that they were participating in a marketing study.

People who were randomly assigned to wear the fake sunglasses cheated more on tasks and lowered their ethical expectations of others. Wearing fake sunglasses made people less honest.



Have we been doing networking wrong all our lives?

Consider the following statements:

  1. I frequently catch up with colleagues from different departments, and
  2. I use company events to make new contacts.

A study that followed 279 employees over the course of two years to understand what predicted career-success, found that agreement with either of these statements, significantly predicted their current salary, the salary growth trajectory over two years, and their career satisfaction.

Which group do you think had better salary / career outcomes – the one that went with the first statement (focusing on network-management) or the second (focusing on building new connections)?

Here’s the finding: agreeing with the first statement predicted close to half of the variance in salary growth and career satisfaction while focusing on meeting new people (second statement) was much less important!

Net net, existing colleagues matter more than new contacts. I learnt this while reading Social Chemistry by Marissa King. However this applies only to work-colleagues + when money / career-growth is the desired outcome.

Outside of work, it is new friends – not the old – who make us happier and create a greater sense of well-being.

Marissa King, Social Chemistry

So have we been doing networking wrong all our lives (trying to get more professional contacts at work and sticking to same old friends outside of work)? You tell me.

This post is part of my LHE series.


MEE: the mere exposure effect

Robert Zajonc – a psychologist, presented some subjects with a variety of photographs. The photos were of different white men taken from a yearbook. Some photographs were shown only once, while others were shown up to 25 times.

Each subject was then asked to rate how much they thought they’d like the person (in the photograph) if they happened to actually meet them, in-person.

Seeing a photograph 10 times led to about 30% increase in perceptions of likeability – compared to a face that was shown only once!

This is called the ‘mere exposure effect‘ (MEE) and in the decades since Zajonc’s original study, this finding has been replicated across more than two hundred studies.

Merely being exposed to people, objects, and ideas leads us to have more favourable evaluations of them.

I learnt this while reading Social Chemistry by Marissa King. A little bit of additional Wikipedia-reading explains why MEE happens.

Hope you learnt something new. This post is part of my LHE series.


Does apologizing work?

This blog is part of my Learnings from Human Experiments (LHE) series

The authors of an Oct 2019 paper in Behavioral Public Policy did a social experiment in which respondents (in USA) were given two versions of two real-life controversies involving public figures. Approximately half of the participants read a story that made it appear as if the person had apologized, while the rest were led to believe that the individual had stood firm.

In the first experiment, where the public figure was a politician, hearing that he had apologized for his comments on civil rights did not change whether respondents were less likely to vote for him. Essentially, had he not apologized, he would have done as well!

In the second experiment, when presented with two versions of the controversy surrounding Larry Summers and his comments about women scientists and engineers, liberals and females were more likely to say that he should have faced negative consequences for his statement when presented with his apology (the effects of the apology on groups other than liberals and women were smaller or neutral).

So net net, when a prominent figure apologizes for a controversial statement, public in general is either unaffected or becomes more likely to desire that the he/she be punished! If you are a public figure – don’t apologize; doesn’t work!


Metaphors and neural regions

This blog is part of my Learnings from Human Experiments (LHE) series

Having a rough day basically means the same as having a bad day, right? So does it matter how one says it? Apparently, yes. Brain-scans have illustrated that using metaphors / similes in sentences can make us feel different, than possible without them.

When participants in one study read the words ‘he had a rough day’, their neural regions involved in feeling textures became more activated, compared with those who just read ‘he had a bad day’.

In another study, those who read ‘she shouldered the burden’ had neural regions associated with bodily movement activated more than when they read ‘she carried the burden’.”

I learnt about this while reading The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr, and thought it was worth documenting here as part of my LHE series. That’s it – that’s the whole post. I hope this insight is useful to you when you frame a sentence next.


We cheat differently based on who we think we are.

This is part of my new series – Learnings from Human Experiments (LHE)

Researchers at the University of Zurich recruited a bunch of bankers and randomly split them into two groups.

Both groups were asked to flip a coin ten times and report the outcomes online. If they got more than a threshold number of heads (or tails) they were told they would get twenty Swiss francs (about 20 USD) for each extra head (or tail) they reported. Nobody was going to check whether or not they reported accurately, which created a very strong incentive to cheat.

But before the experiment began, one group was asked about their favorite leisure activity, highlighting their role as a “regular” person, and the other group was asked questions about their role as a banker, effectively highlighting their “banker identity”.

This is what happened in the end – the estimated cheating rate went from 3% for those thinking of themselves as regular people to 16% for those thinking of themselves as bankers! Crazy, right?

Being reminded of our profession seems to bring out a different moral self.

I came to know about this experiment in the book Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo (Nobel prize winners).

Let’s now come to India – where a similar experiment was done, but with college students.

The students were asked to privately roll a die 42 times and record what numbers they got each time. The reward was 50 paise if the die showed one, one rupee for a two, one and a half rupees for a three, and so on.

Students were free to lie about the numbers they rolled. Roughly the same proportion as in Switzerland did lie. But here’s the difference – while those who were reminded of their identity as bankers cheated more in Switzerland, in India students planning to work for the government cheated more (this is what this experiment was designed to test).

In contrast, when the study was again replicated in Denmark, which is justifiably proud of its social sector, researchers found the exact opposite as in India: those planning to join the government were much less likely to cheat!

That’s it – wanted to note down these insights as a stand-alone clue to human nature, as part of my Learnings from Human Experiments series. Also felt like drawing a bit – just for fun. Will keep adding such short experiment based posts, whenever I stumble upon them. Hope you learnt something.