martes, agosto 24, 2010

Psicología del Jugador de Cartas

What does your poker face look like? If it's the traditional, stern, emotionless expression, you may want to consider practising a new one. Erik Schlicht and colleagues report that a friendly, trustworthy face is more likely to influence your opponents, leading them to think that you've got a good hand - that you're not bluffing.

Schlicht's team had 14 relative novices play hundreds of one-shot rounds of a simplified version of Texas Hold'em poker against hundreds of different 'opponents'. Each round the participants received a two-card hand and their opponent had bet 5000 chips. They had to decide whether to 'fold' or 'call'. Folding meant they would lose 100 chips guaranteed. By calling, they would win 5000 chips if their hand was stronger then their opponent's, or lose the same amount if their hand was weaker. To boost their motivation, participants had the chance to win a small amount of money based on the outcome of one randomly chosen hand out of the 300 that they played.

Each round, before making their decision, the participants saw a picture of their opponent's face. These were morphed to appear either untrustworthy, neutral or trustworthy. Participants were told that, as in real poker, the different opponents could have different styles of play (but no mention was made of faces providing a clue to style).

Because participants played just one round against each opponent there was no opportunity to use past behaviour to make judgments about their style. This meant the only information participants had to go on was the cards in their own hand and any inferences they'd made about their current opponent's playing style based on his face. They didn't receive any feedback during play on whether they'd won a round or not.

On each round, there was an optimal decision for participants to make considering the cards in their hand and the stakes involved in holding or calling. The researchers were careful to ensure that participants' hands were of equal value across the different categories of opponent face - trustworthy, neutral, untrustworthy. Unbeknown to the participants, their opponents' hands bore no relation to their facial expression.

The key finding was that faces with neutral or untrustworthy expressions made no difference to the decisions the participants made. By contrast, if an opponent had a trustworthy face, the participants took longer to decide what to do and they made less optimal decisions. Effectively, they were behaving as if their opponent had a better hand.

'Contrary to the popular belief that the optimal face is neutral in appearance,' the researchers said, 'poker players who bluff frequently may actually benefit from appearing trustworthy, since the natural tendency seems to be inferring that a trustworthy-looking player bluffs less.' Before you try this out at your local poker den, remember the findings apply when you're up against new opposition and there's little other information to go on.

jueves, agosto 05, 2010

We're happier when busy but our instinct is for idleness
  Forced to wait for fifteen minutes at the airport luggage carousel leaves many of us miserable and irritated. Yet if we'd spent the same waiting time walking to the carousel we'd be far happier. That's according to Christopher Hsee and colleagues, who say we're happier when busy but that unfortunately our instinct is for idleness. Unless we have a reason for being active we choose to do nothing - an evolutionary vestige that ensures we conserve energy.  Consider Hsee's first study. His team offered 98 students a choice between delivering a completed questionnaire to a location that was a 15-minute round-trip walk away, or delivering it just outside the room and then waiting 15 minutes. A twist was that either the same or different types of chocolate snack bar were offered as a reward at the two locations.  If the same snack bar was offered at both locations then the majority (68 per cent) of students chose the lazy option, delivering the questionnaire just outside the room. By contrast, if a different (black vs. white) bar was offered at each location then the majority (59 per cent) chose the far away 'busy' option. This was the case even though earlier research showed both snack bar options were equally appealing, and even though the location of the two snack bar types was counterbalanced across participants. In other words, Hsee said, the students' instinct was for idleness, but when they were given a specious excuse for walking further, most of them took the busy option. Crucially, when asked afterwards, the students who'd taken the walk reported feeling significantly happier than the idle students, consistent with Hsee's theory that we're happier when busy (a repeat of the study in which students were allocated without choice to the idle or busy condition led to the same outcome - the busier students felt happier).  In a variant of this first study, students asked to evaluate a bracelet had the option of either spending fifteen minutes waiting time sitting idle or spending the same time disassembling the bracelet and rebuilding it. Those given the option of rebuilding it into its original configuration largely chose to sit idle - consistent with our having an instinct for idleness. By contrast, those told they could re-assemble the bracelet into a second, equally attractive and useful design tended to take up the challenge - again, an excuse, however superficial, for activity seems to be all it takes to spur us on. As before, those who spent the fifteen minutes busy subsequently reported feeling happier than those who sat idle.  Given that being busy makes us happier but that our instinct is for idleness, Hsee's team say there is a case for encouraging what they call 'futile busyness,' that is: 'busyness serving no purpose other than to prevent idleness. Such activity is more realistic than constructive busyness and less evil than destructive busyness.'  The researchers proceed to argue that, unfortunately, most people will not be tempted by futile busyness, so there's a paternalistic case for governments and organisations tricking us into more activity: 'housekeepers may increase the happiness of their idle housekeepers by letting in some mice and prompting the housekeepers to clean up. Governments may increase the happiness of idle citizens by having them build bridges that are actually useless.' In fact, according to Hsee's team, such interventions already exist, with some airports having deliberately increased the walk to the luggage carousel so as to reduce the time passengers spend waiting idly for luggage to arrive. _________________________________   
Hsee CK, Yang AX, & Wang L (2010). Idleness aversion and the need for justifiable busyness. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 21 (7), 926-30
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lunes, agosto 02, 2010

It's never too late to memorise a 60,000 word poem

Pounding the treadmill in 1993, John Basinger, aged 58, decided to complement his physical exercise by memorising the 12 books, 10,565 lines and 60,000 words that comprise the Second Edition of John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost. Nine years later he achieved his goal, performing the poem from memory over a three-day period, and since then he has recited the poem publicly on numerous occasions. When the psychologist John Seamon of Wesleyan University witnessed one of those performances in December 2008, he saw an irresistible research opportunity.

Seamon and his colleagues tested Basinger's memory systematically in the lab. They provided two lines as a cue and then 'JB' (as they refer to him in their report) had to reproduce the next ten. With the exception of books VII, his least favourite, and XI, JB's performance was uniformly exceptional - regardless of whether the researchers revealed which book and book section the cue lines were from or not, and regardless of whether they tested portions of the poem in sequence or picked them randomly, JB displayed an accuracy of around 88 per cent in terms of correctly recalled words. When mistakes were made, they tended to be omissions rather than altered or added words. The researchers also tested JB's everyday memory and found that in all non-Milton respects it was age-typical.

Seamon and his co-workers claim JB's feat shows that 'cognitive expertise in memorisation remains possible even in later adulthood, a time period in which cognitive researchers have typically focused on decline.'

Just how did JB manage to pull off this incredible feat? He studied for about one hour per day, reciting verses in seven-line chunks, consistent with Miller's magic number seven - the capacity of short-term, working memory. Added together, JB estimates that he devoted between 3000 to 4000 hours to learning the poem. Seamon's team interpret this commitment in terms of Ericsson's 'deliberate practice theory', in which thousands of hours of perfectionist, self-critical practice are required to achieve true expertise.

JB didn't use the mnemonic techniques favoured by memory champions, but neither, the researchers say, should we see his achievement as a 'demonstration of brute force, rote memorisation'. Rather it was clear that JB was 'deeply cognitively involved' in learning Milton's poem. JB explained:
'During the incessant repetition of Milton's words, I really began to listen to them, and every now and then as the whole poem began to take shape in my mind, an insight would come, an understanding, a delicious possibility. ... I think of the poem in various ways. As a cathedral I carry around in my mind, a place that I can enter and walk around at will. ... Whenever I finish a "Paradise Lost" performance I raise the poem and have it take a bow.'

Seamon, J., Punjabi, P., & Busch, E. (2010). Memorising Milton's Paradise Lost: A study of a septuagenarian exceptional memoriser. Memory, 18 (5), 498-503

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