Soft Is Hard: Full Bladders and Cult TV

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

Further evidence why the “soft” sciences are the hardest to do well
compiled by Alice Shirrell Kaswell and Bissell Mango, Improbable Research staff

Interacting with Women Can Impair Men’s Cognitive Functioning
“Interacting with Women Can Impair Men’s Cognitive Functioning,” Johan C. Karremans, Thijs Verwijmeren, Tila M. Pronk, and Meyke Reitsma, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 45, no. 4, 2009. (Thanks to Joan Baugh and Vicki Hollett for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, report:

The present research tested the prediction that mixed-sex interactions may temporarily impair cognitive functioning. Two studies, in which participants interacted either with a same-sex or opposite-sex other, demonstrated that men’s (but not women’s) cognitive performance declined following a mixed-sex encounter. In line with our theoretical reasoning, this effect occurred more strongly to the extent that the opposite-sex other was perceived as more attractive (Study 1), and to the extent that participants reported higher levels of impression management motivation (Study 2). Implications for the general role of interpersonal processes in cognitive functioning, and some practical implications, are discussed.

The Sex Lives of Cult Television Characters
“The Sex Lives of Cult Television Characters,” Dr. Sara Gwenllian Jones, Screen, vol. 43 no. 1, Spring 2002, pp. 79–90.

Some Effects of a Full Bladder on Decision-Making

(Image credit: Flickr user Kevin Baird)

Inhibitory Spillover: Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains,” Mirjam A. Tuk, Debra Trampe and Luk Warlop, SSRN paper #SSRN-id1720956, December 7, 2010, . The authors, at University of Twente, University of Groningen, and Katholik University of Leuven, explain:

An important and daily experienced physiological sensation that relies on inhibitory responses is controlling one’s bladder in the face of accumulating urine. A filling bladder increasingly triggers inhibitory responses (Griffiths & Tadic, 2008). People increasingly have to inhibit their (motor) impulse to void. The inhibition of this motor response is present while people engage in other behaviors, making these simultaneously occurring behaviors susceptible for inhibitory spillover effects….

We show that urination urgency correlates with improved performance on color naming but not word meaning trials of a Stroop task (Study 1). In Study 2 and 3, we show that higher levels of bladder control result in an increasing ability to resist more immediate temptations in monetary decision making.

Meaningful Phone Numbers
“I 5683 You: Dialing Phone Numbers on Cell Phones Activates Key-Concordant Concepts,” Sascha Topolinski, Psychological Science, epub before print, January 26, 2011. The author, at the University of Wurzburg, Germany, reports:

This study tested whether sequences of simulations of virtual action effects can be integrated into a meaning of their own. Cell phones were used to test this hypothesis because pressing a key on a phone is habitually associated with both digits (dialing numbers) and letters (typing text messages). In Experiment 1, dialing digit sequences induced the meaning of words that share the same key sequence (e.g., 5683, LOVE). This occurred even though the letters were not labeled on the keypad, and participants were not aware of the digit-letter correspondences. In Experiment 2, subjects preferred dialing numbers implying positive words (e.g., 37326, DREAM) over dialing numbers implying negative words (e.g., 75463, SLIME). In Experiment 3, subjects preferred companies with phone numbers implying a company-related word (e.g., LOVE for a dating agency, CORPSE for a mortician) compared with companies with phone numbers implying a company-unrelated word.

Road-Crossing Behavior in Humans
Collective Behavior in Road Crossing Pedestrians: The Role of Social Information,” Jolyon J. Faria, Stefan Krause, and Jens Krause, Behavioral Ecology, vol. 21, no. 6, 2010, pp. 1236-42. (Thanks to Adrian Smith for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the University of Leeds, explain:

To judge a safe gap in traffic, pedestrians can use social information, such as the crossing behavior of others, and follow others across the road. We tested if pedestrians followed others in this scenario…. We found that on average a person was 1.5–2.5 times more likely to cross if their neighbor had started to cross. Second, we found that males tended to follow others more than females. Third, we observed that some individuals started to cross and then returned to the roadside. These individuals were more frequently found in groups and tended to start to cross relatively later than other pedestrians….

[We] propose that the relatively small benefit of a reduced waiting time came at the cost of an increased risk of injury, making the beneficial value of social information use questionable in this context.


This article is republished with permission from the September-October 2009 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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