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Oct 2, 2008, 11:45 PM

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This month's Science mag

Caught this article. Was interesting to ponder my own thoughts.


The research was done by Adam Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., in collaboration with lead author Jennifer Whitson, an assistant professor at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. Through a series of six experiments, the researchers showed that individuals who lacked control were more likely to see images that did not exist, perceive conspiracies, and develop superstitions.

According to Whitson, that psychological need is for control, and the ability to minimize uncertainty and predict beneficial courses of action. In situations where one has little control, the researchers proposed that an individual may believe that mysterious, unseen mechanisms are secretly at work. To test their theory, the researchers created a number of situations characterized by lack of control and then measured whether people saw a variety of illusory patterns.

For example, in one experiment individuals were asked to look at “snowy” pictures. Half of the pictures were grainy patterns of random dots, while the other half also contained images like a chair, a boat, or the planet Saturn, that were faintly visible against the grainy background. While all people correctly identified 95 percent of the hidden images, the group of people who had felt their control had been eroded in a previous part of the experiment also “saw” images in 43 percent of the pictures that were just random scatterings of dots.

“People see false patterns in all types of data, imagining trends in stock markets, seeing faces in static, and detecting conspiracies between acquaintances. This suggests that lacking control leads to a visceral need for order – even imaginary order,” said Whitson.

Restoring a Sense of Control
To test whether individuals with diminished power can restore control and realign their perceptions, the researchers asked participants to rate how strongly they believed in certain values (like aesthetic beauty or valuing scientific theory and research). They then asked participants to write about situations in which they were helpless or lacked control. To restore feelings of control afterwards, some participants were asked to elaborate on the values they had rated as important. As a comparison, other participants were asked to elaborate on the value they held in lowest esteem.

The results were clear: participants who didn’t have an opportunity to regain feelings of control were more likely to perceive visual images that didn’t exist and to perceive conspiracies in innocent situations, while participants who regained feelings of control by focusing on important personal values were no different from people who never lost their feelings of self-control in the first place.

"It's exciting - restoring people's sense of control normalized their perceptions and behavior," said Galinsky.

(This post was edited by snowmman on Oct 2, 2008, 11:45 PM)

Edit Log:
Post edited by snowmman () on Oct 2, 2008, 11:45 PM

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