Some Seriously Cool Stuff I Learned at ‘One Day University’

I recently attended One Day University, a fantastic day-long series of lectures by top professors in various fields of study. I highly recommend checking it out if the event comes to your city. I’m going to share some of the tidbits I learned from two of the psychology-based lectures, and if enough requests come in, I’ll do my best to reach the professors who taught to give us more insight.

1) Dr. Catherine Sanderson of Amherst discussed the mind/body relationship. She addressed eating, pain/health and arousal and love. About these:

– the average college-aged woman wants to be 5’7’’ and 100 pounds. That body mass index meets the criteria for Anorexia Nervosa.

– when asked which of these four items would be most embarrassing to purchase: condoms, Snickers, tampons or a pregnancy test, most college-aged women picked the Snickers. In other words, you’re better off saying that you might have gotten knocked up rather than admitting you have a chocolate craving.

– when dating, both men and women eat less when they are with someone they find desirable. If not, food consumption increases. Why bother impressing someone you’re not interested in?

– when presented with a series of neutral words that suggest old-age (e.g., Florida, gray hair, Bingo), students actually walked more slowly from the experimenter’s room to the elevator. Their pace picked up later, but they were initially influenced by old-age stereotypes.

– people who own dogs live longer. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, but a few ideas are out there. One is that many dog owners walk their dog, which is a form of exercise and health promotion. Another is that a dog serves as a social lubricant, allowing for the creation of a greater support system. And finally dogs give unconditional love which can promote long-term health. Similar results were not found with other animals, so if you want to say a cat gives unconditional love as well, forget it. We all know that a cat is simply a glorified stuffed animal that hates you.

– people often misinterpret their physiological responses as arousal and love. When told to cross a bridge, men were met at the other side by a woman who gave them her number, “just in case they had any questions.” The men who walked over a solid, sturdy bridge (i.e., limited physiological response) rarely called the woman. However, the men who walked over a very shaky bridge (which generated the fear response) often called the woman within a few days. They paired the meeting of the woman with the arousal response and many believed they were experiencing the “love at first sight” phenomenon. Dr. Anderson promoted the idea of using a strong physiological response to help long-term romantic relationships. Her advice for couples is to go to a lot of amusement parks, take tango lessons, get cardiovascular exercise together and watch plenty of horror movies. You’ll use the arousal response to stay connected to your partner.

2) Dr. Jeff Hancock of Cornell discussed “The Brave New World of Lying and Deception.” A few interesting tidbits:

– humans lie, on average, one time per day. That actually struck me as somewhat low.

– 80% of Match.Com profiles have at least one lie in one of three major categories: height, weight and age. Women most often lie about weight, men about height. These two variables are more likely suspects because they are more easily changeable (e.g., dieting, high heels, shoe lifts, etc.), whereas age is more fixed.

– humans can detect lying only 54% of the time, or only slightly above chance. The fact that it’s that high at all is likely because of the small group of people who are just horrible liars that we can all detect, as well as “Wizards,” those who are successful at detecting lies over 90% of the time. One study found only 18 Wizards in 20,000 people studied, and it’s unclear why they are able to pick out lies as well as they do.

– people believe that studying a person’s eye movements and/or change in voice will help us detect their lies. Both of these assertions are essentially false, with voice pitch being minimally useful.

– as “Lying Profiles” are being developed, three trends are emerging. Narratives that contain lies tend to have fewer “I” statements (which allows for a psychological distancing from the lie), fewer “exception” words such as “but,” “except,” “aside from,” etc. (to decrease the complexity of the lie) and contain more negative emotion. Dr. Hancock noted this last factor is due to what he called “guilt from the leakage.” I have to wonder if the negative emotion (“Oh, the accident that caused me to be late to this job interview was just horrible”) is also a subconscious method of inducing pity or sympathy from the listener, who is then less focused on how truthful you are.

That’s all I can remember at the moment so I’ll call it quits for now. Thanks to both Drs. Sanderson and Hancock for some great stuff. If you didn’t find any of this interesting…it might be time to move on to technology blogs, because human behavior doesn’t get much more fascinating than this.

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19 Responses to “Some Seriously Cool Stuff I Learned at ‘One Day University’”

  1. Kevin says:

    There were 18 “Wizards” out of 20,000 people studied, who had a 90% success rate in detecting lies?

    I wonder if those people were just statistical outliers and just racked up a really unlikely string of lucky guesses.

  2. Rob Dobrenski says:

    This is possible and he did say that the results are not his work per se. But I think, and don’t quote me on this, that the results have been replicated.

  3. Chater says:

    Great post. The snickers one caught me off guard. How sad is that fact? I hope you remember more, this was great.

  4. Joe says:

    5’7″ and 100 pounds? Funny how college aged women tend to blame men for that. Is it just me, or has “feminism” in the college scene become a defense mechanism for women to blame causes other than themselves for their dysfunctions? And, for anyone out there who thinks this is men’s fault, show me a study that says men prefer to bone a sack of antlers.

    Am I being mean and picking on academics? Absolutely. And the reason is because I sincerely believe they facilitate harmful and unrealistic beliefs and behaviors. And, when doing so, they hide behind “academic freedom” or some other vague concept to avoid defending their positions.

  5. Amber says:

    Interesting. I don’t know if I agree with all of it, but it’s definitely food for thought!

  6. Tracie says:

    “Similar results were not found with other animals, so if you want to say a cat gives unconditional love as well, forget it. We all know that a cat is simply a glorified stuffed animal that hates you.”

    Now, now. I get lots of exercise from constantly bending over to clean up cat vomit and hair, and frequently yelling “Girls! Knock it off!” and “What did you break now?” has really endeared me to the neighbors. Who says cats aren’t beneficial?

    In response to Joe’s comment, I obviously can’t speak for all women but many of the college-aged women that I knew who had body issues (myself included) were influenced quite heavily by female, not male, interactions, and by media representations of women (most notably in “chick magazines” like Cosmo that ran articles, written by women, that implied that’s what men wanted). Not to discredit the idea that relationships with men influence body image in some way, but I disagree with that interpretation of “feminism.”

  7. Joe says:

    @ Tracie

    I think anyone who’s spend four years in the social sciences at a mainstream university in the last 20 years understands that “feminism” does not have a fixed meaning, nor does it represent any particular set of principles. It has been used to justify everything from women’s suffrage to legalized prostitution, and I’m not aware of any theory of feminism that approaches laissez faire social theory, or libertarianism. Feminism in academia has become a generalized justification for exerting control over a large portion of the population in the interests of a small, loud special interest group.

    Interestingly, the same phenomenon that’s been cited with mags like Cosmo influencing women have been reported, to a lesser degree, with magazines like Men’s Fitness and Maxim encouraging men to maintain unrealistic muscle mass and leanness. Though the effect on neither sex has stopped the rise in obesity in this country.

  8. Tracie says:

    Joe, in regards to my statement, you asked “Is it just me…?” and my response was intended to be more along the lines of “I don’t think you’re the only one who feels that way, but I personally disagree with that assessment based on my experience.” I’m not sure what that has to do with libertarianism, but it’s probably just me failing to make a connection that would be clearer to someone with a stronger background in the social sciences; I spent most of my time in college holed up in some corner of the biology building, so it might be convenient to just blame the formalin exposure otherwise.

    I’ve also heard reports regarding the connection between men’s self-image and men’s magazines. I presume that most of those articles are written by guys, making that situation equally perplexing (what’s the motivation behind setting such skewed standards?). Regardless of gender, it is sad to think of so many people living unhealthy and unhappy lives.

  9. Joe says:

    The motivation is it sells magazines and keeps mediocre writers in work. I have yet to come up with a theory for why people buy this stuff.

    And, for the record, I spent most of college holed up in the gym, boozing in the fraternity, or otherwise avoiding any deep academic work.

  10. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by DrRobD: Check out some fascinating tidbits about human behavior regarding lies, deceit, eating and dating over at ShrinkTalk…

  11. Itai says:

    Great article


    Dr. Dobrenski, I’m bored and other sites suck. Please update more.

  12. Celina says:

    Definitely an interesting entry! Its these little tidbit facts about human behaviour that got me interested in psychology in the first place (though I still can’t stand the years of experimenting to find them out). The facts about college age women perplexed me the most; I guess I’m not very average, but that seems to be a good thing in this context.

  13. Savi says:

    Great article Dr. Rob. I’d like to address Dr. Sanderson’s topic of misinterpreting physiological responses as arousal and love. I think the data is being misinterpreted. It may seem a bit more logical to conclude that the men who went across the shaky bridge actually called the women because they had to make a bit of a sacrifice to get her number. That is to say, they actually had to work to get the number. Crossing a shaky bridge required them to work amidst the fear of the bridge collapsing. The “overcoming fear” and “work” aspect were required in order to get the number. Consequently, the number had sentimental attachment to it because the men had to endure a fair amount of difficulty in order to get it. The other guys, who just strolled across the sturdy bridges, didn’t have to make any type of real sacrifice or do any “work” to get her number. Consequently, the number had less “intrinsic, emotional, or sentimental” value attached to it.

    Look at it this way:
    If, hypothetically, a guy has to compete with many other men in order to get a girl’s number, he’s much more likely to call her and give her attention, because look at all he had to do in order to get her number. If, on the other hand, a girl just handed out her number to anyone, a guy would be much less likely to call her because any guy could get her number.

    The same principle is true in the example. The guys who just got her number “easily” didn’t bother calling. The guys who actually had to endure some hardship in order to get it, actually did call her.

  14. Cici says:

    I can’t really believe the snickers fact – surely that can’t be true?

    What’s more interesting, the iPad, or other people? People always seem to win out for me.

    Thanks, Dr. Rob for another fun update – please keep it up! 🙂

  15. BL1Y says:

    I’ve read similar studies on detecting lies. Apparently one of the best strategies is reading a transcript of the conversation. When reading we take it at our own pace and spend more time thinking about whether the statements are rational and reasonable, so it’s easier to pick out inconsistencies that reveal lies. You also have the advantage of quickly referring back to earlier statements for a side-by-side comparison

    And, people tend to be very trusting of others, even complete strangers. If you ask a stranger for directions, and he helps, you don’t even stop to think about whether he had a motive to lie. Most of the time we accept people at face value. Society would fail if we didn’t. But, that bias probably doesn’t carry over to reading a typed transcript, so we feel more free to be critical. It can be hard to call another person a liar, but no one cares about hurting a piece of paper’s feelings.

  16. Anonymous says:

    nice post. thanks.

  17. Bad Dog says:

    I’d love to hear more about this….

  18. More random things…

    1. For people interested in male body image issues, check out Pope et. al’s, “The Adonis Complex: The secret crisis of male body obsession.” Good book.

    2. Men are also influenced by media images. Men exposed to media with muscular/athletic men reported higher body dissatisfaction after view, which matches up with similar studies done with women.

    3. There was some great research done showing that men over-estimated the level of muscularity a woman desired. Similar research was done to show that women over-estimated the level of thinness men found most attractive.

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