01 July 2022

Science Doesn’t Always Sell

Eight years ago, I blogged: I am warm! I am friendly! Trust me, even if I’m a scientist! I was reviewing a Princeton University study that found scientists may be respected by the public but not necessarily trusted. Why? Because scientists are not perceived as warm (Trust a Scientist). Well, that issue came up again in conjunction with marketing.

Welcome back. A recent study by researchers affiliated with Simon Fraser, Notre Dame and Ohio State universities began with the premise that consumers view science as they view scientists--competent but cold.

They conducted 10 experiments involving more than 7,000 Americans to demonstrate that mentioning science in marketing a product can help or hurt sell the product. It will help with utilitarian (i.e., practical) products, which we tend to associate with competent and cold; it will hurt with hedonic (i.e., sensory pleasure) products, which we generally associate with warmth.

Experimental Findings
In one experiment, 511 students were presented cookie choices described either as "having a luscious chocolatey taste" or "scientifically developed to have a luscious chocolatey taste." The science appeal to the sensory pleasure of eating chocolate chip cookies reduced the likelihood that students would choose that option by 30%.

Your choice: luscious chocolatey taste or scientifically developed to have a luscious chocolatey taste (photo from tarateaspoon.com/taras-chocolate-chip-cookies/).
Yet in another experiment, the researchers showed that marketers can reduce the negative effect of mentioning science to promote a pleasure-focused product. They simply have to first tell consumers that science is needed to make the product. When 814 participants read how chemistry is a necessary part of baking, they were equally interested in a cookie whose taste was scientifically developed as they were in a cookie that wasn’t associated with science.

Some products can have both a practical and a pleasurable purpose. Science can be a positive selling point for those products if it is matched with the product’s utilitarian purpose. For example, one experiment presented a new body wash to 1,015 participants. When the participants were told the lather will “immerse your senses in an indulgent experience,” they were less likely to say they would buy it if it was marketed as scientifically developed. But that changed if they were told the lather will “wash away odor-causing bacteria.” Pairing practicality and science makes sense to consumers.

An unlabeled pump-container filled with a new body wash that has both hedonic and utilitarian purposes; only the latter should be marketed as scientifically developed (photo from shop.vermontsoap.com).
Wrap Up
Building on the premise that consumers view science as competent but cold, the study demonstrated that marketers would benefit from mentioning science when promoting practical products. When promoting hedonic products, however, they’d do best to either omit the mention of science or explain that science is necessary for the product’s development.

Nevertheless, consumers have mixed feelings about science in general. One experiment found, as you would probably guess, that mentioning science can help sell all products to consumers that have high levels of trust in scientists or that actually work in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

On the flip side, public opinion polling consistently finds Republicans have lower trust in scientists than do Democrats. As I wrote in the blog post I mentioned in the opening, I suppose Democrats could just be more trusting or more gullible or maybe more scientific.

Thanks for stopping by.


Study on invoking science in marketing in Journal of Consumer Research: academic.oup.com/jcr/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/jcr/ucac020/6581083
Articles on study on EurekAlert! website and Notre Dame News:

24 June 2022

Workplace Religious Discrimination

Welcome back. I don’t often blog about religion, though in recent years I have reviewed studies on Religion and Science, Religion and Millennials and Accepting Evolution. And now I’ll add one more.

During my hiatus, researchers affiliated with Rice University, the University of Texas and Wheaton College published a study on how religious discrimination is perceived in the workplace. I flagged the paper when it appeared and finally caught up with it. I found it interesting and thought you might too.

Study Background

Discrimination in the workplace has been studied in depth, but not religious discrimination. Charges of religion-based discrimination in the workplace filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from fiscal year 1992 (the first year the EEOC began reporting these data) to FY 2020 increased by 73%. Over the same period, charges due to other sources of discrimination generally decreased (sex, -1.8%, race, -25%, national origin, -14%).

Religion-based workplace complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, FY 1997 to FY 2010. Although a small proportion of overall charges (3.6% percent as of FY 2020), their growth illustrates the need to study religious discrimination more fully (graphic from The Plain Dealer, www.cleveland.com/business/2011/11/religion_and_the_workplace_don.html).

Behaviors creating a hostile work environment on the basis of an employee’s religious identity are considered harassment and are illegal. Nevertheless, more subtle behaviors--religious microaggressions--not reflected in official legal frameworks may still be perceived by employees as negative or unfair.

To highlight the ways employees perceive workplace religious discrimination and othering (being treated as others, not fitting in with the group), the researchers conducted a national survey of 11,356 members of a Gallup Panel. They followed that with 194 interviews with 159 Christians, 10 Muslims, 13 Jews and 12 nonreligious survey respondents. 

The study focused on Christian, Jewish, Muslim and nonreligious people in the workplace. (graphic from www.ajc.org/issues/interreligious-relations).
Perceived Religious Discrimination is Common
In the national survey, 27% of respondents perceived religious discrimination during their working tenure, with larger proportions of Muslim (63%) and Jewish (52%) respondents and 27% of nonreligious respondents. Of Christian subgroups, 36% of evangelical Protestants, 24% of other Christian/other Protestants and roughly 20% of Catholics and mainline Protestants reported religious discrimination.

In interviews, all respondents described similar perceived unfair or differential treatment (e.g., name-calling and stereotyping, social exclusion and othering, negative experiences tied to religious holidays or display of religious symbols); however, their accounts revealed nuances in individual experiences as well as differences between majority and minority groups’ experiences.

Verbal Microaggressions and Stereotyping
The most common form of religious discrimination was verbal microaggressions, such as name-calling, mocking, ridicule and uncomfortable joking, which could be accompanied by other forms of harassment or a sense of being judged or stereotyped.

Jewish and Muslim respondents described microaggressions tied to anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic stereotypes, which reinforced ideologies used to justify violence against Jews and Muslims. Verbal microaggressions were accompanied by racial/ethnic or national origin discrimination, underscoring how religious discrimination targeting minority groups is often entangled with racism, nativism and white nationalism.

Evangelical Christians described being stereotyped as narrow-minded, judgmental or thinking they were better than others. They often linked these instances to taking a moral stand or religious visibility and being censured for having integrity. Such narratives might also serve to reinforce a sense of evangelical distinctiveness.

Social Exclusion and Othering
Several Jewish and Muslim respondents felt coworkers treated them as exotic, foreign or fragile because of their religion.

Evangelical Christians described how coworkers stopped conversations when they approached, excluded them in the workplace and never invited them to after-work events. For some, the sense of hostility or feeling unwelcome was enough to leave their jobs or apply for specific jobs.

Fearing social exclusion or censure, nonreligious people described feeling compelled to downplay or hide their nonreligion.

Religious Holidays and Symbols
Jewish and Muslim respondents described struggles around issues of religious attire. Some concealed or downplayed their religious identity to forestall mistreatment and hostility.

Several Christians described hostility from superiors when they observed religious holidays or displayed religious symbols.

Nonreligious people shared how coworkers’ religious expression around holidays made them uncomfortable and how accommodations for religious people could cause a sense of unfair treatment toward the nonreligious.

Comment on wishing “Happy Holidays” (from www.religioustolerance.org/xmas_conflict1.htm).
Wrap Up
I was disappointed how little seems to have changed over the past 50 plus years. I was also concerned about reading too much into such small samples.

But as the researchers note, studying groups alongside one another provides the fullest picture of workplace religious discrimination and points the way toward further research of how both majority and minority groups perceive discrimination.

Thanks for stopping by.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules on religion-based discrimination: www.eeoc.gov/religious-discrimination
Study of religious discrimination in the workplace in Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World: journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/23780231211070920
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/946187

17 June 2022

People Opt for Inequality

Welcome back. In a 2019 Pew Research Center survey of 6,878 nationally representative adults, 61% said there was too much economic inequality in the U.S.

Pew Research Center survey of Americans on economic inequality (modified from : www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/01/09/).

Most Americans believe the U.S. must take steps to achieve greater equality, but policies meant to do that are often seen as discriminatory or threatening to members of the advantaged group. That reaction has been attributed to various causes, including fear of losing their status, political partisanship and overt prejudice.

A recently published study provides evidence of an underlying cause that crosses ideologies. Researchers affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University found that people in advantaged groups are prone to misperceive equality as less for them. They’re inclined to think that they benefit from inequality.

Testing Equality-Enhancing Policies
In the first series of a total of nine experiments, the researchers had participants review various equality-enhancing policies that would provide additional resources (e.g., salary, jobs) to a disadvantaged group (e.g., Latino Americans, disabled people, women, ex-felons) without changing the resources provided to the advantaged group (e.g., White Americans, people without a disability, men, non-felons).

For example, 594 White participants read that White homebuyers received roughly $386.4 billion in mortgage loans from banks while Latino homebuyers received about $12.6 billion.

Participants then read proposals to increase, decrease or not change resource access for the Latino homebuyers without changing resource access for the White homebuyers.

Finally, participants rated how the proposals would affect White homebuyers’ chances of getting mortgage funding.

White test participants’ response to increasing (left), decreasing (center) or not changing Latino homebuyers’ access to mortgage loans without changing access for White homebuyers (modified from www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abm2385).
Misperceiving Equality
Participants misperceived increasing loans to Latinos as being harmful to White homebuyers’ resource access and decreasing or not changing loans to Latinos as improving Whites’ access to resources.

This misperception held when the researchers tested policies that benefited both the majority and minority groups, when the benefits to society were mentioned, and when the majority group members were advised directly that anyone who wanted access to a loan could get one, that there was no limit on the amount available.

The only policies that removed the majority participants’ misperceptions were those that enhanced equality between members of their own group (e.g., when a group of male participants considered reducing pay disparity between men, rather than between men and women).

Other Experiments
In another experiment, the researchers surveyed California voters on a 2020 proposition to remove the ban on considering race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, education and contracting. The majority of Whites and Asians misperceived the measure, believing it would reduce their access to education and job opportunities.

The final two experiments showed that advantaged participants’ misperceptions led them to vote against equality-enhancing policies that would financially benefit them, instead favoring inequality-enhancing policies that financially hurt them.

Wrap Up
Overall, the study provides insight into the prevalence and consequences of misperceiving equality as zero sum--a gain for one group must necessarily be a loss for another. People placed more importance on how they were doing relative to other groups than how they were doing in absolute terms.

The researchers conclude that the advantaged group members’ misperception is one reason why inequality in America and around the world continues to constrain the economic, psychological and physical well-being of both the fortunate and unfortunate.

Thanks for stopping by.

Pew survey on economic inequality: www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/01/09/
Study of misperception and equality in Science Advances journal: www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abm2385
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/951951

10 June 2022

Tackling Football

Welcome back. Although I never last an entire game, I like watching football. About a month ago, I even watched some of the National Football League (NFL) Draft. I didn’t know any of the players, but the video clips were great.

An official National Football League football (ESPN).
Still, the link between playing football and the risk of developing brain disorders has received so much attention over the past 15 years, I can’t help wondering about football’s future. The NFL finally stepped forward to address the problem, but it hasn’t gone away. And it doesn’t necessarily start with professional football.

I’ll highlight two recently published studies on college and youth football.

College Football Players

Boston University researchers examined the long-term health outcomes and mortality rates of former University of Notre Dame football players who were seniors on the 1964-1980 rosters. The target group of 447 players was likely the last to play their entire careers wearing hard plastic helmets and face masks. The study was assisted by the steering committee of a group of former Notre Dame football players. 

The new head coach, Ara Parseghian, and team captain Jim Carroll (60) lead Notre Dame onto the field for picture day, 31 Aug 1964. Parseghian brought Notre Dame into national prominence from 1964-74 with a record of 95-17-4 and two national championships. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1980 (SBT File Photo from NDInsider).
The researchers developed an online survey that addressed general health conditions, including diagnosis or treatment for cognitive, neurological, psychiatric, cardiovascular, orthopedic and sleep conditions, as well as a Satisfaction with Life Scale.
They obtained contact information for 406 of the 447 former players or their next of kin through the steering committee and other sources. If a former player was deceased or did not meet predetermined decisional capacity standards, a family member was asked to complete the survey.

To compare medical conditions of the former football players with that of men in the general population, they used data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a longitudinal study of a representative sample of US adults older than 50 years.

Health Survey Results
Of the 406 individuals invited to participate in the survey, 216 living former players and 18 next of kin responded. Most players were White (200), and 33 played professional football.

Comparison of the former players with a matched sample of 638 HRS participants found the former players were 5 times more likely to report cognitive impairment diagnoses, 2.5 times more likely to report recurrent headaches, 65% more likely to report cardiovascular disorders, yet nearly half as likely to report diabetes. The players’ median score on the Satisfaction with Life Scale indicated they were satisfied to highly satisfied with their life overall.

Although mortality among all former players was significantly lower than that in the general male population, mortality from brain and other nervous system cancers was higher.

Youth Tackle Football
A study by researchers affiliated with Ohio State University reported that about 50% of Americans thought tackle football was not appropriate for kids, 45% thought it was and 5% didn’t know. Although youth age wasn’t specified, other evidence suggests there’s much more concern about kids under 13 than those in high school.

Weighted estimates of U.S. adults’ opinions about tackle football being an appropriate sport for kids (from journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/23294965221074017).
The data were from the National Sports and Society Survey (NSASS), sponsored by Ohio State’s Sports and Society Initiative. The survey was completed between fall 2018 and spring 2019 by 3,993 adults from all 50 states. Because NSASS participants are disproportionately female, White and Midwestern, the researchers weighted the survey results to reflect the U.S. population more accurately.

Digging Deeper
The study captured the divisions of support and opposition.

Black Americans and those with no more than a high school education were not as negative about youth tackle football as were White Americans and college educated. Higher-income adults were more likely to oppose youth football.

Men and heterosexuals were more likely to support youth football. So too were those who identified as more conservative, believing traditional gender roles, who thought playing sports was part of being American and said they were Christian. Also supportive were those who thought sports built character and collision sports had health benefits.

People in rural areas were more supportive than those in the suburbs, and support in the Midwest and South was generally higher than in the West. Being immersed in football cultures played a major role.

Wrap Up
Despite advances in protective technology and rule changes to improve safety, football has the highest rate of American college sports injuries.

Has the NFL done enough? Can college football do more to improve safety? Should youth play tackle? Additional research should help, but can we wait?

Thanks for stopping by.

The movie Concussion and biography of Dr. Bennet Omalu, Nigerian-born pathologist who brought the issue of brain damage in retired NFL players to the forefront:

Notre Dame football player study in JAMA Network Open: jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2791303
Article on Notre Dame player study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/950116
Health and Retirement Study: hrs.isr.umich.edu/about

Youth football study in Social Currents journal: journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/23294965221074017
Article on youth football study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/948103
National Sports and Society Survey: nsass.org/
Sports and Society Initiative: sportsandsociety.osu.edu/

03 June 2022

Constructive Feedback

Welcome back. Given my years and positions in academia and government, I’m well versed in giving constructive feedback, probably too well versed for some recipients. I never hesitated to offer feedback if I thought it could help. Apparently, that’s not the norm.

Studies have suggested that people withhold feedback to avoid negative outcomes for themselves or others, or due to lack of motivation. But a recently published study by researchers affiliated with Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley found that people may hold back simply because they underestimate the recipients’ desire for feedback.

I’ll summarize that recent study and hope you find it of interest.

Pilot Study and Experiments
The researchers conducted a pilot study and five experiments.

Pilot Study: Researchers with a blemish on their face (e.g., smeared lipstick or chocolate) approached survey-takers on a university campus. Of the 155 who reported noticing the blemish, only 4 told the researcher about it, demonstrating that people seldom give constructive feedback in a field setting.

Survey-takers' reasons for not providing feedback in pilot study (from www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-pspi0000393.pdf).
Experiment 1: The researchers recruited 721 adults through Prolific Academic and had them imagine either giving or receiving feedback about 10 different workplace situations (e.g., a rip in the seat of one’s pants, making an error in a report).

“Givers” consistently underestimated the “receivers’” desire for constructive feedback, an effect that was stronger when issues seemed more consequential. The imagined relationship between givers and receivers (friends, acquaintances or strangers) had no effect.

Predicted and actual desire for constructive feedback for more consequential scenarios (from www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-pspi0000393.pdf).
Experiment 2: The researchers had 403 adults from Prolific Academic interact in pairs to recall an instance when one participant had the potential to give or receive feedback and the other to give feedback on the recalled memory. Givers consistently underestimated how much receivers wanted constructive feedback.

Experiment 3:
To test how underestimating the desire for feedback might differ between people who know each other well, the researchers enlisted 50 pairs of friends, roommates or romantic partners for an online Zoom experiment.

One member of each pair was randomly assigned to be the giver, generating constructive feedback he or she wanted to share, and the other to be the receiver. Participants first predicted how they would feel giving or receiving feedback, then interacted, and finally reported how giving or receiving the feedback actually felt.

Givers again underestimated the receivers’ desire for feedback. The underestimation was predicted by the givers’ beliefs about the value for the feedback as well as by the givers’ predictions of their own discomfort.

Experiment 4: The researchers recruited 600 adults from Prolific Academic to test two potential interventions to reduce underestimating the receivers’ desire for feedback. One intervention asked givers to imagine someone else gave the feedback; the second was designed to promote perspective-taking by asking givers to simulate what it would be like to receive feedback themselves.

While both interventions led to more accurate predictions of receiver desire for feedback, the perspective-taking givers were significantly more accurate. This suggests that givers may be focusing too much on their own experience (anticipating discomfort and relational harm) or not fully considering the receiver’s potentially positive experience (e.g., the value of the feedback).

Experiment 5: The final experiment enlisted 102 pairs of students for one member of each pair to give feedback to the other member in a financially incentivized ($50) public speaking competition. Receivers who received more feedback had higher percentage score improvements between their practice and final speeches. Suffice it to note that givers underestimated the receivers’ desire for feedback.

Wrap Up
People may forego the opportunity to provide constructive feedback due to concerns about negative interpersonal consequences or lack of motivation. The study demonstrates another reason is that people consistently underestimate others’ desire for constructive feedback, especially because they underestimate the value of their feedback. 

Wise comment from Yoda (from memegenerator.net/instance/80945126/).
The researchers emphasize that feedback is key to personal growth and improvement and can correct problems that are otherwise costly to the recipient. Don’t hold back. Thanks for stopping by.

Study of underestimated desire for feedback in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-pspi0000393.pdf
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/946947
Prolific Academic: www.prolific.co/