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Overconfidence Can Stunt Your Intellectual Growth, Study Says

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A little confidence can be a very good thing. But too much confidence may hurt you in the long run: Researchers say overconfident people are less likely to challenge themselves and may therefore miss out on opportunities to learn. Their findings were published this month in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Overconfidence is quite common. It can also be pretty dangerous. The authors note that drivers, motorcyclists, and bungee jumpers commonly overestimate their ability to travel (or jump) safely, and that can resonate beyond themselves: “ … one person's overconfidence can carry significant consequences for others,” the authors write. “People base important health and financial decisions on advice offered by doctors and lawyers. This practice seems suspect in light of evidence that both … tend to be overconfident with respect to their job-related knowledge and skills.”

But medical errors, car accidents, and legal issues aren’t the only consequences of overconfidence. The study authors hypothesized that people who overestimate how much better they are than everyone else are less likely to push themselves intellectually. This is related to what the researchers call the entity theory of intelligence, in which a person believes that intellectual aptitude is concrete and unchanging.

They tested their idea with three studies on college students. In the first study, students completed a questionnaire on their ideas about intelligence. They were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements like “You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can't really do much to change it.” Then the students took a 10-question multiple-choice test on a computer. After, the researchers asked the students to estimate on a scale from 0 to 100 how well they thought they did on the test.

The second experiment sought to determine how people who subscribed to the entity theory would allocate their time between easy and difficult tasks. They gave half the participants a fake science article claiming that intelligence is fixed. The other half got an article claiming the opposite. All of the participants were asked to read the article carefully, as though they would be judged on their reading comprehension. The researchers then administered the same 10-question test and again asked the students to guess how well they did.

The third study tested whether the overconfidence of entity theorists could be reduced by making them perform difficult tasks. The students filled out a questionnaire to determine their ideas about intelligence, then took a general-knowledge test consisting of 10 easy questions and 10 harder questions. After the test, some students were asked to review their answers to the hard questions, while the others looked at the easy questions. The researchers added additional tasks like proofreading and naming the color of the text to further increase the difficulty for the hard-question group. All the time, the participants’ computers were tracking how they spent their time and attention.

The three studies confirmed what the researchers had suspected: Entity theorists were both more likely to overestimate their own abilities and less likely to challenge themselves.  

The researchers also found that drawing the students’ attention to growth theory via the fake science article did decrease their overconfidence and increase their openness to learning. These findings have implications for schools, the authors say; if growth theory can be taught, students may be better equipped to learn. 

"By focusing on aspects of the task that were easy and spending as little time as possible on more difficult parts of the task," study lead Joyce Ehrlinger said in a press statement, "fixed theorists felt as if they had performed very well relative to their peers. In contrast, growth theorists weren't threatened by challenging parts of the task and didn't feel the need to bask in the glow of the parts that were easy. This more balanced way of completing the task left growth theorists with a better understanding of how well they did."

Being overconfident is a barrier to intellectual growth, Ehrlinger said: "You have to understand and acknowledge what you don't yet know in order to truly learn. This research suggests that part of why growth mindsets improve learning might be because they lead people to better understand what they do and what they do not know."

This study does have its limits—all of the participants were college students, which likely influenced the results—but the concept is still worth further examination.

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Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
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Can You Figure Out This Newly Discovered Optical Illusion?
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)

Ready to have your mind boggled? Take a look at the image above. What shape are the lines? Do they look like curves, or zigzags?

The image, spotted by Digg, is a new type of optical illusion published in the aptly named journal i-Perception. Discovered by Japanese psychologist Kohske Takahashi, it’s called the “curvature blindness illusion,” because—spoiler—the contrast of the lines against the gray background makes our eye see some of the lines as zigzags when, in fact, they’re all smooth curves.

The illusion relies on a few different factors, according to the three experiments Takahashi conducted. For it to work, the lines have to change contrast just at or after the peak of the curve, reversing the contrast against the background. You’ll notice that the zigzags only appear against the gray section of the background, and even against that gray background, not every line looks angled. The lines that look curvy change contrast midway between the peaks and the valleys of the line, whereas the lines that look like they contain sharp angles change contrast right at the peak and valley. The curve has to be relatively gentle, too.

Go ahead, stare at it for a while.

[h/t Digg]

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Vivid Imagery Makes Poetry More Pleasurable, According to Psychologists
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Contrary to what English teachers led us to believe, most readers don’t judge poetry based on factors like alliteration and rhyme. In fact, a new study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts suggests that vivid imagery (i.e. sense-evoking description) is what makes a poem compelling, according to Smithsonian.

To determine why some poetic works are aesthetically pleasing while others are less so, researchers from New York University and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, had more than 400 online volunteers read and rate 111 haikus and 16 sonnets. Participants answered questions about each one, including how vivid its imagery was, whether it was relaxing or stimulating, how aesthetically pleasing they found it, and whether its content was positive or negative.

Not surprisingly, taste varied among subjects. But researchers did find, overall, that poems containing colorful imagery were typically perceived as more pleasurable. (For example, one favorite work among subjects described flowers as blooming and spreading like fire.) Emotional valence—a poem's emotional impact—also played a smaller role, with readers ranking positive poems as more appealing than negative ones. Poems that received low rankings were typically negative, and lacked vivid imagery.

Researchers think that vivid poems might also be more interesting ones, which could explain their popularity in this particular study. In the future, they hope to use similar methodology to investigate factors that might influence our enjoyment of music, literature, and movies.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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