This week I interrupt our weekly focus on psychology’s big ideas and new findings to update three prior essays.
Loss aversion in sports. A recent essay described how, in sports (as in other realms of life), our fear of losing can rob us of chances to win:
- In baseball, a mountain of data shows that runners on first base will rarely take off running on a fly ball that has any chance of being caught. But their aversion to being thrown out leads to fewer runs and wins.
- And in basketball, teams trailing by 2 points at a game’s end typically prefer a 2-point shot attempt, hoping to avert a loss and send the game into overtime (where half the time they will lose), over a 3-point attempt for victory—even in situations where the odds favor the latter. New Cornell/University of Chicago studies of “myopic loss aversion” confirm this irrational preference for loss-averting 2-point shots at the end of National Basketball Association games.
- Moreover, those same studies extend the phenomenon to National Football League games, where teams prefer to kick a tying extra point in situations where a 2-point conversion makes a win more likely (as when down by two points late in the third quarter—see also here). Caution often thwarts triumph.
Gratitude gratifies. An essay last spring testified to the positive power of expressing gratitude, which increases well-being and prosociality. In new experiments, Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley found that people who wrote gratitude letters “significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be about why expressers were grateful, overestimated how awkward recipients would feel, and underestimated how positive recipients would feel.”
Our unexpected personal thank you notes are more heartwarming for their recipients than we appreciate. (Is there someone whose support or example has impacted your life, who would be gratified to know that?)
The net effect. A May 2016 essay discussed research on how, in the smartphone age, “compulsive technology use not only drains time from eyeball-to-eyeball conversation but also predicts poorer course performance.” Since then, my friend (and co-author on the new Social Psychology, 13th Edition) Jean Twenge has enriched the public understanding of social media effects in her new book, iGen, and in associated media appearances. (For an excellent synopsis, see her Atlantic article.)
As she documents, the adoption of smartphones is echoed by increases in teen loneliness, depression, and suicide, and by decreases in sleep and face-to-face interactions (though also in less drinking, sex, and car accidents). Jean also continues to mine data, such as from an annual survey of American teens in a new Emotion study with Gabrielle Martin and Keith Campbell. They reconfirmed that a dip in adolescent well-being has precisely coincided with an increase in screen time (on social media, the Internet, texting, and gaming). Moreover, across individuals, more than 10 screen-time hours per week predicts less teen happiness.
Ergo, a task for teachers is to inform students about these trends and invite discussion about how students might apply them in their own peer culture. In a recent APS Observer essay, I suggested this might also be a good class activity:
- Invite students to guess how often they check their phone each day, and how many minutes they average on it.
- Have them download a free screen-time tracker app, such as Moment for the iPhone or QualityTime for the Android.
- Have them add up their actual total screen time for the prior week and divide by 7 to compute their daily average.
- Then ask them, “Did you underestimate your actual smartphone use?
The results may surprise them. In two recent studies, university students greatly underestimated their frequency of phone checking and time on screen. As Steven Pinker has noted, “The solution is not to bemoan technology but to develop strategies of self-control, as we do with every other temptation in life.”