ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — May 2003

In This Issue
Seeing Groups–
and the World–
in a New Way
AQP’s National Team Excellence Awards Diary
Ask the PowerPhrase® Expert
Looking Toward the Future

 

Features

AQP Connections
Articles in Brief
News Bites
What’s Up?
Out of Context
Book Nook

May 2003 News for a Change—Home Page

NFC Index

AQP Home

Out of Context
What’s happening in the world today—
from the practical to the ridiculous

Women Smile More Than Men, Except When They are in Similar Roles

Women do smile more than men, but when occupying similar work and social roles, the gender differences in the rate of smiling disappear, a Yale researcher has found. Also, there are large differences in the degree to which men smile less than women, depending on a person’s culture, ethnicity, age, or when people think they are being observed, according to the study funded by the National Science Foundation.

“It would be interesting for social psychologists and anthropologists to look at these data because the wide cultural, ethnic, and other differences suggest that the sex difference is not something that is hard-wired,” said Marianne LaFrance, professor of psychology at Yale and senior author of the study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin. “This is not a function of being male or female. Each culture overlays men and women with rules about appropriate behavior for men and women.”

LaFrance and her co-authors, Elizabeth Paluck of Yale and Marvin Hecht, a graduate student at the time, set out to examine every available study conducted on gender differences in smiling. They found that women do smile more than men, but the difference is modest. “The difference is there, but it’s not whopping,” LaFrance said. “Indeed, there are studies that find just the opposite.”

Also, the rate at which men and women differ in how much they smile is greater in the United States and Canada than in other parts of the world, like England and Australia. In the United States, there is a greater gender difference among Caucasians in smiling, but this difference virtually disappears among African-Americans.

In terms of age differences, teens show the largest gender difference in smiling. After that, the genders converge on their smile rates. “We don’t know why it maxes out among young adults,” LaFrance said.

The researchers also found that the largest gender differences in smiling occurred when men and women thought they were being observed. They smiled more similarly when they thought no one was looking. “The logic here is when people know their behavior is being monitored, they more closely adhere to the norms for appropriate behavior for their gender,” LaFrance said. “People are at their gendered best when people are looking.”

Men and women also smile about the same amount when they are in the same position in terms of power, occupation, or social role. LaFrance surmises that the gender differences are overridden by smile norms for the role one is in, rather than with the gender one is; however, when there is tension in the air, women try to diffuse it with a smile more often than men. “Women do what we call ‘emotion work’ and one of the best ways to do this is to smile to soothe hurt feelings, to restore harmony,” LaFrance said.

Why do babies smile at their mothers? Love, affection, or to diffuse tension they sense? How will research like this affect our behavior? Will it change our natural tendencies? Will we stop to ask, “Should I smile at you? How will you interpret my smile?” before we smile? Probably not! Most of us will say, “I’ll smile when I want to—without worrying about its impact on business relationships.”


Pheromones in Male Perspiration Reduce Women’s Tension, Alter Hormone Response

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia have found that exposure to male perspiration has marked psychological and physiological effects on women: It can brighten women’s moods, reducing tension and increasing relaxation. These results will be published in June in the journal Biology of Reproduction, and they currently appear on the journal’s Web site at www.biolreprod.org .

“It has long been recognized that female pheromones can affect the menstrual cycles of other women,” said George Preti, a member of the Monell Center and adjunct professor of dermatology in Penn’s School of Medicine. “These findings are the first to document mood and neuroendocrine effects of male pheromones on females.”

In a study led by Preti and colleague Charles J. Wysocki, extracts from the underarms of male volunteers were applied to the upper lip of 18 women ages 25 to 45. During the six hours of exposure to the compound, the women were asked to rate their mood using a fixed scale. “Much to our surprise, the women reported feeling less tense and more relaxed during exposure to the male extract,” said Wysocki, a member of the Monell Center and adjunct professor of animal biology in Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “This suggests that there may be much more going on in social settings like singles bars than meets the eye.”

Imagine that you’ve just completed an aerobic workout, and your whole body is drenched in sweat. We know that perspiration is your body’s way of cooling itself, whether that extra heat comes from hardworking muscles or over-stimulated nerves, such as when you are about to do something really big—maybe a job interview, a presentation, a first date, or your wedding—when you notice that your palms and underarms are sweating.

Now it seems that perspiration may have greater functionality than cooling our bodies; it may be a way of cooling our minds, too. If that’s the case, we may see perspiration-based over-the-counter drugs in the near future that can be used to relieve stress on a short-term basis—without becoming addictive.


Psychology Professor Maps Choice-Making in the Brain

The next time you are frustrated by someone who says, “I’m of two minds about this,” at least now you will know why. The latest research conducted by Kip Smith, an assistant professor of psychology at Kansas State University, may explain why people often can’t make up their minds. Smith’s current study focuses on which parts of the brain are used in the decision-making process.

“We’re of at least two minds,” Smith said. “This research shows the brain is not a single entity. There is not a single executive decision-making mechanism there.” Smith’s research has resulted in neuroimages of the parts of the brain used in different types of choices. Smith said there are two systems for making decisions in the brain: deliberative and emotional. Deliberative systems, also referred to as calculation areas, utilize parts of the brain related to mathematics and rational decisions. Emotional systems utilize older, more primal parts of the brain.

According to Smith, individual behavior is affected by attitudes about payoffs, such as gains and losses, in addition to beliefs about outcomes, such as risk and ambiguity. During the experiments, the brain activity of participants was measured by positron emission tomography. The research demonstrates the relationship between brain activity and observed choices. Smith’s results allowed him to create images of the parts of the brain used for risk, ambiguity, gains, and losses with decision making in the experiment.

Smith said some of the results were surprising. “We thought that risky losses would be processed by the part of the brain that responds to fear, but they were dealt with in a fairly rational manner,” he said. Also, the deliberative areas of the brain did not show high usage with decisions relating to risky gains. “It could be that the emotional areas overwhelm the calculation areas.”

Risk is defined as the probability of an unwanted event occurring, but the severity of the potential loss is a factor, too. Combining these two considerations in an objective fashion is difficult, causing even systematic risk assessments to contain an element of subjectivity and ambiguity. Additionally, it often is a challenge to estimate the mathematical values needed to quantify the risk in terms of statistical probabilities.

This study seems to confirm that our reactions to risk and our decisions made in regard to risky situations are more on social choices (tied to the “emotional” centers of the brain) rather than technical issues (tied to the brain’s calculation areas).

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