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Communication prevents inaction by leveraging goodwill

Communication helps groups of strangers to focus on resolving common problems, and provides new and surprising insights into what goes on when negotiation talks fail or succeed.

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Photo by Joshua Ness from Unsplash.com

A large-scale, multi-institutional study designed to examine human behavior has shown that communication helps groups of strangers to focus on resolving common problems, and provides new and surprising insights into what goes on when negotiation talks fail or succeed. The findings have implications for how to confront global, collective-action issues such as climate change mitigation.

Challenging global issues are frequently accompanied by shared associated risks, and without a concerted effort, resolution is hard to achieve. Climate change talks often stall when nations start accusing one another of contributing too little. When such a stalemate arises, it becomes unclear how to move forward or how to make involved parties adhere to agreed-upon terms.

Waiting for others to resolve common problems is recognized in behavioral studies as a form of free riding, which can ultimately hinder the group’s chances of achieving a given goal. To examine what causes free riding, and how to stave it off, a team of international researchers coordinated by Marko Jusup from Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) in Japan and Zhen Wang from Northwestern Polytechnical University in China conducted a so-called social-dilemma experiment through which the team could investigate whether communication might help improve cooperativeness among strangers tasked with avoiding a shared risk.

The team organized a game experiment played by groups of three, seven, or 11 individuals. A total of 351 students from southern China, 126 students from northern China, and 112 students from 33 different nations participated in the game.

In each round of the game, players had to decide whether to invest their capital toward mitigating the shared risk, or to forgo investing and take more of the capital home, provided that the risk had not materialized. Thus, the dilemma was whether to invest one’s own capital or wait for others to act.

Investment options consisted of zero, two, or four units of capital — if everybody invested two units in every round of the game, the risk would be mitigated with certainty. Groups of, for example, seven individuals playing ten rounds of the game had to reach a target of 140 units to mitigate the risk. The initial capital consisted of 40 units per player. To make informed decisions, players could see their group’s current-round investment, as well as the remaining amount towards the target. Failure to reach the target entailed losing any capital saved during the game, and going home empty-handed, with 50% probability.

Approximately half of the players engaged in games in which no communication was possible. These players relied on their own devices to decide whether to invest or not. The other half played the same games, but with limited communication. This communication took place between game rounds, in the form of five yes/no questions designed to gauge sentiment and outlook harbored by player groups.

Across all group sizes, the study found that communication increased the likelihood of reaching the target by almost two-fold. The results thus confirmed a natural expectation that communication promotes cooperativeness, but the story does not end with a more cooperative environment created simply by persuading free riders to invest.

Intriguingly, the researchers found that players who communicate are more persistent in pursuing the investment target and refuse to give up even in the face of substantial current deficits. Genuine free riders appear to pay little attention to communication. It is players who already possess prosocial tendencies that, when communicating, better endure setbacks, and thus fight off inaction as the failure looms.

“Without communication, prosocial players shut down upon seeing nothing but a widening deficit. With communication, however, these same players stay hopeful thanks to cooperation-reinforcing signals from others,” write the researchers in their study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study identified two prosocial behavioral types, namely cooperators and altruists. While altruists contribute almost unconditionally, cooperators are rather more astute, weighing carefully when and how much to contribute. Too much caution, however, often leads to near-misses of the investment target, meaning that even if just a few individuals fail to give their best at crucial times, the whole effort may be in vain. This is reflected in the fact that larger groups of communicating players often come close to mitigating the risk, but ultimately fail by a narrow margin. The overall lower success of larger groups points to additional challenges in coordinating an increasing number of individuals and highlights the insidious nature of collective-risk social dilemmas.

What, then, can be done to curb free riding and improve the situation for complex issues such as climate change talks? “The key is to leverage pre-existing goodwill, especially when an otherwise contributing side starts to doubt success,” says Jusup. “Persuading those who a priori have no intention to contribute is unlikely to amount to much,” adds Wang. Both researchers conclude that although experimental games can help uncover the mechanisms underlying mitigation efforts, caution needs to be heeded in extrapolating the study’s findings beyond experimental conditions.

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NewsMakers

How to help children build a growth mindset

Consider these three tips to help children build a growth mindset.

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A new year is a perfect time to consider the habits you want to keep and the ones you’d like to develop. One resolution to consider is helping your children develop a growth mindset this year.

“We know one of the greatest boosts to parents’ confidence over the past year came from knowing their children’s whole selves are being nurtured, and we want to see that trend continue,” said Carter Peters from KinderCare Learning Center’s education team. “A growth mindset helps children try new things despite fear of failure. It’s the kind of thinking that allows inventors and creative thinkers to get excited about trying something new and ensures they have the cognitive flexibility and problem-solving skills to work through hurdles.”

Adults can often easily spot when children are engaged in creative thinking and prideful of their work, but that confidence may be lost as failures turn into insecurities. By nurturing a growth mindset and showing children they can learn and develop new skills in any area, it better sets them up for long-term success.

Consider these three tips to help children build a growth mindset:

Photo by Markus Spiske from Unsplash.com

1. Praise effort

It’s easy to fall into the habit of praising successes. However, praising effort encourages children to try new things without the fear of failing. It also teaches children personal growth and achievement are possible, even if their overall effort wasn’t a success.

“Young children often get excited to try something new,” Peters said. “By praising effort and showing children they’ll still be loved and valued despite the outcome, you can reframe how they approach challenges and teach them that difficult doesn’t mean impossible.”

2. Encourage the process

People often withhold praise until there’s a result, which leads children to hurriedly scribble a picture to hold up for a “good job” instead of taking time to focus on their efforts. When children know adults will encourage them during the process, instead of only upon the achievement, they’re more likely to try new things or master a new skill. For example, try providing encouragement such as, “I can see you’re focused on drawing that tree. It looks so lifelike because you’re putting so much thought into what you’re doing.” Once their project is finished, continue the encouragement by hanging up their artwork or school projects in a prominent place.

3. Model a growth mindset

You can model a growth mindset for children by narrating your actions when you are facing a challenge: “I am having a difficult time putting this shelf together, but it’s OK. I’ll take a break then read the instructions again.” Remove negative words from your vocabulary, such as “I can’t” or “I’m stupid.” Even when you are joking, children may not be able to tell the difference. You can also ask your children to join you in problem-solving. Take time to hear their ideas and try them even if you think they won’t work. This not only supports the development of their growth mindset, but the quality time and encouragement reinforces their sense of self-worth and builds confidence.

For more tips to help children develop a growth mindset, visit kindercare.com.

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Signs of a Healthy Marriage

Although there are many different ways to define a healthy marriage, these three qualities are essential for any lasting and fulfilling relationship.

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A healthy marriage is built on trust, respect, and communication. Couples with these qualities in their relationship tend to be more satisfied with their marriage and overall life. They also report feeling closer to their partner and having stronger well-being. With 2.3 out of every 1000 people in the US experiencing divorce in 2022, it is important to frequently check in on the health of your marriage.

Although there are many different ways to define a healthy marriage, these three qualities are essential for any lasting and fulfilling relationship.

Signs of a Healthy Marriage

A healthy marriage is built on trust, communication, and mutual respect. If you and your partner can effectively communicate and share a mutual level of respect, then your relationship is off to a good start. Trust is also important in a healthy marriage, as it allows you and your partner to feel secure in your relationship and rely on each other.

Many other signs can indicate whether or not a marriage is healthy. For example, couples who can spend quality time together and enjoy shared activities usually do well. Couples who can openly discuss their relationship with each other and work through difficulties together are also more likely to have a happy and healthy marriage. Finally, marriages, where both partners feel like they can be themselves without judgment from their spouse tend to be the strongest and most lasting.

Freedom to be yourself

In a healthy marriage, partners feel free to be themselves. They don’t have to put on a facade or pretend to be someone they’re not. They can be open and honest with each other and feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings, and desires.

Both partners should pursue their interests and hobbies without compromising or sacrificing for the sake of the relationship. There’s no need to agree on everything – in fact, it’s healthy to have some separate interests – but overall, both partners should feel like they’re able to be true to themselves within the relationship.

Lots of good communication

In a healthy marriage, partners can communicate effectively. It means expressing needs and wants and listening and responding to what the other person is saying. There are mutual respect’s opinions, even if there are disagreements. Couples in a healthy marriage feel comfortable communicating with each other about both the good and the bad.

Good sex life

A good sex life can be a major sign of a healthy marriage. A lack of sexual activity can be an early warning sign that something is wrong in the relationship. Often, couples who have a good sex life are more connected emotionally and physically. They are also more likely to trust each other and communicate openly.

Trust in each other

In any relationship, trust is essential. Without trust, there is no foundation for the relationship to grow. In a marriage, trust is even more important. Trusting your spouse means you feel confident in their ability to support you emotionally and financially. It also means that you feel safe sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with them.

When you trust your spouse, you know they have your best interests. You feel comfortable being yourselves around each other and sharing your hopes, dreams, and fears. Openness and honesty in your relationship allow you to be vulnerable with each other. This vulnerable honesty creates a deeper level of intimacy in your marriage.

When you trust each other, you can be more forgiving when mistakes are made. You know that everyone makes mistakes and that nobody is perfect. You also understand that your spouse is human and capable of making mistakes like anyone else. If they make a mistake, you are more likely to forgive them because you know they are sorry and will try not to make the same mistake again.

Trust is one of the most important foundations of a healthy marriage. If you want your marriage to thrive, build trust in each other.

A successful, strong marriage takes work, but with communication, trust, respect, vulnerability, and affection as its core components, you can together create a partnership that will be long-lasting.

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NewsMakers

Obesity linked to macular degeneration

Immune cells are also activated when the body is exposed to stressors such as excess fat in obesity, making being overweight the number one non-genetic risk factor for developing AMD, after smoking.

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A Canadian study published in the prestigious journal Science elucidates a new molecular mechanism that may cause age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The research at Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosement, in Montreal, shows how life stressors such as obesity reprogram immune system cells and make them destructive to the eye as it ages.

“We wanted to know why some people with a genetic predisposition develop AMD while others are spared,” said Université de Montréal ophtalmology professor Przemyslaw (Mike) Sapieha, who led the study by his postdoctoral fellow Dr. Masayuki Hata.

“Although considerable effort has been invested in understanding the genes responsible for AMD, variations and mutations in susceptibility genes only increase the risk of developing the disease, but do not cause it,” Sapieha explained.

“This observation suggests that we must gain a better understanding of how other factors such as environment and lifestyle contribute to disease development.”

AMD is a major cause of irreversible blindness worldwide and affected approximately 196 million people in 2020. It comes in two forms:

  • dry AMD, characterized by the accumulation of fatty deposits at the back of the eye and the death of nerve cells in the eye,
  • and wet AMD, which is characterized by diseased blood vessels that develop in the most sensitive part of the sight-generating tissue, called the macula.

Contact with pathogens

It is already known that the immune system in the eye of a person with AMD becomes dysregulated and aggressive. Normally, immune cells keep the eye healthy, but contact with pathogens such as bacteria and viruses can make them go awry.

At the same time, immune cells are also activated when the body is exposed to stressors such as excess fat in obesity, making being overweight the number one non-genetic risk factor for developing AMD, after smoking.

In their study, Sapieha and Hata used obesity as a model to accelerate and exaggerate the stressors experienced by the body throughout life.

They found that transient obesity or a history of obesity leads to persistent changes in the DNA architecture within immune cells, making them more susceptible to producing inflammatory molecules.

“Our findings provide important information about the biology of the immune cells that cause AMD and will allow for the development of more tailored treatments in the future,” said Hata, now an ophthalmology professor at Kyoto University, in Japan.

The researchers hope their discovery will lead other scientists to broaden their interest beyond obesity-related diseases to other diseases characterized by increased neuroinflammation, including Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

About this study

“Past history of obesity triggers persistent epigenetic changes in innate immunity and exacerbates neuroinflammation,” by Mike Sapieha and Masayuki Hata, was published in Science.

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