Something for the weekend

This week’s roundup looks at how one can “expand” time and also why first really is best

The lamentation that there are not enough hours in the day is a familiar one. Busy working schedules combined with family life often mean that individuals feel unable to commit to additional duties such as joining a committee at work or volunteering at the local school.

But new research from academics suggests that by spending time on others – helping a failing student to edit an essay or helping out at the local club for the elderly for example – can counter-intuitively create a feeling of expanded time.

Cassie Mogilner, a professor of marketing at the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania, with colleagues Michael Norton, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and Zoe Chance, a post-doctoral student at Yale School of Management, say that spending time on others increases an individual’s perception of time affluence.

“The reason that this happens is that helping others makes us feel more effective and therefore we feel like we have more time because we can do more with our time,” says Prof Mogilner.

In one of a series of experiments conducted by the academics, one group were given 15 minutes to help students by editing their essays, while another group were told the essays were edited and they could leave 15 minutes early. Both groups were subsequently asked how many minutes they would spend to complete a survey for which they would be paid. The group who had helped the students committed more time than the group that had left early. Moreover the group that had helped the students was also more productive.

The researchers say that this can have significant implications for the workplace. They suggest that if employers instituted a volunteer day for their employees for example, it could result in the employees becoming more productive.

The research “Giving time gives you time” will be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science.

● Making a choice obviously depends on many factors, but a new study has found that individuals tend to prefer the option that they are first presented with, favouring it as the best.

Dana Carney, assistant professor of management at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and her co-author Mahzarin Banaji, a professor of psychology at Harvard University say that their research may have practical applications in sectors such as consumer marketing.

In a series of experiments the academics discovered that in circumstances where individuals need to make quick decisions without much deliberation, preferences unconsciously favour those options that are presented first. Participants were asked to select one or another piece of bubble gum and also questioned as to which salesperson they would buy a car from. Even when asked to choose between two violent criminals, to determine which one was worthy of parole, each time participants chose the option that they were first presented with.

The first is best effect suggests that firsts are preferred even when unwarranted and irrational says Prof Carney. The two authors say that in practice this may mean that managers in marketing for example might well “want to develop their business strategies knowing that first encounters are preferable to their clients or consumers”.

In their paper “First is best,” the writers speculate that the reason that people opt for the first is best approach may be due to the fact that “primacy has power”.

“A preference for firsts has its origins in an evolutionary adaptation favouring firsts.” Most people say the authors seem to prefer those individuals whom they first meet – parents and family – and associate with feelings of security. The paper is published at PLoS ONE.

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