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What Animals Teach Us About Measuring Intelligence

My dog Maebe gets very excited whenever my roommate comes home. Due to her heightened sense of smell, she starts her happy dance 30 seconds before the door actually opens, giving me time to sneak the bag of chips that he bought back into the cupboard. Does such olfactory aptitude mean she’s a genius, on par with master sommeliers?  

In the midst of her happy dance, she sometimes chases her tail. When she’s feeling especially nifty, she’ll catch and proceed to chew on it like it’s a squeak-toy. Does her lack of awareness with respect to self-mutilation mean she’s stupid?

Intelligence is notoriously difficult to measure. For humans, common measures are childhood IQ and SAT scores, metrics that are under constant attack. But this debacle becomes even more apparent when other species are involved. The study of animal intelligence, or cognition, is such a nascent field that most of what has been hypothesized has yet to be replicated in a lab. The biggest challenges to the field’s development are that it relies too heavily on anecdotes, that controlled experiments with large-enough sample sizes are difficult to design, that many consider it irrelevant, and that ...

Bad Weather: Better for Work, Terrible for Everything Else

Talking about the weather used to be drudgery saved for only the most boring acquaintances. But in the age of temperature selfies and record snow, winter'spopularity on the Internet seems to thrive in spite of the season's toll on our minds (and bodies).

Winter and the snowstorms that come with it have traditionally been associated with a drop in economic output, with some estimates in the billions annually for the U.S. alone. But productivity studies hum a different tune for office workers: When the weather's bad outside, workers are more productive at their jobs inside.

Researchers Jooa Julia Lee, Francesca Gino, and Bradley Staats looked at how weather affects worker productivity at a Japanese bank, online, and in the lab. They hypothesized that good weather is distracting because "attractive outdoor options is a form of task-unrelated thinking that serves as a cognitive distraction that shifts workers’ attention away from the task at hand." In other words, when a worker is thinking about all the things they could be doing on a nice summer day instead of being stuck at the office, they're not focused on work.

In the experiment at the Japanese bank, the ...

Stressed? It’s Not How Much You Do, It’s How You Do It

Yes, there are just too many things that have to be done today. But ask yourself, do they all have to be done right now?

The answer is probably “no.” So just take a deep breath, or turn your stress into excitement—those will help restore a better sense of time, according to a new study to be published in the Journal of Marketing Research.

The team of researchers from Duke, Stanford, and Erasmus University Rotterdam examined “goal conflict,” which is the idea that in many cases a person’s goals step on each other—missing dinner with the family to stay in the office, for example, can make a person feel as if they’re failing at being a good parent in favor of finishing work. The researchers figured that this has a circular effect—the more conflicted a person feels, the more stressed she becomes, and the less time she thinks she has.

“Perceiving more goal conflict—both related and unrelated to demands on time—leads to heightened stress and anxiety, which subsequently makes people feel more time constrained,” the authors wrote.

So the researchers tested two stress management techniques—”slow breathing” and “anxiety reappraisal”—to restore a ...

Even the Best Cover Letter Isn’t As Good As a Two Minute Conversation

It’s a familiar online job search story. You find a dream position, agonize endlessly over a perfect cover letter, attach it to your resume, then hear nothing back. Sheer volume and a preference for referrals are part of the story. But people also overestimate their writing, and underestimate how effective actually speaking to someone is when looking for a job.

People think of job seekers as much more intelligent when they hear them pitch themselves as a candidate compared to when they read their writing, and they’re more likely to want to hire them, according to a new paper from researchers at the University of Chicago (pdf).

Voices vary and change in cadence, tone, and pitch, and seem to do a better job of conveying intelligence than writing in this particular setting.

The researchers had a group of MBA students make a two minute elevator pitch about why their dream employer should hire them, and create a written version of the same. Then they had others evaluate them in both mediums on their perceived intelligence, likeability, and whether they’d be likely to hire them. They tried the same with regular people too.

No one expected their spoken ...

The Five Paradoxes of Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement has proved harder than expected for many organizations. One big reason is that there are a few challenges most organizations sooner or later encounter and your intuitive responses actually prevent you from succeeding. 

Paradox #1: Simplicity
A common reaction to failed improvement initiatives is to go for a more advanced solution. Go the other way! Simplicity will stand the test of time.

For your organization to succeed with continuous improvement you have to make it a natural part of the everyday work of every employee. For that to become reality your approach can’t be complicated. If it is, new employees will need special training to understand your improvement method, you will need additional support resources to keep progressing and backing it up will demand a great deal of your managers’ time.

Time is probably your most limited resource, and in the long run you can’t afford not to use everyone’s creativity. Kill two birds with one stone; keep it simple to both save time and to give everyone a chance to contribute.

Paradox #2: Focus
A common reaction to recurring problems is bombarding them with solutions. Go the other way! Focus and dig deeper to ...