Two UBC “Ideas” Among New York Times 2007 Most Intriguing List

UBC Reports Extras | Dec. 12, 2007

UBC psychology researchers shone in the New York Times Magazine’s "7th Annual Year in Ideas," which featured 70 of the world’s most intriguing discoveries over the past 12 months. UBC garnered a couple of stories in the Dec. 9 issue round-up, joining only a handful of institutions with more than one mention, among them Harvard, MIT and the University of California Los Angeles.

In "The God Effect," the New York Times Magazine highlighted findings by Assoc. Prof. Ara Norenzayan and PhD graduate Azim Shariff that people will act with greater altruism and generosity when they’re reminded of God or their civic responsibility. Published in the September issue of Psychological Science journal, their study tested participants through a "dictator" game. First, Norenzayan and Shariff used a well-known psychological "priming" technique to induce unconscious thoughts in the participants. One group unscrambled sentences that contained words like God, spirit, sacred and divine. The control group unscrambled sentences with no religious references. Then each participant got 10 $1 coins which they could decide how many to keep or to share with an anonymous recipient.

The researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the positive results for the religious prime in both studies. Sixty-eight per cent of subjects from the religious prime groups allocated $5 or more to anonymous strangers, compared to 22 per cent from groups where neutral or no concepts were activated.

In the second study the researchers also investigated the strength of the religious prime relative to a secular prime. They used concepts of civic responsibility and social justice to prime subjects (with target words civic, jury, court, police and contract) and obtained almost identical results.
The article is available online at:

The other appealing new idea from UBC is that "Quitting Can Be Good for You." UBC Psychology Assoc. Prof. Greg Miller and Concordia University’s Carsten Wrosch has found that too much perserverance can be bad for your health. Their study, published in the in the September issue of the journal Psychological Science, explores how teenage girls will exhibit increased levels of the inflammatory molecule C-reactive protein (C.R.P.) if they continue striving for a hard-to-reach goal. In adults, C.R.P. is linked with diabetes, heart disease and early aging.

Miller and Wrosch charted the C.R.P. levels in each of their teenage subjects over the course of a year as they dealt with adversity and challenges. Individuals who quit when a goal became too difficult or unattainable showed C.R.P. levels that were constant. However, young women who persisted had significantly elevated levels, even if they eventually reached their goals.