Humans

How cell phones exert subtle mind control, plus more in this week’s news

5683 is all you need
Cell phones send messages on the sly — to their owners. People who frequently call and text others with these devices unthinkingly associate keyboard numbers with their accompanying letters, says psychologist Sascha Topolinski of the University of Wurzburg in Germany. Cell slingers recognize words faster after having dialed numbers that correspond to those words, such as 5683 for LOVE, she reports in an upcoming Psychological Science. In other experiments, cell users preferred dialing numbers that denoted positive words (37326 for DREAM) over numbers signifying negative words (75463 for SLIME) and preferred companies with business-related phone numbers, such as LOVE for a dating agency, over companies without them — a result with marketing implications.  —Bruce Bower

Eye solutions
People’s eye movements while doing word puzzles suggest that at least partial knowledge of solutions emerges unconsciously, seconds before awareness of correct answers, researchers led by Jessica Ellis of the University of Toronto Mississauga conclude in an upcoming Consciousness and Cognition. Volunteers solved anagram problems consisting of five letters — four that made up a word and one extra consonant. A special device measured eye movements during trials. Early in trials, participants spent an equal amount of time looking at crucial and extraneous consonants. But two to three seconds before blurting out correct answers, participants’ gaze homed in on the crucial consonants. —Bruce Bower

Dual divorce paths
About one in three newlywed couples gets divorced within 10 years, but their paths to breaking up differ, reports Justin Lavner of UCLA. A majority of new husbands and wives who display negative personality traits, communicate poorly with each other and experience unrelenting stress in their lives split up in the next 10 years, Lavner reported January 29 in San Antonio at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Among couples whose marriages do well for several years, he notes, divorce occurs for nearly 20 percent, apparently because poor communication skills eventually undermine the union. Lavner and UCLA’s Thomas Bradbury observed 172 newlyweds talking about their relationship conflicts in a lab and monitored them for the next 10 years. —Bruce Bower

Something’s fishy
Saying that something smells fishy because it arouses suspicion is more than just a pungent metaphor. People become more mistrustful and uncooperative when divvying up money with others in a lab game if they smell fish oil spray, as opposed to a different foul-smelling spray or no odor, Spike Lee of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor reported in San Antonio January 29 at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Also, volunteers who encounter an experimenter who acts like he’s hiding something about the study become better able to identify a fishy smell, but not other food smells, than they could before. A person’s understanding of abstract concepts such as suspicion relies on metaphorical references to sensations, such as fishy smells, Lee hypothesizes.  —Bruce Bower

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