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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Study: Teams often win after leaders give negative speeches

The results could have important implications for the business world.

Bob Knight, former coach of the Indiana Hoosiers


Gary Mook
/ Stringer
  • A recent study analyzed 304 halftime speeches from 23 high school and college basketball teams.
  • The results showed that teams generally played better in the second half of games after coaches delivered negative halftime speeches.
  • However, teams tended to play worse after coaches delivered speeches that were too negative.



It's halftime at a basketball game. You walk into one of the locker rooms and listen to the coach address the players. It's pretty unpleasant. The coach is upset, expressing anger and frustration, and telling players that they're not trying hard enough, that they're underperforming.

Is this negative coaching strategy likely to lead to a better second half?

A new paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests the answer is yes. The researchers recorded 304 halftime speeches from 23 high school and college basketball teams and found that teams were significantly more likely to have a better second half when the coach delivered a generally negative halftime speech.

"That was even true if the team was already ahead at halftime," lead study author Barry Staw told UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business' Newsroom. "Rather than saying, 'You're doing great, keep it up,' it's better to say, 'I don't care if you're up by 10 points, you can play better than this.'"

To judge the halftime speeches, the researchers trained coders to listen to each recording and rate the extent to which the coaches displayed negative emotions (anger, fear, disgust) and positive ones (pleased, inspired, excited, relaxed). Interestingly, the results showed that teams generally scored more after negative halftime speeches, but not after speeches that were too negative.

"We're talking Bobby Knight–level, when you're throwing chairs," Staw said, referencing the famously explosive former coach of the Indiana Hoosiers.

In a follow-up study, the researchers asked participants to listen to recordings of pep speeches and rate how motivated they felt at the end of each one. Similar to the first study, the results showed that participants generally felt more motivated after negative speeches. Why? The researchers suggest that players may redirect their attention and approach after hearing negative speeches. Also, they noted some workplace research showing that people tend to try harder — at least in the short term — when leaders display negative emotions.

Of course, positivity is also an essential quality in any team, and there's plenty of research showing that organizations benefit when leaders display "positive affects" and foster a generally positive workplace. But Staw pointed out that negativity — when used correctly — can have its place.

Jordan Peterson’s guide to leadership

"We sometimes strip content from emotion, treating it as simply positive or negative expression, but emotion often has a message carried along with it that causes people to listen and pay attention, as leaders try to correct or redirect behavior," Staw said.

Still, the recent study only found an association between negative speeches and better second-half performance; it didn't establish causality. What's more, basketball games are different than the modern 9-to-5 workplace. But for short-term boosts of motivation, the researchers suggest a stern halftime talking-to might be the right call.

"Our results do not give leaders a license to be a jerk," Staw said. "But when you have a very important project or a merger that needs to get done over the weekend, negative emotions can be a very useful arrow to have in your quiver to drive greater performance."

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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