What and how we like
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Pesented at The Developing Group 5 Feb 2005

Let’s start with some definitions from the Collins Dictionary:

To like (From Old English):

  1. to find (something) enjoyable or agreeable
  2. to be fond of
  3. to prefer or wish (to do something)
  4. to feel toward; consider; regard (e.g. how did she like it?)
  5. to feel disposed or inclined; choose; wish

A like – a favourable feeling, desire, preference (also, likes and dislikes, liking for)

To prefer (from Latin ‘to carry in front’)

  1. to like better or value more highly
  2. to promote (over another)
  3. to select, choose or opt for an alternative
  4. to favour one over another

A preference

  1. the act of preferring
  2. something preferred

The experiential process we are pointing to here is the capacity of a living organism to attach a value or valence to a distinction, i.e. to like something (more or less) and/or to prefer one thing over another. This capacity can manifest itself in three ways:

  1. A like/dislike for some experience
  2. A preference for one thing over another
  3. Either of the above can also be to some degree (i.e. on a scale*)


  1. I like apples.
  2. I prefer apples to oranges.
  3. I like apples very much but I prefer bananas a little more.

Our working definition of the process of preferring/liking is:

The self-generated valance that is attached to a perception, memory, expectation or other imaginative construct such that we are predisposed, biased or constrained to favour or disfavour those experiences.

Noticing the relative degree of liking enables us to compare and prefer one experience over another.

From an experiential constructivist viewpoint, it’s not the something in ‘the world out there’ we like or prefer; rather, as a result of the unique history of our experiencing, we have a relative penchant or predilection for our own perceptions and imaginings.

Note that the meaning of ‘like’ we are referring to is the one used in the clean

And where would you like to be?
And where would you like me to be?
And what would you like to have happen?

We are not referring to the other meaning of like (similarity), as in: And that’s like what?

It can help to make distinctions between like/preference and need and want/desire. In Symbolic Modelling terminology, these are regarded as different kinds of relationships between perceiver (X) and perceived (Y):

X likes/prefers Y (over Z).
X needs Y.
X wants/desires Y.

Obviously, different people associate different meanings and experiences with these words. Even with one individual there will often be great overlap and ambiguity. And these words can be combined in a variety of ways, e.g.:

I need to be loved but I’d like to want to love myself.

Richard Davidson, Director, Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin-Madison in Destructive Emotions, p. 202, says:

We make a distinction between the circuitry in the brain associated with liking – enjoyment – and the circuitry associated with wanting. Often these two go together, so that we want things we like. But in craving, the circuitry associated with wanting appears to be strengthened and the circuitry associated with liking appears to be weakened. Because our sense of liking or enjoyment declines and our wanting increases, we want more and more and we like less and less. We just keep wanting – but we need more to enjoy it as much. This is a major problem that underlies craving. There are many examples where the liking circuit has been dramatically disrupted in forms of addiction.

We maintain that almost everyone (in the West at least) has had experiences which corresponds to the following descriptions (even if they give them different names):

Needing is the state of requiring that a lack or deficiency be satisfied. Usually individuals do not experience needs as a choice, but as a more basic drive or urge.  Problems arise when there is a conflict between needs, wants and likes.

[Note: “And what needs to happen for …?” is not asking what the person wants or would like, but rather, what is required for “…” to happen — independent of the perceiver’s wants and likes.]

Wanting/desiring involves volition/agency for something — or for more/less of something. Usually individuals perceive themselves as having some choice about their wants.

Liking/preferring is simply a leaning, inclination, bias, aversion, avoidance towards or away from something — either for its own sake or in comparison with something else. Almost all choices, decisions and wants presuppose a liking or preference — but not vice versa.

Finally, there is something that can transcend all three.  Consider:

“I like to drink, I need a drink, I want a drink — and I am not going to.”

We call this ‘in the best interests of myself (and others).’

In A Universe of Consciousness, Nobel Laureate, Gerald M. Edleman and Giulio Tononi use the word ‘value’ in much the same way that we use like/prefer. They conclude that valuing one experience over another is a prerequisite for memory, learning, development and consciousness (Basic Books, 2000, pp. 87-91):

How can a selectional system achieve its goals without specific instructions?  It turns out that the necessary constraints or values are provided by a series of diverse phenotypic structures and neural circuits that have been selected during evolutionary time.  It is important to stress that value is a precondition for arriving at a perceptual or behavioral response.

In higher vertebrates, a series of diffusely projecting neural value systems appear to have evolved that are capable of continually signalling to neurons and synapses all over the brain.  These systems, whose importance vastly outweighs the proportion of brain space they occupy, often produce a sudden burst of firing whenever something important or salient occurs to the animal.

Sophisticated interactions among value systems related to pleasure, pain, bodily states, and various emotions are possible and are likely to govern cortical responses.  The effects of value-dependent learning can range from alignment of auditory and visual maps in the brain stem of the barn owl to the exquisite distinctions made by a connoisseur of wine or the emotional responses of a guilty person.  Value and emotions, pleasant and unpleasant, are obviously tightly coupled and are central to conscious experience.

We predict, that connections will be found that allow the responses of the ascending value systems themselves to be modified during learning experiences.


The following extracts have been chosen to cover a wide range of preferences/likings. They include preferences of taste, smell, environment, music, symmetry and beauty. One addresses the effect of peers and parents on our preferences, and others look at the differences between conscious and unconscious preferences. One thing to notice is just how preferences change with time of day, time of the month, developmental stage, gender, culture and environment.

We have highlighted most of the words and phrases – about 50 in all – which either directly mention preference/linking or imply a preference/liking is involved in the process. Our aim is that you get sense of the myriad of metaphors and expressions used, as well as the experiential process that all of them point to.

Extract from 'The Science of Scrumptious'

Full article: Kathleen McGowan, Psychology Today, Sep/Oct 2003.

A recent anthropological analysis found that more than a third of us reject slippery food like oysters and okra. Twenty percent of us don’t like our foods to touch on the plate. One-fifth of us eat from a palate of just 10 or fewer foods.

In the last few years new knowledge of the neurological highways that connect gut and brain, combined with psychophysical studies probing the perception of flavor, has shed light on the gourmand within. The study of “hedonics” – the pleasure of eating – has determined that we are hardwired to prefer sweet and avoid bitter and that the love of fat seems to be an acquired taste. The flavors we sample while we’re still in the womb stay with us into infancy and perhaps well beyond. And, as anyone who has heard the call of a cream puff at 3 a.m. will not be surprised to hear, eating beloved foods stimulates some of the same neural pathways as addictive drugs.

Other research suggests that our stomachs may literally be thinking for us: A sensory system in the gut sends subliminal messages to the brain about what’s good to eat and what’s not.

Understanding what we like to eat, fascinating in its own right, may also help solve one of the biggest health problems of our time: why we eat so much. If eating is our first love, sugar is its handmaiden. Humans are born loving sweetness: On its very first day of life, a newborn prefers sweetened drinks to bland ones. Sugar’s siren call can even block out pain – pediatricians have shown that newborns who have injections or blood drawn don’t mind the needle as much when also given a sugar-coated pacifier to suck.

Soon after birth, babies begin to reject intensely sour or bitter flavors. During the first few months, they also learn to appreciate fatty foods and recognize salty tastes. “Their taste world is organized into liking sweet, learning to like fat, and rejecting – spitting out – bitter taste,” says Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle. As we age, we develop a taste for foods with hints of bitter, especially if they are sweet or fatty, like buttered Brussels sprouts or dark chocolate.

Our palates all have the same five types of detectors, the same aversion to bitter and mania for sweet. So why are our individual preferences so different? Monell Chemical Senses Center bio-psychologist Julie Mennella, for one, thinks our proclivities are shaped at a very early age. Her experiments show that we probably get our first taste of the world through the amniotic fluid that shelters us and that this prenatal experience carries over into the first year of life. If pregnant women drank carrot juice daily during late pregnancy, Mennella found, their babies at 6 months seemed to like carrot-flavored cereal much more than other 6-month-olds. She and her colleagues at Monell have also shown that nursing babies seem to detect flavors like garlic, ethanol (from alcoholic drinks) and vanilla in their mothers’ milk. A baby who has never tasted garlic will suckle longer the first time his or her mother eats it, presumably gathering extra information about this peculiar new flavor. “

Breast-fed babies whose mothers eat a wide range of foods are more likely to embrace new foods later on, her research has shown, and infants fed on harsh-tasting formulas remain more tolerant of bitter and sour at age 4 or 5. Mennella thinks this may be a hint as to how individual flavor preferences begin developing. “Our olfactory memories are oldest, most resistant to change,” she says. “I think that underlies why certain foods are very much preferred – they are associated with things that occur early in life.

Leann Birch, the chair of Pennsylvania State University’s department of human development and family studies, has found that 5 to 10 experiences with a new food is often enough for a kid to learn to love it.

Cravings – intense and specific longings for one particular food – probably also have more do to with culture and childhood than with a biological urge for missing nutrients. In cross-cultural studies spanning three continents, psychologists Scott Parker of the American University in Washington, D.C., Debra Zellner of New Jersey’s Montclair State University, American University student Niveen Kamel and Ana Garriga-Trillo of the Spanish national university UNED [discovered that the most craved foods are:]

Women: Chocolate
Men: Pizza , beef (followed by burgers, steak and cheesesteak)
Women: Cola, French Fries, chocolate
Men: Serrano ham, French fries, spaghetti


Women: Grape leaves and eggplant stuffed with rice and meat
Men: Molokhia soup, grilled fish

Family and culture don’t account for all our individual variability, though. “The correlation between parents’ and their children’s food preferences only goes so far,” says food psychologist Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania. Pickiness, for example, seems to be highly idiosyncratic. In the first comprehensive survey of food pickiness among adults, anthropologist Jane Kauer interviewed nearly 500 adult Americans about their attitudes toward foods, food variety and eating habits. Kauer, who conducted the research as a doctoral student with Rozin, found that mild pickiness is quite widespread – about one-third of her volunteers described themselves as “unusually picky eaters.”

It may not be surprising to learn that 60 percent of us like to leave our plates clean or that close to half of us eat just about the same thing for breakfast nearly every day. But stranger habits are also common. Many people refuse to drink while they eat. Others won’t eat food that is lumpy or has a filling, like raviolis or egg rolls. Nearly 20 percent of us are repelled by raw tomatoes (something about the gooeyness inside the firmness), and about the same fraction of us simply don’t like trying new foods.

In the course of her survey, Kauer found a few extremely picky people. (One woman she interviewed, for example, ate little more than canned brains, undercooked French fries and fried eggs.) Questioning the pickiest third further, Kauer identified a master list of foods that are almost universally accepted: fried chicken, French fries, chocolate chip cookies, and above all else, Kraft macaroni and cheese. (“People seem to respond to the orange color,” she says. “Maybe it’s a signal that it’s really fake and therefore really safe.”) Obviously, these are all classic comfort foods, but more important for the picky person, they are unlikely to have weird or surprising ingredients. “We all know what’s in fried chicken, for example, even if we get it from some place we’ve never been before,” she says.

Food habits are a deep part of identity, closer to religion than to biology. “We don’t talk about it, but all of us have very strong feelings about what we eat and don’t eat,” Kauer says.

Extract from 'Chemistry & Craving'

Full article: Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today, Jan/Feb 1993.

You are what you eat. But if a behavioral scientist in New York is right, a winning [eating] strategy can come only from a simple turn of the tables – we eat what we are.

In meticulous studies, Sarah F. Leibowitz, Ph.D., of The Rockefeller University, has discovered that what we put in our mouths and when we do it is profoundly influenced by a brew of neurochemicals based in a specific part of our brain. Leibowitz has found that we have clear-cut cycles of preference for high-carbohydrate and fat-rich foods, and they are closely linked to reproductive needs – that is, the ability of humans to survive from generation to generation.

Directives from the brain to the belly are issued by way of neurochemical messengers and hormones. These directives, Leibowitz finds, have their own physiological logic, their own set of rhythms, and are highly nutrient-specific. There’s one thing now know for sure – the stomach definitely has a brain.

In the dietary drama unfolding in Leibowitz’s ground-floor laboratory, there are two star players. One is Neuropeptide Y (NPY), a neurochemical that dictates the taste for carbohydrate. Produced by neurons in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN), it literally turns on and off our desire for carbohydrate-rich foods.

Galanin is the second star player in Leibowitz’ studies. These have shown that the amount of galanin an animal produces correlates positively with what the animal eats in fat. And that correlates with what the animal’s body weight will become. The sexual hormone estrogen activates galanin. “Estrogen just increases the production of galanin and it makes us want to eat. It makes us want to deposit fat,” says Leibowitz. The influence of estrogen on our taste for fat “is important in the menstrual cycle and in the developmental cycle, when we hit puberty.”

The two neurohormones of nibbling are not uniformly active throughout the day. Each has its own built-in cycle of activity. Neuropeptide Y has its greatest effect on appetite at the start of the feeding cycle – morning, when we’re just waking up.

Neuropeptide Y is also switched on after any environmentally imposed period of food deprivation – such as dieting. And by stress.

After carbohydrate turns on our engines, the desire for this nutrient begins a slow decline over the rest of the daily cycle. Around lunchtime, we begin looking for a little more sustenance – fat to refill our fat cells and protein to rebuild muscle. Our interest in protein rises gradually toward midday, holds its own at lunch, and keeps a more or less steady course during the rest of the day. After lunch, the taste for fat begins rising; it peaks with our heaviest meal, at the end of the daily cycle. That’s when the body is looking to store energy in anticipation of overnight fasting.

Not only are the neurochemicals of appetite active at different times over the course of a day, they are differently active over the course of development. Before puberty, Leibowitz finds, animals have no interest in eating fat. Children, too, have little appetite for fat, preferring carbohydrates for energy and protein for tissue growth. But that, like their bodies, changes.

In girls, the arrival of the first menstrual period is a milestone for appetite as well as for sexual maturation. It stimulates the first desire for fat in foods. And that, says Leibowitz, is when a great deal of confusion sets in for anorexics.

There are other sex-based differences in nutrient preference. In studies of animals, young females tend to have higher levels of Neuropeptide Y and favor carbohydrates. Their preference for carbohydrates peaks at puberty. Males favor protein to build large muscles. When puberty strikes up the taste for fats, males are inclined to mix theirs with protein – that sizzling porterhouse steak. Women, their already high levels of Neuropeptide Y joined by galanin, are set to crave high-calorie sweets – chocolate cake, say, or ice cream.

When Leibowitz allows animals to choose what they eat, they show marked individual preferences for nutrients. These nutrient preferences, in turn, create specific differences in feeding patterns. In this animals are just like people, and fall into one of three general categories.

In about 50% of the population, carbohydrate is the nutrient of choice. Such people naturally choose a diet in which about 60% of calories are derived from carbohydrate and up to 30% come from fat. They are neurochemically in line with what nutritionists today are recommending as a healthy diet. High-carbohydrate animals consume smaller and more frequent meals, and they weigh significantly less, than other animals.

A small number of people and animals are dedicated to protein.

But 30% of us have a predilection for fat. And those who do take in 60 to 70% of their calories in straight fat, as opposed to the 30% considered appropriate to a lifestyle that’s more sedentary than our ancestors’. Not only is this not likely to sit well with arteries, but such preferences also correlate highly with body weight in animals. Those constituted to favor fat consume the most calories and weigh the most. And they seem to be particularly predisposed to food cravings late in the day.

What is perhaps most intriguing in all of this to Leibowitz is that individual taste preferences first show themselves when animals are very young, notably at the time of weaning, even before their neurochemical profiles are fully elaborated. The same is true of people.

At the time of weaning – 21 days in rat pups, 1-1/2 to 2 years in human infants – taste preferences largely reflect differences in genetic makeup. And in those animals that prefer sucrose or fat their appetite is strongly predictive of how much weight they will gain later on in life. And their neurochemical make-up. “We believe there is strong appetitive component to pre-ordained weight gain,” Leibowitz says. “We think there’s more to it than just metabolism. We are on the verge of linking that early taste with later eating behavior and weight gain.”

These studies of nutrient preferences show that inborn patterns are one way we can be set up for eating problems or weight gain we might prefer not to have. They also implicate another – stress. Stress potentially wreaks havoc with our eating patterns by altering us internally.

What’s particularly tricky is that the effect of stress on eating is not uniform throughout the day. A bout of stress at the right time in the morning may keep Neuropeptide Y turned on all day. If there is no muscular activity to use up the carbohydrate stress sets us up to eat, the carbohydrate is put directly into storage as fat.

Eating carbohydrate under stress, however, has something going for it. It chases away the stress-induced changes in neurochemistry. The hormonal alarm signals dissipate. “After we eat a carbohydrate-rich meal, the world actually seems better,” explains Leibowitz. We feel less edgy. “That’s why we overeat.”

Many studies have shown that curbing body weight by food restriction – dieting – makes no sense metabolically; in fact it’s counterproductive. Leibowitz finds it also makes no sense to the biochemistry of our brains, either. “All dieting does is disturb the system,” she says emphatically. “It puts you in a psychologically altered state. You’re a different person. You respond differently.” Fasting or dieting drives the body to seek more carbohydrate.

However deterministic biochemistry at first appears, that is not, within broad bounds, the case with behavior. We are not wholly slaves of neurochemistry. “Neurons are plastic. They change. We can therefore educate the neurons” explains Leibowitz.

The secret to modifying neurons is to introduce a very gradual shift in their sensitivity to the neurochemicals of appetite – to down-regulate them s-l-o-w-l-y. Given the plasticity of neurons, early experience is heavily weighted in shaping the behavior of brain cells for life. The bottom line is, we may be remarkably adaptable but not infinitely malleable.

Extract from 'The Smell of Love'

Full article: Bryant Furlow, Psychology Today, Mar/Apr 1996.

When a female mouse is offered two suitors in mate choice trials, she inevitably chooses to mate with the one whose MHC (major histocompatibility complex) genes least overlap with her own. It turns out that female mice evaluate males’ MHC profile by sniffing their urine. The immune system creates scented proteins that are unique to every version of each MHC gene. These immune by-products are excreted from the body with other used-up chemicals, allowing a discerning female to sniff out exactly how closely related to her that other mouse is.

By choosing MHC-dissimilar mates, a female mouse makes sure that she doesn’t inbreed. She also secures a survival advantage for her offspring by assuring that they will have a wider range of disease resistance than they would had she mated with her brother. It’s not that she seeks out diverse MHC genes for her young on purpose, of course. Ancestral females who preferred the smell of closely related males were simply outrun through evolutionary time by females who preferred the scent of unrelated sires.

Since humans show little interest in one another’s urine, few researchers thought that the story of MHC in rodent attraction could shed light on human interactions. But then someone made an eyebrow-raising discovery: Human volunteers can discriminate between mice that differ genetically only in their MHC. If human noses could detect small differences in the immune systems of mice (mice!) by giving the critters a sniff, excited researchers realized, we may well be able to detect the aromatic by-products of the immune system in human body odor as well!

A team led by Claus Wedekind at the University of Bern in Switzerland decided to see whether MHC differences in men’s apocrine gland secretions affected women’s ratings on male smells. The team recruited just under 100 college students. Males and females were sought from different schools, to reduce the chances that they knew each other. The men were given untreated cotton T-shirts to wear as they slept alone for two consecutive nights. They were told not to eat spicy foods; not to use deodorants, cologne, or perfumed soaps; and to avoid smoking, drinking, and sex during the two-day experiment. During the day, their sweaty shirts were kept in sealed plastic containers.

And then came the big smell test. For two weeks prior, women had used a nasal spray to protect the delicate mucous membranes lining the nose. Around the time they were ovulating (when their sense of smell is enhanced), the women were put alone in a room and presented with boxes containing the male volunteers’ shirts. First they sniffed a new, unworn shirt to control for the scent of the shirts themselves. Then the women were asked to rate each man’s shirt for “sexiness,” “pleasantness,” and “intensity of smell.”

It was found, by Wedekind and his team, that how women rate a man’s body odor pleasantness and sexiness depends upon how much of their MHC profile is shared. Overall, women prefer those scents exuded by men whose MHC profiles varied the most from their own. Hence, any given man’s odor could be pleasingly alluring to one woman, yet an offensive turnoff to another.

Raters said that the smells they preferred reminded them of current or ex-lovers about twice as often as did the smells of men who have MHC profiles similar to their own, suggesting that smell had played a role in past decisions about who to date. MHC-similar men’s smells were more often described as being like a brother’s or father’s body odor… as expected if the components of smell being rated are MHC determined. More surprising is that women’s evaluations of body odor intensities did not differ between MHC-similar and MHC-dissimilar men. Body scent for MHC-dissimilar men was rated as less sexy and less pleasant the stronger it was, but intensity did not affect the women’s already low ratings for MHC-similar men’s smells.

The Swiss researchers found that women taking oral contraceptives (which block conception by tricking the body into thinking it’s pregnant) reported reversed preferences, liking more the smells that reminded them of home and kin. A woman may feel attracted to men she wouldn’t normally notice if she were not on birth control – men who have similar MHC profiles.

Extract from 'Environmental Psychology'

Full article : R. De Young in D. E. Alexander and R. W. Fairbridge [Eds.] Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Hingham, MA: Kluwer (1999). 

People tend to seek out places where they feel competent and confident, places where they can make sense of the environment while also being engaged with it. Research has expanded the notion of preference to include coherence (a sense that things in the environment hang together) and legibility (the inference that one can explore an environment without becoming lost) as contributors to environmental comprehension. Being involved and wanting to explore an environment requires that it have complexity (containing enough variety to make it worth learning about) and mystery (the prospect of gaining more information about an environment). Preserving, restoring and creating a preferred environment is thought to increase sense of well being and behavioral effectiveness in humans.

Extract from 'Looking Good: The Psychology and Biology of Beauty'

Full article: Feng Charles, Journal of Young Investigators, September 2005.

Scientists say that the preference for symmetry is a highly evolved trait seen in many different animals. Female swallows, for example, prefer males with longer and more symmetric tails, while female zebra finches mate with males with symmetrically colored leg bands.

The rationale behind symmetry preference in both humans and animals is that symmetric individuals have a higher mate-value; scientists believe that this symmetry is equated with a strong immune system. Thus, beauty is indicative of more robust genes, improving the likelihood that an individual’s offspring will survive. This evolutionary theory is supported by research showing that standards of attractiveness are similar across cultures.

According to a University of Louisville study, when shown pictures of different individuals, Asians, Latinos, and whites from 13 different countries all had the same general preferences when rating others as attractive – that is those that are the most symmetric.

Aside from symmetry, males in Western cultures generally prefer females with a small jaw, a small nose, large eyes, and defined cheekbones – features often described as “baby faced”, that resemble an infant’s. Females, however, have a preference for males who look more mature – generally heart-shaped, small-chinned faces with full lips and fair skin. But during menstruation, females prefer a soft-featured male to a masculine one. Indeed, researchers found that female perceptions of beauty actually change throughout the month.

When viewing profiles, both males and females prefer a face in which the forehead and jaw are in vertical alignment. Altogether, the preference for youthful and even infant-like, features, especially by menstruating women, suggest people with these features have more long-term potential as mates as well as an increased level of reproductive fitness.

Scientists have also found that the body’s proportions play an important role in perceptions of beauty as well. In general, men have a preference for women with low waist-to-hip ratios (WHRs), that is, more adipose is deposited on the hips and buttocks than on the waist. Research shows that women with high WHRs (whose bodies are more tube-shaped) are more likely to suffer from health maladies, including infertility and diabetes. However, as is often the case, there are exceptions to the rule.

Psychologists at Newcastle University in England have shown that an indigenous people located in southeast Peru, who have had little contact with the Western world, actually have a preference for high WHRs. These psychologists assert that a general preference for low WHRs is a byproduct of Western culture.

Extract from 'The Sound of Personality'

Full article: Colin Allen, Psychology Today, Issue 6, December 2002.

A person’s album collection may actually say quite a lot about him. It may be an indicator of personality traits, according to new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study pinpoints musical tastes with respective attributes.

In the study, Rentfrow and colleagues surveyed 3,500 students, examining their musical tastes, along with their self-perceptions and mental acuity. He suggests that “Music preferences are a manifestation of our personality,” says lead author Peter J. Rentfrow, a psychology graduate student at University of Texas in Austin. He found that, when it comes to personality traits, there are four major groups.

People who enjoy blues, jazz, classical and folk are more likely to be creative, open to new experiences and enjoy abstract ideas. They often lean politically to the left.

Rentfrow found those who liked pop, country and religious music tend to be more extroverted, trusting of others and hard working. They are often more practical and lean politically to the right.

People who prefer alternative music, rock and heavy metal are inclined to be physically active and adventurous.

Dance and hip-hop fans are apt to be more outgoing, athletic and agreeable, yet they were also more likely to view themselves as being physically attractive.

Extract from 'Peer Pressure'

Full article: Elise Kramer, Psychology Today, Sep/Oct 2004.

Your child’s friends might influence him to work harder in school or say no to drugs, but new research suggests that peers have little influence on one’s taste in food, music or television.

Paul Rozin, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, recently tested whether third graders and college students develop tastes similar to those of peers with whom they spend the most time.– He was surprised to find very low correlations between time spent together and similarity of tastes. Roommates’ preferences did not converge over time, and a third grader’s favorite foods or TV shows were no more aligned with those of a close friend than with those of a randomly chosen classmate.

Past studies show that even parents have minimal influence over their kids’ tastes, which leaves the true source of preferences a mystery. Researchers are investigating the interplay of genes and environment.

Extract from 'Trusting Intuition'

Full article:  Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today, May 4, 2004.

Nonconscious processes operate all the time in complex decision-making. Often enough, we just don’t give them credit. Often we cite rational-sounding criteria for our feelings and actions and do not disclose the subjective preferences of feelings that arise spontaneously.

Sometimes we override our intuitive gut-level reactions altogether, ignoring our native responses in favor of ways we think, for external reasons – such as to coincide with the judgements of others – we should be reacting. Studies have shown that we are capable of making sound judgements about food and, often, people based on nonconscious processes, but if we deliberately think about our preferences and decisions we can make them worse. The truth is that all of the factors that influence our reactions just aren’t available to our conscious selves.

Extract from 'Psychological test of unconscious candidate preference'

Psychology at the University of Washington, Feb. 24, 2000.

A recently created website that measures candidate preferences reveals a lack of association between respondents’ conscious and unconscious preferences.

The website, created by investigators at Yale University and the University of Washington, shows that test takers have a conscious preference for Democrat Bill Bradley and Republican John McCain.

However, a test of respondents’ unconscious leanings reveals that they show the opposite implicit preference – a preference for Democrat Al Gore and Republican George Bush.

“These results are intriguing because of the discrepancy between conscious and unconscious preferences,” said Yale Psychology Professor Mahzarin Banaji.

The website, which opened on Nov. 7, 1999, has logged a total of more than 2,400 tests comparing various pairs of candidates. The same website, created by Banaji, Brian Nosek, a graduate student at Yale, and Anthony Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, also measures explicit and implicit biases about race, gender and age.

The measure of voters’ explicit, or, conscious, attitudes shows Republicans favoring McCain over Bush 45 percent to 31 percent. Democrats in the same measure showed a preference for Bradley – 43 percent to 28 percent.

The measure of unconscious preference, however, differs: voters favored Bush over McCain 41 percent to 24 percent and Gore over Bradley 42 percent to 28 percent.

In taking the online test, respondents are first asked to state their conscious preference for one of two candidates within a pair that the respondent had selected for comparison, for example, Bush vs. McCain, Bradley vs. Gore. Respondents also were asked to report party affiliation as Republican, Democrat or independent. Each respondent then completed a test designed to measure unconscious preference, using a technique in which speed to associate pleasant and unpleasant items with candidates’ names and faces was measured.

Preferences for candidates from opposing parties are consistent with our expectation – on both conscious and unconscious measures of preference Republicans favor Republican candidates over Democratic candidates and Democrats show the expected reverse pattern,” Banaji said.

But why the discrepancy between conscious and unconscious preferences? The investigators believe that conscious preferences reflect the attitudes, beliefs and values one can explicitly articulate. Unconscious, or implicit attitudes, on the other hand, may reflect more subtle influences, such as a candidate’s fame and visibility, family name, and other factors that are not available to conscious awareness.

Banaji and Greenwald said it remains to be seen which attitude – conscious or unconscious – reflects what voters will actually do when it is time to cast their ballots.

Self-modelling your preferences

Below are some questions to get you started self-modelling your own way of liking and preferring.

1. How do you know:

  • you like/dislike something?
  • how much you like/dislike it?
  • you prefer it to something else you like less?
    (and what do these depend on?)

2. Notice how you distinguish between:

  • a preference/like
  • a want/desire
  • a need
  • what’s in your (and others’) best interest

3. What do you do when:

  • you can’t get or have your preference?
  • you have incompatible, or a conflict of, preferences?
  • what you like is not in your (and others’) best interest?
  • what you don’t like is in your (and others’) best interest?

4. If your clothes, home, job, partner, friends — in fact your whole life — were a reflection of your hierarchy of preferences, what does that reveal about your preferences and you?

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