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Does a Rose by any other Name Smell as Sweet? A Cognitive Perspective on Poets and Poetry

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Evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, suggests that people treat (or are affected by) products of prestigious sources differently than those of less prestigious or anonymous sources. The "products" which are the focus of the present study are poems, and the "sources" are the poets. We explore the manner in which the poet's name affects the experience of reading a poem. Study 1 shows that a poet's reputation has a major effect on the evaluation of a poem, whereas the poem's quality is hardly discernible to lay readers. Study 2 asks whether the poet's name affects only the reader's reported evaluation (as in The Emperor's New Clothes) or is sincere. Since we conclude it is, Study 3 explores how a poet's name alters the experience of the poem. In the absence of objective criteria for measuring "true poetic experience", we propose some indirect methodological paradigms for addressing this question.
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Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012, pp. 149–164
A rose by any other name: A social-cognitive perspective on poets
and poetry
Maya Bar-Hillel
Alon Maharshak
Avital Moshinsky
Ruth Nofech
Abstract
Evidence, anecdotal and scientific, suggests that people treat (or are affected by) products of prestigious sources
differently than those of less prestigious, or of anonymous, sources. The “products” which are the focus of the present
study are poems, and the “sources” are the poets. We explore the manner in which the poet’s name affects the experience
of reading a poem. Study 1 establishes the effect we wish to address: a poet’s reputation enhances the evaluation of a
poem. Study 2 asks whether it is only the reported evaluation of the poem that is enhanced by the poet’s name (as was
the case for The Emperor’s New Clothes) or the enhancement is genuine and unaware. Finding for the latter, Study 3
explores whether the poet’s name changes the reader’s experience of it, so that in a sense one is reading a “different”
poem. We conclude that it is not so much that the attributed poem really differs from the unattributed poem, as that it is
just ineffably better. The name of a highly regarded poet seems to prime quality, and the poem becomes somehow better.
This is a more subtle bias than the deliberate one rejected in Study 2, but it is a bias nonetheless. Ethical implications of
this kind of effect are discussed.
Keywords: categorization, expectations, experience, focusing illusion, label effects, priming, poetry, reputation bias.
1 Introduction
Hearing a star soprano, or attending an exhibition by a fa-
mous painter, are expected to be exceptional experiences.
And so they should be—their reputation was acquired
precisely by their ability to provide such exceptional ex-
periences. Reputation seems capable of enhancing an ex-
perience even in retrospect, as when we only discover the
next day that we had just heard a diva or visited the sea-
son’s hottest exhibition. But hindsight can affect the re-
membered experience, it cannot affect the past experience
itself (e.g., Kahneman, 2005). Can the actual experience
of a poem (rather than the expected or remembered expe-
rience) be affected by expectations in real time? And if
so—how does it happen?
When the experience of a product is changed by its la-
bel, the change does not occur in the product. It would be
undetected by an audio recording or a photograph. This
is the intuition underlying Juliet’s famous: “That which
we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
However, experience is not determined by bottom-up pro-
cesses alone. Distal stimuli are only experienced through
Over the years, this paper was presented in many colloquia, and
was read by many people, some as referees. We wish to thank the many
friends and colleagues who commented and helped, but cannot list them
all. We thank in particular: Jon Baron, David Budescu, Shane Freder-
ick, Amia Lieblich, Yaacov Ritov and Roi Zultan
Center for the study of rationality, The Hebrew University,
Jerusalem 91904, Israel.
The National Institute for Testing and Evaluation, Jerusalem.
Adam-Milo Institute, Jerusalem.
the proximal stimuli to which they give rise, and total ex-
perience takes place “in the eyes of the beholder”—or
even, ultimately, in the mind of the beholder. Hence,
for cognitive psychologists, it is obvious that expecta-
tions can alter experience (see, e.g., Wilson, Lisle, Kraft
& Wetzel, 1994).
Social psychologists and cynics, however, will be
quick to point out that one cannot rely on people’s reports
of their experiences to decide the matter, because reports
are not always sincere or unbiased. A glowing evaluation
can be a form of cognitive “snobbery” (“it’s supposed to
be excellent, so I will say it is excellent”), or of social
desirability.
This caveat notwithstanding, in studies of consumer
behavior, expectations are typically manipulated through
brand name, price, or other marketing actions, and eval-
uations are solicited via expressed judgments or revealed
preferences (see surveys in Shiv, Carmon & Ariely, 2005;
Lee, Frederick & Ariely, 2006).
Allison & Uhl (1964) were among the first to study
these variables. They found that people could not iden-
tify their favorite brand of beer in blind tasting. Later
results were more startling, such as that blind tasters can-
not distinguish dog food from pâté (Bohannon, Gold-
stein & Herschkowitsch, 2009) or that experienced vio-
linists cannot distinguish Stradivari violins from new vio-
lins (Fritz, Curtin, Poitevineau, Morrel-Samuels and Tao,
2012). On the other hand, judges purport to distinguish
among identical stimuli, when these are labeled differ-
149
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
150
ently (e.g., labeling isovaleric acid as “cheddar cheese”
versus “body odor”; de Araujo, Rolls, Velazco, Margot
& Cayeux, 2005) or even just framed differently (e.g., la-
beling beef as “75% fat free” versus “25% fat”; Levin &
Gaeth, 1988).
When comparing informed evaluations to blind evalua-
tions, or ratings for differently labeled but identical prod-
ucts, some researchers automatically assume that a real
change occurred in the experience (e.g., Makens, 1964,
p. 261: “a well-known brand positively affected the taste
[italics ours] which Ss experienced for samples of turkey
meat”), while others assume that it will not (e.g., Gold-
stein, Almenberg, Dreber, Emerson, Herschkowitsch, &
Katz , 2008, p. 1: “non-expert wine consumers should not
anticipate greater enjoyment of the intrinsic qualities of a
wine simply because it is expensive”). In fact, however,
we should acknowledge that it is certainly possible, psy-
chologically speaking, that the actual experience is gen-
uinely different for blind and for informed consumers, as
it is possible that the actual experience is just the same
for blind and for informed consumers.
The question is clearly an empirical one, and, more-
over, its answer could well differ from context to context,
or from individual to individual. Yet few studies have
tackled this problem. Lee et al., (2006), when reviewing
the literature, stated that “. . . it remains unclear whether
[manipulating the participant’s] knowledge also changes
the experience itself . . . , just as it remains unclear in most
taste-test studies whether brand identity is just another in-
put to. . . overall evaluation . . . or whether it modifies the
actual gustatory experience” (p. 1055. Their own study
is an exception, and will be described in Study 2 below.
The present paper is another exception.
Few studies on expectation effects used cultural prod-
ucts. Yet cultural products are of particular interest, both
because of our intrinsic interest in them, and because the
question of how expectations affect cultural experiences,
and how to distinguish between sincere effects and cyn-
ical or hypocritical ones, is particularly vexing with re-
gard to ineffable or ambiguous experiences, such as artis-
tic ones. Whereas wines, energy drinks and pain-killers
affect the consumer’s physiology, lending credence to the
term “marketing placebos” (Shiv et al., 2005), cultural
products such as paintings or music are consumed pri-
marily for their effect on the mind. It is harder to test
whether a mental experience is altered than whether a
physiological one is. This conundrum has itself been the
focus of various cultural products (e.g., Yasmina Reza’s
play Art). The present paper will focus on such an inef-
fable product—poetry.
Study 1 sets the stage by establishing the effect we will
later study in depth. It consists of 2 experiments. Ex-
periment 1 shows that readers of poetry are influenced
by the poet’s name. Experiment 2 incidentally adds that
without the cue to quality imparted by the name of a rep-
utable poet, readers cannot reliably distinguish good po-
etry from bad. Taken together, Study 1 shows that po-
ems’ ratings are sensitive to the poet’s reputation, but not
to the poem’s quality. That raises the sad possibility that
the effect may be wholly due to pretension or to social
desirability, as many outside critics of modern and con-
temporary art suspect.
Study 2 sets out to explore this question. It tests
one particular model that we call The Emperor’s New
Clothes effect (ENC, for short), honoring Anderson’s fa-
mous parable. According to this model, the reading of the
poem is the same with or without the poet’s name, giving
rise to the same aesthetic experience; the enhanced rat-
ing is solely due to a deliberate and conscious adding of
points when the poem is attributed to a famous poet, mo-
tivated perhaps by a desire to appear discriminating and
cultivated.
Study 3 tests an alternative model, which posits that
the inclusion of the poet’s name alters the very expe-
rience of the poem, so that once the poem’s author is
known, the poem is no longer “the same”. In other words,
the poem—unchanged on the written page—is somehow
changed in the reader’s mind. This we study by looking
at judgments of many specific poem attributes.
We regard the main, and novel, contribution of this pa-
per not in showing what happens, even in this previously
unstudied context of poetry appreciation, but rather in
attempting to understand the mental process whereby it
happens. In particular, we offer experimental paradigms
that allow one to infer whether the enhanced evaluation of
a poem (or any object), when labeled in an expectation-
raising manner, is driven by deliberate social considera-
tions (a System 2 product), or happens out of awareness
(a System 1 product). Is it an unfortunate social bias, or
an inevitable cognitive bias? The answers have ethical as
well as scientific ramifications, inasmuch as they pertain
to the merits and drawbacks of “blind judgment”.
2 Study 1—Poem or poet?
Recently, a professional wine critic published a book
called The Wine Trials (Goldstein, 2008). Although not
a scientific book, it is based on an intriguing experiment
(Goldstein et al., 2008), the abstract of which states: “In-
dividuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more
enjoyment from more expensive wine. . . . on average
[they] enjoy more expensive wines slightly less [italics
mine]. (p. 1). Not so when the wine’s price is known.
Plassman, O’Doherty, Shiv & Rangel (2008) asked their
participants to taste five wines. Unbeknownst to them, the
same wine was presented once with its true price and once
with a more expensive, or less expensive, price tag. The
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
151
participants’ expressed preferences, bolstered by fMRI
evidence from their brain scans, indicated that they en-
joyed a wine more when they thought it was expensive,
rather than when it really was expensive.
Even more recently, Fritz et al. (2012) asked 21 experi-
enced violinists to compare [3] violins by Stradivari and
Guarneri del Gesu with [3] high-quality new instruments”
(p. 760) under double-blind conditions. The total market
value of the former was about 100 times that of the latter.
“Player’s judgments about a Stradivari’s sound may be
biased by the violin’s extraordinary monetary value . . . ,
but no studies designed to preclude such factors have yet
been published” (p. 760). Not unlike the wine studies, the
authors reported: “We found that (i) the most-preferred
violin was new; (ii) the least-preferred was by Stradivari;
(iii) there was scant correlation between an instrument’s
age and monetary value and its perceived quality; and (iv)
most players seemed unable to tell whether their most-
preferred instrument was new or old” (p. 760).
Neither of these studies attempted to find out what
mental process, exactly, caused the difference between
blind and informed judgments. To borrow an expression
from Goldstein (2008), the effect can be attributed to “the
taste [or sound] of money” (p. 12). We have given the
taste of wine and the sound of violins special attention
in this brief review, because, like poetry, the experiences
they give rise to are perhaps more complex and subtle
than ordinary consumer products.
In the present research, poems replace wine or vio-
lins, and poet’s reputation replaces price.
1
Poetic ana-
logues of “expensive” come naturally. We selected four
Israeli poets (Yehuda Amichai, 1924–2000; Nathan Zach,
1930- ; Leah Goldberg, 1911–1970; Dalia Rabikovitch,
1936–2005) from the literary canon—they are critically
acclaimed, received prestigious prizes and awards, are in-
cluded in Israel’s high-school curriculum, and are well
represented in major poetry anthologies. We chose 2 po-
ems for each poet from collections regarded as central to
their output—though not their best-known poems, to re-
duce the chance that our participants will recognize the
poems. All poems were short, ranging between 12 and
18 lines, and up to 100 words.
Analogues of “cheaper” were harder to come by. Ar-
guably, any published poem is “good” in some minimal
sense (e.g., it passed the threshold for publication), as is
any poem by a poet of high repute. We wanted to avoid
debating the quality of our “bad poems”, and yet give
them a fighting chance (as the high-quality new violins,
or the store-carried wines, have). We opted for generat-
1
Our own original idea was also conceived with regard to wine, but
we switched to poetry because it is so much simpler and cheaper to run,
requiring only paper and pencil, and minutes of the respondents’ time.
Chronologically, the poetry studies all preceded the wine and violins
studies.
ing the “bad poems” ourselves, while constraining them
to resemble the “good poems” superficially.
Each of the authentic poems was mimicked by one that
we generated ourselves.
2
For example, for the genuine
poem that was a sonnet, we wrote a counterpart that was
also a sonnet; the genuine poem whose rhyming pattern
was A B C A B D D E F D D F, had a similarly rhyming
counterpart; etc. The imitation poems also aimed for
a similar number of words and similar vocabulary rich-
ness.
3
For our “unesteemed poets”, we made up four bo-
gus poets, using common Hebrew names with little cul-
tural connotations.
4
Study 1 consists of two experiments. In the first, par-
ticipants rated poems, with or without poets’ names. In
the second, they had to distinguish between real poems
and faked ones.
2.1 Experiment 1
2.1.1 Method
Design. Table 1 shows the 8 between-subject conditions.
Authentic poems were paired either with the name of the
famous poet who wrote them, or with a bogus name of
the same gender. Fake poems were paired either with the
name of the poet whose poem they mimicked, or with
a bogus name of the same gender. Participants read and
rated 4 poems each -- either those written by the two male
poets (authentic poems or fake poems, but not both) or
those written by the two female poets (likewise). Their 4
poems were all either attributed to the famous poets, or to
bogus poets.
Participants: Respondents were 281 students, mostly
undergraduates, mean age 25, 59% female, all fluent in
Hebrew (this after discarding the data of 8 participants
who didn’t recognize the names of one or more of the
four famous poets; 17 who recognized one or more of
the eight authentic poems; 8 who “recognized” the bogus
poets; and 2 who “recognized” a fake poem).
Procedure: Participants were approached either indi-
vidually or at the end of class, and asked to answer a short
questionnaire (which took up to 15 minutes). They were
promised participation in a lottery for five prizes of 400
NIS each (then about $100). Participants were random-
ized into the 8 conditions, and asked to asked to “rate the
quality of the poem” on a scale from 0 to 100. The ques-
tionnaires also elicited some personal data, such as the
2
Our poems were in Hebrew, but to give their flavor, the Appendix
contains a real poem by Emily Dickinson, and an imposter poem, gen-
erated in the same quick and rough manner that we used for Experiment
1.
3
The Wine Trials also compared a Chardonnay to a Chardonnay, a
Merlot to a Merlot, etc.
4
The names were Rivka Sela, Hanna Caspi, Benjamin Shakhar and
Shalom Dagan. Hitherto they will be referred to only by their initials,
as in Table 1.
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
152
Table 1: Design and results of Experiment 1.
Poem Poet Mean SD Poem Poet Mean SD
Authentic poetry, Famous poetess, N = 30 Fake poetry, Famous poetess, N = 37
Olive trees LG 82 12 Wheat fields LG 75 13
Road to Granada LG 75 15 Road to Siberia LG 74 15
In praise of peace DR 77 17 True dream DR 78 13
The blue lizard DR 75 16 The girl sleeping in the garden DR 75 15
Authentic poetry, Famous poet, N = 32 Fake poetry, Famous poet, N = 42
Sitting on the curb
a
NZ 76 18 Museum visit NZ 73 17
Sometimes when it’s late NZ 75 19 Sometimes when watching TV NZ 72 19
Verbs sonnet YA 73 22 Numbers sonnet YA 76 14
Now, when the water surges YA 77 18 Yesterday, when the earth quaked YA 81 20
Authentic poetry, Bogus poetess, N = 38 Fake poetry, Bogus poetess, N = 31
Olive trees RS 74 13 Wheat fields RS 72 17
Road to Granada RS 67 17 Road to Siberia RS 68 21
In praise of peace HC 74 18 True dream HC 72 18
The blue lizard HC 76 15 The girl sleeping in the garden HC 74 14
Authentic poetry, Bogus poet, N = 34 Fake poetry, Bogus poet, N = 37
Sitting on the curb BS 70 19 Museum visit BS 62 27
Sometimes when it’s late BS 65 24 Sometimes when watching TV BS 64 19
Verbs sonnet SD 66 26 Numbers sonnet SD 70 19
Now, when the water surges SD 71 15 Yesterday, when the earth quaked SD 73 19
a
One data point was missing in this cell, which is therefore based on just 31 observations.
respondent’s educational background in literature. After
all data had been collected, participants were debriefed,
and informed about the experiment and its results.
2.1.2 Results and discussion
Table 1 presents mean ratings and standard deviations of
the individual poems in each condition. A 3-way ANOVA
was performed, with the following factors: Authentic vs.
fake poem; Famous vs. bogus poet; Male vs. female poet.
Individual poets and poems were treated as repeated mea-
sures.
Poet reputation was the only significant effect: po-
ems attributed to famous poets were rated higher (M=76,
SD=12) than poems attributed to bogus poets (M=70,
SD=15; F(1,273)=14.65, p<.001). Authenticity made no
difference—both real and fake poems were rated 73 on
average. Poet’s gender was not significant, with women’s
poetry rated 74 (SD=12) on average and men’s poetry 72
(SD=15) on average (F(1,273) = 3.16, ns). None of the
interactions was significant.
Figure 1 shows the effects of poem quality and poet
reputation, collapsing over poet’s gender and the individ-
ual poets.
We attempted to see whether “experts” would do bet-
ter. We did not test professional experts, who likely
would have recognized the authentic poems, rendering
our test moot. Our “experts” were students who had some
background in literature—66 had either taken (the Israeli
equivalent of) Advanced Placement classes in Literature
in high school (38), or majored in Literature at the univer-
sity (35; 7 had done both). The experts were as influenced
by the poet’s name as the others (expert-by-poet interac-
tion F(1,273) = .029, ns). Any discrimination shown by
the group as a whole is due in its entirety to this subgroup
(though experts are hardly more discriminating than lay-
men, 2-way interaction F(1,273) = .734, ns; the 3-way in-
teraction is also not significant, F(1,273) = .047). More-
over, we cannot rule out the possibility that some experts,
even if unawares, recognized some of the poems.
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
153
Figure 1: Mean rating for real and for fake poems, when
attributed either to famous poets or to bogus poets, for the
entire sample; for “experts” only; and for “laymen” only.
Original
poems
Bogus
poems
Original
poems
Bogus
poems
Original
poems
Bogus
poems
Attributed to famous poets
Attributed to bogus poets
60 65 70 75 80
All (n=281) "Experts" (n=66) "Laymen" (n=215)
|
|
|
|
|
3 Experiment 2
Our respondents showed no more appreciation for au-
thentic poems than for fake poems. Would they dis-
tinguish between them better if both were presented to-
gether?
3.1 Method
Design. Participants in 8 groups were given one of the 8
pairs of poems used in Experiment 1—the real thing and
its imposter—and told as much, with the poet identified.
They were asked to guess which poem is which, and in-
dicate their confidence.
Participants and procedure: Respondents were 245
students (after discarding 3 who recognized one or more
of the authentic poems), mostly undergraduates with var-
ious majors, mean age 26, 57% female, all fluent in He-
brew. They were recruited, instructed, and rewarded, as
in Experiment 1. Questionnaires (which took only min-
utes to answer) were distributed at random, and respon-
dents were promised participation in a lottery for a 200
NIS prize
3.2 Results
Table 2 orders the pairs by decreasing rate of correct iden-
tifications. Authentic poems were correctly identified be-
tween 43% and 74% of the time (we chalk the Zach poem
which is an exception to sampling error), with a mean
of 54% - hardly better than chance (binomial test, ns),
and compatible with the results of Experiment 1. Mean
confidence in the judgments was 67%, exhibiting the fa-
miliar pattern of overconfidence (67% vs. 54%, exact bi-
nomial test p < .003) in forced choice tasks with difficult
items (Lichtenstein, Fischhoff & Phillips, 1982). Respon-
dents with an extended background in literature (“ex-
perts”, N=56) did somewhat better than the rest, albeit
not significantly (60% correct compared to 53%, Fisher’s
exact test, ns), and expressed higher confidence (71 vs.
65, t=2.68, DF=225, p<.01).
3.3 Discussion
The results of Study 1 beg the question whether the fake
poems might not have been as bad as we thought. Can
a faked poem, deliberately devoid of any artistic intent,
nonetheless be “good”? Artists who believe what they
produce is good, while critics consider it bad, are com-
monplace. But can the opposite occur? Did we inadver-
tently produce good poems?
Not being philosophers or critics of art, our own opin-
ions on this matter are of little merit. But we stress that
it was never our intention to write poems with any artis-
tic value—quite the opposite (we spent little more than
10–15 minutes per poem, giggling the while). It has been
argued (e.g., Livingston, 2005) that artistic intention is
a necessary condition for some human productions to be
considered art (and, as in the case of Marcel Duchamp’s
notorious urinal, even a sufficient one).
In a few notorious cases, a project designed to parody
art or to forge art, rather than to actually be art, was so
successful, that its esteem survived exposure. A notable
example is the poetry of Ern Malley, a fictitious poet in-
vented in the 1940s as a hoax by two Australian poets,
whose own serious work was overshadowed with time by
their parody (e.g., Heyward, 2003). Similarly, the forged
paintings of Elmyr DeHory continued to command high
prices and professional respect even after the truth about
them emerged (e.g., Irving, 1969). These, however, are
exceptional stories, and we have no reason to believe we
possess the talent to have produced good poetry inadver-
tently. Indeed, for present purposes we are happier when
friends deride our poems than when they praise them.
A second issue raised by our results feeds into the on-
going debate as to whether the merit of works of art is
inherent or is a social construction; whether it is apparent
without the signaling by various social cues or whether it
totally depends on them. This debate is more important
for art than it is for cognition, and in the present paper we
will discuss it no further.
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
154
Table 2: Rates of correct identification.
Poet Poem pair N % Correct Confidence
Goldberg Road to Granada / Road to Siberia 30 43 63
Amichai Verb sonnet / Number sonnet 34 47 69
Rabikovitch Blue lizard / Girl in garden 29 48 69
Amichai Water surges / Earth quakes 30 53 66
Zach On the curb / Museum visit 30 53 63
Rabikovitch Praise of peace / True dream 30 57 68
Goldberg Olive trees / Wheat fields 31 58 69
Zach When it is late / When I watch TV 31 74 69
Overall 245 54 67
4 Study 2—Do raters of poetry de-
liberately add points for a poet
of note? Testing The Emperor’s
New Clothes model
Study 1 established, at least for our respondents and our
poems, that laymen cannot reliably distinguish good po-
etry from fake poetry, and their ratings can be swayed
by changing the poem’s attribution. This raises the ob-
vious question whether the effect is due to hypocrisy, or
whether there is valid information in a poet’s name that
justifies it.
Clearly, in some cases knowing who authored some-
thing gives information that not only alters judgment, but
actually improves it. For example, a paper (or mathemat-
ical proof, or legal argument, etc.) may be hard to follow
because it is deep and complex, or because it is confused
and incoherent. Knowing who wrote it could resolve this
ambiguity. Authorship sometimes even affects a text’s
truth value, most notably in so-called indexical proposi-
tions (see, e.g., Perry, 1997).
5
On the other hand, where one believes that “a rose by
any other name would [or even should] smell as sweet”,
rating the selfsame poem differently under different at-
tributions could be awkward. The prevalence of blind
tasting, blind auditioning, blind reviews, etc. suggests
that biased judgments are considered normatively unwar-
ranted and ethically objectionable. After all, a naked
King cannot be clothed by the mere patter of his cunning
tailors.
Goldin and Rouse (1997) showed that orchestra audi-
tions carried out behind a screen that hides the candidate
from the jury increase the probability of hiring women.
A study done in the American Economic Review showed
that when referees do not know the identity of the au-
5
E.g., “I was born in 1957.
thors of the papers they are reviewing, authors at near-
top-ranked or nonacademic institutions have lower ac-
ceptance rates than when refereeing is not double blind
(Blank, 1991). These results suggest the superiority of
blind judgments insofar as they cannot be subject to dis-
criminatory biases of dubious validity.
Study 2 tests the crudest form of bias, which we call
the Emperor’s New Clothes effect (ENC). Specifically,
we ask whether a public evaluation of an attributed poem
consists of a private evaluation of the poem “in itself
that ignores the poet’s name, which is then consciously
and deliberately adjusted to accommodate the reputation
of the poet, perhaps due to various social considerations.
The model, RJ = SJ + NM, states that Reported Judgment
equals Sincere Judgment, plus Name Premium, and the
latter is added consciously.
We did not deem it prudent to ask our respondents di-
rectly whether their Reported Judgment included a Name
Premium added onto their Sincere Judgment, on the sus-
picion that insincere raters are unlikely to answer us sin-
cerely. The challenge, then, was to elicit sincere judg-
ments while finessing social desirability.
Lee et al. (2006) faced a similar challenge. Pub patrons
tasted regular beer and “MIT brew” (beer laced with bal-
samic vinegar, which Lee et al. call “conceptually offen-
sive”, p. 10). Some tasted the two beers blind. Others
were informed before tasting. Blind tasters preferred the
MIT brew. Informed tasters preferred the regular beer.
Were the informed tasters expressing their sincere pref-
erence, or was their report shaped by social desirability?
To answer this, a third group was given the tasting experi-
ence of the blind tasters, but the evaluation opportunity of
the informed tasters (namely, they were informed of what
they had drunk after the drinking, but before the evalua-
tion). This group resembled the blind tasters, not the in-
formed tasters. Apparently, their tasting experience was
not altered retroactively by the “mildly unsettling news”
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
155
of the balsamic vinegar lacing (p. 1056). Moreover, they
declined an opportunity to report a more socially desir-
able, albeit insincere, evaluation.
Our design is necessarily different
6
, although we also
had three kinds of readers: “blind” readers who read an
unattributed poem, “informed” readers who read it with
the poet’s name, and readers who were blind when first
reading the poem, and were informed of the poet’s name
only after reading the poem.
7
We elicited ratings from
the third, and critical, group in an indirect way. Rather
than requesting them to first give a rating based on their
blind reading, and then when informed of the poet’s name
to give a second rating, after informing them we asked
them to guess the rating of “other people like you”, hop-
ing thereby to solicit more sincere evaluations.
Our rationale (which our results verified) was two-fold.
First, we assumed that when one is guessing how a simi-
lar other rates a poem, one first asks oneself “How would
I rate this poem?”, there being little else to draw upon. So
asking about another is tantamount to asking about one-
self. Second, we assumed that one feels less impelled to
protect an anonymous other from an embarrassing admis-
sion (for a similar rationale see, e.g., Fischhoff, 1975).
By asking participants how they think other people are
affected by a poet’s name we compel them to introspect,
while removing any reluctance to report their introspec-
tion sincerely (see Fisher, 1993).
4.1 Method
Materials. Study 2 used a single poem by Yehuda
Amichai, arguably Israel’s favorite poet. The poem cho-
sen, Infinite Poem, was loose enough in form and struc-
ture that the poetic skill it required was not as appar-
ent as when strict rhyme and rhythm constraints are im-
posed. This rendered its evaluation deliberately ambigu-
ous. Some participants read the poem with, and some
without, the poet’s name. We contend that when manipu-
lated between-subjects, either heading (“Infinite poem, by
Y. Amichai” vs. just Infinite poem”) triggers no aware-
ness that the independent variable of interest is presence
or absence of the poet’s name.
Infinite Poem, by Yehuda Amichai (Translated
from Hebrew by MBH)
Within a modern museum
an old synagogue.
Within the synagogue
myself.
Within me
6
Our study was conducted several years before Lee et al.s.
7
In Lee et al.s study, the analogue of “giving poet’s name” was
“doctoring the beer with balsamic vinegar”, so “informed” carries a dif-
ferent meaning here and there.
my heart.
Within my heart
a museum.
Within the museum
a synagogue,
within it
myself,
within me
my heart,
within my heart
a museum.
Participants: A convenience sample of 511 Hebrew
speakers participated in this study. All were graduates
of Israeli high schools. They ranged in age from 17 to 74
(mean age=30), and 61% were female. Groups 1 and 2
were students who answered the questionnaire in a class-
room. The rest were approached individually, and asked
to answer a short questionnaire (up to 10 minutes), for a
chance to win a monetary reward.
Design and procedure: Each participant received a
questionnaire with Infinite Poem on its first page. Rat-
ings of its “literary quality” were solicited on a scale from
0 (“total rubbish”) to 100 (“totally wonderful”). At the
end of the task, they were asked to provide some per-
sonal details (e.g., gender, age, education). Two groups,
G1, “blind readers” and G2, “informed readers”, read the
poem with or without knowing who wrote it. The other
four groups, after rating the poem themselves, were also
asked to guess the mean rating of a group of other read-
ers, described as “like themselves”. Two of these groups
were asked to guess the mean rating of other readers hold-
ing the same authorship information as themselves (G3,
“blind readers” guessed other “blind readers”; G4, “in-
formed readers” guessed other “informed readers”). The
fifth group, G5, read the poem blind, but were then told it
was by Amichai, and asked to guess the rating of other
readers who, unlike themselves, were informed at the
time they rated it (similarly to Lee et al.s third group).
G6 read no poem and evaluated no poem, and will be de-
scribed in the following results and discussion section.
8
4.2 Results and discussion
The first two groups establish the effect which we are try-
ing to model. The blind readers gave the poem a lower
mean rating, 54, than the informed readers, 63. This
9-point difference was significant (t = 2.09, DF=150,
p<0.05), and is the same order of magnitude as was found
in Experiment 1.
8
Besides the 6 groups reported in Table 3, 6 other groups were omit-
ted from this paper, to make it easier to follow. They encumber, but do
not alter, the reasoning behind Study 2. For a full description, the inter-
ested reader is referred to Bar-Hillel, Maharshak, Moshinsky & Nofech,
(2010).
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
156
Table 3: Own ratings and guessed ratings of the experimental groups.
Group Task N Own rating Guess rating Own SD Guess SD
G1 Blind readers 69 54 30
G2 Informed readers 83 63 23
G3 Blind rating, then guess blind others 93 52 56 29 22
G4 Informed rating, then guess informed others 102 62 65 28 22
G5 Blind rating, then guess informed others 71 47 80 29 19
G7 “What is Amichai’s name worth?” 93 30 13
The next two groups constitute a manipulation check.
The “guess-others” strategy assumes that when asked to
guess the rating of someone else, our participants first in-
trospect, and then project (namely, they first ask “What
would I do?”, and then assume the other would do the
same). Do the results support this assumption?
G3 read the poem without attribution, and rated it.
They were then told that another group of people “like
themselves” had previously evaluated the poem, and were
asked to guess the mean evaluation given to the poem
by those other people. Similarly, G4 rated the poem
with Amichai’s name and then also guessed the mean of
similar others. A reward of 100 NIS was promised to
the most accurate guessers, with accuracy determined by
comparison with the benchmark results of G1 and G2,
respectively. The reward was intended to motivate par-
ticipants to give the best—hence the most sincere—guess
they could. If our guess-another manipulation is valid,
both groups should be successful in their predictions.
Indeed, G3, the blind readers, rated the poem on av-
erage 52 themselves, and guessed a mean of 56 for the
rating of other blind readers (t=1.59, DF=92, ns). G4,
the informed readers, gave the poem a mean rating of 62
themselves, and guessed a mean of 65 for other informed
readers (t=1.41, DF=101, ns). The slight upwards drift
(even when combining G3 and G4) was not significant.
Moreover, the modal difference between own rating and
guessed rating in both groups was 0 (the SDs for both dif-
ferences were between 19 and 20). Most importantly, the
effect of the poet’s name is preserved. Thus, the results
support our rationale.
We can now put ENC to an actual test. Recall that the
ENC model, RJ = SJ + NM, states that Reported Judg-
ment equals Sincere Judgment plus Name Premium, and
assumes that raters are aware of this. We were concerned
that our informed raters would deny adding a Name Pre-
mium, passing off their Reported Judgments as Sincere
Judgments. To get around insincere self-reporting, we
asked them about other people rather than about them-
selves, thereby removing any motive to enhance self-
presentation. The participants of G5 were thus in effect
asked for the impact of the poet’s name on their own rat-
ings, while in fact were asked to guess the impact of the
poet’s name on other people’s rating (guesses here were
rewarded similarly to before).
Under the ENC model, G5 participants should have
been as successful in their guesses as were G4 partici-
pants. ENC predicts that raters have access by introspec-
tion to Amichai’s Name Premium (which we know from
the earlier results to be about 9–10 points), and that they
will add it to their own just-rendered Sincere Judgment,
and report the outcome. In fact, however, G5 participants
raised their own blind rating of 47
9
by a whopping 33
points (t=10.85, DF=70, p<0.0001), guessing 80 for the
mean rating of informed others.
10
This spectacular failure
to guess G2 suffices to reject ENC.
We conclude that G2 participants were not rating the
poem in the manner assumed by the ENC model, because
that manner would, counterfactually, have been accessi-
ble to G5 participants as well.
If the 30+ points believed to have been added by the
poet’s name did not come from introspection, where did
it come from? The results of G6 can help us here. G6
participants were given no poem at all to read, and none to
rate. They were told only: “Imagine people reading and
evaluating a poem on a scale from 0 to 100. Some read
it unattributed, and others know it is by Yehuda Amichai.
What do you think would be the mean difference between
the two groups?” Their mean guessed difference was 30
points.
11
Its inflated magnitude might well result from
the focusing illusion.
“The idea of a focusing illusion involves hypotheses
about two psychological processes, one in the subject
whose experience is predicted [here G2, informed read-
9
We cannot account for this unusually low mean, and chalk it to
sampling error.
10
This addition is also significantly higher than the true difference of
about 9 points, even if we adjust the unusual 47 rating to G1’s 54. To
test for significance, we calculated as if this adjusted 26 point difference
were obtained between-S, and compared it to the 9-point difference be-
tween G1 and G2 (F interaction=9.2, DF=1, 338, p<.003).
11
The difference between G6’s 30 points and G5’s 33 points is not
significant, ( t=1.199, DF=162, ns).
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
157
ers], and the other in the judge who makes the prediction
[here G6]” (Schkade & Kahneman, 1998, p. 340). Vari-
ables carry more weight for judges who focus on them
than for those who do not (for evidence see also, e.g.,
Lowenstein & Frederick, 1997; Schwarz, 1996). From
Table 3 (and from Experiment 1 in Study 1), we know
that Amichai’s name adds fewer than 10 points to the rat-
ings of the subjects whose experience is actually mea-
sured. G6 participants, on the other hand, are the judges
who predict that the addition could amount to 30 points
or more.
The focusing illusion is mitigated when one has been
personally exposed to the changes in the target variable,
rather than having to guess their effect. If you have ex-
perienced a change, you will judge its effect from how
it affected your experience, rather than from an (inflated)
theory about its impact. For example, people who know
paraplegics are not subject to the same overestimation of
the impact of this misfortune on the paraplegics’ happi-
ness as those who do not (Schkade & Kahneman, 1998);
likewise, people asked how they expect changes to affect
their future well-being give higher estimates than when
judging how such changes had affected them in the past
(Lowenstein & Frederick, 1997).
Had G5 participants been able to project themselves
into the shoes of G2 participants—a task that G4 par-
ticipants performed with no difficulty, and that the ENC
model assumes can be done with no difficulty—they
could have drawn on this experience to assess the im-
pact of the poet’s name, and consequently would not have
erred as they did. Since they could not do so (which is
why we rejected the ENC model), they had to rely on
their theory of the name’s impact (as given by G6 partic-
ipants), thereby greatly exaggerating it.
Since the 10 point difference between informed and
uninformed readers was not added deliberately, where did
it come from? We address this question at the very end of
Study 3.
5 Study 3—Interpreting a poem in
light of its author
If the difference between how informed and blind read-
ers rate Amichai’s Infinite Poem does not result from a
deliberate addition of a Name Premium to an otherwise
identically experienced poem, how can it be accounted
for?
An intuition that contrasts with Juliet’s is embodied
in the aphorism: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Such is the power of suggestion that sometimes a naked
King can look magnificent in his non-existent clothes,
and a rose can smell like a rotten egg. The scent emitted
by a rose depends, of course, on the rose’s chemistry (bot-
tom up). Importantly, however, perceived scent also de-
pends on top-down factors such as what is in the smeller’s
nose membranes, brain, and mind (e.g., de Araujo et al.,
2005). The experience of stimuli can be altered without
altering the physical stimuli themselves.
Wine, violins, poultry and poetry all yield better ex-
periences when sporting reputation-enhancing labels. In
Study 3, we study the possibility that knowing who
wrote a poem alters the way the text is interpreted,
12
be-
cause different associations are primed thereby. Literary
mavens we consulted pointed out, for example, that the
motif of a synagogue appears frequently in Amichai’s po-
etry. Among the erudite, the poem elicits associations
to those other poems, which might not be elicited with-
out Amichai’s name. Similarly, in wine tastings, Mor-
rot, Brochet and Dubourdieu (2001) found that when peo-
ple tasted a white wine, they tended to describe its taste
with white-wine adjectives such as “honey” and “lemon”.
When that same wine was dyed red with a flavorless dye,
they switched to red-wine adjectives such as “cherry”,
“blackcurrant”, etc.
We perused literature dealing in poetic criticism, ex-
tracting a list of adjectives commonly used when poetry
is discussed or evaluated. Could Amichai’s name have
caused the attributed poem to be read differently than
the unattributed poem with regard to some of these ad-
jectives? If so, that would lend concrete meaning to the
hypothesis that the poet’s name altered the very experi-
ence of the poem, and not just its perceived, or reported,
quality.
5.1 Method
Participants and Procedure. There were 324 participants,
56% of them female, ranging in age from 18 to 63, with
a mean of 29. All were Israeli high-school graduates, and
most were students, who were run in groups at the end of
classes. They were asked to answer a short questionnaire
(up to 10 minutes), and promised participation in a lottery
for a 500 NIS prize.
Stimuli and design. We generated 24 pairs of adjective
antonyms (albeit, with redundancies), as listed in Table
4. 165 respondents were asked to read Infinite Poem, ei-
ther with Amichai’s name (N=79) or unattributed (N=86).
The poem was followed (on the next page) by a 7-point
semantic differential, corresponding to these 24 paired
adjectives, which respondents were asked to scale. For
example:
short 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 long
12
Jon Baron says: “I want to know the author of a paper I review and
not review it blind, because I think the author is relevant. Knowing the
author affects the way I interpret things that are said.
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
158
Table 4: 24 adjective pairs for evaluating poetry, and their ratings.
The adjective pairs
“Good Poetry”
Infinite Poem
unattributed
Infinite Poem by
Amichai
Amichai’s
poetry”
M SD M SD M SD M SD
*1. rich-poor
5.7 1.2 3.6 1.6 4.4 1.5 5.7 0.9
*2. polychromatic-monochromatic
5.3 1.2 3.2 1.8 3.7 1.6 4.8 1.3
*3. connected-detached
5.2 1.3 4.1 1.7 4.6 1.5 5.2 1.1
*4. personal-general
5.0 1.2 5.1 1.8 5.7 1.4 5.0 1.4
5. colorful-gray
5.0 1.1 2.9 1.4 3.3 1.6 4.2 1.6
6. emotional-intellectual
4.9 1.1 4.5 1.5 4.8 1.5 4.8 1.4
7. optimistic-pessimistic
4.7 1.0 3.6 1.5 4.0 1.5 3.1 1.4
*8. mature-childlike
4.7 1.1 4.9 1.5 5.4 1.1 5.5 1.0
*9. sophisticated-unsophisticated
4.7 1.4 3.9 1.7 4.6 1.5 5.1 1.2
10. soothing-irritating
4.7 1.4 3.5 1.6 4.0 1.4 4.0 1.2
*11. modest-boastful
4.6 1.2 4.6 1.5 5.1 1.3 5.0 1.2
12. romantic-cynical
4.6 1.2 4.0 1.6 4.4 1.3 3.6 1.5
*13. refined-coarse
4.6 1.3 4.1 1.5 4.6 1.3 3.7 1.3
14. daring-conservative
4.5 1.0 3.7 1.4 3.8 1.4 4.6 1.4
15. revolutionary-conformist
4.5 1.1 3.9 1.5 4.1 1.5 4.7 1.4
16. secular-holy
4.4 1.2 3.9 1.5 3.8 1.4 4.5 1.4
17. fast-slow
4.4 0.9 4.2 1.7 4.6 1.7 3.9 1.2
18. modern-classical
4.3 1.2 4.6 1.6 4.8 1.5 5.0 1.3
19. clever-simpleminded
4.3 1.3 4.7 1.7 4.8 1.5 4.6 1.5
20. short-long
4.2 0.9 4.8 1.6 5.0 1.4 4.3 0.9
21. happy-sad
4.2 1.1 3.2 1.2 3.3 1.2 2.8 1.0
22. decisive-indecisive
4.1 1.1 4.0 1.8 4.2 1.9 4.5 1.5
23. unique-universal
4.1 1.4 4.5 1.9 4.6 1.7 4.1 1.7
24. direct-indirect
4.1 1.3 3.4 1.7 3.3 1.5 4.4 1.6
N
82 86 79 77
A single order, randomly generated, was given to re-
spondents (not the one in Table 4). Respondents were
not asked to rate the poem’s overall quality. Indeed, nei-
ther the word “quality” nor any of its synonyms was ever
mentioned at all.
The other respondents were not given any poem to read
but were asked to characterize their idea either of “Good
poetry” (N=82), or of Amichai’s poetry” (N=77), using
the same semantic differential.
5.2 Results and discussion
Table 4 orders the 24 paired adjectives according to the
results of the group which characterized “Good Poetry”.
Within each pair the first adjective is the one more closely
associated, on average, with “Good Poetry” (hence neces-
sarily rated higher than the midpoint, 4), and pairs are dis-
played from high to low in terms of the strength of their
association with “Good Poetry”. Hence in the “Good Po-
etry” column the means are decreasing, and are always at
least 4.
Figure 2 is a graphical presentation of the results in
Table 4. The 24 adjective pairs
13
are on the abscissa, or-
dered as in Table 4. The ordinate shows the values on
the semantic differential. The monotonically decreasing
line is the “Good Poetry” profile, designed to be above
the midpoint, 4.0, throughout. One jagged line is for the
attributed poem (empty circles) and the other is for the
unattributed poem (filled squares). Figure 3 (and Table 4)
shows several things clearly.
First, the profiles of the attributed-poem and the
unattributed-poem co-vary very closely. Their correlation
is a remarkably high 0.93 (highly significant; all calcula-
13
The adjectives sound somewhat better in the original Hebrew.
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
159
Figure 2: Profiles of attributed (circles) and unattributed (squares) poem, compared to “Good Poetry” (monotonically
decreasing line).
  !
tions are based on the unrounded numbers underlying the
rounded-off numbers shown in Table 4), which is as high
as the intra-group correlations, based on a Monte Carlo
simulation.
14
In that sense, the 2 profiles look like 2 sam-
ples from the same population, in spite of the different
conditions.
Second, the attributed-poem profile hovers above the
unattributed-poem profile almost everywhere (excepting
dimensions16 and 24 only, exact binomial test, p<.0001).
This counters the possibility that the samples are derived
from the same population. When testing whether any of
the differences are significant, we found 8 dimensions on
which the difference, considered on its own, would have
been (1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 11, and 13). The probability of
getting as many as 8 significant results, at the .05 level,
out of 24 possible trials, given the null hypothesis, is it-
self significant (exact binomial test, p<.001). However,
this calculation does not take into account that these are
14
In the Monte Carlo simulation, both groups were randomly divided
into two halves several thousands of times. Correlations were computed
both within the group halves and between the group halves. The 3 re-
sulting distributions were practically indistinguishable.
simultaneous dependent multiple-comparisons. Apply-
ing the more conservative Bonferroni correction, only the
first dimension, “rich-poor”, survives (t=3.46, DF=163,
p=0.0007 < 0.05 / 24). So it is not clear that the attributed
poem profile can be said to be significantly higher than
the unattributed profile on more than a single dimension.
Be that as it may, our explanation for the upward drift is
the same. Recall that Figure 2 was designed to show the
“Good Poetry” line above the midline throughout. Hence,
the higher the rating, the “better”, in some sense, it is; be-
ing rated higher is being judged a “better” poem.
Third, the attributed-poem profile and the unattributed-
poem profile are usually on the same side of the midline
(excepting 5 cases—1, 9, 12, 15 and 22; exact binomial
test, p<.003). In other words, inasmuch as the intensity
of the rating for the attributed and unattributed poem dif-
fered, the directionality did not. For example, the “per-
sonal” unattributed poem became even more “personal”
when attributed to Amichai (dimension 4), and the “sad”
unattributed poem became less sad when attributed (di-
mension 21)—but a change such as from “conformist” to
“revolutionary” (dimension 15) was rare.
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
160
Table 5: Pairwise correlations between all targets.
Amichai’s
poetry
Attributed
poem
Unattributed
poem
“Good poetry” 0.47 0.10 0.20
Amichai’s poetry 0.48 0.37
Attributed poem 0.93
A telling picture emerges from considering various
correlations between the profiles. We correlated an ad-
jective’s mean rating on “Good poetry” with the mean
advantage Amichai’s name gave the poem on that dimen-
sion (namely, the difference between the attributed and
unattributed poem). The same was done with regard to
Amichai’s Poetry”. Pearson’s correlations were 0.78 and
0.36, respectively,
15
, indicating that the poet’s name con-
tributed more to dimensions more closely associated with
“Good poetry” (and to a lesser extent with Amichai’s po-
etry”). Indeed, note that the eight 8 dimensions on which
the attributed poem differs most from the unattributed
poem (marked by an asterisk) are concentrated in the top
part of the 24 dimensions, as ordered by “Good poetry”.
The 9 dimensions on which the attributed poem differs
least from the unattributed poem (14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21,
22, 23, 24) are concentrated in the bottom of Table 4.
We conclude that the attributed poem, even though sig-
nificantly different from the unattributed poem on almost
none of the dimensions (except for being rated as signif-
icantly “richer”), is nonetheless perceived overall as con-
sistently “better”, and the more so the closer a dimension
is related to “Good poetry”.
Table 5 shows Pearson’s correlations between the mean
ratings of every pair of the four experimental groups
across the 24 attributes (all correlations are highly sig-
nificant; see footnote 15).
The correlations seem to be telling the following story:
i. Amichai’s poetry” and “Good poetry” are correlated,
but only weakly (r=0.47). This is as it should be: since
good poets have individual styles, not all “good poetry”,
15
Since the means that were correlated are based on about 80 Ss each,
their reliability is not well-represented by taking N to be just 24. In-
stead, the statistical significance of the correlation between vector X and
vector Y was calculated as follows: i. The vector was centered (namely,
its mean was subtracted from each value). ii. The inner-product was
calculated (namely,
P
24
1
X
i
Y
i
). iii. Its SD was calculated using the
formula SD =
p
Trace
X
· Σ
Y
)/(24 · 24) where Σ
X
is the ma-
trix that has X’s 24 variances on the diagonal, and off diagonal has
the covariances between the 24 judgments, and the trace is the sum of
the terms in the diagonal of the product matrix. iv. The inner product
divided by SD is distributed like Z. These 2 correlations, the 6 correla-
tions in Table 5, and the pairwise differences to be discussed later, are
all highly significant.
of course, is the same. ii. The attributed-poem corre-
lates with Amichai’s poetry” (r=0.48), as would be ex-
pected if a poet has a distinct individual style; but only
weakly, since not all of Amichai’s poems are the same.
iii. Even with the poet’s name withheld, some correlation
between the unattributed poem and Amichai’s poetry re-
mains (r=0.37), indicating that Infinite Poem carries some
recognizable elements of Amichai’s style even when un-
accompanied by his name. iv. Both the attributed poem
and the unattributed poem have negligible correlations
with “Good poetry” (r=0.10 and r=0.20, respectively).
This too makes sense, because whereas one might expect
a particular style to characterize a particular poet’s poetry,
it is ludicrous to expect any particular style to character-
ize all good poetry (the task of the group that gave the
“Good poetry” line notwithstanding). v. Despite these
differences in how the two presentations of the poem cor-
relate with “Good poetry” and with Amichai’s poetry”,
their correlation with each other, as noted before, is a re-
markably high 0.93.
This overall pattern of correlations and distances can
be reconciled by assuming that knowing that the poem
is by Amichai creates a partly self-fulfilling expectation
that the poem would be good,
16
priming a small but
significant drift in the adjectives towards these expecta-
tions, but hardly altering the overall profile of the poem.
Priming is an effect in which exposure to a stimulus
lowers the threshold for responding to a later, associa-
tively related, stimulus. In particular, it can occur be-
tween semantically related words. Inasmuch as in
the eyes of our respondents some of the 24 words in our
semantic differential, such as “rich”, “sophisticated” and
“connected”, are semantically related to a poem’s qual-
ity (and all are related to quality more closely than their
antonyms), they are primed by the mention of Amichai’s
name, a poet recognized by our respondents as a fine and
beloved poet of note. The threshold for attributing the
primed adjectives to the poem decreases, and the mean
rating on these adjectives increases. The effect almost
always moves the poem’s rating upwards, to the “good
poetry” domain.
We believe that precisely the same thing occurred in
Study 2. The 10 point difference between the informed
rating of Infinite Poem and the uninformed rating is an
unaware priming effect, where Amichai’s name primed
readers to read a “better” poem.
16
MBH reports a striking and insightful moment: A friend recently
gave me a jacket which she had bought and rarely wore. As I was ad-
miring it on myself in the mirror, she happened to mention that it was
designed by X, a famous designer. I distinctly remember how in front
of my very eyes, the jacket mutated into a better looking jacket than it
had been just a moment before.
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
161
6 General discussion
6.1 When do expectations have “real” ef-
fects?
We noted in the introduction that the studies showing
that expectations influence ratings rarely give a process
account for how this comes about. But some studies
did show that the effect extends beyond ratings, and in
that sense is “real”. These studies come in two kinds.
One supplements behavioral data with brain scans. For
example, Plassman et al. (2008) and McClure, Tomlin,
Cypert, Montague, & Montague, (2004) showed that sub-
jects’ changes in ratings or in choice were accompanied
by changes in fMRI data. Alas, this doesn’t answer Lee
et al.s (2005) question about whether the gustatory ex-
perience of the wine or the cola was changed, because it
attests only to the genuine enhancement of the subjects’
pleasure at the time of consumption, a pleasure that can
derive from knowing what is being consumed rather from
affecting the taste.
The second kind goes directly to performance mea-
sures. Although performance is a behavioral variable, if a
given object leads to better performance when it is more
expensive or more prestigiously branded, we know that it
isn’t just expected to be better, or rated as better—it ac-
tually becomes better. Shiv et al. (2005) showed that dis-
counting the price of a drink purporting to increase men-
tal acuity reduces performance on solving word puzzles
compared to drinking the drink at its regular price; Amar,
Ariely, Bar-Hillel, Carmon & Ofir (2011) showed that
participants “wearing sunglasses tagged Ray-Ban made
fewer errors, yet read more quickly, than those wearing
the identical pair of sunglasses when tagged Mango...
Similarly, ear-muffs blocked noise more effectively, and
chamomile tea improved mental focus more, when oth-
erwise identical target products carried more reputable
names” (p. 1). These data prove that products that are
expected to be better sometimes actually become better
through the expectation.
Relatedly, Lee, Linkenauger, Bakdash, Joy-Gaba and
Profitt (2011) showed that amateur golfers who believed
they were using a professional golfer’s putter perceived
the size of the golf hole to be larger, and sank more putts;
Crum and Langer (2007) showed that informing hotel
room attendants in a thorough and scientific manner that
their work is good exercise reduced their weight, blood
pressure, body fat, and other similar measures, compared
to uninformed controls.
This evidence of “real” effects of expectations is very
compelling, though some of the effects are harder to ex-
plain than others. When the dependent variables are
physiological (e.g., blood pressure), what we know about
medical placebos comes to bear. Regarding behaviors
that are under one’s control (e.g., golf putting; puzzle
solving) the effect may be mediated by motivation (see,
e.g., Irmak, Block & Fitzsimons, 2005). Other effects
(e.g., Amar et al., 2011) are more mysterious.
6.2 The problem with subjective ratings
For stimuli like poetry, no “performance” can substitute
for verbal ratings. However, one could use other mea-
sures, that are supposedly more “objective”, such as ob-
serving our readers’ brains as they were reading Infinite
Poem—attributed or unattributed. We also could have
measured physiological indicators of their emotional re-
actions, or tracked eye-movements, or measured reaction
times. These could have confirmed (or not) “objectively”
that the informed reader and the blind reader were in dif-
ferent cognitive states. But in the present context, they
would not have been superior in helping us understand
the nature of this difference beyond the simple expedient
of asking for subjective ratings, as we did. Invasive and
expensive techniques are not the only way to delve into
the “black box”. The right kind of old- fashioned paper-
and-pencil subjective ratings can still go a long way.
A possible artifact of rating scales that can be dis-
missed here is that the change in the ratings received
by the attributed versus unattributed Infinite Poem is due
to a change in scale (see, e.g., Frederick & Mochon,
2011). Such a change can occur if the unattributed poem
is judged as a poem, whereas the attributed poem is
judged as an Amichai-poem. Numbers are not compa-
rable when scales are not comparable. After all, a small
elephant is still much bigger than a large mouse (Stevens,
1958). Might the attributed poem have merited a 63 rat-
ing among Amichai’s poems, and a 53 rating among all
poems? Commonsense argues against it. Amichai is a
highly regarded poet (see the results of G6), which means
that his poetry is regarded on average as better than the
average poem. Rescaling would thus have led to an oppo-
site result: Infinite Poem’s rating should have gone down,
not up (where is Michael Jordan perceived as taller—
compared to the population at large, or compared to other
basketball players?).
6.3 Is priming a bias? Ethical considera-
tions
It is interesting to ponder whether an effect such as the
one we found in the present series of studies should be
regarded as an undesirable bias. Recall that, while the ef-
fect of the name occurs out of consciousness and is not
deliberate, it did not fall into the category of instances
where the information imparted by the name serves to
change the object being evaluated. All it did was pull the
evaluations in the direction of the expectations set up by
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012 Poets and poetry
162
the name. One might call this a halo effect, or a self-
fulfilling expectation, a confirmation bias, etc. If knowl-
edge extrinsic to an object helps in evaluating it more ac-
curately, the arguments for informed judgment are quite
different than if all it does is just to pull the judgments
generally in the expected direction. It is not ethically
objectionable if people enjoy some products or experi-
ences more when their expectations are raised, because
these products and experiences are often bought, among
other reasons, for the enjoyment they can bring. If price
or brand brings one pleasure—why not? It is also not
problematic if people who expect a cartoon to be funny
find it funnier than people without this prior expectation
(Wilson et al, 1993)—what’s to deplore if people find a
cartoon funny? However, in the context of, say, a com-
petition for “Funny cartoon of the year”, it seems that
blind judging is ethically better. Not all cartoonists enjoy
the same reputation, and it is unfair if the identified win-
ner of last year’s competition enjoys the kind of ineffable
advantage that our study discovered in this year’s com-
petition. Reputations clearly feed upon themselves, and
can snowball on their own weight. But where fairness is
a concern, some advantages should be blocked.
The question of whether judgments are better when
performed blind or when they are informed is thus seen
to depend not only on how, in each context, the informa-
tion affects the judgments (sinisterly, as when it is abused;
usefully, as when it clarifies ambiguities; recreationally,
as when it enhances pleasure; manipulatively, as when it
promotes sales; beneficially, as when it improves perfor-
mance; etc.), but also on the uses to which the judgments
will be put.
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Appendix: Authentic poem by Emily Dickinson and fake counterpart
Wild Nights — Wild Nights! Blue Dawns —- Blue Dawns!
Were I with thee For my babie
Wild Nights should be Blue Dawns decree
Our luxury! A fantasy!
Futile — the winds — Empty — the crib —
To a heart in port — No nursery —
Done with the compass — No bibs, no nappies
Done with the chart! No luxury!
Rowing in Eden — Roaming the gardens
Ah, the sea! Oh, the grass!
Might I moor — Tonight — Seeking a laddie
In thee! Seeking a lass!
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