sealPurdue Lifestyles Briefs

October 1998

Thinkers enjoy added influence

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Charm, looks and personality can take you only so far. If you want to influence people -- try using your brain.

"In studying influential people, researchers are seeing that persons who enjoy thinking have added impact," says Duane Wegener, associate professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University. These thinkers are described as having a "need for cognition," or NC.

People high in NC would prefer chess to checkers or reading a book to watching TV. Wegener says these people have a desire to use their brains, which results in their forming strong opinions. "One of the reasons they are influential is the strength of the attitudes they hold," he says.

To see how it works, Wegener and two colleagues studied 74 students at two universities who participated in an exercise to study how jurors make decisions. The students were divided into small groups and then later paired off. Before the exercise, all the participants were rated on their NC. Persons high in NC were paired with students lower in NC.

The participants read summaries of a civil case and legal analyses. Members of each pair unknowingly received differing analyses -- one supporting the defense, the other the prosecution. After reading the material, the participants were asked to discuss the case with their partner and render a joint verdict.

The prediscussion views of those who like to think prevailed most often. "Fewer high-NC participants changed their minds as a result of the discussion than did their lower-NC partners," Wegener says. Overall, the lower NCs were twice as likely to accept the views of higher NCs.

He says the people who liked to think were perceived by their partners as generating more valid arguments and as being effective persuaders. "It could be that the thinkers had better-prepared arguments based on greater scrutiny of the trial evidence," Wegener says.

The NC results might also explain past research showing that group decisions are influenced by variables such as a person's level of education and occupation. "People who are more educated, and those in certain high-status jobs, also tend to be higher in NC," Wegener says.

Wegener's study was conducted with Donna Shestowsky of Yale University and Leandre R. Fabrigar of Queen's University. It was reported in May in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

CONTACT: Wegener, (765) 494-9554; e-mail,

Nurses learn to tend to cultural differences

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Sometimes cultural understanding may be just as important as medical knowledge for today's nurses, says Sharon Posey, a national expert who is an associate professor of nursing at Purdue University.

"Nurses don't have to travel to faraway places to encounter challenges stemming from cultural diversity," she says. "American society provides plenty of opportunities."

Often, she says, a nurse trying to help an injured or ill person meets resistance from the patient or from the patient's family that makes treatment difficult, if not impossible.

"With many people of other cultures," Posey says, "language is often a problem, but we can usually work our way around that with sign language of a sort, or a translator. But it's the ethnic traditions, customs, taboos -- the often deep-rooted beliefs of a culture -- that really can challenge a nurse in doing what he or she wants to do to help the patient."

For example, trying to treat a Vietnamese person with head injuries can present a problem, because some Vietnamese believe that touching the head can allow the soul to escape. "If treatments require that you touch the head, you're going to have to look for alternative ways of doing what you have to do, or carefully explain why it is necessary to do it," Posey says.

She says some Chinese may veto the drawing of a patient's blood. "They believe blood is the source of life," Posey says, "and that taking any of it could lead to their death." Even a critical surgery might be refused. She says some Chinese also view their body as a gift from their parents and believe it should be maintained as a whole and not be cut or have parts taken from it.

Nurses working with Mexican children, Posey says, might encounter a belief in the "evil eye" held by some Hispanics.

"They call it 'mal de ojo'-- the 'bad eye' or evil eye," Posey says. "They believe that if someone looks at a child for any amount of time without touching the child, that person has cast a spell on the child. So it's important for nurses working with these children to touch them immediately."

Posey, who has observed health practices in India, Thailand, China, Mexico, Brazil and Costa Rica, says family roles also may be a factor, especially in societies where the male is dominant.

"It might not be possible for a female Asian Indian patient to authorize treatment, even if she is conscious and able to speak," Posey says. "The nurse may have to seek permission of the husband or father before treatment may begin, even if it is seen as critical."

A very common problem, she says, has to do with the way different peoples deal with pain.

"We know certain cultures -- Greeks, Italians and Hispanics, for example -- are most expressive emotionally, while Asians and American Indians tend to be very reserved," she says. "To assess pain in an Asian, it might be necessary to question the person often, because the pain might not be apparent to the nurse."

Posey, who took six students last May to work on a Navajo reservation in northern Arizona, says first-hand experience is the best way to help nurses learn about different cultures.

"We visited a woman who was experiencing difficulties late in her pregnancy, and we suspected that this might be a breech birth," Posey says. "We wanted to examine her and, if necessary, make preparations to have her transported to the nearest hospital, which was 70 miles away."

When the students asked the woman to come to the clinic for a checkup, the family declined, saying that they wanted to wait until a ceremony could be performed by a medicine man.

"The local nurses told us that, in some instances, breech babies have turned after a ceremony was performed," Posey says. "For the students, this event illustrated how some cultures rely upon their traditional beliefs and way of life, and how cultural beliefs and values play a role in health care."

Posey will talk about her experiences and how other schools can develop similar programs Oct. 30 during a national conference on professional nursing education in Bellevue, Wash.

CONTACT: Posey, (765) 494-4017; e-mail,

Check home air quality for dangerous gas

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- As the cold weather sets in, you welcome the warmth of your furnace or gas-log fireplace, but they may also bring a silent, invisible killer into your home.

Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of improper combustion of some fuels, has been associated with the death of more than 200 people in this country each year. The poisonous gas also sends nearly 10,000 people to hospital emergency rooms annually for treatment. Oct. 25-31 is National Combustion Gases/Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week.

Household appliances that burn natural or LP gas, kerosene, oil, coal, or wood can produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct, according to Cathy Burwell, Purdue University Extension Service specialist in water quality and environment in the School of Consumer and Family Sciences. The odorless, colorless gas can be produced by furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers and some space heaters.

"Carbon monoxide poisoning is especially hazardous, because its initial symptoms can be likened to those of the flu," Burwell says. "Many people have no idea that their headaches, fatigue and nausea may be a result of carbon monoxide poisoning."

Other symptoms associated with carbon monoxide poisoning include shortness of breath and dizziness. She says exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide can cause death.

Burwell suggests that a qualified technician inspect the heating equipment, including the unit, chimney, flues and vents, each year. Part of the inspection should include a check for adequate ventilation to appliances. "A supply of fresh air is important so that pollutants from the combustion process are carried away," she says.

This is not a do-it-yourself job, Burwell says. She says air quality inspections can be done by certified heating and air conditioning technicians as well as by some gas utility inspectors.

As an added protection throughout the year, homeowners may want to invest in a carbon monoxide detector. These detectors, similar to smoke detectors, make a loud noise when carbon monoxide is present.

She says carbon monoxide detectors should meet current Underwriters Laboratories standards and are available at most hardware stores. Prices range from $20 to $50. The higher-priced models include a readout that displays the level of gas present.

CONTACT: Burwell, (765) 494-8252; e-mail,

Compiled by Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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