“Leaders in many jobs and activities try to make participants feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, with the idea that it can motivate them to work harder,” notes the Boston Globe, in an item in its weekly “Ideas” section.

Now new research by Gregory M. Walton and Geoffrey L. Cohen of Stanford University and David Cwir and Steven J. Spencer of the University of Waterloo shows, as the Globe puts it, “just how easy and how powerful it can be to create this feeling, even for activities without much inherent team spirit — like math.” The Globe summarizes the research:

Among students with at least some interest in math, those who read about a more sociable math department or a math graduate with the same birthday, or who were nominally assigned to a puzzle-solving “group,” spent significantly more time trying to solve an insoluble math problem and were more likely to engage with challenging puzzles days later.

The research is to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a publication of American Psychological Association.

A pdf of the draft is available from Walton’s Stanford website.