Monday, August 25, 2014

Does Power Help or Hurt Perspective-Taking?

First comes love, then comes the realization that we are navigating life’s journey with another person who may have different thoughts, feelings, and beliefs than us. How do we deal with having differing viewpoints from our romantic partners? Perspective-taking is a fundamental social skill that helps us smoothly steer through the many bumps in the road, from picking out a thoughtful anniversary gift to helping us reach a compromise on a contentious issue. When people are able to consider their partner’s point of view, both they and their partners report being more satisfied with their relationship (Long, 1990). Although this basic skill is fundamental and beneficial, not everyone is good at perspective-taking, particularly in their romantic relationships (Kenny & Acitelli, 2001). So who is good at perspective-taking and who is lacking? To answer this question, I turned to the research on power. I was curious to find out whether feeling powerful in a romantic relationship might lead people to be better, or worse, perspective-takers.

Power is potent, affecting how people think, feel, and interact with others. Although thinking about powerful people might bring to mind the caricature of a power-hungry CEO, the reality is that power is not just in the workplace, it is part of all of our relationships, shaping how we interact with our parents, friends, and romantic partners. So how exactly does it shape our relationships? Or, in our case, our ability to step into our partner’s shoes? Well, the old adage, “power corrupts,” suggests that powerful people should be selfish, caring only about getting their own way and paying little attention to what their romantic partners are thinking and feeling. And there is research to support this – people are less likely to take strangers’ perspectives when they feel powerful (Galinsky et al., 2006) and in families, powerful members are less likely to perspective take (Barber, 1984). But on the other hand, for romantic relationships to survive, people can’t just be selfish—they have to think about what is best for the relationship, which means considering their partner’s point of view. Power helps people focus on and pursue their goals (Guinote, 2007), so perhaps power might actually help people become better perspective-takers in romantic relationships because it focuses them on maintaining their relationship?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Big Theory

"Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful." --George Box*

I need to be honest with you, I'm not all that good at generating novel ideas: Some of my most well-cited papers involve theories that sociologists came up with decades ago; Reviewers frequently accuse me of running post-hoc analyses (asking the data for ideas, rather than generating apriori predictions); When media cover my research, the most common initial comment is something like: "This is so obvious....blah, suck." You get the idea. 

I don't view this particular characteristic of my research as a flaw. Rather, I'm acknowledging that not all scientists can be ground-breaking theorists/game changers: Some people come up with great ideas and some people test them. For the most part, I test theories and I do it in (what I hope are) convincing ways. Given this characteristic of my research, you might be surprised then, to learn that I love theory!** 

You read that right.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Psychological Barriers in Economic Inequality Reduction

Today I wrote a blog for New Left Project on psychology research examining perceptions of, and responses to, economic inequality. The post features cutting-edge research by prominent social psychologists Mike Norton and Dan Ariely, as well as research from my own laboratory at the University of Illinois. An excerpt:

"The United States is one of the most unequal and rigidly stratified societies in the industrialised world.  In the wake of the Great Recession, it has become increasingly clear that success in America flows to the wealthy and the well-connected.  Why do these inequities persist in the face of steady unemployment, abject poverty and rising homelessness? 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Psychology at the (Home) Movies: HBO’s The Wire

Although I’m more than a decade late to the party, a recent fortunate prime membership has gifted me with access to HBO’s acclaimed series the Wire. For the last two months I’ve been watching the show weekly, digesting its contents in small consistent doses. My background as a middle class ivory tower academic makes the Wire foreign territory to me—I don’t have much personal experience with drug culture, or poverty, or oppression, or Baltimore (the primary city in the story) for that matter. Nevertheless, there were many themes in the TV series that align well with contemporary research in the social sciences. With an eye towards these themes, I bring you a look into HBO’s the Wire by linking it to our current understanding of basic psychology. As with any piece of film-making, the nuance and detail will not be completely captured in this post, and I welcome comments here or on twitter (@mwkraus). Also, SPOILERS!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Notes on Replication from an Un-Tenured Social Psychologist

Last week the special issue on replication at the Journal of Social Psychology arrived to an explosion of debate (read the entire issue here and read original author Simone Schnall's commentary on her experience with the project and Chris Fraley's subsequent examination of ceiling effects). The debate has been happening everywhere--on blogs, on twitter, on Facebook, and in the halls of your psychology department (hopefully).

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Top Ten Worst Reasons to Stay Friends With Your Ex

Your ex is your ex for a reason. But he or she was also an important part of your life for a significant amount of time, and it’s understandable to want to hold on to that relationship in some capacity. Many former couples, whether they were dating partners or spouses, try to remain friends after a break-up, and some are able to manage this transition successfully.
Research suggests, however, that on average exes tend to have lower quality friendships than platonic opposite sex friends who were never romantically involved: they are less emotionally supportive, less helpful, less trusting, and less concerned about the other person’s happiness. This is especially true, not surprisingly, for former partners who were dissatisfied with the romantic relationship, and when the break-up was not mutual.
The probability that a friendship with an ex will be a positive rather than painful experience depends in part on your motives, including the ones that you would rather not openly acknowledge. Here are ten reasons that can get you into trouble.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

(Sample) Size Matters

Sample Size Matters
On this blog and others, on twitter (@mwkraus), at conferences, and in the halls of the psychology building at the University of Illinois, I have engaged in a wealth of important discussions about improving research methods in social-personality psychology. Many prominent psychologists have offered several helpful suggestions in this regard (here, here, here, and here).

Among the many suggestions for building a better psychological science, perhaps the simplest and most parsimonious way to improve research methods is to increase sample sizes for all study designs: By increasing sample size researchers can detect smaller real effects and can more accurately measure large effects. There are many trade-offs in choosing appropriate research methods, but sample size, at least for a researcher like me who deals in relatively inexpensive data collection tools, is in many ways the most cost effective way to improve one's science. In essence, I can continue to design the studies I have been designing and ask the same research questions I have been asking (i.e., business-as-usual) with the one exception that each study I run has a larger N than it would have if I were not thinking (more) intelligently about statistical power.

How has my lab been fairing with respect to this goal of collecting large samples? See for yourself:

Monday, April 7, 2014

4 Reasons Not to Settle in a Relationship

Settling is an ugly, depressing word. Few people would suggest outright that you should settle for less than you want and deserve in a relationship. Even Lori Gottlieb, author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, disapproved of the use of the word in her book title, a decision she said was made by her publisher.
But the pressure to settle can be very real, even if it is not communicated explicitly. People who are single after a certain age may be seen as "too picky" and urged to lower their standards. Singles are also likely to face social stigma due to their solo status, a phenomenon psychologist Bella DePaulo has called “singlism.” From our earliest days, we learn that our worth is tied up in our ability to find a mate; that marriage marks the passage into mature adulthood and is our most important adult relationship; and that we are not complete until we find our other half. And then there is the issue of our "biological clocks," an imperative which recent research suggests affects men too.
It's no wonder that people feel rushed to settle down before they are ready, or before they find the right match.
If you have ever found yourself grappling with the question of whether it's better to be alone, or to settle—which Gottlieb calls “one of the most complicated, painful, and pervasive dilemmas many single [people] are forced to grapple with"—read on. Here are four science-backed reasons why you should consider holding out for a relationship that makes you truly happy: