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:

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why Do We Take Personality Tests?

I often get questions from friends and family that they would like answered in a post. This month, my post is inspired by a question from my grandmother. Kudos to my grandma for asking a question about a popular trend on the internet!

Personality tests
Personality tests are not new, but they have recently skyrocketed in popularity on the internet. This week, Buzzfeed published 15 such tests in one 24-hour period. It seems every day on my Facebook news feed, someone has posted new results from one of these quizzes. Online personality tests have expanded beyond the traditional format of telling us certain traits we possess, although those do still exist (try here and here). Now, there are also tests that give us information about ourselves by comparing us to people or characters we know (“Which pop star should you party with?” or “Which children’s book character are you?”) and by comparing specific behaviors or knowledge to others’ (“How many classic horror films have you seen?” or “How well do you know ‘90s R&B lyrics?”).

Regardless of which type of personality test you prefer (I’m not sure that all of these can be considered tests of personality, but we’ll stick with that label for now), these tests have two things in common: they ask us questions about ourselves, and then they tell us about ourselves. But aren’t we the experts on ourselves? Why should we need to take these tests to figure out who we are? Though it seems that the clues to our personality simply lie within us, below I outline three reasons we might be motivated to take personality tests anyway. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Psychology of Economic Inequality: A Collection

Today I wrote an op-ed piece for livescience about economic inequality. Read the piece here. In it, I argue that though economic inequality is a complex social and political issue, it may be explained, at least in part, in terms of the basic psychological motivations of individuals.

Anyway, I hope you'll check out the piece and send me comments via twitter (@mwkraus). If you'd like to read more about this area of research, below I have collected four past PYM pieces on the topic.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Parenthood, Trial or Tribulation? Part 2

On New Year’s Day I became a parent, sparking my curiosity in the research on parenting and well-being and inspiring a four-part series on parenthood and happiness. This is the second post. Check out the first post here.

Are parents happier than non-parents? Researchers have generally set about trying to answer this deceptively simple question in three ways:

Are people with children happier than those without children?

This is the most common approach to research on parenthood and well-being. In these studies, researchers typically tackle large datasets with thousands of adults, comparing the well-being of people with children to people without children. Although the approach is straightforward, the results are mixed with some studies finding parents are happier than non-parents and other studies find the reverse.

How can these studies with such a basic design find opposite results? One large problem with this approach is that little work is done to find out who exactly is making up these groups of parents and non-parents. Focusing on the non-parents, only 15% of adults do not have children, making them a small comparison group. More importantly, their reasons for doing so may differ greatly. Young adults may not have children when they take part in the research, but plan to have children later. Older adults may not have children because they were not able to do so, or they may have consciously made the choice to not have children. Imagine comparing a married 48-year old with three children to a married 48 year-old with no children who spent years and hard earned dollars fighting infertility and wishing to be a parent? Who do you think is happier? Now imagine that the non-parent comparison is a 48 year-old who loves to travel, lives all over the globe and chose not to have children because they wouldn’t fit a globetrotting lifestyle. Who do you think is happier? In one study, mothers were no happier than women who chose not to have children, but were significantly happier than infertile women (Callan, 1987). Choice plays an important role on the other side of the table as well—some people become parents by choice while others find themselves in the unexpected position of being a parent when they hadn’t intended it. How might choice affect happiness among these different groups?

Are people happier after they have children than they were before they were parents?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Parenthood: Trial or Tribulation?

This is the first post in a four-part series on parenthood and happiness.

On New Years Day I celebrated not only the start of a new year, but a new phase in my life. A few (long) hours after midnight I became a parent, and my life was irrevocably changed. In the journey to parenthood I knew one thing to be true—that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Would becoming a parent bring me joy, love, and gratitude greater than I had previously known? Would I find myself anxious, worried, depressed, and dreaming of my former life? Or, as I suspected, would I find myself experiencing intense moments of both?

In my short time as a parent I have experienced great joy, love and gratitude as well as intense worry, and sometimes even sadness. Happily, as I sit here typing up this post with my two and a half month old swaddled next to me on the couch, eyeing me trustingly as she falls in and out of sleep, I can say that the balance tends to weigh strongly on the side of joy. But in those moments where I don’t have the luxury to type up this post because I’m tending to a crying child, or changing a dirty diaper, I dream of the freedom of my former life and the balance is just a bit more evenly weighted.

And the one thing I know with certainty is that I still have no clue what exactly I’ve gotten myself into. While my days often stretch out in front of me with the sameness that comes from having an infant with simple needs, I also know that she is growing and changing at a rapid pace. Each week we are in uncharted territory as she learns to smile, sit, and eventually walk, talk and push back as she becomes her own independent person.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I'm Using the New Statistics

Do you remember your elementary school science project? Mine was about ant poison. I mixed borax with sugar and put that mixture outside our house during the summer in a carefully crafted/aesthetically pleasing "ant motel." My prediction, I think, was that we would kill ants just like in the conventional ant killing brands, but we'd do so in an aesthetically pleasing way. In retrospect, not sure I was cut out for science back then.

Anyway, from what I remember about that process, there was a clear study design and articulation of a hypothesis--a prediction about what I expected to happen in the experiment. Years later, I would learn more about hypothesis testing in undergraduate and graduate statistical courses on my way to a social psychology PhD. For that degree, Null Hypothesis Significance Testing (NHST) would be my go-to method of inferential statistics.

In NHST, I have come to an unhealthy worship of p-values--the statistic expressing the probability of the data showing the observed relationship between variables X and Y, if the null hypothesis (of no relationship) were true. If p < .05 rejoice! If p < .10 claim emerging trends/marginal significance and be cautiously optimistic. If p > .10 find another profession. By NHST standards, an experiment fails or succeeds based solely on this one statistic.

When the Association of Psychological Science proposed using an alternative statistical approach--something called the New Statistics (actually not new, been around for decades)--I was intrigued about the possibility of living an academic life beyond the tyranny of p < .05.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ten Findings About Facebook for its 10th Birthday

Happy Birthday, Facebook!
Over the past ten years, Facebook has added a new dimension to the social lives of over a billion people. Given its popularity, it has become the topic of a growing body of research in the social sciences. For Facebook’s 10th birthday, I collected ten discoveries this research has yielded and share brief summaries below. If you’re on Facebook, then this research applies to you! Happy birthday, Facebook!

1. Does Facebook help us feel better by fulfilling our need for social connection? The authors of one study text-messaged people five times per day for two weeks and asked people about their Facebook use and their well-being. The more people used Facebook at one time, the worse they felt the next time they were text-messaged. In addition, over the two weeks of the study, the more people used Facebook, the more their life satisfaction decreased.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

PYM's Graduate Student Guide-Blog

In thinking about the past three years writing for PYM, I just realized that I write a lot of posts about issues that graduate students care about. I've made a list with links to each of these posts below. Now all the "wisdom" I have to offer about graduate school is in one place. I hope this will help you--current and future graduate students in psychology--to navigate the challenges and opportunities that many of us face on our way to a PhD! Good luck in your journey and don't be afraid to leave comments or questions on the post or on twitter (@mwkraus or @psychyourmind).