Sunday, January 29, 2012

SPSP 2012: Poster Highlights

Not actually SPSP but the closest I could find
As Amie said in a previous post, SPSP poster sessions are like your "elementary school science fair, but all grown up and on steroids." With over 2,000 posters spanning topics ranging from the psychology of political ideology to the link between rejection and health to the dynamics of cheating behavior, it's easy to become overwhelmed. In recent years, posters in a given subject area (e.g., "Emotion") are grouped together within each session, which helps people peruse more efficiently. Though sometimes it's nice just to wander through the aisles and see what jumps out. Here are ten findings that stood out to me in this weekend's poster sessions:

1. When a handshake is all it takes. The anxiety created by the stereotype that women are bad at math has been shown to decrease women's math performance. In this research, conduced by Ezgi Akciner, Rodolfo Barragan, and Gregory Walton, participants who received a handshake from a male confederate felt more respected and less competitive, and also attempted more math problems.

2. Death and creativity. Although mortality salience has been shown to promote conformity and narrow-minded thinking, seemingly antithetical to creativity, Daniel Sligte, Carsten De Dreu, and Bernard Nijstad found that thoughts of death could actually promote creativity when the product was something permanent (contributing to a lasting legacy) rather than ephemeral.

3. Ideal exercise. Affect valuation theory posits that people differ in the types of positive emotional states they value, and that these preferences are largely shaped by culture. Candice Lowdermilk, Louise Chim, and Jeanne Tsai showed that when it comes to exercise, one size does not fit all -- those who prefer lower arousal, calmer states are less likely to benefit from high arousal exercises like running.

4. The missing ingredient in mindfulness. Mindfulness has been shown to predict and promote multiple aspects of health and well-being, but the research presented in this poster, conducted by Kristen Neff, suggests that self-compassion's benefits go above and beyond both mindfulness and other-directed compassion. Mindfulness training, which typically involves non-judgmental, objective observation of one's own thoughts and emotions, could potentially be enhanced by an increased emphasis on self-directed warmth and caregiving.

5. "Smile, you're ovulating!" During my first SPSP in 2006 I remember being fascinated by all of the ovulation-related posters. I couldn't believe that women would feel and behave so differently (e.g., lusting after "manly" men, wearing more provocative clothing, etc) during this time of their menstrual cycle, and have no awareness of the change. In this poster, Alex Beall and Jessica Tracey show that ovulating women tend to feel happier than usual, suggesting that, from an evolutionary perspective, men may be attracted to happy women because they are more fertile (among other reasons).

Power poses
6. Powering through. Research conducted by Caroline Wilmuth, James McGee, Andy Yap, and Dana Carney found that participants made to feel powerful through expansive postures (see left) were better able to withstand pain (submerging their hand in cold water) and to endure other stressful tasks. Related research suggests that power poses reduce physiological markers of stress (e.g., cortisol) as well.

7. The heart vs. the head. In American culture, the head is metaphorically associated with rational thought, whereas the heart is associated with emotion. Adam Fetterman, Michael Robinson, and Brian Meier showed that merely having participants point to their heads or their hearts (in an exercise ostensibly related to handedness) influenced cognitive performance and moral decision-making in metaphor-congruent ways. This poster was an award finalist.

8. The dangers of self-forgiveness. Research conduced by Nathalie Gillen, Michael Wohl, and Cheryl Harasymchuk found that being bored in one's relationship increased willingness to engage in infidelity, and disturbingly, this link was mediated by self-forgiveness. Although other research suggests that self-forgiveness can be adaptive (e.g., when combined with responsibility-taking, and after an appropriate period of guilt and remorse), in this situation it seems more like pre-emptive excuse-making.

9. Seek and ye shall not find.  Craig Anderson and Iris Mauss found that valuing happiness predicted increased depressive symptoms six months later. Just as seeking self-esteem can be self-defeating, the relentless pursuit of happiness can lead to chronic dissatisfaction. Michael discusses related research in this post.

10. It's okay to be average. Though one might expect that couples who are faster to say "I love you" and meet other relationship milestones are the happiest, research by Elizabeth Keneski, Allison Jacobs, Timothy Loving, and Lisa Neff shows that couples whose "courtship timelines" were closest to the average in the sample were the most satisfied. This poster was also an award finalist.

This list can hardly do justice to the wealth of fascinating findings presented during the SPSP poster sessions this year. To browse through the poster topics yourself, the program can be downloaded here. As a disclaimer, I don't have access to most of the complete posters that I described, so I may have made errors in my interpretation of the results. For more information, please contact the researchers directly.

Further reading:

Carney, D., Cuddy, A., & Yap, A. (2010). Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance Psychological Science, 21 (10), 1363-1368 DOI: 10.1177/0956797610383437

Wohl, M., & Thompson, A. (2011). A dark side to self-forgiveness: Forgiving the self and its association with chronic unhealthy behaviour British Journal of Social Psychology, 50 (2), 354-364 DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8309.2010.02010.x

NEFF, K. (2003). Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude Toward Oneself Self and Identity, 2 (2), 85-101 DOI: 10.1080/15298860309032

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