Thursday, May 31, 2012

Friday Fun: A Postdoc's Running Diary

Not to be confused with this oatmeal (source)
Last Friday, Amie gave us an all-access pass to her weekly graduate school routine (see it here). It was very interesting to read about how Amie breaks up her daily activities and manages her time. In fact, I was so captivated by Amie's post that I thought I'd add one of my own. Today, I give you a running diary of my work day--A Postdoc's Running Diary. I took some notes about a single day of work this week and for this blog post I will give you access to some of the daily activities that a "postdoctoral researcher" takes part in during a typical day.

Monday, May 28, 2012

When Good is Bad and Bad is Good: Beyond "Positive" Psychology

What is the prescription for optimal living? The burgeoning field of positive psychology appears to have many of the answers: We should be kind and caring to others, forgiving of transgressions, gracious and compassionate in our daily lives, and upbeat and optimistic about the future. Following this simple plan should keep us happy and healthy.  

But as with most things, it turns out that the answer might not be that simple. What’s good may not always be good, and what’s bad may not always be bad. Being kind and caring is a good thing – as long as the person you are kind and caring towards deserves your kindness. Being forgiving may produce contentment – except when the forgiver has no plans to make amends. Being optimistic about the future may keep your spirits up and help you feel happy – unless you are a gambler who believes the next bet will be the big one.

We have labeled certain traits and states “positive” and others “negative” but according to researchers Jim McNulty and Frank Fincham “psychological traits and processes are not inherently positive or negative; instead, whether psychological characteristics promote or undermine well-being depends on the context in which they operate.”

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Fun: A Week in the Life of a Grad Student

As a graduate student, I don't punch a clock or fill out a time card. Although I have a faculty advisor, I don't have a boss - no one is keeping count of my hours. Most of my work time is spent doing a variety of tasks related to research or teaching, and these often change from week to week. I love the freedom and diversity of the academic life, but the lack of structure means that at the end of the week I'm often unsure of how exactly I spent my time. I like to get a good nights' sleep, so that certainly helps... but for the other 15 or so hours in my day, what exactly am I doing? This question intrigues me and for the past several months I've been thinking I should keep a log of my happenings to see how my days are spent.

So I finally did it back in April. I created a word doc dedicated to the cause, and updated it every time I changed tasks Monday through Friday. I also kept a quick count of how much time I spent working on the weekend. It wasn't the most ordinary week with canceled meetings and a weekend visit to my hometown. But really, is any week "ordinary"? So I figured I'd just go ahead and do it while I was motivated.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

No Pain, No Gain: The Psychology of Self-Punishment

One of my favorite professors once told the following story: She was in the check-out line at the grocery store, and two young children, a boy and a girl, were seated in the cart behind her. When she unloaded some containers of yogurt onto the belt, the girl gazed at them longingly. Slowly, she began to reach her little arm towards the yogurts. Before she could touch them, her father slapped her arm away and said sternly, "No!" The girl cowered back in shame. A moment later she reached out again, and this time her brother slapped her arm, mimicking his father's admonishment. The girl again pulled back. Being a young child (and really wanting those yogurts), it wasn't long before she made one final attempt. But before anyone could stop her, she slapped her own hand away, shouting "No!" at herself. My professor was struck—and saddened—by this series of events. You could argue that the little girl had learned not to take other people's things and regulate her behavior, which is a good thing. But she had also learned to punish herself. 

The self-punishment we learn as children may continue into adulthood, when we become, in effect, parents to ourselves. Although some adults are more prone to self-flagellation than others, this tendency appears to be common even among psychologically healthy individuals. Research conducted in the field of social psychology suggests at least three major reasons why people might, at times, choose to punish themselves.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

More Authors or Less Authors?

In my brief time in research I have written journal articles authored by as few as two people and as many as six people. Many of those authors have been faculty members (senior researchers who provided me with valuable mentoring), colleagues (graduate students with similar experience and training), and trainees (early researchers learning the research process from me and others). This experience has got me wondering: What is the best combination of authors for writing a research paper? Is it better to have more authors or less authors? I consider these questions in today's post!

I should note that many of these challenges apply to any form of collaborative work, and not just research.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Marriage equality: What is shifting our opinions?

Our president has brought us many first – events that have nudged the collective social psychological typography of our nation. President Obama’s race, grassroots campaign, and prolific use of social media have shaped subtle changes in how we interact with the political system and each other.

Last week brought another first. Speaking in support of same-sex marriage, Obama acknowledged and gave his voice to a divisive social issue. Simultaneously, for the first time in our country’s history, despite North Carolina’s marriage amendment, the number of people favoring same-sex marriage has outnumbered those who oppose it. As a moral psychology researcher, I ask, “Why?” “What has changed to pave the way for these shifts?” Maybe more importantly, “Why is it that we are still so divided on this issue?”

Monday, May 14, 2012

It's lonely at the top: Power makes you mistrusting

It's lonely at the top
Power is desirable – it helps us achieve goals, frees us from many social constraints, and allows us to be ourselves. But having power isn’t all peaches and cream, it’s also lonely at the top. Perhaps Leonardo DiCaprio summed it up best when he said “I had better success meeting girls before Titanic... there wasn’t a perception of her talking to me for only one reason.” And it turns out this isn’t just Leo’s problem. According to recent research by Ena Inesi and colleagues, having power – as a manager, as the higher-paid spouse, or even as the babysitter – leads people to see favors by others as more selfishly motivated.

Across five different studies, Inesi and her colleagues found that power lead people to make cynical attributions about the intentions behind another person’s kind acts. When a worker brings coffee for a boss, the boss may think that the co-worker is just trying to get ahead. And it doesn’t end there – because people who are more powerful are more likely to make these cynical attributions, believing those with less power are only using favors as a way to climb to the top, they are also less thankful, less trusting, and less likely to reciprocate the kind act. Gratitude, trust, and reciprocation are the cornerstones of relationship development. Relationships are hard, and without being able to trust the other person and return their favors, relationships are not likely to last long. Indeed, Inesi found that people who earned more than their spouses were less committed to their relationships, and this lack of commitment was explained by their mistrust of their partners’ intentions – the higher paid spouses believed their partners’ favors were more likely to be bestowed in a self-serving manner.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Airing your dirty laundry on Facebook - Endearing? Annoying? It may depend on your self-esteem

Though this Facebook fad (I know I know, it’s here to stay) has never truly caught on with me, I am certainly aware of its many benefits. Facebook is an amazing medium for sharing information – news, music, ridiculous youtube videos. You can use Facebook as a means for self-expression – to advertise aspects of your personality, your taste, your interests. With Facebook you can stay current with your nearest and dearest, even if they live across the country/world (or stalk just about anyone). 

According to Amanda Forest and Joanne Wood, researchers at the University of Waterloo (in Canada), the opportunity for connection and community on Facebook may have a dark side, however. In a recent study they found that individuals with low self-esteem (i.e. those with negative self-views) may use Facebook as an opportunity to open up to others – but not in a good way.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Five Classic Psychological Catch-22s

Yossarian, the protagonist of Joseph Heller's classic novel, Catch-22, wants to be excused from air combat. To be excused, he needs only to prove that he is mentally unstable, but there's a catch: the very act of asking to be excused would show that he is sane. In other words, there's no way out. The term "catch-22" has since been used to describe any situation where circular logic guarantees an undesired outcome, no matter what a person does. Although catch-22s are typically found in legal or bureaucratic contexts, they also turn up in psychology. Here are some notable examples. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Game of Thrones: Lessons About Status

In the Fall of 2012 I will be teaching a new course titled "Status, Power, and Influence" at the University of Illinois. I'm very excited about the topic and probably have too many ideas floating around in my head about what the course should cover. It is like being a kid in a candy store: In terms of course textbooks, there are literally dozens of great books about power and hierarchy!

Interestingly, my first thought about a textbook was the popular George R. R. Martin fantasy novel "A Game of Thrones" (now in its second season on HBO). Simply put, "A Game of Thrones" is all about power, status, and influence.

What are some of the lessons about social power that we can learn from the series? There are several, but I think the first lesson we learn in the series is that honesty and truth are not necessarily paths to high status.

[Spoiler Alert: For Those Who Haven't Seen Season 1 of "Game of Thrones," please avert your eyes!]

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday Fun: You Are What You Say

Outside of high school English classes, most people don't give much thought to pronouns, prepositions, articles, auxiliary verbs, and other "function words" (e.g., I, to, of, am, the). They seem to be no more than fillers for the more important content words–the who, what, where, and why of language. But it turns out that these invisible words have psychological significance. In his new book, The Secret Life of Pronouns, psychologist James Pennebaker describes findings from his research on the relationship between natural language use, personality, and social life. Much of this research is conducted using a computerized linguistic analysis program that calculates the percentage of words in a given text that fall into a range of grammatical, emotional, and topical categories.

On the book's website, Pennebaker features six simple linguistic exercises that have the potential to reveal aspects of your personality and your compatibility with others. I tried out a few of them...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pets with benefits: Social support from other species

 The millions of Americans who own pets spend billions of dollars on them annually, shower them in love, and – anecdotally – talk and post about them constantly (you know who you are). But besides providing us something totally adorable to photograph and cuddle with, what good is it to have a furry, domesticated animal running around your home?