Monday, October 29, 2012

The power of image: Does TV influence our view of the presidential candidates?

A family mesmerized by JFK during the first televised debate
In 1960, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon engaged in the first televised presidential debate. Previously, debates had only been broadcast over the radio. One longstanding popular story about that first debate is that the medium through which people heard the debate affected who they believed had won. As the story goes, people who listened to the debate were more likely to believe that Nixon had won, whereas those individuals who watched the debate on the television were more likely to believe that JFK had done better. Why? On TV JFK was beautifully bronzed, young and able, while Nixon was sweating profusely and “looked like death.”

One artistic rendering of the first debate
I found myself in a similar experience during the presidential debates that took place this past month. During the first debate I started listening while in the car and then transitioned to the radio at home while making dinner. Then I realized that I could stream the video online and so I switched over to the televised version of the debate. But apparently I wasn’t the only one doing so, and the video kept freezing. Every time the video froze, I would turn the radio back on, switching back and forth constantly between audio and video.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Obama or Romney? Leave the decision to your parents!

Tell your parents that obedience
 is overrated! (source)
Whenever I teach a group of undergraduates I always hope that I will be shaping their young political minds in meaningful ways. I hope that our discussions in class will open their eyes to the various and important social issues of our time, and maybe lead to greater awareness of injustice, unfairness, and inequality in society. I've often thought that this is my most important role as a Professor. I also think that this is one of the concerns of parents who send their children to college--the fear is that the liberal education will forever change the political attitudes that will shape the rest of their adult lives.

While we don't know how much the college experience shapes political attitudes, new research published in Psychological Science, and written by researchers at the University of Illinois, suggests that liberal and conservative political beliefs are shaped by early childhood parenting environments.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Fun: Oxytocin and the Zombie Apocalypse

I got your oxytocin right here! (source)
If you've been watching AMC's riveting series about zombie apocalypse, the Walking Dead, then you're probably into blood and guts like me. You might also be watching because you're interested in the moral dilemmas that the characters face during each twist and turn of fate. As the misfortune adds up and the body count rises, some of the most honest and trustworthy people must do some pretty terrible things all in the name of survival! That makes for some pretty great television.

When I was watching the opening to season 3 this week, I couldn't help but think about how much the zombie apocalypse genre of television and cinema can teach us about oxytocin. That's right, we can learn more about the mislabeled "cuddle hormone" by thinking about both the benevolent and terrible things that people do in the name of survival.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Is there a feminine side to dominance?

Is there a female dominance hormone? (source)
Today on PYM we are pleased to bring you a guest blog from Emily Plutov. Emily is an advanced undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who has recently become interested in social psychology research on power and dominance.

When it comes to research on the hormonal correlates of dominance behaviors, what becomes clear is that males have garnered considerable attention within this sphere. As Michael mentioned in a previous post, testosterone (an androgen which is produced in the testes in men and the adrenal gland in both men and women), is linked to dominance in men. 

What about women?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gender Bias in Academics Continued: An Experimental Test in the Hard Sciences

Why are women underrepresented in the STEM fields?
A recent advisory council to the President concluded that at the current rate of training scientists and engineers, we will have a deficit of 1,000,000 workers over the next decade. The council suggests that one way to close this gap is to increase training and retention of women. Women are drastically underrepresented in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). Some people have suggested that this underrepresentation is due to women opting out of these jobs in order to stay home with their families. However, a new study provides compelling evidence that these differences could be due to the pervasive cultural stereotype that women are less competent in these fields than men.

At the end of my last post on gender bias in letters of recommendation, I wondered what other incidences of gender bias I had been missing throughout the years. Well, not long after, I came across this new study highlighting another incident of gender bias in academics. In this study, women were rated as less worthy of hiring for a lab manager position in the hard sciences than men. Unlike the study on letters of recommendation, this study actually uses an experimental manipulation. Participants saw the exact same job application; the only difference was whether the applicant was named “John” or “Jennifer.”

Friday, October 5, 2012

Writing your way to better health

Try to recall the last time you were angry, depressed, or anxious. What did you want to do with those feelings? There is a good chance you had an urge to text your best friend, post a Facebook status update, or write in your journal. We often want to get things off our chest and prevent them from festering inside of us. If we pick the right outlet, disclosing our emotions can help us feel better in the moment. Furthermore, there’s evidence that emotional disclosure through writing can improve mental and physical health outcomes months and even years later.

Psychologist James Pennebaker is well-known for his work on expressive writing and has conducted an impressive program of research outlining the benefits that emotional disclosure can have. They include lower self-reported distress and depression, improved immune functioning, fewer doctor’s office visits, and even increases in GPAs. Perhaps most relevant to today’s economic situation, in a study of recently-unemployed individuals, people who wrote about their emotions regarding their job loss got new jobs faster than those who wrote about non-emotional events or did not write at all!

What exactly is expressive writing?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

For the Love of Humanity: The Psychology of Thinking Globally

When was the last time you thought about the fact that you are a member of the human species? For most of us, this aspect of our identity is not front and center. More relevant are things like gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, political party, sports team affiliations, and all of our other group memberships, large and small. Not only do we stake our identity and often also our sense of self-worth in these groups, but we tend to be more helpful towards those who belong to them, often at the expense of those who do not. A significant minority of people, however, seem less concerned with group distinctions. For example, while many turned a blind eye, some individuals risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. In interviews conducted by Kristen Renwick Monroe for her book, The Heart of Altruism, many of these individuals described a sense of common humanity, or "belonging to one human family." By contrast, those who did not offer help were less likely to possess this feeling of expanded kinship.

In a recent article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, psychologists Sam McFarland, Matthew Webb, and Derek Brown developed a new scale for measuring individual differences in this attribute, the Identification With All Humanity scale (IWAH). The scale involves a series of questions assessing the degree to which someone identifies with "all humans everywhere" ("identifying" includes things like feeling love toward, feeling similar to, and believing in), independent of how much they identify with people in their own community and country. They then examined how scores on this measure relate to various personality traits and behaviors. Here are some highlights from the findings.