Thursday, March 31, 2011

Breaking the rules: The psychology of playing hard to get

When I was in middle school, a family friend gave me a book called The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. Though it was clearly geared towards women much older than myself who were looking for a husband, I couldn't put it down. I was fascinated by the long list of "don'ts" that seemed impossible to follow. At age 13 I had already violated most of them.

Here are some examples:
1. Don't talk to a man first.
2. Don't stare at men or talk too much.
3. Don't call him and rarely return his calls.
4. Don't ask him to dance.
5. Always end phone calls first.
6. Don't see him more than once or twice a week.
7. Don't take the lead.
8. Don't open up too fast.
9. Be honest but mysterious.
10. Don't tell him what to do.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What You See is not always What You Get: The Perils of Naive Realism for Relationships

Last weekend my husband and I got into a fight over a pillowcase. It was one of those times where it was clearly his fault, and I was sure he would apologize the next day. He didn't. Instead he seemed surprised that I wasn't apologizing to him. How could we have such different views of the same conflict? Which one of us was right?

It turns out that we were both right, in our own way. Misunderstandings like the one that led to a fight over a pillowcase occur because people tend to be naïve realists. That is, we believe that we see social interactions as they truly are, and that other people see them the same way that we do. However, one of the most enduring contributions of social psychology is the understanding that two people can interpret the same social interaction in very different ways based on their own personal knowledge and experiences (Asch, 1952). What does this mean for me? I thought my husband had taken my pillowcase as a joke. He knew he had done it on accident. These different pieces of knowledge led us to interpret the same conversation in very different ways.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Literal Metaphors

Metaphors are more than just literary devices discussed in English class - they can be found in almost every sentence we speak, and they help us understand abstract concepts like love, time, freedom, power, and morality (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). For example, an abstract concept like time may be represented by the more concrete, physical experience of moving forward through space (e.g., "I'm moving towards my goal") Although these metaphorical connections are not presumed to be literal – walking forward doesn’t literally mean getting closer to a personal goal – recent research suggests that many of these connections are more literal than we might think. It turns out that simple physical sensations or movements can shape our thinking and behavior in powerful ways, all without our awareness. Over the past few years the field has seen an explosion of research on this topic. In addition to revealing fascinating insights about how the mind works, many of these findings have practical implications. Here are some examples.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

“Fight or Flight” vs. “Tend and Befriend:” The Yin and Yang of Human Social Life

picture source

Last week I wrote a post suggesting that goodness, compassion, and cooperation with others is a biological imperative. I argued that being good to others is part of our evolutionary history—a response that developed to solve the problems of our harsh physical environments. In essence, humans as a species have underwhelming physical capabilities, and so overcoming obstacles in the environment through brute physical force becomes difficult. Instead, infants rely on mothers, adults cooperate with neighbors, and farmers barter with hunters. In this way, humans cooperate to survive.

In the comments section of that post, one of our readers made a second observation about human nature—that we also have a tendency to think in terms of “Us” versus “Them.”  That is, humans also have an innate ability to identify and respond to potential dangers, threats, or competitors in their social environments. This is also a result of our evolutionary history in that being able to identify environmental threats is important for survival.

So who is right? Are we Born to Be Good or are we cursed with a Selfish Gene?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gimme Five: How Physical Touch Might Bust Your Bracket

picture source
March Madness is upon us again! This is my favorite time of year, because it is time for (arguably) the best tournament in all of sports: the NCAA basketball tournament. It’s reason enough for me to miss two days of work just to watch basketball. Every year people write about the many work hours lost to this tournament, and I have definitely contributed my share. There aren’t too many sporting events where the drama is as thick as it is during the NCAA tournament: Here you have college student/athletes, some are playing their last basketball game before they join the workforce, and some are attempting to etch their names in the history books. Whatever the case, the tournament games bring the best out of teams and the outcomes are equal parts unpredictable and exciting as a result.

Despite the unpredictable nature of the tournament, every year we try to make predictions by filling out our NCAA tournament brackets. I watch a lot of basketball throughout the year, I’ve also coached basketball in the past (posting a slightly troubling 3-19 career coaching record as a high school coach). Despite my basketball experience, I predict games in this tournament about as well as someone who has never watched basketball.

And maybe that’s because I haven’t been looking in the right place until recently…

Monday, March 14, 2011

Giving Feels Good: Why We Should Help Japan

“If we want to help humanity in a practical way, we must begin by setting an example of mutual respect, harmony and cooperation.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama (via twitter)

The recent earthquake off the coast of Japan was among the most devastating in recent memory. As the death toll continues to increase, it is clear that the people of Japan need help from the rest of the world.

In situations like these, I am usually swept up with an immediate call-to-action—I want to do what I can to help those people in need! But, that feeling often dissipates over time, as I see the sheer size of the devastation. Over and over, news media outlets uncover new tragedies. As the disaster becomes larger and larger in scope, my sense of my own capacity to help shrinks, and shrinks, and shrinks in comparison. I suspect that many people have this same experience, and that is a shame! 

There is clear, unequivocal, scientific evidence suggesting that we should do whatever we can to help the people of Japan, and others-in-need more generally. Here are the three main reasons why:

The inaugural blog post!

Welcome to "Psych Your Mind!" The goal of this blog is to better understand why people think, feel, and behave the way they do. This, I think we can all agree, is more difficult than it sounds. If for example, we are trying to explain why my neighbor bangs on the ceiling whenever I'm at home in my apartment, we certainly can generate some theories (e.g., s/he is aggressively swatting flies, doing exuberant jumping jacks, etc...). What's unique, in some ways, about this blog is that we'll be generating theories from science!