Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is Laughter the Best Medicine?

Today's post continues our recent tradition of excellent guest blogging: James Telesford (the author of this particular guest post) is an advanced graduate student in the social-personality psychology program at UC-Berkeley. This is James' first post on the blog. Enjoy!

"Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward."
                                                                        -Kurt Vonnegut


Potentially life altering events such as the dissolution of a long-term romantic relationship, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, moving to a new city (or just across town, for that matter), or any other such experiences are major causes of stress. Recent research in social and personality psychology has demonstrated that we can adopt several strategies to help us decrease the negative emotions surrounding these events (Gross and Thompson, 2007). Among the most adaptive responses to stressors is cognitive reappraisal. In other words, one way to decrease the stress of a negative event is to think about it in a different way, in order to consciously change the event’s meaning, and thereby, lesson its emotional impact.

Monday, December 26, 2011

I’ll be watching you: Religion and kindness

Today we have another great guest post from guest blogger Olga Antonenko Young!

Does religion make us better people?  Social science says, “Maybe!”

One of the more controversial topics that social psychology takes up is that of religion. While no social scientists would venture to address whether any religious belief is true or not, they do examine the effects that these beliefs have on attitudes and behavior. Decades of researchers (and before them, centuries of philosophers) have wondered whether religion makes people better, kinder, and more generous.  On one side of the argument lie people who point out that religion is inherently about morals.  All of the world’s leading religions emphasize a core set of values, outline moral codes, and teach virtues such as charity, forgiveness, and compassion.  On the other side of the argument lie people who point to the negative effects of inter-faith strife over the history of time.

So, which is it?  Does religion make us better or worse?  The answer is complicated.  Psychological research lends credence to both sides of the argument.  However, I wish to highlight just one fascinating aspect of this research suggesting that religion may make us better people and why.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Fun: Holiday Edition

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Happy Holidays Everyone!

As many of us head home for the Christmas weekend, we can look forward to relaxation, time with family, good food and good presents. But many of us may also be anxiously anticipating terrible traffic, long travels, time with family, guilt-inducing meals, and awkward gift exchanges. I thought for this holiday edition of Friday Fun I'd compile a few tips from previous posts to help make your holidays a little brighter.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Modern Day Freudian Slips

George H. W. Bush once made the following classic Freudian slip in a public speech: "For seven and a half years I've worked alongside President Reagan, and I'm proud to have been his partner. We've had triumphs. We've made some mistakes. We've had some sex -- setbacks." When the audience erupts in laughter, you can't help but feel a little bad for the guy, who appears to have a minor heart-attack if you watch his chest closely (see the video here).

Rather than revealing that Bush unconsciously wished to have intimate relations with Reagan, as a Freudian interpretation might suggest, this slip was more likely an example of a speech error called a deletion, which involves omitting a word or part of a word. In this case, "ba" was inadvertently omitted from "setbacks." Speech errors like this are common (though generally less embarrassing), and they are especially likely to occur when people are tired, nervous, or otherwise not at their peak level of cognitive functioning. Linguists argue that speech errors reflect the complex way that language is organized and produced, and are unlikely to reflect repressed desires or conflicts. But that doesn't mean that speech errors are always psychologically meaningless.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Power to be Me

The Power to be Me
We certainly have a wealth of anecdotes about what having power does to people: Power has led political figures like Herman Cain (allegedly) and John Edwards to engage in adultery, facilitated unethical financial practices on Wall Street, and contributed to some of the most overconfident moments in our nation's history. On the one hand, we could conclude from these examples that power leads people to immoral, unethical, and deviant behavior, and some research is suggestive of this possibility.

Of course, power can't always be bad for us, like it was for the American economy or Edwards' political career. Certainly, sometimes power can have a positive effect on our well-being, by allowing us the freedom to be ourselves. 

Friday Fun: Are you a good "mind-reader"? Take the test!

Can you read my mind?
Do you think this guy is:
(a) playful
(b) comforting
(c) irritated
(d) bored

Being able to "mind-read" is a unique and important human trait. Being high in emotional intelligence and empathy helps us smoothly navigate our social world and communicate effectively with other people. Not everyone, however, is an emotion-decoding master.

One of the tests that psychologists use to assess people's level of emotional recognition (also called empathy, emotion decoding, theory of mind, or "mind reading") is the "Reading the Mind in the Eyes" task.  During this task, you do exactly what I had you do above - you look at 36 different pairs of eyes and for each you pick one emotion out of four possible choices (though they aren't all actually emotions, unless someone added "joking," "flirtatious," and "decisive" to the emotion dictionary). I thought I'd share this task with you today for a few reasons.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm sorry: Sometimes not enough, sometimes too much

"I'm sorry" is infamous for its inadequacy. It often seems flippant, insincere, or incomplete, as in "I'm sorry you feel that way" or "I'm sorry, but...". Wayward public figures are notorious for inadequate apologies, especially those that involve a failure to own up to wrongdoingSome argue that a full apology requires many elements, such as acceptance of responsibility, an expression of genuine remorse, an offer to make amends, and an excuse-free explanation. Heartfelt apologies can go a long way in dissolving hostility, encouraging forgiveness, and mending damaged relationships. But they are not always easy to come by.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stuck in a rut: Is boredom the silent relationship killer?

Stuck in a rut?
What does it mean for your relationship when you find yourself stuck in a rut? A group of researchers decided to answer this question by examining how being bored now affects relationship satisfaction down the road.

Tsapelas and colleagues (2009) asked 123 married couples who had been married for seven years how often during the past month they had felt that their relationship was (or was getting into) a rut. They also asked them how satisfied they were with their relationships. Nine years later they came back and asked them again how satisfied they were. What do you think they found? 

Results: Spouses who felt bored at year 7 were less satisfied at year 16. What is important is that boredom predicted being less satisfied down the road even when taking into account how satisfied people were at year 7. In other words, its not just that people who were bored were less satisfied to begin with, boredom actually led to further declines in satisfaction over the nine years. Okay, so boredom is bad. These findings aren’t gonna knock your socks off. But there were a few extra analyses they did that I thought were interesting.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Fun: At the Movies With A Psychologist (Twilight Edition)

This past weekend I was among the fortunate viewers of Twilight: Breaking Dawn (part I). Now, you might be asking yourself, "Michael, you aren't a teenage girl, why are you watching Twilight?" My answer: It's my duty to report on psychological phenomena that I see at the movies-- and this duty applies to movies featuring forbidden love between human and vampire teenagers! I do it all for you, readers of Psych Your Mind!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mind over meat: How we justify eating animals

Most people like animals and have no desire to hurt them. An estimated 63% of American households own at least one pet, and many love their pets like children, doing everything possible to ensure their health and well-being. At the same time, however, at least 80% of Americans eat animals as a regular part of their diet. In recent research, Brock Bastian and colleagues refer to this as the "meat paradox," and they propose that people attempt to reconcile this paradox (and reduce the cognitive dissonance associated with it) by reassuring themselves that the animals they consume (unlike their pets) do not really have minds - that is, they cannot think, feel, and understand their fates, and therefore they do not really suffer.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Psi Your Mind?

Earlier this year, Daryl Bem, a Professor at Cornel University, published a paper on Psi phenomena (also known as psychic phenomena). Bem's Paper was published in the premier journal of social-personality psychology, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (JPSP). In the paper, Bem presents results from eight experiments where he finds evidence for precognition (conscious cognitive awareness of future events) and premonition (affective apprehension about future negative events). The results have shocked our field!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Time, Space, and Synesthesia

When we talk about time, we often use metaphors related to space. For example, "I'm looking forward to this weekend." Some people experience this connection more literally, feeling as though units of time have an almost physical reality, one with a definitive size, location, and sometimes even color. This tendency has been termed time-space synesthesia. In a 2006 study conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo, participants were asked to draw their unique representations of the months of the year, pictured above.