Monday, December 24, 2012

PYM: Holiday Edition

Looking for your perfect holiday?
The holidays are upon us, which can mean family, fun, food, and cheer. But also, stress, anxiety, conflict, and caloric guilt. Psychology has a lot to say about how to promote the former and avoid the latter, so like last year, I've compiled posts from the previous year to provide you with tips on how to make your holidays a little bit brighter.

On giving and receiving gifts:

-It is not the thought that counts. There is a mismatch in our preference for giving and our preference for receiving gifts. We like to think that a thoughtful gift is the best kind, but gift recipients really just want to receive a gift they like - so know that picking a gift from someone's amazon wish-list is a surefire way to guarantee a happy Christmas. But if you went off-road this Christmas when buying your presents, temper your expectations for how happy the recipient will be when receiving a gift accompanied by out-of-the-box thinking. And if you are receiving a gift that isn't what you expected, remember that the gift giver thought they were doing something nice by putting in that extra thought and not just clicking on the amazon link.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Friday Fun: My Favorites of 2012!

Hello again PYM readers! The end of 2012 marks the end of our second year as a psychology research blog (the first full year). I feel like a proud papa (Also, I will be an actual papa in March). With the close of our second year here at PYM, I'd like to highlight some of my favorite blog entries from the past 12 months.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tabula Rasa: Do genes influence personality?
If I were to ask you the simple question, "Do you think that genes influence your personality?" The first thing you might think, is that I'm asking you a stupid question. After all, nearly all our lay beliefs about the world include beliefs that some of our genetic material influences who we become as people. And though we do believe, to varying degrees, that our experiences shape who are, I'm sure we can't think of all that many people who believe, like Aristotle, that we are a tabula rasa (blank slate). As well, if you believe in evolution then you must have an implicit belief that genes influence who we are. If evolution has taught us anything, it is that survival means passing on the fittest of our genes to the next generation.

So, you come to PYM today with the implicit belief that your personality is most certainly influenced by your genes. What if I told that this is not what the most recent research in behavioral genetics would suggest?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Is it the thought that counts?

Now that we are in the midst of the holiday gift-giving season, many of you may be searching for the perfect presents to give friends and family members. Whether braving the busy parking lots at malls or surfing the internet for the latest deals, shoppers are likely putting a lot of time and energy into purchasing gifts that are just right. After all, when it comes to gift-giving, isn’t it the thought that counts? Conventional wisdom tells us that how much a gift is liked or appreciated is based not just on the gift’s objective quality, but also (and more) on how much thought the gift-giver put into choosing it. If that’s the case, then, you need not worry about getting the “perfect” gift. Your gift will be appreciated and valued for the thought behind it, right?

Monday, December 3, 2012

The secret to flourishing? Science says it's in the numbers

Flourishing is in the numbers
When it comes to human flourishing, science is getting pretty specific. Over the course of our daily lives, we have a variety of positive and negative experiences. And I think most of us would agree that we are likely to be happiest when we maximize the positive and minimize the negative. But researchers suggest that it is not just about having more positive and less negative in our lives – it is the ratio of positive to negative that matters.

So what is that magical ratio? At or above 3:1. Researchers Fredrickson and Losada tracked people’s daily experiences over the course of a month and found that people who are flourishing (as opposed to languishing) report experiencing at least three times as many positive emotions as negative emotions in their daily lives.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Fun: Psychology at the Movies III
It's been a few months since we last discussed movies on PYM. Since my spouse and I moved to Chambana, we have had a lot of time to enjoy $5.50 movie nights at the local cinema. Yeah, you read that right, movie tickets are sold on the cheap out here in the Midwest!

As in my previous posts examining psychological constructs in movies, I'll proceed by describing what happens in a film--roughly from my own memory--and then I will link those events to a construct studied now in psychological research. There may be some spoilers, so don't say I didn't warn you! ONWARD!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When Objectification Is a Choice

In a recent interview, actress Cameron Diaz controversially said "I think every woman does want to be objectified." Given that decades of research has documented the many ways that objectification can be harmful, why would anyone voluntarily choose to objectify themselves?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

What is Charisma?

Did charisma win the 2012 election?
Today on PYM we are pleased to bring you the second guest blog from Emily Plutov, advanced undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

In some of PYM’s election coverage, Amie cited an example of the incredible influence television has over voters’ conceptions of political figures: the famous debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. In this debate, Kennedy was the clear victor; not only was he calm and collected, but he also was said to have displayed “charisma,” an attribute that people widely believe makes politicians into effective leaders.

What is charisma?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Your Thanksgiving Table - The Political Metaphor

This week, I'd like to follow up on Michael's post about the ways that our parents' attitudes shape our political ideals. 

A recent study (Fraley, Griffin, Belsky & Roisman, 2012) has found that parents who tend to believe in authoritarian parenting raise kids more likely to become conservative. Those that have egalitarian parenting attitudes tend to have kids who become liberal.

As you fly home and think about your parents' strict or relaxed styles, I'd like to ask how it is that parents help shape our core values. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Can Mindfulness Make You Happier?

Today's guest post comes from Sarah Roberts, Ph.D. candidate in Psychology at the University of Quebec in Montreal and blogger at Psychobabble for Normal People.

Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation are hot trends in clinical psychology right now. What's all the buzz about?

Mindfulness refers to a state of mind characterized by awareness and attention in the present moment, and by an accepting, curious, and non-judgmental attitude. A Buddhist concept now integrated into secular psychology and medicine, mindfulness is being cultivated by everyone from chronic pain patients to stressed out executives, often through courses in mindfulness meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Another Lay Theory of Success in Graduate School

My first semester as a member of the faculty at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (referred to affectionately as Chambana) is coming to an end. Arriving with the Winter, is an important time in my new job--the time for graduate school applications. As a new faculty member, this will be my first chance guide the academic future of a new research career, from admission to dissertation. That's heavy!

This event made me think: What the heck am I looking for in a graduate student? I'm glad you asked that question interwebs. I'll try to provide an answer in what follows.

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Emotional Election

Politics and emotions are deeply intertwined. Think of the last political conversation you had and how you reacted to it emotionally. Was your blood boiling with anger? Were you paralyzed with anxiety and worry about what might happen? Were you bouncing with enthusiasm and motivated to go get out the vote?

Bigger picture, how do these emotional-political experiences (specifically, of anger, anxiety, and enthusiasm) affect the ways we seek out and interpret political messages and engage in political behavior?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why don't people evacuate before storms?

As a Manhattan resident, this past week my life has been dominated by one event: Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately, unlike tornadoes or earthquakes, hurricanes allow time for people to prepare. In the hours leading up to this hurricane, government officials issued mandatory evacuations for residents of coastal areas that were likely to be hit hardest. Residents were urged to seek shelter with friends and relatives or utilize one of numerous shelters opened (some with transportation included). Despite government officials pleading with citizens to evacuate dangerous areas, many decided to stay.

For some during Hurricane Sandy, the decision to stay had tragic and costly consequences. At least 14 of the people who died in Staten Island were found in evacuation zones. In areas such as Long Island’s South Shore, some people panicked as the storm got worse, putting volunteer first responders in harm’s way. And in the hours after the storm, rescue workers ventured into some of the most devastated areas to retrieve residents who had been stranded.

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.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Science Utopia (Continued): Methods Integrity Workshop

"Winter is coming." --Ned Stark/Greg Francis
On Friday afternoon I attended a seminar in methods integrity in research (here). The speakers were Hal Pashler of UC San Diego and Greg Francis of Purdue University. In the seminar, the speakers raised a number of interesting points that I think add to last week's post on PYM about questionable research practices (here). I'll summarize the main points that I took from the seminar:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Science Utopia: Some Thoughts About Ethics and Publication Bias

Science Utopia, next exit
Psychology's integrity in the public eye has been rocked by recent high profile discoveries of data fabrication (here, here, and here) and several independent realizations that psychologists (this is not unique to our field) tend to engage in data analytic practices that allow researchers to find positive results (here, here, and here). While it can be argued that these are not really new realizations (here), the net effect has turned psychologists to the important question: How do we reform our science?

It's a hard question to answer in one empirical article, or one blog post, and so that's not the focus here. Instead, what I'd like to do is simply point out what I think are the most promising changes that we, as a science, can adopt right now to move toward a solution that will help prevent future data fabrication or the use of biased hypothesis tests. These are not my ideas mind you, rather, they are ideas brought up in the many discussions of research reform (online and in person) that I have had formally and informally with my colleagues. Where possible, I link to the relevant sources for additional information.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Entitlement, laziness, and internal attributions: What Romney and the rest of us think about government assistance.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them."

Mitt Romney's “47 percent” quote has been making the media rounds for days now. I'd like to shed one stream of light on what underlies this sentiment.   

As you may have heard, the quote is misleading. Mr. Romney was referring to 47% of Americans who don’t pay income taxes.  However, this group is composed of different demographics. It includes elderly Americans who would otherwise be left with nothing in their old age, struggling families supporting children with extremely limited means, troops deployed to war zones who are exempt from taxes while on duty, and very many people living far below the poverty line. A third of these individuals earn less than $10,000 a year.

Perhaps Mr. Romney doesn't quite care who is in the 47 percent. One tagline of the Republican campaign urges us to take responsibility for our own lives. Relying on the government for help is considered lazy, indulgent, and maybe a little selfish. It is especially so when we're not giving back by paying income taxes. Part of our national character and pride stems from the idea that we are a county where a little elbow grease can go a long way. If hard work is rewarded fairly, then unemployment and low incomes can only be a personal failing. If America is a place where anyone can succeed, economic hardship is a symptom of personal failure.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What Do Letters of Recommendation Reveal About Gender Bias?

Over the past month I have been putting together materials to apply for jobs. Much like applying to college or graduate school, applying to jobs means updating your curriculum vitae, putting together statements summarizing your research and teaching experience, and gathering letters of recommendation to send out to hiring schools, all in time for a fall deadline that is fast approaching (gulp). This process is a bit stressful and comes with many questions and concerns (What type of school do I want to work at? Am I good enough? What am I going to do if I don’t get any interviews? What am I going to do if I DO get interviews?). One question that had never crossed my mind was “Might I be at a disadvantage because of my gender?” But then I read an article on gender differences in letters of recommendation in academia, and suddenly it was a salient question.

Growing up, being female never felt like a disadvantage. Both of my parents worked and maintained the household, I didn’t have any brothers to create comparisons, and I was in classes with smart motivated students of both genders. The year I entered college was the first year that there were more females in college than males. Gender comparisons just weren’t part of my everyday experience. To be honest, I had little awareness that there could be any type of glass ceiling for me because of my gender. What does any of this have to do with applying for jobs? Well, in an attempt to prepare myself for job applications, I scoured the internet for helpful resources. One of the articles that I came across described research showing that letters of recommendation tend to highlight different traits for men and women, differences that is seems may actually put women at a disadvantage for getting the job.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Status Hierarchies: Do We Need Them?

Emile Durkheim (source)

I have been studying the topic of social status ever since I started my graduate training. That was in 2004 when George W. Bush was starting his second term as President, Clint Eastwood was busy winning an Oscar for best picture (Million Dollar Baby), and Lindsay Lohan wasn’t a punchline. In all of that time I hadn’t ever considered the question of whether society needs social hierarchies in the first place? That is, do we really need to rank ourselves in society relative to others? Is it necessary to have varying levels of power, prestige, and status in society? Or could society function quite well without differentiation based on status?

Clearly there are some good anecdotes that support the notion that hierarchy is unnecessary. For instance, there is an excellent pizza joint in Berkeley called Cheeseboard. It’s actually the Cheese Board Collective, which is owned and operated by a cooperative group of individuals who each share in the work and the profits of the business. There are no explicit status hierarchies at the Cheeseboard, and they make some pretty excellent pizza!

Unfortunately there aren’t too many other examples of groups or societies without social hierarchy. Which made me wonder: Why is that?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Kids, school, and play: A look at what today’s youngest students are (and are not) doing in the classroom

Now that kids across the country are putting away their swimsuits and flip-flops and heading back to school, a new cohort of kids will be stepping into the classroom for the first time. But what will they be doing once they walk into the classroom? As you think back to your preschool or kindergarten years, you may recall having fun with blocks or dolls, running around the yard playing tag, or pretending that you and your friends owned a restaurant. Take a look into many preschools and kindergartens across the country today, though, and you will discover that this type of free and unstructured play is quickly disappearing.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Game of Thrones: Lessons About Status II

Lord Varys, the eunuch (source)

This week is my first week of teaching a new course at the University of Illinois. The course is called "Power, Status, and Influence" and so far I've finished preparing about 80% of the lecture materials. I'm pretty excited about the topic and I think (hope?) the students will be as well. In my last post about the course I mentioned considering the popular George R. R. Martin fantasy novel "A Game of Thrones" (now filming its third season on HBO) as a required text. After all, the novel is an impressively insightful study of power and status. In today's blog post I will discuss one aspect of "A Game of Thrones" that relates well with research on one correlate of social status: Testosterone.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"She Asked For It": The Destructive Impact of Rape Mythology

A U.S. congressman and senate candidate recently made headlines for his comments about the link between rape and pregnancy. "If it's a legitimate rape," he said in a TV interview, "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down" (you can watch the full interview here). This statement has been criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike, as it suggests not only that women who become pregnant from rape were likely not in fact raped, but also, more broadly, that some forms of rape are not "legitimate." The congressman has since apologized for his remarks, saying that he misspoke, but the belief system reflected in his words may be more pervasive than we realize. Although most of us are taught that rape is wrong, we are also exposed throughout our lives to ideas about rape that are both inaccurate and harmful. These rape myths, as they are called, can directly or indirectly serve to excuse perpetrators and blame victims, and psychologists have found that they may also increase the likelihood that individuals will commit rape.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The "Cohabitation Effect": The Consequences of Premarital Cohabitation

According to the U.S Census, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. With such a high rate of divorce, a bit of skepticism and concern about entering into matrimonial bonds is appropriate. Premarital cohabitation allows couples to experience a “trial marriage” before making the real commitment. Cohabitation is increasingly becoming a natural part of the courtship ritual, a transition from dating to marriage. Indeed, according to a recent talk I attended, two thirds of American will cohabitate with a relationship partner, and one half of marriages emerge from cohabitation. Following common sense, it would seem that those who cohabitate before marriage would be more prepared for and confident about marriage having already lived together. This preparedness and confidence should thus lead to lower divorce rates for those who cohabitated before marriage than those who did not cohabitate. Research has shown, however, that in this case common sense is wrong. Premarital cohabitation actually appears to lead to higher divorce rates in many Western countries. Why might this be?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Don't stand so close to me: Why morality divides us.

Have you ever discovered that a friend has a dramatically different position than you on a moral matter? Perhaps you found yourself on opposite sides with an old pal in the wake of 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq. Maybe, during the Occupy Movement, you discovered that some of your friends had a different take on financial inequality than you did. Or, possibly, last week you found out that a colleague lined up proudly to get a Chik-Fil-A sandwich in order to support "traditional marriage day,” whereas you had a different take on the issue. How would these differences of opinion make you feel? It's likely you might find yourself questioning your opinion of the friend and your relationship with him or her.

Why can’t we accept differences in moral opinion the same way we  readily accept differences in other opinions like music preference? What makes moral attitudes so different and divisive?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

How the Rich are Different from the Poor II: Empathy

In the many conversations that F. Scott Fitzgerald had with his friend Ernest Hemingway, Fitzgerald was believed to have said "The rich are different from the poor." Hemingway's alleged response: "Yes, they have more money."

While this conversation may have never occurred, it goes without saying that the rich do indeed differ from the poor. In this second part of a four part PYM series I will be exploring precisely how the rich differ from the poor--in a psychological sense at least. In the first post, I discussed how one's social class status--that is, the money, education, and occupation status of one's family--influences the concept of choice. In this second post, I discuss how social class influences patterns of empathy.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How to make time stand still

It often feels like there just aren't enough hours in the day to accomplish all the things we want to accomplish, let alone find a moment to relax. The demands of work and social life, combined with our basic needs for sleep, food, and exercise, can quickly add up and overflow, producing the sense that time is constantly slipping away and we're constantly running to catch up. Time may be limited, but it doesn't have to always feel that way. New research suggests that our state of mind can change the way we perceive and experience time, and in turn, make us happier and more giving.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Behind the Scenes of Psychological Research: What Does the Future Hold?

Since starting this blog, I’ve told you about interesting and hopefully useful research findings. But today I wanted to take a step back and share with you a bit about what is going on behind the scenes of psychological research. We assume that findings we are telling you about—those which are published in peer-reviewed journals—are true, but it turns out that is not always the case. Recently, it has come to light that the way we conduct our studies may be leading us to find “significant results” more often than they truly exist. And even more extreme than problems with methodology is the harsh reality that some researchers may be simply making up their findings. So today, I wanted to share with you some of my personal experience behind the scenes of science, as well as three great suggestions I’ve heard for reforming our scientific ways.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jumpy and Jonesing for Guidance: Anxiety’s Effects on Seeking, Taking, and Parsing Advice

We rarely make big life decisions without feeling some anxiety. For example, think back to deciding – if applicable – where and what you wanted to study as an undergraduate, whether and where to go to grad/law/med school, where you wanted to work, what house or car you wanted to purchase, and whom you wanted to marry.

Did you ever do so with a sense of utter calm? Doubtful. And did you ever do so without seeking counsel from an expert, friend, parent, or other loved one? Also doubtful (unless you are supremely self-confident).

This means that when we make important decisions, we frequently seek advice from other people, and we also frequently experience anxiety. But how does the anxiety affect seeking and taking advice when making a decision?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Wedding Bell Blues: Dealing with Post-Wedding Depression

First comes marriage. Then what?
You’ve been planning your wedding for months, possibly even years. The big day came, it was magical, and now it is over. Perhaps you think you should be in a state of newlywed bliss, but instead you are finding yourself feeling a little blue. If that is the case, you are not alone. One in ten women experiences depression in the first year of marriage, and the number of couples seeking post-nuptial counseling is on the rise. What is leading newlywed couples to experience this post-wedding let down?

Researchers Allison Scott and Laura Stafford interviewed a group of newlywed women to try to answer just this question. Scott and Stafford found that all of the women reported feeling bored post-wedding; They had funneled all of their time and energy into planning their big day, and now they weren’t quite sure what to do with themselves. But, being bored did not necessarily mean being blue. Some women acknowledged that they felt a little bored, but were not depressed. Other women were bored and depressed. So what distinguished these two groups of women? Blue brides viewed their weddings as the end goal. In contrast, happy brides viewed their weddings as the start of a new chapter.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Perils of Positive Thinking

Fantasies are not the same as positive expectations.
This morning, Kate Reilly, graduate student at New York University, joins Psych Your Mind again (her previous post) to discuss some perils of positive thinking. Read on!

When you walk through the self-help aisle of any bookstore, you are likely to see plenty of books based on the notion that positive thinking is the key to getting what you want. The message is clear: if you want to achieve something, just keep telling yourself  “I can!” and envision yourself accomplishing your goals. Success will surely come your way.

Not so, says years of psychological research. Certain kinds of positive thoughts, known in the research as fantasies, can actually be detrimental to performance. When we fantasize, we idealize our futures. We imagine all the wonderful things we can achieve and the ease with which we can achieve them. Fantasies are not based on past experiences, meaning that we can have fantasies about achieving things for which we have no training or practice. They are also not at all based on what we believe will happen. We are fantasizing when we talk with our friends about what it might be like to win the lottery or be an NBA superstar.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Fun: Science is Slow

Picture by Scientific American blogger Jason Goldman
When I was in my first year as a graduate student, one sage Emeritus professor said to me, probably in a reaction to some of my bubbling enthusiasm about psychology, "Michael, you know that science is slow, don't you?"

In response I must have said something like "Oh yeah!" or "Of course I do!" but in reality, I didn't. Now, having several battle-tested years under my belt (battling reviewers, puzzling data, my own malaise) I know a bit more about what that professor was saying to me all those years ago. In today's Friday Fun here on PYM, I'll show you some data revealing how long it takes me to publish empirical papers. You'll see after you read this exactly what is meant by the phrase: Science is slow.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Honor Killings and the People Who Love Them

A husband shoots his wife in the back nine times with a rifle as neighbors watch and cheer. The first four shots shake her body as it falls to the ground. He hears the crowds’ encouragement and shoots her corpse again and again. The onlookers return to their lives and he is exalted as an honorable man. 

While these actions are close to unimaginable, reporters speculate that this is the story behind a recently circulated execution video from Kabul, Afghanistan. Here, as in a handful of countries, infidelity by women is punishable by death. In many other parts of the world, suspicions of infidelity lead to culturally condoned violence.

This violence is often perpetuated, endorsed, and watched by the friends and relatives of the victim. Lest we recoil and think this is a rare reaction from people who live far away and pray to a different God, I’d like to remind us that we are all made of the same human material and it wasn’t long ago that public executions were the social event of the week in much of Europe. It is also this same human nature that constructs gender inequality across all cultures and perpetuates domestic violence in the most “civilized” echelons of society.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

How the Rich are Different from the Poor I: Choice

In the many conversations that F. Scott Fitzgerald had with his friend Ernest Hemingway, Fitzgerald was believed to have said that "The rich are different from the poor." Hemingway's alleged response: "Yes, they have more money."

While this conversation may have never occurred, it goes without saying that the rich do indeed differ from the poor. In this first part of a four part PYM series I will be exploring precisely how the rich differ from the poor--in a psychological sense at least. In this first post, I examine how one's social class status--that is, the money, education, and occupation status of one's family--influences the concept of choice.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Dangers of Self-Forgiveness

The ability to forgive oneself for mistakes, large and small, is critical to psychological well-being. Difficulties with self-forgiveness are linked with suicide attempts, eating disorders, and alcohol abuse, among other problems. But self-forgiveness has a dark side. Research suggests that while it can relieve unpleasant feelings like guilt and shame, it can also reduce empathy for others and motivation to make amends. In other words, self-forgiveness may at times serve as a crutch, producing a comforting sense of moral righteousness rather than a motivating sense of moral responsibility. Is there a healthy way to forgive yourself? Here is what recent research has to say.

Monday, July 9, 2012

After the Sacrifice: Doing it for the Right Reasons

This is the third in a three-part post on sacrifice in relationships. In Part I, I talked about the pros and cons of sacrificing for the ones we love. In Part II, I suggested some questions you should ask yourself when deciding whether or not to make a major sacrifice. Today, in Part III, I focus on sacrificing for the right reasons.

So you've made the move
So you’ve decided to make the cross-country move for your spouse’s new job, skip your important work event to attend your partner’s family reunion, or make a long commute to live closer to your partner’s job. Even after the decision has been made and the bags are packed, it is important to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Research shows that people engage in sacrifice for many different reasons, and not all of them lead to happily ever after. Sacrificing for the wrong reasons may be worse than no sacrifice at all.

Are you making the move to make your partner happy and keep your relationship going, or to avoid having conflict with your partner? Sacrifices made for approach-motivated reasons, such as making your partner happy, are beneficial. People who sacrifice for these reasons are happier and have more satisfying relationships. In contrast, sacrifices made for avoidance-motivated reasons, such as avoiding conflict, can be detrimental. People who sacrifice for these reasons are less happy and have less satisfying relationships. You might think, well I might feel bad, but at least my partner will reap the benefits of my sacrifice. It turns out that is not the case – when people believe their partners sacrificed for avoidance –motivated reasons, they feel less satisfied with the relationship.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Olympics Fun: National Personality Types: Fact or Figment?

With the summer Olympics fast approaching, and our nation's birthday on Americans' minds, July seemed an apt month to dig a little into the concept of national personalities. For instance, we may have ideas of what typical French or German or British people are like relative to typical Americans. But are these ideas just oversimplified stereotypes, or are they rooted in actual country-level differences in personality characteristics?

Well, opinions vary.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Happiness Chronicles III: Does Status Increase Happiness?

"Beggars do not envy millionaires, but of course, they do envy other beggars who are more successful."
--Bertram Bertrand Russell (1930)

This is the final part of a three-part series on the science of happiness. In Part I, I discussed some pitfalls to pursuing happiness. In Part II, I suggested that money doesn't buy happiness, unless it is spent on others. In Part III, I discuss new research suggesting that having high status might improve happiness.

People (some more than others) can become consumed by the pursuit of social status in their everyday lives. Individuals fight for recognition from their peers, struggle for freedom and autonomy in their jobs, and pursue money and education to ascend the socioeconomic ladder. Some researchers suggest that the pursuit of status is a fundamental human motivation, and is a primary determinant of an individual's access to survival-related group resources (e.g., food and shelter). But, if the pursuit of social status is really fundamental to human social life, what does this pursuit mean for our happiness and well-being?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When "He's Just Not That Into You" Backfires

The popular self-help book He's Just Not That Into You: The No Excuses Truth To Understanding Guys is intended to empower women to stop waiting around for disinterested guys. The basic premise is that if a guy is interested, he will make it clear (e.g., ask you out, call you, propose to you, etc), and if he doesn't make it clear, then he's just not interested. There are certainly times when women and men alike need to be snapped out of wishful thinking and move on, but for some people and in some situations, this tough love approach may backfire. Here’s why.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Is He Worth it? Six Questions to Ask When Sacrificing in Relationships

This is the second in a three-part post on sacrifice in relationships. In Part I, I talked about the pros and cons of sacrificing for the ones we love. Today, in part II, I suggest some questions you should ask yourself when deciding whether or not to make a major sacrifice. Part III will focus on sacrificing for the right reasons.

What questions should you ask?
We must all face situations in our close relationships that require us to make a sacrifice. Perhaps, your spouse receives a big promotion, and it requires that you quit your job and move across the country. Or your boyfriend wants you to miss an important work event to attend his family reunion. Maybe you and your wife get jobs in different cities and must decide who has to make the long commute. For me, it was deciding whether to apply to graduate programs in areas that weren't near where my husband (then boyfriend) was working. When faced with these situations, what information do you use to decide whether or not to make the sacrifice? In addition to consulting the pros and cons list, there are also important questions you should be asking yourself. Below, I suggest six questions that might help when deciding whether or not making a sacrifice is right for you.

How committed are you? Is this the person you plan to spend forever with, or just a fling? In order for a big sacrifice to be worth it, you should make sure that you are invested in the relationship and confident about your future together. Nothing is certain, of course, but knowing that your sacrifice is enabling you to build a life with the person you plan to be with may make it the right choice.

Would your partner do the same for you? Sacrifice is two-sided. In any situation where you are considering making a sacrifice, your partner is doing the same. While you are deciding whether or not to move across country to let your spouse take his promotion, your spouse must decide whether or not to sacrifice his promotion in order to allow you to keep your job. So as you debate whether or not to make a sacrifice, it is important to question whether your partner is going through the same thought process. Has your partner shown his or her commitment by being willing to sacrifice for you in the past or expressed his willingness to sacrifice in the future? In the current situation, are you working together to figure out what is best, or does your partner simply expect you to change your life to accommodate his?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Don't be a sheep...or a donkey or an elephant

As election season approaches, many of us are deciding how to vote on policies that will influence our country and communities. How do we make these important choices? What sources do we turn to when deciding how to vote? We certainly can and do seek out objective information, listen to educated opinions, and consult our own values. However, it might surprise you to learn that what other people think makes the largest impact on our own policy attitudes.

People are surprisingly susceptible to the influence of others and the voting booth is no exception. In fact, one classic paper in political psychology (Cohen, 2003) shows that what other Democrats or Republicans think influences our opinions much more than the actual content of a policy. The paper has a few important lessons we should all keep in mind as we begin to formulate our opinions about candidates and policies.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Sacrificing for the Ones We Love

This is the first in a three-part post on sacrifice in relationships. Today, in Part I, I talk about the pros and cons of sacrificing for the ones we love. In part II, I’ll suggest some questions you should ask yourself when deciding whether or not to make a major sacrifice. Part III will focus on sacrificing for the right reasons.

Would you make the move?
Your spouse comes home from work and excitedly tells you that he just was offered a promotion – in another state. Do you quit your job and move away from your family to an unknown city so that he can pursue his career ambitions? Should you?

Close relationships require sacrifice. In fact, many people include sacrificing in the very definition of what it means to truly love another person. Sometimes that sacrifice can be life changing, such as deciding to move to a different state in order to be with your partner, other times it might be something small and seemingly mundane such as seeing your partner’s pick of an action movie instead of the comedy you would have chosen. Although sacrifice may be inevitable, when the time comes to do it, it’s not always an easy choice. For me, I find myself weighing my need to be true to myself and authentic in my relationship (why should I be the one giving up what I want?) against my desire to be a good relationship partner and do what it takes to make my relationship work (if this is important to him, I should be supportive). Research on sacrifice in close relationships highlights some of the pros and cons of sacrificing something for the ones we love.