Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Freudian defense mechanisms: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Freud had some weird ideas, but he also had some brilliant ones. Along with Freudian slips, one of my favorites is his classification of ego defense mechanisms, which was further elaborated by his daughter Anna and by other psychoanalysts. Defense mechanisms refer to unconscious strategies that protect us from threats to our self-esteem and other sources of anxiety. Not all defenses are created equal, however - some are more likely to take us down the road to psychosis, whereas others can help us live happy, productive lives. Psychiatrist George Vaillant more recently classified the defense mechanisms into a hierarchy ranging from pathological to immature to neurotic to mature. Here are some highlights from each level:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Is trust Jeremy Lin's secret weapon?

Vintage Linsanity, circa 2006 (source)

“It’s just us, being us, playing for us.” –Jeremy Lin

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve caught the Linsanity along with everyone else. It’s only been two weeks, but in that time former Harvard point guard Jeremy Lin has transformed a failed Knicks season into the most compelling storyline in the NBA. And make no mistake, Jeremy Lin is at the very center of this transformation.

But what is it about Lin that has transformed the Knicks’ season? An astute statistician might say it is his on-court production: Lin has been scoring, hustling, dealing out assists, navigating the pick-and-roll, and hitting open shots better than any Knick point guard since, well, since I can remember. That is definitely part of the equation. But a single player does not make an effective basketball team. When I watch the Knicks these days, I see something else about Jeremy Lin that makes me believe that his influence goes beyond simple numbers: His teammates trust him.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Placing Trust in God and Nation

Guest blogger Olga Antonenko is back with another great post! This time she's talking about the link between God and government.

Does the universe have meaning and structure?  Is there some kind of force or power that controls events and preserves order in our lives?

These may seem like questions for philosophers or theologians, but some social psychologists have chimed in with their own evidence-based opinions. Their answer is a resounding … “Well, people certainly think so!”

Most people live with the assumption that there is an order and reason underlying the things that happen in the universe.  In fact, it could be said that one of the larger cognitive motivators in life is the preservation of that belief.  Without this sense of order, we would be left with a terrifying and chaotic existence in which a terrible fate could befall us at any time.

Some may argue that this chaotic view of life is closer to reality than any sense of meaning or order.  We do, indeed, live a life in which something terrible can happen at any moment for no reason.  Innocent people die every day and horrendous criminals get away with terrible acts.  Senseless natural disasters befall thousands of people every year.  So, is this sense of stability and rationality a false hope held by the feeble minded among us? Probably not.

In the face of senseless tragedies, we feel a sense of anger, injustice, and confusion. These reactions are quick and automatic.  They indicate that, at our core, we all feel that the things that happen need to have a reason.  The deaths of innocent people don’t pass without notice.  It shakes our internal sense of order, which needs to be restored.   

While many of us look inside ourselves for a sense of stability, we also look for external sources of order.  Today, I want to talk about two sources of stability that many people rely on – God and government.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Psychology of Hazing

Paddle to the back side - a classic hazing strategy
Would you join a new club if you knew it meant you had to sing an embarrassing song in public, do someone else’s laundry for them, or make prank phone calls? What if joining the club meant that you had to lay still as someone poured boiling water over you, drink alcohol until you threw up, eat dog food, have your physical flaws marked with red pen, or go on an elephant walk? I imagine most of us are strongly shaking our heads “no” as we read this second list of horrors. Yet each year people knowingly join Greek houses, sports teams, the military and other groups in which hazing new members is a long held tradition. As long ago as 1684, students were getting expelled for hazing, and many laws have been put into place to eradicate the practice, yet to this day we continue to see news coverage of horrific hazing rituals gone bad. Why can’t we get rid of hazing?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Can your phone cure depression?

After years of resistance to the smartphone craze, I reluctantly accepted an iphone as a gift last month. I instantly fell in love.

Aside from the obvious convenience of having constant access to email, what I really love are the apps. I love that I can check bus schedules, look up recipes on the go, and take vintage-y looking pictures (thanks Maya!). But as a psychologist, I'm especially excited by the idea that apps can be used in the service of mental health and well-being.

For example:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Valentine's Day Special: An Insider's Guide to Speed Dating

This week's guest blogger is Maya Kuehn, a fellow graduate student at UC Berkeley. We're thrilled to have this talented researcher and writer contribute to the blog. In this post she'll be discussing research on speed dating.

To my never-ending delight, being a social psychologist can sometimes make me feel like I have an insider’s guide to social life. When I discovered that two dear friends of mine were about to try speed dating for the first time, I couldn’t help offering some (yes, unsolicited) terribly handy research-based advice: “Be selective! They’ll like you more if you don’t show interest in everybody.” My random tip amused my friends, but my outburst didn’t do justice to the scope of research done on speed dating in our field in recent years. For you, dear readers, just in time for Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d provide a quick and dirty guide to the basics of what goes down in speed dating interactions.

First, a bit of background: speed dating began in the late 90’s in LA, and has rapidly spread since. In a typical session people participate in a round-robin series of interactions, meeting each eligible partner for a 3-8 minute speed date and rating interest in them afterwards. If two people indicate mutual interest (i.e., match), each is provided with his or her match’s contact info. The super short format of these dates lets people make rapid decisions about each other’s eligibility as a mate, and as such provides a rich microcosm of the first impression and romantic attraction dynamics psychologists have speculated about and researched for decades. As you might expect, our field has started studying speed dating interactions to distill the basic elements of initial interpersonal attraction. So what have we found?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Friday Fun: One Researcher's P-Curve Analysis

It's Me!
Two weeks ago when PYM was at the annual conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, I went to a symposium about false-positive findings in psychology (see my summary here). In the symposium, the speakers discussed the prevalence of research practices that result in biased statistical testing. In that symposium, one of the researchers, Uri Simonsohn, presented a method for catching people who engage in these practices: the P-curve analysis. What follows is a p-curve analysis of one researcher/blogger: Michael W. Kraus!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Psychological contagion? The mysterious case of LeRoy, NY

LeRoy, NY
In a small country town, population 7,500, a cheerleader and honor roll student woke up from an afternoon nap to discover she had developed a stutter. Soon, the stutter gave way to uncontrollable twitching. When her mother took her to the doctor, they discovered that she wasn’t the only one with these symptoms - in all, 14 teenage girls, one teenage boy, and one 36 year-old woman had recently developed Tourettes-like symptoms. The local doctors diagnosed the mysterious illness as “conversion disorder,” a disorder in which mental and emotional stress literally plays out in physical symptoms. Sound like the plot of a bad TV movie? Perhaps. But it’s also the latest happenings in LeRoy, New York, where sixteen people suddenly developed twitching, facial tics and vocal outbursts last October, 15 of whom attended the same high school. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress: How Stress can Impair or Improve Performance

Some people thrive during stress

Today features another superb guest blog on Psych-Your-Mind! In this post Kate Reilly, outstanding first year graduate student at New York University, discusses how some forms of stress can paradoxically be good for one's performance. Read on! 

Imagine times in your life when you felt stress – a job interview, a first date, a piano recital, or a championship soccer game. It’s no wonder you may have felt stress in these situations: They are meaningful, they require effort to achieve success, and they involve evaluation by others. Each of these factors can  contribute to feelings of uneasiness and anxiety.

The question is: how do these feelings of stress impact performance?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Fun: A few simple tricks for healthier eating

Who could resist?
Confession: Today I ate three cookies. Not because I particularly wanted them, but because they were there. I could be a case study for Brian Wansink’s book “Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we should.” Wansink was one of the invited speakers at SPSP 2012 and he and his colleagues, such as David Just, apply psychology and behavioral economics to food marketing. They use experiments to answer questions such as, “Why do we eat more than we should?” and “How do we get kids to pick healthier food in the school cafeteria?”

Here are a few of their scientifically-backed tips for making healthier food choices. Many of these tips have been put in place in lunchrooms as part of their “Smarter Lunchrooms Initiative,” but I think they can also be adapted for use at home, particularly if you are struggling with a child who has very particular food preferences.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Bachelor: A modern-day replication of the Stanford Prison Experiment?

Bachelor Ben and his ladies.
In 1971 a group of Stanford researchers led by psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted what became a famous study of the power of  deindividuating situations. Within only six days, twenty-four seemingly normal, psychologically healthy participants were transformed into sadistic prison guards and dejected, emotionally unstable prisoners who came to voluntarily tolerate the abuse that was inflicted on them.

Thirty-one years later, the first episode of "The Bachelor" was aired on ABC. During the show, twenty-five single women compete for the affections of one man (with the reverse in "The Bachelorette") as they travel to scenic destinations, ride in lots of helicopters and boats, and enjoy lavish accommodations. What could the Stanford Prison Experiment possibility have to do with a fun, light-hearted reality show? A lot, it turns out.