Monday, April 30, 2012

The Secret to Maintaining Sexual Desire?

How many pennies are in your jar?
Soon after I got engaged, a married friend told me about the Penny Game. In this game, a newlywed couple puts a penny in a jar each time they have sex during the first year of marriage. Then, starting the second year, the couple takes out a penny each time they have sex. Supposedly, the couple will never again have enough sex to empty the jar. This old wives' tale represents a commonly held belief that sexual desire declines over the course of a relationship. But is this true? And does it happen to everyone?

Sexual desire and sexual frequency do tend to decline over the course of a relationship. Several large-scale surveys have found evidence for this, and one study even found that the link between sexual frequency and relationship duration was stronger than the link between sexual frequency and age (Johnson et al., 1994). So young or old, sexual desire is likely to peak at the beginning of a new relationship and steadily decline from there.

But is that the end of the story? Once we enter into a long-term relationship, do we have to sit back and accept that our hottest days are behind us? According to recent research, not necessarily.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Friday Fun: Mad Men With Power Moves

When Mad Men started it's final fifth season on AMC, I received a good laugh when I was alerted to the hashtag #draping. The lead character of Mad Men, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), is pictured in advertisements for the popular television show sitting on a couch with his hand draped over the back of the couch, holding either a cigarette or a cocktail. It appears that fans of the popular show have taken to posing in this fashion, and then posting to tumblr.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Body Problem: Why are we so afraid of bodily functions?

A Parody of "Everyone Poops"
The children's book Everyone Poops, which documents the pooping styles and sizes of a range of animals and a little boy, did not get the greatest critical reception. Publishers Weekly said: "Okay, so everyone does it–does everyone have to talk about it? True, kids... may find it riveting, but their parents may not want to read to them about it... Call it what you will, by euphemism or by expletive, poop by any name seems an unsuitable picture book subject." Don't ask, don't tell seems to be the dominant ideology when it comes to poop. According to one grateful reader, the book helped her child "realize that pooping was normal," which is great, but it also suggests that the default belief is that pooping is somehow abnormal and shameful.

It's not just poop that we're uncomfortable with. We're also uncomfortable with body hairbody fatbreast-feedingpuberty, periodsdigestive soundsnudity, and pretty much anything else that involves natural body processes. Even Adam and Eve felt compelled to cover themselves with fig leaves. Why are our bodies so embarrassing?

Monday, April 23, 2012

An Inconvenient Truth: Race in America (Part I)

It is an American tragedy whenever an unarmed teenage boy--of any color--is fatally shot. And when you strip down the Trayvon Martin shooting to its core, that is exactly what we were all faced with in Florida several weeks ago--a senseless tragedy. As a result, there has been a re-emergence of questions about the meaning of race in today's America. I will be taking on some of these tough questions in a series of blog posts I'm calling "An Inconvenient Truth." In this discussion of race in America, I will pull no punches.

One of the main talking points (but definitely not the only one) in the Trayvon Martin shooting, and in the eventual arrest of his killer, George Zimmerman, has been race. Did race play a role in Zimmerman's actions that day? Was Zimmerman unfairly judging Martin based on his skin color?  If Martin was of another racial/ethnic group, would the same things have happened? 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Using Social Psychology to Stay Healthy

Imagine the following scenario. You learn that a family member has been diagnosed with an illness. This illness has a genetic basis and as such, you could be at risk for it as well. There is, however, a screening for the genetic marker, and you can find out whether you are likely to develop this illness. Do you complete the screening or do avoid it?

Though few of us will face this specific scenario, many of us will face something similar. Heart disease runs in many families, as do certain forms of cancer, thyroid problems, etc. If your sibling or a grandparent suffered from one of these, would you get screened as well? What about common illnesses? Again, heart disease is among the top killers worldwide. Have you ever had your heart checked out?

Health screening is an important part of disease prevention and control. Agencies, such as The American Cancer Society or The American Heart Association provide clear guidelines for who should get screened, and when. Doctors are well aware of these guidelines and encourage patients to get screened. Early detection can often prevent or slow the course of a disease. Nevertheless, many people ignore screening recommendations. WHY?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Call Me Crazy: The Subtle Power of Gaslighting

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over, but had me believing it was always something that I'd done, sings Kimbra in Gotye's "Somebody that I used to know." In psychology, this phenomenon is called "gaslighting," a term that has its origins in a 1938 play (and a 1940 film) called Gas Light, where a man leads his wife to believe that she is insane in order to steal from her. When she notices strange events, such as the gas light dimming that occurs when he turns on the lights in the attic to search for her collection of jewels, he tells her it's just her imagination. His goal is to remove her credibility so that her complaints can be attributed to her psychosis, rather than to his misdeeds. Gaslighting is now used to refer to any attempt to make another person doubt their sense of reality.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rue and Racism: Intergroup dynamics and the Hunger Games

 Today we have the second installment of awesome guest blogger Maya Kuehn's posts on the psychology behind the Hunger Games. Check out the first installment here.

In the original, written version of The Hunger Games, it’s made fairly clear that both Rue and her fellow District 11 tribute, Thresh, are African American. Yet when faced with their ethnicity on the movie screen, many people have expressed great disappointment (to state it delicately) over these tragic characters not being White. But why?

Well, it turns out that empathy across group boundaries is a complicated matter. Although part of the glue holding society together is a desire to reduce the suffering of others, and though we’re quick to empathize with and help members of our own groups, this dynamic can go haywire when it must extend to members of different groups (Cikara, Bruneau, & Saxe, 2011).

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mind Games: The Psychology of the Hunger Games

Guest blogger Maya Kuehn is back with a two-part post on the psychology of the Hunger Games. So sit back and enjoy another round of “at the movies with a psychologist.”

Watching The Hunger Games come to life on screen (at, full disclosure, a midnight show), I found that actually witnessing the slaughter of several teenagers was more gut-wrenchingly graphic than it had seemed in the books. So when (PYM blogger and fellow social psychologist) Amie asked me whether the movie was gruesome, I had to admit it was. But because I can’t resist translating my bizarrely specific psychological know-how to daily advice, I encouraged her to use her favorite emotion regulation strategy while viewing the more horrifying scenes. Just what does this mean, and what other aspects of The Hunger Games could social psychology address? Allow me to elaborate. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Fun: It's all an illusion

As our eyes glance over the world around us we are able to quickly grasp a 3-D image of our environment. But can we always trust what we see? Just as we have mental shortcuts, we also have visual shortcuts that help us quickly take in the world around us. Sometimes though, those shortcuts can lead us astray. And when they do, its entertaining. So for today's Friday Fun, I thought I'd share a few of the more famous visual illusions that I learned about in my Sensation and Perception class. Try them for yourselves and see if you fall prey to your visual system!

Young Girl-Old Woman
Do you see an old woman or a young lady? 
Can you switch back and forth between them? 
Hint - the young woman's nose is the old woman's eye. The young woman's jaw is the old woman's nose.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How to survive a break-up: Give yourself a break

There is no shortage of advice on how to recover from a bad break-up: keep busy, don't contact your ex, go out with friends, make a break-up mix (preferably one that includes "I will survive"), etc. But according to a new study, something important is missing from this list.

In the study, led by David Sbarra and published in Psychological Science, participants who had recently separated from their spouses were recorded talking for four minutes in a stream-of-consciousness format about the separation. Then four judges rated the extent to which these statements included evidence of self-compassionwhich involves treating yourself with kindness and understanding rather than beating yourself up when things go wrong.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Genes and the Power of the Situation

Today on PYM, I thought it would be a good idea to reach back into our archives to find a post on the Nature v. Nurture debate. In this post, I considered how the situation in which you were raised determines how much your genes influence your intelligence.

Do you know this man? (source)

Most people don't know Kurt Lewin, and I think that is a travesty of epic proportions. In the ivory tower of the academy (where most researchers live), he is considered to be the father of modern social psychology. His theories inspired the classic research of the last century, and his principles of social psychology still govern the way researchers design experiments today.