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?