Saturday, January 25, 2014

I Went Open Access: The Story So Far

This past week, one of my graduate students and I published a paper at PLoS ONE, a leading open access journal (if you are interested in politics and economic inequality, I suggest you head over and check it out here). I'm not the first researcher (or psychologist) to use PLoS ONE as an outlet for my work, but it's still a relatively new place for social/personality psychologists to publish their findings. Because of the "newness" of this whole venture, I thought it might be nice to tell you a bit about my experience, so far.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mo Money, Mo Problems? Affluenza Doesn't Exist

Affluenza? Doesn't exist! (source)
"I don't know what they want from me,
It's like the more money we come across,
The more problems we see."
--The Notorious BIG

Some people think that the rich live hard knock lives-- I was first made aware of this hypothesis by these lyrics written by the '90s hip hop icon the Notorious BIG. Admittedly, I haven't given much thought to this idea all the way up until last December. It was at that time that a teenage drunk driver caused an accident, leaving four people dead. A judge sentenced the teenage boy to 10 years probation and therapy. The judge was lenient, in part, based on the defense's claims that the boy was afflicted with a rare illness known as affluenza, which, according to the LA Times is "a syndrome that keeps someone from a wealthy background from learning that bad behavior has consequences."

It seems the news media has caught the affluenza bug in the weeks since this story ran: Just this week I came across an article about affluenza in that paragon of journalistic integrity, the Huffington Post. The article reads "Though often used in jest, the term (affluenza) may have more truth than many of us might think." It appears that some journalists are taking the term seriously (oh and hooray, I'm QUOTED in the friggin' article). The same day this article appeared online I was asked to participate in an internet discussion about... affluenza (I declined).

I wrote this blog post today, under a blanket shielding me from the polar vortex outside, to make one small point: NO NO NO NO NO!!!! Stop It!!! Affluenza does not exist!!! EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The psychology within the biggest news of 2013

As we ring in the new year, every major news outlet is publishing their “top” lists of 2013: the top movies, the top tweets, the top sports moments, the top medical breakthroughs, the top business blunders - the lists go on and on. To add a bit of psychology to this “top” list trend, in this post, I take the three top news stories of 2013 as chosen by’s readers and highlight what psychological research can contribute to each of them.

1. New pope. When the 266th pope of the Catholic Church was elected this year, many praised him for his commitment to interfaith dialogue. His support of cross-religious interactions underscores his belief that communication between members of different groups can help to reduce prejudice and conflict. Seeking to heal rifts among people due to religious differences or prior conflicts, the pope himself has sought out personal relationships with many religious leaders across the globe. He hopes that by encouraging his followers to establish similar interfaith relationships, current tensions can be quelled and prejudice alleviated.

Research on the intergroup contact hypothesis tells us that the pope’s strategy is likely a good one. The basic prediction of the hypothesis is that contact between people of different groups will usually reduce prejudice. Forming relationships with members of another group can help people learn more about a group, experience less anxiety about interacting with the group, and feel more empathy for that group. All three of these outcomes can then diminish prejudice. Some research has even shown that merely having a friend who interacts with someone from another group can reduce prejudice (the extended contact hypothesis). While it’s not always the case that intergroup contact yields less prejudice, the pope does seem to be taking the right approach for prejudice reduction by continuing to support interfaith dialogue.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Why Do We Blame Victims?

Two months ago Jonathan Martin, a football player on the Miami Dolphins, left the team due to mistreatment from teammates, which included receiving threatening phone messages from another player. The incident raised concerns about hazing within the NFL, but it also prompted some to suggest that Martin himself bears at least partial responsibility for his fate. For example, another NFL player stated in an interview that Martin is "just as much to blame because he allowed it to happen" and should have behaved like a man. Others argued that Martin was oversensitive and made himself an easy target. 
This sort of victim blaming is not unique to bullying cases. It can be seen when rape victims' sexual histories are dissected, when people living in poverty are viewed as lazy and unmotivated, when those suffering from mental or physical illness are presumed to have invited disease through their own bad choices. There are cases where victims may indeed hold some responsibility for their misfortunate, but all too often this responsibility is overblown and other factors are discounted. Why are we so eager to blame victims, even when we have seemingly nothing to gain?