Monday, August 25, 2014

Does Power Help or Hurt Perspective-Taking?

First comes love, then comes the realization that we are navigating life’s journey with another person who may have different thoughts, feelings, and beliefs than us. How do we deal with having differing viewpoints from our romantic partners? Perspective-taking is a fundamental social skill that helps us smoothly steer through the many bumps in the road, from picking out a thoughtful anniversary gift to helping us reach a compromise on a contentious issue. When people are able to consider their partner’s point of view, both they and their partners report being more satisfied with their relationship (Long, 1990). Although this basic skill is fundamental and beneficial, not everyone is good at perspective-taking, particularly in their romantic relationships (Kenny & Acitelli, 2001). So who is good at perspective-taking and who is lacking? To answer this question, I turned to the research on power. I was curious to find out whether feeling powerful in a romantic relationship might lead people to be better, or worse, perspective-takers.

Power is potent, affecting how people think, feel, and interact with others. Although thinking about powerful people might bring to mind the caricature of a power-hungry CEO, the reality is that power is not just in the workplace, it is part of all of our relationships, shaping how we interact with our parents, friends, and romantic partners. So how exactly does it shape our relationships? Or, in our case, our ability to step into our partner’s shoes? Well, the old adage, “power corrupts,” suggests that powerful people should be selfish, caring only about getting their own way and paying little attention to what their romantic partners are thinking and feeling. And there is research to support this – people are less likely to take strangers’ perspectives when they feel powerful (Galinsky et al., 2006) and in families, powerful members are less likely to perspective take (Barber, 1984). But on the other hand, for romantic relationships to survive, people can’t just be selfish—they have to think about what is best for the relationship, which means considering their partner’s point of view. Power helps people focus on and pursue their goals (Guinote, 2007), so perhaps power might actually help people become better perspective-takers in romantic relationships because it focuses them on maintaining their relationship?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Big Theory

"Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful." --George Box*

I need to be honest with you, I'm not all that good at generating novel ideas: Some of my most well-cited papers involve theories that sociologists came up with decades ago; Reviewers frequently accuse me of running post-hoc analyses (asking the data for ideas, rather than generating apriori predictions); When media cover my research, the most common initial comment is something like: "This is so obvious....blah, suck." You get the idea. 

I don't view this particular characteristic of my research as a flaw. Rather, I'm acknowledging that not all scientists can be ground-breaking theorists/game changers: Some people come up with great ideas and some people test them. For the most part, I test theories and I do it in (what I hope are) convincing ways. Given this characteristic of my research, you might be surprised then, to learn that I love theory!** 

You read that right.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Psychological Barriers in Economic Inequality Reduction

Today I wrote a blog for New Left Project on psychology research examining perceptions of, and responses to, economic inequality. The post features cutting-edge research by prominent social psychologists Mike Norton and Dan Ariely, as well as research from my own laboratory at the University of Illinois. An excerpt:

"The United States is one of the most unequal and rigidly stratified societies in the industrialised world.  In the wake of the Great Recession, it has become increasingly clear that success in America flows to the wealthy and the well-connected.  Why do these inequities persist in the face of steady unemployment, abject poverty and rising homelessness? 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Psychology at the (Home) Movies: HBO’s The Wire

Although I’m more than a decade late to the party, a recent fortunate prime membership has gifted me with access to HBO’s acclaimed series the Wire. For the last two months I’ve been watching the show weekly, digesting its contents in small consistent doses. My background as a middle class ivory tower academic makes the Wire foreign territory to me—I don’t have much personal experience with drug culture, or poverty, or oppression, or Baltimore (the primary city in the story) for that matter. Nevertheless, there were many themes in the TV series that align well with contemporary research in the social sciences. With an eye towards these themes, I bring you a look into HBO’s the Wire by linking it to our current understanding of basic psychology. As with any piece of film-making, the nuance and detail will not be completely captured in this post, and I welcome comments here or on twitter (@mwkraus). Also, SPOILERS!