Friday, December 6, 2013

The Regifting Dilemma


source
It’s the first week of December, and we’re back in another holiday gift-giving season! For a psychologist, this is an especially fun time of year because it seems like people are all trying to get inside each other’s heads. As gift-givers, we do our best to predict what others will like and appreciate the most. Maybe we purchase the latest trends or use our own talents to create a special gift for our loved ones. Sometimes the perfect match is even sitting right in our closet - a gift initially given to us by someone else. If you run into this situation, is it okay to regift?

I’m sure you’ve heard this debate before and what the etiquette experts say: usually a range from a flat-out “no” to “only in rare circumstances.” They claim the original gift-giver would feel disrespected if he or she knew, as effort and money were put into the purchase and the intention was not for the gift to go to another person. Note that this line of reasoning about regifting relies on an assumption about how other people might feel if they were involved in regifting. According to the experts, we shouldn’t regift because the original gift-giver might be hurt. But is this actually the case – are people really offended when someone regifts their gift?

Friday, November 29, 2013

I'm Thankful For Female Role Models in Psychological Science

Zoe! Science!
My brain may still be in a fog from all the food I ate yesterday, but that isn't going to stop me from being thankful. I'm thankful for a great many things in my life: My family, my health, and my job are three things that first come to mind. I am especially thankful for my daughter Zoe, who just turned 8 months old last week, and is, pretty much, the best baby in all the universe (admittedly, I haven't been EVERYWHERE in the universe, but I think it's at least a fair hypothesis with some empirical support). When I think about Zoe growing up, I wonder about the kind of person she is going to be and the things she is going to be interested in doing for her life. Along with these thoughts, I worry about whether Zoe's interests will conflict with what the world around her says about what she can or cannot do. If she wants to go into science, for instance, will there be people or institutions telling her that science simply isn't a thing that "people like her" are interested in? Thinking about this must be raising my blood pressure.

You're an intelligent bunch, PYM readers, so I don't need to review all the details, but when women pursue science careers they face barriers that men do not. These barriers include norms and expectations that socialize men and women to think that a science career is only compatible with the male gender, unwanted sexual advances from superiors (typically men) who make the science environment a hostile workplace (here), and direct and indirect discriminatory practices that make it more difficult for women to succeed in a science career (here for an example, and here behind a paywall).

And yet, despite these significant obstacles, women still pursue science careers and excel! Today, I would like to give thanks to my female role models in psychological science. These are female scientists who have shaped my research career and through their own path-breaking work, have made science more accessible to women everywhere!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Look Everyone: A Social Priming Finding with Direct Replications!

If you visit this blog occasionally (or follow me on twitter, because of course!) then you know that social psychology has come under criticism recently for its lack of integrity in research methods and the complete absence of exact replication. The criticism has been strongest with respect to a subfield in social psychology known as social priming. Social priming refers to a now classic psychological phenomenon where the activation of one social concept in memory can elicit changes in behavior, physiology, or self-reports of a related social concept without conscious awareness. Social priming has been used to explain why reading words related to elderly concepts (e.g., Florida, retire) can lead you to walk slower (although, this particular social priming finding does not replicate across different laboratories).

The criticism about social priming stems from (a) a growing number of high profile replication attempts of classic findings that failed, (b) the steady stream of fanciful/unbelievable social priming effects that appear in glamour psychology journals (e.g., messyrooms make people more creative), and (c) the inappropriate reactions of prominent social priming researchers to this scrutiny (e.g., criticizing the scientific integrity of replication attempts and the journals that publish those attempts). It’s been like watching a car wreck in super slow motion!

Friday, November 1, 2013

What Your Resistance to Halloween Candy Predicts About Your Life


Tempting Halloween candy
Thanks to yesterday’s festivities, both kids and adults have a few more sweet treats on hand than normal. With a big bowl of candy sitting at home on the kitchen table or stashed in a desk drawer, many of us now face the annual challenge of eating our Halloween candy in moderation. Some of us will succeed; others won’t. We face situations like this constantly in life, where we are tasked with resisting temptations and overriding our impulses.  What might our responses to these situations reveal about the rest of our lives? Are we happy? Are we satisfied? To approach this question, let’s imagine a couple of eight-year olds and their new stashes of Halloween candy. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Art of Constructive Self-Criticism


When we fail at something important to us, whether in relationships, at school, or at work, it can be very painful. These experiences can threaten the very core of who we think we are and who we want to be.
To cope with failure, we often turn to self-protective strategies. We rationalize what happened so that it places us in a more positive light, we blame other people, and we discount the importance of the event. These strategies may make us feel better about ourselves in the short term, but they are less likely to help us improve or avoid repeating our mistakes in the future. Research shows that people who have an overly inflated view of their performance on an academic task show decrements in subsequent motivation and performance, compared to people who view themselves more realistically. It makes sense: if you already think you're great, it may feel like there's no need to put the effort into improving yourself.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Six Guidelines For Interesting Research: The Remix

I may get back pain every now and then when I lift my daughter up off the ground, but I am still relatively early in my career as a social psychologist. And being young, I am always on the lookout for ways to improve my writing and scholarship. This pursuit is great for me, because as my research improves, I conduct better science and help the world understand itself more completely. It's also great for you here at PYM, because if I learn something useful I like to pay it forward to you, the reader!

Anyway, I was lucky enough to read the paper Six Guidelines for Interesting Research over the summer. It's a sure classic written by Kurt Gray--rising star in psychological science and Professor at UNC--and the late Dan Wegner--one of the leaders of modern social psychology. I love this paper because it really got me thinking about what makes interesting research. And though I don't agree with all the points raised by Gray and Wegner, I think the underlying message--be interesting--is one that researchers can sometimes forget. Let's get to my amendments:

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Science of Touch and Emotion

Today we have a guest post by a blogger for the Berkeley Science Review on the science of touch and emotion. BSR will be hosting an event about touch on October 27th. For more info, go to the bottom of this post.

Source
If someone told you it was possible to communicate gratitude to a complete stranger with a two second touch, would you believe it? Although the power of speech allows us to imbibe great subtlety and complexity in our messages, psychological researchers have demonstrated that something as complex as gratitude or sympathy can be communicated with a simple touch.

In social species, prosocial emotions are those that promote the well-being of the group. By engaging in acts of trust and cooperation, social groups survive. Parents and offspring form attachments, and individuals act in mutually beneficial, altruistic ways to sow trust between one another. A growing number of studies on touch and emotion reveal our deep-seated need for human contact and warmth. Touch may be the key for communicating prosocial emotions, and for promoting group cohesion and survival.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Learning Tip from Dancers

source
If you watch any of the numerous dance shows on TV, such as Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, or even Dance Moms, you know that dancing at the elite level requires a lot more than strong muscles, a flexible body, and fierce determination. Professional dancers are smart. Not only are their bodies working at a high level, but their minds are as well. When performing, dancers are juggling numerous thoughts as they strive to execute each movement as precisely as possible. “Point my feet, lengthen my neck, drop my shoulders, SMILE!” Somehow, dancers must get their bodies to perform all of these movements with specific qualities, all the while making the dance appear both physically and mentally effortless. As someone who has danced my whole life, I often joke that dance is the only kind of physical exercise I enjoy because dancing well means I don’t have any mental resources left to realize I’m exhausted!

In addition to all the mental effort required of dancers onstage, there is a whole lot of it needed behind the scenes as well. In both rehearsals for performances and in classes honing one’s technique, choreography has to be committed to memory. At the elite level, choreography is taught quickly and in large amounts. Dancers have to be attentive and skilled at learning lots of information in a short amount of time and then putting that information to use immediately. Not only do they need to remember the movements themselves – where each part of the body should be - but they also need to memorize the timing of the movement and the quality with which it should be done. Because so many elements need to be encoded for each moment of a dance routine, learning choreography requires that dancers be completely present mentally.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

SWAG: My favorite reason to "Just Post It!"

Every Wednesday Thursday afternoon, I gather with a bunch of faculty and graduate students at the University of Illinois to discuss a journal article about social psychology, and to eat a snack. This blog post reflects the discussion we had during this week's seminar affectionately called Social Wednesdays Thursdays and Grub (SWTAG)--we're going STAG now!

In last week's journal club we read about a recent paper in Psychological Science with a very clear message: It should be the norm for researchers to post their data upon publication. In the article, the author (Uri Simonsohn) lays out the major reason why he thinks posting data is a good idea: It helps our field catch scientific fraud in action (e.g., fabricated data). Simonsohn details some methods he has used in the past to catch fraud in the paper and on his new blog over at datacolada.org (I'll have mine blended!).

I agree that posting data will make it harder for people to fabricate data. However, my favorite reason to increase norms for posting data has nothing to do with data fabrication.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Single Factor Model for Success in Graduate School

Graduate School: The Playground of the Mind
If you've come to the internet more than once, then you know that blogs often discuss the difficulties of coming out of graduate school with a tenure track faculty appointment in psychology or other fields (here and here). For those of you out there considering a research career at a major university--keep in mind that it's not for everyone. PYM has also tried its hand at one or two lists of traits needed to succeed in graduate school. These lists have been inspired by others. Together, success lists make it seem like graduate success is a product of a number of personality factors and situational variables that people have very little control over.

But, what if I told you that success in graduate school is much simpler than considering all these complex person X situation interactions? What if whether you sink or swim is really just about one key ingredient? Today I present a single factor model for success in graduate school!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How Your Social Life Affects Your Self-Regulation


source
Part of being human is the desire to control or change what we do, what we feel, and what we think. We all struggle with tasks of self-regulation, like cooking more nutritious food, limiting our emotional outbursts, and paying attention in class. I’m sure you can find countless reasons on the internet and within the self-help literature to explain why you’re not so good at regulating your behaviors, emotions, and cognitions. Maybe you didn’t learn how to control your actions well in childhood or perhaps you don’t have as much willpower as other people. One influence you may not have considered, though, is your social environment. Do you have friends you can confide in? Do you feel accepted by your peers? Believe it or not, our social surroundings can have a strong impact on our ability to self-regulate. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

How is your sleep affecting your relationship?

For the first few years of college, I maintained the typical college-student sleep schedule: in bed between 2am and 3am, dragging myself up at 9am for my 9:30am lecture which I inevitably slept through (in the front row… what was I thinking?!?). Chronically sleep-deprived, I would rather be spending time with my new friends and boyfriend than catching those precious zzz’s. Many of those nights made for wonderful memories, but other times I’d find myself inexplicably upset over some small issue, picking fights with my boyfriend (now husband) in the wee hours of the night. “You’re tired, go to bed” my wise boyfriend would tell me. “No I’m not! This is a real issue!” sleepy me would argue back, frustrated at his disregard, not understanding why he didn’t get what I was feeling.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I will publicly state that my husband was right – 99% of the time I was just tired and a good night of sleep made all of my problems go away. Happily, I eventually learned the benefits of getting my requisite 9 hours of sleep, and rarely find myself picking fights in the middle of the night. And now, 10 years later, I’m putting this anecdote to the test – conducting research to answer the question of whether we might, at times, find ourselves in conflict simply because one of us is tired.

Poor Sleep: A route to unnecessary conflict?

Conflict is an important, inevitable, and healthy component of relationships. Romantic partners who are sharing their lives together are expectedly going to have times of disagreement. In fact, being able to express differences of opinion and find compromise may very well be the hallmark of a healthy relationship. However, conflict is not always helpful and even at its best, is generally unpleasant. Minimizing unnecessary squabbles is vital for the longevity of relationships. And here is where I think sleep comes in. People who are sleep deprived tend to experience more negative emotions (see this post for more on sleep and mood), are more reactive to negative events, and are worse at problem solving. A recipe for disaster – whereas someone who is well-rested might be able to clarify when they think they’ve been criticized, or simply shrug off a sink of dirty dishes, someone who is sleep-deprived is more likely to be a ticking time bomb, possibly reacting automatically without the capacity to stop and think it through.

In our research, we examined the link between sleep and conflict, testing three main questions:

After sleeping poorly…
1.       Are people more likely to report experiencing conflict with their relationship partners?
2.       Is their conflict more severe?
3.       Are they less able to resolve conflict?

The short answer is Yes. A bad night of sleep is associated with more frequent, severe and less resolved conflict between relationship partners. But read on for the longer explanation…

Sunday, August 25, 2013

From the Archives: This is NOT Advice about the Academic Job Search

It is job season again for academic psychologists everywhere! In that spirit, I thought it might be a good idea to re-post this piece on my experience searching for an academic job. Enjoy!

The annual job season always brings back my own memories of the two job searches I've attempted (one successful). I remember the anxiety a lot, the feeling that there may not actually be a job out there for you (this is a common concern). Then there is also the feeling that you may not, in fact, be as awesome as you thought you were. It's classic self-discrepancy theory as the ideal you (I'm a good researcher) comes into contact with the actual you (I'm not getting a job), and you are predictably left with a sense of dejection/depression (Higgins, 1999).

Now that I have a job as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois (And this year YOU CAN TOO!), many more people have been coming to me for academic career advice, and the lion's share of these career questions have to do with the academic job search. Questions like: How many jobs did you apply for? What did your research statement look like? What was the interview like? Were people hostile during the job talk? These are all great questions, and I think that when most people ask them they are looking for advice from me.

Let me be the first to disappoint you in that regard: I have no advice for successfully navigating the academic job market. Sure, I was successful in my second attempt at finding an academic job, but I couldn't tell you why that happened, or whether what I did would work for anyone but me in my unique circumstances. So, this is NOT an advice column. Instead, my hope is to shed some light on what the academic job search was like for me. In the immortal words of one G. I. Joe, "Knowing is half the battle."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

External Validity and Believability in Experiments

Imagine for a moment that you are an experiment participant in a dystopian future university thirty years from now. At birth, you were taken from your natural parents and assigned to two robotic parental unit alternatives. The first unit is cold and metal, it has a big frowny face, and all it's good for is dispensing the occasional hot meal through it's midriff. The second unit provides no food, but this unit is fashioned with a luxurious coat of fine fur that feels warm to the touch.

Months pass as you are raised by these two robotic parental units. As you descend further and further into madness, every move you make is video recorded by a pair of enterprising future psychologists who are seeking an answer to one question: Will you spend more time with the cold, metal, food-dispensing robot or the furry one? Surprisingly, though the metal robot fulfills your metabolic needs, the researchers are fascinated to find that you spend most of your time with the furry mother surrogate.

What do results from an experiment such as this (famously conducted by Harry Harlow on monkey's in the 1950's) tells us about the nature of social relationships, love, and survival? Do they tell us anything about the human/monkey experience? Or are the conditions of the experiment so artificial in nature, that they obscure our ability to draw insights about basic psychology? I consider these questions in today's post.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Psych-Your-Mind: Now (Facebook) Official!

wikipedia.org
Hello everyone! As many of you know, our blog has been plugging along for two years now. We've discussed all manner of psychology-related issues--from ESP to gaslighting, and everything in between. Most of you have arrived here because you know one of the bloggers at PYM, you love psychological SCIENCE, or you're my mom (Hi Mom!). Some may have even found their way here through our various social media posts on twitter (mwkraus, psychyourmind) or even on google+ (which is looking more like a wasteland of social media).

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Psychology of the "Psychology Isn't a Science" Argument

Tom knows a pseudoscience when he sees one! (wikipedia.org)
Every so often the internet is set ablaze with opinion pieces on a familiar question: Are "soft" sciences, like psychology, actually science? Most of the time the argument against psychology as a science comes from people from the so-called harder sciences (you know, people who don't know ish about psychology). Of course, every once in a while we throw ourselves under the bus by declaring that for our softer sciences to be taken seriously, we must be more like the real sciences. You're still reading this so most likely you are interested in my opinion on this topic. With a quick nod to others who have covered this topic herehere, here, and here, let's review some of the arguments for and against psychology as a science in what follows.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Why "Never Give Up" is a Bad Motto


source
“Never give up” has become one of the most popular pieces of advice in Western culture. It’s not popular with me, though. I do agree that persistence in the face of obstacles is necessary, important, and admirable. Many worthwhile goals require serious commitment and perseverance in order to achieve them. The problem with this advice is that at some point in our lives, we all have goals that are unattainable, and this is where “never give up” falls short. When faced with an unattainable goal, giving up and trying something else might be a better course of action than continuing to try again and again. We have a precious, limited amount of time, energy, and other resources, and there may be times when these are better directed at a new goal. 

In psychology, we refer to “giving up” as disengagement and to “trying something else” as reengagement. When a goal is unattainable, some of us have stronger tendencies than others to disengage and then reengage. It’s easy to think of people who have a tendency to give up as being weak or depressed. However, research shows that is not the case! When goals are unattainable, the tendencies to disengage and then reengage are actually associated with higher subjective well-being. Let’s take a look.

Monday, July 22, 2013

You Are Not a Bridezilla

The word "bridezilla" was reportedly first used in the mid-1990s to refer to the bride-to-be who turned into a monster while planning her wedding, throwing tantrums when she didn't get her way and making ridiculous demands on her friends and family. But in recent years the derogatory term, a reference to a fictional giant mutant dinosaur-like creature who went on crazed killing sprees (i.e., Godzilla), has almost become synonymous with "bride," encompassing behaviors that are almost impossible to avoid.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

When The Green-Eyed Monster Strikes: The Best Antidotes to Envy

Life is full of reminders of what we lack, usually in the form of other people. There is always someone who is more successful, more talented, more attractive, or more advanced in meeting important "milestones" than we are. We encounter these people every day--in fact, they are often our friends, family members, and colleagues. Sometimes these encounters can leave us with a bitter taste in our mouths, or a green glow in our eyes, that familiar sting of envy. Defined as a state of desiring something that someone else possesses, envy is a vicious emotion that can crush self-esteem, inspire efforts to undermine others' successes, or even cause people to lash out violently. It also just feels horrible. So what can we do to disarm the green-eyed monster when it strikes?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ampelmann: A traffic sign turned cult figure



source
During the past month, I have been living in Germany and conducting research at the University of Hamburg. It has been an amazing opportunity! I visited Berlin last weekend and came across a pretty unique phenomenon: a city-wide obsession with a traffic sign! It seemed like everywhere I went, I saw stores dedicated to selling merchandise featuring the “Ampelmann” (translated as “traffic light man” in German) and restaurants selling food in the shape of the Ampelmann. Berliners love him, and even celebrities like Dennis Quaid have been spotted rocking Ampelmann t-shirts. How do you get a traffic signal to become a cult figure? You ask a psychologist to design it, of course! Though the Ampelmann wasn’t intended to be such a beloved and popular symbol of Berlin, its story is a fun look at how psychology is behind even the simplest and most mundane aspects of life.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Trouble with Destiny: Relationships Take Work

Do you believe in Soul Mates?
If I could give one piece of advice as a relationships researcher, it would be this: Relationships take work. Sure we’d all like to believe in destiny, thinking there is someone out there who is meant for us. Then when we find our soul mate, we will slip into an easy and comfortable companionship that provides us with decades of endless laughter and joy, and not a single fight or tense moment. But that is the stuff of dreams, people. Of course there will be times of joy greater than you imagined and laughter that brings you to tears, and those moments should far outweigh the fights and tension. But to believe that you are destined to be with one person and when you find the right relationship for you, it will be one that doesn’t take work, well that belief may be detrimental for your relationship.

In a great test of what happens when people believe they are "meant to be", close relationships researcher C. Raymond Knee looked at the extent to which people held Destiny Beliefs or Growth Beliefs, and the consequences of these beliefs for their relationships.


Destiny Beliefs. People who hold high destiny beliefs report that potential relationship partners are either compatible or they are not, that successful relationships are built on finding a compatible partner, and that relationships that begin poorly will inevitably fail.

Growth Beliefs. People who hold high growth beliefs report that the ideal relationship develops over time, that challenges to a relationship can make it even stronger, and that successful relationships are mostly the result of hard work and learning to resolve incompatibilities.

Monday, July 1, 2013

What Grinds My Gears? Media Coverage of Emotion Research

What's in a facial expression of emotion? (source)
Last week Boston Magazine published an article (here) claiming a "new theory" of emotion. The article then challenged the idea that emotions are signaled and perceived universally through unique facial expressions (like we've discussed here). The article purports to be a take-down of famous emotion researcher Paul Ekman*--whose work has been popularized on such television shows as Lie to Me. Here is why I hated this article:

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Great Social Ladder of Our Lives

Last week I was on vacation in my hometown of Poway, CA. It's a little suburb outside of San Diego that boasts of being "The City in the Country" (basically that means we have both Starbucks and rodeo!). Whenever I go home, I see my family and I tend to fall into many of the same activities I did when I was in high school--mostly that involves eating Mexican food from the various eateries around the city (Cotijas, Albertos, Aibertos, Robertos, El Robertos, you get the idea). When I'm in Poway I think a lot about high school. One of the main aspects of high school--as we know from careful analyses of movies like the Breakfast Club and Mean Girls--is social status. That is, who is at the top of the social ladder, and how can we either be friends with those people, or if we aren't high status, how can we avoid the wrath of those at the top of the pecking order? I think my first interest in research on social hierarchy started in high school.

The truth is that social hierarchy isn't just confined to the high school cafeteria, but is instead a large part of our everyday social lives. Status hierarchies can be about workplace power, respect among peers, or stereotypes ascribed to us by virtue of our membership in a social category (e.g., gender and race). I believe that one of the, often overlooked, bases of status is social class--the money we make, education we obtain, and the job prestige we garner. Social class is the great social ladder that ranks us in society.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Guest Post: Combating Weight Stigma


Today's guest post comes from Aubrey Toole, a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley who will begin a doctoral program in clinical psychology at Emory University in the Fall. 

I am willing to bet that most of you reading this don’t go a typical day without hearing a weight-related comment or conversation, or seeing body weight-related advertisements or media messages. It seems like I hear about another celebrity weight loss ‘success’ story or weight gain ‘fiasco’ every time I turn on the TV. Standing in line at the drug store means being surrounded by a smattering of tabloids fraught with photos of celebrity cellulite. And even on facebook, it’s hard to avoid sneaky before and after photos of some new miracle diet appearing out of the corner of my eye.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Quality v. Quantity in Publication

Einstein says Quality not Quantity (source)
I was on twitter the other day (mwkraus, why aren't you following me?) and my twitter feed displayed a great quote from Albert Einstein with some important career advice for aspiring scientists: He said something like "a career in which one is forced to produce scientific writings in great amounts creates a danger of intellectual superficiality." This quote got me wondering about the career trajectories of aspiring social psychologists, and the tension between wanting to publish as much as possible, and wanting to publish only the very best research. I consider this tension in today's blog.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Psychology At the Movies: Essentialist Musings in Man of Steel

www.imdb.com
Yesterday, my spouse and I dropped our newborn daughter off with Grandma and then popped over to the local theater to see this summer's much anticipated comic-book blockbuster Man of Steel. By any standard, Man of Steel is exceptionally light when it comes to philosophical musings: The plot is predictably linear--good guys fight bad guys who are trying to kill them. At first glance, it may seem like a stretch to write an entire blog entry (for a psychology blog) about the film, given this simple plot design. But, in between the explosions--and there were MANY explosions--the bad guys turned out to be motivated by some very simple psychological principles. Spoilers Ahead!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Daddy Chronicles II: Parenting Boosts Immune Function

I've been doing this whole parenting thing for almost three months now and it has been simultaneously gratifying, terrifying, exhausting, and fascinating. One thing I haven't been doing is sleeping, and because of this I have had a lot of time to read up on some neat research on new parents. Last time I wrote about how parenting reduces Testosterone in men. Today I blog about the relationship between parenting and immune function.

Can parenting boost the immune system?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

This is NOT advice for first year faculty

Hello again, PYM readers. It is now June and I just finished my first full academic year as a faculty member at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Chambana). Having just passed through the rabbit hole, I have returned mostly unscathed to blog a bit about my experience. As this is just my first year, I don't have any advice that will help others who are transitioning to professor-hood, rather, this post reflects some of the things that I think people (like me) deal with during their transition to a new faculty job. Onward!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Four (Wrong) Ways To Interpret Links Between Genes and Education

Last week Science published a neat little paper examining links between specific human DNA sequences and educational attainment. The paper, which is a bit shorter than the list of authors who worked on the project, examined a total sample of more than 120,000 participants who had their entire genome sequenced for a number of small clusters of repeating nucleotides (single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs). They then examined all the SNPs and their associations with the level of educational attainment of each of the participants in the sample. After controlling for bias, in that a genome wide study performs thousands of significance tests, three SNPs emerged as significant predictors of educational attainment.

I find this study very interesting because there are a number of provocative ways to interpret the results of this study, and most of those would be incorrect! In what follows, I highlight four (wrong) ways to interpret the results of this study.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sunscreen slows wrinkles: Will this evidence increase the use of sunscreen?

source
This week, new research was released suggesting that sunscreen not only reduces the risk for skin cancer, but that it also slows skin aging. In this study, people who were told to use sunscreen daily had fewer lines and less coarse skin after four years than those who used it as they normally would. I’ve seen this study all over the news (here, here, and here)! Though doctors say they have long been telling patients that sunscreen protects against skin aging, they are now excited to have solid evidence to support their claims and are hopeful this will encourage people to use sunscreen more often.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Why So Serious?* An Insider’s Guide to the Study of Smiling and Dominance

The toughest grad students at the University of Illinois
(J. Hepler & N. Segal)
Over the years, one of my favorite things to hear about in research is the initial personal events that inspired researchers to conduct their investigations into human behavior (e.g., Did your neglectful mother lead you to a study of anxious attachment?). In today’s blog post I would like to talk about the inspiration for a study I conducted last year, with my my colleague David Chen, examining what happens when a professional mixed martial artist smiles before a fight with his opponent.

When I think back to the initial kernel of inspiration for this study, two events stick out in my mind—one concerning myself and a near physical confrontation, and the other concerning a professional fighter facing perhaps the most dangerous martial artist of his generation.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Searching for happiness: What makes life meaningful?

Recently I’ve been contemplating giving up on the modern world and moving to a cabin in the woods. I mean – what is with all of this technology, the 50+ hour work week, and guilt over the simple pleasures like spending time with friends and family on the weekends? Maybe I would be able to feel happier and more fulfilled if I turned my back on the world of today and instead started living a simple life. After all, despite the fact that technology has made our lives easier over the past century, people do not report being happier than they were before smart phones, computers, and the internet.

Picture it – a cabin in the woods next to a gurgling river, a garden out back with beautiful flowers and delicious produce, a feeling of being close to nature, like my ancestors. More time for important social interactions, which are really at the heart of a meaningful life. No more random interneting or hours spent ignoring my husband in favor of my smart phone. Instead I’ll spend my days doing meaningful things, going to bed with the setting sun and sleeping as much as I need. Really, imagine it. Don’t you all want to come and join me in the woods?

But would I really be happier if I gave up modern conventions and moved to an isolated cabin? Up until a few hours ago, I really thought that might be the solution. But then I read an article by a 26 year-old, Paul, who had given up the internet for a year. He felt that the internet was preventing him from figuring out who he truly was, and it was time to take back his life and his identity. And giving up the internet was good – for the first few months. He spent more time with friends, used his boredom to write more and explore his creativity in other ways. He read more and went out more. But then Paul adjusted to not having the internet and soon found himself developing bad habits offline. He was unable to keep in touch with people who were far away, and his snail mail began to overwhelm him until he was unable to cope with sending responses to his fans. The moral of his story – we are who we are and we will be who we will be, internet or no internet.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Group gender composition: Does it matter?


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When I was younger, I can remember being split into teams in gym class and different tables in art class and having one question: how many girls and how many boys are in my group? Depending on the activity, it seemed important to know this so you could assess your chances for success. More boys on your team, and you might be more likely to win dodgeball. More girls at your art table, and you might paint a better mural.

An adult might have told me that was silly - how many boys vs. girls were in my group didn’t matter. However, recent research suggests that the gender composition of a group does matter. Though it doesn’t matter in terms of impacting actual performance, it can influence how group members think about one another and about their group as a whole. Because I love research that examines people in their natural (or somewhat natural) environments when they are interacting with other people, let’s take a look at how the researchers demonstrated this. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

SWAG: Racial Bias in Pain Perception

Tom Brady is no stranger to pain (source)
Every Wednesday afternoon, I gather with a bunch of faculty and graduate students at the University of Illinois to discuss a journal article about social psychology, and to eat a snack. This blog post reflects the discussion we had during this week's seminar affectionately called Social Wednesdays and Grub (SWAG).

This week in SWAG we read an article about racial biases in perceptions of others’ pain. The American medical field has a long history of racial bias (Note: I think if you switched the words “medical field” with almost any other field, the sentence would be factually accurate. For example, “mathematics field” or “psychology field” but not “magnetic field”). American blacks tend to be diagnosed less accurately by medical staff than whites, to receive less optimal health care, and to be cared for less intimately. The authors, led by Sophie Trawalter of the University of Virginia, wondered about the source of this racial bias. They reasoned that it might arise in part from a belief that low status groups experience less pain than other groups in society. Blacks and other traditionally low status groups in America are perceived as having overcome greater hardships throughout their lives. As a result of contending with, and overcoming these hardships, low status groups are perceived to experience less pain than their more advantaged counterparts—their tough circumstances have made them tougher. This racial bias in pain perception is theorized to underlie the black-white treatment gap in medicine.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Daddy Chronicles: What Happened To My Testosterone?

Zoë at two weeks
I'm not sure how many of you know this, but on March 19th of this year I became a new daddy. It's hard to describe the meaning of this event and its impact on my life, but here is a useful comparison that might put things into perspective: My dissertation was accepted for publication on the same day that my daughter was born and despite the near month passing, I still haven't filed the publication forms for the paper. Fatherhood changes the way I see the world in radical ways!

And yet, despite knowing the changes that fatherhood has brought on in my own life, I was still shocked to read about this little finding published in 2011 by Gettler and colleagues--fatherhood reduces testosterone... a lot.

Friday, April 5, 2013

When Telling Others About Your Goals Compromises Them

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As you think ahead about what you want to accomplish in the next few months and years, you probably have several goals that involve you “becoming” something – like a good athlete or a good doctor. These are called “identity goals” because they are goals to achieve a certain identity, and they can be attained by engaging in identity-relevant activities, like training for a marathon or going to medical school. In order to enact these behaviors, we might tell others about them – “Hey, I’m going to run a marathon this year!” or “Yay! I’m headed to med school in the fall!” Maybe we have the sense that telling others about our intended actions will help us complete them, and subsequently, help us get closer to reaching our eventual identity goals. However, in this post, I am going to describe evidence showing that this is not the case: telling others about our plans for identity-relevant activities can hinder our accomplishment of them.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

SWAG: Video Games and Violence

wikipedia.org
Every Wednesday afternoon, I gather with a bunch of faculty and graduate students at the University of Illinois to discuss a journal article about social psychology, and to eat a snack. This blog post reflects the discussion we had during this week's seminar affectionately called Social Wednesdays and Grub (SWAG). This week, SWAG was led by Jesse Preston, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois. Her summary of the SWAG discussion follows below:

Can playing violent video games cause violent behavior? After the massacre at Columbine, it was revealed that the shooters spent much of their free time playing Doom, and James Holmes, who shot 71 people in a theatre in Aurora Colorado, was also an avid gamer. High profile cases like these seem to confirm the belief many people already hold – that the simulated violence enacted in these games is projected into the real world, with real life and death consequences. Many studies in social psychology (see work by Craig Anderson and Brad Bushman) also support the conclusion that violent video games beget violent behavior. But in a 2011 case (Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association), the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) was not convinced. This week in SWAG, we read an article by Christopher J. Ferguson in American Psychologist, describing the SCOTUS decision and the role of social psychology research in making the case against video games.

Monday, March 25, 2013

5 Ways Gratitude Can Backfire

Gratitude is good. Good for your health and well-being. Good for your relationships. In fact, I've written about the benefits of gratitude here, here, here, and here. But is gratitude always good? No. Although a focus on appreciating what you have instead of lamenting what you have-not is generally good advice, gratitude is not a panacea. Here are a few ways in which gratitude may be the wrong prescription:

1.       Overdosing on gratitude. When it comes to keeping track of your gratitude, the adage “more is better” doesn’t necessarily apply. If you set too high of a goal for your gratitude, you may find yourself falling short, which paradoxically could leave you feeling less grateful and happy than if you hadn’t tracked your gratitude at all. In a study of gratitude journaling, people who tracked their gratitude once per week were happier after six weeks, whereas those who wrote tracked their gratitude three times per week were not. If you find yourself hesitating when putting pen to paper, you may begin to think your life isn’t that good or you don’t have that much to be grateful for. If that is the case, take a step back and focus on quality over quantity.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How to End a Bad Relationship for Good


Sometimes we find ourselves in relationships that make us miserable more than they make us happy, relationships that we know in our hearts are not right, yet still have a hold on us. If this sounds like you, or someone you care about, here are some research-based strategies you may not have considered before for ending it for good and getting on with your life.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

PYM Enters the Terrible Twos!

Two years ago today, this blog was born. Thanks to you, PYM readers, this once tiny blog venture has been an overwhelming success--both in terms of outreach, and I think, in terms of fun (at least for the bloggers)! Let's check out some of the PYM blog stats after the jump.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

SWAG: The American Choice Fixation

Yes. I Exist! (source)
Every Wednesday afternoon, I gather with a bunch of faculty and graduate students at the University of Illinois to discuss a journal article about social psychology, and to eat a snack. This blog post reflects the discussion we had during this week's seminar affectionately called Social Wednesdays and Grub (SWAG).

Right before our SWAG meeting this week, I attended a laboratory meeting of a colleague here at the University of Illinois. One of the graduate students at the meeting was drinking a caffeine free, diet Mountain Dew (they exist). The faculty member questioned this student, asking what many of us were probably thinking, "What is the point of drinking diet, caffeine free Mountain Dew?" In this case, the student was expected to deliver (and delivered) a reasoned response for why he had made that particular dietary choice. The student's choice in this example was thought of, by the rest of us, as a defining feature of his unique social self (i.e., drinking diet, caffeine free Mountain Dew tells us a bit about what kind of person the student is).


Would it surprise you to learn that this idea of choice is a uniquely American one?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Friday Fun: Psych Your Mind at the Oscars

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If you follow all the goings-on in Hollywood, you almost certainly watched the 85th Academy Awards last Sunday. If you didn't, I would be surprised if you have paid attention to the news this week without seeing at least one mention of the best and worst dressed, Jennifer Lawrence’s fall, or Seth MacFarlane’s performance as host. While the gowns and all the famous people in one room may have caught your attention the most, if we move beyond all of the glamour and drama surrounding the Academy Awards, this event is actually a great display of a number of psychological phenomena. In today’s post, I’ll take a look at four of them.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

SWAG: Do the ends justify the means?

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Every Wednesday afternoon, I gather with a bunch of faculty and graduate students at the University of Illinois to discuss a journal article about social psychology, and to eat a snack. This blog post reflects the discussion we had during this week's seminar affectionately called Social Wednesdays and Grub (SWAG).

Are you familiar with Watchmen? The popular graphic novel turned semi-popular summer blockbuster describes a deeply dystopian future in which Richard Nixon has been declared supreme ruler, constant threats of nuclear attack are on everyone's mind, and the practice of playing a vigilante super hero has been outlawed. The characters of Watchmen walk a fine line of human morality: Would the most good come from always doing the right thing? That is, is it always the best course of action to prevent others from entering into harm's way? Or, would the most good come from doing a little bit (or a lot) of bad? The characters of Watchmen walk through murky moral waters throughout the novel, sometimes making decisions to stick to their principles. Other times, characters justify doing a great amount of terrible to promote ultimate good. On this point, one of the central characters, Adrian Veidt, famously quips, "My new world demands less obvious heroism."

Watchmen poses some very interesting questions about our moral lives. Specifically, when is doing bad sometimes a good thing?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too! Practical Reform in Social Psychology

The cake we can (1) have, and (2) eat!
If you have been following recent headlines in the social sciences then you are aware that the field of social psychology has been in some rough water over the past three years. In this time period, we've had our flagship journal publish a series of studies providing evidence that ESP exists (and then refuse to publish non-replications of these studies). We've suffered through at least three instances of scientific fraud perpetrated by high profile researchers who engaged in egregious scientific misconduct. We've had an entire popular area of research come under attack because researchers have failed to replicate its effects. And several respected members of the science community have had some harsh words to say about the discipline and its methods.

Listing all of these events in succession makes me feel a bit ashamed to call myself a social psychologist. Clearly our field has been lacking both oversight and leadership if all of this could happen in such a brief period. Now, I'm not one to tuck my tail between my legs. Instead, I've decided to look ahead. I think there are relatively simple changes that social psychologists (even ones without tenure) can make in their research that can shore up our science going forward.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

SWAG: Thoughts as Physical Objects

Ideas as Objects (Source)
Every Wednesday afternoon, I gather with a bunch of faculty and graduate students at the University of Illinois to discuss a journal article about social psychology, and to eat a snack. This blog post reflects the discussion we had during this week's seminar affectionately called Social Wednesdays and Grub (SWAG).

We typically think of thoughts as mental constructs without physical properties. And yet, it is remarkably common to use physical metaphors when dealing with these mental constructs. For instance, to say that you "cooked up" an idea is to suggest that ideas may have physical properties. With this logic, it is possible that engaging in physical acts with our thoughts might actually change their influence on our attitudes. A recent article that we read in SWAG tested this prediction.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Do it for Future You


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It's only a month and a half into the New Year, and most of us have already abandoned our New Year's resolutions. We had the best of intentions, but our intentions only got us so far, and eventually we fell back into our old habits--eating and drinking too much, exercising and sleeping too little. Why are we so bad at this?

There are a number of reasons for our difficulty with New Year's Resolutions and other efforts to make positive changes in our lives. For example, our goals are often unrealistic or vague, we give up too easily when we have setbacks, and we have a tendency to "bask in projected glory"--research suggests that when we announce lofty goals and envision ourselves accomplishing them, we become less motivated to pursue these goals in reality because we feel, in some sense, that we're already there.

In addition to these obstacles, we may also be hindered by an inability to see our future selves--the ones who will suffer the consequences of the poor decisions we make today--as us. Rather, we tend to see them as different people altogether, people whose happiness is less important than the happiness of our present selves. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

4 Ways to Boost Gratitude on Valentine's Day

Today's post is the second in a two-part series on Gratitude. Yesterday I discussed research I've done on how gratitude helps us hold onto our relationships. Today I give you a few science-based tips for how to boost gratitude on Valentine's Day.

Whether February 14th is your first Valentine’s Day together or your 35th, it is a great excuse to show gratitude for the one you love. This Valentine’s Day, try these science-based tips to make sure you get the most out of your acts of kindness.

1   Focus on Your Partner. It is easy to think about all the ways we hope that our partners will treat us well on Valentine’s Day. But to make the most of the day, focus on your partner and think of February 14th as a day to show your partner how much you care. Giving to others makes us happier than spending time and money on ourselves (Dunn, Aknin,& Norton, 2008). Giving as a way to express gratitude to your partner is likely to help your partner see how great you are and want to do something nice to express gratitude in return (Gordon et al., 2012). By focusing on giving and being grateful instead of on getting, you may find that both of you get more in the end.

Monday, February 11, 2013

To Have and To Thank: Gratitude Helps us Hold onto our Relationships

In honor of St. Valentine, today's post is the first in a two-part series on why gratitude may be a key ingredient in successful relationships. Today I talk about some of my own research on gratitude. Then on Wednesday I'll be back with a few tips for how to make sure you and your partner get the most out of your gratitude on Valentine's Day.

I had one goal when I started graduate school five years ago – to understand why some romantic relationships thrive while others fail. I also had one primary hypothesis – relationships fail when partners begin to take each other for granted. And I thought: if taking each other for granted is the poison, maybe gratitude is the antidote.

Back when I started, few people were talking about gratitude. Today it is everywhere, and for good reason. A decade of burgeoning research has highlighted the myriad benefits of gratitude for physical and mental well-being. And we've found that gratitude is good in large part because it helps us create and hold onto our close relationships.

In research by Sara Algoe and colleagues, grateful couples were more satisfied in their relationships and felt closer to each other  (see this post for the details of their findings). And in our research, we found that the more grateful participants were, the more likely they were to still be in their relationships nine months later.

What do I mean by gratitude? When I examine the role of gratitude in relationships, I’m not just looking at what happens when people say “thanks” after their partner takes out the trash. My definition of gratitude includes appreciating not just what your partner does, but who they are as a person. You’re not just thankful that your partner took out the trash—you’re thankful that you have a partner who is thoughtful enough to know you hate taking out the trash. Gratitude means thinking about all of your partner’s best traits and remembering why you got into a relationship with them in the first place.

But how does gratitude help couples? 

Friday, February 8, 2013

SWAG: I'm good enough, I'm smart enough... and I give up!

wikipedia.org
Every Wednesday afternoon, I gather with a bunch of faculty and graduate students at the University of Illinois to discuss a journal article about social psychology, and to eat a snack. This blog post reflects the discussion we had during this week's seminar affectionately called Social Wednesdays and Grub (SWAG).

This week we read a recent collection of studies written by Kathleen Vohs and her colleagues (2013) about goal disengagement and self-affirmation. Usually self-affirmations are a good thing for us because they remind us that we are, as Stuart Smalley put it, "Good enough, smart enough, and dog-gone-it, people like (us)!" Sometimes these affirmations can lead one to actually disengage from goals.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Living Abroad and Thinking Outside of the Box


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Two weeks ago, I had the exciting opportunity to visit my sister in London where she is studying for the year. As she showed me her new lifestyle and daily routine, we reflected on some of the benefits she has gained from her time abroad thus far, such as greater knowledge about European history and new friends from different countries. We also talked about some less tangible advantages, like changing the way she thinks about the world, learning to interpret behaviors from a new perspective, and improving her ability to solve problems. In other words, we came to the conclusion that living abroad has helped foster her creativity.

The notion that living abroad enhances creativity may be quite familiar to you. There is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this idea and a long tradition of the “expatriate artist.” For example, while visiting Westminster Abbey, my sister and I saw memorials to George Händel and Henry James – two artists who were not born in England but who produced some of their most famous works while living there. It’s easy to conjure up glamorous ideas of artists living and working abroad, their creativity sparked by new environments and lifestyles, as in the movie Midnight in Paris. But can the rest of us improve our creativity by living abroad? Were my sister and I right to think that her experience abroad has fostered her creativity? In this post, I’ll present some evidence that such a connection does exist and that it occurs not just for artists, but also within the general population.