1. To understand others’ minds, ‘being’ them beats reading them

    March 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    We tend to believe that people telegraph how they‘re feeling through facial expressions and body language and we only need to watch them to know what they’re experiencing — but new research shows we’d get a much better idea if we put ourselves in their shoes instead. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “People expected that they could infer another’s emotions by watching him or her, when in fact they were more accurate when
    they were actually in the same situation as the other person
    . And this bias persisted even after our participants gained firsthand experience with both strategies,” explain study authors Haotian Zhou (Shanghai Tech University) and Nicholas Epley (University of Chicago).

    To explore out how we go about understanding others’ minds, Zhou, Epley, and co-author Elizabeth Majka (Elmhurst College) decided to focus on two potential mechanisms: theorization and simulation. When we theorize about someone’s experience, we observe their actions and make inferences based on our observations. When we simulate someone’s experience, we use our own experience of the same situation as a guide.

    Based on previous research showing that people tend to assume that our feelings ‘leak out’ through our behavior, Zhou, Epley, and Majka hypothesized that people would overestimate the usefulness of theorizing about another person’s experience. And given that we tend to think that individual experiences are unique, the researchers also hypothesized that people would underestimate the usefulness of simulating another person’s experience.

    In one experiment, the researchers asked 12 participants to look at a series of 50 pictures that varied widely in emotional content, from very negative to positive. A webcam recorded their faces as these “experiencers” rated their emotional feelings for each picture. The researchers then brought in a separate group of 73 participants and asked them to predict the experiencers’ ratings for each picture. Some of these “predictors” simulated the experience, looking at each picture; others theorized about the experience, looking at the webcam recording of the experiencer; and a third group were able to simulate and theorize at the same time, looking at both the picture and accompanying recording.

    The results revealed that the predictors were much more accurate when they saw the pictures just as the experiencer had than they were when they saw the recording of the experiencer’s face. Interestingly, seeing both the picture and the recording simultaneously yielded no additional benefit — being able to simulate the experience seemed to underlie participants’ accuracy.

    Despite this, people didn’t seem to appreciate the benefit of simulation. In a second experiment, only about half of the predictors who were allowed to choose a strategy opted to use simulation. As before, predictors who simulated the rating experience were much more accurate in predicting the experiencer’s feelings, regardless of whether they chose that strategy or were assigned to it.

    In a third experiment, the researchers allowed for dynamic choice, assuming that predictors may increase in accuracy over time if they were able to choose their strategy before each trial. The results showed, once again, that simulation was the better strategy across the board — still, participants who had the ability to choose opted to simulate only about 48% of the time.

    A fourth experiment revealed that simulation was the better strategy even when experiencers had been told to make their reactions as expressive and “readable’ as possible.

    “Our most surprising finding was that people committed the same mistakes when trying to understand themselves,” Zhou and Epley note.

    Participants in a fifth experiment expected they would be more accurate if they got to watch the expressions they had made while looking at emotional pictures one month earlier — but the findings showed they were actually better at estimating how they had felt if they simply viewed the pictures again.

    “They dramatically overestimated how much their own face would reveal, and underestimated the accuracy they would glean from being in their own past shoes again,” the researchers explain.

    Although reading other people’s mental states is an essential part of everyday life, these experiments show that we don’t always pick the best strategy for the task.

    According to Zhou and Epley, these findings help to shed light on the tactics that people use to understand each other.

    “Only by understanding why our inferences about each other sometimes go astray can we learn how to understand each other better,” the researchers conclude.


  2. Couples may miss cues that partner is hiding emotions, study suggests

    March 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Washington University in St. Louis press release:

    Even the most blissful of couples in long-running, exclusive relationships may be fairly clueless when it comes to spotting the ploys their partner uses to avoid dealing with emotional issues, suggests new research from psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis.

    Happier couples see their partners in a more positive light than do less happy couples,” said Lameese Eldesouky, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University. “They tend to underestimate how often a partner is suppressing emotions and to overestimate a partner’s ability to see the bright side of an issue that might otherwise spark negative emotions.”

    Titled “Love is Blind, but Not Completely: Emotion Regulation Trait Judgments in Romantic Relationships,” Eldesouky’s presentation of the study was offered Jan. 20 at the 2017 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

    Published in the Journal of Personality, the study examines how accurate and biased dating couples are in judging personality characteristics that reflect ways of managing one’s emotions.

    It focuses on two coping mechanisms that can be difficult to spot due to the lack of related visual cues: expressive suppression (stoically hiding one’s emotions behind a calm and quiet poker face) and cognitive reappraisal (changing one’s perspective to see the silver lining behind a bad situation).

    Other findings include:

    • Couples generally are able to judge their partners’ emotion regulation patterns with some degree of accuracy, but are somewhat less accurate in judging reappraisal than suppression.
    • Women see their partners in a more positive light than do men, overestimating their partners’ ability to look on the bright side.
    • If someone is generally more emotional, their romantic partner thinks they are less likely to hide emotions.
    • If someone frequently expresses positive emotions, such as happiness, their romantic partner thinks they use reappraisal more than they actually do.

    Co-authored by Tammy English, assistant professor of psychology at Washington University, and James Gross, professor of psychology at Stanford University, the study is based on completed questionnaires and interviews with 120 heterosexual couples attending colleges in Northern California.

    Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 25 years, were recruited as part of a larger study on emotion in close relationships. Each couple had been dating on an exclusive basis for more than six months, with some together as long as four years.

    In a previous study, English and Gross found that men are more likely than women to use suppression with their partners, and that the ongoing use of emotional suppression can be damaging to the long-term quality of a relationship.

    “Suppression is often considered a negative trait while reappraisal is considered a positive trait because of the differential impact these strategies have on emotional well-being and social relationships,” English said.

    “How well you are able to judge someone else’s personality depends on your personal skills, your relationship with the person you are judging and the particular trait you are trying to judge,” English added. “This study suggests that suppression might be easier to judge than reappraisal because suppression provides more external cues, such as appearing stoic.”


  3. Unequal distribution of power in young adult relationships more harmful to women

    March 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    Power imbalances in heterosexual relationships are common, but having less power takes a greater toll on young women than young men, according to a recently published University at Buffalo study.

    The results, appearing in The Journal of Sex Research, suggest “a healthy skepticism when it comes to what looks like gender equality,” says Laina Bay-Cheng, an associate professor in the UB School of Social Work and an expert in young women’s sexuality. “This research refutes the claim that gender equality has been reached and we don’t have to worry about misogyny anymore.”

    Bay-Cheng says the dynamics underneath relationships require scrutiny and the often-heard claim that girls and women have reached and in some ways surpassed equality with men unravels quickly when examined in detail.

    “We have to look closely at relationships and experiences and stop taking surface indicators as proof of gender equality,” says Bay-Cheng. “When men are subordinate in a relationship, it doesn’t bother them very much. They don’t see those relationships as less intimate or stable than relationships in which they are dominant. But for young women, having less power in a relationship is associated with diminished intimacy and stability and comes with greater risk of abuse.

    “Inequality within a relationship doesn’t cost men as much because they are still cushioned by a broader system of male privilege.”

    Relationships that develop during emerging adulthood are foundational events. It’s from these early experiences that people learn how to be in a relationship and depending on the nature and quality of the experiences, the effects — both positive and negative — can echo throughout life.

    “It’s so important that we understand that it’s not that sex and relationships are at the root of risk or vulnerability. Instead, some young women, because of intersecting forms of oppression — especially misogyny, racism and economic injustice — enter relationships and are already at a disadvantage,” says Bay-Cheng. “For young women, relationships are where all different forms of vulnerability and injustice converge.”

    Bay-Cheng developed a novel research method for this study that considered both the objectives of researchers and participants’ experience, which, she says, is as important as the findings.

    For this study, Bay-Cheng used a digital, online calendar that participants fill out using all of their sexual experiences from their adolescence and early adulthood. The open-ended digital calendar can be filled out over a month and participants can enter anything they want, not just text, but audio files, images or even emoji.

    The result is a more meaningful measure for researchers and participants.

    “On the research side we get varied and diverse data,” says Bay-Cheng. “For participants, rather than circling a number on a scale on some survey, they get to express themselves how they want, at their own pace, and then look at their calendars and get different perspective on their sexual histories and how these relate to other parts of their lives. Participants have told us how meaningful that chance to reflect can be. It’s important for researchers to care as much about the quality of participants’ experiences in our studies as the quality of our data.”


  4. Social rejection by those closest to one can lead to subsequent drinking

    March 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    The need to belong and experience social connections is a fundamental human characteristic. Prior research has shown that social rejection is linked to increases in negative emotions, distress, and hostility. This study examined the impact of social rejection on alcohol use, and whether the impact differed when the social rejection was by close others, such as friends, spouses or family members, or by strangers or acquaintances.

    Researchers gathered data from 77 community participants (41 women, 36 men) who used their smartphones to record their social interactions and alcohol use for 14 consecutive days. The analysis examined associations between rejection experiences and daily alcohol use.

    Findings indicated that the type of relationship may be a key factor in whether or not social rejection leads to drinking. More specifically, on days characterized by rejection by close others, the likelihood of drinking significantly increased. In contrast, on days characterized by rejection by acquaintances, there was no increase in the likelihood of drinking. This finding contrasts with laboratory studies of rejection that emphasize rejection and ostracism by strangers rather than known others.


  5. Married people have lower levels of stress hormone

    February 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Carnegie Mellon University media release:

    couple on dateStudies have suggested that married people are healthier than those who are single, divorced, or widowed. A new Carnegie Mellon University study provides the first biological evidence to explain how marriage impacts health.

    Published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, the researchers found that married individuals had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who never married or were previously married. These findings support the belief that unmarried people face more psychological stress than married individuals. Prolonged stress is associated with increased levels of cortisol which can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate inflammation, which in turn promotes the development and progression of many diseases.

    “It’s is exciting to discover a physiological pathway that may explain how relationships influence health and disease,” said Brian Chin, a Ph.D. student in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Department of Psychology.

    Over three non-consecutive days, the researchers collected saliva samples from 572 healthy adults aged 21-55. Multiple samples were taken during each 24-hour period and tested for cortisol.

    The results showed that the married participants had lower cortisol levels than the never married or previously married people across the three day period. The researchers also compared each person’s daily cortisol rhythm — typically, cortisol levels peak when a person wakes up and decline during the day. Those who were married showed a faster decline, a pattern that has been associated with less heart disease, and longer survival among cancer patients.

    These data provide important insight into the way in which our intimate social relationships can get under the skin to influence our health,” said laboratory director and co-author Sheldon Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty University Professor of Psychology.


  6. ‘Tis better to give, to your spouse

    February 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Rochester media release:

    presentsWe’ve all heard that it’s better to give than to receive. Now there’s empirical evidence to show that being compassionate to a spouse is rewarding in and of itself.

    Psychologists have found that the emotional benefits of compassionate acts are significant for the giver, whether or not the recipient is even aware of the act. For example, if a husband notices that the windshield on his wife’s car is covered with snow, he may scrape it off before driving to work. That gesture would boost his emotional well-being, regardless of whether his wife notices.

    Harry Reis, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, led a research team that studied 175 North American newlywed husbands and wives who were married an average of 7.17 months. The results have been published in the journal Emotion.

    Our study was designed to test a hypothesis put forth by Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama,” said Reis, “that compassionate concern for others’ welfare enhances one’s own affective state.”

    The team of psychologists, which included Ronald Rogge of Rochester and Michael Maniaci of Florida Atlantic University, asked participants to keep a two-week daily diary to record those instances in which either spouse put aside personal wishes in order to meet the partner’s needs. But the researchers also needed to assess the emotional well-being of the individuals. To that end, the participants kept track of their daily emotional states for each day based on 14 positive and negative terms — such as enthusiastic, happy, calm, sad, angry, and hurt.

    Over the course of the 14 days, husbands and wives reported giving and receiving an average of .65 and .59 compassionate acts each day — with husbands perceiving more such acts than did their partners. The acts included such things as changing personal plans for the partner’s sake, doing something that showed the partner was valued, and expressing tenderness for the spouse.

    Before the study, the researchers predicted that the greatest impact on the donor would come when the act was recognized by the recipient, because recognition would make the donor feel valued. They also thought the recipient would feel the most benefit when the act was mutually recognized, as opposed to those times when one partner perceived a compassionate act that wasn’t actually intended. While those predictions were confirmed, the researchers discovered something else.

    “Clearly, a recipient needs to notice a compassionate act in order to emotionally benefit from it,” said Reis. “But recognition is much less a factor for the donor.”

    The psychologists discovered that donors benefit from compassionate acts, regardless of whether the recipient explicitly notices the acts. And in those cases, the benefits for the donors was about 45 percent greater than for the recipients, as determined by the self-assessment scales in the daily diaries, with the effect being equally strong for men and women.

    For Reis, the results suggest that “acting compassionately may be its own reward.

    Reis is now working with Rochester alum Peter Caprariello, an assistant professor of marketing at Stony Brook University, to study the emotional benefits of spending money on others. Their work suggests that spending on others can make a person feel better, but only when the goal is to benefit that person. Spending to impress them with generosity or vision doesn’t do the trick.


  7. Toxic bosses are bad for your health and bad for your corporate reputation

    January 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) media release:

    manager/bossPeople who work for bosses who display psychopathic and narcissistic traits not only feel more depressed due to their bosses bullying behaviour they are also more likely to engage in undesirable behaviours at work.

    These are the key findings of a research team from the University of Manchester’s Business School. Lead researcher Abigail Phillips will present the findings at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference of the Division of Occupational Psychology in Liverpool.

    A total of 1,200 participants took part in three studies that required them to complete questionnaires relating to their own psychological wellbeing, prevalence of workplace bullying in their organisation and their manager’s personality. The samples consisted of workers from a variety of industries across a number of different countries.

    Analysis of the data showed that those who work for leaders who display these traits had lower job satisfaction and scored higher on a clinical measure of depression. Also not only did employees’ wellbeing suffer but incidents of counterproductive work behaviour and workplace bullying were higher.

    Ms. Phillips said: “Overall the picture is clear leaders high in dark traits can be bad news for organisations. Those high in psychopathy and narcissism have a strong desire for power and often lack empathy. This toxic combination can result in these individuals taking advantage of others, taking credit for their work, being overly critical, and generally behaving aggressively. In other words, leaders high in psychopathy and narcissism are more likely to be bullies.”

    “Workplace bullying is obviously unpleasant for the target but also creates a toxic working environment for all involved. In short, bad bosses, those high in psychopathy and narcissism, have unhappy and dissatisfied employees who seek to ‘get their own back’ on the company.”


  8. How to avoid feeling depressed on Facebook

    December 9, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Lancaster University media release:

    Computer UserComparing yourself with others on Facebook is more likely to lead to feelings of depression than making social comparisons offline.

    That’s one of the findings from a review of all the research on the links between social networking and depression by David Baker and Dr Guillermo Perez Algorta from Lancaster University.

    They examined studies from 14 countries with 35,000 participants aged between 15 and 88.

    There are among 1.8 billion people on online social networking sites worldwide, with Facebook alone having more than 1 billion active users.

    Concerns over the effect on mental health led the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 to define “Facebook depression” as a “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.”

    The Lancaster University review of existing research found that the relationship between online social networking and depression may be very complex and associated with factors like age and gender.

    In cases where there is a significant association with depression, this is because comparing yourself with others can lead to “rumination” or overthinking.

    • Negative comparison with others when using Facebook was found to predict depression via increased rumination
    • Frequent posting on Facebook was found to be associated with depression via rumination

    However, the frequency, quality and type of online social networking is also important.

    Facebook users were more at risk of depression when they:

    • Felt envy triggered by observing others
    • Accepted former partners as Facebook friends
    • Made negative social comparisons
    • Made frequent negative status updates

    Gender and personality also influenced the risk, with women and people with neurotic personalities more likely to become depressed.

    But the researchers stressed that online activity could also help people with depression who use it as a mental health resource and to enhance social support.


  9. Want to give a good gift? Think past the ‘big reveal’

    by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science media release:

    PresentsGift givers often make critical errors in gift selection during the holiday season, according to a new research article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    The research, led by Jeff Galak (Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business) and co-authors Elanor Williams (Indiana University Kelley School of Business) and Tepper School Ph.D. student Julian Givi, suggests that gift givers tend to focus on the moment of exchange when selecting a gift, whereas gift recipients are more focused on the long-term utility or practical attributes of the gift.

    “We studied many existing frameworks from research in this area, trying to find a common ground between them. What we found was that the giver wants to ‘wow’ the recipient and give a gift that can be enjoyed immediately, in the moment, while the recipient is more interested in a gift that provides value over time,” explained Galak. “We are seeing a mismatch between the thought processes and motivations of gift givers and recipients. Put another way, there may be times when the vacuum cleaner, a gift that is unlikely to wow most recipients when they open it on Christmas day, really ought to be at the top of the shopping list as it will be well used and liked for a long time.”

    The researchers found that this differential focus on the moment of exchange and the desirability of the gift showed up in a number of different ways. For instance, some gift giving errors included:

    • Giving unrequested gifts in an effort to surprise the recipient, when they are likely hoping for a gift from a pre-constructed list or registry;
    • Focusing on tangible, material gifts, which are likely to be immediately well received, when experiential gifts, such as theater tickets or a massage, would result in more enjoyment later on;
    • Giving socially responsible gifts, such as donations to a charity in the recipient’s name, which seem special at the moment of gift exchange but provide almost no value to recipients down the road.

    The researchers make recommendations for those hoping to choose better gifts, advising them to better empathize with gift recipients when thinking about gifts that would be both appreciated and useful.

    “We exchange gifts with the people we care about, in part, in an effort to make them happy and strengthen our relationships with them,” Galak added. “By considering how valuable gifts might be over the course of the recipient’s ownership of them, rather than how much of a smile it might put on recipients’ faces when they are opened, we can meet these goals and provide useful, well-received gifts.”


  10. Physical stature as a teen could predict future stock choices

    November 9, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Cornell University media release:

    tablet computer seniorSocial scientists have long studied the relationship between a person’s height and their success in life. Taller people, studies purport, tend to be better educated, earn more money, and have higher confidence and self-esteem than those who are “vertically challenged.”

    A Cornell researcher and two of his former University of Miami colleagues are authors of a new study that takes that idea a step further — showing that observed physical attributes are related to participation in the stock market.

    Specifically: Individuals who are relatively tall are more likely to hold stocks in their financial portfolios, and those who are relatively overweight or obese are more risk-averse and less likely to participate in the market.

    Jawad Addoum, assistant professor of finance and the Robert R. Dyson Sesquicentennial Fellow in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, is co-author of “Stature, Obesity and Portfolio Choice,” which was published online Aug. 1 in the journal Management Science.

    Co-authors are Alok Kumar, Ph.D. ’03, finance department chair at Miami, and George Korniotis, associate professor of finance.

    Addoum, who arrived at Cornell in June after four years as assistant professor of finance at Miami, stresses that it’s not just height as an adult that plays a role in a person’s portfolio decisions.

    It’s really about height during teenage years,” he said. “Those who grow tall early drive most of this effect. People who grow tall early are able to enjoy a sort of social dominance as teens. Tall teens are more likely to play sports and participate in other extracurricular activities, and they tend to have a better overall experience in high school.”

    The researchers posit that people’s physical attributes could evoke environmental responses — and shape personality traits such as optimism, self-esteem and trust — that could in turn play a role in risk-taking behavior.

    Addoum and his team analyzed four sets of data — two from Europe and two from the U.S. — which contained detailed information regarding households’ investment decisions.

    The U.S. data sets included the Health and Retirement Study and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). The latter sample, which included individuals who were age 14 to 22 in 1979, was analyzed separately from the other three sets; it only contains information about the decision to own stocks, mutual funds and bonds, whereas the other three data sets separated ownership of stocks and mutual funds with that of less risky bonds. However, it also reports height at two points in time: height during teenage years and final height as an adult.

    Noteworthy among the group’s findings:

    Gender-specific effects: Consistent with related studies, the group found that the positive effects of height are stronger for men than for women, and that the negative effects of body mass index (BMI) are greater for women than for men;

    Teen height vs. adult height: The researchers found that while both teen and adult height are important determinants of market participation, teen height appears to be economically more important. What’s more, adult height becomes statistically insignificant when relative current and relative teen BMI are factored in.

    BMI and impatience: Citing a 2015 study that linked BMI and impatience, the group attempted to link obese individuals’ avoidance of stocks to time preferences. However, analysis of NLSY findings suggest that cognitive skills are more telling in portfolio decisions than impatience.

    Addoum said that, in a traditional rational model, someone should be able to decide how to invest based on their current situation and not on physiological factors or experiences during their teen years. But that’s not always the case.

    “Someone should be able to look at this as, “I want to build my wealth, and I should invest,'” he said. “But it turns out that early experiences can lead to hesitance in terms of financial risk-taking. This suggests that social experiences can have long-lasting effects that really matter.”

    The group says its findings could be applied to other behaviors, such as risk-taking among hedge and mutual fund managers, as well as corporate managers. Future work will examine, among other things, the role of physical attributes in managerial decisions.