The Situationist

Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

The Situation of Ageism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 9, 2013

Ageism North Fiske

From Princeton News, an overview of important work being done by Michael North and Situationist friend, Susan Fiske.

Michael North, a fifth-year graduate student in psychology at Princeton University, knew he was lucky to land a summer research position at the University of Michigan after he finished his bachelor’s degree there in 2006.

His task: Sit in a lab for two hours at a time and interview local residents — young and old — for a study on wisdom.

“When the professor told me this, I nodded and said OK, but as a 22-year-old kid I wasn’t really excited about sitting in a basement interviewing old people, as I saw them,” North said. “I thought they would be really boring. I thought they would smell. I thought they would make me feel weird. These were the thoughts I had, honestly.”

But the reality was different. North found that he enjoyed interacting with the older group more than the younger people. “The older people were the ones who showed more interest in the project, they showed more interest in me personally and asked more interesting questions,” North said.

The realization opened his eyes to a field ripe for exploration.

A focus on ageism research

North came to Princeton in 2008 and joined the lab of Susan Fiske, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology and a professor of psychology and public affairs. Together, they have put a new emphasis on ageism, or age-based prejudice, focusing on the challenges society faces to adjust to a growing older population and the intergenerational tensions that can result.

The older population in the United States is expected to double in the next 20 years, and the number of older people is likely to reach more than a quarter of the population by 2050, outnumbering children for the first time in history, North and Fiske noted last year in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

“In other words, the people society now considers older and irrelevant are about to become far more common and visible — perhaps more so than ever in modern society,” the researchers wrote.

Those factors make this an ideal time to put a spotlight on the social perceptions of ageism, a generally understudied area in academia, North said.

“It’s not hard to read The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal and see that as the baby boomers are getting older, age-discrimination cases are on the rise and worries are growing about the long-term sustainability of Social Security and Medicare,” North said. “The academic literature hasn’t really spoken to these questions.”

The research by North and Fiske homes in on the idea that understanding intergenerational tension is key to understanding ageism. Ageism is the one kind of discrimination, North noted, in which those who are generally doing the discriminating — younger generations — will eventually become part of the targeted demographic.

North and Fiske are making important contributions to ageism research, said Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who studies aging and adult development.

“Ageism is a topic that touches on many sensitive areas, including older adults themselves, family members, policymakers and the media,” she said. “North and Fiske unpack the stereotypes toward older adults and show how these stereotypes vary in their causes and effects.”

Fiske, a social psychologist, joined the Princeton faculty in 2000. Her most recent book is “Envy Up, Scorn Down: How Status Divides Us” (2012). The research she and North have conducted expands her far-reaching work on stereotypes.

“We have found a variety of evidence, over the past dozen years, that people make sense of each other along two primary and apparently universal dimensions,” Fiske said. “The first is warmth — does the other have good intentions, is that person trustworthy and sociable. The second dimension is competence — can the other enact those intentions. Stereotypically, the middle class are both warm and competent, rich people are cold but competent, homeless people are neither. The default stereotype for older people is well-intentioned (warm) but incompetent.”

What older people ‘should be’

The researchers focus on ageism that is based on what psychologists call prescriptive prejudice. “Instead of describing what old people supposedly are in reality, it ‘prescribes’ what others think old people should be,” Fiske said. “Older people who ‘violate’ these ‘prescriptions’ are punished by those who discriminate against them; older people who adhere to them are rewarded with sympathy and pity.”

The researchers say prescriptive stereotypes center on three key issues:

• Succession, the idea that older people should move aside from high-paying jobs and prominent social roles to make way for younger people;

• Identity, the idea that older people shouldn’t attempt to act younger than they are; and

• Consumption, the idea that older people shouldn’t consume so many scarce resources such as health care.

In studies detailed in an article for the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the researchers found that younger people were more resentful of older people who went against these prescriptive stereotypes, compared with the feelings of middle-aged and older study participants. The article was published online in March.

In a January article in Social Issues and Policy Review, Fiske and North focused on the dangers of lumping together all older people, starting as young as ages 50 or 55. Instead, North and Fiske argue that the “young-old” — generally those still working and in relatively good health — should be considered separately from the “old-old” — generally older people who no longer work and are in poor health.

“Though numerical age is a useful indicator, it is an imprecise one when it comes to distribution of societal resources,” the researchers wrote. “Age-related characteristics are evolving all the time, but social policies seem stuck in the past, uncertain how to accommodate shifting age dynamics (as evidenced by impending Social Security and Medicare crises).”

Further advancing their work, North and Fiske have conducted experiments that helped shape a scale for measuring ageism that is described in a paper accepted for publication in the journal Psychological Assessment. The Succession, Identity and Consumption scale “is a promising tool for cutting-edge ageism research, as the population grays and generational equity concerns grow more salient,” the researchers wrote.

North, who is finishing his dissertation on the issue, said he hopes to continue to work on ageism throughout his career, identifying interventions that could lessen or prevent ageism, such as shifting views of the younger about what it means to be older.

“If there’s one take away from this research, it’s that it’s important to focus on the facts of these demographic changes rather than misguided perceptions,” he said. “Talking about these issues helps you find constructive ways to address them.”

Read article, including an interactive image here.

Related Situationist posts:

See their video interview below.

Posted in Distribution, Life, Social Psychology, Video | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Secret Pleasures (more on Dan Wegner’s Work)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 18, 2013

telling secrets

This excerpt, which highlights some of the remarkable work by the late Dan Wegner, comes from an article written by Eric Jaffe in a 2006 edition of the APS’s Observer:

“Freud’s Fundamental Rule of Psychoanalysis was for patients to be completely open with a therapist no matter how silly or embarrassing the thought,” says Anita Kelly, a researcher at the University of Notre Dame who published one of the first books on the formal study of secrets, The Psychology of Secrets, in 2002.

Only since the late 1980s and early 1990s have researchers like Daniel Wegner and James Pennebaker put Freud through the empirical ringer and begun to understand the science behind secrets. “The Freudian way of thinking about things was, he assumed suppression took place and looked at what was happening afterwards,” says Wegner, a psychologist at Harvard. “The insight we had was, let’s not wait until after the fact and assume it occurred, let’s get people to try to do it and see what happened. That turned out to be useful insight; it opened this up to experimental research. It became a lab science instead of an after-the-fact interpretation of peoples’ lives.”

For Wegner, an interest in secrets began with a white bear. In Russian folklore attributed to Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, or sometimes both, a man tells his younger brother to sit in the corner and not think of a white bear, only to find later that the sibling can think of nothing else. If a meaningless white bear can arouse such frustration, imagine the crippling psychological effects of trying not to think of something with actual importance when the situation requires silence — running into the wife of a friend who has a mistress, being on a jury and having to disregard a stunning fact, or hiding homosexuality in a room full of whack-happy wiseguys.

So in 1987, Wegner, who at that time was at Trinity University, published a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology discussing what happens when research subjects confront the white bear in a laboratory. In the study, subjects entered a room alone with a tape recorder and reported everything that came to mind in a five-minute span. Before the experiment, Wegner told some subjects to think of anything except a white bear, and told others to try to think of a white bear. Afterwards, the subjects switched roles. Any time a subject mentioned, or merely thought of, a white bear, he or she had to ring a bell inside the room.

It was not quite Big Ben at noon, but those who suppressed the white bear rang the bell once a minute — more often than subjects who were free to express the thought. More remarkably, Wegner found what he called the “rebound effect”: When a subject was released from suppression and told to express a hidden thought, it poured out with greater frequency than if it had been mentionable from the start. (Think fresh gossip.) He also found evidence for an insight called “negative cuing.” The idea is that a person trying to ditch a thought will look around for something to displace it — first at the ceiling fan, then a candle, then a remote control. Soon the mind forms a latent bond between the unwanted thought and the surrounding items, so that everything now reminds the person of what he is trying to forget, exacerbating the original frustration.

“People will tend to misread the return of unwanted thoughts,” Wegner said recently. “We don’t realize that in keeping it secret we’ve created an obsession in a jar.” Wegner told the story of a suicidal student who once called him for help. Desperate to keep her on the phone, but lacking any clinical training, Wegner mentioned the white bear study. Slowly the student realized she had perpetuated a potentially fleeting thought by trying to avoid it. “She got so twisted up in the fact that she couldn’t stop thinking of killing herself, that she was making it come back to mind. She was misreading this as, there’s some part of me that wants to do it. What she really wanted was to get rid of the thought.”

One method of diverging attention from an unwanted thought, says Wegner, is to focus on a single distraction from the white bear, like a red Volkswagen, an idea that he tested successfully in later experiments. The concern with this technique, which Freud first laid out, is that a person could become obsessed with an arbitrary item, planting the seeds for abnormal behavior. In a later experiment, published in 1994 in the same journal, Wegner found more evidence that secrets lead to strange obsession. He placed four subjects who had never met around a table, split them into two male-female teams, and told them to play a card game. One team was instructed to play footsie without letting the other team know. At the end of the experiment, the secret footsie-players felt such a heightened attraction toward one another that the experimenters made them leave through separate doors, for ethical reasons. “We can end up being in a relationship we don’t want, or interested in things that aren’t at all important, because we had to keep them quiet,” Wegner said, “and it ends up growing.”

Live Free or Die

The logical opposite of an unhealthy obsession based on secrets is a healthy result from disclosing such secrets. This healing aspect of revelation is where Wegner’s work connects with James Pennebaker’s. In the late 1970s, Pennebaker was part of a research team that found, via survey, that people who had a traumatic sexual experience before age 17 were more likely to have health problems as they got older. Pennebaker looked further and found that the majority of these people had kept the trauma hidden, and in 1984 he began the first of many studies on the effects of revealing previously undisclosed secrets.

In most of Pennebaker’s experiments, subjects visited a lab for three or four consecutive days, each time writing about traumatic experiences for 15 or 20 minutes. In the first five years, hundreds of people poured their secrets onto the page. A college girl who knew her father was seeing his secretary; a concentration camp survivor who had seen babies tossed from a second-floor orphanage window; a Vietnam veteran who once shot a female fighter in the leg, had sex with her, then cut her throat. By the end of the experiment, many participants felt such intense release that their handwriting became freer and loopier. In one study of 50 students, those who revealed both a secret and their feelings visited the health center significantly fewer times in the ensuing six months than other students who had written about a generic topic, or those who had only revealed the secret and not the emotions surrounding it.

The work led to many papers showing evidence that divulging a secret, which can mean anything from telling someone to writing it on a piece of paper that is later burned, is correlated with tangible health improvements, both physical and mental. People hiding traumatic secrets showed more incidents of hypertension, influenza, even cancer, while those who wrote about their secrets showed, through blood tests, enhanced immune systems. In some cases, T-cell counts in AIDS patients increased. In another test, Pennebaker showed that writing about trauma actually unclogs the brain. Using an electroencephalogram, an instrument that measures brain waves through electrodes attached to the scalp, he found that the right and left brains communicated more frequently in subjects who disclosed traumas.

(It should be noted that the type of secrets discussed in this article are personal secrets—experiences a person chooses not to discuss with others. They can be positive, in the case of hiding a birthday cake, or negative, in the case of hiding a mistress. Secrets that could be considered “non-personal,” for example, information concealed as part of a job, were not specifically addressed.)

Exactly why revelation creates such health benefits is a complicated question. “Most people in psychology have been trained to think of a single, parsimonious explanation for an event,” said Pennebaker, who did much of his research at Southern Methodist University before coming to the University of Texas, where he is chair of the psychology department. “Well, welcome to the real world. There are multiple levels of explanation here.” Pennebaker lists a number of reasons for the health improvements. Writing about a secret helps label and organize it, which in turn helps understand features of the secret that had been ignored. Revelation can become habitual in a positive sense, making confrontation normal. Disclosure can reduce rumination and worry, freeing up the mental quagmires that hindered social relationships. People become better listeners. They even become better sleepers. “The fact is that all of us occasionally are dealing with experiences that are hard to talk about,” Pennebaker said. “Getting up and putting experiences into words has a powerful effect.”

At the end of a recent Sopranos episode, Vito looks most content after seeing a New Hampshire license plate, with its state motto: “Live free or die.” Pennebaker’s research may add a new level of truth to that phrase.

Little Machiavellis

In the early 1990s, it was not unusual for 3-year-old Jeremy Peskin to want a cookie. His mother, Joan, used to hide them in the high cupboards of their home in Toronto; when she left, Jeremy would climb up and sneak a few. One day, Jeremy had a problem: He wanted a cookie, but his mother was in the kitchen. “He said to me, ‘Go out of the kitchen, because I want to take a cookie,’ ” Joan recalled recently. Unfortunately for Jeremy, Joan Peskin was a doctorate student in psychology at the time, and smart enough to see through the ruse. Fortunately for developmental researchers, Peskin’s experience led her to study when children first develop the capacity for secrets.

What interested Peskin, now a professor at the University of Toronto, was Jeremy’s inability to separate his mother’s physical presence from her mental state. If she was out of the room, he would be able to take a cookie, whether or not his mother knew that he intended to take a cookie. Peskin took this insight to the laboratory — in this case, local day-care centers — where she tried to get children age three, four, and five to conceal a secret. She showed the children two types of stickers. The first, a gaudy, glittery sticker, aroused many a tiny smile; the second, a drab, beige sticker of an angel, was disliked. Then she introduced a mean puppet and explained that this puppet would take whatever sticker the children wanted most. When the puppet asked 4- and 5-year-olds which sticker they wanted, most of the children either lied or would not tell. The 3-year-olds almost always blurted out their preference, even when the scenario was repeated several times, she found in the study, which was published in Developmental Psychology in 1992. Often the 3-year-olds grabbed at the shiny sticker as the puppet took it away, showing a proper understanding of the situation but an inability to prevent it via secretive means.

The finding goes beyond secrets; 4 has become the age when psychologists think children develop the ability to understand distinct but related inner and outer worlds. “When I teach it I put a kid on the overhead with a thought bubble inside,” Peskin said. “When they could think of someone else’s mental state — say, ignorance, somebody not knowing something — that influences their social world.” In a follow-up study published in Social Development in 2003, Peskin found again that 3-year-olds were more likely than 4- or 5-year-olds to reveal the location of a surprise birthday cake to a hungry research confederate. “When a child is able to keep a secret,” Peskin says, “parents should take it as, that’s great, this is normal development. They aren’t going to be little Machiavellis. This is normal brain development.”

Confidence in Confidants

Soon after Mark Felt revealed himself as Deep Throat, the anonymous source who guided Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal, Anita Kelly’s phone began to ring. “One morning I had 10 messages from different news groups,” she recalled recently. “They wanted me to say that secrecy’s a bad thing, and I’d say, look, there’s no evidence. This guy’s in his early 90s, and has seemed to have a healthy life.”

When preparing The Psychology of Secrets, Kelly re-examined the consequences and benefits of secret-keeping, and began to believe that while divulging secrets improves health, concealing them does not necessarily cause physical problems. “I couldn’t find any evidence that keeping a secret makes a person sick,” Kelly said. “There is evidence that by writing about held-back information someone will get health benefits. Someone keeping a secret would miss out on those benefits. It’s not the same as saying if you keep a secret you’re going to get sick.”

Her latest work, in press at the Journal of Personality, challenged the notion that secret-keeping can cause sickness. Instead of merely looking at instances of sickness nine weeks after disclosure, Kelly and co-author Jonathan Yip adjusted their measurements for initial levels of health. They found, quite simply, that secretive people also tend to be sick people, both now and two months down the line.

“It doesn’t look like the process of keeping the secret made them sick,” she said. High “self-concealers,” as Kelly calls them, tend to be more depressed, anxious, and shy, and have more aches and pains by nature, perhaps suggesting some natural link between being secretive and being vulnerable to illness. “I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that being secretive could be linked to being symptomatic at a biological level.”

This conclusion came gradually. In the mid-1990s, following Pennebaker’s line of research that had really opened up the field, Kelly focused on the health effects of revealing and concealing secrets. The research clearly showed links between secrets and illness. In a review of the field for Current Directions in Psychological Science in 1999, Kelly notes some of these health correlations: cases in which breast cancer patients who talked about their concealed emotions survived almost twice as long as those who did not; students who wrote about private traumatic events showed higher antibody levels four and six months after a Hepatitis B vaccination; and gay men who concealed their sexuality had a higher rate of cancer and infectious disease.

But in 1998 she did a study asking patients about their relationships with their therapists. She found that 40 percent of them were keeping a secret, but generally felt no stress as a result. Kelly began to believe that some secrets can be kept successfully, and that, in some scenarios, disclosing a secret could cause more problems than it solves. Psychologists, she felt, were not paying enough attention to the situations in which disclosure should occur — only that it did. “The essence of the problem with revealing personal information is that revealers may come to see themselves in undesirable ways if others know their stigmatizing secrets,” she wrote in the 1999 paper.

John Caughlin, a professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has studied secrets, agrees that sometimes openness is not the best policy. “People are so accustomed to saying an open relationship is a good one, that if they have secrets it can make them feel that something’s wrong,” he said recently. In 2005, Caughlin published a paper in Personal Relationships suggesting that people have a poor ability to forecast how they will feel after revealing a secret, and how another person will respond to hearing it. “I’m not touting that people should keep a lot of secrets,” he said, “but I don’t think people should assume it’s bad, and I think they do.” In her new book, Anatomy of a Secret Life, published in April, Gail Saltz, a professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical School, referred to secrets as “benign” or “malignant,” depending on the scenario. “In teenagers, having secret identities is normal, healthy separation from parents and needs to go on,” said Saltz recently.

To address this concern, Kelly has focused her recent work on the role of confidants in the process of disclosure. She created a simple diagram advising self-concealers when they should, and when they should not, reveal a secret. On one hand, if the secret does not cause mental or physical stress, it should be kept, to provide a sense of personal boundary and avoid unnecessary social conflict. If it does cause anguish, the secret-keeper must then evaluate whether he or she has a worthy confidant, someone willing to work toward a cathartic insight. When such a confidant is not available, the person should write down his or her thoughts and feelings. “The world changes when you tell someone who knows all your friends,” said Kelly, who experienced this change firsthand 15 years back, when she shared with a colleague something “very personal and embarrassing,” as she called it, and then found her secret floating among her colleagues. “You have to think, what are the implications with my reputation,” she said. “It’s more complicated once you have to reveal to someone.”

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Life, Morality, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

Dan Wegner

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 10, 2013

Dan Wegner

From Harvard Gazette:

Daniel M. Wegner, a pioneering social psychologist who helped to reveal the mysteries of human experience through his work on thought suppression, conscious will, and mind perception, died July 5 as a result of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He was 65.

The John Lindsley Professor of Psychology in Memory of William James, Wegner redefined social psychology as the science of human experience. He was arguably most famous for his experiments on thought suppression, in which people were unable to keep from thinking of a white bear.

Wegner also broke ground in other areas of social psychology, including transactive memory (how memories are distributed across groups and relationship partners) and action identification (what people think they are doing). He had also explored the experience of conscious will, and most recently focused on mind perception (how people perceive human and nonhuman minds).

“Dan was, I believe, the most original thinker in modern psychology,” said Dan Gilbert, the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, who knew Wegner for three decades. “Most of us work on problems that are important in our field, and we use theories others have invented to make progress. Dan didn’t make progress — Dan made new highways, new roads. He opened doors in walls that we didn’t know had doors in them, and he did this over and over.”

Gilbert said he was privileged to call Wegner one of his closest friends. The two met while they both worked in Texas — Gilbert at the University of Texas and Wegner at Trinity University.

“Being among the few social psychologists in Texas, we were introduced by a mutual friend, and it was love at first sight,” Gilbert said. “We’ve been true friends ever since.”  He added. “I’m heartbroken to lose my friend of 30 years, but I guess the only thing worse would have been not to have a friend of 30 years.”

While Wegner was known for his pioneering work on the mind, Gilbert said his intellectual curiosity seemed never to rest.

“The thing about Dan is he didn’t take the lab coat off,” Gilbert said. “For him, being a psychologist wasn’t a job, it was a way of being. He simply spent all his waking time thinking about the interesting aspects of the mind. It was 24/7 for him.”

That intellectual heft, however, never masked Wegner’s humor.

“Dan Wegner was the funniest human being I’ve ever known, and everybody else was a distant second,” Gilbert said. “To say someone was funny may sound frivolous, but I would make the claim that Dan understood something important, which is that humor is the place where intelligence and joy meet. Dan understood that … humor is where a brilliant mind tickles itself.”

That sense of humor, Gilbert said, often showed up in Wegner’s writing, and helped transform the way social psychology is described in many journals today.  “If you open a psychology journal now,” he said, “many, many people write in a Wegner-esque style.”

Even in his final days, Gilbert said, Wegner’s restless mind faced the challenge of his death with an inspirational degree of curiosity.

“It was a privilege to sit by his side as he took this journey to the end,” Gilbert said. “About a month ago, I asked him, ‘If you had to think of one word to describe this experience, what would it be?’ He looked at me, and he said ‘fascinating.’ He was a student of the human experience, and he was having an experience unlike most of us ever have. And rather than bemoaning it or crying about it, he took it as another fascinating thing to study and learn about and think about.”

Born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Wegner studied as an undergraduate and graduate student at Michigan State University, earning his Ph.D. in 1974. He was appointed an assistant professor and rose to full professor and chair of the psychology department at Trinity in San Antonio.

Wegner joined the faculty in the psychology department at the University of Virginia in 1990, where he was the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Psychology before joining the Harvard faculty in 2000.

Wegner was the author of four academic books, an introductory psychology textbook, and nearly 150 journal articles and book chapters.

Wegner’s research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. In 1996-1997 he was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and in 2011 was inducted as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  He received many of the top honors in his field, including the William James Fellow Award from the Association for Psychological Science, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, and the Donald T. Campbell Award from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Wegner is survived by his wife of 29 years, Toni Giuliano Wegner of Winchester, and his daughters, Kelsey Wegner Hurlburt of Dunkirk, Md., and Haley Wegner of Winchester. At Wegner’s request, his body was donated to the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Neurological Clinical Research Institute for ALS Research.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Winchester Unitarian Society, 478 Main St., Winchester, Mass. Wegner requested that his service be a celebration of life, and so would welcome Hawaiian shirts.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to:

Compassionate Care ALS
P.O. Box 1052
West Falmouth, Mass. 02574

Winchester Unitarian Society
478 Main Street
Winchester, Mass. 01890

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Illusions, Life, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

Seeing Violence; Doing Violence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 26, 2013

domestic violence

From Case Western Reserve University on Newswise:

Aggression in school-age children may have its origins in children 3 years old and younger who witnessed violence between their mothers and partners, according to a new Case Western Reserve University study.

“People may think children that young are passive and unaware, but they pay attention to what’s happening around them,” said Megan Holmes, assistant professor of social work at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland.

Between three and 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence each year, according the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence.

Holmes said researchers know the impact of recent exposure to violence, but little information has been available about the long-term effect from the early years of life. To her knowledge, she said her study is the first to look at the effect of early exposure to domestic violence and its impact on the development of social behavior.

In the study, “The sleeper effect of intimate partner violence (IPV) exposure: long-term consequences on young children’s aggressive behavior,” Holmes analyzed the behavior of 107 children exposed to IPV in their first three years but never again after age 3. The outcomes of those children were compared to 339 children who were never exposed.

Those studied were from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), which included children reported to Child Protective Services for abuse or neglect. The children’s behavior was followed four times over the course of 5 years.

Holmes’s research examined the timing, duration and nature of their exposure to violence and how it affected aggressive behavior.

Analyzing aggressive behaviors, Holmes saw no behavioral differences between those who did or did not witness violence between the ages of 3 and 5, but children exposed to violence increased their aggression when they reached school age. And the more frequently IPV was witnessed, the more aggressive the behaviors became.

Meanwhile, children never exposed to IPV gradually decreased in aggression.

Knowing about the delayed effect on children is important for social workers assessing the impact on children in homes with domestic violence, Holmes said.

“The delay also gives social workers a window of opportunity between ages 3 and 5 to help the children socialize and learn what is appropriate behavior,” said Holmes, who has worked with mothers and children in domestic violence shelters.

Interventions can include play and art therapies to help children work through the violence they were exposed to.

Holmes reported her findings in the spring issue of Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Related Situationist posts:

One series of posts was devoted to the situational sources of war.

To review a larger sample of posts on the causes and consequences of human conflict, click here.

Posted in Life | Leave a Comment »

The Surprisingly Dangerous Situation of Hands Free Devices while Driving

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 20, 2013

Many drivers use hands-free devices in their cars believing that it is a safer way of texting and emailing than to do so by typing.  A new study by the University of Utah and AAA suggests hands-free devices pose more danger than other distractions in cars.  Here is an excerpt from a story on the University of Utah’s website:

* * *

“Our research shows that hands-free is not risk-free,” says University of Utah psychology Professor David Strayer, lead author of the study, which he conducted for the foundation arm of the nonprofit AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association.

“These new, speech-based technologies in the car can overload the driver’s attention and impair their ability to drive safely,” says Strayer. “An unintended consequence of trying to make driving safer – by moving to speech-to-text, in-vehicle systems – may actually overload the driver and make them less safe.”

* * *

To read the rest, click here.  For a related Situationist post, see The Situation of Driving While Texting.

Posted in Law, Life | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Questions about NFL Players’ Sexual Orientation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 17, 2013

SI Loaded Question 3Last week the National Football League Players’ Association announced it would sell t-shirts with a gay pride theme.  A number of players have agreed to have their names on the t-shirts.  This is a positive step for the NFL, which as Situationist contributor Michael McCann wrote about earlier this year for Sports Illustrated, has seen fallout from its teams asking prospective players about their sexual orientation.  Here is an excerpt of McCann’s article “Loaded Question“, which appeared on page 16 in the March 25, 2013 issue of SI.

* * *

In a March 14 letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman inquired why, during last month’s scouting combine, several college players were allegedly asked about their sexual orientation. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o denied reports that he had faced such queries, but Colorado tight end Nick Kasa said a team wanted to know if he “likes girls.” Kasa’s isn’t the first case of offensive predraft questioning. In 2010, Dolphins G.M. Jeff Ireland asked Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. (Ireland later apologized.)

The NFL asserts that such questions violate existing league policies and are subject to discipline. A league spokesperson also says that the questioning of prospects was to be discussed at this week’s owners meeting.

Are the NFL and the players association doing enough to protect prospects from biased questions? Article 49 of the current CBA declares, “There will be no discrimination in any form against any player … because of … sexual orientation.” But is a draft prospect who is not yet a member of the NFLPA or of an NFL team—and may never become one—fully protected by Article 49?

* * *

To read the rest, click here.  For other Situationist posts on homophobia, click here.

Posted in Law, Life, Situationist Contributors, Situationist Sports | Leave a Comment »

Nalini Ambady Needs Our Help

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 29, 2013

Nalini Ambady has very little time to find a bone marrow match, but you can help! Spread the word and visit  www.NaliniNeedsYou.com for more information.

Posted in Altruism, Life | Leave a Comment »

Not Your Granparents’ Prejudice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 26, 2013

Blind Spot Book CoverFrom NPR’s Code Switch (by Shankar Vedantam) a story about Situationist Contributor Mahzarin Banaji and Situationist friend Tony Greenwald.

Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji was once approached by a reporter for an interview. When Banaji heard the name of the magazine the reporter was writing for, she declined the interview: She didn’t think much of the magazine and believed it portrayed research in psychology inaccurately.

But then the reporter said something that made her reconsider, Banaji recalled: “She said, ‘You know, I used to be a student at Yale when you were there, and even though I didn’t take a course with you, I do remember hearing about your work.’ “

The next words out of Banaji’s mouth: “OK, come on over; I’ll talk to you.”

After she changed her mind, got to thinking. Why had she changed her mind? She still didn’t think much of the magazine in which the article would appear. The answer: The reporter had found a way to make a personal connection.

For most people, this would have been so obvious and self-explanatory it would have required no further thought. Of course, we might think. Of course we’d help someone with whom we have a personal connection.

For Banaji, however, it was the start of a psychological exploration into the nature and consequences of favoritism — why we give some people the kind of extra-special treatment we don’t give others.

In a new book, , Banaji and her co-author, Anthony Greenwald, a social psychologist at the University of Washington, turn the conventional way people think about prejudice on its head. Traditionally, Banaji says, psychologists in her field have looked for overt “acts of commission — what do I do? Do I go across town to burn down the church of somebody who’s not from my denomination? That, I can recognize as prejudice.”

Yet, far from springing from animosity and hatred, Banaji and Greenwald argue, prejudice may often stem from unintentional biases.

Take Banaji’s own behavior toward the reporter with a Yale connection. She would not have changed her mind for another reporter without the personal connection. In that sense, her decision was a form of prejudice, even though it didn’t feel that way.

Now, most people might argue such favoritism is harmless, but Banaji and Greenwald think it might actually explain a lot about the modern United States, where vanishingly few people say they hold explicit prejudice toward others but wide disparities remain along class, and gender lines.

Anthony Greenwald is a social psychologist and a professor at the University of Washington.

Jean Alexander Greenwald/Delacorte Press

The two psychologists have revolutionized the scientific study of prejudice in recent decades, and their — which measures the speed of people’s hidden associations — has been applied to the practice of , law and other fields. Few would doubt its impact, including . (I’ve written about and Greenwald’s work before, in this and in my 2010 book, .)

“I think that kind of act of helping towards people with whom we have some shared group identity is really the modern way in which discrimination likely happens,” Banaji says.

In many ways, the psychologists’ work mirrors the conclusion of another recent book: In , sociologist asks how it is that few people report feeling racial prejudice, while the United States still has enormous disparities. Discrimination today is less about treating people from other groups badly, DiTomaso writes, and more about giving preferential treatment to people who are part of our “in-groups.”

The insidious thing about favoritism is that it doesn’t feel icky in any way, Banaji says. We feel like a great friend when we give a buddy a foot in the door to a job interview at our workplace. We feel like good parents when we arrange a class trip for our daughter’s class to our place of work. We feel like generous people when we give our neighbors extra tickets to a sports game or a show.

In each case, however, Banaji, Greenwald and DiTomaso might argue, we strengthen existing patterns of advantage and disadvantage because our friends, neighbors and children’s classmates are overwhelmingly likely to share our own racial, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. When we help someone from one of these in-groups, we don’t stop to ask: Whom are we not helping?

Banaji tells a story in the book about a friend, , now a professor at Northeastern University. . . .

Read or listen to the rest of the story here.

Related Situationist posts:

Go to Project Implicit here.  Take the Policy IAT here.

To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin, or, for a list of such posts, click here.

Learn more about the book, Blind Spot, here.

Posted in Book, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Nalini Ambady Needs Our Help

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 2, 2013

Nalini Ambady Needs Our Help

Social psychologists have launched an international campaign to save the life of Nalini Ambady, a Stanford University social psychologist and Situationist friend who is battling leukemia and urgently needs a bone marrow transplant. To find out what you can do, visit Help Nalini Now.  Please also read Sam Sommers post: Point. Click. Save this Woman’s Life.

Posted in Life | 1 Comment »

The Gendered Situation of Smiling

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2013

Mona Lisa smile

By Soledad de Lemus, Russell Spears, & Miguel Moya wrote a terrific post on SPSP Blog about the mystery and meaning of the smile.  Here are some excerpts:

We  smile when we feel happy, but smiles are more than just the outward display of an inner emotion. We are far more likely to smile when we are with other people because a smile is a message: just one more way for people to communicate information to and establish social ties with other people.

A smile, though, sometimes means more than just “I am happy.” Just as many species bare their teeth to signal their dominance and rank, smiles exchanged among humans serve an interpersonal, regulatory function.  In our research we wanted to understand how smiles, which usually serve to signal  positive affiliation, also define status in the social hierarchy when the smile is coupled with other nonverbal information (e.g., posture). Specifically, we studied women’s nonverbal reaction to a man’s smile: will she, in addition to smiling back, also display signs of submissiveness, such as downcast eyes or a narrowing posture?

For social psychologists interested in gender, patronizing and paternalistic forms of discrimination have become a key focus of research in recent years. There are good reasons for this. Forms of prejudice and discrimination that are subtle make them more difficult to recognize and resist (Jackman, 1994), and these forms can be expressed more easily. For instance, gender relations are characterized by a power difference between men and women such that the men are considered as more worthy (e.g., as more competent, agentic than women) but women as friendlier, and more socially-oriented than men;  attributes that some consider to be important but less valuable in society. Further, gender stereotypes prescribe dominance to men compared to women, who are often expected to behave in a more submissive way to comply with the stereotypes of their group.

Other researchers have diligently explored how behaving in a complementary way in a social interaction helps to maintain positive relations, facilitating achievement of common goals. That is, when people are working together on a task with another person and they want to succeed in this task and also to maintain a positive interpersonal relations,  they will often respond to the other person’s behavior in a complementary way. This tendency generates interpersonal complementarity:  If one behaves in a dominant manner, the other will be more submissive (or vice versa), as long as there is a positive affiliation between them (e.g., they see each other as friendly and cooperative). These results have been found also when observing the non-verbal behavior of people during interpersonal interactions (Tiedens & Fragale, 2003).

Bringing together these two ideas (the role of power in gender relations, and the existence of complementary behavior in interpersonal relations), we hypothesized that in an affiliative setting—with smiles serving as strong signals of the situation’s positive emotional tone—people will display complementarity: in response to dominant behavior they will become more submissive, especially when gender is salient (i.e. in an intergroup context) providing a gender stereotypic basis for dominance vs. submission. When the context is more competitive (not affiliative –no smiling) the motivation will be to contest (compete with) the dominant behaviour, instead of complementing it.

We tested our hypotheses in three studies recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (de Lemus, Spears, & Moya, 2012).

. . .

Our research supports the argument that certain forms of prejudice and discrimination (sexism) that are subtle (disguised with a smile) make them more difficult to recognize and resist. The other way to frame our findings (perhaps in a more positive tone), is that when the smile is not present, women do seem to challenge male sexist dominance. This is, to some extent, a positive finding in terms of gender equality. We conclude our paper saying that “if women sustain the cycle of sexism unconsciously through their behavior this makes achieving gender equality harder than we might have thought. However, this implies that raising consciousness is literally as well as metaphorically the way forward.”

Read the rest of their post and a summary of their results here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Emotions, Evolutionary Psychology, Life | Leave a Comment »

The Big Game: What Corporations Are Learning About the Human Brain

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 3, 2013

This post (authored by Adam Benforado) was originally published on February 4, 2007.

Superbowl XLI

As I stake out my position on the couch this evening – close enough to reach the pretzels and my beer, but with an optimal view of the TV – it will be nice to imagine that the spectacle about to unfold is a sporting event.It shouldn’t be too hard: after all, there on the screen will be the field, Brian Urlacher stretching out his quads, Peyton Manning tossing a football, referees in their freshly-starched zebra uniforms milling about.Yes, I’ll think to myself, this has all the makings of a football game.

How foolish.

The Super Bowl isn’t about sports; it’s about making money.And with 90 million or so viewers, there is a lot of money to be made.

With CBS charging an estimated $2.6 million for each 30-second advertising spot, it’s no surprise that corporations don’t mess around with guessing what the most effective approach will be for selling their products.They call in the scientists.brain-on-advertising.jpg

For the second year in a row, FKF Applied Research has partnered with the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, to “measure the effect of many of the Super Bowl ads by using fMRI technology.”The research involves “track[ing] the ads on a host of dimensions by looking for activity in key parts of the brain areas that are known to be involved in wanting, choosing, sexual arousal, fear, indecision and reward.”As the FKF website explains, why this research is useful to Fortune 100 companies is that it

shows clearly that what people say in focus groups and in response to poll questions is not what they actually think, feel and do. fMRI scans using our analytical methods allow us to see beyond self report and to understand the emotions and thoughts that are driving (or impeding) behavior.

Looking beyond the spoken word provides immense and actionable insights into a brand, a competitive framework, advertising and visual images and cues.

As it turns out, “brand” lives in a particular place in the human brain:

[W]hen [FKF] did an academic study on the impact of iconic brands, such as Pepsi and Coke and McDonalds, [they] found that the same part of the brain lit up over images of sports logos – say, for the NBA or NFL. There is a clear connection in the human brain between the anticipation of eating that you get from, say, the Coke logo and with the NBA logo.

nfl-coke-logos.jpg

For someone like me, who has always wondered why I feel so hungry reading the sports page, this is interesting stuff.For a corporate CEO, this is extremely interesting – and actionable – stuff.For everyone else . . . this is a reason to be concerned.

Corporations are using science to figure out how our brains work so they can sell more products and what they are finding is that our brains don’t work the way we think they do.

Anticipating this worry, FKF has an Ethics tab on its website:

We are committed to the highest level of ethical behavior in conducting our work. We are determined to be diligent in carving out a new field, and being a leader and advocate in ensuring the best interests of our subjects, the public, and our clients are protected. . . . We believe that wide dissemination about how people make decisions will empower all concerned – both consumers and purveyors of information. Such information, freely discussed in a democracy, will allow us to understand better how marketing is affecting us, discredit manipulation, promote communication, and help illuminate a process that fundamentally shapes the lives of human beings.

Sounds good – in fact, it sounds like situationism, and I have no reason to think that the founders of FKF, or the university scientists with whom they work, aren’t upstanding citizens with good moral compasses.It’s just that I’m still uneasy.

Corporations don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to learning counterintuitive information about human decision making and then using it responsibly.Rather, the best approach for maximizing shareholder profit is to discover some seemingly-illogical detail about the human brain, use that knowledge to sell more widgets, and then convince the public that their naïve (and incorrect) beliefs about how they make choices are, in fact, correct.

Take big tobacco: as Jon Hanson and others have documented, after figuring out that nicotine was addictive and could compel people to buy marlboro-sm.jpgMarlboros, cigarette companies made a concerted effort to both up nicotine concentrations in their products and convince people, through advertising, that they were rational actors who were not easily manipulated.From the perspective of an entity that is charged, through our legal rules, with making money (and not with doing social good), it makes little sense to alter peoples’ situations to get them to be better consumers and then tell them that you are doing it and that it matters.

Why, that would be as silly as announcing a weak-side blitz to the quarterback before the play.Sure, it would be the nice, ethical thing to warn decent gentlemen like Manning and Rex Grossman of the imminent threat, but it’s not part of the game we’ve developed.Football is a game where you can get blind-sided.

As corporations and our brains make certain, so is watching football.

* * *

(To read about the results of a brain-scan study of men and women watching the 2006 Super Bowl by UCLA neuroscientist Marco Iacobini, click here. To listen to a recent one-hour NPR (On Point) program on “The Changing World of Advertising,” click here.)

Posted in Emotions, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Situationist Sports | 1 Comment »

The Deeply Captured Situation of Sugar

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 25, 2012

Mother Jones has a superb new article on the deeply captured situation of sugar.  It begins as follows:

ON A BRISK SPRING Tuesday in 1976, a pair of executives from the Sugar Association stepped up to the podium of a Chicago ballroom to accept the Oscar of the public relations world, the Silver Anvil award for excellence in “the forging of public opinion.” The trade group had recently pulled off one of the greatest turnarounds in PR history. For nearly a decade, the sugar industry had been buffeted by crisis after crisis as the media and the public soured on sugar and scientists began to view it as a likely cause of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Industry ads claiming that eating sugar helped you lose weight had been called out by the Federal Trade Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration had launched a review of whether sugar was even safe to eat. Consumption had declined 12 percent in just two years, and producers could see where that trend might lead. As John “JW” Tatem Jr. and Jack O’Connell Jr., the Sugar Association’s president and director of public relations, posed that day with their trophies, their smiles only hinted at the coup they’d just pulled off.

Their winning campaign, crafted with the help of the prestigious public relations firm Carl Byoir & Associates, had been prompted by a poll showing that consumers had come to see sugar as fattening, and that most doctors suspected it might exacerbate, if not cause, heart disease and diabetes. With an initial annual budget of nearly $800,000 ($3.4 million today) collected from the makers of Dixie Crystals, Domino, C&H, Great Western, and other sugar brands, the association recruited a stable of medical and nutritional professionals to allay the public’s fears, brought snack and beverage companies into the fold, and bankrolled scientific papers that contributed to a “highly supportive” FDA ruling, which, the Silver Anvil application boasted, made it “unlikely that sugar will be subject to legislative restriction in coming years.”

The story of sugar, as Tatem told it, was one of a harmless product under attack by “opportunists dedicated to exploiting the consuming public.” Over the subsequent decades, it would be transformed from what the New York Times in 1977 had deemed “a villain in disguise” into a nutrient so seemingly innocuous that even the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association approved it as part of a healthy diet. Research on the suspected links between sugar and chronic disease largely ground to a halt by the late 1980s, and scientists came to view such pursuits as a career dead end. So effective were the Sugar Association’s efforts that, to this day, no consensus exists about sugar’s potential dangers. The industry’s PR campaign corresponded roughly with a significant rise in Americans’ consumption of “caloric sweeteners,” including table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This increase was accompanied, in turn, by a surge in the chronic diseases increasingly linked to sugar. Since 1970, obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled, while the incidence of diabetes has more than tripled.

Read the entire article and related items here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, History, Ideology, Life, Marketing, Public Relations | 1 Comment »

Situationist Contributor Mahzarin Banaji Speaks at HLS

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 10, 2012

Dr. Mahzarin Banaji
Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People

Friday, October 12 at 5:00 pm
Wasserstein Hall, Room 2019
Harvard Law School
1585 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA

Followed by a public reception at 7:00 pm

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People*
Mahzarin R. Banaji , Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics  at Harvard University

Most human beings take seriously the idea that their behavior ought to be consistent with their stated beliefs and values. The last fifty years of research in psychology has challenged that possibility by revealing that our minds operate, much of the time, without conscious awareness. Professor Banaji will speak to the question of how well-intentioned people behave in ways that deviate from their own intentions, and how this state of affairs compromises our decisions in legal, medical, financial, and political contexts.

*Book to be published February 2013

This is the keynote address of our Cooper v. Aaron conference. Please RSVP here if you plan to attend this talk.

Posted in Illusions, Implicit Associations, Life, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Mind-Wandering and Why It Matters

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 18, 2012

From Harvard Gazette (regarding new research by Situationist friend Dan Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth):

People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.

The research, by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, is described this week in the journal Science.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn’t going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all. Indeed, mind-wandering appears to be the human brain’s default mode of operation.

To track this behavior, Killingsworth developed an iPhone app that contacted 2,250 volunteers at random intervals to ask how happy they were, what they were currently doing, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or about something else that was pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant.

Subjects could choose from 22 general activities, such as walking, eating, shopping, and watching television. On average, respondents reported that their minds were wandering 46.9 percent of time, and no less than 30 percent of the time during every activity except making love.

“Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities,” says Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard. “This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the nonpresent.”

Killingsworth and Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer.

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”

The researchers estimated that only 4.6 percent of a person’s happiness in a given moment was attributable to the specific activity he or she was doing, whereas a person’s mind-wandering status accounted for about 10.8 percent of his or her happiness.

Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.

“Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to ‘be here now,’” Killingsworth and Gilbert note in Science. “These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

This new research, the authors say, suggests that these traditions are right.

Killingsworth and Gilbert’s 2,250 subjects in this study ranged in age from 18 to 88, representing a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and occupations. Seventy-four percent of study participants were American.

More than 5,000 people are now using the iPhone Web app.

Related Situationist posts:

Image from flickr.

Posted in Emotions, Life, Positive Psychology | 3 Comments »

Michael Norton on Pro-Social Spending

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 12, 2012

From

Michael Norton shares fascinating research on how money can, indeed buy happiness — when you don’t spend it on yourself. Listen for surprising data on the many ways pro-social spending can benefit you, your work, and (of course) other people.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Distribution, Life, Positive Psychology, Video | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Money-Based Happiness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 12, 2012

An excerpt from a recent, terrific New York Times piece by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton:

The notion that money can’t buy happiness has been around a long time — even before yoga came into vogue. But it turns out there is a measurable connection between income and happiness; not surprisingly, people with a comfortable living standard are happier than people living in poverty.

The catch is that additional income doesn’t buy us any additional happiness on a typical day once we reach that comfortable standard. The magic number that defines this “comfortable standard” varies across individuals and countries, but in the United States, it seems to fall somewhere around $75,000. Using Gallup data collected from almost half a million Americans, researchers at Princeton found that higher household incomes were associated with better moods on a daily basis — but the beneficial effects of money tapered off entirely after the $75,000 mark.

Why, then, do so many of us bother to work so hard long after we have reached an income level sufficient to make most of us happy? One reason is that our ideas about the relationship between money and happiness are misguided. In research we conducted with a national sample of Americans, people thought that their life satisfaction would double if they made $55,000 instead of $25,000: more than twice as much money, twice as much happiness. But our data showed that people who earned $55,000 were just 9 percent more satisfied than those making $25,000. Nine percent beats zero percent, but it’s still kind of a letdown when you were expecting a 100 percent return.

Interestingly, and usefully, it turns out that what we do with our money plays a far more important role than how much money we make. Imagine three people each win $1 million in the lottery. Suppose one person attempts to buy every single thing he has ever wanted; one puts it all in the bank and uses the money only sparingly, for special occasions; and one gives it all to charity. At the end of the year, they all would report an additional $1 million of income. Many of us would follow the first person’s strategy, but the latter two winners are likely to get the bigger happiness bang for their buck.

We usually think of having more money as allowing us to buy more and more of the stuff we like for ourselves, from bigger houses to fancier cars to better wine to more finely pixilated televisions. But these typical spending tendencies — buying more, and buying for ourselves — are ineffective at turning money into happiness. A decade of research has demonstrated that if you insist on spending money on yourself, you should shift from buying stuff (TVs and cars) to experiences (trips and special evenings out). Our own recent research shows that in addition to buying more experiences, you’re better served in many cases by simply buying less — and buying for others.

Read the entire article, including their discussion of value of “underindulgence.”

Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending (Simon & Schuster), co-authored by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, is due out in the spring of 2013!

Pre-order it on Amazon here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Book, Deep Capture, Distribution, Emotions, Illusions, Life, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Interior Situation of Belief in God

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 6, 2012

From BigThink:

Our Lady of Lourdes appears 18 times to a miller’s daughter collecting firewood in a small market town in France. A young woman leads an army through critical strategic victories in the 100 Years’ War, claiming to be guided by divine insight. In the very first hours of the 20th century, a student asks God to fill her with the holy spirit and begins to speak in tongues.

Are these incidents case studies in undiagnosed mental illness, spiritual transcendence, or something nebulously in between?

It’s an interesting and elusive question for neuroscientists, with big implications on our understanding of consciousness. As the Nobel-prize winning neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel has said, reductionism — the idea that a system is nothing more than the interactions between its parts — is an extremely successful theory of biology, but as a “theory of everything,” it fails to provide us with a sufficient explanation of a few basic, fundamental elements that shape human perception.

Particularly, religion. Why do we care whether or not God exists? And why do so many people believe? A new generation of neuroscientists is addressing those questions directly, with the ambitious goal of measuring what happens to the human brain during spiritual experiences. Dr. Andrew Newberg is the Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine and a pioneer in the field of neurotheology. Newberg doesn’t identify with a particular religious group, but he’s fascinated by the profound significance and persistence of human faith throughout history.

Watch the interiew of Dr. Andrew Newberg, a pioneer in the field of neurotheology, here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, Ideology, Life, Morality, Video | Leave a Comment »

Rebecca Onie on the Situation of Health (and Health Care)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 22, 2012

From

Rebecca Onie asks audacious questions: What if waiting rooms were a place to improve daily health care? What if doctors could prescribe food, housing and heat in the winter? At TEDMED she describes Health Leads, an organization that does just that — and does it by building a volunteer base as elite and dedicated as a college sports team.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Distribution, Education, Law, Life, Morality, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Perceived Time

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 21, 2012

Melanie Rudd, Kathleen Vohs, and Jennifer Lynn Aaker recently posted their latest paper, “Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being” (forthcoming Psychological Science) on SSRN. For those of you who have time to read it, here is the abstract.

When do people feel as if they are rich in time? Not often, research and daily experience suggest. However, three experiments showed that participants who felt awe, relative to other emotions, felt they had more time available (Experiments 1, 3) and were less impatient (Experiment 2). Participants who experienced awe were also more willing to volunteer their time to help others (Experiment 2), more strongly preferred experiences over material products (Experiment 3), and experienced a greater boost in life satisfaction (Experiment 3). Mediation analyses revealed that these changes in decision making and well-being were due to awe’s ability to alter the subjective experience of time. Experiences of awe bring people into the present moment, which underlies awe’s capacity to adjust time perception, influence decisions, and make life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.

Download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Life | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 9, 2012

From  :

Talk by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett co-authors of “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger” recorded January 8, 2010 at Hogness Auditorium, University of Washington, Seattle.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Distribution, Life, Politics, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

 
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