The Situationist

Wegstock #17 – Jamie Pennebaker

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 20, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In his fascinating lecture, Jamie Pennebaker discusses . . . well, it’s a secret.  Enjoy the function and the content words!

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

Posted in Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Cheater’s Buzz

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 14, 2013

exam cheating

From Newswire:

People who get away with cheating when they believe no one is hurt by their dishonesty are more likely to feel upbeat than remorseful afterward, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

Although people predict they will feel bad after cheating or being dishonest, many of them don’t, reports a study published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“When people do something wrong specifically to harm someone else, such as apply an electrical shock, the consistent reaction in previous research has been that they feel bad about their behavior,” said the study’s lead author, Nicole E. Ruedy, of the University of Washington. “Our study reveals people actually may experience a ‘cheater’s high’ after doing something unethical that doesn’t directly harm someone else.”

Even when there was no tangible reward, people who cheated felt better on average than those who didn’t cheat, according to results of several experiments that involved more than 1,000 people in the U.S. and England. A little more than half the study participants were men, with 400 from the general public in their late 20s or early 30s and the rest in their 20s at universities.

Participants predicted that they or someone else who cheated on a test or logged more hours than they had worked to get a bonus would feel bad or ambivalent afterward. When participants actually cheated, they generally got a significant emotional boost instead, according to responses to questionnaires that gauged their feelings before and after several experiments.

In one experiment, participants who cheated on math and logic problems were overall happier afterward than those who didn’t and those who had no opportunity to cheat. The participants took tests on computers in two groups. In one group, when participants completed an answer, they were automatically moved to the next question. In the other group, participants could click a button on the screen to see the correct answer, but they were told to disregard the button and solve the problem on their own. Graders could see who used the correct-answer button and found that 68 percent of the participants in that group did, which the researchers counted as cheating.

People who gained from another person’s misdeeds felt better on average than those who didn’t, another experiment found. Researchers at a London university observed two groups in which each participant solved math puzzles while in a room with another person who was pretending to be a participant. The actual participants were told they would be paid for each puzzle they solved within a time limit and that the other “participant” would grade the test when the time was up. In one group, the actor inflated the participant’s score when reporting it to the experimenter. In the other group, the actor scored the participant accurately. None of the participants in the group with the cheating actor reported the lie, the authors said.

In another trial, researchers asked the participants not to cheat because it would make their responses unreliable, yet those who cheated were more likely to feel more satisfied afterward than those who didn’t. Moreover, the cheaters who were reminded at the end of the test how important it was not to cheat reported feeling even better on average than other cheaters who were not given this message, the authors said. Researchers gave participants a list of anagrams to unscramble and emphasized that they should unscramble them in consecutive order and not move on to the next word until the previous anagram was solved. The third jumble on the list was “unaagt,” which can spell only the word taguan, a species of flying squirrel. Previous testing has shown that the likelihood of someone solving this anagram is minuscule. The graders considered anyone who went beyond the third word to have cheated and found that more than half the participants did, the authors said.

“The good feeling some people get when they cheat may be one reason people are unethical even when the payoff is small,” Ruedy said. “It’s important that we understand how our moral behavior influences our emotions. Future research should examine whether this ‘cheater’s high’ could motivate people to repeat the unethical behavior.”

________________________________________

Article: “The Cheater’s High: The Unexpected Affective Benefits of Unethical Behavior,” Nicole E. Ruedy, PhD, University of Washington; Celia Moore, PhD, London Business School; Francesca Gino, PhD, Harvard University; and Maurice E. Schweitzer, PhD, University of Pennsylvania; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, online, Sept. 3, 2013.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Emotions, Morality | 2 Comments »

Wegstock #16 – Robin Vallacher

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 10, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In his fascinating lecture, titled “Rethinking Psychological Process,” Robin Vallacher discusses his early friendship and research with Dan Wegner and connects that to some of his intriguing research today on the non-linear, emergent nature of thought processes, and the role of implicit self-esteem.  .

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

Posted in Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #15 – Bill Crano

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 6, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In his thoughtful lecture, titled “Is Dan Wegner a Cook?,” Bill Crano discusses some of Dan Wegner’s very early career, as a graduate student, and then some of his own fascinating research.

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

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #14 – Jerry Klore

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 1, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In his interesting lecture, Gerald Klore discusses some of Dan Wegner’s books and hobbies and Jerry’s own research on the role of affect as information about the demands on and availability of bodily and social resources.

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

Posted in Emotions, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #13 – John Krosnick

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 26, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In his outstanding lecture, Jon Krosnick discusses the place of social psychology among social sciences.

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

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #12 – Dan Gilbert

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 24, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In this video, Dan Gilbert gives another one of his funny and fascinating talks — this one on the psychology of admitting mistakes and the surprising connection between evidence and an denial.

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

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #11 – Thalia Wheatley

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 21, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In this video, Thalia Wheatley discusses her wonderful work on the universal dynamics of emotions and puppets and balls and music. Watch and enjoy.

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

Posted in Emotions, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #10 – Ap Dijksterhuis

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 18, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In this video, Ap Dijksterhuis discusses his fascinating work on the role of unconscious cognitions.

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

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #9 – Todd Heatherton

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 15, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In this video, Todd Heatherton delivers his untitled talk in which he discusses his research (inspired and influenced in part by Dan Wegner) on “mind imaging” with regard  to self-regulation and mind perception.

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

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #8 – Bill Swann

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 11, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In this video, Bill Swann delivers his talk “Now That’s Devotion,” in which he discusses ways in which his life and work were influenced by Dan Wegner.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here. To review a collection of posts related to Bill Swann’s work, click here.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #7 – Nick Epley

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 9, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, Nick Epley discusses ways in which he “has not recovered” from his encounters with Dan Wegner.

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

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #6 – Kurt Gray

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 6, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Nick Epley, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, Situationist friend Kurt Gray discusses his research and how Dan Wegner helped to shape it.

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

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #5 – Henk Aarts

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 2, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Nick Epley, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, Henk Aarts describes a white dog, a red car, his research and how Dan Wegner helped to shape it.

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

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #4 – Tim Wilson

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 29, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Nick Epley, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, Situationist Contributor Timothy Wilson discusses the field and his research and a little bit about his book, Redirect.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here. Click here for Situationist posts about Tim Wilson’s research.

Posted in Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #3 – John Haidt

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 26, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Nick Epley, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, John Haidt describes (quite hilariously at times) his research and how Dan Wegner helped to shape it.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here. Click here for Situationist posts about Jon Haidt’s research.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #2 – Susan Fiske

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 24, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Nick Epley, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, Situationist friend Susan Fiske describes aspects of her scholarship and how Dan Wegner inspired them.

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

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #1 – Dan Gilbert’s Opening Remarks

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 21, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Nick Epley, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, Situationist friend Dan Gilbert opens the conference.

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

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a 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 »

Ride to Hell and The Situation of Sexual Violence in Video Games

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 15, 2013

In late June, Deep Silver published a new video game called Ride to Hell: Retribution. The action game, which is available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, has players taking on the role of a Vietnam War veteran who wages battles with a biker gang. In addition to receiving horrific reviews for its shoddy game play and pointless story — Ride to Hell: Retribution has one of the lowest scores of all video games on Metacritic — the game has attracted much scorn for “forced” sex scenes and its demeaning depiction of women.

For an example of the sexual content in Ride to Hell: Retribution, see from the 10:00 minute mark in this video:

Justin Alderman, a video game critic for We Got This Covered, explains the controversy:

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The other thing to note about Ride to Hell: Retribution‘s missions is that each of them contain at least one impromptu, and very creepy, sex scene. At some point during each mission Jake will spot one or more male characters threatening (either physically or sexually) one or more female characters. After killing the hostile males, Jake is “rewarded” with a short cutscene of him having fully-clothed sex with the distressed damsel[s].

I’m not inherently against including sex in video games, but the circumstances surrounding the repeated sex scenes in Ride to Hell: Retribution are extremely offensive and troubling.

The most obvious issue is that almost all of the female characters in the game amount to nothing more than objects for Jake to eventually have sex with. What is far more disconcerting, in my opinion, is that the “sex reward” is basically forced upon players. You can either leave the distressed female to get beat up and/or raped, or you can stop the attack and then have sex with her yourself. There is never any option to be a decent human being and just stop the rape.

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

Posted in Entertainment, Marketing, Public Policy | 1 Comment »

 
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