Monthly Archives: September 2009

Money can’t buy friends but it may help you cope without them

Money

By Erica Zaiser

With the recent economic crisis many may be finding it harder to keep up with the Joneses. Undoubtedly, losing a job and its potential impact on one’s finances is highly stressful in and of itself, but many people may feel added pressure from the need to maintain their social status despite economic loss.

People will go to great lengths to retain their place in a group because being socially ostracized can be a highly stressful and often traumatic experience. Ostracism has been linked to a number of psychological responses as well as actually physical pain.  The bad news is that, according to a recent study, when people feel socially ostracized their desire for money only increases because money represents power and status (Zhou, Vohs, & Baumeister, 2009). The good news is that the same research suggests that just the simple act of counting money (as opposed to blank paper) can lessen the negative feelings associated with social exclusion, even when it is someone else’s money. Even more, counting money can actually lessen perceptions of physical pain. Conversely, when people are reminded of having spent or losing money they report feeling higher levels of mental distress as well as physical pain.

One explanation for this is that counting money reminds us of money, which is a potential social resource for coping and gaining status. Thus, as we lose friends we want to increase our financial resources and conversely, as we lose financial security we are more distraught by losing friends. In this way financial and social resources may act as a type of psychological currency that allows you to “buy” confidence and feelings of efficacy, which are linked to both psychological and physical pain.

So during these hard financial times, if you find you can no longer keep up with the Joneses financially, you may want to try being friends with them instead.

square-eye Read more about the effects of ostracism:  Williams, K.D. (2007). Ostracism: The kiss of social death. Social and Personality Compass1, 236–247.

Zhou, Xinyue, Kathleen D. Vohs, and Roy F. Baumeister (2009), “The Symbolic Power of
Money: Reminders of Money Alter Social Distress and Physical Pain,” Psychological
Science.

square-eye Zhou, X. , Vohs K. D., Baumeister, R. (2009). The symbolic power of money: Reminders of money alter social distress and physical  pain, Psychological Science, 20, 700-706.

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Gender Stereotypes and Success in the Military

Womenincombat

Yesterday Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa L. King was made commandant of the drill sergeant school at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and is the first woman to fill such a position in any of the Army’s schools across the country. According to a recent article by James Dao of the NY Times women constitute a very small percentage of Army personnel in general (13%) and an even smaller percentage of the Army’s highest-ranking enlisted soldiers in active-duty (8%). The lack of female personnel and those in high-ranking positions has been attributed to “pregnancy, long hours and the prohibition against women serving in frontline combat positions” by the Army. Experimental research, particularly in the areas of gender and stereotyping, indicates that women are evaluated differently than men in military training which may also explain the lack of women in higher-ranking positions.

Boldry, Wood, and Kashy (2001) found that although there were no actual performance differences between male and female cadets men were perceived as having the motivation and leadership to succeed in the military while women were thought to have more feminine attributes that would impair performance. Other research has shown that the proportion of women in a given unit is related to performance evaluation such that when women represent a smaller/token portion of the unit their performance is rated lower than men, but when there was a higher proportion of women performance was rated higher than men (Pazy & Oron, 2001). It seems that perception, not performance, contributes to the maintenance of gender barriers in the military among other domains for both men and women. Hopefully, one day more of us can see the world and ourselves as Sergeant Major King does: “When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a female, I see a soldier.”

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First Woman Ascends to Top Drill Sergeant Spot

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Gender Stereotypes and the Evaluation of Men and Women in Military Training

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Sex proportion and performance evaluation among high-ranking military officers

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A Time to Repay

800px-Credit-cards

In tough economic times, financial experts often recommend reducing debt as much as possible. For many people, this debt stems from credit cards. The credit card industry has been scrutinized in recent months due to a number of questionable practices, such as dramatic raises in interest rates and reductions in credit limits with little to no notice. To combat these issues, the U.S. government has passed a bill to better protect consumers from actions that they feel are unfair and burdensome. Many hope that these protective measures will better allow consumers to get out of debt.

However, a recent study in Psychological Science highlights how less overt factors may be at least partly to blame for the credit card debt that plagues many people. Classic work by Tversky and Kahneman (1974) has shown that people tend to anchor to arbitrary numbers when making decisions. Additionally, a recent study shows that anchoring is particularly problematic when it comes to credit card statements. In his work, Neil Stewart (2009) gave participants a mock credit card bill that featured a minimum repayment amount or an identical statement with no such repayment amount. He then asked them to state how much of the credit card balance they would pay off.

Stewart found that people anchored to the minimum repayment amount and stated that they would pay less of the credit card balance when compared to people who were not given a repayment amount. From this work, one might conclude that changes to billing practices, particularly the presentation of billing information, may go a long way in reducing mental biases and help consumers get out of debt.

square-eyeThe Real Problem With Creditholders: The Cardholders

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Stewart, N. (2009). The Cost of Anchoring on Credit-Card Minimum Repayments.

Mothers, Sex Tapes and Gender Morality

Coleen NolanColeen Nolan’s recent televised revelation that she made a sex tape provides an interesting example of how talk and discourse is saturated with moral work. Her self-confession allowed for a host of consequential moral assumptions to be made about her making of a sex tape. These assumptions rest on the known-in-common attributes that are associated with gender categories. The apparent ‘shock’ experienced by her sons, panel and audience about the revelation allows us to see her actions as a ‘breach’ to the common-sense cultural knowledge about how ‘moral types of women’ (e.g. mothers) should behave.

Wowk’s (1984) research from a murder suspect interrogation and Stokoe’s (2003) neighbour disputes research provide interesting examples of this moral accountability in practice. Their data revealed that peoples’ perceptions of morality, in relation to women, were aligned with specific activities and characteristics for ‘good mothers’ (e.g. ‘sexually discreet’, ‘mother-as-childcarer’) and ‘bad mothers’ (e.g. ‘being overtly sexual’, ‘swearing’). They also found that moral judgments were often non-explicit and smuggled in through indirect references to illicit behaviour in order to subtly police moral boundaries. Coleen’s sons, the panel and the audience therefore, by their very (re)actions, can be seen to be unavoidably engaged in producing and sustaining a gendered moral order out of the particulars provided by Coleen.
square-eyeLoose Women – Coleen Nolan

square-eyeColeen Nolan shocks the Loose Women TV audience – and her sons – as she admits to starring in a sex tape

square-eyeSocial Psychology and Discourse

square-eyeMothers, Single Women and Sluts: Gender, Morality and Membership Categorization in Neighbour Disputes

Governments Sanction Happiness

EnthusiasticBillyMurrayA new political trend appears to be evolving—the search for happiness. A case in point is the country of Bhutan, which measures “gross national happiness” according to NPR and Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2007). An NPR story reported how the country of Bhutan is growing alternative resources to reduce the cutting down of its forests. The depletion of forests may reduce the countries happiness the story reports. On the same note The Associated Press, reported that French President Sarkozy declared that happiness should be implemented as part of an economic indicator.  For instance, it is noted that factors such as “distribution of wealth and income, education, health and leisure” would be considered instead of GDP.

The search for happiness seems to be elusive even for those who study the concept, according to Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2007). One similarity in the review was that happiness does depend on factors such as the distribution of wealth, income, education, health and leisure and so on. Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2007) also noted however that when everything is equal other variables are more important. The authors conclude that the search for happiness starts at an individual level with consistent pursuit and appropriate goals. However the governments opening up the discussion may be the start of the pursuit of happiness.

square-eye Read more:  “Bhutan Hopes Bamboo Boosts National Happiness”

square-eye Read more: The Associated Press: Sarkozy wants happiness used as economic indicator.

square-eye Sheldon, K.M., Lyubomirsky, S. (2007) Is it possible to become happier? (And if so, how?)

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What’s in a name?

hello-my-name-is-stickerBy Erica Zaiser

According to the BBC, a recent survey carried out by parenting advice website Bounty.com found that nearly 50% of teachers in the UK thought they could predict the personalities of students before meeting them, just by looking at their names. Results from the poll suggest that teachers believe students with names like Alexander and Elizabeth are more likely to be smart, while students with names like Chelsea or Callum top the list for students predicted to behave poorly.

The idea that people associate names with certain personality traits is nothing new; across cultures many people give their children names that represent desirable qualities like strength, patience, or grace. In general, people with common and more desirable names are seen as more intelligent, healthy, and popular (Young, et al., 1993). Furthermore, name stereotypes are not limited to the classroom and are even found to impact voters’ preference for political candidates, although (thankfully) the relationship between a candidate’s name and receiving votes is no longer significant when would-be voters are presented with more information about the candidate (O’Sullivan et al., 2006).

One obvious reason for the link between personality and name is that perceptions of names act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, when a teacher assumes a student will perform well/poorly, that belief might influence the quality of teaching the student receives. However, the link between personality and names may be more complex than it appears. According to the name letter effect (NLE), just the first letter of your name can influence your preference for places, activities, and people. Furthermore, one study found that students with names starting with letters associated with poor performance (for example the lower mark of C’s and D’s in the American school system), actually performed worse than students with names starting with A or B (higher marks) (Nelson & Simmons, 2007). This, according to the researchers, is because students with C and D names have less aversion to the letters themselves. The theory is that we all have a subconscious preference for anything starting with the same first letter as our name. So, poor Callum may have it extra hard, having to overcome both his teacher’s negative first-impression and his subconscious love for a low-achieving grade.

square-eye Read more:  BBC article-  “Teachers Spot Trouble in a Name”


square-eyeNelson, L., Simons, J. P. (2007). Moniker Maladies: When Names Sabotage Success  Leif D. Nelson. Psychological Science, 18, 12. <br>

square-eyeO’Sullivan, C.S., Chen, A., Mohapatra, S., Sigelman, L., Lewis, L. (1988). Voting in Ignorance: The Politics of Smooth-Sounding Names. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18, 13.

 

square-eyeYoung, R. K., Kennedy, A. H., Newhouse, A., Browne, P., Theissen, D. (1993).  The Effects of Names on Perception of Intelligence, Popularity, and Competence. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 23, 21.

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A late apology: What’s wrong with being gay?

homosexual-gayThousands of people signed to call for a posthumous government apology to the computer pioneer, Alan Turing, for the unfair treatment he received for being gay fifty-seven years after his death. Alan Turing was most famous for his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park during WWII, helping to create the Bombe that cracked messages enciphered with the German Enigma machines. However, after his coming out of closet as a gay in 1952, Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency. Even worse, he was given experimental chemical castration as a “treatment” and his security privileges were removed, which led to his unemployment. As a result of this “appalling” treatment, Turing killed himself two years later.

Although sexual prejudice remains widespread in the world, attitudes toward lesbians and gay men have become somewhat more accepting in recent years. At the same time, a growing body of sociological and psychological studies deal with the attitudes of heterosexuals toward homosexual behavior. Studies show that one important determinant of attitudes toward lesbians and gay men has been identified in personality variables such as authoritarianism, religiosity, and sex stereotypes. A further important factor is the national or cultural context as shown by the results of international surveys. For example, based on an international survey about attitudes toward homosexuality, the highest tolerance score was found for The Netherlands and the lowest for the Philippines and Chile (Kelley, 2001). Furthermore, psychological research also show that media has significant influence on people’s attitude toward gay and lesbians (Levian et al, 2006).

While more and more people believe homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle, some still violently object. The struggle for homosexual people to obtain visibility and representation in society is perhaps best embodied in the slogan that was popularized by the Queer Nation group in the 1990s, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”.

square-eyePM apology after Turing petition (BBC NEWS)

 

square-eyeLevina, M, Waldo, C.R., & Fitzgerald, L. F. (2006). The Effects of Visual Media on Heterosexuals’ Attitudes Toward Gay Men and Lesbians.