Monthly Archives: February 2010

Valentine’s Day or Chinese New Year?

For the first time since 1953, Valentine’s Day falls on the same data as the Chinese New Year. For most Chinese people, the Chinese New Year will trump Valentine’s Day because the Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in the culture’s calendar and is also the traditional family reunion date. However, much of China’s Generation X/Y population, who are catching on to Western cultures and holidays such as Valentine’s Day, are forced to choose between Eastern and Western traditions, and between mothers and girlfriends/boyfriends.

According to Chui and Cheng (2007), when both cultural representations are activated simultaneously, they are placed in cognitive juxtaposition and attention is directed to their contrastive differences. As a consequence, the perceived differences between the two cultures and the perceived impermeability of their boundary tend to be exaggerated. Thus, individuals constructing a cultural identity will find it easier to compare their personal values with the value representations of the two cultures. For most Chinese people, their personal values are more consistent with the value representation of Chinese culture than that of American culture. These individuals will choose to identify with Chinese culture and be ready to reaffirm their cherished culture in anticipation of globalization’s erosive effects. However, when the context calls for the creative use of ideas from diverse cultural sources, simultaneous activation of American and Chinese cultures will facilitate creative performance by enlarging the perceived distinctiveness of the two cultures and placing them in cognitive juxtaposition. For Chinese young people who have to choose between “the West’s ideal of a paradise for two” and the “Chinese New Year’s ideal of a reunited family”, the creative performance might be trying to do both – spending the morning with the family and the night with their girlfriends. Of course, they have to be delicate in explaining it to both mother and girlfriend.

Chiu, C. &  Cheng,  S. Y. (2007).Toward a social psychology of culture and globalization: Some social cognitive consequences of activating two cultures simultaneously. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 84 – 100.

Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year fall on same day this year, a rare occurrence.

The Look of Young Hollywood

This month Vanity Fair magazine released their Young Hollywood issue, featuring celebrities that they proclaim are the new wave in Hollywood. However, a quick glance at the cover reveals that their selections seem to be particularly homogenous: all of the picks are attractive, thin, white, and female. Undoubtedly some of the recognition is deserved – the issue features actresses from Oscar nominated films (Anna Kendrick) and incredibly popular movie franchises (Kristen Stewart). But notably missing are minority actresses such as Gabourey Sidibe, who is an Oscar nominee for her starring role in the film Precious, and Zoe Saldana, who was widely acclaimed for her roles in Star Trek and Avatar.

The so-called “white-washing” of the Vanity Fair cover may be due to a number of factors. One possible reason is the selections may simply reflect the lack of diversity that has been present in Hollywood for decades. Another possible reason may be the “halo effect”.  Particularly, as has been seen in the impression formation literature, attractive individuals are often attributed with a number of other positive qualities (i.e., warmth, competence, intelligence). Thus, it might be the case that celebrities such as Sidibe and Saldana, who do not meet the traditional Hollywood standards of beauty, are not appropriately recognized for their talent while actresses who do meet these standards are praised before they’ve actually had a chance to prove themselves.

What is particularly surprising is that past issues of Vanity Fair have featured a more diverse set of actors, including minorities and a mix of men and women. It has only been in the past few years that those recognized have begun to look more and more similar. It remains to be seen whether the magazine, and Hollywood, will continue this trend into the next decade.

USA Today: Vanity Fair criticized for the lack of diversity.

Fiske, S. T. (2000). Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination at the seam between the centuries. European Journal of Social Psychology.

Kruglanski, A. W., & Ajzen, I. (1983). Bias and error in human judgment. European Journal of Social Psychology.

Stress, the Self, and the Stock Market

Although stress is an inevitable part of life the recession has amplified the nature, magnitude, and impact of stress for many around the globe. The threat or reality of losing a job or one’s home, searching for work in an untenable job market, having to stretch an already thin budget even further, and many other concerns all cause fear, anxiety, worry, and frustration. Marc Skelton suggests that although what makes these types of stressors so problematic is our inability to control them, we do have control over how we respond. He suggests a number of strategies including using social support networks and reframing the situation. Coping comes in many forms and researchers have highlighted a new factor, self-compassion that may influence coping attempts. Those high in self-compassion (those who treat the self with kindness and concern in response to negative events) tend to avoid problems less and engage in cognitive restructuring more than those low in self-compassion whereas the two groups do not differ in problem solving or distraction (Allen & Leary, 2010). Treatment of the self during stressful events could also influence physiological and psychological adjustment as well as how one responds to others in need. Further work is needed to clarify how this and other characteristics might influence coping attempts.

Self-compassion, Stress, and Coping (Allen & Leary, 2010)

Relax to relive stress in 2010

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When it comes to your doppelganger – upgrade, but be reasonable.

If you’re reading this blog, then chances are you’re a cool enough person to know that doppelganger-mania has taken over Facebook. Like most trends, only the coolest of Facebookers started doing it – uploading a picture of their supposed look-a-like-celebrity as their profile shot, that is – and then everyone else followed suit within a matter of a single week, just as the established conformity literature would predict. That’s not what is interesting here, however.

Have you taken a minute to consider which celebrities your Facebook friends are uploading as their look-a-likes? Do it now. Open a new window if you must, and browse through their recently updated profile pictures. You should soon notice that you are hard-pressed to find a single unattractive look-a-like celebrity posing as even your ugliest friend’s doppelganger. No one uploads Janet Reno, or Pee-wee Herman, or that cat lady who’s had one too many facelifts – unless of course they are trying to be ironic. In short, your friends are affiliating themselves with good-looking celebrities so that they can ultimately become grouped with higher status people and take on their attributes – perhaps even the non-physical ones. And although their intentions are pure and admittedly self-aggrandizing – in the end, they just want to be liked – this doppelganger trend might inevitably backfire, according to the social psychological research.

According to Sherif and Hovland (1961), changing other people’s perceptions of you can be compared to the act of stretching a rubber band – you can stretch the rubber band only so far so as to climb up the social ladder. Eventually, however, if you overstretch the rubber band, the ties will become too tenuous and the band will snap back – rendering contrast rather than assimilation with the intended target. In brief, if your doppelganger is too attractive, you will appear even less attractive than you already are. Therefore, so as to compel your friends to assimilate you with your celebrity “look-a-like” without hitting a point where they start to contrast you away from him or her, your strategy should be to stretch the rubber band as far as possible without breaking it. So if you think you look like Angelina Jolie, opt for Sarah Silverman; men, if you think you’re a dead-ringer for George Clooney, stay safe and upload Simon Cowell.

Facebook Doppelganger Craze!

The effect of judges’ attitudes on ratings of attitude statements: A theoretical analysis

Sherif, M. & Hovland, C. I. (1961). Social judgment: Assimilation and contrast effects in communication and attitude change. New Haven: Yale University Press.

When the past comes to haunt

Pop culture is rife with stories of people who blame their negative childhood experiences for their incapacity to stay within relationships or marriages, from the fictional serial killer Dexter who felt it impossible to connect to anyone to Jennifer Aniston’s announcement that her experience of her parents’ divorce made her wary of interpersonal intimacy. But are these mere pop psychology incarnations or are children who experienced traumas any likelier to experience certain marital troubles as adults?

Whisman’s (2006) study on childhood traumas looked at seven different childhood traumas: physical abuse, rape, sexual molestation, serious physical attack, experiences of being threatened with a weapon, life threatening accident, and natural disasters; and the effect of these on marital disruption and marital satisfaction. Physical abuse, rape, and sexual molestation were associated with higher probability of marital dissolution. Lower marital satisfaction was associated with individuals who had experienced rape or sexual molestation. Traumas with assaultive violence, or those where another person directly harmed the child were more likely to be associated with marital disruption and dissatisfaction, as these are seen to be more likely to lead to attachment insecurity (characterized by avoidance, lack of trust) which may then lead to lower marital stability.

Photo: “Goodbye my lover.” by Andii Jetaime, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.

Dexter crosses media lines, captivate fans

Aniston: ‘Childhood Trauma Blighted My Marriage’

Whisman M. A. (2006) Childhood trauma and marital outcomes in adulthood. Personal Relationships

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John Terry, the England captaincy and subject positions

The recent scandal and dismissal of John Terry as England team captain provides an interesting example of the psychological theory of discourse and subject positions (Edley, 2001; Holloway, 1984)). Put simply, discourses (all the utterances around a particular topic) both produce and subject people (also by themselves and others) to specific discursive positions. Therefore, the way people experience the world and themselves is in part a by-product of discourse. For example, when Terry took up the position of England captain, he will not have encountered the discourse of the England captaincy pre-formed. Instead he will have been re-constituted as the ‘subject’ of the England captain in the moment of its consumption. In more familiar terms, the moment that Terry became the England captain, he will have been discursively located with a particular identity (Hall, 1988). The identity of the England football team captain presumably carries with it certain attributes e.g. good team leader, sound role model, respectability, monogamy etc. The point I am making is that, the media allegations of his affair with Vanessa Perroncel located Terry in a ‘troubled subject position’ (Wetherell, 1998). That is, the allegations implied he occupied a subject position of a discourse other than that of the England team captain. Unfortunately for Terry, occupying a troubled subject has resulted in Fabio Capello replacing Terry as England team captain with Rio Ferdinand.

Grazie, Signor Capello: After days of dithering by the FA, it takes an Italian family man just 10 minutes to sack captain who shamed England

Negotiating Hegemonic Masculinity: Imaginary Positions and Psycho-Discursive Practices

Masculinities in Theory

Chapter 41: The Psychology of Men and Masculinity in The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Family Psychology

When Perspective Taking Counts

A BBC news correspondent wrote a piece about living in Paris. The theme focused on equality between service providers and their patrons–at times leaving the reader aghast.  For example the writer tells of taxi drivers ignoring her because of the inconvenience of carrying crutches because of a broken foot. And when the patron asked the taxi driver for accommodation the taxi sped away. Drawing a sharp contrast the correspondent notes that one would not find that type of service in London, or the U.S.

Yet before the reader gets a chance to make dispositional attributions about the service workers the writer introduces some perspective. The writer introduces the idea that service workers are asserting themselves and want to be treated as equals. Had the readers been left with their first impression, Gill and Andreychik (2009) note their minds would have been made up, perhaps making a mental note that the service workers in Paris are not service oriented. However, attributing the behavior to the workers wanting equality brings another perspective, which Gill and Andreychik (2009) would argue to be pro-social.  Perspective taking, the researchers argue, allows people to understand the reason for other people’s behaviors and reduces bias toward other groups.

Read more: “In Paris, the customer is not always right”

Gill, M.J. & Andreychik, M, R. (2009). Getting Emotional About Explanations: Social Explanations and Social Explanatory Styles as Bases of Prosocial Emotions and Intergroup Attitudes.