Monthly Archives: February 2010

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.

Minority Influence on Capitol Hill

In the late 1960s Serge Moscovici developed a theory of social influence that investigated how minority groups influence majority groups and vice versa. Since then, the theory has been elaborated quite a bit to include in-groups and out-groups and to consider the relevance of the message and the context in which messages are delivered.

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about majorities, minorities, and super-majorities in Washington, DC. With the election of Scott Brown to the Senate the Democrats have lost their filibuster-proof “super-majority” and with the hearings on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (the military’s approach to sexuality) minority messages are being heard in different ways. And with the actions of the Blue Dog group in the Democratic Party and the Tea Party movement in the Republican party there are even in-group minority groups hoping to influence policy. So how are these groups making their voices heard and what can social psychology tell us about their techniques and successes?

For instance, take the case of Joe Lieberman and the Blue Dog group and their influence on the healthcare bill. One way that minorities can influence outcomes is by getting a majority member to deflect (Joe Lieberman). This also often results in other majority members feeling like they, too, can deflect if the majority message is not fully in line with their views (as the Blue Dogs did). Another way that minorities can influence the majority is to have an in-group member side with their position. We have seen this in the case of Admiral Mullen testifying that as a member of the military he feels that it is time to repeal “Don’t ask, Don’t tell.” His position as an in-group member of the military helps the minority message, and this was strategically matched on the opposing side with testimony by John McCain, a former military hero (and therefore also an in-group member) arguing an opposing message.

Another example of minority influence occurred when President Obama began building his cabinet and justified appointments that some deemed as too conservative. His argument that this would spur innovation is in line with social psychologist’s findings that the presence of minorities in groups is “related to more team innovation and effectiveness.” Whether this has been the case over the past year is debatable. But there is no doubt that the fledging Tea Party is hoping to use its influence as a vocal in-group minority to push its Republican Party away from the center. How this will play out also remains to be seen. It is important to note, however, that all of these situations involve subjective decisions (ones driven by personal beliefs, emotions, etc.) rather than objective decisions (such as correct answers to a math problem) which further complicate the outcomes.

This application to the political arena is just one application of majority and minority influence theories. As Crano and Seyranian (2009) argue, the theory is also helpful in understanding workgroups, juries, community organizations, classrooms, wars, and international relations.

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Excellent choice Sir!

By Erica Zaiser

A recent article in the Guardian highlights how restaurants manipulate consumers into buying their more profitable meals and drinks. In an excerpt from William Poundstone’s book “Priceless: the Myth of Fair Value” the article demonstrates how a restaurant’s menu design can entice us to order a more expensive meal over better bargain food being offered. It is certainly not unexpected that a restaurant would use clever marketing to make more from its customers, but it is interesting how in the course of a nice evening out we somewhat unknowingly receive numerous cues from both the restaurant and the waitstaff to spend just a bit more.

In a recent article in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, social psychologists Seiter and Weger find that waiters can actually increase the tip they receive from customers by complimenting their meal choice. Although previous research has found that the gender of the server can influence tips received, this study did not find gender to influence the amount. Instead, the researchers found that when a generalize compliment was paid to customers their tips increased roughly 3% versus the no-compliment conditions. However, as the size of the dinner party increased, the effect of the compliment seemed to decrease with large dinner parties showing no change in tipping when given compliments. One interesting thing the authors noted, was that of the waiters and waitresses used, one waitress actually received fewer tips when complimenting. The authors present a few possible reasons why individual differences may influence the effectiveness of compliments and increasing tip size. But, there are probably many reasons why different waiters may have varying levels of success with such a technique. How do you feel when a food server compliments your meal choice? What other subtle techniques could be being used by waiters/waitresses to get their customers to tip more?

Read more: The Effect of Generalized Compliments, Sex of Server, and Size of Dining Party on Tipping Behavior in Restaurants

Marry Up, Men: The Benefits of the Breadwinning Wife

Are you ready to marry a bright single woman with a higher education degree and a higher paid job? A recent Pew Research Center report confirms the rise of the breadwinning wife. In addition, as the result of the recession, men, not women, now receive the greatest economic boost from marriage. This has to do with the fact that women are marrying later, that more of them are earning college degrees and that pay scales for women are rising. An educated, working wife is a valuable asset.

The universality hypothesis is the prediction that, in all contexts, women with a higher economic standing will delay marriage formation. In other words, women’s higher economic standing will decrease their chance of marriage. Some researchers suggest, however, that only in industrialized countries with a high degree of role differentiation by gender does the inverse relationship between women’s economic standing and the chance of marriage exist. For example, Hiromi Ono’s study (2003) showed that a higher level of women’s income decreases the chance of first marriage in a period among Japanese women but increases the chance of first marriage among both American and Swedish women. The results are consistent with the view that when women make economic contributions in industrialized countries with a relatively high degree of role differentiation, they experience stresses and inefficiencies in their lives in ways that conflict with the formation of marriage. In countries with a relatively low degree of role differentiation by gender, however, women of high economic status are more attractive in the marriage market because of the symmetry in the criteria of mate selection between the sexes. Nowadays, the recession, added to longstanding trends which have affected male workers disproportionately, is hastening this cultural shift away from traditional ideals of married families.

Hiromi Ono. (2003). Women’s Economic Standing, Marriage Timing, and Cross-National Contexts of Gender. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 275-286.

The case for older and better-paid women.

Alpha Wives: The Trend and the Truth.