Monthly Archives: March 2010

Facebook, MacRumours, MSN and alternative social identities

Online social networking sites, discussion forums and chat rooms such as those in the title are routinely associated with freedom of expression, critiques of established offline social and personal practices, and the creation of online communities and identities e.g. gamers, metrosexuals (Slouka, 1995; Wellman & Gulia, 1999). The opportunities afforded by these information and communication technologies, via the compression of time and space, allow instantaneousness for users. And also, since the user is not physically present in cyberspace (therefore it is easier to withdraw from problematic situations by exiting an online session, as opposed to a face-to-face interaction), new, alternative and diverse forms of identity and self-expression are able to thrive (Turkle, 1997). Of course, there are both positive and negative outcomes of interactions in cyberspace, which do not require the revealing of participants’ status or situational cues e.g. Peter Chapman’s recent murder conviction. However these social spaces do tend to facilitate a freer flow of information for isolated or ‘non-out’ individuals and groups (Hearn, 2005). Therefore new forms of individual and group identities, and those with identities arguably ridiculed and marginalised in society, can more easily claim these online in an age of almost universal access to cyberspace (Kollock, 1999).

Social networking: Communication revolution or evolution?

Teaching & Learning Guide for: Social Psychology and Media: Critical Consideration

Safeguarding young people from cyber pornography and cyber sexual predation: a major dilemma of the internet

Computer-mediated social support, older adults, and coping

Hug me, Mom: Stroller or baby carrier?

A stroller or a baby carrier? The answer to this question is changing. “In 2004, there were barely any carriers,” said Bianca Fehn, an owner of Metro Minis. “You had to find these work-at-home moms who made them and go on a waiting list for weeks or even months to get a carrier.” However, in 2009 at the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas, there were at least 30 companies promoting designer baby carriers, many of them created within the last five years. And between 2006 and 2008, overall sales of industry-certified carriers rose.

While most people using baby carriers extol the convenience of having their hands free, more and more people see it as an integral part of their parenting philosophy, which holds that babies should be worn on the body to foster a strong attachment to their parents. In other words, baby carriers offer more physical contacts between infants and their parents which were considered as crucial to develop secure attachment relationship according to attachment theory.

Bowlby’s attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969) places central importance on close proximity between mother and infant. Attachment theory suggests that infants’ instinctive behaviors such as crying and smiling are aimed to promote the proximity to and physical contact with the caregiver. Through the exercising of these behaviors and the proximity thus achieved, infants gradually develop an attachment to their caregivers. The manner in which the caregiver responds to the infants’ seeking behaviors determines the nature of the attachment relationship formed. More specially, the mothers who respond appropriately, promptly and consistently to infants’ needs, and hold their infants for relatively long periods and are tender and affectionate during the holding are more likely to develop secure relationships with their babies. Additionally, Anisfeld et al’s (1990) study indicated a causal relation between physical contact, achieved through carrying an infant in a soft baby carrier, and security of attachment between mother and infant.

However, recent studies on infant attachment suggested the ways in which attachment patterns are formed are more complicated. For example, maternal sensitivity, which contributes to the quality of infant exploration by providing the infant with a secure base from which to explore, has already been established as an important and reliable predictor of secure attachment. Whipple, Bernier and Mageau’s (2010) further demonstrated that besides maternal sensitivity, mothers’ autonomy-support behaviors which directly aimed at encouraging and supporting the child while he or she explores also provide contribution to infants’ secure attachment.

Strollers out, mom and dad in

Elizabeth Anisfeld, Virginia Casper, Molly Nozyce, Nicholas Cunningham. (1990). Does Infant Carrying Promote Attachment? An Experimental Study of the Effects of Increased Physical Contact on the    Developmen of Attachment. Child Development, 61, 1617-1627.

Natasha Whipple, Annie Bernier, Geneviève A. Mageau. (2010). Broadening the Study of Infant Security of Attachment: Maternal Autonomy-support in the Context of Infant Exploration. Social Development, Early View.

“Junk” Science? The Psychology of the Soda Tax

Over here in the States the debate is raging about how to pay for healthcare overhaul. And, here in New York, one suggestion to generate revenue is to implement a “soda tax” on sugary beverages. New York governor (for now) David Patterson has proposed a soda tax and a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine backs him up. The study argues that a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages would simultaneously raise revenue and reduce consumption. They compare the tax and its projected impact to a tax on tobacco which has had such results. The beverage industry, however, counters that the two indulgences are not comparable. Both sides have their advocates and talking points, but what can psychology tell us about why soda taxes and other taxes aimed at “junk food” can be effective?

Behavioral economics (BE) is a fascinating field that blends psychology and economics to explain human consumer behavior and suggest ways of encouraging consumers to make better choices. It has gained particular prominence in understanding how individuals approach their retirement savings. Many in the field assume that individuals operate from a stance of “bounded rationality” — meaning we “make biased decisions that sometimes run counter to [our] best interests” (see this article for more information). With regard to the soda tax a basic argument from the BE standpoint would be:

  1. we humans love sugar –>
  2. sugar contributes greatly to obesity –>
  3. we have an obesity epidemic –>
  4. therefore we should reduce consumption of sugar –>
  5. we like sugar too much to make the right choice based purely on health reasons –>
  6. but if you hit us in our pockets we’ll reduce our consumption –>
  7. therefore the overall consumption of sugary drinks will decrease –>
  8. this will open the market up for other types of drinks to be more readily available –>
  9. as these drinks gain more market share our dependence on soda will decrease and we’ll “naturally” change our behavior to consume more healthy alternatives –>
  10. sugar consumption will decrease –>
  11. rates of obesity will likewise decrease –>
  12. healthcare costs associated with obesity will decrease.

You got that? At each little point of that equation there are of course many variables that can correlate, conflate, confound, and moderate the outcomes, but this is the general idea and essentially what was found with tobacco consumption. (If you want to know more about the research behind each step the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University has tons of information here.) A review of relevant articles and their key points is available here. One interesting point that has been brought up that extends beyond the realm of individual behavior is the notion of “shared economic consequences” in which the mass consumption of sugary beverages contributes greatly to the obesity epidemic and we all share the burden of this through elevated healthcare costs. The field of BE and the current legislation efforts show how influencing health-related public policy is more complicated than just providing information on healthy behaviors. It also shows how simple choices (such as drinking soda vs. water) — when scaled to the level of a population — have drastic economic ramifications.

Sidenote, while researching for this article I came across an alternative method of behavioral modification…your own personal 5 lb glob of fat (“My Pet Fat”) that you can place near your junk food to deter you from eating it. Just had to share.

“Soda Tax could shake up industry” on NPR.

Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity section on Soda Tax

Subscribe to RSS for Health Economics for related articles.

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The Blame Game

Representative Eric J. Massa of New York is lashing out at the Democratic Party. Last week Massa announced his retirement citing the return of cancer as the reason for the departure, but also leaves amidst a sexual harassment charge from a male aide. In a later radio interview Massa claimed Democratic Party leaders drove him out of office because he did not support health care legislation although the party has dismissed Massa’s assertions.

Given the changing reasons for his retirement blaming his Party could just be an excuse or an attempt to mask the scandal surrounding him. New work on blame and excuse making adds a formerly unstudied dimension to the study of interpersonal relations: locus of control. Wang and Anderson (2006) studied internals and externals asking them to judge excuses and assign blame. They found that externals tended to use excuses more and assigned less blame for cases of cheating and lying relative to internals. Externals also assigned more blame to others and less to themselves and were more sensitive to being blamed.  Making excuses then may be less a calculated effort to shift blame and more a result of one’s general outlook on the social world.

Excuse-making and blaming as a function of internal – external locus of control

House Democrat Says Party Drove Him From Office

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The month of March is upon us, and chances are you’ve already fallen victim to false-hope syndrome – yet again.

According to Human Kinetics, the premier publisher for sports and fitness, almost 50% of people who made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get into shape stopped going to the gym by March 1st. MSNBC quotes an even higher statistic: Whereas health clubs are packed in January, they say, more than 75% of newbies will have called it quits by the end of March.

And yet every year, we typically make the very same resolution: to go the gym, lose weight, tone up, get healthy, and then some – even though most of us repeatedly fail by March (and that’s if we’re relatively persistent). Psychologists Polivy and Herman (2000) have coined the term “false-hope syndrome” to refer to this phenomenon best manifested by attempted and broken New Year’s resolutions. They say that individuals persist in attempting to change themselves despite repeated failure due to an overconfidence that includes feelings of control and optimism (e.g., the twin beliefs that losing weight is easy and fast), and expectations for an unrealistically high payoff from triumphant self-change (e.g., the assumption that changes in weight loss will catalyze major rewards in other, unrelated areas of life). Inevitably, when such unrealistic expectations are not met, individuals often experience disappointment, discouragement, and the perception of oneself as a failure. As these negative emotions build, a sort of Catch-22 results, such that the self-control required for eventual success falters and behavior spirals out of control.

Researchers therefore advise that, in order to create real hope (instead of false hope), we must be accurate in our initial assessments of the difficulty of self-change, commit to realistic goals and expectations, and hone a set of coping skills that build resiliency in the face of normal setbacks. So, with regards to the gym, for starters – get back in there! Understand that weight loss and getting healthy will not happen overnight and instead of shooting for a giant amount of pounds lost, set smaller, more attainable goals (i.e., eating a salad at lunch, running one mile tonight), and strive to attain a few each week. Moreover, if you miss a goal or fall short of an expectation – a minor failure should not set you completely off-track. Give yourself a little pep talk and tell yourself you won’t become a March 1st fitness statistic.

Don’t become a March 1st fitness statistic

Flipping the switch is only the first step

The False-Hope Syndrome: Unfulfilled expectations of self-change

The Tories and persuasion

The recent Conservative pre-election poster campaign ‘I’ve never voted Tory before…’ provides an interesting example of the three variables that interact in the persuasion process. That is, the communicator (source), the communication (message) and the audience (receiver) (Duck, Hogg & Terry, 2000).

Showing Ian the mechanic from Congleton in the poster immediately tells us that the target audience is men who are manual workers. The slogan is ‘I’ve never voted Tory before…’ also tells us that this cohort does not typically vote Tory. So how are the Tories attempting to persuade this group of non-traditional Tory voters?

Social psychologists have found that people are more likely to be influenced by communicators who are attractive (Kiesler & Kiesler, 1969) good communicators (Miller et al., 1976) and by peers and others who are similar (Triandis, 1971). Arguably Ian is attractive, similar to the target audience and by the written words, he communicates well. These variables on their own however, are unlikely to be persuasive enough to change the attitude of the target audience without a strong message.

Allyn & Festinger, (1961) suggest that simple messages are more effective than complex ones. The message being communicated by the poster can be read as – The Tories are the party to sort out the economy and therefore provide work. What is also interesting is how fear can be used to as a tool to persuade (Leventhal et al., 1965). Implied also in the message here is that not voting Tory risks leaving the economy in a mess and threatening jobs. The effectiveness of such subtle forms of persuasion however, will be measured in the ballot box.

Ian from Congleton’s story

Conservative Party billboards hit again by online spoofers

Persuasion

Persuasive arguments theory