Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Extensive and Enduring Consequences of Ecological Disaster

Late last week an oil rig owned by BP exploded causing some 1,000 barrels of oil per day to spill into the Gulf Coast. Eleven crew members have been presumed dead and officials are making every effort to stop the leak and prevent the spread of crude oil to the coastline. The damage caused by such a disaster could be catastrophic, affecting the Gulf’s ecosystem and marine life, as well as any beaches, wetlands, and wildlife reserves along the coast if the oil were to reach land. This spill threatens to be even more damaging than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, which was until now the worst ecological disaster in U.S. history having spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil. Six years after the incident researchers investigated the mental health of fishermen in Alaska impacted by the spill (Arata, Picou, Johnson, & McNally, 2005). The Conservation of Resources model effectively explained the psychological consequences of the spill. This model holds that stress is caused and exacerbated by an actual or perceived loss of resources. The study showed that depression, anxiety, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder were all associated with loss of resources and avoidant coping. This work emphasizes the extensive impact ecological disasters such as this have. Not only are wildlife, the ecosystem, rig employees, and relief workers all impacted, but even those geographically proximal to the spill can experience significant psychological effects that have enduring consequences. One can only hope that efforts to reign in the damage caused by the spill will be successful thus preventing any further loss of human and animal life and damage to the ocean and coastline, as well as preserving the physical and psychological well being of those directly and indirectly affected by this terrible incident.

Arata, Picou, Johnson, & McNally (2005)

US evacuated oil rig after Gulf of Mexico leak

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NHL San Jose’s Dan Boyle wins the game for the other team and supports “choking” phenomenon.

Last Sunday night during Game 3 of the San Jose Sharks/Colorado Avalanche NHL Western Conference playoff series, the Sharks took three times as many shots as the Avalanche, kept the puck on Colorado’s end, and generally owned the game. Nonetheless, the score remained at 0-0 almost a minute into overtime. And then the worst possible dose of bad luck (or insane miscalculation?) befell San Jose’s Dan Boyle: he inadvertently scored the winning goal for the Colorado Avalanche. According to CBSSports.com columnist Ray Ratto, the deflection of Boyle’s clearing pass to defenseman Douglas Murray, “to the amazement of all living things… whipped into a tiny hole between the right post and San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov.”

Thing is, Dan Boyle is in pretty good company. Time after time, we witness acts of “choking under pressure” – especially in sports, but also in other anxiety-eliciting domains of life such as during testing situations, presenting to a group of colleagues or superiors, or performing a musical instrument. Choking, otherwise known as failing in the clutch or performing at suboptimal levels under pressure conditions, happens to the best of us and social psychologist Roy Baumeister has determined the conditions under which the phenomenon is most likely to occur.

Baumeister labels four pressure variables – audience pressure, competition, performance-contingent rewards and punishments, and ego-relevance of the task – as determinants of choking; needless to say, all of these variables were present in full-force at Dan Boyle’s mishap on Sunday. Further, Baumeister notes that choking may result from a self-focused attention that interferes with the execution of automatic, routinized processes (such as, oh I don’t know, moving around a puck during a professional hockey game in which you are a professional hockey player). In particular, Baumeister suggests that pressure makes the person want to do well, so the performer focuses conscious attention on the process of performance. However, since skills are responses that are overlearned and automatic, attending to them consciously interferes with or inhibits them; conscious attention to an automatic behavior paradoxically causes misalignment between brain and behavior and, frequently, ultimate failure at the task. Other theories suggest that having to perform under pressure causes a self-awareness that precludes awareness of the environment in which one is surrounded, thereby causing the performer to fail to process task-relevant information.

Whatever the case may be, no matter how we social psychologists attempt to rationalize and intellectualize the antecedents of choking, we’re sure that none of this is making Dan Boyle feel any better. Good thing he has an old Stanley Cup lying around somewhere to make up for it.

Footage of Dan Boyle’s goal for other team

Sharks own track record to fit Boyle’s own goal

A review of paradoxical performance effects: Choking under pressure in sports and mental tests

Political Ideology is Alive and Well

In the middle of the 20th century, a group of researchers pronounced political ideology dead. They argued that most individuals do not know enough about their beliefs to have an ideology. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to this claim, the emergence of heated Tea Party protests and the overall Tea Party movement indicates that political ideology is alive and well. Social psychological research also backs up this claim (Jost, Nosek, & Gosling, 2008). Political psychologist John Jost and his colleagues have found numerous differences between those that have conservative and liberal ideologies, even though they may not be aware of it.

The strongest differences concern system justification and change (Jost & Hunyady, 2005; Jost et al., 2008). Specifically, conservatives are more likely to support maintaining the status quo or hold stronger system-justifying attitudes. For example, a New York Times/CBS News poll indicates that the Tea Party supporters are upset about the amount of support that the current United States administration is giving to minorities and lower social classes. This is quite reflective of what Jost and his colleagues describe in their research on system justification. As far as change goes, conservatives are less likely to be supportive of change. This is quite evident in the Tea Party, as seen in the following quote from Sarah Palin (a voice supported by many in the Tea Party movement): “Is this what their ‘change’ is all about? I want to tell ‘em, Nah, we’ll keep clinging to our Constitution and our guns and religion — and you can keep the change.” To conclude, while individuals may not fully understand their ideologies, humans are indeed “ideological animals”, as Jost and Hunyady (2005) conclude.

Jost, J. T. et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136

Jost, J. T. & Hunyady, O. (2005). Antecedents and Consequences of System-Justifying Ideologies. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 260-265

New York Times/ABC News Poll about Tea Partiers

Time Magazine Quote of the Day: Sarah Palin Wednesday, Apr. 14, 2010

Performance: Winning and losing and the ensuing judgments

The context of competition is loaded with emotions, feelings, judgments, so-called winners, so-called losers and social comparisons (Pekrun & Stephens, 2010). There are feelings that occur before performance, perhaps during, and after the event.  One may remember experiencing some degree of stress before an important evaluative event. During these events emotions allow us to experience winning and the frustration of losing—provided the event is important to us.

Within the context of performance exists a phenomenon where depending on what group one identifies with, and perhaps how others see us, we feel better or worse about ourselves (Alicke, Zell, & Bloom, 2009). The frog-pond effect occurs when individuals see themselves in better light if they perform better in the low achieving group and worse if they perform lower in the high achieving group. Take the example of an athlete who was not expected to be in the lead of the Ironman Hawaii 1982 Triathlon. Maybe because the athlete was the underdog or in the low performing group and was not expected to win, even then, her great efforts and the fact that she almost won the triathlon granted her support and attention from those around her—more so than the first place athlete.  Years later Julie Moss, in a Radiolab commentary, remembers the event positively.

See more: Julie Moss 1982 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon

Hear more: Iron man competitor Julie Moss on Radiolab

Alicke, M.D., Zell, E., Bloom, D.L. (2009). Mere categorization and the frog-pond effect.

Pekrun, R., & Stephens, E. (2010). Achievement emotions: A control-value approach.

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Gordon Brown– hot or not? Physical appearance and election outcomes

As David Cameron, Gordon Brown, and other candidates prepare for the UK general elections, voters must decide whom to support. Although political ideology is (hopefully) a major influence on voting habits, a number of other factors about the candidates may sway voters as well. For example, many election observers have noted the seeming link between candidate height and election outcome– with taller candidates winning more. The BBC recently reported on how lately UK candidates have been emphasizing their exercise routine and physical fitness to the public; perhaps hoping that physical fitness translates into a perception of leadership fitness for voters. Or, candidates may be hoping to boost their perceived attractiveness (since perceived attractiveness has been linked the perception of other positive trait attributes) by spending a few extra hours in the gym.

Much research on first impressions has reiterated the importance of physical features in influencing judgments about a number of traits, including competence– which is strongly linked to voter support. Research altering the images of famous US presidents showed that subtle changes to their faces could greatly change perceptions of them.  Recent research in Political Psychology tried to examine more specifically the ways that first impressions (non-verbal at least) might influence social judgments other than competence and how those judgments may influence actual election outcomes. Just as previous research has suggested, judgments of competence were highly positively correlated with winning in a real election. However, somewhat surprisingly, when paired with judgments of incompetence, judgments of physical attraction were actually correlated with a lesser chance of winning an election than judgement of incompetence alone. In other words, if a first impression of incompetence is made, being seen as physically attractive actually makes your chance of winning even worse. So, according to this research if candidates are hoping to boost their physical appeal in order to sway voters, maybe they ought to make sure they are being seen as relatively competent first.

Read More:

Mattes et al. (2010). Predicting Election Outcomes from Positive and Negative Trait Assessments of Candidate Images, Political Psychology, 31, 1.

BBC– The election fitness trail – exercising power or PR?

Keating et al. (2002). Presidential Physiognomies: Altered Images, Altered Perceptions. Political Psychology, 20, 3.

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Moral Convictions: Attitudes that Pack a Punch

In the wake of the recent signing of the health care bill Democratic members of Congress who supported the bill have been subject to death threats and their offices and homes have been vandalized. Some blame public figures of the conservative movement like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck for the frenzy over health care reform. Sarah Palin published the names of Democrats who voted for the bill from former Republican districts and told her followers “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: ‘Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” Glenn Beck spent months bashing the bill on his show saying it [the bill] “is the end of America as you know it.” The attitudes Palin and Beck hold about reform and the current President are shared by others and seem to be held with strong moral conviction.

Of the many facets of attitudes, level of moral conviction is thought to be highly influential in both our social and political environments. In a review of the literature about these so-called ‘moral mandates’ Skitka (2010) highlighted the consequences associated with moral convictions  showing that they are associated with intolerance for dissent,  trouble resolving conflicts, strong positive and negative emotion, believing that valued ends justify violent means, and interestingly greater involvement in politics. Skitka argues that moral conviction isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can be a protective force against “malevolent authorities.” However, there are still extreme negative consequences including the rejection of the rule of law and use of violent protest and terrorism. Skitka’s review applies quite well to the conservative backlash against American health care reform although conservatives are certainly not the only group to hold these types of attitudes or act on them. What is clear is that having strong moral convictions involves walking a dangerous line in which one’s beliefs and working towards them come very close to threatening others and the democratic process itself. In the end we are all responsible for our own actions; however, it is imperative that those in the public eye recognize the power they have and use it responsibly to ensure that freedom of speech is preserved and the rule of law is respected. Dissent, debate, thoughtful argument, and compromise are powerful tools with which to maintain a healthy, safe, and effective political climate.

The Psychology of Moral Conviction

Sarah Palin Advocates Violence, But Her Hit List Isn’t Criminal

We have something to fear from fear mongering itself

Palin tells followers to “reload” and “aim for” Democrats

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State militias and individual rights: The strength of moral convictions

On the eve of the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing there is talk of developing a state-supported but privately run militia group to protect citizens from “an overreaching federal government” recently epitomized by the passage of healthcare legislation. Talk of a militia group stokes emotional fires on either side of the debate. With recent militia busts in Michigan where plots were underway to attach law enforcement many argue that forming a separate militia group is going too far. Others, harkening to Confederate-era rhetoric of state’s rights, suggest that the individual citizen deserves a guarantee of protection from a federal government that is increasingly interfering in individual lives and state rights.

Indeed, so-called “Patriot” groups are on the rise. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that since 2008, the number of patriot groups has risen from 149 to 512. Of these groups, 127 are militias. Though these groups are becoming more popular and anti-government rhetoric is on the rise, the concern is less with the formation of the groups than the way in which they may harbor lone extremist individuals seeking a forum for their anger and justification for violent acts. In a recent Christian Science Monitor piece, a member of the Hutaree militia is reported as apparently helping in the bust of the plans against law enforcement. The article argues that militias are acutely aware of the dangers that single rogue members can pose and how these members’ actions can hurt the message of the groups.

Any group risks its own identity — and indeed has to be flexible in this regard — when growing its base, militias would be no different. But impassioned arguments mixed with the right to bear arms could be a bit more concerning. A recent article in the Social and Personality Psychology Compass suggests that when it comes to morality, the psychological stakes are much higher than other attitudes or motivations. “Moral convictions” the author argues, are psychologically distinct from other attitudes and are more likely to compel a person to become politically involved but to also be more accepting of violence as a means to an end. The outcomes of such convictions are simultaneously reassuring and troubling. While organizing to protect rights is an activity that activists across the political spectrum engage in, it raises the question as to how we possibly begin to find a common ground or make progress on issues that register at such personal levels. As the author points out, moral convictions give us the courage to act, but they have also been used to justify heinous crimes. The cases of proliferating militias will force us to consider the nuances of moral convictions and the complicated nature of defending the rights of the individual (or, in this case, states). This reminds me of two of my favorite sayings by my high school government teacher: “I may not agree with your opinions but I’ll defend til death your right to say them” which was often shortly followed by “your rights end where mine begin.” Gray areas are, indeed, quite gray.

Skitka, L. (2010). The psychology of moral conviction. Social and Personality Psychology Compass.

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Christiano Ronaldo, Emporio Armani and homoeroticism

(Images obtained from Emporio Armani website: see link below)

A previous post of mine on Social Psychology Eye (June 22, 2009) about Christiano Ronaldo, argued that he was not just a footballing superstar, but like David Beckham, a commercial ‘brand’ advertising and marketing the likes of Emporio Armani or his own CR7 products. I argued that the Ronaldo ‘brand’ and avant-garde image allowed heterosexual men to engage with ‘metrosexual’ fashion and grooming products. However, one of the problems I signposted with the Ronaldo ‘brand’ (and others) was the open invitation of a homoerotic gaze. That is, men visually enjoying other men’s semi-naked bodies. It is argued this has (Simpson, 2004: 2):

…“queered” all the codes of official masculinity of the last hundred years or so: It’s passive where it should be active, desired where it should be desiring, looked at where it should be always looking.

This so called ‘queering’ of the male gaze unsettles traditional heteronormative hegemonic masculinity (Connell, 1995) in opening up a space for questions over gender and sexuality identity to be raised. Marketers are acutely aware of this tension and the imperative of disavowing homosexuality and promoting gender difference in order to allow men to enjoy images of other men (Edwards, 2003).

Ulrich Beck’s (1997) provides a useful framework for understanding how marketers deal with the undermining of traditional heteronormative hegemonic masculine scripts. Where the potential for uncertainty arises (e.g. other men’s semi-naked bodies and advertising feminised products), marketers attempt to construct certainty by dismissing alternative forms of sexuality altogether or by rendering consumption unproblematic. In other words they ‘construct certitude’ in order to ‘attempt to replace questioning and doubt with more certain frames of reference’ (Jackson et al., 2001: 129). One of the more prominent ways in which this is achieved is by photographing men with women in order to signpost heterosexuality. The way this is achieved in the photographs of Ronaldo advertising Emporio Armani’s summer 2010 underwear collection (above) is by reference to a masculine marker e.g. sporting and muscular poses, and by omitting direct eye contact with male viewers.

Emporio Armani’s summer 2010 underwear collection for men

Cristiano Ronaldo: The Brand

Masculinities and consumption

Sporno

Metrosexuality and hegemonic masculinity