Monthly Archives: June 2010

Women must be slim?


Alice Dogruyol’s article ‘Big girl in a skinny world: Killer heels are fine for tiny girls, but I’m carrying 90 kilos on spikes’ (Daily Mail, 8 June 2010) lends itself well to feminist psychology, and specifically the ways in which the female body is socially constructed and the implications this can have for women’s psychological (and physical) health. For example, Dogruyol describes herself, after having caught sight of her own reflection in a shop window, as ‘shapeless’ and ‘huge’, or as the title suggests ‘Big girl in a skinny world’. Her self-perception mirrors the strongly entrenched view that in order to be considered attractive and of value in Western culture women must be slim (Bordo 1993). Dogruyol’s self-perception of her body is part of a medium of culture in which the physical body becomes a reflection of the social body, such that, the central rules and hierarchies of Western culture determine how the body is seen (Bordo, 1993). Therefore, the body becomes a direct form of social control, in which greater restrictions and less tolerance is imposed on girls and women than on boys and men (Lee, 1998). The significance of physical attractiveness means that ideals such as ‘women must be slim’ have psychological implications for women in that they experience some degree of dissatisfaction with their bodies and that this may lead to a sense of alienation from the body, a fragmented self and a lack of autonomy. In order to regain a sense of autonomy and self, Dogruyol opts to make her body appear ‘slimmer’ by purchasing new clothes that will produce ‘a stylish, confidence-boosting new look.’

Big girl in a skinny world: Killer heels are fine for tiny girls, but I’m carrying 90 kilos on spikes

This One World might have One Dream one day – but not today.

Last week, United States Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo attended a press conference of the second round of China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogues in Beijing, China. At the conference, China and the United States agreed to enhance mutual trust through more intensive dialogue for a stable and mature relationship. According to a press release issued by the Chinese, “The relationship of China and the United States, respectively as the world’s largest developing and developed countries, is immensely important to the world, and the key to sound relations is strengthening mutual trust.”

The relationship between the United States and China is inarguably one of the most – if not the most – important bilateral relationship of the 21st century. The two countries are often considered to be neither allies nor enemies, and the relationship is considered by analysts of Sino-American relations to be both complex and multi-faceted.

Cross-cultural psychologists have grown famous for uncovering East-West differences in just about every domain of social psychology, but there are fewer studies that take real-life political events happening at that moment and attempt to build theories of Sino-American relations around those events. Recently, social psychologists from both the United States and Asia came together in a special section of the Asian Journal of Social Psychology to discuss the psychosocial ramifications of one such major political event – the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In one paper within this section, researchers discuss the irony that although the Beijing Olympic Games were intended to elicit feelings of international unity (hence the slogan “One World, One Dream”), once participants were reminded of the Beijing Games via subtle and indirect exposure to the Beijing Olympic icon, both Chinese and Americans high in nationalism and patriotism perceived greater differences between Chinese and American cultures, compared to those low in nationalism and patriotism. On a more explicit level, however, the two groups seemed to differ: whereas Chinese associated the Games with the “One World, One Dream” slogan, Americans associated the Games with a burgeoning Chinese competitiveness. Authors explain the findings as a cognitive contrast effect such that as long as the Olympic Games symbolize a co-presence of the U.S. and China simultaneously – whether the intergroup relationship is perceived to be friendly or competitive – the Games will lead to a psychological contrast between the ingroup and the outgroup and, in so doing, heightened perceived cultural differences. The authors further emphasize that although Chinese participants might be acutely aware of the differences between the U.S. and China, they do not necessarily associate these differences with hostility, but instead understand them as an opportunity to learn from the U.S. in order to eventually realize the “One World, One Dream” ideal. Americans, however, apparently associate the Games with competition between China and themselves and this same awareness of how they are different from China might only serve to intensify any adversarial feelings.

Like the conclusions drawn from the recent dialogue between the U.S. and China, psychologists stress that it is increasingly vital for research to inform strategies that might, at the very least, help make both countries cognizant of how they are perceived by each other. They claim that awareness of our differences, understanding how those differences come about and what they mean to the outgroup, and being ready to reconcile discrepant motivations are essential to preemptively assuage any potential discord caused by different expectations and different hopes for the future world order.

China, U.S. committed to more stable relationship

One World, Just a Dream? Effects of the Beijing Olympic icon on perceived differences between Eastern and Western culture

The overwhelming habit of biases and self-evaluation

Differences amongst groups of people tend to be most salient at the cultural level. A comparison often cited is that of Eastern and Western cultures. These group differences, however, tend to be caricatured stereotypes of people that may not hold true in all contexts.  Take for instance, the cultural differences in East vs. West explained pictorially. Life for those in the Eastern culture is pictured as having multiple individuals holding hands signifying collectivism. In the Western culture there is a picture of one individual, depicting the concept of individualism. Another cultural difference is portrayed as Westerners addressing problems directly, and Easterners indirectly addressing problems.

Brown (2010), on the other hand, argues that Eastern and Western cultures may not be as different as people think. At a basic level, for instance, Brown writes that people want to feel good about themselves and those around them.  The researcher notes that when given negative feedback individuals tend to feel worse about themselves; tend to compare themselves to each other, and see themselves and those close to them in better light than others as a result. Comparisons such as self-evaluations require that the individual see him or herself independent from others, regardless of culture.

Self-serving biases that occur during social comparisons or self-evaluations are important for purposes such as competition—especially in one to one combat or group sports. In one to one combat, for instance the individual is accountable for oneself only.  In group sports, the team is meant to act as a unit but the individual is held accountable or readily replaced should he or she not be cut out for the task.  More to the point, as the FIFA 2010 world cup draws closer, individuals will observe similar behavior from different cultural groups. Such behavior is expected since individuals are likely to get football fever. Eastern and Western cultures therefore are similar; people adapt.

See more: East vs. West explained pictorially

Brown, J.D. (2010). Across the (Not So) great divide: Cultural similarities in self-evaluative processes

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Facing illness, belief helps.

Lady Gaga’s recent revelation that she had been tested for lupus had some fans worried that the pop star is ill. When asked in an interview how she’s feeling, the pop star, 24, responds with a simple, “I’m okay,” before adding that lupus, which took the life of her aunt Joanne, does run in her family. The singer also told the interviewer that “So as of right now, I don’t have it. But I do have to take good care of myself”.

This young lady seems calm and positive about her potential illness. It is very important and helpful for her health. Research has shown that individuals’ illness perceptions predict health behaviors and functional outcomes. There is wide variation between individuals in their health and illness behaviors. For example, how quickly they seek medical attention for symptoms, and whether they take medication as prescribed. Behaviors such as these can have large influences on subsequent morbidity and mortality. Research into the psychological predictors of health and illness behaviors helps us to build theoretical models to understand why people behave as they do, and inform intervention strategies (Elizabeth Broadbent, 2010).

According to parallel response model, that in response to situational stimuli (such as symptoms and the environment), people simultaneously form both emotional states (such as fear) and cognitive representations of the threat of illness, the illness perception. The illness perceptions include ideas about: identity (the name of the illness and which symptoms are associated with it), timeline (how long the illness will continue), cause (what caused the illness), control (how well the illness can be controlled), and consequences (the effects of the illness on life domains). Previous research showed that stronger beliefs about the identity and consequences of an illness were associated with avoidance and denial coping strategies, higher expression of emotions, poorer physical, social and psychological functioning, and lower vitality. In contrast, stronger beliefs in the controllability of the illness were associated with greater use of cognitive reappraisal and problem-focused coping, as well as better psychological and social well-being, vitality, and with lesser disease state. It is because that in a self-regulatory process, individuals choose which procedures (actions) to take to manage their emotions and reduce the illness threat based on the content of these representations. The results of taking the chosen action further modify the representation of the illness in a feedback loop.

Elizabeth Broadbent. (2010). Illness Perceptions and Health: Innovations and Clinical Applications. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 256 – 266.

Lady Gaga Tests ‘Borderline Positive’ for Lupus (People Magazine)

Anti-government protests and mirror-image perceptions in Thailand

2010 political protests in Bangkok, Thailand

By Kevin R. Betts

Clashes in Bangkok between anti-government protestors and the Thai government appeared subdued this weekend after over two months of violent confrontations. Integrative agreements in protest situations like this are often impeded by mirror-image perceptions that opposing parties hold about one another. For example, a Thai government official was quoted saying about the protestors, “They don’t want a peace offer…They don’t want a peaceful resolution to this.” Mirroring this criticism, a CNN reporter claimed that the protestors did in fact wish to see the conflict end, and blamed military forces for much of the violence. In short, both parties claimed that the other was preventing the conflict’s resolution.

At least in part, many conflicts have been prolonged due to mirror-image perceptions between opposing factions. Shamir and Shikaki (2002) provide evidence that parties to the century old Israeli-Palestinian conflict both consider the violent behavior of the other side to be terrorism, while simultaneously seeing the violent behavior of their own side as justified. Similarly, De Dreu, Nauta, and Van de Vliert (1995) provide evidence that professional negotiators, governmental decision makers, and organizational consultants view their own conflict behaviors as more constructive than those of their opponents. From these examples, it seems worthwhile that when attempting to resolve new and old conflicts, we start by examining potentially reciprocal viewpoints of opposing factions. In many cases, both sides may be motivated to reach an integrative agreement, but unable to successfully communicate this intent to their opposition.

Read more:

State of emergency in Thailand may be lifted

Anti-government protests in Thailand

Shamir, J., & Shikaki, K. (2002). Self-serving perceptions of terrorism among Israelis and Palestinians. Political   Psychology, 23, 537-557.

De Dreu, C.K.W., Nauta, A., & Van de Vliert, E. (1995). Self-serving evaluations of conflict behavior and escalation of the dispute. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25, 2049-2066.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts