Monthly Archives: December 2010

Yum! This imagined cake is as good as the real thing.

By Erica Zaiser

For some people, all the delicious calorific treats being pushed by friends and relatives during the holiday season can be a joyous and tasty time. But for others, the holiday season can feel like a constant battle of the wills due to the guilt-laden festive food. In the struggle for self-control many people force themselves to stop thinking about all the food they are attempting to avoid. It seems logical that if you think about eating it, you will want to eat it. But some psychology research has suggested just the opposite.

In a set of studies discussed in the Guardian online, participants who were asked to imagine eating large amounts of a treat actually ate less of the food afterwards compared to those who imagined eating a small amount or imagined interacting with the food in a different way. Although the difference was small, this might suggest that actually visualising the behaviour beforehand reduces the “wanting drive” for that behaviour. It would be interesting to see if this type of activity would work for other negative behaviours people want to avoid (smoking for example).

Some past research on behavioural intentions has shown that when imagining a positive behaviour, people report more intentions to engage in it. It’s interesting that with a positive behaviour, imagining it can increase willingness to do it; but imagining engaging in a negative (but wanted) behaviour can decrease the need to engage in real life.

Read more: Effects of Directed Thinking on Intentions to Engage in Beneficial Activities: Idea Generation or Mental Simulation?
Read more: Imagine eating if you want to lose weight, say scientists. Guardian.co.uk.


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Your evidence is wrong, because I disagree!

By, Adam K. Fetterman
After the Senate passed a bill to repeal the unpopular “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), it was up to President Obama to sign the bill. He did so on December 22, 2010. This was one of his many campaign promises that he has either completed or attempted to complete. For quite some time, it was uncertain whether this bill would be passed. While many found the DADT policy unjust and prevented dedicated individuals from serving their country, many others opposed repealing it for many reasons. For some it was just plain ignorance and prejudice. Others still thought that it would reduce morale in the military and would be dangerous for those LGBT individuals serving. Presidential candidate John McCain was one of those opposed to the repeal. However, he gave the impression that his mind could be changed by a study showing that a majority of those in the military approved of or saw little problems with the repeal. Indeed, a Pentagon study found just that. McCain rejected the study stating that it was flawed. This seems to happen quite often, but why?

According to research by Munro (2010), when presented with belief-disconfirming scientific evidence, individuals tend to disbelieve the efficacy of the research. That is, when presented with evidence to the contrary of one’s opinions or beliefs, many individuals will reject the evidence. This is what Munro refers to as the scientific impotence discounting hypothesis. Individuals want to believe that they are correct and therefore need to find a reason to discount disconfirming evidence. An easy way to do that is to reject the evidence. This is particularly easy to do when it comes to scientific evidence, as most people do not fully understand scientific methods. This appears to be what happened with the study conducted by the Pentagon. McCain had an opinion and many of his supporters agreed with his opinion. Therefore, it was probably pretty beneficial and easy for McCain to reject the evidence so that he could maintain his opinion. The question becomes, then, could anything change his or others’ opinions on this and other issues? How about in more controversial issues, such as reconciling science evidence with one’s religion?

Obama signs historic bill ending ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – David Jackson and John Bacon, USA Today

John McCain: ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal study flawed. – Anne Flaherty, Huffington Post.

Munro, G. (2010). The scientific impotence excuse: Discounting belief-threatening scientific abstracts. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 579-600.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

Treat yourself to a health screening this New Year

By Kevin R. Betts

On the morning of December 12th, my aunt suffered a heart attack that nearly took her life. The attack was so severe that she was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and escorted directly to an operating room. Following the incident, the surgeon informed our family that the main artery to her heart was one hundred percent blocked and expressed surprise that the attack was not fatal. As you might guess, this incident was incredibly traumatic for both my aunt and our family. Once things settled and we knew that my aunt would be okay, many members of my family were asking about prevention. What could have been done to prevent my aunt’s heart attack? What can be done in the future to prevent another heart attack in our family? Health screenings available at local clinics may provide useful information about personal health risks and what can be done to combat them.

Practitioners have long urged the public to obtain health screenings designed to detect behavioral and genetic risk factors for disease, as well as the early presence of disease. But the utility of these screenings is not controversial. Rather, people pass on health screenings for other reasons. One reason is distress associated with the procedures or potential results of the screenings. Recognizing this problem, Bennett (2009) examined causes of health screening related distress and simple techniques for overcoming this distress. For example, many people hold misperceptions about the procedures associated with health screenings that arouse anxiety. Health organizations could correct these misperceptions and thus alleviate this anxiety by providing the public with specific information about the procedures involved through websites or pamphlets. The public could then test their perceptions about these procedures by comparing them to this  information. Waiting for results from a health screening may also arouse significant anxiety. Some people may spend this time imagining catastrophic scenarios that could potentially follow undesired results from the screening. To alleviate this anxiety, Bennett (2009) recommends implementing coping strategies that facilitate emotional regulation. Distracting oneself with unrelated thoughts and activities may be one way to regulate negative emotions.

The thought of losing a close family member or friend to a heart attack or other preventable health problem is frightening. Health screenings may provide information about health risks and what can be done to combat them. If you or someone you know is considering obtaining a health screening, good for you! And if you are held back by anxiety associated with the procedures or potential results of the screening, remember that skipping the doctor does not reduce your risk. Try one of the techniques for overcoming this anxiety recommended by Bennett (2009) and start your New Year with a clean bill of health.

Read more:

Bennett, P. (2009). How can we reduce the distress associated with health screening? From psychological theory to clinical practice. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3, 939-948.

Matters of the Heart (CNN)

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

A Week to Be Nice: Force Festive Feelings for this Holiday Season

By P. Getty

Since it’s the week of Christmas, my wife’s favorite holiday in December, I’ve been forced to promise not to write anything “negative” or “angry” for this weeks entry. Because I love my wife, and fear for my life, I go against my gut, which is telling me to give both barrels to the medical and insurance industries (the second part of my continuing series). Nevertheless, because I still have a mind to be bad, I will keep this short and sweet, adhering to that age-old proverb instructing me not to say anything if I don’t have anything nice to say.  Indeed, I will appeal to my clenched-teeth cheeky festive side and just say, “Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, a colorful Kwanzaa, a prosperous New Year, and a swell whatever other day of merry making exists that I don’t rightly know about that others may observe!”

No one really wants to do work this week, including me, so rather than connecting this week’s thought to some piece of psychology, I would like to direct your attention to a couple of articles and Web sites that I found interesting, fun or in someway related to the holiday season.  Enjoy!

A Child’s Christmas in America: Santa Claus as Deity, Consumption as Religion, by R. W. Belk

Seasonal Variation and Meteotropism in Suicide…, by A Preti

The Best Christmas Song Ever Sung, “Merry F’ing Christmas” by Mr. Garrison.

The season for reason

By, Adam K. Fetterman
This Season, Celebrate REASON”, reads an American Atheists billboard by the Lincoln Tunnel. This is another in a long line of billboards and signs reminding people that atheists are out there. The apparent goal of this campaign is to let “closeted” atheists know that they are not alone. This seems particularly necessary during the holiday season as atheists may feel more like they are in the minority than other times of the year. For some, this time of the year requires them to pretend to be religious for fear of social reprisal. Therefore, being reminded (e.g. by billboards) that they are not alone can definitely have positive effects. However, as to be expected, the religious community (mostly Christian) is not responding with acceptance and positivity (though some are). Some have said the billboards are disrespectful and attacking. So, in response, religious organizations are putting up billboards of their own. According to the New York Times, there appears to be a quite interesting sign battle going on in Texas. The atheists’ sign reads “Millions of Americans are Good Without God” on the side of the bus, followed by a truck with a sign reading “I Still Love You – God” and another claiming “2.1 billion Christians are good with God”. While it would be a fairly funny scene to witness, it hits on an old argument about where morality comes from.

For many years, many have assumed that religion is the foundation or source of morality or pro-social behavior. In a recent review, Preston, Ritter, and Hernandez (2010) indicate that religion does not have a monopoly on morality and pro-social behavior. In fact, they indicate that religiosity only predicts moral or pro-social behavior in specific contexts and can actually predict increased anti-social behavior in certain contexts. The authors go on to discuss the differences between religious and supernatural beliefs in regards to moral and pro-social behaviors.

Another researcher arguing that religion is not the ultimate source of morality and pro-social behavior is Sam Harris. He has found (as well as others) quite compelling evidence of naturalistic or evolutionary foundations of morality and pro-social behavior. In fact, I have made arguments about certain motivations that would lead all people to be moral, in previous posts. In the end, it appears to be pretty clear that one can be “Good without God”. With some of the reactions to these billboards (e.g. defacing and anger), it seems apparent that religiosity does automatically make one moral.

More Sacramento-area atheist billboards are vandalized. By, Bill Lindelof, Sacto 9-1-1

Dueling billboards face off in Christmas controversy. By, Laura Dolan, CNN

Atheist bus ads rattle Fort Worth. By, James C. McKinley Jr., New York Times.

Sam Harris’ Website

Preston, J. L, Ritter, R. S., & Hernandez, J. I. (2010). Principles of religious prosociality: A review and reformulation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 574-590.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

Cyber attacks: A unique threat to national security

By Kevin R. Betts

Political discussions about national security most commonly focus on threats of violence, such as those posed by nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, or suicide attacks initiated by terrorist organizations abroad. But not all threats to national security are violent. Michael Chertoff, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, recently addressed the cybersecurity challenge faced by modern counterterrorism organizations. In contrast to traditional violent attacks, cyber attacks may be capable of affecting a wider region by shutting down essential government services, stopping business operations, jeapordizing the security of financial institutions, and disrupting electronic communications (Chertoff, 2008). Cyber attacks are unique in that they threaten the social infrastructure of target regions.

Although major cyber attacks are uncommon today, they are increasing in frequency, sophistication, and scope. For example, Russia launched a denial of service attack against Georgia in early 2008 that restricted the access of many Georgians to information about what was occurring in their country. Additionally, websites associated with the Georgian government were defaced and government services were curtailed. Russia is not the only country capable of such attacks; the U.S. intelligence community contends that multiple nations currently possess the technical capability to target and disrupt the social infrastructure of Western nations. Nor is Russia the only nation willing to launch a cyber attack against an enemy; terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah have all expressed desire to initiate these types of attacks against Western nations. Although we can only speculate about the future, these types of attacks will likely continue to increase.

What can be done to protect against this unique threat to our social infrastructure? Chertoff (2008) identifies several actions that are currently being taken by the U.S. government, as well as actions that citizens can take to protect themselves. According to Chertoff, the responsibility of the government in preventing cyber attacks is to assess vulnerabilities in the government’s civilian domains, reduce points of access to the Internet that allow for inappropriate intrusion, employ tools that reduce the possibility of an attack, and consistently monitor potential threats. For citizens, Chertoff recommends activating antivirus software on personal computers, changing passwords frequently, and avoiding suspicious emails and websites. Fulfilling these government and citizen responsibilities should reduce unnecessary vulnerabilities.

Read more:

Chertoff, M. (2008). The cybersecurity challenge. Regulation and Governance, 2, 480-484.

Estonia, Google Help “Cyberlocked” Georgia (Wired)

Talks on Iran’s Nuclear Program Produce…More Talks (TIME)

North Korea’s Nuclear Program (New York Times)

Life among U.S. enemies: Embedded with the Taliban (CNN)

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts