Monthly Archives: April 2011

Confirmation Bias, Satire, and Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert

By: Christopher C. Duke, PhD

Even if you are not a psychologist, you have probably heard of confirmation bias. Whether you have heard of it or not, you have most certainly seen it and engaged in it. Confirmation bias is the very human tendency to seek out information that confirms our existing world views rather than challenges them. Likewise, we tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting our views (Balcetis & Dunning, 2006). We all know people who have strong political views on particular topics. Are they likely to read and watch material that supports their views, or opposes their views? What about ourselves? We tend to think of ourselves as rational and logical judges of the world around us, but this is often not the case. Confirmation bias is well illustrated in the following quote (courtesy of You Are Not So Smart) from Terry Pratchett’s The Truth.

“Be careful. People like to be told what they already know. Remember that. They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. New things…well, new things aren’t what they expect. They like to know that, say, a dog will bite a man. That is what dogs do. They don’t want to know that man bites a dog, because the world is not supposed to happen like that. In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds…Not news but olds, telling people that what they think they already know is true.”

Confirmation bias is a long established phenomenon in social psychology, but more recent research applies confirmation bias to satire. Satire is interesting in that it supports one type of argument through making the opposing argument, allowing a huge potential for confirmation bias to influence our interpretation. As a result, satire is often misunderstood, such as in the case of Archie Bunker from All in the Family. Bunker was written as an ignorant and racist character, intended by creator Norman Lear to satirize bigotry and be disliked by the audience. Surprisingly to Lear, a segment of the audience saw Bunker not as satire, but as a role model (Vidmar & Rokeach, 1974).

More recent research has turned its eye to how people interpret The Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert, in his own words, plays a parody of certain types of conservative pundits. Prior evidence suggests that some of the people intended to be Colbert’s satirical targets actually believe Colbert supports them, such as when Colbert was invited to host the 2006 White House Press Correspondents Dinner, or when presidential candidate Mike Huckabee thanked Colbert for his endorsement. In the study by LaMarre, Landreville, and Beam (2009) participants provided a range of survey data, including their political orientation and beliefs about The Colbert Report. More liberal participants believed Colbert was liberal and that the show was satirical. More conservative participants believed Colbert was conservative and genuinely believed his “satirical” arguments. Essentially, viewers of liberal and conservative orientations tended to perceive Colbert as supporting whatever views they personally held. Some might interpret these findings as unfavorable towards conservatives. However, everyone can be prone to these types of biases, and believing you are immune may make you more vulnerable. Without a doubt, political orientation is no inoculation against cognitive and social biases.

Here is one tip for overcoming confirmation bias within yourself: When most people do “reality testing” they seek information that confirms their existing views are correct. Instead, try to do the opposite. Try to find evidence that argues against your existing views. It may be uncomfortable, but it can be more likely to lead to information that is accurate rather than just comforting.

Balcetis, E., & Dunning, D. (2006). See what you want to see: Motivational influences on visual perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 612-625.

LaMarre, H. L., Landreville, K. D., & Beam, M. A. (2009). The Irony of satire: Political ideology and the motivation to see what you want to see in The Colbert Report.  International Journal of Press/Politics, 14, 212-231.

Vidmar, N., & Rokeach, M. (1974). Archie Bunker’s bigotry: A Study in selective perception and exposure. Journal of Communication 24, 36–47.

Social support as a psychological stressor, implications for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head at a political rally in January

By Kevin R. Betts

Some of you will remember my post back in January about Jared Loughner, the 22 year old who shot and killed six people and wounded 14 others at a political rally in Arizona. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded in the shooting by a shot to the head. The story of Giffords has since received extensive attention by major news agencies. Colleagues, political supporters, and perhaps most of all, her husband, have eagerly awaited Gifford’s recovery and hoped for her successful future in politics.  The impact of social support on recovery from such hardships has been studied extensively by social and health psychologists. What effect, if any, might social support have on recovery efforts like those of Giffords?

The intuitive assumption of many laypersons—that social support aids recovery—is not completely accurate. To be sure, recipients of social support often gain strength from the social support they receive during hardships. Yet, social support can also hinder recovery efforts if administered inappropriately. Researchers Rafaeli and Gleason (2009) find that social support can undermine the recipient’s sense of self-efficacy, focus the recipient’s attention on the stressor, and make the recipient feel indebted to the provider. The combination of these factors and others may lead recipients to perceive social support as an additional stressor. Rafaeli and Gleason (2009) emphasize that social support can promote positive health outcomes, but only when the right type of support is provided at the right time. For instance, reassuring a recipient that she is capable of overcoming some stressor may be stressful if she is already confident in her abilities (because it could undermine her sense of self-efficacy). It might make more sense in such cases to speak of the positive outcomes that will result once the stressor is “inevitably” overcome.

Findings like these may be especially relevant to Giffords’ recovery efforts. Supporters of Giffords would like to see her make a complete recovery that allows her to continue work in public office. At a fundraiser in March, supporters raised $125,000 in pledges to sustain her 2012 reelection campaign. The support that Giffords has received from supporters is profound. Yet, expectations set for her may be unrealistic. Neurosurgeon Dr. Dong Kim asks, “If somebody has a severe brain injury, are they ever going to be like they were before? The answer is no.” Given limits to how fast one can recover from such a serious injury, Giffords may perceive these support behaviors as stress inducing. Giffords still has a lot of recovering left to do before returning to office can even be considered. If we wish to see Giffords make the fastest recovery possible, it may be wise for the public to set our expectations aside for a while and just let her recover.

Read more:

What’s really going on with Gabby Giffords? (Newsweek)

Rafaeli, E., & Gleason, M.E.J. (2009). Skilled support within intimate relationships.  Journal of Family Theory and Review, 1, 20-37.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

J. Crew Ad Met with Harsh Words from a Hack Psychiatrist: Dr. Ablow Exposes his Ignorance of Gender Socialization and LGBT Outcomes.

By P Getty

Recently, an uproar in the media erupted after J. Crew put out an online ad featuring Jenna Lyons and her young son. The picture portrays a loving mother and son smiling and caring on—they seem like a lovely pair. Some however, like Fox News contributor and hack psychiatrist, Dr. Keith Ablow, only saw the Devil in the details. Rather than seeing it for what it is—a warm expression of a happy family—all he could see is that the young lad has neon pink nail polish. Ablow, in his reaction to the piece stated that “it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affect by your ‘innocent’ pleasure.”

Boggling my mind the most is the fact that this ignorant statement comes from a psychiatrist, a professional who should be up on the literature of gender-role and LGBT socialization and their outcomes. Rather than getting in to the nuts and bolts of gender development (this is not an undergraduate development course), I do what to tackle his suggestion that a lack of strict adherence to sexual and gender roles lead to negative psychological outcomes. What he seems to have forgotten is that any negative outcomes associated with LGBT folks is not because of who they are, it is because of the lack of acceptance from their families and other ignorant fools who cannot seems to realize that their own beliefs are not shared by others. In fact, recent evidence presented by Doctors Ryan, Russell, Huebner, Diaz and Sanchez (2010) in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatirc Nursing, suggests that when LGBT youths are respected and accepted by their families, positive outcomes are predicted. They can expect to have higher self-esteem and general health. They are also less likely to experience depression, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide.

What is ironic about this whole thing is that the outcomes Dr. Ablow predicts come about because of intolerant behavior like Dr. Ablow’s. God save the child that comes from Dr. Ablow’s loins that happens to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered—hopefully he will have set aside money for their psychotherapy to un-warp any damage his intolerant behavior might cause.

Follow link to Ryan et al.’s (2010) article on acceptance and positive outcomes for LGBT youth

Follow link to Dr. Ablow’s Hackery!

Federal impasse averted, but fundamental partisan differences divide the U.S. government

U.S. Capital Building, Washington, D.C. Courtesy of Ed Brown.

The Federal budget was finally passed by the U.S. Congress at the last possible hour this past Friday before a complete shut-down of the government, which would have disrupted services in the U.S. and abroad.  Debates between the Republicans and Democrats have become more intractable and heated recently regarding spending and deficit reduction.

In research conducted by Sheldon and Nichols (2009), participants who identified as Republican or Democrat differed on the importance they assigned to extrinsic and intrinsic values.  Republicans were higher on extrinsic values (money, popularity, and image) than Democrats, while Democrats were higher on intrinsic values (intimacy, helping, and growth).  In other research, when threat from the outgroup party was present (versus not present), people who identify as political conservatives had high Social Dominance Orientation scores (endorsement of social hierarchy).  However, self-identifying liberals in the threat condition had low SDO scores (Morrison & Ybarra, 2009).

It might be difficult to generalize research on undergraduate samples to political representatives in Washington, D.C., but these findings highlight potential differences in values and threat responses between the political parties making important decisions for the future of the United States.  Nevertheless, these differences should not prevent necessary cooperation and compromise.

To read more:

Morrison, K. R. and Ybarra, O. (2009). Symbolic threat and social dominance among liberals and conservatives: SDO reflects conformity to political values. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 1039 – 1052.

Sheldon, K. M. and Nichols, C. P. (2009). Comparing Democrats and Republicans on Intrinsic and Extrinsic Values. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39, 589 – 623.

Federal Budget (2011) – Government Showdown Averted

 

Obama to lay out plan this week to cut deficit

Monkey see, monkey yawn … other monkey yawn

 

By Erica Zaiser

Yawning has always been thought of as “contagious” among humans. When someone in a group yawns it always seems to set off a trend of yawning with people around. This has often been thought of as being social in the same way that you think things are more funny when other people laugh and you frown more when other people frown. In a new study reported on by the BBC, researchers have found that yawning as a contagion is not limited to the human species but is seen in chimpanzees as well. What is even more interesting is that chimps in their studies yawned more frequently after seeing chimps from their own group yawn as opposed to when they watched chimps from an outside group yawn. The researchers suggest that this might mean that yawning can be seen as a measure of empathy.

As far as I know there hasn’t been research which has shown if this yawning bias towards ingroup members is present for humans. Empathy in humans has been linked to pro-social behaviour and there is research suggesting that people tend to be more prosocial and feel more empathy towards people in their ingroup than in their outgroup. So if yawning is a measure of empathy, it would make sense that people, like chimps, would yawn more when they see members of their ingroup yawning than when they see outgroup members yawning.

Read more: Chimpanzees ‘catch’ contagious yawns from friends. BBC- Earth News.

Empathy-related responding: Associations with prosocial behavior, aggression, and intergroup relations. Social Issues and Policy Review. 2010.

Social Categorization and empathy for outgroup members. British Journal of Social Psychology. 2010.

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Religion as a weapon: Time to disarm

By, Adam K. Fetterman
After the burning of a Koran in Florida, violent protests erupted in Afghanistan, killing at least 12 people, and it continues. As humans, we look for causes for such violence. As P.Z. Myers indicates, there is no shade of gray when it comes to the taking of another human life. What is it that makes people feel that it is acceptable to take someone’s life? Even when resulting from self-defense, it is a rare occasion that murder is the appropriate response. Regardless, there is no self-defense required in response to burning a book. Therefore, we look elsewhere for the cause or justification. One thing that is getting difficult to ignore, particularly in the current example, is religion. Many people, myself included, have had a hard time blaming religion for violence, because we want to be tolerant and accepting. There must be underlying factors beyond religion that drive these behaviors, right? There almost certainly are, but this recent eruption of violence over a book indicates that religion is playing a larger role than we typically credit. It appears that religion is a weapon.

Violent ideological groups tend to foster a number of justification techniques to substantiate acts of violence (Angie et al., 2011). For example, they foster feelings of moral superiority and righteousness, which makes them feel justified (Mumferd et al., 2008). As Angie and colleagues (2011) cite, this moral superiority is compounded by feelings of victimization and injustice. There is a clear connection between these findings and what we see in response to the Koran burning. Further findings implicate religion in these acts, such as the increasing of aggression when violent acts are sanctioned by a god (Bushman et al., 2007).

It can be hard to blame a whole religion for the acts of a few. To do so may even seem xenophobic. However, it continues to grow difficult to give religion a free pass, as Jerry Coyne points out quite eloquently. We see that religion gives individuals the justification needed to act in a violent matter. Even if the religion is not the root cause, it appears to be a powerful weapon. If so, it is time to put down the weapons and work things out like rational humans.

“Afghans Protest for Fifth Straight Day Over Florida Koran Burning” – FoxNews.com

“Shades of Gray”- P.Z. Myers, Pharyngula.

“What Does it Take to Blame Religion?” – Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True.

Angie, A. D., et al. (2011). Studying Ideological Groups Online: Identification and Assessment of Risk Factors for Violence. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41, 627-657

Mumford, M. D. et al. (2008). Violence in Ideological and Non-Ideological Groups: A Quantitative Analysis of Qualitative Data. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38, 1521-1561

Bushman, B. J., et al.  (2007). When God sanctions killing: Effect of scriptural violence on aggression. Psychological Science, 18, 204-207.

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

Why do we join groups?

By Kevin R. Betts

It seems that we are all a member of at least one group; most of us are a member of many. Although our membership within some of these groups is probably involuntary (e.g., family), we go out of our way to join other groups. We join book clubs, bowling leagues, congregations, and tag-football teams, just to name a few. Some of us even go so far as to join extremist groups such as terrorist cells or violent political movements. What draws us to seek membership within these varied groups? Why are we willing to sacrifice our own time, energy, and resources for the sake of the groups to which we belong?

Hogg, Hohman, and Rivera (2008) examined these questions from a social-psychological perspective by contrasting three motivational accounts for group membership. These explanations originate from work on the sociometer model, terror management theory, and uncertainty-identity theory. The sociometer model argues that people have a need to be belong, and that self-esteem acts as a meter of successful group belonging. Greater feelings of inclusion within groups should equate to higher levels of self-esteem according to this model. Terror management theory argues that people are motivated to reduce fear of their own death, and that groups provide consensual belief-confirmation that drives their members to belong. It is comforting to share our world views with like-minded others and to hear them share similar views because it provides us with a sense of meaningful existence. Uncertainty-identity theory argues that people have a basic need to reduce uncertainty about themselves and their place in the world, and that group identification can reduce such uncertainty. Group membership may reduce this uncertainty through its associated norms that prescribe attitudes, feelings, and behaviors for us.

Hogg et al. (2008) conclude that the sociometer model, terror-management theory, and uncertainty-identity theory each play a role in explaining why people join groups. Yet, they argue that uncertainty-identity theory might provide an especially powerful explanation because of its wide generality to all groups and group contexts. What do you think? Do these explanations account for why you joined the groups that you are a part of, or does some other framework better explain your reasons for group membership?

Read more:

Hogg, M.A., Hohman, Z.P., & Rivera, J.E. (2008). Why do people join groups? Three motivational accounts from social psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 1269-1280.

Inside Al Qaeda (Newsweek)

N.Y. Anti-Mosque Leader Defends Group that Clashed with British Police (Newsweek)

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

On Being Phony at Being Phony: The Impostor Phenomenon

By: Christopher C. Duke, Ph.D.

Do you ever feel like you are, in some way, a fraud? Despite your successes in life – your good grades, your professional accomplishments, the high praise you receive from others – have you felt like you will eventually be unmasked as an impostor? This feeling is surprisingly common, and has been termed the Impostor Phenomenon (or Syndrome). It’s not a “real” disorder (you won’t find it in the DSM), but it is a very real phenomenon that affects many genuinely successful people.

First described by Clance and Imes (1978), these feelings are especially prevalent among graduate students, who feel they have been let in by accident, and they will eventually be unmasked as intellectual frauds. This is a concertn that is particularly relevant to the readers of this blog. However, the Impostor Phenomenon often lingers with highly successful professionals. A partial explanation could be that the more we progress in an area, the more we become aware of the limitations of our knowledge and abilities. This is not a new idea; Bertrand Russell said “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” But that may not be the whole story; many researchers have suggested the Impostor Phenomenon disproportionately affects women, raising the question of whether internalized negative self-stereotypes may be working to sabotage perceived self-efficacy and the internalization of success.

There is still a lot we don’t know about the Impostor Phenomenon – its frequency, distribution among demographic groups, ultimate causes, and how to reduce its negative effects. Much more empirical research is needed. But we can say for sure that if you feel like your successes have somehow been an accident and that it is only a matter of time before you are unmasked, you are by no means alone, and you share this feeling with many of the bright and talented. If you do feel this way, try talking with your friends and advisors about it. You may be surprised to learn just how common it is to feel like an impostor.

Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. (1978). The Imposter Phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice, 15, 241-247.

Laursen, Lucas (2008). No, you’re not an impostor. Science Careers.