Author Archives: Andres Olide

Mind reading gone awry

There are times when individuals are well synchronized with each other that they can finish each other’s sentences. These interactions seem almost magical in that people understand how each other feels about a topic or event. There are instances however when it is difficult to understand where the miscommunication occurred. How a simple exchange of words could go so wrong is anyone’s guess, but the fact that the individuals made up their mind about the event or another individual can be strikingly clear.

Take the example that the media popularized between an English politician and a political constituent. After a few words relating to political concerns were exchanged, the politician went on his way. Upon entering the vehicle, presumably a safe place to express his personal opinion with a microphone still on, the politician uttered how he perceived his constituent (refer to May 1st post).

One can only imagine how the politician made his conclusion about the interaction. Epley (2008) suggests that misinterpretations are likely to occur when individuals are under high cognitive load, where schemas seem to be the default interpretation of events. Further, Eyal and Epley (2010) suggests that when two strangers interact they seem to focus on different parts of the context (i.e. self or other). In the context of the political concern the constituent focused on the perceived problem, while the politician focused on his constituent. A solution to misunderstandings is to take part in perspective taking and to take more time to reduce the likelihood of biased interpretation (Epley, 2008).

Eyal & Epley (2010). How to Seem Telepathic – Enabling Mind Reading by Matching Construal.

Epley, N. (2008). Solving the (real) other minds problem.

“Me a bigot? No way, I hate them!”

See more: Brown overheard calling voter ‘bigoted’

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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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Novelty and Gadgetry

In a society saturated with technology individuals must find a reason (or not) to justify their purchase. Gadgets nowadays come in all shapes and sizes and with all sorts of features and applications. Indeed, the more novel the device the more press it receives, and if curiosity is aroused, then perhaps there will be more buyers as well. The topic of discussion is the iPad, and following the anticipation people have either settled on buying the device or not.

The New York Times produced a video asking people on the street if they were going to buy the iPad. Some people rejected the idea completely citing that the device is “in-betweener”; that is, a device that can do a task that other devices already do. Yet, another group of people noted that they were willing to purchase the gadget because it is different.

The reason why the gadget might be getting mixed feedback is precisely because the technology is novel. Viscerally people who are getting put off by the novelty of the device might be experiencing anxiety (Maner, 2009). Perhaps these are the individuals The New York Times notes that are not quite sure what to do with the device. On the opposite side of the spectrum, individuals who find the device appealing are attracted to its uniqueness. These same individuals tend to be curious and are trying out new things (Silvia & Kashdan, 2009).  Although the approach-avoidance dimension can be applied to many things in this instance it is the allure of technology.

Read more: The iPad Math.

Maner, J.K. (2009). Anxiety: Proximate processes and ultimate functions.

Silvia, P.J. & Kashdan, T.B. (2009). Interesting things and curious people: Exploration and engagement as transient states and enduring strengths.

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Are Too Many Choices a Hindrance?

One reason for achieving goals is that people are motivated by self-gratification that may occur consciously or unconsciously (Aarts, 2007).  Addressing needs, or accomplishing a task etc. are examples of goal achievement that occur on a regular basis.  Some tasks however require more thought process and perhaps may involve more choices. While more choices are what society may strive for, it is arguably a positive outcome.

Take television or cable channels, for instance, the former may allow a person in the U.S. access to see 12 channels while the latter may result in 70 or more.  A person can be content with watching one show at any given time or bits and pieces of many. Whereas channel surfing may be a popular past time it’s hardly time well spent and people may even be less happy in the end. In the context of dating there may be the ‘perfect [person] list’ where there is an elusive perfect individual somewhere out there.  The individual may be so overwhelmed with choices of an ideal that, again, the outcome is less than positive.

Iyengar, Wells, and Schwartz (2006) argue that too many choices can make someone feel worse rather than better. The researchers found that people who were fixed on options (i.e. TV channels or attributes on the perfect person list, for instance) and used external sources (i.e. TV guide and fashion) as information tended to be less happy.  An explanation for the result is that, in pursuing the goal, the individual is in search for the ideal and while a person may have indeed performed better in some way in the end the ideal cannot been reached (Iyengar et al., 2006).

Depiction of water choices

Read more: NPR- basic TV offers cable alternative

Read more: Ladies and ‘perfect man’ list

Iyengar, S.S., Wells, R.E., & Schwartz, B. (2006).  Doing better but feeling worse: Looking for the “best” job undermines satisfaction.

Aarts, H. (2007). On the emergence of human goal pursuit: The nonconscious regulation and motivation of goals.

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Misery: The Cause of the Economic Recession?

A 2009 New York Times article described how before the economic recession people would not hesitate to enjoy a “momentary pleasure–$4 lattes…lip gloss, [or] mints”, for example. Presently people have to go without those pleasures due to economic factors. A rather simple traditional explanation for the economic recession is that people were perhaps having too much fun buying, borrowing, selling etc. When describing the pre-economic recession behavior the emphasis is usually on the emotion of enjoyment that drives the behavior. Now, during the recession people are described as fearful and will spend less, which is expected since there is a degree of uncertainty, the reporter writes.

An alternative explanation is that a collective sense of misery or sadness and being self-focused caused individuals to spend more leading to the present economic recession. In fact, in a laboratory experiment individuals who were primed with sadness and self-focus tended to sell items at a lower price and buy at a higher price (Cryder et al., 2008; Lerner et al., 2004).  Researchers argued that participants, feeling down, wanted to enhance the way they felt and as a result gave a higher value to the object purchased. For the opposite effect, Lerner et al., (2004) primed participants with disgust that resulted in the willingness to pay less for the item and lowering the selling price. The results were explained as participants wanting to rid themselves of “anything new”, which may explain the present economic recession. Of course, the findings have limited ecological validity and the generalization may be slightly simplistic.  However it is not farfetched to conclude, as newspaper articles do, that specific emotions motivate us to act.

Read more: The reluctance to spend more may be legacy of recession.

Lerner, J.S., Small, D.A., & Loewenstein, G. (2004). Heart strings and purse strings: Carryover effect of emotion on economic decisions.

Cryder, C. E., Lerner, J.S., Gross, J.J., & Dahl, R.E. (2008). Misery is not miserly: Sad and self-focused individuals spend more.

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Geography and Attentiveness

Geography is a factor in relationships.  Not surprising, working, taking a class, or sharing a common space with someone may lead to a long-term friendship or relationship.  An NPR news report notes that many people make long time friends when in college. Although geographical closeness at times leads to friendships the question remains as to what motivates these relationships.  Cross (2009) points to a variable known as the relational self-construal defined in terms of how an individual see’s oneself in relation to others close to us. So close relationships must have lasted because someone (or both) in the dyad is high on the relational self-construal. For the purpose of continuing the relationship these individuals tend to be particularly attentive to the needs of others by paying close attention to information.  Cross writes that actions such as give and take, openness, providing support and encouragement are characteristic of those high in relational self-construal. While geography may be a factor when it comes to who you are acquainted with, attentiveness to others in relation to oneself determines who your friends will be .

Read more: Becoming close: The geography of friendship

Cross, S.E. (2009) Relational self-construal: Past and Future.

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When Perspective Taking Counts

A BBC news correspondent wrote a piece about living in Paris. The theme focused on equality between service providers and their patrons–at times leaving the reader aghast.  For example the writer tells of taxi drivers ignoring her because of the inconvenience of carrying crutches because of a broken foot. And when the patron asked the taxi driver for accommodation the taxi sped away. Drawing a sharp contrast the correspondent notes that one would not find that type of service in London, or the U.S.

Yet before the reader gets a chance to make dispositional attributions about the service workers the writer introduces some perspective. The writer introduces the idea that service workers are asserting themselves and want to be treated as equals. Had the readers been left with their first impression, Gill and Andreychik (2009) note their minds would have been made up, perhaps making a mental note that the service workers in Paris are not service oriented. However, attributing the behavior to the workers wanting equality brings another perspective, which Gill and Andreychik (2009) would argue to be pro-social.  Perspective taking, the researchers argue, allows people to understand the reason for other people’s behaviors and reduces bias toward other groups.

Read more: “In Paris, the customer is not always right”

Gill, M.J. & Andreychik, M, R. (2009). Getting Emotional About Explanations: Social Explanations and Social Explanatory Styles as Bases of Prosocial Emotions and Intergroup Attitudes.