Author Archives: Courtney Ignarri

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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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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The Bottom Line

What determines the importance of fairness, particularly to strangers?  There are no incentives to play fair when dealing with people we don’t know, aren’t related to, and will never interact with again. Evolutionary psychologist might point to carryover effects of living in smaller communities in our distant past. A recent study led by Joseph Henrich hopes to clarify the issue postulating that there is more to it than simply inheriting fairness attitudes. The research team implemented a Social Dilemma like game called Dictator and administered it to a wide variety of populations. They found that modern living Missourians were most likely to share while hunter-gatherer societies, such as those in the Serengeti or the Amazon, were less likely to do so. One might think that these smaller communities would foster a greater sense of social responsibility and be more willing to share but the researchers point out that while there are clear rules and norms for sharing among kin or ingroup members, a sense of responsibility to the other may be absent when dealing with strangers.  Practices and norms emphasizing fairness to strangers have developed in other societies and this research points to “market integration” as a possible explanation as this factor was the strongest predictor of fairness attitudes. Market integration was operationalized as the amount of food purchased.  In communities where food is hunted, found, or grown people are less likely and willing to share with strangers. But when food is purchased it makes sense that systems would need to develop where strangers (consumers and sellers) can trust one another. The consumer market can’t function is everyone acts selfishly and treats others as if they will act the same. Oddly enough it seems that trust and fairness develop in some cases because they are economically advantageous.

Suggestions for a New Integration in the Psychology of Morality (Sunar, 2009)

Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment

Moral Lessons, Down Aisle 9

 

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The Blame Game

Representative Eric J. Massa of New York is lashing out at the Democratic Party. Last week Massa announced his retirement citing the return of cancer as the reason for the departure, but also leaves amidst a sexual harassment charge from a male aide. In a later radio interview Massa claimed Democratic Party leaders drove him out of office because he did not support health care legislation although the party has dismissed Massa’s assertions.

Given the changing reasons for his retirement blaming his Party could just be an excuse or an attempt to mask the scandal surrounding him. New work on blame and excuse making adds a formerly unstudied dimension to the study of interpersonal relations: locus of control. Wang and Anderson (2006) studied internals and externals asking them to judge excuses and assign blame. They found that externals tended to use excuses more and assigned less blame for cases of cheating and lying relative to internals. Externals also assigned more blame to others and less to themselves and were more sensitive to being blamed.  Making excuses then may be less a calculated effort to shift blame and more a result of one’s general outlook on the social world.

Excuse-making and blaming as a function of internal – external locus of control

House Democrat Says Party Drove Him From Office

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Saving Face

Corporations, like people, are all about maintaining a good public image. They want to be seen as reliable, trustworthy, and even generous. Our impressions of these companies influence what products we buy and what brands garner our loyalty. Establishing a positive reputation in the market takes a very long time, yet  these hard won images can be dismantled instantly. Can companies bounce back from bad publicity to regain their former reputation? Toyota stockholders are anxiously waiting to find out.

Problems with the floor-mats in several Toyota models occurred in 2007 and 2009, and in early January of 2010 the company began to recall millions of vehicles for faulty accelerator and brake pedals. Recalling and repairing vehicles as well as dealing with impending lawsuits represents a huge financial blow to the company.

Additionally, Toyota must deal with the damage to the company’s reputation that will likely influence profits well into the future. Customers loyal to the brand may reconsider purchasing a Toyota because its reputation as a maker of efficient, reliable, and safe vehicles has been threatened.  The connection between good corporate image and profit is undeniable (Roberts & Dowling, 2002). Research suggests that restoring consumer trust after negative publicity involves a calculated use of informational, affective and  functional strategies to influence attitudes about corporate competence, benevolence, and integrity. Affective initiatives were shown to be more effective in repairing corporate image with regard to benevolence and integrity while informational strategies were more effective for attitudes about competence (Xie & Peng, 2009). Toyota still has the opportunity to rebuild their image and retain customer loyalty. According to a report by the Financial Post yesterday Toyota customers have not jumped ship yet. Resolving the recall issues and recovering from them depends not only on financial reparations but also on restoring the positive image that made them so successful in the first place.

Roberts & Dowling (2002)

Xie & Peng ( 2009)

After recall, Toyota customers not buying from anyone

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Stress, the Self, and the Stock Market

Although stress is an inevitable part of life the recession has amplified the nature, magnitude, and impact of stress for many around the globe. The threat or reality of losing a job or one’s home, searching for work in an untenable job market, having to stretch an already thin budget even further, and many other concerns all cause fear, anxiety, worry, and frustration. Marc Skelton suggests that although what makes these types of stressors so problematic is our inability to control them, we do have control over how we respond. He suggests a number of strategies including using social support networks and reframing the situation. Coping comes in many forms and researchers have highlighted a new factor, self-compassion that may influence coping attempts. Those high in self-compassion (those who treat the self with kindness and concern in response to negative events) tend to avoid problems less and engage in cognitive restructuring more than those low in self-compassion whereas the two groups do not differ in problem solving or distraction (Allen & Leary, 2010). Treatment of the self during stressful events could also influence physiological and psychological adjustment as well as how one responds to others in need. Further work is needed to clarify how this and other characteristics might influence coping attempts.

Self-compassion, Stress, and Coping (Allen & Leary, 2010)

Relax to relive stress in 2010

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Helping Hands: Sharing Among Survivors

Earlier this week the search for survivors of the devastating earthquake in Haiti ended. Current estimates suggest that upwards of 200,000 people may have perished, and efforts now turn to the approximately 3 million Haitians affected by the quake. They are in need of everything from medical care to housing, but most importantly food. Despite the outpouring of both monetary and other aid internationally, getting help to those in need has proven difficult. New York Times columnist Damien Cave highlighted Hatian’s struggle to find food in a recent article emphasizing that even in such dire circumstances sharing and fairness are held in high regard among survivors.  Stealing food is a capital offense and those who are able to find food no matter how much or how little are expected to share. Some have taken an even larger role in the recovery process setting up makeshift soup kitchens.

Some suggest that no act is every truly selfless since donors receive positive psychological benefits (e.g., boost in self-esteem, positive affect, etc.) among other possible rewards. Current research indicates that altruistic actions  are motivated by empathic concern intended to end the suffering of others as opposed to reducing negative arousal in the self (Stocks, Lishner, & Decker, 2009). Whether there are intrinsic or extrinsic benefits to helping others, survivors are showing that there is an alternative to the “every man for himself” attitude. Either by sharing what little they have or pooling their remaining resources to help as many as possible Haitians are embodying a community spirit in which altruism thrives. One can only hope that these efforts will continue and that much needed resources will reach those much in need.

Fighting Starvation, Haitians Share Portions

Altruism or psychological escape: Why does empathy promote prosocial behavior?

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