Author Archives: Erica Zaiser

Truck driver… no wait a professor! Can glasses really change impressions of you?

By Erica Zaiser

I came across this cartoon recently from Funnymos.com:

Obviously it is meant to be humorous but it also made me wonder:  Does having a trait like glasses change people’s initial impressions of you? And has there been any research on this topic? Turns out, there has.

According to research by Hellstrom and Tekle (1994), people infer not only occupations based on physical traits but also personal characteristics like intelligence and trustworthiness. The researchers conducted studies in which participants rated the personality characteristics and speculated about the occupation of several male faces with either glasses, hair, or a beard. The researchers found that the combination of having glasses, a beard, and no hair was associated most highly with intellectual professions. The opposite in each category led to the strongest belief that the face belonged to someone in a trade profession or a factory worker.

Another set of studies by Terry and Krantz (1993)    further suggest that both men and women with glasses are rated as more competent and also have less social forcefulness. However, in their studies they found that beards were related to less competence. A key difference in this study was that the researchers looked at each difference separately whereas the first study looked at the combination of factors together. So perhaps a beard alone can diminish perceptions of competence but  not when paired with glasses or bald hair in which case a beard has a positive effect on competence ratings.

Of course, these studies only varied a few physical traits and didn’t take into account all the other subtle influences that help form first impressions. Nonetheless, it makes me wonder, would people respect my research more if I wore glasses?

Read More: Dimensions of Trait Attributions Associated with Eyeglasses, Men’s Facial Hair, and Women’s Hair Length

Person perception through facial photographs: Effects of glasses, hair, and beard on judgments of occupation and personal qualities

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Google+ Invitations: We all want one. Why?

By Erica Zaiser

Those who pay attention to the online world will probably know that Google+ fever is sweeping the blogosphere. Everyone wants an invite to the “Facebook killer” and invites are pretty hard to come by. If you are lucky enough to have one, you can brag about being in the group early and if not, you are left wondering what is going on in there and will you ever get to be a part of it. Invites are in such demand they are even popping up for sale on ebay for as much as $100.

What is the rush and why are we all clamouring to jump on board the Google+ ship when we don’t even know what it’s all about? Well for one, we humans love to belong to groups. And what could be better than belonging to Google+, a group which is entirely based on the ability to form groups. Because Google+ is by invitation only, the boundaries are less permeable than Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and the other social networking sites; anyone can join those simply by signing up. Permeability of boundaries has been linked to group identification in numerous psychology studies. Members of groups with highly permeable boundaries have reduced ingroup identification. So a person who is on Facebook just won’t feel as passionate about being a “Facebook user” as someone who is part of Google+.  Google+ users on the other hand, feel strongly about their membership and are spreading their new ingroup love, which automatically makes Google+ seem pretty cool and exclusive.

We are now willing to buy our way into a group that four days ago didn’t even exist because if there is one thing people hate, it’s being excluded.  By releasing the new social networking site as invite only, Google has created something we want to be part of but most just can’t. In a review of research on social exclusion, Dewall and colleagues (2010) highlight how being left out can cause numerous behavioural and emotional problems. Social exclusion can lead to increased aggression, decrease pro-social behaviour, and even induce actual physical pain. Hopefully more invites will open up before those who are being excluded start suffering the negative effects of social exclusion. And yes, I am still waiting for my invite too.

Read more: Belongingness as a Core Personality Trait: How Social Exclusion Influences Social Functioning and Personality Expression

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First Birthers, now Deathers… Why so many conspiracy theories?

By Erica Zaiser

Just after the “birthers” lost some footing with US President Obama’s release of his full birth certificate, the “deathers” have begun to question the validity of the news that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. Conspiracy theories have always been around but lately they have been getting a lot of media attention. What makes someone more likely to believe in conspiracy theories? 

Researchers have suggested that people may be more likely to believe in conspiracy theories when they feel a lack of control because conspiracy theories may help to explain their current situation or reaffirm their belief that other people control the world around them. Also, people who are strongly suspicious of authority may be more likely to believe authorities are conspiring. Furthermore, conspiracy theories can simplify situations that may actually be quite complex. Indeed, a number of related personality characteristics have been linked to belief in conspiracy theories, including low self-esteem, authoritarianism, and powerlessness.

Very recently, Douglas and Sutton (2011) found that people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories when they themselves are more willing to engage in conspiratorial behaviour. Thus, the very people shouting conspiracy are more likely themselves to conspire. So perhaps we need to take a close look at what is going on behind the scenes with these “birthers” and “deathers”, maybe they are conspiring to make the media blow their claims out of proportion. 

Read more: Belief in Conspiracy Theories. Political Psychology. 

Does it takes one to know one? Endorsement of conspiracy theories in influenced by personal willingness to conspire

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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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Bystanders… just standing by. When do people help and when do they not?

By Erica Zaiser

Understanding when and why people intervene to help others, or when they don’t, is at the heart of social psychology. All students of psychology study the famous case of Kitty Genovese, whose screams while being attacked failed to elicit help from the nearly 40 bystanders. Most research on bystander intervention has found that the size of the group greatly impacts the likelihood of intervention. Too big of a group and everybody shifts responsibility assuming that someone else will help but the more people the less likely that any individual will help.

It seems hard to imagine that people would not help when someone is in trouble, wounded, or in danger, yet it happens all the time. Recently I myself stumbled upon a scene of bystander non-intervention which I have since struggled to understand.

The other day while walking home I came upon a man running up and down the street with no shoes or coat holding a phone out shouting at the people on the street and stopping cars banging on the windows. I took a second to survey the scene and it was clear this man was trying to get something from those around him. However nobody was answering him and none of the cars even rolled down their windows to listen. I heard his questions loud and clear, albeit in broken English, “How to call an ambulance?” Still nobody was saying anything. I shouted to him that he needed to call 999 and he came over profusely grateful for my help and I helped him make his emergency call and assisted him and his family until paramedics could arrive. His mother had fallen unconscious in their flat and he had run into the street desperate to know how to call emergency services in this country. I learned that he and all his family was from eastern Europe and they knew very little English. He also told me that he had been trying to get the number for quite some time but nobody had been willing to help.

Having read work on bystander behaviour I shouldn’t have been that surprised that nobody helped but the situation just didn’t fit the common notion that with greater numbers people are less likely to help. Most of the famous incidents involving non-helping behaviour has been within large crowds. There were maybe 7 or 10 people on the street when I arrived. Most were just standing and watching. I don’t have a great answer for why people didn’t help, maybe they couldn’t understand his question… but it seemed quite clear to me. Maybe they feared that it was some type of scam.. but certainly it can’t hurt to tell someone a phone number.

Even more frustrating than not understanding the lack of help was the sneaking suspicion that had he been British, white, or at least a native English speaker, maybe someone would have helped. Research by Levine and colleagues suggests that there might be an element of truth to that. In a study of non-intervention, their research suggests that bystanders are much more likely to help people when they feel that the person seeking assistance is part of their ingroup. This effect holds true even when controlling for the severity of the situation and the emotional arousal felt by bystanders. In other words, no matter how bad the situation or how badly the bystanders felt, they were still less likely to help when the victim was an outgroup member.

This all makes sense from a social psychological perspective and lines up with other research. People tend to behave better to people in their own group in general. But seeing it play out… was still a little depressing.

Read More: Self-Categorization and Bystander Non-Intervention

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“I” love “you”

By Erica Zaiser

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and so many couples may be reflecting on the status of their relationship. If you aren’t already over-thinking what every little thing your partner does (or doesn’t do) this season means, here is yet another way in which you can dissect the quality of your relationship during your romantic evening. Or, at the very least, this might give you something interesting to talk about with your date when you realize you have nothing in common but already paid for two overpriced three-course Valentine’s Day meals.

According to recent research on the language of couples, the words used when a couple discusses their relationship can be indicative of their satisfaction in the relationship and its longevity. In studies looking at daily Instant Messaging conversations between couples, researchers found that the pronouns used most could predict both satisfaction with a partner and the likelihood that the relationship would still be intact 6 months later. For women, their use of “I” was most related to satisfaction with their partner. But men’s use of “me” suggested a small negative relationship with their partner’s satisfaction with them. Although negative emotion words had no relation to satisfaction or stability, the use of positive emotion words by men was related to increased satisfaction for both partners and an increased chance of relationship survival.

There is other research suggesting that the use of “I” can be beneficial over “you” because “you” can be blaming while “I” is self-reflective, but this research shows that there may be gender differences between the perception of and meaning behind pronoun choice. Furthermore, the researchers suggest that word choice by couples is context dependent. Using “you” when discussing the relationship is very different from the use of “you” in normal everyday conversation.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. Try not to spend the whole evening with your date (if you are lucky enough to have one) counting their “you”s and “I”s.

Read more: Am “I” more important than “you”

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