Author Archives: Erica Zaiser

Priming racist symbol promotes racist voting

By: Erica Zaiser

Since the media is already beginning to review the last US presidential election in order to predict the next one, I thought it would be a good time to discuss a recent article in Political Psychology about the 2008 election. In their pre-election study, the researchers found that priming images of the confederate flag decreased white voters willingness to vote for Obama. Even when assessing a hypothetical black candidate, white participants evaluated the candidate more negatively after being exposed to the confederate flag. However, this wasn’t just an increase in negative attitudes in general, because there was no effect on attitudes towards white candidates.

This isn’t particularly surprising when you think about it. As the authors explain, by priming the confederate flag,  negative attitudes towards blacks are more accessible. However, these studies are good examples of how something somewhat obvious for psychologists in the lab is still striking when you think about the ramifications it can have in the “real world”. Especially when you realize that the results were controlling for political orientation and personal racial attitudes. So it wasn’t that people who already held strong racist views were reminded of their own beliefs; instead, people exposed to the image accessed a set of racist cultural beliefs that the flag represents, regardless of their personal attitudes towards race or politics.

I wanted to write about this because it’s interesting and important to be aware of. I am also worried that psychologists shouldn’t draw too much attention to this effect or we are going to see this type of priming used (or used more) on the campaign trail.

Read more: Exposure to confederate flag affects willingness to vote for Obama

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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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Essay Writer for Hire- Who is worse, the cheater or the enabler?

By Erica Zaiser

If you haven’t read this yet, you should. It is the story of a man (using the alias Ed Dante) who writes essays and exams for students in higher education for pay. The article sheds light on this completely undetectable method of cheating,  the inherent flaws in higher education, and the shocking number of people completing undergraduate and even graduate degrees with someone else’s work. The author claims to have written for on nearly every subject and completed 12 graduate theses in his time doing the work. He also has said that he plans to retire and wants to reveal to academia this underground ring of cheating.

Perhaps even more interesting than the article is the discussion which has followed, with many people berating the author for his involvement in cheating. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem that people are angry at the student cheaters, they are angry at the man making money and actually writing the essays. What is it that makes people so angry? People seem particularly mad that he makes money off the whole thing. Does that make it worse? On one hand you could argue that without him students would just find someone else to help them cheat. On the other hand, he knowingly allows and enables the cheating. Which is worse?

Interestingly, there is research on this topic. In a set of studies by Whitley and Kost (1999), people were asked to evaluate the people who help students cheat. In general, people in their studies viewed cheaters as being more morally culpable than those who helped them cheat. However, there was some evidence that when people are paid for cheating, they are viewed more harshly than when they do it to “help a friend”. Although this only rung true for women in their study, it seems to ring true for many responders to the story. There is surprisingly little research out there on attitudes towards cheating or those who help cheaters. But with the apparent rampant use of this method of cheating, as claimed by the author, it seems like an important area for more research to be done.

Read More: The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students’ papers tells his story.

Read More: College students’ perceptions of peers who cheat.

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“I just don’t trust you with that accent”: Non-native speakers and the fluency effect

By Erica Zaiser

The other day I was at a pub quiz and a question had been asked which I didn’t know the answer to. While discussing possible answers, one team member said what she thought was the right answer. It just didn’t sound believable to me. Then another team member said the exact same thing and it suddenly sounded like it was probably the right answer. Now, there are lots of reasons why that might happen. I might just have been convinced by two team members voicing the same opinion. Or maybe the second team member simply sounded more confident in her answer, which led to me placing my confidence in her. Or, it occurred to me, it may have been because the first team member was not a native English speaker and the second was.

In an interesting recent set of studies researchers found that when people hear information they are less likely to believe it when the speaker has a non-native accent. According to the researchers, this isn’t just because of prejudice, as one might assume. It’s actually to do with the fluency effect. The ease at which a message is processed is assumed to be indicative of how truthful the message is. In their studies, even when people heard messages which were originally from a native speaker and simply being passed on by the foreign speaker, people still were less likely to trust the message than when it was said directly by a native speaker.

In studies looking at children, researchers found that children were more likely to endorse actions done by a native speaker than a foreign speaker. Although that research wasn’t specifically looking at the fluency effect, it’s quiet possible that it plays a role in guiding children’s choices in selecting to trust information.

The worst part is that I had read this article just before the quiz, so this process was fresh in my mind and it still caught me up. So, for those non-native English speakers out there who are wondering why nobody believes things they say… you may want to put on your best native English accent and try repeating it. Some of us just can’t seem to override the fluency effect.

Read more: Children’s selective trust in native accented speakers.

Read more: BPS Research Digest Blog- Speakers with a foreign accent are perceived as less credible.

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Friends and Facebook: Online social behavior- not that different from the real world?

By Erica Zaiser

Continuing with my previous post about Facebook, TIME recently reported on another study using the social networking site. According to the article, researchers in Denver wanted to understand why people “defriend” others in Facebook and what types of behaviours are likely to lead to a break in the online friendship. Unsurprisingly, they found that things are pretty similar in an online social network to a real-life social network. People defriend others much for the same reasons they end real world friendships. People who go on an on about a subject on Facebook were most likely to get defriended followed by people who talk about politics or religion and people who post racist or offensive comments.

As Facebook has grown in popularity so has interest in it as an area of research for social psychologists. Another study looking at Facebook found a relationship between number of friends and impressions about a persons attractiveness and popularity. Generally more friends made participants in the study believe the person was more attractive and popular, but only to a point. When the number of friends became very large (more than 300) people then began to doubt the users popularity and rated the user as being almost as unattractive as those who had very few friends. According to the research, people began to doubt that people had accrued their large number of friends simply because they were extroverted and instead may be making assumptions that the profile owner added friends for other reasons (like they are actually desperate for friends and are just adding whomever they can to look popular).

Facebook and other online  social mediums are interesting to look at for psychologists because its both possible to study unique social phenomenon in the online world but also because behaviours online may help researchers understand behaviours offline. Perhaps in real life, people who are seen as “too social” are sometimes viewed as negatively as people who have just a few friends.

Read more: Too much of a good thing? The relationship between number of friends and interpersonal impressions on Facebook

CNN on Long and ParrisRead more: TIME article: How to lose Facebook friends the fastest.

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Facebook and Narcissism.. Is that flashy photo a mask for low self esteem?

By Erica Zaiser
A recent study by Soraya Mehdizadeh has made the news because it made an interesting connection between Facebook profiles and personality traits like narcissism. The study found that the more times a person checked Facebook, the higher they scored on narcissism. Also, there was a significant relationship between self-promotional content and narcissism scales. According to the study, for women self promotional content tended to include images of “revealing, flashy and adorned photos of their physical appearance” while for men, their “about me” descriptions highlighted their intelligence and wit. However, the study also finds that people with low self-esteem also check their Facebook pages more often.
The link between self-esteem and narcissism has been hard to understand for years despite ample research on both topics. According to a review done by Bossom and colleagues the problem in understanding the connections between narcissism and self-esteem is that some research has shown that narcissism is actually a mask to hide low self-esteem, but other research has failed to show this pattern. According to the review there are several subtypes of narcissism that have different relationships with self-esteem. Furthermore, the research on self-esteem shows that different aspects of the self may be being measured depending on the type of self-esteem measure being used.
The research on Facebook adds an interesting piece to the puzzle as it reveals the way in which both low self-esteem and narcissism are manifesting as the same behaviour on social networking site. The mask theory of narcissism (that it is used to mask low self-esteem) might make sense here as people’s grandiose view of themself is being broadcasted through constant use and updating of their Facebook profiles;  while a need for validation that goes along with deeper low self-esteem is driving them to seek  instant feedback (something Facebook can uniquely provide) from their friends.

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