Author Archives: Jennifer Rosner

This One World might have One Dream one day – but not today.

Last week, United States Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo attended a press conference of the second round of China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogues in Beijing, China. At the conference, China and the United States agreed to enhance mutual trust through more intensive dialogue for a stable and mature relationship. According to a press release issued by the Chinese, “The relationship of China and the United States, respectively as the world’s largest developing and developed countries, is immensely important to the world, and the key to sound relations is strengthening mutual trust.”

The relationship between the United States and China is inarguably one of the most – if not the most – important bilateral relationship of the 21st century. The two countries are often considered to be neither allies nor enemies, and the relationship is considered by analysts of Sino-American relations to be both complex and multi-faceted.

Cross-cultural psychologists have grown famous for uncovering East-West differences in just about every domain of social psychology, but there are fewer studies that take real-life political events happening at that moment and attempt to build theories of Sino-American relations around those events. Recently, social psychologists from both the United States and Asia came together in a special section of the Asian Journal of Social Psychology to discuss the psychosocial ramifications of one such major political event – the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In one paper within this section, researchers discuss the irony that although the Beijing Olympic Games were intended to elicit feelings of international unity (hence the slogan “One World, One Dream”), once participants were reminded of the Beijing Games via subtle and indirect exposure to the Beijing Olympic icon, both Chinese and Americans high in nationalism and patriotism perceived greater differences between Chinese and American cultures, compared to those low in nationalism and patriotism. On a more explicit level, however, the two groups seemed to differ: whereas Chinese associated the Games with the “One World, One Dream” slogan, Americans associated the Games with a burgeoning Chinese competitiveness. Authors explain the findings as a cognitive contrast effect such that as long as the Olympic Games symbolize a co-presence of the U.S. and China simultaneously – whether the intergroup relationship is perceived to be friendly or competitive – the Games will lead to a psychological contrast between the ingroup and the outgroup and, in so doing, heightened perceived cultural differences. The authors further emphasize that although Chinese participants might be acutely aware of the differences between the U.S. and China, they do not necessarily associate these differences with hostility, but instead understand them as an opportunity to learn from the U.S. in order to eventually realize the “One World, One Dream” ideal. Americans, however, apparently associate the Games with competition between China and themselves and this same awareness of how they are different from China might only serve to intensify any adversarial feelings.

Like the conclusions drawn from the recent dialogue between the U.S. and China, psychologists stress that it is increasingly vital for research to inform strategies that might, at the very least, help make both countries cognizant of how they are perceived by each other. They claim that awareness of our differences, understanding how those differences come about and what they mean to the outgroup, and being ready to reconcile discrepant motivations are essential to preemptively assuage any potential discord caused by different expectations and different hopes for the future world order.

China, U.S. committed to more stable relationship

One World, Just a Dream? Effects of the Beijing Olympic icon on perceived differences between Eastern and Western culture

Heath Ledger lives! And not just in my personal bedroom shrine.

This past weekend, the movie “The Patriot” was on TNT and although I’ve definitely seen it a good eighteen times, I can never seem to get enough of it. Heath Ledger as the dashing, young, patriotic soldier who enlists in the American Revolution despite his father’s sincerest efforts to discourage him – my heart literally skips a beat every time he comes onto the scene. I realize that I’m in my solid mid-twenties and celebrity crushes have usually been a fleeting thing of my teenage past. But there’s always been something about Heath Ledger that I just can’t shake. Well, him and John F. Kennedy, Jr. Come to think of it though, I only became really wrapped up in John-John once his plane crashed back in 1999 – I remember sitting in front of the television uninterrupted for a week, waiting for his body to be recovered. I was devastated when my mother told me to let it go. And then when Heath Ledger died – as a first-year teaching assistant in graduate school, I definitely used my newfound discretion to allocate an entire class period to have my students reflect on their favorite Heath Ledger moments in film.

What is it about celebrities?  And perhaps more interestingly, what is it about dead celebrities? According to Pelin Kesebir and Chi-yue Chiu, both cultural psychologists affiliated with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, our fascination with celebrities is really just an attempt to relieve ourselves of the death anxiety we experience as the only living creatures to be conscious of our own mortality. As suggested by the large body of research supporting Terror Management Theory, to take our minds off of the chronic and debilitating terror of knowing we are eventually going to die, we cling to cultural icons (i.e., celebrities) and worldviews that assure us that we stand for something larger than just our physical selves and that once we do die, we will have achieved symbolic immortality from having been affiliated with these great contemporaries and ideas. In short, if you’re concerned with leaving your mark on the world, and someone famous embodies your value system, you peg your legacy on his or her legacy. As Kesebir puts it, “After being reminded of their mortality… people think that famous people will be remembered for a longer time in the future, attesting to people’s desire to see these celebrities as symbolically immortal. And the more celebrities represent cultural values, the more is the desire to see them as everlasting… In another study, I showed that people think that if they board the same plane as a famous person, the plane is less likely to crash, to the extent that the famous person on board represents cultural values.”

And what happens when these celebrities actually die before we do? Do we lose our buffer against the existential terror they have for so long kept in check for us? According to Kesebir, “[Mourners] will experience the shock of seeing the annihilation of something they inwardly deemed to be imperishable (just like a god). In a way, they have lost one of their bulwarks against existential anxiety, and they are in a vulnerable state now. With time, though, they will come to accept [the] literal death and derive a similar sense of stamina from [the celebrity’s] symbolic immortality.”

The Science of Dead Celebrities

Culture and Terror Management: What is “Culture” in Cultural Psychology and Terror Management Theory?

NHL San Jose’s Dan Boyle wins the game for the other team and supports “choking” phenomenon.

Last Sunday night during Game 3 of the San Jose Sharks/Colorado Avalanche NHL Western Conference playoff series, the Sharks took three times as many shots as the Avalanche, kept the puck on Colorado’s end, and generally owned the game. Nonetheless, the score remained at 0-0 almost a minute into overtime. And then the worst possible dose of bad luck (or insane miscalculation?) befell San Jose’s Dan Boyle: he inadvertently scored the winning goal for the Colorado Avalanche. According to CBSSports.com columnist Ray Ratto, the deflection of Boyle’s clearing pass to defenseman Douglas Murray, “to the amazement of all living things… whipped into a tiny hole between the right post and San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov.”

Thing is, Dan Boyle is in pretty good company. Time after time, we witness acts of “choking under pressure” – especially in sports, but also in other anxiety-eliciting domains of life such as during testing situations, presenting to a group of colleagues or superiors, or performing a musical instrument. Choking, otherwise known as failing in the clutch or performing at suboptimal levels under pressure conditions, happens to the best of us and social psychologist Roy Baumeister has determined the conditions under which the phenomenon is most likely to occur.

Baumeister labels four pressure variables – audience pressure, competition, performance-contingent rewards and punishments, and ego-relevance of the task – as determinants of choking; needless to say, all of these variables were present in full-force at Dan Boyle’s mishap on Sunday. Further, Baumeister notes that choking may result from a self-focused attention that interferes with the execution of automatic, routinized processes (such as, oh I don’t know, moving around a puck during a professional hockey game in which you are a professional hockey player). In particular, Baumeister suggests that pressure makes the person want to do well, so the performer focuses conscious attention on the process of performance. However, since skills are responses that are overlearned and automatic, attending to them consciously interferes with or inhibits them; conscious attention to an automatic behavior paradoxically causes misalignment between brain and behavior and, frequently, ultimate failure at the task. Other theories suggest that having to perform under pressure causes a self-awareness that precludes awareness of the environment in which one is surrounded, thereby causing the performer to fail to process task-relevant information.

Whatever the case may be, no matter how we social psychologists attempt to rationalize and intellectualize the antecedents of choking, we’re sure that none of this is making Dan Boyle feel any better. Good thing he has an old Stanley Cup lying around somewhere to make up for it.

Footage of Dan Boyle’s goal for other team

Sharks own track record to fit Boyle’s own goal

A review of paradoxical performance effects: Choking under pressure in sports and mental tests

Accuracy online: Social networking sites have you pegged.

In early March of this year, Chris Dixon and Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake launched New York-based Hunch, a so-called “Twitter predictor game” that has a “Ph.D. in insight about people.” In short, with its 82 percent accuracy rate, Hunch takes your Twitter username, looks at the people you follow and the people who follow you and somehow – via an algorithm none of us mere psychologists could even attempt to crack – figures out pretty much anything about you. According to Dixon, “We break people’s taste into about 80 dimensions. Let’s imagine one dimension is political orientation, liberal or conservative, one is gender, one is food preferences, and each of those taste dimensions flows independently through the [Twitter] graph. Depending on who you’re following and who’s following you, we can make inferences about your food preferences or your political preferences.” Eventually, Hunch can even get around to knowing whether or not you’ve ever ridden a Segway or if you know the signs of the zodiac in order.

Scary that a mere Twitter username can reveal so much about you? Perhaps, but then again, you’re probably being very telling in your likes and dislikes manifested by who you choose to follow and the types of people who choose to follow you. Interestingly enough, in a medium that could potentially provide information very far from the truth, it appears that who we really are really does come through – even online.

In a recent article published in Psychological Science entitled “Facebook Profiles Reflect Actual Personality, Not Self-Idealization,” psychologists further show that even when we are allowed the opportunity to manipulate our persona with little real consequence for our actions (say, via Facebook), we just don’t. The authors provide evidence that flat-out disputes the widely held assumption that online social networking (OSN) site profiles are used to create and communicate idealized selves. Instead, findings show that OSN sites constitute an extended social context in which individuals express their actual personality characteristics so that they might form accurate interpersonal perceptions. (Researchers add that it might be difficult to create an idealized self-portrayal on an OSN site because profiles include information about one’s reputation that is difficult to control and friends are able to provide accountability and feedback on your profile.)

It thus appears that we are who we are and there’s no escaping it – even our seemingly anonymous shadows on the Internet tell the truth. Twitter appears to hold data as to who we are that are accessible via knowledge of just our Twitter usernames; further, we appear to want to tell Facebook and other social networking sites who we really are versus who we might really want to be. In short, with all this newfound accuracy, the online communities in which we have become enmeshed might actually be a spot on extension of real life.

Hunch

Hunch on cnet news

Facebook Profiles Reflect Actual Personality, Not Self-Idealization

Earning Moral Credit by Buying “Green”: South Park Was Right All Along!

Remember that episode of South Park when Kyle’s dad gets a hybrid car and suddenly begins to sport a “high and mighty” attitude? With Kyle and Ike in tow, Gerald rides around town in what appears to be Toyota Prius, insulting others who drive non-hybrids, bonding with fellow hybrid owners over their general awesomeness, and blatantly ignoring that “Ike is starving to death” in the backseat. In the bit linked here, the scene ends with Gerald setting off to give “awareness citations” to SUVs in the parking lot of the local hardware store.

The episode certainly got a good chuckle out of viewers – perhaps even some hybrid owners – but who knew at the time that this pattern of behavior was no joke? According to Nina Mazur and Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, new research to be released this month in Psychological Science counterintuitively suggests that supposedly virtuous shopping can actually lead to immoral behavior. They find that although mere exposure to “green” products encourages people to be more altruistic, people who actually purchase these same products are more likely to act immorally or unethically after their purchase in the form of sharing less money with an anonymous partner and, in one study, actually cheating and stealing more money (compared to participants who made purchases at a conventional store). The researchers claim that whereas participants who are merely exposed to “green” products are primed with an air of social responsibility and moral capital, participants who actually get a chance to buy the product subsequently experience a phenomenon known as licensing. That is, a person who purchases a “green” product might come to feel that he has earned some sort of moral credential via the purchase, thereby giving him privilege to engage in future asocial and unethical behavior.

What do you think? Are you a purchaser of “green” products? If so, how many times did you congratulate yourself today on your awesomeness? And, while we’re at it, how many pennies did you steal this week from those nice little “give a penny, take a penny” pots at the local coffee shop? We now understand why you’re doing it, but luckily we don’t have to suffer the stench of your immorality over the exhaust of our Hummers and Jeep SRTs.

Thanks! Season 10: Smug Alert – Clips – South Park Studios

Do Green Products Make Us Better People?

The month of March is upon us, and chances are you’ve already fallen victim to false-hope syndrome – yet again.

According to Human Kinetics, the premier publisher for sports and fitness, almost 50% of people who made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get into shape stopped going to the gym by March 1st. MSNBC quotes an even higher statistic: Whereas health clubs are packed in January, they say, more than 75% of newbies will have called it quits by the end of March.

And yet every year, we typically make the very same resolution: to go the gym, lose weight, tone up, get healthy, and then some – even though most of us repeatedly fail by March (and that’s if we’re relatively persistent). Psychologists Polivy and Herman (2000) have coined the term “false-hope syndrome” to refer to this phenomenon best manifested by attempted and broken New Year’s resolutions. They say that individuals persist in attempting to change themselves despite repeated failure due to an overconfidence that includes feelings of control and optimism (e.g., the twin beliefs that losing weight is easy and fast), and expectations for an unrealistically high payoff from triumphant self-change (e.g., the assumption that changes in weight loss will catalyze major rewards in other, unrelated areas of life). Inevitably, when such unrealistic expectations are not met, individuals often experience disappointment, discouragement, and the perception of oneself as a failure. As these negative emotions build, a sort of Catch-22 results, such that the self-control required for eventual success falters and behavior spirals out of control.

Researchers therefore advise that, in order to create real hope (instead of false hope), we must be accurate in our initial assessments of the difficulty of self-change, commit to realistic goals and expectations, and hone a set of coping skills that build resiliency in the face of normal setbacks. So, with regards to the gym, for starters – get back in there! Understand that weight loss and getting healthy will not happen overnight and instead of shooting for a giant amount of pounds lost, set smaller, more attainable goals (i.e., eating a salad at lunch, running one mile tonight), and strive to attain a few each week. Moreover, if you miss a goal or fall short of an expectation – a minor failure should not set you completely off-track. Give yourself a little pep talk and tell yourself you won’t become a March 1st fitness statistic.

Don’t become a March 1st fitness statistic

Flipping the switch is only the first step

The False-Hope Syndrome: Unfulfilled expectations of self-change

Olympic expectations gone awry: Plushenko conforms to silver medalist syndrome.

Avid Olympic watchers most likely tuned in to Thursday night’s main event: the men’s figure skating free skate. Evan Lysacek won gold for the United States, becoming the first American man to win it since 1988. Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko took the silver – losing by a mere 1.31 points overall – and ended Russia’s streak in the sport. Had Plushenko won the gold, as he expected, he would have been the first man to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals since 1952.

But he didn’t win it. And as social psychology would predict, the disappointment generated by being so close to an expected win (and then losing) has some pretty unpleasant side effects. For starters, Plushenko acted like a true to form sore loser when he told reporters, “Obviously, Evan needs the medal more than me, maybe because I’ve got one already.” He ended up never congratulating Lysacek and took off his silver medal immediately as he left the ice following the victory lap.

Psychologists explain this silver medalist syndrome as an effect of upward counterfactual thinking. In short, reflecting on how past events might have turned out better – especially if those alternative realities were within very close reach – has a unique sting to it to which no bronze medalist could even begin to relate. According to Medvec, Madey, and Gilovich (1995), bronze medalists are often happier than silver medalists – they smile more on the podium at the medal ceremony – because they focus on the alternative of winning no medal, whereas the silver medalists focus on the alternative of winning gold. Decision Affect Theory (DAT) extends this line of research to integrate the added effects of expectation: although good outcomes feel better when unexpected than when expected, bad outcomes bite extra hard when unexpected than when expected.

Adding it all up, high expectations for success + losing by a little more than a point + upward counterfactual thinking = Plushenko may have surprised us with his loss, but we social psychologists landed the aftermath with precision and grace.

Even in defeat, Yevgeny Plushenko steals show

When Less is More: Counterfactual Thinking and Satisfaction Among Olympic Medalists

The Affective Consequences of Expected and Unexpected Outcomes

When it comes to your doppelganger – upgrade, but be reasonable.

If you’re reading this blog, then chances are you’re a cool enough person to know that doppelganger-mania has taken over Facebook. Like most trends, only the coolest of Facebookers started doing it – uploading a picture of their supposed look-a-like-celebrity as their profile shot, that is – and then everyone else followed suit within a matter of a single week, just as the established conformity literature would predict. That’s not what is interesting here, however.

Have you taken a minute to consider which celebrities your Facebook friends are uploading as their look-a-likes? Do it now. Open a new window if you must, and browse through their recently updated profile pictures. You should soon notice that you are hard-pressed to find a single unattractive look-a-like celebrity posing as even your ugliest friend’s doppelganger. No one uploads Janet Reno, or Pee-wee Herman, or that cat lady who’s had one too many facelifts – unless of course they are trying to be ironic. In short, your friends are affiliating themselves with good-looking celebrities so that they can ultimately become grouped with higher status people and take on their attributes – perhaps even the non-physical ones. And although their intentions are pure and admittedly self-aggrandizing – in the end, they just want to be liked – this doppelganger trend might inevitably backfire, according to the social psychological research.

According to Sherif and Hovland (1961), changing other people’s perceptions of you can be compared to the act of stretching a rubber band – you can stretch the rubber band only so far so as to climb up the social ladder. Eventually, however, if you overstretch the rubber band, the ties will become too tenuous and the band will snap back – rendering contrast rather than assimilation with the intended target. In brief, if your doppelganger is too attractive, you will appear even less attractive than you already are. Therefore, so as to compel your friends to assimilate you with your celebrity “look-a-like” without hitting a point where they start to contrast you away from him or her, your strategy should be to stretch the rubber band as far as possible without breaking it. So if you think you look like Angelina Jolie, opt for Sarah Silverman; men, if you think you’re a dead-ringer for George Clooney, stay safe and upload Simon Cowell.

Facebook Doppelganger Craze!

The effect of judges’ attitudes on ratings of attitude statements: A theoretical analysis

Sherif, M. & Hovland, C. I. (1961). Social judgment: Assimilation and contrast effects in communication and attitude change. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Underdog-matic: Loyalty to Conan Brings a Nation Together!

American culture has always rallied around the underdog – perhaps because we can always see a little bit of ourselves in anyone who is not expected to win. After all, we are a nation of immigrants who had to fight against all the odds to make the American Dream a reality. And although we may have long forgotten about our ancestors’ particular struggles, that sense of longing for fairness and justice, that desire to take on “The Man” and win, remains an essential element of the American psyche.

Although the research is in its infancy, the underdog effect has found support. In short, we pull for underdogs and give them a relatively steadfast sympathy, so long as their fate has little bearing on our own personal lives and when the impact, in the larger scheme of things, is relatively minimal; indeed, backing an underdog financially is a completely different beast!

Given the recent Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno-NBC late night drama that happened right before our eyes on live TV, we find ourselves yet again anecdotally substantiating what Americans have been known for all along – loving those underdogs. Robert Lloyd of the L.A. Times reports that, towards the very end of Conan’s stunted seven-month run as “Tonight Show” host, the audience – including non-regular Conan lovers – chanted his name and guests starting appearing on the show just to show support, with nothing to sell. As Lloyd laments that “[Conan] is the picked-upon odd kid in all of us… lovable, where Leno [is]… a creature of the establishment,” we truly understand why so many of us cheered for Conan: as an underdog, he represents a possibility – that eventually he’ll get back on track, on some network, and will be better than ever. And if he can rise out of this mess and end up winning – then by golly, so can I.

Late Night Watch: Conan O’Brien, NBC and the storm before the calm

Rooting for (and Then Abandoning) the Underdog