Author Archives: Ruixue

Is it irresistible: How can we stop drinking?

When the economy is in the tank, more Americans drown their sorrows in alcohol. The number of U.S. adults drinking booze is at a 25-year high, according to a new Gallup poll. Gallup, which has been keeping track of U.S. drinking habits for the last 71 years, reports that while the numbers move up and down slightly each year, the statistics on American drinking are surprisingly steady. Is drinking a habit that is impossible to stop?

Well, one of the most consistent and robust findings in behavioral sciences supports the notion that our behavior is, to a great extent, habitual and that we encounter difficulties in changing our behavior for the better because we are creatures of habit. However, Chatzisarantis & Hagger’s (2010) recent study indicated that implementation intentions have been shown to be an effective self-regulatory strategy influencing habit performance. In general, implementation intentions are conditional statements of intentions, commonly known as if–then plans, taking the form “If a performance context z arises, then I will do x.” In the case of stopping drinking, implementation intentions were operationally defined as strategic plans linking socializing goals to strategies facilitating refusal of alcohol. For example, if it is Friday night at the local pub, as soon as a friend or a fellow student offers me an alcoholic drink, I will refuse it by . . . (report what you are going to do or say.). Their study demonstrated that goal-related implementation exercises linking socializing goals to behavioral tendencies to refuse alcohol reduced the acceptance of an offer of a free alcoholic drink among habitual drinkers, as well as nonhabitual drinkers. These findings indicate that goal-related implementation exercises are effective in obstructing habitual health risk behaviors, such as drinking alcohol.

Americans drinking alcohol hits 25-year high

Nikos L. D. Chatzisarantis & Martin S. Hagger (2010). Effects of Implementation Intentions Linking Suppression of Alcohol Consumption to Socializing Goals on Alcohol-Related Decisions. Journal of Applied Social Psychology,   40, 1618 – 1634.

Zero size model is not popular nor ideal anymore

Designers will no longer be able to hire models with a body mass index that is deemed dangerously low because the Australian fashion industry is preparing to ban skinny models from catwalks and magazines. The new body-image standards will not only influence fashion industry but might also play a significant role in changing the way ordinary people see themselves, especially for teenage girls.

There is now growing empirical support for the proposition that idealized portrayals of women in the Western media have a negative impact upon how adolescent girls and adult women see themselves. In one major American survey of over 500 adolescent girls aged 9–16, nearly 70% believed magazine pictures influenced their idea of the ideal body shape, and 47% of the same sample wished to lose weight as a result. Body image is central to adolescent girls’ self-definition, because they have been socialized to believe that appearance is an important basis for self-evaluation and for evaluation by others. However, the media—magazines, TV, films, advertising, music videos—not only emphasize that female self-worth should be based on appearance, but present a powerful cultural ideal of female beauty that is becoming increasingly unattainable. For example, the body size of women in the media is often more than 20% underweight—exceeding a diagnostic criterion for anorexia nervosa of 15% underweight (DSM-IV-TR: American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Using an experimental method, Clay et al (2005) tested the impact of viewing ultra-thin and average-size female magazine models on body image and self-esteem among adolescent girls aged 11–16. They found that viewing ultra-thin or average-size models led to decreases in both body satisfaction and self-esteem in adolescent girls, with changes in self-esteem fully mediated by changes in body satisfaction. These findings demonstrate a causal effect of media images on body satisfaction, apparently spreading to global self-esteem, among girls in the age range over which these variables typically fall most markedly in Western cultures.

Australia to ban super skinny models on runway, in print: report

Daniel Clay, Vivian L. Vignoles, & Helga Dittmar. (2005). Body Image and Self-Esteem Among Adolescent Girls: Testing the Influence of Sociocultural Factors. Journal of research on adolescence, 15, 451-477.

Free love is innocent?Think clearly before you do it!

Free love has not ruled since the 1970’s but apparently unprotected intercourse among not only young adults but also older unmarried Americans is on the rise. According to a recent A.A.R.P. study of singles in the 45 plus category, only 12 percent of the sexually active single men and only 33 percent of sexually active women report using condoms. The behavior of having unprotected sexual intercourse provides a very interesting puzzle, as a high proportion of adults are aware of the possible negative consequences of having unprotected sex, and that individuals can greatly reduce their risk of causing a pregnancy or of  contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) by using a latex condom. It is worthwhile to examine the reasons underlying this failure to use condoms as unprotected sex raises the risk of STD among people across all ages.

 According to previous research, intentions to use condoms clearly do not always translate into condom-use behavior. Ambivalent attitude towards sexual activity is one factor which could explain the inconsistence between intention to use condom and condom using behaviors. MacDonald and Hynie’s study (2008) indicated that participants who were ambivalent about sexual activity were more likely to engage in unplanned sexual activity than were participants who were not ambivalent. Furthermore, individuals who engaged in unplanned sexual intercourse were less likely to report that they used a condom than those who intended to have sexual intercourse. As a result, whether sexual activity was planned mediated the relationship between ambivalence and condom use. It seems reasonable that people who are less ambivalent about sexual activity are more likely to plan and correctly predict when they will have sexual intercourse, which allows for important preparatory behaviors (e.g., having condoms available).

More are doing it, less are using protection

MacDonald, T.K. & Hynie, M. (2008). Ambivalence and Unprotected Sex: Failure to Predict Sexual Activity and Decreased Condom Use. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38, 1092-1107.

Vuvuzela: cultural symbol or plain annoying?

The vuvuzela, a plastic horn, has become the official villain of the 2010 World Cup. There was a debate about whether vuvuzela should be banned before the World Cup. Recently, FIFA president Sepp Blatter cleared the air on Monday, saying he fully supported the use of vuvuzelas and that it would be disrespectful for FIFA to come in and change an African tradition. It will always be difficult and controversy to make the banning decision. On the one hand, the vuvuzela makes life difficult for players and audiences, both at the match or watching from home. Players have trouble hearing the whistle or their teammates, audiences at home have trouble hearing the commentary on TV, and chanting fans at the match are drowned out by the monotonous vuvuzelas. However, as Trmon Zamba, a South African fan, said “It’s our culture. It can be loud, but it’s good for us supporters.”

People may wonder, dose every South African fan really enjoy the noise made by vuvuzela. Probably not. However, because the vuvuzela has been determined by the South African culture to be the “right” way to show fans’ supports in that situation, personal value and preference do not matter anymore. Psychological research has shown that the psychological processes that shape the effects of personal values on behavior are strongly affected by the social context in which people operate. These processes are strongly cultural bound. As previous research has showed, one of the best-known factors believed to moderate the effect of personal attributes is ‘situational strength’: when the social context provides uniform expectations regarding appropriate behavior, the situation is defined as strong. In strong situations, all people follow the same course of action, and there is little variation in behavior. Thus, let’s face it. The vuvuzela which is rooted in South African tradition has been considered as an appropriate way to show fans’ passion and supports in its culture. No matter people like it or not, fans of every team will keep blowing them delightedly to show support for their national teams in this World Cup. 

But, really, I don’t mind it so much

Question of the day: Is the vuvuzela a cultural delight or just plain annoying?

Sonia Roccas & Lilach Sagiv (2010). Personal Values and Behavior: Taking the Cultural Context into Account. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 30–41.

Facing illness, belief helps.

Lady Gaga’s recent revelation that she had been tested for lupus had some fans worried that the pop star is ill. When asked in an interview how she’s feeling, the pop star, 24, responds with a simple, “I’m okay,” before adding that lupus, which took the life of her aunt Joanne, does run in her family. The singer also told the interviewer that “So as of right now, I don’t have it. But I do have to take good care of myself”.

This young lady seems calm and positive about her potential illness. It is very important and helpful for her health. Research has shown that individuals’ illness perceptions predict health behaviors and functional outcomes. There is wide variation between individuals in their health and illness behaviors. For example, how quickly they seek medical attention for symptoms, and whether they take medication as prescribed. Behaviors such as these can have large influences on subsequent morbidity and mortality. Research into the psychological predictors of health and illness behaviors helps us to build theoretical models to understand why people behave as they do, and inform intervention strategies (Elizabeth Broadbent, 2010).

According to parallel response model, that in response to situational stimuli (such as symptoms and the environment), people simultaneously form both emotional states (such as fear) and cognitive representations of the threat of illness, the illness perception. The illness perceptions include ideas about: identity (the name of the illness and which symptoms are associated with it), timeline (how long the illness will continue), cause (what caused the illness), control (how well the illness can be controlled), and consequences (the effects of the illness on life domains). Previous research showed that stronger beliefs about the identity and consequences of an illness were associated with avoidance and denial coping strategies, higher expression of emotions, poorer physical, social and psychological functioning, and lower vitality. In contrast, stronger beliefs in the controllability of the illness were associated with greater use of cognitive reappraisal and problem-focused coping, as well as better psychological and social well-being, vitality, and with lesser disease state. It is because that in a self-regulatory process, individuals choose which procedures (actions) to take to manage their emotions and reduce the illness threat based on the content of these representations. The results of taking the chosen action further modify the representation of the illness in a feedback loop.

Elizabeth Broadbent. (2010). Illness Perceptions and Health: Innovations and Clinical Applications. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 256 – 266.

Lady Gaga Tests ‘Borderline Positive’ for Lupus (People Magazine)

Meals or luxury? The intricate choice of Chinese consumers

The rate at which China’s luxury market has grown is tremendous, and China is now home to both the world’s second-largest diamond market and the number-one automobile market. However, it is important to note that not all luxury consumers in China actually have the salary to support such purchases. China’s online message boards are filled with accounts of young Chinese white-collar workers who skip meals and only eat instant noodles in the evening in order to save up for a luxury purse made by Richemont or Louis Vuitton. Post-80’s-generation Chinese refer to these individuals as “modern Madame Bovarys.” This type of Chinese luxury consumer lives beyond their means to attain a luxurious lifestyle like that of the main character in Gustave Flaubert’s famous novel.

Besides self-enhancement perspective and motivation theory, the moral self-licensing effect provides an alternative interpretation of the paradoxical behaviors of Chinese young luxury consumers. The moral self-licensing effect suggests that past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic, behaviors that they would otherwise avoid for fear of feeling or appearing immoral, such as political incorrectness, prosocial behavior, and consumer choice (Merritt, Effron &Monin, 2010). Consumer choice represents one major domain in which moral self-licensing is evident. Everyday purchasing decisions are tinged with morality. At the extreme, some utilitarian philosophers argue that it is immoral to spend disposable income on unnecessary things because that money could go to people in need elsewhere (Singer, 1972). Though probably few consumers subscribe to such drastic views, buying luxury items or frivolous goods is nonetheless associated with feelings of guilt and self-indulgence (Dahl, Honea, & Manchanda, 2003). According to the logic of self-licensing, individuals whose prior choices establish them as ethical and reasonable spenders (or ethical and reasonable people in a more general sense) should be more likely to indulge in frivolous purchases later on. In other words, one can self-license frivolous consumption by behaving in ways that establish one’s morality. For those Chinese luxury consumers who do not have enough salary to support luxury purchases, skipping meals or other ridiculous saving behaviors might license their feelings of guilt and self-indulgence because they feel that they have paid for their consumption in advanced.  In addition, the announcement that luxury consumption made important contribution to economic growth persuades luxury consumers that what they are doing is actually prosocial. In sum, imagining engaging in prosocial activities seems to license self-indulgent purchases and reduce of guilty feelings about the frivolous choices of Chinese luxury consumers and further courage them to engage in such irrational purchases.

What Are China’s Luxury Consumers Buying?

Anna C. Merritt, Daniel A. Effron,& Benoît Monin. (2010). Moral Self-Licensing: When Being Good Frees Us to Be Bad. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5, 344 – 357.

Is love blind? Positive illusions in romantic relationships

You might have the similar experience. One of your friends Ann comes to you and starts talking about her new boyfriend Mark. He is not only charming, but also extremely smart, humorous, thoughtful. You think Ann is the luckiest girl in the world and cannot wait to see this amazing guy. Finally, when you meet this him, this perfect guy seems to have been turned into a bald, short and boring man. You run away from him and doubt that there is something wrong with Ann’s eyes. However, the same story happens to Mary, Ken, Chris, and Benny. Eventually, one day your friends ask you, what the hell do you see in that guy!? You wonder, is love really blind?

There has been a substantial amount research devoted to investigating this interesting question. Research showed that during their romantic relationship, partners frequently attempt to sustain a sense of felt security by weaving an elaborate story (or fiction) that both embellishes a partner’s virtues and minimizes his or her faults. For instance, several research found that individuals often rate their partner overly positive on characteristics such as “kind” and “intelligent,” a phenomenon that has been called positive illusions. Barelds and Dijkstra (2009) examined the existence of positive illusions about a partner’s physical attractiveness and its relations to relationship quality. They found that individuals rated their partner as more attractive than their partner rated him or herself, and such positive illusion about partner’s physical attractiveness was associated with high relationship quality. Researchers interpreted that feeling that one partner is very attractive will therefore enhance one’s satisfaction with one’s relationship. Partners may feel they are lucky to have such an attractive partner. So is love blind?  Perhaps not blind, but certainly magic.

People in Love Are Blind to Pretty Faces

Barelds & Dijkstra (2009).Positive illusions about a partner’s physical attractiveness and relationship quality. Personal Relationships,16,263 – 283.

“Our love is dead, according to science!” What does science tell us about marriage?

Can science really predict divorce? Can science really tell you how to select the “right” partner? A recent post by Chris Matyszczyk brought a sarcastic and ironic view about the finding of a marriage study. Chris claimed, according to this study, the perfect wife is five years younger than her husband, is from the same cultural background, and is at least 27 percent smarter than her husband. 

Sounds ridiculous? Yes. If people try to over-generalize certain research findings to general population in any situation by ignoring its specific subjects and applicable context, or make prediction based on correlational studies, it’s possible that they will always obtain disappointing or ridiculous results.  Then, how should we think about the scientific findings on complicated human phenomena, such as marriage? What does science tell us about marriage? 

Gottman & Notarius (2002) reviewed the advances made in the 20th century in studying marriages. The first published research study on marriage dealt with one major research question, “What is fundamentally different about happily and unhappily married couples?”  Following that, with the development of more sophisticated measures and methods, some grim and interesting findings began emerging from research on marriage. For example, in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, Burgess’ longitudinal study (Burgess & Wallin, 1953) found that, for most couples, marital satisfaction was high right after the wedding and then began a slow, steady, and nontrivial decline thereafter. Another example is Hicks and Platt’s (1970) decade-review article on marital happiness and stability which concluded that “perhaps the single most surprising finding to emerge from research is that children tend to detract from, rather than contribute to marital happiness”. Then, research in the decades of the 1980s and 1990s witnessed the realization of many secular changes in the American family, including the changing role of women, social science’s discovery of violence and incest in the family, and the beginning of the study of cultural variation in marriages et al.

In sum, marriage as an ultimate human condition has been intriguing to both scientists and common people for a long time. However, when we try to understand and interpret research findings on marriage, we need to be very careful about their applicable conditions and limitations. For example, as we know, psychological studies have relied on samples of convenience that have limited generalizability. Although based on the evidence we have so far, marital relations haven’t yet succumbed to delightfully efficient approaches, scientific findings keep shedding light on the mystery of human marriage.

Why your wife should be 27% smarter than you

John M. Gottman, Clifford I. Notarius. ( 2002), Marital Research in the 20th Century and a Research Agenda for the 21st Century. Family Process, 41, 159-197.

Hug me, Mom: Stroller or baby carrier?

A stroller or a baby carrier? The answer to this question is changing. “In 2004, there were barely any carriers,” said Bianca Fehn, an owner of Metro Minis. “You had to find these work-at-home moms who made them and go on a waiting list for weeks or even months to get a carrier.” However, in 2009 at the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas, there were at least 30 companies promoting designer baby carriers, many of them created within the last five years. And between 2006 and 2008, overall sales of industry-certified carriers rose.

While most people using baby carriers extol the convenience of having their hands free, more and more people see it as an integral part of their parenting philosophy, which holds that babies should be worn on the body to foster a strong attachment to their parents. In other words, baby carriers offer more physical contacts between infants and their parents which were considered as crucial to develop secure attachment relationship according to attachment theory.

Bowlby’s attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969) places central importance on close proximity between mother and infant. Attachment theory suggests that infants’ instinctive behaviors such as crying and smiling are aimed to promote the proximity to and physical contact with the caregiver. Through the exercising of these behaviors and the proximity thus achieved, infants gradually develop an attachment to their caregivers. The manner in which the caregiver responds to the infants’ seeking behaviors determines the nature of the attachment relationship formed. More specially, the mothers who respond appropriately, promptly and consistently to infants’ needs, and hold their infants for relatively long periods and are tender and affectionate during the holding are more likely to develop secure relationships with their babies. Additionally, Anisfeld et al’s (1990) study indicated a causal relation between physical contact, achieved through carrying an infant in a soft baby carrier, and security of attachment between mother and infant.

However, recent studies on infant attachment suggested the ways in which attachment patterns are formed are more complicated. For example, maternal sensitivity, which contributes to the quality of infant exploration by providing the infant with a secure base from which to explore, has already been established as an important and reliable predictor of secure attachment. Whipple, Bernier and Mageau’s (2010) further demonstrated that besides maternal sensitivity, mothers’ autonomy-support behaviors which directly aimed at encouraging and supporting the child while he or she explores also provide contribution to infants’ secure attachment.

Strollers out, mom and dad in

Elizabeth Anisfeld, Virginia Casper, Molly Nozyce, Nicholas Cunningham. (1990). Does Infant Carrying Promote Attachment? An Experimental Study of the Effects of Increased Physical Contact on the    Developmen of Attachment. Child Development, 61, 1617-1627.

Natasha Whipple, Annie Bernier, Geneviève A. Mageau. (2010). Broadening the Study of Infant Security of Attachment: Maternal Autonomy-support in the Context of Infant Exploration. Social Development, Early View.

Can we be too happy?

Happiness is the ultimate goal of life for many people. Just take a look at the hundreds of self-help books, motivational speakers, and life coaches whose primary goal is to improve subjective well-being and happiness. Even people who are already satisfied with their lives aspire to be happier. Early psychological research on happiness focused on identifying the factors that would allow people to achieve high subjective well-being. More recently, psychologists have begun to acknowledge that happiness is not just an end state that results when things go well. Instead, happiness may also be functional. For example, researchers have found that happy people did better on average than did unhappy people in the domains of work, love and health.

In light of these attempts to boost happiness, it is interesting to question whether being happier is always better. Oishi, Diener and Lucas’s (2007) study investigated the differences between moderately happy and very happy people to address questions about the optimal level of happiness. Their findings showed that people who experience the highest levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of close relationships and volunteer work, but that those who experience slightly lower levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of income, education, and political participation. They interpreted that the optimal level of happiness is likely to vary across individuals, depending on their value priorities. For those whose primary values center on achievement, moderately high levels of happiness may be optimal; for those individuals whose values give priority to close relationships and volunteer work, it is the highest level of happiness that appears to be optimal. In sum, their findings suggested that extremely high levels of happiness might not be a desirable goal. However, the critical question to answer is, “How much happiness is enough?”

Shigehiro Oishi, S., Diener, E., & Lucas, R.E. (2007). The Optimum Level of Well-Being: Can People Be Too Happy?  Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 346 – 360.

Are You Happy?