Author Archives: chorascholarette

Marriage and Parenting: For Better AND For Worse

Couple_01 A recent New York Times Science article documents the efforts that family clinics and parenting groups are making to get fathers more involved in parenting. However, the issue is not only getting them involved, but in getting the mothers to let them be involved in their own ways. The biological connection that a mother and child share is undeniable but, as the article explains, our social and cultural constraints on fathers, and what is expected of them, can often make parenting confusing and unbalanced.

This article comes only a few days after another article on family relationships in the Times Magazine — one documenting the Obamas’ marriage. That article presents the Obamas as committed to one another but also not afraid to have conflicts, experience difficult times, and turn them into “teachable moments.” As a recent article in Social Development argues, conflict can actually be productive — if it occurs under the right circumstances. As the authors explain, both the type of conflict (constructive or coercive?) and the type of relationship in which it occurs (positive or negative?) can help predict the consequences of conflict.

So, whether the task is negotiating a balanced parenting arrangement in a society with fairly prescribed gender (and parental roles) or negotiating a marriage, psychology reminds us that conflict can be productive, and the process of working through the conflict can be beneficial to the relationships in the family.

square-eye Laursen and Hafen (2009). Future directions in the study of close relationships: Conflict is bad (except when it’s not).

square-eye Fathers gain respect from experts (and mothers). New York Times.

 

square-eye The Obamas’ Marriage. New York Times.

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Don’t worry, Be happy?

On September 30 Wiley-Blackwell announced the winner of their inaugural Wiley Prize in Psychology — Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Positive Psychology Center. While his career contributions are certainly immense, other scholars and, most recently, popular authors, have turned a critical eye to positive psychology.

In an 2008, Dana Becker and Jeanne Marecek published an article questioning positive psychology, particularly its emphasis on individual success and development and what they perceive to be a disconnect with the realities of social institutions and sociocultural power.  Popular author Barbara Ehrenreich has a new book coming out this month, “Bright-Sided”, in which she questions the entire “happiness” movement, including positive psychology and the way in which it has taken self-help into the academic realm.

While Becker and Marecek are not against the idea of “human flourishing,” they see it “not as a matter of private satisfaction, but as a matter of the collective welfare.” This idea is particularly relevant in the current global recession and the discourse of individualism is also prominent in U.S. debates on healthcare. In the U.S., where “boot-straps” philosophy reigns supreme, Becker and Marecek argue that the suggestion “that self-help excercises can suffice in the absence of social transformation is not only short signted but morally repugnant.”

Thus we, as humans living in our societies and bound by institutions, have to ask ourselves the extent to which personal happiness and a sense of fulfillment is tied to broader social influences. Can we “will” ourselves to be happy through the use of affirmations, or are we simply creating convenient illusions to persevere through difficult times?

square-eye Becker and Marecek. (2008). Dreaming the American Dream: Individualism and Positive Psychology.

square-eye Wiley Prize in Psychology Announcement

Scared Stiff: Does Fear Motivate or Paralyze Us?

480px-Scared_Child_at_NighttimeIf you’ve seen the recent viral video discouraging us from texting while driving, or the quit-smoking commercials that feature surgeries showing organs damaged by smoking, then you may find yourself wondering if these gruesome images actually cause us to change our behavior?

Social psychologists have asked the same question and have found a variety of results. When considering the persuasiveness of a message we have to consider the message itself, the audience watching it, and the context in which it is delivered. Messages that have graphic images have been shown to be effective in producing behavior change, but only if there is a message attached to the images about what a person can do. For example, quit-smoking messages are more likely to produce a change in behavior if they are accompanied with information about smoking cessation programs or a phone number to call to get help.

In addition, characteristics of the audience have to be considered. Self-esteem has shown to be influential in determining whether a person will actually follow through on change, but it can depend on a variety of other factors as well.

Finally, we have to consider the context in which the message is received. Major catastrophic events, such as 9/11, can enact a variety of policies and changes that influence how we perceive messages. There are even more recent theories, such as Terror Management Theory, that suggest that making our own mortality salient can powerfully influence our behavior and attitudes.

Can you think of examples where threat, fear, and mortality are used as persuasive devices in order to motivate people to engage in a particular behavior? In what ways could politicians or healthcare providers, for example, make use of these findings?

square-eye £1.99 - small Tales from Existential Oceans: Terror Management Theory and How the Awareness of Our Mortality Affects Us All

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If we could talk to the animals…


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Recent US headlines regarding the reinstatement of NFL player Michael Vick, convicted of participating in a dog-fighting ring, raise a number of questions about animal rights and how we attempt to understand and treat animal abusers.

As the introduction for the most recent Journal of Social Issues (JSI) states, “virtually all societies” make use of and have relationships with nonhuman animals — as companions, for work, as a source of food, etc. But these relationships are complex and raise a number of ethical and psychological issues.

For example, research has shown that we often benefit — both psychologically and physiologically — from companionship with animals. Perhaps it is this presumption, and the idea that we should care for and protect our companions that elicits such emotional responses from deviant (i.e. abusive) behavior. Ascione & Shapiro (2009, JSI) report on interventions, such as AniCare, that build on these ideas and “intimate justice theory” to work with those convicted of animal abuse. Researchers are also considering how our understanding of animal abuse can inform work on domestic abuse, and vice versa. Such questions have even resulted in the establishment of a new field — anthrozoology — to formally investigate human-animal interactions.

In what ways has animal use changed in our societies as technology has developed? Do you think findings from animal abuse studies can be generalized to other areas of abuse and abuse interventions?

square-eye New Perspectives on Human-Animal Interactions: Theory, Policy, and Research, Journal of Social Issues.

square-eye Read more on the rise of dogfighting subculture (warning: images of recovering dogs)

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