Category Archives: Emotion and Motivation

“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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Emotions as a Source of Motivation

Walk proud… walk like an Egyptian!

I was in Egypt from Tuesday 25 January through Saturday 29 January 2011, i.e. the first five days of the people’s up rise.  I witnessed a series of events, actions that have left me flabbergasted.

Cairo at 11.00 am on the day of the peaceful protests that were to start at 02.00 pm seemed  busy and peaceful all at once — like it always is. It seemed that the day would develop as usual. 

For the larger part of the day, I stayed tuned to Al Jazeerah and Al Arabiyah  — two cable new channels — to keep track of the walkout that was about to begin.  The crowds began to gather in and around Tahrir Square.  They came from all social strata.  Most people carried peaceful signs that pronounce five clear-stated demands:  that the President steps down; that neither he nor his son run for office again; that the Government Cabinet be dissolved and new Ministers be appointed; that the Shura Council be dissolved and new fair elections take place; and that the Constitution be amended. There was a lot of security on the streets but there was no engagement between them and the protesters.  Surrounding streets were closed off from vehicles to prevent needless confrontations.

For several hours, the events were developing rather peacefully.  Many of my family members and friends were amongst the demonstrators and I felt envious of their strong sense of civic engagement, patriotism and willpower.  A strong sense of identity dawned on each and every Egyptian, as well as anyone who has any link to Egypt.

Shared identity in action in Egypt Then as the early hours of the evening kicked in and the tone of the events was slowly shifting.  Tension was building up. People did notdisperse and go home.  People declared they would remain and their tone became far more hostile.  The protest went on into the late hours.  Outside, you could hear the sound of ad hoc gunshots and glass breaking.

Day two of the uprise seemed a mixture of patriotic youth still making the same demands in addition to hungry people demanding change to be able to feed their families.  These were two distinct groups.  Yesterday’s protesters had split.   Additionally, one could notice the huge number of security guards on the streets, especially on the streets leading to Tahrir Square and important Government offices.  However, they only stood there, anticipating problems that may arise on this second day of demonstrations.

How did this all start?  A few people on Facebook and other social networks thought they could arouse the interest, the anger, the despair, the humiliation and the revolt of the Egyptian people towards the 30-year Mubarak regime.  Did they not realize that Egypt has a population of 80 million of which only a small percentage would be able to grasp the ideologies they were voicing and would know how to respect the boundaries dictated by what is termed “peaceful protest”?  Did they not realize that there were many angry and suppressed people who would take advantage of the situation to escalate it into the adversity it has become today?  Now what???

Day three was filled with mixed feelings:  people were left confused between their sense of solidarity and fear from the turn of events. Emotions led their motivation.  The same three distinct groups prevailed.

People remained glued to their television screens if they were not physically present at the protest.  People waited.  What were we waiting for?

I suppose we waited to see the reaction of the Presidency… where was President Mubarak?  Why had he not yet addressed the people of Egypt?  The people of Egypt were waiting and so was the world.

Late into the night, the mobile networks and internet networks were halted.  People felt angry, cut off from the world.  It was the first time that we all realised that  for over 10 years now, we have grown to be dependent on our mobile lines and most of us did not know anyone else’s landlines! 

Day four was labelled Angry Friday. History was in the making.  The afternoon progressed fairly quietly and well into the people’s newly developed routine for the past three days our eyes remained focused on television, television and more television.  The events were escalating and the tension was mounting.  Another caliber of people had hit the streets of Cairo:  people were breaking and entering shops and companies, looting them of their goods.  Banks, ATM machine, airline offices, etc… everything was being raided!  What happened to the peaceful protest?  Where did the Facebook community and other social networks go?  They were being replaced and outnumbered by a number of street bullies who seized the opportunity to disrupt the peaceful protest and transform it into the “up rise of the thieves” as it was now being labelled.  Chaos was everywhere and the only conceivable response was to instate a curfew from 6.00 pm to 7.00 am the next morning in attempt to limit the people’s movement on the streets.  Did it work?  Not really for protesters remained camped out in Tahrir Square and chanted “We will not leave until he (the president) leaves!”

The weight of the situation was taking its toll on everyone.  Everyone sat quietly watching the live feeds on television.   People’s tolerance was hitting rock bottom.  People were upset at the way the protest was turning into a confrontation amongst protesters.  Some newcomers who supported the Government challenged the crowd that was striving for it to be dissolved.  People were being influenced by the president’s speech.  Egyptians are emotional people and their position may be swayed if their emotions are triggered.

Gunshots continued well into the night… a sound that everyone had grown accustomed to for four nights straight now.

I left the next morning to the airport as soon as the curfew was lifted.  

This journey seemed to take “forever”… this same route I had enjoyed four days before in the opposite direction.  However this time, frantic pedestrians filled the highway.  Most of them walked with nude torso swaying their arms in the air with pocket knives, and other arms. They were attacking passing cars.  They banged on the hoods and trunks of the cars in attempt to scare the drivers into stopping so they could loot them.  Meanwhile a”City Center” was going up in flames… that same shopping mall that stood tall and busy a few days before was slowly melting away.  In the midst of this sad scene, the-hungry-people-of-Egypt-turned-thieves robbed whatever goods and food they could get hold of from the inflamed stores.

I went through several road blocks until reaching the toll stations preceding the entrances to Cairo International Airport.  There I was subjected to a thorough car search before being allowed to proceed.  Inside the terminal, I battled my way through people sitting, laying, sleeping on the floor waiting for news of their flights that had not even flown in; people rioting in front of airline offices demanding answers to their million and one questions regarding their flights; and security guards trying to keep everything under control!  People were angry, tired and confused.

What other emotions will they feel next?

Reicher, S. D., Haslam, S. A., & Hopkins, N. (2005). Social identity and the dynamics of leadership: Leaders and followers as collaborative agents in the transformation of social reality. The Leadership Quarterly, 16, 547-568.

Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D., & Platow, M. J. (2010). The new psychology of leadership: Identity, influence, and power. Psychology Press.

“Why didn’t anyone stop this? It seems so obvious!”

By, Adam K. Fetterman
After an act of extreme violence, it is normal for people to want answers. The shooting of Arizona officials a couple weeks ago is no exception. Briefly, a disturbed man opened fire on public officials killing six and leaving U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona in critical condition. Many accusations were thrown about to explain the man’s extreme behavior. For example, mental health was pointed out in an article on TheHill.com. While there is all this blame thrown around, many question why no one had noticed his erratic behavior and stopped it. According to The Hill article, polls have been conducted and many blame the mental health system for failing to identify dangerous individuals. It also notes that many people have the same feelings regarding other shootings. It seems so obvious to those around these shooters that these people are unstable. Unfortunately, they only notice after the fact.

Part of the reason that people only notice mentally unstable shooters after fact is because of a psychological effect called “Hindsight Bias” (Fischhoff, 1975). Hindsight bias occurs when one misjudges the predictability of an event after the event occurs. According to Campbell and Tesser (1983), one motive for this bias is that people have a need for predictability. Particularly in the case of these shooters, we have a strong motivation to believe that these events are predictable, and not random. Therefore, it is easy to blame an institution or individuals for not recognizing the instability beforehand and “do something” to prevent these atrocities, because we have all the evidence after the fact. With the benefit of hindsight, we believe the events are quite a bit more predictive than they really are, because it makes us feel safe. However, in reality, these events are fairly random. With this in mind, perhaps we should hold back on finding out who is to blame for not stopping these things from happening.

Poll: Mental health linked to Arizona shooting. By Jason Millman from TheHill.com

Campbell, J. D. and Tesser, A. (1983), Motivational interpretations of hindsight bias: An individual difference analysis. Journal of Personality, 51: 605–620.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

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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Your evidence is wrong, because I disagree!

By, Adam K. Fetterman
After the Senate passed a bill to repeal the unpopular “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), it was up to President Obama to sign the bill. He did so on December 22, 2010. This was one of his many campaign promises that he has either completed or attempted to complete. For quite some time, it was uncertain whether this bill would be passed. While many found the DADT policy unjust and prevented dedicated individuals from serving their country, many others opposed repealing it for many reasons. For some it was just plain ignorance and prejudice. Others still thought that it would reduce morale in the military and would be dangerous for those LGBT individuals serving. Presidential candidate John McCain was one of those opposed to the repeal. However, he gave the impression that his mind could be changed by a study showing that a majority of those in the military approved of or saw little problems with the repeal. Indeed, a Pentagon study found just that. McCain rejected the study stating that it was flawed. This seems to happen quite often, but why?

According to research by Munro (2010), when presented with belief-disconfirming scientific evidence, individuals tend to disbelieve the efficacy of the research. That is, when presented with evidence to the contrary of one’s opinions or beliefs, many individuals will reject the evidence. This is what Munro refers to as the scientific impotence discounting hypothesis. Individuals want to believe that they are correct and therefore need to find a reason to discount disconfirming evidence. An easy way to do that is to reject the evidence. This is particularly easy to do when it comes to scientific evidence, as most people do not fully understand scientific methods. This appears to be what happened with the study conducted by the Pentagon. McCain had an opinion and many of his supporters agreed with his opinion. Therefore, it was probably pretty beneficial and easy for McCain to reject the evidence so that he could maintain his opinion. The question becomes, then, could anything change his or others’ opinions on this and other issues? How about in more controversial issues, such as reconciling science evidence with one’s religion?

Obama signs historic bill ending ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – David Jackson and John Bacon, USA Today

John McCain: ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal study flawed. – Anne Flaherty, Huffington Post.

Munro, G. (2010). The scientific impotence excuse: Discounting belief-threatening scientific abstracts. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 579-600.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

Treat yourself to a health screening this New Year

By Kevin R. Betts

On the morning of December 12th, my aunt suffered a heart attack that nearly took her life. The attack was so severe that she was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and escorted directly to an operating room. Following the incident, the surgeon informed our family that the main artery to her heart was one hundred percent blocked and expressed surprise that the attack was not fatal. As you might guess, this incident was incredibly traumatic for both my aunt and our family. Once things settled and we knew that my aunt would be okay, many members of my family were asking about prevention. What could have been done to prevent my aunt’s heart attack? What can be done in the future to prevent another heart attack in our family? Health screenings available at local clinics may provide useful information about personal health risks and what can be done to combat them.

Practitioners have long urged the public to obtain health screenings designed to detect behavioral and genetic risk factors for disease, as well as the early presence of disease. But the utility of these screenings is not controversial. Rather, people pass on health screenings for other reasons. One reason is distress associated with the procedures or potential results of the screenings. Recognizing this problem, Bennett (2009) examined causes of health screening related distress and simple techniques for overcoming this distress. For example, many people hold misperceptions about the procedures associated with health screenings that arouse anxiety. Health organizations could correct these misperceptions and thus alleviate this anxiety by providing the public with specific information about the procedures involved through websites or pamphlets. The public could then test their perceptions about these procedures by comparing them to this  information. Waiting for results from a health screening may also arouse significant anxiety. Some people may spend this time imagining catastrophic scenarios that could potentially follow undesired results from the screening. To alleviate this anxiety, Bennett (2009) recommends implementing coping strategies that facilitate emotional regulation. Distracting oneself with unrelated thoughts and activities may be one way to regulate negative emotions.

The thought of losing a close family member or friend to a heart attack or other preventable health problem is frightening. Health screenings may provide information about health risks and what can be done to combat them. If you or someone you know is considering obtaining a health screening, good for you! And if you are held back by anxiety associated with the procedures or potential results of the screening, remember that skipping the doctor does not reduce your risk. Try one of the techniques for overcoming this anxiety recommended by Bennett (2009) and start your New Year with a clean bill of health.

Read more:

Bennett, P. (2009). How can we reduce the distress associated with health screening? From psychological theory to clinical practice. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3, 939-948.

Matters of the Heart (CNN)

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

A Week to Be Nice: Force Festive Feelings for this Holiday Season

By P. Getty

Since it’s the week of Christmas, my wife’s favorite holiday in December, I’ve been forced to promise not to write anything “negative” or “angry” for this weeks entry. Because I love my wife, and fear for my life, I go against my gut, which is telling me to give both barrels to the medical and insurance industries (the second part of my continuing series). Nevertheless, because I still have a mind to be bad, I will keep this short and sweet, adhering to that age-old proverb instructing me not to say anything if I don’t have anything nice to say.  Indeed, I will appeal to my clenched-teeth cheeky festive side and just say, “Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, a colorful Kwanzaa, a prosperous New Year, and a swell whatever other day of merry making exists that I don’t rightly know about that others may observe!”

No one really wants to do work this week, including me, so rather than connecting this week’s thought to some piece of psychology, I would like to direct your attention to a couple of articles and Web sites that I found interesting, fun or in someway related to the holiday season.  Enjoy!

A Child’s Christmas in America: Santa Claus as Deity, Consumption as Religion, by R. W. Belk

Seasonal Variation and Meteotropism in Suicide…, by A Preti

The Best Christmas Song Ever Sung, “Merry F’ing Christmas” by Mr. Garrison.

The season for reason

By, Adam K. Fetterman
This Season, Celebrate REASON”, reads an American Atheists billboard by the Lincoln Tunnel. This is another in a long line of billboards and signs reminding people that atheists are out there. The apparent goal of this campaign is to let “closeted” atheists know that they are not alone. This seems particularly necessary during the holiday season as atheists may feel more like they are in the minority than other times of the year. For some, this time of the year requires them to pretend to be religious for fear of social reprisal. Therefore, being reminded (e.g. by billboards) that they are not alone can definitely have positive effects. However, as to be expected, the religious community (mostly Christian) is not responding with acceptance and positivity (though some are). Some have said the billboards are disrespectful and attacking. So, in response, religious organizations are putting up billboards of their own. According to the New York Times, there appears to be a quite interesting sign battle going on in Texas. The atheists’ sign reads “Millions of Americans are Good Without God” on the side of the bus, followed by a truck with a sign reading “I Still Love You – God” and another claiming “2.1 billion Christians are good with God”. While it would be a fairly funny scene to witness, it hits on an old argument about where morality comes from.

For many years, many have assumed that religion is the foundation or source of morality or pro-social behavior. In a recent review, Preston, Ritter, and Hernandez (2010) indicate that religion does not have a monopoly on morality and pro-social behavior. In fact, they indicate that religiosity only predicts moral or pro-social behavior in specific contexts and can actually predict increased anti-social behavior in certain contexts. The authors go on to discuss the differences between religious and supernatural beliefs in regards to moral and pro-social behaviors.

Another researcher arguing that religion is not the ultimate source of morality and pro-social behavior is Sam Harris. He has found (as well as others) quite compelling evidence of naturalistic or evolutionary foundations of morality and pro-social behavior. In fact, I have made arguments about certain motivations that would lead all people to be moral, in previous posts. In the end, it appears to be pretty clear that one can be “Good without God”. With some of the reactions to these billboards (e.g. defacing and anger), it seems apparent that religiosity does automatically make one moral.

More Sacramento-area atheist billboards are vandalized. By, Bill Lindelof, Sacto 9-1-1

Dueling billboards face off in Christmas controversy. By, Laura Dolan, CNN

Atheist bus ads rattle Fort Worth. By, James C. McKinley Jr., New York Times.

Sam Harris’ Website

Preston, J. L, Ritter, R. S., & Hernandez, J. I. (2010). Principles of religious prosociality: A review and reformulation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 574-590.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.