Category Archives: Intrapersonal Processes

A positive experience: Take my money and then some!

Events interpreted as aversive tend to elicit effects that influence our response. So if an average individual is in a casino gambling and he or she is on a losing streak the response is likely to be to stop gambling–withdrawal. Generally speaking the purpose of the response is so that the individual will have money left over to get home. This sort of response, however, is bad for business and casinos are doing something about it.

What can casinos do to keep me gambling my money, you ask? A Radiolab reporter found that, for starters, casino workers can be very nice to you in effect giving you a positive experience. The next thing casinos can do is reward you with, not money (they keep that), but with random gifts such as gift cards etc. These gifts are not of major significance by any means but make a whole lot of difference in the long run. So much so, that the casinos are making the practice standard protocol for the purpose of keeping their customers returning to the gambling table.

How the effect works: van Steenbergen et al., (2009) found that randomly rewarding participants in a conflict adaptation task did not affect their performance, a negative effect was found for those that did not get rewarded or even lost. The reward in this context is perceived as attenuating the negative effect or experience of the event.  The idea is that the effect of losing while gambling can be counteracted by rewarding customers with other smaller gifts leading to a more pleasing experience.

Hear more : Radiolab—episode on Choice

Van Steenbergen, Band, & Hommel (2009). Reward Counteracts Conflict Adaptation: Evidence for a role of affect in the executive control.

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Does isolation reduce violent behavior among psychiatric inpatients?

By Kevin R. Betts

The Joint Commission, an independent health care oversight group, recently expressed alarm over violence in U.S. hospitals. Russell L. Colling, a consultant who advised the Joint Commission said, “The reality is, there is violence every day in the emergency department.” On inpatient units in psychiatric hospitals, violent behavior among patients is often met with forced isolation. A primary goal of isolating these patients is to ensure their safety, as well as that of other patients and staff. However, isolation is also thought by many to act as a deterrent for potential future acts of violence. Having been directly involved in this process as a mental health technician, I often pondered the effectiveness of isolation as a way to combat violent behavior among patients.

Perhaps counterintuitively, research on social ostracism suggests that isolation may promote later aggressive acts (Williams, 2007). In order to understand why this may be the case, imagine yourself in the position of a patient involuntarily committed to an inpatient unit at a local psychiatric hospital. Disagreeing with your involuntary admission, you verbally express your anger to the staff. Told that you may not leave, you become even angrier, perhaps trying to access locked doors. You feel an utter lack of control over your situation. Making matters worse, the staff expresses concern that you may become violent as a result of your distress and “for your safety,” escorts you to a locked room so that “you may reflect on your acting out behavior.” You are in isolation. Your anger further increases and you find yourself behaving in ways you could not previously imagine, yelling “let me out” and banging on the only door in a windowless room. You think to yourself, “They will regret this once they let me out of here.” What you (and many other patients placed in similar situations) are experiencing is an impaired sense of belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence―direct consequences associated with social ostracism (Williams, 2007). In the eyes of an isolated patient, these needs may wrongly be perceived as restorable through aggressive means.

If isolation can promote violent behavior, what should be done to combat violence among distressed psychiatric inpatients? Solutions that prevent violent behavior in the first place may be most successful. Listening to patient complaints in a timely manner is essential. Empathizing with these complaints, helping patients manage their distress, and ensuring patients that their distress is temporary should also be effective.

Read more:

http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/639936.htmlViolence on the rise at U.S. health care centers (Businessweek)

http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/120185263/abstractWilliams, K.D. (2007). Ostracism: The kiss of social death. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 236-347.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

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Mind reading gone awry

There are times when individuals are well synchronized with each other that they can finish each other’s sentences. These interactions seem almost magical in that people understand how each other feels about a topic or event. There are instances however when it is difficult to understand where the miscommunication occurred. How a simple exchange of words could go so wrong is anyone’s guess, but the fact that the individuals made up their mind about the event or another individual can be strikingly clear.

Take the example that the media popularized between an English politician and a political constituent. After a few words relating to political concerns were exchanged, the politician went on his way. Upon entering the vehicle, presumably a safe place to express his personal opinion with a microphone still on, the politician uttered how he perceived his constituent (refer to May 1st post).

One can only imagine how the politician made his conclusion about the interaction. Epley (2008) suggests that misinterpretations are likely to occur when individuals are under high cognitive load, where schemas seem to be the default interpretation of events. Further, Eyal and Epley (2010) suggests that when two strangers interact they seem to focus on different parts of the context (i.e. self or other). In the context of the political concern the constituent focused on the perceived problem, while the politician focused on his constituent. A solution to misunderstandings is to take part in perspective taking and to take more time to reduce the likelihood of biased interpretation (Epley, 2008).

Eyal & Epley (2010). How to Seem Telepathic – Enabling Mind Reading by Matching Construal.

Epley, N. (2008). Solving the (real) other minds problem.

“Me a bigot? No way, I hate them!”

See more: Brown overheard calling voter ‘bigoted’

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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?