Category Archives: Personality

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.

That is probably not a ghost, it’s probably just randomness.

By, Adam K. Fetterman

Poster design by Gravillis Inc.

A recent trend in cable television is paranormal investigation shows. For example, the SyFy channel has Ghost Hunters and A&E has Paranormal State. The point of these shows is to investigate claims of the paranormal and then confirm or debunk them. While certain shows do a fairly good job of at least “trying” to debunk the claims, others make no clear attempt. For instance, many, if not all, of these shows feature a time of “investigation” in which the main “characters” try to communicate with the spirit world. They do so by asking the “ghosts” to make a noise or make themselves appear. Usually they will come up with some sort of noise or evidence and conclude that, “indeed, there is a presence!” The first problem here is that, in order to properly debunk such events, one must not believe in them in the first place, or at least have some education in explaining psychological or natural experiences. However, the main issue is that a truly skeptical person will take the evidence of a random noise in response to a question as chance occurrence that is more likely to be explained statistical randomness. One the other hand, a paranormal believer would dismiss that event as chance and explain it paranormally.

This is what is known as the conjunction fallacy. According to Rogers, Davis, & Fisk (2008), indeed those who believe in the paranormal, are more susceptible to the conjunction fallacy than non-believers. Furthermore, they found that those less educated in math, statistics and psychology were more susceptible as well. Therefore, when two not-so-rare events occur (i.e. talking and a bump in the night), paranormal believers make the error in concluding that both events occurring simultaneously was too improbable to be coincidence. Based on previous findings, Rogers and colleagues suggest that this happens because those that believe in the paranormal have less understanding of chance and randomness. In closing, it is obvious that these shows are for purely entertainment value and most people would not tune in if they didn’t find “evidence” of the paranormal. However, it does seem troublesome to perpetuate a lack of rational and logical reasoning skills.

In a couple weeks: Why some are motivated to believe in the paranormal?

Researching the paranormal with Ryan Buell. By, Jennifer Vazquez – The Leader

A&E’s Paranormal State website.

SyFy’s Ghost Hunters website.

Rogers, P., Davis T., & Fisk, J. (2009). Paranormal belief and susceptibility of the conjunction fallacy. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 524-542

Homer is just like me!

By, Adam K. Fetterman
Catholicism has not had a good last couple years/decades. This has been particularly true recently with the scandals involving the pope and child abuse. So, it would seem like a good idea to take some focus off these situations and lighten things up a bit. This is what they have done recently. According, to the Time website, the Vatican’s official newspaper has declared Homer Simpson as a Catholic. This is odd to most fans because Homer, and the rest of the Simpson flock (minus Lisa who proclaims to be a Buddhist), are clearly and openly protestant. Specifically with Homer, some could probably argue that he is not even a protestant. They use a couple examples of why Homer is a Catholic, but most appear to be reflective of Christianity in general, not to mention that most of the Catholicism references in the show are mocking in nature. Why might someone, or thing, come to such an odd belief, such as Homer Simpson being of their religion?

One possible explanation may come from what is known as the “false consensus effect” (Ross, Greene, & House, 1977). According to a review by Baumeister, Dale, & Sommer (1998), this effect is a type of projection in which individuals have a bias to think that others’ traits are similar to their own. So, it may, for whatever motivation, be that the Vatican newspaper writers are projecting their own traits or beliefs on what they perceive as a well liked popular figure, and Homer is definitely that. Another weird thing that people might notice is that Family Guy’s Griffin family is actually Catholic, but the Vatican decided against mentioning them. However, it probably would not be considered a positive to associate oneself with a show as “controversial” as that one.

Before someone comments that the Vatican paper was arguing that Homer represents what a good Catholic should be. This may be so, but that was not clear in the Time piece linked here. Furthermore, one would have to ignore a considerable amount of aspects of the show to consider The Simpsons as reflecting good Catholic values. However, relative to the Griffins in Family Guy, one could see how they would like to associate themselves with the “tamer”, and more loved, Simpsons family. Don’t we all?

“Homer Simpson: A True Catholic?” By Megan Friedman, Time Magazine

Baumeister et al. (1998). Freudian defense mechanisms and empirical findings in modern social psychology: Reaction formation, projection, displacement, undoing, isolation, sublimation, and denial. Journal of Personality, 66, 1081-1124.

Facebook and Narcissism.. Is that flashy photo a mask for low self esteem?

By Erica Zaiser
A recent study by Soraya Mehdizadeh has made the news because it made an interesting connection between Facebook profiles and personality traits like narcissism. The study found that the more times a person checked Facebook, the higher they scored on narcissism. Also, there was a significant relationship between self-promotional content and narcissism scales. According to the study, for women self promotional content tended to include images of “revealing, flashy and adorned photos of their physical appearance” while for men, their “about me” descriptions highlighted their intelligence and wit. However, the study also finds that people with low self-esteem also check their Facebook pages more often.
The link between self-esteem and narcissism has been hard to understand for years despite ample research on both topics. According to a review done by Bossom and colleagues the problem in understanding the connections between narcissism and self-esteem is that some research has shown that narcissism is actually a mask to hide low self-esteem, but other research has failed to show this pattern. According to the review there are several subtypes of narcissism that have different relationships with self-esteem. Furthermore, the research on self-esteem shows that different aspects of the self may be being measured depending on the type of self-esteem measure being used.
The research on Facebook adds an interesting piece to the puzzle as it reveals the way in which both low self-esteem and narcissism are manifesting as the same behaviour on social networking site. The mask theory of narcissism (that it is used to mask low self-esteem) might make sense here as people’s grandiose view of themself is being broadcasted through constant use and updating of their Facebook profiles;  while a need for validation that goes along with deeper low self-esteem is driving them to seek  instant feedback (something Facebook can uniquely provide) from their friends.

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The Moral Universe of Role Players in Genocide

Just after the Rwanda genocide broke out in 1994, white expatriates were speedily evacuated from the place. Adam Jones (2006) wrote of a video record at the Caraes psychiatric Hospital in Ndera Kigali showing white individuals being evacuated while Hutus were almost outside the gates, and the Tutsis begged the military men for protection. One soldier yelled, “Solve your problems yourselves!”

The UN Genocide Convention has defined genocide as “acts committed with the intent to destroy in part or whole a national, ethnic racial or religious group as such.” Staub (2000) provides the social context which makes genocide of one group by another likely—difficult life conditions and group conflict. Cultural differences also come to play such as blind respect for authority, inflexible stratification within classes, and a history of devaluation in a group.

Not all members of the dominant group become perpetrators. There were the ‘ordinary Germans’ who did nothing while the Holocaust happened, while there were also countless Germans who defied authority and managed to rescue Jewish families in peril. In a genocide setting, there are the perpetrators, bystanders and rescuers. These categories can also be fluid, as noted by Monroe, when constant bystanders turn into rescuers, or when perpetrators who have engaged in massacres, rescue an individual from the other group. Monroe defines six critical aspects gathered from summaries of reports of these three groups which play a part in the role a group or individual makes: self image, personal suffering, identity, relational identity, integration of values with the individual’s sense of self, and a cognitive classification of the other. Perpetrators may perceive of themselves as victims and justify causing harm to the other group. Bystanders and perpetrators may hold greater value for community, and authority, rather than self-assertion. Personal suffering may also cause a group or an individual to empathize with the aggrieved group, but it may also heighten fear and defensiveness. While cultural and social aspects are important in determining attitudes and behavior, self images can also determine if people will act or remain passive in the face of genocide. Individuals who feel they have control over the situation may be forced to do something about it, as opposed to bystanders who, even if they also empathize with the aggrieved group, may feel helpless over the situation.

Jones A. (2006). Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction

Monroe K. R. (2008). Cracking the Code of Genocide: The Moral Psychology of Rescuers, Bystanders, and Nazis during the Holocaust

Staub, E. (2000). Genocide and Mass Killing: Origins, Prevention, Healing and Reconciliation

Photo: “#46/365” by Leonie, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved