Category Archives: Personality

The Blame Game

Representative Eric J. Massa of New York is lashing out at the Democratic Party. Last week Massa announced his retirement citing the return of cancer as the reason for the departure, but also leaves amidst a sexual harassment charge from a male aide. In a later radio interview Massa claimed Democratic Party leaders drove him out of office because he did not support health care legislation although the party has dismissed Massa’s assertions.

Given the changing reasons for his retirement blaming his Party could just be an excuse or an attempt to mask the scandal surrounding him. New work on blame and excuse making adds a formerly unstudied dimension to the study of interpersonal relations: locus of control. Wang and Anderson (2006) studied internals and externals asking them to judge excuses and assign blame. They found that externals tended to use excuses more and assigned less blame for cases of cheating and lying relative to internals. Externals also assigned more blame to others and less to themselves and were more sensitive to being blamed.  Making excuses then may be less a calculated effort to shift blame and more a result of one’s general outlook on the social world.

Excuse-making and blaming as a function of internal – external locus of control

House Democrat Says Party Drove Him From Office

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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?

Going for the Gold

The Winter Olympics have been a huge draw for many people this year. In fact, for Americans and Canadians, they have dominated the television ratings since opening night. Given the excitement of many of the sports, it’s not surprising the games have garnered so much attention. In fact, when comparing these games to the Summer Olympics, it seems that many of the featured sports are considered rather extreme and dangerous. There is snowboarding, which landed one American Olympic hopeful in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury prior to the games. Then there are the high speed sports of skeleton and luge, which involves athletes sledding on a track either head first (in the case of skeleton) or feet first (in the case of luge) with no protection other than a helmet. The danger of these latter two sports has been especially apparent following the death of a Georgian athlete during a training run in which he was traveling at an estimated 89 miles per hour.

So why is it that so many athletes not only choose to participate in a sport with such risk but seem to be constantly pushing themselves to more extreme levels? One possible answer comes from the personality psychology literature and is related to a trait called Sensation Seeking. This individual difference, which is thought to vary from person to person, is often characterized by 4 behaviors: Thrill and Adventure Seeking, Experience Seeking, Disinhibition, and Boredom Susceptibility. Not surprisingly, individuals who score high in this measure are more likely to engage is risky behavior that is known to be thrilling and provide high levels of excitement. Also not surprisingly, athletes who participate in extreme sports (such as skydiving) rate especially high on this measure. What’s also interesting is some researchers have argued that sensation seeking involves addictive-like components. Namely, high sensation seekers experience a “rush” when engaging in risky behaviors but often need to engage in even riskier behavior soon after to experience this same feeling.

It’s no wonder then that so many athletes who participate in the Winter Olympics are returning every 4 years with bigger and faster maneuvers. When competing in a sport filled with people who are always looking for their next rush, the words “Go big or go home” become a way of life.

The Danger of Winter Olympic Sports.

Meertens, R. M., & Lion, R. (2008). Measuring an individual’s tendency to take risks: The Rick Propensity Scale. Journal of Applied Psychology.

Geography and Attentiveness

Geography is a factor in relationships.  Not surprising, working, taking a class, or sharing a common space with someone may lead to a long-term friendship or relationship.  An NPR news report notes that many people make long time friends when in college. Although geographical closeness at times leads to friendships the question remains as to what motivates these relationships.  Cross (2009) points to a variable known as the relational self-construal defined in terms of how an individual see’s oneself in relation to others close to us. So close relationships must have lasted because someone (or both) in the dyad is high on the relational self-construal. For the purpose of continuing the relationship these individuals tend to be particularly attentive to the needs of others by paying close attention to information.  Cross writes that actions such as give and take, openness, providing support and encouragement are characteristic of those high in relational self-construal. While geography may be a factor when it comes to who you are acquainted with, attentiveness to others in relation to oneself determines who your friends will be .

Read more: Becoming close: The geography of friendship

Cross, S.E. (2009) Relational self-construal: Past and Future.

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Are we really in a narcissism epidemic? The concerns about Generation Me.

According to psychological professor Jean M. Twenge, Generation Me describes anyone born in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s — in the approaching 2010, this will mean people between the ages of 11 and 40. These are today’s young people, those who while remarkably diverse in many respects, share a unifying aspect: they are “unapologetically focused on the individual,” a trait inherited from their Boomer parents and fanned to extremes by the culture they engendered.

Is it true? Are we in a narcissism epidemic? Does the Generation Me really differ from their parents and grandparents? Social scientists have been interested in generational changes for decades. Questions about generational changes are of particular interest to psychologists who are interested in whether the broader sociocultural environment is linked with changes in personality attributes and attitudes. For example, Twenge (2008) has concluded that today’s young people have higher self-esteem, more inflated self views, higher levels of narcissism, and perhaps paradoxically, more misery than previous generations. Twenge has further tied these shifts in personality to shifts toward increased individualism and a focus on self-worth that she believes characterizes the culture of the United States in more recent decades. However, Donnellan and Trzesniewski’s (2009) most recent research led to suspicion about the strength of the evidence in support of Twenge’s broad ‘Generation Me’ claims. According to their opinions, there are two crucial issues about Twenge’s research on Generation Me: whether the evidence for generational differences is based on a sound methodology and how to best characterize the size of any generational differences. Instead they found more evidence for generational consistency than generational change in their studies and thus concluded that there are enough concerns to warrant caution and qualified statements about the evidence for ‘Generation Me.’

Based on these concerns, it might be better for social and personality psychologists to think carefully before drawing the blanket conclusion that today’s young people are much different from previous generations of youth. Whether today’s young people are more assertive, entitled, self-aggrandizement and miserable than ever before is still a question which deserves more research in the future.

Donnellan, M.B., & Trzesniewski, K.H. (2009). How Should We Study Generational ‘Changes’—Or Should We? A Critical Examination of the Evidence for ‘Generation Me’. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3,775 – 784.

Twenge, J.M. (2008). Generation Me, the Origins of Birth Cohort Differences in Personality Traits, and Cross-temporal Meta-analysis. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 1440-1454.

Will a new decade spell the end of Generation Me?

What Striking The Harp And Joining The Chorus May Say About You

The holiday season brings with it a number of traditions, including (my personal favorite) around the clock radio play of Christmas songs and music. And while one’s preference for Christmas carols may simply reflect an abundance of Christmas spirit, recent work has shown that your taste in music may also reflect certain aspects of your personality. Peter Rentfrow and Sam Gosling have found that traits from the Big 5 trait taxonomy relate to preferences for different musical styles. For instance, individuals high in Agreeableness and Extraversion are fond of upbeat and energetic music, those high in Emotional Stability and Openness to Experience listen more to styles that are musically complex, and those high in Conscientiousness prefer conventional music.

Based on these findings, Rentfrow and Gosling continued to investigate how musical preferences may relate to personality and social processes. In 2006, they found that individuals were able to accurately infer the personality of a stranger based on their music preferences. In this study, published in Psychological Science, when judging the personality of unknown others, people were most accurate in determining levels of Openness to Experience and Extraversion. Moreover, when making their judgments, observers used some of the musical attributes (i.e., energy) discussed above.

In other words, your musical tastes may inform both you and others about certain aspects of your personality. And because people use different musical attributes to make these judgments, your song selection may influence how others view you. When hosting your holiday celebrations, if you want to appear more sociable, you might want to choose songs that are especially upbeat and cheerful. I recommend starting with A Very Merry Chipmunk.

Alvin and the Chipmunks – The Chipmunk Song

Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2006). Message in a ballad: The role of music preferences in interpersonal perception.

Hating your ex is not the only break-up rule.

Reese ended her eight-year marriage, but managed to maintain a friendship with her ex.

For many people, including many relationship scientists, the last stage of relationship dissolution is termination of contact. It seems much easier to hate your ex rather than being friend with her/him. However, more and more studies revealed that the phenomenon of post-dating friendships is common. So why are some former romantic relationships redefined into friendships? And how is it possible?

Foley and Fraser (1998) suggest that romantic relationships that no longer fulfill the romantic needs of partners may undergo a transformation to friendship. To the extent that the resources exchanged continue to be of value to the former partners, the relationship is likely to be maintained in the form of a friendship. Hill, Rubin, and Peplau (1976) found that premarital partners were more likely to stay friends when the breakup was male initiated or mutual. Metts, Cupach, and Bejlovec (1989) found that being friends prior to initiation of a romantic relationship was a significant predictor of maintaining a friendship post breakup. In addition, people whose partners used a positive tone in expressing their desire to end the relationship were more likely to remain friends than those who used such withdrawal strategies as avoidance. Also, those who perceived their former partner as more desirable were more likely to remain friends post breakup (Banks et al., 1987).

Recently, Busboom and colleagues (2002) used social exchange theory framework to examine whether resources and barriers influence the quality of friendship with a former romantic partner. The findings of their study suggested that the more resources people receive from their former partners, the more likely they will be to experience a high quality friendship after breakup. In addition, one’s level of satisfaction with the resources received may also contribute to friendship quality. Lastly, there are several obstacles that can get in the way of a postdating friendship, such as lack of support from family and friends for a post-dating friendship, the participant’s involvement in a new romantic relationship, and the use of neglect as a strategy to end the relationship were all significant predictors of lower friendship quality.

Friends after divorce: one couple trades drama for decency

 

Busboom, A.L., Collins, D.M., Givertz, M.D., & Levin, L.A. (2002).Can we still be friends? Resources and barriers to friendship quality after romantic relationship dissolution. Personal Relationship, 9, 215-223.

A Metrosexual Christmas?

BiothermMetrosexual icons such as David Beckham and Christiano Ronaldo have inspired a new generation of men to spruce up their act and embrace the ever-growing range of grooming products designed with men in mind. Many of these products as likely to feature in style magazines, newspapers, on television and billboards, in the run up to Christmas. With retailers expecting sales to be brisker than last year (Centre for Retail Research, 2009), one might also expect the market for men’s grooming products to follow suit. However, although Mintel (2007) estimated the overall market size for men’s grooming products was a good-looking £806m, it still continued to exhibit unfulfilled potential.

The slow uptake of these products seems to be because of the continued identification of grooming and self-presentation practices with women and femininity. Harrison’s (2008) visual semiotic analysis of male cosmetics advertised online by Studio5ive found that the organisation reframed mascara and eyeliner in masculine ways (‘manscara’; ‘guy-liner’) in order to distinguish it from women’s products. Those men who actively engaged with such products, risked being critiqued and rejected as non-masculine (hence accusations of homosexuality, effeminacy and narcissism) and so tended to invoke conventional masculinity signifiers (e.g. heterosexual prowess, self-respect etc.) in order to justify their consumption (Hall, 2009). The apparent difficulty men face in enjoying such hitherto feminine identity products shows how more conventional or ‘hegemonic masculinities’ (see: Connell, 1995; Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005) still remain culturally available and are likely to influence men’s (and women’s) consumption patterns this Christmas.

square-eyeAnalysing Discursive Constructions of ‘Metrosexual’ Masculinity Online: ‘What does it matter, anyway?’

square-eyeThe Journal of Popular Culture

square-eyeMen’s Grooming Habits – UK – March 2007

square-eyeUK Christmas retail sales to rise 1.9 pct

Keynote Lecture – ‘What is the Human Mind Designed for?’ By Roy F. Baumeister

Baumeister Polaroid

Professor Roy F. Baumeister

Professor Baumeister’s Keynote lecture ‘ What is the Human Mind Designed for?’ is now live

Roy F. Baumeister is currently the Eppes Eminent Professor of Psychology and head of the social psychology graduate program at Florida State University. He grew up in Cleveland, the oldest child of a schoolteacher and an immigrant businessman. He received his Ph.D. in social psychology from Princeton in 1978 and did a postdoctoral fellowship in sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. He spent over two decades at Case Western Reserve University, where he eventually was the first to hold the Elsie Smith professorship. He has also worked at the University of Texas, the University of Virginia, the Max-Planck-Institute, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Baumeister’s research spans multiple topics, including self and identity, self-regulation, interpersonal rejection and the need to belong, sexuality and gender, aggression, self-esteem, meaning, and self-presentation. He has received research grants from the National Institutes of Health and from the Templeton Foundation. He has over 400 publications, and his books include Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, The Cultural Animal, and Meanings of Life. The Institute for Scientific Information lists him among the handful of most cited (most influential) psychologists in the world. He lives by a small lake in Florida with his beloved family. In his rare spare time, he enjoys windsurfing, skiing, and jazz guitar.

You can view his keynote at http://compassconference.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/baumeister/