Monthly Archives: February 2011

Will Libya be the next Egypt and Tunisia?

Libyans in Dublin march in protest against al-Gaddafi

Representatives of the Libyan Community in Ireland handed a letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs today urging the Government, the EU and the UN to stand by the people of Libya. Courtesy of William Murphy, 21 February 2011. http://www.flickr.com/photos/80824546@N00/5465577884

Will Colonel Muarrar al-Gaddafi, the authoritarian leader of Libya, be able to maintain power amid the current protests and uprising or will the story of Libya become similar to that of Egypt and Tunisia?

Al-Gaddafi has brutally controlled Libya without impunity for the last 42 years.  He is one of the longest serving leaders of the country, and he has experienced little threat from dissent or protest in the past because of his repressive methods, but the political climate in the region and the country may empower Libyans to challenge the status quo.

According to research by Drury and Reicher (2005) Libyans might be empowered by protest against al-Gaddafi’s government if collective action is understood as an expression of social identity.  Other research by Mannarini, Roccato, Fedi, and Rovere (2009) similarly points to the role of social identity in determining support for protest, as well as the perception of injustice and the perception that a vast majority of people are behind the movement.  Political pressure, not just from within Libya but from the international community, is highlighting the illegitimacy of al-Gaddafi’s rule.  Emboldened social identity of the Libyan people re-framed in the context of the political changes in Egypt and Tunisia may be enough to tip the tides.

To read more:

Libya: Past and future? – al-Jazeera, 24 February 2011

Drury, J. & Reicher, S. (2005). Explaining enduring empowerment: a comparative study of collective action and psychological outcomes. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 35–58.

Mannarini, T., Roccato, M., Fedi, A. & Rovere, A. (2009). Six Factors Fostering Protest: Predicting Participation in Locally Unwanted Land Uses Movements. Political Psychology, 30, 895–920.

Ostracism and School Shootings: What’s the Connection?

By: Megan Birney

In California today a teacher became yet another victim of gun violence in U.S. schools. According to initial reports, the teacher was shot by a student who he’d had an argument with earlier in the day. After years of reading about these horrific school shootings (Wikipedia lists over 45 of these incidents in the last 5 years), many of us are plagued by the following question: Why does this keep happening?

While there is little doubt that school shootings are the result of many complex factors, some research suggests that a combination of feeling ostracized and not in control could lead individuals to act overly aggressive. Reacting to years of ostracism has consistently been cited as a possible motive in the massacres at both Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. Yet Williams (2007) points out that many individuals who experience ostracism respond by increasing the attention they pay to others and consciously trying to please those around them. It seems, then, that ostracized individuals tend to deal with the pain of ostracism in one of two ways: some become more passive while others become more aggressive.

So what determines how an ostracized person reacts? Williams (2007) suggests that the aggression that sometimes follows ostracism may be the individual’s attempt to restore a sense of control over their environment. Because ostracized individuals often feel invisible, acting out in aggressive ways forces others to notice and acknowledge them.  Aggression in this case may be the only way the individual is able to reclaim a sense of control over their environment.

While we continue to come to grips with the tragedy of school shootings, it may be worth keeping these ideas in mind. If we want to stop these acts of violence, we may want to take a closer look at how ostracism impacts other areas of the ostracized person’s life.

Further Reading:

Vocational school teacher shot by student in Los Angeles

 

Williams, K.D. (2007). Ostracism: The kiss of social death. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 236-237.

Help yourself by helping others: Lessons from the Fargo flood fight

Image created by contributors to the Fargo Forum

By Kevin R. Betts

Around this time of year almost annually, residents of Fargo, ND and surrounding cities get together to do something most people couldn’t imagine doing even once. They self-mobilize to fight a flood that threatens to destroy the livelihoods of thousands of citizens. Residents voluntarily take time off from work or school, show up at various locations specified by city officials, and fill and place millions of sandbags. In 2009, residents witnessed a 43 foot river crest that likely would have overtaken the city without these efforts. With record precipitation levels this year, city officials are again asking residents to volunteer their time to flood protection efforts. This year’s goal: three million sandbags.

If you imagine yourself faced with fighting a flood year after year to save your own city, you might direct your attention to the psychological or financial costs of such a fight. And certainly these costs are real. Yet, as a current resident of Fargo, I can tell you that volunteers in this effort accrue social and psychological benefits as well. I’ve listened to friends and neighbors describe these benefits, as well as experienced them myself. For example, the yearly flood fight brings the region’s citizens together in unique ways. Ensuring that the region is protected from the flood is a common goal that all the volunteers share. Thus, volunteers can often be seen working collaboratively with individuals they might not normally associate with. It is clear that volunteers derive a sense of self-worth from having contributed to these common goals as well. Working together and helping one another feels good. It is with an immense sense of pride that volunteers can say that they themselves prevented an environmental catastrophe.

My observations and experiences in Fargo suggest that volunteer work has social and psychological benefits. Research by Piliavin (2008) supports this notion empirically and takes it one step further. She provides evidence that volunteer work over one’s lifetime contributes not only to positive psychological health outcomes, but also to positive physical health outcomes. She draws these conclusions based on longitudinal data from 10,317 women and men who varied in the extent to which they volunteered throughout their lives. Although the manner in which lifelong volunteer work impacts psychological and physical health is complex, it is not difficult to understand because it follows a relatively straightforward path. First, volunteering enhances social integration. Second, social integration attained through volunteering promotes volunteer motives and identity. Third, this volunteer identity promotes a sense of personal worth from having contributed to helping others. Finally, this sense of personal worth enhances psychological well-being which can impact physical health. This is important. People who volunteer consistently throughout their lives are healthier psychologically and physically as a result.

Although the costs of fighting a flood almost annually are enormous, my observations along with research by Piliavin (2008) suggest that volunteers may accrue some benefits. If you are looking for another reason to volunteer your time to cause that matters to you, remember that you may be doing more than helping others. You may be helping yourself!

Read more

Lines of defense: Fargo planning sandbag distribution around city (Fargo Forum)

Piliavin, J.A. (2008). Long-term benefits of habitual helping: Doing well by doing good. In B.A. Sullivan, M. Snyder, & J.L. Sullivan (Eds.), Cooperation: The political psychology of effective human interaction (pp. 241-258). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

See other posts by Kevin R. Betts

We’re all in this together… doing it in our own way

By: Christopher C. Duke, Ph.D.

Yep, this picture is kind of cheesy.For better or for worse, global issues like climate change are bound up with existing social identities (Recap: a social identity is any type of social group in which someone is a member and feels a psychological sense of identification with the group.) This means that the practical scientific issues become entangled with social psychological issues. Protection of the natural environment has become associated with particular identities – you can imagine the stereotype of an environmentalist, and the many epithets this evokes (“granola eater,” “tree hugger,” etc.) This means people who identify as an environmentalist may be spurred to further positive action, but people who do not identify with the stereotype of an environmentalist may be put off from taking positive environmental action. In America, belief in climate change is segregated by party lines.

For issues like climate change, a small group of people, no matter how committed, just won’t be enough to cut it. We need all types of people, especially people that are psychologically repelled from the issue because of antagonism towards the stereotype of environmentalists. This is a problem, but it can be overcome. For example, Cohen (2003) experimentally demonstrated that people did not support political policies based on whether the policy matched their stated political views. Instead, the biggest factor was whether people identified with the political party that proposed the policy – if “we” support it, it must be good, but if “they” support it, it must be bad.

Ultimately, this means that dissimilar people are much more likely to get on board for taking action on climate change if their leaders forge their own self-determined path to promote the issue of climate change. Importing a disliked outgroup’s “brand” of environmentalism can backfire spectacularly. Disparate social groups need their own unique style of environmentalism. Fortunately, that is already happening. For example, Carbon Nation is a new documentary about climate change, aimed at politically conservative people who are typically resistant to the conventional image of environmentalism, and would not respond to a movie like An Inconvenient Truth. In Carbon Nation, the people who speak about climate change are a former CIA director, a conservative Alaskan, an army colonel, and a Texan farmer. To be sure, we need people like Al Gore and the self-identified tree huggers, but – like it or not – we especially need the hunters, the blue collar workers, and the truck drivers if we are to see effective public action on climate change. You can see the trailer for Carbon Nation here:

If you want a more detailed look at these kinds of issues, my PhD research uses experimental studies to investigate social identity’s role in environmental issues.

Cohen, G.L. (2003). Party over policy: The dominating impact of group influence on political beliefs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(5), 808–822.

Duke, C. C. (2010). Social identity and the environment: The influence of group processes on environmentally sustainable behaviour.

‘Will Carbon Nation succeed where An Inconvenient Truth failed?’ The Guardian.

I’m Back with a New Identity: Baby Daddy!

by P. Getty

I want to begin this entry with a short apology to my loyal readers—all ten of you—for taking some time away from the blog. I understand if you are upset, what with being without your biweekly fix of weird thoughts and rants that I proudly contribute to the psychological community. I understand that I have slacked in this charge. I will, unless environmental influences shift even more drastically than they already have, continue to provide that service. Still, I feel that I owe you, my loyal reader, an explanation for my absence. Well, if the picture that accompanies this entry and the title above doesn’t give it away, the reason for my absence was that my son, Lucas Kinan (which means danger in Japanese if you are interested) was born on February 2nd, 2011, at 21:20 hrs.  So I was away becoming baby daddy! Strangely, since then, my demeanor has shifted slightly to that of a sleep-deprived zombie. Despite this, however, I’m confident in my new role as baby daddy and look forward to this new adventure while getting back to the blogin’.  Weirdly, my positive attitude seems to be in contrast to what is expected from a person in my shoes, according to the relevant literature.

In a resent review of the literature on men transitioning to fatherhood, Genesoni and Tallandini (2009) identified three phases in this transition that coincide with the stages of their pregnant partners (i.e., prenatal, labor and birth; finally, postnatal). Each stage is accompanied by its own set of challenges and obstacles for the transitioning male. While I don’t want to give away the ending, I will point out that the authors suggest that the postnatal stage (the stage I’m in) has the potential to be the most inter- and intra-personally challenging in the sense of dealing with their our new identity as the baby daddy.  Not me! I’m lovin’ it! Of course, it could be the significant increase in caffeine I’ve consumed daily in order to combat the lack of Zs. Nevertheless, I’m sure this new caffeinated adventure will be full of the strange and the weird, like the rest of my life. With that, there should be interesting tales and experiences that will no doubt find their way into this blog.

With that, I would like to congratulate myself and the rest of the newly named baby daddies out their, and wish us good luck, we are going to need it.

Genesoni & Tallandini (2009)

What makes us happy on Valentine’s Day?

Cut-out book of Valentines circa 1940.

Valentine’s Day was established in honor of three early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine, but today people celebrate romantic love or love more generally.  Since romance is so salient on this holiday, people who are single can feel ostracized and sometimes motivated to support an anti-love mantra.  I wonder if the second biggest Hallmark holiday is really worth the hype (either for or against). Is love or a partner really what makes people happy in life?

Perhaps one of the answers can be found by looking at one of the current hot topics in social psychology research: the intersection of emotion regulation and well being.  A quick look at the latest program from the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology reveals numerous talks and posters on the topic of mindfulness and emotion regulation.

A recent paper points to the importance of the perspective from which people try to adaptively reflect on their feelings.  According to Ayduk and Kross (2010), participants who analyzed negative experiences from a self-distanced perspective (versus a self-immersed perspective) were less likely to ruminate and reported less negative emotions.  Maybe people’s affective experiences on Valentine’s Day have more to do with how they think about their lives and less about relationship status.

Read more:

Ayduk, Ö. and Kross, E. (2010). Analyzing negative experiences without ruminating: The role of self-distancing in enabling adaptive self-reflection. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 841–854.

Meditation vs. Medication: Which Should You Choose?

“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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What is it about groups that promotes aggression?

Protesters urge Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to leave office

By Kevin R. Betts

Looking at recent news events, it seems apparent that acts of aggression often involve groups. For the past two weeks in Egypt, thousands of anti-government protesters have maintained control over Tahrir Square demanding that their president step down from power. On a flight this weekend from the Canary Islands to Belgium, dozens of passengers became so enraged about oversized baggage fees that law enforcement officers were called to the scene. In Ohio, two men shot into a Youngstown State University fraternity house this weekend, later claiming that they were angry about being ejected from a party. These recent events suggest that group contexts might promote aggressive behavior. But what exactly is it about groups that promotes aggression?

Meier, Hinsz, and Heimerdinger (2007) present a framework for explaining aggression involving groups. They suggest that given a competitive or aggressive context, groups can be expected to react more aggressively than similarly treated individuals. This is because group contexts contain situational elements that stimulate their members to act aggressively. For example, hostile cognitions and negative affect are known to promote aggression among individuals. It is probably easy for most of us to imagine instances in our own lives where provocation (hostile cognitions) or a bad mood (negative affect) led us to act aggressively. Meier et al. (2007) suggest that in group contexts, both hostile cognitions and negative affect are more likely to emerge and therefore promote aggressive reactions. Disinhibition, or the loss of one’s individuality, self-awareness, or self-evaluation apprehension, is another mechanism that might promote aggression in groups. There are many situational factors that promote disinhibition, and thus aggression, among individuals (e.g., alcohol). Meier et al. (2007) suggest that group contexts on their own may promote disinhibition among their members, which might release social constraints against aggression. The researchers identify other situational variables that might influence aggression in groups as well, including group accentuation, arousal, and individual differences.

The framework presented by Meier et al. (2007) supports the notion that groups are more likely than individuals to react aggressively given a competitive or aggressive context, and identifies situational elements that promote aggression among groups. Readers may be able to detect the influence of these situational elements in their own lives. Hostile cognitions, negative affect, disinhibition, and other factors likely influenced the protestors in Egypt, the passengers angry over baggage fees, and the shooters at Youngstown State University. Can you think of a time when these factors influenced you or someone you know to act aggressively in a group?

Read more:

Egypt’s new Cabinet to meet for first time as protests persist (CNN)

Passenger’s ‘mutiny’ over Ryanair bag fee (CNN)

Party ejection led to Ohio frat house shooting, police say (CNN)

Meier, B.P., Hinsz, V.B., & Heimerdinger, S.R. (2007). A framework for explaining aggression involving groups. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 298-312.

See more posts by Kevin R. Betts