Late last week an oil rig owned by BP exploded causing some 1,000 barrels of oil per day to spill into the Gulf Coast. Eleven crew members have been presumed dead and officials are making every effort to stop the leak and prevent the spread of crude oil to the coastline. The damage caused by such a disaster could be catastrophic, affecting the Gulf’s ecosystem and marine life, as well as any beaches, wetlands, and wildlife reserves along the coast if the oil were to reach land. This spill threatens to be even more damaging than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, which was until now the worst ecological disaster in U.S. history having spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil. Six years after the incident researchers investigated the mental health of fishermen in Alaska impacted by the spill (Arata, Picou, Johnson, & McNally, 2005). The Conservation of Resources model effectively explained the psychological consequences of the spill. This model holds that stress is caused and exacerbated by an actual or perceived loss of resources. The study showed that depression, anxiety, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder were all associated with loss of resources and avoidant coping. This work emphasizes the extensive impact ecological disasters such as this have. Not only are wildlife, the ecosystem, rig employees, and relief workers all impacted, but even those geographically proximal to the spill can experience significant psychological effects that have enduring consequences. One can only hope that efforts to reign in the damage caused by the spill will be successful thus preventing any further loss of human and animal life and damage to the ocean and coastline, as well as preserving the physical and psychological well being of those directly and indirectly affected by this terrible incident.
Arata, Picou, Johnson, & McNally (2005)
US evacuated oil rig after Gulf of Mexico leak
What determines the importance of fairness, particularly to strangers? There are no incentives to play fair when dealing with people we don’t know, aren’t related to, and will never interact with again. Evolutionary psychologist might point to carryover effects of living in smaller communities in our distant past. A recent study led by Joseph Henrich hopes to clarify the issue postulating that there is more to it than simply inheriting fairness attitudes. The research team implemented a Social Dilemma like game called Dictator and administered it to a wide variety of populations. They found that modern living Missourians were most likely to share while hunter-gatherer societies, such as those in the Serengeti or the Amazon, were less likely to do so. One might think that these smaller communities would foster a greater sense of social responsibility and be more willing to share but the researchers point out that while there are clear rules and norms for sharing among kin or ingroup members, a sense of responsibility to the other may be absent when dealing with strangers. Practices and norms emphasizing fairness to strangers have developed in other societies and this research points to “market integration” as a possible explanation as this factor was the strongest predictor of fairness attitudes. Market integration was operationalized as the amount of food purchased. In communities where food is hunted, found, or grown people are less likely and willing to share with strangers. But when food is purchased it makes sense that systems would need to develop where strangers (consumers and sellers) can trust one another. The consumer market can’t function is everyone acts selfishly and treats others as if they will act the same. Oddly enough it seems that trust and fairness develop in some cases because they are economically advantageous.
Suggestions for a New Integration in the Psychology of Morality (Sunar, 2009)
Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment
Moral Lessons, Down Aisle 9
Although stress is an inevitable part of life the recession has amplified the nature, magnitude, and impact of stress for many around the globe. The threat or reality of losing a job or one’s home, searching for work in an untenable job market, having to stretch an already thin budget even further, and many other concerns all cause fear, anxiety, worry, and frustration. Marc Skelton suggests that although what makes these types of stressors so problematic is our inability to control them, we do have control over how we respond. He suggests a number of strategies including using social support networks and reframing the situation. Coping comes in many forms and researchers have highlighted a new factor, self-compassion that may influence coping attempts. Those high in self-compassion (those who treat the self with kindness and concern in response to negative events) tend to avoid problems less and engage in cognitive restructuring more than those low in self-compassion whereas the two groups do not differ in problem solving or distraction (Allen & Leary, 2010). Treatment of the self during stressful events could also influence physiological and psychological adjustment as well as how one responds to others in need. Further work is needed to clarify how this and other characteristics might influence coping attempts.
Self-compassion, Stress, and Coping (Allen & Leary, 2010)
Relax to relive stress in 2010
Earlier this week the search for survivors of the devastating earthquake in Haiti ended. Current estimates suggest that upwards of 200,000 people may have perished, and efforts now turn to the approximately 3 million Haitians affected by the quake. They are in need of everything from medical care to housing, but most importantly food. Despite the outpouring of both monetary and other aid internationally, getting help to those in need has proven difficult. New York Times columnist Damien Cave highlighted Hatian’s struggle to find food in a recent article emphasizing that even in such dire circumstances sharing and fairness are held in high regard among survivors. Stealing food is a capital offense and those who are able to find food no matter how much or how little are expected to share. Some have taken an even larger role in the recovery process setting up makeshift soup kitchens.
Some suggest that no act is every truly selfless since donors receive positive psychological benefits (e.g., boost in self-esteem, positive affect, etc.) among other possible rewards. Current research indicates that altruistic actions are motivated by empathic concern intended to end the suffering of others as opposed to reducing negative arousal in the self (Stocks, Lishner, & Decker, 2009). Whether there are intrinsic or extrinsic benefits to helping others, survivors are showing that there is an alternative to the “every man for himself” attitude. Either by sharing what little they have or pooling their remaining resources to help as many as possible Haitians are embodying a community spirit in which altruism thrives. One can only hope that these efforts will continue and that much needed resources will reach those much in need.
Fighting Starvation, Haitians Share Portions
Altruism or psychological escape: Why does empathy promote prosocial behavior?