Author Archives: Courtney Ignarri

Just-World Beliefs and the Impact of Random Violence

Sniper

The D.C. sniper was executed yesterday for the murder of Dean Harold Meyers. In all ten people were killed by sniper fire in the D.C. area in the Fall of 2002. The region’s residents spent twenty three days in fear until the shooters were finally captured. What was so terrifying in this case was the sheer randomness of the shootings. Walking the dog, buying groceries, or simply getting gas could get you killed. Such crimes violate just world beliefs – the sense that the world is a fair. Victims of random crime can sometimes be derogated by observers who want to distance themselves from thoughts of being victims themselves. New research by Van Zomeren and Lodewijkz (2008) shows that such random senseless violence does generate greater self-concern but should not influence observer’s concern for victims. The execution yesterday may represent justice, but it seems like small comfort to the grieving families of the victims and those who are still affected by the fear and anxiety induced by the sniper’s killing spree.

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Van Zomeren & Lodewijkz (2008)

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DC area relives terror as sniper’s execution nears

 

The D.C. sniper was executed yesterday for the murder of Dean Harold Meyers. In all ten people were killed by sniper fire in the D.C. area in the Fall of 2002. The region’s residents spent twenty three days in fear until the shooters were finally captured. While everyone is afraid of death what was so terrifying in this case was the sheer randomness of the shootings. Walking the dog, buying groceries, or simply getting gas could get you killed. Such crimes violate just world beliefs – the sense that the world is a fair or just place. Victims of random crime can sometimes be derogated by observers who want to distance themselves from thoughts of being victims themselves. New research by Van Zomeren and Lodewijkz (2008) shows that such random senseless violence does generate greater self-concern but should not influence observer’s concern for victims. The execution yesterday may represent justice, but it seems like small comfort to the grieving families of the victims and those who are still affected by the fear and anxiety induced by the sniper’s killing spree.

The D.C. sniper was executed yesterday for the murder of Dean Harold Meyers. In all ten people were killed by sniper fire in the D.C. area in the Fall of 2002. The region’s residents spent twenty three days in fear until the shooters were finally captured. While everyone is afraid of death what was so terrifying in this case was the sheer randomness of the shootings. Walking the dog, buying groceries, or simply getting gas could get you killed. Such crimes violate just world beliefs – the sense that the world is a fair or just place. Victims of random crime can sometimes be derogated by observers who want to distance themselves from thoughts of being victims themselves. New research by Van Zomeren and Lodewijkz (2008) shows that such random senseless violence does generate greater self-concern but should not influence observer’s concern for victims. The execution yesterday may represent justice, but it seems like small comfort to the grieving families of the victims and those who are still affected by the fear and anxiety induced by the sniper’s killing spree.

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The Horror! The Horror!

haunted house

The horror flick. Meant to terrify, torture, disgust, and delight. Love them or hate them they are difficult to escape this time of year. In the coming weekend there are at least four horror/thrill movies to be released including the latest in the Saw series (Saw VI, if you’re keeping track), Antichrist, The Stepfather, and The House of the Devil. While some people are always up for a good scare, others are adamant about avoiding anything even remotely gory. But why? Johnston (2006) has highlighted four possible motivations for viewing graphic horror (gore watching, thrill watching, independent watching, and problem watching). Her study found these distinct motivations to be associated with fearfulness, empathy, and sensation seeking as well as the viewer’s level of identification with the killers vs. the victims of the films.

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Adolescents’ Motivations for Viewing Graphic Horror (Johnston, 2006)

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The Consequences of Our Responses to Acute Stress

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Understanding the most effective ways to respond to and cope with stress has important implications for our longevity and well-being.  Acute stressors are immediate and temporary while chronic stressors are more prolonged and involve ongoing threat and arousal. With regard to acute psychological stress, past research has indicated that those who exhibit large physiological reactions (i.e., cardiovascular responses) are more susceptible to negative health outcomes such as hypertension. New evidence, however, casts doubt on the assertion that large physiological reactions to stress are always bad for health.  Carroll, Lovallo, & Phillips (2009) have shown that low reactivity to acute psychological stress is associated with a diverse set of negative outcomes including depression, weight gain, and compromised immunity. These findings make it much more difficult to label stress responses and coping strategies as “good” versus “bad” given that each seems to have both positive and negative consequences for one’s physiological and psychological well-being.

 

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Stress 101

 

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Carroll, Lovallo, & Phillips (2009)

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Gender Stereotypes and Success in the Military

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Yesterday Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa L. King was made commandant of the drill sergeant school at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and is the first woman to fill such a position in any of the Army’s schools across the country. According to a recent article by James Dao of the NY Times women constitute a very small percentage of Army personnel in general (13%) and an even smaller percentage of the Army’s highest-ranking enlisted soldiers in active-duty (8%). The lack of female personnel and those in high-ranking positions has been attributed to “pregnancy, long hours and the prohibition against women serving in frontline combat positions” by the Army. Experimental research, particularly in the areas of gender and stereotyping, indicates that women are evaluated differently than men in military training which may also explain the lack of women in higher-ranking positions.

Boldry, Wood, and Kashy (2001) found that although there were no actual performance differences between male and female cadets men were perceived as having the motivation and leadership to succeed in the military while women were thought to have more feminine attributes that would impair performance. Other research has shown that the proportion of women in a given unit is related to performance evaluation such that when women represent a smaller/token portion of the unit their performance is rated lower than men, but when there was a higher proportion of women performance was rated higher than men (Pazy & Oron, 2001). It seems that perception, not performance, contributes to the maintenance of gender barriers in the military among other domains for both men and women. Hopefully, one day more of us can see the world and ourselves as Sergeant Major King does: “When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a female, I see a soldier.”

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First Woman Ascends to Top Drill Sergeant Spot

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Gender Stereotypes and the Evaluation of Men and Women in Military Training

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Sex proportion and performance evaluation among high-ranking military officers

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Self-Serving Biases Influence Preventative Health Behaviors

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The upcoming cold and flu season promises to be a trying one. In addition to dealing with the usual aches, pains, and discomfort associated with illness this time of year many are becoming anxious over the resurgence of the swine flu. Symptoms that normally would not cause fear or panic are likely to be over scrutinized sending an abundance of patients to hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices over the next few months. While vaccines will be available in mid-October, psychologists have an interesting take on who is most likely to take advantage of them. Research has shown that while most people were biased in thinking that their health was superior to others, those who expressed the intention to get inoculated among other things expressed lower levels of health bias (Larwood, 2006). Self-serving biases are associated with a variety of positive and negative outcomes for the self, but in this case overconfidence could be deadly.

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Swine Flu: A Field Study of Self-Serving Biases

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Preparing for a Stressful Flu Season

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What’s in a name? Torture vs. Torture Lite

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Earlier this week a detailed report of prisoner abuses in overseas CIA prisons was released. The report provides new information about the nature of the abuses inflicted on prisoners which included threatening to kill or sexually assault detainee’s family members, the use of guns or tools for intimidation, and even staged mock executions. Although some of the methods were not authorized by the Justice Department, the report claims that the methods used in interrogations yielded significant information that could be used to prevent future terrorist activity.

The moral implications of these reports is staggering, and it seems that in response some have begun to subtype the acts mentioned above in an effort to reduce the negative associations with the integrity, honesty, moral fortitude many would like to believe America represents. Journalists, military personnel, and academics have distinguished between torture, which is “violent, physically mutilating, cruel, and brutal,” and torture lite, or “interrogation methods that are more restrained and less severe” (Wolfendale, 2009). Wolfendale (2009) claims that using terms like torture lite minimizes the suffering of victims as well as the responsibility of torturers and additionally can lead to the normalization of torture in our culture. Sectioning out some forms of torture may make us feel better and allow us to retain our former representation of our country as a positive, strong, and moral force but in the end it stunts our ability to give the issue its full importance, take responsibility for our actions, and have a real debate about whether we as a country condone torture as a reasonable means for interrogation.

 

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C.I.A. Abuse Cases Detailed in Report on Detainees

 

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The Myth of “Torture Lite”

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It’s all in the attitude

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Preventative care and aggressive follow-up treatment may not be the only things one needs to combat maladies like heart disease and cancer. Optimism could also be critical for recovery and general well-being. This week the BBC highlighted a study in which optimistic women had lower risks of suffering from heart disease and death over an eight year period (Tindle & Steinbaum, 2009).  While this study links optimism and longevity, positive outlook is also associated with better health (Kamen & Seligman, 1987), greater achievement (Seligman, Nolen-Hoeksema, Thornton, and Thornton, 1990), persistence in achieving high-priority goals (Geers, Wellman, & Lassiter, 2009), lower levels of stress (Crosno, Rinaldo, Black, & Kelley (2009), and better emotional health (Matthews & Cook, 2008). What is it about optimism that provides such a wide variety of positive health and psychological outcomes?  It could be that optimists are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors and take better care of themselves. However, the research above suggests that above and beyond lifestyle differences the distinct outcomes associated with optimism could be attributed to optimists ability to recover from adversity better, view negative events as isolated and specific, as well as anticipate and respond proactively to stressors.

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BBC: Optimistic women ‘live longer’

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Optimism and Breast Cancer

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Forgive and forget?

Chris Brown

Conflict is a part of any human relationship, which unfortunately can lead to physical or even psychological aggression. Transgressors will often later seek forgiveness in order to maintain the relationship in question or to repair their image to friends, co-workers, and in the case of celebrities, fans.  What factors influence a victim’s (as well as outsider’s) willingness to forgive?

R&B singer Chris Brown plead guilty to a felony assault charge for an episode of domestic violence involving his then-girlfriend, singer Rihanna, on February 8, 2009. Just a few days ago Brown released an apology to fans and Rihanna conceding “deepest regret” and shame for the incident, calling it inexcusable, and expressing his desire to become a role model once again.

Research has shown that differences in one’s willingness to forgive depend on the type of aggressive act concerned. When aggression was physical (relative to psychological) more weight was given to the intention of the aggressor to harm than to an apology (Gauché & Mullet, 2004).  It could also be important to consider whether Brown’s public apology was sincere. Or was it driven by career ambitions and a desire to fall back into public favor. This distinction may make all of the difference in whether he receives the forgiveness he seeks from his fans and more importantly his victim.

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Chris Brown Domestic Abuse Incident

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Chris Brown’s Apology

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Forgiveness for Physical vs. Psychological Aggression

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The entertainment value of human nature

800px-Video_CameraA natural human tendency is to form groups to fulfill our social needs, navigate a world full of obstacles and threats, and also provide us with a sense of identity and self-esteem. The latest season of CBS’s Big Brother, set to premier this Thursday, July 9, will exploit this innate proclivity. The show puts a dozen willing wannabes in a house under surveillance for approximately three months. Once a week the contestants vote to evict one member of the household until only two remain, when the formerly evicted contestants vote for a winner who will receive $500,000. This season the show will split the houseguests into three age-old high school cliques: “popular,” “athletes,” and “brains.” 
Cliques create a unique experience of power and dominance with highly specific intra-group stratification and provide a sense of identity and purpose for members (Adler & Adler, 2007). They have a strict code of membership (e.g., what one wears, how one acts) and are exclusive (e.g., members are not free to socialize with outsiders, initiation to the group is difficult to obtain). The show’s format already ensures that contestants form alliances in order to win and labeling these groups from the outset that already have stereotypes and expectancies associated with them only accelerates a process that would have occurred anyway with or without the cameras. While we’d all like to believe that cliques exist only in the cafeteria or on the playground they can be found in nearly any place where human beings interact.

 

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CBS Big Brother

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Meet the Cast of Big Brother 11

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Preadolescent Clique Stratification and the Hierarchy of Identity

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Teens Health: The Nature of Cliques

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The Unknown Dangers of Social Networking Sites

Facebook. Twitter. MySpace. These social networking websites have become ever pervasive in modern life. They allow us to keep up with friends and family, as well as keep tabs onformer classmates and co-workers.  They also serve many psychological functions such as providing a sense of being connected to others (however difficult it may be to establish the meaningfulness of these online relationships), a social comparison function, and bolstering one’s sense of identity (in that we can see ourselves through what others post about us or in response to us.)


Despite the positive functions of these sites we may be exposing ourselves to an undesirable loss of privacy and even public scrutiny regarding the content we post online. Rusty DePass, a South Carolina Republican activist, wrote a private message to a friend that included a racist remark targeted at First Lady Michelle Obama. A local political blogger saw this message and now DePass’s comments are public fodder. While DePass’s case may not be the most sympathetic it does call into question the protections in place for content we would like to keep to ourselves or among close friends. Robin Wauters, a blogger for TechCrunch, recently wrote about FBHive a website which will allow anyone to take advantage of a security loophole to view private profile information. The fun innocuous image of sites like Facebook give users an apparently unwarranted sense of safety regarding the security of their “private” thoughts, feelings, and images.


Internet and Popular Culture

Internet and Popular Culture

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Online Social Networking

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square-eye.png Illusion of Privacy on Facebook: FBHive Hackers

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