Category Archives: Intrapersonal Processes

Heath Ledger lives! And not just in my personal bedroom shrine.

This past weekend, the movie “The Patriot” was on TNT and although I’ve definitely seen it a good eighteen times, I can never seem to get enough of it. Heath Ledger as the dashing, young, patriotic soldier who enlists in the American Revolution despite his father’s sincerest efforts to discourage him – my heart literally skips a beat every time he comes onto the scene. I realize that I’m in my solid mid-twenties and celebrity crushes have usually been a fleeting thing of my teenage past. But there’s always been something about Heath Ledger that I just can’t shake. Well, him and John F. Kennedy, Jr. Come to think of it though, I only became really wrapped up in John-John once his plane crashed back in 1999 – I remember sitting in front of the television uninterrupted for a week, waiting for his body to be recovered. I was devastated when my mother told me to let it go. And then when Heath Ledger died – as a first-year teaching assistant in graduate school, I definitely used my newfound discretion to allocate an entire class period to have my students reflect on their favorite Heath Ledger moments in film.

What is it about celebrities?  And perhaps more interestingly, what is it about dead celebrities? According to Pelin Kesebir and Chi-yue Chiu, both cultural psychologists affiliated with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, our fascination with celebrities is really just an attempt to relieve ourselves of the death anxiety we experience as the only living creatures to be conscious of our own mortality. As suggested by the large body of research supporting Terror Management Theory, to take our minds off of the chronic and debilitating terror of knowing we are eventually going to die, we cling to cultural icons (i.e., celebrities) and worldviews that assure us that we stand for something larger than just our physical selves and that once we do die, we will have achieved symbolic immortality from having been affiliated with these great contemporaries and ideas. In short, if you’re concerned with leaving your mark on the world, and someone famous embodies your value system, you peg your legacy on his or her legacy. As Kesebir puts it, “After being reminded of their mortality… people think that famous people will be remembered for a longer time in the future, attesting to people’s desire to see these celebrities as symbolically immortal. And the more celebrities represent cultural values, the more is the desire to see them as everlasting… In another study, I showed that people think that if they board the same plane as a famous person, the plane is less likely to crash, to the extent that the famous person on board represents cultural values.”

And what happens when these celebrities actually die before we do? Do we lose our buffer against the existential terror they have for so long kept in check for us? According to Kesebir, “[Mourners] will experience the shock of seeing the annihilation of something they inwardly deemed to be imperishable (just like a god). In a way, they have lost one of their bulwarks against existential anxiety, and they are in a vulnerable state now. With time, though, they will come to accept [the] literal death and derive a similar sense of stamina from [the celebrity’s] symbolic immortality.”

The Science of Dead Celebrities

Culture and Terror Management: What is “Culture” in Cultural Psychology and Terror Management Theory?

NHL San Jose’s Dan Boyle wins the game for the other team and supports “choking” phenomenon.

Last Sunday night during Game 3 of the San Jose Sharks/Colorado Avalanche NHL Western Conference playoff series, the Sharks took three times as many shots as the Avalanche, kept the puck on Colorado’s end, and generally owned the game. Nonetheless, the score remained at 0-0 almost a minute into overtime. And then the worst possible dose of bad luck (or insane miscalculation?) befell San Jose’s Dan Boyle: he inadvertently scored the winning goal for the Colorado Avalanche. According to CBSSports.com columnist Ray Ratto, the deflection of Boyle’s clearing pass to defenseman Douglas Murray, “to the amazement of all living things… whipped into a tiny hole between the right post and San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov.”

Thing is, Dan Boyle is in pretty good company. Time after time, we witness acts of “choking under pressure” – especially in sports, but also in other anxiety-eliciting domains of life such as during testing situations, presenting to a group of colleagues or superiors, or performing a musical instrument. Choking, otherwise known as failing in the clutch or performing at suboptimal levels under pressure conditions, happens to the best of us and social psychologist Roy Baumeister has determined the conditions under which the phenomenon is most likely to occur.

Baumeister labels four pressure variables – audience pressure, competition, performance-contingent rewards and punishments, and ego-relevance of the task – as determinants of choking; needless to say, all of these variables were present in full-force at Dan Boyle’s mishap on Sunday. Further, Baumeister notes that choking may result from a self-focused attention that interferes with the execution of automatic, routinized processes (such as, oh I don’t know, moving around a puck during a professional hockey game in which you are a professional hockey player). In particular, Baumeister suggests that pressure makes the person want to do well, so the performer focuses conscious attention on the process of performance. However, since skills are responses that are overlearned and automatic, attending to them consciously interferes with or inhibits them; conscious attention to an automatic behavior paradoxically causes misalignment between brain and behavior and, frequently, ultimate failure at the task. Other theories suggest that having to perform under pressure causes a self-awareness that precludes awareness of the environment in which one is surrounded, thereby causing the performer to fail to process task-relevant information.

Whatever the case may be, no matter how we social psychologists attempt to rationalize and intellectualize the antecedents of choking, we’re sure that none of this is making Dan Boyle feel any better. Good thing he has an old Stanley Cup lying around somewhere to make up for it.

Footage of Dan Boyle’s goal for other team

Sharks own track record to fit Boyle’s own goal

A review of paradoxical performance effects: Choking under pressure in sports and mental tests

Accuracy online: Social networking sites have you pegged.

In early March of this year, Chris Dixon and Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake launched New York-based Hunch, a so-called “Twitter predictor game” that has a “Ph.D. in insight about people.” In short, with its 82 percent accuracy rate, Hunch takes your Twitter username, looks at the people you follow and the people who follow you and somehow – via an algorithm none of us mere psychologists could even attempt to crack – figures out pretty much anything about you. According to Dixon, “We break people’s taste into about 80 dimensions. Let’s imagine one dimension is political orientation, liberal or conservative, one is gender, one is food preferences, and each of those taste dimensions flows independently through the [Twitter] graph. Depending on who you’re following and who’s following you, we can make inferences about your food preferences or your political preferences.” Eventually, Hunch can even get around to knowing whether or not you’ve ever ridden a Segway or if you know the signs of the zodiac in order.

Scary that a mere Twitter username can reveal so much about you? Perhaps, but then again, you’re probably being very telling in your likes and dislikes manifested by who you choose to follow and the types of people who choose to follow you. Interestingly enough, in a medium that could potentially provide information very far from the truth, it appears that who we really are really does come through – even online.

In a recent article published in Psychological Science entitled “Facebook Profiles Reflect Actual Personality, Not Self-Idealization,” psychologists further show that even when we are allowed the opportunity to manipulate our persona with little real consequence for our actions (say, via Facebook), we just don’t. The authors provide evidence that flat-out disputes the widely held assumption that online social networking (OSN) site profiles are used to create and communicate idealized selves. Instead, findings show that OSN sites constitute an extended social context in which individuals express their actual personality characteristics so that they might form accurate interpersonal perceptions. (Researchers add that it might be difficult to create an idealized self-portrayal on an OSN site because profiles include information about one’s reputation that is difficult to control and friends are able to provide accountability and feedback on your profile.)

It thus appears that we are who we are and there’s no escaping it – even our seemingly anonymous shadows on the Internet tell the truth. Twitter appears to hold data as to who we are that are accessible via knowledge of just our Twitter usernames; further, we appear to want to tell Facebook and other social networking sites who we really are versus who we might really want to be. In short, with all this newfound accuracy, the online communities in which we have become enmeshed might actually be a spot on extension of real life.

Hunch

Hunch on cnet news

Facebook Profiles Reflect Actual Personality, Not Self-Idealization

Novelty and Gadgetry

In a society saturated with technology individuals must find a reason (or not) to justify their purchase. Gadgets nowadays come in all shapes and sizes and with all sorts of features and applications. Indeed, the more novel the device the more press it receives, and if curiosity is aroused, then perhaps there will be more buyers as well. The topic of discussion is the iPad, and following the anticipation people have either settled on buying the device or not.

The New York Times produced a video asking people on the street if they were going to buy the iPad. Some people rejected the idea completely citing that the device is “in-betweener”; that is, a device that can do a task that other devices already do. Yet, another group of people noted that they were willing to purchase the gadget because it is different.

The reason why the gadget might be getting mixed feedback is precisely because the technology is novel. Viscerally people who are getting put off by the novelty of the device might be experiencing anxiety (Maner, 2009). Perhaps these are the individuals The New York Times notes that are not quite sure what to do with the device. On the opposite side of the spectrum, individuals who find the device appealing are attracted to its uniqueness. These same individuals tend to be curious and are trying out new things (Silvia & Kashdan, 2009).  Although the approach-avoidance dimension can be applied to many things in this instance it is the allure of technology.

Read more: The iPad Math.

Maner, J.K. (2009). Anxiety: Proximate processes and ultimate functions.

Silvia, P.J. & Kashdan, T.B. (2009). Interesting things and curious people: Exploration and engagement as transient states and enduring strengths.

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Earning Moral Credit by Buying “Green”: South Park Was Right All Along!

Remember that episode of South Park when Kyle’s dad gets a hybrid car and suddenly begins to sport a “high and mighty” attitude? With Kyle and Ike in tow, Gerald rides around town in what appears to be Toyota Prius, insulting others who drive non-hybrids, bonding with fellow hybrid owners over their general awesomeness, and blatantly ignoring that “Ike is starving to death” in the backseat. In the bit linked here, the scene ends with Gerald setting off to give “awareness citations” to SUVs in the parking lot of the local hardware store.

The episode certainly got a good chuckle out of viewers – perhaps even some hybrid owners – but who knew at the time that this pattern of behavior was no joke? According to Nina Mazur and Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, new research to be released this month in Psychological Science counterintuitively suggests that supposedly virtuous shopping can actually lead to immoral behavior. They find that although mere exposure to “green” products encourages people to be more altruistic, people who actually purchase these same products are more likely to act immorally or unethically after their purchase in the form of sharing less money with an anonymous partner and, in one study, actually cheating and stealing more money (compared to participants who made purchases at a conventional store). The researchers claim that whereas participants who are merely exposed to “green” products are primed with an air of social responsibility and moral capital, participants who actually get a chance to buy the product subsequently experience a phenomenon known as licensing. That is, a person who purchases a “green” product might come to feel that he has earned some sort of moral credential via the purchase, thereby giving him privilege to engage in future asocial and unethical behavior.

What do you think? Are you a purchaser of “green” products? If so, how many times did you congratulate yourself today on your awesomeness? And, while we’re at it, how many pennies did you steal this week from those nice little “give a penny, take a penny” pots at the local coffee shop? We now understand why you’re doing it, but luckily we don’t have to suffer the stench of your immorality over the exhaust of our Hummers and Jeep SRTs.

Thanks! Season 10: Smug Alert – Clips – South Park Studios

Do Green Products Make Us Better People?

Are Too Many Choices a Hindrance?

One reason for achieving goals is that people are motivated by self-gratification that may occur consciously or unconsciously (Aarts, 2007).  Addressing needs, or accomplishing a task etc. are examples of goal achievement that occur on a regular basis.  Some tasks however require more thought process and perhaps may involve more choices. While more choices are what society may strive for, it is arguably a positive outcome.

Take television or cable channels, for instance, the former may allow a person in the U.S. access to see 12 channels while the latter may result in 70 or more.  A person can be content with watching one show at any given time or bits and pieces of many. Whereas channel surfing may be a popular past time it’s hardly time well spent and people may even be less happy in the end. In the context of dating there may be the ‘perfect [person] list’ where there is an elusive perfect individual somewhere out there.  The individual may be so overwhelmed with choices of an ideal that, again, the outcome is less than positive.

Iyengar, Wells, and Schwartz (2006) argue that too many choices can make someone feel worse rather than better. The researchers found that people who were fixed on options (i.e. TV channels or attributes on the perfect person list, for instance) and used external sources (i.e. TV guide and fashion) as information tended to be less happy.  An explanation for the result is that, in pursuing the goal, the individual is in search for the ideal and while a person may have indeed performed better in some way in the end the ideal cannot been reached (Iyengar et al., 2006).

Depiction of water choices

Read more: NPR- basic TV offers cable alternative

Read more: Ladies and ‘perfect man’ list

Iyengar, S.S., Wells, R.E., & Schwartz, B. (2006).  Doing better but feeling worse: Looking for the “best” job undermines satisfaction.

Aarts, H. (2007). On the emergence of human goal pursuit: The nonconscious regulation and motivation of goals.

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Act your age: young people will like you more!

By Erica Zaiser

We live in a world afraid of getting older. Society constantly reminds us that aging is wrong and that a young look is the key to maintaining social status.  Plastic surgery has become increasingly common, especially among the rich and famous. Although, some celebrities have defied this trend by publicly saying no to attempts to look younger than they are. But, because status is so dependent on beauty and youth, many just assume that eventually the pressure for celebrity staying power will cause them to change their minds. The only way to be accepted by new young fans is to look their age, right?

Not according to recent research. Schoemann and Branscombe (2010) have found that both men and women who try to appear younger than their ages are evaluated more negatively by young people than those who comfortably portray the age they are. The authors argue that older people posing as younger threaten the social identities of young people. So, those celebrities constantly trying to look younger than they are, may in fact be losing more fans than those who have staunchly said no to surgery and yes to aging naturally and gracefully.

Read more: Looking young for your age: Perceptions of anti-aging actions

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Facebook, MacRumours, MSN and alternative social identities

Online social networking sites, discussion forums and chat rooms such as those in the title are routinely associated with freedom of expression, critiques of established offline social and personal practices, and the creation of online communities and identities e.g. gamers, metrosexuals (Slouka, 1995; Wellman & Gulia, 1999). The opportunities afforded by these information and communication technologies, via the compression of time and space, allow instantaneousness for users. And also, since the user is not physically present in cyberspace (therefore it is easier to withdraw from problematic situations by exiting an online session, as opposed to a face-to-face interaction), new, alternative and diverse forms of identity and self-expression are able to thrive (Turkle, 1997). Of course, there are both positive and negative outcomes of interactions in cyberspace, which do not require the revealing of participants’ status or situational cues e.g. Peter Chapman’s recent murder conviction. However these social spaces do tend to facilitate a freer flow of information for isolated or ‘non-out’ individuals and groups (Hearn, 2005). Therefore new forms of individual and group identities, and those with identities arguably ridiculed and marginalised in society, can more easily claim these online in an age of almost universal access to cyberspace (Kollock, 1999).

Social networking: Communication revolution or evolution?

Teaching & Learning Guide for: Social Psychology and Media: Critical Consideration

Safeguarding young people from cyber pornography and cyber sexual predation: a major dilemma of the internet

Computer-mediated social support, older adults, and coping

The month of March is upon us, and chances are you’ve already fallen victim to false-hope syndrome – yet again.

According to Human Kinetics, the premier publisher for sports and fitness, almost 50% of people who made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get into shape stopped going to the gym by March 1st. MSNBC quotes an even higher statistic: Whereas health clubs are packed in January, they say, more than 75% of newbies will have called it quits by the end of March.

And yet every year, we typically make the very same resolution: to go the gym, lose weight, tone up, get healthy, and then some – even though most of us repeatedly fail by March (and that’s if we’re relatively persistent). Psychologists Polivy and Herman (2000) have coined the term “false-hope syndrome” to refer to this phenomenon best manifested by attempted and broken New Year’s resolutions. They say that individuals persist in attempting to change themselves despite repeated failure due to an overconfidence that includes feelings of control and optimism (e.g., the twin beliefs that losing weight is easy and fast), and expectations for an unrealistically high payoff from triumphant self-change (e.g., the assumption that changes in weight loss will catalyze major rewards in other, unrelated areas of life). Inevitably, when such unrealistic expectations are not met, individuals often experience disappointment, discouragement, and the perception of oneself as a failure. As these negative emotions build, a sort of Catch-22 results, such that the self-control required for eventual success falters and behavior spirals out of control.

Researchers therefore advise that, in order to create real hope (instead of false hope), we must be accurate in our initial assessments of the difficulty of self-change, commit to realistic goals and expectations, and hone a set of coping skills that build resiliency in the face of normal setbacks. So, with regards to the gym, for starters – get back in there! Understand that weight loss and getting healthy will not happen overnight and instead of shooting for a giant amount of pounds lost, set smaller, more attainable goals (i.e., eating a salad at lunch, running one mile tonight), and strive to attain a few each week. Moreover, if you miss a goal or fall short of an expectation – a minor failure should not set you completely off-track. Give yourself a little pep talk and tell yourself you won’t become a March 1st fitness statistic.

Don’t become a March 1st fitness statistic

Flipping the switch is only the first step

The False-Hope Syndrome: Unfulfilled expectations of self-change