Category Archives: Intrapersonal Processes

Olympic expectations gone awry: Plushenko conforms to silver medalist syndrome.

Avid Olympic watchers most likely tuned in to Thursday night’s main event: the men’s figure skating free skate. Evan Lysacek won gold for the United States, becoming the first American man to win it since 1988. Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko took the silver – losing by a mere 1.31 points overall – and ended Russia’s streak in the sport. Had Plushenko won the gold, as he expected, he would have been the first man to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals since 1952.

But he didn’t win it. And as social psychology would predict, the disappointment generated by being so close to an expected win (and then losing) has some pretty unpleasant side effects. For starters, Plushenko acted like a true to form sore loser when he told reporters, “Obviously, Evan needs the medal more than me, maybe because I’ve got one already.” He ended up never congratulating Lysacek and took off his silver medal immediately as he left the ice following the victory lap.

Psychologists explain this silver medalist syndrome as an effect of upward counterfactual thinking. In short, reflecting on how past events might have turned out better – especially if those alternative realities were within very close reach – has a unique sting to it to which no bronze medalist could even begin to relate. According to Medvec, Madey, and Gilovich (1995), bronze medalists are often happier than silver medalists – they smile more on the podium at the medal ceremony – because they focus on the alternative of winning no medal, whereas the silver medalists focus on the alternative of winning gold. Decision Affect Theory (DAT) extends this line of research to integrate the added effects of expectation: although good outcomes feel better when unexpected than when expected, bad outcomes bite extra hard when unexpected than when expected.

Adding it all up, high expectations for success + losing by a little more than a point + upward counterfactual thinking = Plushenko may have surprised us with his loss, but we social psychologists landed the aftermath with precision and grace.

Even in defeat, Yevgeny Plushenko steals show

When Less is More: Counterfactual Thinking and Satisfaction Among Olympic Medalists

The Affective Consequences of Expected and Unexpected Outcomes

When the past comes to haunt

Pop culture is rife with stories of people who blame their negative childhood experiences for their incapacity to stay within relationships or marriages, from the fictional serial killer Dexter who felt it impossible to connect to anyone to Jennifer Aniston’s announcement that her experience of her parents’ divorce made her wary of interpersonal intimacy. But are these mere pop psychology incarnations or are children who experienced traumas any likelier to experience certain marital troubles as adults?

Whisman’s (2006) study on childhood traumas looked at seven different childhood traumas: physical abuse, rape, sexual molestation, serious physical attack, experiences of being threatened with a weapon, life threatening accident, and natural disasters; and the effect of these on marital disruption and marital satisfaction. Physical abuse, rape, and sexual molestation were associated with higher probability of marital dissolution. Lower marital satisfaction was associated with individuals who had experienced rape or sexual molestation. Traumas with assaultive violence, or those where another person directly harmed the child were more likely to be associated with marital disruption and dissatisfaction, as these are seen to be more likely to lead to attachment insecurity (characterized by avoidance, lack of trust) which may then lead to lower marital stability.

Photo: “Goodbye my lover.” by Andii Jetaime, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.

Dexter crosses media lines, captivate fans

Aniston: ‘Childhood Trauma Blighted My Marriage’

Whisman M. A. (2006) Childhood trauma and marital outcomes in adulthood. Personal Relationships

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When Gut Feelings Trump Conscious Thought

At almost every major sports event there will be commentators giving their opinions on the predicted winners, losers, or favorites. People tend to give commentators due credibility for their knowledge of the game and sometimes experience. For the layperson however it may be better not to give the event much thought. This is true when making predictions on your own. In a recent study, Dijksterhuis and colleagues (2009) asked participants to make predictions about random football matches two weeks prior to the event. Three groups were used in this investigation. Those who were asked to guess performed the worse. Those who were asked to think about their answers performed better. But the group that performed the best was the group who thought unconsciously.

One exception however is that making predictions unconsciously without prior knowledge is not recommended. The participants who performed the best in the investigation also perceived themselves as relatively knowledgeable.  Those who made conscious decisions with relative knowledge are said to not give proper value to relevant information, hence why they performed worse. People who are essentially asked to guess tend to do worse overall. So next time there’s a football, or sports match for that matter, it might be better to not give it much thought about whom will win.

Read More: Football info

Read more: Sports commentary

Dijksterhuis, A., Bos, M.W., van der Leij, A., van Baaren, R.B. (2009) Predicting soccer matches after unconscious and conscious thought as a function of expertise.

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‘Teen girls abused by boyfriends warns NSPCC’: Standardised Relational Pairs and Membership Categorisation Analysis.

male_sex_relationship_symbolThe ‘Partner exploitation and violence in teenage intimate relationships’ research by the NSPCC and Bristol University provides us with an interesting (and alarming) glimpse at ‘standardised relational pair’ categories (Sacks, 1992) and the moral accountability attached to them (Jayussi, 1984). Sacks’ work on categories and their deployment found that certain categories go together like ‘boyfriend–girlfriend’. Members of these categories which form ‘standardised relational pairs’ have rights, responsibilities and duties to each other. In our example ‘boyfriend–girlfriend’, it is presumed that each person should provide a safe, supportive, caring and respectful relationship environment for each other to grow and develop. It follows then that category pairs and associated predicates (rights, responsibilities etc) are relational in the sense that one may be expected to follow the next with accountability as a moral-procedural requirement. Breaches between these categories and predicates ‘one in six said they had been pressured into sexual intercourse and 1 in 16 said they had been raped’, tend to generate moral outrage/alarm and interactional repair solutions ‘parents and schools can perform a vital role in teaching them about loving and safe relationships, and what to do if they are suffering from violence or abuse’.
square-eyeTeen girls abused by boyfriends warns NSPCC

square-eyeGender-Based Violence

square-eyeObjectification Theory and Psychology of Women: A Decade of Advances and Future Directions

square-eyeA tutorial on membership categorization

‘Thinking outside the Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung’

Ich bin Brüno!Brüno, the latest work by British comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen, has just achieved the highest-grossing opening weekend for an 18-certificate (i.e. adult-rated) film in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

This ‘mockumentary’ revolves around the reactions of various celebrities and members of the public to Baron-Cohen’s portrayal of the eponymous flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista. Since those involved believed they were dealing with a genuine rather than fictional character, their responses to his outrageously exaggerated portrayal of stereotypical homosexuality provide a satirical comment on the prejudice and hypocrisy present within a supposedly enlightened modern society.

Extreme reactions provoked by the filming led to Baron-Cohen being both threatened with assault and arrested multiple times, as well as facing subsequent legal action. This mirrors the response to his previous controversial film of the same format, in which he played ‘Kazhakhstani’ Borat. Not only did this similarly result in legal action, but the ensuing furore culminated in an international diplomatic incident.

Whilst such films may claim to provide a revealing insight into homophobia, anti-semitism, and the like, they also raise uncomfortable questions for the audience themselves. For example, it is debatable as to whether they are truly viewed by all cinema-goers as a sophisticated piece of social commentary, or whether they simply allow the ‘politically correct’ an opportunity to laugh at otherwise unacceptable stereotypes.

In terms of their technical approach, many of the humorous scenarios featured within these films echo the ‘breach studies’ of ethnomethodologist Garfinkel, which examined the responses of unsuspecting participants to deliberate violations of social norms.

In a further psychological link, Sacha Baron-Cohen is the cousin of Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge.

(And in case you were wondering, ‘Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung’ is German for ‘speed-limit’!)

Square-eyeBrüno’s official MySpace page

Square-eyeFilm review from the Guardian

Square-eye£1.99 - smallSmith, J. R. & Louis, W. R. (2009). Group Norms and the Attitude–Behaviour Relationship

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