Tag Archives: Personality

First Birthers, now Deathers… Why so many conspiracy theories?

By Erica Zaiser

Just after the “birthers” lost some footing with US President Obama’s release of his full birth certificate, the “deathers” have begun to question the validity of the news that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. Conspiracy theories have always been around but lately they have been getting a lot of media attention. What makes someone more likely to believe in conspiracy theories? 

Researchers have suggested that people may be more likely to believe in conspiracy theories when they feel a lack of control because conspiracy theories may help to explain their current situation or reaffirm their belief that other people control the world around them. Also, people who are strongly suspicious of authority may be more likely to believe authorities are conspiring. Furthermore, conspiracy theories can simplify situations that may actually be quite complex. Indeed, a number of related personality characteristics have been linked to belief in conspiracy theories, including low self-esteem, authoritarianism, and powerlessness.

Very recently, Douglas and Sutton (2011) found that people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories when they themselves are more willing to engage in conspiratorial behaviour. Thus, the very people shouting conspiracy are more likely themselves to conspire. So perhaps we need to take a close look at what is going on behind the scenes with these “birthers” and “deathers”, maybe they are conspiring to make the media blow their claims out of proportion. 

Read more: Belief in Conspiracy Theories. Political Psychology. 

Does it takes one to know one? Endorsement of conspiracy theories in influenced by personal willingness to conspire

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The Moral Universe of Role Players in Genocide

Just after the Rwanda genocide broke out in 1994, white expatriates were speedily evacuated from the place. Adam Jones (2006) wrote of a video record at the Caraes psychiatric Hospital in Ndera Kigali showing white individuals being evacuated while Hutus were almost outside the gates, and the Tutsis begged the military men for protection. One soldier yelled, “Solve your problems yourselves!”

The UN Genocide Convention has defined genocide as “acts committed with the intent to destroy in part or whole a national, ethnic racial or religious group as such.” Staub (2000) provides the social context which makes genocide of one group by another likely—difficult life conditions and group conflict. Cultural differences also come to play such as blind respect for authority, inflexible stratification within classes, and a history of devaluation in a group.

Not all members of the dominant group become perpetrators. There were the ‘ordinary Germans’ who did nothing while the Holocaust happened, while there were also countless Germans who defied authority and managed to rescue Jewish families in peril. In a genocide setting, there are the perpetrators, bystanders and rescuers. These categories can also be fluid, as noted by Monroe, when constant bystanders turn into rescuers, or when perpetrators who have engaged in massacres, rescue an individual from the other group. Monroe defines six critical aspects gathered from summaries of reports of these three groups which play a part in the role a group or individual makes: self image, personal suffering, identity, relational identity, integration of values with the individual’s sense of self, and a cognitive classification of the other. Perpetrators may perceive of themselves as victims and justify causing harm to the other group. Bystanders and perpetrators may hold greater value for community, and authority, rather than self-assertion. Personal suffering may also cause a group or an individual to empathize with the aggrieved group, but it may also heighten fear and defensiveness. While cultural and social aspects are important in determining attitudes and behavior, self images can also determine if people will act or remain passive in the face of genocide. Individuals who feel they have control over the situation may be forced to do something about it, as opposed to bystanders who, even if they also empathize with the aggrieved group, may feel helpless over the situation.

Jones A. (2006). Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction

Monroe K. R. (2008). Cracking the Code of Genocide: The Moral Psychology of Rescuers, Bystanders, and Nazis during the Holocaust

Staub, E. (2000). Genocide and Mass Killing: Origins, Prevention, Healing and Reconciliation

Photo: “#46/365” by Leonie, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved

Going for the Gold

The Winter Olympics have been a huge draw for many people this year. In fact, for Americans and Canadians, they have dominated the television ratings since opening night. Given the excitement of many of the sports, it’s not surprising the games have garnered so much attention. In fact, when comparing these games to the Summer Olympics, it seems that many of the featured sports are considered rather extreme and dangerous. There is snowboarding, which landed one American Olympic hopeful in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury prior to the games. Then there are the high speed sports of skeleton and luge, which involves athletes sledding on a track either head first (in the case of skeleton) or feet first (in the case of luge) with no protection other than a helmet. The danger of these latter two sports has been especially apparent following the death of a Georgian athlete during a training run in which he was traveling at an estimated 89 miles per hour.

So why is it that so many athletes not only choose to participate in a sport with such risk but seem to be constantly pushing themselves to more extreme levels? One possible answer comes from the personality psychology literature and is related to a trait called Sensation Seeking. This individual difference, which is thought to vary from person to person, is often characterized by 4 behaviors: Thrill and Adventure Seeking, Experience Seeking, Disinhibition, and Boredom Susceptibility. Not surprisingly, individuals who score high in this measure are more likely to engage is risky behavior that is known to be thrilling and provide high levels of excitement. Also not surprisingly, athletes who participate in extreme sports (such as skydiving) rate especially high on this measure. What’s also interesting is some researchers have argued that sensation seeking involves addictive-like components. Namely, high sensation seekers experience a “rush” when engaging in risky behaviors but often need to engage in even riskier behavior soon after to experience this same feeling.

It’s no wonder then that so many athletes who participate in the Winter Olympics are returning every 4 years with bigger and faster maneuvers. When competing in a sport filled with people who are always looking for their next rush, the words “Go big or go home” become a way of life.

The Danger of Winter Olympic Sports.

Meertens, R. M., & Lion, R. (2008). Measuring an individual’s tendency to take risks: The Rick Propensity Scale. Journal of Applied Psychology.

What Striking The Harp And Joining The Chorus May Say About You

The holiday season brings with it a number of traditions, including (my personal favorite) around the clock radio play of Christmas songs and music. And while one’s preference for Christmas carols may simply reflect an abundance of Christmas spirit, recent work has shown that your taste in music may also reflect certain aspects of your personality. Peter Rentfrow and Sam Gosling have found that traits from the Big 5 trait taxonomy relate to preferences for different musical styles. For instance, individuals high in Agreeableness and Extraversion are fond of upbeat and energetic music, those high in Emotional Stability and Openness to Experience listen more to styles that are musically complex, and those high in Conscientiousness prefer conventional music.

Based on these findings, Rentfrow and Gosling continued to investigate how musical preferences may relate to personality and social processes. In 2006, they found that individuals were able to accurately infer the personality of a stranger based on their music preferences. In this study, published in Psychological Science, when judging the personality of unknown others, people were most accurate in determining levels of Openness to Experience and Extraversion. Moreover, when making their judgments, observers used some of the musical attributes (i.e., energy) discussed above.

In other words, your musical tastes may inform both you and others about certain aspects of your personality. And because people use different musical attributes to make these judgments, your song selection may influence how others view you. When hosting your holiday celebrations, if you want to appear more sociable, you might want to choose songs that are especially upbeat and cheerful. I recommend starting with A Very Merry Chipmunk.

Alvin and the Chipmunks – The Chipmunk Song

Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2006). Message in a ballad: The role of music preferences in interpersonal perception.