With an ever-increasing focus on environmental sustainability, more and more of us are changing how — and what — we consume. We’re encouraged to recycle; charges on plastic mean we take our own shopping bags to the supermarket; and market research suggests that campaigns against fast fashion have been partly responsible for a rising interest in second-hand clothing. But how do these kinds of behaviours relate to our well-being? New research in Young Consumers suggests that buying green may not be the way to personal bliss, and that instead we should be focused on curbing our materialistic urges altogether.
How do you persuade people to do the “right thing” when there’s a personal price to pay? What convinces someone to spend time and effort on a task like recycling batteries, for example — or literally spend cash by giving to people in desperate need?
It’s an important question. “Finding mechanisms to promote pro-social behaviour is fundamental for the wellbeing of our societies and is more urgent than ever in a time of key global challenges such as resource conservation, climate change and social inequalities,” write the authors of a new paper, published in Scientific Reports. Across a series of five online studies involving a total of more than 3,000 participants, Valerio Capraro at Middlesex University of London and colleagues provide evidence for a cheap, effective method: simply “nudging” people to reflect on what is the morally right thing to do. This simple intervention had some impressive effects, even increasing actual charitable donations by close to half.
When responding to science denialism (or, for that matter, any sort of false or harmful information), such as claims that vaccines are ineffective and harmful, it can be difficult to establish the right strategy. Because of the fast-paced way in which information spreads these days, there is a risk that responding to a given inaccurate claim can give it further oxygen, leading the falsehood to reach more people who are vulnerable to being misled, and so forth. There’s also the possibility of the “backfire effect” – people who already endorse the false claims reacting to the debunking information by digging into their beliefs further (though there’s now evidence such fears were overhyped, and that the backfire effect may not be a regular occurrence overall).
To better understand when science-denialism debunking does and doesn’t work, Philipp Schmid and Cornelia Betsch, both of the University of Erfurt in Germany, ran a series of studies that involved online respondents being exposed to various sorts of science debates. The results, published in Nature Human Behavior, offer some useful insights about how to best stem the tide of science denialism.
We’re all familiar with the idea that nature can be psychologically uplifting. But for some people, a single, brief “peak experience” in a natural setting, lasting mere seconds or minutes, changes their view of themselves or their relationships with others so profoundly that their lives are positively transformed as a result. A new study in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology explores exactly how and why this happens. The researchers LIa Naor and Ofra Mayseless at the University of Haifa, Israel, advertised on the internet for people who felt they’d had a transformative experience in nature to get in touch for an interview. “It was not difficult to find participants; in fact many people replied and were eager to share their experience,” they wrote.
In the TV series Better Call Saul, Saul’s brother Chuck believes that electromagnetic signals from mobile phones and other devices make him seriously ill. He lives as a recluse and uses a foil blanket to protect himself. By some estimates, millions of people – around 5 per cent of the population – believe that they too suffer from “electrosensitivity” or “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”. Though they may not suffer as much as Chuck, these individuals claim that wi-fi and other signals make them ill, triggering headaches and other symptoms.
The medical consensus based on double-blind trials (in which neither researcher nor test subject knows when a test device is real or pretend) is that while the experience of electrosensitivity-related symptoms may be real, they are not caused by electromagnetic fields. More likely is that the symptoms arise from a “nocebo effect” – a strong belief that the fields are harmful.
A new study in the Journal of Health Psychology sheds new light on electrosensitivity by suggesting that it is people who feel especially connected to nature – normally considered a positive trait – who may be particularly likely to suffer from electrosensitivity, probably because their love of nature is accompanied by a heightened negative attitude to anything they consider artificial.
Zsuzsanna Dömötör and her colleagues surveyed 510 people online, 74 of whom described themselves as electrosensitive. The electrosensitive participants tended to score higher than the others on modern health worries in general (related to things like pollution and tainted food), on sensitivity to bodily symptoms, and nature relatedness (measured by agreement with items like “I always think about how my actions affect the environment” and “My ideal vacation spot would be a remote, wilderness area”). What’s more, nature connectedness interacted with the other variables: people prone to modern health worries were especially likely to complain of electrosensitivity if they also felt a connection with nature.
How do you get people to act in a climate friendly manner? The received wisdom is to push the basic message that climate change is real, humans have a hand in it, and we must mitigate it through action. But this approach hits a wall when people are disposed against that goal ideologically or because they simply don’t care enough. New research in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests another strategy: encourage environmental behaviours by linking them to goals that are already personally important.
To maintain pleasant public spaces requires that we all implicitly agree to certain civil behaviours, like pocketing our chocolate wrappers rather than leaving them strewn on the pavement, or turning the stereo down after eleven. But when these implicit agreements are too frequently ignored they can lose their force entirely, jeopardising the social order. To keep things together, one or more of us need to hold any miscreants to account… but who wants that hassle? A new paper in the journal Rationality and Society explores real-life littering norm enforcers, taking us from the streets of Switzerland to the New York underground.
We all have routes that are part of our daily lives, whether it’s the way to the local convenience store, school or the office. How does this deep familiarity affect the way our brains represent the space and our ability to move through it?
Based in part on what we’ve learned from studies of so-called “grid cells” in rats’ brains, Anna Jafarpour at the University of California, Berkeley and Hugo Spiers at University College London predicted that greater familiarity with an area would lead us to overestimate its physical extent – in essence, they thought a more detailed neural representation would make that space seem larger. In turn, they predicted that same detail would make us more likely to exaggerate the walking time to destinations reached through that familiar space.
In fact, while their new findings published in Hippocampus suggest spatial familiarity does indeed stretch our perception of the magnitude of physical distance, it has the opposite effect on our judgments of travel times through that space – that is, we underestimate how long it will take us to travel through highly familiar routes. It’s a mental quirk that might just provide us with a new excuse for why we’re so often running late. Continue reading “This mental quirk could explain why you’re always running late”→
As a house evolves into a home it becomes a place of refuge and ultimately an extension of the self. Each room is a witness to your life: the arguments, the passions and the change. Your photos on the walls, your stuff on the shelves, these are more than mere objects, they tell the story of places you’ve been and people you’ve known. All of this helps create what psychologists call a sense of “psychological home”. But it can go too far. There’s a saturation point beyond which your possessions turn into clutter, clogging your space and undermining your wellbeing. A new study “The dark side of home” in The Journal of Environmental Psychology investigates these processes in a group of 1394 people (average age 54, mostly women in the US) who had previously sought advice from The Institute For Challenging Disorganization.
The results showed that attachment to one’s home (measured by agreement with statements like “I identify strongly with this place”) and identifying with one’s possessions (“I consider my favorite possessions to be a part of myself”) were both linked to a greater sense of psychological home (“I get a sense of security from having a place of my own”), and in turn this was associated with more psychological well-being. But, at the same time, a sense of home and wellbeing were undermined by excessive clutter, as measured by agreement with statements like: “I have to move things in order to accomplish tasks in my home” and “I feel overwhelmed by the clutter in my home”.
The researchers based in New Mexico and Chicago said their study is “the first to investigate the dark side of home arising from negative impacts of clutter.” They warned: “Clutter is often an insidious and seemingly harmless outgrowth of people’s natural desire to appropriate their personal spaces with possessions that reflect self-identity and remind them of important people, places, and experiences in their lives. However, when clutter becomes excessive, it can threaten to physically and psychologically entrap a person in dysfunctional home environments which contribute to personal distress and feelings of displacement and alienation.”
The sparring mitt, yellow stitches spelling “SLUGGER” casually lying on the desk. The Mathlete trophy on a high shelf. A Ganesha statue, slightly chipped. Why do people bring these kinds of personal objects into the workplace?
Researchers Kris Byron and Gregory Laurence found answers by consulting 28 people in a range of jobs and workplaces. They used the “grounded theory” approach, starting with a clutch of more open-ended interviews and then pursuing the lines of inquiry that emerged, in every case inventorying the person’s workspace and exploring the significance of each object.
The conventional understanding is that personal objects are territorial markers used to communicate who we are to co-workers. And indeed many interviewees emphasised this function, a “unique fingerprint” that expresses difference. This might be an indicator of character – I’m a happy-go-lucky person – but participants also used objects to emphasise their organisational roles. A framed MBA certificate reminds others that this cubicle bunny is made of management material, thank you, whereas doodles show that the person is part of the creative class. An event planner explained that the thank-you notes pinned to their board were to reassure others of her reliability – a core requirement in her role.
As well as showing differences, personalisation can also affirm shared identity. Star Wars memorabilia across multiple desks shows that “a lot of us have, you know, that techie background”. Similarly, some items were inside jokes, with meaning only apparent to those sharing in its history. And although personalisation could emphasise status – think of that MBA certificate – some managers attempted to de-emphasise status differences by presenting everyday objects that made themselves more approachable.
Interviewees raised another reason for personalisation: to build relationships. These items were seen as icebreakers or ways to find “common ground”, whether through the contents of a bookshelf, or a photo denoting parenthood. Byron and Laurence photographed every desk-setup from the perspective of an outside visitor, and found that 75 per cent of such conversation-starters were positioned to be clearly visible from that view. Many participants felt that these personalisation functions were vital and companies prevent them at their peril: “They want to have such strong relationships with customers but they’re taking away the personal elements that I think can lend towards building those types of relationships with clients.”
In contrast, a certain proportion of personalisation objects – about a third in all – were positioned to only be visible to the owner themselves. These exemplify a final function of personalisation – not to communicate to others, but to remind ourselves of our identity.
This could be an aspirational symbol – the poster put up by a designer that showed “the kind of design I eventually want to do”, or the gift from an inspiring role model. Or it might be a way to put work into a larger context, so on the tough days, “you can look at your picture [of children] and realize this is only a job.”
Many objects had multiple functions – communicating difference, starting conversations, and reminding oneself of identity. Byron and Laurence conclude that “organizations would be unwise to put excessive limits on employees’ personalization of their workspaces,” as an innocuous paperweight may turn out to carry a lot inside.
_________________________________ Byron, K., & Laurence, G. (2015). Diplomas, Photos, and Tchotchkes as Symbolic Self-Representations: Understanding Employees’ Individual Use of Symbols Academy of Management Journal, 58 (1), 298-323 DOI: 10.5465/amj.2012.0932