While waiting for the philharmonic orchestra to begin in the concert hall, you observe the people around you and wonder, “What made them come to this place?” The love of music? Snobbery? Conformism — because other friends do this? Or, maybe there are other, deeper motives? Similar questions arise when we think about what drives people to participate in pop culture and consume its products. Do they simply enjoy it? Scientists’ answers to this question can be surprising. For example, one study suggests that we consume pop culture because we suffer psychological ill effects from feeling out of the loop.
But what drives people to become cultural omnivores, those who consume both “highbrow” and “lowbrow” culture? Hanna Shin and Nara Youn from Hongik University in Seoul recently investigated this question in a paper in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.
For many, running a marathon is seen as the ultimate amateur athletic achievement; for others, it’s just the start. Ultramarathon runners often take on courses of incredibly impressive length, running 50 or 100 kilometres at one time or over several days.
Clearly this is physically demanding, and only those in seriously good shape will be able to take on such challenges — ultramarathon running involves stress on muscles and bones, blisters, dehydration, sleep deprivation and mental and physical fatigue, so it’s really not for the faint of heart.
Picture the scene: you’re attending a regular medical checkup, fielding questions about your health and lifestyle, when your doctor tells you they can accurately estimate your life expectancy from your answers. Would you want to hear the truth, no matter how brutal it might be? Or would you prefer to live in ignorance?
If you belong to the latter category, you’re not alone. A new study in Management Science has found that many of us would rather avoid stressful or uncomfortable truths — even if they might benefit us.
No matter how high your self-confidence, it’s likely that you have certain traits you’d change given the opportunity: maybe you’d turn down your anxiety, feel more outgoing in company, or be a bit less lazy. One 2016 study found that 78% of people wanted to better embody at least one of the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, emotional stability, conscientiousness, agreeableness, or openness to experience), so the desire to change who you are is not uncommon.
But are we so keen to change how moral we are? That is, how concerned are we really about being a good or bad person? A new study published in Psychological Science suggests that we’d rather spend time improving those parts of us that aren’t morally relevant, with traits like honesty, compassion and fairness taking a back seat.
There are lots of differences between those who express opposing political affiliations — and they may not just be ideological. Liberals and conservatives have different shopping habits, for instance, with one series of studies finding that liberals preferred products that made them feel unique, whilst conservatives picked brands that made them feel better than others. They even view health risks differently when they’re choosing what to eat.
The “dark triad” of personality traits — narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism — do not make for the nicest individuals. People who score highly on the dark triad are vain, callous and manipulative. They adopt a so-called “fast-life” strategy, characterised by impulsivity, opportunism and selfishness. Such individuals can succeed in the workplace, while failing to get on with others. They’re also more likely to cheat on their partners, and are deemed more alluring in speed-dating sessions.
Though these traits can bring advantages to the individual, they are clearly detrimental to those around them. So it’s important to understand what fosters them. Could particular attitudes in society, for example, help to encourage these dark traits?
A new study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, concludes that this may in fact be the case. Melissa Gluck at the University of Florida and her colleagues gathered evidence suggesting that sexism — “and the socially-supported, unearned male power and privilege that sexism reflects” — is linked to higher scores on measures of the dark triad. “If scholars can demonstrate that these malevolent traits are partly learned by growing up in sexist cultures, agents of personal and social change can help people recognise, understand, alter and replace these malevolent aspects of humanity,” the researchers write.
How well do you know your best friend? New research led by Robert Chavez at the University of Oregon suggests that scans of both your brains might provide the answer. The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition, reveals that the brain activity patterns of people asked to think about what a mutual friend is like can be remarkably similar to those observed in that friend when they think about themselves.
If you are left revolted by the sight of someone failing to wash their hands after visiting the bathroom, or by the idea of people engaging in sexual acts that you consider unacceptable, you’re more likely to be politically conservative than liberal, according to previous research. But now a new study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, challenges the idea that disgust is an especially conservative emotion.
Julia Elad-Strenger at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and her colleagues found that some scenarios in fact make liberals more disgusted than conservatives. “Taken together, our findings suggest that the differences between conservatives and liberals in disgust sensitivity are context-dependent rather than a stable personality difference,” the team writes.
“The sense of self is a hallmark of human experience. Each of us maintains a constellation of personal memories and personality traits that collectively define ‘who we really are'”.
So begins a new paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which reveals that who you “are” can easily be manipulated. Just imagining somebody else can alter all kinds of aspects of how you see yourself, even including your personality and memories.