Most of us are not surprised to hear that a child’s chances of achieving success, physical health, and mental well-being depend heavily on the socioeconomic status of the family into which they are born. A large-scale global study commissioned by the World Health Organisation found that the lower the income of a family, the more likely their child is to suffer physical and mental health issues later in life, run into problems with the legal system, and die early.
But a physical lack of resources may not be the only factor driving poor outcomes. Last month, a study published in PNAS revealed that children’s perceptions of their family’s socioeconomic standing might matter more than how well their families are actually doing — at least when it comes to their mental health.
All kinds of animals use their bodies to signal a high social rank — humans included. But a growing body of research suggests that, for us at least, there are two distinct routes to becoming a leader. One entails earning respect and followers by demonstrating your knowledge and expertise, which confers prestige. An alternative strategy is to use aggression and intimidation to scare people into deference — that is, to use dominance instead.
These two ways to the top are very different. And, to get on with their leader, an inferior-status individual would have to respond to these two types of leadership differently, too. So, reasoned, Zachary Witkower and Jessica Tracy at the University of British Columbia, and colleagues, rather than a single human high rank, “power” display, perhaps there are two distinct patterns of non-verbal behaviour that communicate to other individuals exactly what kind of leader someone is.
Their new paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reveals that this is indeed the case. This is important for understanding how we display rank, and perceive and respond to it. It could also explain why studies into “power posing” have produced conflicting results.
An imbalance in power — personal and political — is at the heart of many of the conversations we have around gender. #MeToo sparked a global conversation on the topic, and issues around the gender pay gap and women in leadership roles also deal with matters of unequal power.
But our assumptions about how gender and power interact may start far before we even reach the workplace, new research suggests. In a paper published in Sex Roles, Rawan Charafeddine from the CNRS in Paris and colleagues conclude that associations between power and masculinity start when we’re barely out of nappies, with children as young as four making the link.
In an ever-more connected world, it would be easy to assume that loneliness was on its way out — after all, we now have unlimited opportunity to communicate with almost anyone we want at any time we please.
But, in fact, it’s still rife: according to the Campaign To End Loneliness, over nine million people in the UK describe themselves as “always or often lonely”. Age has an impact here, too: an Age UK report suggested that the number of over-50s experiencing loneliness will reach two million by 2025 — a 49% increase from 2016.
From our earliest moments, our awareness of being physically close to someone else is tied up with perceptions of actual warmth. It’s been suggested that this relationship becomes deeply ingrained, with temperature in turn affecting our social perceptions on into adulthood. However, some of the most-publicised results in this field have failed to replicate, leading critics to query whether the relationship really exists.
Now a new paper, published in Social Psychology, provides an apparently compelling explanation for at least some inconsistencies in the results, and supports the idea that our temperature does indeed affect our social judgements.
How environmentally friendly am I really? It’s a question we ask ourselves more and more frequently as the climate emergency remains firmly at the top of the political agenda. So we dutifully eschew single-use purchases, lug our tote bags to the supermarket instead of using plastic bags, and take part in Veganuary, safe in the knowledge we’re doing our bit.
But, as it turns out, we may be overestimating how well we’re actually doing at being green. According to new research published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, most of us tend to magnify our own environmental efforts, believing we’re doing more than others even when that isn’t the case. The finding is the latest in a number of studies to demonstrate the “better-than-average” effect: we also believe we are more intelligent than others, for example, and that we work harder.
Being able to get away with a few white lies can be a useful skill. Giving your boss a plausible explanation as to why you’re late to work, for example, can be fairly handy — why do they have to know you just pressed snooze a few too many times?
Some of us get better results than others, of course, when we tell fibs. But those who think they’re better at lying than average seem to have a few things in common, according to new research published in PLOS One.
Watching climate activist Greta Thunberg’s passionate speech to world leaders at the UN in New York last September, it was impossible not to be struck by her depth of feeling. For me, it was deeply moving. For a guest speaking on Fox News, this was “climate hysteria” from a “mentally ill Swedish child”.
It’s hardly news to point out that Thunberg is polarising. For everyone who feels shocked and shamed into doing whatever they can — no matter how small — to mitigate climate change, there seems to be someone else who finds her outrage unbearable. But would Thunberg really be more broadly appealing if she did things any differently? Are there, in other words, any lessons from psychological research that she and other activists might bear in mind?
Is it really believable that Hillary Clinton operated a child sex ring out of a pizza shop — or that Donald Trump was prepared to deport his wife, Melania, after a fight at the White House? Though both these headlines seem obviously false, they were shared millions of times on social media.
The sharing of misinformation — including such blatantly false “fake news” — is of course a serious problem. According to a popular interpretation of why it happens, when deciding what to share, social media users don’t care if a “news” item is true or not, so long as it furthers their own agenda: that is, we are in a “post-truth” era. One recent study suggested, for example, that knowing something is false has little impact on the likelihood of sharing. However, a new paper by a team of researchers from MIT and the University of Regina in Canada further challenges that bleak view.
The studies reported in the paper, available as a preprint on PsyArXiv, suggest that in fact, social media users do care whether an item is accurate or not — they just get distracted by other motives (such as wanting to secure new followers or likes) when deciding what to share. As part of their study, the researchers also showed that a simple intervention that targeted a group of oblivious Twitter users increased the quality of the news that they shared. “Our results translate directly into a scalable anti-misinformation intervention that is easily implementable by social media platforms,” they write.
Imagine taking a two-week holiday to the Bahamas. Sand, sea, and reef — who wouldn’t love it? I mean, personally, though I would love aspects of it, I’m quickly bored on a beach, I’m too nervous of deep water to dive and excessive sun brings me out in a rash. But that’s just me. Anyone else would just adore it….right?
This, it turns out, is a classic example of a bias, dubbed the overestimation bias, revealed in a new paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. In a series of studies involving thousands of participants, Minah Jung at New York University and colleagues found that we over-estimate how much other people will enjoy, pay for or wait for a desirable experience or object. The team thinks this is because while we can appreciate that a predominantly positive experience may have some downsides for us personally, we tend to assume that for somebody else, it will be more purely perfect.