Category: Social

Once A Meanie, Always A Meanie: Toddlers Are Harsh Judges Of Moral Character

By guest blogger Sofia Deleniv

Over the past ten years, developmental psychologists have been astounded by the young age at which children appear to be aware of the moral qualities of others’ actions. At just four months, babies already react with surprise when others engage in unequal distribution of treats and resources. They also snub these unfair individuals in social interactions by the age of 24 months and expect others to do the same. Other forms of moral judgement may emerge even sooner: as early as 3 months of age, infants show distinct preferences for those who help, as opposed to hinder, others.

In thinking about these nascent moral judgements, researchers have become interested in figuring out their underlying mental “structure”. Do children’s moral rules operate like a loose “‘anthology”, where judgements passed on the basis of one principle have little effect on judgements on the basis of another? Or is there a deeper underpinning mental framework that gives rise to a multitude of connected moral expectations?  

A recent study in PNAS by a duo of American researchers breaks new ground on this fascinating question. It reveals that toddlers are guided by a core mental representation of what it means to be a moral person (albeit with some potentially concerning caveats). Within this moral framework, a single faux pas risks entirely sweeping an individual from a child’s good books.  

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We Generally Prefer Political Allies Who Try To Understand Opponents’ Views

By Emily Reynolds

We often hear that we’re living in an age of polarisation and divisiveness, unable to transcend political boundaries to listen to those who we disagree with. But how do we feel about those people who share our views but who seek to understand opponents anyway?

This is the subject of a new study in Psychological Science, authored by the University of British Columbia’s Gordon Heltzel and Kristin Laurin. They find that while we generally prefer those who seek alternative views, this falters when they appear to be susceptible to changing sides.

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Researchers Want To Create Safe, Inclusive Virtual Reality Hangouts For Teens

By Emma L. Barratt

The advent of the internet shifted how we socialise. Chat rooms, forums, and eventually social media platforms opened up new ways to both communicate and express ourselves. Online anonymity, for example, allowed us to be whoever we pleased to anyone with a connection — for better or worse. Psychological research followed this shift, and decades later there are troves of papers on almost every aspect of online interaction you could hope to explore.

As technology continues to march onwards, it’s brought with it increasingly accessible options for socialising in virtual reality (VR). Though VR is by definition virtual, the experiences users have in it are very much real. Since VR’s accessibility is so recent, we currently don’t have good understanding of what users get out of socialising in these spaces, or even a solid grasp of potential risks associated with them. With rapidly increasing uptake, especially in a time of mass isolation, that’s a pretty big blind spot.

However, work by soon-to-be PhD graduate Divine Maloney at Clemson University is beginning to fill this gap. His PhD research has focused primarily on understanding VR social spaces and designing safe, equitable, and fulfilling VR spaces for young users.

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People Think That Individual Billionaires Are More Deserving Than “The Rich” As A Group

By Emily Reynolds

Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates… if you’re looking for motivation or personal inspiration, it’s likely that you’ll see quotes from rich, prominent people. At the same time, there seems to be growing discontent with the levels of inequality in the world — a discontent seemingly at odds with the worship of wealthy people we see in the media and online.

A new study, published in PNAS, explores this disconnect. It finds that even as we see the wealth of billionaires as a group as unfair, we remain tolerant of the achievements and wealth of individuals. And this also has an impact on the policies and positions people are willing to support.

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Experiencing A Natural Disaster Can Bring Couples Closer — But Only For A While

By Emma Young

If you have a partner, how do you think your relationship would fare in the face of a natural disaster? Do you think it would bring you closer — or might the stresses make your relationship worse?

Various studies have explored this, and their conclusions have been mixed. But virtually all have been hampered by a lack of key data: measures of relationship satisfaction actually taken before a disaster (rather than later recalled), to compare with measures of satisfaction afterwards. A new paper in Psychological Science now plugs this gap. Hannah Williamson at the University of Texas at Austin and colleagues report a remarkable study of 231 couples living in Harris County, Texas, using data collected before and after Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the region in August 2017.

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We Enjoy Deep Conversations With Strangers Much More Than We Expect To

By Emily Reynolds

Sometimes the most meaningful conversations come at surprising times: with someone you meet on a train and never see again, with a friend of a friend who you’ve only just met. Conversely, conversations with our closest friends and family can often be difficult, and we sometimes fail to share our deepest thoughts and feelings with those we love the most.

A new paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, finds that we seriously benefit from these deep conversations with strangers. But, despite this, we sometimes remain reluctant to engage in them, overestimating their awkwardness and underplaying their advantages even when we enjoy them more.

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“Frenemies” Both Help And Harm Each Other At Work

By Emma Young

Think about your relationships with your colleagues… I bet there are at least some who you’d call “frenemies”. Maybe there’s a co-worker whose sense of humour you love, say — but who also irritates you by failing to pull their weight. In fact, the workplace is the ideal breeding ground for relationships that are characterised by simultaneous, strong positive and negative feelings — so-called “ambivalent relationships” (or frenemies) — note the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

It’s surprising, then, how little is known about how frenemies behave with each other, write Shimul Melwani at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Naomi Rothman at Lehigh University. So the pair ran a series of studies to find out.

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Black, But Not White, Families Talked More About Race After The Murder of George Floyd

By Emily Reynolds

Conversations about race can be seriously beneficial to children. Research has highlighted multiple positive outcomes for young people of all backgrounds — enhanced ability to accept different viewpoints and perspectives, increased levels of empathy, a better understanding of their own identity, and less racial bias to name but a few. Yet some parents are still unwilling to take the time to have such conversations.

A new study, published in PNAS, finds that readiness to have such conversations has a lot to do with the racial identity of parents themselves. Looking at family conversations in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, the Stanford University team finds that even in the context of the global conversation that followed the racially charged killing, White parents were far less willing to have conversations about race than their Black peers.

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Study Explores Personalities Of People With Adult Separation Anxiety, A “Neglected Clinical Syndrome”

By Emma Young

Most parents will be very familiar with the concept of separation anxiety. It’s hardly rare for babies and toddlers to become anxious when separated from a parent. But I have to confess, I hadn’t heard of Adult Separation Anxiety (ASA) until I came across this new paper in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. For adults, it can manifest as extreme distress at being separated from a partner, or another loved one — even a pet. And it’s thought that 7% of people suffer from it at some point in their lifetimes.

Partly because ASA has been so neglected by researchers, Megan Finsaas at Columbia University and Daniel Klein at Stony Brook University set out to better understand it — and specifically, to explore links with aspects of personality.

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The “Maybe Favour”: We More Readily Commit To Helping A Stranger If We Might Not Have To Follow Through

By Emma Young

Imagine that a neighbour asks for a favour — to help move some garden furniture at the weekend, say. Now imagine that, instead, they explain that they’d lined up a friend to help, but that friend has become ill, and you’ll only be required if they’re not better in time.

Rather than a firm favour, this second scenario involves what the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied dub a “maybe favour”. And, Michael K. Zurn at the University of Cologne and colleagues report, we are more likely to agree to grant these favours than ones that we know for sure we’ll have to come good on. This might not be surprising in itself — but the team goes on to show that exploiting the “maybe favour” effect could have big implications for society.

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