Category: Social

We’re Worse At Recognising Faces From Races Other Than Our Own — And That Can Be A Major Barrier To Socialising

By Emma Young

Elinor McKone admits that as a junior postdoctoral student, she was unable to recognise her other-race senior professor “by anything other than his coat”. McKone was, then, a perpetrator of the “other-race effect” (ORE) — the (well-documented) fact that we are generally poorer at recognising the faces of people of races other than our own. Now at the Australian National University, McKone has led the first formal investigation into how this phenomenon affects everyday social interactions. The study of students of mostly Chinese heritage, who had recently moved to study in Australia, reveals that both being a victim and a perpetrator makes social interactions more difficult. In fact, the students found it to be as big of a hurdle to successful socialising as the language barrier.

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How To Navigate Moving Back In With Your Parents As An Adult

By Emily Reynolds

For many, moving out of the family home is a rite of passage, a sign that adulthood is just about to begin. Equally, however, there are plenty of reasons why somebody might move back in with their parents: after a break-up, to save money, for health reasons, or to care for ageing or unwell relatives. Anecdotally, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have been another reason for such a move, with articles proliferating on children once more living with their parents and offering advice on how to deal with it.

But how do such “boomerang kids” frame their decision to move back home, and how do they ensure it goes well? A new study published in Emerging Adulthood finds four strategies young people use to make the transition back into the family home as positive as possible.

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Poor Self-Control Can Lead To Feelings Of Loneliness

By Emily Reynolds

Loneliness can be something of a vicious cycle. As previous research has suggested, your personality can increase your likelihood of being lonely, and loneliness can impact your personality. We also know that self-centredness can increase loneliness, that being true to yourself can reduce loneliness, and that even warming yourself up on a cold day can ease cravings for social contact.

Loneliness, then, is highly dependent on personality factors as well as social factors such as discrimination, limited access to transport, and lack of social cohesion. And a new study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, identifies another individual factor: low self-control. According to Olga Stavrova and team from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, failures of self-control can have serious social ramifications — leading to ostracism and, eventually, loneliness.

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We Feel More Empathy Towards Citizens Of Countries With Good, Popular Leaders

By Emma Young

We could all name groups of people who we know to be suffering right now; some in distant countries, some in our own. Research shows that we feel less empathy for people in other countries — and so are less likely to support them by protesting, say, or donating money. Meital Balmas and Eran Halperin at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem now report a factor that can influence this, however: our feelings about the national leader. The pair’s study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that a leader who is perceived as “good” and popular at home elicits more empathy, and even greater tangible help, for their struggling citizens.

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Egalitarians Are Better At Detecting Inequality — But Only When It Affects Socially Disadvantaged Groups

By Emily Reynolds

There is ample evidence that inequality exists — in the UK alone, one study suggested, the richest 1% have a quarter of the country’s wealth, and marginalised groups experience inequality in relation to work, education, living standards, healthcare and more.

However, not everyone is attentive to inequality. While some are keenly focused on its causes and its solutions, others believe it’s simply not important, or at the very least that it’s exaggerated. So what determines whether we pay attention to inequality?

A new study, published in PNAS, argues that our ideological stance on equality may be key. Unsurprisingly, the team finds that social egalitarians were more likely to notice signs of inequality — but only when it affected certain groups.

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Do Girls Really Show More Empathy Than Boys?

By Emma Young

Three people are walking down the street, two women and one man. One of the women trips and falls. Which of the two observers will feel more empathy for her pain? Hundreds of studies suggest that it’ll be the woman. However, these results almost overwhelmingly come from self-reports. Objective evidence that women genuinely feel more empathy than men is very thin on the ground. This has led to the idea that women report more empathy not because they actually feel it but to conform to societal expectations that they should. However, a new study in Scientific Reports claims to provide evidence that, even when they think no one else is looking or asking, girls show more empathy than boys.

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Mindfulness Can Make Independent-Minded People Less Likely To Help Others

By Emily Reynolds

Mindfulness — in basic terms, the practice of being “present” in the moment and paying attention to one’s own thoughts and feelings — has seen something of a boom over the last few years. In the United States, the mindfulness business is set to reach a value of $2 billion by next year, while in the United Kingdom, lockdown saw a spike in downloads for digital meditation offerings such as Headspace and Calm. 

But is mindfulness all it’s cracked up to be? While it certainly has its benefits, some argue that it encourages blind acceptance of the status quo, taking us so far into ourselves that we forget the rest of the world. In a new preprint on PsyArxiv, Michael Poulin and colleagues from New York’s University at Buffalo also find that mindfulness can decrease prosocial behaviours — at least for those who see themselves as independent from others.

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Here’s The Best Way To Forgive And Forget

By Emma Young

If somebody else has treated you badly, what are the best strategies for overcoming this, and moving on?

There has been, of course, an enormous amount of research in this field, in relation to everything from getting over a romantic break-up to coping with the after-effects of civil war. Now a new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, led by Saima Noreen at De Montfort University, specifically investigates how different types of forgiveness towards an offender can help people who are intentionally trying to forget an unpleasant incident.  

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Resolving Arguments Can Prevent Bad Feelings From Lingering — And We Get Better At It As We Age

By Emily Reynolds

“Don’t go to bed on an argument” is an adage we’ve all heard and, at some point, probably ignored. Hackneyed as it is, the phrase does have some truth: resolving arguments, rather than letting them simmer away, can make us feel calmer and happier the next day (and also makes it easier to actually get to sleep).

Now a new study from Oregon State University’s Dakota D. Witzel and Robert S. Stawski has looked at the benefits of resolving arguments — and the team finds that not only can resolution almost erase the emotional stress associated with a big argument altogether, but that individual differences can affect how well we do it. The older we get, they find, the less we argue and the better we are at dealing with argument-related stress when it happens.

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Unmet Sexual Needs Can Leave People Less Satisfied With Their Relationship — But Having A Responsive Partner Mitigates This Effect

By Emma Young

“For better or worse, romantic partners usually have to rely heavily on each other to fulfil their sexual needs.” So begins a new paper that attempts to plug a gap in understanding sexual ideals — and what might buffer against dissatisfaction if reality doesn’t quite match.

Sexual incompatibilities are not only common, but are difficult to resolve even with couples therapy, note Rhonda N. Balzarini at York University and colleagues in their paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes. Despite this, there’s been only limited work to understand precisely what constitutes an individual’s ideal sex life. Earlier work has generally focused on narrow aspects, such as how often a person would ideally like to have sex, or on levels of sexual desire. For this new research, the team developed a broader, 30-item Sexual Ideals Scale, which asks about specific behaviours (“My partner engages in oral sex with me as much as I want my ideal partner to”, for example) but also about the importance of feeling safe and in love, or of dirty talk, for instance. 

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