Category: Social

“Psychological Flexibility” May Be Key To Good Relationships Between Couples And Within Families

By Emma Young

What makes for a happy family? The answer — whether you’re talking about a couple or a family with kids — is psychological “flexibility”, according to a new paper in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science. Based on a meta-analysis of 174 separate studies, Jennifer S. Daks and Ronald Rogge at the University of Rochester conclude that flexibility helps — and inflexibility hinders — our most important relationships.

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Film Soundtracks Shape Our Impressions Of A Character’s Personality And Thoughts

By Emma Young

If you sit down to watch TV or a film these holidays, you might want to pay a little extra attention to how the soundtrack makes you feel. We all know that background music influences the tone of a scene but what, exactly, soundtracks do to our understanding of a character has not been studied in detail. In a new paper, in Frontiers in Psychology, Alessandro Ansani at Roma Tre University, Italy, and colleagues report work aimed at filling in some of the gaps.

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Here’s How Parents’ Reactions To School Performance Influence Their Children’s Wellbeing

By Emma Young

What do you do if your child comes home with a lower score on a test than you both expected? Do you praise their efforts and focus on what they got right? Or do you home in on the answers that they got wrong, hoping this will help them to do better in future?

Research shows that the first, “success-oriented” response is more common in the US than in China, where parents more often opt for “failure-oriented” responses instead. Recent studies in both countries have found that success-oriented responses tend to encourage psychological wellbeing but not necessarily academic success, whereas failure-oriented responses can foster academic performance, but with a cost to the child’s wellbeing.

Jun Wei at Tsinghua University, China, and colleagues wondered what might drive these observed relationships: do different response styles lead children to form different concepts about what their parents want for them — and is this what produces the opposing impacts on wellbeing? In a new paper, published in Developmental Psychology, the team report some intriguing answers to these questions.

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Our Feelings Towards People Expressing Empathy Depend On Who They’re Empathising With

By Emily Reynolds

We tend to think of empathy as a wholly positive thing, a trait that’s not only favourable to possess but that we should actively foster. Books and courses promise to reveal secret wells of empathy and ways to channel them; some people even charge for “empathy readings”, a service that seems to sit somewhere between a psychic reading and a therapy session.

It would be easy to assume, therefore, that people who express empathy are generally well-liked. But a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that our feelings towards “empathisers” depends on who they are empathising with. While empathisers were considered warmer overall, participants judged people who expressed empathy for those with troubling political views more harshly — suggesting that we don’t always interpret empathy as a pure moral virtue.

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Being More Authentic On Social Media Could Improve Your Wellbeing

By Emily Reynolds

It’s become somewhat of a truism that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on social media. Where someone’s life looks perfect, we’re often reminded, there are probably a handful of problems silently situated away from the camera. Nobody’s life is as shiny, flawless, or enviable as it might appear in their carefully curated feed.

But presenting ourselves more authentically on social media — ditching those things we want to believe are true about ourselves in favour of those that are — could be good for our wellbeing, according to a new paper in Nature Communications by Erica R. Bailey from Columbia University and colleagues.

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People Use Jargon To Make Up For Their Low Standing In A Group

By Matthew Warren

Why do business people promise to “reach out to KOLs” when they could simply say that they will contact leading experts? How come judges sometimes remark that they will hear trials “in-camera” instead of just “in private”?

As infuriating as it can be, jargon actually performs a social function. By definition, jargon refers to language used by a particular group of people, in the place of more accessible words and phrases. And although that can make it frustrating and confusing for people not in that group, if you are a member then it can help signal to others that you belong. People may also use jargon as a way of displaying their expertise.

But according to a series of studies published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, those who are of low status within a group are also predisposed towards jargon-filled language. Zachariah Brown at Columbia University and colleagues found that these people appear to want to compensate for their lowly position by using language that is often associated with high status.

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We’re More Willing To Use Deceptive Tactics When A Bot Does The Negotiating

By Emma Young

Artificial intelligence agents play ever more influential roles in our lives. As the authors of a new paper, published in the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, point out, they do everything from suggesting new friends and connections to recommending purchases and filtering the news that reaches us. They are even beginning to drive our cars. Another role that they are tipped to take over is negotiating on our behalf to sell a car, say, or resolve a legal dispute.

So, reasoned Jonathan Mell and colleagues at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, it’s important to know whether using a bot might affect how we negotiate —and it turns out that it does. One of the most striking findings from the team’s series of studies is that less experienced negotiators are more willing to be deceitful if they assign an AI agent to do their dirty work for them. The studies also illuminate how our stance on various negotiating tactics alters through experience — information that would be needed to program negotiating bots to accurately represent us.

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When People Are Better Able To Rely On Their Own Resources, Group Cooperation Breaks Down

By Matthew Warren

Imagine that you live in a village which is threatened with rising sea levels. If you don’t do anything, your home is going to be flooded. You could pool your resources together with other villagers and build a large dam around the entire village to ensure that everyone’s property is safe. Or, if you have enough resources yourself, you could build a smaller dam around your own house, protecting your property — and leaving everyone else to either do the same or try and co-operate without you.

Human societies constantly face similar choices between public and private solutions to pressing issues: think about the provision of healthcare or education, for instance. But only some people can afford to build a dam around their own house, or send their child to a private school. Now a new study in Nature Communications suggests that when group members are able to be self-reliant in this way, the provision of public goods suffers.

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A New Take On The Marshmallow Test: Children Wait Longer For A Treat When Their Reputation Is At Stake

 By guest blogger Sofia Deleniv

Most people — even the non-psychologists among us — have at some point heard of the legendary marshmallow test, which measures the ability of preschool children to wait for a sweet treat. Researchers have found that the amount of time children are willing to wait for their marshmallow is surprisingly predictive of various life outcomes, such as educational attainment during adolescence, as well as social competence and resilience to stress throughout development. A recent fMRI brain scan study even found that people’s performance as kids is related to their ability to suppress their impulses, and is reflected in neurological signatures of cognitive control, 40 years later.

The test is clearly tapping into something crucial that shapes children’s futures to a considerable degree. But what exactly is it? Does the test  capture an ability that is akin to intelligence or intrinsic cognitive control, or might performance be a marker of some other underlying factor — such as the privilege of living in a supportive home where children can develop the trust capacity that enables them to wait for a reward?

The list of potential explanations is long — and now it has received a surprising new addition from a study recently published in Psychological Science. Fengling Ma from Zhejiang Sci-Tech University and colleagues have discovered that children can radically improve their performance on the marshmallow test if they believe their social reputation might be at stake — an effect that begins to emerge as early as three years of age.

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Phone Calls Help Create Closer Bonds Than Texting

By Emily Reynolds

For its many flaws, it’s hard to deny that technology has improved our ability to communicate with one another. We now have a huge range of options when it comes to speaking to our friends and family, whether we’re texting, IMing, or sending them emails.

With such a smorgasbord of choices available to us, it can be easy to forget the humble phone call. And according to new work published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, a reticence to pick up the phone might also be robbing us of stronger connections with those we love.

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