Category: Social

Parenting Instagram accounts can make mothers feel supported, but also less competent

By Emily Reynolds

Adjusting to parenting can be difficult for many new parents — particularly when it comes to judging their own competence or knowing whether or not they are doing the “right” thing. Subsequently, many new parents seek advice: from peers, family members, friends, and, increasingly, from social media.

A new study, published in Acta Psychologica, explores the impact of parenting-related Instagram accounts on mothers. It finds a mixed experience: while mothers can feel supported by a community of fellow parents, they can also feel less competent when comparing themselves to others.

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We tend to see our political opponents as stupid rather than evil

By Emily Reynolds

If we have strong political leanings, it’s likely that we’ll have similarly strong feelings about our opponents. We might think they’re misguided or stupid; we might consider them self-serving and selfish; or, worst of all, we may believe they’re actually evil.

A new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin explores this question: do we think our opponents are evil or just stupid? While the common understanding is that liberals see conservatives as evil and conservatives see liberals as stupid, the team finds that whatever our political affiliation, we’re more likely to see each other as unintelligent than immoral.

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Top performers don’t always provide the best advice

By Emma Young

If you want to learn a new skill, who are you going to ask for advice? Someone with a track record as a top performer would seem an obvious choice. Indeed, as the authors of a new paper in Psychological Science point out, Americans alone pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year “to connect them to ‘icons, experts and industry rock stars’ who will teach them to write novels, start businesses, play chess or barbecue brisket, and they pay these premiums because they naturally believe that the best advice comes from the best performers.” However, this new work, led by David E. Levari at Harvard Business School, suggests that it does not.

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We unconsciously pay more attention to someone who has dilated pupils

By Emma Young

How do you know when someone else is paying attention to you? If they’re staring at you intensely, that’s a pretty obvious giveaway. But there are also far subtler signals — such as the size of their pupils.

As Clara Colombatto and Brian Scholl at Yale University note in a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, our pupils automatically and uncontrollably dilate when we’re emotionally aroused, working something out, or just attending to something. Pupil size has been used as an objective indicator of all these things in a wealth of recent studies.

But if another person is directing their attention towards you, you need to know about it. It might be attention that you should reciprocate, to build a relationship, or it might signal a potential threat. So, Colombatto and Scholl wondered, “If the apprehension of pupil size is so helpful to scientists, might it be similarly helpful to us in everyday life?”

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Extraverts are considered to be poorer listeners

By Emma Young

Extraverts are hugely sociable — they really care about their relationships, and possess outstanding social skills. Well, that’s how extraverts are generally portrayed. But, according to new work, that’s not exactly how other people see them. In a series of studies reported in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Francis J. Flynn at Stanford University, US and colleagues consistently found that more extraverted people are considered to be poorer listeners. Their research also reveals a likely reason why.

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Seeing good people do bad things makes the world feel like a more confusing place

By Emma Young

Have you ever believed someone to be decent — but then they did something morally bad, which turned that belief on its head? It happens more often than we might think. And, according to new work in Social Psychology and Personality Science, the consequences are far-reaching.

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We tend to prefer political candidates with higher levels of education — here’s why

By Emily Reynolds

What makes us vote for particular candidates often goes beyond their politics. Research has suggested that our voting preferences can be influenced by our own self-identity, candidates’ perceived beauty, and even the depth of their voices. A new study looks at another factor that could sway our choices: education.

Writing in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Jochem van Noord and team find that people with low or high levels of education both prefer more educated politicians — but the reasons for this preference may be different for each group.

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We try to avoid people with these stereotypically boring traits

By Matthew Warren

Picture a boring person in your mind. What are they like? If you’re imagining someone who loves watching TV, has no sense of humour, and works in finance, your stereotype of a boring person is similar to those described in a recent study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. But whether or not these kinds of stereotypes are accurate, the researchers behind the paper find that they can have damaging social implications: people have a low opinion of those with “boring” traits, and will try to actively avoid them.

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When we learn more about a stranger, we feel like they know us better too

By Matthew Warren

After finding out details about a stranger, we mistakenly think that they also know about us. As a result, we act more honestly around them, according to a recent study in Nature. And this can have a real-world impact: the team finds that after residents are given biographical information about neighbourhood police officers, the crime rate in nearby areas reduces.

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The downwards head tilt seems to be a universal signal of dominance

By Emma Young

One of the best-known but also most contentious ideas in psychology has to be that there are “universal” expressions of at least some human emotions. According to this idea, which was pioneered by Paul Ekman, particular patterns of facial muscular movements are reliable indicators of anger, disgust, fear, surprise, happiness, sadness and contempt, no matter where you are in the world. In other words, these expressions are a fundamental part of being human.

The idea of universal emotional expressions has been challenged, however. Some psychologists argue that even within the US or UK, say, facial movements that we routinely associate with certain emotions — such as a smile with feeling happy — don’t reliably match in that way. Others think that facial “expressions” are better understood as social signals. According to this model, when someone smiles, it doesn’t mean that they’re happy but rather that they want to be sociable and cooperative, while a frown doesn’t mean “I’m angry” but rather “I want you to bend to my will”. Physical social signals, beyond facial movements, have been identified, too. And now a new paper in Scientific Reports enters this field, with the claim that a downwards head-tilt is a “possibly universal” signal of dominance.

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