Category: The self

How Well Do You Know Yourself? Research On Self-Insight, Digested

By Emma Young

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” – Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1750.

Franklin was writing over 250 years ago. Surely we humans have learned strategies since then to aid self-insight — and avoid well-known pitfalls. Most of us are familiar, for example, with the better-than-average effect, the finding that most of us rank ourselves above average at everything from driving ability to desirable personality traits (even though of course we can’t all be right). So armed with this kind of knowledge, are we better placed now to view ourselves accurately? And if not, how can we get better at this — and what benefits can we expect?  The following studies provide some illuminating answers…

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Even When You’re A Member Of An Elite Group, It Can Be Demoralising To Rank Lower Than Your Peers

By Matthew Warren

Imagine that you are a high-achieving student at a school which, overall, doesn’t perform that well. You know that your grades are better than most of your peers’, so you probably rate your academic ability quite high. You are, in other words, a big fish in a small pond. 

Now you transfer to a school in which the other students consistently get top marks, perhaps even better than yours. You’re now the small fish in a big pond, and although your own ability has remained the same, you begin to doubt yourself and actually rate yourself lower than you had before.

This “big-fish-little-pond” effect shows that our academic self-concept can be profoundly shaped by how we compare ourselves to our peers. Now a study in Social Psychological and Personality Science has found that the size of this comparison matters: the effect is even more pronounced when people are extremely high achieving in very low ranked groups, or vice-versa.

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When Reminded Of Their Mortality, People Are More Likely To Donate Possessions That Allow Their Identity To Live On After Death

By Emily Reynolds

Mortality is a weighty, often difficult topic. Some avoid thinking about it altogether, while others try to come to terms with it: research suggests a fear of death can be ameliorated by unexpected tactics including hugging a teddy or listening to death metal.

It’s also been posited that a fear of mortality can lead to materialism: trying to accrue as many possessions or as much wealth before death as a way of managing existential terror. But a paper in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that thinking about mortality might have a different impact on behaviour, making people more likely to give away their possessions. Continue reading “When Reminded Of Their Mortality, People Are More Likely To Donate Possessions That Allow Their Identity To Live On After Death”

We’re Drawn To Fictional Villains Who Are Similar To Us

Photo: A child looks at a Darth Vader mask at an exhibition in the Louvre, Paris, in 2015. Credit: Chesnot/Getty Images

By Emma Young

Watching Return of the Jedi with my kids the other night, I found myself quite liking Darth Vader. After all, he’s self-disciplined, determined, conscientious, and uncompromising — while also being (almost) entirely evil…

It’s no secret that we can find fictional villains fascinating. It’s been argued that that’s because we are evolutionarily drawn to understanding bad guys, as well, of course, to seeing the good guys prevail. But new research, published in Psychological Science, suggests that this is not the full story.

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Aspiring To Be Rich May Damage Your Relationships

By Emily Reynolds

Daydreaming about an ideal life, it can be easy to slip into fantasies about wealth there’s a reason, after all, that “winning the lottery” is the ultimate dream for so many people. The reality of being rich, however, often doesn’t match that dream, with some research suggesting that people who prioritise time are much happier than those who prioritise money.

A new study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin drives home the message that money really isn’t everything. The team finds that “financially contingent self-worth” self-esteem based on financial success can leave people feeling lonely and disconnected.

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Pop Concert, Opera — Or Both? What Drives People To Become “Cultural Omnivores”

By guest blogger Tomasz Witkowski

While waiting for the philharmonic orchestra to begin in the concert hall, you observe the people around you and wonder, “What made them come to this place?” The love of music? Snobbery? Conformism — because other friends do this? Or, maybe there are other, deeper motives? Similar questions arise when we think about what drives people to participate in pop culture and consume its products. Do they simply enjoy it? Scientists’ answers to this question can be surprising. For example, one study suggests that we consume pop culture because we suffer psychological ill effects from feeling out of the loop.

But what drives people to become cultural omnivores, those who consume both “highbrow” and “lowbrow” culture? Hanna Shin and Nara Youn from Hongik University in Seoul recently investigated this question in a paper in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

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When Deciding How To Improve Our Personalities, Moral Character Is Not A Priority

By Emily Reynolds

No matter how high your self-confidence, it’s likely that you have certain traits you’d change given the opportunity: maybe you’d turn down your anxiety, feel more outgoing in company, or be a bit less lazy. One 2016 study found that 78% of people wanted to better embody at least one of the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, emotional stability, conscientiousness, agreeableness, or openness to experience), so the desire to change who you are is not uncommon.

But are we so keen to change how moral we are? That is, how concerned are we really about being a good or bad person? A new study published in Psychological Science suggests that we’d rather spend time improving those parts of us that aren’t morally relevant, with traits like honesty, compassion and fairness taking a back seat.

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Taking Selfies Is Probably Fine For Your Self-Esteem. Editing Them Might Not Be

By Emily Reynolds

There’s been a lot of back and forth about the psychological effects of taking and sharing selfies. Some research suggests that taking pictures of yourself can dent your self-esteem and increase anxiety, while other studies have found that selfies can be a source of empowerment; one 2017 paper even found a combination of the two, suggesting that sharing selfies online can mitigate the damage to self-image often inflicted when a selfie is actually taken.

The hundreds of op-eds, articles and TV features that continue to focus on the issue also suggest that our interest in the phenomenon is unlikely to abate any time soon. And now a new study published in the Journal of Children and Media has added to the debate.

It suggests that taking selfies may not be as damaging as other research has claimed. Instead, it’s what you do after you’ve taken the photo that matters: it’s editing images that really hurts our self-esteem.

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Most Of Us Think We’re More Environmentally Friendly Than Our Peers

Father riding bicycleBy Emily Reynolds

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.

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How To Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions, According To Psychology

GettyImages-614034904.jpgBy Emily Reynolds

The excesses of Christmas have been and gone, and we’ve been met once again by January’s familiar call for resolution and goal-setting.

For most of us, New Year’s resolutions are a mixed bag: whether we’re looking to get fit, become more environmentally-friendly, or just keep up a new hobby, there sometimes seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why some habits stick and others fall by the wayside almost immediately.

But there are a few things you can do to make your new routines work, based on research into motivation, temptation and achievement. Here’s our digest of the ten findings that could help make that New Year’s resolution stay around until next December. Continue reading “How To Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions, According To Psychology”