Category: The self

People Will Pay Money To Avoid Having To Exert Self-Control

By Emily Reynolds

Self-control — or lack of it — can have a serious impact on our lives. Poor self-control can lead to feelings of loneliness, while those with higher levels of self-discipline experience states like hunger and tiredness less intensely. Yet despite these obvious benefits, the vast majority of us sometimes experience failures in self-control no matter how hard we try.

A new study, published in PNAS, looks to quantify the cost of self-control. Candace M. Raio and Paul W. Glimcher from the New York University School of Medicine find that we’re willing to pay a monetary price to avoid having to exert self-control — and we’ll pay more if the temptation is particularly strong.

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Threat To Identity Stops Harmful Drinkers Recognising Their Alcohol Issues

By Emma L. Barratt

Here in the UK, one in five hospital admissions is the result of heavy drinking. Those who drink to the extent of needing medical assistance, as well as those who are caused problems by their own alcohol consumption, are known as harmful drinkers. This group is characterised not only by their high levels of alcohol consumption, but a surprisingly low level of problem recognition. Generally speaking, harmful drinkers are known for being resistant to seeing that they have an issue with drinking, often to avoid being labelled as an alcoholic, which comes with a huge amount of stigma. This phenomenon is part of what gave rise to the well-known phrase “I can stop anytime I want”.

However, this creates a significant barrier to treatment. “If there’s no problem, what’s there to fix?

Researcher James Morris, alongside colleagues from London Southbank University and Northumbria University, believe that this kind of label avoidance is a prime target that psychologists can exploit to increase uptake of treatment in harmful drinkers. Their new study in Addictive Behaviors suggests that the solution may be as simple as reframing the issue.

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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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Autistic Children May Experience Less Variation In Their Bodily Emotional Responses

By guest blogger Dan Carney

Research into emotion processing in autistic people has mainly focused on how they understand others’ emotions. A more limited body of work into how autistic people process their own emotions has, however, suggested difficulties identifying and describing emotional experiences, and distinguishing between emotional states. The latter is potentially important, as it is associated with negative outcomes such as anxiety, depression, and self-injurious behavior, all of which have been suggested to occur more frequently in autism than in the general population.   

So far, studies of emotion differentiation in autism have tended to use language-based tasks. But now, a team led by Eleanor Palser from the University of California San Francisco has reported the first study looking at how autistic children map out where they feel emotions in their body. The team finds that compared to non-autistic children, the bodily emotion maps of autistic children are more similar across different emotions, suggesting less variability in the way they physically experience different emotional states. The research, published in the journal Autism, was partly based on a 2016 report from the charity Autistica, in which members of the autistic community identified sensory processing and affective difficulties as key research goals.

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How To Deal With Boredom, Digested

By Emily Reynolds

One year into lockdown, and it’s safe to say a lot of us are very, very bored. We’ve watched all the boxsets we can stomach, developed (and subsequently ditched) a long list of increasingly esoteric hobbies, and have quite probably exhausted every possible walking route within several miles of our home. Yet the boredom persists.

Lockdown is, for most of us, an unusually boredom-inducing situation to be in, unable as we are to engage in many of the outside activities we would usually pass the time with. But boredom itself is common: as Camus rather pessimistically put it, “the truth is that everyone is bored”.

So how do you deal with boredom? And does being bored even come with some benefits? Here’s the research on boredom, digested.

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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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