Category: The self

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.

Continue reading “Most Of Us Think We’re More Environmentally Friendly Than Our Peers”

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”

When Thinking About Your Personality, Your Friends’ Brain Activity Is Surprisingly Similar To Your Own

GettyImages-1185006111.jpg

By Emma Young

How well do you know your best friend? New research led by Robert Chavez at the University of Oregon suggests that scans of both your brains might provide the answer. The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition, reveals that the brain activity patterns of people asked to think about what a mutual friend is like can be remarkably similar to those observed in that friend when they think about themselves.

Continue reading “When Thinking About Your Personality, Your Friends’ Brain Activity Is Surprisingly Similar To Your Own”

Simply Imagining Other People Can Change Our Own Sense Of Self

GettyImages-1128065494.jpg

By Emma Young

“The sense of self is a hallmark of human experience. Each of us maintains a constellation of personal memories and personality traits that collectively define ‘who we really are'”.

So begins a new paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which reveals that who you “are” can easily be manipulated. Just imagining somebody else can alter all kinds of aspects of how you see yourself, even including your personality and memories.

Continue reading “Simply Imagining Other People Can Change Our Own Sense Of Self”

People Think About Breaking Up More When They Look Outside Their Relationship For Psychological Fulfilment

GettyImages-924958420.jpg

By Matthew Warren

As humans we all have psychological needs that we are driven to fulfil, be they companionship or safety, a sense of belonging or personal growth. And we often meet these needs through our relationships with others: they care for us, make us feel secure, and help us develop as individuals.

When we are in romantic relationships, our partners are commonly the main source for fulfilling those needs. But sometimes they are away, or are simply not equipped to meet our particular needs. In those cases we turn elsewhere, to friends, family and others in our lives. This may benefit us personally — but how does it affect our relationship?

Continue reading “People Think About Breaking Up More When They Look Outside Their Relationship For Psychological Fulfilment”

How Cutting Down On Meat Affects Your Social Identity

GettyImages-1038900574.jpg

By Emily Reynolds

With increased concern about the impact of meat on our health and the environment, and an ever-expanding selection of meat-free products available to buy, popular interest in vegetarianism and veganism has steadily grown.

But for those who want to cut down but aren’t quite ready to give up their burgers, there is a third way: flexitarianism. As a 2019 study from the University of Nottingham on red meat and heart health put it, you “don’t have to go cold turkey on red meat to see health benefits”, finding that halving the amount of red and processed meat eaten can have significant health benefits.

A flexitarian tries to cut down their consumption as much as they can, but still eats the occasional meal or snack containing meat. One recent piece of market research found that 14% of the UK consider themselves flexitarian, and though more formal research would clearly be needed to paint a more critical and comprehensive picture, these figures do seem to suggest something of a cultural preoccupation with how much meat we’re eating.

Now new research, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, has taken a look at how such an approach impacts identity as well as health. The choice to be vegetarian can be a significant source of social identity — but how do flexitarians see themselves?

Continue reading “How Cutting Down On Meat Affects Your Social Identity”

People Prefer Their Jobs To Be Taken By Robots, Not Other Workers

GettyImages-1056477400.jpg

By Emily Reynolds

The rise of automation has already had a significant impact on the work lives of millions of people — and it shows no signs of stopping. In a study released earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics found 1.5 million workers in Britain at “high risk of losing their jobs to automation”, with women and low-paid workers bearing the brunt of the risk. And another paper published in Social Science and Medicine found that exposure to automation risk exacerbated poor health: higher risk of automation meant higher job uncertainty and subsequently a greater chance of physical and mental health problems.

All of which makes the findings of a new Nature Human Behaviour study on almost 2,000 North American and European participants even more surprising. While most people prefer it when workers are replaced by humans, not robots, the majority of those surveyed said that if their job was at risk, they would find it less upsetting for it to be handed to robots rather than other employees.

Continue reading “People Prefer Their Jobs To Be Taken By Robots, Not Other Workers”

How Personal Experience Of Adversity Influences Our Feelings Of Compassion Towards Others

Darfur 2004
A young refugee in Darfur, Sudan in 2004. Participants read about the plight of children in Darfur and saw pictures of one child or several children, then rated their feelings of compassion. Credit: Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images

By Emma Young

Imagine seeing a photograph of a suffering child in the war-torn region of Darfur, in Sudan. Most of us would feel compassion towards that child. Now imagine seeing a photo of a group of eight children in the same terrible predicament. You’d feel correspondingly more compassion towards this larger group… right?

Well, probably not. Plenty of studies have demonstrated what’s known as the “numeracy bias” in compassion — that people’s feelings of compassion do not tend to increase in response to greater numbers of people in distress. This “leads people frequently to experience a disproportionate amount of compassion towards a single suffering individual relative to scores of suffering victims that are part of a larger tragedy,” write Daniel Lim and David DeSteno at Northeastern University, in their new paper, published in the journal Emotion. However, they’ve now found that people who have experienced adversity in their own lives are resistant to this bias — and they have some suggestions for how the rest of us might avoid it.

Continue reading “How Personal Experience Of Adversity Influences Our Feelings Of Compassion Towards Others”

Taking A Placebo Can Reduce Anxiety Before An Exam — Even When You Know The Pills Are Inert

Four plastic spoons each containing a different pill

By Matthew Warren

The placebo effect is a curious phenomenon. A wealth of literature has shown that inert treatments can not only produce medical benefits like pain relief, but also have cognitive effects like boosting creativity and learning. And while many of those studies involve misleading people into thinking that they are receiving an effective intervention, a new study in Scientific Reports shows that this deception is not always necessary. Researchers have found that taking a placebo can reduce people’s anxiety before a test — even when they know they are taking an inactive pill. 

Continue reading “Taking A Placebo Can Reduce Anxiety Before An Exam — Even When You Know The Pills Are Inert”

How To Cope Under Pressure, According To Psychology

GettyImages-905075160.jpg

By Emma Young

You’re preparing for an important meeting, and the pressure’s on. If it’s bad now, how will you cope when you actually have to perform? Will you fly? Or will you sink? 

Psychologists have a lot to say about how to cope under pressure… both the chronic kind, which might involve ongoing high expectations at work, for example; and the acute, single-event variety such as a vital meeting, a make-or-break presentation, or a sports match. Continue reading “How To Cope Under Pressure, According To Psychology”