The idea that taking a gap year allows you to “find yourself” is often derided. But if you spend that time living in one foreign country, it just might. And if you can make it years, even better.
Hajo Adam at Rice University, US, led what his team say is the first empirical investigation of the effects of living abroad on “self-concept clarity” – how clearly and confidently someone defines who they “are”. Since people are increasingly spending time living abroad for work or study – and since other “transitional” life experiences, such as getting a new job or getting divorced have been associated with decreases in self-concept clarity – it’s important to study this, the researchers write in their paper in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.
In research published in the 1990s, psychologists asked people to list their biggest regrets in life and found that they tended to mention things they hadn’t done, rather than things they had. Now, one of the psychologists behind that seminal research – Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University – together with his colleague Shai Davidai at The New School for Social Research – have looked into the content of people’s regrets, as opposed to how they were brought about (by action or inaction). Across six studies, the pair present new evidence, published in Emotion, that our most enduring regrets concern not living up to our ideal selves (i.e. not becoming the person we wanted to be), as opposed to not living according to our “ought selves” (the person we should have been based on our duties and responsibilities).
Do you think you are closer to your “true self” today than in the past? If so, is this a work in progress? Will the you of the future be even more authentic than you are today?
A pair of US psychologists recently put these kind of questions to over 250 volunteers across two studies, to find out if there is a general pattern in the way that we think about the development of our true selves.
Reporting their findings in Self and Identity, Elizabeth Seto and Rebecca Schlegel found there is a tendency for us to see ourselves as becoming progressively more authentic through life. “If these reflections are at all reflective of how people feel in real time,” they concluded, “it is possible that people believe they will be the closest they have ever been to who they really are when they reach the end of their lifetime.”
It’s a question that goes to the heart of human nature – do our personalities change through life or stay essentially the same? You might think psychology would have a definitive answer, but this remains an active research question. This is partly because of the practical challenge of testing the same group of individuals over many years. Now a major new contribution to the topic has been made available online at the PsyArXiv repository. The researchers, led by Eileen Graham at Northwestern University, have compared and combined data from 14 previously published longitudinal studies, together involving nearly 50,000 participants from the US, Europe and Scandinavia. Their findings confirm and extend existing knowledge, showing how personality traits tend to change through life in predictable ways.
Why are some of us more inclined than others to stick up for ourselves, not aggressively, but assertively. Assertive people let others know when they feel mistreated and they’re confident saying “no” to unwanted demands.
Presumably it has to do with how see ourselves, yet past research has established that two key aspects of the self-concept – good feelings about the self (“self-liking” or “self-confidence”) and seeing oneself as competent – are not strongly related to assertive behaviour.
Daniela Renger, a researcher at the Institute of Psychology at Kiel University in Germany, believes this is because most relevant to assertiveness is self-respect – “a person’s conviction that they possess the universal dignity of persons and basic moral human rights and equality”. Across three studies published in Self and Identity, Renger shows that self-respect is a distinct psychological concept and that it is uniquely correlated with assertive behaviour.
Why should the “better-than-average” effect be so pronounced for moral traits? In new work, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, Ben Tappin and Ryan McKay at Royal Holloway, University of London have found that it’s because we’re especially irrational when it comes to evaluating moral traits. Moral superiority appears to be “a uniquely strong and prevalent form of positive illusion,” they write.
If a friend sees you suffering and tells you “I feel your pain”, it may be more than an expression of empathy. For about a quarter of people, it could be literally true. A recent study, led by Thomas Grice-Jackson at the University of Sussex, found that 27 per cent of participants experienced so-called “mirror pain” – watching someone falling off a bicycle or receiving an injection, for instance, caused them to experience physical pain of their own.
Now in a paper in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the same team of researchers has explored the neurological underpinnings of mirror pain. When some people have this experience, they don’t just show more activity in the so-called “pain matrix” (the network of brain regions linked to the experience of pain), they also show unusual patterns of neural activity that suggest they struggle to distinguish other people’s experience from their own.
As social creatures, accurately recognising and understanding the mental states of others (their intentions, knowledge, beliefs, etc.) is crucial to our social bonds and interactions. In fact, in today’s multi-cultural world and strongly divided political climate, this skill – known as Theory of Mind – is perhaps more important than ever. A recent study published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement proposes that an effective way to develop our Theory of Mind lies in learning to better understand ourselves.
“I don’t think you are truly mean, you have sad eyes” Tormund Giantsbane ponders the true self of Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane in Game of Thrones, Beyond The Wall.
Who are you really? Is there a “true you” beneath the masquerade? According to a trio of psychologists and philosophers writing in Perspectives on Psychological Science, the idea that we each have a hidden true or authentic self is an incredibly common folk belief, and moreover, the way most of us think about these true selves is remarkably consistent, even across different cultures, from Westeros to Tibet.
This makes the concept of a true self useful because it helps explain many of the judgments we make about ourselves and others. Yet, from a scientific perspective, there is actually no such thing as the true self. “The notion that there are especially authentic parts of the self, and that these parts can remain cloaked from view indefinitely, borders on the superstitious,” write Nina Strohminger and her colleagues at Yale University.
Most brain imaging studies involving transgender people or people with gender dysphoria have focused on whether their brains look more like what’s typical for the gender they identify with, rather than the gender they were assigned at birth based on their biological sex. For example, whether trans men have “masculine” brains, and trans women have more “feminine” brains.
The results have been mixed and if anything point towards trans people having brains with distinctfeatures that are neither stereotypically male or female.
A new study in Brain Imaging and Behaviour adds to this trend, showing that trans men have unusual patterns of connectivity in brain networks involved in processing of the self, as compared with male and female controls. “The present data do not support the hypothesis that sexual differentiation of the brain of individuals with gender dysphoria is in the opposite direction as their sex assigned at birth,” the researchers said, adding that the unusual connectivity patterns they found in trans men “was detected in comparison with both male and female controls, and there were no differences between the control groups”.