psychology

There is nothing new under the sun

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Most real decisions, unlike those of economics texts, have a status quo alternative—that is, doing nothing or maintaining one’s current or previous decision. A series of decision-making experiments shows that individuals disproportionately stick with the status quo.

{ Journal of Risk and Uncertainty | PDF }

unrelated { Would you Pay for Transparently Useless Advice? }

(The mirage of the lake of Kinnereth with blurred cattle cropping in silver haze is projected on the wall.)

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An ambitious effort to replicate 100 research findings in psychology ended last week — and the data look worrying. Results posted online on 24 April, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, suggest that key findings from only 39 of the published studies could be reproduced. […]

The results should convince everyone that psychology has a replicability problem, says Hal Pashler, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, and an author of one of the papers whose findings were successfully repeated.  “A lot of working scientists assume that if it’s published, it’s right,” he says.

{ Nature | Continue reading }

‘Ooh, I love U in me.’ –Prince

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The current research investigates how people make sexual decisions when romantic partners’ sexual desires conflict, situations we refer to as sexual interdependence dilemmas.

Across an experimental study, a retrospective recall study, and a 21-day daily experience study, we found that people who were motivated to meet their partner’s sexual needs—those high in sexual communal strength—were more willing to engage in sex with their romantic partner, even when their own desire was low, and as a result, both partners reported enhanced relationship and sexual satisfaction.

The benefits of sexual communal strength were due to communally oriented people’s increased desire to promote their partner’s interests and decreased desire to pursue their own interests.

This is the first set of studies to investigate how people make decisions in sexual interdependence dilemmas and show that communally motivated individuals navigate these situations in a way that is beneficial for relationships.

{ Society for Personality and Social Psychology/SAGE }

related { Science says lasting relationships come down to 2 basic traits: kindness and generosity }

I’m gonna die. #rip Cause of death: “OUT OF XANAX”

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People prescribe optimism when they believe it has the opportunity to improve the chance of success—unfortunately, people may be overly optimistic about just how much optimism can do.

{ APA/PsycNET | Continue reading }

art { Caravaggio, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, 1609-1610 }

‘Sooner or later, each desire must encounter its lassitude: its truth…’ –Cioran

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Narcissism levels have been increasing among Western youth, and contribute to societal problems such as aggression and violence. The origins of narcissism, however, are not well understood.

Here, we report, to our knowledge, the first prospective longitudinal evidence on the origins of narcissism in children. We compared two perspectives: social learning theory (positing that narcissism is cultivated by parental overvaluation) and psychoanalytic theory (positing that narcissism is cultivated by lack of parental warmth).

We timed the study in late childhood (ages 7–12), when individual differences in narcissism first emerge.

In four 6-mo waves, 565 children and their parents reported child narcissism, child self-esteem, parental overvaluation, and parental warmth. Four-wave cross-lagged panel models were conducted.

Results support social learning theory and contradict psychoanalytic theory: Narcissism was predicted by parental overvaluation, not by lack of parental warmth. Thus, children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them (e.g., “I am superior to others” and “I am entitled to privileges”).

Attesting to the specificity of this finding, self-esteem was predicted by parental warmth, not by parental overvaluation.

{ PNAS | Continue reading }

When love absorbs. War! War! The tympanum.

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The ability to express empathy — the capacity to share and feel another’s emotions — is limited by the stress of being around strangers, according to a new study.

{ ScienceDaily | Continue reading }

related { People in the study were more likely to disclose something personal about themselves after laughing together, although they didn’t realize it. }

‘Humility is pain arising from a person’s contemplation of their own impotence.’ —Spinoza

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Over a decade ago, psychologist Barry Schwartz published what might be the ultimate psychological life-hacking tome, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. […]

If you ever aren’t sure if you attended the very best party or bought the very best computer, just settle for “good enough.” People who do this are called “satisficers,” and they’re consistently happier, he’s found, than are “maximizers,” people who feel that they must choose the very best possible option. Maximizers earn more, Schwartz has found, but they’re also less satisfied with their jobs. In fact, they’re more likely to be clinically depressed in general.

The reason this happens, as Schwartz explained in a paper with his Swarthmore colleague Andrew Ward, is that as life circumstances improve, expectations rise. People begin comparing their experiences to peers who are doing better, or to past experiences they’ve personally had that were better. […]

Schwartz’ solution […] just settle for something that’s acceptable—even if you know there’s likely something better out there.

{ The Atlantic | Continue reading }

photo { Jeff Mermelstein, New York City, c. 1993-1997 }

‘It is one thing to show a man that he is in error, and another to put him in possession of the truth.’ –Locke

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For two years the researchers tracked transactions at a supermarket in America. Perhaps unsurprisingly, shoppers who brought their own bags bought more green products than those who used the store’s bags. But the eco-shoppers were also more likely to buy sweets, ice cream and crisps. Psychologists call this sort of behaviour “moral licensing”: the tendency to indulge yourself for doing something virtuous. […]

A study from 2011 on water-conservation in Massachusetts shows how. In the experiment, some 150 apartments were divided into two groups. Half received water-saving tips and weekly estimates of their usage; the other half served as a control. The households that were urged to use less water did so: their consumption fell by an average of 6% compared with the control group. The hitch was that their electricity consumption rose by 5.6%. The moral licensing was so strong, in other words, that it more or less outweighed the original act of virtue.

{ The Economist | Continue reading }

art { Malcolm Levy }

And the cloud that took the form (When the rest of Heaven was blue) Of a demon in my view

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[O]ne in six serial killers are female. Their crimes tend to go undetected for longer than their male counterparts, likely in part because “our culture is in denial of women’s proclivity for aggression.”

Harrison and her team have profiled 64 US female serial killers active between the years 1821 to 2008. […] The female serial killers had murdered between them at least 331 victims (making an average of 6 victims each). Their victims are of both sexes, but disproportionately male. The women had an average of age of 32 at the time of their first killing, and poisoning was the most common method. […] “the women in our study poisoned, smothered, burned, choked, shot, bludgeoned, and shot newborns, children, elderly, and ill people as well as healthy adults; most often those who knew and likely trusted them.”

Many of the homicidal women had stereotypically female professions, including being nurses and baby-sitters. They tended to be above average in physical attractiveness, which may have helped to engender trust in their victims.

As to motives, the most common was “hedonistic”, a category in forensic psychology that refers to killing for financial gain, lust or thrill, with nearly half the sample fitting this category. The next most common motive was “power-seeking”, which includes killing people in one’s care. […]

Quotes from some of the killers hint at their psychopathological thinking:

“They [the children] bothered me, so I decided to kill them.”

“I like to attend funerals. I’m happy when someone is dying.”

“That is my ambition, to have killed more people – more helpless people – than any man or woman who has ever lived.”

A striking contrast with male serial killers is the relative absence of sexual violence and deviance. Two exceptions were a female serial killer who was a rapist, and another who reportedly barked like a dog during sex. But overall, the researchers highlighted how the women in their study primarily killed for resources, while their male counterparts kill for sex. This follows evolutionary theory, Harrison and her co-authors explained, in the sense that men are said to be motivated more by seeking multiple sexual opportunities, while women are motivated to find a committed partner with sufficient resources. […]

The new analysis points to a worrying trend: a 150 per cent increase in the number of reported cases of female serial killers since 1975.

{ BPS | Continue reading }

‘Which is more difficult, to awaken one who sleeps or to awaken one who, awake, dreams that he is awake?’ —Kierkegaard

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Psychology journal bans P values

P values are widely used in science to test null hypotheses. For example, in a medical study looking at smoking and cancer, the null hypothesis could be that there is no link between the two. The closer to zero the P value gets, the greater the chance the null hypothesis is false; many researchers accept findings as ‘significant’ if the P value comes in at less than 0.05. But P values are slippery, and sometimes, significant P values vanish when experiments and statistical analyses are repeated. […]

“We believe that the p < .05 bar is too easy to pass and sometimes serves as an excuse for lower quality research,”

{ Nature | Continue reading }

The desert grows

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Dr. Yalom, I would like a consultation. I’ve read your novel “When Nietzsche Wept,” and wonder if you’d be willing to see a fellow writer with a writing block.

No doubt Paul sought to pique my interest with his email. […] Ten days later Paul arrived for his appointment. […]

“I was in philosophy at Princeton writing my doctorate on the incompatibility between Nietzsche’s ideas on determinism and his espousal of self-transformation. But I couldn’t finish. I kept getting distracted by such things as Nietzsche’s extraordinary correspondence, especially by his letters to his friends and fellow writers like Strindberg.

“Gradually I lost interest altogether in his philosophy and valued him more as an artist. I came to regard Nietzsche as a poet with the most powerful voice in history, a voice so majestic that it eclipsed his ideas, and soon there was nothing for me to do but to switch departments and do my doctorate in literature rather than philosophy.

“The years went by,” he continued, “my research progressed well, but I simply could not write. Finally I arrived at the position that it was only through art that an artist could be illuminated, and I abandoned the dissertation project entirely and decided instead to write a novel on Nietzsche. But the writing block was neither fooled nor deterred by my changing projects. It remained as powerful and unmovable as a granite mountain. And so it has continued until this very day.”

I was stunned. Paul was an old man now. He must have begun working on his dissertation well over a half-century ago. […]

“Tell me more,” I said. “Your family? The people in your life?”

“No siblings. Married twice. Divorced twice. Mercifully short marriages. No children, thank God.”

This is getting very odd, I thought. So talkative at first, Paul now seems intent on giving me as little information as possible. What’s going on?

{ NY Times | Continue reading }

This too is for the best

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The scientific study of heartbreak is extremely new, with nearly all articles on the matter appearing in the last 10-15 years. In fact, the notion that strong emotional stress can impact health was not widely accepted in academia until recently.

In the 1990’s, Japan started accruing cases of a disease called “takotsubo cardiomyopathy,” where patients’ hearts would actually become damaged and their ventricles would be misshapen (into that of a “takotsubo,” or octopus-catching pot – a very bad shape for a heart chamber). Curiously, these cases were not heart attacks, but instead were a form of heart failure brought on by a rush of stress hormones.

After 15 years, the syndrome was finally mentioned in a 2005 New England Journal of Medicine article, where it was renamed “Broken Heart Syndrome.” Among the causes of Broken Heart Syndrome are romantic rejection, divorce, or the death of a loved one, and the outcome can be as serious as death.

{ NeuWrite | Continue reading }