psychology

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried

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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is based on the theory that some depressions occur seasonally in response to reduced sunlight. SAD has attracted cultural and research attention for more than 30 years and influenced the DSM through inclusion of the seasonal variation modifier for the major depression diagnosis. This study was designed to determine if a seasonally related pattern of occurrence of major depression could be demonstrated in a population-based study. A cross-sectional U.S. survey of adults completed the Patient Health Questionnaire–8 Depression Scale. […] Depression was unrelated to latitude, season, or sunlight. Results do not support the validity of a seasonal modifier in major depression. The idea of seasonal depression may be strongly rooted in folk psychology, but it is not supported by objective data.

{ Clinical Psychological Science | Continue reading }

photo { Daido Moriyama }

Why did the cat go to Minnesota? To get a mini soda!

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After 2.5 millennia of philosophical deliberation and psychological experimentation, most scholars have concluded that humor arises from incongruity. We highlight 2 limitations of incongruity theories of humor.

First, incongruity is not consistently defined. The literature describes incongruity in at least 4 ways: surprise, juxtaposition, atypicality, and a violation.

Second, regardless of definition, incongruity alone does not adequately differentiate humorous from nonhumorous experiences.

We suggest revising incongruity theory by proposing that humor arises from a benign violation: something that threatens a person’s well-being, identity, or normative belief structure but that simultaneously seems okay.

Six studies, which use entertainment, consumer products, and social interaction as stimuli, reveal that the benign violation hypothesis better differentiates humorous from nonhumorous experiences than common conceptualizations of incongruity. A benign violation conceptualization of humor improves accuracy by reducing the likelihood that joyous, amazing, and tragic situations are inaccurately predicted to be humorous.

{ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology }

photo { William Klein }

Did they ever tell Constau

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Many of our errors, the researchers found, stem from a basic mismatch between how we analyze ourselves and how we analyze others. When it comes to ourselves, we employ a fine-grained, highly contextualized level of detail. When we think about others, however, we operate at a much higher, more generalized and abstract level. For instance, when answering the same question about ourselves or others — how attractive are you? — we use very different cues. For our own appearance, we think about how our hair is looking that morning, whether we got enough sleep, how well that shirt matches our complexion. For that of others, we form a surface judgment based on overall gist. So, there are two mismatches: we aren’t quite sure how others are seeing us, and we are incorrectly judging how they see themselves.

If, however, we can adjust our level of analysis, we suddenly appear much more intuitive and accurate. In one study, people became more accurate at discerning how others see them when they thought their photograph was going to be evaluated a few months later, as opposed to the same day, while in another, the same accuracy shift happened if they thought a recording they’d made describing themselves would be heard a few months later. Suddenly, they were using the same abstract lens that others are likely to use naturally.

{ Maria Konnikova, The Confidence Game | Continue reading }

The monkish monsignor, with a head full of plaster

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Previous studies have found that facial appearance can predict both the selection and performance of leaders. Little is known about the specific facial features responsible for this relationship, however.

One possible feature is mouth width, which correlates with the propensity for physical combat in primates and could therefore be linked to one’s perceived dominance and achievement of greater social rank. […]

We observed that mouth width correlated with judgments of CEOs’ leadership ability and with a measure of their actual leadership success. Individuals with wider mouths were also more likely to have won U.S. senate, but not gubernatorial, races. Mouth width may therefore be a valid cue to leadership selection and success.

{ Journal of Experimental Social Psychology | Continue reading }

photo { Gregory Crewdson }

Upon the knife of my youth

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Researchers have created a digital audio platform that can modify the emotional tone of people’s voices while they are talking, to make them sound happier, sadder or more fearful. New results show that while listening to their altered voices, participants’ emotional state change in accordance with the new emotion. […]

The study found that the participants were unaware that their voices were being manipulated, while their emotional state changed in accordance with the manipulated emotion portrayed. This indicates that people do not always control their own voice to meet a specific goal and that people listen to their own voice to learn how they are feeling.

{ eurekAlert | Continue reading }

drawing { Julia Randall }

Question: Tell me what you think about me, I buy my own diamonds and I buy my own rings.

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A basic feature of psychological processes is their irreversibility. Every experience changes a person in a way that cannot be completely undone… one must assume that persons are continuously and irreversibly changing. […]

The logic of inductive inference entails that what is observed under given conditions at one time will occur again under the same conditions at a later time. But this logic can only be applied when it is possible to replicate the same initial conditions, and this is strictly impossible in the case of irreversible processes.

As a result, no psychological theory can attain the status of a “law”, and no result will be perfectly replicable.

{ Neuroskeptic | Continue reading }

Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh

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Many people are keen on getting a skin tan despite being aware of warnings of health hazards. The present study investigates differences between women regularly using sunbeds and a control group of non-users in the areas of self-concept, narcissistic regulatory modalities, social assertiveness and generalized self-efficacy.

Thirty women users of suntan salons and 34 women who never used one were investigated with standardized psychological questionnaires. In addition, their knowledge about the hazards of using sunbeds and attitudes to tanning were recorded.

Statistical evaluation shows that sunbed users demonstrate more object devaluation: that is, other persons are devalued so that they are not even considered worthy of affection. Furthermore, they also display greater anxiety in their feelings and relationships with others. The results of this pilot study support the hypothesis that a tanned skin, by helping sunbed users to achieve their ideal of beauty, enables them to devalue other people and thus possibly to protect themselves from close relationships.

{ British Journal of Dermatology | Continue reading }

‘Learning to see — accustoming the eye to calmness, to patience, to letting things come up to it; postponing judgment, learning to go around and grasp each individual case from all sides.’ –Nietzsche

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The present research examined whether possessing multiple social identities (i.e., groups relevant to one’s sense of self) is associated with creativity. In Study 1, the more identities individuals reported having, the more names they generated for a new commercial product (i.e., greater idea fluency). […] Results suggest that possessing multiple social identities is associated with enhanced creativity via cognitive flexibility.

{ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin | Continue reading }

photo { Gregory Miller }

And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer, never to hope again

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A new study published in The Lancet, following one million middle-aged women in Britain for 10 years, finds that the widely held view that happiness enhances health and longevity is unfounded.

“Happiness and related measures of well-being do not appear to have any direct effect on mortality,” the researchers concluded. […]

Researchers decided to look into the subject because, he said, there is a widespread belief that stress and unhappiness cause disease. […]

The new study says earlier research confused cause and effect, suggesting that unhappiness made people ill when it is actually the other way around.

{ NY Times | Continue reading }

Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis

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Can people differentiate what they know from what they do not? Several lines of research suggest that people are not always accurate judges of their knowledge and often overestimate how much they know. Research on overconfidence finds that people commonly judge the accuracy of their judgments too favorably and typically overestimate how well they perform everyday tasks relative to other people. Work on the illusion of explanatory depth demonstrates that participants tend to think they have a better understanding of how objects work (e.g., a ballpoint pen) than they can demonstrate when that understanding is put to the test.

At times, people even claim knowledge they cannot possibly have, because the object of their knowledge does not exist, a phenomenon known as overclaiming. For example, in the late 1970s, nearly a third of American respondents expressed an opinion about the “1975 Public Affairs Act” when asked about it directly, even though the act was a complete fiction. Approximately a fifth of consumers report having used products that are actually nonexistent. More recent research has asked participants to rate their familiarity with a mix of real and nonexistent concepts, names, and events in domains such as philosophy, life sciences, physical sciences, and literature. Participants reported being familiar with the real items but also, to a lesser degree, with the nonexistent ones. […]

What underlies assertions of such impossible knowledge? We found that people overclaim to the extent that they perceive their personal expertise favorably. […]

A sizable body of work on how people evaluate their own knowledge suggests that they rely not only on a direct examination of their mental contents but also on a feeling of knowing. Notably, a feeling of knowing is often only weakly predictive of actual knowledge and appears to be informed, at least in part, by top-down inferences about what should be or probably is known. We theorized that such inferences are drawn from people’s preconceived notions about their expertise, inducing a feeling of knowing that then prompts overclaiming.

{ Psychological Science | PDF }

We are for the dark

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Decades of research have shown that humans are so-called cognitive misers. When we approach a problem, our natural default is to tap the least tiring cognitive process. Typically this is what psychologists call type 1 thinking, famously described by Nobel Prize–winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman as automatic, intuitive processes that are not very strenuous.

This is in contrast to type 2 thinking, which is slower and involves processing more cues in the environment. Defaulting to type 1 makes evolutionary sense: if we can solve a problem more simply, we can bank extra mental capacity for completing other tasks. A problem arises, however, when the simple cues available are either insufficient or vastly inferior to the more complex cues at hand.

Exactly this kind of conflict can occur when someone chooses to believe a personal opinion over scientific evidence or statistics.

{ Scientific American | Continue reading }

‘Love is joy with the accompanying idea of an external cause.’ –Spinoza

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Past research showed that people accumulate more knowledge about other people and objects they like compared to those they dislike. More knowledge is commonly assumed to lead to more differentiated mental representations; therefore, people should perceive others they like as less similar to one another than others they dislike.

We predict the opposite outcome based on the density hypothesis; accordingly, positive impressions are less diverse than negative impressions as there are only a few ways to be liked but many ways to be disliked. Therefore, people should perceive liked others as more similar to one another than disliked others even though they have more knowledge about liked others.

Seven experiments confirm this counterintuitive prediction and show a strong association between liking and perceived similarity in person perception.

{ Journal of Experimental Social Psychology | Continue reading }