Archives for February, 2011

Consumer Behavior

Is the World Out to Get You?

When your car breaks down, do you think of it as being out to get you? When you’re eating Haagen-Dazs for dinner, does your oven seem to glower at you disapprovingly? When you get sick, do you imagine your immune system in hand-to-hand combat with a marauding army?

Social psychologists are interested in our tendency to anthropomorphize inanimate objects. Certainly advertisers are interested in that inclination, since it’s one of their favorite gambits. A paper recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research leads off with a description of this very clever IKEA commercial, with its tragic reading lamp, replaced and relegated to the trash.

The paper is titled "Gaming with Mr. Slot or Gaming the Slot Machine? Power, Anthropomorphism, and Risk Perception” and it examines the role of feelings of personal power in anthropomorphizing. The researchers hypothesized that people’s sense of personal power affects how much risk they will perceive with anthropomorphized vs. non-anthropomorphized slot machines, and, in a second study, with skin cancer. They found that:
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Developmental Psychology

Poor Li’l Narcissists

The narcissist is the modern day bogeyman and we sling around the characterization with impunity--baby boomers are narcissists, kids today are narcissists—assigning blame right and left--it’s the self-esteem movement, helicopter parenting, Facebook.

I don’t think we are a nation of narcissists, as some insist. But certainly narcissists walk among us, wreaking havoc with their impenetrable sense of entitlement, insensitive to others' feelings, failing in relationships without ever understanding why.

Research into narcissism is a little slippery, not unlike narcissists--or, to be specific, maladaptive narcissists. Narcissism can be healthy, too, if it is paired with empathy. Phebe Cramer writes in a November 2010 article in the Journal of Research in Personality: Adaptive narcissists may be overly ambitious, but they have sufficient interpersonal sensitivity so that they do not suffer the eventual rejection that is often experienced by maladaptive narcissists.

Researchers also distinguish between overt and covert maladaptive narcissism. An article in the journal Personality and Individual Differences maps it out: Overt (ON) characterized by grandiosity, entitlement and self-absorption and Covert (CN) characterized by hypersensitivity, vulnerability and dependence on others.

Most of us probably think of overt types when we think of narcissists, but there's that clinging, needy type as well.
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Brain Function

Tetris, Take Me Away!

I’m into Sock Dye these days, a Facebook game that gives you a certain number of clicks to turn a field of socks all the same color. I play a couplafew games of Sock Dye every few hours during the day, and at night I wind down with Sock Dye and Jon Stewart.

I’ve been through a Freecell phase, a Word Drop phase, and Tetris is a longtime favorite. My husband has called it “sorbet for the mind,” which seems a perfect description. Some time with these games leaves me feeling calm and refreshed.

I also like them while I’m on the phone. I’m introverted and kinda ADD and not a fan of the phone. I have a hard time keeping my busy mind focused on a disembodied voice. Keeping half my mind engaged with an easy game actually helps me pay better attention to the call.

These games are powerful stuff, and it’s not all bad.
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Parsing Denial: When We Know Better But Do It Anyway

Here’s a chilling news story, about a father who was texting while driving and rear-ended a pickup, killing one daughter and injuring the other.

This story makes me hyperventilate a little.

Then it makes me think about denial.

What is it that makes us do stupid things we know are dangerous? With all the information out there about the dangers of texting and driving, everything we hear about our brain’s inability to be effective at multitasking, all the highway fatalities we hear about daily, why do people still think they can text and drive? I can’t wrap my mind around that.

What is denial, really?

We know what it is, but what is it? I typed “denial” into a scientific journals database and results included articles on denial and cancer, heart disease, drug addiction, head injury, and one theoretical paper arguing that denial-like processes are at the core of the cognitive coping mechanisms we have evolved as humans.

Could be. Sometimes denial works for us.
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Brain Function

Carrying a Torch? Here Are Words That Should Douse It

Love is a beautiful thing except when it isn’t.

Most people, when they realize a relationship isn’t working, go through a period of mourning and move on. Then there are the torch carriers—people who pine long past the point of good sense. People who can’t let go even after they’ve been rejected. I know about them. I’ve been there and I've done some casual research on the subject that I'll share with you.

Torch carrying feels like OCD—in fact, researchers have found that low levels of serotonin are linked to depression, addiction, OCD…and the first thrilling, obsessive stage of love. Is torch carrying a plunge of serotonin that gets stuck, like a toilet tank that won’t refill, causing that endless, irritating sound of rushing water?

And addiction sounds right, too--which is why cold turkey is probably the best way for torch carriers to end a relationship. It works for smoking, drinking, and drugs. Being friends is probably just methadone; you have to kick that eventually, too.
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Two Stereotypes: Fat and Happy, Fat and Sad

The Dieticians Association of Australia used new research published in the Australia Health Review to help promote its Healthy Weight Week, which was January 23 to 30th.

The research found that:

Compared with individuals of the same age who were normal weight or overweight, participants aged 45-54 who were obese were more likely to report that emotional problems had affected their work, social or regular activities in the past month.

In addition, the participants aged between 45 and 54 years who were obese were less likely to have felt calm and peaceful in the previous month.



Obese people of a certain age are unhappier and more anxious than people of that age who are not obese.

We know that correlation isn’t causation. We don’t know if the unhappy/anxious obese study participants are unhappy because they’re obese or obese because they’re unhappy. We don't know what had happened in their lives during the month under discussion. We don’t know why they are obese. It’s possible (as these researchers acknowledge) that antidepressant medication caused this group to gain weight. Or maybe, as some people suggest, the stigma of being overweight led to their depression. Or maybe they got fat because depression saps energy and lack of activity causes weight gain.
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Brain Function

Babies Have to Get Their Way Somehow

New research indicates that babies understand social dominance related to size. Scientists discovered this by showing babies two cartoons in which two blocks with faces come face-to-face. In one cartoon, the smaller block defers to the larger block and steps aside, in the other the larger block steps aside. The babies looked longer at the cartoon in which the large block defers to the small, which indicates that they were surprised by this turn of events.

There’s something almost scary to me about this image of babies gazing thoughtfully at the small block in charge. We seem to learn something new every day about babies’ capacity for understanding, so I imagine gears cranking furiously as the babies considered the possibility that they are more powerful than they realized. Were they just showing interest or were they planning a coup?
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Passing Through the Tunnel of Adversity and Emerging Resilient

As a little girl, I sometimes tried to imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one, and concluded I couldn’t survive it. (I was a dark little thing.) Though I lost my grandfather when I was a teen, it wasn’t until I lost a brother, when I was in my 20s, that I fully experienced loss. It was hard. Very. A long, dark tunnel that I traveled for a long, dark time.

And yet, somehow, eventually, I came out the other side. And strange as this might seem—and as much as I still miss Oliver—I emerged feeling I had gained precious insight into life, death, and myself.
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