Developmental Psychology Articles

When Teens Can’t See Who They Really Are

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Sociologist Robert Crosnoe has written a book called Fitting In, Standing Out: Navigating the Social Challenges of High School to Get an Education. The book looks at kids who don’t fit in in high school and the effect that has on their later success. His research found that kids who feel they don’t fit in are less likely to go to college.

I heard Crosnoe on a local radio show recently (look for the podcast here). The whole interview is interesting, but what struck me in particular was that Crosnoe, who got his information through interviews and written surveys, said, “A small but significant minority of kids who really feel like they don’t fit in have lots of friends and are actually engaged in lots of social activities.”

He goes on to say that their perception is more salient than reality in this matter, and that kids who feel like outsiders or harassed, even if they’re not, have the same outcomes.

Wow…don’t you wish you could give kids magical glasses that could show them reality?

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Popular

Friday, April 15th, 2011

The movie "Mean Girls" got it right: Popular kids can be mean, and being mean can make you popular.

In possibly the most appalling letter Dear Abby has ever published, a woman wrote that her sister brags about how popular her teen daughter is because she gives boys oral sex.

Naturally, this brought a flurry of mail from outraged readers, and among the responses was this, from Barbara in Kalamazoo, Mich.:

In my opinion, that mother wants her daughter to be popular for all the wrong reasons. Mom sounds like someone who sat on the sidelines in high school and never understood that what makes a person popular is the ability to carry on an intelligent conversation, get good grades, provide community service and so on. Pity!

If only.

Actually, popularity is a good deal more than that, and not necessarily things to which you want your kids aspiring.

At one time, researchers thought they knew what “popular” meant: being a good egg that everybody liked. It was positive status and power. But as sociologists and psychologists delved deeper into the subculture of adolescence, they realized that “popularity” among school-age kids is far more subtly shaded, with some dark sides.

Can You Break the Bad-Boy Habit?

Monday, April 4th, 2011

“Why do women like bad boys?” is the frustrated refrain of nice guys everywhere.

I don’t pretend to have the answer to that question, though I do have my own pet theory: That being “bad” requires self-confidence and that’s what women are attracted to, not the “badness” per se.

Whatever the reason, a study in press for the Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, titled “Effects of popularity and gender on peers’ perceptions of prosocial, antisocial, and jealousy-eliciting behaviors” found that even girls as young as 12 and 13 have a soft spot for bad boys.

Your Body Through the Eyes of Beholders

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

The language of scientists can be a sort of poetry; combinations of words with nuance of meaning that exactly capture something about how we think or behave.

In a paper titled The Acceptance Model of Intuitive Eating: A Comparison of Women in Emerging Adulthood, Early Adulthood, and Middle Adulthood, (read about the research here), I came across the phrase “observer’s perspective.”

Observer’s perspective: The way most of us understand our bodies, as a thing to look at rather than as a miracle that does amazing things. It is thunder thighs, love handles, muffin tops and other hateful phrases we direct at the magnificent organisms that carry us through life. It’s also bodacious, bootylicious, brickhouse, and other expressions of appreciation. It is the body from the outside looking at, not in.

A Meaningful Life Cannot Be Quantified (But Still I Try)

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Every morning I check the number of views my five blogs received the previous day.

Then I go to Google Analytics and look at my blog numbers for the past week and month.

Then I look at which specific posts got the most number of views.

Then I check how many books I’ve sold through my Amazon Associates account and how many pennies that has earned me.

Then I look at my Twitter stats to see how many times my links have been clicked and whether I’ve been retweeted.

Then I check my bank account.

If you took all these numbers and added them up and divided them by my age, you would get…

… a completely meaningless number.

This occurred to me within the first pages of a new book, The Fear of Insignificance: Searching for Meaning in the Twenty-First Century, by existential psychoanalyst Carlo Strenger, chair of the clinical graduate program in the psychology department of Tel Aviv University.

Poor Li’l Narcissists

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Photo by Rodrigo Basaure via Flickr (Creative Commons).

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.

Babies Have to Get Their Way Somehow

Monday, February 7th, 2011

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?

Baby on Stage: Music, Performance, and the Infant Brain

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Photo by karschsp via Flickr (Creative Commons).

The other night I went to see a very entertaining jazz/swing band called the Jitterbug Vipers.

Adding to the fun, singer Sarah Sharp wore her five-month-old son, Angus, in a wrap carrier while she performed. Angus was cheerfully mellow about the whole business, so I’m guessing it was not his first time in front of an audience. You can watch some video of that show here. (Video, with sounds, starts automatically. And annoyingly.)

To preempt criticism, Sarah pointed out to the audience that Angus was wearing earplugs. They evidently were quite effective, because halfway through the set, Sarah turned him from facing out to facing in and he promptly fell asleep.


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