Figuring Out the Rules as Facebook Changes the Meaning of Friends

Who are these people and why do they want to be my friend?

Deciding where to draw the line on Facebook friend requests is a modern-day sticky wicket.

ID Analytics, Inc. an online risk management firm, surveyed 387 people who are on social networks, and nearly nine out of 10 people said it was not rude to refuse or ignore a friend request.

But according to other new research, denied or ignored friend requests are a large source of hurt feelings.

So we don’t think it’s rude to reject people, but we’re hurt when other people reject us.

We’re so confused.

Brain Function

Does All Research Have a Point? (Should It?)

I’m a big fan of scientific and behavioral research. It’s interesting and useful and fun to read (well, not fun fun) and I believe it usually matters even when it doesn’t seem to.

Even so, sometimes I read a study and think, “Yeah, and….?”

Like this research on fear, in which researchers used a computational model of a rodent amygdala, taught fear to their model (I don’t know, maybe showed it really scary equations), and caused so-called “fear neurons” to fire with conditioned stimulus. Retraining the amygdala not to fear the stimulus caused “extinction neurons” to spring into action and overwhelm the fear neurons.

The conclusion of the research: We don’t overcome fear, we just suppress it, and neural activity reflects that. In addition, the fear can return under other circumstances; context matters. (And other stuff. Read the original paper 


Getting It Right: A Research Tool For Writers

I’ve never read Pat Conroy’s novel Prince of Tides nor seen the movie because I find the premise of a relationship between therapist and client objectionable, both ethically and as a plot point. It's wrong in so many ways, and I simply could not suspend disbelief.

Not that it hurt Conroy on the marketplace; the book and movie were smash hits. Nobody cared or they just didn't know. There’s a lot about psychology—both the field and in terms of human behavior—a lot of people don’t understand.

Would Conroy have written that story if he'd had 


Looking for the Loopholes in Research on Age

I cringed reading this story about how older people are worse at crossing the street while talking on a cell phone than younger people. I thought, “Ah geeze. Here’s another reason we’ll be considered lame.”

This aging thing? Not so much fun. Especially in a culture that worships youth.

Sure, there are benefits. I’m calmer and happier at 52 than I was 25. I’m more confident. According to  research published in the Journal of Communication, I have what social scientists call "low identity uncertainty." I know who I am.

Kids have high identity uncertainty—they’re still amorphous, not sure who they’re going to be. (Why uncertainty? Would positive psychologists call it low and high identity certainty?)

But I also know that my relevance is slipping away. The world belongs to the young. I feel like chopped liver. Out of touch. "Low-status" is how the research puts it.

I want to bristle at that, but can’t. It’s true. I’m starting to feel a little put-upon by the kids, the high-status group. We’re done with you gramaw. Eat our dust. Gimme that cell phone before you hurt yourself!


How Can Psychologists Help Immediately After Trauma?

Along with everyone else, I have been watching with horror and heartbreak the news from Japan. The images grow increasingly startling: cars, trucks and buildings swept away by the powerful wave, people on roofs watching, stunned, as the water rises, an elderly woman being rescued after days trapped in a car.

But I am stopped by a photograph on the CNN website of a young woman wrapped in a pink blanket and standing amid rubble. (You can find it here, but will have to click around.)

The look on her face haunts me. I mean no disrespect, but her expression is profound, deeply felt, and existential WTF-ness. It is a face of someone surveying the end of life as she knew it, who faced death and finds herself alive but doesn’t know what to do next. Someone who has images, sounds, emotions churning around in her head, the likes of which most of us cannot even imagine.

What does this young woman need to recover from the trauma? How can psychologists help her heal and ensure that she doesn’t wake screaming in the night for the rest of her life? After food and shelter, what is the first thing this woman needs?

It seems nobody really knows.


Can You Make Regrets Disappear?

Do you have any regrets?

A couple of friends and I were talking about this the other day. One friend said she has no regrets, that if she does anything that makes her feel bad, she fixes it.

Yes, I try to do the same. I’m fine with apologizing and/or making amends when my behavior warrants it.

But what if you can’t fix it? What if it’s too late, if it’s something like letting love slip through your fingers, having or not having children, taking the wrong career path, or anything else that simply cannot be changed?

That’s the topic of

Developmental Psychology

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

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,

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:

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.