Does stigma work?


Psychology of food choice: Challenging the status quo

Researchers are challenging conventional beliefs about the effectiveness of traditional strategies for encouraging healthy eating. The symposium, “Challenging Misconceptions About the Psychology of Food Choice,” includes four presentations that tackle issues such as the harmfulness of weight-stigma, encouraging healthy choices, and strategies to help children and teens. The symposium is featured at the SPSP 16th Annual Convention in Long Beach, California. A study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, observed whether or not photographs of vegetables on a school lunch tray had an impact on the amount of vegetables eaten. The study found that placing photos of carrots and green beans did increase the amounts of vegetables eaten during lunch, but it still was not at levels consistent with government-recommended dietary guidelines. ….[READ]

The reverse inference effect


Your brain on celebrity gossip

Whether it’s Justin Beiber crashing his car or Kanye having another Grammys tantrum, celebrity gossip is always in the news. We love it and the media serves it up. But these days, such truisms aren’t enough. You have to measure an aspect of human behavior in the brain scanner to show it’s the case scientifically. That’s what a group of Chinese researchers have done for a paper just published in the journal Social Neuroscience. I’m usually skeptical about this kind of study, but this one is pretty interesting because the brain activity patterns were inconsistent with the behavioral data. The set up was simple: the students, 17 of them, each lay in a brain scanner and listened to a woman read sentences of gossip about either the student him or herself; about one of their best friends; or about a celebrity (one of two Chinese film stars for whom the participants said they had no special interest). …[READ]

The nature of emotions


Hard Feelings: Science’s Struggle to Define Emotions

When Paul Ekman was a grad student in the 1950s, psychologists were mostly ignoring emotions. Most psychology research at the time was focused on behaviorism—classical conditioning and the like. Silvan Tomkins was the one other person Ekman knew of who was studying emotions, and he’d done a little work on facial expressions that Ekman saw as extremely promising. “To me it was obvious,” Ekman says. “There’s gold in those hills; I have to find a way to mine it.” For his first cross-cultural studies in the 1960s, he traveled around the U.S., Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. In each location, he showed people photos of different facial expressions and asked them to match the images with six different emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust. “There was very high agreement,” Ekman says. People tended to match smiling faces with “happiness,” furrow-browed, tight-lipped faces with “anger,” and so on. ….[READ]

Are gender stereotypes changing?


The Clooney Effect

If you’re a guy who swipes right on Tinder or sheepishly grins at the pretty stranger across the bar, it’s unlikely you’ll have more than a cursory, fleeting interest … unless the woman you’re checking out is smarter than you. That’s one surprising finding in Helen Fisher’s fifth annual study on American singles for, which surveyed 5,600 singletons across the country for what they desired in a potential partner. Fisher’s findings offer a solution to a classic problem in economic mating theory: Are men afraid of “over-educated” women? Fisher offers a resounding “no” to that question, using an anecdote from pop culture as validation. In what she amusingly calls the Clooney Effect, Fisher describes the phenomenon of men wanting to marry women who were independent and self-reliant in relationships. ….[READ]

What is the problem with attention-policing?


#TheDress and the Rise of Attention-Policing

It caused Taylor Swift to feel “confused and scared.” It caused a rupture in the Kardashian-West household that might never be repaired. It caused Chris Murphy, a Democratic representative from Connecticut, to come out and say, “I know three things: 1) the ACA works; 2) climate change is real; 2) [sic] that dress is gold and white.” It caused the rest of us to question our sanity and our friends and the nature of reality. The basic problem with The Dress—having gone viral on BuzzFeed last night, it has already come to stand in for all dresses, Platonically—is this: Some people see it as blue and black. Others see it as white and gold. And each side is, like, 1,000 percent sure that they see the dress as it is, in reality—so sure that the conversations about the dress have tended to play out as ALL-CAPS ASSERTIONS OF OBJECTIVE TRUTH because OMG YOU GUYS IT’S WHITE AND GOLD AND IF YOU CAN’T SEE THAT THEN I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO TELL YOU. ….[READ]

The early birds may still get the worms


No, Mornings Don’t Make You Moral

The idea of the virtuous early bird goes back at least to Aristotle, who wrote, in his Economics, that “Rising before daylight is … to be commended; it is a healthy habit.” Benjamin Franklin, of course, framed the same sentiment in catchier terms: “Early to Bed, and early to rise, makes a Man healthy, wealthy and wise.” More recently, there has been a push for ever earlier work starts, conference calls, and breakfast meetings, and a steady stream of advice to leave Twitter and Facebook to the afternoon and spend the morning getting real things done. And there may be some truth to the idea: a 1998 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that we become more passive as the day wears on. You should do the most important thing first, the theory goes, because, well, you won’t be able to do it quite as well later on. ….[READ]

Ownership and responsibility


How Do You Decide Who Owns Something?

Ownership is an important part of our daily lives, but most of us do not spend much time thinking about how we make decisions about who owns things. We care about ownership, because the owner of an object gets to decide what is done with it. Owners also benefit from the value of the object. It might seem straightforward to decide who owns something, but it quickly becomes clear that things are more complicated than they seem. Consider just a simple trip to the store. You walk into a department store, and you know that all of the objects are owned by the store. If you take one off the shelf, you are expressing an interest in owning the object, but you don’t own it yet. So, just holding something does not make it yours. If you pay the price of the object to the store, exchanging money for the object, it becomes yours, even while you are still standing in the store. ….[READ]