The Four-Loko Effect: Intoxication increased by context?

28 07 2011

There was a big kerfuffle around the alcoholic beverage called Four Loko, which was a fruity tasting beverage with caffeine and alcohol. Young people wound up in the hospital with severe alcohol poisoning. it was a bad situation, and the mixture of alcohol and caffeine was implicated.

The effect of Four Loko might actually be more a product of the novel, fruity flavors and colors than the caffeine, according to an article in Perspectives on Psychological Science:

We may surmise that the Four Loko experience for many undergraduates would involve receiving alcohol in an unusual context. As noted by Bruni (2010), Four Loko—a “biliously colored,” sweet, synthetically fruity beverage—is an unusual medium for alcohol: “It’s a malt liquor in confectionary drag.” The results of studies of situational-specificity of tolerance suggest that Four Loko and similar drinks are especially effective as intoxicants because these beverages provide an unusual context for the intoxicating drug that they deliver.

Don’t show psychology grads the money!

28 07 2011

Not very surprising, but a new study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science reveals that psychology degree recipients are well below the mean in salary compared to other college majors. This difference persists even when we seek higher degrees.

Image courtesy flickr user truthout - used under Creative Commons license.

Psychology BA degree recipients often take low paying and not entirely related to psychology. Administrative assistant is one frequently obtained job for both Psychology and English majors. By comparison, it is not among the frequently obtained jobs of Economics majors.

Psychology Masters degree recipients get about a $10,000 bonus over the BA degree recipients (41.5k vs. 31k), but they still fall well below the mean compared to other degree recipients – their median salaries 3 years after graduation are a full 1.6 standard deviations below the mean for men! At the opposite end of the distribution are electrical/computer engineering Masters grads, who made around $67k, 1.4 SD above the mean.

Academics don’t fare much better. At all levels (instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, full professor) earn below the mean for academics in other disciplines – for full professors, the mean is 91k vs. 84.5k – .56 SD below the mean.

We all know going into this field that we’re not in it for the money. However, students planning a degree that terminates in a bachelor’s degree should be aware of the pay relative to other degree fields. If, for example, you’re equally attracted to nursing and psychology, then nursing would be a much better choice due to the salary difference.

As for me, I’m in this field for other factors than money: satisfaction, freedom to pursue my interests in research, the feeling that I have when helping students and colleagues, and the pleasure of lerning something new about behavior.

Recognizing facial movements: better for ourselves?

27 07 2011

An interesting summary of research on facial movement recognition today in the Guardian which relates to social psychology. A very counterintuitive finding that we’re better at recognizing our own facial movements than those of friends. It’s counterintuitive because we rarely see our own facial movements (except in mirrors), but we see those of friends much much more.

A couple thoughts on this:

1. When interacting with friends, we’re likely cognitively busy with lots of other issues such as thinking about what they’re talking about, what we’re feeling about what they’re saying, what their internal experience of us is, impression management, etc. That busyness likely makes us less attentive to the actual facial movements they are making.

2. We likely have a fair amount of proprioception going on that makes us keenly aware of what our faces are doing.

3. We likely actively monitor our own expressions (as part of impression management?) to help manage what we’re communicating to others while we’re in face-to-face interactions. Therefore we may have more attention devoted to self facial movements than those of others.

Internet comments and social psychology

23 07 2011

Well, it’s been some time since this blog was updated. I am back to teaching social psychology this fall, so I’ll be posting more here as the semester wears on.

On to today’s post. I am a moderator on the forum. It is a good diversion from research and gives me a sense of usefulness. I’m even good at it.

We occasionally get a user who for a variety of reasons causes discord and trouble in the forums. A recent article from the Guardian about internet commentary and flaming is very good and accurate. It points out a couple social psychological aspects of the phenomenon: deindividuation and group polarization. it also features social psychologist Tom Postmes.