Fast food and impatience

31 05 2014

In Social Psychology last semester, we read a paper by Zhong & DaVoe* that showed a causal relationship between exposure to fast food logos (as opposed to local sit-down restaurant logos) and impatience through a number of measures. Today Sanford DaVoe published an interesting Op-Ed in the NY Times where he reviews some archival and survey data analysis that shows this effect might be present not only in the lab but in the “real” world, and may affect our well-being. He concludes:

our research highlights the need to think more explicitly about the subtle cues in our everyday living environment. Put differently, one important step you can take to nudge yourself toward being more patient would be to live in a neighborhood that doesn’t constantly bombard you with reminders of instant gratification.

I have a bit of a problem with that last sentence. While some of us have such choices through the benefits of structural inequalities, many do not. As we covered in Stereotyping and Prejudice this semester, the choice of where we live is largely determined by socioeconomic factors including race and its correlate, income.

In addition, television is the major force bombarding us with these reminders; that crosses neighborhood boundaries. Thus, I would call for restrictions or bans on public advertisements for fast food. However, such a public health initiative might not go over well with the more conservative parts of our legislative bodies. Remember that conservativism is correlated with individualism and Protestant Work Ethic which would imply that it is not the environment but rather the individual weaknesses of people who are susceptible to such advertisements.

Round and around, that’s the way things go. — Lucy Kaplansky

Link to “Big Mac, Thin Wallet”, the Op-Ed in the NY Times

* Reference: Zhong, C., & DeVoe, S. E. (2010). You are how you eat: Fast food and impatience.Psychological Science, 21 (5), 619–622. Available here, or here as a PDF.

Personalizing Mental Illness

8 05 2014

In Stereotyping and Prejudice, we just finished studying stigma, and mental illness is heavily stigmatized. A recent article in the NY Times is about a project to use oral history to help personalize the experience of mental illness. As we studied, the more you can provide individuating information, the more stereotypes can be weakened in person perception.

One thing I learned was that as soon as you mentioned the word, people stopped seeing the person. They just saw the diagnosis and a collection of symptoms.

Link to the article in the NY Times Well blog.

Some links from my students

24 03 2014

I have great students in Social Cognition and Stereotyping and Prejudice. They engage with the class material deeply and connect it to their everyday experience. They often comment about how much they see different forms of social cognitive processes and stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination all around them that they hadn’t seen before taking the class.

They have sent me some links to material online that I thought I’d share.

In Stereotyping and Prejudice, we have been studying prejudice and hate groups. One student sent a link to a page exploring the head of the Arkansas white supremacist organization, who lives in Little Rock’s “Heights” neighborhood, an area of relatively affluent “old money.” An interesting irony is that one of the photos shown from the organization’s Facebook page was of a birthday party at a local pizza restaurant, where all of the members were engaged in the Nazi salute. The ironic part is that the birday party was for a child (shown in a wheelchair) who is disabled. Such individuals were condemned to death under the Nazi regime in Germany as a threat to the integrity of the Aryan race. Click here for the page about the leader, and here for a page from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum describing the Nazi’s extermination of disabled individuals.

In Social Cognition, we recently covered ironic processes of mental control, and the fact that the more we focus on suppressing a thought, the more likely it is to affect our behavior. A student sent a link to a commercial for Expedia that illustrates it. Click here for the commercial.

Click here for a Buzzfeed page (inspired by something similar at Harvard) about the experience of stereotyping and prejudice experienced by students (usually of color) at Oxford University who are commonly assumed to have some “exotic” or foreign experience that makes them different/got them admission/etc.

A student sent a link to a video showing some children’s reaction to a recent Cheerios commercial that apparently cause some consternation among adults about it’s portrayal of an interracial family. Click here for the video.

We were discussing affirmative action and a student sent this:
This photo is what I was thinking of for our discussion of affirmative action last week.
Also this is an interesting website.

Apparently on campus there was a bit of an uproar over a party that was planned by some students and to which the entire campus was invited. The theme was implicitly racist, and so it naturally caused some consternation. I assume the students who did the planning didn’t realize the implicit racism in the concept:

“So, surprising news. Kind of gossip, but it pertains to class. The entire student body has been invited to a party named “Thugs n’ Kisses” and I don’t think I would see the perpetual racism of it if I hadn’t been in class. Students of all kinds are currently revolting. But I was just going to let you know.”

I sent the student a link to an article on how Halloween costumes represent racist ideology, implicitly and explicitly. Click here for access to the article. Here’s a link to another interesting page on a class project based on that article.

A student sent this link to an “experiment” (not really) that illustrated how attribution might be different for whites or blacks in terms of crime.

Botox, Depression, and Embodiment

22 03 2014

In Social Cognition, we read a review article about embodiment – the idea that our cognitions and emotions are influenced by our physiological states. Embodied cognition and emotion research is really in its early stages, but it has a long history – back to Darwin’s studies. Some of these studies (for example, Paul Ekman’s research) indicate that by manipulating our facial muscles to simulate emotions induces the emotional state physiologically and psychologically.

The NY Times has an article on new research that shows greater depression relief among people who had Botox than a saline control injection in their forehead muscles, which are involved in frowning.

I was thinking about this from a social psychological perspective, and believe that at least part of this effect may be a social one. Consider that someone who has a history of depression likely has a social network used to seeing the person depressed. Those individuals may be interacting with the depressed person in ways that reinforce the depression, for example, with pity or sadness (cf. self-fulfilling prophecy). Now consider how those people might respond if the depressed person’s expression has less indicators of depression because of the Botox injections. They may respond to the person with more positive affect and thus lifting the person’s mood.

That proposition has lots of assumptions that I don’t have the time to validate, but it seems plausible on the face.

Link to the NY Times article “Don’t Worry, Get Botox”

[T]hese Botox studies underscore one of the biggest challenges in treating people with depression. [Depressed individuals] might think that the reason they are depressed is that they have little interest in the world or their friends — a mistaken notion that is the result, not the cause, of their depression. They insist that only once they feel better will it make sense for them to rejoin the world, socialize and start smiling. Their therapists would be well advised to challenge their inverted sense of causality and insist that they will start feeling better after they re-engage with the world.

And, I would add to that quote, the world re-engages with them in positive ways.

Business, the Internet, and Discrimination

21 03 2014

It appears that some online merchants are committing a form of organizational discrimination through their pricing practices. People in lower-income areas are paying more for products than those in higher-income areas. As we know, neighborhood, income, and race are correlated, and so African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities could be generally paying more (along with their low-wage white counterparts). This remains to be investigated.

The pricing scheme was investigated recently by the Wall Street Journal along with researcher Ashkan Soltani. See the article here.

Some quotes:

A Wall Street Journal investigation found that the Staples Inc. website displays different prices to people after estimating their locations.

The Journal identified several companies, including Staples, Discover Financial Services, Rosetta Stone Inc. and Home Depot Inc., that were consistently adjusting prices

The Journal tested to see whether price was tied to different characteristics including population, local income, proximity to a Staples store, race and other demographic factors. Statistically speaking, by far the strongest correlation involved the distance to a rival’s store from the center of a ZIP Code. That single factor appeared to explain upward of 90% of the pricing pattern.

In the Journal’s examination of Staples’ online pricing, the weighted average income among ZIP Codes that mostly received discount prices was roughly $59,900, based on Internal Revenue Service data. ZIP Codes that saw generally high prices had a lower weighted average income, $48,700.

On the methodology:

The differences found on the Staples website presented a complex pricing scheme. The Journal simulated visits to from all of the more than 42,000 U.S. ZIP Codes, testing the price of a Swingline stapler 20 times in each. In addition, the Journal tested more than 1,000 different products in 10 selected ZIP Codes, 10 times in each location.

The Journal saw as many as three different prices for individual items. How frequently a simulated visitor saw low and high prices appeared to be tied to the person’s ZIP Code. Testing suggested that Staples tries to deduce people’s ZIP Codes by looking at their computer’s IP address. This can be accurate, but isn’t foolproof.

One Million Downloads

1 12 2013

My lecture podcast for my Abnormal Psychology Course (link) just passed one million downloads since I started keeping track in 2009. I am very happy it has benefitted so many people. I get emails from people all over the world with appreciation for my podcasts.

Diane Halpern on Hyperpartisanship

1 09 2013

One of the authors of the book we are using in Introduction to Psychology this semester is Diane Halpern. She recently won an award from the Association for Psychological Science, and gave a talk on cognitive psychology research on hyperpartisanship. Here’s a link: Link

A cognitive scientist, Halpern called on American citizens to adopt several practices that can ease the ideological divisions that plague the country today. She pointed to 70 years’ worth of research showing that cooperation and interaction are key ways to minimize prejudice and improve intergroup relations.


19 03 2013

In General Psychology, we are covering personality. One measure of personality is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). We watched Chris Ladd’s excellent film “i” (previously covered here) in class today which briefly mentioned the MBTI.

The Guardian (UK) has an interesting piece about the MBTI and its use in business and industry, and the fanatical following it has developed, despite its scientifically unsound development and its weak psychometrics.

There are many possible reasons why the MBTI is so entrenched in workplaces and promoted so enthusiastically. There’s the expense and training involved, mentioned above. It may be because everyone uses it, so people conclude it must be reliable, and thus its success becomes self perpetuating. Also, any personality type you get assigned is invariably positive. There is no combination of answers you could give on the MBTI which says ‘you’re an arsehole’.

Link to the article at the Guardian.

Intelligence and feedback from the environment

5 03 2013

Here is a link to an interesting piece by Tom Stafford on the ever-excellent Mind Hacks blog about intelligence. In General Psychology and Introduction to Psychological Testing, we are/have been studying intelligence. Tom’s take on this is that the essence of intelligence – in humans, the ability to adaptively respond to our environment is gathering and interpreting feedback from the environment about our actions and the actions of others. Interesting stuff, especially the mechanical animals artist Tim Lewis constructs that seem to have some intelligence. It also bears on the measurement of intelligence and what that means.

Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiments on ABC’s Radio National

25 02 2013

Courtesy ABC

The blog Advances in the History of Psychology pointed me toward an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio show covering the now-famous Robbers Cave experiments conducted by Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues. It includes fascinating audio from the experiments, interviews with adults who were the boys at the camps, interviews with one of the experimenters (OJ Harvey), etc. It raises some significant ethical issues, as well as some methodological issues. Highly recommended if you’re into social psychology.

Link to the ABC show web page to listen to it.