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.

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.

Trusting Ourselves

18 01 2014

Social psychologist David DeSteno has a very good article on trust, specifically what creates the tendency to trust ourselves and why that trust is often misplaced..

Link to the New York Times article.

I am interested generally in trust, specifically intergroup trust which hasn’t been studied much at all.

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.

Excellent NYT Magazine piece on Stapel and his fraud

28 04 2013

The New York Times Magazine has an excellent piece on Deiderik Stapel and his fraud (posted earlier here and here and here and here and here and here and here). It chronicles the days leading up to the accusation, his family and childhood. One interesting piece of local trivia: He briefly attended East Stroudsburg University to study acting.

Here is a link to the article at the NY Times Magazine: link

A great quote:

He insisted that he loved social psychology but had been frustrated by the messiness of experimental data, which rarely led to clear conclusions. His lifelong obsession with elegance and order, he said, led him to concoct sexy results that journals found attractive. “It was a quest for aesthetics, for beauty — instead of the truth,” he said.

and in the exposé of the first of his frauds…

In one experiment conducted with undergraduates recruited from his class, Stapel asked subjects to rate their individual attractiveness after they were flashed an image of either an attractive female face or a very unattractive one. The hypothesis was that subjects exposed to the attractive image would — through an automatic comparison — rate themselves as less attractive than subjects exposed to the other image.

The experiment — and others like it — didn’t give Stapel the desired results, he said. He had the choice of abandoning the work or redoing the experiment. But he had already spent a lot of time on the research and was convinced his hypothesis was valid. “I said — you know what, I am going to create the data set,” he told me.

Sitting at his kitchen table in Groningen, he began typing numbers into his laptop that would give him the outcome he wanted. …Stapel at first ended up getting a bigger difference between the two conditions than was ideal. He went back and tweaked the numbers again. It took a few hours of trial and error, spread out over a few days, to get the data just right.

He said he felt both terrible and relieved. The results were published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2004. “I realized — hey, we can do this,” he told me.

Dan Gilbert, retirement account salesman

28 03 2013

I recently saw a TV ad for Prudential Securities for retirement savings. What made it stand out was that the actor in the commercial is none other than Harvard Social Psychologist Dan Gilbert.

Link to the ad.


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.