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    Can Money Buy Happiness?: The Relationship Between Money and Well-BeingOpen in a New Window

    Researchers are investigating new directions in the science of spending. Four presentations during the symposium "Happy Money 2.0: New Insights Into the Relationship Between Money and Well-Being," delve into the effects of experiential purchases, potential negative impacts on abundance, the psychology of lending to friends, and how the wealthy think differently about well-being. The symposium takes place during the SPSP 16th Annual Convention in Long Beach, California.

    Anticipation for experiential purchases

    Research published in the journal Psychological Science has shown that experiential purchases--money spent on doing--may provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having). Participants reported that waiting for an experience elicits significantly more happiness, pleasantness and excitement than waiting for a material good.

    "The anticipatory period [for experiential purchases] tends to be more pleasant...less tinged with impatience relative to future material purchases we're planning on making," explains lead researcher Amit Kumar. In an analysis of stories in the news media about long lines, "Those waiting for an experience tended to be in a better mood and better behaved than those waiting for a material good."

    Given the results, the researchers suggest that it may make sense to delay consumption of some purchases, and shift spending away from material goods to more experiences. In short--start planning for vacations, dinner parties and concerts ahead of time to reap more benefits from anticipation.

    Abundance, adversity and savoring

    Can less really be more? Research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that both material and experiential wealth tends to reduce people's ability to savor simple joys and experiences. Wealth and abundance may undermine appreciation and reduce the positive emotions associated with everyday experiences.

    In contrast to abundance, experiencing adversity in the past or scarcity in the present increases individual's ability to savor everyday moments, according to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science (SPPS). "Simply reminding individuals that the future can be unpredictable drives people to stop and smell the roses," says lead researcher Jordi Quoidbach.

    Temporarily giving something up may provide an effective route to happiness, concludes another study published in SPPS. Consistently indulging in pleasure and abundance may not be the most productive route to happiness.

    The cost of lending money

    Researchers at UCLA and Harvard Business School are studying how lenders and borrowers differ in how they mentally account for loaned funds, and the expectations for how the money should be spent.

    The researchers showed that lenders were angriest when borrowers purchased hedonic (vs. utilitarian) items. In a follow up study, researchers distinguished lending from other types of exchanges, finding those who had loaned money (versus gifted or paid) reported the most anger towards those who purchased a hedonic item with the funds. A third study demonstrated lenders believe they are entitled to far more oversight over what the borrower purchases than borrowers believe lenders to be, especially for larger amounts of money. These results shed light on the root of the anger lenders feel when borrowers seem to 'misappropriate' their loan.

    "Our work shows that interpersonal lending can become an emotional minefield, especially for the lender and particularly when the borrower makes purchases that are hedonic rather than utilitarian," explains lead researcher Noah Goldstein.

    What do the wealthy need to be happy?

    Many people believe that becoming rich is the path to happiness, but pursuing wealth may be an ineffective means of pursuing well-being. According to a study from researchers at Harvard Business School, the University of Mannheim and Yale University, wealthy individuals report that having three to four times as much money would give them a perfect "10" score on happiness--regardless of how much wealth they already have.

    "Wealthy individuals--whether worth $1 million or $10 million--are not happier as their wealth increases," says lead researcher Michael Norton. The research shows that current happiness is not related to wealth and may even be negatively related to income. The study is expected to be published in the coming year.


    The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at

    Related symposium:

    Happy Money 2.0: New Insights Into the Relationship Between Money and Well-Being
    Friday, February 27, 2015, 3:30 PM - 4:45 PM, Room 101AB, Long Beach Convention Center

    "Waiting for Merlot: Anticipatory Consumption of Experiential and Material Purchases"
    Amit Kumar, Cornell University

    "When Less is More: Money, Experiences, and Savoring"
    Jordi Quoidbach, Barcelona School of Management, University Pompeu Fabra

    "Friendship and Finance: The Psychology of Borrowing and Lending"
    Noah J. Goldstein, UCLA

    "How Much Do the Wealthy (Think They) Need to be Happy?"
    Michael I. Norton, Harvard Business School


    Psychology of Food Choice: Challenging the Status QuoOpen in a New Window

    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.

    Helping kids eat more vegetables

    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.

    Researchers at the University of Minnesota are now studying other simple methods that schools could utilize to encourage eating vegetables during lunch. Their research will be published in the coming year.

    "[Our] research suggests that little changes to the lunchroom setting can help kids eat more vegetables. For example, you can help kids eat more vegetables by providing vegetables before you offer any other food," explains researcher Traci Mann. Children who were given vegetables to eat first before any other food ate more than children who were provided all food options at once.

    Challenging teens' attitudes

    Researchers at the University of California at San Diego and the University of Texas at Austin are investigating ways to motivate teenagers to make healthier food and drink choices.

    "Teenagers are notoriously uninterested in healthy eating," says lead researcher Christopher Bryan. In response to that disinterest, Bryan and his colleagues have taken a novel approach at motivating teens. "Instead of trying to convince teens to care about something they don't care about, we link healthy eating to things they already care about," Bryan explains.

    The researchers are framing the intervention as an expose of deceptive food marketing practices designed to manipulate teens to eat junk food, for instance, explaining how companies engineer junk food to be as addictive as possible and use dishonest labeling to make products appear healthier than they are. "We find that by changing the way teens think about healthy eating, we're able to increase the extent to which teens want to see themselves as healthy eaters...and by doing that, we're able to increase the rate at which teens make healthy choices," says Bryan.

    The researchers are continuing to study whether their approach can effectively change teens' behavior long-term.

    Downsides of calorie counting

    Counting calories may negatively impact an individual's ability to focus, according to researchers at the University of California at San Diego, Harvard University, and Princeton University.

    "If you're counting calories, seemingly innocuous reminders of tempting, high-calorie food--such as an empty donut box in the middle of a conference table--can lead to worse performance on difficult tests of attention and reasoning ability," says lead researcher Aimee Chabot.

    Many employers often provide indulgent food in meetings with the intention of motivating their staff, but that may be having an unintended negative effect. The researchers suggest that individuals looking to reduce their calorie intake avoid counting calories and instead opt for simpler strategies, such as avoiding added sugars or not eating after 7 p.m.

    The research is still preliminary, and more data is being collected to replicate the initial results and examine the effect of the presence of actual tempting food on cognitive performance.

    Effects of weight shaming

    Weight-loss campaigns and programs often portray overweight and obese individuals negatively. Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara have found that media messages that stigmatize obesity had negative behavioral and impacts on overweight participants. The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

    "Our research shows that weight stigma leads to behavioral responses that can ironically contribute to weight gain," says co-author Jeffrey Hunger. The researchers observed that self-perceived overweight women who read a weight-stigmatizing news article consumed more high-calorie snack foods compared to overweight women who read a neutral article.

    "Simply reading about the potential for weight stigma was enough to impair self-regulation among overweight women," explains Hunger. The research suggests that the mere threat of stigma can have important behavioral effects, even in cases where an individual does not directly experience weight-based mistreatment.


    The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at

    Related symposium:

    Challenging Misconceptions About the Psychology of Food Choice
    Saturday, February 28, 2015, 2:00 PM - 3:15 PM, Room 202ABC, Long Beach Convention Center

    "Social Psychological Approaches to Obesity: Using Nudges or Norms to get Kids to Eat Vegetables"
    Traci Mann, University of Minnesota

    "Sticking it to the Man: Framing Healthy Eating as Rebellious and Socially Conscious Shapes Teens' Attitudes and Motivates Healthy Choices"
    Christopher J. Bryan, University of California at San Diego

    "Distracted by Donuts?: The Cognitive Strain of Calorie Counting may Undermine Focus and Work Performance"
    Aimee Chabot, University of California at San Diego

    "The Ironic Effects of Weight Stigma"
    Jeffrey Hunger, University of California at Santa Barbara


    Personality and Place: New Insights on Person-Environment LinksOpen in a New Window

    Psychological traits, such as personality and well-being, are spatially and regionally clustered within cities, states, countries, and the world. Four presentations showcase cutting-edge research that investigates how traits are spatially and geographically clustered, what mechanisms drive the uneven distribution of traits, and the consequences of these spatial patterns. The presentations are part of a symposium featured at the SPSP 16th Annual Convention in Long Beach, California.

    Life satisfaction and location

    Research published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science examines the association between overall well-being and two important behavioral indicators of regional success-- migration and population growth.

    Subjective well-being reflects an overall evaluation of the quality of a person's life from his or her perspective. Using life-satisfaction data from over 2 million U.S. residents, along with population data from 2000 to 2010, lead researcher Richard Lucas has shown that U.S. counties with higher levels of life satisfaction grew at significantly faster rates than counties with low life satisfaction. Analysis shows that the association was not due to regional differences in birth or death rates, but rather due to high levels of domestic migration.

    "This suggests that there is something about happier places that people recognize and that attracts people to live there," explains Lucas. "It's not clear from our research why this association exists. It could be that people intentionally move to places that are happier, and the factors that attract people also contribute to happiness, or it may be that places that are growing feel more energetic."

    Introverts prefer mountains

    In a series of three studies, researchers tested whether there is a link between personality and an aspect of physical ecology: flat terrain versus mountainous terrain. The study found that only one of the Big Five personality traits predicted terrain preference--extraversion.

    Participants perceived wooded/secluded terrain to be calmer, quieter and more peaceful. In contrast, participants in the flat/open condition perceived the terrain to be more sociable, exciting and stimulating. The study found that when people want to socialize with others, they prefer the ocean far more (75%) than mountains (25%). In contrast, when they want to be alone, they choose mountains (52%) as much as the ocean (48%).

    Results of the study also showed that introverts tend to live in mountainous regions, while extroverts live in open and flat regions. The researchers caution that there is no evidence mountains make people introverted, but rather, introverts tend to choose mountainous geography because of the secluded environment.

    Lead researcher Shige Oishi says that individuals should consider their personalities more closely when choosing a place to live; "Some cities and towns have geography that is more accommodating for some people than for others...if you know you're introverted, then you may be rejuvenated by being in a secluded place, while an extrovert may be rejuvenated more in an open space."

    This is the first study to link extraversion and introversion with the preference for mountains vs. ocean/open spaces. The study is under review for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Oishi cautions that there is more research that will be collected to determine the underlying mechanisms of the association, and to see if the results are replicated on a larger scale.

    City-dweller or rural resident?

    Previous research has shown that an individual's personality is one factor that determines how much someone likes where they live. Globalization and an increasing tend toward domestic migration and mobility--especially among younger individuals--makes the question of where to live an important one.

    Researchers examined whether individuals have higher self-esteem in a city where their personality matches a majority of other resident's personalities. Preliminary results have shown a small but significant person-city interaction effect on self-esteem for openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

    Lead researcher Wiebke Bleidorn explains: "Individuals low on openness to experiences had significantly lower self-esteem in open cities, like New York City, but relatively higher self-esteem in cities that score relatively lower on openness to experience, for instance, Tuscaloosa, Alabama."

    The findings show that the average personality of a city is related to an individual's well-being and self-esteem.

    Personality of a space

    There is a lot of research focusing on characterizing people, but little research has been done characterizing spaces. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are engaging in a series of studies designed to characterize physical spaces.

    An initial study examined the desired ambiance of residential spaces. Participants were asked to specify the ambiances they would like to evoke in rooms of their homes. Their preferences were characterized in terms of six broad psychological dimensions: restoration, kinship, storage, stimulation, intimacy, and productivity.

    The second study examined the ambiances of bars and cafes, which fell into four broad groups: unique/artsy; modern/stylish; relaxing/conservative; and loud/energetic. Both studies hint at the psychological functions served by physical spaces in everyday life, providing a foundation for work on the factors that drive people to seek out different kinds of spaces and consequences of succeeding or failing to find a suitable fit.


    The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at

    Related Symposium:

    Personality and Place: New Perspectives on Person-Environment Links
    Friday, February 27, 2015, 3:30 PM - 4:45 PM, Room 201A

    "Regional Differences in Subjective Well-Being"
    Rich Lucas, Michigan State University

    "Introverts Like Mountains"
    Shigehiro Oishi, University of Virginia

    "City-Slicker or Southern Belle?: Person-City Fit and Self-Esteem"
    Wiebke Bleidorn, Tilburg University/University of California, Davis

    "Characterizing the Psychological Features of Physical Spaces"
    Sam Gosling, University of Texas at Austin


    Finding Psychological Insights Through Social MediaOpen in a New Window

    Social media has opened up a new digital world for psychology research. Four researchers will be discussing new methods of language analysis, and how social media can be leveraged to study personality, mental and physical health, and cross-cultural differences. The speakers will be presenting their research during the symposium "Finding Psychological Signal in a Billion Tweets: Measurement Through the Language of Social Media," at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) 16th Annual Convention in Long Beach, California.

    Collaborating with computer scientists

    Researchers have long measured people's thoughts, feelings, and personalities using survey questions. The widespread use of Twitter and Facebook has afforded new approaches to social science research, and requires new techniques to analyze and interpret data using computer science methods. These techniques allow researchers the ability to generate insights from large-scale data sets.

    "Collaborations between psychologists and computer scientists can yield studies and insights that would not likely have been conceived independently by researchers from either field," says Andy Schwartz of the University of Pennsylvania.

    A study utilizing open-vocabulary analysis found striking variations in language with personality, gender, and age. Certain words and phrases can provide novel and detailed insights. For instance, men used the possessive 'my' when mentioning their 'wife' or 'girlfriend' more often than women used 'my' with 'husband' or 'boyfriend.' Open-vocabulary analysis can find connections that are unanticipated and often are not captured by other analysis techniques.

    "Data-driven techniques are mostly limited to finding correlations rather than causation...Future analyses are moving beyond words to capturing less ambiguous meanings from language," explains lead researcher Andy Schwartz. Collaboration between social and personality psychologists, and computer scientists, will be integral to moving that research forward.

    Assessing personality with Facebook

    Researchers have found that words used on Facebook are surprisingly reliable indicators of personality. Their results are published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers utilized predictive algorithms of the language to create efficient large-scale personality assessments. The automated language-based models of traits were consistent with the participants' self-reported personality measurements.

    Lead author Gregory Park confirms the reliability of the language-based model: "We evaluated the method in several ways. Predictions from the automated methods can accurately predict the scores the users receive on personality tests. They are consistent with personality ratings made by the users' actual friends, and other personality-related outcomes, such as the number of friends, or self-reported political attitudes."

    Another study, published in the journal Assessment, analyzed Facebook statuses of study participants using open-language analysis. The researchers generated word clouds that visually illustrated how several personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness) appear on Facebook.

    The study found that certain phrases are predictive of specific personality traits. For example, individuals who score high in neuroticism on a self-reported personality assessments are more likely to use words like sadness, loneliness, fear and pain. Analyzing this data may provide novel connections that may not be apparent in traditional written questionnaires and surveys.

    Tracking community health through Twitter

    In a study recently published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers compared tweets and heart disease at the county level. The study found that language analyses may predict heart disease risk as well or better than traditional epidemiological risk factors.

    "Language associated with anger, negative emotions, hostility and disengagement within a community was associated with increased rates of heart disease," explains lead author Johannes Eichstaedt, "Language expressing positive emotions and engagement was associated with reduced risk."

    Twitter users are not necessarily individuals at-risk for heart disease, but rather, they can serve as canaries for communities with higher heart disease risk. Tweets can represent the overall negativity a community is feeling, and indicate the social and environmental stresses that contribute to increased heart-disease risk.

    The results of the study illustrate that Twitter serves as an accurate predictor of health and risk factors of a community. Eichstaedt and his colleagues are now analyzing words and phrases on Twitter to track depression and anxiety across populations.

    Cultural variation in language

    Social media allows researchers to examine similarities and differences across cultures at a new level. Cross-cultural studies typically require time-intensive qualitative analyses with a small number of people. Margaret Kern of the University of Melbourne and Maarten Sap of the University of Pennsylvania are using Twitter to study variations in language use across cultures.

    Using differential language analysis the researchers examined Twitter posts from eight countries (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, India, Singapore, Mexico, and Spain) and two languages (English and Spanish).

    The researchers found that there were many similarities across countries, with emoticons and iconic pop artists correlating with positive emotions and curse words, and aggression correlating with negative emotions. There were also differences that point to culture-specific correlations for emotional expression. Results of the study are still preliminary, and have not yet been published.

    "A challenge for us is understanding how to interpret any differences we see- is it a really difference, or simply noise? In the future, we hope to work directly with people from these cultures to help us interpret and understand the results," explains lead researcher Margaret Kern.


    The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at

    Related symposium:

    Finding Psychological Signal in a Billion Tweets: Measurement Through the Language of Social Media Friday, February 27, 2015, 3:30 PM - 4:45 PM, Grand Ballroom B

    "From What We Tweet to Who We Are: Large-Scale Content Analysis Techniques"
    H. Andrew Schwartz, University of Pennsylvania

    "Assessment of Big Five Personality Traits Using Facebook Language"
    Gregory Park, University of Pennsylvania

    "Status Updates of Distress: Tracking Depression and Anxiety of Large Populations Through Facebook and Twitter"
    Johannes C Eichstaedt, University of Pennsylvania

    "Do you Feel What I Feel?: Cultural Variations in Linguistic Expressions of Emotion"
    Margaret L Kern, University of Melbourne


    Member Spotlight: Christopher T. BurrisOpen in a New Window

    Member Spotlights feature an interview with an SPSP member to highlight their contributions in social and personality psychology and the role SPSP has played in their career.


    Name: Christopher T. Burris
    Employer: St. Jerome’s University (in the University of Waterloo)
    Job Title: Professor of Psychology
    Highest Degree: Ph.D.
    Institution Providing Degree: University of Kansas
    Member of SPSP since: 2003

    Brief Bio: If an aspect of human experience evokes strong reactions in people, good or bad, I’ve usually wanted to learn about it. I’m proud of the fact that many of my publications have resulted from academic partnerships with my undergraduate students. Teaching courses on evil, religion, death and dying, criminal profiling, and “dark side” of sexuality have often pointed to gaps in the research literature. This, in turn, creates the motivation to test ideas, and the results can then be brought back into the classroom. Hopefully, the net result is an incrementally better understanding of some of life's "big" issues.


    1) Why did you join SPSP?

    My research has consistently fused elements of social and personality psychology, and so the name SPSP screams “professional home.”

    2) What led you to choose a career in social psychology?

    After my M.A. degree in counseling and social psychology, I spent time working in both psychiatric and correctional settings, as well as teaching undergraduate psychology courses as a sessional instructor. Although interviewing an axe murderer and experiencing lockdowns in a maximum-security prison (true stories) were positively endearing, research and teaching eventually wooed me away from it all.

    3) Briefly summarize your current research, and any future research interests you plan to pursue.

    Over the years, I’ve had the luxury of dabbling in religion/spirituality, the self, sexuality, and motivation and emotion. Examples include: comparing the inner experiential worlds of atheists and religious individuals; “engulfment” as a dark side of self-expansion; the impact of evaluative threat on sexual interests; and a motivational conceptualization of love and hate. Current/future topics include the exploring the mystical properties of erotic love as well as developing and testing a causal model to explain sadistically motivated behavior across the spectrum of severity.

    4) What is your most memorable SPSP Annual Convention experience?

    A fellow attendee spontaneously uttered an obscenity to express approving amazement
    at my poster findings. Best peer review EVER!

    5) How has being a member of SPSP helped to advance your career?

    I try to have “one good conversation” at every Annual Convention – if someone can help me think a new thought (and I can actually return the favor), then it's been a good conference.

    6) Do you have any advice for individuals who wish to pursue a career in social psychology?

    Being a researcher and a teacher is a ridiculous privilege, and the hardest job you’ll ever love. But wherever you end up, find a way to keep tackling those big questions about how humans move through the world that we've yet to answer (or even ask). It’s one of the most prosocial things we can try to do with the skills we have.

    7) Outside of psychology, how do you spend your free time?

    Outside of psychology, I’m usually outside, being stared at by birds… all the while trying to convince myself that I’m actually watching them. 


    FPSP Invites Nominations for Heritage Initiative Wall of FameOpen in a New Window


    The Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology invites nominations for the Heritage Initiative Wall of Fame. This initiative recognizes senior scientists who have made distinguished contributions to Personality-Social Psychology during their career, and whose nomination is supported by contributions to the Foundation's dissertation grants program.

    If you would like to propose a candidate for this recognition, please contact Harry Reis, the current Foundation President at


    Lucky Charms: When Are Superstitions Used Most?Open in a New Window

    It might be a lucky pair of socks, or a piece of jewelry; whatever the item, many people turn to a superstition or lucky charm to help achieve a goal. For instance, you used a specific avatar to win a game and now you see that avatar as lucky. Superstitions are most likely to occur under high levels of uncertainty. Eric Hamerman at Tulane University and Carey Morewedge at Boston University have determined that people are more likely to turn to superstitions to achieve a performance goal versus a learning goal. Their research is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

    Design of the study

    Performance goals are when people try to be judged as successful by other people. "For example, if I'm a musician, I want people to applaud after I play. Or if I'm a student, I want to get a good grade," explains lead author Eric Hamerman. Performance goals tend to be extrinsically motivated, and are perceived to be susceptible to influence from outside forces. Learning goals are often judged internally. "For example, a musician wants to become competent as a guitar player and perceive that he/she has mastered a piece of music," Hamerman says. Since learning goals are intrinsically motivated, this leads to a perception that they are also internally controlled and less likely to be impacted by outside forces.

    The researchers conducted six experiments to test whether the type of achievement goal would change the likelihood of engaging in superstitious behavior. Study 1 examined reliance on luck by testing preferences for items that were established as lucky or unlucky in a series of conditioning trials, and asked participants to make a choice of which item to use in the pursuit of an achievement goal. In Study 2, participants chose whether to view a "lucky charm" before pursuing an achievement goal.

    In Study 3, participants were randomly assigned to either a superstition condition where they were informed a pen had been associated with prior success (lucky), or a control condition (no reference was made to its past history). Participants were then asked to rate their preference to use the item in a performance or learning goal. In study 4, video game avatars were associated with success or failure in a game scenario, and participants were observed to see if they had a preference between avatars when pursuing a performance or learning goal.

    The final two studies explored the drivers and consequences of the effect. In Study 5, conditioning trials established positive or negative associations for a number of items. Participants then had to choose an item to use in achieving a performance or learning goal that they were certain or not certain to achieve. Study 6 assigned participants to use an item that had previously been established as lucky or unlucky, and measured their confidence in achieving a performance or learning goal.

    Results of the study

    The first four studies demonstrate that people use superstitious behavior to help achieve both chronic and temporary performance goals, but not for help achieving a learning goal. "Previous research has shown that when a goal has high uncertainty (i.e., I'm not sure if I will be able to achieve it), people are more likely to turn to superstition. When performance goals become more uncertain, people use superstition to help achieve them. However, increasing the uncertainty of learning goals does not affect whether or not people turn to superstition," Hamerman explains.

    Participants primed to pursue a performance goal before taking a quiz had a stronger preference for a lucky pen than a pen positively associated with intelligence, whereas participants primed to pursue a learning goal did not exhibit a stronger preference for either pen. Participants in Study 6 found that participants assigned to use a lucky rather than unlucky avatar exhibited increased confidence in achieving a performance goal but not a learning goal.

    Hamerman cautions that the research does not investigate whether belief in superstitions has an effect on actual performance. "We show that using superstition increases people's confidence in achieving performance goals, and it is certainly possible that under certain circumstances, increased confidence may lead to improved performance. However, we acknowledge that superstition is not a rational way of actually helping to achieve such goals, and the purpose of the research is not to recommend superstition as a method of goal achievement," Hamerman adds. While participants may have experienced greater confidence, there was no reported performance improvement on quizzes in Studies 1, 4, and 5 among participant groups.


    Hamerman, E.J, Morewedge, C.K. (2015). Reliance on Luck: Identifying Which Achievement Goals Elicit Superstitious Behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(3).

    Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at


    SPSP President’s MessageOpen in a New Window

    Enhancing the Relevance of Personality and Social Psychology

    Mark Leary, SPSP President

    The past few years have been particularly challenging ones for SPSP and for personality and social psychology more generally.  The field weathered some highly troubling cases of scientific misconduct, which damaged our public image and prompted intense self-scrutiny.  At the same time, SPSP experienced an embezzlement scandal, which consumed a great deal of time and resources and catalyzed a major reorganization of how the society is managed.  Concerns about the reproducibility of our results led to calls for sweeping changes in how we conduct our research, analyze our data, and report our findings.  More broadly, funding for research has been declining, academic jobs have not yet recovered from the recession, and I’ve heard a number of individuals, ranging from graduate students to distinguished senior members of the field, express disillusionment with the entire enterprise. 

    But amidst the turmoil, change, and consternation, we should not lose sight of that fact that the field has nonetheless continued to progress, prosper, and grow.  Exciting new theories and research still emerged, articles were published, degrees were awarded, and tens of thousands of students were introduced to social and personality psychology for the first time.  And, most importantly from the standpoint of SPSP, a central office was created with a professional staff dedicated to managing the affairs of the organization and promoting personality and social psychology on all fronts.  We have emerged from the challenges of the past few years a stronger field and organization than before facing these trials and tribulations. Perhaps post-traumatic growth can occur for organizations as it does for people.

    My immediate predecessors—Trish Devine, David Funder, and Jamie Pennebaker—devoted much of their energies as President to these various challenges and creating the new organizational structure that will lead SPSP into the future.  They put a tremendous amount of time, effort, and angst into working on our behalf, and they deserve our deepest thanks.  Selfishly, I am particularly grateful.  Because of them, other members of the Executive Committee, and the new SPSP staff, I start my term as President with the luxury of being able to look forward rather than solving crises.  So, I’ve given a good deal of thought to what personality and social psychology might need right now as we move ahead.   

    We talk a good deal about needing more jobs, more funding, more reproducible results, more research transparency, and more diversity, all of which are important goals.  But, another broad and pervasive concern – one with implications for these other goals as well as for our viability as a discipline – involves the relevance of social and personality psychology as a field.  Most of us went into psychology because we thought that the topics were interesting, and we perceived that the processes that we study are pertinent to almost everything in human life.  I suspect that virtually every member of SPSP believes that social and personality psychology are central to understanding a wide array important phenomena and to finding solutions to the problems that exist in many domains of human life.  Indeed, our journals, books, and courses focus on topics such as prejudice, violence, environmental behavior, psychological well-being, relationships, education, health, crime, terrorism, business, conflict, and so on.  Yet, many of us sense that outsiders do not generally view our field as directly relevant to discussions of these topics, and the question is “why not?”  Why don’t politicians, educators, government functionaries, business leaders, managers, other social scientists, mental health professionals, social engineers, and lay people see our work as centrally relevant to what they do?  Why isn’t social and personality psychology invoked whenever human behavior is discussed in any context? 

    I’m certain that scientists in most fields feel a bit underappreciated, but our discipline is so obviously relevant to important domains of human life that we should think carefully about why we are not as visible and impactful as we should be.  Is it because the specific topics we choose to study are often not conceptually or empirically connected to real-world phenomena in ways that make their relevance obvious to other people? Or, is it because of how we tend to conduct our research, which necessarily strips processes to their bare bones, leading people outside the field to miss its relevance to “real life.”

    Have we tended to assume that people will automatically recognize the relevance of what we do and, thus, not made an extra effort to help them see why it is important?  Perhaps we simply haven’t done a good enough job of getting our findings into the hands of other scientists, decision-makers, and the public.  (Here’s where our role as college and university teachers is essential to disseminating our knowledge to the next generation.)  Or when we do give social and personality psychology away, perhaps we don’t package our knowledge in ways that resonate with people outside the field.  In our efforts to be precise and scientifically rigorous, do we sometimes take the life out of our findings or go overboard with qualifications?  I suspect that there are many possible sources of the problem, and thus many possible solutions.

    The opening presidential symposium at the SPSP meeting in Long Beach will focus on enhancing the relevance of personality and social psychology, but I hope that our discussion of this issue will extend far beyond the convention and prompt each of us to reflect on what we might do to promote the relevance of the field both individually and collectively.  Personally, I have not made enough of an effort to promote the relevance of either my own work or the field in general throughout most of my career.  In retrospect, I wish I had, and so one of my goals as SPSP President is to bring this discussion to the fore.  What can be done, if anything, to make our work have a greater impact outside of our own field?

    The solutions might not necessarily be found in major changes in the ways that we do our research, write our papers, teach our students, or talk to the media.  Rather, I think that we will enhance the relevance of social and personality through many, small ongoing tweaks and nudges that enhance what we have to offer and that promote our contributions more clearly and confidently.  I welcome any thoughts that you may have regarding what SPSP as an organization can do along these lines.    


    What Can Your Online Avatar Say About Your Personality?Open in a New Window

    More communication among individuals is occurring online, and often between individuals who do not know each other offline. Researchers at York University are looking to understand the potential impressions and their limitations of those we meet in a digital context. In a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the researchers specifically looked at what personality traits are conveyed by a user's avatar.

    Design of the study

    An avatar is typically an image that represents the self in a virtual world, ranging from simple drawings (e.g., Mii characters on Nintendo Wii) to detailed three-dimensional renderings of characters (e.g., World of Warcraft). Avatars allow individuals to express, or suppress, various physical or psychological traits in a digital world. Previous research has shown that individuals typically choose and prefer avatars perceived to be similar to themselves.

    [Image courtesy of Katrina Fong]

    The researchers included two components of profile similarity in their analysis--overall accuracy and distinctive accuracy. Overall accuracy is how well personality can be predicted as a whole, and is the sum of both distinctive accuracy and expectations based on typical norms. "For example, if my perception of someone's extraversion closely matches their true level of extraversion, without any reference to how this related to average levels of extraversion, this is overall accuracy," explains lead researcher Katrina Fong. "If I can accurately perceive how much more extraverted than average a person is, that involves distinctive accuracy."

    In the first phase of the study participants created customized avatars, and in the second phase of the study a different set of participants viewed and rated the avatars created in the first phase. Creators were assessed on five major traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

    Results of the study

    According to the analysis, some personality traits are accurately communicated better than others. For instance, how outgoing or anxious a person is was easier to perceive based on an avatar compared to how open to new experiences or conscientious the person is. Outgoing and sociable individuals tend to create avatars that communicate their personality. In contrast, people who are high in neuroticism tend to create avatars that don't communicate their personality accurately. People who are more agreeable and more typical of the general population in personality tend to create avatars that elicit friendship intentions of others.

    Avatars with open eyes, a smile or grin, an oval face, brown hair and/or a sweater were more likely to elicit friendship intentions. In contrast, avatars with a neutral expression, or any other expression other than a smile, black hair, short hair, a hat, and/or sunglasses were less likely to elicit friendship intentions. Two cues were specifically related to creator agreeableness and friendship intentions--open eyes and a neutral expression (a negative predictor). Based on the results, customizing an avatar to have open eyes and avoiding a neutral expression would be more likely to elicit agreeableness and friendship intentions.

    Gender differences were also examined in the study. The researchers found that when rating avatars created by females, perceivers tended to rate them as being more contentious and open, even after taking into account the creator's actual traits. Based on previous studies, the researchers expected to see individuals relying on gender associations to inform their personality judgments. Surprisingly, avatar gender didn't influence judgments in typical gender stereotypic directions. "One possibility is that digital contexts activate different gender stereotypes than in real-world contexts, but more research is necessary to explore this," Katrina Fong says.

    The avatars in the study are basic and simple avatars, so the researchers caution on extending these results to more complex and dynamic avatars, like those found in three-dimensional digital worlds. The study does show that avatars can offer accurate information about the creator's personality, and individuals high in agreeableness tend to create an avatar that others want to befriend--not unlike the real-world.


    This research was funded in part by a grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

    Fong, K., Mar, R.A. (2015). What Does My Avatar Say About Me?: Inferring Personality From Avatars. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(2).

    Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at


    The Psychology of Gift-Giving and ReceivingOpen in a New Window

    Gift exchanges can reveal how people think about others, what they value and enjoy, and how they build and maintain relationships. Researchers are exploring various aspects of gift-giving and receiving, such as how givers choose gifts, how gifts are used by recipients, and how gifts impact the relationship between givers and receivers.

    The symposia "The Psychology of Gift Giving and Receiving" will take place during the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Annual Convention in Long Beach, California.

    Challenges of "picky" recipients

    According to a recent poll, people are becoming increasingly selective about the items they want. Researchers Andong Cheng, Meg Meloy, and Evan Polman surveyed 7,466 Black Friday shoppers in 2013. They found that of the shoppers surveyed, 39% of the items they purchased were for individuals they considered "picky." While most of us may shop for a picky person in our lives, we know very little about how people cope with the challenge of shopping for a picky person.

    Cheng and her colleagues confirmed that shoppers are less motivated, and likely to employ effort-reducing strategies when choosing gifts for people they believe to be picky. Gift givers are more likely to give gift cards, or forgo a gift altogether for a picky recipient.

    According to their research, there is an upside to being picky: shoppers are more likely to purchase an item the picky recipient specifically requests. Less picky people have a higher chance of receiving items they don't want, whereas picky recipients more often get what they want.

    Recipients' perception of gift cards

    Picking out a gift can be extremely difficult, especially if you consider the 39% purchasing for picky individuals, and often cash feels impersonal. Chelsea Helion and Thomas Gilovich are studying how individuals perceive and spend gift cards. Gift cards, it seems, hit a sweet spot--they have the flexibility of cash, but are given and meant to be spent as gifts.

    Lead researcher Chelsea Helion explains that "While gift cards technically could be used to buy mundane things like textbooks or paper towels, we find that this feels like a misuse of the card. When paying with a gift card, people forgo buying everyday items in favor of buying indulgent items."

    Helion and her colleagues' research has found that when individuals receive a gift card, they are more likely to purchase hedonic items (luxury items that are meant to bring pleasure) versus using credit cards or cash for purchases. When individuals are given a gift card instead of cash, they feel a justification to buy something that's out-of-the-ordinary.

    According to Helion, recipients use gift cards to "treat' themselves to items they might not normally buy. "We find that this is because individuals experience less guilt when paying with a gift card, compared to credit cards or cash," Helion says."

    Personalizing gifts: good or bad?

    Gift-givers tend to choose gifts that are personalized to the recipient, but are less versatile than what the recipient would like to receive, according to new research by Mary Steffel, Elanor Williams and Robyn LeBoeuf.

    This mismatch arises because givers tend to focus on recipients' stable traits rather than recipients' multiple, varying wants and needs. "Givers tend to focus on what recipients are like rather than what they would like. This can lead them to gravitate toward gifts that are personalized but not very versatile," lead researcher Mary Steffel shares.

    The tendency for givers to choose overly specific gifts may contribute to gift nonuse. "Recipients take longer to redeem gift cards that can only be used at a particular retailer or that come with a suggestion for how they should be used than gift cards that can be used anywhere. Givers fail to anticipate this and favor specific over general gift cards," Steffel said.

    To give a gift that is more likely to match a recipient's preferences, the researchers recommend that givers focus more on what the recipient would like, rather than focusing on their unique traits.

    Material gifts versus experiences

    Consumers frequently struggle with what kinds of gifts to give, leading to an overwhelming number of top 10 gift lists and online guides that aim to improve your relationship with the receiver. Researchers Cindy Chan and Cassie Mogilner offer simple guidance in their presentation. "To make your friend, spouse, or family member feel closer to you, give an experience," Chan says.

    Experiments examining actual and hypothetical gift exchanges in real-life relationships reveal that experiential gifts produce greater improvements in relationship strength than material gifts, regardless of whether the gift is consumed together.

    According to Chan and Mogilner's research, the relationship improvements that recipients derive from experiential gifts stem from the emotion that is evoked when the gifts are consumed, not when the gifts are received. Giving experiential gifts is thus identified as a highly effective form of prosocial spending, and can have a greater impact on improving the relationship between the giver and receiver.


    The Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at

    If you are a reporter interested in attending SPSP's Annual Convention, click here for press registration. If you are a researcher or student interested in attending, please click here for more information.

    The Psychology of Gift Giving and Receiving
    Friday, February 27, 2015, 9:45 AM - 11:00 AM, Room 201B

    "Picking Gifts for Picky People: Strategies and Outcomes"
    Andong Cheng, Meg Meloy, Evan Polman

    "Giver-Recipient Discrepancies Contribute to Gift Card Non-Redemption"
    Mary Steffel, Elanor F. Williams, Robyn A. LeBoeuf

    "Mental Accounting and Gift Card Spending"
    Chelsea Helion, Thomas D. Gilovich

    "Experiential Gifts Foster Stronger Relationships Than Material Gifts"
    Cindy Chan, Cassie Mogilner


    Congratulations to the 2015 SAGE Young Scholars Awards RecipientsOpen in a New Window

    The Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology (FPSP), in collaboration with SAGE Publications, has announced the SAGE Young Scholars Awards 2015 recipients. The awardees receive a one-time award of $5,000 to be used at their discretion for research, study, or conference travel-related purposes. Five awards are presented each year to young scholars representative of the broad spectrum of personality and social psychology research areas. 

    "The Sage Young Scholar Awards recognize outstanding achievements by young scholars who are early in their research careers. The awards are intended to provide these scholars with funds that can be flexibly applied in extending their work in new and exciting directions. Previous winners of this award have gone on to positions of intellectual leadership in the field. Because these awards are highly sought after, winning a Sage Young Scholar Award is recognition of both accomplishment and potential," shared Harry Reis, President of FPSP.

    This year's awardees were selected from a large and highly competitive field of qualified nominees. This field provides impressive testimony to the vigor with which innovative research is being conducted by young scholars in social-personality psychology. Their exceptional contributions indicate a bright future for the field.

    Please join us in congratulating this year's recipients, who will be recognized at the award ceremony during the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Annual Convention in Long Beach, California, February 26-28, 2015.

    2015 SAGE Young Scholars Award Recipients:


    Clayton Critcher


    Clayton Critcher is an Assistant Professor of Marketing, Cognitive Science, and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business. He received a PhD in social and personality psychology from Cornell University in 2010, and an AB in psychology from Yale University in 2005. He works in various areas—self and identity, judgment and decision making, moral psychology, and social cognition—all toward an understanding of how people reason about and behave in ambiguous and challenging social, economic, political, and moral settings. He was the 2014 winner of the Carol D. Soc Distinguished Graduate Mentoring Award.

    Emily Impett


    Emily Impett is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She completed her PhD in Social Psychology at UCLA and completed two postdocs, the most recent at UC Berkeley. Dr. Impett applies and blends social psychological theories of close relationships and sexuality to understand when “giving” to a partner—both inside and outside of the bedroom—help versus harm relationships. Her research has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, and she has received several research awards, including an award for Early Career Achievement from the International Association for Relationship Research.

    Nicholas Rule


    Nick Rule is assistant professor of psychology and Canada Research Chair in Social Perception and Cognition at the University of Toronto. He received a PhD in 2010 from Tufts University under the mentorship of Nalini Ambady and an AB from Dartmouth College in 2004 where he worked with Neil Macrae. He was the 2013 recipient of the International Social Cognition Network’s Early Career Award and the Ministry of Research and Innovation of Ontario’s Early Researcher Award in 2012. His research focuses on processes and outcomes related to person perception, ranging from micro-level phenomena (brain responses) to macro-level phenomena (cultural differences).

    Jenessa Shapiro


    Jenessa Shapiro is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Management at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She received her PhD in Social Psychology in 2008 from Arizona State University, working with Steven Neuberg. Dr. Shapiro's research attempts to understand when and why people express vs. conceal prejudices. In addition, she explores the experience of being a target of prejudice, examining topics such as multiple forms of stereotype threat and relations between members of different minority groups. Dr. Shapiro's research has been supported by over $2.8 million in grant dollars from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, and the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program.

    Jay Van Bavel


    Jay Van Bavel is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University. He completed his PhD in Psychology at the University of Toronto and a postdoc at The Ohio State University. Dr. Van Bavel blends theory and methods from social psychology and cognitive neuroscience to study how group identities, moral values, and political beliefs alter our perceptions and evaluations. His research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the John Templeton Foundation, and received several research awards, including the Early Career Award for Distinguished Contributions in Social Neuroscience.


    Declining Loneliness Among American TeenagersOpen in a New Window

    There has been a growing concern that modern society is increasingly lonely. In 2006, a New York Times article "The Lonely American Just Got a Bit Lonelier" highlighted research that shows a decline in social engagement--people are less likely to join clubs, have fewer close friends, and are less likely to perceive others as trustworthy. However, studies have also shown an increase in extraversion and self-esteem, which suggests loneliness is decreasing.

    In an effort to study the societal trend of loneliness, researchers from the University of Queensland and Griffith University conducted an analysis of data on high school and college students. The study is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

    In the first study, the researchers examined past studies that utilized the Revised UCLA loneliness scale (R-UCLA) to analyze changes in loneliness over time, and gender differences in loneliness. The studies focused on college students through the year 1978 to 2009. Analysis of the studies showed a modest decline in loneliness over time. Female students reported lower loneliness than male college students.

    Study 1 used a small sample of studies, which limits the reliability of the analysis. The literature also focused on college students, which is not necessarily a representative sample of the general population. Study 2 aimed to address these limitations.

    Study 2 utilized a large representative sample of high school students from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) project. The MTF project surveyed the behaviors, attitudes and values of American high school students. Overall, high school students reported a decline in loneliness from 1991 to 2012.

    The researchers examined specific items within the MTF data to determine if various aspects of loneliness demonstrated differing trends. The MTF project assessed feeling lonely, feeling left out, and desiring more close friends, which assess subjective feelings of isolation; the researchers termed this factor "subjective isolation." The second factor included items such as whether an individual has friends to talk to, turn to, and interact with, which measures a students' social environment and social support; the researchers labeled that factor "social network isolation."

    Study 2 found that White high school students reported lower loneliness than Black students, Hispanic students, or other races. The study also found that subjective isolation declined, but social network isolation increased, which suggests that high school students perceive less loneliness but poorer social networks. High school students reported fewer friends with whom to interact, but less desire for more friends.

    Lead researcher David Clark explains that "the trend in loneliness may be caused by modernization." Throughout history, modernization has changed the way people interact with one another. "People become less dependent on their families and need more specialized skills, which could lead to less interest in social support and more self-sufficiency," Mr. Clark says. "Over time, people are more individualistic, more extroverted, and have higher self-esteem."

    More research on cultures outside of the U.S. is necessary to determine if modernization is the root cause of the observed results. "If other cultures show the same pattern of reduced loneliness in the face of poorer social networks, this would support the idea that modernization is responsible," Mr. Clark says. If other cultures do not show a similar pattern, then the cause is something more specific to American culture.


    Clark, D.M.T., Loxton, N.J., Tobin, S.J. (2014). Declining Loneliness Over Time: Evidence From American Colleges and High Schools. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(1).

    Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at


    Liberals Are More Emotion-Driven Than ConservativesOpen in a New Window

    Emotions are powerful motivators of human behavior and attitudes. Emotions also play an important role in guiding policy support in conflict and other political contexts. Researchers at Tel Aviv University and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya have studied the interaction between emotion and political ideology, showing that the motivating power of emotions is not the same for those on different ends of the ideological spectrum. Their research is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

    Design of the study

    The researchers conducted six studies to examine emotions, ideology, and how they act together to affect support for policies. The first two studies focused on intergroup empathy, while the third study examined the interactive influence of ideology and despair on support for policies. Participants self-identified as being at different points of the right-left ideological spectrum.

    Specific scenarios were selected for the six studies relating to current events in Israel, mainly surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and possible steps towards its resolution. Lead researcher Ruthie Pliskin elaborates on why the specific scenarios were chosen; "We selected our different scenarios with the aim of tackling both positive and negative developments in intergroup conflicts, eliciting a range of different emotions towards the out-group and the situation, referring to different types of out-groups, and among different in-groups. Furthermore, we wanted to utilize both contrived, controlled scenarios, and major real-world developments, reflecting real and possible political developments."

    Studies 4 through 6 were designed to alleviate some of the limitations in the first three studies. Study 4 utilized a correlational design addressing real-life developments—renewed peace negotiations—and a representative sample of Jewish Israelis. Study 4 allowed the researchers to examine whether the effect in the first three studies could be replicated in a real-world scenario, and also generalized to anger—a negative intergroup emotion brought on by the perception of another group's actions as unjust, and associated with a desire to confront or attack the anger-evoking group.

    Study 5 followed a similar design as Study 4 and was conducted during wartime. The study controlled for various measures of attitude strength and group identification, ruling out the possibility that the previous findings simply reflect right-left differences in attitude strength rather than in the rigidity with which they hold a specific attitude. Study 6 went a step further and examined a novel population—Palestinian citizens of Israel—to eliminate the possibility that the findings are population-dependent, and expanded the examination to include fear—an emotion often related to rightist ideology.

    Results of the study

    In line with previous scientific knowledge on the relative rigidity of rightist ideological beliefs, the first three studies illustrate that induced emotions have a greater influence on leftists' positions than on rightists' positions, even though the experimental manipulations affected levels of emotion similarly for all participants. Even the third study, in which a negative emotion was induced, led to changes in policy support only among leftists, as was the case with empathy in the first two studies. Induced empathy toward both Palestinians (study 1) and asylum-seekers (study 2) led to increased support for conciliatory and humanitarian policies among leftists, whereas induced despair (study 3) decreased support for conciliatory policies only among leftists.

    Studies 4 through 6 looked at real-world scenarios, and found that Jewish-Israeli leftists' policy support was more related to both empathy and anger than rightists', at times of both peace efforts (study 4) and war (study 5). The final study found the same pattern of results with regard to fear among a different population, demonstrating that the interactive effect of ideology and emotion on policy support is not limited to a given population nor to emotions typically associated with leftist ideology.

    Ms. Pliskin and her colleagues believe that these results may apply to other cultures, including liberals and conservatives in the U.S. "We would expect to find similar results among rightists and leftists in other cultures, including conservatives and liberals in the U.S., because of the cross-cultural similarities in the superstructure of ideology and the needs associated with rightist versus leftist ideology—and because of how these factors relate to emotional processes and their outcomes." But Ms. Pliskin does caution that more research would need to be done to determine if there are cultural factors that may limit or increase observed left-right differences.

    Future research directions

    The current research reveals that similar emotions can produce very different emotional outcomes for people of different ideologies. The findings help to illuminate how ideology and emotions work together to shape positions, and why we find that political events often push leftists more to the right, but rarely push rightists more to the left. The researchers were unable to determine in the current research under what circumstances emotions may in fact motivate changes in rightists' positions, to the same extent as leftists’. More research is necessary to address that question.

    Ms. Pliskin and her colleagues are already broadening their research to comparing Israeli and Dutch societies. Their research is also comparing the outcomes of fear in light of events either related or unrelated to the dominant ideological divides in society.


    This research was supported in part by grants from the Israeli Science Foundation, and the European Research Commission.

    Pliskin, R., Bar-Tal, D., Sheppes, G., & Halperin, E. (2014). Are Leftists More Emotion-Driven than Rightists? The Interactive Influence on Ideology and Emotions on Support for Policies. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(12).

     Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at


    Receiving Gossip About Others Promotes Self-Reflection and GrowthOpen in a New Window

    Gossip is pervasive in our society, and our penchant for gossip can be found in most of our everyday conversations. Why are individuals interested in hearing gossip about others’ achievements and failures? Researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands studied the effect positive and negative gossip has on how the recipient evaluates him or herself. The study is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

    In spite of some positive consequences, gossip is typically seen as destructive and negative. However, hearing gossip may help individuals adapt to a social environment, illustrate how an individual can improve, or reveal potential threats.

    Design of the study

    The first study asked participants to recall an incident where they received either positive or negative gossip about another individual. Participants were then asked questions to measure the self-improvement, self-promotion, and self-protection value of the received gossip information. Individuals that received positive gossip had increased self-improvement value, whereas negative gossip had increased self-promotion value. Negative gossip also increased self-protection concerns.

    “For example, hearing positive stories about others may be informative, because they suggest ways to improve oneself,” lead researcher Elena Martinescu explains. “Hearing negative gossip may be flattering, because it suggests that others (the gossip target) may function less well than we do. However, negative gossip may also be threatening to the self, because it suggests a malign social environment in which one may easily fall victim to negative treatments.”

    Participants in the second study were assigned the role of a sales agent and asked to imagine they had written a job description that was presented to them. Participants received either negative or positive gossip about another’s job performance. This scenario included an achievement goal manipulation with two conditions; a performance goal condition, and a mastery goal condition. People who have a salient performance goal strive to demonstrate superior competence by outperforming other people. People who have a salient mastery goal strive to develop competence by learning new knowledge, abilities, and skills.

    Results of the study

    Consistent with the first study, positive gossip had more self-improvement value, whereas negative gossip had self-promotion value and raised self-protection concerns. Negative gossip elicited pride due to its self-promotion value since it provides individuals with social comparison information that justifies self-promotional judgments. Negative gossip also elicits fear and anxiety due to increased self-protection concerns, since individuals may worry that their reputation could be at risk if they become targets of negative gossip in the future.

    The second study found that individuals with a mastery goal are more likely to learn from positive gossip than individuals with a performance goal, while the latter experience more concern for self-protection in response to positive gossip. Individuals who pursue performance goals feel threatened by positive gossip because rivals’ success translates to their own failure.

    The researchers expected that individuals would be more alert after receiving positive rather than negative gossip because they might find positive gossip provides a source of information they can learn from. However, the results were surprising, and alertness was high for both positive and negative gossip, presumably because both types of gossip are highly relevant for the receiver.

    Gender differences between men and women were also observed. “Women who receive negative gossip experience higher self-protection concerns possibly because they believe they might experience a similar fate as the person being the target of the gossip, while men who receive positive gossip experience higher fear, perhaps because upward social comparisons with competitors are threatening,” Elena Martinescu elaborates.


    Gossip provides individuals with indirect social comparison information, which is in-turn valued highly by receivers because it provides an essential resource for self-evaluation. Instead of eliminating gossip, Elena Martinescu and her colleagues suggest that individuals should “accept gossip as a natural part of our lives and receive it with a critical attitude regarding the consequences it may have on ourselves and on others.” Receiving gossip about other people is a valuable source of knowledge about ourselves, because we implicitly compare ourselves with the people we hear gossip about.


    Martinescu, E., Jansen, O., Nijstad, B.A. (2014). Tell Me the Gossip: The Self-Evaluative Function of Receiving Gossip About Others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(12).

     Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at


    Exploring the Connection Between Empathy, Neurohormones and AggressionOpen in a New Window

    Empathy is typically seen as eliciting warmth and compassion—a generally positive state that makes people do good things to others. However, empathy may also motivate aggression on behalf of the vulnerable other. Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo, examined whether assessed or elicited empathy would lead to situation-specific aggression on behalf of another person, and to explore the potential role of two neurohormones in explaining a connection between empathy and aggression. The study is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

    Design of the Study

    Empathic impulses are aimed at reducing the suffering of the target of empathy. Sometimes aggression may be the response that is perceived to best address the need of the other, or best suited to end their suffering. This effect may, in part, be due in part to physiological changes that occur in the body as a result of empathy. The research focused on two neurohormones, oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin has been associated with empathy in previous research, and also with protective aggression. Vasopressin has been much more commonly studied in the animal literature, but has similarly been associated with aggression to defend a mate or offspring.

    The first study asked participants to write and answer questions about a time in the past 12 months where they witnessed a close other being hurt physically or emotionally by a third party other than themselves. The results illustrate that empathy, not trait aggression or perceptions of emotional threat toward the self, motivated predicted aggression of the participants.

    The second study involved an empathy manipulation and a distress manipulation. Participants were given a scenario describing someone having financial difficulty, and that person was either worried (high need) or not (low need). Half the participants were told to read the scenario with instructions that were empathy-inducing, and half were not. Participants were also told this person would engage in a competitive task with another individual, and participants were given the opportunity to sabotage the performance of the other individual by assigning that person a certain amount of hot sauce to drink. "Hot sauce was described to them as a clearly painful and performance hindering substance, meaning that the more hot sauce they assigned, the worse the anonymous person would do on the task…and presumably, the more likely that the person with financial troubles could win," explains lead researcher Anneke Buffone.

    Results of the Study

    Participants who felt empathy in the Study 1 were more likely to aggress against the close other's perpetrator if the close other was perceived to be distressed, but not when the close other was not perceived to be distressed. The empathy manipulation in the Study 2 increased aggression (the amount of hot sauce assigned) toward the target's competitor, but only when the empathy target was described as distressed. The results of study 2 demonstrate that empathy-linked aggression can occur for a stranger, and that provocation by the target is unlikely to be the sole mechanism for empathy-linked aggression.

    The participants contributed saliva samples for analysis of their neurohormone gene variants. In both studies, participants with a short/short version of the 1a vasopressin receptor (AVPR1a) showed less aggression, while those with a long version of the receptor showed higher aggression. The pattern is consistent with the possibility that vasopressin facilitates empathic responses, including aggression, to individuals in need. In one study, individuals with one oxytocin receptor genotype, OXTR rs53576 GG showed greater aggression than those with the AA/AG genotype.

    The study ruled out certain variables, such as trait aggression and impulsiveness. "Aggression is known to result from characteristics such as impulsiveness, trait aggression, trait or state anger. We wanted to rule out these motivators of aggression because our argument is that anyone can act aggressively out of an empathic impulse, not just those with a certain personality," Buffone elaborates. "We think that among situational motivators of aggression, witnessing the suffering or need of others people have come to care about has been largely overlooked."

    The findings of the research provide evidence that activating empathy may prompt aggression toward those in conflict or competition with empathy targets, even independent of traditional predictors of aggression and in the absence of wrongdoing or provocation from the target of aggression. Empathy could even lead an individual to blame an innocent person for a crime or misdeed to protect a friend or child from punishment. And it is even possible that feeling empathy for strangers perceived to be treated unjustly might motivate aggression on their behalf. In all of these cases, empathy can lead more directly to aggression—anger isn't always necessary.


    Buffone, A.E., Poulin, M.J. (2014). Empathy, Target Distress, and Neurohormone Genes Interact to Predict Aggression for Others—Even Without Provocation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(11).

    Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at


    A Meta-Analysis of Peer Norms and Their Relation to Adolescent Sexual BehaviorOpen in a New Window

    Researchers at Utrecht University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute collaborated on a meta-analysis of research on adolescent sexual behavior. The goal was to analyze how this behavior is related to adolescents' perceptions of three types of sexual peer norms, including how sexually active their peers are, how much their peers would approve of being sexually active, or how much they feel pressured by their peers to have sex. Awareness that these are different ways in which peers can affect adolescents' sexual behaviors is important for parents, teachers, and health care professionals who want to stimulate adolescents' responsible and healthy sexual decision making. The meta-analysis is published in Personality and Social Psychology Review.

    Which peer norms were investigated?

    The three types of peer norms analyzed in the study include descriptive norms, injunctive norms and peer pressure. Descriptive norms reflect adolescents' perceptions of peers' engagement in sexual behaviors. In general, individuals tend to imitate others' behaviors based on the reasoning that if others are doing it, especially when many others do it, it might be a good or wise thing to do.

    Injunctive norms reflect adolescents' perceptions of peers' approval of engagement in sexual behaviors. When individuals are thinking about engaging in a certain behavior, and they believe that their peers would approve of this behavior, they are more likely to initiate that behavior. Peer pressure, a term that many people are familiar with, refers to explicit social pressure from peers to engage in sexual behavior. Peer pressure can affect individuals' behavioral decisions based on their perception of potential social gains or losses (e.g., status or exclusion), depending on their conformation to the exerted pressure.

    The meta-analysis found that all three types of peer norms are related to adolescents' sexual behavior.

    Does one peer norm have a greater effect than another?

    The meta-analysis reviewed 58 published and unpublished studies conducted in 15 countries. Together, the studies provided data on 69,638 adolescents, with sample sizes ranging from 29 to 7,530. The analysis found that adolescents tended to be more sexually active themselves if they perceived their peers as a) more sexually active, b) more approving of having sex, and c) exerting more pressure on them to be sexually active. "What adolescents think that their peers do (role modeling) seems to be most important: adolescents who think that their peers engage in sex are more likely to engage in sex themselves. Peers' approval of having sex, or peer pressure to have sex, also matter, but seem to matter less," explains lead researcher, Daphne van de Bongardt.

    Surprisingly, the analysis found that peer pressure had the smallest effect on sexual behavior. Daphne van de Bongardt cautions this result saying, "the meta-analysis included only 10 studies that examined peer pressure, and they varied considerably in the way in which peer pressure was measured (e.g., number of items, source and focus of the pressure). Overall, the literature could be clearer about what "peer pressure" entails, and how it can best be measured. More research is needed to get more insight into adolescents' own definitions of peer pressure, and the subtlety in which peer pressure may operate in adolescents' interactions with peers."

    How strongly adolescents' sexual behaviors are related to sexual peer norms is similar for boys and girls, according to the analysis. However, the extent to which peers engage in sexual risk behavior appears to be more strongly related to girls' engagement in sexual risk behavior than it is for boys.

    Need for future research

    There were several limitations that the researchers faced in analyzing the existing research. More research is needed to investigate how age, gender, ethnicity, different peer types, and other factors, such as socioeconomic status or discrimination affect relations between peer norms and adolescent sexual behaviors. Most studies also utilized a narrow description of sexual activity by assessing only heterosexual intercourse, which leaves out other forms of sexual behavior adolescents might engage in.

    More longitudinal research is needed to better understand how sexual peer norms and adolescent sexual behavior are linked over-time, and to disentangle the extent to which adolescents are influenced by peers in their sexual behaviors (socialization processes), or the extent to which they select peers who share similar sexual norms (selection processes). The meta-analysis suggests that both processes play a role.


    Van de Bongardt, D., Reitz, E., Sandfort, T., Deković, M., (2014). A Meta-Analysis of the Relations Between Three Types of Peer Norms and Adolescent Sexual Behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Review.

    Personality and Social Psychology Review (PSPR), published quarterly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at


    How Meaningful Relationships Can Help You ThriveOpen in a New Window

     In brief:

    • The definition of thriving involves 5 components of well-being
    • Future research should focus more on social support in non-adverse life circumstances
    • Relationships provide 2 types of support: source of strength (SOS) support, and relational catalyst (RC) support
    • Support-providers must be sensitive and responsive—there are characteristics in a support-provider that can lead to doing more harm than good


    Deep and meaningful relationships play a vital role in overall well-being. Past research has shown that individuals with supportive and rewarding relationships have better mental health, higher levels of subjective well-being and lower rates of morbidity and mortality. A paper published in Personality and Social Psychology Review provides an important perspective on thriving through relationships, emphasizes two types of support that relationships provide, and illuminates aspects where further study is necessary.

    What is 'thriving'?

    Researchers Brooke Feeney of Carnegie Mellon University and Nancy Collins of University of California at Santa Barbara emphasize the importance of relationships in supporting individuals not only in their ability to cope with stress or adversity, but also in their efforts to learn, grow, explore, achieve goals, cultivate new talents, and find purpose and meaning in life. Relationships can permit a person to thrive, but unfortunately we know relatively little about how relationships promote or hinder thriving.

    According to the researchers, thriving involves 5 components of well-being; hedonic well-being (happiness, life satisfaction), eudaimonic well-being (having purpose and meaning in life, progressing toward meaningful life goals), psychological well-being (positive self-regard, absence of mental health symptoms/disorders), social well-being (deep and meaningful human connections, faith in others and humanity, positive interpersonal expectancies), and physical well-being (healthy weight and activity levels, health status above expected baselines).

    Two types of support

    People will be most likely to thrive with well-functioning close relationships that serve different support functions – whether the relationship is with friends, parents, siblings, a spouse, or mentors. The review emphasizes two types of support, both serving unique functions in different life contexts. The first important function of relationships is to support thriving through adversity, not only by buffering individuals from negative effects of stress, but also by enabling them to flourish either because of or in spite of their circumstances. "Relationships serve an important function of not simply helping people return to baseline, but helping them to thrive by exceeding prior baseline levels of functioning," explains lead researcher Brooke Feeney. "We refer to this as source of strength (SOS) support, and emphasize that the promotion of thriving through adversity is the core purpose of this support function."

    The second important function of relationships is to support thriving in the absence of adversity by promoting full participation in life opportunities for exploration, growth, and personal achievement. Supportive relationships help people thrive in this context by enabling them to embrace and pursue opportunities that enhance positive well-being, broaden and build resources, and foster a sense of purpose and meaning in life. This type of support is referred to as relational catalyst (RC) support because support providers can serve as active catalysts for thriving in this context. This form of support emphasizes that the promotion of thriving through life opportunities is its core purpose.

    Can a support-provider do more harm than good?

    The researchers emphasize that there are certain characteristics of support-providers that enhance their capacity to provide meaningful support. "It is not just whether someone provides support, but it is how he or she does it that determines the outcome of that support. Any behaviors in the service of providing SOS and RC support must be enacted both responsively and sensitively to promote thriving," explains Feeney. "Being responsive involves providing the type and amount of support that is dictated by the situation and by the partner's needs, and being sensitive involves responding to needs in such a way that the support-recipient feels understood, validated, and cared for."

    Support-providers may inadvertently do more harm than good if they make the person feel weak, needy, or inadequate; induce guilt or indebtedness; make the recipient feel like a burden; minimize or discount the recipient's problem, goal, or accomplishment; blame the recipient for his or her misfortunes or setbacks; or restrict autonomy or self-determination. Support-providers might also be neglectful or disengaged, over-involved, controlling, or otherwise out of sync with the recipient's needs. Responsive support requires the knowledge of how to support others and take their perspective, the resources (i.e., cognitive, emotional, and/or tangible) needed to provide effective support, and the motivation to accept the responsibility to support another.

    Support-recipients also play an important role in this process by facilitating or hindering the receipt of responsive support. Support-recipients can cultivate effective support by reaching out to others (vs. withdrawing), expressing needs in a clear and direct manner, being receptive to others' support efforts, regulating demands on others (not taxing their social network), expressing gratitude, engaging in healthy dependence and independence, building a dense relationship network, and providing reciprocal support. The researchers emphasize that accepting support when needed, and being willing and able to provide support in return, should cultivate the types of mutually caring relationships that enable people to thrive.

    Need for Future Research

    Much of the existing literature focuses on how relationships can help in times of stress, and most of this work has focused on self-reports of perceived social support. It will be important for future research to (a) do more assessing of actual support behaviors that are enacted in dyadic interaction and of the degree to which those behaviors are responsive to the needs of the recipient, (b) recognize that social support in adverse life circumstances can do much more than buffer against negative effects of the stressor, (c) do more investigating of social support in non-adverse life circumstances, (d) work toward understanding mediating pathways and mechanisms of action (with a focus on thriving as the ultimate outcome), and (e) focus on close relationships as being central to facilitating or hindering thriving.

    The researchers hope that this framework will provide a foundation for the development of relationship-based interventions aimed at promoting public health. Interventions may focus on building close supportive relationships (e.g., within families or through mentors), and training support-providers to deliver the type of responsive support that fosters growth and thriving.


    This research was funded by grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation (BCS0424579, SBR0096506), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1R01AG032370-01A2), and the Fetzer Institute.

    Feeney, B.C., Collins, N.L. (2014). A New Look at Social Support: A Theoretical Perspective on Thriving Through Relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Review.

    Personality and Social Psychology Review (PSPR), published quarterly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at


    Can Fiction Stories Make Us More Empathetic?Open in a New Window

    Empathy is important for navigating complex social situations, and is considered a highly desirable trait. Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, discussed how exposure to narrative fiction may improve our ability to understand what other people are thinking or feeling in his session at the American Psychological Association's 122nd Annual Convention.

    Exposure to stories

    Many stories are about people--their mental states, their relationships—even stories with inanimate objects, may have human-like characteristics. Mar explains that we understand stories using basic cognitive functions, and there is not a special module in the brain that allows us to do this. Understanding stories is similar to the way we understand the real world. "When people read stories we invoke personal experiences. We're relying not just on words on a page, but also our own past experiences," Mar says. We often have thoughts and emotions that are consistent with what's going on in a story.

    According to Mar, social outcomes that could come out of being exposed to narrative fiction can include exposure to social content, reflecting on past social interactions, or imagining future interactions. We may gain insight into things that have happened in the past that relates to a character in a story, and resonates with our experiences. "Even though fiction is fabricated, it can communicate truths about human psychology and relationships," Mar explains.

    Available research on narrative fiction

    According to one study, over 75 percent of books typically read to preschoolers frequently reference mental states, and include very complex things such as false-belief or situational irony. "Children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old acquire a theory-of-mind, in other words, an understanding that other people have thoughts, beliefs and desires that may differ from their own…Around the same ages, children also begin to understand what characters in stories are feeling and thinking," Mar says.

    In 2010, Mar and colleagues published a study which found that parents that were able to recognize children's authors and book titles predicted their child's performance on theory-of-mind tests. Theory-of-mind tests included testing if a child is able to understand that someone may prefer broccoli over a cookie, and how that is unique from their own desire for the cookie. Parental recognition of adult book titles or author's had no effect on their child's performance-- the result was very specific to children's books. Mar cautions that the studies available are correlations, which do not provide an explanation of causation, and more research is necessary to understand why these correlations exist.

    Mar's study also illustrates that exposure to movies predicted better theory-of-mind test performance in children. But the more television a child was exposed to, the worse they performed on theory-of-mind tests. There have not been studies to determine the reason this correlation occurred, but there are a few theories. Mar explains that it's possible parents may engage more in discussions of mental states during a movie versus a television show, or possibly the fact that children may have difficulty following a television show broken up by commercial breaks.

    There are aspects of joint-reading between parents and children seems to be important to the process, Mar adds. There may be discussions of mental states, and more discussions during joint-reading than throughout other moments of daily life between a parent and child. These discussions may play a significant role in the development process of the child. A recent study Mar highlights shows that reading a child a tale about honesty led the child to act more honestly when presented with an opportunity to lie or cheat.

    There is some evidence that adults who process stories deeply and are highly engaged in the story report more empathy, but the results have been inconsistent. Mar's study in 2006 illustrated that fiction predicts individual's ability to infer mental states from photographs, and the result has been replicated by a number of other studies. Studies have shown that narrative fiction correlates with better mental-inference ability and more liberal social attitudes. "Experiences that we have in our life shape our understanding of the world…and imagined experiences through narrative fiction stories are also likely to shape or change us. But with a caveat—it's not a magic bullet--it's an opportunity for change and growth," Mar says.


    Visit for more information.

    Raymond Mar, "Fiction and its relation to real-world empathy, cognition, and behavior."

    Thursday, August 7, 1:00-1:50 am ET. American Psychological Association's 122nd Annual Convention. Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl., NW, Washington, D.C.


    How We Form Habits and Change Existing OnesOpen in a New Window

    Much of our daily lives are taken up by habits that we've formed over our lifetime. An important characteristic of a habit is that it's automatic-- we don't always recognize habits in our own behavior. Studies show that about 40 percent of people's daily activities are performed each day in almost the same situations. Habits emerge through associative learning. "We find patterns of behavior that allow us to reach goals. We repeat what works, and when actions are repeated in a stable context, we form associations between cues and response," Wendy Wood explains in her session at the American Psychological Association's 122nd Annual Convention.

    What are habits?

    Wood calls attention to the neurology of habits, and how they have a recognizable neural signature. When you are learning a response you engage your associative basal ganglia, which involves the prefrontal cortex and supports working memory so you can make decisions. As you repeat the behavior in the same context, the information is reorganized in your brain. It shifts to the sensory motor loop that supports representations of cue response associations, and no longer retains information on the goal or outcome. This shift from goal directed to context cue response helps to explain why our habits are rigid behaviors.

    There is a dual mind at play, Wood explains. When our intentional mind is engaged, we act in ways that meet an outcome we desire and typically we're aware of our intentions. Intentions can change quickly because we can make conscious decisions about what we want to do in the future that may be different from the past. However, when the habitual mind is engaged, our habits function largely outside of awareness. We can't easily articulate how we do our habits or why we do them, and they change slowly through repeated experience. "Our minds don't always integrate in the best way possible. Even when you know the right answer, you can't make yourself change the habitual behavior," Wood says.

    Participants in a study were asked to taste popcorn, and as expected, fresh popcorn was preferable to stale. But when participants were given popcorn in a movie theater, people who have a habit of eating popcorn at the movies ate just as much stale popcorn as participants in the fresh popcorn group. "The thoughtful intentional mind is easily derailed and people tend to fall back on habitual behaviors. Forty percent of the time we're not thinking about what we're doing," Wood interjects. "Habits allow us to focus on other things…Willpower is a limited resource, and when it runs out you fall back on habits."

    How can we change our habits?

    Public service announcements, educational programs, community workshops, and weight-loss programs are all geared toward improving your day-to-day habits. But are they really effective? These standard interventions are very successful at increasing motivation and desire. You will almost always leave feeling like you can change and that you want to change. The programs give you knowledge and goal-setting strategies for implementation, but these programs only address the intentional mind.

    In a study on the "Take 5" program, 35 percent of people polled came away believing they should eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day. Looking at that result, it appears that the national program was effective at teaching people that it's important to have 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. But the data changes when you ask what people are actually eating. Only 11 percent of people reported that they met this goal. The program changed people's intentions, but it did not overrule habitual behavior.

    According to Wood, there are three main principles to consider when effectively changing habitual behavior. First, you must derail existing habits and create a window of opportunity to act on new intentions. Someone who moves to a new city or changes jobs has the perfect scenario to disrupt old cues and create new habits. When the cues for existing habits are removed, it's easier to form a new behavior. If you can't alter your entire environment by switching cities-- make small changes. For instance, if weight-loss or healthy eating is your goal, try moving unhealthy foods to a top shelf out of reach, or to the back of the freezer instead of in front.

    The second principle is remembering that repetition is key. Studies have shown it can take anywhere from 15 days to 254 days to truly form a new habit. "There's no easy formula for how long it takes," Wood says. Lastly, there must be stable context cues available in order to trigger a new pattern. "It's easier to maintain the behavior if it's repeated in a specific context," Wood emphasizes. Flossing after you brush your teeth allows the act of brushing to be the cue to remember to floss. Reversing the two behaviors is not as successful at creating a new flossing habit. Having an initial cue is a crucial component.


    Wendy Wood, "‪Habits in Everyday Life: How to Form Good Habits and Change Bad Ones‬"
    Thursday, August 7, 11-11:50 am ET. American Psychological Association's 122nd Annual Convention. Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl., NW, Washington, D.C.


    What Does 'Diversity' Mean to You? The Answer May Depend on Your RaceOpen in a New Window

    Diversity in the workplace has been a contentious issue for many employers. In May 2014, Google disclosed that 70% of its employees are male, and in terms of racial diversity, the company is 61% White, 30% Asian, 3% Hispanic and 2% Black. Does that breakdown sound diverse to you? If not, what would an ideal diverse team look like? A study publishing in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin sheds light on the complexity in defining diversity.

    Previous research has shown that higher levels of diversity are associated with more trust, increased feelings of safety and social satisfaction, and heightened expectations that people can expect to be treated fairly and have the same opportunities as others in an organization. Researchers from the University of California at Irvine, the University of Virginia, and the University of California at Los Angeles collaborated to study how Whites, Asian Americans, and African Americans evaluate diversity. The research included three studies, and participants were asked to rate the diversity of various groups of people that were presented as a team at work.

    Differing Perceptions of Diversity

    Studies 1 and 2 found that in-group representation—that is, seeing members of one's own race included in the group— increased perceived diversity, even when the number of racial groups and number of racial minority group members was held constant. Asian Americans perceived more diversity in a group that included Whites and Asian Americans than a group that included Whites and African Americans. African Americans rated a group with Whites and African Americans as more diverse than one with Whites and Asian Americans.

    Studies 2 and 3 showed that concerns about discrimination play a role in why racial minority group members are especially attuned to whether their race is represented. Study 2 showed that in-group representation had a larger effect on diversity judgments made by Asian Americans who considered national statistics about discrimination against Asian Americans before judging diversity than those who did not. Also, the in-group representation effect disappeared when Asian Americans first considered national statistics about discrimination against African Americans; these individuals rated a team of Whites and African Americans as equally diverse as a team of Whites and Asians. Study 3 measured concerns about diversity and showed that it mediated the relation between team composition and diversity judgments.

    Importance of Diversity

    The studies identified differences in how Asian Americans and African Americans judge diversity. In-group representation was generally more important to African Americans than Asian Americans, and in-group representation was equally important for African Americans regardless of whether they considered discrimination against African Americans, Asian Americans, or did not consider discrimination before judging diversity. Therefore, people—especially scholars, managers, and policy makers—should be careful not to assume that all racial minority groups approach questions about diversity in the same way. Lead researcher Christopher Bauman notes that, "More research needs to consider the unique perspective of each racial group. A lot of valuable insights have come from research that contrasted majority and minority groups, but finer grained analysis will become increasingly important as the country continues to become more diverse."

    The research illustrates that people from different races may view the same team or organization and judge it differently in terms of whether or not it's diverse. "Racial minority group members care whether or not members of their own race are part of a team. While the presence of other minority groups is better than no diversity at all, it's not the same as having someone of your own race present," Dr. Bauman says, "You can't lump racial minority groups together and treat them as a monolithic whole. Each racial group has its own history and faces unique challenges, and it should not be surprising that they approach situations differently." Understanding how individuals experience diversity in the workplace is a much more complex issue than simply knowing the percentage of each race present in a team or organization.


    Bauman, C.W., Trawalter, S., Unzueta, M.M. (2014). Diverse According to Whom? Racial Group Membership and Concerns about Discrimination Shape Diversity Judgments. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(10).

    Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at


    Why Do Men Prefer Nice Women?: Responsiveness and DesireOpen in a New Window

    People's emotional reactions and desires in initial romantic encounters determine the fate of a potential relationship. Responsiveness may be one of those initial "sparks" necessary to fuel sexual desire and land a second date. However, it may not be a desirable trait for both men and women on a first date. Does responsiveness increase sexual desire in the other person? Do men perceive responsive women as more attractive, and does the same hold true for women's perceptions of men? A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin seeks to answer those questions.

    Femininity and Attractiveness

    Researchers from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, the University of Rochester, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, collaborated on three studies to observe people's perceptions of responsiveness. People often say that they seek a partner that is "responsive to their needs," and that such a partner would arouse their sexual interest. A responsive person is one that is supportive of another's needs and goals. "Sexual desire thrives on rising intimacy and being responsive is one of the best ways to instill this elusive sensation over time," lead researcher Gurit Birnbaum explains. "Our findings show that this does not necessarily hold true in an initial encounter, because a responsive potential partner may convey opposite meanings to different people."

    In the first study, the researchers examined whether responsiveness is perceived as feminine or masculine, and whether men or women perceived a responsive person of the opposite sex as sexually desirable. Men who perceived female partners as more responsive also perceived them as more feminine, and more attractive. However, the association between responsiveness and male partner's masculinity was not significant for women. Women's perceptions of partner responsiveness were marginally and negatively associated with perceptions of partner attractiveness.

    Sparking Sexual Desire

    Participants in the second study were asked to interact with a responsive or non-responsive individual of the opposite sex, and view that individual's photo (the same photo was given to each participant). They were then asked to interact online with this individual, and discuss details on a current problem in their life. The responsiveness of the virtual individual was manipulated, for example, "You must have gone through a very difficult time" as a responsive reply, versus "Doesn't sound so bad to me" as a non-responsive reply.

    Men who interacted with a responsive female individual perceived her as more feminine and as more sexually attractive than did men in the unresponsive condition. Women are more cautious than men when interpreting a stranger's expressions of responsiveness, and their perceptions of the stranger, which were seemingly unaffected by perceived responsiveness, may reflect conflicting trends among different women. "Some women, for example, may interpret responsiveness negatively and feel uncomfortable about a new acquaintance who seems to want to be close. Such feelings may impair sexual attraction to this responsive stranger. Other women may perceive a responsive stranger as warm and caring and therefore as a desirable long-term partner," Dr. Birnbaum elaborates.

    The third and final study tested the possibility that responsiveness may activate motivational mechanisms for men that fuel pursuit of either short-term or long-term sexual relationship opportunities. A female partner's actual responsiveness led men to perceive her as more feminine, and consequently to feel more sexually aroused. Heightened sexual arousal, in turn, was linked to both increased perception of partner attractiveness and greater desire for a long-term relationship with that partner.

    Women's Perceptions of Responsiveness

    The findings of the study imply that whether a responsive partner will be seen as sexually desirable or not depends on the context and meaning assign to responsiveness. In early dating, the meaning of responsiveness is likely shaped by gender-specific expectations. Women did not perceive a responsive man as less masculine, but even so, women did not find a responsive man as more attractive. The study helps to explain why men find responsive women sexually attractive, but does not reveal the mechanism that underlies women's desire for new acquaintanceships.

    "We still do not know why women are less sexually attracted to responsive strangers; it may not necessarily have to do with 'being nice.' Women may perceive a responsive stranger as less desirable for different reasons," Prof. Birnbaum cautions. "Women may perceive this person as inappropriately nice and manipulative (i.e., trying to obtain sexual favors) or eager to please, perhaps even as desperate, and therefore less sexually appealing. Alternatively, women may perceive a responsive man as vulnerable and less dominant. Regardless of the reasons, perhaps men should slow down if their goal is to instill sexual desire."


    Birnbaum, G. E., Ein-Dor, T., Reis, H.T., Segal, N. (2014). Why do Men Prefer Nice Women? Gender Typicality Mediates the Effect of Responsiveness on Perceived Attractiveness in Initial Acquaintances. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(10).

    Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at


    Division 8 Sponsored APA Programs 2014Open in a New Window

    The Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association will be held in Washington, DC August 7- August 10, 2014. The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (Division 8 of APA) is sponsoring a wide range of symposia, invited addresses, poster sessions, awards, and a social hour.

    The SPSP Program can be searched using APA's convention program site, and can also be downloaded as a PDF file here.


    David Hamilton and John G. Holmes Added to the Heritage Fund Wall of FameOpen in a New Window

    The Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology is pleased to announce that David Hamilton and John G. Holmes have been added to the Heritage Fund Wall of Fame. Professors Hamilton and Holmes have made innumerable important contributions to our discipline, which are described at We are grateful for their contributions to the field, and to their colleagues and students, whose generous donations made this installation possible.

    The Heritage Fund Initiative was instituted to honor the legacy of our field's most important scholars, by providing a link between generations in personality and social psychology. Ten scholars have been honored to date and we expect the list to grow. Funds raised to honor the members of the Heritage Wall of Fame are used to endow a program of dissertation research grants. (The  first cycle of grant funding is currently underway.) Information is available at

    Additional donations to the Heritage program can be made through the SPSP secure donation portal, Please indicate in the comment box that your donation is meant for the Foundation Heritage program, and note which scholar (if any) your donation is intended to honor.

    If you have a scholar you believe would be appropriate to honor on the Heritage Wall of Fame, please contact the President of the Foundation, Harry Reis (


    SAGE Young Scholars Recipients Engaging in ResearchOpen in a New Window

     By Jennifer Santisi

    Five recipients of the SAGE Young Scholars Award, which is supported by a generous donation from SAGE Publications, are putting their $5,000 grants to use in the field of personality and social psychology.

    With the assistance from the award, Kristina Olson (University of Washington) has been able to pursue a new project in her lab that explores gender identity and gender cognition in transgender children. Kristina explains that this research is extremely valuable, as it’s the first study of its kind and almost nothing is known about children who identify as transgender early in life. Starting the project has been very costly as, despite their increasing numbers, relatively few children are openly living as transgender. Kristina explains that the award has given her the ability “to travel around the country to reach these participants and their families.” Kristina is hoping that once her team publishes their initial findings they will be able to secure federal funding. “This funding has also allowed me to attend conferences to present the early work on this project,” Kristina says. 

    Tessa West (New York University) is currently working on two projects that the award has given her the opportunity to begin. One project is exploring the dyadic process through which stress is communicated during interactions in which groups of women work together, using a psychophysiological approach. The second project is looking at how negative emotions serve as a roadblock to communication between doctors and patients, particularly in racially discordant interactions (e.g., Black patient, White physician). “Both [projects] are about how negative emotion are experienced and realized by one's partner in dyadic encounters, and shape both partners' behavioral outcomes,” Tessa explains. Both projects are still in the midst of collecting data.

    The Young Scholars Award has assisted Paul Eastwick (University of Texas at Austin) and his colleague Paige Harden in gaining access to difficult-to-find archival data that is crucial to their research. Their project examines the extent to which people’s ex-romantic partners are similar to each other. “Specifically, we will be examining the extent to which people’s exes exhibit consistency on qualities like physical attractiveness, intelligence, having a desirable personality, etc. We will also be able to assess to what extent any consistency on these qualities across one’s ex-partners derives from demographic factors (e.g., the school one attends) vs. factors related to personal choice,” Paul explains. Their current study uses the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which is a representative sample of adolescents. Paul and his colleague expect to have a manuscript completed by the end of the summer.

    Starting Fall 2014, Edward Lemay (University of Maryland, College Park) will begin recruiting participants for a study on the interpersonal consequences of specific interaction goals. Edward plans to recruit both members of dating couples for this study. A randomly selected member of each couple will be assigned to levels of a goal manipulation. The goal manipulation will involve instructing participants to adopt particular goals during a discussion with their partner (or no instructions in the control condition). Following the discussion, both members will complete questionnaires regarding their reactions to the discussion. In addition, the interactions will be video recorded. “This will allow us to examine whether adopting a goal causes changes in observed behavior, which then predict changes in both partners’ responses to the interaction,” Edward says. The project has received IRB approval, and Edward will start data collection this Fall.

    Jochen Gebauer (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin )and his colleagues are currently working on research that seeks to establish and extend their “socio-cultural motives perspective” (SMP) on self and personality. The SMP provides theory-driven explanations for cross-cultural variations in self-concept and personality effects on important life outcomes. Jochen explains that “the SMP may help to answer questions such as, why is it that people with a highly communal self-concept seek to volunteer more in socio-cultural contexts where volunteerism is common, compared to socio-cultural contexts where volunteerism is uncommon? Or why is it that people high in Openness for Experience go to church less in rather religious South Germany, whereas open people go to church more in rather atheist East Germany?” Most of the data for the research has been collected, and Jochen and his colleagues hope to have a manuscript completed by the end of the summer.


    The SAGE Young Scholars Award recognize outstanding young researchers in personality and social psychology. The awardees receive a one-time award of $5,000 to be used at their discretion for research, study, or conference travel-related purposes. Five awards are presented each year to young scholars representative of the broad spectrum of personality and social psychology research areas. The call for nominations for the 2015 Sage Young Scholar Awards will be issued in the summer of 2014.  For more information, visit 


    Do Women Perceive Other Women in Red as More Sexually Receptive?Open in a New Window

    Previous research has shown that men perceive the color red on a woman to be a signal of sexual receptivity. Women are more likely to wear a red shirt when they are expecting to meet an attractive man, relative to an unattractive man or a woman. But do women view other women in red as being more sexually receptive? And would that result in a woman guarding her mate against a woman in red? A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin sought to answer these questions.

    Perceptions of Sexual Receptivity

    Nonverbal communication via body language, facial expressions and clothing conveys information to others, occasionally with unintended social consequences. Researchers from the University of Rochester, Trnava University, and the Slovak Academy of Sciences collaborated to study what information the color red conveys to women.

    Three experiments were involved in the study. The first experiment asked individuals to compare a digital image of a woman wearing red versus a woman wearing white. Participants were asked questions about the woman's sexual receptivity, such as "This person is interested in sex," which required moving a bar along a sliding scale from "No, not at all" to "Yes, definitely." Participants rated the woman in red as more sexually receptive than the woman in white. Sixty-nine percent of participants reported they were in a committed relationship, and the results of the experiment showed that participant's relationship status did not have a significant effect on their perceptions of women in white versus red.

    The picture (on the right) was used for the color manipulation in Experiments 1 and 2 (the face of the female target was intact in the experiment but is blurred here to protect privacy). The dress color was red or white.
    Credit: Adam Pazda


    Derogation and Mate-Guarding

    The researchers tested whether participants would derogate a woman in red and the likelihood of guarding their mate from a woman in red in subsequent experiments. "Derogation [involves] speaking poorly of another person to make them seem inferior, undesirable, or unlikeable, while making oneself seem superior and more likable by contrast," lead researcher Adam Pazda explains. "Mate-guarding is the act of protecting one's own romantic partner from romantic or sexual encounters with others." The researchers specifically tested whether women would derogate on the topics of fidelity ("I would guess that this women cheats on men"), and financial resources ("I would guess that this woman has no money").

    Credit: Adam Pazda

    The third and final experiment altered the conditions slightly. Instead of comparing white and red, the researchers chose to compare green and red in an effort to eliminate the possible bias of associating white and purity. "Using green allowed us to equate both hues on lightness and chroma, which allowed for a more rigorous, controlled test of the red effect," Pazda said. The participants were located in an Eastern European country, rather than the U.S. as in the two prior experiments. To determine intent to mate-guard, participants were asked: "How likely would you be to introduce this person to your boyfriend?" and "How likely would you be to let your boyfriend spend time alone with this person?"

    The picture (on the left) was used for the color manipulation in Experiment 3 (the face of the female target was intact in the experiment but is blurred here to protect privacy). The shirt color was red or green.


    Results from the last two experiments confirmed that women found another woman in red to be more sexually receptive, versus white or green. In terms of derogation, participants who viewed a woman in red were more likely to derogate the woman's sexual fidelity, but not financial resources. Participants did not show any difference between sexual fidelity derogation and financial resource derogation in relation to a woman in white. Women were more likely to guard their partner from a woman dressed in red if they are in a committed relationship, relative to a woman in green.


    Pazda, A.D., Prokop, P., and Elliot, A.J. (2014). Red and Romantic Rivalry: Viewing Another Woman in Red Increases Perceptions of Sexual Receptivity, Derogation and Intentions to Mate-Guard. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(10).

    Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at



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