Character  &  Context

Psychology News Round-up (2/21)

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By Dave Nussbaum

What happens when we ask others to behave unethically? In an op-ed in the New York Times‘ Gray Matter section this past week, Waterloo’s Vanessa Bohns (@profbohns) explains that others are surprisingly likely to comply with our requests. Bohns’ research suggests that “we often fail to recognize the power of social pressure when we are the ones doing the pressuring.”

Paul Bloom (@paulbloomatyale) takes to the pages of the Atlantic Monthly to push back on the notion that people are not so much rational actors as the sum of various biological and contextual influences in The War on Reason.

“For the most part, I’m on the side of the neuroscientists and social psychologists—no surprise, given that I’m a psychologist myself. Work in fields such as computational cognitive science, behavioral genetics, and social neuroscience has yielded great insights about human nature. I do worry, though, that many of my colleagues have radically overstated the implications of their findings. The genetic you and the neural you aren’t alternatives to the conscious you. They are its foundations.”

Adam Alter (@adamleealter) explains why sometimes positive thinking can stand in the way of success in his New Yorker blog. Alter asked the London School of Economics’  Heather Barry Kappes “why fantasies hamper progress, and she told [him] that they dull the will to succeed: “Imagining a positive outcome conveys the sense that you’re approaching your goals, which takes the edge off the need to achieve.”

My Chicago Booth colleague Nick Epley’s book, Mindwise, hit the newsstands this week. He also spoke with NPR’s Shankar Vedantam (@hiddenbrain) about the psychology of naming storms. Here’s what the New York Journal of Books had to say about the new book:

Professor Nicholas Epley, a distinguished psychologist the University of Chicago, writes about the innate knack everyone has to reason about the minds of others. The ability works so quickly and without effort that we neither notice when we use it, nor stop to wonder if our assumptions about another’s mind might be wrong.


Chris Mooney (@chriscmooney) covered a meta-analysis by Linda Skitka (@LindaSkitka) that shows liberals and conservatives are equally morally righteous. Mooney writes:

If you follow Jonathan Haidt, meanwhile, then liberals feel strong moral convictions about issues involving harm and fairness, whereas conservatives root their morality in authority, tribalism, and even emotions of disgust. There’s no reason to doubt that these differences are real. But the new study suggests that in spite of them, both the left and the right can get very fired up about politics. And when they let their deep-seated moral emotions drive their political views, they may do so with equal zeal.

Also be sure to check out Skitka’s recent post on this blog about here recent SPSP symposium Are liberals from Mars and Conservatives from Venus?

The Pacific Standard’s Tom Jacobs also reported on Aaron Kay, Simone Tang, and Steven Sheperd’s (@s2shephe) research about how people leave difficult decisions to fate. Kay explains in the piece that, “When our voters found it harder to choose between Obama and Romney, they perceived a greater role for fate in the election,” the researchers conclude. “Belief in fate may ease the psychological burden of a difficult decision.”

Finally with Valentine’s day last week, don’t miss Amy Summerville (@RegretLab) on how the usefulness of romantic regret, and Lalin Anik (@ateshinkizi) and Mike Norton on the benefits of matchmaking.



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