Archive for the ‘ Social Psychology ’ Category

Jobs of Affective Scientists are safe, for now

The Fox TV show Lie to Me is based loosely on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman. Actually, to say it is loosely based on Ekman’s work is probably an overstatement. Ekman is a psychologist known for his research on emotions, namely the universality of basic emotions (i.e. happy, sad, fear, anger, disgust, surprise).

In contrast, the main character of the show is a entrepreneur-scientist who solves crimes based on emotional clues of witnesses and suspects. Paul Ekman actually has a weekly blog about the show, and he says that “most of what you see is based on scientific evidence,” but admits that the show takes poetic license.

Now get this, research is being done on a TV show based on research! How Meta! The executive summary of the research reported here is that the jobs of affective scientists are safe.

Lie to Me appears to increase skepticism at the cost of accuracy,” reports a research team led by Timothy Levine, a professor of communication at Michigan State University. Its study, published in the journalCommunication Research, finds watching the drama increases suspicion of others even as it reduces one’s ability to detect deception.

-Posted by Tyler

Aliens are Just Like Us — Lazy

If extra-terrestial life is so probable given the amount of planets there are in the universe, then why haven’t we (SETI) made contact with any?

The answer is simple to Geoffrey Miller of SEED magazine, he says we’re lazy and so are the aliens (link). In a nutshell, he claims we’ve become so interested in virtual technology and self-stimulation that we’ve lost the “cosmic plot” and the motivation to search.

-Posted by Tyler

Note. I had scheduled an appointment to go skydiving over spring break but the weather thwarted me, rather than rescheduling, I got an iPod. Call me lazy.

The Angry Face and the Socially Phobic Adult

The angry face and the socially phobic adult: The time course of attention


The above poster is based on the article “The time-course of attention to emotional faces in social phobia” (Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 41, p. 39-44). There were two groups in this study, SP (Socially Phobic adults) and NP (Non-phobic adults, the control group). Each group viewed faces and objects on  a computer monitor while an eye tracking device recorded their eye movement. Participants were instructed to look wherever they liked.

The hypothesis was that socially phobic adults would show an early bias toward negative faces on face-face trials and would avoid faces in favor of objects on face-object trials. Face-face pairs consisted of angry and happy faces paired with a neutral face, and the face-object pairs were angry, happy and neutral faces paired with objects (like a vacuum, phone, lamp, table).

The results indicated support for the hypothesis. Socially phobic adults show an early bias towards negative faces, which can clearly be seen in this graph:

The focus of the article was on the left half of the above graph compared to the right graph. You can see that socially phobic adults fixated on angry faces more than the control group.  It’s also clear that the socially phobic adults and the control group fixated on happy faces more equally.  So the question that Professor Arnell asked me was: do you think socially phobic adults fixate more on angry faces, or is it just that most people typically avoid looking at negative faces?  It’s clear from the article that they thought the most interesting part of their data was socially phobic adults fixating on the negative faces.  However, this might not be the case.

Something that was either missed or just not added in is that it’s more interesting to look at the control group data in this graph.  There’s such a huge difference between the control group’s number of fixations on the happy faces compared to the angry faces, that it’s probably more likely that most people just avoid looking at negative stimulus.

– Posted by Alyssa Pilkington

Forget about the Small Talk

Studies don’t get much cuter than this. A new study in Psychological Science indicates that well-being is related to less small talk and more substantive interactions with others (link).

The first thing that I thought was interesting about this study was that it was a naturalistic study, not experimental. In my experience, there aren’t too many naturalistic studies published in such a high impact factor journal. As the title of the article implies, the researchers basically eavesdropped on participants, albeit with informed consent. Participants wore recording devices that captured their interactions with others periodically.

Any research methods text will describe the pitfalls of naturalistic studies. Namely they require people to rate whatever is being observed which is an inherently difficult process. One way to address this issue is to compute an inter-rater reliability. In this case, raters categorized the content of conversations as either small-talk or substantive. The inter-rater reliability is not mentioned in this paper, which is a definite mark against the study (unless it was omitted for the purposes of limited space).

Participants also completed a life satisfaction and a personality measure to correlate the content of the conversations with their overall well-being. They found that,

higher well-being was associated with having less small talk, r = –.33, and having more substantive conversations, r = .28.

Given the correlational nature of the study, the scientists were cautious not to argue having deep conversations caused happiness, but rather pointed out that future research would do well to explore this experimentally. My question is Why didn’t they?

Mehl, M. R., Vazire, S., Holleran S. E., & Clark C. S. (2010). Eavesdropping on happiness: Well-being is related to having less small talk and more substantive conversations. Psychological Science, doi:10.1177/0956797610362675.

Special thanks to Adam Schenck for pointing out this article.

-Posted by Tyler

H1N1 Flu Vaccine: Supply & Demand

After the newest strain of the flu (H1N1) was reported and the first death was a child the public was confused and scared (calling the microbe “swine” flu probably didn’t help). Schools in New York City were being closed by the Mayor and the Governor at press conferences. People everywhere were infected and everyone was vulnerable because no one had immunity. In June, 2009, the World Health Organization declared the flu a pandemic. Models predicted millions would die. People didn’t know whether there was enough time to manufacture vaccines and demand was HIGH. Hysteria abounded.

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Social-Cognitive Skills in Dogs

I have discovered Human Development is one of my favorite courses to teach because of the large number of examples of the course material that can be found in the “real world”. Last fall I was just preparing to teach on infant cognitive development, when I heard an interesting piece on NPR about object permanence in dogs. Domestic dogs (unlike their close relatives, wolves) pick up on social cues given by humans (i.e. finger pointing) much in the same way that young children do. I thought this was interesting and I love dogs, so I hunted down the article from the magazine Science and I use it when I teach about the A-Not-B task. Enjoy!

Like Infant, Like Dog

Tomasello, M. and Kaminski J. (2009). Like Infant, Like Dog. Science, 325, 1213-1214.

-Posted by Cassie

Roxxxy True Companion’s Uncanny Valley

I’ll admit it, I was reading about Roxxxy TrueCompanion on Slate (link). The most interesting thing in the article was not about this new sex robot though, but rather it was its reference to Masohiro Mori’s Uncanny Valley hypothesis. The uncanny valley hypothesis states that we are more empathetic toward robots (or other non-human-entities) as they become more human-like — but only to a point. When robots become nearly human, but just a little bit off or not exactly right, our empathy towards them drops off… into the uncanny valley (see figure after the break, you’ll notice zombies make an appearance at the valley’s nadir). Naturally, one might wonder why the valley exists at all.  Continue reading