Archive for category Psychological Science

Abstract Thinking as Means to Boost Self-Control


Abstract Thinking as Means to Boost Self-ControlSelf-control is much easier talked about than accomplished, and that applies to improving diet, exercise and reducing stress.

Researchers point out that many of the long-term goals people strive for — like losing weight — require us to use self-control and forgo immediate gratification. But ignoring immediate desires in order to reap future benefits is often very hard to do.

In a new study, researchers Kentaro Fujita, Ph.D., and Jessica Carnevale of Ohio State University propose that the way people subjectively understand, or construe, events can influence self-control.

Experts say that thinking about things abstractly and placing the items into broad categories (called high-level construal) allows us to psychologically distance ourselves from the pushes and pulls of the immediate moment. This, in turn, makes us more sensitive to the big picture implications of our behavior and helps us become more consistent between our values and our behavior.

For example, a dieter choosing based on immediately apparent differences between the choices (low-level construal) might focus on taste and opt for a candy bar over an apple.

A dieter choosing on the basis of high-level construal, however, might view the choice in the broader terms of a choice between weight loss and hedonism, and opt for the apple.

Viewing the decision-making process in an abstract or construal process as a means to maximize self-control involves the integration of many scientific disciplines.

Researchers believe investigating the link between construal level and self-control may be a method to help society confront societal problems including obesity, addiction, and debt.

The research is published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

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Thinking About Giving Inspires People to Help Others


Thinking About Giving Inspires People to Help OthersResearchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan have found that reflecting on what we’ve given, rather than what we’ve received, may lead us to be more helpful toward others.

The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In the study, Adam Grant and Jane Dutton wanted to understand how reflection, in the form of expressive writing, might influence prosocial behavior.

They found that the receipt of gifts or favors from another person might cause an individual to be obliged to help that person, but the motivation to help doesn’t necessarily extend to other people.

Moreover, reflecting on what we’ve received from others may even cause us to feel dependent and indebted. This finding lead the researchers to wonder whether thinking about times when we have given to others might be more effective in promoting helping.

They hypothesized that reflecting on giving could lead a person to see herself as a benefactor, strengthening identity as a caring, helpful individual and motivating one to take action to benefit others.

In their first experiment, the researchers studied fundraisers whose job was to solicit alumni donations to support various programs at a university.

The researchers randomly split the fundraisers into two groups: One group wrote journal entries about recent experiences of feeling grateful for receiving a benefit and the other group wrote journal entries about recent experiences in which they made a contribution that enabled other people to feel grateful.

Grant and Dutton then measured how many calls each fundraiser made per hour in the two weeks before and the two weeks after the week that they spent journaling. Because the fundraisers were paid a fixed hourly rate, with no fundraising goals or incentives, the number of calls they made reflected voluntary effort to help raise funds for the university.

As the researchers hypothesized, the fundraisers who wrote about giving for just two or three days increased their hourly calls by more than 29 percent in the following two weeks. The fundraisers who wrote about receiving, however, showed no change in the number hourly calls made.

In a second experiment, the researchers randomly assigned college students to one of three groups, requiring them to list three ways they had recently given help, list three ways they had recently received help, or list three different foods they had eaten in the last week.

When the participants came to the university’s behavioral lab a few weeks later to pick up their payment for participating in the study, they were given a form describing the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. On the form, the participants were asked whether they would like to donate any portion of their $5 payment to an earthquake relief fund.

Nearly 50 percent of participants who had reflected on giving donated, compared to 21 percent in the beneficiary group and 13 percent in the control cohort.

Grant and Dutton believe that the findings from these two experiments have important real-world implications.

“Helping, giving, volunteering, and other actions undertaken to benefit others play a critical role in protecting health, promoting education, fighting poverty and hunger, and providing disaster relief,” the researchers write.

Experts believe self-reflection is a powerful tool to motivate helping and volunteering behaviors that benefit individuals and communities. And, as a general rule, we should reflect on positive experiences and think about what we’ve given to others—not only what we’ve received.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Woman writing in a journal photo by shutterstock.

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Older Adults Beat Younger at Staying Positive


Older Adults Stay PositiveDespite aches and pains and senior moments, older adults display more positive emotions than younger adults, say researchers. And they can pull out of a negative emotional state quicker than much younger adults.

Such emotional control may seem paradoxical, as many would expect that age would be associated with poor moods and emotional distress.

In a new study, Derek Isaacowitz, Ph.D., of Northeastern University attempts to explain the paradox.

He believes positive looking is a possible explanation: older adults may be better at regulating emotion because they tend to direct their eyes away from negative material or toward positive material. In the study, Isaacowitz presents evidence indicating that compared to younger adults, older adults prefer positive looking patterns.

Older adults also show the most positive looking when they are in bad moods — a time when younger adults show the most negative looking.

Researchers believe there is a causal relationship between looking for the good in life and mood. In the study they discovered for adults with good attentional abilities, positive looking patterns can help to regulate their mood.

So focusing on the positive seems to pay off for senior adults. Researchers also discovered that although elders prefer to focus on the positive, this perspective does not prevent them from missing other important information.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

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Multi-Language Environment Affects Child’s Emotional Development


Multi-Language Environment Affects Childs Emotional DevelopmentIn a melting pot of cultures, many parents raise their children in a multilingual environment.

While children generally benefit from the cross-cultural exposure and linguistic experience, researchers are discovering that parents often switch between languages during emotional situations.

A new research study reviews this linguistic phenomenon to better understand how using different languages to discuss and express emotions in a multilingual family might play an important role in children’s emotional development.

Psychological scientists Stephen Chen and Qing Zhou of the University of California, Berkeley and Morgan Kennedy of Bard College say the findings suggest the particular language parents choose to use when discussing and expressing emotion can have significant impacts on children’s emotional understanding, experience, and regulation.

“Over the past few years, there’s been a steadily growing interest in the languages multilingual individuals use to express emotions,” said Chen.

“We were interested in the potential clinical and developmental implications of emotion-related language shifts, particularly within the context of the family.”

Existing research from psychological science underscores the fact that language plays a key role in emotion because it allows the speakers to articulate, conceal, or discuss feelings.

When parents verbally express their emotions, they contribute to their children’s emotional development by providing them a model of how emotions can be articulated and regulated.

When parents discuss emotion, they help their children to accurately label and consequently understand their own emotions. This explicit instruction can further help children to better regulate their emotions.

Research from the linguistic field suggests that when bilingual individuals switch languages, the way they experience emotions changes as well.

Bilingual parents may use a specific language to express an emotional concept because they feel that language provides a better cultural context for expressing the emotion.

For example, a native Finnish speaker may be more likely to use English to tell her children that she loves them because it is uncommon to explicitly express emotions in Finnish.

Thus, the language that a parent chooses to express a particular concept can help to provide cues that reveal his or her emotional state.

Researchers say that language choice may also influence how children experience emotion — such expressions can potentially elicit a greater emotional response when spoken in the child’s native language.

Researchers are unsure if shifting from one language to another may help children to regulate their emotional response by using a less emotional, non-native language as a way to decrease negative arousal.

Further, the ability to shift languages may help a child model culture specific emotional regulation.

Researchers believe evidence supports the premise that a child’s emotional competence is fundamentally shaped by a multilingual environment.

These findings may be particularly useful in the development of intervention programs for immigrant families, helping intervention staff to be aware of how the use of different languages in various contexts can have an emotional impact.

“Our aim in writing this review was to highlight what we see as a rich new area of cross-disciplinary research,” said Chen.

“We’re especially excited to see how the implications of emotion-related language switching can be explored beyond the parent-child dyad – for example, in marital interactions, or in the context of therapy and other interventions.”

The study findings are published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Happy family photo by shutterstock.

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Mind/Body Dualism May Lead to Unhealthy Choices


Mind/Body Dualism May Lead to Unhealthy ChoicesDo you believe that the mind and body are two separate entities?

If you do, that makes you a “philosophical dualists.”  And doctoral students Matthias Forstmann, Pascal Burgmer along with Dr. Thomas Mussweiler found evidence in five different studies that people who possess dualistic beliefs practiced health behaviors that were less than ideal.

Furthermore, they found that the relationship also worked in the other direction. People who were primed with unhealthy behaviors — such as pictures of unhealthy food — reported a stronger dualistic belief than participants who were primed with healthy behaviors.

Specifically, the researchers, from the University of Cologne, Germany, determined a dualistic belief was accompanied by irresponsible health and exercise behaviors including poor dietary intake.

Physicalist beliefs are the opposite of dualists in that people do not see a separation of mind and body with researchers discovering this perspective associated with a “healthier” perspective toward physical activity and diet.

Overall, the findings from the five studies provide converging evidence demonstrating that mind-body dualism has a noticeable impact on people’s health-related attitudes and behaviors. These findings suggest that dualistic beliefs decrease the likelihood of engaging in healthy behavior.

These findings support the researchers’ original hypothesis that the more people perceive their minds and bodies to be distinct entities, the less likely they will be to engage in behaviors that protect their bodies.

From a dualistic perspective, bodies are ultimately viewed as a disposable vessel that helps the mind interact with the physical world.

The new evidence of a bidirectional relationship suggests that metaphysical beliefs may help some individuals cope with threatening or harmful situations.

Researchers believe the studies show that simple procedures can have a profound impact on health-related attitudes and behaviors. For example, interventions that reduce dualistic beliefs through priming could be one way to help promote healthier — or less self-damaging — behaviors in at-risk populations.

A discussion of these findings is forthcoming in Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Woman with hand on cheek photo by shutterstock.

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Resting After Learning Aids Memory


Resting After Learning Aids MemoryThe adage “use it or lose it” has led many aging adults to work on crossword puzzles, participate in web activities for memory improvement and do mental exercises to challenge cognition.

A new study suggests that maybe all they really need to do to cement new learning is to sit and close their eyes for a few minutes. Psychological scientist Michaela Dewar, Ph.D.,  and her colleagues show that memory can be boosted by taking a brief wakeful rest after learning something verbally new.

“Our findings support the view that the formation of new memories is not completed within seconds,” says Dewar. “Indeed, our work demonstrates that activities that we are engaged in for the first few minutes after learning new information really affect how well we remember this information after a week.”

Investigators performed two separate experiments on 33 normally aging adults between the ages of 61 and 87. Participants were told two short stories and told to remember as many details as possible.

Immediately afterward, they were asked to describe what happened in the story. Then they were given a 10-minute delay that consisted either of wakeful resting or playing a spot-the-difference game on the computer.

During the wakeful resting portion, participants were asked to just rest quietly with their eyes closed in a darkened room for 10 minutes while the experimenter left to “prepare for the next test.”

During this period participants could daydream or think about whatever they wanted. The key aspect of this pause was to keep the eyes closed, and to not be distracted by anything else or receive any new information.

When participants played the spot-the-difference game, they were presented with picture pairs on a screen for 30 seconds each and were instructed to locate two subtle differences in each pair and point to them.

The task was chosen because it required attention but, unlike the story, it was nonverbal.

In one study, the participants were asked to recall both stories half an hour later and then a full week later.

Participants remembered much more story material when the story presentation had been followed by a period of wakeful resting.

Researchers say emerging evidence suggests that the point at which we experience new information is “just at a very early stage of memory formation and that further neural processes have to occur after this stage for us to be able to remember this information at a later point in time.”

Researchers believe the new input crowds out recently acquired information, suggesting that the current experiment shows that the process of consolidating memories takes a little time.

That is, the most important method to augment memory retention is peace and quiet.

The article is published in the journal Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Elderly man with eyes shut photo by shutterstock.

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