Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Everyone Gets a Job!

A terrifying graph for any PhD student! (source)
It's late October and that means we are squarely in the middle of job season for psychology PhDs (and PhD candidates). I was hired during the 2011-2012 job cycle, and so I recently switched to the evaluation side of the job process. Sitting on this side of the fence I feel incredibly fortunate to have a job: There are a ton of accomplished graduate students and postdocs with strong records, interesting research ideas, and stellar (!!!) letters of recommendation. If the system were running optimally, most of these applicants would land jobs. If the system were running optimally...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Does Forgiveness Have a Dark Side?

Forgiveness is widely considered to be a psychologically healthy and morally virtuous approach to coping with victimization. Research suggests that people who forgive more easily are happier and healthier than those who hold grudges. In addition, forgiveness interventions have been shown to reduce stress reactivity, increase optimism, and facilitate reconciliation with offenders.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What Kinds of Support Are Most Supportive?

Numerous studies have demonstrated the critical importance of social support for physical and mental health. For example, one study showed that stressed middle-aged men with higher levels of available emotional support were significantly less likely to die over a 7-year period than those who lacked such support. Another study found that an absence of social support was a major predictor of depression.

In our everyday lives, we often have opportunities to provide support to friends, family members, or coworkers, but it can be hard to know how to do it in the most effective way. Research in social psychology has revealed some principles for giving good support that challenge common assumptions. Here are three of them.  

Friday, October 3, 2014

Crossing Class Boundaries

Yesterday the New York Times published an opinion piece written by University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management Professor, Stephane Cote and I on the challenges of crossing social class boundaries. You can find the article here. This blog post accompanies that article with a few notes about the research.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Does Power Help or Hurt Perspective-Taking?

First comes love, then comes the realization that we are navigating life’s journey with another person who may have different thoughts, feelings, and beliefs than us. How do we deal with having differing viewpoints from our romantic partners? Perspective-taking is a fundamental social skill that helps us smoothly steer through the many bumps in the road, from picking out a thoughtful anniversary gift to helping us reach a compromise on a contentious issue. When people are able to consider their partner’s point of view, both they and their partners report being more satisfied with their relationship (Long, 1990). Although this basic skill is fundamental and beneficial, not everyone is good at perspective-taking, particularly in their romantic relationships (Kenny & Acitelli, 2001). So who is good at perspective-taking and who is lacking? To answer this question, I turned to the research on power. I was curious to find out whether feeling powerful in a romantic relationship might lead people to be better, or worse, perspective-takers.

Power is potent, affecting how people think, feel, and interact with others. Although thinking about powerful people might bring to mind the caricature of a power-hungry CEO, the reality is that power is not just in the workplace, it is part of all of our relationships, shaping how we interact with our parents, friends, and romantic partners. So how exactly does it shape our relationships? Or, in our case, our ability to step into our partner’s shoes? Well, the old adage, “power corrupts,” suggests that powerful people should be selfish, caring only about getting their own way and paying little attention to what their romantic partners are thinking and feeling. And there is research to support this – people are less likely to take strangers’ perspectives when they feel powerful (Galinsky et al., 2006) and in families, powerful members are less likely to perspective take (Barber, 1984). But on the other hand, for romantic relationships to survive, people can’t just be selfish—they have to think about what is best for the relationship, which means considering their partner’s point of view. Power helps people focus on and pursue their goals (Guinote, 2007), so perhaps power might actually help people become better perspective-takers in romantic relationships because it focuses them on maintaining their relationship?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Big Theory

"Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful." --George Box*

I need to be honest with you, I'm not all that good at generating novel ideas: Some of my most well-cited papers involve theories that sociologists came up with decades ago; Reviewers frequently accuse me of running post-hoc analyses (asking the data for ideas, rather than generating apriori predictions); When media cover my research, the most common initial comment is something like: "This is so obvious....blah, blah....you suck." You get the idea. 

I don't view this particular characteristic of my research as a flaw. Rather, I'm acknowledging that not all scientists can be ground-breaking theorists/game changers: Some people come up with great ideas and some people test them. For the most part, I test theories and I do it in (what I hope are) convincing ways. Given this characteristic of my research, you might be surprised then, to learn that I love theory!** 

You read that right.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Psychological Barriers in Economic Inequality Reduction

Today I wrote a blog for New Left Project on psychology research examining perceptions of, and responses to, economic inequality. The post features cutting-edge research by prominent social psychologists Mike Norton and Dan Ariely, as well as research from my own laboratory at the University of Illinois. An excerpt:

"The United States is one of the most unequal and rigidly stratified societies in the industrialised world.  In the wake of the Great Recession, it has become increasingly clear that success in America flows to the wealthy and the well-connected.  Why do these inequities persist in the face of steady unemployment, abject poverty and rising homelessness? 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Psychology at the (Home) Movies: HBO’s The Wire

Although I’m more than a decade late to the party, a recent fortunate Amazon.com prime membership has gifted me with access to HBO’s acclaimed series the Wire. For the last two months I’ve been watching the show weekly, digesting its contents in small consistent doses. My background as a middle class ivory tower academic makes the Wire foreign territory to me—I don’t have much personal experience with drug culture, or poverty, or oppression, or Baltimore (the primary city in the story) for that matter. Nevertheless, there were many themes in the TV series that align well with contemporary research in the social sciences. With an eye towards these themes, I bring you a look into HBO’s the Wire by linking it to our current understanding of basic psychology. As with any piece of film-making, the nuance and detail will not be completely captured in this post, and I welcome comments here or on twitter (@mwkraus). Also, SPOILERS!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Notes on Replication from an Un-Tenured Social Psychologist

Last week the special issue on replication at the Journal of Social Psychology arrived to an explosion of debate (read the entire issue here and read original author Simone Schnall's commentary on her experience with the project and Chris Fraley's subsequent examination of ceiling effects). The debate has been happening everywhere--on blogs, on twitter, on Facebook, and in the halls of your psychology department (hopefully).

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Top Ten Worst Reasons to Stay Friends With Your Ex

Your ex is your ex for a reason. But he or she was also an important part of your life for a significant amount of time, and it’s understandable to want to hold on to that relationship in some capacity. Many former couples, whether they were dating partners or spouses, try to remain friends after a break-up, and some are able to manage this transition successfully.
Research suggests, however, that on average exes tend to have lower quality friendships than platonic opposite sex friends who were never romantically involved: they are less emotionally supportive, less helpful, less trusting, and less concerned about the other person’s happiness. This is especially true, not surprisingly, for former partners who were dissatisfied with the romantic relationship, and when the break-up was not mutual.
The probability that a friendship with an ex will be a positive rather than painful experience depends in part on your motives, including the ones that you would rather not openly acknowledge. Here are ten reasons that can get you into trouble.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

(Sample) Size Matters

Sample Size Matters
On this blog and others, on twitter (@mwkraus), at conferences, and in the halls of the psychology building at the University of Illinois, I have engaged in a wealth of important discussions about improving research methods in social-personality psychology. Many prominent psychologists have offered several helpful suggestions in this regard (here, here, here, and here).

Among the many suggestions for building a better psychological science, perhaps the simplest and most parsimonious way to improve research methods is to increase sample sizes for all study designs: By increasing sample size researchers can detect smaller real effects and can more accurately measure large effects. There are many trade-offs in choosing appropriate research methods, but sample size, at least for a researcher like me who deals in relatively inexpensive data collection tools, is in many ways the most cost effective way to improve one's science. In essence, I can continue to design the studies I have been designing and ask the same research questions I have been asking (i.e., business-as-usual) with the one exception that each study I run has a larger N than it would have if I were not thinking (more) intelligently about statistical power.

How has my lab been fairing with respect to this goal of collecting large samples? See for yourself:

Monday, April 7, 2014

4 Reasons Not to Settle in a Relationship

Settling is an ugly, depressing word. Few people would suggest outright that you should settle for less than you want and deserve in a relationship. Even Lori Gottlieb, author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, disapproved of the use of the word in her book title, a decision she said was made by her publisher.
But the pressure to settle can be very real, even if it is not communicated explicitly. People who are single after a certain age may be seen as "too picky" and urged to lower their standards. Singles are also likely to face social stigma due to their solo status, a phenomenon psychologist Bella DePaulo has called “singlism.” From our earliest days, we learn that our worth is tied up in our ability to find a mate; that marriage marks the passage into mature adulthood and is our most important adult relationship; and that we are not complete until we find our other half. And then there is the issue of our "biological clocks," an imperative which recent research suggests affects men too.
It's no wonder that people feel rushed to settle down before they are ready, or before they find the right match.
If you have ever found yourself grappling with the question of whether it's better to be alone, or to settle—which Gottlieb calls “one of the most complicated, painful, and pervasive dilemmas many single [people] are forced to grapple with"—read on. Here are four science-backed reasons why you should consider holding out for a relationship that makes you truly happy:

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why Do We Take Personality Tests?

I often get questions from friends and family that they would like answered in a post. This month, my post is inspired by a question from my grandmother. Kudos to my grandma for asking a question about a popular trend on the internet!

Personality tests
Personality tests are not new, but they have recently skyrocketed in popularity on the internet. This week, Buzzfeed published 15 such tests in one 24-hour period. It seems every day on my Facebook news feed, someone has posted new results from one of these quizzes. Online personality tests have expanded beyond the traditional format of telling us certain traits we possess, although those do still exist (try here and here). Now, there are also tests that give us information about ourselves by comparing us to people or characters we know (“Which pop star should you party with?” or “Which children’s book character are you?”) and by comparing specific behaviors or knowledge to others’ (“How many classic horror films have you seen?” or “How well do you know ‘90s R&B lyrics?”).

Regardless of which type of personality test you prefer (I’m not sure that all of these can be considered tests of personality, but we’ll stick with that label for now), these tests have two things in common: they ask us questions about ourselves, and then they tell us about ourselves. But aren’t we the experts on ourselves? Why should we need to take these tests to figure out who we are? Though it seems that the clues to our personality simply lie within us, below I outline three reasons we might be motivated to take personality tests anyway. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Psychology of Economic Inequality: A Collection

Today I wrote an op-ed piece for livescience about economic inequality. Read the piece here. In it, I argue that though economic inequality is a complex social and political issue, it may be explained, at least in part, in terms of the basic psychological motivations of individuals.

Anyway, I hope you'll check out the piece and send me comments via twitter (@mwkraus). If you'd like to read more about this area of research, below I have collected four past PYM pieces on the topic.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Parenthood, Trial or Tribulation? Part 2

On New Year’s Day I became a parent, sparking my curiosity in the research on parenting and well-being and inspiring a four-part series on parenthood and happiness. This is the second post. Check out the first post here.

Are parents happier than non-parents? Researchers have generally set about trying to answer this deceptively simple question in three ways:

Are people with children happier than those without children?

This is the most common approach to research on parenthood and well-being. In these studies, researchers typically tackle large datasets with thousands of adults, comparing the well-being of people with children to people without children. Although the approach is straightforward, the results are mixed with some studies finding parents are happier than non-parents and other studies find the reverse.

How can these studies with such a basic design find opposite results? One large problem with this approach is that little work is done to find out who exactly is making up these groups of parents and non-parents. Focusing on the non-parents, only 15% of adults do not have children, making them a small comparison group. More importantly, their reasons for doing so may differ greatly. Young adults may not have children when they take part in the research, but plan to have children later. Older adults may not have children because they were not able to do so, or they may have consciously made the choice to not have children. Imagine comparing a married 48-year old with three children to a married 48 year-old with no children who spent years and hard earned dollars fighting infertility and wishing to be a parent? Who do you think is happier? Now imagine that the non-parent comparison is a 48 year-old who loves to travel, lives all over the globe and chose not to have children because they wouldn’t fit a globetrotting lifestyle. Who do you think is happier? In one study, mothers were no happier than women who chose not to have children, but were significantly happier than infertile women (Callan, 1987). Choice plays an important role on the other side of the table as well—some people become parents by choice while others find themselves in the unexpected position of being a parent when they hadn’t intended it. How might choice affect happiness among these different groups?

Are people happier after they have children than they were before they were parents?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Parenthood: Trial or Tribulation?

This is the first post in a four-part series on parenthood and happiness.

On New Years Day I celebrated not only the start of a new year, but a new phase in my life. A few (long) hours after midnight I became a parent, and my life was irrevocably changed. In the journey to parenthood I knew one thing to be true—that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Would becoming a parent bring me joy, love, and gratitude greater than I had previously known? Would I find myself anxious, worried, depressed, and dreaming of my former life? Or, as I suspected, would I find myself experiencing intense moments of both?

In my short time as a parent I have experienced great joy, love and gratitude as well as intense worry, and sometimes even sadness. Happily, as I sit here typing up this post with my two and a half month old swaddled next to me on the couch, eyeing me trustingly as she falls in and out of sleep, I can say that the balance tends to weigh strongly on the side of joy. But in those moments where I don’t have the luxury to type up this post because I’m tending to a crying child, or changing a dirty diaper, I dream of the freedom of my former life and the balance is just a bit more evenly weighted.

And the one thing I know with certainty is that I still have no clue what exactly I’ve gotten myself into. While my days often stretch out in front of me with the sameness that comes from having an infant with simple needs, I also know that she is growing and changing at a rapid pace. Each week we are in uncharted territory as she learns to smile, sit, and eventually walk, talk and push back as she becomes her own independent person.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I'm Using the New Statistics

Do you remember your elementary school science project? Mine was about ant poison. I mixed borax with sugar and put that mixture outside our house during the summer in a carefully crafted/aesthetically pleasing "ant motel." My prediction, I think, was that we would kill ants just like in the conventional ant killing brands, but we'd do so in an aesthetically pleasing way. In retrospect, not sure I was cut out for science back then.

Anyway, from what I remember about that process, there was a clear study design and articulation of a hypothesis--a prediction about what I expected to happen in the experiment. Years later, I would learn more about hypothesis testing in undergraduate and graduate statistical courses on my way to a social psychology PhD. For that degree, Null Hypothesis Significance Testing (NHST) would be my go-to method of inferential statistics.

In NHST, I have come to an unhealthy worship of p-values--the statistic expressing the probability of the data showing the observed relationship between variables X and Y, if the null hypothesis (of no relationship) were true. If p < .05 rejoice! If p < .10 claim emerging trends/marginal significance and be cautiously optimistic. If p > .10 find another profession. By NHST standards, an experiment fails or succeeds based solely on this one statistic.

When the Association of Psychological Science proposed using an alternative statistical approach--something called the New Statistics (actually not new, been around for decades)--I was intrigued about the possibility of living an academic life beyond the tyranny of p < .05.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ten Findings About Facebook for its 10th Birthday

Happy Birthday, Facebook!
Over the past ten years, Facebook has added a new dimension to the social lives of over a billion people. Given its popularity, it has become the topic of a growing body of research in the social sciences. For Facebook’s 10th birthday, I collected ten discoveries this research has yielded and share brief summaries below. If you’re on Facebook, then this research applies to you! Happy birthday, Facebook!

1. Does Facebook help us feel better by fulfilling our need for social connection? The authors of one study text-messaged people five times per day for two weeks and asked people about their Facebook use and their well-being. The more people used Facebook at one time, the worse they felt the next time they were text-messaged. In addition, over the two weeks of the study, the more people used Facebook, the more their life satisfaction decreased.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

PYM's Graduate Student Guide-Blog

In thinking about the past three years writing for PYM, I just realized that I write a lot of posts about issues that graduate students care about. I've made a list with links to each of these posts below. Now all the "wisdom" I have to offer about graduate school is in one place. I hope this will help you--current and future graduate students in psychology--to navigate the challenges and opportunities that many of us face on our way to a PhD! Good luck in your journey and don't be afraid to leave comments or questions on the post or on twitter (@mwkraus or @psychyourmind).

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pro Tip: Treat Graduate School Like a Job

I really enjoyed graduate school. I attended UC Berkeley's social-personality psychology PhD program from 2004-2010 and the whole time I felt like a kid in a candy store. Sometimes my typical day included reading a book while lounging outside in the sun on Berkeley's memorial glade. Other days I would spend several hours in a local coffee shop (the ORIGINAL PEET'S!!!!) writing a manuscript describing a study providing knowledge that no-one before me had produced. On still other days I would play pick-up basketball with a hilarious combination of former college basketball players and current Berkeley psychology professors. It's a time in my life that I will always look back on fondly.

Of course I did also get a little bit of work done while I was in graduate school. I collected data obsessively, I wrote for 20-30 hours each week, I coded nonverbal behavior four hours a day for two

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I Went Open Access: The Story So Far

This past week, one of my graduate students and I published a paper at PLoS ONE, a leading open access journal (if you are interested in politics and economic inequality, I suggest you head over and check it out here). I'm not the first researcher (or psychologist) to use PLoS ONE as an outlet for my work, but it's still a relatively new place for social/personality psychologists to publish their findings. Because of the "newness" of this whole venture, I thought it might be nice to tell you a bit about my experience, so far.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mo Money, Mo Problems? Affluenza Doesn't Exist

Affluenza? Doesn't exist! (source)
"I don't know what they want from me,
It's like the more money we come across,
The more problems we see."
--The Notorious BIG

Some people think that the rich live hard knock lives-- I was first made aware of this hypothesis by these lyrics written by the '90s hip hop icon the Notorious BIG. Admittedly, I haven't given much thought to this idea all the way up until last December. It was at that time that a teenage drunk driver caused an accident, leaving four people dead. A judge sentenced the teenage boy to 10 years probation and therapy. The judge was lenient, in part, based on the defense's claims that the boy was afflicted with a rare illness known as affluenza, which, according to the LA Times is "a syndrome that keeps someone from a wealthy background from learning that bad behavior has consequences."

It seems the news media has caught the affluenza bug in the weeks since this story ran: Just this week I came across an article about affluenza in that paragon of journalistic integrity, the Huffington Post. The article reads "Though often used in jest, the term (affluenza) may have more truth than many of us might think." It appears that some journalists are taking the term seriously (oh and hooray, I'm QUOTED in the friggin' article). The same day this article appeared online I was asked to participate in an internet discussion about... affluenza (I declined).

I wrote this blog post today, under a blanket shielding me from the polar vortex outside, to make one small point: NO NO NO NO NO!!!! Stop It!!! Affluenza does not exist!!! EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The psychology within the biggest news of 2013

As we ring in the new year, every major news outlet is publishing their “top” lists of 2013: the top movies, the top tweets, the top sports moments, the top medical breakthroughs, the top business blunders - the lists go on and on. To add a bit of psychology to this “top” list trend, in this post, I take the three top news stories of 2013 as chosen by CNN.com’s readers and highlight what psychological research can contribute to each of them.

1. New pope. When the 266th pope of the Catholic Church was elected this year, many praised him for his commitment to interfaith dialogue. His support of cross-religious interactions underscores his belief that communication between members of different groups can help to reduce prejudice and conflict. Seeking to heal rifts among people due to religious differences or prior conflicts, the pope himself has sought out personal relationships with many religious leaders across the globe. He hopes that by encouraging his followers to establish similar interfaith relationships, current tensions can be quelled and prejudice alleviated.

Research on the intergroup contact hypothesis tells us that the pope’s strategy is likely a good one. The basic prediction of the hypothesis is that contact between people of different groups will usually reduce prejudice. Forming relationships with members of another group can help people learn more about a group, experience less anxiety about interacting with the group, and feel more empathy for that group. All three of these outcomes can then diminish prejudice. Some research has even shown that merely having a friend who interacts with someone from another group can reduce prejudice (the extended contact hypothesis). While it’s not always the case that intergroup contact yields less prejudice, the pope does seem to be taking the right approach for prejudice reduction by continuing to support interfaith dialogue.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Why Do We Blame Victims?

Two months ago Jonathan Martin, a football player on the Miami Dolphins, left the team due to mistreatment from teammates, which included receiving threatening phone messages from another player. The incident raised concerns about hazing within the NFL, but it also prompted some to suggest that Martin himself bears at least partial responsibility for his fate. For example, another NFL player stated in an interview that Martin is "just as much to blame because he allowed it to happen" and should have behaved like a man. Others argued that Martin was oversensitive and made himself an easy target. 
This sort of victim blaming is not unique to bullying cases. It can be seen when rape victims' sexual histories are dissected, when people living in poverty are viewed as lazy and unmotivated, when those suffering from mental or physical illness are presumed to have invited disease through their own bad choices. There are cases where victims may indeed hold some responsibility for their misfortunate, but all too often this responsibility is overblown and other factors are discounted. Why are we so eager to blame victims, even when we have seemingly nothing to gain?