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When Your Self-View is Skewed, So Goes Your Mood

MirrorSome people walk around this planet thinking so highly of themselves that their feet barely touch the ground. Others think so low of themselves that they hardly ever lift their chins. And according to a new study, both sorts of people are in for a world of hurt.

A short research report in the journal Psychological Science investigated the effects of having a distorted self-view, whether too high or too low. The study focused on the self-views of children, ages ranging from nine to 12 years, all of whom were asked to rate how much they liked each of their classmates. Then they were asked to predict the ratings they would receive from each of their classmates. For the purpose of the study, self-view distortion was defined as the difference between the actual and perceived status.

A couple of weeks later, the children were asked to participate in an Internet popularity contest called “Survivor Game,” in which the least liked person is voted out of the group by a panel of peer judges.  Just before the game, the mood of each participant was measured with questions like, “How do you feel right now, at the present time?”  They were asked to rank eight adjectives (including: angry, nervous, sad, irritated, embarrassed) on a scale of 0 (not at all) to 4 (very much).

Participants then filled out a personal profile describing themselves, and were, without their knowledge, randomly assigned to one of two contest groups: (1) receive threatening feedback during the game (i.e. “you are the least likable person”), or (2) receive non-threatening / neutral feedback (i.e. “your opponent is the least liked”).  Afterward, mood of each participant was measured again.

The results: subjects whose self-views were initially inflated were emotionally crushed when they received threatening feedback during the game.  Same thing happened to those with deflated self-views. No such effect was found for non-threatening feedback.  The graph below shows just how significant the effect was; note that for the most inflated and most deflated self-views (+3 and -3 respectively), the mood swing is the most extreme.




This is interesting because it directly contradicts the notion that inflated self-views serve the function of protecting against the emotional impact of social threats (a.k.a. positive illusion theory, which suggests that the illusion of control is an adaptive function).  The findings of this study make a strong case that the exact opposite is true: inflated self-views increased, rather than decreased, emotional distress after threatening feedback.

Granted, this was a study of children who have had less life experience that tends to temper self-view.  But when you look around any office or social club, bar, etc., it’s easy to pick out exactly the same self-view inflation and deflation represented by these nine to 12 year olds.  Not to veer too cynical, but I’m thinking these results aren’t far off the mark for the adult world as well as the elementary and middle school worlds, and no less important.



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Shrinking the Easter Bunny













Check out more of Doug Savage’s cartoons at Savage Chickens

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Should We Be Afraid of Nanotechnology?

Scientists have been raising red flags about nanotechnology threats for the last few years, with increasing urgency.  Though full of promise (amazing advances in medical care, for example; demand for nanotechnology in healthcare is expected to increase nearly 50% in 2009), as with most technologies there’s also potential for abuse — abuse with results we can’t even really imagine yet (or, as with most unknowns, we imagine the worst).

Here’s a piece on potential nanotechnology threats to food,  one on nanoparticle threats to health, an interview discussing a variety of nano-related concerns, and a comprehensive report that tackles all of the above, including nano-environmental hazards.  The literature out there ranges from appropriate to alarmist and all points in between.

And now, Mental Floss has brought comedy to bear on the topic, and brilliantly. 

hat tip: Wired Science


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Twitter on the Brain

twitter-on-the-brainNeuronarrative is now available on Twitter.

You can find us at /Neuronarrative.

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Well-Being: Living and Thinking About It

If wealth increases happiness, then as per capita GDP in the United States has increased, self-reported happiness should be increasing as well, right? — except, it hasn’t. In fact, just the opposite: as income has increased, self- reported happiness has steadily decreased. This is but one of the counter-intuitive puzzles that Noble laureate Daniel Kahneman explores in this thought provoking lecture on well-being, part of the Hitchcock Lecture Series at UC Berkeley. Kahneman holds the rare distinction of having been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics as a psychologist for his work on Prospect Theory.  The video is roughly an hour long.

hat tip: The Situationist

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My Zombie is More Conscious than Your Zombie

zombiesYou’ve heard it before – the old philosopher’s saw about zombies: physically in-tact beings on the outside, unconscious voids on the inside.  Poke it with a stick and it won’t feel anything (because by definition it’s an insensate being), yet it’ll react as if it does.  “Ouch” it might say, and then return to staring at you blankly and drooling…ogling your brain.

To play along, of course, you have to indulge the theoretical possibility of a zombie existing. Of the many perfectly good reasons to do this, only one generally matters to philosophy of mind inquirers, and that’s to challenge a trio of isms: physicalism, behaviorism, and the baron of the ball, materialism. 

Since a zombie would embody human characteristics indistinguishable from your neighbor (with the exception of the severe jaundice and putrid odor), proponents of zombieism argue that  physical-behavioral-material facts cannot unequivocally account for consciousness. The presence of the zombie, in effect, separates mental and physical states, and provides additional information apart from the physical facts, which physicalism cannot account for.  

To no end has this argument been stretched, including the famous argument of philosopher David Chalmers about an entire zombie world theoretically existing (a world in which facts outside the physical–i.e. whatever is making the zombies tick–exist and can’t be explained by the trio of isms). 

You may be surprised to know, as was I, that there is in fact more than one theoretical zombie model available to zombie2would-be inquirers.  One could be a behavioral zombie, which is the standard sort (often called P-zombies) that looks like a human but isn’t conscious. Or one could be a neurological zombie, which looks human and has a human brain, but still isn’t conscious. Or one could be a soulless zombie, which looks like a human, has a brain, but lacks, wait for it, a soul (as defined by said inquirer).

Against the volumes that have been written around these thoughtless, bad smelling protagonists, there is but one irrefutable response … zombies don’t exist.  That pretty much sums it up.  We just decide not to indulge the fantasy, however captivating it may sound to live in zombie world, and that’s the end of the argument. Sorry, no zombies.

BUT, for the sake of argument, what if you take your standard fare zombie motif and flip it on its head?  That to me is a lot more interesting, because then you have something that actually can exist.

P-zombie, meet I-zombie — aka, the inverse zombie.

He or she appears once or twice out of every 1000 anesthetized patients undergoing surgery.  Imagine the possibility of being one of them — you have been intubated (preventing speech), paralyzed (preventing movement), and narcotized (minimizing response to stimuli), and yet you are aware that surgery is being performed on you.

That’s what this study delved into — “anesthesia awareness” — the I-zombie phenomenon, not a trip most would volunteer to take.  I think I’d rather visit zombie world. 

By the way, you can bone up on your zombie science here.


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Happy New Year – Meet Your Future Self

sandy_clock_mirror_webAs the New Year dawns, we’re awash as usual with media chatter about resolutions.  And, as usual, all of this flutter and hype is exactly wrong (to say nothing of boring).  No need to go on and on about why resolutions almost always fail – there’s enough material on this topic to keep us all busy reading until 2010. 

That said, results from a new Harris Interactive survey were just released that suggest women are experts at making resolutions, but men are better at keeping them.  Here’s the skinny:

More likely to make a New Year’s resolution:   Women 74%    Men 58%

More likely to keep a New Year’s resolution:     Women 14%    Men 22%

A couple of things to notice right off the bat. First, this is a self-reporting survey (they spoke to 2256 adults, ages 18+, in the U.S., 1495 of whom claimed to have ever made a New Year’s resolution) – so the second part of the results could easily be interpreted as “Men are more likely to say they keep their New Year’s resolutions.”  (I haven’t reviewed the survey methodology so I’ll leave that alone for now.)  

The other thing to notice is that, assuming these results are accurate, both women and men are truly bad at keeping resolutions.  The percentage drop (failure rate) is 60% for women and 36% for men.  I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that men over-reported their success rate a tad, so the drops are probably even closer.   The macro result from the survey was:  

66% of adults have ever made a New Year’s resolution but only 17% always or often keep them

Further validation that making a New Year’s resoution is an exercise in hopeful denial. Better, I think, to make a date with your future self, as this article suggests, and have a looksee a few years up the road — it’s one solution for getting around our tendency for immediacy myopia.

And on that note …. Happy New Year!

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