Psychology in the News

April 17, 2014

Flipping the math stereotypes

Filed under: culture, social influence — Tags: , , — intro2psych @ 12:01 am

math testby  105 Student

A man and a woman sit down to take a challenging math test. They both want to do well, and are nervous, but the woman is especially flustered and experiences an increased heart rate, sweaty palms, and other symptoms of stress. She may not be fully aware of it, but it is possible that she is feeling an added pressure to disprove the stereotype that women do poorly in math, which may actually hurt her performance. This phenomenon, known as  “stereotype threat” ( ) is thought to decrease women’s math performance in comparison to that of men because they worry about confirming the stereotype that women are bad at math (Spencer, 1999). Past studies have consistently show that when women are reminded of their gender in some way before taking a math test they are more likely to experience negative thoughts, increased arousal and emotional processing that interferes with the area of the brain that works with math and problem solving (Krendl, Richeson, Kelley, & Heatherton, 2008) and inhibits the working memory (Schmader, Johns, & Forbes, 2008), all of which lead to a decline in math performance. Women who are not reminded of their gender before taking math tests do not experience these effects as strongly. A recent study carried out in France, however, shows that middle school students are demonstrating opposite effects.

The French study (Martinot,  & Désert, 2007) examined whether or not fourth and seventh graders were aware of the stereotype that boys are better at math than girls and how the students perceived their own math abilities. The link between these perceptions was also evaluated. One hundred and two girls and 113 boys from rural and urban schools filled out questionnaires that asked them about the value of math grades, self-esteem, and perception of their own performance. Half of the students were also questioned about gender identification to make their gender salient. As the researchers anticipated, neither age group expressed awareness of the existence of the stereotype, but it did come as a surprise that girls in both age groups perceived that girls would perform better in math than boys when gender was made salient, and seventh grade boys generally reported that they believed that girls were better at math.

These data imply that around the age of twelve, French girls start to perceive themselves as higher performers in math, and boys begin to share this belief, as well as loose confidence in their own math ability. This contrasts with research that indicates that American girls face stereotype threat and therefore believe that their math performance is inferior to that of men (Spencer, et al. 1999). This shift correlates with increasing male underachievement in France (PISA 2001, 2003), as well as increasing gender equality (Else-Quest, Hyde, & Linn, 2010) (represented through having more women present in schools, the work force, etc.). This study is limited in that it only studies a small sample of French children and does not examine whether or not these perceptions remain as students age. It does, however, indicate possible changing trends in gender perception in relation to math performance and suggests that because boys in France are beginning to lower their self-perceptions in relation to math they may need help in improving the confidence with which they approach work.

Although there is a higher presence of women in the work force and more females are currently enrolled in higher education than males it does not appear that this transition is taking place in the U.S., as studies conducted in America show that girls as young as five demonstrate growing awareness of the stereotype held against women in math, which may contribute to why more advanced degrees in mathematical fields are still awarded to men (Cavanagh, 2008).


Cavanagh, S. (2008, Aug 27). Stereotype of mathematical inferiority still plagues girls. Education Week, 28(1), 9-9.

Else-Quest, N. M.,  Hyde, J. S., &  Linn, M. C.  (2010, January). Cross-national patterns of gender differences in mathematics: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Vol. 136(1), 103-127.

Krendl, A.C.,  Richeson, J.A., Kelley, W.M., &  Heatherton, T.F. (2008, February). The Negative Consequences of Threat: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Investigation of the Neural Mechanisms Underlying Women’s Underperformance in Math. Psychological Science. Vol. 19 No. 2 168-175.

Martinot, D., & Désert, M. (2007). Awareness of a gender stereotype, personal beliefs and self-perceptions regarding math ability: When boys do not surpass girls. Social Psychology of Education, 10(4), 455-471.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Programme for International Student Assessment (OECD PISA) (2001 and 2003).

Schmader, T., Johns, M., & Forbes, C. (2008). An integrated process model of stereotype threat effects on performance. Psychological Review, 115(2), 336-356.

Spencer, S., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Under suspicion of inability: Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4–28.

Steele, Claude M. (1997, June). A Threat in the Air: How Stereotypes Shape Intellectual Identity and Performance. American Psychologist. Volume 52(6), p. 613-629.

January 21, 2014

How yawning spreads from brain to brain

Filed under: brain wiring, social influence — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 12:03 pm

By 105 Student

Two ironing women, by Edgar Degas

Two ironing women, by Edgar Degas

People witness at an early age the phenomenon of contagious yawning. When one person in a crowded room yawns, it seems to trigger a chain reaction. Often times, friends will jokingly blame one another for passing on their yawn, like a contagion. For some reason, observing another person yawn makes you yawn. This same effect occurs when you see a person smiling or hear him laughing. Even subconsciously, you also will begin to smile. Yawning and laughing are both catching.

The premotor cortex initiates a person’s inadvertent reaction of laughing after hearing laughter. More specifically, a part of this area of the brain, called the PMVc area, helps trigger motor function in response to visual and auditory stimuli. It could also be the mechanism that makes you yawn when seeing others do it.

Researchers at the University College of London conducted a study to measure responses in the premotor cortex to certain sounds. Some sounds were considered negative, like the sounds of “retching,” while others were considered positive, like laughter. The researchers played the series of sounds for volunteers while observing their brains with an fMRI scanner. The premotor cortex showed stronger activity in response to the positive stimuli than to the negatively associated noises. Laughter is often shared between friends, and it helps people to form bonds with one another. It establishes emotional closeness, even if just for a moment. These aspects of laugher could explain its positive association.

Yawning has also been linked to emotional closeness. In a study published in 2011, the yawning patterns between people who were considered to have a close social bond (as friends or family) and between people who were strangers. Participants were observed for a time period between 6 minutes to 2 hours, and each yawning episode was recorded. All circumstantial aspects were noted, and the responses of others who sensed the yawn were recorded. Those who were related responded to the other person’s yawn (by yawning) much more quickly and more often than they did responding to a stranger’s.

A simple “mirroring” action could explain the contagious effects of laughter and yawning. Humans and animals are actually hardwired to demonstrate this mirroring effect. Mirror neurons are found in parts of the human brain designated to motor function, like the premotor cortex, and are the neurons that trigger responses in the premotor cortex to stimuli. They are known as the human Mirror Neuron System (hMNS).

Mirror neurons were first discovered in Monkeys. In the 1981 study, these cells showed strong signs of activity both when the monkey itself was acting and when observing a peer mimic the same action. Mimicking an action is the brain’s way of trying to understand the physical action itself through replication, and can help people relate to one another’s behavior.

Van Overwalle and Baetens assert there is yet another brain system involved in contagious laughter and yawning. The mentalizing system in the prefrontal cortex works with the mirroring system to process why the behavior is taking place. This is crucial to human interaction because it helps to establish empathy and encourage social bonding, which also promotes the mirroring effect (

The premotor cortex, hMNS, and mentalizing system are all linked in responding to visual and auditory stimuli. Their responses are more strongly triggered in the premotor cortex when a person interacts with someone he or she is close to. It may be instinct to mirror someone’s yawn or laugh due to the hMNS, but when two people have an emotional tie, the mentalizing system factors in to facilitate understanding and improve the relationship between them. Next time a friend tries to point a finger at you for spreading the yawning bug, know he or she is really just an affectionate fool for you.


December 4, 2012

Conformity can be risky business

by Charley Button

Sneaker photo

Conformity By Simon aka Flyblog

You leave the bar with your friends to head home for the night. They cross the street despite the red hand signaling “Don’t Walk.” You weigh the potential risk of oncoming traffic against ostracization from your group. In this scenario, you can either break the law by jaywalking or break with your friends momentarily. A self-preservation instinct to maintain group identity conflicts with your concern for safety and your law-abiding conscience.

When social and internal pressures compete, societal expectations habitually win out to the detriment of the individual. According to research by McGhie, Lewis, and Hyde (2011), the more you identify with a group, the more likely you are to conform to group behaviors such as “drink walking.” Their study examined the influence of psychosocial factors on individuals’ intentions to drink walk, on a scale of 1 to 7, across four scenarios. These scenarios manipulated the independent variables of high/low conformity and high/low group identity. Each incorporated a risky crossing situation, such as an intoxicated pedestrian walking against a red hand signal. Of the 151 Australian undergraduate students given this questionnaire, a large majority of individuals admitted elevated intentions to drink walk in the presence of their “closest friends” (high group identity), or when their friends were crossing in spite of the red hand signal (high conformity). When alone or with strangers (lacking group identity), subjects reported significantly lower intentions to disobey signals.

In heightened stakes, prioritizing “fitting in” over safety can lead to more serious misjudgments than ignoring pedestrian signals. Research suggests that juvenile crime is strongly influenced by peer behavior, as argued by Patacchini and Zenou (2009). Gang activity accounts for a large portion of underage lawbreaking and demonstrates the impact of neighborhood on social activities and on attitude toward the law. Patacchini and Zenou’s study revealed that petty crimes seem to be inspired by observed behavior of peers and replicated within groups, according to a desire to conform to the group’s norm. Criminal behavior of adolescents can rarely be explained on an individual basis.

In many circumstances, the need for group identity somehow overrides concern for safety, legality, or truth. Young people especially will risk their health and go against their better (individual) judgment, assimilating to a crowd’s bad decision. As Asch (1951) discovered, individuals will doubt their own judgment of the length of a line when contradicted by a group of at least three people. In order to blend in we disregard what our own eyes perceive, even when the norm is incorrect or inadvisable.

Whether it is jumping into the road or jacking a car, you are more likely to do it if your friends are. Take note though: the evolutionary importance of group identity is only beneficial if large numbers contribute to survival. When the group makes bad decisions, the individual’s wellbeing should take priority. To quote everybody’s mother, “If your friends walked off a cliff, would you follow them?” (more…)

November 28, 2009

Innocent bystanders?

By Caitlin Bull

An Apparently Homeless Young Woman Sits Crying in a Doorway, Ignored by the World by Arty Smokes

An Apparently Homeless Young Woman Sits Crying in a Doorway, Ignored by the World. Photo by Arty Smokes

On March 13th, 1964, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was attacked by a man with a knife as she arrived home from her late night shift as a bar manager in Queens.  For the next half hour, Kitty’s deafening screams of, “I’ve been stabbed!  Please help me!” pierced the air around her apartment complex.  The attacker, Winston Moseley, was startled by signs of activity in nearby apartments and fled the scene twice before he finally killed Kitty during his third attack.  He would later confess that, “It didn’t seem like anyone was going to stop me!”  Moseley was right; of the 38 witnesses that were aware of the murder as it progressed, not a single one called the police until Kitty was already dead.

After the New York Times published an article revealing the apathetic behavior of the 38 witnesses, moral outrage erupted in the city.  Life magazine wondered if people were becoming callous and immoral.  Newspapers blamed the bystanders for the murder, threatening to print their names and addresses.  People refused to believe that the witnesses were not abnormal barbarians.

In response to this hysteria, two Columbia University researches, John Darley and Bibb Latane, delved further into the idea of bystander apathy, or “not helping.”  In a 1973 experiment, recruited participants had to walk from one building to another, where they would give a lecture.  In some scenarios, these students were told that they were in a hurry or that they had a few minutes to spare.  The experimenters positioned a moaning man along the students’ path.  The amount of students who helped along their way was highest in the low hurry situations (63%) and lowest in high hurry (10%).   Ironically, students who believed that they were about to give a talk on being a Good Samaritan went as far as to step over the injured man.  Darley and Latane concluded that ethics might simple become a luxury as our lives become more hectic.

Further studies reveal that the explanation for bystander apathy may have less to do with human callousness and more to do with a tendency to take social cues from those around us.  In a 1969 experiment by Darley and Daniel Batson, subjects were placed in a room to fill out questionnaires.  The room slowly filled with smoke. There were three conditions: one in which the subject was alone, one in which three naïve subjects were in the room, and one in which one naïve subject was placed with two confederates who noticed and ignored the smoke.  The alone subjects calmly reported the smoke 75% of the time.  In the confederate and naïve bystander conditions, only 10% and 38% of subjects reported the smoke, respectively.  In some of the confederate instances, the smoke grew so thick that the subject look concerned, got up, and checked the vent.  However, upon seeing the how calm the confederates remained, they went back to their forms.

More recent studies have demonstrated the effect of social priming on degree of generosity.  In 2002 study titled “Crowded minds: The implicit bystander effect,” researchers  discovered that subjects in a group consistently pledged less money to a charity than those with one other person.   It was easier for the grouped people to give less money because chances were the entire group would follow suit; when only one other person is involved, mob mentality does not exist.

Psychotherapist Mark Tyrrell describes a situation in which he witnessed a boy having an epileptic fit at school.  Though the boy was writhing and foaming, Tyrrell and every other classmate failed to get help. Bystander apathy is prevalent in children. Thornberg (2007) observed that children often run by others who have fallen down during a game, watch as other children harass a mentally handicapped student, or passively witness fights break out. Children experience what researchers refer to as a diffusion of responsibility; because no other student takes the initiative to be the first helper, chances of the other students helping are reduced.  Children also tend to place a lot of importance on social roles.  When interviewers asked children why they did not help others, many said that the teacher is supposed to help.

Scientific studies have shown that group size often reduces an individual’s propensity to act.  Just as in the case with the smoke, individuals will often take cues from those around them rather than apply their own logic to the situation.  When someone is alone, such as in one condition of the smoke case, they are more likely to act because doing so does not involve “breaking rank.” The people who watched Kitty Genovese die were not monsters; they simply told themselves that “Someone else must be dealing with this!”


Darley, J. M., & Batson, C.D. (1973) “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior. JPSP, 27, 100-108.

Garcia, Stephen M.; Weaver, Kim; Moskowitz, Gordon B.; Darley, John M. (2002) Crowded minds: The implicit bystander effect, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 843-853

Latane, B., & Darley, J. (1969) Bystander “Apathy”, American Scientist, 57, 244-268.

Martin, Douglas (1989, March 11). About New York; Kitty Genovese: Would New York Still Turn Away? [Electronic Version]. The New York Times. Retrieved February 24, 2009 from <;

Thornberg, Robert (2007) A classmate in distress: schoolchildren as bystanders and their reasons for how they act, Social Psychology of Education, 10, 5-28.

Tryyell, Mark. Bystander apathy – it’s none of my business! [Web Page] Uncommon Knowledge. Retrieved February 24, 2009 from  <;.

May 23, 2009

The deadliest drug

By Danielle Nedivi

China by babasteve

China by babasteve

It’s a question that we have all wondered about at some point. No matter if we are active users, casual dabblers, or outside observers- the mystery confounds in all contexts: why do people smoke cigarettes? Today, virtually everyone in the United States knows that smoking is bad. School programs, public service ads, flyers, doctors- even the cigarette boxes themselves- have drilled that into our brains incessantly enough. Yellow teeth, wrinkles, short breath, not to mention heart disease, lung disease, cancer- the list is seemingly endless. And yet, despite all of the well-known detrimental consequences, smoking is still very much a prevalent activity throughout the US, with the young generations just as much as the old.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 3,500 people younger than 18 try their first cigarette every single day, and 1,100 others become regular daily smokers. About one-third of these kids will later die from a smoking-related disease. Considering that we all know about this deadly effect, why try that fateful first cigarette in the first place? The answers vary from person to person, but overall they tend to cover the same ground. Some studies have shown social influences from peers to be a major cause. Powell (2005) showed that moving a high-school student from a school where no children smoked to a school where one quarter of the youths smoked would increase the probability that he or she smoked by about 14.5%. Overall, based on 2007 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 20% of high school students smoke. Many prefer not to feel left out or appear antisocial by not taking risks or trying new things, and they are willing to compromise their health to achieve that crucial sense of belonging. The health-deteriorating factor of cigarettes is too elusive and vaguely far off to feel critical- if anything, their immediate effects are mostly positive.

Smoking provides many enticements on top of its well-advertised drawbacks.  Cigarettes stimulate receptor sites for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and provide a short term boost in dopamine levels.  The results can be a  temporary yet immediate calm and solace to a smoker . They can also render potentially awkward moments such as breaks from conversation natural (Dichter, 1947). They provide a smoky, mature voice and a feeling of sophistication and nonchalance. That society has brought many to believe that smoking is “cool” does not help matters. In media from films to books to songs, from GQ photo spreads to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the smoker is usually presented as an alluring rebel worth striving to imitate. “Chain smoking” and “clove cigarettes” have become unpredictably glorified terms. At least at the moment, the image of the slightly neurotic, jaded, risk-taking smoker is trendy, and people will go far to emulate it. Even in college, where we believe students are not only more intelligent and mature but also less impressionable, cigarettes still appear all over the place and incite a mystique the influence of which is difficult to shake off, even for those who had successfully avoided the offender thus far (Reed, 2006) . (more…)

May 13, 2009

Music and Sexualization

Filed under: culture, development, music, social influence — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 12:00 pm

by Pam Vogel

Music and Swimming Costumes by Violets and Handshakes

Music and Swimming Costumes by Violets and Handshakes

In the 1950s, parents around the world were weary of the dirty rock music invading the airwaves. They were concerned that the vulgar lyrics – yes, Elvis was considered vulgar – would inspire their children to grow into sex-crazed juvenile delinquents. As a nation, we have since developed a much higher tolerance for questionable artistic expression in pop music and now scoff at the modest social norms of the previous century, but new research suggests Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham from Happy Days may have been onto something, after all.

In a world where teenagers and adolescents are becoming sexualized beings at increasingly younger ages, it is important to understand the different sources for such a socially significant change. A February 2009 study from the University of Pittsburgh shows a strong correlation between listening to music with sexually degrading lyrics and sexual activity in teenagers. Ninth grade students that reported listening to over 14 hours of music per week containing degrading lyrics – the group with the highest exposure – were more than twice as likely to engage in sexual activity than their presumably more innocent counterparts were. While the contemporary lyrics students were exposed to were obviously more explicit than the lyrics of Jerry Lee Lewis, the results of this simple observational study indicate a much bigger correlation than one might think.

A more extensive study (Martino et al., 2006) indicates that routine exposure to contemporary popular music – of which 15% was determined to contain degrading lyrics – led to increased likelihood of initiating or progressing in levels of sexual activity among adolescents. The 2006 research also shows that these results are persistent despite the consideration of eighteen other factors that may contribute to sexualization. The study also distinguished between degradingly sexual lyrics and otherwise sexual lyrics, stating that the degrading nature was the cause of increased sexual behavior, whereas sexual lyrics that were not inadvertently offensive had little or no effect on young listeners. (more…)

November 28, 2008

Black Friday

Filed under: social influence, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 7:56 am

By Evgeny Bulat

Photo by Toban Black

Photo by Toban Black

[Editor’s note: This post was written in the Fall of 2007.  Today’s “Black Friday” looks to be even more impacted by a weak economy.]

Having stuffed myself full of Thanksgiving turkey last Thursday, I had only a faint desire to get up the following morning for the exclusive-ultimate-all-time-blowout-of-a-day that is the infamous Black Friday. But apparently, I was not alone: According to a New York Times article, the blind consumerist spirit that usually unites many, if not all, of the early birds on Black Friday was not there this season, as more and more shoppers showed restraint and pragmatism about what to buy for the holidays. Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart were the chains of choice, while high-profilers like Nordstrom and Abercrombie and Fitch greeted smaller crowds.

This made me further consider the general study of consumer psychology. Lars Perner, Ph.D., assistant professor of clinical marketing at the Marshall School of Business at UCS, points out several techniques, among them segmentation, in consumer analysis. More specifically, segmentation involves separating the general population into distinct groups that are as different from one another as possible, and then seeing how each group’s impulses and beliefs affect its consuming habits. There are other important techniques he discusses.

Having then reread the New York Times article, I discovered a trail of inconsistencies. The author mentions that high gas prices and a bad real estate market, among other things, may have accounted for what is allegedly the “weakest” shopping season in 5 years. On the other hand, there is also mention of the fact that there were still typically huge crowds flooding the stores and that, after all is said and done, “shoppers might have spent more this year than last.” This evidence in combination with the shift in store preference cannot be accounted by simply a “weak” season. Sure, consumers sought more discounts and were pickier rather than impulsive; however, they still spent more money in general. Family funds may not be all that is at play.

And now I return to consumer psychology. It may be helpful to segment the Black Friday shopper population to see if certain groups exhibit a trend completely different from that of the whole. Another thing to consider would be the perception aspect, or what advertisements, among other things, the consumers are exposed to. There may have been a shift in advertising patterns that favored mainstream chains.
If anyone else has any ideas, please do not hesitate to comment.

November 15, 2008

The power of superstition

Filed under: culture, social influence — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 4:39 pm

by Evan Glenn

Photo by Azrainman

Image by Azrainman

Ladders, shattered mirrors, black cats. Rabbits’ feet, lucky pennies, four leaf clovers. We have all grown up familiar with various superstitions and whether you personally choose to believe them or not, it is undeniable of the effect superstition has on lots of people. Stage actors, public speakers, and sports athletes in particular are famous for their strange and often funny habits. Superstition is even prevalent among our political leaders; Senator and former  presidential candidate John McCain is known to possess a lucky compass, a lucky penny, a lucky rabbits foot and a lucky feather; McCain even has a ritual to go watch a movie before election votes are counted.

Interestingly, a study reported the Journal of Consumer Research had evidence that consumers are influences by superstition as well. On Friday the thirteenth 800-900 million dollars is lost in business in the United States. Kramer and Block also found in a similar study that Taiwanese people would purchase a radio for 888 yuan rather than 777 yuan(8 is a lucky number in Chinese culture).

So why are our heads of state carrying around their lucky compasses? Why is superstition so alluring to those people who practice it? One study performed  by Jennifer Witson and Adam Galinsky gave evidence suggesting that those who practice superstitious behavior are doing so in order to feel more in control of a situation. In one part of the experiment, they asked a group of subjects a series of questions. Even if the subject got most of the questions right, they were told they got most of the questions wrong; this would confuse the subjects and make them feel a loss of control. Then these subjects were shown two different kinds of pictures; one kind made up of random dots that didn’t make a particular shape and the other kind with dots that had a picture in them. While 95 percent of the subjects identified the dots with images in them, 43 percent saw images in the pictures that were simply random dots. This section of the experiment, along with the data gathered from the rest of the experiment, showed that humans feel calmer once they have found some sort of pattern, even if there really isn’t one.


University of Chicago Press Journals (2008, February 12). Are You Feeling Lucky? How Superstition Impacts Consumer Choice. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 16, 2008, from­/releases/2008/02/080212122050.htm

Bailey, H. (2008, January 9). A Lucky Nickel. Newsweek. Retrieved October 16, 2008, from Newsweek Web site:

University of Texas at Austin Public Affairs (2008, October 2). Loss of Control Leads People to Seek Order Through Superstition, Ritual. Retrieved November 15, 2008 from

September 3, 2008

social networks

Filed under: evolution, social influence — Tags: , , — intro2psych @ 10:32 am

by Clare Cene-Kush

Chances are, at one point or another, you’ve logged onto Facebook, scrolled down someone’s wall and seen that a person has over 300 friends at Vassar or some other school. Did you stop and think, is that even possible? If you did then you’re not alone. Evolutionary psychologists are asking the same question. Two recent studies suggest that humans only have the capacity for about 150 people in their social network (Dunbar, 2003) and that face-to-face contact is crucial for forming substantial, lasting friendships (Reader 2007). Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, suggests that social networking is a cognitive strategy that’s so important that natural selection has built it into our brains. It might sound ridiculous, but Dunbar believes that grooming amongst our primate ancestors was actually the first social networking application. It wasn’t exactly MySpace for monkeys, but it did allow primates to create and sustain friendships and a social hierarchy. Dunbar argues that language actually evolved as a faster way to construct and foster social relationships.
So is gossip in our genes? Maybe not, but it seems plausible when you consider how much we love to gossip on both a personal and societal level. Its no secret that we’re obsessed not just with the personal lives of celebrities from what Paris Hilton is wearing to what coffee Britney Spears is drinking. A recent article questions whether the Facebook phenomenon, like language was for our ancestors, is our way of expanding the maximum size of our social networks, something we haven’t accomplished in about 10,000 years. I’m skeptical as to whether social networking applications can actually increase the number of “real” friends people have, one scroll down my total list of friends on Facebook reveals that I don’t even know who some of them are. Then again, Reader’s study, which claims that people can only maintain about 5 truly close friends because of the time and emotional investment that these friendships require, never actually defines “close friends.” In my personal experience, the most meaningful friendships are the ones that occur offline. It’s much easier to tell if someone’s acting genuinely when you’re talking to him or her than if your simply reading what they wrote on your Facebook wall.

March 23, 2008

Alcohol and spring break: Mind meets matter

Filed under: drugs, social influence — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 3:19 pm

by Yasmin Roberti

Photo by Angela on PicasawebRight after spring break, a time notorious for college students to travel and “let loose” in the middle of the busy semester, I thought I’d look into research on drinking and behavior. It turns out that one’s behavior when drunk isn’t solely due to the alcohol itself. According to an article in the New York Times, cultural norms and traditions, peer influence, and one’s personal expectations all play big roles in one’s drunken behavior. The article mentions the Yuruna Indians in Brazil, who become extremely reserved when drinking together. In the Japanese village of Takashima, singing and dancing is a sign of utmost drunkenness; drunken aggressive behavior is unheard of. The article also cites studies of college students where some were given real alcohol and some were given identical tasting non-alcoholic drinks; within an hour or two, all of the students were behaving “drunk” (more affectionate, more aggressive, etc), whether or not they actually were. All of these make one wonder: how much of alcohol’s effect is in the alcohol, and how much is from our own/society’s expectations?

We have learned in class and AlcoholEdu that, of course, alcohol does have a very real effect on the brain and one’s behavior- lowering one’s inhibitions, interfering with memory formation, and reducing coordination, to name a few. It seems that cultural differences in expectations about drinking influence how a person allows the real effects of alcohol to manifest and be seen to the outside world. This cross between the real physiological effects of alcohol and one’s own psychological expectations about drinking is a fascinating example of the constant interplay between mind and body, and between the individual and society.

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