Surprising insights from the social sciences
Should you act like a man? As we saw with Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin during the last presidential campaign, powerful women struggle with the trade-offs of projecting stereotypically feminine traits like warmth versus stereotypically masculine traits like strength. A new study confirms the perils of this balancing act. Women who read an article claiming that men make better leaders subsequently adopted a more assertive — i.e., stereotypically masculine — communication style. Although one might expect that women who adopt a more assertive style get results, the opposite seemed to happen: People indicated less willingness to comply with female assertiveness than male assertiveness.
von Hippel, C. et al., “Stereotype Threat and Female Communication Styles,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).
My culture is making me sad One of the goals of science is to connect small-scale phenomena to large-scale phenomena. For example, physicists try to explain galaxies by reference to fundamental particles. In social science, a comparable challenge is how to connect individual psychology and the larger culture. In a new study, researchers recorded the amount of time American and Russian students looked at pictures of positive and negative stimuli. While Americans looked at both sets of pictures for the same amount of time, Russians spent significantly less time looking at positive pictures. Researchers also performed a similar experiment with Latvians of Russian heritage (Latvia has historically stronger ties to Western European culture). These bicultural Latvians were exposed to images of Latvian or Russian cultural symbols for only a quarter of a second, but this was long enough to significantly change their reactions to positive and negative words, with Russian images inducing a negative bias, and Latvian images inducing a positive bias.
Grossmann, I. et al., “Culture, Attention, and Emotion,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (forthcoming).
Jealousy can help your memory It’s not called the green-eyed monster for nothing. Researchers asked people to write about situations when they felt envy and then to read fictitious interviews of other people. An envious mindset increased the time spent reading the interviews and improved subsequent recall for details from the interviews. In another experiment, researchers asked people to read fictitious interviews of wealthy or poor, attractive or unattractive, same-sex peers. Both men and women were envious of wealthy peers, but only women were envious of attractive peers. Again, envy predicted whether people paid attention to and could subsequently recall the details of the interviews. The researchers also found that envy-inspired recall accuracy was mentally draining.
Hill, S. et al., “The Cognitive Consequences of Envy: Attention, Memory, and Self-Regulatory Depletion,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).
The paranoia of poverty Even if there’s nobility in poverty, there may be some paranoia involved too. According to a new study, people from a working-class background tend to see the world as more hostile than their upper-class peers do. When female friends were instructed to engage in a bout of friendly banter, the one with the more working-class background was more attuned to the hostile emotions of her friend. In an online survey, people from a working-class background who were made to think about their lower social standing expected more hostile reactions in hypothetical social situations, relative to upper-class people and to working-class people who thought about people worse off than themselves.
Kraus, M. et al., “Social Class Rank, Threat Vigilance, and Hostile Reactivity,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).
Eww, he’s so... physical Previous research on racial attitudes has found that ovulating white women tend to evaluate black men more negatively, and new research elaborates on that finding. Both white and black ovulating women, it turned out, were more likely to associate negative words with males of the other race, but only if the woman also associated physical words with males of the other race. This same pattern held up in a simple, random, nonracial group setting, such that ovulating women were more likely to associate negative words with men of a different group, but only if those same men were associated with physical words. The authors theorize that women evolved an automatic defensive reaction to the possibility of coercive rape by men from invading groups.
McDonald, M. et al., “Fertility and Intergroup Bias in Racial and Minimal-Group Contexts: Evidence for Shared Architecture,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).
Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.