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Recent research: four papers from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

I routinely scan quite a few journals every month.  Sometimes it's disappointing and there's nothing in the issue of a particular journal that interests me much.  Sometimes a particular journal contains a bunch of stimulating articles.  January's edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology was a good find.  Below are four papers from it.  The DeWall et al study is on how social exclusion leads to hostility and aggression.  It adds to the large body of research on the very powerful effects of being socially rejected.  Putting "rejection (psychology)" into the top search bar of PubMed today and clicking on "Go" pulls out 2,741 papers.  Even after excluding the irrelevant references to liver transplants and other more biological forms of rejection, this is still an awful lot of interesting reseach on the topic of rejection and exclusion.  

The second study by Gallo et al is the one that fascinates me most.  I don't remember ever having come across implementation intentions before.  To quote the originator of the concept, Professor Peter Gollwitzer  "People can delegate the initiation of goal-directed behavior to environmental stimuli by forming so-called implementation intentions (If situation x is encountered, I will perform behavior y!). We observed that forming implementation intentions facilitates detecting, attending to, and recalling the critical situation. Moreover, in the presence of the critical situation the initiation of the specified goal-directed behavior is immediate, efficient, and does not need a conscious intent.  We are currently investigating whether forming implementation intentions can be used as an effective self-regulatory tool when it comes to resisting temptations, avoiding to stereotype members of an out-group, blocking unwanted goal pursuits triggered outside the person's awareness or unwanted implicit perception-behavior effects. Moreover, it is analyzed how efficiently action control via implementation intentions saves a person's self-regulatory resources. We also ask whether implementation intentions protect a person's thoughts and actions from unwanted influences of self-states (such as a good or bad mood, self-definitional incompleteness, feelings of anger or sadness) once the critical situation is encountered.  Finally, we study whether and how implementation intentions help people meet their health goals (e.g., exercising more, eating less, taking pills regularly), whether people who are known to have problems with action control also benefit from implementation intentions (e.g., frontal lobe patients, schizophrenics), and whether forming implementation intentions alleviates negative framing effects in negotiations between opposing parties."  Many of the relevant research papers can be accessed in full text by clicking here.  I intend to blog more on this subject over the next few days. 

The last two papers are both on the general subject of "inspiration".  The first by Klapwijk and colleagues demonstrates how generosity and giving people the benefit of the doubt can help promote mutual trust and save relationships from deteriorating.  The last, by Rusbult et al, discusses the "Michelangelo phenomenon" - the means by which people move closer to (or further from) their ideal selves.  The authors report that "Across 4 studies employing diverse designs and measurement techniques, they observed consistent evidence that when partners possess key elements of one another's ideal selves, each person affirms the other by eliciting important aspects of the other's ideals, each person moves closer to his or her ideal self, and couple well-being is enhanced."  I think this is true not just for couples, but also for friends, teachers, and for leaders too.  Maybe mechanisms like this partly explain the effects of inspirational leaders like Gandhi or Mandela - they help inspire the best in each of us.

DeWall, C. N., J. M. Twenge, et al. (2009). "It's the thought that counts: The role of hostile cognition in shaping aggressive responses to social exclusion." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96(1): 45-59. [Abstract/Full Text]
Prior research has confirmed a casual path between social rejection and aggression, but there has been no clear explanation of why social rejection causes aggression. A series of experiments tested the hypothesis that social exclusion increases the inclination to perceive neutral information as hostile, which has implications for aggression. Compared to accepted and control participants, socially excluded participants were more likely to rate aggressive and ambiguous words as similar (Experiment 1a), to complete word fragments with aggressive words (Experiment 1b), and to rate the ambiguous actions of another person as hostile (Experiments 2-4). This hostile cognitive bias among excluded people was related to their aggressive treatment of others who were not involved in the exclusion experience (Experiments 2 and 3) and others with whom participants had no previous contact (Experiment 4). These findings provide a first step in resolving the mystery of why social exclusion produces aggression.

Gallo, I. S., A. Keil, et al. (2009). "Strategic automation of emotion regulation." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96(1): 11-31.  [Abstract/Full Text]
As implementation intentions are a powerful self-regulation tool for thought and action (meta-analysis by P. M. Gollwitzer & P. Sheeran, 2006), the present studies were conducted to address their effectiveness in regulating emotional reactivity. Disgust- (Study 1) and fear- (Study 2) eliciting stimuli were viewed under 3 different self-regulation instructions: the goal intention to not get disgusted or frightened, respectively, this goal intention furnished with an implementation intention (i.e., an if-then plan), and a no-self-regulation control group. Only implementation-intention participants succeeded in reducing their disgust and fear reactions as compared to goal-intention and control participants. In Study 3, electrocortical correlates (using dense-array electroencephalography) revealed differential early visual activity in response to spider slides in ignore implementation-intention participants, as reflected in a smaller P1. Theoretical and applied implications of the present findings for emotion regulation via implementation intentions are discussed.

Klapwijk, A. and P. A. M. Van Lange (2009). "Promoting cooperation and trust in "noisy" situations: The power of generosity." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96(1): 83-103.  [Abstract/Full Text]
The authors present an interdependence theoretical framework and advance the argument that generosity serves the important purpose of communicating trust, which is assumed to be of utmost importance to coping with incidents of negative noise (i.e., when the other every now and then behaves less cooperatively than intended). Using a new social dilemma task (the parcel delivery paradigm), it was hypothesized that incidents of negative noise would exert detrimental effects on trust and trust-related judgments and experiences, as well as cooperation, and that relative to tit for tat and self-regarding strategies (stingy or unconditionally cooperative strategies), other-regarding strategies (i.e., unconditional cooperation and generosity) would be more effective at reducing such as detrimental effects. Results from 2 studies provided strong support for these hypotheses, suggesting that the power of generosity is underestimated in the extant literature, especially in its ability to maintain or build trust, which is essential for coping with noise.

Rusbult, C. E., M. Kumashiro, et al. (2009). ""The part of me that you bring out": Ideal similarity and the Michelangelo phenomenon." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96(1): 61-82.  [Abstract/Full Text]
This work examines the Michelangelo phenomenon, an interpersonal model of the means by which people move closer to (vs. further from) their ideal selves. The authors propose that partner similarity--similarity to the ideal self, in particular--plays an important role in this process. Across 4 studies employing diverse designs and measurement techniques, they observed consistent evidence that when partners possess key elements of one another's ideal selves, each person affirms the other by eliciting important aspects of the other's ideals, each person moves closer to his or her ideal self, and couple well-being is enhanced. Partner similarity to the actual self also accounts for unique variance in key elements of this model. The associations of ideal similarity and actual similarity with couple well-being are fully attributable to the Michelangelo process, to partner affirmation and target movement toward the ideal self. The authors also performed auxiliary analyses to rule out several alternative interpretations of these findings.


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