Laura’s Psychology Blog

One Professor’s Observations of the World of Psychology….   

October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Filed under: Avocations,Hobbies — Laura Freberg @ 9:52 am

I’ve always liked Halloween, and it is a special holiday for our family. Mr. F, of course, cannot pass out sub-standard chocolate having worked for Nestle and Mars, so he invests in full-sized See’s candy bars. That’s a bit of local pride, too, as the See family lived just across the street from us here in San Luis Obispo in See Canyon.

Do I have problems with my diet at Halloween? Surprisingly, no. I’m living proof that one can actually have too much chocolate. I ate so much of the stuff when Mr. F was working for chocolate companies, that I really have lost my taste for it. I do enjoy it on occasion, but I would be in much more trouble if people handed out cheese for Halloween. That’s not something that would catch on, I think.

I don’t have a great Halloween costume, but I do have a Harry Potter sorting hat. That seems to work. Oh, and we can’t have normal pumpkins, either. This one was so big that it got wedged in the shopping cart at the supermarket.

No Tacky Pumpkins Chez Freberg

No Tacky Pumpkins Chez Freberg

My mother and brother both passed away since Halloween 2007, and both absolutely loved the holiday. Leroy and Laurie’s Halloween parties were legendary (Leroy as Janet Reno would be amazing) and Mom always dropped by to help out with our trick-or-treaters (not too many of those at her mobile home park). So they’ll be in our thoughts as we enjoy Halloween tonight.

October 30, 2008

More on the Happiness Gap Between Conservatives and Liberals

Filed under: General Psychology,Political Psychology,Psychology — Laura Freberg @ 5:32 pm

We reported previously that the Happiness Gap between conservatives and liberals world-wide was continuing to grow, and new data from the Pew Research Center say that October’s gap is the biggest ever. Unlike the previous report, which focused on differences in attitudes towards “social injustice,” the Pew survey was much more comprehensive.

Republicans Have Been Happier For Years

According to Pew, here are some of the differences between Republicans and Democrats that might account for the gap:

  1. Republicans have more money.
  2. Republicans have more friends.
  3. Republicans are more religious.
  4. Republicans are healthier.
  5. Republicans are more likely to be married.
  6. Republicans like their communities better.
  7. Republicans like their jobs better.
  8. Republicans are more satisfied with their family life.
  9. Republicans like the weather better. (Okay, this one is truly weird, isn’t it?)
  10. Republicans have fewer financial worries (This poll was in OCTOBER!!!!!!)
  11. Republicans are more likely to think they’ll live better than their parents did.
  12. Republicans are more likely to believe in an internal locus of control (my life is under my control) as opposed to having an external locus of control (life is a matter of chance or luck).
  13. Republicans have more of what they value in life (and no, this doesn’t mean money–this is life satisfaction).

We still don’t know if being a Republican makes you happy, or if being happy makes you a Republican, or if some other variables lead to being both happy and Republican. But if Republicans can be happy in spite of the current polls and economy, it’s likely that there is something big going on here.

October 29, 2008

Thinking Makes You Hungry

Filed under: Biological Psychology,Dieting,General Psychology,Psychology — Laura Freberg @ 11:31 am
thinking and hunger

thinking and hunger

As I sit here and watch my students work on their midterm exams, I feel guilty, and not just because they’re working hard. A study by Jean-Phillipe Chaput and his colleagues (2008) demonstrated that doing intellectually challenging work makes you eat more [1], and my students are likely to go to lunch when they complete their exam.

Here’s how Chaput et al. pursued their topic. College students spent 45 minutes in one of three conditions: rest and relax while sitting, reading an article and writing a summary, and performing a battery of computerized tests. Following the 45 minute period, students were allowed to eat as much as they wanted at a buffet.

Here’s the bad news–although the energy output during rest and relax was only about 3 calories less than during the mental work, the students ate 200-250 calories MORE following mental work than following a rest period. Something about that concentration fooled the brain into thinking that it needed more nutrients. The intellectual activity appeared to increase cortisol and produced fluctuations in both glucose and insulin levels, both of which are tightly correlated to appetite.

I’m not sure how we should implement these findings. Advising dieters to stop thinking doesn’t sound like a great plan. But perhaps we should make sure that when we engage in concentrated intellectual work, we might be careful about what kinds of food we keep around the house or office. Scheduling a rest break between concentrated activities and meals might help, too.

You can also check your tendency to consume unnecessary calories at Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating website.

1.  Chaput, J. –P., Drapeau, V., Poirier, P., Teasdale, N., & Tremblay, A. (2008).  Glycemic instability and spontaneous energy intake:  Association with knowledge-based work. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70, 797-804.

October 24, 2008

What’s in an Avatar? (with apologies to Shakespeare)

Filed under: Avocations,General Psychology,Internet,Psychology,Technology — Laura Freberg @ 11:43 am

Sometimes I actually get to pursue interests outside of biological psychology, and one of my favorite hobbies is the impact of new technologies on behavior. So I jumped at the change to collaborate with Karen on an article for our friends at Good Web Practices. Internet guru David Towers sent us 20 top Digg avatars, and without knowing who or what these represented, Karen and I were supposed to provide our impressions of what they meant. I was supposed to provide the psychologist’s perspective, while Karen, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Communications, is our resident expert on reputation management.

So What Are We Saying Here?

So What Are We Saying Here?

We agreed on most aspects, but Karen is much more culturally literate than I am. She recognized many of the avatars, but most of them were new to me. In some cases, I felt a bit like I was a participant taking a Rorschach Inkblot Test. One of the Diggers, who uses a spade as his avatar, commented that his only purpose for the choice was to make a joke about “Digg.” Okay, I get it, but one’s choice of an avatar might say more about you than what you intend to say.

At any rate, it was a fun diversion, and what parent doesn’t enjoy an opportunity to collaborate with his/her children?

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out the references at the end of our article, and John Suler’s Psychology of Cyberspace.

October 21, 2008

People With Autism Make Less Emotional Decisions

Social psychologists have known for a long time that how you present options heavily influences decisions. In one such study, people had a choice to earn $20, or to gamble for $50 and risk getting nothing. If you frame the “safe” choice as a $30 loss, people are more likely to gamble than if you frame the first choice as a $20 gain, even though this means the same thing [1]. These emotional decisions are accompanied by increased amygdala activity, and stronger activity in the orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortices correlated with less susceptibility to the framing effects.

People With Autism Make Less Emotional Decisions

Fifteen high functioning individuals with autism were given the same choices, but were only about half as likely as control participants to be swayed by the framing of the decision [2]. They seemed to be making superior decisions based on their lack of emotional interference. Their brain activity levels were consistent with their performance.

Sounds to me like Wall Street might benefit from consulting some of these participants with autism, and the people who are happily gambling our future away on the bailouts might be well advised to do the same.

1.  De Martino, B., Kumaran, D., Seymour, B., & Dolan, R.J. (2006).  Frames, biases, and rational decision-making in the human brain. Science, 313(5787), 684-687.

2.  De Martino, B., Harrison, N.A., Knafo, S., Bird, G., & Nolan, R.J. (2008).  Explaining the enhanced logical consistency during decision making in autism. Journal of Neuroscience, 28(42), 10746-10750.

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Quote to Ponder

It is not a lack of love,
but a lack of friendship
that makes unhappy marriages
-------- Nietzsche



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