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Seeing red, feeling hot, realising nothing:


Seeing red leads men to view women as more attractive and more desirable despite them not being aware of any change in their perceptions. A delightful study from last year that, as the authors note, has ‘clear practical implications’!


Romantic red: red enhances men’s attraction to women.


J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 Nov;95(5):1150-64.


Elliot AJ, Niesta D.


In many nonhuman primates, the color red enhances males’ attraction to females. In 5 experiments, the authors demonstrate a parallel effect in humans: Red, relative to other achromatic and chromatic colors, leads men to view women as more attractive and more sexually desirable. Men seem unaware of this red effect, and red does not influence women’s perceptions of the attractiveness of other women, nor men’s perceptions of women’s overall likeability, kindness, or intelligence. The findings have clear practical implications for men and women in the mating game and, perhaps, for fashion consultants, product designers, and marketers. Furthermore, the findings document the value of extending research on signal coloration to humans and of considering color as something of a common language, both within and across species.



pdf of full text of study.
Link to PubMed entry for study.


Source:  http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2010/02/seeing_red_feeling_.html


Touch me:


The New York Times has an interesting short article on psychology studies that have looked at the emotional influence of brief touches.


The evidence that such messages can lead to clear, almost immediate changes in how people think and behave is accumulating fast. Students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not, studies have found. A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched. Research by Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute in Miami has found that a massage from a loved one can not only ease pain but also soothe depression and strengthen a relationship.


In a series of experiments led by Matthew Hertenstein, a psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana, volunteers tried to communicate a list of emotions by touching a blindfolded stranger. The participants were able to communicate eight distinct emotions, from gratitude to disgust to love, some with about 70 percent accuracy.


“We used to think that touch only served to intensify communicated emotions,” Dr. Hertenstein said. Now it turns out to be “a much more differentiated signaling system than we had imagined.”


The piece goes to to discuss research on sports team success and touch but it misses out one of my favourites studies covered back in 2007.


It found that a light touch on the arm increased the chances that a male research assistant would persuade a woman in a nightclub to dance with him, or to swap phone numbers.


UPDATE: Christian just sent me this study finding that a light touch from a doctor encourages patients to take medication properly:


Although the positive effect of touch on compliance has been widely found in the literature, a new evaluation has been carried out in a health setting. Four general practitioners were instructed to slightly touch (or not) their adult patients who suffered from a pharyngitis when they asked them for a verbal promise to take the prescribed antibiotic medication. One week later, patients were solicited at home to evaluate the number of tablets that were taken. Greater medication compliance was found in the touch condition.



Link to NYT piece on the psychology of touch.


Source:  http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/togetherness/index.html


Can You Trust a Facebook Profile?


Do people display their actual or idealised personalities on social networking sites?


There are now over 700 million people around the world with profiles on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. In the US 75% of those between 18 and 24 who have access to the internet use social networking sites. And over the past four years, across all adult age-groups, their use has quadrupled.


But do these profiles tell us anything about people’s real-life personalities? Online it is very easy to display an idealised version of the self to others so surely the temptation to exaggerate or even give a completely misleading impression is just too great?


Actual versus idealised personality


To find out psychologists recruited 236 US and German students who use social networking sites and had them complete personality measures (Back et al., 2010).


These measured first their actual personalities on what psychologists call the ‘Big 5’ personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience). Secondly it measured their idealised personalities: who they would like to be.


Then independent observers were shown their real social networking profiles and asked to rate participants’ personalities.


The surprising truth


After comparing the actual personalities with the idealised and observed, the researchers found that, on average, people were much more likely to display their real personality on the social networking sites rather than their idealised selves.


Overall people were remarkably honest in representing themselves. People were honest—we don’t read those words often enough.


In line with other findings, this study found that, when looking at a stranger’s profile for the first time, some aspects of personality are more difficult to discern. Neuroticism in others is particularly difficult to gauge, whereas people find extraversion and openness to experience relatively easily to assess, even in strangers.


Lying online?


This study is another blow for that old stereotype that the web is some kind of scary hinterland, an untrustworthy place where anything goes and nothing is what it appears, peopled by adolescent boys pretending to be anything but adolescent boys.


Contrary to the received wisdom, as well as academic theorising that the internet encourages people to project an idealised self, this research suggests that people are remarkably honest in displaying their true personalities online.


Whatever the cause, this fact may help to explain the phenomenal popularity of social networking sites: the truth draws people in.


Source:  http://www.spring.org.uk/2010/02/can-you-trust-a-facebook-profile.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+PsychologyBlog+%28PsyBlog%29


What your friends know about you that you don’t


When it comes to your own personality, you should know, right?
Are you your own best expert?  When it comes to your own personality, you should know, right? Maybe not.  A study of mine that just came out in this month’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that there are plenty of areas of our personality that we don’t know very well, and our friends do.

Where are these “blind spots” in our self-knowledge, and why are they there?  My research suggests that while we are the best experts about our thoughts and feelings (e.g., “I tend to be optimistic” or “I often feel anxious”), we’re not especially insightful about our actual behavior.  People’s self-views about their leadership skills or their tendency to dominate group discussions were not any more accurate than the ratings provided by their friends, or even the ratings provided by new acquaintances who had just met them!  Everyone’s ratings were somewhat accurate, but people themselves had no special insight into their behavior that others couldn’t already tell just from meeting them for a few minutes.
What’s worse, people’s self-views about how intelligent and creative they are were even worse (i.e., less accurate) than their friends’ ratings of them.  That’s right, your friends know better than you whether you’re smart and creative.  Why is that?  I suspect it has to do with how much is at stake for you when you evaluate your own intelligence.  It’s the same with attractiveness – why can’t we just look in a mirror and immediately know how attractive we are?  It’s because our ego gets in the way.  I don’t mean that everyone thinks they’re beautiful (we all know plenty of people who think they’re ugly even though they’re not), just that we have trouble being objective when our ego is involved.  Some of us might overestimate, others undersestimate, but for most of us things just look fuzzy and unclear.  But if we were looking at someone else, we could see things a lot more clearly.

Which is why we might want to take a step back and imagine how things look to our friends.  They can see things we don’t see in ourselves, and though they probably won’t tell us outright, by taking their perspective we might be able to learn something.  In fact, another paper by Erika Carlson, Mike Furr and I (published in the January issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science) shows that we’re pretty good at taking other people’s perspective and knowing how they see us – or at least we can tell when we’re right and when we’re guessing wildly about how others see us.  So if you have a strong gut feeling that you’re coming across a certain way, you might want to listen to what your gut is telling you…


For an interesting spin on this topic, see Cosmo’s March 2010 issue – there’s an article about “stuff your friends know about your relationship that you don’t”.


Source:  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/know-thyself/201002/what-your-friends-know-about-you-you-dont


How marriages get into trouble


Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

The question of why some marriages fail while others stay healthy is not the mystery it once was. Through careful observation and research, social scientists have come to appreciate the stages through which the majority of marriages pass, the types of life events that tend to be associated with relationship problems, and the predictable patterns that tend to emerge when marriages do begin to fail. “Forewarned is forearmed”, or so the saying goes. Learning about these predictable stages and patterns can perhaps help couples to better understand when a relationship problem is cause for alarm and help should be sought and when what appears to be problematic is nothing to be concerned about. With this in mind, we offer the following summation of what is known about how relationships get into trouble.


Expectable marriage patterns


In the large majority of cases, the early years of a marriage are the happiest. Marriage happiness ratings tend to be highest during the first one or two years of marriage, and then drop to lower levels. A variety of factors, most prominently the introduction of children to the family, place considerable demand on the marriage which are difficult to negotiate. Parenting takes a toll on the ways that partners tend to experience each other. Marriage satisfaction levels off as children leave the home, but frequently the partners never recover the intensity of feeling they originally had for each other. Thereafter, the marriage may function quite well and both partners may be quite content, but some portion of the passion that was originally present has burned off.


It certainly isn’t fair that passion tends to die down over time, but it is an observable fact. It has been suggested that we have perhaps evolved to only stay passionate with a partner for a time-limited period (just long enough to get pregnant and raise a child through the most sensitive parts of early childhood), but this remains speculation. Whatever the cause, among the many challenges that spouses face in keeping their marriage strong is finding ways to keep some passion alive, and adjusting to the fact that as familiarity increases, some passion will likely leave the marriage and that this is a normal process. Partners who seriously fail at these tasks can drift apart emotionally and/or fall pray to temptations such as extramarital affairs.


Read in Full:  http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=4398&cn=289


Soothing Approaches in Relationships


Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Soothing Approaches


Chronically conflicted couples become easily overwhelmed, agitated and tense while communicating. Therapists often encourage such couples to practice soothing skills and techniques to help them defuse arousal and emotion, enabling them to communicate and problem solve more efficiently. Soothing skills practice help couples to better tolerate stressful provoking situations (lessening the chance that they will become overwhelmed in the first place), and to recover faster after they have become overwhelmed.


There is no perfect definition of what constitutes a soothing activity. As the popular phrase “Any port in a storm” suggests, most any alternative to outright fighting will generally qualify as a soothing activity. However, different people have different ideas about what works best for them when they need to calm down. Specifically, some people find it easier to relax when they are alone, while others can’t calm down easily unless they are around supportive people. A good therapist will recommend soothing activities matched to each partner’s preferences.


  • *Time-Out. The tried-and-true ‘time-out’ technique is very useful in helping couples to disengage from a fight. The couple agrees that they will ask their partner for a ‘time-out’ on their discussion for an agree-upon period of time when they start to feel overwhelmed. During the time-out period, they agree that they will not discuss what they’ve been arguing about. If necessary, the couple should physically separate themselves so that they cannot continue discussion until the time-out period is over. The duration of a time-out period should be set to allow enough time to go by so that tempers have cooled, but not so much that any of the partners become anxious or feel overly deprived from making their case. Whatever the length, it is important that a time-out’s duration be agreed upon at the time it is asked for so that neither partner feels anxiety over when they will again be able to talk.

Where the time-out technique is most useful for letting off steam during an active confrontation, other soothing practices are useful in helping conflicted individuals to lower their general tension levels.


  • *Talking and venting feelings about one’s situation is very stress relieving for some people. Trusted family members or friends, or an individual therapist can offer support, a shoulder for crying on and a place to discuss feelings and seek counsel. Similar relief and reflection can be had by keeping, reading and re-reading a journal of one’s thoughts and feelings.

  • *Organizing helps some people to calm down. Cleaning one’s house, getting the bills paid, even making lists of errands to be run and then checking them off as they are completed can be soothing activities.

  • *Relaxation techniques help relieve muscular tension associated with stress. Progressive muscle relaxation is a popular relaxation technique whereby a therapist (or audio program) instructs people to alternately tense and then relax different major muscle groups, producing a profound bodily feeling of relaxation. Massage and some types of exercise (including hatha yoga) can produce similar effects.

  • *Soothing environments, either imagined, visualized or experienced, help to calm jangled nerves. Guided imagery exercises (such as imagining one’s self at the beach – often combined with relaxation exercises) can temporarily distract people from their consuming anxieties and angers. Music, lighting and aromatherapy products can be used to enhance the effect. Actually going out to be in a beautiful place (walking in a park, visiting the beach or a nature preserve) can also promote feelings of calm.
  • *Exercise can be a very effective means of calming one’s self down. In addition to working out physical muscular tensions and producing fatigue, exercise is also a good distraction capable of talking one’s mind off of disturbing thoughts and concerns.

  • *Distraction, or taking one’s mind off of disturbing thoughts and feelings can also be a very effective means of coping with tension. Distraction works by refocusing one’s attention away from things that are concerning towards something more immediate. Watching television, reading a book, talking with friends (about other things than disturbing thoughts) or focusing on a hobby can all be effective means of distraction. While taking distraction to an extreme would clearly be detrimental to a relationship (you can’t have an intimate relationship if you are always distracted from it!), used in moderation, distraction can be part of a healthy coping repertoire.

Source: http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=9462&cn=289



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