social sciences

Which political candidate do people vote for?

With the recent developments in media, politicians are under scrutiny now more than ever. Media makes it possible to reach a wider audience and inform them on political candidates running for office. Because of this, one might argue that voting behaviors have changed. We have so much more information to consider when picking a candidate to vote for. The existence of television makes it possible for voters to consider the charisma and personality that candidates are now able to convey. Because of this, it has been pointed out that voters care more about politicians’ personalities. However, Hayes (2009) found that there is no difference in the importance of personality, compared to when there was no TV. Personality is certainly imperative, though it has not become more important with the emergence of new forms of media.

Unfortunately, most of the world leaders are still men. While it can definitely be stated that women still have less opportunities when it comes to participating in elections, gender bias in voting still facilitates men. When people have to evaluate candidates based on competence and dominance, men are more likely to be judged positively in this regard (Chiao, Bowman, & Gill, 2008). The same researchers also found that men were more likely to be voted for if they appeared approachable, whereas for female candidates, attractiveness played a major role.

Previous research has found that people infer personality characteristics from faces. These cues are also used in judging political candidates. For instance, when it comes to competence, the following facial features are positively regarded: “Faces became less round, the distance between the eyebrows and the eyes decreased, the cheekbones were higher, and the jaws became more angular”. Perceived facial competence is correlated with with election outcomes (Olivola, & Todorov, 2010).

Voice pitch
Using an experimental design, researchers found that people favored men with a lower voice pitch in a political setting. These men were perceived to be more dominant and attractive, which are considered positive traits for a politician. Furthermore, the favoritism of lower pitched increased if a candidate were to be selected in times of war. In this scenario, dominance becomes even more crucial to voters (Tigue, Borak, O’Connor, Schandl, & Feinberg, 2012).

In low-information settings, when the voter does not have substantive information, they might rely on other cues. For instance, they will consider stereotypes associated with outward appearance, such as skin color or gender. Women and African-Americans are more likely to be stereotyped than white (liberal) males. African-Americans were perceived to be more involved in minority issues, while women were considered to be concerned with honest government. (McDermott, 1998).

Candidate identification
Researchers found through a simulated mayoral election that voters preferred candidates they shared characteristics with. Women were more likely to vote for female candidates, African-Americans are more likely to African-American candidates, white males were more likely to vote for white, male candidates. They also found that ageism played a bigger role than sexism or racism (Sigelman, & Sigelman, 1982).

By looking at the personality traits of voters, researchers found that these have an indirect effect on voting behavior. Using the Big Five personality traits, they found that scoring high on certain traits meant they were more likely to vote for ideologies associated with these. Openness was linked with social liberalism, neuroticism was associated with political parties that protect against material and cultural challenges, and lastly, high agreeableness and low conscientiousness led to being more likely to vote for economic or social liberalism (Schoen, & Schumann, 2007).

Chiao, J. Y., Bowman, N. E., & Gill, H. (2008). The political gender gap: Gender bias in facial inferences that predict voting behavior. PLoS One3(10), e3666.

Hayes, D. (2009). Has television personalized voting behavior?. Political Behavior31(2), 231-260.

McDermott, M. L. (1998). Race and gender cues in low-information elections. Political Research Quarterly51(4), 895-918.

Olivola, C. Y., & Todorov, A. (2010). Elected in 100 milliseconds: Appearance-based trait inferences and voting. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior34(2), 83-110.

Schoen, H., & Schumann, S. (2007). Personality traits, partisan attitudes, and voting behavior. Evidence from Germany. Political psychology28(4), 471-498.

Sigelman, L., & Sigelman, C. K. (1982). Sexism, racism, and ageism in voting behavior: An experimental analysis. Social Psychology Quarterly, 263-269.

Tigue, C. C., Borak, D. J., O’Connor, J. J., Schandl, C., & Feinberg, D. R. (2012). Voice pitch influences voting behavior. Evolution and Human Behavior33(3), 210-216.

social sciences

Sticking to new year’s resolutions

It’s the last day of January, and many people have already given up on their new year’s resolutions. The whole idea of keeping track of time is a construct we created ourselves. Apart from the fact that the Earth orbited around the sun another time, there is not much that makes the end or beginning of a year special. However, as we are species that think ahead and plan things in the future, thanks to our prefrontal cortex, new beginnings are very important. We might feel as if we get a second chance and really get to make a change this time. Yet, it is incredibly difficult for people to stick to their resolutions or sometimes even goals in general.

  • First of all, while new beginnings have a big psychological impact on us, there is no reason to wait until the beginning of a new year to make a change. Especially if the goal is important to you, don’t wait around to start making progress toward that goal.
  • Thoroughly conceptualize your goal. What are you planning to achieve? Why? How much time will you be able to spend on it? How would others be able to help you out? Visualize your goal. How are you gonna change your daily life so you can properly work on your resolutions?
  • Make sure you can put in the effort and time to realize your goal. Consider whether the goal you set is actually realistic. For instance, learning to speak Chinese fluently in a year or losing 10 lbs in a month are probably not achievable goals. You will only demotivate yourself. Instead, convince yourself that baby steps are perfectly fine. Losing 1-2 lbs a month or aiming for basic conversational skills in a year, might be a better idea.
  • Be ready for setbacks. Your progress is not going to be a steady upward process. There’s gonna be days where the scale doesn’t display the number you were hoping for. Or you will fail to pick up your textbooks and not invest enough time in learning Chinese characters.
  • Learn from your setbacks. We have off-days and that can stall our progress. However, the day after it’s time to pick up the slack again and continue. By doing so, you will realize that can keep going for a long time, no matter the setbacks. These moments are important for our self-efficacy and self-confidence, which will help us in the long run.
  • Consider a multi-year plan. Don’t just focus on the current year. If you have big plans, you might need more than one year to get where you want to be. If you’re planning to go to the gym once a week or kick the habit of smoking, extend your plans and strategies over the course of time. Don’t limit yourself.

Changing or breaking habits can be very difficult. But with enough willpower and self-efficacy, it will be easier to stick to new year’s resolutions. And these you will get by trying and trying some more, even if you need to fail a couple of times. You can always readjust your plans and take smaller steps when needed. And remember, you can come up with resolutions during any time of the year.

social sciences

Personality: genetic factors?

Using methods such as twin studies, we can infer that personality is, at least partially, genetically determined. There is, however, also an environmental component, which is also imperative to personality formation. In these studies, the Big Five personality test is often used to look at how it develops over time.

Big Five personality traits
Using twin studies, researchers have found that there seems to be a genetic component to personality traits (Jang, Livesley, & Vemon, 1996). Twin studies are often used to study the effects of genes, identical twins and fraternal are then compared on these traits. One of the most used personality factor models is the Big Five, the five traits are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Instability and extraversion
Another group of researchers also looked at twin studies to find out what the genetic component is of psychosocial instability and psychosocial extraversion. They found that half of the variation in these traits could be explained by genetics (Floderus-Myrhed,  Pedersen,  & Rasmuson, 1980). Simply put,  the other half might be explained by environmental factors. So personality is partially shaped by the situations we go through in life.

Personality disorders
However, apart from regular personality traits, one can also study personality disorders. These are detrimental as they affect behavior or thinking processes in a negative manner. Which means it can influence daily functioning for an individual. These types of disorders have also found to be heritable, though most of the variance can be attributed to environmental factors (Jang,  Livesley, Vernon,  & Jackson, 1996).

Anxiety/social phobia
It has been found that fear of negative evaluation, which is one of the characteristics of anxiety or social phobia have genetic influences as well (Stein, Jang, & Livesley, 2002).

Job satisfaction
Another team of researchers looked at the genetic components that influence job satisfaction. They used the aforementioned five factor model of personality and the positive affectivity–negative affectivity personality test. The positive affectivity–negative affectivity assess what type of emotions (negative or positive) respondents tend to experience. Using these two tests, they found that both of these constructs determined job satisfaction.  The positive affectivity–negative affectivity construct explained most of the variance in job satisfaction (Ilies, & Judge, 2003).

Floderus-Myrhed, B., Pedersen, N., & Rasmuson, I. (1980). Assessment of heritability for personality, based on a short-form of the Eysenck Personality Inventory: A study of 12,898 twin pairs. Behavior genetics10(2), 153-162.

Jang, K. L., Livesley, W. J., & Vemon, P. A. (1996). Heritability of the big five personality dimensions and their facets: a twin study. Journal of personality, 64(3), 577-592.

Jang, K. L., Livesley, W. J., Vernon, P. A., & Jackson, D. N. (1996). Heritability of personality disorder traits: a twin study. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica94(6), 438-444.

Ilies, R., & Judge, T. A. (2003). On the heritability of job satisfaction: The mediating role of personality. Journal of Applied psychology88(4), 750.

Stein, M. B., Jang, K. L., & Livesley, W. J. (2002). Heritability of social anxiety-related concerns and personality characteristics: a twin study. The Journal of nervous and mental disease190(4), 219-224.

social sciences

How psychics know: cold reading phenomenon

A myriad of channels exists that broadcast psychics being able to read people’s minds and possibly talk to deceased relatives. In this day and age, where the emphasis has shifted towards critical thinking and falsification, there are still fervent believers of astrology and psychic mediums. In the current scientific paradigm, it is difficult to attain empirical evidence for the existence of the ability to talk to the deceased. Yet, individuals are present in media that have a platform to showcase these supposed abilities. For instance, there is Theresa Caputo who has her own show on mainstream TV, she claims to “connect with loved ones who have passed away”. There is also Derek Ogilvie who insists that he has these abilities as well.

There have been many skeptics disproving this ability to talk to deceased loved ones. These ‘mediums’ are said to engage in a technique called cold reading. Through this technique, mediums are able to create the illusion that, for instance, they are able to tell an individual what happened in their past. However, this technique relies on using characteristics of people to ask them about generalizations based on these. These characteristics include gender, age, appearance (e.g. clothes, makeup, hairstyle).

In order to guess something about the person in front of you, you can use statistics. For instance, according to this source, 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Therefore, when talking to a woman of a certain age, you can guess that she must have experienced a miscarriage at some point in her life. In many countries, the divorce rate is higher than 50%. So, again, when talking to someone of a certain age, you have a 50% chance of being right when guessing whether they are divorced. Another statistic found that roughly 70% of the elderly report to experience loneliness. Therefore, this is another notion psychics can talk about when ‘reading’ their clients.

Apart from using general statistics, one can also rely on Barnum statements. These are statements that can be applicable to anyone. Example: you have a great need for people to like or admire you. Most people have this need, you can trace this back to how we are shaped and wired. Humans are social species and living in groups greatly increases our survival chances. Furthermore, we experience a nice hormone cocktail whenever we receive positive reinforcements from others. Thus, most people have the psychological need to be liked. And of course, there are more statements like these that are applicable to the majority of people that psychics can successfully use.

Lastly, what makes a psychic ‘successful’ is the susceptibility of the client. The trick is the remain vague so that the client fills in much of the information, without them realizing that they’re doing so. This is where the availability heuristic is of importance. Heuristics are rules of thumbs we use when recalling or considering information. For instance, the psychic could tell you: ‘you’re always giving to people, you have to start looking after yourself more’. In that moment, it will be easy to imagine all the situations in which this happened to be the case. Every situation in which this wasn’t the case, you will not think of. Therefore, it suddenly seems as if the psychic is speaking the truth. Moreover, people like to hold positive views regarding themselves. The previous statement highlights selflessness, which is considered to be an attractive trait. Thus, we like to believe that the statement is true and it is, therefore, easier to think of cases where we considered ourselves to be selfless as opposed to situations when we were not.

All-in-all, using these techniques and with a lot of practice, anyone can be a psychic.

Image source.

social media

Internet use and access in North Korea

North Korea has both an intranet network (Kwangmyong) and an active internet connection, the latter is routed through China and Russia. There are a little over a thousand IP  addresses as of 2014. While there are around 28 websites on the North Korean internet, there over 5000 sites on the internet. The country also has their own Linux-based operating system, called Red Star. The interface looks quite similar to earlier versions of macOS.

Of course, to guarantee information control, only a few have access to the internet. The average person is not even aware of the existence of the internet, as can be read in a book written by Suki Kim. In her book, she recounts her experiences with the elite youth.

Interestingly, embassies have access to WiFi, and sometimes their networks don’t have passwords and the signal is strong enough to be picked up by people outside the building as well. Unfortunately, browsing programs are removed from smartphones before they are given to average citizens. The regime has a 3G mobile network (Koyrolink) which foreigners can use through a local SIM card.

Most social media platforms are blocked in the country (such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube). Adult websites are also inaccessible as pornography is illegal in the country. The content on their own websites ranges from North Korean news to their national airline company.

As aforementioned, the North Korean internet is routed through China and Russia. Previously, it was only routed through China, however now 60% is routed through Russia as well. This was first observed a month ago, October 2017. This makes sense given the latest political developments.

This article will provide more details on the latest developments on internet connection in North Korea.

social sciences

Let’s Hypothesize: Facebook and Envy

For my bachelor thesis, I looked at the relationship between envy, Facebook use, and maximizing. My research was carried out using convenience sampling on a small sample, so while the results were significant, the question is whether these are externally valid. Therefore, this post will be more of a speculation.

In this study, we asked participants to fill out a questionnaire that assessed their Facebook use, envy, and maximization. Questions on the Facebook use scale looked at constructs such as time spent on the social media platform. Envy measured how likely people are to feel desire towards others’ possessions or life experiences. And lastly, the maximization questionnaire measured whether people tend to chase the ‘best’ in their lives. People who score high on this trait tend to always strive for the best possible outcome. This means, for instance, that when they are watching TV and they are already watching a TV show that they like, they will still flip through the other channels to make sure that they are watching the best possible show on TV at the moment. You can imagine that these individuals have a hard time making decisions as well, as they are always on the lookout for something better. This trait can influence relationships, shopping habits, or life satisfaction.

The underlying idea was that those who score high on maximization tend to be more envious of others. Seeing someone else with a better alternative than you do, would then elicit feelings of envy.
Facebook is a virtual space where a lot of social information is shared. This social media platform seems to have a positivity bias, especially before the introduction of the ‘react buttons’. In the past, users were only able to ‘like’ posts. Users can also filter content and decide what they would like to share on Facebook. Thus, users can actively engage in impression management and share information that they want to show publicly. This means that Facebook users might be more likely to post positive information regarding themselves.

Therefore, scrolling down the Facebook timeline, you will be exposed to social information that will be interpreted as positive by most. These can be posts related to successful life events, such as promotions, vacations, weddings, or academic achievements. And of course, you could argue that any of these milestones can elicit envy in any type of person, regardless of whether they score high on maximization or not. However, those who do score high on this trait might feel more envious than others. The problem is, that too much envy, in this case, might lead to stress, life dissatisfaction, or even depression. Because there is a high chance that there will always be someone on your timeline who performed better than you did in any of these categories.

What makes it worse is that maximizers are always on the lookout for information regarding the best possible option. Thus, one could reason that it might be difficult for them to stop using such social media platforms. As the social information that can be found on sites such as Facebook can give them insight into how they are doing themselves. Therefore, the existence of social media has made it almost effortless for these individuals to engage in social comparison. So, if this does lead to depression or a decrease in life satisfaction, it might be a good idea to spend less time on such social platforms.

Image source.

social media

The benefits of using Facebook

There seems to be an ongoing trend of people looking for the downsides of Facebook. Researchers seem to want to uncover the negative effects social media sites could have on our mental health. Which, of course, makes sense in a postmodern reflexive society where people engage in risk aversion. Any new type of technology is scrutinized to make sure it won’t cause any ‘avoidable’ harm. However, there have been researchers that looked at the benefits of Facebook use in different settings.

Facebook is a social environment in which its users can interact with one another. In such a setting, social capital can be accumulated, which is important in everyday life. Social capital is the resources that one can attain through relationships and interactions with others. Researchers sent out a survey to college students to find out whether Facebook can aid in acquiring social capital. They found that students maintained and formed new social capital through Facebook. Interestingly, these college students were able to stay in contact with old high school students using this social media website. These friendships, in turn, are of importance when it comes to attaining social capital, as these friends can provide more (social) information.¹

The more friends the better?
Other researchers looked at the amount of Facebook friends and the perceived social support of users. This hypothesis turned out to be supported by their data. This relationship between these two constructs was also associated with reduced stress and psychological well-being. The researchers speculate that a higher number of Facebook friends is a cue for people to assume that they are more connected with people, regardless of how strong these connections actually are. However, they also note that the number of Facebook friends can also be related to personality traits such as extraversion. This trait is also related to well-being. Therefore, the underlying mechanism for perceived social support could also be linked to personality traits or other factors.²

Being yourself
Staying closer to your authentic self on Facebook is associated with feeling more connected with other users. While straying away from your true self is linked to more stress. This is similar to findings from ‘real life’ settings where those who acted according to their true self in person also reported a better well-being.³
Different researchers found that Facebook can help users acquire online social support. This social support does not directly correlate with well-being, but the online support people get can help people take the step of looking for real-life support.4

1. Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication12(4), 1143-1168.

2. Nabi, R. L., Prestin, A., & So, J. (2013). Facebook friends with (health) benefits? Exploring social network site use and perceptions of social support, stress, and well-being. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking16(10), 721-727.

3.  Grieve, R., & Watkinson, J. (2016). The psychological benefits of being authentic on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking19(7), 420-425.

4.Liu, C. Y., & Yu, C. P. (2013). Can Facebook use induce well-being?. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking16(9), 674-678.

social sciences

Self-control a limited resource: muscle analogy

It has been proposed that self-control is a limited resource. Which means that our self-control would diminish over the day. From the moment we wake up, we’re faced with choices. What do you want to wear? What are you going to eat for breakfast? What time are you going to leave for school or work? And according to the muscle analogy, put forward by Baumeister, these choices get more difficult as the day progresses. We can’t use our muscles infinitely, just as we can’t use our self-control limitlessly. While there is new research that proposes that the muscle analogy might not be entirely accurate, I will describe one of Baumeister’s experiments that added scientific weight to the existence of his analogy.

An experiment with cookies and radishes
In 1998 a scientific article was published in which Baumeister was involved¹. His research team carried out different experiments to show that self-control is a limited resource. One of the experiments was carried out using cookies and radishes. The participants were 67 psychology students, who were told they were going to be studied on taste perception. This, of course, was a cover-up. When testing a hypothesis, you don’t want the test subjects to know what the researchers are looking for, as this might influence the results.
The researchers split the students into three groups, there was a control group (who didn’t eat any food), a radish group (they were asked to eat at least 2 or 3 radishes), and a cookie group (they were asked to eat at least 2 or 3 cookies). None of the participants were aware of belonging to a group and didn’t have a clue about what was actually being tested. And each participant was studied individually.But there is another catch! In the research room, they were baking cookies, so both participants in the radish group and cookie group were exposed to the delicious smell of fresh baked cookies.
Moreover, in the room, there was a bowl with cookies and a bowl with radishes. So, imagine you were assigned to the radish group and there is a delicious cookie aroma all around you, but you’re asked to only eat radishes. My wild guess is that if you had the choice, you would go for the cookies instead of the radishes. But the experiment doesn’t stop there! After eating radishes or cookies, the participants were asked to solve a puzzle. And again, there’s a catch. The puzzle is unsolvable.
The researchers compared the participants who were assigned to the different groups. In line with the muscle analogy, they found that those who were asked to eat radishes were more likely to give up easily. The researchers explain that this is due to the fact that they already had to exert self-control before the puzzle, which used up some of their self-control.

1. Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D. M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource?. Journal of personality and social psychology, 74(5), 1252.


Who rules the world?

When first reading the title of this book – who rules the world? – my mind instantly spurred up images of conspiring men sitting in a dark, secret room, making the world’s most important decisions. While this image isn’t entirely true, Chomsky (author of the book) explains that many of the imperative decisions are made behind closed doors. What’s even more interesting, the explanations for the decisions are often off, very off. Remember the invasion of Iraq? As Chomsky rightfully points out, this wasn’t to “stabilize the country”.

The book sheds a light on the pivotal decisions made by on the most powerful and threatening rogue states in the world, the USA. Chomsky elaboratively describes the events in the Middle East, Cuba, Vietnam, Latin America, and the USA’s role in each of these crises in the past 70 years. First and foremost the author warns us of countries’ possessions of nuclear weapons. He clarifies that Iran isn’t the nation we should fear in terms of these fatal devices and provides a long list of arguments why this fear is misplaced and created. He further demonstrates that much of the decisions made by the USA, especially in regards to war crimes, aren’t necessarily backed by public opinion. Aside from nuclear weaponry, Chomsky pleads for awareness of climate change, as we have to act now to preserve our planet.

What stood out to me the most is the authors dismantling of western indoctrination. I was aware that much of our media is very biased and often takes a stance that makes the west seem as “better” in any international event. But the cover-ups are much severe than I assumed. In the west, we often accuse communist nations of twisting the truth and engaging in propaganda. However, western propaganda comes pretty close to those of the regimes we actively oppose.
Chomsky draws similarities between to events of two passenger aircrafts being shot down. In 1988 Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down by USS Vincennes and in 2015 MH17 was shot down in Ukraine. Supposedly the USA never officially apologized for the war crime and wasn’t met with outrage that was noticeable through every form of western media, related to the MH17.

This book will help you understand the power relations currently present in the world and how western propaganda influences your views on these. It also emphasizes the problems of nuclear weaponry and climate change. Apparently, we are much closer to nuclear warfare than we might think.


Understanding natural science as a social scientist

Even though I study social science, I’m still very much interested in natural science. For this reason, I like to read books on evolution theory by Dawkins. I often like to read about topics associated with this theory, so I don’t find his books hard to understand. However, I also wanted to know more about physics, so I decided to read A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawkings. I must say that I had trouble following Hawkings’ explanations.

Though, his book did teach me something outside of all the theories clarified by the author. As someone who studies social sciences, I often feel looked down upon by other fields of research. Psychology and sociology have really been working hard on their reputations and haven’t been around as long as natural sciences to prove themselves. Physics has this image that natural laws hold truth. We know the Earth is not flat, we know gravity is a thing, and we know molecules exist. Yet, social theories such as the Big Five are still met with reluctance.

But reading Hawkings’ book I realized that a myriad of natural science theories exist that we aren’t as confident in as the theory of gravity. What fascinated me even more is that opposing views exist in the natural science field! I was aware of the opposing views in regards to quantum physics, as it is relatively new. As researchers have used it to back up philosophical claims, such as free will and determinism.

Fortunately, I also gained a better understanding of Einstein’s relativity theory, blackholes, and some of the elementary particles. Although I had to do my best to grasp what the author was trying to explain, I did learn several new things. Even if your understanding of physics is whatever you learned in a physic’s class in high school, I do recommend this book. You do gain a better insight of how natural science works.