social sciences

who rules the world?

Decades ago Judith Butler wrote about a concept called ‘gender performance’. This means that gender does not pre-exist the person, gender is a result of a set of behaviors. Nowadays the construction of gender has become a controversial topic. Especially in the light of awareness of transgenderism, there are debates about the differences between assigned sex and gender. Some believe these are the same, others believe that these are two separate concepts. Then the question arises whether gender is the result of socialization or genetics – or both. Though, one thing is clear, your gender influences your experience.

Throughout history men have generally been part of the dominant group in society. And on top of that, if we look at specific histories such as the U.S., we see that it also helps to be of a certain skin color and to be part of a higher social class. For instance, before the nineteenth century, voting was restricted to white men of age whom owned property. Therefore, gender alone does not predispose a person’s advantage, there are other intersectional factors. However, for now I will simplify matters by solely looking at gender.

who rules?
Connell has developed a theory over the years, which is now referred to as ‘hegemonic masculinity’. Merriam-Webster defines a hegemony as “the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group“. According to Connell’s theory, a specific kind of masculinity is considered to be ideal. This type of masculinity dismisses any alternative forms of masculinity or femininity. Sexual prowess, physical strength, and stoicism are all considered to be ideal performances of masculinity. If one were to divert from these ideals, then a person would be performing an alternative masculinity.

Furthermore, there is pressure from others in the dominant group of hegemonic masculinity to strive to fit the ideals. This leads to the exclusion of gay peers or the sexual objectification of women. Because the standard is considered to be heteronormativity, this norm predicates that romantic and/or sexual relationships take place between a man and a woman. Moreover, let’s go back to intersectionality for a second. Hegemonic masculinity does not only exclude ‘deviating’ sexual orientations, but also other identity characteristics. Researchers posit that hegemonic masculinity is restricted to “white, heterosexual, upper and middle-class men”.

times are a-changing?
Other researchers now suggest that masculinity is changing. The pressures of performing behavioral ideals related to hegemonic masculinity is decreasing. Masculinity performances are becoming more inclusive, therefore researchers are proposing new theories, such as inclusive masculinity theory or other hybrid masculinity theories. These types of masculinities have no problems having gay peers in their group of friends and tend to be more emotionally open. Furthermore, tactility is accepted among these men, which means that affectionate acts such as hugging are encouraged.

According to the same researchers, this inclusive masculinity performance is likely possible due to a decrease in homohysteria. Homohysteria is the apprehension of being perceived as gay. A lack of such a hysteria paves the way for masculinities that are not in line with hegemonic masculinity ideals. Therefore, feminine behaviors by men will be less likely to be denounced. Because hegemonic masculinity creates clear lines between masculinity and femininity, ‘feminine’ behaviors such as emotional expression is discouraged. However, as alternative masculinities are more and more recognized, these binary gender lines start to blur. In this contemporary scenario, the objective of masculinity is no longer to dominate other genders. If this trend continues, it begs the question of how society will be shaped as a result. Will power relations based on gender be any different?

social sciences

Self-perception and body image

In a highly visual world where ‘the media’ represents specific body types it might be difficult for certain people to build self-esteem. Certain groups might be more susceptible to this, such as teenagers, as their need to belong and fit in might be stronger.

Mental health
Self-perception influences one’s mental health. This relationship has been studied by researchers before. They found a link between how one perceived their weight status and depressive symptoms (1). This effect was also found to be stronger for women.

Men
However, this does not mean that men do not deal with body image issues. In an article from 2004, researchers looked at body dissatisfaction among college men. They found that the men judged themselves to be fatter than they actually were. Though, these men also perceived themselves to be more muscular than they were. Though, they pointed out that they would like to be more muscular than they actually are. The researchers speculate that men are under more pressure to be more muscular due to contemporary media pressures. In this study, females were also asked to describe their preferred body type for males. The findings of the study highlights a discrepancy between what women want and what men think women want. Men assumed women want a man who is much leaner and muscular than the women in the study indicated (2).

‘Elastic’ body image
Researchers have created different models of body image. An article from 1992 describes a model that considers women’s body image, which is influenced by content on TV. This model contains different body images, including: society’s deal body, the internalized ideal body, current body image, and the objective body shape. To test their model, female participants were asked to watch specific imagery. The perception of one’s own body can change after being exposed to only half an hour of television (3).

References

  1. Ali, M. M., Fang, H., & Rizzo, J. A. (2010). Body weight, self-perception and mental health outcomes among adolescents. The journal of mental health policy and economics, 13(2), 53-63.
  2. Olivardia, R., Pope Jr, H. G., Borowiecki III, J. J., & Cohane, G. H. (2004). Biceps and body image: the relationship between muscularity and self-esteem, depression, and eating disorder symptoms. Psychology of men & masculinity, 5(2), 112.
  3. Myers, P. N., & Biocca, F. A. (1992). The elastic body image: The effect of television advertising and programming on body image distortions in young women. Journal of communication, 42(3), 108-133.
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.

Gender
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.

Appearance
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).

Stereotypes
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).

Personality
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 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.