social sciences

Why don’t people help each other anymore?

Often you hear people make statements such as: ‘people don’t help each other out anymore!’. This broad claim is applied to many different situations. This idea is often paired with the individualistic mindset that is supposedly growing, especially in western countries. Everyone is only focusing on their own goals and obligations, not paying attention to the ones around them. A second, more practical example is that of crisis situations. This could be a situation in which a stranger needs help, for instance someone being harassed, got injured, or can’t do something. There are so many stories on people suffering while onlookers do absolutely nothing. And immediately it’s assumed that those bystanders are cold-hearted individuals who do not care for others’ troubles.

But I want to argue that there are many factors involved that cause people not to help out, it is a very complex process. Researchers have found that these onlookers are not likely to help out because of the bystander effect. Imagine a scenario in a busy street where a person trips and falls. People either quickly glance at the ‘victim’ or might ignore them altogether. But why doesn’t anyone feel inclined to help out? Before discussing the mechanisms at work I will present a different scenario that was used in an experimental setting.

Imagine sitting in a waiting room with two other people, waiting for the researchers to come and get you. Suddenly a bit of smoke seems to enter the room. You study the faces of the two other people in the room. They do not seem to react to the smoke at all. More and more smoke starts to fill the room, yet no one reacts, including yourself. Now, let’s change the setting a bit. This time you’re alone in the waiting room, smoke starts filling the room. This time you get up to warn the researchers. [Click here to see a video depicting this situation]
This is more or less what was found in Latane and Darley’s (1968) study. People are more likely to report the smoke when sitting alone in the room. This principle can be applied to many different situations in which there is some kind of danger or emergency, and action is required.

So why don’t we help out?
But if you’d ask people how they would react in such a situation, most people would probably say that they would definitely help out. However, social factors are much more important than we think. Unknowingly we are incredibly influenced by the presence of others. But why does this make us less likely to help out? What is going on? First of all, there is uncertainty. Situations are often very ambiguous and it’s hard to interpret what is going on. This makes it even more difficult to react accordingly, we don’t know what is expected of us. Is the smoke filling the room normal? Or is it dangerous? Is the person tripping and falling really hurt? Or do they not want me to approach them? Second, there is the diffusion of responsibility. Others are present, why aren’t they helping out or doing something? Why do I have to be the one to report it? Or: I am sure someone else will help the person that fell down.

When to help out?
It gets even trickier when the bystander effect is present due to the two aforementioned principles involved. Because you could argue that the bystander effect begets the bystander effect. If you’re in an ambiguous situation where no one is helping out, you might look at other people’s reactions to find out whether it’s serious and help is required. But that is the issue, everyone has a straight face, looking at how others are reacting.
Therefore, interpretation of the situation can be very problematic. To draw up another example, imagine a man and a woman fighting in public. They are screaming at each other and at one point, the man hits the woman. Should you step in? Do they know each other? Is that ‘normal’ behavior to them? What if the man (or woman) ends up trying to (physically) fight you if you butt in? I can list many examples from the news of people trying to help out that resulted in their death.

Helping: rural vs urban
There are different factors that can influence bystander effect. It has been hypothesized many times that people in rural settings are more likely to help out than in urban settings. And Steblay (1987) found results in line with this statement. I am going to speculate here that anonymity might play a role in helping behavior as well. In smaller communities, such as rural areas, people might be related to each other in one way or another. And we are more likely help those out that we have some kind of relation to (e.g. acquaintances, coworkers, neighbors).

How to make people help!
If one person approaches a person that needs help, more people will likely follow. This is because someone interpreted the situation, and they assumed the person needed help. Therefore, more people are more likely to follow their lead. We can always ask someone if they need help. In my experience, this is an easy way to find out if you should do something. There have only been a few times that people were unkind, but they might be embarrassed that they fell or really value their independence. If you are the one that needs help, screaming ‘help!’ doesn’t always work. Point at someone and try to directly ask people for help. This way you give people the responsibility to help out, eliminating the diffusion of responsibility principle.

Why aren’t we helping out anymore?
I have read statements by people claiming that we have become individualistic and we no longer help each other anymore. First of all, I would like to challenge this claim by asking what time period we are comparing today with. Was there ever a time when we actively helped each other out? From a sociologist perspective, over the last hundred years, we did become more individualistic. And often the possible negative consequences are discussed and the positive ones are left untouched. I would like to argue that individualism has both detrimental and stimulating effects, both on macro and micro level. However I am not convinced that individualism leads to less helping behavior. Our genetic makeup still influences this type of behavior, as we are likely to carry out altruistic acts, especially for our kin.

Latane, B., & Darley, J. M. (1968). Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of personality and social psychology, 10(3), 215.

Steblay, N. M. (1987). Helping behavior in rural and urban environments: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 102(3), 346.

First picture source.

social sciences

What are you like? What does your personality predict?

Psychology has created many personality tests that help predict and understand people’s behavior. However one of the most used tests seems to be the Big Five test. This test changed a lot in it’s beginning phases, at the end of the nineteenth century. But now the test includes 5 different traits, which is often abbreviated to OCEAN.

OCEAN stands for the following traits: openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. A Big Five test includes scales measuring these five constructs. The beauty of this test is that these traits have been proven to be quite stable over a (person’s) lifetime. And these constructs have been used to measure links with other behaviors or personality traits. For instance, these have been linked to political preference, work performance, health behaviors, and even your social media behavior. (Link below to take the test!)

Big Five traits
As mentioned earlier, the test measures five different traits. The first trait, openness, is about one’s openness to new experiences. If you score high on this trait, you could be considered curious, and interested in arts or music, and you have an active imagination.
Second, there is conscientiousness, this has to do with being organized. This means you’re reliable in your work, and you do things efficiently.
Then there is extraversion, probably one of the most known traits of the Big Five. People who score high on this trait are sociable, outgoing, and not likely to be reversed or timid.
The fourth trait is agreeableness, this is your tendency to agree with others and to cooperate. If you score low on this, you are more likely to blame others, start fights, and be rude.
Lastly, there is neuroticism, people who score high on this are more likely to be emotionally unstable, worry a lot, and get nervous.

Job performance
As mentioned earlier, these traits are linked to behaviors in certain settings. In a job-related setting, in which one has to be social, you could imagine that extraversion would be beneficial for performance. This turned out to be the case according to research done by Barrick and Mount (1991), They also found that conscientiousness was beneficial for most types of jobs.

Political preferences
And in terms of political preferences, center-right voters score a bit higher on conscientiousness, whereas center-left voters scored higher on agreeableness and openness (Capara, Barbaranelli, & Zimbardo, 1999).
Openness to experience is negatively related to conservatism, this means that those who tend to score low on this trait are more likely to hold conservative views. Extraversion is linked to political participation, that is carried out through group settings, which intuitively makes sense since you will be spending time with others. Furthermore, extroverts are also more likely to engage in political discussions, however, interestingly enough do not necessarily possess more political knowledge. Those who score high on openness to experience do seem to have more of this knowledge. And lastly, highly agreeable individuals tend to avoid political discussions (Mondak & Halperin, 2008), and one could speculate that they would do so to avoid situations in which they might have to disagree, this might create an uncomfortable situation.

Health behaviors 
Conscientiousness is linked to behaviors that promote health, agreeableness is linked to behaviors that include less substance use. While both behaviors predict less risk-taking in traffic situations. The same researchers that found these links argue that knowledge of such associations can improve programs aimed to increase/promote help. For instance, they propose that those scoring low on conscientiousness might benefit more from programs that involve peers (Booth-Kewely & Vickers, 1994).

Social media behaviors
Those scoring high on openness to might be more likely to share and post intellectual information (Marshall, Lefringhausen, & Ferenczi, 2015). People who use Facebook for socializing score higher on neuroticism, whereas people who use Twitter for the same purpose score higher on openness. Individuals high in neuroticism and extraversion preferred Facebook over Twitter (Hughes, Rowe, Batey,  & Lee, 2012). The amount of Facebook friends has also been studied, neuroticism is negatively linked to this amount. This means that those high in neuroticism have fewer friends. And extraversion is positively linked, thus scoring higher on this trait means having more Facebook friends. Neurotics also engage in ‘liking’ others’ posts more and are part of more Facebook groups. The authors argue that these individuals tend to experience more negative emotions and therefore are more likely to take part in behaviors that might prompt support (Bachrach et al, 2012).

Take the Big Five test!

Inventory used to describe traits, very interesting read!

Bachrach, Y., Kosinski, M., Graepel, T., Kohli, P., & Stillwell, D. (2012). Personality and patterns of Facebook usage. In Proceedings of the 4th Annual ACM Web Science Conference (pp. 24-32). ACM.
Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The big five personality dimensions and job performance: a meta‐analysis. Personnel psychology, 44(1), 1-26.
Booth‐Kewley, S., & Vickers, R. R. (1994). Associations between major domains of personality and health behavior. Journal of personality, 62(3), 281-298.
Capara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1999). Personality profiles and political parties. Political psychology, 20(1), 175-197.
Hughes, D. J., Rowe, M., Batey, M., & Lee, A. (2012). A tale of two sites: Twitter vs. Facebook and the personality predictors of social media usage. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(2), 561-569.
Marshall, T. C., Lefringhausen, K., & Ferenczi, N. (2015). The Big Five, self-esteem, and narcissism as predictors of the topics people write about in Facebook status updates. Personality and Individual Differences, 85, 35-40.
Mondak, J. J., & Halperin, K. D. (2008). A framework for the study of personality and political behaviour. British Journal of Political Science, 38(02), 335-362.

social sciences

Cheating from an evolutionary prespective

It often seems as if people want to create a division between men and women based on their behavior. And one of the much talked about aspects is relationships. I have been a part of several discussions on whether men or women cheat more on their significant other. From an evolutionary perspective, there is a lot to be said about the implications of cheating for men and women. 

However I’m not going to speculate on who cheats more, but the consequences of cheating for each individual. Buss, Larsen, Westen, and Semmelroth (1992) carried out a fascinating study on this topic. First of all, they address certain differences between males and females, which include pregnancy and parental certainty. In our species as many other species, females are at risk of getting pregnant through sex. So from that point on invest many resources in their offspring, whereas males can often easily abandon their offspring. Though the success of our species has been attributed to the fact that males throughout stuck around to care for their offspring (compared to other species, unfortunately this is not necessarily standard even in modern times). A problem for males is that they cannot be sure (without a DNA test) whether their offspring is genetically theirs.

Differences between men and women
All of these assumptions create a framework that can possibly explain jealousy caused by a cheating partner. As females find emotional cheating to be worse, whereas men can’t stand sexual cheating. Although I would like to point out that both sexes have issues with all types of cheating, there are significant differences in the degree of. These differences would have made a lot of sense in the Pleistocene era, the period of time when early humans transitioned to modern humans. The issue with emotional cheating for a female is that a male might get emotionally invested in another female. But for the offspring it would be beneficial for the male would be involved in their upbringing. Thus it would be problematic for the (pregnant) female to lose the parental investment from the male. For males it is a slightly different story, they seem to be more concerned with sexual cheating. The reasoning behind this is that the female could end up getting pregnant by a different male. And if a male were to be invested in offspring that isn’t theirs – he would be investing in survival and transfer of another individual’s genetics. This perspective is from a ‘selfish gene perspective’ in which a lot of strategies seemed to be based around the survival of one’s own genes through reproduction.

However not only do we invest in the survival of our own genes through reproduction, and making sure our offspring survives by caring and protecting them. We can also protect genes that aren’t in our offspring or in us, yet they are still ‘our’ genes as well. Our siblings approximately share 50% of our genes. This is because we get 50% from our fathers and 50% from our mothers, this seems to be the general rule. Though recent research has found that we might be getting just a little more from our fathers (Crowley et al, 2015). And following the same principle we share 12,5% of our genes with our cousins. Based on all of these assumptions were more likely to help out those we share genetic similarities with because it would guarantee survival of part of our own genes. This is referred to as kin selection, these heroic acts of saving relatives could even be in situations that decrease the chances of one’s own survival.

Issues with an evolutionary perspective
A lot is to be said about taking an evolutionary perspective. First of all, while some are convinced that we still carry the biologically programmed mechanisms that, for instance, make us feel jealous in certain situations, it is an oversimplification. There are many factors that influence our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. And the current scientific paradigm does not propose genetic determinism, in the sense that genes are exclusively responsible for the aforementioned constructs. Environmental influences are known to influence these three major components as well, it is most likely an interaction between the two. Second of all, we no longer live in the Pleistocene era, we live in an epoch that comes after that, called Holocene. Although evolution takes a lot of time, we have several examples from the last 10,000 years. On example is lactase persistence, humans have become able to digest lactose, especially in certain regions in the world. These regions were involved in domestication of animals and consuming milk. This is referred to as gene/culture co-evolution, where culture and genetics are both susceptible to evolution and mutation. Third, in line with the previous argument, in many regions of the world, lifestyles have dramatically changed. Not only heterosexual couples take care of offspring, however this idea alone might have been an oversimplification for the Pleistocene epoch. Children are often looked after by many more or different people than (biological) parents.

Buss, D. M., Larsen, R. J., Westen, D., & Semmelroth, J. (1992). Sex differences in jealousy: Evolution, physiology, and psychology. Psychological science, 3(4), 251-255.

Crowley, J. J., Zhabotynsky, V., Sun, W., Huang, S., Pakatci, I. K., Kim, Y., … & Yun, Z. (2015). Analyses of allele-specific gene expression in highly divergent mouse crosses identifies pervasive allelic imbalance. Nature genetics, 47(4), 353-360.

social sciences

In Defense of the Internet: Stimulation Hypothesis

Every new technological advancement raises new questions. How will it affect us psychologically? How will it shape society? Will it change the existing relationships between, citizens, corporations, media, and government? Those who have lived through the emergence of electricity, steam trains, landlines (phones), radio, TV, and ultimately the internet, will probably be able to tell you that all these inventions come with concern. Will the existence of the internet eventually lead to the end of all direct human interaction? 

Often I hear parents express worry over the fact that children seem to be spending ‘a lot of time’ on the internet. Shouldn’t they be playing outside, hanging out with their friends? Has the internet made us more individualistic and antisocial? It is regularly suggested that people ‘nowadays’ spent more time on the internet than engaging in contact with their friends and family. This could be defined as the displacement hypothesis (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007). However, a contrasting hypothesis states that people actively use the internet as a means to participate in online communication, this is referred to as the stimulation hypothesis. Valkenburg and Peter found significant results that support their stimulation hypothesis.

The internet has probably enormously increased mobilization and globalization. It has become easier to look for jobs elsewhere and to enjoy pop music created in other countries. And when one of our friends is temporarily studying abroad, we can effortlessly keep in contact through many internet services. Moreover, we can make new friends, and look for relationships using apps and sites. And according to data gathered in the USA, 23% have found their spouse by using these services (Smith & Duggan, 2013).

However, the internet will continue to bring more possibilities to make our lives simpler and often more complex as well. Thus people are persistently going to take a reflexive stance on new inventions regarding services provided using an internet connection. As individuals will continue to refer back to times when such services were not available yet, through the use of the internet. And unfortunately the sole way to find out which services fit our lifestyle and serve the greater good is through a process of trial and error. We cannot anticipate all of the possible consequences.


Smith, A. and Duggan, M. (2013) Online dating & relationships. Available at: 

Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2007). Online communication and adolescent well‐being: Testing the stimulation versus the displacement hypothesis. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1169-1182.

social sciences

Sexual selection from an evolutionary prespective

Ask a couple why the choose each other and you probably get some story on how they thought their significant other was attractive. There are thousands of self-help books dedicated to helping you become more attractive. Even coaches exist to assist you in appearing appealing to the person of your liking. But what exactly makes people attractive? 

As suggested in the title, the following explanations are from an evolutionary perspective. This research field mainly seems to focus on heterosexual couples. Also, the first part of the theory will discuss physical attraction, the second part will look at personality characteristics. Hormones play a big role in secondary sex characteristics, which is essential in sexual selection. Men and women look at different cues that are important for reproduction.

Women look for characteristics that indicate high levels of testosterone, such as a broad jaw (Grammer & Thornhill, 1994). Such characteristics are the result of evolution through sexual selection. Because these indicate important physical traits to consider such as immunocompetence (the immune system being able to fight off antigens). These are favorable hereditary traits to pass on to your offspring. Yet another indicator of good genes is facial symmetry (Scheib, Gangestad, Thornhill, 1999). Which again, could be signaling good genes, as it could indicate development stability in puberty, the body withstood pathogens and perturbations (Gangestad & Thornhill, 2003). Ovulation can also influence females’ perceptions of attractiveness. As during this phase of the menstrual cycle, females prefer more masculine faces.

Men look for characteristics such as low hip-to-waist ratio since this could be an indication of good health (Sing, 1993). As for facial attractiveness, men seem to rate neonate faces as more appealing. These are faces with ‘young features’, such as big eyes or a small chin (Cunnigham, 1986). This could be due to the fact that women are fertile only for a certain period of time, which is linked to her younger years.

However, personality is still an important factor in attraction. Humor for one can influence people’s perceptions of attractiveness. Previous research has suggested that it displays intelligence. Li et al (2009) point out that someone who is already seen as somewhat appealing will be able to increase this by being funny. This means that people will also actively use this as a strategy to seem desirable to a potential partner.
People often claim ‘opposites attract’, however humans are not magnets. It actually seems like similarities attract, people are more likely to look for mates that share the same traits (Botwin, Buss, Shackelford, 1997).
Research has suggested that preferences for personality traits are influenced by culture, whereas physical attractiveness seems to be more universal. The differences between men and women were that men seemed to place more emphasis on physical attractiveness, while women looked for kindness, or humor. Though both genders found the aforementioned traits to be of importance, with intelligence being the highest ranked trait overall (Lippa, 2007).

Botwin, M. D., Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). Personality and mate preferences: Five factors in mate selection and marital satisfaction. Journal of personality, 65(1), 107-136.
Cunningham, M. R. (1986). Measuring the physical in physical attractiveness: Quasi-experiments on the sociobiology of female facial beauty. Journal of personality and social psychology, 50(5), 925.
Gangestad, S. W., & Thornhill, R. (2003). Facial masculinity and fluctuating asymmetry. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24(4), 231-241.
Grammer, K., & Thornhill, R. (1994). Human (Homo sapiens) facial attractiveness and sexual selection: the role of symmetry and averageness. Journal of comparative psychology, 108(3), 233.
Li, N. P., Griskevicius, V., Durante, K. M., Jonason, P. K., Pasisz, D. J., & Aumer, K. (2009). An evolutionary perspective on humor: sexual selection or interest indication?. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Lippa, R. A. (2007). The preferred traits of mates in a cross-national study of heterosexual and homosexual men and women: An examination of biological and cultural influences. Archives of sexual behavior, 36(2), 193-208.
Scheib, J. E., Gangestad, S. W., & Thornhill, R. (1999). Facial attractiveness, symmetry and cues of good genes. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 266(1431), 1913-1917.
Singh, D. (1993). Adaptive significance of female physical attractiveness: role of waist-to-hip ratio. Journal of personality and social psychology, 65(2), 293.

social sciences

In defense of Psychology: reading your mind?

Unfortunately, psychology is sometimes associated with mind-reading or fortune-telling. However as a psych student I’m still waiting for the part of the curriculum that contains courses on how to successfully read your mind and speculate on your future. These kinds of assumptions often make it difficult to get taken seriously as a science. But I can guarantee you that psychology fits the current science paradigm, we conduct experiments and, yes, we use statistics. 

Matchbox trick
Though there are some ‘tricks’ that can make people seem like mind readers. One of the oldest is the matchbox trick. You can go ahead and write the following numbers on the white surface of a match box.


Ask people to pick a number, displayed on the match box. People are very likely to pick ‘3’.  So write a ‘3’ on the back of the matchbox, so you can show people afterward that you knew which number they were going to pick.
Now I have to disappoint you, no mind-reading goes into this ‘trick’. People behave according to patterns, and that is what psychologists want to figure out. Because it is incredibly imperative to be able to predict human behavior. Because as physical diseases are still seen as more serious, mental disorders are very real. And what is often forgotten is that physical diseases have a psychological side to them. This is due to the fact that a myriad of diseases can take a toll on our mental health as well.

But back to the ‘mind-reading’ skills. Another trick is used by people in daily lives, horoscopes. Statements made in horoscopes are great because they could be applicable to anyone. Also, the wording used is very interesting as well. Using words or phrases such as ‘could happen’ or  ‘it might be a good idea’ indicate uncertainty, your horoscope doesn’t state things that are going to happen for sure. And statements including could and might are not falsifiable, which means they cannot be seen as theories. So you can go ahead a random horoscope and it will still be applicable to you. However we get attached to the horoscope were supposedly born with, therefore we can come up with a million reasons why only our own horoscope fits. A description that can fit almost anyone is also referred to as a ‘Barnum statement’ (Forer, 1949).
The following three statements are examples of this effect:

  1. You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
  2. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
  3. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.

Most people will feel like these could accurately describe them, in fact, this has been tested in an experiment. And as it turns out, people will reason that these do apply to them.

Just like the matchbox trick there are more ways to ‘mind read’. For example, if I ask you to name a construction tool or a color, you’re more likely to say hammer and red (or blue). That is because our mind is a semantic network, it has been built up by associations. This is where priming becomes important, which can also help guess what others are thinking of. Priming is when I remind you of chairs, so now you think about chairs. The concept of chairs is now ‘activated’ in your semantic network. This could make you quicker at naming other pieces of furniture, such as tables or couches. All of these concepts are associated in our minds.

So in conclusion, no psychologists do not read your mind, people are sometimes predictable. If you’re currently receiving psychological help, or maybe a tip for the future, please tell your psychologist everything that is relevant — because they cannot read your mind.

Forer, B.R. (1949). “The fallacy of personal validation: A classroom demonstration of gullibility”(PDF). Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. American Psychological Association. 44 (1): 118–123.

social sciences

Are you a maximizer or a satisficer?

Those of you who happened to be a part of the research I conducted for my bachelor thesis, might have filled in a survey related to maximizing. This was one of the important constructs for the hypotheses I came up with. But what exactly is maximizing and what are its implications? Maximizing is the tendency of going for the best option out there. This means that you will keep looking for newer and better options, despite having already found something that is “just good enough”. Whereas someone else might adopt a satisficing strategy, using this method, you will stop looking after having found a good enough option (Misuraca & Teuscher, 2013).

If you are a consumer who is always looking for better products, even if you have already found something you like, you might be a maximizer.

Whether you adopt maximizing or satisficing strategies has implications for several cognitive abilities and perceptions.

  • First of all, Misuraca et al 2013 found in one of their experiments that maximizers and satisficers have different perceptions of time. Those who want to skim through all of the available options (maximizers), seem to underestimate the time that they spend checking out all options. Whereas satisficers overestimated their used time! In conclusion, in a decision-making task, maximizers will end up processing more information.
  • But it is also interesting to look at other constructs that might be correlated with maximizing. A team of researchers looked at regret, neuroticism, indecisiveness, avoidance, neuroticism, and life satisfaction. They found that maximizers are just as happy as satisficers! The only difference, according to them, was that maximers are more likely to experience regret (Diab, Gillespie, & Highhouse, 2008). Here you could reason that after having made a decision, maximizers will still be on the lookout for better options. Therefore the chances of experiencing regret are much greater.
  • Different research has indicated that maximizers tend to be more future orientated. Thus they might also be more likely to strive for achieving higher goals in order to create a better future for themselves. Another finding from the same study covered the hypothesis that maximizers are just better numerically. Their capacity to understand numerical information might be better because they are often involved in compromising to get the best available option (Misuraca, Teuscher, & Carmeci, 2015).
  • Chang, et al (2011) found that maximizing is related to perfectionism.
  • Another fascinating article looked at maximizers as sports fans. What they found is that maximizers identified more strongly with unsuccessful sports teams. In the article there doesn’t seem to be a clear explanation as to why this could be the case. They further explain that maximizers are more engaged with their team and buy more tickets and attend more games (Norris, Wann, & Zapalac, 2015).
  • But maximizing can also have negative implications. For example, in a World Cup betting experiment, maximizers were overconfident and worse in betting than satisficers (Schwartz, et al 2002).
  • Lai, L. (2011) found that maximizers tended to be less loyal consumers, they are more likely to switch to a different provider.

These are just a fraction of the findings on the implications of maximizing, and a lot of research still needs to be done on this decision-making strategy. From a seller’s perspective, it could be interesting to incorporate this into marketing campaigns. By ensuring maximizers that they have found the best possible option or deal, it could be easier to persuade them to buy your product. And from the perspective of a maximizer, it could be beneficial to know that you have these tendencies and are aware of where your regret is coming from when you have bought a certain product. And if there are any detrimental outcomes to adopting a maximizing strategy, mental health care practitioners should also be aware of this implications. For example, if there is a correlation between shopping addictions and/or materialism and maximizing.


Chang, E. C., Lin, N. J., Herringshaw, A. J., Sanna, L. J., Fabian, C. G., Perera, M. J., & Marchenko, V. V. (2011). Understanding the link between perfectionism and adjustment in college students: Examining the role of maximizing. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(7), 1074-1078.

Diab, D. L., Gillespie, M. A., & Highhouse, S. (2008). Are maximizers really unhappy? The measurement of maximizing tendency. Judgment and Decision Making, 3(5), 364.

Lai, L. (2011). Maximizing and customer loyalty: Are maximizers less loyal?.Judgment and Decision Making, 6(4), 307.

Misuraca, R., & Teuscher, U. (2013). Time flies when you maximize—Maximizers and satisficers perceive time differently when making decisions.Acta psychologica, 143(2), 176-180.

Misuraca, R., Teuscher, U., & Carmeci, F. A. (2015). Who are maximizers? Future oriented and highly numerate individuals. International Journal of Psychology.

Norris, J. I., Wann, D. L., & Zapalac, R. K. (2015). Sport fan maximizing: following the best team or being the best fan?. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 32(3), 157-166.

Schwartz, B., Ward, A., Monterosso, J., Lyubomirsky, S., White, K., & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Maximizing versus satisficing: happiness is a matter of choice. Journal of personality and social psychology, 83(5), 1178.

Photo by woodlywonderworks

social sciences

Policy Strategies #1 Fear Appeals

In my last posts I focused on psychological processes consumers go through, and methods companies use to sell products. Companies usually want you to actually go out and buy their products. But there might be institutions out there that want to refrain you from buying certain products. Usually these are products that are either damaging to our health or detrimental to the environment. For example in some countries the government has decided to put a higher tax on tobacco products to discourage people from buying these. But this isn’t the only strategy governments can use to decrease tobacco sales. Another strategy involves something calledfear appeals“.

You might have already been exposed to commercials on TV in which you are confronted with ex-smokers who ended up getting chronic diseases. With this type of scary imagery institutions will try to persuade you to either never start smoking or to stop smoking. This is an example of fear appeal usage. These types of messages are intended to entice feelings of fear, literally scaring you to either perform / not perform a behavior. Now you might think that this could be a great idea to decrease tobacco use in any given society. But unfortunately, depending on several factors, fear appeals can actually have opposite effects.

Say we want to target smokers, and we want them to stop. So we come up with a super creepy commercial that includes all the horrendous consequences of smoking. Will smokers stop after seeing our incredibly spooky message? Probably not. First, some psychological process might be happening within the smoker when being confronted with this message. They might be (unconsciously) thinking about their “self-efficacy“. Self-efficacy is our own measure of confidence we have in being able to perform certain behaviors. So our confidence in being able to stop smoking. For example: can I cut back from smoking 10 cigarettes a day to ‘only’ smoking 5? But then there is also “response efficacy“. This is whether we have confidence in the fact that we can avoid all the threats listed in the persuasion message by stopping with smoking. So if I stop smoking, will I decrease the chances of getting a lung disease? (Witte & Allen, 2000).

Ruiter, Kessels, Peters and Kok (2014) wrote an extensive article about the use of fear appeals. In their article they describe that up until now, not much evidence exists for the successful use of  these kinds of appeals. People tend to display defense mechanisms when being exposed to fearful consequences of their maladaptive behaviors. Maybe you have heard a smoker say something along the lines of “my grandma was a chain smoker her whole life and died at 96!”. So using these types of anecdotes to justify not having to quit.

Instead of just focusing on fear, Morales, Wu, and Fitzsimons (2012) added disgusting imagery to their appeals in order to persuade people into avoid performing certain behaviors. One of their studies focused on getting students to understand the negative effects of drugs. By using very disgusting visuals, the researchers managed to persuade students to refrain from using drugs.
To my knowledge, the participants of this study weren’t drugs users. So including disgust in fear appeals might help persuade those who aren’t performing certain behaviors yet.

In Norway they held a mass media campaign using fear appeals to persuade people to stop smoking. And researchers looked at actual smokers and the short term effects of this campaign. It turns out that actual smoking behaviors were not affected, but people did experience a small increase in the motivation to quit (Halkjelsvik, Lund, Kraft, & Rise, 2013).

But if fear appeals don’t work, how can we get people to stop? Bader, Boisclair, and Ferrence (2011) found that taxation might be the answer. This type of policy seems to work among young people and those with low socio-economic status. But it doesn’t have much effect on heavy or long-term smokers or those with substance abuse disorders. Therefore this could be a good method to help youth to not invest in cigarettes and possibly a life-long addiction.

Even though fear appeals don’t seem to be enough to get people to stop smoking, it might still have beneficial consequences. Fear appeals alone are probably not enough to even refrain people from ever starting to smoke. But countries who invest a lot time and money in tobacco control, can help to maintain the amount of smokers.These measures might be, for example, taxing tobacco products, limiting tobacco sales, and prohibition of smoking in public places. Statistics show us that countries with high tobacco control are better at maintaining tobacco sales (Whoint, 2016). And big tobacco companies will in turn focus on low tobacco control countries and will settle in these regions. The negative effects of tobacco use on human health has been long known, now it’s just a matter of time before we can enjoy a cigarette free world.


Bader, P., Boisclair, D., & Ferrence, R. (2011). Effects of tobacco taxation and pricing on smoking behavior in high risk populations: a knowledge synthesis. International journal of environmental research and public health,8(11), 4118-4139.

Halkjelsvik, T., Lund, K. E., Kraft, P., & Rise, J. (2013). Fear appeals in advanced tobacco control environments: the impact of a National Mass Media Campaign in Norway. Health education research, 28(5), 888-897.

Morales, A. C., Wu, E. C., & Fitzsimons, G. J. (2012). How disgust enhances the effectiveness of fear appeals. Journal of Marketing Research,49(3), 383-393.

Ruiter, R. A., Kessels, L. T., Peters, G. J. Y., & Kok, G. (2014). Sixty years of fear appeal research: Current state of the evidence. International journal of psychology, 49(2), 63-70.

Whoint. (2016). WHO Western Pacific Region. Retrieved 8 March, 2016, from

Witte, K., & Allen, M. (2000). A meta-analysis of fear appeals: Implications for effective public health campaigns. Health education & behavior, 27(5), 591-615.

Photo by Amanda Mills

social sciences

Prospect theory #1 Buy my products!

Most of us are gonna have to make a myriad of financial decisions in our life times. We often presume that people are rational, and that people would make choices using their rationality. But, there seem to be some patterns in our behavior that are quite far from rational. A very interesting theory looks at how we perceive losses and gains, this is called the prospect theory. 

We often take risks when deciding to spend or to not. We can choose to get a loan, buy a lottery ticket, or buy a very expensive TV (instead of paying our monthly bills). But, all in all, people seem to be loss averse. This means we will try anything to avoid losing money. Though, losses hurt us more than gains bring us joy. So losing 100 euros is more painful than getting 100 euros were to make us happy. This finding is part of the prospect theory that was formulated by Kahneman and Tversky (Barberis, 2012).

The part were it gets especially interesting is when we start framing different scenarios. Framing is a psychological effect, people will make a decisions based on how a certain message is presented. This is an example from Kahneman and Tversky’s (2000) book:

  • Decision 1: Choose between
    • A. sure gain of $240
    • B. 25% chance to gain $1,000 and 75% chance to gain nothing
  • Decision 2: Choose between
    • C. sure loss of $750
    • D. 75% chance to lose $1,000 and 25% chance to lose nothing

In the first decision scenario, the majority of people seem to choose option ‘A’. But in the second decision scenario, people are more likely to go for option ‘D’. In the second scenario, there is a chance to avoid a big loss, so people are willing to gamble to possibly lose nothing.

With the existence of the internet, it has become so much easier to buy and sell goods. Even for us, consumers, it’s possible to sell our own things, on websites like Ebay. Loss aversion has implications for buying and selling situations. Often when we try to sell stuff that we’ve owned, we demand a higher prices than buyers would be willing to pay. This is called the endowment effect. And loss aversion can explain why there is a gap between the price people are willing to pay for a product, and the price people are willing to accept for their product (Morewedge & Giblin, 2015).
People who are selling are at risk of losing something, and they might want to compensate for this. They are the ones that go from owning something to possible losing something. Whereas a buyer doesn’t lose anything.
In sum, according to the prospect theory, losing money or products hurts us. So think twice before betting / gambling your money away!


Barberis, N. C. (2012). Thirty years of prospect theory in economics: A review and assessment (No. w18621). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (2000). Choices, values, and frames. Cambridge University Press.

Morewedge, C. K., & Giblin, C. E. (2015). Explanations of the endowment effect: an integrative review. Trends in cognitive sciences, 19(6), 339-348.

Photo by Avji

social sciences

Producer’s influence #1 Priming

You might have heard about it before, subliminal priming. You’re in the movie theater, and for some reason, randomly in the middle of the movie you get this uncontrollable, unexplainable craving for some Cola and popcorn.  They primed you! They flashed the words ‘Hungry? Eat popcorn!’ in the middle of the movie! But the duration of this was so incredibly short that you couldn’t even consciously register the secret message. And guess what happened next? The popcorn and cola sales at the movie theater went up! (O’Barr, 2013).

Sorry. That wasn’t actually true. It was something Mr Vicary in claimed all the way back in 1957. We know now that it’s actually not that easy to secretly trick people into buying things.
Sadly, priming is not that exciting. It works a bit differently, for example, if you see the word ‘spoon’, you will be faster at recognizing words like: ‘fork, knife, plate, cup’. Because those words are all linked together in a semantic network in your brain, and once you are confronted with ‘spoon’, other words will also be activated (Ratcliff, & McKoon, 1988).

Holland and Hendriks  (2005) conducted an interesting experiment on this topic, where they looked at the link between priming and behavioral outcomes. Participants were placed behind a desk and had to fill in a survey, while they were given a biscuit. They were asked to eat this biscuit, which would cause a lot of crumbs to fall down on the desk. And unbeknownst to the participants, a bucket with water mixed with a cleaning product was placed in the same room. The experimenters looked at whether the participants would dust off the desk or not. Of course, they also looked at a different group of participants, this group was not exposed to the cleaning product scent. The participants who were placed in the clean smelling room were more likely to dust off their desk, as opposed to those who were not.

So when can we actually manipulate consumers’ behavioral outcomes? We have already found out that subliminal messaging, as suggested by Vicary, does not work in real life. But actual experimenters have found effects in this department. But! Apparently it should be possible to flash people with subliminal messages, and get them to perform behaviors…. but only if they already had this intention. Strahan, Spencer, and Zanna (2002) found that those who were already thirsty were more likely to drink after being primed on thirst-related words. This is compared to those who were also thirsty and primed with neutral words and those who weren’t thirsty but also primed with thirst-related or neutral words. So in conclusion, when you already have a goal (to drink when your thirsty), and you’re primed, your more likely to go out and achieve this goal. So only those who have an objective can be successfully influenced.

But there is more to subliminal messages than just quick flashes of commands ordering you to get popcorn. There is a new method that many movies and TV series happen to use nowadays. It’s called product placement. This is a form of advertising. A famous Dutch TV drama, called Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden, likes to include this in their episodes. For example, a yogurt brand will pay a sum of money so that the TV show will have your favorite characters eat this particular type of yogurt. Or, Korean dramas will coincidentally have all characters carry around the same type of phone. Chances are that a smartphone company has payed for product placement.
Liang, Hsiao, and Cheng,  (2015) found that urban romantic dramas (compared to mafia dramas) reflect our daily lives more, and therefore a higher placement effect will be created. Being able to identify with the characters’ lives will also increase this effect. So if you really like a specific character and you can identify with their life, you might end up buying the same popcorn that they were eating in that one episode.


Holland, R. W., Hendriks, M., & Aarts, H. (2005). Smells Like Clean Spirit Nonconscious Effects of Scent on Cognition and Behavior. Psychological Science, 16(9), 689-693.

Liang, A. R. D., Hsiao, T. Y., & Cheng, C. H. (2015). The Effects of Product Placement and Television Drama Types on the Consumer Responses of College Students. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 20(11), 1212-1233.

O’Barr, W. M. (2013). ” Subliminal” Advertising. Advertising & Society Review, 13(4).

Ratcliff, R., & McKoon, G. (1988). A retrieval theory of priming in memory.Psychological review, 95(3), 385.

Strahan, E. J., Spencer, S. J., & Zanna, M. P. (2002). Subliminal priming and persuasion: Striking while the iron is hot. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38(6), 556-568.

Photo by Ricardo Benardo