Greed, not generosity, more likely to be ‘paid forward’

December 17, 2012

Paying it forward – a popular expression for extending generosity to others after someone has been generous to you – is a heartwarming concept, but it is less common than repaying greed with greed, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“The idea of paying it forward is this cascade of goodwill will turn into a utopia with everyone helping everyone,” said lead researcher Kurt Gray, PhD. “Unfortunately, greed or looking out for ourselves is more powerful than true acts of generosity.”

The study, published online in APA’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, is the first systematic investigation of paying forward generosity, equality or greed, according to the authors.

“The bulk of the scientific research on this concept has focused on good behavior, and we wondered what would happen when you looked at the entire gamut of human behaviors,” said Gray, an assistant professor of social psychology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who conducted the study with researchers at Harvard University.

In five experiments involving money or work, participants who received an act of generosity didn’t pay generosity forward any more than those who had been treated equally. But participants who had been the victims of greed were more likely to pay greed forward to a future recipient, creating a negative chain reaction. Women and men showed the same levels of generosity and greed in the study.

In one experiment, researchers recruited 100 people from subway stations and tourist areas in Cambridge, Mass., to play an economic game. They told participants that someone had split $6 with them and then gave them an envelope that contained the entire $6 for a generous split, $3 for an equal split, or nothing for a greedy split. The participants then received an additional $6 that they could split in another envelope with a future recipient, essentially paying it forward.

Receiving a generous split didn’t prompt any greater generosity than receiving equal treatment, but people who received nothing in the first envelope were more likely to put little or nothing in the second envelope, depriving future recipients because of the greed they had experienced. The average amount paid forward by participants who received a greedy split was $1.32, well below an equal split of $3.

The results confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that greed would prevail because negative stimuli have more powerful effects on thoughts and actions than positive stimuli. Focusing on the negative may cause unhappiness, but it makes sense as an evolutionary survival skill, Gray said. “If there is a tiger nearby, you really have to take notice or you’ll get eaten,” he said. “If there is a beautiful sunset or delicious food, it’s not a life-or-death situation.”

The study also examined whether people would have similar reactions involving work rather than money. In one online experiment, researchers told 60 participants that four tasks needed to be completed, including two easy word association games and two boring, repetitive tasks that involved circling vowels in dense Italian text. They explained to the participants that someone had already split the work with them, leaving them the two fun tasks in a generous split, one fun task and one boring task in an equal split, or both boring tasks in a greedy split. The participants then had to complete those tasks and split an additional four tasks with a future recipient. The results were the same, with greed being paid forward more than generosity.

“We all like to think that being generous will influence others to treat someone nicely, but it doesn’t automatically create a chain of goodwill,” said Gray. “To create chains of positive behavior, people should focus less on performing random acts of generosity and more on treating others equally – while refraining from random acts of greed.”

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Article: “Paying It Forward: Generalized Reciprocity and the Limits of Generosity,” Kurt Gray, PhD, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Adrian F. Ward, MA; and Michael I. Norton, PhD, Harvard University; Journal of Experimental Psychology: General; online Dec. 17, 2012.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and athttp://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xge-ofp-gray.pdf

Kurt Gray, PhD, can be contacted at kurtgray@unc.edu or by phone at (617) 279-3683.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 137,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.

Contact: APA Public Affairs
public.affairs@apa.org
202-336-5700
American Psychological Association

Investing in karma by doing good deeds

July 9, 2012

For so many important outcomes in life – applying for jobs, waiting for medical test results – there comes a point when you just have to sit back and hope for the best. But that doesn’t mean we always behave that way. New research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that even when an outcome is out of our control we often act as though we can still get on the good side of fate by doing good deeds.

According to lead researcher Benjamin Converse, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Psychology at the University of Virginia, the research was inspired by the kinds of deals many of us seem to make in which we promise ourselves that, if we can just make it through some trying situation, we’ll be better citizens in the future. Converse and co-authors Jane Risen and Travis Carter, both of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, wondered if these kinds of deals might be part of a more general phenomenon in which we intuitively bargain with ‘the universe,’ however we might define it.

“Everyone is familiar with the basics of reciprocity, the idea that if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We wondered if people think this way even when they aren’t dealing with another person at all, but rather with the universe,” says Converse.

The researchers hypothesized that waiting for an important, uncontrollable outcome may lead people to do good deeds with the implicit expectation that the universe will return the favor, a phenomenon they refer to as “investing in karma.”

In the first experiment, Converse and his colleagues primed some participants with thoughts of uncontrollable outcomes, asking them to write about an important, unknown outcome they were currently awaiting, while other participants just wrote about their daily routine. After the study was supposedly over, participants were asked if they wanted to donate their time to participate in additional work for the lab, the proceeds of which would go to provide food for hungry community members or wishes for terminally ill children.

Just as the researchers hypothesized, after reflecting on important, unknown outcomes – such as the results of pregnancy attempts, graduate admissions, and court proceedings (all responses given by participants in the priming condition) – people were more likely to volunteer their time to charities.

Participants in the priming condition were not more likely to volunteer their time for a second task if it was described as ‘entertaining’ and ‘fun’ rather than helpful, which suggests that their helping behavior was not related to general agreeableness, a desire for distraction, or an attempt to boost mood. These results suggest that the participants volunteered specifically as way of investing in karma.

These findings were confirmed in a second experiment, in which participants who reflected on an uncontrollable outcome were more likely to make a monetary donation than participants who thought about a controllable unresolved personal dilemma or their personal preferences in making everyday choices.

Following these studies, Converse and his co-authors wanted to see if their findings would hold up in a real-world situation. They found that job fair attendees who had been primed to think about aspects of the job hunt that were outside their control (such as whether new jobs will open up) pledged to donate more of their potential prize money to charity than those who were primed to think about aspects that are within their control (such as learning about the industry).

In their fourth experiment, the researchers wanted to extend the karmic investment hypothesis by examining possible consequences. They surmised that if people do good deeds as a bargain with the universe, they might be more optimistic about the likelihood of receiving their desired outcome.

Again, the researchers recruited job seekers and asked them to complete one of the same surveys from the previous study. They then asked participants if they wanted to complete another 1-minute survey that would add $50 to the lottery prize. This reward opportunity was designed to be so desirable that everyone would accept. For half of the participants, the extra $50 reward would benefit a charity, while the other half of participants would keep the extra reward for themselves.

Participants in the outside-control condition who had fulfilled their karmic bargain by helping charity were the most optimistic about their job prospects, suggesting that our karmic investments may pay off by boosting our optimism about uncontrollable outcomes.

The authors point out that these findings are in some ways quite counterintuitive. “You might expect that people would be more selfish when thinking about the things in life that they want, but that are beyond their control” says Converse. “But we found that this experience makes them more likely to reach out and help, at least when they are given the opportunity to do so.”

The researchers believe that investing in karma may be a positive way for us to cope with the otherwise unpleasant experience of just sitting around and waiting. “Even if people don’t actually believe in karma, they may still have an intuitive sense that good things happen to good people. If that intuition moves us to donate to a good cause and makes us a little more optimistic in the meantime, that seems like a good thing,” they conclude.

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For more information about this study, please contact: Benjamin A. Converse at converse@virginia.edu.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article “Investing in Karma: When Wanting Promotes Helping” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.

Contact: Anna Mikulak
amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science

Religion is a potent force for cooperation and conflict, research shows

May 17, 2012

Across history and cultures, religion increases trust within groups but also may increase conflict with other groups, according to an article in a special issue of Science.

“Moralizing gods, emerging over the last few millennia, have enabled large-scale cooperation and sociopolitical conquest even without war,” says University of Michigan anthropologist Scott Atran, lead author of the article with Jeremy Ginges of the New School for Social Research.

“Sacred values sustain intractable conflicts like those between the Israelis and the Palestinians that defy rational, business-like negotiation. But they also provide surprising opportunities for resolution.”

As evidence for their claim that religion increases trust within groups but may increase conflict with other groups, Atran and Ginges cite a number of studies among different populations. These include cross-cultural surveys and experiments in dozens of societies showing that people who participate most in collective religious rituals are more likely to cooperate with others, and that groups most intensely involved in conflict have the costliest and most physically demanding rituals to galvanize group solidarity in common defense and blind group members to exit strategies. Secular social contracts are more prone to defection, they argue. Their research also indicates that participation in collective religious ritual increases parochial altruism and, in relevant contexts, support for suicide attacks.

They also identify what they call the “backfire effect,” which dooms many efforts to broker peace. In many studies that Atran and Ginges carried out with colleagues in Palestine, Israel, Iran, India, Indonesia and Afghanistan, they found that offers of money or other material incentives to compromise sacred values increased anger and opposition to a deal.

“In a 2010 study, Iranians who regarded Iran’s right to a nuclear program as a sacred value more violently opposed sacrificing Iran’s nuclear program for conflict-resolution deals involving substantial economic aid, or relaxation of sanctions, than the same deals without aid or sanctions,” they write. “In a 2005 study in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian refugees who held their ‘right of return’ to former homes in Israel as a sacred value more violently opposed abandoning this right for a Palestinian state plus substantial economic aid than the same peace deal without aid.”

This dynamic is behind the paradoxical reality that the world finds itself in today: “Modern multiculturalism and global exposure to multifarious values is increasingly challenged by fundamentalist movements to revive primary group loyalties through greater ritual commitments to ideological purity.”

But Atran and Ginges also offer some insights that could help to solve conflicts fueled by religious conviction. Casting these conflicts as sacred initially blocks standard business-like negotiation tactics. But making strong symbolic gestures such as sincere apologies and demonstrations of respect for the other’s values generates surprising flexibility, even among militants and political leaders, and may enable subsequent material negotiations, they point out.

“In an age where religious and sacred causes are resurgent, there is urgent need for joint scientific effort to understand them,” they conclude. “In-depth ethnography, combined with cognitive and behavioral experiments among diverse societies (including those lacking a world religion), can help identify and isolate the moral imperatives for decisions on war or peace.”

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Atran is also affiliated with Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique−Institut Jean Nicod, Paris, and with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.

Established in 1949, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) is the world’s largest academic social science survey and research organization, and a world leader in developing and applying social science methodology, and in educating researchers and students from around the world. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, the American National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world’s largest digital social science data archive. Visit the ISR Web site at http://www.isr.umich.edu for more information.

Contact: Diane Swanbrow
swanbrow@umich.edu
734-647-9069
University of Michigan

Legislation to ban burqa is liberal overkill, researchers claim

May 14, 2012

Banning and criminalising the Muslim face veil tests the very foundations of modern liberal society, warn researchers from Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Sussex.

The paper ‘Reasons to Ban? The Anti-Burqa Movement in Western Europe’ examines the move to legislate against, and to criminalise face-veiling which has swept across the EU recently.

The European movement against face-veiling is now widespread, with calls to implement a ban, or a ban being in place, in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Germany.

This move from country to country makes it seem like a form of “political Swine Flu”, suggests the paper’s authors, Prakash Shah, Senior Lecturer at the School of Law, QM and Ralph Grillo, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at Sussex.

Face-veiling is capable of multiple interpretations, by those who wear it and those who do not, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Dr Shah explains: “While some claim that face-veiling is a customary rather than religious practice, others condemn it as an instance of ‘quintessential radical Islam’ – a Western extreme interpretation of Islam and Muslim practice.”

The current rush to legislate, the academics note, is set in the context of a ‘backlash’ against multiculturalism that has been developing across Europe. In France and other countries, security, identification and order have been central to legislative debates since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Despite less than one per cent of Muslim women wearing the burqa or niqab in the West, critics also argue that the veil impedes societal integration and breeds ‘dangers inherent in self-enclosed communities’. It is seen as a symbol of the failure of the Muslim women who wear the veil to visibly declare their loyalty to the nation-state where they reside.

In Britain, and other countries too, multicultural ‘diversity’ is officially welcomed, but not when interpreted as ‘difference’. “Difference”, explains Dr Shah, “is identified as beliefs and practices which contravene principles of liberal democracy that underpin governance in much of Europe.”

Dr Shah says: “What was previously thought tolerable has now become unacceptable, and moreover, subject to the law. The legislation which has criminalised face-veiling has clearly originated with the belief, that face-veiling does not fit with European society, culture and values, and has all manner of disagreeable if not downright dangerous implications, especially for women.”

Face-veiling signifies an unwelcome racial or cultural presence, making it impossible for Muslims to be treated as ‘European’ unless they adopt ‘European’ sartorial practice.

“Face-veiling is one of those issues, like public prayers or arranged marriages, affected by a ‘repressive’ liberalism of the kind advocated by numerous European leaders, including Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron, often with racist undertones.

“The educative role of law is brought to bear upon ethnic and religious minorities in an effort to instruct, by force if necessary, the values of liberalism,” warns Professor Grillo.

It is also clear that many opponents sincerely believe that whether a religious or cultural symbol, face veiling is a non-liberal practice that penalises and subordinates women.

If women claim that they are not coerced into face-veiling but do so because it accords with their faith, then it is countered by saying, they have been ‘brainwashed’, notes the research.

“Freeing women from what is believed to be their submission to a patriarchal society, overrides their freedom to choose and express their religious beliefs. Anti-face-veiling discourse operates like a closed system, impervious to argument,” says Professor Grillo.

Criminalisation, the researchers argue, should always be a last resort, not least when it may harm those it is supposed to assist, for example, forcing women who voluntarily adopt the face-veil to disappear from public life.

“Legislators have sought to impose a particular narrative of the face-veil, and it is unfortunate that they have taken it upon themselves to declare a position strongly against face-veiling based on a number of narrow grounds. Leaning on the law stifles what might otherwise be a ‘natural’ dialogue among Muslims and non-Muslims, about the veil’s significance and future in Europe,” Dr Shah concludes.

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The full paper, ‘Reasons to Ban? The Anti-Burqa Movement in Western Europe’, is accessible, via: http://www.mmg.mpg.de/publications/working-papers/2012/wp-12-05/

Contact: Emma Lowry
e.lowry@qmul.ac.uk
44-207-882-5378
Queen Mary, University of London

Self-worth needs to go beyond appearance

May 9, 2012

Women with high family support and limited pressure to achieve the ‘thin and beautiful’ ideal have a more positive body image. That’s according to a new study looking at five factors that may help young women to be more positive about their bodies, in the context of a society where discontent with appearance is common among women. The work by Dr. Shannon Snapp, from the University of Arizona in the US, and colleagues is published online in Springer’s journal, Sex Roles.

Many women in contemporary Western cultures are dissatisfied with their bodies, a risk factor for eating problems. Snapp and team examined factors that make women more resilient when it comes to their body image, in a bid to help those women at risk of eating disorders. They focussed on young college women who are likely to experience self-consciousness as they compare themselves with peers and become involved in social groups and organizations that place a high value on appearance.

A total of 301 first-year college women, from two universities in the US, completed questionnaires based on the Choate theoretical model. This model hypothesizes that family support and low levels of pressure to attain the thin ideal are related to the rejection of the superwoman ideal, positive views of physical competence, and effective stress-busting strategies. These factors are associated with well-being, which in turn is linked to positive body image in women. The researchers put this model to the test in a ‘real life’ situation.

They found that young women with high family support and low levels of perceived socio-cultural pressure from family, friends and the media regarding the importance of achieving a ‘thin and beautiful’ ideal had a more positive body image. These same women also rejected the superwoman ideal, had a positive physical self-concept, and were armed with skills to deal with stress.

Practical recommendations for prevention programs aimed at young women at risk of eating disorders include helping women to evaluate and become comfortable with the multiple and often contradictory expectations placed upon them in today’s society; teaching them to use effective coping skills; fostering a positive view of their physical competence through exercise and health; and promoting holistic well-being and balance in their lives.

The authors conclude: “It is particularly important for women to develop a sense of self-worth that is not solely based on appearance, and to build resilience to pressures they may receive from family, friends and the media.”

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Reference

Snapp S et al (2012). A body image resilience model for first-year college women. Sex Roles; 10.1007/s11199-012-0163-1

Contact: Joan Robinson
joan.robinson@springer.com
49-622-148-78130
Springer

The bright side of death: Awareness of mortality can result in positive behaviors

April 30, 2012

Contemplating death doesn’t necessarily lead to morose despondency, fear, aggression or other negative behaviors, as previous research has suggested. Following a review of dozens of studies, University of Missouri researchers found that thoughts of mortality can lead to decreased militaristic attitudes, better health decisions, increased altruism and helpfulness, and reduced divorce rates.

“According to terror management theory, people deal with their awareness of mortality by upholding cultural beliefs and seeking to become part of something larger and more enduring than themselves, such as nations or religions,” said Jamie Arndt, study co-author and professor of psychological sciences. “Depending on how that manifests itself, positive outcomes can be the result.”

For example, in one study American test subjects were reminded of death or a control topic and then either imagined a local catastrophe or were reminded of the global threat of climate change. Their militaristic attitudes toward Iran were then evaluated. After being reminded of death, people who were reminded of climate change were more likely to express lower levels of militarism than those who imagined a local disaster.

“The differences seen in this study resulted from the size of the group with which the test subjects identified,” said Ken Vail, lead author and psychology doctoral student. “In both cases, they responded to the awareness of mortality by seeking to protect the relevant groups. When the threat was localized, subjects aggressively defended their local group; but when the threat was globalized, subjects associated themselves with humanity as a whole and became more peaceful and cooperative.”

After real catastrophes, such as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing, people’s heightened fear and awareness of death had both positive and negative effects.

“Both the news media and researchers tended to focus on the negative reaction to these acts of terrorism, such as violence and discrimination against Muslims, but studies also found that people expressed higher degrees of gratitude, hope, kindness and leadership after 9/11.” Vail said. “In another example, after the Oklahoma City bombing, divorce rates went down in surrounding counties. After some stimuli escalates one’s awareness of death, the positive reaction is to try to reaffirm that the world has positive aspects as well.”

In their personal lives, people also were influenced to make positive choices after their awareness of death was increased. Studies found that conscious thoughts of death can inspire intentions to exercise more. Other studies found that keeping mortality in mind can reduce smoking and increase sunscreen use.

Even subconscious awareness of death can more influenced behavior. In one experiment, passers-by who had recently overheard conversations mentioning the value of helping were more likely to help strangers if they were walking within sight of cemeteries.

“Once we started developing this study we were surprised how much research showed positive outcomes from awareness of mortality,” said Arndt. “It seems that people may be just as capable of doing the opposite and ‘looking on the bright side of death,’ as the Monty Python song says.”

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The paper “When Death is Good for Life: Considering the Positive Trajectories of Terror Management” was published online on April 5, 2012, in Personality and Social Psychology Review, a journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP).

Contact: Timothy Wall
walltj@missouri.edu
573-882-3346
University of Missouri-Columbia

New H5N1 viruses: How to balance risk of escape with benefits of research?

March 6, 2012

In the controversy surrounding the newly developed strains of avian H5N1 flu viruses, scientists and policy makers are struggling with one question in particular: what level of biosafety is best for studying these potentially lethal strains of influenza? In a pair of commentaries, researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and the University of Michigan argue their different views of how to safely handle H5N1 flu viruses. The commentaries will be published in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, on Tuesday, March 6.

This fall, the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) set off a debate when it asked the authors of two recent H5N1 research studies and the scientific journals that planned to publish them to withhold crucial details of the research in the interest of biosecurity. The researchers had taken H5N1, a virus that cannot easily transmit from human to human, and developed strains of the virus that can transmit easily between ferrets, which are a common model for human influenza.

These H5N1 strains and others like them that might be developed in the future could pose a grave threat to human life, but researchers and others argue that studying these H5N1 strains could help bolster preparedness efforts and vaccine development to help fend off a potential H5N1 pandemic. How can we balance the need to protect human life from the accidental escape of an H5N1 strain with the need to continue research that might prevent a naturally occurring outbreak? Which biosafety level (BSL) is right for the H5N1 virus?

In the commentaries appearing in mBio, two experts offer opposing views of the appropriate level of security for dealing with H5N1 viruses. The authors agree that, with a reported case fatality rate that could be as high as 50% or more, H5N1 could create a pandemic of disastrous proportions, but they differ in their opinions of how to strike a balance between biosecurity and potentially life-saving research.

“The existence of mammalian transmissible H5N1 immediately poses the question of whether the current biosafety level of containment is adequate,” writes mBio® Editor in Chief Arturo Casadevall in an accompanying editorial. “It is important to understand that the choice of BSL level has profound implications for society.”

Under current U.S. guidelines H5N1 is classified as a select agent and must be worked with under BSL-3 with enhancements. The BSL-3 designation is given to pathogens that can be transmitted through the air and can cause serious or fatal disease but for which treatment exists. Most facilities in the United States with infectious disease research programs have BSL-3 laboratories. In addition, many hospitals have areas that can be operated at this level; these areas are used for isolating patients with highly contagious diseases. In contrast, BSL-4 is reserved for pathogens for which there is no known treatment and BSL-4 laboratory requirements are such that there are only four working BSL-4 laboratories in the United States.

Adolfo García-Sastre of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine argues that the H5N1 viruses in question may well be less pathogenic than they were before passage through ferrets, but they could still be quite dangerous, so preventing human exposure is crucial. However, he says, the ultimate level of biosecurity, BSL-4, is excessive in this case and would stifle the pace of discovery. There are both therapeutics and vaccines available for H5N1, says García-Sastre, so he advocates for conducting the research in enhanced BSL-3 facilities, which he says offer the necessary security measures, including interlocked rooms with negative pressure, HEPA-filtered air circulation, and appropriate decontamination and/or sterilization practices for material leaving the facility.

Michael Imperiale and Michael Hanna of the University of Michigan, on the other hand, make their case that the H5N1 viruses merit BSL-4 containment. Although H5N1 that cannot be transmitted from human to human would normally be handled in a BSL-3 facility, researchers changed the virus’ biosafety profile when they enhanced its ability to transmit between mammals. According to Imperiale and Hanna, the vaccine for H5N1 is not widely available, and drug resistance and a slow distribution system for antiviral drugs mean a small outbreak could never be contained.

Since the controversy began in December, H5N1 viruses and flu research continue to be the source of much debate. mBio® and the American Society for Microbiology present these commentaries as a means of fostering a discussion and eventually achieving consensus about H5N1 biosecurity that is based on the scientific facts surrounding the subject.

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PLEASE NOTE: The articles will be available to the general public on the mBio® website after 10:00 a.m. on March 6, 2012.

mBio® is an open access online journal published by the American Society for Microbiology to make microbiology research broadly accessible. The focus of the journal is on rapid publication of cutting-edge research spanning the entire spectrum of microbiology and related fields. It can be found online at http://mbio.asm.org.

The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 39,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM’s mission is to advance the microbiological sciences as a vehicle for understanding life processes and to apply and communicate this knowledge for the improvement of health and environmental and economic well-being worldwide.

Contact: Jim Sliwa
jsliwa@asmusa.org
202-942-9297
American Society for Microbiology

Prejudices? Quite normal!

January 27, 2012

Girls are not as good at playing football as boys, and they do not have a clue about cars. Instead they know better how to dance and do not get into mischief as often as boys. Prejudices like these are cultivated from early childhood onwards by everyone. “Approximately at the age of three to four years children start to prefer children of the same sex, and later the same ethnic group or nationality,” Prof. Dr. Andreas Beelmann of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany) states. This is part of an entirely normal personality development, the director of the Institute for Psychology explains. “It only gets problematic when the more positive evaluation of the own social group, which is adopted automatically in the course of identity formation, at some point reverts into bias and discrimination against others,” Beelmann continues.

To prevent this, the Jena psychologist and his team have been working on a prevention programme for children. It is designed to reduce prejudice and to encourage tolerance for others. But when is the right time to start? Jena psychologists Dr. Tobias Raabe and Prof. Dr. Andreas Beelmann systematically summarise scientific studies on that topic and published the results of their research in the science journal Child Development (DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01668.x.).

According to this, the development of prejudice increases steadily at pre-school age and reaches its highest level between five and seven years of age. With increasing age this development is reversed and the prejudices decline. “This reflects normal cognitive development of children,” Prof. Beelmann explains. “At first they adopt the social categories from their social environment, mainly the parents. Then they start to build up their own social identity according to social groups, before they finally learn to differentiate and individual evaluations of others will prevail over stereotypes.” Therefore the psychologists reckon this age is the ideal time to start well-designed prevention programmes against prejudice. “Prevention starting at that age supports the normal course of development,” Beelmann says. As the new study and the experience of the Jena psychologists with their prevention programme so far show, the prejudices are strongly diminished at primary school age, when children get in touch with members of so-called social out groups like, for instance children of a different nationality or skin colour. “This also works when they don’t even get in touch with real people but learn it instead via books or told stories.”

But at the same time the primary school age is a critical time for prejudices to consolidate. “If there is no or only a few contact to members of social out groups, there is no personal experience to be made and generalising negative evaluations stick longer.” In this, scientists see an explanation for the particularly strong xenophobia in regions with a very low percentage of foreigners or migrants.

Moreover the Jena psychologists noticed that social ideas and prejudices are formed differently in children of social minorities. They do not have a negative attitude towards the majority to start with, more often it is even a positive one. The reason is the higher social status of the majority, which is being regarded as a role model. Only later, after having experienced discrimination, they develop prejudices, that then sticks with them much more persistently than with other children. “In this case prevention has to start earlier so it doesn’t even get that far,” Beelmann is convinced.

Generally, the psychologist of the Jena University stresses, the results of the new study don’t imply that the children’s and youths attitudes towards different social groups can’t be changed at a later age. But this would then less depend on the individual development and very much more on the social environment like for instance changing social norms in our society. Tolerance on the other hand could be encouraged at any age. The psychologists’ “prescription”: As many diverse contacts to individuals belonging to different social groups as possible. “People who can identify with many groups will be less inclined to make sweeping generalisations in the evaluation of individuals belonging to different social groups or even to discriminate against them,” Prof. Beelmann says.

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Original Publication: Raabe T, Beelmann A.: Development of ethnic, racial, and national prejudice in childhood and adolescence: A multinational meta-analysis of age differences. Child Development. 2011; 82(6):1715-37. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01668.x.

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Andreas Beelmann
Institute for Psychology
Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Humboldtstraße 26, D-07743 Jena
Germany
Phone: ++49 3641 / 945901
Email: Andreas.Beelmann@uni-jena.de

Are religious people better adjusted psychologically?

January 22, 2012

Psychological research has found that religious people feel great about themselves, with a tendency toward higher social self-esteem and better psychological adjustment than non-believers. But a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that this is only true in countries that put a high value on religion.

The researchers got their data from eDarling, a European dating site that is affiliated with eHarmony. Like eHarmony, eDarling uses a long questionnaire to match clients with potential dates. It includes a question about how important your personal religious beliefs are and questions that get at social self-esteem and how psychologically well-adjusted people are. Jochen Gebauer of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Constantine Sedikides of the University of Southampton, and Wiebke Neberich of Affinitas GmbH in Berlin, the company behind eDarling, used 187,957 people’s answers to do their analyses.

As in other studies, the researchers found that more religious people had higher social self-esteem and where psychologically better adjusted. But they suspected that the reason for this was that religious people are better in living up to their societal values in religious societies, which in turn should lead to higher social self-esteem and better psychological adjustment. The people in the study lived in 11 different European countries, ranging from Sweden, the least religious country on the planet, to devoutly Catholic Poland. They used people’s answers to figure out how religious the different countries were and then compared the countries.

On average, believers only got the psychological benefits of being religious if they lived in a country that values religiosity. In countries where most people aren’t religious, religious people didn’t have higher self-esteem. “We think you only pat yourself on the back for being religious if you live in a social system that values religiosity,” Gebauer says. So a very religious person might have high social self esteem in religious Poland, but not in non-religious Sweden.

In this study, the researchers made comparisons between different countries, but another study found a similar effect within one country, between students at religious and non-religious universities. “The same might be true when you compare different states in the U.S. or different cities,” Gebauer says. “Probably you could mimic the same result in Germany, if you compare Bavaria where many people are religious and Berlin where very few people are religious.”

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For more information about this study, please contact: Jochen E. Gebauer at mail@JochenGebauer.info.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article “Religiosity, Social Self-Esteem, and Psychological Adjustment: On the Cross- Cultural Specificity of the Psychological Benefits of Religiosity” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Divya Menon at 202-293-9300 or dmenon@psychologicalscience.org.

Contact: Divya Menon
dmenon@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300

Emotional news framing affects public response to crises

January 14, 2012

When organizational crises occur, such as plane crashes or automobile recalls, public relations practitioners develop strategies for substantive action and effective communication. Now, University of Missouri researchers have found that the way in which news coverage of a crisis is framed affects the public’s emotional response toward the company involved.

Glen Cameron, the Maxine Wilson Gregory Chair in Journalism Research and professor of strategic communication at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, along with Hyo Kim of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, studied the reactions of news readers when exposed to a story about a crisis. One group read an “anger-frame” story that blamed the organization for the crisis. Another group read a “sadness-frame” story that focused on the victims and how they were hurt by the crisis. Cameron and Kim found that those who read the “anger-frame” story read the news less closely and had more negative attitudes toward the company than those exposed to the “sadness-frame” story.

“The distinct emotions induced by different news frames influenced individuals’ information processing and how they evaluated the corporation,” Cameron said.

Cameron and Kim also found that a corporate response to a crisis that focuses on the relief and wellbeing of the victims tends to improve the public’s perceptions of the corporation as compared to the message focusing on the law, justice, and punishment. This was the case regardless of how the initial news was framed (i.e., anger vs. sadness). Cameron says these findings illustrate the importance of controlling the message during a crisis.

“It is important for corporations to put on a human face during crises,” Cameron said. “If a corporation can focus on the well-being of the victims and how the corporation will improve following the crisis, they have a better chance of influencing “sadness-frame” news coverage as opposed to “anger-frame” coverage. If the news coverage remains “sadness-framed,” public perception will stay more positive.”

Cameron says this research is important, not to help corporations shirk responsibility, but rather to handle crisis situations in the best way possible.

“Crises are going to happen,” Cameron said. “Unfortunately, planes will crash and there will be oil spills. This study helps to show how the public will react to different types of news coverage of crises, and subsequently, what the best ways are for corporations to handle any crises they may encounter.

This study was published in Communications Research.

Contact: Nathan Hurst
hurstn@missouri.edu
573-882-6217
University of Missouri-Columbia

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