Kevin Lewis

October 06, 2010

The Importance of Being an Optimist: Evidence from Labor Markets

Ron Kaniel, Cade Massey & David Robinson
NBER Working Paper, September 2010

Dispositional optimism is a personality trait associated with individuals who believe, either rightly or wrongly, that in general good things tend to happen to them more often than bad things. Using a novel longitudinal data set that tracks the job search performance of MBA students, we show that dispositional optimists experience significantly better job search outcomes than pessimists with similar skills. During the job search process, they spend less effort searching and are offered jobs more quickly. They are choosier and are more likely to be promoted than others. Although we find optimists are more charismatic and are perceived by others to be more likely to succeed, these factors alone do not explain away the findings. Most of the effect of optimism on economic outcomes stems from the part that is not readily observed by one's peers.


Sex, Anger and Depression

Robin Simon & Kathryn Lively
Social Forces, June 2010, Pages 1543-1568

A social problem that has preoccupied sociologists of gender and mental health is the higher rate of depression found among women. Although a number of hypotheses about this health disparity between men and women have been advanced, none consider the importance of subjectively experienced anger. Drawing on theoretical and empirical insights from the sociology of emotion, we hypothesize that: (1. intense and persistent anger are associated with more symptoms of depression, and (2. sex differences in the intensity and persistence of anger are involved in the sex difference in depressed affect. Analyses of data from the 1996 GSS Emotions Module provide support for these two hypotheses and strongly suggest that women's intense and persistent anger play a pivotal role in their high rate of depression. We discuss the extent to which sex differences in these emotions are a function of social factors, biological factors, or a complex interaction between them. We also comment on the implications of our findings for future theory and research on gender, emotion and mental health.


Emotion control values and responding to an anger provocation in Asian-American and European-American individuals

Iris Mauss, Emily Butler, Nicole Roberts & Ann Chu
Cognition & Emotion, September 2010, Pages 1026-1043

The present research examined whether Asian-American (AA) versus European-American (EA) women differed in experiential, expressive, or autonomic physiological responding to a laboratory anger provocation and assessed the mediating role of values about emotional control. Results indicate that AA participants reported and behaviourally displayed less anger than EA participants, while there were no group differences in physiological responses. Observed differences in emotional responses were partially mediated by emotion control values, suggesting a potential mechanism for effects of cultural background on anger responding.


Facing Freeze: Social Threat Induces Bodily Freeze in Humans

Karin Roelofs, Muriel Hagenaars & John Stins
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Freezing is a common defensive response in animals threatened by predators. It is characterized by reduced body motion and decreased heart rate (bradycardia). However, despite the relevance of animal defense models in human stress research, studies have not shown whether social threat cues elicit similar freeze-like responses in humans. We investigated body sway and heart rate in 50 female participants while they were standing on a stabilometric force platform and viewing cues that were socially threatening, socially neutral, and socially affiliative (angry, neutral, and happy faces, respectively). Posturographic analyses showed that angry faces (compared with neutral faces and happy faces) induced significant reductions in body sway. In addition, the reduced body sway for angry faces was accompanied by bradycardia and correlated significantly with subjective anxiety. Together, these findings indicate that spontaneous body responses to social threat cues involve freeze-like behavior in humans that mimics animal freeze responses. These findings open avenues for studying human freeze responses in relation to various sociobiological markers and social-affective disorders.


Procrastination of Enjoyable Experiences

Suzanne Shu & Ayelet Gneezy
Journal of Marketing Research, October 2010, Pages 933-944

The tendency to procrastinate applies not only to aversive tasks but also to positive experiences with immediate benefits. The authors propose that models of time discounting can explain this behavior, and they test these predictions with field data and experiments. A multicity study shows that people with unlimited time windows delay visiting desirable landmarks; however, procrastination is reduced when the window of opportunity is constrained. Similarly, people procrastinate in redeeming gift certificates and gift cards with long deadlines more than those with short deadlines, resulting in overall lower redemption rates. These results run counter to participants' predictions and typical models of impulsive behavior.


Mother's affection at 8 months predicts emotional distress in adulthood

J. Maselko, L. Kubzansky, L. Lipsitt & S.L. Buka
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, forthcoming

Background: Long-standing theory suggests that quality of the mother's (or primary caregiver's) interaction with a child is a key determinant of the child's subsequent resilience or vulnerability and has implications for health in adulthood. However, there is a dearth of longitudinal data with both objective assessments of nurturing behaviour during infancy and sustained follow-up ascertaining the quality of adult functioning.

Methods: We used data from the Providence, Rhode Island birth cohort of the National Collaborative Perinatal Project (mean age 34 at follow-up, final N=482) to conduct a prospective study of the association between objectively measured affective quality of the mother-infant interaction and adult mental health. Infant-mother interaction quality was rated by an observer when infants were 8 months old, and adult emotional functioning was assessed from the Symptom Checklist-90, capturing both specific and general types of distress.

Results: High levels of maternal affection at 8 months were associated with significantly lower levels of distress in adult offspring (1/2 standard deviation; b=-4.76, se=1.7, p<0.01). The strongest association was with the anxiety subscale. Mother's affection did not seem to be on the pathway between lower parental SES and offspring distress.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that early nurturing and warmth have long-lasting positive effects on mental health well into adulthood.


No fear no risk! Human risk behavior is affected by chemosensory anxiety signals

Katrin Haegler et al.
Neuropsychologia, forthcoming

An important aspect of cognitive functioning is decision-making, which depends on the correct interpretation of emotional processes. High trait anxiety has been associated with increased risk taking behavior in decision-making tasks. An interesting fact is that anxiety and anxiety-related chemosignals as well as decision-making share similar regions of neuronal activation. In order to ascertain if chemosensory anxiety signals have similar effects on risk taking behavior of healthy participants as high trait anxiety we used a novel computerized decision-making task, called Haegler's Risk Game (HRG). This task measures risk taking behavior based on contingencies and can be played repeatedly without a learning effect. To obtain chemosensory signals the sweat of 21 male donors was collected in a high rope course (anxiety condition). For the chemosensory control condition sweat was collected during an ergometer workout (exercise condition). In a double-blind study, 30 healthy recipients (16 females) had to play HRG while being exposed to sweat samples or empty control samples (control condition) in three sessions of randomized order. Comparison of the risk taking behavior of the three conditions showed significantly higher risk taking behavior in participants for the most risky choices during the anxiety condition compared to the control conditions. Additionally, recipients showed significantly higher latency before making their decision in the most risky choices during the anxiety condition. This experiment gives evidence that chemosensory anxiety signals are communicated between humans thereby increasing participants' risk taking behavior.


Why don't we learn to accurately forecast feelings? How misremembering our predictions blinds us to past forecasting errors

Tom Meyvis, Rebecca Ratner & Jonathan Levav
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming

Why do affective forecasting errors persist in the face of repeated disconfirming evidence? Five studies demonstrate that people misremember their forecasts as consistent with their experience and thus fail to perceive the extent of their forecasting error. As a result, people do not learn from past forecasting errors and fail to adjust subsequent forecasts. In the context of a Super Bowl loss (Study 1), a presidential election (Studies 2 and 3), an important purchase (Study 4), and the consumption of candies (Study 5), individuals mispredicted their affective reactions to these experiences and subsequently misremembered their predictions as more accurate than they actually had been. The findings indicate that this recall error results from people's tendency to anchor on their current affective state when trying to recall their affective forecasts. Further, those who showed larger recall errors were less likely to learn to adjust their subsequent forecasts and reminding people of their actual forecasts enhanced learning. These results suggest that a failure to accurately recall one's past predictions contributes to the perpetuation of forecasting errors.


Now That I'm Sad, It's Hard to Be Mad: The Role of Cognitive Appraisals in Emotional Blunting

Karen Page Winterich, Seunghee Han & Jennifer Lerner
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

People often encounter one emotion-triggering event after another. To examine how an emotion experience affects those that follow, the current article draws on the appraisal-tendency framework and cognitive appraisal theories of emotion. The emotional blunting hypothesis predicts that a specific emotion can carry over to blunt the experience of a subsequent emotion when defined by contrasting appraisal tendencies. Results support the hypothesis: Inducing sadness blunted subsequent anger (Studies 1 and 2), and inducing anger blunted subsequent sadness (Study 2). Situational (human) agency appraisals mediated the effect of anger (sadness) on subsequent sadness (anger) elicitation (Study 2). Priming agency appraisals (Study 3) also moderated results. Finally, the effect of emotional blunting carried over to cognitive outcomes in each of the three studies. Together, the results reveal the importance of examining the sequence of emotional experiences. Implications for emotion and judgment in applied settings (e.g., the courtroom) are discussed.


Self-esteem and autonomic physiology: Self-esteem levels predict cardiac vagal tone

Andy Martens, Jeff Greenberg, John Allen, Joseph Hayes, Jeff Schimel & Michael Johns
Journal of Research in Personality, October 2010, Pages 573-584

Four studies examined the relationship between self-esteem and cardiac vagal tone (level of influence of the parasympathetic nervous system on the heart), a variable with health implications for heart disease and auto-immune disorders. Building on evidence that self-esteem provides a sense of security and that a sense of security affects cardiac vagal tone, we theorize that self-esteem should impact cardiac vagal tone. Two experiments showed that positive self-esteem relevant feedback increases cardiac vagal tone relative to negative feedback. Two correlational studies showed that higher self-esteem measured daily over the course of 2 weeks predicted higher resting cardiac vagal tone. Theoretical and physical health implications are discussed.


The effect of humorous instructional materials on interest in a math task

Kristina Matarazzo, Amanda Durik & Molly Delaney
Motivation and Emotion, September 2010, Pages 293-305

Two studies tested the effect of humor, embedded in learning materials, on task interest. College student participants (N Study 1 = 359, N Study 2 = 172) learned a new math technique with the presence or absence of humor in the learning program and/or test instructions. Individual interest in math was measured initially and also tested as a factor. The results showed that the effect of humor in the learning program depended on individual interest in math. Humor raised task interest for those with low individual interest in math but slightly lowered task interest for those with high individual interest in math. Mediating variables of this effect were tested across both studies. Although the mediating variables showed inconsistency, humor may affect task interest through affective responses immediately following the instruction, rather than in subsequent interaction with the task.


Incidental moods, source likeability, and persuasion: Liking motivates message elaboration in happy people

Robert Sinclair, Sean Moore, Melvin Mark, Alexander Soldat & Carrie Lavis
Cognition & Emotion, September 2010, Pages 940-961

Happy people often fail to elaborate on persuasive arguments, while people in sad moods tend to scrutinise messages in greater detail. According to some motivational accounts, however, happy people will elaborate a message if they believe it might maintain their positive mood. The present research extends this reasoning by demonstrating that happy people will elaborate arguments from message presenters that convey positive hedonic attributes (i.e., source likeability). In a pilot study, we show that happy people believe persuasive messages from a likeable source will be mood maintaining. The results of Study 1 demonstrate that these expectancies have important message-processing implications. In Study 1, sad participants elaborated arguments from both likeable and dislikeable sources, while happy participants only elaborated arguments from a likeable source. Consistent with motivational explanation of these effects, in Study 2, happy participants elaborated arguments from a likeable source when not distracted, but used likeability as a heuristic when distracted with a cognitive-load manipulation. Implications of these results for understanding the effects of mood on processing strategy, limitations, and directions for future research are discussed.


Upward spirals of the heart: Autonomic flexibility, as indexed by vagal tone, reciprocally and prospectively predicts positive emotions and social connectedness

Bethany Kok & Barbara Fredrickson
Biological Psychology, forthcoming

Vagal tone (VT), an index of autonomic flexibility, is linked to social and psychological well-being. We posit that the association between VT and well-being reflects an "upward spiral" in which autonomic flexibility, represented by VT, facilitates capitalizing on social and emotional opportunities and the resulting opportunistic gains, in turn, lead to higher VT. Community-dwelling adults were asked to monitor and report their positive emotions and the degree to which they felt socially connected each day for 9 weeks. VT was measured at the beginning and end of the 9-week period. Adults who possessed higher initial levels of VT increased in connectedness and positive emotions more rapidly than others. Furthermore, increases in connectedness and positive emotions predicted increases in VT, independent of initial VT level. This evidence is consistent with an "upward spiral" relationship of reciprocal causality, in which VT and psychosocial well-being reciprocally and prospectively predict one another.


Laughter and Resiliency: A Behavioral Genetic Study of Humor Styles and Mental Toughness

Livia Veselka, Julie Aitken Schermer, Rod Martin & Philip Vernon
Twin Research and Human Genetics, October 2010, Pages 442-449

This study investigated phenotypic correlations between mental toughness and humor styles, as well as the common genetic and environmental effects underlying these correlations. Participants were 201 adult twin pairs from North America. They completed the Humor Styles Questionnaire, assessing individual differences in two positive (affiliative, self-enhancing) and two negative (aggressive, self-defeating) humor styles. They also completed the MT48, measuring individual differences in global mental toughness and its eight factors (Commitment, Control, Emotional Control, Control over Life, Confidence, Confidence in Abilities, Interpersonal Confidence, Challenge). Positive correlations were found between the positive humor styles and all of the mental toughness factors, with all but one reaching significance. Conversely, negative correlations were found between all mental toughness factors and the negative humor styles, with the mental toughness factors of Control, Emotional Control, Confidence, Confidence in Abilities, and Interpersonal Confidence exhibiting significant correlations. Subsequent behavioral genetic analyses revealed that these phenotypic correlations were primarily attributable to common genetic and common non-shared environmental factors. The implications of these findings regarding the potential effects of humor styles on wellbeing, and the possible selective use of humor by mentally tough individuals are discussed.


Anger, fear, and escalation of commitment

Ming-Hong Tsai & Maia Young
Cognition & Emotion, September 2010, Pages 962-973

Two studies examined how discrete emotions influence escalation of commitment. Study 1 demonstrated that anger was associated with more escalation of commitment than fear in a personnel hiring-appraisal context. In addition, it revealed the mediating effect of risk perception; angry compared to fearful individuals perceived lower risk in their initial decision, which in turn increased the tendency to escalate commitment. Study 2 replicated the pattern of results of Study 1 in a financial decision-making situation. Contrary to conclusions drawn from the results of prior research, the current studies suggest that not all negative emotions alleviate escalation of commitment.


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