Good Sense

Kevin Lewis

January 18, 2020

Altruistic behaviors relieve physical pain
Yilu Wang et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 14 January 2020, Pages 950-958


Engaging in altruistic behaviors is costly, but it contributes to the health and well-being of the performer of such behaviors. The present research offers a take on how this paradox can be understood. Across 2 pilot studies and 3 experiments, we showed a pain-relieving effect of performing altruistic behaviors. Acting altruistically relieved not only acutely induced physical pain among healthy adults but also chronic pain among cancer patients. Using functional MRI, we found that after individuals performed altruistic actions brain activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and bilateral insula in response to a painful shock was significantly reduced. This reduced pain-induced activation in the right insula was mediated by the neural activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), while the activation of the VMPFC was positively correlated with the performer’s experienced meaningfulness from his or her altruistic behavior. Our findings suggest that incurring personal costs to help others may buffer the performers from unpleasant conditions.

Is obesity treated like a contagious disease?
Caley Tapp et al.
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, forthcoming


The behavioral avoidance of people with obesity is well documented, but its psychological basis is poorly understood. Based upon a disease avoidance account of stigmatization, we tested whether a person with obesity triggers equivalent self‐reported emotional and avoidant‐based responses as a contagious disease (i.e., influenza). Two hundred and sixty‐four participants rated images depicting real disease signs (i.e., person with influenza), false alarms (i.e., person with obesity), person with facial bruising (i.e., negative control), and a healthy control for induced emotion and willingness for contact along increasing levels of physical proximity. Consistent with our prediction, as the prospect for contact became more intimate, self‐reported avoidance was equivalent in the influenza and obese target conditions, with both significantly exceeding reactions to the negative and healthy controls. In addition, participants reported greatest levels of disgust toward the obese and influenza target conditions. These results are consistent with an evolved predisposition to avoid individuals with disease signs. Implicit avoidance occurs even when participants know explicitly that such signs - here, obese body form - result from a noncontagious condition. Our findings provide important evidence for a disease avoidance explanation of the stigmatization of people with obesity.

Adolescents’ perceptions of family social status correlate with health and life chances: A twin difference longitudinal cohort study
Joshua Rivenbark et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming


Children from lower-income households are at increased risk for poor health, educational failure, and behavioral problems. This social gradient is one of the most reproduced findings in health and social science. How people view their position in social hierarchies also signals poor health. However, when adolescents’ views of their social position begin to independently relate to well-being is currently unknown. A cotwin design was leveraged to test whether adolescents with identical family backgrounds, but who viewed their family’s social status as higher than their same-aged and sex sibling, experienced better well-being in early and late adolescence. Participants were members of the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, a representative cohort of British twins (n = 2,232) followed across the first 2 decades of life. By late adolescence, perceptions of subjective family social status (SFSS) robustly correlated with multiple indicators of health and well-being, including depression; anxiety; conduct problems; marijuana use; optimism; not in education, employment, or training (NEET) status; and crime. Findings held controlling for objective socioeconomic status both statistically and by cotwin design after accounting for measures of childhood intelligence (IQ), negative affect, and prior mental health risk and when self-report, informant report, and administrative data were used. Little support was found for the biological embedding of adolescents’ perceptions of familial social status as indexed by inflammatory biomarkers or cognitive tests in late adolescence or for SFSS in early adolescence as a robust correlate of well-being or predictor of future problems. Future experimental studies are required to test whether altering adolescents’ subjective social status will lead to improved well-being and social mobility.

Interactive effects of tactile warmth and ambient temperature on the search for social affiliation
Adam Fay & Jon Maner
Social Psychology, forthcoming


Laboratory studies have linked variability in temperature to the psychology of social affiliation. In colder ambient environments, for example, people report greater loneliness, and they pursue both physical warmth and social affiliation (i.e., social warmth). Here, a field experiment tested whether tactile warmth eliminates the effect of colder ambient temperatures on desires for social affiliation. Consistent with previous research, people expressed greater intentions to affiliate on colder days. However, tactile warmth eliminated this effect. On colder (but not warmer) days exposure to a tactile warmth manipulation eliminated heightened desires for social affiliation. Findings suggest that seemingly subtle changes in temperature can have important implications for the psychology of social affiliation, and such findings apply to real-world contexts outside the laboratory.


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