Great again

Kevin Lewis

June 11, 2017

Dying Is Unexpectedly Positive
Amelia Goranson et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming


In people’s imagination, dying seems dreadful; however, these perceptions may not reflect reality. In two studies, we compared the affective experience of people facing imminent death with that of people imagining imminent death. Study 1 revealed that blog posts of near-death patients with cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis were more positive and less negative than the simulated blog posts of nonpatients — and also that the patients’ blog posts became more positive as death neared. Study 2 revealed that the last words of death-row inmates were more positive and less negative than the simulated last words of noninmates — and also that these last words were less negative than poetry written by death-row inmates. Together, these results suggest that the experience of dying — even because of terminal illness or execution — may be more pleasant than one imagines.

The Experience of Secrecy
Michael Slepian, Jinseok Chun & Malia Mason
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


The concept of secrecy calls to mind a dyadic interaction: one person hiding a secret from another during a conversation or social interaction. The current work, however, demonstrates that this aspect of secrecy is rather rare. Taking a broader view of secrecy as the intent to conceal information, which only sometimes necessitates concealment, yields a new psychology of secrecy. Ten studies demonstrate the secrets people have, what it is like to have a secret, and what about secrecy is related to lower well-being. We demonstrate that people catch themselves spontaneously thinking about their secrets — they mind-wander to them — far more frequently than they encounter social situations that require active concealment of those secrets. Moreover, independent of concealment frequency, the frequency of mind-wandering to secrets predicts lower well-being (whereas the converse was not the case). We explore the diversity of secrets people have and the harmful effects of spontaneously thinking about those secrets in both recall tasks and in longitudinal designs, analyzing more than 13,000 secrets across our participant samples, with outcomes for relationship satisfaction, authenticity, well-being, and physical health. These results demonstrate that secrecy can be studied by having people think about their secrets, and have implications for designing interventions to help people cope with secrecy.

Worth the Wait? Leisure Can Be Just as Enjoyable With Work Left Undone
Ed O’Brien & Ellen Roney
Psychological Science, forthcoming


Four studies reveal that (a) people hold a robust intuition about the order of work and leisure and that (b) this intuition is sometimes mistaken. People prefer saving leisure for last, believing they would otherwise be distracted by looming work (Study 1). In controlled experiments, however, although subjects thought their enjoyment would be spoiled when they played a game before rather than after a laborious problem-solving task, got a massage before rather than after midterms, and consumed snacks and watched videos before rather than after a stressful performance, in reality these experiences were similarly enjoyable regardless of order (Studies 2 through 4). This misprediction was indeed mediated by anticipated distraction and was therefore attenuated after people were reminded of the absorbing nature of enjoyable activities (Studies 3 and 4). These studies highlight the power of hedonic experience within the moment of consumption, which has implications for managing (or mismanaging) everyday work and leisure. People might postpone leisure and overwork for future rewards that could be just as pleasurable in the present.

New Insights on Cultural Patterns of Suicide in the United States: The Role of Honor Culture
Marisa Crowder & Markus Kemmelmeier
Cross-Cultural Research, forthcoming


Cultural differences in suicide can be indicative of varying social pressures placed on individuals. High suicide rates in U.S. honor cultures have been proposed to reflect pressures associated with maintaining one’s reputation. We extend this argument by highlighting that honor concerns differentially impact individuals based on gender, ethnicity, and age. Controlling for relevant confounds, we show that suicide rates were highest among older European American men from honor cultures, presumably because aging may render these men less capable of conforming to cultural ideals of masculinity. We discuss the need for process-focused and subgroup analyses when examining the effects of culture on suicide.

Variation in the Serotonin Transporter Polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) and Inertia of Negative and Positive Emotions in Daily Life
Eeske van Roekel et al.
Emotion, forthcoming


An important element of understanding the genotype–phenotype link in psychiatric disorders lies in identifying the psychological mechanisms through which genetic variation impacts mental health. Here we examined whether emotional inertia, the tendency for a person’s emotions to carry over from 1 moment to the next and a prospective predictor of the development of depression, is associated with a known genetic risk factor for emotional dysregulation, a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR). Two hundred thirty-six adolescents recorded their positive and negative emotions in daily life 9 times a day for 6 consecutive days using smartphones, completed a depression questionnaire, and were genotyped for the 5-HTTLPR polymorphism. Carriers of the short 5-HTTLPR were characterized by higher inertia for negative emotions, even after controlling for depressive symptoms. These findings suggest a possible psychological pathway how the serotonin transporter gene contributes to risk for depression.

Fruit and Vegetable Intake Predicts Positive Affect
Rebecca Warner et al.
Journal of Happiness Studies, June 2017, Pages 809–826


Prior research suggests that fruit and vegetable intake predicts psychological well-being (WB) when controlled for demographic variables such as age, income and education. Using multiple-item measures and including additional diet and health variables as covariates, the current study assessed self-reported well-being in the past week and daily fruit and vegetable consumption over the past 4 weeks for 1270 university students. Mean positive affect increased linearly as a function of number of daily servings of fruits and vegetables; the pattern of this relationship did not differ significantly for males and females. This association remained statistically significant after controlling for demographic variables (age, sex, and parent education levels); other diet variables (consumption of sugar containing beverages, coffee or tea, and fat); and other health behaviors (exercise, sleep quality and smoking). Life satisfaction and negative affect were not significantly related to fruit and vegetable consumption. Analysis of single-item measures similar to those used in past large scale surveys yielded similar results. Possible reasons for the association of fruits and vegetable consumption with well-being are discussed.

Implicit Self and the Right Hemisphere: Increasing Implicit Self-Esteem and Implicit Positive Affect by Left Hand Contractions
Markus Quirin, Stephanie Fröhlich & Julius Kuhl European
Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming


Unilateral hand contraction typically activates the contralateral hemisphere and has led to changes in psychological states and performances in previous research. Based on a right hemisphere model of the implicit self, we hypothesized and found that left hand contraction increases momentary levels of implicit self-esteem (Studies 1 and 2) and implicit positive affect (Study 3). The findings are discussed with respect to potential differences between the hemispheres in implicit and explicit affective processing and how they can be integrated in the existing literature on hemisphere asymmetries.

Pupillary Response to Emotional Stimuli as a Risk Factor for Depressive Symptoms Following a Natural Disaster: The 2011 Binghamton Flood
Mary Woody et al.
Clinical Psychological Science, forthcoming


Understanding pathways of risk following a natural disaster may help create next-generation targeted interventions. The current study examined if a biomarker of cognitive-affective response (pupil dilation) could identify which individuals are at greatest risk for depression following disaster-related stress. A total of 51 women completed a computer-based task assessing pupillary response to facial expressions of emotion and reported their depressive symptoms before the 2011 Binghamton flood. Following the flood, women were assessed for objective levels of flood-related stress and again reported their depressive symptoms. Supporting the proposed diathesis-stress model, decreased pupil dilation to emotional expressions predicted a significant increase in postflood depressive symptoms, but only among women who experienced higher levels of flood-related stress. Findings suggest that reduced cognitive-affective response to emotional stimuli (measured via pupillary response) can increase risk for depression in the context of high levels of objective life stress.

Would you choose to be happy? Tradeoffs between happiness and the other dimensions of life in a large population survey
Matthew Adler, Paul Dolan & Georgios Kavetsos
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, July 2017, Pages 60–73


A large literature documents the determinants of happiness. But is happiness all that people want from life; and if so, what type of happiness matters to them? Or are they willing to sacrifice happiness (however it is defined) for other attributes in their lives? We show direct evidence that individuals trade-off levels of happiness with levels of income, physical health, family, career success and education in a large sample of UK and US individuals. On average, all types of happiness are preferred to other attributes except health. People prefer affective happiness (feeling good) over evaluative (life satisfaction) and eudaimonic (worthwhileness) components. This result is robust to methodological innovations, such as the use of vignettes and judgements of the lives described.

Intolerance of Uncertainty Predicts Increased Striatal Volume
Justin Kim et al.
Emotion, forthcoming


Oversensitivity to uncertain future threat is usefully conceptualized as intolerance of uncertainty (IU). Neuroimaging studies of IU to date have largely focused on its relationship with brain function, but few studies have documented the association between IU and the quantitative properties of brain structure. Here, we examined potential gray and white-matter brain structural correlates of IU from 61 healthy participants. Voxel-based morphometric analysis highlighted a robust positive correlation between IU and striatal volume, particularly the putamen. Conversely, tract-based spatial statistical analysis showed no evidence for a relationship between IU and the structural integrity of white-matter fiber tracts. Current results converge upon findings from individuals with anxiety disorders such as obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), where abnormally increased IU and striatal volume are consistently reported. They also converge with neurobehavioral data implicating the putamen in predictive coding. Most notably, the relationship between IU and striatal volume is observed at a preclinical level, suggesting that the volumetric properties of the striatum reflect the processing of uncertainty per se as it relates to this dimensional personality characteristic. Such a relationship could then potentially contribute to the onset of OCD or GAD, rather than being unique to their pathophysiology.

to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.