The way I see it

Kevin Lewis

January 01, 2017

The headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry: An availability bias in assessments of barriers and blessings

Shai Davidai & Thomas Gilovich

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, December 2016, Pages 835-851

Seven studies provide evidence of an availability bias in people's assessments of the benefits they've enjoyed and the barriers they've faced. Barriers and hindrances command attention because they have to be overcome; benefits and resources can often be simply enjoyed and largely ignored. As a result of this "headwind/tailwind" asymmetry, Democrats and Republicans both claim that the electoral map works against them (Study 1), football fans take disproportionate note of the challenging games on their team's schedules (Study 2), people tend to believe that their parents have been harder on them than their siblings are willing to grant (Study 3), and academics think that they have a harder time with journal reviewers, grant panels, and tenure committees than members of other subdisciplines (Study 7). We show that these effects are the result of the enhanced availability of people's challenges and difficulties (Studies 4 and 5) and are not simply the result of self-serving attribution management (Studies 6 and 7). We also show that the greater salience of a person's headwinds can lead people to believe they have been treated unfairly and, as a consequence, more inclined to endorse morally questionable behavior (Study 7). Our discussion focuses on the implications of the headwind/tailwind asymmetry for a variety of ill-conceived policy decisions.


Not I, but she: The beneficial effects of self-distancing on challenge/threat cardiovascular responses

Lindsey Streamer et al.

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

Self-distancing has been shown to lead to benefits in the face of upcoming stressors, but the process by which this occurs remains unclear. We applied the cardiovascular measures of the biopsychosocial model of challenge/threat to test two plausible explanations: whether manipulating self-distancing (vs. a control condition) (1) makes a subsequent active-performance stressor seem less personally relevant, thereby leading to lower task engagement during task performance, and/or (2) promotes more favorable evaluations of personal resources relative to situational demands, resulting in greater challenge during performance. Participants who self-distanced by using non-first-person (vs. first-person) pronouns and their own name while preparing for a speech showed cardiovascular responses consistent with greater challenge while delivering the speech. Self-distancing did not, however, influence cardiovascular responses reflecting task engagement during the speech. Moreover, the effect of self-distancing persisted in the form of relative challenge during a second speech on an unrelated topic. These findings suggest self-distancing can lead to a positively valenced experience during active-performance stressors, rather than simply muted responses based on decreasing the stressor's self-relevance.


Hurricane Sandy Exposure Alters the Development of Neural Reactivity to Negative Stimuli in Children

Ellen Kessel et al.

Child Development, forthcoming

This study examined whether exposure to Hurricane Sandy-related stressors altered children's brain response to emotional information. An average of 8 months (Mage = 9.19) before and 9 months after (Mage = 10.95) Hurricane Sandy, 77 children experiencing high (n = 37) and low (n = 40) levels of hurricane-related stress exposure completed a task in which the late positive potential, a neural index of emotional reactivity, was measured in response to pleasant and unpleasant, compared to neutral, images. From pre- to post-Hurricane Sandy, children with high stress exposure failed to show the same decrease in emotional reactivity to unpleasant versus neutral stimuli as those with low stress exposure. Results provide compelling evidence that exposure to natural disaster-related stressors alters neural emotional reactivity to negatively valenced information.


Let's go outside! Environmental restoration amongst adolescents and the impact of friends and phones

Alison Greenwood & Birgitta Gatersleben

Journal of Environmental Psychology, December 2016, Pages 131-139

Adolescents are experiencing an increasing number of psychological difficulties due to mental fatigue and stress. Natural environments have been found to be beneficial to psychological wellbeing by reducing stress and improving mood and concentration for most people. However, a number of studies have suggested that this may not be the case for adolescents perhaps because they have different social and emotional needs (to be with friends, not to be bored), although evidence is lacking. In a field experiment with 120 16-18 year olds in the UK we tested restoration of stress and mental fatigue in an outdoor or indoor environment, alone, with a friend or while playing a game on a mobile phone. The findings showed greater restoration amongst adolescents who had been in an outdoor setting containing natural elements, compared with those who had been in an indoor one. Moreover, being with a friend considerably increased positive affect in nature for this age group. The findings indicated that spending short school breaks in a natural environment with a friend can have a significant positive impact on the psychological wellbeing of teenagers.


Non-Social Features of Smartphone Use Are Most Related to Depression, Anxiety and Problematic Smartphone Use

Jon Elhai et al.

Computers in Human Behavior, April 2017, Pages 75-82

Little is known about the mechanisms of smartphone features that are used in sealing relationships between psychopathology and problematic smartphone use. Our purpose was to investigate two specific smartphone usage types - process use and social use - for associations with depression and anxiety; and in accounting for relationships between anxiety/depression and problematic smartphone use. Social smartphone usage involves social feature engagement (e.g., social networking, messaging), while process usage involves non-social feature engagement (e.g., news consumption, entertainment, relaxation). 308 participants from Amazon's Mechanical Turk internet labor market answered questionnaires about their depression and anxiety symptoms, and problematic smartphone use along with process and social smartphone use dimensions. Statistically adjusting for age and sex, we discovered the association between anxiety symptoms was stronger with process versus social smartphone use. Depression symptom severity was negatively associated with greater social smartphone use. Process smartphone was more strongly associated with problematic smartphone use. Finally, process smartphone use accounted for relationships between anxiety severity and problematic smartphone use.


Methylation of the oxytocin receptor gene mediates the effect of adversity on negative schemas and depression

Ronald Simons et al.

Development and Psychopathology, forthcoming

Building upon various lines of research, we posited that methylation of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) would mediate the effect of adult adversity on increased commitment to negative schemas and in turn the development of depression. We tested our model using structural equation modeling and longitudinal data from a sample of 100 middle-aged, African American women. The results provided strong support for the model. Analysis of the 12 CpG sites available for the promoter region of the OXTR gene identified four factors. One of these factors was related to the study variables, whereas the others were not. This factor mediated the effect of adult adversity on schemas relating to pessimism and distrust, and these schemas, in turn, mediated the impact of OXTR methylation on depression. All indirect effects were statistically significant, and they remained significant after controlling for childhood trauma, age, romantic relationship status, individual differences in cell types, and average level of genome-wide methylation. These finding suggest that epigenetic regulation of the oxytocin system may be a mechanism whereby the negative cognitions central to depression become biologically embedded.

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.