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Uncommon Knowledge

My Facebook posts make me love myself

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

‘Having it all,’ but happy?

These days, it’s possible for women to “have it all”—a career and a family—but is that really a recipe for happiness? A new analysis by a professor of economics at the University of Chicago casts some doubt. Among college-educated women, there is “no evidence of greater life satisfaction or greater emotional well-being among those that have achieved the double goal of combining a successful career with a family life” compared to their peers who have families but no career. In fact, in order from happiest to least happy, women with only a family ranked the highest, followed by women with a family and a career, women with a career only, and then women with neither.

Bertrand, M., “Career, Family, and the Well-Being of College-Educated Women,” American Economic Review (May 2013).

Overachieving: the physical toll

Some children who grow up amid poverty and broken families triumph over their circumstances to become successful adults. Nevertheless, a recent study of African-American youth in rural Georgia found that even these able individuals still carry
baggage. Youth from socioeconomically deprived families whose teachers rated them as having high self-control and competence reported the least amount of depression, delinquency, and substance use as young adults, compared to peers from less-deprived families or those with less self-control and competence. However, these same individuals with the best psychological outcomes also had the worst physiological outcomes, including stress hormones, blood pressure, and weight. As the authors of the study put it, “the success-oriented, highly active coping style these youth employed in the presence of high risk was associated with cumulative wear and tear on their bodies.”

Brody, G. et al., “Is Resilience Only Skin Deep? Rural African Americans’ Socioeconomic Status-Related Risk and Competence in Preadolescence and Psychological Adjustment and Allostatic Load at Age 19,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

This post is about me

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If you’re a big online social networker—posting updates and photos 24/7—you may think you’re plugged into your friends and your community. But new research suggests you’re actually just getting more self-centered. In experiments, participants who posted a personal photo or status update to Facebook subsequently became more self-centered—neglecting to consider the visual perspective of other people, being distracted by self-relevant words, and presuming that a third party would appreciate an inside joke.

Chiou, W.-B. & Lee, C.-C., “Enactment of One-to-Many Communication May Induce Self-Focused Attention that Leads to Diminished Perspective Taking: The Case of Facebook,” Judgment and Decision Making (May 2013).

Immigrants as scapegoats

Why is America so ambivalent about immigration? Maybe because our feelings depend on whether we’re looking for someone to blame. In a new experiment by psychologists at the University of Kansas, after being prompted to think about their middle-class identity, participants read an article about the suffering of working-class Americans that blamed either middle-class or upper-class Americans as the cause. Then they read another article that portrayed illegal immigrants as either doing well or doing poorly in the recession. When their own group (middle class) was blamed for the suffering of the working class, and illegal immigrants were portrayed as doing well, participants were more outraged and harsher against illegal immigrants; however, if illegal immigrants were portrayed as doing poorly, participants felt more guilt and wanted to do more to help. When the upper class was blamed for the suffering of the working class, the success of illegal immigrants had no bearing on participants’ attitudes.

Rothschild, Z. et al., “Displacing Blame over the Ingroup’s Harming of a Disadvantaged Group Can Fuel Moral Outrage at a Third-Party Scapegoat,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).

To imitate is to love

Imitating someone else’s accent is often seen as mockery, but it can also be an unexpected catalyst for friendship. When people from England were asked to repeat sentences spoken by someone from Glasgow, their view of the social attractiveness of the Scottish speaker was higher after trying to imitate the speaker’s accent, compared to just repeating the sentences in their own accent.

Adank, P. et al., “Accent Imitation Positively Affects Language Attitudes,” Frontiers in Psychology (May 2013).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at kevin.lewis.ideas@gmail.com.
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