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Uncommon Knowledge

Unlucky? Here’s more bad news

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

Kevin Golden/Globe Staff/HANDOUT PHOTO

Unlucky? Here’s more bad news

Do you think of yourself as lucky? A recent study from the United Kingdom suggests that maybe what you’re perceiving isn’t luck at all. People who reported more good luck also tended to have better cognitive skills. Conversely, the sense of being unlucky “may, to an extent, reflect deficits in a series of executive functions needed to initiate, plan, develop strategies around, organise, and pay attention to task or goal-orientated behaviours.”

Maltby, J. et al., “Beliefs in Being Unlucky and Deficits in Executive Functioning,” Consciousness and Cognition (March 2013).

Racism’s physical impact

No one likes being discriminated against racially, but is it really worse than garden-variety unpleasantness? Research is finding that, both behaviorally and physiologically, racial discrimination has different and more powerful effects. Psychologists recruited black and white people around Cambridge for an experiment that was purportedly about online social communication. Participants expressed themselves over online chat to people they thought were other participants, of either the same or different race. In reality, the other participants were researchers, who offered only negative feedback. Getting negative feedback from an ostensibly other-race participant elicited more anger and a corresponding physiological reaction, more vigilance for emotionally negative information, and more risk-taking than getting negative feedback from an ostensibly same-race participant.

Jamieson, J. et al., “Experiencing Discrimination Increases Risk-Taking,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Too busy to drool

There are so many temptations around us that it’s a wonder we can resist them at all. A new study suggests one thing that might help: a heavy workload. In several experiments, people were more captivated by images of attractive food than by less attractive options, but only if they weren’t encumbered by another cognitively demanding task. In other words, temptation requires mental bandwidth.

Van Dillen, L. et al., “Turning a Blind Eye to Temptation: How Cognitive Load Can Facilitate Self-Regulation,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Post your way to happiness

Despite the popularity of Facebook, using the social network site seems to make many people feel lonely or unhappy: One recent study found that in terms of enjoyment, using ­Facebook ranked only just ahead of being sick. But maybe we’re just not talking enough about ourselves. In a new study, undergraduates at the University of Arizona who were randomly assigned to post more status updates on Facebook subsequently felt more connected to friends and, as a result, felt less lonely—regardless of whether those status updates were commented on or “liked.”

Deters, F. & Mehl, M., “Does Posting Facebook Status Updates Increase or Decrease Loneliness? An Online Social Networking Experiment,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

Why (some) experiences are better than things

Many studies have noted that new experiences make us happier than new possessions. But now, researchers are finding that the real distinction may be about whether these things encourage time with others—and experiences are more likely to be social. In a new study comparing social, solitary, experiential, and material purchases, social experiences yielded the most happiness. Experiences that were solitary did not, in fact, make people happier than possessions. Also, women valued experiences more than possessions, while men valued possessions more than experiences.

Caprariello, P. & Reis, H., “To Do, to Have, or to Share? Valuing Experiences over Material Possessions Depends on the Involvement of Others,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).


Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.
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