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Character  &  Context

Social Benefits of Regret, It’s Easy to Get People to Act Unethically, Humor after a Hurricane

Image of someone walking down a pier in the rain holding an umbrella

The social benefits of regret
As the year draws to an end, regret often comes to mind – regret of trips not taken, goals not met, time lost. A new study, which includes an analysis of more than 13,500 tweets about regret from December 2011, finds that the impact of regret depends on whether you express it publicly or privately. Past research has shown that regret serves to help us learn and prepare for the future. In the new study, researchers found that when we express our regrets publicly, we are seeking emotional support from others – highlighting some of the previously unexplored social benefits of regret. “Functions of Personal Experience and of Expression of Regret,” Amy Summerville and Joshua Buchanan, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, online December 13, 2013, forthcoming in print, April 2014.

It’s easy to get people to act unethically
Peer pressure is often stronger than we think. From convincing someone to vandalize a library book to asking them to buy alcohol for children, it is easier than we think to get others to commit unethical acts, according to a new suite of studies. Researchers found that people underestimated how uncomfortable others would feel at the idea of going against their suggestions, even if they involved unethical behaviors. “Underestimating Our Influence Over Others’ Unethical Behavior and Decisions,” Vanessa K. Bohns, M. Mahdi Roghanziad & Amy Z. Xu, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, December 9, 2013, forthcoming in print, March 2014.

When it was OK to laugh about Hurricane Sandy
How long after a tragedy is it OK to joke about it? New research suggests that there’s a comedic sweet spot – when enough time has passed that people no longer feel immediately threatened but not so much time that the event is out of our thoughts. Researchers found a rise and eventual peak in humorous responses to Hurricane Sandy between 1 month and 2 months after the storm, with such humor decreasing between 2 months and 3 months after the fact. The research gives unique insight into what makes things funny and how humor can help with coping. “The Rise and Fall of Humor: Psychological Distance Modulates Humorous Responses to Tragedy,” Peter McGraw, Lawrence E. Williams, and Caleb Warren, Social Psychological and Personality Science, online December 11, 2013, forthcoming in print.

Self-control predicts a range of inmate behavior
Adjusting to life after jail can be difficult, and a new study points to a key factor in that adjustment – self-control. In a study of 553 jail inmates, researchers found that those high in self-control had lower rates of substance misuse and repeat criminal behavior after release from jail. Those same people also had less substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and criminal history prior to incarceration. Lower self-control predicted increases in substance dependence after release from jail compared to pre-incarceration. “The Brief Self-Control Scale Predicts Jail Inmates’ Recidivism, Substance Dependence, and Post-Release Adjustment,” Elizabeth Malouf, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, online December 17, 2013, forthcoming in print, March 2014.

Published in the December 2013 tipsheet for journalists

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