Character  &  Context

Psychology News Round-Up (May 2nd)

Image of newspapers shaped to spell the word News

By Dave Nussbaum

  • Liz Dunn and Mike Norton, who recently wrote Happy Money,  take to the pages of the New York Times to discuss new research by Juliana Schroeder (a recent SPSP blog contributor) and Nick Epley about how, contrary to people’s expectations, chatting with strangers can make their commute more pleasant:

Individuals and governments pour money into making commutes slightly more bearable by investing in everything from noise-canceling headphones to more spacious seating. But what if the research showed that we would improve our commutes more by investing in social capital — interacting with the strangers sitting all around us? The great thing about strangers is that we tend to put on our happy face when we meet them, reserving our crankier side for the people we know and love.

Research reveals that when women take the same actions to advocate for women, people respond less negatively. “These findings point to a novel account of people’s reluctance to act on behalf of causes for which they have sympathy,” Ratner and Miller explained. “Without a stake in a cause, people … perceive that it is not their place to act.”

Praising character can lead children to view the world as made up of kind people and unkind people. A more useful way to view the world may be to believe that there are kind things and unkind things, and that people can increase their moral goodness by striving to do as many kind things as they can.

Are we a rational animal, or as Robert Heinlein said, merely a rationalising one? Sure, there’s no shortage of evidence that our intuitions, emotions, prejudices and motivations can push reason around. Good luck to you if you want to use only argument to persuade – unless you’ve got people who already like you or trust you (ideally both) you’re going to have a hard time, but amidst the storm and shouting of psychological factors, reason has a quiet power. People do change each other’s minds, and if you can demonstrate the truth of your point of view, or help someone come to realise the short-comings of theirs, maybe you can shift them along. But beware Singer’s warning – logic has its own dynamic. If you open yourself to sincerely engage in argument then it is as likely that your interlocutor will persuade you as the other way around, after all, none of us has sole claim on what it means to be rational.

  • Finally, Sam Sommers (@samsommers) shares this great clip of “the psychology behind the booing sports fan in one simple video clip”

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