Observations

Those Were the Days: Counteracting Loneliness with Nostalgia

With the days getting shorter (and colder) and the holidays quickly approaching, many of us start thinking back to days gone by. All of us are struck with nostalgic feelings from time to time but a new study in Psychological Science, indicates that nostalgia may serve a greater purpose than just taking us back to the good old days. Psychologists Xinyue Zhou and Ding-Guo Gao from Sun Yat-Sen University, along with Constantine Sedikides and Tim Wildschut from the University of Southampton explored the connection between loneliness and nostalgia. Their results showed that individuals who felt the loneliest reported receiving the least amount of social support. What was interesting, however, was that these participants turned out to be the most nostalgic. In addition, when nostalgia was induced in a number of the study participants, they in turn perceived having the greatest amount of social support. These findings suggest that nostalgia amplifies perceptions of social support, and in this way, counteracts feelings of loneliness. In addition, the findings revealed that the most resilient individuals (who are better able to recover from traumatic events and adverse life situations compared to others) are more likely to use nostalgia to overcome feelings of loneliness. (For more about the psychology of loneliness, see page 14.)

Phony Friends? Rejected People Better Able to Spot Fake Smiles

“There are hundreds of languages in the world, but a smile speaks them all.” It’s true too — next time you are lost in a foreign country, just flash a smile and the locals will be happy to help you find your way. An honest smile can convey a wide range of meanings, from being happy to having fun. However, not all smiles are genuine. All of us have “faked a smile” at some point. Now, a new study might make us think twice about sending out a phony grin. According to a recent study published in Psychological Science, people who were made to feel socially rejected earlier in the experiment were particularly good at discerning fake smiles from real ones compared to individuals who felt socially accepted or who were in the control group. The authors propose that socially rejected people have an increased motivation to be accepted, thus making them more sensitive to specific social cues indicating opportunities for inclusion. The authors conclude, “It seems essential to detect legitimate signs of positivity that indicate possible reaffiliation with other people. Otherwise, rejected individuals could miss out on new chances for acceptance or ‘waste’ affiliation efforts on people who are not receptive.”

How Our Senses Combine to Give Us a Better View of the World

From a young age, we are taught about the five senses and how they help us to explore our world. Although each sense seems to be its own entity, recent studies have indicated that there is actually a lot of overlap and blending of the senses occurring in the brain to help us better perceive our environment. The new findings, reported in Psychological Science, reveal that if an electrical stimulation of the leg is not initially detected, this sensation may be perceived by the addition of a visual or auditory signal with a corresponding electrical activation increase. The results described in this study indicate that the brain not only constantly processes information received from the senses, but also acts on that information to change what is happening in the peripheral system, thus changing what we actually detect. The results also indicate that a tactile stimulus combined with a specific level of auditory stimulation results in optimal detection of that sensation. However, too great an auditory signal will limit the response to the tactile sensation. This study gives us more insight into multisensory integration, which, the authors argue, will result in increased knowledge of how the brain normally interacts with the peripheral system. In addition, learning more about multisensory integration will lead to a better understanding of disorders such as autism, in which altered sensory processing often occurs.

Observer Vol.21, No.11 December, 2008

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