Good Stress, Bad Stress
Over the course of one’s life, hormonal changes alter behavior, mood, and cognition. Bruce McEwen has spent more than 40 years studying how hormones regulate the brain and nervous system, and his lab helped draw distinctions between the vital and toxic forms of stress. McEwen coined the term allostatic load, a concept that explains how stress systems that help the body survive can cause problems when overworked. This work has led to a realization that stress hormone effects are protective in the short term and potentially damaging in the long term.
Racial Bias in Criminal Justice
Unconscious biases toward African Americans still produce major inequities in the criminal justice system. Using statistical analyses, Jennifer Eberhardt has documented how racially coded features, such as a defendant’s skin color and hair texture, influence jurors’ decisions and the sentences that judges hand down. For example, she’s shown that jurors are more likely to recommend the death penalty for defendants whose features are stereotypically “black.” And she’s demonstrated that police officers are more likely to mistakenly identify black faces as criminal compared to white faces. In 2014, Eberhardt’s worked earned her the prestigious “genius” fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation.
Age Is Just a Number
People tend to proceed through life trying to act their age. But the pioneering research of Ellen Langer suggests that adopting the attitude of a younger person may actually have health benefits. In a classic 1981 study, she had old men live in a retreat that was retrofitted to look like 1959, while they pretended that they were living in that year. She and her colleagues found that the men experienced improvements in vision, strength, and other abilities, and that they actually looked younger as well. Langer’s mind-body research indicates that just as social cues can make us feel old, other social cues can make us feel and act young.
Learning Through Observation
The famous Bobo doll experiment showed that children learn through observation, not just through reward and punishment. In that classic study, Albert Bandura showed that children who had watched adults beat an inflatable clown doll learned to model the same aggressive behavior. This study marked an important shift in the field of psychology toward a social–cognitive model of learning. For almost 60 years, Bandura’s work in the fields of social and cognitive psychology has served as a foundation for research on topics ranging from moral judgment to the effects of media violence.
Recognizing Without Seeing
Facial expressions and body language are among the most powerful forms of nonverbal communication, and can reveal a great deal about emotion. Beatrice de Gelder investigates the neuroscience of automatic, nonconscious responses we have to the unspoken, emotional cues we observe in others. De Gelder pioneered the neuroscience of body language and has conducted innovative studies in a number of areas, including face recognition and emotional body expressions. In a landmark experiment, she and her colleagues showed that, when exposed to pictures of faces showing strong emotions, people with visual impairment make the same involuntary facial movements as people with normal sight.
The Laws of Attraction
A half-century ago, psychologists considered the study of love and attraction unworthy of study. But Ellen S. Berscheid helped make the science of love one of the most vibrant areas of inquiry in modern social science. Berscheid and her collaborator Elaine C. Hatfield helped pioneer an empirical approach to understanding different facets of romantic relationships, including physical attraction, relationship satisfaction, sexuality, and emotional intimacy. She has also studied the importance people place on physical attractiveness, not just when searching for romantic partners but also in other interactions.