New Research in Psychological Science

Oppressed Groups Engender Implicit Positivity: Seven Demonstrations Using Novel and Familiar Targets
Benedek Kurdi, Amy Krosch, and Melissa Ferguson

Disseminating accurate information about past wrongdoing in intergroup contexts (including discrimination, slavery, or genocide) constitutes an indispensable first step toward reconciliation and restitution. However, worryingly, such information may produce ironic effects: Because oppression itself is extremely negative, implicit (automatic) evaluations of oppressed groups may shift in a negative, rather than positive, direction. Contrary to these ideas, we found that information about oppression changed implicit evaluations of social groups, including well-known and even personally relevant ones, toward positivity. The sole exception was a set of studies about slavery in the United States in which neither White nor Black Americans showed any change in implicit race attitudes. Together, these studies should alleviate worries about unintended evaluative effects of educating the public about past oppression. Moreover, they suggest that although information about oppression tends to create positive evaluations, macro-level phenomena (such as societal awareness of past wrongdoing) can affect learning in individual minds. 

Compassion Fatigue as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Believing Compassion Is Limited Increases Fatigue and Decreases Compassion
Izzy Gainsburg and Julia Lee Cunningham  

Compassion has health and well-being benefits for the self and others. Unfortunately, people sometimes experience compassion fatigue—a decreased ability to feel compassion—when they are repeatedly exposed to people suffering. Thus, the present research explores a factor that can mitigate compassion fatigue: changing people’s compassion mindsets. Our research suggests that when people believe compassion is fatiguing and a limited resource, they experience more compassion fatigue and provide lower-quality social support; however, when people believe compassion is energizing and not limited, they feel less compassion fatigue and provide higher-quality social support. We also show that people can change their limited-compassion mindsets and become less susceptible to compassion fatigue. Altogether, this research cautions people against assuming they will experience compassion fatigue and to allow for the possibility that compassion for someone in need can be an energizing experience that motivates people to care about others in need, too. 

If They Won’t Know, I Won’t Wait: Anticipated Social Consequences Drive Children’s Performance on Self-Control Tasks
Fengling Ma, Xinxin Gu, Linghui Tang, Xianming Luo, Brian Compton, and Gail Heyman

Delay-of-gratification tasks have been widely portrayed as a choice between obtaining an immediate incentive and waiting for a better one. We investigated an alternative possibility: that children’s approach is driven, at least in part, by anticipated social benefits rather than material ones, based on their understanding that people tend to offer rewards only for behaviors they wish to promote. We manipulated the extent to which the offer of an incentive could function as a social signal and found that children waited much less when they thought the experimenter would not find out how long they waited. This research provides an alternative explanation for prior evidence that young children’s waiting times on delay-of-gratification tasks can predict important life outcomes many years later. It also demonstrates that children as young as 3 years can engage in reputation-management strategies that involve subtle inferences about the intentions of other people. 

Different Representational Mechanisms for Imagery and Perception: Modulation Versus Excitation
Thomas Pace, Roger Koenig-Robert, and Joel Pearson  

Imagine trying to describe a favorite memory to a friend. The mental image is not as defined or strong as the original experience, right? Our research delved into this phenomenon, showing that the process of mental imagery and visual perception are quite different. When we imagine something, we create a sort of picture in our mind, but without the sensory input that comes from the eyes. To help create this mental picture, our brain employs a clever strategy: It dims the activity related to elements we do not imagine, rather like turning down the background noise to focus on a conversation. This paradigm shift in our understanding might explain why mental imagery is seldom experienced as richly as perception and may put an upper limit to its strength. 

Knowledge About the Source of Emotion Predicts Emotion-Regulation Attempts, Strategies, and Perceived Emotion-Regulation Success
Yael Millgram, Matthew Nock, David Bailey, and Amit Goldenberg

For decades researchers have been trying to find ways to improve people’s ability to regulate negative emotions. Thus far, researchers have generally assumed that people know the causes of their negative feelings, and therefore highlighted emotion-regulation strategies that target these causes. In this project we tracked participants’ knowledge of the causes of their emotions, and their emotion regulation multiple times a day for one week, using their smartphones (ecological momentary assessments, or EMAs). We show that people do not always know the source of their negative emotions. We also show that the more people knew about the source of their negative emotions the more they tried to regulate them, the more they used emotion-regulation strategies that targeted the source, and the greater was their perceived success in decreasing these negative emotions. These findings suggest that knowledge about the source of emotions is a key factor in emotion regulation. 

Gaze-Triggered Communicative Intention Compresses Perceived Temporal Duration
Yiwen Yu, Li Wang, and Yi Jiang 

Our experience of time is not the authentic representation of physical time and can be distorted by the properties of the stimuli. In this research, we report a novel temporal illusion: that eye gaze, being a crucial social cue, can distort subjective time perception of unchanged objects. Specifically, adult participants compared the duration of two objects before and after they had implicitly seen that one object was consistently under gaze whereas the other object was never under gaze. We found that gaze-associated objects were perceived as having a shorter duration than nonassociated ones. This effect was driven by intention processing elicited by social cues, as nonsocial cues (i.e., arrows) and blocked gaze failed to induce such time distortions. Notably, individuals lower in autistic traits showed greater susceptibility to gaze-induced time distortions. This research highlights the role of high-level social function in time perception. Time flies faster when observers are confronted with objects that fell under others’ gaze. 

Political Person-Culture Match and Longevity: The Partisanship-Mortality Link Depends on the Cultural Context
Tobias Ebert, Jana Berkessel, and Thorsteinn Jonsson

Republicans tend to outlive Democrats, according to recent studies. This raises questions about the universality of Republicans’ longevity benefits. Building on a person–culture match perspective, we asked whether Republicans live longer everywhere or only when they match with a state’s political culture. To address this research question, we conducted two studies analyzing the relationship between political partisanship and longevity among more than 50,000 adults from all over the United States. Supporting the person–culture match perspective, we found that Republicans live longer in Republican, but not in Democratic, states. This finding challenges the role of Republican partisanship as a universal provider of health benefits and provides a novel alternative explanation for Republicans’ previously observed longevity benefits. From a societal perspective, political partisans who live longer can cast their vote in more elections. The resulting voting advantage due to person–culture match may in special cases be greater than electoral margins currently observed in some states. 

Concepts Are Restructured During Language Contact: The Birth of Blue and Other Color Concepts in Tsimane’-Spanish Bilinguals
Saima Malik-Moraleda, Kyle Mahowald, Bevil Conway, and Edward Gibson

Languages and culture conceptualize the world in different ways. For instance, with color terms, some languages have three color terms, whereas others have 12 or more. What happens if you learn a new language that has more color concepts than your mother tongue? The question is relevant because contact between cultures is increasing with globalization. We took up the question by studying how speakers of Tsimane’, an Amazonian language with a single word encompassing blues and greens, behave when they learn Bolivian Spanish, a language that distinguishes two categories of blue and one of green. We found that the consistency of Tsimane’ color terms increases among the Tsimane’-Spanish bilingual speakers and that the bilinguals develop different words in Tsimane’ that distinguish blue and green. The work provides a compelling example of language and culture influencing cognition and suggests that language contact drives rapid language change over time.  

The Role of Humor Production and Perception in the Daily Life of Couples: An Interest-Indicator Perspective
Kenneth Tan, Bryan Choy, and Norman Li  

Humor has typically been shown to promote attraction and is highly desired by potential mates, but the day-to-day unfolding of how humor affects relationship maintenance has rarely been examined. In this research, we tested whether relationship quality on a daily basis precedes humor or the other way around, using a sample of college students in Singapore. We found consistent evidence that individuals engaged in humorous interactions to the extent that they reported greater relationship quality on the previous day, but not the other way around. These findings enhance our understanding of the role of humor in relationship maintenance and highlight the importance of examining bidirectional processes between relationship quality and humor in interpersonal interactions.  

Listen to related Under the Cortex episode.

Rational Simplification and Rigidity in Human Planning
Mark Ho, Jonathan Cohen, and Thomas Griffiths

Even when planning ahead, people exhibit surprising cognitive biases. One classic example is functional fixedness, the tendency to overlook relevant but unfamiliar ways of using an object to solve a problem despite actively searching for a solution. Functional fixedness is not only puzzling but also pervasive: Thinking about situations in rigid and unhelpful ways has consequences in virtually every domain of human life, from overcoming personal challenges to tackling complex problems in science, business, and politics. Here, we tested a new theory of functional fixedness based on the avoidance of two kinds of cognitive effort: the effort required to represent details of a problem and the effort required to switch to a new way of representing a problem. Our findings reveal how cognitive biases such as functional fixedness, despite appearing superficially irrational, can reflect a deeper rationality grounded in the strategic allocation of cognitive effort. 

Visual Distraction’s “Silver Lining”: Distractor Suppression Boosts Attention to Competing Stimuli
Xiaojin Ma and Richard Abrams

Most visual scenes contain more information than we are able to process, and as a result, people must attend to elements in a scene that are relevant to them and suppress elements that are unimportant. Recent research has studied attentional suppression but has yet to identify the nature of the mechanisms involved. In the reported experiments, we had participants search for target objects that were sometimes grouped with to-be-suppressed distractors and sometimes in a different perceptual grouping. Targets that were in the same group as a distractor were more quickly identified than targets that were in a different group. The results show that the suppression is accomplished in part by a bias in the visual system that enhances representation of task-relevant items competing for attention, revealing properties of the underlying brain mechanisms. 

Numerical Representation for Action in Crows Obeys the Weber-Fechner Law
Maximilian Kirschhock and Andreas Nieder  

Whereas the laws governing the judgment of perceived numbers of objects by the “number sense” have been studied in detail, the behavioral principles of equally important number representations for action are largely unexplored. We trained crows to judge numerical values of instruction stimuli from one to five and to flexibly perform a matching number of pecks. Our quantitative behavioral data show an impressive correspondence of number representations found in the motor domain with those described earlier in the sensory system. We report that nonsymbolic number production obeys the psychophysical Weber-Fechner law. Our report helps to resolve a classical debate in psychophysics. It suggests that this way of coding numerical information is not constrained to sensory or memory processes but constitutes a general principle of nonsymbolic number representations. Thus, logarithmic relationships between objective number and subjective numerical representations pervade not only sensation but also motor production.  

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