Observation

Observations

Evolution Says Men Marry Down

Men are more likely to marry women below them on the corporate ladder, rather than their colleagues or bosses, researchers at the University of Michigan found.

The study highlights male concerns about mating with dominant females. “These findings provide empirical support for the widespread belief that powerful women are at a disadvantage in the marriage market because men may prefer to marry less accomplished women,” said lead author Stephanie Brown, University of Michigan.

Supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, Brown and co-author Brian Lewis asked 120 male and 208 female undergraduates to rate their attraction to potential co-workers. Participants were shown a photograph and asked, “Imagine that you have just taken a job and that Jennifer (or John) is your immediate supervisor (or peer, or assistant).”

After seeing the photo and hearing a description of the person’s role at work, participants rated how much they would enjoy going to a party with, dating, or marrying the person.

Brown and Lewis found that males were most strongly attracted to subordinate partners for high-investment activities such as marriage and dating. Women did not show a significant preference in their attraction to either superior or subordinate men.

“Our results demonstrate that male preference for subordinate women increases as the investment in the relationship increases,” Brown said. “This pattern is consistent with the possibility that there were reproductive advantages for males who preferred to form long-term relationships with relatively subordinate partners.”

The study also lent evolutionary credence to what the city

Scientific American Reworks PSPI

The January 2005 issue of Scientific American featured an article “Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth,” rewritten by the authors of the original study published in the May 2003 Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

Lead author Roy F. Baumeister, Florida State University, and colleagues reworked their PSPI report on self-esteem into a slightly less technical version for Scientific American. According to the PSPI report, the prevalent belief was that children with high self-confidence performed better in school and were at less risk of becoming delinquents. Yet the researchers showed that boosting self-esteem did little to influence academic performance or social behavior. As a result, the study continues to receive widespread interest nearly two years after its original publication.

The researchers studied thousands of high school students, first in their sophomore year and again in their senior year, to see whether self-esteem correlated with scholastic progress. They found that a 10th-grader’s self-esteem was a poor indicator of 12th-grade performance. The best indicator of senior year achievement, according to the study, was sophomore achievement.

Self-esteem was not found to be wholly invaluable. A survey of 31 countries showed that, in general, life satisfaction correlates more closely with self-esteem than wealth. But there was no evidence causally linking self-esteem with happiness, and the survey was based on the suspect reliability of self-reports. “We have found little to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today’s children and adults … offers society any compensatory benefits,” the authors wrote.

To read the PSPI report, visit www.psychologicalscience.org/journals.

of Las Vegas has known for years: Despite reluctance to date or marry a superior, men showed no preference when it came to the possibility of a one-night stand.

Hopkins Opens Child Research Lab

Most parents view their child’s development as a marvelous, ever-unfolding mystery. At the new Laboratory for Child Development at Johns Hopkins University, infant milestones are fodder for research into everything from how children keep track of objects to whether they are logical when making decisions.

“We have discovered that, in many ways, children know much, much more than people once thought they did. But in other ways, children perceive the world quite differently than adults do,” said Lisa Feigenson, who co-directs the lab with Justin Halberda, both professors of psychological and brain sciences.

Topics studied in the lab include why young children move or hide objects, how they learn words for new objects and actions, and how they understand numbers prior to any formal mathematical education. The studies involve children ages three months to six years, and take place in the bright, zoo-themed ambiance of the new lab.

“We felt it was very important that the lab environment be cheerful and colorful and be a place where babies, children, and their parents could feel at home,” Halberda said.

In one study, a baby watches a screen filled with objects, while Feigenson and Halberda record how long the child spends looking at or reaching for each one. What can the researchers learn from such a simple exercises? Quite a bit, it seems.

“Babies usually look longer at things they find new or surprising, so we can make inferences about how they perceive and understand what they see by looking for patterns of behavior across a number of infants,” Halberda said. These patterns can inform parents, pediatricians and scientists about what goes on in the mind of a young child.

“In infants and small children, we use behavioral patterns to make inferences about babies’ knowledge,” Feigenson explained. “Not just whether they have or don’t have some bit of knowledge, but also how that knowledge is structured.”

Feigenson and Halberda came from Harvard University to run the lab, and though their research interests differ – Feigenson specializes in how infants keep track of objects while Halberda studies word learning and logical reasoning – they’re united by the goal of understanding how infants perceive the world. But in case this theoretical matrimony wasn’t enough, Feigenson and Halberda are also married. It will be funny to tell the kids this story one day – and record what they think about it.

Tube Tied

Couch potatoes of the world, unite. An interdisciplinary study by economists and psychologists has given rise to a new research method that measures quality of life. The approach, called the Day Reconstruction Method, or DRM, creates an “enjoyment scale” by requiring people to record the previous day’s activities in a short diary form and describe their feelings about the experiences. Close to the top of the scale: watching television.

The findings, published in the December 3, 2004 issue of Science, suggest that money, marriage, and job security have less influence over well-being than more relaxing activities such as sleep and television. The DRM could eventually help calculate a “national well-being account,” a measure similar to economic gauges such as the gross national product. The research team is working with the Gallup Organization to pilot a national survey using the new method.

“The potential value is tremendous,” said Princeton University economist Alan Krueger, who worked with APS Fellow, Princeton colleague, and lead author Daniel Kahneman. “Right now we use national income as our main indicator of well-being, but income is only a small contributor to life satisfaction. …We would like to see the government implement our method to provide an ongoing measure of well-being in addition to national income,” Krueger said.

Krueger and Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate, collaborated with psychologists David Schkade, University of California, San Diego; APS Fellow Norbert Schwarz, University of Michigan; and Arthur Stone, State University of New York-Stony Brook.

“This type of work could not have been done without collaboration across disciplines,” Krueger said.

The researchers asked 909 women to recall the previous workday as a sequence of episodes and rate the psychological and social aspects of those activities. Results were compared to experiments based on more common “experience sampling” methods used in well-being studies, in which subjects record their actions and feelings several times throughout the day. According to the researchers, the DRM method proved to be less expensive and more efficient than the sampling method.

According to participants, the most pleasurable activities were relaxing with friends, lunching with co-workers, watching TV, shopping with a spouse, and cooking. Being with one’s boss and commuting anchored the low end of the enjoyment scale.

The study also supports previous findings that money does not predict happiness. The income and education levels of the respondents had less impact on the enjoyment of their daily activities than factors such as their temperament and sleep quality. The effects of deadlines on the enjoyment of work were also very large.

“Measures of wealth or health do not tell the whole story of how society as a whole or particular populations within it are doing,” Kahneman said. “A measure of how different categories of people spend their time and of how they experience their activities could provide a useful indication of the well-being of society.”

Psychologist to Direct OBSSR

David B. Abrams, Brown University, has been selected by the National Institutes of Health as associate director for Behavioral and Social Sciences Research and director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, or OBSSR, beginning in January 2005.

“[Dr. Abrams] outstanding expertise and vision will provide the leadership we need to continue to strengthen our efforts in behavioral and social sciences research,” said Elias Zerhouni, director of NIH.

Abrams is professor of psychiatry and human behavior, professor of community health, and co-director of transdisciplinary research at Butler Hospital, Brown Medical School. He is the founding director of Brown’s Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital and is a former president of the Society of Behavioral Medicine.

Abrams’ vast areas of expertise include integrating fundamental sciences with translational applications and policy research; addressing issues along the entire wellness-disease continuum; examining health needs and behaviors in a diversity of populations, including the underserved; and crossing life-span transitions.

In his new role, Abrams will lead agency-wide initiatives in behavioral and social sciences research, and facilitate collaborations across socio-behavioral and biomedical disciplines. Abrams succeeds Raynard S. Kington as the third director of the OBSSR.

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