Practice

Teaching Current Directions in Psychological Science

Aimed at integrating cutting-edge psychological science into the classroom, Teaching Current Directions in Psychological Science offers advice and how-to guidance about teaching a particular area of research or topic in psychological science that has been the focus of an article in the APS journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

On the Benefits of Critical Ignoring• The Unexpected Pleasure of Doing Good

On the Benefits of Critical Ignoring  

By C. Nathan DeWall, University of Kentucky

Kozyreva, A., Wineburg, S., Lewandowsky, S., & Hertwig, R. (2022). Critical Ignoring as a Core Competence for Digital Citizens. Current Directions in Psychological Science0(0).

People study psychology to understand themselves, others, and their global community. To foster such understanding, psychological scientists teach critical thinking. Using the scientific method, students learn how to approach competing ideas with an analytical mindset—leading them to rely on evidence rather than anecdote or intuition.  

According to Anastasia Kozyreva, Sam Wineburg, and APS Fellows Stephan Lewandowsky and Ralph Hertwig (in press), psychological scientists should also teach critical ignoring, defined as “choosing what to ignore and where to invest one’s limited attentional capacities.” The proliferation of digital information has given people greater access to information. Yet there are few checks and balances to separate false and misleading information from the truth. Thus, people must become smart ignorers of information (Hertwig & Engel, 2016).  

To engage in critical ignoring, Kozyreva and colleagues encourage people to use three approaches:  

  • Self-nudging: Redesign your environment to limit the temptation to consume unvetted information (Reijula & Hertwig, 2022). For example, people can use apps or web browser extensions that restrict their use of social media.   
  • Lateral reading: Ignore people or organizations who refuse to let you cross-check their claims with independent verification from third parties, especially those that may be inclined to disagree with them. Start by verifying information from its original source. Next, seek out independent verification from other sources. Professional fact-checkers commonly use lateral reading (Wineburg & McGrew, 2019). Don’t invest your limited attentional resources listening to people or organizations that refuse to have their claims verified.  
  • “Do Not Feed the Trolls”: Avoid trolls—people who seek to deceive or harm others online. Trolls score highly on sadism (example item: “I enjoy hurting people”), psychopathy (“Payback needs to be quick and nasty”), and Machiavellianism (“It’s not wise to tell your secrets”). Trolls also find annoying and upsetting others reinforcing (Craker & March, 2016). Any time you catch a whiff of someone engaging in troll-like behavior, block or ignore them.  
Student Activity: On the Benefits of Critical Ignoring

References 

Craker, N., & March, E. (2016). The dark side of Facebook®: The Dark Tetrad, negative social potency, and trolling behaviors. Personality and Individual Differences, 102, 79–84. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.06.043  

Hertwig, R., & Engel, C. (2016). Homo ignorans: Deliberately choosing not to know. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11(3), 359–372. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691616635594 

Reijula, S., & Hertwig, R. (2022). Self-nudging and the citizen choice architect. Behavioural Public Policy, 6(1), 119–149. https://doi.org/10.1017/bpp.2020.5  

Wineburg, S., & McGrew, S. (2019). Lateral reading and the nature of expertise: Reading less and learning more when evaluating digital information. Teachers College Record, 121(11), 1–40. https://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentId=22806 


The Unexpected Pleasure of Doing Good 

David G. Myers, Hope College 

Aknin, L. B., Dunn, E. W., & Whillans, A. V. (2022). The Emotional Rewards of Prosocial Spending Are Robust and Replicable in Large Samples. Current Directions in Psychological Science31(6), 536–545.

Epley, N., Kumar, A., Dungan, J., & Echelbarger, M. (in press). A prosociality paradox: How miscalibrated social cognition creates a misplaced barrier to prosocial action. Current Directions in Psychological Science.

“Every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another.” 

Thomas Jefferson (1816) 

Doing good feels surprisingly good. That’s the bottom line of two new Current Directions in Psychological Science research summaries. In one, Lara Aknin, Elizabeth Dunn, and Ashley Whillans (2022) report “robust and replicable” evidence that prosocial spending—spending money on others—boosts happiness:   

  • People who are given cash become happier after spending it on others rather than themselves. 
  • People who receive a windfall allowing them to purchase steeply discounted goodies, such as chocolates, feel happier if the goodies go to a child in need rather than themselves.  
  • When surveyed, people worldwide report feeling happier after spending money on others rather than themselves (Aknin et al., 2013).  

So, from child gift-givers (Aknin et al., 2015) to kidney donors (Brethel-Haurwitz & Marsh, 2014) to people spending on their pet rather than themselves (White et al., 2022), those who spend on others (at least for those who can afford it) feel an emotional lift. When we do good, we feel good. 

In a second report, Nicholas Epley, Amit Kumar, James Dungan, and Margaret Echelbarger (in press), found that small prosocial actions can increase the well-being of both giver and receiver.  

In one experiment, the Epley team had people strike up a friendly conversation with a stranger. When commuters were offered a $5 gift card and assigned to (a) do as they would normally do on their train or bus, (b) sit in solitude, or (c) strike up a conversation with a stranger, the conversationalists’ experience was surprisingly positive. They initially winced at the conversational challenge, anticipating an awkward experience. Yet, after conversing with a stranger, even introverts departed their commute in a happier mood. 

See all articles from this issue of the Observer.

Other studies indicate a happiness boost from friendly bantering with a barista (Sandstrom & Dunn, 2013), giving a compliment to a stranger (Boothby & Bohns, 2021), or greeting a bus driver (Gunaydin, et al., 2021). Such small acts of kindness leave both giver and recipient feeling better. 

Likewise, in 18 replications, Epley et al.’s students wrote letters sharing previously unexpressed gratitude to someone. The result? Most underestimated their recipients’ surprise and delight. In further experiments, those performing random acts of kindness routinely underestimated their recipients’ positive responses (Kumar & Epley, 2022).  

If only we understood how positively people will respond to our kindness, we would more willingly express appreciation, offer a compliment, express support, or, as in the activity below, initiate deeper and more meaningful face-to-face conversations.  

Thomas Jefferson rightly presumed that people “take pleasure in doing good to another.” Yet, conclude Epley, Kumar, Dungan, and Echelbarger, “they may avoid this pleasure not because they do not want to be good to others, but because they underestimate just how positively others will react.” 

The take-home lesson: We and our students can do it: Greet the custodian with a smile. Take an interest in the ride-share driver. Ask the checkout clerk how their day is going. When feeling appreciation for a family member or friend, tell them. And see if we can replicate the happy science of micro friendships.

Student Activities: The Unexpected Pleasure of Doing Good

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References 

Aknin, L. B., Barrington-Leigh, C., Dunn, E. W., Helliwell, J. F., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., Kemeza, I., Nyende, P., Ashton-James, C. E., & Norton, M. I. (2013). Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 635–652. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0031578 

Aknin, L. B., Broesch, T., Kiley Hamlin, J., & Van de Vondervoort, J. W. (2015). Prosocial behavior leads to happiness in a small-scale rural society. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144, 788–795. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000082 

Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363–377. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167297234003 

Brethel-Haurwitz, K. M., & Marsh, A. A. (2014, March). Geographical differences in subjective well-being predict extraordinary altruism. Psychological Science, 25, 762–771. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797613516148 

Boothby, E. J., & Bohns, V. K. (2021). Why a simple act of kindness is not as simple as it seems: Underestimating the positive impact of our compliments on others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 47(5), 826–840. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167220949003 

Gunaydin, G., Oztekin, H., Karabulut, D. H., & Salman-Engin, S. (2021). Minimal social interactions with strangers predict greater subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-being, 22(4), 1839–1853. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-020-00298-6 

Jefferson, T. (1816, October 14). The Adams papers: To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-6646 

Kardas, M., Kumar, A., & Epley, N. (2022). Overly shallow? Miscalibrated expectations create a barrier to deeper conversation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 122(3), 367–398. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000281 

Kumar, A., & Epley, N. (2018). Undervaluing gratitude: Expressers misunderstand the consequences of showing appreciation. Psychological Science, 29(9), 1423–1435. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797618772506 

Kumar, A., & Epley, N. (2022). A little good goes an unexpectedly long way: Underestimating the positive impact of kindness on recipients. Journal of Experimental Psychology, in press.  

Sandstrom, G. M., & Dunn, E. W. (2014). Is efficiency overrated?: Minimal social interactions lead to belonging and positive affect. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(4), 437–442. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550613502990 

White, M. W., Khan, N., Deren, J. S., Sim, J. J., & Majka, E. A. (2022). Give a dog a bone: Spending money on pets promotes happiness. Journal of Positive Psychology, 17, 589–595. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2021.1897871 

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