Friday, December 9, 2016

For narcissists, self-esteem is not the issue

Get past the provocative title of Brad Bushman's most recent blog post and you'll get a quick capsule summary of the link between narcissism and aggression. Conventional wisdom is that acts of aggressive behavior are due to low self-esteem. Individuals who tend to chronically hurt other people, whether physically or emotionally, presumably feel bad about themselves and are compensating somehow. This concept is so much embedded in our social fabric that it is portrayed quite regularly in our pop culture. Heck, an alternative rock band in the mid-1990s, The Offspring, even had a hit song on that very topic - just as one example. Here's the problem: the evidence for the belief that low self-esteem is one risk factor in aggressive behavior is practically non-existent. There is, on the other hand, evidence that narcissists do become angry and do behave aggressively when they are provoked in an ego-threatening manner, and that evidence has been steadily pouring in since the 1990s. Even better, a single item inventory can detect narcissists with a high degree of reliability and validity, as it turns out that narcissists cannot help but out themselves as such - and that is useful for those of us who design experiments who might want to use narcissism as a moderator variable, but have limited lab time per participant at our disposal. Now, the focus of the blog post is on sub-clinical narcissism. However, when one looks at individuals who are clinically diagnosable as narcissists, their track record is one of lack of empathy and harmful behavior towards others.

Although Bushman does not go into this, it turns out that narcissists have a "type" whom they are attracted to. A friend of mine recently completed a dissertation that was primarily a qualitative analysis of the partners and ex-partners of narcissists. In his interviews with these individuals, it becomes clear that most of them have no idea just who they were dating or marrying until it was a bit too late, but they do ultimately recognize that they are dealing with a narcissist at some point during the progression of the relationship. But more interesting was how they scored on the Big Five personality factors: in general they tended to score well above average on the traits of agreeableness and conscientiousness. Most of us will not put up with the abuse of a narcissist for very long, but for that subset who are nice and duty-bound almost to the point of overkill, the narcissist has his or her ideal target: a person who can be harmed whenever the narcissist feels threatened who will continue to take whatever aggression and anger the narcissist throws their way (at least up to some eventual breaking point). And it also becomes clear that the impression that the partners and ex-partners of narcissists do recognize that these individuals come across as highly confident and tend to have inflated views about themselves (that may well have been what sparked the attraction in the first place), may make great first impressions, but that over time they turn out to be not only less than they billed themselves but also rather easily angered and aggressive over the long haul.

Bottom line is that self-esteem is not the issue. Narcissists are doing quite well in that regard. Obviously I would not advocate for low self-esteem either. However, a dose of humility may not be a bad idea, and may put one at less risk to be verbally or physically harmful toward others.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

And once more with feeling: the bubble is real

 I've barely followed Vice, since I found my few experiences to be somewhat on the sensationalistic side. However, the infographic from this story and the story itself may be at least somewhat useful. In particular note how little overlap there is between Clinton and Trump supporters. Trump supporters especially appear to live in their own reality. Some of the other infographics are telling as well. We used to call this the echo chamber about a decade or two ago. Bubbles or echo chambers are not especially healthy for a democracy. It is useful to know where we are currently. That will help us sort out the extent to which we can improve our own media consumption and public discourse.

More media literacy: Some advice on reading the news

Infographic nicked from here. It is publicly posted on Facebook, and hopefully will remain that way. Of course, the list is far from complete, but it does serve as a template. It reinforces what I have attempted to state at various points over the last few weeks. Stick to a variety of sources representing varying views, keep the fact checking resources bookmarked, and keep an open mind.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

More media literacy resources

In an earlier blog post, I introduced you to the work of Melissa Zimdars, who created some tips for analyzing news sources, and in the process, I advocated keeping some fact checking websites bookmarked for those occasions where a story seemed too sensational to be true. Since then, Zimdars has been updating her tips and her list. I thought a couple of the links she suggests visiting are well worth your while:

Truth, truthiness, triangulation: A news literacy toolkit for a “post-truth” world by Joyce Valenza for School Library Journal.

Digital Resource Center

I wish that we could count on our news sources to be accurate, but we can't. We have to put in a bit of legwork when we see a story that looks interesting. Of the various pieces of advice, triangulating (looking for multiple sources for a story rather than relying on a single source) and reading the "about us" link when looking at a new website (or new to you website) are invaluable. We should also remember that in a 24/7 news cycle world, "breaking news" should be treated with caution. Early breaking information is often inaccurate, so make sure to check back later as journalists do their job. Also a good idea to be aware of your own biases and open yourself up to reputable sources that might go outside your own comfort zone. The reason for that last bit of advice is simply to avoid ending up in an echo chamber. Confirmation bias is tempting, as it "feels good" to read or listen to information that essentially confirms your own pre-set beliefs. However, those who might approach a story from a different angle may provide useful information that will empower you to question your beliefs and modify as needed. Often, the interesting stories - especially during an election cycle - are enormously complex and can be examined from any of a number of angles. Although the facts (the data in a news story) might constrain conclusions that may be drawn, examining how others draw somewhat different conclusions from the same story can be informative. I would also be wary of making too much from photos or video clips, as they may only tell part of a story if accurate, and with the advent of guerrilla journalism and photo-editing software those photos or video clips may be entirely worthless. Reliable sources may be less prone to circulating inaccurate information, but can still get facets of a story wrong. So again, triangulate.

I am sure that I will want to share more with you as we go forward. But for now, we have a working set of resources that will suffice.

The future of this blog

When I first started this blog, my intention was fairly modest: namely share a bit of my expertise in my areas of research and to perhaps do a bit to promote recently published and presented work that I have authored or coauthored with students or colleagues. I still intend to do so as I have in the past.

However, if this last year (and really the last several years) has taught me anything, it is that there is a considerable lack of both media literacy and science literacy in the US in particular, but probably to a degree elsewhere as well. As it turns out, my background uniquely positions me to address both concerns. I primarily teach methodology courses at my current university, and much of what I do is provide hands on training in conducting proper scientific research - beginning with learning the basics of descriptive and inferential statistics and creating research prospectuses, and culminating with completed research that can be presented at our Psychology Symposium each fall semester. I also am an aggression researcher who primarily is concerned with the influence of media violence on all facets of our cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes. Although my own focus has been on aggressive cognitive and behavioral outcomes, I do have some published work that address how certain forms of media manipulation can lead individuals to accept human rights violations that they otherwise might not accept. Given the exaggeration of violence in all facets of our mass media (including news reporting as it appears in traditional mass media as well as social media), I can take some inspiration from the work begun by George Gerbner and apply that work to our current situation.

I have been more keen to address science literacy in a number of ways, including examining the benefits and pitfalls of the path advocated by such organizations as the Open Science Foundation (with the caveat that I am generally supportive of OSF's general intentions), and have done so over the last year or so. I would love to devote some posts to how to make our work more available to the public, and how we can devote more classroom time from K-12 onward to providing better science training, including in the behavioral and social sciences. Although the scientific method is not perfect, its insistence on valid research design, well-reasoned conclusions based upon the available data, and independent verifiability and replication has been crucial to our civilization's development, and will continue to be crucial as we face this century's challenges. So, there is an area where I think we should spend some time in the months to years to come.

We clearly as a society need a crash course in media literacy. One of the hard lessons learned from this electoral cycle was just how little critical examination of news stories actually occurred. The proliferation of clickbait and fake news sites led to outrageous half-truths and often outright falsehoods going viral on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. I have been trying to provide a few posts as of late to highlight efforts to combat these particular fake news and clickbait sites. I may have a few more posts in me as new resources spring up. My general advice will be pretty straightforward: keep fact check sites bookmarked (Snopes, for example is well worth visiting), make certain that a story is appearing in more than one source (or related set of sources), and avoid echo chambers in order to prevent confirmation bias (a phenomenon I noticed way too often even among my own personal circle of friends - many of whom I expected to know better). In essence I am and will continue to advocate for being a good critical thinker when consuming news. My own morning go-to news sites span a number of ideological perspectives and are ones that are generally reputable. I actually rarely watch cable news outlets, preferring to read articles published on their sites instead if possible. My primary rationale started mainly from my media violence background and my understanding of Gerbner's cultivation theory: that overexposure to media, and especially portrayals of violence, have a number of unwanted outcomes on human behavior, and many of those outcomes are ones that are not healthy for any democratic society. So expect more of a conversation along those lines.

So, a fair amount of what you've read from me this year is likely a foreshadowing of what is to come. As always, my intention is to be evidence-based in my presentation to you. I may post a few other items that I think might be interesting as well, either because they provide some interesting historical context, or provide examples of internet memes that can be used to counter the prevailing tendency to fall for confirmation biases of one sort or another.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Think Before You Share

As part of my commitment to promoting media literacy, this video is worth sharing. As others have undoubtedly mentioned elsewhere (and as I have tried to highlight), if a news item appears on your social media feeds that seems too sensational to be true, it probably is. Do some basic fact checking before you contribute to making a misleading or fake story go viral. The fabric of our entire set of democratic institutions in the US and abroad are dependent upon us sharing accurate information rather than spreading falsehoods.

Please note that this video appears to be most compatible with Google Chrome (at least on the computers accessible to me).

Monday, November 21, 2016

The social psychology of prejudice in the Trump era

This column by social psychologist Chris Crandall should be on your reading list at some point this week, if you have not already seen it. Part of what makes the article useful to me is that Crandall and his colleagues at University of Kansas conducted a study in which they contacted 200 Trump supporters and 200 Clinton supporters and asked them about a wide variety of questions, including questions regarding attitudes toward a variety of groups that Trump has insulted over the course of his campaign, including persons with disabilities, Latinos (more specifically those from Mexico), Muslims, immigrants, and people who might be classified as overweight. Half were asked to rate their own views about these groups and the other half were asked what they thought others' attitudes toward these groups were. What was interesting was that participants showed a shift in negative attitudes toward people in these categories - not only by Trump supporters but also Clinton supporters as well - after Trump was named President-Elect. Their perception of the social norms had shifted, and so too had their expressed attitudes.

As Crandall notes, this is certainly not the only example of an experimental study showing a normative shift, but it is one very applicable to our own particular circumstances in the US. It appears that after decades of effort to cultivate more favorable attitudes toward inclusiveness, we are witnessing just how fragile those efforts have been. As a social psychologist who studies aggression, I can see how the shift in attitudes we are now witnessing could have some significant blowback in the coming months and years. What we study in the lab as social psychologists will become even more important and applicable than ever in the years to come. There is much work to be done, and shared with the public.