Mind Matters — Psychological Tidbits

How are you at reading the emotions of others or assessing your own personality? These are among the topics briefly covered in a recent (April, 2019) publication of Monitor On Psychology.

When researchers asked participants in a study to note the “happiness levels of both black and non-black people photographed with either ‘real’ smiles (which involve movement of muscles at the corner of the eyes) or ‘fake’ (mouth only) smiles,” it was found that non-black participants were able to discern fake from real smiles among white faces, but not among photos of blacks. However, black participants could distinguish real from fake smiles in both blacks and whites.

Impulsivity and lack of maturity of the adolescent brain has been discussed in past columns. Perhaps not so surprising, then, that research also finds that youths who plead guilty for crimes in order to get reduced sentences don’t necessarily understand how that may affect their future. When researchers interviewed young people and adults who had pleaded guilty to a felony, only 71 percent of the youths, while 94 percent of the adults, realized there would be a criminal record. Also, young people don’t consider the consequences on future employment.

Another study of adolescents found that, in countries where corporal punishment, such as spanking, was banned, teenagers were less likely to be violent with one another. “On average, the countries with full bans [both at home and at school] had 31 percent less fighting among males and 58 percent less fighting among females than countries with no bans.” This result confirms the adage, “Violence begets violence.”

While the scientific community concurs that vaccinations do not cause autism, some scientific research does link air pollution to autism. Reported in Pediatrics, a study in Vancouver of over 132,000 children found that they had a slightly higher (and statistically significant) likelihood of being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder if their mothers had been exposed to the highest levels of the pollutant nitric oxide compared to children with mothers that had been least-exposed.

It has been said, “Never trust a man with principles, for sooner or later, he will sacrifice you to them.” This view has its support in research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. An experiment was done with “284 participants who identified as politically moderate rated their agreement with five moral values (care, fairness, sanctity, loyalty, and authority) and then read short descriptions of five different men: a gay man, a man with AIDS, an African-American man, an obese man and a white man.” Those participants who prioritized sanctity—“rules of moral purity—held more negative attitudes towards the gay man and the man with AIDS” than towards the other individuals presented to them. Furthermore, these participants considered the gay man and the man with AIDS to have “less rational minds.” In a further study, participants who held to sanctity believed in “discriminating public policies towards transgender persons.”

Ending on a positive note, research finds that people actually do have a realistic assessment of their own personalities. In other words, most of us, other than narcissistic, grandiose types, are realistic about ourselves.

Would the realistic assessment of ourselves help us to know our limitations when confronted with spurious information about others.