Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

  • Enacting rituals to improve self-control. 20180517
    Rituals are predefined sequences of actions characterized by rigidity and repetition. We propose that enacting ritualized actions can enhance subjective feelings of self-discipline, such that rituals can be harnessed to improve behavioral self-control. We test this hypothesis in 6 experiments. A field experiment showed that engaging in a pre-eating ritual over a 5-day period helped participants reduce calorie intake (Experiment 1). Pairing a ritual with healthy eating behavior increased the likelihood of choosing healthy food in a subsequent decision (Experiment 2), and enacting a ritual before a food choice (i.e., without being integrated into the consumption process) promoted the choice of healthy food over unhealthy food (Experiments 3a and 3b). The positive effect of rituals on self-control held even when a set of ritualized gestures were not explicitly labeled as a ritual, and in other domains of behavioral self-control (i.e., prosocial decision-making; Experiments 4 and 5). Furthermore, Experiments 3a, 3b, 4, and 5 provided evidence for the psychological process underlying the effectiveness of rituals: heightened feelings of self-discipline. Finally, Experiment 5 showed that the absence of a self-control conflict eliminated the effect of rituals on behavior, demonstrating that rituals affect behavioral self-control specifically because they alter responses to self-control conflicts. We conclude by briefly describing the results of a number of additional experiments examining rituals in other self-control domains. Our body of evidence suggests that rituals can have beneficial consequences for self-control. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
  • It’s about time: Earlier rewards increase intrinsic motivation. 20180517
    Can immediate (vs. delayed) rewards increase intrinsic motivation? Prior research compared the presence versus absence of rewards. By contrast, this research compared immediate versus delayed rewards, predicting that more immediate rewards increase intrinsic motivation by creating a perceptual fusion between the activity and its goal (i.e., the reward). In support of the hypothesis, framing a reward from watching a news program as more immediate (vs. delayed) increased intrinsic motivation to watch the program (Study 1), and receiving more immediate bonus (vs. delayed, Study 2; and vs. delayed and no bonus, Study 3) increased intrinsic motivation in an experimental task. The effect of reward timing was mediated by the strength of the association between an activity and a reward, and was specific to intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) motivation—immediacy influenced the positive experience of an activity, but not perceived outcome importance (Study 4). In addition, the effect of the timing of rewards was independent of the effect of the magnitude of the rewards (Study 5). (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Can an unpredictable childhood environment enhance working memory? Testing the sensitized-specialization hypothesis. 20180201
    Although growing up in an adverse childhood environment tends to impair cognitive functions, evolutionary-developmental theory suggests that this might be only one part of the story. A person’s mind may instead become developmentally specialized and potentially enhanced for solving problems in the types of environments in which the person grew up. In the current research, we tested whether these specialized advantages in cognitive function might be sensitized to emerge in currently uncertain contexts. We refer to this as the sensitized-specialization hypothesis. We conducted experimental tests of this hypothesis in the domain of working memory, examining how growing up in unpredictable versus predictable environments affects different facets of working memory. Although growing up in an unpredictable environment is typically associated with impairments in working memory, we show that this type of environment is positively associated with those aspects of working memory that are useful in rapidly changing environments. Importantly, these effects emerged only when the current context was uncertain. These theoretically derived findings suggest that childhood environments shape, rather than uniformly impair, cognitive functions. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Parochial cooperation in nested intergroup dilemmas is reduced when it harms out-groups. 20180201
    In intergroup settings, humans often contribute to their in-group at a personal cost. Such parochial cooperation benefits the in-group and creates and fuels intergroup conflict when it simultaneously hurts out-groups. Here, we introduce a new game paradigm in which individuals can display universal cooperation (which benefits both in- and out-group) as well as parochial cooperation that does, versus does not hurt the out-group. Using this set-up, we test hypotheses derived from group selection theory, social identity, and bounded generalized reciprocity theory. Across three experiments we find, first, that individuals choose parochial over universal cooperation. Second, there was no evidence for a motive to maximize differences between in- and out-group, which is central to both group selection and social identity theory. However, fitting bounded generalized reciprocity theory, we find that individuals with a prosocial value orientation display parochial cooperation, provided that this does not harm the out-group; individualists, in contrast, display parochialism whether or not nut it hurts the out-group. Our findings were insensitive to cognitive taxation (Experiments 2–3), and emerged even when universal cooperation served social welfare more than parochialism (Experiment 3). (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Prestige in a large-scale social group predicts longitudinal changes in testosterone. 20180517
    In many social species, organisms adaptively fine-tune their competitive behavior in response to previous experiences of social status: Individuals who have prevailed in the past preferentially compete in the future, whereas those who have suffered defeat tend to defer and submit. A growing body of evidence suggests that testosterone functions as a “competition hormone” that coordinates this behavioral plasticity through its characteristic rise and fall following victory and defeat. Although well demonstrated in competitions underpinned by dominance (fear-based status derived from force and intimidation), this pattern has not been examined in status contests that depend solely on prestige—respect-based status derived from success, skills, and knowledge in locally valued domains, devoid of fear or antagonism. Thus, the hormonal mechanisms underlying prestige-based status are largely unknown. Here, we examine the effects of previous experiences of prestige—assessed using community-wide nominations of talent and advice provision—on intraindividual changes in testosterone in a large-scale naturalistic community. Results revealed that men who achieve high standing in the group’s prestige hierarchy in the initial weeks of group formation show a rise in testosterone over the subsequent 2 months, whereas men with low-prestige show a decline or little change in testosterone—a pattern consistent with the functional significance of context-specific testosterone responses. No significant associations were found in women. These results suggest that the long-term up- and downregulation of testosterone provides a mechanism through which past experiences of prestige calibrate psychological systems in a manner that adaptively guides future efforts in seeking and maintaining prestige. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Self-esteem across the second half of life: The role of socioeconomic status, physical health, social relationships, and personality factors. 20170202
    Self-esteem development across adulthood has been in the center of interest for some time now. However, not much is known about factors that shape self-esteem and its development in the second half of life and whether the factors differ with age and gender. To examine these questions, this study uses 2-wave data from the population-based NorLAG study in Norway (N = 5,555; Mage = 58 years; 51% women) and combines self-report data on self-esteem and personality with registry-based information on socioeconomic status (education, income, unemployment), health problems (sick leave, lifetime history of disability), and social relationships (cohabiting partner, lifetime history of divorce and widowhood). Results from latent change score models revealed that self-esteem peaked at around age 50 and declined thereafter. More importantly, lower socioeconomic status, not having a cohabiting partner, unemployment, and disability were each uniquely associated with lower levels of self-esteem and/or steeper declines in self-esteem over the 5-year study period. Over and above registry-based information, personality characteristics were relevant, with a more mature personality being associated with higher self-esteem level. Emotionally stable participants also showed less pronounced declines in self-esteem. Moreover, associations of disability and of emotional stability with self-esteem level were weaker with advancing age. Among women, self-esteem level was more strongly associated with emotional stability and less strongly with openness, compared to men. Our findings demonstrate the utility of registry-based information and suggest that physical health, social relationships, and personality factors are in manifold ways uniquely associated with self-esteem and its development later in life. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
  • State-trait decomposition of Name Letter Test scores and relationships with global self-esteem. 20170109
    The Name Letter Test (NLT) assesses the degree that participants show a preference for an individual’s own initials. The NLT was often thought to measure implicit self-esteem, but recent literature reviews do not equivocally support this hypothesis. Several authors have argued that the NLT is most strongly associated with the state component of self-esteem. The current research uses a modified STARTS model to (a) estimate the percentage of stable and transient components of the NLT and (b) estimate the covariances between stable/transient components of the NLT and stable/transient components of self-esteem and positive and negative affect. Two longitudinal studies were conducted with different time lags: In Study 1, participants were assessed daily for 7 consecutive days, whereas in Study 2, participants were assessed weekly for 8 consecutive weeks. Participants also completed a battery of questionnaires including global self-esteem, positive affect, and negative affect. In both studies, the NLT showed (a) high stability across time, (b) a high percentage of stable variance, (c) no significant covariance with stable and transient factors for global self-esteem, and (d) a different pattern of correlations with stable and transient factors of affect than global self-esteem. Collectively, these results further undermine the claim that the NLT is a valid measure of implicit self-esteem. Future work is needed to identify theoretically grounded correlates of the NLT. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Self-esteem and relationship satisfaction during the transition to motherhood. 20170810
    In the current study, we used 5 waves of longitudinal data from a large representative sample of Norwegian mothers (N = 84,711) to examine the association between romantic relationship satisfaction and self-esteem before and after childbirth in subgroups of first-, second-, third-, and fourth-time mothers. Maternal self-esteem showed a highly similar change pattern across subgroups. Specifically, self-esteem decreased during pregnancy, increased until the child was 6 months old, and then gradually decreased over the following years. The replication of this trajectory across subgroups and pregnancies suggests that this is a normative change pattern. For relationship satisfaction, the birth of the first child seemed to have the strongest impact compared with the birth of subsequent children. In first-time mothers, relationship satisfaction was high during pregnancy, sharply decreased around childbirth, and then gradually decreased in the following years. In second-, third-, and fourth-time mothers, the decrease in relationship satisfaction after childbirth was more gradual and linear compared with the sharp decrease found in first-time mothers. Moderate positive correlated changes between self-esteem and relationship satisfaction indicated that these constructs were linked over time. Discussion focuses on the implications of the results for theory and future research on self-esteem, relationship satisfaction, and personality–relationship transactions. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)

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