Tag Archives: Emotions

Blind athletes provide clues about the nature of our emotions.

'Expression of Joy' from 'The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals.'

‘Expressions of Joy’ from ‘The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals.’

One of the most important ways that we learn how to interact with the world around us is through observational learning. By watching how our friends and family members behave, we learn at a very young age how to do things like turn on a lightbulb, open a door, or play with a doll, without the tedious trial-by-error reinforcement process that would be required if we only learned things through classic behaviorism. With this in mind, it’s only natural to assume that we have learned when to smile politely, wrinkle our noses in disgust, or furrow our brows in anger by watching the people around us react in those ways when presented with similar situations.

'Expressions of Suffering - Weeping' from 'The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals' London 1872.  Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

‘Expressions of Suffering – Weeping’ from ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.’

But what if observational learning isn’t the only way in which we figure out how to express our emotions? What if those emotional expressions — or at least, some of those expressions — actually come “pre-programmed” into our very nature, and we would make those grimaces, brow-furrows, and polite smiles of thinly-veiled contempt without ever seeing other people make these expressions first?

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Coulda, woulda, shoulda: Why silver medalists look so blue.

Getty Images/Thomas Coex

McKayla Maroney is not impressed.

Can you blame her? After a solid week of being touted as the “world’s best vaulter,” she came up short at the individual vault event, earning a silver medal after an unanticipated fall during her second vault.

“If only I’d stuck the landing,” reads the look on Maroney’s face. In other words, Maroney was most likely engaging in counterfactual thinking, otherwise known as those pesky “coulda, woulda, shouldas.”

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

But why would Maroney look so upset? After all, she did earn a silver medal — a fairly impressive feat, by anyone’s standards. And why does the bronze medalist, Russian gymnast Maria Paseka, look so much happier than Maroney?

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Seeing the 1960s forest for the Mad Men trees.

Doesn’t it feel sometimes like the trendy thing to do is reminisce about the past?

Joan Harris (nee Holloway) on "Mad Men"

With the return of AMC’s Mad Men on Sunday, a legion of fans will be tuning in to marvel at Joan’s bodacious curves, Roger and Don’s alcohol-soaked workplace antics, and Betty Draper’s disturbingly standoffish take on parenting. Stephen King’s popular new book 11/22/63 is about a man who travels back in time to 1958. Shows like Pan Am and Playboy Club debuted this year, hoping to capitalize on audiences’ apparent love for reminiscing. It even seems like fashion has pivoted back towards the past, with retro dresses popping up in store windows across the country. But as we all sit around and revel in the nostalgic quirks of the 1960s, is there anything psychological going on beneath the surface?

There’s a fairly straightforward reason why we love to reminisce; feeling “nostalgic” tends to be associated with a variety of positive emotions, like happiness, social connection, and positive feelings about oneself. However, nostalgia might also have some sneaky side effects.

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The psychology of giving thanks.

As everyone sits down tonight to feast on turkey, they will be going around the table giving thanks for everyday sources of gratitude, like friendships, relationships, and good health. According to psychological research, there are plenty of reasons why Thanksgiving itself can help maintain and improve those very things for which people are thankful.

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America: Land of the free, and home of the…discontent?

American Flag

Many Americans celebrated July 4th with fireworks and barbecues. But how much thought did everyone give to the true spirit of Independence Day?

Independence is one of those things that America is known for. In fact, “independent” tends to be America’s adjectival calling card. Not only is America frequently thought of as a superpower responsible for spreading the light of freedom throughout the world, but people are often only successful within American society if they are self-sufficient and largely self-focused.

However, this vision of America has fallen out of favor lately. Many global citizens simply aren’t thrilled by the thought of a country whose national stereotype paints it as self-serving, and plenty of Americans are well aware of that fact. To examine this phenomenon in greater detail, MarYam Hamedani, Hazel Markus, and Alyssa Fu ran a series of studies where they tested exactly what it is that people think of when they think of ‘America,’ and how this vision impacts thoughts and actions.

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Fear and love on a shaky bridge.

“Imagine being in the jungle, thousands of miles from civilization…”

Thus opens the promo for Love In The Wild, the “extreme dating experiment” premiering on NBC this week which promises that its contestants will go on first dates that are jam packed with shaky bridges, crocodile attacks, and bungee jumping.

Either NBC has recently replaced their writing staff with former academics, or their writers missed a true calling as social psychologists. This trick has been done before — and, in case you were wondering, it works.
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Envying evolution: What can the X-Men teach us about stereotypes?

This weekend marked the opening of X-Men: First Class, prequel to (and assumed reboot of) the wildly successful X-Men movie franchise.

For those who are unfamiliar with the X-Men series, the stories revolve around groups of ‘mutants,’ super-powered beings who supposedly represent the next stage in human evolution and whose powers run the gamut from telepathy to cellular regeneration. Apart from stunning visual effects and fun action sequences, one of the most compelling aspects of the X-Men movies is how easy it is to understand and relate to the prejudice faced by the X-Men and other mutants at the hands of the frightened, non-mutated humans. In fact, there’s quite a lot that the X-Men movies can help us understand about the nature of stereotypes, how we form them, and what makes us activate them in our everyday lives.
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