The Research Lead: July 2013


“Mere exposure to money increases endorsement of free-market systems and social inequality”

[Economic Psychology]

How does the concept of money affect an individual’s perception of the social and economic systems in the United States? A research team lead by Eugene Caruso found that individuals who were merely exposed to a computer background image of $100 dollar bills while reading the instructions of the experiment (compared with those who were not), were more likely to: 1) endorse a free-market ideology, 2) justify the current social order of the United States, 3) believe that the world is just (people get what they deserve), 4) believe that it is acceptable for some social groups to dominate others, and 5) structure resources according to a free-market ideology. The researchers suggest that activating an individual’s concept of money may lead him/her to believe in and even promote social and economic systems that maintain and foster inequality.

“The Emerging Field of Human Social Genomics”

[Biological & Clinical Psychology]

Nature versus Nurture? You may be asking the wrong question. In their recent article in Clinical Psychological Science, Slavich and Cole review the emerging science of Human Social Genomics (HSG). This research suggests that human genetic expression may not be as fixed as previously thought, and that our genetic expression depends on the ever changing social and environmental factors that occur throughout an individual’s life. Furthermore, research indicates that genetic expression is not necessarily tied to objective factors in a person’s environment, but rather their subjective experience of the environment. Slavich and Cole also discuss the existence of a human metagenome; the idea that an individual’s genetic expression continuously influences and is influenced by the genetic expression of other individuals. HSG research represents a paradigm shift in how we understand gene-environment interactions. The implications are far reaching, especially for Clinical and Positive Psychology, where a better understanding of the dynamic gene-environment interaction may lead to an increased ability to prevent disease and create environments that promote well-being.

“The meaning and role of ideology in system justification and resistance for high- and low-status people”

[Social Psychology]

The American Dream, touting equality, meritocracy, and democracy, is still very much alive, though it remains, as always, just that: a dream. In a series of three studies, published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Zimmerman & Reyna found that participants still endorsed those quintessentially-American ideals, but participants also felt like actual society is currently falling short of attaining them. The difference between the actual and the idealized was pronounced in lower socio-economic participants, who perceived a bigger difference between the two than participants with higher incomes. Interestingly, however, lower-income participants tended to affirm the existing system at least as strongly, if not more so, than their wealthier counterparts.  Previous research has been taken this as evidence of a system justification that sustains inequality. Zimmerman & Reyna instead argue that idealized belief endorsement among the low-income group represents holding an existing and imperfect system to its higher aspirations. Though this only looks at financial divisions, this research suggests that underprivileged and oppressed groups may support the ideals of a failing system without endorsing its faulty actualization.

“The Pervasive Problem With Placebos in Psychology: Why Active Control Groups Are Not Sufficient to Rule Out Placebo Effects”


Proper methodological design is paramount for any scientific study, especially those making causal claims. In a recent article, Boot et al. demonstrate that many psychology studies fail to control for differences in expectation between participants in the control and experimental groups. For many studies, the effects observed in the experimental group may in fact be due to the placebo effect of expectation, rather than the intervention itself, calling into question any causal claims. Through a case study and a simple test of expectations, Boot and colleagues show that expectations do infact differ between the control and experimental groups, and how the failure to control for such differences can lead to faulty or at least premature claims of causation. To help remedy this pervasive problem, the authors point to certain methodological designs that can control for expectations, and call on researchers, reviewers, and editors to set a higher methodological standard when making causal claims for a psychological intervention.

“Perceived Hotness Affects Behavior of Basketball Players and Coaches”

[Statistical Psychology]

Things might not be quite as good as they seem on the court. In July’s issue of Psychological Science, Attali empirically analyzes how the well-known and much-disputed “hot hand,” the idea that players who have made recent shots are more likely to make their next shot. The pervasive perception of “hot hand” – accepted by players and coaches alike –  was found to significantly increase a player’s chances of taking the next shot, and of taking more risky shots. However, these “hot” players were in fact less likely to make a shot after a hit than after a miss. Though there is sound reason behind the psychological tendency to seek out and identify patterns among repeated events, this research adds to past literature showing how intuitions concerning statistical probability may result in suboptimal behavior.

“Paradoxical effects of stress and an executive task on decisions under risk”


Two wrongs don’t make a right, but when it comes to cognitive neuroscience, sometimes two simultaneous impairments counterintuitively make for improved performance. Previous research has established that decisions made either under stress or while multitasking tend to be impaired. Extending this research in the June issue of Cognitive Neuroscience, Pabst and colleagues examined the combined effect of these impairments on decision making, uncovering a paradoxical result. A simple prediction might hold that this combination of impairments would combine or synthesize, resulting in even worse decision making; puzzlingly, however, Pabst et al. found that decisions made by stressed, multitasking individuals performed better than a control group acting in the absence of either factor. The most likely explanation, according to the authors, is that the combination of stress and dual task monitoring induces a cognitive switch from serial to parallel goal monitoring, potentially by means of elevated dopamine concentrations in areas of the brain implicated in goal monitoring.

“Infant ERPs separate children at risk of dyslexia who become good readers from those who become poor readers”

[Developmental Psychology]

Developmental dyslexia, most widely recognized as a reading disorder, and whose causes are not precisely known, is characterized by multiple deficits. In this longitudinal study, van Zuijen et al. examine how one of these, a phonological deficit (the difficulty connecting letters to the sounds they make), may be an early indicator of later reading trouble. Starting with at-risk infants as young as 2 months old, the researchers studied brain activity during a phonological differentiation task. Years later, when the participants were in second grade, the researchers followed up with a reading fluency test. The children whose brain scans during the phonological task had exhibited a mismatched response (MMR) were reading fluently, but those who did not show MMR were not. These results are consistent with theories of dyslexia as a phonological deficit, and show that there are very early neurophysiological precursors to dysfluent reading, which could be valuable in early identification. Furthermore, lateralization differences between the subjects and controls supports theories of alternative speech processing circuitry that may develop as a compensatory mechanism for some children with phonological impairments early on.

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