Posts tagged with "Aggression"

Keep your head down: Tilting your chin toward your neck can make you seem more dominant

August 16, 2019

Does somebody you know make you feel as if he or she is “head and shoulders above you” in confidence and ability?  Findings of a study recently conducted at the University of British Columbia in Canada indicate that when a conversational partner arches his eyebrows and tilts his chin downward, the effect can be intimidating.

In fact, even “… a neutral face—a face with no muscle movement or facial expression—appears to be more dominant when the head is tilted down,” researchers Zachary Witkower and Jessica Tracy explained in an article published in the June edition of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

This effect is caused by the fact that tilting one’s head downward leads to the artificial appearance of lowered and V-shaped eyebrows—which in turn elicit perceptions of aggression, intimidation, and dominance.”

Although researchers have investigated how facial muscle movements, in the form of facial expressions, correlate with social impressions, few studies have specifically examined how head movements might play a role. Witkower and Tracy designed a series of studies to investigate whether the angle of head position might influence social perception, even when facial features remain neutral.

In one online study with 101 participants, the researchers generated variations of avatars with neutral facial expressions—using three head positions: tilted upward ten degrees, neutral (0 degrees), or tilted downward ten degrees.

The participants judged the dominance of each avatar image, rating their agreement with statements including “This person would enjoy having control over others” and “This person would be willing to use aggressive tactics to get their way.”

The results showed that participants rated the avatars with downward head tilt as more dominant than those with neutral or upward-titled heads.

A second online study, in which 570 participants rated images of actual people, showed the same pattern of results.

Additional findings revealed that the portion of the face around the eyes and eyebrows is both necessary and sufficient to produce the dominance effect. That is, participants rated downward-tilted heads as more dominant even when they could only see the eyes and eyebrows; this was not true when the rest of the face was visible, and the eyes and eyebrows were obscured.

Two more experiments indicated that the angle of the eyebrows drove this effect—downward-tilted heads had eyebrows that appeared to take more of a V shape, even though the eyebrows had not moved from a neutral position, and this was associated with perceptions of dominance.

“In other words, tilting the head downward can have the same effect on social perceptions as does lowering one’s eyebrows—a movement made by the corrugator muscle, known as Action Unit 4 in the Facial Action Coding System—but without any actual facial movement,” say Witkower and Tracy. “Head tilt is thus an ‘action unit imposter’ in that it creates the illusory appearance of a facial muscle movement where none in fact exists.”

Ultimately, Witkower and Tracy note, these findings could have practical implications for our everyday social interactions: “People often display certain movements or expressions during their everyday interactions, such as a friendly smile or wave, as a way to communicate information,” they said, adding, “Our research suggests that we may also want to consider how [they] hold their head during these interactions, as subtle head movements can dramatically change the meaning of otherwise innocuous facial expressions.”

Research contact: zak.witkower@psych.ubc.ca

Flame-retardant home furnishings may cause aggressive behavior in children

March 27, 2019

Flame retardants originally were meant to protect us from dangerous, fast-spreading fires—but now, cautious parents are checking their sofas and upholstery; as well as electronic equipment, textiles, cleaning products, and even non-stick cookware, to ensure that they don’t contain these chemicals.

Over the past few years, scientists have warned that exposure to fire-resistant chemicals (PBDEs and OPFRs)—which seep out of home furnishings and into the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil in which we plant crops—can lead to lower IQs, hyperactivity, poor motor skills, and learning disabilities in developing babies and young children.

But now, Parents magazine reports, new research at Oregon State University in Corvallis has established a significant relationship between social behaviors among children and their exposure to flame retardants.

Indeed, Molly Kile, an environmental epidemiologist and associate professor in the College of Pubic Health and Human Sciences at OSU, noted, “When we analyzed behavior assessments and exposure levels, we observed that the children who had more exposure to certain types of the flame retardant were more likely to exhibit externalizing behaviors such as aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying.”

Kile, the corresponding author of the study, which was published on March 9 in the journal Environmental Health, added, “”This is an intriguing finding because no one had previously studied the behavioral effects of organophosphate classes of flame retardants, which have been added to consumer products more recently.”

During the course of the study, the OSU team observed 92 children, ages three through five—all of whom had been exposed to some level of flame retardant chemicals. After analyzing data collected from parent, teacher, and caregiver questionnaires, the researchers found that the kids who were exposed to higher levels of the chemicals displayed more aggression.

The results are definitely a cause for concern, considering flame retardants have been around since the mid-1970s, and can be found in such a wide variety of items in the home. The Environmental Working Group— a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment— offers the following tips:

  • Buy flame-retardant-free products (check labels);
  • Vacuum with a HEPA filter and wet mop household surfaces;
  • Wash hands before eating;
  • Dispose of damaged cushions and replace with retardant-free versions; and
  • Don’t ever try to reupholster furniture or replace carpeting yourself.

Research contact: @parentsmagazine

Schadenfreude: Feeling good about someone else’s bad luck

October 26, 2018

Embarrassing as it is to admit, few among us have not experienced schadenfreudethe German word for the sense of pleasure that people derive from the misfortune of others. This common, yet poorly understood, emotion may provide a valuable window into the darker side of humanity, according to psychologists at Emory University in Atlanta.

In a study to be published in New Ideas in Psychology in January, and covered on October 23 in Science Daily, the Emory researchers propose that schadenfreude comprises three separable but interrelated sensibilities—aggression, rivalry, and justice—and that people who experience schadenfreude feel a sense of detachment from the subject of their glee.

Indeed, says Shengshen Wang, a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology at Emory and the lead author of the paper, “Dehumanization appears to be at the core of schadenfreude. The scenarios that elicit schadenfreude, such as intergroup conflicts, tend to also promote dehumanization.”

Dehumanization can range from subtle forms, such as assuming that someone from another ethnic group does not feel the full range of emotions as one’s in-group members do; all the way to blatant forms; such as equating sex offenders to animals.

“Our literature review strongly suggests that the propensity to experience schadenfreude isn’t entirely unique, but that it overlaps substantially with several other ‘dark’ personality traits, such as sadism, narcissism, and psychopathy,” comments co-author Philippe Rochat, who studies infant and child development, . “Moreover, different subforms of schadenfreude may relate somewhat differently to these often malevolent traits.”

“Schadenfreude is an uncanny emotion that is difficult to assimilate,” Rochat says. “It’s kind of a warm-cold experience that is associated with a sense of guilt. It can make you feel odd to experience pleasure when hearing about bad things happening to someone else.”

Psychologists view schadenfreude through the lens of three theories:

  • Envy theory focuses on a concern for self-evaluation, and a lessening of painful feelings when someone perceived as enviable gets knocked down a peg.
  • Deservingness theory links schadenfreude to a concern for social justice and the feeling that someone dealt a misfortune received what was coming to them.
  • Intergroup-conflict theory concerns social identity and the schadenfreude experienced after the defeat of members of a rival group, such as during sporting or political competitions.

The Emory research study found that infants as young as eight months demonstrate a sophisticated sense of social justice. In experiments, they showed a preference for puppets who assisted a helpful puppet, and who punished puppets that had exhibited antisocial behavior. Research on infants also points to the early roots of intergroup aggression, showing that, by nine months, infants preferred puppets who punish others who are unlike themselves.

“When you think of normal child development, you think of children becoming good-natured and sociable,” Rochat says. “But there’s a dark side to becoming socialized. You create friends and other in-groups to the exclusion of others.”

Spiteful rivalry appears by at least age five or six, when research has shown that children will sometimes opt to maximize their gain over another child, even if they have to sacrifice a resource to do so.

By the time they reach adulthood, many people have learned to hide any tendencies for making a sacrifice just for spite, but they may be more open about making sacrifices that are considered pro-social.

The review article posits a unifying, motivational theory: Concerns of self-evaluation, social identity and justice are the three motivators that drive people toward schadenfreude. What pulls people away from schadenfreude is the ability to feel empathy for others and to perceive them as fully human and to show empathy for them.

Ordinary people may temporarily lose empathy for others. But those with certain personality disorders and associated traits—such as psychopathy, narcissism, or sadism—either are less able or less motivated to put themselves in the shoes of others.

“By broadening the perspective of schadenfreude, and connecting all of the related phenomena underlying it, we hope we’ve provided a framework to gain deeper insights into this complex, multi-faceted emotion,” Wang says.

Research contact: shensheng.wang@emory.edu