Posts tagged with "Psych News Daily"

Status envy: We covet social position more than wealth

May 25, 2021

New research has found that we experience more intense status envy than “stuff” envy. That is, our sense of envy is stronger when the object of that resentment is better off socially (for example, in terms having more influence or respect), rather than better off materially (for example, by having more money or a nicer house), Psych News Daily reports.

The study was conducted by researchers from Hungary, France, and the United States—and has been published in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology.

As the researchers explain, humans evolved in complex social environment—and we, therefore, feel the need to respond to social cues about our status relative to others. The emotions that underlie these social dynamics—such as envy—serve to “increase the stability of social hierarchies and avoid costly disputes,” the authors write.

To participate in the study, the researchers recruited about 400 Hungarians via social media. Most were women, and their average age was 32.

The researchers divided the participants into two groups:

  • They instructed one group to think of a friend or acquaintance who was better off than they were materially.That might include having more money, more financial security, or a nicer home.
  • The second group was asked to think of someone who was better off socially—for example in terms of receiving more respect, admiration, or influence.

Both groups also were asked to respond  on a scale of one to ten to a series of statements designed to assess their levels of benign and malicious envy. “Malicious envy” drives people to reduce someone else’s status, whereas “benign envy” motivates people to increase their own status. Then they were asked whether they believed that the envied person’s advantage was “deserved” or “undeserved.”

Overall, Psych News Daily reports, the researchers found that the participants had significantly higher envy ratings for social status than they did for material wealth.

What’s more, respondents were more likely to experience benign envy when they felt the envied person’s advantage was deserved. Likewise, they were more likely to experience malicious envy if they felt that advantage was not derserved.

Demographic factors such as gender, age, and education did not play a significant role.

Research contact: @PsychNewsDaily

About face: We can distinguish between ‘autocrats’ and ‘elected leaders’ in photos with 70% accuracy

May 14, 2021

new study has determined that we can classify a photo of an unfamiliar politician as either an autocrat or a democratically elected leader, with an accuracy of almost 70%.

The respondents also rated the photos of elected leaders as more attractive, likable, warm, and trustworthy than those of the dictators, Psych News Daily reports.

The results of the study—conducted by Canada-based researchers Miranda Giacomin of MacEwan University; and Alexander Mulligan and Nicholas O. Rule of the University of Toronto—were published on February 4 in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science.

People’s faces offer many clues about their social status, personality, and political leanings. For example, even children can pick the winner of foreign elections based on quick judgments of facial photographs. People also can correctly classify US political candidates as either Republican or Democratic based on their faces. Similar results have been found in Switzerland.

But these judgments can fluctuate based on the situation. Past research, for example, has found that people prefer dominant-looking leaders during wartime, but prefer leaders with more feminine and trustworthy faces during peacetime. Likewise, CEOs of nonprofits are less dominant-looking than the CEOs of profit-earning organizations.

For the study, the researchers first categorized countries as either “democratic” or “authoritarian,” based on two indices.  The Economist Intelligence Unit’Democracy Index, and the Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report.

They wound up with a list of 160 male heads of state: 80 democratic leaders, and 80 dictators. About 33% currently are in power; and the rest are former heads of state.  No female dictators or democrats were included, as the researchers wanted to eliminate any possible gender bias in the participants’ responses.

The researchers chose one photo of each leader, with the subject looking directly at the camera but not expressing any visible emotion. They converted these photos to greyscale, and cropped them tightly to remove extraneous background information. They excluded photos of very famous leaders such as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Likewise, they instructed participants to indicate if they recognized any of the photos; whenever they did, those responses were excluded from the results.

The first of the research paper’s two studies consisted of 90 Mechanical Turk participants recruited in the Unites States. Slightly more than half were women, and their average age was 35.

They viewed the 160 faces in random order, one by one, and categorized them at their own pace as either a likely dictator or a likely democratically-elected leader.

The average participant correctly categorized the leaders depicted in the photos as either autocrats or elected leaders just over 69% of the time.

In the second study, the researchers examined which factors led people to classify the portrayed faces as either democrats or dictators. They again recruited participants via Mechanical Turk; this time there were 229 participants.

They asked these participants to rate the same set of 160 photos for the following qualities on a scale of 1 to 8: affect (i.e. happy or sad), attractiveness, competence, dominance, maturity, likability, and trustworthiness.

The participants rated the democratically elected leaders as more attractive, more competent, happier, and warmer. “Warmth” in this context means a combination of likability and trustworthiness.

The authors suggest that these traits make sense in democracies, “where popularity plays a critical role in whether someone emerges as a leader.”

By contrast, they write, “looking colder and less attractive might similarly facilitate the command of authority on which dictators rely to control the citizens of their nations.”

About 61% of the world’s population currently live in a non-democratic country, the study’s authors point out, and that figure is on the rise: A 2018 study found that 112 countries have become less free since 2006.

Despite these worrisome trends, there has been little research into the ways that visual self-presentation might facilitate autocrats’ reign. And that’s why these researchers wanted to examine people’s perceptions of dictators, as doing so could help explain how autocrats “attain and maintain power.”

As this study indicates, people in democracies value justice, openness, and transparency, and voters in democratic countries “prefer politicians whose faces convey warmth through trustworthiness and likability.”

In contrast, dictators who look harsh and cold seem to more closely “match” an authoritarian stye of governance, which might “successfully elicit more fear and intimidation in the population.”

Research contact: @PsychNewsDaily