Posts tagged with "Psychology Today"

Hypnotizing patients over Skype helps ease the symptoms of IBS

April 3, 2019

Teletherapy—the online delivery of speech, occupational, and mental health therapy services via two-way video conferencing—is gaining in popularity because it makes help available to busy, infirm, or remotely located patients.

Now, a study conducted at the Neurogastroenterology Unit of Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, England—and published in February by the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis—has found that combining teletherapy with hypnosis can offer an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.

The researchers, lead by Shariq S. Hasan, a public health specialist, found that the unusual combination of mind-body therapy—coupled with the use of Skype—helped ease IBS pain and distress, even from afar, Psychology Today reports.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder that affects roughly 10% to 15% of the population, and causes significant physical and psychological distress. People who have IBS suffer from frequent diarrhea, constipation, or both of these; as well as GI pain and other physical symptoms. For many, these symptoms generate considerable anxiety related to traveling due to fears of diarrhea and incontinence. The combination of distress and GI symptoms, including fears of losing control of one’s bowels, can thus make it difficult for IBS patients to make it to additional health care and other appointments.

Patients with IBS are frequently prescribed any of a variety of medications, as well as dietary changes, to manage symptoms. Yet, for some people, these approaches fail to result in adequate symptom relief.

That’s where hypnosis comes in: Hypnosis has been shown to help with a number of IBS-related symptoms. For example, once the patient is  in a more relaxed, yet focused state (often referred to as a trance state), he or she can more easily take in suggestions aimed at fostering greater bodily comfort; as well as decreased pain, stress, and anxiety.

For this study, the research team enrolled 20 IBS patients, who then received 12 sessions of hypnotherapy. The first session was conducted in person, but the remainder were conducted via Skype. The data from these 20 participants was then compared to that of another, original 1,000-person study.

The Skype study participants completed the same questionnaires as had the larger cohort—including measures of IBS severity, pain, anxiety and depression, and quality of life, Psychology Today notes. They also filled out a measure of noncolonic symptoms (such as nausea, heartburn, headaches, or lethargy), which frequently accompany IBS.

At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found significantly fewer participants reported having severe IBS symptoms. Hypnosis was also associated with statistically significant reductions in both noncolonic symptom severity and anxiety, and significant improvement in quality of life. The reduction in depression symptoms approached but did not quite reach statistical significance.

The data from the Skype group were also compared to those of participants in the larger, in-person hypnosis study. Although the degree of improvement on most outcomes was somewhat greater for in-person hypnosis, after adjusting for age, there was no statistically significant difference between the Skype and in-person groups with regard to improvement in IBS symptoms and pain. 

These findings seem important both for people who have inadequate relief from medications and dietary changes and in general for those dealing with painful gastrointestinal and related symptoms, the authors say.  It’s worth noting that the Skype study was small, and it will be important to conduct further research with larger numbers of participants.

Research contact: peter.whorwell@mft.nhs.uk

Giving up the ‘ghost’: How people are ending relationships

January 28, 2019

Now you see them (and hear from them); now you don’t. In friendships, familial relationships, work situations, and, yes, romantic partnerships, “ghosting” has become the no-warning, no-fuss, no-closure way to exit.

Even job candidates have been known to ghost scheduled interviews in a thriving economy.

Indeed, the term, “ghosting,” has been used to describe the act of simply disappearing from somebody’s life by ignoring their calls, texts, and social media messages, Psychology Today reports.

But how common is ghosting, how do people feel about it, and who is likely to do it? New research by Gili Freedman of Dartmouth College and colleagues Darcey N. Powel of Roanoke College, and Benjamin Le of Haverford College—published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships—explores these questions. The team conducted two large-scale online surveys of American adults. The first included 554 participants; the second, 747.2

In both studies, about 25% of participants claimed that they had been ghosted by a previous partner, and about 20 percent indicated that they had ghosted someone else.

The second study also examined ghosting in friendships and found that it was somewhat more common: 31.7% had ghosted a friend, and 38.6% had been ghosted by a friend.

It’s no surprise that most people found ghosting to be an unacceptable way to end a relationship. However, how acceptable people found it to be depended on the type of relationship. In the first study, 28% of respondents felt it was acceptable to ghost after just one date, whereas only 4.7% believed that it was an acceptable way to end a long-term romantic relationship.

When it came to short-term relationships, 19.5% tjhought that ghosting was acceptable. In addition, the majority of participants (69.1%) said that knowing someone had ghosted a romantic partner would make them think more negatively of that person.

Respondents also generally believed that ghosting friends was not that acceptable, but they typically commented that it was more acceptable to ghost friends than romantic partners.

This is consistent with other research in which participants were asked how they felt about being on the receiving end of various break-up methods. Iin that study, cutting off contact was considered one of the least desirable ways to end a relationship.3

What individuals are most likely to ghost? The research showed that those higher in destiny beliefs—those who thought a relation either is “meant to be” or not—were more likely to think that ghosting was acceptable and were less likely to think poorly of the ghoster. What’s more, they also were likely to report that they would consider ghosting as a viable option for breaking up with a partner and to say that they had ghosted someone in the past.

Interestingly enough, the extent to which participants endorsed growth beliefs—those that thought that relationships take work—was, for the most part, not related to their ghosting behavior or attitudes.

It is likely that there are many other characteristics that predict ghosting, Psychology Today said.

Past research has shown that those who are insecure in their relationships tend to feel stronger negative emotions during conflict and experience more stress after a conflict, the news outlet reported. So those who are insecurely attached may be more likely to ghost as a way to avoid the upsetting experience and aftermath of conflict.

It is also likely that those high in narcissism would be more prone to ghosting, as they tend to lack empathy for partners and see them as a means to an end.8

Finally, the newer research also does not answer the question of whether ghosting has become more common in the modern age of texting and social media. It is reasonable to assume it has, Psychology Today says—given the large role that electronic communication plays in relationships. A partner’s ghosting may be the first sign that something is wrong, and once you’ve been ghosted, you may be unlikely to seek an in-person confrontation.

Ghosting may also be easier to get away with in certain modern relationship contexts. For example, online dating has become increasingly popular—with about 25% of young adults using it as a way to meet new partners. Without a mutual social network tying you to a partner, it may be a lot easier to just disappear and not be held accountable.

The magazine warns, if you’re considering taking the easy way out of a relationship, realize that ghosting will not only hurt your partner, but is likely to hurt your reputation.

Research contact: @psychologytoday

Unforgettable you: Why memory is such an alluring quality

December 28, 2018

Imagine that you accidentally cross paths with someone you befriended at camp. Ten years later, this person not only knows who you are; he or she enthusiastically recalls the experiences the two of your shared. You exchange phone numbers and agree to meet again. The experience makes your day.

Recent research has found that one of the ways in which people make themselves instantly attractive is the simple act of recollection: They remember us—fondly.

Indeed, as Selda Koydemir—director of the London-based  Research Maze and lead author of a paper published last May called “Feeling special, feeling happy”—recently told Psychology Today, being unforgettable is both flattering and humbling, and is tied to our sense of self-worth.

Good politicians always make sure to remember details about the constituents they encounter. Good friends and loved ones do so authentically. It’s a truism: Being genuinely interested in other people makes other people genuinely interested in us.

And the opposite is true as well, the researchers found. Another common human experience is the letdown of being forgotten. In an ever-more-competitive society, we want to feel that, regardless of our personal attributes and talents, we are valuable and special.

The recent study, reports Psychology Today, found that a personal sense of uniqueness is positively associated with authentic living; which, in turn, is positively related to happiness. Similarly, feeling special means gives a person the “permission” to walk his or her own path in life, rather than seeking to conform to external influences. Hence,  people who affirm our uniqueness—faults, flaws, and all—may become friends for life.

Here is the best part: It is easy to become a source of authentic self-worth for others. Share your fond memories, and make someone’s day.

Research contact: @seldakoydemir

Narcissistic eyebrows?

December 14, 2018

A 2018 study by researchers Miranda Giacomin and Nicholas Rule of the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto is “raising eyebrows” and prompting us to take another look at facial hair.

The researchers have determined that people can identify grandiose (or overt) narcissists by their distinctive eyebrows.

What exactly is grandiose narcissism? It is a flamboyant, assertive, and interpersonally dominant form of the well-known personality disorder. People with this type of narcissism have an inflated sense of self, are overconfident in making decisions, and don’t seem to learn from their mistakes, according to Psychology Today.

Given that grandiose narcissism is associated with aggressiveness and a tendency to exploit others, it is important to be able to identify this personality trait in others early on. But how?

Previous research has shown that narcissism can manifest itself in people’s appearance. For example, narcissists are more likely to look attractive; to groom themselves carefully; to wear clothes that are expensive, stylish, and flashy; and to have an organized and neat appearance, the report in Psychology Today explains.

Specifically,men are less likely to wear glasses. Women are apt to wear makeup, show cleavage, and pluck their eyebrows.

Previous research has concluded that people can detect grandiose narcissism even by looking at emotionally neutral faces. The present investigation—the results of which have been published in the May 2018 edition of Journal of Personality—attempted to determine what specific features of the target faces enabled people to do so.

Giacomin and Rule first examined participants’ perceptions of target faces as a whole. But participants were able to detect narcissism even in upside-down faces. The researchers then determined that the cues to identifying narcissists resided in the eye region—specifically, the eyebrows.

Using image manipulation, they confirmed their results, observing that a non-narcissist donning a narcissistic person’s brows was judged as more narcissistic, and that a narcissistic person viewed with a non-narcissist’s brows was judged as less narcissistic.

They further discovered that people considered femininity, grooming, and distinctiveness in judging the presence of narcissism in target faces. But only distinctiveness was related to accurate judgments.

Eyebrows help us express many emotions and communicate social messages—even unintentional ones. As Giacomin and Rule observe, brows “provide high-contrast lines that can reveal involuntary expressions or gestures from far away.” Among the factors that make eyebrows distinctive are their thickness and density, the researchers said.

In addition, brows can help us recognize faces, according to the Psychology Today report. For example, in one study, researchers found that the absence of eyebrows in familiar faces, such as celebrity faces, negatively impacted recognition.

Eyebrows may be particularly important to people high on the personality trait of grandiose narcissism. Why? Because they have a strong desire for admiration and recognition and, as a result, might “seek to maintain distinct eyebrows to facilitate others’ ability to notice, recognize, and remember them; thereby increasing their likability and reinforcing their overly positive self-views.”1

Finally, the eyebrows are often an unrecognized factor in mate selection. Giacomin and Rule posit that narcissists are very competitive and often successful in mate selection (mainly when it comes to acquiring short-term sexual partners)—and that their eyebrows could “signal this prowess to others.”

Research contact: miranda.giacomin@utoronto.ca

Mum’s the word: What mothers-in-law say about their daughters-in-law

December 11, 2018

It’s a fact of life that you don’t just marry a man or a woman; you marry their family–and their relationship with each member of that family—for better or for worse..

If a son is close to his mother, for example, many women would take that as a good sign–believing that, if he respects and loves the alpha female in his life, he also will be a good husband and provider.

Indeed, on a personal level, a woman might dream that she will be perceived by her partner’s mom as “the daughter she never had.” Meanwhile, his mom might have a fantasy of her own—assuming that, since her future daughter-in-law is ”crazy about her son,” this younger woman will appreciate every piece of advice about taking care of him and ensuring his happiness. After all, who knows him better than mom?

Wrong on both sides! In fact, fully 60% of women use words like “strained,” “Infuriating,” and “simply awful” to describe their mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship, according to psychologist Terri Apter of the UK’s Cambridge University who attributes such rifts to “the clash of the fantasy lives,” in a 2009 Newsweek interview.

It’s the disappointment felt by both women that “gives these relationships their distinctive negative charge,” Apter says. Add to that a mother’s conflicted feelings of pride and loss as a son marries; a wife’s insecurity that she’s adequately balancing work and home responsibilities, and the tendency of most women to be more sensitive to slights and criticisms than men, and you have the formula for years of trouble.

In some respects, Apter says, the ensuing jockeying for position has a lot of similarities to the games “mean girls” play in middle-school hallways. “Each is the primary woman in her primary family. As each tries to establish or protect her status, each feels threatened by the other.”

However, for a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, the benefits of working toward and maintaining a close relationship cannot be overstated, as Geoffrey Greif and Michael Woolley—both academicians at the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland in Baltimore—found in a study published in November by the journal Social Work.

The study, also covered in the December 7 edition of Psychology Today surveyed 267 mothers-in-law  on the factors that they felt were key in establishing closeness with their daughters-in-law.

From a 114 item survey, the researchers used the statement, “My daughter-in-law and I have a close relationship” as a dependent variable. Among the factors they found that encouraged a close relationship were the following:

  • The mother-in-law perceives the daughter-in-law as being helpful;
  • The mother-in-law perceives her son is happy with the relationship she has with the daughter-in-law;
  • The mother-in-law perceives she and the daughter-in-law share similar interests;
  • The mother-in-law feels close with her son;
  • The mother-in-law does not feel left out by her daughter-in-law and son; and
  • The mother-in-law spends time with her daughter-in-law.

For those mothers-in-law struggling with their relationship with their daughter-in-law, a few takeaways emerged from the findings, the authors told Psychology Today—among them:

  • First, a mother-in-law should engage her daughter-in-law in ways and situations in which she can be helpful. Are there opportunities that are not being used where some level of mutuality can be built?
  • Second, similar to the first, a mother-in-law should try to find shared interests with a daughter-in-law because such joint activities can help to build a relationship
  • Third, look at the relationship the son/spouse plays in the relationship with the daughter-in-law. It goes without saying that most mothers want to be close with their son; when they are close, they are more likely to be close with their daughter-in-law also. To help build closeness with the son, the mother-in-law should recognize that building a relationship with her daughter-in-law may facilitate closeness with the son who is an extremely important person in this relationship.
  • Fourth, the mother-in-law should work to explore her own feelings of inclusion or exclusion. Feeling left out is not pleasant. If there are ways to try to understand what is leading to these feelings (remembering the demands that couples, especially those raising children, are experiencing), a path may be found to experiencing them less often

Finally, author Geoffrey Greif says, don’t get discouraged: Building a close relationship may require time, patience, and effort:

Research contact: ggreif@ssw.umarylandedu

Daddy’s girls and Mama’s boys: We choose mates who physically resemble our parents

December 5, 2018

Those of us who still remember the old ditty, “I Want a Girl (Just Like the Girl that Married Dear Old Dad),” may be amused to learn that research finally has proven what we (and the lyricist) knew intuitively: We really are attracted to partners who resemble our parents, according to a recent report by Psychology Today.

A 2017 study by academics in the Czech Republic has found that it’s all based on imprinting—the biological phenomenon that explains why ducklings follow the first individual they encounter after hatching. In normal circumstances, that makes sense because the chicks are likely to spot their mother first.

What’s more, the researchers believe that humans imprint on their parents, and that this imprinting affects the type of person whom we find most attractive later in life, Psychology Today reported.

Past research has shown that heterosexual men and women have a “type” when it comes to hair and eye color, and that the type matches their opposite-sex parent. Of course, many of us have the same hair and eye color as our parents, which is why it’s important to test whether we prefer partners who look more like us or more like our parent: the parent wins out.

We also know that women who grow up with an older father tend to prefer older men themselves, the magazine reported.

Lead researcher Zuzana Štěrbová of the National Institute of Mental Health in Prague, along with her research collaborators, decided to investigate whether our parents’ other physical attributes can influence our preferences in mates. They recruited around 900 people who were attracted to men—including ~750 straight women and ~150 gay men.

Each of the volunteers was shown a grid of comprising images of naked men. The volunteers’ task: to pick out the man whose body looked most like their own (if they were male); most like that of their ideal partner; most like that of their current or most recent partner; and most like that of their father, as they remembered him from childhood.

But the images weren’t chosen randomly, Psychology Today said. They were taken from a textbook published in 1954—The Atlas of Men—which depicts a variety of men’s bodies according to their somatotype. A male body’s somatotype can vary from ectomorphic, to endomorphic, to mesomorphic. In simpler language, a man can be skinny, fat, muscled or any point in between.

Štěrbová found that gay men and straight women didn’t vary in their preferences for men’s bodies. Both men and women preferred a man who was somewhat midway between muscled and skinny, and didn’t prefer a man who was fat.

What about the fathers’ body types? The researchers found that straight women’s ideal partner body shape was similar to the body shape of their fathers. The effect was weak, but present in all three components: endomorphy, ectomorphy, and mesomorphy. Gay men’s ideal partners and their fathers were only similarly skinny.

However, these preferences did not seem to translate into the real-world choice of partners, because the volunteers reported that the bodies of their fathers and their actual partners were neither similar nor dissimilar, the magazine reported.

This could be because we are constrained in our ability to choose our partners: We may have to compromise because our preferred partner doesn’t prefer us, we may value other traits more highly than body shape and so choose a partner based more on those instead, or we may have a limited pool of partners to choose from.

In an important further analysis, the researchers showed that women who reported a good childhood relationship with their father were more likely to express a preference for male bodies that were similar to their fathers’. This makes sense if we think of imprinting as a way of modeling our parents’ choice of partner.

In other words, maybe women subconsciously perceive their fathers as a good example of an ideal partner, the study found.

But, if true, it is unclear why there was no such link between the quality of father-child relationship and mate preference in gay men. As the researchers point out, it could be because gay men and lesbians tend to report lower quality relationships with their parents, and it is plausible that for the imprinting-like effect to fully emerge it is necessary that parents and children have a good relationship.

Research contact: @Robert Burriss

The face is familiar: Each of us recognizes about 5,000 people

November 21, 2018

Let’s face it: Most of us have no problem recognizing somebody whom we have seen before. Remembering where we met (or saw) him or her, and putting a name to those familiar features  requires a different set of skills altogether.

Throughout our lives, we commit faces to memory, according to a November 20 report by Psychology Today. We can recall classmates from elementary school, people who share our morning commute, and the actors in our favorite television shows. But how many of those faces are stashed in a permanent mental repository?

Researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom recently sought to pin down that number—estimating that people know an average of 5,000 faces. And that figure simply represents the number of faces we might know—not the number we are capable of retaining, according to their findings, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“We may not have an upper limit for face learning,” Rob Jenkins, the lead author of the study, told Psychology Today, adding, “The thousands of faces we commit to memory may only be the tip of the iceberg for this mental capacity.”

Jenkins and his colleagues asked 25 participants, between 18 and 61 years old, to list the people whose faces they would recognize. The researchers helped by providing prompts to consider specific social niches, such as colleagues, friends of family, and retail staff. Participants also listed every famous figure they could recall and recognize.

Next, the investigators presented a slide show of famous figures and calculated the ratio of how many faces participants said they recalled to how many they were able to recognize from the photo series. (They couldn’t do the same for non-famous faces, since it wasn’t feasible to collect photos of them.) Applying that ratio to participants’ lists of people they would recognize allowed the researchers to arrive at a final estimate.

The team found that recognition abilities differed greatly among participants—ranging from a “low” of 1,000 to as many as 10,000 familiar faces. That variation may be due in part to the environment in which someone was raised—a rural or urban area, for example—as well as their level of media exposure, Jenkins speculates.

They concluded that, as humans gradually have transitioned from living in small, tight-knit communities to a large, interconnected world, the ability for facial learning has been up to the task. “It seems that if you’re building cognitive equipment that allows you to differentiate between a couple of hundred individuals, in doing that you’re building apparatus that’s also good for several thousand,” Jenkins told the magazine. “Maybe you can’t achieve the former aim without incidentally gaining the additional capacity we use now.”

Indeed, retaining facial recognition over time requires observing and internalizing the same visage with various expressions, at different ages, and in assorted contexts. A face can look different when its owner puts on makeup, gets a haircut, ages five years, or appears in a darkened restaurant rather than a brightly lit room, Psychology Today reported.

“The key to learning each face is learning the person’s variability,” Jenkins says. “You have to be exposed to the way the face changes.” (One key factor is that people generally tend to be poor at remembering faces they have encountered only briefly, he says. That deficit becomes exceedingly important in legal or forensic situations, such as during eyewitness testimony.)

Identifying how many faces people recognize—and how those faces become familiar—is relevant for understanding deficits of face perception, Wilma Bainbridge, a post-doctoral researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health who studies the perception and memorability of images, said in an interview with the magazine. For example, she suggests, face vocabulary could potentially be used as a marker of perceptual decline in the course of Alzheimer’s disease.

The brain also possesses a strong capacity for object memory, yet evidence suggests that faces require a unique form of processing, Bainbridge says. Humans are drawn to the geometry of faces from an early age: A 2015 study conducted at the University of Padova in Italy found that infants show a preference for an image of two dots above a third (which more closely mimics a face) compared to two dots below a third.

Finally, faces that embody more emotion or threat are especially enduring, Bainbridge says. “It may be less important to know a familiar or unfamiliar place, because you can take time to explore,” she notes, “But it could be really important to pick out your friends and your enemies.”

Research contact: rob.jenkins@york.ac.uk

Here’s looking at you: The uncomfortable truth about staring

October 30, 2018

If you drop something in public, or raise your voice, or rush to the aid of a person in need, you are not surprised when all eyes in the vicinity turn in your direction. But, what if you are sitting on the bus and can’t help but feel that the passenger sitting across the aisle is watching—or even judging—you? It’s just a sensation you cannot explain, but you are convinced that you have become the target of another person’s visual fixation.

Conversely, perhaps you are the one doing the staring—and you are not sure what attracted your attention, but you cannot drag your eyes away.

Study results published on October 27 by Psychology Today—and posited by the University of London’s Hannah Scott and colleagues—have determined that people stare because “faces, and in particular, the eyes, provide lots of useful non-verbal information about a person’s mental state.”

The eyes betray “socially relevant information,” they go on to explain, because when you see what people are looking at, you have some idea about what they might be thinking.

Indeed, the authors suggest that people read your body language in order to extract as much information as possible, and they will direct their gaze toward the part of your body providing that information. In fact, it’s not just the eyes that people stare. The British researchers observe that people also stare at other people’s lips to gain additional contextual cues about what they mean while they’re talking. If you feel someone’s eyes focused on your mouth while you’re speaking, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they want a kiss—but it could be because they actually can’t hear you all that well.

Your hands also might be the focus of attention, if you are using gestures to emphasize what you are saying—or perhaps they’re trying to figure out how to do what you’re doing. That person watching you on the bus might be observing you playing a video game on your mobile device or crocheting a scarf. Maybe there’s a skill you have that this person wants to learn. If that person is watching your feet, it might be to help figure out when to get up to make it off the bus for an upcoming stop.

The 72 undergraduates who participated in the University of London study watched three videos (each, about two minutes long) that varied according to the activities of the male actors. The researchers recorded the eye movements of the students while they watched the actor either looking directly at the viewer while giving a monologue (without many hand gestures), talking while making a cup of tea, or performing a magic routine in which both speech and hand motions actively misdirected attention from the trick. The researchers also varied the presence or absence of sound during the actor’s performance.

During the monologue condition, whether or not there was audio present, participants spent most of the time looking at the actor’s face but not his hands. The opposite pattern appeared for the tea-making task, as was also true for the magic routine.

Additionally, looking just at the period when the actor looked directly into screen (about 48% of the video), participants looked more at the eyes than the mouth, if there was audio playing at the same time. With no audio, in the monologue condition, viewers seemed to try to decipher what the actor was saying by watching his mouth move. There were no systematic eye-mouth differences in the viewers when the actors performed either the manual or the music task.  However, if the actor looked directly into the screen while performing the manual task, then viewers were drawn to fixating on his face.

The authors concluded that there is not general bias toward looking at someone else’s face when given the opportunity. The only time people will try to read a face is if the person is speaking. If the person is doing something else, it’s the body part that’s moving which attracts the viewer’s gaze.

As the authors conclude, “Our hands seem to play just as important a role in orienting people’s attention as our eyes do.”  However, if the person looks directly at the viewer while performing a manual task, then the viewer will respond in kind and look at the individual’s face (which is why magicians talk so much).

When someone’s gaze is directed at you, then your tendency will be to stare back, in a “non-verbal acknowledgment.” Looking at someone who looks at you, therefore, becomes a key aspect of nonverbal communication.

It’s natural, then, to stare at someone—especially if the person is speaking softly or doing something interesting that you can watch. What makes the person stared at uncomfortable, then, would seem to be a mismatch between the appropriateness of the situation and whether it presents a logical basis for staring. It feels odd to be the target of someone’s undiluted attention if you’re not initiating eye contact or if you’re not doing anything special with your hands or feet that merits an out-and-out stare.

A staring contest can be fun if it’s a game both of you are playing, but off-putting in the extreme if you’re an unwilling participant.

Research contact: @swhitbo

Singled out: Why unmarried people are stigmatized in our society

September 13, 2018

Are people who remain single likely to be unappealing loners, who are arrogant, antagonistic, or inflexible?  At one time or another, every person who is unattached has felt the stigma or heard the whispers.

Alternatively, those with close relationships or life partners are apt to say that stereotyping of—and discrimination against —singles in our society does not even exist. A different version of the objection concedes that there are ways in which single people are viewed and treated more negatively than married people, but insists that those instances are so inconsequential that they should simply be ignored.

After all, there are other “isms” that are far more serious than “singlism”—the label given to this form of bigotry by social psychologist, Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., who is the author of  the book Singled Out (published by St. Martin’s Press).

She points out, “In many important ways, singles are simply not in the same category as the most brutally stigmatized groups. So far as I know, no persons have ever been dragged to their death at the back of a pick-up truck simply because they were single. There are no “marrieds only” drinkingfountains and there never were. The pity that singles put up with is just not in the same league as the outright hatred conveyed to blacks by shameless racists or the unbridled disgust heaped upon gay men or lesbians by homophobes.”

And singles are by no means a minority: More than 40% of the nation’s adults—over 87 million people—are divorced, widowed, or have always been single.  There are more households of single people living alone than of married parents and their children

And yet, singlism can be quite serious, Dr. De Paulo says in the an article posted on September 9 on the site of Psychology Today.. It can be dangerous, and even deadly.

In part because of laws, policies, and practices that favor married people and couples over single people, the costs of living single can be staggering, she points out. For example, married people, with all their opportunities to draw from their spouse’s benefits, can get far more out of Social Security than single people do. Housing costs, healthcare costs, and taxes are higher for single people. According to one estimate, just those four categories alone can cost single women, over the course of their working lives, over a $1 million more than what married women pay.

In many other ways, too, the price of single life is high. Married men, for example, get paid more than single men. In a study of identical twins, the married twin got paid an average of 26% more. That will cost the single man with a $50,000 salary more than $500,000  over the course of his working life.

In everyday life, single people are penalized financially at every turn. They often pay more per person than married people do for products and services such as car insurance, home insurance, memberships, transportation, travel packages, and even wills.

But even when single people have great health insurance, and access to the finest doctors, they still do not always get the finest care. A single woman told Dr. DePaulo, “When I was 25, I was suffering from severe menstrual problems … to the point where I asked for a hysterectomy. I was refused because I was single and ‘might want to have kids someday.’ So I suffered … for 20 more years.”

Do men respect single women’s bodies and their dignity less than those of married women? In the workplace, the author claims, both single and married women experience sexual harassment—but single women experience it more. In a 2017 Suffolk University survey, 42% of women who had always been single said that a co-worker had made unwanted sexual advances, compared to 30% of married women.

In some businesses, single people are expected to stay later, or cover weekends, holidays, vacation times, or travel assignments that no one else wants, on the assumption that they don’t have anyone and they don’t have a life. When it comes to relocating employees or laying them off, employers sometimes look first to single people—not recognizing that many have roots where they are and do not have a spouse’s income to fall back on if they lose theirs.

“Elsewhere, I … have documented singlism in religionbusiness, advertisingresearch and teachingtherapy, the military, and popular culture,” DePaulo says, adding, “Single parents and their childrenare also a great big target of singlism that is sometimes mean-spirited as well as ill-informed.”

If you still think that singlism just doesn’t matter, and no one should take it seriously, let’s imagine that the tables were turned. Let’s say that all the ways in which single people are stereotyped, stigmatized, marginalized, and discriminated against happened to married people instead. Do you think married people would just shrug it off?

On the first page of her book, Dr. DePaulo imagines a world in which married people get the singles treatment:

  • When you tell people you are married, they tilt their heads and say things like “Aaaawww” or “Don’t worry honey, your turn to divorce will come.”
  • Every time you get married, you feel obligated to give expensive presents to single people.
  • When you travel with your spouse, you each have to pay more than when you travel alone.
  • At work, the single people just assume that you can cover the holidays and all the other inconvenient assignments; they figure that as a married person, you don’t have anything better to do.
  • Single employees can add another adult to their health care plan; you can’t.
  • When your single co-workers die, they can leave their Social Security benefits to the person who is most important to them; you are not allowed to leave yours to anyone—they just go back into the system.
  • Candidates for public office boast about how much they value single people. Some even propose spending more than a billion dollars in federal funding to convince people to stay single, or to get divorced if they already made the mistake of marrying.

If that world existed, it would not last long.

All serious forms of prejudice and discrimination go through a similar process of going unrecognized, then getting dismissed and belittled once people start pointing them out, and in the best cases, eventually getting taken seriously, she points out in her article in Psychology Today.

Dr, DePaulo concludes, “One of the problems is that these matters are not just about the facts and all the ways that racism and sexism and singlism and all the other ‘isms’can be documented with data. They are also about emotions and ideologies and people’s beliefs about the place they think they deserve in the world. I think there will be progress in getting singlism taken seriously, but it may be slow and unsteady, with setbacks as well as advances.”

Research contact: @belladepaulo