This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.
The article is as follows (excerpting and editing is by Ken Pope):
Scientific American includes an article: “Sexual Harassment: 4 Psychological Traits of Perpetrators.”
The author is psychologist Ellen Hendriksen.
Here are some excerpts:
In recent weeks, revelations about sexual harassment and its devastating effects have flooded the news and social media. But aside from a few legal-team-filtered statements, we don’t have an insight into the mindset of the accused harassers. So what are they thinking? How could they think this was a good idea? What makes someone prone to harass others?
What specifies sexual harassment is that it is tied to power structures in employment and career advancement. The harasser holds the keys and creates a catch-22 for the victim: either submit and be exploited or resist and be punished.
It’s a no-win situation of power, control, and intimidation.
Therefore, sexual harassment can and does include demeaning comments, requests for sexual favors, unwanted sexual advances, but importantly, can also include sexual assault, which is any non-consensual or coerced sexual act, including sexual touching.
Harassment is also different than unwanted sexual attention, which consists of unwelcome come-ons and comments that are not primarily designed to demean and intimidate. Think terrible pick-up lines. Therefore, “Do you work at Subway? Because you just gave me a foot-long!” from a guy at the bar is unwanted sexual attention, but from your boss, it’s sexual harassment.
To be sure, it’s not always women as victims and men as perpetrators, even though that is the vast majority of the cases. In 2016, of the almost 13,000 charges of sexual harassment logged by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (widely regarded as the tip of the iceberg), 83% of them were filed by women.
And women who face sexual harassment by bosses and supervisors aren’t just rising Hollywood starlets or Yale-educated lawyers who once worked for Supreme Court nominees. They’re restaurant workers, clerks, flight attendants, students, health care workers, programmers, and any of millions of other everyday workers whose bosses control scheduling, raises, promotions, and references.
So who are these bosses? Who sexually harasses? I dug through the research and found four common characteristics of the (mostly) men who sexually harass (mostly) women. Here they are.
The 4 Characteristics of Sexual Harassers:
Characteristic #1: The Dark Triad
Characteristic #2: Moral disengagement
Characteristic #3: Working in a male-dominated field
Characteristic #4: Hostile attitudes towards women
Let’s explore each a little further.
Characteristic #1: The Dark Triad
Actually, it’s three in one: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.
You’ve definitely heard of the first two: narcissism is a grandiose view of one’s own talents coupled with a lack of empathy and a deep need for admiration. Narcissists don’t care if you like them, but they do need you to think they’re powerful and impressive.
Narcissists might justify sexual harassment if they think they’ve been deprived of a sexual experience they “deserve.” They can’t fathom that someone just isn’t that into them.
Next, psychopathy revolves around two things: fearless dominance and aggressive impulsivity. In other words, psychopaths are bold, manipulative exploiters. They also have no empathy, but are good at mimicking it in order to exploit their victims.
Finally, there’s Machiavellianism, named for the Italian Renaissance politician Niccolo Machiavelli. His masterwork, The Prince, describes an unscrupulous, deceptive political philosophy with an eye on long-term goals at any cost.
Put it all together and you essentially get a gleeful enthusiasm for exploitation, deception, and manipulation combined with a callous blindness to the feelings of others, all tied together with a bow of grandiosity. In other words, a perfect recipe for sexual harassment.
Indeed, in a study of almost 2,000 everyday community members, researchers found that—unsurprisingly—each of the three Dark Triad characteristics added to a tendency to sexually harass others.
Characteristic #2: Moral disengagement
Moral disengagement is a slippery slope by which people justify their own corruption. It’s a cognitive process by which individuals create their own version of reality where moral principles don’t apply to them.
The mind is a tricky thing: often we choose our behavior to match our values, but sometimes, through moral disengagement, we change our values to justify our behavior.
Moral disengagement was first proposed by the psychologist Albert Bandura, who is often called the greatest living psychologist. His theory, as applied to sexual harassment, has several parts:
First comes moral justification, or portraying harassment as acceptable. Think Harvey Weinstein’s line, “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.”
Next is euphemistic labeling, or using sanitized substitutions for naming their behavior, like Bill Cosby’s characterization of his sexual assaults as “rendezvous.”
Third is displacement of responsibility, which attributes the harassment to outside forces (like Weinstein’s “that was the culture then.”)
There’s also advantageous comparison, which is the assertion that their behavior could have been worse, and distortion of consequences, where individuals minimize the harm wrought by their actions.
And finally, there are dehumanization and attribution of blame, which respectively eliminate concern for the victim and blame her for the incident. Bill O’Reilly did this when he commented that a woman who was raped and killed was “moronic” because she was wearing a miniskirt and a halter top, and that ”every predator in the world is gonna pick that up.” The end result? Harassers sleep well at night because, through moral disengagement, they rest assured that what they did was within the realm of normalcy, deserved, and didn’t cause any harm.
The mind is a tricky thing: often we choose our behavior to match our values, but sometimes, through moral disengagement, we change our values to justify our behavior. This is how sexual harassers can maintain their view of themselves as decent, even morally upstanding, people.
Characteristic #3: Working in a male-dominated field
Sexual harassment is well-documented to be more prevalent in traditionally masculine fields, like the military, the police, surgery, finance, and more recently, high tech and the upper echelons of the entertainment industry.
This goes back decades: a classic 1989 study of 100 female factory workers found that women who worked as machinists, a position dominated by men, reported being harassed significantly more often than women who worked on the assembly line, which was more gender-equal.
Characteristic #4: Hostile attitudes towards women
Even though psychology is a science, it’s not a totally objective field, in most part because research is done by people, and people are a product of their culture and the biases of a given place and time.
Interestingly, while researching this episode I found a study on sexual harassment from the early 1980s—almost a decade prior to Anita Hill’s testimony at Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings—that stated that most male sexual harassers had no idea that their advances were unwanted. The conclusion was that people who engaged in sexual harassment were simply clueless and lovelorn. But now we know better
A 2012 study out of the University of Bielefeld in Germany tested whether harassment was driven by what the researchers called a “short term mating orientation,” which is basically an academic euphemism for love ‘em and leave ‘em, or was driven by something called hostile sexism, and therefore served less as a way to get sex and more as a way to intimidate women.
The researchers asked 100 heterosexual male college students to chat online with “Julia,” an attractive 23-year-old woman. With each chat exchange, participants were asked to choose among three different pre-written messages to send to Julia.
The men were also told that this was a memory test, that Julia would later be quizzed on recalling the messages they sent to her, and that previous studies had found gender differences in memory performance, thus creating an atmosphere of competition.
For each message, the men chose among a joke, a personal comment, and a neutral statement. Now, some of the exchanges were carefully calibrated to include opportunities to harass. For example, in one combination, the choice included a sexist joke not specifically about Julia: “What’s the difference between a woman having her period and a terrorist? With a terrorist you can negotiate.” It also included a sexist remark directed specifically toward Julia—one of those terrible pickup lines: “You’re a sweet chocolate and I’ve got the filling for you.” Thankfully, there was also a neutral statement, simply: “You seem like a cheerful person.” Participants chose one of the messages to send, and then repeated this over 20 different trials.
The results found that the choice to send the pickup lines hung together with approving attitudes about short-term sexual encounters. The men who were more likely to send the bad pickup lines were also more likely to agree with statements like “sex without love is OK,” or “I would consider having sex with a stranger if it was safe and she was attractive.”
The guys who chose to send sexist jokes also scored highly on the short-term sexual attitudes questionnaire. But there was something else: they scored highly on a questionnaire of hostile sexism, endorsing items like, “Women are too easily offended,” and “The world would be a better place if women supported men more and criticized them less.”
In other words, sexual motives predicted unwanted sexual attention but hostile motives predicted both unwanted sexual attention and gender harassment. The researchers concluded that choosing to send the jokes wasn’t about sex at all; instead, it was about creating a disparaging, hostile climate for Julia in the context of a competitive atmosphere.
A good litmus test for whether comments are sexist or just a joke is to ask, “Would I say this to a man?” This is a good test for statements that might get defended by a harasser as “harmless fun,” or “What, I can’t even give a compliment?” For instance, a male supervisor wouldn’t tell a man he should smile more, comment on the attractiveness of his body, or say, “You don’t have to get all emotional about it.”
To sum it all up, harassment indicates a willingness to exploit and manipulate as a way to maintain or gain power.
It indicates callousness toward the victims and aims to “keep them in their place.”
Hopefully, with all the attention given to sexual harassment, more victims and more bystanders will speak up and speak out, and someday, the place for sexual harassment will be exactly nowhere.
The article is online at:
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“It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement and remembering.”
By Alex Fradera
The latest version of psychiatry’s principal diagnostic manual (the DSM-V) defines Hoarding Disorder as a psychopathology where the collection of items significantly impacts the person’s functioning, as they find it difficult and indeed painful to discard the items, creating congestion within the home and encouraging poor hygiene and accidents. However not only objects, but also living things can be collected pathologically, popularly enshrined in the notion of a “cat lady”. According to the psychiatric manual, this is just a special case of hoarding. But a team of psychologists from the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul has investigated people who hoard animals, and in their new paper in Psychiatry Research they make the case that it ought to be considered a distinct illness.
The conditions in which these people lived might be hard to take in: there were a total of 1,357 animals – “composed of 915 dogs, 382 cats, and 50 ducks” – with an average of 41 per hoarder. Only 22 per cent ensured their animals were neutered, and the sanitary and health conditions were often very poor. The researchers also report that “dramatic situations such as violent fights for territory, extreme malnutrition, cannibalism, caged animals injured and untreated, were observed in most of the houses visited.”
Two-thirds of the hoarders were elderly, but they’d all begun accumulating animals earlier in their lives. Ferreira’s team speculate that it’s only later in life when the burden of animal collection becomes most apparent, as the number proliferate due to the individual’s reluctance to give animals away. Two-thirds of animal hoarders were women, and most lived alone, consistent with the sense that the animals provided companionship and comfort to people who otherwise struggle to form relationships.
There are a two main reasons why Ferreira’s team advocate for this to be considered as separate from standard hoarding. First, some of the technical definition of hoarding just seems off: take the concept of “congestion”, which makes sense in a house piled precariously high with magazines or wine bottles, but doesn’t really apply to mobile creatures. Second, the researchers note that their sample also seemed to show more self-awareness than is associated with object hoarding, many admitting to difficulties that resulted from their compulsion, and recognising that it took a toll on their quality of life.
If they see the problem, why don’t the animal hoarders do something about it? Well, it’s harder to rid yourself of an animal than trash, both logistically and emotionally. The presence of care-bonding with living things transforms the dynamic, and would suggest that the tactics appropriate for managing an item-hoarder may simply not apply in these cases. The researchers conclude that distinguishing animal hoarding as its own mental health condition can lead to investment into interventions that address a disorder that “causes serious damage to the environment, suffering for individuals, their families, and the animals.”
Image: Bansky cat ladies, via piX dust/Flickr
- Mid-life hearing loss: 9 per cent;
- Failing to complete secondary (high-school and above) education: 8 per cent;
- Smoking: 6 per cent;
- Failing to seek early treatment for depression: 4 per cent;
- Physical inactivity: 3 per cent;
- Social isolation: 2 per cent;
- High blood pressure: 2 per cent;
- Obesity: 1 per cent;
- Type 2 diabetes: 1 per cent.
10 of The Most Counter-Intuitive Psychology Findings Ever Published
One of the most annoying things you can say to a psychologist is: “Isn’t it all just common sense?”. No it’s not, as the list below demonstrates. But anyway, such a criticism of the field misses the point. Many findings in psychology can seem obvious after the fact, but we can’t know in advance which aspects of folk wisdom will stand up to scientific scrutiny. Striving for the objective truth through empirical testing – that’s what science is for, whether applied to molecules or minds.
That said, it’s always fun to share those findings that clash with received wisdom. So for your reading pleasure (and for the next time someone asks you the “common sense” question), here are 10 particularly counter-intuitive findings from the psychology archives. Please use comments to share your own favourites that we’ve missed.
1. Self-help Mantras Can Do More Harm Than Good
If you’ve got low self-esteem, you might want to avoid uttering positive mantras such as “I’m a lovable person”. A 2009 study found that people lacking in self-belief who spoke this phrase to themselves didn’t feel any better afterwards. In fact they felt worse, possibly because the repeated utterance led them to generate contradictory thoughts automatically. On a related note, there’s evidence that positive fantasies can also backfire. It’s thought that visualising your aims can cultivate a relaxed mindset that leads you to overlook the hurdles between you and your goals.
2. People Do Not Learn Better When Taught Via Their Preferred “Learning Style”
An incredibly popular idea, including among teachers, is that pupils learn better when they are taught information via their preferred modality, such as auditory, visual or by doing. In fact research has shown that people do not perform better when they are taught information via the modality that they say they prefer. A 2008 review of the learning styles concept put it like this: “there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.” Want more? – here’s all you need to know about the learning styles myth in 2 minutes.
3. Criminals Show Cooperation and Prosocial Behaviour in Economic Games
It’s easy to demonise people who have broken the law. However, recent studies using economic games that test fairness and cooperation show that this is short-sighted. Last year, researchers observed prisoners’ performance on a famous game known as the “prisoner’s dilemma” – the convicted criminals actually displayed more cooperation during the game than undergrad students. Similarly, another study published this year found that people with a criminal record displayed just as much “prosocial motivation” (i.e. they distributed money fairly) in the “dictator game” as those without such a record.
4. Bottling Up Your Anger May Actually Be Good For You
Folk wisdom states that it’s better to relieve your anger by letting it out. In fact a tendency to lose one’s temper tends to go hand in hand with poorer health. Another study found that hitting a punch-bag while thinking about the person who made you angry actually just makes you angrier. It’s a complicated area, and expressing anger constructively may sometimes be a good thing to do, but the old rule that’s it always better to let it all it out is definitely flawed.
5. We Make Many Decisions Mindlessly
Unless we’re exhausted or intoxicated, we usually feel as though we are very much in control of our own choices and that we make them consciously and deliberately. This intuitive view is challenged by research on what’s known as “choice blindness”. In one study from 2005, participants picked out the face they found more attractive from successive pairs of photos. When researchers used sleight of hand to switch the chosen photo for the rejected photo, participants proceeded to justify their choice all the same, apparently ignorant of the switch. It was a similar story in 2010 when participants chose between different jams.
6. Opposites Don’t Attract
When it comes to human relationships, the aphorism that “opposites attract” turns out to be wide of the mark. There are of course exceptions, but mountains of evidence highlights how we are drawn to friends and romantic partners who are similar to ourselves, whether in terms of physical appearance, their personality, interests, or beliefs – known as “homophily”. To take just two examples, a study from 2010 found that people found faces more attractive when (unbeknown to them) they’d been morphed with their own; and a paper from 2011 found that people tend to choose to sit near others who look like themselves.
7. Wine Experts Don’t Know if They’re Smelling Red or White Wine
There is a vast literature on the limitations of expertise (for instance, political pundits are mostly useless at predicting electoral outcomes), but one of my favourite examples concerns people who study wine. A 2001 investigation showed that all it took to trick trainee oenologists into thinking a white wine smelt of red wine, was to dye it red. This research also challenges the intuitive belief that our senses are largely separate – in fact, perceptual experience derives from a blending of the senses, as shown for example via the McGurk Effect.
8. It Helps to Have Narcissists on Your Team
We usually think of narcissists – people with inflated views of their own skills and self-importance – as individuals to avoid. However, a study published in 2010 found that their presence can have a beneficial effect in the context of creative team work. When groups of four people were challenged to come up with new ways for a company to improve, it was the groups with two narcissists in their ranks who performed the best. The researchers think the presence of some narcissists helps generate healthy in-group competition.
9. Placebo Treatments Can Work Even When People Are Told It’s A Placebo
The amazing power of the placebo effect – the way that our beliefs about the action of an inert medicine can trigger substantial physiological effects – is itself, counter-intuitive. More surprising perhaps, is that the effect can still occur even when people know the medicine is inert. This was shown in a 2010 study involving people with IBS. “Our study suggests that openly described inert interventions when delivered with a plausible rationale can produce placebo responses,” the researchers said.
10. Sometimes a Pregnant Woman’s Depression is Advantageous For Her Baby
There is lots of evidence showing the adverse effects of a stressful pregnancy. But dig deeper into this field and you find some surprising results. For instance, a 2012 study uncovered an association between depression in pregnancy and superior functioning in the child at ages three and six months. This was found in the specific context in which the mother’s depression continued into the postnatal period. The finding is consistent with the “predictive-adaptive response model”, which says that adversity in-utero can have adaptive advantages if adversity is also encountered after birth.
Please do share your own favourite counter-intuitive findings via comments!
The 10 most controversial psychology studies ever published.
The authors are Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Michael Sanger.
Here’s the author note: “Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London, and a faculty member at Columbia University. Find him on Twitter: @drtcp or at www.drtomascp.com. His next book, The Talent Delusion, will be published in February 2017. Michael Sanger is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and Senior Strategist in the Global Alliance division of Hogan Assessment Systems.”
Here are some excerpts:
Among the various core ingredients of talent and career success, few personal qualities have received more attention in the past decade than emotional intelligence (EQ), the ability to identify and manage your own and others’ emotions. Importantly, unlike most of the competencies that make it into the HR zeitgeist of buzzwords, EQ is no fad.
In fact, thousands of academic studies have demonstrated the predictive power of scientific EQ assessments vis-a-vis job performance, leadership potential, entrepreneurship, and employability. Moreover, the importance of EQ has been highlighted beyond work-related settings, as higher scores have been associated with relationship success, mental and physical health, and happiness.
While Goleman and other popular writers argue that (unlike IQ) EQ is malleable and trainable, EQ is really just a combination of personality traits. Accordingly, it is not set in stone; it is largely heritable, shaped by childhood experiences, and fairly stable over time.
Here are five critical steps for developing EQ:
Turn self-deception into self-awareness.
Personality, and thereby EQ, is composed of two parts: identity (how we see ourselves) and reputation (how others see us). For most people there is a disparity between identity and reputation that can cause them to ignore feedback and derail. Real self-awareness is about achieving a realistic view of one’s strengths and weaknesses and of how those strengths and weaknesses compare to others’. For instance, most people rate their own EQ highly, yet only a minority of those individuals will be rated as emotionally intelligent by others. Turning self-deception into self-awareness will not happen without accurate feedback, the kind that comes from data-based assessments such as a valid personality tests or 360-degree feedback surveys. Such tools are fundamental to help us uncover EQ-related blind spots, not least because other people are generally too polite to give us negative feedback.
Turn self-focus into other-focus.
Paying due attention to others is tantamount to career success. But for those with lower levels of EQ, it’s difficult to see things from others’ perspectives, especially when there is no clear right or wrong way forward.
Be more rewarding to deal with.
People who are more employable and successful in their career tend to be seen as more rewarding to deal with. Rewarding people tend to be cooperative, friendly, trusting, and unselfish. Unrewarding individuals tend to be more guarded and critical; they are willing to speak their minds and disagree openly but can develop a reputation for being argumentative, pessimistic, and confrontational. Although this reputation helps enforce high standards, it’s only a matter of time before it erodes relationships and the support for initiatives that accompany them.
Control your temper tantrums.
Passion and intense enthusiasm can easily cross the line to become moodiness and outright excitability when the pressure’s on. Nobody likes a crybaby. And in the business world, those who become particularly disappointed or discouraged when unanticipated issues arise are viewed as undeserving of a seat at the grown-ups’ table.
Display humility, even if it’s fake.
Sometimes it can feel like you’re working on an island managed by six-year-olds. But if you’re the type of person who often thinks, “I’m surrounded by idiots,” then it’s likely that your self-assured behaviors are seen as being arrogant, forceful, and incapable of admitting mistakes. Climbing the organizational ladder requires an extraordinary degree of self-belief, which, up to a certain point, is seen as inspirational. However, the most-effective leaders are the ones who don’t seem to believe their own hype, for they come across as humble. Striking a healthy balance between assertiveness and modesty, demonstrating receptiveness to feedback and the ability to admit one’s mistakes, is one of the most difficult tasks to master…. To develop this component of EQ, it is sometimes necessary to fake confidence, and it’s even more important to fake humility. We live in a world that rewards people for hiding their insecurities, but the truth is that it is much more important to hide one’s arrogance. That means swallowing one’s pride, picking and choosing battles, and looking for opportunities to recognize others, even if you feel you are right and others are wrong.
Much as with other coaching interventions, the goal here is not to change your personality but to replace counterproductive behaviors with more-adaptive actions — to build new habits that replace toxic tendencies and improve how others perceive you. This is why, when coaching works, it invalidates the results of a personality test: Your default predispositions are no longer evidenced in your behaviors.
The article is online at:
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“year’s end, all
corners of this floating world,
–Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), who left his identity as a Samurai when he was 20 and became a wandering poet who helped develop the haiku
In this era of “fake news” and rising populism, encountering conspiracy theories is becoming a daily phenomenon. Some people usually shrug them off – they find them too simplistic, biased or far-fetched – but others are taken in. And if a person believes one kind of conspiracy theory, they usually believe others.
Psychologists are very interested in why some people are more inclined to believe in conspiracy theories, especially since the consequences can be harmful: for example, by avoiding getting their kids vaccinated, believers in vaccination conspiracies can harm wider public health; in other cases, a belief in a conspiracy against one’s own ethnic or religious group can foment radicalism.
One of the main differences between conspiracy believers and nonbelievers that’s cropped up in multiple studies is that nonbelievers tend to be more highly educated. For a new study in Applied Cognitive Psychology, Jan-Willem Van Prooijen at VU Amsterdam has conducted two large surveys to try to dig into just what it is about being more educated that seems to inoculate against belief in conspiracy.
For the first survey, Van Prooijen recruited over 4000 readers of a popular science journal in the Netherlands, with an average age of 32. He asked them about their formal education level and their belief in various well-known conspiracy theories, such as that the moon landings were hoax; he tested their feelings of powerlessness; their subjective sense of their social class (they located their position on a social ladder); and their belief in simple solutions, such as that “most problems in society are easy to solve”.
The more highly educated a participant, the less likely they were to endorse the conspiracy theories. Importantly, several of the other measures were linked to education and contributed to the association between education and less belief in conspiracy: feeling less powerlessness (or more in control), feelings of higher social status, and being sceptical of simple solutions.
A second survey was similar, but this time Van Prooijen quizzed nearly 1000 participants, average age 50, selected to be representative of the wider Dutch population. Also, there were two phases: for the first, participants answered questions about their education level; feelings of power; subjective social class; belief in simple solutions; and they took some basic tests of their analytical thinking skills. Then two weeks later, the participants rated their belief in various conspiracy theories.
Once again, more education was associated with less belief in conspiracy theories, and this seemed to be explained in part by more educated participants feeling more in control, having less belief in simple solutions, and having stronger analytical skills. Subjective social class wasn’t relevant in this survey.
Taken together, Van Prooijen said the results suggest that “the relationship between education and belief in conspiracy theories cannot be reduced to a single psychological mechanism but is the product of the complex interplay of multiple psychological processes.”
The nature of his study means we can’t infer that education or the related factors he measured actually cause less belief in conspiracies. But it makes theoretical sense that they might be involved: for example, more education usually increases people’s sense of control over their lives (though there are exceptions, for instance among people from marginalized groups), while it is feelings of powerlessness that is one of the things that often attracts people to conspiracy theories.
Importantly, Van Prooijen said his findings help make sense of why education can contribute to “a less paranoid society” even when conspiracy theories are not explicitly challenged. “By teaching children analytic thinking skills along with the insight that societal problems often have no simple solutions, by stimulating a sense of control, and by promoting a sense that one is a valued member of society, education is likely to install the mental tools that are needed to approach far-fetched conspiracy theories with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Image under licence via Gettyimages.co.uk