Handbook of Individual Differences in Social Behaviour (II)

Here’s my first post about the book.

The book is taking a little longer to read than I’d expected, but I am making progress and I’m roughly two-thirds through now. The book is of the ‘required reading for this university course is this textbook’-type, so I don’t have major trouble justifying spending a week or more on it. When I wrote the first post, I’d read the introductory chapters as well as the chapters on interpersonal dispositions (part 2) and the first four chapters on emotional dispositions (part 3). At this point I’ve now read the last four chapters on emotional dispositions – covering ‘proneness to shame and proneness to guilt’, ‘hostility and proneness to anger’, ‘loneliness’, and ‘affect intensity’ – as well as part 4, which covers cognitive dispositions: ‘Openness to experience’, ‘locus of control and attribution style’, ‘belief in a just world’, ‘authoritarianism and dogmatism’, ‘the need for cognition’ (I’d never heard about that one and that chapter was very interesting! – I decided not to include stuff on that one in this post because the post was already very long, but I’ll certainly cover that stuff later on…), ‘optimism’, ‘the need for cognitive closure’, and ‘integrative complexity’. One thing you most certainly will realize while reading a book like this is that humans actually vary across a lot of dimensions; there are a huge number of ways to perceive the world, think about social interaction, handle problems life throws at you etc. I believe people tend to underestimate this complexity to some extent in part because you’ll always tend to be biased by your own emotional and social experiences to some extent; if you for example very rarely get angry at other people, you may well not think of anger and hostility, or perhaps related variables such as impulsivity, as being particularly important ‘in the big picture’; and this despite the fact that it may well be that the only reason why you don’t think much about these matters is actually that you’re implicitly and without knowing it applying near-optimized anger management strategies, which some other people may have a very hard time applying in a social setting for various reasons. This is not a point made in the book, incidentally, but I guess that’s also part of the point – a book such as this one can easily make you start thinking along such lines. Another reason people underestimate such complexity is of course that most people don’t read books like this one. Anyway, humans don’t just vary in the way they think and behave, they even vary in the way they think about thinking and in the way they think about their behaviours (and in the way they think other people think about thinking, and think about their behaviours…), and you can say something meaningful about many of these differences and their behavioral correlates.

In terms of underestimating complexity, another point perhaps worth emphasizing is that people have significant scope for self-selection in terms of who they spend their time with, and if, like most people, you interact mostly with people who are conceptually like you in many ways, it may be very easy for you to overlook a lot of the total trait- and behavioral variation out there – a book like this will give you a greater appreciation of how many different kinds of people are out there. A related point is that you’re probably at this point to some extent engaging in self-selection based on variables you’re unaware of, because of your cognitive setup.

Some of the most recent chapters were not that great, but others were very interesting indeed and overall I’m liking the book – I think I’ll most likely give it three or four stars.

In my first post I mostly left out the references from the quotes (many references were instead replaced by a ‘[…]’); I did this in order to make the post easier to read and to be able to include more observations without having the post blow up in my face, but in this post I decided to occasionally include some of the references, so that readers can observe that the authors are not just making up many of the claims/observations I include in my posts. Studies may be somewhat heterogenous in terms of quality and validity, but there are often a lot of them and it’s not like none of the authors have heard about longitudinal studies or panel data models. I have occasionally been a bit surprised at how much stuff has actually been looked at in some detail. As one of the authors note,

“there is a vast interdisciplinary literature on locus of control and attribution style in clinical, social, educational, health, and organizational psychology that attests to the importance of these variables in understanding individual differences. By the end of 2007, there were nearly 2,500 citations to Rotter (1966) and more than 750 citations to Rotter (1975); seminal articles on locus of control.”

The guy was given roughly 10 pages to tell you all about that literature, so, well…

Given that I’ve now read another roughly 200 pages in a textbook a large chunk of which consists of reviews of studies, I of course can’t cover this material in anywhere near the amount of detail I’d like to, but I hope you find some of the stuff I decided to include in the post below interesting anyway. I did not think it made sense to keep adding to the post in order to cover all the stuff from this part of the book which I’d like to cover, so the last chapters mentioned above I decided to postpone coverage of – as already noted. I will cover ‘the need for cognition’ and ‘the need for cognitive closure’ later on, as I find these variables and the coverage quite interesting. Maybe a few of the other neglected topics will get a word or two in another post later on as well, we’ll see.

Below’s some stuff from the second third of the book, as well as a few observations from chapter 12 (‘Social Anxiousness, Shyness, and Embarrassability’) which I decided against including in the first post because of the time I’d already spent on that post and the length of that post.

“Social anxiousness makes social interactions seem more costly and dangerous than they would appear to be were one less anxious […] People with high social anxiousness also judge themselves more harshly. They underestimate their physical attractiveness, tend to blame themselves for disappointing outcomes, and tend to doubt the accuracy of the praise they receive […] Burdened with excessive self-focus and a pessimistic outlook, people with high social anxiousness approach social life more cautiously than do those who are less anxious. Arguably, they do not seek approval from others so much as they defensively strive to avoid disapproval (Shepperd & Arkin, 1990). This leads them to interact with others in a manner that is self-protective rather than acquisitive, and their interpersonal behavior is intentionally innocuous: They sit on the sides or in the back of classrooms, they express neutral opinions, and they conform readily […] There is only a modest negative correlation (r = -.3 0 ) between shyness and sociability, so people with high social anxiousness do not necessarily wish to be left alone; indeed, some shy people are quite sociable […] They generally do not much like to interact with anyone they do not already know, however, because they are averse to social risk (Brown, Silvia, Myin-Germeys, & Kwapil, 2007).”

“it is clear that shy people generally interact with others in an impoverished manner that makes a relatively poor impression on their partners (Leary & Buckley, 2000). They tend to be reserved and tentative rather than enthusiastic and animated. […] they make fewer gestures […] lean away more, and nod and smile less (Heerey & Kring, 2007) than do those who are less shy. Men who are shy frequently look at women to whom they are talking, but they avert their gazes if the women look back; thus lower levels of eye contact occur (Garcia, Stinson, Ickes, Bissonnette, & Briggs, 1991). Their speech is less fluent […] They tend not to reciprocate others’ self-disclosures […], and what they do say about themselves tends to be short and superficial […] so more long, awkward silences occur […] They also tend to suppress their emotions and to be unassertive […] They also interact more contentedly when they are online rather than face-to-face with new acquaintances (Stritzke, Nguyen, 8c Durkin, 2004); they are more self-disclosing and they form new relationships more easily online […] on average, people who are high in shyness also possess poorer social skills than those who are less inhibited […] The reticence of shy people can make them seem detached and unfriendly, and they make poorer impressions on conversation partners than do those who are less shy (Heerey & Kring, 2007). This is regrettably ironic: Concern about others’ judgments leads shy people to behave in a timid, cautious, and clumsy manner that engenders the disregard they hoped to avoid […]; this confirms their fears, conceivably leading to stronger shyness and further withdrawal. […] They develop attachment styles that tend to be characterized by anxiety over abandonment, and they are relatively unlikely to enjoy secure attachments […] When they go to college, shy people make friends more slowly than others do, and they are less likely to start a new romance […] They have fewer sex partners […] and the sex they have is of poorer quality […] Shyness is probably associated with these outcomes not only because it makes one’s interactions less rewarding but also because it reduces one’s opportunities to make new friends and to find new loves […] This all sounds rather grim, but shyness is not all bad. The intimate partners of shy people describe them as modest, sensitive, and tactful (Gough & Thorne, 1986), so shy diffidence may play well in close quarters once a partner’s love is won.”

“In a longitudinal study, shame and guilt proneness in the fifth grade predicted alcohol and drug use as reported at 18 years of age (Tangney, Stuewig, Kendall, Reinsmith, & Dearing, 2006).”

“Anger-regulation styles can have implications for social relations and one’s own physiology. For example, openly expressing one’s anger in an aggressive manner often elicits reciprocal aggressive behavior and acrimony, escalating conflicts, impeding successful problem resolution, and eroding important relationships […] On the other hand, researchers have also noted deleterious social and physiological effects of the failure to express emotion. Accurately communicating emotional states is important to interpersonal functioning, and suppression of emotion can impair communication, making it more difficult to form and maintain close relationships […] One of the strongest consistent demographic differences is the tendency for women to have lower scores on measures of cynicism and aggression. […] However, women do not consistently have lower scores on measures of anger or anger expression, indicating that they acknowledge anger experiences but tend to employ less aggressive modes of expression (Stoney & Engebretson, 1994).”

“Research in the social skills area has shown that loneliness is associated with more self-focus, poorer partner attention skills, a lack of self-disclosure to friends, especially among females, and less participation in organized groups, especially among males […] Personality research has shown that loneliness is associated with depressive symptoms, shyness, and neuroticism and low self-esteem, optimism, conscientiousness, and agreeableness […] Temporal stability of loneliness scores is relatively high, with test-retest reliabilities of .69, .57, and .51 across 2, 3, and 5 years, respectively, in children between 7 and 12 years of age […] and from .73 to .84 across 1-2 years in middle-aged and older adults (Cacioppo, Hughes, Waite, Hawkley, & Thisted, 2006; Russell, 1996). […] nonmarried men are lonelier than nonmarried women […] Marriage is well known to protect against loneliness, and loneliness is greater among those who are divorced or never married […] In general, marital relationships have been shown to play a larger role in the physical health and psychological well-being of men […] Contact with friends is more important than contact with adult children and other family members in preventing loneliness […] Social relationship quality is a more potent predictor of loneliness than quantity of social contacts […] although marriage is generally protective, only marriages that are close and satisfy a need for a confidant serve to reduce loneliness (Olson & Wong, 2001).”

“Loneliness is sometimes confused with depressed affect and poor social support, a confusion that exists despite theoretical and empirical distinctions among these related constructs […] For instance, empirical work has shown that companionship is a stronger predictor of loneliness than social support […] The lonely not only react more intensely to the negatives but also experience less of a soothing uplift from the positives […] The lonely are aware that their social needs are not being met, but they perceive that they do not have a great deal of control over their ability to fulfill those needs […] Tending to be more anxious, pessimistic, and fearful of negative evaluation than people who feel good about their social lives, lonely people are more likely to act and relate to others in ways that are anxious, negative, and self-protective, which leads paradoxically to self-defeating behaviors […] Not only do the lonely contribute to their own negative reality, but others also begin to view them more negatively and begin to act accordingly […] lonely individuals are less accurate at decoding facial and postural expressions of emotion […] One might expect that a lonely person, hungry to fulfill unmet social needs, would be very accepting of a new acquaintance […] However, when confronted with an opportunity to form a social connection, studies show that the lonely are actually far less accepting of potential new friends than are the nonlonely […] In sum, lonely individuals are more likely to construe their world as threatening, to hold more negative expectations, and to interpret and respond to ambiguous social behavior in a more negative, off-putting fashion, thereby confirming their construal of the world as threatening and beyond their control. These cognitions, in turn, activate neurobiological mechanisms that, with time, take a toll on health.”

“Lonely individuals […] are far less likely than nonlonely individuals to see any given stressor as an invigorating challenge. Instead of responding with optimism and active engagement, they tend to respond with pessimism and avoidance, a passive coping strategy that carries its own costs. Among young adults, the greater the degree of loneliness, the more the individual withdrew when faced with stressors. Similarly, the greater the loneliness, the less the individual sought out emotional support, as well as instrumental (practical) support (Cacioppo, Hawkley, Crawford, et al., 2002). Behavioral withdrawal and failure to seek emotional support are common among lonely older adults, as well […] Blood pressure is a function of cardiac output (CO) and total peripheral resistance (TPR). In young adults, we found that loneliness was related to differential regulation of systolic blood pressure (SBP). Although lonely and nonlonely individuals did not differ in blood pressure levels, maintenance of blood pressure was attributable to higher vascular resistance and lower cardiac output among lonely relative to nonlonely individuals […] Results from the Framingham Heart Study indicate that changes in TPR play a dominant role in determining SBP from age 30 until approximately age 50 […] Given the temporal stability of loneliness and its substantial heritable component, it is plausible that loneliness-related elevations in TPR in early to middle adulthood may lead to higher blood pressure in middle and older age. Consistent with this hypothesis, loneliness was associated with elevated SBP in a population-based sample of older adults in the CHASRS. Moreover, the association between loneliness and elevated SBP was exaggerated in older relative to younger lonely adults in this sample […] consistent with our hypothesis of accelerated physiological decline in lonely relative to nonlonely individuals. […] Social isolation […] is associated with increased risk of inflammation-mediated diseases.” [I covered some of the literature they talk about in that chapter here on the blog a while back – go there for more, or read the book…]

“From observing as little as 5 seconds of a getting-to-know-you conversation, perceivers can make attributions about Openness. Although accuracy ratings are generally lower for Openness than for the other traits in this context, accuracy does not vary as a function of slice length—it takes a very narrow sliver of time for a perceiver to form a judgment of Openness (Carney, Colvin, & Hall, 2007). And once this impression is formed, it is not easily changed. Openness is a low-maintenance trait […] That is, initial impressions can be resistant to reevaluation. In contrast to traits such as Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, which require frequent confirmatory evidence to maintain the judgment, impressions of Openness are relatively impervious to disconfirming evidence; information that contradicts the initial Openness impression tends to be disregarded. Once an individual is tagged as being open (or closed), regardless of the amount of evidence to the contrary, the impression sticks. […] When contemplating the ideal mate, single individuals prefer partners who strongly resemble them on Openness, with Agreeableness and Extraversion coming in a distant second and third, respectively […] A similar pattern holds for both dating couples and newlyweds […] regardless of their own personalities, women in particular value mates who are open and dominant (Botwin et al., 1997).”

“Overall, the results clearly and consistently show that attribution style is one of the vulnerability factors for depression. The tendency to make internal, stable, and global attributions for negative events predisposes people to experience the symptoms associated with depression, such as passivity, negative affect, psychosomatic problems associated with sleep and eating, and low self-esteem. […] Other studies have pointed to the instability of attribution style. Indeed, Ball, McGuffin, and Farmer (2008) suggested that attribution style is really little more than a mood state that does not reflect a risk factor for depression. They noted that “the way in which individuals attribute their experiences may be less of a risk factor and more of a symptom of depression than previously thought. Past episodes of depression may produce long-lasting negative attributions relating to the self, in addition to other pessimistic attributions that are linked to both observed and self reported current depression.”

“The just-world hypothesis states that people need to believe in a just world in which everyone gets what they deserve and deserves what they get. This belief enables them to deal with their social environment as though it were stable and orderly and thus serves important adaptive functions. […] When individuals with a strong just-world belief experience an injustice that they do not believe can be resolved in reality, they try to assimilate the experience to their just-world belief. This can be done, for example, by justifying the experienced unfairness as being at least partly self-inflicted […], by playing down the unfairness […], by avoiding self-focused rumination […], or by forgiving […] when people are confronted with the victim of an unjust fate, blaming the victim seems to be a crucial element in the defense of their belief in a just world. […] There is ample evidence of a positive relationship between just-world beliefs and subjective well-being. […] In adolescence and young adulthood […] the just-world belief’s main function seems to be to provide trust in the fairness of the world, thus enabling people to master challenges in school and at the workplace and to invest in their personal goals. In old age, when the remaining lifetime is shorter, the just-world belief’s primary function seems to be to provide a framework to help people interpret the events of their lives in a meaningful way. A strong just-world belief allows older adults to see themselves as having been less discriminated against during the course of their lives, prevents them from ruminating about the negative aspects of their lives, and instead enables them to find meaning in them.”

January 23, 2014 - Posted by | books, Psychology

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