Handbook of Individual Differences in Social Behaviour (III)

I’ve finished the book. You can find my previous coverage of it here and here.

I gave it three stars on goodreads, which is a sort of ‘compromise rating’; the variance in the quality of the material included is, in my opinion, very large. Some chapters are really good, and a few of them are just awful, with a lot of chapters somewhere in between. The annoying thing is that the awful chapters are still full of ‘science-y language’ and technical remarks which may make some readers believe the stuff covered isn’t just a load of ¤#£$; some authors are obviously trying in their allotted chapters to defend (unsuccessfully) their own areas of research, even though those areas are, well… The really infuriating part is that some of the distinctions made in the bad chapters may actually be relevant to some extent (i.e., ‘it’s not all crud’) and some of the observations may not be completely bogus, but the quality of the research is just too poor to figure out what’s going on and the conclusions drawn from the research are ridiculously out of line with what you can say with any degree of certainty (this aspect was really noticeable in one of the last chapters, which is probably why I focus in on this aspect as I’m writing this). Anyway I’d have to repeat that the good chapters make up for much of the other stuff, and in general I found the book a very interesting read. Naturally I did, some might say; this is a 600+ page handbook and if I hadn’t found it interesting there’s no way in hell I’d have completed it. Speaking of handbooks, on a related note I’ve recently started reading The Oxford Handbook of Health Economics. However that book is at least to some extent a ‘work-related’ book (…to which extent is still questionable as I’m reading it partly in order to figure out how ‘work-related’ I might be able to make it).

In my last post, I mentioned that I’d cover ‘the need for cognition’ and ‘the need for cognitive closure’ in my next post about the book – and I do this below. I’ll cover a few other topics as well. Naturally I cannot possibly cover more than a very small part of the stuff I’ve read here – there’s material for at least 10 other posts in there, which is something I’ve known for a while and which is something that has certainly made me more hesitant along the way to provide detailed coverage of the stuff I’ve read (I’d never finsh and I’d get tired of covering this stuff – the book has already taken a lot of hours to read). As for ‘general remarks relating to the coverage and the overall topic’ I’ll also not go into more detail in this post than I already have – I’ll restrict myself to coverage of specific topics below, you should see the previous posts for more general remarks.

The topics covered in the last parts of the book which I’ve yet to mention/talk about here are: ‘Conscientiousness’, ‘achievement motivation’, ‘belonging motivation’, ‘affiliation motivation’, ‘power motivation’, ‘social desirability’, ‘sensation seeking’, ‘rejection sensitivity’, ‘psychological defensiveness: Repression, blunting, and defensive pessimism’ (all these belong to part V, on ‘motivational dispositions’), and: ‘Private and public self-consciousness’, ‘independent, relational, and collective-interdependent self-construals’, ‘self-esteem’, ‘narcissism’, ‘self-compassion’, and ‘self-monitoring’ (these chapters belong to part VI, on ‘self-related dispositions’). As you can probably tell from the coverage below, there are a lot of topics I have chosen not to cover here. Lack of coverage of a given topic should not be taken to imply that the chapter in question was bad.

Okay, on to the more specific coverage. In the sequences below I decided to bold some sequences in part in order to allow people who’ll only skim the post to still get at least something out of it (it’s a long post).

“As conceptualized by Cacioppo and Petty (1982), the need for cognition (NC) refers to the tendency for people to vary in the extent to which they engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive activities. Some individuals have relatively little motivation for cognitively effortful tasks, whereas other individuals consistently engage in and enjoy cognitively challenging activities. Of course, people can fall at any point in the distribution. For people high in NC, thinking satisfies a desire and is enjoyable. For people low in NC, thinking can be a chore that is engaged in mostly when some incentive or reason is present.

Someone at some point pointed out that he or she disliked reading long italized sequences, so although this was how I’d originally presented my comments to this I decided to make an exception here. Anyway, Petty is a co-author of the chapter in question. More to the point, I’m not actually sure I’d (self-?)categorize as being high NC; I often feel that I’m a lazy thinker compared to some people, and I don’t really think I’m going out of my way to find stuff that I know will challenge me a great deal – for example such laziness is part of the reason why I’m not currently reading books like this, or this, or this). On the other hand if such a scale is to have any meaning when applied to people in general I probably have to belong to the high group, and naturally the same thing is likely to apply to people who read a blog like this. This is perhaps both a good illustration of how sensitive these measures sometimes may be to stuff like response strategies/impression management, and a more general illustration (although I stated I wouldn’t include any of these in the coverage…) of how I was often uncertain while reading this book as to to which extent variables presented in the book were actually behaviourally relevant to me personally (I’m sure this is a common experience). If the variable measured behaviour, I’d be high NC because I spend a lot of time reading/thinking/etc. But it doesn’t – it asks people if they like complex task to simple tasks and similar questions. I’m not sure how I’d answer those – I could easily see myself answering a self-report thing like that with answers to the effect that I’m a lazy thinker who tries to avoid doing hard brain work whenever I can get away with it. Construct validity aspects and potential problems are always there, lurking in the background. In the specific case such stuff is probably irrelevant to the population-wide behavioural correlates, but such aspects are potentially important and again underscore how difficult it is to construct good metrics that measure what you want to measure and nothing else. According to the authors the scale most widely used has high internal consistency and high test-retest reliability so it’s not a bad metric. …but back to the text coverage:

the available evidence indicates that as NC increases, people are more likely to think about a wide variety of things, including their own thoughts. This enhanced thinking often produces more consequential (e.g., enduring) judgments and can sometimes provide protection from common judgmental biases. At other times, however, enhanced thinking can exacerbate a bias […] it is preferable to refer to NC as tapping into the tendency to engage in extensive thinking. To the extent that this thinking is influenced (biased) by irrational intuitions, emotions, or images, the outcome of the thinking need not be rational.”

“The idea that NC taps into differences in motivation rather than ability is supported by research showing that NC is only moderately related to measures of cognitive ability (e.g., verbal intelligence) and continues to predict relevant outcomes after cognitive ability is controlled (see Cacioppo et al., 1996).”

“Considerable research has suggested that individuals low in NC are, absent some incentive to the contrary, more likely to rely on simple cues in a persuasion situation […] and on stereotypes alone in judging other people […] than are those high in NC. […] The psychology of persuasion focuses on which variables produce changes in individuals’ beliefs and attitudes and the mechanisms by which they do so. Consistent with the idea that NC is associated with effortful thinking, people high in NC tend to form attitudes on the basis of an effortful analysis of the quality of the relevant information in a persuasive message […] In contrast […] individuals low in NC tend to treat variables as simple cues. These include factors such as the attractiveness […] or credibility […] of the message source […], the appearance and frame (e.g., positive vs. negative, gains vs. losses) of the message […], and their own emotional states”

“Because individuals high (vs. low) in NC typically engage in more thinking, they also tend to have stronger attitudes […] they tend to form stronger automatic associations among attitude objects […], and to generalize their changes to other, related beliefs […] At the most basic level, NC affects the amount of thought that goes into a decision. Thus, those high in NC tend to think more about available options prior to making a decision […] and are more likely to search for additional information before coming to a judgmental conclusion […] Perhaps surprisingly, both high and low levels of NC have been related to various biases in judgment. Across a variety of studies, those low in NC tend to show greater amounts of bias when this bias is created by a reliance on mental shortcuts. Alternatively, when the bias is created through effortful thought, individuals high in NC tend to be more strongly affected.”

“A number of general conclusions emerge from this chapter. First, and most important, individuals high in NC tend to think more than those low in NC about all kinds of information, including their own thoughts (metacognition). Second, however, it is noteworthy that individuals low in NC are capable of and can be motivated to exert extensive thinking, and individuals high in NC can decide not to think under certain circumstances, such as when the message does not seem challenging. Third, these differences in the extent of thinking between individuals high and low in NC can result in different outcomes in response to the same treatment. […] different levels of NC can be associated with both positive or negative, accurate or inaccurate, and rational or irrational outcomes, depending on the circumstances involved.”

Enough about need for cognition. What about ‘need for cognitive closure’?

The need for closure (NFC) has been defined as a desire for a definite answer to a question, as opposed to uncertainty, confusion, or ambiguity (Kruglanski, 1989). It is assumed that the motivation toward closure varies along a continuum anchored at one end with a strong NFC and at the other end with a strong need to avoid closure. The NFC is elevated when the perceived benefits of possessing closure and/or the perceived costs of lacking closure are high […] Likewise, the need to avoid closure is elevated when the perceived benefits of lacking closure and the perceived costs of possessing closure are high. These benefits and costs vary according to situational factors and individual differences. […] People exhibit stable personal differences in the degree to which they value closure. Some people may form definitive, and perhaps extreme, opinions regardless of the situation, whereas others may resist making decisions even in the safest environments.

“it seems that people who are high in NFC will restrict the number of hypotheses that they will entertain before reaching a given judgment. One may expect that generating fewer hypotheses would lead to lower confidence in one’s decision. Ironically, however, a reduction in hypothesis generation may lead to the opposite effect. Individuals who are high in NFC may be less aware of competing judgmental possibilities and, therefore, may be more confident that their selection is correct. Indeed, elevated judgmental confidence under heightened NFC has been manifested in numerous studies […] people with a heightened need for closure, by virtue of their assurance in their decisions, show an inverse relationship between judgmental confidence and the extent of information processing. […] individuals high in NFC may seek less information about another person before reaching a conclusion or forming a definite impression about this person. […] A primacy effect refers to the tendency to base one’s social impressions on early information about that person, to the relative neglect of subsequent, potentially relevant information. […] when individuals are high in NFC, primacy effects are augmented [and] the higher the individual’s NFC, the stronger the magnitude of the primacy effect. […] Taken together, the research on intrapersonal processes demonstrates that people who are high in NFC seek less information, generate fewer hypotheses, and rely on early, initial information when making judgments. Paradoxically, despite the reliance on less, and perhaps incomplete, information, individuals high in NFC display greater confidence in their decisions.

“In summary, individual differences in NFC, as well as situational differences in NFC, have important implications for social interaction. Individuals high in NFC (vs. low in NFC) have greater difficulty taking other people’s perspectives and empathizing with them. While communicating with others, individuals high in NFC are focused on their own perspective, making it more difficult for others to understand their views and communications. Individuals high in NFC prefer to use abstract labels, which can be applied across various situations. Lastly, individuals high in NFC are quick to apply significant-other schemas to individuals who resemble them superficially, potentially producing substantial errors of person perception [i.e., they tend to assume people who remind them of someone they know are more like that person than they really are, and this assumption impacts behaviour in potentially problematic ways]”

“Taken together, the research on group processes and NFC indicates that individuals with high NFC desire consensus and homogeneity among group members. As such, they are willing to engage in activities perceived as likely to achieve and maintain stability, including focusing on the task at hand, pressuring others to change their opinions, rejecting those who hold different opinions, sharing less information with others, and supporting an autocratic leadership style. […] individuals high in NFC prefer ingroups that are homogeneous as well as similar to themselves; once those groups are established, they support attempts to maintain the group and exclude others from the group.”

Lastly, a few observations of interest from other chapters:

“Goldberg (1993) used the term Big Five for a reason. The Big Five are big. Not big in the sense that they are important, but big in the sense that each of the Big Five is best considered a broad domain of traits, not a unitary construct. This point seems to be increasingly lost on the current generation of personality inventory consumers, as the preference appears to be to use short measures under the assumption that measuring a single dimension of conscientiousness, or any of the remaining Big Five, is a sufficient representation of the domain. This is like arguing that oranges, apples, and bananas are interchangeable because they are all fruit. Conscientiousness is clearly not unidimensional and consists of several relatively distinct facets that, like different fruit, are not identical.”

“When it comes to decision making, research paints a portrait of people with low self-esteem as being less decisive […] and more likely to procrastinate […] Persons lower in self-esteem are also more easily persuaded than those high in self-esteem […] those who suffer from negative self-views are prone to tolerate various forms of poor treatment […] people low as compared with high in self-esteem are also more risk averse when making decisions, most likely because they have relatively low expectations of success […] and are motivated to avoid feelings of regret should a risky decision yield negative consequences […] some research suggests that persons high in self-esteem pursue goals with an eye to achieving excellence, whereas those low in self-esteem seek merely to attain adequacy […] Moreover, higher self-esteem is associated with superior self-regulation during goal pursuit.”

people actively seek and embed themselves within social environments that sustain their stable self-views. Evidence of this tendency appears in people’s choices of relationship partners, careers, home and work environments, group memberships, and even home and office decor […] people low in self-esteem tend to withdraw and isolate themselves from others, whereas those high in self-esteem more readily seek others’ company […] Once they enter social settings, people’s stable self-views predict their preferences for specific interaction partners. Whereas people with favorable self-concepts tend to seek out relationship partners who view them favorably, those with negative self-concepts prefer the companionship of those who view them unfavorably […] Such tendencies should ensure that people surround themselves with relationship partners, feedback sources, and environments that bolster, rather than challenge, their self-esteem and self-concepts. Moreover, to the extent that a given relationship or environment disconfirms people’s self-concepts or self-esteem, they are likely to leave in search of a better fitting niche […] people generally seek positive information about their favorable self-views and negative information about their unfavorable self-views”

Just as people seek information that is consistent with their self-views, they pay more attention to evaluatively consistent than inconsistent information. In general, people low as compared with high in self-esteem attend more to negative information and events […] When it comes to self-relevant information, people with negative self-concepts pay more attention to unfavorable than favorable evaluations of themselves, whereas the reverse is true among those with positive self-concepts […] In the wake of failure feedback, persons with low self-esteem focus attention on their weaknesses, whereas those high in self-esteem increase attention to their strengths […] people high in self-esteem are more likely than those low in self-esteem to focus on the ways in which their own outcomes compare favorably to the outcomes obtained by the friends, acquaintances, and strangers that they encounter in daily life […] Perhaps reflecting these differences in attention, people display better memory for feedback and experiences that are congruent relative to incongruent with the valence of their self-esteem, and they recall incongruent feedback and experiences as more congruent than they really were”

The manner in which people interpret their own and other people’s behaviors and outcomes is linked predictably with their self-esteem and self-concepts. For instance, people interpret feedback that is congruent with their self-concepts as accurate, whereas they dismiss incongruent feedback as inaccurate […] Moreover, a large body of research on attribution processes shows that people high in self-esteem take credit for their successes and blame their failures on external factors […] In contrast, people low in self-esteem are less inclined to take credit for their successes and more inclined to assume responsibility for their failures […] Furthermore, people with low self-esteem may not even interpret their own success experiences as successes unless a credible outsider tells them explicitly that they have done well (Josephs, Bosson, & Jacobs, 2003).”

“people who are higher in self-esteem tend to experience fewer negative emotions such as depression, anxiety, and hostility. Indeed, the negative association between self-esteem and depression is so strong (r ~ .80; Watson et al., 2002) that some suggest conceptualizing self-esteem and depression as end points of a bipolar continuum (Suls, 2006).” [they don’t cover intervention studies in the chapter at all, but as far as I can remember the evidence is decidedly mixed – I’m sure I’ve covered some of the literature before here on the blog, but I can’t be bothered to look it up. Such correlations certainly provide part of the reason why this may be the case (good luck convincing me that the causal arrow goes only from self-esteem to depression). They implicitly go into other reasons in the chapter why interventions focusing on this variable may not be successful, e.g. by their distinction between implicitly and explicitly assessed self-esteem and the very low to non-existent correlation between the two, but I think it would go too far to cover all the details of that stuff here. The authors of this particular chapter were very careful not to draw causal inferences, which serves them credit; you can easily write entire books devoted to these topics, and this stuff is never easy when you’re dealing with human beings and social behaviour.]

thinking about how one is viewed by others does not always translate into an accurate understanding of the perspective of others […] Instead, preoccupation with oneself as a public object of attention often leads to unwarranted or exaggerated assumptions about the extent to which one is the target of others’ thoughts. That is, rather than clarifying knowledge about oneself, thinking about oneself as a social object sometimes heightens its accessibility and subjective importance, resulting in a biasing of mental judgments. […] Much of this research [on self-consciousness] suggests a psychological equivalent to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: Observing a phenomenon changes it. Self-attention or self-consciousness often seem to change the nature of whatever aspect of self is being observed. When attention or thoughtful scrutiny is directed toward self-relevant psychological phenomena such as ongoing affect […], judgments regarding causality for one’s behavior […], the reasons underlying one’s attitudes or feelings [..], or the self as a social target […], the effect of “looking inward,” rather than being clarifying or “insightful,” instead tends to alter or distort whatever aspect of the self is being thought about. Although it has sometimes been assumed that self-consciousness facilitates self-knowledge, research suggests some skepticism regarding the accuracy of the self-insights gained through self-focused attention.

“Several parallels have been noted between the characteristics of depression and those of private self-consciousness, such as self-blaming tendencies and difficulty in engaging in self-deceptive or positive illusions (e.g., Musson & Alloy, 1988). In addition, studies have consistently found positive correlations between measures of private self-focus and depression”

I thought this part was cute, and I can’t refrain from covering it here:

“People cannot always obtain the degree of acceptance and belonging that they desire, either because opportunities for acceptance are not currently available or because they have been explicitly rejected. In such instances, people may use tactics that make them feel accepted even when actual acceptance is unavailable. Research suggests that people who are high in belonging motivation use such tactics more commonly than those who are low in it.
Some people seem to derive emotional benefits from the parasocial relationships that they have with actors, newscasters, and celebrities that they see on television. Research on parasocial relationships shows that TV viewers regard favorite television performers as emotionally closer to them than an acquaintance but not as close as a friend […], reflecting a notable degree of interpersonal connection. Theorists have assumed that people form parasocial relationships with public figures to fill unmet social needs and reduce loneliness […], but little is known regarding when people use parasocial relationships to bolster feelings of acceptance. A series of studies by Knowles and Gardner (2003, 2008) showed that people who scored high in belonging motivation have closer and more intense attachments to their favorite television characters, even seeking “social support” from television characters, who keep them company when they are alone.”

A little more on related stuff from that chapter:

“Gardner, Pickett, Jefferies, and Knowles (2005) suggested that, in the same way that people may snack in order to tide them over to the next full meal, people who feel inadequately connected may “snack” on symbolic reminders of their social connections until they can engage in actual supportive interactions. Social snacking may take the form of rereading letters or e-mail messages from friends and loved ones, reminiscing about previous times when one was accepted or loved, daydreaming about significant others, or looking at photographs of family, friends, or romantic partners. Importantly, social snacking is more common among people who score high in belonging motivation”

“Most motives tend to become stronger, or at least more salient, when they remain unsatisfied. Along these lines, Baumeister and Leary (1995) suggested that the degree to which people desire acceptance and belonging increases when their need for belonging is unmet, as does their experience of negative emotions. Although Baumeister and Leary were discussing state-like changes in belonging motivation, their analysis raises the question of whether stable individual differences in belonging motivation are tied to feeling disconnected, rejected, lonely, or left out and to the tendency to experience negative emotions. […] Leary and colleagues (2008) presented considerable evidence that belonging motivation is not related to the degree to which people believe that they are accepted and belong. […] although state-like desires for acceptance may increase when people feel inadequately accepted at a particular moment in time […], individual differences in belonging motivation do not appear to arise from a perceived lack of social connections. […] Although the desire for acceptance is distinct from the frequency with which people interact with others, social acceptance is necessarily facilitated by interpersonal contact. Thus one would expect that people who more highly desire to be accepted by other people might tend to seek more opportunities for social interaction than those who have a weaker desire for acceptance. Consistent with this expectation, studies show that people who more greatly desire acceptance and belonging are more likely to be extraverted than introverted and tend to score higher on measures of sociability than people who desire acceptance and belonging less strongly

February 1, 2014 Posted by | Books, Psychology | Leave a comment