There has been a lot of concern expressed about the role that social media might play in political polarization. The worry is that social media users might only expose themselves to news stories with which they agree and have friends that reinforce their own views, and thereby become more extreme in their views and less understanding or tolerant of those who disagree with them. A recent paper seems to show that the phenomenon is real, but less extreme than we might have thought; at least among those people who identify their political orientation. This group is likely to be more politically aware than other users and may be thought to be more extreme in their exposure to self-reinforcing stories. On average, this group had about 23% of friends with an opposing political viewpoint, and about 29% of the stories they read presented views that were opposed to theirs. Continue reading
Many people are suspicious about being manipulated in their emotions, thoughts or behaviour by external influences, may those be drugs or advertising. However, it seems that – unbeknown to most of us – within our own bodies exist a considerable number of foreign entities. These entities can change our psychology to a surprisingly large degree. And they pursue their own interests – which do not necessarily coincide with ours.
As many readers of this blog may know, in the last few years a “replication crisis” has caused intense soul searching in psychology – and particularly in social psychology. This crisis was sparked when several widely cited findings in psychology subsequently failed to replicate when tested by independent researchers (for some background see Earp and Trafimow’s paper here). This is – of course – a substantial problem because it severely limits the confidence we can have in psychological findings. For social psychological research this problem may be even graver, given that many of the topics studied – e.g. attitudes, prejudice, political voting – have direct implications for policy making. If we cannot have confidence in our findings, social psychology is in very hot water indeed.
Pandas are notoriously picky eaters: they only eat bamboo. But a recent study has found that pandas are actually poorly adapted for their diet. Pandas apparently evolved from omnivorous bears. Whether as a consequence of a decrease in the availability of prey or an increase in bamboo, however, they shifted to an exclusively vegetarian diet about two million years ago. But they did not evolve the kind of digestive apparatus usually seen in herbivores. They have a carnivore’s digestive system, and they lack the gut flora required for extracting the maximum amount of energy from plant-based sources. Hence, perhaps, the fact that they spend so much of their time eating. Continue reading
The concept of authenticity has been receiving a lot of attention in the past few weeks due to two high profile cases. First, Caitlyn Jenner, a former Olympic gold medallist and TV personality who was until recently known as “Bruce”, debuted her new name and identity in an interview with the magazine Vanity Fair. Second, it was reported that Rachel Dolezal, the Spokane NAACP president, was allegedly born a white woman, and has been deceptively representing herself as a black woman.
The latter case has sparked a great deal of controversy that I do not intend to fully address here. Furthermore, although some commentators have drawn all things considered likewise comparisons between the two cases, it seems clear that Dolezal’s case involves a range of separate issues, which make an all things considered likewise comparison inappropriate; again, I do not intend to make such a comparison here. Rather, in this post, I shall explore one particular theme that has emerged in many discussions of these cases, namely the language of authenticity. Continue reading
Participating in that great experiment of the internet—social media in particular—runs some risks; an emotional tweet, a late-night blog entry, or a Facebook post after a couple of pints can not only get you into trouble with friends and family, but at times, even cost you your job and bring world-wide notoriety. Justine Sacco is probably the most famous case. Before boarding an airplane to South Africa, she tweeted what one could describe either as a misfired, ill-calculated joke or as an outright racist joke to her 170 followers on twitter. When she landed, she was trending at number one worldwide on twitter, people were openly harassing her, and among many things, wishing her to be fired from her job; a wish that her company granted. Even worse were the emotional consequences of the incident. Sacco states that “I cried out my body weight in the first 24 hours. It was incredibly traumatic”. Jon Ronson wrote an article about this case and later a book called “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”, portraying people who suffered from online harassment. In it, he also writes about Monica Lewinsky, who describes herself as the first victim of online shaming. Lewinsky talked about severe suicidal tendencies in the aftermath of her affair; her mother made her shower with an open bathroom door out of fear of what she might do. Why does online harassment have such devastating consequences?
A recent post on this blog by a lecturer from Royal Holloway has caused negative comment and attention. All posts on the blog reflect the author’s own arguments, and are not a reflection of the views of other blog writers, of the Centre, or of the University. Blog authors include staff and students of Oxford University, and staff from other Universities. Due to resource issues, the blog is largely unmoderated, though we of course expect all contributors to take their responsibility seriously to maintain the academic and public engagement mission of the blog.
In order to promote a balanced debate, we will shortly be hosting an open letter in response to this post from a group of University students. We were also pleased to see a generally high standard of debate amongst the comments.
So we (whether ‘we’ are British, or Australians, apparently) have a new princess. Only the most curmudgeonly among us can resist a small smile at the news, right? A small minority holds themselves aloof, dismissing the whole circus as an anachronism, but no one actually thinks there is a downside. Well, I do. I think in a small way (through no fault of her own, obviously) baby Charlotte will contribute to making the world a little worse. Continue reading
By Nadira Faber
Why do humans help others even when it is costly and nothing is to be expected in return? This question has not only developed into a classic in different empirical disciplines, but is also of high interest for fundraisers like charities who would like to know how to increase donations.
Following the death of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who committed suicide after forced “conversion therapy,” President Barack Obama called for a nationwide ban on psychotherapy aimed at changing sexual orientation or gender identity. The administration argued that because conversion therapy causes substantial psychological harm to minors, it is neither medically nor ethically appropriate.
We fully agree with the President and believe that this is a step in the right direction. Of course, in addition to being unsafe as well as ethically unsound, current conversion therapy approaches aren’t actually effective at doing what they claim to do – changing sexual orientation.
But we also worry that this may be a short-term legislative solution to what is really a conceptual problem.
The question we ought to be asking is “what will happen if and when scientists do end up developing safe and effective technologies that can alter sexual orientation?”