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Thinking ourselves into eating more, reinforcing female math stereotypes, and more

From how we think ourselves into eating more to how male dominant behavior affects woman's math performance, check out new research in our journals this month.

Thinking ourselves into eating more

"Think before you act" is sage advice for dieters, especially when considering grabbing that holiday cookie, right? A new analysis of 50 studies finds that thinking before you eat can actually undermine your dieting goals. When we think, we often simply come up with reasons why we deserve that extra piece of pumpkin pie.

Jessie De Witt Huberts of Utrecht University says that we are expert rationalizers when it comes to finding a reason to eat more. "People seem to be very creative in coming up with such reasons," he says. "They can justify having the cake on account that it has been a hard day, or that they will exercise tomorrow, that it is a special occasion, or that it is impolite to refuse. This is when justification processes become a slippery slope as the reasons are often applied ad hoc, they no longer form strict rules that regulate when you stick to your diet and when you can cut yourself some slack."

A growing body of research has found that such justification can even come from performing well on a task or from doing good for others. In several studies, people who received positive feedback on a task were more likely to choose an unhealthy versus a healthy option. "What was particularly interesting is how easily convinced participants were by the justifications," De Witt Huberts says. "Sometimes they merely had to express the intention to help someone, think about doing something altruistic, rather than actually doing it, to justify subsequent hedonic consumption."

Becoming aware of the justifications you use goes a long way toward helping around the holidays. It's fine, she says, to indulge on Thanksgiving or other holidays if we consistently stick to our goals, but those special occasions must truly be exceptions.

For more, see "'Because I Am Worth It' A Theoretical Framework and Empirical Review of a Justification-Based Account of Self-Regulation Failure," Jessie C. De Witt Huberts, Catharine Evers, Denise T. D. De Ridder, Personality and Social Psychology Review, published online November 8, 2013 forthcoming in print February 2014.

And contact De Witt Huberts: witthub[at]

Thanksgiving experts on gratitude

David DeSteno, Northeastern University: d.desteno[at];

His work shows the social benefits of feeling gratitude: how it makes us more resilient, how it makes us more honest and cooperative, how it alters our financial decisions such that we favor the greater good, and how it makes us "pay virtue forward" without even knowing it.

Naomi Eisenberger, UCLA: neisenbe[at]

Her work is measuring gene expression and using brain scanning to examine some of the biological and neurological effects of being grateful.

Also new in the journals-

Thinking about death affects our views on celebrity endorsement

Who would get you to buy more of a particular brand of water Jennifer Aniston or a medical doctor? In a new set of studies that look at the effectiveness of medical versus celebrity endorsements, researchers found that a doctor's product endorsement is more effective than a celebrity's when we are directly thinking about our own mortality. Part of a growing body of research on terror-management theory how thinking about death affects our behavior the researchers tested different scenarios involving celebrity endorsement. In one study, people only distantly thinking about their mortality were less likely to engage in risky drinking behavior when a PSA was endorsed by Sandra Bullock, if they read articles first about her career successes versus failures. "Hails from the crypt: A terror management health model investigation of the effectiveness of health-oriented vs. celebrity-oriented endorsements," Simon McCabe, Kenneth E. Vail III, Jamie Arndt, and Jamie L. Goldenberg, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, online November 7, 2013, forthcoming in print March 2014.

Violent video games increase immoral behavior

Violent video games can multiply immoral behaviors, according to new research. High school students randomly assigned to play Grand Theft Auto were more likely than those playing non-violent video games to cheat on a test to win raffle tickets and to blast a partner with unpleasant noises after playing the game. Those playing Grand Theft Auto also showed less self-control, as measured by the amount of M&Ms they ate from a bowl by the computer. These effects were most pronounced in participants who measured high on personality test of moral disengagement. "Interactive Effect of Moral Disengagement and Violent Video Games on Self-Control, Cheating, and Aggression," Alessandro Gabbiadini, Paolo Riva, Luca Andrighetto, Chiara Volpato, and Brad J. Bushman, Social Psychological and Personality Science, online November 8, 2013 forthcoming in print.

Dominant male behavior affects women's math performance

Just watching a brief video of a man acting dominantly toward a woman can negatively affect a woman's performance on a math task, according to a new study. Participants watched a 45-second video of a man and woman forming a study group either for math or a general topic, and in some cases, the man showed dominant behavior toward the woman, while in other cases, the woman was dominant or the behavior was equivalent. The woman who watched the video of a man showing dominant behavior in forming a math study group subsequently performed more poorly on a math task than men and women who watched the other videos. This work fits into a larger body of work on "stereotype threat" when worrying about a self-relevant stereotype negatively affects the person's performance. "Negative Exposure: Watching Another Woman Subjected to Dominant Male Behavior During a Math Interaction Can Induce Stereotype Threat," Katie J. Van Loo and Robert J. Rydel, Social Psychological and Personality Science, online November 8, 2013 forthcoming in print.


Contact: Lisa M.P. Munoz
Society for Personality and Social Psychology

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