Feeling 9/11 and its aftermath: America swings right

We don’t typically share first person narratives, but this is an emotional and relevant issue for many Americans. Rather than share something less meaningful to me, I offer my experience of 9/11 and the way I try to make sense of it as a social psychologist.

HAER NY-18-77

Brooklyn Bridge and World Trade Center

Today marks the 15th anniversary of 9/11. The national tragedy was also a local one for me. I grew up in a New Jersey suburb about an hour’s drive from New York City (which, to me, will always be the city). My town was full of commuters who worked in the city. The skyline was visible from our beaches. Half of my classmates were originally from New York. Proximity to the city and, thus, its cultural and financial opportunities was taken as a matter of course, but that didn’t diminish people’s pride of it. After all, it’s New York City. Legendary.

I was 13 on September 11, 2001. In my middle school that day, rumors buzzed, most only half-accurate, about what was happening a mere 22 miles from where we sat: a plane flew into the Empire State Building. No, it was the World Trade Center. What? How could a pilot be that off course? No one understood then that it was terrorism. Why would anyone suspect that? We were sheltered, privileged from that type of national tragedy, like most Americans at that time. The new normal hadn’t yet descended. Teachers had been asked not to say anything to us, and social media didn’t exist. Parents were picking their kids up from school all morning. By lunchtime, our table had three empty seats. Missing were three of my friends whose parents worked in the city (they ended up being okay, fortunately). That’s when we knew something serious had happened. I managed to get some more information out of my guidance counselor at lunch; he liked me. He wouldn’t give me many details, but when I asked, Is it really bad? Are people dead? He said yes.

By the time we walked home from the bus stop, the rumors had evolved: there was still a plane in the air, and no one knew the target. I craned my head up to see if I could spot anything. It was sunny that day, the sky a brilliant blue. Details like these seem dramatic, clichéd, but they underscore the contrast between what seemed impossible and what was actually happening. We knew now that it was terrorism, but the implications of what that truly meant were still uncertain.

That night, my parents and I, my younger sister—at 9, too young to understand but old enough to be scared—were glued to the news. The coverage was gratuitous, repeated footage of the first plane crashing into the North Tower, then the South Tower. Eventually, the collapse. People running, covered in ash, crying. At 13, I had never seen suffering so widespread. I couldn’t stop watching even though it made me feel terrible. My homework for the night, several pages from my Spanish workbook, lay forgotten in my hands, though I clutched the pages tightly.

The next day, I went to school. The township wanted to maintain routine as much as possible. Walking to my bus I smelled the smoke from the Towers that had drifted south. Classmates in the northern part of my town, closest to the city, woke to ash on their lawns.

Those following days, weeks, months blur together. Names were released of neighbors, classmates’ parents, parents’ friends who died in the Towers. Close call stories were told and repeated, like my parent’s friend who was supposed to be on the plane that flew into the South Tower. He had cancelled his business trip at the last minute. From a pier, my best friend’s dad watched one of the Towers come down. My cousin, who lived in Manhattan, volunteered for the bucket brigade at Ground Zero. These stories, these tragedies, they were national, yes. America had been attacked. But they were also local. They felt deeply personal to those of us in the tri-state area; I’m certain that was the case for those living in D.C., too.

The vividness of that day remains with me now, at 28. I still get goosebumps when I think about 9/11. I intentionally avoid movies and TV specials about that day. It upsets me too much. Sometimes, I get angry when I hear about 9/11 or see another movie about it. That day has already done too much damage to the American psyche. Let’s stop profiting from people’s grief.

Now that I’m older, the pain of 9/11 and its aftermath have grown in complexity. I mourn that day and the lives lost, the loss of collective American innocence on a grand scale.

And now I see it through the lens of a social psychologist. Research indicates that shifting toward a more conservative ideology after tragedies is common.1 As our recent post on ideology explained, conservative/right-wing thinking is about endorsing the status quo, resisting change, and prioritizing stability and order. Going to war fits in that category. Taking action to return to the status quo is also a conservative action. This conservative shift happened to many Americans following 9/11. In one study, liberal and conservative participants alike endorsed more conservative attitudes after 9/11 than before.2 People who endorse conservative beliefs likely do so to reduce uncertainty, fear, and anxiety, or as a way to regain stability and order.3 In other words, becoming more conservative, even temporarily, is perceived to be a shield against threat. And that shield felt completely necessary to recover from 9/11. Just take a look at some of the headlines and news stories covering the attack (warning: some of these are graphic).

Unfortunately, this conservative mindset, driven by the desire to be safe, stable, to understand the environment around us, to take care of the threat, went awry too often in the wake of 9/11. In addition to the lives lost, I mourn the context 9/11 set for our country’s political and social agenda. The consequent nationalism bordering on jingoism. The Islamophobia. The justification for Weapons of Mass Destruction, later deemed to be false. The vigor with which we invaded Iraq; and a war that, 14 years later, many veterans who fought are ambivalent about its effectiveness (See Post 9/11 Veterans and their wars). At the time, I, too, supported President Bush’s actions. I believed we did need to go to war. America was hurting. My town was hurting. It was the only way! And I was surrounded by people who felt the same way, adults I trusted and respected. I know there were naysayers then, but I didn’t know them. My priority was to feel safe again.

So on this day, as a progressive anti-racist anti-war social psychologist, I reflect in the best way I know how. I feel pride in the way my hometown came together that fall. The way it honors its lost residents every September. I try to make sense of an event that rocked my foundation, whose subsequent events shaped my understanding of the world and my current identity. I don’t forget, but I also don’t accept the wrong that happened to many in the aftermath of that day. I try to be cognizant of the issues our country has now, as a result of 9/11 or independent of it. And I try to do my part, by working to understand the drivers of human behavior and sharing that knowledge. This blog is one means of that.

 


1, 3 – Jost , Glaser, Kruglanski, & Sulloway. (2003). Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psych Bulletin, 129, 339-375.

2 – Nail & McGregor. (2009). Conservative shift among liberals and conservatives following 9/11/01. Social Justice Research, 22, 231-240.

 

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social psych snapshot: week of 10/5/15


Hannah
This week, Hannah provides the research highlights of early fall 2015!

You may already know about the cognitive consequences of Google but this article explores some social consequences of Google and technology more broadly.

Promising lab research suggests that comedy may be an effective means of coping with emotional distress.

New research conceptually replicates an old finding – that taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) can blunt negative emotions – and extends it, suggesting that acetaminophen may blunt strong positive and negative emotions alike.

Hm… I won’t be trying this unusual method of enhancing self-control based on the theory of inhibitory spillover: that trying to control your behavior in one domain might help you control your behavior in another.


Hannah graduated with a degree in Psychology from Reed College, and worked in educational research and meta-analysis as a lab manager at Duke University before entering the Social Psychology PhD program in 2014. Her research focuses on social psychological processes at work in educational contexts.

Calling All Perfectionists!

The-Perfectionist-Scale-Perfectionist Guide to Results Blog The-Perfectionists-Guide-to-Results-Blog

 

 

 

 

 

Look familiar? Are these the standards you use to assess your success? If so, you may be on your way to psychological burnout. A new meta-analysis of 43 studies published by Personality and Social Psychology Review found that some aspects of perfectionism can lead to negative psychological outcomes. Now, if you are a recovering perfectionist, you might be thinking,

Duh gif

“I didn’t need a meta-analysis to tell me that!”

 

I’m with you. I, too, have struggled with perfectionism and, subsequently, feeling burned out and exhausted. But this meta-analysis is important for several reasons. First, not only does it present empirical evidence to support people’s personal experiences and anecdotes, but it also condenses and provides a robust summary—an analysis, if you will—of the findings from 43 studies, all while taking into account additional factors, such as the domain (e.g., school, work, sports). In other words, solid findings that you are not imagining things and more details to explain what you might be experiencing. Let’s face it: your perfectionism is probably getting you down.

Researchers Hill and Curran use the following definition of perfectionism and burnout:

  • Perfectionism: multidimensional tendency to have exceedingly high standards and to be extremely self-critical1
    • Typically expressed through strivings, the setting of high personal standards and an aim for perfection, and concerns, or a fear of making mistakes and judging oneself harshly for them (See above images)
  • Burnout: a stress-induced psychosocial syndrome associated with motivational, performance, and psychological deficits2
    • Symptoms: emotional exhaustion, cynical attitude, perceived decreases in personal accomplishments and efficacy2
    • May resemble something like the images below

 

 

The primary finding indicates that perfectionism and burnout are positively correlated. That is, the more perfectionism a person displays, the higher rates of burnout they’re likely to experience, and this was true especially in the work domain (we’ll discuss that later). However, aspects of perfectionism are not equally at fault. Perfectionistic concerns, rather than perfectionistic strivings, accounted for most of the correlation with burnout.  In other words, and unsurprisingly, the tendency to be extremely self-critical and to judge oneself harshly are more harmful than setting and striving for high personal standards. In fact, perfectionistic strivings may provide a small buffer against the negativity associated with negative self-evaluation, particularly in school/education or sports.

The work domain was unique in its findings. For people dealing with burnout at work, strivings were found to be less effective at buffering against components of perfectionistic concerns, like cynicism and exhaustion. The researchers suggest that people may feel less in control at work than in school or sports given that a “perfect” work performance is typically more ambiguous. This finding deserves particular attention from ambitious high school or college graduates who are entering the workforce and potentially transitioning to a job with less tangible performance feedback.

Burnout is not inevitable, even if you identify as a perfectionist. Factors such as resilience, ability to cope with stress, and social support can all provide protection against burnout and its associated symptoms.2 So can learning to say no—over-commitment may also contribute to psychological distress.

Keep in mind that this meta-analysis describes correlational relationships. Perfectionism does not cause burnout but, rather, is closely associated with it and certainly a contributing factor. If you’d like to learn more specifics about this particular meta-analysis, check out the references below. Let’s just ignore the irony of me wanting to perfect this post before publishing it.


1-Frost, R.O., Marten, P., Lahart, C., & Rosenblate, R. (1990). The dimensions of perfectionism. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 14, 449-468.

2-Hill, A.P. & Curran, T. (2015). Multidimensional perfectionism and burnout: A Meta-Analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 1-20.

Social Psych Snapshot: Week of 8/24/15

Hannah

Image from Duke University

In this week’s Social Psych Snapshot, Hannah has curated the following:

Some brief tips on projecting power.

“It’s the sort of little joy that can’t be forced…” – the psychology of things fitting into other things.

Study finds that teenage metalheads of the 1980s turned out just fine.

Licensing at the grocery store: The unintended consequences of bringing your own bag.

 


 

Hannah graduated with a degree in Psychology from Reed College, and worked in educational research and meta-analysis as a lab manager at Duke University before entering the Social Psychology PhD program in 2014. Her research focuses on social psychological processes at work in educational contexts.

SocialPsyQ just became more legit: Congratulations Dr. Isher-Witt!

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 10.15.11 PM

Mallory, Jen and Katrina Jongman-Sereno (a social psychology grad student) celebrating Jen’s successful dissertation defense!

As you can tell, Jen and Mallory have been pretty busy and SocialPsyQ has taken a backseat. But we will be back in the next couple weeks as the semester winds down; bigger, better and with more degrees! Stay tuned!

Beyond the hate crime binary: Implicit bias in the Chapel Hill shooting

This post was co-written by Jen and guest blogger Cara, a city and regional planning student and social justice activist.

The recent triple murder of three Muslim Americans Yusor Abu-Salha, Deah Barakat, and Razan Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill on Tuesday night has rocked the Triangle, and its effects have reverberated across the globe. In addition to the devastating sadness and feelings of staggering unfairness precipitated by this horrific crime, the motive of the killer and whether the act was a hate crime is also being debated.

Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46 year old neighbor of Yusor, Deah, and Razan, has been charged with three counts of first degree murder after turning himself in to authorities. He and his lawyer claim that he killed them because of a parking dispute that escalated into violence, but a lot of people aren’t buying it. And neither are we.

Deah’s sister has asked that their murders be treated as a hate crime. Yusor and Razan’s brother believes the same. We also believe that this tragedy was motivated by anti-Muslim feelings and hate. This crime may not fit the legal definition of a hate crime, but that doesn’t preclude it from being one.

The debate over whether this fits the definition of a hate crime has to do with whether or not Hicks explicitly voiced his prejudice against Muslim people. His Facebook page has numerous posts where he mocks religion as an idea – Hicks is an adamant atheist – and a few where he calls out specific groups, such as a post calling Christians opposed to the building of a mosque near ground zero hypocritical, and another re-post that says if financial aid, mediation, and arms cannot bring peace to the Middle East, atheism can. But though he is a proud gun owner – he brags in one post about the weight of one of his loaded guns – he doesn’t seem to have expressed violent intentions toward Muslims specifically. The FBI is looking into it, but regardless of whether they find anything, the motivation seems to be clear.

Most people are more familiar with types of explicit prejudice or explicit bias. People who are explicitly prejudiced against Muslims, for example, know they are biased and may make statements to that effect or pointedly treat Muslim people differently than they would other people. This type of prejudice is also much less likely to be condoned in society. However, a deeper hidden kind of prejudice called implicit bias can guide people’s actions and thoughts even if they don’t consciously believe that they are biased.

Implicit bias is more likely what’s at play here. Implicit bias is an automatic stereotype or prejudice that someone maintains without necessarily being aware of it.1 Social psychologists have been studying implicit biases and their effects on behavior and society for years. These biases are so deeply ingrained and automatic that they often don’t reach the surface of consciousness, and yet may still guide our actions and behavior.2

Hicks’s wife claims that in her husband’s eyes “everyone is equal.” The fact that our implicit biases run so deep that we often aren’t even aware of them makes them particularly insidious, because here’s the thing: Hicks can genuinely believe that he didn’t target Deah, Yusor, and Razan because of their religion, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Even if he wasn’t thinking about the fact that his victims were Muslims in the front of his mind, somewhere in his brain, the automatic part was looping a tape full of subtle but powerful beliefs and stereotypes that more likely than not allowed this disagreement to escalate dramatically.

Some evidence does exist to suggest that Hicks wasn’t simply a grumpy disgruntled neighbor but was actually targeting this family because of their religion. Namely, one of Razan’s best friends stated that Hicks didn’t bother Deah at all until his new wife and her sister came to live with him, two women who looked more traditionally Muslim with their hijabs than did Deah. Deah and Yusor’s relatives also offered previous incidents where Hicks threatened Deah and Yusor over their alleged noisiness while carrying his shotgun. Would he have approached these situations in the same way had Deah, Yusor, and Razan not been Muslim? Our guess is no.

There is no way to prove that implicit biases motivated or fed this crime, which feels incredibly frustrating. It also forebodes an increased misunderstanding if the families of the victims and the community at large see a hate crime here, but authorities cannot prove it. We believe that it is essential to get a discussion of not just explicit hate speech and discrimination but an understanding of implicit biases as well into the societal dialogue—implicit bias can also likely help to explain the Mike Brown shooting and other crimes across racial and cultural lines committed by people who swear they “see everyone equally.”

So, how does this directly affect you, and what can you do in your own life? Most implicit biases are on a smaller minor scale. They don’t result in a triple homicide, but that doesn’t mean they’re harmless. Every implicit bias affects people’s daily interactions. If you’ve ever taken a social psychology class, you’ve likely learned about the Implicit Association Test (or the IAT). The IAT is a free online test that allows anyone to measure their own implicit biases for all different groups ranging from race to age to sexual orientation. I encourage all of you to take it here. Note that the IAT has its own flaws—it is not to be used as a diagnostic tool. If the test finds that you have a preference for white people over black people, you are not destined to be a racist. Rather, such a result indicates several possible outcomes: 1) you are implicitly biased against black people, 2) you are aware of the bias against black people in the society where you’ve grown up, which is reflected in your result, or 3) some combination of the two.

Despite the imperfection of the IAT, its results can offer some insight into your psyche. This awareness is just the beginning. Start by taking the IAT, see what comes up. Then get comfortable with the idea that your very own brain may harbor implicit biases toward one or more groups. Especially if you are a person who says you “see everyone equally” or some such platitude, question the meanings behind your snap reactions or judgments of others. Try to notice patterns or be more deliberate in your interactions with others. Research exists to support the idea that people can change their automatic beliefs3, so your efforts will likely not be in vain.

In no way whatsoever is this discussion intended to relieve Hicks of any guilt or to place blame on any of his victims. Rather, it’s to suggest that the current definition of a hate crime requiring explicit prejudicial statements is outdated and too simplistic given what we know about implicit biases. Furthermore, understanding implicit biases can help us get past the racist vs. not-racist narrative and understand that people do what they do for much more complicated reasons than they themselves might even realize.


 

1 Devine (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 5-18.

2 Dovidio, Kawakami, & Gaertner (2002). Implicit and explicit prejudice and interracial interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 62-68.

3 Monteith, Ashburn-Nardo, Voils, & Czopp (2002). Putting the brakes on prejudice: On the development and operation of cues for control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1029-1050.

Happy 2015! We’re back!

Hello everyone,

By this near middle of January, hopefully everyone has recovered from the holidays and all (good and bad!) that they entail. SocialPsyQ is excited for 2015 and the new content it’ll bring, including future posts by guest writers in and outside the field of social psychology. Keep reading!

-Jen and Mallory