Women and sexual harrassment: They just let you do it

Trigger warning: Includes personal story about sexual harassment, includes foul language

It’s safe to say election 2016 is in full dumpster fire mode. Donald Trump’s comments on the leaked tape released last week were shocking coming from a presidential candidate, yet they weren’t that shocking to a lot of women. Michelle Obama gave a speech today explaining why. Describing every woman’s experience, Obama talks about how women are used to men treating us as lesser beings, because we see it everywhere from the classrooms where we’re educated, to the strangers catcalling us on the street.

Her speech reminded me of an experience I had working for a man with a serious Napoleon complex when I was 19. The man might as well have been a small statured Donald Trump. I was a hostess at a popular restaurant, and I was required to wear heels while I stood for 8 hour shifts. The one time I dared to wear a cardigan, I was told to take it off and never wear it again because I didn’t look “as fuckable as usual.” My boss would watch me on a camera and call me every time he didn’t approve of my behavior. Why hadn’t I fluffed the pillows if no one was there? Why was there a napkin on the floor in the bar? Why did I leave the host stand to get a napkin off the floor in the bar? I was always being watched, and it made my skin crawl. Before I walked out of that job after a bout of verbal abuse, he said that he thought I’d make a good waitress, and if I wanted to come back next summer, he’d love to have me. I smiled and thanked him for the compliment, but, inside, I felt gross. The man had yelled at me and belittled me all day for a job that mostly entails leading people to chairs and talking like a human person, and not only did he think I’d want to keep working for him, he thought that he was being nice to me. And you know what? I never told that man how I felt about how he treated me. He was my boss, I was 19 and he was in his 40s, I was a hostess and he owned the restaurant. I sucked it up. I said nothing. And I feel ashamed about that, because that man continued to treat people that way, thinking no one had a real problem with it. When you’re the boss, they let you do it.

Why don’t people tell others how they really feel about things that they said or did when it happens? Social psychologists explain this with the person by situation interaction.1 It basically means that people bring themselves into situations, but then they sometimes behave unlike themselves due to those situations. While I would call out a friend for sexist and abusive behavior or language, I wouldn’t do it in the workplace, to a man with all the power when I had none, or even to a coworker I had to see regularly. The truth is, a lot of people’s behavior really is driven by situations that they are in. Do we become totally different people? Absolutely not. But do we sometimes do things and then wonder why we did them? Ask the 5 cookies I just ate. Yes. We do. So while people may behave out of character occasionally, maybe your usually loyal partner starts a flirtation with someone else, or a good friend says something not-so-nice behind your back when other people are talking about you, a pattern of such behavior is telling.

People often make the fundamental attribution error about other people’s behavior, which means that they assume that the behavior is indicative of the person’s dispositional characteristics, who they really are inside. Luckily, there is a way to determine if someone’s behavior is a demonstration of their true personality, or if it was influenced by situational factors. According to Kelley’s Attribution Theory, or Kelley’s Cube2, you can ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. Is there consensus about the behavior? If everyone is behaving that way, it’s probably influenced by the situation. For instance, if a lot of your coworkers are irritable the morning someone breaks the coffee machine, it probably isn’t the case your coworkers are just jerks all the time.
  1. Is there consistency in the person’s behavior? If someone acts in a certain way a good amount of the time, their behavior is likely due to their personality, their dispositional characteristics. For instance, if a friend constantly leaves their wallet at home every time you go to dinner with them, they’re probably a forgetful person by nature, or, more pessimistically, a manipulative one.
  1. Is the behavior distinctive, does it vary depending on what’s happening? If it does vary, then you can attribute it to the situation. For instance, if a person with normally good self-control eats a whole carton of ice cream, it may be due to some sort of emotional crisis rather than having a hearty appetite.

What worries me, and many women, is that Donald Trump’s behavior makes it clear that he really feels exactly like Michelle Obama said. This is who Trump really is, and it’s gross. He is every boss that ever stared at your ass on a closed circuit camera, he is every man on the street that thinks his evaluation of your physical characteristics is so important for you to hear you should take your earbuds out, he is every guy who buys you a drink at the bar when you said no and then gets mad that you won’t talk to him because he bought you a drink. Women see you Donald Trump. We don’t let you do it. We just feel like we can’t say no. And to answer the question you keep asking, we actually have a hell of a lot to lose.

  1. Mischel, W. (1977). The interaction of person and situation. Personality at the crossroads: Current issues in interactional psychology333, 352.
  1. Kelley, H. H. (1967). Attribution theory in social psychology. In Nebraska symposium on motivation. University of Nebraska Press.

 

Advertisements

Pernicious personalities: The real threat of narcissistic leadership

trump

Image from The Independent

Personality traits are often somewhat ambiguous. While it’s good to be agreeable, it’s not good to be TOO agreeable. While it’s good to be conscientious, you can be so conscientious that you never eat that piece of cake or splurge on that great meal. But narcissism, having an overinflated view of the self that leads to a sense of entitlement, self-centeredness and superiority, is pretty clear cut. Narcissism is bad for everyone. Being a narcissist comes with no real long term advantages, though short term advantages might be present. In fact, narcissism is such a bad quality that it’s considered part of the “dark triad” of personality traits, which also includes Machiavellianism (being very manipulative) and psychopathy (being callous and lacking empathy).1 Narcissism is not simply having high self-esteem, it is having a grandiose sense of self that is not grounded in reality.

That description might as well be a description of Donald Trump, former reality star and gold enthusiast and current candidate for the Presidency of the United States. When Donald Trump equates his personal success with the sacrifices of a gold star family, or when he talks about how he alone can fix the problems we face (after all, he knows more about ISIS than the generals and he could deal with thorny issues like illegal immigration and health care during his first 100 days in office), he is displaying a classic example of the narcissistic personality. So why do we care?

Well, psychologists have not only studied how narcissism affects individuals, they have also studied how narcissistic leaders affect their constituency. Jerrold Post has suggested that narcissistic leaders have impaired judgment and decision making.2 Because narcissists tend to think they know best, they are less likely to take criticism or advice from others. This is obviously a terrible leadership quality, as narcissistic leaders are more likely to make uninformed decisions, or to go forward with decisions even once contrary information has come to light. Because narcissists have a grandiose view of themselves, they are more likely to be overly optimistic about the efficacy of their beliefs.2 This problem is compounded by the narcissistic tendency to surround oneself with people who agree with the narcissist.3 In the case of the narcissist, the “best people” to surround himself with are the people who agree with him.

But the problems don’t stop there. Betty Glad finds that narcissistic leaders have an easier time rising to power than they do in actually wielding it.3 Narcissists are charismatic, so it is not surprising that narcissism may sometimes help someone get into a position of power.3 But Glad finds that once that power is attained, narcissists run into some serious problems.3 Oftentimes, narcissists have very bad ideas that cannot be enacted when they don’t have power. But once they do, they are less in touch with reality, more likely to display erratic behavior, have difficulty attaining goals and ultimately become paranoid and defensive.3 And when you surround yourself with people who agree with you, this leads to the perfect storm of malignant narcissistic leadership: Someone who thinks too highly of themselves and their own ideas, running essentially unchecked.

There is one more quality of narcissistic leaders that makes them incredibly dangerous: They have superego deficiencies.3 In other words, narcissistic leaders don’t have a very well developed conscience. The very thing that prompts restraint in our actions, that encourages us to think about how our actions affect others, that tells us to put the brakes on when our ideas are out of control…this basic sense of restraint and morality that children develop early on in life is largely missing from narcissistic leaders. So the next time Donald Trump asks why we can’t use nuclear weapons or vows to deport 11 million people, take him seriously. He has demonstrated that he isn’t a man who can really conceive of the consequences of his actions. But we know better. You cannot declare bankruptcy to get out of nuclear war.

 

  1. Paulhus, D. L., & Williams, K. M. (2002). The dark triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of research in personality36(6), 556-563.
  1. Post, J.M. (1993). Current concepts of the narcissistic personality: Implications for Political Psychology. Political Psychology, 14(1), 99-121.
  1. Glad, B. (2002). Why tyrants go too far: Malignant narcissism and absolute power. Political Psychology23(1), 1-37.

 

 

10 Days of Christmas…Consumerism: Day 7

Brands themselves can take on human characteristics. We often discuss brands and companies with words like, “caring,” “corrupt,” “smart,” or “innovative.” Commercials and advertising work to solidify or disabuse customers of these impressions, using imagery and language to massage customer opinions. And it works! Let’s see how easy it is to choose the correct adjective to describe a company.

Which of these brands is…1) Sophisticated, 2) Competent, 3) Active, 4) Laid-back?*Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 10.46.43 AM

 

You probably knew right away if you have any experience with these brands or their advertising (or you can find the answers at the bottom of this page). This quiz deals with something called brand personality, which is much like a person’s personality. In personality psychology, human personalities revolve around the so-called Big 5: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.1 The vast majority of human characteristics can be explained with some version of these 5 traits. But these same 5 factors do not hold for brands.2

Jennifer Aaker identified 5 different characteristics that define brand personality: Sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness.3 It is fairly easy to think of examples of these types of brands. Hallmark makes money off of their sincerity, and Mountain Dew still exists because of its ruggedness. But much like human personality, there are cross-cultural differences in which traits are most prized in brands. For instance, sincerity is appreciated in the US, Japan and Spain, while ruggedness is appreciated more in the US than in other countries.4

Brand personalities affect us in many ways. They drive our brand impressions, they form our brand evaluations and they contribute to our brand relationships. Marketers can harness this information to sell us goods. So, the next time that Publix commercial makes you cry, just remember that Publix is sincere and competent, and they want you to know it.

* Answers: A-1, B-3, C-4, D-2

  1. Judge, T. A., Higgins, C. A., Thoresen, C. J., & Barrick, M. R. (1999). The big five personality traits, general mental ability, and career success across the life span. Personnel Psychology, 52(3), 621-652.
  2. Caprara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., & Guido, G. (2001). Brand personality: how to make the metaphor fit?. Journal of Economic Psychology, 22(3), 377-395.
  3. Aaker, J. L. (1997). Dimensions of brand personality. Journal of Marketing Research, 34(3), 347-356.
  4. Aaker, J. L., Benet-Martinez, V., & Garolera, J. (2001). Consumption symbols as carriers of culture: A study of Japanese and Spanish brand personality constructs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(3), 492-508.

The Skinny on Online Dating: Psychology at work

Image from Mashable.com

          Image from Mashable.com

In Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter—and how to make the most of them now, she makes a point that online dating is a good idea, because it matches people based on personality traits-something that predicts long-term relationship success. In real life, relationships may form because two people happen to be at the same bar, or have a mutual friend. But research has shown time and time again that similarity attracts.1,2 Given the way online dating sites work, by matching people based on compatibility of personality and preferences, it is not surprising that more than a third of marriages now start online. And, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 report on online dating, 38% of single American adults looking for a partner have used online dating sites or apps. Of Americans who found their spouse online, they report higher marital satisfaction and lower divorce rates than couples that met IRL.3

With the current popularity of apps like Tinder and sites like OkCupid, it’s impossible to ignore the psychological field experiment that is online dating. There are 3 areas of psychology research that are incredibly relevant to online dating: Personality, self-presentation and deception.

Personality– Many online dating sites require users to fill out a battery of questions, several of which are focused on personality characteristics. A question, “Do you like wild parties?” appears in OkCupid’s personality questionnaire, which psychologists may recognize as a version of the sensation-seeking personality item “I like wild parties.”4 In addition to direct adaptations of established personality questionnaires, questions ask about cleanliness and keeping promises (conscientiousness), new experiences and adventurousness (openness to experience), if you would do things just because your partner wanted to (agreeableness), if you like to talk or meet new people (extraversion) and if you get jealous and worried about things you can’t change (neuroticism). As you can see, and as Meg Jay suggested, these sites evaluate users largely based on what is known as the Big 5 of personality.5,6 Research has found that romantic attachment styles relate to the Big 5, and various personality traits correlate with specific relationship outcomes, like neuroticism and decreased relationship satisfaction.7,8

Self-presentation– With the high stakes of finding a meaningful relationship, online dating users may choose to engage in self-presentation: the practice of managing the impressions we make on others.9 Research suggests that self-presentation motives may be especially salient because creating online content gives people an opportunity to overtly self-promote.10 Evidence suggests that it may be easier to self-present in a positive light than one may think. Being seen as socially expressive, presenting an ideal self, engaging in self-disclosure and “matching your profile” when meeting in person can all contribute to self-presentational success.11,12,13,14 Self-presentation concerns stay consistent throughout the lifespan, with aging men still preferring youth and physical attractiveness, and leveraging information about status on their own online dating profiles.15

Deception– Sometimes self-presentation goes beyond a favorable description of the self, and veers toward untruthfulness. Studies by Toma and Hancock found that people who were rated lower in attractiveness by independent raters were more likely to lie about physical descriptions, and use an “enhanced” profile picture.16 Another study by the same group of researchers found that women were more likely to use deceptive pictures than men, using younger pictures, or pictures taken by a professional, among other tactics; but that only about 1/3 of profile pictures were rated as inaccurate.17 Yet another study found that men were more likely to post deceptive information about financial assets, relationship goals and their own interests and attributes, and women were more likely to post misleading information about their weight.18

While the increasing popularity of online dating indicates it may be the way of the future, the psychological principles behind it are time-tested and peer-approved.

Our area head, Dr. Mark Leary, is one of the foremost experts on self-presentation. You can find his self-presentation-related Google Scholar results here.

  1. Byrne, D. (1961). Interpersonal attraction and attitude similarity. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 62(3), 713-715.
  1. Byrne, D. & Griffitt, W. (1969). Similarity and awareness of similarity of personality characteristics as determinants of attraction. Journal of Experimental Research in Personality, 3(3), 179-186.
  1. Cacioppo, J. T., Cacioppo, S., Gonzaga, G. C., Ogburn, E. L., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2013). Marital satisfaction and break-ups differ across on-line and off-line meeting venues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A, 110(25), 10135-10140.
  1. Hoyle, R. H., Stephenson, M. T., Palmgreen, P., Pugles Lorch, E., Donohew, R. L. (2002). Reliability and validity of a brief measure of sensation seeking. Personality and Individual Differences, 32, 401-414.
  1. Goldberg, L. R. (1990). An alternative “Description of Personality”: The big-five factor structure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(6), 1216-1229.
  1. Gosling, S. D., Rentfrow, P. J., & Swann Jr, W. B. (2003). A very brief measure of the Big-Five personality domains. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 504-528.
  1. Shaver, P. R. & Brennan, K. A. (1992). Attachment styles and the “Big Five” personality traits: Their connections with each other and with romantic relationships outcomes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18(5), 536-545.
  1. White, J. K., Hendrick, S. S., & Hendrick, C. (2004). Big five personality variables and relationships constructs. Personality and Individual Differences, 37(7), 1519-1530.
  1. Leary, M. R. & Kowalski, R. M. (1990). Impression management: A literature review and a two-component model. Psychological Bulletin, 107(1), 34-47.
  1. Schau, H. J. & Gilly, M. C. (2003). We are what we post? Self-presentation in personal web space. Journal of Consumer Research, 30(3), 385-404.
  1. Weisbuch, M., Ivcevic, Z., & Ambady, N. (2009). On being liked on the web and in the “real world”: Consistency in first impressions across personal webpages and spontaneous behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(3), 573-576.
  1. Ellison, N. B., Heino, R. D., & Gibbs, J. L. (2006). Managing impressions online: Self-presentation processes in the online dating environment. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), 415-441.
  1. Gibbs, J. L., Ellison, N. B., & Heino, R. D. (2006). Self-presentation in online personals: The role of anticipated future interaction, self-disclosure, and perceived success in internet dating. Communication Research, 33(2), 152-177.
  1. Whitty, M. T. (2008). Revealing the ‘real’ me, searching for the ‘actual’ you: Presentations of self on an internet dating site. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(4), 1707-1723.
  1. Alterovitz, S. S. R. & Mendelsohn, G. A. (2009). Partner preferences across the life span: Online dating by older adults. Psychology and Aging, 24(2), 513-517.
  1. Toma, C. L. & Hancock, J. T. (2010). Looks and lies: The role of physical attractiveness in online dating self-presentation and deception. Communication Research, 37(3), 335-351.
  1. Hancock, J. T. & Toma, C. L. (2009). Putting your best face forward: The accuracy of online dating photographs. Journal of Communication, 59, 367-386.
  1. Hall, J. A., Park, N., Song, H., & Cody, M. J. (2010). Strategic misrepresentation in online dating: The effects of gender, self-monitoring, and personality traits. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27(1), 117-135.