Feeling right

Kevin Lewis

April 14, 2018

System justification enhances well‐being: A longitudinal analysis of the palliative function of system justification in 18 countries
Salvador Vargas‐Salfate et al.
British Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming


According to the palliative function of ideology hypothesis proposed by System Justification Theory, endorsing system‐justifying beliefs is positively related to general psychological well‐being, because this fulfils existential, epistemic, and relational needs. We discuss and address three main issues: (1) the role of societal inequality, (2) comparisons by social status, and (3) cross‐sectional versus longitudinal research. We used a longitudinal survey of representative online samples (N = 5,901) from 18 countries. The results supported the main argument proposed by the theory, in that system justification was positively and significantly related to life satisfaction and negatively related to anxiety and depression. The pattern of results suggested that the palliative function of system justification is more homogeneously distributed across individual and collective measures of social status than proposed by the theory, because the function was unaffected either by society‐level inequality or by individual‐level social status. These results allow us to infer that one of the reasons for the high stability of social arrangements is located in the psychological domain of palliative effects.

Happier than thou? A self-enhancement bias in emotion attribution
Desmond Ong, Noah Goodman & Jamil Zaki
Emotion, February 2018, Pages 116-126


People tend to judge themselves as exhibiting above average levels of desirable traits - including competence, kindness, and life satisfaction - but does this self-enhancement extend to emotional responses? Here, we explore this question by having people attribute emotions to themselves and others following simple gambles. We demonstrate that people display an emotional self-enhancement bias that varies with the context of the emotion-eliciting situation. People judge themselves as experiencing more positive emotional reactions on average, and they also believed that others’ emotions are more sensitive to gamble outcomes, such that people judge others to experience stronger negative affect in response to negative outcomes (Study 1). This self-enhancement bias further tracks social distance, such that people attribute less positive and more negative emotion to more dissimilar, as compared with more similar others (Study 2). People also predict less favorable emotional states for themselves and others experiencing events in the future, as compared with the present (Study 3), suggesting that this attribution bias extends across multiple dimensions of psychological distance. Broadly, these data suggest that people exhibit self-enhancement in emotion attribution, but do so in subtle ways that depend on situational and social factors.

Writing About Past Failures Attenuates Cortisol Responses and Sustained Attention Deficits Following Psychosocial Stress
Brynne DiMenichi et al.
Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, March 2018


Acute stress can harm performance. Paradoxically, writing about stressful events - such as past failures - has been shown to improve cognitive functioning and performance, especially in tasks that require sustained attention. Yet, there is little physiological evidence for whether writing about past failures or other negative events improves performance by reducing stress. In this experiment, we studied the effects of an acute psychosocial stressor, the Trier Social Stress Test, on attentional performance and salivary cortisol release in humans. Additionally, we investigated whether an expressive writing task could reduce the detrimental effects of stress, both on performance and physiological response. We found that when individuals were asked to write about a past failure before experiencing a stressor, they exhibited attenuated stress responses. Moreover, those who wrote about a past failure before being exposed to stress also exhibited better behavioral performance. Our results suggest that writing about a previous failure may allow an individual to experience a new stressor as less stressful, reducing its physiological and behavioral effects.

The Declining Marginal Utility of Social Time for Subjective Well-Being
Kostadin Kushlev et al.
Journal of Research in Personality, June 2018, Pages 124-140


Are people who spend more time with others always happier than those who spend less time in social activities? Across four studies with more than 250,000 participants, we show that social time has declining marginal utility for subjective well-being. In Study 1 (N=243,075), we use the Gallup World Poll with people from 166 countries, and in Study 2 (N=10,387) the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), to show that social time has declining returns for well-being. In Study 3a (N=168) and Study 3b (N=174), we employ the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) to provide initial evidence for both intra-domain (principle of diminishing satisfaction) and inter-domain mechanisms (principle of satisfaction limits). We discuss implications for theory, research methodology, and practice.

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