Then You Feel Better

Kevin Lewis

July 31, 2022

Nostalgia confers psychological wellbeing by increasing authenticity
Nicholas Kelley et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming 

Nostalgia, a sentimental longing for one's past, predicts or augments psychological wellbeing (PWB). We hypothesized that it does so -- at least in part -- via authenticity, a sense of alignment with one's true self. We obtained support for this hypothesis in four studies. Using a measurement-of-mediation design, across a Western (United States) and East-Asian (China) culture, we found that nostalgia is associated with both authenticity and PWB, and that the nostalgia-PWB link is mediated by authenticity (Study 1, N = 611). Using an experimental-causal-chain design, we showed that nostalgia increases authenticity across U.S. and Chinese samples (Study 2, N = 777). We then demonstrated that authenticity increases PWB on a domain-general measure (Study 3, N = 596, U.S. sample). Finally, we clarified that the benefits authenticity confers on PWB are domain general rather than domain specific (Study 4, N = 414, U.K. sample). This research represents the first attempt to address systematically the path from nostalgia to PWB via authenticity. We discuss implications for the broader literature.

Actual Cleaning and Simulated Cleaning Attenuate Psychological and Physiological Effects of Stressful Events
Spike Lee et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

The human mind harbors various mechanisms for coping with stress, but what role does physical behavior play? Inspired by ethological observations of autogrooming activity across species, we offer a general hypothesis: cleaning attenuates effects of stressful events. Preregistered behavioral and psychophysiological experiments (N = 3,066 in United Kingdom, United States, and Canada) found that (a) concrete visual simulation of cleaning behavior alleviated residual anxiety from a stress-inducing physical scene, an effect distinct from touch, and (b) actual cleaning behavior enhanced adaptive cardiovascular reactivity to a highly stressful context of social performance/evaluation, which provides the first physiological evidence for the attenuation of stress-related effects by cleaning. Overall, actual cleaning and simulated cleaning attenuate effects of physical or psychological stressors, even when they have nothing to do with contamination or disease and would not be resolved by cleaning. Daily cleaning behavior may facilitate coping with stressors like physical risks and psychological threats to the self.

Anger, Fear, and Sadness: Relations to Socioeconomic Status and the Amygdala
Yu Hao, Maxwell Bertolero & Martha Farah
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, forthcoming

Here, we test three often proposed hypotheses about socioeconomic status (SES), affect, and the brain, for which evidence is mixed or lacking. The first hypothesis, that negative affect is more common at lower levels of SES, has ample evidence from studies of psychiatric symptoms but is tested for the first time here across multiple measures of negative emotions in healthy young adults. The second hypothesis is actually a set of hypotheses, that SES is associated with three structural and functional properties of the amygdala. Third, and most important for the affective neuroscience of SES, is the hypothesis that SES differences in the amygdala are responsible for the affective differences. Despite the intuitive appeal of this hypothesis, it has rarely been tested and has never been confirmed. Here, we review the literature for evidence on each of these hypotheses and find in a number of cases that the evidence is weak or nonexistant. We then subject each hypothesis to a new empirical test with a large sample of healthy young adults. We confirm that negative affect is more common at lower levels of SES and we find a positive relation between SES and amygdala volume. However, evidence is weak on the relation of SES to functional properties of amygdala. Finally, the tendency toward negative affect in lower SES individuals cannot be accounted for by the structural or functional characteristics of the amygdala measured here.

The Genomic Impact of Kindness to Self vs. Others: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Annie Regan et al.
Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, forthcoming

Prosocial behavior has been linked to improved physical health, but the biological mechanisms involved remain unclear. This study tested whether a 4-week kindness intervention could reduce expression of a stress-related immune response gene signature known as the Conserved Transcriptional Response to Adversity (CTRA).

In a diverse sample of community adults (N = 182), study participants were randomly assigned to perform 3 kind acts for other people, to perform 3 kind acts for themselves, or to list daily activities (control), on one day per week over 4 weeks. CTRA gene expression was measured by RNA sequencing of dried blood spots (DBS) collected at baseline and 5 weeks later (1 week after completing study assignments). Participants’ descriptions of their kind acts were coded for protocol adherence and act content.

Participants who were randomized to perform kind acts for others showed significant reductions in CTRA gene expression relative to controls. Participants who were randomized to perform kind acts for themselves also showed significant reductions in CTRA gene expression relative to controls, but this pattern emerged only for those who failed to perform the requested self-kind acts (protocol non-adherent). Those who fully adhered to the self-kindness protocol showed no change in CTRA gene expression and did not differ from controls. Act content analyses implicated self-stress-reducing behavior in the paradoxical effects of self-kindness and the physical presence of others in the effects of prosocial behavior. 

Too Reluctant to Reach Out: Receiving Social Support Is More Positive Than Expressers Expect
James Dungan, David Munguia Gomez & Nicholas Epley
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Receiving social support is critical for well-being, but concerns about a recipient’s reaction could make people reluctant to express such support. Our studies indicate that people’s expectations about how their support will be received predict their likelihood of expressing it (Study 1, N = 100 online adults), but these expectations are systematically miscalibrated. Participants who sent messages of support to others they knew (Study 2, N = 120 students) or who expressed support to a new acquaintance in person (Study 3, N = 50 adult pairs) consistently underestimated how positively their recipients would respond. A systematic perspective gap between expressers and recipients may explain miscalibrated expectations: Expressers may focus on how competent their support seems, whereas recipients may focus on the warmth it conveys (Study 4, N = 300 adults). Miscalibrated concerns about how to express support most competently may make people overly reluctant to reach out to someone in need. 

The surprise of reaching out: Appreciated more than we think
Peggy Liu et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

People are fundamentally social beings and enjoy connecting with others. Sometimes, people reach out to others—whether simply to check-in on how others are doing with brief messages or to show that they are thinking of others by sending small gifts to them. Yet, despite the importance and enjoyment of social connection, do people accurately understand how much other people value being reached out to by someone in their social circle? Across a series of preregistered experiments, we document a robust underestimation of how much other people appreciate being reached out to. We find evidence compatible with an account wherein one reason this underestimation of appreciation occurs is because responders (vs. initiators) are more focused on their feelings of surprise at being reached out to. A focus on feelings of surprise in turn predicts greater appreciation. We further identify process-consistent moderators of the underestimation of reach-out appreciation, finding that it is magnified when the reach-out context is more surprising: when it occurs within a surprising (vs. unsurprising) context for the recipient and when it occurs between more socially distant (vs. socially close) others. Altogether, this research thus identifies when and why we underestimate how much other people appreciate us reaching out to them, implicating a heightened focus on feelings of surprise as one underlying explanation.

The timing of help: Receiving help toward the end (vs. beginning) undermines psychological ownership and subjective well-being
Minjung Koo et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming 

Giving help is a generous act, but it can cause psychological distress for the recipients by inducing feelings of dependency, incompetence, or indebtedness. The current research identifies a novel factor — the timing of help in the course of an activity — that modulates the negative effect of help on the recipient’s subjective well-being. Across nine studies, we show that people experience less happiness and satisfaction when they receive help in a later (vs. earlier) stage of an activity. We attribute this timing effect to the recipient’s loss of psychological ownership of the activity; help causes a temporary, perceived shift of ownership from the recipient to the helper, and the recipient perceives a greater loss of ownership after receiving help in a later (vs. earlier) stage. We also identify two theoretical moderators: The effect holds when the activity is pursued for intrinsic reasons (e.g., for enjoyment) but not when the activity is pursued for extrinsic reasons (e.g., out of obligation), and the effect holds when help is dependency-oriented (e.g., providing full solutions) but not when help is autonomy-oriented (e.g., providing tools). Our findings advance the current understanding of how the provision of help can hurt a recipient’s well-being and offer practical insight into when help should be given to minimize such harmful effects.


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