Why Are We So Divided and What Can We Do about It? Psychological Research Has Some Clues

Our nation is increasingly becoming divided into opposing groups.  And these divisions are becoming more and more entrenched.  So, why is this occurring? 

Similarity Brings Comfort

Psychologists say it is easiest to stick with people who we see as similar to ourselves. It requires more effort to step outside our bubble.  So, we tend to associate with people who look or think like ourselves.

We then we take the similarity even one step further by assuming that people who are similar to us on one characteristic are similar to us on many other characteristics.  For example, if a person belongs to the same political party or religion that we do, we might think they also like the same activities that we do. Thus, we have a strong tendency to categorize people with a broad brush.

We also want assurances that we will be liked before we attempt to interact with someone else.  People who are similar to us tend to be liked by us and tend to like us more so than is the case with dissimilar people.  Again, then, we isolate ourselves from the challenge of being with dissimilar people.  The process of seeing our group as the best group is known as ingroup bias.

Ingroup Bias is Hardwired

Viewing others in the same way we view ourselves is a function of a part of our brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex.  Other parts of our brain also predispose us to ingroup bias.

We see the same behaviors of people not in our group as different from those of people in our group. A group of psychologists presented Democrats and Republicans during the U.S. Presidential election of 2004 with an initial statement (e.g., a politician said they were going to lower taxes) from a presidential candidate of their own or another political group.  Participants were subsequently shown a statement which involved an action which contradicted the initial statement (e.g., the politician is now not lowering taxes). Participants perceived less contradiction between the initial statement and the action that contradicted the statement from their own group leader. This biased processing of information from ingroup versus outgroup leaders showed up as activation in certain areas of the brain.

When feeling threatened by an outgroup member, another part of our brain is activated.  Australian psychologists asked Non-Muslim participants to decide to either shoot a photograph of a Muslim (outgroup member) or a Non-Muslim (ingroup member) who, in the photograph, was holding a gun. When confronted by the photograph of the outgroup member with a gun and while deciding to shoot the photograph of this member, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex of the Non-Muslim participant was activated. But it was not activated when deciding whether to shoot the photograph of the ingroup member.

Ingroup Bias is Amplified by Social Media

Social media increases our isolation from others. We tend to subscribe to popular media which only confirms our point of view.  People outside our group may have a different point of view but we are not exposed to it.  And when we are not exposed to outgroup members, our ingroup bias is intensified.

Stereotypes of outgroup members run rampant. We even then begin surmising what other people think.  People who dress like Muslims might think like or (gasp) be terrorists.  People who are trying to immigrate to the United States might think they can be freeloaders.  These stereotypes all come from seeing people outside our group as not only making us uncomfortable but as being a threat. 

It is the way we see people not like us that creates fear and hate—not the actual reality.  Yes, some people from our group as well as some people outside our group are, at best misinformed, and even terrorists and freeloaders, but most people are not.  Yet we continue to have a perception of people not like us in terms of stereotypes.

See Others as Individuals, Not as Members of a Group

To change our perception, we must be exposed to people not like us in positive contexts.  We cannot just stay in our safe shell.  We have to actively seek out people who are not similar to us. We will then see others as individuals, not just as members of an outgroup.

One way to develop positive images is through travel where we interact with others—this could be travel within or outside the United States.  Another way is for positive images and stories about people from groups other than our own to be presented in popular media (social media, television, magazines, newspapers), schools, churches, even stores.

There are many benefits to taking the risk of being with people different from ourselves.  One benefit is changing attitudes toward outgroup members.  The change in attitudes reduces conflict, which benefits one’s well being as well as society.

Another benefit of interacting with outgroup members is self-expansion. Self-expansion means we develop a wider view of who we are and of what we are able to do.  We are motivated to expand ourselves.  And one of the best ways to do so is to engage in activities with members of an outgroup.  We begin to incorporate some of the positive characteristics and resources of others into our view of our self.

Yes, we need to reach out and speak to people other than ourselves.  But, most of all, we need to listen to them.

REFERENCES

Aron, A., McLaughlin-Volpe, T., Mashek, D., Lewandowski, G., Wright, S.C. & Aron. E.N. (2004) Including others in the self, European Review of Social Psychology, 15(1), 101-132, DOI: 10.1080/10463280440000008

Domínguez D, J.F., van Nunspeet,F., Gupta, A., Eres, R., Louis, W.R., Decety, J., & Molenberghs, P. (2018). Lateral orbitofrontal cortex activity is modulated by group membership in situations of justified and unjustified violence, Social Neuroscience, 13 (6), 739-755. DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2017.1392342

Hampton, A.J., Fisher Boyd, A.N., & Sprecher, S. (2019). You’re like me and I like you: Mediators of the similarity-liking link assessed before and after a getting-acquainted social interaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36 (7), 2221-2224. DOI:10.1177/0265407518790411

Locke, K.D., Craig, T., Baik, K.D., Gohil, K.(2012). Binds and bounds of communion: effects of interpersonal values on assumed similarity of self and others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 103(5), 879-897.

Molenberghs, P., Louis, W. R. (2018). Insights from fMRI studies into ingroup bias. Frontiers in Psychology, 9 (1868), 1-12. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01868 

Paolini, S., Wright, S., Dys-Steenbergen, O., & Favara, I.. (2016). Self‐Expansion and intergroup contact: Expectancies and motives to self‐expand lead to greater interest in outgroup contact and more positive intergroup relations. Journal of Social Issues. 72, 450-471. DOI: 10.1111/josi.12176.

Westen, D., Blagov, P. S., Harenski, K., Kilts, C., and Hamann, S. (2006). Neural bases of motivated reasoning: an fMRI study of emotional constraints on partisan political judgment in the 2004 US presidential election. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 18, 1947–1958. DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2006.18.11.1947

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Why Do I Use Baby Talk With Pets? Experts Say Your Habit Has Its Perks

BY MARISA CASCIANO

EliteDaily.com

OCT 8, 2019

As I get older, I’m becoming more aware of my quirks, such as my ability to fall asleep in the middle of a crowded room, and the fact that I throw a hot popcorn bag in the sink instead of the trash.But when it comes to my interactions with cute animals — ranging fromfully grown dogs to tiny kittens — I take things to another level. I’ve gotten into the habit of changing my voice to a higher pitch when I speak to animals. It didn’t occur to me until recently that some might consider this odd, but now I kind of agree. Why do I use baby talk with pets?

I’m well aware I’m not the only one who does this, but when I step away from the overwhelming joy I feel at the sight of a cute pet, I wonder why I drastically change the tone of my voice to higher octaves when I talk to cats, or introduce words like “doodle” and “nugget” into my vocabulary when interacting with dogs.

The way I touch my finger to the top of a puppy’s wet nose and say, “Boop!” or squeal when I rub my cat’s belly when she rolls over, isn’t unique or overly concerning. But it is basically the same way a new mom would play with her 4-month-old child, or react when that same child takes their first steps. So, it was time to figure out why.

In an interview with Elite Daily, Courtney Glashow, LCSW, owner, and psychotherapist at Anchor Therapy in Hoboken, NJ, says baby talk is a natural instinct that stems from wanting to connect with a pet on a deeper level. She notes when you use this kind ofhigh-pitched and slow speech to talk to actual babies, you’re acknowledging they can’t understand you yet, but are able to react, hopefully in a positive way. As a result, you opt for this kind of speech because “usually babies react well to it and some pets may as well.”

Beverly B. Palmer, Ph.D., professor emeritus from the psychology department at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and author of Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Lifereveals baby talk can even be effective when you want to discipline your pet. This kind of speech can even come in handy when you want your furry friend to listen and behave, in addition to showing them you enjoy their company.

LIKE A HUMAN BABY, OUR PET NEEDS TO BE PROTECTED (NOT YELLED AT), IS DEPENDENT, AND FULFILLS OUR NEED TO BE NEEDED, WHICH IS EQUATED WITH BEING LOVED.

In a study from the U.S. National Library of Medicine titled, “Oxytocin enhances the appropriate use of human social cues by the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) in an object choice task,” 62 pet dogs — 31 males, 31 females — were given intranasal oxytocin (otherwise known as the “cuddle hormone” or “love hormone”) or a saline control before a session where they were supposed to respond to pointing or gazing cues. During those sessions, the oxytocin improved the dog’s performance; they reacted more positively when responding to human cues.

In layman’s terms, the “love hormone” made the dogs feel more connected to their humans and willing to be disciplined. Palmer suggests this means that, rather than using a stern voice when your pet isn’t doing something they should, you can keep talking to your pet like you would a baby and encourage them that way. In essence, your love goes a long way.

Based on their positive reactions in this study, it seems like most domesticated canines appreciate the higher-pitched way of speaking you (and I) have become so accustomed to using, because baby talkgives them a sense of love and affection they rely on.”Like a human baby, our pet needs to be protected (not yelled at), is dependent, and fulfills our need to be needed, which is equated with being loved,” Palmer tells Elite Daily via email.

Manhattan psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona tells Elite Daily “exaggerating pronunciation of vowels and consonants” and using a higher pitch when you’re talking to an infantcan really help you bond with them. He says when it comes to talking to your pet, you can expect a similar effect and result, especially if you incorporate certain words and phrases.

Like Palmer, Cilona points to research. He says in the study conducted by Alex Benjamin and Katie Slocombe titled, “Who’s a good boy?! Dogs prefer naturalistic dog-directed speech,” research revealed puppies are more responsive and attentive to speech when it was directed toward them. The authors in the study “argue that DDS may have a functional value in puppies, but not adult dogs.” This speech includes dog-friendly phrases like, “Good dog!” and “Treat?” and proved fur babies will be attracted to humans who are addressing them with these phrases and specific “acoustic properties,” like a higher pitch or tone, according to the study.

OUR PETS ARE SMALLER THAN WE ARE, SO THEY REMIND US OF HOW WE TREAT OUR LITTLE HUMANS.

However, even if your pup responds well to being called “nugget” in a very high-pitched voice, you should be careful about when and where you opt for baby talk. Glashow says you might not always be in the right setting for it. You may find your habit creeping into other relationships and interactions where it doesn’t fit.

“Our pets are smaller than we are, so they remind us of how we treat our little humans,” Palmer says, and that’s definitely true for me. In some way, when I look at a tiny kitten or fluffy golden retriever puppy, my mind instantly goes to the same place as when I’m interacting with my cousin’s adorable 2-year-old. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean my habit is welcomed or in the right. According to Glashow, it may not be appropriate in professional settings, like an office party with a pet present, or in scenarios where others don’t have a pet or child and aren’t familiar with baby talk.

Ultimately, though, you can go about your usual business and embrace your baby talk, especially when you’re talking to your own pet.You can cuddle up with your bunny, German shepherd, Maine coon, or sweet rescue, and tell them they’re the greatest pet in the entire world in an incredibly high octave. You can reach the same falsetto notes while booping your puppy’s nose or reminding your new kitten they are so loved. I’ll be somewhere in the world doing the same thing, and not wondering why I do it anymore. This seemingly weird habit? Explained.

Love in the Age of Social Media

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You meet someone on line.  Then you text.  Then you meet for coffee.  But why do so many of these possible lovers turn into duds?

Maybe it is because what is presented online is not who the person really is.  Or maybe it is because spending so much time with people online leaves no time to build relationship skills.

So, what should you look for offline in a possible partner?  And how do you best present yourself offline?

Online

To find the partner you really want, make a list of the qualities of that person that you feel are important for a good relationship.  Then prioritize these qualities.  The first three priorities will then become what you will look for in online descriptions and what you will try to ascertain during your first offline visit.  If one or more of your first three priorities are not listed in that person’s online description, move on.  A person who really has those qualities will list them rather than just presenting superficial desirable qualities.

Offline

Or, if it seems that none of the online descriptions contains your priorities, you need to move offline.  Offline places to meet possible partners are: meetup groups (meetup.com), volunteering sites, universities.

Now you are having that first meeting with a potential partner.  How do you present yourself?  Do you have the relationship skills to succeed?

Everyone wants someone who is a good listener.  Instead of focusing on the anxiety you feel about this first meeting, focus on the other person.  Listen to what that person is saying and show you listened by repeating back a snippet of what was said.  All you really need to do during the first meeting is listen because listening is the number one relationship skill.

You might also want to assess how good of a listener the other person is.  Since two people showing they are really listening to each other could be the start of a loving relationship.

(To find out more ways to meet a potential partner read Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life by Beverly B. Palmer, Ph.D.)