Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
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[Wherein our Hero looks at what research has most influenced him. A story to be continued...]
As with most of these monthly themes, I'm at a loss. I'm still an undergrad, and am yet to be afforded the luxury of independent thought. I'm yet to commence honours, and further still from a PhD. I have a vague inkling of a preference towards a vast area of psychology, but what I would like to investigate specifically is still beyond me.
However, I can answer this question in a sense. The paper that has most influenced me is the paper (and the research topic) that I have found myself involved in. The paper is by Apfelbaum and Sommers, and is entitled 'Liberating Effects of Losing Executive Control' (2009).
It's an interesting paper and (as I understand it) one of very few in the area (at least in the way it treats the topic). It focuses on a thing called Executive Function, which is one's capacity to self-regulate and inhibit certain behaviours and impulses. For instance, we've all experienced one of those days where we're just drained, and despite our best efforts we snap at someone we shouldn't. It might be a co-worker, or a partner, or a stranger on a bus. What has happened here, according to the theory surrounding Executive Function, is we've depleted our resources to inhibit such behaviours. Now 'big deal' you might think...
But it is.
There's no (known) biological mechanism for this. There was some evidence that it was linked to glucose, but this hasn't been subsequently supported. What we do know is that it can be restored via psychological mechanisms. For instance, self-affirming excercises (like writing an a short essay on something important to you) can restore your self-control. Now again, this is interesting. Why do we have this mental characteristic that appears to facilitate us doing things we know we shouldn't. Snapping at someone is a social example, but a more physical example might be knowing you shouldn't have the chocolate cake, but eating it anyway. There are studies that show that depleting someone's executive function leads to them being less able to resist temptation when presented with something enticing, like chocolate or ice-cream. It also seems to predict people giving up more quickely on difficult tasks.
Why do we have such an inherent weakness? If it was glucose (or something biological / physiological) we could treat it as a signal that we need to restore something within us. When we start to lose focus, we know we're tired. When we give up to easily or fail to resist temptation, it's not usually a signal we need to go write a self-affirmation.
What Apfelbaum and Sommers did was look at some possible positive examples of what depleted executive function could lead to. Here's part of their abstract:
Under some conditions, however, this deﬁcit may translate into gains: When individuals’ regulatory strategies are maladaptive, depletion of the resource fueling such strategies may facilitate positive outcomes, both intra- and interpersonally. We tested this prediction in the context of contentious intergroup interaction, a domain characterized by regulatory practices of questionable utility. White participants discussed approaches to campus diversity with a White or Black partner immediately after performing a depleting or control computer task. In intergroup encounters, depleted participants enjoyed the interaction more, exhibited less inhibited behavior, and seemed less prejudiced to Black observers than did control participants—converging evidence of beneﬁcial effects. Although executive capacity typically sustains optimal functioning, these results indicate that, in some cases, it also can obstruct positive outcomes, not to mention the potential for open dialogue regarding divisive social issues. Apfelbaum & Sommers (2009).
They reasoned that, when fully stocked with executive function, we might dance around a contentious topic. Rather than honestly admit to controversial opinions, or even, to dance around admiting one's own opinion (even if it's not particularly controversial) depleted individual's seem to own and express their opinions more honestly. Sure, people might not agree with you, but an honest discussion is better than a pantomime, it seems...
So I'm not going to go into much depth on the what exactly I'm looking at (in the service of others), but we're hoping the implications of our study (preliminary though they are) lead to explaining more rigourous benefits of the phenomenon.
So it's definitely an interesting paper. Whether or not this paper will have a lasting impact on my career, who knows? All I can say is that, right now, it's the most influential paper I've ever (personally) dealt with.
Apfelbaum, E., & Sommers, S. (2009). Liberating Effects of Losing Executive Control Psychological Science, 20 (2), 139-143 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02266.x
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Anyone who has stayed up until the sun comes up talking to people, and bonding way more than you ever would otherwise, has probably experienced this. I never thought about it before as a deterioration of executive function, but that's probably part of it.
Yeah, for sure. Executive Function is a relatively new area of study. Getting drunk essentially is reducing your executive function, but the mechanism is obviously different.