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Current Research in Social Psychology

Editors: michael lovaglia, university of iowa; shane soboroff, st. ambrose university.

Current Research in Social Psychology  ( CRISP ) is a peer reviewed, electronic journal publishing theoretically driven, empirical research in major areas of social psychology. Publication is sponsored by the  Center for the Study of Group Processes  at the  University of Iowa,  which provides free access to its contents. Authors retain copyright for their work. CRISP is permanently archived at the Library of the University of Iowa and at the Library of Congress. Beginning in April, 2000,  Sociological Abstracts  publishes the abstracts of CRISP articles.

Citation Format:  Lastname ,  Firstname . 1996. "Title of Article."  Current Research in Social Psychology  2:15-22 https://crisp.org.uiowa.edu


Finding Positives in the Pandemic: The Role of Relationship Status, Self-Esteem, Mental Health, and Personality.

When Race is Not Enough: Lessons Learned Using Racially Tagged Names.

Formation of a Positive Social Identity: How Significant are Attitudes, Subjective Norms, and Perceived Similarity Concerning Group Identification?

Passive Social Network Usage and Hedonic Well-Being Among Vietnamese University Students: A Moderated Mediation Model Involving Self-Esteem and Sense of Self.

Cognitive Dissonance and Depression: A Qualitative Exploration of a Close Relationship.

Gender Differences in Support for Collective Punishment: The Moderating Role of Malleability Mindset.

Hard Feelings? Predicting Attitudes Toward Former Romantic Partners.

Perceived Control in Multiple Option Scenarios: Choice, Control, and the Make-a-Difference Metric.

Drivers of Prosocial Behavior: Exploring the Role of Mindset and Perceived Cost.

Malleability of L aïcité: People with High Social Dominance Orientation Use L aïcité to Legitimize Public Prayer by Catholics but not by Muslims.

Differences and Predictive Abilities of Competitiveness Between Motivation Levels, Contexts, and Sex.

Parental Rejection and Peer Acceptance: The Mediating Role of Cognitive Bias.

A Novel Approach for Measuring Self-Affirmation.

Ingroup Bias in the Context of Meat Consumption: Direct and Indirect Attitudes Toward Meat-Eaters and Vegetarians.

Perceptions of Case Complexity and Pre-Trial Publicity Through the Lens of Information Processing.

"Muslims' Desire for Intergroup Revenge in the Aftermath of the Christchurch Attack: The Predictive Role of Ingroup Identification, Perceived Intergroup Threat, and the Norm of Reciprocity. "

"Personal Networks and Social Support in Disaster Contexts."

"Aggressive and Avoidant Action Tendencies Towards Out-Groups: The Distinct Roles of In-Group Attachment vs. Glorification and Cognitive vs. Affective Ambivalence."

"We (Might) Want You: Expectations of Veterans' General Competence and Leadership."

"Situation Attribution Mediates Intention to Overlook Negative Signals Among Romantic Partners."

"Software Program, Bot, or Artificial Intelligence? Affective Sentiments across General Technology Labels"

"Privilege is Invisible to Those Who Have It": Some Evidence that Men Underestimate the Magnitude of Gender Differences in Income.

"Perceived Control and Intergroup Discrimination."  

"Leadership, Gender, and Vocal Dynamics in Small Groups."

Taking Responsibility for an Offense: Being Forgiven Encourages More Personal Responsibility, More Empathy for the Victim, and Less Victim Blame.

Potential Factors Influencing Attitudes Toward Veterans Who Commit Crimes: An Experimental Investigation of PTSD in the Legal System.

"Is that Discrimination? I'd Better Report it!" Self-presentation Concerns Moderate the Prototype Effect.

Relation Between Attitudinal Trust and Behavioral Trust: An Exploratory Study

Comparing Groups' Affective Sentiments to Group Perceptions.

Perceived Autonomous Help and Recipients' Well-Being: Is Autonomous Help Good for Everyone.

S tudying Gay and Straight Males' Implicit Gender Attitudes to Understand Previously Found Gender Differences in Implicit In-Group Bias.

Nepotistic Preferences in a Computerized Trolley Problem.

Telecommuting, Primary Caregiving, and Gender as Status .

You're Either With Us or Against Us: In-Group Favoritism and Threat .

 Impact of the Anticipation of Membership Change on Transactive Memory and Group Performance.

Mindfulness Increases Analytical Thought and Decreases Just World Beliefs .

Status, Performance Expectations, and Affective Impressions: An Experimental Replication.

The Effects of African-American Stereotype Fluency on Prejudicial Evaluation of Targets .

Status Characteristics and Self-Categoriation: A Bridge Across theoretical Traditions.

Why do Extraverts Feel More Positive Affect and Life Satisfaction? The Indirect Effects of Social Contribution and Sense of Power.

In-group Attachment and Glorification, Perceptions of Cognition-Based Ambivalence as Contributing to the Group, and Positive Affect.

Mentoring to Improve a Child's Self-Concept: Longitudinal Effects of Social Intervention on Identity and Negative Outcomes.

Affect, Emotion, and Cross-Cultural Differences in Moral Attributions.

The Effects of Counterfactual Thinking on College Students' Intentions to Quit Smoking Cigarettes .

Self-Enhancement, Self-Protection and Ingroup Bias.

The Moderating Effect of Socio-emotional Factors on the Relationship Between Status and Influence in Status Characteristics Theory.

What We Know About People Shapes the Inferences We Make About Their Personalities.

The Pros and Cons of Ingroup Ambivalence: The Moderating Roles of Attitudinal Basis and Individual Differences in Ingroup Attachment and Glorification.

Effects of Social Anxiety and Group Membership of Potential Affiliates on Social Reconnection After Ostracism.

"Yes, I Decide You Will Recieve Your Choice": Effects of Authoritative Agreement on Perceptions of Control.

Being Generous to Look Good: Perceived Stigma Increases Prosocial Behavior in Smokers.

Acting White? Black Young Adults Devalue Same-Race Targets for Demonstrating Positive-but-Stereotypically White Traits

Looking Up for Answers: Upward Gaze Increases Receptivity to Advice

Which Judgement Do Women Expect from a Female Observer When They Claim to be a Victim of Sexism?

Neighborhood Deterioration and Perceptions of Race

The Use of Covert and Overt Jealousy Tactics in Romantic Relationships: The Moderating Role of Relationship Satisfaction

The Impact of Status Differences on Gatekeeping: A Theoretical Bridge and Bases for Investigation

Reducing Prejudice with (Elaborated) Imagined and Physical Intergroup Contact Interverventions

Are Depressed Individuals More Susceptible to Cognitive Dissonance?

Gender Differences in the Need to Belong: Different Cognitive Representations of the Same Social Groups

Fight The Power: Comparing and Evaluating Two Measures of French and Raven's (1959) Bases of Social Power

Mother Knows Best So Mother Fails Most: Benevolent Stereotypes and the Punishment of Parenting Mistakes

Blame Attributions about Disloyalty

Attitudes Towards Muslims are More Favorable on a Survery than on an Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure

Attributions to Low Group Effort can Make You Feel Better: The Distinct Roles of In-group Identification, Legitimacy of Intergroup Status, and Controllability Perceptions

The Role of Collective and Personal Self-Esteem in a Military Context

On Bended Knee: Embodiment and Religious Judgments

Identity Salience and Identity Importance in Identity Theory

Sexist Humor and Beliefs that Justify Societal Sexism

Future-Oriented People Show Stronger Moral Concerns

Further Examining the Buffering Effect of Self-Esteem and Mastery on Emotions

Group-Based Resiliency: Contrasting the Negative Effects of Threat to the In-Group

You Validate Me, You Like Me, You're Fun, You Expand Me: "I'm Yours!"

Pleading Innocents: Laboratory Evidence of Plea Bargaining's Innocence Problem

The Moral Identity and Group Affiliation

Threat, Prejudice, and Stereotyping in the Context of Japanese, North Korean, and South Korean Intergroup Relations

Exams may be Dangerous to Grandpa's Health: How Inclusive Fitness Influences Students' Fraudulent Excuses

To View Archived CRISP Issues Click here

To View the Notice for Contributors Click here . Includes formatting and citation guidelines.

To View the Editorial Board Click here

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Social psychology as a natural kind

Jason p. mitchell.

Harvard University

Although typically defined as the study of how people and groups interact, the field of social psychology comprises a number of disparate domains that make only indirect contributions to understanding interpersonal interaction, such as emotion, attitudes, and the self. Although these various phenomena may appear to have little in common, recent evidence suggests that the topics at the core of social psychology form a natural group of domains with a common functional neuroanatomy, centered on the medial prefrontal cortex. That self-referential, attitudinal, affective, and other social phenomena converge on this region may reflect their shared reliance on inexact and internally-generated estimates that differ from the more precise representations underlying other psychological phenomena.

What is social psychology?

A common definition of social psychology suggests that the field represents “an attempt to understand and explain how the thought, feeling, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others” 1 . However, as practiced today, social psychology as often focuses on the cognitive workings of an individual in isolation as on those specific to interpersonal interaction. Beginning with the social cognition movement in the 1970s, social psychology has emerged as the primary headwater for the study of three intra personal phenomena that rely little on the “presence of others”: (i) the structure of knowledge about the self; (ii) attitudes and their influence on one’s choices; and (iii) the subjective experience of emotion. Indeed, the 4 th edition of The Handbook of Social Psychology – widely considered the definitive encyclopedia of the field – devotes its first two topical sections to such intrapersonal cognition, postponing its review of phenomena that occur in social contexts until the second of its two volumes.

How have these intrapersonal topics emerged as the central province of social psychology, ostensibly the science of understanding humans in interpersonal contexts? Why instead have these topics not formed a core part of cognitive psychology, which explicitly attempts to model the mental operations that support other such within-person abilities such as perception, attention, and memory? Moreover, why have several phenomena with clear implications for interpersonal behavior, such as face identification and language, become central pursuits within cognitive science while remaining comparatively peripheral to social psychology? Although a coherent sense of self, stable attitudes, and a rich repertoire of emotional experience doubtlessly play vital roles in interpersonal interaction, it is unclear how they bear more directly on social behavior than some of the abilities that have been relatively neglected by social psychology.

Over the past decade and a half, studies using neuroimaging and neuropsychological patients have provided a surprising but consistent answer to the question of what, if anything, binds these disparate topics within social psychology: a common neural basis. This work has demonstrated that four seemingly-distinct cognitive phenomena – thinking about oneself, accessing one’s attitudes, the experience of emotion, and inferring the contents of another person’s mind – all converge on a single brain region, the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). Such observations suggest that contemporary social psychology, far from being a patchwork of unrelated research questions, is the science of a set of closely related phenomena with a common functional neuroanatomy. Indeed, the neural confluence of self, attitudes, emotional experience, and mental state inference implies that these phenomena may pose a common cognitive challenge to the human mind, met by a common processing solution 2 . Rather than being the result of historical accident, social psychology appears to be a “natural kind” – a genuine set defined by deep and nonarbitrary characteristics.

MPFC contributions to “social” phenomena

Here, I review findings that suggest the ubiquity of MPFC involvement in four topics of central interest to social psychologists: the self-concept, attitudes and evaluation, emotional experience, and understanding the minds of others. The goal is to provide an impressionistic – rather than exhaustive – overview of the surprising convergence of such ‘social’ abilities in the MPFC, and, accordingly, discussion of other brain regions known to contribute to these phenomena is deferred (see Box 3 ).

Box 3Interactions between the MPFC and other brain regions

Although the MPFC plays a critical role in subserving several phenomena of interest to social psychologists, several other brain regions also contribute importantly to the self-concept (e.g., medial parietal cortex), evaluation (the orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum), mentalizing (the medial parietal cortex and bilateral temporo-parietal junction), and emotional experience (e.g., the amygdala and anterior insula). In many cases, little is known about the independent contributions made by these other brain regions to such phenomena; for example, although the medial parietal cortex is frequently observed in conjunction with MPFC during self-referential processing and mentalizing, little is known about how the processes subserved by this region specifically contribute to such phenomena. At the same time, a critical but unresolved issue in cognitive neuroscience is how the particular computations performed by a brain region may vary as a function of the other regions active during a particular cognitive task. For example, in what way might the particular computations performed by the MPFC differ when interacting more prominently with medial parietal cortex in contrast to the anterior insula? An important direction for future research will be to understand how networks of interacting brain regions together subserve our cognitive abilities, rather than focusing on single brain regions in isolation.


More than a dozen neuroimaging studies have examined the neural basis of the self-concept, as traditionally operationalized by social psychologists ( Box 1 ), and these studies have ubiquitously linked self-referential processing to activity in MPFC ( Fig 1a ). In the preponderance of such studies, participants have been asked to introspect about their own personality characteristics, either by reporting how well they are described by a trait adjective ( curious , intelligent , impatient ) or by responding to questions about their dispositions (e.g., I have a quick temper ). Reflecting on one’s own dispositions in this manner consistently prompts greater MPFC activity than a variety of control conditions, including judging the personality traits of another person 3 – 10 ; judging the social desirability of a personality trait ( is being “curious” generally considered positive or negative? ) 9 , 11 – 14 ; answering questions based on semantic knowledge ( is 10 seconds longer than a minute? ) 15 ; or judging lexical/orthographic features of words 16 , 17 . Moreover, MPFC activity correlates with successful memory for information processed in a self-referential manner 18 , suggesting that this region supports the well-documented mnemonic benefits of linking information to the self-concept 19 . Consistent with these neuroimaging observations, patients with frontotemporal dementia – a progressive disorder associated with disproportionately high atrophy in MPFC – demonstrate profound changes in the self-concept, including an impaired ability to judge their own personality traits 20 .

Box 1The self in social psychology

Research on the self encompasses a variety of phenomena, from self-referential thought and self-initiated behavior to self-regulation and self-esteem. Although there is no single definition of the self, social psychology has paid special attention to one particular aspect of selfhood: one’s concept of self 82 . The self-concept refers to person’s understanding of what she “is like” as a person, that is, what personality characteristics she manifests, what idiosyncratic abilities and proclivities define her as an individual, and to what extent she regards herself positively (i.e., has high or low self-esteem). Social psychological research on the self-concept has included (i) determining what information people use as a primary basis for judging what they are like; (ii) documenting the consequences of processing events in a self-referential manner; (iii) demonstrating the extent to which people distort information to maintain a consistent self-concept; and (iv) detailing individuals’ attempts to maintain high regard for the self.

A rough sense of the importance of this topic to social psychology can be estimated from the prevalence of the word “self” in titles of articles published in the field’s journals. Between 1965 and 2008, “self” appeared in the title of roughly every eighth article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1,056 of 8,539 total) and the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (255 of 2,235 total). In contrast, over the same span of time, all subtitles of the Journal of Experimental Psychology have included a mere 82 articles with “self” in the title (of more than 16,000 articles published; ~0.5%), and Cognition has published only 15 such articles (~0.7%).

One important line of research on the self has focused on the demonstration of enhanced processing for information encoded self-referentially. This “self-reference effect” 19 has typically been observed as better memory for stimuli that participants initially judge in relation to the self (e.g., “how well does the word curious describe you?”) than those they initially judge in relation to another person (“how well does the word honest describe Bill Clinton?”) or about which they make semantic judgments (“was Bill Clinton the 40 th president of the United States?”). Tellingly, although by definition this work focuses on an inherently intrapersonal phenomenon (the self) and examines a phenomenon of central interest to cognitive psychologists (memory), it has overwhelmingly appeared in social psychology (and, to some extent, clinical psychology) journals, rather than in mainstream cognitive psychology outlets.

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Location of peak MPFC activations associated with “social” phenomena. Each of the four images displays the midline of a canonical right hemisphere with the peak MPFC coordinates observed by studies of different classes of psychological phenonemon primarily studied by social psychologists. (a) The self-concept refers to a person’s introspective awareness of her own personality traits and idiosyncratic dispositions 3 – 18 . (b) Attitudes entail positive or negative evaluations of an object, idea, other person, or group, and may be reported explicitly through language or revealed through actual behavior 6 , 10 , 22 – 28 , 30 , 31 (for attitudes, only studies identifying MPFC, rather than OFC, were plotted). (c) The subjective experience of emotion refers to the subjective awareness of one’s affective states, such as the degree to which one is experiencing happiness, sadness, disgust, or fear 37 – 48 . (d) Theory-of-mind or mentalizing refers to the ability to infer the thoughts, feelings, and desires of other people 53 – 68 . Although each of these phenomena differs superficially from the others, all ultimately rely on the internal generation of probabilistic and malleable estimates – rather than exact representations that correspond veridically and stably to external reality – a set of functions previously linked to MPFC.

Attitudes and evaluation

A central concept in social psychology has been that of attitude , defined as “a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor” 21 ( Box 2 ). As for the self-concept, a series of recent neuroimaging studies has suggested that the MPFC plays a critical role in the ability to access and explicitly report one’s attitudes ( Fig 1b ). A fairly circumscribed region of ventral MPFC is preferentially engaged when individuals respond to questions about their own preferences (e.g., “I enjoy doing laundry over going grocery shopping”) than about those of another person 6 , 10 , 22 , 23 . Likewise, explicitly evaluating a stimulus as positive or negative produces greater response in this region than judging semantic 24 , 25 , perceptual 26 , 27 , or other nonevaluative 28 aspects of a stimulus. Consistent with these neuroimaging observations, patients with damage to the ventral MPFC show impairments in reporting their preferences in a consistent manner. For example, such an individual might evaluate one person as more positive than a second and that second person as more positive than a third, but then also judge, incompatibly, the third to be more positive than the first 29 .

Box 2Attitudes, evaluation, and preferences

How do humans form opinions about novel objects and people? How do we store and access such evaluations? And how do we update our attitudes in response to new or contradictory information? The origins of social psychology are so closely linked to these questions that some early commentators equated the entire field with the study of attitudes and evaluation 83 . By 1935, the concept of an attitude had been proclaimed the principal foundation on which social psychology rests, and throughout the 1960s and 70s, the study of attitudes and attitude change dominated research in social psychology. Even today, the lead section of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology is devoted to “attitudes and social cognition.” Consistent with their position at the center of the field, a wide-ranging array of evaluative responses have been studied by social psychologists. Although much of this work has focused on respondents’ attitudes toward social groups, individuals, and social policies (e.g., Communism, the right-to-life, or affirmative action), researchers have also commonly examined less overtly interpersonal attitudinal responses, such as those regarding personal behavior or idiosyncratic preferences (the value of tooth-brushing, the taste of anchovies, etc.).

Although social psychologists have traditionally relied on what respondents explicitly report about an attitude object, more recent work has focused on unconscious or implicit forms of evaluation that unfold automatically and without subjective awareness. Whether such implicit evaluations arise from the same processes as one’s conscious opinions and preferences continues to be a matter of some debate within the social psychological literature, although recent neuroimaging findings have suggested that implicit forms of evaluation may be distinct from explicitly-reported attitudes in relying on a neural system centered around the amygdala 84 . Such dissociations are reminiscent of the distinctions between explicit and implicit memory, which likewise appear to be two different systems of memory that rely on distinct neural systems.

Whereas social psychologists have often relied on what respondents explicitly articulate about an attitude object – that is their reported preferences – several other research traditions have studied preferences as they are revealed by an individual’s observable choices ( Box 2 ). These literatures confirm the functional importance of ventral aspects of the MPFC for evaluating the desirability of a stimulus. Activity in this region has been observed to correlate with participants’ preference for one taste over another as revealed in a blind “taste test” 30 , as well as with their relative preference for immediate over delayed monetary rewards in an intertemporal choice paradigm (e.g., opting to receive $20 now versus a larger amount in a week) 31 . Moreover, beginning with the well-known case of Phineas Gage, neuropsychological research has repeatedly demonstrated that damage to ventral MPFC impairs one’s abilities both to evaluate competing courses of action 32 and to revise earlier evaluations of a stimulus 33 .

Emotional experience

Both social and clinical psychology have been centrally concerned with understanding the nature of emotional experience , that is, one’s subjective awareness of affective states and the consequences of such experience on behavior. The topics addressed by such researchers have ranged from the source of subjective emotional experience to the maladaptive effects of emotion that define many clinical disorders to the relation between emotion and “colder”, less affectively-based, mental operations. In addition, a sizeable literature has examined emotional expression, cataloguing the discrete types of facial expressions that accompany different emotions and examining how perceivers recognize the emotions of others 34 .

Although several brain regions make well-characterized contributions to the experience and recognition of particular emotions (such as the anterior insula to disgust and the amygdala to fear and anxiety) 35 , a somewhat underappreciated finding has been the generality of the response in MPFC during emotional experience. In a review of 55 neuroimaging experiments through 2002 36 , the MPFC was the brain region most commonly associated with affective processing, regardless of the specific emotion being targeted (disgust, fear, sadness, anger, happiness). Interestingly, manipulations that induce particularly rich emotional experience were those most likely to engage MPFC 37 – 48 ( Fig 1c ). For example, MPFC modulation is particularly likely when a person engages in extended affective processing that allows for genuine, subjective experience of emotion, such as by recalling an evocative autobiographical memory or viewing emotionally-charged films (in contrast to passively viewing affective words or still photographs). This observation suggests that the MPFC may specifically contribute to emotion by subserving the subjective experience of one’s affective state. More recently, neuropsychological research has confirmed the important role of MPFC in emotion, demonstrating that lesions to this region impair emotional experience as well as the recognition of emotional expressions 49 . Together, these results suggest that, although specific brain regions like the amygdala and insula may play critical roles in specific emotions, the MPFC plays a broad – albeit incompletely specified – role in emotional experience more generally.

Understanding the minds of others

Notwithstanding frequent forays into purely intrapersonal phenomena, social psychologists have long examined the question of how perceivers make sense of the behavior of others. For more than three decades starting in the 1960s, a sizeable literature developed around questions of attribution , such as how one determines whether an individual’s behavior (Mary is biting her finger nails) is better ascribed to her internal mental states and dispositions (she must be a nervous person) or to situational influences and constraints (she is waiting for the results of an important exam; for a comprehensive review of social psychological research on attribution, see Ref 50 ). More recently, researchers have begun to concentrate on one aspect of attribution, examining how perceivers generate their initial inferences about others’ mental states in the first place (e.g., how does one infer that Mary is feeling nervous to start with?), an ability referred to as “mentalizing” or “theory-of-mind”.

For all intents and purposes, neuroimaging studies have unanimously implicated MPFC in tasks that require perceivers to mentalize about the thoughts or feelings of others ( Fig 1d ). Recent reviews of the functional neuroanatomy underlying social cognition 51 , 52 have catalogued the wide range of contexts in which MPFC activity accompanies mentalizing. Greater response in this region has been observed when (i) perceivers regard stories or cartoons whose comprehension requires inferring the mental states of their protagonists (compared to understanding physical causality) 53 – 55 ; (ii) answer questions about another person’s knowledge 56 – 59 ; (iii) watch abstract cartoons that imply the presence of a mental agent 60 – 62 ; or (iv) play a competitive game against a human (compared to a computer) opponent 63 , 64 . Moreover, similar MPFC modulation has been associated with tasks originally developed within the social psychological literature on attribution, such as those designed to favor dispositional over situational attributions 65 or during explicit attempts to form an impression of another person’s personality 66 – 68 . Neuropsychological results also confirm that, at least for nontrivial theory-of-mind tasks, damage to the MPFC impairs the ability to apprehend others’ mental states 69 , 70 . And autism, which is marked by severe impairments in understanding others’ mental states, has been linked by at least two studies to abnormal activity in MPFC 71 , 72 (although the functional neuroanatomy underlying this disorder is far from completely understood).

Social psychology as the study of ‘fuzzy’ cognition

To the extent that shared functional neuroanatomy implies shared cognitive processing 2 , the overlapping MPFC basis for the self-concept, attitudes, emotional experience, and mentalizing suggests that these seemingly diverse phenomena all draw on a common set of underlying mental operations. But what does the fact that the MPFC in particular subserves these social phenomena – and not some other brain region – imply about the nature of the processes underlying them? Interestingly, the MPFC has been implicated in a number of additional abilities that call for nonliteral, counterfactual, or probabilistic processing, such as understanding figurative linguistic constructions like metaphor and analogy 73 , 74 , simulating hypothetical future events 75 , and reasoning about ambiguous moral conflicts 76 , 77 . In sharp contrast, the MPFC has not only been only rarely implicated in most other cognitive activities but routinely demonstrates reduced response (i.e., “deactivation”) when participants engage in tasks involving semantic memory, executive function, perception, and many of the other types of processes studied by cognitive psychology 78 . Such deactivations have been argued to mark the suspension of an internally-focused mode of processing that would otherwise interfere with attention to the external environment 75 , 78 .

Together, these neural observations support the view that ‘social’ phenomena can be distinguished from other kinds of cognitive processing by their dependence on a qualitatively distinct class of mental representation. Most cognitive abilities require exact representations that correspond veridically to the external world: people are generally surprised and consternated when they generate inexact or fallacious representations of the outside world; for example, misreaching for a wine glass and knocking it over, intending one word but blurting out another, or feeling confident in memories that prove to be false or distorted. In contrast, when it comes to our self-concept, attitudes, emotional experience, and understanding of others minds, we readily handle – indeed, may insist upon – considerably less exactitude and accuracy. Although we know roughly what defines us as a person, how much we like or dislike something, the strength of our current emotional experience, or what is going on inside the head of another person, the functional utility of these social processes does not rely on the ability to pinpoint an exact representation that corresponds precisely to an actual “fact of the matter” in the external world. Instead, social phenomena demand an ability to operate over ‘fuzzy’ mental estimates that are inexact, probabilistic, internally-generated, and subject to revision. Whereas abilities like motor control, language, and perception require the generation of discrete, specific representations, we typically experience our selves, our attitudes, our emotions, and the minds of others more like continuously shifting and indefinite approximations. Reifying these fuzzy experiences by assigning them specific labels (through language, Likert scales, etc.) either acutely disrupts normal functioning, as in the case of affective processing 79 , or else provides flawed or inadequate insights into their workings, as for our self-concept, attitudes, and social inferences 80 .

A possible exception might be our inferences about mental states, which can sometimes pertain to specific information that another person may or may not know. Indeed, a good deal of research in social cognition has examined tasks that imply “correct” answers about another person’s knowledge (such as the “Sally-Anne” false belief task). Interestingly, these tasks are most closely associated with activity in a region outside the MPFC, the temporo-parietal junction 81 . In contrast, many of our mental state inferences may center around fuzzier, more probabilistic estimates of others’ experience. For example, we might infer that someone is sad, but rarely need to estimate exactly how dysphoric. Or we might consider someone to possess a certain personality trait (intelligence), but rarely consider exactly to what extent.

By increasingly adopting the methods of cognitive neuroscience, social psychologists have discovered a previously unsuspected correspondence among many of the important phenomena at the core of the field. Such observations underscore the unique power of functional localization methods, such as neuroimaging, to uncover links among researchers who once believed themselves to be studying disparate empirical issues, but we now understand to have been probing different manifestations of a common underlying system. This neurally-inspired ‘lumping’ of seemingly disparate phenomena promises not only to help underscore what makes social psychology distinctive, but suggests the need to rethink the assumption that the field studies phenomena at a “higher” or more “macro” level than cognitive psychology. Rather than equating the study of social phenomena with a particular level of analysis, these findings suggest a view of social psychology as a unique branch of cognitive science, specialized for examining a distinct and natural grouping of approximate, shifting, and internally-generated – in other words, ‘fuzzy’ – cognitive operations.

Box 4Questions and future directions

  • Although research has established that many concepts of interest to social psychologists rely on the MPFC, little is known about the neural basis of many other important social psychological phenomena, such as self-esteem, motivation, persuasion, and stereotyping. An open question remains whether the MPFC also subserves these other lines of social psychological inquiry, or if such phenomena rely on distinct forms of cognitive processing.
  • Most neuroimaging and neuropsychological research on revealed preferences has implicated particularly inferior regions of MPFC that extend into the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) 85 . The distinction between the evaluative processing subserved by ventral MPFC and OFC is not yet fully understood.
  • Somewhat ironically, the concept of ‘fuzzy’ cognition is itself vague and imprecise. Although likely to be somewhat controversial, the use of the term reflects the current lack of a more appropriate one with which to describe the putative distinction between the ‘social’ processing subserved by the MPFC and other forms of processing that have been of primary interest to cognitive psychologists. An important direction for future research will be to illuminate the exact contours of the attributes that underlie social psychological phenomena and their difference from other branches of cognitive science.


The preparation of this article was supported by NSF and NIA grants to the author. Thanks to Mahzarin Banaji, Wendy Berry Mendes, Randy Buckner, Dan Gilbert, Abby Klima, Neil Macrae, Lindsey Powell, Rebecca Saxe, Diana Tamir, Dan Wegner, and Jamil Zaki for helpful comments and discussion and Dave Johnson and Jessica Schirmer for their assistance in preparing the manuscript.

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This paper lays the historical background for why women and leadership is an important topic today in order to discuss gender differences in communication styles, influence tactics, and leadership styles. This paper also outlines barriers women face when trying to attain and succeed in leadership positions. The analysis should provide a greater understanding of how men and women differ, especially in leadership and management positions, and what companies can do to help women overcome gender bias and discrimination in the workplace.

The Impact Of Social Media On The Self-Esteem Of Youth 10–17 Years Old: A Review Of The Literature , Jasmine M. Daniels National Louis University

The Impact Of Social Media On The Self-Esteem Of Youth 10–17 Years Old: A Review Of The Literature , Jasmine M. Daniels


The world of technology has expanded quickly and vastly since its inception. The creation of social media sites and applications has changed the ways in which youth interact, connect, and share with one another. As the number of social media sites and applications increases, so does their use by adolescents. During adolescence, youth are undergoing the process of identity development and self-esteem is an important part of this development. During this developmental period, adolescents’ self-esteem is likely to be affected by the feedback they receive online through social media sites. There is limited research available that specifically evaluated the impact …

Happiness Index Methodology , Laura Musikanski, Scott Cloutier, Erica Bejarano, Davi Briggs, Julia Colbert, Gracie Strasser, Steven Russell Happiness Alliance

Happiness Index Methodology , Laura Musikanski, Scott Cloutier, Erica Bejarano, Davi Briggs, Julia Colbert, Gracie Strasser, Steven Russell

Journal of sustainable social change.

The Happiness Index is a comprehensive survey instrument that assesses happiness, well-being, and aspects of sustainability and resilience. The Happiness Alliance developed the Happiness Index to provide a survey instrument to community organizers, researchers, and others seeking to use a subjective well-being index and data. It is the only instrument of its kind freely available worldwide and translated into over ten languages. This instrument can be used to measure satisfaction with life and the conditions of life. It can also be used to define income inequality, trust in government, sense of community and other aspects of well-being within specific demographics …

Challenging Filipino Colonial Mentality With Philippine Art , Francesca V. Mateo University of San Francisco

Challenging Filipino Colonial Mentality With Philippine Art , Francesca V. Mateo

Master's theses.

For 350 years, the Philippines was colonized by Spain and the United States. The Philippines became a sovereign nation in 1946 yet, fifty years later, colonial teachings continue to oppress Filipinos due to their colonial mentality (CM.) CM is an internalized oppression among Filipinos in which they experience an automatic preference for anything Western—European or U.S. American—and rejection of anything Filipino . Although Filipinos show signs of a CM, there are Filipinos who are challenging CM by engaging in Philippine art. Philippine art is defined as Filipino-made visual art, literature, music, and dance intended to promote Philippine culture . This …

Social Cognitive Career Theory As Applied To The School-To-Work Transition , Mary E. Kelly Seton Hall University

Social Cognitive Career Theory As Applied To The School-To-Work Transition , Mary E. Kelly

Seton hall university dissertations and theses (etds).

Depression, Anxiety, And Stress Severity Impact Social Media Use And Tiktok Addiction , Skylar L. Maguire, Hollie Pellosmaa University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Depression, Anxiety, And Stress Severity Impact Social Media Use And Tiktok Addiction , Skylar L. Maguire, Hollie Pellosmaa

Chancellor’s honors program projects.

The Relationship Between Social Media And Empathy , Franklin M. Collins Georgia Southern University

The Relationship Between Social Media And Empathy , Franklin M. Collins

Electronic theses and dissertations.

The relationship between social media and empathy has not been explored extensively. Research on the expression of emotion and the association with empathy displayed on social media websites have been minimally explored. This study sought to support findings that chatting online leads to expressions of empathy (Rosen, 2012) and a positive relationship exists between conversing with others online and empathic expression (Ivcevic & Ambady, 2012. Empathic concern was hypothesized to show a positive relationship with one’s likelihood to chat, time on Facebook, and emotional connection to Facebook or Facebook usage. Empathic concern also was predicted to be greater among computer …

Body Positivity Movement: Influence Of Beauty Standards On Body Image , Alissa Chiat St. Catherine University

Body Positivity Movement: Influence Of Beauty Standards On Body Image , Alissa Chiat

Antonian scholars honors program.

Throughout history, there has always been an idealized depiction of beauty. In each culture the ideal varies but the concept of exclusion is universal. The westernized portrayal of beauty is prevalent throughout and has become ingrained into the fabric of American society. In adolescence, the development of an individual’s body influences their sense of self. With the growing prevalence of social media usage young adults are being introduced to a barrage of images celebrating westernized ideals of beauty. Currently, three out of every four young adults ages 18-24, use at least one social media platform (Perrin & Anderson, 2019). Recently, …

Para-Romantic Love And Para-Friendships: Development And Assessment Of A Multiple-Parasocial Relationships Scale , Riva Tukachinsky Chapman University

Para-Romantic Love And Para-Friendships: Development And Assessment Of A Multiple-Parasocial Relationships Scale , Riva Tukachinsky

Communication faculty articles and research.

Parasocial-relationships (PSR) are viewers' imaginary relationships with media personae. Despite the growing body of research on PSR, the field is still lacking a clear conceptualization and precise measure of this phenomenon. The present study suggests a novel theorization of PSR as para-friendship and para-love. Study 1 demonstrates construct validity of a new Multiple-PSR scale using the logic of a multi-trait multi-method approach. Study 2 replicates the factorial solution using confirmatory factor analysis. Finally, Study 3 provides evidence for the criterion validity of the scales. Together, these findings suggest that PSR encompass several types of relationships that might mediate different media …

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6,310 full-text articles. Page 1 of 262 .

Negative Work-To-Family Spillover Stress And Heightened Cardiovascular Risk Biomarkers In Midlife And Older Adults , Andree HARTANTO, K.T.A.Sandeeshwara KASTURIRATNA, Meilan HU, Shu Fen DIONG, Verity Y. Q. LUA 2024 Singapore Management University

Negative Work-To-Family Spillover Stress And Heightened Cardiovascular Risk Biomarkers In Midlife And Older Adults , Andree Hartanto, K.T.A.Sandeeshwara Kasturiratna, Meilan Hu, Shu Fen Diong, Verity Y. Q. Lua

Research collection school of social sciences.

Objectives: The current study aimed to investigate the health implications of negative work-to-family spillover on cardiovascular risk biomarkers. Methods: In a large-scale cross-sectional dataset of working or self-employed midlife and older adults in the United States (N = 1179), we examined five biomarkers linked to cardiovascular risk, including high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglyceride, interleukin-6, and C-reactive protein. Negative work-to-family spillover, measured using a four-item self-reported questionnaire, was included into our model to study its association with these cardiovascular risk biomarkers. Results: Our findings indicate a significant association between negative work-to-family spillover and cardiovascular risk biomarkers – higher …

Neurobiology And Treatment Of Relationships , Harvey Joanning 2024 University of South Alabama

Neurobiology And Treatment Of Relationships , Harvey Joanning

University faculty and staff publications.

This paper presents a neurobiological theory of how intimate human relationships develop over the life span. It begins with an exploration of affective neuroscience, the study of emotions, and applies these concepts to the stages of relationship development. It goes on to explore the role of neurobiology in parenting, family life, divorce, and death of a spouse. Therapeutic interventions appropriate to each stage of relationship development are also explored. Every attempt is made to make this theory scientifically sound by basing the concepts described on published scientific research. “Hard science” has been differentiated from “clinical lore.” The reader is invited …

Seeing Safety In Red: Expressions Of Interpersonal Gratitude Affects Conservatives’ Political Attitudes In The United States , Kyle M. Anderson 2024 The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Seeing Safety In Red: Expressions Of Interpersonal Gratitude Affects Conservatives’ Political Attitudes In The United States , Kyle M. Anderson

Dissertations, theses, and capstone projects.

The current research focuses on how the expression of interpersonal gratitude might affect conservative attitudes, behaviors, and policy support in the United States. This was investigated either through expressions of gratitude or receiving gratitude to an interpersonally close other, as in Studies 1 and 2, or expressing gratitude to an authority figure or equal in one’s life, as in Study 3. Study 1 showed that expressing gratitude, relative to receiving gratitude, reduced support for general conservative ideology. Using serial mediation analyses, Study 2 demonstrated that expressions of gratitude, relative to receiving gratitude, directly reduced perceptions of relational uncertainty, which increased …

A Pearl Ravaged: The Paradox Of Haiti And Its Socioeconomic Origins , Isabel Ishibe Exel 2024 The Graduate Center, City University of New York

A Pearl Ravaged: The Paradox Of Haiti And Its Socioeconomic Origins , Isabel Ishibe Exel

Saint-Domingue was once the most profitable colony of the Caribbean, the so-called pearl of the Antilles. Nowadays, Haiti is known for being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, a dramatic shift that raises the question of the factors contributing to Haiti's current state, marked by persistent violence, natural disasters, and political instability. Various discourses have framed Haiti as a country doomed for failure. However, relying on binary concepts such as success and failure is counterproductive to a refined analysis. How, then, should we structure this conversation? My ultimate goal for this work is to provide a nuanced analysis of …

An Exploratory Approach To College Student Counterproductivity , Reagan L. Marsh, Justin Travis 2024 University of South Carolina - Upstate

An Exploratory Approach To College Student Counterproductivity , Reagan L. Marsh, Justin Travis

University of south carolina upstate student research journal.

Although counterproductivity (e.g., shirking responsibilities or lying to supervisors) is a focal topic for many industrial/organizational psychologists, the broader social psychology literature has historically focused on more serious and uncommon forms of individual-level deviance, often in terms of its relation to criminal activity or psychopathology. Additionally, sociologists study intentional harmful behaviors that individuals engage in but use the term deviance in lieu of counterproductivity. Regarding students, there has been some work that addresses the more common phenomenon of counterproductivity at school, such as lying to teachers and cheating on tests. Nevertheless, each of these domains, in criminal justice, social psychology, …

Do Professor Characteristics Influence College Students' Mental Health Disclosure? , Giselle Solorio, Kenneth Barideaux Jr. 2024 University of South Carolina Upstate

Do Professor Characteristics Influence College Students' Mental Health Disclosure? , Giselle Solorio, Kenneth Barideaux Jr.

Previous studies have provided some evidence that college students may hesitate to disclose their mental health status because of social stigma; however, more research is needed to identify and understand the factors that influence students’ willingness to disclose. For example, it is unclear how professor characteristics impact the likelihood of disclosure. In the current study we examined whether the gender of the professor (male vs. female) and the professor’s teaching discipline (STEM vs. humanities) affected students' likelihood to disclose a mental health problem. Participants read a fictitious syllabus where the professor was either male or female and taught a chemistry …

Moderating Effect Of Music Activity On The Relationship Between Religious Struggles And Social Anxiety , Benjamin Joseph Phelps 2024 Walden University

Moderating Effect Of Music Activity On The Relationship Between Religious Struggles And Social Anxiety , Benjamin Joseph Phelps

Walden dissertations and doctoral studies.

Sense Of Belonging Of Underrepresented Students: Role Of Faculty Inclusiveness And Online Versus Campus Learning , Elisavet Chaoua Intoumpor 2024 Walden University

Sense Of Belonging Of Underrepresented Students: Role Of Faculty Inclusiveness And Online Versus Campus Learning , Elisavet Chaoua Intoumpor

Game Addiction, Imposter Phenomenon And Social Adjustment Among Young Adults In India , Jessy Fenn 2024 Rajagiri College of Social Sciences

Game Addiction, Imposter Phenomenon And Social Adjustment Among Young Adults In India , Jessy Fenn

Makara human behavior studies in asia.

During the pandemic, the explosive growth of online gaming made it a social lifeline for many youths stuck at home, turning some of them into game addicts. Online gaming not only led to connections with other youth but also opened the gates to fantasy worlds filled with adventures and missions that could be accomplished with quick thinking and quick fingers. The success there could lead to further addiction and inversely affect their real-world social life. Could the gap between their online world success and their social adjustment in real world manifest as feelings of being an imposter? The aim of …

Lifespace Patterns Of College Students High And Low In Personal Intelligence , John D. Mayer 2024 University of New Hampshire, Durham

Lifespace Patterns Of College Students High And Low In Personal Intelligence , John D. Mayer

Unh personality lab.

Personal intelligence (PI) refers to the capacity to accurately reason about personality in oneself and other people. We hypothesize that people who are higher in personal intelligence differ from others in their relationships and behaviors. We conducted a series of theoretically-guided studies to examine how PI is associated with a person’s self-reported activities, interactions, situations, and group memberships: their lifespace . In two archival and three new studies of college students ( Ns = 385, 358, 1186, 416, 696, respectively) we first identified 15 short, factor-based scales describing aspects of college students’ lifespace that are potentially relevant to personal intelligence. …

Tools To Persevere Towards A Challenging Goal: Lessons Learned About Grit Along The Way Of St. James , Ana Rita Nunes, Tânia Moreira, Armanda Pereira, Cleia Zanatta, Luísa Mota Ribeiro, Pedro Rosário 2024 Universidade do Minho, Research Centre on Psychology, Portugal

Tools To Persevere Towards A Challenging Goal: Lessons Learned About Grit Along The Way Of St. James , Ana Rita Nunes, Tânia Moreira, Armanda Pereira, Cleia Zanatta, Luísa Mota Ribeiro, Pedro Rosário

International journal of religious tourism and pilgrimage.

Understanding the factors contributing to increased perseverance and passion toward long-term goals is an ongoing research challenge. The present study explores the inner drive of individuals to achieve meaningful goals over time, despite setbacks and challenges. The scenario chosen to uncover grit processes was the Way of St. James, a long pilgrimage demanding participants’ perseverance and passion for achieving their goals, despite hardship. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with thirty-one individuals completing the Way of St. James. Thematic analysis indicated three key themes contributing to improve the participants’ perseverance along the walk: behavioural tools (e.g., setting behavioural and time management goals), …

Relationship Of Child Maltreatment, Self-Esteem, Trait Emotional Intelligence, And Trust In Romantic Relationships , Philip Thorsen 2024 Walden University

Relationship Of Child Maltreatment, Self-Esteem, Trait Emotional Intelligence, And Trust In Romantic Relationships , Philip Thorsen

فعالية برنامج إرشادي قائم على مهارات العقل والجسم في تحسين مستوى الأمل لدى مريضات سرطان الثدي بمحافظة غزة , Diba M. Zain 2024 Al-Aqsa University-Palestine

فعالية برنامج إرشادي قائم على مهارات العقل والجسم في تحسين مستوى الأمل لدى مريضات سرطان الثدي بمحافظة غزة , Diba M. Zain

Journal of the association of arab universities for research in higher education (مجلة اتحاد الجامعات العربية (للبحوث في التعليم العالي.

هدف المقال إلى معرفة مدى فعالية برنامج إرشادي باستخدام مهارات العقل والجسم، لتحسين مستوى الأمل لدى مريضات سرطان الثدي، واستخدمت الدراسة المنهج شبه التجريبي، وتكونت عينة الدراسة من (20) امرأة مصابة بسرطان الثدي، اللاتي يخضعن للعلاج في مستشفى الصداقة التركي بمدينة غزة، حيث تم تقسيم عينة الدراسة إلى مجموعتين متساويتين: مجموعة تجريبية، ومجموعة ضابطة. وقد استخدمت الباحثة مقياس الأمل إعداد سنايدر، وبرنامج لتحسين مستوى الأمل إعداد الباحثة، وقد أظهرت نتائج الدراسة وجود فروق دالة إحصائيًا عند مستوى دلالة (a=0.05) بين متوسطات درجات المجموعة التجريبية ونفسها في التطبيقين القبلي والبعدي على مقياس الأمل لصالح التطبيق البعدي، ووجود أثر كبير للبرنامج في …

A Causal Discovery Exploration Of Determinants Of Social Isolation , Barry NUQOBA, Kenneth CHOO, Yi Wen TAN, William TOV 2024 Singapore Management University

A Causal Discovery Exploration Of Determinants Of Social Isolation , Barry Nuqoba, Kenneth Choo, Yi Wen Tan, William Tov

Rosa research briefs.

In this report, we explore the potential causes of social isolation among older adults in Singapore using causal discovery. We found an inferred causal relationship between perceived helpfulness and social isolation, where older adults who perceived themselves as helpful were less likely to perceive themselves as socially isolated. Our study also found that perceived isolation and loneliness may be distinct concepts among older adults in Singapore, with loneliness being more likely to precede social isolation. Policy recommendations include promoting a sense of helpfulness through programs such as volunteering to reduce social isolation.

The Lived Experience Of The Covid-19 Pandemic Among Mandate-Resistant Adults In Washington State , Amber N. Peterson 2024 Antioch University Seattle

The Lived Experience Of The Covid-19 Pandemic Among Mandate-Resistant Adults In Washington State , Amber N. Peterson

Antioch university full-text dissertations & theses.

This study examined the lived experience of self-identified, mandate-resistant adults in Washington state. This study explored participants’ experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, from a retrospective framework by uncovering challenges, silver linings, decision-making, and self-reported mental health. Remote interviews were conducted with nine participants. Participants were between 23–31 years old, mostly male, and over half identified as Black. Through semi structured interviews, data was collected and analyzed using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Participants described their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted significant changes in the way they lived their lives. Most notably, participants described ways in which they defied COVID-19 …

Subjective Socioeconomic Status Moderates How Resting Heart Rate Variability Predicts Pain Response , Jacinth Jia Xin TAN, Chin Hong TAN, Michael W. KRAUS 2024 Singapore Management University

Subjective Socioeconomic Status Moderates How Resting Heart Rate Variability Predicts Pain Response , Jacinth Jia Xin Tan, Chin Hong Tan, Michael W. Kraus

Higher resting heart rate variability (HRV)—an index of more flexible response to environmental stressors, including noxious stimuli—has been linked to reduced perception of experimentally induced pain. However, as stress responses are adapted to one’s chronic environments, we propose that chronic exposure to threats captured by one’s subjective socioeconomic status (SSS) may shape different adaptations that produce distinct pain responses linked to higher resting HRV. Specifically, lower SSS individuals with more threat exposures may prioritize threat detection by upregulating sensitivity to stressors, such as acute pain. Therefore, higher HRV would predict greater perceived acute pain among lower SSS individuals. In contrast, …

Social Gender Norms And Depression In College Students , Derek Deeney 2024 Eastern Illinois University

Social Gender Norms And Depression In College Students , Derek Deeney

Masters theses.

The primary purpose of this quantitative study was to determine if there was a relationship between the conformity to social gender norms (masculine and feminine) and depression among male and female college students at a mid-sized, four-year public institution in the Midwest. A secondary purpose was to investigate if there was a difference in depression between males and females, and if a there was a difference in conformity to social gender norms (masculine and feminine) between males and females. Understanding the trends in social norm conformity and depression can lead to changes in how faculty and staff in higher education …

The Effect Of Mere Presence Of Smartphone On Cognitive Functions: A Four-Level Meta-Analysis , Andree HARTANTO, Verity Y. Q. LUA, K. T. A. Sandeeshwara KASTURIRATNA, Paye Shin KOH, Germaine Y. Q. TNG, Manmeet KAUR, Frosch Y. X. QUEK, Jonathan L. CHIA, Nadyanna M. MAJEED 2024 Singapore Management University

The Effect Of Mere Presence Of Smartphone On Cognitive Functions: A Four-Level Meta-Analysis , Andree Hartanto, Verity Y. Q. Lua, K. T. A. Sandeeshwara Kasturiratna, Paye Shin Koh, Germaine Y. Q. Tng, Manmeet Kaur, Frosch Y. X. Quek, Jonathan L. Chia, Nadyanna M. Majeed

As smartphones have become portable and immersive devices that afford social, informational, and recreational conveniences unbounded by physical restrictions, most daily activities have become closely intertwined with the presence of smartphones. This constant presence of smartphones in daily activities, however, may be concerning as some studies have suggested that smartphones—even their mere presence—can be distracting and can impair cognitive outcomes. However, such findings have not been consistently observed. To reconcile mixed findings, the current meta-analysis synthesized 166 effect sizes drawn from 53 samples and 33 studies including 4,368 participants on the effect of mere presence of smartphone on cognitive functions. …

Fantasia On A Theme Of Purpose: Using A Music-Guided Scribble Technique To Support Meaning-Making In Older Adult Retiree Musicians , Sophia R. Smith 2024 Dominican University of California

Fantasia On A Theme Of Purpose: Using A Music-Guided Scribble Technique To Support Meaning-Making In Older Adult Retiree Musicians , Sophia R. Smith

Art therapy | master's theses.

Within the population of older adults, overall well-being corresponds with the ability to self-actualize and seek meaning, but age-related changes combined with ageism and isolation can negatively impact this capacity to maintain a sense of purpose, especially following retirement. It may be that retired musicians are especially vulnerable to this experience later in life due to a loss of the primary method of creative engagement and community that is facilitated by musical performance in a group setting. Integrating phenomenological and ethnographic approaches, this study utilized a qualitative design to understand how music-guided art-making incorporating the scribble technique could support a …

Emotional Intelligence And Self-Perceptions Of Counseling Competency In Counselors In Training , Ariel K. Hernandez, Walter Frazier, Rebecca Cowan 2023 Walden University

Emotional Intelligence And Self-Perceptions Of Counseling Competency In Counselors In Training , Ariel K. Hernandez, Walter Frazier, Rebecca Cowan

Journal of counselor preparation and supervision.

The purpose of this quantitative study was to assess the relationship between Emotional Intelligence (EI) and counseling competency. Results indicated that CIT status was positively correlated with counseling skills and therapeutic conditions. Results further showed that CITs with higher EI had a higher self-perception of all components of counseling competency.

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International Journal of Interdisciplinary Research

  • Open access
  • Published: 22 November 2014

Dress, body and self: research in the social psychology of dress

  • Kim Johnson 1 ,
  • Sharron J Lennon 2 &
  • Nancy Rudd 3  

Fashion and Textiles volume  1 , Article number:  20 ( 2014 ) Cite this article

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The purpose of this research was to provide a critical review of key research areas within the social psychology of dress. The review addresses published research in two broad areas: (1) dress as a stimulus and its influence on (a) attributions by others, attributions about self, and on one's behavior and (2) relationships between dress, the body, and the self. We identify theoretical approaches used in conducting research in these areas, provide an abbreviated background of research in these areas highlighting key findings, and identify future research directions and possibilities. The subject matter presented features developing topics within the social psychology of dress and is useful for undergraduate students who want an overview of the content area. It is also useful for graduate students (1) who want to learn about the major scholars in these key areas of inquiry who have moved the field forward, or (2) who are looking for ideas for their own thesis or dissertation research. Finally, information in this paper is useful for professors who research or teach the social psychology of dress.


A few social scientists in the 19 th Century studied dress as related to culture, individuals, and social groups, but it was not until the middle of the 20 th Century that home economists began to pursue a scholarly interest in social science aspects of dress (Roach-Higgins 1993 ). Dress is defined as “an assemblage of modifications of the body and/or supplements to the body” (Roach-Higgins & Eicher 1992 , p. 1). Body modifications include cosmetic use, suntanning, piercing, tattooing, dieting, exercising, and cosmetic surgery among others. Body supplements include, but are not limited to, accessories, clothing, hearing aids, and glasses. By the 1950s social science theories from economics, psychology, social psychology, and sociology were being used to study dress and human behavior (Rudd 1991 , p. 24).

A range of topics might be included under the phrase social psychology of dress but we use it to refer to research that attempts to answer questions concerned with how an individual’s dress-related beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, feelings, and behaviors are shaped by others and one’s self. The social psychology of dress is concerned with how an individual’s dress affects the behavior of self as well as the behavior of others toward the self (Johnson & Lennon 2014 ).

Among several topics that could be included in a critical review of research addressing the social psychology of dress, we focused our work on a review of published research in two broad areas: (1) dress as a stimulus and its influence on (a) attributions by others, attributions about self, and on one’s own behavior and (2) relationships between dress, the body, and the self. Our goal was to identify theoretical approaches used in conducting research in these areas, provide an abbreviated background of research in these areas highlighting key findings, and to identify future research directions and possibilities. The content presented features developing topics within the social psychology of dress and is useful for undergraduate students who want an overview of the content area. It is also useful for graduate students (1) who want to learn about the major scholars in these key areas of inquiry who have moved the field forward, or (2) who are looking for ideas for their own thesis or dissertation research. Finally, information in this paper is useful for professors who research or teach the social psychology of dress.

Body supplements as stimulus variables

In studying the social psychology of dress, researchers have often focused on dress as a stimulus variable; for example, the effects of dress on impression formation, attributions, and social perception (see Lennon & Davis 1989 ) or the effects of dress on behaviors (see Johnson et al. 2008 ). The context within which dress is perceived (Damhorst 1984-85 ) as well as characteristics of perceivers of clothed individuals (Burns & Lennon 1993 ) also has a profound effect on what is perceived about others. In the remainder of this section we focus on three research streams that center on dress (i.e., body supplements) as stimuli.

Provocative dress as stimuli

In the 1980s researchers were interested in women’s provocative (revealing, sexy) dress and the extent to which men and women attributed the same meaning to it. For example, both Edmonds and Cahoon ( 1986 ) and Cahoon and Edmonds ( 1987 ) found ratings of women who wore provocative dress were more negative than ratings of women who wore non-provocative dress. No specific theory was identified by these authors as guiding their research. Overall, when wearing provocative dress a model was rated more sexually appealing, more attractive, less faithful in marriage, more likely to engage in sexual teasing, more likely to use sex for personal gain, more likely to be sexually experienced, and more likely to be raped than when wearing conservative dress. Cahoon and Edmonds found that men and women made similar judgments, although men’s were more extreme than women’s. Abbey et al. ( 1987 ) studied whether women’s sexual intent and interest as conveyed by revealing dress was misinterpreted by men. The authors developed two dress conditions: revealing (slit skirt, low cut blouse, high heeled shoes) and non-revealing (skirt without a slit, blouse buttoned to neck, boots). Participants rated the stimulus person on a series of adjective traits. As compared to when wearing the non-revealing clothing, when wearing the revealing clothing the stimulus person was rated significantly more flirtatious, sexy, seductive, promiscuous, sophisticated, assertive, and less sincere and considerate. This research was not guided by theory.

Taking this research another step forward, in the 1990s dress researchers began to investigate how women’s provocative (revealing, sexy) dress was implicated in attributions of responsibility for their own sexual assaults (Lewis & Johnson 1989 ; Workman & Freeburg 1999 ; Workman & Orr 1996 ) and sexual harassment (Johnson & Workman 1992 , 1994 ; Workman & Johnson 1991 ). These researchers tended to use attribution theories (McLeod, 2010 ) to guide their research. Their results showed that provocative, skimpy, see-through, or short items of dress, as well as use of heavy makeup (body modification), were cues used to assign responsibility to women for their sexual assaults and experiences of sexual harassment. For example, Johnson and Workman ( 1992 ) studied likelihood of sexual harassment as a function of women’s provocative dress. A model was photographed wearing a dark suit jacket, above-the-knee skirt, a low-cut blouse, dark hose, and high heels (provocative condition) or wearing a dark suit jacket, below-the-knee skirt, high-cut blouse, neutral hose, and moderate heels (non-provocative condition). As compared to when wearing non-provocative dress, when wearing provocative dress the model was rated as significantly more likely to provoke sexual harassment and to be sexually harassed.

Recently, researchers have resurrected the topic of provocative (revealing, sexy) dress. However, their interest is in determining the extent to which women and girls are depicted in provocative dress in the media (in magazines, in online retail stores) and the potential consequences of those depictions, such as objectification. These researchers have often used objectification theory to guide their research. According to objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts 1997 ) women living in sexually saturated cultures are looked at, evaluated, and potentially objectified and treated as objects valued for their use by others. Objectification theory focuses on sexual objectification as a function of objectifying gaze, which is experienced in actual social encounters, media depictions of social encounters, and media depictions that focus on bodies and body parts. The theory explains that objectifying gaze evokes an objectified state of consciousness which influences self-perceptions. This objectified state of consciousness has consequences such as habitual body and appearance monitoring and requires cognitive effort that can result in difficulty with task performance (Szymanski et al. 2011 ). In such an environment, women may perceive their bodies from a third-person perspective, treating themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated.

Self-objectification occurs when people perceive and describe their bodies as a function of appearance instead of accomplishments (Harrison & Fredrickson 2003 ). Experimental research shows that self-objectification in women can be induced by revealing clothing manipulations such as asking women to try on and evaluate the fit of a swimsuit as compared to a bulky sweater (Fredrickson et al. 1998 ).

To examine changes in sexualizing (provocative) characteristics with which girls are portrayed in the media, researchers have content analyzed girls’ clothing in two magazines (Graff et al. 2013 ). Clothing was coded as having sexualizing characteristics (e.g., tightness, bare midriffs, high-heeled shoes) and childlike characteristics (e.g., frills, childlike print, pigtail hair styles). The researchers found an increase in sexualized aspects of dress in depictions of girls from 1971 through 2011. To determine the extent of sexualization in girls’ clothing, researchers have content analyzed girls’ clothing available on 15 retailer websites (Goodin et al. 2011 ). Every girl’s clothing item on each of the retailer websites was coded for sexualizing aspects; 4% was coded as definitely sexualizing. Ambiguously sexualizing clothing (25%) had both sexualizing and childlike characteristics. Abercrombie Kids’ clothing had a higher percentage of sexualizing characteristics than all the other stores (44% versus 4%). These two studies document that girls are increasingly depicted in sexualizing clothing in U.S. media and that they are offered sexualized clothing by major retailers via their websites.

Since girls are increasingly sexualized, to determine if sexualized dress affects how girls are perceived by others Graff et al. ( 2012 ) designed an experiment wherein they manipulated the sexualizing aspects of the clothing of a 5 th grade girl. There were three clothing conditions: childlike (a grey t-shirt, jeans, and black Mary Jane shoes), ambiguously sexualized (leopard print dress of moderate length), highly sexualized (short dress, leopard print cardigan, purse). In the definitely sexualized condition, undergraduate students rated the girl as less moral, self-respecting, capable, determined, competent, and intelligent than when she was depicted in either the childlike or the ambiguously sexualized conditions. Thus, wearing sexualized clothing can affect how girls are perceived by others, so it is possible that sexualized clothing could lead to self-objectification in girls just as in the case of women (Tiggemann & Andrew 2012 ).

Objectification theory has been useful in identifying probable processes underlying the association between women’s provocative dress and negative inferences. In a study using adult stimuli, Gurung and Chrouser ( 2007 ) presented photos of female Olympic athletes in uniform and in provocative (defined as minimal) dress. College women rated the photos and when provocatively dressed, as compared to the uniform condition, the women were rated as more attractive, more feminine, more sexually experienced, more desirable, but also less capable, less strong, less determined, less intelligent, and as having less self-respect. These results are similar to what had previously been found by researchers in the 1980s (Abbey et al. 1987 ; Cahoon & Edmonds 1987 ; Edmonds & Cahoon 1986 ). This outcome is considered objectifying because the overall impression is negative and sexist. Thus, this line of research does more than demonstrate that provocative dress evokes inferences, it suggests the process by which that occurs: provocative dress leads to objectification of the woman so dressed and it is the objectification that leads to the inferences.

In a more direct assessment of the relationship between provocative dress and objectification of others, Holland and Haslam ( 2013 ) manipulated the dress (provocative or plain clothing) of two models (thin or overweight) who were rated equally attractive in facial attractiveness. Since objectification involves inspecting the body, the authors measured participants’ attention to the models’ bodies. Objectification also involves denying human qualities to the objectified person. Two such qualities are perceived agency (e.g., ability to think and form intentions) and moral agency (e.g., capacity to engage in moral or immoral actions). Several findings are relevant to the research on provocative dress. As compared to models wearing plain clothing, models wearing provocative clothing were attributed less perceived agency (e.g., ability to reason, ability to choose) and less moral agency [e.g., “how intentional do you believe the woman’s behavior is?” (p. 463)]. Results showed that more objectified gaze was directed toward the bodies of the models when they were dressed in provocative clothing as compared to when dressed in plain clothing. This outcome is considered objectifying because the models’ bodies were inspected more when wearing provocative dress, and because in that condition they were perceived as having less of the qualities normally attributed to humans.

In an experimental study guided by objectification theory, Tiggemann and Andrew ( 2012 ) studied the effects of clothing on self-perceptions of state self-objectification, state body shame, state body dissatisfaction, and negative mood. However, unlike studies (e.g., Fredrickson et al. 1998 ) in which participants were asked to try on and evaluate either a bathing suit or a sweater, Tiggemann and Andrew instructed their participants to “imagine what you would be seeing, feeling, and thinking” (p. 648) in scenarios. There were four scenarios: thinking about wearing a bathing suit in public, thinking about wearing a bathing suit in a dressing room, thinking about wearing a sweater in public, and thinking about wearing a sweater in a dressing room. The researchers found main effects for clothing such that as compared to thinking about wearing a sweater, thinking about wearing a bathing suit resulted in higher state self-objectification, higher state body shame, higher state body dissatisfaction, and greater negative mood. The fact that the manipulation only involved thinking about wearing clothing, rather than actually wearing such clothing, demonstrates the power of revealing (provocative, sexy) dress in that we only have to think about wearing it to have it affect our self-perceptions.

Taking extant research into account we encourage researchers to continue to investigate the topic of provocative (sexy, revealing) dress for both men and women to replicate the results for women and to determine if revealing dress for men might evoke the kinds of inferences evoked by women wearing revealing dress. Furthermore, research that delineates the role of objectification in the process by which this association between dress and inferences occurs would be useful. Although it would not be ethical to use the experimental strategy used by previous researchers (Fredrickson et al. 1998 ) with children, it is possible that researchers could devise correlational studies to investigate the extent to which wearing and/or viewing sexualized clothing might lead to self- and other-objectification in girls.

Research on red dress

Researchers who study the social psychology of dress have seldom focused on dress color. However, in the 1980s and 1990s a few researchers investigated color in the context of retail color analysis systems that focused on personal coloring (Abramov 1985 ; Francis & Evans 1987 ; Hilliker & Rogers 1988 ; Radeloff 1991 ). For example, Francis and Evans found that stimulus persons were actually perceived positively when not wearing their recommended personal colors. Hilliker and Rogers surveyed managers of apparel stores about the use of color analysis systems and found some impact on the marketplace, but disagreement among the managers on the value of the systems. Abramov critiqued color analysis for being unclear, ambiguous, and for the inability to substantiate claims. Most of these studies were not guided by a psychological theory of color.

Since the 1990s, researchers have developed a theory of color psychology (Elliot & Maier 2007 ) called color-in-context theory. Like other variables that affect social perception, the theory explains that color also conveys meaning which varies as a function of the context in which the color is perceived. Accordingly, the meanings of colors are learned over time through repeated pairings with a particular experience or message (e.g., red stop light and danger) or with biological tendencies to respond to color in certain contexts. For example, female non-human primates display red on parts of their bodies when nearing ovulation; hence red is associated with lust, fertility, and sexuality (Guéguen and Jacob 2013 ). As a function of these associations between colors and experiences, messages, or biological tendencies, people either display approach responses or avoidance responses but are largely unaware of how color affects them. In this section we review studies that examine the effects of red in relational contexts such as interpersonal attraction. However, there is evidence that red is detrimental in achievement (i.e., academic or hiring) contexts (e.g., Maier et al. 2013 ) and that red signals dominance and affects outcomes in competitive sporting contests (e.g., Feltman and Elliot 2011 ; Hagemann et al. 2008 ).

Recently researchers have used color-in-context theory to study the effects of red dress (shirts, dresses) on impressions related to sexual intent, attractiveness, dominance, and competence. Some of these studies were guided by color-in-context theory. Guéguen ( 2012 ) studied men’s perceptions of women’s sexual intent and attractiveness as a function of shirt color. Male participants viewed a photo of a woman wearing a t-shirt that varied in color. When wearing a red t-shirt as compared to the other colors, the woman was judged to be more attractive and to have greater sexual intent. Pazda et al. ( 2014a , [ b ]) conducted an experiment designed to determine why men perceive women who wear red to be more attractive than those who wear other colors. They argued that red is associated with sexual receptivity due to cultural pairings of red and female sexuality (e.g., red light district, sexy red lingerie). Men participated in an online experiment in which they were exposed to a woman wearing either a red, black, or white dress. When wearing the red dress the woman was rated as more sexually receptive than when wearing either the white or the black dresses. The woman was also rated on attractiveness and by performing a mediation analysis the researchers determined that when wearing the red dress, the ratings of her attractiveness as a function of red were no longer significant; in other words, the reason she was rated as more attractive when wearing the red dress was due to the fact that she was also perceived as more sexually receptive.

Pazda et al. ( 2014a , [ b ]), interested in women’s perceptions of other women as a function of their clothing color, conducted a series of experiments. They reasoned that like men, women would also make the connection between a woman’s red dress and her sexual receptivity and perceive her to be a sexual competitor. In their first experiment they found that women rated the stimulus woman as more sexually receptive when wearing a red dress as compared to when she was wearing a white dress. In a second experiment the woman wearing a red dress was not only rated more sexually receptive, she was also derogated more since ratings of her sexual fidelity were lower when wearing a red dress as compared to a white dress. Finally, in a third experiment the stimulus woman was again rated more sexually receptive; this time when she wore a red shirt as compared to when she wore a green shirt. The authors assessed the likelihood that their respondents would introduce the stimulus person to their boyfriends and the likelihood that they would let their boyfriends spend time with the stimulus person. Participants in the red shirt condition were more likely to keep their boyfriends from interacting with the stimulus person than participants in the green shirt condition. Thus, both men and women indicated women wearing red are sexually receptive.

Also interested in color, Roberts et al. ( 2010 ) were interested in determining whether clothing color affects the wearer of the clothing (e.g., do women act provocatively when wearing red clothing?) or does clothing color affect the perceiver of the person wearing the colored clothing. To answer this question, they devised a complicated series of experiments. In the first study, male and female models (ten of each) were photographed wearing each of six different colors of t-shirts. Undergraduates of the opposite sex rated the photographed models on attractiveness. Both male and female models were rated most attractive when wearing red and black t-shirts. In study two the same photos were used, but the t-shirts were masked by a gray rectangle. Compared to when they wore white t-shirts, male models were judged to be more attractive by both men and women when they wore the red t-shirts, even though the red color was not visible. In the third study the t-shirt colors in the photos were digitally altered, so that images could be compared in which red or white t-shirts were worn with those in which red had been altered to white and white had been altered to red. Male models wearing red were rated more attractive than male models wearing white that had been altered to appear red. Also male models wearing red shirts digitally altered to appear white were rated more attractive than male models actually photographed in white. These effects did not occur for female models. The authors reasoned that if clothing color only affected perceivers, then the results should be the same when a model is photographed in red as well as when the model is photographed in white which is subsequently altered to appear red. Since this did not happen, the authors concluded that clothing color affects both the wearer and the perceiver.

In addition, the effects of red dress on impressions also extend to behaviors. Kayser et al. ( 2010 ) conducted a series of experiments. For experiment one, a female stimulus person was photographed in either a red t-shirt or a green one. Male participants were shown a photo of the woman and given a list of questions from which to choose five to ask her. Because women wearing red are perceived to be more sexually receptive and to have greater sexual intent than when wearing other colors, the researchers expected the men who saw the woman in the red dress to select intimate questions to ask and this is what they found. In a second experiment, the female stimulus person wore either a red or a blue t-shirt. After seeing her picture the male participants were told that they would be interacting with her, where she would be sitting, and that they could place their chairs wherever they wished to sit. The men expecting to interact with the red-shirted woman placed their chairs significantly closer to her chair than when they expected to interact with a blue-shirted woman.

In a field experiment (Guéguen 2012 ), five female confederates wore t-shirts of red or other colors and stood by the side of a road to hitchhike. The t-shirt color did not affect women drivers, but significantly more men stopped to pick up the female confederates when they wore the red t-shirts as compared to all the other colors. In a similar study researchers (Guéguen & Jacob 2013 ) altered the color of a woman’s clothing on an online meeting site so that the woman was shown wearing red or several other colors. The women received significantly more contacts when her clothing had been altered to be red than any of the other t-shirt colors.

Researchers should continue conducting research about the color of dress items using color-in-context theory. One context important to consider in this research stream is the cultural context within which the research is conducted. To begin, other colors in addition to red should be studied for their meanings within and across cultural contexts. Since red is associated with sexual receptivity, red clothing should be investigated in the context of the research on provocative dress. For example, would women wearing red revealing dress be judged more provocative than women wearing the same clothing in different colors? Also researchers interested in girls’ and women’s depictions in the media, could investigate the effects of red dress on perceptions of sexual intent and objectification.

Effects of dress on the behavior of the wearer

Several researchers studying the social psychology of dress have reviewed the research literature (Davis 1984 ; Lennon and Davis 1989 ) and some have analyzed that research (see Damhorst 1990 ; Hutton 1984 ; Johnson et al. 2008 for reviews). In these reviews, Damhorst and Hutton focused on the effect of dress on person perception or impression formation. Johnson et al., however, focused their analysis on behaviors evoked by dress. An emerging line of research focuses on the effects of dress on the behavior of the wearer (Adam and Galinsky 2012 ; Frank and Galinsky 1988 ; Fredrickson et al. 1998 ; Gino et al. 2010 ; Hebl et al. 2004 ; Kouchaki et al. 2014 ; Martins et al. 2007 ).

Fredrickson et al. ( 1998 ), Hebl et al. ( 2004 ), and Martins et al. ( 2007 ) all used objectification theory to guide experiments about women’s and men’s body image experience. They were interested in the extent to which wearing revealing dress could trigger self-objectification. The theory predicts that self-objectification manifests in performance detriments on a task subsequent to a self-objectifying experience. Frederickson et al. had participants complete a shopping task. They entered a dressing room, tried on either a one piece swimsuit or a bulky sweater, and evaluated the fit in a mirror as they would if buying the garment. Then they completed a math performance test. The women who wore a swimsuit performed more poorly on the math test than women wearing a sweater; no such effects were found for men. A few years later Hebl et al. ( 2004 ) used the same procedure to study ethnic differences in self-objectification. Participants were Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and Asian American undergraduate men and women. Participants completed the same shopping task and math test. Participants who tried on the swimsuits performed worse on the math test than participants who tried on the sweater and these results held for both men and women of all ethnicities.

Martins et al. ( 2007 ) used the same shopping task as Frederickson et al. ( 1998 ) and Hebl et al. ( 2004 ), but employed a different behavioral measure. Their participants were gay and heterosexual men and the garment they tried on was either Speedo men’s briefs or a turtleneck sweater. After the shopping task the men were given the opportunity to sample and evaluate a snack and the amount eaten was measured. Wearing the Speedo affected eating for the gay men, but not the heterosexual men, such that gay men in the Speedo condition ate significantly less of the snack than gay men in the sweater condition. Taken together these studies demonstrate that a nominal clothing manipulation can have effects on the behavior of the wearer.

In one of the first studies to demonstrate the effects of clothing on the wearer, Frank and Gilovich ( 1988 ) noted that the color black is associated with evil and death in many cultures. They studied the extent to which players wearing black uniforms were judged more evil and aggressive than players wearing uniforms of other colors. They analyzed penalties awarded for aggressive behavior in football and ice hockey players. Players who wore black uniforms received more penalties for their aggressive behavior than those who wore other uniform colors. Since the penalty results could be due to biased refereeing, the authors videotaped a staged football game in which the defensive team wore either black or white uniforms. The same events were depicted in each version of the videotape. Participants watched short videos and rated the plays as more aggressive when the team members wore black as compared to white uniforms. In another part of the study, participants were assigned to wear either black or white uniform shirts. While wearing the shirts they were asked the type of games they would like to play; the black-shirted participants selected more aggressive games than the white-shirted participants. The authors interpreted the results of all the studies to mean that players wearing black are aggressive. Yet, when the level of aggressiveness was held constant in the staged football game, referees still perceived black-uniformed players to be more aggressive than white-uniformed players. The authors concluded that the color of the black uniform affects the wearer and the perceiver. This study’s results are similar to those of the researchers studying red dress who found that the color red is associated with a cultural meaning that affects both the wearer and the perceiver of the red dress (Roberts et al. 2010 ).

In a similar way, Adam and Galinsky ( 2012 ) determined that when clothing has symbolic meaning for the wearer, it also affects the wearer’s behavior. The researchers found that a white lab coat was associated with traits related to attentiveness. Then they conducted an experiment in which one group wore a white lab coat described as a painter’s coat and another group wore the same lab coat which was described as a medical doctor’s lab coat. A third group saw, but did not wear, a lab coat described as a medical doctor’s lab coat. Participants then performed an experimental task that required selective attention. The group that wore the coat described as a medical doctor’s lab coat outperformed both of the other two groups.

Gino et al. ( 2010 ) studied the effects of wearing designer sunglasses that were described either as counterfeit or authentic Chloe sunglasses on one’s own behaviors and perceptions of others. Although counterfeits convey status to others, they also mean that the wearers are pretending to be something they are not (i.e., wealthy enough to purchase authentic sunglasses). Participants who thought they were wearing fake sunglasses cheated significantly more on two experimental tasks than those who thought they were wearing authentic sunglasses. In a second experiment, the researchers showed that participants who believed they were wearing counterfeit sunglasses perceived others’ behaviors as more dishonest, less truthful, and more likely to be unethical than those wearing authentic sunglasses. In a third experiment the researchers showed that the effect for wearing counterfeit sunglasses on one’s own behavior was due to the meaning of inauthenticity attributed to the counterfeit sunglasses. Consistent with Adam and Galinsky ( 2012 ) and Frank and Gilovich (1988), in Gino et al. the effect of dress on one’s own behavior was due to the meaning of the dress cue in a context relevant to the meaning of that dress cue. While none of these three studies articulated a specific theory to guide their research, Adams and Galinsky outlined an enclothed cognition framework, which explained that dress affects wearers due to the symbolic meaning of the dress and the physical experience of wearing that dress item.

To summarize the research on the effects of dress on the behavior of the wearer, each of these studies reported research focused on a dress cue associated with cultural meaning. Some of the researchers had to first determine that meaning. The manipulations were designed so that the meaning of the dress cues was salient for the context of the manipulation. For example, in the objectification studies the revealingness of dress was varied in the context of a dressing room mirror where the revealing nature of the cue would be relevant. So to extend the enclothed cognition framework, we suggest that for dress to affect the wearer, the context of the experimental task needs to be such that the meaning of the dress item is salient.

Future researchers may continue to pursue the effects of dress on the wearer. The extended enclothed cognition framework could be applied to school uniforms. A possible research question could be that if school uniforms are associated with powerlessness among schoolchildren, would wearing school uniforms affect the level of effort children expend to solve homework problems or write papers?

It is interesting that previous researchers who examined the effect of school uniforms on various tasks did not ask children what associations uniforms had for them (e.g., Behling 1994 , 1995 ; Behling and Williams 1991 ). This question is clearly an avenue for renewed research in this area. Another situation to which the extended enclothed cognition framework might be investigated is in the context of professional sports. Since wearing a sweatshirt or cap with a professional team’s logo is associated with being a fan of that team, would people wearing those items evaluate that team’s performance higher than people wearing another team’s logos? Would they provide more excuses for their team than fans not wearing the team’s logos? We encourage researchers to continue to investigate the effects of dress on one’s own behaviors utilizing a range of dress cues (e.g., cosmetics, tattoos, and piercings).

Dress and the self

An ongoing area of research within the social psychology of dress is relationships between dress and the self. Although some researchers use the terms identity and self interchangeably, it is our position that they are not the same concepts but are related. We begin our discussion of the self with research on the body.

The physical body and the self

Whereas the first section of our review focused on body supplements (i.e., the clothed body), this section focuses on body modifications or how the body is altered. Within this discussion, the two research directions that we include are (1) body modifications that carry some risk, as opposed to routine modifications that typically do not, and (2) the influence of body talk and social comparison as variables influencing body image.

Body modifications that carry some risk

Societal standards of attractiveness in the Western world often focus on a thin appearance for women and a mesomorphic but muscular appearance for men (Karazia et al. 2013 ). Internalization of societal standards presented through various media outlets is widely recognized as a primary predictor of body dissatisfaction and risky appearance management behaviors including eating pathology among women (Cafri et al. 2005a , [ b ]), muscle enhancement and disordered eating behaviors in men (Tylka 2011 ), tattooing among young adults (Mun et al. 2012 ), and tanning among adolescents (Prior et al. 2014 ; Yoo & Kim, 2014 ). While there are several other risky appearance management behaviors in the early stages of investigation (e.g., extreme body makeovers, cosmetic procedures on male and female private parts, multiple cosmetic procedures), we isolate just a few behaviors to illustrate the impact of changing standards of attractiveness on widespread appearance management practices in the presentation of self.

Experimental research has demonstrated that exposure to social and cultural norms for appearance (via idealized images) leads to greater dissatisfaction with the body in general for both men and women (Blond 2008 ; Grabe et al. 2008 ); yet a meta-analysis of eight research studies conducted in real life settings suggested that these appearance norms were more rigid, narrowly defined, and prevalent for women than for men (Buote et al. 2011 ). These researchers also noted that women reported frequent exposure to social norms of appearance (i.e., considered bombardment by many women), the norms themselves were unrealistic, yet the nature of the messages was that these norms are perfectly attainable with enough time, money, and effort. Men, on the other hand, indicated that they were exposed to flexible social norms of appearance, and therefore report feeling less pressure to attain a particular standard in presenting their appearance to others (Buote et al. 2011 ).

Eating disorders

A recent stream of research related to individuals with eating disorders is concerned with the practice of body checking (i.e., weighing, measuring or otherwise assessing body parts through pinching, sucking in the abdomen, tapping it for flatness). Such checking behaviors may morph into body avoidance (i.e., avoiding looking in mirrors or windows at one’s reflection, avoiding gym locker rooms or situations involving showing the body to others) (White & Warren 2011 ), the manifestation of eating disorders (Haase et al. 2011 ), obsession with one’s weight or body shape, and a critical evaluation of either aspect (Smeets et al. 2011 ). The propensity to engage in body checking appears to be tied to ethnicity as White and Warren found, in their comparison of Caucasian women and women of color (Asian American, African American, and Latin American). They found significant differences in body checking and avoidance behaviors in Caucasian women and Asian American women over African American and Latin American women. Across all the women, White and Warren found positive and significant correlations between body checking and (1) avoidance behaviors and higher body mass index, (2) internalization of a thin ideal appearance, (3) eating disturbances, and (4) other clinical impairments such as debilitating negative thoughts.

Another characteristic of individuals with eating disorders is that they habitually weigh themselves. Self-weighing behaviors and their connection to body modification has been the focus of several researchers. Research teams have documented that self-weighing led to weight loss maintenance (Butryn et al. 2007 ) and prevention of weight gain (Levitsky et al. 2006 ). Other researchers found that self-weighing contributed to risky weight control behaviors such as fasting (Neumark-Sztainer et al. 2006 ) and even to weight gain (Needham et al. 2010 ). Lately, gender differences have also been investigated relative to self-weighing. Klos et al. ( 2012 ) found self-weighing was related to a strong investment in appearance, preoccupation with body shape, and higher weight among women. However, among men self-weighing was related to body satisfaction, investment in health and fitness, and positive evaluation of health.

One interesting departure from weight as a generalized aspect of body concern among women is the examination of wedding-related weight change. Considering the enormous cost of weddings, estimated to average $20,000 in the United States (Wong 2005 ), and the number of wedding magazines, websites, and self-help books on weddings (Villepigue et al. 2005 ), it is not surprising that many brides-to-be want to lose weight for their special occasion. Researchers have shown that an average amount of intended weight loss prior to a wedding is 20 pounds in both the U.S. and Australia with between 12% and 33% of brides-to-be reporting that they had been advised by someone else to lose weight (Prichard & Tiggemann 2009 ). About 50% of brides hoped to achieve weight loss, yet most brides did not actually experience a change in weight (Prichard & Tiggemann, 2014 ); however, when questioned about six months after their weddings, brides indicated that they had gained about four pounds. Those who were told to lose weight by significant others such as friends, family members, or fiancé gained significantly more than those who were not told to do so, suggesting that wedding-related weight change can have repercussions for post wedding body satisfaction and eating behaviors. Regaining weight is typical, given that many people who lose weight regain it with a year or so of losing it.

Drive for muscularity

Researchers have found that body modifications practiced by men are related more to developing muscularity than to striving for a thin body (Cafri et al. 2005a , [ b ]) with particular emphasis placed on developing the upper body areas of chest and biceps (Thompson & Cafri 2007 ). The means to achieve this body modification may include risky behaviors such as excessive exercise and weight training, extreme dieting and dehydration to emphasize musculature, and use of appearance or performance enhancing substances (Hildebrandt et al. 2010 ).

One possible explanation for men’s drive for muscularity may be objectification. While objectification theory was originally proposed to address women’s objectification, it has been extended to men (Hebl et al. 2004 ; Martins et al. 2007 ). These researchers determined that like women, men are objectified in Western and westernized culture and can be induced to self-objectify via revealing clothing manipulations.

Researchers have also examined how men are affected by media imagery that features buff, well-muscled, thin, attractive male bodies as the aesthetic norm. Kolbe and Albanese ( 1996 ) undertook a content analysis of men’s lifestyle magazines and found that most of the advertised male bodies were not “ordinary,” but were strong and hard bodies, or as the authors concluded, objectified and depersonalized. Pope et al. ( 2000 ) found that advertisements for many types of products from cars to underwear utilized male models with body-builder physiques (i.e., exaggerated “6 pack” abdominal muscles, huge chests and shoulders, yet lean); they suggested that men had become focused on muscularity as a cultural symbol of masculinity because they perceived that women were usurping some of their social standing in the workforce. Hellmich ( 2000 ) concurred and suggested that men were overwhelmed with images of half-naked, muscular men and that they too were targets of objectification. Other researchers (e.g., Elliott & Elliott 2005 ; Patterson & England 2000 ) confirmed these findings – that most images in men’s magazines featured mesomorphic, strong, muscular, and hyper-masculine bodies.

How do men respond to such advertising images? Elliott and Elliott ( 2005 ) conducted focus interviews with 40 male college students, ages 18-31, and showed them six different advertisements in lifestyles magazines. They found six distinct types of response, two negative, two neutral, and two positive. Negative responses were (1) homophobic (those who saw the ads as stereotypically homosexual, bordering on pornography), perhaps threatening their own perceived masculinity or (2) gender stereotyping (those who saw the ads as depicting body consciousness or vanity, traits that they considered to be feminine). Neutral responses were (3) legitimizing exploitation as a marketing tool (those who recognized that naked chests or exaggerated body parts were shown and sometimes with no heads, making them less than human, but recognizing that sex sells products), and (4) disassociating oneself from the muscular body ideals shown in the ads (recognizing that the images represented unattainable body types or shapes). Positive responses were (5) admiration of real or attainable “average” male bodies and (6) appreciating some naked advertising images as art, rather than as sexual objects. The researchers concluded that men do see their gender objectified in advertising, resulting in different responses or perceived threats to self.

There is evidence that experiencing these objectified images of the male body is also partially responsible for muscle dysmorphia, a condition in which men become obsessed with achieving muscularity (Leit et al. 2002 ). Understanding contributors to the development of muscle dysmorphia is important as the condition can lead to risky appearance management behaviors such as extreme body-building, eating disorders, and use of anabolic steroids to gain bulk (Bradley et al. 2014 ; Maida & Armstrong 2005 ). In an experiment, Maida and Armstrong exposed 82 undergraduate men to 30 slides of advertisements and then asked them to complete a body image perception test. Men’s body satisfaction was affected by exposure to the images, such that they wanted to be notably more muscular than they were.

Contemporary researchers have found that drive for muscularity is heightened among men when there is a perceived threat to their masculinity such as performance on some task (Steinfeldt et al. 2011 ) or perceiving that they hold some less masculine traits (Blashill, 2011). Conversely, researchers have also suggested that body dissatisfaction and drive for muscularity can be reduced by developing a mindfulness approach to the body characterized by attention to present-moment experiences such as how one might feel during a certain activity like yoga or riding a bicycle (Lavender et al. 2012 ). While the investigation of mindfulness to mitigate negative body image and negative appearance behaviors is relatively new, it is a promising area of investigation.

Tattooing is not necessarily a risky behavior in and of itself, as most tattoo parlors take health precautions with the use of sterile instruments and clean environments. However, research has focused on other risk-taking behaviors that tattooed individuals may engage in, including drinking, smoking, shoplifting, and drug use (Deschesnes et al. 2006 ) as well as and early and risky sexual activity (Koch, Roberts, Armstrong, & Owen, 2007). Tattoos have also been studied as a bodily expression of uniqueness (Mun et al. 2012 ; Tiggemann & Hopkins 2011 ) but not necessarily reflecting a stronger investment in appearance (Tiggemann & Hopkins 2011 ).

Tanning behaviors are strongly associated with skin cancer, just as smoking is associated with lung cancer. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization has classified ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning devices that emit ultraviolet light as group 1 carcinogens, placing ultraviolet radiation in the same category as tobacco use (World Health Organization, 2012 ). Yet, tanning behaviors are prevalent among many young adults and adolescents causing them to be at increased risk of skin cancer, particularly with indoor tanning devices (Boniol et al. 2012 ; Lostritto et al. 2012 ). Studies of motives for tanning among these populations suggest that greater tanning behavior, for both genders, is correlated with high investment in appearance, media influences, and the influence of friends and significant others (Prior et al. 2014 ). Frequent tanning behaviors in adolescent boys have been related to extreme weight control, substance use, and victimization (Blashill 2013 ). Among young adults, Yoo and Kim ( 2014 ) identified three attitudes toward tanning that were related to tanning behaviors. The attitude that tanning was a pleasurable activity influenced indoor and outdoor tanning behaviors. The attitude that a tan enhances physical attractiveness influenced use of tanning beds and sunless tanning products. The attitude that tanning is a healthy behavior influenced outdoor tanning. They advised that tanning behaviors could be studied further particularly in relation to other risky behaviors.

Body talk and the self

A relatively recent line of investigation concerns the impact of talk about the body on perceptions of self. One would think that communication among friends would typically strengthen feelings of self-esteem and psychological well-being (Knickmeyer et al. 2002 ). Yet, certain types of communication, such as complaining about one’s body or appearance, may negatively impact feelings about the self (Tucker et al. 2007 ), particularly in the case of “fat talk” or disparaging comments about body size, weight, and fear of becoming fat (Ousley et al. 2008 ; Warren et al. 2012 ). Such fat talk has become normative behavior among women and, according to one study, occurs in over 90% of women (Salk & Engeln-Maddox 2011 ) and, according to another study, occurs in women of all ages and body sizes (Martz et al. 2009 ) because women feel pressure to be self-critical about their bodies. More women than men reported exposure to fat talk in their circle of friends and acquaintances and greater pressure to engage in it (Salk & Engeln-Maddox). Thus, fat talk extends body dissatisfaction into interpersonal relationships (Arroyo & Harwood 2012 ).

Sladek et al. ( 2014 ) reported a series of studies that elaborated on the investigation of body talk among men, concluding that men’s body talk has two distinct aspects, one related to weight and the other to muscularity. After developing a scale that showed strong test-retest reliability among college men, they found that body talk about muscularity was associated with dissatisfaction with the upper body, strong drive for muscularity, symptoms of muscle dysmorphia, and investment in appearance. Body talk about weight was associated with upper body dissatisfaction, symptoms of muscle dysmorphia, and disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. They suggest future research in body talk conversations among men and boys of all ages, from different cultural backgrounds, and in different contexts.

Negative body talk among men appears to be less straightforward than that among women (Engeln et al. 2013 ). These researchers reported that men’s body talk included both positive elements and negative elements, while that of women tended to focus on the negative, perhaps reflecting an accepting body culture among men in which they can praise one another as well as commiserate with other men on issues regarding muscularity and weight. Yet, both muscle talk and fat talk were found to decrease state appearance self-esteem and to increase state body dissatisfaction among men.

While the fat talk literature clearly establishes the normative occurrence of this type of communication, as well as establishes the negative impact on the self, the literature has not delved into theoretical explanations for its existence. Arroyo ( 2014 ) has posited a relationship between fat talk and three body image theories (self-discrepancy, social comparison, and objectification), and suggested that degree of body dissatisfaction could serve as a mediating mechanism. Self-discrepancy theory suggests that the discrepancy between one’s actual self and one’s ideal self on any variable, such as weight or attractiveness, motivates people to try to achieve that ideal (Jacobi & Cash 1994 ). Social comparison theory (Festinger 1954 ) explains that we compare ourselves to others on some variable of comparison. When we compare ourselves to others who we believe to be better than ourselves (upward comparison) on this variable (say, for example, thinner or more attractive), we may feel worse about ourselves and engage in both non-risky and risky behaviors such as extreme weight control to try to meet those expectations (Ridolfi et al. 2011 ; Rudd & Lennon 1994 ). Objectification theory, as mentioned earlier in this paper, states that bodies are treated as objects to be evaluated and perceived by others (Szymanski et al. 2011 ); self-objectification occurs when individuals look upon themselves as objects to be evaluated by others.

Arroyo ( 2014 ) surveyed 201 college women to see what effect weight discrepancy, upward comparison, and objectified body consciousness had on fat talk; a mediating variable of body dissatisfaction was investigated. She found that how satisfied or dissatisfied the women did indeed impact how they felt about each variable. Each of the three predictor variables was positively associated with body dissatisfaction and higher body dissatisfaction predicted fat talk. She concluded that fat talk is more insidious than other social behaviors; it is a type of communication that perpetuates negative perceptions among women as well as the attitude that women should be dissatisfied with their bodies. Future research suggestions included examining the impact of downward social comparisons (in which the individual assumes they fare better than peers on the variables of comparison, such as weight), and examining all three phenomena of self-discrepancy, social comparison, and objectification together to determine their cumulative impact on self-disparaging talk.

Negative body talk or fat talk is related to perceptions about the self and to appearance-management behaviors in presenting the self to others. In a sample of 203 young adult women, negative body talk was related to body dissatisfaction and poor self-esteem, and was associated with stronger investment in appearance, distorted thoughts about the body, disordered eating behavior, and depression (Rudiger & Winstead 2013 ). Positive body talk was related to fewer cognitive distortions of the body, high body satisfaction, high self-esteem, and friendship quality. Another form of body talk, co-rumination or the mutual sharing between friends of negative thoughts and feelings, is thought to intensify the impact of body talk. In this same study, co-rumination was related to frequent cognitive distortions of the body as well as disordered eating behaviors, but to high perceived friendship quality. Thus, negative body talk achieved no positive outcomes, yet co-rumination achieved negative outcomes for the self, but positive outcomes for quality of friendship. Thus, future research could tease apart the specific components of the social phenomenon of co-rumination in relation to self-perceptions and appearance management behaviors.

Dress and self as distinct from others

Shifting attention from relationships between the body and self, we move to a discussion of relationships between dress and that aspect of the self that is concerned with answering questions about who we are as distinct and unique individuals (e.g., what type of person am I?). Earlier we shared research about how wearing certain article of dress might impact one’s own physical behaviors. We shift now to sharing research addressing the role dress might play in thinking about oneself as a unique and distinct individual (i.e., self-perceptions). Researchers addressing this topic have utilized Bem’s ( 1972 ) self-perception theory. Bem proposed that similar to the processes we use in forming inferences about others, we can form inferences about ourselves. Bem argues that people’s understanding of their own traits was, in some circumstances, an assessment of their own behaviors. This process was proposed to be particularly relevant to individuals who were responsive to self-produced cues (i.e., cues that arise from an individual’s own behavior or characteristics).

In the 1980s, Kellerman and Laird ( 1982 ) utilized self-perception theory to see whether wearing a specific item of dress (e.g., eye glasses) would influence peoples’ ratings of their own skills and abilities. They conducted an experiment with undergraduate students having them rate themselves on an array of traits when wearing and when not wearing glasses and to complete a hidden figures test. Although there were no significant differences in their performance on the test, the participants’ ratings of their competence and intelligence was higher when wearing glasses than when not. In related research, Solomon and Schopler ( 1982 ) found that both men and women indicated that the appropriateness of their clothing affected their mood.

Studying dress specifically within a workplace context, in the 1990s Kwon ( 1994 ) did not have her participants actually wear different clothing styles but asked them to project how they might think about themselves if they were to wear appropriate versus inappropriate clothing to work. Participants indicated they would feel more competent and responsible if they wore appropriate rather than inappropriate clothing. Similarly, Rafaeli et al. ( 1997 ) a found that employees indicated a link between self-perception and clothing associating psychological discomfort with wearing inappropriate dress for work and increased social self-confidence with appropriate attire. Nearly ten years later, Adomaitis and Johnson ( 2005 ) in a study of flight attendants found that the attendants linked wearing casual uniforms for work (e.g., t-shirt, shorts) with negative self-perceptions (e.g., nonauthoritative, embarrassment, unconfident, unprofessional). Likewise, Peluchette and Karl ( 2007 ) investigating the impact of formal versus casual attire in the workplace found that their participants viewed themselves as most authoritative, trustworthy, productive and competent when wearing formal business attire but as friendliest when wearing casual or business casual attire. Continuing this line of research with individuals employed in the public sector, Karl et al. ( 2013 ) reported participants indicated they felt more competent and authoritative when in formal business or business casual attire and least creative and friendly when wearing casual dress.

As workplace dress has become casual, it would be useful for researchers to uncover any distinctions in casualness that make individuals feel more or less competent, respected, or authoritative. Another aspect of clothing that could be investigated is fit as it might impact self-perceptions or use of makeup.

Guy and Banim ( 2000 ) were interested in how clothing was used as means of self-presentation in everyday life. They implemented three strategies to meet their research objective of investigating women’s relationships to their clothing: a personal account, a clothing diary, and a wardrobe interview. The personal account was a written or tape recorded response to the question “what clothing means to me.” The clothing diary was a daily log kept for two weeks. The wardrobe interview was centered on participants’ current collection of clothing. Participants were undergraduates and professional women representing several age cohorts. The researchers identified three distinct perspectives of self relative to the women’s clothing. The first was labeled “the woman I want to be”. This category of responses revealed that the women used clothing to formulate positive self-projections. Favorite items of clothing in particular were identified as useful in bridging the gap between “self as you would like it to be” and the image actually achieved with the clothing. The second category of responses was labeled “the woman I fear I could be”. This category of responses reflected experiences where clothing had failed to achieve a desired look or resulted in a negative self-presentation. Concern here was choosing to wear clothing with unintentional effects such as highlighting parts of the body that were unflattering or concern about losing the ability to know how to dress to convey a positive image. The last category, “the woman I am most of the time” contained comments indicating the women had a “relationship with clothes was ongoing and dynamic and that a major source of enjoyment for them was to use clothes to realize different aspects of themselves” (p. 321).

Interested in how the self shaped clothing consumption and use, Ogle et al. ( 2013 ) utilized Guy and Banim’s ( 2000 ) views of self to explore how consumption of maternity dress might shape the self during a liminal life stage (i.e., pregnancy). Interviews with women expecting their first child revealed concerns that available maternity dress limited their ability to express their true selves. Some expressed concern that the maternity clothing that was available to them in the marketplace symbolized someone that they did not want to associate with (i.e., the woman I fear I could be). Several women noted they borrowed or purchased used clothing from a variety of sources for this time in their life. This decision resulted in dissatisfaction because the items were not reflective of their selves and if worn resulted in their projecting a self that they also did not want to be. In addition, the women shared that they used dress to confirm their selves as pregnant and as NOT overweight. While some of the participants did experience a disrupted sense of self during pregnancy, others shared that they were able to locate items of dress that symbolized a self-consistent with “the woman I am most of the time”.

Continuing in this line of research, researchers may want to explore these three aspects of self with others who struggle with self-presentation via dress as a result of a lack of fashionable and trendy clothing in the marketplace. Plus-sized women frequently report that they are ignored by the fashion industry and existing offerings fail to meet their need to be fashionable. A recent article in the Huffington Post (“Plus-sized clothing”, 2013 ) noted that retailers do not typically carry plus sizes perhaps due to the misconception that plus-sized women are not trendy shoppers or the idea that these sizes will not sell well. Thus, it may well be that the relationship between dress and self for plus-sized women is frustrating as they are prevented from being able to make clothing choices indicative of their selves “as they would like them to be”.

Priming and self-perception

While several researchers have confirmed that clothing worn impacts thoughts about the self, Hannover and Kühnen ( 2002 ) were interested in uncovering processes that would explain why clothing could have this effect. They began with examining what role priming might have in explaining how clothing impacts self-perceptions. Using findings from social cognition, they argued that clothing styles might prime specific mental categories about one’s self such that those categories that are most easily accessed in a given situation would be more likely to be applied to oneself than categories of information that are difficult to access. Thus, if clothing can be used to prime specific self-knowledge it should impact self-descriptions such that, a person wearing “casual” clothing (e.g., jeans, sweatshirt) should be more apt to describe him or herself using casual terms (e.g., laid-back, uses slang). The researchers had each participant stand in front of a mirror and indicate whether or not specific traits were descriptive of him or herself when wearing either casual or formal clothing (e.g., business attire). The researchers found that when a participant wore casual clothing he or she rated the casual traits as more valid self-descriptions than the formal traits. The reverse was also true. They concluded that the clothing worn primed specific categories of self-knowledge. However, the researchers did not ask participants to what extent they intentionally considered their own clothing when determining whether or not a trait should be applied to them. Yet, as previously noted, Adam and Galinsky ( 2012 ) demonstrated that clothing impacted a specific behavior (attention) only in circumstances where the clothing was worn and the clothing’s meaning was clear. Thus, researchers could test if clothing serves as an unrecognized priming source and if its impact on impression formation is less intentional than typically assumed.

Dress and self in interaction with others

Another area of research within dress and the self involves experience with others and the establishment of meaning. Questions that these researchers are interested in answering include what is the meaning of an item of dress or a way of appearing? Early researchers working in this area have utilized symbolic interactionism as a framework for their research (Blumer 1969 ; Mead 1934 ; Stone 1962 ). The foundational question of symbolic interaction is: “What common set of symbols and understandings has emerged to give meaning to people’s interactions?” (Patton 2002 , p. 112).

There are three basic premises central to symbolic interactionism (Blumer 1969 ). The first premise is that our behavior toward things (e.g., physical objects, other people) is shaped by the meaning that those things have for us. Applied to dress and appearance, this premise means that our behavior relative to another person is influenced by that person’s dress (Kaiser 1997 ) and the meaning that we assign to that dress. The second premise of symbolic interaction is that the meaning of things is derived from social interaction with others (Blumer). This premise indicates that meanings are not inherent in objects, must be shared between individuals, and that meanings are learned. The third premise is that meanings are modified by a continuous interpretative process in which the actor interacts with himself (Blumer). As applied to clothing, this premise suggests that the wearer of an outfit or item of clothing is active in determining the meaning of an item along with the viewer of that item.

Symbolic interactionism posits that the self is a social construction established, maintained, and altered through interpersonal communication with others. While initial work focused on investigating verbal communication as key to the construction of the self, Stone extended communication to include appearance and maintained that “appearance is at least as important in establishment and maintenance of the self” as verbal communication (1962, p. 87).

Stone ( 1962 ) discussed a process of establishing the self in interaction with others. This process included selecting items of dress to communicate a desired aspect of self (i.e., identity) as well as to convey that desired aspect to others. One stage in this process is an individual’s review of his/her own appearance. This evaluation and response to one’s own appearance is called program. One might experience a program by looking in the mirror to assess whether the intended identity expressed through dress is the one that is actually achieved. After this evaluation of one’s appearance, the next stage involves others reacting to an individual’s appearance. This is called a review. Stone contends that when “programs and reviews coincide, the self of the one who appears is validated or established” (p. 92). However, when programs and reviews do not coincide, the announced identity is challenged and “conduct may be expected to move in the direction of some redefinition of the challenged self” (p. 92).

Researchers using this approach in their investigations of dress have used Stone’s ( 1962 ) ideas and applied the concept of review to the experiences of sorority women. Hunt and Miller ( 1997 ) interviewed sorority members about their experiences with using dress to communicate their membership and how members, via their reviews, shaped their sorority appearances. Members reported using several techniques in the review of the appearance of other members as well as in response to their own appearance (i.e., programs). Thus, the researcher’s results supported Stone’s ideas concerning establishment of an identity (as an aspect of self) as a process of program and review.

In an investigation of the meaning of dress, in this instance the meaning of a specific body modification—a tattoo, Mun et al. ( 2012 ) interviewed women of various ages who had tattoos to assess meanings, changes in self-perceptions as a result of the tattoo, and any changes in the women’s behavior as an outcome of being tattooed. To guide their inquiry, the researchers used Goffman’s ( 1959 ) discussion of the concept of self-presentation from his seminal work The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life . According to Goffman, on a regular basis people make inferences about the motivations that underlie other people’s behaviors. To make these inferences they use everyday details. Because most people make these inferences, Goffman believed that individuals could purposely control the content of those inferences by controlling their behavior. Included in this behavior was an individual’s dress. These researchers found support for Goffman’s reasoning. Participants shared that their tattoo(s) had meaning and were expressive of their selves, their personal values and interests, important life events (e.g., marriage), and religious/sacred beliefs. The meaning of a tattoo was also dynamic for several participants rather than static. Participants’ self-perceptions were impacted as a result of being tattooed with several participants sharing increases to their confidence and to their perceived empowerment. Individuals who shared a change in behavior primarily noted that they controlled the visibility of their tattoos to others as a method to control how others might respond to them having a tattoo especially within the workplace.

Since an array of body modifications (e.g., piercings, gauging, scarification) are being adopted cross-culturally, investigations of people’s experiences with any of these modifications is fertile area for future researchers interested in the meaning(s) of dress and how dress impacts the self through interaction with others. Researchers may want to investigate men’s experiences with piercing/gauging as well as women’s experiences with body building and other developing forms of body modification. Extreme forms of body piercings (e.g., piercings that simulate corset lacings) and underlying motivations for these body modifications would add to our understanding of relationships between dress and self. The meanings of facial hair to men or body hair removal (partial, total) for both men and women are additional aspects of dress that could be investigated.

Dress and self as influence on consumption

In the aforementioned research by Ogle et al. ( 2013 ), the researchers found that a primary reason their participants were disappointed by the maternity clothing offered through the marketplace was due to a lack of fit between their selves and the clothing styles made available. Thus, it is clear that ideas about the self impact clothing selection and purchase. Sirgy ( 1982 ) proposed self-image product-image congruity theory to describe the process of how people applied ideas concerning the self to their purchasing. The basic assumption of the theory is that through marketing and branding, products gain associated images. The premise of the theory is that products people are motivated to purchase are products with images that are congruent with or symbolic of how they see themselves (i.e., actual self-image) or with how they would like to be (i.e., ideal self-image). They also will avoid those products that symbolize images that are inconsistent with either of these self-images.

Rhee and Johnson ( 2012 ) found support for the self-image product-image congruity relationship with male and female adolescents. These researchers investigated the adolescents’ purchase and use of clothing brands. Participants indicated their favorite apparel brand was most similar to their actual self (i.e., this brand reflects who I am), followed by their social self (i.e., this brand reflects who I want others to think I am), and their desired self (i.e., this brand reflects who I want to be).

Earlier, Banister and Hogg ( 2004 ) conducted research investigating the idea that consumers will actively reject or avoid products with negative symbolic meanings. The researchers conducted group interviews with adult consumers. Their participants acknowledged that clothing items could symbolize more than one meaning depending on who was interpreting the meaning. They also acknowledged that the consumers they interviewed appeared to be more concerned with avoiding consumption of products with negative symbolic images than with consuming products with the goal of achieving a positive image. One participant noted that while attempts to achieve a positive image via clothing consumption may be sub-conscious, the desire to avoid a negative image when shopping was conscious.

Closing remarks

It is clear from our review that interest in the topic of the social psychology of dress is on-going and provides a fruitful area of research that addresses both basic and applied research questions. Although we provided an overview of several key research areas within the topic of the social psychology of dress we were unable to include all of the interesting topics being investigated. There are other important areas of research including relationships between dress and specific social and cultural identities, answering questions about how dress functions within social groups, how we learn to attach meanings to dress, and changing attitudes concerning dress among others. Regardless, we hope that this review inspires both colleagues and students to continue to investigate and document the important influence dress exerts in everyday life.

a These researchers used role theory to frame their investigation.

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Johnson, K., Lennon, S.J. & Rudd, N. Dress, body and self: research in the social psychology of dress. Fashion and Textiles 1 , 20 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40691-014-0020-7

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50+ Topics of Psychology Research

How to Find Psychology Research Topics for Your Student Paper

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

social psychology research paper

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social psychology research paper

Are you searching for a great topic for your psychology paper ? Sometimes it seems like coming up with topics of psychology research is more challenging than the actual research and writing. Fortunately, there are plenty of great places to find inspiration and the following list contains just a few ideas to help get you started.

Finding a solid topic is one of the most important steps when writing any type of paper. It can be particularly important when you are writing a psychology research paper or essay. Psychology is such a broad topic, so you want to find a topic that allows you to adequately cover the subject without becoming overwhelmed with information.

In some cases, such as in a general psychology class, you might have the option to select any topic from within psychology's broad reach. Other instances, such as in an  abnormal psychology  course, might require you to write your paper on a specific subject such as a psychological disorder.

As you begin your search for a topic for your psychology paper, it is first important to consider the guidelines established by your instructor.

Topics of Psychology Research Within Specific Branches

The key to selecting a good topic for your psychology paper is to select something that is narrow enough to allow you to really focus on the subject, but not so narrow that it is difficult to find sources or information to write about.

One approach is to narrow your focus down to a subject within a specific branch of psychology. For example, you might start by deciding that you want to write a paper on some sort of social psychology topic. Next, you might narrow your focus down to how persuasion can be used to influence behavior.

Other social psychology topics you might consider include:

  • Prejudice and discrimination (i.e., homophobia, sexism, racism)
  • Social cognition
  • Person perception
  • Social control and cults
  • Persuasion , propaganda, and marketing
  • Attraction, romance, and love
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Prosocial behavior

Psychology Research Topics Involving a Disorder or Type of Therapy

Exploring a psychological disorder or a specific treatment modality can also be a good topic for a psychology paper. Some potential abnormal psychology topics include specific psychological disorders or particular treatment modalities, including:

  • Eating disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Profile a  type of therapy  (i.e., cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, psychoanalytic therapy)

Topics of Psychology Research Related to Human Cognition

Some of the possible topics you might explore in this area include thinking, language, intelligence, and decision-making. Other ideas might include:

  • False memories
  • Speech disorders
  • Problem-solving

Topics of Psychology Research Related to Human Development

In this area, you might opt to focus on issues pertinent to  early childhood  such as language development, social learning, or childhood attachment or you might instead opt to concentrate on issues that affect older adults such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Some other topics you might consider include:

  • Language acquisition
  • Media violence and children
  • Learning disabilities
  • Gender roles
  • Child abuse
  • Prenatal development
  • Parenting styles
  • Aspects of the aging process

Do a Critique of Publications Involving Psychology Research Topics

One option is to consider writing a critique paper of a published psychology book or academic journal article. For example, you might write a critical analysis of Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams or you might evaluate a more recent book such as Philip Zimbardo's  The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil .

Professional and academic journals are also great places to find materials for a critique paper. Browse through the collection at your university library to find titles devoted to the subject that you are most interested in, then look through recent articles until you find one that grabs your attention.

Topics of Psychology Research Related to Famous Experiments

There have been many fascinating and groundbreaking experiments throughout the history of psychology, providing ample material for students looking for an interesting term paper topic. In your paper, you might choose to summarize the experiment, analyze the ethics of the research, or evaluate the implications of the study. Possible experiments that you might consider include:

  • The Milgram Obedience Experiment
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • The Little Albert Experiment
  • Pavlov's Conditioning Experiments
  • The Asch Conformity Experiment
  • Harlow's Rhesus Monkey Experiments

Topics of Psychology Research About Historical Figures

One of the simplest ways to find a great topic is to choose an interesting person in the  history of psychology  and write a paper about them. Your paper might focus on many different elements of the individual's life, such as their biography, professional history, theories, or influence on psychology.

While this type of paper may be historical in nature, there is no need for this assignment to be dry or boring. Psychology is full of fascinating figures rife with intriguing stories and anecdotes. Consider such famous individuals as Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, Harry Harlow, or one of the many other  eminent psychologists .

Psychology Research Topics About a Specific Career

​Another possible topic, depending on the course in which you are enrolled, is to write about specific career paths within the  field of psychology . This type of paper is especially appropriate if you are exploring different subtopics or considering which area interests you the most.

In your paper, you might opt to explore the typical duties of a psychologist, how much people working in these fields typically earn, and the different employment options that are available.

Topics of Psychology Research Involving Case Studies

One potentially interesting idea is to write a  psychology case study  of a particular individual or group of people. In this type of paper, you will provide an in-depth analysis of your subject, including a thorough biography.

Generally, you will also assess the person, often using a major psychological theory such as  Piaget's stages of cognitive development  or  Erikson's eight-stage theory of human development . It is also important to note that your paper doesn't necessarily have to be about someone you know personally.

In fact, many professors encourage students to write case studies on historical figures or fictional characters from books, television programs, or films.

Psychology Research Topics Involving Literature Reviews

Another possibility that would work well for a number of psychology courses is to do a literature review of a specific topic within psychology. A literature review involves finding a variety of sources on a particular subject, then summarizing and reporting on what these sources have to say about the topic.

Literature reviews are generally found in the  introduction  of journal articles and other  psychology papers , but this type of analysis also works well for a full-scale psychology term paper.

Topics of Psychology Research Based on Your Own Study or Experiment

Many psychology courses require students to design an actual psychological study or perform some type of experiment. In some cases, students simply devise the study and then imagine the possible results that might occur. In other situations, you may actually have the opportunity to collect data, analyze your findings, and write up your results.

Finding a topic for your study can be difficult, but there are plenty of great ways to come up with intriguing ideas. Start by considering your own interests as well as subjects you have studied in the past.

Online sources, newspaper articles, books , journal articles, and even your own class textbook are all great places to start searching for topics for your experiments and psychology term papers. Before you begin, learn more about  how to conduct a psychology experiment .

A Word From Verywell

After looking at this brief list of possible topics for psychology papers, it is easy to see that psychology is a very broad and diverse subject. While this variety makes it possible to find a topic that really catches your interest, it can sometimes make it very difficult for some students to select a good topic.

If you are still stumped by your assignment, ask your instructor for suggestions and consider a few from this list for inspiration.

  • Hockenbury, SE & Nolan, SA. Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers; 2014.
  • Santrock, JW. A Topical Approach to Lifespan Development. New York: McGraw-Hill Education; 2016.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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New research delves into the unexplored psychology of Femcels

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A new study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior explored the psychology of involuntarily celibate women, or “femcels”, revealing their struggles with sexual frustration, a focus on personal rather than male grievances, and tendency toward non-violent means for empowerment.

“When I first heard the term ‘femcel,’ I was immediately interested and wanted to know more about their communities. When I began exploring their online subculture, I saw so many different directions that our research could take because this is such an understudied population,” said Hannah Rae Evans, a master’s graduate of the University of Alabama’s Criminology and Criminal Justice Program. Evans currently works as the Stepping Up Initiative Coordinator for Tuscaloosa County.

The term “incels,” referring to involuntarily celibate men has been linked to several violent acts and online misogynistic culture, capturing global attention. However, the narrative around “femcels” has been largely unexplored. Despite assumptions that women can readily access sexual and romantic opportunities, many express frustration over the lack of meaningful connections and sexual satisfaction, leading to the creation of online communities like The Pink Pill. In this work, Evans and Adam Lankford delved into the femcel phenomenon.

The researchers collected data from the five most subscribed subforums on ThePinkPill.co, an online femcel discussion website, capturing posts from May 2021 to May 2022. This process yielded a large dataset of 24,525 user posts across 3461 threads. The final sample for focused analysis comprised approximately 1200 posts identified through text search queries for the following terms: sexual, power, revenge, and frustration (and their stemmed versions, e.g., frustrated, frustrating). This study was designed to give voice to femcel experiences by relying on their language and expression.

“First, femcels struggled with numerous types of sexual frustration. All three major types of sexual frustration proposed in Dr. Lankford’s sexual frustration theory—unfulfilled desires to have sex, unavailable partners, and unsatisfying sexual activities—were found in femcel posts,” Evans told PsyPost.

This suggests there is a deep-rooted concern with the quality and availability of intimate relationships among this population.

“Another key finding is how much in-depth analysis and commentary we found from femcels. This is why we decided to include so many illustrative quotes within our findings and share what the femcels had to say about gender, societal expectations, beauty standards, power dynamics, and more.”

For example, when discussing women and power, the power of beauty was a common theme.  One user wrote “It’s not about just beauty from the objective point, it’s about what you gain with beauty. I want that. That power.”

Another wrote, “Stacys know that they are hot, and they know that this gives them power and money, so they want to maximize their power.”

Femcel discussions predominantly focused on women’s experiences, highlighting the emphasis on the female perspective within the femcel community.

What can we learn by studying this population? Evans said, “Although the femcel discussions in our study contained much less support for aggression and violence than what has been reported about male incels, some did express extreme views.”

“Further studying these populations could help us identify factors that may contribute to radicalization and could aid efforts to prevent escalation of harmful ideologies. Also, researchers can learn more about the mental health challenges associated with involuntary celibacy and sexual frustration. This would give us a better foundation for developing evidence-based support strategies tailored to the specific needs of these populations.”

“One of the most important things to note is that we examined only these femcels’ online statements and discussions and have no way of verifying their offline behavior,” the researcher explained.

“While some postings involved extreme rhetoric, we are not aware of any mass shootings or violence committed by someone who considered themselves a femcel or identified with the femcel community. Additionally, femcels are not ideologically homogeneous and the beliefs of the most extreme members are not indicative of the group as a whole.”

Are there questions that still need answers? Evans responded, “There is still much to learn about the femcel community, their experiences, and the broader societal dynamics that shape their perspectives. For example, further research could investigate femcels’ struggles with social isolation, self-esteem issues, and interpersonal skills. We’d also like to do a direct comparison study of femcels and male incels.”

The study, “ Femcel Discussions of Sex, Frustration, Power, and Revenge ”, was authored by Hannah Rae Evans and Adam Lankford.

Women, particularly younger ones, experience more social media friendship jealousy than men

At the heart of friendships lies a concoction of emotions, where the warmth of companionship might sometimes be chilled by feelings of jealousy. Recent research published in Evolutionary Psychology delved into the study of this phenomenon, developing a novel measure to study social media friendship jealousy in particular.

A simple cognitive tendency has surprisingly profound implications for the spread of biased information

A study reveals that our brains better remember and connect information from people we like. Conducted by Lund University researchers, it shows how social preferences influence learning and memory integration, with implications for understanding social biases and polarization.

New research uncovers an intriguing link between narcissism and state-level health outcomes

A study spanning the U.S. reveals narcissism's link to health outcomes, showing states with higher narcissism levels have lower obesity and depression rates but more plastic surgery and less sleep.

New study unpacks the impact of TikTok and short video apps on adolescent well being

A study in Psychiatry Research found that adolescents addicted to short-video apps like TikTok experience worse mental health, academic issues, and family relationships compared to moderate or non-users. The research surveyed 1,346 Chinese teens, highlighting the need for further investigation across cultures.

Revisiting the science of attraction: Averageness is key to facial beauty, study finds

A global study on 1,550 faces found attractiveness is less about symmetry, more about averageness and distinctiveness. Faces closer to a population's average are seen as more attractive, challenging traditional beliefs on beauty standards.


Dopamine isn’t just a “feel good” chemical: new study reveals its role in reversal learning, writing by hand may increase brain connectivity more than typing on a keyboard, the startling impact of early life adversity revealed in new neuroscience research, ancient viruses emerge as unexpected heroes in vertebrate brain evolution, adhd is somewhat heritable, study finds, unraveling the ties between circadian rhythms and psychological wellbeing.

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A-level Sociology (AQA) Revision Notes

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Editor-in-Chief for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

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Revision guide for AQA A-Level (7192) and AS-Level Sociology (7191), including straightforward study notes, independent study booklets, and past paper questions and answers. Fully updated for the summer 2021 term.

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  • the role and functions of the education system, including its relationship to the economy and to class structure
  • differential educational achievement of social groups by social class, gender and ethnicity in contemporary society
  • relationships and processes within schools, with particular reference to teacher/pupil relationships, pupil identities and subcultures, the hidden curriculum, and the organisation of teaching and learning
  • the significance of educational policies, including policies of selection, marketisation and privatisation, and policies to achieve greater equality of opportunity or outcome, for an understanding of the structure, role, impact and experience of and access to education; the impact of globalisation on educational policy.

Methods in Context

  • Students must be able to apply sociological research methods to the study of education.

Paper 2: Research Methods and Topics in Sociology

Research methods, topic 2: families and households, topic 5: beliefs in society, topic 6: global development.

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  • Knowledge Organiser
  • quantitative and qualitative methods of research; research design
  • sources of data, including questionnaires, interviews, participant and non-participant observation, experiments, documents and official statistics
  • the distinction between primary and secondary data, and between quantitative and qualitative data
  • the relationship between positivism, interpretivism and sociological methods; the nature of ‘social facts’
  • the theoretical, practical and ethical considerations influencing choice of topic, choice of method(s) and the conduct of research
  • the relationship of the family to the social structure and social change, with particular reference to the economy and to state policies
  • changing patterns of marriage, cohabitation, separation, divorce, childbearing and the life course, including the sociology of personal life, and the diversity of contemporary family and household structures
  • gender roles, domestic labour and power relationships within the family in contemporary society
  • the nature of childhood, and changes in the status of children in the family and society
  • demographic trends in the United Kingdom since 1900: birth rates, death rates, family size, life expectancy, ageing population, and migration and globalisation
  • ideology, science and religion, including both Christian and non-Christian religious traditions
  • the relationship between social change and social stability, and religious beliefs, practices and organisations
  • religious organisations, including cults, sects, denominations, churches and New Age movements, and their relationship to religious and spiritual belief and practice
  • the relationship between different social groups and religious/spiritual organisations and movements, beliefs and practices
  • the significance of religion and religiosity in the contemporary world, including the nature and extent of secularisation in a global context, and globalisation and the spread of religions
  • development, underdevelopment and global inequality
  • globalisation and its influence on the cultural, political and economic relationships between societies
  • the role of transnational corporations, non-governmental organisations and international agencies in local and global strategies for development
  • development in relation to aid and trade, industrialisation, urbanisation, the environment, and war and conflict
  • employment, education, health, demographic change and gender as aspects of development

Crime and Deviance

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  • Independent Study Booklet Part 2
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  • the social distribution of crime and deviance by ethnicity, gender and social class, including recent patterns and trends in crime
  • globalisation and crime in contemporary society; the media and crime; green crime; human rights and state crimes
  • crime control, surveillance, prevention and punishment, victims, and the role of the criminal justice system and other agencies
  • consensus, conflict, structural and social action theories
  • the concepts of modernity and post-modernity in relation to sociological theory
  • the nature of science and the extent to which Sociology can be regarded as scientific
  • the relationship between theory and methods
  • debates about subjectivity, objectivity and val
  • the relationship between Sociology and social policy

Frequently Asked Questions

What is ao3 in sociology a-level.

AO3 is an assessment objective for analysing and evaluating sociological theories, concepts, evidence and research methods in order to present arguments, make judgements and reach conclusions.

Examples of AO3 points include:

  • Evaluate from other PERSPECTIVES – What would other perspectives say about the theory / concept? Is there a counter-argument?
  • Evaluate – HISTORICAL CRITICISM – Is the theory/ concept dated? When was the concept developed? Is it still relevant today, or has society changed so much that it is no longer relevant? Has society changed in such a way that some aspects of the theory are now more relevant?
  • Evalaute – POWER/ BIAS/ VALUE FREEDOM? Who developed the concept/ theory – whose interests does it serve? For example, “x” theor is ethnocentric because….

What is the fastest way to revise sociology?

There is no great mystery about how to study for sociology A-level. Many students, although they’re not naturally that ‘academic’ still score A and A* grades through sheer hard work, focus and determination.

Before you start you need to satisfy yourself that you have good syllabus notes to work from. Although most textbooks are fine in places they have a tendency to either not give enough detail on certain topics or give too much information (which can be just as bad).

As long as you have great syllabus notes and lots of past paper questions the rest is really up to you. If you want to score an A* or A grade you need to act like someone who’s going to score these grades.

You are competing against people who are going to put in a hell of a lot of hard work so you need to work as hard as or harder than them. And you need to think about what hard work really is.

What are the most effective ways of revising subject knowledge?

  • Ask “How” and “Why” questions  when revising and try to connect ideas (this method is called “elaboration”)
  • No cramming . Distribute your revision over time and use a spaced system of repetition
  • Switch topics regularly  when revising (this is called “ interleaving ” and it will help you to identify connections between different topics)
  • Words and visuals . Combine words and visual representations to create two ways of remembering key ideas (this is called “dual coding”)
  • Teachers! Students! Please get in touch if you have any A-level sociology notes you would like to share. We would really like to cover all 8 topics for paper 2.
  • Please contact us via email [email protected] .

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Study finds that urban agriculture must be carefully planned to have climate benefits

  • Jim Erickson

Preparing seedlings for planting at a collective garden in London, England. Urban food production spaces like this can provide numerous social and community benefits but require careful crop selection and management to cut the carbon footprints of cities. Image credit: Victoria Schoen

A new University of Michigan-led international study finds that fruits and vegetables grown in urban farms and gardens have a carbon footprint that is, on average, six times greater than conventionally grown produce.

However, a few city-grown crops equaled or outperformed conventional agriculture under certain conditions. Tomatoes grown in the soil of open-air urban plots had a lower carbon intensity than tomatoes grown in conventional greenhouses, while the emissions difference between conventional and urban agriculture vanished for air-freighted crops like asparagus.

“The exceptions revealed by our study suggest that urban agriculture practitioners can reduce their climate impacts by cultivating crops that are typically greenhouse-grown or air-freighted, in addition to making changes in site design and management,” said study co-lead author Jason Hawes , a doctoral student at U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability.

“Urban agriculture offers a variety of social, nutritional and place-based environmental benefits, which make it an appealing feature of future sustainable cities. This work shines light on ways to ensure that urban agriculture benefits the climate, as well as the people and places it serves.”

Urban garden in Nantes, France. Image credit: Baptiste Grard

Urban agriculture, the practice of farming within the confines of a city, is becoming increasingly popular worldwide and is touted as a way to make cities and urban food systems more sustainable. By some estimates, between 20% and 30% of the global urban population engages in some form of urban agriculture.

Despite strong evidence of the social and nutritional benefits of urban agriculture, its carbon footprint remains understudied. Most previously published studies have focused on high-tech, energy-intensive forms of UA—such as vertical farms and rooftop greenhouses—even though the vast majority of urban farms are decidedly low-tech: crops grown in soil on open-air plots.

The new U-M-led study, published online Jan. 22 in the journal Nature Cities, aimed to fill some of the knowledge gaps by comparing the carbon footprints of food produced at low-tech urban agriculture sites to conventional crops. It used data from 73 urban farms and gardens in five countries and is the largest published study to compare the carbon footprints of urban and conventional agriculture.

“Beyond food production, urban food growers experience mental and physical health benefits, share environmental education, and enable community capacity-building,” Hawes said. “They also cultivate environmental improvements, offering homes for bees and urban wildlife as well as some protection from the urban heat island effect. In a recent project, we partnered with individual gardeners, volunteers, and farm managers to explore these benefits, while also assessing the carbon footprint of the practice.”

Three types of urban agriculture sites were analyzed: urban farms (professionally managed and focused on food production), individual gardens (small plots managed by single gardeners) and collective gardens (communal spaces managed by groups of gardeners).

For each site, the researchers calculated the climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions associated with on-farm materials and activities over the lifetime of the farm. The emissions, expressed in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents per serving of food, were then compared to foods raised by conventional methods.

On average, food produced through urban agriculture emitted 0.42 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents per serving, six times higher than the 0.07 kg CO2e per serving of conventionally grown produce.

“By assessing actual inputs and outputs on urban agriculture sites, we were able to assign climate change impacts to each serving of produce,” said study co-lead author Benjamin Goldstein , assistant professor at U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability. “This dataset reveals that urban agriculture has higher carbon emissions per serving of fruit or vegetable than conventional agriculture—with a few exceptions.”

Joshua Newell , professor and co-director of the Center for Sustainable Systems at SEAS, led the University of Michigan portion of the project. The U-M researchers formed an international team of collaborators from universities near the various food-growing sites. Ten of those collaborators are co-authors of the Nature Cities study.

Farmers and gardeners at urban agriculture sites in France, Germany, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States were recruited as citizen scientists and used daily diary entries to record inputs and harvests from their food-growing sites throughout the 2019 season.

Inputs to the urban agriculture sites fell into three main categories: infrastructure (such as the raised beds in which food is grown, or pathways between plots), supplies (including compost, fertilizer, weed-blocking fabric and gasoline for machinery), and irrigation water.

Urban collective garden at a New York City Housing Authority site. The garden provides educational and recreational opportunities for residents, in addition to fresh produce. Image credit: Nevin Cohen

“Most of the climate impacts at urban farms are driven by the materials used to construct them—the infrastructure,” Goldstein said. “These farms typically only operate for a few years or a decade, so the greenhouse gases used to produce those materials are not used effectively. Conventional agriculture, on the other hand, is very efficient and hard to compete with.”

For example, conventional farms often grow a single crop with the help of pesticides and fertilizers, resulting in larger harvests and a reduced carbon footprint when compared to urban farms, he said.

The researchers identified three best practices crucial to making low-tech urban agriculture more carbon-competitive with conventional agriculture:

  • Extend infrastructure lifetimes. Extend the lifetime of UA materials and structures such as raised beds, composting infrastructure and sheds. A raised bed used for five years will have approximately four times the environmental impact, per serving of food, as a raised bed used for 20 years.
  • Use urban wastes as UA inputs. Conserve carbon by engaging in “urban symbiosis,” which includes giving a second life to used materials, such as construction debris and demolition waste, that are unsuitable for new construction but potentially useful for UA. The most well-known symbiotic relationship between cities and UA is composting. The category also includes using rainwater and recycled grey water for irrigation.
  • Generate high levels of social benefits. In a survey conducted for the study, UA farmers and gardeners overwhelmingly reported improved mental health, diet and social networks. While increasing these “nonfood outputs” of UA does not reduce its carbon footprint, “growing spaces which maximize social benefits can outcompete conventional agriculture when UA benefits are considered holistically,” according to the study authors.

Co-authors of the Nature Cities paper are from McGill University in Canada, University Paris-Saclay and the Agroecology and Environmental Research Unit in France, the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, ILS Research in Germany, City University of New York and Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland.

Support for the project was provided by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, French National Research Agency, U.S. National Science Foundation, Poland’s National Science Centre, and the European Union’s Horizon 202 research and innovation program.

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