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Graduate Student Supervision
Doctoral Student Supervision (2008-2018)
Interpersonal judgements regarding other people’s behaviours often involve understanding their underlying causes. People tend to ascribe such causes to some fundamental, vague essence that lies within the individual. The gene has gained prominence in recent decades as a specific instantiation of this essence, although laypeople’s understanding of genetics is often inaccurate and overly simplistic. These inaccurate perceptions lead people to engage in genetic essentialism – the tendency to view genes and their associated attributes in overly deterministic and fatalistic terms. This dissertation discusses eight studies that: a) examine the consequences of genetic essentialism in various domains; b) expand on the existing theoretical framework of genetic essentialism by supplementing it with attribution theory; and c) attempt to find ways that can mitigate the impact of genetic essentialism.
How do people react when their meaningful worldviews are violated? What does it even mean to experience a lack of meaning? Drawing on work from both social and cognitive psychology, I advance two main hypotheses. First, humans employ a single domain-general process for recognizing and interpreting all violations of meaning and unexpected experiences. Second, as a result of this generality, all violations of meaning can trigger responses that have more to do with this broad process than with the specific problem at hand. Eight studies support these predictions from a number of methodological approaches. Experiences as superficially different as cognitive dissonance, mortality salience, and viewing surreal art all motivate people to affirm important beliefs that are not directly relevant to the experience. Acetaminophen, a drug known to inhibit physical pain and feelings of rejection, also prevents this motivation to affirm following meaning violations. In an ERP paradigm, acetaminophen inhibits activation associated with consciously recognizing that a mistake was made. Finally, these effects appear to occur spontaneously during everyday moments and are not restricted solely to artificial laboratory experiments. These findings speak to a broad process for identifying mismatches between one’s mental model and reality. Discussion focuses on the implications of this process for studying a range of experiences, including uncertainty, meaning, goal frustration, dissonance, and existential anxiety.
As omnivores, humans benefit from considerable nutritional flexibility. However, this blessing also comes with a curse, as humans also face a higher risk of consuming harmful substances or eating an improperly balanced diet, a phenomenon that Rozin (1976) calls “the omnivore's dilemma.” Previous research has shown that this dilemma is especially pronounced when dealing with meat, but has focused almost exclusively on Western participants, leaving several important questions unanswered. This dissertation extends the literature on the omnivore’s dilemma in three principal ways. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrate that providing people with visual reminders of the animal origins of meats reduces willingness to eat novel animals, but not willingness to eat commonly consumed animals, across Euro-Canadian, Asian-Canadian, Euro-American and Indian samples. Studies 3 and 4 examine what factors influence people’s decisions to eat animals, within Euro-Canadian, Hong Kong Chinese, Euro-American and Indian cultural contexts. Perceived animal intelligence and appearance were chief predictors of disgust, and reflecting on animals’ psychological attributes increased disgust, especially among Euro-Canadians and Euro-Americans. Concordant with past research, disgust was a major predictor of willingness to eat animals, but social influence (frequency of consumption by friends and family) also emerged as a strong predictor, especially among Hong Kong Chinese and Indians, providing evidence that friends and family have a stronger influence on one’s food choices in collectivistic cultural contexts. Studies 5 and 6 examine differences between vegetarians and omnivores in North American and Indian cultural contexts. In Study 5, we found that Euro-American vegetarians were more concerned with the impact of their food choices on the environment and animal welfare, more concerned with general animal welfare, endorsed universalism more, and Right-Wing Authoritarianism less than omnivores, yet among Indian participants, these differences were not significant. In Study 6, we showed that Indian vegetarians more strongly endorsed the belief that eating meat is spiritually polluting, were more religious, and were more concerned with the domains of Purity and Authority, whereas these differences were largely absent among Euro-Canadians and Euro-Americans. Taken together, this research provides greater insight into how people resolve the omnivore’s dilemma in different cultural contexts.
Cultural psychology research has cast doubt upon the assumption that self-enhancement motivations are universal – the majority of empirical research finding that those from East Asian cultural backgrounds self-enhance less than those from Western cultural backgrounds. However, measures of implicit self-esteem (ISE) – automatic and unconscious global self evaluations – do not often yield cultural differences. By using a diverse range of approaches, this dissertation seeks to shed light on the question of whether variability exists in implicit self-esteem across individuals from East Asian and Western cultural backgrounds. In Study 1, two different ISE measures provided divergent results regarding possible cultural variability in implicit self-esteem. In search for a valid measure of ISE, Study 2 simultaneously tested the convergent and predictive validity and cultural variation of popular and new ISE and explicit self-esteem measures. Since no single ISE measure in Study 2 was found to have adequate validity, Study 3 attempted to boost the validity of ISE measures. This was done based on the argument that ISE is better defined as a context-dependent/domain specific construct rather than a global self-evaluation, yet did not yield evidence in favour of the validity of any ISE measure. Supplementary analyses for Study 2 and the final two studies took an alternative approach to the problem of this dissertation and found cultural variability in phenomena theoretically connected to implicit self-esteem. In particular, cultural variability was evident in the theoretical correlates of implicit self-esteem from Study 2. Study 4 found evidence that cultural variability in the tendency to value an object after one owns the object (i.e., the endowment effect) is likely due in part to cultural variability in feelings about the self. Study 5 provided evidence that cultural variability exists in the tendency to display in-group favouritism after being arbitrarily assigned to a group (i.e., the minimal group effect), and that this cultural variability is explained in part by self-esteem. Taken together, these studies provide converging evidence that 1) implicit self-esteem measures are currently not a viable option for assessment of cultural variability, and 2) cultural variability in implicit self-esteem is likely.
Self-signaling theory posits that individuals engage in prosocial behavior in order to gain positive information about the self. Previous self-regulatory approaches to prosocial behavior have primarily focused on helping as means to self-repair (e.g., the negative state relief model), or as a means to stay self-consistent (e.g., self-verification theory), thus overlooking the motivation to obtain self-knowledge. Four studies tested a key prediction of self-signaling theory, that uncertainty about the self as a good and moral person should increase prosocial behavior, while certainty should decrease it. Study one used a correlational design to examine the relationship between personal uncertainty and volunteerism. Study two manipulated uncertainty about a positive moral characteristic and measured subsequent agreement to help. Study three examined the effect of uncertainty about a negative moral trait on helping behavior. Finally, study four manipulated both uncertainty, and the valence of self-information, while measuring charitable donations. All four studies find the hypothesized positive relationship between uncertainty and prosocial behavior. These findings support the idea that individuals help in order to gain information indicating they are good and virtuous, thus decreasing uncertainty about the self. Limitations, implications, and future directions are discussed.
People everywhere strive for an ideal view of the self, but the conception of “ideal” differs importantly across cultures. In Western societies, the ideal self entails the possession of high self-esteem, whereas in East Asian cultures the ideal self entails maintenance of “face,” or successful performance of social roles and obligations. Within each cultural context, aspirations for an ideal self are facilitated by a network of psychological processes. One such psychological process is approach and avoidance motivations: approach motivation is useful for Westerners’ pursuit of high self-esteem whereas avoidance motivation is useful for East Asians’ concerns for face maintenance. Review of prior research renders support to this theorizing. Because approach and avoidance motivations are fundamental psychological processes, cross-cultural research on this topic is a great venue for investigating the ways in which culture shapes psychological processes. This dissertation examines the implication of cultural differences in approach and avoidance motivations in two domains. Studies 1 and 2 investigated the motivational consequences of a fit between culturally encouraged motivation and focus of self-regulation that a task at hand calls for. In comparisons of Canadians and Japanese, these studies found that individuals’ motivation for a task is enhanced when culturally encouraged motivation matched with focus of self-regulation required for the task. The second set of studies (Study 3 and 4) examined cognitive consequences of approach-avoidance motivation cultural difference. These studies found that a type of information that people are attuned to differs as a function of cultural differences in approach-avoidance motivations. Implications of the findings and future directions are discussed.
Much scientific and media attention has been devoted to the growing body of research into the genetic correlates of human phenomena. However, many of the resulting reports lead to a deterministic interpretation of the role of genes, and involve fundamental misunderstandings of genetics and heredity. Hence, questions arise regarding the ways in which people make sense of the behavioural genetics research they encounter in everyday life. Furthermore, essentialist accounts are often embedded within popular understanding of politically sensitive topics, such as eugenics, race, and sex, and therefore it is important to examine how people comprehend genetic influences on behaviour. In this dissertation, I review current findings regarding the effects of genetic attributions on beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours in the context of the social world. Particular attention is paid to such effects in the context of gender issues. Specifically, in three studies I examine the effects of exposure to scientific theories concerning human sexuality on attitudes towards and evaluations of men’s dubious sexual behaviors. The results indicate that among men exposure to evolutionary psychology arguments leads to more lenient evaluations and judgments of an array of dubious sexual behaviors, compared with exposure to social constructivist arguments. It also seems that men implicitly hold nativist perceptions with regards to male sexuality and promiscuity. The findings were less conclusive among women, with some indication that women are less affected by such exposure as well as less likely to naturally hold a nativist perspective in the context of human sexuality. This empirical research has direct implications for previously suggested intervention programs and adds to the incurrent resurgence of interest in the effects of genetic theories. Finally, I identify areas where further exploration is needed, suggest potential solutions for specific problems, and evaluate related individual and social implications.
Master's Student Supervision (2010-2017)
Mind-wandering – the decoupling of the mind from external stimuli such that it is engaged in a greater degree of self-generated mental activity – requires both a) a focus on internal psychological states and b) a cessation of effortful engagement in the external world. Cultures differ on both dimensions. Members of Asian cultures tend to focus less on internal psychological states than do members of European-heritage cultures. Members of Asian cultures tend to believe that effort is intrinsically rewarding and to value cultivation of one’s capacity for effort. We thus hypothesize that Asian-heritage participants will mind-wander less than European-heritage participants, even during a task where performance is not directly incentivized. In this study, we show that European-heritage UBC students do indeed mind-wander more than either Asian-heritage UBC students or Japanese exchange students when they are participating in an easy and repetitive task.
Genetic essentialism is the tendency for people to think in more essentialist ways upon encountering genetic concepts. The current studies assessed whether genetic essentialist biases would also be evident at the automatic level. In two studies, using different versions of the Implicit Association Test (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998), we found that participants were faster to categorize when genes and fate were linked, compared to when these two concepts were kept separate and opposing. In addition to the wealth of past findings of genetic essentialism with explicit and deliberative measures, these biases appear to be also evident with implicit measures.
Although much research has found that younger immigrants acculturate to a new host culture better than older immigrants do, little work has been done to investigate whether this is due to one’s duration of exposure to the new cultural environment, or one’s age of exposure, while one may still be in a sensitive developmental period. We conducted two studies to determine whether duration of exposure or age of exposure has a greater influence on acculturation. Study 1 found an interaction between these two factors, such that participants’ identification with North American culture increased the longer they stayed in Canada, but only for immigrants who arrived before the age of 15. It also showed that implicit measures may better show linear effects of acculturation than explicit measures. Study 2, however, failed to replicate findings from Study 1, and no consistent pattern emerged from the implicit measures that were used. Overall, there is inconsistent evidence for the existence of a sensitive period for acculturation, suggesting that more empirical investigations are required.
There are currently a number of competing theories of threat compensation, which attempt to explain why humans affirm schemas and cultural worldviews following events that are distressing, anomalous or unexpected. Central to many of these theories is the role affirmations play in preserving self-identity. The Meaning Maintenance Model is one threat compensation theory that does not require the self to be threatened, in that it claims any violation of expectations is threatening, even those that are not directly related to the self, nor are necessarily consciously perceived. The role of the self as a necessary mediator between the perception of threat and evoked response is empirically tested in three studies. Results show that a subliminal presentation of incoherent word pairs can produce the same type of schema affirmation seen with other explicit and implicit threatening stimuli. Furthering this, the same subliminal threat also produces changes in behaviour that are not consciously directed, in this case by increasing implicit learning ability and working memory.