To vaccinate or not to vaccinate: What makes the difference?

Authored by Teresa Huff

Prosocial behavior encompasses actions taken with the goal of helping another.  As a human trait, it garners much attention in the realm of social psychology research.  Recently, a German study examined the link between prosocial behavior, vaccination advocacy and “free-riding,” where an individual enjoys benefits of some sort primarily due to the actions  of others in the group or society. Meanwhile, the individual fails to act or “pay” his portion. In these instances, said individuals can be described as failing to act prosocially.

Researchers at the University of Erfurt proposed that how vaccination advocacy is presented may impact individuals’ intentions or actions in vaccinating themselves. When large portions of a society vaccinate, the result is herd immunity, with the vaccinated protected but that benefit extending to the unvaccinated.  While vaccination produces a direct benefit by reducing disease, it does so at a cost—time, monetary investment, and possible side effects.   Thus, those who “free ride” and fail to vaccinate enjoy immunity without cost.

In a 2x2x2 experimental design, researchers hypothesized that when a vaccination advocacy message highlighted individual benefit, ie “When most people in your environment are vaccinated, you are more likely protected”, free-riding would increase.  Conversely, if social benefit was salient, ie “If you are vaccinated, you help protect others who are not,” they predicted an emergence of prosocial behavior.

The study’s results were mixed.  Significant findings emerged when individual benefit was salient, demonstrating that under those conditions, free-riding resulted.  In the social benefit condition, no significant difference was found in increase to prosocial behavior, but a decrease in free-riding resulted.  However, a third hypothesis introducing a high vs. low cost variable revealed that when social benefit is the salient message, prosocial behavior emerges IF costs are low.  Interestingly, the control group who received no vaccination message at all averaged higher vaccination intentions than either experimental group, leading to the question: why communicate herd immunity at all?  It could be reasoned that although a social benefit message failed to increase prosociality, it succeeded in impacting free-riding, thus producing a positive effect.

Ultimately, studies like this one demonstrate the powerful real-world impact social psychology research makes upon persons and their situations.  An increased insight and understanding of what motivates persons in situations plays an important role in informing and shaping the therapeutic and clinical realms of our field.

Betsch, C., Böhm, R., & Korn, L (2013).  Inviting free-riders or appealing to prosocial behavior? Game-theoretical reflections on communicating herd immunity in vaccine advocacy. Health Psychology, 32, 978-985.


Rewire Memory to Forget Fears

Research suggests that there are two types of memory: short term and long term. It used to be believed that once something enters long term memory, it lives there forever. Research over the past several years has shown this to be false. To understand how this happens, you have to understand the general concepts of how memories are stored. This occurs during the process of consolidation. According to the textbook Biological Psychology by James Kalat (used for my biological bases class), consolidation is simply when a memory becomes stored in long-term memory. The time it takes to do this can be affected by time or how meaningful the memory is. Every time this memory is brought back up, it has to be reconsolidated, or re-remembered. It is during this reconsolidation that memories can be altered, called the reconsolidation effect.

What researchers have found is that certain types of influences presented during reconsolidation can erase or change the memory for good. This has been tested on fear responses in order to look for ways that individuals with anxiety disorders can overcome their fears. Researchers from Uppsala University tested this by disrupting the reconsolidation process by repeatedly presenting a picture after the initial fearful stimulus had been presented. They found that these individuals no longer associated the initial fearful stimulus as fearful. Another study done by researchers at the University of Amsterdam found that administering the beta blocker propranolol produced the same results. The fearful memory had been completely erased. These findings imply that the instability of memory can be beneficial in helping individuals who suffer from disorders like phobias, PTSD, panic attacks and other anxiety disorders. It will be interesting to see future research that tests this hypothesis on individuals who actually suffer from an anxiety disorder.

Women Proven to be Better Leaders in the Workplace

New research shows that women are better leaders in the business world. The difference lies in the decision making process. Men tend to make decisions based on traditional rules and regulations while women tend to think outside the box and look at many solutions. They look for solutions that consider the interests of several stakeholders and use cooperation and collaboration much more effectively than their male coworkers. According to the research, a woman’s presence in a corporate boardroom has been linked to “better organizational performance, higher rates of return, more effective risk management and even lower rates of bankruptcy.” Here are some other statistics (taken from the research) as to why women are better leaders:

  • Boards with high female representation experience a 53% higher return on equity, a 66% higher return on invested capital and a 42% higher return on sales (Joy et al., 2007).
  • Having just one female director on the board cuts the risk of bankruptcy by 20% (Wilson, 2009).
  • When women directors are appointed, boards adopt new governance practices earlier, such as director training, board evaluations, director succession planning structures (Singh and Vinnicombe, 2002)
  • Women make other board members more civilized and sensitive to other perspectives (Fondas and Sassalos, 2000) and reduce ‘game playing’ (Singh, 2008)
  • Female directors are more likely to ask questions rather than nodding through decisions (Konrad et al., 2008).

Although it continues to be long and hard battle for equal rights between men and women in the work place, hopefully these new findings will lead to more women leaders and smaller gender gaps.

Texting in Class Can Lead to Lower GPA

If you’re one of those students that texts and/or uses social media during class, you may want to reconsider. Research from Lock Haven University has found a correlation between students who used their phones during class and lower GPAs. Phone use during studying also has a negative effect on GPA. This seems to be common sense, but it’s likely that many students believe they can multitask: retain the information from the professor while still being able to communicate through their phones. Unfortunately, our brain is only wired to be able to concentrate on one intellectual task at a time.

Although professors all have their own rules about using phones during class, it’s still up to the student to make the decision to check their phone. That decision is even more in the student’s hands while their studying. We now have more proof that it’s important to turn our phones off during class and/or studying in order to learn and understand the information we’re being taught.

Helpful Sleeping Tips

It would be rare for someone to claim that they’ve never had problems related to sleeping. Most people have gone through bouts where sleeping is difficult, mostly related to events that are currently happening. Insomnia is when this difficulty sleeping becomes frequent and extends over a longer period of time. This may mean that there is an underlying issue. These underlying issues could be actual sleep disorders (like apnea or restless leg syndrome), mental illness (like depression or anxiety), injury, or poor quality of health.

I’ve had problems sleeping for a year or so that I believe are related to anxiety and the medication I take for ADHD. Although some nights it seems impossible to fall asleep, I’ve found several things that have helped overall. Here are some helpful tips, including the ones that work for me.

  • Set a set sleeping schedule and stick to it
    • Don’t nap within 8 hours of bedtime; set an alarm
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol
    • 6-8 hours before bedtime
  • Have a relaxing bedtime ritual
    • Reading, meditation, warm bath, etc.
  • Be exposed to bright/natural light in the morning
  • Don’t lie in bed awake if you can’t fall asleep
    • Get up and do something else until you feel tired enough to sleep
  • Control your room environment and temperature
    • Make sure the room isn’t too hot or cold; avoid sleeping with TV or music on
  • Certain foods
    • Fish, jasmine rice, tart cherry juice, yogurt, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, bananas, chickpeas, & fortified cereals may all help provide certain vitamins/minerals that are missing from your diet
    • Tea: herbal and chamomile
  • Exercise

Recent studies have shown that exercise can have a powerful impact on sleep. The National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll asking people about their sleeping habits and outcomes. What they found is that the people who exercised (vigorously, moderately, or lightly) reported better sleep than those who didn’t exercise. In fact, more than 2/3 of those who vigorously exercised rarely or never reported symptoms of insomnia. Sleep was also affected by the mere act of spending a lot of time sitting down. Those who spent less than 8 hours a day sitting were more likely to report that they have very good sleep quality.

My very brief training in mindfulness has given me some tools for using my breath as a way to relax. Focusing on inhaling and exhaling and counting breaths can help calm down the mind and body. I’ve recently downloaded an application on my phone that guides your breath. It’s called “Universal Breathing – Pranayama Free”. I used it for the first time last night and for the first time in weeks, I woke up refreshed and was able to fall asleep within a decent amount of time. Because I feel I have some underlying issues when it comes to my sleep, I think this would work even better for someone who doesn’t suffer from insomnia.

If you have tried most/all of these tips and are still experiencing difficulty sleeping, it may be helpful to go see a doctor.

Mindfulness Workshop


Avila’s Dr. Hunt is presenting an exciting mindfulness workshop this month that teaches mindfulness techniques for individuals and veterans with PTSD. Below is the flyer (click to make bigger). Being a strong advocate for mindfulness, I strongly recommend this.

mindfulness workshop

The Truth Behind Introversion

As someone who is fairly interested in the psychology of personality, any article that discusses any of the big 5 (openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism) catches my eye. One of the more well-known traits is extraversion/introversion. As a country that values being outgoing and assertive, Americans often consider extroversion to be “better”. There seems to be an assumption that being introverted means you don’t like being around people. Thankfully, this is false.

This summer in my career counseling class, we were fortunate enough to have guest speaker Dan DeFoe come by, whom is very knowledgeable about the assessment called the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This assessment is used to discover what preferences people have in the way they make decisions and view their world. There are 4 dichotomies in the MBTI: extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, judging/perceiving, and thinking/feeling. The scores exist on a sort of scale, meaning that you’re rarely 100% one side or the other. For example, you may have a score of 14 for extraversion and 4 for introversion, meaning that you still have introverted tendencies sometimes but you mainly prefer extraversion. One piece of information that really stuck with me about extraversion/introversion that DeFoe explained is that it refers to where people get their energy from. So, it’s not that extraverts love people more than introverts; it’s that extraverts are more energized by being around people whereas introverts draw their energy from more solitary activities.

The reason that I found this original article so interesting is that it discusses some research that found that introverts who act extroverted will feel a greater sense of happiness. It’s important for this statement to be explained because at face value, one might again assume that being extroverted is “better”. Although the original article cites more than one study done to test this hypothesis, the main and most recent research was done by John Zelenski*. Zelenski took 495 participants, assessed whether they were introverted or extraverted, then told them they would be participating in extraverted or introverted activities. Before actually participating, they were surveyed to forecast whether they imagined the activity being enjoyable or not, among other feelings about the activity. The introverts tended to forecast that the experience would be much more unpleasant than the extroverts did. After participating in the activity, everyone was asked to rate how the actual experience was. What the results showed is that introverts significantly underestimated how enjoyable the extraverted activities would be, which explains how the research concludes that (some) introverts who act extroverted will feel happier.

It can’t be said exactly why these results occurred but there is speculation. The author of the original article, Sumathi Reddy, gives a few theories. One is that acting extraverted (outgoing, engaging, etc.) may influence how others respond to you and if that response is positive, the experience is also positive. Another theory is that the extraversion was necessary to complete a goal and the happiness comes from completing that goal; for example, making a speech. One of my own theories is that because when introverts forecast certain activities as being unpleasant and end up not having a terrible time, reality was better than their expectations and therefore produces positive feelings. So even though introverts are happy participating in more reserved activities, participating in more extraverted activities may simply give them more opportunities to have a good time. As Zelenski said “”You don’t think you want to go to a party and then go and have a great time””.

*Zelenski, J. M., Whelan, D. C., Nealis, L. J., Besner, C. M., Santoro, M. S., & Wynn, J. E. (2013). Personality and affective forecasting: Trait introverts underpredict the hedonic benefits of acting extraverted. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology104(6), 1092-1108.

The Bullying Epidemic

100,000 students carry a gun to school.

That number is shocking. What could possibly be the cause of a statistic so terrifying? If you guessed bullying, you’d be right. Bullying has increasingly been a topic on the news because of the large number of children it affects and the negative consequences it produces. To validate this, here are some statistics:

  • 30-50% of students are bullied or are bullies
  • 1/3 of high school drop outs blame bullying
  • 23% of elementary students are bullied up to 3 times a day
  • 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools
  • 160,000 students skip school because of bullying.

Bullying has become an epidemic. One large reason for this can be attributed to the increase in technology. 20 years ago, a bullied child was only bullied at school. Their home was a safe place where the bullying stopped. Although technology is seen as a wonderful improvement to our society for many reasons, it only has a negative influence on bullying. Rather than the home being a safe place, the bullying only continues through Facebook, texting, and other online forums. This not only makes bullying easier to do, but it makes it much more persistent.

So why is it that kids even want to bully other kids? According to an article by Lynne Shallcross, it may have to do with trying to gain a sense of power and control. The target tends to be children that hold some characteristic that makes them stick out. Jealousy is also another motivator. If someone feels that their status or role is somehow being threatened, they may turn to bullying in order to gain it back. What’s interesting is that 1/3 of bullies are actually bullies themselves. This has more to do with trying to feel a sense of belonging or by projecting their own hurt feelings onto someone else. Another more simple explanation is that children find bullying effective in getting what they want.

It’s clear that bullying has several consequences. Academically, the student may fall behind because they’re too distracted by the bullying or may skip school a lot in order to avoid it. The lasting mental effects are the real danger.  Suicide is most notably the most severe consequences, but it can also lead to disorders like depression and anxiety. Even without the development of a mental disorder, it can very much affect your view of the world. For example, you may feel unsafe and untrustworthy of others or develop unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict. Researcher William Copeland recently published his findings from a longitudinal study done looking at the long-term effects of bullying. What they found is that bullies were more likely to develop antisocial personality disorder, although it was rare. Victims of bullying were four times as likely to develop an anxiety disorder compared with those unaffected by bullying. The group of kids that suffered the most were those that were bullies and victims. They were five-times as likely to develop depression, 10 times as likely to have suicidal thoughts and 15 times as likely to develop a panic disorder.

I’ve had personal experiences with bullying in middle school. Although Facebook and texting didn’t exist back then, AOL Instant Messaging was the main channel through which I was harassed. It wasn’t until I went to high school that I escaped it. I can’t even imagine how difficult it could be for a child in this generation to find a way to get away from it all. I can also admit that bullying has very much affected my life as an adult.

Bullying expert Susan Swearer explained how bullying is a social-ecological problem which consists of individual, community, family, school, and peer group factors as influences. This means that bullying needs to be addressed in each of these arenas for each different community. There isn’t just one plan of action that works for every single school; although the main form of advice remains constant:DO SOMETHING.

Welcome back!



Welcome back to school! As much as I enjoyed my summer, I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. I think this will be an exciting semester. I’ll be working on expanding this blog and creating more opportunities for student involvement. I hope to connect with many of you! Stay tuned to find out more.

End of the Semester

Well, it’s the last day of classes! Which means it’s also my last day blogging until the Fall semester. Next semester we’ll be working on a bunch of other really cool things related to this blog. I’m already excited for it! I hope everyone has a great summer and for those of you taking summer classes, good luck!