Sunday, February 27, 2011

Construal Level and Confidence

...or Why Tam's Confidence in Her Math Mojo Might Be So Variable

Construal level theory addresses the issue of psychological distance and proposes that events, objects, individuals, etc., can be close or distant from oneself in time, space, social distance, and hypotheticality.  Higher levels of construal are associated with a more abstract mental representation while lower levels of construal involve more concrete mental representations. 

To take an example from my own life these days, when considering "going on an interview visit at X university" at a high level of construal (e.g., when thinking of it as something in the future), I am apt to think of it in terms of its meaning or purpose (such as making progress in my career).  When thinking of it at a low level of construal (e.g., as something happening in the next couple of days), I am likely to think of it very concretely in terms of the detailed aspects of the experience (such as dealing with the hassle of air travel).

"At higher construal levels, being a math student is construed at an abstract level, and confidence assessments center on the desirability of the outcome.  When people assess their confidence in obtaining a desirable outcome, they often intuit that their chances should increase with effort put forth or level of investment in the outcome.  This positive association of effort and confidence in outcome desirability aligns with the conventional wisdom reflected in idioms such as 'Good things don't come easy,' 'The early bird catches the worm,' 'No pain, no gain,' and so forth.  Hence, we propose that at higher construal levels, ease is interpreted in terms of the effort or, more specifically, in terms of the relationship between effort and outcome desirability.  Confidence therefore results from feeling as if she did or did not put in enough effort to ensure a desirable outcome.  For example, experiencing difficulty when reading the textbook would be interpreted as thinking carefully, and we hypothesize that the student would feel more confident, believing she had worked hard at the task.  By contrast, subjective feelings of ease might leave the student with misgivings, as in 'I did not put much effort into this task, so I am not so confident.'

"At lower construal levels, however, being a math student is construed as a concrete task, and confidence is based on the feasibility of completing the task (e.g., "Do I have the ability?").  In this case, subjective feelings of ease indicate that the task is going smoothly without hindrance.  This sense that the task is 'coming off without a hitch' signals that it is feasible to do the task well, thereby fostering confidence.  However, subjective feelings of difficulty signal that the student is running into rough spots in the process or is lacking the ability to complete the task, and so indicate lower feasibility of completing the task, thereby reducing confidence.  For example, experiencing difficulty in reading the textbook might be interpreted as a hindrance and a signal of low ability.  It is as if the student thinks, 'That was a breeze, so I must have gotten it right' or 'That was hard every step of the way, so now I'm not so sure.'"

Adapted from:
Tsai, C. I., & McGill, A. L. (2011). No pain, no gain? How fluency and construal level affect consumer confidence. Journal of Consumer Research, 37, 807-821.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Yet Another PhD Update

Number of official acceptance offers received: 1 (social psychology; a program I interviewed with on the phone and was emailed by my potential advisor that I was being accepted)

Number of rejection emails received: 1 (social psychology; I expected it since I did not get an invite to the interview weekend that happened a couple weeks ago)

Number of rejection emails sent: 1 (social psychology; the program I had only received an unofficial offer from)

Number of telephone interviews conducted: 1 (marketing; a school my father resents but that has a seriously kick-ass consumer behavior program)

So my current status is:
Official acceptances - 1 psych, 1 marketing
Waitlists - 1 psych (almost assuredly will become a rejection)
Rejections - 3 psych
Interviews scheduled - 1 marketing
Interviews done with no follow up yet - 3 marketing
Withdrawals - 2 psych (was 1 acceptance, 1 shortlist)
No contact - 3 psych (2 almost assuredly rejections), 2 marketing (both in play, I believe)

Oh, and the update on the thesis front - all hope is not lost; adding an additional moderating variable appears to make the model at least possibly reasonable.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Developments Du Jour

(1) Unofficial acceptance to a Big 10 psychology program from my potential advisor (I had interviewed with her a couple weeks ago on the phone.)  This helps salve my ego from the Northwestern and Ohio State rejections. 

(2) Email alerting me to a phone interview with a different Big 10 marketing program.

(3) Initial data analysis from my thesis experiment is not promising.  I hope I do not have to figure out a way to elaborate on the statement "It didn't work" for a gazillion pages, but it may come to that. 

(4) Campbell's savory chicken and brown rice soup isn't half bad by the standards of canned soup.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Political Ideology and Social Psychologists

I have really been enjoying the discussion about Jonathan Haidt's presentation at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology about the astonishingly lack of conservatives (and really, any form of non liberal) within the ranks of academic social psychologists.  I first read about this presentation at Megan McArdle's blog in a post about the liberal slant of academia (responding to this NY Times article about Haidt's talk), and she published a follow-up post today

However, one thing that irked me about McArdle's discussion of the presentation / article is that she failed to acknowledge this (quoted from the article):

For a tribal-moral community, the social psychologists in Dr. Haidt’s audience seemed refreshingly receptive to his argument. Some said he overstated how liberal the field is, but many agreed it should welcome more ideological diversity. A few even endorsed his call for a new affirmative-action goal: a membership that’s 10 percent conservative by 2020. The society’s executive committee didn’t endorse Dr. Haidt’s numerical goal, but it did vote to put a statement on the group’s home page welcoming psychologists with “diverse perspectives.”

So while being a social psychologist obviously does not render one immune to prejudice and bias, it appears that these psychologists reacted in a relatively non-reactive, non-defensive way to having this prejudice pointed out.  I can imagine a lot of conferences where this sort of presentation, accusing the membership of some profession or organization of being discriminatory, would not go down well at all.  I thought she wasn't giving the audience enough credit for being open to these ideas.

Anyway, I especially recommend the presentation (25 minutes long).  It's thought-provoking, even if rather light on empirical evidence.  Personally, I suspect that the skew toward liberal ideology amongst social psychologists is due in large part to self-selection bias, but I think it's an issue worth thinking about. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

It's Official

Today I received a letter from the dean of the graduate school sealing the deal on my previous marketing program acceptance offer.  So, basically, I'm golden.  The good news is that I can now inform two other programs - in social psychology - that I will be rejecting/withdrawing from consideration.  This will mean that two other psychology applicants will be made very happy as I open up these slots.


I have now gotten my first rejections: Ohio State and Northwestern social psychology programs.  In both cases, I saw other applicants reporting that the online status update on the application web site had been updated with no email prompting them to check their status or anything.  I have joined a large cohort of rejects from these programs.

Good news - I received a call this afternoon to arrange an onsite interview with another marketing program.  I seem to be doing surprisingly well with my marketing applications, especially compared to my psychology ones.

Tam wins the prize for guessing the program I would hear from next, I take 2nd place with the Ohio State rejection, and Robert's suggested program remains a possibility.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Not So Fun

It's definitely the illness season at school.  Last week, 4 students were too sick to attend research methods lab, for example, and I've had a bunch of sniffly, coughing freshmen coming into the experimental lab to participate in my thesis study over the last two weeks.  I was feeling pleasantly surprised that I have seemed to avoid catching whatever bugs are going around, but this afternoon, I've changed my mind - I'm clearly getting sick and am longing to go home, lie down, and mew pathetically.  Fortunately my last lab session ends at 6, and I don't really have any other work I must do tonight.  I'll be through with data collection early tomorrow afternoon (yay!) and then I get to the more fun and exciting part: analyzing my data and evaluating just how much crack I was smoking when I put this experiment and these hypotheses together.  But unlike collecting data, I can crunch data from home, and though I do not favor the "working on my laptop while reclining in an easy chair" mode of working from home, I do sometimes take the advantage of mid-afternoon nap opportunities. 

So, yep, my life lately is all about obsessing over PhD applications, avoiding illness then succumbing, and engaging in laboratory subterfuge.  Oh, and looking at cute photos of rabbits and other animals on the Internet.  Check out Louie: he really disapproves of laboratory studies!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Another Update

Social psychology:

3 - Losing hope (based on other people having interviews/offers)
1 - Wait list (little chance)
1 - Short list
1 - Phone interview
1 - Unofficial acceptance
3 - No news


1 - Onsite interview
1 - Phone interview
1 - Acceptance!
4 - No news

The marketing acceptance happened last night.  I've been offered an extra stipend to attend the program (increasing the stipend about 37%).  It's in a large, semi-expensive city so the additional money is especially welcome.  I am well pleased.

I almost had a heart attack this morning (OK, not literally, but my heart did seem to stop for a moment) when I heard a person in my program (Overachieving P.) telling his advisor that he's been admitted to my #1 psychology program and that they are putting him up for a fellowship, while I've heard nothing.  Of course, with a marketing admit in hand, I am less concerned about my psychology program outcomes.  Anyway, later today I found out that he applied to developmental, not social (though many of his other apps are in social) so it has no implications for me. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Not Very Much about PhD Applications

I keep wanting to post about something other than my PhD applications, but things really heated up this week.  I had two phone interviews and then right before bed, I had an email from a tip-top marketing program (like, #2) wanting to do a phone interview on Monday (which I have scheduled).  I lay in bed last night for a while feeling just flat stunned before I fell asleep - I hadn't had any expectation of hearing anything from them except for a rejection letter.  I'm also juggling visitor weekend invites from a couple of psychology programs.

The conference I attended last weekend was good.  I had a fun time with my poster presentation - it's kind of like a science fair in that you stand there and wait for people to come by and take an interest in your research.  (I even felt like I sort of had a "fan" based on this one guy's reaction, although maybe he just wanted to have an excuse to talk to me for a while.)  I enjoyed many of the sessions where people talked about their research and was super impressed by the hour-long talk on the purpose of consciousness.  I was also pleased to discover that Ringo Starr is alive, well, and doing psychological research at the University of Texas.  I learned that you should really find out how much things cost before ordering in an expensive hotel - I enjoyed the breakfast buffet the morning I left town, but not $23 worth.  (I had peanut butter on a slice of bread, ingredients I packed from home, the other mornings consistent with Operation Cheap Ass.)

This week, I spent most of my work time in the lab, collecting data for my thesis.  If all goes well, I should be done with data collection next Wed. and can start getting down and dirty with my analysis.  I can hardly wait to see if what I attempted to do worked at all.  

Tomorrow morning, Robert and I are watching the very last episode of Lost.  It'll be strange to be through with this show.  I wonder whether I will have the same kind of mild ennui that I suffered after watching the last episode of Buffy.  I hope the new Doctor Who is good so that we can use it as the Robert-compatible replacement for Lost in our Netflix TV line-up.

Meanwhile, my haircut continues to be a disaster.  I keep finding new places that need to be trimmed, straightened-up, etc., so it's a constantly evolving mess.  In a couple weeks, it should be long enough that I can get it re-cut. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Angie's Too Short Hair

It made me smile to read that fashion consultant and blogger Angie is handling a too-short-haircut with aplomb:  "I also had my hair cut yesterday and it’s very, very short. But that’s okay because after two weeks of growth it will be back at the perfect length."

Also, those boots rock.