Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sharing Attitudes

While my parents were here for graduation, my mom mentioned that she and another person working at the library discovered early in knowing each other that they both have the same favorite soft drink and thus they predicted (laughing) that they would have to like each other.  I told her that this was consistent with balance theory, which (roughly) holds that if two people share the same attitude (i.e., both have a positive or a negative evaluation toward something) that they will be in "balance," which facilitates liking or closeness between them.

A 2006 study put an interesting twist on this (Bosson et al.).  Participants formed a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward a person called Brad they heard talking in a taped conversation, and then were told that a stranger with whom they were soon going to interact either shared or did not share their attitude toward Brad.  (Note: I believe it's important to point out the design of the study was such that participants had no reason to believe that the supposed stranger was told what the participant's attitude was prior to expressing their attitude.  In other words, the stranger was not and could not be purposefully offering a matching opinion in this situation.)

The researchers found that strong positive or negative shared attitudes were equally effective at creating liking for the stranger.  However, when attitudes were weak, shared negative attitudes were more powerful at creating closeness between two strangers than were shared positive attitudes.  The idea here is that expressing a negative attitude is more revealing about someone's personality than is a positive attitude.  A person expressing a positive attitude might do so because (1) that is her true attitude or (2) positive attitudes are more socially desirable / normative.  However, expressing a negative attitude is risky because people tend to view these criticisms unfavorably so the person has no incentive to lie about their attitude - thus, this negative attitude is judged to be an expression of the person's true position.

In a recent series of follow-up studies examining the shared attitudes about specific professors held by college student participants, the same basic pattern of results was found, but the researchers also investigated why shared attitudes have this effect on closeness.  They examined 3 possibilities: (1) similarity - sharing an attitude makes the other person seem more similar to the self; (2) favorability - sharing an attitude makes one view another person more favorably; and (3) familiarity - sharing an attitude makes the other person seem more like a known entity.  They found evidence for increased familiarity, but not similarity or favorability, as the mechanism by which shared attitudes increase closeness. 

Thus this research suggests that shared attitudes engender a feeling of familiarity toward a stranger and therefore increase a sense of closeness to the person.  When the shared attitude is weak, negative attitudes are more effective at producing this sense of closeness than are positive ones. 

Learning something ahead of time about another person you want to get to know and impress is a classic approach to making yourself seem likeable to that person.  (This was rather well-demonstrated on the Burn Notice episode "Family Business," in which our ex-spy finds out everything about his target - his hopes and dreams, the kinds of wine he's crazy about - so as to get close to him and position him to betray his family.)  But when you don't have access to this kind of information, perhaps it's worth offering some strategic, weakly negative opinion of a third party to your would-be friend in the hopes that this attitude will be shared, make you feel familiar to the person, and ultimately bring you closer.  Of course, this is a risky approach (you might say you sort of dislike Groucho Marx or Kate Winslet to me) but that's why it works when your target shares your attitude. 

Hey, Mom - you know what, I kind of dislike Mark Wahlberg....

Source: Weaver & Bosson (2011). I feel like I know you: Sharing negative attitudes of others promotes feelings of familiarity.  Personality and Social Psychology Journal.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Birding by the Numbers

Robert and I updated our bird lists, which we used to produce the following factoids about my birding history.

Life birds in the American Birding Association area - 472

Top States For Life Birds:
1) Texas - 323 (68%)
2) Colorado - 64 (14%)
3) Washington - 41 (9%)
4) California - 16 (3%)
5) North Carolina - 15 (3%)

Top Sites For Life Birds:
1) Hornsby Bend (TX) - 72 (15%)
2) Town Lake (TX) - 57 (12%)
3) Westport pelagic trip (WA) - 18
4) Balcones Canyonlands (TX) - 13
5) Captain Ted's pelagic trip (TX), Lemon Lake (CO), Rocky Mt NP (CO) - 10

Total number of birding trips - 534
(Note: This means unique combinations of date and location; some may not be "trips" in a conventional sense)

Top Species By Number of Birding Trips:
1) Northern cardinal - 182 (34%)
2) American crow, Turkey vulture - 156 (29%)
3) Mourning dove - 150 (28%)
4) Northern mockingbird - 147 (28%)
5) European starling - 139 (26%)

Top Sites By Number of Birding Trips:
1) Hornsby Bend (TX) - 59 (11%)
2) My mom's yard - 13
3) Town Lake (TX), Bethabara Park (NC) - 12
4) Bastrop SP (TX), Longhorn Dam (TX), Reynolda Gardens (NC), Webberville Park (TX) - 7

Opportunistically birding Top Site #2 in PJs

Average Number of Species Seen Per Visit:
Hornsby Bend - 28.0
Town Lake - 20.0
Bethabara Park - 16.6
Bastrop SP - 11.7
Longhorn Dam - 26.3
Reynolda Gardens - 27.7
Webberville Park - 21.0
McKinney Falls SP - 20.2
Falcon SP - 36.0

Top State Lists (total number of species seen per state):
1) Texas - 358
2) Colorado - 129
3) North Carolina - 119
4) Washington - 99
5) Oklahoma - 88
6) California - 82

Top Species By Number of States:
1) American crow - 14
2) Red-tailed hawk, Rock dove - 12
3) Turkey vulture - 11
4) Mourning dove, House sparrow - 9

Monday, May 9, 2011

This Week

Now that I'm totally finished with all my paperwork needed for graduation (which happens this weekend), I've been catching up on some things:

* Birding again - this time, the highlight was seeing several species of vireo.

* Picking Robert up from the accident he was in while driving to the community college to give his final exam (which didn't happen because it took us so long to get there).  It was a classic "person in front of you brakes suddenly so you crash into the back of them on the highway" situation.  Nobody was hurt, but his car is in a bad way.  My car gets to be the hero for a while, including our upcoming road trip to Snow City to find an apartment for the fall.

* Dealing with our new roommate Squeakers the mouse, who was extremely scared when Robert went into the pantry for his cereal box early Saturday morning.  Today the pest control people came to set up traps, and they said that it is getting to the end of mouse season (apparently, mice come inside more for warmth than food).

* Going through my own stuff and Robert's storage unit to find stuff to trash or donate.

* Putting together another crazy 60s / mod striped shirt (which I plan to finish tomorrow).

* Reading War and Peace.  Seriously.  I'm feeling kind of sick, currently have no access to a library, and by my recent (and near-future, like the next five or twelve years) standards, I have an unbelievable amount of time on my hands, so the timing is right for me to finally read it (Tam gave me her copy a while back).  This afternoon, I finished Part I.  It seems silly to say this about one of the great classic works of literature but it's really good - I mean, it's not just "good" in some kind of exalted sense but it's an enjoyable and compelling read.  I did not expect to find myself laughing out loud.