Research Roundup

Looking on the Bright Side Helps Older Adults Avoid Stroke

Optimism appears to protect against stroke, according to a study by University of Michigan graduate psychology student Eric Kim, published in the October issue of Stroke.

People who see the glass half full may live longer, healthier lives.For two years, Kim and his advisers followed a group of 6,044 men and women drawn from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative sample of adults age 50 and older. Participants completed a variety of demographic, health and behavioral measures, including the Life Orientation Test-Revised, which gauges optimism. The people who endorsed statements on the test such as, "In uncertain times, I usually expect the best" and "Overall, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad" were later less likely to experience strokes, even when researchers controlled for risk factors such as smoking, age and activity level.

A sunny perspective may lead people to engage in healthier behaviors, such as having an active social life and taking medicine as directed by a physician, past research suggests. Therefore, interventions that encourage optimism might save lives someday, especially given that stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, Kim says.

"The general public understands that factors like depression and anxiety can hurt physical health," he says. "I'm hoping they'll be open to the idea that positive psychological variables can enhance health."

Narcissistic Leaders: Big Talk, Poor Results

Teams led by narcissists rate themselves as highly effective, but actually perform poorly, according to a study led by Barbara Nevicka, a psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Amsterdam, and published in the November issue of Psychological Science.

Nevicka and her colleagues divided 150 participants into three-member teams, each with a randomly assigned leader. Participants received nine pieces of information about three job candidates, such as "can fly a helicopter" and "starts stuttering under pressure." Then, their teams had to decide collectively which candidate would make the best secret agent.

Teams with leaders who scored high on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory — which asks people how much they agree with statements such as, "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place" — had a greater likelihood of selecting the worst job candidates. In fact, the more narcissistic the group leader, the lower the quality of the group decision-making, Nevicka found.

The bad performance may lie in narcissists' poor listening skills and tendency to make decisions without seeking feedback from others. Groups led by narcissists shared less information about candidates, so negative information was less likely to be revealed or discussed. Those groups also weren't aware of their subpar performance, and even rated their narcissistic leaders as highly effective, she found.

The results highlight the risks of putting narcissists in charge, says Nevicka. "If you put them in a high-power role, that could be a problem if you need individual people to share their unique information," she says.

Study Finds Distinct Sexual Arousal Pattern for Bisexual Men

While previous research has shed doubt on the existence of men who are aroused both by men and women, a new study in press in Biological Psychology finds that some men do show bisexual patterns of arousal.

The researchers, led by psychology doctoral student Allen Rosenthal of Northwestern University, recruited bisexual men by placing an ad on a website where heterosexual couples seek men for sexual encounters. To be included in the bisexual sample, a man needed to have had sexual and romantic relationships with both men and women in the past. Men who identified as bisexual but who did not meet these criteria were excluded from the study.

The researchers also recruited homosexual men and heterosexual men for comparison groups. Participants were asked to watch short videos of two men having sex and of two women having sex while a circular band at the base of their penises recorded their sexual arousal. The bisexual men, as compared with the homosexual and heterosexual men, were aroused by all the videos.

It may sound like an obvious finding, says Rosenthal, but past research has cast doubt on bisexuality in men, as many gay men initially identify as bisexual, and bi-identified participants in a previous study did not show genital arousal to videos of women. What Rosenthal and his colleagues did differently was to only recruit men who were actively looking for bisexual experiences and who had experienced bisexual encounters in the past — probably ruling out the men who were only attracted to men but identified as bisexual.

The findings confirm something the bisexual community has preached for years, says Rosenthal. "Men who say they're bisexual are not deluded," he says.

Thinking About Casualties May Increase Support for War

War protesters may unintentionally activate people’s unconscious desire to assure soldiers’ sacrifices weren’t made in vain.Anti-war protests that focus on the number of service members killed might undermine their cause because of a phenomenon called the sunk-cost effect, according to a study in the March Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Long studied in business decision-making, the sunk-cost effect explains the tendency to continue a course of action despite evidence that it might not be working because of the amount of time, money and other resources already invested in a plan or project. To test his idea, psychology doctoral student John Paul Schott of Washington University in St. Louis divided participants into four groups. Half of the participants read scenarios designed to get them thinking about the sunk-cost effect — for example, a story about someone who finished an unappetizing lobster dinner to avoid being wasteful — and the other half read generic stories. Then, the groups were subdivided: Half read news articles about the casualties of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, while the others read weather reports. Finally, all the participants completed a questionnaire about whether they supported the wars.

Of the four groups, the people primed for the sunk-cost mindset and given casualty statistics were the most in favor of continued involvement, Schott says.

"The implication is that presidents or military leaders who may want to ... decrease support for a war have to be careful about mentioning casualties," he says.