This Week in Psychological Science

Do People Prescribe Optimism, Overoptimism, or Neither?

Jane E. Miller, Inkyung Park, Andrew R. Smith, and Paul D. Windschitl

Psychological Science      

People generally recommend that others feel optimistic about desirable events but not overestimate the likelihood of those events. Participants read scenarios about protagonists facing uncertain events with a desired outcome (e.g., winning an award) and indicated whether the protagonist should be optimistic or pessimistic about the event and how likely the protagonist should expect the positive outcome to be. Participants endorsed optimism but did not recommend overestimating the likelihood of desirable outcomes. These results suggest that how people are asked about optimism affects their response and that they do not tend to endorse biased optimism.  

Mental Logout: Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Regulating Temptations to Use Social Media

Nurit Sternberg, Roy Luria, and Gal Sheppes

Psychological Science     

How can one control and regulate the temptation to use social media instead of doing other things, such as sleeping or focusing on driving? While researchers collected electroencephalographic (EEG) data, participants viewed social-media-related images (e.g., Facebook icons). Participants reported less desire to use social media when they were instructed to direct their attention to neutral thoughts (e.g., think about geometric shapes) than when they were instructed to allow their thoughts and intentions to use social media to flow freely. EEG data indicated that when participants attended to neutral thoughts, they gave less initial attention to social-media images and represented them less often in working memory.  

Acute Psychosocial Stress Increases Cognitive-Effort Avoidance

Mario Bogdanov, Jonas P. Nitschke, Sophia LoParco, Jennifer A. Bartz, and A. Ross Otto

Psychological Science     

Bogdanov and colleagues examined participants under stress and in a control condition and tested their preference for less demanding tasks. In the stress condition, researchers manipulated psychosocial stress using the Trier Social Stress Test, in which participants give a speech and perform a difficult arithmetic task in front of judges; in the control condition, participants gave a speech about a self-chosen topic and performed a simple arithmetic task. Results indicated that acute stress increased participants’ preference for less demanding behaviors in a task in which they had to make numerical judgments, suggesting that stress increases avoidance of cognitive effort.  

Pupil-Linked Arousal Biases Evidence Accumulation Toward Desirable Percepts During Perceptual Decision-Making

Yuan Chang Leong, Roma Dziembaj, and Mark D’Esposito

Psychological Science     

People might indeed be biased to see what they want to see, this research suggests. Participants saw ambiguous images, each of which mixed a face and a scene in a different proportion, and earned $0.05 for each correct categorization (e.g., face-dominant or scene-dominant). However, in some cases, the researchers motivated participants to see more faces or scenes by telling them they would receive $3.00 for each block in which either kind of stimulus was dominant. Participants were more likely to report seeing the category they had the incentive to see. Moreover, when participants showed higher levels of arousal, measured by pupil dilatation, their motivationally biased responses increased.  

A Prospective Study of Mental Health, Well-Being, and Substance Use During the Initial COVID-19 Pandemic Surge

Katherine C. Haydon and Jessica E. Salvatore

Clinical Psychological Science    

Haydon and Salvatore examined a U.S. community sample before COVID-19 and during the initial surge of the pandemic. They tested whether pandemic-related events (e.g., difficulty connecting with friends) and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) were associated with mental health, well-being, relationship satisfaction, and substance use. Results indicated that ACEs were associated with more negative pandemic-related events, which, in turn, were associated with increased depressive symptoms, stress, anxiety, and peritraumatic distress (i.e., negative emotions around the traumatic event) and lower relationship satisfaction, relative to pre-pandemic levels. Thus, childhood trauma might explain different individual vulnerabilities to COVID-19 disruptions.  

Maternal Depression, Child Temperament, and Early-Life Stress Predict Never-Depressed Preadolescents’ Functional Connectivity During a Negative-Mood Induction

Pan Liu et al.

Clinical Psychological Science  

Early depression risk appears to be associated with altered brain functional connectivity during negative-emotion processing, related to maternal depression and children’s maladaptive patterns of temperament (e.g., high negative emotionality, especially sadness). Liu and colleagues assessed children’s depression and temperament patterns at the age of 3 years and their early-life stress at ages 3, 4, and 5. When the children were around age 11, the researchers measured their brain activity during a negative-mood induction task (watching a sad clip from a film) using MRI; they also measured children’s maternal depression history, children’s sadness and low positive emotionality, and early stress-predicted specific patterns of brain activity. These findings suggest an association between functional connectivity and early depression risks.