Does TV Make Us Racist?

By Laura Saslow, Kat Saxton, Erica Lee | July 2, 2010 | 0 comments

Summaries of new research on the subtle effects of TV, overcoming an insecure childhood, and how to deal with our emotions.

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* This new Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, compassion, altruism, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to!


TV Racism Equals Real World Racism

"The Subtle Transmission of Race Bias via Televised Nonverbal Behavior"

Science. December 2009, Vol 326(5960), 1711-1714.

Can TV subconsciously induce racism? Researchers studied how viewers were affected by nonverbal behavior on 11 popular television shows, such as CSI: Miami. Characters on these shows displayed more negative nonverbal behavior toward African-American characters than toward white characters. Exposure to pro-white nonverbal behavior increased racial bias among viewers, as determined by a test that measures unconscious biases, even though viewers did not report noticing patterns of biased behavior on TV. This study suggests that subtle nonverbal behavior on TV can influence racial bias in the real world. —Kat Saxton

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Overcoming Insecure Attachments

"Working Models of Attachment to Parents and Partners: Implications for Emotional Behavior Between Partners. "

Journal of Family Psychology. Volume 23 (6), December 2009, Pages 895– 899.

It’s often assumed that how securely attached we felt to our parents will influence how secure we feel in our later relationships. However, this study found that our attachment to our spouse, not our parents, better predicts our emotional reactions to our spouse. So, even if you had an insecure relationship with your parents, you and your spouse can overcome that problem if you form a secure attachment to one another. —Laura Saslow

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How to Handle Our Emotions

"Emotion Regulation: Antecedents and Well-Being Outcomes of Cognitive Reappraisal and Expressive Suppression in Cross-Cultural Samples"

Journal of Happiness Studies. Vol 10(3), June 2009, 271-291.

In a study of college students in Norway, Australia, and America, researchers studied two emotion regulation strategies: cognitive reappraisal (thinking about something else when feeling negative) and suppression (avoiding expressing emotions). They found that those who suppressed their emotions were more likely to experience depressive symptoms, lower life satisfaction, and more negative feelings. In their sample, men were more likely to suppress emotion, and both sexes suppressed less as they aged. Those who tried to regulate their emotions more—meaning that they engaged in more self-reflection and cognitive reappraisal—reported the opposite: fewer depressive symptoms, higher life satisfaction, and more positive emotions. This research supports the idea that being able to regulate your emotions predicts long-term health and well-being. —Erica Lee

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How Our Brains Process Rewards

"Neural Reward Processing is Modulated by Approach- and Avoidance-Related Personality Traits "

Neuroimage. Volume 49 (2), January 2010, Pages 1868–1874.

People tend to differ on how excited they are about rewards. In this study, researchers sought to understand if these differences could be measured in the brain. They discovered that people who say they like rewards (they tend to seek out fun, exciting experiences) responded to rewards with higher activation in the ventral striatum and medial orbitofrontal cortex, two areas of the brain related to reward processing. The brains of people who are depressed tend not to be as responsive to reward. Based on these findings, it seems that learning how to gain pleasure from reward—which can change how your brain responds to rewards—might be a critical part of becoming happier over the long-term. —Laura Saslow

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