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Faculty Research Findings

New Findings

Humor in Marriage

Many people who place personal ads seeking a romantic partner specify someone with a good sense of humor. So why is humor important in a mate? Dr. Glenn Weisfeld’s research analyzes extensive data on thousands of married couples in several countries, trying to understand why humor in marriage is evolutionarily adaptive. Conducting their research with mainly urban couples in the U.S., U.K., China, Russia, and Turkey, Dr. Weisfeld and his colleagues ask, “How much does your spouse make you laugh?”

In four of the countries, husbands made wives laugh more than the reverse, but in Russia wives made husbands laugh more. The Russian collaborator in the study, Dr. Marina Butovskaya, believes that Russian wives need to use humor to buoy their husbands’ spirits in a country where the men are under high levels of stress. In all five countries, wives’ marital satisfaction was associated with having a humorous spouse; so was husband’s satisfaction, although not as much. Contrary to prior theories, humorousness of the spouse was not particularly related to finding the spouse intelligent. Spousal humorousness was more closely tied to spousal kindness, understanding, and dependability in a crisis—traits sought in a mate around the world.

The researchers concluded that humor serves various functions in marriage. Humor can magnify the benefits of having a kind, understanding, dependable spouse, perhaps by adding a personal touch that indicates commitment. Telling jokes to the spouse may also indicate a desire to amuse him or her, and to maintain the relationship. Some research suggests that husbands, but not wives, tell more jokes when the marriage is faltering, as though to try to maintain it. Dr. Weisfeld adds, “Telling jokes may also provide a test of the recipient’s mood—if she doesn’t laugh, he may be in trouble!”

G.E. Weisfeld, N.T. Nowak, C.C. Weisfeld, E.O. Imamoðlu, M. Butovskaya, J. Shen, & M.R. Parkhill (in press). Do women seek humorousness in men because it signals intelligence? A cross-cultural test. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research.


Different methods of treating trauma with emotional disclosure: Effects on post-traumatic growth and symptoms

Stressful or traumatic life experiences can cause psychological and physical symptoms, especially when the stressor has not been adequately processed emotionally. However, people also often report that coping with stressful life events has helped them grow as individuals—for example, by helping them realize the value of each day or bringing them closer to others.  Treatments for unresolved traumas usually involve helping people disclose, discuss, and emotionally experience traumatic memories and emotions, but whether this can be done in a brief time, and whether a therapist is needed or people can do this on their own, are not known.

In a new study appearing in The Journal of Clinical Psychology, Dr. Mark Lumley along with graduate students Olga Slavin-Spenny and Lindsay Oberleitner and post-doctoral fellow Jay Cohen explored several different half-hour long emotional disclosure interventions that might be used to help people who have unresolved stressful or traumatic experiences. These interventions included writing about their experience, talking about it into a tape recorder, or talking to different kinds of therapists—either quietly supportive, or actively facilitative. Participants were over 200 young adults who reported continuing symptoms from a trauma or stressor.  The researchers found that all of these types of interventions led to more post-traumatic growth for the participants, compared to control conditions (talking or writing about time management as a way to reduce stress). Although the four disclosure conditions led to improved symptoms, the control conditions also showed some symptom improvement, so there were no differences between disclosure and control groups. The research team concluded that 30 minutes of disclosure—whether conducted via writing or verbally, with or without a therapist—can help people experience post-traumatic growth after a stressful or traumatic experience, although symptoms are not so easily affected. The next step for researchers is to investigate whether more sessions or disclosure, and disclosure conducted over the internet, can improve both post-traumatic growth and symptoms.

Slavin-Spenny, O.M., Cohen, J.L., Oberleitner, L.M., & Lumley, M.A. (in press). The effects of different methods of emotional disclosure: Differentiating post-traumatic growth from stress symptoms. Journal of Clinical Psychology.

The Meaning of Working for Older Workers: Development of a New Theoretical Model

As the oldest Baby Boomers now approach 65, many are finding themselves uninterested in hitting the golf course full-time or moving to Florida—yet, at least. Over fifty years of research suggests that across cultures, occupations, ages, and sexes, a majority of people continue to work even if they do not need to do so financially. Further, the number of workers over 55 in the U.S is predicted to leap by more than million per year over the next several years. So why do people want to keep working well into their golden years, even when they don’t have to?

Dr. Boris Baltes and graduate students Cort Rudolph and Anne Bal from the Diversity and Work-Family Relations lab at Wayne State are trying to tackle this question with a new theoretical model of the meaning of working for older workers. Their model focuses on how the meaning of working reflects older workers’ specific needs and motivations and how the components that contribute to the meaning of working may be dynamic across the lifespan. The central idea of their model is that the meaning of working is affected by both the choices that people make at work and their unique experiences in their workplaces. They argue that these choices affect how people are rewarded in the workplace and their expectations about future experiences at work. Baltes and his colleagues say that these rewards and expectations are at the core of what gives rise to meaningful working for older workers. And, they theorize, when older workers find meaning, the benefits may be great—with happy older workers being more productive workers and serving as mentors for younger co-workers

Baltes, B. B., Rudolph, C.W., and Bal, A. C. (In Press).  A Review of Aging Theories and Modern Perspectives. in J.W. Hedge, & W.C. Borman (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Work and Aging.

The Hidden Epidemic of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence against women carry a stigma that often deters women from telling others about it. So many sexual assault survivors have provided anguished accounts of the blame and recrimination received from others that these negative responses to talking about the trauma have been called “the second rape.” However, very little research has investigated the conditions under which sexual assault survivors decide to disclose, or talk about their experiences to others, and the consequences of those disclosures.

In a new article appearing in the Journal of Trauma and Dissociations, a team of researchers at Wayne State examined the effects of disclosure in a community sample of sexual assault survivors in metropolitan Detroit. The researchers—led by psychology graduate student Angela Jacques-Tiura and Dr. Antonia Abbey, the senior author on the project—found that among survivors who had disclosed to someone, 96% had disclosed to at least 1 informal support provider (a friend, family member, or close other) and 24% to at least 1 formal support provider (such as police officers, medical personnel, and mental health professionals). The experiences of African American and Caucasian survivors were similar in many ways, with most participants in the study receiving more positive than negative responses from others. However, when negative response from others did occur, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms were more likely to be present—particularly so for African American participants. Regretting disclosure and disclosure to formal providers were also related to PTSD symptoms. The authors conclude that, “When survivors can count on receiving support rather than blame, sexual assault may no longer be a hidden secret.”

Jacques-Tiura, A.J., Tkatch, R., Abbey, A., & Wegner, R. (2010). Disclosure of sexual assault: Characteristics and implications for posttraumatic stress symptoms among African American and Caucasian survivors. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, 11, 174-192.

Study Finds Link Between Smiling and Longevity

Put on a happy face – and you may live to be 103. Wayne State researchers examining a database of baseball players found that people who smile in photographs live longer than those who don't. This is the first study to find a link between smile intensity and a biological outcome.

Facial expressions are a barometer of emotions. Just as emotions vary in form and intensity, facial expressions do, too, so it's possible to use facial expressions to gauge another person's emotional state. How we express these emotions can also greatly affect our lives. Previous research has shown that women with more intense smiles were more likely to stay married.

For this study, published in Psychological Science, psychologists Ernest Abel and Michael Kruger took photographs of 230 players from the 1952 Baseball Register and blew them up to fit on 3x5 file cards. Five people each went through the deck of cards, rating each athlete's expression as: no smile; a partial smile, in which only the corners of the mouth were lifted; or a full smile, in which the corners of the mouth and the corners of the eyes moved.

The researchers used a database of players to compare smile intensity to longevity, controlling for several factors, including how long they played baseball, whether they had a college education, and body-mass index. All but 46 had died by the time the study began, in 2009. The researchers found that the players with broad smile lived an average of five years longer than players who didn't smile. Even baseball players with partial smiles did better than players who managed no smile at all.

A broad smile – in which the corners of the eyes move – is hard to fake. "Some people are able to really smile and some people just don't have it in them," says Abel. That happiness seems to carry over to a longer life.

Abel, E. L., & Kruger, M. L. (2010). Smile intensity in photographs predicts longevity. Psychological Science, 21, 542-544.

Accessibility of Indirectly Related Concepts: Strong Association Not Required!

The links between concepts form the basis of language comprehension. When we hear or see a concept such as DOG, we anticipate that upcoming related concepts like CAT may follow. This spread of activation between related concepts can occur across several concepts. For example, the concept MOUSE will be more accessible upon hearing or seeing DOG due to the spread of activation from DOG to CAT to MOUSE. This enhanced activation of a target word (MOUSE) by an indirectly related word (DOG) is referred to as mediated priming. Note that there is a strong association between DOG and CAT and between CAT and MOUSE. That is, when presented with DOG in a free association task, a large percentage of people (20% or more) provide CAT as the first word that comes to mind.

Prior studies of mediated priming demonstrated increased accessibility for concepts such as MOUSE only when there was a strong association between the prime and mediator (DOG and CAT) and between the mediator and target (CAT and MOUSE). Dr. Lara Jones demonstrated that “pure” mediated priming occurred between concepts (WIND and STRING) that were only weakly associated with a mediating concept (KITE). Participants were faster to recognize STRING as being a real word in the English language (a measure of a concept’s accessibility) following the indirectly related word WIND. However, rather than a spread of activation from WIND to KITE to STRING, pure mediated priming resulted from the increased activation of the target following a successful search for a plausible concept that connected the paired prime (WIND) and target (STRING) concepts. This research is the first to demonstrate increased activation of concepts following indirectly related concepts in the absence of a strong association.

Jones, L. L. (2010). Pure mediated priming: A retrospective semantic matching model. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36, 135-146.

“Couple Friends” May be Good for Your Relationship

You have been with your boyfriend or girlfriend for a few years and have settled into a nice routine. You enjoy each other’s company thoroughly, share dinners together, occasionally go out, and typically end the day with an hour or so pleasantly unwinding together in front of the t.v. This is a person you could spend the rest of your life with. Still, you feel like the routine that the two of you have settled into together may be just a little, well, boring. Research by Dr. Richard Slatcher at Wayne State suggests that spending quality time with other couples may be something that can you can do to add some zest to your long-term relationship.

In a new study to appear in the journal Personal Relationships, Dr. Slatcher brought sixty couples into the lab and randomly assigned them to one of two conditions where they engaged in a 45-minute get-to-know-you conversation with another couple. In the one condition, couples were encouraged to focus on topics that were geared toward creating a fast friendship with the other couple; in the other condition, couples engaged in non-emotional small-talk. Compared to the small-talk group, those in the “fast friends” group felt closer to the couples they interacted with and were more likely to actually meet up with them again during the following month—a full third of the couples in the fast friends group contacted the other couple and met up with them later. Getting on the path to friendship with other couples also put a spark in people’s own relationships: those in the fast friends condition felt much closer to their romantic partners after the get-to-know session. So, if your relationship is having a temporary case of the doldrums that most couples face, having fun together with another couple may just help pull you out of it.

Slatcher, R. B. (2010). When Harry and Sally met Dick and Jane: Experimentally creating closeness between couples. Personal Relationships, 17, 279-297.

Genes Help Explain “Why the Caged Bird Sings”

Fascinating research in songbirds has revealed that hormones alone cannot explain the sexual differentiation of brain morphology or behavior. For example, although female zebra finches treated with estradiol early in development are somewhat masculinized, no hormonal treatment, to date, has prevented a male zebra finch from singing or developing a male-typical brain. New research published by Dr. Michelle Tomaszycki and her colleagues in BMC Neuroscience suggests that some of these sex differences may be regulated by direct genetic effects. This study first identified more than 2400 genes with sex differences in expression in developing zebra finches. The researchers followed up on 20 of these genes, and confirmed whole-brain sex differences in 12 of the genes. They then examined the brains of post hatch day 25 (when males are learning their song), and found that 6 of these genes showed increased expression in one or more of the song control regions in the brain of males compared to females. Three of these genes have been identified, and are linked to learning and memory.  These data suggest a potential influence of these genes in song learning.

Where is the Tomaszycki lab headed now? While most research on zebra finches focuses on male singing behavior, their research focuses on pair bonding behavior, an important but poorly understood component of “why the caged bird sings.” Zebra finches live in complex social groups, form pair relationships that last a lifetime, and rely heavily on visual and vocal cues for recognizing social partners. This means that zebra finches have much more behaviorally in common with humans than do rodents, the standard model. Their relationships can be maintained after many weeks of acoustic and visual separation, and extra pair copulation is extremely rare, so perhaps they are super-human in this respect. Dr. Tomaszycki and her students are seeking not only to understand how altering circulating neurochemicals affects pairing behavior, but also to understand how the simple act of forming a social attachment changes the brain. Stay tuned for exciting insights into pairing relationships.

Tomaszycki, M. L., Peabody, C., Replogle, K., Clayton, D. F., Tempelman, R. J., & Wade, J. (2009). Sexual differentiation of the zebra finch song system: potential roles for sex chromosome genes. BMC Neuroscience, 10: 24, doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-24.

 Adolescents in Foster Care Face Considerable Risk for Homelessness

Homelessness continues to plague American urban centers. Especially troubling are suggestions that the foster care in the U.S. is a pipeline to the streets for older adolescents leaving the system. Surveys of service providers and homeless adults suggest difficulties securing stable housing, a huge problem for youths exiting foster care. Until now, very little research has systematically examined the onset, frequency, and duration of homelessness among former foster youth. As a result of this lack of research, policy and intervention possibilities among an already vulnerable population have been hamstrung.

To address this gap in knowledge, a recent study by researchers at Wayne State sought to estimate the prevalence of homelessness among adolescents who age out of foster care. The study, which appeared in the American Journal of Public Health, reported on findings from a sample of 265 adolescents who aged out of foster care in 2002 and 2003 in the Detroit metropolitan area. The research team, led by Dr. Patrick Fowler—a 2009 graduate of the Wayne State’s clinical psychology program and now an assistant professor of psychology at DePaul University—along with Dr. Paul Toro (from our Department of Psychology) and Dr. Bart Miles (from Wayne State’s School of Social Work), found that over two-fifths of aged-out foster youths experience enduring housing problems in the two years after exit from the foster care system. In this two-year follow-up period, the researchers found that rates of homelessness exceed the 12.9% lifetime prevalence for a single homeless episode among US adults. Although some manage to attain stable housing after early episodes of homelessness, many aged-out youths experience enduring patterns of precarious housing, with one-fifth of adolescents experiencing chronic homelessness. The scope of this problem is immense, the authors conclude, not only in prevalence but also in terms of its real impact on psychosocial functioning. Identifying these risks for adolescents exiting foster care, the authors conclude, represents “a remarkable opportunity to mitigate and prevent homelessness and its associated psychosocial effects in the United States.”

Fowler, P.J., Toro, P.A., & Miles, B.  (2009).  Pathways to and from homelessness and associated psychosocial outcomes among adolescents leaving the foster care system. American Journal of Public Health, 99, 1453-1458.

Antisocial Behavior in Adolescence: Neighborhood Characteristics and Parental Knowledge Matter

Antisocial behavior in adolescence is linked to a number of problems in adulthood, including crime, mental health concerns, substance dependence, and work problems. Because of the personal, economic, and social toll of antisocial behavior, extensive attention has been directed by researchers toward identifying the factors that increase risk for engaging in adolescent behaviors during adolescence.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Dr. Christopher Trentacosta and his colleagues investigated how dispositional factors, parenting factors and community factors interact to predict youth problem behavior. The study, which followed a sample of 289 boys from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds from early childhood through adolescence, found that those who were both “daring” (e.g., impulsive and adventurous) and who lived in dangerous neighborhoods were at especially high risk for problem behaviors. There was good news as well: children who were high in prosociality (e.g., caring about the welfare and rights of others) and whose parents had a strong knowledge about their kids’ lives were less likely to develop problem behaviors. These findings suggest that while dispositional factors are key risk factors for antisocial behaviors in adolescence, they need to be considered in the context of children’s neighborhood and family environments. According to Dr. Trentacosta, “Programs that target adolescent dispositional characteristics may not be as effective in particular contextual circumstances, and efforts to alter or support adaptations to the family and neighborhood context may be particularly useful.”

Trentacosta, C. J., Hyde, L. W., Shaw, D. S., & Cheong, J. (2009). Adolescent dispositions for antisocial behavior in context: The roles of neighborhood dangerousness and parental knowledge. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118, 564-575.

The Ethics of Leadership Across Different Cultures

Clearly, ethical leadership has importance within both Western and Eastern societies. However, there have been few attempts to clarify the attributes and actions that define what it means to lead ethically across cultures. For example, views about the ethical appropriateness of activities such as whistle-blowing tend to differ across cultures, while other factors such as integrity would appear to be universally supported ethical standards (though the meaning of integrity is itself culturally bounded).

In a series of studies, Dr. Marcus Dickson has worked with his former students Christian Resick (now at Drexel University), Jackie Deuling (now at Roosevelt University) and others to examine issues of ethics and leadership across cultures. Some of the work has been quantitative, drawing on data from Project GLOBE, the largest study conducted to date of leadership and culture (and of which Dickson was a Co-PI). Some of the studies have been more qualitative, using open-ended questionnaire data in which managers describe ethical and unethical leaders and leadership. Characteristics of ethical leaders such as integrity, altruism, empowerment, and collective motivation have been found to be universally viewed as facilitators of effective leadership across cultures, although the degree of emphasis varies significantly between cultures. Further, that variation between cultures has been found to be to some degree systematic, varying based on the cultural profiles of the societies. For example, when describing ethical leadership, respondents from the U.S., Ireland, and Taiwan most frequently focused on issues of the leader’s personal character, while respondents from the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, and Germany were more likely to focus on the leader’s consideration for others as determinants of the leader’s ethical leadership. When discussing unethical leadership, respondents from People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, and Germany were more likely to focus on the leader’s incivility, while other countries were more likely to identify deception and dishonesty as indicators of unethical leadership.  Finally, the research program has also focused on elements of culture that are predictive of the level of governmental and business corruption that characterize a given society.
Martin, G. S., Resick, C. J., Keating, M., & Dickson, M. W. (2009). Ethical leadership across cultures: a comparative analysis of German and U.S. perspectives. Business Ethics: A European Review, 18, 127-144.



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