Robert Kurzban

The Evolutionary Psychology Blog

By Robert Kurzban

Robert Kurzban is an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite. Follow him on Twitter: @rkurzban

What Are Social Psychologists Talking About in 2014?

Published 19 February, 2014
Some members of the Buss tree, at SPSP 2014

Some members of the Buss tree, at SPSP 2014

The Fifteenth Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology was held this past weekend in Austin, Texas. I was able to attend the event, and managed to go to nearly as many sessions as I did last year, though I missed last year’s total by one. On the flip side, I was able to make excellent use of my time, rekindling old relationships with friends and colleagues and developing some new ones.

The highlight for me was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the evolutionary psychology preconference, sponsored by the Evolution and Human Behavior Society. (I myself was speaking at a different preconference, so did not make the entirety of the event. Still, I managed to sneak away for a while in order to attend some talks.) David Buss gave a thoroughly engaging presentation, as usual, as did his intellectual descendant, Martie Haselton, who showed some very interesting new results relevant to the recent debate regarding the ovulatory cycle results. Very generally the nodes of Buss’ tree were well represented. His students and his students’ students continue to make their respective marks on the field. A nice feature of the preconference is that only one talk takes place at a time; there are no parallel sessions. Conferences such as HBES, in contrast, require one to choose where one is going to direct one’s attention, and I’m grateful that I didn’t face that particular problem at SPSP. (See picture above for a group shot.) Jessica Li and Stephanie Cantú did an excellent job organizing, and I for one am very grateful for the work they did on the preconference, though still very uncertain about the diacritical mark on Stephanie’s name.

Moving to SPSP proper, as I have done in the last two years, I analyzed the content of the SPSP program to get a sense – as I always say, an imperfect one – of what topics have the attention of researchers in social psychology. I couldn’t find a .pdf of the program online, so the text had to be scraped off of the relevant web page, which could have introduced some errors. (The passive voice in the previous sentence is meant to imply that I didn’t do the work of scraping the text myself. Hat tip to Fatima Aboul-Seoud for doing this).

As in the past, holding aside articles, conjunctions, and words such as “session” and “poster,” social (1196) is, unsurprisingly, among the top finishers. “Personality,” the other P in the name of the Society, had only 397 mentions, and I wonder if they should consider reversing the order of the p-words in the name of the organization. This year “self” (1358) was the most frequent substantive word. As I’ve pointed out previously, this is in no small part due to the fact that the word is used in so many different constructions, both as an adjective – self-esteem, self-regulation and (I’m not making this up), self-transcendence – and as a noun, as in “High status identity concealment alleviates threats to the self” and “the concept of the self is like a blow-up sex doll: easy to use but ultimately devoid of meaning.”

It was an excellent conference for relationships. The singular, relationship, came in at 566, with the plural not far behind at 450. Attitudes (413) fared well, and again positive (387) edged out negative (365), and individuals (378) lost out to people (408) – but not group (350) – observations that I’m sure contain some deep wisdom about the human condition.

Once again prejudice (346) was a popular topic, with identity (341) not far behind. Stereotyping (225), the gerund, wasn’t as popular, but if you combine it with stereotypes (99) and stereotype (90), then you can see that really this topic is faring quite well. Back up in the 300s were women (313) and gender (315)

Moral (300) and morality (121) once again put on a strong showing. Emotion (362) and emotional (219) beat the heck out of cognition (41), to say nothing of metacognition (2).

Here is a partial list of words between 300 and 200:

300 role
300 moral
298 perceived
279 health
250 perceptions
243 motivation
237 related
234 perception
230 person
227 goals
225 stereotyping
220 traits
219 emotional
218 esteem
217 men
216 individual
216 associated
210 groups
210 affect
206 bias
201 performance
201 intergroup

And between 200 and 100, here’s a sample:

152 regulation
146 attachment
145 romantic
144 judgments
138 lower
137 judgment
135 relations
134 culture
131 psychology
130 cultural
128 political
121 morality
121 ingroup
121 anxiety
119 racial
117 rejection
117 race
116 stress
116 interpersonal
113 persuasion
112 sex
112 norms
110 orientation
108 risk
107 consequences
106 religious
103 partners

How is evolution doing at SPSP? In my 2012 post, I wrote that “evolution-related terms (evolutionary, evolved, evolution, evolutionary) came in at 30, 15, 11, and 4.” In 2013, I wrote that “evol* comes in at 47 – evolutionary (25), evolution (17), evolutionarily (5).” This year, evolution (32) and evolutionary (16) once again posted meager showings. Evolved (4), evolve (1) and evolutionarily (1) bring the evol* total to 54, between 2012 and 2013. Evolution was again less frequently discussed than facebook (89), and we didn’t do as well as mindfulness (64). (Facebook is on the rise, appearing 51 times in 2012, and 82 times last year.) A substantial number of appearances of “evolution” were in the heading of a Poster Session (Poster Session D-Evolution). One poster suggested that: “It is commonly assumed that sex and violence sell, but evolutionary theory predicts the opposite,” a prediction that I confess surprised me, but I didn’t see the poster. Jeff Simpson chaired a symposium “Lust in our Ancestral Dust: Evolution, Attraction, and Relationships,” accounting for a number of other instances of evolution-related words.

A few people have asked me if social psychologists are still working on glucose as the self-control resource. I always give the same answer, which is that I don’t know. This year’s program implies that they if they are, it’s minimal. While one poster asserts that “Research has shown that ego-depletion is promoted by stress and prevented by higher glucose level,” the word itself appears only three times.

Copyright 2014 Robert Kurzban, all rights reserved.

Opinions expressed in this blog do not reflect the opinions of the editorial staff of the journal.

Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)
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