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PsySociety

PsySociety

Blogging At The Intersection Of Psych and Pop Culture

Pop Culture? There's an Effect for That.

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Hello, my name is Melanie, and I'm addicted to horrible television.

Well, I'm also addicted to social media. And politics. And The Daily Show. And Jennifer Lawrence interviews...

Okay, it's probably fair to skip to the end of this list and admit that really, I'm just plain addicted to pop culture.

It also seems fair to admit that I'm pretty darn lucky. Because when you conduct research in social psychology for a living, believe me -- pop culture suddenly gets so much more interesting.

Like when you suddenly notice how Snooki provides the perfect example for thinking about how we compare (and contrast) ourselves with others. Or how our assumptions about Korean pop sensation Psy perfectly demonstrate how we fall victim to the Fundamental Attribution Error.

The truth is, no matter what we're looking at in the world around us -- be it trends, television, current events, or celebrities -- psychology is right there, smack dab in the middle of it.

Apple might have built its brand by telling you that there's an app for everything, but me? I'm here to tell you that there's an effect for everything.

Did you ever wonder why Ray and Debra Barone seem so unhappy, while Phil and Claire Dunphy are blissfully in love? Why Todd Akin has such misguided beliefs about how the female body works? Why McKayla Maroney looked so unimpressed with her silver medal? Why so many contestants on reality shows seem to end up hooking up? Why we accuse some record-breaking athletes of doping while we give others the benefit of the doubt? Why Love In The Wild was actually a pretty brilliant idea for a reality dating show?

Yes, there's an effect for that. There's an effect for all of that.

So I'm here to tell you more about what those effects actually are, and where we can inevitably see them popping up in the world around us. I'm here because I love social psych so much, I can casually refer to my "favorite papers" in normal conversation without the slightest hint of facetiousness. I'm here because I love shamelessly applying everything that I've been studying for the past eight years to everyday events and pop culture phenomena that don't have anything to do with science on the surface. I'm here because when I stand up at the front of the classroom to teach 100 students about Intro Social Psychology twice a week, I get so excited about being the first one to tell them about all of these awesome things that I can hardly get my words out fast enough. I'm here because I can't even sit down to watch the Olympics or go see a superhero movie without thinking about how what I'm watching relates to empirical research in my field.

Clearly, I get *very* excited when talking about social psychology.

I want you to trust me on this for now, although it's my hope that you'll understand it for yourself soon enough: Once you know about this stuff, there's no turning back. Let this introductory post serve as your warning that being a social psychologist is a blessing and a curse. Anything you could ever want to know about relationships, persuasion, aggression, cooperation, social influence, conformity, group behavior, power, attitudes, love...it's all right here in our arsenals. I get to wake up every morning and learn a little bit more about the very foundation of why people do all of the weird things that we do, with some of the coolest findings in all of science (not that I'm biased) as weapons in my back pocket to help me out. It's a great gig, but I'll admit - it's exhausting. After all, most people get to leave their work behind in the office at the end of the day. That's not exactly possible when you turn on the TV and Kim Kardashian is perfectly demonstrating the main finding from your best friend's Masters thesis. Even if I were to leave this field tomorrow, it's already too late. The damage is done. I will never again be able to return to a life where I don't see the fundamental principles of psychological science unfolding all around me on TV shows, during political debates, and buried in celebrity gossip.

So readers, I invite you to join me here at PsySociety. With any luck, you'll soon be as cursed as I am.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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