Lonely People Have Social Skills, They're Just Too Anxious to Use Them


Lonely people may just be terrible under pressure. A new study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin finds that lonely people aren’t lacking in social skills. Rather, they may be able to decode social cues just as well as a non-lonely person, but choke under the pressure of performing in social situations, researchers led by Megan Knowles at Pennsylvania’s Franklin and Marshall College found. 

As it turns out, “choking” is a scientifically validated concept. When people pay too much attention to what should be automated processes, like in professional sports, it can interfere with what should be a subconscious performance. Freaking out over a task, like a math test, can also overload working memory, causing people to flub.  

In four different tests, participants who described themselves as lonely performed as well or better than non-lonely participants, as long as the tasks weren’t couched in terms of social suavity. In one, for instance, some participants were told that a particular lab task would measure their performance in social situations, while another group was told that it was merely a measure of problem-solving. Lonely people in the former condition tended to perform worse than non-lonely people, while in the second condition, there was no difference. In other words, when they felt their social skills were being put to the test, lonelier people choked. However, in a subsequent study when participants were primed to attribute their feelings of anxiety to a caffeine buzz (from a fake energy drink that in reality contained no sugar or caffeine), lonely individuals performed better. 

Apparently, allowing the lonely to dismiss their anxieties as stemming from another task or being side effects of caffeine enabled them to avoid choking under pressure,” the researchers write. “Altogether, these findings suggest that the pressure of social challenges causes anxiety that impairs the performance of lonely people.”  

This is in line with previous research suggesting that reframing the way people think about anxiety can help with all kinds of performance anxiety. Leaning into those butterfly feelings—by concentrating on feeling excitement before a big speech for example—can improve performance more than trying to fight the anxiety and calm down. Now, just figure out a way to self-administer placebo shots of caffeine, and you’ll be the life of the party. 

[h/t: The Science of Us]

Yoga and Meditation May Lead to an Inflated Ego

If you’ve been exasperated for years by that one self-righteous, yoga-obsessed friend, take note: Regular yoga practitioners experience inflated egos after a session of yoga or meditation, according to a forthcoming study in the journal Psychological Science.

Researchers found that yoga and meditation both increase "self-enhancement," or the tendency for people to attach importance to their own actions. In the first phase of the two-part study, researchers in Germany and England measured self-enhancement by recruiting 93 yoga students and having them respond to questionnaires over the course of 15 weeks, Quartz reports. Each assessment was designed to measure three outcomes: superiority, communal narcissism, and self-esteem. In the second phase, the researchers asked 162 meditation students to answer the same questionnaires over four weeks.

Participants showed significantly higher self-enhancement in the hour just after their practices. After yoga or meditation, participants were more likely to say that statements like "I am the most helpful person I know" and "I have a very positive influence on others" describe them.

At its Hindu and Buddhist roots, yoga is focused on quieting the ego and conquering the self. The findings seem to support what some critics of Western-style yoga suspect—that the practice is no longer true to its South Asian heritage.

It might not be all bad, though. Self-enhancement tends to correlate with higher levels of subjective well-being, at least in the short term. People prone to self-enhancement report feeling happier than the average person. However, they’re also more likely to exhibit social behaviors (like bragging or condescending) that are detrimental in the long term.

So if you think your yoga-loving friends are a little holier than thou, you may be right. But it might be because their yoga class isn’t deflating their egos like yogis say it should.

[h/t Quartz]

Have You Heard? Trading Gossip Can Be Good for You

Like picking your nose or re-using a dirty coffee cup, trading petty observations and suspicions about others is a function of life no one takes any particular pride in. You might have been told by parents not to say anything about someone "behind their back," and gossip often involves some degree of schadenfreude. In terms of keeping a positive outlook, there's not much to be said for chattering about whether someone got a facelift or if a divorce might be imminent.

Or is there? Ben Healy of The Atlantic recently aggregated compelling data that points to gossip having surprising benefits. When two people discuss negative feelings about a third, they tend to bond over the shared hostility more than if they were sharing pleasant thoughts about him or her. The badmouthing parties also tend to enjoy a sense of accomplishment by reflecting on their own positive traits compared to the failure of others. They might even take a "lesson" from an anecdote about someone's catastrophic life, using it as a cautionary tale. If the gossip has a positive slant, it might be used as inspiration to pursue self-improvement.

That's the other surprising thing about gossip: 96 percent of the time or more, it's not overly negative. Among adolescents, it's usually used to vent about frustrations or to create conversation in pursuit of a bonding experience.  

If gossip truly is good for the soul, most of us are in luck. Talking about an absentee third person is what accounts for two-thirds of all conversation.

[h/t Atlantic]


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