Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jenny Cole - Why Would Praising Other People Make Us Feel Better About Ourselves?

Interesting article from Big Questions Online. Jenny Cole responds to the question, "Why Would Praising Other People Make Us Feel Better About Ourselves?" The question comes from this piece at the British Psychological Society website (emphasis added at the key point):

It's good to gossip - but be nice!

Gossiping has some benefits - at least for the person doing the gossiping.

Gossipers feel more supported and positive gossip - praising somebody - may lead to a short-term boost in gossipers' self-esteem.

These are the findings of research conducted by Dr. Jennifer Cole and Hannah Scrivener from Staffordshire University, who present their preliminary findings today, 7th September 2010, at the British Psychological Society Social Psychology Section annual conference at the University of Winchester.

To ascertain the consequences of gossiping on the gossiper 160 participants completed questionnaires relating to their tendency to gossip and measures of their self-esteem, social support and satisfaction with life.

Although not associated with self-esteem or life satisfaction, higher levels of gossiping were associated with feelings of greater social support. In a follow-up study, 140 participants were asked to talk about a fictional person positively or negatively. Those who described the fictional character positively felt greater self-esteem than those asked to talk about them negatively.

Dr. Cole said: "Gossiping is usually seen as a bad thing. Our findings suggest some forms of gossiping- particularly of the type where people praise others- could be linked with some desirable outcomes for the gossiper despite the fact that gossipers are not generally approved of."

So, why does saying nice stuff about other people make us feel better?

Why Would Praising Other People Make Us Feel Better About Ourselves?

Jenny Cole answers.
Monday, September 13, 2010

Our research measured feelings of positive emotions and self-esteem and found that both were raised following praise, especially self-esteem. The finding that the act of praise modestly raises positive emotions and reduces negative ones can be explained by a priming effect. That is, sometimes merely thinking about positive things can lead us to experience positive mood and emotions.

The results for self-esteem were more pronounced, and the explanation may be less straightforward. One possibility is linked to the finding in psychology that self-esteem increases when we participate in helping behavior. When we gossip, we can exert some control over how others see the person we talk about. Praising others may therefore make us feel like a “Good Samaritan,” which may make us feel better about ourselves.

What is interesting in our study is that participants were instructed to do this and had never seen the person they were asked to describe. It would be really fascinating to see what happens when we ask them to gossip about someone they know and to choose whether to say something positive or something negative. Firstly, the positive effects of helping on well-being are more marked when the behavior is voluntary, as demonstrated by a recent study by psychologists Netta Weinstein and Richard Ryan. However, sharing information about someone you know without their knowledge may not have such a positive effect on well-being. We may actually feel bad because of feelings that we are violating the privacy of the person we are talking about. Until we have more data, we will not know which way it will go.

There are a host of other variables that affect how we feel about our gossiping behavior: whether the person we talk about is a member of our social group or a rival one, our personal attitudes toward gossip, the consequences of our actions, and our motivations for gossiping. All of these factors make for a very interesting area of research!

Jenny Cole is a lecturer in social psychology at Staffordshire University.

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