Was Facebook Manipulating Us? Maybe Not.

A lot of folks are pretty upset with Facebook for “manipulating” them.  A recent study showed that Facebook adjusted the algorithm that posts notifications to your wall.  At various times, they let through more “negative” posts.  Other times they let through more “positive” posts.  Then they checked the tone of your status updates to see whether your posts trended more positively or negatively in response.

This study has a lot of people concerned about emotional manipulation via social media.  Should they be?  Dr. John Grohol of PsychCentral says, “no.”  Here’s his analysis.

…these kinds of studies often arrive at their findings by conducting language analysis on tiny bits of text. On Twitter, they’re really tiny — less than 140 characters. Facebook status updates are rarely more than a few sentences. The researchers don’t actually measure anybody’s mood.

So how do you conduct such language analysis, especially on 689,003 status updates? Many researchers turn to an automated tool for this, something called the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count application (LIWC 2007). This software… was created to analyze large bodies of text — like a book, article, scientific paper, an essay written in an experimental condition, blog entries, or a transcript of a  therapy session. Note the one thing all of these share in common — they are of good length, at minimum 400 words.

Why would researchers use a tool not designed for short snippets of text to, well… analyze short snippets of text? Sadly, it’s because this is one of the few tools available that can process large amounts of text fairly quickly.

Who Cares How Long the Text is to Measure?

You might be sitting there scratching your head, wondering why it matters how long the text it is you’re trying to analyze with this tool. One sentence, 140 characters, 140 pages… Why would length matter?

Length matters because the tool actually isn’t very good at analyzing text in the manner that Twitter and Facebook researchers have tasked it with. When you ask it to analyze positive or negative sentiment of a text, it simply counts negative and positive words within the text under study. For an article, essay or blog entry, this is fine — it’s going to give you a pretty accurate overall summary analysis of the article since most articles are more than 400 or 500 words long.

For a tweet or status update, however, this is a horrible analysis tool to use. That’s because it wasn’t designed to differentiate — and in fact, can’t differentiate — a negation word in a sentence.1

Let’s look at two hypothetical examples of why this is important. Here are two sample tweets (or status updates) that are not uncommon:

        “I am not happy.”

    “I am not having a great day.”

    An independent rater or judge would rate these two tweets as negative — they’re clearly expressing a negative emotion. That would be +2 on the negative scale, and 0 on the positive scale.

    But the LIWC 2007 tool doesn’t see it that way. Instead, it would rate these two tweets as scoring +2 for positive (because of the words “great” and “happy”) and +2 for negative (because of the word “not” in both texts).

    That’s a huge difference if you’re interested in unbiased and accurate data collection and analysis.

    And since much of human communication includes subtleties such as this — without even delving into sarcasm, short-hand abbreviations that act as negation words, phrases that negate the previous sentence, emojis, etc. — you can’t even tell how accurate or inaccurate the resulting analysis by these researchers is. Since the LIWC 2007 ignores these subtle realities of informal human communication, so do the researchers.2

    Perhaps it’s because the researchers have no idea how bad the problem actually is. Because they’re simply sending all this “big data” into the language analysis engine, without actually understanding how the analysis engine is flawed. Is it 10 percent of all tweets that include a negation word? Or 50 percent? Researchers couldn’t tell you.3

    Even if True, Research Shows Tiny Real World Effects

    Which is why I have to say that even if you believe this research at face value despite this huge methodological problem, you’re still left with research showing ridiculously small correlations that have little to no meaning to ordinary users.

    For instance, Kramer et al. (2014) found a 0.07% — that’s not 7 percent, that’s 1/15th of one percent!! — decrease in negative words in people’s status updates when the number of negative posts on their Facebook news feed decreased. Do you know how many words you’d have to read or write before you’ve written one less negative word due to this effect? Probably thousands.

    This isn’t an “effect” so much as a statistical blip that has no real-world meaning. The researchers themselves acknowledge as much, noting that their effect sizes were “small (as small as d = 0.001).”   READ MORE…

    The Love List Exercise

    It is very easy to neglect showing love to your spouse in the little, everyday things. Lisa Popcak, co-author of “Just Married: The Catholic Guild to Surviving and Thriving in the first 5 years of Marriage,” gives some practical advise on how to proactively make time to love your spouse in the day to day things.

    Building Up Your Marriage by the Words You Choose

    It can be very easy to get into the habit of making negative or harmful remarks to your spouse without even realizing it. But Lisa Popcak, Co-Author of “Just Married: The Catholic Guild to Surviving and Thriving in the First 5 Years of Marriage,” explains how to encourage your spouse and build up your marriage relationship by the words you choose.

    Today’s Cool Kids Are Tomorrow’s At-Risk Kids

    A new study may provide both a cautionary tale for parents of cool kids and a moment of schadenfreude for adults who were bullied in childhood.   

    At 13, they were viewed by classmates with envy, admiration and not a little awe. The girls wore makeup, had boyfriends and went to parties held by older students. The boys boasted about sneaking beers on a Saturday night and swiping condoms from the local convenience store.  They were cool. They were good-looking. They were so not you.  Whatever happened to them?

    “The fast-track kids didn’t turn out O.K.,” said Joseph P. Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. He is the lead author of a new study, published this month in the journal Child Development, that followed these risk-taking, socially precocious cool kids for a decade. In high school, their social status often plummeted, the study showed, and they began struggling in many ways.

    It was their early rush into what Dr. Allen calls pseudomature behavior that set them up for trouble. Now in their early 20s, many of them have had difficulties with intimate relationships, alcohol and marijuana, and even criminal activity. “They are doing more extreme things to try to act cool, bragging about drinking three six-packs on a Saturday night, and their peers are thinking, ‘These kids are not socially competent,’ ” Dr. Allen said. “They’re still living in their middle-school world.”  READ MORE

    Prayer Promotes Bonding, Study Says.

    Servant of God, Fr. Patrick Peyton, is famous for the slogan, “the family that prays together, stays together.”  In our books, our radio program and counseling practice, we strongly recommend both couple and family prayer as a way of increasing intimacy and responding to the differences that can divide.  Of course, this isn’t just true for families.  Prayer is the means by which Jesus’ own wish that all might be one in him (John 17:21) will be fulfilled.  As Pope Francis has demonstrated repeatedly and, in particular in his spiritual intervention with Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, prayer is the way to peace.  In fact, the researchers assert that despite popular concerns that prayer in public institutions would lead to conflict, the reality is quite different in that prayer is a uniting, not a dividing force.

    A new study from the University of Connecticut reveals the power of prayer to reach across cultural divides and build bridges in  organizations that make prayer a common practice even when its membership is made up of people from diverse backgrounds.  The study finds that interfaith group prayer serves as a “bridging cultural practice” in multi-faith community organizations.

    “The prayer practices we observed appear to play a crucial role in binding participants together across significant racial and socioeconomic differences,” says sociology professor Dr. Ruth Braunstein of the University of Connecticut.

    “They do this by being inclusive of multiple faith traditions, celebrating the diversity of the group, and encouraging individuals to interact with each other.”

    The study, published online this month and scheduled to appear in the print edition of the American Sociological Review, consists of data from a national study of multi-faith community organizing groups.

    These groups organize primarily through religious congregations in an effort to build civic coalitions that address a variety of issues, from health care access to crime. Such groups tend to be both racially and socioeconomically diverse.

    Nationally, more than 50 percent of board members of these organizations are non-white, compared to 19 percent of all nonprofit board members and 13 percent of Fortune 500 board members.

    Additionally, more than half the board members of the faith-based groups earn less than $50,000 a year.

    What Braunstein and her fellow researchers discovered is that, far from being a source of division, religious practices play a unifying role in such groups, even in those — like the one where Braunstein did her fieldwork — that include members from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith traditions.

    Interfaith group prayers took place in about 75 percent of the diverse gatherings Braunstein observed over two years.

    Such prayers are defined by the authors of the study as a “bridging cultural practice,” meaning an activity that’s used to build shared identities across differences.

    By analyzing data from the National Study of Faith-Based Community Organizing Coalitions, the researchers found that the greater a group’s diversity, the more likely they were to incorporate “bridging prayer practices” like prayer vigils into their regular activities.

    “American society can learn a lot from organizations that are struggling honestly to embrace diversity….” said Wood.

    Miscarriage: The Family Impact

    Miscarriage not only affects the parents but also the whole family. Bruce and Jeannie Hannemann, Founders of Elizabeth Ministry International, provide practical ways to incorporate and comfort the entire family in grieving for the deceased child.

    Can A Bad Marriage Kill You? Study Says, “Yes, and A Good Marriage May Heal.”

    From Science Daily

    The affairs of the heart may actually affect the affairs of the heart in ways previously not understood.”Growing evidence suggests that the quality and patterns of one’s social relationships may be linked with a variety of health outcomes, including heart disease,” says Thomas Kamarck, professor of psychology and Biological and Health Program Chair in the University of Pittsburgh Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. He is an author of a new study that correlates unhappy marital interaction with thicker carotid arteries and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

    “The contribution of this study is in showing that these sorts of links may be observed even during the earliest stages of plaque development [in the carotid artery],” Kamarck continues, “and that these observations may be rooted not just in the way that we evaluate our relationships in general but in the quality of specific social interactions with our partners as they unfold during our daily lives.”

    Nataria Joseph, who recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship under Kamarck, is the lead author of the paper, published this month in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Given the size of the effect in the study and the relationship between carotid artery plaque and disease, Joseph’s findings, made at Pitt, indicate that those with marital interactions light on the positive may have an 8.5 percent greater risk of suffering heart attack or stroke than those with a surfeit of good feelings.   MORE

    Relationship & Health:  Science the Theology Agree

    More and more, research is showing that the quality of our relationships has tremendous impact on our physical and emotional health.   I think this is another area where there is increasing agreement between psychology and theology.  For instance, Dr. Dan Siegel– a founder of the developing field of Interpersonal Neurobiology which looks at how relationships affect health and neurological functioning–argues that it is foolish to think of an individual as apart from his relationships.   He argues that, in a sense, there is a flow of energy within the relationships between people that interacts with and impacts the functioning of the mind and body of each individual in the relationship on an atomic level.  The effects of this interaction can be observed–if not the process itself–in the way different relational and environmental states have been shown to impact gene expression and the development of new neural connections throughout the brain and nervous system.  When I read his work, I am often reminded of Pope St. John Paul the Great’s argument in his Theology of the Body that just as the Trinity is a communion of three distinct but united persons, the human beings made in the image and likeness of that Communion are also, at their most basic level, best understood to be inseparable from the communion of persons in which they participate.

    The Takeaway

    I realize that’s all rather thick language and if I lost you, it doesn’t really matter because the larger point is still clear enough.  Namely, that the well-being of each human person is intimately tied to the quality of his or her relationship with others and that is exactly as God intended it to be.

    The takeaway is that taking care of your relationships may be just as important as diet and exercise for longevity and health.   Even if you don’t feel like working on your marriage for the sake of your partner, for instance, you may want to work on it out of a commitment to your own well-being because avoiding the work isn’t punishing your partner as much as it may be punishing yourself. If you fail to do the work that your intimate relationships require, you may literally be breaking your own heart.

    To learn more about how you can create life-giving love in your marriage, check out the resources we offer at the Pastoral Solutions Institute including our various titles on marriage and our Catholic tele-counseling practice.    Do it for your marriage.  Do it for your health.

    Kids with Strong Bonds to Parents Have Better Relationships with Peers & Are More Adaptable

    From Science Daily-Mind/Brain News.

    What social skills does a three-year-old bring to interactions with a new peer partner? If he has strong bonds to his parents, the child is likely to be a positive, responsive playmate, and he’ll be able to adapt to a difficult peer by asserting his needs, according to a new University of Illinois study published in Developmental Psychology.

    “Securely attached children are more responsive to suggestions or requests made by a new peer partner. A child who has experienced a secure attachment relationship with caregivers is likely to come into a new peer relationship with positive expectations,” said Nancy McElwain, a U of I professor of human development.

    In the study, the researchers assessed the security of child-mother attachment relationships for 114 children at 33 months, and parents reported on their child’s temperament, including anger proneness and social fearfulness. At 39 months, children of the same gender were randomly paired with one another and observed over three laboratory visits in a one-month period.

    Securely attached kids were more responsive to a new peer partner the first time they met, even if the new child was prone to anger. Kids with secure attachments continued to respond favorably on the second and third visits when the peer partner’s anger was low — but not when the other child’s anger was high, the researcher said.

    When a child is paired with a peer who is quick to become frustrated or angry, the positive social expectations of a child with a secure attachment are likely not met. The securely attached child may then adapt to the situation and dampen his responsiveness to the challenging partner, McElwain said.

    “A more securely attached child was also likely to use suggestions and requests rather than commands and intrusive behavior (such as grabbing toys away) during play with an anger-prone peer during the first two visits. By the final visit, a child with a secure attachment had adjusted to the controlling assertiveness of her anger-prone partner by becoming more controlling herself,” she said.

    The study showed that a child’s level of attachment security, their partner’s tendency to become angry, and how well the children knew each other (earlier vs. later visits) combined to predict a child’s behavior.

    “Behavior toward a peer partner depended on the partner’s temperament as much as the child’s own attachment. Consideration of both factors in combination is needed to understand a child’s behavior toward a new peer,” McElwain said.

    The child’s own temperament also played a role in understanding her behavior toward new peer partners. Children whose parents described them as socially fearful were less assertive overall, she noted.

    “But don’t confuse a difficult temperament with an insecure attachment. You may have a fussy infant, but if you respond to him sensitively, he will develop a strong bond with his parents and will likely go on to enjoy positive, close relationships with others,” she said.

    Parents often worry that if kids spend too much time with adults, they won’t be properly socialized.  This study really shows that having a strong parental bond is the best way to socialize children.  When children are well-attached, they tend to assume the best of others and so are more agreeable to begin with.  When they interact with a disagreeable person, rather than giving up in frustration, their relational optimism challenges them to seek solutions.

    If you’d like to learn how to raise kids who are capable of having a great relationship with both you and their peers, check out the bonding tips we offer in Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

    Putting Faith to Work Linked to Job Satisfaction.

    (H/T PsychCentral)

    Regular attendance in a church that stresses faith as a component of work is associated with high job satisfaction and employment commitment.

    Baylor University sociologists discovered the influence depends in part on how involved that person is in the congregation, not merely on occasional attendance.

    “We already knew that about 60 percent of American adults are affiliated with congregations, but we wanted to delve into whether that carries over from weekend worship services to the work day,” said Jerry Z. Park, Ph.D.

    “It turns out it does make some difference in their attitudes at work. That means it has a potential ‘payoff’ not only for employers, but for employees themselves.”

    Researchers asked a random sample of full-time employees if they attended a place of worship, and if so, they were then asked whether their congregation emphasized integrating their faith in the workplace through “sacrificial love” to their co-workers, sensing God’s presence at work among others.

    What seemed to make the difference, researchers found, was frequent attendance at a church that stressed a merging of faith and work. Simply being at such a congregation — or just attending any church — did not result in greater work satisfaction or dedication.

    The study is published in the journal Sociology of Religion.

    Researchers’ analysis was based on the National Survey of Work, Entrepreneurship, and Religion, a 2010 Web-based survey of 1,022 fulltime workers. Their findings concentrated on three areas:

    • Job satisfaction: Full-time workers who regularly attend a congregation that emphasizes integrating their faith at work report higher job satisfaction;
    • Job commitment: Full-time workers who regularly attend a congregation that emphasizes integrating their faith at work report higher commitment to their place of employment;
    • Entrepreneurship: People who are actively involved in in congregations that promote integration of faith with work are more likely to describe themselves as entrepreneurial, Park said.

    However, attendance seems to impede entrepreneurship — perhaps because time and energy spent in entrepreneurial endeavors leaves less time for church attendance.

    “How religion affects job satisfaction, commitment to one’s job and entrepreneurship was measured by researchers using a 15-item Congregational Faith at Work Scale,” Park said.

    That scale includes such items as whether respondents

    • sense God’s presence while they work;
    • view their work as having eternal significance;
    • view co-workers as being made in the image of God;
    • believe they should demonstrate “sacrificial love” toward co-workers, and;
    • believe God wants them to develop their abilities and talents at work.

    Workplace attitudes such as job commitment also were evaluated by a variety of items that asked how much participants felt like “part of the family” at their organization, how efficiently they get proposed actions through “bureaucratic red tape” and whether they “went to bat” for good ideas of co-workers.

    Max Weber, an early social theorist, argued that Protestants who lived strict, simple lives — such as the Calvinists of the 16th and 17th centuries — viewed their worldly employment as service to God, so religion added significance to labor. Success in business was viewed as confirmation of salvation.

    “Religious participation is an active part of life for millions of Americans, and it is relevant in other domains,” the study concluded.

    Source: Baylor University