Did You Know That Meanness Is Contagious?
Meanness is not exactly ebola, but it chips away at our quality of life. When we're the recipients, there are comeback options to halt its spread.
Speaking with CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour this week, former U.S. President Bill Clinton joked that his granddaughter has made him “almost totally ineffective in politics.” Why? One reason: Politics can be mean. Clinton argues that we need to embrace our common humanity, to realize that we are all over 99 percent alike and that our less-than-1 percent difference is wreaking a good deal of havoc.
It’s a tall order. Researchers at Wharton and Fairfield University’s Dolan School of Business have found that emotion is “contagious.” It passes from person to person, often without any of them having a sense that they’ve been infected. This “emotional contagion” explains a significant portion of the meanness people experience in their day-to-day lives.
We should not be surprised. Researchers have found in studying nonverbal behavior, for example, that we tend to unconsciously mimic those with whom we’re communicating. One person crosses his legs and the other follows suit. It takes cognitive awareness and communication skill to avoid doing this.
Creating the kind of world Clinton described to Amanpour will take considerable political will and determination by individuals, organizations, governments, and particularly religions to find a way forward out of hatred.
In our daily lives, we have a role to play, if only for our own benefit and that of those in proximity. All forms of meanness are not the same. And so they do not call for the same types of responses. Sometimes meanness is hardly noticeable, but over time, like a woodpecker chipping away at a tree, the damage becomes evident. At other times, meanness involves insults disguised as entertainment or gratuitous gossip.
I learned yesterday an excellent comeback. When someone is engaging in mean gossip, gently place a hand on his or her shoulder and say, “I’ll leave that with you now,” before moving on to a hopefully less unpleasant part of your day.
At work, meanness is also contagious. When we’re the recipients, there are comeback options for halting its spread.
Consider the following scenario:
A leading East Coast neurologist told me that her boss makes it difficult for women and men to work effectively together. “It isn’t anything he says directly about the inferiority of women, but the stories he tells. He often brags about his wife having been accepted to Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, but follows that with a description of her admirable choice to stay home with the children and be there when he gets back from a long day. That would be bad enough, but most of the men nod in admiration.”
I asked if she thinks this boss knows what he’s doing. “He’s a myth in his own mind,” she said. "He sees himself as so far above most people that everything he says is gold.” She thought for a moment, “Does he know that he is insulting women like myself? Yes. Does he care? No.”
In Steven Pinker’s Big Think session on language, he describes how meaning emerges from something called "tacit knowledge." For some people, interpreting the story above in a literal way, the man is complimenting his wife. But women listening to the story likely possess tacit knowledge regarding the guilt many women with children experience when they work. This information can convert the story about a loving wife’s dedication into an insult to those women who did not take her path in life.
The only way to stop meanness contagion is to nip it in the bud. This takes political skill and courage. “Do you realize that story is insulting?” is an option for the scenario above. Another is an educational approach, such as, “There is an implied message in that story,” or, “That story can be taken a couple of ways.”
Passivity in the face of meanness, especially repetitive forms, facilitates contagion. Meanness is not Ebola. We are not about to join together as nations to eradicate it. Day by day, however, each of us can play a role in stopping meanness in its tracks.
Kathleen also blogs here.
Photo: Peter Polak / Shutterstock
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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