Psychology (!!!) or Sociology (zzz)

February 8, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

News media have to come up with provocative headlines and ledes, even when they’re reporting on academic papers.  And even when the reasonable reaction would be “Well, duh,” rather than a gasp in 72-point caps.  But if that’s the route you want to go, it usually helps to think psychologically rather than sociologically.

Here’s a headline from Forbes
Facebook More Addictive Than Cigarettes, 
Study Says
And the Annenberg School Website started their story with this.
Cigarettes and alcohol may not be the most addicting drugs on the market, according to a recent study.
A team from the University of Chicago's business school has suggested everyone's suspicion: social networking is addictive. So addictive that constantly using sites like Facebook and Twitter may be a harder vice to kick than smoking and drinking.  [emphasis added]
The study in question is “Getting Beeped With the Hand In The Cookie Jar: Sampling Desire, Conflict, and Self-Control in Everyday Life” by Wilhelm Hofmann, Kathleen D. Vohs, and Roy F. Baumeister, presented at a recent Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference.  They had subjects (N=205) wear beepers and report on their desires. 
I found out about it in a Society Pages research round-up (here).
A study of 205 adults found that their desires for sleep and sex were the strongest, but the desire for media and work were the hardest to resist. Surprisingly, participants expressed relatively weak levels of desire for tobacco and alcohol. This implies that it is more difficult to resist checking Facebook or e-mail than smoking a cigarette, taking a nap, or satiating sexual desires.
Of course it’s more difficult.   But the difficulty has almost nothing to do with the power of the internal desire and everything to do with the external situation, as The Society Pages (a sociology front organization) should well know.  In a classroom, a restaurant, a church, on the street, in an elevator – just about anywhere – you can quietly glance down at your smartphone and check your e-mail or Facebook page.  But to indulge in smoking, sleeping, and “satiating sexual desires,” you have to be willing to violate some serious norms and even laws.

It’s not about which desires are difficult to resist.  It’s about which desires are easy to indulge.  The study tells us not about the strength of psychological desires but the strength of social norms.  You can whip out your Blackberry, and nobody blinks.  But people might react more strongly if you whipped out, you know, your Marlboros. 

The more accurate headline might be
Checking Twitter at Starbucks OK, Having Sex There, Not So Much, Study Finds
But that headline is not going to get nearly as much attention.


PCM said...

nice headline. nice post.

Stone Parliament of Art said...

"It’s not about which desires are difficult to resist. It’s about which desires are easy to indulge." this line!

As a blog authour I try to be creative with the headline to lure readers from our city page from which the blog is listed.