Research Roundup

Bounce back with a rebound relationship

Breakups are never easy, but for people anxiously attached to their exes, it can be especially hard to let go. Those with an anxious attachment style often doubt their self-worth or lovability, and for them, breakups can trigger stress and depression, explains Stephanie Spielmann, a social psychology doctoral student at the University of Toronto. But a rebound relationship may be just the thing to help them move on, suggests her research.

"We wondered if anxiously attached people might be hanging onto their exes because they feel they need somebody but that no one else will come along soon," says Spielmann.

Spielmann asked college students about their attachment style and feelings about their most recent breakup and ex. She then had participants read fake news articles—with some reading an optimistic-leaning one that said finding a new partner was easy, while others read a piece that said new love was nearly impossible to find. She further reinforced optimistic or pessimistic rebound thoughts by asking participants to think of two potential people for a relationship or list an overwhelming 10 people.

Spielmann found that for people with anxious attachments, the hope of a new relationship helped reduce the feelings of continued emotional attachment to their ex.

"Even though breakups are so common, there's still so much to learn about how people cope with them and move on as best they can."

Spielmann hopes to continue her research with a longitudinal study on how the quality of a new relationship affects the feelings of longing for a former love.

What are the ingredients of creativity?

When creative people work, do they go on autopilot and allow the work to create itself, or do they think hard about the task at hand, allowing their cognitive functioning to kick in? New research by Darya L. Zabelina, an experimental psychology graduate student at North Dakota State University, suggests that creative people actually do both.

In her research, Zabelina used the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking and Creative Achievement Questionnaire to gauge creative tendencies and achievements among 50 college students. She then tested their ability to control their attention using the Stroop task. The more creative participants did not perform better or worse than their less creative peers, but they did have better flexibility in altering their cognitive functioning over the course of the entire task.

"We found that focusing on a task is just as important as letting go and relaxing," Zabelina says.

If alternating states of relaxation and focus enhance creativity, as this study suggests, people who run brainstorming sessions could be more effective by spending some time allowing people to relax and throw ideas around, and then changing gears and critiquing the ideas they have generated.

Depressed people can embrace the positive

Many psychologists believe that depressed people have a blunted response to the positive moments in their daily lives. But research by Lauren Bylsma, a clinical psychology doctoral candidate at the University of South Florida in Tampa, suggests that may not always be true.

Bylsma used electronic questionnaires to examine reactions to positive and negative daily events in 35 people who were experiencing a major depressive episode, 26 people with minor depression and 38 never-depressed healthy people.

As she expected, the people with mood disorders felt sadder overall than the controls, and they also reported life events as less pleasant and more stressful. However, the people experiencing depressive episodes also reported feeling a greater decrease in negative mood after positive life events, such as positive social activity or a personal achievement. This counters the previous notion that positive events have little effect on depressed people's emotional reactions, she says.

Bylsma hopes her research can open new avenues for future treatment of mood disorders by acknowledging how positive events actually reduce negative moods in depressed people. Therapists could help lift depressed people's moods by encouraging them to engage in positive activities and celebrate their triumphs.

"Emotions are still poorly understood relative to other psychological phenomena," says Bylsma. She hopes to continue her research on depression with a dissertation that examines how depressed people regulate their emotional responses.

How do people judge one another?

Imagine that classic scene in which an evil villain leaves a damsel tied across a set of train tracks, then waits for the train. New research by Jamie Hughes, a social psychology doctoral student at New Mexico State University, suggests that the reason people perceive those actions as bad has more to do with the villain's character than the fact that the damsel may get flattened by a train. To test her theory, Hughes asked 238 undergraduate men and women at the University of New Mexico to judge whether the consequence of a person's behavior was intentional and whether it merited blame or praise. First Hughes identified the person as good, bad or neutral. Then she provided the students in the study with a vignette that showed actions that were positive or negative. Hughes found that people's judgments intensified based on character. For example, an action was viewed as more intentional and more blameworthy if a "bad" person's behavior created a negative outcome. If a "good" person created the same outcome, participants tended to see the action as unintentional and less blameworthy. "We do a lot of mind reading when we try to understand other people," Hughes says. "This differs from the last 30 years of research in which social judgments were thought to be influenced by the person or the situation—now we realize it's a bit of both." This finding illuminates something that judges and lawyers know intuitively: People look beyond the action and try to understand the character and intentions of a person before they can judge the action, Hughes says.

By Jared C. Clark

Further Reading, Resources

  • Div. 41 (American Psychology-Law Society) student section.

  • Brodsky, S.L. (2009). Principles and Practice of Trial Consultation. New York: Guilford Press.

  • Bush, S.S., Connell, M.A., & Denney, R.L. (2006). Ethical Practice in Forensic Psychology: A Systematic Model for Decision Making. Washington, DC: APA.

  • Kuehnle, K., & Connell, M. (2008). The Evaluation of Child Sexual Abuse Allegations: A Comprehensive Guide to Assessment and Testimony. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.