Relationships and Health
by Lynn Tarkow

I really liked this article. The first idea that struck me in it was the idea that people will remember goals they have when reminded of people in their lives whom they associate with those goals. This could serve as a function to help maintain social networks - when I think of my friend, it makes me want to maintain that relationship, and a goal, whose completion presumably would involve being together if it was associated with him or her, would serve to strengthen that relationship. 

I was also very interested in the author's finding that performance was impaired on the Stroop task at different times depending on the race of the interaction partner. When the same-race interaction partner mimicked the subject's behavior, indicating affiliation, the subject's performance was better than when the partner did not mimic them. However, when the partner was of a different race, subjects performed better when the partner did not mimic them. The researchers attributed this to people expecting better treatment from members of their own race than from members of a different one. The finding was not explained any further. 

Why were the subjects' resources more depleted? More importantly, where had the resources been used that they were unavailable for the cognitive task? Did they go to combat the unexpected treatment by the partner? Or were they somewhere else, creating a new heuristic that could be called upon the next time the subject was in a similar situation? It would have been an interesting follow-up to see if, put in the same situation of non - mimicry by the same race partner, and mimicry by the cross race partner, the subject still had depleted performance, or if their expectations (if those were the culprit) had adjusted themselves. 

On a lighter note, I was happy to read that the study showed that romantic partners were more likely to achieve their goals if they had more social support, especially from their romantic partners. It is a heartening thing to hear that all those "We can do anything - together!" stories have some basis in reality.


jhon wlaschin
06/24/2011 10:55

Great point Lynn about how achieving goals that we share with others motivates us to stay connected! I believe this is how we can better achieve important goals, especially in the health domain, if we are aware of and support similar goals in our social relationships.
One of the most difficult things to do is to maintain a health behavior change over time. You might feel especially motivated to eat a healthy diet or regularly go to the gym but these behaviors require constant planning, dedication and persistence which are not always in sufficient supply.
And so we typically go back to our old ways.
Yet if a friend is involved, they might provided the extra motivation needed when ours is lacking. And you can provide the same when she needs a lift.
You also raise good questions about the self-regulatory capacity in the Stroop task. I think the basic idea here is that more cognitive resources are used up when social interactions do not meet our expectations. This is a very subtle effect and that is why it takes something like the Stroop task to detect it.
I would guess that non-mimicry by the same race partner would result in more cognitive effort, making split second tasks like the Stroop just a little more difficult to do quickly. I am not sure about being mimicked by a member of a different race. SOme of these studies seem to require more replication to be believable.
Essentially, the authors are saying that the mind works more efficiently when our interacting partners meet our expectations and do not cause us to continually reassess their motives and intentions.


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