The social benefits of regret

As the year draws to an end, regret often comes to mind - regret of trips not taken, goals not met, time lost. A new study, which includes an analysis of more than 13,500 tweets about regret from December 2011, finds that the impact of regret depends on whether you express it publicly or privately. Past research has shown that regret serves to help us learn and prepare for the future. In the new study, researchers found that when we express our regrets publicly, we are seeking emotional support from others - highlighting some of the previously unexplored social benefits of regret. "Functions of Personal Experience and of Expression of Regret," Amy Summerville and Joshua Buchanan, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, online now, forthcoming in print, April 2014.

The boundaries of gift giving and receiving

This time of year, we may find ourselves debating what, if anything, to give to our boss and co-workers, as well as people at other organizations with whom we work. In certain businesses, gifts can cause conflict-of-interest concerns - with worries about how gifts will influence or cause a perception of influence. New research, to be presented at the SPSP conference in Austin in February, shows that professionals who believe that they are the least vulnerable to the biasing effects of gifts are actually most likely to accept gifts without being aware of the bias.

It's easy to get people to act unethically

Peer pressure is often stronger than we think. From convincing someone to vandalize a library book to asking them to buy alcohol for children, it is easier than we think to get others to commit unethical acts, according to a new suite of studies. Researchers found that people underestimated how uncomfortable others would feel at the idea of going against their suggestions, even if they involved unethical behaviors. "Underestimating Our Influence Over Others' Unethical Behavior and Decisions," Vanessa K. Bohns, M. Mahdi Roghanziad & Amy Z. Xu, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,online now, forthcoming in print, March 2014.

When it was OK to laugh about Hurricane Sandy

How long after a tragedy is it OK to joke about it? New research suggests that there's a comedic sweet spot - when enough time has passed that people no longer feel immediately threatened but not so much time that the event is out of our thoughts. Researchers found a rise and eventual peak in humorous responses to Hurricane Sandy between 1 month and 2 months after the storm, with such humor decreasing between 2 and 3 months after the fact. The research gives unique insight into what makes things funny and how humor can help with coping. "The Rise and Fall of Humor: Psychological Distance Modulates Humorous Responses to Tragedy," Peter McGraw, Lawrence E. Williams, and Caleb Warren, Social Psychological and Personality Science, online mpe, forthcoming in print.

Self-control predicts a range of inmate behavior

Adjusting to life after jail can be difficult, and a new study points to a key factor in that adjustment - self-control. In a study of 553 jail inmates, researchers found that those high in self-control had lower rates of substance misuse and repeat criminal behavior after release from jail. Those same people also had less substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and criminal history prior to incarceration. Lower self-control predicted increases in substance dependence after release from jail compared to pre-incarceration. "The Brief Self-Control Scale Predicts Jail Inmates' Recidivism, Substance Dependence, and Post-Release Adjustment," Elizabeth Malouf, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, online now, forthcoming in print, March 2014.

Thinking about a goal lowers its pursuit

From exercising on a treadmill to flossing your teeth, sticking to your goals can be tough. And a recent study suggests that thinking about what you can achieve from pursuing these goals can actually undermine their pursuit. For example, thinking about weight loss from New Year's resolution goals may increase your intentions to lose weight but will actually lead to less persistence in weight-loss activities. For more on this work and related research on self-control and goal pursuit, as well as also recent work that shows that waiting, say for the new latest gadget, can be rewarding.

Other New Year's Resolution expert: Veronika Brandstätter of the University of Zurich, whose recent work in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, showed the psychological and physiological effects of abandoning a goal.