It seems that every day we are bombarded with new ways of thinking about ourselves and others.
A recent study, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, showed that people who were exposed to an array of new psychological theories during adolescence, especially when compared to those who were not exposed to new psychological ideas, were more likely to have higher levels of self-esteem.
These results, the researchers claim, are “consistent with the view that young people experience an increase in positive self-concepts over time and that this can be reflected in their cognitive and behavioral responses to external cues”.
In other words, by exposing people to new ideas and concepts they become aware of how they might be different from others.
This is why, as the psychologists explain, “experts often emphasize that the new concepts or theories are more ‘perceptual’ than the old ones, as they are more easily perceived”.
The researchers then went on to examine how the cognitive processes that they analysed were associated with the cognitive changes.
In particular, they sought to understand why people were so much more likely than non-psychologists to be more likely (or less likely) to attribute their positive feelings to the new ideas, and what that might mean for their future self-perceptions.
They did find that the more the new psychological theory was explained to a group of young adults, the more they were more willing to attribute a feeling to the idea.
“The more they heard the idea explained, the greater their self-reported positive feelings,” the researchers explained.
The more the idea was explained, however, the less likely the group to attribute it.
The findings support the idea that positive self image is shaped by how the new idea was communicated to the group, as well as the social context.
These findings, the psychologists suggest, could be useful for mental health professionals, as people who are exposed to a new idea tend to be less likely to blame themselves for their negative feelings, and more likely, instead, to attribute them to the other person.
So how does this relate to psychology?
One thing that might be of interest is the fact that many of the psychological theories that were studied had little to do with perception.
The researchers found that for example, “perceptuation theory was the one that had the greatest effect on perceptions”, and “conceivability theory” was the only one that showed no influence on perceptions.
What this means is that, as psychologist Matthew Nussbaum, a professor of psychology at New York University, told the Guardian, “concrete, experiential, and theoretical approaches to psychology have no predictive value”.
“The way to look at this is that if you look at a scientific research study, the best way to understand it is to say how the data are generated,” he said.
“So you have to ask, ‘What are the experiments they’re trying to replicate, and how do they interpret the data?'”
The psychologists’ work is not yet peer-reviewed, but the researchers are hoping that their findings will help scientists understand how different types of theories can affect the way people perceive themselves and others in their lives.
“We hope that the findings will be used as a way to better understand how people’s perceptions and perceptions of others can be influenced by various types of psychological theories,” they wrote.
“It will allow us to better target and tailor interventions to individual differences in our psychological processes.”