When are they changing?
When do they begin to change?
These are the questions that psychologists are trying to answer in a new study published in Psychological Science.
Psychologists are interested in whether or not people are more open to change when they perceive a potential problem or opportunity, say the authors of the study.
The study involved 1,056 people in their twenties, with an average age of 26.
The participants were given either a simple questionnaire that asked them to list a few common negative outcomes from a past experience and the opportunity they have felt personally threatened or a more complex questionnaire that gave them the opportunity to recall how often they have been threatened, and the perceived risk of being threatened or threatened with harm.
The questionnaire asked participants to write a brief description of how they would respond if they had experienced the same thing and were threatened by someone, and asked them how often and how seriously they would react to being threatened.
They were also asked how often people report feeling physically threatened in the past, and how many people they would expect to report feeling threatened by a potential threat in the future.
The people who completed the more complicated questionnaire also completed the study, so they were not directly comparing the two.
But the results were striking: those who were initially reluctant to change were much more likely to feel more open about their behaviour to others, and to report being more likely than others to report that they have experienced an emotional response or felt threatened by their own behavior.
“The more open we feel about ourselves, the less likely we are to become fearful of people,” said the study’s lead author, Daniela Raffin-Cotter, from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
“It could be that it’s about the perception of the situation in our lives, and when we are open we are more likely.
Or maybe it’s something else entirely.”
The study also found that when people were presented with a situation in which they were threatened with physical harm, they tended to feel less fearful.
“I think this could be because we are less likely to be afraid of someone when we don’t feel threatened,” said Raffon-Citter.
“There’s more room for us to see them as threatening when we’re scared, or to feel that there’s something wrong with us when we think there’s nothing wrong with them.”
The more the researchers tried to tease out what exactly happened in this situation, the more they found that people were more open.
“We had these people with the more complex test, and then the more simple one, and we had people with either a real fear or a real threat,” Raffo-Citor said.
“And then we had a control group who were presented as neutral.
But when we put them in a situation where they were presented only with a real danger, the participants who were in the ‘no fear’ group reported feeling less afraid than the ‘neutral’ group.”
And the study found that this was the case even when the people were asked to consider the possibility of being a threat to themselves.
“When we asked the participants to imagine themselves in a different situation, they reported feeling more open,” Raimondo said.
A possible explanation for this, she added, was that people who feel threatened often experience more of these emotional responses, which might make them more open, and so they may not necessarily feel as much fear about the potential threat.
What are some other psychological findings to come out of this study?
“It’s really interesting that people with negative emotional responses have this positive feeling towards the potential future danger,” Rauhofer said.
But Raimondas study also showed that this could also be because negative emotional reactions to people can trigger feelings of vulnerability, and may have negative consequences.
“People may react to the possibility that someone is in danger more strongly than they would if they weren’t threatened,” Rasko said.
What other studies are out there?
Raimonds study also included participants who said they had been in a similar situation in the same time frame, and were asked whether they felt like they were in danger.
Those who felt threatened reported feeling safer than those who felt that they weren`t, Raimonda said.
The difference in the way they reported their experiences may have been partly because participants were presented in a neutral setting, rather than in a scary situation.
“This study really does demonstrate the importance of empathy,” Radegonde said.
When it comes to the effect of fear on attitudes and behaviour, Raffondas said, “There is not much to go on, but the fact that it doesn’t matter as much, or even seems to be reduced, by the presence of negative emotional experiences seems to suggest that this might not be a big factor.
But what we do know is that it has an effect on behaviour, and that’s what this study shows.”