Hello and welcome to the Big Five podcast from Northumbria psychology department where we learn big facts about human behavior and experience. My name is Dr. Genavee Brown and I'll be your guide into the minds of psychology students, alumni and researchers at Northumbria University. I'm a lecturer and social psychology researcher in the psychology department and I love learning more about all fields of psychology. Each week on this podcast, I'll speak to a guest who is either student, alumni or researcher in the Northumbria psychology department. By asking them five big questions, we'll learn about their time studying psychology and hopefully learn some big facts about human behavior and experience. Today I have the pleasure of speaking to Amanda Rotella. Hi, Amanda. Hi, Jen. Hi. So Amanda is an assistant professor at Northumbria University. She researches social competition, particularly in partner choice and friendship and romantic relationships. And she's here to share a bit about her research today. So Amanda, can you tell us a bit about why you became interested in this topic? And what sorts of theories that you use?
Um, yeah, so my background is actually really different. I started studying cooperation in carpenter bee species in my undergraduate degree. And that really got me interested in a lot of like, why do people cooperate? And what are the different aspects. So when I by the time I got to grad school, I was really starting to study just cooperation among people. And a lot of part, a big part of that is how we choose who we cooperate with who we avoid. And so I started reading, really looking into stuff like social signaling. So how do we show that we want to interact with somebody? How do we make those choices? What cues do we use to make choices for ourselves? And how do people do overall if they cooperate with other people. And so cooperation is actually a form of social competition, because we are kind of in a way competing for good friendships, people that will be there for a long time, people that we want to interact with, we really want the people that will help us do better in the long run. So we do, we do signal and make choices along the way. And we do compete among other people for the best partnerships. And so that's really, what got me started in cooperation and studying aspects of social competition. From there, I basically went much more broad and started studying social competition broadly, which is kind of like it all revolves around partner choice, but it doesn't necessarily have to be about cooperation. So we choose who we interact with, based on a lot of different things, what we value. So you'll choose your teammates, based on skills, you'll choose, you know, some of your friends might be basically they'll go to a gig with you, because it's the same choice and music. And so is looking at how all these different aspects interact, to make our choices about who we interact with who we have in our lives, and who we also who we try to avoid. So theories that go in there, I like a lot about, like reputation and how we evaluate reputation. And a lot of that has to do with the judgments and moral judgments we engage in. But I also use something that's called biological markets theory. And what I like about this, if you're familiar with any markets theory, it's based on supply and demand. But each population we're in kind of the dynamics change. So if you're in like, a fresher and university, you're interacting with a lot of people you haven't met before. And you're there's a lot of partner choice going on at that point in time, because you're meeting a lot of new people creating new friends. Whereas if you're in various, like a different part of your life, or in different populations, some things might be a lot more established. And so it'll change how people interact with how people choose partners, what they used to choose partners. And that could happen that could change between populations, like within a country, it could go between countries and different cultures. And that'll change about how we interact. So I'm really, that's more what I'm interested in now. Okay.
Very interesting. Can you tell us a bit about the methods that you use to study these topics?
A lot of different things? Yeah, so it really changed my methods based on the questions I'm looking at. A lot of it I do is more behavioral experiments. So looking at changing, giving different instructions, seeing how people interact with embodies a lot of economic games. So for example, and studies I've done in the past I would have like a prompt or a question and people choose how much they want to give to a partner or not. And they like 10 pounds, how much would they choose to keep for themselves or give to somebody else? I also use something called meta analysis, which I use in a different way than most people use. So you met analysis is basically looking at what research is out there. And you take out the stats from there and you kind of create a summary effect size to see like on average, how How much does this one thing influence another. But what I do is I also look at the conditions of the studies and look at the different methods people use now, then you could compare between what's more likely to affect people in one condition versus another. So for example, one thing I've worked on is looking at how people who were initially behaving well or moral, subsequently behave slightly less moral or less good. And the question is why. And some of the studies found that this was an effect. And a lot of more recent ones said, like, no, this doesn't exist. So instead of just saying like, because we really don't know what's going on here, I looked at the different methods in the studies, and I looked at to see if some of them were either around other people, or we were being watched where others were anonymous, or online and stuff like that. And I found that there was a really big difference between those methods, whether they found that you know, people either who act more or less morons, in the cases where, you know, where there were people around, but not in cases where there weren't people around. So I use it to kind of compare and also advance theory. And I also use secondary data. So stuff that you can find online, a un websites, anything that like that there's a lot of data online for populations and stuff that I can use to look at some of these effects.
Yeah. Yeah, it's really great to use so many different methods to approach the question. So from all these different methods that you've used, what would you say is the most interesting or surprising result that you found about partner choice or social competition,
really, that we are really, really good at, kind of evaluating our circumstances and making these judgments and making the subtle like, we the cues we use are very, very subtle in many ways. When we encounter somebody, our brains automatically do a lot of things like assess like, oh, like, what is Who is this person relevant to me, they assess like your your status relative to them is this person, somebody I'll get along with is a somebody that will be useful in some way that I want them to think well of me. So we automatically make these judgments. And so what I found is that even the subtle cues of the we will use to vary the way we we interact with people, whether we care about the way what they think of us or not. So that these can be extremely, extremely subtle things. One of the findings I had was people who were just initially nice or cooperative, it doesn't really have to be a big thing. It could be just helping somebody else out in subtle ways. will subsequently they don't, people. There'll be less cooperative realist less. Yeah, like acted less good way afterwards, but not like a bad way. It'll just be like, Oh, I decided to donate something to charity. And somebody asks me, you know, to, to make another donation. And you might not make the second donation or make less of a donation. And the reason being is that if there's somebody around you very show that you're good person, you can still you're not being bad. It's not like you're stealing a car or anything like that. But you might be slightly less good, because you know, that person already thinks you're a good person. So you will actually find and change your behavior very subtly, based on these things.
Yeah. So you've already kind of signaled that you're a good person, so you don't need to engage more cost to signal it again. Exactly. Yeah. Are there any other kind of subtle things that people use to show Yeah, show who they are, or judging other people.
So there's another study I'm currently writing up where I was looking at wisdom and wisdom is a lot of different cognitive processes that help us make better decisions, which includes like, first taking other people's perspectives, having intellectual humility. So knowing that you don't have all the answer's being open to compromise and being aware that there's context for decisions. And we had these texts from a prior experiment, which were just like, they were the length of a tweet, like 240 characters, a really small text, where we had previously coded whether people had used wise reasoning or not. And I found that by presenting these different texts to participants, we they made very big character judgments based on the subtle cues. So they thought that people that were who use more wise reasoning were like more cooperative more like they were more likely to like them. They also thought that they were more likely to have long term relationships are likely to think about the future and even in like a hypothetical task where it's like if you had to choose somebody to work on a work project with you, who would it be? They overwhelmingly or like, over two thirds of the time said the person with the showed more wise reasoning in these really short texts? So we make judgments on very short cues and make a lot of really strong character judgments.
And what might be kind of the purpose of that. Why do you think that we? You have such big brains? We spend time with people? Why? Why would we need to use these subtle cues to judge who people are? Is it? Is it a good thing that we're judging a book by the cover?
In some ways, yes, often we don't have information about other people like, if you think about it, people only have these very thin slices of information about who you encounter, you might meet them in a very short amount of time. So what we basically do is, we make these sort of assessments right off the bat, which are useful to us, especially you might think, that maybe like making these judgments might not look so good. But if you think about it in the bad context, you really do need it. So if that person could potentially harm you, or would like, or in some way would be very negative on you, it's really good to make those judgments very quickly to avoid that. With that said, it's kind of useful, we will have limited time limited resources. So we need to make these choices about who we interact with. So to kind of think about them as a starting point, there, we make these subtle judgments, and we choose to interact with them again, then we kind of update based on our future interaction. So it's not like we will just use the subtle information and just that'll be it. And it's first impressions, the only thing you're going to get, but it's a starting point to think, okay, maybe I'll I'll interact with this person more, oh, this interaction went well, you'll continue interacting with that person, but we keep updating as we continue to interact.
So we kind of like move the lever towards good or bad after we interact with them each time.
Exactly. And if you think about it, the cues that like in these in wise reasoning, and in the moral judgment, these are cues, the one I'm sitting here, there'll be good friends, there will be good partners, or people that will make good decisions. So these are good cues to use. Why if you're making these very short, very quick judgments about people?
Yeah, that's very good point, and a very good application to the real world. So my last question is always, where do you hope to go from here? So what's your next research Avenue or project? Or what do you find interesting in this field?
That's a big question. And the good question. So I'm really first steps I'm I want to do more stuff on biological markets theory. Because the really important part about this, it shows that different environments have different trade offs, where you know, some types of partners will be more value than others, but also really depends on like, who's in those populations, what's available. And you could think about this in ways that like, if you just look at the typical, like West eats division, where in more Eastern countries, friendships are lot land and partnerships are a lot more set in stone, you tend to create friendships and relationships very early on, and you stay in them. And so you don't switch partners very much. Whereas in more Western countries, you have more ability to change and leave relationships over time, people are more open to moving, and, and creating new friendships at all stages of life. And so within that little change, about how we interact and choose partners. And so I'm really interested in developing more of this theory of like, what will be different aspects of our environments that will influence how we make partner choices and who we choose within those choices. So that's one area is kind of like looking more and looking at the theory behind it. But the second part is I'm just really interested in also looking at and doing experiments to study how we make choices when it comes to this moral signaling. Like if we show that we're mortal, when will we do this? Why will we do this? Will it change according to our audience who's in the audience, like if it's somebody that's similar to us versus somebody that we don't want to interact with again, and look at how these might shift our decision making? So there's a lot of questions open. It can span a lot of different things, incur different cultures, different type of partners, different priorities for people. And yeah, there's like a lot of questions to be answered. So excited, but a lot of things.
Excellent. Well, then, where can our listeners stay up to date on your research and where you take it from here?
Well, I am on Twitter as @amRotella and I also, I have website Amandarotella.ca. And go from there.
Yeah. All right. Awesome. So I'll include both those in the show notes. Thank you very much. Thanks for having me. I hope you've liked this episode. If you would like to follow the podcast and stay up to date on new episodes. You can follow us on Instagram and Twitter @TheBig5_psych. If you'd like to learn more about Northumbria psychology, check out our psychology department blog at Northumbriapsy.com You can also follow Northumbria psychology on Twitter @NorthumbriaPsy. If you'd like to be interviewed on the podcast or know someone who would please email us at TheBig5.email@example.com Fine finally, if you liked the podcast, make sure to subscribe to our podcast on your listening app and give us a review and rating. I hope you've learned something on this voyage into the mind. Take care until next time