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A fair share of the housework

In Personal Relationships

More women than ever go out to work, and yet surveys in Western countries show that wives continue to take on the lion’s share of domestic chores.

A new study has quizzed 389 couples in Austria, Germany and Switzerland to build up the most comprehensive picture yet of how this uneven distribution of domestic chores is associated with men’s and women’s marital satisfaction.

These were all dual-earning couples with young children, with both spouses working at least 15 hours per week; 89 per cent of the couples were married. The average professional workload for women was 30.2 hours per week; for men it was 48.6 hours. Consistent with past surveys, the women in this sample took on nearly two thirds of the domestic chores.

The researchers, Gerold Mikula, Bernhard Riederer and Otto Bodi, asked their participants several things: what share of the chores they took on; whether they thought that was fair; whether they felt the way the share had been decided was fair (so-called ‘procedural justice’); how much conflict they experienced in their relationship; and how happy they were with their relationship. They threw all these factors into a statistical pot and looked to see how they related to each other.

First, Mikula and co. focused only on the direct associations between housework distribution and women’s and men’s answers. For women, it wasn’t the precise share of housework they did that was correlated with their experience of conflict and satisfaction, but rather how fair they thought that share was. Women who thought the division of household chores was unfair tended to experience more relationship conflict and less marital satisfaction. Women’s sense of whether the decision process for housework had been fair also had its own independent link with levels of conflict. So feeling that they did an unfair amount of housework was bad enough, but conflict was even more likely when women felt the unfair arrangement had been arrived at unfairly.

Men, by contrast, seemed largely detached from the way housework was shared. There was no direct correlation between the division of housework and their reports of fairness. And even men who said the arrangement was unfair didn’t tend to report more relationship conflict or less satisfaction – no doubt because the unfair arrangement was usually in their favour. In fact, the only direct association of housework distribution with men’s answers, was that the greater share their female partners took on, the more satisfied they tended to be.

But here’s where the picture gets more complicated. The researchers also looked at associations between participants’ answers and their partners’ reported sense of justice and experience of conflict and satisfaction. This suggested that men suffered when their female partners believed the housework arrangements were unfair. In fact, the negative correlates for men (more conflict, less satisfaction) of having a female partner who sensed injustice in the division of housework, outweighed the satisfaction associated with having a female partner who did lots of housework.

‘The results support the proposition that it is not the balance of the division of labour itself but rather the subjective sense of justice associated with the division that matters primarily to the relationship satisfaction of the persons concerned,’ the researchers concluded. ‘Spouses should exchange their personal views and preferences in open discussions to arrive at an agreement that considers the wishes of both parties…’

Bring on Barry White

In Social Psychological and Personality Science

As a rule, big beasts tend to make deep noises, whereas little creatures squeak. Perhaps it’s little wonder then that we tend to rate human speakers with deeper voices as more powerful, or that if you put a person in a position of power they will tend to lower their voice. These previous results prompted Mariëlle Stel and her fellow researchers to find out if speaking with a deeper pitch than usual would lead people to feel more powerful.

In an initial study, 81 student participants were split into three groups. Participants in the control group read a passage of geography text silently to themselves. The other two groups read the text out loud, either in a deeper or higher pitch than usual (by three tones). To make sure the participants didn’t guess the true aims of the study, the students were next asked some filler questions about the text. The final stage was then presented as being unrelated to the reading exercise. This involved the students answering seven questions about how powerful they felt (for example, indicating how much they felt dominant versus submissive). None of the students guessed the purpose of the study.

Reading the text with a deep voice didn’t affect the students’ answers to the questions about the text, but it did appear to affect their feelings of power. Students in the deep voice condition rated themselves as more powerful than students in the other two groups.

A second study was similar, but this time students read some text in a high or low pitch, or they heard someone else doing the reading with a high or low pitch. Only reading the pitch oneself affected feelings of power, with students who read in a low voice rating themselves as more powerful than students who read in a high voice.

One last study involved reading out loud in a deep or high voice, and then the participants completed a memory task that’s designed to reveal abstract thinking (mistakenly believing a word was seen in an earlier to-be-remembered list, just because it has a similar meaning to one of those earlier words, is taken as a sign of more abstract thinking). This time, reading out loud in a deep voice led to more abstract thinking. Stel and her colleagues said this makes sense when considered alongside an earlier study that found people in power tend to think more abstractly than low power people, perhaps because power makes people feel more ‘psychologically distant’.

Throughout these experiments, the effects of lowering one’s voice pitch on feelings of power were presumably subconscious.

The researchers said it would be interesting for the future to see if it’s possible to deliberately lower your voice in order to feel more powerful. ‘If so,’ they concluded, ‘this would add a simple and generally available instrument to your strategic arsenal: your own voice. The lowering of your own voice could then be used not only to influence others but also to influence yourself.’

You’re most creative when you’re at your groggiest

In Thinking and Reasoning, tinyurl.com/82436tx

Are you an evening person? Guess what? Early in the day, when you’re bleary eyed, stumbling about in the fog of sleepiness, you’re probably at your creative peak. In contrast, if you’re a morning person, then for you, the evening is the best time for musing.

How come? Insight-based problem solving requires a broad, unfocused approach. You’re more likely to achieve that ‘Aha!’ moment when your inhibitory brain processes are at their weakest and your thoughts are meandering.

Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks recruited 428 undergrads and had them complete a questionnaire to identify whether they were night owls or morning larks. As you might expect, based on factors like preferred time of day and peak performance, most of the students – 195 of them – were owls and just 28 were larks.

The rest came out as neutral.

Next, the students tried to solve six problem-solving tasks – half of them were insight-type tasks (e.g. a prisoner in a tower finds a piece of rope that’s half the length of the distance to the ground. He escapes by using scissors to divide the rope in half and then tying the two ends together. How could he have done this?), and half were analytic questions that require a narrow focus (e.g. Bob’s father is three times as old as Bob. They were both born in October. Four years ago, he was four times older. How old are Bob and his father?). Students had four minutes to solve each problem.

Crucially, half the students were tested between 8.30am and 9.30am, the others were tested between 4pm and 5.30pm. Here’s the headline result: the students were much more successful at solving the insight problems when the time of testing coincided with their least optimal time of functioning. When larks were tested in the evening and owls were tested in the morning, they achieved an average success rate of 56, 22 and 49 per cent, for the three insight tasks, compared with success rates of 51, 16, and 31 per cent achieved by students tested at their preferred time of day. By contrast, performance on the analytic tasks was unaffected by time of day.

A potential weakness in the findings is that there were so many more evening people among the student participants (who therefore excelled at the creative tasks in the morning). So perhaps the results were skewed and the creative advantage has to do with the morning, not to do with performing at your least favoured time of day. To test this possibility, Wieth and Zacks looked at the data for the students with no favoured time of day. They didn’t perform the insight tasks any better in the morning than evening, thus suggesting the creative advantage specifically comes from operating at your least optimal time of day.

The researchers recommended that students consider designing their class schedules so that they take art and creative writing at their non-optimal time of day. ‘Students tend to get higher grades when classes are in sync with their circadian arousal; however, the interaction between time of day and type of class has not been investigated… the relationship between time of day and grades needs to be investigated and may not simply follow a uniform pattern.’

Research Digest

The material in this section is taken from the Society’s Research Digest blog at www.researchdigest.org.uk/blog, and is written by its editor Dr Christian Jarrett. Visit the blog for full coverage including references and links, additional current reports, an archive, comment and more.

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