Don’t Mention the War!

Sometimes trying to avoid saying the wrong thing makes us more awkward. I referred to this in a previous post when I described the role of the front part of your brain in inhibiting intrusive thoughts and behaviors. Following a bang on the head, our hapless hero Basil Fawlty was unable to stop mentioning the war to his German guests. A new study by Evan Apfelbaum and Samuel Sommers just published in Psychological Science (one of the top psychology journals) has shown that this piece of comedy is true. There is a paradoxical effect of depleting mental control over social awkwardness.  The summary of the paper is,

“Executive control is usually a good thing when it comes to regulating behavior. But in certain circumstances, such as interracial interactions, many people’s regulatory strategies (such as avoiding mentioning race in racially mixed company) may be misguided and actually hinder rather than help the interaction. In a discussion of diversity issues with an other-race partner, participants whose regulatory abilities were depleted by a previous task were less inhibited and less prejudiced, and enjoyed the interaction more, than those in a control group.”

In other words, we become awkward the more we try to stop saying anything that might be offensive. So maybe it is better to say what is on your mind…… I think not.

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