By: Christopher Peterson, Ph.D. in The Good Life
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
I watched the recent 46th NFL Super Bowl between the Patriots and the Giants but sooner rather than later changed channels during the halftime show, which featured Madonna. As a result, I missed seeing live the beginning of the mini-scandal that ensued when one of her backup singers, M.I.A., made an obscene gesture to the viewing audience.
By all reports, Ms. M.I.A. gave 114 million US viewers the finger—i.e., flipped them the bird, flipped them off, showed them the back of her closed fist with the middle finger extended upwards. Whatever we want to call it, the phallic message was clear and nasty and hardly missing in action: **** you.
The NFL and NBC fell all over themselves apologizing, but let's get real. Our thresholds for outrage have increased. This was not the worst thing that any of us have seen on television or in real life.
And even more recently, singer Adele apparently gave the finger on a live British awards show when she was cut off during the broadcast. Again, apologies cascaded.
Be all of this as it may, I was reminded of a study conducted by my University of Michigan colleagues, Jesse Chandler and Norbert Schwarz (2009), about the effects of such gestures on the psychology of the person making the gesture. Chandler and Schwarz asked research participants to perform a judgment task while giving the finger. A plausible cover story was provided for the request; the study ostensibly was about the effects of motor movements on reading comprehension. Specifically, in one condition, these researchers asked participants to read a story about a fictional character while extending their middle finger and then to rate their perceptions of him. Compared to other conditions (defined by different gestures), flipping the bird was associated with seeing the fictional character as more hostile. Other ratings were not affected.
To read the entire news release, see the psychologytoday.com website at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/201202/gestures-self-fulfilling-prophecies-negative-and-positive.