student life


A few posts back on the blog, we decided to talk about the flow experience, which is basically the experience of being fully engaged with a task and being in a state of deep concentration. This experience was notably associated with increased well being. The contrary to this appears to be mind-wandering, an activity that I know a lot of my fellow students are very familiar with during those zoom classes.

Mind-Wandering refers to those moments where our minds stray from the here and now to  go towards internal thoughts, that are unrelated to the events that are going on around us. We can also refer to this as “stimulus-independent thought” (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010), and it occurs when our cognitive and attentional resources for the external world are low. The capacity we have to wander allows us plan, learn and reason, but it may also have a negative effect on our emotional state. Indeed, mind-wandering has been often linked to unhappiness. For example, Killingsworth and Gilbert (2010) conducted a study that used an iPhone application which sent notifications throughout the day to participants who then had to answer three questions. These questions were : “ How are you feeling right now ? What are you doing right now ? and are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing ?” (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010). The mains results showed that people tended to mind-wander a lot, but most importantly, that they reported being less happy when they were mind-wandering compared to when they were not. This happened even though most people tended to wander to pleasant thoughts (42% of the samples) (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010).

If mind-wandering is linked to unhappiness, it would be important to consider what kind of thoughts people have during this state. This is important because the effect of having past-focused thoughts is different from having future-focused thoughts. In fact, healthy individuals show a reduction of positive mood as well as increased cortisol levels and depressive symptoms while having past-focused thoughts. On the contrary, when people wander towards the future, they experience an increase in positive mood and a lower stress response (Hoffmann, Banzhaf, Kanske, Bermpohl & Singer, 2016). A study aimed to investigate where the mind of clinical depressed people wanders, took into account whether the thoughts they had were past, future, self or other related as well as their valence (Hoffmann et al., 2016). This study found that patients with major depression tended to mind-wander more than healthy individuals and that they experienced more self and past related thoughts that had a negative valence (Hoffmann et al., 2016). These findings are relevant because they show the importance of identifying the content of the thoughts while the mind is wandering. More importantly, it also shows the advantages of mindfulness-based therapies in treating depression, since the goal of these therapies is to train the capacity of being in the here and now.

Bibliography :
  • Hoffmann, F., Banzhaf, C., Kanske, P., Bermpohl, F., & Singer, T. (2016). Where the depressed mind wanders : Self-generated thought patterns as assessed through experience sampling as a state marker of depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 198, 127‑134.
  • Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind. Science, 330(6006), 932.
Featured image :

Author : Paula Morales


The gender gap in Psychology

There is a stricken fact that people notice when they enter a room full of psychology students: most of them are female. As a student yourself, if you’re a heterosexual female, you may have doubts about whether you’re going to find the love of your life in that room or not. On the opposite side, if you’re one of the three to ten men in the class, you’ll most likely be excited about this gender gap. All jokes and love interests aside, psychology is a field in which about 70% of master’s and doctoral students are female (National Science Foundation, 2016). Despite this over-representation of females in the classes, only a third of the professors are females and when women do decide to make a career in experimental psychology, they’re less published and cited than their male counterparts (Odic & Wojcik, 2020). 

A study analyzing records from 125 high-impact, peer-reviewed psychology journals, with the goal of determining how men and women contribute to research in psychology, showed that females are less cited and published than their male colleagues (Odic & Wojcik, 2020). The authors were also interested in testing whether these gaps persist across factors such as authorship position and subdiscipline as well as in studying the evolution of these patterns between 2003 and 2019. Firstly, they found that this publication gap is pervasive but not identical across subfields. For example, Developmental and Health psychology show a smaller publication gap than Neurosciences. Furthermore, if this publication gap is more or less important across different fields in psychology, it is not the case for the citation gap. Indeed, publications by male researchers receive more citations than those made by females independently of the field (Odic & Wojcik, 2020). The authors do not have an explanation for this but there is a hypothesis that the gap may be explained by the fact that men could tend to self-cite more than women (Larivière et al., 2013). Lastly, this publication gap seems to be evolving towards a more equal situation where women are better represented in some subdisciplines. This is not by any means perfect but it shows that psychology is not a stagnated science dominated by men and that on the contrary, women are now strongly represented in psychology faculties and early career positions (Odic & Wojcik, 2020). Even though these findings are interested, the authors accentuate the importance of conducting further research to explain why this gap exists and which are the factors contributing to its perpetration. They consider that the gaps may, for example, be explained by the hiring rates for men and women and journal policies.  In conclusion, there is a gender publication and citation gap that favors men and future research should be done in order to investigate which social, cultural and contextual factors contribute to these gaps.

Bibliography :
  • Larivière, V., Ni, C., Gingras, Y., Cronin, B., & Sugimoto, C. R. (2013). Bibliometrics: Global gender disparities in science. Nature, 504, 211– 213.
  • National Science Foundation. (2016). Survey of earned doctorates (NSF No. 18–304). Retrieved from 18304/ 
  • Odic, D., & Wojcik, E. H. (2020). The publication gender gap in psychology. American Psychologist, 75(1), 92–103.
Featuring image :
  • Stancikatie, A. (2020). We Need to Close the Gender Data Gap By Including Women in Our Algorithms [Illustration]. TIME. Retrived from :

Author : Paula Morales


White privilege

Whether we like it or not, 2020 was a year characterized by events that challenged us as individuals and societies in ways that we didn’t believe possible. Indeed, leaving aside COVID-19 and its huge impact on our daily lives, we also experienced several events that pushed us to question our ways of living and our understanding of socio-economic and environmental issues. Therefore, it seems to me that values such as equality, solidarity and fairness were something that became central in a lot of discussions. Consequently, 2020 was the year where, thanks to some globally supported social movements, things that were acceptable before by the largest number were no longer tolerable in a time where companionship was needed. 

For instance, we cannot talk about last year’s social movements without mentioning the series of police brutality protests that took place in America and around the world. The terrible events leading to these protests highlighted a major injustice in our societies, the one based on race. During the protests, we watched in horror as the series of violence and oppression inflicted on African American people unfolded before us. And with the realization that a group of people was oppressed, came the realization that others have it much easier. 

These protests and social movements around the world represented a wakeup call for a lot of White people, who benefit every day from the privileges that come along with belonging to this group. People’s responses to this were very different, some seeing it as proof that they had the responsibility to educate themselves and to support in any way they can the fight against racism, while others were tempted to give a more simplistic and defensive response, one that could take many forms but that was always along the lines of “BUT I have a hard time too”. For example, a study made by Phillips and Lowery (2015) shows that White people who were asked to read a text informing them that they are advantaged in different domains, report more hardships than Whites who did not read it. This kind of response is due to the fact that White people were confronted with evidence that their group benefited from privilege, which can be uncomfortable. According to the authors, “claiming personal life hardships may help Whites manage the threatening possibility that they benefit from privilege” (Cooley, Brown-Iannuzzi & Cottrell, 2019). The reason why this is threatening is because we function in societies that predominantly believe that personal qualities determine life outcomes. Therefore, it may be difficult to recognize that one benefits from privileges because on some level it diminishes the legitimacy of people’s achievements. In this case, claiming hardship allows individuals to deny that factors such as systemic racial privilege helped them, without completely denying that their group as a whole benefits from it. This has important consequences, because if people think that they have not personally benefited from privilege, they would be prone to think that they should not endure personal costs associated with policies created to reduce inequity (Lowery, Knowles, & Unzueta, 2007). 

However, informing people about their privilege can also have positive consequences. For instance, a study made by Cooley, Brown-Iannuzzi and Cottrell (2019) showed that informing white people about their privilege can increase the perceived racism in violent encounters between the police and black men, regardless of political ideology. Alternatively, without this information, White social liberals perceived significantly more racism than social conservatives. These results are important because in order to change, we first have to acknowledge the existence and the gravity of racism. 

These findings offer perspectives about the effects of educating White people about their privilege. It also raises questions about the right way of doing without activating the need to deny the issue. One thing is certain, this will always be an uncomfortable subject, but it is also one that we have to address in order to grow as fairer societies and simply because it is our own responsibility.

Bibliography :
  • Cooley, E., Brown-Iannuzzi, J., & Cottrell, D. J. (2019). Liberals perceive more racism than conservatives when police shoot Black men—But, reading about White privilege increases perceived racism, and shifts attributions of guilt, regardless of political ideology. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 85, 103885.
  • Lowery, B.S., Chow, R.M., Knowles, E.D., & Unzueta, M.M. (2012). Paying for positive group-image: How perceptions of inequity affect responses to redistributive social policies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 323–336. 
  • Taylor Phillips, L., & Lowery, B. S. (2015). The hard-knock life? Whites claim hardships in response to racial inequity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 61, 12-18.
Featured image :

Author : Paula Morales

current directions news

An interview with an applied psychology graduate

In this week’s blog post we decided to take a break from COVID and from the more formal articles to offer you an insight into a relatively less known field in psychology. So, I sat with my friend Alexia Gaillard, who recently finished her master in applied psychology at Geneva’s University, to discuss about what she does and what led her to choose this master. I hope this can give you some clues that would help you out in the difficult task of choosing a master amongst all the interesting options out there. 

P: Hi Alex, first I would like to thank you for accepting this socially distant safe interview to talk a bit about your field and your motivations for following this path. Maybe I would like to start by asking you to tell us a little bit about your educational background… 

A: Sure, I started in post-obligatory business school, at the time I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I thought that maybe with that I could end up somewhere. Then during the last year, I had to do an internship that helped me realize that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something a bit more meaningful and interesting so I decided to change. I went to an event at UNIGE where they presented me a profile of a psychology student and almost everything in that profile resonated with me. 

P: Do you remember what the profile sounded like? 

A: I just remember two words, which were organized and curious. And that is something with which I identify. 

P: So, it was kind of a natural choice for you. 

A: Yeah, I didn’t have to do a lot of thinking and the courses seemed so interesting that I didn’t even consider the other faculties. 

P: It’s so interesting that the two words that you remember are organized and curious… it’s something that is so linked to the master you chose three years after. 

A: Yeah that’s right… I don’t know, if I had to describe myself I would say organized and curious, maybe that’s why I remember it the most. I guess I also wanted to do psychology out of a desire to understand why people do certain things. I also had trouble being in social groups and the choice came from a motivation to further understand the dynamics and maybe feel more comfortable around others.  

P: It’s funny because it’s quite narcissistic but I feel like it is the case for many psychologists to choose psychology in order to understand themselves first. So, at that point what was the representation you had of a psychologist? 

A: Well, I think I had the stereotyped idea of a person with paper notes sited in front of a patient/client who’s sitting on a couch hoping for some advice (which was such a reductionist and wrong idea). But of course, this representation changed towards an image of a scientist too. At first I didn’t think that psychology was that scientific. 

P: Yeah, I had the same feeling. Then you go to uni and realize that you have to take statistics classes, learn all about the scientific methodology and even conduct research. 

A: Yeah, I liked that kind of stability that the scientific method offers to psychologists. 

P: So, when you finished your bachelor did you have a clear idea of what master you wanted to choose? 

A: I knew that I wanted to choose the social orientation because those were the courses I enjoyed the most and the ones where I felt that I was the most engaged with. You know, the interesting thing about those classes was the fact that when you go around your life, interacting as any human being and watching others interact, you can experience the dynamics and everything you learnt in class. I also knew I wanted to do research. 

P: Definitely. So let’s get into the difficult task of defining applied psychology… what would you say it is? 

A: Well, the world applied says it all. You take the knowledge that comes from research, from fundamental psychology and you apply those findings to the problem you want to solve. Let’s say, you start by defining a problem, for example, smoking behavior. You do your literature research on this behavior from A to Z and then you search for alternative solutions based on the behavior changing techniques that come precisely from research. 

P: I see. So, what are some of the fields you can work on being an applied psychologist? 

A: We can work on environmental, health, education and societal issues. The idea is to create intervention programs that are aimed at changing behavior. For example, recently we talk a lot about fast fashion and how consumerism behavior contributes to environmental issues and how we can create interventions to make people change that in order to adopt a more environmentally friendly behavior. To do this, it is important to know how conscious the population your intervention is aimed is about the problem. Because of course, the intervention will be much different for a person who doesn’t acknowledge the problem at all compared to someone who knows that their behavior is bad but doesn’t know how to change it. Our task is to investigate all these factors and create an intervention according to the issue, to the population and to the means you have to create this intervention. After this, the most important part in this process is to evaluate the impact of our intervention, what worked, what didn’t work and what can be done to make it better. The strength of applied psychology interventions compared to others is that it is evidenced-based, we don’t start with an intervention that “seems like a good idea” because the likelihood of it not working is much higher. 

P: Thank you Alex for your time and for sharing your experience with us. 

Featured image :
  • 27 Social Psychology Dissertation Topics for Academic Resea, A., No Comment. Retrieved from :

Author : Paula Morales

current directions

Flow experience and how it can affect our well being

Perhaps one of the most troubling questions you can ask someone is if they’re happy. More often than not, the person feels the obligation to say yes. It is obvious that the question regarding our general well-being and happiness is not an easy one to answer and can’t be reduced to a yes or no, so I decided to give you a glimpse into some literature related to this. 

For quite some time now, psychologists have been tasked with studying and observing how different people respond to life’s events. How can some go through live so weightlessly and untroubled, while others have difficulty finding a reason to wake up in the morning. Most of us try to live our life striving for happiness, whatever that represents for each person. So, all possible socio-economic factors controlled, how can some achieve it easily while others have such a hard time. Well, it seems like part of the answer can be found in our personality type. 

Flow experience refers to an experience of deep absorption, engagement and enjoyment (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). It is characterized, among others, by a state of complete concentration, an increased sense of control and a loss of self-awareness (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). According to the literature on flow experience, some people are more prone to experience it during their daily activities, which in turn is associated with higher levels of well-being. We can then ask ourselves why there is such a difference. According to several theorists, some people possess certain personal attributes that encourage the experience of flow. These include curiosity, persistence, low self-centeredness, enjoyment of challenges, attentional control and others (Tse, Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2020). A profile that corresponds to these attributes was coined under the term of autotelic personality (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). A recent study that measured autotelic personality, proneness to experiencing flow and well-being found a positive effect of autotelic personality on well-being (Tse, Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2020). What’s even more interesting is the fact that this relationship was mediated by the proneness to experiencing flow. If that’s so, why then don’t we engage more often in activities that facilitate the flow experience? Simple answer: we’re lazy. Indeed, another study showed that because flow activities require more effort than passive activities, people are simply not interested – despite knowing that the flow activities might lead to more happiness (Schiffer & Roberts, 2017). 

In conclusion, there seems to be some people who have the attributes to engage in a deeper level with their daily activities and who make the effort to become involved in more difficult tasks that lead to the so-known flow experience. I hope I succeeded in getting you interested in the topic and I hope you have a lot of flow experiences from now on – or at least now you know the term for that state when you’re playing music or writing your essay.

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow. New York, NY: Harper and Row. 
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. New York, NY: Basic Books. 
  • Schiffer, L. P., & Roberts, T.-A. (2017). The paradox of happiness: Why are we not doing what we know makes us happy? The Journal of Positive Psychology, 13(3), 252-259.
  • Tse, D. C. K., Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2020). Living well by “flowing’ well : The indirect effect of autotelic personality on well-being through flow experience. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1-12.
Featured image:
  • Johnson. S., [@samjsn], (2020, August 8). August.

Author: Paula Morales