Giving better than receiving, says psychology lecture installment

The Distinguished Lecture Series has brought psychology speakers to MU since 2006.

Jennifer Crocker, social psychology professor at Ohio State University, assured her audience that giving truly is better than receiving Thursday at Jesse Wrench Auditorium.

Crocker, an Ohio Eminent Scholar, spoke as the fourth installment of the annual Distinguished Lectures Series hosted by the Department of Psychological Sciences. The series began in 2006 as a way to bring psychology professionals to speak at MU.

This year’s series, titled “The Need to Belong: Origins, Dynamics & Consequences,” focuses on what it means to be human, the need to belong and dependence on others.

Crocker began her lecture, “Egosystem or Ecosystem? How to Create (Or Undermine) a Sense of Belonging,” by explaining how she came to decide on a date to travel from Ohio to Missouri.

“I said ‘How about late February?’” Crocker said, smiling. “’I bet by late February it'll be spring in Missouri.’”

Crocker paused and glanced out at the crowd with a teasing grin.

“That was a miscalculation,” Crocker said.

Crocker is well-known for her work in self-esteem, contingencies of self-worth and the risk of pursuing goals, according to the Ohio State University website.

“Some relationships and friendships we form early in life, such as who we room with in college, can last a very long time,” Crocker said. “High-quality relationships are good for our well-being. But why?”

Crocker said she wanted to address two questions concerning how people can get these close, caring relationships and what improves well-being.

“It starts with us,” Crocker said. “We can create, or undermine, close, caring and personal relationships.”

Crocker went on to explain the differences between egosystems and ecosystems.

People who function in egosystems are searching for belonging, respect and admiration, Crocker said. People in egosystems are generally less responsive to other people's needs and are generally associated with self-image needs. Their objective is to get others to see their good qualities, while hiding their bad qualities.

The ecosystem perspective is much more motivational, Crocker said. People in this system are not as worried about getting their own needs met because they trust that own needs will be met if they help others meet their needs. Their goals are to be supportive and constructive for others.

The two systems are not mutually exclusive.

“We're all both,” Crocker said. “We're all back and forth between the two. Like right now: I don't want to look like an idiot in front of people who invited me here to give a talk, but at the same time I want to say something that will be useful and informative.”

Crocker cited research from her lab on college freshman roommates that showed acting with compassion toward people makes them more likely to reciprocate the kindness.

“We can create support by giving it to others,” Crocker said. “We can create responsive relationship partners by being responsive to them. Create belonging by giving it to others.”

While Crocker’s lab team has not specifically researched the health effects of what she called “being better people,” she said she could only assume it would be healthier to be happier.

“It starts with our own goals or intentions toward others,” Crocker said.

This take-home statement is exactly what Lynne Cooper, Distinguished Lecture Series co-chair and MU psychology professor, said she hoped students would get out of the series. Cooper has been on the Series committee since its inception in 2006, and knew many of the inspirations behind it.

“Obviously the first goal is educational, both for faculty and students,” Cooper said. “It’s also a chance to network with scholars in the field. There’s a public relations component — we like to be extensively involved other departments.”

The next lecture in the series will feature Stanford University Psychology Professor Hazel Markus and will be held at 3:30 p.m. on March 14 in Jesse Wrench Auditorium.

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