Posts Tagged ‘psychology’
Now that I’ve been presented with obvious evidence that I’m an introvert, I found this article by Jonathan Rauch quite interesting:
Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?
If so, do you tell this person he is "too serious," or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?
If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren’t caring for him properly. Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up). If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone. Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.
I know. My name is Jonathan, and I am an introvert.
Oh, for years I denied it. After all, I have good social skills. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually. I am far from shy. I love long conversations that explore intimate thoughts or passionate interests. But at last I have self-identified and come out to my friends and colleagues. In doing so, I have found myself liberated from any number of damaging misconceptions and stereotypes. Now I am here to tell you what you need to know in order to respond sensitively and supportively to your own introverted family members, friends, and colleagues. Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts. It pays to learn the warning signs.
What is introversion? In its modern sense, the concept goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung…
As you might expect from our arboreal ancestry. Mind Hacks:
There’s an intriguing study about to be published in Psychological Science finding that people wearing prism glasses that shift everything to the right overestimate the passage of time, while people wearing left-shift glasses underestimate it.
The researchers, led by psychologist Francesca Frassinetti, asked participants to watch a square appear on-screen for varying time periods, and then reproduce the duration or half the duration with a key press.
Glasses that skewed vision to the left seemed to shrink time, while glasses that skew everything to the right expanded it.
Apart from the interesting perceptual effect, it gives further evidence for the idea that our internals model of space and time are heavily linked, to the point where modifying one has a knock-on effect on the other.
In fact, there is increasing evidence that other abstract concepts are implicitly understood as having a spatial layout. Experiments on the SNARC effect have found that numbers seem to have a ‘location’, with larger numbers being on the right and smaller numbers on the left.
At least, that seems to be the case for native English-speakers, but for Arabic speakers, where text is written right-to-left, the reverse seems to be true.
It would be interesting to whether Arabic speakers show a reverse time alteration effect of if they wear prism glasses. Whatever the answer, it would raise lots of interesting questions about how much language influences our abstract ideas and whether it only applies to certain concepts.
Prism glasses have long been a tool in psychology and there is a mountain of research on how we adjust to living in the world even when everything is shifted through the lens.
Tom recently found a fantastic (1950s?) archive film called ‘Living in a Reversed World: Some Experiments on How We See the Directions of Things’ where several volunteers are asked to wear prism glasses for weeks on end.
Hilarity ensues, at least at first, but as co-ordination skills adapt the volunteers can go about their daily tasks, to the point of being able to ride bicycles, even when their vision has been flipped around.
I’ve just found this fascinating 2006 article by a consultant psychiatrist to the US Secret Service that classifies the types of stalkers and assassins that have troubled the President of the United States.
The piece, by psychiatry professor Robert Phillips, reviews past classifications of presidential harassers and cases from the literature to produce a list of main types.
In my work as consultant to the U.S. Secret Service on protective intelligence cases, it is my clinical assessment that aids in their ultimate determination of who poses a potential risk to a protectee.
In performing evaluations of persons who have either threatened or attacked presidents, pursued them without nefarious intent, or appeared at the White House without invitation, I have searched for a framework that would allow me to integrate my diagnostic opinion of an individual subject with a conceptualization of what is known about others who have acted similarly.
Phillips’ classification includes:
* The Resentful Presidential Stalker or Assassin
* The Pathologically Obsessed Presidential Stalker or Assassin
* The Presidential Infamy Seeker
* The Presidential Nuisance or Presidential Attention Seeker
But perhaps most interesting is the part where he illustrates each type with examples from past cases.
These include famous cases, such as John Hinckley – the man who shot President Reagan but was apparently also a stalker of Carter, to less well known cases such as one woman referred to only as ‘Ms Doe’ who "possessed a delusional love interest" in Clinton.
It’s interesting to compare this classification with the independently created typology of stalkers of the British royal family drawn from the Metropolitan Police’s Royalty Protection Unit files.
Not Exactly Rocket Science covers an intriguing study that provides further evidence for the theory that the brain treats tools as temporary body parts.
Using tools has lots of interesting effects on our perception. In one of my favourite studies, psychologist Dennis Proffitt found that we perceive distances as shorter when we have a tool in our hand, but only when we intend to use it.
This latest study found that using a tool for only a few minutes modified the body’s action settings. In the experiment, participants were asked to repeatedly pick up a block that had been placed in the middle of the table.
Then, they had to repeat the same actions with a grabber – a long, mechanical lever tipped with a two-fingered "hand" – and then a third time, with their own hand again.
Small LEDs on the volunteers’ hands allowed Cardinali to track their movements and calculate the speed and acceleration of their arms. She found that they reached for the block differently after they had been accustomed to the grabber, taking longer to accelerate their hands more slowly and to seize the block (although once they actually touched the blocks, they grasped them in just the same way as before). The delays even affected the speed at which they pointed at the block, a behaviour that wasn’t "trained" by the grabber.
To Cardinali, these results suggested that after using the grabber, the volunteers’ had included it into their mental representation of their own arms. Because of that, they felt that their arms were longer than they actually were and reached for the block more slowly.
I’m just reading a fascinating report on the psychology of why people fall for scams, commissioned by the UK government’s Office of Fair Trading and created by Exeter University’s psychology department.
It’s a 260 page monster, so is not exactly bed time reading, but was drawn from in-depth interviews from scam victims, examination of scam material, two questionnaire studies and a behavioural experiment.
Here’s some of the punchlines grabbed from the executive summary. The report concluded that the most successful scams involve:
Appeals to trust and authority: people tend to obey authorities so scammers use, and victims fall for, cues that make the offer look like a legitimate one being made by a reliable official institution or established reputable business.
Visceral triggers: scams exploit basic human desires and needs – such as greed, fear, avoidance of physical pain, or the desire to be liked – in order to provoke intuitive reactions and reduce the motivation of people to process the content of the scam message deeply.
Scarcity cues. Scams are often personalised to create the impression that the offer is unique to the recipient.
Induction of behavioural commitment. Scammers ask their potential victims to make small steps of compliance to draw them in, and thereby cause victims to feel committed to continue sending money.
The disproportionate relation between the size of the alleged reward and the cost of trying to obtain it. Scam victims are led to focus on the alleged big prize or reward in comparison to the relatively small amount of money they have to send in order to obtain their windfall.
Lack of emotional control. Compared to non-victims, scam victims report being less able to regulate and resist emotions associated with scam offers. They seem to be unduly open to persuasion, or perhaps unduly undiscriminating about who they allow to persuade them.
And here’s a couple of counter-intuitive kickers:
Scam victims often have better than average background knowledge in the area of the scam content. For example, it seems that people with experience of playing legitimate prize draws and lotteries are more likely to fall for a scam in this area than people with less knowledge and experience in this field. This also applies to those with some knowledge of investments. Such knowledge can increase rather than decrease the risk of becoming a victim.
Scam victims report that they put more cognitive effort into analysing scam content than non-victims. This contradicts the intuitive suggestion that people fall victim to scams because they invest too little cognitive energy in investigating their content, and thus overlook potential information that might betray the scam.
Interesting, people who fall for scams often have a feeling that it’s dodgy. The report suggests we trust our get instincts. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.
We like to think that only other people fall for scams, but as I’m working my way through the report it’s becoming clear that those things that we think make us resistant to scams (a keen analytical mind) are not what help us avoid being a victim.
A really fascinating read and a great example of applied psychology.
Yesterday I blogged about nocebos: when you mind holds beliefs that lead it to attack the body. Last night I was reading Mindset, by Carol Dweck, PhD, and it struck me that she is in a way exploring the same sort of phenomenon, though on the positive side and in different language. The two approaches are looking at the same general thing, but from different angles and with different vocabularies.
Here’s the opening of her book:
When I was a young researcher, just starting out, something happened that changed my life. I was obsessed with understanding how people cope with failures, and I decided to study it by watching how students grapple with hard problems. So I brought children one at a time to a room in their school, made them comfortable, and then gave them a series of puzzles to solve. The first ones were fairly easy, but the next ones were hard. As the students grunted, perspired, and toiled, I watched their strategies and probed what they were thinking and feeling. I expected differences among children in how they coped with the difficulty, but I saw something I never expected.
Confronted with the hard puzzles, one ten-year-old boy pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out, I love a challenge!" Another, sweating away on these puzzles, looked up with a pleased expression and said with authority, "You know, I was hoping this would be informative."
What’s wrong with them? I wondered. I always thought you coped with failure or you didn’t cope with failure. I never thought anyone loved failure. Were these alien children or were they on to something?
Everyone has a role model, someone who pointed the way at a critical moment in their lives. These children were my role models. They obviously knew something I didn’t and I was determined to figure it out—to understand the kind of mindset that could turn a failure into a gift.
What did they know? They knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated through effort. And that’s what they were doing—getting smarter. Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.
I, on the other hand, though human qualities were carved in stone. You were smart or you weren’t, and failure meant you weren’t. It was that simple. If you could arrange successes and avoid failures (at all costs), you could stay smart. Struggles, mistakes, perseverance were just not part of this picture.
Whether human qualities are things that can be cultivated or things that are carved in stone is an old issue. What these beliefs mean for you is a new one: What are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait? Let’s first look in on the age-old, fiercely waged debate about human nature and then return to the question of what these beliefs mean for you…
It’s a fascinating book with many implications for child-rearing. For example, you never praise a child for how smart s/he is, but rather for how well they work. Good grades are attributed to good work, not to intelligence. You can find more information in this earlier post.
I have to admit that I was praised for being smart and really didn’t learn how to study and work at things until I was an adult—and study skills are best learned very young, otherwise it’s difficult to embed them deeply enough.
Always a good question to ask, and the attempt to answer that question for herself and her own happiness eventually resulted in Joanna Field writing the fascinating book A Life of One’s Own, which I frequently recommend. Now there’s a very interesting article in the Atlantic Monthly about that very question. The article’s blurb:
Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant.
Very interesting story by Sherri Fink of ProPublica:
Earlier this week we published a story examining  the psychology profession’s tortured relationship with the Bush Administration’s War on Terror. We found that psychologists warned officials as early as 2002 against using potentially ineffective and dangerous interrogation techniques on detainees, according to a recently-released Senate Armed Services Committee report. However, what had been little noticed was that the same psychologists helped develop the harsh interrogation policies and practices they warned against.
As part of our report, we posted a listserv of internal emails between staff of the American Psychological Association and members of its "Psychological Ethics and National Security" task force. (Here’s the entire listserv.)  That listserv offers a rare look into a process that led to the adoption of an influential and controversial policy for the world’s largest professional organization of psychologists , which represents the profession of psychology in the United States. It also provides a window into a heated discussion among medical professionals grappling with their ethical obligations and their possible complicity in torture.
The task force was set up after news reports  suggested that psychologists and other health professionals had been complicit with abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, for example by sharing information about psychological vulnerabilities with interrogators. The group’s charge was to examine the ethical dimensions of psychologists’ involvement in "national security investigations" and consider whether the APA should develop policies to guide psychologists involved in those activities. The task force produced a 12-page report  stating that the APA’s ethics code prohibited torture, obligated psychologists to report any instances to appropriate authorities, and banned psychologists from using health care information in ways that could harm detainees. Click to see the e-mail listserv obtained by ProPublica.
 But the report also gave psychologists an ethical blessing to continue consulting in national security-related interrogations. An organization of psychiatrists, in contrast, decided its physician members should not participate. In response, the Department of Defense changed its guidance  to state that psychologists, but no longer psychiatrists, should participate in so-called Behavioral Science Consultation Teams or "BSCTs" (pronounced "biscuits"), which assist interrogators in prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
After the report was issued, the APA task force itself became a target for criticism, when it was revealed that some members had consulted on interrogations at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, trained other psychologists to do so, or worked within chains of command that authorized the very practices the task force was established to consider (six of the nine voting members were members of or had consulted for the military or intelligence agencies).
The email traffic on the APA task force listserv  forms a dense but riveting narrative…
Interesting post in Mind Hacks. I find that GOP generally lacks compassion (for the powerless, I mean: the poor, the elderly, minorities, the disabled, and so on), and I wonder whether this explains it.
Newsweek has an article on human good and evil that trots out the usual Milgram-fuelled moral pondering before morphing into a fascinating piece on the psychology of compassion.
The most interesting part is where it discusses which psychological traits predict compassionate behaviour:
A specific cluster of emotional traits seem to go along with compassion. People who are emotionally secure, who view life’s problems as manageable and who feel safe and protected tend to show the greatest empathy for strangers and to act altruistically and compassionately.
In contrast, people who are anxious about their own worth and competence, who avoid close relationships or are clingy in those they have tend to be less altruistic and less generous, psychologists Philip Shaver of the University of California, Davis, and Mario Mikulincer of Bar-Ilan University in Israel have found in a series of experiments. Such people are less likely to care for the elderly, for instance, or to donate blood.
The Newsweek article labels these characteristics ‘emotional traits’ but the researchers are actually using the psychological concept of attachment – an approach to relationships and human interaction style that can be seen throughout the lifespan.
The same research team has completed studies showing that increasing people’s perceived security increases altruistic behaviour.
If you read this psychological profile of the conservative mind, you can understand (from the above) why conservatives often seem to lack compassion.
The rules are simple: don’t talk about politics, religion, sex, certainly not masturbation, and definitely don’t question how someone parents their children. After all, what are you going to do if the person you’re talking to is unwilling to appreciate your point of view? Can you handle a violent argument or an exhausting bout of strained silence? Out of fear, people hide from a number of important issues and a lot of relationships never build the strength to tolerate the intense emotions that arise during disagreements. As a clinical psychologist, I can tell you that handling conflict is essential to our well-being, healthy relationships, healthy workplaces, and healthy communities.
The truth is conflicts are inevitable. Human beings were never designed to live in the densely packed settings of modern society. With so many people in our personal space, so many emotions to read from so many faces, disagreements and arguments are unavoidable. It could be a romantic couple bickering on a regular basis about how to discipline their children. It could be a financially unstable business trying to negotiate a purchase with a stubborn buyer. It could be two nations that are inches away from war. Usually there is some value in negotiating some common ground to prevent conflicts from escalating into violent endings.
Researchers at Stanford University tested a simple idea for how to create successful outcomes during tense negotiations or conflicts. The reason that arguments can quickly turn ugly is that people don’t feel as if they’re being understood. Thus, make sure that each party feels as if they are being carefully listened to.
If people show that they are curious and willing to learn more about someone else’s opposing view, this might be the key to diplomacy. That is, ask a single clarifying question about what another person’s view is about. That’s it. One question with a few important guidelines: …
Nigel Barber has an interesting column, which begins:
As far as online adult entertainment is concerned, the Red states are also the red light states. Eight of the top ten pornography consuming states went for McCain in the presidential election (the two exceptions, Florida and Hawaii went democratic).
The biggest consumer of Internet pornography was Utah with 5.47 subscriptions per thousand home broadband users compared to Montana the lowest state with 1.92 subscribers per thousand (1). Study author, Benjamin Edelman of Harvard Business School focused on broadband users because pornography is a bandwidth hog. Edelman was also careful to rule out the age distribution of the population, income, education, population density, marriage rates and other characteristics that might make state comparisons unfair. Utah still wound up at the top of the heap.
Utah’s top ranking surprises many. One can think of many adjectives to describe the state: religious, conservative, family-oriented, outdoorsy, clean-living, but few would have guessed top-pornography-consuming. Many would find it easier to attribute such interests to western neighbor Nevada, a center for gambling and prostitution. Ironically, Nevada doesn’t even make it to the top ten.
States that banned gay marriage had 11 percent more porn subscribers. The level of agreement in a state with the statement that "Even today miracles are performed by the power of God" predicted higher pornography consumption. States claiming to have old-fashioned values about family and marriage purchased substantially more adult-content subscriptions.
Interesting column, which begins:
Some of our most recent research indicates that self-forgiveness plays a role in decreasing our procrastination. As the image says, "Forgiveness – we do it for ourselves to get well and move on." The interesting thing is that we may actually move on with the task we’ve been avoiding, like studying for that next exam!
I have written about this study previously after a conference presentation last spring. The focus then was on gender differences we found in the data.
Since that time, we did a re-analysis of these data. This new approach statistically revealed an important role for negative emotions in the relation between self-forgiveness and future procrastination. Let me explain briefly.
We asked the question:
If we self-forgive after we procrastinate, do we procrastinate less the next time we face a similar task?…
I generally don’t much care for Michael Scherer, but this column is quite interesting.
January 23, 2009
January 31, 2009
It’s bloody cold where I live. In the interminable cycle of snow and sub-freezing ambience, I have two daughters whose brains, literally, crave movement. But before we talk about that, let’s talk about rats with toys and rats without.
In fact, let’s put rats off for a moment too. Let’s talk about Children’s Museums. That’ll take us to rats and their toys, and move us nicely then to the welfare of the brains of our children. The story goes like this:
Anyone who has been a kid and now has one knows that children’s museums have been changing. What began often as tired wings of the more-adult institutions now have their own buildings and names (the Boston Children’s Museum, for example), and their own stuff. Parents often view these younger establishments with a mixture of dread and relief. Turn your kid loose!
Every display cries out for this kind of freedom. But wait. Where the hell is my kid? And who is that ill-behaved little imp who just elbowed that sweet curly haired toddler in the kidney, and where are his parents, and would someone please tell me in this age of drug resistant bacteria why anyone designed a place where children could crawl all over each other and leave trails of snot the way a snail marks his progress across the sidewalk.
I still to some extent see Children’s Museums as one giant Petri dish, a happy place for viruses, bacteria, and a select few multi-cellular microbes to party. The humans are the ecosystem, the paradise for which these winter-time bugs long. And yet every weekend, tired parents and their wheezing progeny line up before the museum opens, push their way in through the doors like they’re going to see the Who in concert, and provide new and exciting homes for the mass of germs that lay in wait, like trap-door spiders, for the first little hand to move them to some new organic material. The circle of life is like this.
Recently at our local Children’s Museum I set my children free. I unleashed them from the sweaters and coats and mittens and scarves that stilted their youthful and impossible movements, my daughter unraveling from her parka like a mummy eager to leave the darkness of his tomb, and off she went, climbing the fantastical web-like structure that is the center piece of the Boston Children’s Museum. Kids disappeared and reappeared 10 feet above, elbowing, clawing, climbing and moving. They were like ants with no purpose except to move from one stage to the next. And, undeniably, they were ecstatically happy…
Peter Ubel is professor of medicine and psychology at the University of Michigan, where he directs the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine. He’s the author of the forthcoming book, Free Market Madness (Harvard Business, 2008), which investigates the irrational tics that lead people to overbid on eBay, eat too much ice cream and take out mortgages they can’t afford. Mind Matters editor Jonah Lehrer chats with Ubel about his research.
LEHRER: Your new book, Free Market Madness, argues that conventional economics, which assumes that humans are rational agents acting in their own self-interest, is deeply naive and scientifically unrealistic. Instead, you describe a brain brimming with biases and flaws. Do you think these flaws are responsible for the latest economic turmoil? If so, how?
UBEL: Irrationality is responsible for the economic mess we find ourselves in right now. Irrationality plus greed, of course, and a substantial dose of ignorance.
Let’s start with ignorance. I’m sad to say that many Americans have a difficult time with even simple math—around a third of American adults cannot calculate 10 percent of 1,000. People who struggle with concepts such as percents have an extremely difficult time with more complicated ideas, such as compounding of savings and, very relevant to our current crisis, adjustable rate mortgages.
To make matters worse, most of us are hard-wired for optimism. Ask us how we rate as drivers, and the vast majority of us are convinced we are above average, even those of us who have gotten into multiple car accidents. As a result of our unrealistic optimism, we are convinced that our incomes will rise fast enough to keep up with our outsized mortgage, or that our adjustable rate won’t rise, or that our house’s value will indefinitely outpace inflation.
We are social beings, too, and frequently judge our own decisions by seeing what other people are doing. If my neighbor added on a new kitchen through a home equity loan, I might assume that is a good idea for me, even if a more rational weighing of my finances would suggest otherwise.
Even savvy financiers can get caught up in irrational impulses. If a competitor’s firm makes huge profits on risky loans, it is easy for me to push aside my fears about such risks: if he took those risks and was rewarded, maybe I overestimated the risks!
LEHRER: What can eBay teach us about human irrationality? …
You can see the full list here. The topics:
Autism (including Asperger’s)
Pets (so far, dogs only)
Sport and Competition
Interesting post by Ilan Shrira, a visiting professor of social psychology at the University of Florida. It begins:
Which of these groups is portrayed most favorably in American movies?
d) P.E. teachers
A study published in the journal Pediatrics this month showed that exposure to sexual content in the media predicted a greater risk of adolescent pregnancy. Researchers followed teenagers over a 3-year period, finding that those who watched a great deal of sex on TV were twice as likely to get pregnant or to impregnate someone else, compared to those who watched only a little. These results could not be explained by the teenagers’ family environment, performance in school, history of deviant behavior, or any other factor.
Parents have always raged against the media for bringing taboo topics and explicit material closer and closer to the mainstream, from sex and violence to unsavory role models who use drugs or embrace “alternative lifestyles”. Though it’s debatable how much these images affect the average person, studies like this have been confirming parents’ fears — these images can have a profound impact on behavior. We want to focus on portrayals in mainstream American movies, in part because many of these films are distributed worldwide and seen by millions of people outside the country too.
Early criticisms of film content were based on the observation …