Research Explains Why People Believe False Information

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-12-09-00-pmNovember 29, 2016

Here’s a timely study from Northwestern University: It sheds some light on why people are so often influenced by false information. That’s especially relevant to the many falsehoods that circulate through social media age; especially those made by President- elect Trump. The study finds that people quickly download the inaccurate statements into memory because it’s easier than critically evaluating and analyzing what they’ve heard. Later, according to the lead author David Rapp, the brain pulls up the incorrect information first because it’s less work to retrieve recently presented material. “If it’s available, people tend to think they can rely on it. But just because you can remember what someone said, doesn’t make it true.” So, even when we know better, our brains often rely on inaccurate or misleading information to make future decisions.

It think this study’s findings have importance for understanding the political arena, especially the environment surrounding the 2016 Presidential campaign and its aftermath. Trump regularly cited blatantly false information – and many people swallowed it whole, despite disconfirming evidence. Even now, with his recent claim that thousands of votes were illegal – without a shred of evidence – his apologists and supporters claim it’s true.

The study shows that it’s even harder to avoid relying on misinformation when accurate and inaccurate information is mixed together. Rapp says, “We’re bombarded with tons of information all day; it’s a nightmare to critically evaluate all of it. We often assume sources are reliable. It’s not that people are lazy, though that could certainly contribute to the problem. It’s the computational task of evaluating everything that is arduous and difficult, as we attempt to preserve resources for when we really need them.”

He adds, “Trump just says things, but once you can get them encoded into people’s memories, they believe it, use it or rely on it. Disentangling truth from falsehoods when they are mixed up from different sources makes the challenge even more difficult.”

In the study, published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, Rapp outlines several ways to avoid falling into the misinformation trap:

  • Critically evaluate information right away. That may help prevent your brain from storing the wrong information. “You want to avoid encoding those potentially problematic memories,” Rapp said.
  • Consider the source: People are more likely to use inaccurate information from a credible source than from an unreliable source, according to Rapp’s previous research. “At this point, it’s even clear to Donald Trump’s proponents that his words are often nonsensical,” Rapp said. “But his strong supporters who want him to be right will do less work to evaluate his statements.”
  • Beware of “truthy” falsehoods. “When the truth is mixed with inaccurate statements, people are persuaded, fooled and less evaluative, which prevents them from noticing and rejecting the inaccurate ideas,” Rapp said. For example, during the campaign Trump initially said he saw the video of money changing hands for kidnapped individuals in Iran; he later retracted it. At the same time, news outlets reported there actually was a video. 

Credit: Kaboompics.com

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High-Stress Job? Beware: An Early Death Is More Likely

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-11-44-18-amNovember 15, 2016

A new study from Indiana University has found that people who are in high-stress jobs, and who typically have little control over their work — its flow, time-frame and impact – are more likely to die younger or have poorer health. compared with people who have more power and decision- making autonomy.

According to this news release from the Kelley School of Business, previous academic research has found that having greater control over your job can help you manage work-related stress. But it’s never suggested that it was a matter of life and death — until now.

The study, published in Personnel Psychology, used a longitudinal sample of 2,363 Wisconsin residents in their 60s over a seven-year period. The researchers found that for individuals in low-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 15.4 percent increase in the likelihood of death, compared to low job demands. For those in high-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 34 percent decrease in the likelihood of death compared to low job demands.

According to lead author Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, “We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration demands of a job, and job control, or the amount of discretion one has over making decisions at work, as joint predictors of death. These findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making.”

And, he added, “When you don’t have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you…might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it.”

Credit: Interrete

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Being Kind To Others Elevates Your Wellbeing, Research Finds

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-3-11-46-pmNovember 1, 2016

This small but useful study from Oxford researchers underscores our human interconnectedness; and that doing something positive for others enhances our own happiness. In a review of 400 published studies about the relationship between kindness and happiness, the researchers found that being kind did have a modest, but noticeable impact on the person’s happiness. 

Although the review of the 400 studies found that the effect is lower than some pop-psychology articles have claimed, the researches pointed out that future research might help identify which kind acts are most effective at boosting happiness. They noted that existing research does not distinguish between kindness to family and friends versus strangers and, taking this into account, targeted kindness rather than indiscriminate kindness may have a greater effect on happiness.

The study’s lead author Oliver Scott Curry pointed out that “Our review suggests that performing acts of kindness will not change your life, but might help nudge it in the right direction. We recommend further research is done to compare the effects of being kind to family and friends as opposed to strangers. This is an area about which we know surprisingly little at the moment.”

Nevertheless, this brings to my mind the teachings from most spiritual and philosophical traditions, which describe the greater joy and happiness one experiences when doing something positively for others; when giving to others. For example, this from the Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927):

“A person who, alone, has seen something beautiful, who has heard something harmonious, who has tasted something delicious, who has smelt something fragrant, may have enjoyed it, but not completely. The complete joy is in sharing one’s joy with others. For the selfish one who enjoys himself and does not care for others, whether he enjoys things of the earth or things of heaven, his enjoyment is not complete.” 

Credit: Explore Curiocity

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Why Good Communication Won’t Improve Your Relationship

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-11-51-10-amOctober 18, 2016

Couples often ask for advice about for how they can improve their communication. “If we could just find better ways to communicate with each other,” they say, “we would have a much better relationship.” So they seek couples therapy, they go to workshops for learning new relationship “skills;” and they read the latest books and articles about communication techniques and strategies.

But If better communication could create more intimate, loving and sustaining relationships, why are so many couples unable to find what works? The answer is that they may be on a “fool’s errand.” Good communication, per se, doesn’t make relationships better. Rather, good communication is a feature, an outcome, of having created a positive, sustaining relationship to begin with; not it’s source.

Some new research, as well as observational studies of couples that experience positive, lasting and energized relationships can help explain this. First, a recent study from the University of Georgia looked at the connection between communication and the degree of satisfaction that couples report. It found that good communication in itself could not account for how satisfied partners were with their relationships over time.

The researchers recognized that other factors must be influencing couples’ satisfaction; and that good communication can result from those other factors. According to Justin Lavner, the lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, the more satisfied couples do communicate better on average than those who are less satisfied. That’s expected: “In general…the more satisfied you are, basically, the better you communicate.”

However, in the majority of cases, communication did not predict satisfaction. “It was more common for satisfaction to predict communication than the reverse…satisfaction was a stronger predictor of communication. These links have not been talked about as much,he added. “We have focused on communication predicting satisfaction instead.”

The Roots of Positive Relationships

That may be why so many couples seek better communication only to discover that it doesn’t help much. Positive relationships — one’s that sustain vitality and intimacy at all levels over time  Continue reading

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Yoga Practice Reduces Anxiety Disorder, New Research Finds

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-11-36-58-amOctober 11, 2016

I’ve written previously about new research that shows how mind-body practices such as yoga and meditation have a positive impact mental and physical health. I recently came across a new study, and it adds to the accumulating evidence about the value of these practices. This one finds that yoga, in particular, can help reduce and diminish anxiety – the most widespread type that we describe – in the terminology of diagnostic categories — as “generalized anxiety disorder.”

Sound familiar? Anxiety, along with depression, are the two most prevalent symptoms that practitioners see; and the most often treated with psychotherapy — along with the many medications that pharmaceutical companies have created for this enormous market.

This new research by Georgia State University, and published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, looked at the effects of yoga on three people with anxiety disorder, and whether or not yoga could be helpful. That is, if yoga could serve as an alternative or additional treatment option for people suffering from anxiety.

In short, the researchers found that yoga tended to reduce worry, a primary symptom of anxiety.

As the lead author Jessica Morgan Goodnight explained, “When people have this diagnosis, they worry a lot–uncontrollably–about the future, which causes physical symptoms like muscle tension and trouble sleeping, and their lives and their relationships are impaired because of it.”

She reported that in this study, “Two participants showed decreases in daily worry ratings after they started yoga and reported less worry on a daily basis. The third participant was steadily increasing worry before starting yoga, but the increasing trend ended and began leveling out after she started practicing yoga.”

This is one small study, of course. But I think it’s significant because it shows that yoga can help people with anxiety reduce their symptoms. Other research has shown similar effects from tai chi, Qigong, and that even short-term meditation affects the regions of the brain that are related to anxious and depressed emotional states.

“It’s nice to provide options for people with mental health conditions to try to reduce their symptoms and increase the quality of their lives…(and this shows) yoga could be an option for people.” The researchers say pilot studies like this pave the way for more conclusive research to be conducted in the future.

Credit: UC Santa Barbara

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More Evidence: Literary Fiction Increases Your Emotional Capacities

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-19-20-pmOctober 4, 2016

In a previous essay I argued that reading serious literature – not popular fiction – helps your “evolve” and deepen your self-awareness and emotional capacities; and I cited some research that provided evidence of just that. Now, a new study underscores and adds to those findings and observations.

In my earlier article I wrote, “Delving into serious fiction engages you in the core human issues that everyone grapples with, consciously or unconsciously. The prime one is the question of, “What’s the meaning of life; of my life? And, related issues concerning moral judgment, the impact of social conventions, conflicting paths in life, and so on.”

Related to that, I cited research reported in the New York Times: That reading serious fiction has a demonstrable impact on increasing empathy, social awareness and emotional sensitivity. The study found not only that reading serious fiction increased reader’s emotional awareness and empathy, but that pop fiction did not have the same effect. In my view, those findings illustrate an essential part of becoming more fully human.

And now, a new study has found that reading literary fiction appears to be associated with superior emotion recognition skills. This study found that participants who recognized and were familiar with authors of literary fiction tended to perform better on an emotional recognition test. This association held even after statistically accounting for the influence of other factors that might be connected to both emotion skills and reading more literary fiction, such as past educational attainment, gender and age.

The method of the study is described here, and was published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics.

The authors then conducted a second study involving over 300 more participants. It also included a measure of participants’ self-reported empathy levels. This was to check that it’s not simply that people with more empathy are more attracted to literary fiction and also tend to do better at the emotion recognition test. Again, participants who recognized more literary fiction authors also tended to perform better on the emotion test. Moreover, this association remained even after controlling for the influence of differences in participants’ empathy levels.

The authors say they believe the apparent link between reading more literary fiction and better emotion recognition skills emerges because “the implied (rather than explicit) socio-cognitive complexity, or roundness of characters, in literary fiction prompts readers to make, adjust, and consider multiple interpretations of characters’ mental states.”

So – find a good novel or short story by a writer of serious fiction, and read on!

Credit: Pexels

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Childhood Insecurity Affects How You Deal With Adult Stress

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-5-44-18-pmSeptember 20, 2016

This new study adds to the knowledge that child relationships have profound and lasting impact on a range of adult experiences, including personality traits, the potential for positive engagement with others; or for emotional disturbance. This study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that insecurity in childhood makes it harder to deal with stressful experiences as an adult. That’s often visible in how individuals respond very differently to situations that might be challenging or difficult in some way.

I think the upshot of this study, described below, adds to the growing knowledge that childhood experiences have lasting impact; a long “tail” throughout many dimensions of adult life. In this case, its impact is visible when dealing with potentially anxious or stressful situations.

The key challenge is determining what can heal the impact of the past and enable new growth.

In this summary of the current study, Christine Heinisch, one of the authors, points out that, “We know from other studies that our history of attachment directly influences how we act in social situations, but what about reaction to a neutral stimulus under emotional conditions?” Continue reading

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Bad Jobs Hurt Your Mental Health By The Time You’re 40

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 3.40.39 PMSeptember 13, 2016

No surprise, here: Yet another study has demonstrated that unengaging, insufficiently meaningful work — and the overall work culture — has negative impact upon mental health. And, it’s apparent by the time you’re 40.

This new research found that debilitating work experiences in your 20s and 30s have an accumulated negative impact on your mental health by the time you’re into your 40s. And that continues on, needless to say. The research found that people who were unhappy with their work early in their careers became more depressed, worried, and had more trouble sleeping.

Of course, many previous studies have shown that the majority of people are unhappy with their work – even hate it. For example, a 2014 survey by the Conference Board. But oddly — despite all the research and clinical evidence that debilitating work and unhealthy management impacts your mental health in increasingly harmful ways over time – those mental health consequences continue to be overlooked or ignored.

This new study was conducted by Ohio State researchers. It investigated the long-term health effects of job satisfaction, or lack of it, earlier in people’s careers. It analyzed data from longitudinal surveys of nearly 6500 American workers, in which people rated their level of satisfaction with their work.

According to the findings, described in this report from Ohio State, all participants reported a number of health issues after they reached the age of 40. Specifically, those people who expressed the lowest job satisfaction over the years reported much higher levels of depression, sleep problems, and excessive worry; as well as scoring lower on traditional mental health measures.

Moreover, those who initially reported high job satisfaction, but then had a downward trend, were more likely than the consistently satisfied group to report trouble sleeping, excessive worry, and symptoms of psychiatric conditions And among those who had low job satisfaction, their mental health was more affected than their physical health.

As one of the researchers, Hui Zheng, pointed out, however, “The higher levels of mental health problems for those with low job satisfaction may be a precursor to future physical problems. Increased anxiety and depression could lead to cardiovascular or other health problems that won’t show up until they are older.” Zheng added that a person does not have to be at the end of their career to see the health impacts of job satisfaction on mental health: the study participants were examined while in their 40s. Overall, “We found that there is a cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s,” said lead author Jonathan Dirlam.

Credit: CPD Archive

 

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Divorces Rise Following Vacations?

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.39.29 PMSeptember 5, 2016

Back from a vacation this summer? Back to work and the kinds are back in school? Perhaps beware! It looks like divorces tend to rise following vacations. True: A study from the University of Washington has found that divorce is seasonal during the periods following winter and summer vacations; and that it might be driven by a “domestic ritual” calendar governing family behavior – and how vacations may exacerbate underlying tensions and conflict.

The study was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association by researchers Julie Brines and Brian Serafini. According to a summary of the research, they found divorce consistently peaks during the months of August and March – times that follow winter and summer holidays. 

As reported in the summary of the research, Prof. Brines mentions that troubled couples may see the holidays as a time to mend relationships, and they might believe that if they have a happy Christmas or a successful camping trip, everything will be “fixed” and their lives will improve.

However, in reality, those periods of the year can be both emotionally charged and stressful for many, and they may expose cracks in a marriage. The seasonal nature of divorce filings may reflect the disillusionment unhappy spouses experience when vacation time does not live up to their high expectation, the research team points out.

“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” says Prof. Brines. “They represent periods in the year when there’s the anticipation or the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life. It’s like an optimism cycle, in a sense. They’re very symbolically charged moments in time for the culture,” she adds. Continue reading

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Music While You Work Increases Teamwork

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 11.51.39 AMAugust 30, 2016

So turn up the volume! A new study finds that playing music while people are working actually increases cooperation and teamwork. A series of experiments conducted by Cornell University found that music has an impact on the cooperative attitudes among workers.

According to a summary of the research, the question arose from the observation that “From casual acoustic melodies at the coffee shop to throbbing electronic beats at teen clothing outlets, music is used to mold customer experience and behavior.” The researchers wondered what impact it might have on employees? So they conducted two studies to test the effect of different types of music on the cooperative behavior of individuals working as a team.

The researchers, Kevin Kniffin, Jubo Yan, Brian Wansink and William Schulzer, published their findings in the Journal of Organizational Behaviordescribed in this summary from Cornell:

For each study, participants were grouped into teams of three. Each team member was given multiple opportunities to either contribute to the team’s value using tokens or keep the tokens for personal use.

When happy, upbeat music was played – researchers chose the “Happy Days” theme song, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles and “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves – team members were more likely to contribute to the group’s value. When music deemed unpleasant was played – in this case, heavy metal songs by less than well-known bands – participants were more likely to keep tokens for themselves. The researchers found contribution levels to the public good when happy, upbeat songs were played were approximately one-third higher compared to the less pleasant music. Continue reading

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Singles Experience Greater Personal Growth Than Married People

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 2.27.42 PMAugust 16, 2016

Our culture is witnessing growing diversity in how people choose to live; with whom, their traditions and norms. But it’s practically a stereotype to portray single people as unhappy, unfulfilled, and lonely; perhaps emotionally troubled. Of course, that can be true for some. We see some psychotherapy patients, for example, who are single and experience significant conflicts in their romantic quests.

But that’s also a misleading assumption. In fact, new research from UC Santa Barbara turns that picture of single people on its head: It finds that single people have heightened feelings of self-determination and are more likely to experience more psychological growth and development than many married people.

According to the study’s lead author, Bella DePaulo, “It is time for a more accurate portrayal of single people and single life – one that recognizes the real strengths and resilience of people who are single, and what makes their lives so meaningful,” DePaulo adds, “The preoccupation with the perils of loneliness can obscure the profound benefits of solitude.”

And there are plenty who are solitary. Currently, Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 50.2 percent of the nation’s adult population were single as of 2014. “Increasing numbers of people are single because they want to be,” DePaulo points out. “Living single allows them to live their best, most authentic, and most meaningful life.” Continue reading

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Two Hidden Ways To Sustain Romance and Intimacy In Your Relationship

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 5.28.57 PMJuly 28, 2016

The 18th Century Zen poet and teacher wrote “Not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away.” That describes the relentless search for new “truths” that promise to sustain emotional and sexual intimacy with your partner. But sometimes the most important information stares you right in the face; you don’t “see” it because it’s so obvious.

Here’s an example: It’s found in some new research on couples’ relationships from the University of North Carolina. It finds that couples whose partners feel and express appreciation to each other, and who take time to share in moments of joy tend to experience more ongoing, positive connections with each other. Such opportunities occur, especially, in the small moments that occur every day, in many people’s lives. But they’re often overlooked or ignored.

According to the lead researcher Sara Algoe, the findings point to the significance of “the little things.” They have big impact on relationship longevity and wellbeing. Moreover, we know that many other studies, have found that positive relationships are associated with greater overall health, over the years.

In a summary of the research, Algoe points out that one partner’s expression of gratitude reminds the other partner that he or she is a good relationship companion. The research method is described in detail here, but the upshot is that couples who expressed gratitude towards each other in those small moments reported that their relationships become stronger, more positive and flexible in their interactions with each other. Continue reading

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Mental Health Professionals Ignore Their Responsibility to The Public

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Those of us in the mental health professions are too silent and disengaged from an important responsibility we have to individual lives and society today. To explain, we live with increasing fears and insecurity, as we worry about what may lie ahead in this world: The increasing disruption and violence. Steady, unrelenting transition to a diverse and non-white majority U.S. culture. Continuing economic uncertainty. The impact of not dealing with climate change, and how it will alter the lives of future generations. And, especially, growing cynicism about the capacity of our social and governmental institutions to really understand or deal with any of these new realities of life.

In view of the above, we psychologists and psychiatrists should be playing a visible role in identifying what psychologically healthy living consists of, in the midst of today’s world: What it looks like, in our ideas, our emotions, our behavior; and in our public policies. And, what supports those features of mental health in the face of today’s challenges. I think we’re abdicating this role. I plan to write more about this in the future, but want to sketch out some ideas here, for discussion.

Generally, we can describe health as whatever promotes positive, constructive adaptation to change; what enhances flexibility and proactive behavior when dealing with changing or unexpected life circumstances; and mentally embracing the reality that our internal wellbeing and outward success are interdependent with those of others. Overall, that means behaving in ways that promote the common good, publically and privately. Interdependence, much of which is fueled by globalization and the merger of technology and communication, requires it.

This perspective asks us mental health professionals to take some positions and voice them publically. That is, articulate and advocate those social, cultural and political issues that promote psychologically healthy lives and society, rather than ignore those that undermine or impede them. To do so, we’re aided by a wealth of knowledge and information to draw on. It comes from clinical experience with a range of people who seek our help; and from extensive, published empirical research. The two sources converge. But too many of our mental health professionals don’t connect the dots. Or they don’t want to, perhaps in fear that voicing a position would erode their professional authority with their patients. Continue reading

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Why Women Who Have More Sexual Partners Are Less Likely To Divorce

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 3.46.37 PMJune 27, 2016

So often, what we assume to be true reflects an embedded set of conditioned attitudes. And those often reflect prevailing values and expectations more than real people’s behavior or trends within changing social and cultural circumstances. A new study highlights an example of that. Its findings contrast with “established” fact — that women who have multiple sex partners prior to marriage necessarily experience an increased likelihood that they will eventually divorce.

As our society evolves, people’s intimate relationships also evolve. That requires learning more about what supports lasting, positive partnerships, or their eventual dissolution. And how that information may show itself in changing survey data.

This new research from the University of Utah provides some insights into recent social and behavioral shifts. Although it found that women with over 10 sexual partners prior to marriage show an increase in divorce rates, so do those with only two. Both had higher rate of divorce. But the lowest was found in those with 3 to 9 partners. 

The research was published by the Institute for Family Studies and summarized in a report from the University of Utah. According to the lead author Nicholas H. Wolfiger, “In short: if you’re going to have comparisons to your [future] husband, it’s best to have more than one.” He added that sexual behavior has changed significantly throughout recent decades.

I think that’s definitely a no-brainer, but many may be unaware of just how much is evolving. For example, I’ve written previously about the increasing numbers of unconventional romantic-sexual couplings; and also that divorce or separation can be good for your health.  Wolfinger pointed out that the acceptance of premarital sex make more likely that its impact upon marriage instability would decline. He added, “All of the fanfare associated with hooking up is evidence that some young people have become comfortable with the idea of sex outside of serious relationships.” Continue reading

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The Trump Mentality: A Contemporary Conquistador?

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 10.22.59 AMJune 16, 2016

Both liberal and conservative writers express amazement over Donald Trump’s consistent inconsistencies – even incoherencies – regarding the positions he voices. But in fact there are no contradictions at all – once you realize there’s a larger theme, connecting them. It’s an overall, consistent mentality.

To explain, let’s look at the apparent discrepancies. One that’s particularly baffling is a seeming disconnect within Trump’s attitudes and behavior towards women. A recent New York Times story highlighted this. It described blatant, sexist objectification of women in his private relationships, relating to them as objects to seduce and possess as romantic conquests — until he becomes tired of them. And yet, he’s also promoted women to positions of management and responsibility in his business entities. So on the one hand, Trump looks like a conventional, though somewhat exaggerated, sexist skirt-chaser. But on the other hand, a modern, equality-promoting executive.

More broadly confounding are Trump’s multiple, ever-changing positions on policies, both domestic and foreign. They, too, appear incomprehensibly inconsistent from one moment to the next. Now you could explain that incoherency as the behavior of a more extremely bombastic, highly narcissistic politician. One who often expresses unanchored, off-the-cuff thinking. After all, narcissism is almost a job requirement for politicians, as Harold Lasswell described decades ago in his seminal book, Power and Personality.

But most narcissistic, power-seeking politicians want to garner enough broad support to get elected. Typically, they do that through charisma, crafted positions and calculated posturing for maximum appeal. That’s what doesn’t mesh with Trump’s emotionally unregulated — and ultimately self-undermining — indiscriminate attacks on others. Including needed allies or potential supporters, even. That latter, destructive mentality is more reminiscent of one of Gore Vidal’s bon mots: “It’s not enough that I succeed; others must fail.

So on the surface, Trump’s attitudes and behavior don’t appear to reconcile, whether about women in particular or his political aims. But they really do. There’s an overriding theme that ties them all together: An overall mentality – an emotional and mental perspective and attitude. It’s that of an unbridled, unquestioned sense of personal greatness; of total power to control, possess and dominate as one wishes; for whatever purpose desired, at any moment.

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Some Thoughts To Ponder…

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.27.24 AMJune 7, 2016

Think about this: All art, all literature; all science, even, reflects an attempt to understand who we are, what we are, and why we are…as well who this person is that each of us has become at this moment in time and space, on this planet.

And, these quotes to consider as you reflect upon the days and weeks ahead…or anytime.

“Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so.” — Doris Lessing (1919-2013), British writer; 2007 Nobel Prize in literature.

“Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.” — Grace Paley (1922-2007) Short story writer, poet, political activist.

Credit: Caleb George Morris

 

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Does Fighting Really Energize Your Sex Life?

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May 24, 2016

A previous article of mine, posted on LiveYourVie.comcontinues to be relevant to many couple, today:

“Of course, we fight!” John said, “All couples do; that’s normal!” He looked at me incredulously, as Mary quickly added with a tight smile, “But then we have ‘make-up sex.’ And that makes things better.”

Nevertheless, they sought therapy over their concern about the long-term impact of this “normal” pattern.

Perhaps you share John and Mary’s experience or views. Many do. The sex lives and relationships of couples often descend over time into diminishing excitement and passion, and increasing boredom and routine. Call it “marital sex,” in contrast to what couples often experience at the start of a relationship. In “marital sex,” you’re bringing into the bedroom all the other parts of your relationship, like disagreements over finances, or even over trivial things like where to place the furniture or where to vacation—not to mention parenting challenges, which become a large part of any couples’ relationship. And aside from all of your collective relationship and family issues, each of you has your own individual concerns—your career, your aging parents, or other familial stressors.

Couples often assume that fighting and conflict are inevitable—“normal,” even—and that they’re to be tolerated and, at best, managed. They may not recognize that their diminished sexual and romantic life is as interwoven with how and why they conflict as it is with their relationship overall. Then they may focus on ways to re-energize their sex life, as though it’s disconnected from the rest of their relationship, and as though that will compensate for their relationship conflicts. Continue reading

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Stress, Success, And the Demise of Manhood

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It’s no surprise that surveys document increasing stress and emotional conflict among workers and within their intimate relationships. One recent example: A report from Fortune that American workers are more stressed than ever. Based on 500 Americans, it found that more than half said their stress level reached significant levels. And at home, career-related conflicts increasingly intersect with relationship issues in negative ways.

One study found that men automatically interpret a partner’s success as their own failure, even when they’re not in direct competition. Moreover, couples’ conflicts often involve differences about what success means. Those differences infiltrate their sex lives. As I’ve written elsewhere, some believe that “make-up” sex will cover over their differences about their life goals or values. But it doesn’t.

In my view, such findings and observations highlight a deeper and broader theme: Our views of “success” and traditional “manhood” are changing as a byproduct of our evolving, diversifying culture. That theme was hinted at by recent research findings that higher status and material success are associated with attitudes of entitlement and narcissism. Those, in turn, affect your view of yourself and how you relate to others you’re connected with, often with negative consequences.

In essence, we’re experiencing significant upheaval and transformation regarding what men traditionally learn to define as “manhood” and “success” in our culture. It’s unraveling the traditional definition of “maleness;” the values and behavior that have defined what a successful male is — at work, in intimate relationships and in society.

That is, many men feel unmoored regarding their identity, purpose and place in a world that’s evolving rapidly in ways that feel threatening to life as they’ve known it. Men who cling to traditional positions of power in society (including domination in their intimate relationships) — and who define their self-worth by such power — can feel terrified; in danger of losing what they thought “manhood” and a stable, successful life was. They may fear losing domination in their relationships and material measures of prestige and success

It can be frightening to experience one’s previously stable world under siege. Especially so, for those who’ve profited from or otherwise bought into a manhood identity centered around holding and using personal power for material ends, elite status and social recognition. To them, it may feel inconceivable that society would be anything other than stable and supportive of who they are; of their secure place in the world, and that they would be the perpetual beneficiaries of that stability.

Much of the political appeal of Donald Trump both reflects and taps into those fears. That stirs longings for restoring how things “used to be.” But reality has a path of its own. Old expectations are eroding in the face of major cultural and social shifts that give voice to demands for greater equality and shared power. This forces men to reformulate what they think supports positive, intimate relationships, and what they think defines a successful life as a man, in today’s world.

Consider just a few of these shifts:

The upshot is that our society is evolving towards greater interdependency, collaboration and equality at all levels. That means shifting away from the primacy of self-interest and towards serving the larger social good. The traditional definition of success and manhood, along with attempts to maintain the vested interests in it, can, indeed, feel like standing on crumbling ground when you’re hit with large-scale social change and transformation that you don’t understand; or are told is harmful and must be opposed at all costs.

A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post.

Credit: The Huffington Post

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The Impact Of Long-Term Resentment Among Family Members

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 3.49.50 PMMay 10, 2016

Thoughts I was reflecting on the other day….It’s so pervasive – and so debilitating, for so many families: Allowing anger, resentment, rivalries and related negative, unforgiving, emotional attitudes prevail in their relationships, up through and even beyond death. I’ve observed this to some degree in the majority of my patients and research, over the years. Such a waste of energy and spirit. Certainly confirms Tolstoy’s comment, “…each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Credit: CPD Archive

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Is Your Coworker Struggling With Depression?

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 10.53.04 AMMay 3, 2016

Here’s an informative article by Martha C. White, from Money. It quotes me a few times, especially about my emphasis on how the management and workplace culture can create emotional conflict for people, independent of what they be bringing to the workplace from their personal lives, outside of work.

The article follows:

The recent sad news that a young Apple employee was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the company’s headquarters raises an important, if troubling, question: Would you know what to do if you suspected a coworker might be dangerously depressed?

Of course, if there is the threat of violence to themselves or others, calling 911 or contacting company security is the way to go—you shouldn’t put yourself in danger. But before a troubled person reaches that breaking point, mental health experts say they often tip their hand, indicating in ways that seem clear in hindsight that they were wrestling with depression.

The Warning Signs

Many of us see our coworkers more hours in a week than we see our own family members, which means we are in a unique position to detect a shift in a colleague’s mental state.

“It’s always a difficult issue, yet most coworkers can tell if something seems wrong or off in a colleague’s demeanor,” said Douglas LaBier, a business psychologist and the director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, D.C.

While saying things like they want to die, feel completely alone, or have nobody who cares about them are obvious indications of a troubled mental state, most people who struggle with depression in the workplace express their distress more subtly than that, noted Edward Yost, a human resources executive with the Society for Human Resource Management. More general feelings of being helpless or trapped, especially if expressed frequently, are more likely to be the kind of comments a coworker might express to another, he said.

Two hallmarks of depression that go hand in hand are isolation and withdrawal, said Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute. The isolation may be self-imposed or may be a result of being shut out of workplace cliques.

People who are depressed may withdraw from others and distance themselves from social interaction, Namie said, and because many people with depression are good at masking their feelings of self-negativity, a colleague may brush off a sudden disappearance from team lunches or department happy hours by blaming an increased workload or other job-related obligations.

For a conscientious coworker, those claims should be carefully considered, because there are two possibilities here, neither of which is great news from a mental health perspective. The first is that he or she is using work as an excuse to pull away from others. The second is that the person actually is overloaded with work all the time.

“Many become depressed and demoralized not just by personal issues outside of work, but by the management culture at work,” LaBier said. Whether the reason is a conflict with the boss or other management, no opportunity for advancement, or a sense of stagnation, “Feelings of being stuck and trapped result—which will cause emotional problems,” he said. Continue reading

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Prejudice Reduced After Just Brief Periods of Meditation

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 10.57.28 AMApril 19, 2016

This new research is both interesting and encouraging: It found that just seven minutes of meditation can reduce racial prejudice. The study, from the University of Sussex, was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. It used the Buddhist mediation technique of loving-kindness meditation, which promotes unconditional kindness towards oneself and others.

Before describing this particular study, I want to point out that one important implication of this research, in my view, is that prejudices of all sorts are learned and conditioned from a variety of social and cultural forces; and, they can be consciously altered. Knowing this is especially important in our current era of reactive prejudice towards those who are “different,” and whose presence is becoming more visible as our society becomes increasingly diverse.

Regarding this study, the lead researcher Alexander Stell, said: “This indicates that some meditation techniques are about much more than feeling good, and might be an important tool for enhancing inter-group harmony.” This form of meditation is aimed at generating feelings of happiness and kindness towards oneself and others through conscious focus on repeating thoughts and phrases that are positive and beneficent, while visualizing a particular person.

According to Stell, “We wanted to see whether doing loving-kindness meditation towards a member of another ethnic group would reduce the automatic preference people tend to show for their own ethnic group.”

In the study, a sample of 71 white, non-meditating adults were each given a photo of a gender-matched black person and either received taped LKM instructions, or instructions to look at the photos and notice certain features of the face. Both conditions lasted just seven minutes. Details of the experiment are described in this summary from the University.

The researchers found that just seven minutes of loving-kindness meditation directed to a member of a specific racial group (in this case, a black person) was sufficient to reduce racial bias towards that group. Additionally the researchers measured levels of positive emotions that were either “other-regarding” (e.g., love, gratitude, awe, elevation) and those that were more self-directed (e.g., contentment, joy, pride). They found that people doing loving-kindness meditation showed large increases in other-regarding emotions. Those emotions were found to be what drives the reduction of bias.

Credit: CPD Archive

A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post

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Wisdom Requires Both “Head” and “Heart”

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 2.51.47 PMApril 5, 2016.

Of course! Our cognitive, logical, linear thought processes must be joined with our capacity for perspective and understanding of the larger context of a problem, for “wisdom” to emerge. This new study finds an interesting dimension of that “oneness”: the variability of the heart rate.

The research was described in this summary from the University of Waterloo. It found that heart rate variation and thinking process work together to enable wise reasoning about complex social issues. The study by Waterloo and the Australian Catholic University was published in  Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

The authors state that their study breaks new ground in wisdom research by identifying conditions under which psychophysiology impacts wise judgment. “Our research shows that wise reasoning is not exclusively a function of the mind and cognitive ability,” says the lead author,Igor Grossmann. “We found that people who have greater heart rate variability and who are able to think about social problems from a distanced viewpoint demonstrate a greater capacity for wise reasoning.”

The study extends previous work on cognitive underpinnings of wise judgment to include consideration how the heart’s functioning impacts the mind. It points out that a growing consensus among philosophers and cognitive scientists defines wise judgment to include the ability to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge, to be aware of the varied contexts of life and how they may unfold over time, to acknowledge others’ points of view, and to seek reconciliation of opposing viewpoints.  Continue reading

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Open Marriages, Other Forms of Sexual-Romantic Coupling: On The Rise?

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 4.06.43 PMMarch 24, 2016

I was recently interviewed for a New York Times article by Tammy La Gorce that portrayed the long-term open marriage of the actress Mo’Nique and her husband Sidney Hicks. The couple maintains that it works for them, despite the criticism and disbelief they often encounter. La Gorce’s article quoted my views about open marriage — what it means, and whether it “works,” from a psychological perspective. Because my views contrasted sharply with some of the others cited, especially those of Helen Fisher of the Kinsey Institute, I’m elaborating on them here.

First, the open marriage is just the current version of what became more visible during the early ‘70s because of the book, The Open Marriage, and the popular movie, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.” Overall, it’s part of a much broader shift, or evolution, underway today. It’s towards a sense of greater freedom to create and be open about different forms of intimate relationships; ones that people define for themselves as desirable and satisfying.

Increasingly, men and women seek to create and maintain an intimate relationship that they experience as fulfilling and meaningful. And that they define, themselves; not by others or conventional norms. How their relationships evolve down the road, over time, is something they will assess and judge for themselves. And we can see what the evidence shows.

It’s wise to suspend judgment, especially about psychological health, when views about the latter are contaminated by ideology or shared values and norms. As you grow through the adult years in today’s changing, increasingly diverse society, a broadened perspective enables you to realize that life can be complex; and can work differently for different people.

For example, Kim (not her real name) a divorced woman in her 40s, explained to me that she maintains a satisfying relationship with a man who also has a lifelong, supportive connection with a woman who is the mother of his three children. They find it works for them, given their life circumstances. And we can judge them from our own perspectives and life choices…or observe and respect what works for them. Continue reading

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Covert Sexism in the Workplace: As Harmful as Overt Behavior?

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 4.55.27 PMMarch 15, 2016

It’s pretty clear that our workplaces are steadily evolving towards environments of greater equality. That is, organizations in which men and women are valued, recognized and rewarded for the capacities most crucial to an organization’s success. For example, the ability to work collaboratively, particularly with others who differ from oneself — whether because of gender, cultural and ethnic backgrounds; or sexual orientation.

This is an ongoing, gradual transformation, however, with many subtle obstacles rooted in personal and institutional prejudices and barriers. So it’s important to document and raise awareness about attitudes and behavior that continue to undermine individuals and teams in organizations. One current example is revealed in this study that examined hidden sexism in the workplace. It found that that frequent sexist comments as well as a management culture that covertly demeans women are just as damaging to women as overt acts of sexual coercion, sexually-tinged conduct or sexist behavior towards them.

Such hidden, embedded sexism, according to the research published in The Psychology of Women Quarterly, may go unnoticed. That is, “Norms, leadership, or policies that reduce intense harmful experiences may lead managers to believe that they have solved the problem of maltreatment of women in the workplace,”according to the authors. Continue reading

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Renewed Interest In Open Marriages?

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 10.12.00 AMMarch 10, 2016

This New York Times article by Tammy La Gorce looks at the practice of the open marriage from today’s perspective. She quotes my views as follows:

“Douglas LaBier, a psychologist and the director of the Center for Progressive Development...said that from a psychological perspective, people shouldn’t assume that openness in a sexual relationship is bad.

“What’s at the core of it is a desire to form a healthy relationship,” he said. “…people want relationships in which they feel emotionally fulfilled and connected, and for some couples that means being transparent about outside partners. In marriage, the motto of the future may be “live and let live.” 

“I see a much more tolerant, nonjudgmental openness emerging,” Dr. LaBier said. “Everyone is different. You figure out what works for you, and if it’s not imposing something on someone else or hurting someone else, it’s acceptable.”

My views may be “outlier,” but they are based on solid observation and data about shifts in our culture, as I’ve described in other posts here. Of course, such views will be criticized from other perspectives. For the full New York Times article, click here.

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Does More Money or More Time Bring Greater Happiness?

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 9.47.41 AMFebruary 23, 2016

Here’s a bit of new research I came across. It’s findings sound intuitively obvious, but I think it’s important to emphasize: The study found that valuing your time over the pursuit of money is linked to greater overall happiness. This finding highlights one aspect of a link between healthy personal values and psychologically healthy lives. I regularly see this in my work, and wish it would be more soundly emphasized by my fellow mental health professionals.

In the research, a series of studies of nearly 5,000 people was conducted by the University of British Columbia. It found that there’s a pretty even divide among people’s preferences for valuing their time vs. their money. Unfortunately — but not surprisingly, given our cultural view about what’s most “desirable” in life — only about half of the study’s participants said they valued their time over money. However, slightly more than half of the people were found to value their time over their money.

The important finding, however, was that the preference for giving priority to time over making more money was associated with greater happiness in life. And happiness, wellbeing, equanimity and psychological health are all interwoven.

The study is described in detail here, and was published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science.

Interestingly, the study also found that older people also were more likely to say they valued their time compared to younger people. This raises questions about the impact of age upon one’s values and overall life perspectives; and whether the shift in mentality and values hat occurs with increasing age can be supported and grown at earlier stages of life. Continue reading

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Are You ‘Checked-Out’ On the Job? Here’s Why

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 2.49.30 PMFebruary 16, 2016

You may have heard about the Spanish man who was found to have not reported for work for six years, and no one noticed — although he continued to be paid. When finally discovered, he claimed that when he did go to work, he had nothing to do.

That may be an extreme example, but many people today are turned-off by their jobs in less visible ways. They become pretty disengaged from work – either mentally checking out, or in actual behavior if they can – like faking doing work, or skipping out to go to a movie. Surveys find disengagement as high as 70% of American workers. It’s no surprise that nearly every day a new survey pops up about how much people dislike their jobs and their management. The reasons typically include severe, unrelenting stress from too many demands and too few resources or rewards, such as cited in a poll of 7000 people. Both stress and just tuning out are often rooted in debilitating, undermining management behavior and workplace culture. For example, a survey of 2,000 workers found that 47 percent said their managers made them feel threatened, rather than rewarded, and 24 percent thought their bosses were poor communicators, lacking empathy.

Three Sources of Boredom and Disengagement

But I find three additional, often overlooked reasons why employees tune out or disconnect from their work, and become bored or depressed on the job:

Too Much Mismatch – This occurs when you start to realize that “I just don’t belong here.” An example is a woman working in financial services who described to me an increasing mismatch Continue reading

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Chronic Stress and Anxiety Will Damage Your Brain

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.03.47 PMFebruary 9, 2016

A new research review finds that chronic stress and anxiety puts you at increased risk for developing depression and dementia. Finding such an association is not new, but this examination of several studies was more extensive and conclusive. It examined a number of research reports of how brain areas are impacted by chronic anxiety, fear and stress.

In a summary of the findings, the authors concluded that there is “extensive overlap” of the brain’s neurocircuitry in all three conditions, which may explain the link between chronic stress and the development of neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

The authors pointed out that experiencing anxiety, fear and stress is considered a normal part of life when it is occasional and temporary, such as feeling anxious and stressed before an exam or a job interview. However, when those acute emotional reactions become more frequent or chronic, they can significantly interfere with daily living activities such as work, school and relationships. The research was published in the journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry and conducted by Canadian researchers from the the Rotman Research Institute.

“Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia,” said Linda Mah, lead author of the review.

“Looking to the future,” she added, “we need to do more work to determine whether interventions, such as exercise, mindfulness training and cognitive behavioral therapy, can not only reduce stress but decrease the risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders.”

Credit: Allouteffort

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To Get More Creative, Become Less Productive

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 2.42.57 PMFebruary 2, 2016

A recent Harvard Business Review article by Art Markman highlights the value of subverting your usual way of thinking and doing, in order to enhance creativity at work. I’ve seen this borne out in the experiences of those who’ve tried stepping out of their comfort zone, outside of their usual “box;” and become more of an “outlier” in their approach to solving problems or dealing with new challenges,

Markman writes:

There is a fundamental tension between productivity and creativity, and managers won’t get more of the latter until they recognize it. Productive people move through the tasks they have to accomplish in a systematic way. They make steady and measurable progress toward their goals. They make effective and efficient use of their time.

Creativity… doesn’t. Creativity needs time and space to grow. Although we can systematically engage in activities that are related to creativity, it is hard to systematize creativity itself. In particular, creativity is fundamentally about knowledge. Nearly all creative ideas involve people finding new uses for existing knowledge – some novel configuration of old insights. James Dyson developed his vacuum by drawing a parallel to sawmills. Fiona Fairhurst designed a faster swimsuit by understanding shark skin. George de Mestral invented Velcro by understanding cockleburs.

That means people need to have the time to learn things that are not obviously relevant to their jobs, so that they will have a broad and deep knowledge base to draw from when they need to be creative. Moreover, creative enterprises rarely involve steady and measurable progress. Instead, being creative involves trying lots of different possibilities, struggling down several blind alleys before finding the right solution. Continue reading

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Why Living Together Without Marriage Can Increase Your Mental Health

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 10.20.24 AMJanuary 26, 2016

I’ve written previously that we’re living through a steady, growing shift in our society, as men and women re-think what kinds of relationships they seek and prefer – whether straight or gay. For example, I’ve written here that part of this shift is towards increasing acceptance of a variety of emotional-sexual experiences of couples; including polyamory; and committed couples who choose not to marry.

Now, some new research adds to these findings, as well as to recent survey data, that younger people, especially, are more concerned with building a positive, sustaining relationship than with marriage, per se. The current study, described in this report from Ohio State University, found that both men and women experience as much of a boost in their emotional well-being whether they move in together or marry. It was a bit more for women, but interestingly, that boost occurred equally among men and women who had a prior relationship that didn’t work out.

That finding is significant for reasons that might not be visible on the surface: I think it reflects the reality that forming a lasting love relationship with the right partner requires a prior failure or two. Such experiences are like a “leavening” of your inner self. It builds the foundation for learning what kind of person – his or her values, character, outlook on life — meshes with who you are, along those dimensions. And that increases the likelihood that a couple will grow together, emotionally, sexually, intellectually and spiritually, rather than grow apart.

This new study was based on data collected throughout the 2000s. It found that, for young adults who moved on from a first relationship, both men and women received similar emotional boosts whether they moved in with their second partner or got married to them.

The findings suggest an evolving role of marriage among young people today, said Sara Mernitz, co-author of the study. “Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage,” she said. “There’s no additional boost from getting married.”

Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of the study, pointed out that “We’re finding that marriage isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of living together, at least when it comes to emotional health.” The study appears online in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Credit: Kari Layland

A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post.

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Can Divorce Increase Your Overall Health?

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 5.08.44 PMJanuary 19, 2016

Whether you approve or not, there’s no question that intimate relationships are steadily transforming — what we seek from them, how we engage in them, and what we define as desirable and fulfilling. Men and women increasingly pursue relationships that they define as positive, meaningful, and healthy, though they may differ from traditionally accepted norms. And the latter includes, even, recent advocacy regarding polygamy, as well as support for legalization of sex workers, as Amnesty International has announced,  Such developments stir considerable emotional and moral reactions, which is why it’s helpful to find research that studies that show how some of these shifts may to lead to positive outcomes regarding emotional and psychological health.

Here’s one example: It concerns the mental health impact of divorce. It’s an illuminating study because it contradicts previous research indicating that divorced and unmarried couples are less healthy than married ones. This current study, conducted by London-based researchers, found evidence to the contrary. For example, it found that people who have divorced and remarried are no more likely than those who have remained married to have cardiovascular or respiratory health problems in early middle age. And physical health is interwoven with mental health, as many studied have confirmed.

The research examined the health outcomes of people who are divorced, as well as unmarried, cohabiting couples. The research found that people born in the late 1950s who experience divorce and separation or live together without marrying “…have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married,” said lead author George Ploubidis in a Medical XPress summary. Continue reading

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Does Having More Money Or More Time Bring You Greater Happiness?

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.27.45 PMJanuary 12, 2016

Here’s a bit of new research I came across. I think it provides an example of healthy values among psychologically healthy people; and should be emphasized by us mental health professionals. The study found that valuing your time over the pursuit of money is linked to greater overall happiness. Not surprisingly, only half of the study’s participants said they valued their time over money.

The research consisted of a series of studies of nearly 5000 people, conducted by the University of British Columbia. It found that there’s a pretty even divide among people’s preferences for valuing their time vs. their money. Actually, slightly more than half of the people valued their time over their money — which is encouraging. 

The study’s basic finding was that the preference for giving priority to time over making more money was associated with greater happiness in life. The study, described in detail here, and published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science, also found that older people also were more likely to say they valued their time compared to younger people.

The study noted that a participant’s gender or income didn’t affect whether they were more likely to value time or money. However, the researchers pointed out they didn’t include participants living at the poverty level who may have to prioritize money to survive. That’s understandable, but it also points out how strongly our culture — incorrectly — associates increasing material wealth with personal happiness and wellbeing in life overall, as though they go hand in hand. And once you go down that road, it’s endless: how much is “enough?” Our social values make the criteria for having “enough” very elusive.

Credit: CPD Archive

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Behind the Climate Victory; a Human Victory?

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 10.37.39 AMJanuary 5, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 10.27.16 AM

A guest post from John Friedman, who heads corporate responsibility communications worldwide for Sodexo Group. John blogs on sustainability for The Huffington Post, and is a leading writer on corporate responsibility and sustainable business. He’s the author of PR 2.0: How Digital Media Can Help You Build A Sustainable Brand.

Now that the fireworks have faded along with some of the afterglow from the very successful COP21 meeting in Paris we must begin in earnest in deciding what 2016 will bring. With guarded optimism I read articles summarizing the year and for the most part they reflect a renewed hope and optimism that comes from the global agreement not only on efforts to cap global temperatures to increasing no more than 2 degrees Celsius, but also the ‘stretch target’ of 1.5 degrees.

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are an excellent framework. They recognize that we must continue to improve quality of life and social justice for more and more (ideally all) people within the constraints of our very resilient planet’s ability to replenish and restore (some) natural resources.

They bear repeating here:

  • Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

What happened in Paris at the COP21 was a watershed meeting because it demonstrated our ability to agree on the big important issues and come together to set universal goals. And we can and should take notice of the importance not just for the global climate, but for all the issues, including those impacted by climate change and the need to address it (such as health, well-being, sustainable economic development, equality, justice, fighting corruption, etc.) Continue reading

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Thoughts To Contemplate For The Holidays…Or Anytime

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 10.05.58 AMDecember 22, 2015

And this, another from the writings of Hafiz, the 14th Century Persian Sufi poet:

“These candles — our bodies – see how they burn.
How many hours will they last – days, months, years?
Look at the warmth and comfort we can give
to each other or to anything that comes close.”

Credit: poetseeers

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Are You Emotionally Connected With Your Work? Does It Matter?

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 9.42.36 PMDecember 15, 2015

Some new research about workplace behavior caught my attention recently. It highlights — by omission — the important link between an organization’s management culture and the psychological experience of working within it. That’s a link that needs to be examined, but often isn’t; and this study illustrates that gap. It found that people who report feeling emotionally engaged and connected with their work and their organizations also experience greater psychological well-being.

That finding may sound obvious, though it’s always good to have empirical data confirm the obvious. In this case, it shows that if you’re among the fortunate ones who feel engaged and positive about your work and management, you’re likely to experience a greater sense of wellbeing. The problem is, most people aren’t so fortunate, as surveys repeatedly show. But this study does expose important questions, raised by its own findings:

What, exactly, promotes a sense of emotional connection with your work to begin with? And how might that increase your overall sense of well-being?

First, let’s look at the study, conducted in Denmark and published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It examined the well-being and other health-related outcomes in 5,000 Danish workers. Among employees in various workgroups the study found significantly higher well-being concerning “the employee’s emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization.” Those employees also had lower sickness absence rates and fewer sleep disturbances.

The lead author, Thomas Clausen, suggests that efforts to increase emotional connection with work may lead to a happier, healthier workforce. Of course. That makes good sense, and most companies would likely agree. The problem is that a positive sense of connection with work requires several conditions and factors that organizational leadership often fails to recognize or address. Among the most important are, in my view:

  • Does senior leadership promote a positive work culture, in which workers are valued and provided opportunities for continued learning and development?
  • Is diversity encouraged and valued in practice, not just in company mission statements?
  • Is there a workaholic and/or sexist management culture permeating the organization?
  • Perhaps most importantly, do employees experience a sense of impact their work has upon the product or service the company provides? The latter appears increasingly important to younger workers, as surveys show.

I’ve written about these issues previously, and they are crucial for long-term, sustainable success within today’s environment – one of increasing interconnection, transparency and constant flux; of rapid technology change and generational shift regarding values, life goals; and how people are redefining personal and career success.

Credit: Lionbridge

A version of this article previously appeared in The Huffington Post.

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Living Together Or Married? No Difference In Your Emotional Health

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 4.35.14 PMDecember 8. 2015

This new research is consistent with recent surveys that show younger people, especially, are more concerned with building a positive, sustaining relationship than with marriage, per se. The current study found that both men and women experience as much of a boost in their emotional well-being whether they move in together or marry. It was a bit more for women, but Interestingly, that boost occurred equally among men and women who had a prior relationship that didn’t work out. 

That finding is significant. I think it reflects the reality that form a lasting love relationship with the right partner requires a prior failure or two. Such experiences are like a “leavening” of the inner self; it builds the foundation for learning what kind of person – his or her values, character, outlook on life — meshes with who you are, along those dimensions. That increases the likelihood that a couple will grow together, emotionally, sexually, intellectually and spiritually, rather than grow apart. 

This new study, described in this report from Ohio State University, was based on data collected throughout the 2000s. It found that, for young adults who moved on from a first relationship, both men and women received similar emotional boosts whether they moved in with their second partner or got married to them. 

The findings suggest an evolving role of marriage among young people today, said Sara Mernitz, co-author of the study. “Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage,” she said. “There’s no additional boost from getting married.”

Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of the study, pointed out that “We’re finding that marriage isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of living together, at least when it comes to emotional health.” The study appears online in the Journal of Family Psychology and will be published in a future print edition.

Credit: NPCC/CPD Archive

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Actions That Benefit Others — Not Just Oneself — Lead to More Effective Work Teams

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 11.56.25 AMDecember 1, 2015

Although we’re seeing political and cultural calls for policies that advocate self-interest; and social-political positions that ignore or deny evidence of continuing global interdependence, the reality on the ground tells a different story: There, we find data that positive benefits for individuals, business and society accrue from serving the common good; actions that support the benefit of others enhance all, including oneself.

A recent study from Notre Dame and the University of Illinois is a good example. The research, published in the Academy of Management Journal, found that when members of a work team are supported and motivated to benefit others, those teams are higher performing. Moreover, its members remain in their teams for longer periods.

The study examined 67 work teams from both the U.S. and China, as well as 124 student teams at Notre Dame. According to lead researcher Jasmine Hu, “Findings from both the field study and lab research showed that the greater motivation to benefit others, the higher the levels of cooperation and viability and the higher the subsequent team performance.”

She added, “These types of teams were also less likely to have members voluntarily leave their teams. Furthermore, we discovered that these positive effects of team motivation to benefit others were stronger the more the tasks required close interaction and higher interdependence among its members.”

The researchers concluded that the research provided evidence for the importance of management practices that enhance motivation to benefit others. That, in turn, increases the collaboration and cooperation necessary for high-performing teams. It produces “…higher performance, more organizational citizenship behavior, and (members) stay in their teams for a longer period,” Hu said. Moreover, “The highest level of team effectiveness was achieved when team motivation to benefit others and the interdependence of tasks among team members were both high.”

In my view, this study’s findings emphasize the key management role of building and supporting positive relationships among team members. The latter is interwoven with and dependent upon positive management and leadership behavior. That is, by demonstrating belief in and commitment to collaboration and support for individual growth and development at the same time.

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Even Short Periods of Meditation Will Reduce Racial Prejudice

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 6.01.45 PMNovember 24, 2015

Now this is encouraging news: A new study finds that just seven minutes of meditation can reduce racial prejudice. The study, from the University of Sussex, was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. It used the Buddhist mediation technique of loving-kindness meditation, which promotes unconditional kindness towards oneself and others.

The lead researcher Alexander Stell, said: “This indicates that some meditation techniques are about much more than feeling good, and might be an important tool for enhancing inter-group harmony.” This form of meditation is aimed at generating feelings of happiness and kindness towards oneself and others through conscious focus on repeating thoughts and phrases that are positive and beneficent, while visualizing a particular person.

According to Stell, “We wanted to see whether doing loving-kindness meditation towards a member of another ethnic group would reduce the automatic preference people tend to show for their own ethnic group.”

In the study, a sample of 71 white, non-meditating adults were each given a photo of a gender-matched black person and either received taped LKM instructions, or instructions to look at the photos and notice certain features of the face. Both conditions lasted just seven minutes. Details of the experiment are described in this summary from the University.

The researchers found that just seven minutes of loving-kindness meditation directed to a member of a specific racial group (in this case, a black person) was sufficient to reduce racial bias towards that group. Additionally the researchers measured levels of positive emotions that were either ‘other-regarding’ (e.g. love, gratitude, awe, elevation) and those that were more self-directed (e.g. contentment, joy, pride). They found that people doing loving-kindness meditation showed large increases in other-regarding emotions. Those emotions were found to be what drives the reduction of bias.

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Can Empathy Modify Someone’s Political Views?

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 11.03.44 AMNovember 17, 2015

In the context of the rising xenophobia expressed by — mostly — Republican presidential contenders, this new study from the University of Toronto is certainly apropos: It finds that empathy towards a political opponent’s moral views is a more effective path towards political persuasion. I think it highlights the power of being able to step outside yourself and put yourself into the mindset – the emotions, thoughts and values — of another; especially someone with whom you disagree strongly.

A summary of the study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin pointed out that if opponents really care about making even modest in-roads with each other, they’ll pay attention to this research: It showed that arguments based on a political opponent’s moral principles, rather than one’s own, have a much better chance of success. 

“We were trying to figure out ways to overcome the polarization,” said Mathew Feinberg, one of the researchers. A series of experiments had liberals and conservatives come up with arguments of their own for someone of the opposite political viewpoint.

The results showed that both groups were extremely poor at developing arguments that would appeal to their political opposite, even when specifically asked to do so. Worse, some participants in both camps actually attacked the morality of those they’d been asked to convince. 

But appealing to core principles of the opposite political persuasion appeared to help. For example, conservatives were more inclined to support universal health care when presented with purity-based arguments that more uninsured people might lead to more disease spread. Liberals showed an uptick in support for higher military spending, when shown an argument based on the principle that the military and the employment opportunities it provides help to reduce inequality.

“Instead of alienating the other side and just repeating your own sense of morality, start thinking about how your political opposition thinks and see if you can frame messages that fit with that thought process,” suggests Feinberg. A good point.

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How Depression Damages Your Memory And Concentration

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November 10, 2015

A new study finds that depression can diminish what you retain in your memory, as well as interfere with your ability to stay mentally focused. This research confirms what we see clinically among people who experience persistent negative, depressed moods and mental states. I think these findings underscore we are one integrated bio-psycho-social-spiritual-environmental organism. All dimensions of ourselves and our life experiences, both “inner” and “outer,” affect all others – emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally.

The study, from the University of Texas at Dallas, and published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, is the first to show that depressive thoughts are maintained for longer periods of time for people with depressed mood, and this may reduce the amount of information that they can hold in their memory.

According to lead author Bart Rypma, “We have known that negative thoughts tend to last longer for those with depression. However, this study is unique in showing that, these thoughts, triggered from stimuli in the environment, can persist to the point that they hinder a depressed person’s ability to keep their train of thought.”

And, added researcher Nick Hubbard, “The fact that depressive thoughts do not seem to go away once they enter memory certainly explains why depressed individuals have difficulty concentrating or remembering things in their daily lives. This preoccupation of memory by depressive thoughts might also explain why more positive thoughts are often absent in depression; there simply is not enough space for them.” The UT Center for Brain Health’s summary describes how the study was conducted and the data it provided.

I think this research points to the value of both mindfulness meditation and psychotherapy. Both can help people build their inner resources for, on the one hand, managing the impact of depressed mood upon their mental focus; and on the other hand — most importantly — envisioning positive emotional experiences to create in daily life. Both forms of help can gradually subsume a person’s cognitive and emotional dimensions of depressed thoughts and attitudes; as well as help them expand beyond their often fixed, negative view of themselves, which impedes creating a more positive experience of life.

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Feeling Emotionally Connected To Work Is Linked With Greater Psychological Wellbeing…But Why?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 10.47.20 AMNovember 3, 2015

I came across this new research finding that people who feel emotionally engaged and connected with their work experience greater psychological wellbeing. That may sound obvious, though it’s good whenever empirical data confirms the obvious. But I think the missing piece in the research is what, exactly, promotes that sense of emotional connection with your work to begin with?

This study from Denmark, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, examined the well-being and other health-related outcomes in 5,000 Danish workers. It found significantly higher well-being for employees in workgroups with “the employee’s emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization.” They also had lower sickness absence rates and fewer sleep disturbances.

The lead author, Thomas Clausen, suggests that efforts to increase emotional connection with work may lead to a happier, healthier workforce. This makes sense, of course. Most companies would likely agree. The problem is that sense of connection with work reflects many factors that organizational leadership often fails to recognize or address. For example:

  • Does senior leadership promote a positive work culture, in which workers are valued and provided opportunities for continued learning and development?
  • Is diversity encouraged and valued in practice, not just in company mission statements? 
  • Is there a workaholic and/or sexist management culture permeating the organization?
  • Perhaps most importantly, do employees experience a sense of impact their work has upon the product or service the company provides? The latter appears increasingly important to younger workers, as surveys show. 

I’ve written about these issues previously, and they are crucial for long-term, sustainable success within our culture of increasing interconnection, transparency and constant flux; of rapid technology change and generational shift regarding values, life goals, and how people re-define personal and career success. 

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Why Showing Gratitude Strengthens Marriage Relationships

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.33.52 AMOctober 27, 2015

I want to highlight the findings of this new study from the University of Georgia  — that feeling appreciated and valued by your partner strengthens your marriage and increases your belief about its endurance. I think that these findings — though they are about marriage relationships — underscores something important about what builds positive relationships in general. That is, whether they are intimate, work-related, or those in broader societal contexts. Showing and feeling gratitude in relationships go a long way in building and maintaining positive, mutually supportive connections. And the latter are crucial for personal and societal wellbeing.

This study, published in the journal Personal Relationships, was based on surveys of 468 married couples. It found that that spousal expression of gratitude was the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality. 

“It goes to show the power of ‘thank you,'” said the study’s lead author Allen Barton. “Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes.” Added co-author Ted Futris. “…when couples are engaging in a negative conflict pattern like demand/withdrawal, expressions of gratitude and appreciation can counteract or buffer the negative effects of this type of interaction on marital stability,” 

The study also found that higher levels of spousal gratitude protected men’s and women’s divorce proneness from the negative effects of poor communication during conflict. And, according to Barton, “This is the first study to document the protective effect that feeling appreciated by your spouse can have for marriages. It highlights a practical way couples can help strengthen their marriage, particularly if they are not the most adept communicators in conflict.”

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How Can You Deal With An Abusive Boss?

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 10.26.57 AMOctober 20, 2015

I’ve written previously about abusive bosses and psychologically unhealthy management in general, and I’m revisiting it a bit here, because of a new study that highlights the difficulty people have when dealing with this kine of management environment. And not just employees: sometimes researchers themselves have a naive understanding of the problem.

That is, some recent research about employees who deal with abusive bosses shows that a well-intentioned study of workplace behavior can produce findings that confound the researchers’ predictions. This research found one unsurprising result; but another part of the findings – which puzzled the researchers — is what caught my eye.

To explain, the research surveyed the ways in which employees behave when working for abusive bosses. Those are often people who are narcissistic, denigrating, arrogant and unsupportive — or outright undermining — of employee’s learning and development.

The unsurprising part of the findings was that just trying to avoid the abusive boss or plotting ways to retaliate didn’t work. That made things worse for the employee, according to the study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and summarized by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post.

Rather, the other set of findings is what got my attention. Here, the researchers predicted that “acts of compassion and empathy — employees who assist bad bosses by going above and beyond, helping bosses with heavy workloads even when they’re not asked” would lead to diminished abuse by those bosses. And, that “acts of kindness might help lessen future rude or abusive behavior.”

The researchers were surprised to discover that it didn’t happen. Instead, according to the study’s co-author Charlice Hurst, “Abusive supervisors didn’t respond to followers being positive and compassionate, and doing things to be supportive and helpful.” The researchers concluded that their findings seemed to “clash with common sense.”

Really? I think most anyone who’s ever worked for abusive bosses would laugh at such “common sense” assumptions. No, trying to be “nice” or empathic towards the narcissistic, arrogant boss who often makes conflicting demands on employees isn’t going to produce positive change. Continue reading

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Psychedelics Increasingly Used For Healing And Growth

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The benefits of psychedelics for a range of emotional conflicts has been gaining increased recognition and re-emergence into — hopefully — the mainstream of treatment. In addition, researchers who are now legally allowed to conduct studies on their benefits are also finding that psychedelic drugs can have profound, transformative effects upon people — not just those who experience emotional conflicts such as anxiety or PTSD. 

An analysis published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal finds, according to a summary of the research, that psychedelic drugs have a strong effect on one’s conscious experience. They include such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, found in “magic mushrooms,” dimethyltryptamine (DMT), mescaline and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). According to Evan Wood, one of the co-authors, “The re-emerging paradigm of psychedelic medicine may open clinical doors and therapeutic doors long closed.”

Much current research focuses on more overt emotional disorders or conflicts. For example, that LSD-assisted psychotherapy might help reduce anxiety from terminal illness. Another, that “magic mushrooms” helped alcoholics reduce their drinking; and, a study of the drug MDMA shows a reduction in PTSD symptoms in people with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD.

But also highly intriguing are the observations that psychedelics can have lasting, significant effect on transforming your personality. For example, a Johns Hopkins study found that a single session of psilocybin can produce lasting personality changes. The Hopkins study reported that “Lasting change was found in the part of the personality known as openness, which includes traits related to imagination, aesthetics, feelings, abstract ideas and general broad-mindedness. Changes in these traits, measured on a widely used and scientifically validated personality inventory, were larger in magnitude than changes typically observed in healthy adults over decades of life experiences.”

In a recent Huffington Post interview, Johns Hopkins researcher Matthew Johnson discussed research by him and his colleagues on the effects of psilocybin and other psychedelics, which he calls a “paradigm shift,” that “Psychedelics open a door to the mind, and then what’s behind that door is really all about the participants and the intention that they bring to the session. The fact that the effects last beyond the time that you take the medication — that’s really a new paradigm in psychiatry.”

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Covert Sexism In The Workplace Is As Harmful As Overt Behavior

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 2.44.35 PMOctober 6, 2015

Our workplaces are steadily evolving towards environments in which men and women are valued, recognized and rewarded for their ability to work collaboratively with others who differ from them – whether gender, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, or sexual orientation. It’s a gradual process, however, and it’s important to document and raise awareness of the attitudes and behavior that continue to undermine individuals and teams in organizations. A current example is this study: It found that that frequent sexist comments and management cultures that are covertly demeaning to women are just as damaging to women as acts of sexual coercion or overtly sexual conduct and behavior towards them.

The research, published in The Psychology of Women Quarterly, found that “Norms, leadership, or policies, that reduce intense harmful experiences may lead managers to believe that they have solved the problem of maltreatment of women in the workplace,” according to the authors. “However, the more frequent, less intense, and often unchallenged gender harassment, sexist discrimination, sexist organizational climate and organizational tolerance for sexual harassment appeared at least as detrimental for women’s wellbeing. They should not be considered lesser forms of sexism.” The research team analyzed 88 independent studies of a combined 73,877 working women, and found following associations:

  • Sexism and gender harassment were just as harmful to working women’s individual health and work attitudes as common job stressors such as work overload and poor working conditions.
  • When women are the targets of sexism and harassment in the workplace, they are more dissatisfied with supervisors than co-workers.
  • There was a trend of a more negative effect of sexism and harassment in male-dominated workplaces, such as the armed forces and financial and legal services firms. However, the authors suggested this required further research.

The authors added, “Our results suggest that organizations should have zero tolerance for low intensity sexism, the same way they do for overt harassment. This will require teaching workers about the harmful nature of low intensity sexist events, not only for women, but also for the overall organizational climate.”

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Why It’s Possible To Alter Your Personality

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.17.47 PMSeptember 29, 2015

The novelist Norman Mailer wrote in The Deer Park, it’s a law of life that “one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same.”

So true, though many people believe that who you are – specifically, your personality – is fixed. In fact, much conventional thinking in psychology holds that our personalities remain constant.

But that’s not accurate: We’re always changing and evolving, in some way – for better or for worse. Many of us mental health professionals witness that occur among our patients. Keep in mind that who we may “become” is being shaped and determined by who we are right at this moment, by the kind of person we are inside; the qualities that we express in our daily lives, relationships and aspirations.

It’s good to see some recent research that confirms our capacity to change and grow dimensions of our personality. Change occurs from awareness of what aspects of our personality we want to develop, and working hard to “practice” them in daily life.

One example: Researchers at the University of Illinois conducted a study that tested the degree to which people could “grow” a particular personality trait or quality over a period of 16 weeks. The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that the participants who desired to change some dimension of themselves did so, in contrast to those who displayed less interest. The researchers pointed out that the results were modest, but that they show, “…at the very least, people’s personality traits and daily behavior tend to change in ways that align with their goals for change.”

They explained that it’s an unfolding process: “Goals led to changes in behavior, which led to changes in self-concept, which prompted more behavior change.”

I think this highlights the importance of having a vision of your more “developed” self; some aspect or dimension of your personality that you aspire towards. That has the effect of drawing you towards expressing those qualities of yourself, like being pulled by a magnet. Continue reading

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What Matters More — Your Character, Or What You Can Do For Me?

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 11.57.30 AMSeptember 22, 2015

This is one of those experiments that give credence to an intuitive feeling, one that’s consistent with a philosophical/spiritual perspective but we often ignore when we want to extract value from others, for our material benefit. The study, conducted by NYU researchers, found that people’s impressions of others’ character is a more important factor than what they might be able to do for us, when making decisions about them.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, contradicts the conventional thinking that when we learn from positive or negative feedback in our interactions with people, we make conclusions based on the benefits they bring us – their “reward value.”

As so often the case, “conventional” thinking,” is often based more on assumptions than on evidence. As this study’s lead author Leor Hackel explains, “When we learn and make decisions about people, we don’t simply look at the positive or negative outcomes they bring to us—such as whether they gave us a loan or helped us move. Instead, we often… form trait impressions, such as how generous a person seems to be, and these impressions carry more weight in our future social decisions.”

In the experiment, participants made a series of “reward-based” decisions while their neural activity was monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Participants learned about other people in a series of interactions in an economic game played over the computer. Part of the study examined whether participants learned the relatively generosity of a player—a “trait impression”—in addition to learning the monetary worth of the player. The researchers’ statistical tests showed that participants learned generosity information more strongly than reward value.

After the experiment, described in detail here, participants were asked to choose which players they would prefer to interact with in a future cooperative task. The researchers found that their preferences were strongly guided by their trait impressions of players, relative to a player’s reward value. According to David Amodio, one of the researchers, “In other words, our results show that people naturally see others and even objects in terms of more general characteristics—and not just in terms of mere reward value.”

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The Most Energized, Productive Workers: Not Who You Might Think!

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 5.34.51 PMSeptember 15, 2015

What fuels the energy and excitement that’s visible among people who are highly engaged and productive at work? Is it something about what they bring to their careers to begin with? The management culture they experience? Or, are those qualities found mostly among the young, because of youthful energy, as some surveys indicate?

Some new research sheds some light on this. It finds that the most energized and creative workers are not only the young, age-wise. They are best described as “young at heart.” The secret ingredient is their emotional attitude about life in general; and the way they typically respond and deal with negative, stressful experiences. That’s what differentiates them from others. But these interesting findings also raise this question: Why so many work cultures actively undermine the positive energy and vitality that such people bring into their workplaces? And which – one would think – companies would value and support in every way possible.

First, let’s look what at the evidence from two unrelated but complementary studies tell us about this. In brief, the first found that your overall attitude about life – independent of age -influences your performance and creativity at work. The other study found that positive emotions and your outlook on life — especially how you deal with stressful circumstances or conflict — is linked with greater long-term health. And many sources of stress are found in the workplace, needless to say. Continue reading

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How Your Personality Can Change And Grow — Or Stagnate Over Time

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There’s an old Buddhist saying that if you want to see into your future, just look into a mirror. It’s true, that who we are right now, and at each moment of time into the future, shapes who we become – for better or for worse. Although that truth is evident to anyone who’s at all observant of how people’s lives unfold and evolve over time, it’s interesting to see empirical evidence supporting it. The latter helps those who think we’re fixed in our personalities over our lifetime. Unfortunately — and ironically — such people tend to be those of us in the psychological and mental health fields.

This new study from Germany focused on people who experience loneliness early in life can act in ways that increase that aspect of their personality – leading to more loneliness and poorer health over time. And the experiences we seek out can also affect and shape our personalities, in reverse, over time. As the research finds, “there’s evidence that personality changes as we get older. And just as we can strive to lose weight, there’s evidence we can intentionally change our personalities.

The researchers found that “our personality affects the likelihood that we’ll become more lonely (and feel less well) as we get older, but also that being lonely (and feeling less healthy) shapes our personality, potentially setting up a vicious circle of isolation.”

Although this study looked at negative personality traits and how they interact with life experiences, I think it’s more significant to consider how we can evolve and grow positive dimensions of ourselves over time, with conscious intent and a vision of how we want to “become.” Here, clinical evidence joins philosophical teachings. As the novelist Norman Mailer wrote in The Deer Park, it’s a law of life that “one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same.”

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Why Are Women More Likely To Initiate Divorce?

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 11.08.14 AMAugust 25, 2015

Some new data about divorce and non-marital breakups contains an unexpected finding, and I think it underscores an ongoing evolution in what people want and seek in their romantic relationships. The study, based on a survey of over 2000 heterosexual couples, found that women initiated nearly 70% of all divorces. Yet there was no significant difference between the percentage of breakups initiated by women and men in non-marriage relationships.

How to explain? I find that this data is consistent with what I and others have seen clinically. When men and women seek couples therapy and then subsequently divorce; or, when either partner seeks individual therapy about a marriage conflict that ends in divorce, it’s often the woman who expresses more overt conflict and dissatisfaction about the state of the marriage. On the other hand, the man is more likely to report feeling troubled by his wife’s dissatisfaction, but “OK” with the way things are; content to lope along as time passes.

In contrast, I find that younger couples – who are more likely to form non-marital but committed relationships — experience more egalitarian partnerships to begin with. When the relationship crumbles beyond repair, both experience that disintegration. Both are equally likely to address it – and part, if it can’t be healed.

These clinical observations are consistent with what the study’s lead author, Michael Rosenfeld, suggests — that women may be more likely to initiate divorces because the married women reported lower levels of relationship quality than married men. In contrast, women and men in non-marital relationships reported equal levels of relationship quality. Rosenfeld said his results support the feminist assertion that some women experience heterosexual marriage as oppressive or uncomfortable.

He adds, “I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality. Wives still take their husbands’ surnames, and are sometimes pressured to do so. Husbands still expect their wives to do the bulk of the housework and the bulk of the childcare. On the other hand, I think that non-marital relationships lack the historical baggage and expectations of marriage, which makes the non-marital relationships more flexible and therefore more adaptable to modern expectations, including women’s expectations for more gender equality.”

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