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Archive for the ‘Positive Psychology’ Category

The Good Feeling of Fast Thinking

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 6, 2013

Moose

Situationist Contributor Emily Pronin’s recent articles, When the mind races: Effects of thought speed on feeling and action. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22, 283–288, was highlighted in a recent APS Observer column.   Here is an excerpt containing a helpful overview of Pronin’s fascinating study and findings.

You wake up. Your phone blinks. You touch the screen, slide your finger, and chills shiver down your spine. “See me tomorrow,” says the email your boss sent at midnight. Your thoughts accelerate. “What does she want? Why did she write so late? Am I in trouble? The company is in trouble. This down economy! I’m getting fired. Why me? Where will I work? I have skills. There are other companies. I have no skills. Where will I apply? Can we move? What will my parents think? How will the kids react to changing schools? I can do this. We can do this. No matter what.”

We think. It helps us. Errands, plans, and goals require thought. Synapses fire. Action potentials race down axons. Chemicals bathe our brains with neurotransmitters. Thoughts guide action, from ordering a coffee to avoiding predators. What we think matters. But according to Emily Pronin of Princeton University, how fast we think matters, too.

Making people think fast boosts their happiness, energy, riskiness, and self-confidence. In an impressive program of research, Pronin and colleagues have documented these effects using many ways to speed up thinking. In one study, participants read trivia statements at fast or slow speeds (Chandler & Pronin, 2012). Next, they completed a risk-taking task. Participants could earn money — but only if they didn’t take too many risks. Fast-thinking participants took the most risks and earned the least money. On the bright side, having people read at twice their normal reading speed increased their positive emotion (Pronin & Wegner, 2006).

Pronin (2013) argues that fast thinking prepares people to take immediate action. Feeling good nudges that process along, as does increased energy. If you spy a moose while running on a trail, it will behoove you to take swift and confident action even if it involves some risk. You may even experience an “a-ha” moment that provides a creative solution you would not have considered if you were thinking at a normal or slow pace (Yang & Pronin, 2012).

Read the entire column here.

Image from Flickr.

Other Situationist posts about Emily Pronin’s work:

Posted in Emotions, Positive Psychology, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Francesca Gino on the Situation of Being Sidetracked

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 3, 2013

Excerpts from an interview of Situationist friend Francesca Gino by Gareth Cook from Scientific American:

There is an area of self-help devoted to advice on completing tasks, and the focus is generally on the positive: How to get organized, how to choose good goals, how to stay motivated, etc. Francesca Gino, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, also wants to help you achieve your goals, but she begins with the negative. What are the psychological forces that send people off the rails? In Sidetracked, she argues that to succeed we first need to know our enemy, the often-unconscious factors that stop us from getting things done. Then we can fight back. She answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.

Why did you write this book?

Many of the ideas I study and write about are motivated by my personal experience and by what surrounds me –interesting patterns of behavior that often, at first glance, make little sense. Sidetracked focuses on situations where we set out to accomplish specific goals but ended up reaching different outcomes –outcomes we often regret. Think of a time when you had a clear plan of action—a new career path, a diet you intended to follow, an exciting regular workout plan, a new saving plan for retirement, a new hire in your team, or a new car you were planning to buy after much research and deliberation. What happened when it came time to make decisions in pursuit of your goal? You may have found yourself following a course of action that took you completely off track. I certainly found myself in this type of situations many times in the past. And when talking to friends and colleagues, I discovered that they shared similar experiences where they got sidetracked as they were implementing their well thought-out plans.

In Sidetracked, I explain how even simple and seemingly irrelevant factors have profound consequences on our decisions and behavior, diverting us from our original plans. Most of us care a good deal about being consistent—we care about following through on our goals and wishes. And we also aim to behave in ways that are consistent with our self-image as capable, competent, and honest individuals. But often, without our knowledge, subtle influences—often unexpected—steer us away from what we initially planned or wanted. As a result, our decisions fail to align with our best intentions.

I wrote Sidetracked to discuss the main set of forces that prevent us from following through on our plans, and to identify a set of principles we can apply to stay on track going forward. My book describes theses forces using examples and case studies from personal and professional domains, as well as research that I conducted with amazing colleagues over the last ten years.

You say that very small things can throw people off their plans. Can you give some examples of what you mean by this?

* * *

Some of my research examines the role of forces that sidetrack us in the context of morality. In general, once we identify a goal we want to reach, we develop plans that can help us reach that goal. For instance, in the case of our moral goals, we may decide to volunteer regularly or spend some time each week helping others. Yet, even if our moral goals and plans are clear, subtle forces can lead us astray. Here’s an example of how this may happen. Have you or a friend ever bought a knock-off product like pair of faux “designer” sunglasses or a fake watch? If so, would you believe they may have colored the way you viewed the world—not just literally, but more fundamentally? In fact, those cheap sunglasses might have degraded your moral behavior. In a series of experiments, my colleagues Mike Norton, Dan Ariely, and I found that people were more likely to act dishonestly when they were wearing fake products, such as designer copycats. In our studies, participants who thought they were wearing knock-off sunglasses (in fact, the $300 sunglasses were quite real) were more likely to cheat on various problem-solving tasks than participants who were told they were wearing designer lenses. It seems that what we wear influences how we feel (inauthentic) and behave (dishonestly), whether we realize it or not, even when our goal is to act honestly and follow our moral compass.

But getting things done is also a matter of motivation, right? You have to really want to finish what you started.

Yes, motivation is clearly an important ingredient in following through on our plans. But, as it turns out, the same set of forces that derail our decisions can also influence our motivation to get things done. Here’s how. My colleague Scott Wiltermuth and I conducted a series of studies to examine how we could boost individuals’ motivation and effort. In our research, Scott and I varied how we framed potential rewards to study participants so that they would perceive them as belonging to two categories or only one. The categories were pure fiction: in fact, in some of our studies we put potential rewards (which consisted in a variety of useful objects, such as pens or notebooks) in two separate containers rather than in just one. And yet, the completely arbitrary categories we created affected participants’ motivation. In one study, participants were over three times as likely to work on a task for the full amount of time they were given when the potential rewards were divided into two categories.

By creating meaningless categories, we triggered a feeling in participants that they would be missing out if they did not get a reward from the second category available to them. This type of fear seems to drive many of the decisions we make in our personal and professional lives. In the case of my research with Scott, participants felt a sense of fear that they would miss out on some of the available rewards (those belonging to a different category). But this fear can be more general –from the feeling of missing out on special deals to the fear of missing out on an event our friends are attending. It explains why I often spend endless hours waiting in line so that I can be the first to see a highly rated movie or to buy the latest iPhone. And have you ever signed up for store email lists so that you won’t miss out on the latest deals? I certainly have.

What are some of the concrete techniques that you’d suggest people use to not get sidetracked?

* * *

You can read Professor Gino’s answer  to that question (and the entire interview) here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Marketing, Positive Psychology, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

Dan Ariely Interviewed about the Situation of Cheating

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 28, 2013

ariely honesty coverFor Time, Gary Belsky recently interviewed Dan Ariely about Ariely’s 2012 book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty.  In the interview, Ariely discusses seven lessons about dishonesty.  Here are some excerpts.

1. Most of us are 98-percenters.

“A student told me a story about a locksmith he met when he locked himself out of the house. This student was amazed at how easily the locksmith picked his lock, but the locksmith explained that locks were really there to keep honest people from stealing. His view was that 1% of people would never steal, another 1% would always try to steal, and the rest of us are honest as long as we’re not easily tempted. Locks remove temptation for most people. And that’s good, because in our research over many years, we’ve found that everybody has the capacity to be dishonest and almost everybody is at some point or another.”

2. We’ll happily cheat … until it hurts.

“The Simple Model of Rational Crime suggests that the greater the reward, the greater the likelihood that people will cheat. But we’ve found that for most of us, the biggest driver of dishonesty is the ability to rationalize our actions so that we don’t lose the sense of ourselves as good people. In one of our matrix experiments [a puzzle-solving exercise Ariely uses in his work to measure dishonesty], the level of cheating didn’t change as the reward for cheating rose. In fact, the highest payout resulted in a little less cheating, probably because the amount of money got to be big enough that people couldn’t rationalize their cheating as harmless. Most people are able to cheat a little because they can maintain the sense of themselves as basically honest people. They won’t commit major fraud on their tax returns or insurance claims or expense reports, but they’ll cut corners or exaggerate here or there because they don’t feel that bad about it.”

3. It’s no wonder people steal from work.

“In one matrix experiment, we added a condition where some participants were paid in tokens, which they knew they could quickly exchange for real money. But just having that one step of separation resulted in a significant increase in cheating. Another time, we surveyed golfers and asked which act of moving a ball illegally would make other golfers most uncomfortable: using a club, their foot or their hand. More than twice as many said it would be less of a problem — for other golfers, of course — to use their club than to pick the ball up. Our willingness to cheat increases as we gain psychological distance from the action. So as we gain distance from money, it becomes easier to see ourselves as doing something other than stealing. That’s why many of us have no problem taking pencils or a stapler home from work when we’d never take the equivalent amount of money from petty cash. . . .”

4. Beware the altruistic crook.

“People are able to cheat more when they cheat for other people. In some experiments, people cheated the most when they didn’t benefit at all. This makes sense if our ability to be dishonest is increased by the ability to rationalize our behavior. If you’re cheating for the benefit of another entity, your ability to rationalize is enhanced. So yes, it’s easier for an accountant to see fudging on clients’ tax returns as something other than dishonesty. And it’s a concern within companies, since people’s altruistic tendencies allow them to cheat more when it benefits team members.”

5. One (dishonest) thing leads to another.

“Small dishonesties matter because they can lead to larger ones. Once you behave badly, at some point, you stop thinking of yourself as a good person at that level and you say, What the hell. This is something many people are familiar with in dieting. We’re disciplined until we lapse, and if we can’t think of ourselves as good people, then we figure we might as well enjoy it. And it happens with honesty as well. Cheaters too can start with one step. We conducted an experiment where participants were given designer sunglasses to wear and evaluate. Some were told their pair was authentic, others were told they were wearing fakes and others were given no information. Then, after they had been wearing their glasses for a while, we gave them matrices to solve. In all three groups, a significant portion of the participants reported solving a few more matrices than they actually had. Moderate cheating, as usual. But while 30% of the group wearing real designer sunglasses cheated, and slightly more, around 40%, of the people in the no-information group cheated, more than 70% of the group wearing the fakes exaggerated the number of matrices they solved. One moral violation leads to further immorality.”

6. Better to encourage honesty than discourage cheating.

“Most attempts to limit cheating come from a cost-benefit understanding of the problem. We think if we make the punishments harsh enough, people will cheat less. But there is no evidence that this approach works. Think of the death penalty. There is no evidence that it decreases crime. A better approach would be to ask, How can we help people stay honest? When we had an insurance company move the signature on a mileage reporting form from the bottom of the document to the top — so people were attesting that the information they were reporting was true before they filled out the form, rather than after — the amount of cheating went down by about 15%.”

7. Honesty is a state of mind.

“In one of our experiments, we split participants into two groups. We asked one group to try to recall the 10 Commandments, the other 10 books they read in high school. Then we had everyone do some matrices. What we found was that the people in the group who recalled books engaged in the same level of cheating as most people. But the participants in the group that tried to remember the 10 Commandments didn’t cheat at all. Small reminders of ethical standards can be very powerful.”

Read entire interview here.

Posted in Ideology, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Situational Benefits of Compassion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 20, 2013

Dorothea Lange Damaged ChildEmma Seppala, for The Observer, has an outstanding overview of some of the health consequences and contagiousness of compassion.  Here is a portion of her article:

Decades of clinical research has focused and shed light on the psychology of human suffering. That suffering, as unpleasant as it is, often also has a bright side to which research has paid less attention: compassion. Human suffering is often accompanied by beautiful acts of compassion by others wishing to help relieve it. What led 26.5 percent of Americans to volunteer in 2012 (according to statistics from the US Department of Labor)? What propels someone to serve food at a homeless shelter, pull over on the highway in the rain to help someone with a broken down vehicle, or feed a stray cat?

What is Compassion?

What is compassion and how is it different from empathy or altruism? The definition of compassion is often confused with that of empathy. Empathy, as defined by researchers, is the visceral or emotional experience of another person’s feelings. It is, in a sense, an automatic mirroring of another’s emotion, like tearing up at a friend’s sadness. Altruism is an action that benefits someone else. It may or may not be accompanied by empathy or compassion, for example in the case of making a donation for tax purposes. Although these terms are related to compassion, they are not identical. Compassion often does, of course, involve an empathic response and an altruistic behavior. However, compassion is defined as the emotional response when perceiving suffering and involves an authentic desire to help.

Is Compassion Natural or Learned?

Though economists have long argued the contrary, a growing body of evidence suggests that, at our core, both animals and human beings have what APS Fellow Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley, coins a “compassionate instinct.” In other words, compassion is a natural and automatic response that has ensured our survival. Research by APS Fellow Jean Decety, at the University of Chicago, showed that even rats are driven to empathize with another suffering rat and to go out of their way to help it out of its quandary. Studies with chimpanzees and human infants too young to have learned the rules of politeness, also back up these claims. Michael Tomasello and other scientists at the Max Planck Institute, in Germany, have found that infants and chimpanzees spontaneously engage in helpful behavior and will even overcome obstacles to do so. They apparently do so from intrinsic motivation without expectation of reward. A recent study they ran indicated that infants’ pupil diameters (a measure of attention) decrease both when they help and when they see someone else helping, suggesting that they are not simply helping because helping feels rewarding. It appears to be the alleviation of suffering that brings reward — whether or not they engage in the helping behavior themselves. Recent research by David Rand at Harvard University shows that adults’ and children’s first impulse is to help others. Research by APS Fellow Dale Miller at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business suggests that this is also the case of adults, however, worrying that others will think they are acting out of self-interest can stop them from this impulse to help.

It is not surprising that compassion is a natural tendency since it is essential for human survival. As has been brought to light by Keltner, the term “survival of the fittest,” often attributed to Charles Darwin, was actually coined by Herbert Spencer and Social Darwinists who wished to justify class and race superiority. A lesser known fact is that Darwin’s work is best described with the phrase “survival of the kindest.” Indeed in The Descent of Man and Selection In Relation to Sex, Darwin argued for “the greater strength of the social or maternal instincts than that of any other instinct or motive.” In another passage, he comments that “communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” Compassion may indeed be a naturally evolved and adaptive trait. Without it, the survival and flourishing of our species would have been unlikely.

One more sign that suggests that compassion is an adaptively evolved trait is that it makes us more attractive to potential mates. A study examining the trait most highly valued in potential romantic partners suggests that both men and women agree that “kindness” is one of the most highly desirable traits.

Compassion’s Surprising Benefits for Physical and Psychological Health

Compassion may have ensured our survival because of its tremendous benefits for both physical and mental health and overall well-being. Research by APS William James Fellow Ed Diener, a leading researcher in positive psychology, and APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Martin Seligman, a pioneer of the psychology of happiness and human flourishing, suggests that connecting with others in a meaningful way helps us enjoy better mental and physical health and speeds up recovery from disease; furthermore, research by Stephanie Brown, at Stony Brook University, and Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, has shown that it may even lengthen our life spans.

The reason a compassionate lifestyle leads to greater psychological well-being may be explained by the fact that the act of giving appears to be as pleasurable, if not more so, as the act of receiving. A brain-imaging study headed by neuroscientist Jordan Grafman from the National Institutes of Health showed that the “pleasure centers” in the brain, i.e., the parts of the brain that are active when we experience pleasure (like dessert, money, and sex), are equally active when we observe someone giving money to charity as when we receive money ourselves! Giving to others even increases well-being above and beyond what we experience when we spend money on ourselves. In a revealing experiment by Elizabeth Dunn, at the University of British Columbia, participants received a sum of money and half of the participants were instructed to spend the money on themselves; the other half was told to spend the money on others. At the end of the study,  which was published in the academic journal Science, participants who had spent money on others felt significantly happier than those who had spent money on themselves.

This is true even for infants. A study by Lara Aknin and colleagues at the University of British Columbia shows that even in children as young as two, giving treats to others increases the givers’ happiness more than receiving treats themselves. Even more surprisingly, the fact that giving makes us happier than receiving is true across the world, regardless of whether countries are rich or poor. A new study by Aknin, now at Simon Fraser University, shows that the amount of money spent on others (rather than for personal benefit) and personal well-being were highly correlated, regardless of income, social support, perceived freedom, and perceived national corruption.

Why is Compassion Good For Us?

Why does compassion lead to health benefits in particular? A clue to this question rests in a fascinating new study by Steve Cole at the University of California, Los Angeles, and APS Fellow Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The results were reported at Stanford Medical School’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education’s (CCARE) inaugural Science of Compassion conference in 2012. Their study evaluated the levels of cellular inflammation in people who describe themselves as “very happy.” Inflammation is at the root of cancer and other diseases and is generally high in people who live under a lot of stress. We might expect that inflammation would be lower for people with higher levels of happiness. Cole and Fredrickson found that this was only the case for certain “very happy” people. They found that people who were happy because they lived the “good life” (sometimes also know as “hedonic happiness”) had high inflammation levels but that, on the other hand, people who were happy because they lived a life of purpose or meaning (sometimes also known as “eudaimonic happiness”) had low inflammation levels. A life of meaning and purpose is one focused less on satisfying oneself and more on others. It is a life rich in compassion, altruism, and greater meaning.

Another way in which a compassionate lifestyle may improve longevity is that it may serve as a buffer against stress. A new study conducted on a large population (more than 800 people) and spearheaded by the University at Buffalo’s Michael Poulin found that stress did not predict mortality in those who helped others, but that it did in those who did not. One of the reasons that compassion may protect against stress is the very fact that it is so pleasurable. Motivation, however, seems to play an important role in predicting whether a compassionate lifestyle exerts a beneficial impact on health. Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, discovered that people who engaged in volunteerism lived longer than their non-volunteering peers — but only if their reasons for volunteering were altruistic rather than self-serving.

Another reason compassion may boost our well-being is that it can help broaden our perspective beyond ourselves. Research shows that depression and anxiety are linked to a state of self-focus, a preoccupation with “me, myself, and I.” When you do something for someone else, however, that state of self-focus shifts to a state of other-focus. If you recall a time you were feeling blue and suddenly a close friend or relative calls you for urgent help with a problem, you may remember that as your attention shifts to helping them, your mood lifts. Rather than feeling blue, you may have felt energized to help; before you knew it, you may even have felt better and gained some perspective on your own situation as well.

Finally, one additional way in which compassion may boost our well-being is by increasing a sense of connection to others. One telling study showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. On the flip side, strong social connection leads to a 50 percent increased chance of longevity. Social connection strengthens our immune system (research by Cole shows that genes impacted by social connection also code for immune function and inflammation), helps us recover from disease faster, and may even lengthen our life. People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show that they also have higher self-esteem, are more empathic to others, more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. Social connectedness therefore generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true for those who lack social connectedness. Low social connection has been generally associated with declines in physical and psychological health, as well as a higher propensity for antisocial behavior that leads to further isolation. Adopting a compassionate lifestyle or cultivating compassion may help boost social connection and improve physical and psychological health.

Read the entire article, including sections on “why compassion really does have the ability to change the world” and “cultivating compassion” here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Distribution, Emotions, Morality, Positive Psychology | 2 Comments »

The Stereotyped Situation of Dumb Jocks

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 4, 2013

dumb jockFrom Michigan State News:

College coaches who emphasize their players’ academic abilities may be the best defense against the effects of “dumb jock” stereotypes, a Michigan State University study suggests.

Researchers found that student-athletes were significantly more likely to be confident in the classroom if they believed their coaches expected high academic performance, not just good enough grades to be eligible for sports.

“Coaches spend a lot of time with their players, and they can play such an important role to build academic confidence in student-athletes,” said lead author Deborah Feltz, University Distinguished Professor of kinesiology at MSU.

Published in the Journal of College Student Development, the study focused on the concept of “stereotype threat.” The theory holds that stereotypes are self-fulfilling prophecies: They create anxiety in the stereotyped group, causing them to behave in the expected way.

Feltz and her graduate students wanted to see what factors influence student-athletes’ susceptibility to the “dumb jock” stereotype.

“It’s well-documented in the literature that many student-athletes hear prejudicial remarks from professors who say things like, ‘This test is easy enough that even an athlete could pass it,’” Feltz said. “They’re kind of the last group of students who can be openly discriminated against.”

The researchers surveyed more than 300 student-athletes representing men’s and women’s teams from small and large universities and a range of sports, from basketball and football to cross-country and rowing.

They found the more strongly student-athletes identified themselves as athletes, the less confident they were with their academic skills, and the more keenly they felt that others expected them to do poorly in school. Players in high-profile sports were more likely to feel they were weak students.

Feltz said the data suggest that coaches who put a premium on education may be in the best position to boost their players’ confidence in the classroom, but professors, academic advisers and classmates also have a part to play.

“They don’t have to do much,” she said. “It may be enough to just remind players they are college students, which is a big deal, you know? A lot of these students are the first in their family to go to college.”

Related Situationist posts:

Image by Les Stockton.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Positive Psychology, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Mindfulness, Adolescence, and Depression

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 19, 2013

middle school meditation

From ScienceDaily:

Secondary school students who follow an in-class mindfulness programme report reduced indications of depression, anxiety and stress up to six months later. Moreover, these students were less likely to develop pronounced depression-like symptoms. The study, conducted by Professor Filip Raes (Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, KU Leuven), is the first to examine mindfulness in a large sample of adolescents in a school-based setting.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation therapy focused on exercising ‘attentiveness’. Depression is often rooted in a downward spiral of negative feelings and worries. Once a person learns to more quickly recognize these feelings and thoughts, he or she can intervene before depression sinks in.

While mindfulness has already been widely tested and applied in patients with depression, this is the first time the method has been studied in a large group of adolescents in a school-based setting, using a randomized controlled design. The study was carried out at five middle schools in Flanders, Belgium. About 400 students between the ages of 13 and 20 took part. The students were divided into a test group and a control group. The test group received mindfulness training, and the control group received no training. Before the study, both groups completed a questionnaire with questions indicative of depression, stress or anxiety symptoms. Both groups completed the questionnaire again directly after the training, and then a third time six months later.

Before the start of the training, both the test group (21%) and the control group (24%) had a similar percentage of students reporting evidence of depression. After the mindfulness training, that number was significantly lower in the test group: 15% versus 27% in the control group. This difference persisted six months after the training: 16% of the test group versus 31% of the control group reported evidence of depression. The results suggest that mindfulness can lead to a decrease in symptoms associated with depression and, moreover, that it protects against the later development of depression-like symptoms.

The study was carried out in cooperation with the Belgian not-for-profit Mindfulness and with support from the Go for Happiness Foundation.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Positive Psychology | 3 Comments »

Amy Cuddy on Power Posing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 13, 2013

From Time:

Using a few simple tweaks to body language, Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy discovers ways to help people become more powerful.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Evolutionary Psychology, Positive Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Tis Happier To Give Than To Receive

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 5, 2013

aknin map 2013

From EurekaAlert:

Feeling good about spending money on someone else rather than for personal benefit may be a universal response among people in both impoverished countries and rich nations, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Our findings suggest that the psychological reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts,” said lead author Lara Aknin, PhD, of Simon Fraser University in Canada.

The findings provide the first empirical evidence that “the warm glow” of spending on someone else rather than on oneself may be a widespread component of human psychology, the authors reported in the study published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers found a positive relationship between personal well-being and spending on others in 120 of 136 countries covered in the 2006-2008 Gallup World Poll. The survey comprised 234,917 individuals, half of whom were male, with an average age of 38. The link between well-being and spending on others was significant in every region of the world, and it was not affected by other factors among those surveyed, such as income, social support, perceived freedom and perceived national corruption, the study said.

The results were similar in several experiments the researchers themselves conducted with participants in wealthy and poor countries. For one analysis, they compared responses from 820 individuals recruited mostly from universities in Canada and Uganda. The participants wrote about a time they had either spent money on themselves or on others, after which they were asked to report how happy they felt. They were also asked if they spent money on another person to build or strengthen a relationship. People who remembered spending money on someone else felt happier than those who recalled spending money on themselves, even when the researchers controlled for the extent to which people built or strengthened a relationship, according to the study.

The researchers obtained the same results when they conducted an online survey of 101 adults in India. Some respondents were asked to recall recently spending money on themselves or someone else, while others were tested for their happiness level without recalling past spending. Those who recalled spending on someone else said they had a greater feeling of well-being than those who remembered spending on themselves or those who weren’t asked about spending.

In another experiment, 207 university students in Canada and South Africa reported higher levels of well-being after purchasing a goody bag for a sick child rather than buying one for themselves. Both groups went to labs where they were given a small amount of money and told to buy a bag of treats for themselves or one for a child at a local hospital.

“From an evolutionary perspective, the emotional benefits that people experience when they help others acts to encourage generous behavior beneficial to long-term human survival,” said Aknin.

Download the pdf here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Positive Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Recent Research on Well-Being, Giving, Getting, and Gratitude

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 20, 2013

Helping Others

From SPSP Press Release:

Giving away money to feel wealthy

New research shows that people all around the world – from Canada to Uganda, from South Africa to India – derive more happiness from spending money on others than they do on themselves.

For the first time, we show that giving away money or spending it on others confers the ironic psychological benefit of increasing the giver’s sense of wealth,” says Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and co-author with Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia of the upcoming book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. In a suite of new, not-yet published, studies, Norton and colleagues showed that charitable giving makes people feel wealthier.

This research follows on other recent work published in Psychological Science by Norton and colleagues that shows that giving time to others – from helping with homework to shoveling a neighbors’ driveway – actually makes people feel that they have more time. “In fact, giving time away alleviates people’s sense of time famine even more than receiving unexpected windfalls of free time.”

That people feel wealthier from spending money on others may explain why poor individuals tend to give away a higher fraction of their income than members of the middle class do. In one study, researchers reported that Americans earning less than $20,000 a year give a higher percentage of their income to charity than others earning up to $300,000 a year.

“Our results suggest when the poor give money away, that very act might mitigate their feelings of poverty,” Norton says. “More broadly than this specific benefit, our investigation contributes to the growing body of research documenting the benefits of prosocial behavior, which include greater happiness, reduced mortality, and better immune function.”

Buying experiences to feel happy

In related research, psychologists are finding that spending money on experiential purchases, such as vacations, concerts, and meals out, tends to bring us more happiness than material purchases, such as clothing, jewelry, or electronic gadgets. Amit Kumar and Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University are investigating one potential explanation for this difference: that experiences prompt storytelling more than possessions do.

In new research, they asked participants to recall either a significant experiential purchase or a significant material purchase. They then asked them how much they had talked about the purchase they recalled, and questions related to the satisfaction they derived from their purchase. Participants rated a higher satisfaction for experiences than for possessions, which was because they were more likely to talk about the experiences with other people.

In another experiment, the researchers measured what happens when people cannot talk about their purchases. They asked participants if they would be willing to pay a price to be able to talk about a beach vacation (experiential purchase) or an electronic good (material purchase). “Participants were more likely to switch from a better purchase that they could not talk about to a lesser purchase that they could talk about in the experiential condition than in the material one,” Kumar says.

“Well-being is likely to be enhanced by shifting the balance of spending in our consumer society away from material goods and towards experiential ones,” Kumar says. “This research also suggests that there are benefits to be had not only by nudging people to choose experiences over possessions, but also by encouraging people to share stories about their experiences.”

Knowing what is best to help others

The roots for how we give to others form at a very young age. Children, it turns out, are very sophisticated givers – not only coming to someone’s aid when needed but also coming up with the best strategy for doing so, often independent of an adult’s instruction.

In new research, Kristina Olson of Yale University and Alia Martin have found that children often will act, thinking they know better than others what is best for them or others. In a series of experiments, the researchers investigate whether 3-year-old children will help someone by ignoring the specific request and instead offering a better alternative.

In one study, for example, when an experimenter asks the child for a specific marker, but the child knows that marker does not work, the child will instead offer up a better marker. In another study, a pre-recorded child asks the child participant to give her a piece of chocolate via a tube that supposedly connects them. If the participant knows that chocolate makes the other child sick, the participant will decide to give her fruit snacks instead.

“Perhaps most provocatively, children will selectively decide not to help in this way if they don’t like the person,” Olson says. “For example, if an experimenter has previously been mean, children won’t warn the adult of a potential harm – such as something sharp in the container they are reaching in – but will if the experimenter was not mean.”

“These results suggest that children are able to help adults and peers already by the preschool years in rather complex ways, even when the beneficiary is misguided about what he or she wants,” Olson says. “Children don’t just blindly do as they are requested, but rather consider a person’s goal and consider alternative possible ways to achieve that goal.”

Read the entire press release here.

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Posted in Altruism, Distribution, Emotions, Positive Psychology | 1 Comment »

Why a Gift Card May Be Better than Cash

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 23, 2012

gift cards

If you find yourself, as many do, out of time to purchase thoughtful gifts, perhaps you are now contemplating giving a gift card or perhaps some cash. From CNN (summarizing recent research by Dan Ariely, among others), here’s a reason to opt for former option:

In our daily lives, a lot of purchases have the element of guilt along with them, Ariely said. If you give cash or a credit-card-sponsored gift card that can be used anywhere, your friend may be tempted to use it on groceries or gas or some other necessity that doesn’t make it feel very “present”-like anymore.

Ariely’s intuition is that if you give a gift card that must be used at a particular store, restaurant or entertainment venue, it may eliminate the guilt a person would feel about spending money to treat herself or himself. In fact, you’re essentially creating an experience for the person by coaxing them into going to a particular place that they might not otherwise go.

A spa gift certificate is a popular example, Ariely said. “If you can only spend it on things that you would otherwise not allow yourself to buy, then it’s more valuable,” he said.

Read the entire article here.

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Posted in Altruism, Positive Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Happiness or Meaningfulness – But Not Both

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 13, 2012

Roy Baumeister, Kathleen Vohs, Jennifer Lynn Aaker, and Emily N. Garbinsky have just posted their excellent paper, titled “Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract:

Being happy and finding life meaningful overlap, but there are important differences. A large survey revealed multiple differing predictors of happiness (controlling for meaning) and meaningfulness (controlling for happiness). Satisfying one’s needs and wants increased happiness but was largely irrelevant to meaningfulness. Happiness was largely present-oriented, whereas meaningfulness involves integrating past, present, and future. For example, thinking about future and past was associated with high meaningfulness but low happiness. Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness. Concerns with personal identity and expressing the self-contributed to meaning but not happiness. We offer brief composite sketches of the unhappy but meaningful life and of the happy but meaningless life.

Download the paper for free here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Rewards of Cooperation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 13, 2012

From the Harvard Gazette:

It turns out nice guys can finish first, and David Rand has the evidence to show it.

Rand, a postdoctoral fellow in Harvard’s Department of Psychology and a lecturer in human evolutionary biology, is the lead author of a new paper, which found that dynamic, complex social networks encourage their members to be friendlier and more cooperative, with the possible payoff coming in an expanded social sphere, while selfish behavior can lead to an individual being shunned from the group and left — literally — on his or her own.

As described this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research is among the first studies to examine social interaction as a fluid, ever-changing process. Previous studies of complex social networks largely used static snapshots of groups to examine how members were or were not connected. This new approach, Rand said, is the closest scientists have yet come to describing the way the planet’s 7 billion inhabitants interact daily.

“This model is closer to real life; thus the results are closer to real life,” Rand said. “What this is showing is that a key aspect of real-world social networks is the dynamic component. The point of this paper is to say that those networks are always shifting, and they’re not shifting in random ways.

“There are many nasty things that happen between people, but for the most part we are fantastically cooperative,” Rand said. “We do an amazing job of having thousands or even millions of people living in very close quarters in cities all over the world. In a functioning society, things like trade, friendship, even democracy itself require high levels of cooperation, and when everyone does it, you get good collective outcomes.”

“Cooperation is a fascinating topic,” said Sociology Professor and Pforzheimer House Master Nicholas Christakis. “We see cooperation everywhere in the biological and sociological worlds, but it’s actually very hard to explain. Why do creatures, including ourselves, cooperate?

“What our paper shows is that there is a deep relationship between cooperation and social networks. In particular, we found that if you allow people to rewire their social networks, cooperation persists in the population. I believe this paper is the first to show, empirically, how that relationship works. As humans, we do two unique things: We re-shape the social world around us, and in so doing, we create a better place for ourselves by being nice to each other.”

To demonstrate how groups reach those good collective outcomes, the scientists, including Sam Arbesman, a former postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, recruited nearly 800 volunteers, who, in groups of between 20 and 30, took part in the study by playing a simple game.

At the outset, Rand said, each player begins with an equal number of points, and is randomly connected with one or more players. As the game progresses, players have the opportunity to be either generous, and pay to give points to each player they are connected with, or be selfish, and do nothing. Following each round, some players are randomly given the opportunity to update their connections, based on whether other players have been generous or selfish.

The findings, Rand said, showed that players re-wired their social networks in intriguing ways that helped both themselves and the group they were in.  They were more willing to make new connections or maintain existing connections with those who acted generously, and break connections with those who behaved selfishly.

“Because people have control over who they are interacting with, people are more likely to form connections with people who are cooperative, and much more likely to break those links with people who are not,” Rand said. “Basically, what it boils down to is that you’d better be a nice guy, or else you’re going to get cut off.”

Intriguingly, the study also uncovered a correction mechanism inherent to social groups. Those who were initially noncooperative, Rand said, were found to be twice as likely to become cooperative after being shunned, suggesting that being cut off from the group acts as a sort of internal discipline, ensuring that cooperation remains high within a social network.

“As a result, when you have a network that’s dynamic, you see stable, high levels of cooperation, whereas in a static network you see a steady breakdown of cooperation,” Rand said.

Read the rest of the article here.

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Altruism, Conflict, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Mind-Wandering and Why It Matters

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 18, 2012

From Harvard Gazette (regarding new research by Situationist friend Dan Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth):

People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.

The research, by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, is described this week in the journal Science.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn’t going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all. Indeed, mind-wandering appears to be the human brain’s default mode of operation.

To track this behavior, Killingsworth developed an iPhone app that contacted 2,250 volunteers at random intervals to ask how happy they were, what they were currently doing, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or about something else that was pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant.

Subjects could choose from 22 general activities, such as walking, eating, shopping, and watching television. On average, respondents reported that their minds were wandering 46.9 percent of time, and no less than 30 percent of the time during every activity except making love.

“Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities,” says Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard. “This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the nonpresent.”

Killingsworth and Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer.

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”

The researchers estimated that only 4.6 percent of a person’s happiness in a given moment was attributable to the specific activity he or she was doing, whereas a person’s mind-wandering status accounted for about 10.8 percent of his or her happiness.

Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.

“Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to ‘be here now,’” Killingsworth and Gilbert note in Science. “These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

This new research, the authors say, suggests that these traditions are right.

Killingsworth and Gilbert’s 2,250 subjects in this study ranged in age from 18 to 88, representing a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and occupations. Seventy-four percent of study participants were American.

More than 5,000 people are now using the iPhone Web app.

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Image from flickr.

Posted in Emotions, Life, Positive Psychology | 3 Comments »

Michael Norton on Pro-Social Spending

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 12, 2012

From

Michael Norton shares fascinating research on how money can, indeed buy happiness — when you don’t spend it on yourself. Listen for surprising data on the many ways pro-social spending can benefit you, your work, and (of course) other people.

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Posted in Distribution, Life, Positive Psychology, Video | 1 Comment »

Kathleen Vohs on Money’s Situational Effects

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 4, 2012

From :

Money changes people’s motivations — increasing their sense of self sufficiency and even making them keep a greater physical distance from others. After focusing on money, individuals work longer before asking for help, are less helpful to others, and prefer to play and work alone. Kathleen D. Vohs presented at the “Small Steps, Big Leaps: The Science of Getting People to Do the Right Thing” research briefing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, co-sponsored by the Center for Social Innovation.

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Posted in Altruism, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology, Video | 1 Comment »

Materialism, Consumerism, and Happiness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 2, 2012

From APS:

Money doesn’t buy happiness. Neither does materialism: Research shows that people who place a high value on wealth, status, and stuff are more depressed and anxious and less sociable than those who do not. Now new research shows that materialism is not just a personal problem. It’s also environmental. “We found that irrespective of personality, in situations that activate a consumer mindset, people show the same sorts of problematic patterns in wellbeing, including negative affect and social disengagement,” says Northwestern University psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen. The study, conducted with colleagues Monika A. Bauer, James E. B. Wilkie, and Jung K. Kim, appears in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In two of four experiments, university students were put in a materialistic frame of mind by tasks that exposed them to images of luxury goods or words mobilizing consumerist values (versus neutral scenes devoid of consumer products or words without such connotations). Completing questionnaires afterwards, those who looked at the pictures of cars, electronics, and jewelry rated themselves higher in depression and anxiety, less interested in social activities like parties, and more in solitary pursuits than the others. Those primed to materialism by exposure to certain words evinced more competitiveness and less desire to invest their time in pro-social activities like working for a good cause.

In two other experiments, participants completed tasks that were framed as surveys—one of consumer responses, another of citizens.’ The first experiment involved moving words toward or away from the participant’s name on a computer screen—positive and negative emotion words and “neutral” ones that actually suggested materialism (wealth, power), self-restraint (humble, discipline), transcendence of self, or self-indulgence. The people who answered the “consumer response survey” more quickly “approached” the words that reflected materialistic values than those in the “citizen” survey. The last experiment presented participants with a hypothetical water shortage in a well shared by four people, including themselves. The water users were identified either as consumers or individuals. Might the collective identity as consumers—as opposed to the individual role—supersede the selfishness ordinarily stimulated by the consumer identity? No: The “consumers” rated themselves as less trusting of others to conserve water, less personally responsible and less in partnership with the others in dealing with the crisis. The consumer status, the authors concluded “did not unite; it divided.”

The findings have both social and personal implications, says Bodenhausen. “It’s become commonplace to use consumer as a generic term for people,” in the news or discussions of taxes, politics, or health care. If we use term such as Americans or citizens instead, he says, “that subtle difference activates different psychological concerns.” We can also take personal initiative to reduce the depressive, isolating effects of a materialist mindset by avoiding its stimulants—most obviously, advertising. One method: “Watch less TV.”

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Posted in Marketing, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | 3 Comments »

Mindfulness in School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 14, 2012

From On Point Radio (with Tom Ashbrook):

American children need reading, writing and arithmetic.  They need science, technology, engineering, art, literature.  They also, says a new movement, need a psychological tool kit filled with attention, perseverance, emotional control, “mindfulness.”  Some now call it character.

The habits of mind that make all else possible.  Taught in school.  Classrooms are now taking time out for meditative moments.  Getting centered.  Getting mindful.  The call it self-regulation.  Emotional learning.  Right alongside the “three-R’s”.

This hour, On Point:  teaching mindfulness at school.

Listen to the show here or by clicking on the following link: Mindfulness in School

Watch the TEDMED talk referenced in podcast below.

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Posted in Education, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Money-Based Happiness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 12, 2012

An excerpt from a recent, terrific New York Times piece by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton:

The notion that money can’t buy happiness has been around a long time — even before yoga came into vogue. But it turns out there is a measurable connection between income and happiness; not surprisingly, people with a comfortable living standard are happier than people living in poverty.

The catch is that additional income doesn’t buy us any additional happiness on a typical day once we reach that comfortable standard. The magic number that defines this “comfortable standard” varies across individuals and countries, but in the United States, it seems to fall somewhere around $75,000. Using Gallup data collected from almost half a million Americans, researchers at Princeton found that higher household incomes were associated with better moods on a daily basis — but the beneficial effects of money tapered off entirely after the $75,000 mark.

Why, then, do so many of us bother to work so hard long after we have reached an income level sufficient to make most of us happy? One reason is that our ideas about the relationship between money and happiness are misguided. In research we conducted with a national sample of Americans, people thought that their life satisfaction would double if they made $55,000 instead of $25,000: more than twice as much money, twice as much happiness. But our data showed that people who earned $55,000 were just 9 percent more satisfied than those making $25,000. Nine percent beats zero percent, but it’s still kind of a letdown when you were expecting a 100 percent return.

Interestingly, and usefully, it turns out that what we do with our money plays a far more important role than how much money we make. Imagine three people each win $1 million in the lottery. Suppose one person attempts to buy every single thing he has ever wanted; one puts it all in the bank and uses the money only sparingly, for special occasions; and one gives it all to charity. At the end of the year, they all would report an additional $1 million of income. Many of us would follow the first person’s strategy, but the latter two winners are likely to get the bigger happiness bang for their buck.

We usually think of having more money as allowing us to buy more and more of the stuff we like for ourselves, from bigger houses to fancier cars to better wine to more finely pixilated televisions. But these typical spending tendencies — buying more, and buying for ourselves — are ineffective at turning money into happiness. A decade of research has demonstrated that if you insist on spending money on yourself, you should shift from buying stuff (TVs and cars) to experiences (trips and special evenings out). Our own recent research shows that in addition to buying more experiences, you’re better served in many cases by simply buying less — and buying for others.

Read the entire article, including their discussion of value of “underindulgence.”

Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending (Simon & Schuster), co-authored by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, is due out in the spring of 2013!

Pre-order it on Amazon here.

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Posted in Altruism, Book, Deep Capture, Distribution, Emotions, Illusions, Life, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Adult Well Being and Social Connection

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 5, 2012

From Springer:

Positive social relationships in childhood and adolescence are key to adult well-being, according to Associate Professor Craig Olsson from Deakin University and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia, and his colleagues. In contrast, academic achievement appears to have little effect on adult well-being. The exploratory work, looking at the child and adolescent origins of well-being in adulthood, is published online in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies.

We know very little about how aspects of childhood and adolescent development, such as academic and social-emotional function, affect adult well-being – defined here as a combination of a sense of coherence, positive coping strategies, social engagement and self-perceived strengths.

Olsson and team analysed data for 804 people followed up for 32 years, who participated in the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (DMHDS) in New Zealand. They explored the relative importance of early academic and social pathways to adult well-being.

In particular, they measured the relationship between level of family disadvantage in childhood, social connectedness in childhood, language development in childhood, social connectedness in adolescence, academic achievement in adolescence and well-being in adulthood. Social connectedness in childhood is defined by the parent and teacher ratings of the child being liked, not being alone, and the child’s level of confidence. Social connectedness in adolescence is demonstrated by social attachments (parents, peers, school, confidant) and participation in youth groups and sporting clubs.

The researchers found, on the one hand, a strong pathway from child and adolescent social connectedness to adult well-being. This illustrates the enduring significance of positive social relationships over the lifespan to adulthood. On the other hand, the pathway from early language development, through adolescent academic achievement, to adult well-being was weak, which is in line with existing research showing a lack of association between socioeconomic prosperity and happiness.

The analyses also suggest that the social and academic pathways are not intimately related to one another, and may be parallel paths.

The authors conclude: “If these pathways are separate, then positive social development across childhood and adolescence requires investments beyond development of the academic curriculum.”

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Image from Flickr.

Posted in Education, Emotions, Positive Psychology | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Good Ideas

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 18, 2012

From

One of our most innovative, popular thinkers takes on-in exhilarating style-one of our key questions: Where do good ideas come from?

With Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson pairs the insight of his bestselling Everything Bad Is Good for You and the dazzling erudition of The Ghost Map and The Invention of Air to address an urgent and universal question: What sparks the flash of brilliance? How does groundbreaking innovation happen? Answering in his infectious, culturally omnivorous style, using his fluency in fields from neurobiology to popular culture, Johnson provides the complete, exciting, and encouraging story of how we generate the ideas that push our careers, our lives, our society, and our culture forward.

Beginning with Charles Darwin’s first encounter with the teeming ecosystem of the coral reef and drawing connections to the intellectual hyperproductivity of modern megacities and to the instant success of YouTube, Johnson shows us that the question we need to ask is, What kind of environment fosters the development of good ideas? His answers are never less than revelatory, convincing, and inspiring as Johnson identifies the seven key principles to the genesis of such ideas, and traces them across time and disciplines.

Most exhilarating is Johnson’s conclusion that with today’s tools and environment, radical innovation is extraordinarily accessible to those who know how to cultivate it. Where Good Ideas Come From is essential reading for anyone who wants to know how to come up with tomorrow’s great ideas.

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