Archive for the ‘Positive Psychology’ Category
Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 19, 2012
Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 3, 2012
The outstanding Wray Herbert has a terrific piece on The Huffington Post about research done by Situationist Contributor, Geoffrey Cohen.
Dieting and weight control are really pretty simple. We gain weight and have trouble losing it because we eat too much and move too little. If we can switch that around, most of us should be able to maintain a sensible weight without resorting to unhealthy gimmicks.
But that’s just the biology of weight control. What about the psychology? Why do we habitually take in too many calories, even when we know those calories are a ticket to obesity and all sorts of chronic diseases?
There are two major reasons for unhealthy weight, according to experts. One is a simple lack of self-control. We live in a society where every day we confront an abundance of high-calorie foods. Not overeating in this environment requires extraordinary discipline. The second is an inability to cope with stress. Struggling with ordinary but constant life stresses can drain the cognitive energy needed for discipline, weakening our resolve. Stress-related eating packs on unhealthy calories, contributing to weight gain — and over time to obesity.
What if there were a simple psychological intervention that addressed both of these issues at once — bolstering self-control and buffering against everyday stress?
I know. It sounds like one more gimmick, too good to be true. Perhaps, but in a new study, two psychological scientists propose just such an intervention — along with some preliminary evidence to back it up. Christine Logel of the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and Geoffrey Cohen of Stanford University describe a brief and simple way to give people the tools for resisting temptation and coping with life’s pressures.
It’s called “values affirmation,” and it’s done with a simple writing exercise. The theory is that focusing on one’s core values triggers a cascade of psychological processes: It bolsters a sense of self-worth and personal integrity. It underscores our higher values rather than our impulses, and by reminding us what’s really important in life, it buffers against mundane stresses. Since stress saps our limited cognitive resources, such an affirmation frees up these resources for willpower and self-discipline.
At least that’s the theory, which Logel and Cohen tested in a simple experiment. They recruited a group of young women (apparently, women are more prone to stress-related overeating), recording their baseline weight and body mass index, or BMI. The women were representative of North American women in general. That is, nearly 60 percent were overweight or obese, the rest normal. Notably, all were dissatisfied with their current weight.
Then half of the women wrote an essay about their most cherished values — religious beliefs, relationships, whatever they considered most important to them. The remainder, the controls, wrote about something they did not prize particularly, and why it might be important to someone else. Importantly, none of the values in the exercise had to do with weight or health.
That’s it. That’s the entire intervention. Then the scientists waited for about 2.5 months, at which point they called all the volunteers back into the lab. They again measured their weight and BMI, and also their waistlines. They also gave the volunteers a test of working memory, which is one of the cognitive processes crucial to self-control. Reducing stress should theoretically boost working memory capacity, and consequently discipline.
The results, reported online in the journal Psychological Science, were clear and quite dramatic. The control subjects gained 2.76 pounds on average, and this gain boosted average BMI as well. Anyone who has ever struggled with weight knows that this is a huge weight gain in just 2.5 months. It’s the equivalent of more than 13 pounds in a year — for no particular reason. By contrast, those who had completed the values affirmation lost an average of 3.4 pounds — also huge — and trimmed their BMI in the process. Women in the values intervention also had smaller waistlines, independent of BMI. And these women also had better working memory, suggesting that it was indeed their enhanced cognitive function that bolstered their self control. Even the most seriously overweight women experienced these dramatic results after the brief writing exercise.
Losing even a few pounds and keeping them off can be maddeningly difficult. So how could one brief intervention like this have such long-term results? The scientists believe that people can get stuck in repeating cycles, in which failure to lose weight impairs psychological functioning, which in turn increases the risk of more failure. Even a quick and simple intervention has the power to disrupt this destructive cycle.
Related Situationist posts:
- Geoffrey Cohen on “Identity, Belief, and Bias
- The Situation of the Achievement Gap,
- The Project’s Second Conference – ‘Ideology, Psychology & Law’,
- The Implicit Value of Explicit Values,
- Fitting In and Sizing Up,
- The Situation of Weight and Fitness on the Campaign Trail,
- The Policy Situation of Obesity,
- The Situation of Eating – Part II,
- The Situation of Eating,
- Our Situation Is What We Eat,
- The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,
- The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,
- Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil, and
- Situational Obesity, or, Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat and Veg.
Image from Flickr.
Posted by Adam Benforado on December 11, 2011
Your mom was right: turn that frown upside down.
She may not have had science to back up her suggestion, but Ron Gutman does (watch the video above)!
A number of studies in Gutman’s short talk may be familiar to readers, but putting them altogether in a nice little package is the payoff here.
Related Situationist posts:
- The Situation of Smiling
- The Body Has a Mind of its Own,
- The Situational Power of Appearance and Posture,
- The Magnetism of Beautiful People,
- Interpreting Facial Expressions,
- Smile If You Love Your Future Relationships
- Can You Turn the World on With Your Smile?, and
- A Look Into the Way Culture Affects Facial Expression.
Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 30, 2011
This lively RSAnimate, adapted from Dan Pink’s talk at the RSA, examines some the ways that money doesn’t always buy motivation.
Related Situationist posts:
- Shocking for Money
- The Situation of High Marginal Income Tax Rates and Motivation
- Money and the Situation of Happiness
- “The Situation of Money and Happiness,”
- “Receiving by Giving,” and
- “Something to Smile About.”
To review a collection of Situationist posts exploring the causes and consequences of happiness, click here.
Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 6, 2011
Tomorrow, the HLS Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) is hosting a talk, “What Makes for a Great Team?,” by Harvard University professor Richard Hackman in Austin East, from 12:00 – 1:00.
Professor Hackman has studied the secrets of effective teams ranging from airplane cockpit crews to musical ensembles. His talk on Monday will identify conditions that increase the likelihood of creating teamwork “magic.” As always, there will be burritos.
For a brief introduction to Professor Hackman’s recent research on teamwork, check out this Harvard Business Review article on “sand dune teams.”
For more information, go to the SALMS website, here.
Posted by Adam Benforado on February 1, 2011
As is often the case in these mainstream media reports, I was left wanting more about the studies and less about the personal interest hook (in this case, the story of Sindya’s husband’s experiences meditating), but that was remedied easily enough by utilizing the wonders of the internet.
To me, the most interesting referenced article was a 2008 study by Antoine Lutz, Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, Tom Johnstone, and Richard Davidson on the regulation of our emotional neural circuitry through compassion meditation.
Here is the abstract:
Recent brain imaging studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have implicated insula and anterior cingulate cortices in the empathic response to another’s pain. However, virtually nothing is known about the impact of the voluntary generation of compassion on this network. To investigate these questions we assessed brain activity using fMRI while novice and expert meditation practitioners generated a loving-kindness-compassion meditation state. To probe affective reactivity, we presented emotional and neutral sounds during the meditation and comparison periods. Our main hypothesis was that the concern for others cultivated during this form of meditation enhances affective processing, in particular in response to sounds of distress, and that this response to emotional sounds is modulated by the degree of meditation training. The presentation of the emotional sounds was associated with increased pupil diameter and activation of limbic regions (insula and cingulate cortices) during meditation (versus rest). During meditation, activation in insula was greater during presentation of negative sounds than positive or neutral sounds in expert than it was in novice meditators. The strength of activation in insula was also associated with self-reported intensity of the meditation for both groups. These results support the role of the limbic circuitry in emotion sharing. The comparison between meditation vs. rest states between experts and novices also showed increased activation in amygdala, right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), and right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) in response to all sounds, suggesting, greater detection of the emotional sounds, and enhanced mentation in response to emotional human vocalizations for experts than novices during meditation. Together these data indicate that the mental expertise to cultivate positive emotion alters the activation of circuitries previously linked to empathy and theory of mind in response to emotional stimuli.
To download a free copy of the entire article, click here.
Related Situationist posts:
Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 25, 2011
From Google Tech Talks:
The ability to recognize and work with different emotions is fundamental to psychological flexibility and well-being. Neuroscience has contributed to the understanding of the neural bases of emotion, emotion regulation, and emotional intelligence, and has begun to elucidate the brain mechanisms involved in emotion processing. Of great interest is the degree to which these mechanisms demonstrate neuroplasticity in both anatomical and functional levels of the brain.
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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see
- “Joseph LeDoux on the Neural Situation of Emotion and Memory,”
- “The Interior Situation of Complex Human Feelings,”
- “The Situation of Memory,”
- “The Interior Situation of Complex Human Feelings,”
- “Accidentally Us,”
- “The Neuro-Situation of Violence and Empathy,”
- “The Affective Situation of Ethics and Mediation,” and
- “Situating Emotion.”
Posted by Adam Benforado on September 22, 2010
Situationist friend Sian Beilock’s highly anticipated new book, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, is now out. As someone who has had both great successes and great failures under pressure, I’ve been very excited to read Choke since Sian first mentioned it to me. What exactly happened in that 8th-grade piano recital when my mind went blank halfway through that Bach three-part invention? Mom, I finally have an answer . . .
Here’s a description of the book:
It happens to all of us. You’ve prepared for days, weeks, even years for the big day when you will finally show your stuff—in academics, in your career, in sports—but when the big moment arrives, nothing seems to work. You hit the wrong note, drop the ball, get stumped by a simple question. In other words, you choke. It’s not fun to think about, but now there’s good news: This doesn’t have to happen.
In lively prose and accessibly rendered science, Beilock examines how attention and working memory guide human performance, how experience and practice and brain development interact to create our abilities, and how stress affects all these factors. She sheds new light on counter-intuitive realities, like why the highest performing people are most susceptible to choking under pressure, why we may learn foreign languages best when we’re not paying attention, why early childhood athletic training can backfire, and how our emotions can make us both smarter and dumber. All these fascinating findings about academic, athletic, and creative intelligence come together in Beilock’s new ideas about performance under pressure—and her secrets to never choking again. Whether you’re at the Olympics, in the boardroom, or taking the SAT, Beilock’s clear, prescriptive guidance shows how to remain cool under pressure—the key to performing well when everything’s on the line.
Dr. Sian Beilock, an expert on performance and brain science, reveals in Choke the astonishing new science of why we all too often blunder when the stakes are high. What happens in our brain and body when we experience the dreaded performance anxiety? And what are we doing differently when everything magically “clicks” into place and the perfect golf swing, tricky test problem, or high-pressure business pitch becomes easy? In an energetic tour of the latest brain science, with surprising insights on every page, Beilock explains the inescapable links between body and mind; reveals the surprising similarities among the ways performers, students, athletes, and business people choke; and shows how to succeed brilliantly when it matters most.
Read an excerpt from Choke here.
For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Social Psychologists Discuss Stereotype Threat,” “Stereotype Threat and Performance,” “Your Group is Bad at Math,” “The Bar Exam Situation,” “A (Situationist) Body of Thought,” and “The Situation of ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers.’”
Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 3, 2010
From Ted Talks: “[Situationist friend] Sheena Iyengar studies how we make choices — and how we feel about the choices we make. At TEDGlobal, she talks about both trivial choices (Coke v. Pepsi) and profound ones, and shares her groundbreaking research that has uncovered some surprising attitudes about our decisions.”
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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Sheena Iyengar on the Situation of Choice,” “Sheena Iyengar’s Situation and the Situation of Choosing,” “Sheena Iyengar on ‘The Multiple Choice Problem,’” “Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,”and “Just Choose It! “ To review all of the Situationist posts that discuss the problem with, or illusion of, choices, click here.