Archive for the ‘Pop psychology’ Category

Psychology researcher and author Shawn Achor gave this quite funny TED talk in 2011, with five quick, science-based ways to increase happiness daily that he explains further in the video and in a blog post:


Scroll to the bottom of this post for links to most of those research papers and others. Achor talks about why those first two methods work here:

If I put my hand in front of my face and look at it, area 17 in my visual cortex lights up. Now if I close my eyes and think about my hand in front of my face, that same part of my brain actually lights up, area 17 in my visual cortex. Which means my brain actually can’t tell the difference between visualization and experience.

That last bit’s funny, but it might be a stretch; at least some research indicates that Brodmann area 17, the primary visual cortex, responds similarly but not as strongly to an imagined image as to the image itself.

Changes in MRI signal intensity in different parts of the cortex, from Le Bihan, Turner, et al, 1993.

Changes in MRI signal intensity in (top line) visual cortex and (bottom line) non-striate cortex; Le Bihan, Turner, et al., 1993.

Achor says that if he writes for five minutes about some small good occurrence that happened to him that day, “I’m actually doubling the amount of positive experience that I have.” Maybe so; I know that when retelling one of my hi-larious college stories for the 18th time, really what I enjoy is briefly re-living the feelings of fun/embarrassment/panic/legal consequences. And subjects who did written “gratitude exercises” in the 2003 project Achor cites became measurably happier.

So I’m thinking I’ll try the impatient-person version — writing down three good things, things you’re glad about or grateful for, every day — and from time to time if I’m not too shy I may tweet my #3glad things, with a link back here (http://bit.ly/3glad).

Yeah, it sounds like happy fluffy fuzzy bunny foo-foo, but here’s why I think it can work: Newspaper columnists. Once you start to write a newspaper column, the most important thing in your life becomes coming up with three things a week that are interesting enough to fill 13-18 inches of newsprint. These are not so thick on the ground, and your brain rapidly adapts to help you. Everything you see and hear, it starts to consider, “Could I get a column out of that?”

All day, your noggin is considering the fastest ways to get through a task, plotting where you’ll need to go in the grocery store, fretting over a problem even while you’re asleep, and if it knows you have to write down three good things every day, maybe it’ll begin watching for good things all day. And I can see how having that program running in the background might affect your mindset, which is, after all, your interface with the world.

Achor says that only 10% of a person’s long-term happiness can be predicted by looking at their circumstances and 90% can be predicted by how their brain “processes the world.” The research he cites breaks that down as 10% circumstances, 50% genetics (your inherited internal “set point” or average happiness level) and “as much as” 40% “intentional activities,” defined as “the wide variety of things that people do and think in their daily lives.” The potential to affect 40% of your happiness makeup ain’t hay. Cheers!

Mmmm, science:

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Recently did a quickie personality quiz that seems to be a not-bad “lite” version of Myers Briggs. I’ve been Myers-Briggsed before more thoroughly, but as with reading a literary work, it seems you get something different out of the experience every time you come at it, depending on where you are in your life at that moment.

This time I found it useful for pointing out my failings in a very cushioned way — damned nearly obsequious, in fact. If you are an Internet psychology quiz, it probably behooves you not to insult the people who are reading their results, so I see why it might couch everything in flattering terms. Heck, that might be why I actually read all the results this time (see Weakness No. 1, below).

Short version: Seems like a good quiz and my results were accurate enough that I’m preserving them here for reference because I want to see if reviewing my faults AS A PART of my overall personality allows me to work on them without getting into a ball of despair about my lack of willpower and other moral failings (see Weaknesses Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 1, below).

This does not entirely fit me (I’m known for camping inside my comfort zone for years on end, etc., and “popular and friendly” makes me cringe, but anybody with 2,000 Twitter cohorts probably ought to just shut up and go “OK” at this point). But some parts are frighteningly dead on (“small talk”!) and there are undoubtedly other things here that explain the difficulties my loved ones have been coping with for years.

And as I say, my hope is that viewing my own flaws as part of a more-or-less integrated whole will allow me to go, “OK, I don’t like that part of myself, but it comes with this part I do like, so maybe I quit beating myself up for lacking moral fiber and just get on with balancing the checkbook.”

ENFP strengths

  • Observant. ENFP personalities believe that there are no irrelevant details or actions. They try to notice everything, seeing all events as part of a big, mysterious puzzle called life.
  • Very popular and friendly. ENFPs are altruistic and cooperative, doing their best to be empathic and friendly in every situation. They can get along with nearly everyone and usually have a large circle of friends and acquaintances.
  • Energetic and enthusiastic. ENFPs are always eager to share their ideas with other people and get their opinions in return. Their enthusiasm is contagious and very inspiring at the same time.
  • Know how to relax. People with this personality type know how to switch off and have fun, simply experiencing life and everything it has to offer. Their wild bursts of enthusiastic energy can often surprise even their closest friends.
  • Excellent communicators. ENFPs tend to have great people skills, and they instantly know how to present their ideas in a convincing way. They can handle both small talk and deep, meaningful conversations, although the ENFP’s definition of small talk may be somewhat unusual—they will steer the conversation toward ideas rather than weather, gossip, etc.
  • Curious. ENFPs are very imaginative and open-minded. They enjoy trying out new things and do not hesitate to go outside their comfort zone if necessary.

ENFP weaknesses

  • Highly emotional. ENFP personalities tend to have very intense emotions, seeing them as an inseparable part of their identity. This may often cause the ENFP to react strongly to criticism, conflicts, or tension.
  • May have poor practical skills. ENFPs are brilliant when it comes to solving problems, creating processes, or initiating projects (especially if they involve other people). However, they are likely to find it difficult to follow through and deal with the practical, administrative side of things.
  • Overthink things. ENFPs always look for hidden motives and tend to overthink even the simplest things, constantly asking themselves why someone did what they did and what that might mean.
  • Get stressed easily. ENFPs are very sensitive and care deeply about other people’s feelings. This can cause them a lot of stress sometimes: people often look to them for guidance and encouragement, and the ENFP cannot always say “yes.”
  • Find it difficult to focus. People with the ENFP personality type lose interest quickly if their project shifts toward routine, administrative matters. They may not be able to stop their mind from wandering off.
  • Very independent. ENFPs loathe being micromanaged or restrained by rules and guidelines. They want to be seen as highly independent individuals, masters of their own fates.

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Thanks to the website Jezebel.com, which I highly recommend unless you dislike occasional comic vulgarity, twice recently I’ve come across the term “gaslighting.” In reading up on it, I’ve decided that it’s a term that should be known to everybody who’s ever heard, and everybody who’s ever said, “You’re too sensitive. You’re overreacting. You’re just making too much out of this! What are you talking about? You’re imagining things, and I personally don’t appreciate it when you come at me with these made-up accusations.”

Or even, “It’s things like this that make me not want to be around you. You have a real problem, you know. You might even need help. It’s hard to deal with you when you’re like this.”

“Gaslight” is a 1944 movie in which Charles Boyer slowly convinces Ingrid Bergman that she can’t trust her own eyes and her own judgment — that she’s crazy.  In his case, he’s carrying on illicit activities in the attic, and when he turns on the lights up there, the gas lights in the rest of the house dim. He convinces her that she’s imagining it… that the lights really aren’t getting dimmer… and it goes from there.

So the term “gaslighting” has been used to label a form of emotional abuse in which one person manipulates another to believe that she* is the problem, that she’s unreasonable or even crazy. Milder versions, though, happen every day, without us even noticing them.

Boiled to its essence, “gaslighting” is the act of making another person doubt herself in order to make yourself feel better. Ever told somebody, “You can’t be serious!” “You’re making this out to be worse than it is.” “You’re being ridiculous.” “You’re overreacting.”

OK, sure, most of us have. But if we remember how we felt at that moment, and we do it honestly, were we mostly feeling uncomfortable? Squeamish? A little guilty, maybe, or simply angry? Did we feel better after putting the other person down? A little relieved? Whew, that was close. But I’m right and she’s wrong, so it’s all OK.

A rational question to ask is, “But what if she really IS too sensitive?” And certainly there’s no doubt that our society is overpopulated with folks who lash out unreasonably at small provocations.

Here’s the answer, though: There are very few circumstances in which a normally empathetic person would tell another person, “You’re just too sensitive.”

That means most of the time you hear that statement, it’s coming from someone who is trying to make the other person doubt herself.  In order to make himself feel better.

Because he’s getting uncomfortable — maybe nervous that he might be wrong or might look bad, or maybe he’s used to always being the dominant person in the conversation, or a dozen other reasons.  And it’s probably an instinctive reaction, rather than a conscious effort to control her.

But that’s exactly what it usually is: an effort to control.  Manipulation, not honesty.  And it’s very rarely the response of a caring or loving person.

Imagine what words that caring or loving person would be likely to say.  Different, right?  Now stand up, walk away, and go find him.

* For simplicity’s sake, I’m using “he” for the manipulator and “she” for the subject of the abuse. It’s a stereotype, for which I apologize, but it’s also the most common scenario in this form of manipulation. Call it equal time for decades of jokes in which gossipy, emotional binge shoppers are always a “her.” But please know that I am fully aware there are many, many men to whom this doesn’t apply — thank God — many men to whom demeaning another person would not even occur as a possible course of action. A couple who happen to leap to mind are named Gerald, Matt, Ponch, Joe, Rick, Adrian, Andy, Darius, Chris, Robert, Todd, Kyle and probably YOU, if you’re a friend of mine who is still reading this post down to the footnotes. I love you guys, and I always will.

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Yesterday’s NYT had a very interesting story about biologists discovering evidence that humans are naturally helpful to each other — very young humans, before our parents presumably whap it into us.  Of course if we didn’t cooperate to some degree we’d have croaked long ago… and if we weren’t kind of warlike, we wouldn’t have survived either.

It all puts me in mind of a “game theory” strategy that I once read was the most useful: Begin by cooperating, but as soon as your opponent does not cooperate, retaliate. This applies to a lot of areas, obviously, but grew out of a very specific problem used in philosophy and now played out by computers in programming tournaments: the prisoner’s dilemma.

Basically, in its various versions, the dilemma is this: You and another person are in a situation where you each must choose to cooperate or to betray each other. You don’t know what the other will do. If you both cooperate, you get a great reward; if you both betray, neither gets a reward. If one cooperates and one betrays… the betrayer gets half the reward.

Any pair of siblings, roommates or lovers will recognize the scenario. When one does all the taking and one does all the giving, misery ensues – though only for the giver. The taker does just fine. Mutually assured destruction comes to mind also: We hoped the Russians loved their children too.

Douglas Hofstadter, in whose “Metamagical Themas” I first read about the dilemma, introduced me to the idea that the game is different if you know you’re only going to play once, versus expecting to have to continue to deal with the same opponent in future. If you only play once, you are better off betraying. But if you both expect to deal with each other again, the game changes.

Hofstadter described the first programming tournament on these lines, and says it was won by an incredibly simple program called Tit For Tat, which simply did whatever the opponent did right back to it. If its opponent always cooperated, then so did Tit For Tat. If its opponent defected (betrayed), Tit For Tat retaliated – once (whereas some programs strategically would keep defecting every time once “trust” was broken). But if Tit For Tat’s opponent cooperated again, it would cooperate again.

Hofstadter writes, “(Tournament architect Robert) Axelrod’s technical term for a program for a strategy that never defects before its opponent does is nice. … Note that ‘nice’ does not mean that a strategy never defects! Tit For Tat defects when provoked, but that is still considered being ‘nice.’ ”

The chapter goes on to explain how Axelrod defined several characteristics of Tit For Tat’s success. TFT was “nice,” but also “provocable” — that is, it would retaliate if provoked; it wasn’t always nice — and “forgiving.” Some strategies that did even better added a fourth: “clarity,” a kind of ability to analyze when the opponent’s behavior wasn’t making any sense. When that happened, they switched to pure defense.

Axelrod, and after him, Hofstadter, are careful to warn against drawing any too broad conclusions.  I note the New York Times article says the researcher claims that “inductive parenting,” defined as explaining to kids why they logically stand to gain from cooperating, is best. (Good luck with that.) He doesn’t mention that a well-timed retaliation, followed by forgiveness – and backed up by the wisdom to realize when you’re mired in a losing game – can be really useful too.

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