Surprise Reflects Difficulty of Explanation

We have all experienced surprise. Some of those surprises are wonderful. You get home and find an unexpected gift waiting for you. That is a happy surprise. Perhaps, though, you turn on the news and find out that a young actor you admire has died. Again, you experience surprise, but this time the emotion is negative.

How Do People’s Values Change as They Get Older?

At any given moment in your life, you have a set of values that guide your actions at an abstract level. As an academic psychologist, for example, I value knowledge, and spend a lot of time pursuing it. Success has also been a value for me, and so I have devoted time to my career. My values are not shared by everyone.

Does Anticipating Temptation Help You Resist Temptation?

In Smart Change, I talk about the importance of planning for temptations. The idea is that temptations are hard to deal with in the moment, because they suggest something that would feel good to do right now. Those temptations can capture your motivational system and drive you to do something that is not in your long-term best interests.

Using Attention to Get People to Do the Right Thing

We want people to take the stairs rather than the elevator, to eat fruits and vegetables rather than candy bars, and to help others rather than thinking only about themselves.

How Narcissists Wear Out Their Welcome

Narcissists feed off the energy of the people around them. They crave status and work hard to achieve it. But, do they succeed in getting the status they want? An intriguing possibility is that narcissists don’t actually get status, they just believe that they have status within a group.

Why Do Icons on Smart Phone Screens Slide?

Standing in line at any coffee shop gives you a chance to observe lots of smart phone behavior. Almost everyone in the line is staring at a small screen. Many of them are busily swiping at the screen, presumably moving the icons on the screen from page to page?

The Upside and Downside to Second Opinions

Chances are, you rely a lot on expert opinions. These opinions may be aesthetic (like movie or book reviews), functional (like product reviews), health focused or even business-focused. When you get these opinions, you are often encouraged to get a second opinion as well.

You May Not Persist Long Enough in Creative Tasks

I have the opportunity to work with groups who are trying to develop creative solutions to problems. One thing I have noticed is that groups often try to end the task of generating new potential solutions fairly quickly. After they have generated a couple of good ideas, they want to move on to evaluating those ideas and planning a way to execute those ideas.

How to Be More Patient (and Why It's Worth It)

Delaying gratification is hard. You have probably seen the adorable videos of kids in Walter Mischel’s classic marshmallow experiments. Adults also have a lot of trouble delaying gratification. People pay extra to get fast delivery from websites. They accept small rewards in the present rather than waiting for longer rewards in the future.

Using Psychology to Help At-Risk Students

There are many rewards for doing research in psychology. For one, it is just plain fun. There is something powerful about making progress on one of the world’s great scientific mysteries. For another, the things we learn about psychology have the potential to make people’s lives better.

Tylenol Blunts Positive Emotions Too

A while back, I wrote a blog entry on studies demonstrating that acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) can dampen people’s responses to negative events. So, if you experience social pain, you may actually be able to medicate yourself for it in the same way that you take pain killers for a headache.

How a (Close) Loss Can Set You Up for a Win

Modern slot machines are fascinating devices. Most of them are not mechanical, they are electronic. That means that you pull the lever (or press a button) and the machine draws a random number that determines whether you have won. After that, the machine displays a show on the screen that ultimately lets you see whether you won.

How Does Physical Experience Affect Learning?

Go to a typical classroom, and it looks like a show. A teacher stands in front of the room. The teacher talks and demonstrates things from the front of the room. Unlike a show at a theater, the audience (the students) do get a chance to talk on occasion. But, most of the work students do is done from their seats.

The Consistency of Flashbulb Memories

I remember as a kid that my parents shared vivid memories of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. They could tell me where they were and who they were with when they found out the president had been shot. In 1977, Roger Brown and James Kulik called memories like this flashbulb memories.

When You See Objects, You Think Words

Take a quick look around the room. Chances are, you looked at a number of different objects. From where I am sitting, there is a computer, a coffee mug, a tape dispenser, and a little green Gumby model.

Solving a Shakespearean Mystery With Data

Our ability to use language involves a combination of complex mechanisms that allow us to produce speech, learn words, and combine those words into sentences. We certainly notice the oddities in people’s speech when they are not a native speaker of your language. But, a lot of what you say daily involves habits you have developed over the course of your life.

Social Influence About Risk Differs for Teens and Adults

Life is full of risky decisions. Some involve physical risks like crossing the street against the light. Others involve social risks like expressing an opinion that differs from those of peers. Still others involve financial risks like investing in the stock of a new company.

Toddlers Understand the Cost of Actions

When a friend refuses to help you with something, that may or may not upset you. It depends on their ability to help as well as the cost of that help. What do young children do?

Should You Start Worrying About Your Mind?

I speak to a lot of corporate audiences. Regardless of the topic I am speaking about, I get a lot of general psychology questions from the crowd. The most popular question is about cognitive performance and aging. People in their 50s and 60s begin to worry that they are not going to be able to keep up mentally with their younger colleagues.

The Truth About What We'll Do To Fit In

People tend to do what the people around them are doing. Walk onto an elevator, and most everyone stands facing forward. People talking to each other tend to match their speech rate and even the pitch of their voices. The judgments made by a group also tend to converge.

What Makes Narcissists Angry (and Why)

Narcissists are people who feed off the energy of others. They draw from people around them to boost their self-esteem. As a result, they are extraordinarily self-centered. If you have a narcissist for a boss, that can be very difficult. Narcissists are reluctant to share credit with others.

How We Really Decide Who's to Blame

Human beings love to give explanations for things. If you have ever spent any time with a 5-year-old, you know that a child that age just loves to ask, “Why?” This desire to understand why things happen continues throughout our lives. Understanding why things happen affects many aspects of our lives, including our ability to assign blame for an action.

When Is a Belief in Talents Helpful?

I have written often in this blog about the how people’s belief in talents and skills affects their behavior. Talents are abilities that you are born with, while skills are abilities that can be acquired with significant hard work.

Your Categories Drive What You See

When you open your eyes, you see a picture of the world around you. Psychologists have explored many factors that influence what you point your eyes at when looking at a scene. People tend to look at information that will help them achieve their goals, for example. They also look at items in the environment that are important to them like human faces.

Are the People Close to You Good Role Models?

Humans are a social species, and so we are strongly influenced by the example that other people set for us. I have written frequently in this blog about goal contagion, which is the idea that we often adopt the goals of the people we see around us, even without realizing that we are doing so.

Are People Who Express Anger Unhealthy?

Long-term stress is bad for you. Decades of research demonstrates that when people are stressed over a long period of time, their immune system is suppressed. These individuals experience health problems including heart disease and high blood pressure.

Good Negotiators Focus on Their Resources

Life is full of negotiations. Buying a car involves reaching an agreement with a dealer about the sale price. Going out with friends on a Saturday night may trade off the movie your friends want to see against the restaurant where you want to eat. Parents and children may haggle over how much homework has to be done before video games can be played.

Sometimes It Is Better to Have No Alternatives

When people are negotiating, they generally feel more comfortable when they have a back up offer. It is common to hear people say, “Worst case scenario, at least I have…”

Can You Trust Yourself?

One of the scariest parts of the legal system is its reliance on eyewitness testimony. A witness identifies who a defendant as the perpetrator of a crime can sway a jury in the absence of any physical evidence that that the defendant was actually the one who committed the crime.

Why Thinking About the Future Makes Today Easier

Stress is one of the biggest complaints people have about their lives. People worry about money, work, and family. They are also dragged down by events that have happened in the recent past. A bad test grade can throw a student into a funk. A fight with a partner in the morning can affect the rest of the day. A missed sale at work can ruin a weekend.

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