Using awareness to increase willpower

Self-awareness can improve your ability to overcome obstacles even after having to exert a lot of self-control in another situation.

Two modes for dealing with conflicts between goals

Our goals often conflict.  Research suggests that we have two modes for dealing with these conflicts--an active mode and a passive mode.  Which one is active matters a lot for how likely you are to achieve your goals.

A good mood enhances some kinds of learning

When you're in a good mood, it often feels like you can do anything.  Can a good mood actually help you learn, or does it just make you feel better about your performance?

Language makes you smart by naming roles

Having words that refer to roles is something that helps make people smart. These labels help us to recognize when we see some new object that also plays the same role in a situation.

It matters whether you believe in willpower

The idea that willpower is a resource that can be used up is called ego-depletion. One factor that affects whether you show ego-depletion effects is whether you believe that willpower is a limited resource.

Why do parents think the DVDs work, then?

Do DVDs that aim to teach babies new words really work?  A new study examines this question.

How language affects whether you think something is true

When a piece of information is relatively unfamiliar, how do you know whether it is true?

The Psychology of Time Pressured Sales

Retailers are enticing people into stores with the promise of great deals on products. But that still doesn't explain the shopping frenzy that happens the day after Thanksgiving. The research of Arie Kruglanski and his colleagues offers a clue to what might be going on here. 

You are either with us or against us: People and politics

Democrats and Republicans seem like perfect opposites. Is that something special about politics, or is it true of the way people think about opposing categories in general?

Your Future Happiness Depends Less On the Present Than You Might Think

You make a lot of decisions based on how you think they will make you feel in the future. The evidence is pretty clear, though, that big positive and negative events don't have an enormous impact on people's happiness. Why do these errors persist?

Using magic (tricks) to study autism

To say that the brain is a complex organ is a tremendous understatement. It is so complex, that it is often hard to believe that it works so well for most people. At times, though, something goes wrong. We can get a lot of insight into the way that brains function by studying both normal brains and abnormal ones.

The structure of our goals affects how we plan for the future

Lots of the things we hope to do in life-our goals-can be accomplished in many ways. The plans you create to achieve your goals are an important determinant in whether you succeed. So, it is useful to know something about how you generate plans.

Why cell phones are so annoying

Sometimes when I'm thinking having trouble deciding what to write about for my next blog entry, fate steps in.  There was a guy standing behind me with a Bluetooth receiver in his ear jabbering away to someone in his office.

That package made me overeat

Snacking can be hard to control. It is common for people to sit down with a box of crackers or a box of pretzels and eat mindlessly until they discover that they have finished them all. Overeating is a huge part of the problem that people have losing weight. It is hard to exercise enough to overcome a food binge.

Drinking and Blaming

The closest view I have ever had of a bar fight happened when I was in grad school. The hockey playoffs were going on, and a group of us went to a crowded sports bar to watch a game.

What makes psych majors unhappy?

I got to work today, and a friend of mine forwarded me an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on October 11, 2010, titled "Psych majors aren't happy with options." A survey done by found that psych majors rank lowest in their overall satisfaction with their majors of the 21 different majors surveyed. Only 26% of the psychology majors were happy with their major after entering the workforce.Why?

Anger makes the world seem more threatening

It is amazing how your emotions can affect the way the world looks to you. If you wake up one morning happy, then even a small dose of bad news may be felt as an opportunity rather than a failure. When you're sad, that same bit of bad news can lead you to feel as though the world is coming to an end.What about anger? What does that do?

When "I Saw That" Becomes "I Did That"

One of the strangest conversations I have witnessed happened when I was at a party at a friend's house several years ago. He was regaling me with a story about making breakfast in high school and covering the dog with pancake mix. He got to the end of the story (which was funnier than you might think) when his brother piped in.

Campus Shootings, Gun Control, Abstraction, and Choking Under Pressure

On September 28, 2010, I got to my office at the University of Texas after driving with the carpool. The day started unremarkably, but by 8:30, things changed. I got a text message from the University emergency system saying there was an armed suspect on campus.

Structure your world for success by thinking abstractly

A recurring theme in this blog is that self-control is hard. Tempting short-term goals often get in our way when we want to achieve long-term goals. If you are trying to lose weight, then it is not easy to pass up some fries to go with that lunch or a rich piece of cake to reward yourself for a hard day. If you need to study for an exam in order to keep up your grades, it is tempting to take a break to watch a great movie on TV or to join your friends at a party.

If I can’t understand your accent, I don’t trust you.

Many years ago, friend of mine asked me to help him evaluate a product he was thinking of buying. I dutifully went with him to a sales pitch that was given by a smooth salesman who happened to be from another country. His sales patter was excellent, though you had to really pay attention to what he was saying, because of his accent. When we left the meeting, my friend looked unconvinced. He turned to me and said, "I think his accent made it hard for me to believe what he was saying."

Huh, My Mind Was Wandering. Maybe I’m Bored.

How do you know when you're bored? There are probably lots of ways. If you are sitting in a class, lecture, or talk, you might find yourself feeling frustrated that the speaker is talking in a monotone. Or, you might not like the topic. Another possibility, though, is that you might find your mind wandering to thoughts that have nothing to do with the class or

Communicating and Miscommunicating With Products

I was out of town this week, and on my way back to my hotel after dinner, I had to cross a busy street. There was a "Walk" sign button at the intersection. I pressed the button. It flashed when I pressed it, then it went out. I pressed it again. It did the same thing. After the third press and flash, I just waited and a minute later the Walk sign came on. Why did I press the button three times?

Worn out and tired are two different things

I am sure that you have all had this happen before. You have a particularly hard day. Maybe your boss said a few things you disagree with and you had to bite your tongue rather than respond. Or perhaps a friend insulted you, and you had to control yourself in a public place. After all that work controlling yourself, a driver has the nerve to cut you off as you're trying to make a turn. Suddenly, you are in a honking, yelling, bird-flipping rage.