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.

I shouldn’t make you eat healthy food

Healthy foods have a serious image problem. There are lots of foods that we know are good for us, but it is hard to get people to eat them. Putting labels on foods like "low fat" or "good for you" immediately makes people want to run the other way.And now, there is even evidence that if you force people to eat healthy food it may backfire.

Even young kids figure out what you like from what you choose

We figure out a lot about the people around us from what they do rather than what they say. The actions people take say a lot about what they truly want, while the statements people make may not reflect what they truly believe.

What does advertising do?

We live in a world of advertising. It is a world of our making, of course. We don't like to pay the full price of things, so we allow other people to pay part of that price in exchange for letting them pass a message to us. So, we open up the pages of our favorite magazine, and there are glossy ads for clothes, shoes, cars, or beer. We turn on the television, and smiling faces on television try to sell us soup, toothpaste, candy, and politicians.

Do you really know why you hate the incumbent?

Election season is upon us. The news is filled with stories about primaries and the lineup of candidates for the November elections. If you live in a state with a contested race, then you hear lots of ads. Some of those ads pump up a particular candidate, but many of them also try to tear down the opponent. Politics is a vicious business.

Are there supertaskers? Please don’t try this at home

When I'm driving and someone is doing something strange on the road, it is virtually guaranteed that they are talking on the cell phone. I have seen people driving far too slowly on the highway, weaving across lanes, and braking quickly to avoid hitting a car in front of them. Earlier this summer, I had to lean on my horn as someone talking on the phone blissfully drove within a few feet of my car exiting a parking lot while talking animatedly to a friend.

What does thinking hard tell you about your ability to think?

It may be 100+ degrees in Texas right now, but you can feel a change in the atmosphere. Maybe it is the marching bands practicing on bubbling parking lots at the local high schools. Maybe it is just the tinge of sadness in the eyes of teens as they race to get their summer homework done. The unmistakable scent of school is in the air.

Who would believe that Obama is Muslim?

Politics is an ugly business. It would be difficult enough if politicians focused just on the difficult issues that are required to participate in government. It is made harder by the fact that politicians are routinely the target of personal attacks. Some of those attacks may be true (even if it isn't clear why the attack should matter). For example, in past years both Al Gore and George W. Bush were attacked for coming from wealthy families who already had political ties.Often, though, the claims are not true at all. For example, the internet is full of false claims about Barack Obama suggesting that he is a Muslim or that he was not born in the United States. Ultimately, people end up being influenced by these claims, and some even end up believing them.Why?

Why science is self-correcting

According to the August 10, 2010 Boston Globe, Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser has decided to take a year-long leave of absence after evidence of scientific misconduct was found in his lab. On the basis of an investigation by Harvard University, at least one scientific paper (from the journal Cognition) has been retracted, and others may be as well. Hauser is a prominent member of the scientific community. Much of his research has looked at non-human primates and has examined complex mental abilities such as communication and reasoning.I find cases like this both frustrating and reassuring at the same time.

Take two Tylenol for heartache too

A few weeks ago, I was playing badminton with my kids, and I tore a calf muscle. It hurt. A lot. Language has lots of ways to express pain. In the case of my calf, the pain was intense. The pain shot through my entire leg. And when the muscle would spasm, I would feel a burning pain.It is interesting that people also use the language of pain to talk about social pain. We talk about the pain of a breakup. Musicians sing about their heart aching for someone they miss. When people recall being teased as a child, they invariably talk about how much it hurt.Is this just a metaphor?

How your personality shines through

Personality is a set of characteristics that tends to influence a person's behavior. If you have a friend who you think is aggressive, then you expect them to be confrontational or argumentative. Of course, he won't be argumentative in every situation. He may be rather passive when being given by a lecture by his boss, even though he is prone to argue with the umpire at a softball game.This observation that people's behavior depends both on their personality characteristics and the situation they are in has created a tension within research on personality. Are your actions determined mostly by your personality? Are situations more important?

Well, that wasn’t worth it: Effort discounting in the brain

Most of us have a complicated relationship with the effort required to get things done. On the one hand, we generally prefer to do things in the easiest possible way. On the other hand, there are times when the effort we put in to accomplish a goal becomes part of the reward itself.From a biological standpoint, though, for most situations we are probably best off finding the least effortful way to achieve a goal. That is, an animal that routinely puts in a lot of effort to get some reward (say, food) will be at a disadvantage relative to some other animal that puts in less effort to get the same reward. So, we might expect that humans would have mechanisms that allow the amount of effort we expend to achieve a reward to affect the value we give to that reward.

You only confront prejudice when you believe people can change

One of the more embarrassing social situations you can be in happens when someone you are in a conversation with someone you do not know well and they make a racist or sexist comment or joke. In that moment, there is a whole calculus you end up going through. On the one hand, if you do not say anything, you are implicitly endorsing the comment. On the other hand, if you step up and say something, you can create an awkward social situation.Obviously, there are many aspects of a situation that will affect whether you choose to confront prejudice. For example, if the person making the remark has power over you (like a boss or a customer), then it can be difficult to say something. It can also be more difficult to say something if you are in a group and feel that you are the only one who objects to the comment.

When are attitudes pliable?

All of us have core beliefs. Things that we accept as being important to us that we expect will drive our behavior. Yet, there are times in social situations where it is awkward to express those beliefs, and we may even find ourselves sympathizing with someone else's opinion, even though at some level we feel like we disagree with them.For example, I was once in a taxi on a long drive from an airport to a hotel where I was staying. The driver spent quite a bit of time relaying his political beliefs to me. Those beliefs were the opposite of my own on a number of dimensions. I did not feel like engaging with the driver, though, and so I kept silent. Afterwards, I wondered whether this driver's tirade could have any influence on my own beliefs.

Moving on up: The goal of advancement

We have lots of goals in life. Many of them involve some kind of advancement. If you are in school, you set the goal to advance to the next grade or to the next level of your degree. At work, you might aspire to a promotion or to a job with more responsibility. When learning to play a musical instrument, you might dream of learning a more difficult piece of music or to play in a band. Even video games often have a series of levels that you traverse to move through the game. These situations involve what are called hierarchical goals, because you have to move up the ladder to advance to the next goal.What makes you want to step up to the next level?

What you don’t know can hurt you: Violence, catharsis, and video games

Periodically in this blog, I have explored the positive and negative effects of video games. In a previous post, I discussed that playing violent video games can promote aggression. One reason why this may be a problem is that many people think that playing video games may lead to catharsis. That is, by playing a violent video game, they may release some of their aggression so that they don't take it out on anyone in the world.

Evaluating the actions of others

We make decisions about the characteristics of other people from their actions. We decide that someone is aggressive if they yell, make rude comments, and try to push people around. Often, though, a specific behavior is ambiguous. It is not entirely clear what it signals. For example, if someone goes skydiving, he might be adventurous or he might be reckless. How do you decide?