Why Other People Are the Key to Our Happiness

It is no surprise that social interactions can be a great source of happiness. A wonderful holiday spent with close friends and family is not only enjoyable in the moment, it is also a source of wonderful memories for years to come. Being in a great romantic relationship is uplifting.

Why We Need Everyone to Believe We're Correct

When people disagree on a topic, there are several ways they might deal with that disagreement. They might avoid it altogether, either by pushing off a discussion or just agreeing with the other person in order to end the conversation. On the other hand, people can also be active in resolving disagreements.

If You Want to Focus on the Long Term, Be Grateful

A common observation about human behavior is that people are biased toward what is best in the short-term. That does not meant that people always pursue short-term pleasures over long-term gains. It just means that the value of the long-term option has to be much larger than what people will get right now in order for them to choose to delay the benefit.

If You Are Going to Take Notes, Do It By Hand

I just finished my 23rd year of teaching at universities. There have been several changes in the way students approach their classes in that time. The most noticeable is that when I started teaching, students took notes in notebooks, but now almost every desk has a laptop on it when I give a lecture.

Learning to Converse Is Learning to Interact

It is hard to study how children really start to use language. Part of the problem is that we treat language itself as a thing to be studied independent of how it is used. So, we focus on the words kids learn or the way they structure those words into simple and (eventually) more complex sentences.

The Danger of Labeling Others (or Yourself)

We label people by the characteristics they show all the time. We think of a particular person as being a bully, a nerd, a musician, or an athlete. The label may be a reasonable reflection of who they are right now, but it also carries a belief that the behavior reflects a person’s essence.

The Real Risk of Driving While Using Your Phone

The message is finally getting out there that smart phones cause real problems while driving. Texting while on the road is extremely dangerous, because it requires the driver to look away from the road and also soaks up precious mental resources. Even talking on the cell phone can be dangerous.

What Makes You Open to Conversations With the Opposition?

There is a lot of conflict in the world these days, and it seems like it is getting harder than ever to find compromises. In the United States, Democrats stake out a position, and Republicans immediately claim the opposite. Similarly, the Middle East is a constant source of tension.

Why Hearing Good News or Bad News First Really Matters

Many situations in life involve a double-edged sword that carries good news and bad news. A promotion at work may come along with an increase in salary as well as more responsibilities and longer work hours. A workplace evaluation may involve both praise for jobs well done as well as suggestions for improvement.

How We Really Detect Lies

People lie to each other all the time. Some of those lies are meant to make social relationships easier. A houseguest might tell the host that the food was wonderful, when it was really not that tasty. Other lies have more import. A thief rarely admits to stealing. Salespeople may lie about flaws of a product they are selling.

Why You Have More Influence on Others Than You Think

From an early age, we talk to people about the positive and negative influences of peer pressure. On the negative side, drug education programs talk about the effect of social groups on whether a particular individual will take drugs. On the positive side, Austin, Texas has a highly successful day of giving in which members of the community urge others to give.

When No One's Watching, Are You Still Likely to Do Good?

Sitting up late talking with friends, you may spend a lot of time thinking about who you would like to be ideally. You focus on the people you would help, the good you could do for society, and your dreams. In your day-to-day life, though, you spend a lot of time just doing what has to be done to get ahead.

Young Children Are Primed to Learn About Eating Plants

Humans are much more flexible in their behavior than most other animals. For example, we figure out what to eat in every environment where we find ourselves. Other animals are not so lucky. If they find themselves outside of the environment in which they evolved, they can have great difficulty finding food.

Switching Languages Affects Accents

If you spend time in any large city in the United States, chances are you will hear English spoken in a variety of accents. Some of these accents are just native speakers of English from different regions of the country, while others reflect the speech patterns of people who learned another language as a child and then learned English later.

When Should You Make the First Offer?

There are many situations in life that involve negotiations. Obviously, business is full of negotiations in which two parties have to come to an agreement. Couples negotiate over who will do various chores. Friends negotiate about how to spend an evening out.

Why Trust Isn't Easy

Trust is important. You have to trust that people will generally deal with you honestly, and that they will follow through on their commitments. After all, you do not know all the people who grow your food, make your clothes, and take care of your money in the bank. You do not have the time to do all of these things for yourself.

Learning and Sleep in Toddlers

Quite a bit of research has begun to explore influences of sleep on cognitive processes. In adults, sleep has a huge influence on memory. Sleep speeds learning of new skills. It also helps to separate the information being learned from the situation in which it was learned, which can make it easier to use that knowledge in other circumstances.

How to Keep From Repeating Your Mistakes

When people do something wrong, there are two distinct emotions that they commonly experience: guilt and shame. These emotions differ based on what people feel bad about. When people feel bad about the action they performed, then they experience guilt. When they feel bad about themselves for having done something bad, then they experience shame.

The Dangers of Extreme Praise

An obvious way for parents and teachers to build children’s self-esteem is through praise. It is intuitive that if a child performs a task well, then praising their effort will boost their self-esteem. But, praise is a dangerous tool.

Why Having the Choice to Do Nothing Is So Important

We often assume that giving people the chance to choose what they are going to do will increase their motivation to do it. One reason why many colleges give their students so much autonomy is with the belief that if students have selected the classes they take they will put more effort into those classes than if the classes were assigned to them.

Creating Personalized Practice for Students

For a few decades now, educators have suggested that computers would vastly improve our ability to teach students. The assumption has been that with computers we would be able to transport students to places they could not go on their own, allow them to communicate with people around the globe, and get more personalized instruction.

Studying Learning Using Video Games

A subtheme in this blog has been the influence of video game play on people’s behavior. There is an ongoing debate about both the potential negative impact of playing games (such as increases in aggression or lower grades) as well as positive influences (like an increase in prosocial behavior after playing games with positive messages).

How Distraction Can Disrupt You

We live in a world of distraction. When you sit at your computer trying to write or work, there is a real danger that you will get interrupted by an email, instant message, text message, or phone call. Even if you do your best to skip past the distractions, there still may be a moment where you have to decide whether to answer the phone or check your email.

Kids Want to Learn About Kinds, Rather Than Individuals

Your knowledge about individuals is useful for helping you to interact with specific situations in the world. Knowing your best friend’s favorite color can help you buy a gift for her birthday. Your knowledge about kinds of things (like dogs in general) can help you to predict what you should expect when you encounter a new dog.

People Differ in Their Ability to Suppress Memories

Your ability to recall a word or event involves mechanisms that enhance the item you want to remember and suppress competitors. It is like a bunch of 6-year-olds trying to be picked for the kickball team: The kids who jump the highest and shove the other kids hardest are the ones who are selected.

Beliefs About Time Affect Savings

It is hard to save money because we are wired to prefer to do things that are good for us in the short-term over those that are good for us in the long-term. So, how can we help people to save more money?

Young Infants Learn by Doing

The brain is an extraordinarily complex organ that we are struggling to understand scientifically. To help us understand the way the brain works, we often use the most complex machines of an era to give us insight into what the brain is doing. And starting in the 1950s, the most complex machine we had was the computer.

Are Infants Afraid of Heights?

When I was in college, I worked at a lumberyard. One day, the boss asked me to climb to the second level of a storage barn at the back of the property and do an inventory on the 4’ by 8’ sheets of paneling in bins at the top of the barn. After the second bin, I slid over to the ladder, climbed down, and gave up. When do people become afraid of heights?

Mental Energy and Physiological Energy

When we talk to other people about achieving goals, we often speak in terms that relate to energy. We think of ourselves as getting energized to get to work. Psychologists talk about the energy that is related to achieving goals as arousal. Is this mental energy just a metaphor?

Control and Health

At any given moment, you may feel as though your ability to succeed in the world involves some combination of your own efforts and factors that are out of your control. Starting about 50 years ago, psychologists began to explore the relationship between people’s beliefs about the amount of control that they have in a situation and their behavior.

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