Stopping Unwanted Behaviors

We are hitting that time in January when many people who made New Year’s resolutions are discovering that it is hard to keep them. In another few weeks, most people who resolved to change their behavior will find that they have failed and are back to their old habits.

Testosterone, Trust, and Social Status

Over the past several years, much has been made of the psychological influences of the hormone Oxytocin on behavior. In that same time period, there has been much less discussion of the influence of testosterone on social relationships.

Using the Body and the Face to Recognize People

Standing at the airport waiting for a friend or relative to emerge from a flight can be a frustrating experience. People come pouring out of the exit, and you are searching for one person in particular. Yet, most of the time, you manage to find the person you seek.

The Attractiveness of Average and Familiar Faces

Over the years, many studies have examined what people find attractive in faces. One important factor is symmetry. If you draw a line down the middle of someone’s face, the more similar the right and left sides of the face, the more attractive it is seen to be. Evolutionary psychologists have argued that we like symmetry in faces, because it is a sign of health.

Can You Tell When Someone Is Lying?

I love movies about con artists. David Mamet’s early film House of Games is a great example. Throughout the film, it is hard to tell who is lying and who is telling the truth. The success of movies like this is that it is often difficult to be certain that someone is lying to you.

What Causes People to Donate After Disasters?

Technology has made it easy for people to give donations following natural disasters. When reports of floods, typhoons, hurricanes, and earthquakes makes news, there are websites available for people to give money. People can even use their phones to donate money by text message.

Infants Need to Hear Adults Talk

By the time kids start school, there are already differences among them in their language abilities. These early differences can have an enormous impact on their performance in school, because teachers do most of their instruction by talking to kids. Where do these early differences come from?

When Is It Good To Choose?

High School students often complain about the classes that they are taking. The lack of choice can be demotivating. When those students get to college, though, an interesting thing happens. Suddenly, they have almost an infinite amount of choice. At that point, the number of options can feel completely overwhelming.

How Does Disgust Affect Memory?

Because emotional experiences have an influence on memory, controlled laboratory studies have begun to tease apart the elements of emotion that affect what you remember later.

Students Don’t Spread Out Their Study Time Enough

I have been around schools my whole life—first as a student and grad student, and for the last 20+ years as a professor. My own experience as a student was that I tended to ramp up my studying for exams as the test approached. My observation of students I teach (and my own kids) is that this pattern hasn’t changed much since I was in school.

The Emotions Underlying Moral Outrage

Cable TV news is filled with examples of moral outrage. Hosts of news programs display high levels of anger at some situation going on in the world. They describe a violation of a deeply-held belief and then their emotion bubbles to the surface. And, chances are, you have experienced this emotion yourself when a situation crosses one of your moral boundaries.

Girls and Boys and Math Anxiety

When you wander around college campuses, you see the effects of strong gender differences in preferences for majors. At many schools, there are far more women than men majoring in psychology and biology, but far more men than women majoring in math and engineering.

Fables May Fail to Help Children

Stories are a central way that we pass information to people. The beauty of stories is that they embed real cultural wisdom in a specific context. They are easy to remember. They capture people’s attention. For all of these reasons, we often use stories to help people learn new strategies for dealing with life.

What Does Nostalgia Do?

When people get nostalgic, they are living in the past. In those moments, the past seems rosy, and often as more positive than the present. Nostalgia can be induced by thinking about past events, by going to places you have experienced before, or even by hearing a song that brings back memories of things that happened. Is nostalgia good for people?

Some Odd Numbers are Odder Than Others

The ability to classify objects is crucial to thinking. When you place an object into a category, you are able to predict things about it. Often, an object is placed into a category because it is similar to other members of the same category. Sometimes, of course, an object belongs in a category because the category has a strict definition.

Children Can Adopt a Sharing Mindset

We tend to think of children as selfish creatures. Parents talk about the importance of teaching their kids to share and to play well with others. Yet, the human species needs to be cooperative to survive. Individually, humans are rather weak creatures, but our collective ability to share our experiences and to teach each other has allowed us to dominate the planet.

Social Competence and Anger

Life is full of frustrating people and situations. Driving in a car, you may get cut off by a driver on a cell phone. A colleague at work may fail to complete an important task that makes it harder for you to do your job. A friend may leave you out of a social event, which makes you feel excluded.

Why Do People Gamble Too Much?

What exactly is it that drives people to gamble too much? Intuitively, it seems like there are two possibilities. One is that people with gambling problems are focused on the thrill of gambling. The other possibility is that gamblers are focused on the money.

Intelligence, Spatial Ability, and Creativity

One of the goals of intelligence testing has been to help to identify those people who are likely to be productive in life and to give them access to resources that will allow them to maximize their potential.

How Does Cognition Get Worse With Age?

We all know that cognitive ability gets worse as we age. Even healthy older adults think more slowly and remember less than healthy young adults. The declines are slow and steady, though clearly not debilitating. Many older adults continue to make important and productive contributions to their fields into their 70s and 80s and beyond.

When Does Choosing a Treatment Matter?

In the United States, many provisions of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) are about to take effect. Opponents of the law are concerned that it will ultimately reduce some people’s options for the care that they receive, even as it increases the number of people who are insured overall.

Rituals Make the World Taste Better

In the United States, we have a strange relationship with food. Most of us eat on the go. We drive through at fast food restaurants and then stuff our faces as we get where we’re going. But a new study may suggest that engaging in pre-meal rituals might help you enjoy food more.

Controversy and Conversation

Take a look at the comments section on your favorite news website. Some topics generate a lot of discussion among participants. Other topics may be widely read, but people don’t feel compelled to say anything. What drives people’s desire to talk about a topic?

Flexibility Can Be Bad For You

In many settings, people don’t like to be told exactly what to do. Instead, we prize the opportunity to demonstrate our individuality. It seems obvious that we enjoy this in artistic situations, but, it is also true in consumer settings.

Why Do People Engage in Extreme Rituals?

It is pledge season at fraternities and sororities all over the US. New initiates into these groups spend a chunk of their first semester engaging in all kinds of activities from the mundane (wearing an article of clothing to distinguish them from other members of the group) to the extreme. Occasionally, stories of hazing rituals make the news when a student is injured.

Extended Travel Affects Personality

Like every other facet of human psychology, personality reflects a combination of biological/genetic factors as well as experiences that influence these factors. Studying the experiences that influence personality is difficult, though. College students studying abroad provide one such opportunity.

Succeed By Contrasting

A big problem in learning to achiever your goals is being selective in what you do. As much as you might value keeping all of your options open, at some point you have to commit time and energy into particular goals in order to attain them.

Goal Conflict Helps You See Both Sides of an Issue

One of the most persistent findings in psychology is confirmation bias. When we have a belief about something in the world, we tend to seek out information that will confirm that belief. How do goal conflicts affect confirmation bias?

Your Beliefs About Weight Gain Affect Your Weight

There is a clear influence of your beliefs on your behavior. How do your beliefs about causes of weight gain influence your weight?

You See What You Believe

The world can be chaotic. Cars whiz by on the road. People walk past you. There may be birds and planes flying overhead. Despite all of this potential confusion, you manage to make sense of most of what is happening around you. The ability to comprehend the world reflects an interaction between the things you see around you and your beliefs about the world.

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