Are Teens Really Prone to Take Risks?

If you read the local news section of a newspaper, you are bound to come across the story of a tragic death or injury to a teen. They might be texting, drinking and driving, or skateboarding in a precarious spot. Reading these stories may reinforce a general belief that teens simply take too many risks.

Time to Give Negative Thinking Its Due

In several blog entries, I have talked about the fantastic work that Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues have done examining how to succeed at achieving difficult goals. Her work explores the way that our thoughts of the future help us to achieve desired goals.

Sleep and False Memories

When you remember a past event, you are not just playing back a video or audio file of a previous encounter. Instead, memories are reconstructed. That means that many sources of information can be combined to influence what you remember about the past.

The Thinking and Doing Mindsets Affect What You See

At any given moment you can be focused on thinking about what is going on in the world around you or you can be motivated to act in the world. Psychologists have used different terms to describe these orientations, but I will call them the thinking mindset and the doing mindset.

Can We Teach Narcissists to Care?

Narcissists are people maintain their self-esteem by drawing on the energy of other people. They thrive on the accolades of others and like to broadcast their achievements. They also have difficulty in their social interactions, because they do not really empathize with others.

Generosity When Paying For Others

It is no surprise that people tend to be frugal when making purchases for themselves. They look for good deals and generally want to minimize the cost of the things that they buy. But what about when buying things for other people?

Using Cognitive Science to Teach Sex Education

Sex is a wonderful thing that has potentially life-altering consequences—particularly for teens. Teen pregnancy can derail educational opportunities. Sexually transmitted diseases from unprotected sex can have lifelong consequences.

The Surprising Power of Apathy

One of the themes in this blog over the years is goal contagion, which is the idea that we often adopt the goals of the people around us. See someone helping others, and you suddenly want to be helpful. See someone being aggressive, and it makes you more likely to engage aggressively with others. What about apathy?

Saving Face by Using Ambiguous Language

When we use language, it seems so easy to understand what other people are saying that it is hard to appreciate the complexity of the act of carrying on a conversation. Obviously, we miscommunicate at times, but most of the time, we do a good job of understanding what other people mean and making ourselves understood.

Video Games and Risky Behavior

One topic I have taken up in this blog from time-to-time is the impact of video games on behavior. There are both positive and negative consequences associated with video game play. One area where it has been hard to draw firm conclusions is in the area of aggression and risky behavior.

Creating Shared Memories

When we think about memory, we often focus on situations in which we encounter some information and then recall it later. In many situations, though, after we encounter the information, we talk about it with other people. That creates a shared recollection. This can happen both socially and in education situations.

Why We Don't Always Put Our Relationships First

A quick walk through the checkout line at most grocery stores takes you past an array of magazines that the store hopes you will grab on your way out. The headlines from those magazines scream out solutions to the problems people struggle with. And to judge from their content, three of the biggest problems center around weight loss, sex, and relationships.

Seeing Unexpected Things Makes Some People More Creative

Most days don’t require a lot of creativity. You get up and go through your normal routine. Your school or work day involves a lot of repetition of tasks like those you have done before. The day may be interesting, but it didn’t require you to really stretch out beyond your comfort zone.

Some Conformity Effects Are Short-Lived

There is often strong social pressure for people’s judgments and beliefs to conform to those of people around them. It can be hard to be the only person in a group to express a divergent opinion. At times, people will actually express an opinion closer to that of others while with a group in order to fit in.

Are We Truly Able to Forgive and Forget?

We have all heard the adage Forgive and Forget. The advice itself makes sense. When someone has done something wrong to us in the past, bearing a grudge will make all interactions later difficult. If you remember the details of what someone has done wrong to you, then you are forced to relive those details in ways that bring those past events vividly into the present.

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part, But You Can Make It Easier

I still remember the wait to find out whether I had gotten into the college of my choice. I applied early and was told that letters would be mailed out on December 15. That period was filled with occasional bouts of stress and a lot of thoughts about whether I would get in. What happens in these waiting experiences?

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.