Conflicting Goals Can Make You a Better Decision Maker

We tend to think of conflict as the enemy of good decision making. But, it turns out that when people have two conflicting goals that they are grappling with, they are likely to think carefully about choices in order to resolve the conflict.

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

I have written a few times about the influence of sleep on thinking. High school students who stay up late perform more poorly in school the following day. A lack of sleep may cause you to mix together different memories that did not occur together. In young adults, sleep also affects the ability to learn new procedures.

What Does Your Avatar Say About You?

A lot of websites give you the chance to represent yourself with an avatar rather than a picture of yourself. Avatars are often cartoon-y pictures with facial features, clothing, and accessories that allow you to personalize your picture. The avatar you select can influence the way people interact with you.

Why Do Movies Move?

If you spend time watching movies or TV, you have probably know that you see a moving image on the screen, but that the sense of motion is created by your brain from a series of static images. Typical movies, for example, flash 24 frames per second. Somehow, the brain takes the changes from one frame to the next and gives you the illusion of fluid movement.

The Effects of Synchrony on Conformity

Teams tend to do things together. Soldiers march in step. Athletic teams do stretches and simple drills together as a unit. In public schools, all students repeat phrases together like the Pledge of Allegiance. At stadiums, fans will chant together and make similar movements.

Why Confessing Is Good for You

When you do something wrong, there are two typical reactions that pull in opposite directions. On the one hand, you might want to hide what you have done. If nobody finds out, then it may feel like you didn’t do it at all. On the other hand, you might just want to confess what you have done wrong. That gets the problem out into the open and helps people to move forward.

How Children Use Information About Why Things Work

When children are about 3-years-old, one of the big things they need to do is to learn about the huge variety of objects in the world around them. Not only does this learning help them to make sense of the world, but is crucial for children to learn the labels we use for different objects so that they can talk about those objects again in the future.

The Key to Getting Ahead? It's Not About You.

Most of us have heard some version of the saying “Behind every successful man is a great woman.” This quote highlights that people get accolades for their success in the workplace, but most people who achieve greatness in the workplace need people who support their personal lives.

If You Trust Your Workplace, You Assume It Is Fair

Periodically, dissatisfied employees will stage a job action in which they will do the minimum amount of work necessary to keep their job. For example, in early 2015, New York City police minimized the number of arrests they made, to protest comments made by the mayor.

Bad Leaders Hold Onto Power

There are two sides to leadership. On the positive side, great leaders can inspire others to share a vision and to work together to achieve great things. On the negative side, there are comforts that come with leadership roles including higher salaries, respect, and other perks. So, when someone attains a leadership role, they are reluctant to give it up.

Where am “I”?

Human beings have a remarkable capacity to project themselves into space. Think about playing a video game. Even though you and your physical body are sitting in a chair some distance from the screen, you can put yourself into the place of the avatar you have on the screen.

Adolescents Get Fixated On Things That Are Rewarding

It is common to talk about how the teenage years are a time of risky behavior. And, when we talk about why teens engage in risky behavior, there is a tendency to focus on the development of the frontal lobes. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

What Makes Some of Us Own Our Mistakes, But Not Others

In any relationship, there are times that you don’t do the right thing. You brush off a colleague. You snap at a romantic partner. You do things that are selfish. In order to repair the relationship, though, you need to take some responsibility. By taking responsibility, you can work to change yourself to improve the relationship in the future.

Do Brands Interfere With Religiosity?

There are many ways to express identity. If you walk down the street, you will see people wearing t-shirts with brands of products on them. They carry coffee mugs with the names of coffee companies. They carry bags that are branded with the logos of companies.

Memories About Yourself Affect Judgments About Others

When you look at the people around you, there is a tendency to assume that they will act like you do. That makes sense. One of the easiest ways to try to understand the behavior of other people is to think about what you would do in the same situation. And there is a tendency to do this most when you think that the person you are judging is like you in some way.

Why You Should Talk to Strangers

I fly a lot. I have a typical routine on the plane. I pull out something to read or perhaps an iPad to watch a movie. I do my work. I don’t generally engage in much conversation with the person sitting next to me on the plane, though sometimes I end up in a long conversation. Invariably, those conversations are great fun.

Maybe Video Games Don’t Help Perceptual Skills

Over the past several years, I have written about a number of studies relating to video games. They can have both positive and negative consequences. Do video games improve people's ability to perceive the world?

Morality and the Focus on Outcomes

In many public situations, we make judgments about people’s commitment to carry through on their stated views. Politicians express commitments to issues ranging from immigration to same-sex marriage. Corporate leaders give their views on fair labor practices and innovation.

What Makes Us Thankful?

There are lots of psychological benefits to gratitude. Feeling grateful to others can lift your mood. It enhances your feeling of connection to other people. Gratitude can also motivate you to do work for others.

The Value of Having A Transcendent Purpose for Learning

School is the ultimate marshmallow test. School requires doing lots of things in the short-term that are less fun than what you could be doing, but lead to better long-term outcomes. After all, studying for an exam is less fun than watching YouTube videos.

Children Learn Who They Should Learn From

A theme in this blog has been the way children learn to learn. Humans are able to survive in almost any environment in large part because we are able to learn so effectively from other people. Each generation adapts to the culture and technology of the time. This supports our ability to create cultures of ever-increasing complexity.

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.