Familiar Sequences Attract Attention

When you look around the world, lots of different things may capture your attention. The loud backfire of a car nearby may cause you to look in that direction. A bright flash of light from a window can get you to look up. A familiar face in a crowd can lead you to focus on it. An object that suddenly starts moving can grab your attention.

Improving Concentration Improves Performance

There are times when it is just hard to get work done. You want to read a book, but you can’t stop thinking about a comment a friend made earlier in the day. Think of how productive you could be if you could just focus on what you are doing rather than having your mind wander all over.

Does Early Academic Prowess Predict Later Success?

As you probably know, I am interested in smart thinking. I spend a lot of time writing about how to improve your thinking skills. I also argue that anyone can get smarter by learning more about the mind and how it works.

Who Rejects Evidence of Global Climate Change?

There is scientific consensus about the basic tenets relating to global climate change. Scientists agree that human activity is influencing global temperatures. They disagree only in how quickly it is happening. Yet, if you scour the internet, you will find a number of websites and blogs out there that are run by climate-change skeptics.

Do Sunny Days Make You Feel Good About Life?

I have a soft spot in my heart for the song “Sunny Side of the Street,” and that song has helped me get through some tough times in my life. The lyric “Life can be so sweet/On the sunny side of the street” captures our general belief that rainy days are sad, while sunny days are happy.

Your Ethical Mindset

People’s ethical behavior is complicated. Sometimes, we act consistently. Other times, we do not. What factors drive us to maintain consistency in our ethical behavior?

What Does It Mean to Be Happy?

Happiness is almost a national obsession these days. The self-help shelves of bookstores are filled with entries that promise to help you find or achieve happiness. In this context, we rarely think about what the word happy really means.

Memory, Aging, and Distraction

The population in the United States is aging. That has created a lot of anxiety about the cognitive effects of getting older. Lots of research suggests that older adults are worse than younger adults on a variety of different thinking tasks.

Frustration and Violent Video Games

If you talk to people who enjoy violent video games, they give many reasons for playing. Some just like the chance to do things that they would never do in real life. Others enjoy the chance to get together with friends and play. Still others see violent video games as a chance to escape the stresses of daily life and blow off a little steam.

Is That Extra Hour of Study Time Worth It?

It is no surprise that teens and young adults are a pretty sleep-deprived group. Yesterday morning at 9am, for example, I taught a small class here at the University of Texas. The students staggered into class looking like they could use a nap.

Mood and Persuasion

We live in a world of persuasion. Advertisements try to convince us to buy products. Stories on television and radio attempt to influence our opinion on a variety of topics. Politicians seek to influence our beliefs about laws and society.

Conservative Politics and Well-Being

For many years, psychologists have posited a relationship between political views and well-being. How strong is that relationship?

Power Makes People Happy

There is a popular image that people who are in positions of power are really unfulfilled. Is that really true? Or does power make you happy?

Conservatism and Product Purchase

When you meet new people, there are a few things you can find out about them that seem to say a lot about them. The music people listen to, for example, seems to say a lot about their outlook on life. Political affiliation is another big dimension. In the US, knowing that someone is a Democrat or a Republication seems to tell you a lot about who they are.

Distance From an Event Affects How You Deal With It

Imagine that you have been having a stressful time at work. Your boss has been angry about the performance of your group, and you are afraid you might lose your job. Losing your job would affect all aspects of your life including whether you can keep your home. As a result, you start having trouble sleeping. What do you do?

You Follow Advice Despite Conflicts-of-Interest

There are many situations in life in which you have to follow other people’s advice. Doctors recommend medications to treat problems. Mechanics suggest ways to maintain your car more effectively. Financial advisers indicate the investments they think you should consider.

Why Is Your Birthday so Motivating?

It is common to use landmarks as a way of getting yourself motivated to do something new. Culturally, New Year’s Day is a common date where people make the commitment to do something new (though they have typically given up on their new goal soon after the new year starts). Similarly, people often use their birthday as a way of getting pumped up to do something new.

Why are Experiences Often Better Purchases than Things?

I have written a few blog entries in the past on the observation from research by Tom Gilovich and Leaf Van Boven as well as by Elizabeth Dunn, Dan Gilbert, and Tim Wilson that people get more happiness out of purchases when those purchases are experiences than when they are material things.

Schedule that Interview Early in the Day

Suppose you had the job to interview students for a university. Over the course of an admissions season, you might interview 25 students a week for six months. Some of those students are probably strong candidates for your school, while others are not. And over the years, you probably get good at separating the good candidates from the bad ones.

Psychology Is Starting to Police Itself

I have been in the field of cognitive science for about 25 years now. There are three significant changes that I have seen in the kinds of research that get done in that span. Not all of those changes have been positive.

Rejection and Discrimination Have Different Effects

If you decide to start blogging, you have to develop a thick skin. Not everyone is going to like what you have to say, and the internet comments people give you are not always phrased in the nicest way. Still, the negative comments can sting. And that leads to an immediate sense of rejection.

Can Waiting For Something Make You More Patient?

My dog is not very patient. If she senses that I might feed her a treat, she comes bounding over and sits begging. Once she is convinced that there is food for her, it is hard to get her to wait to eat something. But, people have a remarkable capacity to wait for good outcomes.

Pain and Your Brain

Everyone is familiar with placebo effects. Just taking a pill can reduce pain you are feeling, even if that pill has no active ingredients in it. Indeed, placebo effects help even when you are taking an active ingredient. It is hard to study pain and placebo effects, because pain is subjective

Positive Fantasies Can Reduce Future Effort

It is important to visualize what is going to happen in the future. When you are making plans to accomplish a goal, it is valuable to think through all of the things that can go wrong. That simulation of the future can help you to figure out what you are going to do to overcome the obstacles that may keep you from achieving your aims.

The Pain of Positive Stereotypes

When we think of the problems that stereotypes cause, we typically focus on negative characteristics associated with groups. Over the years, I have been part of conversations where someone uses the term “Jew” to refer to someone who is being cheap. I leave those interactions frustrated and angry. Presumably, though, there are positive stereotypes as well.

I Want What Is Best for You, But What Is Easy for Me

At the end of a long week, we often order takeout food from a local restaurant rather than cooking. There are a lot of restaurants in Austin, and many of them serve really excellent food. Yet, we tend to order from the same small list of places. There are better restaurants, but by the time we get down to ordering, we are most interested in doing what is easiest.

Do You Prefer More Choice or Less? It Depends on Distance

The appeal of big box retailers has always been a mystery to me. On those rare occasions when I have to go to a place like Bed, Bath, and Beyond, I often find it frustrating. There were so many options, that I am not at all sure that I got the best one. So, why are these stores so crowded?

When You’re Sad, You Want Things NOW!

You have probably seen cases where your mood influences your choices. You watch different movies when you are sad than when you are not. You listen to different music. You engage in different activities. Is it possible, though, that being sad could cost you money?

Language Changes Distance and Mood

We all know that thinking about happy memories can make you happy, while thinking about sad events from the past can make you sad. This relationship is so well-established that it is often used as a manipulation of people’s mood in experiments.

Thinking About the Actions of People and Groups

We often make generalizations about the behavior of groups of people. We might say that college students are prone to binge drink or that older people tend to go to sleep early. Do our beliefs about the individuals who come from these groups match our beliefs about the group as a whole?

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