The Dangers of Extreme Praise

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

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?

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.

Third Graders’ Beliefs about Intelligence Affect Judgments

One of the most fascinating findings to emerge from research in the last 20 years is the role of beliefs about cognitive skills on later performance. The work started by Carol Dweck and her colleagues demonstrates that people generally hold one of two types of beliefs about cognitive skills. How do these judgments affect learning behaviors of younger children?

Egocentrism and Negotiation Failure

Negotiations and disagreements are difficult for many reasons. We set them up as antagonistic, and so we assume that when we win, our rival loses and vice versa. Consequently, we sometimes miss opportunities to find agreements that benefit both sides.

Rich, Entitled, and Narcissistic

Narcissists are self-centered people who take the view that they are far more important than the people around them. They promote themselves to the exclusion of others and take other people’s successes as competition to their own. They also tend to suck the life out of groups, because they steal the limelight and push their own agenda at the expense of others.
Stopping Unwanted Behaviors

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

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

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

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.