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.

Anxiety and Moral Judgment

A fascinating aspect of humanity is that we hold ourselves to a high moral standard. We impose rules on ourselves to protect society from the short-term temptations that might cause us to do things that would have a negative impact in the long-run. How does emotion influence these judgments?

Does Rejection Make You Creative?

When you watch movies about high school, certain stereotypes repeat. The football players hang around in packs wearing their letter jackets with cheerleaders hanging off their arms. The science nerds sit quietly in the cafeteria eating lunch. And the artists sit by themselves—at a distance from all of this social interaction—watching the world go by.

Personality and Weight Gain

There is a tendency to look at people who have put on weight and assume that there is something about their personality that made them gain weight. We rarely contemplate the opposite possibility, though. Perhaps behaviors that lead people to gain weight actually lead to changes in people’s personality over time.

Can Video Games Make You Smart (Or At Least More Flexible)?

The potential ills of video game play have been broadcast all over the media. Not all effects of video games are bad, though. Can playing video games actually improve your cognitive flexibility?

Having a Hot Hand Increases Confidence, But Not Success

One of the great things about doing research is that you can actually test the beliefs that people take for granted. And sometimes, those beliefs are shown to be false. A classic example of this approach comes in the belief in a hot hand in basketball.

Anger, Fear, and Terrorism

High profile terrorist attacks have had an enormous impact on the modern world. In the wake of 9/11, the US government increased its investment in the “War on Terror” by giving Special Forces the responsibility to combat terrorism around the world. Events like the Boston Marathon bombing remind people of the potential danger of seemingly random violence.

Are the Youngest Children in Families the Most Rebellious?

There is a popular belief that the behavior of children in a family depends a lot on their birth order. First-born children are supposed to be fairly conformist, because they do not have to compete for their parents’ attention and resources at the start of their lives. Middle children have to fight hard for attention, and so they may rebel as a way of getting noticed.

Self-Compassion and Health

Self-compassion is the degree to which you treat yourself with kindness. It differs from related concepts like self-esteem, which is how good you feel about yourself. How does self-compassion influence your ability to deal with illness?

Self-Control and Success

Most of us believe that a certain amount of self-control is crucial for success. In order to succeed in the modern world, you need expertise in some area. Gaining that expertise requires work and practice. The discipline to work or practice at something means that you have to give up things that might be fun right now to enhance your future.

What Does the Brain Reveal About You?

Over the years, we have learned a lot from the study of brain damage as well as from brain imaging of normally functioning brains. Like a number of my colleagues, I have been concerned about the growing desire to capitalize on our understanding of the brain for financial gain.

What Kinds of People Start Businesses?

I live in Austin, Texas, which prides itself as a center for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are people who start their own businesses. In Austin, we have many different kinds of new businesses ranging from high-tech companies that want to be the next Dell or Facebook to food-truck restaurants where someone just wants to follow their dream of cooking for others.

People Who Lack Self-Control Value Others Who Have It

Willpower is a notoriously fickle thing. Some days, you can withstand even the fiercest temptation. On other days, you can be distracted from your goals by almost anything.

Do Parks Make People Happier?

I have been lucky enough to live in Austin, Texas for the past 15 years. One of the things that strikes people who visit here for the first time is how green it is. There are lots of small parks, greenbelts, and hills with woods. If you live in a place with lots of parks like this, does it affect your life satisfaction?

Do You Overearn?

In the 1980s, there was a bumper sticker that made the rounds that said, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That phrase always made me pause. On the one hand, toys are fun, and so if you work hard to accumulate lots of fun things to do and to enjoy, then perhaps that is true. But, what if you die with a lot of toys that you never play with?

Can You Make Teens Less Aggressive?

Over the past several years, I got to experience high school again through the eyes of my kids. Though I have enjoyed going to band concerts and choir concerts and plays, I am glad that I am beyond my high school years. Kids can be flat-out mean to each other.

Both Good and Bad Habits Are Boosted in Times of Stress

The effects of stress on willpower are a staple of romantic comedies. A character goes through a difficult romantic breakup, and in the next scene, she is sitting on the couch smeared in ice cream with empty wrappers strewn on the couch. Because these breakdowns of willpower are so clear, you might think that stressful situations bring out your worst behavior.

Distance Increases the Use of Statistics in Decisions

There is a real tension in decision making between using a broad sample of information and focusing on a compelling individual case. Presumably, a decision based on a lot of evidence is better than one that is based only on a specific case.

Culture Affects Attention to Goals and Processes

When you want to guide your behavior, you have to pay attention to two different things—the goal and the process. The goal is the outcome you want to have happen, while the process is the set of steps that will allow you to achieve that goal. Do people tend to focus on goals or processes?

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.