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Why Haters Have to Hate

More from PsyBlog – this guy just continues to come up with pearlers!

http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/08/why-haters-have-to-hate.php

 

 

Why Haters Have to Hate

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Are you an instinctive ‘liker’ or an instinctive ‘hater’?

Some people have the talent to find the bad in anything.

Mountains, brie, Greece, electric toothbrushes; you name it, they don’t like it. And they want to tell you exactly why.

A new study published in theJournal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests this might be a newly identified aspect of personality: how much people are predisposed to like or hate stuff, even if they know almost nothing about it (Helper & Albarracin, 2013).

To investigate, the researchers asked people questions about loads of different things that weren’t connected.

They included everything from ‘abortion’, ‘America’, ‘antidepressants’ and ‘architecture’ down to ‘voluntary euthanasia’, ‘wearing clothes that draw attention’ and ‘wine’.

Imagine if you took five of your friends and asked them about subjects as varied as these; surely you’d get really varied responses. Some people like wine and wearing clothes that draw attention, other people dislike those things. Others couldn’t care less either way.

What the researchers found was that there was certainly lots of variation between what people liked and disliked. But, oddly, at a general level, people were split between likers and haters.

In other words, some people tended to like stuff even though they didn’t really know much about it, and some people had the tendency to hate stuff, whatever it was.

The authors of this article argue that this initial stance towards anything and everything is a facet of personality. In the same way that you can be either extroverted or introverted, you can also be a ‘liker’ or a ‘hater’.

So, the answer to why the haters have to hate is that it’s built into them at the level of their personality.

Now, how you might become a like or a hater in the first place, we don’t yet know. Likely, it’s got a lot to do with genetics. Some people are born haters, others born likers.

But there’s also likely a learning component: people probably learn to become haters—hating from an early age, and so forth.

It raises all kinds of fascinating questions: does being a hater run in the family? Can a liker and a hater be in a relationship together? Which professions have the most haters?

I’ll leave you to ponder these and more important questions!

Image credit: Minh Hoang

 

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How to Set Better Goals

More from PsyBlog – this time on setting goals (which is one of those totally critical elements of business, management and consulting): http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/08/how-to-set-better-goals-avoid-four-common-mistakes.php

 

Badly set goals can degrade performance, motivate unethical behaviour and damage organisations.

It’s no accident that goal-setting pervades so many areas of modern life.

There are hundreds of research studies going back decades showing that setting goals can increase people’s performance.

Most have heard the goal-setting mantra that goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-targeted (S.M.A.R.T.); but few recognise the dangers of poor goal-setting and the unintended consequences that can follow.

Here’s how to avoid four common problems with goal-setting, which are highlighted by Ordonez et al. (2009) at the Harvard Business School.

1. Too specific

The problem with setting goals that are too specific is that they can bias people’s behaviour in unintended ways.  For example:

  • If you use goals to effectively tell a university professor that all that’s important is publishing articles, then what is going to happen to her teaching?
  • If you tell call-centre staff that the main thing is how quickly they answer the phone, what’s going to happen to how they deal with the call?

Very specific goals can degrade overall performance by warping the way people view their jobs.

Better goals: keep them somewhat vague. This gives people control and choice over how they do their jobs. When people are given vaguer goals they can take into account more factors: in short it makes them think for themselves. It’s no wonder that having control is strongly linked with job satisfaction.

2. Too many goals

Perhaps the answer, then, is to set loads of goals which cover all aspects of a person’s work? Not necessarily, as that introduces its own problems.

For one thing people tend to concentrate on the easiest goal to the exclusion of the others. For example, in one study participants were given both quality and quantity goals related to a task. When quantity goals were easier to achieve than quality, they focused mostly on quantity.

This study is showing how a well-meaning goal can warp people’s behaviour in unintended directions.

Better goals: limit the total number of goals. Apart from anything else, who can remember 10 or 20 goals they are supposed to be working towards?

3. Short-termism

Why is it so hard to get a cab on a rainy day?

The answer isn’t just that more people are hailing cabs; it’s also that the cab drivers go home earlier because they hit their targets earlier for the day. So Camerer et al., (1997) found in their study of New York cab drivers.

This is a prime example of short-termism: goals can make people believe that when they hit their target, they can take the rest of the day (or month!) off.

This works at an organisational level as well: if an organisation is continually working to meet short-term goals, it can neglect the long-term importance of innovation and evolution.

Better goals: Make sure short-term goals don’t interfere with the long-term vision, otherwise they can be corrosive for the organisation.

4. Too hard

When goals are too hard, they encourage people to do anything in order to meet them; that includes unethical behaviour.

One example of unethical behaviour prompted by poor goals was in the hard disk manufacturer, MiniScribe. Back in 1989, in order to meet financial targets, they began shipping bricks instead of hard drives. The bricks sat unopened for a few weeks in a Singapore warehouse, while Miniscribe successfully invoiced for them. The company soon went into bankruptcy.

Miniscribe’s story is also a brilliant example of short-term thinking. What did they think was going to happen when the bricks were discovered, as they surely would be?

Similarly, research has also shown that when people are set more difficult goals, they are more willing to take risks. In some circumstances this may be acceptable, but often it is not.

Not only that, but goals that are too hard are simply demotivating. How come almost reaching your target feels like failure, even when you’re 99% there?

Better goals: Set genuinely achievable goals rather than so-called ‘stretch’ goals. These will avoid encouraging people to behave unethically.

New rules of goal-setting

All of these problems are further exaggerated by larger the incentives. When there are huge amounts of money at stake, then badly set goals can distort human behaviour even more.

So, use these warnings as ways to set better goals, and be careful of unintended consequences.

Ordonez et al. (2009) conclude by saying:

“Rather than dispensing goal setting as a benign, over-the-counter treatment for students of management, experts need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision.”

With that warning in mind, here are some new rules of goal-setting

  • Goals should be somewhat abstract.
  • Goals should be set with an eye on the long-term.
  • Goals should be relatively limited in number.
  • Goals should not be too hard to achieve.

(Oh, and unless they’ve ordered them, never ship bricks.)

 

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The New Science of ‘The Meeting’ — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/07/the-new-science-of-the-meeting.php

 

The subtle signals that—thank the heavens—decisions are being made and how long the wrap-up will last.

Until now people have been gathering around tables and whiteboards without properly understanding what is going on in ‘The Meeting’.

Perhaps that’s why so many of them feel like a complete waste of time. As ‘The Meeting’ stretches out, participants start to feel lost, adrift, confused and unsure of the point.

But now, thanks to an analysis of 95 meetings by researchers at MIT, we understand this strange beast a little better (Kim & Rudin, 2013).

‘The Meeting’, it seems, sends out little clues about what stage it’s at through the language of those at ‘The Meeting’.

Although it sounds incredible, by close textual analysis of the words being used, you can tell when a decision is being made.

Usually, of course, decisions are avoided at all costs in ‘The Meeting’ in case anyone has to actually do anything as a result of ‘The Meeting’.

But if you listen carefully enough, you can hear the almost imperceptible signal that agreement is being reached. That signal, according to the MIT researchers, is when people start asking each other for specific information:

“As it turns out, the important parts of the meeting are characterized mostly by information and information request dialogue acts, and very few offers, rejections, or acceptances. We hypothesize that at the important parts of the meeting, when the decisions have been narrowed down and few choices remain, the meeting participants would like to ensure that they have all the relevant information necessary to make the decision, and that the outcome will fit within all of their constraints.”

The question is, then, how can you persuade other people to reach one of these mythical ‘decisions’ which we hear so much about, yet which are so elusive in ‘The Meeting’?

The researchers argue that top of the potential list comes the word ‘yeah’. Apparently when people start their utterances with ‘yeah’, this is a particularly good signal that ‘The Meeting’ is creeping ever-so-slowly towards this so-called ‘decision’.

OK, it’s a miracle and ‘the meeting’ has made its ‘decision’, now, how long ’till I can get out of here? Not so fast, now we’ve got the wrap-up.

The MIT researchers found that how long the wrap-up lasts depends on how long it’s taken to reach a decision. Once ‘The Meeting’ was over 14 minutes, the longer it was, the shorter the wrap-up. After the decision was made, people in ‘The Meeting’, if it was 14 minutes long, took 18 further minutes to wrap-up.

But, if ‘The Meeting’ went to 35 minutes, the wrap-up normally only lasted about 10 minutes.

Over to you…

Why not conduct your own experiments in meeting science? All you need is a boring meeting to go to and a keen eye for details:

  • How long until people start asking each other for detailed information? (Here comes the decision.)
  • How long until people keep starting their sentences with ‘yeah’? (This is it, we’re making a decision now.)
  • How long does the wrap-up take as a proportion of total meeting length? (And then bliss, sweet freedom, ‘the meeting’ is over.)

Please send your results to MIT, not me.

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Social Identity Theory — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/11/why-groups-and-prejudices-form-so.php

 

This classic social psychology experiment shows how little excuse people need to form into groups and start discriminating against others.

People’s behaviour in groups is fascinating and frequently disturbing. As soon as humans are bunched together in groups we start to do odd things: copy other members of our group, favour members of own group over others, look for a leader to worship and fight other groups. Just glance at Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment for proof of how easy it is to provoke war between groups.

But think about the types of groups you belong to, and you’ll realise they differ dramatically. Some groups are more like soldiers in the same unit or friends who have known each other from childhood. Long-standing, tight-knit, protecting each other. Perhaps it’s not surprising people in these groups radically change their behaviour, preferring members of their own group over others in many ways.

Other groups, though, are much looser. Supporters of a large sports club, for example, or work colleagues only together on a project for a few months or even a group of people in an art gallery appreciating a painting.

It seems impossible that people stood together for only 30 seconds to look at a painting can be said to form a group in any measurable way. Surely it’s too fleeting, too ephemeral? This is exactly the type of question social psychologist Henry Tajfel and colleagues set out to answer (Tajfel et al., 1971).

They believed it was possible for a group, along with its attendant prejudices, to form at the drop of a hat. In fact they thought a group could form even when there was no face-to-face contact between members, none of the people knew each other and their ‘group’ behaviour had no practical consequences. In other words they had absolutely nothing to gain (or lose) from this barely existent group.

Forming a ‘minimal group’

Tajfel and colleagues came up with a neat solution for testing their idea. Participants, who were 14 and 15 year-old boys, were brought into the lab and shown slides of paintings by Klee and Kandinsky. They were told their preferences for the paintings would determine which of two groups they would join.

Of course, this was a lie designed to set up the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in their minds. The experimenters wanted two groups of boys with not the faintest idea who was also in their own group or what the grouping meant or what they had to lose or gain.

After this setup, the boys were taken to a cubicle, one at a time. Each was then asked to distribute virtual money to the other members of both groups. The only information they had about who they were giving it to was a code number for each boy and that boy’s group membership.

There were a series of rules for the distribution of the money that were designed to tease out who the boys favoured: their own group or the other group. The rules were changed slightly in different trials so that it was possible to test a number of theories. Did the boys distribute the money:

  • Fairly?
  • To obtain maximum joint profit?
  • For maximum ingroup (own group) profit?
  • For maximum difference between groups?
  • Using favouritism? This involves a combination of maximum ingroup profit and maximum difference?

Startling findings

From the way the virtual money was distributed, the boys did indeed demonstrate the classic behavioural markers of group membership: they favoured their own group over the other. And this pattern developed consistently over many, many trials and has subsequently been replicated in other experiments in which groups were, if you can believe it, even more minimal.

When I first came across this experiment, my first reaction was to find it startling. Remember, the boys had no idea who was in their group ‘with them’ or who was in the other group. But, the most puzzling aspect of this experiment is that the boys had nothing whatsoever to gain from favouring their own group – there didn’t seem to be anything riding on their decisions.

Out in the real world there’s a good reason to favour your own group – normally it is also advantageous to yourself. You protect yourself by protecting others like you.

Social identity theory

What Tajfel argued, though, was that there was something riding on the decisions the boys made, but it was something very subtle, yet incredibly profound.

Tajfel argued that people build their own identities from their group memberships. For example, think of each of the groups you belong to: say at work, or within your family. Part of who you are is probably defined by these groups. Putting it the other way around: the nature of your group memberships define your identity.

As our group membership forms our identity, it is only natural for us to want to be part of groups that are both high status and have a positive image. Crucially though, high status groups only have that high status when compared to other groups. In other words: knowing your group is superior requires having a worse group to look down upon.

Seen in the light of social identity theory, then, the boys in the experiment do have a reason to be selfish about the allocation of the virtual cash. It is all about boosting their own identities through making their own group look better.

Criticisms

No experiment can, or should, be automatically taken at face value. Questions have to be asked about whether it is really telling us what the authors claim. There are two criticisms often levelled at this experiment and its interpretation:

  1. The participant’s behaviour can be explained by simple economic self-interest. But: in another experiment only symbols were used rather than ‘virtual’ money and the results were the same.
  2. The participants were responding to what they thought the experimenters wanted (psychologists call this ‘demand characteristics’). But: Tajfel argues it is unclear to the participants what the experimenters wanted. Recall that the rules for distributing money frequently changed. Also, the participants were encouraged to think that choosing whose paintings they liked (the ‘first’ experiment) was unrelated to the allocation of virtual money (the ‘second’ experiment).

Despite these criticisms, Tajfel and colleagues’ findings have stood the test of time. The experiment, or something like it, has been repeated many times with different variations producing much the same results.

Centrality of group membership

Social identity theory states that our identities are formed through the groups to which we belong. As a result we are motivated to improve the image and status of our own group in comparison with others.

Tajfel and colleagues’ experiment shows that group membership is so important to us that we join the most ephemeral of groups with only the slightest prompting. We will then go out of our way to make our own group look better compared to others.

The simple fact of how important group membership is to us, and how easily we join groups, often without realising it, is both a subtle and profound observation about human nature.

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Conformity — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/11/i-cant-believe-my-eyes-conforming-to.php

 

This study shows that many of us will deny our own senses just to conform with others.

We all know that humans are natural born conformers – we copy each other’s dress sense, ways of talking and attitudes, often without a second thought. But exactly how far does this conformity go? Do you think it is possible you would deny unambiguous information from your own senses just to conform with other people?

Have a look at the figure below. Compare the line on the left with the three lines on the right: A, B & C. Which of these three lines is the same length as the lonesome line on the left?

Asch Lines

It’s obviously C. And yet in a classic psychology experiment conducted in the 1950s, 76% of people denied their own senses at least once, choosing either A or B. What kind of strong-arm psychological pressure tactics made them do this?

The fascinating thing about this experiment was that its creator, renowned psychologist Solomon Asch, set out to prove the exact opposite. A previous experiment by Muzafer Sherif (see his well-known Robbers Cave experiment) had found that when people were faced with making a judgement on an ambiguous test, they used other people’s judgements as a reference point.

This makes perfect sense. If I’m not sure about something, I’ll check with someone else. But this is only when I’m not sure. The situation is quite different when I have unambiguous information, such as when I can clearly see the answer myself. Other people’s judgement should then have no effect – or at least that’s what Asch thought.

The experiment

To test his theory he brought male undergraduates, one at a time, into a room with eight other people who were passed off as fellow participants (Asch, 1951). They were then shown three lines with another for comparison, similar to the figure above. Participants were asked to call out which line – A, B or C – was the same length as the reference line. This procedure was repeated 12 times with participants viewing variations of the above figure.

What the participants didn’t realise was that all the other people sat around the table were in on the game. They were all confederates who had been told by the experimenter to give the wrong answer. On half of the trials they called out the line that was too short, and on the other half the line that was too long.

The real experimental participant, who knew nothing of this, was actually the sixth to call out their answer after five other confederates of the experimenter had given the wrong answer.

Surprising findings

The results were fascinating, and not at all what Asch had been expecting:

  • 50% of people gave the same wrong answer as the others on more than half of the trials.
  • Only 25% of participants refused to be swayed by the majority’s blatantly false judgement on all of the 12 trials.
  • 5% always conformed with the majority incorrect opinion (we all know people like that, right?!)
  • Over all the trials the average conformity rate was 33%.

Intrigued as to why participants had gone along with the majority, Asch interviewed them after the experiment. Their answers are probably very familiar to all of us:

  • All felt anxious, feared disapproval from others and became self-conscious.
  • Most explained they saw the lines differently to the group but then felt the group was correct.
  • Some said they went along with the group to avoid standing out, although they knew the group was wrong.
  • A small number of people actually said they saw the lines in the same way as the group.

The findings of this study were so startling they inspired many psychologists to investigate further. Here are a few of their findings:

  • Asch himself found that if the participant only had to write down their answer (while others called theirs out) conformity was reduced to 12.5%.
  • Deutsch and Gerard (1955) still found conformity rates of 23% even in conditions of high anonymity and high certainty about the answer.
  • Those who are ‘conformers’ typically have high levels of anxiety, low status, high need for approval and often authoritarian personalities.
  • Cultural differences are important in conformity. People from cultures which view conformity more favourably – typically Eastern societies – are more likely to conform.

A mixed blessing

The variations on the original theme go on and on, examining many possible experimental permutations, but the basic finding still remains solid. While there’s no surprise that we copy each other, it’s amazing that some people will conform despite the evidence from their own eyes. Imagine how much easier it is to encourage conformity when ambiguity levels are much higher, as they often are in everyday life.

Conformity itself is something of a mixed blessing. In many situations we need conformity. In fact, many aspects of our social lives would be much harder if we didn’t conform to a certain extent – whether it’s to legal rules or just to queuing in the post office.

The dangers of conformity are only too well-known, just take a look at the implications of Milgram’s obedience experiments for a glimpse at what humans will do in the name of conformity. Sometimes it really is better if we think for ourselves rather than relying on what others say and do.

How does conformity affect us all?

It certainly bears considering how our own lives would be different if, one day, we decided not to conform, or even to suddenly start conforming. Would things get better or worse for you? Many people find their inability to conform is a real problem in their lives while others find it more difficult to break away and do their own thing.

Image credit: Barabeke

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Robbers Cave Experiment — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/09/war-peace-and-role-of-power-in-sherifs.php

 

Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment, a classic study of prejudice and conflict, has at least one hidden story.

The typical retelling of Sherif’s classic Robbers Cave experiment highlights the resolution of intergroup prejudice, but recent interpretations suggest a darker conclusion that demonstrates the corrupting influence of power.

The Robbers Cave experiment, a classic study of prejudice and conflict, has at least one hidden story. The well-known story emerged in the decades following the experiment as textbook writers adopted a particular retelling. With repetition people soon accepted this story as reality, forgetting it is just one version of events, one interpretation of a complex series of studies. As scholars have returned to the Robbers Cave experiment another story has emerged, putting a whole new perspective on the findings.

First though, the more familiar story…

Conflict and prejudice

In this experiment twenty-two 11 year-old boys were taken to a summer camp in Robbers Cave State Park, Oklahoma, little knowing they were the subjects of an experiment. Before the trip the boys were randomly divided into two groups. It’s these two groups that formed the basis of Sherif’s study of how prejudice and conflict build up between two groups of people (Sherif et al., 1961).

When the boys arrived, they were housed in separate cabins and, for the first week, did not know about the existence of the other group. They spent this time bonding with each other while swimming and hiking. Both groups chose a name which they had stencilled on their shirts and flags: one group was the Eagles and the other the Rattlers.

Name calling

The two groups now established, the experiment moved into its second phase. For the first time the two groups were allowed to find out about each other and soon the signs of intergroup conflict emerged in the form of verbal abuse.

A little name-calling wasn’t enough, though. The experimenters wanted to increase the conflict substantially. To do this they pitted the groups against each other in a series of competitions. This ratcheted up the antagonism between the two groups, especially once all the team scores were added up and the Rattlers won the overall trophy for the competitive activities. They didn’t let the Eagles forget it.

The Rattlers staked their claim to the ball field by planting their flag in it. Later on each group started name calling at the other and singing derogatory songs. Soon the groups were refusing to eat in the same room together.

Making peace

With conflict between the groups successfully instigated, the experiment now moved into its final phase. Could the experimenters make the two groups kiss and make up? First of all they tried some activities in which the two groups were brought together, such as watching a film and shooting firecrackers, but neither of these worked.

The experimenters then tried a new approach. They took the two groups to a new location and gave them a series of problems to try and solve. In the first problem the boys were told the drinking water supply had been attacked by vandals. After the two groups successfully worked together to unblock a faucet, the first seeds of peace were sown.

In the second problem the two groups had to club together to pay for the movie they wanted to watch. Both groups also agreed on which movie they should watch. By the evening the members of both groups were once again eating together.

The groups ‘accidentally’ came across more problems over the next few days. The key thing about each of them was that they involved superordinate goals: boys from both groups worked together to achieve something they all had an interest in. Finally all the boys decided to travel home together in the same bus. Peace had broken out all over.

Sherif reached an important conclusion from this study, and other similar work carried out in the 1940s and 50s. He argued that groups naturally develop their own cultures, status structures and boundaries. Think of each of these groups of boys as like a country in microcosm. Each country has its own culture, its government, legal system and it draws boundaries to differentiate itself from neighbouring countries. From these internal structures, the roots of conflict in both the groups of boys and between countries are created.

One of the reasons Sherif’s study is so famous is that it appeared to show how groups could be reconciled, how peace could flourish. The key was the focus on superordinate goals, those stretching beyond the boundaries of the group itself. It seemed that this was what brought the Rattlers and the Eagles back together.

The other story

What is often left out of the familiar story is that it was not the first of its type, but actually the third in a series carried out by Sherif and colleagues. The two earlier studies had rather less happy endings. In the first, the boys ganged up on a common enemy and in the second they ganged up on the experimenters themselves. How does this alter the way we look at the original Robbers Cave experiment?

Michael Billig argues that when looking at all three studies, Sherif’s work involves not just two groups but three, the experimenters are part of the system as well (Billig, 1976). In fact, with the experimenters included, it is clear they are actually the most powerful group. Much of the conflict between the two groups of boys is orchestrated by the experimenters. The experimenters have a vested interest in creating conflict between the two groups of boys. It was they who had the most to lose if the experiment went wrong, and the most to gain if it went right.

Power relations

The three experiments, then, one with a ‘happy’ ending, and two less so, can be seen in terms of the possible outcomes when a powerful group tries to manipulate two weaker groups. Sometimes they can be made to play fair (experiment three), sometimes the groups will unite against a common enemy (experiment one) and sometimes they will turn on the powerful group (experiment two).

For psychologist Frances Cherry it is the second experiment which makes this analysis plausible. When the boys rebel against the experimenters, they showed understanding of how they were being manipulated (Cherry, 1995). Although the Robbers Cave experiment is, in some sense, the ‘successful’ study, taken together with the other two it is more realistic. In reality, Cherry argues, it is more often the case that groups hold unequal amounts of power.

Weak groups can rebel

Unequal levels of power between groups fundamentally changes the dynamic between them. Whether it’s countries, corporations, or just families, if one group has more power, suddenly the way is open for orchestrated competitions and cooperation, not to mention manipulation. Manipulating other groups, though, is a dangerous game, and weaker groups don’t always play by the rules set for them. Perhaps this is the more subtle, if less enduring message of the Robbers Cave experiment and its supposedly less successful predecessors.

 

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10 Easy Activities Science Has Proven Will Make You Happier Today — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/07/10-easy-activities-science-has-proven-will-make-you-happier-today.php

A thankful message, spending on others, listening to music, happy daydreams and more…
Science can make you happier. Do at least some of these activities today and feel the positive vibrations flow. Keep it going for a week or longer and feel your mood lift.

1. Mentally subtract something good from your life

People spend a lot of time thinking about good things that didn’t happen, but might have done. But what about the good things that did happen that might not have?

Say you’d never met your partner or friend or got that job? What would life be like without some of those things we take for granted?

Thinking about what might not have been can be tremendously powerful if used in the right way. Counter-factual thinking can create meaning in life and, and can increase satisfaction with what you have (Koo et al., 2008).

So, mentally subtract something good from your life to really appreciate it.

2. Send a thankful message

Gratitude is a powerful emotion that helps us enjoy what we have.

Evoke it right now by sending an email, text or letter to someone who has helped you in some way. Thank them for what they have done for you, however small.

It’s easy and quick and one study has found that practising gratitude can increase happiness 25%. Another found that just three letters over a three-week period was enough to reliably increase happiness and life satisfaction (Toepfer et al., 2012).

3. Spend money on someone else

Money can make you happy but only if you use it in the right way (see: how to spend wisely).

One of the easiest ways is by spending it on others. So, why does spending on others increase your happiness?

“It’s partly because giving to others makes us feel good about ourselves. It helps promote a view of ourselves as responsible and giving people, which in turn makes us feel happy. It’s also partly because spending money on others helps cement our social relationships. And people with stronger social ties are generally happier.”

So, buy a friend a present today or take them out to lunch. You’ll feel good about it, I promise.

4. Get some exercise

What’s the number one strategy that people use to feel better, increase their energy levels and reduce tension? Exercise.

It doesn’t have to be a marathon; a simple walk around the block will do the trick. We all know it’ll make us feel better to get out and stretch our legs, but there are always excuses to avoid it.

If you’re at home, make time for a trip that doesn’t involve the car and does involve your legs. If you’re in the office, make sure you get out for a walk at lunch-time instead of eating sandwiches in front of the computer.

5. Listen to music

Number two on the list of all time top strategies people use for feeling better is: listening to music.

Music can influence mood in many ways but most people rate its power to manage our positive moods as the top reason they love music. We particularly like the fact that it can make our good moods even better.

Even sad music can bring pleasure as many people enjoy the contradictory mix of emotions it creates.

6. Make plans…

Remember those childhood days leading up to Christmas when you couldn’t wait to rip open your presents? The pleasure in anticipation was just incredible.

Research on the psychology of happiness shows that anticipation can be a powerful positive emotion. We enjoy looking forward to things much more than we enjoy looking back on them afterwards (Van Boven & Ashworth, 2007).

So, make a plan now and try to always have something to look forward to, however small.

7. …with friends

The best types of plans to make are with friends.

It’s not just that you’ll have the pleasure of anticipation; it’s also that you’re keeping the friendship alive.

One study of 8 million phone calls has found, not exactly surprisingly, that when people call each other back, their friendships are much more likely to survive (Hidalgo & Rogriguez-Sickert, 2007).

If an economic incentive might help motivate you to make plans with friends, then here is one from research that attempted to put a monetary value on different types of social relationships (Powdthavee, 2008):

“…a move from “seeing friends or relatives less than once a month” to “seeing friends or relatives on most days” is now estimated to be worth an extra £85,000 a year for a representative individual”

In other words: you’d have to earn £85,000 ($130,000) more a year to make you as happy as if you saw friends or relatives on most days of the week.

So, not only is staying in touch with friends good, but it’ll save you a lot of effort trying to earn more money at work.

8. List 3 good things that happened today

At the end of the day, before you go to bed, spend a few minutes thinking about three good things that happened today. They don’t have to be that amazing; just three things that made you feel a little better. You can also think about why they happened.

In one study in which people carried out this exercise, their happiness was increased, and depressive symptoms decreased, fully six months afterwards (Seligman et al., 2005).

If you’ve done some of the things mentioned here, then you’ll already have at least three things for your list.

9. Practice your signature strengths

Simply put this means doing things you are good at. Whatever it is, people are usually cheered up when they do things at which they excel.

Think about things that you are good at: it could be social skills, physical skills, sporting skills or anything really. It could be making someone laugh or giving someone a helping hand.

Then take some time during the day to use that skill. When people practice their signature strengths it makes them happier.

10. A happy daydream

If you’re less of a doer and more of a dreamer, then this activity is for you: have a happy daydream.

Over the course of the day our minds tend to wander a lot, but directing that mind-wandering in a positive way can be very beneficial.

In this research on life-savouring strategies, positive mental time travel was found to be one of the most effective. In the study people thought back to times in their lives that gave them pleasure; moments filled with success, love and friendship.

The mind may try to fight back by travelling back to past embarrassments or failures, but keep it locked into a happy daydream for the best boost.

Go on, sit back and have a little daydream…

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Backup Plans, Motivation, Projects and Choices

Another PsyBlog , this time about Backup Plans, Motivation, Projects and Choices:


 

Why backup plans (sometimes) motivate, even if you never use them.

Before reading a new article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, I never thought of a backup plan as something that might be motivating in itself.

Surely all the benefit of a backup plan accrues when the main plan goes wrong and there’s something to fall back on?

While coming up with a ‘plan b’ might be necessary, I always thought of it more as a chore. (Ho-hum now I’ve made my main plan, instead of getting started, I’ve got to spend more time thinking about an alternative plan).

But when you start to think about it, backup plans don’t just make sense as, well, backup plans, but also as a means of driving you forward at the precarious early stages of a project.

That’s because our motivation to succeed is heavily tied in with our expectations of success. No one drives to a shop that they are pretty sure is closed. What feeds our motivation is knowing that we have a good chance of achieving the goal.

It sounds obvious but it leads to a non-obvious conclusion. It means that a little more time spent thinking about a backup plan or alternative ways to get where you’re going will help you, even if you never have to actually use them.

Opportunity drives motivation

A new study demonstrates this nicely using a coffee shop customer loyalty programme (Huang & Zhang, 2013).

Participants were told they had to get a card stamped six times to get a free coffee. One group in the study, though, was manipulated into thinking that they had more ways of collecting stamps than the other group. So, some people thought there were more ways of reaching their goal than others.

Again: actually there weren’t more ways of getting stamps—the experimenters were trying to remove the better known advantage of a backup plan (that you might need to use it) and just look at the effects on motivation of thinking there are more ways to achieve your goal.

What they found was that those who thought there were more alternatives for collecting the loyalty stamps were almost twice as likely to join the programme.

They also checked this out in different contexts and got the same results again and again. When people thought there were more opportunities to donate blood, write reviews of movies, or memorise word lists, they demonstrated more motivation.

Backfiring backup plans

Backup plans, then, can sometimes have a motivating effect, but not always; there is a twist in the tail.

What about when you’re half-way through your project or towards that goal of yours? You’re starting to feel very confident that you will get there. What kind of effect do more alternatives for reaching your goal have then?

When Huang and Zhang looked at this, they found the effect reversed.

When people already had five stamps on their loyalty card, more ways to get the sixth and final one actually de-motivated them. Similarly when people thought the blood drive had almost reached its target, rather than being right at the beginning, fewer options lowered their motivation to donate.

This might seem a little strange, but it chimes with other research that has looked at the psychology of choices. Generally speaking, choices are more pleasurable at the beginning of a project. But once we’re on the road to success, options go from being a pleasure to a pain.

So backup plans, or alternative means of achieving our goals, start out reassuring, but end up as distractions.

This means that the use of options in motivation should be arranged like a funnel. At the start (the wide end), more options pump up initial motivation; but later on, when success is all but assured, options slow us down. Once the end is in sight (the narrow end), it’s far better to forget about backup plans and push on for victory.

Just the same is true when motivating others: give people options to get them interested at the start, but towards the end, they should be reduced to avoid distraction.

 

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How to do Brainstorming

PsyBlog strikes again, this time about brainstorming. As per usual, like this blog and here is what he has to say:


 

For many years brainstorming has been a very popular way for groups to generate new ideas, especially in business.

This is despite the fact that many studies have shown that groups actually produce fewer and less creative solutions than people working on their own. This was confusing: we are used to thinking that ‘many hands make light work’, and ‘two heads are better than one’.

The research showed, though, that many hands and heads made people nervous, lazy and blocked (for a more in-depth discussion see: Brainstorming Reloaded). In fact people perform better on their own at coming up with new ideas than in a brainstorming group.

This is highly perplexing. What we see from the creativity research is that great ideas often come from bolting together two so-so ideas. In other words: brainstorming should work.

Electronic Brainstorming

Now what’s emerging from the productivity research is that brainstorming is a good technique, but it needs a little tweaking.

Two candidates that provide a new twist on a promising formula are ‘Brainwriting’ and ‘Electronic Brainstorming’. Both use the basic brainstorming rules developed almost half a century ago by the advertising executive, Alex Faickney Osborn:

  1. Don’t criticize.
  2. Focus on quantity.
  3. Combine and improve ideas produced by others.
  4. Write down any idea that comes to mind, no matter how wild.

The pretty simple twist in Electronic Brainstorming is that it’s done online using any kind of internet chat method, like Microsoft Messenger. The only requirement is that all the participants can see the other ideas as they scroll down the screen.

Brainwriting, on the other hand, is a little more old-school and involves sitting together and writing down your ideas on Post-It notes. Participants initial their ideas and put them in the centre of the table for others to see. No talking is allowed.

A new study has compared both of these techniques and found that it is Electronic Brainstorming that produces the most non-redundant new ideas (Michinov, 2012).

The drawback of the Brainwriting method is that each person has to reach forward and pick up other ideas and people don’t do this as much as they should.

In contrast, Electronic Brainstorming allows (forces, even) every member to see what the other’s are saying with little or no effort. It means that the group is exposed to the flow of ideas with very little effort.

On top of this it solves some of the problems with face-to-face brainstorming. When it’s done online, each person doesn’t have to wait for the others to stop talking and is less worried about being evaluated (plus brainstomers don’t have to be in the same country!).

This probably helps to explain why people report finding Electronic Brainstorming to be a satisfying experience.

One final tip: Electronic Brainstorming research suggests the best results are gained in groups of 8 or more.

 

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Fear of Loss

Now here’s a quote for you:

Employees do not fear change – they fear loss: loss of status, loss of power, loss of freedom to make decisions, and loss of purpose.

It comes courtesy of Judith Glaser and her DRIVE methodology, part of her Creating WE offering.

Makes sense really – and completely re-frames the whole “change management” chestnut that is rolled out in organisations all the time.

 

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