Archive for category Life

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

No Comments

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…

No Comments

Passwords

Constant bane of our computing life, but here are some resources:

Update (25 June 2017): Comparitech added.

A little commentary …

Security of a password when it comes to brute force hacking of passwords depends very much on the number of characters used in the password, since the number of combinations to be tried increases exponentially (well, not precisely exponentially in pure mathematical terms, but you know what I mean from a layman’s perspective. The maths would bore you) as more characters are added.

The common rules applied to make a password 8 characters (or at least more than 6) with at least one upper case, one digit and one special character are well and good, but really are not super-effective against a concerted hack, especially if one uses a “standard” type of password. What do I mean by a “standard” type of password? Well, in many instances, people use a word, with a capital as the first letter, then a special character (sometimes optional) then 1 or 2 digits at the end. The whole string is only 8 to 10 characters in length maximum. Knowing this type of behaviour, a hacker will apply some heuristics in their crack-search, to vastly reduce the amount of time to crack the password.

Thus, the first site above suggests that a 6 character only password with 1 capital letter could be cracked in 2 seconds and a 2 digit number could be cracked in 10 nanoseconds. If you had an 8 character password with 6 letters beginning with 1 capital and then 2 digits at the end, the site suggests it would take 6 hours to crack it (brute force approach), whereas cracking each independently and then trying all combinations of the two sets being brute-forced independently as one went would theoretically only take 20 seconds (hopefully my maths is correct).

Say adding the extra complexity of a special character just before the 2 digits would add an extra 2 nanoseconds for the special character and take 40 seconds for the whole lot to be cracked.

The same would apply if one turned the digits and special characters around (digits first, then special character then letters).

Furthermore, using a word search through a known dictionary even further reduces the number of permutations to search and the time to crack (very substantially).

The following snippet from a Wikipedia article on the subject is very informative:

Human-generated passwords

People are notoriously poor at achieving sufficient entropy to produce satisfactory passwords. According to one study involving half a million users, the average password entropy was estimated at 40.54 bits.[8] Some stage magicians exploit this inability for amusement, in a minor way, by divining supposed random choices (of numbers, say) made by audience members.

Thus, in one analysis of over 3 million eight-character passwords, the letter “e” was used over 1.5 million times, while the letter “f” was used only 250,000 times. A uniform distribution would have had each character being used about 900,000 times. The most common number used is “1”, whereas the most common letters are a, e, o, and r.[9]

Users rarely make full use of larger character sets in forming passwords. For example, hacking results obtained from a MySpace phishing scheme in 2006 revealed 34,000 passwords, of which only 8.3% used mixed case, numbers, and symbols.[10]

The full strength associated with using the entire ASCII character set (numerals, mixed case letters and special characters) is only achieved if each possible password is equally likely. This seems to suggest that all passwords must contain characters from each of several character classes, perhaps upper and lower case letters, numbers, and non-alphanumeric characters. In fact, such a requirement is a pattern in password choice and can be expected to reduce an attacker’s “work factor” (in Claude Shannon’s terms). This is a reduction in password “strength”. A better requirement would be to require a password NOT to contain any word in an online dictionary, or list of names, or any license plate pattern from any state (in the US) or country (as in the EU). In fact if patterned choices are required, humans are likely to use them in predictable ways, such a capitalizing a letter, adding one or two numbers, and a special character. If the numbers and special character are added in predictable ways, say at the beginning and end of the password,[11] they could even lower password strength compared to an all-letter, randomly selected, password of the same length.

The take-away: read all the Wikipedia articles on passwords and cracking etc, and follow the latest advice. At the moment, it appears to be to use a longer phrase (the more characters the better) and insert special characters and digits in random places in the phrase, if possible (not just at the front and the end).

 

No Comments

Mental Practice Makes Perfect

PsyBlog – http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/03/mental-practice-makes-perfect.php


Surgeons do it. Tennis players do it. But do the rest of us undervalue the mental rehearsal of challenging activities?

If you were to undergo brain surgery, would you care if the surgeon regularly carried out mental practice of the operation? Or, would you only be interested in the physical practice?

(By mental practice I don’t mean getting ‘psyched up’ or making plans or getting in the right frame of mind; I mean mentally running through the physical movements required for the operation.)

Quite naturally you’d probably be much more interested in how often the surgeon had carried out the operation in real life, rather than in his imagination.

But should you be? What is the value of mental practice, not just in surgery, but in life in general? How much benefit is there to mental rehearsal and do we undervalue the power of mental practice?

Rehearsal

For neurosurgery specifically there is no study looking at what difference mental practice can make (although some surgeons do carry out this sort of rehearsal). But we do know that for basic surgical techniques, mental practice can benefit performance.

One study by Sanders et al. (2008) was carried out on medical students. On top of their usual training—which included physical practice—half were trained in mental imagery techniques, while the other half studied their textbooks.

When the students carried out live surgery, those who’d used mental imagery performed better, on average, than those assigned the book learning.

Another study looking at laparoscopic surgery has also shown benefits for mental practice for novice surgeons (Arora et al., 2011).

Away from the operating theatre, the main way we’re used to hearing about mental rehearsal is in sports. Whether it’s an amateur tennis player or Roger Federer, sports-people often talk about how mental rehearsal improves their performance.

My favourite example is the British Formula 1 driver, Jenson Button. In practice he sits on an inflatable gym ball, with a steering wheel in his hands, shuts his eyes, and drives a lap of the circuit, all the while tapping out the gear changes. He does this in close to real time so that when he opens his eyes he’s not far off his actual lap time.

Powerful pinkies

The reason that sports-people, surgeons and many others are interested in the benefits of mental practice is that they can be so dramatic, plus they are effectively free.

Here’s a great example from a simple study in which some participants trained up a muscle in their little fingers using just the power of mental practice (Ranganathan et al., 2004). In the study participants were split into four groups:

  1. These people performed ‘mental contractions’ of their little finger. In other words, they imagined exercising their pinkies.
  2. Same as (1), but they performed mental contractions on their elbows, not their little fingers.
  3. Did no training at all.
  4. Carried out physical training on their little finger.

They all practised (or not) in the various different ways for four weeks. Afterwards, the muscle strength in their fingers and elbows was tested. Unsurprisingly those who’d done nothing hadn’t improved, while those who’d trained physically improved their muscle strength by an average of 53%.

The two mental practice groups couldn’t beat physical training, but they still did surprisingly well. Those imagining flexing their elbow increased their strength by 13.5% and those imagining flexing their little finger increased their strength by 35%. That’s surprisingly close to the 53% from physical training; I bet you wouldn’t have expected it to be that close.

Thinking practice

This is just strength training, but as we’ve seen there’s evidence that mental rehearsal of skills also produces benefits. Examples include mentally practising a music instrument, during rehabilitation from brain injuries and so on; the studies are starting to mount up.

Indeed some of these have shown that mental practice seems to work best for tasks that involve cognitive elements, in other words that aren’t just about physical actions (Driskell et al., 1994).

So it’s about more than mentally rehearsing your cross-court forehand. Rehearsal could also be useful for a job interview or important meeting; not just in what you’ll say but how you’ll talk, carry yourself and interact with others. Mental rehearsal could also be useful in how you deal with your children, or make a difficult phone call or how you’ll accomplish the most challenging parts of your job.

Notice the type of mental imagery I’m talking about here. It’s not so much about visualising ultimate success, with all its attendant pitfalls, but about visualising the process. What works is thinking through the steps that are involved and, with motor skills, the exact actions that you will perform.

To be effective, though, mental practice has to be like real practice: it should be systematic and as close to reality as you can make it. Just daydreaming won’t work. So if you make a mistake, you should work out why and mentally correct it. You should also make the practice as vivid as possible by tuning in to the sensory experience: what you can see, hear, feel and even smell, whatever is important.

If it can work for surgeons, elite athletes and little-finger-muscle-builders, then it can work for all of us.

Image credit: Adam Rhoades

 

 

No Comments

Persuasion

Once again, PsyBlog posts  an useful article on a rather easy persuasion technique: BYAF – go here (subscribe to his blog and buy his book).

This is what he had to say on the subject:


 

I’ll admit it. A few of the techniques for persuasion I’ve covered here on PsyBlog have been a little outlandish and impractical.

Things like swearingtalking in the right ear and pouring coffee down someone’s throat. The studies are interesting and fun but not widely useful.

The question is: which persuasion technique, based on psychological research, is most practical, can easily be used by anyone in almost any circumstances and has been consistently shown to work?

The answer is: the ‘But You Are Free’ technique. This simple approach is all about reaffirming people’s freedom to choose. When you ask someone to do something, you add on the sentiment that they are free to choose.

By reaffirming their freedom you are indirectly saying to them: I am not threatening your right to say no. You have a free choice.

A recent review of the 42 psychology studies carried out on this technique has shown that it is surprisingly effective given how simple it is (Carpenter, 2013). All in all, over 22,000 people have been tested by researchers. Across all the studies it was found to double the chances that someone would say ‘yes’ to the request.

People have been shown to donate more to good causes, agree more readily to a survey and give more to someone asking for a bus fare home.

The exact words used are not especially important. The studies have shown that using the phrase “But obviously do not feel obliged,” worked just as well as “but you are free”.

What is important is that the request is made face-to-face: the power of the technique drops off otherwise. Even over email, though, it does still have an effect, although it is somewhat reduced.

The BYAF technique is so simple and amenable that it can easily be used in conjunction with other approaches.

It also underlines the fact that people hate to be hemmed in or have their choices reduced. We seem to react against this attempt to limit us by becoming more closed-minded.

The BYAF technique, as with any good method of persuasion, is about helping other people come to the decision you want through their own free will. If they have other options, like simply walking away, and start to feel corralled, then you can wave them goodbye.

On the other hand, respecting people’s autonomy has the happy side-effect of making them more open to persuasion. You can look good and be more likely to get what you want. Nice.

 

No Comments

Getting Things Done – Boost Your Productivity

No, this is not an article on the GTD todo list or task management system.  But it is in the same field – a simple method of organising yourself and your day so that you actually end up achieving what you want to achieve (and not procrastinate with following interesting tidbits of trivia and doing urgent work (see my previous post on achieving priorities) or just wasting time to get through another day – and paycheck).

This article is by Sami Paju who blogs on positive psychology, productivity and human performance according to his blog byline.  I have just come across this blog, but it is rather interesting and serves up useful tidbits (there I go again, wasting my time on tidbits – just like I am not supposed to do!).  Subscribe to his blog and give him a go.

The productivity article, some of which I have reproduced below to give you a flavour of the full thing, is about organising what you should be doing into chunks of 30 or 60 minutes in a calendar, as proper diary entries – just as if they were important meetings which you have to attend (and be prepared for).  It certainly works and worth remembering whenever you hit a rut.  Enjoy … …

Read the rest of this entry »

No Comments

Achieving Priorities

Quora just posted an interesting article entitled: “How to master your time“, written by Oliver Emberton.  A little simplistic in places and occasionally brutal, it nevertheless provides an important reminder on how to go about achieving something that you want to achieve, rather than continually distracting yourself into a zero output oblivion.

I am sure that Oliver won’t mind me reproducing the core elements of what he said – go read the original – it has some nice little pictures in it … …

No Comments

Conversation as Ephemera

Now, I find this concept rather interesting: http://bokardo.com/archives/calling-snapchat-the-sexting-app-misses-a-huge-shift-in-mobile-photos-and-communication/

The basic premise is that, in the past, engaging in a conversation was totally ephemeral – it was NOT recorded for posterity, unless someone specifically wanted it to be recorded.  Hence, laws regulating taking secret recordings – people have to give explicit permission to be recorded.  Many computer products want to record everything for all eternity – thereby potentially leading to embarrassing or legally difficult situations in the future (those awful pictures of one when drunk, or the inappropriate status update or comment, which are available for everyone to see forever on Facebook).  But this is not what is necessarily intended by the participants, nor desired and maybe we should be moving back to ephemeral events (conversations, statements, comments, photos, etc) and only explicitly recording some as worthy of posterity.

 

No Comments

PsyBlog’s 10 Most Popular Psychological Insights From 2012

Here is PsyBlog’s 2012 Top Ten – definitely worth a read again (and again and again): http://www.spring.org.uk/2012/12/psyblogs-10-most-popular-psychological-insights-from-2012.php

No Comments

Six Honest Serving-Men

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

  • Rudyard Kipling
semantic-web: , ,

No Comments