Tag Archives: psychology

How To Care For Introverts And Extroverts


The design comes from the Questionably Late Tumblr; the actual tips come from an article by a developmental psychologist. Then someone came up with a companion list for extroverts and the same designer made an image out of it:

From Questionably Late and Pretty Butch Lifts

Shrinks Really Need To See Someone About Their Issues

Someone asked the world’s smartest man, Cecil Adams, if it’s true that mental health professionals are crazier than the average person. Short answer: yes. The data Cecil gives, based on several studies, goes like this:

  • British psychiatrists have nearly five times the suicide rate of general practitioners
  • Britist psychiatrists are 46% more likely than other physicians to die from injuries and poisoning, and have a 12% greater risk of dying overall
  • American psychiatrists have two to three times the suicide rate of the general population
  • The divorce rate among pyshiatrists is 2.7x that of other doctors and 5x that of the general public
  • Finnish psychiatric staff is 81% more likely to have suffered from mental illness and 61% more likely to miss work due to depression
  • They’re also likely to smoke and drink a lot more than average
  • Female psychiatrists have a 67% greater likelihood of having psychological problems, usually depression, and have a 26% greater likelihood of having a family history of psychological problems
  • Male psychiatrists in California are almost twice as likely to be disciplined for unethical sexual relationships with patients as other physicians
  • One study found that 24 out of 25 psychiatrists chose the profession so they could explore some conflict in their lives

Dr. Thredson from American Horror Story


There’s a psychiatrist on the disappointing second season of American Horror Story (spoiler alert!), who turns out to be a serial killer, and who only became a psychiatrist to explore his own issues. Turns out, that’s not that far fetched of an idea. Ditto goes for Dr. Weston from In Treatment, who also has a trunk full of issues.

From The Straight Dope

How To Make Procrastination Work For You

Procrastination is a big problem for procrastinators, who generally would rather do anything than the thing they have to do right then. Strategies to defeat procrastination usually involve “just making yourself do it”, which also usually fails miserably. Common thinking would have procrastinators keep few things on their to-do list so that they can focus on something worthwhile. This comes from the assumption that procrastinators are lazy, which they are probably not. What they are is anti-authoritarian: they’re not avoiding taking out the trash because it’s difficult, but rather they reject the notion that they have to do anything.

Procrastinators see themselves as free people who do what they want, when they want and therefore no one tells them what to do, themselves included. So the problem is the procrastinator feeling like he has to do a particular thing, which implies he has no choice:

If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him to do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely, and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important. — from “Structured Procrastination“, by John Perry

The above comes from an essay written by a Stanford philosophy professor. His strategy for beating procrastination is to overwhelm himself with choices. If you keep a large to-do list, with vaguely important items at the top that have vague deadlines, followed by things that actually need to get done, then procrastinator logic will work like this: “I know I should be working on my great American novel, but instead I will do the seventh thing on my list: trimming the bushes in the front yard.”

Note that if writing the book were the only thing on the list, the procrastinator would invent another task that would likely be much less worthwhile than trimming the bushes, like reorganizing his music collection. From the essay:

At this point, the observant reader may feel that structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception, since one is, in effect, constantly perpetrating a pyramid scheme on oneself. Exactly. One needs to be able to recognize and commit oneself to tasks with inflated importance and unreal deadlines, while making oneself feel that they are important and urgent. This clears the way to accomplish several apparently less urgent, but eminently achievable, tasks. And virtually all procrastinators also have excellent skills at self-deception — so what could be more noble than using one character flaw to offset the effects of another?

Incidentally, in the beginning of the essay, John Perry says that he finally got around to writing it because he had a lot of papers, dissertations and a grant review to read, and this was a way of not doing those things. He wrote it in 1996, and in 2011, it won the Ig Nobel prize for Literature. His granddaughter even made a website for the essay, “while avoiding the far more weighty assignment of her literature test.”

See also:

From The Chronicle of Higher Education

Genocides Target Competent, Yet Cold People

Wired has a very insightful interview with a social psychologist from Harvard Business School named Amy Cuddy. She says that since World War II, we have been trying to figure out a more scientific answer for why the Jews were targeted for genocide. The most prevalent theory was that of ingroups and outgroups: during hard times, one group of people kills the ones that aren’t in their group. It sounds good, but in practice that theory couldn’t predict who would be discriminated against. So she did a study which involved finding out the groups within a society and then asking the members of that society to rank each group on a number of traits. This revealed that what actually matters are two qualities: competence and trustworthiness.

Competence is how good someone is at turning their intentions into successful action, and trustworthiness is the feeling that their intentions toward you are good. (Warm people are generally perceived to be trustworthy, while cold people are not.) With any two traits, there can be four emotional and behavioral outcomes:

  1. Incompetent and untrustworthy: disgust and avoidance. Think bums.
  2. Incompetent but trustworthy: pity. Like kids and small animals.
  3. Competent and trustworthy: the Holy Grail that everyone wants. Jesus.
  4. Competent but untrustworthy: respect, admiration, resentment and antipathy. What you feel for Scrooge.

If you think someone is competent and doesn’t really care one iota whether you’re happy, lying in a ditch somewhere, or getting tortured, then that may just scare you. What if you fall into their bad graces or get on their radar? They’re obviously able to destroy you, since they’re competent. So when the situation arises, like during war, famine or depression, those are the people that get killed: the aristocracy in the French Revolution, the Jews under the Nazis, the educated under the Khmer Rouge. With the right circumstances, Occupy Wall Street might have ended up there too.


Of course, they don’t have to be killed — just made incompetent. During World War II, the US government incarcerated the highly competent and very untrustworthy Japanese living in America. The Civil War was basically fought because, while almost everyone thought blacks were incompetent, southerners thought them to be untrustworthy and therefore worthy of the chains, while northerners thought of slaves like Uncle Tom, and therefore worthy of pity. In presidential elections, both candidates are usually competent, but the one that’s warmer generally wins, because he’s perceived more trustworthy. The exception that proves the rule is the election in 2000: both candidates were trustworthy, but George W. Bush, who did not appear competent, lost the popular vote. However, in 2004, he won by a good margin after proving his competence in handling the aftermath of 9/11 and starting a war no one wanted — and being more trustworthy than flip-flopping Kerry.

The lesson to take away here is that smart or not, you should try to be nice and popular. If you’re not well-liked, people will be disgusted by you if you’re incompetent, or resent you otherwise. Even pity for being dumb but nice is better than resentment, because at least then the villagers won’t try to burn your house down the first chance they get. Or more likely, you won’t die alone. But, according to science, the best thing is to ask yourself: what would Jesus do?

Update, 11 March 2013: A new book called The Charisma Myth makes a similar point about trustworthiness and competence. In it, the author says that charisma is made up of warmth (trustworthiness) and power (competence), underlined by presence — the ability to be completely in the moment. Warm, powerful and present people are very charismatic.

From Wired, via Lifehacker

Why Routines Make You A Better Person

The Harvard Business Review has an article which points out that many busy, important people like Steve Jobs and President Obama wear basically the same clothes and eat the same meals every day. Why? Because they intuitively know what psychological studies have recently shown us: that we have a limited amount of mental energy; we can only spin our brains’ wheels so much per day.

Think of mental energy like a battery: if you spend it on making decisions about what to wear and where to eat, you have less to spend on designing the iPhone. If you spend it on trying to avoid eating the cheesecake in the fridge or on talking yourself into going for a run, you’ll have less to spend on beating Romney in a televised debate. If you spend it trying to stay awake longer than you’re supposed to, you won’t have enough to spend on keeping your temper in check when your airheaded BFF asks you what you did this weekend for the 52nd time.


Steve Jobs' outfits at keynote speeches, 1998-2010


Faced with limited mental resources, productive people came up with a simple plan: use the battery only for important things. If you make everything a routine, you don’t have to spend any mental energy on your clothes, your diet, your fitness or any number of daily activities. Regular people already do this to a degree: imagine if every day you had to decide whether or not to brush your teeth, whether or not to go to work, whether or not to put shoes on. You’d have no faculty left to even hold a conversation, much less do anything productive, like show up at work and look alive.

The most successful people take this to a more extreme level: they eliminate every choice possible. When you wake, how you dress, what you eat, when (not if) you exercise all become a foregone conclusion. If and/or when they happen is not up for debate, just like brushing your teeth in the morning isn’t. And since they’re routine, they’re one less thing you have to worry about. Which means you now have more mental power to spend worrying about things that matter — like becoming a better person.

From Harvard Business Review, via Slashdot

Loyalty Matters A Lot; Facts, Not So Much

The Washington Post took two polls during periods of high gas prices, one in 2006 and one in 2012. The question was the same: is there anything the president reasonably can do to reduce gas prices? The key factor is that the presidents were different. In 2006 when Bush was in office, only 47% of Republicans said he could; when it came to Obama, 65% said he could (but doesn’t, because he’s evil). Lest you think that people simply have more faith in Obama’s skills, Democrats responded the opposite way: 73% said Bush could’ve lowered the gas prices in 2006 (but didn’t, because he’s evil), but only 33% think Obama could (or else he would’ve, because he’s nice). Meanwhile in the real world, neither the president nor anyone except OPEC can influence oil prices, since they are global.


Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan points out that Republicans are running in 2012 the same guy Democrats ran in 2004: "a flip-flopping, out-of-touch elitist from Massachusetts."


What it boils down to is that Democrat or Republican, when your guy’s in office and bad stuff happens, it’s not his fault; when the other team’s guy is in office, it’s all his fault — facts be damned. NPR has some commentary on this which explains the situation via cognitive dissonance, the feeling you get when you find out your good friend Mike got fired: since he’s your good friend, and since you don’t associate with incompetent people, clearly his boss made some mistake or was out to get him.

In order to get rid of the discomfort of knowing you’re friends with an unsavory character or voted for the wrong guy, you have to either change your loyalties (meaning, drop the friend or politician), or rationalize the facts away. It turns out the latter is a lot easier — probably because we see loyalty as a pillar of the morality on which society is built. With society comes friends and happiness, but the facts never hugged you. And so, loyalty is greater than truth, simply to avoid being forever alone.

See also:

From The Washington Post, via NPR

3 Learning Tricks From A Psychologist

UCLA has a Learning and Forgetting Lab and the guy who its named after gave Wired a few hints on how to learn and not forget:

  • Interleave: don’t just keep trying to learn one thing until you master it, but rather move on to something else for a while. The something else should be related though, so maybe break up a subject like the Cold War into decades.
  • Change venues periodically: if you study in only one location, you’ll only remember the stuff in that location.
  • Learn, wait a while, then recall: if you just learn a thing once, it’ll get more and more buried the longer you don’t recall it. But if you wait some time, until you can just barely remember it, then study it again, it will help you recall it easier the next time. In a sense, it’s like practicing retrieving that particular memory, because we have so many facts in our heads that we need that practice.


So come back and read this in three days from a different location.

From Wired

Circular Psychology

Well, I seek out facts that seem to prove it and ignore facts that seem to disprove it. You're a dick. Earlier: how do you know confirmation bias is a real thing?


From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Some Psychological Myths

Cracked loves their lists: 7 ways to do something, 6 companies that did something, 8 funniest whatevers. Anyway, they have a pretty good list of things people believe about psychology that are just plain false:

  • Myth: keeping anger in will make you blow at some point, while expressing your anger is good for you. Buddhist monks — probably all monks, actually — prove this wrong. Getting angry can become a habit, and it’s definitely addictive. Learning to control the anger is what’s good for you; expressing it rarely is.
  • Myth: high self-esteem leads to success. It turns out that being good at something leads to success and high self-esteem, not the other way around. Having high self-esteem for no reason just makes people wonder why you have an undeserved superiority complex, and is a major ingredient of a douchebag.
  • Myth: cult-members are gullible and stupid. Studies show that they’re actually smart and sane. The reason that people get into cults is not because they’re idiots, but usually it’s because they’re down on their luck and alone; cults give them help and a sense of belonging and make them feel better. Then they become part of the group, make friends with the cult members, so they just go with it because people are social animals designed to defend their social group. And the more ostracized they are from the mainstream, the more tightly knit the cult will be. Because pretty much everything we do — from the clothes we wear to the politicians we vote for — is determined by our social network. You are who you hang out with.

  • Myth: subliminal messages work. If they did, someone would’ve taken over the world already.
  • Myth: lie detectors work. In reality, they work a little better than a coin toss. Because they measure things like breathing rate, perspiration, and pulse, anything could throw them off, including being nervous. Not to mention all the spies that beat the lie detector.
  • Myth: homophobes are closet homosexuals. If they were, a huge percentage of the population would be gay. But really, there’s no such thing as “homophobia”: it’s not a scientifically recognized condition. People can respond strongly to homosexuality for a variety of reasons, like they’re morally against it, disgusted by homosexual sex, or just hate everyone that’s different. It doesn’t mean they’re in the closet.

From Cracked, via Neatorama

The Psychological Limits Of Caring About The Unfortunate

‘Statistical Numbing’ is what an article in Psychology Today named what happens to us when we hear about the thousands of Africans dying of hunger. We just don’t care that much. But if you see a movie or hear a story about one starving African, you’re likely to care a lot more. The article outlines related research that came up with some interesting results:

  • People will donate twice as much money to save one anonymous child than to save eight
  • They will also donate twice as much money to save one specific starving African child named Rokia, than to save starving children in general
  • Just hearing the statistics of starving kids made people donate 40% less money to Rokia
  • Being asked to donate for two specific children caused donations to fall by 8% when compared to asking for just one specific child

What this shows is that people are probably pragmatic: they know they can’t save eight kids and therefore perceive it as much of a waste of money as trying to save all the kids; but they figure they can make a difference in one starving child’s life. Emotionally, stories can affect us a lot and numbers don’t affect us at all: Oliver Twist is really sad; in fact, it’s much sadder than anything on the news about 60,000 starving Somalians. Statistics also hit our psychological limits on abstract thought: the larger the number — any kind of number, — the harder it is for us to comprehend it. We can imagine one kid very well, but five kids only somewhat well. A dozen kids gets a little abstract, and a hundred kids is hard to even picture. When you get to 60,000, the emotional response that number evokes is probably the same if you’re talking about starving kids or people on unemployment.

So it looks like World Vision got it right by letting one person adopt one specific kid.

From Psychology Today, via Lifehacker