Tag Archives: psychology - Page 2

Personality Traits Of The Fat And Skinny

The National Institute on Aging did some very interesting analysis on a group of people they have been following for 50 years and tied a few key personality traits to measurements of adiposity: BMI score, waist size, body fat and hip size. They found some interesting, if not unexpected, correlations: impulsive and extroverted people tend to be fatter; and conscientious, disciplined, organized people tend to be skinnier. This makes sense because people who are impulsive tend to eat more, as do social butterflies since so many social events are based around eating and drinking. Disciplined people however, will have either the will power or coping mechanisms in place to navigate their daily life without over-indulging in calories or exercising enough. Note however, that the two sides aren’t mutually exclusive: disciplined people can be extroverted, and vice-versa.

The traits were taken from the Five Factor Model in psychology, which describes human personality by scoring subjects on each of five areas. From Wikipedia:

  • Openness – (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience.
  • Conscientiousness – (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behaviour.
  • Extraversion – (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others.
  • Agreeableness – (friendly/compassionate vs. cold/unkind). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.
  • Neuroticism – (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). A tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability.

What the researchers found was that people who scored high on the Neuroticism and Extraversion traits were fatter, and people who scored high on the Conscientiousness trait were skinnier. They went a little deeper though and made finer measurements of ‘facets’ in each of the five main  personality traits, which gave them even more insight. These facets are more practical concepts to grasp, so here are the ones that had significant correlation to higher body fat — 0 means no correlation, 1 means complete correlation:

  • 0.26 – Impulsiveness, the only facet of Neuroticism that was significant
  • 0.13 – Warmth, part of Extraversion
  • 0.12 – Assertiveness, part of Extraversion
  • 0.07 – Positive Emotions, part of Extraversion
  • 0.06 – Gregariousness, part of Extraversion
  • 0.05 – Competence, part of Conscientiousness
  • 0.05 – Excitement-seeking, part of Extraversion

And the facets that had significant correlation to lower body fat, meaning a negative correlation higher body fat:

  • 0.12 – Order, part of Conscientiousness
  • 0.10 – Self-discipline, part of Conscientiousness
  • 0.09 – Straightforwardness, part of Agreeableness
  • 0.08 – Activity, part of Extraversion
  • 0.07 – Modesty, part of Agreeableness
  • 0.05 – Deliberation, part of Conscientiousness
  • 0.05 – Altruism, part of Agreeableness

So now we know why Paula Deen is fat and Michelle Obama is skinny. If you want to find out how much your personality puts you at risk for obesity, there’s a very good Five-Factor Model test here.

From The American Psychological Association

Challenging Situations Make For Stronger Relationships

It turns out the end of the movie Speed was wrong:

Jack: I have to warn you, I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.
Annie: OK. We’ll have to base it on sex then.
Jack: Whatever you say, ma’am.

In fact according to several studies — some of which (PDF) are mentioned in this article from You Are Not So Smart — couples that engage in “intense experiences”, as Speed put it, report higher quality relationships. The psychological explanation for this depends on two concepts:

  1. The Self-Expansion Model
  2. Classical conditioning

The first concept says that what motivates us to do anything is a desire to expand our boundaries, to grow, to acquire new skills. So when we do things that are challenging, new, and exciting, we feel truly alive. That state is known in psychology as “arousal“, of which sexual arousal is just one kind. So when you go bungee jumping, the fear and exhilaration present means you’re psychologically aroused — that you’re firing on all cylinders and really experiencing the moment. This state of arousal is what we tend to like, and when we get there while with someone we also like, we associate them with the experience. If that keeps happening, classical conditioning makes us associate them with the psychological arousal, which makes us think the relationship is the source of all the good mental state and therefore makes us want more relationship. Kind of like falling in love with your drug dealer.

Photo by Christian Haugen


What’s even more interesting is that just spending generic time together with a spouse doesn’t have any effect on the quality of the relationship; it’s the challenging and exciting things that matter. So if Alice and Bob go on a romantic candlelit dinner, followed by a quiet walk on the beach and the end, it won’t be as good as if after walking they went skinny dipping in the ocean where they saw a shark while making out, and Bob scared it away by punching it in the nose and then they ran out of the water, but their clothes got blown away by the strong ocean wind so they had to break into a shop on the beach and steal some bathing suits, because it’s better to be arrested for shoplifting than public nudity — or at least it seemed better at the time. And then on the second date (yeah, that was just the first one) they go to see a scary movie, and on the third they go to Busch Gardens and ride the roller coasters and on the fourth they go skydiving, and before you know it, who comes knocking at their brains’ doors? Pavlov.

Alice and Bob will associate the relationship with all of these highs, and just like in Pavlov’s experiment where the dogs learned to salivate when the bell rang because bell meant food, so does Alice learn to mentally salivate when it’s time to hang out with Bob, because Bob means excitement, challenges, and ultimately self-expansion. This particular effect is known as “misattribution of arousal”, though we misattribute other things too — for example if you nod to a guy that’s talking about stuff you don’t care about, you’ll later tend to think you agreed with him.


Photo by Steve Cadman


So what’s the practical take-away from all of this? Well, the psychological arousal is what really makes you happy, but it’s kinda sad to go to Busch Gardens alone. So instead, do novel, exciting, challenging things with someone you like, because you’ll  like each other more due to the arousal from those activities. And don’t ever stop, because then you’ll fall in a rut and get bored and then also misattribute the boredom to the relationship and start hating it.

From You Are Not So Smart, via Lifehacker

Dog People Really Are Different Than Cat People

Have you ever noticed that most people who like dogs don’t really care for cats — and vice-versa? And that dog owners tend to date other dog owners? It turns out that a lot of that is true, and the people that choose to own dogs are pretty different than the cat people. Hunch.com, which is like the Netflix recommendation engine but not just for movies, collected a bunch of data about dog and cat owners and compiled it into an infographic. But infographics are supposed to distill data so that it’s easily digested by us visual creatures, and this is not a very well done one as it’s pretty dense to read. So instead of re-posting it, here are the highlights; and a picture of a dog:

  • Most households have a pet (40% don’t), and the most popular arrangement is dog-only (26% of households), followed by cat-only (16%) and both (13%)
  • More cats are pets than dogs, but they’re in a lot less households. So this means that people who have dogs probably only have one dog, but people who have cats are crazy cat ladies. Which makes little sense from the animal’s standpoint since dogs run in packs and are generally very social, whereas cats are solitary. But it makes a lot of sense from a practical standpoint, since cats are clean and low-maintenance.
  • Cat people tend to fit the description of a single woman living in New York City: they’re more liberal and introverted, more likely to have a graduate degree (which is probably what makes them more liberal), to rent, to live in a city in Europe (which is probably what makes them more likely to rent), to be hipsters, to be less active, to be late adopters… and they like CSI.
  • Dog people tend to be Jonathan Kent: more likely to be conservative, to have kids, to own a house in a rural area in the Americas, to be very active outdoors, to like low-brow humor, to be early adopters and own an iPhone… and they like Curb Your Enthusiasm

Photo by -=RoBeE=-


So if we were to give in to broad over-generalizations, we would say Democrats like cats and Republicans like dogs. Even if that’s not strictly true, they’re better mascots than a donkey and an elephant, right?

From Hunch, via Laughing Squid

Mind Over Fatter

According to two separate articles, a diet is only as good as you think it is. This revelation comes from two studies: one, in 2006, in which a group of housekeepers were told they got a pretty good amount of exercise, and it was healthy for them. The other group of housekeepers got told nothing. What happened? The first group lost two pounds in a month and their blood pressure dropped. The second group, bupkis.

Banksy's maid in Chalk Farm. Photo by Rachel Slack.


The second study in question, from last month, is based on more treachery: all of the subjects were given the same kind of milk shake, but some were told it had half the calories it actually did, and others were told it had twice the actual amount. The researchers then measured the levels of a hormone (called “ghrelin”) in the subjects’ blood, which are higher if you’re hungry. The people that thought they ate the half-calorie milkshake had a lot higher levels (almost unchanged from before they ate the milkshake) than the ones who thought they ate the double-calorie milkshake. Even though they had the same milkshake.

Sycamore Fig Tree


What does this mean? Well, maybe Jesus was on to something:

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Matthew 21:18-22


So pray to lose weight, and if you have faith, it won’t actually matter if God heard your prayers.


From Psychology Today and IO9, via Lifehacker

Ten Ways Our Brains Distort Reality

Our puny human brains are awesome at keeping us alive. But they do this at the expense of interpreting reality to only suit our survival, which sometimes gets in the way of things like success. Listverse has a list of ten of these “faulty” thinking patterns:

  • Confirmation Bias: people tend to cherry-pick information that support what they already think, and discard ones that don’t. If you’re for Obamacare, you’ll read a ton of articles on why it’s good and post them on Facebook, but ignore or dismiss the ones about why it’s bad — and vice-versa.
  • Availability Heuristic: people predict how likely something is by how many examples of it they can think of. How likely are kids to be abducted by strangers? Not very likely at all — kids are much more likely to die by accidentally drowning in a pool. But while you can’t think of any news stories about the latter, you can list off a handful about child abductions, because the news media covers them a lot more aggressively. Same with plane crashes: if we heard about every fatal car crash on the news the way we hear about plane crashes, we wouldn’t be as scared of planes and so lax about car travel.
  • Illusion of Control: people think they can control things they can’t, like if they stare really hard at the stop light, it’ll turn green. Or if they throw the dice a certain way, a seven will come up.
  • Planning Fallacy: people think they can do things more quickly than they actually can, even when they should know better. If you get asked how long it will take you to get to the movie theater, and you answer based on all the lights being green or trains running on time, then you suffer from this one. But if you get asked how long it’ll take your best friend to get there, you’ll give a more realistic answer. Why? Because you’re that much more awesome, that’s why! And you can control the stoplights: your friend obviously can’t, because that would be ridiculous. Also, you can think of at least half a dozen times when you made it to the movie theater way fast.

  • Restraint Bias: people think they can resist temptation, when in fact they can’t. You decide to give up junk food and you think it’ll be easy, so you don’t plan on how you’re actually going to act when faced with junk food and end up eating three of the donuts your coworker brought in to work. Giving up junk food is actually really hard, but people think they have more control over their urges than they actually do.
  • Just-World Phenomenon: everything happens for a reason. Those two yuppies got shot in the ghetto? They were obviously there to buy drugs from gangbangers.
  • Endowment Effect: your stuff is better. If you were to sell your iPod, you’d expect to get a higher price than you would actually think is fair, if you were out to buy one.
  • Self-Serving Bias: you’re the reason good things happen to you, but someone else is the reason bad things happen to you. If you get a promotion or win the lottery, it’s because you’re great at your job, or lucky. If you get into a car accident or your Wii breaks, it’s because that idiot can’t drive and your nephew must’ve spilled Yoo-hoo on it last time he was over.
  • Cryptomnesia: people remember something they heard/read/saw and think they came up with it. Sitcoms have an episode every so often where the wife has a brilliant idea for a children’s book character, draws up a wonderful book and goes to get it published, only to find out to her embarrassment that the character was actually from some obscure book her grandmother had when she was a child.
  • Bias Blind Spot: obviously these biases exist, because you see them in people all the time. Especially the self-serving bias. But you’re better than that. You’re honest with yourself, and you can’t recall a single time when you were biased. But you can recall a bunch of times when you yelled at the light and it turned green, like almost right away. And you once went for a whole week without coffee. And it’s not your fault you got a speeding ticket: the speed limit on that road is ridiculously low, plus there were like no cars on the road. Besides, you’re pretty awesome all around if you do say so yourself.

And ultimately, that’s the reason these biases exist: to give us the confidence to actually get up every morning and face the world, knowing that we’re better than at least most of the people out there, and therefore deserve to be part of society. Otherwise, we’d all need Prozac.

(If you’re interested, Wikipedia has a more complete list of cognitive biases that don’t apply to you.)

From Listverse, via Neatorama

Money CAN Buy Happiness

Get Rich Slowly has a two-part article on how to buy happiness with money. It’s true, money can’t buy you love or friendship, but it can still make you pretty happy if you spend it the right way. The article is a summary of a research paper called “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You’re Probably Not Spending It Right” (PDF), which  says that people are very poor judges of what will make them happy, and they end up spending their money on all the wrong things. The paper is written by a trio from Harvard, University of Virginia, and University British Columbia, so presumably they know what they’re talking about. Here’s what they suggest you do your money, instead of blowing it on your retirement like you know you want to:

  • Buy experiences, not stuff. After a month, that t-shirt or couch or stainless-steel fridge/washer/dryer combo won’t do anything for you. Instead, spend that money hanging out with your friends, or going on an awesome vacation, or both. And take pictures. In a few years, all you’ll remember is the good parts of what you did, and it’ll make the experiences seem even better. Stuff on the other hand, just ends up owning you with its constant demand of being paid off, cleaned, fixed, and upgraded.
  • Help others. If you’ve ever given a good gift, you know what this is talking about. Doing one thing to make someone else happy will make you happier than doing a dozen things for yourself. So buy people good gifts, give bums change, and help people out whenever you want. Maybe all those major religions were on to something.
  • Buy less expensive things more often, rather than just saving up for big ticket items. Do both if you can, but if it’s one or the other, ten dinners out at Applebee’s will probably make you a lot happier than one super-fancy one at Ruth’s Chris. And a cup of coffee from Starbucks every morning will probably make you happier than a new lamp.
  • Quit worrying about stuff. If it breaks, it breaks: unless you’re an emotional mess, you’ll deal with it and it won’t be the end of the world. And if you set up insurance for everything, you won’t enjoy it as much because you take it for granted. Obviously get insurance for stuff you absolutely need (like your car and house), but not for your Wii. It’s a waste of money for one thing, and it makes you appreciate it less for another.
  • Wait before you buy. If you just buy everything you want when you want it, you won’t appreciate it, and you’ll spend a lot of money on stuff you’ll never use like… lets see what’s on my desk: ah yes, an M&M Dispenser. And if you wait for a while, the anticipation makes it even better. Like waiting for a Christmas gift.
  • Beware the downside. Everything comes with good and bad sides. An awesome ski trip comes with a long flight, hauling a snowboard around, and sore muscles. A new puppy comes with all kinds of barking and cleanup and having to come home every 5 hours to feed it. Make sure the downside of the stuff you buy is worth the upside.
  • Beware comparison shopping. You look at two phones, and you want something that has a big screen and feels nice, and has all the apps you want. But they all do that, and before you know it you’re spending 100$ more on one that has integrated face recognition, which two days ago you didn’t even know existed, and two days from now you won’t even care about.
  • Ask the audience. If you want to go to Greece, see if other people loved Greece. If you want to go see Sucker Punch, don’t: it sucked. If you want to buy an iPhone, ask your friends if they love it. How much other people like something is biggest predictor for how much you’re going to like it.

Via Get Rich Slowly

The Psychology Behind Shopping Mistakes

PsyBlog has pretty comprehensive list of psychological pitfalls we irrational humans should watch out for when buying stuff:

  • Status Quo bias: sticking with stuff you know when there are better options available. For example, sticking with your bank even though they charge you crazy fees while others will pay you interest on your checking account.
  • Post-purchase rationalization: convincing yourself you made the right decision buying some gadget you’ll never actually use.
  • Relativity trap: seeing something marked down makes you think it’s a good deal, even if it never sells for the “original” price; think car dealership.
  • Ownership effect: the things we own are worth more to us just because we own them, so when we go to sell them, we price them above market value.
  • Present bias: we push good decisions off for later, thinking we’ll magically pay the credit card bill when it comes, so we might as well buy the thing we want now, even if we don’t have the cash for it.
  • Familiarity bias: kind of like the Status Quo bias, we like stuff we know. So when shopping, we tend to buy brands we’re familiar with, rather than making sure they’re the best deal. This is how most advertising works: you see it on TV, so you’re familiar with it when you see it on the shelf.
  • Rosy retrospection: remembering past decisions as being better than they actually were, and then repeating the mistake of flying with that mediocre airline.
  • Free: buying something just because it comes with a free something else. If you act now, we’ll throw in a free night-light.
  • Restraint bias: thinking that you can go to your favorite store and resist buying something, when that’s probably not true.


How Great Entrepreneurs Think

Inc. magazine has a great article on what separates entrepreneurs from everyone else, but especially from the MBA-corporate types. This analogy sums up the article quite nicely:

[The study author] likes to compare expert entrepreneurs to Iron Chefs: at their best when presented with an assortment of motley ingredients and challenged to whip up whatever dish expediency and imagination suggest. Corporate leaders, by contrast, decide they are going to make Swedish meatballs. They then proceed to shop, measure, mix, and cook Swedish meatballs in the most efficient, cost-effective manner possible

In other words, entrepreneurs just look around and say “ooh… I betcha that if I invent Facebook, it’ll sell well”, whereas corporate types at Google do a lot of market research, then decide that Google Buzz is a good opportunity in a growth-market where they can leverage existing expertise and market share with relatively little risk. And entrepreneurs don’t limit themselves, because they don’t know Facebook is going to be Facebook: it starts out as a college yearbook, and the entrepreneur constantly reacts to what’s going on, and changes strategies accordingly. In other words, there is no plan.

The article calls the two mindsets “effectual” and “causal” reasoning, for the entrepreneur and corporate executive, respectively. The corporate executive likes to gather all the facts, predict the future, lay out a plan, and then carry out that plan to a tee, being fairly confident that it will work. The entrepreneur, on the other hand, hates plans and just goes with an idea, doing whatever seems right at the time.

Corporate managers believe that to the extent they can predict the future, they can control it. Entrepreneurs believe that to the extent they can control the future, they don’t need to predict it.

So being an entrepreneur, like being an Iron Chef, ‘simply’ takes a lot of training and experience so that you can cook delicious things up on the fly, with no recipe. Whereas if you don’t have the confidence and know-how to do that — or the gumption to take the associated risks — you should stick to the safety of the corporate world and its market studies and focus groups.

Via Neatorama

Self-Denial Makes You Angry

Apparently, it’s a scientific fact that dieting, or any other kind of self-control makes people irritable and angry. Now, it looks like it also makes you want to be around aggression. So, what’s worse for society: obesity or Christian Bale?

Via Lifehacker and Scientific American