Comments Off on You’re not getting older, just better

You’re not getting older, just better

Posted October 31st, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

There is an image of the aging generation (over 60) being unhappy, grumpy and unproductive. This image may be false

It is a prediction often met with worry: In 20 years, there will be more Americans over 60 than under 15. Some fear that will mean an aging society with an increasing number of decrepit, impaired people and fewer youngsters to care for them while also keeping the country’s productivity going. A new Stanford study by Laura Carstensen,a psychology professor and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity shows there is a silver lining to the graying of our nation. The findings of this study were published online Monday in the Journal Psychology and Aging.

Between 1993 and 2005, Carstensen and her colleagues tracked about 180 Americans between the ages of 18 and 94. Over the years, some participants died and others aged out of the younger groups, so additional participants were included. For one week every five years, the study participants carried pagers and were required to immediately respond to a series of questions whenever the devices buzzed. The periodic quizzes were intended to chart how happy, satisfied and comfortable they were at any given time.

As we grow older, we tend to become more emotionally stable. And that translates into longer, more productive lives that offer more benefits than problems, said Carstensen:“As people age, they’re more emotionally balanced and better able to solve highly emotional problems,” said Carstensen, a psychology professor and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. “We may be seeing a larger group of people who can get along with a greater number of people. They care more and are more compassionate about problems, and that may lead to a more stable world.”

Carstensen (who is 56 and says she’s happier now than she was a few decades ago) attributes the change in older people to her theory of “socio-emotional selectivity” – a scientific way of saying that people invest in what is most important to them when time is limited.

While teenagers and young adults experience more frustration, anxiety and disappointment over things like test scores, career goals and finding a soul mate, older people typically have made their peace with life’s accomplishments and failures. In other words, they have less ambiguity to stress about.

“This all suggests that as our society is aging, we will have a greater resource,” Carstensen said. “If people become more even-keeled as they age, older societies could be wiser and kinder societies.”

So what, then, do we make of the “grumpy old man” stereotype?

Most of the grumpy old men out there are grumpy young men who grew old,” Carstensen said. “Aging isn’t going to turn someone grumpy into someone who’s happy-go-lucky. But most people will gradually feel better as they grow older.”

So it seems like the old saying, “you’re not getting older, you just getting better,” may contain a kernel of truth.

Comments Off on Is stress the same for managers and employees?

Is stress the same for managers and employees?

Posted October 30th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Do managers and their employees have same perceptions about the causes of stress?  Apparently not.

According to Statistics Canada, 1/3 of women and 29% of men reported feeling extremely stressed most days at work.

According to an article by Joe Castado in Canadian Business, in July, 2008, COMPAS Inc. polled 116 leaders of Canadian business about what stresses them out. For the CEO’s in the survey, meeting revenue targets caused the most stress followed by staffing concerns and the need to keep costs down.

The survey found that the workplace causes far more headaches for CEO’s than for issues related to families or personal finance. The CEO’s were also asked to recount the single most stressful even of their careers. Most responses had to do with their employees–issues such as firings, incompetence, company revenues, or angry shareholders.

What about employee stress? According to the 2008 Global Strategic Rewards Survey conducted by Watson Wyatt Worldwide, work-place stress is one of the top reasons employees say they leave organizations, but stress doesn’t even register as one of the top five reasons employers cite as causes of employee resignations.

According to the survey, employees are most stressed about the day-to-day challenges associated with their jobs, more specifically the increasing expectation to do more with less. Here’s what employees mentioned as the most frequent causes of stress:

  • Job definition — Unclear or unrealistic performance expectations cause stress, along with unrealistic workloads, inadequate training and poorly defined work processes.
  • Work group environment — A lack of teamwork and/or a lack of staff to perform their job duties create workplace stress.
  • Supervisor — Employees were split about how supervisors contribute to work-place stress. Low performers said their supervisor was a cause of workplace stress whereas top performers more frequently cited poorly defined work processes, not their supervisor, as a reason for stress.

The Gallup organization identified relationship between the employee and the boss is the most significant reason why employees left their job, not the job itself.

Comments Off on Can friendly social talk make your smarter?

Can friendly social talk make your smarter?

Posted October 29th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Human beings are social animals . We spend most of our lives with others in groups. And our intelligence sets us apart from others animal species. Leaders in organizations focus a great deal on factors that will improve productivity and its impact on the bottom line, but usually that takes the form of looking at marketing, sales, financial structures and organizational issues. It rarely takes the form of looking at social interaction among people in the organization.

Talking with people in a friendly manner can make it easier to solve problems, but conversations that are competitive in nature, rather than collaborative or cooperative, have no cognitive benefits, according to a new study by scientists at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

According to Oscar Ybara, the lead researcher in the study, which will be published in the forthcoming per-reviewed journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, “simply talking to people the way you do when you’re making friends, can provide mental benefits.” In this study and in previous studies, Ybara contends that positive social interaction boosts the brain’s executive function and subsequent performance on a variety of cognitive tasks.

The researchers also found that just spending 10 minutes talking to another person improved their memory and performance on cognitive tests.

In contrast, when participants in the study engaged in conversation that had a competitive edge, their performance on cognitive tasks showed no improvement. Ybara argues that “performance boosts come about because social interactions induce people to try to take other people’s perspectives on things..” Ybara contends that his research clearly highlights the connection between social intelligence and general intelligence and the overlap between social-cognitive and executive brain functions.

The implication of this research is that social isolation may have a negative effect on intellectual abilities, performance and emotional well-being. And as sociologist, Robert Putnam described in his book, Bowling Alone, our society has increasing levels of social isolation, the effects could be far reaching.

Leaders in organizations will be wise to pay attention to the importance of positive social interaction in the workplace as a contributing factor to productivity and workplace wellness.

Comments Off on Emotional intelligence predicts job performance

Emotional intelligence predicts job performance

Posted October 28th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Emotional intelligence is a strong predictor of job performance, according to a new study conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University that helps settle the ongoing debate in a much-disputed area of research.

“The Relation Between Emotional Intelligence and Job Performance: A Meta-Analysis,” which has been published online by the Journal of Organizational Behavior and will appear in a future issue of the journal, builds upon years of existing studies in the area of emotional intelligence, which is a measure of someone’s ability to understand the emotions of themselves and others. The resulting analysis indicates that high emotional intelligence does have a relationship to strong job performance — in short, emotionally intelligent people make better workers.

The study was conducted at the VCU School of Business by Ernest H. O’Boyle Jr., who received his Ph.D. in management at VCU and is now an assistant professor of management at Longwood University; Ronald H. Humphrey, professor of management at VCU; Jeffrey M. Pollack, who received his Ph.D. in management at VCU and is now an assistant professor of management at the University of Richmond; Thomas H. Hawver, a Ph.D. candidate in management at VCU; and Paul A. Story, who received his Ph.D. in psychology at VCU and is now a visiting professor of psychology at the College of William & Mary.

Humphrey edited a 2008 book in the field, “Affect and Emotion: New Directions in Management Theory and Research,” and is the author of “Modern Leadership: Traditional Theories and New Approaches,” which is forthcoming in 2011 from SAGE Publishers.

Richard Boyatzis, a professor at Case Western Reserve University and co-author of the bestselling book “Primal Leadership,” said the study represented an important step forward in understanding emotional intelligence and its role in the workplace and elsewhere.

“Emotional intelligence is a field of study characterized by contradicting claims, models and methods,” said Boyatzis, who has been studying emotional intelligence (EI) since 1970. “But the meta-analysis by O’Boyle, Humphrey, Pollack, Hawver and Story lends light where there has been darkness. They took an impressively comprehensive view of EI and amassed a much larger collection of studies linking EI to intelligence, personality and job performance. This will be a source of inspiration to scholars and a guide for those lost in the confusing morass of claims, critiques and posturing.”

The study’s authors summarized all published research in the field of emotional intelligence and used the latest statistical analysis techniques to examine the accumulated data and to control for publication bias. The study explored the three prominent testing procedures of emotional intelligence and found that each reliably predicts job performance based on empirical data.

“Emotional intelligence has attracted considerable attention in business settings as well as in the community at large, but many academic scholars dispute the legitimacy of emotional intelligence, especially some of the more exaggerated claims made about it,” said Neal Ashkanasy, professor of management at the University of Queensland and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

“By analyzing the numerous studies of emotional intelligence that have been conducted over the last decade, the authors of this article provide an evidence-based account of emotional intelligence, where it works and where it doesn’t. And, most importantly, which of the various versions of emotional intelligence work the best. This will prove to be a valuable tool for academic researchers, as well as business consultants and managers.”

Comments Off on What you think and feel affects your physical health

What you think and feel affects your physical health

Posted October 27th, 2010 in Blogs by admin

My coaching clients are encouraged to develop mindfulness as a way of keeping their emotions and sympathetic nervous “reactions” under control, and respond intentionally instead. The following is an article written by UCLA Professor, Susan Smalley on the topic that underscores the importance of mindfulness.

“How you think and feel emotionally can contribute to your physical health and well-being — it’s just that simple. The list of scientific studies demonstrating that point comes from diverse fields of study including medicine, neuroscience, immunology, genetics, psychiatry and psychology.

Integrative medicine is fast becoming the examplar of approaches to healthcare based on the importance of treating the whole person — taking into account body and mind — in health promotion, disease treatment and prevention. The mind influences the body, and the body influences the mind.

It is now well known that chronic stress is a significant contributor to illness and the leading cause of death worldwide. Psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression are on the rise in adults and children, and they are estimated to affect as many as one in two adults at some point in the lifespan. Science shows that stress affects a wide range of physiological states in the body, particularly the immune response, but also factors important in aging (like telomere shortening). A recent study of social anxiety conducted at UCLA illustrates the powerful role such anxiety can have on our body’s inflammatory response, and other research is showing how body illnesses like irritable bowel disease have associated brain states.

Thus the mind is a powerful vehicle for reducing body health. But conversely, it may be a powerful vehicle for enhancing it, as well.

Yet modern medicine provides very little in the way of a doctor’s prescription to treat our mind states when dealing with health issues. We may be told to relax or be less stressed, but very often there is no remedy to do so (aside from momentary release in prescription meds when severe enough). It is where the role of mind-body practices like meditation, tai chi, yoga, or other forms of tailored exercises for mental health is needed.

Research, albeit still limited, is indicating that mindfulness practices (exercises that increase present-moment awareness) are very beneficial to health and well-being, influencing a wide range of physiological and subjective states including:

  • Boosting the immune response in cancer and HIV patients.
  • Reducing pain in chronic pain patients, including sufferers of arthritis, back pain, and headaches, among others.
  • Improving the effectiveness of behavioral change programs like smoking reduction, weight loss, and substance abuse.
  • Enhancing heart health when coupled with an integrative health care.
  • Reducing the risk for relapse in clinical depression by half compared to a standard treatment protocol.
  • Reducing anxiety and stress across a wide range of physical and mental health disorders.

The mechanisms of how mindfulness alters brain and body physiology is under investigation by labs around the world, but preliminary findings demonstrate changes in brain function and structure, immune cytokines, stress hormones and gene expression patterns, to name a few.

The means by which mindfulness influences health and well-being will be a topic of science for decades to come, but what is already suggested is that it alters our relationship with thoughts and emotions so that there is a level of “decentering” that arises, where our experiences are seen as less attached. In a way, there is a greater sense of awareness that these experience are part of the human condition and less personal or attached to oneself. By practicing mindfulness exercises (a whole host of practices is available from books, courses and free downloads) on a regular basis, we can learn to relate to life’s experiences (whether that is an illness, a pain or a negative mental thought) with greater ease and equanimity.

Scientific evidence suggests that this can and does enhance our health, regardless of the particular circumstances that may be hindering it.

For more information see, “Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness” (Smalley and Winston, 2010). To get free mindfulness practices, go to and click on “Mindfulness Meditations.”Susan Smalley, Ph.D.

Comments Off on Can meditation change your brain? Yes!

Can meditation change your brain? Yes!

Posted October 26th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Can people strengthen the brain circuits associated with happiness and positive behavior,  just as we’re able to strengthen muscles with exercise?

Richard Davidson, who for decades has practiced Buddhist-style meditation – a form of mental exercise, he says – insists that we can.

And Davidson, who has been meditating since visiting India as a Harvard grad student in the 1970s, has credibility on the subject beyond his own experience.

A trained psychologist based at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he has become the leader of a relatively new field called contemplative neuroscience – the brain science of meditation.

Over the last decade, Davidson and his colleagues have produced scientific evidence for the theory that meditation – the ancient eastern practice of sitting, usually accompanied by focusing on certain objects – permanently changes the brain for the better.

“We all know that if you engage in certain kinds of exercise on a regular basis you can strengthen certain muscle groups in predictable ways,” Davidson says in his office at the University of Wisconsin, where his research team has hosted scores of Buddhist monks and other meditators for brain scans.

“Strengthening neural systems is not fundamentally different,” he says. “It’s basically replacing certain habits of mind with other habits.”

Contemplative neuroscientists say that making a habit of meditation can strengthen brain circuits responsible for maintaining concentration and generating empathy.

One recent study by Davidson’s team found that novice meditators stimulated their limbic systems – the brain’s emotional network – during the practice of compassion meditation, an ancient Tibetan Buddhist practice.

That’s no great surprise, given that compassion meditation aims to produce a specific emotional state of intense empathy, sometimes call “lovingkindness.”

But the study also found that expert meditators – monks with more than 10,000 hours of practice – showed significantly greater activation of their limbic systems. The monks appeared to have permanently changed their brains to be more empathetic.

An earlier study by some of the same researchers found that committed meditators experienced sustained changes in baseline brain function, meaning that they had changed the way their brains operated even outside of meditation.

These changes included ramped-up activation of a brain region thought to be responsible for generating positive emotions, called the left-sided anterior region. The researchers found this change in novice meditators who’d enrolled in a course in mindfulness meditation – a technique that borrows heavily from Buddhism – that lasted just eight weeks.

But most brain research around meditation is still preliminary, waiting to be corroborated by other scientists. Meditation’s psychological benefits and its use in treatments for conditions as diverse as depression and chronic pain are more widely acknowledged.

Serious brain science around meditation has emerged only in about the last decade, since the birth of functional MRI allowed scientists to begin watching the brain and monitoring its changes in relatively real time.

Beginning in the late 1990s, a University of Pennsylvania-based researcher named Andrew Newberg said that his brain scans of experienced meditators showed the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain that houses attention – surging into overdrive during meditation while the brain region governing our orientation in time and space, called the superior parietal lobe, went dark. (One of his scans is pictured, above.)

Newberg said his findings explained why meditators are able to cultivate intense concentration while also describing feelings of transcendence during meditation.

But some scientists said Newberg was over-interpreting his brain scans. Others said he failed to specify the kind of meditation he was studying, making his studies impossible to reproduce. His popular books, like Why God Won’t Go Away, caused more eye-rolling among neuroscientists, who said he hyped his findings to goose sales.

“It caused mainstream scientists to say that the only work that has been done in the field is of terrible quality,” says Alasdair Coles, a lecturer in neurology at England’s University of Cambridge.

Newberg, now at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia, stands by his research.

And contemplative neuroscience had gained more credibility in the scientific community since his early scans.

One sign of that is increased funding from the National Institutes of Health, which has helped establish new contemplative science research centers at Stanford University, Emory University, and the University of Wisconsin, where the world’s first brain imaging lab with a meditation room next door is now under construction.

The NIH could not provide numbers on how much it gives specifically to meditation brain research but its grants in complementary and alternative medicine – which encompass many meditation studies – have risen from around $300 million in 2007 to an estimated $541 million in 2011.

“The original investigations by people like Davidson in the 1990s were seen as intriguing, but it took some time to be convinced that brain processes were really changing during meditation,” says Josephine Briggs, Director of the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Most studies so far have examined so-called focused-attention meditation, in which the practitioner concentrates on a particular subject, such as the breath. The meditator monitors the quality of attention and, when it drifts, returns attention to the object.

Over time, practitioners are supposed to find it easier to sustain attention during and outside of meditation.

In a 2007 study, Davidson compared the attentional abilities of novice meditators to experts in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Participants in both groups were asked to practice focused-attention meditation on a fixed dot on a screen while researchers ran fMRI scans of their brains.

To challenge the participants’ attentional abilities, the scientists interrupted the meditations with distracting sounds.

The brain scans found that both experienced and novice meditators activated a network of attention-related regions of the brain during meditation. But the experienced meditators showed more activation in some of those regions.

The inexperienced meditators, meanwhile, showed increased activation in brain regions that have been shown to negatively correlate with sustaining attention. Experienced meditators were better able to activate their attentional networks to maintain concentration on the dot. They had, the study suggested, changed their brains.

The fMRI scans also showed that experienced meditators had less neural response to the distracting noises that interrupted the meditation.

In fact, the more hours of experience a meditator had, the scans found, the less active his or her emotional networks were during the distracting sounds, which meant the easier it was to focus.

More recently, contemplative neuroscience has turned toward compassion meditation, which involves generating empathy through objectless awareness; practitioners call it non-referential compassion meditation.

New neuroscientific interest in the practice comes largely at the urging of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and politial leader of Tibetan Buddhists, for whom compassion meditation is a time-worn tradition.

The Dalai Lama has arranged for Tibetan monks to travel to American universities for brain scans and has spoken at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, the world’s largest gathering of brain scientists.

A religious leader, the Dalai Lama has said he supports contemplative neuroscience even though scientists are stripping meditation of its Buddhist roots, treating it purely as a mental exercise that more or less anyone can do.

“This is not a project about religion,” says Davidson. “Meditation is mental activity that could be understood in secular terms.”

Still, the nascent field faces challenges. Scientists have scanned just a few hundred brains on meditation do date, which makes for a pretty small research sample. And some scientists say researchers are over eager to use brain science to prove the that meditation “works.”

“This is a field that has been populated by true believers,” says Emory University scientist Charles Raison, who has studied meditation’s effect on the immune system. “Many of the people doing this research are trying to prove scientifically what they already know from experience, which is a major flaw.”

But Davidson says that other types of scientists also have deep personal interest in what they’re studying. And he argues that that’s a good thing.

“There’s a cadre of grad students and post docs who’ve found personal value in meditation and have been inspired to study it scientifically,” Davidson says. “These are people at the very best universities and they want to do this for a career.

“In ten years,” he says, “we’ll find that meditation research has become mainstream.”

Comments Off on Falling in love at first sight–in a fifth of a second

Falling in love at first sight–in a fifth of a second

Posted October 26th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

We’ve all heard that falling in love at first sight. Now there may be scientific evidence to support that view.Researchers found falling in love only takes about a fifth of a second.

A new meta-analysis study conducted by Syracuse University Professor Stephanie Ortigue reveals falling in love can elicit not only the same euphoric feeling as using cocaine, but also affects intellectual areas of the brain. Results from Ortigue’s team revealed when a person falls in love, 12 areas of the brain work in tandem to release euphoria-inducing chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopression. The love feeling also affects sophisticated cognitive functions, such as mental representation, metaphors and body image.

The findings raise the question: “Does the heart fall in love, or the brain?”

“That’s a tricky question always,” says Ortigue. “I would say the brain, but the heart is also related because the complex concept of love is formed by both bottom-up and top-down processes from the brain to the heart and vice versa. For instance, activation in some parts of the brain can generate stimulations to the heart, butterflies in the stomach. Some symptoms we sometimes feel as a manifestation of the heart may sometimes be coming from the brain.”

Ortigue is an assistant professor of psychology and an adjunct assistant professor of neurology, both in The College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University.

Other researchers also found blood levels of nerve growth factor, or NGF, also increased. Those levels were significantly higher in couples who had just fallen in love. This molecule involved plays an important role in the social chemistry of humans, or the phenomenon ‘love at first sight.’ “These results confirm love has a scientific basis,” says Ortigue.

The findings have major implications for neuroscience and mental health research because when love doesn’t work out, it can be a significant cause of emotional stress and depression. “It’s another probe into the brain and into the mind of a patient,” says Ortigue. “By understanding why they fall in love and why they are so heartbroken, they can use new therapies.” By identifying the parts of the brain stimulated by love, doctors and therapists can better understand the pains of love-sick patients.

The study also shows different parts of the brain fall for love. For example, unconditional love, such as that between a mother and a child, is sparked by the common and different brain areas, including the middle of the brain. Passionate love is sparked by the reward part of the brain, and also associative cognitive brain areas that have higher-order cognitive functions, such as body image.

Ortigue and her team worked with a team from West Virginia University and a university hospital in Switzerland. The results of the study are published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Ortigue worked on the love study with colleagues Francesco Bianchi-Demicheli (Geneva University Psychiatric Center, Switzerland), James Lewis (West Virginia University), Nisa Patel (graduate student in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences) and Chris Frum (West Virginia University). Ortigue’s follow-up study about the speed of love in the human brain is expected to be released soon.

Comments Off on Can superstitious thinking work?

Can superstitious thinking work?

Posted October 25th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Here’s a great article from Scientific American by Piercardo Vascolo.

When it comes to superstitions, social scientists have generally agreed on one thing: they are fundamentally irrational. “Magical thinking” (as it has been called) is defined as the belief that an object, action or circumstance not logically relatedto a course of events can influence its outcome. In other words, stepping on a crack cannot, given what we know about the principles of causal relations, have any direct effect on the probability of your mother breaking her back. Those who live in fear of such a tragedy are engaging in magical thought and behaving irrationally.

Ray Allen’s pregame routine never changes. A nap from 11:30am to 1:00pm, chicken and white rice for lunch at 2:30, a stretch in the gym at 3:45, a quick head shave, then practice shots at 4:30. The same amount of shots must be made from the same spots every day – the baselines and elbows of the court, ending with the top of the key. Similar examples of peculiar rituals and regimented routines in athletics abound. Jason Giambi would wear a golden thong if he found himself in a slump at the plate, and Moises Alou, concerned about losing his dexterous touch with the bat, would frequently urinate on his hands. This type of superstitious behavior can veer from the eccentric to the pathological, and though many coaches, teammates and fans snicker and shake their heads, a new study headed by Lysann Damisch at the University of Cologne and recently published in the journalPsychological Science suggests that we should all stop smirking and start rubbing our rabbit’s foot.

Yet in their study, Damisch and colleagues challenge the conclusion that superstitious thoughts bear no causal influence on future outcomes. Of course, they were not hypothesizing that the trillions of tiny cracks upon which we tread every day are imbued with some sort of sinister spine-crushing malevolence. Instead, they were interested in the types of superstitions that people think bring them good luck. The lucky hats, the favorite socks, the ritualized warmup routines, the childhood blankies. Can belief in such charms actually have an influence over one’s ability to, say, perform better on a test or in an athletic competition? In other words, is Ray Allen’s performance on the basketball court in some ways dependent on eating chicken and rice at exactly 2:30? Did Jason Giambi’s golden thong actually have a hand in stopping a hitless streak?

To initially test this possibility experimenters brought participants into the lab and told them that they would be doing a little golfing. They were to see how many of 10 putts they could make from the same location. The manipulation was simply this: when experimenters handed the golf ball to the participant they either mentioned that the ball “has turned out to be a lucky ball” in previous trials, or that the ball was simply the one “everyone had used so far”. Remarkably, the mere suggestion that the ball was lucky significantly influenced performance, causing participants to make almost two more putts on average.

Why? Surely it couldn’t be that the same golf ball becomes lucky at the experimenter’s suggestion – there must be an explanation grounded in the psychological influence that belief in lucky charms has on the superstitious. In a follow-up experiment the researchers hypothesized that this kind of magical thinking can actually increase participants’ confidence in their own capabilities. That is, believing in lucky charms would increase participants’ “self-efficacy,” and it is this feeling of “I can do this,” not any magical properties of the object itself, that predict success. To test this, they had participants bring in their own lucky charms from home and assigned them to either a condition where they would be performing a task in the presence of their charm, or a condition where the experimenter removes the charm from the room before the task. Participants rated their perceived level of self-efficacy and then completed a memory task that was essentially a variant of the game Concentration.

And, indeed, the participants who were in the presence of their charm performed better on the memory task and reported increased self-efficacy. A final study sought to determine exactly how the increased confidence that comes along with a lucky charm influences performance. Specifically, was it making participants set loftier goals for themselves? Was it increasing their persistence on the task? Turns out, it’s both. Participants in the charm-present conditions reported setting higher goals on an anagram task and demonstrated increased perseverance on the task (as measured by the amount of time they spent trying to solve it before asking for help).

So what does this all mean? Should you start scouring the earth for four-leaf clovers? Establish a quirky early morning pre-work routine to increase your productivity? Sadly, if you believe the results reported in this article, none of that will do you any good. The influence of the charm depends crucially on your belief in its inherent powers. Once you acknowledge that performance is a function of what goes on in your brain rather than a product of any mystical properties of the object itself, it becomes useless. That feeling of “I can do this” will wither away as soon as you realize that nothing external, nothing mystical, will influence how you perform – it’s just you and your abilities. Like the science of astronomy strips the starry night of its magic, the science of the mind strips your superstitions of their power. You’d be better off following the model of Walt Whitman: throw on your lucky fedora and forget you ever read this article.

Comments Off on How Touch Helps Us Take Risks

How Touch Helps Us Take Risks

Posted October 24th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Strong emotional bonds between mothers and infants increase children’s willingness to explore the world—an effect that has been observed across the animal kingdom, in people, monkeys and even spiders. The more secure we are in our attachment to Mom, the more likely we are to try new things and take risks. Now researchers are discovering that this effect continues into adulthood. A mere reminder of Mom’s touch or the sound of her voice on the phone is enough to change people’s minds and moods, affecting their decision making in measurable ways.

In a study published online in April in Psycholog ic al Science, undergraduate business students had to choose between safe bets and risky gambles—a bond with a guaranteed 4 percent yearly return or a riskier stock option, for example. In half the cases, the experimenters patted the students lightly on the back of the shoulder for about one second while providing verbal instructions about the study. Both male and female students who were touched by a female experimenter were far more likely to choose the risky altern ative than were those who had not been touched or were patted by male experimenters. The reassuring touch of a woman may have triggered early associations, inspiring the same openness to exploration that is observed in young children of supportive mothers, explains Jonathan Levav, a business professor at Columbia University and lead author of the study.

To further confirm that a woman’s touch links feelings of security with risk taking, the researchers asked a different group of undergraduates to make financial decisions after a writing exercise. Half of them wrote about a time they felt secure and supported, whereas the other half wrote about feeling insecure and alone. Evoking a sense of insecurity made students in the latter group especially receptive to the gentle shoulder pats from female experimenters and much more willing to take a risk—just as a child leaving for a field trip might steal one last reassuring hug from Mom before stepping on the bus.

But touch is not the only source of maternal comfort. In a study published online in May in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison stressed out a group of seven- to 12-year-old girls by giving them math and public-speaking exercises. Then they reunited some girls with their mothers but offered others only a phone call. The study found that girls who talked with their mothers on the phone released just as much oxytocin, the so cial bonding hormone, as those who got to hug their mothers. And both groups had similarly low levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, which might explain why so many people—young and old alike—call their mothers when feeling blue.

“What we are dealing with is very fundamental,” Levav says. “It comes down to the simple reason that your mom was the first one to hold you.” And the effects of that bond last for a lifetime.

Comments Off on Women Face Hurdles Worldwide in Quest for Gender Equality

Women Face Hurdles Worldwide in Quest for Gender Equality

Posted October 22nd, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

I’m reposting this great article by Suzi Parrasch because I think it’s so important.  I wrote an article for Psychology Today on the glass ceiling in North America, that you can also read with this link.

“Where we live, in affluent and educated pockets of the developed world there can be a lulling sense – realistic or not – that progress towards gender equality has been moving apace. But what does the world picture really look like?

According to two new reports from two United Nations agencies, it’s is not all that rosy.

First, a bit of good news: women outlive men the world over. Ok, but consider this: women are still rarely employed in jobs with status, power, and authority, and women remain severely underrepresented in both government and the private sector. Not only that, violence against women continues to be ”a universal phenomenon.” All this is according to The World’s Women 2010, released Wednesday in conjunction with the United Nations’ first ever World Statistics Day.

The World’s Women compilation is published every five years and examines eight key areas: population and families, health, education, work, power and decision-making, violence against women, environment, and poverty. In his introduction to the report, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “progress in ensuring the equal status of women and men has been made in many areas including school enrolment, health and economic participation. At the same time, it makes clear that much more needs to be done, in particular to close the gender gap in public life and to prevent the many forms of violence to which women are subjected.”

The United Nations Population Fund also released a report on Wednesday to coincide with the tenth anniversary of a landmark resolution by the UN Security Council which aimed to put a stop to sexual violence against women and girls in armed conflict and to encourage greater participation by women in peacebuilding initiatives.

War and disaster hits women hardest

The State of the World Population 2010 finds that “discrimination against women not only exposes them to the worst effects of disaster and war, but also deprives their countries of a prime engine for recovery.” As the reports says, “Women rarely wage war, but they too often suffer the worst of its consequences.”

Here are some of the startling statistics from both reports, which offer a lot to think about:

  • Of the world’s nearly 7 billion people, men outnumber women by 57 million.
  • Overall progress has been made in girls’ enrolment in primary school, showing an increase to 86% in 2007 from 79% in 1999. But parts of Africa had some of the lowest rates, with less that 60% of primary school age girls in school, and of the 72 million children worldwide who are not going to school, 54% of them are girls.
  • Women comprised just 7 out of 150 elected Heads of State in the world last year, and only 11 out of 192 governments were headed by women. Women hold an average of 17% of seats in parliament.
  • Of the 500 largest corporations on the world only 13 had female CEOs in 2009.
  • Women pursuing higher education now outnumber men – making up 51% of college students.
  • Women aged 25 to 54 are in the work force at higher rates than in 1990, yet women still earn between 70 and 90 per cent of their male counterparts.
  • Despite maternity legislation, maternity continues to be a source of employment discrimination and many pregnant women the world over lose their jobs.
  • Rates of women experiencing physical violence at least one in their lifetimes varies from 12% in Hong Kong, to 59% in Zambia, and one-tenth of women report having experienced abuse in the past 12 months in Costa Rica, the Republic of Moldova, the Czech Republic, and Mozambique.
  • Genital mutilation is still widely performed, especially among the less educated, does appear to be decreasing slightly, especially among younger women.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa recorded 270,000 maternal deaths in 2005 – half of the world’s maternal deaths, despite increases in the proportion of women receiving pre-natal care.

Paul Cheung, Director of the UN’s Statistics Division says The World’s Women 2010 is meant to be a tool for governments and policy-makers to advance gender equality worldwide. Let’s hope they do.

As The State of World Population 2010 asserts: “Governments need to seize opportunities arising out of post-conflict recovery or emerging from natural disasters to increase the chances that countries are not just rebuilt, but built back better and renewed, with women and men on equal footing, with rights and opportunities for all and a foundation for development and security in the long run.”

Time to take action?