Comments Off

Rating attractiveness: men different than women

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

Hot or not? Men agree on the answer. Women don’t.

There is much more consensus among men about whom they find attractive than there is among women, according to a new study by Wake Forest University psychologist Dustin Wood.

The study, co-authored by Claudia Brumbaugh of Queens College, appears in the June issue of theJournal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Men agree a lot more about who they find attractive and unattractive than women agree about who they find attractive and unattractive,” says Wood, assistant professor of psychology. “This study shows we can quantify the extent to which men agree about which women are attractive and vice versa.”

More than 4,000 participants in the study rated photographs of men and women (ages 18-25) for attractiveness on a 10-point scale ranging from “not at all” to “very.” In exchange for their participation, raters were told what characteristics they found attractive compared with the average person. The raters ranged in age from 18 to more than 70.

Before the participants judged the photographs for attractiveness, the members of the research team rated the images for how seductive, confident, thin, sensitive, stylish, curvaceous (women), muscular (men), traditional, masculine/feminine, classy, well-groomed, or upbeat the people looked.

Breaking out these factors helped the researchers figure out what common characteristics appealed most to women and men.

Men’s judgments of women’s attractiveness were based primarily around physical features and they rated highly those who looked thin and seductive. Most of the men in the study also rated photographs of women who looked confident as more attractive.

As a group, the women rating men showed some preference for thin, muscular subjects, but disagreed on how attractive many men in the study were. Some women gave high attractiveness ratings to the men other women said were not attractive at all.

“As far as we know, this is the first study to investigate whether there are differences in the level of consensus male and female raters have in their attractiveness judgments,” Wood says. “These differences have implications for the different experiences and strategies that could be expected for men and women in the dating marketplace.”

For example, women may encounter less competition from other women for the men they find attractive, he says. Men may need to invest more time and energy in attracting and then guarding their mates from other potential suitors, given that the mates they judge attractive are likely to be found attractive by many other men.

Wood says the study results have implications for eating disorders and how expectations regarding attractiveness affect behavior.

“The study helps explain why women experience stronger norms than men to obtain or maintain certain physical characteristics,” he says. “Women who are trying to impress men are likely to be found much more attractive if they meet certain physical standards, and much less if they don’t. Although men are rated as more attractive by women when they meet these physical appearance standards too, their overall judged attractiveness isn’t as tightly linked to their physical features.”

The age of the participants also played a role in attractiveness ratings. Older participants were more likely to find people attractive if they were smiling.

Comments Off

Visualization and sleep a key to good memory

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

Forgot to stop and pick up food for dinner? Didn’t repay someone who lent you money despite the fact that you have it?  Your short term memory is failing you. What can you do?

Researchers at Washington University have some novel memory advice. Researcher Mark McDaniel argues that based on previous research, rehearsing (eg: “pay John back”) is not effective. He suggests that before going to sleep, attached a specific environment cue to the task (eg: visualize pulling out $20 in the coffee shop and paying John).  McDaniel argues that sleep strengthens the brain’s weak associations.  You can follow these steps to make it effective:

  1. pick a task that may slip your mind tomorrow—eg; asking your boss for vacation time;
  2. vividly visualize a scenario in which you are performing the tasks. Focus less on the transaction and more on the surroundings (details of the room, dress etc.) These cues are indirectly linked to the tasks and will help you remember
  3. If your task could be done in multiple contexts repeat with a new scenario for each.
Comments Off

Do hidden attitudes reveal relationship problems?

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

There may be early signs of a deteriorating relationship—when partners spend less and less romantic time together, for example. Another sign is, and it may be unconscious, how partners associates their mate with negative words such as “death” or “attacking.”

Psychologists at the University of Rochester studied 222 men and women who were married, engaged or in a serious committed relationship. They pared their romantic partner’s names and characteristics with either positive words such as “peace” or “caring” or negative words such as “nagging” or “criticism.” The researchers theorized that people’s “implicit” feelings and attitudes about the subjects’ partners that they may not be willing to explicit acknowledge, show up in language association.

Results showed that the more frequently the participants “flubbed” their responses to pairings of partner related words with positive words, the more likely (70-75%) they were to have broken up a year later.  The researchers concluded that implicitly negative attitudes toward a romantic partner may reflect earlier judgments and misgivings that are too subtle to recognize or openly and consciously admit, but the subconscious mind does not ignore it.

So much is revealed in the language we use either implicitly or explicitly that can both really describe and predict the future of intimate relationships.

Comments Off

What makes a good parent?

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

What makes a good parent? How important is good parenting. Well, there’s lots of evidence that indicates it’s probably the most important job in society, with the greatest impact on our lives. Yet curiously, there’s no requirements other than biology. You need a license to get married, to drive a car, to practice a profession and many other things, but not to parent. There is research now that points to what good parenting behavior is, that can help.

Amazon lists some 40,000 books on parenting, many of which provide conflicting advice. A growing body of research conducted over the past 50 years shows fairly clearly that some parenting practices produce better outcomes than others: better relationships between parent and child and happier, healthier, better functioning children.

In a thought-provoking article in Scientific Mind, Robert Epstein, researcher, professor of psychology and former editor of Psychlogy Today, describes the research that he and his colleague, Shannon Fox at the University of San Diego did, comparing the effectiveness of 10 kinds of parenting practices that have received positive support by parenting experts.

Their study confirmed widely held beliefs about parenting—for example, that showing children love as being essential—but the research also revealed some surprises, particularly with respect to the importance of a a parent’s ability to mange stress in the parent’s own life.

Here are the 10 competencies from Dr. Epstein’s research that predict good parenting outcomes listed in order from most to least important.

  1. Love and affection. You support and accept the child, are physically affectionate and spend quality one-on-one time together;
  2. Stress management. You take steps to reduce stress for yourself and your child, practice relaxation techniques and promote positive interpretations of events;
  3. Relationships skills. You maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse, significant other or co-parent and model effective relationship skills with other people;
  4. Autonomy and independence. You treat your child with respect and encourage him or her to become self-sufficient and self-reliant.
  5. Education and learning. You promote and model learning and provide educational opportunities for your child;
  6. Life skills. You provide for your child, have a steady income and plan for the future.
  7. Behavior management. You make extensive use of positive reinforcement and discipline only when other methods of managing behavior have failed.
  8. Health. You model a healthy lifestyle and good habits, such as regular exercise and proper nutrition for your child.
  9. Spirituality and religion. You support spiritual and/or religious development and participate in spiritual and/or religious activities.
  10. Safety.  You take precautions to protect your child and maintain awareness of the child’s activities and friends.

What is interesting to me, and it supports the earlier research of Dr. John Gottman, an expert on marital relationships, is that the relationship and behavior of the mother and father of the children had a significant impact on the development of the children.

Further resources:

  • The Positive Parent: Raising Healthy, Happy and Successful Children by Kerby T. Alvy, 2008.
  • The Process of Parenting, by Jane B. Brooks, 2010.
  • Raising the Emotionally Intelligent Child, by Dr. John Gottman, 1997.
  • Dr. Epstein’s webpage: http://drrobertepstein.com/
    Comments Off

    Is social media a business strategy?

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

    Is social media becoming a business strategy? How is it being used in the workplace?

    According to Jolie O’Dell, writing in Forbes, a new study from Trend Micro shows that more workers around the globe are using social networks while in the office and on the clock. The survey took a look at the habits of 1,600 Internet users from the U.S., UK, Germany and Japan and found that over the past two years alone, social web use in the workplace has risen from 19% to 24%. In Germany specifically, social media use at work saw a 10% increase.

    It’s still unclear whether this gradual but significant rise is being used to drive our businesses ahead, or if we’re instead wasting our companies’ time and money — a distinction that’s especially important to managers concerned with network security and productivity issues.

    For workers on laptops, these numbers are even higher — 8% globally and 14% in Germany. All told, almost a third of laptop users around the world will use social websites while at work.

    A company’s size also seems to make a difference whether or not employees will use social sites while at work. Especially in the U.S. and Japan, workers at larger companies are more likely to stay off social networks — perhaps due to firewalling or other forms of restricted access. In the UK and Germany, however, employees at big companies are slightly more likely to browse the social web while at the office.

    I came across this article by Bruno Aziza in Forbes. Aziza is the co-author of the bestselling book, Drive Business Performance: Enabling a Culture of Intelligent Execution and a fellow at the Advanced Performance Institute, an independent advisory group specializing in organizational performance. He has held management positions at Apple, Business Objects/SAP, Symantec and Decathlon.

    “Social media, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube or other sites, has changed people’s lives. Countless articles have highlighted stories of consumers who found in this technology new ways to express themselves, connections to large numbers of people and even the ability to change the course of events–like raising funds for relief in Haiti after the earthquake.

    Individuals have benefited from the viral virtues of social media: Musician Dave Carroll got the attention of United Airlines when his YouTube video about how the airline broke his guitar reached millions of viewers; TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington got Comcast to respond to him in 20 minutes and resolve a connection issue he had complained about to his 12,000 Twitter followers.

    Corporations that have disrespected their customers, either in poor act or simply by shouting marketing messages without regard for consumer demands, are at risk of seeing them take over and reveal the truth about their services, products and identity. More than 80% of marketers have begun using social media to better talk with, rather than to talkat their customers. If you are an executive, pressure is on you to articulate a “social media strategy.” You are urged to perfect this new medium and increase the dialogue with customers before they take over your brand and message.

    So far, the majority of social media literature has focused on how companies can use it outside the organization. But, when it comes to using social media inside the organization, little guidance is available. Executives, by and large, have remained skeptical; as of late last year, the majority of chief information officers prohibited the use of social media at work.

    Sure, Twitter might have helped millions of victims of natural disasters, from fires to hurricanes to the recent Haiti earthquake, but some executives may ask what that has to do with employees. (Some say that Hurricane Katrina would have ended differently if it hadn’t occurred “BSM” or “Before Social Media.”)

    At best, the discussion moves to productivity. While a recent report from Forrester claims that the vast majority of employees polled say social media makes them more productive, executives say the excess chatter that the technology creates and the playful character social media exhibits can present potential risk to their employees’ productivity. What’s more, the potential risk doesn’t just reach those less- experienced Gen-Ys: The average social network user is 37 years old.

    Focusing this debate on productivity might do a disservice to executives and social media pundits. In assessing whether social media brings productivity gains, think about the efficiency of other forms of communication, including phone and e-mail conversations. Can you guarantee that all the e-mails you’ve read and all the phone conversations you’ve had make you more productive? Of course not.

    As it turns out, social media has the potential to resolve issues other than collaboration or communication. It has helped many solve what has plagued boardrooms for decades, a problem that just 1 company in 10 can effectively solve: strategy execution.

    Bad strategy execution originates from communication and engagement failures. The worst symptoms include employees disregarding the strategy and management ignoring employees’ input regarding their strategic decisions.”

    Comments Off

    Why New Year’s resolutions fail

    Posted December 27th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

    The start of the New Year is often the perfect time to turn a new page in your life, which is why so many people make New Year’s resolutions. But why do so many resolutions fail?

    Researchers have looked at success rates of peoples’ resolutions: the first two weeks usually go along beautifully, but by February, people are backsliding and by the following December, most people are back where they started, often even further behind. Why do so many people not keep their resolutions? Are people just weak-willed or lazy?

    According to researcher John Norcross and his colleagues, who published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, approximately 50% of the population makes resolutions each New Year. Among the top resolutions are weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and debt reduction.

    Timothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, says that resolutions are a form of “cultural procrastination,” an effort to reinvent oneself. People make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves, he says. Pychyl argues that people aren’t ready to change their habits, particularly bad habits, and that accounts for the high failure rate. Another reason, says Dr. Avya Sharma of the Canadian Obesity Network, is that people set unrealistic goals and expectations in their resolutions.

    Psychology professor Peter Herman and his colleagues have identified what they call the “false hope syndrome,” which means their resolution is significantly unrealistic and out of alignment with their internal view of themselves. This principle reflects that of making positive affirmations. When you make positive affirmations about yourself that you don’t really believe, the positive affirmations not only don’t work, they can be damaging to your self-esteem.

    The other aspect of failed resolutions lies in the cause and effect relationship. You may think that if you lose weight, or reduce your debts, or exercise more, your entire life will change, and when it doesn’t, you may get discouraged and then you revert back to old behaviors.

    Making resolutions work is essentially changing behaviors and in order to do that, you have to change your thinking and “rewire” your brain. Brain scientists such as Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux and psychotherapist Stephen Hayes have discovered, through the use of MRIs, that habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, which become the default basis for your behavior when you’re faced with a choice or decision. Trying to change that default thinking by “not trying to do it,” in effect just strengthens it. Change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking.

    So, if you’re going to make New Year’s resolutions, here’s some tips to help you make them work:

    1. Focus on one resolution, rather several;
    2. Set realistic, specific goals. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 10 pounds in 90 days would be;
    3. Don’t wait till New Year’s eve to make resolutions. Make it a year long process, every day;
    4. Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is too big requiring too big a step all at once;
    5. Have an accountability buddy, someone close to you that you have to report to;
    6. Celebrate your success between milestones. Don’t wait the goal to be finally completed;
    7. Focus your thinking on new behaviors and thought patterns. You have to create new neural pathways in your brain to change habits;
    8. Focus on the present. What’s the one thing you can do today, right now, towards your goal?
    9. Be mindful. Become physically, emotionally and mentally aware of your inner state as each external event happens,moment by moment, rather than living in the past or future.

    And finally, don’t take yourself so seriously. Have fun and laugh at yourself when you slip, but don’t let the slip hold you back from working at your goal.

    Comments Off

    Can money really buy happiness?

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

    Does money really buy you happiness? The debate continues, and most people still pursue more money as the answer to being happier.

    Are wealthier people really happy? Sure, there are philanthropists like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, who have given billions of their net worth away and have made the world a better place. But, according to psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, they are an exception.

    Lyubormisky argues that American families who make over $300,000 a year donate to charity a mere 4% of their incomes. She cites studies at the University of Minnesota where they have demonstrated that merely glimpsing dollar bills makes people less generous and approachable and more egocentric.

    An international team of researchers reported in the professional journal Psychological Science that although wealth may grant us opportunities to purchase many things, it simultaneously impairs our ability to enjoy those very things.

    Lyubomirsky also cites a study by researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium that showed that the wealthier the workers were, the less likely they were to display a strong capacity to savor positive experiences in their lives. Furthermore, simply being reminded of money dampened their savoring ability.

    Lyubomirsky concludes that because wealth allows people to experience the best that life has to offer, it ultimately undermines their ability to savor life’s little pleasures.

    Lyubormirsky’s research was published in Psychology Today, and the Scientific American

    Comments Off

    The erosion of trust

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

    Trust is eroding in our society–for leaders, corporations, institutions, governments and each other. And the consequences may be far more damaging than changes in interest rates, GDP or unemployment levels.

    The World Economic Forum’s bi-annual survey on trust in governments, corporations and global institutions, conducted by GlobeScan Incorporated, showed that trust in a range of institutions has dropped significantly in the U.S. since 2004 to levels just after 9/11. The poll also reveals that public trust in all national governments (except Russia) and the U.N. has fallen. In the same period, public trust in companies has eroded. Recently a report from Germany indicated that corporate giant Deutsche Telekom spied on thousands of its own employees’ and Directors’ phone messages in an attempt to identify the source of leaks to the media.

    According to a FedEx poll, 40% of people say they have little or no trust in corporate America, with 47% feeling that way about Fortune 500 CEOs. The same survey asked respondents to identify a single phrase from a list that would engender the most trust in a company. They chose “ethical business practices,” with “sound moral compass,” coming a close second.

    The Leadership Quarterly reports that a study found many bosses today are seen as dishonest. The report cited that 39% of those surveyed said their supervisors had failed to keep promises; 37% said their supervisors had failed to give credit when due; and 33% said their supervisors had blamed others to cover up mistakes or to minimize embarrassment. The authors of the report, from Florida State University, posed the question of whether these kinds of behavior are a reflection of an increasing “it’s all about me” society and an increasing lack of honesty and trust.

    Bronwyn Fryer, writing on the issue of trust, in the Harvard Business Review, says that “the business world is shaking like a Wittenberg church door. And no wonder: we’re about to undergo a Reformation. Our faith is shaken to the core; our sense of normality unhinged. Wall Street lies in metaphorical rubble. The greatest banker who ever lived, Alan Greenspan, says he misunderstood market mechanics. Jack Welch says focusing on share price was a dumb idea. The future of capitalism itself is in question.”

    In their book, The Trusted Leader, Robert Galford and Anne Siebold Drapeau identify three categories of trust within an organization and emphasize how a loss of trust by employees for their leaders can weaken and even destroy an organization.

    Stephen M.R. Covey, in his best selling book, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything argues that trust everywhere is in decline, and cites a 2004 estimate that the act of complying with U.S. Federal rules and regulations along “put in place essentially due to a lack of trust-at $1.1 trillion,” and points to a study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners which estimated that the average American company lost 6% of its annual revenue to fraudulent activity. In contrast, a Watson Wyatt study showed that high trust companies outperform low trust companies by nearly 300%.

    So what is the nature of trust? Trust between people, within organizations and countries is based on the perception that efforts between the parties will be reciprocated, and that reactions will be predicable and produce a sense of security for the parties.

    Covey argues that the first job of any leader is to inspire trust born of character and competence. Character includes integrity, motive and intent. He cites the high trust business deal between Warren Buffet and his company Berkshire, which acquired McLane Distribution for $23 billion from Walmart, a deal that was completed in a two hour meeting and a handshake with all the paperwork completed within a month.

    The 2010 Trust Barometer Survey by PR firm Edelman, found that people believe that trust, transparency and honest business practices influence corporate reputations more than the quality of products and services or financial performance.

    Dennis and Michelle Reina, authors of Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace, have developed a model of trust, which provides an organizational roadmap describing what they term “transaction trust,” based on the key elements of honesty, transparency, admission of mistakes and communicating with good purpose.

    Kurt Dirks, a professor of organizational behavior at Olin University has researched the issue of trust, and published his findings as In the Face of Adversity: Trust in Leaders is Essential for Performance. He shows how trust increases productivity. Dirks concludes that “people will forgive a leader who comprises their trust because of a lapse of competence, but not with lapses of integrity.” He says that to demonstrate integrity, leaders must do what they say they will do; live up to the values and beliefs they aspire; and be true to themselves.

    Kiernan O’Hara, author of Trust: From Socrates to Spin, argues that there is clear evidence trust is declining across Western economies, the cause of which he describes as the “expectation gap.” This gap is describes as the result of people expecting that more needs to be done for them that is actually feasible or desirable, which results in a loss of trust when the expectations can’t be met.

    It’s very apparent that the ability to restore, establish, and grow trust among stakeholders in our organizations an institutions is the critical challenge now facing us today. We desperately need the torch to be picked up by courageous leaders and sustained by all of us in our daily lives.

    Comments Off

    Building social capital by walking

    Posted December 21st, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

    People often choose a home or place to live based on the amenities of the house, condo or apartment, often at the expense of a long commute to work or lack of proximity to social amenities. Yet this has a significant price in terms of positive psychological effects.

    Living in an area where amenities of daily life – groceries, playgrounds, post offices, libraries and restaurants – are within walking distance promotes healthy lifestyles and has positive implications for the environment, research has established. Now, new research from the University of New Hampshire has linked walkable neighborhoods with an increase in social benefits as well.

    The research is published online in Springer’s journal Applied Research in Quality of Life.

    A walkable community provides residents with easy access to post offices, town parks and playgrounds, coffee shops, restaurants, barbershops and club meeting venues. The ability to walk to these important locations in one’s home neighborhood has been linked to a higher quality of life.

    Social capital, a measure of an individual’s or group’s networks, personal connections, and community involvement, brings benefits such as reduced isolation, career connections, and neighborhood safety. What Rogers and her team’s work suggests is that it is these benefits — facilitated by living in a walkable community — that enhance an individual’s quality of life.

    For their main study, the authors selected two municipalities in the state of New Hampshire. Ten neighborhoods were chosen in each of the cities and a total of 700 residents took part in the survey. They were asked about the number of locations they could walk to in their community to assess the level of walkability, as well as their trust in the local community, participation in community activities and socializing with friends — all measures of social capital.

    On the whole, the more walkable neighborhoods scored higher on every measure of social capital than the less walkable neighborhoods. The authors found that individuals in more walkable neighborhoods tended to have higher levels of trust and community involvement, whether that was working on a community project, attending a club meeting, volunteering, or simply entertaining friends at home. Residents in the more walkable neighborhoods also reported being in good health and happy more often than those in the less walkable neighborhoods.

    The authors conclude: “Walkability has been linked to quality of life in other studies. Walkability may also enhance social capital by providing the means and locations for individuals to connect, share information, and interact with those that they might not otherwise meet. The links we found between walkability and measures of social capital in this study provide further evidence for the consideration of social capital as a key component of quality of life.”

    Comments Off

    Empathy, generosity and brain hormones

    Posted December 20th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

    What makes people act with kindness to a stranger they never expect to meet again? Why are some people more generous than others? The answer may lie in our brains.

    Neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak of Claremont Graduate University has new research connecting the brain hormone oxytocin to trust and generosity.

    In the research, Zak and his colleagues gave doses of oxytocin and a placebo to participants, who were then offered a blinded, one-time decision on how to split a sum of money with a stranger who could accept or reject the split. The results were overwhelming: Those given oxytocin offered 80% more money than those given a placebo.

    According to Zak, this means that although we are inherently altruistic, we are also generous when we feel empathy toward one another. It is empathy that causes us to open up our wallets and give generously to help strangers.

    “Oxytocin specifically and powerfully affected generosity using real money when participants had to think about another’s feelings,” Zak explains. “This result confirms our earlier work showing that oxytocin affects trust, but with a dramatically larger effect for generosity.”

    In his experiments, Zak distinguishes between generosity and altruism by using tasks that involve one’s innate motivation to give to others, and when another’s plight must be considered. Oxytocin’s effect on generosity is more than three times larger then his work from 2005, which demonstrated that oxytocin increases trust.

    Zak’s recent paper explains the brain mechanisms responsible for the substantial increase in generosity during the last 50 years. Zak and his colleagues cite annual giving levels up 187% since 1954. In 2005, over 65 million Americans volunteered to help charities. 96% percent of volunteers said that one of their motivations was “feeling compassion toward other people”

    In previous studies, Zak has shown a relationship between oxytocin and trust, making a clear case that the ancient hormone causes a shift in brain chemistry that is evolutionarily important–the more we trust one another and cooperate, the more we all benefit together.

    This research extends Zak’s finding based on oxytocin and trust, which was published in Nature two years ago.