Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Social-Psychological Power of Touch

Dacher Keltner shares insights from the new science of touch: compassionate communication, touch therapies, and proof that “to touch is to give life.” Pretty remarkable research.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Human Development: Tracking the Scientific Understanding of our Species

This new series will cover select studies across a variety of sciences that are perceived to be particularly important to understanding and fostering human development.

The idea is to keep track of key findings across a number of human-centered fields to fight against the almost impregnable combination of apathy, academic myopia, and information overload that impede an explosive and radically-amazed appreciation of 21st Century Scientific Progress.

Below is the first (short) batch. Enjoy!

Despite highest health spending, Americans' life expectancy falls behind other countries'
Obesity, smoking, traffic fatalities and homicide ruled out as causes of failure of US to keep up with gains in life expectancy in other countries.

Psychologist finds 'shocking' memory improvement
Enhance your memory.

Stressed-out mothers may worsen their child's asthma
You don't need your much as your mother needs a tranquilizer.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Emotion Regulation, Burnout, and Job Satisfaction Among Secondary School Teachers


Teaching is one of the most stressful occupations a person can have (Johnson et al., 2005; Kyriacou & Sutcliffe, 1977). Frequently identified sources of stress and decreased job satisfaction include the following:

  • inadequate salary and perceived low status of the profession (Carlson & Thompson, 1995; Kyriacou & Sutcliffe, 1978)
  • role conflict and ambiguity (Dunham, 1992)
  • time pressure (Chan, 1998)
  • student misbehavior (Turk, Meeks, & Turk, 1982)
  • relationships with supervisors (Litt & Turk, 1985)
  • large class size (Burke & Greenglass, 1994).

Teachers also experience intense, emotion-laden interactions on a daily basis and have a great number of emotional demands compared to most other professionals (Brotheridge & Grandey, 2002).

The stress and emotional demands associated with the teaching profession can lead to emotional and physical exhaustion, cynical attitudes about teaching, reduced feelings of personal accomplishment, and lower job satisfaction (Guglielmi&Tatrow, 1998; Shan, 1998; Vandenberghe & Huberman, 1999).

Abundant research has focused on these emotional demands and their impact on teachers’ well-being, mental health, stress, burnout, and job satisfaction as well as on learning outcomes for students (Chan, 2006). Relatively little is known, however, about protective factors against teacher stress and burnout.

Which psychological attributes might predict less emotional exhaustion and more positive emotions, increased feelings of personal accomplishment, and greater job satisfaction among teachers?

Research suggests that emotion-regulation ability (ERA) may account for meaningful variance in the prediction of these outcomes.

The Study

The topic of emotion regulation and its relationship with teacher effectiveness is beginning to garner attention by researchers.

This study examined the relationship between emotion-regulation ability (ERA), as assessed by the Mayer– Salovey –Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), and both job satisfaction and burnout among secondary-school teachers (N =123).

It also examined the mediating effects of affect and principal support on these outcomes.


ERA was associated positively with positive affect, principal support, job satisfaction, and one component of burnout, personal accomplishment.

Two path models demonstrated that both positive affect and principal support mediated independently the associations between ERA and both personal accomplishment and job satisfaction. (2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.)

Read full article...

Citation: All text taken directly from: (BRACKETT, PALOMERA, MOJSA-KAJA, REYES, & SALOVEY, 2010)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Eight Intriguing Facts about the Human Brain

(1) The mind IS what the brain does. That is to say, your sense of Self, your consciousness, your emotions, language, moral reasoning, ability to write a symphony or paint a sunset, are all ONLY the products of neural firing and activity in your brain (if you accept the scientific mechanistic view of human nature), and not the result of some ethereal mind (if you reject Cartesian dualism).

(2) "The difference between seeing words, hearing words, reading words and generating words can correspond to different aspects of what part of your brain is active. To some extent, if we put you in an fMRI scanner and observed what you're doing in real time, by looking at the activity patterns in your brain we can tell whether you are thinking about music or thinking about sex. To some extent we can tell whether you're solving a moral dilemma versus something else. And this is no surprise if what we are is the workings of our physical brains" (Bloom, 2007).

(3) The basic unit of the brain, the neuron (which you have about 1000 billion of), is the only type of cell in your body that can remain with you from birth until death - all other cell types are replenished after about 7 years. Furthermore, even though this is the case, dead neurons can grow back, even in very late stages of life.

(4) It is never the actual drugs you take, for medical or recreational purposes, that make you feel calm, euphoric, or otherwise - it is rather the neurotransmitters, like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which psychopharmacological substances trigger, that are the source of drug-induced moods and sensations. Hence Dan Gilbert's quote, "We have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodities we are constantly chasing."

(5) Is the human brain the same thing as your laptop? Does it work in the same way? There are a number of similarities between computing machines and your 3lb. fleshy mental universe, but there are two key differences. First, brains can take a lot of damage and still maintain relatively high levels of functioning. Computers on the other hand, as many of us are all well aware, are very temperamental and fragile. Second, brains are exceedingly faster than your Dell, despite the fact that you Dell is using considerably more conductive equipment. If the human brain were wired like a PC with the type of fatty equipment it uses to process information, it would take around 4 HOURS just to recognize a face. Luckily for us, our brain functions through extraordinarily efficient massively parallel distributive processing.

(6) Although as this post makes clear, we ARE our brains, there are a number of activities we are capable of even when decapitated (thank the French for this evidence). Research has found that all of the following phenomenon are possible without a brain: newborn sucking, limb flexation in withdrawal from pain, vomiting, and yes, even getting an erection of the penis (although I do not quite understand the evolutionary purpose of this).

(7) There are topological maps of you body encoded in your brain, so that body parts which are near one another, like your foot and your ankle, are closer together on the maps than parts which are farther apart, like your eyelids and your fingertips. Interestingly, the size of each part of your body in these brain maps is directly related to the potency of sensation in any particular body area (e. g., the mouth, fingertips, and genitals take up a very large portion of these maps, and your back and shoulders, although much larger in real life, take up much smaller sections).

(8) People who are right-handed create and process language in the left lobe of their brain. This seems relatively straightforward. However, some people who are left-handed create and process language in the right side of their brain, while for other lefties language is located in the left side of their brain - and yet there are a third group of lefties whose language centers are scattered throughout various parts of their brains!

There will be more to come in this new series on Intriguing Facts about the Human Brain.

Source: Foundations: This is your Brain

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Building Block of the Social Brain: Single Neurons

Watching a Living Brain in the Act of Seeing -- With Single-Synapse Resolution

"When light falls on the retina of the human eye, it hits 126 million sensory cells, which transform it into electrical signals. Even the smallest unit of light, a photon, can stimulate one of these sensory cells. As a result, enormous amounts of data have to be processed for us to be able to see. While the processing of visual data starts in the retina, the finished image only arises in the brain or, to be more precise, in the visual cortex at the back of the cerebrum.

Pioneering a novel microscopy method, neuroscientist Arthur Konnerth and colleagues from the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) have shown that individual neurons carry out significant aspects of sensory processing: specifically, in this case, determining which direction an object in the field of view is moving. Their method makes it possible for the first time to observe individual synapses, nerve contact sites that are just one micrometer in size, on a single neuron in a living mammalian brain.

Focusing on neurons known to play a role in processing visual signals related to movement, Konnerth's team discovered that an individual neuron integrates inputs it receives via many synapses at once into a single output signal -- a decision, in essence, made by a single nerve cell. The scientists report these results in the latest issue of the journal Nature. Looking ahead, they say their method opens a new avenue for exploration of how learning functions at the level of the individual neuron.

Neuroscientists speculate that a neuron might be caught in the act of learning a new orientation. Many nerve endings practically never send signals to the dendritic tree of an orientation neuron. Presented with visual input signals that represent an unfamiliar kind of movement, formerly silent nerve endings may become active. This might alter the way the neuron weighs and processes inputs, in such a way that it would change its preferred orientation; and the mouse might learn to discern certain movements better or more rapidly. 'Because our method enables us to observe, down to the level of a single synapse, how an individual neuron in the living brain is networked with others and how it behaves, we should be able to make a fundamental contribution to understanding the learning process,' Konnerth asserts."

Read the whole article here

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Social Biases: The Brain's Social Autopilot

This list (primarily based on scientific research) is for anyone who has ever left an interaction with another human being confused, befuddled, or bewildered:

* Actor-observer bias – the tendency for explanations of other individuals' behaviors to overemphasize the influence of their personality and underemphasize the influence of their situation (see also fundamental attribution error). However, this is coupled with the opposite tendency for the self in that explanations for our own behaviors overemphasize the influence of our situation and underemphasize the influence of our own personality.

* Egocentric bias – occurs when people claim more responsibility for themselves for the results of a joint action than an outside observer would.

* Forer effect (aka Barnum Effect) – the tendency to give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. For example, horoscopes.

* False consensus effect – the tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them.

* Fundamental attribution error – the tendency for people to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior (see also actor-observer bias, group attribution error, positivity effect, and negativity effect).

* Halo effect – the tendency for a person's positive or negative traits to "spill over" from one area of their personality to another in others' perceptions of them (see also physical attractiveness stereotype).

* Herd instinct – Common tendency to adopt the opinions and follow the behaviors of the majority to feel safer and to avoid conflict.

* Illusion of asymmetric insight – people perceive their knowledge of their peers to surpass their peers' knowledge of them.

* Illusion of transparency – people overestimate others' ability to know them, and they also overestimate their ability to know others.

* Illusory superiority – overestimating one's desirable qualities, and underestimating undesirable qualities, relative to other people. Also known as Superiority bias (also known as "Lake Wobegon effect", "better-than-average effect", "superiority bias", or Dunning-Kruger effect).

* Ingroup bias – the tendency for people to give preferential treatment to others they perceive to be members of their own groups.

* Just-world phenomenon – the tendency for people to believe that the world is just and therefore people "get what they deserve."

* Notational bias – a form of cultural bias in which the notational conventions of recording data biases the appearance of that data toward (or away from) the system upon which the notational schema is based.

* Outgroup homogeneity bias – individuals see members of their own group as being relatively more varied than members of other groups.

* Projection bias – the tendency to unconsciously assume that others share the same or similar thoughts, beliefs, values, or positions.

* Self-serving bias (also called "behavioral confirmation effect") – the tendency to claim more responsibility for successes than failures. It may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests (see also group-serving bias).

* Self-fulfilling prophecy – the tendency to engage in behaviors that elicit results which will (consciously or not) confirm existing attitudes.[11]

* System justification – the tendency to defend and bolster the status quo. Existing social, economic, and political arrangements tend to be preferred, and alternatives disparaged sometimes even at the expense of individual and collective self-interest. (See also status quo bias.)

* Trait ascription bias – the tendency for people to view themselves as relatively variable in terms of personality, behavior and mood while viewing others as much more predictable.

* Ultimate attribution error – Similar to the fundamental attribution error, in this error a person is likely to make an internal attribution to an entire group instead of the individuals within the group.


The Impact Bias: Future Happiness and Despair Never Live Up to Expectations

"Here's two different futures that I invite you to contemplate, and you can try to simulate them and tell me which one you think you might prefer. One of them is winning the lottery. This is about 314 million dollars. And the other is becoming paraplegic. So, just give it a moment of thought. You probably don't feel like you need a moment of thought.

However, interestingly, there are data on these two groups of people, data on how happy they are. The fact is, that a year after losing the use of their legs, and a year after winning the lotto, lottery winners and paraplegics are equally happy with their lives [graphs of these data are shown in the video embedded below].

Now, don't feel too bad about failing the first pop quiz, because everybody fails all of the pop quizzes all of the time. The research that my laboratory has been doing, that economists and psychologists around the country have been doing, have revealed something really quite startling to us. Something we call the impact bias, which is the tendency for your mental simulator to work badly. For the simulator to make you believe that different outcomes are more different than in fact they really are.

From field studies to laboratory studies, we see that winning or losing an election, gaining or losing a romantic partner, getting or not getting a promotion, passing or not passing a college test, on and on, have far less impact, less intensity and much less duration than people expect them to have. In fact, a recent study -- this almost floors me -- a recent study showing how major life traumas affect people suggests that if it happened over three months ago, with only a few exceptions, it has no impact whatsoever on your happiness" (Dan Gilbert, TED talk 2006).

For more of Dan Gilbert's research on cognitive biases and happiness: