Psychology

Thanks for the memory – not

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Memory is a wonderful thing although there are probably some things you would rather forget.

Well that’s not quite so easy according to a recent study presented at the Neuroscience 2017 conference in Washington.

Roy Cox and his colleagues at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston found that the brain is pre-disposed to dwell on and strengthen negative memories while we sleep.

They tested almost 60 people by showing them both neutral and unpleasant images to different hemispheres of the brain and recording electrical activity which showed that the images had been localised in one hemisphere.

Twelve hours later they were given a memory test. Those subjects kept awake in the interim remembered roughly equal numbers of unpleasant and neutral images. Those who slept remembered more negative ones.

This suggests that “sleep selectively stabilises emotional memories” and would confirm a number of ideas about how information is “tagged” e.g. by emotions or even sounds, that make it easier to be recalled.

With people suffering PTSD or similar the trick is to find a way of reducing the emotional content. That to me is the more interesting aspect of this kind of research.

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How bright do leaders need to be?

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Well, intelligent enough to convince your team you know what you are doing but not so intelligent that it creates a barrier.

A study at Lausanne University, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, tested more than 350 middle managers then asked staff to rate their ability.

There was a strong link between intelligence and ratings for those at the lower to middle end but above an IQ of 120 the connection  started to reverse. Once the IQ gap between you and your employees is bigger than 18 points you are in trouble.

John Antonakis, the author of the report, said “The idea is that you need to be smarter than the people you are leading and smart enough to keep rivals at bay. But you mustn’t be so smart that they can’t understand you“.

This is not new. Adrian Furnham, a business psychologist and academic, writing in the Sunday Times back in 2005 made the same point along with others I think are worth repeating. He said:

–People prefer bright leaders

–The more intelligent the leader the more effective the team

–Intelligent people learn more quickly & inspire confidence

–Leaders need to be bright – but not too bright. If a lot more intelligent than team they will be misunderstood or seen as a threat

–IQ more related to Leadership when not under stress, which counters intelligence

–Leaders need to be stable ie resilient and hardy

–Social skills are important

So there is more to it than just your IQ score. Emotional Intelligence plays a big part.

As does not having a dark side personality that terrible triad of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. And if you want to influence you have to demonstrate warmth as well as competence (Prime Ministers take note).

And if you want to stay ahead and keep brighter – only mix with the brightest!

And if you’re worried about the IQ gap between you and your team you know what to do – recruit more women!

A long travel to work time can demotivate you

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Hardly surprising really. Researchers at UWE in Bristol analysed the experiences of 26,000 workers and found that an extra 20 minutes commuting each day was as bad as taking a 19% pay cut!

The average commuting time per day has risen from 48 to 60 minutes each way over the past 20 years and 1 in 7 workers send 2 hours a day commuting.

Every extra minute taken travelling reduced job satisfaction, worsened mental health and increased the chance of people giving up their job.

Workers travelling by bus seemed to suffer the worst compared to other means of transport.

Those who could walk or cycle to work were more satisfied, perhaps because they was it as a healthy activity and as part of a “health-enhancing lifestyle”. And perhaps because the journeys were shorter?

Longer train journeys were, perhaps unsurprisingly, less stressful than short ones as people can use the time more productively and shorter train journeys tended to be on more crowded trains.

Women were affected more by committing than men which the researchers out down to their having “greater household and family responsibilities“. That sounds a bit sexist in this day and age!

I don’t know if they looked at the number of stages in the journey to work but when I was carrying out research into absenteeism some years ago that was one of the factors. Not how far people travelled but how many changes they had to make and worrying about connections.

As a free-lancer I was always conscious of travel times and would book overnight stays to avoid getting stuck on motorways so at least I could be fresh on arrival. Nothing worse than turning up to present something on stress or resilience and being stressed out yourself!

HR job titles – seriously?

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They say you should take your job seriously – but not yourself.

It seems some HR people have taken that to heart.

According to People Management, the CIPD magazine, these are genuine job titles:

  • HR scrummaster
  • Vice President of teammate success
  • Appreciatologist
  • Employee experience architect
  • Employee journey guide
  • Hiring ninja
  • People and culture poet
  • Mood coordinator
  • Culture evangelist
  • People gardener
  • Snowflake nurturer (actually I made that one up)

As an ex-HR Director (and prior to that Head of Personnel Management) I despair at what these people actually do to help the organisations they work for.

 

Is it possible to help criminals with psychological interventions?

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Recent reports in the press suggest yes – but not in a good way.

In fact research shows that rather than make them better citizens it just helps them to be better at criminal activity.

In the latest reverse researchers at the George Mason University in Virginia tested Mindfulness Meditation on 259 prisoners. They were shown how to meditate focussing on their thoughts and accepting negative feelings.

They were tested before and after the sessions to assess their criminal tendencies and chances of re-offending. The results?

It actually made offenders more likely to blame others and psychologists said there was a direct link between mindfulness and the conditions likely to cause criminal behaviour.

It failed to bring prisoners out of “criminal thinking patterns” and actually made them worse because mindfulness encourages people not to judge themselves, which may have led offenders to avoid responsibility for their actions.

And this is a treatment accepted by the NHS for anxiety and depression with 20 or more apps you can use on your smart phone. Yet the warning sign were there. Mindfulness doesn’t work well with men.

Researchers at Brown University found gender differences in the effect of mindfulness meditation. “The mechanisms are highly speculative at this point, but stereotypically, women ruminate and men distract,” said a Dr Briton.

And in the UK the Ministry of Justice has shut down two Sex Offender Treatment Programmes (SOTPs) including a six months psychological group therapy programme designed to rehabilitate rapists and paedophiles. These have cost £100 million since being set up in 1991.

An independent study of the programmes found that it only made the criminals more dangerous and they had an above-average re-offending rate.

For example paedophiles who took the course had a 25% higher re-offending rate over a 10-year period especially those convicted of attacking children.

The programmes included CBT (which the Ministry believes to be the most effective way of reducing offending behaviour) and group discussions to help the sex offenders to understand their crimes and increase their awareness of victim harm. 

A former consultant on the programme who resigned told the Mail on Sunday that they weren’t adapting the course in line with new knowledge and many delivering the programme weren’t qualified but chaplains, prison officers and other para-professionals.

You can imagine that some in the group would relish the re-telling of their crimes and/or learn from others’ experiences.

Some years ago I remember reading about attempts to teach psychopaths to have more empathy and be more emotionally intelligent. It turned out that it just made them better at convincing victims they could be trusted. I couldn’t find the original source of that and it was a few years ago but in my search I came across Dr George Simon’s blog on this topic.

He wrote: “Times were when empathy training was a required component of most treatment programs for sexual offenders and predators. But the evidence indicated that providing such training had no effect on recidivism rates.

Moreover, some evidence emerged that teaching psychopathic predators about empathy only gave them increased knowledge about the vulnerabilities and sensitivities of others, which, in turn, they were prone to use to become even more adept predators“. (George Simon blog – already tweeted).

And more recent research shows that psychopaths do have an “empathy switch” but choose not to use it leading some scientists to believe it could help their rehabilitation. They need to revisit earlier work in this area if they believe that.

Given that some of these criminals will have personality disorders – notoriously difficult to deal with therapeutically – it comes as no surprise to me that these interventions show such poor outcomes.

Are you teaching your kids to be quitters?

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Not a good thing! Research clearly shows the importance of perseverance in school and in life.

So next time you are struggling with a task in front of your children don’t make it look too easy. By trying and repeatedly failing at a task you are helping children understand the value and importance of persistence.

Many cultures emphasise the value of effort and perseverance. This emphasis is substantiated by scientific research: individual differences in conscientiousness, self-control and ‘grit’ correlate with academic outcomes independent of IQ” wrote scientists at  the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

They wondered if persistence and quitting could be learnt. “Does seeing an adult exert effort to succeed encourage infants to persist longer at their own challenging tasks?”

In an experiment they ran at MIT, reported in the journal Science, 250 15-month old children watched adults perform a task getting a keychain attached to a carabiner out of a box.

Half the time the adults easily removed the keychain but half the time struggled before they accomplished the task.

The toddlers were then given their own task – a music box with a big button to press (which didn’t make the music play no matter how many times they pushed it). The idea was to see if the number of times they pushed the button depended on whether or not they had seen adults persevering.

The experiment was stopped after two minutes or after the toddler threw the box on the floor three times in frustration.

The results seemed to support the scientists’ hypothesis. Those children who had seen adults persevere, albeit in an unrelated task, kept pushing the button for longer.

While they are not suggesting this is the only way for children to learn the value of perseverance – they might also learn by just observing adults completing tasks or by being told about the importance of hard work – the study did suggest “the potential value in letting children “see you sweat”. Showing children that hard work works might encourage them to work hard too

It’s good to be reminded that we are role models for our children in everything we do!

Walk the talk and keep healthier

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Public Health England (PHE) are this week recommending that you hold your meetings outside. This will reduce stress, back and neck pain.

Sitting at your desk all day means companies are “haemorrhaging productivity” according to PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie.

He wants us to get up and move more, have walking meetings (it reminds me of that phrase used by bosses “walk with me” which also seemed controlling to me, but moving on, literally) because we like bursts of energy.

He thinks firms would benefit more by spending less time sitting in a chair and more time moving around. He wants employers to think about how to get people moving more.

They did a similar campaign two years to get people to stand up more, about which I posted. Standing up more is one thing but given our climate holding outdoor meetings could be quite a challenge.

However research shows that being sedentary is linked to all kinds of health problems: obesity, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and heart disease. So if you take your health seriously you should consider it.

And being outside and seeing some greenery is definitely stress-reducing and can boost productivity.

I remember visiting the BASF factory in Munster a few years ago and seeing the outdoor meeting area (picture below). It seemed to work for them.

Does driving make you dumber?

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Research suggests that driving puts your brain in reverse. Driving for more than two hours a day steadily reduces your intelligence.

The researchers at Leicester University studied more than 500,000 Britons aged 37-73 who were given intelligence and memory tests.

They were actually looking at the effect of sedentary behaviour on brainpower. They found it fell faster among middle-aged people who drove long distances every day.

So middle-aged people should cut out that long-distance commute and find more socially stimulating things to do.

It was already known that sedentary behaviour was bad for your heart but now it appears to be bad for your brain too “perhaps because the brain is less active in those hours (I hope they weren’t referring to driving).

Cognitive decline can happen quickly “(It’s) decline is measurable over five years because it can happen fast in middle-aged and older people. This is associated with lifestyle factors such as smoking and bad diet – and now it’s time spent driving” said Kishan Bakrania.

93,000 of the participants who were already driving two to three hours a day had lower brainpower when the research started – and it continued to decline and faster than people who did little or no driving.

Similar results were found with TV watching. Those who watched 3 hours a day had lower brainpower at the start of the research and it fell faster over five years.

Although studies are suggesting that cognitive decline is linked to physical inactivity using a computer at work or for playing games actually stimulates the brain – whereas watching TV doesn’t. However sedentary behaviour is also linked with obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems. So get off that couch!

The research results were no surprise to the Alzheimer’s Society. Cardiovascular health will affect memory and thinking skills and “staying mentally and physically active hips keep the brain healthy“.

Music while you work

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Millennials are re-creating the war-time experiences of having music played in factories by bringing music into offices.

Last year PRS for Music, the music licensing organisation which collects royalties for musicians, granted 27,000 licences for offices to play recorded music, up almost 10% on the previous year.

And that’s good news for musicians who must be heartily sick of being ripped off by young people ripping tracks from web-sites in the belief that they are “entitled” to free music.

Whether or not music does help productivity is open to debate. Certainly the government thought it did during WWII when they promoted “Music While You Work“.

The American company Musak actually patented a “Stimulus Progression” system to keep factory workers focussed by varying the intensity of the music in 15 minute chunks; something I have posted about elsewhere

Many factories have scrapped music on health & safety grounds i.e. workers getting distracted, but the opposite seems to apply particularly in the creative and digital world.

So in addition to play areas and relaxed dress codes staff can bring their own favourite tracks to work in any genre from hip-hop to metal. Managers can also pick “office playlists” from streaming services like Spotify but heaven help you if you have a David Brent-type manager. (Even my local barber’s shop uses Spotify but he gets instant feedback on his choice of music!).

The ability to control the playlists is obviously popular with staff until some people hi-jack the lists which leads to playlist rage.

A marketing agency in London found that eight out of ten people wanted music in the workplace. Some people had reservations about having music on when they were on the phone, some conceded it might be OK on a Friday (typically a more relaxed day for dress codes too).

Songs that appear to have met with universal approval include: “Where are Ü” by Jack Ü and Justin Bieber and “Little Bit of Luck” byDJ Luck and MC Neat (Is it just me but isn’t it strange that the songs have the artist’s name in the song titles or are people blind to narcissism). To me these tracks are repetitive and just mind-numbing. Is that the idea?

Research conducted by PRS for Music and PPL ( a royalty collection group) found 88% of participants performed better on office tasks with music with improvements in speed, accuracy and productivity – and people were happier!

However other research suggest that even bland instrumental music can hinder performance on more cognitive complex tasks which are best done in silence.

So it’s not straightforward.

Responses depend on a number of things: the person’s personality, the complexity of the task, and the music chosen.

The answer might be for the person to wear headphones when they want to listen to music of their choice which would also drown out other distracting noises.

Signs of Collective Narcissism

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MakeItUltra™

By Eric Charles, MA., PhD-c

Audio version | Click here


“In the final analysis I believe in man in spite of men.” ~Elie Wiesel

I recall as a young boy thinking of girls as alien beings inhabiting the same planet but playing by a whole different set of rules. They were seen as the enemy and I was convinced that boys were superior to girls. I recall my sister arguing that boys had cooties and that girls rule. I believe she won that argument. Without awareness, we were taking part in collective narcissism. Collective narcissism, also known as group narcissism, is a type of narcissism where an individual has an inflated self-love for their in-group. The individual will see his or her group as superior to all other groups and it may function as a narcissistic entity. At that point of my young life, my sister and I were actively…

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Brits like to keep people at arms length

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It’s been well documented that different cultures have different concepts of personal space. I was including this stuff in my presentations on NVC a long time ago, and have taken part in international cross-cultural conferences where the concept was used to great effect in workshops. So I thought there was nothing new.

However scientists around the world have come together looking at the way people interact and how their personal space is influenced not just by culture but by wealth, and even weather and published their findings in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology with some intriguing results.

9,000 people were asked how far they would prefer to stand from someone – depending on their relationship. Stranger, acquaintance, or intimate or close friend?

Temperature was one factor tested in the research. One theory is that hotter climates make people stand closer because hot weather encourages emotional intensity and friendship. Alternatively it could make people stand further apart to avoid the risk of contracting disease or parasites. (Interestingly it’s been suggested that head lice is spreading in schools due to kids standing close together sharing their smartphones).

People from warmer countries did on average stand closer to strangers, but relatively farther apart from people they knew. Interestingly it was Germany and Norway who kept their closest friends closest.

Previous research had scientists standing at different distances from people in an MRI scanner. When they got too close for the subject’s comfort the amygdala was activated. (The amygdala is responsible for assessing threats and activates the fight or flight response. Also referred to in the EI literature e.g. Amygdala hi-jacking). So personal space is probably a defensive measure although why should it vary so much between cultures?

At opposite extremes were the Argentinians and the Romanians, at lest with regard to strangers. The Argentinians are the most touchy-feely people with preferred distances for strangers, acquaintances and intimate friends at 76cm, 59cm,  and 40cm respectively. They keep strangers at the same distance that Canadians keep lovers.

Romanians prefer to keep strangers more than 1.3 m away but once they know you they are happy for you to be as close as the Argentinians at 40cm.

Brits like to keep people at 1 m, 80cm, or 50cm depending on their relationship with them. 

Keeping strangers at arm’s length seems sensible to me and has probably evolved over time as a survival mechanism. As we become a more crowded island we may value our personal space more or adapt to shorter distances but with less eye contact or with other ways of protecting our space.

Women bosses are the best? The jury is still out

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Researchers in Norway at the BI Business School say that women almost have it all when it comes to leadership ability.

They are better than men at using people skills, the ability to take others with you, to compromise with good grace and to make employees feel valued.

They also outperform men in getting things done, can set ambitious goals and follow them through methodically.

They are even better at entrepreneurial skills such as innovation and have the courage to seize the initiative and communicate a vision clearly.

So what’s the catch? Well when the going gets tough it’s men that get going apparently.

After examining personality traits among Norway’s managerial elite it seems women are more likely to lack the emotional stability required in leadership so they wilt under pressure.

The authors said ” The survey suggests that female leaders may falter through their stronger tendency to worry – or lower emotional stability. However this does not negate that they are decidedly more suited to management positions than male counterparts. If decision-makers ignore this truth they could be employing less qualified leaders and impairing productivity”.

The researchers looked at the correlation between leaders and emotional stability, an outgoing personality, openness to new experiences, agreeableness and a methodical nature (these are all traits in the Big 5 personality model).

They also compared  managers in the public and private sectors. They found that public sector leaders showed higher degrees of innovation, stronger people skills and more meticulous attention to detail. This applied more to senior rather than middle managers.

The most effective managers were those motivated by a genuine interest in their work and a sense of its value.

After the recession there were lots of anecdotal stories of female CEOs being preferred to mop up the mess left behind by former (male) CEOs and research that showed that female CEOs were trusted more. And there is evidence that having females in your team can make it more effective.

Whether or not people like working for female bosses is a different matter. Are they too nice, or too bossy?

Marissa Meyer seemed to have lost the plot at Yahoo after banning working from home and building a creche next to her office so she didn’t have to.

Here in the UK there have been some embarrassing examples of senior women managers in the NHS who have had to leave their posts in disgrace. Perhaps only proving that there is equality and that women can be just as bad leaders as men