empathy

Should we dumb down our smartphones to stop us becoming more stupid?

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Mike the Psych's Blog

Last September I asked on my other blog: Have we finally realised we need to unplug ourselves from endless apps and social media connections?

aansyq1I described the Light Phone and the fact that the old Nokia 3310 from 2000 was selling well on the internet. Now it’s been announced that the Nokia will be sold again with a larger colour screen but with only basic call and text facilities for around £49 in the UK.

It seems that the smartphone idea was being dumbed-down. Is that a bad idea?

Well in the Times Body & Soulsection last weekend they asked “is your smartphone making you stupid?.

41-epxoutyl-_sx309_bo1204203200_They thought it was – if you count a fleeting attention span, a poorer memory, and a more passive intellect as signs of increasing stupidity.

Arianna Huffington‘s book “Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a happier life”

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Empathy deficit

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What doesn't kill you, makes you?Rihanna’s latest explicit, and some would say exploitative, music video has quite rightly caused some controversy.

The song title, if you can call a repetitive one-liner a song,  “Bitch better have my money” might give you a clue but you can find it on her YouTube channel with warnings about explicit content. The bitch by the way refers to the male accountant who has embezzled her money not his trophy wife who gets tortured.

Leaving aside the dubious question of whether or not it’s meant to illustrate payback by black women or their empowerment, this example of mean girl behaviour demonstrates what has been called the empathy deficit.

Research has shown that the present “it’s all about me” generation is more lacking in empathy than any previous one with a self-obsession which borders on narcissism. Research at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Studies found in 2010 that empathy in college students had declined by 40% over the previous thirty years, something I have posted about previously.

At the same time aggravated assault cases, especially among girls, have risen dramatically. It is a social problem that Barack Obama has called the empathy deficit which he believes is one of the most serious problems facing America.

Cognitive Linguist George Lakoff is quoted as saying “Empathy is the reason we have the principles of freedom and fairness“, important underpinnings for a just society. In fact some would argue the basis for humanity.

Rihanna has used social media to humiliate easy targets including sex slaves in Thailand. Given that she has been the victim of domestic abuse it also illustrates Rihanna’s lack of self-awareness as well as empathy and I suspect a general low level of emotional intelligence.

One of the directors of the video said “We wanted to keep it cool and funny. I wouldn’t say it was a feminist statement. There aren’t any political or moralistic ideas in there at all” . 

It doesn’t pay to be too nice

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figure_holding_happy_sad_signs_1600_wht_10227Professor Adrian Furnham’s used to have a column in The Sunday Times which was always of interest to psychologically minded executives and his book; “The Elephant in the Boardroom – the causes of leadership derailment“, should be essential reading for all would-be directors.

As a psychologist I liked the piece in which he explained why nice guys don’t always win – because of their Agreeable personality.

Agreeableness is one of the Big 5 Personality Factors (along with Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism).

He points out that Agreeableness can be a handicap in business as the higher you score on this factor, the less likely you are to succeed as a business leader!

Most of us would prefer to work for an agreeable rather than a disagreeable boss, wouldn’t we? Well perhaps not says Furnham. Agreeable bosses may make you dissatisfied by not dealing with poor performers and being too forgiving, maybe treating you all the same, or being manipulated by your more devious colleagues.

One of my earlier posts “Sometimes you just have to tell ’em” was about research at Roffey Park that showed that we are not very good at dealing with underperformance or telling people what we want, that strong managers get more respect, and that a firm consistent approach is better for morale and performance generally.

And a paper presented to the Academy of Management by Beth A Livingston from Cornell University analysed surveys spread over 20 years. She found that significantly less agreeable men earned 18.3% more than men who were significantly more agreeable. For women the difference was less, just 5.5%.

Livingston said; “Men’s disagreeable behaviour conforms to expectations of masculine behaviour“. As n earlier post of mid pointed out, rudeness and aggression can be mistaken for power, even though it can have a negative impact on the bottom line.

And it gets worse – if you’re a female. Research carried out by the Institute of Employment Research concluded that; “It doesn’t pay for a female boss to be too nice“. The research showed that personality factors do come into account and that, for example, nice people earn less.

Apparently nice women are being swept away by openly aggressive ones who know what they want.

Working hard obviously helps but if you are too conscientious you may be seen as neurotic (or get bullied), and extraverts do no better than introverts.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, at the University of Lancaster Management School, agrees but also thinks women have more emotional intelligence than men and are not generally as egocentric.

So agreeable managers have to learn how to toughen up – for the sake of their team and the organisation, just as the disagreeable ones have to learn how to be nice – if only for the PR.

An article in Psychologies magazine picked up on this topic in their article; “Why it pays to be tough at work“. It suggests that the prevailing view that it’s not the cleverest (presumably meaning IQ) but those with the highest emotional intelligence that succeed is wrong.

That was always a simplistic view at best and one that Adrian Furnham disagrees with as he says there is evidence that disagreeable poeple do better. The German research quoted says agreeable women earned £40,000 less over a lifetime than women who behaved more like ruthless men.

The article’s author then has a go at empathy. She quotes Jack Welch’s wife Suzy as saying that; “too much empathy is paralysing” when you have to give tough feedback or make tough decisions, and goes on to talk about women being prone to slipping into “good mother” roles where they create “gardens of entitlement” sowing seeds of future problems (such as?).

After dismissing empathy – by quoting Neutron Jack’s wife for goodness sake – the author next attacks self-knowledge which she doesn’t consider essential for top jobs as it can detract from self-confidence if it makes you aware of your failings (is she serious that these people don’t need feedback ?

Some people have short memories; what about Enron, the banks or BP?

If men overestimate their abilities and don’t navel gaze while women underestimate themselves and have self-doubt (imposter syndrome) then women seemed doomed to fail according to the author and people like Suzy Welch.

In fact the author seems to welcome emotional stupidity as it makes less demands on her. She even had a dig at Anne Mulcahy, ex-CEO of Xerox, because, although she wrote about what women can bring to the workplace in terms of emotionality, which makes them better leaders, she still cut 1/3 of the workforce.

 

Originally posted on Sganda

Leadership – do you have what it takes?

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business_professionals_standout_1600_wht_5372Research shows that as many as 10% of leaders could have narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies lurking behind a charming veneer. They are self-obsessed, leave a trail of casualties in their wake, and like Typhoid Mary are seemingly unaffected by their actions.

Organizational psychologist Kathy Schnure‘s research, presented at the 25th annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and reported in Management Issues, compared ratings of leadership potential for those who have high levels of narcissism to those who show low-to-average levels on the ‘narcissism scale.

She found those displaying strong narcissistic tendencies – things like exploitation/entitlement, leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, and self-absorption/self admiration – had a significantly higher rating of potential leadership abilities than those with low-to-average scores.

Those results would indicate the vision, confidence and pride in their own accomplishments could presumably translate into effective leadership in an organization or team,” Schnure said.

On the other hand, while narcissists do gain leadership roles, often based on their charisma and ability to persuade others to accept their point of view, some of the underlying traits, or “dark sides” will eventually surface, preventing any “good” leadership,” she added.

Timothy Judge, an organizational psychologist at the University of Florida, says a prime example of this “dark side” is an overblown sense of self-worth.

Narcissists are intensely competitive, self-centered, exploitive and exhibitionistic. They tend to surround themselves with supplicants they see as inferior. When they are challenged or perceive competition, they often derogate and undermine anyone, even those closest to them, they perceive as threats (and unfortunately, they are vigilant in scanning for threats)“.

Schnure said leaders who are charismatic are not necessarily narcissists. “Charismatic leaders are not exploitive; they do not trample others to get what they want. Rather they display empathy toward employees” she added.

And what about leaders who are described as “charismatic”, for example Obama or the late Steve Jobs at Apple? Rob Goffee, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School and co-author of “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?”, quoted in an article in The TimesIt’s not all about being charismatic“, in 2009, thinks that strong leaders are good at developing disciples, but not successors.

The people that make leaders charismatic are their followers. Barack Obama, for example, is clearly charismatic, but he’s also enigmatic. You can’t pin him down and so he allows us to project our dreams and hopes on to him.”

So just what does it take to be a leader? According to the Work Foundation there are 5 key skills:

  1. Seeing the bigger picture
  2. Understanding that talk is work
  3. Giving time and space to others
  4. Going through performance
  5. Putting “we” before “me”

Source: The Guardian article “Follow Your Leader?” 16/01/2010

And based on good practice and wide experience I also offer the following quick read: 10 ways to be a leader

First posted on SGANDA

What do we know about Narcissists?

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S6000346_2What do we know about narcissists?

I’ve posted elsewhere about people, particularly leaders, who are narcissistic but they are not all suffering from a clinically defined Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Although the incidence of those who are suffering from NPD in the UK general population is thought to be less than 1%, with between 2 and 16% amongst psychiatric patients, it’s been estimated that in the USA, UK and Australia narcissists and psychopaths may make up as much as 10% of the leadership population. The proportion amongst young people in their 20s in the USA may be even as high as 25% and whatever the true figures narcissism is believed to be on the increase.

At a clinical level narcissistic personality disorder is a mental illness defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual DSM-IV-TR 301.81 as follows: A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
Requires excessive admiration
Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

It is one of a cluster of dramatic personality disorders which also includes anti-social (psychopathic) behaviours.

People are believed to develop this for a variety of reasons including:

An oversensitive temperament at birth
Severe emotional abuse as a child
Being praised for perceived exceptional looks or abilities by adults
Excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback – The Golden Boy syndrome
Excessive praise or criticism for behaviors in childhood
Overindulgence by parents – e.g. Little Princesses
Poor unreliable parenting
Valued and used by parents as a means to boost their own self-esteem – think of those children’s beauty pageants.

So if you want to know if you, or someone you know, suffers from NPD read the above checklist again and see how many of those descriptions apply.

First posted on EI4u

Empathy and Big Business

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phone_talk_bubble_1600_wht_12346A survey by a campaigning agency aimed at improving women’s access to technology has identified the worst and best companies on its “empathy index“.

The empathy index scored 100 companies on the way they treat both staff and customers by using a poll of 1,000 members of the public, on-line feedback from 25 employees from each company, and an analysis of a company’s last 100 tweets.

The telecoms industries came out the worst with the big four companies in the bottom 10 on their empathy ratings.

RyanAir, Carphone Warehouse and BT have been labelled as the companies that never listen. Carphone Warehouse was accused of “giving retail a bad name” with customers facing “nauseating hard sells from teenagers” and queues reminiscent of Soviet Russia.

Twitter has more than 500 million users but came 8th from bottom and was criticised as “a textbook example of how not engage on social networks” because of its robotic, boring and repetitive messages (which I’ve tweeted about before).

Selfridges came out 87th. Apparently the satisfaction you get as a customer is not matched by the experience of working there. “All glamour but no empathy”.

Pret-a-Manger came in about half-way with an “at best mediocre” scores on customer satisfaction and employee relations.

They found that the most empathetic companies in Britain were LinkedIn and Microsoft. Both were praised for making customers and employees feel valued and for resolving consumer problems within seconds on twitter.

However other technology companies fared less well. Facebook, with more than 1 billion users, only achieved 48th place and was described as “the brand that was too big to listen“. Staff working for Facebook, and twitter, described them as providing good career opportunities and work-life balance.

Amazon, the world’s biggest retailer, was just the opposite. Customers love it but its employees hate it.

And Apple only made 43rd place and was accused of “refusing to engage” on social media.

John Lewis came 5th even though it ignores criticism on social media. Other companies in the top 10 include Audi, Three, Sony, Google, Nike, Direct Line, and Boots.

Stuck in the bottom quartile were all the main banks with RSB being branded “the least trusted bank in the UK”. Lloyds bank employees “believe they have limited career opportunities” and Barclays has “a very poor perception among customers”. Well no wonder is it after their behaviour in recent years.

HSBC however came out in 22nd position and was named the most empathetic bank.

A pity they’ve just announced that 1 in 6 of its British employees will soon be out of work. What will that do for customer service?

Do you prefer a male or female boss?

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business_man_and_woman_1600_wht_5662Last time I checked the research it seemed that the majority of employees prefer male bosses.

And that despite years of anti-discrimination legislation and diversity training, and women generally doing better than men at university.

But in a widely reported survey of 3,000 people by UKjobs.net in 2010, three-quarters of the men interviewed said they preferred a male boss – and so did two-thirds of the women!

Male bosses were seen as more straight forward, better at “steering the ship“, more focussed on the long-term vision and less likely to have hidden agendas.

Female bosses were criticised for having mood swings and bringing personal problems to work, being overly competitive, and spending too much time on their appearance.

Women on the other hand were considered better at delegating, at giving praise, and at listening, so it wasn’t all bad news. Nevertheless the majority of people seem to prefer male bosses.

This is not the kind of thing that goes down well in politically correct circles of course and you can imagine what Harriet “Harperson” would make of it. Several columnists also got their knickers in a twist with Barbara Ellen in the Guardian saying women who said these thing should be ashamed of themselves; “We’re doomed if most women want a male boss“.

She does however make a valid point; “the boss thing is not a gender issue – it is a personality issue“. I posted on this a while ago asking; “Do you have what it takes to be a leader?” and I have also had a go at so-called Alpha Males in the past.

I also wonder just how much influence Emotional Intelligence (EI) is having on the current crop of managers. Women are more at risk of stress in high pressure jobs it seems and also can’t afford to be too nice as more aggressive women will compete with them – a point made in the survey about women managers over-compensating. So they are not seen as managing their emotions – one of the core competencies of EI.

On the other hand the positives that women were recognised for in the survey related to other EI competencies eg empathy and relating to others, yet these strengths were disregarded in favour of what might be seen as the less flexible (in management style), straight-ahead approach that male managers are perceived to have.

So what is going on? Do women really prefer to work for men? Some said that they thought they could be a better manager than their present female bosses so why would they rather work for man? Is it “imposter syndrome“, believing they are not deserving, because I don’t see assertiveness being a problem amongst women these days?

More recently a survey in America confirmed this tendency. A survey of legal secretaries found that, although almost half had no preference either way, not one of the 142 questioned actually had a preference for working for a female partner.

Another informal survey found that almost 7 out of 10 men said they preferred to work for a man. Even more women (3 out of 4) said they preferred to work for a man. Only a third of men and a quarter of women said they preferred to work for a woman.

See the full article on these surveys.

Originally posted in SGANDA in 2010

Emotional Intelligence & Empathy

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women_puzzle_pieces_1600_wht_7872In an earlier post about Emotional Intelligence and marshmallows I referred to the findings of a Demos think-tank report which reported on an increase in social mobility between the end of WW2 and the 1970s followed by a period of stagnation up to 2000.

Amongst the three traits that were most important for children to improve their social lot was empathy – the ability to be sensitive to other people, to read their emotions and understand non-verbal communication.

This is one of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence. Unless you are a sociopath everyone is capable of being empathic. There is even some research evidence that we possess a mirror neurone which plays a part in empathy and learning by imitation.

It may also explain the phenomenon of postural echo where two people in rapport with each other may unconsciously synchronise their movements.

There is also other evidence that may be a genetic component to empathy. Researchers in the US have discovered that people who inherit a particular version of oxytocin receptor, the bonding hormone, score significantly higher on tests of empathy, and react less strongly to stressful stimuli.

They point out that people who score lower can still be caring and empathetic individuals, and people can learn to develop more empathy. For example, people who read well-written novels are able to put themselves in the shoes of the characters and that helps them to understand others’ perspectives.

And researchers at Strathclyde University found that children who are good at standing up to bullies, whether for themselves or others, are better at resolving problems without conflict, are more emotionally literate, and better at taking other people’s perspective. See “What doesn’t kill you, makes you”.

Students today, however, are 40% less empathetic than they were 20 or 30 years ago, according to a report in The Times. “Generation Me” is more narcissistic, self-centred and competitive and less concerned with other people’s feelings. People also see them as more confident and individualistic but less kind.

The decline has been more marked since 2000, attributed to violent video games, social networking sites, and an obsession with TV celebrities. Inflated expectations, competitiveness and hiding weaknesses leaves no time for empathy.

Researchers believe that technology has replaced human interaction and having “friends” online means that you don’t have to respond to their problems. At one point it seemed that emotional intelligence was at last being taken seriously in the last labour government.

In The Times at that time, an article about cabinet resignations said that Shaun Woodward and Tessa Jowell were given; “prominent communication roles to provide emotional intelligence and, according to aides, address Mr Brown’s communication weaknesses”. That those attempts failed is now history.

BTW If you want to check out how good you are reading NVC go to this BBC site

First posted on SGANDA in 2010

Keep your brain in gear

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head_outline_puzzle_800_wht_10307Ever wondered what sex your brain is?

Try these 6 short tests and get a report comparing you to others. The tests include a test of empathy ie assessing NVC through facial expressions.

And if you like that kind of thing go to this site and check how intuitive you are for numbers, among other things.

First posted on SGANDA April 2 2010

My most read posts in 2014

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Screen Shot 2012-10-05 at 22.49.07My output on this blog was pretty paltry last year as I was busy writing elsewhere and tweeting (probably too much!)

However the number of countries in which my lists were read more than doubled to 85 countries, mainly the USA, the UK, and Brazil but also in Suriname, Belize, Lebanon, Qatar, Algeria, Sri Lanka, the Faroe Islands and China. So thank you for such an international interest.

For what it’s worth the most read posts on this blog in 2014 were:

  1. Thinking outside the box – literally
  2. MBTI typies – for the believers
  3. Empathetic introverts make the best carers
  4. Learning to become an optimist
  5. Using social media impacts on academic performance
  6. Mentally challenging jobs are good for you
  7. Can scientists really change your memories
  8. Were the Victorians really smarter than us?
  9. Your partner’s personality adds value
  10. End of the road for Positive Psychology at work? jointly with Gender differences in responding to stress

Psychopathic criminals have empathy switch

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Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

Neurons

Mirror neurons in the brain fire both when you watch someone in pain and when you experience it yourself
Psychopaths do not lack empathy, rather they can switch it on at will, according to new research.

Placed in a brain scanner, psychopathic criminals watched videos of one person hurting another and were asked to empathise with the individual in pain.

Only when asked to imagine how the pain receiver felt did the area of the brain related to pain light up.

Scientists,reporting in Brain, say their research explains how psychopaths can be both callous and charming.

The team proposes that with the right training, it could be possible to help psychopaths activate their “empathy switch”, which could bring them a step closer to rehabilitation.

a participant being slapped on the hand to localize brain regions sensitive to pain

The study

  • Placed in an fMRI scanner, 18 criminals with psychopathy and 26 control subjects were asked to watch a series of clips without a particular…

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Researching the Money-Empathy Gap

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Otrazhenie

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Bible, Mark 10:25

CamelFrom Class Warfare?

New research suggests that more money makes people act less human. Or at least less humane.

Psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley have found that “upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals.” They also discovered that “Putting someone in a role where they’re more privileged and have more power in a game makes them behave like people who actually do have more power, more money, and more status”.

Check out their experiments on the Money-Empathy Gap in the video below:

These experiments also demonstrated that while a poor man playing in a ‘rich world’ becomes more self-centred, a rich man playing in a ‘poor’ world becomes more compassionate to others. That can potentially help people understand…

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