Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Art of Constructive Self-Criticism

When we fail at something important to us, whether in relationships, at school, or at work, it can be very painful. These experiences can threaten the very core of who we think we are and who we want to be.
To cope with failure, we often turn to self-protective strategies. We rationalize what happened so that it places us in a more positive light, we blame other people, and we discount the importance of the event. These strategies may make us feel better about ourselves in the short term, but they are less likely to help us improve or avoid repeating our mistakes in the future. Research shows that people who have an overly inflated view of their performance on an academic task show decrements in subsequent motivation and performance, compared to people who view themselves more realistically. It makes sense: if you already think you're great, it may feel like there's no need to put the effort into improving yourself.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Six Guidelines For Interesting Research: The Remix

I may get back pain every now and then when I lift my daughter up off the ground, but I am still relatively early in my career as a social psychologist. And being young, I am always on the lookout for ways to improve my writing and scholarship. This pursuit is great for me, because as my research improves, I conduct better science and help the world understand itself more completely. It's also great for you here at PYM, because if I learn something useful I like to pay it forward to you, the reader!

Anyway, I was lucky enough to read the paper Six Guidelines for Interesting Research over the summer. It's a sure classic written by Kurt Gray--rising star in psychological science and Professor at UNC--and the late Dan Wegner--one of the leaders of modern social psychology. I love this paper because it really got me thinking about what makes interesting research. And though I don't agree with all the points raised by Gray and Wegner, I think the underlying message--be interesting--is one that researchers can sometimes forget. Let's get to my amendments:

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Science of Touch and Emotion

Today we have a guest post by a blogger for the Berkeley Science Review on the science of touch and emotion. BSR will be hosting an event about touch on October 27th. For more info, go to the bottom of this post.

If someone told you it was possible to communicate gratitude to a complete stranger with a two second touch, would you believe it? Although the power of speech allows us to imbibe great subtlety and complexity in our messages, psychological researchers have demonstrated that something as complex as gratitude or sympathy can be communicated with a simple touch.

In social species, prosocial emotions are those that promote the well-being of the group. By engaging in acts of trust and cooperation, social groups survive. Parents and offspring form attachments, and individuals act in mutually beneficial, altruistic ways to sow trust between one another. A growing number of studies on touch and emotion reveal our deep-seated need for human contact and warmth. Touch may be the key for communicating prosocial emotions, and for promoting group cohesion and survival.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Learning Tip from Dancers

If you watch any of the numerous dance shows on TV, such as Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, or even Dance Moms, you know that dancing at the elite level requires a lot more than strong muscles, a flexible body, and fierce determination. Professional dancers are smart. Not only are their bodies working at a high level, but their minds are as well. When performing, dancers are juggling numerous thoughts as they strive to execute each movement as precisely as possible. “Point my feet, lengthen my neck, drop my shoulders, SMILE!” Somehow, dancers must get their bodies to perform all of these movements with specific qualities, all the while making the dance appear both physically and mentally effortless. As someone who has danced my whole life, I often joke that dance is the only kind of physical exercise I enjoy because dancing well means I don’t have any mental resources left to realize I’m exhausted!

In addition to all the mental effort required of dancers onstage, there is a whole lot of it needed behind the scenes as well. In both rehearsals for performances and in classes honing one’s technique, choreography has to be committed to memory. At the elite level, choreography is taught quickly and in large amounts. Dancers have to be attentive and skilled at learning lots of information in a short amount of time and then putting that information to use immediately. Not only do they need to remember the movements themselves – where each part of the body should be - but they also need to memorize the timing of the movement and the quality with which it should be done. Because so many elements need to be encoded for each moment of a dance routine, learning choreography requires that dancers be completely present mentally.