February 8, 2016

Is it possible to prevent and reverse presbyopia?

Neuroplasticity is the property of the brain to keep developing throughout life. Over the last decade or so more information has become available about how great this capability of the brain is. In this post I write about how important neuroplasticity's role can be in healing diseases and in this post I discuss some skeptical views on neuroplasticity. Since I started reading about neuroplasticity, about 10 years ago, I began to wonder how far the possibilities of brain training could go. One of the questions which interested me in particular was the question of to which degree age-related problems can be prevented or reversed. A topic about which I was specifically curious is presbyopia, the condition in which aging people are progressively less able to focus. This condition usually starts around age 40 and, from what I read, from age 50 nearly everybody is so affected by it that reading glasses are necessary in order to read.

The steady rise of Radical Enlightenment ideals

Recently I have referred to the influence on modern societies of ideas and values from the Enlightenment. Here I call Enlightenment values an important basis for the progress which has happened in the Western world over the last two centuries and suggest that the rest of the world can benefit from them as much (which is actually happening more and more).

From level-thinking to progress-thinking

I'd like to introduce two concepts: level-thinking and progress-thinking. Below, I will explain what I mean with these two terms and argue for putting less emphasis on level-thinking and more on progress-thinking.

Level-thinking is a way of thinking in which people, when they assess other people or themselves and when they set goals, emphasize the achieved level and desired level.  Progress-thinking is a way of thinking in which people, when they assess or set goals, emphasize achieved and desired progress. These two ways of thinking have a number of different characteristics and consequences which I will describe below.

Should teachers focus on performance differences between students or within students?

Teachers’ perceptions and actions can have a great impact on students’ beliefs, motivation, effort and performance. One way in which teachers affect their students is in the way they evaluate students’ performance. Falko Rheinberg (1980) showed that some teachers tend to compare students with each other – this is called a social reference norm orientation (social RNO) – while other teachers tend to compare a student’s current learning outcomes with his or her previous performance – this is called an individual reference norm orientation (individual RNO).

January 31, 2016

Using counter-stereotypes to boost flexible thinking

Stereotyping can have all kinds of harmful consequences. This article shows that people who are subject to stereotyping can be hindered in their performance by it. Also, the article shows that stereotyping can stand in the way of an fair and accurate assessment of stereotyped individuals. In this article you can read that stereotypes can affect people at a very young age, often even without them being aware this influence. This article shows evidence that not only negative stereotypes may impede performance but also positive stereotypes.

Doubts about the 'powerpose' finding of Amy Cuddy

In 2012 Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School gave a TED entitled 'Your body language shapes who you are' which has now been viewed more than 31 million times. In the presentation Cuddy tells about a study she has done into 'power posing' (Carney, Cuddy & Yap, 2010). A power pose is a posture of confidence, which according to the study could lead to higher testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain and which could create more self-confidence and a higher chance of success in situations which require us to appear strong and confident, such as application interviews. In the meantime a book by Amy Cuddy has been published entitled Presence, Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. It seems to be on its way to become a bestseller.

January 22, 2016

Robert Biswas Diener's critical reflection on positive psychology

On several occasions I have been critical about positive psychology (for example see here). To summarize my worries and criticisms briefly: my impression was and is: (1) that positive psychology puts too much emphasis on individual factors as determinants of behaviors and too little on situational factors, (2) that positive psychology emphasizes happiness too much as a criterion, (3) that positive psychology focuses too much on strengths and virtues as causes of human flourishing, and (4) that commerce and science appear to be too much intertwined.

January 20, 2016

The overrated value of self-reported happiness

In my earlier article Reasons for skepticism about happiness research I mentioned some skeptical comments to research and publications about happiness (I'll paraphrase what I said there): (1) Happiness is important but the importance of happiness is exaggerated. Happiness should not be the ultimate life goal. It is of relative importance. There are many other things in life which are as important. Trying to maximize happiness is an unwise strategy, (2) Much research into happiness is correlational and does not allow for conclusions about causation of happiness. Still, the suggestion (or at least the interpretation by the public) of publications is often that when a variable correlates with happiness it causes happiness, (3) There are reasons to question the validity of self-reported happiness. Research by Sean Wojcik demonstrated that conservative generally rate themselves as happier than democrats but appear unhappier when assessed through two objective methods (text analysis by language processing software and expert-rated genuineness of smiles).

January 18, 2016

The importance of talking about problems and the past

Sometimes people make the following two assertions about progress-focused work: (1) progress-focused work is not focused on problems but on progress, and (2) progress-focused work is not focused on the past but on the future. These assertions sound enthusiastic and I'd rather not be a killjoy but I find it important to contradict them. Neither talking about the past, nor talking about problems is a taboo in progress-focused work. Indeed, both are important elements in virtually every progress-focused conversation. I'll explain below.

January 17, 2016

Correcting harmful work behavior

There is an interesting new working paper by two Harvard Business School researchers: Toxic workers (Housman & Miner, 2015). They analyzed a large data set containing a range of information about more than 50,000 workers from 11 firms. Their analyses were aimed at gaining insight into which personal and situational circumstances lead to toxic behavior and into which effects toxic behaviors have. In the working paper they present some interesting findings and they make some recommendations for management and HR-policy. Below, I will briefly summarize the findings and add some personal remarks.

3 Ways in which self-assessment may demotivate

How you look at your own progress determines how competent and motivated you will feel. A way of working which is not well-suited for this, is to grade your own competence level. There are at least three reasons why this type of self-assement is slippery and unreliable: (1) the Dunning-Kruger effect, (2) the curse of knowledge, and (3) the raised bar.

January 5, 2016

HBR: strengths-focus may backfire

A new article by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic (photo) in Harvard Business Review says that strengths based coaching may backfire. The article says that the strengths-based approach has become a very popular approach about which many books have been written. An exponent of this popularity is the Gallup questionnaire StrengthsFinder. The article makes the following five claims about the strengths-based approach:

January 3, 2016

The importance of quantifying human progress

"[Q]uantified progress is a feedback signal for adjusting what we have been doing. The gifts of progress we have enjoyed are the result of institutions and norms that have become entrenched in the last two centuries: reason, science, technology, education, expertise, democracy, regulated markets, and a moral commitment to human rights and human flourishing.

December 21, 2015

The power of intrinsic rewards is great but soon forgotten

Research into self-determination theory has shown that doing things we find interesting has many positive effects. Doing interesting work in intrinsically rewarding. This means that the doing of the work is so interesting and pleasurable that we need no encouragement to want to do it. When we do such activities we tend to be more engaged, we learn and perform better and we persist longer. By the way, what makes activities interesting is not only determined by the content of the activity bit also by the context in which we are doing it, for example the pleasant social interactions we have when doing the activity.

December 20, 2015

Overconfidence and the fixed mindset

Research has shown that many people tend to overestimate their own capabilities. This overconfidence may undermine performance and relationships with other people. This tendency of people to be overconfident is often thought to be universal. New research, however, shows that this is not the case. It shows that people with a fixed mindset are more vulnerable to overconfidence.

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