October 2, 2014

The Marshmallow Test by Walther Mischel

Walther Mischel is a 84 year old professor at Columbia University. He is the author of a fascinating new book called The Marshmallow test. Mischel became known at the end of the 1960s, mainly through his publications about two topics. The first topic was the degree to which situations influence human behavior. He did research which showed that the idea that people have stable personality traits which cause us to behave consistently over many situations is largely a myth. Instead, he demonstrated, we tend to behave quite differently in different contexts. Thus, characteristics of situations have a significant influence on how we behave.

The second topic was self-control. Together with colleagues he did much research into the causes and consequences of self-control, in particular with regard to how children manage to delay gratification. The series of experiments which these researchers did have become know under the popular name of the Marshmallow test, hence the book title.

October 1, 2014

Walking to improve relationships

Recently I wrote about the creativity enhancing effect of walking. In that article I referred to research which showed that walking (especially outdoors) makes it easier to generate ideas. I also mentioned that this effect continues for a while when you site down after your walk. This week I spoke about this with a client and she told me that she had used walking to improve her relationship with one of her team members. When I asked her how walking had helped her to do that she said that walking had been helpful because while walking you are moving and you don't have to look at each other all the time.

September 26, 2014

If-then planning

If-then planning is a technique which helps to perform specific goal-oriented behavior in situations in which it is most needed. Many people know the phenomenon that we often don't do what we wish or need to do (this is sometimes referred to as the knowing-doing gap). The problem is that while we do know what we want to achieve and we also know which behavior is effective, at the crucial moment we still fail to perform the behavior.The reason we fail to behave effectively at the critical moment may have to do with letting our emotions overwhelm us or succumbing to temptations or simply forgetting about the effective behavior when we need it.

September 25, 2014

Two factors enabling growth

The advantages of a growth mindset have been mentioned often on this website. A growth mindset is, briefly, the belief that progress and growth is possible through effort. A fixed mindset is the opposite. This is the belief that traits and abilities are largely fixed and that you can't develop them even if you put in much effort. If you don't believe that growth and improvement are possible it does not make sense to put in much effort anyway, so you don't. If you have growth mindset, however, it makes perfect sense to put in much effort. You will then realize that if you want to become really good at something you will have put in continued effort. We can visualize this as follows:

September 22, 2014

Brief mindset intervention reduces depression

A low-cost, one-time intervention that educates teens about the changeable nature of personality traits may prevent an increase in depressive symptoms often seen during the transition to high school, according to new research published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

These findings are important, says psychological scientist and lead researcher David Scott Yeager of the University of Texas at Austin, because so few interventions have successfully prevented the onset of depressive symptoms among high schoolers. But Yeager cautions that the intervention is not a "magic bullet" for depression and requires further testing.

September 18, 2014

Walking stimulates creativity

In this article I wrote that in our training courses we often invite our participants to have a 20 minute walk right after lunch and to talk about the homework they chosen to do. We call this part of the training homework-walking. I wrote in that article that having such a walk works quite well, because, among other things, it boosts your brain activity (see here). Now, some new research has been published which show that walking stimulates creativity.

Interest improves performance

In this article I argued that following your interests can be a driving force behind competence-development. I distinguished between two aspects of interests, namely enjoyment and importance.

Autonomy-support in the classroom

George, a high school teacher, looked into the classroom of his colleague Bill and saw, to his amazement, that the students of the class, which had a reputation of being a very difficult class, were quietly working. At lunch break he asked Bill with a surprized smile: "How did you get them to do that, man? I get nothing but trouble from this class. I see no other solution than to get really tough with them. That'll teach them!" Bill smiled and then explained how he used the principle of autonomy-support in his classroom and he said this worked rather well. He explained that this meant, among other things, to provide many choices for students, taking students' feelings and opinions quite seriously, and avoiding controlling language. When he heard that, George said: "That sounds rather naive of you. If you do that they will walk right over you!"

The curse of knowledge

Often things aren't just good or bad. Here are five examples: (1) solutions for problems can create new, often unexpected, problems, (2) good traits of a person can arouse envy in others, (3) what can be a strength in one situation can be a weakness in another, (4) the fact that you have achieved success feels good but can decrease your motivation to make further progress, and (5) having much knowledge about a topic can be pleasant but can create some difficulties in the communication with others. I want to say a few things about this last example which is related to a phenomenon known as the curse of knowledge (Loewenstein & Weber, 1989).