December 31, 2012

Top 10 Greatest Classical Composers Ever

Just for fun, my son Brent and I made a brief poll: Who is the Greatest Classical Composer ever? 115 people filled in the survey. Here are the results (by the way, the difference between no. 1 and 2 was only 1 vote):

Top 10 Greatest Classical Composers Ever

December 25, 2012

Parental autonomy support

In a new post, Raising kids to become autonomous individuals, I explain the importance of autonomous functioning and how parents can support the autonomy of their children.

December 21, 2012

Predicting Long-Term Growth in Students' Mathematics Achievement

Predicting Long-Term Growth in Students' Mathematics Achievement: The Unique Contributions of Motivation and Cognitive Strategies

by Kou Murayama, Reinhard Pekrun, Stephanie Lichtenfeld, & Rudolf vom Hofe

This research examined how motivation (perceived control, intrinsic motivation, and extrinsic motivation), cognitive learning strategies (deep and surface strategies), and intelligence jointly predict long-term growth in students' mathematics achievement over 5 years. Using longitudinal data from six annual waves (Grades 5 through 10; Mage = 11.7 years at baseline; N = 3,530), latent growth curve modeling was employed to analyze growth in achievement. Results showed that the initial level of achievement was strongly related to intelligence, with motivation and cognitive strategies explaining additional variance. In contrast, intelligence had no relation with the growth of achievement over years, whereas motivation and learning strategies were predictors of growth. These findings highlight the importance of motivation and learning strategies in facilitating adolescents' development of mathematical competencies.

December 19, 2012

December 17, 2012

How can we defend ourselves against those who try to control us by creating fear?

The competition for our attention
Nowadays, we are confronted with more information and opinions than ever before and much more than we can possibly process. All these streams of information compete for our attention. And since our attention is a rather limited resource that competition is fierce. It appears that we are more sensitive to some types of information than to others. A well-documented psychological phenomenon is the negativity bias which says that people pay more attention to and give more weight to negative rather than positive experiences or other kinds of information. Negative information captures our attention more easily than positive information. Thus, newspapers, TV stations, special interest groups, and politicians seeking money and power by seeking our attention may benefit from presenting us with negative information.

What happens when negative information reaches us?
The amygdala is a brain system which plays an important role in the automatic detection of threats. When there is an immediate threat the amygdala helps to narrow your focus so that you may take immediate action in order to save yourself from the threat. While doing that the amygdala may override other cognitive functions which are less directly related to the process of protecting yourself. While there is a direct threat the ability to process information rationally is to some extent suppressed. For instance, our thinking becomes less nuanced.

December 10, 2012

A not so well-known downside of advice giving

I think the effectiveness of giving advice is, in general, overrated. Even when advice sounds reasonable and useful, people may still be reluctant to act upon it. In this post I argue that solutions which are self-found and based on one's own previous experience have a better change of being accepted and used.

Now I came across evidence which suggests that advice may also be not so beneficial for the person giving it: Advising someone to act in a certain way may make it less likely that you yourself will act in that way.

Quite surprising. But it does provide an explanation for a the situation of a doctor I once knew well was in. He seemed to do everything doctors are supposed to advice their patients to stay away from (heavy smoking, eating, drinking, not exercising, etc.). 

December 7, 2012

November 20, 2012

The test-and-learn approach appears to be associated with flourishing

Recently, I administered a survey about how people think about change and approach change. The survey which was filled in by 96 people consisted of the following parts: 1) How do you think people can accomplish successful change?, 2) How do you approach change?, and 3) How do you view yourself and your circumstances? The goal of this study was to explore to which extent people’s mindset about change and their actual change behavior are somehow associated with several aspects of human flourishing. The overall expectation was that the test-and-learn approach would be associated with respondent’s flourishing.

Read more

November 12, 2012

30 Quotes from The signal and the noise by Nate Silver

Jon Stewart suggests that Nate Silver, statistician, blogger at FiveThirtyEight and author of The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction, should ask people to bow down to him and that he should call himself  Lord and God of the Algorithm. Why?

In the 2008 US presidential election, Nate Silver correctly predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states. He also predicted the winner of all 35 U.S. Senate races that year. In the 2012 presidential election, he correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. His predictions of U.S. Senate races were correct in 31 of 33 states.

November 9, 2012

Receiving a compliment after exercising enhances performance

Norihiro Sadato and his colleagues have done an experiment which show that people doing exercises appear to perform better when another person compliments them. Here is a description of their experiment: 

Forty-eight adults recruited for the study were asked to learn and perform a specific finger pattern (pushing keys on a keyboard in a particular sequence as fast as possible in 30 seconds). Once participants had learned the finger exercise, they were separated into three groups. One group included an evaluator who would compliment participants individually, another group involved individuals who would watch another participant receive a compliment, and the third group involved individuals who evaluated their own performance on a graph. When the participants were asked to repeat the finger exercise the next day, the group of participants who received direct compliments from an evaluator performed better than participants from the other groups. It indicates that receiving a compliment after exercising stimulates the individual to perform better afterwards.

Read more, here.

November 4, 2012

Conditions for perpetual peace

In a review of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, Bill Gates said that the book "stands out as one of the most important books I’ve read – not just this year, but ever". Who am I to disagree? The book is an unbelievably rich resource documenting the steady decline of violence throughout history. To get an impression of how strong this decline has been, take a look at this graph.

October 31, 2012

Survey People and Change

The purpose of this survey is to explore what people think about how successful change is accomplished. The survey contains three main sections:

1) How do you think people can accomplish successful change?
2) How do you approach change?
3) How do you view yourself and your circumstances?

Will you please participate so that you can help us? We ask you to answer the questions below. This will probably take you about 15 minutes. Your answers will be processed anonymously and confidentially. The results of this study will be published publicly.

Go to the survey:

October 25, 2012

A growth mindset is associated with effort and thriving

Some time ago I administered a small scale survey exploring the relations between one's mindset and several other variables. 70 People filled in that survey. Today, I did some analyses on the data.

Structure of the survey

Independent variables
The survey had two sets of independent variables. The first set consisted of variables measuring the respondent's mindset. Respondents had to say, on a five point scale, to what extent they agreed with 16 statements about how people become successful at work. Half of the items represented typical growth mindset beliefs; the other half represented typical fixed mindset beliefs (see figure below). Based on these variables I computed one GROWTH MINDSET score for each respondent.

October 4, 2012

15 Inspiring quotes from 'How life imitates chess' by Garry Kasparov

In 2007, Garry Kasparov, one of the greatest chess players ever, wrote the book How life imitates chess. In that book he looked back on his great career and he made comparisons between life and chess. The book contains some inspiring thoughts. Here are some quotes:
  1. You must know what questions to ask and ask them frequently
  2. Personal style is not generic software that you can download. You must instead recognize what works best for you and then, through trial and error, develop your own method- your own map.

September 30, 2012

How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients

In the post Overdiagnosed: too much diagnosis is turning more and more of us into patients I told you about a book by H. Gilbert Welch which explains that a big problem in healthcare nowadays is that, more and more, doctors are diagnosing and treating  patients in the absense of symptoms. The perverse situation is that the health care system is often turning healthy people into patients. As one of the driving forces between this practice, the author, mentions the the commercialization of medicine which he calls a corrupting force. To quote from that post:
"Sellers in the medical care market create demand for their wares by being in the position to decide whether or not you need to consume their products. Turning more people into patients is (like) expanding the market, something of which the whole medical-industrial complex financially benefits. Medical research is also negatively affected by commercialization. In order to do research researchers have to apply for grant money. Decisions about grants for research are not only often made by the commercial companies like the pharmaceutical industry (most medical research is now funded by industry) but also by other researchers who are wedded to conventional ideas and approaches. Sympathetic sounding disease awareness campaigns also increasingly involve paid advertising."
Now there is a book by Ben Goldacre: Bad Pharma: How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients which points to alarming structural deficits in scientific practice. Here a brief description of the book (from

September 26, 2012

Should we hold up the mirror to point out inconsistencies between other people's values and behaviors?

Yesterday a colleague sent me an email in which he wrote about how managers' actions are often inconsistent with their espoused values. He wrote that it is the role of HRM professionals to point this out and to hold up the mirror to those managers in order to encourage them to reflect on the inconsistency between their values and their behaviors. He asked me about my thoughts on this topic.

Here is what I wrote back:

September 25, 2012

Proactive employees, introverted leaders

Bob Sutton mentions an interesting interview with Mark Templeton (photo) which contains some wise quotes (see for instance this one and this one). He also mentions a study on leadership which shows, as Sutton summarizes that "groups tend to pick people with big mouths to lead but that less pushy and extroverted leaders tend to lead more effective teams -- at least when the teams were composed of proactive members)." Here is more information on that study.

Reversing the extraverted leadership advantage: The role of employee proactivity

By Adam Grant, Francesca Gino, and David Hofmann (2011)

Abstract: Extraversion predicts leadership emergence and effectiveness, but do groups perform more effectively under extraverted leadership? Drawing on dominance complementarity theory, we propose that although extraverted leadership enhances group performance when employees are passive, this effect reverses when employees are proactive, because extraverted leaders are less receptive to proactivity. In Study 1, pizza stores with leaders rated high (low) in extraversion achieved higher profits when employees were passive (proactive). Study 2 constructively replicates these findings in the laboratory: passive (proactive) groups achieved higher performance when leaders acted high (low) in extraversion. We discuss theoretical and practical implications for leadership and proactivity. Read full article.

September 22, 2012

Book: Begegnungen mit Steve de Shazer und Insoo Kim Berg

There is a new German book with memories of Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg (pioneers of the solution-focused approach) called Begegnungen mit Steve de Shazer und Insoo Kim Berg. In the book, many other well-known solution-focused pioneers share their personal (such as Eve Lipchik, Wally Gingerich, Gale Miller, Peter De Jong and many others) memories of them.

September 19, 2012

Solution-Focused Coaching of Staff of People With Severe and Moderate Intellectual Disabilities

Solution-Focused Coaching of Staff of People With Severe and Moderate Intellectual Disabilities: A Case Series

John M. Roeden, Marian A. Maaskant, Fredrike P. Bannink, & Leopold M. G. Curfs 

Abstract: Solution-focused coaching (SFC) represents a short-term, future-focused, and person-directed therapeutic approach that helps people focus on solutions rather than problems. Thirteen cases of SFC of staff dealing with people with severe and moderate intellectual disabilities (S/MID) are described. In all 13 cases, the progress toward the team goal, proactive thinking of staff, and the quality of the relationship (QOR) between staff and people with S/MID were measured directly before SFC, directly after SFC, and 6 weeks after SFC. After SFC, progress toward the team goal was found in seven out of 13 teams, improvement of proactive thinking was found in 5/10 teams and improvement of the QOR was found in 7/13 teams. With regard to individual staff members, improvement of proactive thinking was found in 12/34 staff members and improvement of the QOR was found in 22/42 staff members. The authors note that SFC stimulates dealing with support problems in a behavioral, proactive way and that SFC can be a useful approach to build useful relationships. The findings are in line with results of earlier research on the value of solution-focused brief therapy applied to carers (parents or professionals) of people with ID. Future investigation of SFC, preferably using a randomized controlled design, could test the hypothesis that SFC can increase self-efficacy and proactive thinking in teams, can positively alter staff's perceptions of people with ID, and that teams find it a useful approach.

September 7, 2012

Solution-Focused vs. Problem-Focused Questions

Making Positive Change: A Randomized Study Comparing Solution-Focused vs. Problem-Focused Coaching Questions

By Anthony M. Grant

Abstract: This study compared the effects of problem-focused and solution-focused coaching questions on positive and negative affect, self-efficacy, goal approach, and action planning. A total of 225 participants were randomly assigned to either a problem-focused or solution-focused coaching condition. All participants described a real-life problem that they wanted to solve and set a goal to solve that problem. They then completed a set of measures that assessed levels of positive and negative affect, self-efficacy, and goal attainment. In the problem-focused coaching condition 108 participants then responded to a number of problem-focused coaching questions and then completed a second set of measures. The 117 participants in a solution-focused coaching session completed a mirror image of the problem-focused condition, responding to solution-focused questions including the “Miracle Question.”

September 6, 2012

10 Suggestions for how to combine autonomy and structure

This video, which was inspired by a book chapter by Reeve and Assor (2011), explains how both structure and individual autonomy are important in social systems. Structure can provide coherence, clarity and efficiency; autonomy is a universal human psychological need the fulfillment of which contributes to human wellness. Structure and individual autonomy can be viewed as competing demands but this does not have to be so. They can be combined. When this happens the benefits of both can be reaped. So, how can it be done?

Here is an attempt to formulate some suggestions (again, partly, inspired by Reeve and Assor) for how to do that:

September 5, 2012

Two lesser known disadvantages of fixed mindsets

As you may know, how we think about our own qualities has a big impact on how we feel, how we behave, how we learn and how we perform. Thinking our abilities (such as our intelligence) are fixed (this is called a fixed mindset) makes us less challenge seeking and less persistent and also more defensive. Also our performance is lower over time. A growth mindset, thinking that our qualities can be developed through effort, leads to more challenge seeking, persistence, openness, learning and performance over time.

Thinking about others' qualities as fixed also has consequences such as being quicker to stereotype and label people, to be less open to new information about people, and to punish them quicker when they have done something wrong. In a chapter in a new book, Carol Dweck mentions two lesser known finding with respect to mindsets.

September 2, 2012

Situational cues can trigger materialism leading to negative personal and social consequences

Cuing Consumerism. Situational Materialism Undermines Personal and Social Well-Being

By Monika A. Bauer, James E. B. Wilkie, Jung K. Kim, and Galen V. Bodenhausen

Abstract: Correlational evidence indicates that materialistic individuals experience relatively low levels of well-being. Across four experiments, we found that situational cuing can also trigger materialistic mind-sets, with similarly negative personal and social consequences. Merely viewing desirable consumer goods resulted in increases in materialistic concerns and led to heightened negative affect and reduced social involvement (Experiment 1). Framing a computer task as a “Consumer Reaction Study” led to a stronger automatic bias toward values reflecting self-enhancement, compared with framing the same task as a “Citizen Reaction Study” (Experiment 2). Consumer cues also increased competitiveness (Experiment 3) and selfishness in a water-conservation dilemma (Experiment 4). Thus, the costs of materialism are not localized only in particularly materialistic people, but can also be found in individuals who happen to be exposed to environmental cues that activate consumerism—cues that are commonplace in contemporary society.

August 26, 2012

The As if principle (review of Rip it up by Richard Wiseman)

Perhaps the title of Richard Wiseman's new book, "Rip It Up: The radically new approach to changing your life" book does not attract you. The author says you, as a reader, are expected to rip out pages of the book which you may not find an appealing thought. Also you may be turned off by the "radical new approach to changing your life" claim in the title. Aren't things promoted too often as radically new which are, in fact, not radically new at all? Anyway, the book description says the approach is based on decades of research, so what is radically new about that? Also, you may feel you do not need help and are therefore not inclined to read self-help books (which this appears to be).

August 25, 2012

Effects of Solution - Focused Group Counseling on Student’s Self - Regulation and academic achievement

Effects of Solution - Focused Group Counseling on Student’s Self - Regulation and academic achievement
Rooholla Saadatzaade and Shiva Khalili

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to explore the effectiveness of solution -focused counseling on selfregulation and academic achievement of high school students. Solution-focused counseling was evaluated through control and experimental pretest – posttest group design. After seven sessions group counseling with students, the self–regulation and academic achievement of students in the counseling intervention group were significantly increased. Moreover, the findings indicated significant difference between control group and experimental group in post test results (p < 0/05).

August 21, 2012

A 3x2 model of solutions

Here is my proposal for a two-dimensional model describing six types of solutions.

The horizontal axis refers to the finding place of solutions and describes three types of solutions:
  1. Following prescriptions: These solutions are exogenous. They are based on experience or evidence outside of the individual(/s) implementing them. They may become available through advice given or by other means such as articles.
  2. Imitation of success by others: These solutions are halfway between exogenous and endogenous. The success was achieved by someone else but the person imitating the success witnessed it so was present in the situation and experienced it to some extent. 
  3. Replicating own past success: These solutions are endogenous. They are based on experience or evidence by the individual(/s) implementing them. 

August 14, 2012

How mindset affects creativity

Consequences of Beliefs about the Malleability of Creativity
O'Connor, Alexander J., Nemeth, Charlan J., & Akutsu, Satoshi (2012)

Abstract: Attempts to maximize creativity pervade corporate, artistic, and scientific domains. This research investigated how individual’s implicit theories about the malleability of creativity affect several creativity related constructs. Through two correlational and one experimental study we examine the relationship between implicit theories about creativity and their effect on both creative problem solving and lifetime creative achievement. In Study 1 incremental theories in creativity are associated with interest in creative thinking, self-reported creativity, and creative problemsolving. In Study 2, incremental theories are associated with lifetime creative achievements in a cross-cultural, professional sample. In Study 3, incremental primes of creativity led to increased creative problem-solving. Further, all studies establish discriminant validity and domain-specificity for implicit theories of creativity. Specifically, Studies 1 and 2 control for individual differences in implicit theories of intelligence, suggesting that implicit theories of creativity and intelligence are meaningfully distinct. Study 3 finds that incremental theories of creativity enhance creative problem-solving but not problem-solving more generally.

August 7, 2012

Wise reasoning associated with well-being

A Route to Well-Being: Intelligence Versus Wise Reasoning.
Grossmann, Igor; Na, Jinkyung; Varnum, Michael E. W.; Kitayama, Shinobu; Nisbett, Richard E.

Laypeople and many social scientists assume that superior reasoning abilities lead to greater well-being. However, previous research has been inconclusive. This may be because prior investigators used operationalizations of reasoning that favored analytic as opposed to wise thinking. We assessed wisdom in terms of the degree to which people use various pragmatic schemas to deal with social conflicts. With a random sample of Americans, we found that wise reasoning is associated with greater life satisfaction, less negative affect, better social relationships, less depressive rumination, more positive versus negative words used in speech, and greater longevity. The relationship between wise reasoning and well-being held even when controlling for socioeconomic factors, verbal abilities, and several personality traits. As in prior work, there was no association between intelligence and well-being. Further, wise reasoning mediated age-related differences in well-being, particularly among middle-aged and older adults. Implications for research on reasoning, well-being, and aging are discussed.

August 2, 2012

Ellen Langer quote on the psychology of possibility

"Psychologists have traditionally studied the 'norm' rather than exceptions that could show that we are capable of far more than we currently realize [...] It is important for people to realize there can be enhanced possibilities for people of all ages and all walks of life. My research has shown how using a different word, offering a small choice or making a subtle change in the physical environment can improve our health and well-being. Small changes can make large differences, so we should open ourselves to the impossible and embrace a psychology of possibility."

~ Ellen Langer (source)

July 31, 2012

Rousseau’s Oxford Handbook of Evidence Based Management


Carnegie Mellon’s Denise Rousseau is not just a leading authority on evidence-based management (EBMgt); she is a leading force in bringing the field to life. A landmark step in the maturation of EBMgt is the publication of The Oxford Handbook of Evidence-Based Management, on which Denise acted as editor. The book, though not light summer reading, should still bring a smile to the face of managers. It reassures us the EBMgt is real, is vibrant, and represents progress for the profession. I spoke to Denise about the Handbook and about the field of EBMgt.

Creelman: Am I right in seeing this book as a landmark for the field?

Read the interview here

July 27, 2012

Study: high work engagement and low burnout associated with focus on improving deficiencies not with focus on using strengths

A pro-active perspective of employees’ focus on strengths and deficiencies in relation to work engagement and burnout

by Sanne Smits

Abstract: Traditionally, the improvement of employees' weaknesses predominated in the literature. This negative perspective has started to change with the upcoming positive psychology; the focus then shifted to positive constructs and strengths of employees. This current study has attempted to build further upon literature in both areas by introducing strengths- and deficiency oriented behavior. These constructs refer to self-starting behavior of employees that is either focused on using strengths or on addressing deficiencies. The relationships with both work engagement and burnout were investigated. Moreover, the combination of displaying the two types of behavior simultaneously in relation to work engagement and burnout was examined as well. 95 respondents from a high-tech organization located in the Netherlands participated in this research. The findings led to unexpected results. Surprisingly, only deficiency oriented behavior was positively related to work engagement, and negatively related to only one of the subscales of burnout: reduced accomplishment. The remaining hypotheses could not be confirmed. These findings were not in line with work in the positive psychology area. It is expected that this is the result from the very specific and homogeneous sample that is being used in this study, as well as the fact that the organizational climate of the participating company is already focused on utilizing the strengths of their employees. This gives some leeway to employees and could in turn inspire them to become also pro-actively focused on improving their weaknesses, next to playing to their strengths.

Also read:

July 26, 2012

The beginning of infinity

I am now reading a book which is related to the topic of the knowability of objective reality. Three posts I have written before about this topic are On truth: we can distinguish between false and falser, Objective reality as an asymptote, and The map is not the territory.

The book I am reading is written by David Deutsch and it is called The beginning of Infinity, Explanations that transform the world. The book is about 'broadly about explaining reality, thinking rationally, and the beginning of infinite human progress.'

Book description: Throughout history, mankind has struggled to understand life's mysteries, from the mundane to the seemingly miraculous. In this important new book, David Deutsch, an award-winning pioneer in the field of quantum computation, argues that explanations have a fundamental place in the universe. They have unlimited scope and power to cause change, and the quest to improve them is the basic regulating principle not only of science but of all successful human endeavor. This stream of ever improving explanations has infinite reach, according to Deutsch: we are subject only to the laws of physics, and they impose no upper boundary to what we can eventually understand, control, and achieve.

July 18, 2012

The Price of Inequality

I am now reading The Price of Inequality. How Today's Divided Society Endangers our Future by Joseph E. Stigliz.

I wrote about the dangers of large income inequality before in How Equality is Driving Thriving. In that article I wrote about The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, a book by epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.The research described in that book shows that many health-related and social problems are associated with the level of inequality of society.

Joseph Stigliz' book provides evidence from an economist's perspective of the dangers of great inequality in societies. The book shows how inequality in the USA has increased enormously over the last three decades. The price for this rice in inequality, as Stigliz shows, is high. Some of the consequences: lower economic growth, lower GDP, more political instability, a weakened economy, and a diminished sence of fairness and justice.

July 17, 2012

Do you focus on accumulated progress or remaining progress?

This article examines a small-area hypothesis: individuals striving toward a goal end state exhibit greater motivation when their attention is directed to whichever is smaller in size—their accumulated or remaining progress. The result is that, at the beginning of goal pursuit, directing attention to accumulated progress increases goal adherence relative to directing attention to remaining progress (e.g., 20% completed is more impactful than 80% remaining). However, with closeness to the goal, directing attention to accumulated progress lessens goal adherence relative to directing attention to remaining progress (e.g., 20% remaining is more impactful than 80% completed; studies 1–2). The focus on small areas increases motivation by creating an illusion of fast progress (study 3). Therefore, when individuals wish to prolong goal pursuit and avoid reaching the goal’s end state, they slow down goal adherence when their attention is directed to small areas (study 4).

July 14, 2012

5 Progress-focused questions: a powerful sequence

A good way to enable progress is to pose some well thought out questions. It helps when these questions fit well with each other and build on each other. A few years ago, I developed a sequence of 5 progress-focused questions. I have used it often and I have found it to be powerful and flexible set of questions which can be useful in many change processes. Here it is: 5 Progress-focused questions: a powerful sequence.

July 13, 2012

Is Personality Fixed? Personality Changes as Much as ‘‘Variable’’ Economic Factors and More Strongly Predicts Changes to Life Satisfaction

Is Personality Fixed? Personality Changes as Much as ‘‘Variable’’ Economic Factors and More Strongly Predicts Changes to Life Satisfaction
Christopher J. Boyce, Alex M. Wood, & Nattavudh Powdthavee (2012)

Abstract Personality is the strongest and most consistent cross-sectional predictor of high subjective well-being. Less predictive economic factors, such as higher income or improved job status, are often the focus of applied subjective well-being research due to a perception that they can change whereas personality cannot. As such there has been limited investigation into personality change and how such changes might bring about higher wellbeing. In a longitudinal analysis of 8625 individuals we examine Big Five personality measures at two time points to determine whether an individual’s personality changes and also the extent to which such changes in personality can predict changes in life satisfaction. We find that personality changes at least as much as economic factors and relates much more strongly to changes in life satisfaction. Our results therefore suggest that personality can change and that such change is important and meaningful. Our findings may help inform policy debate over how best to help individuals and nations improve their well-being.

July 12, 2012

In defense of the social sciences

In the Los Angeles Times, Timothy D. Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of "Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change", defends the the social sciences: 

"Are the social sciences perfect? Of course not. Human behavior is complex, and it is not possible to conduct experiments to test all aspects of what people do or why. There are entire disciplines devoted to the experimental study of human behavior, however, in tightly controlled, ethically acceptable ways. Many people benefit from the results, including those who, in their ignorance, believe that science is limited to the study of molecules."

Read the article here

Self-Determination Theory Applied to Health Contexts

Self-Determination Theory Applied to Health Contexts. A Meta-Analysis.
Johan Y. Y. Ng, Nikos Ntoumanis, Cecilie Thøgersen-Ntoumani, Edward L. Deci, Richard M. Ryan, Joan L. Duda and Geoffrey C. Williams

Abstract:  Behavior change is more effective and lasting when patients are autonomously motivated. To examine this idea, we identified 184 independent data sets from studies that utilized self-determination theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 2000) in health care and health promotion contexts. A meta-analysis evaluated relations between the SDT-based constructs of practitioner support for patient autonomy and patients’ experience of psychological need satisfaction, as well as relations between these SDT constructs and indices of mental and physical health. Results showed the expected relations among the SDT variables, as well as positive relations of psychological need satisfaction and autonomous motivation to beneficial health outcomes. Several variables (e.g., participants’ age, study design) were tested as potential moderators when effect sizes were heterogeneous. Finally, we used path analyses of the meta-analyzed correlations to test the interrelations among the SDT variables. Results suggested that SDT is a viable conceptual framework to study antecedents and outcomes of motivation for health-related behaviors.

July 11, 2012

The Science of Training and Development in Organizations: What Matters in Practice

The Science of Training and Development in Organizations: What Matters in Practice 
Eduardo Salas, Scott I. Tannenbaum, Kurt Kraiger, & Kimberly A. Smith-Jentsch (2012)

Summary Organizations in the United States alone spend billions on training each year. These training and development activities allow organizations to adapt, compete, excel, innovate, produce, be safe, improve service, and reach goals. Training has successfully been used to reduce errors in such high-risk settings as emergency rooms, aviation, and the military. However, training is also important in more conventional organizations. These organizations understand that training helps them to remain competitive by continually educating their workforce. They understand that investing in their employees yields greater results. However, training is not as intuitive as it may seem. There is a science of training that shows that there is a right way and a wrong way to design, deliver, and implement a training program. The research on training clearly shows two things: (a) training works, and (b) the way training is designed, delivered, and implemented matters. This article aims to explain why training is important and how to use training appropriately. Using the training literature as a guide, we explain what training is, why it is important, and provide recommendations for implementing a training program in an organization. In particular, we argue that training is a systematic process, and we explain what matters before, during, and after training. Steps to take at each of these three time periods are listed and described and are summarized in a checklist for ease of use.We conclude with a discussion of implications for both leaders and policymakers and an exploration of issues that may come up when deciding to implement a training program. Furthermore, we include key questions that executives and policymakers should ask about the design, delivery, or implementation of a training program. Finally, we consider future research that is important in this area, including some still unanswered questions and room for development in this evolving field.

When thinking about goals undermines goal pursuit

When thinking about goals undermines goal pursuit 
By Ayelet Fishbach and Jinhee Choi (2012)

Abstract: We explore how attending to the goals an activity achieves (i.e., its instrumentality) impacts the motivation to pursue the activity. We propose that the focus on the activity’s instrumentality renders the activity more valuable yet its experience less positive. Because experience is mainly salient while pursuing (vs. planning) an activity, attending to the activity’s instrumentality increases the intention to pursue the activity but decreases how persistently individuals pursue it. We document this impact of attending to goals on increased intentions but decreased persistence on various activities, from a exercising on a treadmill (Study 1) and creating origami (Study 2) to dental flossing (Study 3) and practicing yoga (Study 4).

July 10, 2012

Money talks……and sometimes a bit too much!

Guest post by Stefan Söderfjäll, Ph. D, Ledarskapscentrum

Let's make one thing clear once and for all. Money is a powerful motivator. If what you have been told in life so far has made you think otherwise you can hit that out of your mind immediately. Money is indeed a strong motivator, so powerful that it can actually make us commit the most heinous and immoral acts in pursuit of it. You only have to look at all the scandals in corporate life, such as, to name just one, the Skandia scandal that took place in Sweden the years around the millennium, to understand what the pursuit of mammon can cause.

Or, by all means, document every legal case brought to court in a country during one year and I promise you will find a steady stream of gruesome murders and violent crimes, robbery, burglary, and financial scams, which in one way or another have been performed by people with dollar signs for their eyes. In fact, the mere thought of money triggers the cash register that is located somewhere deep in our brains and stimulates us to commit various less socially desirable actions. It is basically sufficient with a quick glimpse of a bill for it to go running at full speed. If you doubt that this is true, please read on.

Self-concordant goals and self-regulation

Here is a new post which explains that having personal goals that are selected for autonomous reasons (so-called self-concordant goals) increases increase the use of self-regulatory strategies such as implementation planning, action planning, putting in effort, and coping which in turn lead to more goal progress.

Read the post: Self-concordant goals → effective self-regulation → goal progress

Bill Gates reviews Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

How would you go about making the world a fundamentally better place? Eliminating violence, particularly violent deaths, would be a great start. Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows in his masterful new book just how violence is declining. It is a triumph of a book. People often ask me what is the best book I’ve read in the last year. Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined stands out as one of the most important books I’ve read – not just this year, but ever.

Read the review here.

July 9, 2012

Goal shielding and progress

The perception of progress may motivate people to make further progress. But this does not always happen. Sometimes focusing on progress leads to a disengagement from our goal. In Sometimes focusing on progress disengages us from our goal I explain the concept of goal shielding and the circumstances under which our goal focus may be diminished by focusing on the progress we have made. Also, I suggest two types of interventions to sustain motivation for our focal goal.

July 8, 2012

The circle technique

The circle technique is an easy and flexible technique for making progress more visible and for helping people make further progress. It can be used individually but also in coachings and in team facilitation. It works like this. First you draw to two circles on a big piece of paper, an inner circle and an outer circle. The inner circle represents progress which has already been made; the outer circle stands for progress which has yet to be made. You can use these circles by going through the following 4 steps:
  1. What is the topic you want to use the circles for? Write down what that topic is and why it is desirable and/or important for you to make progress with respect to that topic.
  2. What progress have you already made since you started working on that topic? Write everything you have already accomplished on small post-it notes down and put them in the inner-circle. Take your time to think of every little step forward you have taken; nothing is too small.
  3. What further progress do you need or want to make? Write down on post-its what to try, learn, master and/or accomplish next. Formulate those steps forward in positive and specific terms.
  4. Choose your next step forward. Which post-it from the outer circle would you like to move to the inner circle first? Think of how and when you want to take that step.

July 7, 2012

Review by Alasdair J Macdonald of Rethinking Aging (Hadler, 2011)

Invited review by Dr Alasdair J Macdonald, consultant psychiatrist (

Hadler, NM (2011) Rethinking Aging: Growing old and living well in an overtreated society. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, USA. ISBN 978-0-8067-3506-7

This timely book examines the effects of corporate involvement in research and the financial incentives for doctors within the healthcare system. Hadler is a professor of medicine and microbiology/immunology in North Carolina. This book addresses the presentation of new research in medicine, especially that funded by external agencies and corporations. He remarks that a study of 10000 persons which shows a risk reduction from 6 cases / 10000 to 3 cases / 10000 does not justify the statement ‘50% decrease in risk’. Also, endpoints for studies may be chosen arbitrarily from available parameters, sometimes for marketing reasons. This may create false goals for treatment.

July 4, 2012

Goals that fit with personal interests and values

Here is a post on self-concordance of goals which is the degree to which they fit with personal interests and values: Self-concordance theory.

July 3, 2012

Visualizing progress

Visualizing progress can have a powerful motivating effect. I have written a post with the following four suggestions about how visualizing progress may be used:
  • expect fluctuation
  • watch the trendline 
  • watch the slope 
  • watch the accumulation

Self-Determination Theory Applied to Health Contexts. A Meta-Analysis

Self-Determination Theory Applied to Health Contexts. A Meta-Analysis
By Johan Y. Y. Ng, Nikos Ntoumanis, Cecilie Thøgersen-Ntoumani, Edward L. Deci, Richard M. Ryan, Joan L. Duda, and Geoffrey C. Williams

Abstract: Behavior change is more effective and lasting when patients are autonomously motivated. To examine this idea, we identified 184 independent data sets from studies that utilized self-determination theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 2000) in health care and health promotion contexts. A meta-analysis evaluated relations between the SDT-based constructs of practitioner support for patient autonomy and patients’ experience of psychological need satisfaction, as well as relations between these SDT constructs and indices of mental and physical health. Results showed the expected relations among the SDT variables, as well as positive relations of psychological need satisfaction and autonomous motivation to beneficial health outcomes. Several variables (e.g., participants’ age, study design) were tested as potential moderators when effect sizes were heterogeneous. Finally, we used path analyses of the meta-analyzed correlations to test the interrelations among the SDT variables. Results suggested that SDT is a viable conceptual framework to study antecedents and outcomes of motivation for health-related behaviors.

July 2, 2012

Beneficial effects of a progress focus

On this blog I hope to share and develop insights about what progress is, how it can be achieved, and what its effects are. While the topic of progress ultimately may be as complex as any topic in psychology it is actually possible to say a few general simple things about the beneficial effects of focusing on progress.

Perceived progress, the perception of unimpeded movement forward or overcoming obstacles, appears to be a powerful thing. Here are some proven advantages associated with the monitoring progress and the perception of progress:
  1. Self-evaluation of progress is a key motivational process. The perception of progress generally increases self-efficacy and motivation (Schunk & Usher, 2012). 
  2. Both the belief in and actual progress toward goals increases subjective well-being (MacLeod, Coates & Hetherton, 2008). 
  3. An individual’s sense of progress toward life goals is related to better physical health and less depression (Street, O’Connor & Robinson, 2007). 
  4. Reflecting on progress helps to learn if something you have tried is effective and, if not, to make modifications to your approach (Cleary, 2011). 
  5. Focusing on progress is highly motivating both in work settings (Amabile & Kramer, 2011) and in one’s personal life (Elliot, Sheldon & Church, 1997). Progress seems to be crucial for finding meaning and gratification in work and in life in general, especially when the progress is related to the fulfillment of the individual’s need for autonomy, competence and relatedness (Sheldon & Kasser, 1998). In later posts I will explore some more nuanced findings about progress.

June 25, 2012

How the Solution-Focusedness of Coaches Is Related To Their Thriving at Work

How the Solution-Focusedness of Coaches Is Related To Their Thriving at Work
While more evidence is now emerging on the effectiveness of the solutionfocused approach to help clients, little is known about how working in a solutionfocused way is related to practitioner thriving at work. A web-survey was administered to 258 coaches. The survey asked respondents about what they do in coaching sessions, what they believe about issues like people, change and helping, and how they view their work. The solution-focused approach was not mentioned in the survey, nor was any other approach. Through two separate prestudies, however, it was possible to use the independent variables to compute scores for solution-focused coach behaviors (SF Behavior), non-solution-focused coach behaviors (Non-SF Behavior), and agreement with solution assumptions (SF Mindset). Thriving at Work was calculated from three sets of dependent variables which were derived respectively from self-determination theory, the burnout literature, and the work engagement literature. SF Behavior and SF Mindset were positively correlated with each other and with Thriving at Work. These findings suggest that that working in a solution-focused way not only benefits clients but also practitioners. These findings may be useful for improving practitioner thriving and for developing strategies for reducing burnout, employee turnover, and sick leave. Read full article.

June 23, 2012

What is your favorite quote on PROGRESS?

Focusing on progress is one of the things which is at the core of my approach to coaching, training and management. Here are 5 quotes about progress that I find inspiring:
  1. "Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb." ~ Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965) 
  2. "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
  3. "Optimism is essential to achievement and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress." ~ Nicholas Murray Butler (1862-1947)
  4. Progress, of the best kind, is comparatively slow. Great results cannot be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step.” ~ Samuel Smiles (1812-1904)
  5. "All progress is experimental." ~ John Jay Chapman (1862-1933)
Do you have a favorite quote about progress too? Let me know.

June 21, 2012

Case: the trust is gone

Some time ago I was invited to facilitate a session with the management team of a consultancy firm. This constultancy was founded several years ago by five young consultants and had now grown to a few dozen employees. I received a phone call by the chairman of the management team who told me that a conflict had emerged in the management team. He told me that the trust between the individual members of the management was gone and that they would like to try to solve this problem with my help.

At first, the idea was to start off with one-day session and to plan later sessions after that. I suggested to shorten this first session to half a day. Eventually it turned out that no further sessions were needed because the management felt they could continue the process by themselves.

June 19, 2012

Do your work, then step back

Chase after money and security
And your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
And you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

 ~Lao Tzu (604-507 B.C.)

There is nothing inevitable about high crime rates

As I said in this post, high crime is a badly underestimated problem which does more damage than most people realize. There is not only direct damage but also hidden material and immaterial costs and the problem that crime is itself criminogenic, in other words crime leads to crime (having been confronted with crime increases your likelihood of becoming criminal).

Two sets of beliefs may stand in the way of bringing down high crime rates: 1) the belief that high crime is an inevitable by-product of modern societies, and 2) that drastic, large scale change is needed before crime can be brought down. The belief that high crime rates are inevitable in our societies prevents us from even attempting to bring down crime rates. 

June 18, 2012

A 3x2 Achievement Goal Model

A 3 x 2 Achievement Goal Model

By Andrew J. Elliot, Kou Murayama, and Reinhard Pekrun (2011) 

Abstract: In the present research, a 3x2 model of achievement goals is proposed and tested (see right). The model is rooted in the definition and valence components of competence, and encompasses 6 goal constructs: taskapproach, task-avoidance, self-approach, self-avoidance, other-approach, and other-avoidance. The results from 2 studies provided strong support for the proposed model, most notably the need to separate task-based and self-based goals. Studies 1 and 2 yielded data establishing the 3x2 structure of achievement goals, and Study 2 documented the antecedents and consequences of each of the goals in the 3x2 model. Terminological, conceptual, and applied issues pertaining to the 3x2 model are discussed. Read full article here.

June 16, 2012

Future thought and behaviour change

Future thought and behaviour change

By Gabriele Oettingen (2012)

Abstract: While there is a growing body of research on free thoughts such as fantasies and daydreams, the question of whether and how fantasies lead to effortful action and successful performance has hardly been investigated. The present article will show that, counter to what the popular self-help literature proposes, positive thinking can be detrimental to effort and success if it comes in the form of fantasies (free thoughts and images about the desired future) rather than beliefs (expectations). The article will then discuss fantasy realisation theory (FRT), which specifies how fantasies can be used to wisely self-regulate goal pursuit. The theory argues that the strategy of mental contrasting future and reality will produce both active goal pursuit and active goal disengagement, depending on a person’s high versus low expectations of success, respectively. Research supporting these ideas across life domains points to non-conscious cognitive and motivational processes responsible for the effects of mental contrasting, and it depicts context variables (e.g., sad mood) that influence the rise and usage of mental contrasting. Intervention studies attest to mental contrasting as a contentfree, time- and cost-effective metacognitive strategy that people can use to regulate their own goal pursuits in an autonomous way, thus helping people to become masters of their everyday life and long-term development. Read full article

June 14, 2012

Mindsets Matter: A Meta-Analytic Review of Implicit Theories and Self-Regulation

Mindsets Matter: A Meta-Analytic Review of Implicit Theories and Self-Regulation

By Jeni L. Burnette, Ernest O‘Boyle, Eric M. VanEpps, Jeffrey M. Pollack, & Eli J. Finkel (in press)

Abstract: This review builds on self-control theory (Carver & Scheier, 1998) to develop a theoretical framework for investigating associations of implicit theories with self-regulation. This framework conceptualizes self-regulation in terms of three crucial processes: goal setting, goal operating and goal monitoring. In this meta-analysis, we included articles that reported a quantifiable assessment of implicit theories and at least one self-regulatory process or outcome. Using a random effects approach, meta-analytic results (total unique N = 28,217; k = 113) across diverse achievement domains (68% academic) and populations (age range = 5-42; 10 different nationalities; 58% from United States; 44% female) demonstrated that implicit theories predict distinct self-regulatory processes, which, in turn, predict goal achievement. Incremental theories, which, in contrast to entity theories, are characterized by the belief that human attributes are malleable rather than fixed, significantly predicted goal setting (performance goals, r = -.151; learning goals, r = .187), goal operating (helpless-oriented strategies, r = -.238; mastery-oriented strategies, r = .227), and goal monitoring (negative emotions, r = -.233; expectations, r = .157). The effects for goal setting and goal operating were stronger in the presence (vs. absence) of ego threats such as failure feedback. Discussion emphasizes how the present theoretical analysis merges an implicit theory perspective with self-control theory to advance scholarship and unlock major new directions for basic and applied research. Read full article.

June 13, 2012

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young: The Woman Who Changed Her Brain

I've written before about Barbara Arrowsmith-Young. As a child, she suffered from asymmetry in her brain which meant that she had both exceptional abilities (like her auditory and visual memory and a great drive) and signs of retardation and an asymmetric body. At first, she followed a strategy of working around her disabilities. Later, she started to started to a program of exercises for herself which were not aimed at working around her weaknesses (the so-called compensation strategy) but which were directly aimed at strengthening her weaknesses. This strategy worked extremely well. She changed her brain and started to understand things she couldn't understand at first.

Now there is book by her: The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: And Other Inspiring Stories of Pioneering Brain Transformation. Here is the description from

June 8, 2012

Happiness and labor

"Happiness to be felt cannot be continued. Labour is necessary to make intervals between his pleasures."

~ Paul Henri Thiry Holbach in The System of Nature (1770)

This quote by Baron D'Holbach dates from 1770 yet it reflects, I think, a quite modern view on happiness. The first part of the quote, "Happiness to be felt cannot be continued", reminds me of something which is known as sensory adaptation which means that our nervous system changes its responsiveness to a constant stimulus over time. For example when your neighbor is working on his house and making drilling noises all day, at first you may notice this very clearly, but after some time you may not notice it so much anymore. At the end of the day you may even suddenly realize that you have not thought about the noise all afternoon and have not consciously noticed it at all. The same might apply to happiness. It seems impossible to keep feeling it all the time. What context would be such that it would allow us to constantly feel happy? It is hard to think of one. It is more likely that we are capable of experiencing episodes of happiness at best.

June 6, 2012

Leadership and fulfillment of the three basic psychological needs at work

Leadership and fulfillment of the three basic psychological needs at work
By Hilde Hetland, Jørn Hetland, Cecilie Schou Andreassen, Stale Pallesen & Guy Notelaers (2011)

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between transformational leadership and a transactional leadership component (management by exception-active), and fulfillment of the basic needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness. The paper is based on cross sectional data from 661 employees who completed validated questionnaires such as the the multifactor leadership questionnaire (MLQ) and the basic need satisfaction at work (BNSW). The data were analysed using structural equation modeling in AMOS 18.0.
The results show that both transformational leadership and the transactional behavior management by exception active are significantly related to fulfillment of the basic needs. Significant regression weights of 0.50 (p , 0:01) 0.46 (p , 0:01), and 0.21 (p , 0:01) from transformational leadership to relatedness, autonomy and competence were also found. Negative and smaller paths were revealed from management by exception to relatedness (¼ 20:12, p , 0:01), competence (¼ 20:12, p , 0:05), and autonomy (¼ 20:18, p , 0:01). Squared multiple correlations (R 2 ) for relatedness, competence and autonomy were 0.28, 0.06, and 0.27, respectively.

June 5, 2012

Problems of overdiagnosis

In this article, Preventing overdiagnosis: how to stop harming the healthy, I came across the following list over overdiagnosis problems:

For some background on what overdiagnosis is and in which sense it is a problem you can read this: Overdiagnosed: too much diagnosis is turning more and more of us into patients.

June 4, 2012

Combining practice based learning and theory based learning

As mentioned before on this site, I am rather reluctant about the usefulness of a giving advice - especially unasked-for advice. In general my assumption is that self-found internal solutions, solutions which are based on people's own experience and which they can apply themselves without help or training by others, are the most motivating way forward in many situations. By the way, from this, it does not follow that we can't help other people. We can actually help people identify their own internal solutions. But the way to do this is not to offer them judgments and advices. Instead, through a process of asking carefully chosen questions and interventions people can, in many cases be helped to find their own solutions to problems (here is an example of how such a helping strategy may be designed).

May 31, 2012

3 Principles of doing what works

There is a great power in focusing on doing what works in many of life's contexts. Doing what works is about finding out what is useful or helpful and applying that in order to make progress in the desired direction. Put differently it means that when you try to accomplish something you pay careful attention to what is working, or has worked before in a comparable situation, and do more of that. While it sounds simple and logical to just find out what works and to more of it actually isn't always that straightforward. In this post I explain that what works is often not so easy to recognize: The invisibility of what works. And I have written a post in which I mention 6 critical reflections on the importance of doing what works. Having said this, though, I repeat that doing what works is an powerful approach in many contexts. Here are three principles that may be useful in doing what works (of which at least one is not too well-known):

May 22, 2012

Subtle influences on self-concept and academic performance

Guest post by Caroline Heijmans 

Caroline Heijmans  
The very essence of one’s individuality – his self-concept – is integrally linked with interpersonal dynamics. Therefore, social scientists show a great interest in self-image and self-esteem-maintenance and the role of these processes in people’s perceptions and reactions regarding others. Research on self-categorization, for instance – has found that people use cognitive strategies to maintain positive perceptions of their social identities (Turner, 1983).

People posses many different social identities as they simultaneously belong to many different social identity groups (e.g., gender, socioeconomic class, race, ethnicity, sports etc.). Their selves are therefore multifaceted. One can be at the same time: woman, highly educated, Asian, and a basketball player. Some of these social identities are negatively stereotyped in a given context, such as ‘women are not good at math’, whereas others are positively stereotyped (e.g., ‘Asians are good at math’). Therefore, only part of the self is associated with any given stereotype, depending on which social identity becomes salient.

May 20, 2012

'Being the greatest' or 'getting better'?

For individuals it is wiser to focus on getting better than on being (and appearing) good
Much psychological research has shown that there is an important difference between so-called performance goals and mastery goals. Performance goals are about being able to demonstrate a certain skill or ability; mastery goals are about attaining progress and growth with respect to a certain skill. Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson explains how the performance orientation, while very motivating has an important disadvantage:

May 18, 2012

The impact of mindset on student aggression and behavior

Recently I posted a post about how teaching adolescents a growth mindset helps to reduce their aggression. The post described a publication by David Yeager, Kali Trzesniewski, and Carol Dweck: An Implicit Theories of Personality Intervention Reduces Adolescent Aggression in Response to Victimization and Exclusion.

Here is a new video in which Carol Dweck describes the project on which the publication is based.

May 17, 2012

How does Stereotype Threat work?

Caroline Heijmans
Guest post by Caroline Heijmans

Imagine: you are a highly motivated student and you are about to take an important test that measures your math ability. On the test form you have to indicate your gender. You fill out: female. Now, there happens to be a widespread negative stereotype about women and math… As a consequence of having to indicate your gender your performance will probably be worse than expected. Why and how does this happen?

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