January 30, 2012

Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance

I am now reading Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance by Richard Francis, a freelance writer with a PhD in neurobiology and behavior from Stony Brook University. Here is description from wikipedia of what epigenetics is:
"In biology, and specifically genetics, epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence – hence the name epi- (Greek: επί- over, above, outer) -genetics. It refers to functionally relevant modifications to the genome that do not involve a change in the nucleotide sequence. Examples of such changes are DNA methylation and histone deacetylation, both of which serve to suppress gene expression without altering the sequence of the silenced genes."
I really like what I have read so far and I hope to write more about the book, later. For now, here is the book description from Amazon:

January 27, 2012

Group polarization and professional communities

Psychologist David G. Myers (photo) gave an interesting answer to this year's Edge question which was: "What is your favorite deep, elegant of beautiful explanation?" Meyers mentioned the phenomenon of Group Polarization which can be summarized as: Interaction in groups of kindred spirits tends to amplify people's initial inclinations. In isolation from moderating influences, group interaction becomes a social amplifier. This phenomenon might explain why people who 'self-segregate' around certain values or views may radicalize and, in extreme cases, form sects or terrorist groups. (Read Meyer's piece here). What I wonder is what group polarization means for professional communities.

Written solution-focused coaching conversation

Today, in a training of solution-focused coaches, I invited them to do an exercise in which they did a written solution-focused coaching conversation. The idea behind this exercise was to focus on two things which help make solution-focused coaching conversations effective:
  1. Text-focus: solution-focused coaches listen carefully to their clients and use their key words. They don't change the words of their clients and don't read between the lines. 
  2. Go-slow: solution-focused coaches make sure that clients are never rushed and have all the time they need to think and to express their thoughts. 
The exercise went as follows:

January 25, 2012

Exercise: what have you become good at?

On this site you have often seen references to Carol Dweck's work on mindset (see this post, which, coincidentally, is one of this site's most popular posts ever). Here is a little exercise on the growth mindset. You may use it for your own benefit or you may use it to introduce the mindset concept to other people.

Exercise: what have you become good at?
It often happens that people become good at something which they once thought they would never be able to become good at. They did not expect to become competent or knowledgeable but they did. Please take a moment to think of something at which you used to be incompetent but at which you  now are competent. Take a moment to think and write down your answers to the following questions to help you reflect on how you have managed to become competent at that activity.

January 22, 2012

Computer programs to assist people in expressing apology and getting to forgiveness

Guest post by Ben Furman 

In the US, medical doctors have been advised for years by lawyers not apologize if patients complained about them. An apology, the lawyers used to explain, indicates admission of culpability and acts as invitation for a malpractice lawsuit. Massachusetts was the first State to adopt what is called an apology law in the mid 80s. It is a law that stipulates that an apology made by a medical practitioner to a patient may not be used against the practitioner in the court of law. Apology laws, which give legal permission for doctors to apologise to patients for their mistakes, have since been passed in most States in USA. It has been estimated that such laws have brought huge savings to the medical establishment through reducing the number of malpractice suits, increasing the number of resolved cases and decreasing the amount of moneys paid in compensation.

Apology is strong medicine. It impacts human relationships and contributes to psychological well being of both the victim and the perpetrator. It restores harmony by suspending anger and resentment. The positive psychology movement has convinced most of us that forgiveness is not only beneficial for resolving conflicts but actually an essential ingredient of human happiness.

January 19, 2012

How solution-focused is the SMART approach?

Nick Bernett wrote me an e-mail saying he doubts whether the SMART approach to goal setting fits with the solution-focused approach and he asked me what I think about this. Here are my thoughts.

What is SMART? In case you haven't heard about SMART, here is a brief explanation about what it is. SMART is an acronym which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound. Over time, quite a few alternative words have been suggested for these letters and also a few extensions of the acronym with a few letters but for our discussion let's keep things simple here and stick to the original (as far as I know) and simple form. SMART as a tool probably emerged from the management by objectives (MBO) approach which emphasized the importance a process of defining objectives within an organization so that management and employees agree to the objectives and understand what they need to do in the organization. SMART is often seen as a handy tool to help managers and employees to agree on effective goals.

January 18, 2012

Solution-Focused Coaching & Positive Outcomes

I have written a guest post on Paolo Terni's blog:

Solution-focused principles and techniques, orginally developed in psychotherapy, have found their way into coaching, over the last decade. While an evidence base of solution-focused brief therapy is beginning to come off the ground, little research is done on the effectiveness of solution-focused coaching (one researcher who is already doing interesting research in this area is Anthony Grant). It is important that an evidence base on solution-focused coaching is built, too. Individual clients, client organizations and society at large rightfully demand that solution-focused professionals not only discover things that work but also justify what they do by scientifically testing their claims.

Standard effectiveness research approaches involve randomized controlled experiments in which the treatment of interest is compared with a reference approach and a control group. A recent review summarizes this type of coaching research, which is still in its infancy. While this approach is indispensable it is not the only useful approach and it is not without weaknesses. For one thing, this type of research requires the existence of generally accepted definitions of the treatments (coaching procedures) that are researched. This type of research comparing coaching approaches does say something about the relative effectiveness of these approaches but does not say much about the relative contribution of the constituent elements of these approaches because these are not examined separately in these types of experiments but in combination with each other.

Read the full post here

January 15, 2012

Challenging genetic determinism

I have written a few posts before about how the old view of genetic and environmental influence on behavior isn't valid. In Bye bye genetic determinism I wrote about Chapter 2 of David Shenk's The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong. It said that the popular conception of the gene as a simple and powerful causal agent is not valid and should be replaced by a new interactionist model which describes the role of genes more accurately is briefly summarized as 'GxE'. In Exit genetic determinism: example of genes-environment interaction I summarized a dramatic demonstration of this genes-environment interaction which dates back to 1958 when researchers Rod Cooper and John Zubek did an experiment with rats.

As Carol Dweck has demonstrated frequently, self-beliefs have important consequences. Likewise, what we believe about how genes and environments shape our behavior is important. Is it so that important characteristics of people are 1) primarily cause by our genes, 2) primarily caused by environmental influences? 3) partly by genes and partly by environments, or 4) by a complex interaction of genes and environments?

A new book, Challenging Genetic Determinism. New Perspectives on the Gene in its Multiple Environments, reports on advances in genetic research. Here are some quotes from the book:

20 Quotes from the Edge Question 2012

This year, Edge asks the following question: "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" 181 Elite thinkers answered the question. Here are 25 quotes I selected from what they wrote. Which quote do you like best and why?
  1. We want to know what the world is really like, but we want it in a form that fits our intuitions. A form that means something. And for our narrative-driven brains, meaning comes in the form of stories, stories about things. I doubt we'll ever stop telling stories about how the universe works, and I, for one, am glad. We just have to remember not to mistake the stories for reality. ~ Amanda Gefter
  2. Imitation in humans is widespread and often automatic. It is important for learning and transmission of culture. We tend to align our movements (and even words!) during social interactions without even realizing it.~ Marco Iacoboni

January 11, 2012

Micro-analysis: showing the details of how the solution-focused approach makes change happen

Guest post by Paolo Terni, solution-focused coach in Sacramento, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, USA

One of the key principles of Solution-Focus practice is that “The Action is in the Inter-Action”, as Mark McKergow and Paul Z Jackson brilliantly put it. Which means that we “co-construct” meaning and solutions in the interaction. But how? This is where microanalysis comes in. Pioneered and extensively used by Janet Beavin Bavelas and her research group at the University of Victoria, microanalysis is defined as “the detailed and reliable examination of observable communication sequences as they proceed, moment by moment, in the dialogue”.

January 5, 2012

Instructors with a fixed mindset more likely to comfort and demotivate struggling students

“It's ok - not everyone can be good at math”: Instructors with an entity theory comfort (and demotivate) students

By Aneeta Rattan, Catherine Good, and Carol S. Dweck

Abstract: Can comforting struggling students demotivate them and potentially decrease the pool of students pursuing math-related subjects? In Studies 1–3, instructors holding an entity (fixed) theory of math intelligence more readily judged students to have low ability than those holding an incremental (malleable) theory. Studies 2–3 further revealed that those holding an entity (versus incremental) theory were more likely to both comfort students for low math ability and use “kind” strategies unlikely to promote engagement with the field (e.g., assigning less homework). Next, we explored what this comfort-oriented feedback communicated to students, compared with strategy-oriented and control feedback (Study 4). Students responding to comfort-oriented feedback not only perceived the instructor's entity theory and low expectations, but also reported lowered motivation and lower expectations for their own performance. This research has implications for understanding how pedagogical practices can lock students into low achievement and deplete the math pipeline.

January 4, 2012

Six ways solution focus speeds up organizational change (Guest Post)

Guest Post by Alan Kay, The Glasgow Group

What are the practicalities of solution focused organizational change? Working with them for over 12 years using the solution focus framework at center of my client offering demonstrates why it’s one of the best ways to help organizations make progress on change. This thinking applies to all organizations and all functions therein…from bankers to children’s aid, from actuaries to architects.

1. Solution Focus asks, it does not tell. The consultant does not present the solution – the client arrives at the change via the consultant’s better questions 
Why? I tell clients they know what to do, it’s just not clear to them because they’ve become muddled in their thinking through problem focus in both strategic and tactical discussions. Solution focus pares away the non-productive discussion, helps understand what they want to be better (vs. the problem). 
"In business we all know we have problems, but it is progress on the problems we need. Solution Focus is very effective at getting people to think and act on the right things, the possible solutions. It is a wonderful tool at getting people unstuck and making progress happen." ~ Tim Hammond, General Manager, Fuel 

Intelligence: New findings and theoretical developments

Intelligence: New findings and theoretical developments

By Richard Nisbett, Joshua Aronson, Clancy Blair, William Dickens, James Flynn, Diane Halpern, and Eric Turkheimer

American Psychologist, Jan 2 , 2012

We review new findings and new theoretical developments in the field of intelligence. New findings include the following: (a) Heritability of IQ varies significantly by social class. (b) Almost no genetic polymorphisms have been discovered that are consistently associated with variation in IQ in the normal range. (c) Much has been learned about the biological underpinnings of intelligence. (d) “Crystallized” and “fluid” IQ are quite different aspects of intelligence at both the behavioral and biological levels. (e) The importance of the environment for IQ is established by the 12-point to 18-point increase in IQ when children are adopted from working-class to middle-class homes. (f) Even when improvements in IQ produced by the most effective early childhood interventions fail to persist, there can be very marked effects on academic achievement and life outcomes.

January 3, 2012

Can Everyone Become Highly Intelligent?

Can Everyone Become Highly Intelligent? Cultural Differences in and Societal Consequences of Beliefs about the Universal Potential for Intelligence

by Aneeta Rattan, Krishna Savani, N. V. R. Naidu, and Carol S. Dweck (2012)

Abstract: We identify a novel dimension of people’s beliefs about intelligence: beliefs about the potential to become highly intelligent. Studies 1-3 found that in U.S. American contexts, people tend to believe that only some people have the potential to become highly intelligent. In contrast, in South Asian Indian contexts, people tend to believe that most people have the potential to become highly intelligent. To examine the implications of these beliefs, Studies 4-6 measured and manipulated Americans’ beliefs about the potential for intelligence and found that the belief that everyone can become highly intelligent predicted increased support for policies that distribute resources more equally across advantaged and disadvantaged social groups. These findings suggest that the belief that only some people have the potential to become highly intelligent is a culturally shaped belief, one that can lead people to oppose policies aimed at redressing social inequalityRead more

January 2, 2012

On the question of whether we have free will

I don't know what to think about the topic of free will. Sam Harris argues, in his new book Free Will (which I haven't read; it will come out in March), that free will does not exist. Biologist Jerry Coyne agrees. In his column Why you don't really have free will he says that while we feel like we have free will, we actually do not. He also says that there's not much downside to abandoning the notion of free will and a few important upsides. One of the upsides he mentions is that it will become much easier to empathize with other people once we realize that their behavior is caused by genes and environments, not by free will.

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