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?

May 15, 2012

14 Things I Believe

In the left colum of my blog I have put a gadget with 14 Things I Believe. I thought it would be nice to mention it here as a post, too. The items of the list don't specifically refer to the solution-focused approach, although some of them, implicitly or explicitly, do. This list is a dynamic list. As I learn, I may, from time to time, add, remove and change items. But I don't expect drastic changes soon because the composition of the list has been relatively stable for some time. Needless to say, I don't expect anyone to agree with these items, let alone with all of them. Of course, your views are welcome. I hope you´ll find some of the items interesting and perhaps even useful.

So here is the list:
  1. Effective conversation depends both on a focus on what you want to achieve and sensitivity to the frame of mind of other people.
  2. A challenge for individuals as they grow up is to become less egocentric; for humanity it is to become less anthropocentric.
  3. Having things to do, being focused on tasks, is generally better for one-self and for one's surroundings than to be focused on oneself a lot.
  4. Often, when you become good at something, your 'reward' is that you're asked to do more of that activity. So you'd better find interesting what you try to become good at.
  5. In the future everything will be better, even our ability to notice it.

May 12, 2012

On building environments that emphasize learning for learning's sake

A new study by Stanford psychologist Paul O'Keefe, Adar Ben-Eliyahu of the University of Pittsburgh and Lisa Linnenbrink-Garcia of Duke University suggests that being in an environment that emphasizes learning for learning's sake will dampen concerns about outperforming others and enhance intrinsic motivation even after one returns to a culture that places more value on demonstrating skills than developing them:

Shaping achievement goal orientations in a mastery-structured environment and concomitant changes in related contingencies of self-worth

Paul A. O’Keefe, Adar Ben-Eliyahu and Lisa Linnenbrink-Garcia

May 11, 2012

Very high monetary incentives can result in poor behavioral performance

Neural Mechanisms Underlying Paradoxical Performance for Monetary Incentives Are Driven by Loss Aversion

by Chib, V.S, De Martino, B., Shimojo, S., and O'Doherty, J.P.

Employers often make payment contingent on performance in order to motivate workers. We used fMRI with a novel incentivized skill task to examine the neural processes underlying behavioral responses to performance-based pay. We found that individuals' performance increased with increasing incentives; however, very high incentive levels led to the paradoxical consequence of worse performance. Between initial incentive presentation and task execution, striatal activity rapidly switched between activation and deactivation in response to increasing incentives. Critically, decrements in performance and striatal deactivations were directly predicted by an independent measure of behavioral loss aversion. These results suggest that incentives associated with successful task performance are initially encoded as a potential gain; however, when actually performing a task, individuals encode the potential loss that would arise from failure.

May 10, 2012

Leading by example as a manager by using solution-focused principles

Frequently we provide in company solution-focused management training programs in organizations where employees are also expected to work according to solution-focused principles. The choice to not only provide training for employees but also for managers is generally a wise one. When employees are expected to be quite deliberate about the appreciative and goal directed way in which they should talk with clients it surely helps when their own managers are very deliberate in their conversations with them as well.

May 8, 2012

On accepting the limitations of our intuitions and embracing science

In this video from 2006, Richard Dawkins provides an evolutionary explanation for why our intuitive understanding of the world is limited. Our brains have evolved to help our bodies find our way around the world we perceive: "We never evolved to navigate in the world of atoms... we operate in a middle world — perceiving a reality somewhere between the atomic world and the cosmic world." ..."What we see of the real world is not the unvarnished real world but a model of the real world, regulated and adjusted by sense data—a model that is constructed so that it is useful for dealing with the real world. The nature of that model depends on the kind of animal we are."



What I take from this is that we must become a bit more skeptic about the validity of our own intuitions, accept our own ignorance more and embrace science more. Through science and technology we can increase our capability to perceive and measure the very small and large and we can test our intuitions in carefully designed experiments. In doing so we can develop our knowledge about the unvarnished reality and improve the human condition.

Also read: Objective reality as an asymptote

May 1, 2012

Teaching children to think about people as members of continua

Thinking in Categories or Along a Continuum: Consequences for Children’s Social Judgments 

By Allison Master, Ellen M. Markman, Carol S. Dweck

Can young children, forming expectations about the social world, capture differences among people without falling into the pitfalls of categorization? Categorization often leads to exaggerating differences between groups and minimizing differences within groups, resulting in stereotyping. Six studies with 4-year-old children (N = 214) characterized schematic faces or photographs as falling along a continuum (really mean to really nice) or divided into categories (mean vs. nice). Using materials that children naturally group into categories (Study 3), the continuum framing prevented the signature pattern of categorization for similarity judgments (Study 1), inferences about behavior and deservingness (Studies 2 and 5), personal liking and play preferences (Study 4), and stable and internal attributions for behavior (Study 6). When children recognize people as members of continua, they may avoid stereotypes.

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