December 13, 2016

Review of Against Empathy – Paul Bloom (2016)

Ideas in psychology can be rather at odds with our intuitions. An example of this can be found in a new book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, written by Paul Bloom, psychologist at Yale University. Many people view empathy as an important source of all that is good in the world and the lack of empathy as an important cause of many bad things in the world.  Leaders like Barack Obama and scientists like George Lakoff and Simon Baron-Cohen view empathy as something of which people can't have too much. Bloom has a different view.

December 12, 2016

Four things unreliable helpers do

Can we always trust professional helpers? Unfortunately we cannot. Suppliers of help can even harm us when they tell persuasive stories and supply us their treatments. They might do this with the best of intentions and they may actually believe in their treatments. But there may also be cynical and unreliable suppliers who knowingly sell us ineffective and even harmful treatments. Let's look at how people of the latter category, these unreliable helpers, might work. I think, in essence, they do four things.

December 3, 2016

The vital role of frustration in deliberate practice

I received many responses to my article How we can keep on breaking through performance ceilings. Most were positive, some where constructively critical. Most were about the claim that stretching one's abilities comes with a certain discomfort and frustration. One person asked whether this frustration or discomfort is really necessary. Another person asked whether this frustration does not contradict the progress principle which says that experiencing meaningful progress is very motivational ("how can experiencing frustration ever be motivational?").

December 1, 2016

When is leadership legitimate?

Below I'll try to answer two questions which I have thought about for some time. First, I'll say some things about the value of democracy. Are democracies better than non-democracies? I'll show why I think the answer is yes. Second, I'll share my thoughts on when leadership of countries should be considered legitimate. I think that two basic requirements need to be met for that. After having explained this, I'll share my thoughts on the legitimacy of the leadership of the next president of the USA.

November 29, 2016

How to motivate students for deliberate practice

Top performers in all kinds of disciplines use the power of deliberate practice. They practice in a goal-focused way on challenging tasks, get immediate feedback and keep repeating until mistakes disappear from their performance. By doing this for many years, they keep breaking through performance limits and keep making progress. But deliberate practice does not only work for those who want to reach the top of their discipline. The approach works at witch ever level you happen to be. Unfortunately, many people fail to use and benefit from deliberate practice. In a new research project Eskreis-Winkler et al. (2016) have looked at how students can be motivated to use deliberate practice and how this impacted their performance.

November 28, 2016

How we can keep on breaking through performance ceilings

Deliberate practice is a way of practicing which is very challenging yet very effective. Many studies have shown that prolonged deliberate practice plays an important role in the achievement of excellence in all kinds of disciplines. Deliberate practice has four basic characteristics: (1) goal-focus: individuals have clear goals of improving specific parts of their performance, (2) challenge: while practicing individuals constantly try something which is just above their current skill level, (3) feedback: while practicing, individuals get immediate expertise-based feedback, and (4) repetition: individuals repeat tasks until mistakes in their performance have been eliminated.

November 27, 2016

We should not fight science, democracy, and capitalism but the factors undermining them

Science, democracy, and capitalism, some treasured institutions of the world's most advanced societies, in terms of health, wealth, freedom, and equality, are being criticized more and more. I acknowledge that there are some severe problems surrounding these institutions but I think we should not see these institutions as the problem.

November 18, 2016

How we keep on falling for untruths

Recent years have shown many examples of how we can persist in believing things which are not true. A random selection of untruths which have remain popular with a surprisingly large group of people are: the idea that vaccines cause autism, that global warming is hoax (created by the Chinese), that homeopathy works, and that students each have a unique learning style which teaching should be adapted to. How is it possible that we so easily seem to fall for untruths?

Interruptions reduce the quality of your work

Several authors have advocated blocking time during you workday for working uninterruptedly. Amabile & Kramer (2011) say, on the basis of their research, that this is a condition for making progress in what is meaningful to you. Newport (2016) claims that working long and focused without interruptions leads to a dramatic increase in productivity and work satisfaction. Research by Sophie Leroy has shown that when you pick up a task again after an interruption there will be what she calls an attention residue. This means that part of your mental energy is still focused on what you were doing during the interruption. The interruption harms your deep focus.

November 17, 2016

Discomfort as a sign that you are learning

About eight years ago my colleague Gwenda Schlundt Bodien and I did a big evaluation of our training courses. We wanted to find out what worked and what didn't in our courses. We send an e-mail to all participants who had attended our courses in the past years. We asked them to complete a brief survey in which we asked them which parts of our courses they had found most useful. On the list were items like: PowerPoint presentations, group discussions, video observations, practicing with other participants, practicing with the trainers, practicing with live clients, analyzing written dialogues, plenary discussion and explanations, reflecting team exercises, etc.

November 12, 2016

Coming out of our echo chambers

Within social psychology the concept of self-segregation has been known for a long time (read more). This concept refers to the process of people forming groups with other like-minded people around a set of ideas or beliefs and distance themselves from contrary ideas. In these groups these ideas and beliefs are not only constantly shared but also amplified. The latter is made possible by the lack of correcting and moderating influences within these groups. If they are there, they are generally quickly silenced.

November 11, 2016

Countermeasures against the negativity effect

The negativity bias is the phenomenon that we notice negative events more easily, that we are affected more strongly by them, and that we remember them more easily. Although not every individual and every age group is equally vulnerable to the negativity bias it is quite common. For example, Amabile & Kramer (2011), in their study on inner work life, found that the impact of negative events on a work day was two to three times stronger than that of positive work day events.

November 10, 2016

The growth mindset goes hand in hand with an awareness of our own limitedness

An unrealistic and harmful belief which I have written about a lot is the fixed mindset (Dweck, 2006). In a fixed mindset we believe that certain capabilities and traits cannot be developed. Due to this belief we do not put in effort and we do indeed not get better. A growth mindset is more realistic and works better. In a growth mindset we believe that abilities can grow and characteristics can change. This way of thinking inspires us to do our best and increases our chances of making progress. At the same time, a growth mindset goes hand in hand with a clear awareness of our own limitedness. How is that possible?

A learning attitude is essential for leadership development

Leading Learning Coert Visser
Effective leadership development requires a growth mindset and a focus on learning goals.

Recently I wrote a brief article about setting goals. In that article a comparison was made, among other things, between performance goals and learning goals. Performance goals are about results which have be achieved; learning goals are about knowledge and skills to be learned. In general, performance goals lead to the best results for task which are straightforward. In other words, when they are clear for the person who has to do them and when that person is competent for those tasks. Learning goals lead to the best results when tasks are complex and cannot be overseen completely and when they require further learning from the person. With this in mind it is not strange to assume that learning goals are more relevant for leadership development than performance goals. 

Making Sense of Research

by Jamie Hale

In the context of everyday language, statistics (numbers, quantitative representations) are used to represent basketball players’ free throw average, death rates, life spans and so on. In science, statistics are tools used in describing, organizing, summarizing and analyzing data. Learning about stats will help you think in terms of probabilities, and allow you to gain a better understanding of research data.

October 31, 2016

A Plea for Broad Rationality

In The Rationality Quotient, which I have interviewed Keith Stanovich about recently, there is an interesting bit in which different conceptualizations of rationality are explained. Roughly there are two conceptualizations of rationality, a thin one and a broad one (a distinction which was first made by political scientist Jon Elster, 1983). The thin theory of rationality involves two factors of rationality: instrumental rationality and epistemic rationality.

October 30, 2016

3 Dimensions of studying effectively

How can we study effectively? Below, I describe three dimensions of studying effectively. These are not only meant for young people in schools or universities. Nowadays, lifelong learning has become normal. Keeping on learning and studying is healthy for us. Keeping on challenging ourselves cognitively is one factor contributing to a healthy life. Knowing how to study effectively is beneficial for anyone at any age. The tips below can be used for studying from books but also for other purposes, for example for learning to play a musical instrument.

"This is boring!" - sign of demotivation or of a fixed mindset?

When students say "This is boring", does it indicate a lack of motivation? That is indeed possible but the remark can also be an indication of something else: a fixed mindset.

In this video Carol Dweck explains that a fixed mindset makes it harder for people to deal with difficulty. When they find assignments difficult they can be fearful because they wonder whether they have the ability to do them right. This fear can manifest itself in different ways. One way is to directly express it. But often people with a fixed mindset will try to mask their fear. Because when we are in a fixed mindset it can be quite threatening to us to show that we don't believe we are able to do something or to learn something.

October 29, 2016

Interview with Keith Stanovich (2016)

The Rationality Quotient - Progress toward measuring rationality


By Coert Visser

https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/rationality-quotient
I first interviewed Keith Stanovich, Professor Emeritus of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the University of Toronto, in 2009. In that interview he explained the difference between intelligence and rationality and why rationality is very important. He also pointed out that IQ tests are incomplete measures of cognitive functioning because they do not measure rationality. Now, seven years later, I interview him about his new book, The Rationality Quotient, which he wrote together with his colleagues Richard West and Maggie Toplak, and which presents a prototype of a rational thinking test, the Comprehensive Assessment of Rational Thinking (CART).

October 20, 2016

Willpower is overrated

Roy Baumeister's 2012 book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength argued two things that are intuitively appealing. The first is the primacy of willpower. This idea is that willpower is a very important strength which enables us to exercise self-control which is essential for achieving our goals. The second is about ego-depletion. This idea is that willpower is a limited resource. In other words, when we have used our willpower to concentrate and resist temptations this will leave us with less willpower to take on new challenges and resist new temptations. Both ideas are in trouble.

October 18, 2016

Replicable behavioral priming effects using a within-subjects design

A few decades ago, psychological studies started to be published which showed counter-intuitive priming effects. Over the years, many studies demonstrated that incidental exposure to primes such as words, pictures, or other cues could influence a wide range of perceptions, behaviors, and even goals.

Several years ago, however, as the replication crisis in psychology began, priming research, became the line of research that seemed to epitomize the unreliability of psychological research. Many original priming findings could not be replicated because of, what were thought to be questionable research practices.

October 17, 2016

5 of the most dangerous beliefs

I've written before about how irrational beliefs may be harmful and also about how beliefs may be hard to change due to some systematic and psychological obstacles. Yet, beliefs can change and  believing they can't may cause us to stop talking honestly about our beliefs thereby creating polarization and impeding progress. With that in mind, I'm sharing my thoughts about five beliefs which I think are among the most dangerous beliefs. Of course, I am not expecting everyone to agree with all of these. But hopefully, you will find some of them thought provoking.

October 16, 2016

How willing are we to talk to people with different views?

To what extent are you willing to talk to people who think very differently about topics such as politics and religion? Your attitude toward a topic is determined by what you think is true, in other words: by your beliefs. To what extent can people change their attitudes about topics? People with a fixed mindset believe that attitudes generally do not change. People with a growth mindset believe that attitudes can change.

The circle technique in intake sessions

One of the simplest and most popular progress-focused techniques is the circle technique. One of the situations in which this technique is useful is intake sessions. An intake session is a preparatory conversation with a potential client. The purpose of intake sessions usually is to determine whether the professional will get the assignment and to clarify what the outcomes of the job should be. Here is an example of how the circle technique can be used in these situations.

Coaching as the filling of 7 buckets

Many progress-focused coaches are enthusiastic about our 7 steps approach. This approach reflects a conversation structure which often works quite well in coaching conversations. Years ago, a student told me she used this approach in her coaching conversations. At the end of the conversation she always would always ask whether coachees had found the conversation useful. Nearly always, theses coaches confirmed that the conversation had been useful, she said. But, she asked, it's very well that they found it useful but I am also engaged in my own learning process. How can I get a sense of whether I have done well in the conversation?

October 15, 2016

Study: immediate rewards increase intrinsic motivation

In a new paper by Woolley & Fishbach (2016) the relation between intrinsic motivation and immediate rewards is tested. Specifically, they test their hypothesis that immediate rewards can strengthen intrinsic motivation. The paper described four studies which support this hypothesis.

A not yet test

Do you know the video in which Carol Dweck explains about the power of yet? In that video she explains about a high school in Chicago which gave students the grade 'not yet' when they did not pass a course. If you have not seen the video I suggest you watch before reading on.

Recently, I spoke to a teacher who uses different types of progress focused principles and techniques in her teaching. She told me how she had taken an unannounced test in one of her classes. Some of the students looked startled to which she replied calmly and with a smile: "Don't worry. It is a not yet test."

October 12, 2016

3 Competing diagnostic labels for Donald Trump

I am not big on diagnostic labels so it is with some reluctance that I am writing this. Lately I have been reminded of some of them a lot. Frequently, Donald Trump is referred to as a narcissist and an authoritarian which, I think, is understandable. The narcissist association has to do with how he frequently describes himself in ridiculously positive terms (“I have a great brain”, etc). The authoritarian part has to do with his domineering behavior and ideology.

But I am also often reminded of another disorder. For example when I heard him brag about how he sexually assaults women. What is striking is that while he is describing deplorable behavior he is not talking in a contrite way but rather quite proudly. Also, when talking about having paid no taxes, you’d expect an apologetic tone of voice but Trump brags about it and claims it was brilliant of him to use the tax code this way.

October 6, 2016

The naturalness bias - operating implicitly and across domains and costly

What do we value more in other people's performance: hard work or talent? And what does it matter what the answer is to this question?


The naturalness bias in music appreciation

Researchers Tsay & Banaji (2011) found evidence for a naturalness bias which is the tendency to prefer supposed 'naturals' over 'strivers'. Even though expert musicians stated that they found hard work more important than talent they implicitly preferred talent over hard work. Tsay and Banaji demonstrated this by presenting more than 100 professionally trained musicians with two profiles of two professional musicians, and a sample musical clip to listen to from each musician.

October 3, 2016

The Developing Genome – the rise of epigenetics

A new book, The Developing Genome, describes the fascinating developments in the the field of epigenetics. These developments may require us to revise our beliefs about the influence of genes.

October 2, 2016

Student evaluations are not related to teacher effectiveness

Organizations and schools often try to assess the effectiveness of education or training courses through evaluation forms. Such forms contains several questions which participants have to answer about the teacher/trainer and the course itself. They can express how interesting they found the course and how good they thought the teacher/trainer was. The assumption behind this practice is that these evaluations are good indications of the effectiveness of the teacher/trainer. Some universities publish these evaluation online for everyone to read.

September 22, 2016

Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future

The Swede Johan Norberg has written a book in which he describes how the world has made progress in many areas. The book, titled Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, has ten chapters in which the following topics are treated: food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, freedom, equality, and children's rights and perspectives.

In his treatment of these topics Norberg uses vivid examples and a lot of objective data. Even if you have read some things about the great progress in the world, you will probably still come across some informative new material in this book. The book is interesting although I have a point of criticism.

September 21, 2016

Deep work: learning faster and deeper, performing better

Teresa Amabile advocated, based on her research, for, at least on several days of the week, making time to focus and work undisturbed, at least for half an hour to an hour, on work that is most meaningful for you (see here). Cal Newport, professor of computer science and author of the book Deep work goes a step further. He argues that in nearly every profession a much better productivity and more satisfaction can be achieved by using an approach he calls deep work.

September 19, 2016

Making beliefs unfalsifiable

You would think that people only hold beliefs based on their veracity but that is not the case. Of course, people do have beliefs because they think they are true but there are also other reasons for holding beliefs. Those reasons have to do with various psychological and social goals we have. Some examples of this are: wanting to see the world as orderly, meaningful and secure, viewing one's own group as morally good, feeling that you belong to a group, and having influence or power over other people.

Having too few problems may not be good for you

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frNjTSj-d8w
One of the things which make psychology hard is that psychological topics are often full of paradoxes. One example of such a paradox can be found in having problems. If we define having a problem as finding yourself in an undesirable situation it seems obvious that, in general, it is not pleasant to have problems. If we leave it at this, everything is clear and simple. But reality is more surprising. Of course, having problems, in general, isn't pleasant. And being confronted with many problems can be stressful and overwhelm you. But having to few problems may also be not too great.

September 18, 2016

Two components of positive communication

Negativity in conversations can put a strain on relationships and can make cooperation harder. Negativity, such as criticism and blame, can make people defensive. While they are in a defensive state of mind, their ability for nuanced and creative thinking is temporarily reduced. Instead, they may try to justify their own behavior or launch a counterattack. Whenever people feel they are approached negatively their reflex is to respond negatively. Both the content of what they say and the way they are saying it is likely to become more negative.

September 17, 2016

How do we increase our resistance against falsehoods?

Often, it is not so easy to determine whether something is true or false. There are often multiple sides to issues and sometimes a great deal of knowledge is required to be able to come to a good judgment. Even experts can have radically different views on such issues. But it also often happens that the distinction between false and true can be unambiguously made.

September 12, 2016

The important difference between emotional well-being and satisfaction with life

The happiness which you experience in a situation differs from how positive you think about the situation afterwards. In the same way, there is an important difference between experiencing emotional well-being and life satisfaction. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angis Deaton (photo) have formulated important insights about these topics which I will try to summarize below.

September 11, 2016

Should we make happiness the focus of our lives?

How important should we consider being happy? Should it be a general goal in our life to be happy? Or should it perhaps even be the ultimate goal we should have as a person? Must we see happiness as the main goal in many or all domains of our life, such as work and education? While happiness as a goal sounds quite important, perhaps we should not conclude too quickly that our life resolves or should revolve around happiness only. What happiness precisely is, how we achieve it, and to what extent we should focus on it, may harder to answer that you might think.

September 5, 2016

3 Ways in which psychology is trying to make progress

3 Manieren waarop de psychologie progressie probeert te boekenAs you may have read, there is much ado in psychology about the correctness of previously found research findings. While some scientists have responded somewhat defensively to this, others are seriously trying to improve the quality of psychological research. Here are three ways in which they try to do that.

September 2, 2016

Which types of goals when?

There are different types of goals. What are the differences and when does which type of goal work best? In a new article, Latham & Seijts (2016) summarize the findings of goals-setting theory (GST; Locke & Latham, 1990; 2013), a well supported theory about how goals work. GST-research has shown that setting specific, challenging goals lead to higher performance than easy and abstract goals. The general rule is that higher goals lead to higher performance providing four conditions have been met: the individual is competent for the goals, has sufficient situational resources, is committed and receives objective feedback on goal progress.

August 27, 2016

Carol Dweck's theory tested and largely supported

Carol Dweck's mindset theory has now been fully tested by Smiley et a. (2016). To understand how they did this, I'll first try to summarize Dweck's theory (see picture below which is mine but was inspired by Smiley et al.'s paper).

What Dweck's theory predicts


August 26, 2016

Good is Stronger than Bad for Older People: The Age-Related Positivity Effect

Fifteen years ago, in a review article entitled Bad is stronger than good, Baumeister et al. (2001) documented research into the so-called negativity bias. The article cites research showing that negative events, emotions, and information impact us more strongly than positive ones do. They conclude their article by saying:
"In our review, we have found bad to be stronger than good in a disappointingly relentless pattern. We hope that this article may stimulate researchers to search for and identify exceptions; that is, spheres or circumstances in which good events outweigh bad ones. Given the large number of patterns in which bad outweighs good, however, any reversals are likely to remain as mere exceptions."

August 25, 2016

Positive fantasies may lead to depression

Positief fantaseren kan leiden tot depressieWhen we feel bad, it makes sense to search for things that may make us feel better, and rather sooner than later. But be careful. Some things which are practically sure to make us feel better in the short term may have detrimental effects in the longer term. One example might be the use of antidepressants. They might work in the short term but might have unpleasant side effects in the longer term. But there is another example which may be a little less obvious: fantasizing about something positive. The thought is logical: "When you feel down, fantasize about how your life might become wonderful. That will make you feel better!"

August 24, 2016

Even Einstein struggled!

Zelfs Einstein worstelde!The more high school students think that success in science depends on extraordinary talent the less they will be inclined to choose and persist at science and math courses. Researchers Lin-Siegler et al. (2016) developed a practical intervention to correct such beliefs: stories which make clear that even the most successful scientists had to face struggles and setbacks.

August 21, 2016

When is positive feedback more motivational and when negative feedback?

Constructive feedback, both negative and positive, can play an important role in goal achievement. Previous research by Koo and Fishbach (2008) demonstrated that feedback can signal two kinds of messages. The first type of message is about commitment: it can say something about whether your goals are valuable and whether you have a good change of achieving them. Individuals which are not strongly committed to a certain goal can become more motivated after receiving positive feedback (and less after receiving negative feedback). The second message is about progress: feedback can say something about whether you have put in enough effort and whether you have achieved enough progress. Strongly committed individuals tend to get more motivated by negative feedback and less motivated by positive feedback (see the figure on the right). By the way, with negative feedback I do not mean personal criticism or blame but constructive information about what is not going well yet and what could be better.

August 20, 2016

Using in a future-orientation in dealing with conflicts

Het nut van een toekomstperspectief in conflictenAnyone can, at some point, be faced with a conflict. Dealing ineffectively with conflicts may threaten your relationships. Examples of ways of dealing with conflicts which usually do not work well are: expressing negative emotions, being hostile, seeking revenge, and making accusations. It is usually more effective to control your emotions, be forgiving, accepting personal blame, and looking at the situation from a distance. But in the heat of the moment it can be hard to come up with an effective way of responding to conflicts. A new publication identifies an effective way of responding. 

August 19, 2016

Will the future be better?


What would your answer be to the question: will the future be better? The answer to this question turns out to depend on whom you ask and on what it is specifically focused on. Mohammed Nagdy and Max Roser explain in their article Optimism & Pessimism that many people are individually optimistic but, specifically in developed countries, socially (or collectively) pessimistic. In other words, they expect that their personal future will be good but the future of their country not too good. This individual optimism is relatively stable. Collective pessimism is less stable. It is influence by recent events and recessions. Another remarkable finding is that many people are locally optimistic and nationally pessimistic. They expect that things will go generally well in their near environment but not in the country ar large.

August 18, 2016

Can most people be trusted?

Trust in other people is important in any society. The degree to which people trust each other contributes to their well-being and to the economy of a country. In a new publication, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser show that the degree to which people trust others differs strongly in different countries. In countries like Norway, The Netherlands, Sweden, and China there is much trust; in countries like The Philippines, Brazil, Colombia, Ghana and Romania there is little.

August 8, 2016

100 Billion Neurons?


Guest post by Jamie Hale 

College students are taught that the human brain consists of 100 billion neurons. This claim can be found in a large number of textbooks. Popular science publications promote this claim as definitive. When I was in graduate school this number was promoted an accepted without question. What is the original source for this number? Surely, with such a strong assertion this claim is supported by a plethora of evidence.

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