Archive for March, 2011

Your Body Through the Eyes of Beholders

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

The language of scientists can be a sort of poetry; combinations of words with nuance of meaning that exactly capture something about how we think or behave.

In a paper titled The Acceptance Model of Intuitive Eating: A Comparison of Women in Emerging Adulthood, Early Adulthood, and Middle Adulthood, (read about the research here), I came across the phrase “observer’s perspective.”

Observer’s perspective: The way most of us understand our bodies, as a thing to look at rather than as a miracle that does amazing things. It is thunder thighs, love handles, muffin tops and other hateful phrases we direct at the magnificent organisms that carry us through life. It’s also bodacious, bootylicious, brickhouse, and other expressions of appreciation. It is the body from the outside looking at, not in.

Figuring Out the Rules as Facebook Changes the Meaning of Friends

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Who are these people and why do they want to be my friend?

Deciding where to draw the line on Facebook friend requests is a modern-day sticky wicket.

ID Analytics, Inc. an online risk management firm, surveyed 387 people who are on social networks, and nearly nine out of 10 people said it was not rude to refuse or ignore a friend request.

But according to other new research, denied or ignored friend requests are a large source of hurt feelings.

So we don’t think it’s rude to reject people, but we’re hurt when other people reject us.

We’re so confused.

Does All Research Have a Point? (Should It?)

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

I’m a big fan of scientific and behavioral research. It’s interesting and useful and fun to read (well, not fun fun) and I believe it usually matters even when it doesn’t seem to.

Even so, sometimes I read a study and think, “Yeah, and….?”

Like this research on fear, in which researchers used a computational model of a rodent amygdala, taught fear to their model (I don’t know, maybe showed it really scary equations), and caused so-called “fear neurons” to fire with conditioned stimulus. Retraining the amygdala not to fear the stimulus caused “extinction neurons” to spring into action and overwhelm the fear neurons.

The conclusion of the research: We don’t overcome fear, we just suppress it, and neural activity reflects that. In addition, the fear can return under other circumstances; context matters. (And other stuff. Read the original paper here, if you can. I tried and tried but it made my eyeballs spin.)

Getting It Right: A Research Tool For Writers

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I’ve never read Pat Conroy’s novel Prince of Tides nor seen the movie because I find the premise of a relationship between therapist and client objectionable, both ethically and as a plot point. It’s wrong in so many ways, and I simply could not suspend disbelief.

Not that it hurt Conroy on the marketplace; the book and movie were smash hits. Nobody cared or they just didn’t know. There’s a lot about psychology—both the field and in terms of human behavior—a lot of people don’t understand.

Would Conroy have written that story if he’d had The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior? This new book  by Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D. (learn the difference between a Ph.D. and a Psy.D. on page 38) is a useful research tool for novelists and screenwriters who want to write credible plot or character points involving psychology into their stories.

Looking for the Loopholes in Research on Age

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

I cringed reading this story about how older people are worse at crossing the street while talking on a cell phone than younger people. I thought, “Ah geeze. Here’s another reason we’ll be considered lame.”

This aging thing? Not so much fun. Especially in a culture that worships youth.

Sure, there are benefits. I’m calmer and happier at 52 than I was 25. I’m more confident. According to  research published in the Journal of Communication, I have what social scientists call “low identity uncertainty.” I know who I am.

Kids have high identity uncertainty—they’re still amorphous, not sure who they’re going to be. (Why uncertainty? Would positive psychologists call it low and high identity certainty?)

But I also know that my relevance is slipping away. The world belongs to the young. I feel like chopped liver. Out of touch. “Low-status” is how the research puts it.

I want to bristle at that, but can’t. It’s true. I’m starting to feel a little put-upon by the kids, the high-status group. We’re done with you gramaw. Eat our dust. Gimme that cell phone before you hurt yourself!

How Can Psychologists Help Immediately After Trauma?

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Along with everyone else, I have been watching with horror and heartbreak the news from Japan. The images grow increasingly startling: cars, trucks and buildings swept away by the powerful wave, people on roofs watching, stunned, as the water rises, an elderly woman being rescued after days trapped in a car.

But I am stopped by a photograph on the CNN website of a young woman wrapped in a pink blanket and standing amid rubble. (You can find it here, but will have to click around.)

The look on her face haunts me. I mean no disrespect, but her expression is profound, deeply felt, and existential WTF-ness. It is a face of someone surveying the end of life as she knew it, who faced death and finds herself alive but doesn’t know what to do next. Someone who has images, sounds, emotions churning around in her head, the likes of which most of us cannot even imagine.

What does this young woman need to recover from the trauma? How can psychologists help her heal and ensure that she doesn’t wake screaming in the night for the rest of her life? After food and shelter, what is the first thing this woman needs?

It seems nobody really knows.

Can You Make Regrets Disappear?

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Do you have any regrets?

A couple of friends and I were talking about this the other day. One friend said she has no regrets, that if she does anything that makes her feel bad, she fixes it.

Yes, I try to do the same. I’m fine with apologizing and/or making amends when my behavior warrants it.

But what if you can’t fix it? What if it’s too late, if it’s something like letting love slip through your fingers, having or not having children, taking the wrong career path, or anything else that simply cannot be changed?

That’s the topic of “Making Up for Lost Opportunities: The Protective Role of Downward Social Comparisons for Coping With Regrets Across Adulthood,” a paper published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

A Meaningful Life Cannot Be Quantified (But Still I Try)

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Every morning I check the number of views my five blogs received the previous day.

Then I go to Google Analytics and look at my blog numbers for the past week and month.

Then I look at which specific posts got the most number of views.

Then I check how many books I’ve sold through my Amazon Associates account and how many pennies that has earned me.

Then I look at my Twitter stats to see how many times my links have been clicked and whether I’ve been retweeted.

Then I check my bank account.

If you took all these numbers and added them up and divided them by my age, you would get…

… a completely meaningless number.

This occurred to me within the first pages of a new book, The Fear of Insignificance: Searching for Meaning in the Twenty-First Century, by existential psychoanalyst Carlo Strenger, chair of the clinical graduate program in the psychology department of Tel Aviv University.

Good News For Optimists Is Bad News for Pessimists

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Evidence about the benefits of optimism is piling up and it kind of bums me out.

It’s churlish to resent something so cheery, but optimism is a pretty stable trait. You’re an optimist or you’re not. You might be optimistic in some situations—situational optimism—and still lack an optimistic disposition.


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