General Articles

Everybody Take Ten, And I’ll Be Back Soon

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Dear Readers,

Thank you all for supporting Real World Research. Writing it has been fun and educational, but after more than a year at it, I’m finding its demands—in terms of the amount of research it requires and my own writer’s OCD (revise, revise, revise, revise, and then revise one more time, or maybe two)–has made it too difficult to maintain.

And so, dear readers, I am shutting down the Real World Research lab.

I’ll be taking a little time off from Psych Central while I finish my book, The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, which will be released later this year by Perigee Books.

But I will be back here in May with a whole new blog. I hope you’ll come back ‘cause I’m gonna miss you all.

Thanks for reading Real World Research and hasta luego,

Sophia Dembling

 


Brush Up On Your People Skills, Read a Novel

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

“I never read fiction,” is a point of pride for many people, along the lines of “I never watch TV.”

The implication is that nonfiction is a higher calling, that fiction is a frivolous pastime while nonfiction is a serious education. This has been a push-pull throughout the history of the novel, especially since early novels tended towards salacious or scandalous, more Danielle Steel than Ian McEwan.

Poet Samuel Coleridge, (1712 to 1835) stated his case thus:

I will run the risk of asserting that where the reading of novels prevails as a habit, it occasions in time the entire destruction of the powers of the mind: it is such an utter loss to the reader, that it is not so much to be called pass-time as kill-time. It…provokes no improvement of the intellect, but fills the mind with a mawkish and morbid sensibility, which is directly hostile to the cultivation, invigoration, and enlargement of the nobler powers of the understanding.

My brain must be a mawkish mess  because I love a good novel (currently reading Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, thumbs  up). I love nonfiction too, but the escape and emotional charge novels provide have always been preferable to me (unless we’re talking narrative nonfiction, like Erik Larson’s engaging histories or a book I recently read in practically one gulp, The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home).

So I was gratified to read this New York Times story about the neuroscience of reading fiction.


Looking at the Negative (Spaces) In Our World

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Elisha Goldstein’s book, The Now Effect, has sent my brain spinning in yet another direction.

The anecdote:

A professor stood before a philosophy class holding an empty jar. As the students took their seats, she began filling the jar with golf balls. When they reached the top, she asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then took a bag of pebbles and poured them into the jar, and they made their way between the spaces of the golf balls. Again she asked the students if the jar was full, and they agreed that it was.

But the professor had another trick up her sleeve. She brought out a bag of sand and proceeded to pour the grains into the jar, filling up more of the remaining space. Again the question came: “It’s full now, correct?” The answer was a resounding “Yes.”

The professor then took a sip of her coffee and dumped the rest into the jar, filling up spaces that no one thought was there.

The thought: how does our brain process negative space?


How Words and Images Are Holding Women Back

Monday, March 5th, 2012

If you’ve been reading Real World Research for a while, you may remember the “fat old bitch” incident. (If not, read about it here, and here.)

The current fracas over Rush Limbaugh’s unbelievably inappropriate sexist rant against Sandra Fluke brings this back to my mind

I’m going to use this opportunity to recommend a new documentary I’ve seen twice now and could easily sit through again. It’s called Miss Representation, and it’s all about how the media’s representation of women shapes our attitudes and contributes to women’s lack of power in this country.

Lack of power? The “feminazis”? Don’t be silly. We’re modern, liberated, in-charge women.

I wish.

Consider this: Women are 51 percent of the population but only 17 percent of Congress. America ranks 90th in the world in women in legislature. Even China is more progressive than we are in that respect.

Women hold a whopping three percent of power positions in the media—and that includes TV, radio, publishing, online media—all of it. So this means that pretty much everything we (and, more importantly, our children) see in the media is filtered through the sensibilities of men—and that is not to our benefit.


Let’s Talk About Keeping Passion Alive

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Keeping keep passion alive over the long haul is the greatest challenge to monogamy.

After you’ve rolled around together a few thousand times, sex can become rote, which is, to use the technical term, a bummer. People in long-term relationships do all kinds of things to try to keep the passion alive—dressing in costumes, role playing, bringing gizmos and gadgets into the bedroom.

Or  they could try just talking, suggests a study titled “Day-to-Day Changes in Intimacy Predict Heightened Relationship Passion, Sexual Occurrence, and Sexual Satisfaction.”

Not any old talking, but the kind of talk that advances intimacy. That is, self-disclosure; telling your partner stuff he or she didn’t know about you. Of course, this only works when your partner responds with warmth and sympathy. And vice versa.

The researchers theorize that one reason passion is so high in budding relationships is because couples are learning about each other, and each sympathetically received self-disclosure causes passion to flare. Over time, however, the revelations slow, the new information dries up, intimacy reaches a plateau, and sex hits the doldrums.


Imagery and the Mind and Mindfulness

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

I’ve only just started reading the new book by fellow PyschCentral blogger Elisha Goldstein, and I’ve already found something useful.

Goldstein is a psychologist in private practice, and his excellent blog is about mindfulness. His book, The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life, is a manual for learning mindfulness. The book is short, quick-read chapters that leave you with lots to think about and try.

“See, Touch, Go” is the chapter that twanged a note in my brain–one image, in particular. Goldstein describes the See, Touch, Go method in an anecdote, through the words of a dog trainer trying to help a family frustrated by their rambunctious rescue dog.

“‘See, touch, go.’ When your mind begins to wander off onto all your worries and frustrations with this dog, see that your mind has wandered, touch the thought like you might softly touch your reflection in a pond, and then gently go back to focusing on the training we’ve discussed.”

OK, so the dog trainer is beside the point. What got me is this:

Touch the thought like you might softly touch your reflection in a pond.


Are Our Emotions Cranked To 11?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Have you been watching “Downton Abbey” like the rest of us?

Think about the Dowager Countess of Grantham, marvelous Maggie Smith. When she doesn’t like something, she gets a face like a cat that’s smelled something bad. And you get the message.

If you read authors like Edith Wharton and Jane Austin, you know there’s not a lot of bellowing and stomping around. Hearts are broken, fortunes lost, people became ill, or bereaved, despondent or angry, and through everything, they all use their inside voices.

Compare that to, say, the last week on this blog, in which the volume on everything was turned up to 11 (although the comments remained civil and I thank you all for that). Daughter had to rant in public to make her point, Dad had to shoot a computer to make his point, I had to “hate” Dad to make my point. And I’m not generally a hater. But I got swept into what seems a trend of our time: anger that becomes superheated, superfast.

It’s not necessarily just that America is getting less civil. For some reason these days, it seems we need the volume on all our emotions cranked way up. Even negative emotions. Maybe especially negative emotions. We need to watch screen violence that is increasingly extreme, we need to fight our battles publicly and with insults and vehemence, and we need to grieve extravagantly, where everyone can see us.


Laptop Dads, Tiger Mothers, And Other Dubious Parenting Styles

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

I popped off at Laptop Dad, like he popped off at his daughter, like his daughter popped off at him. Interesting, huh? See how that works? Chain of fools.

I regret the tone but stand behind the content of my last post. So here’s a voice of reason to say it all better. Today’s guest post is by my friend Dr. Lara Mayeux, a developmental psychologist who studies kids’ peer relations at the University of Oklahoma, and mother of two young daughters (read about her wishes for them here). 

If you want to read original research into parenting styles and child outcomes, Lara suggests looking  for Nina Mounts (parenting and peer relationships); Joan Grusec  (parenting and social and emotional development); Robert Larzelere (discipline and research methodology); Laurence Steinberg (adolescent development). Diana Baumrind is one of the pioneers in the study of parenting styles; a lot of subsequent research has been based on her work.

*****

By Lara Mayeux

I have to get this off my chest: I’m really, really tired of seeing parents celebrated for their bad parenting choices.

Parenting is hard. I get that — I have two kids under the age of five. And none of us is perfect, and we shouldn’t expect each other to be. But there’s a big difference between allowing parents some room to screw up, and actually cheering them on when they’ve made a mistake. And I’m telling you, this laptop-shooting dad—he made a mistake.


Laptop-Shooting Dad: How Is His Behavior Different From His Daughter’s?

Monday, February 13th, 2012

By now you’ve probably seen the viral video by folk hero du jour, the father who put several bullets into his teenaged daughter’s laptop because she put up a whiny, disrespectful post on Facebook.

(If you haven’t seen it yet, click here.)

The girl’s post complained about how her parents made her work soo hard and how she hated having to do chores and how instead of making her get a job, her parents should pay her for everything she does around the house and blah blah blah, etc. etc. etc. basic teenager bitching and moaning.

Well, this made daddy soo angry that he posted a video online of himself sitting in a field, cigarette smoldering in one hand, his voice trembling with rage, telling his daughter everything that was wrong with the post, and how disrespectful she is, how hard he worked as a kid, and how he warned her about posting stupid stuff of Facebook. Then, to punish her, he pulls out a gun and shoots several rounds into her laptop.

I hate this video. I hate this man. I hate his indignant self-righteousness and thin skin.

I know teenagers can be aggravating, but they’re teenagers. They do stupid shit. They bitch and moan. They rail against authority. They get pissed at their parents. That’s all part of being a teenager. Parents’ job is to not to show them who’s boss or keep them in line, but to help them become grow up and become independent without hurting themselves or anyone else. In the scale of bad adolescent behavior, complaining about your parents ranks pretty low.


Complaining About Complaining

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

I picked up The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way To Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, Enhance Self-Esteem, by psychologist Guy Winch, in hopes of learning something about the chronic complainers in my life.

But the book taught me as much about myself as others.

Despite the many years that have passed since, I still wince remembering my last months on a job that had gone bad. I became the person whose friends ducked for cover when they saw me coming because they knew to expect a litany of complaints about my miserable life.

And a few years ago, when I was again floundering professionally, I realized with horror that friends had started looking at me with pity. It was an awful epiphany. As Winch points out. “By succumbing to the special attention pity offers us, the convenience of lowered expectations, and other secondary gains associated with being objects of others’ sorrow, we become victims in our own eyes as well as those of others.”

I am going to imprint those important words on my brain. I don’t want friends pitying or dodging me.

And while I’ve been feeling bad about wanting to avoid the chronic complainers in my life, this book helped me understand the risks of complaining for the sake of complaining.


 

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