Kelly McGonigal

Friday, February 3 2012

Which takes more self-control? Lying well or telling the truth? Your answer might say a lot about how trustworthy you are.

According to a study by Harvard psychologists, telling the truth is the more challenging of the two—but only for those who are also willing to cheat.

Researchers invited participants to play a game in which they could, if they wanted to, lie for profit. Every round, the participants had to report whether they had correctly guessed the answer—but only after they saw what the answer was. If they guessed correctly, they earned money.

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posted by Kelly McGonigal, 7:53 am
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Friday, January 27 2012

A blog post I wrote last year generated much debate in the comments section: Does shame motivate self-control? And more specifically, can shame encourage people to lose weight?

It’s quite a real debate in the field of psychology, and there’s evidence to support both sides. But a careful review of the seemingly contradictory findings reveals that it’s no so much shame that motivates self-control, but anticipating emotions like pride, regret, and remorse.

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posted by Kelly McGonigal, 9:42 am
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Friday, January 20 2012

Nobody likes making mistakes—that's a given. But at least we have the opportunity to learn something from them... right? Yes. But did you know that how you react to them makes a big difference in whether you learn from them?

Two new studies looked at what happens in people's brains as they make mistakes. One used college students performing a computer task; the other used doctors making decisions about which medications to prescribe. In both studies, participants received immediate feedback about whether they had made the right decision, and they were given opportunities to try again, using what they had learned.

It turns out that there are two typical brain responses to mistakes. One looks like a "wake up call." The brain hones in on the negative outcome, and treats it like a problem that needs solving. What happened, and why? The brain also increases its attention during the next decision, as if it is trying to prevent a repeat of the mistake. When this happens, people are much more likely to improve their performance and learn from the mistake.

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posted by Kelly McGonigal, 11:38 am
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Friday, January 13 2012

I recently spoke on panel about ocean conservation at the San Francisco Aquarium, moderated by Environmental Defense Fund marine ecologist Dr. Rodney M. Fujita. Psychologists, activists, marketing experts, and even a futurologist gathered to discuss how to best educate and motivate the public about the dangers of everything from overfishing and pollution to climate change.

In this kind of discussion, things always start with awareness: how to we let people know what’s happening, what the risks are, and what needs to be done to prevent them? Logically, you need to be aware first—then comes caring. From caring, comes acting.

But a new report points to just how hard that first step is. Psychologists at Duke University and Waterloo University conducted a series of studies looking at how open people are to information about serious challenges, from the economy to the environment.

The bad news: people don’t want to know.

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posted by Kelly McGonigal, 11:23 am
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Friday, January 6 2012

Two new studies caught my eye recently. They are from different research teams, and studying total different outcomes, but both used the same simple fifteen-minute psychological intervention.

In one study, the intervention reduced schadenfreude, or taking pleasure in another person’s suffering. After the brief intervention, participants reported less schadenfreude in response to another person’s failures. And while most people savor schadenfreude as positive emotion, it can be a major obstacle to our happiness. The more we enjoy other people's suffering, the harder it is to feel sympathetic joy (happiness for others), compassion for others, and even self-compassion.

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posted by Kelly McGonigal, 12:00 am
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