Thursday, September 28, 2006

Think fast. It might be good for you.

When people are made to think quickly, they report feeling happier as a result. They also say they are more energetic, more creative, more powerful, and more self-assured. In short, they reported a whole set of experiences associated with being "manic."

Fast thinking, or "racing thoughts," is most commonly known as a symptom of the clinical psychiatric disorder of mania (and of the manic part of bipolar disorder or "manic-depression"). But, according to
Princeton University psychologist Emily Pronin, most healthy people also have experienced racing thoughts at some point in time--perhaps when they are excited about a new idea they have just learned, or when they are brainstorming with a group of people, or even when they lie in bed unable to fall asleep. Pronin and her Harvard colleague Daniel Wegner decided to explore whether inducing people to think fast might lead them to feel some of the other experiences also associated with the manic experience....

The researchers found that regardless of the content of the statements, people felt happier, more energetic, more creative, more powerful, and more grandiose when they read the statements at a fast rather than a slow pace. In fact, the effect of thought speed was just as powerful as the effect of the content of the thoughts. In other words, the speed of people's cognitive processing was just as important as what they processed in determining their mood. Even thinking sad thoughts at a fast pace made people relatively happy.
Interesting possibilities. We all know that ideation builds excitement and feeds on itself. We even know how to produce ideation--with brainstorming. Now we find that this process works even when psychologists "make" their subjects think rapidly. That is probably the worst way to get the effect. If it works when somebody else makes you do it, think how much better it might work if you have your own way to do it. Actually we do have ways to elicit rapid ideation:

Sprint thinking: Take any word. Shout words that it reminds you of. Do that as fast as you can. Shout the words out loud. If you do this while waiting in line, it may offer the extra advantage of clearing out the line in front of you.

But I said ways, didn't I? Ok. You have 5 minutes to think of variants of the above sprint. Use words like: noun, adjective, verb, cause, result, adverb, image, opposite, fear, joke, odor, taste, place, abstract, and concrete.

Does this really affect your brain? Probably. Somebody will soon use fMRI to observe and describe the effect. But it probably increases blood flow in the parts of the brain that are used for the task. Gives them a warm-up . Might help. Couldn't hurt.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Confidence: The on and off switch

Women score much lower on math tests if they are first asked unrelated questions about gender issues. ... black students at Stanford University did significantly worse on intelligence tests if they were first asked to identify their race on the test form. ...dozens of other experiments have confirmed that subtly cuing women or minorities to think ... about their sex or race causes them do poorly in areas where the stereotype suggests they are weak.

University of Texas psychologist Matthew S. McGlone wondered if there wasn't another side of the story. What if you prompted people to think about their strengths rather than their stereotypical weaknesses -- would that be enough to improve performance in areas where they weren't supposed to do well?

In a novel set of experiments, McGlone, working with Joshua Aronson of New York University, found that the answer is yes. "

What a novelty! Psychological research turning from what is wrong with the world and finding ways to fix it. Actually, we have known for a long time that what people tell themselves has an important influence on what they do. Especiallly if they don't notice what they are tellling themselves. One way people can deal with that situation is to pay more attention to what they are telling themselves. And whether it is worth believing. And what effect it is having on them.

That is the recommendation I gve in:

How to build self-confidence by doing really easy things.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Watching a brain at work

Brain Imaging Identifies Best Memorization Strategies
Exploring exactly why some individuals' memory skills are better than others has led researchers at Washington University in St. Louis to study the brain basis of learning strategies that healthy young adults select to help them memorize a series of objects. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers uncovered brain regions specifically correlated with the diverse strategies that subjects adopt.

Well, some of this is hype. At most, the study identified best strategies for an impractical task that may never be used beyond the laboratory. And some of this is inept reporting. Would a competent reporter let a phrase like the researchers uncovered brain regions creep into news that does not involve open the skull?

But the basic information is worth knowing: Some of the strategies were verbal, some were based on imagery. The fMRI displayed differences in location of the brain activity that appeared to match the strategies. There were differences between people and differences within the same person on different occasions. Somebody could use fMRI as an objective measure of learning strategies. No doubt somebody will.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Is neophilia new?

Gizmodo: Call us tech fiends, gadget freaks, fashion victims, or whatever, but one thing's for sure: if you're reading this, there's a good chance you're a neophiliac. That's right, you're a marketer's dream, someone who loves everything new or novel. But your techno-addiction might not be your fault. Beyond just putting a label on it, researchers in Japan say they have identified a genetically-determined enzyme associated with this novelty-seeking tendency, where that joy juice is continually goosing you up for the new, different and innovative. Yeah, the enzyme made you do it.
Oh, victim for sure. Novelty addict. Maybe that is like AD/HD, which (novel idea here) may not be a disorder at all. Just a natural response to boredom. If you think that looking for new things is a human trait, watch your dog when you let him out in the morning. And universal among children and teens. Can last into old age. If left untreated.

But socialization does tend to cure it. The problem is that socialization is about preserving the past. Neophilia is about finding the future. Socialization is the opposite of destabilization. No wonder they want to cure us. Fortunately, for us neophiliacs, they only have old treatments. And we know what to do with old treatments.