Why do organized groups commit barbaric acts such as beheading innocent prisoners?

Beheadings have  a long history, dating back to biblical times and before. Here are some reasons that organized groups commit barbaric acts such as beheading innocent prisoners:

1. Humans are an aggressive species. Killing animals for food is not that far removed from killing other humans for different purposes. However, humans have become less violent with each other over the past centuries. It does not seem that way because we are bombarded with news of violent behaviour, but it is true according to many types of research.

2. Humans tend to perceive in-groups and out-groups. The out-groups are sometimes perceived as not human., making it easier to torture and murder them

3. Humans commonly obey high-status members of their in-group. Stanley Milgram’s obedience studies suggested that many ordinary humans will cause harm to innocent individuals if ordered to do so by someone in authority.

4. Humans as a group are gullible. We can be convinced that our ticket to heaven is killing innocent people, that our nation or religion is always right, etc.

5. Violence tends to be reciprocated.

6. Humans do what they observe others in their group doing.

7. Desperate individuals tend to do desperate things.

8. In some groups, barbaric behaviour is the norm, and it is heavily rewarded.

9. Violence can make some individuals feel powerful, when they previously felt powerless.

10. Barbaric behaviour can be used instrumentally to gain publicity and to terrorize people within and without the terror group.

What reasons would you add? How could we use these ideas to reduce barbaric violence?

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

October 13, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

Don’t stop working and don’t stop running

I aim to continue working and continue running until the day I die. Why? Because of sea squirts.

Have you ever seen sea squirts? Some look like sponges — some look like sea grapes. They briefly have a tiny brain that helps them as larvae to find a good spot on the bottom of the ocean to call home — til the end of their time. They attach themselves to the bottom and start filtering nutrients out of ocean water. They earn their name by squirting water when annoyed. I have never annoyed one, so I cannot vouch for this trait myself. As the squirt is establishing itself on the bottom, it absorbs its brain because it no longer needs a brain to search for a home. It uses the resources devoted to the brain for more important purposes — squirting?

We humans, as we get older and stop working, may lose not our entire brains, but some functions, because of low use. We can lose balance and muscle strength also because of low use, e.g., no running or exercising. I think of the low exercise level of humans when I see many individuals standing on a people-mover (a conveyor) when they could walk on it. They are saving their energy — for what?

Body parts the human body does not seem to need, it ceases maintaining, to the extent possible. So as long as I am able, I will work. And I will run. I am no sea squirt.

For more on sea squirts, see http://goodheartextremescience.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/meet-the-creature-that-eats-its-own-brain/.

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

 

 

October 6, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

How well do you cope with major losses?

Major losses lead some individuals to feel depressed — not just sad, but clinically depressed, with sleep problems, appetite problems, difficulty concentrating, lack of interest in formerly enjoyed activities, etc. Other individuals don’t sink into depression when they experience a major loss such as the death of a family member, loss of a long-term job, loss of good health, or loss of some cherished hope (e.g., becoming a celebrity, becoming rich). What is the difference between the individuals who are knocked down and stay down for the count and those who get up quickly and keep fighting?

Studies of psychological resilience suggest that individuals who cope best with major losses tend to have high self-efficacy (they think they can cope with a crisis), good social support, positive thinking (e.g., “into each life some rain must fall”; “some things are still going right”; “the positive side of this development is…”), high meaning in their life (e.g., a cause that is very important to them, such as helping others), and good problem-solving skills. Also, these individuals seek help as needed.

When my sainted mother died, many years ago, I felt very sad. It was hard for me to imagine a greater loss. Still, I had thoughts that helped me cope: She was suffering from an incurable illness, and her quality of life was not good. She had a good life and reached the average lifespan.  Her genes live on in my brothers and me. The effects of her kindness live on also in us.

I had good social support. I had high meaning in my life, including helping others and having new and exciting experiences. So I coped reasonably well.

I feel sad now thinking about the loss. That’s OK. Although I accept the loss, I do not need to feel happy about it.

What helps you cope with major losses?

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

 

October 4, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

Do you listen to your emotions?

Emotions usually send a message. Negative emotions tell us to make a change. Depression tells us to let go of something we have lost, for example a person, a hope, or an ability. Anxiety tells us that something might go wrong, so it is time to prevent that from happening, to brace for the bad event, or to accept the uncertainty of life. Anger usually tells us that someone has blocked us from a goal and we need to try harder, work on another goal, or become wary of the person who has blocked us. Joy tells us that we are doing something we like — something to do again sooner rather than later. Experiencing different emotions helps us feel acutely alive.

I go through rapidly changing emotions when I play sports — the thrill of doing something well and the disappointment of doing something poorly. The emotions help guide whether I do this or that in later play. The emotions also help motivate me to try hard.

I am writing about the potential value of emotions because many individuals experience strong negative emotions without seeing the value of the emotions. Emotional intelligence, which I study, includes as one aspect using one’s own emotions for benefit. The best way to do that is to become aware of the emotions, to look for the message, and to put that information to good use. It helps to look at the emotion as objectively as possible — something that is easier to do after the emotion has passed.

What messages have your emotions sent you lately? How did you respond?

John Malouff, PhD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

September 29, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

Do something different?

Habits have value in that they reduce the amount of time and energy we have to devote to making decisions. Habits make life easier and more predictable. I have many habits, and I bet you do too.

On the down side, habits can make life seem dully repetitive. Also, we can get in a behavioral rut that leads nowhere.

A few days ago a student told me that she planned to wear a skirt to campus for the first time in her three years at the university. She encouraged me to do something different the same day. Aha, I thought: a challenge! Who can resist that? I decided to play a single note on my harmonica for everyone with whom I spoke that day.

The student wore a short purple skirt and looked like a model. I played my one note. When I did that, I explained that I had declared the day “Do Something Different Day.” My novel behavior seemed to be graciously accepted, although I can imagine someone ticking an “eccentric” box next to my name.

I would like to have another Do Something Different Day. If only I could get my hands on a kilt…

What would happen if you did something different today? Sometimes, one change leads to another — you might end up a slightly different person. Does that sound like fun?

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

September 21, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

What words do you use more than just about anyone else on the planet?

I once worked for a nice fellow who used the word “flag” very, very often. He flagged this and that and commented that others had flagged something or other. He used the word to mean many things — I never knew which meaning he was applying in a particular statement. Most people never use the word “flag” as a verb.

Another person I just read about uses the word “iteration” many times a day. For his story, see http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_good_word/2014/09/fingerprint_words_verbal_tics_that_define_us_and_how_they_spread_to_others.html. I’ll bet  you rarely if ever use the term.

The words that are much more often used by a person than by others are sometimes called signature words or fingerprint words. We could call their high use by a person idiosyncratic.

I tried to think of what my signature words are, but we are often not aware of our own. They go with us like our individual smell. A friend pointed out that I say “Jeepers” frequently. I denied it until I caught myself using this expression of surprise (used also by Jimmy Olsen in Superman) several times the next day. My son, when asked, told me that I use the word (spelled phonetically here) “shishmee” (which is an Arabic word for bathroom, I think) with family members. I then realized that I also use the word “tinkle” to mean urinate.

Why do I use those particular words more than other individuals do? I have no explanation based on reason. If we move to the unconscious realm, I might speculate that to some extent I have a child-like view of life. Also, I find the words “Jeepers” and “tinkle” funny. Those factors could explain my use of those words.

I copied use of the word “shishmee” from my father, who may have wanted to use a discrete version of the word when in public with young children. Copying can occur with signature words — if the words are appealing in some way. No one I know has ever copied use of any of my signature words. In current times, those words are clunkers, socially speaking.

So I ask myself, do I want to talk like Jimmy Olsen? Like the parent of a two-year old? Sure, why not? However, I would like to add variety to my word options when surprised — something I can alternate with “Jeepers.” To break my habit, I may have to switch to a word that starts with the same J sound. “Jumping Jehoshaphat”? I might be going in the wrong direction there.

What words do you use more than just about anyone else on the planet? Ask individuals who spend lots of time with you — they know your signature words. What does your use of those particular words say about you?

John Malouff, PhD, D, Assoc Prof of Psychology

 

September 13, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

Why do we get angry?

We get angry because something undesirable happens and we interpret that event as (1) something impeding us in achieving a goal, (2) someone harming or trying to harm us, or (3) someone mistreating or disrespecting us.

For instance, someone says to me: “You look tired today.” If I interpret (appraise) the statement as criticism, I might feel angry. If I interpret the statement as showing caring, I might not feel angry. I say “might” because much depends on factors such as my personality characteristics. Am I neurotic enough to be looking for incoming insults in every interaction? My reaction may also depend on my current physical state. If I am exhausted or in physical pain, I may lean toward a negative interpretation of the statement. Much also depends on my current emotional state. If I already feel angry, for example because of someone else telling me that I am stupid, then I would be primed to interpret the “tired” statement as criticism. An additional factor could be a model I have recently observed. If I just saw someone become very angry about being mistreated, I might be inclined to respond with anger to the “tired” statement.

Another answer to why we get angry is that anger had evolutionary value to our ancestors. They used anger to fight off invaders and predators, enabling those anger genes to still exist in us today. Humans without those genes tended not to live long enough to reproduce. What is important for us to realize is that insults and other mistreatment do not nowadays usually portend physical attack by another person; goal impediments do not usually have deadly consequences for us. If we save our anger for when we need it to survive, we will do better in life.

I started to write about recent times when I felt very angry, but I realized that the few times this year I felt that way involved in every case something that now seems trivial. Each instance involved some person or group creating what turned out to be a temporary impediment to my achieving a work-related goal. One incident also included an insulting term directed at me. My coping method, when it kicked in, involved thinking: “They are doing the best they can.” Then I thought about something more pleasing.

What makes you feel angry?

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

 

 

September 7, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

Are you laughing enough for your own good?

Norman Cousins, an educator and writer, famously wrote that laughing as he watched lots of  funny movies and television helped him cope with a painful chronic spine condition. He is not the only one to think that we benefit greatly from laughing — think of the saying that laughter is the best medicine. Think of physician Patch Adams wearing a clown nose as he works with hospitalized children.

Do research findings support the view that laughter is an elixir? Yes. Research studies show that laughing has positive effects similar to exercise, including a substantial increase in heart rate. Laughing also helps regulate blood sugar levels, and it increases blood flow, aiding the work of the heart. Laughing may also help the immune system function. For more info about the physical benefits of laughing, see http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter.

Does laughing have psychological benefits? Yes. It triggers the release of endorphins, improves mood, and helps a person feel relaxed. Laughter can also help a person shift from a negative perspective to a positive one. I know when phobia clients laugh sincerely at an exposure situation that they are on their way to beating the phobia.

Laughing with others may have the most positive immediate effects because of the positive social aspects present. Laughing with others can also help others elevate their mood and want to associate with us in the future. Laughing happily at oneself may be one of the surest signs of confidence and good mental health. For more info about the psychological benefits of laughing, see http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter.

I naturally associate with amusing individuals. We might talk about work or some serious matter, but humor is never too far away. I also naturally look for the humor in situations. It isn’t always easy to find and it doesn’t always eliminate unfortunate aspects of life, but it does provide a different perspective and lift my mood. Sometimes I will laugh out loud repeatedly at something I said or thought or at something another person said.

What about you? Are you laughing enough for your own good? How might you increase your daily level of yuks and guffaws?

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Professor of Psychology

 

August 31, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

When you fear failing, ask yourself these questions

I am reading Warren Berger’s “A More Beautiful Question” (2014) about the importance of asking questions. Berger mentions three questions developed by Jonathon Fields for us to ask ourselves when we fear failing at something:
1. If I fail, how will I recover?
2. What if I do nothing?
3. What if I succeed?

Each question can make a valuable contribution to a person. Having ideas about how to recover from failure, if it occurs, reduces the pressure on the person to avoid taking action. Recognizing that doing nothing can have negative consequences can help push the person in the direction of taking action. Imagining the positive consequences of succeeding can help motivate the person to try.

I suggest adding one more question: What are the odds of succeeding if I try? To answer this question sensibly, a person has to define success and then use reasoning and past experiences, personal or observed, to create an estimate. High estimates say go, go, go. Low estimates suggest the need for modifications, if time permits, or for pursuing another goal. These calculations can help direct a person to opportunities with the most likely payoffs. However, a small chance at a great outcome (starting the next Facebook.com?) is about the only chance most of us have for a great outcome. One thing individuals might learn in making the estimates is that they are good or bad at predicting outcomes. Individuals who fear failure may always err on the side of predicting failure, thereby in their minds justifying inaction. Making explicit odds predictions (e.g., 1 in a million, 50-50) can help a person correct that bias based on actual outcomes — if the person acts.

I ask these questions when I design research studies. For instance, I am helping to design a study that will test a new way to help people increase how exciting their life is.

What if the study shows that the intervention does not work — how will I recover? I will say to myself: the other researcher and I reached for something big and came up short, but at least we tried. Not all good ideas work out. Win some, lose some. Live and learn. Nothing ventured, nothing gained (there are MANY sayings like this).

If we don’t do the study, we may never know whether we had a great idea that could have ended up doing much good and helping us make a name for ourselves. We would miss a chance to grab the golden ring.

If we succeed, we will feel ecstatic. We will publish our results, think about doing related studies, mention the findings in conversations. We might have something big — something exciting.

Our odds of finding something publishable are at least 50-50 based on my prior experiences with interventions intended to change human behavior.

When we put all those answers together, our decision is clear: Go for it. This after we decided not to do another study that had low odds of succeeding and low odds of creating a big finding.

Are you thinking about trying to do something important? Do you fear you will fail? What answers do you have for the questions mentioned above?

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

August 29, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

Are you asking enough questions?

I am reading “A More Beautiful Question” by Warren Berger. The book points out that young children ask many, many questions. Starting school decreases the questioning, and adults ask very few questions. That’s a pity because asking good questions, those that might lead to positive change, is often the beginning of great developments. Newton asked why objects fall toward the earth. He then developed his theory of gravity. Steve Jobs asked what in the way of new technology could people use. Apple then developed incredible products such at the Mac, the iPod, and so on.

“A More Beautiful Question” states that education could promote questioning by students, but it does not, in part because teachers do not want the pressure of answering student questions. What if the teacher does not know the answer? What if there is no answer? The bricks in the school walls might crumble.

I ask students questions when I teach (I use the Socratic Method). But I do not encourage them to ask questions. I will do more of that now that I am thinking about the value of asking questions. I will encourage them to ask me questions that could lead to valuable change. For instance, in my Behaviour Modification unit, they could ask me (or themselves) how they could apply some BMod method to improve a specific type of behaviour (their own or that of someone else). They could ask why BMod does not always work or what changes might make it work faster.

What good questions could I ask? Here are some ideas that come to my mind right now:  How can I produce more practical impact with my teaching? How could the psychology programs at my university provide students with better preparation for work after graduation? Why is social phobia harder to cure than specific phobias such as the fear of heights? Where is my missing harmonica? Oops, that last question is not one with potential to lead to valuable change. It is open-ended though, so it not all bad. Close-ended questions, like the the title of this posting, can be best in certain circumstances, but usually open-ended questions such as why, what, and how are most productive.

What questions have you asked lately that have potential for leading to valuable change? What would happen if you asked more questions of that sort?

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Associate Professor of Psychology

August 23, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

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