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.

Exercise-induced orgasms?

I just read about a study of 124 women who reported having experienced exercise-induced orgasms (EIOs). These orgasms occur with no help from fantasies or sexual self-stimulation.

My first thought about EIOs was that there must be an Old MacDonald somewhere in the story. My second thought was “EIOs — no way.” But see info about the study at http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/21547.html#2.

I found interesting that ab exercises were the most common type involved in EIOs, especially if done in the “Captain’s chair.” I have used that equipment — individuals let their bodies hang down as they rest their forearms on elevated pads. This setup allows individuals to raise their legs up again and again to exercise their abs. I always have liked this exercise, but these women might like it even more.

There appears to be no sure explanation for why these orgasms occur. My guess: the brain misinterprets exercise-induced arousal and body sensations. Brains make worse mistakes, I assure you.

Unclear is whether men ever experience EIOs. I am the sort of scientist who might study something like that, but I will leave this question for others to answer.

I always end my postings with a question. I will phrase this one carefully: Have any of your friends ever had an EIO? Was it a positive or negative experience?

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

August 19, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

Why do women tend to prefer tall men?

A recent study showed that women prefer to marry men who are 8 inches (!) taller than they are. Why do women prefer tall men?

One theory is that for evolutionary reasons women unconsciously prefer tall men because these men tend to be more successful in physical altercations with other men. That theory would apply to humans a dominance perspective similar to that experts hold regarding gorillas and many other animals. The idea, from evolutionary psychology, is this:  Modern women tend to have genes that propel them, consciously or not, to favor tall men.  That occurs because women in the past who had this preference tended more than other women to produce children who survived to reproduce.  Were the tall men of yesteryear able to obtain more food?  Able to better protect a woman and children? Could height have indicated health and intellect?  We know that in children proper nutrition makes a big difference for height, health, and intellectual development. The evidence is clear in poor countries where some children come close to starving.

Another possibility is that women favor tallness in men for psychosocial reasons. Looking up to someone literally may translate in the unconscious brain to looking up person figuratively. Also, tall men may give women a sense of being protected by a more powerful person. Studies show that tall men are seen as leaders and are elected to office more often than shorter men who run against them. I would guess that as a group they make more money (even putting aside players in the National Basketball Association!).

Male height, of course, is only one factor in romantic preferences of women. Among other factors, being loving ought to play a role. Some women marry men who are the same height or shorter. Not many women marry a man who is 8 inches (!) taller, in part because on average men are only about 5 inches (no exclamation mark) taller than women and in part because many other factors are important. Also, some women do not care about a man’s height.

Tall men, by the way, tend to favor tall women. Not as tall the man, but tall. To be precise, men in a study favored women 3 inches shorter on average. The desire for a partner who is similar is part of assortative mating — individuals mating with someone who has a similar genotype or phenotype.

Australia, by the way, is a good place to find tall romantic partners — it has the second tallest people of any nation! The tallest nation? The Netherlands.

Where does this height-prefernce situation leave short men? For some, it may leave them hustling to show their personal advantages aside from height — trying to show actual leadership, power, strength, etc. Some tall men pursue these goals too. For some short men, the situation may lead them to marry short women.

What would you consider the ideal height for your romantic partner? How does that compare to your height? My answer for preference: 5 feet, 7 inches to 6 feet, 2 inches. I am 6 feet, 2 inches.

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Associate Professor of Psychology

 

 

 

 

 

August 17, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   2 Comments.

Why do we want to win all the time?

One reason we want to win at sports and games and so on is that winning has had evolutionary value for humans. The winner in combat or real-life or staged tests of strength or cunning may have had extra opportunities to reproduce. The winners may have been like modern rock stars and professional athletes. For instance, Wilt Chamberlain, perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time, reported in a biography that he had sexual relations with 20,000 women by the time he reached 55 years of age.  See http://mentalfloss.com/article/12310/did-wilt-chamberlain-really-sleep-20000-women. Our ancestors are likely to have been individuals who were quite competitive and to have benefited reproductively by their competitive successes.

The individuals long ago who were not competitive may not have lived long enough to reproduce, they may not have done enough to help their children survive to reproduce, and they may not have had many opportunities to reproduce. Their non-competitive genes may now be rare among humans.

How does evolutionary pressure toward competitiveness manifest itself in our day-to-day life? We approach challenges and competitions with a strong goal of winning. We feel happy (psychologically reinforced for our efforts) when we win. We feel angry or disappointed (psychologically punished) if we lose. The reactions of others may also reinforce our efforts to win. Cheers and high-5s make us feel good when we win. Our pals shaking their heads or looking at their feet when we lose has the opposite effect. Because our culture endorses winning, we see many models of winners reaping benefits and losers eating crow. These models affect us, consciously and unconsciously.

Can we do anything to reduce our competitiveness when it is counterproductive?  Yes. I wrote about how to do that in a prior posting: http://blog.une.edu.au/usingpsychology/2014/05/02/are-you-a-poor-loser/.

How competitive are you? When is competitiveness helpful? Harmful? Can you turn on the competitiveness when it is helpful and turn it off when it is not? How do you do that?

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

 

 

August 11, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

What specifically does psychological treatment change?

Every year journals publish hundreds of psychotherapy-evaluation articles showing that some treatment or other produced a positive change in the main outcome variable — something such as anxiety level or anger level. Often unclear is what types of changes the clients made that led to emotional changes. Potentially, clients can change (1) situations they enter, (2) their behavior, and (3) their thinking. To measure these types of changes, Nicola Schutte and I developed a brief measure of therapeutically induced change:

Therapeutically Induced Change Scale
Malouff and Schutte (2011)

For each of the three questions, please choose a number from the following response options and mark that number after the question.

Response options
1 = not at all
2 = slightly
3 = between slightly and moderately
4 = moderately
5 = between moderately and very much
6 = very much
7 = extremely

Questions
1. To what extent did [insert name of intervention] lead you to change your thinking (your attitudes, how you think, what you believe)? ___

2. To what extent did [insert name of intervention] lead you to change what you did or how you acted or behaved? ___

3. To what extent did [insert name of intervention] lead you to change some situation? ___

In addition to providing information relevant to processes involved in overcoming a psychological problem, the scale can potentially prompt responses that lead to valuable discussions between client and therapist. To validate the scale, we tested it with a total of 281 individuals who went through a psychological intervention and found that total scores on the scale (summing the three responses) were associated with level of involvement in the intervention and level of improvement in the target of the intervention. The results suggest that in general, more movement toward resolution of the original problem will occur when clients change the situations they enter, their behavior, and their thoughts.

Have you completed a psychological intervention, either to overcome a problem or to increase some positive characteristic such as positive affect? If so, you can complete the scale and explore what types of changes you made. What do you conclude? If you are doing better now than before the intervention, it may be that you have maintained changes in situations, behavior, or thinking.

The article:
Schutte, N. S., & Malouff, J. M. (2011). Development and Validation of a Brief Measure of Therapeutically-Induced Change. Behavioural and cognitive psychotherapy, 39(05), 627-630.

John Malouff, PhD, JD
Assoc Prof of Psychology

August 10, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

The board games you like playing say something about you

Different individuals like playing different board games. My favorite used to be Scrabble. That preference suggests that I like words and thinking. Right on both counts — I do like words and thinking. As a scientist, I use words and think for a living.

In recent years I have modified Scrabble to make it more entertaining. The first change was to speed up play by eliminating the board and simply having ea player take seven tiles and make the highest point word possible. Then everyone compares. That completes a round. Players can keep score with each win counting as one point if they want. Others may have thought of this exact activity before me — it is hard to have a completely new idea in a world of 7 billion people! If this version of Scrabble does not go quickly enough, a group could use a timer to set a limit. My developing this version of Scrabble suggests that I have low patience and I like to create. The patience one is right. Also, I do like to create. I have a book coming out in a few months that contains about 90 activities for teaching social, emotional, and problem-solving skills. I made up many of the activities.

I made a second modification of Speed Scrabble for a study a student and I did evaluating whether it is possible to help couples increase the excitement in their relationship. We found that it is! Mostly we focused on their engaging jointly in interesting novel activities. Some were sexual; some were not. One I developed: involves playing Speed Scrabble where the loser of each round discards an item of clothing. That combines elements of Speed Scrabble and Strip Poker.

I developed Version 3 for couples on trains, airplanes, or somewhere else in public: Here the loser of a round merely names an article of clothing that he or she would discard.

For individuals who want excitement without even thinking of discarding clothes, I developed Version 4, where the loser of a round has to choose Truth (answer a very personal question) or Dare (complete some entertaining but possibly embarrassing action).

My creating these versions suggests that I like to synthesize (e.g., combining different activities into one) and I like to cater to different tastes. Right on both ideas. I find it easier to put two good ideas together than to think up an entirely original idea. In teaching, I try to cater to preferences of different students for learning activities. Have I catered to you? Try one of the versions and tell me what you think!

What board games do you most like playing? Do you modify or make up board games? What do your preferences suggest about you?

John Malouff, PhD, JD
Assoc Prof of Psychology

July 11, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   2 Comments.

How do you want to die?

Most people die lying in bed. Do you consider that a boring way to go? I read somewhere about a fellow who wanted to die standing up. I don’t think he succeeded, but I give him credit for trying.

Some individuals might want to die in the saddle (not easy, I am sure). Others might want to die in combat or (at a ripe old age) by assassination. How about dying while saving the life of someone else? Note that in all these latter cases the dying person might be standing up!

Other individuals might seek levity in their final moments, e.g., by saying “buh-buh, buh-buh — that’s all folks” or by kicking an actual bucket. A person could go out telling the punch line to a funny joke.  But if it turns out that the joke is not funny, the joke teller dies twice — once with the joke and once big time.

Sensitive individuals want only to die surrounded by their loved ones. But those lovely people could use a good laugh, so keep in mind the final-joke idea.

How do I want to die? In my sleep, while dreaming that I am playing basketball and every shot I put up goes in. Then I will die happy (and standing — in the dream).

How about you — if you have a choice, how would you like to die? Does your answer relate to how you like to live?

For more about dying, see my prior posts:

http://blog.une.edu.au/usingpsychology/2013/07/23/are-you-afraid-of-dying/

http://blog.une.edu.au/usingpsychology/2013/09/13/will-you-have-regrets-about-your-life-when-you-die/

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

June 22, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   7 Comments.

How would you describe your romantic relationship ?

With other researchers, I set out to determine the fundamental psychological characteristics of romantic relationships. We started by asking hundreds of adults to give us (anonymously)  eight terms that describe their romantic relationship. We boiled those terms down to 75 that were named by at least 5% of the study participants. We then asked hundreds of other adults to rate their romantic relationship on the 75 terms. Using factor analysis (a statistical method of finding underlying factors in a big group of items), we identified four factors: how secure the relationship is, how caring, how exciting, and how stressful. We chose the best items to form a nine-item scale for each factor and then found that scores on the scales correlated with relationship satisfaction and with positive feelings in general. We also found that the longer the person had been in the relationship, the lower the level of excitement and the higher the level of security. Subsequent studies with couples showed that higher excitement scores were associated with less inclination to take actions in the direction of infidelity.

Want to rate your own romantic relationship? I will put below the items for each scale of the Four- Factor Romantic Relationship Scales. To calculate a scale score, sum the ratings for the scale. Below the scales I will describe the average scores we found for each scale.

Choose a number from the following 7-point scale to indicate to what extent your relationship has each characteristic listed below.

1 = disagree strongly, 2 = moderately disagree, 3 = slightly disagree, 4 = neither agree nor disagree, 5 = slightly agree, 6 = moderately agree, 7 = agree strongly

SECURE SCALE

Committed

Loyal

Secure

Strong

Trusting

Stable

Honest

Bonded

Partnership

 

EXCITING SCALE

Exciting

Passionate

Adventurous

Interesting

Playful

Sexual

Spontaneous

Boring (reverse score, e.g., change a 1 to 7; change a 6 to 2)

Romantic

 

CARING SCALE

Kind

Compassionate

Considerate

Caring

Giving

Understanding

Warm

Sharing

Helpful

 

STRESSFUL SCALE

Difficult

Stressful

Frustrating

Hard work

Challenging

Annoying

Rocky

Argumentative

Sad

 

The average scores for the four scales in a sample of 530 adults:

Secure: 54 (2/3 of scores between 44 and 64)

Exciting: 46 (2/3 of scores between 36 and 47)

Caring: 52 (2/3 of scores between 42 and 52)

Stressful: 30 (2/3 of scores between 18 and 42)

In our research we put all 36 items in alphabetical order and did not mention scale names. Your responses may be biased by the scale names and the information provided above about the scales.

How do the scores for your relationship compare with the sample scores? Which of the four characteristics do you consider best about your relationship? Which would you like to change?

Our first research article about the scales was:

Malouff, J., Coulter, K., Receveur, H., Martin, K., James, P., Gilbert, S., Schutte, N., Hall, L., & Elkowitz, J. (2012). Development and initial validation of a four-factor measure of romantic relationships. Current Psychology, 31, 349-364.

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

 

 

 

 

June 18, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   2 Comments.

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