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:

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




















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


















Hard work







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.

Why do some individuals embrace conspiracy theories?

Conspiracy theories “explain” important events in ways that most individuals reject. For instance, conspiracy theories say that the U. S. faked its moon landings, that a big conspiracy was involved in the assassination of John Kennedy, that the 9/11 attacks were staged by the U.S. government, that Princess Diana’s death was the result of a criminal conspiracy, and that Aussie Prime Minister Harold Holt (who went swimming in the ocean one day and never came back) was snatched and kept by the Chinese. For more conspiracy theories, see

Conspiracy theories have something in common with delusions and with religious beliefs: the lack of convincing evidence in their support. What leads individuals to believe them? Here are several psychological principles that apply: Individuals who believe in conspiracies tend to

1. have low trust in others, especially elites and government officials;

2. reject chance and random occurrences as causing important events;

3. feel anxious about not having control over important events and feel less anxious if they can identify an understandable cause of the events;

4. see themselves as being smarter than others who don’t believe the theories;

5. become biased in the sense of ignoring countervailing evidence and opinion and attending to confirming evidence and opinion;

6. associate with others who share the beliefs and who provide social support in general and specifically with regard to these beliefs.

Another factor that fuels conspiracy theories is that governments and members of the elite do sometimes conspire to enrich themselves through corrupt acts, to fool the public into supporting some action such as going to war, to gain some advantage over supposed enemies, to suppress disclosure of information that would be embarrassing, or to harm a political opponent. Also, conspiracy theories often have some evidence in support of them — the evidence might be twisted or misinterpreted, but it is enough to convince someone who is inclined to see conspiracies.

Does believing in conspiracies cause any harm? Not necessarily. The beliefs likely reduce anxiety in individuals who hold them. As long a person does not overly focus on a conspiracy theory and does not take criminal actions based on the theory, the person may suffer no substantial harm. The person might feel increasingly alienated from a society that does not collectively believe in the conspiracy theory; on the other hand, the person might feel superior to the mass of humanity.

Individuals who incorrectly believe there are conspiracies operating against them at a personal level are different — they have a significant psychological disorder involving paranoia.

In what conspiracy theories do you believe? Do you ever look for disconfirming evidence for your beliefs? You might not know this:  searching for evidence that disconfirms one’s beliefs is the daily work of good scientists, philosophers, journalists, etc.

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

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

Does your work group have a personality?

Humans have a personality — a set of relatively enduring psychological characteristics. Some of these characteristics, e.g., emotional stability and conscientiousness, appear very important to enjoying life and being productive.

A work group is a “relatively small group of individuals in an organization who are interdependent in their tasks, who share responsibility for the group’s outcomes, and who see themselves, and are recognized by others, as a single unit in an organization” (Malouff et al., 2013). Do work groups have a personality? Yes, according to research done by Lucy Zucker, Nicola Schutte, and me. We asked hundreds of workers in a wide variety of organizations to describe the psychological characteristics of their work group. We identified terrms that several workers mentioned, created a list of those terms, and asked hundreds of other workers to rate their work group on the terms. Using factor analysis, we identified 30 terms that describe the one main personality trait of work groups: how agreeable the group is. The more agreeable the group, the more job satisfaction workers had and the less inclined they were to want to leave the job. Interestingly, this characteristic is similar to the agreeableness personality characteristic found in individuals.

So how agreeable is your work group? You can use the scale below to rate the group. In our research, we found an average scale score of 160, with a standard deviation of 35. So a work group with scale score under 125 would be unusually low; a group with an score over 195 would be unusually high.

Here are the response options:

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

Here are the 30 items to use for rating your work group:

1. caring
2. cohesive
3. collaborative
4. communicative
5. considerate
6. cooperative
7 easygoing
8. empathic
9. encouraging
10. enjoyable
11. flexible
12 friendly
13. fun
14. funny
15. happy
16. helpful
17. honest
18. humorous
19. kind
20. loyal
21. nice
22. patient
23. positive
24. relaxed
25. respectful
26. rewarding
27. social
28. supporting
29. thoughtful
30. understanding

Add up your responses. The scale score for your group might tell you something about why you like or dislike your job. Your ratings of the group on individual items might also be meaningful. Do you see room for improvement? How might you contribute to that improvement?

For more information about the research, see the following book chapter:

Malouff, J., Zucker, L., & Schutte, N. (2013). Do work groups have personalities? In E. C. Crossman & M. A. Weiler (Eds.), Personality traits: Causes, conceptions and consequences. Hauppauge, NY: Nova.

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

June 2, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

The power of praise

When I teach Behavior Modification, I tell my students to include praise in every intervention. When I teach leadership I suggest using praise. Why do I push praise so much?

1. Praise is usually a powerful motivator. It is powerful in part because it is rare in the life of most individuals. If you want to see someone repeat a certain type of behavior in the future, praise it now. About the only time praise has no effect is when it is perceived as not genuine. So praise sincerely.

2. Praise, when given for specific behavior, teaches the praised person what behavior leads to positive outcomes. That is part of what makes it so valuable to children, and also to adults who are trying to learn some new skill. So focus the praise on specific behavior. Thanking a person for doing something has similar educational value.

3. Praising is free, easy, and fast.

4. Praising can be done at almost any time. The exceptions are when the person is focused on some task or is not available.

5. Praising tends to lift the mood of both the praiser and the praisee. It is fun for everyone!

6. Praising others creates a positive social image — it shows self-confidence, awareness, and interest in others.

7. Praising others tends to be reciprocated at some point, just as criticizing others tends to be reciprocated.

8. Praising others sets a positive model for others. They become more likely to praise someone. You can start a domino effect!

9. You can praise your own behavior. Who knows better than you what you did well, what obstacles you overcame, and what sacrifices you made for the good of others?

There is a continuing risk that we will take for granted the positive behavior of others (and ourselves). Fight that — you can accomplish much with praise.

Whom have you praised today? For what? Can you squeeze in any more praise before the day is done?

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

May 18, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   4 Comments.

Are you a poor loser?

I find it easy to be a gracious winner. How about you? It’s much harder to be a gracious loser. That’s especially true if we want very much to win, we barely lose, we think  we “should” have won, we don’t like the winner, and we lose control of our emotions and behavior.

Is there a way to become a good loser (a “good sport” sounds better)? Yes. A student and I did a study with teen athletes who had just lost a team sports game. We randomly assigned the athletes to either a coping intervention or no intervention. The coping intervention involved prompting the athletes to think about something they did well during the game or to think about another game when they won. The results were that the athletes in the intervention showed better mood than the control athletes. That study was published in the journal “Sport Psychology” (see reference below). These same sorts of methods can help a person avoid acting like a poor sport after losing in a competition, whether in sports, politics, office politics, business, war, etc. The key elements:

1. Keep the loss in perspective. Often losses that upset us have no practical significance (here I think of my lunchtime tennis losses). A single loss in the context of a lifetime of wins and losses and many, many other experiences is usually insignificant.

2. Recognize that no one wins all the time, and in fact winning all the time could get boring.

3. Think of how you feel when you see someone lose and then act like either a good sport or a bad sport.

4. If you want a victory, consider a victory your gracious behavior after losing (this behavior that can have practical impact in the social realm of life).

5. Try to set a good model for others around you by being a gracious loser. What better way to elevate yourself in your own eyes?

6. Look on the bright side of your experience with losing. Did you learn something valuable? Did you improve yourself in some way? What did you do well? Did you benefit in some way?

How do you act when you lose? When you show grace in defeat, how do you manage to do that?

John Malouff, PhD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

Here is a reference for the article:

Brown, L. J., & Malouff, J. M. (2005). The Effectiveness of a Self-Efficacy Intervention for Helping Adolescents Cope with Sport-Competition Loss. Journal of Sport Behavior, 28(2), 213-229.

May 2, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   2 Comments.

How can we measure emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and to regulate emotions in oneself and in others. High EI is associated with more optimism, greater impulse control, better mood, more empathic perspective taking, more closeness and warmth in relationships, greater marital satisfaction, . more cooperation in a Prisoner’s Dilemma situation, more persistence under frustrating circumstances, better adjustment to university in beginning students, higher first year university grades, higher supervisor performance ratings in an undergraduate psychology internship. EI can be measured as an ability, using a test similar to an IQ test, or it can be measured as a personality trait.

Nicola Schutte, others, and I created a trait measure of EI that has been very widely used. The scale is called either the Schutte emotional intelligence scale or the Assessing Emotions Scale. Google Scholar lists over 1700 citations of our 1998 article introducing the scale.

You can complete the scale yourself — see the scale below. Keep in mind that your responses may be influenced by knowing that the scale measures EI. Also, you can use the scale with clients or in research.

To calculate a scale score, reverse code responses to items 5, 28, and 33. That means that after completing all the items, you must change the score for each of these three items to its opposite. So, if your response is 1, change that to a 5; if your response is 4, change that to a 2; and so on. A response of 3 stays as it is. Then sum all responses for a total score.

The mean score across many large samples is about 124, with a standard deviation of about 13. So scores below 111 or above 137 are unusually low or high.

Can we increase our emotional intelligence? It is possible to increase aspects of EI with focused effort, e.g., training in empathy or in self-regulation of emotions.

How do you use your emotional intelligence? How might you increase your application of it?

John Malouff, PhD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

Here is the Assessing Emotions Scale:

Each of the following items asks you about your emotions or reactions associated with emotions. After deciding whether a statement is generally true for you, use the 5-point scale to respond to the statement. Please circle the “1” if you strongly disagree that this is like you, the “2” if you somewhat disagree that this is like you, “3” if you neither agree nor disagree that this is like you, the “4” if you somewhat agree that this is like you, and the “5” if you
strongly agree that this is like you.
1 = strongly disagree
2 = somewhat disagree
3 = neither agree nor disagree
4 = somewhat agree
5 = strongly agree

1. I know when to speak about my personal problems to others. 1 2 3 4 5
2. When I am faced with obstacles, I remember times I faced similar obstacles and overcame them. 1 2 3 4 5
3. I expect that I will do well on most things I try. 1 2 3 4 5
4. Other people find it easy to confide in me. 1 2 3 4 5
5. I find it hard to understand the non-verbal messages of other people. 1 2 3 4 5
6. Some of the major events of my life have led me to re-evaluate what is important and not important. 1 2 3 4 5
7. When my mood changes, I see new possibilities. 1 2 3 4 5
8. Emotions are one of the things that make my life worth living. 1 2 3 4 5
9. I am aware of my emotions as I experience them. 1 2 3 4 5
10. I expect good things to happen. 1 2 3 4 5
11. I like to share my emotions with others. 1 2 3 4 5
12. When I experience a positive emotion, I know how to make it last. 1 2 3 4 5
13. I arrange events others enjoy. 1 2 3 4 5
14. I seek out activities that make me happy. 1 2 3 4 5
15. I am aware of the non-verbal messages I send to others. 1 2 3 4 5
16. I present myself in a way that makes a good impression on others. 1 2 3 4 5
17. When I am in a positive mood, solving problems is easy for me. 1 2 3 4 5
18. By looking at their facial expressions, I recognize the emotions people are experiencing. 1 2 3 4 5
19. I know why my emotions change. 1 2 3 4 5
20. When I am in a positive mood, I am able to come up with new ideas. 1 2 3 4 5
21. I have control over my emotions. 1 2 3 4 5
22. I easily recognize my emotions as I experience them. 1 2 3 4 5
23. I motivate myself by imagining a good outcome to tasks I take on. 1 2 3 4 5
24. I compliment others when they have done something well. 1 2 3 4 5
25. I am aware of the non-verbal messages other people send. 1 2 3 4 5
26. When another person tells me about an important event in his or her life, I almost feel as though I experienced this event myself. 1 2 3 4 5
27. When I feel a change in emotions, I tend to come up with new ideas. 1 2 3 4 5
28. When I am faced with a challenge, I give up because I believe I will fail. 1 2 3 4 5
29. I know what other people are feeling just by looking at them. 1 2 3 4 5
30. I help other people feel better when they are down. 1 2 3 4 5
31. I use good moods to help myself keep trying in the face of obstacles. 1 2 3 4 5
32. I can tell how people are feeling by listening to the tone of their voice. 1 2 3 4 5
33. It is difficult for me to understand why people feel the way they do. 1 2 3 4 5


Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., Hall, L. E., Haggerty, D. J., Cooper, J. T., Golden, C. J., & Dornheim, L. (1998). Development and validation of a measure of emotional intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences, 25(2), 167-177.

Schutte, N.S., Malouff, J.M., & Bhullar, N. (2009). The Assessing Emotions Scale. C. Stough, D. Saklofske & J. Parker (Eds.), The Assessment of Emotional Intelligence. New York: Springer Publishing, 119-135.

April 27, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

Do irrational beliefs cause you emotional distress?

Famous psychologist Albert Ellis developed a model of maladjustment focused on irrational (self-defeating) beliefs. Applying these 10 or so beliefs to events tends to make a person experience negative emotions. I led the development of a scale to measure those beliefs, and many researchers have used the scale in published research. i hope that psychotherapists also use it with their clients. I will put the scale below. The first 10 items convey the core irrational beliefs. The second 10 items repeat the same concepts.

You can complete the scale yourself. Large samples of university students usually have a mean score of about 60, with a standard deviation of about 10. Scores over 70 suggest elevated levels of irrational beliefs. Also, it is possible to look at responses to individual items and see whether you may be causing yourself misery by believing strongly in a certain type of irrational belief. Keep in mind that your responses may be influenced right now by what you have just read about “irrational” beliefs.

The usual treatment for irrational beliefs is to help the client (1) see how a belief is irrational or self-defeating, (b) identify incidents where the person applies the belief to events (usually leading to negative emotions), (3) use countering thoughts such as asking “What is the evidence for that thought? What is the value of thinking that?,” and (4) use rational replacement thoughts such as “I can exercise control over my emotions” and “I want to do well in life, but do not have to be perfect in everything I do.” For more information about treatment for self-defeating beliefs, see “A New Guide to Rational Lving” and other books by Albert Ellis (


Please use the scale below to express how much you agree with each of the following statements. Write your response next to the statement number.

1. Strongly disagree
2. Disagree somewhat
3. Neither agree nor disagree
4. Agree somewhat
5. Strongly agree

____ 1. To be a worthwhile person I must be thoroughly competent in everything I do.

____ 2. My negative emotions are the result of external pressures.

____ 3. To be happy, I must maintain the approval of all the persons I consider significant.

____ 4. Most people who have been unfair to me are generally bad individuals.

____ 5. Some of my ways of acting are so ingrained that I could never change them.

____ 6. When it looks as if something might go wrong, it is reasonable to be quite concerned.

____ 7. Life should be easier than it is.

____ 8. It is awful when something I want to happen does not occur.

____ 9. It makes more sense to wait than to try to improve a bad life situation.

____10. I hate it when I cannot eliminate an uncertainty.

____11. Many events from my past so strongly influence me that it is impossible to change.

____12. Individuals who take unfair advantage of me should be punished.

____13. If there is a risk that something bad will happen, it makes sense to be upset.

____14. It is terrible when things do not go the way I would like.

____15. I must keep achieving in order to be satisfied with myself.

____16. Things should turn out better than they usually do.

____17. I cannot help how I feel when everything is going wrong.

____18. To be happy I must be loved by the persons who are important to me.

____19. It is better to ignore personal problems than to try to solve them.

____20. I dislike having any uncertainty about my future.

For more information about the scale, see:

Malouff, J., Schutte, N., & McClelland, T. (1992). Examination of the relationship between irrational beliefs and state anxiety. Personality & Individual Differences, 13, 451 456.

Malouff, J., Valdenegro, J. & Schutte, N. (1987). Further validation of a measure of irrational belief. J. of Rational Emotive Therapy, 5, 189 193.

Malouff, J., & Schutte, N. (1986). Development and validation of a measure of irrational belief. J. of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 54, 860 2.

What is your level of self-defeating beliefs? Do you see how each of the beliefs in the scale can be self-defeating?

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

April 21, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   4 Comments.

What can you do today to avoid being demented when you are 90?

I will focus on three empirically-supported actions to take today and every day to avoid becoming demented as you age. To put the matter simply, keep active physically, mentally, and socially. Meaning what?

Exercise vigorously and often. Exercise can be overdone, but the more common error, by a large factor, is too little exercise. Send your body the message that it needs to toughen up so that it is ready for big physical demands in the future.

Keep mentally active. Don’t retire completely, if you can avoid it. Do volunteer work, the more challenging the better. Take on new tasks and acquire new skills at work and outside work. Exercise your brain vigorously and often. Send your brain the message that it needs to keep ready to learn lots in the future.

Keep active socially. Involve yourself with friends and family. Make new friends; help strangers. Work on your relationships. All this social activity exercises your brain and helps you give and receive large amounts of social support. Send your brain the message that it needs to stay socially attuned so that it is ready to interact effectively with others.

All three types of activities, in addition to exercising us in body and mind, give us many opportunities for positive events that boost our mood, increase our self-efficacy, and make our life interesting and productive.  Our brains may slow down because they are getting old physically, but it is also true that our brains slow down because we act old.

Why do these types of activities help us avoid dementia (and stay alive)? It may be that these activities keep us tuned up, ready to deal with stressors, including destructive processes of aging. Recent research findings show that the activities cause cells to release exosomes, membrane-wrapped packages of proteins and genetic information, that stimulate oligodendrocytes (neuron-support cells) to produce more myelin sheath, which helps neurons stay healthy and transmit signals. The activities also may lead to other positive biological effects.

So how do we get individuals to remain active as they age? Here are five ideas: (1) spread the word about the importance of keeping active, physically, mentally, and socially; (2) provide a model to others of ways to keep active; (3) praise others who show sustained high levels of activity, especially older individuals, (4) help create opportunities for older individuals to stay active, e.g., through organized activities, and (5) try to prevent developments, such as physical injury, chronic illness, depression, and substance abuse, that can impair the ability of a person to remain active.

How active are you? How about your parents and grandparents? What ideas do you have for helping others stay active, physically, mentally, and socially?

John Malouff, PhD, Assoc Prof of Psychology

April 15, 2014.     Category: Uncategorized.   No Comments.

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