Marriage 101

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A study done by psychologists at Carnegie Mellon University has left me going “Duh.” It seems that people with a supportive spouse are more likely to take on challenges and subsequently more likely to continue to have supportive relationships. Oh, really?

The researchers rounded up 163 married couples and gave two options. One person in each couple could either solve a relatively easy puzzle or could make a speech that might win them a prize. Supportive spouses gave encouragement and conveyed confidence and enthusiasm.

Those who took on the greater challenge were studied again six months later and found to have more personal growth and  better relationships. They were happier.

How else would you attain personal growth except by challenging yourself?  And of course they were happier. They were still married to someone who built them up instead of putting them down. Professor Brooke Feeney, lead author of the study, states the obvious, “Significant others can help you thrive through embracing life opportunities.”

The lesson here is pretty clear. Choose your spouse wisely.

What do you say when you talk to yourself?

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One of the facets of emotional intelligence is the ability to control one’s emotions. Researchers at Michigan State College and the University of Michigan have discovered a simple technique.

Talk to yourself in third person. There is a name for this–illeism. Who knew?

For example, when I’m stressed, instead of my thinking “Why am I upset?” I should think “Why is Fran upset?” You know how it’s always easier to think clearly about someone else’s problems? This works the same way. Isn’t that genius? Just that tiny bit of psychological distance apparently does the trick.

This has all sorts of implications. Could it be used to treat those with PTSD? Or what about addictions?

My suggestion: if you try this at home, do the talking silently. Referring to yourself in the third person out loud is a wee bit pretentious.

 

Pay me now or pay me later

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Whether you call it deferred gratification or maximizing, it will make you happier. So say researchers at the University of Connecticut.

Their study refers to the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. The ant toiled all summer laying in provisions for the winter to come while the grasshopper played and had a good time. The human version of that ant behavior is called maximizing; the grasshopper behavior is satisficing.

For Satisficers, good enough is good enough. These are the people who would’ve taken one marshmallow in that classic childhood study instead of waiting so they’d get two.

Because Maximizers are concerned with making the very best choices for the future, they were thought by earlier researchers to be less happy. Having so many options to consider might lead to stress and second guessing themselves. Did all that work and no play make Jack or Jill dull?

It turns out that the maximizers aren’t unhappy after all. They feel good about their forward-thinking ways. As you’d expect, they save more money.

Of course, most people aren’t strictly one or the other. The behaviors are on a continuum. So which end of the scale are you on? Do you identify as an ant or a grasshopper?

 

Maslow and evolution

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If you’ve ever taken Psychology 101, you know about Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. Self-actualization may not be merely an intellectual or spiritual exercise. Researchers at Arizona State University have discovered that biology might be involved too.

They asked 1200 people what being self-actualized looked like. They found it is connected to the desire for status.

From an evolutionary perspective, living up to your full potential gives certain social advantages: respect and affection from your peer group and even the chance to wow a mate. As a result, your genes can be passed to future generations.

So it seems finding your purpose in life might not be an act of altruism. What do you think?

 

Want to keep working? Plan ahead

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A study done at the University of Gothenburg says if you plan to work in your senior years, you should start planning before age 50.

The researchers, psychologists Kerstin Wentz and Kristina Gyllensten, say their participants engaged in what they call career crafting. This meant taking themselves seriously and thinking about what they wanted in life. Remaining employed at least part time allowed them to flourish and avoid boredom while maintaining a social life. They were proactive about learning new things.

The researchers advise vocational counseling for those age 45 similar to what is given to teenagers. They also advocate making student loans available.

As an avid devotee of MOOCs and webinars, I love this idea. Personally, I grew to hate the career in the insurance industry I stumbled into at age 18. At age 45, I embarked on a master’s degree to pursue something more meaningful. I cycled through several stop gap jobs until I finally got a job at a community college. That whole process might have been shortened if I had done better research and planning.

What’s your story? Will you continue working past “normal” retirement age?

Pareto strikes again

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All those records of people’s lives are finally proving useful.

Researchers have tapped into New Zealand’s extensive digital databases to examine the lives of 1000 subjects from birth to age 38. They found that the Pareto Principle, or more commonly the 80/20 rule, holds true for illegal and other non-desirable behaviors.

The scientists from Duke University, King’s College London, and the University of Otago in New Zealand say 20% of those studied accounted for a whopping 81% of incarcerations, 77 % of fatherless child rearing, 75 % of drug prescriptions, and 66% of welfare benefits plus more than half of nights in the hospital and cigarettes smoked. They were more likely to be obese and to file personal injury claims too.

In the study, they gave participants tests at age three to measure what they called “brain health.” This consisted of intelligence, language and motor skills, frustration tolerance, restlessness, and impulsiveness. Low scores in brain health even at such an early age predicted high healthcare and social costs as adults.

The results point to the continuing need for early interventions with disadvantaged children. The components of brain health can be taught or improved upon. Such education would benefit not only the individual children but ultimately society as a whole.

Lead researcher Avshalom Caspi says the return on investments to undertake this sort of intervention would be remarkable. Indeed.

Educators, what kinds of interventions have you seen in your community?

Blaming the victim?

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A recent study about bullying caught my eye. Chad Rose, an assistant professor of special education from the University of Missouri College of Education, and Nicholas Gage, an assistant professor from the University of Florida, say that children with disabilities are bullied significantly more often than those without disabilities. This inequality in bullying continues over time. It peaks in third grade, subsides in middle school, and increases again in high school.

They conclude that the disabled students aren’t developing the social skills to defend themselves as they mature. They recommend that schools teach “appropriate response skills.”

Apparently, the conduct doesn’t end in school. When a relative of mine with a disability was bullied in the workplace, I did some research and blogged about it.

Of course, it is important for the disabled students to learn better communication and coping skills. But isn’t it even more important that the bullies are taught better behavior?

To be fair, Rose and Gage are in the field of special education and focusing on improving conditions for at risk children, not on the general school population. They do assert that social skills are no longer taught to anyone. Still, it seems to me another instance of blaming the victim.

What say you?