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?

 

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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?

 

What’s Your Face Saying About Your Wallet?

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A new study by researchers at the University of Toronto will have you rushing to your mirror.

They set up an experiment to see if college students could tell if their peers were richer or poorer than average. It turns out many can. Students with family incomes below $60,000 or over $100,000 posed with neutral expressions. Other students could successfully tell the difference 53% of the time, more than they would have by chance alone.

By college age, their habitual expressions had already etched themselves on their faces. The researchers inferred that those who had smiled more often were richer. This can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy as those already deemed of higher social status will more often be hired than their poorer peers. This happens without conscious thought; it is a “gut reaction.”

The implications are scary. By very early in life, those of lower socio-economic status are already behind the eight ball just by the look on their faces.

What is your face saying about you?

 

To be or not to be yourself

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In a job interview, how much should you reveal? Researchers at University College London say that depends on how good a candidate you are.

The research focused on the concept of ‘self-verification’, which refers to individuals’ drive to be known and understood by others according to their firmly held beliefs and feelings about themselves.

The study showed that high quality job prospects who came off as too polished were deemed as inauthentic by interviewers. If they had scored high in self-verification, on the other hand, they presented themselves more honestly and were more likely to be hired.

The reverse happened to lower quality candidates. Authenticity reduced their chances at getting the job.

What are the lessons here? First, I guess you’d better know if you are highly qualified or not. If you are, feel free to be yourself.

Secondly, if you are not highly qualified, why are you applying for the job anyway? And if you insist upon applying, you’ll do better if you put on an act.

The researchers say that authentic behavior has been proven to lead to good outcomes over time in a job setting, but this study is the first to show that good outcomes also occur in short-term interpersonal interactions like an interview.

From my own personal experience in the workforce, I question these findings. It has always seemed to me that it was the most inauthentic people who did well in both short- and long-term interactions. I’ve never found honesty to be highly valued in corporate America.

Am I too cynical? What has been your experience?

 

 

How big is your pond?

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Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond. Researchers at the University of Michigan say it depends on your cultural upbringing.

In three different tests, people with Chinese heritage were twice as likely than those with Western European heritage to choose the small fish option. They preferred having less than mediocre grades at a top ten college over high grades at a top 100 college.

Were the Chinese American students more harmonious and less concerned with standing out while the European Americans more individualistic? Nope. It all came down to prestige.

My roots are showing. I’d definitely go for the high grades at the lower ranked school. The study assures us there is no right or wrong choice, but it’s interesting to ponder how much our upbringing affects what we do.

 

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?