Caring parents understandably want to protect their children from physical harm and emotional hurt. We do this, we presume, for their sakes. And, if the truth be told, we do it for our own as well. Many of us knowingly nodded when Michelle Obama shared the common parental experience: “You are as happy as your least happy child.”
But as my friend and fellow social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, recently explained to a large West Michigan audience, sometimes parental good intentions prepare kids for failure.
Haidt began by documenting what I’ve previously described—the stunning recent increase in teens’ (especially teen girls’) depression, anxiety, suicidal thinking, and self-harm (as documented in ER visits). This tsunami of mental health problems has now also reached college campuses, as evident in collegians’ increased depression rates and visits to campus mental health services.
What gives? What accounts for this greater fragility of today’s youth? Teen biology hasn’t changed. They’re not drinking more (indeed, they’re drinking less). They’re not working more (they’re less often employed).
What has changed, Haidt observed, is, first, technology—the spread of smart phones, the explosion of social media, and the addition of social comparison-promoting social media features, such as visible likes and retweets of one’s posts. Haidt offered correlational studies that associate teens’ social media use with their mental health, and experiments that reveal the emotional benefits of a restrained social media diet. (For more, see this prior blog essay, and Haidt’s recent Atlantic essay, with Tobias Rose-Stockwell: “The Dark Psychology of Social Networks.” See also this new response by his collaborator, Jean Twenge, to skeptics of the social media explanation.)
As an antidote to social media’s emotional toxicity (and diminished sleep and face-to-face relationships), Haidt offered three practical family guidelines for healthy media use:
He also attributes the increase youth mental health issues to a second cultural change: Today’s parents often fail to appreciate the “antifragility” principle—that children’s emotions, like their bones and immune systems, gain strength from being challenged. Bones and muscles gain strength from exercise. Immune systems develop protective antibodies from challenges (soaring peanut allergies are a sorry result of routinely protecting infants from peanut exposure). And children’s emotional health and resilience likewise builds through their unpleasant experiences. There is truth to Nietzsche’s aphorism, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Alas, as Haidt demonstrated by surveying his audience, members of Generation Z (people born since 1996) have grown up more protected—with parents restraining their roaming free until later childhood. Their grandparents, by contrast, and to some extent their parents, were experienced a less restricted “free range childhood.” (And no, today’s world is not more dangerous—it’s actually much safer than the 1970s.)
Moreover, he argued (also inThe Coddling of the American Mindwith Greg Lukianoff, and in a newessaywith Pamela Paresky), schools are ill-serving students by protecting them from uncomfortable speech. Colleges ill-prepare students for life outside the campus when they suppress unpopular perspectives and offer “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” that insulate students from “micro-aggressions.”
As an alternative approach, Haidt welcomes viewpoint diversity—the thrust of theHeterodox Academy. He and his colleagues also offer resources for open-minded engagement at the newOpenMindPlatform.org.
Haidt’s case for viewpoint diversity and open dialogue remind me of the long-ago wisdom of social psychologist William McGuire, whose experiments taught us an important lesson: Unchallenged beliefs existing in “germ-free ideological environments” are the most vulnerable to later being overturned. To form one’s beliefs amid diverse views is to become more discerning, and ultimately more deeply grounded in less fragile convictions.
Ergo, concludes Haidt, to support teen mental health be intentional about screen time and social media, and remember: character—like bones, muscles, and immunity—grows from challenge.
(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)
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Probably like you, a lot of my Intro Psych students are interested in medicine. Most are interested in nursing, but a smattering are interested in becoming physicians or another type of medical professional, such as respiratory therapists.
This New York Times article (Brown & Bergman, 2019), coauthored by nurse and a physician, will be of interest to these future medical professionals in your course.
After covering ingroups/outgroups and superordinate goals in the social psychology chapter, ask your students to read the article and address these questions.
What factors contribute to dividing medical professionals into the subgroups of doctors and nurses? For example, physicians have higher status than nurses.
What superordinate goal do the article authors suggest would bring nurses and doctors together?
At about 1,000 words, the article is short enough for students to read and discuss in class.
Alternatively, it’s an excellent real-world example to bring into your lecture.
From the new APA Intro Psych student learning outcomes, this activity addresses:
Identify examples of relevant and practical applications of psychological principles to everyday life.
Integrative theme: Applying psychological principles can changes our lives in positive ways.
Cognitive dissonance theory—one of social psychology’s gifts to human self-understanding—offers several intriguing predictions, including this: When we act in ways inconsistent with our attitudes or beliefs, we often resolve that dissonance by changing our thinking. Attitudes follow behavior.
That simple principle explains why smokers often dismiss health warnings, why racial attitudes improved following school desegregation and civil rights laws, and why we tend to dislike those whom we’ve harmed and to love those to whom we have been kind. Although we sometimes do persuade ourselves to act, we also can act ourselves into new ways of thinking. Our deeds forge our understandings.
The principle reaches into our political attitudes. Consider how U.S. attitudes followed U.S. behavior as events unfolded during the 2003 war with Iraq, which was premised primarily on the need to rid Iraq of its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Four in five Americans told Gallup they believed WMDs would be found, leading 4 in 5 also to support the war. Was the war justified even if Iraq did not have WMDs? Only 38 percent of Americans believed it would be; if there were no WMDs, there should be no war.
When no such weapons were found—and the war’s human, financial, and terrorism-enhancing costs became known—how did Americans resolve their dissonance? They changed their primary rationale for the war from eliminating WMDs to ridding the world of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Thus, three months after the war’s launch, the 38 percent who supported the war if there were no WMDs now had mushroomed to 58 percent. Despite the war’s discounted initial rationale, support for a war that didn’t eliminate WMDs had increased.
Will such self-persuasion ride again in the 2020 American conflict with Iran? Prior to the January 3, 2020, killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani, Americans overwhelmingly disapproved of war with Iran:
In June 2019, about 4 in 5 Americans (78 percent) approved of President Trump’s calling off a retaliatory strike after Iran downed a U.S. drone. Few believed that retaliation against Iran was a good idea.
In July 2019, only 18 percent told Gallup they favored “military action against Iran.”
In September 2019, only 21 percent responding to a University of Maryland survey said that, to achieve its goal with Iran, “the U.S. should be prepared to go to war.”
I wrote the above words on January 8, 2020, and now await follow-up surveys—with the expectation that cognitive dissonance will ride again, as some Americans wrestle with the dissonance between their support for the president and their prior opposition to such military action—a tension that can be resolved by now thinking the retaliatory strike was warranted.
* * * *
P.S. Initial post-strike surveys:
A January 4-5, 2020, POLITICO/Morning Consult survey reported that “47% of voters approve of President Donald Trump's decision to kill top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani while 40% disapprove.”
A January 6–7, 2020, post-assassination Reuters/Ipsos survey found that “a growing minority of Americans say they are now in favor of a ‘preemptive attack’ on Iran’s military.’ The poll found that 27 percent said ‘the United States should strike first.’”
A January 7–8, 2020. USA Today/Reuters survey found Americans concerned about increased threats to U.S. safety, yet 42 percent supported the Soleimani assassination—far more than the 1 in 5 who favored such action in the summer of 2019.
(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)
After covering operant conditioning, ask your students to consider how government agencies could encourage more public transit use by using reinforcement. Give students a couple minutes to think about this on their own, then ask students to share their ideas in small groups. Next, ask each group to develop a plan where operant conditioning could be used to encourage the use of public transit.
What is the operant (the behavior being targeted)?
What will be used as the reinforcement? Will it be positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement?
What schedule of reinforcement would you recommend? Variable ratio, variable interval, fixed ratio, or fixed interval?
Once the group discussion has died down, ask each group to share their plan, ensuring that they have correctly identified the type and schedule of reinforcement.
Wrap up the discussion by sharing that Miami has implemented such a program. Using an app called Velocia, Miami residents can track how they get around: walking, biking, carpooling, riding the bus/train (“Miami launches app that rewards citizens for ditching their cars at home,” 2019). The more you don’t drive solo, the more “Velos” points you earn. Each method is worth a different number of Velos points. For example, walking 5 miles in a week earns you 300 Velos. Those points can be redeemed for public transportation discounts. For example, for 450 Velos you can rent a CitiBike for 30 minutes.
Even if you are not in Miami, you can download the Velocia app from Google Play or the App Store to see how it works.
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Getting away from research done on "traditional" populations can show us a lot about what influences us. Personality is not only about who but also where you are | Aeon Ideas http://ow.ly/iCJb30q5Zcapsychstudentrss
It’s the new year transition, the line between our last year’s self and our hoped-for healthier, happier, and more productive 2020 self. To become that new self, we know what to do. We know that a full night’s sleep boosts our alertness, energy, and mood. We know that exercise lessens depression and anxiety, sculpts our bodies, and strengthens our hearts and minds. We know that what we put into our bodies—junk food or balanced nutrition, addictive substances or clean air—affects our health and longevity.
Alas, as T. S. Eliot foresaw, “Between the idea and the reality . . . Falls the Shadow.” So how, this year, can we move from knowing the needed behaviors to doing them?
First, do make that New Year’s resolution. Research by Gary Latham, Edwin Locke, and others confirms that challenging goals motivate achievement. Specific, measurable, realistic goals—such as “finish the business plan by the month’s end”—direct attention, promote effort, motivate persistence, and stimulate creativity.
Second, announce the goal to friends or family. We’re more likely to follow through after making a public commitment.
Third, develop animplementation plan—an action strategy that specifies when, where, and how you will march toward achieving your goal. Research shows that people who flesh out goals with detailed plans become more focused in their work, and more likely to complete it on time.
Through the ups and downs of goal-striving, we best sustain our motivation when we focus on immediate subgoals. Better to have our nose to the grindstone than our eye on the ultimate prize. Better to attend to daily study than the course grade. Better to center on small steps—the day’s running target—than to fantasize the marathon.
Fourth, monitor and record progress, perhaps aided by a tracker such as a Fitbit. It’s all the better when that progress is displayed publicly rather than kept secret.
Fifth, create a supportive environment. When trying to eat healthy, keep junk food out of the cupboards. Use small plates and bowls. When focusing on a project, hole up in the library. When sleeping, stash the smartphone. Choose the right friends. Such “situational self-control strategies” prevent tempting impulses, Angela Duckworth and her colleagues have found.
Sixth, transform the hard-to-do behavior into a must-do habit. Habits form when we repeat behaviors in a given context—sleeping in the same comfy position, walking the same route to work, eating the same breakfast oatmeal. As our behavior becomes linked with the context, our next experience of that context evokes our habitual response. Studies find that when our willpower is depleted, as when we’re mentally fatigued, we fall back on our habits—good or bad. To increase our self-control, to connect our resolutions with positive outcomes, the key is forming “beneficial habits.”
“If you would make anything a habit, do it,” said the stoic philosopher Epictetus. But how long does it take to form a beneficial habit? A University College London research team led by Phillippa Lally asked 96 university students to choose some healthy behavior, such as eating fruit with lunch or running before dinner, and to perform it daily for 84 days. The students also logged whether the behavior felt automatic (something they did without thinking and would find it hard not to do). When did the behaviors turn into habits? On average, after about 66 days.
Gwyneth Paltrow recalls that when she first started working with a personal trainer, “finding motivation was hard. She advised me to think of exercise as an automatic routine, no different from brushing your teeth, to avoid getting distracted. Now it is part of my life—I exercise Monday to Friday at 10 a.m. and always stick with it.”
Friskie.Cin Then do it every day for two months, or a bit longer for exercise. You likely will find yourself with a new habit, and perhaps a healthier, happier, and more productive life.
(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com, where this essay originally appeared—here.)
If you have watched a 2019 Democratic Party debate, you perhaps have taken note: While Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker glide smoothly through their spoken words, Joe Biden sometimes hesitates, stammers, and stumbles. Is he just less mentally agile than his more lucid counterparts?
Perhaps we should cut him some slack, suggests John Hendrickson in an upcoming Atlanticessay. Biden experiences the lingering effects of childhood stuttering that made him a subject of mockery. An empathic Hendrickson, himself a stutterer, illustrates from Biden’s July debate:
“My plan makes a limit of co-pay to be One. Thousand. Dollars. Because we—”
He stopped. He pinched his eyes closed. He lifted his hands and thrust them forward, as if trying to pull the missing sound from his mouth. “We f-f-f-f-further support—” He opened his eyes. “The uh-uh-uh-uh—”
Hendrickson is not the only one who empathizes. As a childhood stutterer who received speech therapy in my Seattle public elementary school, and for whom such dysfluency has occasionally resurfaced in adulthood, I know the dismay of coming up to a word that gets stuck in the roof of the mouth, to everyone’s embarrassment, especially my own. For me, K has been a difficult consonant, and sometimes there seems no other way to call on “K-k-k-kathy.”
But often, those who stutter have learned that they can fake normal fluency by backing up and detouring around the verbal roadblock, rendering the impediment invisible. As with Joe Biden’s debate responses, listeners may notice the pauses and mid-sentence changes of direction. They just don’t attribute the dysfluency to stuttering (which Biden also does not blame).
And so it happens with the great invisible disability, hearing loss. “Can everyone hear me?” asks the person on stage. Given the inevitable answer from those hearing the question, the nodding heads lead the speaker to think, “I don’t need a mic.” And most in the audience likewise presume all’s well—oblivious to the unseen exclusion of so many of us (and hence my advocacy for user-friendly hearing accessibility technology in such settings—see here).
Like stutterers, those of us with hearing loss also finesse awkward situations. At a noisy party or in a restaurant, we fake hearing. As our conversational partner makes unheard social chatter, we smile and nod—not wanting to be a pain by asking people to repeat and repeat. Sometimes our response is inappropriate—smiling at someone’s sadness, or being unresponsive to a question. But mostly, after straining and failing to carve meaning out of sound, our pretending to hear hides our disability.
There’s practical wisdom to socially finessing one’s speech or hearing challenges. But some go further to hide their hearing disability. They respond to ads for “invisible hearing aids” that can keep people from knowing that—shame, shame—you have hearing loss. (Shame instead on the hearing professionals whose ads imply that hearing loss is something to be deeply ashamed of, and to hide.) Actually, the more public I am about my hearing loss, the more comfortable I become at seeking people’s help in coping with it—by finding quieter tables in quieter restaurants, facing the wall, sitting with my good ear toward the person, having them speak into that ear, and using a wireless mic that transmits to my hearing aids.
We can extend the list of hidden disabilities to include some forms of vision loss, brain injury, chronic fatigue, pain, phobias, dyslexia, depression, dementia, and a host of others. Given the invisibility of such disabilities, we often don’t see the challenges that lie behind everything from a child’s misspellings to a Joe Biden stammer. If only we knew—and if only those of us with the invisible challenges would let others know—we all could be less judgmental, more understanding, and more genuinely helpful.
(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)