EssentialstheDiagonal is a personal blog by Mike Gerra, skeptic, technologist, psychologist, artist, humanist, collector of grand, eclectic ideas.theDiagonal blog connects the dots across multiple disciplines for inquisitive, objective and critical thinkers, exploring the vertices of big science, disruptive innovation, global sustainability, illuminating literature and leftfield art. It is on this diagonal that creativity thrives, big ideas take flight and reason triumphs.
Tag Archives: psychology
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Friday, April 26, 2013
Behavioral scientists have confirmed what shy people of the world have known for quite some time — that timidity and introversion can be beneficial traits. Yes, shyness is not a disorder!
Several studies of humans and animals show that shyness and assertiveness are both beneficial, dependent on the situational context. Researchers have shown that evolution favors both types of personality, and in fact, often rewards adaptability versus pathological extremes at either end of the behavioral spectrum.
From the New Scientist:...read more
Monday, April 22, 2013
Some words give us the creeps, they raise the hair on back of our heads, they make us squirm and give us an internal shudder. “Moist” is such as word.
The George Saunders story “Escape From Spiderhead,” included in his much praised new book Tenth of December, is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart. The sprawling, futuristic tale delves into several potentially unnerving topics: suicide, sex, psychotropic drugs. It includes graphic scenes of self-mutilation. It employs the phrases “butt-squirm,” “placental blood,” and “thrusting penis.” At one point, Saunders relates a conversation between two characters about the application of medicinal cream to raw, chafed genitals.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Human intelligence is a wonderful thing. At both the individual and collective level it drives our complex communication, our fundamental discoveries and inventions, and impressive and accelerating progress. Intelligence allows us to innovate, to design, to build; and it underlies our superior capacity, over other animals, for empathy, altruism, art, and social and cultural evolution. Yet, despite our intellectual abilities and seemingly limitless potential, we humans still do lots of stupid things. Why is this?
From New Scientist:...read more
Sunday, March 31, 2013
From the Wall Street Journal:
Why are children so, well, so helpless? Why did I spend a recent Sunday morning putting blueberry pancake bits on my 1-year-old grandson’s fork and then picking them up again off the floor? And why are toddlers most helpless when they’re trying to be helpful? Augie’s vigorous efforts to sweep up the pancake detritus with a much-too-large broom (“I clean!”) were adorable but not exactly effective.
This isn’t just a caregiver’s cri de coeur—it’s also an important scientific question. Human babies and young children are an evolutionary paradox. Why must big animals invest so much time and energy just keeping the little ones alive? This is especially true of our human young, helpless and needy for far longer than the young of other primates....read more
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Some believe that AIDS was created by the U.S. Government or bestowed by a malevolent god. Some believe that Neil Armstrong never set foot on the moon, while others believe that Nazis first established a moon base in 1942. Some believe that recent tsunamis were caused by the U.S. military, and that said military is hiding evidence of alien visits in Area 51, Nevada. The latest of course is the great conspiracy of climate change, which apparently is created by socialists seeking to destroy the United States. This conspiratorial thinking makes for good reality-TV, and presents wonderful opportunities for psychological research. Why after all, in the face of seemingly insurmountable evidence, widespread common consensus and fundamental scientific reasoning, do such ideas, and their believers persist?
From Skeptical Science:
Saturday, January 5, 2013
The next time your spouse tells you that you’re “just not the same person anymore” there may be some truth to it. After all, we are not who we thought we would become, nor are we likely to become what we think. That’s the overall result of a recent study of human personality changes in around 20,000 people over time.
When we remember our past selves, they seem quite different. We know how much our personalities and tastes have changed over the years. But when we look ahead, somehow we expect ourselves to stay the same, a team of psychologists said Thursday, describing research they conducted of people’s self-perceptions.
They called this phenomenon the “end of history illusion,” in which people tend to “underestimate how much they will change in the future.” According to their research, which involved more than 19,000 people ages 18 to 68, the illusion persists from teenage years into retirement....read more
Thursday, December 20, 2012
It’s very likely that you have taken the test at some point in your life: during high school, or to get into university or to secure your first job. The test categorizes humans along 4 discrete axes (or dichotomies) of personality types: Extraversion (E) and Introversion (I); Sensing (S) and Intuition (N); Thinking (T) and Feeling (F); Judging (J) and Perceiving (P). If your have a partner it’s likely that he or she has, at sometime or another, (mis-)labeled you as an E or an I, and as a “feeler” rather than a “thinker”, and so on. Countless arguments will have ensued.
From the Washington Post:
Some grandmothers pass down cameo necklaces. Katharine Cook Briggs passed down the world’s most widely used personality test....read more
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
If you’re an office worker you will relate. Recently, you will have participated on a team meeting or conference call only to have at least one person say, when asked a question, “sorry can you please repeat that, I was multitasking.”...read more
Monday, December 17, 2012
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Chronobiologist, Till Roenneberg, debunks 5 commonly held beliefs about sleep. He is author of “Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired.”
From the Washington Post:
If shopping on Black Friday leaves you exhausted, or if your holiday guests keep you up until the wee hours, a long Thanksgiving weekend should offer an opportunity for some serious shut-eye. We spend between a quarter and a third of our lives asleep, but that doesn’t make us experts on how much is too much, how little is too little, or how many hours of rest the kids need to be sharp in school. Let’s tackle some popular myths about Mr. Sandman.
1.You need eight hours of sleep per night.
That’s the cliche. Napoleon, for one, didn’t believe it. His prescription went something like this: “Six hours for a man, seven for a woman and eight for a fool.”...read more
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
From the New York Times:
Drew Petersen didn’t speak until he was 3½, but his mother, Sue, never believed he was slow. When he was 18 months old, in 1994, she was reading to him and skipped a word, whereupon Drew reached over and pointed to the missing word on the page. Drew didn’t produce much sound at that stage, but he already cared about it deeply. “Church bells would elicit a big response,” Sue told me. “Birdsong would stop him in his tracks.”...read more
Monday, November 5, 2012
The endless pursuit of beauty in human affairs probably pre-dates our historical record. We certainly know that ancient Egyptians used cosmetics believing them to offer magical and religious powers, in addition to aesthetic value.
Yet paradoxically beauty it is rather subjective and often fleeting. The French singer, songwriter, composer and bon viveur once said that, “ugliness is superior to beauty because it lasts longer”. Author Stephen Bayley argues in his new book “Ugly: The Aesthetics of Everything”, that beauty is downright boring.
From the Telegraph:
Beauty is boring. And the evidence is piling up. An article in the journal Psychological Science now confirms what partygoers have known forever: that beauty and charm are no more directly linked than a high IQ and a talent for whistling....read more
Friday, October 26, 2012
Parents have long known that the sleep-wake cycles of their adolescent offspring are rather different to those of anyone else in the household.
Several new and detailed studies of teenagers tell us why teens are impossible to awaken at 7 am, suddenly awake at 10 pm, and often able to sleep anywhere for stretches of 16 hours.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Many parents know the scene: The groggy, sleep-deprived teenager stumbles through breakfast and falls asleep over afternoon homework, only to spring to life, wide-eyed and alert, at 10 p.m.—just as Mom and Dad are nodding off....read more
Monday, October 22, 2012
A yearlong survey of moodiness shows that the so-called Monday Blues may be more figment of the imagination than fact.
From the New York Times:
DESPITE the beating that Mondays have taken in pop songs — Fats Domino crooned “Blue Monday, how I hate blue Monday” — the day does not deserve its gloomy reputation.
Two colleagues and I recently published an analysis of a remarkable yearlong survey by the Gallup Organization, which conducted 1,000 live interviews a day, asking people across the United States to recall their mood in the prior day. We scoured the data for evidence that Monday was bluer than Tuesday or Wednesday. We couldn’t find any....read more
Monday, October 15, 2012
Memory is a very useful cognitive tool. After all, where would we be if we had no recall of our family, friends, foods, words, tasks and dangers.
But, it turns our that memory may also help us imagine the future — another very important human trait.
From the New Scientist:
Friday, October 12, 2012
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Friday, September 14, 2012
Many parents have known this for a long time: it takes more than a stellar IQ, SAT or ACT score to make a well-rounded kid. Arguably there a many more important traits that never feature on these quantitative tests. Such qualities as leadership, curiosity, initiative, perseverance, motivation, courage and empathy come to mind.
An excerpt below from Paul Tough’s book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character”.
From the Wall Street Journal:
We are living through a particularly anxious moment in the history of American parenting. In the nation’s big cities these days, the competition among affluent parents over slots in favored preschools verges on the gladiatorial. A pair of economists from the University of California recently dubbed this contest for early academic achievement the “Rug Rat Race,” and each year, the race seems to be starting earlier and growing more intense....read more
Thursday, September 13, 2012
A recent paper filed with the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that we are more likely to be honest if we sign a form before, rather than after, completing it. So, over the coming years look out for Uncle Sam to revise the ubiquitous IRS 1040 form by adding a signature line at the top rather than the bottom of the last page.
From Ars Technica:
What’s the purpose of signing a form? On the simplest level, a signature is simply a way to make someone legally responsible for the content of the form. But in addition to the legal aspect, the signature is an appeal to personal integrity, forcing people to consider whether they’re comfortable attaching their identity to something that may not be completely true....read more
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Yet another research study of gender differences shows some fascinating variation in the way men and women see and process their perceptions of others. Men tend to be perceived as a whole, women, on the other hand, are more likely to be perceived as parts.
From Scientific American:
A glimpse at the magazine rack in any supermarket checkout line will tell you that women are frequently the focus of sexual objectification. Now, new research finds that the brain actually processes images of women differently than those of men, contributing to this trend.
Women are more likely to be picked apart by the brain and seen as parts rather than a whole, according to research published online June 29 in the European Journal of Social Psychology. Men, on the other hand, are processed as a whole rather than the sum of their parts....read more
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Procrastinators have known this for a long time: that success comes from making a decision at the last possible moment.
Procrastinating professor Frank Partnoy expands on this theory, captured in his book, “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay“.
Sometimes life seems to happen at warp speed. But, decisions, says Frank Partnoy, should not. When the financial market crashed in 2008, the former investment banker and corporate lawyer, now a professor of finance and law and co-director of the Center for Corporate and Securities Law at the University of San Diego, turned his attention to literature on decision-making.
“Much recent research about decisions helps us understand what we should do or how we should do it, but it says little about when,” he says....read more
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Many people in industrialized countries often describe time as flowing like a river: it flows back into the past, and it flows forward into the future. Of course, for bored workers time sometimes stands still, while for kids on summer vacation time flows all too quickly. And, for many people over, say the age of forty, days often drag, but the years fly by.
For some, time flows uphill, and it flows downhill.
From New Scientist:
“HERE and now”, “Back in the 1950s”, “Going forward”… Western languages are full of spatial metaphors for time, and whether you are, say, British, French or German, you no doubt think of the past as behind you and the future as stretching out ahead. Time is a straight line that runs through your body....read more
Saturday, June 30, 2012
Some innovative research shows that we are generally more inclined to cheat others if we are clad in counterfeit designer clothing or carrying faux accessories.
From Scientific American:
Let me tell you the story of my debut into the world of fashion. When Jennifer Wideman Green (a friend of mine from graduate school) ended up living in New York City, she met a number of people in the fashion industry. Through her I met Freeda Fawal-Farah, who worked for Harper’s Bazaar. A few months later Freeda invited me to give a talk at the magazine, and because it was such an atypical crowd for me, I agreed....read more
Monday, June 25, 2012
From Mind Matters over at Scientific American:
The poem “Maud Muller” by John Greenleaf Whittier aptly ends with the line, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’” What if you had gone for the risky investment that you later found out made someone else rich, or if you had had the guts to ask that certain someone to marry you? Certainly, we’ve all had instances in our lives where hindsight makes us regret not sticking our neck out a bit more.
But new research suggests that when we are older these kinds of ‘if only!’ thoughts about the choices we made may not be so good for our mental health. One of the most important determinants of our emotional well being in our golden years might be whether we learn to stop worrying about what might have been....read more
Sunday, June 3, 2012
Most of us, editor of theDiagonal included, have known this for a while. We’ve known that letting the mind wander aimlessly is crucial to creativity and problem-solving.
It’s easy to underestimate boredom. The mental condition, after all, is defined by its lack of stimulation; it’s the mind at its most apathetic. This is why the poet Joseph Brodsky described boredom as a “psychological Sahara,” a cognitive desert “that starts right in your bedroom and spurns the horizon.” The hands of the clock seem to stop; the stream of consciousness slows to a drip. We want to be anywhere but here.
However, as Brodsky also noted, boredom and its synonyms can also become a crucial tool of creativity. “Boredom is your window,” the poet declared. “Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.”...read more
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
The news of recent research documenting how readers identify with the main characters in stories has mostly been taken as confirmation of the value of literary role models. Lisa Libby, an assistant professor at Ohio State University and co-author of a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, explained that subjects who read a short story in which the protagonist overcomes obstacles in order to vote were more likely to vote themselves several days later.
The suggestibility of readers isn’t news. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel of a sensitive young man destroyed by unrequited love, “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” inspired a rash of suicides by would-be Werthers in the late 1700s. Jack Kerouac has launched a thousand road trips. Still, this is part of science’s job: Running empirical tests on common knowledge — if for no other reason than because common knowledge (and common sense) is often wrong....read more
Thursday, April 26, 2012
The hit drama Mad Men shows us that cocktail parties can be fun — colorful drinks and colorful conversations with a host of very colorful characters. Yet cocktail parties also highlight one of our limitations, the inability to multitask. We are single-threaded animals despite the constant and simultaneous bombardment for our attention from all directions, and to all our senses.
Melinda Beck over at the WSJ Health Journal summarizes recent research that shows the deleterious effects of our attempts to multitask — why it’s so hard and why it’s probably not a good idea anyway, especially while driving.
From the Wall Street Journal:
You’re at a party. Music is playing. Glasses are clinking. Dozens of conversations are driving up the decibel level. Yet amid all those distractions, you can zero in on the one conversation you want to hear....read more