Archive for August 9th, 2012

How to make time stand still


It often feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all the things we want to accomplish, let alone find a moment to relax. The demands of work and social life, combined with our basic needs for sleep, food, and exercise, can quickly add up and overflow, producing the sense that time is constantly slipping away and we’re constantly running to catch up. Time may be limited, but it doesn’t have to always feel that way. New research suggests that our state of mind can change the way we perceive and experience time, and in turn, make us happier and more giving.

At certain moments in your life, you may have had the feeling that time stood still. Maybe it was the first time you saw the Grand Canyon, or the moment you realized you were falling in love. These experiences are often those of awe, an emotion elicited by perceptions of vastness (either in size or significance) and a need to alter one’s existing way of seeing the world to accommodate this new perception. In a
forthcoming paper, researchers Melanie Rudd, Kathleen Vohs, and Jennifer Aaker examined whether the emotion of awe, compared to happiness and neutral states, might reduce people’s sense of time pressure and consequently make them more willing to volunteer their time, choose experiences over material objects, and enjoy greater life satisfaction.

To examine these hypotheses, the researchers conducted three experiments. In the first experiment, participants started off by unscrambling sentences like “not available enough time much” so that everyone would start off at the same time-pressured baseline. Next, participants were randomly assigned to watch either an awe-eliciting or happiness-eliciting commercial on TV. The awe-inducing commercial showed people encountering images such waterfalls and whales on a city street, whereas the happiness-inducing commercial showed a parade with rainbow confetti and celebration. Finally participants filled out a survey, embedded in which was a measure of time perception with items such as “Time is boundless” and “I have lots of time in which I can get things done.”As predicted, participants who were in a state of awe, compared to those induced to feel happiness, felt that time was more expansive.

What good does an expansive sense of time do? The researchers examined this question in the next two experiments. In the second experiment, participants wrote about a personal experience of awe (in the awe condition) or happiness (in the happiness condition). A measure of impatience was used to assess time perception, followed by a measure of willingness to donate time or money. Awe-induced participants felt less impatient, and they were also more willing to to donate their time to help others (the resource that awe helped to replenish), but not more likely to donate money (which is less relevant to time). A statistical test of mediation showed that participants who were in a state of awe were more willing to give their time because they felt like they had more of it.

In the final experiment, participants read either an awe-inspiring or neutral story, followed by questionnaires assessing time perception, life satisfaction, and hypothetical choices about purchasing either experiences or material goods (e.g., Broadway tickets or a watch). Awe again led to expanded time perceptions, which is turn increased perceived life satisfaction and interest in experiences rather than material goods.

These results suggest that one way to feel like we have all the time in the world (even if we don’t) is to do things that inspire awe. It’s easy to get caught up in the routines of everyday life and miss out on potentially wondrous experiences, some of which may be right under our noses. The mere fact of our existence, for one, can be enough to inspire awe (see this previous post). Awe may not be helpful in all situations, the researchers note–sometimes it’s a good thing to feel like time is limited, so that we can get down to business when necessary. But more often than not, we could all probably use a little more awe. Life may be short, but that doesn’t mean we can’t feel like it’s endless, once in awhile.

Want an easy way to feel more awe right now? Watch the Olympics. Here is a slow motion clip of McKayla Maroney flying off the vault in the team competition (her “not impressed” expression may be all over the internet, but we are impressed!)

Photo by Lionoche.

Reference:

Rudd, M., Vohs, K.D., & Aaker, J. (2012). Awe expands people’s perception of time, alters decision-making, and enhances well-being. Psychological Science

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Brain Scans Show Teen Drinking Impairs Brain Efficiency


Brain Scans Show Teen Drinking Impairs Brain EfficiencyNew research suggests brains scans can identify patterns of brain activity that may predict if a teen will develop into a problem drinker.

The study also confirms that heavy drinking affects a teenagers’ developing brain.

Using special MRI scans, researchers looked at forty 12- to 16-year-olds who had not started drinking yet, then followed them for about three years and scanned them again.

Researchers discovered that half of the teens started to drink alcohol fairly heavily during this interval.

Investigators also found that kids who had initially showed less activation in certain brain areas were at greater risk for becoming heavy drinkers in the next three years.

However, once the teens started drinking, their brain activity looked like the heavy drinkers’ in the other studies — that is, their brains showed more activity as they tried to perform memory tests.

“That’s the opposite of what you’d expect, because their brains should be getting more efficient as they get older,” said lead researcher Lindsay M. Squeglia, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego.

Researchers say an operational definition of heavy drinking typically included episodes of having four or more drinks on an occasion for females and five or more drinks for males.

The findings add to evidence that heavy drinking has consequences for teenagers’ developing brains. But they also add a new layer: There may be brain activity patterns that predict which kids are at increased risk for heavy drinking.

“It’s interesting because it suggests there might be some pre-existing vulnerability,” Squeglia said.

Researchers say they are not advocating for teens to receive MRIs to determine their risk of excessive alcohol consumption. But the findings do give clues into the biological origins of kids’ problem drinking.

Experts say the findings suggest that heavy drinking may affect young people’s brains right at the time when they need to be working efficiently.

“You’re learning to drive, you’re getting ready for college. This is a really important time of your life for cognitive development,” Squeglia said.

She noted that all of the study participants were healthy, well-functioning kids. It’s possible that teens with certain disorders — like depression or ADHD — might show greater effects from heavy drinking.

Source: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

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Are Men Looking for Love from an Escort Service?


Are Men Looking for Love from an Escort Service?A new study suggests men who frequent the world’s oldest profession are not attempting to avoid an emotional commitment.

Researchers discovered that in men who become regular clients of sex workers, feelings of romance and love often develop.

The desire for an emotional attachment contradicts the historical or traditional premise that an encounter with a prostitute is a means to avoid attachment.

This study is published in a recent edition of the journal Men and Masculinities.

“In recent years, we have come to see a gradual normalization of independent escort prostitution, where sexual encounters have come to resemble quasi-dating relationships,” stated study author Christine Milrod, Ph.D. “Our study shows that regular clients of a particular sex provider often come to experience feelings of deep affection, which can progress into an authentic love story.”

Technology enables research on the topic as Milrod and co-author Ronald Weitzer, Ph.D., analyzed 2,442 postings on an online discussion board from a sex provider review site. More than a million clients of sex workers read and post about their experiences on the site.

A review of the postings discovered that approximately one-third included a discussion about emotional intimacy between sex workers and their clients.

Researchers discovered many clients expressed a desire to grow their relationships beyond the physical level in the form of sharing private feelings and mutual love.

“These relationships follow a conventionally romantic script that normalizes the liaison and destigmatizes both provider and client,” stated Milrod.

“The study shows that this kind of normalization may manifest itself in a merger of finances, families and finally monogamous partnerships – the provider is no longer just a supplier of the girlfriend experience, but a real-life romantic partner.”

Source: Sage

Couple photo by shutterstock.

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Older Adults Beat Younger at Staying Positive


Older Adults Stay PositiveDespite aches and pains and senior moments, older adults display more positive emotions than younger adults, say researchers. And they can pull out of a negative emotional state quicker than much younger adults.

Such emotional control may seem paradoxical, as many would expect that age would be associated with poor moods and emotional distress.

In a new study, Derek Isaacowitz, Ph.D., of Northeastern University attempts to explain the paradox.

He believes positive looking is a possible explanation: older adults may be better at regulating emotion because they tend to direct their eyes away from negative material or toward positive material. In the study, Isaacowitz presents evidence indicating that compared to younger adults, older adults prefer positive looking patterns.

Older adults also show the most positive looking when they are in bad moods — a time when younger adults show the most negative looking.

Researchers believe there is a causal relationship between looking for the good in life and mood. In the study they discovered for adults with good attentional abilities, positive looking patterns can help to regulate their mood.

So focusing on the positive seems to pay off for senior adults. Researchers also discovered that although elders prefer to focus on the positive, this perspective does not prevent them from missing other important information.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

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Upfront Bonus to Teachers Improves Student Performance


Upfront Bonus to Teachers Improves Student PerformanceEducational reform is receiving considerable attention these days, and a new study suggests prepaying teachers appears to improve student academic performance.

Paying an upfront bonus does come with a caveat as part of the money must be returned if student performance fails to improve, say University of Chicago researchers.

The study showed that students gained as much as a 10 percentile increase in their scores compared to students with similar backgrounds — if their teacher received a bonus at the beginning of the year, with conditions attached.

There was no gain for students when teachers were offered the bonus at the end of the school year, the research found.

“This is the first experimental study to demonstrate that teacher merit pay can have a significant impact on student performance in the U.S.,” said economist John List, Ph.D., an author of the study.

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economics Research, reflects the findings of other studies in psychology and behavioral economics.

“The results of our experiment are consistent with over 30 years of psychological and economic research on the power of loss aversion to motivate behavior: Students whose teachers in the ‘loss’ treatment of the experiment showed large and significant gains in their math test scores,” said List, a professor in economics at UChicago.

Timing of the incentive made a significant difference.

“In line with previous studies in the United States, we did not find an impact of teacher incentives that are framed as gains (the reward coming at the end of the year),” he added.

The study comes amid a growing wave of interest of finding ways to provide teacher incentives to increase student performance — as usually assessed by student achievement on standardized tests. Unfortunately, most of the current incentive programs have not shown value, the scholars said.

The new study depends on a formula developed by Dr. Derek Neal, professor of economics at UChicago, and Gadi Barlevy, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

They devised the “pay for percentile” method of measuring teacher performance by comparing individual students with similar backgrounds and achievement to see what impact a teacher had on their learning.

The scholars used the formula in an experiment in Chicago Heights, Ill., a community 30 miles south of Chicago. The community has nine kindergarten to eighth-grade schools with a total enrollment of 3,200 students. Its achievement rates are below state average, and 98 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

At the beginning of the school year, the teachers were introduced to the experiment and offered an opportunity to participate. A total of 150 of the 160 teachers agreed to join in the study, which was supported by the local teachers union.

The teachers were randomly assigned to a control group as well as a group given a bonus at the beginning of the year, a group that could receive the bonus at the end of the year, and a group made up of teachers who worked in teams. Money for the bonuses was provided from private sources.

One group of teachers in the study was given a $4,000 bonus at the beginning of the year and told it would be reduced by an amount reflecting their students’ performance — the more the students’ standardized scores increased, the more of the bonus their teacher could keep. Another group of teachers was told they would receive a $4,000 bonus if their students improved during the year.

The incentives were based on rewarding teachers with $80 for each percentile of increase in their students’ mathematics performance over the district average. They could, depending on exceptional student performance, receive up to $8,000 under the plan — the equivalent of 16 percent of the average teacher salary in the district.

The students were tested with the ThinkLink Predictive Assessment, a standardized, non-high-stakes diagnostic tool that is aligned with state achievement tests.

Thomas Amadio, superintendent of Chicago Heights Elementary School District 170, where the experiment was conducted, said the study shows the value of merit pay as an encouragement for better teacher performance.

“Teachers do have challenges, and classes can vary from year to year in how well they perform. Testing students individually to see their growth is a valuable measure, however,” he said.

Teachers responsible for that growth should be rewarded, he said.

Source: University of Chicago

Teacher and students in a classroom photo by shutterstock.

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