All posts filed under: Psychological Research

Comparison and Contentment

In a time where we are preoccupied with maintaining appearances both online and in-person, we go through our days managing the impressions we make on other people. We wear clothes we think strangers will approve of, we post pictures we think will accrue the most “likes,” all the while running from the feeling that we’re doing it all wrong. At the end of the day, we pour over the profiles of beautiful people with impressive resumes, comparing our messy life and stained pajamas with that carefully curated picture. We know it’s not real: that the beautiful smiles of airbrushed influencers or the perfect home of that mommy-blogger are not real life. We know that everyone posts their shiny moments, the ones where they look brave, the ones where the dirt is swept beneath the rug, and demons safely locked away. We know that we are comparing our worst moments to other’s highlight reels, and yet, we still set down our phones with the heavy feeling that we are inferior, that we are not enough. The …

Tricking Your Brain into a Happier Life: The Power of Selective Attention

As we go through our daily lives, we are bombarded with a sea of new sensory input. Scientists have discussed how, in a given moment, there are thousands of sights, sounds and ideas our brains have to sift through to decide what’s important. So, in any moment, what we actually, see, hear, and think about is simply what our brains decided was worth our time. What does this have to do with anxiety, mental health, and happiness? Glad you asked. Selective Attention: The Problem What our brains tells us to pay attention to dictates the information we have about our world. Importantly, the information that our brain believes to be relevant is determined by our own beliefs. Here’s an example: I’m terrified of spiders. Fortunately (and unfortunately), I also possess a super-human ability to notice even the tiniest or most well-hidden spider. Why is this the case? Well, because my fear of spiders has told my brain that any information pertaining to spiders is something that the boss-lady (a.k.a. me) is probably going to want …

Self-Worth: What the Research Has to Say

Psychologists are really interested in what they call “contingencies of self-worth.” This is the idea that our assessments of our own worth depend on things around us that fluctuate: we may feel worthy when people give us praise, when we get a good grade or a promotion, or when we have a productive day. Conversely, we may feel unworthy when we receive criticism, a poor grade, or when we aren’t as productive. The point is, when our worth is tied things in our daily lives that are inconsistent, we are left in a perilous state which wreaks havoc on our well-being. Below are some summaries of recent research findings about self-worth, and what you can do to start grounding your self-esteem in something more consistent. Finding #1: When students’ self-esteem is tied to their academic performance, they tend to be more depressed. Crocker and colleagues (2003) investigated these “contingencies of self-worth” and found that students tend to feel better about themselves on days they get good grades and worse about themselves on day they get …

Fostering Autonomy in Your Daily Life: Basic Psychological Needs Part 2

This post is the second of a four-part series on three of the most important needs identified by psychologists. If you have not read part one of the series, that’d be the best place to start! Consider this series a “How To” for becoming more motivated and satisfied in different areas of your life. Why Autonomy Matters What is autonomy, and why should you care? Well, first, autonomy is the sense that you are able to make your own choices. It’s the feeling of being in charge of important areas of you life, feeling you have the freedom to decide your own path. Autonomy is important because so much research has found that it leads to more satisfaction, motivation, productivity, and happiness. Sounds good, right? This isn’t surprising. Ask any teenager whether they would be more likely to enjoy doing the dishes when their mom tells them to, or when they spontaneously decide to do so on their own. We all know the answer to that question. If you’re not convinced, let me spout just …

Mindful-What?? Exploring the Practice That’s Taken the Psychology World by Storm

“Mindfulness.” It’s a buzz word, isn’t it? It’s something we throw around because we feel like we should know what it means (and at this point, we’re too afraid to ask.) Mindfulness has been the subject of countless studies, and it’s something many psychologists and therapist believe to be enormously effective in reducing the symptoms of a variety of psychological disorders. Mindfulness is firmly planting your feet in the “here and now.” It is the act of being intentional, purposeful, and present in whatever you are doing: if you are breathing, you’re focused on your breath; if you’re studying, your mind is fully occupied by what you’re learning; if you’re thinking about your emotions, you are present in what you’re feeling. If you’re like me, so far, this doesn’t sound that revolutionary Hang in there, this is where it gets good! If you think about how you go about your day, you probably think, feel, and behave almost completely on autopilot. You wake up, groggily eat breakfast, zone out as you drive to work, react …

Three Basic Psychological Needs and How to Meet Them: Part 1

Scientists, philosophers, and psychologists alike agree that human beings’ experience is some combination of genetic traits and environmental influences. (Sorry, folks, I am not about to settle the nature vs. nurture debate for you… But, if you want to impress your friends at your next get-together, throw out the word “epigenetics,” nod, and give them your most knowing look.) Philosophical narratives aside, science has spoken to the immeasurable impact our environments have on our behavior. Think of it this way: from the moment you were conceived, your environment (which, at the time was your mother’s womb) was already impacting your development. Did your mother use substances while pregnant with you? Was she under a lot of stress? Then you were born. Did you have older siblings, younger siblings, or were you an only child? How frequently and in what way did your parents discipline you? Were you easily able to make friends in school? As you got older, were you allowed to make your own decisions? How did your family respond when you made mistakes? …

Ice Cream and the Zodiac: How to Read Articles Like a Researcher

As a researcher myself, I tend to be skeptical of online/media voices that cite surprising statistical findings. Despite even the best intentions, sometimes people who lack training in research methods and statistics can accidentally misrepresent findings. One misleading headline later, the general public is terrified that everything in their fridge will give them cancer. Talk about lost in translation. How we read and interpret what we find online can really change the way we lives our lives. It can impact what foods we choose to put in our bodies, ways we try to support our physical/mental health, etc. So, it’s immensely important for us to discern whether the facts are being misrepresented. To illustrate my point, I’ll use a study which found that elevated ice cream sales were linked to higher incidences of homicide. Let’s pretend this article caught the attention of an eager journalist who then published the following: “Ice-Cold Killers: Dessert Consumption Causes Homicidal Rampage!” This definitely puts a different spin on the “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream” …