Monthly Archives: September 2009

Suppress That Thought (Not!)

Have you ever had a song you just couldn’t get out of your head? Laid awake fretting about your need to fall asleep? Or had some other unwanted thought that simply wouldn’t go away? (…that you then tweeted or posted on FaceBook…? …you know who you are…) Does it feel a bit like, “I have met the enemy, and he is…me?”

Thanks to this post from PsyBlog, even though your mind may feel like the enemy, now you’ll know it’s really just looking out for you. 

Since at least 1987, studies have shown that the more we try to suppress a thought, the more it intrudes. Have you ever been the subject of an enthusiastic professor asking you not to think about the “white bear”? The tendency of that thing-we-don’t-want-to-think-about to come back even more, when we try not to think about it, is known as the ‘post-suppression rebound effect’. And the stronger the thought’s emotional content, the more strongly it rebounds.

And isn’t it ironic… don’t you think
It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid…

To over-simplify, and probably upset dozens of scientists who really know what they’re talking about, it goes something like this.

Your brain:

  1. “Supress that thought. Suppress that thought. Suppress that thought.”
  2. “Ah, good. It’s gone. Hurray. Hurray, it’s gone! It’s gone.”
  3. “Wait. Is it really gone? Maybe I’m thinking about it and just don’t realize it. I better check to make sure I’m not really thinking about it.”
  4. “Argh. There it is. Of course I’m thinking about it. How could I know what I’m looking to see, if I can’t remember what it is I’m supposed to be forgetting?”
  5. Rinse and repeat 

I know. Not quite as lyrical as Alanis Morrisette. But isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

So what’s a would-be forgetter to do? Isn’t that obvious now?

Stop trying, and just forgedda’bou d’it.

Please see PsyBlog’s post for more complete access to studies, details and image credits (kineda). We simply took their brilliant post and over-simplified it.

Your Friendlier Future

Be Friendly“Of course they’ll like you! Just get out there, smile and be friendly.”

Sound familiar? The scientifc version of this (or at least one scientific version of it) is known as the Acceptance Prophecy:

If you expect people to like and accept you, they will. If you don’t, they won’t.

I know, it hardly seems fair, right? But fair or not, whether people like and accept you is largely up to you.

Think for a moment about the last time you met someone new. When someone is warm and friendly, of course you like them better than if they’re reserved and standoffish. In fact research shows that when that someone is genuinely warm and friendly to you, you can accurately detect it within 30 seconds.

Just as you respond more warmly to people who are warm to you, you also behave more warmly when you expect someone to like you. You’re more relaxed, less worried about acceptance, and therefore warmer and less reticient. This second part of the Acceptance Prophecy sounds logical, but was only recently confirmed.

Not many people are more interested in acceptance than a single, young man about to meet a single, attractive woman. In this most recent study highlighted in a recent PsyBlog post, Dr. Stinson told half a group of such men that they were about to meet an attractive woman that was nervous about meeting them. The other half were only given basic information about the woman with nothing to calm fears of rejection.

Can you guess who was more likeable? Yes, the half that weren’t worried about whether they would be rejected.

So whether worried about making friends at kindergarten or college,  that new job or new business group, remember Mom’s advice. Of course they’ll like you. And that’s no old wive’s tale.

Flu Season Rx: Be More Sociable

FriendsDo people ever ask you, “How do you find the time?” Or maybe, “How did you meet so many people?” If this sounds even a little bit like you, I’m guessing you are healthier than most people. Why?

We used to think that belonging to too many groups, being too sociable, was bad for you. It complicates your life, creates too many demands, and causes stress. Right?

Well not quite. In fact, research explored in September’s Scientific American Mind points to just the opposite. Those who are more sociable, belong to more groups, or have a variety of networks they belong to, have a distinct advantage over those less connected, who rely on only a few networks of friends and supporters.

How much more?

  • More than 30% less likely to have a second stroke in a 2005 study of 655 patients [1] 
  • About two times less likely to catch the common cold despite exposure to more germs [2]
  • Half the risk of dying in the next year when changing from not belonging to any groups to joining just one [3] 

And it’s more than general health. First year university students followed for the first four months of college were not just healthier. Those belonging to more groups before starting also had lower levels of depression. Anyone want a college student who is less homesick and less likely to drop or fail out? [4]

So whether you’re about to begin a major life transition, are stressed out at work, or are just worried about this year’s flu: Get Out There! Join groups. Volunteer. Blog, tweet, and connect on Facebook. Just be a bit more sociable. You’ll be happier and healthier for it.

For more detail and sources, see Scientific American Mind September/October 2009 article, Social Cures, by Jolanda Jetten, Catherine Haslam, S. Alexander Haslam and Nyla R. Branscombe.

1 Bernadette Boden-Albala, Columbia University, 2005

2 Sheldon Cohen & colleagues, Carnegie Mellon university, 2003, Psychological Science

3 Robert Putnam, Harvard University, Bowling Alone, 2000

4 Jolanda Jetten & S. A. Haslam, University of Queensland & University of Exeter, British Journal of Social Psychology