Tag Archives: Neuropsychology


How Much Does Appearance Matter?

Linda A. Jackson

Perceived attractiveness was correlated with perceived competence and likeability in a meta-analysis by Michigan State University’s Linda A. Jackson, John E. Hunter, and Carole N. Hodge.
Physically attractive people were seen as more intellectually competent.

Nancy Etcoff

Similarly, women who wore cosmetics were rated more highly on attractiveness, competence, likability and trustworthiness when viewed for as little as 250 milliseconds, found Harvard’s Nancy L. Etcoff, Lauren E. Haley, and David M. House, with Shannon Stock of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Proctor & Gamble’s Sarah A. Vickery.

Models without makeup, with natural, professional, “glamorous” makeup

However, when participants looked at the faces for a longer time, ratings for competence and attractiveness remained the same, but ratings for likability and trustworthiness changed based on specific makeup looks.

Trustworthiness was differentiated from attractiveness, which was seen as linked to competence, but not consistently with social warmth.

Etcoff’s team concluded that cosmetics could influence automatic judgments because attractiveness “rivets attention, and impels actions that help ensure the survival of our genes.”

Most people recognize the bias in assuming that attractive people are competent and that unattractive people are not, yet impression management remains crucial in the workplace and in the political arena.

-*Where have you seen appearance exert an influence in workplace credibility, decision-making and role advancement?

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Squeeze a Ball, Improve Performance under Pressure

Jürgen Beckmann

Improve performance under pressure by squeezing a ball or clenching the non-dominant hand before competition to activate specific motor regions of the brain, according to Jürgen Beckmann and his research team, who studied experienced soccer players, tae kwon do experts and badminton players.

The Journal of Experimental Psychology: General reported that right-handed athletes who squeezed a ball in their left hand before competing were less like to “choke under pressure” than right-handed players who squeeze a ball in their right hand.

Beckmann and collaborators Peter Gröpel and Felix Ehrlenspiel noted that when athletes don’t perform well “under pressure,” they may be focusing on their own movements rather than relying on automatic motor skills developed through repeated practice – or “muscle memory.”

They explained, “Rumination can interfere with concentration and performance on motor tasks … Many movements…can be impaired by attempts at consciously controlling them. This technique can be helpful for many situations and tasks.”

Iris Hung

Iris Hung

Other applications include business situations like presentations or negotiations, or helping elderly people improve balance by clenching a ball before walking or climbing stairs.
Iris Hung the National University of Singapore found additional applications: Avoiding the temptation of sugary snacks in a cafeteria, enduring physical pain, and disturbing information.

Hendrie Weisinger

Hendrie Weisinger, whose best-seller Nobody’s Perfect was the first of 8 books, integrates this finding with other research-based recommendations to manage performance pressure with “Nerves of Steel.” His new book is scheduled for release by Random House in 2013.

His other books, including Emotional Intelligence at Work and Anger at Work, along with video excerpts are available on his website.

-*How do you maintain performance when experiencing pressure?

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How Gaming Can Help You Live Better and Longer

Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal

Game designer Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk that gaming fulfills the basic human wishes expressed by dying hospice patients:

• Work less hard
• Stay in touch with friends
• Let myself be happier
• Have the courage to express my true self
• Live a life true to my dreams

She discussed a practical game, Superbetter, she developed following her own experience of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), which left her bedridden, in persistent pain, and suicidal for more than a year.

Based on her love of “Special Missions and Secret Objectives”, she developed four research-based challenges to increase her resilience and capabilities:

• Physical
• Mental
• Emotional
• Social

She asserts that these tasks help players strengthen abilities to remain motivated and optimistic even in the face of difficulty challenge, and boost physical and emotional well-being.
McGonigal links these capabilities to strengthening social support, increasing stamina and willpower.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that McGonigal’s twin sister and fellow Ph.D., Kelly McGonigal, conducts research at Stanford University on methods to increase willpower and compassion, and to reduce stress and pain.

Her recent book is The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It

Jane McGonigal seems to triumph in this Jane vs. Colbert face-off …though he may have tried to distract her by mentioning that she is “a girl, and an attractive one at that…with that Big Hair…”

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert

Six-time Stephen Colbert guest, Hayden Planetarium astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s commented that “you’re lucky to come away with your skin when you appear on Colbert’s show.”  Jane seemed to come away with her skin intact.

-*How have you seen gaming improve lives?
-*To what extent do you concur with the hospice patients’ wishes – and implied advice to younger people?

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Kept Up at Night by Intrusive Thoughts of Work: Elusive Sleep

According to the US Center for Disease Control, about 70 million Americans have some type of sleep disorder, and I noticed this when colleagues in three different meetings discussed their variations of disrupted sleep.
One person described waking up in the middle of the night with “brain whirlies,” whereas others reported waking up with anxiety about Excel spreadsheet accuracy.

William Dement

William Dement

Many people are familiar with William Dement’s ground-breaking studies of REM and NREM sleep, sleep “architecture”, sleep disorders as the Director of Stanford University Sleep Research Center, and many may know of his research on sleep deprivation’s impact on mood, immune system functioning, work productivity and even public safety.

In fact, he asserts that 33% of traffic accidents and most all major industrial accidents are related to human error based on sleep deprivation.
Dement also shows the relationship between sleep apnea and heart disease and stroke.

He outlined his research and advocacy in The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep 

Test your Sleep Savvy with his questionnaire by answering the following statements with “true” or “false”:

  1. Depriving people of dreams causes mental illness.
  2. Drowsiness, that feeling when the eyelids are trying to close and we cannot keep them open, is the first step and not the last step before we fall asleep.
  3. Generally, people need to sleep one hour for every two hours awake.
  4. Insomnia is a disease.
  5. The purpose of sleep is to rest the body, especially the muscles.
  6. Although sleep needs vary, people who sleep about eight hours, on average, tend to live longer.
  7. If you are well rested, it should take about five to ten minutes to fall asleep.
  8. The single symptom most frequently found in all severe sleep disorders is daytime fatigue.
  9. Sleep gets lighter and more fragmented as we age.
  10. We know what sleep is for, how it works, and how it affects us on a cellular level.

1,2,4,5,7,10 are false
3,6,8,9 are true

Rosalind Cartwright

Rosalind Cartwright

Fewer people may be aware of Dement’s mentor, Rosalind Cartwright, who founded the first accredited Sleep Disorder Service in Illinois in 1978 and wrote The Twenty-four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives 

She amplified Dement’s linkage of sleep hygiene with normal mood when she noted that sleep dampens negative emotions “so the next day begins with a calmer frame of mind with which to face the waking world.”

Cartwright recommends behavior modifications to “reclaim healthy sleep” and suggests a three-week “sleep camp” including:

  • Evaluating  risk of sleep disorders
  • Managing sleep “crises”
  • Keeping a sleep diary
  • Measuring  sleep debt

Echoing  the encouragement that “there’s an app for that,” technologists have summarized the most highly-rated Sleep Apps to measure sleep architecture , quality, and duration, and  recommend possible behavioral changes to improve sleep quality and related daily experience:

-*What helps you optimize your sleep experience?
-*Which “sleep myths” do you think are NOT myths?

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Positive to Negative Feedback Ratios – 3:1 @ work, 5:1: @ home

Sandra Mashihi

Sandra Mashihi

Envisia’s Kenneth Nowack and Sandra Mashihi provided “evidence-based answers” to 15 questions about leveraging 360-degree feedback.

Kenneth Nowack

Kenneth Nowack

Their first question was “Does 360-degree feedback do more harm than good”?
Nowack and Mashihi concluded that found “poorly-designed 360-degree feedback assessments and interventions can increase disengagement and contribute to poor individual and team performance.”

Specifically, individuals can “experience strong discouragement and frustration” when feedback is not as affirming as anticipated.
In addition, negatively-perceived information may be discounted and disregarded.

John Gottman’s studies of positive-to-negative interaction ratios in marriage suggest that intact and well-functioning marriages have a a 5:1 ratio, and research by his colleagues, Schwartz and team, found a similar effect for 360-feedback sessions, though the ratio was closer to 3:1 to encourage  enhanced individual and team performance, individual workplace engagement, effectiveness, and emotional “flourishing,” according to Frederickson and Losada.

Proportions of negative feedback and interactions that exceed these ratios can interfere with insight and motivation and diminish willingness to engage in work-related practice and performance effectiveness.

Barbara Fredrickson suggested in Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive that this 3:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback is a “tipping point.”

UCLA’s Naomi Eisenberger and Matthew Lieberman collaborated with Kipling Williams of  Macquarie University to demonstrate the physical and emotional impact when people are overloaded of negative feedback:  The same neurophysiologic pathways associated with physical pain are triggered.
Under these circumstances, volunteers reported higher levels of physical pain and demonstrate diminished performance on a cognitively-demanding task, according to Purdue’s Zhansheng Chen, Williams and  Julie Fitness of Macquarie University, and University of New South Wales’s Nicola C. Newton.


Anyone providing evaluations or 360-degree feedback may organize and “titrate” negative (“constructive”) feedback to remain within tolerable ratios so that those receiving this coaching can assimilate and execute recommendations.

-*What ratios of positive to negative feedback do you apply in helping others improve performance?

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Oxytocin Increases Empathic Work Relationships, Workplace Trust, Generosity

Paul Zak

Paul Zak

Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate Center, and author of The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity, suggests that the hormone oxytocin empathic understanding, generosity (donating to charities, giving money to others in experimental situations), happiness, and trust/trustworthiness.The Moral Molecule

He verified these laboratory-based findings in real-world situations, like a wedding he attended in southern England, prior to which he drew blood samples from the wedding party.

Zak says that oxytocin can be increased by massage, dance, story-telling, prayer, engaging in social media with a loved one, and hugs.
As a result, he “prescribes 8 hugs a day” for better mood and improved “relationships of all types.”

He says that oxytocin can be inhibited by improper nurturing in childhood, stress, abuse, and by oxytocin’s antagonist, testosterone.
Known as the “selfish hormone,” testosterone is also correlated with expressions of power and leadership in the workplace.

One reason women may have challenges expressing these traits in work situations is that their average testosterone levels are ten times lower than men’s.
Zak’s TED Talk

Amy Cuddy

Amy Cuddy

Related Post:

Thoughts change bodies, bodies change minds, roles shapes hormones: Amy Cuddy on “Faking Until It’s Real”

-*To what extent have you seen “eight hugs a day improve mood and relationships”?

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Thoughts Change Bodies, Bodies Change Minds, Roles Shape Hormones: “Faking Until It’s Real”

Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School social psychologist, like Deborah Gruenfeld at Stanford Graduate School of Business, studies the impact of non-verbal behavior on perceptions of power.

Deborah Gruenfeld

Deborah Gruenfeld

She, like Gruenfeld, found that people who “occupy space” are viewed as more dominant and powerful by others.

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Cuddy takes the research further by demonstrating that non-verbal behavior like erect, “space-occupying” postures and selective smiling affect the way the person executing these behavior feels about his or her personal power, competence, and mood.

She also demonstrated that “power postures” affect secretion of hormones associated with dominance (testosterone) and stress (cortisol).

Cuddy noted that effective leaders, as well as those recently promoted into positions of authority and leadership show a hormone profile of high testosterone and low cortisol, indicating high dominance and low stress.

Individuals in low power role, not surprisingly, tend to have low testosterone and high cortisol, and this is more common among women.

She suggested that small changes in behaviors like posture can make a large difference in how people view themselves, how others see them, and their opportunities and outcomes.

Cuddy recommends that before a job interview or stressful interaction, assume a “big power posture” in private for several minutes.

-*What is your reaction to people who assume a “big power posture” at work?
-*How do you feel when you occupy more space in professional settings?

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