At this time of year students return to university. This is an exciting time as you get to catch up with last year’s student and see what they been up to over the summer. Of course, we also welcome a new cohort of students to the University and, for many of them, help them get used to a new way of life. For some of these new faces, the transition between their old lifestyle and becoming a student is easy. For others it is more difficult. What causes these differences and what does the study of psychology tell us about situations where our identities don’t really fit together, or are just plain incompatible? Read on to find out.
Facebook and social networks – pastime or addiction?
I am not really a heavy social network user. I have a twitter and Facebook account, and a (slightly outdated) Linkedin account. I mostly use mine to publicise my blog and keep in touch with distant friends. I maybe make about 6 posts a week max. For most, these networks are a great way to bring people together and share views. For others, though, social networks like Facebook can become problematic or even addictive. Can the science of psychology help predict who is at risk?
Is a little magic a good thing?
Kids should have magic in their lives. The tooth fairy, Santa Claus, Imaginary friends, the Elf-on-the-shelf (although to be honest, that last US inspired tradition weirds me out a little, so we are skipping it!) are all day to day parts of our children’s reality. But is magic for children a ‘good’ thing or a morally dubious waste of time? And what do psychologists who have studied it argue?
Procrastination, productivity killer!
Procrastination, as we all know, is a productivity killer. I have a list of jobs (sometimes written down, and sometimes in my head) I need to do on a day to day basis. Some jobs – particularly ones I am worried about, or where a poor outcome has dire consequences- seem to sit on that list for a long time. This often makes them more difficult when I finally get to them! Why do we do this to ourselves? What is the psychology which underpins it, and how can we avoid getting bogged down in procrastination?
It’s finally out!
I am thrilled to say that my new book, Psychology Squared: 100 Concepts in Psychology You Should Know is now out, published by Apple Press and available in physical form via Amazon and other channels. Written by myself and Dr. Christopher Sterling, this volume outlines 100 interesting ideas and concepts in psychology, each accompanied by a beautiful illustration or fantastically informative diagram. I’m really proud of what we have achieved, and writing it was really the inspiration for the blog. You can read more about it by visiting my little bookstore here.
The orchestra in my head.
In the three years since our daughters were born I think I have sung more notes than in the previous couple of decades. We sing in the car, at breakfast , to settle down for bed, at playgroups and sometimes just for no reason at all. And you know what? I am great at it. In my head. Pre-vocalisation I am in tune and often there is an orchestral accompaniment. Then it comes out my mouth and it sounds somewhat flat (or sharp) and a tad toneless. None-the-less I enjoy it – in particular I enjoy singing quietly to (or, I admit sometimes, at) my daughters in the wee hours when it is just us.
It turns out singing is good for you. Personally, I find it has a absorbing quality (much like gardening!) which de-stresses to the extent it makes you mindful of the present without worrying about everything else. If you really belt out a tune, the cardio effects can raise endorphin levels much like exercises such as running or swimming. I did consider trying this when singing to my daughter last night, but it was suggested to me that she only has small ears, I can probably project quite loudly, and the two may lead to less than positive parenting.
PsychologyItBetter How To: Meditation.
Meditation is not complicated.
Why should I do this?
Psychological research shows us that meditation can increase your immune function and health, improve levels of happiness and bolster emotional self-regulation. It can also decrease negative emotions and massively reduce stress and anxiety. It can also make you more productive in your day to day lives. It’s not complicated, and it need not have a spiritual component to it. Neither should it take up hours of your day. Even 10 minutes done regularly can have an impact on your life.
What predicts performance differences in two people with equal preparation? Challenge!
Tests, performance and stress.
We all face tests in our lifetime. As I write, all across the country people are preparing for, or sitting exams. My own students are no exception – I have 180 undergraduates who are busy revising (I hope) for a exam on social psychology next week. There are a lot of things which predict success in such tasks. Some are out of our immediate control – some people simply have an aptitude for exams and some (like me!) find them more difficult. Other things are more within our control – how much you engaged with the course when it was presented, how much extra reading you did and how thorough your revision was. But what predicts the differences between two people of equal aptitude, who have prepared similarly? The ‘edge’ the stronger person have may be less to do with how much they know or how skilled they are, and more to do with how they perceive the situation. I understand this via something called the biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat [BPSM]
Lack of sleep can affect us in many ways, but did you know in some ways it is the equivalent of being drunk?
I love my children, but boy, do they keep me up at night. I reckon over the last three years, 98% of my nights have involved being woken up multiple times, often for stretches of 30 minutes plus. The other 2% of the time I am away at conferences. Things were just settling down with our last one (by settle down, I mean just up once a night) when we had the next one. I think my partner has it even worse at the moment with our four month old!