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Curiosity: How evil are you?

This documentary presents the classics in the literature of the human capacity for evil : Milgram and Stanford, but also looks at the new neuroscience of evil.

What would the world be like if we could diagnose “evil” by looking at your brain? 



TEDxGlasgow - Gary Wilson - The Great Porn Experiment

In response to Philip Zimbardo’s “The Demise of Guys?” TED talk, Gary Wilson asks whether our brains evolved to handle the hyperstimulation of today’s Internet enticements. He also discusses the disturbing symptoms showing up in some heavy Internet users, the surprising reversal of those symptoms, and the science behind these 21st century phenomena.

Really interesting talk on the psychological, sociological and neuro-scientific studies on and around the effects of porn use.




Dr. Tyson on the gear he carries around and measurements: “I have a not exactly legal laser I carry around with me.”

Watch the full episode at

I love this man. Also he mentions one of the reasons why psychology has yet to become a “mature” science. Definitely something to think about.



Dr. Carmen Lawrence - professor of psychology at UWA, former Premier of Western Australia. Currently my lecturer for a unit on applying psychology to policy and every day life. 

Lawrence has some interesting insights into the psychology behind behaviours related to  climate change. Worth watching for anyone interested in why its so hard to get people to change their attitudes and behaviours and what we can do about it.



Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence (by TEDtalksDirector)

I am sick of people misrepresenting the “new” atheists (especially at TED for some reason). One of the most popular: Sam Harris has REPEATEDLY spoken about spirituality and its importance. Richard Dawkins (and I believe Daniel Dennett) have spoken at length about how religion could have evolved as a consequence of other beneficial adaptations - which falls into neither category that Haidt offers; that is: adaptation or bug.

I expect this misrepresentation from the religious, but not from qualified scientists at TED. Its a shame Mr. Haidt, because otherwise your speech has all the elements of an engaging and educational secular look at spirtuality (all of which has actually been said by the new atheists before).



Ethical Questions Surround “Electrical Thinking Cap” That Improves Mental Functions

The implications of such simple, yet potentially amazing technology for “mind hacking” are hard to get my head around - wow. 

(via Gizmodo)



Buying New Experiences, Not Things, Tied to Happiness


via Psych Central:

A new study suggests that those who spend money to do things are happier than those who spend their money on possessions.

In the study, investigators determined extraverts and people who are open to new experiences are more apt to spend more of their disposable income on experiences, such as concert tickets or a weekend away, rather than hitting the mall for material items.

Investigators, led by San Francisco State University Professor, Ryan Howell, discovered the habitual “experiential shoppers” reported greater life satisfaction.

To further investigate how purchasing decisions impact well-being, Howell and colleagues have launched a website where members of the public can take free surveys to find out what kind of shopper they are and how their spending choices affect them.

Data collected through the “Beyond the Purchase” website will be used by Howell and other social psychologists.

The site is designed to study the link between spending motivations and well-being, and how money management influences our financial and purchasing choices.

In the current study, Howell and colleagues surveyed nearly 10,000 participants, who completed online questionnaires about their shopping habits, personality traits, values and life satisfaction.

“We know that being an ‘experience shopper’ is linked to greater well-being,” said Howell, whose previous research on purchasing experiences challenged the adage that money can’t buy happiness.

“But we wanted to find out why some people gravitate toward buying experiences.”

Investigators determined an individual’s personality via a model that classifies how extraverted, neurotic, open, conscientious and agreeable a person is.

People who spent most of their disposable income on experiences scored highly on the “extravert” and “openness to new experience” scales.

“This personality profile makes sense since life experiences are inherently more social, and they also contain an element of risk,” Howell said. “If you try a new experience that you don’t like, you can’t return it to the store for a refund.”

Researchers believe it may be helpful if people would realize that life satisfaction and happiness can be influenced by their spending habits.

“Even for people who naturally find themselves drawn to material purchases, our results suggest that getting more of a balance between traditional purchases and those that provide you with an experience could lead to greater life satisfaction and well-being,” he said.

The research findings are published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

Love positive psychology -I especially found the last paragraph interesting. Annecdotally I find myself experiencing subtle joy from the interaction and experience of using material goods such as my iPad, computer, phone and car (and even more joy when they all coherently operate and work together). Its almost as if these objects are little “packets” of experience that contribute to my overall happiness.



5 Creepy Forms of Mind Control You're Exposed to Daily Read more: 5 Creepy Forms of Mind Control You're Exposed to Daily

Oh the (scary) wonders of the  brain…

(via TheDailyWhat)



"Relationships are not static ideals; they are always works in progress."


(via Psychology Today’s recent cover story, “Are You With the Right Mate?”)

“…Romance itself seeds the eventual belief that we have chosen the wrong partner. The early stage of a relationship, most marked by intense attraction and infatuation, is in many ways akin to cocaine intoxication, observes Christine Meinecke, a clinical psychologist in Des Moines, Iowa. It’s orchestrated, in part, by the neurochemicals associated with intense pleasure. Like a cocaine high, it’s not sustainable.

But for the duration—and experts give it nine months to four years—infatuation has one overwhelming effect: Research shows that it makes partners overestimate their similarities and idealize each other. We’re thrilled that he loves Thai food, travel, and classic movies, just like us. And we overlook his avid interest in old cars and online poker.

Eventually, reality rears its head. “Infatuation fades for everyone,” says Meinecke, author of Everybody Marries the Wrong Person. That’s when you discover your psychological incompatibility, and disenchantment sets in. Suddenly, a switch is flipped, and now all you can see are your differences. “You’re focusing on what’s wrong with them. They need to get the message about what they need to change.”

You conclude you’ve married the wrong person—but that’s because you’re accustomed to thinking, Cinderella-like, that there is only one right person. The consequences of such a pervasive belief are harsh. We engage in destructive behaviors, like blaming our partner for our unhappiness or searching for someone outside the relationship.

Along with many other researchers and clinicians, Meinecke espouses a new marital paradigm—what she calls “the self-responsible spouse.” When you start focusing on what isn’t so great, it’s time to shift focus. “Rather than look at the other person, you need to look at yourself and ask, ‘Why am I suddenly so unhappy and what do I need to do?’” It’s not likely a defect in your partner.

In mature love, says Meinecke, “we do not look to our partner to provide our happiness, and we don’t blame them for our unhappiness. We take responsibility for the expectations that we carry, for our own negative emotional reactions, for our own insecurities, and for our own dark moods.”

But instead of looking at ourselves, or understanding the fantasies that bring us to such a pass, we engage in a thought process that makes our differences tragic and intolerable, says William Doherty, professor of psychology and head of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota. It’s one thing to say, “I wish my spouse were more into the arts, like I am.” Or, “I wish my partner was not just watching TV every night but interested in getting out more with me.” That’s something you can fix.

It’s quite another to say, “This is intolerable. I need and deserve somebody who shares my core interests.” The two thought processes are likely to trigger differing actions. It’s possible to ask someone to go out more. It’s not going to be well received to ask someone for a personality overhaul, notes Doherty, author of Take Back Your Marriage.

No one is going to get all their needs met in a relationship, he insists. He urges fundamental acceptance of the person we choose and the one who chooses us. “We’re all flawed. With parenting, we know that comes with the territory. With spouses, we say ‘This is terrible.’”

The culture, however, pushes us in the direction of discontent. “Some disillusionment and feelings of discouragement are normal in the love-based matches in our culture,” explains Doherty. “But consumer culture tells us we should not settle for anything that is not ideal for us.”

As UCLA psychologist Thomas Bradbury puts it, “You don’t have a line-item veto when it comes to your partner. It’s a package deal; the bad comes with the good.”

Further, he says, it’s too simplistic an interpretation that your partner is the one who’s wrong. “We tend to point our finger at the person in front of us. We’re fairly crude at processing some information. We tend not to think, ‘Maybe I’m not giving her what she needs.’ ‘Maybe he’s disgruntled because I’m not opening up to him.’ Or, ‘Maybe he’s struggling in his relationships with other people.’ The more sophisticated question is, ‘In what ways are we failing to make one another happy?’”




The Big Five Personality Traits

Unfortunately, I feel the need to issue an all-out bullshit alert. The popular Myers-Briggs personality test is bullshit. The Big Five, however, are not, but we’ll get to that.

You’d think that a psychological test that is popular everywhere except in psychology would raise some eyebrows, but no matter. Normally rational, scientifically-minded people seem to fall as hard for this as everyone else. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is deeply flawed in all the important ways.

MBTI divides human personality into four binary dimensions, giving a total of sixteen personality types. These dimensions weren’t chosen based on evidence, they were pure speculation. Carl Jung, who’s got one thing going for him (he was, at least, a psychologist) started speculating, and then two women with no background in psychology, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, extrapolated from that speculation, adding their own unfounded speculation on top. Given this highly speculative, unempirical methodology, there is no reason to suspect the result to be accurate. Nevertheless, it could be that they just happened to find some distinctions that actually mattered based on pure luck. Unfortunately for MBTI, this is the opposite of what studies have found.

MBTI isn’t very reliable: people who take the test repeatedly with some time in between often report different results, despite not actually undergoing personality changes. The reason is understandable when you consider this: in the MBTI, every dimension is binary, not continuous and normally distributed. If this were true, we would expect to find a bimodal statistical distribution (two peaks, little overlap between the two clusters). But when we look at actual empirical data, we tend to find a normal distribution. MBTI chops the bell curve in two right down the middle, so people who are very close can be assigned opposite categories. Since this is true of all four categories, two people who have almost identical personalities, but happen to fall on either side of the big dividing line, can actually get opposite scores.

Nor do the four dimensions stand up to factor analysis, suggesting they are not four independent and exhaustive dimensions of personality. And to top it off, even though the MBTI is widely used (or believed to be applicable) in career planning, studies don’t find that scores predict careers. There aren’t more “Caregivers” in caregiving vocations than there are in the general population. Myers-Briggs doesn’t accurately predict behavior.

At this point, we might be ready to give up on personality tests. But there is hope. If we discard our biases and instead look at the data to see what we might find, a different picture emerges. The introversion-extraversion axis, found in MBTI and many other personality tests, stands up to scrutiny. The others, not so much. Instead, we find five big axes: openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion and neuroticism. There’s some debate about what to call some of these, as they don’t map very neatly to individual words.

This scheme, the Big Five personality traits, is derived from data, and not surprisingly, it generally shows good predictive power. For example, a meta-analysis found that “each [personality] disorder [in the DSM] displays a five-factor model profile that is meaningful and predictable given its unique diagnostic criteria.” And unlike MBTI, not every personality type is positively loaded: people who score high on neuroticism and low on agreeableness are more likely to be diagnosed with personality disorders. The Big Five generally predict behavior in the areas you’d expect personality to be a factor.

My personal (speculative!) theory why tests like Myers-Briggs capture the popular imagination in ways that the Big Five do not is that the Big Five don’t come with a story. Indeed, that’s the major criticism of the Big Five: there is no theory. The Five are derived from empirical data, and so don’t come with a built-in explanation. Why do these personality dimensions exist, and why do they influence behavior the way they do? This is still an open question for research. Myers-Briggs, on the other hand, starts with the story. The explanation precedes the discovery: data are shoehorned in to match the theory. Humans are attracted to stories, rather than to impersonal trends derived from large datasets.

In addition, I suspect MBTI abuses the Forer effect. It’s a well-known, documented fact that when people hear descriptions of their personality that are supposedly tailored to them specifically, but actually vague and fit most people, they tend to rate the descriptions as highly accurate. This is especially likely if the description is positive. Seriously, read some of the official descriptions of the 16 types and tell me you don’t agree with more than one of them.