Monday, February 20, 2017

Like Taking 'Selfies'? Maybe You're Not as Narcissistic as Others Think

Admit it.

You take "selfies."

You're vain and want everyone to think you're always having a great time, right?  But now a new study has found that the way that those who take and share selfies are viewed by others has changed, according to

Selfies have emerged as a tremendous phenomenon in the culture of people around the world, and this group of friends is constantly intrigued with researching aspects of what is not only popular but what has become ingrained into the fabric of everyday lives. What they focused on for this research was the motivation behind taking and sharing selfies, and what they found was somewhat surprising.

Those in society who do not frequently take and share selfies are thought to look at those who do as having a strong narcissistic personality. But researchers, all of whom earned their master’s degrees from Brigham Young University, found otherwise.

While they found narcissistic qualities in pretty much all those who take and share selfies, they discovered that narcissism really doesn’t play as big a role for people taking selfies as one might think.

Technological advances like smartphones with front-facing cameras paired with social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have led to a generation that frequently posts its life online, whether it’s showing themselves in front of a beautiful sunset, at a ball game or concert, or just hanging out with friends. Documenting one’s life and where it’s lived has become the new norm of society.

What they also found is that there are three distinct categories of those who take and share selfies, each one with characteristics that might overlap the others but that also give a clear picture into the motivation behind the selfie-taker.

The three categories are:

Communicators, who take and share selfies for the purpose of conversation with others, to start a back-and-forth dialogue in order to communicate and memorialize the events happening in their lives.

Self-publicists, who have the same basic goal as communicators, but with the desire to have the focus of the picture on themselves to where it controls their public image. The images they share on social media are meant for one-way communication only.

Lastly, autobiographers take and share selfies to chronicle their life and everything in it, regardless of who sees it or reacts to it. Their motivation is not in focusing on themselves but on ensuring history is recorded for posterity.

 But what does all this really mean?  Yes, self-publicist does sound a lot like someone who would be narcissistic, and there are some qualities of narcissism in a self-publicist. But they just like showing everyone what they enjoy doing and branding themselves in a particular way, say the researchers.

 Autobiographers, meanwhile, hold on to the memorialization function of selfies more strongly than the other two categories, and their desire to record history is their driving motivation more than publicizing what’s going on or communicating it to others.

"They really don’t care about the feedback," say the researchers.  "They want other people to see their selfies but they don’t necessarily want any feedback from it. They just want you to see what the world looks like so that it can inspire you and be remembered.”

So is the selfie here to stay?  The researchers don't agree.  Some say yes, others, no.   I guess we'll just have to wait -- and suffer through it -- to see.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Get Healthy? Endure Some "Mild" Stress

Who knew? Enduring "mild" stress is healthy.

But what's "mild"? reports that research identifies a cellular recycling process that links to beneficial aspects of mild stress.

Biologists have known for decades that enduring a short period of mild stress makes simple organisms and human cells better able to survive additional stress later in life. Now, scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have found that a cellular process called autophagy is critically involved in providing the benefits of temporary stress. 

Autophagy is a means of recycling cells’ old, broken, or unneeded parts so that their components can be re-used to make new molecules or be burned for energy. The process had previously been linked to longevity. The new results suggest that long life and stress resistance are connected at the cellular level.

“We used C. elegans—tiny roundworms used to study fundamental biology—to test the importance of autophagy in becoming stress resistant,” says Caroline Kumsta, Ph.D., staff scientist in Hansen’s lab and lead author of the study. “They’re a great model system because they’re transparent, so you can easily observe what goes on inside them, most of their genes and molecular signaling pathways have functional counterparts in humans, and they only live a few weeks, which greatly facilitate measuring their lifespans.”

Kumsta and colleagues incubated worms at 36 °C, significantly above the temperature they are usually kept at in the laboratory, for one hour. After this short heat exposure—a mild form of stress that improves the organism’s survival—autophagy rates increased throughout the worms’ tissues. When the worms were exposed to another, longer heat shock a few days later, worms that were deficient in autophagy failed to benefit from the initial mild heat shock, as observed in heat-primed worms with intact autophagy.

The researchers reasoned that a mild heat stress might also improve the worms’ ability to handle another condition that worsens with age—buildup of aggregated proteins, which is stressful for cells. Exposing worms that make similar sticky proteins in different tissues to a mild heat shock reduced the number of protein aggregates, suggesting that a limited amount of heat stress can reduce this type of protein aggregation.

“A lot of people ask us if this means they should start going to the sauna or do hot yoga,” jokes Kumsta. “That may not be an entirely bad idea—epidemiological studies do indicate that frequent sauna use is associated with longer life. But we have a lot more research to do to figure out whether that has anything to do with the benefits of heat stress that we see in worms."

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Who Likes to Be Vulnerable? Maybe You Should, For Success, in Workplace

I hate being vulnerable.  It makes me feel weak and unprotected and just about all the things I hate about myself.

But a new study says being vulnerable at work may signal strength, according to

Because vulnerability equals courage when you take a risk, or try something new, and that's one of the ways that leads to success.

James R. Detert, University of Virginia's Darden School of Business and workplace researcher, defines workplace courage as simply “acts, related to one’s work, that are done for a worthy cause/reason, despite perceived risks, threats or obstacles to the self.” Those risks can be economic/professional (e.g., lost job or opportunity for advancement), social (e.g., damaged reputation or relationships), psychological (e.g., shattered confidence) or physical (e.g., violence encountered from employees or customers).

You might learn, for example, that it’s seen to reflect a “great amount” of courage in your organization to “speak up to a boss about his/her inappropriate or hurtful interpersonal treatment” and that, as a result, it is reported as personally seen by your employees “never” or “only once every few years," he reports.

Detert noted that, across multiple data collections in which respondents were asked to describe a courageous act, leaders being described as courageous were exhibiting "voluntary vulnerability.”

"People called leaders courageous for voluntarily moving toward negative feedback or problems that their role allowed them to easily avoid. They called leaders courageous for asking for and accepting help, for admitting they don’t know it all, for apologizing publicly, and for showing emotions like sadness or fear," he pointed out.

(Maybe our president should listen to this.)

But anyway, as we all know, many leaders avoid these displays of vulnerability like the plague. "They think that these kinds of behaviors will make them look weak, will make people less likely to respect them, or less likely to follow them or work hard for them. From what I can tell, it’s often exactly the opposite," Detert says.

He adds that, in fact, maybe our whole notion of “strong leader” needs updating if we actually want leaders who can learn fast enough, and broadly enough, to avoid ultimate disaster, and if we want leaders to be seen as truly human, not artificially superhuman.

Detert shares a story he learned doing his research about a tough, street-smart executive who never ever showed anything less than his steel will. "But he told a story [in front of 600–800 sales representatives and managers] about an ill uncle [who] passed from cancer. … this is somebody that probably sometimes maybe tried to build up his tough guy image, but to just share something that was very personal and to not be afraid to break down and show emotion on the stage …  The reps were like, 'That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.'”

Now I'm not saying that we all have to cry on stage but take a minute to think about this.  We certainly don't have to share something this personal, but think about the impact it might have when your boss, as mine once did, invited everyone but me out to a special luncheon.  I didn't have the guts, at the time, to speak up about it. But maybe if I had, he would have respected me more.  And not done it again.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Do You Pay Attention to Your Mistakes? You'll Bounce Back Quicker, After One

The study was done on kids.  But it works for us, too.  Kids who believe their intelligence can grow tend to pay attention to mistakes (and learn from them), making them likely to bounce back from their mistakes more effectively than kids who think intelligence is set in stone, indicates the study, which measured the young participants’ brain waves.

The research suggests teachers and parents should help children pay more attention to the mistakes they make so they can better learn from them, as opposed to shying away from or glossing over mistakes.

“The main implication here is that we should pay close attention to our mistakes and use them as opportunities to learn,” says Hans Schroder, lead author on the study and a fifth-year doctoral student in MSU’s Department of Psychology.


But as I recently wrote at The Advocate in Stamford, CT, many Baby Boomer parents (me included) try to prevent their kids from making mistakes. This is not a good idea.

But back to the study.  It's one of the first investigations into mindsets and the related brain workings of children.

Participants’ average age was 7 -- a time when most children are making the often difficult transition to formal schooling and when mindsets have their most noticeable impact on academic achievement.

For the experiment, 123 children were assessed on whether they had a growth mindset (in which they believe people can work harder get smarter) or a fixed mindset (believing intelligence is fixed).

The children then took a fast-moving accuracy task on a computer while their brain activity was recorded. The task: Help a zookeeper capture escaped animals by pressing the spacebar when an animal appeared -- unless it was a group of three orangutan friends, who were helping capture the other animals, in which case they had to withhold their response.

Within half-of-a-second after making a mistake, brain activity increases as the person becomes aware of and pays close attention to what went wrong. Essentially, a bigger brain response means the person is focusing more on the error.

Children with growth mindsets were significantly more likely to have this larger brain response after making a mistake in the study. In addition, they were more likely to improve their performance on the task after making a mistake.

The study also showed that children with fixed mindsets were also able to bounce back after their mistakes, but only if they paid close attention to the errors. Previous research indicated that people with the fixed mindset don’t want to acknowledge they’ve made a mistake.

Some people will even start taking about something else they’re good at as a defense mechanism. But the current findings suggest that the more they attend to their errors, fixed-minded children may still be able to recover as well as their growth-minded peers.

Many parents and teachers shy away from addressing a child’s mistakes, telling them “It’s OK, you’ll get it the next time,” without giving them the opportunity to figure out what went wrong, Schroder notes. “Instead they could say: ‘Mistakes happen, so let’s try to pay attention to what went wrong and figure it out.’”

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Do You 'Friend' Your Boss? Depends Where You Live

Would you send your boss a link, or ask him to friend you?  What if you worked in Israel?  Or China? A new study is examining the cultural differences in social media use in four countries.

Some faculty members at NYIT (New York Institute of Technology) School of Management have won a $100,000 grant to examine how cultural dimensions affect the way people use social media to interact with work colleagues.

They will investigate work relationships and social media in four countries: the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), China, Israel, and Canada. 

The study scores national cultures on six “dimensions," including power distance, which is the cultural acceptance of unequal power relations (high score) versus people who question authority (low); individuality, the value a culture places on either individual preferences (high score) or collective needs (low), and uncertainty avoidance, a cultural value in favor of certainty and a single, shared Truth (high score), as opposed to ambiguity and diversity of opinion (low).

In countries like China and the U.A.E., which score high for accepting unequal power distribution and respecting hierarchies (Power Distance), researchers expect to find a significant distance in social media relations between employers and employees. Employees should be measurably less likely to send their senior colleagues invitations to “link” or be “friends,” for example.

Individuality may be linked to people’s motivations on social media. Do they want to stand out by achieving a large number of followers or “friends”? If so, they reflect the values of the U.S. and Canada, who score high in this dimension. In places like the U.A.E. or China, which value tight-knit families and social groups, one would expect social media connections to express people’s sense of belonging to a collective.

Cultures that score high for Uncertainty Avoidance, such as the U.A.E. and Israel, depend on rules, hard work, and security measures. In these countries, people may engage carefully on social media, recognizing the need for privacy and security while also seeking the professional benefits of network-building.

Professionals in lower uncertainty avoidance cultures (such as China, the U.S., and Canada) are more comfortable with ambiguity and risk-taking, and this trait may show up in their social media behavior.

Researchers found in the past that some people strive to keep their work and personal social media strictly separate. For these people, called “segmenters,” a carefully maintained balance can be disturbed, if, for example, a marketing manager asks employees to share a new offering via their personal social media. Other people, “integrators,” enjoy sharing across the personal/professional divide.

So which one are you?  I suspect it all depends on our audience.  I might send a link like this to a colleague but not necessarily my boss, when I had one, and I certainly wouldn't "friend" him!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Don't Compliment Your Wife. It May Wind Up Hurting You

Who doesn't want her partner to say, "Hey, you look great in those jeans (and no, they don't make you look fat)"?

Well, a new study is saying that the compliment could actually have negative physiological consequences.

A team of researchers from Binghamton University recruited 65 married couples and had them engage in two interactions in which each spouse selected a discussion topic about a stressor external to their marriage (e.g. poor physical fitness, the desire to get a new job). Before and after the interactions, spouses separately completed questions about their expectations and appraisals of their partner’s responsiveness during the discussion, according to

The researchers took saliva samples from each spouse and measured for cortisol—a hormone that helps regulate stress in the body—at the beginning of the study and after each discussion. The most consistent finding was that observable behaviors when support was given and received during discussions of wives’ stressors were associated with wives’ perceptions of their husbands’ responsiveness and wives’ changes in cortisol.

“What we found, interestingly enough, was that cortisol was really only affected in wives but not in husbands, and only in wives’ discussions,” said Hayley Fivecoat, a former Binghamton University student who published the results in her dissertation. “For one, we did find that when husbands showed more positive behaviors while they were giving support, wives’ cortisol actually went down. Interestingly, we found that when wives showed more negative behavior while their partner was giving them support, their cortisol also went down. That was unexpected. We found that when wives showed more positive behavior while they were receiving support, their cortisol actually went up—they showed signs of more physiological arousal.”

It seems more positive behaviors may have unintended negative consequences, and classically defined negative behaviors can sometimes have positive effects.

“Say a husband is giving advice to his wife when she has a problem. Even though giving advice is a constructive thing to do, it may not be helpful to her at the moment -- maybe she just wants someone to listen to her,” said Nicole Cameron, assistant professor of psychology at Binghamton University and co-researcher. Sorry, men, but who hasn't been there?

“Or maybe there could be the opposite, where the husband is being more of a supportive listener but the wife really wants someone to give her some advice. All of those things are positive, but one is going to have a better effect than the other. What this tells me is that social support is more idiosyncratic and specific to the person and the problem," she added.

The researchers plan on looking further into the data and publishing more findings in the future.

“I think that there is a lot of research that still needs to be done, because not everybody gets out of counseling feeling better,” said Cameron. “So studying what makes people feel better or feel differently is important, and using hormones as a marker of the change is interesting because it goes further than words—you really can see how the body reacts to discussions. If we can figure out how to use these markers, we probably can really improve our knowledge about counseling and couple communication.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Watching Bill Maher May Be Funny But May Have Serious Side Effects

Who doesn't love The Late Show with Stephen Colbert?  Or Bill Maher?  Or even, "Throwing Shade," the new satirical news show on TVLand?

Well, now a new study is saying that despite the fact that they make us laugh, these shows actually often dismissed as mere entertainment, have real political effects on the people who watch them, according to

New research suggests that study participants chose satirical news that matched their pre-existing attitudes – liberal or conservative – and that watching satirical news reinforced those attitudes as much as watching serious news.

The study found that people with little interest in politics were more likely to select satirical over serious news. In addition, watching satirical news affected feelings of political efficacy – people’s belief that they can influence political processes.

“Satirical news matters,” says Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, author of the study and professor of communication at The Ohio State University. "It is not just entertaining – it has a real-life impact on viewers.”

This research aimed to measure the impact of programs like The Daily Show, which use comedy and satire to examine political news of the day.

The study involved 146 college students who selected news clips to watch concerning climate change, gun control and immigration.

The participants were first presented with an overview page that had eight selections of news videos on just one of the three politically polarizing topics. Four of the clips were serious news clips that were said to be from MSNBC (liberal news) or Fox News (conservative news). Four were said to be from satirical news sources “The Spoof” (liberal) or “Mock the Week” (conservative).

But in fact, all the clips were from C-SPAN. For the serious news, there were two pairs of videos that were identical, with the only difference being the descriptions of the clips on the overview page, which gave a conservative or liberal slant to the available videos, and whether they were reportedly from Fox News or MSNBC.

The satirical sites also had two pairs of identical videos, but with different text crawls across the bottom of the screen with satirical commentary with a liberal or conservative slant.

After watching two videos on the first topic, participants had the opportunity to select videos on the other two topics.

Before and after watching the videos, the participants completed measures about their attitudes on the three target topics (climate change, gun control and immigration) and their feelings about their own ability to bring about political change. At the end of the session, they were also asked about their media consumption, attitudes toward news and political satire, general interest in politics and their partisan leanings.

Results showed that, in general, participants selected the serious news clips more often than the satirical ones. However, those who said they had lower interest in politics were more likely than others to choose the satirical clips.

Overall, and not surprisingly, participants selected clips that lined up with their political leanings: Republicans chose conservative clips, while Democrats chose liberal clips.

But there was a difference when it came specifically to the satirical news clips. Republicans tended to choose the conservative satirical clips, but Democratic-leaning participants didn’t have a preference for liberal videos from the satirical sites.

Knobloch-Westerwick says it may have to do with the novelty of conservative satire of the news.
“Democrats may have been curious just because they had rarely or never seen conservative satire before,” she explains.

The results showed that regardless of whether they viewed the serious or the satirical news clips, participants’ political views were strengthened if they viewed videos that agreed with their original beliefs.
“Satirical news has the same impact as serious news – it reinforces your political attitudes,” she said. “It may be funny, but it has serious effects.”

Finally, the results showed that viewing satirical news had an effect on how much participants felt they could personally impact the political process – their political efficacy.

What's even more disturbing is that most people follow only the news channels they agree with, conservatives watching Fox and liberals, the other cable stations, which is slowly narrowing down our view of the world.

But, surprisingly, the results were different for Democrats and Republicans in the study. Liberal satire news increased the feelings of efficacy among Democratic viewers, while conservative satire undermined efficacy for Republicans.

“Satirical news shouldn’t be disregarded just because its goal is to make people laugh," she concludes. "It still has an impact, just like serious news does.”