Friday, December 9, 2016

Think About This the Next Time You Plan a Golf Outing. Or Maybe, Not.

Think about this the next time you plan a golf date.

Scheduling it makes it less fun. 

According to a new study, scheduling leisure time takes all the fun out of it.  Planning events makes them seem like work, reports.

In a series of studies, researchers found that scheduling a leisure activity like seeing a movie or taking a coffee break led people to anticipate less enjoyment and actually enjoy the event less than if the same activities were unplanned.

That doesn’t mean you can’t plan at all: The research showed that roughly planning an event (but not giving a specific time) led to similar levels of enjoyment as unplanned events.

“People associate schedules with work. We want our leisure time to be free-flowing,” says Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and assistant professor of marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “Time is supposed to fly when you’re having fun. Anything that limits and constrains our leisure chips away at the enjoyment.”

In one study, college students were given a calendar filled with classes and extracurricular activities and asked to imagine that this was their actual schedule for the week.

Half of the participants were then asked to make plans to get frozen yogurt with a friend two days in advance and add the activity to their calendar. The other half imagined running into a friend and deciding to get frozen yogurt immediately.

Results showed that those who scheduled getting frozen yogurt with their friend rated the activity as feeling more like a “commitment” and “chore” than those who imagined the impromptu get-together.
“Scheduling our fun activities leads them to take on qualities of work,” Malkoc says.

The effect is not just for hypothetical activities.

In an online study, the researchers had people select an entertaining YouTube video to watch. The catch was that some got to watch their chosen video immediately. Others chose a specific date and time to watch the video and put in on their calendar.

Results showed that those who watched the scheduled video enjoyed it less than those who watched it immediately.

While people seem to get less enjoyment out of precisely scheduled activities, they don’t seem to mind if they are more roughly scheduled.

In another study, the researchers set up a stand on a college campus where they gave out free coffee and cookies for students studying for finals.

Before setting up the stand, they handed out tickets for students to pick up their coffee and cookies either at a specific time or during a two-hour window. As they were enjoying their treat, the students filled out a short survey.

The results showed that those who had a specifically scheduled break enjoyed their time off less than did those who only roughly scheduled the break.

Weird, huh?  I'm not exactly a person who does things on schedule. I kind of like whimsy to rule my life, which plays havoc with my marriage, as I have a husband who wants to go the same restaurant every Sunday night (our "date" night) and watch Fox News non-stop (and somehow, we're still married).

“If you schedule leisure activities only roughly, the negative effects of scheduling disappear,” Malkoc adds. Aim to meet a friend “this afternoon” rather than exactly at 1 p.m.

Of course, if you have the type of friends I do, that can mean, when it's starting to get dark.

One study showed that even just setting a starting time for a fun activity is enough to make it less enjoyable.
“People don’t want to put time restrictions of any kind on otherwise free-flowing leisure activities,” she says, pointing out that these findings apply to short leisure activities that last a few hours or less. I guess you wouldn't want to plan your wedding this way.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Have a Likeable Face? People Will Judge You Better

What's that great expression? You never get a second chance to make a first impression?

Now a new study says, when judging other people, first impressions last.

Vivian Zayas, professor of psychology at Cornell University, and her colleagues found that people continue to be influenced by another person’s appearance even after interacting with them face-to-face. First impressions formed simply from looking at a photograph predicted how people felt and thought about the person after a live interaction that took place one month to six months later, reports.

“Facial appearance colors how we feel about someone, and even how we think about who they are,” says Zayas, an expert in the cognitive and affective processes that regulate close relationships. “These facial cues are very powerful in shaping interactions, even in the presence of other information.”

The researchers ran experiments in which 55 participants looked at photographs of four women who were smiling in one instance and had a neutral expression in another. For each photo, participants evaluated whether they would be friends with the woman, indicating likeability, and whether or not her personality was extroverted, agreeable, emotionally stable, conscientious and open to new experiences.

Between one month and six months later, the study participants met one of the photographed women – not realizing they had rated her photograph previously. They played a trivia game for 10 minutes, then were instructed to get to know each other as well as possible for another 10 minutes. After each interaction, the study participants again evaluated the person’s likeability and personality traits.

The researchers found a strong consistency between how the participants evaluated the person based on the photograph and on the live interaction.

What if you don't look good in photographs?  Guess that's another study.

Anyway, when study participants thought a person in a photograph was likeable and had an agreeable, emotionally stable, open-minded and conscientious personality, that impression carried through after the face-to-face meeting. Conversely, participants who thought the person in the photograph was unlikeable and had a disagreeable, emotionally unstable, close-minded, and disagreeable personality kept that judgment after they met.

“What is remarkable is that despite differences in impressions, participants were interacting with the same person, but came away with drastically different impressions of her even after a 20-minute face-to-face interaction,” Zayas says.

Zayas has two explanations for the findings. A concept called behavioral confirmation or self-fulfilling prophecy accounted for, at least in part, consistency in liking judgments. The study participants who had said they liked the person in the photograph tended to interact with them face to face in a friendlier, more engaged way, she explains.

“They’re smiling a little bit more, they’re leaning forward a little bit more. Their nonverbal cues are warmer. When someone is warmer, when someone is more engaged, people pick up on this. They respond in kind. And it’s reinforcing: The participant likes that person more.”

Regarding why participants showed consistency in judgments of personality, a halo effect could have come into play, she said. Participants who gave the photographed person a positive evaluation attributed other positive characteristics to them as well. “We see an attractive person as also socially competent, and assume their marriages are stable and their kids are better off. We go way beyond that initial judgment and make a number of other positive attributions,” Zayas adds.

In a related study, she and her colleagues found that people said they would revise their judgment of people in photographs if they had the chance to meet them in person, because they’d have more information on which to base their assessment.

“And people really think they would revise,” she says. “But in our study, people show a lot more consistency in their judgments, and little evidence of revision.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Being Boastful is Nothing to Brag About

It all comes down to bragging. Pity poor Donald Trump. He won the presidency by clinching the Electoral College. But he just can’t stand that Hillary won the popular vote. In fact, some research points to the fact that, if you add the third-party candidates, Trump won less than 54 percent of our votes.

Who would quibble about that? Trump, of course. He needs to be able to brag about everything.

Even if you’re not a braggart like Trump, chances are you still probably brag. I guess it’s human nature. We all want to feel like we’re the best, when often, we just didn’t feel that great about ourselves. We brag to feel better about ourselves. But bragging can hide a hole in our heart.

Biographers say it all started with Trump’s father, who ran him down a lot. I suspect the bragging was Trump’s way of propping himself up. Experts provide a rationale for that. They say that once we have a negative sense of ourselves, we need to find something that makes us feel good, something that makes us feel able to survive and worthy of surviving. Some call bragging “survival-strategy behavior,” because it feels to us as if we need it to survive.

And can’t you see that a little, in Trump?

Chillingly, experts are saying, to get Trump to do what you want, just simply flatter and schmooze him. Oh God. Here comes Putin now.

But aren’t we all kind of missing what bragging’s about? It’s the little boy who, in Trump’s case, never got the approval and pride of his cold, passionless father, withholding what his son so desperately wanted, making him seek the world’s attention and adulation instead. Brag, and you might get even more.
But,who wouldn’t want to feel better after being degraded much of your young life? To say, yes, I matter. Today you can see the little boy, even under all that bluster. It makes me feel a little bit better (well, just a touch).

Some say bragging is about insecurity. One friend who does nothing but brag about her child (OK, so she’s an exceptional kid!) was starting to get to me a little. Although I adore my son, I had nothing much to counter back with. (Now what does that say about me?)

So my son isn’t in the debate club. He doesn’t run cross country (though he’s running track). I can’t drive around with a football or lacrosse sticker on my car. He’s not in the school play. He’s just a nice, normal kid who gets along with everyone. But how can you brag about that?

(Sorry, Phillip. Though your World History teacher at Open House did say you are smart, with an emphasis on “smart.”)

As someone who used to brag without much to show for it, I now find it a little distasteful — even though, I admit, I can’t help feeling a little inadequate, based on my boy.

But isn’t that not what parenting’s supposed to be? Aren’t our jobs just to help our kids make their way in the world?

But who doesn’t see — or want to — see themselves, or someone even better — in their kid?
What’s the purpose of bragging? I guess, for Donald Trump, it was to make himself feel important, like he really is valued, in the end. But I know when I brag, and I do, less and less, it makes me feel good — for a second. And then I feel embarrassed.

I don’t brag about my son (or, at least, very often). Yes, he doesn’t have the stand-out activities that others’ kids do. But I know who he is, and even though I must admit at times, I feel resentful (and a little angry at him) that he doesn’t, I also know that what matters about him is perfect.

My son plays soccer on a house travel team and though he’s not a star, he’s pretty good on the field. But don’t I want to see him score at least just once? Of course, I do (three times in scrimmages, he did).

He started out as “Multiplication King” in third grade (the first to get all the way up to the 12s) and was valedictorian at his elementary school graduation, scored as a college student in reading when he was only in seventh. We thought we were on to something. But now that we’re out in the high school world, there are so many kids who are just as talented.

And I’m finding it hard to feel as proud as some of the other parents. My kid is very centered and it doesn’t bother him. “Stop comparing me to the other kids.” But I want him to stand out, to be someone special, to have the world consider him as special as I do.

I think it all starts in high school because that’s when you begin to see the trajectory their life may follow. It’s also where we see our dreams — the next Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Ernest Hemingway (hey, I can dream) — may not come to pass. It’s easy to fantasize in elementary and middle school, when the future is still a mystery.

Maybe it’s because I wasn’t much of a star in high school myself. I had very average grades (we won’t talk about the math SAT) and the only club I belonged to was Future Teachers of America. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how much people liked my writing. Turned out I wasn’t as invisible as I thought.

So what does all this mean? For Donald, it’s OK if you’re really, in the end, not the greatest. And for me, I guess, I need to step back and be grateful for my son as he is. He’s a decent, hard-working, sweet kid and he even had a girlfriend in sixth grade (though that went belly-up in seventh!). He gave a talk at an IEEE conference at Princeton as an eighth-grader and is now developing a video game for teens through an AITE program for ninth-graders he’s been in since eighth grade.

OK, so he probably won’t be the next Bill Gates. But he will be the next Phillip Hirsch and that’s good enough for me.
Writer Deborah DiSesa Hirsch lives in Stamford. Her blog is

Friday, December 2, 2016

When Gifts Are Not Given in Fun

Admit it.  You love your husband but that iron he gave you for your birthday. . .not so much.

What happens when good people get bad gifts?

According to, sometimes a little malice might be involved.   It reports that receiving is complicated when gifts are not meant to please.

A typical U.S. consumer is expected to buy 14 gifts this holiday season, and new marketing research describes how and why many of these gifts will cause dissatisfaction rather than joy. In new research findings, NYIT School of Management associate professor Deborah Y. Cohn asserts that people who give bad gifts often do so intentionally.

Prior gift-giving research has assumed that bad gifts result from mistakes, but Cohn’s study, using in-depth interviews as well as data available via online message boards, describes five categories of intentional bad gift-giving: gifts that threaten the recipient’s self-concept, such as:

-- giving a pregnancy test to your childless daughter-in-law
-- gifts given so that the giver (usually a member of the recipient’s household) can benefit from them, such as a sports fan who gives his wife a big-screen television
-- gifts explicitly meant to offend, which are usually understood to communicate passive-aggressive hostility
-- gifts given out of obligation, often to recipients perceived as unpredictable or hard-to-please
-- gifts given to allow the giver to brag or “outgift” another, such as when grandparents present their grandchildren with a gift the parents have explicitly asked them not to buy

Who hasn't been here at some point?  A friend of mine received the iron on her birthday, and a gift certificate to Staples at Christmas!   Some might say he's trying to show that he's just not that interested, but, no offense, guys, but you're often clueless about gifts.

I now buy my own birthday and Christmas gifts from my husband.  It does take some of the joy out of it but at least I'm not getting an iron!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Church = Sex?

Do you feel good when you go to church?  I'm not talking about dropping the guilt for all the times you don't, but a true, down deep feeling of peace?

That's your brain rewarding you, according to

A new study has found that religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, report researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

“We’re just beginning to understand how the brain participates in experiences that believers interpret as spiritual, divine or transcendent,” says senior author and neuroradiologist Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D. “In the last few years, brain imaging technologies have matured in ways that are letting us approach questions that have been around for millennia.”

Specifically, the investigators set out to determine which brain networks are involved in representing spiritual feelings in one group, devout Mormons, by creating an environment that triggered participants to “feel the Spirit.” Identifying this feeling of peace and closeness with God in oneself and others is a critically important part of Mormons’ lives — they make decisions based on these feelings; treat them as confirmation of doctrinal principles; and view them as a primary means of communication with the divine.

During MRI scans, 19 young-adult church members — including seven females and 12 males — performed four tasks in response to content meant to evoke spiritual feelings. The hour-long exam included six minutes of rest; six minutes of audiovisual control (a video detailing their church’s membership statistics); eight minutes of quotations by Mormon and world religious leaders; eight minutes of reading familiar passages from the Book of Mormon; 12 minutes of audiovisual stimuli (church-produced video of family and Biblical scenes, and other religiously evocative content); and another eight minutes of quotations.

During the initial quotations portion of the exam, participants — each a former full-time missionary — were shown a series of quotes, each followed by the question “Are you feeling the spirit?” Participants responded with answers ranging from “not feeling” to “very strongly feeling.”

Researchers collected detailed assessments of the feelings of participants, who, almost universally, reported experiencing the kinds of feelings typical of an intense worship service. They described feelings of peace and physical sensations of warmth. Many were in tears by the end of the scan. In one experiment, participants pushed a button when they felt a peak spiritual feeling while watching church-produced stimuli.

“When our study participants were instructed to think about a savior, about being with their families for eternity, about their heavenly rewards, their brains and bodies physically responded,” says lead author Michael Ferguson, Ph.D., who carried out the study as a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Utah.

Based on MRI scans, the researchers found that powerful spiritual feelings were reproducibly associated with activation in a critical brain region for processing reward. Peak activity occurred about 1-3 seconds before participants pushed the button and was replicated in each of the four tasks. As participants were experiencing peak feelings, their hearts beat faster and their breathing deepened.

So I guess the answer is, yes.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Are You a Sexist? Watch Out for Your Mental Health (President-Elect Trump, I'm Talking About You)

OK, so it worked for one guy (and now he's the president-elect), but sexism has been found to be harmful to men's mental health, according to

Men who see themselves as playboys or as having power over women are more likely to have psychological problems than men who conform less to traditionally masculine norms, reports research published by the American Psychological Association.

“In general, individuals who conformed strongly to masculine norms tended to have poorer mental health and less favorable attitudes toward seeking psychological help, although the results differed depending on specific types of masculine norms,” says lead author Y. Joel Wong, PhD, of Indiana University Bloomington.

I guess it makes sense but it doesn't stop some from still enjoying it (I hate to but I must reference the new president again).

Wong and his colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 78 research samples involving 19,453 participants that focused on the relationship between mental health and conformity to 11 norms generally considered by experts to reflect society’s expectations of traditional masculinity:

• desire to win
• need for emotional control
• risk-taking
• violence
• dominance
• playboy (sexual promiscuity)
• self-reliance
• primacy of work (importance placed on one’s job)
• power over women
• disdain for homosexuality
• pursuit of status

Hmm.  Sure sounds like him.

Specifically, they focused on three broad types of mental health outcomes: negative mental health (e.g., depression), positive mental health (e.g., life satisfaction), and psychological help seeking (e.g., seeking counseling services).

While most of the U.S.-based studies focused on predominantly white males, some focused predominantly on African-Americans and some on Asian-Americans.

While overall, conforming to masculine norms was associated with negative mental health outcomes in subjects, the researchers found the association to be most consistent for these three norms – self-reliance, pursuit of playboy behavior, and power over women.

“The masculine norms of playboy and power over women are the norms most closely associated with sexist attitudes,” said Wong. “The robust association between conformity to these two norms and negative mental health-related outcomes underscores the idea that sexism is not merely a social injustice, but may also have a detrimental effect on the mental health of those who embrace such attitudes.”

Even more concerning, said Wong, was that men who strongly conformed to masculine norms were not only more likely to have poor mental health but also also less likely to seek mental health treatment.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Feeling Grateful? It's More Likely After a Trip Than a Birkin

OK, so it's almost Thanksgiving and stories about gratitude abound.

But here's a new one, at least to me.

We all know that giving is better than receiving, right?  But what if you're giving an experience rather than an  XBox1 Virtual  Reality headset.

People are more grateful for what they’ve done than what they have, and that gratitude can lead to greater generosity toward others, according to new research, reports.

The new study found that feelings of gratitude develop more often when people reflect on experiential purchases, such as vacations or tickets to events, than when they reflect on gadgets, furniture or clothes they’ve purchased.

Reflecting on gratifying experiences also leads to more subsequent altruistic behavior than thinking about significant material possessions, the researchers found. In other words, when people are grateful for experiences, they treat the other people better as well.

“We know a sense of gratitude carries a number of benefits with it, so how can we increase the likelihood of having these feelings? One step people can take that isn’t very difficult to implement is shifting some investments away from ‘stuff’ and towards experiences—doing so will likely make one feel more grateful,” say researchers.

Gratitude has been widely linked with better individual physical and psychological health and happiness.
In a series of six experiments, the researchers set out to examine how material consumption and experiential consumption affect feelings of gratitude.

In one experiment, the researchers surveyed 1,200 online customer reviews on popular websites for words expressing gratitude, and found that consumers are more likely to spontaneously mention feeling grateful for experiences they purchased than for material goods they bought.

Another study was presented as a memory task in which participants were asked to recall either a significant material purchase or a significant experiential purchase. They were then asked to play an economic game in which they were assigned to be the “dictator” and allocate money between themselves and someone else whom they would never meet.

Those participants who had reflected on experiences rather than material purchases were significantly more generous to others and kept less for themselves than did those in the group who reflected on possessions.
One explanation for that behavior, experts say, is that people feel more socially connected when they reflect on experiences, but don’t experience the same levels of connection after considering significant possessions.

The conclusion? “If people feel closer to other humans, they may end up treating others better. If there’s a way to make people feel more connected to others in general, this could lead to more altruistic behavior,” researchers say.