woensdag 2 november 2011

Extraversion and leadership

Here is an article about extraversion and leadership ("Stop Stealing the Spotlight: The perils of extraverted leadership").

According to the article the "real core" of extraversion is the tendency to enjoy and attract social attention. They take initiative, bring the vision, assertiveness, energy, and networks necessary to give employees direction.

But what happens when an extravert comes in a leadership position and he must lead modern pro-active employees? They will more often than introverted leaders ignore their suggestions or take credit for their ideas.

So the article - that is based on some scientific experiments - recommends extraverted leaders for passive employees and more introverted leaders for pro-active employees.

dinsdag 25 oktober 2011

Restored lives

The New York Times has a series "Restored Lives" about people who have overcome psychiatric problems.

- In the first article ("Expert on Mental Illness Reveals Her Own Fight") the story of Linehan - designer of a therapy for borderline disorder - is told. In her early 20s she had a lot of borderline problems herself.

- The second article ("Learning to Cope With a Mind’s Taunting Voices") tells about Joe Holt, a computer consultant and entrepreneur who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. His main problem was sometimes hearing people insult him. For a long time he took this for real - what caused many broken friendships and lost jobs. Now he is aware of the danger and tries to check whether what he hears is real.

- The third article ("A High-Profile Executive Job as Defense Against Mental Ills") tells about Keris Myrick, who has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. She did considerable effort to find a job that fit her and she finds that a busy job helps against hearing voices. In her view her mind starts producing voices and illusions when it is bored.

- As a side-article there is "Memoir About Schizophrenia Spurs Others to Come Forward". It tells about "The Center Cannot Hold.", a book written by Elyn R. Saks, a professor of law at the University of Southern California about her struggle with schizophrenia.

- the fourth article is "Finding purpose after living with delusion". It tells about a man who saw that his hallucinations did have a real core. In his case his messianic visions could be implemented by doing some good. He has a website about his vision of psychosis: "A blueprint for schizophrenia".

zaterdag 22 oktober 2011

Teaching young children works - but differently

Th education of very young children like with Head Start is often criticized because when tested later the effects become smaller and smaller. So learning to read at 4 may help you in the first classes of primary school but when you are at high school your grades will not be much different from if you hadn't followed that program.

However, according to this article ("Occupy the classroom") there are other effects that are ore lasting: those children repeat less grades, are less likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability, or to suffer the kind of poor health associated with poverty. They are also more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

Probably the attention of adults and learning to focus and learn are more important than what you actually learn at this young age. So mom teaching you to cook or dad teaching you to fish or track the traces of animals might be just as effective.

dinsdag 4 oktober 2011

Too much altruism

The NY Times has an article ("The Pathological Altruist Gives Till Someone Hurts") that discusses how too much altruism can become harmful. The article contains items from a a book that will appear in November of this year.

This harm can concern the receiver. The article gives the example of an oncologist who kept on treating a patient for whom there clearly was no hope - despite the fact that the treatment was very painful.

One way to sacrifice oneself is for a group with a cause like a religion or a political party.

Another was is to tolerate a lot from other people like the spouses from alcoholics, other addicts or abusive partners do.

Yet another way is to be desireless like the article discusses for anorexics: “They try to hide their needs or deny their needs or pretend their needs don’t exist,” Dr. Bachner-Melman went on. “They barely feel they have the right to exist themselves.” They apologize for themselves, for the hated, hollow self, by giving, ceaselessly giving.

At the end the article discusses a very special form of "altruism": people who keep large numbers of dogs, cats or other animals. This may be too much for them and result in neglect of those animals. Yet they don't see that and instead feel happy about being needed by all those animals.

Talk Therapy Lifts Severe Schizophrenics

The NY Times has an article ("Talk Therapy Lifts Severe Schizophrenics") that discusses cognitive behavioral therapy for people with schizophrenia. The experimenters used the same kind of therapy that is used for depressive people to treat the "negative" symptoms (listlessness, exhaustion and emotional flatness) of schizophrenia.

Just as with depressives the therapy consisted of a combination of addressing false beliefs (like that you are not worthy of the attention of others) and goal setting. It took longer than with depressives but they got good results.

There are also CBT therapies that address the "positive" symptoms of schizophrenia (like the hallucinations) but these are not discussed in te article.

donderdag 22 september 2011

Building character at school

In an article "What if the secret of success is failure" the NY Times discusses how a school could build character.

The article starts discussing some research on what best predicts the success of children in their later life. It appears that even more important than IQ is grit or perseverance. The started with 24 character traits but in the end trimmed them down to 7: zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity. These they try to teach in the KIPP schools in the article. On page 7 and 8 of the article there is some discussion how this is teached:

One day last winter, I was speaking with Sayuri Stabrowski, a 30-year-old seventh-and-eighth-grade reading teacher at KIPP Infinity, and she mentioned that she caught a girl chewing gum in her class earlier that day. “She denied it,” Stabrowski told me. “She said, ‘No, I’m not, I’m chewing my tongue.’ ” Stabrowski rolled her eyes as she told me the story. “I said, ‘O.K. fine.’ Then later in the class, I saw her chewing again, and I said: ‘You’re chewing gum! I see you.’ She said, ‘No, I’m not, see?’ and she moved the gum over in her mouth in this really obvious way, and we all saw what she was doing. Now, a couple of years ago, I probably would have blown my top and screamed. But this time, I was able to say: ‘Gosh, not only were you chewing gum, which is kind of minor, but you lied to me twice. That’s a real disappointment. What does that say about your character?’ And she was just devastated.”

Stabrowski was worried that the girl, who often struggled with her behavior, might have a mini-meltdown — a “baby attack,” in KIPP jargon — in the middle of the class, but in fact, the girl spit out her gum and sat through the rest of the class and then afterward came up to her teacher with tears in her eyes. “We had a long conversation,” Stabrowski told me. “She said: ‘I’m trying so hard to just grow up. But nothing ever changes!’ And I said: ‘Do you know what does change? You didn’t have a baby attack in front of the other kids, and two weeks ago, you would have.’ ”

To Tom Brunzell, who as the dean of students at KIPP Infinity oversaw the implementation of the character report card, what is going on in character conversations like that one isn’t academic instruction at all, or even discipline; it’s therapy. Specifically, it’s a kind of cognitive behavioral therapy, the very practical, nuts-and-bolts psychological technique that provides the theoretical underpinning for the whole positive psychology field. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or C.B.T., involves using the conscious mind to understand and overcome unconscious fears and self-destructive habits, using techniques like “self-talk” — putting an immediate crisis in perspective by reminding yourself of the larger context. “The kids who succeed at KIPP are the ones who can C.B.T. themselves in the moment,” Brunzell told me. Part of the point of the character initiative, as he saw it, was to give their students the tools to do that. “All kids this age are having mini-implosions every day,” he said. “I mean, it’s middle school, the worst years of their lives. But the kids who make it are the ones who can tell themselves: ‘I can rise above this little situation. I’m O.K. Tomorrow is a new day.’ ”

The KIPP schools are in tough neighborhoods. But the article discusses also the Riverdale School that attract rich kids. One problem they face there is that the kids are sheltered by the parents from problems. This deprives them of the moments of adversity that might build their character. The Riverdale School pays also attention to values. But where the KIPP Schools teach values of performance Riverdale stresses social values like inclusion. Another problem they face is best summarized in the film "Race to nowhere". It is about parents who are increasingly emotionally distant from their children while at the same time they put a lot of prssure on them to perform well in school.

dinsdag 20 september 2011

More efficient homework

The NY Times had an article ("The Trouble With Homework"). Some ways to improve the efficiency of your homework that they mention are:
- “Spaced repetition”: do every day a bit for each subject instead of trying to learn a subject at once. It provides the brain with the opportunity to build some strucure around the new knowledge.
- “retrieval practice”: test yourself and do tests at school. Tests force you to apply knowledge actively and as such they work better than passive consumption of knowledge.
- "cognitive disfluency": hardly readable texts, typing errors, weird fonts, etc. force you to more exertion. The effect is that the studied material is better remembered.
- "interleaving": mix different types of tasks.

dinsdag 7 juni 2011

Brain calisthenics

The NY Times has an article (Brain Calisthenics for Abstract Ideas) that discusses how to learn. It advocates more rote learning of a certain kind.

The article starts with the subject "graphs and equations": a subject that many find hard to master. As the article goes:
For about a month now, Wynn, 17, has been practicing at home using an unusual online program that prompts him to match graphs to equations, dozens upon dozens of them, and fast, often before he has time to work out the correct answer. An equation appears on the screen, and below it three graphs (or vice versa, a graph with three equations). He clicks on one and the screen flashes to tell him whether he’s right or wrong and jumps to the next problem.

“I’m much better at it,” he said, in a phone interview from his school, New Roads in Santa Monica, Calif. “In the beginning it was difficult, having to work so quickly; but you sort of get used to it, and in the end it’s more intuitive. It becomes more effortless.”

Of course he is not learning the theory but a kind of shortcuts. But is that wrong? Chess masters don't calculate every possible move. They see a situation and somehow they "know" how to react. The same applies to many experts.

Maybe those endless exercises at rote-learning schools are not so senseless as any presume.

zondag 20 februari 2011

Memory tricks

The NY Times has an article "Secrets of a Mind-Gamer". The journalist, Joshua Foer, who wrote also a book ("Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything") gets a training in memory and takes part in a US memory competition.

First lesson: everybody can do it and most of the people who take part in memory competitions have an average intelligence. What makes the difference is a number of tricks or techniques. The most important of those is memory palaces where you associate every item with a known person in a strange act that is placed in some building that you know well. It can be any type of space as long as you know it well. On fMRI images mental athletes use the same parts of the brain as "normal" people with one exception: spatial memory.

In 1978, he and a fellow psychologist named Bill Chase conducted what became a classic experiment on a Carnegie Mellon undergraduate student, who was immortalized as S.F. in the literature. Chase and Ericsson paid S.F. to spend several hours a week in their lab taking a simple memory test again and again. S.F. sat in a chair and tried to remember as many numbers as possible as they were read off at the rate of one per second. At the outset, he could hold only about seven digits at a time in his head. When the experiment wrapped up — two years and 250 mind-numbing hours later — S.F. had increased his ability to remember numbers by a factor of 10.

In a famous experiment carried out in the 1970s, researchers asked subjects to look at 10,000 images just once and for just five seconds each. (It took five days to perform the test.) Afterward, when they showed the subjects pairs of pictures — one they looked at before and one they hadn’t — they found that people were able to remember more than 80 percent of what they had seen.

The author trained at remembering a pack of cards. He had to train every morning 10 to 15 minutes. He associated every card with an image that he placed in a building. After some time he stuck at one card per 10 second. His teacher compares this to the plateau top sporters and typists reach when their act is totally automated. He mentions two techniques to overcome this barrier. One is going deliberately faster - accepting that that results in regular errors - and then working on those errors. The other is spending most of your training time on what you can't do yet.