Mind Reading 101

Knowing what you are going to do before you do. We all do it, read minds, while we may not be able to pick up on the actual thoughts the person is having we can and do predict their behavior with various degrees of success. When we say such and such is going to (insert reaction) when (insert action) happens, we are predicting someone’s behavior, and since behavior originates in the mind…

Take a look at John, John is a hardworking family man with strong moral values, he is moderately religious and a social drinker. Today John has to walk home from work since his car is in the shop. During his walk a man pushes past him as he rushes out of a store, John recognizes him as one of his neighbors. Later that night John is out drinking with his longtime friends and hears on the news that there a string of robberies and a murder has occurred earlier that day.

One of the stores listed is the store the man who shoved John aside emerged from. There is a request for anyone with information to call the police. John informs his friends who thinks that he should call the police, a friend of a friend is one of the store owners who was robbed. Later John informs his wife and asks her opinion on the matter. His wife tells him that she doesn’t think he should call, she’s afraid that the thief will find out that John tipped off the police and come seeking revenge. Understanding his wife’s worry, her father was killed years ago in a robbery gone wrong, John gets ready for bed undecided on what to do. What will John do?

If you guess there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll be right, but with a bit of mind reading it is possible to change that 50-50, to something more in your favor. Setting aside that the limitations of the example, it is still possible to form an accurate prediction about what John will  do.

There are four basic components to the mind reading.

The Components:

Attitude-A person’s attitude toward something, whether they think it’s right or wrong, whether they like or dislike something, and whether they believe in it or not, plays a strong role in predicting how they are going to behave. If for instance I believe that McDonalds fries are better than Wendy’s fries you can safely say that if I ever end up at Wendy’s I’ll be unlikely to order or eat their fries. You can also safely say that buying me McDonalds fries is an easy way to get on my good side.

Approval-Humans are extremely social creatures and much of our behaviors and skill sets revolve around increasing our ability to be social. Even our most popular technologies are based off of our need to socialize, websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress are not incredibly successful because of design ingenuity. A large part of their success is because they allows us to socialize with others at a faster pace than we can if we have to physically visit each other.

Our need to be social has also given rise to our need for approval, why is something as simple as the Facebook like button throughout the entirety of the internet? Because it allows us and others to show their approval for whatever we’ve done. In the world of psychology our need for approval of our actions is known as subjective norms.

Belief-Remember the song “I believe I can fly,” even if you weren’t alive when it first came out chances are you’ve heard the song at least once. There’s something incredibly inspirational about that song that’s allowed it to permeate so many generations of people, and that is belief. If someone believes they can do and succeed at something they are that more likely to engage in that behavior.

Athletic coaches refer to this as heart, having enough heart to score that last touchdown, or run that last yard, or hit that last ball. Creatives refer to this as passion, the business world refers to it as ‘wanting it,’ in the end it all boils down to belief. When someone believes that they are in control of something, even though they may not be, they are much more likely to work harder than normal to succeed.

Thought-The last component to mind is thought. You can’t predict anything without putting some thought into it, even if you aren’t aware of it. Thought is the glue that brings it all together.

Before continuing make your decision about what you think John will do and why you think so, write it down then continue.

 

In order to determine what John will do I first looked at John’s attitude, he has strong moral values which leads me to conclude that he has a strong sense of justice, he is also hardworking which makes me think that he is not a fan of underhanded get rich quick schemes. Combine this with him being moderately religious and I start to think of someone who values “honest to God work,” while this is a stereotype/heuristic it does prove useful in the example. However, that same combination of strong moral values and religion also leads me to believe he has strong ties to his family and takes their thoughts/opinions into consideration when deciding what to do.

Approval-In our example John’s strong social ties are to his family, especially his wife who helped him create their family. As any husband would, he seeks her approval and experiences varying levels of distress when he doesn’t get it. On the other hand John considers his friends to be brothers, some of them he knew before even meeting his wife, he worries how they will react if he follows his wife’s advice and remains silent.

Belief-There is no doubt that John believes he can make the call, it’s as simple as picking up the phone and dialing a number.

In the end my prediction is that John will make the call and inform the police, while he may not do it right away I believe that after sleeping on it, and thinking about it throughout his work day he will decide that the best course of action is to inform the police. His strong sense of morals and belief in ‘honest to God work,’ are contributing factors, as well as the immediate closeness brought to the dilemma by his friend’s indirect involvement. While his loyalty to his wife and need for her approval are strong factors, the disagreement resulting from him going against her wishes at first glance is not strong enough to cause any significant or long-lasting damage to their relationship. On the other hand, should he have sided with his wife, their could be significant conflict among his group of friends, causing a possible division within the group.

There are a number of other factors that can be considered in determining what John chooses to do however, using these four basic components can for the most part successfully predict behavior and bring you one step closer to being a mind reader.

The Many Flavors Of Justice

We’ve all heard about the recent shooting in Colorado, and the much popularized and talked about Trayvon Martin case. In both instances we all have our own ideas and hopes of what kind of justice we want to see or not see delivered. Or maybe we’ve recently had an instance where we felt an injustice had been done to us, by being underpaid or undervalued at work.

However it may be, justice comes in a variety of flavors, social psychologist have taken these many flavors and narrowed them down to three types of justice. Distributive, which revolves around outcomes, procedural, which revolves around how things are determined, and restorative, which revolves around the actions taken to restore justice.

Distributive justice: satisfying the public’s rage. This type of justice is one of the most common the public is exposed to en masse. It is essentially the sentencing handed down by the judge and our reaction to that sentencing. Is ten years a long enough time for an alleged child predator? Is five years in prison too harsh a sentencing for downloading a movie illegally?

These are all examples of distributive justice. But you don’t have to be in the courtroom or in the eye of the media to experience it. It can and does also occur at home, in the work place, and among friends.  When you take away your child’s cell phone for texting at the dinner table, or get suspended from work due to the fallout of an angry customer, you’re experiencing distributive justice.

In the above examples distributive justice is presented in ways where social expectations or company policies keep the person handing out the justice in line. What about when a CEO or company board awards themselves million dollar bonuses, or spouses withhold funds or knowledge of an avoidable incident?

While the reasoning behind such actions may differ and vary on a case by case basis, the outcomes are all instances of distributive justice.  Those reasonings are what is known as procedural justice.

Procedural justice: This is the justice that is found in the process of dealing out rewards and punishment. It centers around whether or not structuring the requirements for awarding bonuses to be skewed in the favor of top managers is a justice or injustice.

Consider the following, a rich and powerful man has been convicted of rape. At the end of a well publicized and drawn out trial the jury concludes that the man is not guilty, (when in fact he is). Despite having committed the crime the man never worries about being convicted since he has managed to bribe the jury to vote in his favor. Years later at a retrial the man is convicted guilty and sentenced to twenty years in prison. Has justice, procedural justice, been served?

While it was the second time, it was not the first time, by bribing the jury our wealthy rapest has managed to influence procedural justice.  The following is another example; you are in charge of assigning tasks for a group project at work, within your group is someone who you find very attractive. As you assign tasks you subconsciously decide to give this attractive group member the easier task. This is another example of procedural justice that has been influenced to the benefit of one and the determinate of many. Eventually you become aware of the group’s unhappiness and seek to make amends, this is known as restorative justice.

Restorative justice: the actions we take to make amends for a perceived wrong.  When your spouse or significant other confesses to cheating a number of things happen. They may begin to apologize profusely and lavish you with gifts which in their eyes might be enough, to them restorative justice has occurred. Meanwhile, you may subscribe to the belief of an eye for an eye. For you restorative justice will not occur until you feel that your significant other or spouse has suffered and felt an equal amount of pain. This can take the shape of many things from cheating yourself, to public humiliation, to depriving them of your affection.

What amount of punishment or amends must be taken in order for a victim to feel as if restorative justice has occurred can vary greatly depending on their attachment style and other factors. Whether it’s distributive, procedural, or restorative there are many different types of justice that can be handed out. Regardless of what they are they all revolve around our sense of morals, what we believe to be right and wrong. So the next time you find yourself on the receiving end of an award or punishment, directly involved in determining who deserves said reward or punishment, or attempting to atone or suffer for a wrongdoing ask yourself, is justice really being served.

Which Glue Holds You Together

Below are three statements, read them and chose the one that best matches how you relate to others.

1. It is difficult for me to trust or depend on others completely. I begin to get nervous when someone gets close, my significant other/romantic interest wants me to be more intimate than I am comfortable with.

2. It is easy for me to get close to others, I don’t worry about my significant other/romantic interest wanting to be too close and it is easy for me to depend on others and have them depend on me.

3. It is hard for others to get as close to me as I want. Sometimes I scare my significant other/romantic interest away because they think I’m “moving too fast,” I worry that my close friends aren’t as trusting as they seem to be.

Each of the above statements represents one of the three attachment styles that we form during childhood and are prevalent throughout life. The first statement relates best to those of us with the avoidant attachment style. Those of us who primarily have this form of attachment may sometimes be called loners, or described as being ‘not a people person.’ They tend to prefer working alone, may usually feel insecure in their relationships and when uncertain or threatened become withdrawn, detached, and dismissive of the issue at hand.

The second statement refers to those of us with the secure attachment style. These tend to be the ‘people persons,’ they are generally comfortable with intimacy and prefer to be with people they are close to when threatened or uncertain. As the name suggest they are secure in their relationships both with friends and lovers.

The third statement describes those of us with the anxious attachment style. Those of us who relate best to this are similar to the avoidants in feeling insecure in relationships. However, those of the anxious attachment style actively seek closeness with others, they might be described as ‘clingy,’ ‘controlling,’ ‘fast moving.’ When threatened or uncertain they tend to try to become even closer with their confidants or significant other, they also tend to continuously worry about their relationships.

Having an avoidant or anxious attachment style does not automatically spell doom, just as having a secure attachment style does not automatically mean success. Attachment styles represent only one aspect of our personalities, and it isn’t uncommon for someone who shows secure attachment tendencies in the work place to show anxious attachment tendencies at home.

Various combinations are a common occurrence, knowing what your attachment style is refers to the most prevalent, it is not the be all end all to your personality and future relationships. These attachment styles are based off of the attachment theory, which is a theory describing how the early attachments we formed as children with our parents continue to influence our relationships and personality throughout life.

There has even be a study conducted by Mary Ainsworth known as the strange situation. In the experiment she had a mother and baby  enter a room filled with toys. The mother placed the baby on the floor allowing it to play. While the baby played a stranger would enter the room and the mother would leave, soon after the mother would return and comfort the baby if it cried during her absence. The mother would then place the baby back on the floor to play with the toys, if the baby resumed crying she would comfort it once again and the experiment would be concluded.

Ainsworth used this experiment to study the three attachment styles. When the mother returned if she quickly comforted the crying baby, the baby was said to be forming a secure attachment style. If while playing the mother intruded on the baby and/or rejected the baby, and the baby cried or showed anger when placed on the floor with the toys the baby was said to be forming an anxious attachment style. If the baby ignored everyone in the room and rejected the mother when she attempted to intrude or offer comfort the baby was said to be forming an avoidant attachment style.

Mary Ainsworth’s strange situation study was only the first of studies looking to further our understandings of attachment styles, and personality. Our personalities are multilayered  and complex, and there is no one theory that can describe it in whole so it is important to not generalize one aspect of your personality to the entire thing. Knowing our primary attachment style can offer us interesting insight into ourselves that we may otherwise not be aware of. It can also make for an interesting conversation piece with your close friends to find out which attachment style each of you are.

Estimating and Guesstimating The Power Of Mental Shortcuts

Everyone likes a shortcut, whether its a faster way to get home from work in the evening or a quick weight loss diet plan. We all like to get results fast. Our brain’s are no exception to this. While there are some things such as regulating heartbeat and blood pressure that our brain’s can’t skimp on there is plenty that it can. This is estimating and guesstimating come in, in the psychology realm their known as heuristics.

Heuristics are the processes the brain uses to make estimations about something but only after it has stockpiled enough support through previous instances. While heuristics are helpful since they allow for snap judgments and ‘gut feelings’ they can also be very damaging since our snap judgments and ‘gut feelings’ are not always right.

Right or wrong heuristics come in three basic variations, representative, anchoring, and availability.

Representative Heuristics: Where stereotypes are born…

The representative heuristic is what allows us to say, if it looks like a dog, and smells like a dog, it’s a dog. It’s also what allows jurors to decide that the blurred man they watched on the video of the store robbery is the same man sitting in front of them awaiting conviction. Or that the brown-skinned man speaking on his cell phone in line behind you is a terrorist, despite those conclusions being entirely false.

Anchoring Heuristics: Why it’s so hard to change someone’s mind…

As the name suggest the anchoring heuristic involves making estimations on how likely an event is to occur based on a previously determined likeliness. Consider the following, it has rained all week, it’s now Saturday morning and you’ve been invited to the beach. You may have already decided that it is extremely likely that it is going to rain today. Your friend tells you that it’s a beautiful day outside and that there isn’t a rain cloud in sight, you may now shift  from thinking it is extremely likely to thinking it is likely. This subtle shift based off of your previous estimation is the anchoring heuristic at work.

Availability Heuristic: The media’s best friend…

Take a moment and recall as many instances as you can of the media reporting a successful flight.  You probably can’t think of many if at all, now take a moment and recall as many instances as you can of the media reporting an unsuccessful one. This is much easier to recall, if you’re having trouble with that one try this one. How many instances can you recall of the media reporting economic growth an increase in jobs etc. Maybe a handful of instances, now try to recall instances of the media reporting economic collapse, decreases in jobs, increases in unemployment etc. Those instances are so fresh that they require almost no effort to bring forth.

This is the availability heuristic, it is the mind’s tendency to make decisions and judgments based on how easily it is to recall something, regardless of how often it occurs in life. The availability heuristic is why it’s so easy for you or your significant other, or parent, or child to recall all the instances of wrong doing, and to label each other as a ‘horrible person.’ For the most part the majority of people treat their loved ones good, so good that good becomes the norm, and the few times something that is perceived as wrong occurs it becomes a spectacle in the victims mind that will be remembered.

Heuristics are only one of the many techniques used by the brain to process all the information we are constantly exposed to. And while for the most part they are employed to our benefit, such as skipping the first gas station in favor of the second which is usually cheaper they can also be used against us. Being aware of them and being able to identify when your brain is relying on them is one more step in becoming more aware of how your own mind works.

Whether you are anchoring yourself like a ship coming to a stop, allowing your affection for someone to grow by recalling their love, or relying on stereotypes and assumptions to avoid dangerous situations, heuristics are there to be used. So use them.

I Was Just Following Orders…

“I was just following orders,” how often are those five words uttered in defense of crimes committed during both war and peace times. It’s a phrase everyone is familiar with, and one that has both let men go free and sentenced them to a life in prison. Despite the immediate attachment those words have with war crimes and acts of torture the situations that create them occur on an almost daily basis to everyone everywhere.

When children go to bed at nine, after brushing their teeth and preparing their bags for school the next day, they are in essence ‘just following orders.’ When a person hands their license and registration over to an officer that has pulled them over they are also ‘just following orders.’ When a gang initiate robs a corner store to prove his worth he is also ‘just following orders,’ but what about when the robbery goes a step further and becomes a homicide. Is he still ‘just following orders,’ or is he now acting according to his own free will?

This is where the power of situational factors come into play. At any given time there can be as few as half a dozen, or as many as hundreds. However, there are a few in particular that play a significant role in allowing people to ‘just follow orders.’ The first, and most universal is the need to belong, everyone has this need whether we acknowledge it or not we all want to belong to something and someone.

The desperate teenager joins the gang because of the need to belong to something bigger than himself, something bigger than the small home that holds too many people with too little resources. The child prepares for bed because of the need to belong to his/her family, the need to gain the approval of his/her parents, and the inherent idolization of their parents. A person handing over their license and registration may do so because they feel hopeless to alter the situation and the pending outcome. The opposite is also true, the officer feels obligated to process the person’s information and crime because he/she is part of something bigger than themselves, something that is for the betterment of their family, their society and a host of other things.

That is what allows the soldiers to torture their prisoners, the fearful teen to rob the grocer his family has purchased groceries from his entire life, the naive child to do as they are told whether they want to or not. It is all fueled by the belief that the actions performed are for the betterment of [insert cause of your choice]. It’s only when their behaviors and actions are questioned by a higher authority, that “I am just following orders,” is given as the reasoning.

So if we are all ‘just following orders’ in one way or another, how can we hold each other accountable for the actions we are ordered to commit? How can the teen be held accountable for the robbery and possible murder, the customer service rep held accountable for luring a client into an extended warranty, the solider for mistreating prisoners that he has been trained to think of as less than human.

This is the power of situational factors, they allow people to reach a sense of defused responsibility. “I didn’t want to burn that man I was ordered to,” “I didn’t want to rob that store, I had to,” “I don’t care if you buy the extended warranty, its company policy.”  When the personal sense of responsibility is low, and a powerful external identity is present it becomes frighteningly easy for people to engage in actions they would never be capable of under different circumstances.

“I was just following orders,” is a useful and ready reasoning to fall back on when being held accountable, the question is, how much of it was orders and how much of it was real?

 

The Goths, The Nerds, The Jocks, The Preps…

The Goths, The Nerds ,The Jocks, The Preps, The Hipsters: Identity

Whether we’re aware of it or not, whether we chose to or not we are all part of a group. Being the social creatures that we are humans automatically form and identify themselves with groups, whether it be familial, political, educational, social, orientation, culture, or fashion. We all navigate our days by shifting through our many group identities and interacting with the members of those groups.

It is not even necessary to leave the comfort of your own home to find groups. Households are composed of numerous groups that are constantly interacting with each other and battling for dominance. Whether it be the familial group as a whole, the parental group, the child parent group, the child pet group, the sibling group, the list goes on and on. Groups are everywhere, even when we perceive ourselves to be alone, we are identifying with a group.

At its most basic form grouping boils down to the ‘in’ and the ‘out.’ Consider the following scenario, you and a dozen others are attending a training seminar for a cooperation you hope to work for. Initially everyone may be milling about, inspecting refreshments, some people may stand closer to others, or everyone may have their own personal space. Either way there is a general dissociated feeling of everyone ‘being in this together’ or you may view everyone else as the competition immediately forming a group of 1.

Eventually someone speaks to someone else, this causes an immediate change in social dynamics. There is now an ‘in’ group and an ‘out’ group, if you have yet to speak to anyone and the general feeling of ‘being in this together’ is present you are immediately placed in what you perceive to be the majority ‘in’ group. The two speaking are now the ‘out’ group, you no longer identify with them and become wary of them. In essence they have become ‘the enemy.’

Now look at it from the pairs perspective, they have each made a friend and have become slightly more comfortable with the situation. They now have someone to share their immediate worries, expectations and goals with. Their anxiety has decreased while their confidence and subsequent performance has increased. In their eyes they are the ‘in’ group while everyone else is the ‘out’ group.

Within the larger group of strangers there is a sense of diffusion of responsibility, no one in particular feels as if they should be the one to initiate conversations because “somebody else will do it.” Whereas within the pair there is a heightened sense of responsibility and expectation, the group is small enough that each member can hold the other accountable and they are more likely to seek out and bring others into their group.

The group dynamics will slowly shift until there is a change in perceived power, now the more social pair group with its three or four members is perceived to be superior, while the larger group of strangers is perceived to be inferior. This is the power of group identity,  a very powerful factor in determining group success and persistence. The stronger the feeling of belonging is in a group, the stronger the sense of their being a group, the more empowered each individual becomes in carrying out actions through the name of that group.

Group identity is just one of the many factors that play a role in grouping, and it is arguably the most important one in retaining, recruiting, and enabling members of a group. The perception that someone belongs to something is a powerful motivator as long as that something is clearly defined.

Grouping and group identity can also cause someone to behave in ways that they would never behave in under different circumstances. Someone who is relatively shy and does not strike up conversation with strangers, is much more likely to if they are part of a group that is based around making new friends as long as they act under the identity of the group. Because their identity (locus of control) shifts from being themselves to being the group.

I am no longer John McShyAlot I am now John the PR man for SocialBeings Incorporated.

As you can see successfully identifying with a strongly defined group can have powerful effects on your behavior, thought process, and performance levels. While in the ideal world such a powerful psychology phenomenon would be used for good, it is more often the case that group identity is used to influence others to behave in negative ways, such as murder, robberies, vandalism and other crimes.

Whether its our group at home, our group in traffic, or our group at work we are all part of many groups, and form new ones without so much as a conscious thought. Being aware of these groups and how they can and do influence your behavior is key to gaining a better understanding of yourself and the things you identify with.

So ask yourself, which group are you apart of?

Are You Really In Control

John, a sophomore in college is about to take a chemistry test. He’s fairly comfortable with the information but worried that he won’t do well, (he went partying the night before and the professor has a reputation for being a somewhat difficult grader). The next day John finds out that he barely passed the test. Which of the following do you think is the reason for John’s success?

  1. The professor was lenient in grading
  2. He’s a good student and studied well

Did you answer 1 or 2?

The question has to do with helping to determine your locus of control. Locus of control is one of the four elements of core self-evaluation, which is used by psychologist as the foundation for understanding personality. It pertains to determining to what degree someone thinks they can control events that affect them. Someone with an internal locus of control would explain their success at something by saying they worked hard, studied hard, prepared, etc. Someone with an internal locus who failed at something would say that they didn’t prepare enough, or didn’t try hard enough.

As a whole these are the people we tend to admire, the ones we refer to as having ‘character’ or ‘drive.’ In stories those with an internal locus of control are our accomplished heroes, they are the ones we admire for going from an external to an internal locus.

But what is an external locus of control? Those of us with an external locus of control tend to attribute our successes and failures to as the name suggest external reasons. “I failed because such and such did x, I succeeded because I’m lucky, or Fran went easy on me.” These are all explanations that focus on outside influences and fall into the external locus space.

Despite what our very base locus of control may be, we go through both external and internal phases throughout the day. Consider when you are out shopping at the mall and see sale sign, or come across what seems to be a really good deal. In these instances of excitement and high stimulation our locus of control shifts to external. We are no longer aware of how much our budget is, or what we originally came to the mall for, we’re now focused on the external stimuli, such as that nice shirt or those new shoes.

Even when doing something as simple as watching a game, that feeling of being ‘involved’ in the game, when we feel as if we are actually there. Those are instances of external locus of control, we are no longer aware of our selves, but rather of the group that we are watching.

Think back to the last time you felt accomplished, tired, energetic, happy, sad, powerful, these are all instances of internal locus of control. Thinking back about what you’ve done today is another instance of internal, feeling sleepy, waking up, feeling invigorated after your cup(s) of coffee. Internal locus of control simply means we are paying more attention to our self, rather than to what is going on around us.

When going to make a major purchase, such as a car, we may go in thinking, “ok I want this car, with such and such feature,” or “I’m not looking at cars that cost more than $$$) these are all internal focuses. However, when we meet the car salesmen we are immediately shifted and most likely kept in an external focus. The smile, the warm handshake, the clear confident voice, allowing ourselves to be led by someone, the dazzle of the polished cars, the leather seats, the nice sound system, the chance to take the car for a spin.

All of this keeps our focus externally, which can be a dangerous thing when it comes to major expenses or purchases. Keeping the focus on the car, and how much it’ll supposedly improve your life is a great way to forget your internal focus and the things that matter in the long run such as costs.

While there are instances where it is good to have and maintain an internal focus, such as making life impacting decisions. There are also times when its good to have an external focus, ever have a good time at a party when you were preoccupied with thoughts of your ex? Or of the list of things you have to do the next day? That’s an instance where having an external focus works in your favor as it allows you to forget everything and just “go with the flow,” as they say.

Regardless of whether you are primarily external or internal, being aware of and utilizing both at the right times will only work in your favor. Also being mindful of yourself, will help you to become more mindful of others and lead a more satisfying and fulfilling life.