Monday, June 25, 2018

Don’t Choke!
When the pressure is on, focusing too much on what you’re doing can cause you to choke.
At times we have all been under high pressure to perform.  Sometimes we succeed and other times we fail or “choke” under the pressure.  Why do we choke?  Some researchers think we choke because the pressure distracts us from focusing on what we are doing.  Other researchers believe we choke because the pressure causes us to focus too much on what we are doing instead of “just doing it” without thinking too much.  To try and figure out which explanation is correct, researchers from Arizona State University recently conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
The experiment had people practice putting a golf ball as close to a target spot as possible.  After participants finished practicing, the experimenters put them all under high pressure by offering them double experiment credit if they performed very well on their next 10 putts.  While they took their 10 putts, some participants were told to count backwards from 100 to keep them distracted.  Results showed that participants who were distracted actually did better than those who were not distracted.  The distraction helped because it kept them from focusing too much on what they were doing and overanalyzing their putting.
Why should it matter to me?
When you are under pressure to perform well, try not to think too much about what you are doing, or that may cause you to choke.  One thing you might try is distracting yourself, which should free you to go ahead and “just do it” instead of nervously overanalyzing your performance.
Source: Lewis, Brian P., & Linder, Darwyn E. (1997). Thinking about choking?  Processes and Paradoxical Performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 937-944. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Venting Anger
When you feel angry beating up on a pillow or punching bag actually makes you angrier.
What should you do when you get angry?  Many people believe the best way to safely get rid of anger is by a process called catharsis, or venting your anger.  For example an angry person could work off their anger by doing things like exercising, beating on a pillow, hitting a punching bag or just screaming as loud as they could.  Although this advice is common in the popular media, does it really work at reducing anger?  To answer that question researchers from Iowa State University and Case Western University conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
Participants in the experiment first read a newspaper article, created by the experimenters, which talked about catharsis.  Some participants read an article that said a Harvard psychologist had determined catharsis worked very well at relieving people’s anger (the Pro-catharsis article).  Other participants read an article that said the Harvard psychologist had determined catharsis did not work at relieving people’s anger (the Anti-catharsis article).  These articles were used to get participants to believe, or not believe, that catharsis worked.
Next participants wrote a short essay discussing their views on abortion and another participant in a different room (who didn’t really exist) graded their essay.  To make the participants feel angry; their essays were always returned with a handwritten comment saying, “This is one of the worst essays I have every read!”  After getting this bad feedback on their essay participants were given 2 minutes to hit a punching bag, if they wanted to, while the experimenter prepared the next part of the study.
To see how aggressive people would be, the participants played a game against another person.  The participant had to hit a button faster than their opponent did; and if they won, they could blast their opponent with a loud noise as punishment.  Some participants were told their opponent was the person who had graded their essay, and others were told the opponent was not the person who had graded their essay.  The “opponent” was actually a computer that randomly let the participant win half of the time.
Results showed that participants who thought catharsis worked, and had hit the punching bag, were actually more aggressive against their opponent in the reaction time game.  They blasted their opponent with louder noise than participants who read the Anti-catharsis article and had hit the punching bag.  Who the opponent was didn’t matter.  Even when the opponent was not the person who graded their essay, the Pro-catharsis participants who had hit the punching bag still blasted him with louder noise.
Why should it matter to me?
When we feel angry many of us are tempted to vent our anger, thinking it will help us calm down.  Unfortunately, this venting actually builds up the anger and makes our problem worse.  A better way to calm down is to get away from the situation and relax.  Later, after we have cooled down, we are better able to constructively deal with the source of our anger.
Source: Bushman, Brad J., Baumeister, Roy F. & Stack, Angela D. (1999). Catharsis, Aggression and Persuasive Influence: Self-Fulfilling or Self-Defeating Prophecies?  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 367-376.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Certain stressful events cause different cardiovascular reactions in men and women.
Although many people have to deal with the same types of stressful situations in their daily lives, not everybody is affected the same way by those situations.  For instance, men seem to be more concerned with performance-oriented situations, such as work challenges and tasks involving physical fitness.  Women, however, seem to be more concerned with socially-oriented situations, such as marital conflict and physical appearance.  If men and women differ in how stressful they view certain events, their bodies may also react differently to those events.  To find out, researchers from Brown University and Ohio State University conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
One body reaction commonly associated with stress is an increase in cardiovascular activity, such as heart rate and blood pressure.  Therefore, the researchers decided to measure participants' cardiovascular reactions to different stressful events.  To begin the experiment participants sat in a comfortable chair and listened to soft music for 10 minutes.  During this time the researchers measured the participant's heart rate, diastolic blood pressure, systolic blood pressures, and mean arterial pressure.  These measurements served as a stress-free baseline the researchers could then compare later measurements against.  After the baseline readings were taken, participants completed four different tasks.  Three of the tasks were designed to be performance-oriented and one task was designed to be appearance-oriented.  For the performance tasks, participants had to do subtraction problems in their head while being timed, trace a star pattern while only looking at its mirror image, and squeeze a handgrip for 2.5 minutes.  For the appearance-oriented task, participants had to give a four minute speech on what they liked and disliked about their body and physical appearance.  After participants finished each task, the researchers again measured their cardiovascular responses.
The results showed that men's cardiovascular system reacted more than women's during the performance-oriented tasks.  In other words, men's cardiovascular readings rose above their baseline levels during the performance-oriented tasks, whereas women's cardiovascular readings did not rise.  During the appearance-oriented tasks, however, women's cardiovascular readings rose above their baseline levels, whereas men's did not.  These results seem to suggest that men respond more to performance situations, whereas women respond more to appearance situations.

Why should it matter to me?
When men and women work together, it's important for them to realize how each gender reacts to certain types of situations.  Situations that don't seem stressful to men may be very stressful for women and vice versa.  Being sensitive to these differences can help reduce annoyance at another person's stressed out reaction to a seemingly "harmless" event and even prepare working partners to better help each other cope.
Source: Stroud, Laura R., Niaura, Raymond S., & Stoney, Catherine M. (2001). Sex differences in cardiovascular reactivity to physical appearance and performance challenges. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 8, 240-250. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Can “living in the moment” reduce stress?
The term “mindfulness” has its roots in the Buddhist tradition. It refers to being aware of and paying attention to what is taking place in the present. If you are like many people, you probably spend little time in a mindful state. It is hard not to be distracted by what the world is throwing at us on a constant basis. Try this – spend the next five minutes in a quiet space. Pay attention to what is going on around you, AT THE PRESENT TIME. Do not think about what you are having for dinner. Do not think about that argument you had with your spouse the other day. Do not think about how to get your kids to study more. Do not think about whether you will have enough money after retirement. It’s hard, isn’t it? With this said, there is evidence that being able to at least approach a mindful state of mind can have psychological benefits, including the reduction of stress.
What was the research about?
Kirk Brown and Richard Ryan, of the University of Rochester, conducted a formal test of the psychological benefits of mindfulness. What they found was that people who reported being “more mindful” than others also reported having positive psychological traits as high self-esteem, higher life satisfaction, more positive feelings, less anxiety, and less depression. They next tested whether inducing a mindful state can alleviate stress during an extremely stressful period – the time following cancer surgery. They trained a group of cancer patients to enter a mindful state. What they found was that indeed, patients who were trained to become more mindful did, in fact, report less stress. This suggests that being more mindful can reduce stress, even during the most stressful times of our lives.

Why should it matter to me?
The results of this study strongly support the notion that mindfulness may have powerful psychological benefits. The fact that it appears to reduce stress in cancer patients is evidence that it may have a wide range of therapeutic applications. You may be able to reduce your own level of stress, in addition to reaping the other psychological rewards of mindfulness by practicing techniques designed to induce a state of mindfulness in yourself.
Source: Brown, Kirk, W., & Ryan, Richard, M. (2003).The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848.