Dan Ariely: What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work? 1

What motivates us to work? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn’t just money. But it’s not exactly joy either. It seems that most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely presents two eye-opening experiments that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work. (Filmed at TEDxRiodelaPlata.)

“Must Reads” From The Latest Issue of Psychology Today Reply

TodayBy Chris Simmons

Of all the magazines I read/scan, Psychology Today is one of the few I strongly endorse. More specifically, I encourage you to buy it hardcopy, as the digital edition is only fully populated well after the print magazine hits the streets. Since it’s a bimonthly publication, this means print subscribers have the content up to 60 days before the complete digital version appears. Coincidently, this generally coincides with the release date of the next print issue.

For those I’ve inspired to purchase the May/June edition of Psychology Today, the four features you cannot afford to miss are:

A Perfect Devil:  Successful psychopaths have our ear, but it’s the unsuccessful psychopaths who may hold the keys to this devastating disorder.  – Kaja Perina

Now It’s Personal:  Arguments are harder to resolve when values are on the line. – Matt Huston

Love, Factually:  (offers suggestions based on “research-based [marriage] vows that actually help couples keep their promises to one another”) – not sourced

Build a Better PSA:  The science of persuasion can help us make healthier choices. – Deepa Lakshmin

Disclaimer: I recommend Psychology Today because I believe in the product. I have no personal or professional ties with the publisher in any form.

If You Pay Your Employees Equally, You’re Not Being Fair to Any of Them Reply

Hauling-logsBy Eric Chester, Business 2 Community 

The Sawmill:

Jake and Justin, twin brothers who were 23 years old, worked for a large sawmill not far from where they grew up.

Their father was aware that even though both sons had essentially the same job title and duties, Justin was paid significantly more than Jake. Curious as to why, the father sought out the owner and asked him about the variance. In response, the owner invited this father to drop by his mill and casually observe the activities.

A few days later, the father showed up at the mill. The owner picked up the phone and called Jake into his office. He said to him, “There’s a trucker from Portland at the gate with some logs he wants to sell us. Go find out what he’s got.” Within fifteen minutes, Jake returned and said, “I checked out the load and it looks like he’s carrying about 40 to 50 large logs, mostly pine, and all appear to be in pretty good shape.” The owner thanked Jake and dismissed him from his office.

He then summoned Justin and made the same request. “There’s a trucker from Portland at the gate with some logs he wants to sell us. Go find out what he’s got.” A half hour later, Justin came back and said, “I counted 38 pines; most are about 20 feet and are in really good condition. There are also 11 aspens which are slightly shorter, and all but 3 are in pristine condition. He wants $1,000 for the whole load. Sam McHenry was down here twice last week looking for aspen for this large furniture project he’s working on, so I called him and asked if he’s still in the market for aspen. He told me he’d take the eight good aspen off our hands and offered $150 for each. If we accept his offer, we’ll make all our money back plus 20% and the 38 pine will be pure profit.” The owner told Justin to sell the aspen to McHenry, then thanked him and sent him on his way.

He then looked at the father. “If this were your mill, would you pay those two employees the same amount?”

“Absolutely not,” the father said. “Though equal, it certainly wouldn’t be fair.”

(The Sawmill is a parable by Eric Chester.)

ON POINT – Compensating employees using time spent on-the-job as the sole metric (hourly wage, monthly salary, etc.) may be simple to calculate, but it does little to engage employees and incentivize top performance. The most effective compensation methods are those where employees are paid in direct proportion to the value they bring to their organization. This is not simple or easy, but it is a prerequisite to building a great workplace culture and being recognized as an employer of choice.

The Science Behind “Self-Fulfilling Prophesies” 1

By Chris Simmons

It goes without saying that how one person treats another determines how that individual performs. What is not so well understood, especially by bosses and parents, is the legitimate science behind this occurrence.

An individual’s performance goes up or down, in large part, based upon the expectations levied against him/her. When high expectations are placed on a person, he/she will perform better. This phenomenon is called the Pygalion or Rosenthal Effect.

At the other extreme is the Golem Effect, which occurs when decreased performance results from low expectations.

The Rosenthal Effect takes its name from a study on student performance, while the Pygalion reference is taken from an ancient Greek legend. In the Rosenthal-Jacobson research, elementary school students were given a disguised IQ test. Twenty percent of the schoolchild were then randomly chosen — and for experiment purposes — identified as “peak performers.” The names of these purportedly high-potential students were then shared with the teachers. During the course of their study, all the schoolchildren advanced academically. However, the falsely labeled “peak performers” universally exceeded all expectations and past achievements.

Part of this phenomenon derives from how we make decisions. The 1st Rule of Human Nature, Self-Interest Trumps Best Interest,” captures the core principle that all decisions are based on emotion, not logic or reason. Furthermore, since Self-Interest is strongly tied to  Identity and Self-Image, the positive reinforcement that comes from high expectations triggers internal motivators that drive one towards the identified goal. Additional research has discovered that these affirmations and positive social interactions prompt a favorable chemical response in the body. This “endorphin rush” makes you feel better (and happier), which legitimately amps up one’s performance and emotions.

Ultimately, the increased performance by the employee/child also alters the behavior of the boss/parent. The leader will invest more time, attention and effort in their protégé, further incentivizing and sustaining the increased performance.

Taken in their totality, these actions create a self-sustaining feedback loop of positive emotions and in short order, this repetition creates a highly rewarding self-fulfilling prophecy. Sadly, the inverse is equally true. As Calvin Lloyd noted, “Nobody rises to low expectations,” succinctly highlighting the crippling impact of negative feedback and the Golem Effect.

What Al-Qaeda Taught Me About the Frailty of Loyalty – Redux Reply

Al-Qaeda in Iraq (Courtesy: Fox News)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This award-winning post was originally published on May 29, 2013.

By Chris Simmons

The most diabolical, manipulative, and extraordinarily successful interrogation ploy I used to interrogate High-Value terrorists in Iraq was the Prisoners’ Dilemma. It LITERALLY never failed. Research the Prisoners’ Dilemma and you will find it called “game theory.” I can assure you its use is neither theoretical nor game-like. It appeals to the strongest and basest instincts in all of us – self-survival –by pitting members of a group against one another for a reward.

More was always better with this technique, but a two detainee minimum was sufficient. In our case, we always began our “theater of the mind” in the Black Room, so named as its floor, ceiling, and walls were painted matte black. We’d also found a way to give the room a slight echo-effect, which many found unsettling. Having captured several Al-Qaeda associates (all believed to have similar information) in a given raid, we would move them from their individual cells to the Black Room. While being moved, our detainees wore blacked-out goggles to increase stress and anxiety.

My guards would place the detainees against opposing walls. Once everyone was in position, they would quickly and briefly lift the detainees’ goggles so they could see their associates. In an amazing performance, one of my staff – in a very calm and confident voice – would then tell the group they needed to listen carefully as we were about to make a limited-time offer. They were told we knew who they were and that they shared similar experiences and knowledge. As a result, we explained, there was no need for us to question all of them. So, the first one (or two, or three – depending on group size) to cooperate would receive lenient treatment and be quickly released. The others would be identified as “uncooperative” and held indefinitely (Note: We were under no obligation to be truthful with our High-Value Individuals).

Pacing back and forth down the center of the room, my “choreographer” would then announce that all those ready to cooperate and be quickly processed for release should raise their right hand – NOW. Since our performance was based exclusively on auditory cues, nothing was left to chance. Regardless of whether anyone raised their hand, my “choreographer” would then loudly announce “Alright, we have one…now two..” (Note: His response was tailored based on group size).

Extra guards we had stationed in the Black Room would then noisily shuffle off, creating the illusion of cooperating detainees. The words and sounds exploited their worst fears. Within seconds, hands would go up (if they hadn’t initially). Paranoia soared as the sound of more exiting detainees echoed throughout the room.

In some cases, every detainee volunteered, creating a vicious race to see who could reveal the most information the fastest. For any that were left, we would wait until the room was again silent and as their goggles were lifted, tell them what their eyes knew to be true –several (if not all) of their colleagues had abandoned them. Invariably, the previously reluctant detainee(s) would suddenly agree to “take the deal.” The cut-throat competitiveness of the Prisoners’ Dilemma also precluded detainees from the self-defeating response of lying to one of my interrogators. It simply did not occur.

The most striking and disturbing aspect of this questioning technique was how quickly self-interest shattered not just the existing cohesiveness of the detainee group, but even their individual values, beliefs, and identities. Blood-ties and Al-Qaeda service together meant little when pitted against our appeal. On every occasion, primal self-interest trumped loyalty and collective needs, not it days or weeks, but in just a few short hours.

Think You Can’t Change The World? Don’t Believe It Reply

By Chris Simmons

What words do you use to describe a man who cashed in his retirement pension to fund – and serve with – volunteers who flew high-risk Search & Rescue missions?

In the early 1990s, Cubans were so desperate to flee their prison-homeland that tens of thousands attempted to cross the Straits of Florida. However, the 93 miles between Key West and Havana are notoriously dangerous. The Cuban Navy would capture and tow escaping rafters back to the island or worse, sink their vessel and leave survivors to die at sea. Sharks were a constant threat.

And finally — the wind. Lacking money for any kind of motor, rafters were at the mercy of the trade winds. If the winds blew the wrong way or a rafter’s navigation was off – they were condemned to a slow, lingering death in the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean.

Living in the Florida Keys, Matt Lawrence refused to be a bystander to this human tragedy. He teamed up with three friends to fly their own rescue missions. The locals quickly dubbed them “Los Gringos con Corazon” – “The White Guys with Heart.” Matt’s pension paid for their equipment, fuel, and other necessities, but at a cost of roughly $1000 per mission, they needed to stretch every penny. To enhance their ability to save lives, the friends created the nonprofit group, Freedom Flight International.

Matt racked up over 500 hours of flight time during the next several years. Over the course of three “rafter seasons,” which ran from late spring through summer’s end, he flew an estimated 75-100 rescue missions.

Flying in search of rafters was inherently dangerous. Partnering with sister groups, Los Gringos and two or three other planes would fly abreast of one another, about five miles between each aircraft. The sheer size of the Florida Straits forced them to fly low since rafters left Cuba on lashed-together inner tubes or almost anything else that would float. Upon finding a rafter(s), they descended to 50-100 feet above the water, an extremely dangerous task at 130 miles an hour. The low altitude was necessary so they could drop emergency aid, communicate with the survivors, and assess the situation. After a mission, countless additional hours were spent on plane maintenance, prepping for the next flight, and training.

Matt Lawrence and the rest of Los Gringos stopped flying in August 1994 – the month President Bill Clinton reversed US policy and ordered the Coast Guard to repatriate every Cuban rafter found at sea. The exodus was over.

In the course of three short years, Los Gringos con Corazon helped save 511 rafters.

Matt Lawrence did what he felt was necessary to save lives. He asked and expected nothing in return. Some may see his actions as reckless – his girlfriend did – she walked out on him because of his rescue efforts. Looking back, he sees his sacrifices as wholly justified – and I trust 511 Cuban-Americans would agree with him.

Now a best-selling author and dive instructor, Matt Lawrence is also a former treasure hunter and aficionado of sea-recovered artifacts. He lives quietly in Summerland Key, a few islands to the east of the madness that is Key West.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead   

The sad sight that Matt Lawrence called "A Tombstone at Sea."

An empty raft — a sight Matt Lawrence called “A Tombstone at Sea.”

"Los Gringos con Corazon" on a mission with "Brothers to the Rescue." From left to right, Thomas Van Hare, Conrad Webber, Steve Walton, Matt Lawrence.

Los Gringos con Corazon” on a mission with “Brothers to the Rescue.” From left to right, Thomas Van Hare, Conrad Webber, Steve Walton, Matt Lawrence.

Rescued rafters

Rescued rafters

Psychology Today: Why Are Religious People (Generally) Less Intelligent? 3

Understanding the negative relationship between IQ and religiosity

By Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Ph.D.

Catching up on my Xmas readings, I dived into the recent meta-analysis on the negative correlation between IQ and religious beliefs, which, at least in my case, makes sense: I am highly religious but not very intelligent… or is it the other way around? [Sorry, I’m not smart enough to figure it out].

The paper has very few methodological weaknesses, but as we know correlation does not mean causation – though correlations do have causes.

The key question, then, is why religious people are generally less intelligent. And the authors did not shy away from the answer, offering three compelling explanations:

(1) Intelligent people are generally more analytical and data-driven; formal religions are the antithesis: they are empirically fluffy and their claims are often in direct contradiction with scientific evidence, unless they are interpreted metaphorically – but maybe intelligent people are not that keen on metaphor. Another way of putting it is that people with a high IQ are more likely to have faith in science, which isn’t religion’s best friends (yes, yes, I do know about Einstein’s quotes).

(2) Intelligent people are less likely to conform, and, in most societies, religiosity is closer to the norm than atheism is. Although this interpretation is based on extrapolation, it still makes sense: first, in most societies the number of religious people outnumbers the number of atheists or agnostics people; and second, higher-IQ people tend to be less gullible.

(3) Intelligence and religiosity are “functionally equivalent”, which means that they fulfil the same psychological role. Although this intriguing argument contradicts points 1 and 2, it deserves serious consideration. Humans will always crave meaning. Religion – like science and logical reasoning – provides them with a comprehensive framework or system to make meaningful interpretations of the world. At times, religion and science are in conflict; but they can also act in concert, complementing each other to answer non-falsifiable and falsifiable questions, respectively. The authors conclude that some people satisfy their desire to find meaning via religion, whereas others do so via logical, analytical, or scientific reasoning – and IQ predicts whether you are in the former or latter group.

It is noteworthy that these three explanations assume that IQ influences religiosity rather than vice-versa, which seems plausible: IQ levels remain very stable after childhood, whereas religiosity levels keep fluctuating – childhood IQ predicts adult IQ, but childhood religiosity is a very poor predictor of adult religiosity.

However, the authors forget to consider an important possibility, which is that the relationship between IQ and religiosity could be caused by a third variable, namely personality. Indeed, Openness to Experience, a personality dimension that predicts an individual’s propensity to display higher levels of intellectual curiosity, aesthetic sensitivity, and be driven by counter-conformist and rebellious attitudes, is positively correlated with IQ, and, like IQ, stable from an early age. Furthermore, there is also ample evidence suggesting that higher Openness may cause IQ gains in adulthood because open individuals are more likely to invest time and resources acquiring expertise and knowledge.

By the same token, it is feasible to expect open individuals to be less interested in religion. Their hungry mind makes them gravitate towards scientific or factual explanations, and artistic sensations, rather then religious dogma. This would be in line with the positive association between Openness and tolerance for ambiguity – open people can handle complexity and ambivalence – and the negative link between Openness and need for closure – open people are less likely to see the world in black-or-white terms and are generally more comfortable with uncertainty. Since religion tends to eliminate ambiguity and uncertainty, its “utility” or psychological benefits should be greater for less than more open people, which would explain why religion appeals more to less intelligent individuals – who are generally less open. But what do the data say?

Although there are no meta-analytic studies on the joint or interactive effects of Openness and IQ on religiosity, there are plenty of studies examining the relationship between personality and religiosity. The first large-scale review reported that Openness is negatively correlated with religious fundamentalism and formal religious adherence, albeit weakly. However, Openness was positively correlated with spirituality and “mature religiosity”, e.g., emotionality, quest for meaning, and community, without strict adherence to formal religion. In the same study, religiosity was negatively related to Psychoticism – a trait that captures an individual’s typical levels of self-control, law-abidingness, and empathy. To make matters more complex, Psychoticism and Openness are positively correlated, so the relationship between personality and religiosity may not be straightforward.

It also seems plausible that different elements or facets of Openness to Experience are differentially related to religiosity and spirituality. For example, a study found that people’s emotional appreciation of religion was negatively related to the more rational or intellectual aspects of Openness, but positively related to artistic imagination and aesthetic sensitivity, two other facets of Openness. Furthermore, non-linear relationships between Openness and attitudes towards religion can also be expected. In particular, individuals with higher Openness may be generally more reticent to embrace formal religious beliefs – but, on the other hand, people who are extremely open would be more able to understand and tolerate individuals who hold such beliefs, even if they don’t share them. In that sense, hardcore atheism and agnosticism are as symptomatic of rigidity and narrow-mindedness as extreme religiosity, and highlight an inability to understand alternative Weltanschauungen or opposite systems of values. In any event, associations between IQ and religiosity are at least in part determined by personality traits and values. And let’s not forget that there are plenty of people who are both smart and religious – as well as many individuals who are agnostic and dim.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Ph.D., is a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London and NYU.