Category Archives: Psychology

Honesty–Humility: New Correlate of Job Performance

Arrogance + Humility
A new study of job performance indicates that beyond the Big 5 Personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) honesty and humility are unique predictors of job performance.

I came across the article today, just as I myself experienced the benefits of being humble and honest in a work situation. But a better example comes from some wisdom shared with by my friend Léo Walton:

Upon entering the Neuroscience PhD program at the University of Wisconsin Léo mentioned that at first he felt like he was expected to know everything. Soon he realized that he could contribute more and be more successful in the program by admitting what he DID NOT know (which certainly takes honesty and humility). He was able to receive more valuable feedback and job-related information. Those around you, peers and supervisors alike, when they have a clearer picture of where you are coming from, are more likely to provide information that is useful to you, meets you at your current level of understanding, allowing you to then do a better job and be more effective and targeted in your work.

I think this is an incredibly powerful personality trait, especially in fields where collaboration is required.
But, I would imagine that this attribute could be important in many areas of life besides work. For example, we are told that in our social and romantic relationships honesty is crucial. How true.

I think the take-away message from this article can be summed up nicely by this quote from Malcolm X; “Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.

In other words, you can’t know everything, and admitting what you don’t know only puts you in a position to be more successful in the future.


Psychoneuroimmunological Pathways: Social Stress & Inflammation

Alexy Grey art

A recent study from researchers at the UCLA Cousin’s Center for Psychoneuroimmunology revealed a connection between brain activity in the regions that respond to stress and anxiety in social situations and inflammatory immune responses. This lends support to the mind-body (psychology-physiology) connection in the exacerbation of diseases like asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression. I was excited to blog about these findings because they are relevant to my ongoing research “Life Stress, Social Problem Solving and Asthma”.

Essentially, I am hypothesizing that asthma patients who can more effectively cope with and adapt to stressful life situations will have better control over their asthma and have a better quality of life. The pathways that I suggest in my model are behavioral (i.e. medication adherence, seeking follow-up care, environmental asthma management strategies, etc), psychological (i.e. more effective coping and problem solving results in less anxiety and stress) and biological (i.e. anxiety and stress are associated with changes in immunology/inflammation and airway physiology).

The findings of the UCLA researchers are looking at the biological pathways from a very direct angle; measuring brain activity and inflammation in concert. While these findings are interesting and support the mind-body connection on a new level, there is still something lacking in terms of payback. That is to say, even if we can understand the tendencies and mechanics of the mind-body connection what good will come of it?

Perhaps my training has skewed my perspective but I suggest that the good will come from psychology and the science of health behavior. We can teach people coping skills and encourage them to engage in more adaptive life strategies. This can change their perception of their abilities to cope, changing their experience of stress, improving their disease self-management and, as this study suggests, support balance in the immune system.

Quitting smoking is easier than many think: Pharm. companies want you to think otherwise

Researchers at the School of Public Health, University of Sydney, after a review of 511 studies, found that most people who have quit tobacco have done so without the help of pharmaceuticals, and most people say that it was easier than they thought it would be. The researchers suggest that public education efforts that reflect these findings may help support quitting efforts.

They also propose that the companies who produce cessation-aiding drugs have contributed to the growing perception that quitting is extremely difficult, or impossible. Let’s take this commercial for instance.
Step Down Step Down

In this ad the company likens quitting smoking to standing on the edge of a 20+ story building, the wind is blowing, and to quit smoking you have to, I guess, jump? That IS scary! The smoker takes a step out, and thankfully a nicotine patch is there to catch him, acting like as stepping stone. Watch the ad.

Yes, quitting smoking can be difficult (I know, I have done it, and did so cold turkey), but is it really as terrifying as standing on the edge of a skyscraper and in order to quit you have to jump off!? Certainly not! Not to mention that even WITH those steps it would still be really frightening!

—follow-up: I wanted to just also mention that while this article is somewhat berating of the nicotine patch companies maybe it is a little harsh. Quitting smoking is very hard, and for some people it might seem nearly impossible. If the availability of the patch helps people to quit or at least gets people to consider quitting, then that’s great! Smoking is the cause of the most preventable deaths. Anything we can do to help people stop should be encouraged. However, my point still remains. No company or industry should be making quitting smoking seem harder than it actually is.

Depression and Positive Emotions: Short vs. Long-term Activation

A study from my alma-mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, increases our understanding of depression and how it affects one’s ability to experience positive emotions. Up until more recently it was believed that the brains of depressed individuals exhibited an overall decrease in activity in the regions of the brain responsible for generating pleasure/reward/positive emotions. Using fMRI imaging the UW researchers found that the brains of depressed individuals actually exhibit the same initial levels of activity in positive/pleasure-generating brain regions. Instead they found differences in the ability to sustain positive emotions. While it is not immediately clear how these results will impact treatment, they do provide insight into the nature of depression.

fMRI scan (not from this study however...)

In terms of pharmacological treatments, taking advantage of these findings will require more sophisticated drug actions. With regards to behavioral interventions, these findings might suggest that patients should be assisted in clarifying their medium to long-term goals. Additionally, psychological treatment may also focus more heavily on helping patients develop a more distributed happiness. Depressed individuals (and non-depressed, for that matter) ought to create a life in which they receive pleasure and reward from multiple areas of their life. This bottom-up (behavior to brain influence) approach is more likely to lead to long-term, enduring positive emotions. In general, this study lends support to notion that depression is best treated by psychological/behavioral treatments or in combination of drugs, not drugs alone.