Category Archives: Psychology

As another academic year draws to a close, we should all reflect on how much effort, enthusiasm, and endurance is required to succeed in anything. School will end all too soon, but staying strong to the very end–playing to the final whistle, if you will–demands hard work. Here’s some encouragement to keep working! And lest you forget why you are working so hard in the first place, remember this…

“You can only climb as hard as you rest.” Jared Leto shared that kernel of rock climbing wisdom to explain his prodigious productivity. Even a moment’s thought assures us that this concept makes perfect sense. Now consider the average high school student, so buried under so many academic, extracurricular, and social commitments that he can’t even get a good night’s sleep. This avalanche of activities might seem like the only path to success, but overwork all too often impedes real achievement. Not only do people, particularly teens, require lots of sleep for optimal performance, but even breaks make a difference. Margaret L. Schlichting and Alison R. Preston of The University of Texas at Austin found that reflection boosts learning. Their research subjects who used time between learning tasks to reflect on what they had learned previously scored better on tests pertaining to what they learned later, especially where small threads…

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Everyone thinks they can accomplish more by doing more at once. Unfortunately, almost everyone is wrong. Multitasking has been proven time and time again to kill productivity. Basically, switching focus to even a mundane task can double your error rate and lower your measurable IQ. So next time you’re studying for that big test, turn off the music, computer, phone, etc. etc. But if you’ve been insisting all these years that you’re different, you may be right. Studies support the idea that some lucky souls may actually be supertaskers, capable of juggling parallel tasks effectively. According to the research described in On supertaskers and the neural basis of efficient multitasking, some brains manage cognitive load more efficiently than others: Multitasking is mentally taxing and, therefore, should recruit the prefrontal cortex to maintain task goals when coordinating attentional control and managing the cognitive load. To investigate this possibility, we used functional…

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Success–particularly massive success over incredible obstacles–is understandably difficult to achieve in any field. If you accept the wisdom of the bell curve, you see that any sufficiently large group of people ranked in any complex skill like fencing or juggling will naturally huddle within one standard deviation of the mean with both highest and lowest performers charting an increasingly sloping path to either elite performance or utter uselessness. True success eludes those not fully dedicated to earning it. This lesson plays out time and again in business, which is why an insight first shared in 1940 still resonates today. That is when insurance professional Albert E. N. Gray identified the common denominator of success in a memorable speech at the annual convention of the National Association of Life Underwriters. He may have been speaking about selling insurance but his words should hit home with anyone seeking success in any field…

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“Exercise in repeatedly recalling a thing strengthens the memory.”   Do you despise testing? Perhaps you’d feel more open to the tremendous value of testing if you knew that one of humanity’s great philosophers and scientists fully endorsed the practice. Aristole saw the connection between repeatedly recalling a thing (testing) and remembering a thing (learning). The testing effect, as it is called, powers academic performance in a way that mere reading never can. All those students who adopt reading and rereading texts as their primary study strategy miss out on the educational impact of active recall of targeted information. Psychologists Henry L. Roediger III and Jeffrey D. Karpicke contributed much to our understanding of the testing effect in their review of a century of research into learning. They also conducted their own insightful research into the subject. Considering that the title of their findings was Test-Enhanced Learning: Taking Memory Tests…

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Is calming down really the best way to achieve peak performance? Alison Wood Brooks, Ph.D. doesn’t think so: Individuals often feel anxious in anticipation of tasks such as speaking in public or meeting with a boss. I find that an overwhelming majority of people believe trying to calm down is the best way to cope with pre-performance anxiety. However, across several studies involving karaoke singing, public speaking, and math performance, I investigate an alternative strategy: reappraising anxiety as excitement. The studies Brooks refers to suggest that getting excited rather than relaxed is a more effective way to reduce performance anxiety. In one experiment that many high school students can relate to, 188 participants were given difficult math problems after they read “try to get excited” or “try to remain calm.” As a comparison, a control group didn’t read any statement. Participants in the excited group scored 8 percent higher on…

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