Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Help a man, make him feel bad?

Posted on February 17, 2014 in FiM, Uncategorized, WaW

Researchers recently explored what happens when we offer to help someone, but in a way that runs counter to social norms. In this study, male researchers waited near the entrances to university buildings, watching for men and women approaching. When a man or woman approached the door, sometimes the researcher went through a door adjacent to the arriving person (so that the person had to open the door for themselves) and on other occasions the researcher held open the door for the approaching person, then stepped aside for them to enter first. Once inside, the targeted men and women were approached by a female researcher who asked questions about their self-esteem and self-efficacy.

Results: Men who had the door held open for them scored lower on self-esteem and self-efficacy than men who didn’t have the door held open for them. Women’s self-esteem and self-efficacy scores were no different regardless of whether a man held a door open for them or not.

The researchers concluded that “[t]his work demonstrates that simple but unexpected helping behaviours as fleeting and seemingly innocuous as door holding can have unforeseen negative consequence. Thus, this work contributes to a growing literature on the consequences of helping for the recipients of help, as well as the growing literature on the influence of seemingly inconsequential everyday social behaviours.”

It is good to be aware of helping in the right way, but this research also suggests that sometimes we can make it very hard for someone to help us.

Here’s hoping someone helps you, and you feel better because of it. We hope you are flourishing

~matt and the entire team

Citation: Megan McCarty and Janice R. Kelly (2014). When door holding harms: gender and the consequences of non-normative help. Social Influence DOI: 10.1080/15534510.2013.869252

Read great fiction to build emotional intelligence

Posted on October 4, 2013 in FiM, Uncategorized, WaW

Many of us read for pleasure, and recent research suggests that what we read might impact our capacities for empathy &  social perception which are important components of emotional intelligence. Researchers at The New School for Social Research studied individuals 18 to 75 . They had some of these people read excerpts from award-winning literature, others read popular fiction  (e.g., books on the New York Times bestseller list), and still others read serious nonfiction such as excerpts from Smithsonian Magazine.

After reading their assigned materials, these individuals participated in computerized tests of their ability to accurately read other people’s emotions (empathy) or predict a person’s expectations or beliefs in a particular situation (social perception). These researchers found that people who read great fiction performed much better than those who read either popular fiction or serious nonfiction. It is important to note that this happened even though these individuals said they did not enjoy literary fiction as much as the other forms of reading material. It turned out that people who read popular fiction were no better at empathy or social perception than people who read nothing.

One impressive characteristic of this research is that the researchers conducted five separate studies, changing important elements for each study. They found the same results across all five studies. In other words, the results seem to be robust.

Of course, there are many important reasons for reading popular fiction and nonfiction. I like to read what I call “mind fodder” –  books that are easy and fun to read (e.g., detective stories, humorous fiction). And I also read a great deal of serious nonfiction. Popular fiction relaxes and entertains me, serious nonfiction educates me and expands my mental horizons. What this research emphasizes, however, is the need to read books that might not be as fun, but have many other merits. Mortimer Adler started The Great Book Academy because he believed reading great literature was a core component of great education. This research provides yet another reason for us to dig into some of those books we say we have always wanted to read, but just haven’t found the time to do so.

So, I’m off to start Joyce’s “Ulysses” again…wish me luck!

We hope you are flourishing!

~Matt and the entire Flourishing Team


Research citation: David Comer Kidd & Emanuele Castano, Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind, Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1239918


Thinking angry thoughts

Posted on July 18, 2013 in FiM, Uncategorized, WaW

Some people believe that thinking through their angry feelings — what researchers call angry rumination — helps them work through the causes and consequences of their anger. The basic idea is that they can work through their anger and, they hope, deal with it more effectively. Research suggests that this is not true, at least not very often.

Researchers define angry rumination is persistent thinking about a personally meaningful anger-inducing event. It typically involves repetitive, often intrusive thoughts about the event. Angry rumination is often accompanied by angry feelings and, in many cases, it instigates thoughts about justice or even revenge. It appears that, at least for most of us, when we try to think through the event we actually spend most of our time thinking about the event. Because the event made us angry, we all-to-often end up imagining ways to “make things right,” rather than dealing with our angry thoughts and emotions. Truth be told, sometimes it feels oh-so-good to imagine ways of turning the tables on someone who has done us wrong.

The costs of angry rumination can be pretty high. First, it reduces self-control which makes it difficult for us to deal effectively with our angry thoughts, feelings, and aggressive urges. So, the more we think about what made us angry, the less capable we are of controlling our selves. To make matters worse, angry rumination increases aggressive behavior. So, when we keep thinking about the angry situation, we tend to make ourselves more likely to act-out our anger in inappropriate ways and less capable of stopping ourselves from doing something bad. And if all of that was not bad enough, this potent cocktail increases the likelihood that we will lash-out toward undeserving people, animals, or objects. The old adage about “kicking the dog” is very apropos here.

There are constructive ways of working through an anger-inducing event, and there are good reasons for doing using these techniques. The challenge is to be very, very sure we are engaging in constructive thinking and not angry rumination. Perhaps sharing with a trusted person, someone who can empathize and deal with our experience, and also keep us from tipping into angry rumination.

How do you deal effectively with that person who cuts you off in traffic, or the guy who cuts in line at the grocery store, or that person who trash-talks when your favorite team loses the game? Right now I’m thinking of Bobby McFerrin’s song, “Don’t worry, be happy,” but I’ve changed the words a bit…”Don’t be angry…”

We hope you are flourishing!

Matt and the entire Flourishing in Ministry team

Research citation: Denson, T. (2013). The multiple systems model of angry rumination. Personality & Social Psychology Review (Sage Publications Inc.), 17(2), 103-123.

Why most dieters fail but some succeed.

Posted on May 27, 2013 in FiM, Uncategorized, WaW

When I was in college I was very over-weight. I tried and tried to eat healthier, and exercise more, but each attempt seemed destined to lead to a new failure. Fortunately for me, a series of events (most importantly, meeting the woman I would marry) helped me to lose about 100 pounds, and I have maintained that weight for 30+ years. But I know many people who are still trying hard, but cannot seem to reach the level of weight they aspire to achieve.

Recent research sheds some light on this challenge, and offers at least some scientific help. People who are trying to control their eating to lose weight are known as restrained eaters. They are attempting to do the right thing — eat fewer calories and more nutritional food. One of the main reasons that chronic dieters continue to struggle with weight-loss is that they live in food-rich environments. Most of us are bombarded every day with advertisements, restaurants, and other food choices that play on our desires for filling, tasty foods.  This abundance of attractive, high- calorie food in our food-rich environments contributes to over-eating and thus to being overweight. Some people are emotional eaters as well, and for these people, food-rich environments can be especially challenging.

Successful restrained eaters overcome these challenges by forming “implementation intentions,” which is a fancy way of saying that they plan how they are going to deal with temptations and emotions that cause them to over-eat. Implementation intentions specify the when, where, and how of what we will do to reach our weight goals. We may need to have several different implementation plans to cover different situations (e.g., the plan for when coworkers invite me to lunch at a fast-food restaurant, the plan for when I come home late from work, hungry and tired, the plan for what I will do at a football tail-gating party).  Thinking ahead of time about how we will respond when we are confronted with temptations can dramatically increase the likelihood that we will make good choices.

Successful dieters also form clear goals about how a healthier weight will improve their lives. These goals are most successful when they are connected to real, positive changes such as being able to play with my children, creating more capacity to care for my family, being able to sleep better, or being able to enjoy recreational activities. Once these goals are formed, successful dieters share them with important people so that these others can help support the dieter. Successful dieters also use a variety of cues to remind themselves about their plans, and the goals these plans are designed to achieve. This way we can review our grocery-shopping plan right before we head into the store, and we are prepared to walk right past those tempting food samples.  And, lastly, successful dieters celebrate even seemingly small successes, and treat mis-steps as opportunities to try again rather than treating them as failures.

Science tells us that change, while sometimes hard, is possible. We need clear goals, a set of plans to achieve those goals, and people who will care for and support us as we strive toward our goals. Of course, hard work and perseverance are also necessary, but science tells us there is a lot to hope for if we follow these important guidelines.

We hope you are flourishing!


Stroebe, W. , van Koningsbruggen, G. , Papies, E. , & Aarts, H. (2013). Why most dieters fail but some succeed: A goal conflict model of eating behavior. Psychological Review, 120(1), 110-138.

Angry? Venting won’t help

Posted on July 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

In the past, when I was angry, I often thought that being able to express why I was mad would help me deal with my anger. My basic idea was that venting about my anger would operate like a release valve, and my anger would  subside. Unfortunately, I never kept track of whether or not venting worked, but thankfully there is research to help fill in those gaps.

The short answer is, venting doesn’t help. In fact, it probably makes things worse.

Researcher Brad Bushman has conducted several studies on the different ways people try to deal with their anger, taking careful note of those methods that work and those that do not. Thinking (also known as ruminating) or talking about why we are angry appears to make us more angry, and maybe also more aggressive. They also found that acting out anger in a so-called more “positive” way — such as hitting a punching bag — seems to make matters worse as well.

So, rather than alleviating our anger, venting makes us madder and more likely to lash out.

Bushman and his colleagues found, however, that distancing ourselves can work very well. In an experimental study they asked some angry people to think about their anger as if they were watching the situation from a distance. These people reported diminished levels of anger. This approach is also known as perspective taking — stepping back from the situation and, perhaps, trying to see what is happening through the eyes of another person. This process seems to diffuse our anger, perhaps because we do indeed see the bigger picture of the situation and are not lost in our own “righteous indignation.”

Recently when I was walking to work, I watched two cars playing an aggressive game of stoplight racing. The “game” became more aggressive as each driver tried to cutoff the other. It ended in angry shouts, obscene gestures, and one driver in a business suit hammering the car of the other. And all of this to see who could get to the next red light the fastest? Wish I could have helped these two distance themselves from the situation.

The sad punch line is that I knew one of the drivers, but no, I haven’t mentioned the scene. Yet.

We hope you are flourishing

Matt and the team

  • Bushman, B. (2002). Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame? catharsis, rumination, distraction, anger and aggressive responding. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin28(6), 724-731.
  • Mischkowskia, D. Kross, E. & Bushman, B. J. (2012). Flies on the wall are less aggressive: Self-distancing “in the heat of the moment” reduces aggressive thoughts, angry feelings and aggressive behaviour. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

News bites

Posted on December 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

In our recent survey studies I added a few bits of news from the world of research. We had so many requests for them, that we wanted to post them for easier access. Here are three juicy news bites:

Flourishing News #1

A well-accepted truism is that people are resistant to change, especially when it comes to changing themselves. From stop-smoking campaigns to appeals for charitable donations, many groups and organizations struggle to get people to make positive changes. Recent research may offer some help. Researchers found that self-affirmation, reflecting on one’s defining personal values, increases a person’s willingness to accept and follow information that urges them to make a difficult life change. The study focused on motivating people to change their eating habits. The scientists found that people who had recently written about their core life values were much more likely to respond positively to warnings about changing their eating habits. Those who had not reflected on their life values were much more likely to disregard this information.

There are many ways that this research insight might be put to practical use, but it also highlights the potential value of religious activities. Many religious activities — worship, study, even fellowship — can provide rich opportunities for people to reflect on their core life values. Among the many benefits of this reflection is the potential that it will encourage people to make positive life change. Churches and religious organizations are uniquely positioned to help people in this way — that’s great news!

Research citation: Griffin, D. W., & Harris, P. R. 2011. Calibrating the Response to Health Warnings: Limiting Both Overreaction and Underreaction With Self-Affirmation, Psychological Science, 22: 572–578


Flourishing News #2

John Gottman is probably the world’s leading expert on marriages. He gained fame in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” when Gladwell recounted that, by spending less than 30 seconds with a couple, Dr. Gottman can predict with more than 80% accuracy whether that couple will be together in 5 years. Gottman has published several wonderful books on marriages. One of his research insights emphasizes the importance of “love maps” which are really nothing more than the amount of personal information we know about our spouses. Dr. Gottman has found that rich love maps are a key to having a happy, life-long marriage. Couples with rich love maps no each other stresses, life dreams, favorite things, best friends, and secret desires. They also update their love maps regularly, keeping up with growth and newness in their spouse.

In his books, Gottman provides many great exercises for enriching our love maps. One of them is a list of questions to ask each other — these questions make for rich conversation on a special night out together or on a long trip. “What kind of present would you like best?” “What personal improvements would you like to make in your life” “What was one of your best childhood experiences?” Not only do these questions enrich our love maps, the simple act of sharing builds intimacy and trust — two more keys to happy marriage!

Reference: Gottman, John, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert


Flourishing News #3

Maintaining energy at work can be a challenge even for those of us that love our work. Advertisements for energy drinks often try to capitalize on the fact that many people find themselves running short of energy on most days. Because energy drinks also many potentially detrimental side-effects, they may not be a good option. Recent research is here to help!

Scholars at the University of Michigan found that the most commonly used strategies such as switching to another task or browsing the web did not increase energy at work. However, engaging in activities related to learning, reflecting on the meaningful parts of one’s work, and to fostering and enjoying positive work relationships were most strongly related to employees’ energy. This is another in a growing body of research that suggests the importance of great work relationships and finding work that is deeply meaningful. So, next time your energy is lagging, laugh with a good work colleague, learn something new, or take time to write or think about the most meaningful and important parts of your work!

Research citation: Charlotte Fritz, Chak Fu Lam, Gretchen Marie Spreitzer. It’s the Little Things that Matter: An Examination of Knowledge Workers’ Energy Management. Academy of Management Perspectives