Posts Tagged ‘Self control’

The Prisoner’s Dilemma and Tit for Tat

June 25, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

A famous game for studying the risks and benefits associated with cooperation comes from a slight alteration of a famous game known as the prisoner’s dilemma. In the usual version of the game two prisoners must make choices during individual interrogations about whether to keep quiet or sell their partner out. It is focused on how much people can lose depending on whether people act to keep a promise or selfishly break it. The same rules apply, however, if we reframe the game in terms of who wins. Should two people combine their resources by working together to make a product (that is, they cooperate), let’s say each can earn $300 when they sell it. On the other hand, if the partners choose to compete, they’ll earn $100 apiece instead since they’ll now need more individual resources. If one unfairly competes, should he promise to work with his partner, but then stakes out on his own after using joint resources—he can earn $500 and leave the other partner nothing.

If they both choose to compete, they end up worse off than if they both choose to cooperate: $100 each versus $300 each. So the only way to ensure joint success and satisfaction is to accept a smaller, shared gain. If they choose to work in what appears to be their immediate self-interest, they eventually end up with less.

It might seem that the question of whether competition or cooperation is better remains unanswered. Solving this conundrum required adding an additional element to the equation: time. Using self-control to forestall bigger gains and cooperate only makes sense if the smaller gains of competition versus the bigger gains of cooperation over the long run.

Political scientist Robert Axelrod found a clever means of solving this conundrum. He used computer simulations to create “people” and made them play rounds of the prisoner’s dilemma day and night using different strategies: forgive past transgressions, be vengeful, or be trustworthy are just a few of the strategies he tried. He then charted each “person’s” success over hundreds of transactions.

The winning strategy that resulted in the greater accumulation of points was a deceptively simple one: tit for tat (TFT). Although it begins by being cooperative, it quickly adjusts its decision based on another’s reputation. For example, if a potential partner treated another fairly, the second partner would return the favor during the next interaction with the former; it would cooperate. If the first partner acted selfishly, it would follow suit and cheat the next time they met. Although TFT did not emerge victorious in every round, it was the strategy that fared the best on average. Although players acting more selfishly jumped ahead initially, their gains waned over time as others began to shun them. In contrast, players who chose to cooperate when it was wise to do so accumulated the most resources over many, many rounds of the simulation, and ultimately, that’s what drives evolutionary adaptation: a robust solution.
The conclusion is that morality is self-control’s true raison d’être. When gratitude, compassion, or self-affirmation makes us behave nobly, it does so to ensure that we’ll attract others to us —others who will support and work with us to achieve success. By making us value the future, these states also make us willing to work to benefit our own future selves.

Compassion

June 21, 2020

This post is based on content from David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride. Compassion, like the other components of the toolbox is their ability to make us willing to sacrifice to aid others can be coopted to help our future selves.

Berkeley psychologists Breines and Chen recruited more than one hundred students for a study on standardized test performance and sat them down to complete two sets of problems taken from the verbal portion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). After the students completed the first set, Beines and Chen handed out an answer key and allowed participants to score their own exam. As the problems were especially difficult, the average score was 40%. Nobody was pleased with their result; everybody wanted to do better in the next round. Brains and Chen then offered study materials to the students so that any who wished could use them to improve their performance on the second set of GRE problems.

At this point, before any studying could begin, compassion came into play. One-third of the students received a message that it was common for people to have difficulty with tests like the one they had just taken, and thus they shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. They should treat themselves with compassion, not criticism, in response to their test performance. Another third were told that they shouldn’t feel badly about themselves because they were actually intelligent, as proven by their having gotten in to Berkeley. The final third was told nothing at all.

Students who were encouraged to treat their initial sub performance with understanding and forgiveness subsequently increased the time they spent studying by 30%, compared with students in the other two groups. And the additional time spent studying was a strong predictor of performance on the next exam. It wasn’t the case that the self-compassion led students to believe that they would perform better; their predictions for success on the second exam weren’t any higher that those of students in the other groups. Rather, feelings of compassion made them more willing to accept the costs of studying in the moment in the hopes that their future rewards would be worth it.

Compassion has similar effects on procrastination. A study involving more than two hundred college students revealed a strong link between compassion toward oneself and progress toward academic goals. Students who typically had lower levels of self-compassion procrastinated more and, as expected, had poorer academic outcomes.

Self compassion among athletes also can be seen in increased perseverance. Those who more regularly report forgiving and empathizing with themselves for failures, as opposed to criticizing themselves, show great initiative when it comes to future practice. A similar trend holds even among non-athletes; those who tend to treat themselves with compassion typically show a greater motivation for exercise. This relationship holds when it comes to most any healthy behavior. For example, smokers who report higher levels of self-compassion succeed more often when trying to quit. Whether we consciously realize it or not, compassion nudges us toward many types of decisions and behaviors that help us in the future.

The vagus nerve is extremely important as any state that enhances its activity—or vagal tone, as it’s usually termed—should guard against stress. Research conducted by University of Toronto psychologist Jennifer Stellar on compassion shows that there is a strong link between compassion and vagal tone. When she induced people to feel compassion by exposing them to others who needed help, the amount of compassion they felt was directly tied to vagal activity: those who felt more compassion showed elevated vagal tone.

This link between compassion and vagal tone suggests that people who regularly cultivate this emotion should experience some resilience in the face of stress. Research at the University of North Carolina by psychologist Karen Bluth found that a tendency toward self-compassion strongly predicted both a lowered stress response and a stronger sense of well-being.

Author DeStono provides the following two strategies for cultivating self-compassion: One centers on getting clear-eyed about your own habitual style of self-talk. When you reflect on past failures write down what you’re thinking, or even better, verbalize and record your internal dialogue. This real-time record is much less vulnerable to subsequent interpretative biases. As such, it will offer important insight into whether and how you feel self-compassion.

The other, related tactic, is to set aside a time once a week or so to reflect on past failure where the effort to succeed was high, and then to forgive it. Choosing to condemn such failures—if that’s what the first exercise reveals to be a typical response—will only foster shame and anxiety about future ones—two emotions that will themselves continually chip away at self-control. Using these strategies to uncover your own style and then, if needed, to cultivate self-compassion to change it will do just the opposite. Training our minds to make self-compassion the default response will not only increase self-control and grit growing forward, it will also help make our bodies resilient in the face of stress.

Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk

March 25, 2019

What does this title mean? What are the criteria for comparing Donald Trump to a Buddhist Monk? In terms of financial wealth there is certainly no comparison. In terms of power there is no comparison. But what about happiness and personal satisfaction?

Previous posts have suggested that Trump suffers from the psychotic condition known as delusional order. In other words, he lives in his own reality and ignores objective truth. And whenever he confronts objective reality that he does not like, he lashes out. So if someone does something that displeases him, he lashes out with personal insults. Whenever he encounters news or someone says something that threatens his personal reality, he denies it. So he claims that there is false news and that the investigations involving him are witch hunts.

Now consider the Buddhist monk. He lives humbly and eats a small, healthy diet. He spends his time meditating, praying, and providing helpful services to his fellow humans. He tries to love all his fellow humans, even those who are obvious enemies who would want to hurt him. He works to control his thoughts and emotions. Through this he achieves peace within himself and good feelings towards his fellow humans.

Although it might not be immediately apparent, the Buddhist Monk is living a happier and more fulfilling life than Trump. Trump’s objectives are to keep acquiring personal wealth, which is a matter of ego satisfaction. This a never ending quest to win every encounter, which is impossible. Trump has no empathy towards his fellow humans. Even his charity was a scam to benefit him.

It is almost a virtual certainty that physical examinations would reveal that the monk is healthier than Trump, and that a psychological examination would reveal that the monk is happier and leads a more fulfilling life than Trump (Trump being the nominal leader of the United States notwithstanding).

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Self Control and Grit

June 24, 2015

Angela Duckworth is a 2003 recipient of a MacArthur Award, better known as a genius award.  She is currently a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her research holds many practical benefits and also accords with common sense.  Unfortunately this “common sense” is not often followed.

Her research has found that changing the external situation is more effective than cognitive strategies in achieving self control.  Perhaps one of the most conspicuous examples concern the company we keep.  Bad company can easily lead to bad behavior and bad consequences.  She related an anecdote of what she observed at a school.  An older student was counseling a younger student with respect to the gang the younger student was “hanging” with.  He warned the kid that he should change the company he was keeping.  He told the kid that when he was the age of the kid he hung out with the wrong crowd that led him to do bad things and suffer bad consequences.

She recommends students sit at the front of the class.  Doing so increases their attention to the subject matter and their engagement with the class.

She also requires that all students in her classes close their laptops.  She insists upon gaining their entire attention.  And she instructs her students to continue to close their laptops in their other classes if they want to excel.

She reported research using experience sampling data to describe the phenomenology  of academic compared to other daily pursuits.  She found that adolescents felt more productive during academic work, and yet, in these same moments were less happy, less confident, and less intrinsically motivated compared to other daily activities.

She reported an experiment with adults on the effect of self-distancing (taking an outsider’s perspective) to stimulate effort on a tedious, but beneficial academic task.  Relative to control, adults in the self-distancing condition persisted more on a math task despite tempting media distractions.

Although laypeople usually connote self-control with the effortful exertion of willpower in the immediate face of temptation, the most effective self-control strategies are actually the ones that preempt situations or temptations that interfered with goals, thereby eliminating the need to exert willpower.  She did a study in which students assigned to implement situation modification rather than straightforward willpower or no strategy at all better accomplished their academic goals.

She uses the term “grit” to refer to staying engaged and overcoming frustration, that is  frustration tolerance.  She assesses grit by measuring the time spent on a frustrating task.  Grit predicted Grade Point Average, standardized math and reading achievement scores above and beyond demographic characteristics, general intelligence, and task importance.  Thus, grit, frustration tolerance, is highly important to academic achievement.

Happy New Year 2014: Now What About Those Resolutions?

December 29, 2013

Let me begin by making a strong recommendation. If you text while driving, or even if you just use the cell phone while driving, please make it your most important resolution to stop. These activities can lead not only to your own death or disability, but also to the death of others. Although texting is by far the worse of the two, just using your cell phone increases the chance of an accident by a factor of four. Moreover, whether your hands are free or not is irrelevant. Hands are not the problem. These activities produce attentional blindness that can result in accidents. Many of you should have seen the video clip where you are asked to count the number of times a ball is passed among a group of men. During the clip a man in a gorilla suit works across the floor. Many do not even notice his presence. This is a good example of what is meant by attentional blindness.

Although making New Year’s Resolutions is a splendid idea, the problem is that we fail to keep most of these resolutions. One way of improving your success is to cast willpower as a choice. This can be done by carefully choosing the words you use to talk to yourself. Research1 has shown that when participants framed a refusal as “I don’t” instead of “I can’t connotes deprivation, while saying ). So, for example, one could say “I don’t eat fatty foods,” rather than “I can’t eat fatty foods.” Vanessa Patrick, the author of the study said, “I believe that an effective route to self regulation is by managing one’s desire for temptation, instead of relying solely on willpower… Saying,“I can’t” denotes deprivation while saying “I don’t” makes us feel empowered and better able to resist temptation.”1

So it is a good idea to rely on willpower as little as possible. A book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney, explains why. Keeping New Year’s Resolutions results in ego depletion. You can think of ego depletion as being a loss in will or mental energy and it can be measured by glucose metabolism. Whenever you are trying to resist temptation, make a decision, or need to concentrate on certain tasks, there is this loss in willpower or mental energy, such that it is difficult to resist additional temptations, to make more decisions, or to concentrate on additional tasks. So it is unwise to try to give up two vices at the same time. The probability of success if much greater if you address one vice and then later address the other vice.

So the more resolutions you make, the less likely you are to keep them. And the more difficult a given resolution is, the more difficult it will be to keep it. So here is a strategy for you consideration. Decide upon only two resolutions. One should be fairly easy, and the other more difficult. You are more likely to keep the easy resolution, so you will likely have one in the win column. Should you also keep the second more difficult resolution, then you are entitled to a YA HAH moment. This strategy should produce at least a .500 win percentage.

As for what other resolutions one might make, the Healthymemory Blog has some additional suggestions.

Taking at least a forty minute walk at least three times a week.

Learn at least three new words a day (or 21 words a week) in the language of your choice.

Contribute to a Wikipedia page on a topic of interest and continue to build you knowledge in that topic or a new topic.

Find several new friends with a similar interest and pursue that interest with a passion.

Engage in deliberate practice in a skill of interest (See the Healthymemory Blog Post Deliberate Practice”)

Develop and practice mnemonic techniques on a regular basis (Click on the Category “Mnemonic Techniques” and you find a comprehensive listing of mnemonic techniques along with descriptions of the techniques and exercises. Try starting at the bottom of the category and proceeding up. There is a specific Healthymemory Blog post, “Memory Course”, which suggests an order in which the mnemonic techniques should be approached. There are also some websites for learning and developing proficiency in mnemonic techniques. One is www.NeuroMod.org. Click on the Human Memory Site. Then click on the “read more” link under your preferred language. You can open up an account and record and track your progress. Another site is www.Thememorypage.net. Both of these websites are free.)

Begin meditating and start practicing mindfulness. You can find many healthymemory blog posts on meditation and mindfulness, simply enter these terms in the blog’s search block.

Good luck.

1Rodriguez, T. (2013). :I Don’t” Beats “I Can’t” for Self Control. Scientific American Mind, January/February p.14.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Happy New Year: What About Your Resolutions?

December 30, 2012

It’s time to choose and make our resolutions for the new year. Although making New Year’s Resolutions is a splendid idea, the problem is that we fail to keep most of these resolutions. One way of improving your success is to cast willpower as a choice. This can be done by carefully choosing the words you use to talk to yourself. Research1 has shown that when participants framed a refusal as “I don’t” instead of “I can’t connotes deprivation, while saying ). So, for example, one could say “I don’t eat fatty foods,” rather than “I can’t eat fatty foods.” Vanessa Patrick, the author of the study said, “I believe that an effective route to self regulation is by managing one’s desire for temptation, instead of relying solely on willpower… Saying,“I can’t” denotes deprivation while saying “I don’t” makes us feel empowered and better able to resist temptation.”

So it is a good idea to rely on willpower as little as possible. A book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney, explains why. Keeping New Year’s Resolutions results in ego depletion. You can think of ego depletion as being a loss in will or mental energy and it can be measured by glucose metabolism. Whenever you are trying to resist temptation, make a decision, or need to concentrate on certain tasks, there is this loss in willpower or mental energy, such that it is difficult to resist additional temptations, to make more decisions, or to concentrate on additional tasks. So it is unwise to try to give up two vices at the same time. The probability of success if much greater if you address one vice and then later address the other vice.

So the more resolutions you make, the less likely you are to keep them. And the more difficult a given resolution is, the more difficult it will be to keep it. So here is a strategy for you consideration. Decide upon only two resolutions. One should be fairly easy, and the other more difficult. You are more likely to keep the easy resolution, so you will have one in the win column. Should you also keep the second resolution, then you are entitled to a YA HAH moment. This strategy should produce at least a .500 win percentage.

As for what resolutions to make, the Healthymemory Blog has some suggestions.

Taking at least a forty minute walk at least three times a week.

Learn at least three new words a day (or 21 words a week) in the language of your choice.

Contribute to a Wikipedia page on a topic of interest and continue to build you knowledge in that topic or a new topic.

Find several new friends with a similar interest and pursue that interest with a passion.

Engage in deliberate practice in a skill of interest (See the Healthymemory Blog Post Deliberate Practice”)

Develop and practice mnemonic techniques on a regular basis (Click on the Category “Mnemonic Techniques” and you find a comprehensive listing of mnemonic techniques along with descriptions of the techniques and exercises. Try starting at the bottom of the category and proceeding up. There is a specific Healthymemory Blog post, “Memory Course”, which suggests an order in which the mnemonic techniques should be approached. There are also some websites for learning and developing proficiency in mnemonic techniques. One is www.NeuroMod.org. Click on the Human Memory Site. Then click on the “read more” link under your preferred language. You can open up an account and record and track your progress. Another site is www.Thememorypage.net. Both of these websites are free.)

Good luck.

1Rodriguez, T. (2013). :I Don’t” Beats “I Can’t” for Self Control. Scientific American Mind, January/February p.14.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thought Suppression

August 17, 2011

The title of Daniel Wegner‘s Invited Address for receiving the 2011 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award at the APA meeting was “Setting Free the Bears: Escape from Thought Suppression.” The title of the address comes from a challenge by the novelist Dostoevsky to try not to think of three bears. This is very difficult to do except for a very short period of time. Although this is a challenging mind game, it relates to the more serious psychological problem of trying not to think unwanted thoughts. Wegner’s Ironic Process Theory provides an explanation of why this is so difficult to do. According to Ironic Process Theory there are two opposing mechanisms at work. The first process unconsciously and automatically monitors for occurrences of the unwanted thought. The second is the conscious operating process. When there is an increase in the cognitive load with which your mind is dealing, your unconscious monitoring process supplants your conscious operating process and the unwanted thought becomes conscious.

Most regard the Ironic Process Theory as providing a good theoretical explanation of the phenemonon. But the obvious question is, what can be done about it. Wegner presented a detailed and thorough discussion of possible remedies for thought suppression. But the remedy that he personally found most effective, and the one that I think is most effective, I shall call meditative breathing. This involves trying to focus on one’s breathing to the exclusion of all extraneous, intruding thoughts. Doing this for five to ten minutes can be effective although proficient meditators can do this for many hours.

The general benefits of this type of meditation go far beyond thought suppression. More information can be found in the following Healthymemory Blog Posts: “The Relaxation Response,” “Does Meditation Promote a Healthy Memory?” “Continuing to Be Positive After Thanksgiving,” and “Costly Gadgets or Software Not Required for a Healthy Memory.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.