Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

On Perceptions II

Friday, December 4th, 2009

This video is a fascinating example of attention deficit in perceptions.

Just watch, no instructions.

You should also see this one (it’s the one with basketballs).

If I Had TWO Hammers

Friday, November 13th, 2009

There’s an old saying: “If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems look like nails.”  I know it well, because it truly applies in the software development industry.  Most of the time, the software tools a programmer chooses for a job will depend on either 1) what the programmer know or 2) what the programmer wants to learn.

Seth Godin mentions this tendency in his blog today:

Seth’s Blog: Hammer time
One study found that when confronted with a patient with back pain, surgeons prescribed surgery, physical therapists thought that therapy was indicated and yes, acupuncturists were sure needles were the answer. Across the entire universe of patients, the single largest indicator of treatment wasn’t symptoms or patient background, it was the background of the doctor.

So, we programmers are not alone (I never thought we were :))

I love the phrasing of his parting advice.

The best way to find the right tool for the job is to learn to be good at switching hammers.

Of course, you can’t switch hammers unless you have more than one.

The software developers workers who will thrive in today’s and tomorrow’s global economy are the ones who make it a life-long practice to add new tools to their tool belts.

On Perceptions

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

This is my favorite illustration about attention and perception. The original page is here.
In the movie below you will see a group of college students passing a basketball.  Some are wearing black shirts and some are wearing white. You must count the number of times the WHITE team bounces the ball between two players. Keep track of the total.
Go ahead and do it. I’ll wait.


The Pygmalion Effect

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Dan Miller wrote this story in his August 18, 2009 newsletter:

I was Shocked! « Dan Miller’s Blog
Our mind can complete the expectations we have!

Recently I installed three new poles and decorative lights on the driveway approach to our house. Although I enjoy being a handy man, electrical work always makes me nervous. I rented a trencher, dug a narrow ditch and carefully laid the line in the trench. I then proceeded to install the outlets and run the line up each pole before completing the power attachment at our house. Twice in this process I recoiled with the stinging shock of electric power surging through my arms – but wait – there was no power yet attached. I hadn’t connected the line to the power source. Just the “anticipation” of power convinced me I had already “felt” a serious shock.

I find I’m not alone in this mysterious happening. Commonly known as the Pygmalion Effect, scientists say this phenomenon occurs when “a false definition of the situation evokes a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true.” In other words, once an expectation is set, we tend to act in ways that are consistent with that expectation, even when it’s not true.

I have had this experience with electricity, though not to the extent Dan reports here.  I’ll grant him poetic license to make the story interesting. It sounds familiar, and interesting, and similar to some other effects (notably the Placebo Effect).

Wikipedia’s entry for Pygmalion Effect also reports on an experiment familiar to me.  A number of school teachers were given a new class of students.  Some of the teachers were told that they were getting a group of exceptionally gifted students.  Others were told that their class was a bit slower.  All of the classes performed as expected – the “gifted” classes progressed much farther than the “slow” classes — even though students in all classes were randomly assigned.

In this experiment, Rosenthal predicted that, when given the information that certain students are brighter than others, elementary school teachers may unconsciously behave in ways that facilitate and encourage the students’ success. The prior research that motivated this study was done in 1911 by psychologists regarding the case of Clever Hans, a horse that gained notoriety because it was supposed to be able to read, spell, and solve math problems by using its hoof to answer. Many skeptics suggested that questioners and observers were unintentionally signaling Clever Hans. For instance, whenever Clever Hans was asked a question the observers’ demeanor usually elicited a certain behavior from the subject that in turn confirmed their expectations.

The bottom line is that our minds to affect our perceptions in a powerful way.   Your attitude will have a powerful effect on your life and your happiness (and apparently that of those around you).  I have seen expectations (sour attitudes) ruin vacations, jobs, homes, and marriages.  Used for good, a positive attitude will make your job better, your spouse prettier, and even make the weather better.  Really.  (but don’t overdo it and fall prey to the Pollyanaism.)

Perception is Reality

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

I enjoy the “daily tips on being a better husband” at  the-generous-husband.comToday’s tip deals with perception.

I was at the laundry mat today. (For the moment we have two families on one well, and we feel it’s wise to limit water use rather than find out the hard way how much we can draw.) My bride did the laundry mat run last time; I did it this time because she has a great deal of bookkeeping to do after the day job conference.

I am about done when a woman comes in, and before she can get her stuff into washers her phone rings. It is her husband, on his way home from work. She asks if he is going to stop on his way home and help her with the laundry. I don’t know what he told her as why he was not going to join her, but she replied “Fine, I’ll do it – AGAIN – even though I worked twelve hours today.” He apparently tired to convince her she was being unreasonable, but she quickly ended the conversation and started slamming clothing into machines.

I have no more information than this. I do not know how many hours a week they each work, what each of them does for the other, or how they split up the family chores. Maybe her side of the phone call did not give me the whole story; maybe I would see things differently if I heard his side of the story.  However, her perception is that she is doing more than he is, and that he does not care enough for her to help her out. And be it accurate or not, that is her perspective, and it is reality to her – it is what she is thinking, and feeling, and it is what she bases her decision on about her marriage, and her husband, and how much to put into each.

What is your bride’s perception of you, and of your marriage? Be it right or wrong, it is reality to her, and it is what she bases things on. Don’t ignore her perception just because you “know” it’s wrong. You are living with the consequences of her perceptions, so I suggest you deal with them. If her bad perceptions are wrong, how can you show her they are wrong? If her bad perceptions are based at least in part on truth, how can you change?

As Paul points out, perception is reality to the perceiver.  You will have to deal with the consequences of others’ perceptions, be they right or wrong.

A few years back, I inherited a perception issue with an employee under my (so called) management. We work in software development, where, for the most part, it doesn’t really matter what hours we work, so long as the work gets done and the necessary communication is not impeded.  This developer preferred to work a later shift – say, 10:00 AM until the wee hours of the night.  However, he had acquired a stigma of not pulling his weight.  I had to explain to him that it doesn’t matter how many hours he works, as long as it looks like he is slacking off.  Specifically, at 10:00, everyone is there to see him arrive “late”.  At 7:00 in the evening, nobody is there to see how late he works.  Not fair, but that’s how it works.