Category: The self

Embracing discomfort, rather than avoiding it, can help us work towards our personal goals

By Matthew Warren

In order to develop new skills or grow as a person, you often have to get out of your comfort zone. Say you want to become a better public speaker: you will have to get up and practice speaking in front of others, and that will likely feel awkward and uncomfortable at first.

This can create barriers to personal growth, because those feelings of discomfort that you experience will come well before you will notice any improvement in your skills. As a result, you might feel that the negative emotional experience is not worth it, and give up on your goal.

But what if we reframe our attitude towards discomfort, seeing it as a sign of progress and something to strive for rather than avoid? A new paper in Psychological Science suggests that this way of thinking can motivate people to work towards their goals.

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How well do you know what you look like? Research on self-perception, digested

By Emma Young

In 2020, we looked at the mistakes we make in seeing ourselves psychologically. But how well do you know what you physically look like? Given that you probably see yourself in a mirror every day, you might imagine that your judgements about your face and body should be pretty accurate. But it turns out that we make some often surprising mistakes about our physical appearance, too.

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Having a sense of meaning is less important for your happiness if you’re rich

By Emily Reynolds

Searching for meaning is something many of us experience throughout our lives: finding something to strive for that gives shape, direction, and purpose to the things we choose to do. For some, this meaning is religious; some political; some interpersonal. And having a sense of meaning can bring us happiness (or, if we lack meaning, unhappiness).

A new study to be published in Emotion looks at the relationship between meaning and happiness in the context of financial resources. Rhia Catapano from the University of Toronto and colleagues find that meaning is a far weaker predictor of happiness for rich people than poorer people — suggesting economic resources can impact how we experience meaning.

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Psychological interventions focused on our strengths may improve mood faster than those focused on weaknesses

By Emily Reynolds

Therapeutic interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy or dialectical behavioural therapy often focus on the development of skills, such as ways to identify and actively challenge particular patterns of thought, feeling or behaviour. Indeed, research into CBT has found that the development of such skills can lead to fewer and less distressing symptoms and a reduced risk of relapse.

A new study looks at what happens when these interventions are explicitly framed around our strengths or weaknesses. Writing in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, the team from Ohio State University finds that focusing on skills that are particular strengths can help people recover from sad moods faster.

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When we see ourselves as mere mortal animals, creative pursuits may help to assuage a fear of death

By Emma Young

How similar do you think humans are to other animals? The answer might reveal more than you think: according to new research, people who perceive themselves as being more similar to other animals are more likely to care about being creative, and to engage with the arts. Why? It’s all to do with how we manage death anxiety, argue Uri Lifshin at Reichman University, Israel, and colleagues, in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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Feelings of awe may motivate us to become our “authentic” selves

By Emma Young

Awe has to be one of the hottest emotions in psychological research. Here at the Digest, we’ve covered all kinds of recent work on everything from the benefits of awe walks to the mixed emotion of threat-awe. Now a new paper argues that awe “awakens self-transcendence”, helping people to get closer to their true, “authentic” self.

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Our mental self-portraits contain clues about our personalities

By Emma Young

If I ask you to picture your face and body in your mind, what do you see? And how do your beliefs and attitudes about your self — including your personality and your self-esteem — influence these mental self-images? Completely fascinating answers to these questions have now been reported in a new paper in Psychological Science. The findings are important not just for understanding how we all see ourselves, but could also be useful for studies into body image disorders.

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Oral History Study Explores What It’s Like To Receive An Autism Diagnosis Later In Life

By guest blogger Dan Carney

A key development in autism research in the last twenty-odd years has been the use of less rigid methods such as interviews, fieldwork, and surveys, instead of those based on standardised measurements or other “laboratory-based” tasks. These looser approaches, in tandem with the increasing popularity of autobiographical writing by autistic people, have served to complement more traditional research by adding nuance and detail to understandings of the condition.

Now, a team from Australia led by Rozanna Lilley has used such an approach with a population underrepresented in autism research, namely late-diagnosed adults. The authors conducted oral history interviews with 26 autistic adults born before 1975 — thus growing up before the condition was widely known — and diagnosed when over the age of 35. Lilley and colleagues were interested in how participants’ sense of their own identity has changed over time, and how receiving a diagnosis may have impacted this.

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People Will Pay Money To Avoid Having To Exert Self-Control

By Emily Reynolds

Self-control — or lack of it — can have a serious impact on our lives. Poor self-control can lead to feelings of loneliness, while those with higher levels of self-discipline experience states like hunger and tiredness less intensely. Yet despite these obvious benefits, the vast majority of us sometimes experience failures in self-control no matter how hard we try.

A new study, published in PNAS, looks to quantify the cost of self-control. Candace M. Raio and Paul W. Glimcher from the New York University School of Medicine find that we’re willing to pay a monetary price to avoid having to exert self-control — and we’ll pay more if the temptation is particularly strong.

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Threat To Identity Stops Harmful Drinkers Recognising Their Alcohol Issues

By Emma L. Barratt

Here in the UK, one in five hospital admissions is the result of heavy drinking. Those who drink to the extent of needing medical assistance, as well as those who are caused problems by their own alcohol consumption, are known as harmful drinkers. This group is characterised not only by their high levels of alcohol consumption, but a surprisingly low level of problem recognition. Generally speaking, harmful drinkers are known for being resistant to seeing that they have an issue with drinking, often to avoid being labelled as an alcoholic, which comes with a huge amount of stigma. This phenomenon is part of what gave rise to the well-known phrase “I can stop anytime I want”.

However, this creates a significant barrier to treatment. “If there’s no problem, what’s there to fix?

Researcher James Morris, alongside colleagues from London Southbank University and Northumbria University, believe that this kind of label avoidance is a prime target that psychologists can exploit to increase uptake of treatment in harmful drinkers. Their new study in Addictive Behaviors suggests that the solution may be as simple as reframing the issue.

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