miércoles, 2 de marzo de 2016

Psychological tips for resisting the internet’s grip

Psychological tips for resisting the internet’s grip

Connecting is MercatorNet's blog about social media and the virtual self. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your tips and suggestions. Post comments. We want to make it as lively as possible. The editor is Denyse O'Leary, a Canadian journalist.  - See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/connecting/view/psychological-tips-for-resisting-the-internets-grip/17693#sthash.I3MRaios.dpuf


Psychological tips for resisting the internet’s grip
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“22 of the Cutest Baby Animals,” the headline said. “You won’t believe number 11!”

Despite an impending deadline – not to mention my skepticism (how cute could they possibly be?) – I clicked on the story. I’m only human, after all. Yet this failure in self-regulation cost me at least half an hour of good work time – as have other clickbait headlines, bizarre images on my Twitter feed or arguments on Facebook.

The insidious, distracting suck of the Internet has become seemingly inescapable. Calling us from our pockets, lurking behind work documents, it’s merely a click away. Studies have shown that each day we spend, on average, five and a half hours on digital media, and glance at our phones 221 times.

Meanwhile, the developers of websites and phone apps all exploit human behavioral tendencies, designing their products and sites in ways that attract our gaze – and retain it. Writing for Aeon, Michael Schulson points out:

Developers have staked their futures on methods to cultivate habits in users, in order to win as much of that attention as possible.
Given the Internet’s omnipresence and its various trappings, is it even possible to rein in our growing Internet consumption, which often comes at the expense of work, family or relationships?

Psychological research on persuasion and self-control suggests some possible strategies.

Tricks for clicks  

It’s important to realize some of the tricks that Internet writers and web developers use to grab our attention.

The strange number 22 in the headline is an example of the “pique” technique. Lists are usually round numbers (think of Letterman’s Top 10 lists or the Fortune 500). Unusual numbers draw our attention because they break this pattern. In a classic study, the social psychologist Anthony Pratkanis and colleagues found that passersby were almost 60 percent more likely to give money to panhandlers asking for US$0.37 compared to those who were asking for a quarter.

People in the study also asked more questions of the panhandlers who requested strange amounts, compared to those who begged for a quarter. The same thing happened when I saw the headline. In this case, the skepticism that caused me to ask the question “How cute could they possibly be?” backfired: it made me more likely to click the link.

An attention pique (such as asking for $0.37 or calling out photo #11) triggers us to halt whatever we’re doing and reorient to the puzzle. Questions demand answers. This tendency has been dubbed by psychologists as the rhetorical question effect, or the tendency for rhetorical questions to prompt us to dig deeper into an issue.

These tricks exploit built-in features of our minds that otherwise serve us well. It’s clearly advantageous that unexpected stimuli capture our attention and engage us in a search for explanation: it might stop us from getting hit by a car, or alert us to sudden and suspicious changes to the balance in our bank account.

So it wouldn’t make sense to turn off that kind of vigilance system or teach ourselves to ignore it when it sounds an alarm.

Binding ourselves to the mast    

Content on the net isn’t only designed to grab our attention; some of it is specifically built to keep us coming back for more: notifications when someone replies to a posts, or power rankings based on up-votes. These cues trigger the reward system in our brains because they’ve become associated with the potent reinforcer of social approval.

Not surprisingly, Internet use is often framed in the language of addiction. Psychologists have even identified Problematic Internet Use as a growing concern.

So what can we do?

Like Odysseus' strategy for resisting the temptation of the sirens, perhaps the best trick is to commit ourselves to a different course of action in advance – with force, if necessary.

Odysseus had his men tie him to the mast of their ship until they were out of the sirens' range. This is an example of “precommitment,” a self-control strategy that involves imposing a condition on some aspect of your behavior in advance. For example, an MIT study showed that paid proofreaders made fewer errors and turned in their work earlier when they chose to space out their deadlines (e.g., complete one assignment per week for a month), compared to when they had the same amount of time to work, but had only one deadline at the end of a month.

John William Waterhouse’s ‘Ulysses and the Sirens’ (1891). Wikimedia Commons    
The modern-day equivalent of what Odysseus did is to use technology to figuratively bind oneself to the mast. Software packages such as Cold Turkey or the appropriately named SelfControl allow you to block yourself out from certain websites, or prevent yourself from signing onto your email account for a prespecified period of time.

Research supports the reasoning behind these programs: the idea that we often know what’s best for our future selves – at least, when it comes to getting work done and staying free of distraction.

Coming out with your commitment  

If you really must win a game of chicken, the best way is to accelerate to top speed, remove the steering wheel and brake from your car, and throw them out the window – all in view of your opponent.

In a less dramatic fashion, precommitments can be much more effective when they’re announced in public. Researchers have found that people who publicly commit to a desired course of action such as recycling or being sociable are more likely to follow through than people who keep their intentions private. We are deeply social creatures with a fundamental need to belong, and publicly declaring a plan puts one’s reputation at stake. Between the social pressure to live up to expectations and any internal sanctions we self-impose, public precommitment can be a powerful two-pronged attack against self-control failure.

More and more, scientists who study self-control are starting to see tools such as precommitment and software that blocks out websites not as “hacks” that circumvent the system but instead as integral pieces in the self-control puzzle.

For example, a recent study tracked the everyday lives of a large sample of people on a moment-by-moment basis, asking them questions about their goals, temptations and abilities to resist them.

Contrary to expectations, the people who were generally good at self-control (measured with a reliable questionnaire) were not the best at resisting temptations when the temptation presented itself. In fact, they were generally pretty bad at it.

The key is that self-control and resisting temptation are not the same thing. Odysseus had one, but not the other.

Instead, good self-control was characterized by the ability to avoid temptations in the first place. We often think of self-control as the ability to white-knuckle our way through temptation, but studies such as this one indicate that self-control can also be as simple as planning ahead to avoid those traps.

The next time you need to get something done, consider precommitting to avoiding the Internet altogether. Like Odysseus, realize that if you find yourself facing temptation directly, the battle may already be lost.

Elliot Berkman, Assistant Professor, Psychology, University of Oregon. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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MercatorNet: Losing the lottery

Losing the lottery

Sometimes it takes a good story to jolt us out of our lethargy.
Nicole M. King | Mar 2 2016 | comment 

On January 21 of last year, the eve of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I was teaching a night class in literature. The topic was Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.” [For any who haven’t read it, a big SPOILER ALERT is necessary here.]

Jackson’s 1948 story was set in a rural community. The cheery townspeople gather one sunny, happy day, amidst much joking, for the annual lottery. Families draw from a black box, then, when an individual family is chosen, each member of the family draws again. Only at the very end of the story is the purpose of the lottery revealed. The lucky winner is stoned to death by the other townspeople, to ensure a good harvest for the coming year.

“The Lottery” originally appeared in the New Yorker, and the amount of backlash the editors received for its publication is now legendary. Hundreds wrote angry, confused letters demanding an explanation; hundreds canceled their subscriptions. Jackson told the San Francisco Chronicle the following year, “Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.”

Even today, more than 60 years after the story’s first publication, my students were angered by Jackson’s tale. How could anyone do such a thing? they wanted to know. Why did the townspeople even attend the lottery? How could they be so cheery-faced about it?

I was surprised at their shock—perhaps, having read “The Lottery” so many times, its effect on me had worn a little. Perhaps, in the age of Fifty Shades of Grey, I was merely surprised than anything could shock.

“Well,” said one of my students, “I think we value human life more now.”

Do we really value human life more?

I normally try to let my students meander their way to their own conclusions, prodding here and there, but to this, I had to respond. We value human life more now?

We talked about another story. In the days of Augustus, the Roman Empire was experiencing the effects of a full-blown moral collapse. Even married couples didn’t want children, and so infanticide and infant abandonment were rampant. Give birth to a girl? Leave her on a hillside. Your chosen method of birth control didn’t work? There were ways to take care of these problems.

It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I asked my students. They agreed.

We kept talking. That January, our “conservative” leaders had chosen to drop the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks, deeming it too polarizing to women voters. (The measure has since passed in the House, but has yet to be heard in the Senate.)

Twenty weeks. To put that in perspective, at my 20-week ultrasound, my husband and I could tell that our son had my eyes and his father’s nose and mouth.

The pro-life movement has made great strides in the past year, thanks in large part to the infamous videos published by the Center for Medical Progress. But our national numbness is still on full display.

Tomorrow (March 2nd) the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, concerning the Texas law requiring that abortion clinics maintain standards similar to ambulatory surgical centers, and that surgeons performing abortions have access to a nearby hospital. Abortion-rights advocates are horrified, saying that such restrictions will drastically reduce Texas women’s access to abortion.

Do we really respect life more these days? I asked my class that night. Even when a baby is so clearly alive that you can tell which parent he or she most favors, we can legally poison him or her to death, suck out the remains, and then sell those remains to a variety of “research” laboratories. And all in the glorious name of women’s “rights.”

The numbing of a culture

In teaching, there are those rare moments when a text really makes an impact. We sat there, at four tables, in the glow of the fluorescent lights, in complete silence for a moment. I was just as struck as they were.

For, like many conservatives, I have grown used to abortion. It is relatively easy for us to glibly agree that abortion is an evil that should be purged from the land, but secretly to be a little numb to the issue. For death—and here I mean not just the act of dying, but the absence of life—has so infused our culture that abortion has ceased to shock, even among conservatives.

We watch massive amounts of real-crime television, with constantly flickering images of torn, bleeding bodies. Our children play first-person-shooter video games. In real life, we take pills en masse to shut off fertility. We put our ill, our mentally incapacitated, and our aged in institutions, where we don’t have to deal with them. And we kill our own children in our wombs, and often outside of them.  In almost every way imaginable, we are a culture that embraces death wholeheartedly.

Most of us have even accepted that abortion is here to stay, and so we choose our battles. That one, we assume, is lost. Only the crazies keep fighting it, and we secretly try to distance ourselves from the more radical elements of the pro-life movement. You know the types—those who pray outside of abortion clinics and actually research political candidates’ voting records on life issues.

And yet, most of us are still horrified by “The Lottery,” and we assume that Jackson was talking about some other people, in some other land.

Sometimes it takes a good story to jolt us out of our lethargy.

Nicole M. King is the managing editor of The Howard Center’s quarterly journal, The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy. She writes from Rockford, Illinois.
- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/losing-the-lottery/17696#sthash.ZsNRmL1k.dpuf


It's hard to think of a story in American fiction more macabre than Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery". When it was published in 1948 in The New Yorker, hundreds of appalled readers sent letters of protest and South Africa banned it. As a narrative, it is quite skilful: you only grasp the horror of what is happening in the closing paragraph. To tell the truth, I thought it was quite amusing when I first read it in the 1960s, which may say something appalling about me. I won't spoil if for you -- you can read it here
In a very interesting article below, Nicole King says that "The Lottery" can teach us a few lessons about how society views abortion. It couldn't be more timely. Today the US Supreme Court will hold an oral hearing in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case about access to abortion in Texas. The plaintiff is contesting a Texas law which will apparently close 34 out of the 40 abortion clinics in the state. 

Michael Cook

Losing the lottery
Nicole M. King | FEATURES | 2 March 2016
Sometimes it takes a good story to jolt us out of our lethargy.
Psychological tips for resisting the internet’s grip
Elliot Berkman | CONNECTING | 2 March 2016
Is it possible to rein in our internet consumption, which often comes at the expense of work, family and friendships?
China’s wife shortage
Shannon Roberts | DEMOGRAPHY IS DESTINY | 2 March 2016
Bachelors are going to extreme lengths to find a wife.
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