sandygautam

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Sandeep Gautam is a psychology and cognitive neuroscience enthusiast, whose basic grounding is in computer science.

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Posts by sandygautam

Research Summaries: Self-Discipline Gives Girls the Edge: Gender in Self-Discipline, Grades, and Achievement Test Scores

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Today’s post summarizes a paper by Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman, that parses the same set of data, as obtained in their earlier paper (see research summary of that paper here), to come up with new insights about gender differences in self-control and scholastic achievement.

Dangal

Dangal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

  1. Girls, typically outperform boys when it comes to getting good grades overall and within each subject. this is true of US; however from what I have seen of Indian board results, the same is true of almost every board exam in India, be it CBSE, ICSE or State Boards.
  2. The girls however do not outperform boys on achievement tests like SAT or on ability test like IQ tests.
  3. If one were to assume that achievement and ability test are a better measure and can be used for predicting the grades, then girls grades as predicted by IQ etc fall shorter of what they actually achieve; and boys typically achieve lower actual grades that those predicted on the basis of their IQ. This phenomena is called underprediction and overprediction respectively.
  4. Traditional accounts of explaining this gender gap focus on how boys are better at achievement tests and are at an advantage. For example, as boys are expected to do better on such tests, girls face ‘stereotype threat’ which leads to poor performance by girls.
  5. Angela set out to find whether the undeprediction of grades for girls, and the advantage that girls have over boys when it comes to grades, might be due to gender differences in self-control. Specifically she surmised that girls are more self-controlled than boys and this factor could partially explain the female advantage when it comes to grades.
  6. I had lamented in my earlier research summary, that Anglea hadn’t defined self-control; she does in this paper:
  7. We use the terms self-discipline and self-control interchangeably, defining both as the ability to suppress prepotent responses in the service of a higher goal and further specifying that such a choice is not automatic but rather requires conscious effort. Examples of self-discipline include deliberately modulating one’s anger rather than having a temper tantrum, reading test instructions before proceeding to the questions, paying attention to a teacher rather than daydreaming, saving money so that it can accumulate interest in the bank, choosing homework over TV, and persisting on long-term assignments despite boredom and frustration.

  8. Parsing the data from previous study they found that indeed VIII class girls outperformed boys when it came to grades achieved; that their grades were underpredicted if one looked at achievement test results; girls were more self-controlled than boys and that gender differences in self-control partially mediated the relationship between gender and grades. In study 2, they had administered an IQ test also, and that too underpredicted girls’ grades.
  9. To me, if we put the two papers together, one showing that self-control trumps IQ, and the second showing that girls have an advantage in grades due to self-control over boys, and we club this with the fact that in some IQ tests etc boys show a greater variance than girls on IQ, I think a safe bet for boys, is not to rely too much on IQ, but develop self-control too.  Both intelligence and self-control are immensely malleable, and depending on the type of test / grade that my be more meaningful criteria of academic achievement for you, you should develop either or both- but most important do not compromise on your love of learning, curiosity and creativity while being lured by these indices of scholastic achievement- these are way too important in their own way and without being a means to an end.

 

Research Summaries: Childhood IQ and risk of bipolar disorder in adulthood: prospective birth cohort study

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Today’s research summary focuses on an article [pdf] that throws some light on the oft debated question of the association between intelligence, creativity and mental illness.

Age-standardised disability-adjusted life year...

Age-standardised disability-adjusted life year (DALY) rates from Bipolar disorder by country (per 100,000 inhabitants). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. It has been hypothesized that various mental illnesses like Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia etc persist in the gene pool because they are associated with some positive mechanisms that also confer survival or mating benefits, either to the patients or their close relatives. One such mechanism is thought to be apophenia (ability to see patterns, sometimes when there are none:-) ) , which is related to divergent thinking, imagination and creativity; another such mechanism is thought to be intelligence or the ability to solve complex adaptive problems flexibly.
  2. One method to settle the debate is correlational in nature. Sweden maintains rich and exhaustive data about its citizens. Mining data form the Swedish population registries, it was found that bipolar patients, as well as their relatives,  were more likely to be in creative professions;  and that bipolar traits may be associated with leadership qualities.
  3. Another method is to look at twins, one of which has the bipolar disorder, while the other hasn’t; and it was found that the other twin had high scores on sociability and verbal fluency; hinting that these may be linked to the bipolar proband.
  4. Yet another method is to look at longitudinal studies like the Dunedin studies, which track a child cohort since birth or early age and track them over time. The Dunedin studies found that low childhood IQ was associated with Schizophrenia spectrum disorder, depression an anxiety in adulthood; but high IQ was associated with mania in adulthood.
  5. The authors of this study used a longitudinal study design, analyzing the results of ALSPAC, a large UK birth cohort. This cohort consist of about 15,500 participation, but after all the dropout etc only about 2000 subjects results were part of the study results.
  6. This study focused on association of childhood IQ (which is an imperfect measure of true intelligence) with propensity for bipolar disorder in young adulthood. This study did not look at creativity and did not look at actual occurrence of bipolar disorder, thus all the results should not be extrapolated wildly.
  7. Childhood IQ at age 8 was measured using WISC-III and separate verbal and performance IQ as well as Full IQ scores were used in analysis. Propensity towards bipolar was measured using HCL-32 (hypo-mania checklist) which consist of 32 yes/no answers to statements like ‘I am more easily distracted’ when in a state of ‘high’ not associated with drug use. Only 28 items from this checklist were used.  This was administered at ages 22-23 years.
  8. Childhood IQ was indeed associated with higher scores on HCL-32. The scores on HCL-32 were converted into percentile scores. Those subjects, who were in the lowest decile of HCL-32, or alternately had the lowest risk for later bipolar, had IQ scores that were 10 points on average lower than those subjects who were in the highest decile of HCL32 (had the highest bipolar risk).
  9. The IQ scores were also made categorical. Looking at data from another way, those who had the lowest verbal IQ scores (were in the ‘extremely low’ of VIQ) had on an average 7.1 points less score on HCL-32 than the ‘average’ VIQ group. The ‘ Very superior’ VIA group had scores  1.83 points higher than ‘average’ IQ group.
  10. As the age at which, HCL-32 was administered, not many people have the first manic/ depressive episode; so it might be capturing risk towards bipolar rather than actual incidence. Verbal fluency seems a more stronger predictor of bipolar risk than intelligence per se.
  11. As per my views, Bipolar pro-band may have more to do with creativity than intelligence and if future studies could operationalise and measure childhood creativity and look at later risk or occurrence of bipolar disorder, than that will settle the debate to an extent. Also important to remember that intelligence and creativity though correlated are different, with one perhaps requiring a threshold of intelligence to be creative.
  12. Lastly, if you are intelligent or creative, don’t fear, the risks seem to be too small and other factors like stress play a much more important role in triggering an illness. And even when triggered, it can be managed well!

If you liked the study and want to dig deeper, the full text  article [pdf] is online.

Research Summaries: Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents

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Today’s research summary focuses on a very early article by Angela Duckworth, that first catapulted her to fame. Co-authored with Martin Seligmen, the article focuses on how non-cognitive factors like self-control are a better predictor of scholastic achievement than say cognitive factors like IQ.

Two college students wrestling (collegiate, sc...

Two college students wrestling (collegiate, scholastic, or folkstyle) in the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Authors use the awkward term self-discipline in the paper, but all they really meant was self-control, defining which, and around which, a rich literature already existed. Angela clarifies as much in her new MOOC on Coursera, so don’t start wondering what this new concept means in psychological literature.
  2. Self-control (which the authors surprisingly didn’t define), as per VIA, is the ability to be disciplined and to regulate what one feels and does; it involves both feelings and actions; it is the ability to delay present gratification for future benefits, and it also about not getting distracted by temptations and able to focus on the task at hand. It is the opposite of being impulsive.
  3. The present studies (two of them) focused on class VIII students and were partly driven by Angela’s observation as a math teacher that hard working students who could control their impulses, sometimes fared better than those who could grasp concepts easily. That drove part of the hypothesis.
  4. Earlier works has shown that Self-control, as measured by Marshmallow test, in 4 year olds, can predict positive life outcomes decades later; similarly, in college students out of 32 measured personality traits (like extraversion, energy levels etc), only self-control predicted later CGPA more robustly than earlier SAT scores. Thus, it was reasonable to hypothesize that self-control in eighth graders will predict academic achievement better than IQ.
  5. Self-control is a difficult thing to measure accurately. Thus, they used self-reports, teacher reports, parent reports as well as a test that gave students hypothetical choices between a small reward now or a big reward later. Angela actually wanted to do an age appropriate  test similar to marshmallow test with the eighth graders, but Marty was skeptical; in the second study they did include a behavioral measure of delay of gratification task, whereby they actually handed out 1$ envelope to students with a choice of  keeping that or returning it now to get 2$ next week.
  6. Academic achievement was measured by grades achieved at end term, attendance, selection into a high school program, and achievement test scores.
  7. IQ was measured using a standard IQ test; keep in mind that IQ is a very narrow assessment for a part of broader cognitive factors/ intelligence.
  8. What they found was that self-control not only predicted academic achievement and who would improve school grades over the class term, but that it was twice an effective predictor than IQ (explained twice as much variance).
  9. This is an important paper as it makes the case for enhancing and working on the self-control of students, for better academic performance. Self-control, by all means, and like any other character strength, is malleable and can be increased by proper interventions.
  10. This paper is personally relevant to me, as last year I worked with IXth class students on their character strengths and this year I am working with VIII class students focusing on their character strengths.  Although the results, I believe, will be applicable and generalize to other age groups, its heartening to note that at least for VIII class, barring cross-cultural effects, there is proven research showing that increasing strengths like self-control pays big dividends.

if the above has you wanting to read more, go to the source- the original article can be found here.

Research Summaries: Positive Psychology in Clinical Practice

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Review articles are themselves supposed to be a summary of a field of inquiry, so it appeared queer summarizing a review article; but here I go. This post summarizes a 2005 review article appearing in Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. As it is more than a decade since the publication of this article by Martin Seligman, Angela Duckworth and Tracy Steen, I think it is appropriate to see how far the field has come since then and what still remains to be done.

  1. Positive psychology (PP), in this article, is seen through the triple lens of focusing on subjective well-being or pleasure; flow, engagement, and strengths; and meaning in life. This is as contrasted with the traditional deficit focus of clinical psychology whereby one looks at diathesis (genetic vulnerability for disorders) and stress (environment acute events like death of a loved one and chronic conditions like poverty) to figure out causes of diseases and suffering. While not denying the importance of ‘fix-what’s-wrong’ , positive psychology takes a ‘build-what’s-strong’ approach.
  2. Antecedents of positive psychology can be seen in most earlier movements within psychology. For e.g., if one were to focus on Psychoanalysis, Freud’s pleasure principle, Adler’s ‘healthy’ strivings motivated by social interest and Fromm’s productive orientation, all relate to some aspects of the new positive psychology paradigm. However, Humanistic psychologists, like Rollo May are more closely and directly related to the positive psychology movement, with conditions for self-actualization (Maslow) or fully functioning person (Carl Roegrs) laying the groundwork for PP.
  3. Its usually insinuated that humanistic psychology was not empirical or evidence based, however research showing that people grow most when they live an authentic life aligned with their values;  or the co-opting of Jahoda’s six processes that lead to mental health by Carol Ryff et al in their wells-substantiated measure of Psychological well-being suggests that humanistic psychology had enough teeth.
  4. PP tenet no. 1: positive states and emotions and factors are not merely the lack of or inverse of negative states or emotions or factors. Thus, mental health and mental illness are two separate though correlated entities. Reducing your anger will not make you automatically more loving and caring; getting out of depression will not necessarily make you flourishing and happy.
  5. The authors try to fit their new framework of the Pleasant life, the Engaged Life and the Meaningful life into the earlier conceptualization of PP as consisting of a focus on positive states, traits and institutions. Please note that this framework has been subsequently extended to include the Accomplished life and the Connected (relationships) life in the newest PERMA model.
  6. In therapy, its important to note the buffers and resources a person has and measures of well-being can indicate the actual or potential positive functioning. They can also elucidate differential predictors. For e.g. positive satisfaction with life predicts less acting out in youth when stressed.
  7. Self-report measures like Satisfaction with Life scale, need to be conjunct with informant reports, experience sampling methods (ESM) etc to get a more cohesive picture. VIA survey can be used for identifying character strengths that can be useful in therapeutic context by providing therapists an insight into what strengths can be used for planning and executing interventions.
  8. Flow or engagement states can be identified using ESM and semi-structured interviews etc. However measuring the degree of flow is challenging to this day, I believe. However identifying the activities that lead to flow experiences may aid in therapy by making the client move towards more of such experiences.
  9. To discern how meaningful or purposeful one finds life, one can use narrative techniques like asking the client to treat his or her life as a book and give chapter titles, main characters and future possible plots to that life-as-book. Existential traditions do focus on meaning as a way to diagnose and treat and their marriage with PP leading to PP2.0 is the newest thing in town.
  10. PP makes sense in therapy as positive emotions or events undo the effects of negative emotions or events. No mention is made of the (in)famous 3:1 ratio (3 positive for each negative event or interaction)  required for the same! Resilient people also typically experience more positive emotions, hence PP in clinical practice makes sense.
  11. Many therapists are already using PP stuff like instilling hope, courage, authenticity in clients and these are perhaps the non-specific factors that ensure that any therapy works better than placebo.
  12. Active PP interventions can also help in therapy.  Some of the interventions reviewed were the early Fordyce’s ‘Act like happy people’ intervention, the ‘3 good things’ or gratitude journal based interventions (which have proven to be one of the most effective interventions), writing about intense positive experiences (which nobody talks about nowadays) , the random acts of kindness interventions, Gratitude visits, At your best write-ups, bibliotherapy and using strengths in a new way everyday. Results show that while most interventions lead to short term gains in happiness, (even placebo do), for long term gains, interventions that can become habits like counting 3 good things daily or  deploying strengths in a new way daily, work better.

 

The promise of positive psychotherapy is still to be fulfilled, though progress is being made in that direction. If you are a therapist planning to include PP approaches in therapy or a mental health service user or caregiver, you probably should read a bit about this new filed. For others too, if the paper seemed exciting check it out here.

Research Summaries:Do unto others or treat yourself? The effects of prosocial and self-focused behavior on psychological flourishing

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Trick or Treat? Which would you choose? Perhaps, most of you, who celebrate Halloween, would prefer giving treats to the children. And we feel happy about that too! Intuitively we know that treating/ helping others, makes us even more happier than it makes the helped person.

Today’s research summary is from the journal emotion, and based on this paper by Lyubomirsky et al.

The Random Acts of Kindness Barnstar may be aw...

The Random Acts of Kindness Barnstar may be awarded to those that show a pattern of going the extra mile to be nice, without being asked. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. There is a rich literature out there that shows that helping others makes us feel happier. However, another rich literature suggests that self-focused things like savoring also make us happy. There is paucity of research contrasting the self-focused way towards happiness with more other-directed routes. The only exception is contrasting self-focused spending with other-directed spending, about which the literature suggests that other-directed spending is more powerful.
  2. It is well-established that happiness, or psychological flourishing, is multi-dimensional. It consists of emotional well being (life satisfaction and greater positive emotions than negative emotions), psychological well being ( things like self-acceptance, personal growth, environmental mastery, autonomy etc)  and social functioning ( social acceptance, social contribution etc). Mental health continuum – short form, was used to measure psychological flourishing in this study.
  3. Pro-social behaviors, as per the authors’ conceptualization, not only include everyday acts of kindness like helping an old person cross the street, but also include larger efforts to make the world a better place by say volunteering at a local old age home. It was hypothesized that both sorts of acts would lead to happiness.
  4. Pro-social behaviors were activated in the study participants using random acts of kindness paradigm. The experimental subjects were instructed to perform 3 acts of kindness that were either acts of kindness towards others or towards world/ humanity at large. This was contrasted with a neutral condition as well as a self-focused condition in which the acts of kindness were to be performed for oneself. The study ran for 6 weeks.
  5. The results indicated that pro-social behaviors led to significantly greater happiness than self-focused behaviors. The effect was mediated by increases in positive emotions over the course of the study for those who performed pro-social random acts of kindness.
  6. A surprising result was that performing acts of kindness for oneself did not lead to long term benefits in happiness.

The authors conclude the paper with the following recommendation:

People who are striving to improve their own happiness may be tempted to treat themselves to a spa day, a shopping trip, or a sumptuous dessert. The results of the current study suggest, however, that when happiness seekers are tempted to treat themselves, they might be more successful if they opt to treat someone else instead.

If you are intrigued by the study and would like to know more, the full text can be found here [pdf].

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