By Peter Gooding, University of Essex

From coffee table books and social media to popular science lectures, it seems it has has become increasing fashionable for neuroscientists, philosophers and other commentators to tell anyone that will listen that free will is a myth.

But why is this debate relevant to anyone but a philosophy student keen to impress a potential date? Actually, a growing body of evidence from psychology suggests belief in free will matters enormously for our behavior. It is also becoming clear that how we talk about free will affect whether we believe in it. Continue reading


By Jamie Gruman, University of Guelph

Long weekends can give each of us a chance to recharge our drained batteries, but only if we make smart choices about how we spend our time away from work. All weekends are not created equal.

Sometimes we return from our weekends replenished, full of vigour and feeling like we can tackle whatever life throws at us.

Other times, when the new week rolls around, we’re still exhausted from the previous week and just want to climb back into bed and hide.

However, a few simple tricks can help you make sure that your weekends fuel successful recovery and help you be at your best. Continue reading



By Ameneh Shahaeian, Australian Catholic University and Cen Wang, Charles Sturt University

Reading to children is beneficial in many ways. Books offer a unique opportunity for children to become familiar with new vocabularies; the type of words not often used in day-to-day conversation. Books also provide a context for developing knowledge of abstract ideas for children. When an adult reads a book to a child, they often label pictures, talk about activities in the book, solve problems together and teach them new words and concepts.

Reading to very young children can have long-lasting benefits for their later school success, not only in literacy but also in mathematics. Adding to this, early shared reading particularly helps children from disadvantaged families defy limitations associated with their socio-economic status. So, if there is only one thing you have time to do with your children, it should be reading to and with them.

Read your way to the top

Parents have long been encouraged to read more to their children. There have been many initiatives, challenges, and programs aiming to increase individual reading time and shared reading time between parents and children. These include the Australian Reading Hour Campaign, the Premier’s Reading Challenge, Let’s Read, and others.




Read more:
Five tips to help you make the most of reading to your children


What’s still not clear is which specific skills improve while parents read to their children, and whether the benefit of shared reading is due to other things parents do that help their children thrive at school and beyond.

That is: is it really book reading that’s beneficial or is it because parents who read more to their children also provide a lot of other resources, and engage in a range of other activities with their children?

This was what we looked at in our study. We used data from a large scale nationwide study called the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). It has followed the development of 10,000 children and their families since 2004.

The sample we studied consists of 4,768 children from the cohort that was zero to one year old when the study commenced. During face-to-face interviews with trained LSAC interviewers, parents reported the frequency of them reading to their children at the age of two every week.

The LSAC then followed these children until they were four and eight years old. The good news is the majority of parents reported reading to their children at least three days a week. Specifically, 61.6% of the parents reported reading to their children every day and 21.1% of the parents read to their children between three to five days a week.




Read more:
Enjoyment of reading, not mechanics of reading, can improve literacy for boys


Our study showed the benefits of shared reading with children during early childhood at two to three years old is long-lasting. The more frequently parents read to their children when they were two years old, the more likely their children had better knowledge of spoken words and early academic skills such as recognising and copying geometric shapes, and writing letters, words and numbers, two years later when children were four to five years old.

What’s more, frequent early shared reading was linked to better performance in NAPLAN reading, writing, spelling and grammar. More surprisingly it was also linked to mathematics even six years later when children were eight to nine years old in year three.

The most encouraging finding is that children from disadvantaged families benefited more from shared book reading. This suggests increasing the frequency of book reading is a viable way for disadvantaged families to support their children’s vocabulary knowledge and general academic achievement.

To address whether the benefits of shared reading are a product of other factors associated with parents and families, we controlled for the effect of a range of potential confounding factors. These include indicators of children’s intelligence, the number of children’s books at home, and home activities that parents engage with children other than reading. These would include drawing pictures or doing art activities with children, playing music together, playing with toys or games, and exercising together.

Even though we controlled for these other factors, the long-term importance of early shared reading still holds.

Suggestions for parents

Read more to your children and with your children. Whenever you get a chance, even if it’s only ten minutes, engage in shared reading activities.




Read more:
Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read


We also suggest parents make a reading session interactive. For example, parents are encouraged to ask children questions, such as if they know the vocabulary and ask them to guess the story and what the story characters will do. Try to make the reading a learning session.

The ConversationFinally, not all books are created equal. Parents are encouraged to choose the most suitable books for their child’s age to reap the most benefits of early shared reading.

Ameneh Shahaeian, Research Fellow in Developmental and Educational Psychology, Australian Catholic University and Cen Wang, Research Fellow in Educational and Developmental Psychology, Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


by Elliot Berkman, University of Oregon and Jordan Miller-Ziegler, University of Oregon

“I love deadlines,” English author Douglas Adams once wrote. “I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

We’ve all had the experience of wanting to get a project done but putting it off for later. Sometimes we wait because we just don’t care enough about the project, but other times we care a lot – and still end up doing something else. I, for one, end up cleaning my house when I have a lot of papers to grade, even though I know I need to grade them.

So why do we procrastinate? Are we built to operate this way at some times? Or is there something wrong with the way we’re approaching work?

These questions are central to my research on goal pursuit, which could offer some clues from neuroscience about why we procrastinate – and how to overcome this tendency.

To do, or not to do

It all starts with a simple choice between working now on a given project and doing anything else: working on a different project, doing something fun or doing nothing at all.

The decision to work on something is driven by how much we value accomplishing the project in that moment – what psychologists call its subjective value. And procrastination, in psychological terms, is what happens when the value of doing something else outweighs the value of working now.

This way of thinking suggests a simple trick to defeat procrastination: find a way to boost the subjective value of working now, relative to the value of other things. You could increase the value of the project, decrease the value of the distraction, or some combination of the two.

For example, instead of cleaning my house, I might try to focus on why grading is personally important to me. Or I could think about how unpleasant cleaning can actually be – especially when sharing a house with a toddler.

It’s simple advice, but adhering to this strategy can be quite difficult, mainly because there are so many forces that diminish the value of working in the present.

The distant deadline

People are not entirely rational in the way they value things. For example, a dollar bill is worth exactly the same today as it is a week from now, but its subjective value – roughly how good it would feel to own a dollar – depends on other factors besides its face value, such as when we receive it.

The tendency for people to devalue money and other goods based on time is called delay discounting. For example, one study showed that, on average, receiving $100 three months from now is worth the same to people as receiving $83 right now. People would rather lose $17 than wait a few months to get a larger reward.

Other factors also influence subjective value, such as how much money someone has recently gained or lost. The key point is that there is not a perfect match between objective value and subjective value.

Delay discounting is a factor in procrastination because the completion of the project happens in the future. Getting something done is a delayed reward, so its value in the present is reduced: the further away the deadline is, the less attractive it seems to work on the project right now.

Studies have repeatedly shown that the tendency to procrastinate closely follows economic models of delay discounting. Furthermore, people who characterize themselves as procrastinators show an exaggerated effect. They discount the value of getting something done ahead of time even more than other people.

One way to increase the value of completing a task is to make the finish line seem closer. For example, vividly imagining a future reward reduces delay discounting.

No work is ‘effortless’

Not only can completing a project be devalued because it happens in the future, but working on a project can also be unattractive due to the simple fact that work takes effort.

New research supports the idea that mental effort is intrinsically costly; for this reason, people generally choose to work on an easier task rather than a harder task. Furthermore, there are greater subjective costs for work that feels harder (though these costs can be offset by experience with the task at hand).

This leads to the interesting prediction that people would procrastinate more the harder they expect the work to be. That’s because the more effort a task requires, the more someone stands to gain by putting the same amount of effort into something else (a phenomenon economists call opportunity costs). Opportunity costs make working on something that seems hard feels like a loss.

Sure enough, a group of studies shows that people procrastinate more on unpleasant tasks. These results suggest that reducing the pain of working on a project, for example by breaking it down into more familiar and manageable pieces, would be an effective way to reduce procrastination.

Your work, your identity

When we write that procrastination is a side effect of the way we value things, it frames task completion as a product of motivation, rather than ability.

In other words, you can be really good at something, whether it’s cooking a gourmet meal or writing a story, but if you don’t possess the motivation, or sense of importance, to complete the task, it’ll likely be put off.

It was for this reason that the writer Robert Hanks, in an essay for the London Review of Books, described procrastination as “a failure of appetites.”

The source of this “appetite” can be a bit tricky. But one could argue that, like our (real) appetite for food, it’s something that’s closely intertwined with our daily lives, our culture and our sense of who we are.

So how does one increase the subjective value of a project? A powerful way – one that my graduate students and I have written about in detail – is to connect the project to your self-concept. Our hypothesis is that projects seen as important to a person’s self-concept will hold more subjective value for that person.

It’s for this reason that Hanks also wrote that procrastination seems to stem from a failure to “identify sufficiently with your future self” – in other words, the self for whom the goal is most relevant.

Because people are motivated to maintain a positive self-concept, goals connected closely to one’s sense of self or identity take on much more value.

The ConversationConnecting the project to more immediate sources of value, such as life goals or core values, can fill the deficit in subjective value that underlies procrastination.

Elliot Berkman, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon and Jordan Miller-Ziegler, PhD Candidate in Psychology, University of Oregon

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


Do you sometimes feel you need a vacation from your vacation?

by Jamie Gruman, University of Guelph

Lots of people will take a vacation this summer, but for many of them, their vacations won’t be the relaxing, recuperative getaways they were hoping for.

Research shows that about 40 per cent of people return from their vacations and feel either no better, or even worse, than before they left.

This happens because many of us make mistakes that compromise how enjoyable and satisfying our vacations can be. Below are some simple recommendations that you can implement before, during and after your vacation that will help ensure that your time off this summer is pleasurable, gratifying and fully recharges your batteries.

Plan ahead

Vacations can be stressful. Minimize your stress by planning out key parts of your vacation before you leave.

Reserve a flight outside of rush hour so you don’t get stuck in traffic. Book your scuba diving adventure a few weeks in advance.

Coordinate your decision-making and expectations with travel mates before you leave for vacation.

Coordinate your decision-making and expectations with travel mates before you leave for vacation. Image: Pixabay

Before leaving make sure that you and your travel partners are clear on everyone’s vacation priorities and have a general agreement about how you’ll spend your time.

While you are away you don’t want to engage in potentially stressful negotiations about how to fill your days. Even a single negative incident on vacation, like an argument with a spouse, reduces how much your time away improves your health and well-being.

Put away the electronics

A necessary ingredient for recharging your batteries on vacation is mentally disengaging from work. It’s not enough to physically leave the office, you have to mentally leave the office.

This is called psychological detachment. If you’re on the beach constantly looking at your phone to see what’s happening back at work, you’re not psychologically detached. If you check your email three times a day, you’re not psychologically detached.

If you don’t psychologically detach you won’t replenish yourself much on your trip. Turn off the electronics and clear your mind. That said, if you get anxious about the mountain of emails that will be waiting for you when you get back to work, you will also have trouble chilling out. So, engage in email triage.

Once every three or four days, check your email and delete anything you can dispense with immediately. Then, reply quickly to anything that can be addressed with a simple, token response, and mark as unread anything that needs some thought and should be tackled when you get back. This cuts the huge mountain of emails down to a small pile, which will put your mind at ease and allow you to unwind.




Read more:
The importance of actually unplugging on National Day of Unplugging


Enjoy yourself

Be a little bit selfish on vacation and ensure that you get to do what floats your boat. Enjoying yourself is a necessary ingredient in making sure your vacation is recuperative.

Make sure to do things you enjoy.

Make sure to do things you enjoy.

Vacations are supposed to refresh you and alleviate the burnout you suffer at work, and research shows that when you enjoy yourself and are satisfied with your vacation, your level of burnout drops significantly while away, but when you are not satisfied, your level of burnout barely changes.

Similarly, whether or not you enjoy your vacation strongly affects how refreshed you feel when it’s over. Take time for yourself and participate in activities you find pleasurable and satisfying. This is your vacation. You’ve earned it.

Staycations are OK

Not everyone has the disposable funds for travel vacations. But that’s OK. Staycations can be as effective as exotic getaways if they are done right.

Staycations can be great. But get out of your routine!

Staycations can be great. But get out of your routine!

The main mistake people make during vacations at home is that they stay in their normal routine. They cook, they clean, they watch TV. In short, they don’t “vacate” their normal lives.

If you stay at home on your vacation, shake things up. Visit local tourist attractions. Eat different foods. Take day trips to neighbouring communities. Getting out of your normal routine can make a staycation feel as novel and recuperative as an excursion to a foreign land.




Read more:
How to turn your long weekend into a vacation


Come home a little early

We usually come back from our travel vacations on Sunday night so we can return to work Monday morning. We do this because we think that maximizing our vacation time means making the vacation last as long as possible.

But the goal of our vacations shouldn’t be to make them as long as possible but to make them as effective as possible. If you return home Sunday night you’re likely to run around trying to hurriedly unpack, water your plants, do laundry, pick up some groceries, check your phone messages and various other things you need to do to get back into the swing of things.

However, scrambling about is stressful and can quickly undo all the health and well-being gains you made while on vacation. Research shows that people who return from vacations a little bit early report being in a better mood for longer than those who return on a Sunday.

Arrive home with enough time to relax and organize before work on Monday morning.

Arrive home with enough time to relax and organize before work on Monday morning.

Bookend your vacation with as little stress as possible. Come home early enough to leisurely get back into your normal routine, and ease back into work retaining your vacation benefits for as long as you can.

People often complain that they need a vacation from their vacation. When we return from our time off feeling just as depleted and tired as before we left it is usually because our vacations didn’t allow us to replenish our drained resources, satisfy our needs or adequately disengage from our normal routines.

The ConversationImplementing a few simple tactics before, during, and after your vacation can ensure that your time off this summer fully recharges your batteries and lets you return to work feeling healthy, happy and productive.

Jamie Gruman, Professor of Organizational Behaviour, University of Guelph

This article was originally published on The Conversation.



As Mark Twain once said, ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.’

by Randy Malamud, Georgia State University

When I overcame a flying phobia, I resolved to make up for lost time by visiting as much of the world as I could.

So in the course of a decade, I logged over 300,000 miles, flying everywhere from Buenos Aires to Dubai.

I knew intuitively that my travels would “make me a better person” and “broaden my horizon,” as the clichés have it. But I’ve come to believe that travel can, and should, be more than a hobby, luxury or form of leisure. It is a fundamental component of being a humanist.

At its core, humanism is about exploring and debating the vital ideas that make us who we are. We study music, film, art and literature to do just that. And while it’s important to explore these ideas in our own communities, people and places that are not like us have a role to play that’s just as crucial.

This is where travel comes in. It’s what sent me packing to see some of the places I have spent so long reading about. And it’s what compelled me to write “The Importance of Elsewhere: The Globalist Humanist Tourist,” in which I wanted to make a case for a new approach to travel.

The imperialist tourist

In academia, travel studies have long looked at the intersection between imperialism and tourism, describing how they flourish in tandem.

From the 16th to 19th centuries, European empires gobbled up territories around the world, planting their flags and building embassies, banks, hotels and roads. Imperialists traveled to collect cinnamon, silk, rubber and ivory, using them, upon returning home, for pleasure and profit.

The golden age of travel roughly coincided with that period. Not long after the military and commercial incursions began, tourists followed imperialists to these far-flung locales.

Both tourism and imperialism involved voyages of discovery, and both tended to leave the people who were “discovered” worse off than they had been before the encounters.

Globalism’s impact on the way we travel

Over the last century, globalism – a vast and daunting concept of transnational corporate and bureaucratic systems – has replaced imperialism as the dominant network of international relations.

Globalism can be overwhelming: It involves billions of people, trillions of dollars, innumerable inventories of goods, all ensconced in a technocratic vocabulary of geopolitics and multinationalism that’s anathema to those of us who approach the world on a more human scale.

It has also made travel much easier. There are more airplane routes, more ATMs on every corner and international cellphone service. You can travel elsewhere without ever leaving the comforting familiarities of home, with McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts and Holiday Inns now dotting the globe.

But why bother traveling if you want familiar comforts?

I would argue that we need a new travel guide that acknowledges the sweeping interconnectedness of globalism, but balances this with a humanist mindset.

Because beneath the innocuous activities of visiting cathedrals, lounging on the beach and collecting souvenirs, travelers can still harbor selfish, exploitative desires and exhibit a sense of entitlement that resembles imperial incursions of yesteryear.

In a way, globalism has also made it easier to slip into the old imperialist impulse to come with power and leave with booty; to set up outposts of our own culture; and to take pictures denoting the strangeness of the places we visit, an enterprise that, for some, confirms the superiority of home.

The right way to be a tourist

Humanism, however, is proximate, intimate, local. Traveling as a humanist restores our identity and independence, and helps us resist the overwhelming forces of globalism.

There’s nothing wrong with going to see the Colosseum or the Taj Mahal. Sure, you can take all the same photos that have already been taken at all the usual tourist traps, or stand in long lines to see Shakespeare’s and Dante’s birthplaces (which are of dubious authenticity).

But don’t just do that. Sit around and watch people. Get lost. Give yourself over to the mood, the pace, the spirit of elsewhere. Obviously you will eat new and interesting foods, but think of other ways, too, of tasting and “ingesting” the culture of elsewhere, of adapting to different habits and styles. These are the things that will change you more than the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Psychologists have found that the more countries you visit, the more trusting you’ll be – and that “those who visited places less similar to their homeland became more trusting than those who visited places more similar to their homeland.” Immersion in foreign places boosts creativity, and having more diverse experiences makes people’s minds more flexible.

With the products and conveniences of globalism touching most parts of the world, it simply takes more of a conscious effort to truly immerse yourself in something foreign.

My own empathy, creativity and flexibility have been immeasurably enhanced by such strange and fascinating destinations as a Monty Python conference in Lodz, Poland; a remoteness seminar near the North Pole; a boredom conference in Warsaw; Copenhagen’s queer film festival; Berlin’s deconstructed Nazi airport; a workshop in Baghdad on getting academics up to speed after Iraq’s destruction; and an encounter as an ecotourist with Tierra del Fuego’s penguins.

There’s an especially vital argument to make for travel in these fractious times of far-right ideologies and crumbling international alliances, burgeoning racism and xenophobia. The world seems as if it’s becoming less open.

A trip is the greatest chance you’ll ever have to learn about things you don’t experience at home, to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise encounter. You’ll probably find that, in many important ways, they are the same as you – which, in the end, is the point of doing all this.

The ConversationHumanists know that our copious insights and deliberations – about identity, emotions, ethics, conflict and existence – flourish best when the world is our oyster. They dissipate in the echo chamber of isolationism.

Randy Malamud, Regents’ Professor of English, Georgia State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


by Selin Malkoc, The Ohio State University

It can seem like there’s never enough time – not enough for sleep and not enough for play, not enough for cooking and not enough for exercise.

There’s a relatively new term to describe this feeling: time famine, or the sensation of having too much to do without enough time to do it.

In order to structure what little time we feel we have, one strategy we deploy is scheduling. In fact, reliance on organizational tools like daily planners has been on the rise. In two recent surveys, 51 percent of respondents said they regularly used their calendar app, while 63 percent of office workers consider calendars “very important.”

The idea is that scheduling will make you more efficient: When you allocate your time, it organizes your day into a series of appointments, meetings and calls, while blocking off free time for other activities or tasks.

But in a series of eight studies, Gabriela Tonietto, Steve Nowlis and I found that scheduling can sometimes backfire – and actually make us less productive.

An appointment approaches – and time ‘shrinks’

Much of scheduling’s downside has to do with the anticipation of a meeting or appointment. When we know a scheduled meeting or phone call is looming, it can make us feel like we have less time to do what we need to do.

In one study, we asked attendees of an academic conference whether they would go to the presidential address taking place about an hour later. Some said they would, and others said they wouldn’t. Those who planned to attend the address reported that the hour leading up to it felt shorter.

In another study, we had half of the participants imagine that a friend would be coming over in an hour, while the other half were told to imagine they had no plans. We asked all of the participants how many minutes they “subjectively” felt like they could spend reading during that same hour.

Those who were told to imagine that a friend would be coming over reported that the hour leading up to the visit had only 40 usable minutes for reading. Those who were told to imagine they had no plans felt as if they had 49 minutes to read.

So the presence of an upcoming activity seems to have shrunk how much time people felt they had to do something.

Why might this happen?

We believe that when there’s an appointment looming, we direct our attention to it, whether it’s mentally preparing for it or simply dreading it. This makes the future appointment feel more substantial; as a result, the time interval leading up to the scheduled activity feels limited and insufficient.

Free to do … less?

But in the end, you still have the same amount of time leading up to a scheduled event.

So feeling like you have less time shouldn’t really matter, right? But it does. The feeling by itself can influence what people decide to do.

We know that when something is scarce, people consider it more valuable and are less willing to part with it.

The same is true for time. If time feels limited, people are less likely to use it – even when it’s in their best interest.

So in another study, we gave participants an empty calendar for the next day and asked them to fill it up, as accurately as possible, with what they had scheduled (including preparation or transition times). This allowed us to correctly calculate how much free time they had in between each planned event.

We then gave participants an opportunity to participate in a second study. Everyone made a choice between participating in a 30-minute online study that would earn them US$2.50, or signing up for a 45-minute online study to receive $5.00. Each would take place during an hourlong window.

On our end, we strategically chose the hourlong window for the participants. We told half of them that the study would take place within an hour of an event they’d scheduled. The other half would take the study during a time period that concluded with a half-hour cushion before their scheduled event.

We found that participants in the first group were much less likely to choose the longer but more lucrative study – despite having more than enough time to complete the study.

In yet another study, we wondered if the mere reminder of an upcoming event could have a similar effect.

Before beginning an unrelated study, we told half of the participants that they would have about five minutes to do whatever they wanted. We told the other half they had about five minutes before we would “get started.”

For those in the latter group, the simple mention of “starting something” was enough to change their behavior. We found that they engaged in significantly fewer activities, whether it was answering emails or checking social media, in this short five-minute period.

You’re less famished than you think

Some might think that time famine arises because they have too much to do and not enough time to do it.

While this may certainly be the case at times, our results suggest that the fault also lies in our own perception of what we feel can be done with the time we have. In other words, it’s important to realize that we might be contributing to our time famine.

If you love scheduling and planning out your days, a trick could be to schedule events or tasks back-to-back, which leaves you with larger chunks of unscheduled time. Several uninterrupted hours of unscheduled time will feel longer, especially if there’s nothing scheduled looming.

It can be effective to remind yourself that time isn’t as short as it feels. Even if you don’t think you’ll have enough time to complete something, you can still start a task and finish it later.

The ConversationAs Aristotle once said, “Well begun is half done.”

Selin Malkoc, Associate Professor of Marketing, The Ohio State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


3 Pro Tips to Smash Hangry

Estimated read time:
Hangry Hulk, SMASH

by Jennifer MacCormack, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

You’re ready to blow your top – but how much is due to your internal hunger and how much to external annoyances? Have you ever been grumpy, only to realize that you’re hungry?

Feeling hangry has become a meme, even used in ads. But how does it work, psychologically? Snickers

Many people feel more irritable, annoyed, or negative when hungry – an experience colloquially called being “hangry.” The idea that hunger affects our feelings and behaviors is widespread – from advertisements to memes and merchandise. But surprisingly little research investigates how feeling hungry transforms into feeling hangry.

Psychologists have traditionally thought of hunger and emotions as separate, with hunger and other physical states as basic drives with different physiological and neural underpinnings from emotions. But growing scientific evidence suggests that your physical states can shape your emotions and cognition in surprising ways.

Prior studies show that hunger itself can influence mood, likely because it activates many of the same bodily systems, like the autonomic nervous system and hormones, that are involved in emotion. For example, when you’re hungry, your body releases a host of hormones including cortisol and adrenaline, often associated with stress. The result is that hunger, especially at greater intensity, can make you feel more tense, unpleasant and primed for action – due to how these hormones make you feel.

But is feeling hangry just these hunger-induced feelings or is there more to it? This question inspired the studies that psychologist Kristen Lindquist and I conducted at UNC-Chapel Hill. We wanted to know whether hunger-induced feelings can transform how people experience their emotions and the world around them.

Negative situations set the scene for hanger

An idea in psychology known as affect-as-information theory holds that your mood can temporarily shape how you see the world. In this way, when you’re hungry, you may view things in a more negative light than when you’re not hungry. But here’s the twist.

People are most likely to be guided by their feelings when they’re not paying attention to them. This suggests that people may become hangry when they aren’t actively focused on their internal feelings, but instead wrapped up in the world around them, such as that terrible driver or that customer’s rude comment.

To test whether hungry people are more likely to become hangry in negative situations when they aren’t focused on their feelings, we designed three different studies. In the first two, run online with U.S. adults, we asked people – some hungry, some full – to look at negative, positive and neutral emotional images. Then they saw an ambiguous figure: a Chinese character or pictograph they’d never seen before. We asked participants whether they thought the pictograph meant something pleasant or unpleasant.

Each trial consisted of either a randomly selected negative, positive or neutral emotional image, meant to serve as emotional context, followed by a randomly selected Chinese pictograph, meant to be ambiguous to English speakers. Participants then used their gut feelings to judge whether the ambiguous pictograph meant something unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral. Jennifer MacCormack, CC BY-ND

Each trial consisted of either a randomly selected negative, positive or neutral emotional image, meant to serve as emotional context, followed by a randomly selected Chinese pictograph, meant to be ambiguous to English speakers. Participants then used their gut feelings to judge whether the ambiguous pictograph meant something unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral. Jennifer MacCormack, CC BY-ND

Hungry people who saw negative images thought the pictographs meant something more unpleasant. However, hungry people’s ratings after positive or neutral emotional pictures were no different than the not-hungry people.

This suggests that the hangry bias doesn’t occur when people experience positive or even neutral situations. Instead, hunger only becomes relevant when people confront negative stimuli or situations. But why would hunger only matter in negative situations?

Affect-as-information theory also suggests that people are more likely to use their feelings as information about the world around them when those feelings match the situation they’re in. Hunger likely only becomes relevant in negative situations because hunger itself produces unpleasant feelings – making it easier to mistake the cause of those feelings to be the negative things around you, rather than your hunger.

Tuning in to your feelings

In the final study, we recreated in the laboratory a frustrating situation to test how hunger and awareness – or lack thereof – might cause hanger.

We assigned two random groups of undergraduate students to fast for at least five hours or eat a full meal before coming to our lab. There we assigned them to write a story that was meant either to direct their attention to emotional information, or to not focus on emotions at all. Then everyone did a long, tedious computer task. At the end of the task, we secretly programmed the computer to “crash.” The researcher blamed the participant for the computer malfunction and told them they’d have to redo the task once it was fixed.

It turned out that hungry people who hadn’t focused on feelings beforehand exhibited more signs of being hangry. They reported feeling more stressed, hateful and other negative emotions and rated the researcher as being more “judgmental,” compared to full individuals and the hungry people who did write about emotions earlier.

These findings suggest that feeling hangry occurs when your hunger-induced negativity gets blamed on the external world around you. You think that person who cut you off on the road is the one who made you angry – not the fact that you’re ravenous. This seems to be a fairly unconscious process: People don’t even realize they’re making these attributions.

Our data suggest that paying attention to feelings may short circuit the hangry bias – and even help reduce hanger once you notice it.

The hungry/hangry connection is a reminder that bodies influence brains and vice versa. Ana Blazic Pavlovic/Shutterstock.com

The hungry/hangry connection is a reminder that bodies influence brains and vice versa. Ana Blazic Pavlovic/Shutterstock.com

Although these studies provide a valuable glimpse into the ways that physical states, like hunger, can temporarily shape our feelings and behaviors, they are only a first step. For example, our studies only address hunger effects in healthy populations where individuals eat regularly. It would be interesting to look at how feeling hangry could change with long-term dieting or conditions like diabetes or eating disorders.

These studies alongside other emerging science suggest that our bodies can deeply shape how we think, feel and act – whether we realize it or not. We’re generally aware that emotions like feeling stressed can influence our health, but the reverse direction is also true. Our bodies and physical health have the power to shape our mental lives, coloring who we are and the way we experience the world around us.

3 Pro Tips for Warding off hanger

Here are three pro tips to help keep your hunger from going full-blown hangry.

Healthy foods filled with slow-release nutrients keep you satiated and impervious to hanger. Tetiana Bykovets on Unsplash, CC BY

Healthy foods filled with slow-release nutrients keep you satiated and impervious to hanger. Tetiana Bykovets on Unsplash, CC BY

  1. First, it may seem obvious, but pay more attention to your hunger. People vary a lot in how sensitive they are to hunger and other bodily cues. Maybe you don’t notice you’re hungry until you’re already ravenous.
  2. Plan ahead – carry healthy snacks, eat a protein-filled breakfast or lunch to give you lasting energy – and set yourself reminders to eat regularly. These basic precautions help prevent you from becoming overly hungry in the first place.
  3. But what if you’re already super hungry and can’t eat right away? Our findings suggest people are more likely to be biased by hunger in negative situations. Maybe you’re stuck in bad traffic or you have a stressful deadline. In these cases, try to make your environment more pleasant. Listen to an amusing podcast while you drive. Put on pleasant music while you work. Do something to inject positivity into your experience.

The ConversationMost importantly, your awareness can make all the difference. Yes, maybe you’re hungry and starting to feel road rage, overwhelmed with your task deadline, or wounded by your partner’s words. But amid the heat of those feelings, if you can, step back for a moment and notice your growling stomach. This could help you recognize that hunger is part of why you feel particularly upset. This awareness then gives you the power to still be you, even when you’re hungry.

Jennifer MacCormack, Ph.D. Student in Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


How far away was that lightning?

Estimated read time:
How to predict lightning strike distance

by Becky Bolinger, Colorado State University

One one thousand, two one thousand….

You probably do it. It might be ingrained from when you were a kid, and now it’s almost automatic. You see the flash of lightning – and you immediately start counting the seconds till it thunders.

But does counting really get you a good estimate for how far away the lightning is? Is this one of those old wives’ tales, or is it actually based on science? In this case, we have physics to thank for this quick and easy – and pretty accurate – calculation.

So what happens when a big storm rolls in?

The lightning you see is the discharge of electricity that travels between clouds or to the ground. The thunder you hear is the rapid expansion of the air in response to the lightning’s intense heat.

If you’re really close to the lightning, you will see it and hear the thunder simultaneously. But when it’s far away, you see and hear the event at different times. That’s because light travels much faster than sound. Think of sitting in the nosebleed seats at a baseball game. You see the batter hit the ball a second before you hear the crack of the bat.

The visual part is instantaneous.
Pete Gregoire, CC BY

When observing an event on Earth, you see things almost the instant they happen – the speed of light is so fast you can’t even detect the travel time. The speed of sound is much slower, which gives us time to do our calculation.

Let’s simplify the speed equation: Sound travels a little over 700 miles per hour, or 700 miles in 3,600 seconds. That means 7 miles traveled every 36 seconds. Make this even easier and round down to 7 miles every 35 seconds… or 1 mile every 5 seconds! Count to 5: If you hear thunder, the lightning occurred within 1 mile.

Now that you know how far away that lightning strike was, is it far enough to be a safe distance from the storm? That’s actually a trick question. Thunder can be heard up to 25 miles away, and lightning strikes have been documented to occur as far as 25 miles from thunderstorms – known as a “bolt from the blue.” So if you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to be hit by lightning, and sheltering indoors or in an enclosed car is your safest bet.

And don’t count on the folk wisdom that lightning never strikes the same place twice to protect you. That one is just plain wrong. For example, lightning strikes the top of the Empire State Building an average of 23 times per year.

Becky Bolinger, Assistant State Climatologist and Research Scientist in Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

The Conversation