Taller on the outside than the inside

November 24, 2013

WWIt seems like there is some truth in the expression ‘fake it until you make it’. Really! Could standing like Superman or Wonder Woman actually make you feel and look more powerful? The answer appears to be yes. Expansive, open body postures increase testosterone, decrease stress and make people feel more in control. And here’s the interesting bit, in a selection situation, especially when candidates have to give presentations, holding a more ‘powerful’ posture increases the chances of getting hired by 20%. So strike a pose before going in to an interview (it would be a bit weird if you struck up your Superman or Wonder Woman position when you were actually in the room), and stand tall when delivering a presentation. It could make a big difference.

More info: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/21/10/1363.abstract

Wonder Woman. Created by a psychologist! Have a look at this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Moulton_Marston

Five things you should stop doing in 2012

December 16, 2011

It’s the time of year for making lists. And then losing them. And then making more lists and ignoring them. And it’s almost the time of year for making resolutions. So what are you going to decide to do, or to undo in 2012? As a starter here’s a list from Dorie Clark  in a seasonal article in the Harvard Business Review.


  1. Responding like a trained monkey.
  2. Mindless traditions.
  3. Reading annoying things.
  4. Work that’s not worth it.
  5. Making things more complicated than they should be.

I’m particularly attracted to her first point. She’s talking about emails and the way in which we get continually sidetracked by waves of incoming nonsense. What are we doing? I spent many a happy hour at university messing about with different sorts of ‘reinforcement’ schedules and fooling various rats (and the occasional pigeon) into behaving like a complete turkey! Yep, variable reinforcement schedules (read: emails of varying degrees of urgency plopping into your inbox at unpredictable intervals) make us all behave like Pavlov’s pet dog.

So let’s get a grip and stop it. If you must, check your email every 90 minutes or so. Strangely things will proceed as normal: the sun will rise, the Earth will rotate, politicians will continue to irritate you etc. There, I feel better already. Happy Christmas and a less monkey (rat, pigeon and dog-like) New Year!

Photo credit: Michael Elliott/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some of my best friends are monkeys!

December 17, 2010

In monkey-land social contact is maintained with other members of a group through social grooming. Which is a bit like going to the hairdresser, but instead of one person checking your hair for anything interesting (or possibly moving), a whole load of people give it the once over – social groups of this sort forming little cliques within wider monkey, or actually to be more accurate, primate society. Now for the interesting bit: the number of group members an individual primate can track seems to have an upper limit; which in turn appears to be related to the volume of the brain’s neocortex.

Primates, brains, neocortex? You can probably guess what’s coming next. A clever British anthropologist called Robin Dunbar has popped the data for 38 primate genera into a statistics programme and come up with a figure for us humans – that’s the total number of people with which we can maintain stable social relationships. And the answer is a mean group size of 148*, or as a rule-of-thumb, 150. This has now passed into folklore, sort of, being regularly referred to as the Dunbar Number. Fantastic! Fancy having a number named after you. But back to the point:

What does this tell us? Putting aside that other anthropologists have produced competing numbers, for example there’s the Bernard-Killworth at 290; it can help us to understand why groups may or may not work. Think about the size of groups in businesses or military units. Perhaps it’s no surprise that an Army company contains up to 200 soldiers; and that the Swedish tax people have taken it to heart and set the maximum number of people in an office at 150; or indeed that it was picked up by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point, and forms the core of his argument on social dynamics. So maybe, just maybe, it gives us a clue, whatever the ‘magic’ number, as to why very large year groups in schools don’t seem to work; or for that matter large divisions within very large corporations; or large groups of humans doing all sorts of things.

And what of social networking? Dunbar himself is researching Facebook, and possibly his number is a defence for those who cannot claim to have 500 friends, or 1000, or 10000, or whatever’s the ‘going rate’. Something that younger, and some of the not so young Facebook users feel pressured to have. But then Facebook is like collecting stamps, people seem to feel a compulsion to try to acquire the full set!

*If you’re interested in the stats, at the 95% confidence level, the range is from 100 to 230.

Malcolm Gladwell (2000). The Tipping Point – How Little Things Make a Big Difference. Abacus

Photo credit: Michael Elliott/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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