two Erics summarize SCIENCE! for life improvement & greater understanding
August 5, 2012 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Barking Up The Wrong Tree distils scientific research, focused on its motto: "I want to understand why we do what we do and use the answers to be awesome at life." With a gradual shift to more digest posts packed with links to summaries & sources, a sampling of the past couple weeks includes: What are 10 things you should do every day to improve your life? - What are 10 things you should do every week to improve your life? - 25 research-based ways to increase your intelligence - What are 7 things that can make you happier in 7 seconds? - 7 steps to never procrastinating again. Another blog along the same lines but less glib & immediate is Peer-Reviewed By My Neurons; recently: How confusion facilitates learning - The science of coming on too strong - Want to be creative? Play Dungeons & Dragons

Barking Up The Wrong Tree on happiness:
*What yes/no question can likely predict whether you will be alive and happy at age 80?
*8 ways that money can buy happiness
*What do happy people have in common?
*10 things you need to know to be happier
*The most proven technique for increasing long term happiness
*How to make yourself happier in just a few seconds

...on productivity:
*10 ways to turn yourself into a productivity dynamo
*The last damn thing you'll ever need to read about setting & achieving goals

...on persuasion & job enhancement:
*What are the 3 steps for getting people to pay attention?
*The last damn thing you'll ever need to read about influence, persuasion and negotiation
*What simple technique can make a sales pitch 20% more effective?
*5 ways to improve all those awful meetings at the office

...on life enhancement:
*7 steps to being a better person
*10 quick ways to improve your life
*What's the secret to amazing naps?
*How to quickly and easily increase confidence and self-esteem
*7 things every Facebook user needs to know
*What's the most effective way to change your behavior and improve your life?
*What lessons can divorced people teach married people? & interesting:
*Things you didn't know about lies, liars, and detecting lies
*What are the two most common tricks advertisers use to manipulate you?
*10 things that can help you predict who will win Olympic gold
*What makes something go viral on the Internet?

(Bakadesuyo/Barking previously linked: 1, 2, 3, 4)

With a similar concept but more serious, in-depth, and personal, here's some highlights of the past couple months on Peer-Reviewed By My Neurons:
This blog is a place to discuss psychology research while casually theorizing about ways it may connect to politics and public policy (and discuss politics and public policy while casually theorizing about ways it may connect to psychology research). It’s also a blog about social science, and anything related to social science. I’m interested in how people learn, how people think, how people are motivated, and how people form beliefs. Most of the posts tend to focus on learning, decision making, judgments, emotion, politics, economics, the media, and sports.
*Overconfidence increases social status
*The importance of believing people can change
*Can viewing art literally move you?
*Kids who sleep later do better in school
*The vacuous article template: campaign fundraising edition
*Beliefs about intelligence can influence views on inequality
*The connection between physical pain and guilty pleasure
*Why did we invent karma?
*Not believing in stereotypes can make you more creative
*The New York Times and People magazine aren't as different as you think
*How gun violence can decrease support for gun control
posted by flex (38 comments total) 260 users marked this as a favorite
Wow! Flex is on a roll this week.
posted by 4ster at 5:38 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Holey Moley. I'm guessing reading all these links isn't one of the seven steps to never procrastinating. But, I'll do it anyway.
posted by meinvt at 5:42 PM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

A little bit of this kind of thing is OK, but a big dose of it always gives me the creeps. There is more to living life than this endless, restless maximizing. In fact, here is a list of 7 things that you may be missing out on if you read too many self-help bullet list articles!
posted by thelonius at 5:48 PM on August 5, 2012 [10 favorites]

7 steps to never procrastinating again

1. Stop reading this post.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:56 PM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh man, those 10 things to do every day are definitely 10 things I already knew I should be doing.... but seeing them was a great reminder.

I'm going to go do my dishes and then make a cup of tea and enjoy the storm now.
posted by WidgetAlley at 5:57 PM on August 5, 2012

There's actually a very good ratio of solid advice vs. bullshit advice in these articles. A lot of it is stuff that most people have already heard before (and perhaps given up on) but it helps to hear it again and have it collected in one place. If I had to criticize I would say that it's a little bit too pushy while at the same time being a little bit "you must do these eleven things every day or you will be a failure". It's worth keeping in mind that if you try to do all of this stuff all at once you'll just turn yourself into a nervous wreck. Still though, taken with a grain of salt and a willingness to pick and choose, there's a lot of great tips in there. I'll probably be spending a bit of time poking through this site in the near future.
posted by Scientist at 6:12 PM on August 5, 2012

I wish I could favorite thelonius two, maybe three more times!
posted by spacewrench at 6:14 PM on August 5, 2012

not sure if trying to win mefi challenge
or possesses innate unbelievably great posting traits

-is there a genome for that?
posted by vozworth at 6:23 PM on August 5, 2012

spacewrench - do it 12 times a week!
posted by thelonius at 6:25 PM on August 5, 2012

But but but...nothing I've read about happiness so far mentions getting favorited on Metafilter!
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:28 PM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't understand why I would need to call someone at 4 a.m. to discuss my troubles. Does that mean I won't happily live to 80?
posted by purpleclover at 6:30 PM on August 5, 2012

research-based ways to increase your intelligence: Think about college professors. Don't think about morons.

/me hurries to unsubscribe from a bunch of political blogs and subreddits
posted by fleetmouse at 6:36 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't understand why I would need to call someone at 4 a.m. to discuss my troubles.

Yeah, I’m not understanding something about that question. Calling someone at 4 a.m. to discuss your troubles sounds self centered and/or overly dramatic to me. Or you’ve got really freakin’ big troubles, the kind that might stop you from reaching 80.
posted by bongo_x at 6:37 PM on August 5, 2012

I've just realized that the person I'd be happy to call at 4am to discuss my troubles probably will be dead when I'm 80.

Somehow, this has made me just a little bit less happy. Self-help FAIL! :(
posted by darkstar at 6:38 PM on August 5, 2012

If somebody calls me at 4 a.m., they are my trouble.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:59 PM on August 5, 2012 [8 favorites]

"I don't understand why I would need to call someone at 4 a.m. to discuss my troubles."

This one time my pretty new-to-town neighbor had a late-night heart attack. Luckily I'm a light sleeper and the sirens woke me up and when the lights stayed stationary I ran outside to check out what was going on. They were taking my neighbor out on a stretcher and his wife was hysterical because she wanted to go with him in the ambulance but had a sleeping one-year-old. I went over and slept on their couch so their one-year-old had supervision.

That's the sort of thing you need people to call at 4 a.m. about.

Incredibly, the same thing happened two months later, when the wife's appendix burst at 2 a.m.! That time they had to actually call me on the phone since they drove to the ER.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:10 PM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't understand why I would need to call someone at 4 a.m. to discuss my troubles.

Over the years I've had a couple of people show up on my doorstep in the wee hours of the night for various reasons- relationship breakup got them kicked out, just learned of the death of a loved one, and so forth. I've always been glad to be thought of as the person they could turn to. So yeah.
posted by ambrosia at 7:41 PM on August 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

I don't understand why I would need to call someone at 4 a.m. to discuss my troubles.

I think what that question is getting at is have you lived your life in such a way that you have forged strong enough and deep enough bonds with someone such that, should the need arise, you could call them at 4 AM with the feeling that they would accept your call and speak with you? If so, then there are probably a bunch of other behaviors you engage in that suggest you'll make it to 80 or so as a happy and healthy person.

I think the 4 am person could be a family member, a friend, a religious figure, a therapist or what have you. I have a dear friend for whom I might be this person, but I know that at some points in his life, the 4 am person has been Frank Sinatra: Sinatra playlist + a glass of something = solace.

Thanks so much for a truly awesome post, flex!
posted by lord_wolf at 8:00 PM on August 5, 2012

"What are seven things that can make you happier in seven seconds? ... Take a nap. Studies show we can process negative thoughts just fine when we're exhausted -- but not the happy ones."

Is there another post about how to take a 7-second nap?
posted by purplecrackers at 9:33 PM on August 5, 2012

I'm glad that we've turned around on D&D and are now saying it makes kids be creative instead of driving them crazy in various ways.
posted by immlass at 9:36 PM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

god this is like some horrible orgy of lifehacker and oprah
posted by mary8nne at 1:13 AM on August 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Usual badly distilled science used to push the same old, same old self help nonsense.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:19 AM on August 6, 2012

Eh, I need all the self help I can get. I'm usually verging on the self harm level vs self help level, so anything that reminds me to take the better/healthier road, that's a good thing.
posted by josher71 at 4:35 AM on August 6, 2012

Creativity is the useful crazy.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:52 AM on August 6, 2012

Ugh. I really dislike the, this is all true because SCIENCE ethos of the 'barking up the wrong tree' website. What does science even mean in this context? It just seems to be links to research (or mostly actually just links to more of their ehow style articles or crappy looking books with shiny covers) that fails to question its own assumptions. I mean, there's varieties of disciplines engaging in various ways with what it means to live a good life, and done it in much more nuanced and interesting ways than 'positive psychology'. What I see in these articles is a complete lack of any attempt to try to place what they're doing in context and look critically at what assumptions (about social stratification, the virtues of capitalism, etc) underlie it.

A lot of the articles just seem to mistake the nice perks of having social privilege for doing things right, eg having lots of friends, strong social connections, etc. It acts like it's aimed at everyone, but doesn't seem to get that not everyone is in the same place. I mean, the grant study was entirely based on men but I didn't see that raised as an issue. Stuff like boldly asserting money won't make you happier (it only will up to the measly annual income of $75k, because obviously no one reading this is making between $10k and $40k where the experience/ income curve actually looks quite fucking steep.)

Or for what happy people most have in common:
"Researchers have.... found that happy people are ten times more likely to be other-oriented than self-centered. This suggests that happiness is a by-product of helping others rather than the result of its pursuit."

Which researchers? What study? Oh, it's just a link to a non particularly reliable looking book. Why does this seemingly innocuous statement annoy me? Firstly, that happy people are more other-oriented doesn't imply that becoming more other-oriented will make you happier. Maybe unhappy people are unhappy because of circumstances like not having any money or time or being stressed all the time because of factors outside of their control like worrying about their job or debts and so just don't have the mental headspace to be other-oriented. Or present and act in ways the researchers have deemed other-oriented, probably stuff like giving to charity or smiling at your cleaner and leaving her a gratitude note.
Secondly, as a woman, the idea that you have to be other-oriented at all times is pretty much rammed down your throat. It's actually quite hard to get to a place where you realise that maybe you matter, and what you want matters, and its ok to be self-centered.

The website also doesn't seem to acknowledge that people might want different things from their life. (You might think you do, but we know better because science and links) For instance, The idea of being surrounded by family and friends and religion makes me shudder- that's exactly what I've wanted to get away from. This obligatory doing it right, 'happiness; (because of course I'm going to say I'm happy, because why the hell wouldn't I be.) fitting in, buying 'experiences'. It works for some people. I'm not saying that there's something inherently noble or more truthful about being miserable. I just think there's a bias in the research towards extroverts and people who present in a happy way.

I guess the website just depressed me because I didn't see myself there at all, or at least, only as an example of what not to do. And the answers, especially -have more friends- were presented as such simple solutions and I've got no idea how to get there.

I think they've got it all backwards. The idea that life is happy and safe if only you stick with other people and keep a positive attitude and work hard and maybe apportion a small percentage of your time to creative or meditative pursuits because they're good for you.

But life is exhilarating and scary and beautiful and yes, sometimes it is lonely, especially when you're trying new things, real things, not 'experiences'. And what you hope and dream about might not work out. You might discover things that are terrifying to you, that break your faith and certainty and belief in what you've been brought up with, what you always assumed was right. You might find you can't carry on with the relationships you've had in the past. And that's ok, that's all a necessary part of it.
And for all the talk of how relationships are the most important thing ever, I think solitude is essential. Knowing that each person, with enough time, has whole worlds that they carry inside themselves, that can't be shared, really, or only rarely, in glimpses, if you're lucky. That the things that make a life worthwhile and yours don't necessarily overlap with what looks to others like happiness.
posted by ninjablob at 5:11 AM on August 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

Two Erics? Two? That's all ya got?

When I want advice, I'll ask 30 Helens, thankyouverymuch.
posted by ssmug at 6:01 AM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is there any evidence in favor of living one's life by generalizations gathered from cherry-picked articles of psychological research? Someone help me: I feel like I don't like science anymore. Aside from the occasional landing of a probe on a distant planet and confirmations of fundamental physical theories, all I hear about science is ignorant, ugly, shallow generalizations gathered from abstracts of silly little experiments, presented with so much authority and force that it just makes me really sad.

To get really sappy --- there used to be something called "wisdom," and now we have this kind of blog. It feels like the population of people who claim things about how to live life is being selected on criteria like being really reductionistic and showing things with charts and percentages and citations.

I think my basic problem is that citations and percentages give a lot of apparent weight and substance to pronouncements that might just be hot air. And this makes me feel kind of afraid at the edifice we're building. If we're to be a scientific civilization, then I guess psychology is going to be our wisdom. And I feel pretty weird about that.

I'm confused and scared; has anybody written anything insightful about this?
posted by mbrock at 6:54 AM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hey.. I know Eric of Barking up the Wrong Tree. I'll tell him this is going on here, and invite him to come visit.
posted by namewithhe1d at 7:43 AM on August 6, 2012

You're only productive at work three days out of the week. How can you improve that?

Just a guess, but I'm going with "by decreasing my happiness on at least 2 of the remaining 4 days".
posted by DU at 8:46 AM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Love the name.

Reminded me of the joke Pynchon made in Gravity's Rainbow involving the barking of Pavlov's dogs and the fact that 'cortex' is Latin for 'tree bark' (according to Pynchon-- not that I would know), though I wouldn't presume to say it's an allusion.

It has crossed my mind to tell our own cortex that I thought he might be barking up the wrong tree a couple of times, but I've sawn off the branch I've been sitting on too many times here as it is.
posted by jamjam at 8:49 AM on August 6, 2012

Is there any evidence in favor of living one's life by generalizations gathered from cherry-picked articles of psychological research?

Don't most people do some form of this? I can't see how this is any worse than "I do X every day Grandma always said you should, ...the Ancient Egyptians did it, ...I dunno, I just always have, ...Oprah said it was a good idea, ...that's how humans evolved before we became slaves to agriculture, ...I already spent $300 for this thing,'s black. I like black."
posted by straight at 8:51 AM on August 6, 2012

god this is like some horrible orgy of lifehacker and oprah

I'm friends with Bakadesuyo on Facebook, and this was the pull quote he used.

The link-bait titles and continual lists of lists (of lists of lists) is a little off-putting, but they introduced me to BPS Research Digest, which is truly great.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:29 AM on August 6, 2012

If you only have time to read one of this genre today, the one I would recommend is Curtis Martin's NFL Hall Fame induction speech. It is one of the most amazing things I have ever read. He did it with no notes.
posted by bukvich at 12:16 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't understand why I would need to call someone at 4 a.m. to discuss my troubles.

Seriously. I just told a friend of ~25 years to fuck right off, partly because he wouldn't quit calling to tell me his troubles at 4 a.m. (or respect being sent to voicemail).

"Telling someone your troubles at 4 a.m." is far and away different from "having someone to call for a middle-of-the-night emergency" (such as the examples from Eyebrows McGee, or the time my then-partner's dad had a stroke in the middle of the night and there were all sorts of calls going on to let people know, arrange for someone to watch my kids so we could go be with her mom at the hospital, etc.).
posted by notashroom at 12:31 PM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Telling someone your troubles at 4 a.m." is far and away different from "having someone to call for a middle-of-the-night emergency"

Exactly. A 4 a.m. call better involve an ambulance, a tourniquet, or maybe the Police, maybe. Actually, no, you can hang out until morning.
posted by bongo_x at 3:12 PM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm kind of surprised that so few people here have never had one or two times in their lives they really, really needed to talk to someone in the middle of the night.
posted by whoaali at 7:03 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's where they lost me:
(in article on "The Secret to Getting a Job")

Are you doing everything you can? Probably not. Most people don't work nearly as hard as they could at finding a job.

How do I know that? Because finding a job spikes when unemployment benefits run out:

This is the worst kind of victim-blaming, right-wing-co-opted, bullshit.

You wanna know why job-finding spikes when unemployment runs out?
It's cuz that's when people take whatever shit job is available just to not die of starvation and homelessness. Instead of, you know, trying to get a "real" job that could actually help them do more than subsist.

(My data pulled from the longitudinal study at the university of My Ass. Their data pulled from Source: "Why is there a spike in the job finding rate at benefit exhaustion?" from Centre for Economic Policy Research)
posted by mer2113 at 7:20 PM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, put me in the disappointed camp. I spent a say or two eating this up, until I stumbled on something taken from a book I've read, and Bakadesuyo appears to get it quite wrong.

In this post, Bakadesuyo talks about whether or not a good mattress is important to high quality sleep, and concludes that it isn't, because of a study done by William C. Dement. Well, I read Dr. Dement's book, The Promise of Sleep (great book!) and this just didn't sound at all like the conclusion I remembered about mattresses. So I went back to the book, and read the passage. In the study the bakadesuyo post talks about, the researchers do initially conclude that the study volunteers slept the same on concrete, in a conventional mattress, and on the 'super mattress' they were testing for some company. However, Dement goes on to mention his and his co-investigators confusion about the study (the original study was in the 1960's! So long ago!), and then says "Today, these results make very good sense, as they should. The key fact was that our volunteers were mostly college students. In retrospect, we know that they had to be extremely sleep deprived because the study was carried out during spring break, right after final exams. That, in addition to their youth, led them to sleep very deeply on any surface. If we had done the test on middle-aged volunteers who had less sleep debt, I'm sure the results would have been quite different."

I'm bummed. I was enjoying the web site a lot, but the problems with this post, and the volume of posts these guys put out, make me think they are more interested in quantity than quality. Are they fact checking at all, or just linking to other sites?
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 11:17 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

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