Category Archives: Lifestyle

Why People Care More About Pets Than Other Humans

We love our pets. Two thirds of Americans live with an animal, and according to a 2011 Harris poll, 90 percent of pet owners think of their dogs and cats as members of the family. These relationships have benefits. For example, in a survey by the American Animal Hospital Association, 40 percent of married female dog owners reported they received more emotional support from their pet than from their husband or their kids. The pet products industry calls this “the humanization of pets.” One of my colleagues recently spent $12,000 on cancer treatments for her best friend Asha, a Labrador retriever.


5 Signs You’re Overscheduled

Mindbody Green

Do you ever wonder why some dreams come true faster than others? Why is it so hard to achieve that really big goal, yet you make others happen quickly without much notice? Manifesting your desires  Read

There is a fine line between not doing enough and doing too much in any given day. How do you know if you’re over-scheduling yourself into a total stress ball? Some say the clearest indicator is that you’re short-tempered. Do you find yourself getting angry with people for no reason? This is a common reaction to the stress of doing too much, which in turn can cause you to get hyper-emotional about everything and nothing.

Here’s an example. You race off to a meeting at a restaurant. You sit down and are immediately assaulted by the sound of a baby crying at the next table. You demand that the waiter talk to the baby’s parent. Why are you being so high-strung about this situation? Your reaction might not be a response to the baby’s crying but to the fact that you’re stressed-out in general.

Here are a few other clues that you’re turbo-loading your schedule in an unhealthy way:

1. You’re constantly screaming at people.

If you’re becoming a rageaholic, try some mindful breathing exercises. Another tip I like is to try to get rid of nonobligatory appointments and replace them with something relaxing.

For instance, if you feel you really don’t need to be part of your sixth school bake sale of the year, but you would be more than willing to volunteer to accompany your child’s class on a school trip spent wandering around a museum, make the change. You’ll thank yourself later.

2. You’re always feeling tired and slightly sick.

Remember that stress plays upon your health, so constant headaches, stomachaches, and even that nervous, jittery feeling are signs that you’re overdoing it with your schedule.

3. You’re always late.

Maybe that’s your thing — always being late. And your friends even laugh about it: “That Tom, he’s never on time. You can count on him being late.” The truth is, if you’re always late, you’re probably trying to do too much. Take out a few variables and you might be on time.

4. You’re a clutter king or queen.

Are there piles of stuff cascading all over your kitchen counter or desk? Maybe you don’t have a real filing system but are so busy that you just toss everything from bills to catalogs to that college reunion notice on top of the mountain of clutter.

If you’re too busy to run your own life, it’s time to stage an intervention. Hire a clutter expert or spend a long Saturday organizing and throwing out and shredding what you don’t need. Set aside a day each week to keep it all organized, or fit in a half hour at work to do the same with your desk.

5. You can’t remember the last time you smiled.

If you’re just trudging through your day trying to get it all done without much success … well, that’s no way to live. If you can’t remember the last time you smiled or had a bit of fun, then it’s time to examine your schedule and weed out what’s not necessary.

Remember that life is short. You don’t always want to spend time doing things out of obligation — such as watching your neighbor’s kids for the tenth time.

Adapted from Soothe by Jim Brickman. Copyright (c) 2015 by Jim Brickman. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

15 Life Lessons Learned From Primatologist Jane Goodall


In the world of biology, Jane Goodall is one of the biggest rockstars, drawing huge crowds and attention everywhere she goes. Having dedicated her life to the study of chimpanzees and crusading to save our planet, Goodall’s work is full of passion and meaning. Here are a few lessons we can learn from her.

Make time to read

Though she often has little time to spare, Goodall always reads a few chapters of a book every night. She credits reading Tarzan and the Apes to putting her on her path to explore Africa. Reading was also responsible for one of her greatest opportunities: when she met Louis Leakey she impressed him with her vast knowledge of Africa-knowledge she had obtained solely from books.

Value your family

Goodall frequently travels with her family and cites her mother as one of her biggest inspirations. As a child growing up she was always exploring and asking questions. Instead of scolding her or trying to suppress her curiosity, her mother encouraged Goodall, something she says is the reason why she was able to be so successful.

Don’t let school get in the way of your education

Goodall went from secretary school straight to getting her doctorate degree. Leakey famously told her that she couldn’t waste the time getting an undergraduate degree; she had to go straight to the top of academics. That had to be intimidating for a young girl back then with no training other than as a secretary, with most of her knowledge being self taught. But under her supervisor’s guidance she excelled and went on to change the science world forever.

Treasure this earth

Goodall is a famous activist for wildlife preservation. She has seen firsthand what is being done to this earth and she uses her position to mitigate it. Goodall has written several books about our planet’s decline as well as ways that we can restore it. She even started a group Roots and Shoots, an international community action based program, to help teach children about what is going on and how they can help.

Leave a legacy

Roots and Shoots is just a part of the greater Jane Goodall Institute. The JGI is a nonprofit founded by Jane Goodall that empowers others to make a difference in this world. The institute focuses on preservation, alleviating poverty, increasing education and sustainable living. Through the JGI and programs like Roots and Shoots, the legacy of Jane Goodall will live on and help to make the world a better place.


Practice compassion

Goodall has seen her share of horrific practices and treatment of chimpanzees and other species. She dedicated her life to studying and helping these creatures but focused her charity only on animals. One day on a flight over Gombe National Park she saw the abject poverty the people there lived in. She realized then that until a person could feed their families they wouldn’t care about saving animals and that it was irrational to ask starving men to stop poaching when it was their only way of making money. She has since extended her charities to helping humanity and eradicating poverty.


Don’t just theorize, act

Goodall is not just theory and talk, she is about action. Her institute is at the forefront of bringing the inhumane treatment of animals to the public’s attention. Her most recent crusade is urging aquariums around the world to phase out the practice of keeping beluga whales and dolphins in captivity.

Persistence pays off

Goodall’s work in Tanzania was arduous and slow, getting familiar with chimpanzees to let her get close enough to observe them before collecting the data and defending her methodology. But eventually her persistence payed off and entire scientific volumes have been written about her discoveries. She even discovered that chimpanzees used modified tools — a trait beforehand only given to distinguish humans.

There are many teachers in life

Not all of Goodall’s learning was from books or academics. She gives credit to a dog named Rusty and the chimpanzees she worked with for teaching her compassion and that animals can have unique personalities too. Goodall gave her chimpanzees names and wrote their personalities down as scientific notes! She believes that science must become more empathetic or we will miss crucial elements of what we are studying.


Your comfort zone is just a suggestion

The average chimpanzee is 3-5 times stronger than an average human. Picture a young Jane Goodall, no protection, no weapons, sitting just a few feet from foraging chimps — now that’s getting out of your comfort zone! She was in very real danger, enduring charges by the males, as well as the elements and diseases of Africa including Malaria and African sleeping sickness. Goodall proves that only by getting out of our comfort zone can we achieve greatness.


Age does not define you

Jane Goodall is almost 81 years old yet she travels more than 300 days a year. She marches in protests, she speaks at schools and conferences, and she is personally involved in her institute all at an age well past retirement. Her strong sense of purpose and determination enables her to do things most never dream of at an age that most don’t think they’ll ever reach.

You can get more done together

Goodall is famous for saying that the best way to deal with your enemy is to make them your friend. She has met with heads of the logging industry, petroleum and even lab scientists to listen and exchange ideas and from those meetings real change has occurred. She has recently partnered with Google to bring views of Gombe National Park to every computer screen on earth in an effort to raise awareness of the plight of chimpanzees around the world. She also partners with several local groups in Africa and starts Roots and Shoots programs to get more people involved.


Technology can connect us and teach us

Along with her partnership with Google, Goodall also uses online platforms like Twitter and YouTube to raise awareness and spread her message. The JGI releases animal videos that go viral; the more they are shared the more people cannot ignore their messages and the faster change happens.

Sometimes luck plays a huge role

While Goodall is an incredibly hard worker with legendary determination, luck did play a role in her career. Her mother encouraged her to go to secretary school. She was then chosen to be the secretary for Louis Leakey, a famous scientist and explorer. She impressed Leakey so much that he mentored her and encouraged her to get her PhD and continue her research. Without this chain of events, who knows what Goodall’s life would have led to?

Never give up hope

The most important message Goodall gives is to never, never, never give up hope. Hope is the one thing that keeps her going, the main reason she founded the JGI. She has hope in mankind and in the future. She believes that the combined efforts of the human brain, the indomitable human spirit, the resiliency of nature and the determination of young people can and will bring this planet back and stop the extinction of species and the decimation of the wild


I had the honor of meeting Dr. Goodall when she came to speak at Georgia State University. What struck me at first was how frail she seemed, she is almost 81 after all. But from the moment she opened her mouth and gave out a loud female chimpanzee greeting call I knew she was a force to be reckoned with. Her life gives us many lessons about love, compassion, determination, change, and truly living. But the main message to take away is to never give up hope.

Break Bad Habits by Changing Your Environment

By Thorin Klosowski From Life Hacker

We know that different types of triggers can cause us to fall back into certain habits, but actually doing something about that is harder than it seems. Over on NPR, a handful of psychologists explain how altering a physical place can help you break bad habits.

Over time, we integrate our habits into our environment and the environment itself becomes a trigger. The trigger itself isn’t always obvious either, sometimes it’s nothing more than a door:

“For a smoker, the view of the entrance to their office building — which is a place that they go to smoke all the time — becomes a powerful mental cue to go and perform that behavior,” Neal says.

Over time those cues become so deeply ingrained that they are very hard to resist. And so we smoke at the entrance to work when we don’t want to. We sit on the couch and eat ice cream when we don’t need to, despite our best intentions, despite our resolutions…

To battle bad behaviors then, one answer is to disrupt the environment in some way. Even small changes can help — like eating the ice cream with your nondominant hand. What this does is disrupt the learned body sequence that’s driving the behavior, which allows your conscious mind to come back online and reassert control.

Of course, adapting to your triggers is going to be different, but if you’re struggling to get into a good habit (or break a bad one), look around and see if you can do things a little differently.

What Heroin Addiction Tells Us About Changing Bad Habits | NPR


Why You May Feel Short on Time (Even If You Have Plenty of It)

From Lifehacker

Patrick Allan

We all have those days where it feels like there’s not enough time in the world to get our work done. Truth is, you might have plenty of time to get everything done, but your competing goals have altered your perception of time in general.

In a recent study, Jordan Etkin of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business teamed up with researches from Stanford to see how goal conflict can alter your mind’s perception of time. What they found was that goals perceived to be in conflict with one another caused participants to feel pressured for time. When goals appear to pull us in multiple directions, we develop anxiety and start to believe that there couldn’t possibly be enough time to do what we need to do. Priorities clash and suddenly time itself seems shorter. Additionally, participants were found to be far more impatient when this kind of anxiety developed.

So what can you do to keep your perception of time in check? Etkin and her colleagues recommend taking slow breaths over the span of 11 seconds. It can also help to psych yourself up in whatever way you can. Participants that were told to repeat aloud, “I am excited!” were able to fix their time perception as well. Of course, you could also find a way to make sure your days task never appear at odds with each other to begin with. Organize your week so that your days have themes or plot your work in groups of similar ideas. There are many ways for your brain to perceive time, and gaining control of your perception can help you relieve a lot of your stress.

How Your Brain Perceives Time (and How to Use It to Your Advantage)

We might not be able to create more time when we need it most–like when a deadline is… Read more

Study Investigates Why People Cry When They Are Happy

Surbhi Chawla From Gizmodo India
Nov 13, 2014, 04.47 PM IST

Ever cried ‘tears of joy’ when you were really happy? A Yale study has revealed that tears of joy actually help people overcome strong positive emotions and crying allows them to recover from the situation.

Psychologist Oriana Aragon at the Yale University in the US said that when people are overwhelmed with strong positive emotions, they tend to cry, which help them to recover from these strong emotions better. She also said that these expressions help people to restore emotional equilibrium.

As part of the study, Aragon and her colleagues at Yale had participants witness some emotional scenarios such as cute babies or a weeping spouse who is reunited with her soldier husband returning from war. Their responses were then measured and it was found that people who express negative reactions to positive news could moderate intense emotions more quickly. It was also found that those people, who are most likely to cry at their child’s graduation, are most likely to express a desire to a cute baby’s cheeks.

The study has also pointed to some evidence that strong negative feelings may provoke positive expressions. For instance, when people are confronted with a difficult or frightening situation, nervous laughter occurs. People also tend to smile extreme sadness.

According to Aragon, “The new discoveries begin to explain common things that many people do but do not even understand themselves. These insights advance our understanding of how people express and control their emotions, which is importantly related to mental and physical health, the quality of relationships with others, and even how well people work together.”

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

Image: Thinkstock

The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling

The Atlantic:

When an English archaeologist named George Smith was 31 years old, he became enchanted with an ancient tablet in the British Museum. Years earlier, in 1845, when Smith was only a five-year-old boy, Austen Henry Layard, Henry Rawlinson, and Hormuzd Rassam began excavations across what is now Syria and Iraq. In the subsequent years they discovered thousands of stone fragments, which they later discovered made up 12 ancient tablets. But even after the tablet fragments had been pieced together, little had been translated. The 3,000-year-old tablets remained nearly as mysterious as when they had been buried in the ruins of Mesopotamian palaces.

An alphabet, not a language, cuneiform is incredibly difficult to translate, especially when it is on tablets that have been hidden in Middle Eastern sands for three millennia. The script is shaped triangularly (cuneus means “wedge” in Latin) and the alphabet consists of more than 100 letters. It is used to write in Sumerian, Akkadian, Urartian, or Hittite, depending on where, when, and by whom it was written. It is also an alphabet void of vowels, punctuation, and spaces between words.

Even so, Smith decided he would be the man to crack the code. Propelled by his interests in Assyriology and biblical archaeology, Smith, who was employed as a classifier by the British Museum, taught himself Sumerian and literary Akkadian.

Read the whole story: The Atlantic

Making the Most of Second Chances

Making the Most of Second Chances

From Psychology Today

You’re given a reprieve. Will you reform or recidivist?

Seth Anderson, CC 2.0

I’ve long known I should lose 15 pounds but haven’t stayed disciplined. And every year, I dread going for my annual wellness exam. Is this the year the doctor will say, “You’re prediabetic,” “You’re at risk of a heart attack?” or  “You have cancer?” (Yes, cancer risk is higher even in even moderately overweight people.)Today, I had my wellness exam and yet again left with a cheery report. As I do every year, I walk out saying, “Okay, Martin. You got a reprieve. Lose the damn weight.” Will I? My track record says no but in this post, I share the strategies I’m going to try to use, the triumph of hope over experience. Perhaps one or more might help you.

Before I share them, lest you have forgotten about second chances you’re being given, here’s a list of possibilities:

  • You got stopped for driving 90 in a 60 and the cop let you go.
  • You reported only half your income to the IRS and didn’t get audited.
  • You had sex with eight people when you promised you’d be monogamous. And you didn’t get caught.
  • You got high on a bad batch of a recreational drug, vomited your guts out but incurred no permanent damage.
  • You’ve been lazy and cantankerous at work and survived this layoff.
  • You were warned, “One more time and you’re out of the (team, board, club, etc.)”
  • You were cruel or inconsiderate to a friend or family member but were forgiven.
  • You went off your psych meds ill-advisedly and slit your wrist, but you survived.
  • You committed a crime and are now out of jail.
  • You had unprotected sex with someone you weren’t sure was free of STDs and you didn’t get one.
  • You’ve generally been a mean person but still have people willing to deal with you.

Ways to boost chances of keeping your resolve

Right after we’ve gotten a reprieve, our resolve is strong but, like with New Year’s resolutions, it tends to weaken. There are no magic pills for developing willpower but perhaps one or more of these might help:

  • Write the most motivating reason(s) you want to change. For example, I want to lose weight so I won’t be on that gurney with the nurses yelling, “Code Blue!” Before every meal, don’t read but paraphrase your reason. If you just read it, it won’t penetrate any more than when students recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
  • Tell everyone your goal—Use Facebook, email, phone, in-person, whatever. Especially tell people you’d be embarrassed if they found out you blew it.
  • Stay conscious at your danger times. One of mine is when my meal is cooking. Instead of leaving the kitchen until it’s ready, I fill the time by stuffing my face. Another is when I’m driving by one of my favorite restaurants: “It’s a one-time opportunity,” I rationalize. What are your danger times:  When you start to feel angry or bitter? When you’re under the influence? What?

Now if only I can resist celebrating my clean bill of health without consuming a zillion calories.

Marty Nemko’s bio is in Wikipedia.

What’s Behind Our Secret Habits and Superstitions

The simple explanation for our compulsive behavior, and the way to stop.
Published on October 14, 2014 by Teri Woods, Ph.D. in Compulsive!

An intelligent 36-year-old woman weighs about 50 pounds more than is healthy and knows what she needs to do to hit her target weight. During the day, she counts calories, logs her meals, and monitors her pedometer to assure she’s getting 10,000 steps in. She works out four hours a week at the local gym. And she drives home every night along a special route that takes her past seven fast-food restaurants so she can order a greasy drive-thru meal from each. Her goal is to have each one completely eaten before she reaches the next restaurant on the route. She disposes of the bags and wrappings at a gas station three blocks from the middle-class home she shares with her husband and kids. Once home, she cooks a dinner they’ll all share that evening.

A happily married woman with a wide circle of friends is out for a day of shopping. She’s just gone through the checkout line, gathered up her purchases, and taken the change handed her by the cashier. She finds the closest free bench in the mall and sits down. Then she pulls out her wallet and organizes her money. Nickels go in one zippered compartment, heads facing the interior of the purse. Dimes and quarters have their own section, all with heads facing front. The paper money she arranges not in order of denomination, but by each bill’s serial number. Once every piece of money is in place, she picks up her packages and heads out.

A healthy, attractive man in his mid-twenties begs off an evening of drinks with friends. Instead, he goes to his apartment, swallows a few Tylenol, and pulls the old vise his father left him from out of the bottom of his closet. He puts a rubber bit in his mouth. A few deep breaths later, he places his slippered left foot into the vise and starts turning the crank. He focuses on the pain, turning the crank harder and cursing the inner voice telling him to stop. He concentrates, needing to hear the moment his foot breaks.

What compels these high-functioning adults to engage in behaviors that seem to make no sense? Why would the young man willfully hurt himself, or the overweight mother sabotage all the good work she puts into her health each day? And what’s the deal with our money lady?

Why do they do these things?

It’s easy to figure out the “why” behind adaptive behavior, isn’t it? We eat because we’re hungry. We sleep because we’re tired. We spend time with our friends because they make us smile—and we clean our toilets to avoid unpleasant odors and disease. But what about behaviors that don’t have such an obvious cause and effect? We all do something, ranging from quirky to self-destructive, that seem on the surface to have no benefit at all. When those behaviors get in the way of our being able to function at the level we or society thinks we ought to, we label them as compulsions. We can’t explain why we do them, but there’s a certain discomfort if we don’t. Some of us may display our gently eccentric behaviors and proclaim, “That’s just how I roll.” Our more destructive behaviors we do in secret and explain to no one.

Yet still we wonder why.

Here’s the answer: We do the things we do because they work for us. It’s as simple as that.

Every behavior we repeat offers a reward. It doesn’t matter if the reward isn’t obvious. Nor does it matter that the consequences appear to cause pain or misery. The reward is there. And as anyone who’s ever trained a puppy or raised a child knows, behavior that is rewarded will be repeated. Behavior that is ignored will go away. Compulsions, those anxious behaviors driving us to do all kinds of seemingly crazy things, carry their own reward.

Consider the nervous flyer who has a certain ritual he follows on every business trip. He always sits on the aisle. He double-checks the exit row to make sure the people there seem competent to manipulate the emergency door. He hangs on every word of the flight attendant’s safety announcement, despite his familiarity from so many previous trips. During liftoff he recites the names and birthdays of each of his children, and he takes sugar in his in-flight coffee, though he drinks it black at home.

Seem a little odd? What could be the “win” here? Simple: The plane lands safely, and all of his ritualized behavior is rewarded. His brain doesn’t care that planes take off, fly, and land safely thousands of times each day. His brain has linked his rituals and safe landing, and thinks on some level that he made it happen. It’s like that old joke about the man standing on a busy Wall Street corner hopping on one foot. A guy asks him what’s up. The hopper says, “I’m keeping the polar bears away.” The guy responds, “There are no polar bears on Wall Street!” The hopper smiles and says, “Yeah, I’m doing a great job.”

That’s the link our brain makes. Our guy on the plane just wants it to land in one piece. He wants to feel safe. He’s allowed to want that; it’s his win and he’s chasing it. There’s nothing crazy about it.

What, then, do we make of those compulsive behaviors far more sinister—the compulsions that interfere with regular human functioning or even health?

We look for the win. We find what it is these people are chasing and work to replace it with another, less costly, way for them to get it. The question isn’t “why,” but “what”: What is the win?

The woman with the money organized so peculiarly had a father who arranged his own coins and bills that way. She often teased him about it. But when he died she missed him and yearned for the fun they’d shared. One day, on a whim, she sorted her money just like Dad. It felt good. It harmed nothing, eased her grief, and let her feel closer to a man she loved dearly. So she kept it up until it became uncomfortable not to sort her money like that. She deserved those wins. The “cost” of her behavior is minimal and no respectable psychologist would insist that she change that compulsion.

It took a while for the woman with the seven nightly fast-food stops to discover her particular win. She came to realize that food had always been the way her family celebrated achievement. Got an A on that term paper? Let’s go for pizza. Played Chopin’s sonata flawlessly at the recital? Ice cream for everybody! She was now married to a quiet man who withheld praise. She worked as a marketer in a high-tech firm where no sale was ever big enough, and no contract ever long enough. No one marked her good and hard work. She yearned to have her accomplishments recognized, so her brain served up the activity it had been taught all those years ago. It wasn’t the food she was chasing, it was the win of recognition. So she learned to ask her husband and family to listen and comment on her successes—and started getting her win in a way that didn’t cost her the calories, grease, and guilt of the drive-thru.

And the young man who crushed his foot? Some old-fashioned detective work with his therapist led him to his win as well. He came from a family of high achievers—prep schools, Ivy League colleges, long and accomplished careers. But he wasn’t moving up the corporate ladder as fast as he imagined his parents would have hoped. Any attempt to discuss his struggles with his mother or siblings only led to abrupt admonitions to work harder and do better. The only time he could recall his parents being tender with him was when he fell off a horse at age 11, breaking some bones, cracking a couple of ribs, and bruising one entire side of his body. He was allowed to come home to heal. His parents set up a place on the sofa for him and checked in several times a day to make sure he was on the mend. He felt warm and connected to his family in a way he hadn’t before. That was his win. So, when he found himself, as an adult, yearning for that closeness and support, his brain served up the only thing that had brought it to him before. It wasn’t the pain or the injury he was chasing. It had nothing to do with self-punishment or distraction. He wanted to feel connected, so he learned to develop alternate behaviors to give him the win his brain was chasing and was eventually able to set aside the need for self-harm.

Teri Woods, Ph.D., is a psychologist interested in OCD, self harm, and other self-sabotaging behaviors. She is also the author of three thrillers.

Is Kindness Physically Attractive?

Is Kindness Physically Attractive? | Beautiful Minds, Scientific American Blog Network

Scientific American Blog Network» by Scott Barry Kaufman on October 9, 2014

One of the most robust findings in social psychology is the beauty-is-good stereotype: physically attractive people are perceived and treated more positively than physically unattractive people . But here’s the thing: I have definitely met attractive people who went from hot to not the second they opened their mouths! Vice-versa, some people are so kind and awesome that you can’t help but be attracted to them, regardless of their score on

Which has me wondering: I know beautiful is often perceived as good, but isn’t good also beautiful? I mean, I know we are an extremely looks obsessed culture, and research does show that the people we initially perceive as physically attractive tend to follow a very predictable pattern: they are average, symmetrical, and have hormone-dependent features [2]. But don’t things like character and goodness also factor into our perceptions of physical attractiveness?

Enter a new study by Yan Zhang and colleagues. The researchers randomly assigned Chinese participants to one of three groups and had them rate 60 photographs of unfamiliar Chinese female faces. All the photographs were taken from Google, and all of the faces had neutral emotional expressions. After two weeks, the participants rated the same pictures again. But this time, one group of participants were given positive personality descriptors of the people in the photographs (e.g., decent, honest), another group of participants were given negative personality descriptors (e.g., evil, mean), and the third group were given no information about the people in the photographs.

During the first rating, there were no significant differences in ratings of attractiveness among the three groups. But after the second rating, the group given positive personality descriptors of the people in the photographs rated them the most attractive, and the group given negative personality descriptors of the people in the photographs gave the lowest ratings to the photographs.

These results suggest that having a desirable personality may indeed be a factor when judging physical attractiveness. As the researchers note, “This findings indicates that human interior psychological activity is related to exterior physical feature[s], and that a human is the whole entity of psychology and physiology.”

But perhaps this study was too artificial. Maybe the same effects wouldn’t occur for people who we know intimately. There is a series of really fascinating studies conducted by Kevin Kniffin and David Sloan Wilson, in which they address this very issue. As they note, there are evolutionary reasons why personality traits can inform our perceptions of physical attractiveness. Even though beauty is an assessment of fitness value, there is no reason why assessment of fitness needs to be purely physical. Fitness value of a potential social partner can be influenced by both physical and non-physical traits.

In one study, participants rated the photographs of classmates in their high school yearbooks for physical attractiveness, familiarity, liking, and respect. The researchers then had strangers (of the same sex and roughly same age) who had never met the people behind the photographs rate the same photographs for physical attractiveness. In general, the more the people in the yearbook were familiar, liked, and respected, the more physically attractive they were perceived to be. The effect of non-physical traits on perceptions of physical attractiveness was significant for both sexes.

The researchers give a really neat example of their effect. After a particular participant completed her rating, the researchers looked at the photograph of the male who she regarded as least physically attractive. To the researchers, and the strangers who rated this man, he did not seem ugly but actually quite average in physical attractiveness. When they showed her the photograph and asked why she rated him so ugly, her face was one of disgust as she explained what a horrible person he was. She was physically disgusted by the image of this guy, even though his horrible personality has nothing to do with his his physical features. This woman’s perception of this man’s physical attractiveness remained this intense, even after 30 years since last she had seen him.

In a second study, members of a university rowing team were asked after the training and competitions were over for the year to rate all other team members on the following dimensions: talent, effort, respect, liking, and physical attractiveness. The males on the team were also rated for physical attractiveness by a group of strangers about the same age as the crew members (the photo was a group photo).

As in Study 1, for both males and females, perceptions of physical attractiveness were heavily influenced by non-physical traits. Also, the ratings made by the strangers and the ratings made by the crew members who had information about the non-physical traits of the other crew members differed significantly.

As a vivid example, the researchers describe a male team member who was perceived as the slacker of the team and the main focus of negative gossip. It turns out that he was uniformly rated physically ugly by the other members of the team. In contrast was another member of the team, who worked so hard that there were discussions of him as a possible contender for the U.S. Olympic team. This guy was rated by everyone on the team as physically attractive. The most interesting thing is that this large difference in perceived physical attractiveness between the two crew members was not evidenced by the raters who did not know anything about the contributions of these two men.

In a third study, students in 6-week summer archaeology course rated each other on the first day of class on familiarity, intelligence, effort, liking, and physical attractiveness. The same students then did the same ratings again on the last day of class, after working with each other for the 6 weeks on a dig site, working 5 days per week and approximately 8 hours per day with each other. Consistent with the first two studies, non-physical traits (especially liking) contributed to final perceptions of physical attractiveness above and beyond the effects of the initial impressions of physical attractiveness.

On the first day of class, one woman received a below average rating (mean of 3.25) of physical attractiveness by the other members of the class. However, this woman turned out to be a quite popular, well liked, and hardworking member of the group. Strikingly, this woman went from a mean of 3.25 on the first day of class to a mean of 7.00 by the last day of class! Her rating of physical attractiveness increased quite a lot, and she presumably did not do one thing to alter her physical appearance.

These results suggest that sometimes our initially hardwired gut reaction to appearance can be overridden, and sometimes even without effort. All it may take is increased familiarity about the person. As the researchers note, “Among people who actually know and interact with each other, the perception of physical attractiveness is based largely on traits that cannot be detected from physical appearance alone, either from photographs or from actually observing the person before forming a relationship.”

I agree with the researchers that we should be particularly wary of basing physical attractiveness strictly on ratings of photographs by strangers or even on first impressions of physical appearance without at least learning a bit more about their character. But I especially like the beauty tip the researchers give: “If you want to enhance your physical attractiveness, become a valuable social partner.”

I know this is not your standard beauty tip, but the results of these studies do suggest that if you want to improve your physical attractiveness, strengthening the content of your character may be the most effective thing you can do.

© 2014 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved