Posts Tagged cognitive behavioural therapy

Putting it off

Procrastination by Lady Day DreamWhy have I left it so long  between the last posting and this one?

Partly, of course, there was the Christmas break. Too many things to do (and besides, who is going to read this blog in preference to spending precious festive time with their loved ones?).

Oh, and then there was that workshop on Time Management that I had to prepare (I really didn’t have time to do it before now, honestly). And I had to have a few breaks in order to catch up on my LoveFilm DVDs (I’ve got to get my money’s worth). And setting up the new Kindle on our WiFi took much longer than I anticipated.

And then I have to own up to the excessive amount of time I spent trying to beat the backgammon game on my phone (I’m sure it cheats!).

OK. I admit it. I’ve been putting it off.

Let’s say the word together: PROCRASTINATION.

It’s not just me, and it’s not just about writing blog posts. Whether it’s a student putting off their visit to the careers office until the last week of their final year or the dissatisfied worker who never gets round to changing their career, the ‘I’ll do it later’ attitude prevents many people from engaging with career development tasks.

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What’s your bias?

Imagine that a small hamlet of 600 people has been struck down by a potentially fatal disease. A health expert comes to you and offers two possible treatment programmes:

  • If you follow Programme A 200 people will be saved
  • If you follow Programme B there is a one-third probability that all 600 will be saved, but a two-thirds probability that no-one will be saved.

Which would you go for?

Now, let’s imagine that neither Programme A or B is viable. Instead, the boffin proposes another two treatment programmes:

  • If you follow Programme C 400 people will die.
  • If you follow Programme D there is a one-third probability that no-one will die and a two-thirds probability that 600 people will die.

Which would you choose now?

This probably didn’t trip you up — you may have spotted that programmes A and C are exactly the same and programmes B and D are exactly the same. However, when these choices were presented separately to two groups of people, those who were given programmes A and B mostly chose A, and those who were presented with C and D mostly chose D (Entman, R. M. (1993), Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication 43(4)  51–58.)

Presenting the options in a slightly different way with different wording resulted in people making radically different decisions. This is an example of a cognitive bias — a repeatable irrationality in the way we tend to think and make choices. This particular cognitive bias is called framing (or possibly the pseudocertainty effect), but dozens of them have been identified.
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Learned helplessness and the recession

Helpless dog

Helpless dog (who has not been electrocuted - just in case you were worrying)

In 1967 Martin Seligman conducted some slightly disturbing experiments on dogs. The dogs were exposed to electric shocks that they could not escape because of restraints. Eventually they would give up trying to do anything about their suffering. This lack of response continued even when the restraints were removed and it was possible for them to avoid the pain. The dogs had come to believe that they could do nothing about the shocks, so they didn’t try.

Based on this, and further experiments on animals and humans, Seligman formulated the theory of learned helplessness. In essence, it says that when someone is exposed to an experience in which they feel they have no control or ability to change things, this can lead to an assumption of helplessness which persists even if it subsequently becomes possible to effect a transformation.

Throughout the recession there has been talk about how to help the ‘lost generation‘. However, if learned helplessness is real, then it will require more than just providing opportunities. The recession may have affected the perceptions and attitudes of a generation of job-seekers.
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