Posts Tagged locus of control

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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Time-wasters’ diary

Relaxing may be bad for you

Relaxing may be bad for you

Recent longitudinal research has established a link between students’ behaviour at university and their chances of job burnout or dissatisfaction.

In their article ‘Achievement strategies during university studies predict early career burnout and engagement’ (Journal of Vocational Behavior 75 2009), Katariina Salmela-Aro and her colleagues conducted investigations on over 200 Finnish students whilst at university and then 10, 14 and 17 years later.

The study showed that those students who more often engaged in task avoidance whilst at university were more likely to report burnout or disengagement with their careers in later life. Whilst, higher levels of optimism were linked to more engagement.
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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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