The Surprising Benefits of Sarcasm

Sarcastic comments boost creativity, a study finds

man with sarcastic expression

Instead of avoiding sarcasm completely in the office, the research suggests sarcasm, used with care and in moderation, can be effectively used and trigger some creative sparks.
Credit: ©iStock

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence,” wrote that connoisseur of wit, Oscar Wilde. Whether sarcasm is a sign of intelligence or not, communication experts and marriage counselors alike typically advise us to stay away from this particular form of expression. The reason is simple: sarcasm expresses the poisonous sting of contempt, hurting others and harming relationships. As a form of communication, sarcasm takes on the debt of conflict.

And yet, our research suggests, there may also be some unexpected benefits from sarcasm: greater creativity. The use of sarcasm, in fact, promotes creativity for those on both the giving and receiving end of sarcastic exchanges. Instead of avoiding sarcasm completely in the office, the research suggests sarcasm, used with care and in moderation, can be effectively used and trigger some creative sparks.

Sarcasm involves constructing or exposing contradictions between intended meanings. The most common form of verbal irony, sarcasm is often used to humorously convey thinly veiled disapproval or scorn. “Pat, don’t work so hard!”, a boss might say upon catching his assistant surfing the Internet. Early research on sarcasm explored how people interpret statements and found that, as expected, sarcasm makes a statement sound more critical. In one laboratory study, participants read scenarios in which, for instance, (1) one person did something that could be viewed negatively, such as smoking, and (2) a second person commented on the behavior to the first person, either literally (“I see you don’t have a healthy concern for your lungs”) or sarcastically (“I see you have a healthy concern for your lungs”). Participants rated sarcasm to be more condemning than literal statements. In a similar study, participants were encouraged to empathize either with a person behaving in a way that could be construed as negative or with a second person commenting on the first person’s behavior. Both perspectives prompted participants to rate sarcastic comments by the second person as more impolite relative to literal comments.

Other research has show that sarcasm can be easily misinterpreted, particularly when communicated electronically. In one study, 30 pairs of university students were given a list of statements to communicate, half of which were sarcastic and half of which were serious. Some students communicated their messages via e-mail and others via voice recordings. Participants who received the voice messages accurately gleaned the sarcasm (or lack thereof) 73 percent of the time, but those who received the statements via e-mail did so only 56 percent of the time, hardly better than chance. By comparison, the e-mailers had anticipated that 78 percent of participants would pick up on the sarcasm inherent in their sarcastic statements. That is, they badly overestimated their ability to communicate the tenor of their sarcastic statements via e-mail. What’s more, the recipients of the sarcastic e-mails were also decidedly overconfident. They guessed they would correctly interpret the tone of the e-mails they received about 90 percent of the time. They were considerably less overconfident about their ability to interpret voice messages.

In recent research, my colleagues and I discovered an upside to this otherwise gloomy picture of sarcasm. In one study, we assigned some participants to engage in either simulated sarcastic, sincere, or neutral dialogues by choosing from pre-written responses on a sheet of paper. Others were recipients of these different types of messages from others. Immediately after participants engaged in these “conversations,” we presented them with tasks testing their creativity. Not surprisingly, the participants exposed to sarcasm reported more interpersonal conflict than those in other groups. More interestingly, those who engaged in a sarcastic conversation fared better on creativity tasks. The processes involved in initiating and delivering a sarcastic comment improved the creativity and cognitive functioning of both the commenter and the recipient. This creativity effect only emerged when recipients picked up on the sarcasm behind the expresser’s message rather than taking mean comments at face value.

Why might sarcasm enhance creativity? Because the brain must think creatively to understand or convey a sarcastic comment, sarcasm may lead to clearer and more creative thinking. To either create or understand sarcasm, tone must overcome the contradiction between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions. This is a process that activates, and is facilitated by, abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking. Consider the following example, which comes from a conversation one of my co-authors on the research (Adam Galinsky, of Columbia) had a few weeks before getting married. His fiancée woke him up as he was soundly asleep at night to tell him about some new ideas she has for their upcoming wedding next month –many of which were quite expensive. Adam responded with some ideas of his own: “Why don’t we get Paul McCartney to sing, Barack Obama to give a benediction and Amy Schumer to entertain people.” His comment required his fiancée to recognize that there is a distinction between the surface level meaning of the sentence (actually signing up these people to perform) and the meaning that was intended.

This is not the first set of studies showing that creativity can be boosted by things that would commonly be considered creativity killers. In one series of studies, for example, researchers found that moderate noise can be an untapped source of creativity, providing a welcome distraction that helps the brain make disparate associations. In addition, alcohol is believed to aid creativity, up to a point, by reducing focus and relaxing the mind.

Sarcasm can be interpreted negatively, and thus cause relationship costs. So, how do we harness its creative benefits without creating the type of conflict that can damage a relationship? It comes down to trust. Our studies show that, given the same content and tone, sarcasm expressed toward or received from someone we trust is less conflict provoking than sarcasm expressed toward or received from someone we distrust. Of course, if we were to vary the tone and content, it would make a difference too – given an extremely harsh tone and critical content, even trust might not be enough.

Given the risks and benefits of sarcasm, your best bet is to keep salty remarks limited to conversations with those you know well, lest you offend others—even as you potentially help them think more creatively.

 

Why Adults Are Getting into Coloring Books

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Jeffrey Coolidge/Getty Images

It’s the latest “literary” craze.

Coloring books: they’re not just for kids anymore.

That’s the word from The Boston Globe, which reportsthat coloring books for adults are flying off store shelves. The books, which the paper says are more detailed than their child-focussed counterparts, are among the top sellers on Amazon and are well stocked by bookseller Barnes and Noble.

Why are grownups buying up a genre generally targeted at younger children? The answer seems to be that coloring between the lines can be a therapeutic exercise.

“I think it probably speaks to people’s enjoyment in doing this kind of relaxing hobby or distraction from everyday life,” Sarah Deaver, president of the American Art Therapy Association, told the Globe. “It creates an object of focus, and it creates something that’s beautiful and that’s satisfying.” One best-selling coloring book is subtitled Stress Relieving Patterns, and promises to provide “hours and hours of stress relief, mindful calm, and fun, creative expression.”

Adult coloring books have become so popular that even Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin is getting in on the act. Earlier this month, Bantam books announced it would publish a GoT coloring book meant for a mature audience. The book “will feature 45 original black and white illustrations, inspired by characters, scenes, locations and other iconic images from Martin’s wildly successful ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series,” the company told the Los Angeles Times. The coloring book is scheduled for release sometime this fall.

A top recruiter on what anyone can see after 30 seconds with your resume

This question originally appeared on Quora: What do recruiters look for in a resume at first glance? Answer by Ambra Benjamin, Engineering Recruiter.

I don’t look through stacks of resumes anymore. I hate paper. I do everything online.

There has been for many decades, a mysterious Wizard of Oz-type viewpoint of the recruiting world that I think is somewhat misappropriated. People seem to be truly fascinated by what goes on behind the curtain, when in reality, recruiters aren’t running the covert operation many think. “Does this candidate seem like they stand a chance of being a good match for this role? If yes, proceed to next step. If no, reject.”

I’ll highlight how I personally absorb a resume. I should preface this by saying that currently I primarily recruit for senior-level software engineers. In my past life I recruited for PMs, MBAs, finance, sales, and pretty much all of it. Everything I’m about to say broadly applies to all of these fields. I also was a campus recruiter, and you read resumes of new grads a bit differently since experience is less meaty. So for non-new grads, here’s how it goes in my brain:

  • Most recent role. I’m generally trying to figure out what this person’s current status is, and why/if they might even be interested in a new role. Have they only been in their last position for three months? If so, probably not the best time for me to reach out, right? Unless they work for Zynga, or somewhere tragic like that (said with great respect for Farmville, the app that put Facebook apps on the map). If it’s an incoming resume, I’m wondering why the candidate is looking now. Are they laid off? Did they get fired? Have they only been in their role for a few months and they’re possibly hating it? But most importantly, is their most recent experience relevant to the position for which I’m hiring?
  • Company recognition. Not even gonna lie. I am a company snob. Now don’t get all Judgy McJudgerson about my judgy-ness. Hear me out. It’s not even that I think certain companies are better than others (although some most certainly are). It’s purely a matter of how quickly can I assign a frame of reference. This is also known as “credibility.” Oh you worked at Amazon? Then you’re probably accustomed to working on projects at scale. You’re at a well known crash-and-burn start-up? You have probably worn many hats and have been running at a sprinter’s pace. There are some pretty blatant if/then associations I can make simply by recognizing a company name. Because recruiters have generally been doing this job for awhile, we notice patterns and trends among candidates from certain companies and we formulate assumptions as a result. There are edge cases and our assumptions can fail us, but again, this is a resume review; we’re talking a less than 20-second analysis. Assigning frame of reference is often more difficult to do when a candidate has only worked for obscure companies I’ve never heard of. When I can’t assign company recognition, it just means I have to read the resume a little deeper, which usually isn’t an issue, unless it’s poorly formatted, poorly written, uninformative, and wrought with spelling errors—in which case, you might have lost my interest.
  • Overall experience. Is there a career progression? Does the person have increasing levels of responsibility? Do the titles make sense? (You’re a VP of Marketing for a five-person company? Heck, I would be too.) Do the responsibilities listed therein match what I’m looking for?
  • Keyword search. Does the person have the specific experience for the role I’m hiring for? There have been times when I command + F the crap out of resumes. Especially the long ones that are hard to follow. This isn’t fool proof, but if I’m looking for an iOS engineer, for example, and the words “iOS” or “objective-c” don’t even make a cameo appearance in someone’s resume, I have to furrow my brow, read a little deeper and figure out what the heck is going on. Throughout my career supporting hiring for different profiles, I’ve done this on many occasions searching for things like Ruby on Rails, Mule, Javascript, and seriously, anything you can think of. Now if you’re thinking you should “key word” it up on your resume, think again. Keep it authentic. And don’t you dare think of putting your resume online and embed 250 irrelevant key words at the bottom in 5pt white text. I’m on to you. But I do think you should be vigilant to ensure that the actual important key words contained in the meat of your experience are represented on your resume.
  • Gaps. I don’t mind gaps so long as there’s a sufficient explanation. Oh you took three years off to raise your children? Fine by me, and might I add: #respect. You tried your hand at starting your own company and failed miserably? Very impressive! Gap sufficiently explained. Whatever it is, just say it. It’s the absence of an explanation that makes me wonder. Still, I understand that sometimes people feel uncomfortable sharing certain things in a professional context. If you had a gap, surely you were busy doing something during that time, right? Get creatively honest and just name that period of your life in a way that shows you acknowledge that it might raise an eyebrow.
  • Personal online footprint. This is not required. But if you have an online footprint, and you’ve bothered to include it in your resume, I’m gonna click. This includes personal domains, Quora profiles, Twitter handles, GitHub contributions, Dribbble accounts, or anything a candidate has chosen to list. Two out of three times, I almost always click through to a candidate’s website or Twitter account. It’s one of my favorite parts of recruiting. You never know what you’re gonna get.
  • General logistics. Location, eligibility to work in the US. I try to make some raw guesses here, but this is not a place of weeding someone out, more just trying to figure out their story.
  • Overall organization. This includes spelling, grammar, ease of use, ability to clearly present ideas. If you’re in marketing and you’ve lost me in the first three bullets, I have concerns.
  • Total time it takes me to do all of above: < 25 seconds.*

Note: I will likely later read the resume far more in-depth, but only if I already know I like the candidate. It takes me way less than a minute to fully digest a resume and flag that person for follow-up. I read a resume pretty thoroughly once I know I will be speaking to that person on the phone or reaching out via email. But I will not thoroughly read a resume of someone who did not pass the above categories. Recruiters move quickly. I’m trying to remove the barrier for people who might struggle with getting their resume properly acknowledged.

Things I rarely pay as much attention to:

  • Education. There have been times in my career where I could go a month reviewing hundreds of resumes and not recall looking at that section even once. However, I will say that as a university recruiter, I almost always looked at education first because experience is often lacking with new graduates. But if you are not a new graduate, experience is king. I can think of a few exceptions where perhaps a hiring manager wanted a certain pedigree (Wharton or HBS MBA, for example), but even that’s being de-prioritized more and more. I will also add that this changesdrastically by industry and company. I currently work in tech, but I’ve also worked in management consulting, and education is huge in consulting. I’ll also add that some tech companies care more about education than others, for example, Facebook definitely more heavily favors engineering candidates who have demonstrated core CS fundamentals by obtaining a computer science degree. However, Facebook employs many engineers who never finished college.
  • Fancy formatting. There are exceptions here. I say this with the caveat that I LOVE a creatively formatted resume. However, no amount of fancy formatting is going to make up for a lack of experience. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that if you’re applying to a position online, whether it’s a PDF or not, many companies’ applicant tracking systems parse your resume for information and convert it to pure text as the most immediate viewing format. Recruiters don’t often see how awesome your resume is. The original file is usually there for us, but many recruiters aren’t clicking through. If you’re going to do something fun with your resume, I recommend keeping it PDF and also be sure it converts to text fairly cleanly so it doesn’t come through our system looking wonky. Or just email it to an actual person.
  • Uncomfortably personal details. In Europe for example, I’ve noted that it’s very common to list things like family status, citizenship, and sometimes even weight and height on CVs. It’s also common to include a photo. The US is a bit different, and by different I mean very litigious. Many employers are trying to avoid any type of discrimination, so often seeing that stuff on a resume can make recruiters feel uncomfortable. We just want to know about things that pertain to your work history. So please take your photo off your resume.
  • Cover letters. There is a debate on this, but I’m sorry, I don’t read cover letters. I want to see the resume. Most of my recruiting colleagues agree, but I know there are still recruiters that do love and value cover letters. I find that a lot of candidates don’t even send them anymore. I’m of the mind that most companies that request cover letters only do so to weed out the people who haven’t bothered to read the directions.

Things I wish more people would do:

  • Bring personality into the resume. We recruiters are staring at these missives all day long. Throw a joke in there somewhere for goodness’ sake. Very few of us are curing cancer. We should lighten up a bit. Know your industry, of course. An easter egg buried in a resume may not go over well if you’re in a very buttoned-up industry. I think it’s important to keep the work experience details as professional as possible, but trust me, there are ways to have fun with it. I absolutely LIVE for creatively written LinkedIn profiles. For example, this guy is boss. I have emailed his LinkedIn profile around to dozens of friends and co-workers over the years. (He knows his industry. Probably not a good play to talk about marijuana in your LinkedIn profile if you’re gunning for Director of Communications for Bank of America.)
  • Include URLs for online footprints. I get it. We’ve overshared our way to a more private society, but if you’re looking to stand out, write some stuff on the Internet. Contribute to open-source repositories. Demonstrate some level of domain expertise/interest outside of your 9-5.
  • List key personal projects. I ask this in almost every phone interview I do. “What kind of stuff are you working on in your free time?” I am always inspired by this. Also shows me that you have passion for your industry.

Things I wish people would stop doing:

  • Using MS Word’s resume templates. Especially that one with the double horizontal lines above and beneath the candidate name.
  • Writing resumes in first person. Exceptions for people who do it cleverly. If no one has ever told you you’re clever, then you’re probably not that clever. Don’t do it.
  • Allowing their resume to be a ridiculous number of pages.Unless you are a tenured college professor noble laureate with multiple published works, you do not need an 8+ page resume. That is not impressive; that is obnoxious.
  • Mixing up first person and third person or present tense and past tense. Pick a voice, pick a tense, and then stick with it. I suggest third person and past tense. If I were you, I’d eliminate pronouns (e.g. my, I, she, he) from your resume altogether. Instead of writing “I helped increase overall sales by 300% by breeding rabbits in my garage,” eliminate the “I” in that sentence. Go through your resume and remove all the pronouns and rewrite the sentence to make it sound like a bullet point. By “past tense” I mean that your resume should always be voiced from the perspective of something you already did, not something you’re currently doing.
  • Listing an objective at the top of the resume. Dude, seriously? This isn’t 1992.
  • Mailing, faxing, or hand-delivering paper resumes. Immediate disqualification. Do not pass go. While I have your attention though, let’s camp out on that last point for a moment: Hand-delivering paper resumes. Look, I get it. People are trying to stand out. I completely respect the hustle. But in 2015, HR professionals are swamped, anxious, and jumpy. When a random stranger shows up unannounced asking to speak to someone in HR or recruiting, we’re wondering if you have a gun and a vendetta, and we’ve probably alerted security. It’s really creepy. It’s also not really how the corporate world works any more, and oftentimes it can place an undue burden on people to rearrange their schedule to make time to talk to you, which makes them grumpy, which doesn’t exactly put you in a good spot as a potential candidate.
  • Sending resumes addressed to the CEO that end up on some random recruiter’s desk unopened. This is a gross generalization here and exceptions are made for smaller companies, but um, CEOs don’t often read resumes. We sometimes laugh at people who do this.
  • Exaggerating titles and responsibilities. The truth comes out.

If you take issue with anything I’ve said here, you’re well within your right. Recruiters are paid to be judgemental. I am nothing if not honest.

Happy hunting.

3 ways to schedule your workday for maximum productivity

So many of us are guilty of working an eight-hour day, only breaking to use the restroom or grab lunch. But our brains can only focus for about 90 to 120 minutes before they need a break, and we get stressed and tired when we sit at our desks for too long — so we’re not really making the most of our time in the office.

Podio, an online work platform, recently put together an infographic that features three alternative working patterns that can help workers stay focused, energetic, and productive:

8 hour workday

Why you should care about Microsoft’s latest legal battle

Should the U.S. government have the right to search emails stored abroad?

They say the Internet knows no borders. Well, that may soon change.

On Wednesday morning, a federal appeals court is set to hear arguments over the validity of a certain U.S. search warrant involving electronic records. At issue: Whether the United States government is entitled to compel tech companies based in the U.S. to hand over their customers’ emails when they’re stored on servers in data centers around the world.

However the court eventually rules, the decision will likely shape the contours of international state and business relations, where and how tech companies operate, the way law enforcement agencies conduct investigations, and the level of privacy enjoyed by citizens everywhere. What may seem like an arcane legal tussle is actually a vital (if unresolved) question about the future of Internet governance.

Here’s what you need to know about the case.

Who is suing who, and why?

In Dec. 2013, Microsoft received a search warrant from the U.S. Department of Justice that requested access to emails stored on servers in a data center in Ireland. The company, based in Redmond, Wash., challenged the order last year on the grounds that the Irish data center was subject to Irish laws. Federal authorities—seeking the records of suspects involved in a drug trafficking investigation—saw things differently: U.S. company, U.S. laws. So the case went to court.

Microsoft MSFT -0.26% lost the first ruling last year. But the software company has challenged that decision, too. Other tech companies such as Apple, Verizon, and Cisco, have joined the fray, rallying behind Microsoft as well. These corporations have not balked just to make investigators’ lives difficult, of course. Other countries have their own privacy laws that differ—and could conflict—with the U.S.’s rules, wants, and needs. And the decision to turn over the data has major implications for these businesses.

What’s at stake?

Right now, tech companies in Microsoft’s position are faced with a catch 22 when they receive search warrants of this sort. Comply with U.S. laws and break international (e.g. European) ones, or follow foreign rules in breach of federal orders. It’s not an easy choice.

If Microsoft loses the case, that means that U.S. tech companies may have no leg to stand on should they disagree with future government requests for data stored abroad. That could persuade potential privacy-minded customers, especially in foreign states, to take their business to other companies. In the wake of NSA spying revelations made public by Edward J. Snowden in 2013, U.S. companies have already suffered losses of trust and business in the billions, according to some estimates.

If the U.S. loses, that might inhibit the country’s criminal investigations and affect national security.

What might this mean for consumers?

Let’s say Microsoft wins. Civil liberties defenders might chalk up that outcome as a privacy win. Government, stay out of our inboxes!

But the decision could lead to hairy situation for investigators. It might also mean that anyone could then sign up for a Microsoft email account (and by extension, Google, Yahoo, etc.), list their country as a foreign one subject to different laws, and thereby evade the prying eyes of U.S. authorities. There is a way around this, of course: Gain access to the data through treaties with other nations. (Microsoft advocates for this.)

The arguments are set to air on Wed., and the courts will reach a decision in the coming months.

The Psychology of Delusions There are 5 major types of delusions.

This is where they come from.

A delusion is a fixed, relatively immutable, persistent, false belief with no basis in reality.

Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock
Source: Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock

We talk often about “deluded” people: “The person on the talent show is clearly deluded about their lack of singing ability.” “That politician has delusions of grandeur.” “She’s deluded if she expects to be promoted.” “You have to be deluded to believe anything salesmen say.”

A delusion is a belief held by an individual or group that is demonstrably false, patently untrue, impossible, fanciful, or self-deceptive. A person with delusions, however, often has complete certainty and conviction about their delusory beliefs. They resist arguments and evidence that they are wrong.

People have illusions about smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), temperature (thermoceptive), and touch (tactile). They may experience highly disgusting or very pleasant or unusual smells when meeting a particular person. They may find ordinary foods (oranges, chocolate, milk) have different tastes than others experience. They may find cool objects burning hot or warm objects frozen; traditionally smooth objects (like a balloon or cat’s fur) may feel rough or uneven.

The most written about of all delusions, paranoia, has been shown to follow various stages: general suspiciousness; selective perception of others; hostility; paranoid “illumination” in which all things fall into place; and, finally, paradoxical delusions of influence and persecution. Delusions often totally preoccupy people and cause them considerable distress because they do not doubt their beliefs are correct.

Delusions differ from illusions. We have visionary and auditory illusions; for instance, that the sun goes around the earth or that ventriloquists’ dummies actually speak. We have selective memories/illusions of happy childhoods. These are things that seem true to the senses or memory, but are known to be false or have no basis in reality.

There are some caveats: Some religious delusions are impossible to verify and hence falsify. Other delusions have a self-fulfilling prophecy, such as a jealous person accusing and attacking an innocent partner, who then leaves them for another. In that sense, these people cause their delusions to come true.

Novelists and playwrights often have interesting characters with delusions. Commonly portrayed are delusions that a person is totally controlling one’s behavior or that one has committed a heinous or terrible crime or sin that merits severe punishment. There are characters who believe others to be mind readers, or that other’s trivial and insignificant events, objects, or remarks have personal meaning or significance. Religious delusions have also been well-known down the centuries.

Psychiatry and Delusional Disorder

Psychiatrists may diagnose someone as having a delusion disorder under a number of very specific situations:

  1. A person must manifest one or more non-bizarre delusions for at least a month.
  2. The person has not met other behavioral criteria to be classified as someone with schizophrenia.
  3. Audio and visual hallucinations are not prominent, though tactile and olfactory hallucinations may be.
  4. Despite the person’s delusions or their behavioral consequences, their psychosocial functioning is not essentially impaired enough to be considered particularly odd or bizarre.
  5. If the specific delusions impact a person’s mood, these fluctuations do not last very long.
  6. The disturbance is not the result of physiological or medical conditions, like the medication a person is taking.

Sometimes psychiatrists say it is difficult to distinguish from other disorders like hypochondriasis (particularly among those with little self-awareness); body dysmorphic disorder (preoccupation with imagined bodily defects); Obsessive Compulsive as well as Paranoid Personality Disorder.

The delusions of people with schizophrenia are often clearly bizarre, utterly implausible, not at all understandable; one might believe the brain has been replaced by that of another person or that one has shrunk to be three feet tall. On the other hand, non-bizarre delusions could be possible. For instance, people may feel they are being followed, photographed or recorded, that somebody is slowly poisoning them, that their partner is always cheating on them, or that their boss or neighbor is in love with them.

Some delusions cause people to make dramatic changes in their life: leave their job or partner, move from their house (or even leave the country), or dress very differently. The person with delusional disorder, however, appears normal when their delusional ideas are not being discussed.

People with delusions can become very moody, often causing their relationships and work to suffer. Interestingly, some cultures and groups have particular beliefs that may in other cultures be seen as clinically delusional.

It is a relatively rare disorder usually occurring later in life, particularly among people with relatives who have other disorders. Most appear argumentative and hypersensitive.  Many do not seek treatment and become, over the years, more and more isolated.

Types of Delusion

Psychiatrists have noticed five clear types of delusions:

  1. Erotomanic. These individuals believe someone is seriously in love with them, more in the Hollywood romance, even spiritual way, rather than in the sexual sense. It is often a famous person—a film star or famous athlete—but also can be powerful superiors at work. Whilst someone with this delusion can keep it a secret and do very little, others may expend a great deal of energy trying to contact their delusional lover via emails, visits, or stalking. Most are women, but men with the delusions tend to act more boldly and get in more trouble with the law, particularly if they believe their ‘lover’ is in trouble or imminent danger.
  2. Grandiose. These are sometimes called delusions of grandeur and manifest when a person believes (with no evidence) that they are special: they have amazing abilities or have made a vitally important discovery. Often the delusions are religious for those with the disorder, often believing that they have a unique and privileged relationship with the “The Almighty.” Sometimes they feel they are a prominent person and have special relationships with other prominent people.
  3. Jealous. This is clearly manifested in the strong, but unfounded belief that a partner is unfaithful and cheating on them: Odd bits of ‘evidence’ are put forward for these claims. They may hire a private detective, attempt to imprison their partner as well as physically and verbally attack them.
  4. Persecutory. This is the belief that someone or some group is conspiring against them. They could be cheating, spying on, harassing, or gossiping about them, or even attempting to poison or drug them. They are often angry and resentful with deep feelings of injustice. Many attempt to quell the persecution by legal means or appealing to authorities. It is the most common type of all the delusionary disorders. Some even get violent and aggressive towards those they believe are deliberately targeting them.
  5. Somatic. This is the delusion that one’s body is somehow strange or not functioning properly. It may be the belief that one smells odd, or that particular parts (nose, breasts, feet) are particularly odd, misshapen or ugly. Often people with these delusions believe they may have some internal bug or parasite that is destroying or affecting some very specific part of their body.

Cause

The causes of delusions are unknown. Current interests in neuropsychology have lead some to speculate that malfunctioning biological features may cause or exacerbate the problem. Some have implicated basal ganglia, others the limbic system and still others the neocortex. Investigations continue.

For others, genetic explanations are best because so many with delusional disorders have first-degree relatives with these and related disorders.

Other researchers point out that many with the disorder have had difficult childhoods characterized by instability and turbulence, callousness and coldness. They consider delusions to be an impairment in the ego defense system aimed to protect and bolster the self. They see the paranoid or persecutory delusions as an attempt to project onto others things they do not like to admit in themselves. Treatment includes traditional counsellng,psychotherapy, and the use of antipsychotic drugs.

Dissimulation and Delusions

Many rightly claim that in interviews and on questionnaires, people lie, fake, or deceive. Psychologists call this dissimulation, but have recently distinguished between two very different types of dissimulation:

  • Impression management. This is all about presenting oneself in a positive light, perhaps forgetting certain things and sharing small “white lies” about another.
  • Self-deception. Strictly speaking, this is not lying but is more like a delusion. If someone says they have a sense of humor, but everyone who knows them says they do not, they are deceiving themselves. Similarly, when someone feels ugly or plain whilst everyone else (friend, acquaintance, stranger) believes they are not, it implies a negative self-deception. At interviews, some forms of self-deception begin to get close to delusions.

To Stop Procrastinating, Start by Understanding the Emotions Involved

Time management goes only so far; the emotional reasons for delay must also be addressed

Chronic procrastination is an emotional strategy for dealing with stress, researchers say, and it can lead to difficulties in relationships, jobs, finances and health.
Chronic procrastination is an emotional strategy for dealing with stress, researchers say, and it can lead to difficulties in relationships, jobs, finances and health. ILLUSTRATION: YAO XIAO

Putting off a work or school assignment in order to play videogames or water the plants might seem like nothing more serious than poor time-management.

But researchers say chronic procrastination is an emotional strategy for dealing with stress, and it can lead to significant issues in relationships, jobs, finances and health.

In August, researchers from Stockholm University published one of the first randomized controlled trials on the treatment of procrastination. It found a therapy delivered online can significantly reduce procrastination.

Psychologists also are studying other ways people might be able to reduce procrastination, such as better emotion-regulation strategies and visions of the future self.

Scientists define procrastination as the voluntary delay of an action despite foreseeable negative future consequences. It is opting for short-term pleasure or mood at the cost of the long-term. Perhaps we didn’t finish preparing a presentation on the weekend because we had house guests. That is just intentional delay based on a rational decision, says Timothy Pychyl (pronounced pitch-el), a psychology professor at Carleton University, in Ottawa, who has published extensively on the topic.

What triggers procrastination and how can people overcome the urge to put off tasks? Prof. Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University joins Lunch Break for some advice. Photo: Getty

The essence of procrastination is “we’re giving in to feel good,” Dr. Pychyl says. “Procrastination is, ‘I know I should be doing it, I want to, it gets under my skin [when I don’t].’ ”

Ben Lockwood, a 39-year-old office manager in Chippenham, about 100 miles west of London, knows the feeling all too well. Even though he isn’t a lazy person, he says, he struggles with procrastination at work and in his personal life. He says he feels paralyzed by wanting to do everything perfectly, which then makes him feel anxious about getting started.

Instead of looking for a new job, he might go to the gym—a move researchers call “moral compensation.” That is when procrastinators do something to make themselves feel good or productive in order to avoid the task that needs to get done.

Mr. Lockwood says this pattern of behavior fills him with self-loathing. “I think I’d rather tell someone I robbed a bank than tell them I procrastinate,” he says.

Chronic procrastinators often hold misconceptions about why they procrastinate and what it means, psychologists have discovered. Many chronic procrastinators believe they can’t get started on a task because they want to do it perfectly. Yet studies show chronic procrastination isn’t actually linked to perfectionism, but rather to impulsiveness, which is a tendency to act immediately on urges, according to Piers Steel, an organizational-behavior professor at the University of Calgary.

TO PROCRASTINATE LESS, START BY DOING THIS

Tips from research led by Timothy Pychyl, Piers Steel and Alexander Rozental.

  • Break a long-term project down into specific sub-goals. State the exact start time and how long (not just “tomorrow”) you plan to work on the task.
  • Just get started. It isn’t necessary to write a long list of tasks, or each intermediate step.
  • Remind yourself that finishing the task now helps you in the future. Putting off the task won’t make it more enjoyable.
  • Implement “microcosts,” or mini-delays, that require you to make a small effort to procrastinate, such as having to log on to a separate computer account for games.
  • Reward yourself not only for completing the entire project but also the sub-goals.

People may assume anxiety is what prevents them from getting started, yet data from many studies show that for people low in impulsiveness, anxiety is the cue to get going. Highly impulsive people, on the other hand, shut down when they feel anxiety. Impulsive people are believed to have a harder time dealing with strong emotion and want to do something else to get rid of the bad feeling, Dr. Steel says.

Some people claim they purposely leave things to the last minute because they work better under stress, but true procrastinators get stressed out by the delay. It’s arguable whether the quality of their work is actually better than if they had started earlier, according to Dr. Pychyl.

Experts say the consequences of chronic or extreme procrastination can be serious: Marriages break up, people lose jobs and often feel like impostors. Fuschia Sirois, a psychology professor at the University of Sheffield, in England, recently began studying the effects of procrastination on coping with chronic illness.

The mental-health effects of procrastination are well-documented: Habitual procrastinators have higher rates of depression and anxiety and poorer well-being.

Less is known about physical effects, and especially serious health problems. In a recent paper, Dr. Sirois and colleagues found procrastinators with hypertension and heart disease were less likely to engage in active strategies for coping with the illness, such as finding meaning or taking action, such as arranging to exercise with a friend. They were more likely to adopt maladaptive behaviors, like being avoidant or blaming themselves for the illness and trying to forget it.

In addition, procrastinators often seem unable to see as clearly into the future about their choices and behaviors as non-procrastinators—a phenomenon she calls “temporal myopia.” Their vision of their future selves is often more abstract and impersonal, and they’re less connected emotionally to their future selves. Temporal myopia may be largely due to their high levels of stress which can shift their focus to more immediate rather than distant concerns.

“A lot of us think, I’m doing it for me” and that in the future we’ll benefit because of what we’re doing now, says Dr. Sirois. But procrastinators aren’t as good at envisioning this. Dr. Sirois, Carleton’s Dr. Pychyl and others are testing interventions for helping procrastinators better envision and connect with their future selves.

Focusing on time management alone will help procrastinators, but only so much, the scientists say. The emotional regulation component must be addressed as well.

Dr. Sirois and Dr. Pychyl also have focused on short-term mood repair as an anti-procrastination strategy. They teach people to recognize that they might have strong emotions, such as anxiety, at the start of a project but to not judge themselves for it. The next step is just to get started, step by step, with a narrow focus.

At Stockholm University, researchers set out to test whether a self-help treatment could have an effect on more-severe forms of procrastination, as the research in this area was lacking. Though there are many self-help books and experimental lab studies, the group wanted to design an intervention that, if shown efficacious, could be rolled out widely, such as via the Internet, said Alexander Rozental, a clinical psychologist and doctoral student who was an author of the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Some 150 participants were self-reported high procrastinators and were randomly assigned to complete the intervention, either by themselves, with the guidance of a therapist or to a wait-list control. The treatment program consisted of 10 weekly modules.

One component focused on goal setting, such as breaking down long-term goals into smaller and more-concrete sub-goals. Instead of saying one was going to work on a paper on Tuesday, participants were taught to be specific and divide it into manageable sub-goals: I am going to work on a paper for one hour at 11 a.m.

The intervention also employed a reward system. Participants would give themselves something positive, whether a cup of coffee or a break after accomplishing mini-goals, rather than wait until finishing the overall goal.

Another module involved exposing procrastinators to stressful feelings or thoughts in brief but gradually longer periods. The goal there is to help them feel that they are better able to manage their emotions and not to instinctively follow them.

The results showed that after intervention with both guided and unguided self-help, people improved their procrastination, though the guided therapy seemed to show greater benefit. The researchers, who have continued following up with the participants, will look at one-year outcomes later this year to see if the results were maintained.

They also are conducting a study of college students receiving either group therapy or Internet-based cognitive behavior therapy, where they will look not only at self-reported procrastination but also at real-life outcomes including academic grades and use of alcohol and drugs, Mr. Rozental says.

In Calgary, Dr. Steel’s lab is testing and helping to develop new software with a Hong Kong company, Saent, that helps by delaying the loading of websites such as Facebook for 15 seconds or so, using “micro-costs” such as requiring a password before surfing the Web. Sometimes these little bits of effort are all that are necessary to deter procrastinators from distraction, Dr. Steel says.

Mr. Lockwood, the procrastinator from the U.K., has developed his own strategies for helping him delay tasks. Since he’s had to pay late fees before for not paying bills on time, for no reason other than he didn’t put the check in the mail, he now makes sure he’s always stocked with stamps and envelopes at home and has online bill pay set up for as many places as possible.

But he wishes he could shake his procrastination in other areas of his life. He says his girlfriend is always planning their vacations because he has a hard time getting started and is reluctant to ask for time off. But he actually enjoys the act of planning trips. He says one day he would love to surprise her by coming up with the idea and doing the planning.

“If you’re an occasional procrastinator, quit thinking about your feelings and get to the next task,” says Dr. Pychyl. “But if you’re a chronic procrastinator, you might need therapy to better understand your emotions and how you’re coping with them through avoidance.”

Write to Shirley S. Wang at shirley.wang@wsj.com

Taylor Swift Is Dreaming Of A Very White Africa

In the video for "Wildest Dreams," Taylor Swift is all decked out in African colonial-era style.
In the video for “Wildest Dreams,” Taylor Swift is all decked out in African colonial-era style.
(YouTube )
From
The video for American singer Taylor Swift’s new song “Wildest Dreams” has been viewed more than ten million times in the two days since it debuted.

The video was shot in Africa and California.

In it, we see two beautiful white people falling in love while surrounded by vast expanses of beautiful African landscapes and beautiful animals — a lion, a giraffe, a zebra.

Taylor Swift is dressed as a colonial-era woman on African soil. With just a few exceptions, the cast in the video — the actors playing her boyfriend and a movie director and his staff — all appear to be white.

We are shocked to think that in 2015, Taylor Swift, her record label and her video production group would think it was okay to film a video that presents a glamorous version of the white colonial fantasy of Africa. Of course, this is not the first time that white people have romanticized colonialism: See Louis Vuitton’s 2014 campaign, Ernest Hemingway’sSnows of Kilimanjaro, the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia and of course Karen Blixen’s memoirOut of Africa.

But it still stings.

Here are some facts for Swift and her team: Colonialism was neither romantic nor beautiful. It was exploitative and brutal. The legacy of colonialism still lives quite loudly to this day.Scholars have argued that poor economic performance, weak property rights and tribal tensions across the continent can be traced to colonial strategies. So can other woes. In a place full of devastation and lawlessness, diseases spreads like wildfire, conflict breaks out and dictators grab power.

Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” are a visual representation of what the Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina writes about in his Granta Magazine essay, “How to Write About Africa.”

“In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.”

Why be encumbered with the African people or show them in your “Wildest Dreams” video when they are busy mutilating each other and their genitals?

The bigger problem is that many Americans have never had an African history lesson. So we don’t totally blame Taylor Swift, but the people behind the video should have done a little more research. They should have wondered how Africans would react.

To those of us from the continent who had parents or grandparents who lived through colonialism (and it can be argued in some cases are still living through it), this nostalgia that privileged white people have for colonial Africa is awkwardly confusing to say the least and offensive to say the most. Allison Swank in her critique of the 1985 movie Out of Africaexplains it well when she considers the character of Karen Blixen, portrayed by Meryl Streep: “The nostalgia her character creates for a time when an elegant, strong white woman could run a farm in Africa covers up the ugliness of that {colonial] idea. It undermines key colonial truths, like the fact that her ‘strength,’ or privilege, relies on the colonial order.”

Across the continent, we are in the middle of an exciting African boom and a technologicaland leadership renaissance of sorts, led by the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the formerly colonized and enslaved. Waterfalls and mountains and majestic animals do not represent a full picture of our homelands.

Swift’s music is entertaining for many. She should absolutely be able to use any location as a backdrop. But she packages our continent as the backdrop for her romantic songs devoid of any African person or storyline, and she sets the video in a time when the people depicted by Swift and her co-stars killed, dehumanized and traumatized millions of Africans. That is beyond problematic.

And then she decided to donate the proceeds from advertisements linked to her video to the charity African Parks Foundation of America. If you travel to some of Africa’s parks, you’ll see the rangers and guides are black Africans.

So why not show them in the video?

James Kassaga Arinaitwe is an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow and a Global Fellow at Acumen. He worked as a special projects manager at LabourNet, an organization in Bangalore, India, that seeks to improve the lives of workers. He tweets @JamesArinaitwe

Little Known Black History Fact: The History of Barbeque

The word barbecue and the open-fire cooking technique came from the Caribbean amongst the Taino people around the late 17th century. The word barbecue itself means “sacred fire pit.” The unique way to cook meat spread into Spanish, French and American cultures when slaves were brought from the Caribbean.

In the Southern United States, barbecue initially revolved around the cooking of pork. Prior to the American Civil War, Southerners consumed five pounds of pork for every one pound of beef they consumed. Plantation owners regularly held large and festive barbecues, including “pig pickin’s” for slaves. Because of the poverty level in the South during that time, every part of the pig was eaten immediately or saved for later. During the Great Migration, many of the southern slaves moved to northern cities, taking their cooking techniques like barbecue along, which quickly spread across the country.

The true origin of barbecue has been debated in several cultures. Some believe it was born through a tribe in Guyana, while others believe it was a Haitian practice. In western culture, it was said that the word barbecue was a combination of words from an advertisement for a bar, beer, and pool available at a local establishment; hence the word bar-beer-cue.

As the popularity of the barbecue technique spread, the distinction between regional cooking became more about what parts of the pig and cow are barbecued, how it’s present and most important, the flavors of the sauce and how and when the sauce is applied. The main regions identified in the U.S. that determine unique flavors have been broken down into several styles: Memphis, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kansas City and Texas.

July is National Grilling (or Barbecue) Month and National Hot Dog Month, mainly due to the popularity of summer cookouts and consumption during the 4th of July holiday.

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