Psychology Round-Up

Why Are Old Women Often The Face Of Evil In Fairy Tales And Folklore?

In time for Halloween, Elizabeth Blair looks at why evil in folklore and fairy tales is so often represented by an old woman. Maria Tatar, who teaches a course on folklore and mythology at Harvard, says “old women villains are especially scary because, historically, the most powerful person in a child’s life was the mother.”

Here’s another possible explanation:

Veronique Tadjo, a writer who grew up in the Ivory Coast, thinks there’s a fear of female power in general. She says a common figure in African folk tales is the old witch who destroys people’s souls.

See what Baba Yaga, a monstrous female figure of Russian folklore, and Yama Uba, an old woman from Japanese folklore, have in common with the old lady in Hansel and Gretel and the queen who poisons Snow White: “Elderly women in folk tales often use their knowledge and experience of the world to guide the troubled protagonist.” Blair concludes:

old women in fairy tales and folklore practically keep civilization together. They judge, reward, harm and heal; and they’re often the most intriguing characters in the story.

Why We Favorite Tweets, According To Science

How often do you mark someone’s tweet as a favorite? And why?

Thanks to a study published by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, this year we now have what amounts to an official taxonomy of faving behaviors. Conducted by Florian Meier and David Elsweiler from the University of Regensburg, Germany and Max L. Wilson from the University of Nottingham after extensive surveys with 606 Twitter users (many long-term users), the study sought to classify the myriad of individual reasons for favoriting a tweet in order to “enhance our understanding of what people want to do with Twitter.”

Read the explanations of what the study found out about why people mark certain tweets as favorites to see if they agree with your own practice.

And what did the study conclude? “findings highlight that the favoriting feature is currently being over-utilized for a range of motivations, whilst under-supporting many of them.”

Can We End the Meditation Madness?

I used to reject the notion of meditating out of hand because it seemed too religious to me. But when I discovered Dr. Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response, I was happy to adopt it to reduce my blood pressure. Since I performed it lying on my back in bed at night, I found that it also helped me fall asleep instead of lying awake with my mind whirring. (Placebo or not, whatever works…)

It’s always good to feel validated, so I was gratified to come across this article in the New York Times recently. Adam Grant notes “Meditation is exploding in popularity,” particularly in association with mindfulness. To discover why meditation is so popular he consulted meditation teachers, researchers, and practitioners. His conclusion: “Every benefit of the practice can be gained through other activities.” He cites a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that drew a similar conclusion:

“We found no evidence that meditation programs were better than any active treatment (i.e., drugs, exercise and other behavioral therapies).”

I’m gratified to find validation for what I discovered through my own research several years ago: with the relaxation response, I can achieve the benefits of meditating without having to meditate. As Grant says:

Evangelists, it’s time to stop judging. The next time you meet people who choose not to meditate, take a deep breath and let us relax in peace.

Are You Aware of Your Self-Defeating Habits?

Daniel Goleman, author of the seminal book Emotional Intelligence, offers advice and recognizing and overcoming one’s self-defeating habits, those “invisible emotional patterns” that are “habitual ways we react that get triggered over and over.” Such self-defeating habits “often stem from our learning early in life, and are so deeply ingrained that we repeat them over and over, despite the sometimes obvious ways in which they do not work.”

Read about Goleman’s five-step process for recognizing your own trigger sources:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the self-defeating habit.
  2. Be mindful.
  3. Remember the alternatives.
  4. Choose something better.
  5. Do this at every naturally occurring opportunity.

Recognizing your triggers is the necessary first part of cultivating more useful responses. If necessary, Goleman adds, a coach or therapist can help you develop new, more positive, habits of response.

How to Turn a Bad Day Around

Since this article is in the Harvard Business Review, it’s aimed at improving work productivity. However, the advice here can help anyone turn a bad day around for any purpose.

Amy Gallo begins the article with the assertion that happiness is a choice, according to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. Gallo offers some ideas for recognizing the positive aspects of life even in the face of negative occurrences:

  • pinpoint the problem
  • take a moment to be grateful
  • take action
  • change your routine
  • reset realistic expectations
  • learn from your bad days to prevent future ones

In addition, she has some specific suggestions for how to achieve these goals. She concludes with two case studies that put these general ideas into specific contexts to illustrate how the principles work.

Remember: You can’t keep bad things from happening, but you can improve the way you respond to them.