Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Self-Help Psychologist Is In

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire became fed up with the ridiculous standards of self-help publishing. In response, he wrote a self-help book of his own, built on findings from academic research in psychology. The book, titled "59 Seconds", refers to the time that it is supposed to take to practice the advice laid out within.

The article "Self-Help Psychologist Is In" from the New York Times gives a few examples of Wiseman's advice; "Looking to seduce someone? Take your date to an amusement park or on a vigorous run, for research shows that attraction increases along with heart rate. Think someone's prone to telling you white lies? Correspond more with them by e-mail, for research shows people are less likely to prevaricate when there's a written record that could trip them up later."

Wiseman said, "we are far more like somebody watching ourselves than somebody in charge of ourselves." It sounds like the perfect cop-out, but I think there is truth to it. There have been so many times when I have said or done something and immediately regretted it. Last night I said something rude to a friend and three minute later I was apologizing saying; "I don't know what's wrong with me, that was so mean". The techniques Wiseman presents in his book bypass conscious awareness and tell you why you do something, and what you can do to change it.

One of the experiments that Wiseman conducted for research for his book was the wallet study. He dropped around 200 wallets and recorded what type of content would make people more likely to return them. When a photograph of a baby was in the wallet, people were far more likely to send it back, when no picture was in the wallet, just one in seven wallets were sent back.

His book is based upon specific social psychology research, much of which he is responsible for. I've never even considered buying a self-help book, but I think I'm sold on changing my life in "59 Seconds".

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