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Adoree Durayappah-Harrison I am Adoree Durayappah-Harrison: a writer and perpetual student of life. My passion is bringing scientific and academic knowledge into the real world, helping us improve and flourish. In this site you can learn a bit about me, read my blog Healthy Living—the science behind a better you—and check out the page for my upcoming book, Intrinsic Me: Weight Loss & Fitness, which looks at how successful weight-loss happens for different people based on their strengths. Have fun exploring the site!

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15 December 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Are You Being Too Assertive? Not Enough?

Assertiveness_smallMany people want to be more assertive in the workplace. Being assertive can help you voice your opinions to your coworkers, help you negotiate that promotion and pay raise, and also has a number of health benefits.

According to the Mayo Clinic, assertive behavior and communication can help with stress management and improve your coping skills. As the Mayo Clinic explains, being assertive shows that you respect yourself and you are willing to stand up and express your thoughts and feelings. It boosts your self-confidence and can improve your work satisfaction.

Many people want to be more assertive but suffer from being too passive, abandoning their good ideas or not voicing their opinions to avoid conflict with others.

In addition to the problem of being too passive, there is also the issue that others face of being overly assertive in the workplace. Just as passivity can have repercussions to being successful at work, so too can not knowing the right amount of assertiveness to employ.

In a series of studies published in 2007 by Daniel Ames, a professor at Columbia Business School, and Francis Flynn, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, research showed that what makes a good leader is the right amount of assertiveness.

The scientists asked workers their views of colleagues’ leadership strengths and weaknesses. The research showed that the most common weakness described was the coworker’s assertiveness. Half of the comments pointed to an issue with too much assertiveness and the other half described too little.

“Assertiveness dominated reports of leadership weaknesses, though it wasn’t nearly as common in colleagues’ comments about strengths,” said Ames. “When leaders get assertiveness wrong, it’s glaring and obvious, but when they get it right it seems to disappear.

Ames compares the right amount of assertiveness at work to the right amount of salt in a dish.

“When there’s too much or too little, it’s hard to notice anything else, but when it’s just right, you notice the other flavors,” said Ames.

But just how hard is it to get the right amount? That perfect level of assertiveness. As the science shows, it is much harder than we might think.

In a new study conducted by Ames with fellow researcher Abbie Wazlawek, a doctoral student at Columbia Business School, there is one major problem standing in the way of workers finding that right level of assertiveness. That obstacle is their own self-awareness.

Unlike a chef who can tell if she under seasoned or over salted a dish, many people are absolutely oblivious to how assertive they come across to colleagues.

In the study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in June of this year, researchers found that there is a huge disconnect between how assertive someone thinks they are and how assertive their colleagues view them to be.

The investigators conducted a series of four studies to test the connection (or dis-connection) between assertiveness and self-awareness. Three of the four studies involved mock negotiations with MBA students enrolled in a negotiation course at Columbia Business School, and the fourth study was an online survey of 500 US adults.

In the first three studies, the MBA students were paired up to do a mock negotiation over licensing rights, after which each participant answered questions about their own assertiveness and the assertiveness of their counterpart. The negotiators were also asked to guess what their counterpart said about their assertiveness.

The results of the studies showed a major disconnect between people’s self-awareness of their assertiveness and what others thought of them:

  • 57 percent of people who were viewed by their counterparts as being under-assertive thought that they were the right level of assertiveness or even too assertive.
  • 56 percent of people who were viewed as being over-assertive by their counterpart thought they came across as appropriately assertive or even under-assertive.

The results indicate that at work many people worry that they are coming across as a jerk, fearing that they are too assertive when their colleagues believe, in fact, that they are not assertive enough. Then there are the employees that are seen as jerks by their coworkers because they are being too pushy, when they judge their actions as reflecting the right level of assertiveness.

The study also showed that many people who were getting assertiveness right actually mistakenly viewed themselves as pushing too hard and felt that they had crossed a line during negotiation. As Ames and Wazlawek explained, those who mistakenly thought that they transgressed this line attempted to make up for their over assertiveness and agreed to less desired terms in an attempt to smooth things over.

All of this research indicates that getting to that perfect level of assertiveness is definitely important to a successful and satisfying career and that one of the biggest barriers is the individual’s own self-awareness.

Most employees are just unsure about how assertive they are actually coming across. But the research strongly suggests that if you want to season your behavior with just the right amount of assertiveness, you can’t rely on your own palate, it is important to let others taste test your behavior.

As Ames explains, “We often find that students and executive are unaware of how other people see their behavior. One reason is because people typically don’t get candid feedback on things like assertiveness”.

But this poses problems as Ames adds,

“Who wants to tell the overbearing boss that he or she is a jerk?”


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14 November 2014 ~ 0 Comments

The Most Overlooked Reason Why You’re Late

For a good percentage of Americans, three little words habitually accompany one’s entrance into a business meeting, a gym class, an appointment with friends, or a date…

“Sorry, I’m late.”

Does this sound like you? Much important work has looked at why people are chronically late. The truth is that there are many reasons why people just can’t get somewhere on time. But there seems to be one common thread running through the behavior of chronically late individuals that is probably the most shared reason for them being perpetually tardy, and yet it is consistently overlooked.

You are late because you don’t want to be early.

For the punctually challenged, this very basic motivation drives behavior whether consciously or unconsciously.

We are quite familiar with the group out there who is always on time because they hate being late. I fall into this category. In fact, I’m paranoid of being tardy. I get to places an embarrassingly amount of time early, which requires me to park my car around the corner and wait surreptitiously just so others don’t notice the real time I arrived. (Sometimes I think that if I was a ninja, I would always be getting to the locations dreadfully early, yet I would be comforted in the fact that since I am a ninja no one can tell if I am here.)

Because people, like me, in this first group hate to be tardy, we are always on time. This team is definitely pro-early. Being on time is synonymous with being early.

But, there is another group out there. Just as the first type hates to be late, this second group hates to be early. These anti-early birds really want to be punctual. They just prefer to be right on time.

Wanting to avoid being early is a strong motivation for why many people are chronically late.

When you ask someone why they are perpetually late, they will often inform you that the typical or assumed reasons do not necessarily explain the underlying issue of their bad habit. Even when they try to be organized, consider the time of others, or set an alarm, they still tend to be late.

Additionally, they are usually behind by the same amount of time: five, ten, or fifteen minutes – just late enough where it isn’t detrimental to their event but late enough to be annoying to those around them. Though desperately wanting to break the habit, the conflicting motivation to not be late or early poses a real problem. It is hard to reconcile these two competing ideals.

So why does this second group hate to be early?

Well, there are various reasons. Some of the most common include:

Because it’s inefficient. Being early requires having to sit around with nothing to do. The waiting time is just short enough where you can’t get into any other project because as soon as you do, the time is up.

Many hate the uneasiness of being early. They feel awkward and uncomfortable waiting. They might even feel as if others are watching and judging them, whether this being true or not. Arriving a few minutes early makes you feel proud and confident, but arriving too early can make you feel foolish. You fear others might be thinking that you have no life besides this one event. You don’t want people to think that your time isn’t valuable.

Take the example of going on a date. If you get there a little early that looks great, but if you get there too early, all of a sudden, you’re worried you might come across as desperate. You’re so concerned about how being early makes you look that when your date actually arrives and asks you, “have you been waiting long?”…what do you do? You lie and say, “Oh, not long, maybe 5 or 10 minutes.”

There is also an opportunity cost associated with getting somewhere early. Just as someone else’s time is valuable and you want to respect it to be punctual, so too your time is valuable and a lot of people would rather be using it productively than waiting around inefficiently.

Finally, sometimes you do not want to be early to be polite. In many cases, you don’t want to disturb someone by getting there too soon (like a friend’s dinner party), so you would rather get there a little late.

While many individuals see being early as a virtue, there are also many who don’t. Earliness isn’t valued to them. Earliness is a waste of time.

2002 article in USA Today discussed the cost of tardiness for CEOs. One hypothetical example mentioned in the article stated that if Sanford Weill, Citigroup CEO at the time, arrives 15 minutes late to a meeting where he is going to meet his four best-paid lieutenants, it costs the company $4,250, the price of the four employees’ time.” And that was in 2002, just think what it costs today.

Yet, the same argument can be applied to the cost of being early. If those four well-paid employees arrive 15 minutes before Weill arrives to the meeting, that still costs the company $4,250 in wasted time. The issue being that time is money in both scenarios.

Even late-comers know that it is impossible to get anywhere right on time each and every time. Since we cannot control external circumstances (like traffic, emergencies, other people, etc.), the only way to be prompt is to get to places a few minutes beforehand.

But we are still left with the pesky problem of motivation. How can an anti-early bird just bite the bullet and risk being early in order to be on time?

Often when you do get to a place early, there is no inherent reward in that. You think “(Bleep), I’m here too early. Next time I will give myself less time to get here.”

The solution to actually fixing the habit, then, is not to think about ways to be on time but rather to think about how to make being early valuable.

That same USA Today article mentions how Dell Computer CEO Michael Dell gets to meetings a little beforehand and how he makes the best use of that time. As he says in the article, “I try to get to meetings a bit early so I can see what the mood of the team is and have an opportunity to interact informally before we get down to serious business.”

Reframing that early time as something valuable makes you feel like your time is being used constructively (or that it’s worth it), for your own or for someone else’s benefit.

So, if you are trying to motivate someone else to stop being chronically late, remember, just because the sensible Benjamin Franklin espoused the virtues of being early and told us, “Early to bed, early to rise…” there are also those who agree with the wise Franklin D. Roosevelt’s rationale: “I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.”

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08 October 2014 ~ 0 Comments

The Secret Benefits of a Curious Mind

curious woman

It’s no surprise that when we are curious about something, it makes it easier to learn. But cutting-edge research published in the academic journal Neuron provides startling evidence for how a curious state of mind improves learning and memory for things we are not even interested in.

Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

While Einstein probably suffered from modesty in addition to curiosity, it is interesting to note that he attributes his intelligence and success to having a curious mind.

A recent study in the field of cognitive neuroscience from the University of California, Davis provides surprising insights into the interesting link between curiosity, learning, and memory.

For the study, participants were given a series of trivia questions. The researchers asked the participants to rate their level of curiosity to learn the answers for each question. They were then presented with the trivia. After each question, there was a 14-second delay before the answer was given. During that time, the researchers flashed a picture of a neutral, unrelated face.

Once the trivia session was complete, the participants were given a surprise memory recognition test based on the faces the participants saw during the trivia. Additionally, during the study, researchers scanned the participants’ brain activity with an FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging).

Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat. It Improved His Memory

The study reveals several interesting findings of what happens to the brain when it is piqued with curiosity.


We already know that when we are curious about a topic, it is easier to learn. And, as expected, the study proves that when participants were highly curious to find the answer to the trivia question, they were better at learning that information. But what the researchers really cared about was to see how the participants did on the face recognition test when they were highly curious.

This is the interesting bit. The researchers found that when participants’ curiosity was aroused by wanting to know a certain trivia question, they were better at learning entirely unrelated information, which was the face recognition, even though they were not curious about that information. In both the immediate and the one-day-delayed memory tests, the participants showed improved memory for the unrelated material they encountered during states of high curiosity.

“Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it,” says Dr. Matthias Gruber, lead author of the study.

How Intrinsic Motivation Affects Learning

So how does this work? The FMRI data reveals the underlying mechanisms that are activated when curiosity is engaged. The study provides insight into the link between curiosity and how intrinsic motivation affects memory.

Curiosity is a form of intrinsic motivation. When you are curious to learn a topic you are motivated to learn for its own sake. Surprisingly, little is known about the mechanisms behind how intrinsic motivational states affect learning. This is one of the reasons why this recent study is so important. It gives us insight into what happens in our brain when we become curious.

The investigators found that when curiosity is stimulated, there is increased activity in the reward center of the brain. This is very interesting considering that normally extrinsic motivation is thought of as recruiting the brain’s reward circuits. Extrinsic motivation is engaging in a behavior because your motivation is an external reward. Yet the research revealed an interesting neural connection between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

“Intrinsic motivation actually recruits the very same brain areas that are heavily involved in tangible, extrinsic motivation,” Dr. Gruber explains.

Additionally, researchers found an interesting link between curiosity and activity in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is not the part of your brain that looks like a hippo. Actually, it is the part of your brain that looks like a seahorse, from the Greek hippos for “horse,” and kampos for “sea monster.” The hippocampus is the area of the brain that is important for forming new memories.


The scientists found that there was increased activity in the hippocampus during the curiosity motivated learning. They also found that when curiosity learning was engaged there was increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit.

“Curiosity recruits the reward system,” explains Dr. Charan Ranganath, principal investigator of the study “and interactions between the reward system and the hippocampus seem to put the brain in a state in which you are more likely to learn and retain information, even if that information is not of particular interest or importance.”

The findings demonstrate just how powerful a curious state of mind can be for learning information that you do not find interesting.

This is particularly important for learning how to help individuals retain boring information either in the classroom or workplace. To facilitate learning, often we try to make the material interesting. This is a fine strategy if the material can be made interesting. Remember the pictures of neutral faces were pretty boring content.

But the important implications of this study is that this is not the only way. The findings show that another strategy you have at your disposal is to take less interesting material and attach it to interesting content to reap the carry over effects of curiosity. This strategy focuses less on making the material interesting and more on creating an environment of curiosity into which the material can be inserted.

In this way, the secret to making boring work memorable is to harness the students’ and workers’ curiosity about something they are already motivated to learn.

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13 August 2014 ~ 0 Comments

3 Steps for Changing Any Bad Habit or Forming Any Good One

good-habits-bad-habitsDo you have a bad habit that you have been desperately trying to change for quite some time? Maybe it is quitting smoking or ending your love affair with donuts. Or maybe you are trying to cultivate a good habit such as going for daily runs or calling your mom more?

Whatever the case, you know it isn’t from a lack of trying.

We Are Semi Creatures of Habit

Our habits run deep. Very deep in fact. In our daily lives, habits make up 40% of our daily activities. To revise the popular saying, we are semi creatures of habit.

Why are habits so hard to change and what can we really do about it?

In a session entitled “Habits in Everyday Life: How to Form Good Habits and Change Bad Ones” presented at the American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention, Wendy Wood, psychology professor at the University of Southern California, provided not just hope for change but strategic steps for getting a handle on our habits.

In her presentation, she begins by explaining the underlying mechanics of habits.

Habits are formed through a specific type of learning process called associative learning. Associative learning is just like its title suggests in that we learn to form connections between different activities. These connections then becomes patterns of behaviors.

“We repeat what works, and when actions are repeated in a stable context, we form associations between cues and response,” Wood explained during her session.

Intentional Mind vs. Habitual Mind

Here is one of the most important things to know about associative learning and habits: it is largely unintentional. As Wood explains, we have two minds at work: the intentional mind and the habitual mind. The first mind is aware and makes conscious decisions while the latter operates almost completely outside of awareness.

Why is our poor little habitual mind so clueless? This is because habits are generated by cues. They work so well that once the cue is engaged the habit takes over. Wood explains that as our habits take over, neural activity shifts from working memory to cue-response association—basically shifting from the intentional mind to the habitual mind.

In addition to our habitual mind being clueless about why it is doing what it is doing, it is also very stubborn to change. If you think of the habitual mind as your lovable, curmudgeonly grandpa, you basically get the idea.

Because we have two different minds at play we cannot assume that engaging the intentional will have any control over the habitual. This is a typical problem when trying to change any habit or form a new one. We educate ourselves on what we need to do and we tell our intentional mind to start making it happen. We have the motivation but fail to deliver. Why?

If the habitual mind is guided by cues (not by conscious decisions as is the intentional mind) it must be fixed by cues. This is sounding a bit like out of The Lord of the Ringsthe habit must be destroyed in the same fires as which it was forged.

So what does it mean exactly to destroy the habit in the same way as it was created?

Wood provides us with three simple but powerful principles for how to tackle the habits by engaging how the habitual mind operates.

3 Principles of Habit Change and Formation

1. Derail existing habits by disrupting habit cues.

Wood describes this step as creating the window of opportunity to act on new intentions. This is done by disrupting the way you normally do things. For example, if your goal is to control distracted over-eating, try eating with your non-dominant hand or rearrange your fridge and pantry to make the unhealthy options harder to reach. Wood also recommends taking advantage of lifestyle changes such as a new job or moving to a new city. These are perfect opportunities to dissolve all of those old cues connected to old habits.

2. Repetition is key. Did I mention that repetition is key?

Remember that the habitual brain is very slow to change. It is slow to change because it has been taking a lot of time forming that associative memory and making those cues and responses automatic. So in the same way that it took time to learn those habits, you need to take the same time to form new habits. That is done through repetition. How much repetition? Wood states that the research suggests that a new habit takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to make an action effortless and automatic. So be patient with your habitual mind.

3. Create new context cues to trigger new habits.

Wood explains that in order to build new habits, you need strong stable cues. Remember habits don’t exist independently, they are connected to previous actions. So if you want to floss more, connect it to a strong cue like brushing your teeth. Plan to floss either just before or directly after brushing your teeth. Brushing your teeth becomes the trigger that engages the behavior of flossing. Over time this pattern of brushing and flossing will become automated.

To summarize, remember that a habit consists of cues and responses repeated over and over. To attack the habit you have to disrupt the old cues, form new ones, and then it becomes a matter of “Wash. Rinse. Repeat.” In this way, you build that association and make the pattern automatic and soon unconscious.

Source: Wood, Wendy. “‪Habits in Everyday Life: How to Form Good Habits and Change Bad Ones” Thursday, August 7, 11-11:50 am ET. American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention. Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl., NW, Washington, D.C.

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19 June 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Losing Weight May Be Harder for Night Owls


Are you a night owl and wondering how to lose weight? If so, one important step to help you meet your goals is to say goodnight to going to bed late. A new study has found that night owls are more sedentary and find it difficult to stick to exercise schedules.

With the hectic day-to-day of work, home life, and those unexpected last minute problems, just getting to bed at a decent hour can prove problematic. Well, it turns out that going to bed late on a regular basis can severely impact your plans for losing weight and exercising.

Past research has shown a connection between later sleep timing and poorer health behaviors, yet few studies have focused on the relationship between sleep timing and exercise. Researchers from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois decided to investigate this connection between sleep timing and physical activity.

The research abstract was published in the journal Sleep and the research findings were presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies’ annual meeting, SLEEP 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

For the study researchers recruited 123 healthy adults with daily sleep durations of at least six and a half hours. For seven days researchers monitored the participants’ sleeping patterns, sleep duration, and physical activity. The participants recorded their exercise schedules in journals as well as filled out physical activity questionnaires to monitor their attitudes to exercise.

Night owls averaged sleep start times of about 1:00 AM and end times of about 8:00 AM.

The study found that later sleep time was associated with a number of poorer physical activity behaviors.

First, sleep timing was linked to more minutes sedentary.

“Waking up late and being an evening person were related to more time spent sitting, particularly on weekends, and with difficulty making time to exercise” said chief investigator Kelly Glazer Baron, PhD as reported by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). Baron is the associate professor of neurology and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern.

Second, the findings indicated that sleep timing was linked to greater perceived challenges for engaging with exercise. The study found that night owls had lower physical self-efficacy and greater barriers to exercise than others.

Night owls reported…

  • More trouble sticking to exercise schedules
  • Difficulty making time for exercise
  • Greater feelings of discouragement by others

“This was a highly active sample averaging 83 minutes of vigorous activity per week,” said Baron. “Even among those who were able to exercise, waking up late…and being an evening person made it perceived as more difficult.”

Considering that these participants were healthy individuals engaged in vigorous activity, the study shows how important sleep is for individuals wanting to lose weight, especially for less active adults who already have difficulty exercising.

So when designing your exercise routine don’t forget to consider your sleep schedule as well. Just remember…

Earlier to bed, earlier to your weight loss!


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03 June 2014 ~ 0 Comments

How to Live to Be 110: Supercentenarians’ Secrets of Longevity

In the Andes Mountains of Peru, living in extreme poverty, Filomena Taipe Mendoza, 116 years old, is in the running to become the world’s oldest living person.

If her claim proves to be true, it would make her three months older than Misao Okawa of Japan, who currently holds the record for the oldest living person according to Guinness World Records and the Gerontology Research Group.

Image Source: AFP
Mrs. Mendoza lives in the tiny village of Huancavelica, one of the poorest cities in Peru. Her age was reportedly discovered when she left her village to pick up a new type of retirement check for seniors living in poverty. BBC News reports that Peru’s National Identity Register claims that her ID card indicates that she was born on December 20, 1897.

“I am not of the past century, young man, but the other one… I am very old,” she told an official accompanying her to cash her first check according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Eat From the Garden, Don’t Eat Processed Food

What is Filomena Taipe Mendoza’s secret to such a long life? According to BBC News, she attributes it to the following:

  • Eating a natural diet of potatoes, goat meat, sheep’s milk, goat cheese and beans
  • Cooking only items she grows from her own garden
  • Never eating processed foods

While we wait for officials from Guinness World Records and the Gerontology Research Group to verify Mrs. Mendoza’s claim, we can take this opportunity to spotlight the rare group of individuals known as supercentenarians in order to learn their secrets for living long and healthy lives.

Supercentenarians are the elite group of people who have reached the 110-year milestone. According to the Gerontology Research Group (GRG), there are 74 verified living supercentenarians in the world and 71 of them are female. The GRG reports that there are probably hundreds more supercentenarians that have yet to be verified.

Lots of Sushi and Lots of Sleep

Leading the pack is Misao Okawa. According to Guinness World Records, she is the current verified oldest living person at 116 years and 64 days. She was born on March 5, 1898, at a time when Queen Victoria was still on the throne.

Image Source: Reuters
She resides in Osaka with her two daughters, one son, four grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.

So what is Misao Okawa’s secret to longevity? Guinness World Records reports that she attributes it to the following diet and lifestyle:

  • Three large meals a day
  • Eight hours of sleep a night
  • Lots of sushi

Misao Okawa’s advice is rather simple. “Eat and sleep and you will live a long time,” she said in an interview to The Telegraph, “You have to learn to relax.”

In addition to her regimen of sleep and sushi, Mrs. Okawa maintains a healthy lifestyle of physical activity. The Telegraph recounts one remarkable story of her strength of body and character. When she was 102, she fell and broke her leg. After returning to the nursing home from the hospital, she was seen doing leg squats to help herself recover.

Mrs. Okawa is a prime example of Japan’s healthy aging citizens. According to theGRG, Japan boasts the highest population of verified supercentenarians in the world.

In John Robbin’s book Healthy at 100, he talks about the specific group of centenarians in Okinawa, Japan, the place where more people live to 100 than anywhere else in the world. In fact, fifteen percent of the world’s documented supercentenarians live in Okinawa. In his book Robbins describes the Okinawan Centenarian Study, which researched human longevity from a group of over 900 centenarians.

The study found that, first, genetics was an important factor for longevity. In addition to genetics, cultural habits such as hara hachi bu (eating only until being 80 percent full) and the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle by keeping physically active were key reasons that Okinawans retained remarkable health.

While Misao Okawa is the oldest living person, she does not hold the record for being the oldest person ever recorded. That title goes to France’s Jeanne Calment according to Guinness World Records. Mrs. Calment died on August 4, 1997 at the impressive age of 122.

Eat Two Pounds of Chocolate and Take Up Fencing

Jeanne Calment was born in February 21, 1875, in Arles, France. Her date of birth falls one year before Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone.

In her New York Times obituary, it recounts how in her preteens she met Vincent Van Gogh, describing him later as ”very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick — I forgive him, they called him loco.”

Mrs. Calment at age 22 in 1897 and at age 122 in 1997
Her secret to staying young as reported in her obituary was a most unconventional list of diet and lifestyle habits:

  • Drinking Port wine
  • Eating two pounds of chocolate per week
  • Treating her skin with olive oil
  • Taking up fencing at 85
  • Riding her bike until she was 100
  • Smoking until she was 117

Yet despite her smoking and addiction to chocolate, her long life continued to surpass expectations. As recounted in her obituary, to one man’s financial disappointment her age not only surpassed his expectations but also his own lifespan.

When Mrs. Calment was 90, lawyer André-Francois Raffray, bought the apartment in which Mrs. Calment had lived. However, there was one provision. He would have to pay her 2,500 francs a month (the equivalent of $400 today) until she died and then the apartment would belong to him. He agreed.

Year after year after year Mr. Raffray paid the monthly allowance, and Mrs. Calment went right on living. At the age of 77, Mr. Raffray died and his widow continued to pay her. When Mrs. Calment died 32 years later, the total payment came to $180,000 — more than double the original price of the apartment.

Although Mrs. Calment, being the wife of a well-to-do shop owner, never had to work, this did not mean that her life was without hardships. Her husband died in 1942 after consuming a dessert of spoiled preserved cherries. Their daughter, Yvonne, had only one son, Frédéric Billot, whom Mrs. Calment raised after Yvonne died of pneumonia at age 36. In 1960, Frédéric Billot died, also at age 36, without children in an automobile accident.

A Long Life Is One of Persistence, Not Just Attitude

Living with and through tragedies is a theme found also in Filomena Taipe Mendoza’s life in Peru. “I had a very hard life, I was a very young widow with nine dependent children and I worked hard to raise them. Only three of them are alive,” she said to Peru’s Ministry of Development as reported in Agence France-Presse.

In their book The Longevity Project, the authors Drs. Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin consider what role tragedy and having a worry-free life plays in living longer. They discuss the findings of an eight-decade study of 1,528 participants that was begun by Dr. Lewis Terman in California in 1921.

In reviewing the factors that have an effect on predictions of living longer, the authors state: “It was not those who took life easy, played it safe, or avoided stress who lived the longest.” They explain that instead those who live longer had “an often-complex pattern of persistence, prudence, hard work, and close involvement with friends and communities.” The authors explain that because of their perseverance they “found their way back to these healthy paths each time they were pushed off the road.”

If Filomena Taipe Mendoza’s claim is verified, then as the oldest living person, her life really does exemplify this fact.

Living in extreme poverty with her new pension check she will now receive about 250nuevo soles (about $90) per month and obtain free medical care.

According to Agence France-Presse, when asked if there was anything she wished for, she replied: “I wish I still had teeth.”

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22 August 2011 ~ 0 Comments

The Spoiler Paradox: How Knowing A Spoiler Makes A Story Better Not Worse

Story telling is a universal human trait, spanning cultures, civilizations, and time.  We love a good story, and since we have been telling stories for thousands of years, we know what makes for a good story and exciting experience.

Or do we?

One of our favorite parts of a good story is the ending, and we go through great lengths just to avoid overhearing the ending of a movie we haven’t seen or a book we haven’t read, and when we unfortunately do overhear the end we feel that our experience is now spoiled. After all that’s why they call them “spoilers”.

But as it turns out, poor little spoilers have been given a bad rap this whole time. The latest research published in the journal Psychological Science shows that knowing the ending of a story before you read it doesn’t hurt the experience of the story. It actually makes you enjoy the story more. This is the “Spoiler Paradox”.

Researchers Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt from the University of California, San Diego’s psychology department conducted three experiments with twelve short stories (from authors such as John Updike, Agatha Christie, and Anton Chekhov). The stories included ironic-twists, mysteries, and evocative literary stories. In two of the conditions they gave away the endings of the stories. One of those conditions gave away the ending with the spoiler as independent text preceding the story, and in the second condition the spoiler was incorporated as an opening paragraph for the story. The last condition had no spoiler.

The findings of the study indicated that in each type of story (ironic-twist, mystery, and evocative story), the participants preferred the spoiled versions over the unspoiled ones, and they preferred the stories even more when the spoiler was included as introductory text separate from the story.

This finding completely topples over our conventional wisdom of stories and raises one big question:


In 1944, Fritz Heider and Mary-Ann Simmel from Smith College conducted an elegantly simple yet powerful study. The researchers showed participants an animation of two triangles and a circle moving around a square. You can see the animation for yourself here.

When watching the demonstration it is hard not to add your own dialogue to explain what is going on in the scene. The study found that most participants described the circle and blue triangle as being “in love” with the “big-bad” grey triangle “trying to get in the way”. The participants were using narratives to describe the actions and described the scene as if the objects had intentions and motivations.

This study demonstrates the human instinct for storytelling, which implies that storytelling fulfills or facilitates a basic human function. Humans are social animals and stories are an important tool to help us understand human behavior and to communicate our understanding to others.

This has to do with what psychologists call “theory of mind”. Having a theory of mind means that we have the ability to attribute thoughts, desires, motivations, and intentions of others, and we use this to predict and explain actions and behaviors of others. Because we have the ability to attribute intention to others and understand how that intention can cause behavior, stories are important because they allow us to communicate this cause and effect relationship. This is important to remember because this means that a story is good if it fulfills its function: effectively communicating information to others.

This is why a “spoiled” story (where we know the ending beforehand) is more engaging than stories that leave us hanging. Spoiled stories are easier to follow and understand than stories where the ending is unknown. In their study, the authors describe how “suspense regarding the outcome may not be critical, and could even impair pleasure by distracting attention from relevant details and aesthetic attributes”.

You have probably witnessed how a good story is one that can be repeated over and over again with the same engagement. A story where the ending is known forehand makes for a good story because it can be processed with ease, facilitating communication, and also ensuring the likelihood that it can be repeated.

Think of stories that have stood the test of time, stories such as Oedipus to the Trojan Horse. Even though the ending is well known (e.g. Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother; the Greeks will hide in a giant hollowed out wooden horse in order to gain access into the walled city of Troy), this does not decrease the engagement of listening to the story. “So it could be,” said Leavitt, co-author of the study, “that once you know how it turns out, it’s cognitively easier – you’re more comfortable processing the information – and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story.”

This is important since we use stories to communicate complex ideas, from religious beliefs to societal values. Take the story of Job found in the Old Testament. The Israelites used this story to understand why a good pious man could still suffer and experience misfortune. Or take the childhood story of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf”. This story teaches us the moral lesson that if you tell fibs—especially when communicating important information—no one will believe you when you are telling the truth.

We transmit these complex ideologies through stories because they can be processed and retained with greater ease than through straight text. In fact research has shown that not only do we respond more positively to information when it is in narrative form than simple text (Escalas, 2007), but information labeled as “fact” versus “fiction” increases critical analysis (Green et al, 2006). This suggests that we are more receptive to information in narrative form.

As we can see, stories are an effective way to communicate sophisticated bodies of knowledge. Think about this: with a word you understand one term or concept, but with a story you can communicate an entire causal sequence of events, understand human intentions, moral rules, philosophical beliefs, and societal conventions.

So this means that a spoiler is not really a spoiler at all. It takes a complex story and simplifies it, allowing you to process it easier. The ability to process it easier allows you to be more engaged in the story and understand it to a deeper level. And think, just maybe, if that “spoiled” story is good enough, it can last for thousands of years exposing it to future generations of readers.


Adoree Durayappah, M.A.P.P., M.B.A., is a writer and psychologist with an addition to academia. Learn more at AdoreeDurayappah.com.


Escalas, Jennifer Edson (2007), “Narrative versus Analytical Self-Referencing and Persuasion,” Journal of Consumer Research, v. 34, n. 4 (March), pp. 421-429.

Green, M.C., Garst, J., Brock, T.C., & Chung, S. (2006). Fact versus fiction labeling: Persuasion parity despite heightened scrutiny of fact.  Media Psychology 8(3), 267-285.

Jonathan D. Leavitt and Nicholas J. S. Christenfeld (2011) ‘Story Spoilers Don’t Spoil Stories’, Psychological Science.

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11 February 2011 ~ 1 Comment

Get A Woman Interested By Playing Hard to Get

Playing hard to get. Should you do it? Does it help you when dating? Turns out science can shed some light on how playing hard to get could actually benefit you. In a recent study published in Psychological Science, women were more attracted when they were uncertain if a guy liked them a lot than when they were sure a guy really liked them.

In psychology we have learned about the reciprocity principle: we tend to like someone if they like us. But what if we don’t know if someone really likes us or not? How does uncertainty affect how we feel about someone else? And, why would we be more attracted to someone who we weren’t even sure was really interested in us?

Researchers Erin R. Whitchurch and Timothy D. Wilson of the University of Virginia and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University recruited 47 female undergraduates. The participants were told that male students from two other universities had looked at the Facebook profile of several college women, including their own profile. The women were then shown the profiles of four men. One group was told that they were looking at men who had liked their profile the most, the second group was told that they were viewing the men who had given them an average rating, and the last group (the uncertain condition) was told that they were viewing men who liked them either the most or had given them average ratings.

The results indicated that participants were more attracted to men who liked them a lot than men who liked them an average amount—consistent with the reciprocity principle. However, participants were more attracted to men when they were unsure if the men liked them best than men who they knew liked them the most.

Playing Hard To Get

So does that mean that playing hard to get is always the way to go?

Not necessarily. The jury is still out from social psychology. Prior research has found that men were most attracted to women who expressed interest in them but not other guys. The men were less attracted to women who were viewed as “hard to get,” meaning they just didn’t want to date anyone. The men were also less attracted to women who were considered “easy to get,” meaning they were open to dating several men.

However, what is interesting about this study is the uncertainty of attraction to that person in particular. The women were kept guessing if the men liked them the best or not. Often we have heard from friends that when dating someone, it is best not to be too enthusiastic in the beginning and reveal all of your feelings. Turns out, there might be something to that.

Frequency of Thought

But why would keeping someone guessing about your feelings make that person more attracted to you? The answer might have something to do with salience. Salience is a fancy word for how frequently you think about something.

Salient information (you frequently think about it) strongly influences our evaluations of our emotions and feelings. Thus, one hypothesis is that uncertainty about one’s interest in you keeps you guessing about if they like you a lot or not. Because you keep wondering about the other’s interest in you, you end up thinking about that person more than if you knew, off the bat, that they liked you a lot. The authors explain that we might often interpret frequent thoughts of the other person as an indication that we like them. For instance, we might suppose, “I must be really interested in that person if I can’t get ‘em out of my head.”

The present study supports the hypothesis that uncertainty causes people to think more about the person. The researchers found that the women in the uncertain condition reported thinking about the men the most, followed by participants in the average-liking group, and then the participants in the liked-best group.


It makes sense that if something is uncertain we think about it more. Uncertainty interests us, not only because we can’t stop thinking about the possible outcomes, but also because we cannot adapt to it.

Let’s explore what this means. Prior studies have shown that uncertainty about a positive event often can produce more positive feelings than if the positive event was certain. When the positive event is certain, we experience strong positive feelings, but then we adapt to it. However, when the event is uncertain we spend more time thinking about if the event will occur, trying to interpret it and understand it. The result is that we are unable to adapt to the event because the outcome is undetermined. This could be another reason why uncertainty makes us more interested in something or someone.

We must keep in mind that this study looked only at female participants, that the participants did not meet the men in person, and that this was at the start of a relationship. Thus, we are uncertain if women keeping men guessing about their interest increases attraction or if keeping one’s partner guessing as the relationship develops would be advised. My personal hunch is that keeping one’s partner guessing about one’s interest during a growing relationship probably isn’t the best strategy for building a close connection.
Attention Gentlemen:

But, guys, at least you know that when starting to date someone, not showing all of your feelings at the very beginning, and creating a bit of uncertainty about how much you like the girl, will make her think more about you thus increasing her interest in you.

For more articles and information, please visit: AdoreeDurayappah.com


E. R. Whitchurch, T. D. Wilson, D. T. Gilbert. “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not . . . “: Uncertainty Can Increase Romantic Attraction. Psychological Science, 2010; 22 (2): 172 DOI: 10.1177/0956797610393745

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03 February 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Brain Study Reveals Secrets of Staying Madly in Love

Sexual FrequencyWhat’s The Secret to Staying Madly in Love?

Is it even possible to feel madly in love with someone after five, ten, twenty years together?

Due to recent neurological research, we are a bit closer to answering these perplexing questions and demystifying the secrets behind achieving intense, lasting, romantic love.

A recent study published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, investigated, for the first time, which brain regions are associated with long-term romantic love.

Researchers compared the brain scans of long-term married individuals to the scans of individuals who have recently fallen in love. Surprisingly, the results revealed similar activity in specific brain regions for both long-term, intense romantic love and couples in early-stage romantic love. These particular brain regions could be the clue to why certain couples stay madly in love years, even decades, later.

A group of researchers, led by Drs. Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron of the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of happily married individuals (10 women and 7 men) reporting intense romantic love for their partner after an average of 21 years of marriage.

The Characteristics of Intense Romantic Love

Intense romantic love typifies symptoms (common to being newly in love) including:

  1. Craving for union
  2. Focused attention
  3. Increased energy with the partner
  4. Motivation to do things that make the partner happy
  5. Sexual attraction and thinking about the partner when apart

The objective of the study was to investigate how brain system activity in individuals in a long-term intense passionate love compared to the brain system activity of individuals newly in romantic love.

In order to investigate these neural activity areas, participants, while in the fMRI, viewed facial images of their partners, as well as control images including a close friend, a highly-familiar acquaintance, and a low-familiar person. The brain activity of the participants viewing the facial images was then compared to the fMRI results of individuals in a previous experiment, who reported being madly in love with their partner within the past year.

Additionally, the neural activity of the participants reporting long-term romantic love was compared with results based on questionnaires they took measuring passion, obsession, closeness, friendship, inclusion of the partner in the concept of the self, and sexual frequency.

Researchers were interested in one brain region in particular, the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The VTA is of specific interest because it is a dopamine-rich reward system that has been reported in many studies of early-stage romantic love.

Being Madly in Love Can Last!

The results of the study indicate that the feeling of intense passion can last in long-term relationships. “We found many very clear similarities between those who were in love long-term and those who had just fallen madly in love,” says Dr. Aron. “In this latest study, the VTA showed greater response to images of a long-term partner when compared with images of a close friend or any of the other facial images.”

This means that the VTA is particularly active for romantic love. “Interestingly, the same VTA region showed greater activation for those in the long-term couple group who scored especially high on romantic love scales and a closeness scale based on questionnaires,” Dr. Acevedo explains.

Previous studies have shown that activity in dopamine-rich areas, such as the VTA, are engaged in response to rewards such as food, money, cocaine, and alcohol. Additionally, studies have demonstrated the role of the VTA in motivation, reinforcement learning, and decision making. This research suggests that the VTA is important for maintaining long-term relationships and that intense romantic love commonly found in early-stage love can last through long-term relationships by engaging the rewards and motivation systems of the brain.

The results revealed many other fascinating findings, uncovering some keys to maintaining lasting love.

Sexual Frequency

A common questions that most couples wonder is if sexual frequency and interest can be maintained through long-term relationships. The answer is YES! The participants in long-term romantic love reported high sexual frequency. And higher sexual frequency was linked to activation in a particular brain region. This area is the very sexy left posterior hippocampus. Additionally, the results indicate that participants in long-term love, who scored high on scores measuring passion, showed greater activation in the posterior hippocampus.

Prior studies have shown neural activity in the posterior hippocampus of couples who have recently fallen madly in love. The results prove that the feelings of intensity, passion, and sexual desire, commonly found in early-stage love, can be maintained into long-term love. To understand how and why this is possible, we must first increase our understanding of the role of the posterior hippocampus. This is a bit tricky to do since little is known about this mysterious brain region.

Some studies have linked activation of the posterior hippocampus with hunger and food cravings, with higher neural activity in obese individuals. Other studies have shown that lesions in the hippocampus of rodents impair the ability to distinguish feeling hungry from feeling full. We know that the hippocampus is very important for memory. So, perhaps this area is important for remembering the stimuli associated with certain rewards.

Because the posterior hippocampus is related to feelings of cravings and satiating desires, this brain region can hold the key to understanding how some couples stay sexually interested and passionate in long-term relationships.

Closeness and Union

Romantic long-term love activates the dopamine-rich brain regions. The recruitment of this dopamine system, which controls reward and motivation, suggests that romantic love is a desire and a motivation to unite with another.

Additionally, during long-term love the activation of the dorsal striatum, the area of the brain involved in motor and cognitive control, suggests romantic love is a goal-directed behavior. Since romantic love is a desire for a union with another, behaviors such as wanting to be close to one’s partner or do things to make the partner happy, are enacted to maintain closeness and union.

Often closeness with a partner is measured by the Inclusion of the Other in the Self (IOS) scale. In the study, the IOS scores of the participants were positively related to the areas in the brain involved in self-referential processing. This means that often closeness and union with another involves incorporating that person in our concept of our self.


The results of the study uncovered some fascinating findings on attachment. The brain scans of participants show that the same parts of the brain that are active for long-term romantic love have been known to be engaged for maternal attachment. These brain regions, such as the thalamus and the substantia nigra, have a high density of oxytocin and vasopressin receptors. Oxytocin and vasopressin receptors are interesting because they have been shown to regulate social behavior, monogamy, and bonding.

Feeling Safe and Secure

Another interesting finding that emerges from this research concerns the body’s regulation of pain and stress and its relationship to romantic love. The research shows that certain areas of the brain, such as the dorsal Raphe, are activated in intense romantic love. The dorsal Raphe is involved in the body’s response to pain and stress. Past research has suggested that the goal of the attachment system is to feel a sense of security. Research indicates that association with an attachment figure reduces pain and stress. What we can gather from this research is that feeling safe and secure is an important criteria in long-term intense romantic love.

Friendship-Based Love vs. Romantic Love

The research evidences a surprising difference between romantic love and friendship-based love. In order to understand these differences, we must first understand the distinction between “wanting” and “liking.” Research has suggested that wanting and liking are two different motivations, which are mutually exclusive. The results of the study show that romantic/passionate love is associated with the dopamine-rich systems characteristic of wanting, while friendship-based love related to the brain areas high in opiates characteristic of liking. The data suggest that romantic love is a motivation or a drive based on wanting, focused on a specific target, rather than a feeling or emotion.

Long-Term Romantic Love vs. Early-Stage Love

While long-term romantic love exhibits patterns of neural activity similar to early-stage romantic love, the study shows that for long-term romantic love, many more brain regions are affected than in early-stage love. The brain scans reveal activity in the opioid and serotonin-rich brain regions, which was not active in early-stage love. These regions are involved in regulating anxiety and pain. This suggests that one pivotal distinction between long-term love and early-stage love is a sense of calmness, characteristic of the former.

Additionally, the study shows that unlike findings for newly in love individuals, long-term love shows activation in the brain regions associated with attachment and liking. As we have seen, liking is very important to friendship-based love. Thus, long-term romantic love that is both intense and close is sustained through the co-existence of wanting motivations and rewards, as well as through liking and attachment bonding. Previous studies have suggested that it can take almost two years to form enduring attachment bonds. This could explain why individuals newly in love do not reflect the same neural activity for liking and attachment as for individuals in long-term romantic love since bonds take time to develop.

So What Have We Learned?

From this study, we have learned that the neural activity of individuals in intense romantic long-term love share remarkable similarities to the neural activity of individuals newly in love. (Interesting.) We have learned that romantic love can be sustained in long-term relationships. (Phew, that’s a relief !) And that intense, passionate long-term love is a dopamine-rich activity maintained by sustained rewards. (Come again?)

Okay. The key to understanding how to sustain long-term romantic love is to understand it a bit scientifically. Our brains view long-term passionate love as a goal-directed behavior to attain rewards. Rewards can include the reduction of anxiety and stress, feelings of security, a state of calmness, and a union with another. In long-term relationships, when we reference the self, we slowly incorporate our partner into our notion of our self. As we move from early-stage love to long-term love, our bond attachment grows. And when we perform actions that make our partner happy, we enhance and maintain the relationship by working towards our goal of sustaining the rewards aforementioned.

While we might be a way off before having an Idiot’s Guide For Staying Madly In Love, at least we are one step closer. And, hey, just knowing that it’s scientifically possible to stay intensely, madly, passionately in love year after year…after year…is pretty damn promising!


Acevedo BP, Aron A, Fisher HE, Brown LL. (2011) Neural correlates of long-term intense romantic love. Social Cognition and Affective Neuroscience. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq092 First published online: January 5, 2011

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17 January 2011 ~ 1 Comment

How to Be Successful Just By Fixing Your Posture

PostureRemember when your mother would tell you, “STAND UP STRAIGHT”?

Turns out, Mama ain’t no fool!

Your mother carped about your posture as a kid because she wanted you to become a successful adult. See, Mama knows that posture plays a pivotal role in whether you feel, and subsequently act, powerful.

According to a recent study published in the January 2011 issue of Psychological Science, “posture expansiveness”—using one’s posture to open up the body and occupy space—activates a sense of power in the mind, making people feel and behave as if they are in charge. Interestingly, the sense of power produced by posture expansiveness is not contingent on one’s actual position of power, such as rank or title.

In the study, researchers Adam Galinsky, professor at Kellogg School of Management and Kellogg PhD candidate Li Huang, along with professor Deborah Gruenfeld, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Stanford PhD candidate Lucia Guillory, studied the behavioral effects of having a high-power role versus being in a high-power posture.

The researchers found that posture is more important to a person’s sense of power than one’s actual title or position. “Going into the research we figured role would make a big difference, but shockingly the effect of posture dominated the effect of role in each and every study,” Huang explains.

In the first two experiments, the researchers placed individuals in either high- or low-power roles while sitting in either an expansive (open) or constricted (closed) body posture.

An expansive posture means that the participants sat in a chair with one arm on the armrest and the other arm on the back of a neighboring chair with their legs crossed so that the ankle of one leg rested on the thigh of the other leg and extended beyond the leg of the chair. For the constricted posture, participants sat with their hands under their thighs, shoulders dropped low, and legs together.

Researchers found that only posture—not role—activates power-related behaviors. For example, during these experiments participants completed word exercises and a blackjack game. Participants with an expansive posture thought about more power-related words and took more action than those in the constricted posture.

When the participants reported how powerful they felt during the study, the people in a high-power role reported feeling more powerful than those in the low-power roles. Yet, this sense of power from the high-power role had little effect on action.

The role of power, as well as posture, both—independently—affect a person’s sense of power, but posture is more important in activating the power-related behaviors. This means that a high-power role can make you feel powerful but doesn’t mean you will act in charge. In order to act in charge, you need a high-power posture.

The third experiment in the study provided further support for this finding. In this experiment participants recalled a past experience of being in a high- or low-power role while siting in either an expansive or constricted posture. While in their respective postures, researchers asked the participants if they would take action in three different scenarios. The researchers discovered that posture had a stronger influence on action than remembering being in a high- or low-power role.

You might have known that standing up straight helps you look the part—confident and in charge—but Mama knew that it makes you think powerfully and take action.

So, why don’t you straighten that spine? Pull those shoulders back. Arch that chest. Reach out those arms and pick up that phone. Dial your mother and, in your big girl or big boy voice, tell her:

Thank you, Mommy…for helping me enhance my sense of potency and activate my power-related behaviors!

Powerful postures versus powerful roles: which is the proximate correlate of thought and behavior? Psychological Science. 2011 Jan 1; 22(1): 95-102.

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