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By Steven G. Mehta

How does a person’s self esteem affect his or her ability to make judgments about others?  Well a new study shows that a person is more likely to be biased against another person who is different if they have lower self esteem.

“This is one of the oldest accounts of why people stereotype and have prejudice: It makes us feel better about ourselves,” says Jeffrey Sherman of the University of California, Davis, who wrote the study with Thomas Allen. “When we feel bad about ourselves, we can denigrate other people, and that makes us feel better about ourselves.”

In their study, Sherman and Allen asked participants to take a an impossible test with 12 difficult questions.  No one got more than two items correct. However, half of the group was told that they scored well below average – creating a level of self consciousness and low self esteem.  The others were told their tests would be graded later. All of the participants then completed a testing of their prejudices.    The people who were feeling bad about their test performance showed more evidence of implicit prejudice.  The researchers also discovered that that people who feel bad about themselves show enhanced prejudice because negative associations are activated to a greater degree.

“If the problem was that people were having trouble inhibiting bias, you might try to train people to exert better control,” Sherman says. But his results suggest that’s not the issue. “The issue is that our mind wanders to more negative aspects of other groups. The way around that is to try and think differently about other people. When you feel bad about yourself and catch yourself thinking negatively about other groups, remind yourself, ‘I may be feeling this way because I just failed a test or something.'”

This research has interesting implications for litigation and adr.  First, in jury selection.   It might be helpful if you have a jury that is from a different background than your client to try and investigate issues regarding self worth, self esteem, and recognizing one’s place in the social society.  By doing so, you can attempt to find the persons who may be more prejudiced against your client.

Second, in ADR, it may be possible to try and change a person’s feelings about him or herself.  If a person is potentially biased about how the other side feels or acts, you might attempt to create an environment which is conducive to bolstering a person’s self esteem.  For example, you might compliment (only if true) a decision made during the mediation or actions taken previously by the person.  You could also change the topic to something that the person knows a considerable amount about.  By doing so, that person with self esteem issues may be able to demonstrate his or her expertise – and in turn raise self esteem for the moment.  All of this could be done before asking that person to consider the other side’s actions, response, or feelings.

Research Source:

Association for Psychological Science. “People with low self-esteem show more signs of prejudice.” ScienceDaily 23 February 2011. 24 February 2011 <­/releases/2011/02/110223151945.htm&gt;.


By Steven G. Mehta

Mary Poppins used to say that a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.  She was right.  Sugar can help all types of medicine go down, including the medicine for a bad temper. According to new research, a spoonful of sugar may be enough to cool a temper for a short time.

A recent study found that people who drank a lemonade sweetened with sugar acted less aggressively toward a stranger a few minutes later than did people who consumed lemonade with a sugar substitute.  According to the study’s author, Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, this phenomenon has to do with the amount of glucose in the bloodstream and brain.

Avoiding aggressive impulses takes self control, and self control takes a lot of energy. Glucose provides that energy in the brain,” said Bushman.  “Drinking sweetened lemonade helped provide the short-term energy needed to avoid lashing out at others.”

Interestingly, over several studies, Bushman and his colleagues found that people who show signs of diabetes or trouble metabolizing sugars in their bodies show more evidence of aggression and less willingness to forgive others.  This is crucial because the number of Americans with diabetes has more than tripled (from 5.6 million to 18.1 million).

“Diabetes may not only harm yourself — it is bad for society,” Bushman said. “The healthy metabolism of glucose may contribute to a more peaceful society by providing people with a higher level of energy for self-control.”

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to find that boosting glucose levels can reduce actual aggressive behavior,” Bushman said.

“To be sure, consuming sugar should not be considered a panacea for curbing aggression. But the results do suggest that people who reportedly “snap” with aggression may need some way to boost their mental energy, so they can override their aggressive impulses.”

On a related note, two other studies in the same paper showed how problems metabolizing glucose was linked to violent crime rates. Those states with higher diabetes rates also tended to have higher rates of murder, assault, rape and robbery, even after controlling for poverty rates in each state.

“This suggests that diabetes did not predict violent crime simply because poverty contributes to both diabetes and violent crime,” said Bushman “There is a real correlation between diabetes and violence.” Another study found similar results on a worldwide scale.

A further study conducted by the same researchers found that people with higher levels of diabetic symptoms were less likely to forgive others for their transgressions.

“These studies are more evidence that diabetic symptoms may cause difficulty in how people relate to each other on a day-to-day basis,” Bushman said.

This research is similar to what I have previously reported in my article, Self Control, Radishes and Change.  It is interesting to see that this study confirms the belief people only have so much patience and self control.  The implications for mediation an negotiations are interesting.

First, many mediations will go on for many hours.  I have heard some people even say that they believe starving a person during mediation will make them more amenable to agreeing to something.  I think – and the research seems to confirm – that like a cold, you must feed patience; and apparently patience likes sugar.

Second, an afternoon snack of some sort might even help the parties to come to resolution.

As a negotiator, if you are entering long negotiations, you should make sure that you bring your own food.  I have a chapter on this issue in my book, 112 Ways to Succeed In Any Negotiation or Mediation

This study also lends support to another previous study that found that people are more willing to agree to a request to pay money to a charity after eating than before.  The glucose level is changing their perception.  The same would also hold true in mediation and negotiations.  People should be more willing to agree to a resolution after a meal.  So maybe the best time to make the deal is right after lunch or dinner.

Journal Reference:

  1. C. Nathan DeWall, Timothy Deckman, Matthew T. Gailliot, Brad J. Bushman. Sweetened blood cools hot tempers: physiological self-control and aggression.Aggressive Behavior, 2010; DOI: 10.1002/ab.20366
Ohio State University (2010, December 1). Sugary lemonade may cool a hot temper. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 12, 2010, from­/releases/2010/11/101130161535.htm

By Steven G. Mehta

Why is it that at the end of the day, it is easier for you to snap at your spouse than the beginning?  Why do telemarketers advertise late at night, when you are tired?  Why is it hard to get out of the rut and change your routine?   The answer is that you only have so much self control.

Here is a link to a video that explains an experiment in self control and its implications towards everyday life.

Psychologists have discovered that self-control is an exhaustible resource. Any time you’re paying close attention to your actions, like when you’re having a tough conversation, negotiating something stressful, mediating,  or simply trying to focus, you only have so much self control in the gas tank.

According to the research, in most change situations, you’re substituting unfamiliar behaviors for old, comfortable ones.  That simple act burns self-control.

What implications for mediation and negotiation?  Well first, for many years, I have had chocolate chip cookies and other yummy — but less than heart healthy — snacks.  Little did I know that I was doing something psychologically towards helping change rather than having radishes.  Having food around can help people be more tolerant to change and difficult tasks.  They won’t just snap and stop working on the change (i.e. settlement).

This limited resource of patience may also explain why people might make more moves later in the day rather than earlier.  They may simply have ran out of willpower.

This concept is also very closely related to my prior post


To oversimplify the issue:  So now we know that if we want change in behavior, try do it early in the day; if we want someone to accede to our requests, do it later in the day, when they have less willpower.

By Steven G. Mehta

One of the most common things that people say when trying to understand how an action might affect another person is to say, “put yourself in the other person’s shoes.” Recent research, however, demonstrates that putting yourself in another’s shoes may not be the best way to understand how that person views your actions.

According to psychologist, Jeremy Dean, we normally try to work out how we are viewed by others by thinking about how we view ourselves, then extrapolating from that. The problem with this approach, says Dean, is that to varying degrees we all suffer from an ‘egocentric bias:’ we think we’re at the center of the world and everything is about us. We shouldn’t be blamed for this — it’s a natural consequence of the fact that we’re locked inside our own heads.

However, other people aren’t limited by our own perceptions of ourselves. They see us from an outside perspective. So why is it that we are so incorrect in judging how others view us. According to Dean, part of the reason that we get it wrong so often is that that we follow the advice to put ourselves in others’ shoes in order to understand their perspective.

According to the new research by researchers Eyal and Epley (2010), it may be better to use abstract thinking to get a better view of the way others see you. In one experiment, the researchers split their participants into two groups to compare their ability to view themselves from the outside. Participants were trying to judge how attractive they were to another person. The first group adopted the standard tactic of putting themselves in the other person’s shoes, while the second group was asked to imagine they would be rated by the other person in several months’ time.

People trying to put themselves in the other person’s shoes were awful at the task.

But when participants thought about their future selves, a technique that encourages abstract thinking, their accuracy increased considerably, although not perfect.

The reality is that we cannot see the forest from the trees when it comes to perceptions of how others view ourselves, says Dean. But allowing ourselves to think in broad terms and abstractly lets us realize that there is a forest and not just trees; and in turn, we have a better understanding of the trees.

This technique of abstract thinking may be helpful in the mediation context. Specifically, when a person has a hard time of evaluating the matter from another perspective, it might be helpful to have them first think about abstract concepts. For example, asking a client to think about the value of lawsuits in society, or the value of juries in society, might just start that person towards thinking about how a jury might react to his or her case.


Eyal, T. & Epley, N. (2010). How to Seem Telepathic: Enabling Mind Reading by Matching Construal. Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/0956797610367754.

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