Understanding the most effective ways to respond to and cope with stress has important implications for our longevity and well-being. Acute stressors are immediate and temporary while chronic stressors are more prolonged and involve ongoing threat and arousal. With regard to acute psychological stress, past research has indicated that those who exhibit large physiological reactions (i.e., cardiovascular responses) are more susceptible to negative health outcomes such as hypertension. New evidence, however, casts doubt on the assertion that large physiological reactions to stress are always bad for health. Carroll, Lovallo, & Phillips (2009) have shown that low reactivity to acute psychological stress is associated with a diverse set of negative outcomes including depression, weight gain, and compromised immunity. These findings make it much more difficult to label stress responses and coping strategies as “good” versus “bad” given that each seems to have both positive and negative consequences for one’s physiological and psychological well-being.
Carroll, Lovallo, & Phillips (2009)
A tragedy may have been averted when a knife was confiscated from a Delaware student last week. According to the New York Times, the school district’s rules say that Zachary Christie should be sent to reform school, where an important lesson is surely to be learned.
After joining the Cub Scouts, the knife-fork-spoon combo utensil seemed like it would be nice to use at lunch—on his food, we can presume. The lesson is more of a reminder: deterrence efforts are not as useful as policymakers hope. “It just seems unfair,” the 6-year-old said, probably not thinking about the intended effect of such policies.
Presuming that children are motivated by the economic or social benefits of finishing school, zero-tolerance policies are meant to give children motivation for following rules. But even the U.S. Department of Education admits zero-tolerance policies are inequitable and “counterproductive.”
Zachary’s case is similar to one in which a third grader was expelled for a year when her grandmother sent her with a birthday cake accompanied by a knife. Never mind that it proved useful for the teacher who proceeded to cut the cake, but heaven knows what the child would have done if she had gotten to it first.
Zero-tolerance policies should remind us of Reagan-era crime control models that brought us three-strikes-you’re-out laws. We now know that “criminals” or 6-year-olds are not rationally considering the possible consequences of their decisions in such a way, and I doubt Zachary’s peers feel any safer.
Posted in Emotion and Motivation, Health
Tagged consequences, cost-benefit, crime, decisions, education, knives at school, motivation, rationality, Reagan, reform, safety, Zachary Christie, zero-tolerance
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On September 30 Wiley-Blackwell announced the winner of their inaugural Wiley Prize in Psychology — Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Positive Psychology Center. While his career contributions are certainly immense, other scholars and, most recently, popular authors, have turned a critical eye to positive psychology.
In an 2008, Dana Becker and Jeanne Marecek published an article questioning positive psychology, particularly its emphasis on individual success and development and what they perceive to be a disconnect with the realities of social institutions and sociocultural power. Popular author Barbara Ehrenreich has a new book coming out this month, “Bright-Sided”, in which she questions the entire “happiness” movement, including positive psychology and the way in which it has taken self-help into the academic realm.
While Becker and Marecek are not against the idea of “human flourishing,” they see it “not as a matter of private satisfaction, but as a matter of the collective welfare.” This idea is particularly relevant in the current global recession and the discourse of individualism is also prominent in U.S. debates on healthcare. In the U.S., where “boot-straps” philosophy reigns supreme, Becker and Marecek argue that the suggestion “that self-help excercises can suffice in the absence of social transformation is not only short signted but morally repugnant.”
Thus we, as humans living in our societies and bound by institutions, have to ask ourselves the extent to which personal happiness and a sense of fulfillment is tied to broader social influences. Can we “will” ourselves to be happy through the use of affirmations, or are we simply creating convenient illusions to persevere through difficult times?
Becker and Marecek. (2008). Dreaming the American Dream: Individualism and Positive Psychology.
Wiley Prize in Psychology Announcement