Ever since reading The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228 I’ve been interested in Navy SEAL training, particularly the psychological aspects.
In his blog at Psychology Today, Bakari Akil covers a History channel documentary The Brain and what it revealed about the four techniques the Navy used to increase passing rates in the elite SEAL program:
“With goal setting the recruits were taught to setin extremely short chunks. For instance, one former Navy Seal discussed how he set goals such as making it to lunch, then dinner.”
“With mental rehearsal they were taught to visualize themselves succeeding in their activities and going through the motions.”
“As far as self talk is concerned, the experts in The Brain documentary made the claim that we say 300 to 1000 words to ourselves a minute. By instructing the recruits to speak positively to themselves they could learn how to “override fears” resulting from the amygdala, a primal part of the brain that helps us deal with anxiety.”
“And finally, with arousal control the recruits were taught how to breathe to help mitigate the crippling emotions and fears that some of their tasks encouraged.”
How successful were these techniques?
This very simple four step process increased their passing rates from 25 percent to 33 percent, which is excellent in a rigorous program as theirs. It demonstrates that achieving success doesn’t always have to be a complex process. A few minor additions and tweaks may be all that is needed.
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First impressions do matter when it comes to communicating personality through appearance, according to new research by psychologists Laura Naumann of Sonoma State University and Sam Gosling of The University of Texas at Austin.
Despite the crucial role of physical appearance in creating first impressions, until now little research has examined the accuracy of personality impressions based on appearance alone. These findings will be published in the December 2009 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, co-written with Simine Vazire (Washington University in St. Louis) and Peter J. Rentfrow (University of Cambridge).
“In an age dominated by social media where personal photographs are ubiquitous, it becomes important to understand the ways personality is communicated via our appearance,” says Naumann. “The appearance one portrays in his or her photographs has important implications for their professional and social life.”
In the study, observers viewed full-body photographs of 123 people they had never met before. The targets were viewed either in a controlled pose with a neutral facial expression or in a naturally expressed pose. The accuracy of the judgments was gauged by comparing them to the aggregate of self-ratings and that of three informants who knew the targets well, a criterion now widely regarded as the gold standard in personality research.
Even when viewing the targets in the controlled pose, the observers could accurately judge some major personality traits, including extraversion and self-esteem. But most traits were hard to detect under these conditions. When observers saw naturally expressive behavior (such as a smiling expression or energetic stance), their judgments were accurate for nine of the 10 personality traits. The 10 traits were extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity and political orientation.
“We have long known that people jump to conclusions about others on the basis of very little information,” says Gosling, “but what’s striking about these findings is how many of the impressions have a kernel of truth to them, even on the basis of something as simple a single photograph.”
Gosling cautioned that observers still make plenty of mistakes, but noted that this latest work is important because it sheds new light on the sources of accuracy and inaccuracy of judgments.
With this kind of knowledge, individuals can choose to alter their appearance in specific ways, either to make identity claims or shape others impressions of them, Naumann says.
“If you want potential employers or romantic suitors to see you as a warm and friendly individual, you should post pictures where you smile or are standing in a relaxed pose,” suggests Naumann.
For example, whether you smile and how you stand (tense vs. relaxed, energetic vs. tired) are important cues to judge a variety of traits. Extraverts smile more, stand in energetic and less tense ways, and look healthy, neat and stylish. People who are more open to experience are less likely to have a healthy, neat appearance, but are more likely to have a distinctive style of dress.
The researchers also found males who have a neat and healthy appearance are often seen as more conscientious. However, defining personality in women was more difficult because they were more strongly influenced by cultural demands to look presentable.
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Now some of the “new physiognomists” are resurrecting an old claim: that you can gauge a man’s penchant for aggression by the cut of his jib. Last fall University of California-Santa Barbara psychologist Aaron Sell reported that college students could accurately estimate the upper body strength of unfamiliar men after viewing their faces alone. (The men’s necks were obscured.) The students did equally well with fellow undergraduates and men from South American indigenous groups—all of whom had had their strength measured using gym equipment. Interestingly, the toughest-looking undergrads also reported getting in the most fights. Another study by Sell suggests that such formidable men are more prone to use violence—or advocate military action—to resolve conflicts.
So which features might hint at belligerence? Sell suspects the brow ridge and jaw, two structures that are shaped by testosterone in puberty. (High testosterone has been linked with masculine looks as well as with aggression.) Other scientists propose a different measure: the width-to-height ratio of the face, as measured from cheek to cheek and lip to brow. Last year, a team of Canadian psychologists showed that men with wider faces (think Ernie) score higher in lab tests of aggression than slender-faced men (think Bert). They also found that wide-faced hockey players rack up more penalty minutes. Now, two studies in Psychological Science—one from August and another forthcoming—reinforce the notion that stout-faced men appear tougher and are more likely to behave in aggressive and untrustworthy ways.
The psychologist Robert Deaner recently went through the database of mug shots of the Michigan Department of Corrections and measured the facial width-to-height ratios of 688 white convicted criminals. He classified each inmate as either violent or nonviolent based on FBI standards and compared their faces with their crimes. There was no difference in the average width-to-height ratio of violent vs. nonviolent offenders, he says. However, Deaner did find that prisoners’ faces were significantly wider than a population of undergraduates. Curiously, pro hockey players had even wider faces than the prisoners. His conclusion: “Face width does not predict violent crime. … [W]e believe the cliché, ‘never judge a book by its cover’ remains sound advice.”
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