Curiosity: Better Than Sex

I’m a curious person.

I google things incessantly. I check out library books like it’s going out of style (and it probably is). And I ask a lot of questions.

Yesterday, my husband and I went to the dentist and instead of sitting in the waiting room with a bunch of old People magazines, I went and watched him have his teeth cleaned. Out of curiosity. And while I sat there, I asked the dental hygienist a lot of questions. 

“When did you move here?”

“Do you think he grinds his teeth?”

“How bad is coffee for our teeth, really?”

“If he has fillings, is he more prone to cavities?”

“What role does genetics play in enamel?”

By the time I started asking her whether she thought there was a relationship between trends in working hours, bad sleep, and teeth clenching, I realized that I was probably interrupting her work grind (no pun intended).

Oops.

I’ve always been this way. My dad could tell you that as soon as I could talk, I started asking questions. In fact, I can remember clearly sitting in the backseat of our Toyota 4Runner on a country road at night and asking him why it looked like the moon was following us while we drove.

My poor parents. Back then, they didn’t even have Google to turn to.

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Curious About Curiosity

I recently became curious about curiosity. What is it? What does it do? Why do we have it?

In short, here are some answers I’ve found:

  • Curiosity is a mechanism in our brains that drives us to answer questions so that we can understand the world better.
  • It developed in humans because it helps us see threats and solve problems.

I happen to be most curious about the human brain, so when I learned about studies where neuroscientists aroused curiosity in people and then used fMRI machines (scans that monitor blood flow) to look at their brains, I was like, whaaaaaaaat!?

Better Than Sex 4

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

What did they learn from these brain scans? I won’t bore you with the details, so here’s the gist of it:

Sometimes curiosity can be super unpleasant.

You probably know this already. If you’ve ever gotten a text from someone that said something like, “Hey, we need to talk,” didn’t it just kill you? If your boss has ever said, “See me in my office,” didn’t you want to know why so badly it hurt!?

There are several different types of curiosity but this type — when we want to know some kind of particular, surprising information — is called specific-perceptual curiosity. And according to those studies, it’s really, really uncomfortable. 

Okay, you might be thinking that you didn’t need a neuroscientist to tell you that you don’t like being left hanging, but here’s what’s important to know about this kind of curiosity:

Relieving it can literally feel as good as:

Eating after starving

Drinking when you’re parched

Having really good sex

Taking a sip of a really good wine

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Yes. It’s true. Finding out that information you’re so curious about can feel as good as — or better than — all those things. Relieving curiosity turns on the reward circuits in our brains, releasing those gooooood chemicals that make us feel *satisfied.*

So, What?

Satisfaction is great and all, but relieving curiosity has another important consequence:

It improves our memory.

According to those studies, satisfying curiosity enhanced incidental memory, or the ability to remember things without really trying.

Why should we care about this? Because, assuming these studies are accurate, we can say that satisfying our curiosity makes us better at learning! 

My advice is this: If you’re feeling lackluster or bored or down in the dumps, find something that you’re curious about and learn about it. Satisfy your curiosity! Your brain can’t necessarily distinguish between a rewarding meal or rewarding information. All it knows is that you’ve just done something that deserves a little dopamine.

So ask those questions! Annoy that dental hygienist! Google celebrity Best Dressed lists! Read about motorcycles! 

When it comes to your brain, that feeling is as good as gold.

Or a vintage Merlot.

Or a Big Mac.

Or some really, really good sex. 


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Micah Larsen is a persuasion coach and owner of Apis Communication Science. Contact her at micah@apiscommunicationscience.com and find: 

Apis on Facebook.

Apis on Instagram.

Apis on Twitter.

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Read more about curiosity in physicist Mario Livio’s Why?: What Makes Us Curious. Find it at your local bookstore or on Amazon here.

Livio, M. (2017). Why?: What Makes Us Curious. Simon & Schuster: New York, NY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#MeToo. Now, What Do We Do?

Reader, something about me has changed. I started noticing it a few weeks ago. It’s a good change!

But it’s a big one. A really big one.

When I’m in public, I’m calmer. When I run in my neighborhood, I feel safer. And when I drive, my pulse is slower.

I know what the change is …

My rage is gone.

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#MeToo

Recently, you probably saw a flurry of #MeToo threads on your social media feed. You may have even heard people talking about it on TV and on the radio! And if so, you probably already know that it’s a movement of solidarity among people who have been sexually harassed and assaulted.

It’s a way to tell the world:

“Hey! This is a big problem! Just look at how many people you know who have been affected by this!! Just LOOK!”

Not convinced harassment’s an issue? Check out this video of a woman who started taking photos with the men who harassed her in public or this video of fathers reacting to their daughters getting catcalled.

#MeToo became hard to avoid. I know I saw it everywhere, which was the point, so #MeToo did its job (shoutout to Turana Burke, the activist who started #MeToo a decade ago). It started a lot of public conversations. But even after that, I can’t tell you what we can do to end sexual assault and harassment. That’s one h*ll of a tough nut to crack. It’s huge.

It’s systemic.

It’s everywhere. 

can, however, tell you how I learned to deal with it on a daily basis.

 

Boiling Over

I don’t know where my rage went, but I can sure as hell tell you where it came from.

My rage was born in Boulder, Colorado, on the first day I was old enough to wear a halter top. The first time I can ever remember being ogled in public. By two college students in a convertible.

It grew bigger when I was sixteen and I had my first bad boyfriend.

It became a monster when I was seventeen and I was sexually assaulted.

It festered for years while I tried to figure out exactly what exactly had happened to me and whether it was my fault.

And while I lived in the middle of Wyoming, it got stronger than I’d ever seen it before. It became so big that it started to crawl right out of my mouth and into the world.

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There was just something about that place. It was a beautiful place, but it was filled with rough people. The kind of people who didn’t think twice about saying things that made my skin crawl.

Several years of more…

catcalling

harassment

sexual jokes

wolf-whistling

unsolicited touching

… than I’d ever dealt with before turned my rage into something I had a hard time controlling.

#MeToo 1

There were weeks when I could hardly leave the house.

I stopped pulling weeds in our front yard when I knew that there would be a lot of cars driving by.

I stopped wearing shorts.

I avoided stores like the plague.

My germaphobia, which had been dormant for years, resurfaced like I’d never seen it before.

I had compulsions that made me feel like a different person.

I changed my phone number.

I was paranoid.

I looked over my shoulder.

I carried a knife.

I kept the shotgun loaded.

#MeToo

Eventually, things got so bad that I ended up in therapy, where I learned something incredibly valuable for #MeToo people:

How to use sympathy to fight rage.

Sympathy Over Rage

This sounds a little counterintuitive, I know, but it works. 

Here’s how: 

When I was harassed, my therapist challenged me to respond with sympathy instead of anger. And let me tell you, anger has historically been my first reaction. I’ve been known to yell, flip people the bird, tell them to “f*** off,” and follow harassers down the street (and let it be known that these are not the smartest or safest strategies!)

Instead, when someone made an inappropriate comment or unwelcome advance or yelled at me from their truck, I took a breath and told myself that I felt for them. I felt bad for people who thought it was okay to harass, grope, and leer. I tried my best to sympathize with the people who enraged me.

This is not a way to let harassers off the hook. It’s a way to cope.

And you know what happened? It got easier and I felt better. 

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#MeToo 3

So, What?

When I was grabbed around the waist at the grocery store by a man I didn’t know. When I was cornered in my own driveway by our house painter. When I was harassed and screamed at outside the courthouse seconds after I voted in the presidential election. All these moments are:

#MeToo 

#MeToo 

#MeToo

 

and they are times I wish I knew to respond with sympathetic thoughts instead of fear and rage.

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If you’re part of the #MeToo movement, you know just what I’m talking about. But I think we can be united by more than just our worst moments. 

If we can’t come together with one answer about how to end sexual assault and harassment, we can at least talk about how to help ourselves respond in a way that makes us feel better.

And here’s how I think we can start:

If you’ve got rage, try sympathy instead. It may not solve all your problems, but it’s a healthier way to deal with harassment in the moment.

#MeToo 7

I’ll be honest, sympathy wasn’t enough for me in the end. I had to move away to a place that’s quieter and more accepting. A place where, in three months, I haven’t been harassed once (Hallelujah, Missoula!).

And after three months, my FitBit can tell you that my heart rate’s slower. My provider can tell you that I need less medication. My husband can tell you that I sleep better and live better. 

I can drive without my hands shaking.

I can run without looking over my shoulder (as much).

I don’t carry my knife like I need to use it.

Sure, a lot of this is because of the *change of scenery,* but I think it’s the power of sympathy, too. Honestly, I didn’t even post a #MeToo because I’m (selfishly) enjoying the luxury of not having to deal with my rage!

People who have experienced assault and harassment carry a burden. Fear and paranoia and anger are heavy, y’all! We can step lighter and do more if we don’t have to drag them along behind us. I know I can run faster without them!

#MeToo 13

So, my fellow #MeToo people, this is what I wish for you:

A little sympathy in place of your rage.

A home where you feel peace.

Streets that feel safe.

And a heart that doesn’t have a drop of rage left in it (I’m not there yet, but I’ll keep you posted).


The Short & Sweet Version (TL;DR)

The #MeToo movement was a way to start conversations about sexual assault and harassment and show people how prevalent these issues are.

If you’re like me, you might benefit from responding to harassment with sympathy instead of anger.

 


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Author Micah Larsen is a Missourian-turned-Missoulian persuasion coach and the founder of Apis. Contact her at micah@apiscommunicationscience.com and find 

Apis on Facebook.

Apis on Instagram.

Apis on Twitter.

Apis on LinkedIn.

 

This Is Your Brain On Halloween

The days leading up to Halloween always mark a special time of year for people who like to be a little bit scared.

Every movie theater plays at least one R-rated thriller flick, shows like Stranger Things make a comeback (can I get a h*ll yeah!?), and classics like Nightmare On Elm Street have seasonal appeal.

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I don’t know about you, but in the midst of all the ghouls and goblins, Halloween always reminds me that there are two types of people:

  1. People who like a good slasher film
  2. People who don’t

Now, let me tell you: My husband and I are definitely Type 1. Bring on the gore, baby! We love ourselves a good horror flick.

So, this week, in preparation for the *spookiest* day of the year, we made ourselves some hot apple cider, queued up Friday The 13thand watched Jason Vorhees put on his hockey mask and chop up some teenagers with a machete.

Slasher Films 2

But, hey, if you’re like us and you can get down with a little bit of the occult, you’ve got to know this:

The violence we see on-screen can have a real effect on us even after the credits have rolled.

In fact, this applies to all of us around Halloween, because studies on media suggest that watching violence changes how we think and communicate.

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How does this work? 

If you’ve watched my Post-It Note Persuasion videos, you may know that our brains are always looking for shortcuts. In fact, our brains are really quite lazy; they’re always looking for an easy way out and to conserve their own energy.

That’s why we are susceptible to something called priming. Priming happens when something that we see or hear influences our pattern of behavior. It’s an easy way for our brains to decide what we should do.

Here’s an example:

Read this list of words:

  1. Tomato
  2. Beef
  3. Broth
  4. Chicken noodle

Then, complete this word: SO_P

Read this list of words:

  1. Bubble
  2. Suds
  3. Bath
  4. Sink

Then, complete the same word: SO_P

SO_P” did not change, but the primes did. You were primed to adopt a certain belief about those incomplete words.

Did you complete the prompts as “SOUP” and “SOAP?” Thank your brain for its priming instinct.

The scary thing is that priming happens mostly on a subconscious level, so we don’t even know that it’s changing the way we behave.

… and Halloween horror films are no exception.

Slasher Films 3

Why does this matter? 

Research on media priming tells us that when we watch violent content (like those slasher films I love so much), for a while afterward, we are more likely to think on those terms.

When we’re primed by violence and we hear ambiguous information, we are more likely to interpret it as a threat and to act aggressively. Consuming gory media primes us to react to things as though they are threatening, even if they aren’t.

Put simply: Violent priming can lead to hostile behavior.

Slasher Films 4

Halloween is about the occult. It’s one day a year when we focus on the ghouls and goblins of the world.

But if we enjoy The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a nice bowl of popcorn, are we putting ourselves in danger?

Obviously, watching one thriller movie isn’t going to turn us into a Michael Myers-type boogeyman, but we should know that that kind of content does change the way that we see the world.

If after watching a violent movie we have a conversation with a loved one and we feel like we aren’t on the same page, we are more likely to think that they are aggressive.

We are more likely to react angrily.

We are more likely to treat them as though they are hostile.

And isn’t that scary enough?

Slasher Films

I’ll be the first to admit that I like a good ghost story. During this time of year, I’m always down for some hot cocoa and a slasher film (a little Silence of the Lambs, anyone?).

But — rest assured — if I start acting like a bit of a *monster,* I know that it’s time to give Halloween a break.

… at least until next year.

 


The Short & Sweet Version (TL;DR)

The effects of scary movies stick around after the film is over. Violent content tends to make us interpret ambiguous social situations as hostile.


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Micah Larsen is a persuasion coach and the founder of Apis.

Contact her at micah@apiscommunicationscience.com and find: 

Apis on Facebook.

Apis on Instagram.

Apis on Twitter.


For more information about persuasion and media influences, see research by Dr. David Roskos-Ewoldsen

 

 

 

 

Adult Bullying

Everyone knew a bully when they were growing up.

There were boys who teased other kids and girls who were really good at gossip. There were girls who knew how to manipulate and boys who threw punches. Bullies are — unfortunately — often just a part of childhood. Heck, even the little elementary school in my rural Missouri hometown was no exception!

If you were bullied as a kid, you may have looked forward to the day when you were an adult and you didn’t have to deal with bullies anymore. Everybody grows up, right?! 

Unfortunately, as you may have noticed, bullying behavior doesn’t end with childhood.

Nah. Instead, bullying just evolves. 

As kids, bullies do things like mock people, steal their stuff, or call them childish names.

As teenagers, bullies are a little more sophisticated. They spread rumors and insult people behind their backs instead of to their faces.

And as adults, they know even more about how to hurt people, so they manipulate and create situations where others can’t defend themselves.

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For grown-up folks, this type of bullying usually happens in the workplace, the place where we spend most of our waking hours. In fact, a survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute reports that 35% of adults have been bullied at their place of work.

That’s more than a third of us!

Here are just some of the things that are considered bullying:

  • Social isolation
  • Silent treatment
  • Rumors
  • Excessive criticism
  • Excessive monitoring
  • Withholding information
  • Depriving responsibility
  • Verbal aggression

Sound familiar?

While my memories from elementary school are fuzzy, I can clearly recall the restaurant where I worked in college and the owner who was, without a shadow of a doubt, a workplace bully. I mean, he covered all the bases.

I even remember him yanking a bartender around by her ponytail. Literally yanking her head backwards.

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Okay, so many people have experienced adult bullying at work (though perhaps not at the level of ponytail-yanking), including me. So why does it happen and what can we do once it does?

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Why does bullying happen? 

Workplace bullying can occur in all kinds of workplaces, whether it be a hospital or a bar or a law firm, but a few certain things create the perfect breeding ground for bullies:

First, bullying often comes from some kind of power imbalance. It doesn’t even have to be a real imbalance! There just has to be the perception that one person has more power than the other. As you might have guessed, this is why many people report that they have been bullied by their bosses or managers.

Second, bullying happens when it seems like there aren’t serious consequences for bad behavior. Research suggests that when employees don’t think that their manager is a very strong leader, they will be more likely to bully each other. 

Third, when people feel frustrated and negative in their jobs, bullying is more likely to occur. The more stressed workers are and the less satisfied they are at work, the higher the chances that bullying will arise.

Fourth, there is usually a feeling of competitiveness. In workplaces where people are competing for bonuses, recognition, etc., bullies will come out of the woodwork to cut others down.

Fifth, bullying happens more when bullies are rewarded. If someone rises to the top by stepping on other people and is praised for it, others will tend to want to do the same thing.

Sixth, when people tend to get certain benefits from bullying, it will occur more often. In workplaces where employees are ranked, it’s often beneficial to cut down co-workers emotionally to get ahead!

Bullying

What can we do about it?

Whether you love your workplace or you work in an office with a big, bad, bully, it’s good to know what you can do to keep it from happening.

Here are some suggestions:

Balance that power, baby!

Sometimes, power differences are real and we can’t change them. But if you’re being bullied because of a perceived power difference, figure out what it is and how you can remove it!

Lead like you mean it!

Encourage strong leadership! If you’re a manager, make it clear that you’ll intervene when you see bullying. If not, make a plan to intervene anyway!

Give a little love!

People are less likely to bully if they’re happy at work. What can you do to lighten the mood? Bring bagels? Schedule an afternoon yoga workshop? If you’re a boss, try to find ways to make employees feel like they have control over their jobs.

Don’t play the game!

Avoid competition where you can. Maybe you don’t need to play in the office fantasy football league this year! If you can’t avoid competitiveness, consider a job that doesn’t require it.

Don’t let them win!

Pay attention to whether bullies are being rewarded for their behavior. If they’re getting raises because they stabbed someone in the back, refuse to participate in that kind of bull****. And for Pete’s sake, point it out to your boss.

Play nicely with others!

Know that insults are a way to reinforce the hierarchy in a workplace. In a highly competitive workplace, people can feel like they’ll get ahead if they make others feel bad. Institute a no-insult policy and encourage others to do the same.

Bullying 5

I remember how terrible it felt to work for a bully. I was miserable and so were all my co-workers!

One time, my bully-boss told me that if I were more intelligent, I wouldn’t make such stupid mistakes. I don’t even remember what I did. I probably brought someone the wrong pasta.

Boy, do I wish that I had known more about bullying back then! I was an exhausted college student and I was afraid of getting fired, so I didn’t say anything. But you can bet your boots that I wouldn’t put up with that kind of crap now.

Because, for one reason, I can call that what it was: bullying. Straight up bullying. 

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Workplace bullying is a major problem. Research tells us that it leads to:

  • Higher turnover
  • Less job satisfaction
  • Illness
  • Psychological issues
  • Absenteeism
  • Lower productivity
  • Less commitment

If you’ve been there, you’ve probably experienced at least one of those things.

Maybe you aren’t in a position to quit your job or confront your boss, but I hope that you can at least take comfort in the fact that if you work with a bully, your feelings are real and justified. 

No one should feel like they have to put up with bullying in order to bring home a paycheck. That wasn’t part of your job description, dang it! And if you do feel like you can take action to change your bullying situation, cheers to you! I hope you do!


The Short & Sweet Version (TL;DR)

Workplace bullying is a major issue for adults. Things that increase the likelihood of bullying are:

  1. Power imbalances
  2. A lack of consequences
  3. Dissatisfaction
  4. Rewards for negative behavior
  5. Competitiveness

Managers and victims can make changes in their thoughts and communication in order to lower the risks of bullying.


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Author Micah Larsen is a persuasion coach and communication specialist. Contact her at micah@apiscommunicationscience.com and find: 

Apis on Facebook.

Apis on Instagram.

Apis on Twitter.


*  Read more about bullying in Dr. Ty Tashiro’s book, Awkward. Get it here.

 

That Time I Cried In The Stairwell // Why Do We Get Embarrassed?

Let me tell you about I time I embarrassed myself.

Last November, I boarded a plane to Philadelphia, PA, the “city of brotherly love,” and the biggest annual conference for people in my field. It’s the one where the best of the best get to present their research.

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My presentation was about a couple of studies I did with my mentor, who happens to be well-known and well-respected. So, obviously, the stakes felt high.

Even so, I’m a professional, so giving this presentation should not have been such a big deal. I taught public speaking for two years at a private university. I coach public speaking clients all the time. I give presentations on the reg, for Pete’s sake!

But I wasn’t in a good place at the time. I was really off my game. And when I got up to give that speech I’d been looking forward to for so long, I just choked. 

I stumbled through the whole thing so badly that I hardly recognized my own voice. My knees started to shake out from under me. By the time the audience started asking questions, I was pretty much useless. All I wanted to do was run away and hide my face.

The worst part is that I knew that sitting in the audience were people I admired. They were gods in my field and they had just seen me fail. 

As soon as the panel was over, I walked as fast as I could to the nearest empty stairwell, parked myself on the top step, and cried. Like, a good hard cry.

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This is not my proudest memory. In fact, it makes me embarrassed just thinking about it. But recently, after learning about where embarrassment comes from, I started to think a little differently about what that memory means.

Why do we get embarrassed? 

It’s much easier to swallow our embarrassment if we can understand why it happens in the first place.

Like most of our social behaviors, embarrassment happens because it helps show other people that we care. Specifically, getting embarrassed shows other people that it’s meaningful to us that we messed up in a big way.

For example, my embarrassment in front of my fellow social scientists demonstrated that I valued their attention and that I cared about how well I performed. That I cared about their time and about our field and that it mattered to me that I could teach them something!

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Studies on embarrassment suggest that it helps show how much we value others’ wellbeing. In fact, people who appeared to be humiliated when they told stories about their own mistakes were rated by others to be more trustworthy than people who did not! People actually said that they were more willing to communicate with the *embarrassed types* than people who didn’t care.

What does this mean? 

If we get really embarrassed, it means that we are people who generally like to do the right thing. This is a good thing!

We want to be around people we think are good, don’t we? It’s awfully hard to trust people we don’t think have our best interests at heart. So as bad as it might feel, embarrassment is a great way to show people our best intentions and that we are deserving of their trust.

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Thinking back on some of my most embarrassing moments — and, boy, do I have a few — is made a little easier if I think about what they really mean. 

Sure, I might have made some errors, but the bigger idea is that I care about how I make other people feel. I care about not wasting their time. I care about my relationships and I care about my professionalism. Even if sometimes I end up crying in a staircase.

We all have those memories that make us cringe a little, don’t we? The ones that kind of sneak up on us at the most inconvenient of times? Knowing about the good parts of embarrassment might not always keep us from slipping up, but they can definitely help us feel better about those times we had *egg on our face.*


The Short & Sweet Version (TL;DR)

Embarrassment might be uncomfortable, but it happens for a good reason. Studies suggest that people tend to think those who get embarrassed by their own actions are more trustworthy than people who do not.


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Author Micah Larsen is a communication specialist and persuasion coach. Contact her at micah@apiscommunicationscience.com and find: 

Apis on Facebook.

Apis on Instagram.

Apis on Twitter.