Citizenship – Overview

Citizenship Overview

According to Seligman & Peterson, Citizenship, social responsibility, loyalty, and teamwork all involve a sense of obligation to contribute to the common good of a group that one belongs to.  This strength involves identifying with and believing one has a duty to the groups to which one belongs: family, coworkers, community, church, nation and even the human race. This sense of duty to contribute is internally driven rather than externally forced. Citizenship entails loyalty to one’s group and obedience to the duties one has to the group.

Family pride, school spirit, esprit de corps, and patriotism all feel intrinsically good.  The cliché “There is no I in team” demonstrates how valued contributing to the team or group is.  Citizenship is a virtue because by definition, it is about positive contributions to others.   The opposite of citizenship is selfishness and egotism which are undesirable traits in other people.  Those who lack citizenship are completely selfish or traitorous to the groups they pledge allegiance to. They are universally despised, and treason even carries the sentence of life imprisonment in the USA.

A citizen is a member of a political community entitled to the rights and bound by the duties of membership in that community. It is membership in the group that gives the person those rights and duties. A good citizen has a sense of duty and responsibility to the common good of the nation to which he belongs. Every right granted comes with an attendant responsibility.

Good citizens have a sense of social responsibility which is a set of beliefs and behaviors around helping others even when there is nothing to be gained from it.  They are also loyal which means that they have an unwavering commitment to another person or group, its principles and cause.  They are patriotic and are loyal to their nation without having hostility towards other nations.    Good citizenship is essentially good teamwork.  Teamwork refers to one’s ability to work with others in a group towards a common purpose through collaboration and cooperation.

In Rousseau’s Social Contract, citizenship included ideas of autonomy, consent and reciprocity. Since the citizen has a voice in shaping the principles the nation follows he/she must commit to those principles. With the rise of capitalism and liberalism the emphasis shifted to rights instead of responsibilities.

De Tocqueville defined citizenship as “self‐interest properly understood” and involved a commitment to preserving public goods everyone held in common.  Some studies suggest that even when people are anonymous, ¼ to 1/3 of people refuse self‐gain at group expense. This means there seems to be a stable “citizenship” trait that some people have.   The Liberal tradition emphasizes civil rights and liberties while the republican tradition emphasizes the virtue of social responsibility.

Individuals who are socially responsible are, by definition, more involved in the community, have higher levels of trust and a more positive view of human nature. They score lower on measures of alienation and ethnocentrism.

Families that emphasize the importance of attending to others needs are more likely to adopt values of social responsibility and citizenship. Some research suggests that involvement in extracurricular activities outside of sports also correlates with more civic and political involvement in adulthood.  Females are more likely than males to be engaged in voluntary work or community service.

A Spiritual Perspective

From a spiritual perspective, citizenship is about being devoted and loyal to the Kingdom of God.  In his talk entitled “Loyalty” President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke about the importance of being devoted to the Gospel and Church of Jesus Christ.  President Hinckley said: “I think of loyalty in terms of being true to ourselves. I think of it in terms of being absolutely faithful to our chosen companions. I think of it in terms of being absolutely loyal to the Church and its many facets of activity. I think of it in terms of being unequivocally true to the God of heaven, our Eternal Father, and His Beloved Son, our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We show our loyalty to God by making and keeping covenants with Him.  President Hinckley continues: “Loyalty and dependability are essential qualities for members of the Church. At our baptisms and in the temple, we make promises with Heavenly Father. Keeping those promises blesses our lives and the lives of our families.” Gordon B. Hinckley

President Dallin H. Oaks emphasized the importance of showing loyalty to our families as well.  He said: “The cultural tides in our world run strongly against commitments in family relationships. For example, divorce has been made legally easy, and childbearing has become unpopular. These pressures against commitments obviously serve the devil’s opposition to the Father’s plan for His children. That plan relies on covenants or commitments kept. Whatever draws us away from commitments weakens our capacity to participate in the plan.”

In the same talk, President Oaks also taught about the importance of what he called a “tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime” as opposed to a short-lived zeal that some experience.  President Oaks said:

“What we need “is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”Some people live the gospel with “short, frenzied outbursts of emotion,” followed by long periods of lapse or by performance that is intermittent or sputtering. What we need in living the gospel is “the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”This steadfast standard requires us to avoid extremes. Our performance should be the steady 100 percent of a committed servant, not the frenzied and occasional 120 percent of the fanatic. A willingness to sacrifice all we possess in the work of the Lord is surely a mark of dedication. In fact, it is a covenant we make in sacred places. But this must be carefully confined to those sacrifices the Lord and His leaders have asked of us at this time. We should say with Alma, “Why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?” (Alma 29:6). Dallin H. Oaks- The Dedication of a Lifetime

If we are loyal and devoted to the Kingdom of God then we are promised that one day we will have eternal life.  In 3 Nephi 15:9 we read: “Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.” (3 Nephi 15:9)

Measuring Citizenship 

Citizenship is measured in various ways.  Self‐report measures of citizenship usually focus on behaviors such as voting, campaign work, getting together with others in  the community to address issues, contacting public officials or making contributions to political causes. Other behaviors measured include signing petitions or joining protests. The most common measure is engaging in volunteer work. Other measures include the: Loyola Generativity Scale which has a subscale measuring community contributions and the Active and Engaged Citizenship scale.

From a spiritual perspective, citizenship and devotion would be measured in the following way:

  1. Devotion to one’s covenants is measured by abstaining from behaviors prohibited by such covenants and by engaging in behaviors encouraged by such covenants.
  2. Devotion to family is measured by setting aside family time, keeping the law of chastity and fulfilling all family responsibilities.
  3. Devotion to the Church is measured by church attendance and magnifying one’s calling.
  4. Devotion to one’s country is measured by civic participation.

The Hierarchy of Responsibility

Citizenship is related to fulfilling the duties one has to groups that one belongs to.  It can be expressed in the form of a hierarchy of responsibility. The hierarchy suggests that some roles are more important than others though time spent in each role has differential diminishing returns. All roles need to be balanced, though aren’t all equal in importance and in optimal time devoted.

1. Duties to God (Spiritual Responsibilities)

  • Understanding and Fulfilling God’s Will
  • Communication with the Divine
  • Involvement in spiritual communities

2. Duties to Self

  • Balanced and Healthy Eating: Plan meals in advance so that food guide recommendations are followed.
  • Regular Exercise Routine (Developing the Body): Plan a weekly exercise routine.
  • Proper Sleep & Rest: Plan a consistent sleep and waking time consistent with NSF guidelines.
  • Personal Development (Developing the Mind): Create a personal development plan to learn new skills and ideas every day.

3. Duties to Family

  • Spouse Duties: regular dates, regular intimacy, family planning, chores and errands
  • Parent Duties: Educating kids, spending time with kids, providing for kids, errands for kids
  • Child Duties: Obeying Parents
  • Extended Family: Spending time with family, providing service when needed.

4. Duties at Work

  • Job Role: Pick a field and specialize to become world class to be able to provide for your family and contribute to society. Set goals to continually improve job performance.

5. Duties to Community

  • Civic Duties: Voting, Volunteerism,
  • Community Development: Nurturing friendships and other social relationships, Nurturing communities

We can use the hierarchy to plan how we will fulfill all our roles over the coming year. Use your smartphone to set automatic daily, weekly or monthly reminders to fulfill a certain role responsibility. Plan it out in advance so that you aren’t just making things up as you go.

Source: Character Strengths and Virtues Handbook 


AEC Test

Spirituality – Neuroscience

The Neuroscience of Spirituality

Humans show a persistent tendency to believe in God, the afterlife and the soul. Surveys show that around 85-90% of people in the US believe in God while 80-85% of people around the world consider themselves religious. No civilization has existed that hasn’t had some form of religion. From Mesopotamia, to Egypt, to Greece, to Easter Island, different spiritual beliefs have always existed.

The brain is the biological structure in our heads while the mind is the thoughts, feelings and subjective experiences we have. Science has still not been able to explain the mind-brain connection.

The brain appears to be built in such a way that it has an inherent tendency to search for sacred goals and objects. Furthermore, this tendency enables us to have a large range of religious and spiritual experiences.  Brain scans show that when people pray they show changes in those parts of the brain involved in the sense of self, the ability focus attention and emotions. There is increased limbic and frontal lobe activity.

The brains of believers and non-believers are different.  One study showed that when atheists—all of whom were good at meditating—were asked to meditate on God, their frontal lobes did not turn on like those of the Franciscan nuns.  In the study of the Franciscan nuns, the SPECT scans showed that people engaged in prayer show increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, decreased activity in the parietal lobes, and increased activity in the thalamus. Prayer and meditation result in decreased heart rate and blood pressure, increased heart rate oscillations, decreased body metabolism, and hormonal changes. In addition, they result in increased serotonin, dopamine, and GABA and decreased cortisol and norepinephrine.

Believer and non-believer brains also differ in terms of perception.  In one study, believers and nonbelievers were asked to look at distorted photos with some real and some non-real elements. Believers were more likely to see things that were there, but sometimes they saw things that weren’t there. Nonbelievers never saw things that weren’t there, but sometimes they missed things that were there.

Neurotransmitters of Spirituality 

Dr. Dean Hamer, a behavioral geneticist at the National Institute of Health analyzed DNA and personality data from over 1,000 individuals and identified one particular gene as the “God gene.” This gene was was found to correlate with people’s feelings of self-transcendence. Interestingly, this gene is involved in producing the VMAT2 receptor, which regulates dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain.Some scientists note that the effect of this gene on differences in spiritual beliefs is likely very low—perhaps less than 10 percent of the effect.

In general, there is increased serotonin, dopamine, and GABA and decreased cortisol and norepinephrine during spiritual practices such as meditation or prayer.  Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter found in trace amounts in mammals, including humans. In large amounts, however, DMT can lead to hallucinations, visions, and euphoria. Its impact can be so profound that DMT has been called “the spirit molecule.”

GABA, Ketamine and Glutamate are also involved with spiritual practices.  As you focus during meditation, sensory information is screened out from other parts of your brain via GABA. This contributes to the sense of no self and no space.  Ketamine is a dissociative hallucinogen because it makes you feel like you are leaving your body behind.  Glutamate can induce similar effects in a person and is related to near-death experiences.

Stimulated states are those that occur when the brain is affected by external stimulants, such as drugs.  One researcher, Michael Persinger, stimulated the temporal lobes of subjects using electromagnetic fields. He found that they reported a “sensed presence” of an unseen entity.

Drugs can mimic spiritual experiences including LSD, cocaine and amphetamines.  In one study, those given Psilocybin reported the experience was spiritually significant and said it led to positive
changes, but most said they wouldn’t want to do it again.

However, religious experience differ in key ways from hallucinations and other drug-induced states.  Mental illness leads to decreased functioning and cognitive impairment while religion and mysticism are associated with beneficial effects and increased functioning.  In one study, schizophrenic patients described experiences in negative terms while those on drugs focused mostly on the alteration of sensory perceptions. In contrast, mystical states were described using words related to ultimate reality and meaning. Mystical states are different from drug-induced states and hallucinations.

Near-Death Experiences also appear to be distinct from drug-induced experiences. They typically lead to drastic alterations in beliefs and behaviors almost instantly.  People with NDE’s typically report having very similar experiences such as seeing a being of light or entering a light tunnel, and having an out-of-body experience. The beginning of the near-death experience involves hearing the news of one’s own death, the review of life events, meeting people that the person did not know had died, the knowledge of one’s death, clarity of thought, anomalous experiences, out-of-body experiences, and seeing other events.

Midway through the near-death experience, the person senses a border, meets others, and starts to feel that it is time to come back to reality. Toward the end of the experience, there is a sense of ineffability, which is accompanied by feelings of peace and quiet.

Hallucinogens can mimic the sensory experiences but not the life review or the notion that it is time to go back.  NDE’s typically lead to drastic alterations in beliefs and behaviors almost instantly which is not true of drug-induced states. Thus, they are distinct experiences that science cannot fully explain.


Myths are stories we develop to explain our world or address existential concerns. The concern is usually framed as a pair of opposites: heroes and monsters, gods and humans, life and death or heaven ad hell. Myths reconcile the opposites in a way that relieves our existential concerns.

The are three levels of understanding:

1. Cognitive Understanding: Understanding something conceptually, logically or abstractly.
2. Emotional Understanding: Having emotional reactions to something or having gone through the process of placing affective value on something.
3. Visceral Understanding: This goes even deeper than an emotional understanding and involves knowing something with your whole body.

Rituals make myths not only cognitive, but also experiential by getting the entire body into the act. The brain is designed to act out thoughts (such as when we use our hands while speaking). We often learn better by combining movement with cognition. We have a visceral, emotional, and cognitive understanding. Rituals involve emotional and visceral understandings.

Rituals are rhythmic and repetitive and recur regularly. The same music, phrases, dances and ideas are usually repeated on many different levels.  Rituals are often repeated throughout life which binds your body and brain to the ritual and the ideas and stories associated with the experience. Rituals are also performed across generations which creates a generational rhythm that binds people together.

Rituals synchronize the emotional, cognitive and motor processes of the Central Nervous System. Your body has heart, breathing, hormonal and brain rhythms. When you hear the rhythm of a song or prayer then your body’s rhythms begin to synchronize with the songs or prayer. This is why fast music revs you up and slow music calms you down. The rhythms send messages to the hypothalamus which then leads to emotional responses.

Rituals can create emotional responses to ideas (such as associating God with love) as the rhythms are enacted.  Rituals combine the cognitive with the experiential to provide a more engaging experience. The rhythms created by ritual change the brain so that there is increased activity in the hypothalamus, thalamus and the limbic system. There is also a decrease in activity in the parietal lobe, which is associated with your sense of self, space and time. The person begins to feel one with the focus of the ritual.

Rituals help connect individuals together by breaking down the dichotomy between one person and another. When many people participate in a group ritual, the mirror neurons cause each person to experience each other’s rhythms so that all are in the same rhythm. As a group, their brain rhythms literally become one.

Spirituality – Existential Needs & Meaning

Existential Needs

Spirituality is sometimes linked with existentialism.  The Psychologist Erich Fromm suggest that Human beings have needs beyond basic survival that must be met in order to be whole. These higher order needs are called “existential needs.”  According to Fromm, people have the following six existential needs:

1. Relatedness: This is the need to be united with other people and is manifested in three different ways: submission, power and love.

A. Submission: One way to unite with another person or power is to submit to them. Fromm said: “In this way he transcends the separateness of his individual existence by becoming part of something bigger than himself and experiences his identity in connection with the power to which he has submitted.”
B. Power: Those who seek power seek for those who are submissive. When a power seeking and a submissive person come together they establish an unhealthy symbiotic relationship that prevents growth.
C. Love: Fromm believed that love was a union with somebody else that allowed each to maintain individual identities. Love involves care, responsibility, respect and knowledge as four elements of love. Fromm believed love was the only healthy way to meet our relatedness needs.

2. Transcendence: This is the need to move from a passive and accidental existence into a more purposeful existence in which you exercise your freedom. People transcend through creation, art, religion, ideas, love etc…
3. Rootedness: This is the need to be established to feel at home in the world again. Isolation can arise from feeling that you don’t have a home or place in the world.
4. Sense of Identity: This is the need to become aware of who we are as separate individuals and to embrace a set of beliefs, values and behaviors that appeal to us. Many identify with their nations, religions or occupations.
5. Frame of Orientation: This is the need for a road map to be able to make your way through the world. It consists of your world view, goals and unifying philosophy of life. Without a road map, you would wander aimlessly through life with no goals, meaning or purpose. Many just take their frame of orientation for granted and view anything that disagrees with it as “crazy.”
6. Object of Devotion: Humans have a need for a final and ultimate goal or concern in life. This ultimate concern focuses people’s energies in a single direction and gives purpose and meaning to our lives. For many people, this ultimate concern is God or becoming whole.

Source: Info adapted from: Feist, J., & Feist, G. J. (2009). Theories of Personality (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill

Discovering Meaning 

Another key part of spirituality is finding meaning by connecting to a purpose that is greater than oneself.   Meaning refers to the end, purpose, or significance of something.  Purpose refers to the reason for which something exists or is done.  Significance refers to the weight of the consequences of a particular action or thing.

Meaning can only be experienced in a world of opposites as it involves choosing between opposites and overcoming resistance. Without opposition and resistance there is no meaning.  The meaning of life refers to the reason that life exists and the significance of that reason. A life with meaning involves deliberately choosing among significant opposites and refining and growing by exposing ourselves to optimal resistance.

Dr. Sean Shea, in his book “Happiness is.” explains how there is no reality without opposites: “One cannot even imagine a world that is all good. It is unimaginable because good can only be conceived as a contrast to something that is bad. Life is made up of opposites that define each other. Each end of the polarity would literally not exist without the other. A human being, literally, cannot conceive of what it is to be dry, unless there is prior knowledge of what it is to be wet. Dryness does not exist unless wetness brings it into existence.”

Thus, Dr. Shea answers the question “Why does evil exist?” Evil exists because without evil goodness can’t exist either. In the same way, nothing can exist without its opposite. Hot can’t exist without cold, life without death and heaven without hell. A world without opposites is a world without meaning or purpose.

Since we live in a universe that consists of opposites, the purpose of our existence is to experience and choose among those opposites. The most significant opposites that we need to experience and choose among include:

i.) Good and Evil: The most significant opposites are good and evil. We must choose to embrace darkness or light. This is where we derive our ultimate meaning in this life.
ii.) Ignorance and Knowledge: We begin life in an ignorant state and must work to inform and educate ourselves.
iii.) Incompleteness and Holiness (Wholeness): We begin life in a fallen and imperfect state and must overcome our weaknesses until we become “whole” by developing all parts of ourselves.
iv.) Weakness and Strength: We begin life without any skills or talents so we need to develop our competence.
v.) Pain and Pleasure: Many people find meaning in enhancing the amount of pleasure they feel and reducing pain.
vi.) Others: There are a huge number of opposites that people find meaning in choosing among. The underlying principle is that meaning is always linked to overcoming resistance or opposition in some way.

Existential Illness occurs when we experience a lack of meaning.    This can be experienced in at least three different ways:

i.) Purposelessness: Purposelessness occurs when we refuse to actively choose amongst the opposites in life such as good/evil or ignorance/knowledge. This failure to choose leaves us disengaged from life’s struggles. Some people escape the “burden of freedom” by retreating from making choices and having others make those choices.
ii.) Decay: Decay occurs when we choose to embrace the opposites in life that lead us towards darkness such as ignorance or evil. Ultimately this results in the “Syndrome of Decay” that Erich Fromm observed.
iii.) Stagnation: Sometimes we experience a lack of or minimal resistance in our lives so that we don’t grow. The opposite is flow which is experiencing optimal resistance for our current capacities. We need to embrace and accept resistance and opposition as necessary for a life of meaning.

Spirituality – Overview

According to Psychologists Seligman & Peterson, Spirituality and religiousness refer to beliefs and practices grounded in the idea that there is a transcendent (nonphysical) dimension of the universe. These beliefs are persuasive, pervasive and stable and inform how people construct meaning and make decisions.  This strength involves having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe and one’s place within it.

Strengths of transcendence allow individuals to forge connections to the larger universe and thereby provide meaning to their lives. Appreciating beauty connects a person to the excellent while gratitude connects a person to goodness. Hope connects individuals to a dreamed of future while humor connects people to contradictions that are amusing.

Spirituality is universal. Although spiritual beliefs vary, all cultures have a concept of an ultimate, transcendent, sacred, and divine force.

Religiosity is similar but slightly different fro spirituality.  Religiousness refers to conventional religious practices such as church attendance and tithing while spirituality refers to a psychological experience and the significance of beliefs. Religions seek to help people answer existential questions about purpose and meaning and give rules and values to guide an individual’s life. These questions are beyond the epistemological limits of science.

Religiousness refers to a belief in the existence of a divine force and to adherence to the beliefs and rituals that signify worship of and reverence for the divine. Definitions of religion vary but all have 3 things in common:

i.) a belief in powers that are transcendent and suprahuman
ii.) an interest in and quest for a range of values including goodness
iii.) a focus on behaviors, attitudes, and experiences that are consistent with these values.

A 2006 Baylor University study revealed that Americans view God in four primary ways:

1. Authoritarian God: God as an unmerciful judge.
2. Critical God: God as a condemning judge.
3. Distant God: God as being uninvolved with people.
4. Benevolent God: God as acting in the best interests of others.

Women tended to see God as being more engaged (either authoritarian or benevolent) while higher income individuals were more likely to see God as angry.

Correlates and Consequences

Religiosity correlates with a tendency to avoid antisocial activities such as drug use. Children and adolescents score higher on emotional self‐regulation, engage in fewer acts of aggression, do better in school and tend to delay sex when they are religious.   Early religious involvement plays a crucial role in children adopting prosocial values.

Religiousness is also correlated with healthier relationships. It is correlated with lower levels of marital conflict, greater perceived spousal support, more consistent parenting, less conflictual and more supportive parent‐child relations and higher marital quality.

Religiousness is also linked to increased forgiveness, kindness, compassion, altruism, volunteerism, optimism and philanthropy. It also predicts greater happiness and sense of life purpose.
Religiosity predicts greater psychological and physical well‐being as well as life satisfaction. It predicts greater ability to cope with illness and psychosocial stress.  Prayer is specifically linked to enhanced well‐being and greater coping abilities.

Churches benefit communities by instilling a sense of civic responsibility and volunteerism in their adherents.   In his book “The Righteous Mind” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt outlines the research that suggests that religious people are also more charitable. Studies of charitable giving in the United States show that people in the least religious fifth of the population give just 1.5 percent of their money to charity. People in the most religious fifth (based on church attendance, not belief) give a whopping 7 percent of their income to charity, and the majority of that giving is to religious organizations. It’s the same story for volunteer work: religious people do far more than secular folk, and the bulk of that work is done for, or at least through, their religious organizations.

Religiosity increases charitability in all areas of life: Putnam and Campbell found that the more frequently people attend religious services, the more generous and charitable they become across the board. Of course, religious people give a lot to religious charities, but they also give as much as or more than secular folk to secular charities such as the American Cancer Society. They spend a lot of time in service to their churches and synagogues, but they also spend more time than secular folk serving in neighborhood and civic associations of all sorts. Putnam and Campbell put their findings bluntly: “By many different measures religiously observant Americans are better neighbors and better citizens than secular Americans—they are more generous with their time and money, especially in helping the needy, and they are more active in community life.”

However, Extrinsic Religiosity (examined below) is correlated with prejudice and Religiosity is also correlated with more escapist orientations towards social problems.

In the teaching company course: “Neuroscience and Spirituality” the research on religion was summarize in the following way:

1.) Church attendance improves health: Since the year 2000, there have been over 400 papers published per year on this topic. These papers are consistently showing that religion has an effect on health.  Studies have shown that church attendance is associated with decreased heart disease, blood pressure, emphysema, cirrhosis, and suicide. One of the earliest papers to report this association was published in 1972 by Johns Hopkins University and was based on an analysis of about 50,000 people in Washington County, Maryland.   In a study of 40 patients who had heart transplants, strong religious beliefs predicted improved physical functioning, higher self-esteem, decreased anxiety, and enhanced compliance.
2.) Church attendance increases length of life:  Researchers have even found a relationship between religious activity and mortality. For example, multiple studies published in the 1980s and 1990s identified a correlation between frequent church attendance and a reduction in all-cause mortality.  Studies have shown that Mormon males have decreased rates of cancer and all-cause mortality. In addition, it has been shown that Seventh-day Adventists live longer than the average population.  In 1992, a study was conducted of over 2,800 individuals who were over 65 years of age in the New Haven, Connecticut, region. The study found that elderly Christians and Jews were less likely to die in the 30 days before important holidays as compared to the 30 days after.
3.) Religious Beliefs increases resilience: It has been shown that increased worship and practice is inversely related to perception of disability among the elderly.  In cancer patients, religious belief has been found to be associated with reduced perception of pain.
4.) Less High Risk Behaviors: Religion has been associated with decreased participation in high-risk behaviors such as alcohol, smoking, drugs, and promiscuity. Furthermore, church attendance is associated with increased social support.
5.) Reduced Anxiety: Religiousness and spirituality have been shown to reduce anxiety and encourage impulse control.
6.)  Increased Connection: Religiousness and spirituality foster intimacy and cohesiveness with others. In addition, religious rituals generate intense feelings of connectedness and oneness among participants.
7.) Enhanced Meaning and Purpose: Most studies show a correlation between people’s religious attitudes and their sense of having a purpose in life. Religion also fosters personal growth.
8.) Stable Frame of Reference: Social psychologist Erich Fromm proposed that humans have a strong need for a stable frame of reference and that religion apparently fills this need. Religion answers questions that science cannot say anything about such as questions of value, meaning and the unexplainable.
9.) Addiction and Spirituality: In general, religious involvement is low in patients that are undergoing treatment for substance abuse. Twelve step programs are spiritually based and associated with better outcomes than other modalities.
10.) Spiritual Interventions: Research shows spiritual interventions are as effective as standard psychotherapy even from a non-religious psychotherapist.
11.) Brain Scans while speaking in tongues: The frontal lobes shut down, leading to a sense that one is not in control and the thalamus and basal ganglia show increased activity.
12.) Meditation: In a study of Kirtan Kriya and memory, it was discovered that those who engaged in the practice performed 10% better on memory tasks and showed differences in the frontal lobe and thalamus. They reported 10-20% less stress, anxiety and depression.

The Following factors predict greater religiosity:

i.) Human Nature: Since Religiousness has remained stable across history and across cultures it would seem to be an innate human need.
ii.) Parenting: Some research suggests that mothers play a crucial role in the religious development of their children. Children raised in nuclear families who have stay at home moms and who have parents who share religious beliefs and values tend to become religious.
iii.) Life Challenges: Some research suggests that when people encounter difficult life challenges they tend to think more deeply about their religious and spiritual beliefs.
iv.) Gender: Females are more religious and spiritual than males and this remains true across the life span. This may be due to the incompatible nature of religious values and stereotypical masculinity (dominance, aggression).
v.) Age: People tend to get more religious as they get older.
vi.) Marital Status: Married people tend to be more religious than non‐married individuals.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Religiosity

The Psychologist Gordon Allport differentiated between people who are intrinsically religious and are sincere in their beliefs and people who are extrinsically religious and who see religion as a means to an end.  Allport believed that religious commitment was a sign of maturity but he observed that people have different motivations for their religiosity. He called those motivations intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity.

Intrinsically religious people have internalized their religion and have a deep commitment to the values and principles it teaches. Religion is not a tool for advancement, status or security but is instead a deep and abiding worldview. Their religious beliefs form their core values and are thus not modified when convenient.

Extrinsically religious people see religion more as a tool to be used for personal gain. They have a utilitarian view of religion and beliefs are lightly held and can be modified when convenient. Religion is simply a tool to form social connections and to establish the person in the community. This is the type of religiosity that correlates with higher levels of prejudice.

Allport developed the Religious Orientation Scale which measures people on intrinsic vs extrinsic religiosity. This scale has 20 items with 11 that measure extrinsic orientation and 9 that measure intrinsic orientation. Some examples of the questions are as follows:

a.) Extrinsic: “The primary purpose of prayer is to gain relief and protection”; “What religion offers me most is comfort when sorrow and misfortune strike”; and “One reason for my being a church member is that such membership helps to establish a person in the community.”
b.) Intrinsic: “My religious beliefs are what really lie behind my whole approach to life” and “I try hard to carry my religion over into all my other dealings in life.

In numerous studies, religion has been found to be good for your health. Attending church is associated with better moods, health and living longer. However some research suggests that it is intrinsic religiosity that gives these benefits and not extrinsic religiosity.  In one study, when exposed to certain stressors, those who held an intrinsic religious orientation did not experience the same increased blood pressure that those who held an extrinsic orientation did. Intrinsic  religiosity therefore seems to provide a kind of buffer against everyday stressful events. When exposed to the same stressors as everyone else, intrinsically religious people automatically react in manner that is healthier for their bodies.

As a general rule, researchers have found that being involved with a church is related to better overall well-being. However, Timothy Smith reviewed over 20 studies on religion and depression and
found that intrinsic religiosity predicted lower depression while extrinsic religiosity predicted higher levels of depression.

The research indicates that when you sincerely believe and internalize your faith you will see a host of health benefits and experience overall well-being. However, if you use religion as a tool for personal gain or social connection then you will not see the same benefits and in fact may be more prone to depression and prejudice.

Source: Info adapted from: Feist, J., & Feist, G. J. (2009). Theories of Personality (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill

Religion enhances Group Cohesion

In his book “The Righteous Mind” Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out that  the human mind is inherently religious and religious practices have been proven to solve many adaptive challenges around group cohesion and cooperation.

Emile Durkheim defined religion as: “A unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.”

From a sociological perspective, religion functions to pull people up from Durkheim’s lower level (the profane) to his higher level (the sacred). It flips the hive switch and makes people feel, for a few hours, that they are “simply a part of a whole.”

Religions are valuable because they make groups more cohesive and cooperative. For example, people cheat more on a test when the lights are dimmed. They cheat less when there is a
cartoon-like image of an eye nearby, or when the concept of God is activated in memory merely by asking people to unscramble sentences that include words related to God. Creating gods who can see everything, and who hate cheaters and oath breakers, turns out to be a good way to reduce cheating and oath breaking.

This capacity to create more cohesive groups is demonstrated by comparing religious and secular communes.  Communes can survive only to the extent that they can bind a group together, suppress self‐interest, and solve the free rider problem. Communes are usually founded by a group of committed believers who reject the moral matrix of the broader society and want to organize themselves along different principles.  For many nineteenth‐century communes, the principles were religious; for others they were secular, mostly socialist. Which kind of commune survived longer? Sosis found that the difference was stark: just 6 percent of the secular communes were still functioning twenty years after their founding, compared to 39 percent of the religious communes.

The most successful communes demanded the most sacrifice: Commune success was predicted by the number of costly sacrifices that each commune demanded from its members. It was things like giving up alcohol and tobacco, fasting for days at a time, conforming to a communal dress code or hairstyle, or cutting ties with outsiders. For religious communes, the effect was perfectly linear: the more sacrifice a commune demanded, the longer it lasted. But Sosis was surprised to discover that demands for sacrifice did not help secular communes. Most of them failed within eight years, and there was no correlation between sacrifice and longevity.

John Locke, one of the leading thinkers of the Enlightenment, wrote that “promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all.”

People trust religious people intuitively.  In one study, when trusters learned that their trustee was religious, they transferred more money, which shows that these people held the same belief as did Locke (about religious believers being more trustworthy). More important, the religious trustees really did transfer back more money than did the nonreligious trustees, even though they never knew anything about their trusters. The highest levels of wealth, therefore, would be created when religious people get to play a trust game with other religious people. Richard Sosis found this same outcome too, in a field experiment done at several Israeli kibbutzim.

Courage – A Spiritual Perspective

Courage – A Spiritual Perspective 

Courage is the ability to prioritize action to achieve a certain goal despite fear or danger to the self.  Courage does not mean that you do not feel fear but that you persist through it.   Mark Twain observed: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear‐not absence of it.” The Motto of the Kings Guard of Ancient Greece was: “All men have fears, but the brave put down their fears and go forward, sometimes to death, but always to victory.”

According to psychologists Christopher Peterson & Martin Seligman, Courage has the following key components:

i.) Courage must  be voluntary and not coerced.
ii.) Courage must involve an understanding of risk and accepting the consequences of acting in the face of those risks. It is not bravery to act without thinking as that would be rashness.
iii.) Courage must also be related to prioritizing what is right.   People distinguish between courage and foolishness. Overcoming fear for evil or foolish ends is usually not considered bravery.

Psychologists consider courage a virtue because it is inherently satisfying to do the right thing, especially when it is difficult to do so.  All culture’s have “heroes” who are praised for their bravery.  courage also seems to be contagious as it elevates those who witness it.  When people do not develop this character strength then anxiety disorders begin to develop.  Bravery is valued because it allows us to overcome and master our natural fear response. People who are not brave lack the ability to act effectively in the face of fear.  When people do not develop this character strength then anxiety disorders begin to develop.

According to Seligman and Peterson, psychologists also differentiate between physical, moral and psychological bravery.   Physical bravery involves overcoming a fear of injury or death while moral bravery involves overcoming a fear of others opinions, job loss, poverty, losing friends, criticism, or embarrassment.  Psychological bravery involves overcoming fears of losing psychic stability or worldview consistency and involves being willing to change one’s beliefs or to do things one does not understand.

The opposite of courage would be cowardice.  Cowardice is prioritizing one’s own safety over another important goal. For a coward, his own safety and comfort is his ultimate concern while the courageous are able to submit their desire for safety to some other important goal, usually of great importance. If we fail to develop courage, then we make safety our ultimate concern in life and all of our behaviors will be calculated to protect us from danger and risk. When this becomes our strategy, our range of options are limited to what other people allow us to do. We therefore lose our identities and live shallow lives that reflect other people’s values and desires instead of our own.

In contrast, when we determine that safety and conformity will not be our ultimate concerns, life’s possibilities expand in proportion to our courage. When the fear of being shamed into submission is replaced by dedication to a higher cause than your own safety, you will be able to accomplish great things. To facilitate courge, identify what your ultimate concerns in life are and what values are most important to you. Afterwards, determine how much fear and a desire for safety are preventing you from living out these values.

President Hinckley went so far as to say that one could not be a disciple of Christ without this virtue.  He said: The price of discipleship is personal courage. The price of adherence to conscience is personal courage. Inner courage is a necessary virtue of those who follow the Lord.” (Gordon B. Hinckley)

The Lord repeatedly tells His people to be courageous throughout the scriptures. In the Book of Joshua, the Lord told the Israelites who were preparing for battle to: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whither-soever thou goest.” (Josh 1:9)

Israel was repeatedly told not to fear their enemies but were to trust that God would fight their battles for them.  In Deuteronomy 7: 21 the Lord says: “Thou shalt not be affrighted at them: for the Lord thy God is among you, a mighty God and terrible.” (Deut 7:21)

They were told to not be afraid even against what appeared to be overwhelming odds.  In Deuteronomy 20: 1-4 the Lord says:

“When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” (Deut 20: 1-4)

In the Book of Psalms, we are told to: “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” (Psalms 27:14)

To be courageous, in a Christian sense, means to be willing to suffer harm and  expose oneself to danger in order to keep the Commandments of God.  Joshua taught this principle to the Israelites when he said: “Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left.” (Joshua 23:6)

The Apostle Paul was a paragon of this virtue.  One one occasion, he was stoned for preaching the gospel and left for dead.  Shortly afterwards, he arose and continued his work of preaching the Gospel. Paul was willing to suffer prison and even death for Jesus.  He said: “For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13)

The scriptures teach us that sin leads to cowardice while acting in accordance with God’s commandments fills one with courage and confidence.  In Proverbs 28:1 we read: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.” (Proverbs 28:1)

C.s Lewis said that: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” In his talk entitled “Christian Courage,” Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles outlined how courage underlies many other virtues.  He cites 11 ways that we can display Christian courage, which will now be examined in more detail.

  1. Courage to love our enemies: “Some people mistakenly think responses such as silence, meekness, forgiveness, and bearing humble testimony are passive or weak. But, to “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” takes faith, strength, and, most of all, Christian courage.” (Matthew 5:44)
  2. Courage not to retaliate when wronged: “When we do not retaliate—when we turn the other cheek and resist feelings of anger—we too stand with the Savior.”
  3. Courage to follow the spirit: “Just as the Savior was mocked and ridiculed, so we will be. To respond in a Christlike way cannot be scripted or based on a formula. The Savior responded differently in every situation…As true disciples seek guidance from the Spirit, they receive inspiration tailored to each encounter. And in every encounter, true disciples respond in ways that invite the Spirit of the Lord.”
  4. Courage to be Meek: “We must never become contentious when we are discussing our faith. As almost every missionary learns, Bible bashing always drives the Spirit away. The Savior has said, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me” (3 Nephi 11:29). More regrettable than the Church being accused of not being Christian is when Church members react to such accusations in an unChrist like way! May our conversations with others always be marked by the fruits of the Spirit—”love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Galatians 5:22–23). To be meek, as defined in Webster’s Dictionary, is “manifesting patience and longsuffering: enduring injury without resentment.” Meekness is not weakness. It is a badge of Christian courage. This is especially important in our    interactions with members of other Christian denominations. Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened—and the devil laughs—when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors.
  5. Courage to be bold: “We should never confuse boldness with Satan’s counterfeit: overbearance (Alma 38:12). True disciples speak with quiet confidence, not boastful pride.”
  6. Courage to testify: “As true disciples, our primary concern must be others’ welfare, not personal vindication. Our heartfelt testimonies are the most powerful answer we can give our accusers. And such testimonies can only be born in love and meekness.”
  7. Courage to examine our own faults: “To be guileless is to look for our own fault first. When accused, we should ask as the Savior’s Apostles did, “Lord, is it I?” (Matt 26:22). If we listen to the answer given by the Spirit, we can, if needed, make corrections, apologize, seek forgiveness, and do better. Without guile, true disciples avoid being unduly judgmental of others’ views.”
  8. Courage to be silent: “As the Savior demonstrated with Herod, sometimes true disciples must show Christian courage by saying nothing at all.”
  9. Courage to stay on the high ground: “By arguments and accusations, some people bait us to leave the high ground. The high ground is where the light is. It’s where we see the first light of morning and the last light in the evening. It is the safe ground. It is true and where knowledge is. Sometimes others want us to come down off the high ground and join them in a theological scrum in the mud. These few contentious individuals are set on picking religious fights, online or in person. We are always better staying on the higher ground of mutual respect and love.  In doing so, we follow the example of the prophet Nehemiah, who built a wall around Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s enemies entreated him to meet them on the plain, where “they thought to do [him] mischief.” Unlike Lehonti, however, Nehemiah wisely refused their offer with this message: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:2–3). We too have a great work to do, which will not be accomplished if we allow ourselves to stop and argue and be distracted. Instead we should muster Christian courage and move on. As we read in Psalms, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers” (Psalm 37:1).”
  10. Courage to love: “To my inquiring sister and all who seek to know how we should respond to our accusers, I reply, we love them. Whatever their race, creed, religion, or political persuasion, if we follow Christ and show forth His courage, we must love them. We do not feel we are better than they are. Rather, we desire with our love to show them a better way—the way of Jesus Christ.”
  11. Courage to Stand Alone: And finally, President Monson exhorted us to have the courage to stand alone.  He said: “May we ever be courageous and prepared to stand for what we believe and if we must stand alone in the process, may we do so courageously, strengthened by the knowledge that in reality we are never alone when we stand with our father in heaven.” (Thomas S. Monson‐Dare to Stand Alone)

Sometimes being courageous will require “pushing back against the world” when the spirit prompts us to.  President Dallin H. Oaks taught: “When I say, “Push back against the world,” I mean push back against that part of the world’s values and practices that draw us away from the Lord’s teachings and our covenant obligations.” (Dallin H. Oaks-Push Back Against the World)

President Oaks also cautions us not to misinterpret what it means to avoid contention.  He said: “Of course this counsel to love, to avoid contention, and to be examples of civility is not meant to discourage us from participating in discussions, debates, and even taking adversarial positions against what we believe to be wrong or inadvisable. Within the limits of our own resources of time and influence we should take a position, make it known, and in a respectful way attempt to persuade others of its merit, at least for us. Positive action is essential to our responsibility to push back against the world.” (Dallin H. Oaks-Push Back Against the World)

Courage is a necessary virtue to develop in order to live an expansive and fulfilling life.  Life will shrink or expand in proportion to your courage.  The greatest rewards in life often require assuming risk.  If we are too afraid to expose ourselves to vulnerability, risk and danger then the life we live will be confined only to those experiences that make us feel comfortable.  We will also cease to grow and become stagnant.

We should also be consistently courageous.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “The characteristic of genuine heroism is its persistency. All men have wandering impulses, fits and starts of generosity. But when you have resolved to be great, abide by yourself, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world. The heroic cannot be the common, nor the common the heroic.”

Courage is also a necessary virtue for leadership.  Andrew Jackson observed that: “One man with courage makes a majority.”  Without Courage, no righteous goal could be accomplished as the opposition would rule through intimidation.

Courage has been correlated with a wide range of positive outcomes that include: being more prosocial, being able to tolerate uncertainty better, having an internal locus of control and grater self-efficacy.  It also correlates with being able to delay gratification, being willing to take risks and increased coping skills along with better interpersonal relationships.  However, sometimes courage does lead to negative outcomes such as depression, anxiety, feeling isolated and even powerless.  The things we fear sometimes come true and that’s why courage is a difficult virtue to cultivate.

In Summary, courage can be measured under the following circumstances:

  1. Situation: When you are faced with danger or harm if you do what you know is right.

Courageous Response: You do what is right, regardless of your fear or the danger to you.

Cowardly Response: You allow yourself to be intimidated and fail to do what is right but act to preserve yourself from harm first.

  1. Situation: When you are afraid of doing what is right.

Courageous Response: You have faith in the Lord and act anyways relying on Him to protect you.

Cowardly Response: You give in to fear and avoid the danger of doing what is right.


Scriptures & Teachings

Ronald Rasband – Be not Troubled


Courage – Exposure Therapy

Developing Courage – Classical Conditioning 

According to Seligman & Peterson, research has shown that courage is facilitated in individuals when they have a strong value system, hope, optimism, and self‐confidence.  Individuals who lack courage tend to develop anxiety disorders. One of the most common ways that therapists help clients develop courage is called “exposure therapy” and is the major treatment for anxiety disorders.

In order to fully comprehend why exposure therapy works, we need to begin by tracing it back to its theoretical foundations.  Exposure therapy draws upon principles of classical conditioning in order to extinguish learned associations (anxiety around certain things, events or people) through a series of counter-conditioning trials. Most people have heard of the famous study called “Pavlov’s Dogs” that clearly illustrates these conditioning principles but a brief review will refresh our memories.

In Pavlov’s classic study, he taught dog’s to salivate at the sound of a bell because the dogs had learned to associate a bell with the presentation of food.  Every time Pavlov would ring a bell, he would then present the dogs with food in order to reinforce this new association.  While the dogs originally only salivated at the presentation of food, they learned that the bell predicted food and so began salivating simply at the sound of a bell.  The dog had learned to associate the bell with food and thus developed a conditioned response to the bell.

This basic study illustrates how powerful conditioned responses can become.  The dogs no longer had conscious control over salivation as the process of conditioning elicited an automatic response and exerted “stimulus control” over the dog.  In the same way, many clients come into therapy having developed conditioned emotional responses to certain stimuli.  When presented with those stimuli, the emotional responses can become automatic and outside of conscious control.  For example, repeated negative experiences with authority figures can cause automatic anxiety responses whenever a child sees an authority figure.  Through associative learning, the child has come to associate authority figures with abuse and just as the bell elicited salivation in Pavlov’s dog so too will the presence of an authority figure elicit a conditioned emotional response of anxiety in the child.

Luckily, just as conditioned responses can be learned they can also be unlearned through a process called extinction.  If Pavlov wanted to teach his dogs not to salivate at the sound of a bell anymore, all he would have to do is repeatedly present the bell without food over a period of time.  Eventually, the dogs would learn that bells do not predict food and their conditioned response would extinguish.  In the same way, if a child who fears authority figures is exposed to nurturing teachers, counselors and caregivers over time then the old associations can be extinguished.  Extinction is not forgetting which simply involves a deterioration of a behavior over time due to lack of practice.  Extinction is a deliberate process of eliminating one type of association by replacing it with another.

However, one problem with conditioned emotional responses is that the situations that elicit them are often avoided and thus this counter-conditioning process cannot take place.  Avoidance effectively maintains unwanted associations because it prevents new learning and extinguishing of old maladaptive conditioned responses. Exposure therapy is partially based on the idea that in order to create new associations, we must expose ourselves to situations that we fear in order to extinguish those old responses and create new positive associations.

Exposure therapy works through two mechanisms: habituation and disconfirming evidence.

i.) Habituation is the well-studied phenomenon whereby the more often you encounter something that causes an emotional reaction, the less potent the emotional reaction will be. An example is playing peek-a-boo with an infant. The first few times you uncover your face, the child giggles with delight but the more often you do it, the less excited the infant becomes until ultimately the infant becomes bored. The same phenomenon happens with fears.

ii.) Disconfirming Evidence refers to the idea that when you do exposures, you will unlearn the belief that the situation or stimulus that you fear is dangerous, and you will begin to accommodate new evidence that the situation or stimulus can be safe.  For example, several years ago a woman came to an Anxiety Disorder Clinic with a severe case of social phobia. She had a strong belief that if she appeared nervous, people would think she was defective and weak. Through repeated exposures in which she would engage in “small talk” conversations with strangers,
she started to disconfirm her belief that people would judge her negatively and began learning that most people are quite friendly and nonjudgmental.

Most exposure therapy is conducted in a graduated fashion whereby smaller manageable fears, or easier variations of the fears, are confronted first, building slowly to the more difficult fears. We typically aim to begin with exposures that would elicit moderate anxiety on a subjective units of distress or “SUDS” scale.   There are five different types of exposures that include:

i.) Imaginal‐ This type of exposure involves imagining exposing yourself to what you fear. For example, if you fear spiders it would involve imagining that you are touching a spider.  Imaginal exposures are also used when you fear your thoughts. This involves thinking about what you fear over and over until it loses its emotional power over you.   Imaginal exposure can be useful to use when you are extremely afraid and are not ready to engage in in-vivo (real life) exposures.  These will often be done before in-vivo exposures as a way to prepare yourself to deal with the more difficult exposures and usually are not enough in themselves to extinguish conditioned anxiety.

ii.) Virtual Reality: Virtual reality technology has also been developed that helps bridge the gap between imaginal and in-vivo exposure work.  Sometimes visiting a certain setting repeatedly is impractical so VR technology can simulate that setting for exposure work.  Other times, you may not find imaginal work is enough but may not be ready for in-vivo work either so VR can provide a bridge on an exposure hierarchy between imaginal and in-vivo exposures.

iii.) In Vivo (In Real life) ‐ This type of exposure involves exposing yourself to what you fear in real life. For example, if you fear spiders it would involve touching an actual spider.  In-vivo exposures are essential, in many cases, to fully extinguishing conditioned emotional responses. These types of exposures are typically done last and usually exist at the top of exposure hierarchies.

iv.) Worry/ trauma script exposures involve repeated recreating and experiencing the full worry story line or traumatic memory until you are habituated to the emotions it evokes. A worry /trauma script simply involves writing out the details of a memory or worry as if it were a story or a movie script and repeatedly reading it over. Some people choose to narrate the story out loud, record it and then listen to it repeatedly. It should be a detailed account from beginning to end of the memory as it happened or the worry as the client envisions it happening. The rationale behind doing this is that every time the worry is repeated you become less anxious about it until the story is boring and loses its emotional appeal.

v.) Interoceptive exposures involve exposing yourself to the sensations of anxiety in your body so that you can learn they are nothing to be afraid of. These are the types of exposures used to extinguish fear of bodily sensations seen in panic disorder or health anxiety.

Prolonged Exposures

While it’s important to know about types of exposures, one must also know how long these exposures should be.  Each of the different types of exposures need to be done in a prolonged fashion.  Prolonged exposure involves staying in a situation that causes intense anxiety until that anxiety decreases by at least 50% and then leaving the situation.  This can be achieved by using a SUDS scale (subjective units of distress) to record how anxious you are feeling on a scale from 1-10.  If possible, you can use a worksheet to mark your SUDS at marked intervals (for example: every minute) or you can simply do this mentally if using a worksheet is not practical.

Normally, your anxiety will greatly increase at first and steadily rise but then it should decrease over time.  This is because after around 45 minutes, the body cannot stay hyper-aroused for very long and the physical symptoms of anxiety will dissipate.  Also, the you should learn over time that what you are fearing is not coming true, further alleviating the anxiety you are feeling.

Exposures that are not prolonged are not therapeutic and can actually be more harmful than helpful as they can reinforce fears rather than extinguish them.  Also, if you leave the exposure while SUDS is high then the anxiety may get worse.  It is important to understand what you should expect when doing exposures so that you are not surprised by the initial increase in anxiety and s understand the importance of staying in the situation until the 50% SUDS reduction occurs.

Prolonged exposures are usually done only after creating an exposure hierarchy so that you know you have selected an exposure that you can handle.  Prior to doing these exposures, you can also write down your predictions about what will happen so that you can compare what really happened afterwards and notice your fears were disconfirmed.  You can also prepare coping statements in advance to help them endure the exposure.

The Exposure Hierarchy

Another key element of exposure therapy is that it is conducted in a graduated fashion whereby smaller manageable fears, or easier variations of the fears, are confronted first, building slowly to the more difficult fears.  This is done so that you are not overwhelmed and so that you can gain confidence through small victories that will lead to ultimate triumph over the feared situation.

We typically aim to begin with exposures that would elicit moderate anxiety (SUDS ≈ 50).  Doing exposures around situations that cause less anxiety than this would not really be helpful and would largely be a waste of time. The bottom of a hierarchy should therefore include items that cause a SUDS of 50-60 and then each step should cause progressively more anxiety until the very top item which should be 90-100.

Most exposure hierarchies include 7-10 items that you can work on throughout the therapeutic process.  Once an item on the hierarchy no longer elicits enough anxiety (SUDS <50) for it to be on the hierarchy it is accomplished and you can progress to the next step on the ladder.  This process is repeated until all steps on the ladder are completed and the anxiety is extinguished.

While the process for eliminating anxiety through exposure work is easy enough to understand, it is an incredibly difficult experience and requires tremendous bravery.  Do not push yourself to move through the steps too quickly or you  are likely to simply give up.

An example of a sample exposure hierarchy is included for your convenience.  In this exposure hierarchy, a client’s phobia of knives is being addressed.  As you can see, the bottom of the hierarchy starts with imaginal exposures that cause less anxiety and in-vivo exposures that cause the most anxiety are near the top of the ladder.  While the picture below doesn’t show it, you should also rank each item in terms of how anxiety provoking each is on a SUDS scale and how much you are avoiding each item.

Helpful vs Unhelpful Exposures

Exposures need to be done properly and should not be approached in haphazard way.  Many people do informal “exposure” work either out of necessity or because they have received some incomplete information from a friend or paraprofessional.  Let’s take a look at the difference between therapeutic and untherapeutic exposures.

In terms of frequency, unhelpful exposures are not done very frequently so you do not gain the momentum needed to overcome the anxiety.  Exposure to feared situations is often done inconsistently.  If you do not consistently do exposures, each time you do it is like starting over and losing your progress.  In contrast, therapeutic exposures are done very frequently and specifically planned to occur within short time-intervals.  There is no avoidance of the situation in between exposure trials so you do not send your body mixed signals.  Consistently doing exposures builds the momentum needed to overcome your anxiety. Each time you do an exposure, your anxiety will decrease until it is eliminated.

In terms of duration, unhelpful exposures also tend not to last very long. Typically, a person enters into the feared situation and then leaves as soon as possible.  This is actually harmful as it reinforces the idea that the situation is dangerous and should be avoided.  I contrast, therapeutic exposures are deliberately prolonged until anxiety decreases.   The goal is not to leave the situation as soon as possible but to endure the situation until anxiety is at least cut in half.   This provides the evidence needed for the person to see that no disaster would result.

Unhelpful exposures are often done out of necessity or involuntarily and are usually not planned but just happen.  On the other hand, therapeutic exposures are planned and predictable.  The person makes a decision to expose themselves to the feared situation with full knowledge of what this entails.  The person has a subjective experience of control that reduces anxiety.

Unhelpful exposures are not gradual but involve immediate immersion in the most feared situations and there are no prior opportunities to build confidence in the process.  Therapeutic exposures differ in that they involve constructing a “victory ladder” and gradually doing exposures to feared situations of lesser intensity until confidence is built up to face the greater fear.

Unhelpful exposures also tend to be accompanied by distorted thinking and predictions of catastrophe.  Therapeutic exposures involve recognizing and countering distorted thinking and making balanced predictions.

Unhelpful exposures often involve safety behaviors that are subtle avoidance strategies such as drinking, having a safe person or doing something else that prevents enduring the actual feared situation.   Therapeutic exposures involve identifying and eliminating all safety behaviors so that you can endure the feared situation and learn that your predicted catastrophes do not occur.

Safety Behaviors

As previously mentioned, unhelpful exposures utilize safety behaviors. Safety behaviors are behaviors that a person does in order to cope with situations that make them anxious but that don’t really keep them safe. They are problematic because they prevent the person from seeing that feared predictions do not come true.

There are three types of safety behaviors:

  1. Direct Avoidance: This would involve simply avoiding situations or places.
  2. Escape: This involves leaving a situation after starting to experience anxiety.
  3. Subtle avoidance: This involves other behaviors that we think make us safe. For example, in panic this could involve having safety plans, carrying anxiety medication or bottles of water and leaning against a wall (to prevent fainting).

The mere availability of safety behaviors can be the problem rather than their use.  If you have panic disorder and are carrying around anxiety medication but not using it, this is still problematic. You may attribute your safety to the fact that the medication is in your backpack rather than to the idea that you aren’t in any danger.

Safety behaviors are often fairly effective tools in managing anxiety in the short term but they come with real long-term costs.  If an individual, who fears public speaking, avoids activities where she must give a presentation then this “safety behavior” will minimize her anxiety.  Unfortunately, although safety behaviors can reduce distress and anxiety in the short term, research consistently shows that these behaviors help maintain anxiety disorders.  As a result of the safety behaviors, the person is able to attribute the lack of feared consequences to the safety behavior, rather than as a challenge to his/her belief that the situation was threatening.

Before doing exposure work, all safety behaviors need to be identified and eliminated.  In order to do this, you must be able to distinguish between a safety behavior and a healthy coping behavior. Not all coping behaviors are unhealthy.  Healthy Coping includes things that we do in order to reduce anxiety but which do not maintain or worsen future responses to the same anxious situation.

With safety behaviors there is a short-term relief but a long term increase in anxiety.  The motivation is usually to avoid some feared catastrophe.  These prevent you from learning that you are actually not in danger.   In contrast, healthy coping behaviors lead to a short-term increase in anxiety but a long-term reduction.  The motivation is not to prevent some feared catastrophe and the behavior allows you to see if the feared outcome occurs or not.

Anxiety & Freedom 

The Psychologist Erich Fromm observed that with increased freedom comes increased uncertainty and responsibility.  As a person gains more freedom they lose security and begin to feel a sense of basic anxiety or being alone in the world.  This basic anxiety produces a sense of isolation and being alone in the world that motivates an attempt to feel secure again and escape the burden of freedom. This attempt to achieve security can be escaped in three unhealthy ways: authoritarianism, destructiveness and conformity.

A. Authoritarianism: Some people escape freedom by giving up their independence and fusing their identities with somebody or something outside the self to achieve security. This is a need to unite with a powerful partner and is done through masochism or sadism. Masochism occurs when a person who is weak and powerless unites with a powerful other to feel
secure. This is often masked as “love” or “loyalty” but it is never healthy and never contributes to individual growth and authenticity.  Sadism occurs when unity with another is sought to make others depend on yourself and to gain power over a weaker person. A sadistic person likes to see others suffer and exploits the other for personal gain.
B. Destructiveness: Some people escape feelings of isolation and powerlessness by attempting to destroy other people, things or ideas. By destroying others, the person tries to restore lost feelings of power but really creates a darker form or isolation for themselves.
C. Conformity: One final unhealthy way that people try to escape freedom is by giving up their individuality and conforming to whatever some other person wants them to be. People who conform don’t have or express their own opinions and they don’t question social norms. This results in an inauthentic life and identity that fuels feelings or powerlessness in a vicious cycle.

The only healthy response to freedom is to embrace it and overcome the feelings of isolation and anxiety that it brings. Love and work are the two aspects of positive freedom. People who embrace freedom are able to love other people and cooperate with them without losing their identities. They also work to overcome their anxieties and to meet the burden of responsibility that freedom brings.


Exposure Worksheets

Perspective – Mindsets

Another part of perspective is understanding the power of mindsets.  A Mindset is a network of primed associations that orients how we approach the world and interpret our experience. Mindsets prime or “make ready” certain behaviors and tendencies. They form the frame or lens through which we understand our experience and determine what we pay attention to and the motivation for doing so. They are reference points on which we compare and evaluate experience.

Mindsets lead to perspectives which are ways of looking at something. A holistic perspective considers all relevant points of view but mindsets can bias our perspective and cause us to focus on only certain points of view. In order to achieve optimal functioning, we have to learn how to recognize what mindset we are in and learn how to shift and deliberately evoke the appropriate mindsets for the appropriate situations. The following are a list of common mindsets we can get in that influences the perspective we take on a matter

1. Growth Mindset: This mindset involves beliefs about success being determined by hard work and not talent.

i.) Activation: When considering the probability of success or your capabilities and talents.
ii.) Associations: You will begin thinking of your successes and how you achieved them.
iii.) Primed Behaviors: Since success is determined by effort you will be primed to persevere in the face of hardship.
iv.) Attention: You begin focusing on what you have to do in order to improve.

2. Fixed Mindset: This mindset involves beliefs about success being determined by talent and not work.

i.) Activation: When considering the probability of success.
ii.) Associations: You will begin thinking of difficulties you have had when learning new things and emphasize only the things you are “naturally” good at.
iii.) Primed Behaviors: Avoidance and minimal effort if it doesn’t come easy.
iv.) Attention: You begin focusing on reasons why you aren’t naturally good at something and so should just give up.

3. Spiritual Mindset: This mindset includes beliefs about spirituality, God and the supernatural.

i.) Activation: When thinking about the supernatural, faith or God.
ii.) Associations: You will begin considering your spiritual needs, how you relate to the divine, meaning and purpose and any other associations you have with “spirituality.”
iii.) Primed Behaviors: You are more likely to act in concert with spiritual needs and inhibit immediate physical gratification.
iv.) Attention: You begin focusing on God, spirituality, religion and how everything relates to these things.

4. Secular Mindset: This mindset includes beliefs about a materialistic world in which science is the only way to discover truth.

i.) Activation: This is the typical mindset evoked in many different schools or when we have to evaluate what is true.
ii.) Associations: Typical associations include: materialism, pluralism, pleasure & pain, secular authorities.
iii.) Primed Behaviors: You will be more likely to act in ways that enhance physical pleasure, wellbeing and safety.
iv.) Attention: Your focus shifts to evaluating everything according to the standard set forth by secular authorities.

5. Deprivation vs. Fulfillment: A deprivation mindset involves beliefs about what you lack, envy for what others have and a focus on what isn’t there. A fulfillment mindset involves beliefs about having enough, appreciating what is there and looking for the positives.

i.) Activation: A deprivation mindset is activated when we become aware of what we lack while a fulfillment mindset occurs when we become aware of what we have.
ii.) Associations: Deprivation is associated with envy, fear and sadness while fulfillment is associated with joy, appreciation and mindfulness.
iii.) Primed Behaviors: Deprivation primes envy and complaining while fulfillment primes savoring and enjoyment.
iv.) Attention: When we feel deprived our attention is likely to go towards noticing what isn’t there and making comparisons to others. When we are fulfilled our attention is likely to move towards being in the present moment and savoring it.

6. Object (Passive) vs Agent (Active): A passive mindset occurs when we allow things to happen to us while an active mindset occurs when we take initiative to affect our surroundings.

i.) Activation: A passive mindset is activated when we believe we don’t have control while an active mindset is activated when we are reminded we have influence.
ii.) Associations: Passivity is associated with helplessness, hopelessness and even boredom while an active mindset is associated with engagement, purpose and meaning.
iii.) Primed Behaviors: Passivity primes avoidance and frustration while activity primes engagement and problem solving.
iv.) Attention: When you are passive you focus on what is out of your control while when you are active you focus on what is in your control.

7. Positive & Negative Emotions: Positive emotions broaden and build and open the mind while negative emotions narrow attention and confine behavior.

i.) Activation: Positive emotions are usually related to some sort of gain (joy, anticipation) while negative emotions are related to some sort of loss (sadness, fear, anger, disgust).
ii.) Associations: Positive emotions bring positive memories while negative emotions bring negative memories.
iii.) Primed Behaviors: Specific emotions prime specific behavioral responses designed to facilitate survival. They are like software programs that enact automatic responses.
iv.) Attention: Emotions draw attention to the stimulus that evoked them.

8. Open vs. Closed Minded: An open-mind set involves actively considering opposing viewpoints and making tentative conclusions while a closed mindset involves refusing to consider alternatives.

i.) Activation: Either mindset will be activated when new information is discovered or when we need to make decisions.
ii.) Associations: An open mindset is associated with deliberation, humility and data gathering while a close mindset is associated with certainty and commitment.
iii.) Primed Behaviors: An open-mind primes data gathering and consideration while a closed mind will prime dismissing new information.
iv.) Attention: When you have an open mind your attention moves towards seeking out new information while a closed mind brings attention away from new information.

9. Doubt vs. Faith: A doubtful mindset causes us to question assumptions while a faithful mindset causes us to be believing and hopeful.

i.) Activation: Doubt or faith are triggered in reaction to uncertainty about something.
ii.) Associations: Doubt will bring to mind more doubt while faith reminds us of times things worked out.
iii.) Primed Behaviors: Doubt leads to questioning and delaying commitment while faith leads to hope and commitment.
iv.) Attention: Doubt causes us to pay attention to the evidence against something while faith causes us to focus on the evidence for something.

10. Humble vs. Proud: A Humble mindset involves recognizing limitations and dependency on others while a proud mindset involves focusing on one’s superiority over others.

i.) Activation: These mindsets can be activated when making comparisons or attributing success.
ii.) Associations: Humility leads to a recognition of others while pride leads to diminishing of others.
iii.) Primed Behaviors: Humility leads to openness and making room for others while pride leads to exclusion.
iv.) Attention: Humility causes us to pay attention to limitations and to seek help while pride focuses on the self.

11. Holistic vs. Reductionist: A holistic mindset involves considering all relevant aspects of a situation while a reductionist mindset is concerned with a limited perspective.

i.) Activation: These are triggered when we have to make judgments or decisions about things.
ii.) Associations: A holistic perspective activates a wide range of associations that can lead to new connections while a reductionist perspective leads to selective focus.
iii.) Primed Behaviors: A holistic focus causes us to seek out more information while a reductionist mindset primes even more commitment to a certain point of view.
iv.) Attention: A holistic focus draws our attention to various perspectives while a narrow focus concentrates our attention on only a single perspective.

12. Mercy vs. Vengeance: A merciful mindset involves being gracious and forgiving while a ruthless mindset focuses on payback or getting revenge.

i.) Activation: When considering how to respond to wrongs.
ii.) Associations: Mercy and ruthlessness may be associated with either strength or weakness
iii.) Primed Behaviors: Mercy primes forgiveness and reconciliation while vengeance primes retaliation and conflict.
iv.) Attention: Mercy causes one to consider the humanity of the offender while vengeance causes one to focus on the transgressions of the offender.

13. Evaluate vs. Understand: When you are in an understanding mindset you listen with empathy instead of listening to evaluate and judge what is being said.

i.) Activation: When you are listening to what someone else is saying.
ii.) Associations: Understanding may be associated with sympathy or agreement to some people and evaluation may be associated with helping.
iii.) Primed Behaviors: Listening to understand primes empathy and connection while evaluation primes judgment.
iv.) Attention: Understanding causes us to pay attention to their perspective while evaluating causes us to pay attention to our own perspective.

14. Criticize vs. Appreciate: A critical mindset involves looking for flaws while an appreciative mindset involves savoring strengths.

i.) Associations: when we are in a critical mindset previous flaws come to mind while an appreciative mindset brings past benefits to mind.
ii.) Primed Behaviors: When you are in a critical mindset you are more likely to complain, criticize and point out flaws while appreciation leads to compliments and savoring.
iii.) Attention: Criticizing causes us to pay attention to flaws appreciation to benefits.

15. Mindful vs. Distracted: Being mindful means living in the present moment while a distracted mindset involves being unaware of what is going on in the present.

i.) Activation: A mindful mindset is activated when we bring our attention to the present moment while distraction is caused by moving our attention from the present moment.
ii.) Associations: Living in the present moment is associated with a sense of flow while distraction can elicit regret, anxiety, anticipation or reminiscence.
iii.) Primed Behaviors: Mindfulness primes engagement while distraction primes aloofness.
iv.) Attention: By definition mindfulness moves your attention to the present moment while distraction moves attention away.

Other Examples include:

16. Past vs. Future: Sometimes our mind can shift to thinking about the past or the future. We think about the past when we reminisce, remember or feel guilt. We shift to the future when we plan, experience anticipation, hope or anxiety.
17. Quality vs. Quantity:
 A focus on quality causes us to examine detail while quantity causes us to examine total output.  This mindset is part of how we evaluate things.
18. Trust vs. Suspicion: A trusting mindset primes openness and confidence while a suspicious mindset primes doubt and protection. This is activated when someone’s trustworthiness is being evaluated.
19. Perfection vs. Sufficiency: A perfectionist mindset is concerned with getting every detail perfect while sufficiency only cares about being good enough to meet a goal.  This is activated when you have to determine how much effort to put into something.
20. Long-term vs. Short term vs. Ultimate concern: Our mindset can shift from focusing on short-term costs and benefits, long-term and also how our actions lead us towards our ultimate concern.  This is activated when we need to choose how to act when given a range of choices.
21. Gains vs. Losses: Sometimes we focus on what we are getting out of something and sometimes we focus on what we are losing by engaging in something.  Everything has costs and benefits so this mindset is activated when considering pros and cons.
22. Differences vs. Similarities: Sometimes we focus on and highlight differences between people and sometimes we focus on similarities. When we like someone we often focus on similarities while conflict can cause us to highlight differences.
23. Love vs. Hate: A loving mindset involves looking at someone with the intent to determine their best interests and to act on them while hatred involves looking for ways to harm another person.
24. Self vs. Other: Sometimes our mindset shifts towards thinking about our own self-interest and sometimes we think about the perspectives and interests of others.
25. Principle vs. Pragmatism: Sometimes we focus on the integrity of process and sometimes on the integrity of outcome. When focusing on principle we try to act in consistent ways regardless of the
outcome and pragmatism means doing what will get the best result.  This is another mindset activated when considering how to act.
26. Scope – Eternal, Historical, Cultural, Sub-Cultural, Familial & Personal: The scope of our perspective can vary from eternal (spiritual), historical, cultural etc…This is activated when we have to consider how our actions fit within the contexts in which we live.
27. Courage vs. Avoidance: A courageous mindset involves facing danger while avoidance involves seeking to avoid discomfort. This is activated when we are faced with a potentially harmful activity or event.
28. Autonomy vs. Interdependence: Sometimes our need to be independent becomes paramount in our mind and sometimes our need to feel like we belong and can rely on others is foremost.
This is activated when we are evaluating our relationship dynamics.
29. Creativity vs. Predictability: Sometimes we want to focus on doing new things and sometimes we want efficiency and predictability. This is activated when we need to choose how to approach a given task.
30. Deliberate vs. Automatic: Sometimes we exert conscious control over our behavior and sometimes we allow our subconscious to operate on autopilot. This is activated when we need to choose how much effort to put into a given task.

Perspective – Worldviews


A worldview is a set of beliefs and values that informs how we interact with and structure the world around us. The Integrative Worldview Framework (IWF) is a tool that tries to map the major worldviews of North America.  According to this framework, there are 4 major worldviews that most people adopt in North America depending upon what one believes about ontology (the nature of being), epistemology (ways of knowing), axiology (what to value), anthropology (role of humanity) and the vision of an ideal society.  Each worldview is compared and contrasted below:

1. The Traditional Worldview

i.) Ontology (nature of being): Reality is singular and transcendent. The universe was purposely created by a God who transcends the profane world. Nature is seen as God’s creation that obeys laws He has set.
ii.) Epistemology (ways of knowing): Focus on an objective reality with an emphasis on the literal interpretation of scripture. Deference to religious/conventional authorities. Substantive rationality (reasoning guided by intrinsic values as opposed to cost/benefit calculations).
iii.) Axiology (what to value): Traditional values (security, tradition, conformity, obedience, humility). Emphasis on community and family.
iv.) Anthropology (role of humanity): Humanity is a steward over nature and lives to fulfill larger order social roles. Humans are seen as sinful/fallen from grace and dependent on God for salvation.
v.) Societal Vision: Emphasis on traditional societies and rural farming. Traditional secular and religious authorities are the source of solutions to the world’s problems.

2. The Modern Worldview

i.) Ontology (nature of being): Secular materialism where reality is singular. Mechanistic universe brought about by random selection. Material reality is devoid of meaning. Nature is seen as instrumental and devoid of intrinsic purpose and is a resource for exploitation.
ii.)Epistemology (ways of knowing): Emphasis on reality as objectively knowable (empiricism, rationalism). Secular authority (science and state) dictate what is true. Quantitative methods of science are used.
iii.) Axiology (what to value): Secular materialist values (power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation). Emphasis on independent individuality.
iv.) Anthropology (role of humanity): Humanity controls nature in pursuit of materialism and hedonism. Humans attempt to maximize utility and minimize losses.
v.) Societal Vision: Industrial societies with a mechanized mode of production. Science and technology are viewed as the solutions to world problems.

3. The Post-Modern Worldview

i.) Ontology (nature of being): Reality seen as pluralistic and constructed. It is discontinuous and fragmented and meaning is simply a social construct.
ii.) Epistemology (ways of knowing): Knowledge and reality are a social construct. Knowledge is relative and authority is internalized so that everyone is their own authority. Qualitative methods are emphasized.
iii.) Axiology (what to value): Self-expression, openness to change and self-direction are valued. Emphasis is on unique individuality.
iv.) Anthropology (role of humanity): Prime purposes of every human are unique and found within.
v.)  Societal Vision: Post-industrial societies with an emphasis on service economies and creative industries. Scepticism of the status quo and idealism. Problems are solved through mobilizing the public against revealed injustices.

4. The Integrative Worldview

i.) Ontology (nature of being): Holistic emphasis on the whole person. Reality is transcendent and immanent. Universe as an evolving, creative manifestation of the divine. Nature is valuable and humanity is an expression of a divine force.
ii.) Epistemology (ways of knowing): Pragmatism. Reality is understood through integrating sources of knowledge: scientific, spiritual/philosophical and subjective knowing. Mixed quantitative, qualitative and subjective methods.
iii.) Axiology (what to value): Self-actualization and transcendence values. Emphasis on relational individuality and a universal morality.
iv.) Anthropology (role of humanity): Humanity is unified with nature and synergizes with it. Prime purposes are found within, serving the larger whole. Humans are co-creators with nature or the divine.
v.) Societal Vision: Emphasis on sustainable service and creative industries. Problems solved through raising consciousness and synthesizing interests and perspectives.

Perspective – Cognitive Flexibility

Developing Cognitive Flexibility

Part of developing perspective is recognizing that the judgments we make are often automatic and subconscious which means they are often outside of our awareness.  The Greek Philosopher Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Similarly, the unexamined thought or belief is not worth holding.  The Problem with automatic thoughts is that they are largely unexamined yet exert an enormous amount of influence on our lives.  However, automatic thoughts definitely serve a functional purpose in helping us survive.

As human beings, our brains are designed to make quick, efficient judgments about things, such as whether something or someone is “safe” or “unsafe.” In fact, our brains are so efficient that we often aren’t even aware that we are making these judgments on a daily basis. These thoughts can become habitual and may be occurring unconsciously. This is not a bad thing because this efficiency allows us to adapt quickly to threats and survive.

However, this efficiency can become problematic when our automatic thoughts are distorted or unhelpful. When distorted or unhelpful automatic thoughts become too frequent, mood disorders start to develop. The problem with automatic thoughts, is that we can treat them as if they are facts and not tenuous interpretations subject to further investigation and reality testing.  A fact is an indisputable truth about reality while an interpretation is our opinion on those facts.

For example, “My boss yelled at me” may be a fact but there are many interpretations as to what that fact means.  “My boss hates me,” “I am going to get fired,” and “My boss is having a bad day” are just some of the valid interpretations that people may have about the fact.  Developing perspective is about slowing down, becoming aware of the automatic judgments we make and consciously assessing them in terms of their scope and depth of understanding.  It also involves learning to recognize when we are treating our interpretations as facts and learning to generate a range of different interpretations on any fact.  This skill is often referred to as “cognitive flexibility.” 

In summary, automatic thoughts are characterized by the following qualities:

  1. Content: Automatic thoughts can come in the form of words, images, intuition or physical sensations.
  2. Unconscious: Automatic thoughts often occur outside of our awareness. Sometimes we just have a feeling and haven’t put words to the unconscious belief that is causing that feeling.
  3. Believable: Studies show that the more we repeat something the more we believe it.  If you are repeating distorted beliefs you are more likely to start believing them simply through repetition.
  4. Unexamined: Automatic thoughts are often just accepted as facts and not understood to be interpretations that may be distorted or inaccurate.  If you never examine these thoughts then you can never detect error and bias that are distorting your mood.
  5. Quality of Life: Automatic thoughts have a large effect on how we experience life and the emotions that we feel. Every situation in life requires some degree of interpretation and meaning-making so every waking moment is affected by your control over and awareness of your automatic thoughts.

Automatic thoughts can be divided into categories based upon two dimensions: validity and utility.  Validity is a measure of whether a thought is accurate or not and utility is a measure of how useful a thought is in moving the person towards desired goals.   From these two dimensions come several different categories:

Adaptive Thoughts

  1. Useful Truths (High Validity and High Utility): These are the ideal automatic thoughts to have. They are accurate and useful in that they facilitate achieving desirable goals. “I can do this” is a basic example of a thought a seasoned performer might have that is accurate and helpful.
  2. Useful Fictions (Low Validity and High Utility): These are thoughts that help us move towards goals but might not be true.  For therapeutic purposes, these thoughts are not problematic.  An amateur performer who thinks: “I’m the best performer in the world” and really believes it is using this type of thought.  It is useful to her and facilitating goal achievement so does not need to be targeted for change.

Maladaptive Thoughts

  1. Harmful Truths (High Validity and low Utility): These thoughts are accurate but not useful in that they prevent achieving goals and focus on the negative. For example, ruminating about past failures is technically accurate but not helpful.  A performer about to get on stage who thinks: “Last time I failed” is technically accurate but this thought is not helpful in making her achieve in the present.
  2. Harmful Fictions (Low Validity and Utility): These thoughts are the worst type to have as they are not true and they are not useful.  A seasoned performer who thinks: “I am the worst actress in the world” before going on stage is thinking something that is demonstrably false and unhelpful if her goal is to perform well.

If you compare the mind to a city then thoughts are like the roads or paths that we use to get from one place to the next.  The more often we think certain things the more established those thoughts become or the more established the roads become.  A city with lots of accurate and useful roads will be a joy to navigate in.

In contrast, a city with lots of inaccurate and useless roads will be a chaotic experience and getting from one place to the next will be incredibly difficult.

Every time you think a thought you are strengthening the roads they form in your mind.  You need to purposefully identify accurate and useful thoughts that you can continually construct until your mind is functioning like a beautiful highway and not like a chaotic maze.

Correcting Distorted Thinking

The opposite of adopting a perspective that is broad in scope and rich and nuanced in detail is to take an oversimplified and distorted perspective on things. A distortion is something that is not a complete representation of the facts or reality.  Another word for distortion may be misrepresentation.  When we distort something we give a partial representation of the facts but neglect to account for the rest of those facts.  This is why distortions can be so convincing, as they are usually based on truth and are often partially true.  We can take the concept of distortion and apply it to thoughts to create cognitive distortions.  A cognitive distortion is an automatic thought, rule or belief that is misrepresented in an unbalanced way. When distorted thinking is taken to an extreme many mental health disorders begin to arise.

The first category of distortions involve selective focus.  People with mental health disorders often focus on selective truths but neglect the whole truth of reality. Their distorted focus leads to a distorted belief system that leads to distorted emotional experiences.  Ultimately, if a client’s belief system is distorted so that it only recognizes the negative truths about reality then their emotional experience will be proportionately distorted towards the negative as well.

For example, take a look at the picture below that includes both light and darkness.

A complete description and representation of this picture would have to include mentioning both dark clouds and rays of light.  However, a distorted description of this picture would only mention either the dark clouds or the rays of light.  It is technically true that this picture includes dark clouds, however if that were our final analysis we would have distorted reality by neglecting the totality of the picture.  In the same way, people with mental health disorders tend to selectively focus on the dark clouds of reality but ignore the rays of light that are also shining.  A popular proverb says “That which you gaze upon you become” and approximates the principle we are discussing here.  Another way to say this is what you focus on will determine your experience.  Developing perspective means learning to adopt a more balanced and holistic view of reality, not skewed by a selective focus on the negatives.

While one kind of distortion involves selective focusing, another kind of distortion occurs when we project our own biases, expectations and beliefs onto a relatively objective view of reality. This type of processing is known as “top-down” processing in cognitive psychology and occurs when we add our own biases, judgments and beliefs to the objective “bottom up” processing of the sensory data from our environment.  We can distort reality when we engage in overactive top-down processing in our attempt to interpret, judge and evaluate our life experiences.  For example, look at the picture below of a man viewing himself through different mirrors for a good example of how these projective distortions work.

As you can see, each mirror reflects a different picture of the man so that the end result is a distorted view that does not correspond with what the man truly looks like.  The mirror is analogous to the mind and the distorted images of the man represent the distorted beliefs and views of reality we create.  Our distorted interpretations are influenced by:

i.) Biases: Tendencies, inclinations, feelings or opinions that are usually unreasoned. Many are completely unaware of their biases and do not evaluate them for validity and utility.

ii.) Beliefs: Having confidence in the truth of something that is usually not certain. Many people, in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity, adopt rigid beliefs with strong conclusions not justified by the inherent uncertainty of reality. These people need to become open to the idea that other beliefs may be just as valid and more adaptive in helping the person reach their goals.

iii.) Expectations: These are beliefs about what is likely to occur in the future.  People often uncritically overestimate how accurate they are in predicting the future as they ignore the confounds of the self-fulfilling prophecy and confirmation bias.  You need to learn that what you predict often comes true because you act in subtle ways to bring about that future.  For example, if I predict that someone is a jerk then I am likely to act awkward around or dismissive of that person.  My actions can therefore elicit the future I have predicted and the person may indeed start acting like a jerk to me.  Similarly, confirmation bias occurs when we see what we expect to see through selective focus and filtering.  If I expect someone to be a jerk I’m likely to filter out evidence that might suggest this is not true and emphasize and exaggerate little signals that might confirm my belief.

iv.) Learning history: We all have different learning histories where we make different associations between things or ideas.  We all have also had different behaviors, ideas and feelings either punished or reinforced according to different reinforcement schedules.  For example, if someone has had nothing but punitive experiences with authority figures when they see new authority figures they will project “punitive” onto that new person whether or not it is true.  Similarly, if a person has had hard work encouraged and rewarded in the past they are likely to do so in the future.  However, if hard work yielded little results they may conclude that it is not reinforcing and not adopt that behavior in the future.

v.) Moods and Emotions:  Our current affective state will also influence how we process and interpret reality.  Researchers have identified that we tend to remember negative things when we are in a negative mood and positive things when in a positive mood.  This is called mood-congruent memory.  Similarly, it will be easier for us to recall positive events in life if we are in a positive mood and negative events if we are in a negative mood.  This is mood-dependent memory.

Specific Cognitive Distortions

There are 10 very common ways that people tend to distort and oversimplify their experiences which leads to errors in perception and judgment.   I will now examine each of these 10 distortions in detail and give examples of how to challenge and correct for each distortion.

1. All or Nothing Thinking: All or nothing thinking occurs when anything less than perfect is interpreted as if it were zero or not good enough.  It involves interpreting life situations in absolute terms and is also referred to as “black and white thinking” or “polarized thinking.”   Look for words like: Always, Never, Perfect, Awful, Terrible, Ruined or Disastrous. Common beliefs that reflect this distortion include: “If I have not gotten perfect, I have failed.” “People should always keep my rules or they will be cut off from my life.”

For example: A student who scores an 85% on a test where the average was 70% concludes…”I am a failure.” In this students mind, anything less than 100% would be interpreted the same, whether it were 90%, 50% or 20%.   This is a distortion because it involves failing to recognize the degrees in between the extremes which make up the majority of outcomes in life.  If most outcomes are somewhere in between the extremes, this distortion involves converting all of these outcomes to the extreme and failing to recognize the nuances of life.

Metaphor:  A metaphor for this distortion could include something like: “A farmer planted a crop and when it came time to harvest 20% of his crop was damaged.  This outcome was unacceptable so he refused to harvest the other 80% and then starved during the winter.”   As you can see, this kind of thinking can cause more disaster than the situation that triggered it.

Ways to Challenge: You need to learn about the opportunity cost of pursuing perfection in any area.  Since time is a scarce resource, the allocation of most of it to any single pursuit will lead to the neglect of other areas of life and put your life out of balance.  Thus, the cost of perfection in one area, are the opportunities for development in other areas.  There are diminishing returns on the time we invest in things.  If it will take you 10 hours of study to achieve an A but then 30 hours to achieve an A+, you have to consider whether that 20 extra hours is really worth the 10% difference in your grade or whether that 20 hours could have been spent somewhere else, creating a more balanced life.   Also, perfectionistic thinking actually decreases performance in the long run, and does not increase it.  You may need to learn to determine when something is “good enough” and accept that the cost of moving from “good enough” to perfection may be too high and may have net harmful effects in the long run.  You can also use the cognitive continuum technique to challenge these beliefs (will be discussed later).

2. Overgeneralizing: Overgeneralizing involves making broad generalizations based upon a limited amount of experiences.  When we overgeneralize, we make predictions about ourselves, other people or situations that may not be warranted by the data.  Common beliefs that involve overgeneralizing include: “I will always fail at math” or “People will always hurt you if they get the chance.

For Example:  A person concludes: “I will always be rejected” after being made fun of by someone at school.  In this situation, the person who felt rejected assumes that based upon this experience, all future experiences with other people can be predicted.  It involves assuming that everyone is like the bully and that everyone will reject him just because one person did.

Metaphor:  A metaphor for this distortion may be: “A new farmer planted a crop for the first time but a drought led to a scant harvest.  As a result, the farmer assumed every year his crops would fail and gave up farming.”  Again, the distortion may cause more long-term damage than the situation that caused it.

Ways to Challenge: Overgeneralizing is a statistical error.  When we overgeneralize, we make conclusions about a whole population based upon a biased or limited sample. You may need to realize that the conclusions you are making about a whole population of people or situations are not justified by your limited experience (sample size).  In the above metaphor, the farmer would need to attempt to plant crops over multiple years before drawing conclusions and the person being bullied would need to try and reach out to many different kinds of people before concluding that all will reject him.  When we overgeneralize we draw conclusions based on samples that are limited in size and not representative of the whole.

3. Mental Filter: The mental filter is a distortion of focus in that it involves only paying attention to certain types of evidence that support our beliefs and “filtering” out any disconfirming evidence that might challenge our beliefs.  It is similar to the “confirmation bias” which is a general human bias that suggests people have a tendency to “confirm” their beliefs through emphasizing supporting evidence and dismissing disconfirming evidence.  Common thoughts that might indicate this bias include: “I can’t think of any evidence that might suggest I am not a failure.” “There is no other way of looking at this situation.”

For Example: An accomplished former champion athlete performs poorly and concludes “I am a failure” and filters out his past accomplishments to support the belief.  A person is convinced another student, who he has not met, is a bad person based upon rumors he has heard.  When he meets that other person he confirms this belief by exaggerating signals that confirm it and ignoring or explaining away evidence this might not be true.  The person thus “confirms” their initial beliefs through a mental filter.

Metaphor:  A rookie farmer whose first harvest was scant but who has had much success working on his uncle’s farm concludes: “I am a terrible farmer” and gives up farming.  The filter prevents recognition of disconfirming evidence and dangerously influences decision making.

Ways to Challenge:  One of the major tools used to challenge the mental filter is the positive data log (will be explored later) in which the person practices searching for and recording evidence that might disconfirm core beliefs.  The best friend technique is great to counter this distortion as well as it forces the person to consider arguments that a loved one would make on their behalf.  The Best Friend Technique involves some variation of the following question:  “If your best friend was in this situation, what would you say to them? If you have a really wise and loving best friend, what would they say to you if you told them your thoughts? What would I/a therapist say?

4. Disqualifying the Positive: This distortion occurs when a person becomes aware of a positive experience or attribute and then devalues or minimizes their importance.  It involves taking the positive for granted and often involves the words: “Yes, but that doesn’t count because…”

For Example: A brilliant student finds math easy but assumes everybody does and says “It’s no big deal” or “that skill is useless.” The student disqualifies the positive things about himself, suggesting that they are not important.

Metaphor:  A farmer planted a crop that failed and concludes that he is not good enough to be a farmer.  When he is reminded of his past success with his uncle he concludes: “Yes but those successes don’t count.” Disqualifying his prior successes will influence his judgment about whether he should continue as a farmer or not.

Ways to challenge: Disqualifying the positive often results from a bias called the “false consensus effect.” This bias suggests that we tend to overestimate how similar other people are to us in terms of beliefs, opinions, abilities and values.  Since we assume everybody is like us, it’s easy to dismiss our unique gifts and abilities because “It’s no big deal, everybody can do that.”  However, what comes easy to one person is often very difficult to another.  You may need to learn to stop minimizing the positive things about yourself or your life situation and to place appropriate value on them.  The evidence technique can help you evaluate the reasons why you are dismissing the positives and can help you generate new evidence as to why the positives matter.  Gratitude journals and mental subtraction are other common techniques used.  Mental subtraction occurs when a person imagines not having a positive or even lives without the positive thing in their life for a while.  This exercise helps you see the importance of some of these positive things and can aid in placing appropriate value on them.

5. Jumping to Conclusions: This distortion manifests in two different ways: mind reading and fortune telling.  Both involve making negative predictions in the absence of enough evidence to justify those predictions.  Mind reading occurs when you assume that you can accurately infer the intentions or thoughts of another person.  For Example, a woman walks into a busy room and isn’t immediately acknowledged.  She concludes: “These people are purposely ignoring me and are thinking I look like an idiot.” Fortune Telling occurs when you assume that you can predict the future, usually in a negative way.  For example, a man who is beginning school predicts: “I will not be able to handle it.” Another man who is afraid he is going to lose his job predicts: “I will become homeless and live on the street.”

Metaphor: A farmer who had a scant harvest went to the market one day and told the other villagers what happened.  They offered him some help but he refused because he thought: “They are thinking I am an incompetent provider and are only offering help to prove their superiority.”  This prediction about what the people were thinking was not justified by the evidence but determined whether he would accept help or not. The farmer also predicted his next harvest would be a failure and that the people would “rub it in his face” again next year.

Ways to Challenge:  Mind reading can usually be challenged through reality testing and understanding falsifiability.  If you are convinced that you know what others are thinking then check your interpretation by asking the other person if they are really thinking what you think they are.  If you still don’t believe the person then consider whether you have an unfalsifiable belief or not.  When possible, the beliefs we form should be capable of being proven false.  If there is nothing that can happen that would prove your belief false then it is an unfalsifiable belief and is thus unreasoned.  Ask yourself: “What could happen that would prove my interpretation was inaccurate?”  “What are some other things that person may have been thinking of me?”  “Is there not just as much evidence for both interpretations?”

Fortune telling is usually challenged through conducting behavioral experiments that allow you to test out whether your behaviors will lead to predicted outcomes or not.  Hopefully, the behavioral experiment will disconfirm the negative predictions and give new evidence to change the belief. However, you have to be sure to rule out self-fulfilling prophecies.

6. Catastrophizing/Minimizing:  These are distortions of impact, in that we either exaggerate the negative consequences of an event (catastrophizing/magnifying) or we minimize them (minimizing). Catastrophizing and fortune telling often occur together and involve making predictions about how terrible a situation is going to be.

For example:  A person with social anxiety explains: “If I say hello to a new friend I will look awkward and will be rejected.  I will then be a total outcast and people will think I’m a loser every time they see me.” In this example, the person exaggerates the impact that one person rejecting them will have.  In reality, the person will most likely have an uncomfortable situation but then move on and invest in others who will not reject him. Catastrophizing also occurs when we say things like: “I can’t stand doing this activity” or “This is unbearable.”  We overuse these statements when we apply them to situations that are really just mildly uncomfortable.   An example of minimizing might be: A man struggling to fulfill role expectations concludes: “My drug habit isn’t interfering with my family.”

Metaphor:  A farmer plants a crop and realizes that some pests have destroyed 5% of it.  The farmer concludes: “This means my family will starve and we will all be dead by the end of winter.”  In reality, the farmer has enough food to survive the winter but he has jumped to catastrophic conclusions and magnified the impact this event will have on his life.

Way to challenge: Catastrophizing is problematic in that you can overestimate how probable a catastrophe is but also underestimate your ability to handle it if it does occur.  Consider the actual statistical probability of what you are predicting happening and  think of times that you have coped in emergency situations before.  Make a balanced prediction of what is likely to happen but also how you would handle the catastrophe if it did occur and what sources of help would be available to you.  If you are minimizing the impact of something negative in your life then learn to  evaluate the evidence and examine role functioning.  Create a “moderation pie” in which you can chart how time is spent and therefore see what she might be neglecting.

7. Emotional Reasoning: Emotional reasoning occurs when we believe that something is true because we feel that it is.  We use our emotions or feeling as evidence for why our beliefs are true or not. It is circular reasoning because it involves using the conclusion as the premise of the same argument. 

For example:  A depressed person states: “I feel like a loser and therefore I am.”  A person with an eating disorder believes: “I feel fat so I must be.”

Metaphor:  A farmer planted his crops and his experienced uncle said that he had done so accurately. However, the farmer felt depressed and concluded he was a failure.  Even though an experienced farmer said he had done a good job, he used his emotions as evidence that he did not.

Way to challenge: Emotional reasoning can be easily refuted with a ridiculous example such as: “I feel I’m the Prime Minister of Canada” or “I feel I’m the best soccer player in the world.”  Does that make it true?  Obviously not, and these examples can help you see that just because you feel a certain way doesn’t mean it’s true. Emotional reactions cannot tell us whether something is true or not but they simply tell us how we would feel if a certain thing were true.  “I would feel depressed if there were strong evidence that I were a loser” is an accurate statement but “I am a loser because I feel depressed” is not.

8. Shoulding: This distortion occurs when we create rules for ourselves and others that are unrealistic, rigid or that focus on what is out of our control. This is one distortion that even therapists often misunderstand.  No, this does not mean that all shoulds or rules are undesirable.  We all have healthy shoulds that we follow.  “You shouldn’t have shoulds” is itself a should and contradicts the very rule it’s trying to advocate for.  We are concerned with rigid and unrealistic shoulds, not healthy and realistic ones.

For Example: A depressed person may conclude: “I should not be depressed.” Why not?  This assumes that we are all born into the world with a perfect working knowledge of the causes, maintenance and treatment of mental health problems.  If that were the case, we wouldn’t need mental health professionals nor would we need education.  This is an example of an unrealistic rule that results in a negative judgment about the self.

Metaphor:  A farmer planted his crops and when it came time to harvest them he realized that a hail storm had destroyed some of them.  He concluded: “A farmer should never lose any of his crops” and felt bad about his abilities as a farmer.  As you can see, this rule is rigid and unrealistic since the farmer can’t control nature.

Ways to challenge: Shoulds can be challenged through examining their utility (the effects they have on your life) and validity (whether this rule could be applied to others).  Since shoulds are usually related to who is responsible for certain outcomes, you can also use the responsibility pie to help yourself see that factors outside a person’s control need to be considered and thus rules need to be updated.  Behavioral experiments can also be used to help you try out new rules for living and to evaluate their effects.

9. Labelling: Labelling occurs when we oversimplify a complex person or situation and exaggerate the prominence of a certain characteristic or event.  Labelling is a distortion because it reduces the identity of a complex person or thing to one dimension.  Labelling is similar to the nominal fallacy in which a person explains something simply by naming it.

For example:  A lethargic child is given the label “lazy” by his father.   The father has attempted to explain lethargy through applying a label but he hasn’t explained lethargy at all, he has simply given it a new name with negative connotations.  The problem with the label is that the child’s complex identity comprised of numerous characteristics has been ignored and an oversimplifying label has been applied instead.  Other common labels people put on themselves include: “Fat” “Stupid” “Ugly” “Failure” etc…

Metaphor:  A farmer who has had a long history of success as a father, husband, painter and friend gathers a scant harvest one year based upon a mistake he made.  The farmer labels himself a “failure” because of this mistake and reduces the complexity of his character to one dimension.

Ways to challenge: Labels can be challenged through the pie technique.  Create a pie listing your roles, characteristics and accomplishments.  Next, cover up the entire pie and exaggerate the importance of a single piece and apply that label to the whole pie.  You should see that the label has distorted the whole and misrepresents what the pie truly is.  Labels can also be challenged through examining their utility and through best-friend technique to help you see the double standard you are most likely holding.

10. Personalization & Blame: This distortion occurs when we magnify or minimize how responsible we or other people are for certain outcomes.  When we personalize, we take more responsibility than is appropriate for an outcome and when we blame we place more responsibility than is appropriate on someone else.

For Example:  A woman whose husband beats her concludes: “He wouldn’t beat me if I were a better cook.” In this case, the woman is taking responsibility for the husband’s abuse, even though she has no control over it.  In contrast, if the abusive husband says: “I wouldn’t hit her if she didn’t make me so angry” then he is distorting responsibility by placing blame on someone other than himself.

Metaphor:  A farmer plants his crops and realizes when it is time to harvest them that a hail storm has destroyed some of them.  The farmer concludes: “This is all my fault, I’m a terrible farmer.”  Conversely, the farmer may blame his neighbor saying: “This wouldn’t have happened if my neighbor didn’t tempt fate by being so arrogant.”  In both situations, responsibility for the outcome of the crop failure has been distorted.

Ways to Challenge:  The best way to challenge this distortion is through the responsibility pie.  Responsibility pies will help you identify all of the contributors to an outcome and help you evaluate how much each factor contributed to the outcome.  This will challenge the simplistic conclusions of “it’s all my fault” or “It’s all their fault” and help you develop a more balanced conclusion.

Developing Nuanced Thinking: Pies and Continuum’s

Two other common tools are used to help counter distorted thinking that include: Cognitive Continuum’s and Responsibility Pies.

The Cognitive Continuum is a technique designed to counter all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralizing and labelling by helping the client see the degrees in between their extreme ways of thinking.  It involves creating a continuum (a line) with poles labeled 0% and 100% and then placing markers at 25%, 50% and 75%. The exercise simply involves identifying what each percentage of a quality looks like.  It is an exercise that will help you become better at differentiating between degrees rather than converting to extremes.

For example, if you believe: “I am a failure” then the continuum would prompt you to describe what a 100% failure looks like as well as a 75%, 50%, 25% and 0% failure is.  The point of the exercise is to help you more accurately interpret where you land on the continuum to challenge the extreme conclusion you have come to.

An example of a cognitive continuum for health anxiety is provided below for your convenience.

The responsibility pie is an exercise designed to help you challenge distortions of responsibility, including personalization and blame.  Sometimes we don’t understand that rarely can an outcome be solely attributed to one thing or understood in only one way.

This exercise simply involves identifying the belief of distorted responsibility and then brainstorming  all the different factors that contributed to the outcome.  After you have listed the factors, determine how much each contributed to the outcome and then draw the results in pie form.  For example, a person who has the belief: “It’s all my fault that my husband left me” can do a pie listing factors that were outside her control in determining the outcome.  For example, the husband’s decision, situational stressors and the influence of others could all be part of her new pie.  After doing the pie, a new balanced belief should look something like: “While I probably contributed to this outcome, many other factors out of my control were also involved.”

Decision Making – Group Decisions

Part 5: Group Decision Making

Decisions are not always made by individuals and are frequently made by groups of people so it is important to know some of the group dynamics that influence decision making.  According to Michael A. Roberto there are 5 common myths about decision making within organizations that need to be addressed.  These myths include:

Myth #1: The chief executive decides. Instead of their being a single chief executive that decides everything, in reality decisions are made simultaneously at many levels of the organization.
Myth #2: Decisions are made in the room during meetings. Most decisions are made in side conversations between small groups or individuals. Meetings are usually had to simply ratify decisions already made.
Myth #3: Decisions are usually based on reason. In reality, decisions usually have complex, social, emotional and political processes. The desire to fit in and group-think are powerful forces that complicate the decision making process.
Myth #4: Managers analyze and then decide. Many problems are not formally analyzed and managers implement solutions before analysis. Sometimes solutions are made that go searching for problems as well.
Myth #5: Managers decide and then act. The reality is that many times manager’s act and then they try to make sense of those actions by giving reasons for them.

Sometimes groups make better decisions than individuals and sometimes they make worse decisions due to group-think. We will now look at factors that lead to group wisdom and then factors that lead to group-think.  Much of the time, groups fail to make better decisions than the most competent individual in the group.  However, in some situations crowds of unrelated people make better decisions than individuals. James Surowiecki wrote a book arguing this and pointed to the fact that on who wants to be a millionaire the audience was right 91% of the time.

In order for crowds to perform better than individuals, Surowiecki suggests that the following preconditions must be met:

1. The crowd must consist of people with many different perspectives and areas of expertise.
2. The crowd must be decentralized and dispersed.
3. You have to have a way to aggregate the opinions of the crowd through some polling mechanism.
4. There must be complete independence without any individual being able to influence others. Thus, the vote must be anonymous.

The following factors will taint group decisions and make them worse than a competent individual:

1. Pressure for conformity: When there is a strong pressure to conform to group ideas decisions are hurt.
2. Schisms: When groups divide into different “teams” and alliances form decisions are hurt.
3. Air time: When groups fail to share the conversational floor and a few dominate talks decisions are hurt.
4. Free riding: When groups allow individual members not to contribute but to just let everyone else do the work.
5. Lack of Information Sharing: Gary Stasser’s research suggests that groups tend to discuss information common to everybody but do not address privately held information.
6. Information funneling: in many groups, information gets filtered as it moves up the hierarchy so that top leaders do not get all the information.

The Pressure to conform is so strong that it has been given its own name: group-think.  Irving Janis said that group-think arises when a team experiences a strong pressure to conform so that the goal becomes unanimity instead of critical thinking.  The Symptoms of Group-think include the following:

1. Feeling invulnerable: When the group believes it can’t fail.
2. Rationalization: When the group rationalizes away dis-confirming evidence.
3. Superiority: When the group believes they are superior to others.
4. Stereotypes: When the group stereotypes competitors or rivals and oversimplifies things.
5. Majority pressure: When the group majority pressures dissenting members from expressing their views.
6. Unanimity: When unanimity is said to be achieved without truly knowing what each individual believes.
7. Self-censorship: When group members are afraid to challenge majority views out of fear of being ostracized.

When groups engage in group-think, the five following outcomes are likely:

1. Ignoring Alternatives: Groups will be overly committed to one course of action and will have not sufficiently explored alternative solutions.
2. Ignoring Risks: If unanimity is the goal, communicating risks could be seen as disruptive to that process so they are ignored.
3. Ignoring revisions: Group-think also results in a failure to reconsider options that were once dismissed.
4. Confirmation Bias: The group will ignore conflicting evidence or outside opinions and make decisions without all of the information.
5. Failure to make contingencies: Group-think yields decision that members become overconfident about so the group fails to make backup plans assuming everything will go as planned.

In order to assess whether your group is engaging in group-think, consider the following questions:

1. Are meetings overly quiet and rushed or are they lively with time allotted for discussion?
2. Do those lower on the hierarchy wait for permission to give their opinions?
3. Do strategy meetings focus on fancy presentations or on open dialogue?
4. Do the same people dominate meetings consistently?
5. Are meetings formalities for rubber stamping decisions already made outside the meeting?
6. Are people afraid to give their real opinions for fear of being ostracized?
7. Do disagreements rarely occur or are group members afraid of disagreeing?

Group decision making should also reflect constructive conflict rather than destructive conflict.   Cognitive conflictsare task oriented and involves debate and disagreement about facts, issues and ideas.
This is the healthy form of conflict that we want to stimulate in our meetings. This type of conflict generates alternatives, critically evaluates all ideas and tries to consider all viewpoints.  Affective Conflicts are not about the issues but instead are emotional and personal in nature. This type of conflict is characterized by anger, defensiveness and personality clashes and is destructive to the decision making process.

In order to recognize Affective Conflict, consider the following questions:

1. Have people stopped asking questions and trying to understand other people’s point of view?
2. Has the group ceased looking for new information?
3. Have people stopped revising their proposals based on the feedback of others?
4. Do people no longer ask for help with interpreting ambiguous data and situations?
5. Do people repeat the same arguments, louder and louder over time?
6. Have people stopped critiquing their own proposals?
7. Have quieter group member simply withdrawn over time?

In order to keep conflict constructive, the following four guidelines are helpful:

1. Establish ground rules: Ensure that all group members know the rules for interacting with each other during group meetings.
2. Clarify Roles: Ensure that all group members know the roles that they are to play and have them consider and even take on the roles of others to empathize.
3. Channel Emotions: instead of trying to eliminate emotions, try to channel them into ideas instead of personal attacks.
4. Presentation of Ideas: Try and present ideas from different viewpoints and perspectives so as to foster an open-minded mindset.

Along with keeping conflict constructive, group decisions should also occur through a fair process.  When the process is fair we say that procedural justice has been achieved.   The goal of group discussion is to arrive at a consensus decision that all can support. This doesn’t mean unanimity as ultimately many solutions will need to be rejected. Consensusoccurs when all group members have a shared understanding of the plan and are committed to implementing it.  A fair process ensures a “cushion of support” will exist around the decision itself and that it allows even those who disagreed with the decision to ultimately support implementing it.  In order to achieve procedural justice, the following four steps should be implemented:

1. Opportunity for Expression: Each group member needs to be given enough time to discuss how and why they disagree with other group members.
2. Transparency: Each group member must believe that deliberations occurred openly in meetings and not behind the scenes through backroom deals.
3. Consideration: Group members must believe that the leader cared enough to listen to their opinion and to thoughtfully consider it before making a decision.
4. Rationale: Group members must have the rationale for the decision communicated to them in a clear way so that they can understand it.

The opposite of procedural justice is a charade of consultation in which leaders go through the motions of a fair process but really just implement what they always planned on implementing from
the outset.

In the deliberation stage of decision making group members should diverge from each other and gather as many different viewpoints as they can. However as the process unfolds group members should converge and come back together.  In the deliberation stage, disagreement is encouraged so that each individual can feel properly heard and understood.  If a person feels heard and taken seriously, they can support a decision they disagreed with in the implementation stage of decision making.