Saturday, July 03, 2010

Virtually Attend my Dissertation Defense

If you are interested in virtually attending my dissertation final oral examination, you can attend by signing up here. The meeting will begin at 8AM (Pacific).

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Reasoned Action and Conversion

My dissertation has been focused on understanding how spirituality affects how we decide to engage in moral and immoral behaviors. The model I am using for this relationship is the Theory of Reasoned Action. Reasoned Action states that behavioral intentions are the result of two main influences: personal beliefs and social norms. Personal beliefs are related to what we believe about the behavior: is it enjoyable, is it instrumental for something else, and is it moral? Social norms include what we think other people want us to do and what other people actually do.

I have been wondering how Reasoned Action could be applied to religious conversion. When a person thinks about changing their religious convictions (or lack thereof), what influences are important for them? Here are some possibilities, based on this theory:

Attitudes: people convert because they think it will be enjoyable, pleasant, and maybe even fun to be a different religion.

Instrumental Beliefs: converting will help them accomplish some goal in their life, such as quitting alcohol or raising good religious children.

Moral Values: conversion is important because it is the "right" thing to do, because it is God's will and because it is true

Descriptive social norms: converting is attractive because a lot of their friends are that religion or have just converted, their example is influential

Injunctive social norms: the person believes that their friends and other influential people in their lives want them to convert (regardless of their own faith)

Perceived control (an aspect of Planned Behavior, not Reasoned Action): the person believes that it is possible for them to convert, that they could live a new life.

As you can imagine, all of these dimensions will likely be important influences on why a person converts. Two questions emerge: which of these are most important to the person who converts? And which of these reasons are acceptable to the religion as a reason to convert.

For the first question, this could suggest possibilities for ways to help people convert. If it is Attitudes that is foremost, then how do make the religion appear more enjoyable? If it is Injunctive Social Norms, then obviously sharing faith will be an important facet for helping people convert. But this brings us to the second question, what are the preferable reasons for conversion?

I think it is likely that religious clergy would want people to convert out of their moral values, a belief that it is true and good. But what if a person wants to convert so that they can meet dateable men or women? Obviously, some religious traditions would care more about intentions than others. If we "sell" a religion based upon Attitudes, then do people actually internalize their faith? If we pressure people to convert by sharing our faith with them regularly, does this create the type of faith that we hope for?

These questions are complex. Maybe I will be able to read up on any previous research in this area... or maybe even do some of my own research. Any thoughts or comments?

Friday, May 28, 2010

LOST and Job

This past Sunday brought the finale of LOST. As an avid fan of LOST, I came to the episode with great anticipation but also fear - how would this all be resolved. While to a great extent I am borrowing from a number of other in-depth and scholarly reviews, (though in far less depth) I hope to add my own perspective.

But first, I would like to debunk any notion that the series was Christian - that it was an attempt to put forth a Christian worldview. I can understand the longing for that, but I think that it would ultimately fall flat in the face of the much broader spirituality it presents. However, I still believes it has great value for the Christian because it provides a unique view into what it is that people want.

I would like to develop this idea in the frame of the Biblical character of Job. Job was a man of "science" or in his case theological/legal law. While it is easy to get caught up in how Job's response to his tragedy is portrayed as blameless, what is easily missed is Job's long discourse with his so-called friends. Here he actually calls God to trial so that God would pronounce him innocent and declare that his suffering was truly "for no reason." He wanted to have an actual court case where he shows that God made a mistake in causing his suffering because only evil people suffer and Job is a good man. In the loss of so much within his life, and the rejection of his friends, he sought out the one thing that he believed would bring his life meaning again - certainty in his knowledge of God as retributive.

I think many viewers of LOST have been caught up in a very similar attitude towards the finale. They want the mysteries solved, they want to be justified in their search for meaning in the mythology and mystery of the island. They have seen characters die without much cause, and they have chosen to invest less in the characters than in the mysteries.

Returning to Job, we find that he continues his long discourse until finally - surprisingly - God arrives! Job's opportunity to appeal his case is allowed - or so he thinks. No, instead God declares the world a mystery. Some may think this is a harsh response to Job and, yes, it is. But so is Locke's response to Jack, that he doesn't really have a son. Sometimes awakenings are jolting. But Jack recovered and so did Job.

Job's awakening was that God was not "reasonable" but rather mysterious. But, in the midst of that, Job realized that a reasonable, predictable, and comprehensible God was not what he ever really wanted all along. What Job really wanted was to know that God was there, that God would show up. Job wanted to know that God cared for him. So God had to reveal the error inherent in Job's search for acquittal: that he was trying to find fulfillment in having the mysteries solved.

Instead, God presents himself to Job and, rather than condemning him for his presumptions, invites him into a deeper relationship, one where the mysteries remain.

The conclusion of LOST is really about showing that ultimately (hopefully?) we cared about these people much more than we cared about the mysteries. Sure we tried to subjectify the mysteries, hoping that we would find fulfillment in them, to experience them as things we can relate with. But, really, would we have been remotely satisfied if every mystery was solved but the characters whom we cared for were lost in the midst?

Sure, we feel loss that the mysteries remain. We will never know for certain how it would have felt to have those questions answered. But I know the feeling I had when the lives of these characters found a conclusion. And that assures me that it is real relationships that matter. It is when God shows up when we realize what we really wanted all along.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Psychology of Music

Music is an interesting phenomenon for psychologists. Music is ubiquitous and fundamental to human culture. But the tools of psychology seem, at first glance, to be unable to capture the dynamic experience of music. I'm not sure if I will revisit this topic but I thought it would be fun to share some psychological articles I have read about music. First of all, what makes a person a good musician?

There are numerous anecdotes of musical giftedness - that success in music is primarily a function of some inherent quality within a person. But the research does not support this. One longitudinal study found that the significant predictors for success in music were practice and resilience against failure. Individuals who practiced more were considerably more likely to succeed as musicians. The resilience against failure is a somewhat surprising finding because the failure that was investigated was not related to music at all. Apparently, the ability to cope with failure in general allows people to overcome the frustration inherent to learning music.

Perhaps what is more notable is what was not significantly related to music: musical aptitude and intelligence. Neither of these variables predicted how good the individual would be at music. While it may be possible that giftedness could be related to success, the relationship is weak and nobody really knows how to discover that giftedness. So - PARENTS - if you want your children to succeed in music, stop trying to determine if they are gifted and simply encourage them to continue practicing and remain positive when they struggle.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Motivational Preaching Revisited

About a year and a half ago, I posted a blog on Motivational Preaching that has turned out to be one of my most visited articles. It turns out that people (I assume many are pastors) are very interested in learning how to make their preaching more motivational. But I imagine that people searching "motivational preaching" envisioned reading something very different from what my article addressed. So I would like to revisit Motivational Preaching here to connect some of my arguments to what is traditionally thought of as motivational speaking.

When you think of change you need to think of two forces or motivations. The first is the motivation to change. This includes beliefs about what the change will involve in terms of quality of life and self-concept, ideas about how people will perceive that change, and a sense of moral obligation to make that change. The second force is the motivation to stay the same. This includes one's attitude towards their current lifestyle, their beliefs about the change process (how hard it will be and whether change is possible), and their beliefs about whether the people they care about think they should stay the same.

Now, I would argue that most preaching focuses on the first dimension: arguing for reasons to change. Now, I think this is a critical step for making change. However, we all know people (and I consider myself one of them) who know they should make changes in their lives - in fact, can be completely convinced of the need - but fail to do so. I would argue that this is because the second motivation to stay the same has not been effectively addressed.

One of the potential pitfalls of only arguing for the need to change is that the person starts to think of all the positive aspects of staying the same. This is psychological resistance - we automatically try to counter arguments as a natural response. So instead of increasing our desire to change, focusing on reasons to change can actually increase our reasons for staying the same because our psychological resistance brings up all the good of staying the same.

However, preachers can use psychological resistance to aid in making change. If the preacher bring up the reasons why we stay the same, and does so without completely discounting them, the people who are listening will begin to counter the argument. So if a preacher says, "I know that times are tight, that we all need to watch our finances, and that we need to take care of our family first" then those who are listening might start to draw upon their own reasons for wanting to give financially. If they don't give, it is because they feel they truly don't have the finances to give right now, instead of not giving because they hate being guilted into giving. You see? By siding with their ambivalence, we can help them reflect on the good and the bad. We're simply acknowledging what they automatically start thinking about.

There are a couple of considerations to this. The first is that people do not like being manipulated and so if this is simply a device to manipulate, then it can become ineffective. But, if the preacher really understands his congregation and how hard it would be for them to make the change, he can empathize with their hesitancy to change in an authentic manner and look beyond just his desire to feel effective by getting people to change. I would also add that preaching still should involve direction, that preachers should teach about the joys of giving and the mandate of tithing, for example. Sometimes, people do not know why they should change or even how they should change. Motivational preaching still needs to show people how God would like to use them.

Now, I hope this clarifies some of the specific techniques I wrote about in that previous blog. If you would like to read that blog, you can click on the text Motivational Preaching and do so. I know that it would take up some of your time and you might not think I have much expertise, but I think it might help you grow as a preacher. (I know, that was a cheesy way of using motivational interviewing techniques - sorry!)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Important Lessons on Myers-Briggs and Personality

I have been doing some research on the Myers-Briggs lately and thought it would be interesting to share some of what I have found. Now, this topic isn't directly related to spirituality but I know that many churches use the Myers-Briggs to help people understand themselves better. So what does the research say about the Myers-Briggs?

First of all, the research is fairly clear about one thing: classifying yourself into types (i.e. Introvert vs. Extrovert, Sensing vs. Intuiting, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perceiving) is not the best way of understanding personality. If certain types were completely different (rather than relatively different), then they would have unique characteristics. Instead, the degree to which one leans to a certain personality is important. As an example, someone who scores a little bit on the introverted site would be characterized as an I, but they will be very different from another person who scored very extreme on Introversion. Lesson #1: Know how extreme your score is on each dimension.

Second, and this relates to the first, the 16 classifications (INTJ or ESFP) do not represent this variability in the dimensions and are thus oversimplifications of personality. The descriptions are vague enough so that we feel like they describe us, but they do very little to predict our actual behaviors. Lesson #2: Don't pay much attention to your 4-letter type.

Third, the Myers-Briggs is not the accepted model of personality within academia. Instead of four dimensions of personality, most research suggests that there are five dimensions. They are: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. Extraversion is pretty much the same as the I/E scale of the Myers-Briggs. Similarly, Openness to Experience is the same as S/N, with Intuitiveness increasing as Openness increases. There is some evidence that T/F does measure a unique orientation to problems; however, it also measures Agreeableness, so that those high in Thinking are less Agreeable. Judging/Perceiving is related to Conscientiousness, with Judgers being more Conscientious. Finally, Anxiety has been shown to be a unique dimension of personality but this is not reflected in the Myers-Briggs. Lesson #3: The Myers-Briggs can tell you about your level of Extraversion and to what degree you are open to experiences through intuition. Lesson #4: The Myers-Briggs is not very reliable in deciphering whether you have a thinking or feeling orientation and instead T/F is actually a combination of multiple aspects of your personality, most notably Aggreeableness. Lesson #5: Judging/Perceiving is actually a combination of several elements of your personality and it is unclear to what degree this tells you something unique about who you are. Lesson #6: The Myers-Briggs does not tell you about your level of Neuroticism (Anxiety and Depression) although this may be an important strength of the measure for general usage.

Fourth, personality is not simply 4 or 5 dimensions. While I have mentioned the five factor model of personality, the reality is that there are more dimensions, but the dimensions can be grouped into five factors. One popular personality test, the 16-PF measures personality on 16 dimensions. While this test can group the scores together into the five factors, looking at all 16 dimensions reveals a lot more about our personality. Lesson #7: Broad views of personality are helpful but specific viewpoints add clarity.

Finally, there has been some who have argued for a sixth dimension of personality: spirituality. Our ability to connect to the sacred reflects a key component of who we are as people. This does not mean that we are bound to either be spiritual or not spiritual. Remember, our personalities can change! Lesson #8: Spirituality appears to be a component of our personality. Lesson #9: Our personalities can change to some degree through our life experiences.