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.