Posted by: mattamorphosis | January 31, 2012

Why Flakiness Makes Us Drink the Haterade

My friend Lindsay runs the blog Meccanized and recently posted a great entry on why flakes give her a rage stroke. Now, I am not easily enraged, but I do find interpersonal flakiness to be quite obnoxious. In part, I am sure, it is because I can see that I have become more flaky than I’d like to admit in recent years. To paraphrase T. S. Eliot and allude to the popular addiction treatment program slogan, let’s hope that “acceptance is the first step to recovery.”


Flakiness. Aloofness. Lack of consideration.  Combine them and what do you have? A recipe that is almost guaranteed to give me a rage stroke.

I know people are busy. I know things come up. I know the entire world doesn’t revolve around me and my plans. But I firmly believe there is a right way to flake out on someone – infrequently, proactively, with enough advance warning that the flake victim can salvage the time, and ideally through a phone call that provides a proper degree of contrition. Obviously, these can’t always be fully attained, but short of being trapped under some heavy, immovable object, it’s not that hard to come pretty close.

Which is why it is so irritating and disrespectful when people flake incorrectly.

A few days ago, I was quietly and respectfully (i.e. loudly and rantily) speaking to someone about this social phenomenon.  Somehow the discussion evolved into a contest about who had experienced the most absurd flake. He won the battle — I’m sad to say, I couldn’t top the text message cancellation he received half an hour before a Third Eye Blind concert offering: “Sorry, I can’t make it. I forgot I need to bandage my hamster’s leg.”

But in an effort to win the war, this morning I took a 90% amusing, 10% infuriating trip down memory lane to resurrect a few favorite personal examples of inappropriate flaking:

  • Via e-mail, at 9:45 am before a 10 am team meeting: “I can’t make it. I need to finish knitting this doggie sweater by 10:30.” This one was irritating on multiple levels: you all know how I feel about dog fashions, especially knits.
  • Via text, while I was waiting for a gentleman at a bar: “I ordered the Famous Chicken and it takes an hour to cook. I’ll just see you tomorrow.”  Note: I did not see him tomorrow. Or ever again. And just how famous can any one chicken really be?!?
  • Via e-mail, ten minutes before a Boot Camp exercise class a friend had committed to attending with me: “Ate too much ice cream. Count me out.”
  • Via text, fifteen minutes before a mutual friend’s surprise birthday dinner: “Got sucked into a Hoarders marathon. Have fun!” (Funny, but now that I think of it, I never saw THAT person again either.)
  • Sent via text, about Valentine’s Day dinner. “Oh, that’s tonight? I’m still in San Mateo.” Stand back, ladies, this one’s mine.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with my own escalating flakiness, especially since I understand just how obnoxious it can be and how little effort it takes to be base-level considerate. It’s something I am really trying to focus on (hence a 2012 resolution to return phone calls, to be on time, to not cancel anything I commit to, etc.). Of course, my quest for personal betterment has only made me more sensitive to the overt expression of aloof, flaky alleles in other people’s genetic makeups…and it boggles my mind how often I see it happen.


Posted by: mattamorphosis | January 31, 2012

Reflections Following SPSP in San Diego

I’m sitting on a plane flying back from the big annual social psychology conference and am exhausted, but feeling more inspired than I have in a long time. After a couple years of going and feeling somewhat apathetic and disenchanted about it all, I found myself bouncing from session to session, and attending something almost every session. The session or two that I missed, however, were productive times as I was catching up with colleagues who I only seldom get to see. So, as I sit here on this cross-country flight, I am creating stimuli for experiments, as best I can in-flight sans internet, and eager to get back into the lab to push on some of my ideas.

Conferences that bring together some of the best and brightest minds in a given field should inspire the next great ideas. If they don’t, you’re probably in the wrong field. For the past couple of years, I’ve had this concern. This year, much like years ago when I first started going to these conferences, I feel like I am mostly at home in social psychology… which is interesting considering that most social psychologists listen to my ideas and are quick to quip, “well, you have certainly left the psychology world.” I don’t know to what extent this is true, but it’s an interesting thought to contemplate — in order to feel at home in social psychology, I had to break from the field’s traditional research practices and topics, to some extent.

This may provide some commentary on a field that has been struggling in recent years, as it has had to cope with scientists (see Marc Hauser of Harvard University) so motivated to be seen as distinguished that they decided that they could doctor their data to fit their a priori predictions (or perhaps, convictions, more appropriately). Following in his footsteps, and likely others yet to be discovered, Diederik Stapel decided he didn’t even need to run experiments to find the answers to his hypotheses, as if he already knew what the data would show. Stapel would just create his own data and then publish papers in highly-esteemed empirical journals, as if he had ran the studies. Tragically, Daryl Bem then published a paper in our field’s top journal, using questionable research and statistical practices, showing that people can predict the future. This work was quickly attacked by many scientists recognizing how damaging this paper rife with flaws could have on the reputation of the journal and the field more broadly. These critiques highlighted the many flaws in these studies purported to show the existence of psychic powers, but the damage was already done.

The New York Times took the above-mentioned scientific transgressions and published a scathing critique of the field. Some called for the cessation of all public funding for social psychological research. Others were less punitive calling for the retraction of certain papers in the public record. All, however, recognized the profound problems facing a field that *should* have so much to contribute to our understanding of social living.

In an effort to understand how widespread some of these problems are, my adviser Brian Nosek, social psychologist at the University of Virginia, launched the Reproducibility Project. This project is a large-scale collaborative endeavor involving more than 75 social psychologists randomly selecting experiments from social psychology journals and trying to run exact replications of those studies. This *should* provide a sense of how many false positives (Type I errors, or effects that are statistically significant by chance) are in different journals and help the field to correct for years of loosey goosey scientific practices.

This project is an important one, but also somewhat scary. What if a high proportion of studies in these well-respected journals do not replicate? What are the ramifications for the field? What will we do?

Brian has also been at the forefront of creating an Open-Science Framework, aiming to make the path forward a better one that will improve scientific practices by opening the process up more. Within the Open-Science Framework, scientists will be required to register their theories, hypotheses, predictions, and exact materials on a public website before running studies. Scientists will be asked to submit their analysis scripts before analyzing their data. Scientists will be asked to admit when a finding was actually in support of an a priori hypothesis, rather than suggesting that was the case in a manuscript (see also Cracking Open the Scientific Process).

If done right, this initiative will change the face of the field in dramatic fashion. It will also make scientists more efficient. Every social psychologist I know has ran multiple studies trying to use experimental manipulations from published work and failed to find the supposed effect. Most of the time, I presume, this is due to subtle parts of the method that scholars simply do not think to include in their manuscripts. However, some of the time, these effects are just not real. They are spurious findings that worked out in some very interesting, counterintuitive way a time or two in one lab. In the former case, registering the exact materials for public consumption, reduces the likelihood of these failed replications. In the latter case, scholars can see how often their colleagues find effects using certain materials. If some materials elicit significant effects in less than 5% of studies that use them, those effects are likely to be spurious. Or, at least highly qualified. And, other scholars would take note and stop using those materials expecting a certain effect with them, rather than wasting tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars on studies every year trying to find those effects.

At this year’s conference, I overheard many people tell me that they just don’t trust what they read in journals. Some of the graduate students saying this told me that their advisers instruct them to not read journals because the stuff in them is crap (and, reading many of the field’s journals these days involves reading about very narrow ideas far-removed from the real-world that so many of us are interested in studying, that we cannot develop ideas that pass the theoretical-novelty threshold required by our top journals to publish; see Tim Wilson’s presidential address on making our world a better place). I tend to agree with much of what I overheard. I do not trust what I read in journals, so I read lots of books and theoretical pieces in journals, and talk to smart people, and devise my own ideas. As a young scholar, I have had more success using this strategy than the journal article-minutia strategy. It is my hope, though, that through the Open-Science Framework and related projects (especially the Reproducibility Project), that we can restore the faith in our journals and not only restore the reputation of the field that I love, but emerge as better and more widely-respected than ever before.

Posted by: mattamorphosis | January 8, 2012

Everyday Thanks

Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough (2003) studied the effects of gratitude on well-being and found that participants who were asked to list what they were grateful for each day experienced more well-being relative to participants who were asked to list what hassles they had encountered or participants who were asked to write about neutral life events. These researchers even conducted a version of this study on people that they expected could understandably have a lot of frustration with life and poor well-being — people with chronic neuromuscular diseases. Even among the folks suffering from these painful physical maladies, writing about things in life that they were grateful for led to increases in positive affect and improve well-being. So, in this year of trying to make subtle changes to my life to promote a healthier, happier, and more productive me, I resolve to reflect on the things I am grateful for each day. When possible, I will post my daily thanks here to my blog.


Today’s Thanks

  • When I came home from my weekly Saturday morning pick-up basketball game, my black lab – whippet mix (Mojo) greeted me at the door as he usually does and playfully coddled and cuddled him as I ordinarily do. While holding my 35 pound pup in my arms and talking to him as if he was a baby, I felt so lucky. This past summer her had gotten into some food, probably on a walk or in the trash somewhere, and contracted a life-threatening intestinal infection. After 4 nights in the canine intensive care unit and 5 days at the veterinarian’s office, he came home with me and made a full recovery. There aren’t too many days that go by where I don’t think about how lucky I am that he pulled through and how glad I am to have such a wonderful furry best friend. He loves unconditionally and is the sweetest little guy. My life is better with him in it.
  • This evening I attended my university’s basketball game with a couple of friends in my PhD program. The game was a tight one and we ended up winning in the end, which is always nice. Following the game, I made the 20 minute walk back to my car and was thinking about how beautiful it was outside today and tonight. The sky was mostly clear, the stars were shining bright, and the temperature was very mild for a January night. This may be a “little thing,” but I think appreciating the little things in life is important.


What are you thankful for?


Posted by: mattamorphosis | January 6, 2012

VIA Survey of Character Strengths

I took a survey assessing my “Character Strengths” on the University of Pennsylvania’s research website “Authentic Happiness.” Results are under the “more” tag.


Read More…

Posted by: mattamorphosis | January 6, 2012

My Resolutions

My Current Resolutions
  1. Be on time!
  2. Recall one happy moment from my life everyday and record it.
  3. Reflect on 3 things I am grateful for everyday.
  4. Call a friend I haven’t seen in a month or longer each week.
  5. Remember birthdays.
  6. Send Christmas cards.
  7. Write at least 1 work-related blog each week.
  8. Help other people think big by using my dispositionally high enthusiasm to encourage them to pursue their goals.
  9. Compliment strangers (but not in a creepy way!).
  10. Bring people together (perhaps through weekly coffee work parties, or game nights)
  11. Don’t gossip.
  12. Be less critical of others.
  13. Practice public speaking — take advantage of opportunities.
  14. Read *something* on paper everyday (journal articles and book chapters).
  15. Create checklists of projects I hope to finish each week.
  16. Buy more experiences, less material goods.
  17. Pay first, enjoy later.
  18. Read books on inspirational people.
  19. Go to bed by midnight (especially Sunday through Thursday).
  20. Wake up before 7:30am Monday – Friday and before 9:30 on Saturday and Sunday.
  21. Take Mojo for a walk before 8am Monday – Friday, and before 10am on Saturday and Sunday.
  22. Shave and shower everyday.
  23. Brush my teeth 2x, floss at least 1x per day, and use my fluorine rinse at least 1x per day.
  24. Do not leave clothes on my bedroom floor.
  25. Make my bed everyday.
  26. Go to the gym at least 5 times per week.
  27. Open my mail everyday.
  28. Cook at least 5 meals per week.
  29. Do not eat Chinese food and pizza in the same day. Ever.
  30. Drink no soda.

My Goals


  1. Write a review paper on my moral migration hypothesis.
  2. Write two manuscripts and submit them for publication.
  3. Apply for a grant.
  4. Apply for an academic award.


  1. Do 3 sets of 8 repetitions of 185 pounds on the barbell bench press.
  2. Do 30 consecutive pull-ups.
  3. Do 50 consecutive push-ups.
  4. Enter a 5k race and finish in under 24 minutes.
  5. Obtain and maintain an average weight of 182 pounds.
Posted by: mattamorphosis | January 6, 2012

Being The Change I Wish To See In The World (Starting Within Me)

My name is Matt and I am a PhD student in a research-intensive department. Most of my life I have been one of those over-achiever teacher’s pet types and was always very disciplined in my my pursuit of various goals ranging from getting A’s in school to playing competitive organized basketball. In my first couple years of graduate school, the intensity with which I operated increased exponentially. I was awake by 7am and would work until 2am or later at least 5 days per week. Usually, my dinner break consisted of running to a dining hall on campus and then going to the gym to lift weights, do some cardio, and play intramural basketball (and eventually, inner-tube water polo). On weekends, I would usually get up and work in the library / lab from 10am until 3pm and then go to the gym for a couple hours. I would go out some nights of the weekend some of the time.

At this strenuous pace, I configured a lab replete with undergraduate research assistants, experiment schedules, and an inter-university research consortium to expand the research participant pool tenfold. In my first semester, I ran two experiments. By my sixth and final semester, I was running an average of ten experiments per semester. Some did not work, but many, many of them did. I found myself underwater with my manuscript writing, but slowly worked my way through most of those data and published more than a dozen papers before heading to my doctoral program. In short, I accomplished more than any other student my Master’s degree adviser ever had. In my last year in the program, I actually published more papers than any of the professors in the R-02 university other than my direct mentor. In doing so, I won many awards and was accepted into what is one of the top graduate psychology programs in the country.

I entered this program in 2009 and was a bit intimidated, as I had previously admired not just the great professors in the department, but also many of the students I had previously mistaken as professors at conferences. I also did not feel particularly welcomed by many of the students (I later learned that, upon seeing my vita and before ever meeting me, some of them had aimed to “knock me down a peg”). And, the girl I had been dating on and off for the previous three and a half years dumped me… the week after my birthday. With all this, I found myself dealing with major depression. I went to therapist and a psychiatrist, and after refusing medication for much of my earlier adult life, I acquiesced to my doctor’s suggestion. It took about two months to properly titrate the medication / dosage. I started to feel better in mid-November 2009. However, I never reestablished my productivity.

I don’t know that I want to work the way I used to, but I do feel the need to become more productive than I currently am (which, is productive enough for me to be progressing through my degree and get a decent job upon its completion). So, I want re-build myself so that I can be more productive, yet still lead a healthy lifestyle. Part of my inspiration for creating this blog and devising a set of resolutions came from reading Gretchen Rubin’s excellent book, The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. In that book, Rubin, a brilliant and highly-motivated former clerk of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, tries to apply psychological research on promoting well-being and happiness to improve her life by making small changes to daily routine. (see AJ Jacobs’ Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection for a similar book with a greater emphasis on promoting physical well-being — for an 8-minute summary of this book, you can watch the talk he gave at TEDMED entitled “How healthy living nearly killed me”)

As a scientist, I like things to be evidence-based. Thus, everything I do in my pursuit of a better, happier, healthier me will have some evidentiary basis. (in fact, this blog is entirely publicly viewable and this makes me publicly accountable for everything I resolve to achieve, for experimental evidence of this check out Jen Lerner and Phil Tetlock’s research, and Bob Cialdini and colleagues’ research)