Tuesday, December 27, 2022

It was also interesting to note that respondents thought it essentially as easy to change sexual preferences as it was the body mass index

Beliefs about personal change. Adrian Furnham, Ryne A. Sherman. Acta Psychologica, Volume 232, February 2023, 103821. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2022.103821

Abstract: In all, 510 Europeans completed an online questionnaire rating their beliefs about personal change, including the established Dweck Mindset measure. Their ratings of 27 characteristics from BMI to sexual preference factored into 5 interpretable factors labelled Personality, Beliefs and Habits, Health, Social Status and Physical. Correlation indicated beliefs about change were most related to religious beliefs but also sex and age. Dweck ratings of ability and personality growth were logically related to beliefs about change on the five factors and also to religious beliefs and self-rated optimism. Regressions indicated that being religious was the most consistent predictor about change, as well as age and education. Many beliefs about change were in direct contraction to the academic literature on the topic. Implications and limitations are acknowledged.

Keywords: AbilityChangePersonalityGrowthMindset

4. Discussion

The issue concerning the possibility of (positive) change over a life-time in personal characteristics could be dichotomised as an optimistic vs pessimistic, idealist vs realist or essentialists vs non essentialist difference (Haslam et al., 2004). Our question is why some people favour one approach over another and their correlates; what personal factors predict whether individuals believe in change? Dweck has addressed this but focusing on just two characteristics.

Probably academics are just as divided as lay-people on this issue, possibly because of the difficulty of doing research. To answer the question means getting very high quality, longitudinal data over long periods of time (up to 50 years) where a wide variety of possibly confounding, mediating and moderating factors that influence changes in behaviour at different points in time are also assessed. While some researchers have been able to tap into various existent data banks (in education, medical and military) environments, each has problems associated with it making it difficult to answer some of the fundamental questions of change (Furnham and Cheng, 2015aFurnham and Cheng, 2015bFurnham and Cheng, 2016Furnham and Cheng, 2017).

In this study we looked at people's beliefs about change about a wide range of characteristics including those variables often examined by differential psychologists, namely personality and intelligence. It appears that overall they believe Neuroticism and Conscientiousness were more likely to change compared to Openness and Extraversion. They also believed both EQ and IQ were equally likely to change, while there is extensive evidence of the stability of IQ and the many and extensive failure of efforts to improve it (Deary et al., 2000). The four features they thought least likely to change were height, religious beliefs, punctuality and trait Openness while those most likely to change were physical health, wealth, EQ and looks. It was also interesting to note that respondents thought it essentially as easy to change sexual preferences as it was BMI. Again, the academic literature would suggest the opposite (Seligman, 2007). One question is where people get their ideas about change, and indeed how easy it is the change their beliefs about change. Further there is the question of how much change (fundamental vs trivial) and whether the change is long lasting. Thus diets can lead to change in BMI but often there is a clear return to the original BMI.

As may be expected, people who were more likely to believe that they had changed were more likely to believe change possible. This makes it all the more desirable to have observer data on change. Indeed, when people meet at reunions (school, university, military) after long periods they appear to be surprised how little people had changed in their personality, beliefs and behaviour compared to their physical appearance. This suggests a classic attribution error.

The factor analysis of 27 characteristics made sense and reasonably confirmed the a-priori classification of the items. The positive correlations between the five factors (0.20 < r < 0.63) with half being greater than r > 0.40 suggests a Mindset type factor: Chango-philes and Chango-phobes.

Correlations with the two Dweck Mindset factors showed an interesting difference. It was the ability growth mindset that seemed most related to the change factors, which makes sense. Some would see this as a naïve optimism that ability, and many more human characteristics are susceptible to change, rather than the concept growth which is not as clear.

Age was not strongly related to beliefs about change but two of the five correlations were significant in the expected direction proving some support for H1. No doubt religious people endorse the concept of change more than non-religious people as most religions focus on personal change and consequent redemption. This confirmed H2. Equally it was interesting to observe that political beliefs were unrelated to beliefs about change which did not confirm H3. There was strong evidence for H4 and H5 that optimistic people with high self-esteem believed most in the opportunity for change.

Lay beliefs about change is certainly relevant to all those attempting to help people change their behaviour like clinicians, coaches and counsellors. Presumably people would not seek out help if they did not believe they could undergo some sort of beneficial change though understanding their beliefs about how the process works and their part in it, as well as how much they can change are important. Thus being naively optimistic may be as much as predictor of failure as cynical skepticism about change. Indeed it is not clear whether many “self-help” change books and programmes promise much more than they can possibly deliver.

Like all studies this had limitations. It would have been desirable to know more about the participants, particularly their personal attempts at changing any aspect of their lifestyle or themselves. Similarly it would have been desirable to have actual measures of their IQ, health and personality to determine whether these are related to change beliefs.

New well-being measure considers egative affect (pain, sadness, anger and worry) & positive affect (life satisfaction, enjoyment, smiling and being well-rested)

Wellbeing Rankings. David G. Blanchflower & Alex Bryson. NBER Working Paper 30759, December 2022. DOI 10.3386/w30759.

Abstract: Combining data on around four million respondents from the Gallup World Poll and the US Daily Tracker Poll we rank 164 countries, the 50 states of the United States and the District of Colombia on eight wellbeing measures. These are four positive affect measures - life satisfaction, enjoyment, smiling and being well-rested – and four negative affect variables – pain, sadness, anger and worry. Pooling the data for 2008-2017 we find country and state rankings differ markedly depending on whether they are ranked using positive or negative affect measures. The United States ranks lower on negative than positive affect, that is, its country wellbeing ranking looks worse using negative affect than it does when using positive affect. Combining rankings on all eight measures into a summary ranking index for 215 geographical locations we find that nine of the top ten and 16 of the top 20 ranked are US states. Only one US state ranks outside the top 100 – West Virginia (101). Iraq ranks lowest - just below South Sudan. Country-level rankings on the summary wellbeing index differ sharply from those reported in the World Happiness Index and are more comparable to those obtained with the Human Development Index.


Two economists, David G. Blanchflower of Dartmouth and Alex Bryson of University College London, have come up with a new and more intuitive way to measure well-being. The results are striking. If you consider US states as comparable to countries, 16 of the top 20 political units in the world for well-being are in the US — including the top seven.

Many happiness surveys ask individuals how satisfied they are with their lives. That is one way of phrasing the happiness question, but it has its biases. It tends to favor nations where people have a strong sense of self-satisfaction — or, if you want to put a more negative gloss on it, where the people are somewhat smug. Those are some of the studies in which Finland and Denmark come in first.

The genius of this most recent study is that it considers both positive and negative affect, and gives countries (and US states) separate ratings for the two. In other words, it recognizes there is more than one dimension to well-being. It lists four variables as part of negative affect: pain, sadness, anger and worry. Positive affect consists of four measures: life satisfaction, enjoyment, smiling and being well-rested. So life satisfaction is only one part of the measure.

One interesting result is that nations that avoid negative affect are not necessarily the same as those which enjoy the highest positive affect. Some countries — including the US — have a lot of extremes. Americans tend to go to the limit on both the upside and the downside.

Bhutan is an extreme contrast along these same lines. Measured only by positive affect, the Bhutanese are No. 9 in the world, an impressive showing. But for negative affect they rank No. 149 — in other words, they experience a great deal of negative emotion, perhaps due to the extreme hardships in their lives. Considering both positive and negative affect, they come in at No. 99, not a bad showing for such a poor country (better, in fact, than the UK’s 111.)

Denmark’s positive affect puts it only at No. 71, befitting the popular image of a country where not everyone is jumping for joy. Arkansas has a better positive affect, coming in at No. 67. But Denmark rates higher overall (38, to Arkansas’s 72) because Arkansas shows higher negative affect (87, to Denmark’s 66).

Measuring both positive and negative affect, the 10 happiest political units in the world are, in order: Hawaii, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Taiwan, Alaska and Wisconsin. Of the top 50 places, 36 are US states (I include the District of Columbia, No. 16). China is No. 30.