My Top 5 Psychology TED Talks

In order of fewest views to most, I will present my favourite TED talks, along with a brief description of what they are about, why I think they are great and where you can find out more information about these concepts if you are interested. Enjoy!

5. The Surprising Science of Happiness by Dan Gilbert (13 million views)

Summary: Human beings are the only animals that can simulate experience and imagine what something will be like before we do it. This capacity to visualise future experiences is a helpful tool to have. It is one of the main reasons humans have been able to make all of the advances that we have since the industrial revolution. However, our experience simulator has its limitations and is often not accurate due to what is known as an impact bias.

An impact bias is the tendency to overestimate the impact that a future event will have on our emotional life and overall happiness levels. The most striking example, which I’ve previously mentioned in another article, is that 12 months after becoming a paraplegic or 12 months after winning the lottery, an individual’s level of happiness is usually the same as before the event took place. It is the same with weight loss, moving houses, relationship break-ups and infidelity, and getting a promotion at work. Whether it is a positive or negative event, they will consistently have less impact, less intensity and lesser duration than what people will expect them to have.

When things work out the way we want them to, this is known as Natural Happiness, and most people understand why someone is happy. It makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is Synthetic Happiness, which is the happiness that is created by our “psychological immune system” when we don’t get what we want. Research has shown that even though other people respond to examples of Synthetic Happiness with a “yeah right!” response when they hear about it, it is every bit as enduring as Natural Happiness.

What I liked about it: Even when things don’t go as planned or we don’t end up getting what we want, most of the time, our “psychological immune system” will step into action and help us feel pleased not despite, but because of what has occurred. While most of us might picture ourselves being miserable if things don’t work out, the truth is that we will generally be okay, so don’t spend too much time fretting over all of the bad things that may occur in the future. Humans are amazingly resilient, even in the face of the worst possible outcomes.

On the positive side, we should also try not to sacrifice too much good stuff (fun, leisure, play, excitement, adventure) in the here and now for that eventual pay-off that is likely to be less rewarding and less enduring than you imagine. It is much better to create the type of life that we want now than always putting it off until a later date (after I finish studying; after I get married; after I retire; after I lose weight etc.).

If you’d like to learn more: Read the book ‘Stumbling on Happiness’ by Dan Gilbert.

4. The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain (14 million views)

Summary: Our society, especially in the West, tends to value being social and outgoing, or being an extrovert, above all else. An extrovert is someone who craves large amounts of stimulation, both environmentally and socially, to feel lively and capable. On the other hand, introverts tend to feel most comfortable, switched on, energised, and creative when they are in low-key or isolated environments.

The key to maximising everyone’s talents is finding the best level of stimulation for each individual. However, we design our schools and workplaces and social settings to allow the extrovert to thrive. These designs only further disadvantage the introvert and diminish their performance, confidence and level of well-being. Introverts often feel different from mainstream society or ashamed of who they are, but between a third and a half of all individuals are introverted. It’s just that they are often quieter and tend to get lost in the crowd.

What if, instead of forcing introverts to thrive in an extroverted world, we could instead diversify things to appeal to everyone’s strengths. What if each student and worker could study and perform in the environment that best suited them? Introverts often have talents and abilities in the areas where extroverts are the weakest, so accepting, encouraging, and celebrating the strengths of introverts and extroverts would help society flourish better as a whole.

What I liked about it: Growing up, I always knew that I became overstimulated and struggled to perform at my best in loud, busy environments. I hated going out to clubs on the weekend and tended to enjoy smaller gatherings to large crowds or festivals. I even found large lectures much more challenging to concentrate on than a small tutorial or studying at home by myself. Some of my favourite pastimes include spending a big chunk of time by myself relaxing, reflecting or reading a book. I love excitement and adventure too, which makes me more of an ambivert, but I need my quiet times to recharge and keep functioning at my best. Accepting myself for who I am and working with my strengths is much better than forcing myself to be like someone else that society values the most.

If you’d like to learn more: Read the book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain.

3. The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown (24 million views)

Summary: Brené Brown is a social worker who has studied human connection, imperfection, shame, fear and vulnerability. She believes that human connection is why we are here on this planet, and it is what gives us meaning and purpose in life. She says that what prevents us from connecting with others truly is shame and fear and that to connect, empathise, belong and love, we need to be seen, which takes extreme courage and vulnerability. It is possible to be worthy of love, connection and belonging without being perfect. We need to be compassionate towards ourselves and believe that we are worthy. While it may seem appealing to not be afraid before we act, it is actually through leaning into the discomfort, embracing vulnerability, and being willing to take emotional risks that we will find the most rewarding experiences and connections.

What I liked about it: Not only does Brené Brown talk about vulnerability, but she also leads by example by opening up about her struggles with vulnerability. She shows that life isn’t about waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we act upon something or try something out, as seductive as infallibility may be. If we don’t take risks or be vulnerable, we sacrifice the quality of our relationships, and we miss out on opportunities that we may never be able to get again. But, on the other hand, when we are vulnerable, we don’t waste our precious time or turn our backs on our potential strengths. Instead, we manage to connect with others and contribute in a way that is uniquely ours.

If you’d like to learn more: Read the book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are’. Even better is the book ‘Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead’ by Brené Brown.

2. Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are by Amy Cuddy (33 million views)

Summary: It has been known for quite a while that our body language impacts how others perceive us and how successful our interactions with others are. Amy Cuddy has researched our nonverbal behaviour further and shows that this can also affect our thoughts, feelings, hormone levels and subsequent behaviour. For example, holding any two of the five “power poses” shown in the talk for only 60 seconds each can increase testosterone levels and feelings of power while reducing cortisol levels and stress. It may even change how you perform if done before important meetings, speeches, exams, job interviews, or other stressful occasions. Like Amy says, power posing allows us to “fake it until we become it!”

What I liked about it: The concept of power posing brings about all types of possibilities for helping people with anything that they usually lack confidence in or feel a high degree of stress doing. If only 2 minutes of power posing can increase their likelihood of success, then it should be taught everywhere, from homes to schools to workplaces. In the last chapter of Amy Cuddy’s book ‘Presence’ she includes some examples of people (and even horses) that have successfully applied power posing in their lives.

The Imposter Syndrome is another critical issue that Amy touches on during her talk, and it is an experience that a lot of us (between 60–70%) have at one point or another in our life. I know that I did when I first made the state Volleyball team as a junior and when I first started studying for my Doctoral Psychology degree. The Imposter Syndrome is where people feel like they are a fraud or shouldn’t be in the position they are in because they “don’t deserve it” or that “somebody has made a mistake”. They worry that although they have been able to convince people so far of their capabilities, it is just a matter of time before others catch them out for the imposter they are. Realising how common this is and that in time it can go away would provide hope to anyone watching who is going through a similar experience.

If you’d like to learn more: Read the book ‘Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges’ by Amy Cuddy.

1. Do Schools Kill Creativity? by Sir Ken Robinson (38 million views)

Summary: Our current education system is outdated and fails to adequately prepare today’s children for the uncertainty and unprecedented growth that is likely to occur in the future.

The current hierarchical structure of subjects tends to place maths and languages at the top, followed by the humanities and arts. Furthermore, art and music are considered higher than drama and dance, even within the arts.

Somehow as we go up in school levels, the creative pursuits are pushed aside, devalued and even stigmatised instead of the more serious subjects that are supposed to ready us for the workplace. But schools are still preparing us for the needs of industrialism, not for the rapidly evolving society where we are not even aware of what is ahead of us in five years, let alone what the world will be like in 2065.

Wouldn’t it be better to help each child to utilise their creativity in figuring out where they are most “in their element” and encourage them to pursue a career that is consistent with both their strengths (what they are good at) and their passions (what they enjoy)?

What I liked about it: Considering that we’ll never exactly know what we are preparing students for, teaching them to be curious, creative, innovative, flexible and resilient should be at the top of the list of the skills to help develop in children. If we can do this, then no matter what takes place in the future, today’s children will be in the best position to adapt, grow and evolve.

We should also let go of seeing intelligence so narrowly and know that it is diverse, dynamic and distinct. We should start looking for and nurturing each child’s unique capacities instead of trying to force them into becoming A+ Maths and English students. Ken uses the example of Gillian Lynne, who her school diagnosed at eight years of age as having a learning disorder similar to ADHD. Nowadays, she would likely be put on Ritalin to help reduce her restlessness and remain focused in class, but luckily the specialist that she saw noticed her need to move and dance to music and told her mother to enrol her in a dance school instead. Gillian did this, began to flourish, and went on to choreograph “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera”, entertaining millions and making millions in the process.

If you’d like to learn more: Read the books ‘The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything’ and ‘Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life’ by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica.

Feel free to comment about which ones you liked the best or if there are other TED talks that you would have included in your list.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Personality Assessments – The Way to Figure Out Who We Are

There are many different assessments tools that Psychologists can use to help you answer the big question — “Who am I?”

I will introduce these to you now so that you can determine if you’d like to give any of them a try:

#1 — Psychiatric Assessment

Many Psychologists will take a clinical history during the first session, which is usually the assessment phase of therapy. They may typically start with your presenting issue or the reason that you came to treatment. Next, they will ask when this issue began and if you’ve experienced similar or other problems in the past. Next, they will ask about other current psychological, emotional or physical symptoms that you may be struggling with. They will then see if you’ve had previous treatment before, how you found it (helpful or unhelpful and why), and if you are on any medication or suffering from any medical condition. They will then briefly go into your family history, occupational and educational history, ask about your interests and hobbies, and the main supports and relationships in your life. The assessment phase typically ends with clarification of treatment goals and a collaboratively decided upon plan to help you address your presenting problem and achieve your treatment goals. This process may occur in only one session or spread out over multiple sessions to collect a more in-depth history. Psychologists are likely to revisit these issues at various points during the subsequent treatment. However, the information obtained during this assessment is usually enough for Psychologists to get a good sense of who you are, what you struggle with, and what treatment may help you achieve your goals, address your concerns, and improve your quality of life.

#2 — Self-Report Personality Assessment

There are three self-report questionnaire-based personality assessments that Psychologists may give to you in session if it is essential to be thorough and accurate in determining who you are, what you struggle with, and what your diagnosis might be (if you have one). These are the 567-item Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2), the 344-item Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI), or the 175-item Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI-III). These Personality Assessments have good psychometric properties, meaning that they are reliable, valid, and useful. They also have questions to determine if you are lying or portraying yourself in an unrealistically positive or negative way. However, they are time-consuming to fill out and score up, so it is essential to determine if it is worth the cost for the extra accuracy that it may bring in helping you figure out who you are.

Another self-report questionnaire that can be given in session to determine what you are struggling with is the Young Schema Questionnaire, but this is likely to be only used if you are undergoing Schema Therapy. This is a longer-term type of therapy recommended for clients who haven’t benefited as much as they would like from traditional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

There are also free personality assessments that anyone can access on the Internet. My personal favourite and one that I recommend as a homework task for clients who want to find out more about themselves is the IPIP-NEO, based on the five-factor (Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism & Openness to Experience) personality model. There is a short-form (120-item) and a long-form (300-item) version, but I usually recommend the short-form, as it produces similar findings. I like the IPIP-NEO the most because it gives you a percentile score on 30 different facets of personality and compares how you see yourself to how other people of the same age from the same country and of the same gender see themselves. I then typically get clients to bring and share their responses if they would like to, which provides me with a much higher understanding of who they are, how they see themselves, and why they may struggle with the things they do. It is much better and more comfortable to accept the client for who they are and help bring out the best in them through treatment rather than force them to change into something that maybe doesn’t suit their natural temperament or personality style. It also helps me overcome any cognitive biases that I have to empathise with the clients I see more accurately.

I have also sometimes recommended the Meyers-Briggs Type Inventory, and this can be good for determining what career may be suitable for you. However, I don’t find it useful because it categorises everyone into 16 personality types, which isn’t much more than the 12 different star signs. I have a similar issue with the DISC personality assessment (4 types) often used in business settings or the Enneagram of Personality (9 types). However, other people swear by their accuracy and usefulness in helping us understand who we are and why we do what we do, so please feel free to check them out and see for yourself if you are interested.

#3 — Projective Personality Assessment

The two primary projective tests psychologists use include the Rorschach Inkblot Test and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). These tests aim to clarify further what may be happening in someone’s subconscious or beyond their awareness by assessing how they interpret vague or ambiguous inkblots or pictures. Because they are deliberately ambiguous, it is thought that what the individual says is actually their subconscious processes being projected onto the images. There are structured ways for these tests to be administered and scored so that the interpretations become more valid and accurate. However, the descriptions are still subjective, and the same client responses may be interpreted in different ways by different Psychologists or even by the same Psychologist depending on who the client is. I, therefore, believe that projective tests can be useful, but only alongside other clinical information or forms of assessment so that the therapist can determine a complete picture of the client. Other creative forms of expression, including drawing, painting, writing, sculpture, music, dance, and even dream interpretation and analysis, are other projective tools that a therapist can utilise within or outside of therapy. The interpretation of these forms of expression is even more subjective than projective tests. Still, it can provide a nice window into who we are if we are willing to free-associate and delve deeper into figuring out the potential meaning inherent in what we think about and do.

To summarise, a Psychologist can definitely help you figure out who you are and why you do things, and they are provided with a lot of training to do so. Friends and family can give us useful feedback, but remember that even Psychologists aren’t allowed to assess or treat their friends or family because they are likely to be too biased in their work. There are some great books out there on Personality and the free tests on the Internet that have been mentioned above. The more specific, thorough and scientifically validated the personality assessment is, the better, more accurate, and more useful it is likely to be, but this can be both time consuming and costly. The IPIP-NEO is a great place to start if you are merely curious but not willing to spend any money just yet.

Once we have figured out who we are, it is time to move onto the next big question — “What is important to me, and what do I want to do?”

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist