How Attention Can Improve The Quality Of Our Life

The function of consciousness is to represent information about what is happening outside and inside the organism in such a way that it can be evaluated and acted upon by the body. In this sense, it functions as a clearinghouse for sensations, perceptions, feelings, and ideas, establishing priorities among all the diverse information. Without consciousness, we would still “know” what is going on, but we would have to react to it in a reflexive, instinctive way. With consciousness, we can deliberately weigh what the senses tell us, and respond accordingly. (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

To have mastery over consciousness essentially means to have mastery over the self. If your body was a car then the consciousness would be the driver. Without control over consciousness it would result in the driver being lost, going in a random direction, distracted by detours and rest areas, leading you towards some unknown and perhaps even a dangerous path.

The reason for this is that your consciousness allows you to “Daydream and make-up lies,” and this can lead to anxiety and passivity. You may come up with different scenarios why some activity may lead to disappointment and failure so it’s best not to act. Or maybe even find excuses for those disappointments and failures which divert ownership, causing you to not grow from your actions.

However, the opposite is true as well. It’s our consciousness that allows us to “Write beautiful poems and scientific theories”. With control over our consciousness, we can steer ourselves towards where we wish to go. The same obstacles that can hinder progress can be viewed as possible opportunities for self-growth if we can change our consciousness, change our thought process, change our mindset. Then, failures and disappointments don’t seem permanent and neither do we associate fear with them.

To develop this trait, one must find ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts. It is best not to expect that shortcuts will do the trick.

One way of influencing consciousness is through attention. Because consciousness is essentially a focusing tool, meaning that whatever information we are consciously attending to is the information we will respond and react to. Then, one thing we can do is to focus our attention on the right information. But we can only attend to those desires we have intention towards.

We may call intentions the force that keeps information in consciousness ordered. Intentions arise in consciousness whenever a person is aware of desiring something or wanting to accomplish something. Intentions are also bits of information, shaped either by biological needs or by internalized social goals.

So, in order to act in the right manner, we have to attend to the proper goals with the right intention. If your goal is to lose weight but you find yourself desiring food, then we can focus our attention towards that goal of losing weight and being healthy which can supersede the desire for immediate gratification. Or our intention can guide us towards picking a healthy option rather than fast food. This way we can train our consciousness to pick the right goal.

However, there is a limiting factor associated with our consciousness.

Unfortunately, the nervous system has definite limits on how much information it can process at any given time. There are just so many “events” that can appear in consciousness and be recognized and handled appropriately before they begin to crowd each other out.

Then, a step towards directing our consciousness is to understand its limited storage capacity so, we have to be selective in the information we allow into our consciousness. A common mistake that is made by people is paralysis through analysis. Where we overthink and gather too much information which leads to inactivity because we don’t know what to do. Again, if the goal was to lose weight but you spend weeks looking up all the different types of diets and exercise programs, you may find yourself overwhelmed, your consciousness will be filled with so many different paths that it’ll not know which one to pick.

Again, the importance of attention is shown in our ability to control our consciousness.

It is attention that selects the relevant bits of information from the potential millions of bits available. It takes attention to retrieve the appropriate references from memory, to evaluate the event, and then to choose the right thing to do.

If you don’t hone your attention then your consciousness skips around, you become easily distracted and taken off from the path you want to be on. Meaning, that either it takes longer for you to achieve your goals or you fail at them completely.

Attention is then improved by first, getting our priorities and intentions in order so we know what to focus on. Secondly, to only allow specific information in our consciousness which will help improve our quality of life so that you can quickly attend to that information when needed.

In this way, we essentially create ourselves by how we invest our energy, on what we focus our consciousness on. So by taking our consciousness under control, we get control over one of the most important tools in improving our lives.

Reference: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi



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Poem: The Old Rebel

Article: Montaigne On How To Be A Well-Rounded Thinker

Short Story: The Bus

 

Albert Einstein On The Ideals Of Life

My grandfather happens to be a great admirer of Albert Einstein, as many people are, and I had a conversation with him about Einstein and I learned many things about the man, Einstein and not just the scientist. I was surprised to hear about how much Einstein wrote on subject matter like tolerance, kindness and the importance of art.

This got me curious to learn about this important figure in human history. I wished to learn more about Einstein the man, what his thoughts were, what did he like, what did he believe in, his dislikes and worldviews.

And to my great pleasure, I came upon a book that was conveniently called Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein. The book is a compilation of his essays, letters, and speeches which range from topics of politics, science, religion, the meaning of life, education, friends and many more. The contextual thought that I found interesting was that many of these letters, essays and speeches were written between post World War I and post World War II. I am sure the experience of that horrific time period played a role in what I wish to quote in this post. The section in the book is called “The World As I See It” in which Albert Einstein discusses the ideals of his life.

To inquire after the meaning or object of one’s own existence or that of all creatures has always seemed to me absurd from an objective point of view. And yet everybody has certain ideals which determine the direction of his endeavors and his judgements. In this sense I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves — this ethical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty and Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed to me empty. The trite objects of human efforts – possessions, outward success, luxury – have always seemed to me contemptible.

These three ideals seem to be lacking in the public at the moment. Constantly we see how volatile social media can be, how easy it is to spread hate and leave hateful comments. Truth itself is a virtue that isn’t respected much. People fake their own images and lives in order to garner some type of following or blatantly spread lies in order to push their own agenda. Beauty, on the other hand, seems to go unnoticed as in the arts, whatever makes money is pushed forth rather than true beauty and in life, people rarely acknowledge or attempt to see the beauty that surrounds us.

One reason why such ideals developed in the mind of a young Einstein was due to a quote from Schopenhauer.

Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity. Schopenhauer’s saying “A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants,” has been a very real inspiration to me since my youth; it has been a continual consolation in the face of life’s hardships, my own and others’, and an unfailing well-spring of tolerance. This realization mercifully mitigates the easily paralyzing sense of responsibility and prevents us from taking ourselves and other people all too seriously; it is conducive to a view of life which, in particular, gives humor its due.

Free to do what we want but not free to want what we want. That’s a conundrum. So, I suppose one should be tolerant towards others because there is a certain restriction in people’s movements and decisions. Recognize the limitations of man and be patient. See the humor in the ridiculousness of life and try to achieve more than just immediate satisfaction. That seem to be three practical ways to behave. It does not seem too absurd to live by ideals of kindness, beauty, and truth. It seems definitely better than the alternative.


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Poem: The Many Yous

Article: Stoic Lesson: Aim For Internal Growth

Short Story: Everything Work’s Itself Out

The Hero’s Journey: Understanding The Departure

The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation–initiation–return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth.

The monomyth is often referred to as the hero’s journey because this pattern of, separation, initiation, and return, can be studied in many mythologies from all over the world. The typical hero’s journey has a character leave their home in order to face different trials and tribulations which they eventually overcome by growing as a character and then, with this new found understanding, they return home to help others on their journey to self-improvement.

Separation is the first step which Joseph Campbell refers to as Departure. The Departure has five subsections: The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Supernatural Aid, The Crossing of the First Threshold and The Belly of the Whale.

Starting with The Call To Adventure.

The first stage of the mythological journey–which we have designated the “call to adventure”–signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.

The call to adventure is an opportunity, which may start as a blunder or be forced upon someone due to circumstances outside of their control but nonetheless, this opportunity is one that can elevate the individual by “awakening of the self” through the acceptance of this call.

For those who are familiar with the story of the Lord of the Rings by J.r.r. Tolkein, you may recall how Frodo Baggins, the young hobbit, is gifted the ring of power by his uncle, Bilbo, and this initiates the call for once the significance of the ring is discovered, Frodo has to travel outside his comfortable Hobbit hole into a land unknown.

However, just because there is a call to adventure it doesn’t mean everyone accepts it. There is also a refusal of the call.

Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered; for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or “culture,” the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.

These individuals are usually shown as examples of what not to do, of who not to be. These people have let go of their interests and stopped advancing in their life-roles. And so, such an individual becomes passive and is left to “create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration.”

Literature is full of old, corrupted kings being overthrown by the young Prince. The old king representing someone who refused the call and strayed off the path while the young Prince took on the mantel of what the King should have been and restored order to the land.

For those who accept the call to adventure usually open themselves to receiving Supernatural Aid.

For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.

Two clear examples of this in our culture can be found in the Star Wars series and once more, in Middle Earth. The first individual Luke Skywalker meets once he accepts the call to adventure is Obi-wan-Kenobi, the Jedi Master who acts as his teacher and guide, teaching Luke the way of the Jedi. While in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series, we have Gandalf providing wisdom and knowledge to Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

This symbolizes possible order or peace that can be attained by the adventurer as he is being rewarded for his courage.

That though omnipotence may seem to be endangered by the threshold passages and life awakenings, protective power is always and ever-present within the sanctuary of the heart and even immanent within, or just behind, the unfamiliar features of the world.

After the supernatural aid comes The Crossing Of the First Threshold. Simply put, this is the first trial, first struggle, the first conflict that the hero faces once he has started on the path.

With the personifications of his destiny to guide and aid him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the “threshold guardian” at the entrance to the zone of magnified power […] Beyond them is darkness, the unknown, and danger; just as beyond the parental watch is danger to the infant and beyond the protection of his society danger to the member of the tribe.

The plunge, the leap of faith which requires courage on the behalf of the adventurer. This is seen clearly in the Lord of the Rings series as the four hobbits come into imminent danger the moment they decide to leave the Shire. This danger is the Black Riders who are searching for the ring.

Another reason why courage is required is because what comes after crossing the first threshold is The Belly Of The Whale.

The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died.

Once more the Rings series demonstrates this notion when Frodo is stabbed by the Black Rider or the Nazgul. At the brink of death, Frodo is saved, reborn because now he is forever changed. There is no turning back from this point onwards. No matter what happens, having been swallowed by the “whale”, the hero is transformed, he is changed, he won’t be the same person he was before.

And so begins the transformation of the individual. Having departed from his comfortable life, he steps into the initiation phase which is full of trials and tribulations through which he either breaks or becomes a stronger version of himself.

 

The Painted Bird & How Group Psychology Works

The Painted Bird is a novel by Jerzy Kosinski and the story is set during the Second World War and it takes place in Eastern Europe. The story follows a young boy who is either a gypsy or of Jewish descent as he travels from one village to another constantly being tormented and mistreated largely due to his social status. Although fictional, one can’t help but learn certain aspects of human behavior through the interaction of groups and communities with the main character. There is truth in fictional words, scenes, and action. One truth is how easy it is to behave cruelly towards another human being if that human being is looked at like an outsider.

One example of this is seen at the beginning of the novel, shortly after the boy leaves his initial village and enters a “foreign” community, where he is tired, terrified and starving, the boy lays down in the middle of the road. Instead of being helped, the villagers gather around him and slowly increase their rate of violence, first starting from simply poking the boy to then jabbing him with rakes to eventually hurling rocks at him. His relief comes when a villager stuffs the boy in a burlap sack and takes him to be his servant. The boy is viewed as an animal, perhaps even an object to use, instead of a person to be helped. Kosinski uses the word “mob” when he describes this scene, the mob mentality showing how cruelty towards a child in need can quickly come to be accepted.

Group psychology is often separated between ingroups and outgroups. An in-group is a group with which an individual feels a sense of membership, belonging and identity. Outgroup, on the other hand, are groups with which an individual does not feel a sense of membership, belonging, or identity. Acts of racism, prejudice, and discrimination are often associated with this view where an individual comes to see those out of their group as different, as an “other” and even less than human if one takes this concept to the extreme. In fact, people favor ingroups over outgroups in order to enhance their self-esteem, this is known as the social identity theory.

The idea of the mob or the group mentality is visited throughout the text. The title of the novel is explained in the fifth chapter where the story of the painted bird is told. The idea being, if there is a flock of birds of the same color and then you introduce the same type of bird but this one has its wings painted, the original flock will see it as a threat to their cohesiveness and ability to “blend together” and kill the bird rather than let it join the flock.

Essentially, one who stands out from the group gets killed.

Another truth of the novel is that although our own behavior, thought pattern, and action all play a role in developing our self-identity, this identity is also influenced by the opinions of others. The boy comes to believe that he is possessed by an evil spirit because others believe that he is and punish him for it. He also comes to see that everything bad that happens to him is because he is bad, that it is his fault because others constantly blame the boy for any mishap. Later on, the boy believes that the beatings he has suffered throughout his life were because he had not prayed enough. This idea is implanted in him by the priest he encounters.

This idea is later explored when the boy is saved from his misery by the Red Army. He views his saviors as gallant, brave, courageous, all the positive aspects he could think of and begins to identify himself with these people. Soon he starts to feel a sense of pride with his new group. When he wears his groups uniform he feels good, when he hears stories of his group winning, he feels as if he is winning. When the group does good, he does good.

Another aspect of human behavior that is explored in the text is the idea that a group needs someone to blame when bad things happen otherwise it will turn on itself. People always need someone to blame for their misfortune and when that someone is presented, all that hate is focused on them and this displaced attitude brings people relief for a moment. A scene that depicts this notion is that of the rats in the bunker. Alone, the rats eat each other but when a man falls into the bunker, the rats direct their hunger towards the man and begin to eat him for the time being.

Although the novel has a happy ending, the boy finds his family again, it is hard to consider the story to be a happy one. The damage suffered during his adolescent years will impact his cognitive and physical growth and also how he interacts with others. This aspect is not explored in the novel but one can infer that the boy will live a troubled life, which is another truth about human behavior. One cannot simply block out their experiences. The experiences build upon one another, intermingling with that individual’s genetics, to produce a human being’s psychological state. The boy will be damaged as were the real individuals who participated in the Second World War either voluntarily or involuntarily. The group dynamics impacting the war as it impacts much of societal makeup.

Difference Between Enjoyment and Pleasure

Most of us want a happy life. When we imagine what that life looks like we often see ourselves relaxing by a beach or driving expensive cars or traveling to exotic places, in short, we see ourselves in pleasurable situations.

Pleasure is a feeling of contentment that one achieves whenever information in consciousness says that expectations set by biological programs or by social conditioning have been met. The taste of food when we are hungry is pleasant because it reduces the physiological imbalance. Resting in the evening while passively absorbing information from the media, with alcohol or drugs to dull the mind overexcited by the demands of work, is pleasantly relaxing.

However, pleasure is fleeting. It is not stable. Once the activity that brings pleasure is performed you return to your daily life without any growth or change.

But they (pleasurable activites) do not produce psychological growth. They do not add complexity to the self. Pleasure helps to maintain order, but by itself cannot create new order in consciousness.

The goal is to have a happy life and not happy moments. When we recall happy times from our past, we seldom remember that evening spent watching television, rather, what we think back to are moments which brought some kind of reward to our life.

These events would be classified as enjoyable events.

Enjoyable events occur when a person has not only met some prior expectation or satisfied a need or a desire but also gone beyond what he or she has been programmed to do and achieved something unexpected, perhaps something even unimagined before.

Enjoyable experiences are akin to accomplishments. Accomplishment requires effort which results in long term effect because through this effort we shape our lives and our self. While pleasure can be felt without any effort, hence why when the act is over with, so is the pleasure.

The following are some of The Elements of Enjoyment according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:

  1. Enjoyment can be derived from a challenging activity that requires skill. An example of this can be something physical like a game of tennis or something mental like reading a book. Or even the activity of socializing can fall under this element. An easy way to find something challenging is to participate in a competitive activity.
  2. Merging of action and awareness is another way to derive enjoyment. This is when all your attention is absorbed in a particular activity, to the point, that you may even lose the sense of time. This can be described as entering a flow state, the kind that a rock climber may or a mother with her daughter could.
  3. Enjoyment also involves clear goals and feedback. However, the goals cannot be trivial otherwise it will not require much skill or attention. The goals must be something that is just outside of your comfort zone which will cause you to concentrate and challenge you to achieve something meaningful.

This often works like a loop where an activity that requires skill demands your attention and awareness which causes you to aim for a goal which, once achieved, results in growth but also a new goal which further requires effort and concentration in order to meet this new standard.

Of course, pleasure has its time and place in life however an overindulgence of pleasure, which seems like a real issue in our society currently, will not help you to improve yourself or your life. Rather the pursuit of enjoyment can shape your life to be one of meaning and happiness in which you find pleasure as well.

Reference: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

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Consequences of Conformity, Compliance & Obedience

Understanding human behavior is a complicated venture. Additionally, behavior can be impacted by social roles because social roles bring a degree of expectation to human interaction (Weiten & McCann, 2013, p. 768). These roles and expectations can result in conformity, obedience and/or compliance. This paper explores the question: how has research on conformity, compliance, and obedience informed us about these factors in real-world situations. The paper tackles each phenomenon separately, showing the effects of each respective behavior and their consequences. The conclusion expands on the importance of understanding such behavior and its real-world consequences.

Compliance

Compliance can either be explicit or an implicit request. One way this can be achieved is by manipulating individuals feelings (Ciladin & Goldstein, 2004, p. 592). As Whatley et al. (1999) demonstrated in their experiment feelings of shame and fear could result in public compliance while the feeling of guilt and pity can equate to private compliance (as cited in Ciladin & Goldstein, p. 593).

Additionally, there are several techniques that can lead to compliance in the real world. One is thats-not-all technique. The target is presented with an initial request, which is followed by a deal that sweetens the initial request, complying to which can result in additional benefits for the target (Ciladin & Goldstein, p. 594).

Another is the foot-in-the-door technique. This is when a salesperson gets an individual to agree to a small request and once this agreement has been made, the salesperson introduces a larger request (Weiten & McCann, 2013, p. 787). Lastly, lowball technique relies on a commitment from the target and then, hidden costs are revealed and by that point, the target is already committed (Weiten & McCann, p. 787).

The last two sales techniques rely on individuals self-concept. People have a strong need to enhance their self-concepts by behaving consistently with their actions, commitments, and beliefs (Ciladin & Goldstein, 2004 p. 602). However, individuals whose cultures place less emphasis on self-concept positivity and related maintenance may be less susceptible to tactics that exploit these motivations (Ciladin & Goldstein, p. 605).

Conformity

Conformity could be seen as the act of changing one’s behavior to match another (Ciladian & Goldstein, p. 606). There can be an informational conformity motivation where the individual desires to form an accurate interpretation of reality. Also, normative conformity motivations where the goal of obtaining social approval from others is the reason for conforming (Ciladian & Goldstein, p. 606).

Another view on conformity is the dynamic social impact theory. The likelihood of conformity increases if the group is less diverse and when there is a correlation of attitudes within the group members (Ciladian & Goldstein, p. 608). The similarity of thinking can result in an individual conforming to poor thought patterns (Ciladian & Goldstein, p. 608). Hence, why an accountable and salient environment can result in individuals who make independent decisions (Ciladian & Goldstein, p. 607).

However, there are moments when conformity could be required, for example, when there is a need to follow rules and regulations (Smith & Bell, 1994, p. 192). Traditionally, such conformity is thought to be a result of warnings and punishments (Smith & Bell, p. 192). However, the harvesting experiment produced contradictory evidence (Smith & Bell, p. 192). Two experiments were tested, in which excessive harvesting was to be met with punishment (Smith & Bell, pp. 193-193). The results showed social information and conformity to implicit group norms played a larger factor in whether or not the individual followed the rules than did the threat of punishment (Smith & Bell, p. 196-197).

Additionally, as Martin & Hewstone (2001) demonstrated, if the individual had a strong attitude against the incoming message, they were less likely to conform to outside pressure. While, if the attitude was moderate in strength, it increased the chances of conformity (as cited in Ciladian & Goldstein, 2004, p. 607).

Conformity behavior also suffers if the individuals’ self-concept is strong (Ciladian & Goldstein, p. 611). Tying with the notion of self-concept, Walker & Andrade (1996), demonstrated a possible reason why conformity decreases as age is lowered could be due to the lack of concern young children have for peer approval (Walker & Andrade, 1996, p. 369). Also, it was noted that increasing an individuals confidence and intelligence could result in lowering conformity (Walker & Andrade, p. 368).

Additionally, collectivist countries, more so than individualistic countries, were more inclined to conform to groups (Ciladian & Goldstein, 2004, p. 610).

Obedience

Obedience could be seen as the result of authority derived from one’s position in a hierarchy (Ciladian & Goldstein, 2004, p. 595). One of the most famous experiments on obedience is the Milgram experiment. Milgram demonstrated how easily a civilian can be persuaded to give lethal electric shocks to a random person (Slater., et al, 2006, p 1.). However, ethical issues have been a barrier to studying obedience (Weiten & McCann, 2013, p. 772).

The advancement in technology has opened up different avenues to study obedience. Slater., et al (2006) took advantage of this trend by replicating Milgram’s paradigm in a virtual world (Slater., et al, 2006, p. 1). Participants sent “shocks” to a virtual individual every time there was a wrong answer, this virtual individual protested as the “shocks” grew in intensity (Slater., et al, p. 6). The participant’s heart rate and perspiration were measured during the task and as the intensity grew, so did stress indicators in the participant (Slater., et al, p. 7). However, not once did the participant stop even though it was made clear that there would be no punishment for stopping. So, as the participant showed clear signs of distress, he or she continued the experiment. This could point towards obedience to authority (Slater., et al, p. 9). This potentially opens avenues for studying obedience without violating ethical guidelines (Slater., et al, p. 9).

The importance of studying obedience cannot be overstated for one of the consequences of organization obedience in the past has been the murder of innocent people during the Holocaust (Weiten & McCann, 2013, p. 595).

Conclusion

The effects of conformity, compliance, and obedience come with real-world consequences. Salesmen often use techniques that are meant to gain compliance from their targets. Individuals give into explicit or implicit needs to conform in order to get along with others or to gain some kind of advantage. Additionally, obedience without limit can result in horrible tragedies, the kind that was seen in the twentieth century.

Whether it be group factors, individual self-concepts, self-esteem issues, environmental makeup or some emotional cause that leads people to behave in such a manner, it is of importance to understand each phenomenon. Without knowledge, there is a chance a person can be manipulated. This can entail simple matters as purchasing a product that the individual did not want, to changing how an individual thinks, to following orders that lead to horrific consequences.

 

 

 

References

Cialdini, R. B., & Goldstein, N. J. (2004). Social influence: Compliance and conformity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 591-622. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.142015

Slater, M., Antley, A., Davison, A., Swapp, D., Guger, C., Barker, C., … Sanchez-Vives, M. V. (2006). A virtual reprise of the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments. PLoS ONE, 1(1), 1-10. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000039

Smith, J. M., & Bell, P. A. (1994). Conformity as a determinant of behavior in a resource dilemma. The Journal of Social Psychology, 134(2), 191-200. doi 10.1080/00224545.1994.9711382

Walker, M. B., & Andrade, M. G. (1996). Conformity in the Asch task as a function of age. The Journal of Social Psychology, 136(3), 367-373. doi:10.1080/00224545.1996.9714014

Weiten, W., & McCann, D. (2013). Psychology: Themes and variations (3rd Canadian ed.). Toronto, ON: Thomson Nelson.