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The imperfections of being a perfectionest

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

Are you addicted to getting that font colour just right? Do you see errors in everyone’s work? Do you sometimes feel like the only reason something failed was because you weren’t involved?We’ve all worked with perfectionists. We’ve probably all been perfectionists ourselves from time to time.

The trouble is that being a perfectionist has some unfortunate drawbacks. Imperfections perhaps. Studies show that individuals who are perceived as having greater self-discipline and control are also more likely to be assigned extra work.

These perfectionists then feel that they have made regular sacrifices for their co-workers only to be burdened by the extra workload.Unfortunately for the perfectionists, their fellow workers don’t perceive them to be burdened. That is, because they are perceived as being so disciplined, others think the perfectionists don’t have to work as hard.

You can immediately see how this could play out. A perfectionist can’t help putting in the extra hours and effort. Others see this happening and think they are the best candidate to take on more work. The perfectionist puts in even more time and effort, perpetuating the endless build-up of work.

All this might be ok if the extra effort led to better outcomes.

However, perfectionism can also lead to excessive attention to working hard under the misguided notion that the more effort that’s expended, the higher its quality. Psychologists refer to this as the effort ‘heuristic’.

It reminds me of when children keep mixing different paints hoping to get the most amazing colour only to discover that it produces a muddied brown or grey.

I also think about all those cooking shows where the contestants want to wow the judges with more and more sophisticated flavours and combinations until the dish is no longer edible.

Being a perfectionist might just lead to you working really hard for not a lot of extra gain.

And now time to wrap up this blog. I won’t try and wrap it all up nicely because I’m not a perfectionist.

Let me tell you how to spot a narcissist

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

I have prepared this blog today. I wanted to discuss narcissism and I think it’s important that I tell you why I think it’s a relevant topic.Now pay attention to me now. Focus your attention my way.

‘Narcissistic’ is one of those labels we all throw about usually to describe the selfish or self-centred way a person goes about their day. Every decision is—ultimately—all about themselves. Their previous roles are like historical events where they were the centre of the universe, like that time I single-handedly saved the day. This mentality can be disastrous for teams, collaboration, and morale.

Few people want to be a pawn or cog in the wheel for someone else’s ambition.

If you want to work out whether your manager, friend, relative or colleague is potentially undermining your motivation with narcissism, there’s a quick test.

I can educate you. That’s right. ME. Can you guess what to look for?

If you think narcissistic people refer to themselves a lot, then you are actually wrong.

recent study examined the common belief that narcissistic people refer to themselves more than the average person.

The researchers found there was no difference in the language that was used between individuals identified as narcissistic and those who were not. That is, narcissistic people didn’t say ‘I’ or ‘me’ any more than anyone else.

Fortunately, there really is a simple way to detect narcissism. One study found you only had to ask a person how much they agree with the statement ‘I am a narcissist’.

Narcissistic people, as determined from other more laborious techniques, were more likely to agree with the statement.

It is argued that narcissists are the first to admit they are narcissistic. They don’t see it as a negative. They even admire themselves for it.

As they should.

What’s going to happen to our Game of Thrones characters?

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

The Game of Thrones characters have been through many ups and downs (mostly downs). Many of these stories fit a particular narrative identity.Narrative identities involve stories that we tell ourselves that explain our life stories. In particular, we often tell ourselves stories that explain how we overcome adversity.

Redemption Stories

Narrative identities around redemption involve stories where people overcome obstacles to help them reassess their life. Characters like Daenerys Targaryen experience hardships, such as her life being sold into slavery, and learn to appreciate freedom.

Contamination Stories

Contamination stories involve a person experiencing an endless spiraling down. So many characters fit this story but it’s the Starks who are endlessly discovering misfortune and corruption.

Connection Stories

Where characters form bonds after some trauma, they are participating in a ‘connection’ narrative. Arya, for example, forms a connection with the Hound after her frequent series of misfortunes.

Fighter Story

Many of the characters in Game of Thrones push through obstacles and difficulties with blunt force or their wits, taking control of their destiny. Tyrion spends much of the first two seasons fighting through his obstacles, which is perhaps why he’s so popular.

Where to next?

Perhaps narrative stories can tell us where our characters will end up, at least in the short term.Daenerys continues to be manipulated and is starting to demonstrate the mad rage of her father. Jon Snow has prioritised the needs of the realm over the needs of his comrades at the wall.  These characters are likely on a downward ‘contamination spiral’.Meanwhile, Sansa is showing signs of fighting back with the help of Theon, who is crying out for someone to reconnect with his humanity (a connection arc).

These narrative stories and predictions are presented in the graphic above.

Homer Simpson in a coma for 20 years and other weird theories

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

In a recent paper, a researcher criticised psychological studies for investigating unusual and counterintuitive findings just for the sake of it. The assumption is that rather than discussing the rational and empirically derived, people are more interested in theories that spark controversy and interest.

This tendency isn’t limited to researchers. I’ve noticed many unusual theories about well-known films and TV shows. Some of them are interesting. Others are bizarre. Here are some of those weird fan theories.

Warning, some SPOILERS ahead.

Ferris Bueller is in Cameron’s Mind


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is about a charming, rebellious teenager who fakes sick to take the day off from school. Right? Maybe…

According to this fan theory, Cameron, Ferris Bueller’s melancholic friend, is actually dreaming up Ferris Bueller. Ferris is Cameron’s alter ego.

This theory can’t really explain why Ferris’ teacher refers to him during a classroom roll call: Bueller, Bueller, Cameron?

Credibility: 0/10

Homer Simpson’s in a coma


According to a fan theory, Homer Simpson entered a coma during an April Fool’s prank in one of the early seasons of the Simpsons but never woke up. Shortly after this episode, the Simpsons started becoming more surreal and unusual suggesting we are now experiencing Homer’s unrestrained mind during his coma.

The fact that Homer ended up in a coma from an exploding beer can in the first place suggests we don’t need the coma theory to rationalise why the series became less and less grounded in reality.

Credibility: 1/10

The Lost survivors were always in purgatory


There were lots of unusual theories to explain the popular series, Lost. One of them proposed that all the survivors of the doomed air flight actually died. Each episode featured a flash back to a character who seemed to confront and overcome an inner demon. It seemed logical that perhaps they were in some kind of purgatory/limbo where they had to deal with these demons before they could move on.

In the last season, the characters were shown in new flashbacks, which ultimately turned out to be a form of limbo that they would enter when they eventually died (for some many years later).

Were they dead the whole time? Unlikely. But clearly there’s some truth to it at some point.

Here’s a good explanation of the ending.

Credibility: 4/10

Batman’s Dead

PictureIn the Dark Knight Rises, Batman (Christian Bale) presumably sacrifices his life by flying a hydrogen bomb away from Gotham city. The ending shows Batman’s butler, Alfred, ultimately tracking him down at a cafe. Both men can both move on to a happier life.

One of the fan theories suggests that maybe Alfred is just seeing what he wants to see and that Batman really did die. This would, of course, make all the hints at his escape (e.g. a miraculously fixed auto-pilot) redundant. And even Christian Bale has denied this theory.

Credibility: 2/10

Soprano’s fade to black means…


There’s at least two popular interpretations on the famous Sopranos ending. Tony Soprano is waiting with his family at a diner, looking over his shoulder and checking the door. The series just cuts to black.

The first theory is simple. The story just ends. Tony is always going to be looking over his shoulder because he’s made a lot of enemies.

The second theory is that Tony has been shot. The abrupt cut to black is the perspective of the dead man. This theory is more likely as in an earlier episode, one of the characters talks about how getting killed would most likely be life cutting to black. You wouldn’t see it coming. The same scene was also repeated in a flashback.

There is also an excellent video that outlines the argument suggesting the writers wanted to remind us prior to Tony’s eventual death.

Credibility (First Theory): 3/10
Credibility (Second Theory): 9/10

The St Elsewhere characters are a figment of a boy’s imagination


This series, set in a fictional hospital in the 1980s, had one of the more bizarre endings. A young boy with autism, Tommy Westphall, stares into a snow globe, featuring the hospital from the series. Because the show ends with Tommy staring at the snow globe, it theorised that the whole series is a figment of Tommy’s imagination.

Credibility: 8/10

Films that activate your startle reflex

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

Surprise is an emotion we experience when an event sidesteps our expectations. A recent study showed that surprise is one of the four core emotions that we experience along with happiness, sadness, and anger. 

So it makes sense that so many films are written and structured to keep us on our toes. After all, films and TV shows are essentially designed to make us feel something.

Here are some films that have scenes that activate our startle reflex, a spine tingling experience that occurs when surprise–pleasant or unpleasant–occurs.

SPOILERS for those who haven’t seen these films.

No, I am your father!

In 1980, prior to the internet, there was no place for nerds to spoil and vent their surprise that the evil Darth Vader was actually Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) father. This scene, from the Empire Strikes Back, was so shocking that it is constantly (mis)quoted popular culture.

Why was it so shocking? Star Wars follows the typical hero’s journey archetype. This involves the hero overcoming adversity to ultimately slay the villain, his polar opposite. Until this point, we’d assumed Darth Vader was just a really evil guy. The reveal turned everything on its head.


Welcome to the real world


The Matrix is a modern update to the hero’s journey. Instead of a simple farm boy going on an adventure, it was the modern equivalent: a run of the mill office worker, who goes by the cyber name, Neo (Keanu Reeves).

The pivotal ‘startle moment’ comes when Neo discovers he doesn’t actually live in the real world. Instead, like all human beings, he’s been trapped in virtual reality whilst machines use him as a glorified battery.

This reveal startles us because it draws us into something more epic and immense, playing on unconscious fears about freewill and conforming to society.

Who is Keyser Soze?


It’s the twist that not only shocks but also makes the entire preceding film, The Usual Suspects, redundant. During a police interrogation, a unassuming, disabled criminal, Verbal (Kevin Spacey), walks a police detective through the various intricacies that led to a major heist.

Through the telling of the story, we learn the true mastermind is a character called Keyser Soze. When Verbal finishes telling his tale, he limps away but slowly begins to regain his mobility.

The audience and the detective start to piece together the real truth. Examining a notice board, the detective notices that Verbal has been using photos and other pieces of information as material to formulate his elaborate story.

Turns out Verbal is Keyer Soze and the whole story is one big lie. Cue goosebumps and confusion. End credits.

Don’t ever tell me what I can’t do!


There were enough mysteries in Lost for 10 TV shows. The best and most memorable occurred in the first season with fan favourite, John Locke (Terry O’Quinn).

Of all the survivors of a doomed flight, Locke was most prepared. He arrived with a set of hunting knives, caught wild boars, and generally showed up to save the day time and time again. He was made for survival.

In a flashback, we learn he wasn’t some adventurer or hero. He worked in a box factory, and spent his evenings talking to strange women on a phone chat line.

However, the biggest twist occurs at the end of the episode when it’s revealed he’s also paralyzed from the waist down crying out ‘don’t ever tell me what I can’t do’ when he’s rejected from participating in an Australian adventure called a ‘walkabout’.

Suddenly, our interest in the character becomes less about who he is but why he can suddenly walk when he arrives on the island. It’s make the title of the episode ‘Walkabout’ especially clever and knowing.



A double, no triple agent?


Alias was a hit and miss series that never really tops the twist reveal in the first episode. Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) is an undercover agent working for a secret black ops section of the CIA. Or so she thinks.

When her fiance learns about her double life, the the black ops section executes him as per their protocols. But the biggest surprise comes when Sydney discovers she isn’t working for the CIA at all but an evil organisation who are their enemy.

Turns out she’s been working for the bad guys the whole time…I hate it when that happens.

Bait and switch with a couple of hundred barrels of gasoline


In The Dark Knight, the Joker (Heath Ledger) regularly shows up to mix and blow things up. In the biggest twist in the film, he makes Batman choose between saving Gotham’s white knight, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and Batman’s love interest, Rachel Dawes.

Confronted with this decision, he doesn’t hesitate. Batman charges off to save the damsel in distress while the police try to get to Dent. Turns out the Joker intentionally gives Batman switched locations and Batman ends up finding Dent whilst Rachel blows to pieces.

How often does the love interest buy it in the second act?

What’s in the box?


Se7en is a bleak police procedural involving the hunt of a serial killer who is punishing his victims for their sins. The entire film has horrible endings for characters deemed sinful (e.g. a man eating himself to death) but it’s the shocking ending that is most memorable.

Having punished people for 5/7 sins, only two remain: envy and wrath. The killer (Kevin Spacey) tells one of the detectives, David Mills (Brad Pitt), that he cut off the head of Mill’s wife out of envy.

The head shows up in a delivery van and Mills is faced with a dilemma. If he kills Spacey’s character, the killer has won. Mills has become wrath. He deliberates in incredible grief and only turns the gun on the killer and shoots when he learns his wife was pregnant.

Meanwhile, audiences all over the world walked out in shock and horror, realising they too had been punished by this grim and unrelenting film.


Hannibal Lecter escapes


Hannibal Lecter is remembered for being a charming yet diabolically clever and evil villain. Trapped behind bullet proof glass and locked away in the basement of an insane asylum, there looks like no hope for his escape.

The Silence of the Lambs, based on the book of the same name, distracts us from the real story–Lecter’s escape–by showing Lecter working with FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to find another terrifying serial killer.

However, when Lecter is moved from his cell, as part of helping the FBI, he quickly disposes of the ignorant security guards, mauling the face of one of them with his small, white teeth.

A SWAT team assembles and tracks Lecter down. He appears to be hiding on the roof of an elevator. But it turns out he’s actually wearing the face of one of the security guards and has already been whisked away to safety.

When Lecter pulls back the dead man’s face, the entire audience recoils in terror!


Back to the Future 2 or why we usually get the future wrong

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

Movies set in the future always seem to overestimate the progress of humankind. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, artificial intelligence controlled deep space exploration. In the original Star Trek series, they speak of the ‘Eugenics War’ that occurred in the 1990s.

In Star Wars we have lightsabers and lightspeed. But that was set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…of course.In 2015, we are now entering the future predicted rather unsuccessfully in Back to the Future 2, which was released in 1989. What predictions were made and why do people have such a hard time predicting the future?


Futures look futuristic

When humans imagine the future we like to imagine it looking futuristic.  Everything in the future will look futuristic if they fill the screen with devices and technology, lights that glow bright colours, and make everything hover, fly, and look really clean.In Back to the Future 2, we have automated hovering dog walkers, hoverboards, hovering signs, and neon flashing lights everywhere.

Assuming linear trends


Humans struggle with trends. One bias we have is to ignore complex relationships and focus on simple ‘linear’ trends. That is, if a trend is going up, it will keep going. If a trend is declining, it will continue to bottom out.

A new technology is released and we immediately imagine how it will completely invade our lives like the television. Fax machines were growing in popularity in the late 80s. Made sense that we’d have one in every room as depicted in Back to the Future 2.


This difficulty with understanding complexity also explains why we assume a popular trend in sequels will continue. After four Jaws movies, it wasn’t unusual to imagine that there could be up to 19 Jaws films by 2015. Of course, there’s still only four! It might have been a closer estimate if they predicted Policy Academy films (7), or Star Trek films (12).

Things come in cycles

Another prediction we make about future trends is the assumption that all things go up and down in cycles. That is, history will repeat itself through the ages.People often assume that there has to be downturns, that the climate is warming but will probably right itself again at the end of the cycle. Individuals who have been around a long time often like to believe that everything that we’re doing today was already explored back in the day etc.

In Back to the Future 2, we see Marty’s future son encountering the same issues with the school bully who just so happens to be the grandson of the bully from 1955. Marty has also fallen into a meaningless existence much like his father in the first film.

The optimism bias


When we imagine the future, we tend to be more optimistic. We ignore the drawbacks, complications, and significant work that would actually be needed to generate flying cars.


We might also be more optimistic about health care. For example, it’s easy to imagine that there could be rejuvenation clinics that can shave decades off your life. It’s a lot harder to work out how you would even achieve 0.00001% of that if you had to actually plan for it tomorrow.

What’s more interesting is that it’s 2015 and the future Marty–who has access to all this cool new health care–looks older than the actual 2015 Michael J Fox. That’s another odd prediction we make in future films. That is, we assume people will look older and older (linearity bias again) but fail to take into account the measures people take to look younger (e.g. make-up, hair dye, fashion, exercise etc.).PicturePicture

The future is so optimistic in Back to the Future 2, that they think lawyers will be ‘abolished’ and the weather forecasts will be accurate to the second. Surely, the three constants of the universe are the speed of light, lawyers and poor weather predictions?

Dr Duck and swans

The reason why it’s hard to write a really convincing and accurate story set in the future is that it’s really, really, really, hard to predict the major shifts and innovation that occur to create the future.According to Black Swan theory, we are terrible at predicting the future because we base everything we know on the past and present. We base our predictions on exaggerations of what we know and can’t know what true unknowns will be. If we could predict future technologies and innovations, we’d probably already have them.

In Back to the Future 2, the writers struggle with predicting actual innovations like the smart phone, tablets, or the internet. Instead, the predictions involve odd ideas like devices that dispense fruit from the ceiling (I’m sure that’ll catch on).


But the one prediction they got right was the Nike shoes with powered laces. In response to the film’s success and in celebration of the 2015 milestone, Nike are currently developing the shoes. If Mattel releases a hoverboard, then I’ll be impressed.

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