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The Acceptance Prophecy And How We Determine If People Like Us

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Do you feel uncomfortable in social situations? Find yourself worrying that people won’t like you or negatively judge you?
Well you’re not alone! Social anxiety, defined as a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others affects roughly 1in 10 people, For many this fear may be so severe that it interferes with work, school, and other activities and may negatively affect the person’s ability to form relationships. It’s generally more common in women than men and often starts in adolescence, or sometimes as early as childhood.

Believe it or not you have far more influence than you might imagine over whether people like you or not.

A highly significant thinking pattern in social anxiety is what is called the Acceptance Prophecy and it means when we think other people are going to like us, we behave more warmly towards them and consequently they like us more. When we think other people aren’t going to like us, we behave more coldly and they don’t like us as much.

Research by Dr Danu Anthony Stinson and colleagues at the University of Waterloo, confirmed that people react more positively to others who are genuinely warm, while a further study reported that accurate judgements about their warmth are made in only 30 seconds (Ambady et al., 2000).

Stinson also provided evidence of the other side of the coin after setting up a test that manipulated people’s expectations about a person they were about to meet for the first time. The test presented two groups of men with a scenario where they had to meet and chat individually with an attractive woman. One group was told that the woman they were going to meet was nervous and worried about how she would be perceived by them.

Because these men believed that the woman was nervous and insecure it naturally made them feel better in comparison. The consequence of this was that the men were much less anxious about the interaction (actually about half as nervous as judged by independent observers) and consequently much warmer. In comparison the other group was only given basic information about the woman they were going to talk to, nothing that would calm their fears of rejection. This therefore created one group anticipating acceptance more than the other. The result showed that when the risk of rejection was lower, men acted more warmly towards the woman to whom they were talking. This extra warmth also led to a panel of observers liking them more in comparison with those who were more fearful of risk and therefore interpersonally colder. So this provides evidence that the acceptance prophecy holds true. In this experiment people who expected to be accepted did act more warmly towards a stranger and consequently they were perceived as more likeable.

There was an exception, though, to the results of this study. One sub-group were not affected by the experimental manipulation to increase how much they expected to be accepted. That’s because they already expected to be accepted. These are the social optimists.
Social optimists, of course, are in the happy position of expecting to be accepted and finding that, generally speaking, they are. Social pessimists, though, face what sociologist Robert K. Merton—who coined the expression ‘self-fulfilling prophecy ‘has called a ‘reign of error’ as the expectation of rejection leads to the projection of colder, more defensive behaviour towards others, and this leads to actual rejection.

A significant element of my social anxiety treatment involves teaching people to break out of this defensive mind-set and be relaxed enough to worry less about how they are perceived by other people, who after all are probably worrying about how they are being perceived by you!
By relaxing and worrying less about how we imagine we are being judged we can then calmly enjoy the opportunities that come our way to meet and connect with others.

Feel free to get in touch if you suffer from this problem and would like to find out how you can conquer it.

Weight and TV

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I’ve recently been watching the TV show Gogglebox on Channel 4. It’s an entertaining hour of TV watching us, watching TV.

The setup is that groups of friends and families are filmed commenting on the week’s top shows. It’s occasionally funny, sometimes touching and they don’t pull any punches when it comes to puncturing the egos of on-screen talent.

But something I noticed after the last programme is that most of the participants munch their way through huge amounts of food and snacks while viewing.

This is something they have in common with a large proportion of the clients I see, who are seeking help to lose weight. And there is a growing quantity of scientific research that indicates that eating while watching television makes you eat more.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have found that diners who are distracted while having a meal consume far more unhealthy food afterwards than those who are paying close attention to what they eat.
Diners who felt least hungry after eating were those who had focused closely on the flavour, texture and appearance of the food as they ate.

The research concludes that sitting down for formal meals and focusing on the food could help dieters to cut down on unhealthy snacking.

Dr Suzanne Higgs, a psychologist who led the research said: “Our findings suggest that avoiding distraction like watching television or eating on the go is a good idea.

“We think it is linked to memory and the way it influences our food intake. When we are making decisions about what we are going to eat, we are unconsciously factoring in information from our memories about what our last meal was.

“If you interrupt that process by being distracted then you will see effects on the amount consumed. The reason why people ate more later after watching television was because it impaired the encoding of that meal into their memory.

New research from the Netherlands notes another effect. The report, published in the journal Psychological Science finds people eating or drinking while mentally distracted actually don’t taste their food as well when otherwise occupied. As a consequence they require greater concentrations of sweetness, sourness, or saltiness to feel satisfied.

Psychologists Reine C. van der Wal and Lotte F. van Dillen write: “Our results suggest that limited attentional resources reduce sensory experience, which may be an important cause of overeating,”
“When people’s attention is burdened by a demanding activity, they will need to consume more of a certain food to obtain an optimal taste experience.”

Don’t believe everything you think

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Many clients with problems as varied as anxiety, stress, insomnia, overeating, compulsive behaviours and depression, have one thing in common. They all suffer the symptoms of negative beliefs about themselves and the world that they inhabit.

These beliefs are described as cognitive distortions or errors in thinking

These patterns negatively distort the way in which we see the world, ourselves and those around us and reinforce negative thinking or emotions.

The American psychiatrist Aaron Beck first uncovered these patterns in the 1960s while working with depressed clients. He observed that many of his clients experienced recurring negative thoughts and that as long as they believed these thoughts to be true, they would continue to have symptoms of depression. He concluded that in order to change the symptoms, he must change their distorted thinking.

By having an awareness of these thinking traps and calming those anxiety-creating thoughts down, we are able to disrupt these negative patterns and restore more rational, balanced thinking.

Of course on occasions we all tend to think in extremes. And when traumatic events happen we think that way even more.

Here are some common cognitive distortions. Take a look and see if any of them are having a negative impact on your life.

All-or-nothing thinking:

You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

Overgeneralisation:

You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

Mental filter:

You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolours the entire glass of water.

Disqualifying the positive:

You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.

Jumping to conclusions:

You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.

Mind reading:

You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and don’t bother to check it out.

Fortune Telling:

You anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.

Magnification (catastrophising) or minimisation:

You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your mistake or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or others imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”

Emotional reasoning:

You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”

Should statements:

You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also part of this error, the emotional consequence of which is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.

Labelling and mislabelling:

This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a failure.” When someone else’s behaviour rubs you up the wrong way, you attach a negative label to them. Mislabelling involves describing an event with language that is highly coloured and emotionally loaded.

Personalisation:

You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.