Category Archives: Uncategorized

The concept of stress, sponsored by Big Tobacco


The more you know…

Mind Hacks

NPR has an excellent piece on how the scientific concept of stress was massively promoted by tobacco companies who wanted an angle to market ‘relaxing’ cigarettes and a way for them to argue that it was stress, not cigarettes, that was to blame for heart disease and cancer.

They did this by funding, guiding and editing the work of renowned physiologist Hans Selye who essentially founded the modern concept of stress and whose links with Big Tobacco have been largely unknown.

For the past decade or so, [Public Health Professor Mark] Petticrew and a group of colleagues in London have been searching through millions of documents from the tobacco industry that were archived online in the late ’90s as part of a legal settlement with tobacco companies.

What they’ve discovered is that both Selye’s work and much of the work around Type A personality were profoundly influenced by cigarette manufacturers…

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Plastic Free July Day 2: You won’t like me when I’m Hangry, and why I have to break up with my hummus lady


So, I’m not gonna lie – plastic free challenge is more like a lesson in how goddamn hard it is to avoid plastic.

I was mostly prepared today – I even brought a container for take out at the office (I am clearly too lazy to make my own lunch, but perhaps I should start). What I wasn’t prepared for was what actually happened: my coding meeting started way late and then went really long, and not having eaten anything beforehand I was extremely hungry when we finished, and also in a big hurry because I had other places to be. So what did I do? I ran out for a late lunch without my container, and all the places where I usually get lunch that are relatively plastic-avoidable were closed. At that point I just wanted to shove the first food I saw in my mouth, so not only was I not thinking about the package it would be coming in, I also made poor choices in terms of picking something relatively healthy. So count me down for plastic sauce container, fork and knife.

When I got home, I saw that my partner has done the grocery shopping: chicken came in a plastic bag wrapped in another plastic bag. Pitas in a bag; and he said that the hummus lady AS USUAL refused to hear anything about us not wanting bags and purposefully put all his stuff in a bag and TIED it before handing it to him. I guess he felt uncomfortable untying it to take everything out so he decided not to make a fuss. Fair enough, but I’ve had enough with her. She does this all the time, and she knows better; she just does it regardless. What gives?? I think that means it’s time to break up with my hummus lady. Now where will I get delicious hummus???

On the plus side, my veggie delivery guy said that they will “try” to not pack my groceries in plastic, but if it still comes in a bag we are welcome to return the bags with the bins and they’d be happy to reuse them. Better than nothing?

Today’s total: 1 fork, 1 knife, 1 small container, FOUR GODDAMN BAGS. Ugh.

I’m doing the Plastic Free July challenge


In an effort to practice what I so often preach, I am joining the Plastic Free July  challenge! The challenge is to attempt to refuse as much single-use plastic as you can.

Now I’ll admit, I immediately balked at doing a whole month. That seems daunting… However, you have the option to take the challenge for as many days as you like, so I pledged a week and intend to go for as long as I can for the rest of the month. I also considered doing only the main Top 4 offender elimination. The top 4 single use plastic items are: plastic bags, plastic bottles, straws, and coffee lids. But then I realized I’d be cheating because we’ve already eradicated straws and 95% of plastic bottles, I mostly use my S’well bottle for water and coffee, with plastic bags still being the problematic one, though we’ve dramatically reduced their use.

There are some problems for which I’ve had solutions for a while but have been lax on implementing:

– Bringing a reusable container for meats/grocery and takeout

– Getting canvas/cloth bags for bulk item shopping, which is where the majority of my plastic bags are still coming from

– Getting cloth for plastic-free storage of greens and veggies in the fridge

My biggest challenges that I don’t really have solutions for are:

– Cat litter

– The garbage

For the purpose of the challenge we are asked to keep a “dilemma bag” where all the plastic that we were not able to avoid during the challenge will go. This is a neat idea because it will help me figure out other challenging areas where I may not have realized I was using throw-away plastic. I will keep you updated on my progress as I go! Wish me luck 🙂


Obesity is not that simple

A great article on the importance of situational/environmental factors in rising levels of obesity. Researchers agree that pinning personal responsibility as the culprit is too simplistic as many things in our environment, including: history, nutritionally empty food, stress and sleeping patterns, light pollution, chemicals, virus and bacterial infections, alcohol, etc turn out to be “metabolic disturbers” that reset how your body processes fat and can have generational effects. Great article, definitely worth a read.

Psychology of Greed


“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”

I don’t know about you but I find myself constantly astounded by the short-sightedness of corporate greed. I find myself thinking, surely they can’t be that myopic? There is no way you can do so much damage to the planet that EVERYBODY has to share and just completely fail to care. What is going on here?

Today someone posted a link to petition against a company that is planning to build “the world’s largest coal mining complex” whose shipping lane would go right through the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Again, my first reaction was: Surely this is a joke? Can greed overpower everything else to the point where they would be willing to destroy one of the natural wonders of the world? It’s hard for me to even fathom.

But this got me thinking: what does psychology have to say on the topic of greed? What do we know about greed?

Greed is defined as “a selfish or excessive desire for more than is needed or deserved, especially of money, wealth, food, or other possessions”.

A report by Fidelity Investments found that you “need” at least 5 million dollars to “feel wealthy”. But as we can all clearly tell, once the rich reach that magic number they don’t pat themselves on the back and retire in luxury. Instead they continue to hoard more wealth. According to Seltzer (2012), profit making or securing a deal releases dopamine and can become addictive just like other addictive behaviours. And like with those other addictions, you develop a tolerance and need more and more in order to get the same “high”. Others also suggest that power causes profound distortions in behaviour, emotions, and thinking (Robertson, 2012) resulting in a skewed perception of the world and a dull appreciation of risk, while some would go so far as to call greed a psychological disorder (Hartmann, 2010).

But the truth of the matter is that we don’t need to demonize those in the financial industry, or assume that all the rotten apples congregated on Wall Street. Studies find that greed is more common than generosity. For example, one study found that if people were the recipients of an act of generosity, they were not any more likely to “pay it forward” than to perform a neutral act. However, if they were the recipient of an act of greed, they were more likely to “pay it forward” creating a negative chain reaction. This is not surprising as psychology studies have shown over and over that negative stimuli have stronger effects on our thoughts and actions than positive stimuli. I suppose it makes sense that if you perceive everyone else around you as being greedy, you feel the need to also be greedy otherwise you will not get your share. But what a sorry implication that has for our current conundrum!

The conclusion that the above study draws is that people should focus on treating everyone equally and refraining from acts of greed. Research on social norms would support this notion as people will easily conform to what others do if they perceive it to be in their interest, thus the system works best when in addition to conformity, violators (in this case the greedy) are punished (Guzman, Rodriguez-Sickert, & Rowthorn, 2007). This is perhaps the key flaw in our handling of corporate greed – the mechanism of punishment – the law – is completely ineffective against corporate misdeeds.

The idea that we should trust banks, or anybody when it comes to wealth, to be “good” while “no one is watching” is absurd (Lammers & Stapel, 2009), because “good” becomes relative (no one is around, therefore what’s good for me = good). If you don’t want people to steal or hoard, then you have to have rules that are enforced, not live in hope that people will be model citizens. Accountability is the cornerstone of a healthy society.


Fidelity Investments (2012). Key Insights into the Millionaire Mind. Retrieved from:

Gray, K. Ward, A.F., & Norton, M.I. (2012). Paying It Forward: Generalized Reciprocity and the Limits of Generosity. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Retrieved from:

Greed: definition. Retrieved from:

Guzman, R., Rodriguez-Sickert, C., & Rowthorn, R. (2007). When in Rome, do as the Romans do: The coevolution of altruistic punishment, conformist learning, and cooperation. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28, 112-117.

Hartmann, T. (2010). Greed is a psychological disorder. Retrieved from:

Lammers, J. & Stapel, D.A. (2009). How power influences moral thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(2),  279-289. doi: 10.1037/a0015437

Robertson, I. (2012). Bankers and the neuroscience of greed. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

Seltzer, L.F. (2012). Greed: The ultimate addiction. Retrieved from:

International symposium on Arab youth identity summary


This week the psychology department at my university held a symposium on the topic of Arab youth identity that focused on both challenges across cultures, as well as integration challenges in cultures that have substantial immigrant populations.

Dr. John Berry, a highly regarded and frequently cited intercultural psychologists, gave the keynote address as well as a lecture on cross-cultural and intercultural research methodology. There were also two days of panel speakers from Canada, United States, Lebanon, and Egypt who covered topics like youth civic engagement (only 2% of youth in Egypt volunteer in the community!), sexuality, how parents pass on memories to their children of historical events that they experienced (i.e. war), parental practices, resiliency, forgiveness, anxiety, substance abuse, immigration and mental illness, and more.

To me, and several other researchers, this seemed like a rather broad topic for a symposium, especially because studies on “Arab youth” from both across the Middle East as well as those who are now living in North America were included. The symposium closed with a panel of community organization representatives who talked about what kind of research they would find helpful in order to provide programming to this demographic. By that point it was apparent that youth across these different cultures are experiencing vastly different challenges. Though the symposium organizers hoped that the roundtable discussions would spark a collaborative research agenda among attendees, it was clear that each community will need to assess the needs of their own population as a starting point.

We did have a fruitful discussion about the challenges of reaching the population that we are trying to study. While conducting research on youth IN the Middle East is likely exponentially harder than it is in Canada and US, it is still a confusing challenge here as well. Youth are notoriously hard to convince to participate in research. Youth from a group that is more insular is even harder. It was disappointing that none of the student groups on campus were in attendance at the event, as their input would have been incredibly valuable. But it is also not at all surprising, and illustrative of the challenge that researchers face when reaching out to this group.

My personal research interests lie in immigrant adjustment in Canada, and my impression from the panels and the roundtable discussions was this: acculturation, or adjustment to a new culture, is a process that is experienced by both the immigrant and the mainstream individual that interacts with the immigrant. Research and programs have made substantive efforts to address both, by focusing on helping the immigrant integrate more smoothly, and by providing diversity training to individuals in the mainstream culture. Our efforts now need to focus on actually encouraging the two to interact in a productive way. Some organizations are beginning to make headway on that front, such as the ALLIES mentorship program that matches Canadian professionals with newcomer immigrant professionals. I have not heard of similar large-scale programming for youth, but I am sure something like it exists in various communities. For example, a project for which I am a research assistant, Engaging Girls, Changing Communities, just funded a youth-led initiative that will pair up Muslim young women with mentors who work in the community (so far United Way, the public library, and Rose City Islamic Center are on board) to help get them involved in the community, learn how to network, and meet professional women that they can talk to. It is my hope that we make a lasting contribution to this community and maybe set the stage for something that can be implemented more broadly.