Tuesday, 18 June 2013

5 Psychology Studies Every Teenager Should Read

#5. No Sex Now = Greater Life Satisfaction Later

Adolescence is the period in everyone's life where the idea of sex metamorphoses from a mysterious concept to an uncomfortable and alarming reality to a baited hook perpetually hanging above your head. And high school thrives on that shit. If high school's social ladder were representative of the real world, every world leader would be required to submit a detailed banging history in order to cement his qualification for the job.

In such a hypersexualized environment, it's easy to get depressed when your crushes are less than receptive to your charms (or, in the case of your average shy teenager, your lack thereof). It feels like you're failing some crucial self-defining test, every single day. But if you look at the long term, you're passing with flying colors -- because as it turns out, having sex later than most people might in fact be better for you.

A study done by the University of Texas found that people who lost their virginity late (defined in the study as older than 19) tended to attain a higher level of education, a higher income, and, yes, a greater level of relationship satisfaction during adulthood than those who lost their virginity at an average (15 to 19) or early (before 15) age.

Possible explanations include more selective partner choices, avoiding negative adolescent relationship experiences, and our personal favorite: "Individuals who first navigate intimate relationships in young adulthood, after they have accrued cognitive and emotional maturity, may learn more effective relationship skills than individuals who first learn scripts for intimate relationships while they are still teenagers."

In other words, while the other kids are learning how to fumble their way into each other's pants around the same time they're under the impression that "showing respect" is a synonym for "aggressive posturing," you get to learn about all that sex stuff later -- when you're actually emotionally competent enough to handle it.

And if your problem is that you're too shy, we need to clear something up ...

#4. Shyness Has No Influence on Whether or Not You're Single (But Does Make Your Brain Work Better)

Shyness is the curse of every teenager wishing to have anything like a normal social life. That unfounded anxiety when talking to people, the debilitating reluctance to speak up -- if minds were rock stars, shyness turns yours into the uncredited bass player, while everyone else's is friggin' Jim Morrison, man. And the worst part is there's no upside -- in no way will being shy ever be of benefit to you. After all, it's not like being popular stops counting once you enter the workplace, or that a fear of human contact is ever going to suddenly become attractive to sex partners.

Well, we have good news: A study in 2007 had subjects provide information pertaining to shyness, love attitudes, and their current relationship status, and analysis showed that a person's level of shyness had no bearing on whether or not he or she was romantically involved. If someone's shy, there's always someone else who's more than willing to make the first move.

One thing to note, however, is that shyness was correlated with two types of romantic styles: "storge" (affectionate love that develops from friendship) and mania (the obsessive, possessive kind of love that creepy people express by secretly collecting hair samples). So just keep in mind that if you fall into the shy camp and one day you happen to find yourself branding your betrothed's name onto your neck, it may be time to start reconsidering your views on love. In the meantime, there's another benefit to shyness: a little thing called sensory processing sensitivity.

It is the means by which you shall exact your terrible revenge upon them all.

Never heard of it? Well, it's a personality trait characterized by sensitivity to stimuli of any kind, including social and emotional cues. If you're shy, there's a good chance you have it, and SPS is fucking awesome. Individuals with SPS report having richer, more complex inner lives than others, and are better equipped to notice subtleties in their environment. Studies have found that SPS and the personality traits closely linked to it (which are, for the record, shyness, behavioral inhibition, and introversion) are correlated with a whole laundry list of effects that sound increasingly like the definition of spider-sense as you check them off: greater awareness of subtle stimuli, more attentional vigilance, and greater sensory reactivity.

More importantly, scientists decided to chuck some heads into an fMRI machine while their owners performed visual- and attention-based tests. Results: The brains belonging to people with SPS showed far greater activity than anyone else's in a whole bunch of areas involved with high-order visual processing. Add it all up, and you have to wonder why there aren't bald guys starting up Schools for Shy Youngsters while senators busily pen the Shy People Registration Act.

And if you're still envious of those popular girls who are constantly surrounded by a dozen chattering BFFs, you should know that ...

#3. Talking Is Overrated: Girls Talking Can Lead to Depression

Let's say you're a teenage girl. And, while all the other girls are busy complaining about which guy absolutely failed to notice their new haircut or whose parents can go eat the biggest bag of dicks, you prefer to keep your complaints to yourself. After all, they're your problems, why should you be expected to share them with everyone else? While this line of reasoning seems sound to you, the other girls probably treat you in ways that would have been edited out of Mean Girls for being too over the top.

Well, it turns out that science is right there on your (shy) side. Back in 2011, some researchers at the University of Missouri decided to find out how "co-rumination" -- talking with friends about each others' problems -- was viewed by adolescent girls and boys, and how much of an impact it had on their well-being. First and foremost, they discovered that guys generally viewed the activity as a waste of time, a tidbit that we've swept straight into the "well duh" bucket.

Girls, on the other hand, took part in co-rumination at roughly the same frequency as they did in breathing. More importantly, however, is the effect that co-rumination had on the girls who participated in it: They were far more likely to develop issues with depression and anxiety than the girls who were less social.

Professor Amanda Rose, the research leader, stated her belief that many girls talk about their problems at an unhealthy rate, which increases the amount of time they spend focused on said problems, which makes the problems seem much worse than they actually are, and so on, until their insides have boiled up into a sticky, miserable ball of funk.

#2. Yes, Your Friends Have More Friends Than You Do (But This Is Statistically Inevitable)

The average teenager's mind is overwhelmingly consumed by three thoughts: "When can I rub my genitals again?" "How can I find someone else onto whom I might rub my genitals?" And, trailing in third place, "How popular am I?" No matter how much eyeliner they slop on or how many holes they punch through themselves in an attempt to demonstrate that they're the polar opposite of popular, in the back of every single teenager's mind is a nagging concern that all of his or her friends rank higher on the popularity scale than they do.

Now, let's do a little exercise -- and you can participate even if your teen years are so far behind you that you've seriously considered investing in a shotgun to keep the damn kids off your lawn. Go to Facebook and count up how many friends each of your friends has, then calculate the average. Guess what? That number is almost certainly higher than your number of friends. Oh shit, you're unpopular! You may as well just go build yourself a cabin in the remote wilderness and brush off your manifesto-writing skills! Right?

Who cares what it looks like? Who are you going to have over anyway, loser?

Not exactly. It turns out that pretty much everyone can do this exercise, no matter how popular they are, and they will always find that the average of their friends' friends turns out higher than their number of friends. How is this possible, you ask? Blame the unholy witchcraft that is statistics.

What your average teenager unconsciously tallying up his or her friend list doesn't realize is that this simple experiment is flawed from the get-go, for the simple reason that those friends you're measuring are inclined to be popular, because they're friends with you. Think about it. The more popular someone is, the more likely it is that they're your friend. If they're not popular, they probably aren't friends with you, and therefore weren't included in your count. As a result, your friends' weighted number ends up averaging more friends than you.

Keep in mind that this paradox can be applied to many other aspects of life. The people you date have all had more dates than you have, because the ones who don't date didn't date you. All the kids on Xbox Live are absolute thunder-pricks because the ones who aren't don't end up screaming profanity into your ear. Just remember that it's nothing more than a fluke of statistics, and if you let it get you down, those asshole mathematicians win.

#1. People Care Far Less About Your Screw-Ups Than You Think They Do

Put yourself back in your teenage shoes for a minute. Maybe some nice Air Jordans, or perhaps some sparkly platform shoes, depending on just how far back in time you have to travel and just how fancy you happen to be. Now imagine that those shoes cause you to trip and fall on your way to homeroom, resulting in a teen-comedy-movie-worthy mushroom cloud of books and papers -- right in front of a crowd of gawking fellow students. You just know that by lunchtime, everyone's going to be talking about it, whispering and snickering about how you're just about the biggest dork in school, second only to that kid who managed to accidentally set fire to the local swimming pool.

But wait a minute. What if someone told you that within 10 minutes, the number of people who remember what seems to you like the worst moment of your high school life is going to be approximately one, and that one person is going to be you? Because someone is telling you that, and that someone is science.

Back in 2000, researchers conducted a series of experiments to determine to what degree people thought their behavior was noticed by others. The research consisted of forcing test subjects to wear Barry Manilow T-shirts in front of observers (because science is a cruel motherfucker sometimes), then state how many of the observers they thought had noticed it, as well as putting them into a group of people tasked with making a decision and having them report on how they thought the others would rate their contributions.

The results were fairly conclusive: When made to wear an embarrassing T-shirt, test subjects predicted that twice as many observers had noticed the shirt than actually had. When put into a group brainstorm, subjects believed that others would judge them more critically and rate them as making more speech errors and offensive comments than they actually had. Paradoxically, subjects also believed that they had spoken more often than they did, and that they would be rated higher by the others on the general awesomeness of their contributions.

"And what do you think, guy in the stupid shirt who we'll all laugh at forever?"

In short, people thought their mistakes pretty much defined them in the eyes of others, when in fact everyone else cared very little about whether they wore a bad shirt or made a shitty suggestion. Scientists called this the "spotlight effect," referencing how a typical person believes they're always in the spotlight, when in fact everyone else in the room is far too busy being aware of their own imaginary spotlight to give any fucks about what's going on under yours.

While this unfortunately means that others are probably going to forget about your positive contributions almost as soon as you make them, it also means they'll forget about your colossal fuck-ups just as quickly. And let's face it, your average teenager is probably less concerned about being remembered for correctly answering that one teacher's bonus question than for the Gym Shorts Incident.

Unless it makes it to YouTube. In which case, good luck finding a new school in another country. On another planet.

So add up all of this and it becomes clear that adolescence is just the pile of shit and friendship bracelets you're required to spin your tires in for a while before they let you out onto the open road that is the rest of your life. If you spend your time there trying to succeed at being a teenager, you may never get around to succeeding at being a human being.

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