Richard G. Petty, MD

People Dangerous to Your Health

I found a terrific blog with the title “Warning: Bores and buffoons may endanger your health.”

Our ability to self-regulate is a limited resource that fluctuates markedly, depending on our prior use of willpower, tiredness, stress and our personal resilience.

A new study by a team lead by Professor Eli Finkel of Northwestern University has shown that poor social coordination impairs self-regulation. What does this mean? If you are forced to work or interact with difficult individuals you may be left mentally exhausted and far less able to do anything useful for a significant period of time. In other words, draining social dynamics, in which an individual is trying so hard to regulate his or her behavior, can impair success on subsequent unrelated tasks.

In the research, volunteers were asked to work in pairs to maneuver an icon around a computer maze, with one volunteer giving the instructions, the other moving the joystick. Those operating the joysticks were actors, primed to respond to instructions in slow, stupid, inefficient and generally irritating ways. What was interesting was that the effects were not mediated through participants’ conscious processes: they were almost entirely going on below the level of conscious awareness.

There is extensive literature on the consequences of social conflict. But until now, very little research has been conducted on the effects of ineffective social coordination. That has been a big gap in the research literature, particularly given the fact that most of the higher systems in our brains are dedicated to social functions, and since the earliest days of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, tasks requiring social coordination have been the norm. In our day-to-day activities we have to cooperate with other people. Ineffective social coordination consumes a great deal of mental resources and has high costs for subsequent self-regulation. This is so important, because self-regulation is essential to living life well. It is also essential to the existence of a well functioning society.

What to do with this new information?

Identify people who drain you. If you need to work with them, do it in short bursts, and give yourself plenty of time outs.

And continue to build your resilience.

There’s also one other piece, that we’ll look at another time. Some people may also drain your energy directly. You may have come across "energy" or "psychic vampires." They really do exist, though there is nothing supernatural about them, and they don’t have fangs or an aversion to garlic. In another post I’ll show you some techniques for dealing with those people as well.

The researchers have done us a great service by putting the entire paper on the departmental website. Access is free.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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