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8 "Fake It ‘Til You Make It" Strategies Backed by Science

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Trying to fake your way to success seems dubious at best and delusional at worst. And yet, there is plenty of science that proves you can actually fool yourself and others into becoming more successful, finding love, and increasing your happiness. Researchers have found that “acting” a certain way allows your brain to “rehearse” a new way of thinking and can set off a desired chain of events in the future. Here are eight scientifically-backed strategies for “faking” your way to a better job, relationship, and mood. 

1. SAY CHEESE.

Scientists have found that if you want to lift your mood, you should force yourself to smile. A 2012 study published in the journal Psychological Science trained 169 university students to hold chopsticks in their mouths in order to force particular facial expressions (one neutral, one a standard smile, and one a genuine smile, which engages the eye muscles as well as the mouth muscles). Once the participants learned the correct expression, they were given stressful multitasking activities to complete, such as tracing a star with their non-dominant hand while looking at a reflection of said star in a mirror. The researchers found that the subjects with both the genuine and the standard smiles had lower heart rates after performing the task than those with the neutral expression, indicating they were less stressed.

According to Psychology Today, a similar study that asked participants to either "raise their cheeks" (forcing them to smile) or "contract their eyebrows" (making them frown) while judging images of neutral, happy, and angry faces found people had a more positive reaction to the images when smiling. What’s more, the positive benefits of these forced smiles lasted for four minutes.

2. STRIKE A POWERFUL POSE.

In her much-publicized 2012 TED talk, Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School social psychologist, shared her findings that adopting a powerful posture can affect your body chemistry. In her study, she had subjects adopt either a power stance—with their chest and head lifted and arms propped on their hips—or a meeker pose—hunched over with their arms crossed—for two minutes. The people who maintained power poses showed a decrease is the stress hormone cortisol and an increase in testosterone, a hormone related to dominance and confidence. “Our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves," Cuddy concluded. "Our bodies change our minds."

3. PRETEND YOU KNOW THE ANSWER.

A 2012 study published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology found that expecting to know correct answers can actually improve our test-taking abilities. Psychologists asked two groups of participants to answer a set of questions on a computer. One group was told the answers would briefly flash on their screens before each question—too quickly for them to read the answer, but supposedly slow enough for their subconscious to register it. In reality, the flashing "answers" were a random series of letters and numbers. Meanwhile, the other group was told the flashing screen simply signaled the next question. In the end, the group that thought they were seeing the answers got the most questions right. This advantage may have evolved from our primitive survival tactics, reasons Scientific American, as expectation of a change in the environment “triggers physiological changes that prepare the body for the impending confrontation even before the predator comes into sight.”

4. DRESS FOR THE JOB YOU WANT.

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found that wearing particular clothes associated with certain positive qualities helped improve the wearer’s performance. In the 2012 study, individuals were instructed to don white coats described either as  "lab coats" (the kind worn by doctors and scientists) or as "artistic painters' coats" (which were actually identical to the lab coats) while they performed a task; in order to demonstrate that the coat had to actually be worn to make a difference, a third group was merely shown a lab coat before being asked to perform the task [PDF].

The three groups were asked to examine four sets of two pictures for differences and write what they found down, a test that was designed to test their sustained attention. The researchers found that people wearing the “lab coat” found significantly more differences in the same amount of time than the "artists," meaning that their attention was heightened while wearing the coat. This lead the researchers to conclude that dressing for success “depends on both the symbolic meaning and the physical experience of wearing the clothes.”

5. LISTEN TO HAPPY MUSIC.

When you’re in a funk, probably the last thing you want to do is turn on some Pharrell. But recent research found that forcing yourself to listen to happy music and consciously trying to become happier can actually lift your mood. In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, 167 college students were asked to listen to 12 minutes of "happy" music. One group was told to try to actively boost their mood while listening, while the second group was instructed to listen without trying to alter their mood. The first group reported much higher levels of positive mood after listening.

A tandem study by the same researchers had 68 students listen to happy music during five lab visits over the course of two weeks. Again, half the group was told to try to become happier during this time, while the other half was told not to attempt to change their mood. The students who made an effort to be happy reported higher mood levels than those who just listened to the happy music. “These studies demonstrate that listening to positive music may be an effective way to improve happiness, particularly when it is combined with an intention to become happier,” the researchers conclude

6. MIMIC GOOD LEADERS.

Say you’ve just been promoted to a position with job requirements that are outside of your skill set. New research shows that the best thing you can do is mimic someone else around you who displays the required skill sets, even if your first inclination is to worry about appearing like a fraud. Of her research, professor of organizational behavior Herminia Ibarra writes in the Harvard Business Review, “By viewing ourselves as works in progress, we multiply our capacity to learn, avoid being pigeonholed, and ultimately become better leaders. We’re never too experienced to fake it till we learn it.”

7. FEIGN ROMANTIC INTEREST.

Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor at the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K., split roughly 100 participants at a speed dating event in Edinburgh in 2012 into two groups to test what he calls the "As If Principle” (if you act "as if" you are a certain way, you'll come to feel that way). One group was instructed to behave as they normally would on their dates, while another was told to pretend they were already in love by gazing into each other’s eyes, touching hands, and whispering secrets. All participants were then asked how close they felt to their various partners (on a scale of one to seven) and whether they would like to see each other again. On average, those faking romantic interest reported that they felt one point more intimate with their partners. Forty-five percent of this group also said they would like to see the other person again, while only 20 percent of the “normal” speed dating group reported the same. Wiseman told the Telegraph of his study, “The assumption was that the emotion leads to the action or behaviour but this shows it can happen the other way around, action can lead to emotions.” 

8. FAKE CONFIDENCE TO GAIN INFLUENCE.

It turns out that in group dynamics, early assertiveness becomes self-enforcing. In a 2013 study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers randomly assigned three groups of college students the task of writing two paragraphs on either their job ambitions, their duties and obligations, or their commutes. They then formed same-sex teams using students from each of the three groups and instructed them to brainstorm a hypothetical startup company. Afterwards, everyone took a survey in which they rated the extent they respected and admired the other members of their team. The researchers found that the individuals who had written about their ambitions enjoyed a higher rank in the group pecking order and were perceived as being more assertive and proactive than those who had focused on their job duties or commutes. By just shifting your thoughts to your goals, the research suggests, you can project a more capable, confident persona. 

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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