Verbal Versus Non-Verbal Communication

You may not have heard of Albert Mehrabian, an Armenian-Iranian professor of psychology at UCLA, but you’ve almost certainly heard of his work. He studied human communication, and he performed experiments in the 1960s on the relative importance of words, tone, and physiology in verbal communication.

What is the most important part of speech as communication? It seems obvious that the answers would be the words that the communicator speaks, as they convey information most consistently. But according to Mehrabian, tone and physiology are even more important than words. Put another way: body language speaks volumes louder than words ever can!

Mehrabian’s experiments

Mehrabian was interested in how humans communicate, and whether verbal or non-verbal cues play a more vital role in conveying messages to one another. The idea behind the experiments he came up with was to judge the relative impact of three different factors on verbal communication:

  1. Words spoken (i.e. what is said)
  2. Tone of voice (i.e. how the voice sounds)
  3. Physiology (e.g. body language, facial expressions, etc.)

Mehrabian aimed to compare the relative importance of verbal and non-verbal communication in face-to-face conversations. In the first experiment he ran, participants observed a person saying a single word and then judged whether that word was meant in a positive or negative way. The experimenters varied the communication so that sometimes both the word and the tone was positive (e.g. the word “dear” delivered with a smile), sometimes both were negative, and sometimes the word and tone were incongruent (i.e. the word was positive, but the delivery was negative). From the judgement of the participants over whether the communication was overall positive or negative, Mehrabian worked out how much of the judgement was due to the tone versus the word.

The second experiment compared photos of facial expressions and vocal tone captured on a tape recording. Participants had to judge whether the overall effect of the communication was positive or negative based on the combination of facial expressions and tone. From combining the results of these two studies, Mehrabian found:

  • 7% of meaning came from the words used
  • 38% of meaning came from the tone of voice
  • 55% of meaning came from physiological cues like facial expressions


The problem with Mehrabian’s work is that it is frequently over-interpreted and used to make claims that are not actually supported. You’ll hear people claim that “body language makes up 55% of all communication” or that “non-verbal communication is more important than verbal communication.” In fact, this isn’t the case for several reasons.

First, remember that the experiments were performed with the participants listening to single, isolated words without context, which is not at all how humans typically experience communication. Secondly, the physiology factors that were consider were facial expressions, not body language as is commonly claimed. Most importantly, the experimental findings applied only to incongruent situations. This means that when physiological cues and verbal cues do not match, people disproportionately base their judgements on non-verbal rather than verbal communication. The same thing is not necessarily true in other situations.

The real takeaway lesson from these studies should not be “non-verbal communication is more important than verbal communication,” it should be “for clear communication, verbal and non-verbal cues need to match”. So, if you want to convey excitement about a project when you’re presenting, then your tone and body language should be positive as well as the words that you are using.

A final key factor that often goes completely overlooked is that these experiments equated communication to each speaker’s feelings and attitudes. In other words, Mehrabian’s speakers weren’t talking about facts or objective information, but instead their own subjective likes and dislikes.

Think of it this way: if you were at a party and you asked someone if they were having a good time, and they said yes while using a flat tone of voice and not making eye contact, then you’d naturally assume that they were not really having a good time. But if someone tried to tell you that the Earth was flat, it wouldn’t matter how upbeat they sounded or how excited they were, you still wouldn’t believe them. That’s because the person at the party was talking about their feelings, where non-verbal cues are important for your judgements, but the flat earth enthusiast was talking about facts, where you are more focused on the content of their speech.

Other body language studies

Of course, none of this is meant to refute that body language and other non-verbal cues are important in communication. It’s just that Mehrabian’s studies don’t really show what they are often claimed to show. But there have been many other studies over the years that have looked at verbal and non-verbal communication.

A notable example by Argyle and colleagues from 1970 used video tapes to show participants communicators who were either dominant or submissive, and it found that non-verbal cues and especially body posture contributed 4.3 times more to their judgements than did verbal cues.

On the other hand, a 1992 study by Hsee and colleagues analyzed how clinicians make judgements about the emotional states of their clients. They found that participants made judgements about another person’s emotional state based more on that person’s self-report and facial expressions than on their tone of voice. This could be because clinicians are trained to listen more than most people and are very attentive to subtle cues like facial expressions.

So what does all of this mean in practice? Essentially, effective communication requires a combination of words, tone, and physiology that are all in harmony. When you share information, especially if you are talking about your personal feelings, you needn’t be stiff and formal. In fact, you’ll communicate more clearly if you allow your body posture and your tone of voice to convey the same meaning as your words.

Next week we’re going to talk about the reverse of communicating effective – how to listen effectively. Come back soon for that!

Discover Yourself – Disc vs Discovery

When you’re looking for a personality assessment to use in your workplace, you’ll find that there are lots of different assessments, based on different psychological theories and providing different kinds of information. Two of the most popular assessment tools are Discovery (also known as Insights Discovery) and Disc (also written as ‘DISC’). We’ll talk about the similarities and differences between these two assessments so that you can see which one might best suit your needs.

Similarities between Disc and Discovery

Both Disc and Discovery are psychometric tools that are used in business environments. They both sort people into simplified personality types based on self-reported answers to a range of questions, which can be both a strength and a drawback. Self-report allows for people to share their own perspectives on their own life, however, it also means that results from these assessments are only as reliable as the person who submitted the data when completing the assessment.

The tests work by giving the test taker a series of questions or statements for which they will choose the answer that feels most appropriate for them from a list of multiple choice options. These answers are then collated together and analyzed to produce a profile of the test taker. Often businesses will get teams or even whole departments to take the assessments at the same time so they can discuss the results together.

The Disc assessment

The Disc assessment is based on the work of psychologist William Moulton Marston, also known as the creator of Wonder Woman. The assessment determines people’s emotional style based on four traits: dominance (D), inducement or influence (I), submission or steadiness (S), and compliance or conscientiousness (C). Each individual will have one of these traits as their default approach, so you’ll hear people who have used this tool describing themselves as “high D” or “high I” and so on.

As well as these four traits, there are two dimensions provided by the Disc, which refer to the ways in which these traits are expressed in the world. These dimensions are firstly about personality traits (i.e. whether people are more reserved or more outgoing) and secondly about behavioral style (whether people are focused on goals and tasks or on other people). It is worth noting that the Disc is generally understood as a behavioral assessment and not a personality test – so it gives information about traits or behavior, but not about other aspects of personality such as values and beliefs.

One important thing to know about the Disc assessment is that it is not controlled, owned, or overseen by any one company or person. The theories of Marston that the tools are based on are publicly accessible, and anyone can use these theories to develop their own assessment tools. For this reason, you might find quite some variation in style between various Disc-based assessment tools.

The Insights Discovery

The Insights Discovery assessment is based on the work of Carl Jung and sorts people into four colors which represent four outlooks and corresponding goals. The four colors are cool blue (precise, exacting, and deliberate and seeking understanding), earth green (caring and patient and seeking harmony), sunshine yellow (fun and sociable and seeking recognition), and fiery red (driven and confident, and seeking achievement). These four aspects form the basis of the Insights Discovery assessment. Further assessment is then provided through looking at each person’s personality type based on the work of Jung. He proposed that there were four primary cognitive functions that people use when thinking and acting in the world. These cognitive functions include rational judging functions (thinking and feeling) and irrational perceiving function (sensation and intuition), and each one can be expressed in an introverted way (directed inside towards oneself) or an extraverted way (directed outwards towards others and the world). From these four functions and two expressions, eight psychological types can be identified which map onto combinations of the four colors described above.

Unlike the Disc, the Insights Discovery concept is owned and managed by one organization, so there is a specific format to the questions used in the assessment and the report created for each person. The Discovery tool is geared towards business scenarios so the results report includes information on the body language, verbal style, work strengths and weaknesses, and communication style of each person. One useful aspect of Discovery in team building is its focus on how a person of a particular color or type would interact with people of different colors or types. The exercises can include information about identifying types in others and using this information to tailor your communication with them for better teamwork.

The report is in depth and includes information on managing that person and also how that person will be as a manager of others. This report format makes the Discovery a popular tool for departments who want to foster teamwork or understand the team dynamics of their staff more thoroughly.

What these assessments are and aren’t meant to be used for

If you are thinking about using one of these assessments for your business, it is important to know what they can and can’t tell you. One mistake that is commonly made when looking at psychometric tests in a business context is thinking that an assessment can tell you who will be a good performer in their role and who will struggle. These assessments do NOT tell you about a person’s ability to succeed in their job – instead, they tell you about how a person approaches their work and how you can support that person in their development and communicate with them effectively.

Also, remember that these assessments only give you information about how the person perceives themselves, which is only as accurate as the person knows themselves to be. You should avoid stereotyping people or making assumptions about their abilities or aptitudes based on these assessments. Remember that the assessments give you suggestions about communication style and approaches, but not information on skills or values.

In the next post we’ll compare Discovery with another popular personality assessment tool, the MBTI. So check back soon for that, or learn more at or

Jungian Psychology: The Eight Attitudinal Functions

In the last post we talked about the four colors approach to personality, and how these four colors relate to eight personality types. Today we’re going to dig into the work of Carl Jung to learn more about the eight personality types and the cognitive functions that they are based on.

The Types of Cognitive Function

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung worked on the topic of psychological types back in the 1920s, and much of the field of personality types today is still based on his work. He looked at the essential cognitive functions, and proposed that there were two diametrically opposed pairs: rational, judging functions of thinking and feeling, and irrational, perceiving functions of sensation and intuition. The idea behind this distinction is that the judging functions are matters of assessment that require decision making, while the perceiving functions are related to gathering information from the world.

The Four Cognitive Functions

Jung went on to define in depth the four cognitive functions – two judging functions and two perceiving functions. The essential characteristics of the four functions are as follows:

  • Sensation – This is what you probably imagine when you think of the word ‘sensation.’ It refers to perception through our senses, such as us absorbing information about the world through touch, taste, sight, etc.
  • Intuition – This refers to background processes of our mind that we may not be aware of, such as unconscious drives or intuitions about the beliefs, desires, and motivations of other people.  It is a “knowing” of information
  • Thinking – This refers to the rational analysis of data and the applying of logic to questions in order to draw meaningful conclusions. It is related to intellectual cognition, meaning the use of logical analysis.
  • Feeling – This is not the experiencing of emotion that you might expect, but rather refers to subjective estimations and the making of decisions about value. The function is still considered rational in that it is a form of assessment, but the object of that assessment is a subjective state. It is making decisions based on feelings, and relationships.

Introversion and Extraversion

Another key aspect of Jung’s model was the distinction between introversion and extraversion (sometimes spelled as ‘extroversion’). Jung believed that these two attitudes represented the ‘direction’ in which each of the four cognitive functions could be turned.

An introverted function is one that is turned inward, meaning that it operates within the interior world of thoughts and reflection. An extroverted function is one that is turned outward, meaning that it operates in the realm of the exterior world of behavior, actions, things, and other people. People who tend towards introversion gain energy from time spent alone, are thought oriented, and like to contemplate first and act later. People who tend towards extraversion gain energy from being around others, are action oriented, and are more likely to act first and reflect later.

Eight Psychological Types

The concept of eight psychological types comes from combining the four cognitive functions with the two attitudes. Each function can be expressed in an extraverted or introverted form, and people will be led by one function and one attitude to form their dominant personality type. This gives us a total of eight psychological types:

  • Extraverted Sensation – Someone who lives in the moment, taking information from the world and acting on concrete data. They pay attention to opportunities to act and they value new experiences. They tend to notice details and work with what is available to them.
  • Introverted Sensation – A person who takes information from the world but compares it to past experiences before acting. They rely on the past to guide them and look for links between past and present experiences. They tend to have good memories and store information for later use.
  • Extraverted Intuition – Someone who isn’t constrained by the current way of doing things – they look for how the world could be instead of accepting how it is. They value meaning and look for flashes of insight that tie together ideas from different contexts, and they see connections in the external world.
  • Introverted Intuition – This person will follow their own internal framework and fit ideas and thoughts into this framework in a consistent way, though their thoughts may be hard for someone else to follow. They think about how the future will unfold and use intuition to plot future outcomes from current situations.
  • Extraverted Thinking – A highly logical person who likes structure and seeks consistency from others and the world. This person follows the rules and sets boundaries, and they use guidelines to assess whether something is working or not. They organize efficiently and according to parameters.
  • Introverted Thinking – This person is also logical and seeks consistency, but they are far more concerned with adhering to their internal framework than with external rules. They analyze and categorize, identifying inconsistencies and they achieve precision through careful definitions of terms.
  • Extraverted Feeling – A person who values harmony and connection with others, who likes acting as part of a group, and who values social ties and promotes the comfort of others. They care about maintaining the values of groups and organizations and are willing to adjust in order to accommodate the needs of others. When they make decisions they take into mind what is acceptable and appropriate.
  • Introverted Feeling – Someone who cares deeply about values and who strives to act only in ways that are in line with their personal values. They review and evaluate actions and thoughts based on their underlying truths and are willing to stand up for truth and accuracy.

Naturally, all of us have the potential to use all these different attitudes depending on the context and our training and background. But Jung believed that each person has a dominant function which they prefer to use when thinking and acting. To find out more about how these attitudes are used in practice in personality testing, come back soon as our next post will compare two popular personality assessment tools.  And you can always learn more at, or

Is What You See Really What You Get?

Everyone knows that you can’t always believe what you see. Despite how it seems to us, our perception of the world around us is actually quite limited and we frequently miss important information from our environment. The most obvious form of perceptual anomaly is optical illusions, where we perceive something that we know cannot be the case.

There’s an illusion called the Ponzo illusion where you see two lines stretching off towards the horizon like train tracks, and you have to estimate the length of two horizontal lines running across the track. These two lines appear to be different lengths, but we can measure and easily observe them to actually be the same length. The strange thing is that even when you know that the lines are the same length, they still appear to be different lengths.

Optical illusions are just one of the ways that our perceptions can lead us astray. Today we’re going to discuss the other ways in which our perceptions can play tricks on us, and learn a bit about how perception works.

Pay attention
When you think about it, it’s obvious that we don’t always perceive all of the details that we think we do. Just consider how it feels when you are tired, in a hurry, or absorbed with a problem, and you’re rushing down the street. You don’t pay much attention to the scene around you, so it’s easy to miss details that you would otherwise notice. There’s obviously a relationship between how much attention you pay to an environment, and the degree of detail that you’ll observe in that environment.

In its extreme form, this effect is called inattentional blindness. There’s a famous experiment from the 1970s called the invisible gorilla. In this test, participants are shown a video of two groups of people playing with a basketball. One group is dressed in white, the other in black. The participant is asked to count how many times the ball is passed between the players in white, which requires careful attention to the video as the passes are made quickly. At the end of the video, participants are asked how many passes were made, and also if they noticed anything unusual about the video. Around half of the participants answer that they saw nothing unusual in the video. But in fact, during the video as the passes are occurring, a person dressed in a gorilla suit enters the frame and dances around the players. If you’re not very focused on a task like counting the number of passes, it’s impossible to miss the gorilla. But when their attention is focused elsewhere, many people don’t see a huge dancing gorilla that is quite literally staring them in the face.

What changed?
It is to some extent obvious that how much attention you pay to a scene will affect how much you perceive of it – and, as in the case of the gorilla, paying a lot of attention to one aspect of a scene will make you less perceptive of other aspects of the scene. But perceptual anomalies go beyond just matters of attentiveness… into strange situations that seem unbelievable at first. One such aspect of perception is called change blindness, and it occurs when a scene is changed before our very eyes and we don’t even notice it.

Normally, humans are very good at detecting change. If we see two similar pictures one after another but there are subtle differences between the pictures, we’ll very quickly pick up on what is different. If you flick back and forth between the two images, you’ll see the differences between them jump out at you very obviously. However, there are ways to trick our brains so that we don’t notice such changes. One way is to introduce a blank screen between the images, so you see picture one – blank screen – picture two. This makes it much harder to detect differences between the pictures.

The funny thing is that this works not only with pictures but also in the real world. One experiment took place on a busy street, where an experimenter would stop a random passerby and ask them for directions. While they were asking, two confederates dressed as workmen would walk between the experimenter and the subject holding a large door which blocks the subject’s view for a moment. In that moment, the experimenter would duck out and be replaced by a different person. Once the workmen have passed by, most subjects didn’t even notice that the person they had been talking to a second ago had been replaced by a totally different person. This is how big a change can take place in our perception without us being aware of it.

Seeing patterns everywhere
Another perceptual oddity that humans have is a tendency to see patterns everywhere. The phenomenon of pareidolia refers to the habit we have of seeing patterns even in random noise, and especially of seeing faces. It’s why you get those funny blogs of hundreds of photos of coat hooks, bags, or other inanimate objects that everyone instantly perceives as looking like a face. It’s also why it’s common for people to perceive the face of Jesus in their toast – we have evolved to be so good at pattern recognition, and especially recognition of other faces, that we perceive faces even in random noise.

One of the most important things to understand about perception is that it is led by our mental state, including our prior knowledge and assumptions about the world. We refer to perception as being top-down, meaning that it is guided by our assumptions and knowledge, rather than bottom-up, which would be led by environmental details. It seems to us as if we are perceiving an accurate and objective picture of the world, but in fact large amounts of what we think we perceive is actually filled in by our brains. What you see is just as much about what you believe as it is about what’s in front of you.

To learn more about why we all see the world differently, visit

The Challenge of Behavior Change

Anyone who has ever made a resolution to get more exercise, to waste less time on Facebook, or to become more organized about their work already knows that it is incredibly hard to change our behavior. Once a behavior has become a habit or a part of our routine, it’s very difficult to replace that habit with something new.

Why is it so hard to change our habits?
If my goal is to get fitter, and I have the equipment, time, and motivation to do so, why is it so hard to stick to a goal like going running twice a week? I might manage my goal for a few weeks, but if I’m like most people then I won’t maintain the new habit in the long term. Even when I know that the new habit will make me feel better and will make me happier overall, it’s still tough to maintain.

The problem is that as humans, we are far less rational than we like to believe. We’d like to think that when we’re presented with clear evidence that a particular action is possible and would make us happier, then of course we’d change our habits. But in truth, we don’t weigh choices rationally. In a previous blog post we talked about an experiment where kids would rather eat one marshmallow now than wait ten minutes and get two marshmallows. It might surprise you to learn that adults do much the same thing. An experiment at New York University offered adults a choice: they could receive $20 now or wait a month and receive more money then. The majority of people chose to have the $20 now, even though they would have received more money if they had waited. The essential problem is that, as human beings, we are bad at weighing our future happiness against our immediate desires.

How can we influence our own behavior?
Given this problem, what can we do to change our behavior? There are two main approaches to this issue:

Firstly, we can get more information about the issue. In the case of exercise, we could learn more about the health benefits of exercise and how it could improve our life. Information like this can provide long term motivation in setting goals, but given that we do not make decisions rationally, it might not be so helpful in getting us out the door for a run right this minute.

The other approach to behavior change is to provide incentives. These can be either positive, like getting a reward for completing a new habit, or negative, like giving money away when you don’t complete the habit. Both positive and negative incentives can be effective, so it’s best to use a combination of the two. It also helps to keep us engaged if these incentives are fun and immediately rewarding.

The role of the environment

If you want to make new habits, there’s something important to understand about human psychology and how it applies to behavior change, and that is the role of the environment. People often think of humans as being “brains first” or “genetics first,” as if there is a core real “us” which is placed into the world. But this isn’t the case. Rather, our brains (and our minds) develop in response to our environment. Your brain and your mind are profoundly affected by the world around you – to such an extent that if you were taken completely out of your environment, you wouldn’t be “you” for much longer.

Instead of thinking of yourself as a pre-formed brain which should make rational decisions based on self-interest (which is not a helpful way to think when you’re trying to change your behavior) think of yourself as a bundle of intentions which responds to environmental cues. Information comes from the environment, it enters our brains, we respond to this information through behavior, and behavior drives outcomes.

Practical advice
What does this mean in practice? What actions can you take to make it more likely that you’ll stick to your new habits? Here are a few suggestions to promote behavior change:

  • Remove “pain points” to make it easy to do the right thing. For example, have your running gear washed, ready, and in one place, and leave your running shoes by the door. Then whenever you do want to go for a run you won’t be put off by the hassle of finding your gear.
  • Put physical reminders in your environment. For example, if you want to work on your finances each morning then put your accounting book on top of the papers on your desk. You’ll have to physically pick up the book to get to your desk so you’ll be reminded and incentivized to do your accounting.
  • Reward yourself for meeting your goals. The trick for this tip is to pick an appropriate reward. If you reward yourself for going running by eating fast food, then you’ll undo all of your good work. Instead, try something small like ticking a box or adding a sticker to your diary. It might sound childish, but a physical reminder of your progress like a sticker can be great motivation.
  • Related to this, do track your progress over the long term. For example, you could record how many days per week you do your accounting, or track how many miles you run each time. You’ll be able to see yourself improving over time, which will reinforce that each run adds towards your long term goal of getting fitter.
  • Get social support. One of the biggest factors in whether someone will be able to successfully quit smoking isn’t whether they use nicotine patches, or if they’re educated about health risks, or even whether they enjoy cigarettes – it’s whether they have support from their social circle. Having friends, family, and colleagues support you in your new behavior will be a big help in getting you to stick with it.

Next time, we’ll talk about perception and the ways that we perceive the environment around us – correctly and incorrectly. So check back soon for more.

Conscious Thought vs Less Conscious Behaviors

Do your thoughts cause your behavior? That might sound like a silly question at first. Of course, you feel thirsty, you know that taking a drink will quench your thirst, so you move your arm to pick up your glass and drink some water. It’s obvious that your conscious thoughts about being thirsty and knowing that water will make you feel better caused that action, right?

In fact, evidence from cognitive neuroscience suggests that conscious thought may not be as much of a driver of behavior as we expect. Many of our actions are ‘decided on’ unconsciously.

Do thoughts cause behavior?

The question of what causes behaviors has been debated in philosophical circles for thousands of years. The problem is this: if you believe the body to be a purely physical thing, as most philosophers these days do, then it’s hard to explain how this physical body could be controlled by a mind. How do thoughts (a mental thing) cause actions (a physical thing)? In all the rest of the world as we know it, there is no other example of a mental thing causing a physical thing.

The solution that some have come to is that conscious thoughts don’t actually cause behaviors – the thoughts merely run alongside the behaviors, and we think that the thoughts cause the behavior because they happen at the same time. This view, called epiphenomenalism, sounds bizarre but is one of the few ways to make sense of the relationship between mental and physical: conscious thoughts are just a kind of window dressing for behaviors that are actually caused by physical things like the environment.

Push the button
If this sounds like unfounded philosophical pondering, then you’ll be glad to hear that more recently cognitive scientists have performed experiments to investigate the brain’s role in causing behaviors. A famous experiment by neuroscientist Benjamin Libet used EEG (a kind of brain scan) to measure the moment at which people decide to take an action. The participants were hooked up to the EEG machine and then asked to push a button at any time they wanted to in the next 10 seconds, and to look at a clock and take note of the exact moment at which they decided to act.

The strange thing was that a distinctive pattern of brain activation was found before the participants reported deciding to push the button. It seemed that there was a decision making process going on in the brain which took place a full half a second before the conscious decision to act was made. This is pretty solid evidence that behaviors are caused, at least to some extent, by unconscious brain processes rather than by conscious thoughts.

Is that my hand?
That’s pretty strange, for sure – the idea that decisions are being made by you before you’re actually consciously aware that you have made a decision. But still, regardless of the time differences involved, you still feel like you make a decision and then take an action. You’d know if a behavior happened without you deciding to do it, right? If you thought one thing and your body did another thing, you’d definitely notice – wouldn’t you?

According to experimental research, maybe not. There’s a group of experiments called false feedback tasks, in which participants perform a simple action such as drawing a straight vertical line. The trick is that the experiment is set up so that the participants don’t actually see their own hand performing the task. Back in the 1960s, this was achieved by getting participants to put their hand in a box and using a system of mirrors so that when they looked down, they actually saw the experimenter’s hand instead of their own. Nowadays similar effects are achieved using computerized feedback. Using this system, experimenters give the participants false visual feedback. So, for example, instead of seeing their own hand drawing a straight vertical line (which is what their hand was actually doing), the participant sees a hand that looks like their own drawing a line at an angle.

The really strange part is that a large majority of participants still think that the hand that they see is actually their own hand. Even when the action that they intended to take (draw a straight line) was actually followed by a different action (draw a crooked line), participants still felt as if they were in control of their actions and that they had decided to draw a crooked line instead. This means that people perceive themselves as consciously controlling their hand even when it was actually controlled by a computer or by the experimenter, and they believe their decisions to be controlling the hand even when they are not.

Why does this matter?
As you can see, the degree to which your conscious thoughts control your behaviors is actually not as clear as you might think. In terms of both deciding to take an action before it happens, and making an assessment that we chose to perform an action after it happens, we are remarkably influenced by non-conscious factors. We assume that we have consciously decided to take a certain action when we observe ourselves performing that action, when in fact many of our behaviors are not consciously driven.

All this information from philosophy and neuroscience might be interesting to ponder over, but does it actually matter to our everyday lives? Arguably it does, especially when we think about behavior change. If you’re trying to turn over a new leaf, such as by giving up smoking, becoming more organized, or working on a project every day, then you need to think about factors other than your conscious thoughts that might affect your behavior. Things like the environment you are in and your bodily state (whether you’re hungry, stressed, well rested, and so on) can have a large impact on your behaviors even if you are not consciously aware of them. We’ll get into this topic in more depth in the next blog post, so check back soon!

The Science Behind Self-Awareness


The topic of self-awareness is obviously important for anyone who is seeking to understand themselves and to communicate and act more effectively. So what do we know about the brain based science of self-awareness?

The development of self-awareness

A good way to understand how self-awareness works is to watch how it develops in children. For example, have you ever watched a young child stare at themselves in the mirror? A very young child of around a year old won’t recognize their reflection, and they may try to play with the other baby that they see. But once kids are just a little older, at around 18 to 24 months, they will start to recognize that the person in the mirror is them. This shows that they understand that they have a physical body which is perceived by others in the world.

A famous test of self-awareness in psychology is called the dot test. You put a brightly colored dot sticker on a child’s forehead, and then sit them in front of a mirror. If the child reaches for the mirror, then they possibly don’t understand that the reflection they see is themselves. But if the child reaches for their own forehead to touch or remove the sticker, you can know that the child recognizes themselves in the mirror. This is one of the key developmental stages of acquiring self-awareness.

Awareness of your physical body

Another key aspect of self-awareness is the awareness we have of how our body is positioned. You might think that we work this out visually – for example, that when we catch a ball we look at the ball and then look at our arm, and adjust accordingly. But in fact, that’s not the case. Even with your eyes closed, you can still tell where your limbs are positioned. This is a sense (yes, we have more than five senses!) called proprioception.

There are special receptors in our muscles called muscle spindles which send signals to our brains indicating when a muscle stretches. This allows our brains to calculate the position of our bodies, even when there is no visual information available. Interestingly, this is why it is impossible to tickle yourself. Certain movements on body areas feel ticklish because those movements are unpredictable – but when you are the one moving your fingers over your side, you don’t experience the tickling sensation because your brain already knows how your fingers are moving and is expecting to feel that pattern on your skin.

Awareness of your own mind

There’s a different way to think about self-awareness, and that’s in terms of our awareness of our own minds rather than our bodies. You might have heard of a famous finding called the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is a cognitive bias in which people who are very bad at a task tend to wildly overestimate their ability at that task. If you take a test of skill or knowledge – and it can be practically anything, from skill at driving to mathematical ability – and then ask participants to rate their own performance on the task before you tell them their results, then you might expect participants who are very good at the task to rate themselves highly and people who are bad at the task to rate themselves as low in skill.

However, that’s not what happens. People who are in the middle of performance on tests tend to rate themselves accurately as scoring in the middle. People who perform very well on a test tend to rate themselves as a bit lower than their actual performance was. But people who perform very poorly on a test rate themselves as average or above average in their performance.

The problem is that in order to assess your performance on a test accurately, you have to have knowledge of the subject. In other words, you have to know what you don’t know. There is also the issue that people tend to assume that others are similar to them – so highly competent people rate themselves as just a bit above average because they overestimate the skills of others, while people low in competence rate themselves as above average because they overestimate their own skills.

Dunning-Kruger is often used to make jokes about incompetence, but it also reveals an important aspect of self-awareness called metacognition. This is the ability to think about your own thinking: this means the ability to understand how you learn, to decide which strategy you should use to solve a problem, and to gain insight into your own strengths and weaknesses.

Why self-awareness matters so much

One of the reasons that metacognition is so important is that self-awareness is linked to self-regulation. Self-regulation refers to the ability to manage your emotions in a productive way – for example, the ability to stay calm and not lose your temper when you have to deal with an overbearing colleague. This process requires you to suppress some emotional responses and plan for the future in order to achieve a long term goal – in this case, to get your work project completed and not to get fired.

There’s a test of self-regulation that’s often performed with kids, called the marshmallow test. The test is simple: you take a child, and tell them they can either have one marshmallow now, or two marshmallows in ten minutes. While kids would obviously prefer to have two marshmallows than one, this is a tough test because children often lack a firm understanding of time – so “in ten minutes” seems like it could be forever for a child. The test requires that the children prioritize their future happiness at having two marshmallows later on, over the current desire to have one marshmallow now.

The interesting part of this test is the long term results. Researchers at Stanford found that children who were able to self-regulate and to wait for the two marshmallows had better outcomes later in life than children who couldn’t. These children who could self-regulate had better educational performance, better physical health, and more successful careers. The ability to regulate your emotions and to prioritize the future over immediate gratification is a key skill for a happy and successful life.

This is just scratching the surface of the research on self-awareness in cognitive psychology, so check back here soon for more about this fascinating topic, or visit to learn more. You can also contact Scott at

How Psychometric Testing Can Help You Build Stronger Teams

You may have heard about the use of personality tests, or psychometric testing, in business contexts in order to achieve a higher standard of management and team building. Today we’re going to look at what these tests measure and the ways that they can bring business benefits to your team.

Why study personality?
The theories of personality psychology may be interesting to read about, but more than this they can provide concrete advice on how to work more effectively. Psychometric testing can be used to give insights which enable people to gain self-understanding, letting them be more aware of their personality style and strengths and weaknesses. From this information, people can learn better strategies for interactions with others based on the specific needs of each personality type.

In a business context, psychometric testing can bring distinct benefits to your team. You can adapt your management style to bring out the best from each member of your team by finding the correct motivation and communication style for them. And by sharing the insights into personality that you gain with your team, they can interact with each other in a more effective and productive way as well.

Types of personality tests
As complicated as humans are, there are many different ways to measure and define personality. In academic contexts, personality is most frequently analyzed in terms of the degree to which a person displays the ‘big five’ personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Another style of psychometric testing which is popular among the public and in some business contexts is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) system, which is based on the theories of Carl Jung. The MBTI assigns personality to a pole from each of the dichotomies of sensing/intuition, feeling/thinking, introversion/extroversion, and perception/judging.

The Insights Discovery profile system that we use at Discover Yourself is also based on the work of Jung, but with greater detail than MBTI and with profiles that are optimized to provide information for management contexts. Each Insights profile will give concrete advice on communicating with, managing, and motivating the person, as well as information on how the person would manage others.

The benefits of personality testing
The advantage of personality testing is that it gives you a set of tools with which to think about yourself. Do you interact best working alone in a small team or do you thrive in a large group? Do you prefer a high level of organization with rigid structures, or are you more comfortable in a flexible situation where you can respond quickly to new information? Do you communicate most effectively in a written, visual, or oral form? These are the kinds of insights that you can clarify with personality testing.

When it comes to personality testing in business, the creation of a space in which people can express their preferences is a tremendous boon. Perhaps a team member finds phone calls stressful and would prefer to be emailed when possible. Or a manager likes to be looped in on all relevant emails by their staff, even if they are not directly involved in the discussion, so that they can maintain an overview of their team. In the work world there are rarely opportunities for members of teams to frankly discuss their personal preferences, and personality testing enables and supports these conversations to give your team confidence when interacting with each other.

Understanding personality test data
If you are considering using psychometric testing to gather information on your team, there are a few key issues to remember. Most important is the understanding that results from psychometric tests are descriptive, not prescriptive. This means that personality data can describe the ways in which a person will tend towards thinking and interacting with others, but does not provide strict rules about how a person will always behave. Each person is different, and while personality testing can be used for broad general information about personality types, individual differences will always be present. This means that personality tests should be used as guidelines and inspiration for experimentation with new communication styles, and not taken to represent a fundamental and unchangeable part of a person.

Further, psychometric tests like MBTI and Insights rely on people’s own judgment of themselves and their self-reporting of these judgments. Therefore the results will only be as accurate as a person’s honesty and self-insight. This is in some ways a strength of the format, as it stems from the belief that people know themselves best. But in some testing scenarios, there is also the opportunity for people to bring in the insights of their colleagues or friends to give them information on how they are perceived by others as well as how they perceive themselves, which can improve accuracy and the applicability of the test results.

Personality data and your team

Once you have personality data about your team, you can use this to optimize and improve your team interactions. Some people erroneously believe that there is one personality type that is best suited to business, or that a team needs to be made up of similar personalities in order to be successful. But this is not the case: a team benefits from a variety of personality types interacting. You can benefit from having both outgoing, social and communicative extroverts as well as thoughtful, interior-focused and introverted members for different tasks. As a manager you can assign roles based on differing strengths, such as assigning your extroverts to client management or networking tasks and assigning detail-oriented conceptual work that needs to be performed by one person to the more introverted members of your team.

Finally, consider the value of understanding not just personality types in isolation, but also knowing how these types will interact with other personality types. With detailed personality profiles like the Insight, you’ll see information on the opposite types of a given personality as well as advice on how that personality will interact with managers and with other colleagues. Being able to predict how your team members will interact with others will allow you to assign duties in a way that maximizes your team’s chances of success.

Find out more about psychometric testing and how personality data can help you to build a stronger team at Discover Yourself:

Beyond Success



Throughout the past few weeks, we’ve talked about success and how to achieve it. Achieving success following this path requires much thought and personal work, but in the end, it will hopefully allow you to reach some of the personal goals you have created for yourself. Using the power of your personality type and what we know about the subconscious mind, we can create successful patterns of living our lives and accomplishing our goals.

Working towards success

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” William Churchill spoke these words as a man acquainted with both great failure and great success. Churchill, Edison, Einstein, and other individuals throughout history had failed many times before they were able to produce the successes they knew they were capable of. Einstein puzzled with the very nature of the makeup of the universe, and his contributions to physics and mathematics were products of asking questions, finding answers, figuring out if they were right or wrong, and continuing on his line of questioning until he reached the end.

When creating the filament wire for the lightbulb, Edison failed over and over again in the quest for light. In Edison’s case, this was finding the literal light in the form of contained electricity. He failed over a thousand times to create the right filament, and yet he continued to work away at this problem until he got it right.

Success and happiness

This isn’t all to say that all the successful people we know aren’t faced with challenges eventually. Albert Schweitzer said: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Combining what we are passionate about with what we do every day can have a major impact on our overall success rate as well as how happy we feel about the path our lives are on.

Success doesn’t always lead to happiness – just ask the lottery winners who may be financially successful, but are no happier than they were before they won. Successful professionals may find that their professional success has come with many personal sacrifices and that their passion has waned. However, success in these fields would be extremely beneficial to the person who has planned out their personal and professional goals, done the work to achieve those goals and has remained aligned with their passion for what they do.

Carl Jung opened up an entirely new world with his discoveries, and new discoveries in the psychology of personality and the self are still being made today. Insights Discovery is based squarely on Jung’s theories, and as such, it is an invaluable tool in helping people to understand themselves and others. Schedule me, Scott Schwefel, as your keynote speaker, and I will come to your group and address the differences in personalities in a truthful, fun, and easily understood way. Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to share my blogs with the color energies you work with!

Success, One Day at a Time


The path to success isn’t found through a formula. Success doesn’t just happen because someone got lucky, or won the lottery. Success looks different for everyone, which is what makes defining success and following your own path that much more important.

There were eight steps outlined in the last eight blogs to show one way how success can be achieved using your passion and what you want your life to look like. The first step was to find your passion, which is a statement that can seem simpler than it is in practice. Finding your passion can take time, but think about what you would do if you didn’t have to worry about money or time. What would you do?

Steps to success

The second step to success was to define success as it pertained to you; this doesn’t mean success as society, your family, or your job defines it. Step three was to know your personality, what you are good at and who you are at both work and home. Step four was to set goals which align with your passions and can be placed into categories like your physical health, your spiritual life, your family, your friendships, and your financial and work lives.

Step five was to think. Think about your goals once you’ve written them down and work towards attaining those goals, one day and one step at a time. These accomplishments may not seem like much, but in the long term, they reveal much more about who you are and how far you’ve come. Setting your mind to your goals is a powerful tool.

The next two steps were the most essential. Operate with integrity both at home and at work, and execute your plan to utilize your passion every day and find success. Inspiring respect in others is a by-product of living with integrity and executing your personal plan for success on your terms.

This isn’t the end

Of course, finding success isn’t the end of the line. Failures happen, and success is temporary, but continuing to strive towards personal success creates good habits and brings you closer to living out your passions consistently. Giving back to the people who helped you accomplish your goals is essential, as is giving your knowledge and experience back to others who may be on their journeys to success behind you.

Carl Jung opened up an entirely new world with his discoveries, and new discoveries in the psychology of personality and the self are still being made today. Insights Discovery is based squarely on Jung’s theories, and as such, it is an invaluable tool in helping people to understand themselves and others. Schedule me, Scott Schwefel, as your keynote speaker, and I will come to your group and address the differences in personalities in a truthful, fun, and easily understood way. Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to share my blogs with the color energies you work with!