The Boston Globe has an excellent profile of psychologist Ellen Langer, responsible for some of the most influential studies in psychology and a champion of ‘mindfulness’ as an approach to a happier life.
Needless to say, she’s become a doyenne of the positive psychology movement, and, as the article notes, occasionally comes across as slightly guru-like.
Her research remains impressive, however, and when reading through the article I found myself saying “I never knew that was one of Langer’s studies” several times.
These include studies finding that people are much more attached to lottery numbers when they are allowed to choose them – even though this makes no difference to the final outcomes (the ‘illusion of control‘), and one where giving a nonsense excuse to cut in line to use a photocopier was as effective as giving a reasonable excuse.
And of course, she’s well-known for her studies on how giving residents in a nursing home for old people more control over the environment improved their well-being.
For many years she has become interested in mindfulness, although it’s never really been clear to me that she means more than simply ‘think more about what’s going on’ as it seems to be a little different from the concept of mindfulness taken from Buddhism and now an evidence-based component of many psychological treatments.
Apparently, Hollywood studio Universal Pictures are to make a film of Langer’s ageing studies and Jennifer Aniston has been chosen to play the Harvard psychologist. I would have gone for Megan Fox myself but that’s probably why I should stick to the day job.
Link to Boston Globe profile of Ellen Langer.