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OPINION | Professor Dr. Petra Jansen, Department of Sports Science, University of Regensburg: emotion control, career goals and women

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Professor Dr. Petra Jansen, chair of sports science at the University of Regensburg, talks about how to control one's feelings with mindfulness, how to reach his goals and why the glass ceiling really exists.
Professor Dr. Petra Jansen studied anthropology, ethnology, psychology and mathematics at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, before doing a doctorate in general psychology on the topic “Cognition of Distances” at the Gerhard Mercator University in Duisburg in 1999. In 2005 she habilitated at the Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf in Experimental Psychology with the topic “Development of spatial knowledge”. In 2008 she also completed further training in dance therapy at the Westphalian Wilhelms University in Münster. She has held the chair for sports science at the University of Regensburg since 2008. Her research focuses on examining the connection between motor skills, emotion and cognition, including from a neuroscientific perspective. Her research work was funded by the German Research Foundation in several projects and has been published in over 120 peer-reviewed journal articles. You see your future in researching the integration of heart and mind. Prof. Dr. Petra Jansen is the mother of three adult children.

Mrs. Prof. Dr. Jansen, please briefly change your field of research.

For a long time, my main interest was the study of cognitive processes in humans. Cognition involves the processes of perception, language, thinking, problem solving, and, Including the processing of spatial information.

In particular, I was interested in studying the influence of movement on cognition as well as possible gender differences in cognitive abilities. Today, I am increasingly exploring the connection between body, cognition, and emotion within the context of embodiment research and the influence of mindfulness-based training.

Can emotions be effectively controlled at all?

Emotions can be regulated. Please introduce a small child to the cash register. It sees all the sweets and may start screaming because they would like to have them. Even an adult can hardly calm the child.

The ability to regulate emotions is not as well developed in the young child, but adults have mostly acquired the ability if you want something to react appropriately.

And what is more important: the IQ or the EQ?

First of all, the IQ is the scientifically researched theoretical concept. It is undisputed that the intelligence quotient is essential for solving cognitive tasks. However, Checa and Fernandez-Berrocal (2015) were able to demonstrate that emotional skills are also important for human cognitive control. There are mutual influences, which are very well summarized in a recent review by Okon-Singer and colleagues (2015): “Stress, anxiety and other kinds of emotion can profoundly influence key elements of cognition, including selective attention, working memory , and cognitive control. […] In turn, circuits involved in attention, executive control, and working memory contribute to the regulation of emotion. ” I think it would be good to move from an “either - or” perspective to an “and” perspective.

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  • Checa, P., and Fernández-Berrocal, P. (2015). The role of intelligence quotient and emotional intelligence in cognitive control processes. Frontier Psychology, 6: 1853.
  • Okon-Singer, H., Hendler, T., Pessoa, L., and Shackman, AL, (2015). The neurobiology of emotion-cognition interactions: fundamental questions and strategies for future research. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9: 58. doi: 10.3389 / fnhum.2015.00058

In recent times, there are always criticisms of mindfulness, eg by the feminist Laurie Penny or even in Connect to Silicon Valley, What do you think of criticism of mindfulness?

The criticism relates in the first Article in my opinion more on the “trend towards self-love”, in the end the author talks about self-care and in the second article more about mindfulness than a kind of diet from the digital world.

In my opinion, neither does mindfulness describe both. In my eyes, mindfulness means awareness at the moment. I cannot find anything critical about this striving; Being there where you are with attention is an important goal for everyone. What I find critical is that many people feel they have to do yoga, meditate, or attend mindfulness seminars. Mindfulness for me - and I emphasize for myself - besides being present at the moment, finding your own way of life that suits you, it is a step towards self-love. Self-love has nothing to do with wellness at all, but with recognizing and appreciating your own life. And I completely agree with Laurie Penny that, for example for socially disadvantaged people, the way to self-love does not go through “self-love seminars”, but rather perhaps initially through thoughts on changing the social situation.

In my opinion, we consider far too little the individuality of the individual. People differ individually in the emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual development and, of course, also in the social situation and the cultural integration. Mindfulness means integrating these facets and being present from this situation. It is clear that here the paths are different and that not everyone, perhaps because he is currently involved in a burdensome social situation, can be on the way. This is also the case.

There is a lot of criticism of digital media. Is cell phone and internet consumption less mindful? And what about newer technologies like augmented and virtual reality?

Secured studies are available regarding the disruptive effect of jandy use in road traffic, not only when driving but also as a pedestrian. In general, the use of mobile phones while we perform a cognitive task, subtracts our attention from the cognitive task, and then degrades performance in this task. Now, in a more recent work, it could even be shown that only the audible signal, which has received a message (voice call or SMS), disturbs attention without directly using the mobile phone. From a scientific point of view, therefore, it is apparent that the hand-off takes the attention off. It is a great challenge and very difficult to examine this whole society. So it would have to be answered what it means that we live in a society that has learned the easy divisibility. Probably for this reason the longing for the eighth life at the moment is very great.

Concerning. Augmented and Virtual Reality, there are numerous studies that show positive effects in education, training and also in rehabilitation. In my opinion, there are still studies that show the influence of technology on the brain. This is also methodically clean and ethical in my opinion is not easy to investigate.

  • Stothart, C., Mitchum, A., and Yehnert, C. (2015). The attendant cost of receiving a cell phone notification.
  • Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 41, 893-897.

Is mindfulness also able to achieve goals? What strategy do you recommend to people when it comes to achieving goals?

According to my colleague, Britta Hölzel from Munich and her colleagues (2011), mindfulness works: a) attention regulation, b) body awareness, c) the regulation of feelings by perceiving and not evaluating the occurring emotions, and d) the change of one 's own self. Since the ability to regulate the attention is a basic component to achieve goals, the exercise of mindfulness helps at this point. Many coaches also advertise with it. However, in my opinion, studies are missing, which can be demonstrated in a controlled pre-post test design and a control group.

I personally recommend people who want to achieve their goals, that you first have to look inside to see what their real goals are and what you really want to achieve. Sometimes this is very difficult to separate from the expectations of the environment. This is certainly the psychologist's point in me. Then the setting of realistic goals is just as important as the knowledge about and the assumption of setbacks.

  • Hölzel, BK, Lazar, SW, Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, DR and Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives in Psychological Science, 6, 537-559. doi: 10.1177 / 1745691611419671

As far as career goals are concerned, women are often talking about a glass ceiling. Can you confirm that or not?

In January 2016 was the share of Professorinternally at German universities on a C4 / W3 professorship 17.3%, while he has grown continuously since 1994 - averaged over all pay grades from 7,5% to 21,3%. These numbers certainly speak for themselves. There is progress - but slowly. One problem is that the young scientists can not be appointed to their own university after their habilitation. Although this makes sense from a scientific point of view, of course it is difficult for family-related reasons.

And how do their own experiences as women and mothers look like?

My personal opinion on the glass ceiling is, “YES - there are”. But maybe not just based on gender, but rather on the human characteristics of authenticity, transparency and honesty. In my initial naivety, I thought that the universities were about the pure value of knowledge. I was only just beginning to understand how much university life is shaped by power and political behavior - and since there are so many men in leadership positions, by the male claim to power.

Personally, I find this to be very unfortunate and unimportant. When I said something, I was told that I saw the matter too pointedly. Actually, this is a compliment, but it seems to be a property that is not desired. I am now concentrating very much on working on my chair. There I can convey the values ​​of sincerity and authenticity that are important to me. And for that I am very grateful.

How do you create a professorship in a conservative science company?

As it turned out, this was not as easy as I had imagined - especially not the move from North Rhine-Westphalia to Bavaria. The children, in particular, initially had difficulties at school, but these then changed again. And then the pitying looks of my colleagues - “How are you alone with the children? - But I'm sorry ”. I did not know how to classify this statement, as I was used to it from NRW that it did not surprise anyone.

Also the organization of job and education naturally made high demands on me: On the one hand the children needed more attention because of the move, on the other hand a chair had to be built up in a subject foreign to me.

I think there are only three things that allow you to do this: 1) a great love for the children, 2) a great passion for science and 3) a lot of strength and resilience.

What do you advise young mothers who are looking for a scientific career?

For me the answer is simple: there are the two factors that I have already mentioned above, how to do this well: unconditional love for children and passion for science. If you feel that, there is no other choice and everything else can be organized somehow, even better than before 25 years ago.

I wish all the young parents in science that you have bosses and bosses who will give them the freedom to work when you want. The most important thing from a professional point of view is the performance and the well-being of the employees and not the place and time of the work.

Speaking of new forms of work: celebrities like TV star Manuel Andrack or LinkedIn founder Konstantin Guericke do a part of their work while hiking and keep the movement for creativity and productivity.

Can you confirm that?

Evidence suggests that movement has a positive influence on the so-called executive functions, that is, working memory, ability to inhibit, and cognitive flexibility, as well as visual-spatial intelligence, the ability to imagine things in the mind (Jansen and Judge, 2016). These are basic cognitive abilities that are also essential to creativity.

In a study by Atchley, Strayer and Atchley (2012), it has been shown that hiking in nature has been creativity-promoting. However, the authors contend that they can not say exactly how far this influence is due to the abandonment of mobile phones and other digital media.

  • Atchley, RA, Strayer, DL, and Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the Wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PlosOne 7.e51474.
  • Jansen, P. and Richter, S. (2016). Make movement really smart. Bern: Hogrefe.

Do people under pressure feel better and more productively, or should they be more relaxed?

This is a very difficult question because it does not define exactly what better means. More effective? Happier? More quickly? More accurate? Certainly you need a certain amount of arousal, that is, activation to be productive. Then, for example, in sports there are many theories that deal with what the right amount of arousal is.

There are the theories that say that there is an optimal zone of performance or the theory that there is a certain point at which there is practically too much "arousal" and "fear" and the performance is worse becomes. In sports there is also the phenomenon of "choking under pressure", which means that you cannot call up your performance in pressure situations. Psychological regulation techniques and a relaxed attitude help here. A very recommendable book is by Sian Beilock “” Choke ”.

  • Beilock, S. (2011). Choke. What the secrets of the brain reveal about. Atria books: New York.

How do you define happiness or flow at all?

Differentiating the term happiness is certainly difficult. Esch (2011, pp. 169-171) lists 31 keywords for the term happiness (from “bliss”, “coherence” to “wellness”). In general, a distinction can be made between hedonistic and eudaemonistic happiness. While hedonistic happiness refers to the assessment of one's own life, including the associated joyful emotions, eudaemonistic happiness means a happy life by observing certain values ​​that lead to a fulfilling life in the long term.

For example, eudaemonian happiness includes the factors of self-efficacy, personal development, social affinity, and the importance of the individual to society. Tobias Esch distinguishes between a lucky type A, B, C. The happiness type derives its luck from the fulfillment of an anticipated achievement, the happiness type B from the avoidance of unfortunate situations and the happiness type C, for example, if it can act with care. Different brain levels are activated depending on the type of happiness.

Flow (Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000) is a state of consciousness, flowing without thoughts or emotions, flow can be described on the axes of the challenge and the skill Challenge is high.

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Beyond boredom and anxiety: Experiencing flow in work and play. San Francisco: Jossey bass.
  • Esch, T. (2011). The Neurobiology of Happiness. Stuttgart: Georg Thieme publishing house.

Which sport would you recommend to increase flow, happiness and productivity?

We have recently carried out a systematic review on this subject, and we have found that there are very few scientific studies that investigate this in a design with a pre-and post-test, a control group, and a random assignment of the test persons to the groups to have. The sporting interventions, which were happy, were very different: a positive effect of yoga groups, interventions that included strength, stretching and endurance.

Researchers are trying to find out which mechanisms are responsible for happiness. One mechanism of action is the release of neurotransmitters, the messenger substances that are active in the transmission of stimuli from one nerve cell to the other. Here the endocannabinoids play an important role as neurotransmitters. However, these are only detectable from a higher load range, so a sport that would make the individual sweat would be recommended. Of course, we also know that a yoga class can make you “happy”. Perhaps too little research has so far dealt with the different physiological mechanisms of action of sport in relation to hedonistic and eudaemic happiness.

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7 responses to “OPINION | Professor Dr. Petra Jansen, Chair of Sports Science at the University of Regensburg: Emotion control, career goals and women ”

  1. Catharina Niggemeier says:

    Great interview

  2. Christine Gindert says:

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  3. Harald Smolak says:

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