Friday, March 30, 2012 1:44 PM
Perhaps fueled by increasing
gridlock in Washington,
lately there have been a lot of studies published on why people form and keep the
political beliefs that they do. While none are particularly encouraging for those who want to see government work, the findings offer some insight on why politicians reaching agreement is tougher than it sounds. A couple of weeks ago, Psychology Today reported that researchers at the University of Nebraska
have pointed to a
biological basis for ideology. In general, they reported, liberals have a
deep psychological propensity to focus more on positive forces and outcomes,
while conservative minds are more occupied by what is potentially threatening. These
tendencies, the researchers said, may go beyond environmental factors like
geography or parenting styles.
Haidt agrees that deeper forces are at play. Earlier this year, he told Bill Moyers (and Company) that human
beings are not well designed for objective or rational analysis. It turns
out we’re much better at choosing a side, and finding evidence and arguments to
support it. In other words, cognitive dissonance plays a much bigger role in
how we understand politics than we may have thought. In a recent book, The
Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are
Divided by Politics and Religion, Haidt outlines his view that
conscious reasoning has very little to do with how we form our ideas about the
This would certainly concur
with new research from Duke
University. There, psychologists
found that potential
voters consistently prefer candidates with deeper voices. As Futurity reports, participants were
asked to choose between a number of voices saying “I urge you to vote for me this
November.” The participants consistently preferred the deepest voices, and that
was true whether the choices were male or female. Participants also chose the
deeper voices when asked to identify voices with traits like strength,
competence, or trustworthiness. This was especially true of men, leading
researcher Rindy Anderson to speculate on whether women’s higher voice pitch
had something to do with the glass ceiling.
Of course, none of this
bodes well for actually getting things done, but does help clarify the past several
years of partisan bickering. We tend to blame ideology for a lot of political
problems, but it’s hard to see how we could escape it.
But here’s my favorite
explanation: a study by Scott Eidelman, a University of Arkansas
psychologist, recently found that conservatism
may be most people’s first instinct in how they view the world. According
to Miller-McCune, when distracted or
performing more than one complicated task, participants were more likely to
express conservative ideas and beliefs. These included, according to Eidelman, “an
emphasis on personal responsibility, an acceptance of hierarchy, and a
preference for the status quo.”
In another portion of the
study, Eidelman asked participants to drink heavily before completing a survey
measuring their politics. Amazingly (read: wonderfully), this experiment produced
the same results, as did pressuring participants with time constraints, and distracting
them with repetitive tape loops.
What this exactly means is
hard to say. Eidelman argues that the results will satisfy no one: the research
implies that conservative ideas are instinctual, but also somewhat knee-jerk. And
of course, it’s just as likely that a liberal will hold hasty or unexamined
beliefs, whether or not they’re inebriated or their favorite candidate has a
deep voice. What these findings may speak to, then, is a growing fascination
with ideology at a psychological or biological level—a sense that gridlock in Washington, like say
policy, must have some deeper
& Company, Futurity,
(now Pacific Standard).
Image by Tom
Arthur, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 08, 2012 3:19 PM
Communicating negative feelings to others can be tricky. Oftentimes, social pressure pushes our expressed moods upward, making it difficult to articulate feelings honestly—outside of easily classifiable events like the death of a loved one or a painful break-up.
The stigma around negativity comes from a cultural obsession with optimism, psychologist Aaron Sackett of St. Thomas University told Psychology Today. For its first hundred-odd years, psychology focused almost exclusively on dysfunction—that is, what was clinically wrong with us. In the 1990s, the positive psychology movement reacted against this trend by emphasizing how otherwise healthy people could psychologically grow and thrive. As Psychology reporter Annie Murphy Paul argues, this idea was a perfect fit for the booming nineties, but cultural and social changes since then have made the message resonate less. And now, new research suggests that optimism and positivity may be less useful than once thought.
Rather than incessant positivity, Paul maintains, a more useful attitude is a balance between positive and negative mindsets, with an emphasis on flexibility. And while optimism can often be a good motivator, pessimism can be equally powerful and valuable. “Pessimism is an ego-protection strategy,” Sackett told Psychology. It can also motivate us to work harder to avoid potential setbacks, and allows us to carefully navigate uncertain conditions.
Blind positivity, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect. As Paul notes, a recent study published in the International Journal of Aging and Human Developmentfound that optimism at the wrong time can lead to depression. This is especially true in situations where people were not prepared for inevitable outcomes, such as the death of an elderly friend.
At the same time, most of us seem to be hardwired for exactly that kind of blind optimism. As Andrea Anderson reports in Scientific American Mind, researchers at University College London have found a persistent “optimism bias” among a large majority of people. Fully 79 percent of participants were found to underestimate their chances of having negative experiences and overestimate their chances of positive ones—despite receiving evidence to the contrary. According to Anderson, being aware of the optimism bias may be essential to avoid its potential pitfalls, as unreasoning optimism can be dangerous. The findings were so consistent, in fact, that researchers speculated that they could “signal anxiety or depression” among the fifth of participants who responded differently.
And, as psychiatrist Neel Burton argues, also in Psychology Today, depression may be a more useful state than previously thought. While depression can be painful and debilitating, it can also provide a window to process and rethink complex or changing circumstances. And because depression has clear genetic causes, and because it has not receded in the larger population over time, Burton hypothesizes that it may produce some adaptive advantage. Just as sickle-cell anemia also produces the clear evolutionary advantage of immunity to malaria, depression may confer empathy and thoughtfulness in its sufferers—traits with obvious social and personal benefits. Without the cloud of incessant optimism, people with a tendency toward depression might see the world as more realistic, even more meaningful.
But, as Burton maintains, that is not to say that depression is on the whole good or necessary—just that it may hold some positive aspects that have mostly gone unnoticed. As The Atlantic reminds us, like many mental illnesses, depression remains mostly untreated among Americans. But real treatment means more than blind optimism and positive thinking. It means wrestling with personal barriers and social expectations that generally don’t match one another, especially in a culture of relentless optimism.
As Aaron Sackett told Psychology Today, “In America, optimism is like a cult.” There is indeed a power in positive thinking, but blind embrace of ideas like happiness and optimism may cloud a larger picture.
Sources: Psychology Today, Scientific American Mind, The Atlantic.
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Thursday, November 17, 2011 3:37 PM
I’m sure my stomach knows best. Give me a bad day, and my gut tells me to griddle up a grilled cheese sandwich made with whatever is in the fridge: cheddar, provolone, mozzarella—I’ll even take American singles, as long as they’re melted between slices of thick-cut buttered bread. The more the cheese oozes, the better I feel.
Now, in an emerging field dubbed neurogastroenterology, scientists are finding that the stomach knows more than we give it credit for. “The gut can work independently of any control by the brain in your head—it’s functioning as a second brain,” Michael Gershon, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University tells Dan Hurley in Psychology Today. The brain in your gut, called the enteric nervous system (ENS), is made up of 100 million neurons and can work on its own, without any direction from the brain. And it does more than control itself; it can control your mood, Hurley reports.
It relies on, and in many cases manufactures, more than 30 neurotransmitters, including serotonin, that are identical to those in the brain. What’s more, tinkering with the second brain in our gut has lately been shown to be a potent tool for achieving relief from major depression. Even autism, studies suggest, may be wrapped up in the neurobiology of the brain down under.
Certain foods can have a particularly strong effect on emotions, according to researchers in Belgium. So what comfort food works best to bolster our moods? Mashed potatoes? Macaroni and cheese? Mainlined ice cream sundaes? Any of these can work, as long as they contain one key ingredient: fat.
After participants in the Belgian study were fed either a saline solution or an infusion of fatty acids and then listened to neutral or melancholy music, they were interviewed and given MRI scans. Researchers found that the fatty acids activated the brain regions that regulate emotions and reduced feelings of sadness by about half.
“It’s an important demonstration that in a nonconscious way, without knowing whether you are getting the fat or the salt-water, something you put in your stomach can change your mood,” Giovanni Cizza of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases tells Hurley.
So go on and take a little solace in comfort food. As it turns out, those cravings aren’t all in your head.
Source: Psychology Today
Image by Chefdruck, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011 3:23 PM
Introverts, stand proud. Even in our world of ever-increasing extraversion and oversharing, there are advantages to keeping life close to the vest.
“We don’t all have to be extraverts to be happy,” writes Susan Krauss Whitbourne, author of The Search for Fulfillment, for Psychology Today. “Recognizing and appreciating the complexity of introversion can allow you to accept yourself for who you are, one facet at a time.”
Whitbourne, in fact, lists six facets of the introversion-extraversion scale—warmth, gregariousness, activity level, assertiveness, excitement seeking, and positive emotion—and explains how introversion in these areas can be beneficial to our relationships, personal fulfillment, and general well-being. For example, she says:
You may not be the first person someone meets when they go to a party, but you may be the most interesting once someone gets to know you.
When forced to be alone, gregarious people can easily go stir crazy. People low on gregariousness instead are just fine being by themselves and involving themselves in quiet contemplation.
Because [introverts] react slowly to situations as they develop, they’re unlikely to commit the kind of social gaffes that people who have a higher reactance can make. Not only that, but being thoughtful and low key can make you an easier companion than someone who always needs to be on the go.
Curious to know if you’re a certified introvert? Take the Big 5 Personality Test, a simplified version of the NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), and discover where you rank on the five fundamental dimensions of personality—including introversion vs. extraversion. I’d tell you my scores but, in true introvert fashion, I don’t want to reveal too much.
Source: Psychology Today
Image by gill.holgate, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 08, 2011 2:06 PM
According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 26 percent of Americans live with some type of mental illness. (Read Utne’s coverage of America’s mental health crisis here.) The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—or more commonly the DSM—dictates how the entire body of medical professionals diagnose mental illnesses. Thus, changes to the manual affect the lives of thousands of people. The fifth version of the DSM is due out in 2013, and the expected changes to the psychological definition of grief, reports Scientific American, are evoking intense controversy.
Specifically, the DSM-V would change our understanding of grief in two important ways. First, the manual introduces a new diagnosis dubbed “complicated grief disorder,” which entails “powerful pining for the deceased, great difficulty moving on, a sense that life is meaningless, and bitterness or anger about the loss” past six months after the death. More controversially, the new version of the DSM will allow depression therapy as early as the first few weeks after experiencing a loss. (Currently, doctors and psychologists must wait until two months have passed since the death.)
Eventually we all suffer crippling grief; it’s a universal facet of the human condition. Then most of us overcome that grief. The proposed changes to the DSM-V make it easier for typical grief to be conflated with depression or diagnosed as abnormal.
Critics of the DSM change worry that grief will be overdiagnosed and exploited by pharmaceutical companies. “There will be vitriolic debates when the public fully appreciates the fact that the DSM is pathologizing the death of a loved one within two weeks,” grief researcher Holly G. Prigerson told Scientific American. On the other hand, professionals like Kenneth S. Kendler of the DSM-V Mood Disorder Work Group, who claim that “on the basis of scientific evidence, [mourners are] just like anybody else with depression,” argue withholding depression treatment is professionally unfair.
The article concludes: “In many ways, parsing the differences between normal grief, complicated grief and depression reflects the fundamental dilemma of psychiatry: Mental disorders are diagnosed using subjective criteria and are usually an extension of a normal state.” Those probably aren’t very reassuring words to someone on the precipice of despair.
Source: Scientific American
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Friday, June 10, 2011 11:32 AM
Those who have taken care of a seriously ill partner, a child with special needs, or an incapacitated parent on a long-term basis know the relentless, sapping strain of it. Kristin Neff—a professor of human development and mother of an autistic son, writing for Psychology Today—opines that every caregiver should practice self-compassion to “recharge our batteries and have the emotional energy needed to serve others.”
What, exactly, is self-compassion? Neff turns to the writings of various Buddhist scholars to draw out three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. She explains:
Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. Mindfulness involves being aware of one’s painful feelings in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor obsesses about disliked aspects of oneself or one’s life.
Though we can all benefit from practicing self-compassion, Neff sees it as crucial for overburdened, and sometimes underappreciated, caregivers. “Not only will it help to get through difficult situations,” she says, “it will lead to greater happiness and peace of mind.” She continues:
As a mother of a child with autism, I can tell you what a lifesaver self-compassion was for me…. When my son screamed and screamed because his nervous system was being overloaded and I couldn’t figure out the cause, I would soothe myself with kindness. When my son lost it in the grocery store and strangers gave me nasty looks because they thought I wasn’t disciplining my child properly, I’d give myself the compassion I wasn’t receiving from others. In short, self-compassion helped me cope, and that put me in the balanced emotional mind state needed to deal skillfully with whatever new challenges confronted me.
Want to find out how much self-compassion you have? Take Neff’s online test.
Source: Psychology Today
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Monday, February 21, 2011 1:48 PM
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 13 percent of the American adult population is getting treatment for a mental health problem, through therapy or medications. With these levels, it’s inevitable that quick fixes and wonder drugs enter the conversation. But can energy psychology—an immediate cure for what ails you, executed by simply tapping on acupressure points on your skin—be for real?
Albert Szent-Györgyi, the 1937 Nobel Laureate in medicine, observed that, “In every culture and in every medical tradition before ours, healing was accomplished by moving energy.” But although energy psychology (EP) has been around since the 1980s, it still struggles to gain acceptance from its professional peers. In Psychotherapy Networker, psychologist David Feinstein writes of his quest to discover whether EP is hoodoo or good medicine. Here, he witnesses it cure a woman’s paralyzing claustrophobia:
She was shown where and how to tap on a series of points on her skin while remembering frightening incidents involving enclosed spaces. To my amazement, she almost immediately reported that the scenes she was imagining were causing her less distress. Within 20 minutes, her claustrophobia seemed to have disappeared.
The tapping technique has been found to soothe other phobias like the fear of heights and negative emotions such as anger, guilt, and jealousy. As clinical evidence of these small victories comes to light, the method’s reputation is improving.
Beyond standard therapy-office ailments, EP has also proven effective on treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Psychologist Caroline Sakai led an especially moving session at a Rwandan orphanage. The results are encouraging:
Of the 400 orphans living or schooled at the facility, 188 had lost their families during the ethnic cleansing 12 years earlier. Many had witnessed their parents being slaughtered, and they were still having severe symptoms of PTSD, including flashbacks, nightmares, bedwetting, withdrawal, or aggression. The study focused on the 50 teenagers identified by the caregivers as having the greatest difficulties. All 50 were rated on a standardized symptom inventory for caregivers and scored above the PTSD cutoff. Each then received a single acupoint-tapping session lasting 20 to 60 minutes, combined with approximately 6 minutes spent learning two simple relaxation techniques. Not only did the scores of 47 of the 50 adolescents fall below the PTSD range following this brief intervention, these improvements in serious conditions that had persisted for more than a decade held at a one-year follow-up.
In the end Feinstein, an initial skeptic, is convinced:
I can’t fully express how surprised I am to find myself standing here telling you that the key to successful treatment, even with extremely tough cases, can be a mechanical, superficial, ridiculously speedy physical technique that doesn’t require a sustained therapeutic relationship, the acquisition of deep insight, or even a serious commitment to personal transformation. Yet, strange as it looks to be tapping on your skin while humming “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” it works!
Source: Psychotherapy Networker
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Monday, November 15, 2010 2:20 PM
It seems that extraverts increasingly rule the world: People tell all on reality shows, long to be the next American Idol, and rush to share everything about their lives via phone, e-mail, and the Internet. But psychotherapist and Introvert Power author Laurie Helgoe reminds us in Psychology Today that introverts haven’t gone away. We’re just quietly dealing with the demands of living in a loud, in-your-face society that doesn’t understand us—even in its insistence that it just wants us to be happy:
Scientists now know that, while introverts have no special advantage in intelligence, they do seem to process more information than others in any given situation. To digest it, they do best in quiet environments, interacting one on one. Further, their brains are less dependent on external stimuli and rewards to feel good.
As a result, introverts are not driven to seek big hits of positive emotional arousal—they’d rather find meaning than bliss—making them relatively immune to the search for happiness that permeates contemporary American culture. In fact, the cultural emphasis on happiness may actually threaten their mental health. As American life becomes increasingly competitive and aggressive, to say nothing of blindingly fast, the pressures to produce on demand, be a team player, and make snap decisions cut introverts off from their inner power source, leaving them stressed and depleted. Introverts today face one overarching challenge—not to feel like misfits in their own culture.
If you’re saying “Right on!” then you too are probably an introvert, whose ranks compose a full half of the populace but whose behavior still seems suspect to many—including mental health professionals, apparently. The World Health Organization still pathologizes introversion, and the American Psychiatric Association is “considering a proposal to include introversion in the next edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5),” Helgoe wrote with Nancy Ancowitz on the Psychology Today website:
In the United States giddy and garrulous are good, and quiet and contemplative are suspect. The WHO’s definition and APA’s proposed definition of introversion align with that rigid Western bias.
It seems that things haven’t gotten a whole lot better for introverts since Jonathan Rauch wrote his short essay “Caring for Your Introvert” for The Atlantic in 2003, a deftly written manifesto that was widely circulated.
Helpfully, Psychology Today drops a few tips on what not to say to introverts:
• “Why don’t you like parties? Don’t you like people?”
• “Surprise, we’ve decided to bring the family and stay with you for the weekend.”
• Above all, says one life and leadership coach, “We hate people telling us how we can be more extraverted, as if that’s the desired state.”
Sources: Psychology Today, The Atlantic
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 3:19 PM
Each year, millions of dollars are funneled into administering the most popular personality assessment in the world: the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator Test. It’s used by dating sites, guidance counselors, pharmaceutical companies, and even the U.S. Department of Defense. Avery Hurt tries to figure out why in mental_floss.
Hurt reports that the mother-daughter duo who came up with the questionnaire and scoring system in 1942 were basically dilettantes, and the only reason the test experienced sky-rocketing success was timing: Its release coincided with a surge of women entering the workforce (due to World War II), and industrial psychologists welcomed an instrument that could help them categorize, match, and direct these new workers into the appropriate fields.
Today, the test is as pervasive as ever, even though most experts now dismiss it as worthless, “placing it only a step or two above astrology.” So why do huge corporations, government organizations, and even individuals continue to pour money into something so clearly based on nothing? Hurt submits: “We live in a culture where people seem willing to spend endless amounts of time and money to find themselves, and in that respect, it doesn’t look like the Myers-Briggs will be disappearing anytime soon.”
Image by Casey Serin, licensed under Creative Commons
Friday, May 07, 2010 4:48 PM
The sight of open, untrashed green space while exercising is a balm for our minds and bodies, a group of U.K. researchers has concluded. In a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research (pdf), five groups of 20 subjects exercised on a treadmill while watching a series of scenes projected on a wall.
Four types of scenes were tested—“rural pleasant,” “rural unpleasant,” “urban pleasant” and “urban unpleasant.” The subjects’ blood pressure and two psychological measures—self-esteem and mood—were measured before and after the treadmill sessions. The researchers write:
There was a clear effect of both exercise and different scenes on blood pressure, self-esteem and mood. Exercise alone significantly reduced blood pressure, increased self-esteem, and had a positive significant effect on 4 of 6 mood measures. Both rural and urban pleasant scenes produced a significantly greater positive effect on self-esteem than the exercise-only control. This shows the synergistic effect of green exercise in both rural and urban environments. By contrast, both rural and urban unpleasant scenes reduced the positive effects of exercise on self-esteem. The rural unpleasant scenes had the most dramatic effect, depressing the beneficial effects of exercise on three different measures of mood. It appears that threats to the countryside depicted in rural unpleasant scenes have a greater negative effect on mood than already urban unpleasant scenes.
So: Exercise in itself is a good thing. Exercise in pleasant surroundings is an even better thing. The researchers muse on the societal implications of this:
We conclude that green exercise has important implications for public and environmental health. A fitter and emotionally more content population would clearly cost the economy less as well as reducing individual human suffering. … Thus increasing support for and access to a wide range of green exercise activities for all sectors of society should produce substantial economic and public health benefits. Such support could include the provision and promotion of healthy walks projects, exercise on prescription, healthy school environments, healthy travel to school projects, green views in hospitals, city farms and community gardens, urban green space, and outdoor leisure activities in the countryside.
The interesting thing to me is that none of the subjects actually went outdoors—they simply looked at images of the outdoors. If the mere sight of green space makes us feel better, just imagine what it does when you incorporate all the sensory intangibles of the physical experience: a fresh breeze, fragrant wildflowers, wildlife sightings, clouds rolling past, perhaps a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Maybe for their next study, the researchers will get people off their treadmills and onto their feet or bicycles.
In the meantime, I’m going to bicycle home past a mixture of “urban pleasant” and “urban unpleasant” scenes and on my weekend seek out a nice long, uninterrupted stretch of “rural pleasant.”
Source: International Journal of Environmental Health Research
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Friday, April 09, 2010 4:20 PM
In our May-June issue, we feature the work of Jinnie English, a social worker and psychotherapist who specializes in supporting high-powered executives who were once poor. Hidden behind the trappings of success (expensive clothes, a fancy home), her clients “have a lot of psychodynamic issues,” English told University of Chicago Magazine. They’re still dealing with “the internal struggle of being poor.”
It’s not just successful corporate types, however, that have to deal with the dynamics of wealth. Financial security—and what having it or not having it means to us, on a personal level—are subjects that simply don’t get enough frank conversation in our culture.
Enter Enough, the vivid conversation project from Dean Spade and Tyrone Boucher, two folks we named Utne Reader visionaries in our November-December. 2009 issue. Enough is a website, an open forum, where people share stories and thoughts about the personal politics of capitalism, wealth, and class.
Bonus: In the same issue of the magazine, we also profiled Partha Dasgupta, a visionary economist who takes issue with the gross domestic product for the things not included in the calculation: environment, education, and human welfare, for example. Dasgupta’s “inclusive wealth” measure wraps in those missing elements.
Image by P/\UL, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, February 19, 2010 5:08 PM
Care farms are places where some of society’s most vulnerable people join farmers in working the land, reaping a connection to social support, meaningful work, and the natural world, Lorna Howarth writes in Resurgence. The farms, which already play a significant role in the Dutch health- and social-care system, are gaining popularity in the United Kingdom as options for people with mental health issues, substance abuse problems, and difficulty in traditional schools.
While some farms are day-work oriented, others offer extended residential stays. One UK couple, for example, runs a care farm that offers a nine-month program for former drug offenders. Fourteen men, age 20 to 50, live on the farm and learn the forestry and livestock business. “But what they really love is being part of family life,” the couple told The Times. The UK farms, numbering around 100, have been so successful there’s talk of establishing a national farm care plan and accreditation system.
It’s a scheme in which all benefit, too: Farmers, many of whom convert from traditional operations, receive a daily stipend for each “farm helper” which helps cover staffing costs. The money comes from social or legal services or pupil referrals. Howarth also points out that the traditional farm life can be an isolated one, characterized by “intense lone working.”
“Feedback from farmers who have moved into care farming has been fantastic,” she writes. “The enjoyment and enhanced meaning brought to their lives through delivering care on their own farms taps into the huge passion they have for sharing their skills and cultivating both the growth of plants and animals, and that of fellow human beings.”
Sources: Resurgence, The Times
Wednesday, February 10, 2010 3:40 PM
Conservatism may be fueled in part by fear and uncertainty, according to a psychological study covered in Miller-McCune. Three researchers “have found evidence that both general feelings of threat and specific anxiety about other ethnic groups sometimes do lead individuals to embrace two tenets of political conservativism—support for the status quo and a belief that there is a natural hierarchy to society.”
Which is to say that a common liberal perception might be rooted in reality. Before your conservative brother-in-law can dismiss the research as the sketchy work of lefty social scientists, he should consider that the study was carefully constructed to track shifting attitudes over time, surveying almost 1,000 undergraduates as they went through four years of college. It went further toward establishing a causal connection than previous studies, which had found that people who were more uncomfortable with complexity and ambiguity tended to lean to the right.
The results surprised even the researchers. As one tells Miller-McCune:
“What makes it really interesting is that using very conservative methods, and looking at processes over time, we still found that there was a conservative shift in response to threat perceptions. A lot of people just treat conservatism as a personality variable that doesn’t change, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems to be influenced by the situation, and it can be affected by threat perceptions.”
The magazine notes that this might be part of the psychology at work behind the recent anti-government, anti-Obama right-wing movement: “With unemployment now topping 10 percent, economic uncertainty is probably weighing more heavily.” Also, “America now has its first African American president. And as the research described here suggests, there seems to be a direct link from ‘intergroup anxiety’ [about people of different ethnicities] to political conservatism.”
Image by MeetTheCrazies, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, February 05, 2010 12:30 PM
Pop psychologists, beware! In the current issue of Psychology Today, the magazine’s expert bloggers debunk some of our most cherished conventional wisdom, including popular social myths surrounding anger (no, “venting” doesn’t help), lying (it’s not about eye contact), and romance (Paula Abdul and her cartoon-cat-lover were wrong). The piece isn’t available online, but here are a few fun examples, with links to the Psychology Today blogs the magazine's experts call home:
Venting Reduces Anger
One of my pet peeves is how widely the notion of catharsis has been accepted. People think they will feel better by “getting it all out” or even that a hockey game is a release for their aggression. Aggression begets aggression. People are better off taking a deep breath and counting to 10 than “venting” their hostilities. — Jann Gumbiner, Ph.D., professor at the University of California–Irvine College of Medicine
A persistent myth is that in romance, opposites attract. In fact, one of the most powerful predictors of liking is similarity, regardless of the type of trait—personality, values, interests, or physical characteristics. — Andrew Galperin, graduate student in social psychology at UCLA
Men Aren’t Romantic
Many people think men are less romantic than women. Yet men fall in love faster (because they are so visual); men tend to be more dependent on their girlfriends or wives for intimacy; men are over two times more likely to kill themselves when a relationship ends; and men show just as much activity in brain regions associated with romantic passion. — Helen Fisher, Ph.D., anthropology professor at Rutgers University
Source: Psychology Today
Tuesday, December 29, 2009 5:23 PM
Here’s a brain-boggling challenge from Psychology Today blogger Satoshi Kanazawa:
List all of your friends. Then ask each of your friends how many friends they have. No matter who you are, whether you are a man or a woman, where you live, how many (or few) friends you have, and who your friends are, you will very likely discover that your friends on average have more friends than you do.
It seems impossible—given that friendships are reciprocal—but it’s true. The apparent friendship paradox is explained in what the evolutionary psychologist calls one of his “all-time” favorite papers: “Why Your Friends Have More Friends Than You Do,” by sociologist Scott L. Feld, published in the American Journal of Sociology in 1991.
In his blog post, Kanazawa reproduces some charts, which show that in a hypothetical group of eight friends, each individual has an average of two-and-a-half friends. Those friends, however, each have an average of three friends. What causes the disparity? Kanazawa explains:
If you think about it for a moment, you’ll figure out the source of this seeming paradox (although this simple insight did not occur to anyone before Feld published his paper in 1991). You are more likely to be friends with someone who has more friends than with someone who has fewer friends.
There are 12 people who have a friend who has 12 friends, but there is only one person who has a friend who has only one friend. And, of course, there is no one who has a friend who doesn’t have any friend. Yet there is actually only one person who has 12 friends. So “12” gets counted only once when you compute the average number of friends that people have, but it gets counted 12 times when you compute the average number of friends that their friends have.
Source: Psychology Today
Image by Jolante, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 16, 2009 5:38 PM
The wisdom of crowds has become a modern motif, a “cultural mantra” adopted with zeal across party and discipline lines, Jonathan V. Last observes for In Character. Conservatives clicked with its endorsement of the free market; liberals connected with its egalitarian appeal. “And nearly everyone associated with the Internet glommed on because they understood that it was, in large part, an exaltation of the new medium that placed the World Wide Web near the center of an entire world view,” he writes.
However many good things have come from crowd-sourcing, though, Last cautions that we devalue the wisdom of individuals at our own peril. Sometimes, for example, crowds are fooled: Enron’s stock was valued at over $40/share just months before the company declared bankruptcy, he notes, proffering the parallel tale of six Cornell business school students who, studying Enron for a research project in 1998, “concluded that the company was a house of cards.”
What appears to be crowd consensus can also be skewed by a handful of vociferous or aggressive members. Those rating systems on sites like Amazon.com? “New research confirms what some may already suspect: Those ratings can easily be swayed by a small group of highly active users,” Kristina Grifantini reports for Technology Review.
For Last, the real loss is creativity: “Even if crowds can reach wise decisions, they don’t create,” he writes. “Genius and inspiration are the province of individuals.”
Sources: In Character, Technology Review
Thursday, October 08, 2009 1:57 PM
People who “can’t take a joke” are often pegged as spoilsports—but recent research suggests that there might be more going on. According to Science News, gelotophobia is the fear of being laughed at, characterized by difficulty distinguishing mean-spirited teasing from the friendly variety.
Gelotophobes flew under the radar until the mid 1990s, when psychologist Willibald Ruch of the University of Zurich identified the personality trait and began researching it. “That shame is a predominant emotion in gelotophobia explains, in part, why the affliction received little scrutiny from scientists for so long,” the biweekly magazine reports. “Burning shame can create more feelings of shame and is rarely acknowledged to others.”
Ruch and his colleages have now developed questionnaires and assessment tools to help identify the trait. They’ve surveyed 23,000 people in 73 countries, finding gelotophobia present in all countries, from 2 to 30 percent of each population. In the United States that figure is 11 percent.
So on the one hand, we’ve got a new name for a trait that’s been under our noses all along. On the other, perhaps this emerging understanding of the spectrum of ways people perceive laughter could help us all get along a little better. Just one question remains: Can you take a joke?
Source: Science News
Thursday, September 24, 2009 10:30 AM
Psychologists are experimenting with mindfulness exercises to fight eating disorders, according to the Psychotherapy Networker. A treatment program known as the Enhancing Mindfulness for the Prevention of Weight Regain (empower) uses breathing and visualization exercises to help people better understand their thoughts, emotions, and associations with food.
“People who struggle with their emotions and thoughts often externalize their psychological battles,” according to the article, “by denying themselves nourishment to starve unwelcome feelings or overeating to smother them.” The exercises are designed to help people better understand those emotions and empower them to change their diets for the better.
Source: Psychotherapy Networker
Friday, September 04, 2009 4:02 PM
Thinking about love makes people better at creative problem solving, while sex is more shortsighted. That's according to research highlighted by Miller-McCune. The idea is that love “is dreamy, and dreams are linked to creativity. Sex, on the other hand, is about achieving an immediate goal.”
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009 12:58 PM
Married men with Asperger’s Syndrome, a socially alienating form of autism, often make extremely loyal and hardworking spouses, writes Richard Howlin for Psychotherapy Networker. “Their single-minded focus appears to filter out the distracting social world and they often show immense dedication to their families,” he adds.
But in some cases, Howlin, a clinical developmental psychologist, has found women want their husbands with Asperger's to become more relational, which leads to confusion and avoidance when interpersonal conflicts arise. He writes about one of his clients:
I've always been taken by the idea that there are conventional and unconventional ways of expressing love in any given situation. As relational beings, we have to be clear about what kind of expression we need or desire. Like most high-functioning men with AS, Mark understood the core of love to be loyalty, dependability, and hard work. Cathy will need to come to terms with the possibility that this may not be enough for her. The decision about whether Mark ultimately offers her the kind of affection and growth she's looking for in a relationship can only be made by her.
Source: Psychotherapy Networker
Image by Joe in DC, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009 2:17 PM
Science and spirituality don’t always get along. A few scientists are trying to change that through a new, peer-reviewed journal called “Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.” The journal’s editor, Dr. Ralph Piedmont, sat down with Interfaith Voices to talk about how scientists can explore big issues, including the meaning of life, while retaining scientific integrity.
Source: Interfaith Voices
Tuesday, May 12, 2009 4:27 PM
How we think about memory is about to change. Psychologist Alain Brunet, who works at McGill University and the Douglas Institute in Montreal, is conducting clinical trials in which participants take propranolol, a blood-pressure drug, after writing about a traumatic experience, reports Technology Review. This exercise seems to “weaken” the emotional strength of the memory, without disturbing any details. Six months after participating in a trial, one Canadian soldier suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) no longer qualified for the diagnosis.
Brunet’s research has to do with unlocking the secrets of how memories are stored, specifically proving the concept of memory reconsolidation. If Brunet is correct, when we recall a memory, it has to be packed away into the brain anew—and during that process the memory is malleable. If this is true, it opens up a bevy of possibilities for the treatment of PTSD, as well as other anxiety disorders and addiction.
There are some concerns that Brunet could be opening the proverbial Pandora’s box, but the psychologist isn’t fazed. “Brunet points out that he is trying to bring PTSD patients’ memories into a normal emotional range, not blunt their power altogether,” Technology Review senior editor Emily Singer writes. “He doesn’t think that using propranolol to render these memories bearable would create any unique potential for abuse as a way to dull the regrets, fears, and embarrassments of everyday life; people already use alcohol and drugs for such purposes.”
Source: Technology Review
Wednesday, May 06, 2009 3:07 PM
Writing for the online magazine Greater Good, Dacher Keltner explores the evolutionary roots of embarrassment and explains how our pink cheeks can actually help us. Keltner, a psychologist who studies positive emotions, writes: “We may feel alienated, flawed, alone, and exposed when embarrassed, but our display of this complex emotion is a wellspring of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
The simple elements of the embarrassment display I have documented and traced back to other species' appeasement and reconciliation processes—the gaze aversion, downward head movements, awkward smiles, and face touches—are a language of cooperation, they are the unspoken ethic of modesty. With these fleeting displays of deference, we navigate conflict-laden situations—watch how regularly people display embarrassment when in close physical spaces, when negotiating the turn-taking of everyday conversations, or when sharing food. We express gratitude and appreciation. And, with deflections of attention or face-saving parodies of the mishap, we quickly extricate embarrassed souls from their momentary predicaments.
Studying embarrassment does seem sort of fun—at least, for the researchers who are charged with inducing said embarrassment. “In perhaps the most mortifying experiment,” Keltner writes, “participants had to sing Barry Manilow's song ‘Feelings’ using dramatic hand gestures—and then had to watch a video of their performance surrounded by other students.”
(Congrats to Greater Good on their 2009 Utne Independent Press Award nomination for social/cultural coverage!)
Source: Greater Good
Image by Symic, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009 1:25 PM
Modern society actively bombards the human consciousness, allowing the most primitive and consumption-oriented parts of the brain to take over, John Naish writes for the Ecologist. People are tricked on a base level into “feeling beset by famine and poverty, despite the abundant sufficiencies around us.” These feelings of need push people into buying, eating, and using resources, often without thinking rationally.
Beyond foods and cars, the human brain is wired for conceptual consumption, too. The quest for more experiences can lead people into choosing more unique or interesting experiences over more pleasurable ones, according to PsyBlog. When faced with a choice between a consistently pleasurable ice cream flavor (say, chocolate) or a more interesting but clearly less tasty one (say, bacon), many people will choose the bacon-flavored ice cream, knowing it won’t be as good. A similar theory is employed to explain why people prefer horror movies over a good comedy.
The problem is that marketers and advertisers know how to stimulate the primitive parts of the human brain to prod people into more consumption. That drive is having a devastating effect on the environment, according to Naish, as people irresponsibly consume natural resources in a Sisyphean effort to quiet the irrational parts of the brain.
There are, however, plenty of exercises that people can use to stimulate the higher-functioning, more rational parts of the brain. Naish suggests that society tap into the psychological need for social belonging to nudge people toward more responsible consumption. Some solutions are far more simple than that, too. Naish cites research showing that “pausing between deciding to buy something and taking it to the check-out dramatically increases the chance of a no-sale.” Simply taking a breath or walking around the block before making a purchase can help bypass the more irrational part of the brain and encourage more responsible and conscious consumption.
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Source: The Ecologist, PsyBlog
Thursday, April 23, 2009 11:46 AM
The recent issue of The Sun features an interview with psychologist Barbara Fredrickson (article not available online), a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, director of the University of North Carolina’s Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab and author of the upcoming book Positivity.
While humans pay more attention to negative experiences—an evolutionary result of having to constantly scan for threats—positive moments are far more abundant. Fredrickson says a focus on day-to-day feelings of satisfaction can lead to a happier life, and that an awareness of the present moment, paying attention to human kindness, and enjoying nice weather can increase positivity.
Positive emotions can also affect how we perceive people of other races. Scientists had found that when looking at people of a different race, we often look at individual facial features. People “use the same process they use to recognize objects, which suggests there’s some dehumanization going on,” Fredrickson says. “But what we’re finding is that, under the influence of positive emotions, people use the same holistic process for cross-race faces that they use for faces of their own race. It’s as if people, when they’re feeling good, are better able to see the full humanity of people of a different race.”
Still, denying negative emotions is unrealistic. Fredrickson instead advocates taking stock of the positive moments. “Negativity doesn’t always feel like a choice; it feels like it just lands on you, and you have to deal with it. Positive emotions, I think, are more of a choice.”
Sources: The Sun
Image by Christine Szeto, licensed under Creative Commons
Tuesday, March 10, 2009 1:51 PM
Psychologists have found that people who are too cautious or deliberate can be perceived as racist, according to the We’re Only Human blog of the Association for Psychological Sciences. For the experiment, researchers from Tufts University tried to sap white volunteers of the cognitive abilities needed for self-discipline through a series of mental exercises. Then, the participants sat down to talk about race with black men who served as judges. According to the blog:
Those who were mentally depleted—that is, those lacking discipline and self-control—found talking about race with a black man much more enjoyable than did those with their self-control intact. That’s presumably because they weren’t working so hard at monitoring and curbing what they said. What’s more, independent black observers found that the powerless volunteers were much more direct and authentic in conversation. And perhaps most striking, blacks saw the less inhibited whites as less prejudiced against blacks. In other words, relinquishing power over oneself appears to thwart over-thinking and “liberate” people for more authentic relationships.
Friday, February 27, 2009 10:17 AM
It must have been quite a party:
“What did you do on New Year's Eve?"
"Um, I watched my friends eat dog food.”
Yikes. It sounds like these friends were on the losing end of a bet. Apparently, though, they did it in the name of science—helping Science Magazine’s John Bohannon test some theories on the psychology behind luxury food purchases. He wondered what feeds the demand for pricey foods. Do people really enjoy them, or do they just feel like they should? Some research has suggested that price influences our perception of quality. A study on wine preferences, for instance, found that most people can’t pick out expensive wine by taste, and, on the whole, tend to favor cheaper versions if they're not aware of the cost.
In his taste test, Bohannon placed the dog food alongside pâté, liverwurst, and Spam. His subjects weren't fooled: They consistently rated dog food as the least appetizing option.
Image courtesy of star5112, licensed under Creative Commons.
(Thanks, In the Pipeline.)
Sources: In the Pipeline, Science Magazine
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 1:30 PM
Barack Obama’s election is hailed as a step forward in American race relations. Now, researchers are trying to quantify the “Obama Effect” to figure out how it’s changing American culture. One study, reported by the New York Times, found that a test-taking achievement gap between black people and white people disappeared after Obama’s election. In other words, before Obama’s election, white people tended to do better on this test than black people. Now, that gap has disappeared, at least for this test.
The reason why that gap existed in the first place, Jonah Lehrer writes for the Frontal Cortex blog, may be due to a “stereotype threat.” Stereotypes can creep into the minds of test takers, making them perform worse on tests because of the threat, rather than any difference in intelligence.
An inspiring politician isn’t needed to erase that achievement gap, according to the WNYC show Radio Lab. All that’s needed is a simple change in language: When a test is referred to as an “intelligence test,” the gap remains. But if researchers refer to the exact same test as a “puzzle,” or some other word that is less loaded than “test,” the difference goes away.
“The real subtle power of a stereotype isn’t that it prevents you from the thing you want to do,” Radio Lab’s Jad Abumrad says, “it distracts you for just a beat from the thing you want to do. And that may be all the difference.”
Obama’s election could be lowering racism coming from white people, too. Tom Jacobs reports for Miller McCune that biases against black people registered significantly lower after Obama’s election in certain research. Researchers from Florida State University used Implicit Association Tests and found that the participants, 80 percent of which were white, showed no biases against black people, while previous studies showed a preference for white people. The researchers described this as a “fundamental change” in American race relations.
The post-election test results aren’t all positive, however. Other studies have shown that white people who expressed a preference for Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008, also expressed a preference for hiring white people over black people. That same preference didn’t come up when the participants expressed a preference for John Kerry.
“The researchers conclude that endorsing Obama helps people establish their ‘moral credentials’ as non-prejudiced people,” Jacobs writes, “and thus makes them more comfortable expressing opinions that could be regarded by some as racist.”
Sources: Miller McCune, Radio Lab, Frontal Cotex, New York Times
Image by hyperscholar, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009 4:56 PM
People can do their own taxes, control their spending, contribute to retirement funds, and psychologists will still think they’re irrational about money. And more than likely, they're are right.
In many situations, people think more about the size of numbers than what they represent, according to an article in Science Daily. Using studies on risk aversion, psychologists at Ohio State University showed that people think of 300 cents as greater than $3, even though they hold the same value.
People also think of money “in terms of percentages, not in terms of absolute numbers,” behavioral economist Dan Ariely told Marketplace. He gave an example: If a person found out that they could save $7 on a $15 pen by walking five blocks, many people would do it. If they were told they could save $7 on a suit that cost $1,015, most people wouldn’t bother.
Both examples show how people can be entirely irrational, even when working with small numbers. When it comes to $700 billion bail out plans, I shudder to think.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009 8:48 PM
Unlike many Americans, Russians don't put on their happy face for the benefit of strangers. In fact, Russians seldom crack smiles in public, but that doesn't mean they've come down with "a nationwide case of the blues," reports Marina Krakovsky for Psychology Today.
While the sharp difference in the number of smiling citizens you'll encounter in public places in the United States and Russia can’t be explained by a wide gap in general happiness, it could be attributed to differences in the ways we separate our public and private lives. Krakovsky points to a psychological study that found that in group-oriented cultures, like Russia, people tend to express less emotion in public because “tamping down emotional displays reinforces the borders between friends and strangers, which in collectivist societies are hard to cross.” In the States, where “relationships come and go more easily,” people tend to be more expressive, even with strangers.
Krakovsky notes that Russians’ straight-faced public demeanor could also have grown out of a number of other aspects of Russian life—their rough history or severe climate, for instance. However it became ingrained in the national psyche, it’s a custom guided by an unwritten code of conduct, Russian linguist Iosif Sternin told Psychology Today. That code says showing off one’s dimples isn’t a way “to lift another’s spirits,” and that it's only done “for good reason.”
Thursday, January 22, 2009 1:56 PM
Bottled-up aggression sometimes needs an outlet. Sarah Lavely tries to provide a healthy one in her Smash Shack located in downtown San Diego. According to Psychology Today (article not available online), the company rents out concrete rooms, where clients can smash plates, glasses, or once-cherished mementos from relationships they want to forget. People can also buy plates and borrow Sharpie pens, to write out names or personal messages before they smash them. Some say that unleashed anger simply leads to more aggression, but Lavely points out that “Research has also shown that it’s absolutely critical to express emotions and anger, as opposed to shoving it down.”
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Thursday, January 15, 2009 3:01 PM
Neuroimaging grabs headlines, but a recent study, highlighted in the New Scientist, questions the reliability of brain scan research, particularly when it’s used to make claims about human emotions and behavior.
Hal Pashler and his colleagues looked at more than 50 studies that used fMRI scans to link activity in specific brain regions to feelings. They argue that many of the studies—nearly 30—have inflated these correlations or created one where none exists. The problem has to do with methodology. Pashler’s team contends that for any given brain image, researchers should cross-reference two sets of scans in order to accurately judge the strength of a correlation. The studies they criticized relied on only one.
Not surprisingly, the scrutinized groups have already begun to defend themselves, but there’s more than scientific integrity on the line. Studies like the ones in question are already being treated outside scientific circles as fact. As both the New York Times and Justice Talking (pdf) reported, the scans been used as evidence in legal cases for years.
Image by Mikey G. Ottawa, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, January 05, 2009 1:04 PM
In its January 2009 issue, Shambhala Sun is “Celebrating 30 Years of Buddhism in America” along with its anniversary (1978-2008). Among the thoughtful offerings: Senior editor Barry Boyce chronicles the dramatic changes Western Buddhism has undergone since it was introduced to the United States.
Marcia Z. Nelson reviews some of the most significant Buddhist books from the past 30 years, such as The Art of Happiness (1998), a Eastern-philosophy-meets-Western-psychology bestseller coauthored by the Dalai Lama and psychiatrist Howard Cutler. Nelson also singles out Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994) and Full Catastrophe Living (1991) as two books that brought mind-body meditation into the mainstream.
Another article—"What's Next?"—assembles thoughtful predictions from an array of Buddhist thinkers (excerpt only). “Just like pouring water from one container into another, this formless wisdom may be transmitted from one country, culture, and language to another by way of the cultural forms and conventions that contain it,” writes scholar and meditation master Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.
Image by alicepopkorn, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 02, 2009 11:21 AM
Hollywood’s romantic comedies aren’t just innocuous cinematic tripe. They’re actually warping children’s minds (pdf), according to new research from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. The films, including Notting Hill and You’ve Got Mail are skewed portrayals of relationships with “both highly idealistic and undesirable qualities,” the researchers write, where romantic problems or transgressions “have no real negative long-term impact on relationship functioning.” The films tend to focus on the early stages of relationships, but the characters displayed emotions that generally develop over time, including deep feelings of love and emotional support. Adolescents sometimes use these films as models for their own relationships, which could lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment.
In the book and film High Fidelity, the main character asks, “What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music?” For romantic comedy films, researchers may now have an answer.
Image from the film Notting Hill.
Friday, December 26, 2008 11:55 AM
Groups are thought to be strong: United we stand, divided we fall. E pluribus unum. In reality, though, just one negative person can ruin an entire group, according to research by Will Felps highlighted on This American Life. Felps identified three personality types that can ruin a group: jerks, slackers, and depressive pessimists. One person who fits any of those personality types can make an otherwise productive group 30 to 40 percent worse. “What was sort of eerily surprising,” Felps said of his research, “was how these team members would start to sort of take on” the characteristic of the bad apple. Groups with a jerk in them started being mean to each other. Groups with a depressive pessimist often acted more depressed.
Group dynamics can also give way to group think. Too often, Jake Mohan writes for the Jan-Feb issue of Utne Reader, “Fruitful dissent evaporates, self-defeating tendencies surge, and corrosive emotions destroy the potential of group work.”
There are strategies to overcome the problems in group dynamics. Mohan writes that “Team leaders can encourage constructive dissent by playing devil’s advocate and disagreeing with a unanimous decision, prompting a timid voice to pipe up.” In Felps’ research, there was one group that didn’t do worse, even with a bad apple. In that group, according to Felps, “There was just one guy who was a particularly good leader. And what he would do was he would ask questions and he would engage all the team members and diffuse conflicts.” The question that Felps is currently researching is whether a good leader can overcome the obstacles provided by all the jerks, slackers, and depressive pessimists just by asking questions. His previous research would suggest that it’s possible.
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Friday, December 26, 2008 10:49 AM
Some half a million people in the United States experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Symptoms of the condition, also known as winter-onset depression, include anxiety, fatigue, and irritability, and the problems may keep coming back every winter.
The disorder is thought to be caused by the lack of sunlight that some people experience during the winter. It also may be an evolutionary remnant of human hibernation, according to columnist Carol Venolia in Utne Reader’s sister publication, Natural Home magazine. As recently as the early 20th century, Venolia writes that peasants in both Russia and France would shut themselves in for the cold months, huddling around the stove and barely moving until the spring thaw.
Venolia advocates giving into our hibernation tendencies, at least a little bit. If we did, “We’d sleep more and demand less from ourselves. We’d be more inward and reflective.”
Image courtesy of OakleyOriginals, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 2:10 PM
Meditation and psychology are intertwining as experts in the fields realize the benefits of a symbiotic relationship. Joelle Hann reports for Whole Life Times that many psychologists have begun to incorporate yoga and mindfulness into their therapies, and some yoga instructors are studying up on psychology to create “yoga psychotherapy” for their clients.
“Integrating yoga-based methods into psychotherapeutic work presents inherent challenges,” Hann writes. Part of the problem lies in a strict taboo against physical contact in traditional psychotherapy, a standard born out of concern about abuse from therapists. There are, however, many yoga-based therapies that don’t involve any touching. For example, some psychologists have found that controlled breathing and meditative exercises can go a long way toward psychological healing.
Many of these mindfulness-based therapies have hard science to back them up. “Mindfulness reduces stress, boosts immune functioning, reduces chronic pain, lowers blood pressure, and helps patients cope with cancer,” Jay Dixit writes for Psychology Today. The article offers six tips on how people can incorporate mindfulness into daily lives.
The mindfulness exercises have also been used to help children in war-torn countries. In the September-October issue of Utne Reader, Aaron Huey wrote about a yoga class in the Allahoddin Orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan. Huey writes that yoga helps the children “move away from painful thoughts to ones that give them strength. In a place so full of suffering, the comfort this simple routine provides is immeasurable.”
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008 8:13 AM
People don’t need alcohol to get drunk. The organizers of the “Expectancy Challenge” can prove it using groups of college students, a bar, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, Psychotherapy Networker reports. The key is that participants in the don’t know whether they’re being served the alcoholic or the non-alcoholic drinks. A few of the students inevitably end up drinking the non-alcoholic stuff, and still end up feeling drunk. Once they realize that they’ve been duped by their own brains, the program is able to teach them that you don’t need alcohol to have a good time.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008 10:25 AM
John McCain and Barack Obama “represent distinct cognitive styles” and have “starkly different approaches to decision-making,” Jonah Lehrer writes for the Boston Globe. According to Lehrer, the contrast between the two candidates makes the 2008 election not just an assessment of who's right on the issues, but "a referendum on the best mode of thinking.” Lehrer cites psychological research on how good decisions are made to evaluate the strengths of McCain and Obama’s cognitive styles. Some studies imply that gut instincts, which McCain often relies on, are a great asset in complicated decision making. Others contend that good judgment is more likely to spring from active introspection, which is more Obama’s style.
Either approach, according to Lehrer, “is inherently flawed” as an absolute methodology. It’s important for decision makers to “constantly reflect on their own thought process” and to enlist advisers that will challenge their decisions. Psychologist Philip Tetlock tells Lehrer, “We should see self-awareness and even self-doubt as a sign of strength, not as a sign of weakness.” That may be true, but in a presidential campaign, self-doubt is often attacked as unpresidential.
“The ideal president,” Lehrer writes, “won't conform to the current cliches of presidential decision-making. He'll exude confidence in public, but behind the scenes he'll accept his fallibility and seek out those who disagree with him. He won't fixate on rational deliberation - or worship the power of his intuition. The brain is not a hammer, and not every problem is a nail.”
Monday, September 29, 2008 3:05 PM
Though National Singles Week (September 21-27) has come to a close, Bella DePaulo assures singletons that not being in a committed relationship does not necessarily equate to loneliness or solitude. DePaulo, a psychology professor and author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Systematically Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, gives the lie to academic studies and conventional wisdom suggesting that married people are happier, and that a single life is an incomplete life.
DePaulo also targets discriminatory practices that favor married people, such as “the 1,136 federal benefits, protections, and privileges that are available only to people who are legally married” and the Family and Medical Leave Act. The 100 million unmarried American voters remain an untapped political demographic, DePaulo writes. And the media portrayal of marriage and couples’ culture is not doing people any favors.
“You are no more likely to live happily ever after if you get married than you were when you were single,” DePaulo writes. The statement could be reassuring or unsettling, demanding on your point of view.
Image by desdetasmania.blogspot.com, licensed by Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 10:45 AM
Many gardeners feel that digging in the dirt and planting seeds helps them relax. Now researchers have found that gardening can have real physical and psychological health benefits. According to an article in Psychology Today (article not available online), gardening exposes people to soil-borne microbes called Mycobacterium vaccae that can stimulate their immune systems. The same microbes also boost the levels serotonin in mice, much like prozac and other antidepressants. Some researchers think that depriving children from playing in the dirt may have led to the recent rise in immune disorders, including asthma. Daniel Marano writes for Psychology Today that “the components of the soil itself might be as critical to human heath as the finest fruits and veggies grown in it.”
Wednesday, August 20, 2008 12:51 PM
The U.S. Army Research Office has awarded $4 million to scientists from three universities to study “the neuroscientific and signal-processing foundations of synthetic telepathy.” Put simply, the military wants to read minds. According to an offical press release, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Maryland will collaborate to construct a “brain-computer interface,” where soldiers’ thoughts will be recorded by an EEG and transcribed by a computer-based speech recognition program for others to read. The project’s supporters say that synthetic telepathy would help both wounded soldiers and civilians as well (for example, those sustaining brain damage from trauma or stroke). Critics worry that the technology could be used for interrogation, even though the lead researcher, UC-Irvine's Michael D’Zmura, told the Associated Press that the program "will never be used in a way without somebody's real, active cooperation.”
This is by no means the first time the military has poured money into researching psychic activities like mind-reading or “remote viewing.” Writing for Maisonneuve (article not available online), Alex Roslin details the long history in the US of military psychic research, which stretches all the way back to 1953. The idea reached its peak in the 1970s and ‘80s with Stargate, the CIA’s cinematically titled program for developing remote viewing and precognition techniques.
(Thanks, Democracy Now!)
Image by The She-Creature, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008 9:21 AM
Psychologists have figured out why Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin looked so frustrated last night after she won a silver medal. Her reaction was typical of silver medalists, who are often more disappointed than the athletes who win bronze medals. According to the Boston Globe, “close-call counterfactuals” explain the disappointment of second place: Silver medal winners, like Liukin, focused on how close they came to the gold, while bronze winners focused on how close they came to not winning a medal. Studies have also found that media expectations and performance in qualifying rounds, were determining factors in the athletes’ emotions.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008 5:47 PM
From health care plans and investments options to the small choices of what to have for lunch, Cass Sunstein wants to help people make better decisions. Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School, is the coauthor, along with economist Richard Thaler, of Nudge about the subtle ways that government can push (or nudge) people into making better decisions.
For the latest episode of the UtneCast, I sat down with Cass Sunstein to talk about the benefits and dangers of using nudges in government and business. And since Sunstein is also an informal advisor to presidential candidate Barack Obama, I asked him about the ways in which both candidates are nudging voters.
You can listen to the interview below, or to subscribe to the UtneCast for free through iTunes, click here.
Interview with Cass Sunstein: Play Now
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Tuesday, July 01, 2008 4:25 PM
Clichés are often the refuge of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. This is patently clear when people cherry-pick words from psychology. PsyBlog has compiled 30 of the most hated psychobabble phrases, including the following:
1. “He’s totally projecting.”
2. “I’m stuck in denial.”
3. Calling someone “bipolar”
4. And my favorite, “I get really OCD about cleaning my kitchen”
The problem with most of these phrases is how often they’re misused. Being moody isn’t the same as being bipolar. And keeping a clean kitchen doesn’t mean a person has obsessive compulsive disorder.
Friday, June 20, 2008 4:18 PM
Sitting in front of a television, thousands of miles away from the action, a true sports fan will be emotionally, physically, and psychologically invested in the game. Hearts racing, palms sweating, fans yell at their TVs, pleading for a win. In my mind, this has an immeasurable effect on the game. In reality, Jonah Lehrer on the Seed blogs attributes the actions to mirror neurons.
These recently discovered brain cells “collapse the distinction between seeing and doing,” Lehrer writes, allowing humans to internalize the actions of others. Mirror neurons fire when humans perform actions, and also when humans see other people taking actions. So when Paul Pierce was beaming on the sidelines in the final minutes of the Lakers-Celtics series this week, the mirror neurons of every Boston fan were firing wildly.
The cells also have a role to play in empathy, according to Bruce Grierson writing for the journal In Character. Empathy is “the very denominator of what it means to be human,” according to Grierson, and is triggered in some way by mirror neurons. Those neurons, however, are greatly affected by context. Grierson writes, “it’s the context that will determine to what degree the cognitive apparatus suppresses the limbic response.” In other words, if you see your team score a basket, it will call up a very different physiological response than when you see the opposing team score one. After all, we’re only human.
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Wednesday, March 05, 2008 10:32 AM
Expensive pills are more effective than cheap ones, even when they’re both identical placebos, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and reported on the website Science a Go Go. Participants in the study were given light electric shocks and were asked to report on pain levels before and after taking the placebos. Half of the participants were told they received pills that cost $2.50 and half were told the pills cost 10 cents. Of the patients given the “cheap” pills, 60 percent reported a reduction in pain, while an overwhelming 85 percent reported less pain after taking the “expensive” pills.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008 10:55 AM
People make mistakes in the pursuit of happiness, but eventually we can all get there. “We are meant to be happy,” says psychologist . In his new book, Stumbling on Happiness, Gilbert tries to help people understand how to find a joyful life. He advises people to “distrust your brain, and trust your eyes a little bit more.” Don’t myopically pursue selfish and materialistic goals that you think will make you feel good. Rather, take a more scientific view, testing what makes you happy, and making natural mistakes on your way there.
This quest for bliss, however, may be entirely misguided, Eric G. Wilson writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Americans’ over-pursuit of happiness, and rejection of sadness, amounts to “a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life.” Melancholic feelings give inspiration to music, art, and literature, yet Americans try to destroy sadness through positive psychology and prescription drugs. Pharmaceutical therapies can help seriously depressed people, Wilson acknowledges, but too many people try to numb their pain instead of embracing it. This is a horrible and dangerous mistake.
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