Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Why men and women experience happiness differently

<p>Who’s happier, men or women? Research shows it’s a complicated question and that asking whether males or females are happier isn’t really that helpful, because essentially, <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/008124630303300403">happiness is different for women and men</a>.</p> <p>Women’s happiness has been declining for the past 30 years, <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.687.9042&amp;rep=rep1&amp;type=pdf">according to recent statistics</a>. And <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1992-05427-001">research shows</a> that women are twice as likely to experience depression compared with men. Gender differences in depression are well established and studies have found that biological, psychological and social factors <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s00406-002-0381-6.pdf">contribute to the disparity</a>.</p> <p>But research also shows that women are more likely to experience intense positive emotions – such as joy and happiness – compared to men. So it seems that women’s more intense positive emotions <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/buy/1992-05427-001">balance out their higher risk of depression</a>. Research also shows women are more likely to try and get help and access treatment – allowing them to also <a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1491/f62e95cea0e9ef831be1eedb5daea5dce7b1.pdf">recover sooner</a>.</p> <p><a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1471-6402.2000.tb01024.x">Early studies</a> on gender and happiness found men and women were socialised to express different emotions. Women are more likely to express happiness, warmth and fear, which helps with social bonding and appears more consistent with the traditional role as primary caregiver, whereas men display more anger, pride and contempt, which are more consistent with a protector and provider role.</p> <p><strong>Brain research</strong></p> <p>Recent research suggests that these differences are not just social, but also in the brain. In <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453009003151">numerous studies</a> females score higher than males in standard tests of emotion recognition, social sensitivity and empathy.</p> <p>Neuroimaging studies have investigated these findings further and discovered that females utilise more areas of the brain containing mirror neurons than males <a href="http://sites.oxy.edu/clint/physio/article/Genderdifferencesinbrainnetworkssupportingempathy.pdf">when they process emotions</a>. Mirror neurons allow us to experience the world from other people’s perspective, to understand their actions and intentions. This may explain why women can experience deeper sadness.</p> <p>Psychologically it seems men and women differ in the way they process and express emotions. With the exception of anger, women experience emotions more intensely and <a href="http://mason.gmu.edu/%7Etkashdan/publications/gratitude_genderdiff_JP.pdf">share their emotions more openly with others</a>. Studies have found in particular that women express more pro-social emotions – such as gratitude – which has been <a href="http://mason.gmu.edu/%7Etkashdan/publications/gratitude_genderdiff_JP.pdf">linked to greater happiness</a>. This supports the theory that women’s happiness is more dependent on relationships than men’s.</p> <p><strong>The anger issue</strong></p> <p>However within these studies lies a significant blind spot, which is that women often do feel anger as intensely as men, but do not express it openly as it is not viewed as socially acceptable.</p> <p>When men feel angry they are more likely to vocalise it and direct it at others, whereas women are more likely to <a href="https://trace.tennessee.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://scholar.google.co.uk/&amp;httpsredir=1&amp;article=1122&amp;context=utk_nurspubs">internalise and direct the anger at themselves</a>. Women ruminate rather than speak out. And this is where women’s vulnerability to stress and depression lies.</p> <p><a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/008124630303300403">Studies show</a> that men have greater problem solving abilities and cognitive flexibility which can contribute to greater resilience and positive mood. Women’s reactivity to stress makes it harder for them to challenge their thinking at times and this can <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/008124630303300403">exasperate symptoms of low mood</a>.</p> <p><strong>Putting others first</strong></p> <p>This inequality of happiness means that it is harder for women to maintain a happy state when faced with social expectations and constraints. Research into stress shows that women are more physically reactive to <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.323.2684&amp;rep=rep1&amp;type=pdf">social rejection compared with men</a>, for example. This means they are more likely to prioritise the needs of others over their own – and over time this can lead to resentment and feeling unfulfilled.</p> <p>Females in general prioritise doing the right thing over being happy, whereas men are better at the pursuit of pleasure and hedonism. Studies have also found that <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Heidi_Dempsey/publication/226845367_Unwanted_Identities_A_Key_Variable_in_Shame-Anger_Links_and_Gender_Differences_in_Shame/links/587f974108ae9275d4ee35fe/Unwanted-Identities-A-Key-Variable-in-Shame-Anger-Links-and-Gender-Differences-in-Shame.pdf">women tend to act more ethically than men</a> and are more likely to suffer feelings of shame if they are not seen to be doing “the right thing”. But female morality also leads them to engage in more fulfilling and impactful work. And this ultimately brings them <a href="https://valored.it/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Still-looking-for-room-at-the-top.pdf">greater joy, peace and contentment</a>.</p> <p>As you can see, it’s a complicated picture. Yes women are more sensitive to stress, more vulnerable to depression and trauma, but they are also incredibly resilient and significantly <a href="https://ac.els-cdn.com/S1877042816001270/1-s2.0-S1877042816001270-main.pdf?_tid=a0a0e343-33ec-48d6-af7d-e8cc17c43cfc&amp;acdnat=1540492141_d5f1196bd43a90f3e8b579965ec7a7e0">more capable of post-traumatic growth compared with men</a>. Studies show that this is due to their sociability and ability to connect at a deeper level with others, both male and female.</p> <p>It’s also important to recognise that despite these differences, the benefits of happiness are far reaching for both women and men. And that <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2338+">research shows</a> happiness is not merely the function of individual experience but ripples through social networks. Happiness is infectious and contagious – and it has a positive impact on the health and well-being of everyone.</p> <p><!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/104507/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><em>Written by <span>Lowri Dowthwaite, Lecturer in Psychological Interventions, University of Central Lancashire</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/men-and-women-experience-happiness-differently-heres-why-104507" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Anger management: Why we feel rage and how to control it

<p>You’re at the park with the kids. Everyone’s having fun, and then a strange dog appears. There’s no owner around. It’s eyeballing the kids. Immediately your <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26062169">threat system</a> becomes activated.</p> <p>You stand alert, fully focused on the dog; heart racing, fists clenched. The dog bolts in, baring its teeth, and you pounce. You’re in survival mode, full of rage and violence. You yell fiercely, and you kick and hit, or grab the dog by the scruff of the neck, not caring if you snap its jaw.</p> <p>The dog yelps its surrender and flees, while you stand guard in front of your children.</p> <p><a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjc.12043/pdf">This type</a> of anger and aggression is the “fight” side of the “fight or flight response”. This <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8318932">physiological response</a>, according to <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627312001298">evolutionary psychology</a>, prepares our bodies to fight off a threat or to flee.</p> <p>It’s such an important part of human survival, and yet it can come at a cost for modern humans. Anger, and aggression in particular, can have serious consequences when it manifests in violence <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18855319">on the streets</a>, in <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7806730">the home</a> and elsewhere in the community.</p> <p><strong>We all get angry</strong></p> <p>Anger is one of the seven universal emotions that are common across gender, ages and cultures, according to leading emotion researcher <a href="http://emr.sagepub.com/content/3/4/364.short?rss=1&amp;ssource=mfc">Paul Ekman</a>. Anger, he says, can be the result of something interfering with us achieving a goal we care about, or when we experience or perceive something threatening to us, either physically or psychologically.</p> <p>Anger is quick (think of the term “short-tempered”), it focuses all of our attention on the threat, and it manifests in our bodies, usually starting in the pit of our stomach, rising up to our face and causing us to grimace and clench our fists. When anger builds, it’s expressed physically with a yell, punch or kick.</p> <p>In the short term, anger <a href="https://www.newharbinger.com/compassionate-mind-guide-managing-your-anger">can be</a> powerful and rewarding; the person who is angry typically gets what they want.</p> <p>But do you like being in the company of an angry person? Most people say no, and that is one of the chief consequences of anger: it is often damaging to relationships and isolating for the angry person.</p> <p>So anger itself is not the problem, it’s how we manage it and express it.</p> <p><strong>Anger disorder</strong></p> <p>There is no clear diagnosis of an anger disorder, but the <a href="http://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/book/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596">psychiatric diagnostic manual</a> does include “intermittent explosive disorder”, which is characterised by recurrent behavioural outbursts representing a failure to control aggressive impulses. This <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16754840">affects</a> 7.3% of the population at some point in their life and 3.9% in the past 12 months.</p> <p>Anger, however, is a <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1093/clipsy.10.1.70/epdf">common clinical presentation</a> that features across an array of different mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders and many more.</p> <p>If you begin to notice that you are on edge quite a lot, do things that you later regret, are quick to react instead of respond, and that you have people in your life who have told you that you tend to get angry, it might be helpful to do something about it.</p> <p>You can begin by speaking to your general practitioner and, if needed, ask for a referral to see a psychologist. Or you can go straight to a psychologist if you’re happy to forgo the Medicare rebate.</p> <p><strong>Anger management</strong></p> <p>In therapy for anger, clients are asked:</p> <blockquote> <p>What would be your greatest fear in giving up or significantly reducing your anger?</p> </blockquote> <p>Many respond with a fear of being hurt, fear of not being able to stand up for oneself, or fear of unjust or unfair things happening. These are all reasonable responses.</p> <p>But anger is not aggressiveness. Anger may lead to aggressiveness, but when we feel angry, we can try to relate to it in a way that invokes feelings of wisdom, strength, courage and assertiveness.</p> <p>Group and individual anger-management programs, run by psychologists, have <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1976-28412-001">good success rates</a>. A <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1093/clipsy.10.1.70/epdf">meta-analysis</a> examining anger-management programs across 92 studies found that cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) strategies helped to significantly reduce anger and aggressiveness, and also to increase positive behaviours.</p> <p>Some clinicians are also using a newer technique called <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjc.12043/pdf">compassion-focused therapy</a> (CFT).</p> <p>CFT differs to past therapies, as it focuses on understanding how our brains are “tricky things” that can get us caught up in all sorts of difficult patterns and loops. So, from a CFT perspective, we need to first understand the brain and how it functions so we can better help ourselves when anger shows.</p> <p>Anger expert <a href="http://www.compassionatemind.co.uk/resources/video15.htm">Russell Kolts</a> has developed a new CFT-based anger-management program called <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QG4Z185MBJE">True Strength</a>, which he is evaluating with prisoners. The aim is to start directing compassion toward ourselves to help us self-soothe, feel more comfortable and work with the distress and negative feelings that fuel our anger.</p> <p><strong>Tips to manage your anger</strong></p> <p><a href="http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/anger/">The Australian Psychological Society</a> has some tips to help manage anger for when it shows in everyday life:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Identify the triggers for your anger</strong>, such as environments and people.</li> <li><strong>Notice the bodily warning signs of anger</strong>: tightness in shoulders, increased heart rate, hot face.</li> <li><strong>Draw on a strategy that works for you</strong>. This could include slowing down your breathing, imagery, evaluating your thoughts, taking time out and changing your environment, or using relaxation skills.</li> <li><strong>Rehearse your anger strategies</strong>. Imagine being in a situation that makes you angry and draw upon one of your skills.</li> </ul> <p>Remember, anger in itself is not the problem. The problem lies in how we manage and express it. The Dalai Lama may have said it best: “The true hero is one who conquers his own anger.”<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/50209/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em>Written by <span>James Kirby, Research Fellow in Clinical Psychology, The University of Queensland and Stan Steindl, Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology, The University of Queensland</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/anger-management-why-we-feel-rage-and-how-to-control-it-50209" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Why we should stop trying to be happy

<p>A huge happiness and positive thinking industry, estimated to be worth <a href="https://www.forbes.com/2009/10/14/positive-thinking-myths-lifestyle-health-happiness.html#60bdbfc518ed">US$11 billion a year</a>, has helped to create the fantasy that happiness is a realistic goal. Chasing the happiness dream is a very American concept, exported to the rest of the world through popular culture. Indeed, “the pursuit of happiness” is one of the US’s “unalienable rights”. Unfortunately, this has helped to create an expectation that real life stubbornly refuses to deliver.</p> <p>Because even when all our material and biological needs are satisfied, a state of sustained happiness will still remain a theoretical and elusive goal, as Abd-al-Rahman III, Caliph of Córdoba in the tenth century, discovered. He was one of the most powerful men of his time, who enjoyed military and cultural achievements, as well as the earthly pleasures of his two harems. Towards the end of his life, however, he decided to count the exact number of days during which he had felt happy. They amounted to <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/happy-days-psychiatry-in-history/DFE0D1D9758A8C54BB2E993EA1FF4194">precisely 14</a>.</p> <p>Happiness, as the Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes put it, is “like a feather flying in the air. It flies light, but not for very long.” Happiness is a human construct, an abstract idea with no equivalent in actual human experience. Positive and negative affects do reside in the brain, but sustained happiness has no biological basis. And – perhaps surprisingly – I reckon this is something to be happy about.</p> <p><strong>Nature and evolution</strong></p> <p>Humans are not designed to be happy, or even content. Instead, we are designed primarily to survive and reproduce, like every other creature in the natural world. A state of contentment is discouraged by nature because it would lower our guard against possible threats to our survival.</p> <p>The fact that evolution has prioritised the development of a big frontal lobe in our brain (which gives us excellent executive and analytical abilities) over a natural ability to be happy, tells us a lot about nature’s priorities. Different geographical locations and circuits in the brain are each associated with certain neurological and intellectual functions, but happiness, being a mere construct with no neurological basis, cannot be found in the brain tissue.</p> <p>In fact, experts in this field argue that nature’s failure to weed out depression in the evolutionary process (despite the obvious disadvantages in terms of survival and reproduction) is due precisely to the fact that depression as an adaptation plays <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027858460600008X?via%3Dihub">a useful role</a> in times of adversity, by helping the depressed individual disengage from risky and hopeless situations in which he or she cannot win. Depressive ruminations can also have a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2734449/">problem solving function</a> during difficult times.</p> <p><strong>Morality</strong></p> <p>The current global happiness industry has some of its roots in Christian morality codes, many of which will tell us that there is a moral reason for any unhappiness we may experience. This, they will often say, is due to our own moral shortcomings, selfishness and materialism. They preach a state of virtuous psychological balance through renunciation, detachment and holding back desire.</p> <p>In fact, these strategies merely try to find a remedy for our innate inability to enjoy life consistently, so we should take comfort in the knowledge that unhappiness is not really our fault. It is the fault of our natural design. It is in our blueprint.</p> <p>Advocates of a morally correct path to happiness also disapprove of taking shortcuts to pleasure with the help of psychotropic drugs. George Bernard Shaw said: “We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it.” Well-being apparently needs to be earned, which proves that it is not a natural state.</p> <p>The inhabitants of Aldous Huxley’s <em>Brave New World</em> live perfectly happy lives with the help of “soma”, the drug that keeps them docile but content. In his novel, Huxley implies that a free human being must inevitably be tormented by difficult emotions. Given the choice between emotional torment and content placidity, I suspect many would prefer the latter.</p> <p>But “soma” doesn’t exist, so the problem isn’t that accessing reliable and consistent satisfaction by chemical means is illicit; rather that it’s impossible. Chemicals alter the mind (which can be a good thing sometimes), but since happiness is not related to a particular functional brain pattern, we cannot replicate it chemically.</p> <p><strong>Happy and unhappy</strong></p> <p>Our emotions are mixed and impure, messy, tangled and at times contradictory, like everything else in our lives. Research has shown that positive and negative emotions and affects can coexist in the brain relatively <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0068015">independently of each other</a>. This model shows that the right hemisphere processes negative emotions preferentially, whereas positive emotions are dealt with by the left-sided brain.</p> <p>It’s worth remembering, then, that we are not designed to be consistently happy. Instead, we are designed to survive and reproduce. These are difficult tasks, so we are meant to struggle and strive, seek gratification and safety, fight off threats and avoid pain. The model of competing emotions offered by coexisting pleasure and pain fits our reality much better than the unachievable bliss that the happiness industry is trying to sell us. In fact, pretending that any degree of pain is abnormal or pathological will only foster feelings of inadequacy and frustration.</p> <p>Postulating that there is no such thing as happiness may appear to be a purely negative message, but the silver lining, the consolation, is the knowledge that dissatisfaction is not a personal failure. If you are unhappy at times, this is not a shortcoming that demands urgent repair, as the happiness gurus would have it. Far from it. This fluctuation is, in fact, what makes you human.</p> <p><!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/119262/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><em>Written by <span>Rafael Euba, Consultant and Senior Lecturer in Old Age Psychiatry, King's College London</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/humans-arent-designed-to-be-happy-so-stop-trying-119262" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Are brain games mostly BS?

<p>You’ve probably seen ads for apps promising to make you smarter in just a few minutes a day. Hundreds of so-called “brain training” programs can be purchased for download. These simple games are designed to challenge mental abilities, with the ultimate goal of improving the performance of important everyday tasks.</p> <p>But can just clicking away at animations of swimming fish or flashed streets signs on your phone really help you improve the way your brain functions?</p> <p>Two large groups of scientists and mental health practitioners published consensus statements, months apart in 2014, on the effectiveness of these kinds of brain games. Both included people with years of research experience and expertise in cognition, learning, skill acquisition, neuroscience and dementia. Both groups carefully considered the same body of evidence available at the time.</p> <p>Yet, they issued exactly opposite statements.</p> <p><a href="http://longevity.stanford.edu/a-consensus-on-the-brain-training-industry-from-the-scientific-community-2/">One concluded</a> that “there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life.”</p> <p><a href="https://www.cognitivetrainingdata.org/the-controversy-does-brain-training-work/response-letter/">The other</a> argued that “a substantial and growing body of evidence shows that certain cognitive training regimens can significantly improve cognitive function, including in ways that generalize to everyday life.”</p> <p>These two competing contradictory statements highlight a deep disagreement among experts, and a fundamental dispute over what counts as convincing evidence for something to be true.</p> <p>Then, in 2016, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission entered into the fray with a series of rulings, including a US$50 million judgment (later reduced to $2 million) <a href="https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2016/01/lumosity-pay-2-million-settle-ftc-deceptive-advertising-charges">against one of the most heavily advertised brain training packages</a> on the market. The FTC concluded that Lumos Labs’ advertisements – touting the ability of its Lumosity brain training program to improve consumers’ cognition, boost their performance at school and work, protect them against Alzheimer’s disease and help treat symptoms of ADHD – were not grounded in evidence.</p> <p>In light of conflicting claims and scientific statements, advertisements and government rulings, what are consumers supposed to believe? Is it worth your time and money to invest in brain training? What types of benefits, if any, can you expect? Or would your time be better spent doing something else?</p> <p><a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=W9Ow0H8AAAAJ&amp;hl=en&amp;oi=ao">I’m a cognitive scientist</a> and member of Florida State University’s <a href="https://isl.fsu.edu/">Institute for Successful Longevity</a>. I have studied cognition, human performance and the effects of different types of training for nearly two decades. I’ve conducted laboratory studies that have directly put to the test the ideas that are the foundation of the claims made by brain training companies.</p> <p>Based on these experiences, my optimistic answer to the question of whether brain training is worth it would be “we just don’t know.” But the actual answer may very well be “no.”</p> <h2>How well does research measure improvements?</h2> <p>My colleagues and I have argued that most of the pertinent studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100616661983">fall far short of being able to provide definitive evidence</a> either way.</p> <p>Some of these problems are statistical in nature.</p> <p>Brain training studies often look at its effect on multiple cognitive tests – of attention, memory, reasoning ability and so on – over time. This strategy makes sense in order to uncover the breadth of potential gains.</p> <p>But, for every test administered, there’s a chance that scores will improve just by chance alone. The more tests administered, the greater the chance that researchers <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797611417632">will see at least one false alarm</a>.</p> <p>Brain training studies that include many tests and then report only one or two significant results cannot be trusted unless they control for the number of tests being administered. Unfortunately, many studies do not, calling their findings into question.</p> <p>Another design problem has to do with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691613491271">inadequate control groups</a>. To claim that a treatment had an effect, the group receiving the treatment needs to be compared to a group that does not. It’s possible, for example, that people receiving brain training improve on an assessment test just because they’ve already taken it – before and then again after training. Since the control group also takes the test twice, cognitive improvements based on practice effects can be ruled out.</p> <p>Many studies that have been used to support the effectiveness of brain training have compared the effect of brain training to a control group that did nothing. The problem is any difference observed between the training group and the control group in these cases could easily be explained by a placebo effect.</p> <p>Placebo effects are improvements that are not the direct result of a treatment, but due to participants <a href="https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.1994.03510440069036">expecting to feel or perform better</a> as a result of having received a treatment. This is an important concern in any intervention study, whether aimed at understanding the effect of a new drug or a new brain training product.</p> <p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-018-0115-y">Researchers now realize</a> that doing something generates a greater expectation of improvement than doing nothing. Recognition of the likelihood for a placebo effect is shifting standards for testing the effectiveness of brain games. Now studies are much more likely to use an active control group made up of participants who perform some alternative non-brain training activity, rather than doing nothing.</p> <p>Still, these active controls don’t go far enough to control for expectations. For instance, it’s unlikely that a participant in a control condition that features computerized crossword puzzles or educational videos will expect improvement as much as a participant assigned to try fast-paced and adaptive commercial brain training products – products specifically touted as being able to improve cognition. Yet, studies with these inadequate designs <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0134467">continue to claim to provide evidence</a> that commercial brain training works. It remains rare for studies to measure expectations in order to help understand and counteract potential placebo effects.</p> <p>Participants in our studies do develop expectations based on their training condition, and are especially <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-017-0050-3">optimistic regarding the effects of brain training</a>. Unmatched expectations between groups are a serious concern, because there is growing evidence suggesting cognitive tests are susceptible to placebo effects, including tests of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/09658211.2011.592500">memory</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1601243113">intelligence</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-019-00130-x">attention</a>.</p> <h2>Is there a likely mechanism for improvement?</h2> <p>There’s another important question that needs to be addressed: Should brain training work? That is, given what scientists know about how people learn and acquire new skills, should we expect training on one task to improve the performance of another, untrained task? This is the fundamental claim being made by brain training companies – that engaging in games on a computer or mobile device will improve your performance on all sorts of tasks that are not the game you’re playing.</p> <p>As one example, “<a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/62.special_issue_1.19">speed of processing training</a>” has been incorporated into commercial brain training products. The goal here is to improve the detection of objects in the periphery, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1097/01.opx.0000175009.08626.65">which can be useful in avoiding an automobile crash</a>. A brain game may take the form of nature scenes with birds presented in the periphery; players must locate specific birds, even though the image is presented only briefly. But can finding birds on a screen help you detect and avoid, for example, a pedestrian stepping off the curb while you’re driving?</p> <p>This is a crucial question. Few people care much about improving their score on an abstract computerized brain training exercise. What is important is improving their ability to perform everyday tasks that relate to their safety, well-being, independence and success in life. But <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100616661983">over a century of research</a> suggests that learning and training gains tend to be extremely specific. Transferring gains from one task to another can be a challenge.</p> <p>Consider the individual known as SF, who was able, with extended practice, to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.7375930">improve his memory for numbers</a> from seven to 79 digits. After training, he was able to hear a list of 79 randomly generated digits and immediately repeat this list of numbers back, perfectly, without delay. But he could still remember and repeat back only about six letters of the alphabet.</p> <p>This is just one of many examples in which individuals can vastly improve their performance on a task, but demonstrate no training gains at all when presented with an even slightly different challenge. If the benefits of training on remembering digits do not transfer to remembering letters, why would training on virtual bird-spotting transfer to driving, academic performance or everyday memory?</p> <h2>Staying mentally spry</h2> <p>Brain training programs are an appealing shortcut, a “get smart quick” scheme. But improving or maintaining cognition is likely not going to be quick and easy. Instead, it may require a lifetime – or at least an extended period – of cognitive challenge and learning.</p> <p>If you’re worried about your cognition, what should you do?</p> <p>First, if you do engage in brain games, and you enjoy them, please continue to play. But keep your expectations realistic. If you’re playing solely to obtain cognitive benefits, instead consider other activities that might be as cognitively stimulating, or at least more fulfilling – like learning a new language, for instance, or learning to play an instrument.</p> <p>Some evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691617707316">physical exercise can potentially help maintain cognition</a>. Even if exercise had no effect on cognition at all, it has <a href="https://order.nia.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2018-04/nia-exercise-guide.pdf">clear benefits to physical health</a> – so why not move your body a bit?</p> <p>The most important lesson from the literature on training is this: If you want to improve your performance on a task that’s important to you, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1553-2712.2008.00227.x">practice that task</a>. Playing brain games may only make you better at playing brain games.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/113881/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Walter Boot, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, Florida State University</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/are-brain-games-mostly-bs-113881" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

How to become mentally tough

<p>The <a href="https://www.dictionary.com/e/slang/what-doesnt-kill-you-makes-you-stronger/">saying</a> that “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is simplistic, disingenuous, and potentially destructive. While it’s true that some who experience horrible events are stronger for surviving them, this is probably only true if they were strong to begin with. In the face of horrible events, others are more likely to be traumatised and suffer for years or decades after.</p> <p>Surviving repeated unpleasant experiences can lead people to develop a survivor mentality, a type of resilience which is a narrow means to an end, but does not help the development of a rounded, positive mental and emotional life. In a recent BBC interview, the writer and poet <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/entertainment-arts-49480810/poet-lemn-sissay-on-growing-up-in-care">Lemn Sissa</a> explained that while his childhood experience made him stronger, he wouldn’t wish that type of resilience on his worst enemy.</p> <p>The idea of mental or <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress/developing-resilience/">emotional resilience</a> is well-established, having been first studied in the 1960s. But today the concept appears to have become a catch-all term for <a href="https://theconversation.com/uk/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&amp;q=resilience&amp;sort=relevancy&amp;language=en&amp;date=all&amp;date_from=&amp;date_to=&amp;adapter=pg3">any issues relating to stress and anxiety</a>. In reality, it is a rather passive concept, drawing parallels from the <a href="https://theconversation.com/giant-sandscaping-plan-to-save-norfolk-coast-will-only-put-off-the-inevitable-121346">resilient engineering</a> that can survive severe storms. It’s about “hanging on in there”.</p> <p>On the other hand, the concept of mental toughness provides a single umbrella term which, while encompassing many of the key ideas relating to resilience, offers a more positive and targeted way of helping people deal with stressful situations. The key difference is a focus not on simply battening down the hatches in the face of emotional storms, but of feeling capable of seeking out demanding environments and prospering in them. Mental toughness in this sense is a positive psychological variable related to success, with psychologically beneficial properties that extend beyond accepting and dealing with anxiety, to finding opportunities for self-development and growth.</p> <p>The “<a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=LnEhIvIfRI4C&amp;pg=PA32&amp;lpg=PA32#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">4Cs model</a>” of mental toughness was developed by my colleagues and I, and is <a href="https://impact.ref.ac.uk/casestudies/CaseStudy.aspx?Id=34972">the most widely used</a> model for defining and measuring mental toughness. It comprises four components: confidence, control, commitment and challenge.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a href="https://images.theconversation.com/files/294575/original/file-20190927-185375-1etu7ju.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=1000&amp;fit=clip"><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/294575/original/file-20190927-185375-1etu7ju.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" alt="" /></a> <span class="caption">The 4C’s model of mental toughness comprising control, commitment, confidence and challenge.</span> <span class="attribution"><a href="https://aqrinternational.co.uk/mtq48-mental-toughness-questionnaire" class="source">AQR International</a></span></p> <p><strong>Survive and thrive</strong></p> <p>Unlike resilience and some other models of toughness, the opposite of toughness in the 4Cs model is not weakness, but sensitivity. <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Highly-Sensitive-Person-Elaine-Aron/dp/0553062182">Sensitive individuals</a> find stresses difficult to handle, but they have a unique and interesting view of the world which adds to the diversity of debate and discussion. Whereas mentally tough individuals might see the world in high definition detail, sensitive people are more likely to view it as an impressionistic abstract.</p> <p>Both are valid and should be encouraged and cherished. However, mentally tough individuals tend to prosper in stressful situations and so are <a href="https://www.uws.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/529354/Mental_Toughness_-_managerial_and_age_differences.pdf">far more likely to be in senior positions</a>, and so set the agenda. This progression to the top often starts at school. There is clear evidence that <a href="https://pure.hud.ac.uk/en/publications/mental-toughness-in-education-exploring-relationships-with-attain">mentally tougher pupils do better at exams</a> and in the many other transitions that dominate many educational systems.</p> <p>It would be hugely beneficial if schools could provide better support to more sensitive pupils, but in these resource-diminished times this is unlikely. The evidence suggests that within a population of young people <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2013-05911-004">the tough get tougher and the sensitive get more sensitive</a> as they move through life.</p> <p><strong>Mental toughness can be taught</strong></p> <p>Researchers including myself have argued that <a href="https://pure.hud.ac.uk/en/publications/the-study-of-non-cognitive-attributes-in-education-proposing-the-">mental toughness overlaps conceptually with other attributes</a> identified as being important to teach in education. For example, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17547490">resilience</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/pits.20149">buoyancy</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17547490">perseverance</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21199485">self-efficacy</a>, <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2014-01179-002">confidence</a>, and <a href="https://research.edgehill.ac.uk/en/publications/predictors-of-adolescents-academic-motivation-personality-self-ef-2">motivation</a>. Teachers typically have a considerable interest in fostering these positive psychological attributes, to ensure their students are successful learners and confident individuals, who achieve academically and contribute positively to society.</p> <p>With AQR International, I have been working with a number of schools in the north of England to help enhance pupil’s mental toughness. The aim is to improve exam performance, ease transition anxiety and, perhaps most importantly, to enhance well-being. While twin studies have suggested there is <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2008-17490-005">a genetic aspect</a> to mental toughness, it is still possible to teach and develop mental toughness skills. This uses a toolkit of psychological skills training techniques, including relaxation, positive thinking, goal setting and, importantly, an accurate assessment of mental toughness with feedback.</p> <p>One example is <a href="https://www.salfordfoundation.org.uk/services/young-people/tougher-minds/">Tougher Minds</a>, a project run by the <a href="https://www.salfordfoundation.org.uk/">Salford Foundation</a> and funded by the Salford NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, aimed at developing non-cognitive skills – specifically mental toughness – in three primary schools in Salford, Greater Manchester. Focusing on pupils aged nine to ten, Tougher Minds uses activities such as teaching pupils how to make positive affirmations, identifying heroes and heroines, and effective goal settings, either as the whole class, in small groups or individually. The results showed statistically significant positive changes in mental toughness, challenge, confidence, emotional control and life control scores.</p> <p>Many <a href="https://pure.hud.ac.uk/en/publications/relationships-between-mental-toughness-and-psychological-wellbein">recent studies</a> have reported a link between toughness and psychological health. It’s vital that people are not simply thrown into the deep end to see if they sink or swim. Specific and tailored interventions are the key. Researchers have noted that talk of mental toughness is part of young people’s daily speech, and as it feels less academic than some other terms, this may make it more appealing to children and adolescents – particularly those who may be difficult to reach or who need it most.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/122899/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Peter Clough, Professor of Psychology, University of Huddersfield</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/some-people-benefit-from-being-naturally-mentally-tough-but-it-can-be-taught-to-those-who-arent-122899" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

“Yeah, nah!”: University entrance exam from 1895 has people scratching their heads

<p>A 124-year-old entrance exam for a prestigious English college has gone viral online, with many arguing that it is “proof we are being dumbed down to a frightening extent”.</p> <p>Oxford history professor William Whyte shared the photo of the 1895 entrance exam for Cambrige’s Trinity College on Twitter yesterday, with 12 questions focusing on English history from 1485 to 1815.</p> <p>Applicants were advised that “not more than eight questions are to be attempted by any candidate”.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en-gb"> <p dir="ltr">Entrance examination for Trinity College Cambridge 1895: history of England <a href="https://t.co/JfNZbbMU4O">pic.twitter.com/JfNZbbMU4O</a></p> — William Whyte (@william_whyte) <a href="https://twitter.com/william_whyte/status/1189268763532779522?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">29 October 2019</a></blockquote> <p>The questions are as follows:</p> <p><strong>1.</strong><span> </span>Give your estimate of the foreign policy of Henry the Eighth before 1520.</p> <p><strong>2.</strong><span> </span>How did the doings of the reforming party under Edward the Sixth facilitate a return to Catholicism under Queen Mary?</p> <p><strong>3.</strong><span> </span>Did the execution of Mary Queen of Scots increase or diminish the difficulties of Elizabeth’s position?</p> <p><strong>4.</strong><span> </span>How did the policy of James the First change for the worse after the death of Robert Cecil?</p> <p><strong>5.</strong><span> </span>How did the acceptance by the English Parliament of the Solemn League and Covenant affect the subsequent progress of the war between the Parliament and the King?</p> <p><strong>6.</strong> Discuss the good and the bad features of the government of England under the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.</p> <p><strong>7.</strong> Illustrate the political importance of the Protestant Dissenters in the reigns of Charles the Second and James the Second.</p> <p><strong>8.</strong> On what matters of practical policy did the Whigs and the Tories differ most markedly in the later years of William the Third?</p> <p><strong>9.</strong> Was there any utility to England in Walpole’s jealousy of rivals?</p> <p><strong>10. </strong>How did the elder Pitt differ in political opinions from Newcastle or Rockingham and their followers?</p> <p><strong>11.</strong> How did the general election of 1784 make the House of Commons a less unpopular institution than it had been?</p> <p><strong>12. </strong>In what respects was the Spanish Peninsula more advantageous ground for an attack by Great Britain on Napoleon’s power than any other part of Europe?</p> <p>Many were quick to respond to the tweet, saying that they doubt they’d be able to answer any of the questions.</p> <p>“Note that this is not the final exam for a college course in English history. It’s part of the entrance examination,” one person wrote, with another adding, “It looks like you’d already need a degree in history to answer it.”</p> <p>One person said, “Proof that we are being dumbed down to a frightening extent. Our high-school grads don’t know who’s the Vice President of the US and who Jean Chretien was, now look at the entrance exam for Cambridge in 1895.”</p> <p>Psychology professor Geoffrey Miller noted a stark difference between the admissions for college.</p> <p>“College admissions, 1895: tell us about your nation’s history. College admissions, 2019: tell us about your personal struggles.”</p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

"We are in a great depression": Guy Sebastian opens up on personal issues and society's ills

<p>Acclaimed singer Guy Sebastian has opened up about his personal experiences with mental health and has reflected on the modern challenges people face, especially children.</p> <p>“I have had personal experience with mental health, both in my family and friendship circles,” Sebastian said.</p> <p>“What we need to remind ourselves of on a daily basis is that people can be struggling and not show it, or really struggling and wear it front and centre. It’s such a fine line and is an individual experience for everyone.”</p> <p>Sebastian is part of a men’s mental health campaign called<span> </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://2020mentality.com.au/guy-sebastian/" target="_blank">MEN-tality</a><span> </span>by famed photographer Peter Brew-Bevan, whose featuring portraits of notable figures with heartfelt messages.</p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/B4Gcf_Rgge3/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="12"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="margin: 8px 0 0 0; padding: 0 4px;"><a style="color: #000; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none; word-wrap: break-word;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B4Gcf_Rgge3/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">Guy Sebastian Introducing the story of Guy Sebastian @guysebastian “When I was growing up, we didn’t talk about mental health in class at school. We only really cared about what our siblings and a handful of people thought about us. I think mental health is not just the big stuff but the everyday problems” Click on the link in our bio to read the full story #tohearandbeheard #2020mentality #beyondblue #mensmentalhealthawearness</a></p> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;">A post shared by <a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/2020mentalityproject/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank"> the.MEN-tality.project</a> (@2020mentalityproject) on Oct 26, 2019 at 4:58pm PDT</p> </div> </blockquote> <p>The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of the challenges faced by a growing number of Australians as well as to encourage them to seek out help when they need it.</p> <p>“When I was growing up, we didn’t talk about mental health in class at school,” Sebastian said.</p> <p>“I think mental health is not just the big stuff but the everyday problems. I truly believe we are in a great depression. Our kids are facing realities that we simply didn’t face as we didn’t grow up like this.</p> <p>“We need to prepare them for what is ahead — that is our duty not only as parents, but as part of the human race. We have all just learnt to try and get through it the best we can, but that isn’t enough.</p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/B4B1MT8gNju/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="12"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="margin: 8px 0 0 0; padding: 0 4px;"><a style="color: #000; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none; word-wrap: break-word;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B4B1MT8gNju/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">Excited to be Revealing this Sunday 27.10.19 at 11 AM our next talented man in the 2020 MEN-tality series ..... #tohearandbeheard #2020mentality #beyondblue #mensmentalhealthawearness</a></p> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;">A post shared by <a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/2020mentalityproject/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank"> the.MEN-tality.project</a> (@2020mentalityproject) on Oct 24, 2019 at 9:58pm PDT</p> </div> </blockquote> <p>“We need to help them build their self-worth and moral structure that just isn’t there.”</p> <p>Brew-Bevan has shot a range of portraits and will be releasing them periodically over the next coming weeks.</p> <p>“This project came to fruition after my personal experiences last year learning about the loss of two men within my wider social circle to suicide,” Brew-Bevan said.</p> <p>“I have become passionate about getting the message out there — to hear and to be heard,” he said.</p> <p>“To help inform other men how to talk and how to listen to each other as I have come to realise, we all have issues that need to be lightened.”</p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Australian city named as the meth capital of the world

<p>A study monitoring illicit drug use around the world has found Adelaide to have the highest methamphetamine use out of 120 cities.</p> <p>The research, published in the journal <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191023093445.htm" target="_blank"><em>Addiction</em></a> on Wednesday, analysed wastewater samples from 37 countries in a seven-year project.</p> <p>Data collected in Adelaide over a one-week period in 2017 showed between 507 and 659 milligrams of methamphetamine or “ice” per 1,000 people each day, compared with between 270 and 331mg in Canberra and Toowoomba.</p> <p>The findings followed the <a href="https://acic.govcms.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases-and-statements/wastewater-results-show-high-levels-methylamphetamine-fentanyl-and-cannabis-consumption-south">Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s June report</a>, which revealed Adelaide as the methamphetamine capital of the nation.</p> <p>Despite the staggering record, the prevalence of methamphetamine has declined since the study was conducted, said one of the study’s lead authors Dr Richard Bade.</p> <p>“To put into a bit of context, the study was from 2017 and in fact since that time methamphetamine use in South Australia has actually been on the decrease,” Bade told the <em><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-24/adelaide-had-highest-meth-use-in-cities-in-world-study/11633416">ABC</a></em>.</p> <p>“And there's been plenty of initiatives around that reduction of methamphetamine use in Adelaide [since 2017].”</p> <p>The city coming closest to Adelaide’s levels was Seattle, with a 418mg average over a three-year monitoring period.</p> <p>The report said cocaine use increased across Europe, with London, Bristol, Amsterdam, Zurich, Geneva, St Gallen and Antwerp having the highest levels of between 600 to 900mg per 1,000 people.</p> <p>Canberra had a significantly higher cocaine use than the other two Australian cities.</p> <p>The Netherlands recorded the highest use of ecstasy, also known as MDMA.</p> <p>“It’s important we determine the scale of the illicit drug market so that countries can work out the best way to tackle a $100 billion industry, which is contributing to the global burden of disease and affecting the economic development of many countries,” Bade said.</p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Why gossiping is not a character flaw

<p><a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-small-town-takes-a-stand-it-banned-gossip-11556204479">According to a <em>Wall Street Journal</em> article</a>, some communities in the Philippines consider gossiping so odious that they’ve outright banned it.</p> <p>But aside from the difficulty of enforcing this sort of ordinance, should gossip really get such a bad rap?</p> <p>Yes, in its rawest form, gossip is a strategy used by individuals to further their own reputations and interests at the expense of others. <a href="http://faculty.knox.edu/fmcandre/JASP_227.pdf">Studies that I have conducted</a> confirm that gossip can be used in cruel ways for selfish purposes.</p> <p>At the same time, how many can walk away from a juicy story about one of their acquaintances and keep it to themselves? Surely, each of us has had firsthand experience with the difficulty of keeping spectacular news about someone else a secret.</p> <p>When disparaging gossip, we overlook the fact that it’s an essential part of what makes the social world tick; the nasty side of gossip overshadows the more benign ways in which it functions.</p> <p>In fact, gossip can actually be thought of not as a character flaw, but as a highly evolved social skill. Those who can’t do it well often have difficulty maintaining relationships, and can find themselves on the outside looking in.</p> <p><strong>As social creatures, we’re hardwired to gossip</strong></p> <p>Like it or not, we are the descendants of busybodies. Evolutionary psychologists <a href="http://faculty.knox.edu/fmcandre/SciAm_Gossip.pdf">believe</a> that our preoccupation with the lives of others is a byproduct of a prehistoric brain.</p> <p><a href="http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674363366">According to scientists</a>, because our prehistoric ancestors lived in relatively small groups, they knew one another intimately. In order to ward off enemies and survive in their harsh natural environment, our ancestors needed to cooperate with in-group members. But they also recognized that these same in-group members were their main competitors for mates and limited resources.</p> <p>Living under such conditions, our ancestors faced a number of adaptive social problems: who’s reliable and trustworthy? Who’s a cheater? Who would make the best mate? How can friendships, alliances and family obligations be balanced?</p> <p>In this sort of environment, an intense interest in the private dealings of other people would have certainly been handy – and strongly favored by natural selection. People who were the best at harnessing their social intelligence to interpret, predict – and influence – the behavior of others became more successful than those who were not.</p> <p>The genes of those individuals were passed along from one generation to the next.</p> <p><strong>Avoiding gossip: a one-way ticket to social isolation</strong></p> <p>Today, good gossipers are influential and popular members of their social groups.</p> <p>Sharing secrets is one way people bond, and sharing gossip with another person is a sign of deep trust: you’re signaling that you believe that the person will not use this sensitive information against you.</p> <p>Therefore, someone skillful at gossip will have a good rapport with a large network of people. At the same time, they’ll be discreetly knowledgeable about what’s going on throughout the group.</p> <p>On the other hand, someone who is <em>not</em> part of, say, the office gossip network is an outsider – someone neither trusted nor accepted by the group. Presenting yourself as a self-righteous soul who refuses to participate in gossip will ultimately end up being nothing more than a ticket to social isolation.</p> <p>In the workplace, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257986788_The_co-evolution_of_gossip_and_friendship_in_workplace_social_networks">studies have shown</a> that harmless gossiping with one’s colleagues can build group cohesiveness and boost morale.</p> <p>Gossip also helps to socialize newcomers into groups by resolving ambiguity about group norms and values. In other words, listening to the judgments that people make about the behavior of others helps the newbie figure out what’s acceptable and what isn’t.</p> <p><strong>Fear of whispers keeps us in check</strong></p> <p>On the flip side, the awareness that <em>others</em> are likely talking about us can keep us in line.</p> <p>Among a group of friends or coworkers, the threat of becoming the target of gossip can actually be a positive force: it can deter “free-riders” and cheaters who might be tempted slack off or take advantage of others.</p> <p>Biologist Robert Trivers <a href="http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/Trivers-EvolutionReciprocalAltruism.pdf">has discussed</a> the evolutionary importance of detecting <em>gross cheaters</em> (those who fail to reciprocate altruistic acts) and <em>subtle cheaters</em> (those who reciprocate but give much less than they get). Gossip can actually shame these free riders, reining them in.</p> <p>Studies of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Order-without-Law-Neighbors-Disputes/dp/0674641698">California cattle ranchers</a>, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Lobster-Gangs-Maine-James-Acheson/dp/0874514517">Maine lobster fishers</a> and <a href="http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Kniffin-2010-Workplace-Gossip.pdf">college rowing teams</a> confirm that gossip is used in a variety of settings to hold individuals accountable. In each of these groups, individuals who violated expectations about sharing resources or meeting responsibilities became targets of gossip and ostracism. This, in turn, pressured them to become better members of the group.</p> <p>For example, lobstermen who didn’t respect well-established group norms about when and how lobsters could be harvested were quickly exposed by their colleagues. Their fellow lobstermen temporarily shunned them and, for a while, refused to work with them.</p> <p>Celebrity gossip actually helps us in myriad ways</p> <p>Belgian psychologist Charlotte de Backer <a href="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12110-007-9023-z#/page-1">makes a distinction</a> between <em>strategy learning gossip</em> and <em>reputation gossip</em>.</p> <p>When gossip is about a particular individual, we’re usually interested in it only if we know that person. However, some gossip is interesting no matter whom it’s about. This sort of gossip can involve stories about life-or-death situations or remarkable feats. We pay attention to them because we may be able to learn strategies that we can apply to our own lives.</p> <p>Indeed, de Backer discovered that our interest in celebrities may feed off of this thirst for learning life strategies. For better or for worse, we look to celebrities in the same way that our ancestors looked to role models within their tribes for guidance.</p> <p>At its core, our fixation on celebrities is reflective of an innate interest in the lives of other people.</p> <p>From an evolutionary standpoint, “celebrity” is a recent phenomenon, due primarily to the explosion of mass media in the 20th century. Our ancestors, on the other hand, found social importance in the intimate details of <em>everyone</em>‘s private life, since everyone in their small social world mattered.</p> <p>But anthropologist <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279236728_Beneath_new_culture_is_old_psychology_Gossip_and_social_stratification">Jerome Barkow has pointed out</a> that evolution did not prepare us to distinguish among those members of our community who have a genuine effect on us, and those who exist in the images, movies and songs that suffuse our daily lives.</p> <p>From <em>TMZ</em> to <em>US Weekly</em>, the media fuels gossip mills that mimic those of our workplaces and friend groups. In a way, our brains are tricked into feeling an intense familiarity with these famous people – which hoodwinks us into wanting to know even <em>more</em> about them. After all, anyone whom we see <em>that</em> often and know <em>that</em> much about <em>must</em> be socially important to us.</p> <p>Because of the familiarity we feel with celebrities, <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-ooze/201503/why-caring-about-celebrities-can-be-good-you">they can serve an important social function</a>: they may be the only “friends” we have in common with new neighbors and coworkers. They’re shared cultural touchstones that facilitate the types of informal interactions that help people become comfortable in new surroundings. Keeping up with the lives of actors, politicians and athletes can make a person more socially adept during interactions with strangers and even offer inroads into new relationships.</p> <p>The bottom line is that we need to rethink the role of gossip in everyday life; there’s no need to shy away from it or to be ashamed of it.</p> <p>Successful gossiping entails being a good team player and sharing key information with others in ways that won’t be perceived as self-serving. It’s about knowing when it’s appropriate to talk, and when it’s probably best to keep your mouth shut.</p> <p><em>Written by <span>Frank T. McAndrew, Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology, Knox College</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/gossip-is-a-social-skill-not-a-character-flaw-51629" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>.</em><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Does destiny shape your decisions? Your answer could affect your marriage satisfaction

<p>Married couples make a number of important decisions together, such as where to live, what type of house to buy, how many children to have and how to educate them. And the extent to which a person believes in powerful forces – like fate, luck or destiny – is among the personality characteristics that influence the way these decisions are made.</p> <p>This is known as “<a href="https://izajole.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40172-014-0017-x">locus of control</a>”, a psychological term referring to how much a person thinks they have control over the outcomes of their lives, rather than feeling like their lives are influenced by external forces.</p> <p>For example, having an “internal orientation” means you’d expect you could solve problems on your own. On the other hand, an external orientation means you think luck, fate, destiny, a higher power, or other outside influences will be more important to help resolve issues.</p> <p>Our <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167487018305865">new published research</a>, which crunched survey data from thousands of Australian heterosexual couples, showed those who felt a strong sense of control over their lives (internal locus of control) were far more satisfied in their marriage than those who put a greater emphasis on outside forces (external locus of control).</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/s7A5xLk3hIs?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">Are you my density? I mean, destiny?</span></p> <p><strong>Marriage satisfaction</strong></p> <p>We tested the impact of “locus of control” on marriage satisfaction with a nationally representative group of married couples. Data was taken from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) project, collected from more than 7600 households between 2001 and 2017.</p> <p>And we analysed questions such as whether your own locus of control, or that of your spouse, has a greater impact on how happy you are in your marriage.</p> <p>There were four key findings.</p> <p>First, we found having an internal locus of control and a partner who is also internally oriented is associated with higher marriage satisfaction. In other words, if neither you nor your partner believe in powerful external forces like fate, you’re more likely to be in a happy marriage.</p> <p>We also found that for both men and women, your own locus of control is more important for how happy you are in a marriage, rather than your partner’s locus of control.</p> <p>And spouses sharing a similar level of locus of control is beneficial to a marriage because they’d typically have similar views about how problems can be solved. But having a similar locus of control is still less important for your own marriage satisfaction than you having an internal locus of control.</p> <p>Finally, we found heterosexual couples with a more externally oriented husband experience a greater decline in marriage satisfaction over time, compared with couples where the husband is more internally oriented. We did not find a corresponding effect for wives.</p> <p><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rore790l_sk?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p>Locus of control is important because it affects couple interactions. It could lead to disagreements and misaligned perceptions regarding how household decisions are made.</p> <p>For example, one variable we looked at was financial decisions. And we found externally oriented husbands married to more internal wives were more likely to report financial decisions were usually made by the wife, and less likely to report financial decisions were shared equally. However, internal wives perceive matters differently and view they aren’t solely making these decisions.</p> <p>Our findings are particularly pertinent for couples considering marriage, because locus of control doesn’t generally change much over time, unless you make an active effort to do so – for example, through couples therapy.</p> <p><strong>Quiz: what’s your locus of control?</strong></p> <p>So before deciding to get married, couples could take this test determining your individual locus of control. This will offer a better idea of what to expect, based on the orientation of their partner and their own locus of control.</p> <p>You can answer a few questions to determine your own locus of control. How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?</p> <p>It is important to note locus of control is a continuum. Most people lie somewhere between the two extremes.</p> <hr /> <p><iframe id="tc-infographic-439" class="tc-infographic" height="400px" src="https://cdn.theconversation.com/infographics/439/ca7957e76fe742292e58ae268f4f75639cad97d6/site/index.html" width="100%" style="border: none;" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <hr /> <p>Broadly speaking, a score of 13 or lower implies you have an internal orientation, while a score of 21 or higher implies you have an external orientation. A score in-between 14 to 20 implies you have a midlevel orientation.</p> <p>Now get your partner to do the test and have a chat!</p> <p><!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/123345/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><em>Written by <span>Wang-Sheng Lee, Associate professor, Deakin University</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/quiz-does-destiny-shape-your-decisions-your-answer-could-affect-your-marriage-satisfaction-123345" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Is there such thing as an addictive personality?

<p>Most of us know somebody who tends to get over involved in certain behaviours, and the saying often goes that they must have an “addictive personality”. But is there such a thing?</p> <p>The idea of an addictive personality is more pop-psychology than scientific.</p> <p><strong>What is personality?</strong></p> <p>To understand why the idea of an addictive personality is flawed, it’s important to first understand what psychologists mean when referring to personality.</p> <p>Personality is comprised of broad, measurable, stable, individual traits <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-ooze/201810/when-do-personality-traits-predict-behavior">that <em>predict</em> behaviour</a>. So by definition, engaging in excessive behaviours cannot be considered a personality trait.</p> <p>Though, there are personality traits that are associated with addiction.</p> <p>Neuroticism is one of the “<a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/basics/big-5-personality-traits">big five</a>” personality dimensions. These are the five core traits that drive behaviour. They include openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion/introversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.</p> <p>People who score high in neuroticism tend to be <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4382368/">easily emotionally aroused</a>. They are also more likely to engage in a number of excessive behaviours, including: <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886915300088">over-eating</a>, excessive <a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/cde8/a563a7ccc2f59903cf2d2b27d5a73b8e9318.pdf?_ga=2.23848760.322700603.1564100387-1584552963.1564100387">online gaming</a>, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11469-018-9959-8">social media</a> over-use and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2373294/">substance dependence</a>.</p> <p>People who are highly neurotic might engage in excessive behaviours to help manage their emotions. Neuroticism has also been <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00127-004-0873-y">associated with a range of mental health conditions</a>, which could lead one to wonder whether addiction is caused by mental illness.</p> <p>There is evidence of this for some people. In these cases people’s addictive behaviour <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1820867">reduces negative emotions</a> caused by the mental illness. Though it could also be that certain personality factors such as neuroticism predispose a person to both mental illness and addiction separately.</p> <p><strong>Nature versus nurture</strong></p> <p>There is some evidence that both personality and addictive behaviours have a genetic component.</p> <p>Five key genes have been found to appear to predispose people to experience <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4549168/">substance dependence</a> and other <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5745142/">addictive behaviours</a>.</p> <p>One of these genes has also been <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304394009014554">associated with extroversion</a>, another of the big five personality dimensions. <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/basics/extroversion">Extroversion refers to</a> the degree to which people “search for novel experiences and social connections that allow them to interact with other humans as much as possible”.</p> <p>These five genes reduce the functioning of the dopamine, or reward, system of the brain. The brains of people with variants of the genes associated with extroversion and addictive behaviours use dopamine less efficiently. It has been <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02791072.2012.685407">proposed</a> that this leads them to seek out pleasure.</p> <p>Dopamine is often <a href="https://www.theverge.com/2018/3/27/17169446/dopamine-pleasure-chemical-neuroscience-reward-motivation">misrepresented as the pleasure neurotransmitter</a>. A more accurate description of dopamine is that it is the motivation neurotransmitter. It motivates people to engage in certain behaviours - particularly those behaviours needed for survival such as eating and sex.</p> <p>It makes sense then that variants of these genes have been found to be associated with “<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11481-015-9636-7">sensation seeking</a>”, another dimension of personality. <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11481-015-9636-7">Sensation seeking is</a> a “trait defined by the seeking of novel sensations, and the willingness to take physical, social, legal and financial risks for the sake of such experiences”. People with addictive behaviours also score high on this personality dimension.</p> <p>Though to say these are genes for an addictive personality is a bit like saying the genes for height are the basketball genes. While some people who are tall are good at basketball, not all tall people have the opportunity or desire to learn the game.</p> <p>Similarly, not everybody with variants of the dopamine genes associated with excessive behaviours develops problems with substance dependence or other addictive behaviours. Environment is also important.</p> <p>It’s likely that some people whose dopamine system is less efficient due to genetic variations get their dopamine fix through other activities such as car racing, snowboarding, surfing, sky diving and so on. And some people who develop a dependence on alcohol and other drugs do not have this genetic predisposition. They might develop problems due to a range of environmental influences such as <a href="https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/ajp.2006.163.4.652">trauma</a> or <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1446176/pdf/10705852.pdf">social modelling of drug use</a>.</p> <p>So while there are common factors associated with personality that predict addiction, there is no personality type that will cause someone to partake in excessive behaviours. Addiction has multiple causes and just chalking it up to someone’s personality probably isn’t very helpful in dealing with it.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/120988/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Stephen Bright, Senior Lecturer of Addiction, Edith Cowan University</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/is-there-such-thing-as-an-addictive-personality-120988" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Why is it so stressful to talk politics with the other side?

<p>People disagree all the time, but not all disagreements lead to the same levels of stress.</p> <p>Even though people can be passionate about their favorite sport teams, they can argue about which basketball team is the best without destroying friendships. In the workplace, co-workers can often dispute strategies and approaches without risking a long-term fallout.</p> <p>Political conversations, on the other hand, seem to have become especially challenging in recent years. Stories of <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-to-bridge-the-political-divide-at-the-holiday-dinner-table-69113">tense dinners</a> and of <a href="https://blogsitestudio.com/unfriending-trump-voting-facebook-friends/">Facebook friends being unfriended</a> have become commonplace.</p> <p><strong>Why does this happen?</strong></p> <p>Our research – and related research in political psychology – suggest two broad answers.</p> <p>First, our work shows that divisive topics – issues that are polarizing, or on which there’s no general societywide consensus – can evoke feelings of anxiety and threat. That is, simply considering these topics appears to put people on guard.</p> <p>Second, <a href="http://lskitka.people.uic.edu/styled-3/index.html">research on moral conviction</a> by psychologist Linda Skitka and her colleagues suggests that attitudes linked to moral values can contribute to social distancing. In other words, if someone considers their position on an issue to be a question of right versus wrong or good versus evil, they’re less likely to want to interact with a person who disagrees on that issue.</p> <p><strong>An automatic trigger of anxiety</strong></p> <p>In our research, we define divisive issues as ones that don’t have a clear consensus.</p> <p>For example, just about everyone supports food safety; but if you bring up issues like abortion or capital punishment, you’ll see people fall into opposing camps.</p> <p>People also like to have a general idea of where someone falls on an issue before they start debating it. If you’re talking with a stranger, you don’t know how to anticipate their position on a divisive topic. This creates an uncertainty that can be uncomfortable.</p> <p>With this framework in mind, behavioral scientist Joseph Simons and I designed <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0093650216644025">a series of studies</a> to explore how this plays out.</p> <p>In our first study, we simply asked individuals to look at a list of 60 social issues (ranging from safe tap water to slavery) and estimated what percentage of people are in favor of that issue. Participants also rated how much they would feel anxious, threatened, interested or relaxed when discussing that issue.</p> <p>As expected, people thought they would feel more anxious and threatened when discussing a topic that was generally considered more divisive. (Under some circumstances – such as when people didn’t hold a strong attitude on the issue themselves – they did feel somewhat more interested in discussing these topics.)</p> <p>In a second study, we investigated the experience of threat at an unconscious level. That is, do divisive topics automatically trigger anxiety?</p> <p>We conducted an experiment that was based on <a href="https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/07/07/misattribution-of-arousal/">the psychological finding</a> that people don’t always recognize the source of their emotional responses. Feelings that are evoked by one event or object can “carry over” to an unrelated judgment. In this study, we presented participants with a popular topic (for example, supporting veterans), an unpopular topic (high unemployment) or a divisive topic (stem cell research). They then saw a neutral computer-generated picture of a face and had to quickly rate how threatening the face appeared.</p> <p>Participants were more likely to see a neutral face as threatening if they were thinking about a divisive topic. (Unpopular topics showed a similar effect.)</p> <p>A third study replicated these effects using fictitious polling data about direct-to-consumer drug advertising. We told some participants that there was a high public consensus about support for this sort of advertising, and we told others that there was wide disagreement. Specifically, we told them that either 20 percent, 50 percent or 80 percent of the public was in favor of these ads.</p> <p>Participants then imagined discussing the issue and reported how they would feel. As in previous studies, those who were told there was more disagreement tended to feel more threatened or anxious about the prospect of discussing the issue.</p> <p>‘Right and wrong’ adds a layer of complication</p> <p>An additional social obstacle goes beyond mere disagreement. Consider two individuals who oppose the death penalty.</p> <p>One person may think that the death penalty is morally wrong, whereas the other person may believe that the death penalty is ineffective at deterring crime. Although both individuals may strongly support their position, the first person holds this attitude with moral conviction.</p> <p><a href="http://lskitka.people.uic.edu/MCs.pdf">Research by Skitka and her colleagues</a> highlights the social consequences of these “moral mandates.” When it’s a matter of right or wrong, people become less tolerant of others who hold the opposite view. Specifically, individuals with stronger moral convictions tended to not want to associate with those who disagreed with them on certain issues. This social distancing was reflected both in survey responses – “would be happy to be friends with this person” – and even physical distance, like placing a chair farther away from a person with an opposing view.</p> <p>Of course, no one is ever going to agree on every issue. But it’s important for people to learn about where others are coming from in order to reach a compromise.</p> <p>Unfortunately, compromise or consensus is more difficult to come by if people start out the conversation feeling threatened. And if individuals feel that someone who holds an opposite view is simply a bad person, the conversation may never happen at all.</p> <p>In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a stranger or friends; the <a href="http://lskitka.people.uic.edu//FrimerSkitkaMotyl2017.pdf">possibility of exclusion or avoidance</a> increases when a divisive topic is raised.</p> <p>There’s no easy solution. Sometimes raising these topics may reveal irreconcilable differences. But other times, a willingness to approach <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/the-white-flight-of-derek-black/2016/10/15/ed5f906a-8f3b-11e6-a6a3-d50061aa9fae_story.html">difficult topics calmly</a> – while truly listening to the other side – may help people find common ground or promote change.</p> <p>It might also be helpful to take a step back. A disagreement on a single issue – even a morally charged one – isn’t necessarily grounds for discontinuing a friendship. On the other hand, focusing on other shared bonds and morals can salvage or strengthen the relationship.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/92391/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Melanie Green, Associate Professor of Communication, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/why-is-it-so-stressful-to-talk-politics-with-the-other-side-92391" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Why are some people affected by sleep paralysis?

<p><strong>Why are some people affected by sleep paralysis? – Tess, age 13.</strong></p> <p>Falling asleep is a bit like flicking off a light switch. One moment we are awake, but then the switch is flicked and we fall asleep.</p> <p>That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway. But sometimes, the switch gets a bit “sticky” and the light flickers between being awake and asleep. This is what happens with sleep paralysis – when you wake up but feel like you can’t move.</p> <p>To answer your question, you’re more likely to experience sleep paralysis if:</p> <ul> <li>someone <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jsr.12282">in your family</a> has it;</li> <li>you don’t get <a href="https://www.dovepress.com/relationships-between-sleep-paralysis-and-sleep-quality-current-insigh-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-NSS">enough sleep</a> or you have changed your regular sleep pattern</li> <li>you are a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4958367/">shift worker</a>;</li> <li>it seems to be more common when you <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4958367/">sleep on your back</a> (but we don’t know why);</li> <li>you are <a href="https://www.dovepress.com/relationships-between-sleep-paralysis-and-sleep-quality-current-insigh-peer-reviewed-article-NSS">stressed</a> or taking <a href="https://n.neurology.org/content/52/6/1194.long">certain medicines</a>;</li> <li>you have a sleep disorder such as <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41582-019-0226-9">narcolepsy</a> (which is where you <a href="https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/pdfs/Narcolepsy.pdf">fall asleep suddenly and uncontrollably</a> when it’s not really sleep time, like in class).</li> </ul> <p>Many people experience sleep paralysis at some stage, and it’s usually first noticed in teenagers. It can affect men or women.</p> <p>Overall, though, there’s still a lot scientists don’t know about sleep paralysis and why some people are more prone to it than others.</p> <p>Here’s a bit about what we do know.</p> <p><strong>Our brain is half asleep</strong></p> <p>In the olden days, some people called sleep paralysis the “<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_hag">Night Hag</a>” and said it felt like a spooky witch or demon was sitting on your chest. Now we know it is quite a common sleep problem or what doctors call a <a href="https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-and-parasomnias">parasomnia</a>, caused by a little brain hiccup. And thankfully, it usually doesn’t last very long.</p> <p>With sleep paralysis, some parts of your brain are awake and still active but other parts are fast asleep.</p> <p>The sleeping part is the section of the brain that <a href="https://www.jneurosci.org/content/32/29/9785.long">tells the muscles to relax while we sleep</a> so we don’t act out our dreams. Evolution probably gave us that trick because acting out dreams can be harmful to yourself or others (although this trick doesn’t always work and some people do <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rem-sleep-behavior-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352920">act out their dreams</a>).</p> <p>Sleep paralysis can feel pretty strange and scary, at least until you realise what is happening.</p> <p><strong>Sleep paralysis often doesn’t need treatment</strong></p> <p>If you are unable to move or speak for a few seconds or minutes when falling asleep or waking up, then it is likely that you have what doctors call “<a href="http://sleepeducation.org/sleep-disorders-by-category/parasomnias/sleep-paralysis/overview-facts">isolated recurrent sleep paralysis</a>”.</p> <p>If you sometimes experience sleep paralysis, here are some things you can try at home:</p> <ul> <li>make sure you <a href="https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessive-sleepiness/support/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need">get enough sleep</a></li> <li>try to reduce stress in your life, especially just before bedtime</li> <li>try a different sleeping position (especially if you sleep on your back)</li> </ul> <p>See your doctor if sleep paralysis continually prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep.</p> <p>Your doctor may ask about how you’re feeling, your health history and if your family has had sleep problems. They may tell you to go to a specialist sleep doctor who can investigate further.</p> <p><em>Written by <span>Danny Eckert, Director, Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, Professor, College of Medicine and Public Health, Flinders University, Flinders University</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/curious-kids-why-are-some-people-affected-by-sleep-paralysis-121125" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Where do phobias come from?

<hr /> <blockquote> <p><strong>Where do phobias come from? – Olivia, age 12, Strathfield, Sydney.</strong></p> </blockquote> <hr /> <p>Phobias are an intense fear of very specific things like objects, places, situations or animals. The most common phobias for children and teens are phobias of specific animals such as dogs, cats or insects.</p> <p>When someone suffers from a phobia, they tend to avoid these places or things at all costs. That can be very hard to do and often leads to a lot of other problems.</p> <p>There are many different factors that might make it more likely for someone to develop a phobia.</p> <p>However, research tells us that to some degree specific phobias are <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15374416.2015.1020543">learned</a>. In addition, factors such as life experiences, your personality, and even how the people around you cope all contribute to developing a phobia or not.</p> <p><strong>How people may develop phobias</strong></p> <p>Specific phobias are very common, especially among children and adolescents. Research tells us that approximately 10% of children will experience a <a href="https://www.childpsych.theclinics.com/article/S1056-4993(05)00054-4/abstract">specific phobia</a>, making this type of anxiety one of the most common anxiety disorders affecting young people.</p> <p>Here are three main learning scenarios that may influence whether or not you develop a phobia.</p> <ol> <li> <p>Seeing other people (such as parents or friends) get really scared in a specific situation, or around a particular object or animal. This is called “modelling”. When you see someone else “model” a fear reaction to certain things, you may learn to be afraid of the same thing.</p> </li> <li> <p>Hearing or reading scary stories about a situation, object or animal. For example, a parent who always tells you, “dogs are dangerous”, “never approach a dog”, “beware of dogs”, teaches you that ALL dogs are dangerous, ALL of the time, which may contribute to you developing a fear or phobia of dogs.</p> </li> <li> <p>Having a frightening experience with a particular object, animal or situation. We call this “direct conditioning”. For example, you may have been growled at or even bitten by a dog; or be swept up in a rip in the ocean; or have had a tree fall on your house in a bad storm. These experiences are often very scary, and some children may then feel afraid whenever they are in that situation again.</p> </li> </ol> <p>It is important to remember, however, that not all children who see, hear or experience bad things develop a specific phobia. There are other things that might contribute. Research suggests phobias often run in families, so there may be a <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/fighting-fear/201209/are-some-phobias-inborn">genetic</a> link. Personality (or what doctors call “temperament”) may even play a <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1999-05267-005">role</a>.</p> <p><strong>The good news</strong></p> <p>The good news is that there are many other factors that might help to protect children or adolescents from developing a phobia, even if you have had a very bad experience. For example, support from family and friends can help and comfort you when something scary <a href="https://capmh.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13034-017-0149-4">happens</a>.</p> <p>Some <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2000-05007-002">research</a> suggests that being optimistic can protect you from fear. Being someone who thinks about the world and themselves in a really positive way – seeing the glass half full instead of half empty – may reduce the impact of or development of anxiety and fears.</p> <p>And finally, the most powerful way to stop a fear turning into a phobia is to <a href="https://www.elsevier.com/books/pediatric-anxiety-disorders/compton/978-0-12-813004-9">face your fears</a> – even when you feel nervous or scared. For example, you might feel really scared about giving a speech. But if you practise and do some public speaking, you might realise it’s not as bad as you imagined!</p> <p>You may learn you are braver and stronger than you know.<a href="http://theconversation.com/curious-kids-why-are-some-people-affected-by-sleep-paralysis-121125"></a></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Lara Farrell, Associate Professor and Clinical Psychologist, Griffith University</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/curious-kids-where-do-phobias-come-from-121738" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p> <p><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

The art of forgiveness

<p><span>When conflicts and grievances arise, forgiveness is one of the most commonly prescribed solutions – but it is one that’s easier said than done.</span></p> <p><span>When we are at the receiving end of a cruel, hurtful or violent treatment, the idea of forgiving the wrongdoer may not sit well with us. Although it is often described as a way to let go of negative emotions and regain a peace of mind, forgiveness can come across to some as letting people off the hook or setting their feelings aside to avoid further confrontation.</span></p> <p><span>“People often think that forgiveness means saying that it was okay for someone to do something,” psychologist Adam Blanch wrote on <a href="https://probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2018/09/f-word-forgiveness/"><em>Pro Bono Australia</em></a>. </span></p> <p><span>“Often when people say they have forgiven someone they are lying to themselves. What they have really done is compartmentalise their vulnerable feelings behind contempt and hatred for the other person, disguised as being a ‘bigger person’.”</span></p> <p><strong><span>What is forgiveness?</span></strong></p> <p><span>According to Mary Bonich, principal psychologist at The Feel Good Clinic, forgiveness isn’t about forgoing accountability. </span></p> <p><span>“Forgiveness means consciously and deliberately letting go of resentment or vengeance towards someone else, despite whether they deserve your forgiveness,” she told <em>Over60</em>.</span></p> <p><span>“When you forgive someone, it does not mean forgetting or condoning someone else’s wrongdoing, but rather provides you with peace of mind and frees you from the anger and resentment you are holding onto.”</span></p> <p><span>Bonich emphasises that we do not need to rekindle our relationship with the offending parties to forgive them. “It’s a process for the individual letting go of their anger, and does not necessarily mean you have to reconcile or be friends with the person who caused you harm.”</span></p> <p><strong><span>Is forgiveness always right?</span></strong></p> <p><span>Some people can find themselves in a harrowing situation, where forgiveness seems like an impossibility. However, even though forgiveness may not change the perpetrator’s behaviour, it will help us stop punishing ourselves, Bonich said.</span></p> <p><span>“Of course there are some things we often feel are unforgivable such as murder,” she said. “But in order for us to process our grief, heal and maintain our own psychological wellbeing, we do need to forgive.</span></p> <p><span>“This does not mean we condone the behaviour, or at peace with the behaviour, it just means we choose to let go of our resentment and anger as a way to heal ourselves.”</span></p> <p><span>Alfred Allan and Maria Allan, professors of psychology at Edith Cowan University said our safety should be a priority. “Forgiving others is only beneficial if the advantages exceed the potential costs. We should therefore not forgive others if that might expose us to further abuse or exploitation,” they wrote on <a href="http://theconversation.com/if-someone-hurt-you-this-year-forgiving-them-may-improve-your-health-as-long-as-youre-safe-too-106253"><em>The Conversation</em></a>.</span></p> <p><span>“The stress response we experience to being hurt is protective because it motivates us to stop people from abusing or taking advantage of us.”</span></p> <p><strong><span>How can we begin to forgive?</span></strong></p> <p><span>The process of forgiving someone can take time. Bonich referred to the <a rel="noopener" href="https://learningtoforgive.com/9-steps/" target="_blank">nine steps to forgiveness</a> popularised by Fred Luskin, director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects. Some of the suggestions included making a commitment to work on feeling better for our own sake and get the accurate perspective on why we are experiencing hurt.</span></p> <p><span>“Understand your thoughts and feelings about why you are hurt and understand that your emotions are what is stopping you from letting go of the hurt, rather than what someone else did,” Bonich said. </span></p> <p><span>“You can use mindfulness techniques and other stress management techniques to self-soothe when you get upset.</span></p> <p><span>“Look for ways for you to meet your needs yourself, and work towards having your best life.”</span></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

The psychology behind why clowns creep us out

<p>Hollywood<span> </span><a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095444/?ref_=nv_sr_1">has</a><span> </span><a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1156398/?ref_=nv_sr_1">long</a><span> </span><a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2900624/?ref_=fn_al_tt_4">exploited</a><span> </span>our deep ambivalence about clowns, and this fall’s film lineup is no different.</p> <p>Stephen King’s evil clown,<span> </span><a href="https://ramirezmedia.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/wpid-clown-pennywise.jpg">Pennywise</a>, will make his second screen appearance in two years in “<a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7349950/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1">It Chapter Two</a>,” while Batman’s demented nemesis The Joker, played by Joaquin Phoenix, will appear as the antihero of his origin story, “<a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7286456/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1">Joker</a>.”</p> <p>How did a mainstay of children’s birthday parties start to become an embodiment of pure evil?</p> <p>In fact,<span> </span><a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7189401.stm">a 2008 study conducted in England</a><span> </span>revealed that very few children actually like clowns. It also concluded that the common practice of decorating children’s wards in hospitals with pictures of clowns may create the exact opposite of a nurturing environment. It’s no wonder<span> </span><a href="http://hotair.com/archives/2011/05/20/mcdonalds-ceo-to-food-police-the-clowns-going-nowhere/">so many people hate Ronald McDonald</a>.</p> <p>But as a psychologist, I’m not just interested in pointing out that clowns give us the creeps; I’m also interested in why we find them so disturbing. In 2016, I published a study entitled “<a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0732118X16300320">On the Nature of Creepiness</a>” with one of my students, Sara Koehnke, in the journal<span> </span><a href="http://www.journals.elsevier.com/new-ideas-in-psychology">New Ideas in Psychology</a>. While the study was not specifically looking at the creepiness of clowns, much of what we discovered can help explain this intriguing phenomenon.</p> <p><strong>The march of the clowns</strong></p> <p><a href="http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-history-and-psychology-of-clowns-being-scary-20394516/?no-ist">Clown-like characters</a><span> </span>have been around for thousands of years. Historically, jesters and clowns have been a vehicle for satire and for poking fun at powerful people. They provided a safety valve for letting off steam and they were granted unique freedom of expression – as long as their value as entertainers outweighed the discomfort they caused the higher-ups.</p> <p>Jesters and others persons of ridicule go back at least to ancient Egypt, and the English word “clown” first appeared sometime in the 1500s, when Shakespeare used the term to describe foolish characters in several of his plays. The now familiar circus clown – with its painted face, wig and oversized clothing – arose in the 19th century and has changed only slightly over the past 150 years.</p> <p>Nor is the trope of the evil clown anything new. In 2016, writer<span> </span><a href="http://benjaminradford.com/">Benjamin Radford</a><span> </span>published “<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Bad-Clowns-Benjamin-Radford/dp/0826356664">Bad Clowns</a>,” in which he traces the historical evolution of clowns into unpredictable, menacing creatures.</p> <p>The persona of the creepy clown really came into its own after serial killer<span> </span><a href="http://www.biography.com/people/john-wayne-gacy-10367544">John Wayne Gacy</a><span> </span>was captured. In the 1970s, Gacy appeared at children’s birthday parties as “Pogo the Clown” and also regularly painted pictures of clowns. When the authorities discovered that he had killed at least 33 people, burying most of them in the crawl space of his suburban Chicago home, the connection between clowns and dangerous psychopathic behavior became forever fixed in the collective unconscious of Americans.</p> <p>Then, for several months in 2016,<span> </span><a href="http://www.vocativ.com/356953/creepy-clown-sightings/">creepy clowns terrorized America</a>.</p> <p>Reports emerged from at least 10 different states. In Florida,<span> </span><a href="http://www.sun-sentinel.com/features/gone-viral/sfl-creepy-clowns-lurk-around-florida-as-part-of-dangerous-nationwide-trend-20160927-htmlstory.html">fiendish clowns were spotted lurking by the side of the road</a>. In South Carolina, clowns were reportedly trying to<span> </span><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/31/us/creepy-clown-sightings-in-south-carolina-cause-a-frenzy.html?_r=0">lure women and children into the woods</a>.</p> <p>It isn’t clear which of these incidents were tales of clowning around and which were truly menacing abduction attempts. Nonetheless, the perpetrators seem to be tapping into the primal dread that so many children – and more than a few adults – experience in the presence of clowns.</p> <p><strong>The nature of creepiness</strong></p> <p>Psychology can help explain why clowns – the supposed purveyors of jokes and pranks – often end up sending chills down our spines.</p> <p><a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0732118X16300320">My research</a><span> </span>was the first empirical study of creepiness, and I had a hunch that feeling creeped out might have something to do with ambiguity – about not really being sure how to react to a person or situation.</p> <p>We recruited 1,341 volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 77 to fill out an online survey. In the first section of the survey, our participants rated the likelihood that a hypothetical “creepy person” would exhibit 44 different behaviors, such as unusual patterns of eye contact or physical characteristics like visible tattoos. In the second section of the survey, participants rated the creepiness of 21 different occupations, and in the third section they simply listed two hobbies that they thought were creepy. In the final section, participants noted how much they agreed with 15 statements about the nature of creepy people.</p> <p><a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-ooze/201505/how-we-decide-whos-creepy">The results</a><span> </span>indicated that people we perceive as creepy are much more likely to be males than females, that unpredictability is an important component of creepiness and that unusual patterns of eye contact and other nonverbal behaviors set off our creepiness detectors big time.</p> <p>Unusual or strange physical characteristics such as bulging eyes, a peculiar smile or inordinately long fingers did not, in and of themselves, cause us to perceive someone as creepy. But the presence of weird physical traits can amplify any other creepy tendencies that the person might be exhibiting, such as persistently steering conversations toward peculiar sexual topics or failing to understand the policy about bringing reptiles into the office.</p> <p>When we asked people to rate the creepiness of different occupations, the one that rose to the top of the creep list was – you guessed it – clowns.</p> <p>The results were consistent with my theory that getting “creeped out” is a response to the ambiguity of threat and that it is only when we are confronted with uncertainty about threat that we get the chills.</p> <p>For example, it would be considered rude and strange to run away in the middle of a conversation with someone who is sending out a creepy vibe but is actually harmless; at the same time, it could be perilous to ignore your intuition and engage with that individual if he is, in fact, a threat. The ambivalence leaves you frozen in place, wallowing in discomfort.</p> <p>This reaction could be adaptive, something humans have evolved to feel, with being “creeped out” a way to maintain vigilance during a situation that could be dangerous.</p> <p><strong>Why clowns set off our creep alert</strong></p> <p>In light of our study’s results, it is not at all surprising that we find them to be creepy.</p> <p><a href="http://www.raminader.com/">Rami Nader</a><span> </span>is a Canadian psychologist who studies coulrophobia, the irrational fear of clowns. Nader believes that clown phobias are fueled by the fact that clowns wear makeup and disguises that hide their true identities and feelings.</p> <p>This is perfectly consistent with my hypothesis that it is the inherent ambiguity surrounding clowns that make them creepy. They seem to be happy, but are they really? And they’re mischievous, which puts people constantly on guard. People interacting with a clown during one of his routines never know if they are about to get a pie in the face or be the victim of some other humiliating prank. The highly unusual physical characteristics of the clown – the wig, the red nose, the makeup, the odd clothing – only magnify the uncertainty of what the clown might do next.</p> <p>There are certainly other types of people who creep us out; taxidermists and undertakers made a good showing on the creepy occupation spectrum. But they have their work cut out for them if they aspire to the level of creepiness that we automatically attribute to clowns.</p> <p>In other words, they have big shoes to fill.</p> <p><em>This is an updated version of an article originally published on Sep. 28, 2016</em>. <em>Written by Frank T. McAndrew. Republished with permission of <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-psychology-behind-why-clowns-creep-us-out-65936">The Conversation.</a></em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

One skill that doesn't deteriorate with age

<p>When Toni Morrison <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/aug/06/toni-morrison-author-and-pulitzer-winner-dies-aged-88">died on Aug. 5</a>, the world lost one of its most influential literary voices.</p> <p>But Morrison wasn’t a literary wunderkind. <em><a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11337.The_Bluest_Eye?ac=1&amp;from_search=true">The Bluest Eye</a></em>, Morrison’s first novel, wasn’t published until she was 39. And her last, <em>God Help the Child</em>, appeared when she was 84. Morrison published four novels, four children’s books, many essays and other works of nonfiction after the age of 70.</p> <p>Morrison isn’t unique in this regard. Numerous writers produce significant work well into their 70s, 80s and even their 90s. Herman Wouk, for example, was 97 when he published his final novel, <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14546758-the-lawgiver?ac=1&amp;from_search=true"><em>The Lawgiver</em></a>.</p> <p>Such literary feats underscore an important point: Age doesn’t seem to diminish our capacity to speak, write and learn new vocabulary. Our eyesight may dim and our recall may falter, but, by comparison, our ability to produce and to comprehend language is well preserved into older adulthood.</p> <p>In our forthcoming book, <em><a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/changing-minds-1">Changing Minds: How Aging Affects Language and How Language Affects Aging</a></em>, my co-author, Richard M. Roberts, and I highlight some of the latest research that has emerged on language and aging. For those who might fear the loss of their language abilities as they grow older, there’s plenty of good news to report.</p> <p><strong>Language mastery is a lifelong journey</strong></p> <p>Some aspects of our language abilities, such as our knowledge of word meanings, actually improve during middle and late adulthood.</p> <p><a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10862969509547878">One study</a>, for example, found that older adults living in a retirement community near Chicago had an average vocabulary size of over 21,000 words. The researchers also studied a sample of college students and found that their average vocabularies included only about 16,000 words.</p> <p><a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Gitit_Kave/publication/271333928_Doubly_Blessed_Older_Adults_Know_More_Vocabulary_and_Know_Better_What_They_Know/links/5665d0f308ae192bbf92726d/Doubly-Blessed-Older-Adults-Know-More-Vocabulary-and-Know-Better-What-They-Know.pdf">In another study</a>, older adult speakers of Hebrew – with an average age of 75 – performed better than younger and middle-aged participants on discerning the meaning of words.</p> <p>On the other hand, our language abilities sometimes function as a canary in the cognitive coal mine: They can be a sign of future mental impairment decades before such issues manifest themselves.</p> <p>In 1996, epidemiologist David Snowdon and a team of researchers <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Susan_Kemper/publication/14593027_Linguistic_Ability_in_Early_Life_and_Cognitive_Function_and_Alzheimer%27s_Disease_in_Late_Life_Findings_From_the_Nun_Study/links/0046351854821c5a35000000.pdf">studied</a> the writing samples of women who had become nuns. They found that the grammatical complexity of essays written by the nuns when they joined their religious order could predict which sisters would develop dementia several decades later. (Hundreds of nuns <a href="https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2010-aug-22-la-na-nuns-brains-20100822-story.html">have donated their brains to science</a>, and this allows for a conclusive diagnosis of dementia.)</p> <p>While Toni Morrison’s writing remained searingly clear and focused as she aged, other authors have not been as fortunate. The prose in Iris Murdoch’s final novel, “<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56089.Jackson_s_Dilemma">Jackson’s Dilemma</a>,” suggests some degree of cognitive impairment. Indeed, <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Iris-Murdoch#ref664797">she died from dementia-related causes</a> four years after its publication.</p> <p><strong>Don’t put down that book</strong></p> <p>Our ability to read and write can be preserved well into older adulthood. Making use of these abilities is important, because reading and writing seem to prevent cognitive decline.</p> <p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbw076">Keeping a journal</a>, for example, has been shown to substantially reduce the risk of developing various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.</p> <p>Reading fiction, meanwhile, has been associated with a longer lifespan. A <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.07.014">large-scale study</a> conducted by the Yale University School of Public Health found that people who read books for at least 30 minutes a day lived, on average, nearly two years longer than nonreaders. This effect persisted even after controlling for factors like gender, education and health. The researchers suggest that the imaginative work of constructing a fictional universe in our heads helps grease our cognitive wheels.</p> <p>Language is a constant companion during our life journey, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s interwoven into our health and our longevity. And researchers continue to make discoveries about the connections between language and aging. For example, <a href="http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=0&amp;sid=c96fe951-c06d-48e4-bf96-eb00c2f8f70e%40sdc-v-sessmgr01">a study published in July 2019</a> found that studying a foreign language in older adulthood improves overall cognitive functioning.</p> <p>A thread seems to run through most of the findings: In order to age well, it helps to keep writing, reading and talking.</p> <p>While few of us possess the gifts of a Toni Morrison, all of us stand to gain by continuing to flex our literary muscles.</p> <p><em>Written by Roger J. Kreuz and Richard M. Roberts. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/one-skill-that-doesnt-deteriorate-with-age-122613" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Mother and daughter team are close to discovering a vaccine for Alzheimer's

<p>A mother and daughter have worked together to start a biotech company that has developed what could be the world’s first Alzheimer’s vaccine.</p> <p>Dr. Chang Yi Wang, Ph.D. is a prolific bio-inventor who teamed up with her daughter Mei Mei Hu and son-in-law Louis Reese to create United Neuroscience four years ago.</p> <p>Mei Mei urged her mother to focus all of her efforts on working on an Alzheimer’s vaccine through the company.</p> <p>In January, 2019, United Neuroscience Inc announced the first promising results from a pilot clinical trial on an Alzheimer’s vaccine called UB-311 in 42 human patients.</p> <p>“We were able to generate some antibodies in all patients, which is unusual for vaccines,” Yi tells <em><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.wired.co.uk/article/alzheimers-vaccine-united-neuroscience" target="_blank">Wired</a></em>. </p> <p>“We’re talking about almost a 100 percent response rate. So far, we have seen an improvement in three out of three measurements of cognitive performance for patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease.”</p> <div class="embed-responsive embed-responsive-16by9"><iframe class="embed-responsive-item" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5Kx17SfoBQ8"></iframe></div> <p>The vaccine contains synthetic versions of amino acid chains that trigger the antibodies to attack Alzheimer’s protein in the blood.</p> <p>What makes this vaccine different is that it attacks the protein without any side effects.</p> <p>According to Yi’s research team, the vaccine can delay the onset of the disease by five years.</p> <p>“You’d want to see larger numbers, but this looks like a beneficial treatment,” Aston University Research Centre for Healthy Ageing director James Brown was quoted as saying, according to<span> </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://nextshark.com/alzheimers-vaccine-mother-daughter/" target="_blank">NextShark</a></em>. </p> <p>“This looks like a silver bullet that can arrest or improve symptoms and, if it passes the next phase, it could be the best chance we’ve got.”</p> <p><em>Photo credit:<span> </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.wired.co.uk/article/alzheimers-vaccine-united-neuroscience" target="_blank">Wired, Benedict Evans</a><span> </span></em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Why having thoughts that aren't yours doesn't make you delusional

<p>Any thought that occurs within our minds is undoubtedly our own thought – and when we say, “I think”, there will be absolutely <a href="http://www.jstor.org/stable/2024121">no mistake about the “I”</a> to which we refer. In fact, only very few of us would even question whether we are thinking our own thoughts, and those who do are most likely pursuing a philosophical enquiry rather than physically questioning the nature of one’s thinking. Isn’t “I think, therefore I am” the most basic of all prerequisites for one’s existence?</p> <p>For a small minority, however, being able to think one’s own thoughts is not always a given condition or even applicable to this “I”. Some report having thoughts being put into their heads by another person, or simply “receiving” external thoughts originating from an outside source – an experience which, unsurprisingly perhaps, can be extremely frightening.</p> <p>How is something like this even remotely possible? The answer is, it isn’t. At least not with our current understanding of the laws of physics. As a result, this experience of severe interference is <a href="http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/182/4/293.short">termed “thought insertion”</a>, and is defined as one of the key delusions – <a href="http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=490920">a “first-rank symptom”</a> – indicative of a schizophrenic illness. Compared with some delusions that might just carry a hint of reality (such as believing neighbours are spreading rumours about you), thought insertion seems to be the most bizarre of them all.</p> <p><strong>Delusions as beliefs</strong></p> <p>Current psychiatric diagnostic systems view delusions as beliefs. For a certain idea to be delusional, someone must first believe in this idea, often with absolute conviction, even when faced with evidence to the contrary. In my view, however, thought insertions don’t always fit in with this definition, and <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/cns/2/3/291/">so don’t qualify as delusions</a>.</p> <p>If one investigates the actual subjective experience of thought insertion – beyond what is written in clinical files and medical textbooks –- the richness and even reality of the experience begins to emerge. Orthodox definitions of delusion are being <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01612840.2016.1180725?journalCode=imhn20#.V1xyXaK1ivc">increasingly challenged</a> by <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17522439.2015.1100670#.V3AefZMrLBJ">philosophically-minded researchers</a>; psychotic or not, individuals experiencing external thoughts often find it extremely difficult to put into words “what it is like” to have such thoughts. Some of them report these thoughts as sensory, even auditory (but still claim they are thoughts and not voices); others can quite literally feel the “point of entry” to a certain locality inside their minds.</p> <p>In fact, the boundary between <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17522439.2016.1162839#.V1xyKaK1ivchttp://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17522439.2016.1162839">thinking and perception is so blurred</a> that one person used the term <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/szb/26/1/243/">“thought-voices” to describe her experiences</a>.</p> <p>Then what is thought insertion, if it is not always a delusion? I argue that <a href="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13164-015-0232-9">thought insertion is a duplex phenomenon</a> which may or may not be a delusion.</p> <p>The delusion may be created by having thoughts in which someone has lost their sense of agency (the feeling that a given thought is generated by one’s self), and ownership, (the endorsement that this thought belongs to one’s self). But <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810007000268">agency and ownership are not all or nothing concepts</a>, neither do they always come hand-in-hand – you can, for example, feel like you generated a thought but that it isn’t yours, so though you have agency, there is no ownership.</p> <p>Depending on how much of one’s sense of agency and ownership is lost or damaged in relation to a given thought, it may feel unfamiliar or even alien. But it is only when an external attribution to another agent occurs, for example, “this thought is given to me by Chris”, can we call it a delusion.</p> <p>In other words, simply having a foreign thought is not a delusion in itself, even though it may very often lead to a delusional explanation.</p> <p>The experience of thought insertion can be sensory, perceptual or physical. So, to me, it is more appropriate to say “delusions in thought insertion” rather than “delusions of thought insertion”, and I am not just playing a game of lexicon. It is crucial to differentiate the processes that produce these acts of thinking and the thoughts that ensue, no matter how much such notions challenge our common sense.</p> <p>Some of us may argue there is nothing about a delusion that is worth listening to, let alone explain, because the implausibility and apparent meaninglessness is beyond what a “rational” person could ever understand. But by acknowledging the complexity and mystery of thought insertion, clinicians might just be a little more understanding towards their patients’ subjective experiences. By removing the assumption that all thought interference is delusional by nature, we close the gap between “us normal people” and “those mad people”.</p> <p>Even in cases where delusions are present, they still carry <a href="http://schizophreniabulletin.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/04/19/schbul.sbr075.short">important meanings about the individual</a>. Before we make assumptions and call someone delusional, perhaps we should question our own “reality” as well.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/60864/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Clara Humpston, PhD Researcher, Cardiff University</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/why-having-thoughts-that-arent-yours-doesnt-make-you-delusional-60864" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

Mind