Mind

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The personalities that thrive in isolation

<p>The coronavirus pandemic has caused tens of thousands of deaths around the world and pushed major economies into a tailspin. Beyond those impacts, almost all of us will face psychological challenges – trying to maintain a responsible social distancing regimen without sliding into psychological <a href="https://theconversation.com/social-distancing-can-make-you-lonely-heres-how-to-stay-connected-when-youre-in-lockdown-133693">isolation and loneliness</a>.</p> <p>At least we’re all in the same boat, and misery loves company, right?</p> <p>Actually, we’re not all in the same boat. Generalisations about how the COVID-19 lockdown will affect us overlook the fact people have different personalities. We’re all going to respond in different ways to our changing situation.</p> <p><strong>Extraverts and introverts</strong></p> <p>Take Bob, for example. After two days working from home Bob couldn’t wait to try a social drinking session over Zoom. But drinking a beer in front of his laptop just wasn’t the same. He’s wondering how he’ll cope in the coming weeks and months, cooped up inside and away from his friends.</p> <p>He wonders this on a call to his sister, Jan: “I might not get coronavirus but I’m going to get <a href="https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-self-isolation-a-psychologist-explains-how-to-avoid-cabin-fever-133317">cabin fever</a>!”</p> <p>Jan doesn’t understand Bob’s agitation or why he’s so worried about staying at home. If Jan is feeling bad about anything, it is the guilt of realising she might actually be enjoying the apocalypse – quiet evenings to herself, far from the madding crowd. Bliss!</p> <p>Jan and Bob are archetypes of people we all know well. Bob represents the classic extravert. He’s talkative, gregarious and highly social. Jan is an introvert. She enjoys solitude and finds rowdy Bob a bit too much.</p> <p><strong>Different people, different responses</strong></p> <p>Differences in extraversion-introversion <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-63285-007">emerge in early life and are relatively stable over the lifespan</a>. They influence which environments we seek out and how we respond to those environments.</p> <p>In a <a href="https://theconversation.com/happiness-hinges-on-personality-so-initiatives-to-improve-well-being-need-to-be-tailor-made-102341">recent study</a>, extraverts and introverts were asked to spend a week engaging in higher levels of extravert-typical behaviour (being talkative, sociable, etc). Extraverts reaped several benefits including enhanced mood and feelings of authenticity. Conversely, introverts experienced no benefits, and reported feeling tired and irritable.</p> <p>The social distancing rules to which we’re all trying to adhere are like a mirror image of this intervention. Now it’s the extraverts who are acting out of character, and who will likely experience decreased well-being in the coming weeks and months. Introverts, on the other hand, have been training for this moment their whole lives.</p> <p>Why might introverts find isolation easier to deal with than extraverts? Most obviously, they tend to be <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/239522412_Person_and_Thing_Orientations_Psychological_Correlates_and_Predictive_Utility">less motivated to seek out social engagment</a>. Introverts also tend to feel <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236156661_What_you_wish_is_what_you_get_The_meaning_of_individual_variability_in_desired_affect_and_affective_discrepancy">less need to experience pleasure and excitement</a>. This may make them less prone to the boredom that will afflict many of us as social distancing drags on.</p> <p><strong>Looking deeper</strong></p> <p>Other aspects of our personalities may also shape our coping during isolation. Consider the remaining four traits in the <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/basics/big-5-personality-traits">Big Five personality model</a>:</p> <p>People high in <em>conscientiousness</em>, who are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4492903/">more organised, less distractable and also more adaptable</a>, will find it easier to set up and stick to a structured daily schedule, as many experts recommend.</p> <p>People high in <em>agreeableness</em>, who tend to be <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-science-of-being-nice-how-politeness-is-different-from-compassion-81819">polite, compassionate and cooperative</a>, will be better equipped to negotiate life in the pockets of family members or housemates.</p> <p>People high in <em>openness to experience</em>, who tend to be <a href="https://theconversation.com/people-with-creative-personalities-really-do-see-the-world-differently-77083">curious and imaginative</a>, will likely become absorbed in books, music and creative solutions to the humdrum of lockdown.</p> <p>In contrast, people high in <em>neuroticism</em>, who are more <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2792076/">susceptible to stress and negative emotions</a> than their more stable peers, will be most at risk for anxiety and depression during these challenging times.</p> <p>Of course, these are all generalisations. Introverts are not immune to loneliness, and those with more vulnerable personalities can thrive with the right resources and social support.</p> <p><strong>Life in a capsule</strong></p> <p>For some, living under lockdown might feel like working on a space station or Antarctic research facility. What lessons can we draw from personality research in these extreme environments?</p> <p><a href="https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.psych.51.1.227">That research shows</a> people who are emotionally stable, self-reliant and autonomous, goal-oriented, friendly, patient and open tend to cope better in conditions of extreme isolation. In particular, it has been observed that “‘sociable [read agreeable] introverts’ – who enjoy, but do not need, social interaction – seem optimally suited for capsule living”.</p> <p>To manage as best we can in our earthbound and non-polar “capsules”, we might aspire to some of the qualities noted above: to be calm and organised, determined but patient, self-reliant but connected.</p> <p><strong>Loneliness versus time alone</strong></p> <p>The coronavirus pandemic has arrived on the heels of what some describe as a “loneliness epidemic”, but these headlines <a href="https://ourworldindata.org/loneliness-epidemic">may be overblown</a>. Again, part of what is missing in such descriptions is the fact that clouds for some are silver linings for others.</p> <p>A counterpoint to the so-called loneliness epidemic is the study of “<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886919303101">aloneliness</a>”, the negative emotions many experience as a result of insufficient time spent alone. As Anthony Storr wrote in <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2005-11953-000">Solitude: A return to the self</a>, “solitude can be as therapeutic as emotional support”, and the capacity to be alone is as much a form of emotional maturity as the capacity to form close attachments.</p> <p>Of course, some people in lockdown are facing formidable challenges that have nothing to do with their personality. Many have lost their jobs and face economic hardship. Some are completely isolated whereas others share their homes with loved ones. Even so, our response to these challenges reflects not only our predicament, but also ourselves.<!-- 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/135307/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: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/luke-smillie-7502">Luke Smillie</a>, Associate Professor, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-melbourne-722">University of Melbourne</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/nick-haslam-10182">Nick Haslam</a>, Professor of Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-melbourne-722">University of Melbourne</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/personalities-that-thrive-in-isolation-and-what-we-can-all-learn-from-time-alone-135307">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Coronavirus: 6 ways of turning anxiety into positive mental health habits

<p>Given the constant stream of negative news about the novel coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to feel anxious and uncertain. Anxiety is also an understandable reaction, since coronavirus has made many of us change our daily routines, and threatens our sense of safety. It can be difficult to let go of these thoughts and feelings. But, we can also try to use anxiety to develop habits that can protect our mental health.</p> <p>Our brain has a capacity to change and “rewire” in response to our experiences. We call this capacity “<a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/jnc.13580">neural plasticity</a>”. If we have recurrent, anxious thoughts, we are establishing <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/psychological-medicine/article/neural-correlates-of-worry-in-generalized-anxiety-disorder-and-in-normal-controls-a-functional-mri-study/8C8E522025624086184A40E73025031B">neural connections</a> that make thinking anxious thoughts easier for us the next time we do so.</p> <p>But we can also use anxious thoughts as triggers for engaging in activities and thoughts that help manage and reduce anxiety. In this way, we can transform anxiety into one of the first building blocks of habits that can support our wellbeing when we face challenging circumstances. So the next time you notice anxious thoughts racing through your mind, or feel your shoulders tensing up from worry, try one of these activities to manage your anxiety – and change it into positive mental health habits in the future.</p> <p><strong>1. Practice self-care</strong></p> <p>When you feel anxious or overwhelmed, the simplest thing you can do is to just take three slow, deep breaths to calm down. Count slowly to four as you breathe in and then count slowly to five as you breathe out.</p> <p>This simple exercise helps increase activation in the <a href="https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/FullText/2018/07000/Vagal_Mediation_of_Low_Frequency_Heart_Rate.11.aspx?casa_token=LORNIYI2cuwAAAAA:I5NNopYBLDdUCwLGe9pkdzGiewWwWY24vE-oobRAousDalvb5_4RHmntts8r6y_i-j5ReyVt8YTSvMbRZXtMO-dhKu4">parasympathetic nervous system</a>, which is associated with resting and digesting. It also reduces activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our fight or flight response – and is <a href="https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/jn.00220.2018">linked to anxiety</a>.</p> <p>When possible, listening to your favourite <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/srep23008">upbeat song</a> or a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005796718301190">brief physical exercise</a> at home can help improve your mental health and reduce anxiety.</p> <p><strong>2. Do something relaxing</strong></p> <p>After waking up and just before your go to sleep, try to do things that are <a href="https://www.cntw.nhs.uk/resource-library/relaxation-techniques/">relaxing and uplifting</a>. What you do early in the morning <a href="https://journals.aom.org/doi/abs/10.5465/amj.2007.005">sets the mood for the day</a>. If you notice having anxious thoughts soon after waking, try to think about something positive if you can. Or, do a few mindful stretches and focus on the sensations in your body.</p> <p>In the evening, try to avoid reading news or comments on social media about the virus spread extensively. Negative emotions experienced in the evening <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/2008-05281-014">impact sleep quality</a>. Listening to a calming podcast, practising meditation or <a href="https://www.guysandstthomas.nhs.uk/resources/patient-information/cardiovascular/jacobsons-progressive-relaxation-technique.pdf">relaxation techniques</a> might help calm anxiety before bed.</p> <p><strong>3. Notice the small things</strong></p> <p>Reading the latest news about COVID-19 and planning all the changes to your work, childcare, or travel plans can lead to a nearly constant stream of stressful or anxious thoughts. When you notice the worry building up, try to look or listen to the things around you.</p> <p>Notice flowers in your garden, clouds in the sky, or the sound of a bird outside and take a couple of minutes just to see or listen. This simple mindfulness practice not only gives your busy mind a bit of a break, but it also may reduce activity in the midline structures of the prefrontal cortex of the brain <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/070674371205700203">involved in anxious rumination</a>. As a result you may find that you start feeling less anxious.</p> <p><strong>4. Do something to help</strong></p> <p>Some people might react to anxiety <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/da.20469?casa_token=GGwroC8ba1oAAAAA%3Aux2UKqbNSCtg4UKzvpq125v5sTvUxLCi0q6L109qmDHCkxZ_ct2zAvfIqSELRE3O94oedCuCmoCWMw">with hoarding behaviours</a>. This is perhaps reflected in the panic-buying and stockpiling of groceries in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Others respond to anxiety <a href="https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_keep_the_greater_good_in_mind_during_the_coronavirus_outbreak">with compassion</a>, through prosocial behaviours such as helping or sharing. Prosocial behaviour can <a href="https://www.nber.org/papers/w23761">protect our wellbeing</a>.</p> <p>When feeling anxious, think about doing something positive. Maybe this is just dropping an email to your colleague or friend and asking how they’re doing. Or perhaps you can call older relatives so that they have somebody to talk to for 10 minutes. There are <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-51995089">many other ways to help</a> – the main one being staying at home so that you (and others) don’t catch or spread the virus.</p> <p><strong>5. Put things into perspective</strong></p> <p>Our mind has a built-in <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17470919.2019.1696225?casa_token=cQAw1ssQZSIAAAAA%3AW_cb4fGU47ZuMLazET3jTd0PDJD_77EgFh4PiI5Fp6cKV3NpQZKHlyuKg7YuKbNJyJI5RKHszjg">negativity bias</a> making us think of and remember negative events better than positive ones. From an evolutionary perspective, this was important so that we would remember not to eat certain foods that made us ill a second time, for example. But this also means that we notice and remember <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/116/38/18888.short">negative news</a> over positive events.</p> <p>Knowing this, when you feel anxious try to make a conscious effort to overcome the negativity bias. This might mean changing your perspective, and trying to remind yourself of the <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-51963446">many positive things</a> that have happened because of coronavirus – such as examples of kindness, or reductions in pollution. Research shows that increased hope <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005789419300681">strongly predicts decreases in anxiety</a>.</p> <p><strong>6. Meditate or pray</strong></p> <p>Over 80% of adults in the USA identify as <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/06/more-americans-now-say-theyre-spiritual-but-not-religious/">spiritual or religious</a>. Spirituality and religiousness have been <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01525/full">associated with better wellbeing</a>, particularly because they give us a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Having a sense of purpose and meaning can also <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2013-22421-001">protect us against anxiety</a>.</p> <p>You can use your feelings of anxiety as a reminder to <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-common-misconceptions-about-meditation-90786">meditate</a> or say a short prayer. Even brief regular meditations may <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005789411001055">reduce anxiety levels</a>.</p> <p>Of course, different activities might work better for different people. To get started, the next time you feel anxious make a list of a couple of activities that you know will help calm you down. Then try to do these things the next time you feel anxious to eventually turn your negative thoughts and feelings into habits that support your mental health.</p> <p>In this way you will be creating new connections in the brain that will associate anxiety with something positive instead of an endless spiral of negative thoughts and feelings. With practice, you may find that anxiety you may have in response to the negative headlines <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/psychological-medicine/article/neural-plasticity-in-response-to-attention-training-in-anxiety/C5AE57DD17582694DB1A375E21F797BC">becomes less threatening</a> and easier to let go of.<!-- 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/134292/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: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dusana-dorjee-410499">Dusana Dorjee</a>, Lecturer, Psychology in Education Research Centre, Department of Education, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-york-1344">University of York</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-six-ways-of-turning-anxiety-into-positive-mental-health-habits-134292">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Coronavirus jargon buster

<p>Unless you have been on a remote island with no access to the internet (if so, you should have stayed there!), several new words will have been added to your vocabulary in the past few months. Terms such as case fatality rate, antibody, and PPE are no longer just used by scientists. Consider this your coronavirus jargon-buster.</p> <p><strong>ACE2:</strong> A protein on the cells in your airways that coronavirus attaches to.</p> <p><strong>Antibody:</strong> Large Y-shaped proteins that stick to the surface of bacteria and viruses.</p> <p><strong>Antigen:</strong> A foreign substance that induces an immune response in the body – especially the production of antibodies.</p> <p><strong>Case fatality rate:</strong> The percentage of confirmed cases that resulted in death is the case fatality rate, or CFR. The World Health Organization estimates the CFR for COVID-19 to be <a href="https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---3-march-2020">about 3.4%</a>. But this number is likely to come down as more tests are performed and we identify more of the large number of cases with no symptoms. In South Korea, where lots of testing was performed, the CFR is <a href="https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/global-covid-19-case-fatality-rates/">about 1.5%</a>.</p> <p><strong>COVID-19:</strong> The disease, not the virus that causes the disease. That’s SARS-CoV-2 (see below).</p> <p><strong>Endemic:</strong> Not to be confused with “epidemic”. A disease that is regularly found among a particular group or in a particular region, such as malaria.</p> <p><strong>Epidemic:</strong> The widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a population at a particular time. So COVID-19 is a pandemic (because of its global spread), but it is also an epidemic in the UK, for example.</p> <p><strong>Flattening the curve:</strong> Hospitals can only cope with so many patients. Flattening the curve is an attempt to reduce how many cases of COVID-19 occur at the same time so that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed.</p> <p><strong>Herd immunity:</strong> When a large number of people in a population are immune to a disease, either through vaccination of through having the disease naturally, it is difficult for that disease to spread. For highly infectious disease, such as measles, if 95% of the population is vaccinated, the number of cases of the disease will be dramatically reduced and can even be wiped out. For COVID-19, which is less infectious than measles, herd immunity would work if <a href="https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-can-herd-immunity-really-protect-us-133583">around 60%-70%</a> of the population was vaccinated.</p> <p><strong>Incubation period:</strong> This is the length of time between being infected and showing symptoms. Most people show symptoms within five days of being infected within SARS-CoV-2, but it <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32150748">can take up to two weeks</a>.</p> <p><strong>N95 mask:</strong> These are also called respirator masks. All the air being breathed in passes through a filter which reduces the chances of someone be infected. These masks only work if they fit properly. They do not work if you have any facial hair, so you’re unlikely to see many bearded doctors.</p> <p><strong>Pandemic:</strong> When many people in several countries on several continents have a disease. COVID-19 is considered a pandemic with <a href="https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries">over 203 countries and territories</a> reporting confirmed cases.</p> <p><strong>Patient zero:</strong> Not a medical term and one that is <a href="https://theconversation.com/patient-zero-why-its-such-a-toxic-term-134721">stigmatising</a>. Best avoided. In medicine, we usually refer to an “index case”, but that’s something different. It refers to the first known case of a disease.</p> <p><strong>PCR test:</strong> This is the test used to find out if you have a COVID-19 infection (contrast with serological test). It’s a genetic test. A swab is taken from the mucous membrane lining your nose and throat. Any RNA (the genetic instructions contained within the virus) samples are turned into DNA using an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. The DNA is then amplified in a process called polymerase chain reaction – hence PCR. This test can take hours to get a result, but several companies are trying to develop rapid molecular testing methods.</p> <p><strong>Pre-print:</strong> A research paper that is yet to be peer-reviewed. There are published in “pre-print servers”, such as <a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/">BioRxiv</a> and <a href="https://www.medrxiv.org/">MedRxiv</a>, and are free for anyone to access. Usually, research that hasn’t been reviewed by other experts in the field is frowned upon, but in a rapidly growing and evolving crisis, such as the current one, they serve a very useful purpose.</p> <p><strong>PPE:</strong> No, not mis-sold insurance. This is personal protective equipment. Stuff front-line healthcare staff need to keep them safe. Things like masks, disposable gloves and goggles. The level of protection that PPE needs to provide is different depending on how risky the activity being performed is.</p> <p><strong>Reagent:</strong> A reagent is any chemical needed to conduct an experiment. Like an ingredient in a recipe. There has been a <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-52118781">lot of talk</a> about reagents in the press lately as it is one of the “ingredients” needed to make the COVID-19 tests.</p> <p><strong>R0 (pronounced R nought):</strong> The average number of people a sick person will infect. And the word “average” here is key because, depending on how many people are being tested and how many cases are identified, the R0 will change. The R0 of SARS-CoV-2 is between two and three, meaning that each infected person will infect <a href="https://www.ijidonline.com/article/S1201-9712(20)30123-5/fulltext">two or three other people</a>. This is why it can spread so quickly.</p> <p><strong>SARS-CoV-2:</strong> The virus that causes COVID-19. Initially named 2019-nCoV by the World Health Organization (which <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/02/bit-chaotic-christening-new-coronavirus-and-its-disease-name-create-confusion">caused a lot of confusion</a>), but later given its official moniker by the people actually in charge of naming viruses: the Coronavirus Study Group (CSG) of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (yeah, we don’t go for snappy names in biology).</p> <p><strong>Serology test:</strong> Blood tests that look for the presence of antibodies that indicate if someone has already been exposed to a disease. These tests will not work early in an infection, it takes some time for our bodies to start producing the antibodies against the virus.</p> <p><strong>Super spreader:</strong> A pejorative term for someone who infects lots of people with the disease they have. It sounds like a medical term, but it’s not. It’s also stigmatising and shouldn’t be used – by anyone.<!-- 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/134845/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><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: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></em></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lindsay-broadbent-1009352">Lindsay Broadbent</a>, Research Fellow, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/queens-university-belfast-687">Queen's University Belfast</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-jargon-buster-134845">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why your brain evolved to hoard supplies and shame others for doing the same

<p>The media is replete with COVID-19 stories about people clearing supermarket shelves – and the backlash against them. Have people gone mad? How can one individual be overfilling his own cart, while shaming others who are doing the same?</p> <p><a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=TFX9eJ0AAAAJ&amp;hl=en&amp;oi=ao">As a behavioral neuroscientist</a> who has studied hoarding behavior for 25 years, I can tell you that this is all normal and expected. People are acting the way evolution has wired them.</p> <p><strong>Stockpiling provisions</strong></p> <p>The word “hoarding” might bring to mind relatives or neighbors whose houses are overfilled with junk. A small percentage of people do suffer from what psychologists call “<a href="https://hoarding.iocdf.org">hoarding disorder</a>,” keeping excessive goods to the point of distress and impairment.</p> <p>But hoarding is actually a <a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/interdisciplinary-science-consumption">totally normal and adaptive behavior</a> that kicks in any time there is an uneven supply of resources. Everyone hoards, even during the best of times, without even thinking about it. People like to have beans in the pantry, money in savings and chocolates hidden from the children. These are all hoards.</p> <p>Most Americans have had so much, for so long. People forget that, not so long ago, survival often depended on working tirelessly all year to <a href="https://dustyoldthing.com/forgotten-root-cellars/">fill root cellars</a> so a family could last through a long, cold winter – and still many died.</p> <p>Similarly, <a href="https://emammal.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/gray-squirrels-and-scatter-hoarding/">squirrels work all fall to hide nuts</a> to eat for the rest of the year. Kangaroo rats in the desert <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0003-3472(05)81018-8">hide seeds the few times it rains</a> and then remember where they put them to dig them back up later. A Clark’s nutcracker <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/phenomena/2015/12/03/how-a-5-ounce-bird-stores-10000-maps-in-its-head/">can hoard over 10,000 pine seeds</a> per fall – and even remember where it put them.</p> <p>Similarities between human behavior and these animals’ are not just analogies. They reflect a deeply ingrained capacity for brains to motivate us to acquire and save resources that may not always be there. Suffering from hoarding disorder, stockpiling in a pandemic or hiding nuts in the fall – all of these behaviors are motivated less by logic and more by a <a href="https://www.livescience.com/32773-what-causes-hoarding.html">deeply felt drive to feel safer</a>.</p> <p>My colleagues and I have found that stress seems to signal the brain to switch into “get hoarding” mode. For example, a kangaroo rat will act very lazy if fed regularly. But <a href="https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2009.0225">if its weight starts to drop</a>, its brain signals to release stress hormones that incite the fastidious hiding of seeds all over the cage.</p> <p>Kangaroo rats will also <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/0735-7036.119.2.187">increase their hoarding if a neighboring animal steals</a> from them. Once, I returned to the lab to find the victim of theft with all his remaining food stuffed into his cheek pouches — the only safe place.</p> <p>People do the same. If in our lab studies my colleagues and I make them feel anxious, our study subjects <a href="https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/under-pressure-stress-and-decision-making/comment-page-1">want to take more stuff home</a> with them afterward.</p> <p>Demonstrating this shared inheritance, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2012.01.033">the same brain areas are active</a> when people decide to take home toilet paper, bottled water or granola bars, as when rats store lab chow under their bedding – the orbitofrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens, regions that generally help organize goals and motivations to satisfy needs and desires.</p> <p><a href="https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-oxford-handbook-of-hoarding-and-acquiring-9780199937783">Damage to this system can even induce abnormal hoarding</a>. One man who suffered frontal lobe damage had a sudden urge to hoard bullets. Another could not stop “borrowing” others’ cars. Brains across species use these ancient neural systems to ensure access to needed items – or ones that feel necessary.</p> <p>So, when the news induces a panic that stores are running out of food, or that residents will be trapped in place for weeks, the brain is programmed to stock up. It makes you <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hope-relationships/201409/the-psychology-behind-hoarding">feel safer, less stressed</a>, and actually protects you in an emergency.</p> <p><strong>More than a fair share</strong></p> <p>At the same time they’re organizing their own stockpiles, people get upset about those who are taking too much. That is a legitimate concern; it’s a version of the “<a href="https://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/TragedyoftheCommons.html">tragedy of the commons</a>,” wherein a public resource might be sustainable, but people’s tendency to take a little extra for themselves degrades the resource to the point where it can no longer help anyone.</p> <p>By shaming others on social media, for instance, people exert what little influence they have to ensure cooperation with the group. As a social species, human beings thrive when they work together, and have <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100501013529.htm">employed shaming – even punishment – for millennia</a> to ensure that everyone acts in the best interest of the group.</p> <p>And it works. Twitter users went after a guy reported to have hoarded 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer in the hopes of turning a profit; he ended up donating all of it and is under <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/15/technology/matt-colvin-hand-sanitizer-donation.html">investigation for price gouging</a>. Who wouldn’t pause before grabbing those last few rolls of TP when the mob is watching?</p> <p>People will continue to hoard to the extent that they are worried. They will also continue to shame others who take more than what they consider a fair share. Both are normal and adaptive behaviors that evolved to balance one another out, in the long run.</p> <p>But that’s cold comfort for someone on the losing end of a temporary imbalance – like a health care worker who did not have protective gear when they encountered a sick patient. The survival of the group hardly matters to the person who dies, or to their parent, child or friend.</p> <p>One thing to remember is that the news selectively depicts stockpiling stories, presenting audiences with the most shocking cases. Most people are not <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/03/03/coronavirus-hand-sanitizer-face-masks-price-gouging-amazon-walmart-ebay/4933920002/">charging $400 for a mask</a>. Most are just trying to protect themselves and their families, the best way they know how, while also <a href="https://www.mother.ly/news/uplifting-stories-of-people-helping-each-other-during-coronavirus">offering aid wherever they can</a>. That’s <a href="https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/how-does-social-behavior-evolve-13260245/">how the human species evolved</a>, to get through challenges like this together.<!-- 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: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/stephanie-preston-1006858"><em>Stephanie Preston</em></a><em>, Professor of Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-michigan-1290">University of Michigan</a></em></span></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/your-brain-evolved-to-hoard-supplies-and-shame-others-for-doing-the-same-134634">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Coronavirus: How to deal with a looming lack of life plans

<p>Coronavirus has brought about an unprecedented global shutdown. China imposed lockdowns in cities in Wuhan and other cities in the province of Hubei from late January, many of which are starting to relax. Much of Europe is under what largely amounts to house arrest. The UK government, meanwhile, recommends stringent social distancing for the most vulnerable for a minimum of 12 weeks. Schools, universities, bars, restaurants, gyms and non-essential shops are closed, with no timetable for reopening.</p> <p>We can only imagine what the repercussions of this will be. Many of us are gripped by the fear of not knowing what the next days, weeks and months will bring. For the first time, perhaps ever, we are not able to plan ahead. We are all been asked to put live on hold. How are we to do this?</p> <p>To state the obvious: we must let go of our plans: exams, work trips, holidays – even supper with family who live elsewhere. But this is a very hard thing to do. The practice of planning and setting goals is hardwired in most of us – they are ubiquitous practices of modern life. The first “planner” was published in Philadelphia by an American company <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lefax">Lefax</a> in 1910, and the British <a href="http://www.philofaxy.com/files/filofax-chronology.pdf">Filofax</a> launched in 1921. For many, the paper planner has now been replaced by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243918795041">virtual organisational tools</a>. Planning is how we make sense of time.</p> <p>The tools of life planning might be fairly recent, but debates about how to organise time and the moral justification for this has dominated philosophical thinking for more than 2,000 years. These revolve around the principle of teleology: the explanation of a phenomenon according to the purposes that it serves. Put simply, that ends justify means.</p> <p>The ethics of teleology was first developed by the <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/">Ancient Greeks</a>, entered the English language in the <a href="https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=14125">18th century</a>, were debated by <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-aesthetics/">Kant</a> and then rejected by <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bjps/article-abstract/19/3/211/1418384">empirical philosophers</a> in the 20th century. There is still no philosophical consensus about the merits of ends and means.</p> <p>Philosophers have taken two millennia to debate the merits of teleology. So distilling these philosophical musings into the timeframe of a lockdown is a very difficult thing to do. But, at this unique time in history, these debates have never been more relevant. Coronavirus has obliterated deep-rooted expectations that we can work towards our goals and plan accordingly.</p> <p>Does this mean we have to reject teleology completely? If so, what can we replace it with? Insights from philosophy and psychology can help navigate this new normal.</p> <p><strong>Means and ends</strong></p> <p>The American pragmatic philosopher <a href="http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41386">John Dewey</a> argues that ends and means are actually the same things, and that it makes sense to concentrate on means as these are closest to us. According to Dewey, we should focus on the next action “as the most important end to discover”. Giving up heavy drinking, for example, requires discovering a course of action that has nothing to do with the habit of drinking. In order to reach an end we need to forget about it and fix our attention on the next act to perform.</p> <p>From a slightly different perspective, the Hungarian-American positive psychologist <a href="https://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi/">Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi</a> advises that happiness requires having realisable goals and getting feedback on them. In the absence of long-term planning, feedback can only be realised for goals that are achievable in a condensed time period. Faced with the temporal crisis of a lockdown, this can be aligned with Dewey’s writings about means and ends. In doing so, we can embrace a non-teleological perspective that does not give up on intention. We still need purpose, but this should be directed towards actions that are closest to us.</p> <p>One way to illustrate what a non-teleological practice might entail can be found in <a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/ways-hand">David Sudnow</a>’s insightful description of learning to play improvised jazz piano. By its very definition, jazz piano is not defined by a specific goal: there is no musical score to follow. Sudnow defines jazz as “particular ways of moving from place to place”. To master jazz piano requires intuitive understanding of the fundamental facts of song structure. Sudnow did not master jazz piano through learning to improvise (the end) but through the embodied skills of playing chords and scales (the means).</p> <p><strong>Time in lockdown</strong></p> <p>These reflections and observations might help us deal with the need to rapidly reorientate everyday life.</p> <ol> <li> <p>Keep intentions to do things, particularly those that may seem suddenly unnecessary or trivial. Seasoned <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2020/03/14/9-tips-to-be-productive-when-working-at-home-during-covid-19/">home-workers</a> are familiar with the importance of morning routines and getting ready for work. Routines are important as they direct us towards moving from one immediate action to another.</p> </li> <li> <p>Prioritise activities that are achievable and familiar. It might be tempting to use isolation to learn something new, but this can often lead to the frustration of goals that are out of reach. Learning a new skill is exasperating because we struggle to achieve even the first steps. I’ve observed this frustration teaching students to crochet, who initially find it difficult to complete one simple stitch. The tendency is to give up – an outcome to be avoided at the present time.</p> </li> <li> <p>If you do want to learn a new skill, be prepared for it to happen slowly. And if you have the opportunity, learn collectively – there are increasing opportunities to do so online. There will be greater possibilities for feedback if new activities are done together. Lockdown is not a good time to try and revisit a task or skill that you failed to achieve in the past.</p> </li> <li> <p>It might be tempting to use this time to embrace the big projects you have been putting off: the great novel to read, craft projects to complete, a book to write. But replacing external long-term plans associated with work and family leisure with existing personal grand challenges might not be productive at this time. To adapt Dewey’s advice, we should focus on in-between projects: start with easier books to read, smaller craft projects and shorter writing projects.</p> </li> <li> <p>Recognise that some people find it much harder to give up on plans. Young people are particularly vulnerable. Youth is defined by and organised around actions – such as lessons, exams or work experience – that are designed “<a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/11033088030113004">in-order-to</a>” get you somewhere. These are suddenly not available as teaching stops and examinations are cancelled. Feeling upset and scared is part of the new normal. We need to support not only those that are most at risk from the virus, but those around us who struggle with the new normal of time under lockdown.<!-- 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/133962/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: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> </li> </ol> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/clare-holdsworth-605703">Clare Holdsworth</a>, Professor of Social Geography, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/keele-university-1012">Keele University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-how-to-deal-with-a-looming-lack-of-life-plans-133962">original article</a>.</em></p>

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How tiny moments of pleasure really can help us through this stressful time

<p>If I told you that last night I built a blanket fort in the living room, crawled inside with my cat, a glass of wine and my just-arrived copy of the New Yorker, would you think less of me?</p> <p>After all, we’re in the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic. Borders are closing, people are sick, dying, losing their jobs, and locked in isolation. And there was I, playing – as though I didn’t have a care in the world.</p> <p>Meanwhile, you might be reading this holed up at home, screaming with fury at those bloody hoarders. Or perhaps you’re on a train valiantly trying to keep 1.5 metres away from the next person, shrinking back as they cough and splutter.</p> <p>Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whatever you think about the pandemic, the economy, or your compatriots, a tiny part of you knows you could do with a bit of pleasure right now.</p> <p><strong>The effects of sustained stress</strong></p> <p>When we’re first exposed to something stressful, like a deadly new disease, our body reacts with <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265733785_Stress_the_Stress_System_and_the_Role_of_Glucocorticoids">a cascade of small changes</a> such as releasing adrenaline and other chemicals, and activating brain regions related to fear and anger.</p> <p>In many cases those changes make it more likely we’ll <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5048378/">meet the challenges</a> we face.</p> <p>But if the stressful conditions continue, and <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01639625.2018.1461744">especially if we feel powerless</a> to fix the situation, the <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2470547017692328">consequences of the stress response increase</a>.</p> <p>Our <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5137920/">risk</a> of chronic diseases increases, immune function can be compromised, and we become more vulnerable to <a href="https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Chronic-Stress-Leads-to-Anxiety-and-Depression-Khan-Khan/82ac7b6a9d794ca35b2ba5e5bb1625db78e35e9c">mental health problems</a>.</p> <p>We can feel depleted, disconnected, anxious and depressed. We can become <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/da.20755">fixated</a> on negative thoughts and on looking for signs of threat. Sound familiar?</p> <p>The good news is the effects of stress on the brain <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/106/3/912.short">are reversible</a>.</p> <p><strong>Pleasure in times of stress</strong></p> <p>It may seem too simple to be true but shifting our attention toward the small, everyday pleasures in our lives can <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/cpp.2129">offset the consequences</a> of stress or negative events.</p> <p>US researchers reported last year that experiencing pleasurable emotions, for example having interesting things to do, <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2167702619834576">serves as a buffer</a> between chronic stress and depression. So, among people with sustained, high levels of stress, those who reported more pleasurable moments were likely to experience less severe depressive symptoms.</p> <p>Pleasurable experiences might even <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399917301691">be of most benefit</a> in times of stress.</p> <p>We experience <a href="https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-319-28099-8_544-1">pleasure</a> in a myriad ways. Perhaps one of the most potent of pleasures, and one that springs most easily to mind, is a lover’s caress.</p> <p>But to maximise the pleasure in every day, we should look more widely, to a multitude of sources.</p> <p>If we’re too busy reading those alarming headlines to notice the beauty of the sun setting outside our window though, it’s a missed opportunity for a moment of delight.</p> <p>When I recently asked people on Twitter to share the things bringing them delight in these challenging times, <a href="https://twitter.com/Pleasure_Lab/status/1241220320754692098">I received hundreds of replies</a> within a couple of hours.</p> <p>Each one was a small vignette conveying a personal moment of simple pleasure. Gardens and dogs and children and nature featured strongly, and many people reflected on the added pleasure of recalling such moments.</p> <p>Indeed, recollection and anticipation – along with relishing pleasure in the moment – are effective ways to maximise the value of positive experiences or emotions. We call it “<a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/click-here-happiness/201807/what-is-savoring-and-why-is-it-the-key-happiness">savouring</a>”.</p> <p>Luckily, we can get better at savouring with practice. And the <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327764063_Maximising_life's_small_pleasures_and_its_effect_on_well-being">more we savour</a>, the less stressed we feel. And that’s why I’m here.</p> <p>If we increase the pleasure we experience, it can <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00686/full">lift our psychological well-being</a>. In turn, higher <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1471489216300479">well-being is linked to better immune function</a>.</p> <p><strong>It’s about boosting our personal capacity</strong></p> <p>My message is not to avoid the facts or pretend nothing has changed. It’s to intentionally build in moments of reprieve and restoration. It’s to turn your attention to what is still good and rich and fun – to really <em>focus</em> on those things.</p> <p>This is how we can harness the protective power of small pleasures, for the sake of delight itself and to <a href="https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-11248-6_8">build grit and resilience</a>.</p> <p>So, there may <em>never</em> have been a better time to build a blanket fort, or to bring out a game of Twister, or to lie on your back in the garden making fantasy creatures out of <a href="https://cloudappreciationsociety.org/">passing clouds</a>. Find excuses to giggle.</p> <p><strong>Making pleasure happen</strong></p> <p>In difficult, frightening times, no one is immune to worry; it’s a natural response. But what we <em>can</em> do is take steps to protect ourselves, as much as possible, from its physical and psychological ill-effects.</p> <p>The challenge is to <em>make</em> this happen, to tear yourself away from analysing the COVID-19 curve and intentionally, systematically engineer more small delights into your day.</p> <p>Do you like the sunshine? Then know when the sun falls on your balcony, in your garden or in the street near your place. Take a cup of tea or coffee with you and soak up the warmth.</p> <p> </p> <p>Pets? Run, play, be silly with them. Eating a tomato? Plant the seeds and watch something grow, from nothing, because of you. Sing. Dance. Delight someone with an act of kindness.</p> <p>Plan your opportunities for pleasure. Put them in your diary. Set your alarm for them. Commit to share them with others. Photograph them. Post them on social media or share them directly with friends and family. Anticipate them gleefully and reflect on them with delight. This is our time to be here. Savour.<!-- 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/134043/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: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/desiree-kozlowski-320278">Desirée Kozlowski</a>, Lecturer, Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/southern-cross-university-1160">Southern Cross University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-tiny-moments-of-pleasure-really-can-help-us-through-this-stressful-time-134043">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why social distancing feels so unnatural

<p>For many people, the most distressing part of the coronavirus pandemic is the idea of social isolation. If we get ill, we quarantine ourselves for the protection of others. But even among the healthy, loneliness may be setting in as we engage with pre-emptive <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults">social distancing</a>.</p> <p>There is some <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-prevent-loneliness-in-a-time-of-social-distancing/">great advice</a> out there about how to stay connected at such times. But why is the act of social distancing so hard for so many of us? The answer probably has more to do with our evolutionary history than people might think.</p> <p>Humans are part of a very sociable group, the primates. Primates are distinguished from other animals by their grasping hands and various ways of moving around, and because they show a high level of social interaction.</p> <p>Compared to other mammals of the same body size, primates also have <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=20tlZXXWX-MC&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;dq=evolution+of+the+brain+and+intelligence&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwiSusmC_ajoAhVMTcAKHQZkArgQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&amp;q=evolution%20of%20the%20brain%20and%20intelligence&amp;f=false">larger brains</a>. There are several hypotheses about why this is. We know, for instance, that within the primates, species which face ecological challenges like accessing hard-to-reach foods have slightly larger brains. Doing these things may require more sophisticated brains.</p> <p>Our large brains seem to be as much about managing our social relationships as our survival skills. Brain size in all mammals is linked to understanding and intelligence. In primates it is also <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/social-network-size-linked-brain-size/">positively correlated with social group size</a>.</p> <p>Living in groups requires us to understand relationships, both amicable and conflicting, with those around us. For primates, remembering how two individuals have interacted in the past, and how they might feel about each other now, is necessary knowledge when deciding who to approach for help. Social skills are therefore fundamental for survival in group situations.</p> <p>Human brains are even larger than those of other primates. If we apply the scaling rule to ourselves, we would predict an average social group size of around 150 people. This prediction seems to be true. Workplaces, for example, have been shown to function better when there are <a href="https://www.npr.org/2011/06/04/136723316/dont-believe-facebook-you-only-have-150-friends?t=1584705448989">no more than 150 employees</a>.</p> <p><strong>Why live in groups?</strong></p> <p>Living in a group offers <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321488748_Group_living">various advantages</a>. Larger groups have better defences against rivals and predators. They are often better able to find food – more pairs of eyes searching for fruit trees means more success – and they are more able to defend that food from competitors.</p> <p>There are reproductive advantages, too. The larger the group, the more likely any individual is to be able to find a suitable mate.</p> <p>In more social species, there is also the potential availability of alternative care-givers to babysit or teach the young. Infant primates have <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3192902/">lots of</a> complicated social and physical skills to learn. Living in a group gives them more opportunities to develop those skills in a safe environment under the watchful eye of an elder.</p> <p>Finally, larger social groups have more capacity to generate, retain and transmit knowledge. Older members are more numerous in larger groups. They may remember how to access difficult or unusual resources, and be able to show others how to do it. This can mean the difference between survival or death. For instance in a drought, only the oldest members of the group may remember where the remaining water holes are.</p> <p><strong>How are we different?</strong></p> <p>All this goes some way to explaining why being socially isolated can be so very uncomfortable for us. Modern humans are one of the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4302252/">most social species</a> of all mammals.</p> <p>As we evolved since our split with chimpanzees, <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/human-evolution/Increasing-brain-size">our brains have continued to expand</a>. These increases seem to fit with even more intense reliance on community.</p> <p>Several of our distinctive features, including language and culture, suggest that modern humans are particularly dependent on social living. The most convincing evidence, however, may come from our characteristic division of labour.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www.britannica.com/topic/division-of-labour">division of labour</a> means that we allocate various specific tasks to different people or groups. In hunter-gatherer societies, some individuals may go hunting, while others collect plants, care for children or produce clothing or tools.</p> <p>Humans employ this strategy more than any other primate. Today, there are many people who have never hunted or grown their own food – these tasks instead being delegated to other people or companies, like supermarkets. This means we are free to work on other things, but it also makes us intensely dependent on our social networks for day-to-day necessities.</p> <p><strong>An evolutionary perspective</strong></p> <p>We have literally evolved to be social creatures, and it’s really no wonder so many of us find social distancing intimidating. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Humans’ intense sociability has evolved over a very long period of time to make us habitually able to maintain relationships with large numbers of people, and so improve our shared chances of survival.</p> <p>We have already evolved symbolic language and huge cultural and technological capacities. If we had not, we would have no way to live in our increasingly global society, where maintaining personal links to everyone we depend on is effectively impossible.</p> <p>Current social distancing measures are, in fact, all about <em>physical</em> distance. But today, physical distance doesn’t have to mean social isolation.</p> <p>Our rich human history of managing social interaction in new ways suggests that we have a talent for adapting and innovating to compensate for difficulty. In the last 20 years, the explosion of mobile phones, the internet and social media has turned us into “super-communicators”. This is proof of our deep desire to be connected with each other.</p> <p>Our inner ape craves company, and in this time of physical distancing, these methods of staying in touch really come into their own.<!-- 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/134271/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: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/isabelle-catherine-winder-709653">Isabelle Catherine Winder</a>, Lecturer in Zoology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/bangor-university-1221">Bangor University</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/vivien-shaw-884795">Vivien Shaw</a>, Lecturer in Anatomy, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/bangor-university-1221">Bangor University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-experts-in-evolution-explain-why-social-distancing-feels-so-unnatural-134271">original article</a>.</em></p>

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How ‘quiet kindness’ can bolster well-being during coronavirus pandemic

<p>I’ve learned a lot from the <a href="https://theconversation.com/kindness-what-ive-learned-from-3-000-children-and-adolescents-113705">thousands of public school students I’ve asked about kindness</a>.</p> <p>As a researcher at the University of British Columbia, a great deal of my time is spent asking children, adolescents and even university students what it means to be kind and how they demonstrate kindness. Children can be kind in predictable or anticipated ways (for instance, holding a door open for a stranger) but I’ve also learned that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/0829573519885802">they’re kinder than we might think</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/0829573517732202">their kindness takes many forms</a>.</p> <p>As our society navigates this coronavirus pandemic and we hear with <a href="https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/covid-19-ontario-reports-78-new-cases-the-most-in-one-day-so-far">increasing emphasis how important it is to stay home</a>, I reflect on what might be gained by remembering <a href="https://doi.org/10.18357/jcs.v43i2.18576">what I came to define as “quiet kindness.”</a></p> <p>Such acts of kindness don’t draw attention to the initiator or aren’t announced to the recipient, who may very well remain unaware of the kindness performed on their behalf. For children, an act of quiet kindness does not garner the attention of any adults who might typically encourage or reinforce kindness.</p> <p><strong>Self-regulation</strong></p> <p>Quietly kind acts contrast what psychology researchers Gustavo Carlo and Brandy Randall termed “<a href="https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/psychfacpub/70/">public pro-social behaviours</a>,” which are conducted in front of an audience to gain approval.</p> <p>I arrived at a definition of quiet kindness after examining younger children’s (kindergarten to Grade 3) drawings and explanations of how they were kind, and older students’ (grades 4 to 7) written descriptions. They shared acts of kindness like leaving money in the vending machine for the next patron, not laughing at a joke or insult if it’ll cause someone around them to suffer — or as one middle school student described — not asking “for so much stuff.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/322561/original/file-20200324-155666-16gi92v.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" alt="" /> <span class="caption">‘Not ask for so much stuff’ is one child’s act of kindness.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">(John-Tyler Binfet)</span>, <span class="license">Author provided</span></span></p> <p>Some of these quiet acts reflect <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0098628311430172">self-regulation, a hot-topic concept among educators</a>. Children’s self-regulation relates to children and adolescents taking responsibility for their language and actions by self-governing.</p> <p>For example, one student described an act of kindness within the context of his family: to self-restrain and enact less aggression toward his brother.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/322560/original/file-20200324-155702-65804z.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" alt="" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">Don’t punch little brother (Charlie).</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">(John-Tyler Binfet)</span>, <span class="license">Author provided</span></span></p> <p>These acts of quiet kindness require what <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-017-0786-1">psychologists call “perspective-taking”</a> — the ability to gain perspective by putting oneself in the shoes of the other. It has been argued that perspective-taking <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/00221325.2019.1632785">is a key prerequisite to being kind</a>.</p> <p>Certainly, we’re best able to tailor our acts of kindness to the needs of those around us when we see from others’ points of view. In doing so, we can reflect upon how our kindness might support those around us.</p> <p><strong>Done on the downlow</strong></p> <p>During this time of coronavirus social distancing and quarantine, we’ve ample time to reflect on the needs of others. I hear the call: “But what about MY needs?!” as I think about <a href="https://northernontario.ctvnews.ca/sudbury-costco-runs-out-of-toilet-paper-1.4848454">people standing in line for toilet paper at Costco</a>.</p> <p>One antidote to maintaining our well-being during this unprecedented time might be to reflect on others’ needs and devise ways to be quietly kind? We know that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2018.02.014">being kind to others is a guaranteed way to bolster our well-being</a>.</p> <p>We feel better when we’re kind to others and the added bonus is that we make others feel better too.</p> <p>It could be as simple as the student’s example below who said “not leaving his stuff laying on the floor” was an act of kindness for his mom and himself. I hope these examples might inspire us to consider a variety of ways to be quietly kind. Maybe this means sharing space more mindfully right now with those we live with or being more diligent with social distancing.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/322563/original/file-20200324-155683-wmceeu.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" alt="" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">‘Not leave my stuff laying on the floor in my room,’ is one student’s act of kindness for his mom and himself.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">(John-Tyler Binfet)</span>, <span class="license">Author provided</span></span></p> <p>Kindness need not be delivered like a Broadway production, with ample fanfare and attention drawn to the initiator. It can be done on the down-low, respond to the needs of those around us and be quietly delivered.<!-- 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/134579/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><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: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></em></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/john-tyler-binfet-703205">John-Tyler Binfet</a>, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-british-columbia-946">University of British Columbia</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/quiet-kindness-can-bolster-well-being-during-coronavirus-pandemic-134579">original article</a>.</em></p>

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How hope can keep you healthier and happier

<p>Hope can erode when we perceive threats to our way of life, and these days, plenty are out there. <a href="https://www.urban.org/policy-centers/cross-center-initiatives/program-retirement-policy/projects/data-warehouse/what-future-holds/us-population-aging">As we age</a>, we may struggle with a tragic loss or chronic disease. As we watch the news, we see our <a href="https://theconversation.com/think-the-us-is-more-polarized-than-ever-you-dont-know-history-131600">political system polarized</a>, hopelessly locked in chaos. The coronavirus <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/summary.html">spreads wider daily</a>; U.S. markets signaled <a href="https://us.spindices.com/indices/equity/dow-jones-industrial-average">a lack of hope</a> with a Dow Jones free fall. Losing hope sometimes <a href="https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/03/trends-suicide">leads to suicide</a>.</p> <p>When there is no hope – when people cannot picture a desired end to their struggles – they lose the motivation to endure. As <a href="https://psychology.vcu.edu/people/faculty/worthington-jr.html">professor emeritus</a> at Virginia Commonwealth University, I’ve studied positive psychology, forgiveness, wellness and the science of hope for more than 40 years. <a href="http://www.evworthington-forgiveness.com/">My website</a> offers free resources and tools to help its readers live a more hopeful life.</p> <p><strong>What is hope?</strong></p> <p>First, hope is not Pollyannaish optimism – <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11031-018-9746-7">the assumption</a> that a positive outcome is inevitable. Instead, hope is a motivation to persevere toward a goal or end state, even if we’re skeptical that a positive outcome is likely. <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Psychology-Hope-You-Here-There/dp/0743254449">Psychologists tell us</a> hope involves activity, a can-do attitude and a belief that we have a pathway to our desired outcome. Hope is the willpower to change and the way-power to bring about that change.</p> <p>With teens and with young or middle-aged adults, hope is a bit easier. But for older adults, it’s a bit harder. Aging often means running up against obstacles that appear unyielding – like recurring health or financial or family issues that just don’t seem to go away. Hope for older adults has to be “sticky,” persevering, a “<a href="http://hopecouples.com/">mature hope</a>.”</p> <p><strong>How to build hope</strong></p> <p>Now the good news: <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S259011332030002X?via%3Dihub">this study</a>, from Harvard’s “<a href="https://hfh.fas.harvard.edu/">Human Flourishing Program</a>,” recently published. <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S259011332030002X?via%3Dihub">Researchers examined</a> the impact of hope on nearly 13,000 people with an average age of 66. They found those with more hope throughout their lives had better physical health, better health behaviors, better social support and a longer life. Hope also led to fewer chronic health problems, less depression, less anxiety and a lower risk of cancer.</p> <p>So if maintaining hope in the long run is so good for us, how do we increase it? Or build hope if it’s MIA? Here are my four suggestions:</p> <p>Attend a motivational speech – or watch, read or listen to one online, through YouTube, a blog or podcast. That increases hope, although usually the fix is short-lived. How can you build longer-term hope?</p> <p>Engage with a religious or spiritual community. This has worked for millennia. Amidst a community of like believers, people have drawn strength, found peace and experienced the elevation of the human spirit, just by knowing there is something or someone much larger than them.</p> <p>Forgive. Participating in a <a href="http://www.evworthington-forgiveness.com/run-groups">forgiveness group</a>, or completing a forgiveness <a href="https://evworthington.squarespace.com/diy-workbooks">do-it-yourself workbook</a>, builds hope, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259454682_Efficacy_of_Psychotherapeutic_Interventions_to_Promote_Forgiveness_A_Meta-Analysis">say scientists</a>. It also reduces depression and anxiety, and increases (perhaps this is obvious) your capacity to forgive. That’s true even with long-held grudges. I’ve personally found that successfully forgiving someone provides a sense of both the willpower and way-power to change.</p> <p>Choose a “hero of hope.” Some have changed history: Nelson Mandela endured 27 years of imprisonment yet persevered to build a new nation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought hope to millions for a decade during the Great Depression. <a href="https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ronald_Reagan%27s_Fourth_State_of_the_Union_Speech">Ronald Reagan</a> brought hope to a world that seemed forever mired in the Cold War. From his fourth State of the Union address: “Tonight, I’ve spoken of great plans and great dreams. They’re dreams we can make come true. Two hundred years of American history should have taught us that nothing is impossible.”</p> <p><strong>Hope gets you unstuck</strong></p> <p>Hope changes systems that seem stuck. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/24/science/katherine-johnson-dead.html">Katherine Johnson</a>, the black mathematician whose critical role in the early days of NASA and the space race was featured in the movie “Hidden Figures,” recently died at age 101. The movie (and the book on which it was based) brought to light her persistence against a system that seemed forever stuck. Bryan Stevenson, who directs the <a href="https://justmercy.eji.org/">Equal Justice Initiative</a>, and the subject of the movie “Just Mercy,” has successfully fought to help those wrongly convicted or incompetently defended to get off death row.</p> <p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Just-Mercy-Story-Justice-Redemption/dp/081298496X/ref=sr_1_2?crid=36NEVUQYANOX0&amp;keywords=just+mercy+bryan+stevenson&amp;qid=1582732721&amp;sprefix=Just+Mercy%2Caps%2C149&amp;sr=8-2">Stevenson laments</a> that he could not help everyone who needed it; he concluded that he lived in a broken system, and that, in fact, he too was a broken man. Yet he constantly reminded himself of what he had told everyone he tried to help: “Each of us,” he said, “is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” Hope changes all of us. By regaining his hope, Bryan Stevenson’s example inspires us.</p> <p>Regardless of how hard we try, we cannot eliminate threats to hope. Bad stuff happens. But there are the endpoints of persistent hope: We become healthier and our relationships are happier. We can bring about that hope by buoying our willpower, bolstering our persistence, finding pathways to our goals and dreams, and looking for heroes of hope. And just perhaps, one day, we too can be such a hero.<!-- 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/132507/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><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: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></em></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/everett-worthington-977182">Everett Worthington</a>, Emeritus Commonwealth Professor of Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/virginia-commonwealth-university-2978">Virginia Commonwealth University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-hope-can-keep-you-healthier-and-happier-132507">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Can you ever be a truly independent thinker?

<p><em>‘It’s important to me that I make my own decisions, but I often wonder how much they are actually influenced by cultural and societal norms, by advertising, the media and those around me. We all feel the need to fit in, but does this prevent us from making decisions for ourselves? In short, can I ever be a truly free thinker?’</em> Richard, Yorkshire.</p> <p>There’s good news and bad news on this one. In his poem <a href="https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51642/invictus">Invictus</a>, William Ernest Henley wrote: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”</p> <p>While being the lone “captain of your soul” is a reassuring idea, the truth is rather more nuanced. The reality is that we are social beings driven by a profound <a href="https://theconversation.com/would-you-stand-up-to-an-oppressive-regime-or-would-you-conform-heres-the-science-124469">need to fit in</a> – and as a consequence, we are all hugely influenced by cultural norms.</p> <p>But to get to the specifics of your question, advertising, at least, may not influence you as much as you imagine. Both advertisers and the critics of advertising like us to think that ads can make us dance any way they want, especially now everything is digital and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/05/targeted-ads-fake-news-clickbait-surveillance-capitalism-data-mining-democracy">personalised ad targeting</a> is possible in a way it never was before.</p> <p>In reality, <a href="https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/effective-advertising/book11407">there is no precise science of advertising</a>. <a href="https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/clay-christensens-milkshake-marketing">Most new products fail</a>, despite the advertising they receive. And even when sales go up, nobody is exactly sure of the role advertising played. As the marketing pioneer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wanamaker">John Wanamaker</a> said:</p> <blockquote> <p>Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.</p> </blockquote> <p>You’d expect advertisers to exaggerate the effectiveness of advertising, and scholars of advertising have typically made more modest claims. Even these, though, may be overestimates. Recent studies have claimed that both <a href="https://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/faculty/gordon_b/files/fb_comparison.pdf">online</a> and <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3273476">offline</a>, the methods commonly used to study advertising effectiveness vastly exaggerate the power of advertising to change our beliefs and behaviour.</p> <p>This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, <a href="https://thecorrespondent.com/100/the-new-dot-com-bubble-is-here-its-called-online-advertising/13228924500-22d5fd24">at least online</a>.</p> <p>There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3042867">in general elections is zero”</a>. Zero!</p> <p>In other words, although we like to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/15/what-we-learned-about-the-media-this-election">blame the media</a> for how people vote, it is surprisingly hard to find <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3042867">solid evidence</a> of when and how people are swayed by the media. One professor of political science, Kenneth Newton, went so far as to claim <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1467-923X.12732">“It’s Not the Media, Stupid”</a>.</p> <p>But although advertising is a weak force, and although hard evidence on how the media influences specific choices is elusive, every one of us is undoubtedly influenced by the culture in which we live.</p> <p><strong>Followers of fashion</strong></p> <p>Fashions exist both for superficial things, such as buying clothes and opting for a particular hairstyle, but also for more profound behaviour like <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207262/">murder and even suicide</a>. Indeed, we all borrow so much from those we grow up around, and those around us now, that it seems impossible to put a clear line between our individual selves and the selves society forges for us.</p> <p>Two examples: I don’t have any facial tattoos, and I don’t want any. If I wanted a facial tattoo my family would think I’d gone mad. But if I was born in some cultures, where these tattoos were common and conveyed high status, such as traditional Māori culture, people would think I was unusual if I <em>didn’t</em> want facial tattoos.</p> <p>Similarly, if I had been born a Viking, I can assume that my highest ambition would have been to die in battle, axe or sword in hand. In their belief system, after all, that was <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach/how-do-you-get-to-viking-valhalla/z7s747h">surest way to Valhalla</a> and a glorious afterlife. Instead, I am a liberal academic whose highest ambition is to die peacefully in bed, a long way away from any bloodshed. Promises of Valhalla have no influence over me.</p> <p>Ultimately, I’d argue that all of our desires are patterned by the culture we happen to be born in.</p> <p>But it gets worse. Even if we could somehow free ourselves from cultural expectations, other forces impinge on our thoughts. Your <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25961374">genes can affect your personality</a> and so they must also, indirectly, have a knock-on effect on your beliefs.</p> <p>Sigmund Freud, the founder of <a href="https://psychoanalysis.org.uk/our-authors-and-theorists/sigmund-freud">psychoanalysis</a>, famously talked about the influence of parents and upbringing on behaviour, and he probably wasn’t 100% wrong. Even just psychologically, how can you ever think freely, separate from the twin influences of prior experience and other people?</p> <p>From this perspective, <em>all</em> of our behaviours and our desires are profoundly influenced by outside forces. But does this mean they aren’t also our own?</p> <p>The answer to this dilemma, I think, is not to free yourself from outside influences. This is impossible. Instead, you should see yourself and your ideas as the intersection of all the forces that come to play on you.</p> <p>Some of these are shared – like our culture – and some are unique to you – your unique experience, your unique history and biology. Being a free thinker, from this perspective, means working out exactly what makes sense to you, from where you are now.</p> <p>You can’t – and shouldn’t – ignore outside influences, but the good news is that these influences are not some kind of overwhelming force. <a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24232240-200-its-not-an-illusion-you-have-free-will-its-just-not-what-you-think/">All the evidence</a> is compatible with the view that each of us, choice by choice, belief by belief, can make reasonable decisions for ourselves, not unshackled from the influences of others and the past, but free to chart our own unique paths forward into the future.</p> <p>After all, the captain of a ship doesn’t sail while ignoring the wind – sometimes they go with it, sometimes against it, but they always account for it. Similarly, we think and make our choices in the context of all our circumstances, not by ignoring them.</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: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/tom-stafford-91781">Tom Stafford</a>, Lecturer in Psychology and Cognitive Science, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sheffield-1147">University of Sheffield</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/free-thought-can-you-ever-be-a-truly-independent-thinker-129033">original article</a>.</em></p>

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How a ‘growth mindset’ helps us learn

<p>One of the most influential phenomena in education over the last two decades has been that of the “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2018/jan/04/research-every-teacher-should-know-growth-mindset">growth mindset</a>”. This refers to the beliefs a student has about various capacities such as their intelligence, their ability in areas such as maths, their personality and creative ability.</p> <p>Proponents of the growth mindset believe these capacities can be developed or “grown” through learning and effort. The alternative perspective is the “fixed mindset”. This assumes these capacities are fixed and unable to be changed.</p> <p>The theory of the growth versus fixed mindset was <a href="http://155.0.32.9:8080/jspui/bitstream/123456789/55/1/Mindset_%20The%20New%20Psychology%20of%20Success.pdf">first proposed</a> in 1998 by American psychologist Carol Dweck and paediatric surgeon Claudia Mueller. It <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9686450">grew out of studies</a> they led, in which primary school children were engaged in a task, and then praised either for their existing capacities, such as intelligence, or the effort they invested in the task.</p> <p>Researchers monitored how the students felt, thought and behaved in subsequent more difficult tasks.</p> <p>The students who were praised for their effort were more likely to persist with finding a solution to the task. They were also more likely to seek feedback about how to improve. Those praised for their intelligence were less likely to persist with the more difficult tasks and to seek feedback on how their peers did on the task.</p> <p>These findings led to the inference that a fixed mindset was less conducive to learning than a growth mindset. This notion has a lot of support in cognitive and behavioural science.</p> <p><strong>What’s the evidence?</strong></p> <p>Psychologists <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Peter_Gollwitzer2/publication/312340264_Mindset_Theory/links/59e77e3baca272e940e0b309/Mindset-Theory.pdf">have been researching</a> the notion of a mindset – a set of assumptions or methods people have, and how these influence motivations or behaviour – for over a century.</p> <p>The growth mindset has its roots in Stanford University psychologist Alan Bandura’s 1970s social learning theory of a <a href="https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Self-efficacy%3A-toward-a-unifying-theory-of-change.-Bandura/953070a862df2824b46e7b1057e97badfb31b8c2">positive self-efficacy</a>. This is a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in specific situations or to accomplish a task.</p> <p>The growth mindset is also a re-branding of the 1980-90s study of <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0022-0663.80.3.260">achievement orientation</a>. Here, people can adopt either a “mastery orientation” (with the goal of learning more) or a “performance orientation” (with the goal of showing what they know) to achieve an outcome.</p> <p>The idea of the growth mindset is consistent with theories of <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2896818/">brain plasiticity</a> (the brain’s ability to change due to experience) and <a href="https://scottbarrykaufman.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Basten-et-al.-2013.pdf">task-positive and task-negative</a> brain network activity (brain networks that are activated during goal-orientated tasks).</p> <p>The growth versus fixed mindset theory is supported by evidence too – both for its predictions of outcomes and its impact in interventions. Studies show students’ <a href="http://www.growthmindsetmaths.com/uploads/2/3/7/7/23776169/mindset_and_math_science_achievement_-_nov_2013.pdf">mindsets influence</a> their maths and science outcomes, their <a href="https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1111638">academic ability</a> and their <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1348/978185409X402580?casa_token=h8ioC3A2hkAAAAA%3Ac9rJPcLSWmi4NX8_U5wKBn1BKVsc4MQqbid4cQk1CMD4dEaPXC_5L1vKI2QHsn7NbUbbhwO1-8vFYlkb-Q">ability to cope</a> with exams.</p> <p>People with growth mindsets <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735820300040">are more likely to cope emotionally</a>, while those who don’t view themselves as having the ability to learn and grow are more prone to psychological distress.</p> <p>But the theory has not received universal support. A <a href="http://bahniks.com/files/mindset.pdf">2016 study showed</a> academic achievements of university students were not associated with their growth mindset. This could, in part be due to the way it is understood.</p> <p>People can show different mindsets at different times – a growth or fixed – towards a specific subject or task. <a href="https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means">According to Dweck</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Everyone is actually a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, and that mixture continually evolves with experience.</p> </blockquote> <p>This suggests the fixed and growth mindsets distinction <a href="https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means">lies on on a continuum</a>. It also suggests the mindset a person adopts at any one time is dynamic and depends on the context.</p> <p><strong>What about teaching a growth mindset?</strong></p> <p>The theory has been evaluated in a range of teaching programs. A <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323565554_To_What_Extent_and_Under_Which_Circumstances_Are_Growth_Mind-Sets_Important_to_Academic_Achievement_Two_Meta-Analyses">2018 analysis</a> reviewed a number of studies that explored whether interventions that enhanced students’ growth mindsets affected their academic achievements. It found teaching a growth mindset had minimal influence on student outcomes.</p> <p>But in some cases, teaching a growth mindset was effective for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds or those academically at risk.</p> <p>A <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/tsdwy">2017 study</a> found teaching a growth mindset had no effect on student outcomes. In fact, the study found students with a fixed mindset showed higher outcomes. Given the complexity of human understanding and learning processes, the negative findings are not surprising. Dweck and colleagues <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1466-y?fbclid=IwAR3eSTiOiVc3v8LARTfGwxTzlSDz4AiAFpLK-jK4VcJr57wI0eO8zyvwkEc">have noted that a school’s context</a> and culture can be responsible for whether the gains made from a growth mindset intervention are sustained.</p> <p>Studies show the <a href="https://www.scirp.org/html/8-6902186_77784.htm#ref37">mindsets of both teachers and parents</a> influence students’ outcomes too. Secondary science students whose teachers had a growth mindset <a href="https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1045824.pdf">showed higher outcomes</a> than those whose teachers who had a fixed mindset.</p> <p>And a 2010 study showed the <a href="https://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11218-010-9126-y">perceptions primary students</a> had of their potential for improvement were associated with what their teachers’ thought of the children’s academic ability. In another study, children whose parents were <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/113/43/12111.short">taught to have a growth mindset</a> about their children’s literacy skills, and to act accordingly, had improved outcomes.</p> <p><strong>It exists on a spectrum</strong></p> <p>Mindset theory seems to conflate two separate phenomena, both of which need to be considered in teaching: a person’s actual capacity such as intelligence, and how they think about it.</p> <p>Students should be aware of what they know at any time and value it. They also need to know this may be insufficient, that it can be extended and how to do that. Educators and parents need to ensure their dialogue with their children does not imply the capacity is fixed. The focus of the talk should be on: what you will know more about in five minutes?</p> <p>When I teach, in both schools and university, I encourage students at the end of a teaching session to identify what they know now that they didn’t know earlier. I ask them to explain how their knowledge has changed and the questions they can answer now.</p> <p>In the early stages of a teaching session, I encourage them to infer questions they might expect to be able to answer having learnt the content. These types of activities encourage students to see their knowledge as dynamic and able to be enhanced.<!-- 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/127710/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: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/john-munro-13237"><em>John Munro</em></a><em>, Professor, Faculty of Education and Arts, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/australian-catholic-university-747">Australian Catholic University</a></em></span></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/you-can-do-it-a-growth-mindset-helps-us-learn-127710">original article</a>.</em></p>

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The forgotten benefits of a ‘bad’ memory

<p>Memory is the essence of our psychological functioning, essential for every move we make – getting dressed, having breakfast, driving to work, doing a crossword, making a cup of tea. Nothing we do in our conscious daily lives does not require memory.</p> <p>So, given our reliance on it, why is it that memory sometimes – or often – lets us down? And is this something to be concerned about, or might it actually be healthy?</p> <p>Consider some of the many ways in which our memories feel like they’re not working properly. There’s the name you’re told on meeting someone new which you forget within seconds; the act of going upstairs to get something and then forgetting what you went there for; or blissfully remembering a foreign holiday several years ago without any memory of the incident at the airport that upset the family.</p> <p>It’s probably true that everyone can relate to each of these memory “failures” – and indeed they are failures. But it may be that we should not be overly concerned about them.</p> <p>The various types of forgetting involve different issues. For example, sometimes it’s clear that we simply haven’t set a proper memory down in our mind in the first place, like when we forget why we went upstairs.</p> <p>In other cases there is clearly a memory there, but it’s just not retrievable – such as when a name you know is on the tip of your tongue. Or perhaps the memory has been altered in some regard along the way, when you’re convinced something happened on a Thursday, yet all the facts point to it being a Tuesday.</p> <p>So what is memory for, and why is forgetfulness such a prevalent experience? Memory serves to give us a record of our lives, to situate us in the present and to plan for the future. It is essential to a sense of self. And while memory lapses can be frustrating, there are ways around them, which can sometimes be beneficial to that sense of self.</p> <p>If I am constantly forgetting where I put my keys, I develop a routine to deal with the situation. It’s a simple but effective solution which requires practice (and remembering to enact): always put your keys in the same place.</p> <p>Or, if I want to remember someone’s name, I ensure that on meeting them, I make an extra effort to register their face, say their name aloud, and perhaps try to associate it with someone else of the same name. (Apparently one of former US president Bill Clinton’s strengths as a charismatic politician was that he <a href="https://www.oprah.com/omagazine/oprah-interviews-president-bill-clinton/2">always remembered people’s names</a> – but this certainly wouldn’t have come without a level of deliberate concentration.</p> <p>And if I remember a totally happy holiday and repress the negative incident at the airport, this actually helps me feel better about myself and my experience. I have subconsciously edited out the negative aspect to create a more positive recollection.</p> <p>Another interesting example of this kind of beneficial “self-editing” is where long-term couples will say to their other half: “I love you more today than yesterday.” When psychologists examined this concept, they found it not to be entirely true. Instead, <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1999-00166-004">they found</a> that long-term couples have a commitment to each other that is important for their own personal well being. So if I feel I love you more than yesterday, it is ultimately beneficial to feeling positive about myself – even if it is not objectively true.</p> <p><strong>Remember to forget</strong></p> <p>Most people’s memories fail them regularly, and this is because our minds have a limited ability to process all the information in our environment. It simply is not feasible to remember everything we experience.</p> <p>That said, there are rare cases of people who claim to have “super memories”. They can remember what the weather was like on March 6 2016, for example, or what they had for lunch on the September 15 2004. One of those “super mnemonists” <a href="https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-26/edition-10/interview-would-you-want-super-memory">has described</a> the ability as “a curse [which] plays over and over in my mind”.</p> <p>The reality of remembering everything would be an overwhelming experience. So for most of us, forgetting things is not just normal – but desirable.</p> <p>Regular memory failures can often be deliberately and methodically overcome, while changes in memory over time are often due to people maintaining a positive sense of self. And that’s worth remembering.<!-- 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/123108/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><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/catriona-morrison-347620">Catriona Morrison</a>, Professor of Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-bradford-911">University of Bradford</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-forgotten-benefits-of-a-bad-memory-123108">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Happiness: Is feeling content more important than purpose and goals?

<p><em>There is much written about finding one’s life purpose and reaching self actualisation, but do we really need to have one? My partner is happy pottering around the house with his family around him, watching TV, reading the news, working in his unskilled job without responsibility, supporting his football team. Meanwhile, I am frustratingly “growing and developing”, learning, wondering what it is all about – yet without much actually changing in my life. Are drifting and feeling contented in life more important than having a “life purpose” and goals?</em> Brenda, Blackpool</p> <p>Questions about happiness, purpose and goals remind me of <a href="https://theconversation.com/guide-to-the-classics-don-quixote-the-worlds-first-modern-novel-and-one-of-the-best-94097">Don Quixote</a>, the dreaming knight in Cervantes’ novel of the same name, and Sancho Panza, his earthy page. Indeed, literature often contains characters and themes that reflect telling universal truths about human existence, experience – and psychology.</p> <p>As the novel progresses, we realise that both characters are equally sophisticated intellectually. But while Don Quixote’s goals are utopian, romantic and clearly unobtainable, Sancho is satisfied with feeling safe and eating bread and cheese – accompanied by a little wine, of course – after each of their frustrated misadventures.</p> <p>I’m a psychiatrist and research on personality shows that a more open and inquisitive personality will always want to <a href="https://econtent.hogrefe.com/doi/10.1027/1614-0001.26.3.132">seek new experiences and sensations</a>. This is more exciting, but also less comfortable, than rejecting what feels strange or unfamiliar.</p> <p>Don Quixote’s sensation-seeking and restless personality, as well as his lofty ideals, are the drivers of his misguided adventures. Unable to find excitement in the comfortable but mundane daily life of a landed country gentleman, he sets out to right all the wrongs in the world in the most chivalrous and valiant manner he can imagine. His ambitious goals are unobtainable, though, and so he remains chronically dissatisfied.</p> <p>In contrast, Sancho’s goals (cheese and wine) are simple, and they are also reliable and immediately achievable. Sancho will inevitably have some difficult emotions, like every other human, that will prevent him from being consistently happy. But he will be less inclined to express his occasional periods of distress in complex existential terms – and they are unlikely to nag and torture him in the same way.</p> <p>On one level, then, Sancho’s personality seems better suited than Don Quixote’s for achieving a satisfactory level of psychological wellbeing. But we need to consider the fact that Quixote’s tortured loftiness will also afford him occasional moments of ecstasy that Sancho will never experience. Quixote will sample all the many wondrous highs – and lows – of existence.</p> <p><strong>Choleric Quixote</strong></p> <p>Quixote has a type of personality that <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/galen.shtml">Galen</a>, the Greek physician of classical times, would have labelled as “choleric”: passionate, charismatic, impulsive and sensation seeking. He also has an extremely rich, but equally unstable, inner life, which produces copious amounts of fantasy and emotion.</p> <p>Soon after the second world war, a London-based psychologist called Hans Eysenck developed another personality theory that included the dimensions of <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1953-05745-000">extroversion and neuroticism</a>. Quixote is high in extroversion (he engages constantly with the external world) and high in neuroticism (his emotional life is unstable and intense), a combination that would be the equivalent of Galen’s choleric personality.</p> <p>Sancho is, of course, the exact opposite. He could be described as “phlegmatic” in Galen’s classification: he is generally introverted, and being perfectly steady in emotional terms, he would certainly score very low on neuroticism. He does not view the world through the filter of a rich but volatile inner life, and instead sees ordinary windmills where Quixote sees formidable giants.</p> <p>Personality types have been found to be <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2020-03328-001">predictors of psychological wellbeing</a> in a way that could be considered relatively intuitive. Essentially, there is a positive correlation between happiness and extroversion and a negative one <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/019188699090138H">between happiness and neuroticism</a>. Quixote is more neurotic than Sancho, but he is also more extroverted. The two will find and experience moments of happiness in different ways.</p> <p>On one level, what we need to be happy is a stable (low neuroticism) and outgoing (extrovert) character. But that’s not the whole story. Those of us who see ourselves as a little more neurotic than we would ideally like – and perhaps not quite as sociable as some others – can find comfort in the knowledge that a busy and lively inner life, coupled with an inquisitive nature, <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2010-16664-004">can be associated with certain types of creativity</a>.</p> <p>The idea of happiness as a state of placidity and serenity, facilitated by a stable and untroubled psychological makeup, is persuasive. But it ignores perhaps the upper and more intense limits of human experience – and these have a power all their own. Cervantes novel, after all, is called “Don Quixote”, not “Sancho Panza”.</p> <p><strong>Self-actualisation</strong></p> <p>You also mention <a href="https://positivepsychology.com/self-actualization/">“self-actualisation”</a> in your question. When <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Abraham-H-Maslow">Abraham Maslow</a>, the celebrated American psychologist, placed self-actualisation at the top of his <a href="https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html">hierarchy of human needs</a>, he thought of it as a positive drive for developing one’s personal potential. Your own personal potential, Brenda, will be different to that of your partner.</p> <p>Maslow thought that more basic needs had to be satisfied before moving up to the next level – water and food before safety, then love, self-esteem and only then self-actualisation. But subsequent research shows that humans don’t always do this in the anticipated order and that satisfying different levels of need either simultaneously, or in the “wrong order”, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21688922">doesn’t seem to affect wellbeing significantly</a>. This explains how those living in poor countries can also satisfy their psychological needs even when the fulfilment of more basic needs is uncertain.</p> <p>In any case, having a set of needs – hierarchical or not – inevitably puts us in a needy position, and the relationship between striving to better ourselves and happiness is not a simple one. Maslow himself struggled in his personal life with issues such as racism (he was Jewish) and an awful relationship with his mother, whom he hated.</p> <h2>Pain and pleasure</h2> <p>Research shows that factors such as <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1047279706001943">poverty</a>, <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/216320">pain</a> and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4225959/">loneliness</a> make us unhappy, and it is equally clear that pleasures of any kind contribute towards our sense of wellbeing.</p> <p>The 19th-century British thinker John Stuart Mill postulated in simple terms that happiness is “intended pleasure, and the absence of pain” while unhappiness is <a href="https://www.britannica.com/topic/utilitarianism-philosophy">“pain, and the privation of pleasure”</a>.</p> <p>Like Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, Mill also saw a similar hierarchy in pleasure, with the physiological at the bottom and the spiritual at the top. He also <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/359472-those-only-are-happy-i-thought-who-have-their-minds">advised against</a> too much introspection in matters of happiness, saying:</p> <blockquote> <p>Ask yourself if you are happy and you cease to be so.</p> </blockquote> <p>I suspect you ask yourself this question at times, Brenda. And even though Mill saw happiness as being predicated by pleasure and pain, he also hinted that being human, with all that this implies, may bring a dissatisfaction that would be preferable to mere contentment.</p> <p>Don Quixote is a dissatisfied man and his ambitions to achieve his glorious goals are always frustrated. He has, however, certain characteristics that have been found to be associated with happiness: an optimistic <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0022-3514.50.5.974">attributional style</a> and an internal “locus” (place) of control.</p> <p>Don Quixote’s “internal locus of control” means that he feels in control of his destiny (despite all the evidence to the contrary). Control resides within him. His “optimistic attributional style”, meanwhile, refers to the fact that he always ascribes his failures to transient external forces, rather than to permanent internal issues.</p> <p>Sancho, on the other hand, has a reactive attitude to life. He doesn’t have any fantasies about being in control of his destiny, which he believes is in the lap of the gods. “The lucky man has nothing to worry about,” he says.</p> <p>So, in this respect at least, Don Quixote, driving his own fortune and making his own luck, is probably happier in his quest, however frustrating, than Sancho is in his passive contentment.</p> <p><strong>Contentment versus happiness</strong></p> <p>The difference between contentment and happiness, or to be more precise, the incompatibility that exists between a state of permanent contentment and being human, has also been explored in modern novels, written centuries after Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, such as <a href="https://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item126934.html">The Time Machine by HG Wells</a> or <a href="https://www.britannica.com/topic/Brave-New-World">Brave New World by Aldous Huxley</a>.</p> <p>Some of the characters in these future dystopias, where pain and suffering have been eradicated, are perfectly placid, even content. But their insipid pseudo-happiness, devoid of choice or intense emotion, is less desirable than our own imperfect emotional tribulations – at least according to the authors.</p> <p>Indeed, our ability to feel happy is affected by a variety of personality factors and temperamental attitudes, not by just one single dimension of placidity versus psychological restlessness, or even optimism versus pessimism.</p> <p>But does it matter anyway? Whether we are “half-empty” or “half-full” personalities, none of us is <a href="https://theconversation.com/humans-arent-designed-to-be-happy-so-stop-trying-119262">designed to be happy</a> – only, ultimately, to survive and reproduce. Consequently, we will all battle with frequent unpleasant emotions, whatever our temperament.</p> <p>It is good, Brenda, that you haven’t given up your efforts to grow as a person and that you remain hungry for knowledge. Even if I told you that there is a better strategy for happiness, that you should be content with watching television and little else, I am pretty certain you wouldn’t want that.</p> <p>You need to continue being who you are, even if being who you are doesn’t transport you to a state of sustained and uninterrupted psychological bliss. Our nature is to chase the teasing and elusive butterfly of happiness, not always to capture it. Happiness can’t be bottled and bought and sold.</p> <p>It can, however, be a journey – and this never-ending quest includes you, Brenda, as well as your partner. And perhaps we can all find comfort in the knowledge that our nagging dissatisfaction is a key part of what makes us human.</p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/rafael-euba-294554"><em>Rafael Euba</em></a><em>, Consultant and Senior Lecturer in Old Age Psychiatry, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/kings-college-london-1196">King's College London</a></em></span></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/happiness-is-feeling-content-more-important-than-purpose-and-goals-131503">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why memories come flooding back when you visit places from your past

<p>We all know our memories get worse as time goes on – your recollection of what you did yesterday is probably a lot better than for the same day three years ago.</p> <p>And yet we often have moments where old and seemingly forgotten memories pop back into mind. Perhaps you have visited your childhood home, walked into your old bedroom, and been hit with a wave of nostalgia. What triggers this rush of memories, and how can you suddenly remember things you may not have thought about for decades?</p> <p>Researchers are realising that the context in which memories are created is crucially important in remembering them later. This idea is known as “<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41583-019-0150-4">contextual-binding theory</a>”, and it boils down to three components: context learning, context change, and memory search.</p> <p>Let’s start with learning. It is well established that learning in the brain happens by a process of association. If A and B occur together, they become associated. Contextual-binding theory goes a step further: A and B are associated not just with one other, but also with the <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2009-00258-003">context in which they occurred</a>.</p> <p>What is context? It’s not just your physical location – it’s a <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-02165-011">mental state</a> that also comprises the thoughts, emotions, and other mental activity you’re experiencing at a given moment. Even as you read this page, changes in your thoughts and mental activity are causing your mental context to change.</p> <p>As a consequence, each memory is associated with different states of context. However, some context states will be similar to each other – perhaps because they share the same location, or mood, or have some other factor in common.</p> <p>This similarity between contexts is important when it comes to retrieving memories. Your brain’s memory search process is rather like a Google search, in that you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for if your search terms closely match the source content. During memory search, your <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2009-00258-003">current mental context <em>is</em> your set of search terms</a>. In any given situation, your brain is rapidly rifling through your memories for ones that most closely resemble your current state of context.</p> <p><strong>Simple but deep</strong></p> <p>These mechanisms are simple, but the implications are profound. According to the theory, you’re most likely to remember memories from contexts that are similar to the context you’re in now. Because your mental context is always changing, your mental context will be most similar to recently experienced memories. This explains why it’s harder to remember older events.</p> <p>But, of course, older memories aren’t permanently forgotten. If you can change your context to resemble those from seemingly long-forgotten memories, you should be able to remember them. This is why those old memories come flooding back when you step into your childhood bedroom or walk past your old school.</p> <p>Context-dependent memory was confirmed by an <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.2044-8295.1975.tb01468.x">ingenious 1975 experiment</a> in which divers memorised lists of words and were then tested both on land and underwater. On land, their recall was best for the words they had learned on land, whereas underwater they were better at remembering the word lists they learned underwater.</p> <p>This phenomenon isn’t limited to physical locations. You may have noticed that when you’re sad about something, you tend to remember other sad events from your life. This is because your mood and emotions also comprise your mental context. Experiments have <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1364661303002183">confirmed</a> that memory is enhanced when your current mood matches the mood in which you learned the information.</p> <p><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0079742110530032">More than a century’s worth of studies</a> have confirmed we are also better at remembering things if we experience them at different times, rather than repeatedly in quick session. This is one of the main reasons why, when preparing for exams, a regular study routine is more effective than cramming.</p> <p>According to the theory, rapidly repeated material is associated with a single state of context, whereas material repeated across different times and events is associated with several different states of context. This pays off later, when you’re sitting in the exam hall desperately trying to recall the chemical formula for potassium permanganate, because your current state of context will be more likely to match one of the many states of context in which you so diligently did your chemistry revision.</p> <p><strong>Context in the brain</strong></p> <p>Contextual-binding theory can <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41583-019-0150-4">potentially explain a host of other phenomena</a>, such as the effects of brain damage on memory. People with damage to a region in the centre of the brain called the hippocampus are often <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc497229/">unable to form new memories</a>. We suspect this is where context-binding actually occurs, especially given that the hippocampus <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/1098-1063(2000)10:4%3C420::AID-HIPO8%3E3.0.CO;2-5">receives inputs from virtually all other brain regions</a>, enabling associations between different sights, smells, physical sensations, and emotions.</p> <p>A competing theory, known as <a href="https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.142050">systems consolidation theory</a>, instead proposes that memories are initially stored in the hippocampus but are gradually transferred and strengthened in other brain regions over time.</p> <p>This theory is supported by the fact that <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797612441220">memory for new material is better when you rest after learning</a>. Time spent resting may give the brain a chance to consolidate new memories.</p> <p>However, contextual-binding theory can also <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cogs.12214">potentially explain this benefit</a>. Resting immediately after learning, as opposed to carrying on shovelling facts into your brain, means fewer memories share the same context, making them easier to distinguish when you revisit that context later.</p> <p>This also explains why rest is also beneficial <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13423-014-0737-8">before learning</a>, as well as after. And it underpins the tried and tested advice for hardworking students everywhere: don’t forget to get lots of sleep!<!-- 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/124983/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><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/adam-osth-850390">Adam Osth</a>, Senior Lecturer, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-melbourne-722">University of Melbourne</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/heres-why-memories-come-flooding-back-when-you-visit-places-from-your-past-124983">original article</a>.</em></p>

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5 amazing facts about your brain

<p>Our brain is the most complex organ in the body. Not only does it control basic life functions like breathing, organ function, and movement, it’s also behind more complex processes – everything from thought, controlling our behaviour and emotions, and creating memories. But despite how important our brains are, many people still know very little about it.</p> <p>This is your brain, explained.</p> <p><strong>1. It’s always active</strong></p> <p>Even when we’re sleeping, our brain is always active. It has to be to keep us alive. But different parts of the brain are responsible for different functions. The brain is divided into four pairs of lobes on each side of the head. The <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00761/full">frontal lobes</a> are located near the front of the head and the <a href="https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ert/2012/176157/">temporal lobes</a> are just beneath them. The <a href="https://academic.oup.com/cercor/article/20/3/517/416381">parietal lobes</a> are located in the middle and the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544320/">occipital lobes</a> are at the back of the head.</p> <p>The frontal lobe is often associated with what “makes us human”. It’s involved in cognitive processes such as reasoning, learning, creativity, attention and controlling muscles used for movement and speech. It also helps us make memories, and learn to <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2855545/">regulate emotions and behaviour</a>.</p> <p>The parietal lobes are involved in a mixture of functions. These include sensory and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2808313/">numerical</a> processing, as well as visuo-spatial information – which is needed for movement, depth perception, and navigation. The temporal lobes also receive information relating to sounds – including the language we hear – as well as in <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/11808558/medial_temporal_lobe_memory_system.pdf?response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3Dmedial_temporal_lobe_memory_system.pdf&amp;X-Amz-Algorithm=AWS4-HMAC-SHA256&amp;X-Amz-Credential=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A%2F20200226%2Fus-east-1%2Fs3%2Faws4_request&amp;X-Amz-Date=20200226T155856Z&amp;X-Amz-Expires=3600&amp;X-Amz-SignedHeaders=host&amp;X-Amz-Signature=42dd7ff43e604765e3ec6fd2ce0b50c3b9b1774bfe97ab1af6eb6c2375c228ca">memory</a> <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/276/5310/264">processes</a>. The occipital lobes are involved in visual processing. When light enters your eyes, it’s transmitted by nerves to this region and converted to an image that you “see”.</p> <p>The lobes are further divided into functional regions. These are individual regions of a certain lobe that’s responsible for specific functions. For example, an area in the frontal lobe called <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526096/">Broca’s area</a> is specifically involved in language production and comprehension.</p> <p>By <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3073717/">scanning the brain</a>, scientists can measure when and which areas become more active in the brain by looking at which areas experience an increase in blood flow, which delivers the extra oxygen the area needs to function or perform a task. Knowing which parts perform which tasks is important both for research, and when performing surgery.</p> <p><strong>2. It’s constantly receiving information</strong></p> <p>The brain is constantly receiving a flow of information. This information is controlled by two pathways, which keep everything in check. <a href="https://teachmeanatomy.info/neuroanatomy/pathways/ascending-tracts-sensory/">Sensory information</a> is what flows into the brain, and <a href="https://teachmeanatomy.info/neuroanatomy/pathways/descending-tracts-motor/">motor information</a> is what flows out of it.</p> <p>Although the brain is always receiving this information, we’re often unaware of it as it goes areas of the brain that process “unconscious” information. For example, information about the position of your muscles and joints is always being sent to the brain – but we rarely notice this until it becomes uncomfortable, or you need to adjust your position.</p> <p>But when it comes to outgoing motor information – including voluntary actions we control, such as picking something up – we are aware of the function. However, just like sensory information, motor actions can happen involuntarily, like breathing, or the muscles moving food through our gastrointestinal system.</p> <p><strong>3. About 20% of the body’s blood goes to the brain</strong></p> <p>Maintaining brain function, like with all living tissues, relies on the supply of oxygen from blood. The brain receives between 15-20% of blood from the heart at rest – but <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5536794/">many factors can effect</a> this, including age, gender, and weight. For the average male, around 70 millilitres of blood pump round the body per heartbeat. Therefore, approximately 14 millilitres are delivered to the brain per heartbeat, which is essential for getting oxygen to the brain cells.</p> <p>It’s well known that more strokes – where blood supply to areas of the brain are interrupted – happen on the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3633197/">left hand side</a> of the brain. This is important as the right hand side of the brain controls the left side of the body and vice-versa. Since researchers have found more strokes occur in the <a href="https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/STROKEAHA.114.007385">left side of the brain</a> – which may impact the functionality of the right-hand side – people who are right handed might be more likely to suffer loss of functionality after a stroke.</p> <p><strong>4. Brain surgery doesn’t hurt</strong></p> <p>A viral video of a <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-london-51557044/patient-plays-violin-during-her-brain-surgery">woman playing the violin</a> while surgeons operated to remove a brain tumour has left many people asking a lot of questions about our brains. While this might have seemed bizarre, being awake during brain surgery is actually more common than people might think. Often, surgeries relating to “functional” areas of the brain – areas responsible for movement, speech, or vision – require the patient be put under general anaesthetic and then awoken so that these functions can be assessed as the operation proceeds.</p> <p>Surprisingly, the actual surgery doesn’t hurt the brain at all. This is because the brain doesn’t have specialised pain receptors called <a href="https://nba.uth.tmc.edu/neuroscience/m/s2/chapter06.html">nociceptors</a>. The only painful parts of the surgery are when the incision is made through the skin, skull, and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10877/">meninges</a> (the layers of connective tissue that protect the brain). Depending on a number of factors the patient may have general or local anaesthetic for this part of the procedure.</p> <p><strong>5. Brain damage can change who we are</strong></p> <p>A vast amount of what we know about the brain has come from things going wrong. One of the most famous cases is that of <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1114479/">Phineas Gage</a>. He was known as a responsible, upstanding worker. But when an accident at work caused a metal rod to go through his skull, the damage to his frontal lobe caused him to become childish, disrespectful and impulsive. Gage showed 19th-century scientists that damage to the frontal lobe can cause significant personality changes.</p> <p>We also know that people who have lost their vision after their occipital lobe was damaged – either from trauma, tumour growth, or stroke – may still maintain some aspects of sight through something called “<a href="https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20150925-blindsight-the-strangest-form-of-consciousness">blindsight</a>”. This tells us not all visual information goes to the visual cortex in the occipital lobe. People with blindsight might still be able to detect visual information and <a href="https://www.nhs.uk/news/medical-practice/blindsight-phenomenon/">navigate around obstacles</a> despite their sight loss. Some even report being able to “see” certain emotions and describe how it <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5493986/">makes them feel</a>. This shows how highly interconnected brain functions are.</p> <p>Although researchers know a lot about the brain and what it does, we have much left to learn. We have yet to work out what some areas of the brain do – and how they communicate with other parts of the organ.<!-- 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/132621/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><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/adam-taylor-283950">Adam Taylor</a>, Professor and Director of the Clinical Anatomy Learning Centre, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/lancaster-university-1176">Lancaster University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/five-amazing-facts-about-your-brain-132621">original article</a>.</em></p>

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How the way you walk could be used to identify some types of dementia

<p>More than <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia">50m people worldwide</a> are currently living with dementia. With an ageing population, it’s likely that this number will only continue to grow, as getting older is one of the biggest risk factors in developing dementia. But until researchers find a cure, having ways to diagnose this condition early and effectively is important for providing patients with the best treatment possible.</p> <p>Thankfully, new research is bringing us steps closer to providing patients with better dementia diagnoses. And one study has actually found that <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1525861015008518">the way you walk</a> can change several years before developing dementia. This is because dementia is associated with brain cells dying, which can affect many things that we take for granted in everyday life, such as memory and thinking – and even walking.</p> <p>However, dementia is an umbrella term for many different subtypes of the disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease or <a href="https://dementiaroadmap.info/category/diagnosing-well/dementia-subtypes/#targetText=They%20are%20often%20named%20according,Jakob%20disease%20and%20Korsakoff's%20syndrome.">Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease</a>. And because these subtypes can have different symptoms, it’s important to be able to correctly diagnose patients to provide them with the most effective form of treatment.</p> <p>This is what <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2019.06.4953">my research set out to do</a>. I looked at Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia to see if they each have a walking pattern that differentiates them. I found that people with Lewy body dementia have a unique walking pattern when compared to those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.</p> <p><strong>Subtle differences</strong></p> <p>Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia often have similar clinical symptoms – and we might not always notice the subtle differences between the two. That means that people <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/129/3/729/390830">may not receive the right diagnosis</a>, which could affect the care and treatment people with these conditions receive.</p> <p><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1552526011001014">Alzheimer’s disease</a>, the most common form of dementia, is characterised in the early stages by memory problems, such as consistently forgetting what happened the day before.</p> <p><a href="https://n.neurology.org/content/89/1/88.short">Lewy body dementia</a> is instead associated with movement problems, such as slow and stiff movements or problems with balance. It’s also associated with attention problems – where someone might be very attentive one minute, then struggle to concentrate on who they are talking to or what they’re doing moments later.</p> <p>Current treatments for Alzheimer’s and Lewy body dementia may include being prescribed medication which may temporarily improve symptoms, cognitive stimulation therapy, or <a href="https://www.dementiauk.org/music-therapy/">even music therapy</a>. For Lewy body dementia, treatment strategies <a href="https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia-with-lewy-bodies/treatment/">also include physiotherapy</a>.</p> <p>In order to understand if these dementia subtypes could be differentiated by their walking patterns, I looked at subtle aspects in the way a person’s walking, such as their speed and length of steps, and how much their steps change as they walk.</p> <p>People were then split into three groups: the control group, who were adults over 65 with no memory or thinking problems. The other two groups consisted of people with Alzheimer’s disease and people with Lewy body dementia.</p> <p>People were asked to walk across a mat with thousands of sensors inside it which created an electronic footprint. From this electronic footprint, I was able to find out more about a person’s walking patterns, such as how fast or slow they walked, how short or long their steps were, how long it took to make a step, how much their step times and step lengths changed as they walk (known as “variability”), how different their left and right steps look (described as “asymmetry”), and finally, how wide or narrow their steps are.</p> <p>I found that people with both types of dementia could be distinguished from the normal ageing group based on their walking pattern. They walked slower with shorter steps, were more variable and asymmetric, and spent longer with both feet on the ground compared to control subjects. This shows that people with dementia have significant walking problems, and that we need to look at this in people at risk of developing dementia to see if it can predict the onset of the condition.</p> <p>Importantly, I found that the people with Lewy body dementia had a unique walking pattern that distinguished them from those with Alzheimer’s disease. Their steps were even more variable and asymmetric when they walked.</p> <p>Current methods of diagnosis rely on observation and reports of key symptoms, which indicate the need to carry out a memory assessment. Brain scans are recommended to enhance confidence in diagnosis. However, this method relies on symptoms to already be apparent, while objective methods to support early diagnosis, such as a walking test, may reveal underlying problems before such symptoms become visible.</p> <p>By assessing someone’s walking, we could potentially detect and diagnose dementia earlier and more accurately. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/17/health/research/signs-of-cognitive-decline-and-alzheimers-are-seen-in-gait.html">Evidence has shown</a> that walking patterns change before memory and recognition problems become apparent.</p> <p>And although Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia seem quite different, in reality it can be hard to actually recognise the symptoms of Lewy body dementia – meaning many people may receive an incorrect diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. And providing patients with the correct diagnosis is especially important, as certain drugs, such as anti-psychotics, can be harmful to people with <a href="https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/types-dementia/dementia-with-lewy-bodies-diagnosis">dementia with Lewy bodies</a>.</p> <p>Understanding that different types of dementia have unique walking patterns could help patients receive the correct diagnosis. And this may allow researchers to better understand the effects of dementia on the brain and body in earlier stages, aiding treatment and prevention in the future.</p> <p>For people with dementia themselves, earlier diagnosis can give them and their families more time to understand their diagnosis and plan for the future. As of yet, there is no cure for dementia, but an accurate diagnosis gives access to support and information, and <a href="https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alzheimers-disease/treatment/">treatments to help alleviate symptoms. </a><!-- 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/124023/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><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/riona-mcardle-841175">Ríona McArdle</a>, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Brain and Movement Group, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/newcastle-university-906">Newcastle University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-the-way-you-walk-could-be-used-to-identify-some-types-of-dementia-124023">original article</a>.</em></p>

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5 things you didn’t know about psychopaths

<p>In the hit BBC TV show, <em><a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7016936/">Killing Eve</a></em>, Villanelle, a psychopathic assassin, tells Eve, a security service operative, “You should never call a psychopath a psychopath. It upsets them.” She then pouts her lip in an imitation of someone feeling upset.</p> <p>Most people think they know what a psychopath is: someone who has no feelings. Someone who probably tortured animals for fun when they were little. But here are five things you probably didn’t know about psychopaths.</p> <p><strong>1. There’s a bit of a psychopath in all of us.</strong> Psychopathy is a spectrum, and we are all somewhere on that spectrum. If you’ve ever shown a lack of guilt or remorse, or not felt empathy with someone, or you’ve charmed someone to get what you want (remember that last job interview?), then you’ve displayed a psychopathic trait. Maybe you’re fearless in certain situations or you’ve taken big risks – also psychopathic traits.</p> <p><strong>2. Psychopaths are not all “psycho”.</strong> Patrick Bateman in <em>American Psycho</em> and Hannibal Lecter in <em>Silence of the Lambs</em> are typical portrayals of psychopaths in popular culture. While it’s true that most serial killers are psychopaths, the vast majority of psychopaths are not serial killers. Psychopaths comprise <a href="https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(14)00771-4?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0960982214007714%3Fshowall%3Dtrue">about 1%</a> of the general population and can be productive members of society.</p> <p>Their lack of emotions, such as anxiety and fear, helps them to stay calm in frightening situations. Experiments have shown that they have a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2242355/">reduced startle response</a>. If someone gave you a fright while you were watching a horror movie, you would probably show an “exaggerated startle response” – in other words, you’d jump out of your skin. Psychopaths react far less intensely in such fear-evoking situations. If anything, they remain calm. This can be a useful trait if you’re a soldier, a surgeon or in the special forces.</p> <p>Psychopaths can also be very charming (even if only superficially) and they have the ability to confidently take risks, be ruthless, goal-oriented and make bold decisions. This makes them well suited to environments like Wall Street, the boardroom and parliament. Here, psychopaths are more likely to be making a killing than killing.</p> <p><strong>3. Psychopaths prefer <em>Sex in the City</em> to <em>Little House on the Prairie</em>.</strong> Psychopaths are more likely to be found in towns and cities. They prefer what psychologists call a <a href="http://aglenn.people.ua.edu/uploads/1/4/1/8/14182546/glenn_avb_2011.pdf">“fast life history strategy”</a>. That is, they focus on increasing their short-term mating opportunities and number of sexual partners rather than investing a lot of effort in long-term mating, parenthood and life stability. This strategy is linked to increased risk taking and selfishness. Also, cities offer psychopaths better opportunities for finding people to manipulate. They also offer greater anonymity and hence a reduced risk of being detected.</p> <p><strong>4.</strong> <strong>Female psychopaths are somewhat different.</strong> Although male and female psychopaths are similar in many ways, some studies have found differences. For example, female psychopaths appear to more prone to <a href="https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdf/10.1521/pedi_2016_30_237">anxiety, emotional problems and promiscuity</a> than male psychopaths.</p> <p>Some psychologists argue that female psychopathy is sometimes diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, instead – characterised by poorly regulated emotions, impulsive reactions and outbursts of anger. This might explain why most studies show that rates of psychopathy are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19042020">lower in females</a>.</p> <p>Our <a href="http://conference.unizd.hr/ecp19/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2018/07/Program.pdf">latest research</a> shows that female psychopaths seem to prefer to date non-psychopathic men in the short-term, perhaps as a plaything or to allow easy deception and manipulation. But for long-term relationships, a female psychopath will be looking for a fellow psychopath. Eventually, birds of a feather, flock together.</p> <p><strong>5. Psychopaths do have feelings … well, some feelings.</strong> While psychopaths show a specific lack in emotions, such as anxiety, fear and sadness, they can feel other emotions, such as happiness, joy, surprise and disgust, in a similar way as most of us would. So while they may struggle to recognise fearful or sad faces and are less responsive to threats and punishments, they can identify happy faces and they do respond positively when getting rewarded.</p> <p>However, while winning a fiver might make you happy, a psychopath would need a bigger reward to perk them up. In other words, they can feel happy and motivated if the rewards are high enough. Of course, they can also get angry, especially in response to provocation, or get frustrated when their goals are thwarted. So Villanelle is right, to some extent. You can hurt a psychopath’s feelings, but probably different feelings and for different reasons.<!-- 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/103865/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><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/nadja-heym-561659">Nadja Heym</a>, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/nottingham-trent-university-1338">Nottingham Trent University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/five-things-you-didnt-know-about-psychopaths-103865">original article</a>.</em></p>

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How cameras in public spaces might change how we think

<p>Facial recognition is <a href="https://theconversation.com/facial-recognition-is-spreading-faster-than-you-realise-132047">increasingly being used</a> in many countries around the world. In some cases <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/audio/2020/feb/04/the-rise-of-facial-recognition-technology-podcast">the take up has been dramatic</a>. As a result, people are being observed by cameras more than ever, whether in stores, on public transit, or at their workplaces.</p> <p>Using this technology may seem justified when it helps law enforcement track down criminals and make the lives of ordinary citizens safer. But how does the constant observation affect the citizens it is supposed to protect from criminals?</p> <p>It’s easy to imagine that pervasive camera observation will change people’s behaviour. Often, such changes are for the better. For example, research <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2017-46387-004">has shown</a> that when observed, people donate more to charity and wash their hands more frequently to prevent transmitting diseases. Given that these positive outcomes are in everyone’s best interest, it seems that people’s increased observation is positive for society as a whole – as long as privacy regulations are strictly followed.</p> <p><strong>A magnifying effect</strong></p> <p><a href="https://www.academia.edu/33348873/Being_Observed_Magnifies_Action">My research</a>, however, points to a consequence of being observed that has so far been neglected in the public debate around increased observation. My co-authors and I found in several experiments that being observed changes not only what people do, but also how they think. Specifically, we found that when people know that they are observed, they see themselves through the eyes of the observer (or through the lens of a camera).</p> <p>By adopting the perspective of the observer in addition to their own perspective, people perceive themselves as if under a magnifying glass. As a result, people’s observed actions feel magnified. For example, we asked some volunteers to eat a portion of chips in front of a camera, whereas others ate the same food unobserved. The observed volunteers afterwards thought they had eaten larger portions because their behaviour felt to them as if under a magnifying glass.</p> <p>Such a finding might seem like harmless collateral of increased observation, given its other benefits. However, we also found more troubling thought patterns when people were observed. We asked volunteers to take a test, in which they inevitably gave some wrong answers. Those volunteers who were observed during the test thought they had given more wrong answers than unobserved volunteers, although in reality there was no difference between the groups of volunteers.</p> <p>So for the observed volunteers, their errors loomed larger in their minds. The same happened <a href="https://www.academia.edu/33348873/Being_Observed_Magnifies_Action">when we surveyed</a> badminton players after team tournaments. Those players whose teams lost, thought they were personally responsible for the loss to a larger extent when more spectators had observed them play. Again, any errors in their play loomed larger when a player had felt observed when playing for their unsuccessful team. In other words, being observed changed how people <em>thought</em> about their behaviour.</p> <p>We do not know yet what this magnifying glass effect means for people’s thoughts and feelings in the long run. Feeling that one’s errors and failures loom large might hurt one’s confidence and self-esteem. Similarly, small digressions might seem more serious under constant observation. Someone who enjoys leaving the house in their pyjamas to wolf down some junk food might think back with shame and disgust when observed during such forgivable behaviour.</p> <p>As camera observation becomes more and more prevalent, citizens who are concerned with privacy <a href="https://www.gov.uk/request-cctv-footage-of-yourself">are assured</a> that most camera recordings are never watched, or are erased after a short while. Yet, we are only beginning to understand some of the psychological consequences of increased observation. These effects on people’s thought and feelings might linger, even long after the camera tape has been erased.<!-- 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/132537/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><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 --></em></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/janina-steinmetz-648854">Janina Steinmetz</a>, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Cass Business School, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/city-university-of-london-1047">City, University of London</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-cameras-in-public-spaces-might-change-how-we-think-132537">original article</a>.</em></p>

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What would happen if we all just stopped following rules?

<p><em>I’m in my late twenties and I’m feeling more and more constrained by rules. From the endless signs that tell me to “stand on the right” on escalators or “skateboarding forbidden” in public places to all those unwritten societal rules such as the expectation that I should settle down, buy a house and have a family. Do we really need all these rules, why should I follow them and what would happen if we all ignored them?</em> Will, 28, London</p> <p>We all feel the oppressive presence of rules, both written and unwritten – it’s practically a rule of life. Public spaces, organisations, dinner parties, even relationships and casual conversations are rife with regulations and red tape that seemingly are there to dictate our every move. We rail against rules being an affront to our freedom, and argue that they’re “there to be broken”.</p> <p>But as a behavioural scientist I believe that it is not really rules, norms and customs in general that are the problem – but the <em>unjustified</em> ones. The tricky and important bit, perhaps, is establishing the difference between the two.</p> <p>A good place to start is to imagine life in a world without rules. Apart from our bodies following some very strict and <a href="https://theconversation.com/biology-and-why-the-most-compelling-argument-for-the-eu-is-as-old-as-life-itself-59317">complex biological laws</a>, without which we’d all be doomed, the very words I’m writing now follow the rules of English. In Byronic moments of artistic individualism, I might dreamily think of liberating myself from them. But would this new linguistic freedom really do me any good or set my thoughts free?</p> <p>Some – Lewis Carroll in his poem <a href="https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42916/jabberwocky"><em>Jabberwocky</em></a>, for example – have made a success of a degree of <a href="https://study.com/academy/lesson/literary-nonsense-genre-definition-examples.html">literary anarchy</a>. But on the whole, breaking away from the rules of my language makes me not so much unchained as incoherent.</p> <p>Byron was a notorious rule breaker in his personal life, but he was also a <a href="https://www.english.cam.ac.uk/cambridgeauthors/rhythm-and-rhyme-in-don-juan/">stickler for rhyme and meter</a>. In his poem, <a href="https://poets.org/poem/when-we-two-parted">When We Two Parted</a>, for example, Byron writes about forbidden love, a love that broke the rules, but does do so by precisely following some well-established poetic laws. And many would argue it is all the more powerful for it:</p> <blockquote> <p>In secret we met<br />In silence I grieve,<br />That thy heart could forget,<br />Thy spirit deceive.<br />If I should meet thee<br />After long years,<br />How should I greet thee?–<br />With silence and tears.</p> </blockquote> <p>Consider, too, how rules are the essence of sport, games and puzzles – even when their entire purpose is supposedly fun. The <a href="https://www.chess.com/learn-how-to-play-chess">rules of chess</a>, say, can trigger a tantrum if I want to “castle” to get out of check, but find that they say I can’t; or if I find your pawn getting to my side of the board and turning into a queen, rook, knight or bishop. Similarly, find me a football fan who hasn’t at least once raged against the offside rule.</p> <p>But chess or football without rules wouldn’t be chess or football – they would be entirely formless and meaningless activities. Indeed, a game with no rules is no game at all.</p> <p>Lots of the norms of everyday life perform precisely the same function as the rules of games – telling us what “moves” we can, and can’t, make. The conventions of “pleases” and “thank yous” that seem so irksome to young children are indeed arbitrary – but the fact that we have some such conventions, and perhaps critically that we agree what they are, is part of what makes our social interactions run smoothly.</p> <p>And rules about driving on the left or the right, stopping at red lights, queuing, not littering, picking up our dog’s deposits and so on fall into the same category. They are the building blocks of a harmonious society.</p> <p><strong>The call of chaos</strong></p> <p>Of course, there has long been an appetite among some people for a less formalised society, a society without government, a world where individual freedom takes precedence: an anarchy.</p> <p>The trouble with anarchy, though, is that it is inherently unstable – humans continually, and spontaneously, <a href="https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Beyond-Markets-and-States%3A-Polycentric-Governance-Ostrom/3a5c55353bb7d4b29bc6ed45d062e78bd8291a66">generate new rules</a> governing behaviour, communication and economic exchange, and they do so as rapidly as old rules are dismantled.</p> <p>A few decades ago, the generic pronoun in written language was widely assumed to be male: he/him/his. That rule has, quite rightly, largely been overturned. Yet it has also been replaced – not by an absence of rules, but by a different and broader set of <a href="https://qz.com/work/1647596/gender-pronouns-in-the-workplace-are-not-a-passing-trend/">rules governing our use of pronouns</a>.</p> <p>Or let’s return to the case of sport. A game may start by kicking a pig’s bladder from one end of a village to another, with ill-defined teams, and potentially riotous violence. But it ends up, after a few centuries, with a <a href="http://www.thefa.com/football-rules-governance/lawsandrules">hugely complex rule book</a> dictating every detail of the game. We even create international governing bodies to oversee them.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Beyond-Markets-and-States%3A-Polycentric-Governance-Ostrom/3a5c55353bb7d4b29bc6ed45d062e78bd8291a66">political economist Elinor Ostrom</a> (who shared the Noble Prize for economics in 2009) observed the same phenomenon of spontaneous rule construction when people had collectively to manage common resources such as common land, fisheries, or water for irrigation.</p> <p>She found that people collectively construct rules about, say, how many cattle a person can graze, where, and when; who gets how much water, and what should be done when the resource is limited; who monitors whom, and which rules resolve disputes. These rules aren’t just invented by rulers and imposed from the top down – instead, they often arise, unbidden, from the needs of mutually agreeable social and economic interactions.</p> <p>The urge to overturn stifling, unjust or simply downright pointless rules is entirely justified. But without some rules – and some tendency for us to stick to them – society would slide rapidly into pandemonium. Indeed, many social scientists would see our tendency to create, stick to, and enforce rules as the very foundation of <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5014575_The_Logic_of_Appropriateness">social and economic life</a>.</p> <p>Our relationship with rules does seem to be unique to humans. Of course, many animals behave in highly ritualistic ways – for example, the <a href="https://peerj.com/articles/3987/">bizarre and complex courtship</a> dances of different species of bird of paradise – but these patterns are wired into their genes, not invented by past generations of birds. And, while humans establish and maintain rules by <a href="https://www.econ.uzh.ch/dam/jcr:ffffffff-9758-127f-0000-00004797af07/iewwp106.pdf">punishing rule violations</a>, chimpanzees – our closest relatives – do not. Chimps may retaliate when their food is stolen but, crucially, they don’t punish food stealing in general – even if the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/109/37/14824">victim is a close relative</a>.</p> <p>In humans, rules also take hold early. <a href="https://www.eva.mpg.de/psycho/staff/tomas/pdf/rakoczyNorms.pdf">Experiments show that children</a>, by the age of three, can be taught entirely arbitrary rules for playing a game. Not only that, when a “puppet” (controlled by an experimenter) arrives on the scene and begins to violate the rules, children will criticise the puppet, protesting with comments such as “You are doing that wrong!” They will even attempt to teach the puppet to do better.</p> <p>Indeed, despite our protests to the contrary, rules seem hardwired into our DNA. In fact, our species’ ability to latch onto, and enforce, arbitrary rules is crucial to our <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2865079/">success as a species</a>. If each of us had to justify each rule from scratch (why we drive on the left in some countries, and on the right in others; why we say please and thank you), our minds would grind to a halt. Instead, we are able to learn the hugely complex systems of linguistic and social norms without asking too many questions – we simply absorb “the way we do things round here”.</p> <p><strong>Instruments of tyranny</strong></p> <p>But we must be careful – for this way tyranny also lies. Humans have a powerful sense of wanting to <a href="https://theconversation.com/would-you-stand-up-to-an-oppressive-regime-or-would-you-conform-heres-the-science-124469">enforce, sometimes oppressive, patterns of behaviour</a> – correct spelling, no stranded prepositions, no split infinitives, hats off in church, standing for the national anthem – irrespective of their justification. And while the shift from “This is what we all do” to “This is what we all ought to do” is a <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-38724-006">well-known ethical fallacy</a>, it is deeply embedded in human psychology.</p> <p>One danger is that rules can develop their own momentum: people can become so fervent about arbitrary rules of dress, dietary restrictions or the proper treatment of the sacred that they may exact the most extreme punishments to maintain them.</p> <p>Political ideologues and religious fanatics often mete out such retribution – but so do repressive states, bullying bosses and coercive partners: the rules must be obeyed, just because they are the rules.</p> <p>Not only that, but criticising rules or failing to enforce them (not to draw attention to a person wearing inappropriate dress, for example) becomes a transgression requiring punishment itself.</p> <p>And then there’s “rule-creep”: rules just keep being added and extended, so that our individual liberty is increasingly curtailed. Planning restrictions, safety regulations and risk assessments can seem to accumulate endlessly and may extend their reach far beyond any initial intention.</p> <p>Restrictions on renovating ancient buildings can be so stringent that no renovation is feasible and the buildings collapse; environmental assessments for new woodlands can be so severe that tree planting becomes almost impossible; regulations on drug discovery can be so arduous that a potentially valuable medicine is abandoned. The road to hell is not merely paved with good intentions, but edged with rules enforcing those good intentions, whatever the consequences.</p> <p>Individuals, and societies, face a continual battle over rules – and we must be cautious about their purpose. So, yes, “<a href="https://theconversation.com/why-most-people-follow-routines-101630">standing on the right</a>” on an escalator may speed up everyone’s commute to work – but be careful of conventions that have no obvious benefit to all, and especially those that discriminate, punish and condemn. The latter can become the instruments of tyranny</p> <p>Rules, like good policing, should rely on our consent. So perhaps the best advice is mostly to follow rules, but always to ask why.</p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/nick-chater-199346"><em>Nick Chater</em></a><em>, Professor of Behavioural Science, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/warwick-business-school-university-of-warwick-2650">Warwick Business School, University of Warwick</a></em></span></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-would-happen-if-we-all-just-stopped-following-rules-128664">original article</a>.</em></p>

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4 signs you have high emotional intelligence

<p>Emotional intelligence can mean the difference between behaving in a socially acceptable way and being considered to be way out of line. While most people will have heard of emotional intelligence, not many people really know how to spot it – in themselves or in others.</p> <p>Emotional intelligence is essentially the way you perceive, understand, express, and manage emotions. And it’s important because the more you understand these aspects of yourself, the better your mental health and social behaviour will be.</p> <p>It might be these are things you do without even really thinking – which can be the case for a lot of people. Or it might be that these are skills you know you need to work on.</p> <p>Either way, improved emotional intelligence can be very useful in all sorts of circumstances – be it in work, at home, in school, or even when you’re just socialising with your friends.</p> <p>So if you want to know if you’re emotionally intelligent, simply check the list below.</p> <p><strong>1. You think about your reactions</strong></p> <p>Emotional intelligence can mean the difference between a good reaction and a bad reaction to circumstances. Emotions can contain important information that can be useful to personal and social functioning – but sometimes these emotions can also overwhelm us, and make us act in ways we would rather not.</p> <p>People who lack emotional intelligence are more likely to just react, without giving themselves the time to weigh up the pros and cons of a situation and really thinking things through.</p> <p>People who are less able to regulate their negative feelings are also more likely to have difficulty functioning socially – which can exacerbate depressive feelings.</p> <p>People with <a href="https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-signs-and-symptoms.htm">major depression</a> have been shown to have <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1754073916650494">difficulties</a> understanding and managing their emotions. And research has also shown that more depressive symptoms are present in people with lower emotional intelligence – even if they are not clinically depressed.</p> <p><strong>2. You see situations as a challenge</strong></p> <p>If you are able to recognise negative emotions in yourself and see difficult <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1754073916650497">situations as a challenge</a> – focusing on the positives and persevering – chances are that you’ve got high emotional intelligence.</p> <p>Imagine for a moment you lost your job. An emotionally intelligent person might perceive their emotions as cues to take action, both to deal with the challenges and to control their thoughts and feelings.</p> <p>But someone with poor emotional skills might <a href="http://www.apa.org/monitor/nov05/cycle.aspx">ruminate</a> on their job loss, come to think of themselves as hopelessly unemployable, and spiral into depression.</p> <p><strong>3. You can modify your emotions</strong></p> <p>Of course, there are times when your feelings can get the better of you, but if you are an emotionally intelligent person, it is likely that when this happens you have the skills needed to modify your emotions.</p> <p>For example, while average levels of anxiety can improve cognitive performance – probably by increasing focus and motivation – too much anxiety can block cognitive achievement.</p> <p>So knowing how to find the sweet spot, between too much and too little anxiety, can be a useful tool.</p> <p>It is clear that <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-brain-and-emotional-intelligence/201203/the-sweet-spot-achievement">moderation</a> is the key when it comes to managing our emotions. Emotionally intelligent people know this and have the skills to modify their emotions appropriately.</p> <p>And this is probably why emotional intelligence has been shown to be <a href="http://emotional.intelligence.uma.es/documentos/pdf60among_adolescents.pdf">related</a> to lower levels of anxiety.</p> <p><strong>4. You can put yourself in other people’s shoes</strong></p> <p>If you are able to extend these skills beyond your own personal functioning, then that’s another sign that you have high levels of emotional intelligence.</p> <p>Emotional intelligence can be particularly important in workplaces that require heavy “<a href="https://hbr.org/2016/09/managing-the-hidden-stress-of-emotional-labor">emotional labour</a>” – where workers must manage their emotions according to organisational rules.</p> <p>This can include customer service jobs, where workers may need to sympathise with customers – despite the fact that customers may be yelling at them.</p> <p>This is why workplace emotional intelligence training is now common – with the <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1754073916650496">most effective training</a> focusing on management and expression of emotions, which are directly linked to communication and job performance.</p> <p>It’s also worth pointing out that emotional intelligence is a cognitive ability that can improve across your <a href="http://www.livescience.com/37134-emotional-intelligence-improve-aging.html">lifespan</a>. So if you haven’t recognised much of yourself in the traits listed above, fear not, there’s still time for you to work on your emotional intelligence.<!-- 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/71165/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><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/jose-m-mestre-286147">Jose M. Mestre</a>, Professor of Emotion and Motivation, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/universidad-de-cadiz-2934">Universidad de Cádiz</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/kimberly-a-barchard-285790">Kimberly A. Barchard</a>, Associate Professor in Quantitative Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-nevada-las-vegas-826">University of Nevada, Las Vegas</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/four-signs-you-have-high-emotional-intelligence-71165">original article</a>.</em></p>

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