Mind

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What’s the point of grief?

<p><a href="https://theconversation.com/how-the-internet-is-changing-the-way-we-grieve-100134">Grieving</a> is an experience almost <a href="https://theconversation.com/bowie-diana-and-why-we-mourn-in-public-53396">everyone will go through</a> at some point in their life. And is something we often have no control over.</p> <p><a href="https://animalstudiesrepository.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1133&amp;context=animsent">It isn’t just humans either</a>. There is plenty of evidence, albeit anecdotal, that <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-the-grieving-mother-orca-tells-us-about-how-animals-experience-death-101230">other mammals</a>, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAafj--lRW0">particularly primates</a>, stay close to their dead relatives or babies – even carrying them around for a time before descending into a period of depression.</p> <p>In terms of evolution, <a href="https://theconversation.com/from-mummification-to-sky-burials-why-we-need-death-rituals-60386">if grief were not helpful</a>, it would long have been bred out of our species. The real question then is not why do we grieve, more what purpose does it serve?</p> <p><strong>Stages of grief</strong></p> <p>People often talk of the “<a href="https://theconversation.com/the-five-stages-of-grief-dont-come-in-fixed-steps-everyone-feels-differently-96111">stages of grief</a>”. The “five stages” model is the best known, with the <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13576275.2012.758629">stages</a> being denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – though these were actually written to describe coming to terms with dying rather than bereavement.</p> <p>For many working in the area of bereavement of counselling, the stages of grief are little more than of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0030222817691870">historical interest</a> now, as the stages are seen as too rigid and not individualised enough – grief don’t come in fixed stages and everyone feels things differently.</p> <p>In fact, most of what we understand about grief today, is down to psychologist, John Bowlby’s <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-everyone-should-know-their-attachment-style-105321">attachment theory</a>. Essentially, attachment theory focuses on the “psychological connectedness between human beings”.</p> <p>The theory looks at the quality of the intimate bonds we make during the course of our lives, with a specific focus on parent-child relations. And it seems that grief is the flipside to these very close attachments we, as humans, are able to form.</p> <p>Every parent knows the ear-splitting protest when their infant is left alone. If they return quickly, peace is restored. Bowlby concluded that this behaviour evolved to keep the infant close to parents and safe from predators.</p> <p>If, for whatever reason, the parent is unable to return, Bowlby noticed that after a prolonged protest, the child became withdrawn and despairing. <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00332747.1970.11023644?journalCode=upsy20">Colin Murray Parkes</a>, guru of bereavement theory and research, and a colleague of Bowlby’s, noticed the similarity between this behaviour and grief.</p> <p><strong>Science of grief</strong></p> <p>As a <a href="http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/17661/">bereavement counsellor and researcher</a> this is something I see in my clients. Initially they cry out in protest, but as time passes, they begin to despair, realising their loved one has gone forever.</p> <p>Grief isn’t just a mental experience either. It also has a physiological effect as it can raise the levels of the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.08.009">stress hormone cortisol</a>. This may explain why many of my clients experience stress reactions in the form of panic attacks, particularly if they attempt to bottle up their emotions.</p> <p>Modern techniques in neuroscience allow us to see grief in real time. In MRI scans, a brain region called the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2553561/">nucleus accumbens</a>, which lights up when we talk fondly of our love ones, also glows at our grief at losing them.</p> <p>These reward centres in our brain that make us happy together, keep us bonded by making us sad when we are apart. In this sense, <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2001-18149-011">evolutionary biologists</a> have suggested the protest phase of grief lasts long enough for us to search for our loved one, yet is short enough to detach when hope is lost.</p> <p>The despair phase, a form of depression, follows – and may serve to detach us from the one we have lost. It saves us from an energy-draining and fruitless search for them. And in time, emotional detachment allows us to seek a new breeding partner. It has also been suggested that both protest and despair may function to foster family and tribal cohesion and a sense of shared identity through the act of <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4889573">shared grief</a>.</p> <p><strong>A changed world</strong></p> <p>Most people associate grief with losing someone they love, but in reality people can <a href="https://theconversation.com/you-really-can-die-of-a-broken-heart-heres-the-science-57442">grieve for all sorts of reasons</a>. In essence, knowing what to expect and feeling secure and stable is important for our survival - so when a loss occurs in our lives, our world shifts and is turned upside down.</p> <p>In grief and trauma work, this is knows this as “<a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1972-21034-001">assumptive world theory</a>”. In the face of death and trauma, these beliefs are shattered and disorientation and even panic can enter the lives of those affected.</p> <p>Life is split into two halves – before the loss and after the loss. We grieve for the loss of the safe and familiar and it feels as though things will never be the same again. The loss of a loved one triggers both the grief of separation and the loss of our assumptive world in which they were a part.</p> <p>But over time, we adapt to our new world. We <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/10397-002">relearn the world changed by our loss</a>. Indeed, one of the privileges of working with grief is watching how so many clients learn and grow from the experience and emerge from their grief better equipped to deal with future losses.<!-- 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/137665/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-frederick-wilson-1037315">John Frederick Wilson</a>, Honorary Research Fellow, Director of Bereavement Services Counselling &amp; Mental Health Clinic, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/york-st-john-university-833">York St John 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/whats-the-point-of-grief-137665">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why some people are willing to challenge bullying, corruption and bad behavior even at personal risk

<p>Utah Senator Mitt Romney voted in February to convict President Donald Trump on the charge of abuse of power, becoming the first senator ever to <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/2/5/21125118/mitt-romney-impeachment-vote-history">vote against his own party’s president in an impeachment trial</a>.</p> <p>Two Theranos employees – Erika Cheung and Tyler Shultz – <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/549478/bad-blood-by-john-carreyrou/">spoke out about their concerns</a> regarding the company’s practices, even though they knew they could face lasting personal and professional repercussions.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harvey-weinstein-harassment-allegations.html">Actors Ashley Judd</a> <a href="https://deadline.com/2019/12/harvey-weinstein-moment-of-reckoning-silence-breakers-ashley-judd-rose-mcgowen-1202803517/">and Rose McGowan</a> came forward to report <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/24/us/harvey-weinstein-trial-verdict/index.html">Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assault</a>, despite his threats to ruin their careers if they did so.</p> <p>All of these people spoke up to call out bad behavior, even in the face of immense pressure to stay silent. Although the specifics of each of these cases are quite different, what each of these people share is a willingness to take action. <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=-dCo5lYAAAAJ&amp;hl=en&amp;oi=ao">Psychologists like me</a> describe those who are willing to defend their principles in the face of potentially negative social consequences such as disapproval, ostracism and career setbacks as “moral rebels.”</p> <p><a href="https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674241831">Moral rebels</a> speak up in all types of situations – to tell a bully to cut it out, to confront a friend who uses a racist slur, to report a colleague who engages in corporate fraud. What enables someone to call out bad behavior, even if doing so may have costs?</p> <p><strong>The traits of a moral rebel</strong></p> <p>First, moral rebels generally <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/10508422.2015.1012765">feel good about themselves</a>. They tend to have high self-esteem and to feel confident about their own judgment, values and ability. They also <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167209346170">believe their own views are superior</a> to those of others, and thus that they have a social responsibility to share those beliefs.</p> <p>Moral rebels are also <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2015.10.002">less socially inhibited than others</a>. They aren’t worried about feeling embarrassed or having an awkward interaction. Perhaps most importantly, they are far less concerned about conforming to the crowd. So, when they have to choose between fitting in and doing the right thing, they will probably choose to do what they see as right.</p> <p>Research in neuroscience reveals that people’s ability to stand up to social influence is reflected in anatomical differences in the brain. People who are more concerned about fitting in show <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2012.01.012">more gray matter volume in one particular part of the brain</a>, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. This area right behind your eyebrows creates memories of events that led to negative outcomes. It helps guide you away from things you want to avoid the next time around – such as being rejected by your group.</p> <p>People who are more concerned about conforming to their group also show <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.12.035">more activity in two other brain circuits</a>; one that responds to social pain – like when you experience rejection – and another that tries to understand others’ thoughts and feelings. In other words, those who feel worst when excluded by their group try the hardest to fit in.</p> <p>What does this suggest about moral rebels? For some people, feeling like you’re different than everyone else feels really bad, even at a neurological level. For other people, it may not matter as much, which makes it easier for them to stand up to social pressure.</p> <p>These characteristics are totally agnostic as to what the moral rebel is standing up for. You could be the lone anti-abortion voice in your very liberal family or the lone abortion rights advocate in your very conservative family. In either scenario it’s about standing up to social pressure to stay silent – and that pressure of course could be applied about anything.</p> <p><strong>The path of a moral rebel</strong></p> <p>What does it take to create a moral rebel?</p> <p>It helps to have <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2005-08753-003">seen moral courage in action</a>. Many of the civil rights activists who participated in marches and sit-ins in the southern United States in the 1960s had parents who displayed moral courage and civic engagement, as did many of the Germans who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. Watching people you look up to show moral courage can inspire you to do the same.</p> <p>A budding moral rebel also needs to feel empathy, imagining the world from someone else’s perspective. Spending time with and really getting to know people from different backgrounds helps. White high school students who had more contact with people from different ethnic groups – in their neighborhood, at school and on sports teams – have higher levels of empathy and see people from different minority groups in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/josi.12053">more positive ways</a>.</p> <p>These same students are more likely to report taking some action if a classmate uses an ethnic slur, such as by directly challenging that person, supporting the victim or telling a teacher. People who are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-010-9109-1">more empathetic</a> are also more likely to defend someone who is being bullied.</p> <p>Finally, moral rebels need particular skills and practice using them. One study found that teenagers who <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01682.x">held their own in an argument with their mother</a>, using reasoned arguments instead of whining, pressure or insults, were the most resistant to peer pressure to use drugs or drink alcohol later on. Why? People who have practiced making effective arguments and sticking with them under pressure are better able to use these same techniques with their peers.</p> <p>Moral rebels clearly have particular characteristics that enable them to stand up for what’s right. But what about the rest of us? Are we doomed to be the silent bystanders who meekly stand by and don’t dare call out bad behavior?</p> <p>Fortunately, no. It is possible to develop the ability to stand up to social pressure. In other words, anyone can learn to be a moral rebel.<!-- 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/catherine-a-sanderson-1126074"><em>Catherine A. Sanderson</em></a><em>, Poler Family Professor and Chair of Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/amherst-college-2155">Amherst College</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/heres-why-some-people-are-willing-to-challenge-bullying-corruption-and-bad-behavior-even-at-personal-risk-140829">original article</a>.</em></p>

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How the pandemic upended our perception of time

<p>Think back to life before stay-at-home orders. Does it feel like just yesterday? Or does it seem like ages ago – like some distant era?</p> <p>Of course, time is precise. It takes <a href="https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/days/en/">23.9 hours</a> for the Earth to make one rotation on its axis. But that’s not how we experience time. Instead, internally, it’s often something we feel or sense, rather than objectively measure.</p> <p>It turns out our emotional state tends to play a big role in our perception of time – a dynamic that <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=klgb90kAAAAJ&amp;hl=en">I’ve studied</a> for 10 years. Much research has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2009.0013">relative to an emotional negative state</a>, a positive one <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/02699930341000194">makes time appear to pass more quickly</a>.</p> <p>Back in the early days of the pandemic, when it became clear that the virus would upend our everyday lives, it wasn’t a stretch to assume that the coming weeks and months would be an emotional roller coaster.</p> <p>Thanks to <a href="https://www.ua.edu/news/2020/03/ua-to-study-how-emotions-impact-behavior-to-covid-19-pandemic/?fbclid=IwAR2ChEbiK95XxgtHck6xGALcvXM8xw7XOFLBf2MKMEC8cZ1BFNmLUY5zAkc">a grant from the National Science Foundation</a>, my team and I developed a smartphone application to document the <a href="https://www.cbs42.com/alabama-news/ua-researcher-studying-emotional-response-to-pandemic/">emotions, perceptions and behaviors of Americans</a> during the pandemic on a month-by-month basis. We’ve been able to track the extent to which Americans’ internal clocks went haywire – and explore why this might have happened.</p> <p><strong>The turbulence of time</strong></p> <p><a href="http://scenlab.as.ua.edu/GablePoole12Time.pdf">There’s truth</a> to the aphorism “time flies when you’re having fun.” On the other hand, the opposite seems to occur when we’re scared, sad or anxious. For example, people often remark how <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-accidents-and-emergencies-seem-to-dramatically-slow-down-time-122569">car wrecks or accidents seem to happen in slow motion</a>.</p> <p>Why does this happen?</p> <p>Emotion and motivation are intertwined. Emotion compels us to act in certain ways, whether it’s diving into a project when we’re excited or hiding when we’re terrified. The former is called “approach motivation,” while the latter is called “avoidance motivation.”</p> <p>My team and I <a href="http://scenlab.as.ua.edu/GableNealPoole16MotivationScience.pdf">have been able to show</a> how approach motivation causes our sense of time to speed up, but avoidance motivation causes it to slow down. The more motivation we feel in either direction, the more pronounced the change in our perception of time.</p> <p>This happens for a reason. When we’re motivated to do something, we have a goal in mind, whether it’s finishing a puzzle or evading a car that’s blown a red light.</p> <p>The speeding or slowing of time may help us achieve these goals. When time passes more quickly, it makes it easier to pursue a goal for a longer period of time. Think about a hobby you enjoy and how time passes more quickly when you’re engaged with it.</p> <p>In contrast, when avoidance motivation is triggered, time slows down to prevent us from lingering in potentially harmful situations. If time seems like it’s dragging when you’re frightened or disgusted, you’ll act more quickly to get yourself out of harm’s way.</p> <p><strong>Our pandemic clocks</strong></p> <p>It’s this avoidance situation that many of us found ourselves in at the beginning of the pandemic. There was this threat that we wanted to evade, but since we couldn’t see it, we were left trying to avoid a range of potentially harmful situations. Because these included routine activities like shopping and exercising, our avoidance motivation was constantly triggered.</p> <p>If you felt like time slowed down during the early days of the pandemic, you weren’t alone.</p> <p>In April, we asked 1,000 Americans how time seemed to be passing during March. About half said they felt time dragged and a quarter indicated that time passed more quickly than normal. The remaining quarter reported that they didn’t experience a change in the passage of time.</p> <p>Whether time slowed or sped up was most closely related to people’s emotions. Those who reported that they were most nervous or stressed also indicated that time passed more slowly, while those who felt happy or glad tended to experience time passing more quickly.</p> <p>Our findings also revealed that people who tended to experience the slowing of time practiced social distancing more often. So while time slowing down might be an unpleasant side effect of anxiety and avoidance, the behaviors did end up benefiting society.</p> <p>In April, about 10 per cent of our sample moved from feeling like time dragged to feeling like time flew. More people were feeling relaxed and calm, and interestingly, it was these positive feelings, along with the perception of time flying, that predicted whether people would engage in social distancing. So it’s possible that people’s improved mood and the shift in their perception of time motivated their willingness to socially distance.</p> <p>Still, there was a big chunk who felt – and probably still feel – that time is dragging.</p> <p>Fortunately, if you feel this way, you can do something about it. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.08.009">Exercise</a>, hobbies and a routine help speed up your perception of time. Sure, it might not “fly by,” but its pace could quicken just enough to make you feel a little better.<!-- 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/philip-gable-1095287"><em>Philip Gable</em></a><em>, Associate Professor of Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-delaware-820">University of Delaware</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/the-stay-at-home-slowdown-how-the-pandemic-upended-our-perception-of-time-139258">original article</a>.</em></p>

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How to stop the COVID-19 stress meltdown

<p>Let’s face it: We’re all under stress right now. The uncertainty and constant health threats surrounding the coronavirus pandemic have upended our lives.</p> <p>We may need two vaccines: one to protect us from the coronavirus and another from the toxic effects of too much stress. Could we train our brains to prevent this stress from becoming lodged in our brains, so we can bounce back faster from stress – and even collect a kernel of wisdom from the experience?</p> <p>Perhaps. <a href="https://www.ebtconnect.net/ebt_hypothesis.pdf">Neuroscience research</a> points to the stress-reactive circuits in the emotional brain as a trigger of toxic stress. These circuits are made of neurons that can guide us to respond ineffectively to stress. Once triggered, they unleash a cascade of stress chemicals. Instead of the brain orchestrating a symphony of effective self-regulatory processes and moderation, we have a garage band of dysregulation and extremes, which can cause chronic stress and rising rates of emotional, behavioral, social and physical <a href="http://doi.org/10.1177/1745691613506907">health problems</a>.</p> <p><a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=JmgNEGsAAAAJ&amp;hl=en">As a health psychology professor</a>, I work on <a href="https://www.ebtconnect.net/science">emotional brain training</a> to help people deactivate and rewire the circuits that cause this <a href="http://doi.org/10.1177/1745691613506907">stress overload</a>.</p> <p><strong>A new crisis in emotional health</strong></p> <p>Scientists have been exploring these issues for over a century. Some 100 years ago, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud speculated that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00071">pathways in the brain</a> caused emotional and behavioral problems. Tom Insel, as director of the National Institutes for Mental Health from 2002 to 2015, called for revolutionizing psychiatry with neuroscience to focus on <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/faulty-circuits/">faulty circuits</a>. The <a href="https://braininitiative.nih.gov/">White House BRAIN initiative</a>, launched in 2013, has been busily mapping the brain’s billions of neurons and their connections to improve understanding of and treatments for a number of disorders.</p> <p>Then came COVID-19, and suddenly 70% of the U.S. population was identified as moderately to severely distressed in a <a href="http://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/wc8ud">nationally representative study</a> in April. That was up from 22% just two years earlier.</p> <p>With a <a href="https://theconversation.com/new-study-shows-staggering-effect-of-coronavirus-pandemic-on-americas-mental-health-137944">crisis in emotional health</a> upon us, people can benefit from learning to take charge of these stress-reactive circuits and switch off the toxic stress chemical cascade they activate.</p> <p><strong>Understanding the emotional brain</strong></p> <p>Most of us aren’t aware that the neural circuits in our emotional brain – the <a href="https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain/brain-anatomy/limbic-system">limbic system</a> and subconscious memory systems in what’s sometimes referred to as the “<a href="http://doi.org/10.19080/PBSIJ.2018.08.555738">reptilian brain”</a> – are the major controllers of our emotional responses in daily life.</p> <p><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jcrWPo_s6EE?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p>When a stimulus arrives in the brain, it activates either stress-resilient circuits, the internal calmers and healers, or stress-reactive circuits, the rabble-rousers that spiral us down into toxic stress.</p> <p>The brain activates the strongest circuit, which then controls our responses. If it triggers a reactive circuit, that unleashes strong emotions that are challenging to process, especially since stress compromises the functioning of the part of our brains responsible for higher-level thinking and planning. The brain struggles to untangle those stuck emotions, and we become stressed out.</p> <p>It gets worse. The longer these stress-reactive wires are activated, the more likely they are to activate other stress-reactive wires. One circuit can trigger another and another, which can cause an emotional meltdown of anxiety, numbness, depression and hostility which can overwhelm us for hours or days.</p> <p>These problematic stress-reactive circuits are encoded during <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.08.019">adverse childhood experiences</a>, and later experiences of stress overload. The social isolation from sheltering in place and financial and health uncertainty has strengthened these faulty wires, turning the pandemic crisis into a virtual incubator for making our brains even more reactive and setting us up for a crisis in emotional health.</p> <p><strong>How to retrain the stressed brain</strong></p> <p>The stress wires in the emotional brain change through <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcomdis.2011.04.011">experience-dependent neuroplasticity</a> – the brain learns to be resilient by being resilient. It takes becoming stressed, then using <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Whats-number-Question-Unlocks-Happiness/dp/1893265013/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2JIUYUH01IX20&amp;dchild=1&amp;keywords=laurel+mellin+whats+my+number&amp;qid=1591263479&amp;sprefix=laurel+mellin%2Caps%2C215&amp;sr=8-1">emotional techniques</a> to discover and change the unreasonable expectations and unwanted drives stored in that circuit.</p> <p>Here’s one technique: First, briefly complain about what’s bothering you. For example: “I can’t stop beating myself up for all the things I have done wrong.” This activates the reactive wire that has encoded a faulty response and makes rewiring possible.</p> <p>Then, rapidly express emotions. Start with a burst of anger, which decreases stress and keeps the stressed “thinking brain” from becoming stuck in ruminating, zoning out or overanalyzing. Notice that you can then stay present to your strong, stress-fueled negative emotions, which will then flow rapidly. You can talk yourself through them by finishing phrases like “I feel sad that …”; “I feel afraid that …”; or “I feel guilty that …”</p> <p>That simple emotional release can ease your stress, and the previously unconscious unreasonable expectation encoded in the circuit will appear in your conscious mind. With the wire unlocked, you can then change the expectation into a reasonable one. For example, change “I get my safety from being hard on myself” to “I get my safety from being kind to myself.” The unwanted drive that amplifies your stress fades.</p> <p>In small but important steps to release stress day by day, you train your brain for resilience.</p> <p><strong>Stress resilience as a social responsibility</strong></p> <p>Research has shown that emotions transmitted during social dialogue can eventually become <a href="http://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-50770-4">large-scale group emotions</a>. We can spread stress to others, and much like secondhand smoke, secondhand stress is becoming a concern.</p> <p>I’ve been surprised in my clinical practice at how quickly individuals link stress with social responsibility. One technology company executive said, “Switching off my stress is good for me, keeps me from triggering stress in my family, and it’s something I do for our country. We are a stressed nation, and I want to be part of the solution.”</p> <p><strong>Stress resilience as a foundation for health</strong></p> <p>Even though stress overload is a root cause of many <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Robert-Paul_Juster/publication/26887860_Juster_RP_McEwen_BS_Lupien_SJ_Allostatic_load_biomarkers_of_chronic_stress_and_impact_on_health_and_cognition_Neurosci_Biobehav_Rev_35_2-16/links/5a5cb9290f7e9b4f78395e83/Juster-RP-McEwen-BS-Lupien-SJ-Allostatic-load-biomarkers-of-chronic-stress-and-impact-on-health-and-cognition-Neurosci-Biobehav-Rev-35-2-16.pdf">health problems</a>, the current model of treating the symptoms of stress rather than <a href="http://doi.org/10.1177/2470547017692328">rewiring the brain’s stress response</a> is not sustainable.</p> <p>At some point, <a href="https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/Reforming-Americas-Healthcare-System-Through-Choice-and-Competition.pdf">health care’s addiction</a> to using medications and procedures to treat the health problems caused by stress will require detox. A new emphasis on training the emotional brain for resiliency may emerge.</p> <p>If we could reboot our brains for the high-stress times in which we live, just about every aspect of life would improve. Resiliency could provide a needed <a href="http://doi.org/10.1177/1559827609335152">internal health safety net</a>.</p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/laurel-mellin-239264"><em>Laurel Mellin</em></a><em>, Associate Professor Emeritus of Family &amp; Community Medicine and Pediatrics, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-california-san-francisco-689">University of California, San Francisco</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/want-to-stop-the-covid-19-stress-meltdown-train-your-brain-138785">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Brain research shows the arts promote mental health

<p>During self-isolation due to coronavirus, <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/arts/a-long-and-entirely-subjective-list-of-creative-challenges-to-get-you-through-covid-19-1.5503687">many are turning</a> <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061802">to the arts</a>. Perhaps they seek a creative outlet or opportunity for expression; but it’s also possible that their attraction may be driven by an innate desire to use their brains in ways that make them feel good.</p> <p>As a professor and arts educator for over 20 years, I have witnessed the mental benefits of an arts-rich life — but don’t take my word for it. There is a powerful and compelling case, supported by cutting-edge research, that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/10720530601074721">the arts have positive effects on mental health</a>.</p> <p>Mental <a href="https://cmha.ca/fast-facts-about-mental-illness">health issues affect nearly half of the global population, at some point, by age 40</a>. Add to that, recent <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/campaigns/connecting-the-world-to-combat-Coronavirus/healthyathome/healthyathome---mental-health">challenges of the pandemic for maintaining mental wellness, managing fears and uncertainty</a>, and one thing is clear: it’s time to think differently when it comes to how we engage our minds.</p> <p>The arts offer an evidence-based solution for promoting mental health. While practising the arts is not the panacea for all mental health challenges, there’s enough evidence to support prioritizing arts in our own lives at home as well as in our education systems.</p> <p><strong>For managing well-being</strong></p> <p>The relationship between the arts and mental health is well established in the field of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/07421656.2004.10129496">art therapy</a>, which applies arts-based techniques (like painting, dancing and role play) as evidence-based <a href="https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000000897">interventions for mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression</a>. There is also growing evidence that the arts can be used in non-therapy contexts for promoting mental health, such as using <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.22329/jtl.v11i2.5057">performing arts to learn about the core subject areas in schools</a> or doing visual art with adults who are mentally well, and want to <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2017.12.009">sustain that sense of wellness</a>.</p> <p>In other words, practising the arts can be used to build <a href="https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/amh/Page2754.aspx">capacity for managing one’s mental and emotional well-being</a>.</p> <p><strong>Neuroesthetics</strong></p> <p>With recent advances in biological, cognitive and neurological science, there are new forms of evidence on the arts and the brain. For example, researchers have used biofeedback to study the effects of visual art on <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1535370219883634">neural circuits and neuroendocrine markers to find biological evidence that visual art promotes health, wellness and fosters adaptive responses to stress</a>.</p> <p>In another study, cognitive neuroscientists found that creating art <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/07421656.2016.1166832">reduces cortisol levels (markers for stress), and that through art people can induce positive mental states.</a> These studies are part of a new field of research, called <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1162/jocn.2010.21457">neuroesthetics</a>: <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.1062331">the scientific study of the neurobiological basis of the arts</a>.</p> <p>Neuroesthetics uses brain imaging, brain wave technology and biofeedback to gather scientific evidence of how we respond to the arts. Through this, there is physical, scientific evidence that the arts engage the mind in novel ways, tap into our emotions in healthy ways and make us feel good.</p> <p><strong>Mindfulness and flow</strong></p> <p>The arts have also been found to be effective tools for <a href="https://cjc-rcc.ucalgary.ca/article/view/59860">mindfulness, a trending practice in schools</a> that is effective for <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-010-9418-x">managing mental health</a>.</p> <p>Being mindful is being <a href="http://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.84.4.822">aware and conscious of your thoughts and state of mind without judgement</a>. The cognitive-reflective aspects of the arts, in addition to their ability to shift cognitive focus, make them <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1535370219883634">especially effective as tools for mindfulness</a>. Specifically, engaging with visual art has been <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2017.05.004">found to activate different parts of the brain</a> other than those taxed by logical, linear thinking; and another study found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1152/jn.00696.2003">visual art activated distinct and specialized visual areas of the brain</a>.</p> <p>In short: the arts create conditions for mindfulness by accessing and engaging different parts of the brain through conscious shifting of mental states. For those of us who practise regularly in the arts, we are aware of those states, able to shift in and out and reap the physiological benefits through a neurological system that delights in and rewards cognitive challenges. Neuroesthetic findings suggest this is not an experience exclusive to artists: it is simply untapped by those who do not practise in the arts.</p> <p>Research shows that the arts can be used to create a unique cognitive shift into a holistic state of mind called <a href="https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9789401790871">flow, a state of optimal engagement first identified in artists, that is mentally pleasurable and neurochemically rewarding</a>.</p> <p>There is a wealth of studies on the relationship between <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/07421656.2013.787211">the arts, flow and mental health</a>, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.132.2.180">flow-like states have been connected to mindfulness</a>, <a href="http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-neuro-062111-150525">attention</a>, <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.1062331">creativity</a> and even <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2010.03.014">improved cognition</a>.</p> <p><strong>Benefits in education</strong></p> <p>Despite increasing evidence published in top, peer-reviewed journals, on the measurable <a href="https://doi.org/10.2307/1602156">benefits of the arts in education, such as increased academic performance</a> and the <a href="https://cje-rce.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/07/CJE_Martin.pdf">development of innovative thinking</a>, the arts continue to be <a href="http://www.jstor.org/stable/40327130">marginalized in education</a>.</p> <p>Could the study of neuroesthetics finally provide the evidence decision-makers require to prioritize the arts in education? If so, we may be on the verge of a renaissance that remembers our human instinct to create.</p> <p>One thing is certain: <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thesundayedition/the-sunday-edition-for-december-15-2019-1.5393079/the-mental-health-crisis-among-young-canadians-1.5393085">the mental health crisis affecting young people</a> implicates <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/children-mental-health-suicide-depression-self-harm-1.5266603">a systematic failure to provide the right tools for success</a>. That should not be acceptable to anyone.</p> <p><strong>Three tips for arts-based mindfulness</strong></p> <p><strong>Make mistakes:</strong> Try something new and be willing to make mistakes to learn. Most artists practise for years before they are able to render something realistic, and they are willing to make many mistakes along the way, likely because the brain rewards learning. If you are trying this at home, don’t encourage anything messy with children unless you have time to oversee it. There is nothing worse for kids than getting in trouble for something you have encouraged — it can crush their love of art and inhibit creative exploration.</p> <p><strong>Reuse and repeat:</strong> Play and experiment with reusable materials, like dry-erase markers on windows that can be easily wiped away, or sculpting material, like playdough that can be squished and reshaped. This emphasizes practice and process over product and takes the pressure off to make something that looks good. If you really must keep a copy, snap a quick photo of the work, then let it go.</p> <p><strong>Limit language:</strong> Try not to talk when you are making art, and if you are listening to music, choose something without lyrics. The parts of the brain activated during visual art are different than those activated for speech generation and language processing. Give those overworked parts of the mind a break, and indulge in the calm relaxation that comes from doing so. The neurochemicals that are released feel good, and that is your brain’s way of thanking you for the experience.<!-- 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/136668/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/brittany-harker-martin-998149">Brittany Harker Martin</a>, Associate Professor, Leadership, Policy &amp; Governance, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-calgary-1318">University of Calgary</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/brain-research-shows-the-arts-promote-mental-health-136668">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why do old people hate new music?

<p><strong>Why do old people hate new music? – Holly, age 14, Belmont, Massachusetts</strong></p> <hr /> <p>When I was a teenager, my dad wasn’t terribly interested in the music I liked. To him, it just sounded like “a lot of noise,” while he regularly referred to the music he listened to as “beautiful.”</p> <p>This attitude persisted throughout his life. Even when he was in his 80s, he once turned to me during a TV commercial featuring a 50-year-old Beatles tune and said, “You know, I just don’t like today’s music.”</p> <p>It turns out that my father isn’t alone.</p> <p>As I’ve grown older, I’ll often hear people my age say things like “they just don’t make good music like they used to.”</p> <p>Why does this happen?</p> <p>Luckily, <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=MxorsyYAAAAJ&amp;hl=en">my background as a psychologist</a> has given me some insights into this puzzle.</p> <p>We know that musical tastes <a href="https://www.altpress.com/news/why_people_dont_like_new_music_study/">begin to crystallize</a> as early as age 13 or 14. By the time we’re in our early 20s, these tastes get locked into place pretty firmly.</p> <p>In fact, studies have found that <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/why-we-stop-discovering-new-music-around-age-30-2018-6">by the time we turn 33</a>, most of us have stopped listening to new music. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/10/opinion/sunday/favorite-songs.html">popular songs released when you’re in your early teens</a> are likely to remain quite popular among your age group for the rest of your life.</p> <p>There could be a biological explanation for this. <a href="https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/4w7kzp/science-has-discovered-why-your-parents-hate-your-music">There’s evidence</a> that the brain’s ability to make subtle distinctions between different chords, rhythms and melodies gets worse with age. So to older people, newer, less familiar songs might all “sound the same.”</p> <p>But I believe there are some simpler reasons for older people’s aversion to newer music. One of the most researched laws of social psychology is something called the “<a href="http://socialpsychonline.com/2016/03/the-mere-exposure-effect/">mere exposure effect</a>.” In a nutshell, it means that the more we’re exposed to something, the more we tend to like it.</p> <p>This happens with people we know, the advertisements we see and, yes, the songs we listen to.</p> <p>When you’re in your early teens, you probably spend a fair amount of time listening to music or watching music videos. Your favorite songs and artists become familiar, comforting parts of your routine.</p> <p>For many people over 30, job and family obligations increase, so there’s less time to spend discovering new music. Instead, many will simply listen to old, familiar favorites from that period of their lives when they had more free time.</p> <p>Of course, those teen years weren’t necessarily carefree. They’re famously confusing, which is why so many TV shows and movies – from “<a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1327801/">Glee</a>” to “<a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5164432/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1">Love, Simon</a>” to “<a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7014006/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1">Eighth Grade</a>” – revolve around the high school turmoil.</p> <p>Psychology research has shown that the emotions that we experience as teens <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-high-school-stays-with-us-forever-56538">seem more intense than those that comes later</a>. We also know that <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-high-school-stays-with-us-forever-56538">intense emotions are associated with stronger memories and preferences</a>. All of this might explain why the songs we listen to during this period become so memorable and beloved.</p> <p>So there’s nothing wrong with your parents because they don’t like your music. In a way, it’s all part of the natural order of things.</p> <p>At the same time, I can say from personal experience that I developed a fondness for the music I heard my own children play when they were teenagers. So it’s certainly not impossible to get your parents on board with Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X.</p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/frank-t-mcandrew-194161"><em>Frank T. McAndrew</em></a><em>, Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/knox-college-2259">Knox College</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/why-do-old-people-hate-new-music-123834">original article</a>.</em></p>

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The surprising reasons people cheat at social distancing

<p>As the world fights the novel coronavirus pandemic, our strongest weapon right now is <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/trudeau-covid-19-coronavirus-pandemic-social-distancing-1.5507379">physical distancing</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(20)30073-6">Proven by studies</a> and <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/03/23/820066211/an-unfinished-lesson-what-the-1918-flu-tells-us-about-human-nature">supported by history</a>, staying home save lives. In fact, bending this rule to meet even a few other people may <a href="https://www.washington.edu/news/2020/04/13/just-one-friend-covid-19/">undo our efforts</a>.</p> <p>While many have accepted the safety directions, some are <a href="https://www.citynews1130.com/2020/04/14/mayor-island-traveller-covid/">still travelling</a>. More people have died of COVID-19 in the United States than any other country, yet the President Trump has <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/17/us/politics/trump-coronavirus-governors.html">encouraged people to gather</a> and Georgia’s governor supported the <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/493748-georgia-to-reopen-some-businesses-including-gyms-and-salons">reopening of bowling alleys and nail salons</a>. So why is it so hard for us to do what is right?</p> <p><strong>Subconscious biases affect our behaviour</strong></p> <p>As a doctor and a father, I get that we are all trying to keep a sense of normalcy for ourselves and our families. But the reasons we resist distancing are often <a href="http://danariely.com/books/predictably-irrational/">beyond rationality</a>: there are reflexive thoughts that drive our behaviour, often <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/cognitive-bias/565775/">without our own awareness</a>. And if we want to save as many lives as possible, our efforts have to take these subconscious biases into account.</p> <p>For example, asking people to <a href="https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-physical-distancing-is-our-only-hope-we-must-all-adhere-to-it/">observe physical distancing</a> may actually have the opposite effect for those who fear that compliance will lead to a restriction in their freedom. This is called <a href="http://journal.sjdm.org/15/15824a/jdm15824a.html">reactance bias</a>, and it is partly why in our society teenagers drink alcohol and some drivers resist seatbelts.</p> <p>It is also why pandemic safety measures can be easily framed as a restrictive “<a href="https://www.salon.com/2020/04/17/dr-fauci-shuts-down-fox-news-laura-ingraham-after-she-complains-about-lockdowns_partner/">lockdown</a>” and why the U.S. president can <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/04/18/837974858/sen-tim-kaine-trump-is-trying-to-foment-division">incite people to unsafely meet up</a> in order to “liberate” their state. Given how quickly and passionately protesters follow populist leaders, it is not surprising that many of the same <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/eu-monitors-sees-coordinated-covid-19-disinformation-effort-by-iran-russia-china/30570938.html">bad actors</a> seen in anti-science campaigns against vaccination and climate change are again preying on swift emotions like <a href="https://doi.org/10.7326/M20-0912">fear and disgust</a> to manipulate us into acting before we think.</p> <p>Another way our minds mislead us is that we judge ourselves differently than we judge others. When we trip it is because the ground is uneven; others misstep due to clumsiness. Two-thirds of people say they are <a href="https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/culture/commuting/two-thirds-of-drivers-think-theyre-better-than-you/article589874/">better than average drivers</a>. We all need some esteem to allow us to feel capable in life, but the flip side of this self-centredness is that we downplay the risks of daily grocery trips or play dates because, well, it’s us.</p> <p>But the novel coronavirus <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6914e1.htm">does not differentiate</a> between us and others, good or bad, our tribe or not. So although some people are more susceptible to serious complications, many otherwise <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/05/health/young-people-dying-coronavirus-sanjay-gupta/index.html">young and healthy</a> people have died from COVID-19. We just don’t think we’ll become one of “those people.”</p> <p><strong>The tales we tell</strong></p> <p>Stories, whether tales or in pictures, are also important in understanding our behaviour since <a href="https://hbr.org/2014/10/why-your-brain-loves-good-storytelling">we are wired</a> to remember them much more than numbers. Dry statistics of deaths in Asia or Europe are difficult to comprehend because our brains cannot emotionally connect.</p> <p>But <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.3758%2Fs13423-015-0807-6">stories are memorable</a> and become compelling when they evoke <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/02/new-research-says-there-are-only-four-emotions/283560/">basic emotions</a> such as happiness, sadness and fear. The heartbreaking image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body lying on a Turkish beach is unforgettable, and elicited a much greater reaction than reports of <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/03/13/syria-war-bashar-assad-prospers-9-years-barbarity-confusion/4939671002/">Syria’s attacks on its citizens</a>. Recently, Dr. Anna Carvalho’s decision to <a href="https://www.citynews1130.com/2020/04/16/er-doctor-vancouver-plea-viral/">isolate from her family</a> included a photograph of her children waving through their aunt’s window, making the plea to physically distance more real and immediate — factors that <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/business-41549533">nudge us</a> towards action.</p> <p>Science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein wrote, “Don’t appeal to man’s better nature — <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/291501/time-enough-for-love-by-robert-a-heinlein/">he may not have one</a>.” More accurately, hundreds of cognitive biases such as those discussed here greatly affect the decisions we make, sometimes to our detriment. So if we are to change behaviour during this pandemic we must address both the rational and subconscious ways our minds work.</p> <p><strong>Effective communication</strong></p> <p>In order to build trust, leaders must be humble and honest. Familiar and regular communications from leaders like Drs. <a href="https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-bonnie-henry-is-a-calming-voice-in-a-sea-of-coronavirus-madness/">Bonnie Henry</a> and <a href="https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/april-2020/canadas-chief-medical-officers-put-womens-leadership-in-spotlight/">Theresa Tam</a> and Prime Ministers <a href="https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2020/03/31/donald-trump-should-take-a-lesson-from-justin-trudeau-and-even-doug-ford-on-coronavirus-leadership.html">Trudeau</a> and <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/04/jacinda-ardern-new-zealand-leadership-coronavirus/610237/">Ardern</a> can have <a href="https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374533557">positive effects</a>. Pro-science messages from diverse influencers like <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/sports/ryan-reynolds-twitter-hayley-wickenheiser-medical-supplies-1.5523390">Hayley Wickenheiser</a>, Ryan Reynolds, <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1716219971713">Chris Hadfield</a> and <a href="https://globalnews.ca/news/6732110/michael-buble-coronavirus-appeal-social-distancing/">Michael Bublé</a> have resonated. And <a href="https://covidstories.ihi.org/">we need stories</a>, lots of them, <a href="https://time.com/collection/coronavirus-heroes/5816885/frontline-workers-coronavirus/">of the front-line workers</a> risking their safety.</p> <p>In turn, we must attempt to slow down and process our emotions and consider that bending the rules endangers others and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(20)30073-6">lengthens the time</a> of distancing restrictions. For those whose opinions have become part of their own <a href="https://calgary.ctvnews.ca/public-health-experts-are-just-that-experts-u-of-c-professor-rejects-stephan-s-claim-that-covid-19-is-a-hoax-1.4893822">self-identity</a>, no fact will likely change their behaviour. Some personal liberties <a href="https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/covid-19-rising-costs-of-social-distancing">may have to be restricted</a> for the greater good in the same way we legislate sobriety for drivers and helmets for cyclists.</p> <p>Containing the COVID-19 pandemic will require more than the heroic measures of our front-line workers: we must all make difficult sacrifices. Success will not be easy, but to save lives we must take into account the hidden ways our brains work. We must use strategies that represent more reasoned logic than we tend to rely on, left to our own devices.<!-- 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/137987/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/eric-cadesky-1055131">Eric Cadesky</a>, Clinical Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine, <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/coronavirus-and-cognitive-bias-the-surprising-reasons-people-cheat-at-social-distancing-137987">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Is isolation a feeling?

<p>I am feeling isolated. Is this a state, or an emotion? Rather than getting into the semantics of language, I will ask another question: what does isolation feel like?</p> <p>Isolation feels like being <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-08649-001">stuck on the couch</a> despite having time for a walk. Isolation feels like <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666315000768">comfort eating</a> nachos and box wine.</p> <p>Our bodies are tired. Our minds slip and skid between blank boredom and anxious <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/5/1729">overthinking</a>. What is happening to us, here in our homes, away from the routines and interactions that used to shape our days?</p> <p>I am feeling isolated. Scholars of emotion talk about feelings as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1468-5914.00135">judgements</a> – our considered response to what’s happening. These judgements tint our experience as we live it: like the transferred epithets of Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, “pronging a <a href="https://books.google.com.au/books?id=HC-OBeh2d3sC&amp;pg=PA138&amp;lpg=PA138&amp;dq=wodehouse+pronging+a+moody+forkful&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=-jlwqbbiST&amp;sig=ACfU3U1jjr3u00Sa3Ngax_5ioUjOj6lzeQ&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=2ahUKEwimxMnkmqvpAhUF73MBHa9EAf0Q6AEwA3oECAYQAQ#v=onepage&amp;q=wodehouse%20pronging%20a%20moody%20forkful&amp;f=false">moody forkful</a>” of eggs, or “balancing a <a href="https://books.google.com.au/books?id=iJwnDQAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PT226&amp;lpg=PT226&amp;dq=wodehouse+thoughtful+lump+of+sugar&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=NCQB0-OyXU&amp;sig=ACfU3U3l6CVTHqRvcVseIz-ZWEYMv2EDDg&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=2ahUKEwinxI7QmqvpAhVVjuYKHRubDisQ6AEwA3oECAkQAQ#v=onepage&amp;q=wodehouse%20thoughtful%20lump%20of%20sugar&amp;f=false">thoughtful lump of sugar</a>” on his teaspoon. Experience reaches us through these filters of judgement.</p> <p>This morning I made myself a lonely piece of toast and am writing this article drinking a grateful-for-free-childcare cup of tea.</p> <p><strong>Every lonely person is lonely in their own way</strong></p> <p>Some of the effects of isolation are <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2008-07715-005">common to all</a> human beings, across times and places. Humans have evolved as communal animals <a href="https://www.elsevier.com/books/the-psychological-journey-to-and-from-loneliness/rokach/978-0-12-815618-6">living in</a> “families, tribes, and communities”. We <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21219047">feel</a> “the pain of social isolation and the rewards of social connection”.</p> <p>Beyond these human constants, our emotional experiences are powerfully shaped by our individual circumstances. Our communal and personal histories affect our expectations of life and our responses to events. In this sense, your feeling of isolation is different to mine. Like Tolstoy’s <a href="https://theconversation.com/guide-to-the-classics-anna-karenina-86475">unhappy families</a>, each of us is feeling this crisis in our own way.</p> <p>Medical researchers of isolation note this recursive flow of emotion: symptoms like poor sleep and high blood pressure correlated not with measures of patients’ objective isolation, but their <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166409/">perceived isolation</a>.</p> <p>One person’s agonising loneliness is another’s boring staycation. We are as isolated as we feel.</p> <p>This does not mean our feelings aren’t real. They are, in fact, the only reality we can know. Is there a meaningful difference between asking “How are you?” and “How are you feeling?”</p> <p><strong>Full bodied feeling</strong></p> <p>Our feelings are experienced by our whole selves: bodies, minds, emotions, <a href="https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/01/24/coronavirus-the-psychological-effects-of-quarantining-a-city/">all intertwined</a>.</p> <p>We feel the absence of human touch, we feel anxiety as we obsess over daily statistics, we feel exhausted by shopping trips that feel like ventures into no-man’s-land, we feel grief at the horrific headlines of death, and frustration at government responses. We feel loss and confusion about our about our <a href="https://link.springer.com/book/10.1057%2F9780230305625">identity and value</a> as <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-11/coronavirus-sudden-unemployment-and-impact-on-identity/12206868">jobs disappear</a>.</p> <p>Those who contract COVID-19 report <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/disaster-medicine-and-public-health-preparedness/article/is-there-a-case-for-quarantine-perspectives-from-sars-to-ebola/451C41BD5A980A45FFA9F9AE8670CC85">not only</a> fear of dying, but boredom and anger at being isolated from family and friends.</p> <p>We are feeling isolated. Despite our Tolstoyan uniqueness, we find comfort in shared feelings. We share memes about interminable Zoom meetings, or homeschooling, or day drinking. We feel seen, heard, understood – less isolated. These are called <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0003-066X.55.2.205">affiliative behaviours</a> and they are a powerful coping strategy for all kinds of crises. Somehow our suffering is more bearable if another human being knows how we feel, and feels it too.</p> <p>Connecting with one another, and feeling that we are in this together, can mitigate some of the pain of isolation. Sufferers during previous pandemics who felt their isolation was serving an altruistic goal of protecting their neighbours <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19497162">reported less negative emotions</a> about isolation.</p> <p>Political exiles have, throughout history, found ways to endure isolation. Early modern English nuns in exiled European convents <a href="https://muse.jhu.edu/article/685784">drew upon antique history</a> to comfort themselves, identifying with Biblical stories of suffering that finally resolve in homecoming and restored community.</p> <p>Prisoners in solitary confinement have <a href="https://books.google.com.au/books/about/Health_and_Human_Rights_in_a_Changing_Wo.html?id=kJXM_eptt0MC&amp;redir_esc=y">relied</a> on simple things like sunlight and human voices on the radio to keep the worst at bay.</p> <p>They are feeling isolated. Isolation feels like being alone but it also feels like reaching beyond our usual spheres, feeling new empathy with people who were strangers before.</p> <p>Isolation is a long-term state for many. From <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550857910001002">professional women</a> in male-dominated fields, to caregivers and those in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/153331759601100305">remote communities</a>, to religious and queer <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/10894160.2010.490503">minorities</a>.</p> <p><a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1755458617300397">Asylum seekers</a> in detention <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/1323238X.2017.1314805">report</a> deep feelings of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ejsp.2543">isolation</a> and invisibility. Their <a href="http://www.freedomfromtorture.org/real-voices/six-refugee-poems-a-unique-insight-into-the-life-of-refugees-and-asylum-seekers">poems</a> open up for us in new ways now.</p> <p>New parents, especially mothers, experience isolation with feelings <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15066113">familiar</a> to many of us right now: “powerlessness, insufficiency, guilt, loss, exhaustion, ambivalence, resentment and anger”. Those who are young, or poor, or single, are <a href="http://asistdl.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/asi.24037">especially</a> at risk of feeling isolated, overwhelmed and worried.</p> <p>In our empathy we are connected across social and economic gaps.</p> <p><strong>Emotional force</strong></p> <p>We are feeling isolated. Now, our shared emotions become a central part of how we <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-6486.2010.00908.x">make sense</a> of the crisis.</p> <p>Shared, collective emotion can be a strong driver of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781118900772.etrds0155">collective activity</a>. Enough shared emotion can cause us to feel like a <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-theory/article/feeling-like-a-state-social-emotion-and-identity/C14A88754EF067C70A32B8BEEBBC44B4">unified nation</a>, our common humanity stronger than our superficial differences. Conversely, emotional sparks can create <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/may/10/ten-arrested-and-police-officer-injured-at-protest-against-victorias-covid-19-lockdown-laws">political cliques</a> who cohere around shared anger towards other groups.</p> <p>Scholars of emotion describe emotions as a <a href="https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/emotions-and-social-relations/book237448">force</a>, not only felt within, but acting upon the external world. Emotions <em>do things</em>. Big, collective emotions do big things. We are only beginning to discover what isolation is doing to us.<!-- 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/138009/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/carly-osborn-770314">Carly Osborn</a>, Visiting Research Fellow, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-adelaide-1119">University of Adelaide</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/is-isolation-a-feeling-138009">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why do we dream?

<p>Although science knows <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-is-going-on-in-your-brain-when-you-sleep-39723">what dreams are</a>, it is <a href="https://theconversation.com/was-freud-right-about-dreams-after-all-heres-the-research-that-helps-explain-it-60884">still not known exactly why we dream</a>, although plenty of theories exist.</p> <p>Dreams are patterns of sensory information that occur when the brain is in a resting state – as in asleep. It is generally assumed that dreams only occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – this is when the brain appears to be in an active state but the individual is asleep and in a state of paralysis. But <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/srep30932">studies</a> have shown that they can also happen outside of REM.</p> <p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11121/">Research</a> from sleep studies, for example, shows that REM-related dreams tend to be more <a href="https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/advice-support/sleep-hub/sleep-disorders/vivid-dreams/">fantastical, more colourful and vivid</a> whereas non-REM dreams are more concrete and usually characterised in black and white. <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nn.4545">Recent studies</a> <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&amp;lr=&amp;id=b0aIDwAAQBAJ&amp;oi=fnd&amp;pg=PR11&amp;dq=the+neuroscience+of+sleep+and+dreams&amp;ots=qbODZ3adQl&amp;sig=TPNT54zZyOR3OOJathElv9d3W4M&amp;redir_esc=y#v=onepage&amp;q=the%20neuroscience%20of%20sleep%20and%20dreams&amp;f=false">on dreaming</a> show that during a dream (and in particular a REM-related dream) the emotional centre of the brain is highly active whereas the logical rational centre of the brain is slowed. This can help explain why these dreams are more emotive and surreal.</p> <p>Evolutionary theory suggests <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2015-23047-005">the purpose of dreams</a> is to learn, in a safe way, how to deal with challenging or threatening situations. Whereas the “memory consolidation” theory suggests that dreams are a byproduct of reorganising memory in response to what has been learned throughout the day.</p> <p>Both theories have at least one thing in common – during times of stress and anxiety we either dream more or remember our dreams more often, as a way of coping with challenging circumstances and new information. This is also in line with another theory of dreaming – <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330663/">the mood regulatory function of dreams theory</a>, where the function of dreams is to problem-solve emotional issues.</p> <p><strong>Anxiety and stress dreams</strong></p> <p>While there is no evidence that we dream more when we are stressed, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Michael_Schredl/publication/47541043_Nightmare_frequency_in_patients_with_primary_insomnia/links/5687b01b08ae051f9af57f0a/Nightmare-frequency-in-patients-with-primary-insomnia.pdf">research shows</a> we are more likely to remember our dreams because our sleep is poorer and we tend to wake in the night more frequently.</p> <p><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1389945715009053">Studies show</a> the dreams of people with insomnia (a disorder largely characterised by stress) contain more negative emotion and are more focused on the self, in a negative light. Also, the dreams of people with insomnia tend to focus on current life stressors, anxieties and can leave an individual with a low mood the following day.</p> <p>Outside of insomnia, <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Twenty-four-Hour-Mind-Dreaming-Emotional/dp/0199896283">research has found</a> that people who are depressed, while going through a divorce, appear to dream differently compared to those who are not depressed. They rate their dreams as more unpleasant. Interestingly though the study found that those depressed volunteers who dreamt of their ex-spouse were more likely to have recovered from their depression a year later compared to those that did not dream of the ex-spouse. Participants whose dreams changed over time, to become less angry and more pragmatic, also showed the greatest improvements. The question is why?</p> <p>Although our senses are dampened during sleep (with vision being completely absent), strong sensory information, such as an alarm, will be registered and in some cases incorporated into the dream itself. We also know that during times of stress we are more vigilant to threat (on cognitive, emotional and behavioural levels), so it stands to reason that we are more likely to incorporate internal and external signals into our dreams, as a way to manage them. And this may account for these changes in our dreams, when we are anxious, depressed or sleeping badly.</p> <p><strong>How to sleep better</strong></p> <p>The current thinking is stress reduction before bed and good sleep management – such as keeping a consistent sleep routine, using the bedroom only for sleep, making sure the bedroom is cool, dark, quiet and free from anything arousing – will reduce awakenings at night and so the frequency of stress-related negative dreams.</p> <p>That said, using a technique called <a href="https://theconversation.com/could-we-one-day-heal-the-mind-by-taking-control-of-our-dreams-60886">Imagery Rehearsal Therapy</a> (IRT), mainly used for treating nightmares in people with post-traumatic stress disorder, it appears stress and anxiety associated with nightmares and bad dreams as well as the frequency of bad dreams can be reduced. This is achieved by re-imagining the ending of the dream or the context of the dream, making it less threatening.</p> <p>There is also <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15402000902762360%208.">evidence</a> that IRT is effective for <a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/df5d/92ed9f1830dea20a46c763bbc92e4aa911ff.pdf">reducing nightmares in children</a>. Although IRT is thought to be successful by giving the dreamer a sense of control over the dream, this hasn’t been well studied in people who are stressed or anxious.</p> <p>That said, <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15402002.2020.1739688">a recent study</a> showed that teaching people with insomnia to be aware while they were dreaming and <a href="https://theconversation.com/im-a-lucid-dream-researcher-heres-how-to-train-your-brain-to-do-it-118901">to control the dream</a>, as it occurs – known as <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/04/the-ways-to-control-dreaming/360032/">lucid dreaming training</a> – not only reduced their insomnia symptoms but also reduced their symptoms of anxiety and depression. Perhaps then the key is to manage the dreams as opposed to trying to manage the stress – especially in uncertain times.<!-- 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/135609/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/jason-ellis-280919">Jason Ellis</a>, Professor of Sleep Science, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/northumbria-university-newcastle-821">Northumbria University, Newcastle</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/why-do-we-dream-135609">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Is it okay to laugh during a pandemic?

<p>According to an <a href="https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/06/25/comedy-plus/">old adage </a>, “comedy is tragedy plus time”. This has been true for many terrible events, when after periods of shock and sadness, humour and laughter are eventually restored.</p> <p>But the current pandemic seems different. People haven’t stopped joking about it. Memes and funny videos are all over social media, even while an increasing number of people across the world get sick and die. So why is this happening? Why is there no gap between the disaster and the humour created around it?</p> <p>One thing that makes the current situation unique is that it is not a single event in a specific place and time. It is a rolling and continuous crisis, spreading endlessly across continents with no end in sight. The shock factor is therefore reduced compared to a single terror attack, for example. This enables people to adjust more easily to what is happening – and humour may be one of the best ways to do just that.</p> <p>Of course, many people will feel uncomfortable laughing in these dire times, especially if they know someone who has been directly affected. But for others, it is not only acceptable to use humour in the face of the pandemic – it may even be a necessity.</p> <p>Obviously, we do not laugh at the tragedy itself, the victims of the virus or the people who are suffering from it. But we can take aim at the seemingly absurd situation we are all in.</p> <p>This is because from a psychological point of view, humour is a great defence mechanism which helps us deal with emotionally challenging situations, especially ones which are <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0020964314564830?casa_token=f1NhglxlWxcAAAAA%3AICfnkrKcklAFQpkro4GQzHB_5kqinA0Hks00fQZWvn-u8LbWWzZn2Tm1wUvTALth-bngLhVYdRc">overwhelming and unpredictable</a>. Many cancer patients and their doctors, for example, routinely <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10410236.2016.1172291">tell jokes and laugh</a> about the disease, in an attempt to cope and distract themselves from the serious situation.</p> <p><strong>Coping strategy</strong></p> <p>On top of this, the unique circumstances surrounding the pandemic may make humour more prevalent, not less.</p> <p>First, many people now have an unusual amount of time on our hands. Being stuck at home with not much to do forces people to find ways to be more creative. And while the situation is serious, in our daily activities we are mostly preoccupied with more mundane tasks, such as what to do all day, how to entertain children, how not to eat too much, and how to stay sane in general.</p> <p>Second, being a bit scared, tense, and in a state of alert is actually a good thing for humour to develop. These states of <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1968-08268-001">physiological and emotional arousal</a> serve as driving forces in creating and enjoying humour.</p> <p>Usually, intermediate levels of arousal are best. With too little, you are bored, and with too much, you are too excited to enjoy humour. Right in the middle is perfect. The laughter after hearing a good joke serves as a release of all the physiological and emotional energy that was built up, and that’s what makes us feel good.</p> <p>Another important element of humour that is prominent during the pandemic is what humour researchers call “<a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/humor/#IncThe">incongruity</a>”. For something to be funny, there needs to be something odd or surprising in the situation. The current situation reveals plenty of such oddities.</p> <p>Here is a joke that illustrates the point: “All this time I thought that the tumble dryer was shrinking my clothes. Turns out it was actually the refrigerator.”</p> <p>The joke is built on the unusual circumstances we live in, of being stuck at home. The setup is the common knowledge that the heat of a tumble dryer can shrink clothes, but then there is a surprise. It’s not the dryer at fault, but the refrigerator, where we store our food. We resolve this incongruity by realising that we are getting fatter from eating too much when we are at home. This resolution gives as the “Aha!” moment that makes the joke funny. (And yes, analysing a joke does ruin it.)</p> <p>So, while humour may not get us out of this awful crisis, it can help us deal with it. We cannot change the reality of the disease or the economic impact, but we can try and change how we feel about it.</p> <p>By creating and sharing humour we can cope better, and ease some of the tension due to the pandemic. That way, we can have at least some control of the situation. And what better way to do that than by having a good laugh?<!-- 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/136755/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/gil-greengross-392594">Gil Greengross</a>, Lecturer in Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/aberystwyth-university-999">Aberystwyth 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/is-it-okay-to-laugh-during-a-pandemic-136755">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Death: Can our final moment be euphoric?

<p><em>People often look like they are sleeping just after dying, having a neutral facial expression. But one of my relatives, who had intense pain the hours leading up to his death and lacked access to medical care, had a radiant, ecstatic expression. For decades, I have wondered whether the last minutes of life can be euphoric. Could dying perhaps trigger a flood of endorphins, in particular in the absence of painkillers?</em> Göran, 77, Helsingborg, Sweden.</p> <p>The poet Dylan Thomas had some interesting things to say about death, not least in <a href="https://poets.org/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night">one of his most famous poems</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>And you, my father, there on the sad height,</p> <p>Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.</p> <p>Do not go gentle into that good night.</p> <p>Rage, rage against the dying of the light.</p> </blockquote> <p>It is often assumed that life wages a battle to the last against death. But is it possible, as you suggest, to come to terms with death?</p> <p>As an expert on palliative care, I think there is a process to dying that happens two weeks before we pass. During this time, people tend to become less well. They typically struggle to walk and become sleepier – managing to stay awake for shorter and shorter periods. Towards the last days of life, the <a href="https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/U_Z/Understanding-the-dying-process">ability to swallow tablets</a> or consume food and drinks eludes them.</p> <p>It is around this time that we say people are “actively dying”, and we usually think this means they have two to three days to live. A number of people, however, will go through this entire phase within a day. And some people can actually stay at the cusp of death for nearly a week before they die, something which usually is extremely distressing for families. So there are different things going on with different people and we cannot predict them.</p> <p>The actual moment of death is tricky to decipher. But a yet unpublished study suggests that, as people get closer to death, there is an increase in the body’s stress chemicals. For people with cancer, and maybe others, too, <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0175123">inflammatory markers go up</a>. These are the chemicals that increase when the body is fighting an infection.</p> <p>You suggest that there may also be an endorphin rush just before someone dies. But we just don’t know as nobody has yet explored this possibility. A study from 2011, however, showed that the levels of serotonin, another brain chemical that is also thought to contribute to feelings of happiness, <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304394011005234">tripled in the brains of six rats</a> as they died. We can’t rule out the possibility that something similar could happen in humans.</p> <p>The technology to look at endorphin and serotonin levels in humans does exist. Nevertheless, getting repeated samples, especially blood, in the last hours of someone’s life is logistically challenging. Getting the funding to do this research is hard, too. In the UK, cancer research in 2015-2016 was awarded £580m whereas palliative care research was awarded <a href="https://cancerworld.net/cutting-edge/is-precision-medicine-ignoring-people-dying-of-cancer/?utm_source=Newsletter%20-%20Index&amp;utm_medium=CW87&amp;utm_campaign=22Nov19">less than £2 million</a>.</p> <p>There is no evidence suggesting that painkillers such as morphine would prevent endorphins from being produced, however. Pain isn’t even always an issue when people die. My own observations and discussions with colleagues suggest that if pain has not really been an issue for a person earlier, it is unusual for it to become a problem during the dying process. In general, it seems like people’s pain <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0885392497002637">declines during the dying process</a>. We don’t know why that is – it could be related to endorphins. Again, no research has yet been done on this.</p> <p>There are a number of processes in the brain that can help us overcome severe pain. This is why soldiers on the battlefield <a href="https://theconversation.com/emotions-affect-how-pain-feels-as-soldiers-know-only-too-well-25889">often don’t feel pain</a> when their attention is diverted. Work by <a href="https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/people/irene-tracey">Irene Tracy</a> at the University of Oxford demonstrates <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5501013/">the fascinating power of placebo</a>, suggestion and religious beliefs in overcoming pain. Meditation can also help.</p> <p><strong>Euphoric experiences</strong></p> <p>But what could cause a euphoric experience during death, other than endorphins or alternative neurotransmitters? As the body shuts down, the brain is affected. It is possible that the way in which this happens somehow influences the experiences we have at the moment of death. The American neuroanatomist <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jill_Bolte_Taylor">Jill Bolte-Taylor</a> has described in a TED talk how she experienced euphoria and even “nirvana” during a near-death experience in which her left brain hemisphere, which is the centre of many rational abilities such as language, shut down following a stroke.</p> <p><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UyyjU8fzEYU?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p>Interestingly, even though Bolte-Taylor’s injury was to the left side of her brain, an injury to the right side of the brain can also increase your <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120419091223.htm">feelings of being close to a higher power</a>.</p> <p>I think there is a chance that your relative had a deep spiritual experience or realisation. I know that when my grandfather died he raised his hand and finger as if he was pointing at someone. My father, a devout catholic, believes that my grandfather saw his mother and my grandmother. He died with a smile on his face, which brought profound reassurance to my father.</p> <p>The dying process is <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/tibet/understand/dying.html">sacred to Buddhists</a>, who believe that the moment of death provides great potential for the mind. They see the transition from living to dying as the most important event of your life – that point when you carry Karma from this life into other lives.</p> <p>That doesn’t mean that religious people generally have more joyful death experiences. I have witnessed priests and nuns become extremely anxious as they approach death, perhaps consumed by concerns about their moral record and the fear of judgement.</p> <p>Ultimately, every death is different – and you can’t predict who is going to have a peaceful death. I think some of those I have seen die didn’t benefit from a rush of feel-good chemicals. I can think of a number of younger people in my care, for example, who found it difficult to accept that they were dying. They had young families and never settled during the dying process.</p> <p>Those I have seen who may have had an ecstatic experience towards the end of their lives were generally those who somehow embraced death and were at peace with the inevitability of it. Care may be important here – a study of lung cancer patients who received early palliative care were found to be happier and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/19/health/19care.html">lived longer</a>.</p> <p>I remember one woman who was getting nutrition through her veins. She had ovarian cancer and was not able to eat. People fed like this are at risk of serious infections. After her second or third life-threatening infection, she changed. The sense of peace emanating from her was palpable. She managed to get home from hospital for short periods and I still remember her talking about the beauty of sunsets. These people always stick in my mind and they always make me reflect on my own life.</p> <p>Ultimately, we know very little about what happens when someone is dying. After 5,000 years of medicine, we can tell you how you die from drowning or a heart attack, but we don’t know how you die from cancer or pneumonia. The best we can do is describe it.</p> <p>My research is focused on trying to demystify the dying process, understand the basic biology and develop models predicting the last weeks and days of life. In time, we may also get to research the role endorphins play in the last hours of life and actually get to answer your question definitively.</p> <p>It is possible that we experience our most profound moment in the murky hinterland between life and death. But that doesn’t mean we should stop raging against the dying of the light. As the Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld put it:</p> <blockquote> <p>Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfilment.<a href="https://theconversation.com/have-humans-evolved-beyond-nature-and-do-we-even-need-it-128790?utm_source=TCUK&amp;utm_medium=linkback&amp;utm_campaign=TCUKengagement&amp;utm_content=LifesBigQuestionsUK"></a><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/129648/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /></p> </blockquote> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/seamus-coyle-933438"><em>Seamus Coyle</em></a><em>, Honorary Clinical Research Fellow, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-liverpool-1198">University of Liverpool</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/death-can-our-final-moment-be-euphoric-129648">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Lockdown singing: The science of why music helps us connect in isolation

<p>“Don’t hold back, sing with all of your heart,” said our colleague Simon Baron-Cohen on a Zoom meeting the other night with his fellow band members. Simon is director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University by day and bass player of the blues and funk group Deep Blue by night. His band and many others are taking to the Zoom airways to play music together.</p> <p>One of the most encouraging phenomena we have begun to see in response to social distancing laws are the innovative ways that people are starting to bond with each other, particularly musically.</p> <p>At the start of the lockdown in Italy, videos went viral on social media of neighbours singing with each other <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q734VN0N7hw">across their balconies</a>. This trend also happened in Israel, Spain, Iraq, the US, France, Lebanon, India, Germany <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2020/03/music-and-encouragement-from-balconies-around-world/608668/">and other countries</a>. And it wasn’t just balconies. People went to their rooftops, windows, and even online.</p> <p>This need to bond – through music especially – relates to the fundamental features of being human. In some ways, amid the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are experiencing a global social psychological experiment that is giving us insight into what lies at the core of our humanity.</p> <p><strong>Social brains</strong></p> <p>We are innately social creatures. In fact, some scholars have argued that, on a biological level, the social brain in humans is more developed <a href="http://www.prazsak.hu/kurzusok/kolozsvar/Dunbar_1998.pdf">than that of any other species on earth</a>. As such, we humans have a biological need to form bonds and cooperate with one another.</p> <p>This is evident in the physiological and psychological stress we experience when we are isolated, which increases our drive to connect with others – something we are witnessing in societies around the world. Simply put, the social brain needs to be fed and, if forced into isolation, will adapt to find ways to connect.</p> <p>What is interesting is that simply messaging each other or making phone calls doesn’t seem to do the trick. Even face-to-face video conferencing hasn’t been enough for many. We need to connect in a way that the social brain will resonate with on an emotional level.</p> <p>This is where music comes in. We are all familiar with the phrase “music is food for the soul”, but it is also true that “music is food for the brain”.</p> <p>Research shows that when we sing together, our social brains <a href="https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115110">are activated to produce oxytocin</a>. This is a brain hormone closely linked to the way humans socialise with each other. It is released when we form social bonds, when we are synchronised with each other during face-to-face interactions, and when we are intimate with others, which is why some refer to it as the “cuddle” or “love” hormone.</p> <p>Recent research on music has shown that oxytocin increases when we sing in all sorts of ways. Work by <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2015.00518/full">neuroscientist Jason Keeler and colleagues in 2015</a> showed that choral singing increased oxytocin. Another study in 2017 by T Moritz Schladt and colleagues showed that oxytocin increased during <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319703525_Choir_versus_Solo_Singing_Effects_on_Mood_and_Salivary_Oxytocin_and_Cortisol_Concentrations">improvisational singing with others</a>.</p> <p>But it isn’t just singing that increases oxytocin. A <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5718605/">2017 study by Yuuki Oishi and colleagues</a> showed that oxytocin increases after just listening to music. And not only that, it increases when listening to both slow and fast musical tempos.</p> <p><strong>What makes us human</strong></p> <p>All of this points to why, on a biological level, music is part of what makes us human. Everyone is different and there is music to meet everyone’s tastes, which is why we run a project called <a href="https://musicaluniverse.io/">Musical Universe</a> in which people can take tests and find out how their unique musical preferences links to their <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-your-musical-taste-says-about-your-personality-50492">brain type and personality</a>.</p> <p>But whatever your specific tastes, music plays an important role in connecting with others in lockdown. That’s why group singing sessions have sprouted across courtyards and via video conferencing platforms during the pandemic. And why we see Elton John, Alicia Keys, Chris Martin of Coldplay and many others live streaming concerts from their homes for the world to partake in.</p> <p>Music dates back at least 40,000 years in human history. Evolutionary theories about the origins of music are many, but <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257233064_The_evolution_of_music_Theories_definitions_and_the_nature_of_the_evidence">most emphasise its social role</a>. This includes strengthening group cohesion in hunter-gatherer times and as a way of signalling shared values and strength within and between tribal groups.</p> <p>Even Charles Darwin contemplated the origins of music, and argued that it may have played a part in sexual selection. He suggested that courtship songs might have signalled attractive and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22537940">evolutionary adaptive traits to potential partners</a>.</p> <p>Today, while we face a global crisis, music shows no signs of slowing down, even in forced isolation. Music lies at the very essence of our humanity because it enables the level of social bonding that distinguishes us from other species. From lullabies sung from a parent to their infant, to mass jam sessions online, we can all turn to song to maintain our sanity, our hope, and our empathy toward one another.<!-- 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/137312/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/david-m-greenberg-204317"><em>David M. Greenberg</em></a><em>, Zuckerman Postdoctoral Scholar at Bar-Ilan University and Honorary Research Associate at the Autism Research Centre, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-cambridge-1283">University of Cambridge</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ilanit-gordon-1050493">Ilanit Gordon</a>, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology and Director of the Social Neuroscience Lab at the Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/bar-ilan-university-2112">Bar-Ilan University</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/lockdown-singing-the-science-of-why-music-helps-us-connect-in-isolation-137312">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why being copycats might be key to being human

<p>Chimpanzees, human beings’ closest animal relatives, <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/8/chimps-humans-96-percent-the-same-gene-study-finds/">share up to 98% of our genes</a>. Their human-like hands and facial expressions can send uncanny shivers of self-recognition down the backs of zoo patrons.</p> <p>Yet people and chimpanzees lead very different lives. <a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/15933/129038584%23population">Fewer than 300,000 wild chimpanzees</a> live in a few forested corners of Africa today, while humans have colonized every corner of the globe, from the Arctic tundra to the Kalahari Desert. At <a href="https://theconversation.com/7-5-billion-and-counting-how-many-humans-can-the-earth-support-98797">more than 7 billion</a>, humans’ population dwarfs that of nearly all other mammals – despite our physical weaknesses.</p> <p>What could account for our species’ incredible evolutionary successes?</p> <p>One obvious answer is <a href="https://theconversation.com/your-big-brain-makes-you-human-count-your-neurons-when-you-count-your-blessings-127398">our big brains</a>. It could be that our raw intelligence gave us an unprecedented ability to think outside the box, innovating solutions to gnarly problems as people migrated across the globe. Think of “<a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3659388/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1">The Martian</a>,” where Matt Damon, trapped alone in a research station on Mars, heroically “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BABM3EUo990">sciences</a>” his way out of certain death.</p> <p>But a growing number of cognitive scientists and anthropologists are rejecting that explanation. These researchers think that, rather than making our living as innovators, human beings survive and thrive precisely because we don’t think for ourselves. Instead, people cope with challenging climates and ecological contexts by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.08.005">carefully copying others</a> – especially those we respect. Instead of <em>Homo sapiens</em>, or “man the knower,” we’re really <em><a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2003.06.004">Homo imitans</a></em>: “man the imitator.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/JwwclyVYTkk?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">Chimps and children watch how to open a puzzle box.</span></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Watching and learning</strong></p> <p>In <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-004-0239-6">a famous study</a>, psychologists Victoria Horner and Andrew Whiten showed two groups of test subjects – children and chimpanzees – a mechanical box with a treat inside. In one condition, the box was opaque, while in the other it was transparent. The experimenters demonstrated how to open the box to retrieve a treat, but they also included the irrelevant step of tapping on the box with a stick.</p> <p>Oddly, human children carefully copied all the steps to open the box, even when they could see that the stick had no practical effect. That is, they copied irrationally: Instead of doing only what was necessary to get their reward, children slavishly imitated every action they’d witnessed.</p> <p>Of course, that study only included three- and four-year-olds. But additional research has showed that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2009.0069">older children and adults</a> are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1348/000712610X493115">even more likely</a> to mindlessly copy others’ actions, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691618794921">young infants are less likely</a> to over-imitate – that is, to precisely copy even impractical actions.</p> <p>By contrast, chimpanzees in Horner and Whiten’s study only over-imitated in the opaque condition. In the transparent condition – where they saw that the stick was mechanically useless – they ignored that step entirely, merely opening the box with their hands. Other research has since <a href="https://doi.org/10.4000/primatologie.254">supported these findings</a>.</p> <p>When it comes to copying, chimpanzees are more rational than human children or adults.</p> <p><strong>The benefits of following without question</strong></p> <p>Where does the seemingly irrational human preference for over-imitation come from? In his book “<a href="https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691178431/the-secret-of-our-success">The Secret of Our Success</a>,” anthropologist Joseph Henrich points out that people around the world rely on technologies that are often <a href="https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/06/04/book-review-the-secret-of-our-success/">so complex that no one can learn them rationally</a>. Instead, people must learn them step by step, trusting in the wisdom of more experienced elders and peers.</p> <p>For example, the best way to master making a bow is by observing successful hunters doing it, with the assumption that everything they do is important. As an inexperienced learner, you can’t yet judge which steps are actually relevant. So when your band’s best hunter waxes his bowstring with two fingers or touches his ear before drawing the string, you copy him.</p> <p>The human propensity for over-imitation thus makes possible what anthropologists call <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/bjdp.12139">cumulative culture</a>: the long-term development of skills and technologies over generations. No single person might understand all the practical reasons behind each step to making a bow or carving a canoe, much less transforming rare earth minerals into iPhones. But as long as people copy with high fidelity, the technology gets transmitted.</p> <p>Ritual and religion are also domains in which people carry out actions that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2015.08.002">aren’t connected in a tangible way with practical outcomes</a>. For example, a Catholic priest blesses wafers and wine for Communion by uttering a series of repetitive words and doing odd motions with his hands. One could be forgiven for wondering what on Earth these ritualistic acts have to do with eating bread, just as a chimpanzee can’t see any connection between tapping a stick and opening a box.</p> <p>But rituals have a hidden effect: They bond people to one another and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2015.08.002">demonstrate cultural affiliation</a>. For an enlightening negative example, consider a student who refuses to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Her action clearly telegraphs her rejection of authorities’ right to tell her how to behave. And as anthropologist Roy Rappaport <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/anthropology/social-and-cultural-anthropology/ritual-and-religion-making-humanity?format=PB">pointed out</a>, ritual participation is binary: Either you say the pledge or you don’t. This clarity makes it easily apparent who is or isn’t committed to the group.</p> <p><strong>Surprise secret ingredient that makes us human</strong></p> <p>In a broader sense, then, over-imitation helps enable much of what comprises <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12297">distinctively human culture</a>, which turns out to be much more complicated than mechanical cause and effect.</p> <p>At heart, human beings are not brave, self-reliant innovators, but careful if savvy conformists. We perform and imitate apparently impractical actions because doing so is the key to learning complex cultural skills, and because rituals create and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12297">sustain the cultural identities and solidarity</a> we <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797615607205">depend on for survival</a>. Indeed, copying others is a powerful way to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.76.6.893">establish social rapport</a>. For example, mimicking another’s body language can induce them to like and trust you more.</p> <p>So the next time you hear someone arguing passionately that everyone should embrace nonconformity and avoid imitating others, you might chuckle a bit. We’re not chimpanzees, after all.<!-- 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/connor-wood-704097"><em>Connor Wood</em></a><em>, Visiting Researcher in Theology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/boston-university-898">Boston University</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/being-copycats-might-be-key-to-being-human-121932">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Here is why you might be feeling tired while on lockdown

<p>A lot of people have been posting on social media saying they have been feeling tired earlier than usual while on lockdown. Normally able to stay up into the small hours, they are hitting the pillow at 10 o'clock now. Many are wondering how this can be when we are all doing less.</p> <p>The feelings of fatigue that you are experiencing are more likely to be related to the mental workload associated with COVID-19 rather than the physical burden. Fatigue can have both <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/301/6762/1199.short?casa_token=V-MBVE2wkywAAAAA:nnkD10-4RytvM2ZGQb1X6N2N4PxHazxUa6YpLYYYVpO30kIIz6kuPrbyUQ-iosCyy-CCgzHm-3c">physical and non-physical causes</a>. After we have completed a 5km run we deserve a rest, or after an illness we can feel run down and tired for a few weeks.</p> <p>But <a href="https://bmcresnotes.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1756-0500-4-238">research</a> has also shown that tiredness can be caused by psychological states, such as stress and anxiety. In the current situation, it could even be the monotony of the situation that causes us to feel tired. Therefore, dealing with the psychological strain associated with Coronavirus could be wearing us out. So how do we go about getting our energy back?</p> <p><strong>The phases of adjustment</strong></p> <p>When we look at major changes, such as students starting university or people moving to a new country, a period of adaptation and transition is needed. This takes time and comes <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21642850.2013.843459">in phases</a>.</p> <p>The first week of adapting involves disengaging from former ways of living and working, and establishing new interactions. These are usually achieved by the fourth or fifth day, after which life begins to become more settled and predictable.</p> <p>People in the first few weeks of lockdown may feel low and could be tearful. This is a normal adaptation stage. Please don’t worry too much but be reassured that this will pass for most people and next week you will feel better. Transition to a new environment can be helped by writing a reflective <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.2190/CS.9.2.d">journal</a>. It can be helpful to note down your thoughts and feelings. You can then review your progress and see how you adjust.</p> <p>Full functional adaptation to a new way of life will happen after about three months. However, there is one period to be aware of that can occur around three weeks after the start, when a person can succumb abruptly to a bout of melancholy and a loss of morale. The worry in this case may be that the lockdown situation has now become permanent. But once this phase has passed these feelings of despondency tend not to return.</p> <p><strong>Prioritising structure</strong></p> <p>The next lesson on how to keep your energy up comes from observing people in survival situations. To avoid a drift into a state of apathy and feeling low and unmotivated, it is important to establish a clear structure to your day. Structure allows us to gain some control over our lives. It helps prevent a buildup of <a href="https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.psych.51.1.227">“empty” time</a> that could make you very aware of confinement, and cause a growing sense of “drift”. This can make people feel withdrawn and apathetic, sleep badly and neglect their personal hygiene.</p> <p>One extreme case from the survival world shows the benefits of structure when we are suddenly faced with time to fill. In 1915, when Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance became trapped in the Antarctic ice, he imposed <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/25/business/leadership-lessons-from-the-shackleton-expedition.html">strict routines</a> on his crew. He was well aware of a previous expedition ship, the <a href="https://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/History/antarctic_whos_who_belgica.php">RV Belgica</a>, which had become trapped over winter in the Antarctic ice in 1898. The captain did not establish any routine and as a result the crew suffered from low morale, especially after the death of the <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-different-kind-of-dinner-bell-in-the-antarctic-22002918/">ship’s cat, Nansen</a>.</p> <p>Shackleton insisted on strict meal times and ordered everyone to gather in the officers’ mess after dinner to have an enforced period of socialisation. These scheduled activities prevented a social monotony that can occur when a small group of people are confined together for significant periods.</p> <p>So although it might feel good to have the odd morning lie-in, it is better for your energy levels to set up your day with a clear structure and make time for social activities, even if they need to be undertaken online.</p> <p>Another non-physical cause of fatigue is anxiety. The pandemic has made people confused and uncertain, and given some a sense of trepidation. All these feelings can lead to poor sleep quality, which in turn can make people more tired and <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0887618515300384">anxious</a>.</p> <p>To break this cycle, exercise is a useful tool. Going for a walk or doing an online exercise class can make you feel physically tired but in the longer-term it will reduce feelings of fatigue as your sleep quality improves.</p> <p>Planning ahead and setting goals is now both possible and necessary. Aim for a set future date for release from the lockdown but be prepared to reset that date as necessary. Being optimistic about the future and having things to look forward to can also help reduce anxiety and reduce fatigue.<!-- 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/135502/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/sarita-robinson-510017">Sarita Robinson</a>, Principal Lecturer in Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-central-lancashire-1272">University of Central Lancashire</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/john-leach-559577">John Leach</a>, Visiting Senior Research Fellow in Survival Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-portsmouth-1302">University of Portsmouth</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/here-is-why-you-might-be-feeling-tired-while-on-lockdown-135502">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Cat whisperer: How to read Fluffy’s facial expressions

<p>Cats are popular pets: there are an <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-3227-1_3">estimated 200 million pet cats worldwide</a>, with more <a href="http://www.fediaf.org/images/FEDIAF_Facts__and_Figures_2018_ONLINE_final.pdf">pet cats than pet dogs</a>. Cats live in about <a href="https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/canada-s-pet-wellness-report2011">38 per cent of Canadian households</a>, <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/reports-statistics/us-pet-ownership-statistics">25.4 per cent of American households</a> and <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/515287/households-owning-a-cat-europe/">25 per cent of European households</a>.</p> <p>Cats also seem to be a great source of entertainment. There are <a href="https://tubularinsights.com/2-million-cat-videos-youtube/">two million cat videos on YouTube and counting</a>, and countless internet-famous cats, like Grumpy Cat and Lil’ Bub, each with millions of followers on their social media accounts.</p> <p>Despite the popularity of cats, as anyone who has been around a cat knows, reading cats is not always an easy task. One minute they can be seeking your affection and the next they can be swatting at you without any apparent warning. This leads to the question: are cats just jerks or are they simply misunderstood?</p> <p><strong>Cats’ body language</strong></p> <p>While cats may seem mysterious, their behaviour can help us to understand how they are feeling. The position of a cat’s body, head, ears and tail are all telltale hints.</p> <p>An <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.jfms.2011.03.012">anxious or fearful cat</a> may crouch down to the ground, arch their back, lower their head and flatten their ears. Fearful or anxious cats may also retreat backwards in avoidance, hide themselves, make their fur stand on edge (piloerection), <a href="https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/cat-chat-understanding-feline-language">growl, hiss, spit</a>, swat or bite.</p> <p>Conversely, a content cat may approach you with their tail up, with their body and head in a neutral position and their ears forward. When resting, they may tuck their paws in, or lay on their side with their legs stretched out.</p> <p>Facial expressions may also be an indicator of how cats are feeling. Researchers have found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/jsap.12283">certain individuals can readily distinguish the images of cats in pain from those of pain-free cats</a>. Despite this, the full range of cat facial expressions, including those made in positive situations, has not received much investigation.</p> <p><strong>Most people are poor cat face readers</strong></p> <p>As a postdoctoral researcher in animal science, I ran an <a href="https://catdogwelfare.wixsite.com/catfaces">online study</a> in which participants were shown short video clips of cats in various situations. Positive situations were those where cats approached, for example, their owner for treats. Negative situations were those where cats sought to avoid, for example, retreating from a person unknown to them.</p> <p>The videos were carefully selected based on <a href="https://doi.org/10.7120/09627286.28.4.519">strict behavioural criteria</a> and edited to only show each cat’s face, removing any potential body language or location cues.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/211759805" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">An example of a video from the study: here, a cat is kneading in his favoured resting spot, a positive situation.</span></p> <p>More than 6,300 people from 85 countries judged whether the cat in each video was feeling positive or negative. On average, people identified the correct expression 59 per cent of the time. While this score is slightly better than if people had simply guessed, it suggests that many people find the task of reading cat faces challenging.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/202460513" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">An example of a video from the study: here, a cat is hiding in the examination room of a veterinary clinic, a negative situation.</span></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Cat whisperers</strong></p> <p>Although most people were poor cat face readers, a small subset of people (13 per cent) were quite skilled, scoring 15 points or higher out of a possible 20 points.<br />Individuals in this group are more likely to be women than men. This is not surprising, since research has found that women are generally better at interpreting non-verbal emotional cues; this has been shown with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9450.00193">human babies</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0074591">and dogs</a>.</p> <p>I found “cat whisperers” also tend to have experience working as a veterinarian or veterinary technician. People in these occupations encounter a large number of cats on a daily basis and must learn to interpret their behaviour to recognize illness and avoid injury.</p> <p>Suprisingly (or not, depending on your personal experience as a cat owner), cat owners are not any better at reading cat faces than people who have never owned a cat. This may be because cat owners learn the intricacies of their own cat through continued interactions, but likely cannot draw on varied experiences when faced with a series of unfamiliar cats.</p> <p><strong>Implications for animal welfare</strong></p> <p>My work has shown that cats display different facial expressions and that these facial expressions differ depending on how cats are feeling, both positive and negative.</p> <p>Being able to read and interpret these different facial expressions can help to ensure that cats receive appropriate care. For example, facial expressions can indicate when a cat may be in pain and require treatment. Being able to read cat faces can also improve the bond between cat owners and their cats, through an improved understanding of how their cats may be feeling.</p> <p>While many people seem to struggle with reading cat faces, some individuals are able to read them well. This suggests that interpreting cat faces is a skill that could improve with training and experience.</p> <p>Do you think you could be a cat whisperer? You can test your cat-reading abilities by taking <a href="https://catdogwelfare.wixsite.com/catfaces/cat-faces-interactive-quiz">this interactive quiz</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/128686/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/lauren-dawson-909496">Lauren Dawson</a>, Postdoctoral fellow, Animal Biosciences, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-guelph-1071">University of Guelph</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/are-you-a-cat-whisperer-how-to-read-fluffys-facial-expressions-128686">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Do people become more selfless as they age?

<p>Looking for something to binge-watch while you’re hunkering down at home?</p> <p>Consider checking out the popular TV show “<a href="https://www.nbc.com/the-good-place">The Good Place</a>.” Over four recently concluded seasons, the series follows the adventures and mishaps of four utterly self-centered characters on their quest to become decent and selfless human beings.</p> <p>The deeper question this <a href="https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/9/26/20874217/the-good-place-series-finale-season-4-moral-philosophy">philosophy-laced comedy</a> raises is: Can people be truly selfless?</p> <p>The technical term for this behavior is <a href="https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/altruism/definition">altruism</a> – the willingness to help others, even at a cost to your own well-being. And if the answer to that question is yes, then are those of us who are selfish able to transform ourselves into kind and selfless individuals?</p> <p>I’m a <a href="https://scholar.google.de/citations?user=hC6IzXMAAAAJ&amp;hl=en">psychologist who uses brain science</a> to understand how people make decisions. With my team at the University of Oregon, I am investigating why many of us <a href="https://www.doi.org/10.1126/science.1140738">behave altruistically</a>, whether human beings become <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/xge0000209">more altruistic with age</a> and even whether it’s possible to <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00599">learn how to be altruistic</a>.</p> <p><strong>Stumped philosophers</strong></p> <p>Whether people do altruistic deeds because of their altruistic nature or out of ulterior motives is a question that has <a href="https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300189490/does-altruism-exist">stumped philosophers, religious thinkers and social scientists</a> for centuries, because selfishness can inspire <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/2234133?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents">seemingly altruistic acts</a>.</p> <p>For example, people may give away money to <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/2118317">show off their wealth</a>, to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2012.11.005">appear trustworthy</a> or simply to feel <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/2234133">good about themselves</a>.</p> <p>Even <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=XuOFf0oAAAAJ&amp;hl=en&amp;oi=ao">Pamela Hieronymi</a>, a University of California, Los Angeles philosopher who informally served as a consultant for the hit TV show, has expressed serious skepticism about <a href="https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/vox/the-ezra-klein-show/e/64883521">whether anyone can turn from selfish to selfless</a>.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/lDnO4nDA3kM?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">Moral philosophy professor Chidi Anagonye, played by William Jackson Harper, teaches viewers and fellow characters like Eleanor Shellstrop, played by Kristen Bell, about human nature on ‘The Good Place.’</span></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Brain patterns</strong></p> <p>How do scholars like me study what goes on in people’s brains?</p> <p>My team had participants in a series of experiments lie in <a href="https://www.nibib.nih.gov/science-education/science-topics/magnetic-resonance-imaging-mri">MRI scanners</a>, looking at a screen that described different scenarios. Sometimes my colleagues and I told them that US$20 was being transferred to their bank accounts. At other times, the same amount would go to a charity, such as a local food pantry. Participants simply observed these $20 transfers, either to themselves or to the charity, without having any say in the matter.</p> <p>All the while, we scanned what neuroscientists consider the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.21-16-j0002.2001">brain’s reward centers</a>, specifically the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/nucleus-accumbens">nucleus accumbens</a>.</p> <p>This region, which is a little bigger than a peanut, plays a role in everything from sexual gratification to drug addiction and related neural sites. It becomes active when something happens that makes you happy and that you would like to see repeated in the future.</p> <p>The experience of money going to the charity boosted activity in those reward areas of the brain for many of our participants. And exactly this observation, we argue, is a manifestation of people’s true altruistic nature: They felt rewarded when someone in need becomes better off, even if they didn’t directly do anything to make a difference.</p> <p>We found that in about half of our study participants, activity in these reward areas was even stronger when the money went to the charity than when it landed in their own bank accounts. We determined that these people could be neurally defined as altruists.</p> <p>Then, in a separate stage of the experiment, all of these same participants had the choice to either give some of their money away or to keep it for themselves. Here, the neural altruists were about twice as likely as the others to give their money away.</p> <p>We believe that this finding indicates that purely altruistic motives can drive generous behavior – and that brain imaging can detect those motives.</p> <p><strong>Aging and altruism</strong></p> <p>In a related study my colleagues and I conducted, there were 80 participants who were between 20 and 64 years old, but otherwise were comparable in terms of their backgrounds. We found that the proportion of altruists – that is, those whose reward areas were more active when money went to the charity than to themselves – steadily increased with age, going from less than 25% through age 35 to around 75% among individuals 55 and older.</p> <p>Also, older participants tended to become more willing to give their money to charity or to volunteer in this experiment. And when assessing their personality characteristics through questionnaires, our group found that they exhibited traits such as agreeableness and empathy more strongly than younger participants.</p> <p>These observations align with growing evidence of more altruistic acts in the elderly. For example, the share of their income that 60-year-olds give to charity is three times as much as for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S1574-0714(06)02018-5">25-year-olds</a>. This is significant even though they <a href="https://dqydj.com/the-net-worth-of-different-age-groups-in-america/">tend to have more money</a> in general, making it easier to part with some of it.</p> <p>People who are 60 and up are about 50% more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/55.2.S98">likely to volunteer</a>. They are also nearly <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-so-few-young-americans-vote-132649">twice as likely to vote</a> as those under 30.</p> <p>However, our results are the first to clearly demonstrate that older adults do not just act like they are nicer people, which might easily be driven by selfish motives such as making it more likely that they will be remembered fondly once they are gone. Rather, the fact that their reward areas are so much more responsive to experiencing people in need being helped suggests that they are actually, on average, kinder and genuinely more interested in the welfare of others than everyone else.</p> <p><strong>The road ahead</strong></p> <p>These findings raise lots of additional, important questions that we cover in an article we published in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0963721420910811">Current Directions in Psychological Science</a>, an academic journal. For example, additional research is needed in which people are followed across time to make sure that the age difference in generosity truly reflects personal growth, and not just generational differences. Also, we need to generalize our results to larger samples from more varied backgrounds.</p> <p>Most importantly, we don’t yet know why older adults appear to be more generous than younger folks. My colleagues and I are planning to look into whether realizing that you have fewer years to live makes you more concerned about the greater good.</p> <p>For the lead characters in “The Good Place,” the journey toward selflessness is an arduous ordeal. In real life, it may simply be a natural part of growing older.<!-- 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/ulrich-mayr-946364">Ulrich Mayr</a>, Lewis Professor and Department Head of Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-oregon-811">University of Oregon</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/do-people-become-more-selfless-as-they-age-130443">original article</a>.</em></p>

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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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