Mind

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27 teeny pick-me-ups for when you’re having the worst day ever

<p><strong>Take a walk outdoors</strong></p> <p>Beat a bummer day with a quick stroll outdoors. It’s no surprise that fresh air and nature can lift your spirits and reduce anxiety but it may surprise you to know just how little walking it takes to have a positive effect. Just five minutes walking through a park, trail or other green space is enough to spark a cascade of feel good brain chemicals, according to a study published in Environmental Science &amp; Technology.</p> <p><strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>Nibble some dark chocolate</strong></p> <p>There’s a good reason so many of use a little chocolate therapy to deal with a bad day – it works! Eating just 42g of dark chocolate lowered stress hormones in people, according to research published in the Journal of Proteome Research. And the news gets better: People who regularly ate dark chocolate reported lower feelings of depression over time.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Soak your feet in a warm tub</strong></p> <p>Tired tootsies are just one small side effect of a tough day but when your feet hurt, everything else does too. A quick foot soak in a warm tub of water can do wonders for both your sore feet and your sore spirit. Or if you have time, take a long, luxurious full-body soak. Add some epsom salts to help relax tight muscles and feel your worries wash away.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Watch a funny cat video on the internet</strong></p> <p>Let’s be honest: Cat videos are pretty much why the internet was invented. And it’s a good thing! Because of their innocence, enthusiasm and total inability to understand modern life, animals are funny in a way that people just can’t be. Plus they don’t care if you laugh at them.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Text a friend or loved one</strong></p> <p>Feeling like you haven’t a friend in the world is a major part of most terrible days. It’s easy to forget just how many people love and care about you. But thankfully it’s also just as easy to get a quick reminder. Send a quick text to your bestie, sister or mum and tell them you need a little love. We’re guessing you’ll be showered with heart emojis in no time!</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Write down three things you’re grateful for</strong></p> <p>When you’re in the midst of a horrible day, nothing is farther from your mind than counting your blessings but that may be the best thing to help you feel better, according to a study done by the University of California. Writing down a list of things you’re thankful for refocuses your mind on the positive and provides an instant lift to your mood. In fact, this simple trick works so well that the researchers reported that it even helps people with depression who don’t respond to other treatments.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Switch your hair part</strong></p> <p>Flipping or combing your hair to the other side of your head may seem like a ridiculously small change but hair experts say it’s one of the quickest ways to give yourself a new look. The new part will change the way your hair frames your face and because it goes against your hair’s natural tendencies, it can give you more volume. At the very least, it’ll make you laugh!</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Send a kind anonymous note to someone</strong></p> <p>Handwritten notes aren’t utilised enough in our digital society but there’s something very personal and touching about taking the time to write out a thank-you note or compliment. It doesn’t have to be much (one Post-It note is plenty) but jot a few thoughts down, stick it to a co-worker’s desk, a friend’s car or a family member’s lunch and watch the happy roll in. Their joy will make your worries disappear, or at least help put them in perspective.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Count the stars</strong></p> <p>Sometimes it takes staring at the infinite expanse of universe to help us realise that our problems, no matter how significant they feel in the moment, are small in the grand scheme of things. Counting the stars in the night sky will help you put things in perspective, get some fresh air, and have some quiet time alone with your thoughts.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Snap a selfie</strong></p> <p>Selfies aren’t just for supermodels and teenagers with too much time on their hands. In fact, taking a quick, silly pic of yourself and sharing it with friends and family is an instant bad-mood buster, according to a study published in the Psychology of Well-Being. The researchers noted that strategic selfie sending helped ameliorate stress and anxiety from common problems like financial difficulties, feelings of loneliness and isolation and work issues. And don’t worry too much about how you look, the point isn’t to take a news-worthy headshot but just to connect with loved ones.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Have a little caffeine</strong></p> <p>Caffeine is the world’s most commonly used mood-altering drug and with good reason, according to a study done by the University of Florida. In as little as 10 minutes it provides a slight sense of euphoria along with an invigorating burst of energy. Of course, as anyone who’s ever had a few too many cappuccinos knows, the detail is in the dosing. Too much caffeine will have the opposite effect, making you anxious, jittery and unable to sleep. Instead aim for 30 to 90 mg, the amount in one cup of coffee, and make it an occasional indulgence.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Call your grandma</strong></p> <p>When it comes to life, our grandparents have done and seen it all so they’re a rich source of support and wisdom. Really, is there any trouble a loving grandma can’t fix? Plus you know it will make them just as happy as it does you. Don’t have a surviving or loving elder to call? Remedy that stat by adopting an elderly neighbour or other relative. Maintaining close social connections are one of the best things you can do to keep a positive attitude even in the face of a no-good, very bad day.</p> <p><strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>Buy yourself a small gift</strong></p> <p>Getting a little something special can put a smile on anyone’s face. What? It’s not your birthday, you say? No matter! Make your own holiday if you like but you don’t need an excuse to treat yourself. Just make sure it’s something that won’t break the bank (causing even more bad days in the future) and is something you really like.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Better yet, buy someone else a gift</strong></p> <p>Giving yourself a little something is fun but if you want to maximise the feel-good benefits, use that money to give something to someone. People who were given cash and spent it on a gift for a loved one or a stranger felt happier and their happiness lasted twice as long as people who spent the money on themselves, according to research done by Harvard. And it doesn’t have to be much – just five dollars spent on someone else gave a week’s worth of good vibes.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Avoid the internet</strong></p> <p>While the internet has plenty of fun, interesting and educational things, it’s also home to people’s worst thoughts – thoughts that many are all too willing to share. People who use the internet to the point where it interferes with their real lives have a much higher risk of being depressed and even of committing suicide, according to a study published in Psychopathology. And it makes sense on a smaller scale as well. Whether you’re reading the latest government conspiracy, cringing at vitriolic diatribes on celebrities, or participating in flame wars in the comment sections of articles, it’s guaranteed to bring you down, especially when you’re already feeling fragile from a hard day.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Buy yourself flowers</strong></p> <p>There’s no need to wait for a special occasion or for someone to send you a bouquet as a gift. Flowers are the perfect antidote to a bad day with their bright colours and fresh scent. In fact, simply smelling a flower alters your gene activity and blood chemistry, soothing stress and giving you an immediate mood boost, according to a study done by The American Chemical Society. Plus, this way you’re guaranteed to get your favourite blooms!</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Eat a cookie</strong></p> <p>Comfort food is called such because it’s genuinely comforting, according to a study published in Psychological Science. They found that eating a warm chocolate chip cookie or a plate of gooey lasagne induces a rush of feel-good chemicals to the brain, specifically fighting feelings of loneliness and depression. For your health’s sake this probably shouldn’t be your primary method of dealing with a bad day but every once in awhile it’s totally fine to eat your favourite foods and relish the comforting memories and feelings that come with them.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Have a good cry</strong></p> <p>Too many of us resist crying as we fear looking weak or silly but there’s a healing power in tears, say scientists at Tel Aviv University. A good cry can release pent-up emotion so you can let it go and move on. In addition to the emotional benefits, they note that crying can also strengthen social ties, another way to combat a bad day.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Listen to a comedy sketch</strong></p> <p>Laughter really is the best medicine, especially for a day that’s been filled with bitter pills. And thanks to the internet, satellite radio and podcasts, a funny comedy sketch is never more than a few clicks away. Letting yourself laugh won’t fix all your problems but it may help you see the humour in them and feel a little less alone in your human predicaments.</p> <p><strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>Play with a pet</strong></p> <p>Taking Fido for a walk or giving Fluffy a snuggle has been shown in multiple studies to help reduce depression and loneliness while improving mood in everyone from university students to the elderly to people with chronic pain. And it’s easy to see why a pet can be such a powerful positive force – their combination of unconditional love, an (adorable) listening ear, and soft fur to pet is just what you need to feel better fast. Don’t have a pet? Consider volunteering at a local animal shelter or visiting a neighbour’s pet (with their permission, of course).</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Give a kid a high-five</strong></p> <p>Kids get a lot of flack for crying in public places but while they do cry a lot, they also laugh a lot – and it doesn’t take much to get a smile. So if you see a little one having a bad day, offering a silly smile or a high five is a great way to make both your days better.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Do a little dance…</strong></p> <p>Whether you love to swing your hips in a salsa, practise your kicks in a line dance, tap your toes in a tap dance, or just go free form in your own living room, moving to music is a quick and easy way to boost your mood. And the effect lasts even after the tunes are turned off. According to a study done by IOS Press, dancing of any kind increases brain volume which has all kinds of physical and emotional benefits in the long run.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Make a little love…</strong></p> <p>Sex: Curing bad days since the dawn of humanity! You don’t need a scientist to tell you that a session of good lovemaking can make you feel better but what may surprise you is what kind of sex works best. According to a study done by Penn State, the sex that makes people feel the best afterward lasts an average of 3 to 13 minutes – good news for people who are exhausted and feeling down from a tough day.</p> <p><strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>Get down tonight!</strong></p> <p>There is some real truth to the old adage “everything looks better in the morning.” In a study of identical twins, researchers from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that over half of people who got five hours or less of sleep a night reported being depressed. But this is not a case of more is always better as they also found a similar rate of depression in people sleeping 10 or more hours a night. The sweet spot for happiness is to get 7 to 8.5 hours of shut-eye a night. So if you’re having a rotten day, one of the best things you can do to make sure tomorrow is better is to hit the sack early.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Read a novel<br /></strong>Diving into another world via a novel is escapism at its finest! Reading a good book actually helps us take on the thoughts and feelings of the characters, providing temporary relief from our own woes, according to a study published in Psychological Science.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Try a headstand</strong></p> <p>Yogis know that doing an inversion – any posture where your head is lower than your heart – can have major health benefits, including mood elevation. Sometimes it takes literally changing your perspective to help you see your problems in a new light. But no worries if you’re not Cirque du Soleil. If trying a headstand against a wall is too much, try a gentler pose like laying on your back, planting your feet near your bottom and raising your hips.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Stay off social media</strong></p> <p>The more active you are on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, the more likely you are to be depressed, according to a study published in Depression and Anxiety. Researchers think that it’s because people tend to only post the best versions of themselves, leading others to compare their own lives negatively. So save yourself the pain of comparing your waistline, hairline, job or home to people you stopped talking to after high school by checking out of social media and checking in with friends IRL.</p> <p> </p> <p><em>Written by </em><em>Charlotte Hilton Andersen</em><em>. This article first appeared on </em><a href="https://www.readersdigest.co.nz/healthsmart/conditions/mental-health/27-teeny-pick-me-ups-for-when-youre-having-the-worst-day-ever?pages=1"><em>Reader’s Digest</em></a><em>. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, </em><a href="http://readersdigest.co.nz/subscribe"><em>here’s our best subscription offer</em></a><em>.</em><a href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/healthsmart/conditions/mental-health/27-teeny-pick-me-ups-for-when-youre-having-the-worst-day-ever?pages=1"></a></p>

Mind

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Famous hoaxes that (almost) fooled everyone

<p>In today’s technology-saturated Internet age, fake news and misinformation are everywhere. But these are by no means new concepts! People have always had the tendency to dupe and be duped, as these major hoaxes, which occurred as recently as 2017 and as long ago as 1726, prove. Some were meticulously planned in hopes of striking it rich. A few were accidental consequences of otherwise harmless actions. Many were perpetrated to be funny or malicious, and still others were done to prove a point. No matter the reason, here are 11 hoaxes that hoodwinked the world. For some more recent scams, here are some of the most outlandish things the Internet told us that just weren’t true.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>War of the Worlds</strong></p> <p>Orson Welles didn’t mean to mastermind one of the greatest hoaxes in history. Mass hysteria was simply a by-product of a high-quality radio play in an era where world war loomed, the space race was in its early stages, and most people got news and entertainment from their receivers. According to History.com, the October 30, 1938, broadcast began at 8pm with an introduction presenting the Mercury Theatre’s update of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel The War of the Worlds, but unfortunately, many people were listening to a popular ventriloquist on another station until 8.12 and therefore missed the disclaimer. Welles take on Wells’ Martian invasion tale started with a weather report and a concert live from the Hotel Park Plaza before news alerts about explosions on Mars, a meteor crashing into a New Jersey farm, and eventually aliens with tentacles, heat rays, and poisonous gas broke in. Terrified announcers were then saying cylinders had landed in Chicago and St. Louis, 7000 National Guardsmen had been wiped out, and that people were fleeing.</p> <p> </p> <p>Only the panic part turned out to be real as potentially a million listeners thought Earth was under attack. People crowded the highways, armed themselves, begged police for gas masks, requested their power be shut off so the aliens wouldn’t see them, and were treated for shock at hospitals. A woman ran into an Indianapolis church during evening service to proclaim, “New York has been destroyed. It’s the end of the world. Prepare to die!” When CBS got wind of hysteria IRL, Welles went on the air as himself to remind listeners that it was fiction. The FCC investigation found no wrongdoing but networks agreed to be more cautious regarding programming going forward. The attention scored Welles a Hollywood contract, which enabled him to write, direct, and star in his 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The Shed at Dulwich</strong></p> <p>For just six short months in 2017, The Shed at Dulwich, where patrons ordered entrees by mood, became the highest-ranked restaurant in London on TripAdvisor and the hardest reservation in town to get. Calls and emails poured in begging to be squeezed in for birthday dinners, romantic dates, and media coverage. All were ignored or told to call back as they were booked solid for more than half a year. Except that was a lie. The reason they couldn’t score a table was actually because the business was bogus. It was an experiment in algorithm manipulation and buzz creation by freelance writer Oobah Butler, who had been paid in the past by owners to review their restaurants positively without ever stepping foot inside on the site. To turn the South London garden shed he resides in into a fake fine dining experience, he bought a burner phone and a domain, created a website with soft-focus pictures of delicious-looking dishes made with ingredients you wouldn’t want to eat (paint, bleach tablets, shaving cream, the heel of his foot), and drummed up interest by providing minimum details, making it an appointment-only establishment, lying about it being full, and soliciting friends to write glowing reviews. According to The Washington Post, people contacted him looking for work and companies sent him free samples of their food products. He opened The Shed for one night and served canned soup—and some diners still asked to come again. Butler outed himself in an article and video for Vice a month after hitting the top spot and TripAdvisor removed the listing.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The Cardiff Giant</strong></p> <p>This gentle giant remains one of 19th-century America’s most legendary hoaxes. Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols unearthed a ten-foot petrified “man” on October 16, 1869, while digging a well on the New York farm owned by William Newell. Word spread about the discovery and Newell put up a tent and started charging a quarter (and then 50¢ as business boomed) to take a peek at the ground Goliath. Hundreds of curious onlookers and amateur archaeologists made the pilgrimage, many believing it was an ancestor of the Onondaga people and some claiming it was proof of the giants mentioned in The Bible—even after most professionals like Yale palaeontologist Othniel C. Marsh said it a fake. The “mummy” was eventually sold to a group of businessmen who sent him on tour. Greatest showman PT Barnum offered to buy it for $50,000, and when they declined to sell, he made a plaster knockoff and arranged for it to be shown in a New York City museum. By December, Binghamton cigar salesman George Hull admitted this was a stone-cold swindle. He’d commissioned a German stone cutter in Chicago to carve it out of a block of gypsum he’d bought in Iowa before he and his cousin Newell buried the 1356-kilogram statue. While it was a get-rich-quick scheme, Hull, an atheist, was also trying to prove a point about what he considered silly religious stories and how science could disprove most of them. Even after the hoax was revealed, the Cardiff Giant still made appearances and money. According to Archaeology.org, he showed up at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo and was sold in 1947 to the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, where he’s on display today.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Michael Jordan is dead</strong></p> <p>In February 2015, an article published on the Cronica MX website said that former Chicago Bull Michael Jordan had gone to that big basketball court in the sky after suffering a heart attack while he slept. It even quoted his wife, Yvette Prieto. They also posted a video clip designed to resemble a breaking news segment on YouTube with footage of a tearful ESPN reporter Rich Eisen saying goodbye. According to Snopes.com, the footage was real but recycled from a NFL Game Day episode from a month earlier when Eisen had learned that his long time co-worker and friend Stuart Scott had lost his battle with cancer. It recirculates every once in a while, always trying to lure fans to click through to a spammy site or to provide their personal information. The same story was used again in 2017, this time by a site called Viral Mugshot, according to Inquisitr.com. Despite it containing the same spelling and grammar errors, it went viral on social media until debunking sites and news agencies reported it as fake news. And Jordan isn’t the only celebrity targeted by pranksters and hackers. If you believed everything you read on stars’ sites, fake Twitter accounts, or items reported by newspapers erroneously, many of your favourites would have been gone long before their time, including: former President Barack Obama (assassinated while campaigning in an Iowa restaurant), Will Ferrell (died in a 2006 paragliding accident), Nick Jonas (heart attack after a lap dance in a Dallas strip club), and, of course, Justin Bieber (suicide twice, nightclub shooting, and an overdose).</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Piltdown Man</strong></p> <p>Since Charles Darwin released his evolution theories in 1859, scientists have been on the lookout for proof of the missing link—a phase between full ape and full man—and in 1912, Englishman Charles Dawson announced he’d found it in a gravel pit in Piltdown. He used the fossils to build a skull model with a human-sized brain and an ape-like jaw and England declared itself the real birthplace of modern humanity. But other scientists immediately took issue, mostly because it didn’t match other fossils found around the world including the Australopithecines one dug up in South Africa. In 1915, Dawson doubled down and claimed he retrieved a second similar fossil, which was enough evidence for many average Joes. The hoax was not revealed until 1953 when British scientists used new technology to date the Piltdown pair. They deduced that the remains were only 500 years old, not the 1 million years old needed to be the link. They also took a bite out of his claim by discovering that the jaw was from an orangutan whose teeth had been filed to resemble human wear patterns and that the bones had been stained to match each other. Most people involved were dead by the 1950s so the prank plotter was never identified. One whodunit theory, according to the BBC: The doer was none other than Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He lived near the pit and was a member of Dawson’s archaeological society. The motive was revenge for being constantly mocked by scientists for his belief in spiritualism.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The Cock Lane ghost</strong></p> <p>Even royals can fall prey to paranormal pranks, according to The Daily Mail. In 1762, Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany, visited a home on Cock Lane in London that was said to be haunted by Scratching Fanny, a woman who had died of smallpox in the rented house after her loan shark lover William Kent had lent their landlord money with a high interest rate. Kent took the landlord Richard Parsons to court over the loan and won. Strange noises that sounded like a cat scratching a chair were reported at the property around this time, and Parsons and his daughter Elizabeth, who the noises actually emanated from, claimed the ghost was Fanny. To prove it, they held séances regularly, which were written up in the newspaper and drew religious leaders, the prince, the mayor, and so many other onlookers that the street became impassable. At the time, people widely believed that a person would return from the great beyond to warn the living or seek revenge, so they quickly accepted that it was Fanny communicating via a system of knocks that Parsons and a preacher developed. During one such communing, the “ghost” accused Kent of poisoning her and requested he be hanged. To clear his name, Kent and two doctors who had tended to Fanny on her deathbed attended a séance, and again Fanny declared he was her killer. But during a later gathering, Dr Samuel Johnson witnessed Elizabeth creeping from the bed where she was during encounters to pick up a piece of wood that she used to knock. She’d usually hidden the branch in her clothes. Parsons was trying to frame Kent after losing the case, but it was he who ended up behind bars for two years. (His wife also got a year in prison.)</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The Hurricane Harvey freeway shark</strong></p> <p>Between social media sites and the 24-hour news cycle, it is impossible not to be bombarded with insane photos of daring rescues and heartbreaking destruction following any natural disaster these days. Hurricane Harvey hitting Houston in 2017 was no exception, with one image in particular proving you can’t always believe what you see. Twitter user @Jeggit posted a startling shot of a shark swimming in the floodwater that filled a Houston highway. It appeared to have been taken from the driver’s seat of a stalled car. It was retweeted almost 84,000 times and liked by 141,733 users fairly quickly. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Fox News host Jesse Watters was also fooled by the photo, even mentioning it during his show The Five. He later apologised for the mix-up on his Twitter account once Politifact tracked the doctored photo back to 2011. It appears to have first been circulated after Hurricane Irene struck Puerto Rico and posted on imgur.com. In 2012, social media users posted it saying it was taken in New Jersey during Sandy. It is believed that whoever created this fishy photo took the shark from an image that ran in Africa Geographic in 2005.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Hitler’s fake diaries</strong></p> <p>In 1979, Der Stern Magazine reporter Gerd Heidemann met with Nazi memorabilia collector Fritz Stiefel, who claimed to have a diary penned by Adolf Hitler. Stiefel said it’d been recovered from a 1945 crash of a plane transporting Hitler’s personal effects. (Records indicated the crash was real and that a chest was also recovered likely containing other journals.) After a couple of handwriting experts authenticated the script, more volumes turned up through Konrad Fischer, who’d procured them from an East German General who was planning to smuggle them out of Germany in pianos, according to the UnMuseum.org. Heidemann convinced his outlet to pony up 9.9 million marks (almost US$4 million) for 60 diaries. The magazine knew it could make their money back and then some from reprints. In April 1983, Stern broke the story and then Newsweek and London’s Sunday Times ran excerpts.</p> <p> </p> <p>Historians immediately balked, as Hitler loathed writing and there had been no indication from those close to him that he’d kept notes. Also, the content sparked skepticism as they portrayed Hitler as having little knowledge of concentration camps and wanting to deport, not exterminate, Jews. After many experts questioned the handwriting, the West German Federal Archives ran more tests. They concluded that the paper, ink, and glue were manufactured after the war had ended and Hitler had died. Heidemann, who always maintained he wasn’t in on it but had inflated the asking price and skimmed money off the top, was fired. Fischer turned out to be Konrad Kujau, a criminal specialising in forgery. He faked memorabilia first and worked his way up to whole documents and paintings. (In fact, a quarter of the works that were featured in the 1983 book Adolf Hitler: The Unknown Artist were done by Kujau.) Both Kujau and Heidemann were sentenced to almost five years in prison. Most of the money was never retrieved. While Heidemann was a pariah after serving, The Guardian reports that Kujau made regular appearances on talk shows and became a minor celebrity.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Mary Toft’s bunny babies</strong></p> <p>In 18th-century Europe, people paid good money to see weird stuff, particularly human deformities and unexplained phenomena. It gave poor Surrey servant Mary Toft a particularly gross idea in England in 1726, according to HowStuffWorks.com. She went into “labour” and her neighbour and mother-in-law “delivered” a liverless cat. After other animal bits were retrieved from her nether region, they rang local obstetrician John Howard. Over the next month, he “delivered” a rabbit’s head, a hog’s bladder, the legs of a cat, and nine dead baby bunnies. (Womb-ship Down happened in the course of one day, according to the University of Glasgow Library’s special collections.) She became the talk of the town and many paid to witness the bizarre births, including a Swiss anatomist and the Prince of Wales’ secretary. But her foetal fame didn’t last long. A German surgeon proved a rabbit could not have developed inside Toft because he found corn and hay in its dung. Someone was then caught smuggling a rabbit into her room. The jig was up and Toft confessed she’d been inserting animal parts into her vagina after suffering a miscarriage.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Balloon Boy</strong></p> <p>On October 15, 2009, the nation could not take its eyes off the non-stop news coverage of a homemade silver helium-filled balloon that looked like a UFO floating around the Colorado skies. After releasing it from Fort Collins, Richard and Mayumi Heene called emergency services to report that their six-year-old son Falcon was trapped aboard. National Guard helicopters and local police followed the blimp, which topped out at 7,000 feet, for 90 minutes and 80 kilometres until it landed 24 kilometres from the Denver airport. Falcon was not inside, but as some had seen something fall from the balloon, a land search ensued. That too turned up nothing. Several hours later he came out from hiding in the attic at home. When interviewed on air by Wolf Blitzer, the kid slipped and said his father had told him they were doing it to get a reality show. The first responders didn’t like their time or money wasted and the Heenes were arrested for the hoax. According to CNN, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department tallied the cost to be at least US$47,000. In addition, the FAA imposed an US$11,000 fine because airport traffic was delayed because the balloon had flown and landed close to it. The case’s judge decided it was “clearly a planned event done for the purpose of making money” and that it was “exploitation of the children, exploitation of the media, exploitation of the emotions of the people.” Both parents were sentenced to jail, four years probation, and more than 100 hours of community service and agreed to pay restitution of US$36,016. On the five-year anniversary, USA Today found the family living in Florida and the sons had started a heavy metal band. One of their CDs has a song called “Balloon Boy No Hoax.”</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Russian royal or insane Polish factory worker?</strong></p> <p>The 1918 grisly basement execution of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children aged 13 to 22 in the dead of night by bullet and bayonets by Bolshevik revolutionaries is hardly the stuff of fairy tales. Which is likely why so many people wanted to desperately believe the rumours that the youngest daughter, Anastasia Romanov, had escaped. The mystery and hope were fuelled by the fact that no bodies had been found. Women popped up all over the world claiming to be her, the most believable of which was Anna Anderson, according to Refinery29. She had tried to kill herself by jumping off a Berlin bridge two years later and landed in an asylum for two years. She was the right age, had scars on her body, and a Russian accent. Some relatives and former Romanov friends and servants confirmed her identity while others denounced it. The murders had become common knowledge and Soviet counterintelligence did nothing to quell survival rumours. Her tale inspired multiple books, tabloid fodder, an Ingrid Bergman classic, an animated film, a stage musical, and an Amazon Prime TV series.</p> <p> </p> <p>After leaving the hospital, Anderson bounced around Europe, staying with distant relatives and wealthy supporters, but she was usually uncooperative, even malicious, when people tried to prove or disprove her identity. She also knew things the late royal would have known, which is how the son of a doctor who was killed with the family became her most ardent defender. Together they hired an attorney to try to get legal recognition of her title and access to the Tsar’s estate. The case lasted 32 years, the longest in German history, and ended without any conclusions. During the investigation, her detractors posited that she was Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish worker who disappeared after being declared insane after being injured in a factory explosion shortly before the incident at the bridge. Anderson died in 1984. Seven years later, five skeletons were found in a forest near the town where the family was executed and DNA testing identified them as Romanovs. With two bodies still missing, people argued she had been telling the truth all along. But that did not last long, as they tested their DNA against an intestinal sample from a prior Anderson surgery. No match. In 2007, the final two bodies were found at a different gravesite.</p> <p> </p> <p><em>Written by Carrie Bell. This article first appeared on <a href="https://www.readersdigest.co.nz/culture/famous-hoaxes-that-almost-fooled-everyone">Reader’s Digest</a>. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, <a rel="noopener" href="http://readersdigest.co.nz/subscribe" target="_blank" class="c-link" data-stringify-link="http://readersdigest.com.au/subscribe" data-sk="tooltip_parent">here’s our best subscription offer</a>.</em></p>

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The real life kids with actual superpowers

<p><strong>Adas the unfreezable</strong></p> <p>Humans begin to experience hypothermia when their core body temperature sinks below 35°C, with death usually occurring below 21°C. But in late 2014, a Polish toddler defied these principles, inconceivably surviving a harrowing night outside in the freezing cold during which his core body temperature plummeted to an inhuman 12°C, reported the Guardian. After a few days in an induced coma, Adas emerged essentially unscathed. He’s seen here as he recovers in the hospital with his parents.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Lucas the echolocator</strong></p> <p>Lucas Murray, who was born blind, learned to use his ears to ‘see’ when he was just five years old. He does this by clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth and then listening for echoes, which tell him of objects that are in his vicinity. This process, known as echolocation, is common among bats, dolphins, and some species of whale. It’s almost unheard of in humans (although Lucas learned how from a man named Daniel Kish), but Lucas mastered it in three days’ time and uses it to get around independently. He’s shown here with his mother, Sarah.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Aurelien the autobiographer</strong></p> <p>Memory loss can be devastating. But imagine losing the ability to forget? When Aurelian Hayman was 11 years old, that’s precisely what happened, at least with regard to autobiographical events. Now an adult, he can describe any past moment from his life in incredible detail – from what he ate, to the temperature, to the music that was on the radio. In 2012, he was featured in a documentary titled, The Boy Who Can’t Forget.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The bionic boy (with the super dad)</strong></p> <p>At just ten days old, Sol Ryan suffered a blood clot that required his left arm to be amputated. When his parents learned there were no truly functional prosthetic options for him, his dad, Ben Ryan, set about designing what is essentially a bionic arm for Sol. Then he 3D printed it. Not only did it give Sol his superpowers, but it also makes him look incredibly ‘high-tech cool.’</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Wolf boy (or the boy who was raised by wolves)</strong></p> <p>In 1976, a boy of about ten was found living among a pack of wolves in an Indian forest. The boy, who’d never lived among humans, walked on all fours and subsisted on raw meat, survived for another ten years under the care of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Ramu, as he was called, learned to bathe and wear clothes, but he was never able to speak and never lost his taste for raw meat or his well-developed instinct to hunt. He’s shown here with Mother Teresa.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The musical genius</strong></p> <p>Czech pianist Lukáš Vondráček gave his first public concert at the age of four, placing him well within the definition of a prodigy, a child who demonstrates professional abilities before age ten. Prodigies are as rare as 1 in 10 million, and many struggle past childhood, but Lukáš, now 32, has beaten the odds, making him even more of a rarity.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The youngest professional magician</strong></p> <p>Daniel Rhodes, now 15, was already a professional magician/illusionist by the time he was nine, making him one of the youngest professional magicians in the world and the youngest in Great Britain. “My love for magic began when I was just six years old when I was given a basic magic kit for Christmas,” he says, and “I’ve not stopped showcasing my tricks on people since!”</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The boy who survived being crushed alive</strong></p> <p>Domenico Bacon shouldn’t even be alive. In 2007, when he was just three years old, he’d just been picked up from day-care when a 12 metre tree crashed down on him, crushing his skull and his legs. Yet Domenico not only survived without significant brain damage, but he also, inconceivably, learned how to walk again.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The boy with the enormous IQ</strong></p> <p>Jacob Barnett was diagnosed with autism when he was two, with his doctors predicting he’d never even be able to tie his own shoes. But the doctors were wrong. It turns out Jacob has an IQ of 170, which is 30 points higher than Albert Einstein’s was. He finished grades 6 through 12 in less than a year, went to college at age ten and became a published physicist by 13.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The girl with the mathematical superpowers</strong></p> <p>At age ten, math prodigy Ruth Lawrence became the youngest person to be accepted to Oxford University. There, she completed her degree in two years and scored the highest grades of any of her fellow students. Although child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses, Lawrence defies the odds. Now 47, she’s a mathematician and an associate professor of mathematics at the Einstein Institute of Mathematics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as a researcher in knot theory and algebraic topology.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The youngest member of Mensa</strong></p> <p>Adam Kirby was only two years old when he scored 141 on the Stanford-Binet IQ test, qualifying him for membership in Mensa, the international society for geniuses. “While most toddlers are busy learning to walk and scribbling on walls, child prodigy Adam Kirby enjoys reading Shakespeare, learning Japanese, Spanish, and French, and even potty-trained himself,” the <em>Daily Mail</em> wrote in 2013. His parents realised there was something unusual about Adam when he potty-trained himself at age one, after reading a book on the subject.</p> <p> </p> <div class="body-container"> <div> <p><em>Written by Lauren Cahn. Republished with permission of<span> </span><a href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/culture/11-real-life-kids-with-actual-superpowers">Reader’s Digest</a>.</em></p> </div> </div>

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How to help someone you live with who has depression

<p>The coronavirus pandemic has meant sudden changes to our daily lives, with restrictions on free movement, imposed lockdowns and social distancing. Many of these measures will have taken a toll on people’s mental health.</p> <p>These changes have increased our exposure to known risk factors for developing depression, such as <a href="https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17111194">physical inactivity</a>, lack of structure and routine, lack of <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12888-018-1736-5">social support</a>, <a href="https://www.jaacap.org/article/S0890-8567(20)30337-3/fulltext">loneliness</a>, and limited opportunity to do enjoyable and valued activities.</p> <p>Also, <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30460-8/fulltext">evidence from previous pandemics</a>, such as Sars and swine flu, suggests that disease-containment measures, such as quarantine and social isolation, may be detrimental to mental health. There is growing evidence that the effect of these changes on people’s mental health across the age groups is significant, especially for <a href="https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.06.16.20133116v1">those who are younger</a>.</p> <p>Rates of depression in adults and young people are already concerning, and are predicted by the <a href="https://www.who.int/health-topics/depression#tab=tab_1">World Health Organization</a> to rise. By 2030, depression will be the highest <a href="https://www.who.int/foodsafety/foodborne_disease/Q&amp;A.pdf">burden of disease</a> globally, which refers to the overall impact of a health problem, including the financial cost. So although the initial focus during the pandemic has understandably been on physical health, it is therefore crucial that we also turn our attention to people’s mental health, <a href="https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/45/1/131/2363790">particularly as the two are related</a>.</p> <p>A lot of advice addresses the person with depression, but here we give advice on what you can do if you live with someone who is depressed.</p> <p><strong>Clues in their behaviour</strong></p> <p>Many people find it difficult to ask for help and to let others know how they are feeling. Don’t assume someone is OK just because they say they are. It’s better to ask more questions and risk being annoying than to miss something important, such as <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression/symptoms/">symptoms of depression</a>. If they don’t want to tell you, watch their behaviour and notice anything unusual, such as sleeping much later, not eating, staring for long periods, cancelling and avoiding many things.</p> <p>People’s feelings are often linked to their thoughts and behaviour, and this is demonstrated in the <a href="https://www.babcp.com/public/What-is-CBT.aspx">cognitive behavioural therapy</a> model. When people feel depressed, they often experience repeating streams of negative thoughts. It can be helpful to encourage someone who is thinking this way to try to look at different sides to a situation. Useful questions might be: “What advice would you give a friend in this situation?” or “What would be a more helpful way of thinking about this?”</p> <p>Depression gives rise to self-critical thoughts, such as “I’m no good”, “I shouldn’t feel this way”. Not surprisingly these thoughts then fuel the depression further. It’s helpful to let the depressed person know that you can see how they are feeling and that their feelings are understandable and valid, and will pass in time. This type of validation can help someone who is depressed refrain from criticising themselves for having difficult feelings and to develop more <a href="https://www.compassionatemind.co.uk/resources">self-compassion</a>.</p> <p>People who are depressed commonly withdraw from other people and activities. By doing fewer enjoyable and valued activities, it can compound a person’s depression. Try to counteract this by helping the person to re-engage with things that are important to them. Start with small things such as putting some structure into the day and perhaps <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004366.pub6/full">increasing exercise</a>, or time spent in nature, if possible. Help the person gradually re-introduce activities and social contacts that they see as valuable. Make some small plans together for the future (short, medium and long-term).</p> <p>A person with depression may commonly find it difficult to problem-solve, and daily activities and issues can quickly start to feel overwhelming. It’s helpful to stay calm and keep conflict and stress in the house to a minimum. Support the person to generate <a href="https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/mental-health/mental-health-self-help-guides/problem-solving-self-help-guide">simple solutions to problems</a> and encourage them to put these <a href="https://cedar.exeter.ac.uk/media/universityofexeter/schoolofpsychology/cedar/documents/liiapt/Problems_to_Solutions.pdf">solutions and ideas into action</a> rather than avoiding things.</p> <p><strong>Seek outside help</strong></p> <p>There are a number of other effective <a href="https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg90">treatments for depression</a>. Encourage the person you are supporting to seek extra help if needed. This might be in the form of <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression/treatments/#TalkingTreatmentsForDepression">online information</a> and online courses for both <a href="https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/anxiety-depression-and-cbt">adults</a> and <a href="https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/low-mood-during-covid-19">young people</a>; through <a href="https://reading-well.org.uk/books/books-on-prescription">self-help books</a>; or by contacting your local healthcare provider or mental health services in your area.</p> <p>Remember, your wellbeing is extremely important when supporting someone with depression. Take time for <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-public-on-mental-health-and-wellbeing/guidance-for-the-public-on-the-mental-health-and-wellbeing-aspects-of-coronavirus-covid-19">self-care</a> so you can model positive behaviours and be replenished enough to provide this crucial support.<!-- 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/141480/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/monika-parkison-1129916">Monika Parkison</a>, Research Fellow and Clinical Psychologist, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-reading-902">University of Reading</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/maria-loades-1131527">Maria Loades</a>, Senior Lecturer, Clinical Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-bath-1325">University of Bath</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-to-help-someone-you-live-with-who-has-depression-141480">original article</a>.</em></p>

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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>

Mind

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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>

Mind

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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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