Lots of links about how the brain works recently.
Here’s information we can all use.
Wineburg’s [psychologist Sam Wineburg, head of the Stanford History Education Group] team has found that Americans of all ages, from digitally savvy tweens to high-IQ academics, fail to ask important questions about content they encounter on a browser, adding to research on our online gullibility. Other studies have shown that people retweet links without clicking on them and rely too much on search engines. A 2016 Pew poll found that nearly a quarter of Americans said they had shared a made-up news story. In his experiments, MIT cognitive scientist David Rand has found that, on average, people are inclined to believe false news at least 20% of the time.
Although some web sites are obviously biased, this article points how easy it is for organizations to produce sites that look authentic and authoritative. And those of us who grew up way before the internet probably learned how to evaluate only old-fashioned sources found in a library. Add to that the common human tendencies to believe or trust things we’ve been exposed to in the past and to accept material that reinforces what we already believe, and you get a propagandists’ dream.
Therefore, the article says, “we need to retrain our brains.” There’s a description here of some tactics that professional fact-checkers use to determine who is providing the information on a given web site. Another piece of advice is to stop and think before simply accepting web information, particularly that put forward through tweets or other social media: “Another [study] found that false stories travel six times as fast as true ones on Twitter.”
many advocates are suggesting that we reach for another powerful tool: shame… . Wineburg invokes the environmental movement, saying we need to cultivate an awareness of “digital pollution” on the Internet. “We have to get people to think that they are littering,” Wineburg says, “by forwarding stuff that isn’t true.” The idea is to make people see the aggregate effect of little actions, that one by one, ill-advised clicks contribute to the web’s being a toxic place. Having a well-informed citizenry may be, in the big picture, as important to survival as having clean air and water.
Neuroscientist Barbara Lipska has studied mental illness for much of her career. In 2015 she was diagnosed with brain cancer. After an experimental treatment, she began to exhibit bizarre behavior that alarmed loved ones and colleagues. Lipska was not aware of the change at the time. She recently published a book about her experience.
That book, The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, co-written by Lipska and Elaine McArdle, was published in April 2018. “She’s made a pretty good recovery, as far as the doctors tell her, but there are still lingering problems in her brain, including occasional difficulty with her mental map.”
This is the story of Lipska, originally from Poland and now at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD, as she works at understanding her own brain.
The line between sanity and insanity may be perilously thin, but Barbara Lipska’s decision about how to respond to her own experience with insanity was unambiguous: She was determined to understand what had happened to her. The brain that had failed her would save her. As she calmly and clinically retraced for me the damage done to her brain, I couldn’t help but be in awe of its resilience.
In a world full of ambiguity, we see what we want to see.
Tom Vanderbilt examines the psychology of how focusing on one thing can keep us from seeing another.
“Combined with [talk therapy], some psychedelic drugs like MDMA [or ecstasy], psilocybin [the active ingredient in magic mushrooms] and ayahuasca may improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD],” Cristina Magalhaes, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Alliant International University in Los Angeles, said in a statement.
Life is a story that we write and while writing we rediscover our unique selves as well as the opportunity to newly discover the uniqueness and diversity in others.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
What I’ve been reading around the web recently.
Lightning can strike twice and people do call just when you’re thinking of them – but are such coincidences meaningful?
While many of us focus primarily on diet and exercise to achieve better health, science suggests that our well-being also is influenced by the company we keep. Researchers have found that certain health behaviors appear to be contagious and that our social networks — in person and online — can influence obesity, anxiety and overall happiness. A recent report found that a person’s exercise routine was strongly influenced by his or her social network.
A look at one of the oldest recorded human ailments.
Given the prevalence of migraines among women, this apparent neglect could be a result of how physicians tend to underrate pain in female patients. It may also reflect the historic – and similarly gendered – associations between migraines and mental illness.
Carola Lovering’s potent debut novel, Tell Me Lies, tells the story of the complicated relationship between college freshman Lucy Albright and charming sociopath Stephen DeMarco. While alternating Stephen and Lucy’s points of view, Lovering depicts how Lucy’s depression drives her codependency. Stephen’s sections show his remorseless Machiavellian sensibilities: unable to genuinely feel affection, he studies people in order to learn how to act normal and get what he wants. Lovering discusses the capability of inhabiting another person’s mind in fiction.
Clearly, all human beings are in many ways very similar—we share the same physiology and have the same basic needs, such as nourishment, shelter, safety, and sex. So what effect can culture really have on the fundamental aspects of our psyche, such as perception, cognition, and personality? The question is still under active investigation, but a considerable amount of evidence has accumulated so far.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
Here are some of the articles I’ve been reading around the web lately.
Some suggestions for how to make your personal data”more difficult for attackers to obtain.”
Gordon Marino, a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, contemplates the meaning and function of regret, especially the type that he calls “moral regret.”
For those of us who need yet another reminder of how important physical exercise is:
Exercise may be an effective treatment for depression and might even help prevent us from becoming depressed in the first place, according to three timely new studies. The studies pool outcomes from past research involving more than a million men and women and, taken together, strongly suggest that regular exercise alters our bodies and brains in ways that make us resistant to despair.
Common wisdom advises us that there are no right or wrong ways to grieve, that all people handle grief differently and in their own way. This article takes a long look at grief, including a new approach to something called “complicated grief”:
complicated grief is more chronic and more emotionally intense than more typical courses through grief, and it stays at acute levels for longer. Women are more vulnerable to complicated grief than men. It often follows particularly difficult losses that test a person’s emotional and social resources, and where the mourner was deeply attached to the person they are grieving. Researchers estimate complicated grief affects approximately 2 to 3 per cent of the population worldwide. It affects 10 to 20 per cent of people after the death of a spouse or romantic partner, or when the death of a loved one is sudden or violent, and it is even more common among parents who have lost a child. Clinicians are just beginning to acknowledge how debilitating this form of grief can be. But it can be treated.
What I found most interesting here is that this approach to helping people cope with grief involves storytelling:
Grief is a problem of narrative. A story, in order to be told, needs a narrator with a point of view who offers a perspective on what happened. But you can’t narrate if you don’t know who you are… . Plotting out the story restores the narrator and the narrative. Then, you can begin to imagine a new story, a new plot for yourself.
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown
A poignant article about a recent bombing in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. The “psychological shrapnel” of such an event can be just as traumatic as physical injury.
For just about all my writing life I’ve known that I get my best ideas in the shower. This article based on the book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire says that I’m not alone in this: The first of these seven surprising facts is “72% of people have creative insights in the shower.”
Read how solitude, daydreaming, and even trauma can contribute to creativity.
For years, the term ‘asylum’ has evoked images of chaos and cruelty – in spite of the mental health community’s attempts to give it new meaning. Examining 700 years of history at the world’s oldest psychiatric hospital, Bethlem, a new exhibition intends to set things straight.
A fascinating look at Bethlem Royal Hospital in the Beckenham area of south London, the asylum that give us the word bedlam.
Scientific American summarizes research of species other than humans to try to find an answer to the question of where creativity comes from.
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown
Interesting articles from around the web.
Psychotherapist Mike Leary explains that, to create change in your life, you need to fight the three Newtonian laws of motion: inertia, impact, and reaction. But if you’re committed to making some changes, he offers 30 habits that can help you succeed.
And don’t be overwhelmed by that 30, which might seem like a pretty big number. His advice is pretty straightforward, and if adopting 30 habits seems daunting, pick one at a time to focus on for a few days.
One of my pet peeves is that books and movies sometimes present mental illness in a whimsical or otherwise inaccurate way. Here Emily Casalena discusses 21 movies that get mental illness right.
Warning: “There are quite a lot of spoilers in this list, so beware!”
Jessica Kerwin Jenkins writes about the book The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting by Anne Trubek. Jenkins concludes:
“We will lose something as we print and write in cursive less and less, but loss is inevitable,” Trubek concludes. Though one technology often supplants another, that doesn’t necessitate concession. Considering its rich significance, instead of hustling handwriting off to the graveyard, perhaps what’s called for is resurrection.
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown
Jennie Yabroff acknowledges that “‘Depression’ remains a catch-all phrase to describe a variety of conditions ranging from the occasional bad day to paralyzing inertia”:
To truly understand the disease, and not just the treatment, you need to look to writers with sensitivity and compassion about the real nature of the self in despair, be they novelists or doctors, contemporary writers or playwrights dead for hundreds of years.
She recommends these books for help in understanding depression, a state commonly known as the black dog:
- Ordinarily Well by Peter Kramer
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- Darkness Visible by William Styron
- Hamlet by William Shakespeare
- The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon
- An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison
The newest craze for keeping oneself organized is the Bullet Journal. Check out this article for examples of bullet journals as well as some links about how the system works.
Despite our current dependence on keyboards, there are some definite cognitive benefits to learning cursive writing.
Here’s an article about Tiffany Watt Smith, a research fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London:
[It’s] the subjective experience of emotions — that Smith explores in her charming new book, The Book of Human Emotions. It’s a roundup of 154 words from around the world that you could call an exploration of “emotional granularity,” as it provides language for some very specific emotions you likely never knew you had. “It’s a long-held idea that if you put a name to a feeling, it can help that feeling become less overwhelming,” she said. “All sorts of stuff that’s swirling around and feeling painful can start to feel a bit more manageable,” once you’ve pinned the feeling down and named it.
Every word counts:
Be careful because the next word you say could determine how your day is, or the rest of your life might pan out. Doctors at Thomas Jefferson University explained that the choice of our words could actually have more impact on our lives than we actually think.
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown
Recent Articles on Psychology, Personal Writing, and Storytelling
Recently my husband and I saw a news story about a WW II veteran who had died recently. His grandson googled him and discovered that the soldier had won a medal for bravery that his family, even his wife, knew nothing about. This reminded me of a conversation that came up in my book group several years ago. Many baby boomer children said that their fathers who had served in WW II never talked about their experiences, even when specifically asked.
These facts suddenly fell into place when I came upon Jane Brody’s New York Times article about moral injury:
No doubt in the course of your life, you did something, or failed to do something, that left you feeling guilty or ashamed. What if that something was in such violation of your moral compass that you felt unable to forgive yourself, undeserving of happiness, perhaps even unfit to live? …
For some veterans, this leaves emotional wounds that time refuses to heal. It radically changes them and how they deal with the world. It has a name: moral injury. Unlike a better known casualty of war, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, moral injury is not yet a recognized psychiatric diagnosis, although the harm it inflicts is as bad if not worse.
Brody discusses a new documentary film called Almost Sunrise that “depicts the emotional agony and self-destructive aftermath of moral injury and follows two sufferers along a path that alleviates their psychic distress and offers hope for eventual recovery.”
Anyone who engages in autobiographical writing of any kind has to deal with the issue of whether to write about events that will adversely affect other people, particularly family members. In this piece a woman blogger describes why she continues to publish autobiographical essays on her blog:
The best writing comes from challenging life scenarios. It’s during times of struggle and duress that the captivating stories of life are forged from pain and gripping emotions. To an artist, this is a gold mine.
She concludes with “my lessons learned from writing about things my family didn’t want me to write about.”
If you’re like me, you enjoy good TV shows whose episodes tell a good story through deep, complex characterization in addition to engaging plot turns. Here, actors from five shows discuss all this:
“These are our novels,“ says “Ray Donovan” star Liev Schreiber of the quality of current television programming. And who can argue? With the depth and complexity of characters being written today, it’s storytelling at its finest – so let’s all gather around the new Tolstoy, shall we? Schreiber wasn’t alone in marveling at the intricacies of modern plotting. He was joined in a conversation with The Envelope by fellow actors Tom Hiddleston (“The Night Manager”), Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife“), Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”) and Jean Smart (“Fargo”) to talk about character development, changing roles for women, and remembering what it is your character doesn’t know.
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown
Recent articles on psychology, memoir, and writing
Hilary Jacobs Hendel offers an interesting interpretation of AMC’s hit series Mad Men. She looks at Don Draper as a man injured by traumatic shame:
When someone hurts us, we first react with anger and sadness. When those feelings are not responded to, we withdraw in self-defense. The vulnerable self hides deep inside the mind, much like a turtle retreats into its shell. The sustained and visceral experience of disconnection from other people and from one’s own wants and needs defines traumatic shame.
Believing we are defective, unworthy of love and happiness are signs of shame. Shame causes us to isolate and withdraw from connection with others. Shame causes physical experiences that make us feel we are disappearing, disintegrating or sinking into a black hole with no bottom.
In the final few episodes, Hendel argues, Don embarks on a transcontinental road trip symbolic of the journey of the wounded self seeking healing. She interprets the show’s final scene, Don concocting the Coca-Cola commercial while meditating near the beach, this way: “Landing the Coke account and creating history’s greatest ad campaign, Don’s future looked bright.”
Mad Men showed us the conditions under which trauma and shame are born and what is needed for healing. Don, like all of us, needed to feel safe and accepted by at least one other person in order to heal.
Every writer who struggles to produce work will be grateful to hear this from novelist William Boyd:
Now, writing my 15th novel, I can only manage three hours or so before brain fatigue sets in. It’s just like a plug has been pulled out of a socket and I have stopped – as if a battery has died.
Read more about his writing process: why he writes a first draft in longhand, how long writing a novel takes him, how distractions affect him.
As always, you should accept this article for what it is: one woman’s account of her own experience. Her reading recommendations are interesting, but you should not take any book as a substitute for professional advice.
Renee Fabian writes:
Like millions of other women, I struggle with mental illness. To cope when I go through a rough patch, I often read memoirs written by other women about their mental health journeys. These books remind me I’m not alone when I don’t feel up to leaving the house. These books prevent me from giving up. Not to mention, these women are great writers.
I’ve read three of her nine titles (An Unquiet Mind, Lucky, and The Center Cannot Hold), and every one was very well written.
Mental health factors like loneliness, and sensory factors like hearing loss, can matter more to someone’s well-being and risk of death than traditional measures like cancer and high blood pressure, a new study suggests.
Particularly in caring for older adults, doctors should consider more than just physical health, the researchers say.
Traditional measurement of health and well-being involves a medical model based on physical health and the absence of disease. This article reports on research that adapted the medical model to include medical, physical, psychological, functional, and sensory factors in what the researchers call a comprehensive model.
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown
Like our understanding of mental health, the vocabulary used to describe it is fluid, with certain terms falling in and out of favor as we discover new ways to diagnose, treat, and think about the various conditions that can arise in the human mind.
Cari Romm discusses a new report from research firm Fractl on how the usage of words describing mental health have changed over the last 200 years, from the catch-all madness to neurosis, which has evolved from its singular form to the now more prevalent plural neuroses.
Reuters looks at a recent report about the mental health of residents of New York City:
At least one in five adult New Yorkers suffer from depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or other psychological disorders every year, according to a report released on Thursday ahead of Mayor Bill de Blaiso’s new mental-health initiative.
According to the report, poor and minority residents are disproportionately affected by mental illnesses and are more likely than white residents to be misdiagnosed or untreated. The number of residents experiencing disorders such as depression has remained about the same in recent years, while mental health issues from drug and alcohol abuse have risen.
One of the goals of the new NYC mental health initiative, known as Thrive, is to better track the mental health of both adults and children.
Scientists are beginning to talk about nature deprivation as a mental health issue. Recent research suggests that as little as 10 minutes of exposure to nature two to three times a week produces “mental-restoration benefits.”
The research was conducted by MaryCarol Hunter, a professor at the University of Michigan, and Dr. Marc Berman of the University of Chicago for the TKF Foundation, which has awarded grants for studying the benefits of incorporating green spaces in urban areas.
Hunter’s study had participants “immerse themselves in nature at least 2½ times a week for a minimum 10 minutes,” then answer questions about their mental well-being. Participants reported significantly less stress, improved ability to focus, and increased satisfaction with their mood and energy levels.
Berman’s study had participants take a 2.5-mile walk through either an arboretum or a dense urban environment. They were then given memory tests to measure their ability toconcentrate. Participants who had walked through the arboretum showed 20% improvement in working memory over those who had walked through the city. Another study found similar results using photos of urban or nature scenes rather than the walks.
Both researchers’ work raises several further areas that must be studied, such as how senses other than sight contribute of health benefits and what specific features of nature produce benefits.