Tara Parker-Pope reports that as many as 25% of adults have at least one nightmare a month. And, she says, most people don’t realize that having chronic nightmares is a medical problem that can be treated with “‘imagery rehearsal therapy,’ a pioneering technique developed by Dr. Barry Krakow at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.” This approach “looks for ways to rewrite a nightmare’s script” by allowing the dreamer “to rewrite the nightmare during the day” using basic imagery techniques. The dreamer creates a better version of the dream, then practices that version by imagining it several times throughout the day.
Here’s the heartening story of Gloria VanDemmeltraadt, who has found the calling of her later years in serving as a volunteer life story writer for people in hospice:
When a person is admitted to a hospice program, they are able to choose whether they would like a story done. Gloria receives the assignment and then spends several hours interviewing the patient, asking questions about their lives. She said the saddest thing she often hears is “I wish I had asked my mom that” and similar regrets about understanding the lives of our older relatives. Putting families in touch with older generations is part of her mission as a volunteer.
In her interviews she directs patients to focus on the better parts of their lives, especially childhood memories and family stories that are meaningful to them. Her aim is to produce a life story of 15 to 20 pages as a legacy for the patient’s family.
I hadn’t heard anything about this phenomenon when I came across this article:
Across the nation, and even across seas, people have been calling police to report being menaced by people in clown costumes. An expert in the field of group psychology at Washington State University says there are several factors that could play into the motives of the “deviant” jesters.
According to one psychologist cited, such behavior can occur during times of tension, conflict, and anxiety. Read how these incidents may have developed through the principle of deindividuation and been spread through social contagion.
This is an interesting article from Fortune about how advances in technology affect our lives. From speech recognition to image recognition, from home computers and smartphones to X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans, these developments come into play in many areas of out lives.
[These developments have] all been made possible by a family of artificial intelligence (AI) techniques popularly known as deep learning, though most scientists still prefer to call them by their original academic designation: deep neural networks.
But here’s the most interesting aspect of deep learning:
The most remarkable thing about neural nets is that no human being has programmed a computer to perform any of the stunts described above. In fact, no human could. Programmers have, rather, fed the computer a learning algorithm, exposed it to terabytes of data—hundreds of thousands of images or years’ worth of speech samples—to train it, and have then allowed the computer to figure out for itself how to recognize the desired objects, words, or sentences.
“In short, such computers can now teach themselves.” This article, which includes a glossary of artificial-intelligence terms, covers the history of technology development and looks at projects now underway at companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Intel.
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown
A good introduction to the concept of personality traits:
The world’s languages include many thousands of words for describing personality, but most of these can be organized in terms of the “Big Five” trait dimensions: extraversion (characterized by adjectives like outgoing, assertive and energetic vs. quiet and reserved); agreeableness (compassionate, respectful and trusting vs. uncaring and argumentative); conscientiousness (orderly, hard-working and responsible vs. disorganized and distractible); negative emotionality (prone to worry, sadness and mood swings vs. calm and emotionally resilient); and open-mindedness (intellectually curious, artistic and imaginative vs. disinterested in art, beauty and abstract ideas).
Christopher Soto, associate professor of psychology at Colby College and a member of the executive board of the Association for Research in Personality, reports on research suggesting that “personality traits are relatively stable over time, they can and often do gradually change across the life span. What’s more, those changes are usually for the better.”
If you’re ready for some heady reading, George Johnson looks at one of humankind’s age-old questions: How does the brain, a physical structure, give rise to consciousness, the sense of self that arises from our thoughts?
Rhesus monkeys are aware of the limits of their knowledge, new research shows. According to scientists at Harvard and Yale, the monkeys realized when they didn’t know something and needed outside expertise.
An interesting look at metacognition, the ability to think about thinking.
Crowds aren’t as smart as we thought, since some people know more than others. A simple trick can find the ones you want.
George Musser writes, “In the 1990s, crowd wisdom became a pop-culture obsession, providing a rationale for wikis, crowdsourcing, prediction markets and popularity-based search algorithms.”
However, not every in a crowd has the same level of knowledge about a given subject. To find which of the individuals to rely on, Musser advocates applying metaknowledge, which he calls “a powerful bullshit detector”:
Metaknowledge means you are aware of what you know or don’t know, and of where your level of knowledge stands in relation to other people’s. That’s a useful measure of your value to the crowd, because knowledge and metaknowledge usually go together.
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown
Recent Articles on Sleep, Memory, Learning, Brain Function, and Mind Wandering
Go ahead and take that nap. New research suggests that sleep can improve both memory and creativity.
Brain-training games won’t boost your IQ, but a host of strategies can improve your cognitive abilities one piece at a time
Psychologist Jeffrey M. Zacks of Washington University in St. Louis looks at various popular methods advertised to improve cognitive functioning, including brain-training games, drugs, subliminal training programs, electrical stimulation
His conclusion: “Sadly, most of the rapid cognitive enhancers currently being peddled are not very effective.” However, he adds, there are a few approaches that can make us better at performing specific functions, such as remembering people’s names: “we can all think better in specific domains if we engage in focused practice, and be smarter, happier and healthier if we take care of ourselves.”
Jerome S. Bruner, whose theories about perception, child development and learning informed education policy for generations and helped launch the modern study of creative problem solving, known as the cognitive revolution, died on Sunday [June 5, 2016] at his home in Manhattan. He was 100.
In his later work, Bruner applied ideas about thinking, culture, and storytelling to understanding legal and cultural issues.
sometimes, even without going to sleep, we turn away from the world. We turn inward. We are contemplative or detached. We decouple ourselves from the environment and we are set free, as it were, to let our minds play themselves.
Philosopher Alva Noë of the University of California, Berkeley, discusses the problems of studying when, why, and how our minds sometimes wander.
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown
I’m trying out something different this week. I have three blogs:
- Notes in the Margin: about books, authors, reading, and all things literary
- Change of Perspective: about psychology, life stories, memoirs, and writing
- Retreading for Retirement: my personal blog about retirement, aging, and moving to a new city
Because of these wide-ranging interests, I often end up with lots of open browser tabs containing quite a variety of materials.
Since sorting all these materials out for the individual blogs can be quite time-consuming, I’m going to try to streamline my blogging process by putting together a weekly list of all the interesting articles I come across and publishing the same post to all three of the blogs. Feel free to click on whichever links interest you and to ignore the rest.
Note: In compiling this initial list, I discovered that I’ve actually been holding many of these tabs open for two weeks. Therefore, this entry is longer than future ones will probably be.
While the overall age of Ph.D. candidates has dropped in the last decade, about 14 percent of all doctoral recipients are over age 40, according to the National Science Foundation. Relatively few students work on Ph.D.s [in their 60s], but educators are seeing increasing enrollment in doctoral programs by students in their 40s and 50s. Many candidates hope doctorates will help them advance careers in business, government and nonprofit organizations; some … are headed for academic research or teaching positions.
This article caught my eye because I started working on a doctorate at age 57 and finally received my degree on my 63rd birthday. About 30 years earlier I had completed the course work but not the dissertation for a doctorate in English and American literature. My main motivation for returning to school was to fulfill a life-long dream of earning a Ph.D., but I also benefitted from being able to focus my studies on the particular area I was interested in (life stories).
Returning to a book you’ve read multiple times can feel like drinks with an old friend. There’s a welcome familiarity — but also sometimes a slight suspicion that time has changed you both, and thus the relationship. But books don’t change, people do. And that’s what makes the act of rereading so rich and transformative.
Juan Vidal explains why he rereads three books every year: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard, and Save Twilight: Selected Poems by Julio Cortázar.
Longevity breeds literature. As people (including writers) live longer thanks to medical advances, we can expect many more books contemplating the vicissitudes of aging, illness and dying. These topics, previously thought uncommercial, not to mention unsexy, have been eloquently explored recently by Diana Athill (“Somewhere Towards the End”), Roger Angell (“This Old Man”) and Christopher Hitchens (“Mortality”), among others. Now that the baby boom generation, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, “enter life’s last chapter,” Michael Kinsley writes, “there is going to be a tsunami of books about health issues by every boomer journalist who has any, which ultimately will be all of them.” Hoping to scoop the others, he has written “Old Age,” a short, witty “beginner’s guide,” with an appropriate blend of sincerity and opportunism.
Literature of the American South comprises more than just Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and the works of William Faulkner. Here Emily Gatlin provides a class list of the full range of works that illustrate the Southern literary experience.
A new generation of doctor writers is investigating the mysteries of the medical profession, exploring the vital intersection between science and art
In telling the stories of illness, we need to tell the stories of the lives within which illness is embedded. Neither humanism nor medicine can explain much without the other, and so many people ricochet between two ways of describing their very being. This is in part because medicine has become so much harder to understand, with its designer molecules, bewildering toxins and digital cameras inserted into parts of ourselves we have never seen, nor wanted to see.
Telling the stories of illness has given rise to a movement known as “narrative medicine,” or, more broadly, “medical humanities.” We are seeing more and more memoirs by patients about their experiences of illness and by doctors about their attempts to understand their patients’ stories. Many of the books by physicians include their authors’ own experiences of being ill.
Books by physicians concerned about understanding patients’ stories of illness discussed here include the following:
Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh
What Doctors Feel by Danielle Ofri
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis
I always used to want complete quiet when reading or concentrating, but when I went back to school I discovered that certain types of music could help me focus. This article summarizes the research demonstrating how music can increase concentration and discusses which types of music work best for this purpose.
The best part of this article is the links to examples of music for focus in these categories: classical, electronic, video game soundtracks, ambient noise, and “everything else.”
Scientists have created an “atlas of the brain” that reveals how the meanings of words are arranged across different regions of the organ.
Described as a “tour de force” by one researcher who was not involved in the study, the atlas demonstrates how modern imaging can transform our knowledge of how the brain performs some of its most important tasks. With further advances, the technology could have a profound impact on medicine and other fields.
After a career of working, scrimping and saving, many retirees are well prepared financially to stop earning a living. But how do you find meaning, identity and purpose in the remaining years of your life?
This excerpt from Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction by Erika Janik discusses the female detectives, real and literary, who preceded Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski.
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown
See why Maria Konnikova chose these six papers to feature in The New Yorker:
(1) “Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science,” from Science
(2) “What Works in Inpatient Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation?,” from Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
(3) “Best Friends and Better Coping: Facilitating Psychological Resilience Through Boys’ and Girls’ Closest Friendships,” from British Journal of Psychology
(4) “Nonpharmacological Treatments of Insomnia for Long-Term Painful Conditions,” from Sleep
(5) “A Mechanistic Link Between Olfaction and Autism Spectrum Disorder,” in Current Biology
(6) “Fibroblast Growth Factor 9 Is a Novel Modulator of Negative Affect,” from PNAS
Don’t let the titles scare you. Konnikova summarizes the importance of this research, which covers topics such as insomnia, traumatic brain injury, and depression.
I’ve seen a lot of advice articles that maintain making yourself happy will help you live longer. But here’s a report on a new study that concludes ““happiness and related measures of well-being do not appear to have any direct effect on mortality.”
Here’s a comprehensive look at the controversial concept of “neuroplasticity, which is what we call the brain’s ability to change itself in response to things that happen in our environment.”
Neuroplasticity has its evangelists, such as psychologist Ian Robertson:
neuroplasticity really is a remarkable thing. “What we do know is that almost everything we do, all our behaviour, thoughts and emotions, physically change our brains in a way that is underpinned by changes in brain chemistry or function,” says Robertson. “Neuroplasticity is a constant feature of the very essence of human behaviour.” This understanding of the brain’s power, he says, opens up new techniques for treating a potentially spectacular array of illnesses. “There’s virtually no disease or injury, I believe, where the potential doesn’t exist for very intelligent application of stimulation to the brain via behaviour, possibly combined with other stimulation.”
Yet other scientists warn that the results of neuroplasticity therapy may be less dramatic than they are often portrayed as:
It’s perhaps understandable why crazy levels of hope are raised when people read tales of apparently miraculous recovery from brain injury that feature people seeing again, hearing again, walking again and so on. These dramatic accounts can make it sound as if anything is possible. But what’s usually being described, in these instances, is a very specific form of neuroplasticity – functional reorganisation – which can happen only in certain circumstances. “The limits are partly architectural,” says Greg Downey. “Certain parts of the brain are better at doing certain kinds of thing, and part of that comes simply from where they are.”
Still, neuroplasticity has produced results in many areas for which there previously were only limited options. Read this article to learn how neuroplasticity works and what it can and cannot accomplish.
Your memories of past events may not be as accurate as you think it is. This article discusses “how false memories are created, the impact of questioning, language and other factors on our recall and the real life consequences of false memories.”
Thanks to a recent WordPress Daily Prompt for today’s post:
Give some love to three blog posts you’ve read and loved in the past week, and tell us why they’re worth reading.
(1) SAGA SATURDAY I
This post was my introduction to AbbieLu’s site Cafe Book Bean. In this post she defines what a saga is, then lists some of her favorite ones:
- Gone with the Wind
- Far and Away
- East of Eden
- The Thorn Birds
This post made me want to turn to my TBR shelves and grab a huge book to sink into. (Alas, I’ll have to wait until after January 1st to so indulge myself.) Overall, I love AbbieLu’s enthusiasm about books.
On The Invisible Event, an unnamed Invisible Blogger writes about classic crime fiction.
This post particularly attracted me because one of the many books on my TBR shelves is Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. That book, and hence this blog post as well, are good fits for my interest in Literature & Psychology.
I loved finding this blog post by Marilyn Armstrong because it, too, relates to Literature & Psychology. Like Marilyn, I find the concept of time travel fascinating, and I did not know about the book she discusses here, Robert A. Heinlein’s All You Zombies.
I hope I’ll be able to find a copy of this book!
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.
In this recent interview with NPR, Gloria Steinem discusses her life and her new memoir, My Life on the Road.
See what she has to say on these topics:
- becoming pregnant at age 22, before abortion was legal, and why she didn’t talk about her abortion until years later
- the morality of abortion
- the most pressing issues facing women today
- creating a home for herself after living much of her life on the road
According to this article, as many as 25% of adults have at least one nightmare a month. There’s a new medical treatment, imagery rehearsal therapy, that works for many people who have chronic nightmares.
Developed by Dr. Barry Krakow at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, imagery rehearsal therapy focuses on rewriting a nightmare script. During the day, patients imagine a better version of the dream. For example, one woman who often had nightmares about sharks rehearsed the dream by imagining dolphins instead of sharks. After she imagined the dream with dolphins several times during the day, during sleep the sharks also morphed into dolphins.
The article reports that image rehearsal therapy is generally brief, requiring only two or three sessions. People who have only occasional nightmares may be able to perform the therapy successfully on their own, but those “who are developing insomnia or a fear of sleeping” should seek professional help to prevent the problem from becoming more severe.
The article ends with links to some related resources.
This article by Olga Khazan for The Atlantic contains a video of a TED talk by Sharon Bergquist, professor of medicine at Emory University, explaining how worry affects the body.
In some circumstances stress is a good thing: It’s responsible for the fight-or-flight mechanism that can help us avoid danger. But constant stress, for example at work or when worrying about paying the bills, can cause serious health consequences:
To mitigate some of these health consequences, Bergquist recommends viewing your stressors “as challenges you can control and master.”
Publishers Weekly reports on adult coloring books, which have been selling well in both the United States and Canada during 2015. These books are generally marketed to help adults relieve stress.
When Publishers Weekly put out a call for information about these items, they received more than 150 titles. Some of those books are named here, both in the body of the article and in a table at the end.
About 10 years ago I had to break off a friendship when I finally realized how badly A. was manipulating me. I wish I had then known about these five signs to watch for:
(1) Knowing they’ve manipulated others.
This wouldn’t have helped me, at least not initially, with A. because I didn’t know about her past relationships with other people. But I did begin to wonder when I found out that she had been divorced three times.
(2) They’re the fast moving fast talking types.
A. did seem eager to pull me into a close relationship. I met her not long after my two closest friends had died, when I was looking to cultivate new friendships.
(3) They get impatient fast.
This is the one that should have set my alarm bells ringing. Whenever A. and I were together, we talked about her issues and did what she wanted to do. As long as I commiserated with her, everything was fine. But if I broached some other subject or started to talk about something that was happening my life, she’d quickly dismiss me with a cutting remark or her need to depart.
(4) They make you into the bad guy.
And if #3 didn’t alert me, this one certainly should have. Once I realized how self-centered A. was, I began trying to tell her how her actions hurt me. Her response: “Anything I do is neutral. It’s up to you to decide how you want to interpret it. So if you’re hurt, that’s your problem, not mine.”
(5) They play to your feelings.
This was the one that finally made me realize nothing was ever going to change with A. Once she learned the things that hurt, she routinely did them over and over again. And at times when one of her adult children had pushed her buttons, she’d turn on me viciously. She seemed to think that making me feel bad would make her feel better.
It took me a long time to figure out that my relationship with A. had to end because I first needed to come to two realizations:
- I am an empath.
- A. is a narcissist.
Although I usually try not to label people, in this case understanding and applying these two labels was exactly what I needed to do.
An empath is someone who feels other peoples’ emotions along with them. The empath doesn’t merely understand another person’s emotions but actually shares in experiencing them. We’re the ones who cry at sad movies and experience our friends’ grief, sadness, and joy.
A narcissist is in many ways the opposite of an empath. As psychiatry professor Thomas G. Plante explains:
You know you are around a narcissistic when someone brings all conversations back to them and their stories and interests. They really can’t listen for more than a mere moment to others (unless the topic is about them). Sure, they’ll ask about you or listen to your story or needs for just a minute but then they’ll get that glazed over or distracted look pretty fast or change the topic to something about them. They can’t put themselves in the shoes of others and can’t experience empathy in a sincere manner.
The following article explains why meetings between these two types can be so explosive.
Like me, Alex Myles realized she was an empath after she got involved in a “highly destructive relationship with a narcissist”:
The narcissist’s agenda is one of manipulation, it is imperative they are in a position whereby they can rise above others and be in control. The empath’s agenda is to love, heal and care. There is no balance and it is extremely unlikely there ever will be one. The more love and care an empath offers, the more powerful and in control a narcissist will become.
In my case, I kept trying to explain to A. how certain of her actions hurt me. The first few times she apologized, but the apology was always qualified: “I’m sorry if I hurt you” rather than “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” But before long she would treat me the same way and I’d be deeply hurt all over again.
I kept wondering why A. didn’t learn from what I explained to her. This is one of the characteristics of narcissists: They can’t learn from their mistakes because they don’t believe they make mistakes. Everything is always all the other person’s fault.
I finally realized that A.’s behavior would never change and that I had two choices: (1) to remain in the friendship and continue to be hurt frequently or (2) to exert my own right to be respected. In the end, I decided that I had to either change this relationship or break free of it. After one particularly hurtful episode, I told her that we had to talk about how she had treated me. Her reply was that she didn’t want to do that.
For a while she continued to email me, acting as if nothing had happened. I told her a couple of times that she should let me know when she was ready to talk about how she had treated me. She tried for a while longer to act as if nothing had happened, and eventually I stopped responding to those overtures. It has now been almost 10 years since our last communication.
Yes, A. treated me badly, but I continued to allow myself to be treated badly for much longer than I should have. I have since realized that empaths must learn to exert themselves by setting their own boundaries. A. was never going to stop abusing me as long as I let myself be abused. In the end, I had to require respect from her in order to maintain my own self-respect.
At first I thought I’d miss our friendship. However, I soon realized that I didn’t miss the emotional roller-coaster ride of interacting with someone whose approach to self-esteem was to demolish my self-esteem. In the end, this empath had to give herself permission to pursue self-protection.