Last Week’s Links

What I’ve been reading around the web recently.

On coincidence

Lightning can strike twice and people do call just when you’re thinking of them – but are such coincidences meaningful?

The Power of Positive People

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.

Why don’t we know more about migraines?

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.

In Order to Understand Sociopaths, I Got Inside One’s Head

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.

Many Cultures, One Psychology?

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

Last Week’s Links

The mind-bendy weirdness of the number zero, explained

Why zero is not at all a simple concept.

The computer you’re reading this article on right now runs on a binary — strings of zeros and ones. Without zero, modern electronics wouldn’t exist. Without zero, there’s no calculus, which means no modern engineering or automation. Without zero, much of our modern world literally falls apart.

Humanity’s discovery of zero was “a total game changer … equivalent to us learning language,” says Andreas Nieder, a cognitive scientist at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

How to Ask Great Questions

Much of an executive’s workday is spent asking others for information—requesting status updates from a team leader, for example, or questioning a counterpart in a tense negotiation. Yet unlike professionals such as litigators, journalists, and doctors, who are taught how to ask questions as an essential part of their training, few executives think of questioning as a skill that can be honed—or consider how their own answers to questions could make conversations more productive.

The fallacy of obviousness

A new interpretation of a classic psychology experiment will change your view of perception, judgment – even human nature

The deep roots of writing

Was writing invented for accounting and administration or did it evolve from religious movements, sorcery and dreams?

IS YOUR KID ‘GIFTED’? IT MIGHT DEPEND ON THEIR RACE

when it comes to a teacher’s referral of a student to educational programs, it’s not just learning abilities that play a role in the decision process. Recent research has found that

RACE CAN AFFECT WHO IS REFERRED TO GIFTED PROGRAMS — AND TO SPECIAL EDUCATION.

How to Conquer Writer’s Block

These days, writer’s block is often blamed on depression. Sometimes procrastination and perfectionism are considered the culprits. Whatever the cause, writer’s block has been around for a long time. Samuel Coleridge suffered from it, as did Joseph Conrad, Gustave Flaubert, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, and Virginia Woolf. The big question is, regardless of where it came from, what can a writer do about it when it strikes?

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Last Week’s Links

Lots of good internet stuff last week.

“Find your passion” is bad advice, say Yale and Stanford psychologists

Instead of looking for a magic bullet, that one thing you must be meant to do even though you don’t know what it is yet, it can be more productive to perceive interests flexibly, as potentially endless. A growth mindset, rather than a fixed sense that there’s one interest you should pursue single-mindedly, improves the chances of finding your passion—and having the will to master it.

I Found My Birth Mother. It Didn’t Rock My Life — And That’s OK

NPR’s Ashley Westerman was born in the Philippines but raised by white Americans in rural Kentucky, with no one around who looked like her. This year, she tracked down the woman who gave her up for adoption three decades ago and writes about the hopes, trepidation and even disappointment of the journey and eventual meeting.

When It’s Good to Be Antisocial

Sociality is no pinnacle of evolution. It’s just another result of the process. Reclusive bees and other species are doing just fine—and sometimes, even better. Clearly social behavior has advantages, seeding the survival of species and communities. But being a good neighbor is not the only benefit to the hive. Sometimes everybody wins when you go it alone.

mHealth Brain Games Help Post-ICU Patients Recover Cognitive Skills

Vanderbilt University researchers said computer cognitive rehabilitation training using the BrainHQ online and mobile program helped patients discharged from an ICU improve cognitive function at home. The study, published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, involved 33 older patients who had been discharged from an ICU with post-intensive care syndrome.

Study: Sitting linked to increased death risk from 14 diseases

If you sit for six hours a day or more, your risk of dying early jumps 19 percent, compared with people who sit fewer than three hours, an American Cancer Society study suggests.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Here are the articles from around the internet that piqued my interest last week.

The Lifespan of a Lie

Some new information and new interpretations of one of psychology’s most infamous studies, the 1971 Stanford prison experiment.

When the self slips

A look at the frightening disorder “depersonalisation disorder (DPD) – a condition that typically manifests as a profound and distressing feeling of estrangement from one’s own self and body, including one’s experiences, memories and thoughts.”

CHILDREN WHO KILL: THE MOST UNSETTLING STORY OF ALL

There’s something wrong, on a visceral level, about the very idea of children murderers. It flips all the tropes and common beliefs about the world on their heads. Children are supposed to be innocent and pure, even though everyone who remembers their childhood and teenage years knows they can be anything but.

The Fairytale Language of the Brothers Grimm

How the Brothers Grimm went hunting for fairytales and accidentally changed the course of historical linguistics and kickstarted a new field of scholarship in folklore.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

My Recent Browsing History

The Stories We Tell Ourselves
5 Lessons to Be Learned While Writing a Memoir
Are girls really better at reading than boys or are the tests painting a false picture?
Why each side of the partisan divide thinks the other is living in an alternate reality
Nobody is normal
Sleep deprivation handicaps the brain’s ability to form new memories, study in mice shows
Why Empathy Is Your Most Important Skill (and How to Practice It)

Last Week’s Links

Rewriting Your Nightmares

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.

Local writer specializes in telling life stories 

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.

What’s up with these creepy clowns?

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.

WHY DEEP LEARNING IS SUDDENLY CHANGING YOUR LIFE

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

What I’ve Been Reading About Thinking & Knowing

Personality Can Change Over A Lifetime, And Usually For The Better

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.”

Consciousness: The Mind Messing With the Mind

brain02If 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?

Monkeys know what they don’t know

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.

Metaknowledge

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

Last Week’s Links

Recent Articles on Sleep, Memory, Learning, Brain Function, and Mind Wandering

Examining Sleep’s Roles in Memory and Learning

Go ahead and take that nap. New research suggests that sleep can improve both memory and creativity.

Getting smarter

Brain-training games won’t boost your IQ, but a host of strategies can improve your cognitive abilities one piece at a time

brain02Psychologist 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, Who Shaped Understanding of the Young Mind, Dies at 100

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.

Why Do Our Minds Wander?

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

Last Week’s Links

I’m trying out something different this week. I have three blogs:

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.

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Taking On the Ph.D. Later in Life

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).

You Can Go Home Again: The Transformative Joy Of Rereading

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.

Michael Kinsley’s ‘Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide’

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.

100 MUST-READ WORKS OF SOUTHERN LITERATURE

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.

‘Literature about medicine may be all that can save us’

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

The Best Music for Staying Productive at Work, Backed by Science

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.”

Neuroscientists create ‘atlas’ showing how words are organised in the brain

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.

Thinking Beyond Money in Retirement

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?

WOMEN DETECTIVES IN FACT AND FICTION

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

Psychology Round-Up

The Six Most Interesting Psychology Papers of 2015

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.

Being happy won’t make you live longer, study finds

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.”

The brain’s miracle superpowers of self-improvement

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.

False Memories: How false memories are created and can affect our ability to recall events

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.”