Saturday, September 30, 2017

Internet Scout and Banned Books

The Internet Scout report comes out every Friday.  The report can be subscribed and delivered to your email inbox and you can also visit it online There is a surprising difference between getting it individually and trying to remember to take a look at it in a browser.  Even if you delete the email without opening it, you get a reminder of the Internet Scout service by seeing it in your stuff.

This week's edition is all about banned books.  That is roughly the same topic as information restriction or censorship.  Lynn was an elementary school librarian, a high school librarian and a professor of school library studies.  I just asked her if she had any sort of book she thought should be banned.  She thought a while and mentioned "slash porn", books about hurting young women, usually naked and usually beautiful ones.  I asked her why she might ban them and she agreed that she thought not having such books to look at might tip someone away from acting out criminal, cruel behavior.  She has been professionally involved with books and libraries most of her adult life and is completely aware of the different sides of the issue, including the possibility that civil, respectful and compassionate discussions about internal drives and desires are often more effective than keeping secrets and denying feelings.

Volume 23 Number 39 includes access to lists of the most banned books of the past year in this country.  All documents I have seen on the subject emphasize that many challenges, requests or demands for suppression get expressed only to a local librarian or bookseller. Here is a link to the American Library Association's page about the subject of banned books

Looking over the list on the ALA's web site, it seems that a great many of the cited books refer to either homosexual or transsexual thoughts, information, tales, reports or stories.  Since each of us exists because of the sexual activities of our parents, a Martian visitor might assume that all aspects of sex would be a very humdrum subject for humans.  I assume that looking over the history of banned books, I might find books on the horrors of war, the honor of war, the righteousness of war and also books about the badness of some laws and social practices.

It seems to me that for most of us, homosexuality and transsexual problems do not occupy much of our lives.  Subjects, new possibilities and fears arise and fall all the time.  These days, many people can read but find television and other sources of visual and audio information preferable.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Halloween is coming!

It may not be as bad as it looks.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

What will fit in an hour?

I have been thinking of giving a talk on freebies.  I can lose track of what is free and what isn't but I know I get the TED talk weekly summary free. I get Internet Scout.  Many days, I get 6 to 9 emails from Amazon, most of which are about books, mostly ebooks.  I get Maria Popova's Brainpickings, several newsletters from the Brookings Institute and some from the PEW research people.  I get plenty of other free stuff, too.

The lawn and bushes need care.  The grass needs to be cut.  The car needs an oil change.  Bills need to be paid.  I want to go to lunch with my friends.  We haven't seen the kids for a while.

I am not going to spend unlimited time on email, whether it is free or not, whether is exciting, "must read" or not.  I might spend an hour on seeing who is doing what, but I might not, either.  

Below is a picture of the Gmail inbox.  Inside the black ring is the selection box, showing an empty square and to the right, an arrow head.  That arrow head gives the dropdown box that enables selection of All, None, Read, Unread, Starred and Unstarred.  When I am more determined to write, or read, or cook, or exercise or just take a drive, I can quickly select the batch that came in and delete the whole thing.

Gmail selections.png

It is not just email, of course.  Physician appointments, home repairs, car repair, organization meeting, people in need, people I love, people I'd like to befriend, Facebook, blog, web site - just about anything at all can swell up to an unmanageable size.  I only have so many hours left before mortality gets me.  I don't plan to abdicate my position as executive of my life.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A new story

She was out for the evening.  I tried several movies on Netflix.  Nothing gripped me.  Nothing even squeezed me lightly.  How about reading?  Not the nerdy stuff.  Not the helpful, healthful stuff.  Something lighter, quicker.  I started last night on "Young Jane Young" by Gabrielle Zevin. I am now 70% done.

Getting into a light story, something that does not call for much mental effort, something with a bit of wit and sensitivity.  This story qualifies in my opinion.  Getting into something that has nothing to do with the mind, self-knowledge, psychology or advanced topics sounds good at times, especially if the material is well-put together.

I have read that it is not a story until something bad happens.  Quite a few people these days say they feel that they don't want to hear about anything bad happening.  We have enough bad happenings in the news.  But I think if you try it, you will find, as have others before you, that your interest is not really engaged until there is a bit of "dramatic tension."  You know how it goes: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl.  Without that center part, no taste, no challenge, thus too little interest.  When the storm strikes, the villain vills, the heroine is left crying on the dock, the beautiful monument is swallowed up, the rook flies away with the ring, that's when we get a squirt of adrenaline.  That's when we get a surge of strength and determination and resolve to see things made right.

I know that when you are past 60 years of age, you have heard many tales.  You are not as likely to be excited by the wickedness of the witch and the boasts of the bad guys.  That is why it takes a bit of searching to find something that appeals.  That is why several movies, made at genuine expense by talented people with hopes of strumming our heartstrings, didn't work.  I don't say I am uniquely sensitive or have high-level tastes.  I just find that the wrong comment, the wrong facial expression and I am off looking for something else.  I do say that searching and tasting and maybe eventual fatigue are often required before I can get satisfaction.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

More or less

I need more panache.  It is difficult to keep enough panache on hand.  You think you have enough but you use it up more rapidly than you expect to.  Then, just when you are busy and don't really have time to mess about, you discover you are out of panache again.  On the other hand, I really don't need more wrinkles.  I have more than enough but that doesn't seem to matter to the wrinkle department.  I blame Obama.  

Ok, your turn:

I need more _______.  It is difficult to keep enough _______ on hand.  You think you have enough but you use it up more rapidly than you expect to.  Then, just when you are busy and don't really have time to mess about, you discover you are out of _______ again.  On the other hand, I really don't need more _______.  I have more than enough but that doesn't seem to matter to the _______ department.  I blame _______.  

Monday, September 25, 2017

More carefully white

I shouldn't talk since I am not really white.  I am more of a orange-ish pink/ pinkish orange [o.p.p.o aka p.o./o.p.].  My group, usually identified by skin color has a problem.  Well, maybe problems.  It has its good parts, too, I think.  But just looking at the negatives, I put "white inferiority" into Google and got a passel of results.  Turns out both the phrase and the idea is not original with me.  

What is the claim sometimes made of white, that is, Caucasian, I hate to say it, supremacy?  We got to this continent 12 to 15 thousand years after the visitors from Asia, the ones we often refer to as native Americans.  We are currently a small part of humanity.  Both the Indians from India and the Chinese from China outnumber the Oppos, as I understand it.  

I see in Wikipedia that there wasn't much drive to name those of European descent until my group started sailing here and there, often showing up with guns and pushing people around.  It is possible, in my view, that becoming a colony of one European country or another had some benefits for an area, directly and immediately, or indirectly and eventually. I have learned of capturing people, buying people, and enrolling people into slavery or indentured servitude and I imagine it was easier to distinguish the "up" group from the other group with labels and attempts at physical markers, such as skin color.  

I have read that scientists have not found identifiable genes that support what is often called 'racial' distinctions.  A friend recently noted that we have arrived a time, in some places, where we think it is polite to refer to a person's gender using the person's preference for reference.  He thought that if we can do that with gender, maybe we should do it with "racial" or ethnic classifications, too.

I know a little of my wife's family history and it mainly concerns Finns, Swede, Spaniards and Cubans.  When we received results from the Genographic Project, Lynn was shocked.  She has blonde hair and blue eyes and looks like she is of Finnish descent.  The results of DNA analysis said she has a strong line of Native American descent.  At first, she thought her results got mixed up with somebody else.  She has been contacted by other American descendants of the Taino Indians and now believes one of her more recent grannies was a member of that tribe.  

This can be a loaded subject, one that tempts a person to feel superior to another because of ancestry.  Take a look at "An Inconvenient Inheritance" by Wade and "The Invisible History of the Human Race" by Kinneally.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Fwd: A black man goes undercover in the alt-right

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: This week on <>
Date: Sat, Sep 23, 2017 at 9:02 AM
Subject: A black man goes undercover in the alt-right

Unexpected compassion and surprising perspective. Open in browser
This week on
September 23, 2017

Theo E.J. Wilson: A black man goes undercover in the alt-right

18:20 minutes · Filmed Jul 2017 · Posted Sep 2017 · TEDxMileHigh

In an unmissable talk about race and politics in America, Theo E.J. Wilson tells the story of becoming Lucius25, white supremacist lurker, and the unexpected compassion and surprising perspective he found from engaging with people he disagrees with. He encourages us to let go of fear, embrace curiosity and have courageous conversations.

Playlist of the week

Great stories for your commute

These unforgettable talks will carry you through the slog of your everyday travels. Watch »

9 TED Talks • Total run time 2:26:50

This week's new TED Talks

How can you study Mars without a spaceship? Head to the most Martian place on Earth -- the Atacama Desert in Chile. Astrobiologist Armando Azua-Bustos grew up in this vast, arid landscape and now studies the rare life forms that have adapted to survive there, some in areas with no reported rainfall for the past 400 years. Explore the possibility of finding life elsewhere in the universe without leaving the planet with this quick, funny talk. Watch »

We humans are not the only intelligent beings ... there are many other kinds of intelligence found in nature. Robotics engineer Radhika Nagpal studies the collective intelligence displayed by insect swarms and fish schools, seeking to understand their rules of engagement -- then creates robots that use those same collective skills to get things done. In a visionary talk, she shares a vision of the future where flocks of robots work together to help humans and the planet. Watch »

What if you could know exactly how food or medication would impact your health -- even before you put it in your body? Genomics pioneer Jun Wang is working to develop digital döppelgangers for real people; they use our genetic code and factor in other kinds of data as well, from the food we eat to how much we sleep to data collected by, um, a smart toilet. With all this valuable information, Wang hopes to change the way we think about health, both on an individual level and as a collective. Watch »

How can Africa, the home to some of the largest bodies of water in the world, be said to have a water crisis? It doesn't, says Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò -- it has a knowledge crisis. The lack of knowledge on vital topics like water and food, he says, is what stands between Africa's current state and a future of prosperity. In a powerful talk, Táíwò calls for Africa to reclaim its position as a leader of learning on behalf of humanity. Watch »

Between 2008 and 2016, the United States deported more than 3 million people. What happens to those left behind? Journalist Duarte Geraldino picks up the story of deportation where the state leaves off. Learn more about the wider impact of forced removal, where the sudden absence of a mother, a local business owner or a high school student ripples outward and wreaks havoc on the relationships that hold our communities together. Watch »

The city-building simulation "Cities: Skylines" is a game that encourages people to plan, build and sustain their dream cities of tomorrow. Designer Karoliina Korppoo takes us on a tour through some extraordinary places users have created, from futuristic fantasy towns to remarkably realistic urban landscapes. What does your dream city look like? Watch »


We humans: Why we should all stop saying "I know exactly how you feel"
(You probably don't.) How to be a more considerate conversation partner

Justice: Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, talks climate
Seeking fairness for victims of hurricanes made worse by our new climate 

Work: Making the case for working at home
This pioneering study shows the benefits (and a few surprising drawbacks)

Science: What can we learn, right now, from dinosaurs?
They dominated the planet for way longer than humans. How'd they do it?

Quote of the Week


Now, you're probably surprised by this perspective, and so was I. Never in a billion years did I think that I could have some kind of compassion for people who hated my guts. Now, mind you, not enough compassion like I want to be friends. I don't have infinite olive branches to extend to people who, like, would not want to see me on this planet. Right? But just enough compassion to understand how they got to where they are."

Theo E.J. Wilson
A black man goes undercover in the alt-right

sincerely, x: gifted kid

Listen to the season one finale of Sincerely, X, a TED and Audible podcast. For children growing up in the streets, sometimes all it takes is one single person to recognize your potential. This English teacher shares how she's able to spot gifted kids in her class -- because she's been there. Hear her story now on Apple Podcasts, the TED Android app, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Getting short

Being short most often refers to having a head that is close to your feet when you are standing up.  Those who are officially "little people" may have a condition of dwarfism.  "He was quite short with me" usually means he spoke to me in brief utterances, without a smile and in an unpleasant, gruff, grouchy tone.  I am somewhat lacking in height.  I used to be 5 feet 5 inches but now I have shrunk to only 5'3".  

I gather that having a good height is expected of a man.  Women may feel better when looking up at a man than being eye-level with him or looking down.  Both sexes have a certain awe of a man who is tall.  I have heard of Napoleon being short and maybe being sensitive about his height.  I remember hearing that the Philippine ambassador was asked about his feelings of dining with a group of tall Texans. He said,"I felt like a dime (10 cents) among nickels (larger coins worth 5 cents)."

But short messages, often referred to as having "brevity", have important advantages.  These days, not just 20 year olds but also increasing numbers of 40, 60 and 80 year olds, have their smartphones at the ready.  At any moment, a call might come in.  So, if you are going to ask for a favor, state your request in a short, direct form before you lose the attention of your requestee.  

It may be that word choice, labels, terms are more carefully examined in advertisements and in political messages than anywhere else but I personally reserve very careful and ruminative examination of words for my picture of "poetry".  Generally, poems are short, not the length of essays or reports or whole books.  You may have heard that the current US president practices creating short messages called Tweets on social software call Tweeter.  

Both Tweeter and the famous Facebook are now full of pictures, which can be considered a brief but powerful way of communicating.  These days, we have "shorteners", special computer programs used for hosting quite long web addresses and substituting shortened versions of them.  I can take a long web address, like this one and substitute this short version to lead to the same thing: (I am about 30 rows down, all blue).

One of the most famous people for getting short is the American comedian known as Father Guido Sarducci (a.k.a. Don Novello).  He is famous for condensing four years of college into 4 minutes by speaking important words for various subjects, such as "supply and demand" from economics.

These days it pays to get short.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Get clear, please

I met my first disappointment with Goleman and Davidson (in their book "Altered Traits") today.  I can't say I am surprised to find that the two scientists and the University of Wisconsin at Madison have developed an extensive web site and other things to go with it, such as a newsletter.  If you are interested, look up the Center for Healthy Minds.  

One of the things the Center has done is offer their "Kindness Curriculum".  It is built along scientific and historical grounds and offers guidance in developing sympathy, empathy and kindness, especially in young children.  The disappointment stems from the statement in their book that developing important traits such as kindness and consideration of others is left to chance.  I taught the 5th grade for four years, I have a major in elementary education, and lots of friends and contacts in the elementary and early childhood area.

Just because we don't have a formal subject called Kindness 101 certainly does not mean that teachers are indifferent to teaching kindness and related beneficial habits and outlooks to youngsters.  We often say that socialization and related skills and awareness is the main learning to take place in school.  

Just as the authors of this book and their staff and assistants and colleagues, I very much want people to meditate.  I believe very strongly that meditation creates and prolongs the health of minds.  When a child is born, it already contains the beginnings of many skills and insights.  Humans have lived very good and full lives with no schooling at all.  But meditation is so easy, so inexpensive of both time and money, that it is indeed a very valuable practice, one that helps a person stay in touch with their mind and feelings.  

The authors are scientists and I agree that science is probably our best tool for solving our problems and living well.  However, it is most definitely not our only tool. Human insight, natural patience and love, in family life and other places, develops and guides us continuously.  I feel certain that meditation can assist in extremely valuable ways.  But, there are occasional instances of "dark nights", discussed in their book, where meditation unleashes extreme fears and nightmares.  They cite the work of the psychologist Willoughby Britten of Brown University who is specializing in helping people who experience unsettling results from meditating.

I know that the American impulse is to hurry everything.  Jean Piaget said decades ago the American question was how can we hurry children along through their stages of development.  It seems possible that until humans are 30 years old or so, they may have little appreciation for what meditation can do for their minds and lives.  I realize there are books, instructors and programs for teaching meditation and awareness of mind to children.  Done right, that seems quite valuable to me.  But don't insult parents and teachers by referring to their work only as based on chance. In the main, they are quite vigilant and motivated.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Deliberately and with actual intention

I want to comment on the concept and activity of "being deliberate".  I mean the same thing as doing something with intention, premeditation, consciously trying for one reason or another. A while back, I read Merzenich's "Soft-wired: How the New Science of Plasticity Can Change Your Life".  I think it did change my life a little.  It made clear that what we do repeatedly makes us different.  Not all that shocking information but it is news to brain scientists that our brains take a different shape, parts of it grow, parts of it decrease in size, depending on what we do, including what we think.

It is no surprise that the amygdala does this and the hippocampus does that.  (One author advised to answer "hippocampus" to any question on a brain exam you didn't know the answer to.)  It is no surprise that parts of the brain have to do with alarms, noticing danger and getting the body ready to fight, flee or freeze.  So, it follows that if we get alarmed, surprised, frightened repeatedly, the part of our brain that handles alarm prep will enlarge to take care of all the incoming business.  

One thing I remember from Merzenich is the difference between habitual action and deliberate, conscious action.  Other scientists felt that he had overestimated the difference between my turning a switch without paying attention and my turning it deliberately.  However, he showed that it does make an important difference to the brain. That is why he and others emphasize that in stopping an old habit or building a new one, it is important to stop the old actions deliberately, consciously and to do the new deliberately.  Granted that can be difficult, but stopping the old and starting the new, important for educating yourself and training yourself into a new way works better, more efficiently and more effectively, if you stop intentionally and start with attention.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Frequency and duration

Some of the research and commentary I read about exercise and about meditation focuses on duration: usually something along the line of "how much have these people practiced meditation" or "how many years have they been running?"  To me, this measure, equal to the total, is misguided.  I think a better total is frequency.  

It seems better to me to ask "What % of days does exercise or meditation get carried out?"  Consider the activities that keep us alive: breathing and eating/drinking.  We don't approach the topics with the questions

For how many years has this person been breathing?  

How many years has this person practiced eating?  

Time passes, you know.  We are much more interested in questions like this:

Is the person breathing now?

How long has it been since his last breath?

How long has it been since he ate?

Is he eating too frequently?

If we want to get better at understanding and appreciating ourselves and each other, it will help, I think, if we focus on people as ongoing processes, not permanent states.  We are alive, not rocks, although even rocks have beginnings and histories and endings.

A good model of another approach is "The Quieting Reflex" by Charles Stroebel, MD  Aside of anything to do with meditation, Stroebel advises taking 6 seconds at a time to deeply relax.  He advises grabbing 6 seconds here and there, when it is convenient and when you think of it.  For me and my experimentation with meditation and reading about breath and yoga and conscious effort and concentration, I am getting so that I am more conscious of each involuntary breath I take.  So, I am getting more aware of each breath.  I don't want to overdo it but I feel that it is helpful in keeping me aware of being alive, of the beauty and reality of life and of its essential materiality.  I remember that I am a living creature and have a material body.  I also remember C.S. Lewis' comment: "Of course God loves material.  He made so much of it."

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

There's Waldo!

I am paying strong attention to "Altered Traits" by Goleman and Davidson.  It's about research on meditation.  As always happens with research, concepts and meanings get clarified.  Distinctions are made.  New angles and facets are uncovered.  

Then, when important discoveries are made, the results have to be communicated to someone like me, someone interested but not deep in the research and even unwilling to get deep into special terminology and equipment use.

I try to find several snatches of time throughout the day to fit in 15 or 20 minutes reading the book.  That works well because any given paragraph may well hit me with an important concept that wows me, pauses my brain, reveals something exciting. When I strike something golden, first I get wowed.  Then, I use my finger and the Kindle free software to highlight the passage, usually sharing it on Twitter with my followers.  

That's what happened yesterday with attention blinks.  The authors used the well-known children's book "Where's Waldo?" to illustrate what they were writing about.  You may well be familiar with the Waldo figure already: - shortened link by Google Shortener to see some about Waldo and remind yourself of his appearance

The scientists' point is that a young child will have a moment of delight when he spots Waldo in the midst of a crowded, confusing drawing of people and objects, some distractions that look similar at first glance but aren't our guy.  During that moment of delight, the child's perception is on pause.  He can't detect a 2nd Waldo during that moment of joy.  

Reminds me of the sleight of hand experts I have seen who pass through the audience meeting and greeting and then once again to return the wallets, watches and purses they lifted during the first pass. Here's an example:

The book's point is that the initial surge of joy (dopamine in the brain) obliterates the senses for a moment.  Meditators calm the initial surge some and have a better chance of being alert sooner.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

New over and over

Everything is exciting all the time.  Watch a baby  or a puppy. For them, everything is new and amazing.  We can settle into the habit of keeping our minds in the "it's the same old thing" gear and take everything into stride immediately.  If I am really determined to be unruffled, calm and unreactive even, I can do it.

But a little bit each day, it is fun to pay attention to the fact that the very second you are reading this is a second that has never ticked by before.  It is never going to come again.  Let's salute this second and respect its unique existence.  If you get in the mood, you can celebrate the particular evening you had yesterday.  Or, take the moment this morning when you first realized you were awake.  You never woke up to be that exact age before and you never will again.  You never woke up with that particular night of sleep slept in just that way.  Pretty neat!

We can label them repeats, lump them together, call them all "nights" but each is a bit different.  Humanity, what with better education and better insight into genetics and individual differences, may be entering a period of better awareness of the exact nature of each of its members.  Maybe we are getting to the point of sensing and remembering the way I am different from you.  Maybe even the way I am different now from who and what I was on this day of last week or this day of last month.

I have read that human minds naturally search for patterns but maybe I can develop deeper, sharper insight into anti-patterns, ways that days and people and personalities differ. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Thought contents matter

I like the image David Eagleman uses in "Incognito" to depict a conscious mind assuming credit, taking ownership of the body and the brain, like a passenger on a great modern oceanliner taking credit for the whole ship and the whole voyage.  That image makes clear that a great deal goes on in me that I don't know about: my heart beating, my breathing continuing, my digestive system adding energy and many other processes I cannot detect or control consciously.

So, I was surprised to read that Goleman and Davidson in "Altered Traits" research the mind and parts of the brain with different expectations depending on what sort of thoughts I am harboring.  Since I rather figured that one thought is like another, I didn't think it would matter much what I thought about.  But as I consider it more carefully, I guess it is not so surprising.  

If I think about being in a physical fight, I get one set of reactions.  I might get a bit aroused and my fight, flight or freeze system might get warmed up some.  If I think about the world's worst sheep dog video I saw on Facebook, I smile and can even laugh.  In those situations, I don't find it odd that parts of my brain and of my body react differently depending on what I am thinking about.  When I have trouble remembering FDR's middle name or the year of the Star-Spangled Banner being composed, I would not be surprised if different parts of my brain get used.  

I thought thoughts were all the same more or less, much as I think of all words being similar.  Thinking of a looming deadline might make me feel nervous, anxious but I didn't think the thoughts involved used different parts of my brain/mind than the parts thoughts of lying in the warm sun on a nice beach use.  

Sharon Salzberg and others emphasize meditation/concentration sessions that focus on thinking, feeling and emanating loving-kindness and compassion.  Brain scientists know that when I feel compassion for another, a particular part of my brain gets used, the amygdala.  Experiments have been done when seminary students, charged with giving a sermon about the Good Samaritan, had to pass by a person in need of aid.  I am confident that I am the sort of person who would be thinking of my coming sermon and not notice that poor soul.  Might be a dirty trick on the part of the experimenters to test me in that way.  

Experiments have also been done that showed more compassionate behavior and bigger amygdalas in people who practice loving-kindness meditation. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Fwd: Watching box sets with your partner can benefit your relationship

I have posted TED talks, Eric Barker's Barking Up the Wrong Tree and Maria Popova's Brainpickings, all free and all good and all can be subscribed for once a week delivery.  You could add BPS Research.  That is the British Psychological Society's research newsletter.  You may know that psych research is undergoing some special stress these days since quite a lot of the American stuff has not replicated, not shown the same results upon re-doing the research.  So, I say take research results with a grain of thought.  Bill
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: BPS Research Digest <>
Date: Thu, Sep 14, 2017 at 1:32 AM
Subject: Watching box sets with your partner can benefit your relationship

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Watching box sets with your partner can benefit your relationship, claim researchers

My wife and I were ridiculously excited about watching the recent season finale of Game of Thrones together, writes Christian Jarrett – we'd watched all the previous 66 episodes together too, and the characters almost feel a part of our lives. Spending our time this way has always seemed like a guilty pleasure, but a team of psychologists led by Sarah Gomillion at the University of Aberdeen say that couples' shared enjoyment of TV, movies and books can help foster feelings of closeness and a shared social identity. Continue reading →

Believing widely doubted conspiracy theories satisfies some people's need to feel special

Unrelenting faith in the face of insurmountable contradictory evidence is a trait of believers in conspiracy theories that has long confounded researchers. For instance, past research has demonstrated how attempting to use evidence to sway believers of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories can backfire, increasing their certainty in the conspiracy. Could it also be the case that knowing that most people doubt a conspiracy actually makes believing in it more appealing, by fostering in the believer a sense of being somehow special? This question was explored recently in the European Journal of Social Psychology by Roland Imhoff and Pia Karoline Lamberty at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. Continue reading →

How short-term increases in testosterone change men's thinking style

The hot-headed "macho man", who acts first and thinks later, has long been popular in movies. Now there's psychological evidence to support it. A new study in the Psychological Science finds that a short-term rise in testosterone – as might occur when in the presence of an attractive potential mate, or during competition – shifts the way men think, encouraging them to rely on quick, intuitive, and generally less accurate, judgements, rather than engaging in careful, more deliberate thought. Continue reading →

Learning more about yourself could help you better understand others

As social creatures, accurately recognising and understanding the mental states of others (their intentions, knowledge, beliefs, etc.) is crucial to our social bonds and interactions. In fact, in today's multi-cultural world and strongly divided political climate, this skill – known as Theory of Mind – is perhaps more important than ever. A recent study published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement proposes that an effective way to develop our Theory of Mind lies in learning to better understand ourselves. Continue reading →

Researchers asked these British mothers which personality traits they would most wish for their babies – extraversion came out on top

Ambitious and self-disciplined or affable and fun-loving? If you could choose the personality profile for your children, what would you prioritise? Researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, put this question to 142 British mothers with a baby aged 0 to 12 months. Reporting their findings in Personality and Individual Differences, Rachel Latham and Sophie von Stumm say there was a clear preference among the mothers for most of all wanting their infants to grow up to be extraverted, especially friendly and cheerful, more so than conscientious or intelligent, even though these latter attributes are more likely to contribute to a healthy, successful life. Continue reading →

Increase the meaningfulness of your work by considering how it helps others

When we find our work meaningful and worthwhile, we are more likely to enjoy it, to be more productive, and feel committed to our employers and satisfied with our jobs. For obvious reasons, then, work psychologists have been trying to find out what factors contribute to people finding more meaning in their work. Top of the list is what they call "task significance", which in plain English means believing that the work you do is of benefit to others. Now Blake Allan at Purdue University has provided some of the first longitudinal evidence that seeing our work as benefiting others really does lead to an increase in our finding it meaningful. Continue reading →

Editor's archive pick: "A burden and a privilege" – clinical psychologists look back on their life's work

Anyone who knows anyone who is a clinical psychologist or other kind of psychotherapist will know about the stories they carry in their minds and hearts. Stories of other people's struggles, pain, trauma, hurt, love and sometimes, wonderfully, recovery. When the psychologist returns home, the stories stay with them, but now in a parallel world of partners, children, friends and mundanity. What is this life like for the psychologist and her loved ones? How do they cope? Some clues come from in-depth interviews with nine senior psychologists and three senior psychiatrists in Norway, published recently in Psychotherapy Research by Marit Råbu and her colleagues. Continue reading →

The Psychologist

The Psychologist is the monthly magazine of the British Psychological Society. Visit our website for the September issue and latest online content, including a review of Adrian Owen's new book Into the Grey Zone. Also check out all our latest reports and feature articles and much more.
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