Monday, October 25, 2010

The Science of Falling in Love

A new analysis of a collection of studies suggests falling in love is a quantifiable action, with the brain releasing measurable euphoria-inducing chemicals.
The meta-analysis conducted by Syracuse University professor Stephanie Ortigue is called “The Neuroimaging of Love.”
Findings suggest falling in love can elicit not only the same euphoric feeling as using cocaine, but also affects intellectual areas of the brain.
Researchers also found falling in love only takes about a fifth of a second.
Results from Ortigue’s team revealed when a person falls in love, 12 areas of the brain work in tandem to release euphoria-inducing chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopression.
The love feeling also affects sophisticated cognitive functions, such as mental representation, metaphors and body image.
The findings beg the question, “Does the heart fall in love, or the brain?”
“That’s a tricky question always,” says Ortigue.
“I would say the brain, but the heart is also related because the complex concept of love is formed by both bottom-up and top-down processes from the brain to the heart and vice versa.
“For instance, activation in some parts of the brain can generate stimulations to the heart, butterflies in the stomach. Some symptoms we sometimes feel as a manifestation of the heart may sometimes be coming from the brain.”
Other researchers also found blood levels of nerve growth factor, or NGF, also increased. Those levels were significantly higher in couples who had just fallen in love. This molecule plays an important role in the social chemistry of humans, or the phenomenon of ‘love at first sight.’
“These results confirm love has a scientific basis,” says Ortigue.
The findings have major implications for neuroscience and mental health research because when love doesn’t work out, it can be a significant cause of emotional stress and depression.
“It’s another probe into the brain and into the mind of a patient,” says Ortigue. “By understanding why they fall in love and why they are so heartbroken, they can use new therapies.”
By identifying the parts of the brain stimulated by love, doctors and therapists can better understand the pains of lovesick patients.
The study also shows different parts of the brain fall in love. For example, unconditional love, such as that between a mother and a child, is sparked by both common and different brain areas, including the middle of the brain. Passionate love is sparked by the reward part of the brain, and also associative cognitive brain areas that have higher-order cognitive functions, such as body image.
Ortigue and her team worked with a team from West Virginia University and a university hospital in Switzerland.
The results of the study are published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How Do Beauty Product Ads Affect Consumer Self Esteem and Purchasing?

ScienceDaily — A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that ads featuring beauty products actually lower female consumers' self-esteem
"One of the signature strengths of the advertising industry lies in its ability to transform seemingly mundane objects into highly desirable products," write authors Debra Trampe (University of Groningen, the Netherlands), Diederik A. Stapel (Tilburg University), and Frans W. Siero (University of Groningen). In an advertisement, a lipstick situated next to a stiletto heel represents glamour and a teddy bear in an ad for fabric softener signals softness.
The authors conducted four experiments to examine the different meanings consumers gleaned from products that were advertised versus not advertised. In one study, the authors exposed female study participants to either a beauty-enhancing product (eye shadow, perfume) or a problem-solving product (acne concealer, deodorant).The product was either embedded in an advertisement (with a shiny background and a fake brand name) or it was depicted against a neutral white background. "After exposure to the advertised beauty-enhancing products consumers were more likely to think about themselves than when they viewed the same products outside of their advertisements."
What's more, those advertisements affected how consumers thought about themselves. "After viewing an advertisement featuring an enhancing product consumers evaluated themselves less positively than after seeing these products when they appeared without the advertising context," the authors write. The same effect did not show up when the items were problem-solving products.
Ads for beauty-enhancing products seem to make consumers feel that their current attractiveness levels are different from what they would ideally be. "Consumers seem to 'compare' themselves to the product images in advertisements, even though the advertisement does not include a human model," the authors write.
"Exposure to beauty-enhancing products in advertisements lowered consumers' self-evaluations, in much the same way as exposure to thin and attractive models in advertisements has been found to lower self-evaluations," the authors conclude.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Perception Of Emotion Is Culture-Specific

Want to know how a Japanese person is feeling? Pay attention to the tone of his voice, not his face. That's what other Japanese people would do, anyway. A new study examines how Dutch and Japanese people assess others' emotions and finds that Dutch people pay attention to the facial expression more than Japanese people do.

"As humans are social animals, it's important for humans to understand the emotional state of other people to maintain good relationships," says Akihiro Tanaka of Waseda Institute for Advanced Study in Japan. "When a man is smiling, probably he is happy, and when he is crying, probably he's sad." Most of the research on understanding the emotional state of others has been done on facial expression; Tanaka and his colleagues in Japan and the Netherlands wanted to know how vocal tone and facial expressions work together to give you a sense of someone else's emotion.

For the study, Tanaka and colleagues made a video of actors saying a phrase with a neutral meaning - "Is that so?" - two ways: angrily and happily. This was done in both Japanese and Dutch. Then they edited the videos so that they also had recordings of someone saying the phrase angrily but with a happy face, and happily with an angry face. Volunteers watched the videos in their native language and in the other language and were asked whether the person was happy or angry. They found that Japanese participants paid attention to the voice more than Dutch people did - even when they were instructed to judge the emotion by the faces and to ignore the voice. The results are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

This makes sense if you look at the differences between the way Dutch and Japanese people communicate, Tanaka speculates. "I think Japanese people tend to hide their negative emotions by smiling, but it's more difficult to hide negative emotions in the voice." Therefore, Japanese people may be used to listening for emotional cues. This could lead to confusion when a Dutch person, who is used to the voice and the face matching, talks with a Japanese person; they may see a smiling face and think everything is fine, while failing to notice the upset tone in the voice. "Our findings can contribute to better communication between different cultures," Tanaka says.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pseudocyesis : False Pregnancy

A 30-year-old woman waddles into a family clinic with a large belly and tender breasts. She says she can feel her baby moving inside of her. A doctor performs a pelvic exam and discovers that not only is there no baby, there's no uterus. Her medical records show she'd had a hysterectomy two years earlier.
This case presented itself to Paul Paulman, a professor and family practitioner at the University of Nebraska. It was his first encounter with a rare condition called pseudocyesis, or false pregnancy. "I showed the woman a scan of her abdomen and explained the facts," Paulman says, "and then I never saw her again. I don't know if she ever accepted the truth."
In pseudocyesis, the mind tricks the body, and vice versa. Doctors think it develops when a woman obsesses over pregnancy out of desire or fear. (Queen "Bloody" Mary I of England famously suffered false pregnancy under pressure to continue the royal line.) A woman may stop menstruating, or her stomach may become distended due to stress or constipation. But her brain interprets the signs as pregnancy, which triggers the pituitary gland to secrete hormones like prolactin to prepare the body to carry a child. She gains more weight around the midsection, and her breasts swell and might even lactate. Many false pregnancies end when the woman goes into labor and delivers nothing.
Pseudocyesis occurs in only 1 to 6 of every 22,000 pregnancies, and it can also happen to children, the elderly, and men. "I think the men are a little more emotionally ill," Paulman says. Doctors confront the patient with medical evidence and offer counseling. If that doesn't work, the patient could have an underlying psychotic illness.
Pseudocyesis has a sibling syndrome: "couvade," or sympathetic pregnancy, where men experience many of the symptoms of their wives' or daughters' pregnancies—weight gain, nausea, headache, irritability, backaches, abdominal pain. A study of 81 expectant fathers found that almost half of them gained weight in the third trimester. Sympathy abdominal pains during birth are even more common, Paulman says. "I guess we all want to be in touch with our feminine side."
Case Study: A Family Saved by a Phantom Delivery
• The Patient
A 36-year-old mother of four with a history of depression and hypomania.
• The Delivery
Upon hearing that her 19-year-old son's girlfriend was going into labor, she began to experience excruciating pain in her abdomen. She felt as though she were having contractions, and after an hour, she gave "a final push." Afterward, she was exhausted, relieved, and overjoyed.
• The Cause
The patient had been estranged from her son because she disapproved of his girlfriend and believed they were too young to have children. The phantom delivery may have been her way to include herself in the birth of her first grandchild.
• The Resolution
After "labor," the grandmother felt ready to embrace her son, his girlfriend, and their baby.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Brain Wiring and Decisions

Brain wiring key to quick decisions: study
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
The ability to make quick decisions when they are needed depends on whether your brain connections are the neural equivalent of broadband or dial-up, an international study shows.
In a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper released online Tuesday, an international team shows flexibility in decision-making is dependent on structural features of the brain.
'As you get older, the bandwidth gets slower and slower.'— Scott Brown
Quick decisions tend to be error-prone while relatively slower contemplation tends to produce more accuracy, says one Australian research team member, Scott Brown, an associate professor at the University of Newcastle's cognition laboratory.
This trade-off between speed and accuracy means people need to be able to switch between the fast risky and slower cautious modes of decision-making, as required.
But, says Brown, little is known about the neurology underpinning this flexibility.
Broadband or dial-up?
In their study, Brown and colleagues, which included researchers from the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands, examined what brain mechanisms underpin decision-making flexibility.
They found it was determined by the "purely physical measurement" of the thickness of the connections between the brain's cortex and the striatum of the basal ganglia.
He says the results are the equivalent of brain communication being reliant on a broadband connection or still using dial-up.
"The underlying finding that a purely physical measurement could predict behaviour is very surprising," he says.
Brown says the team has not determined what causes one person's connections to be thicker than another's.
"It could be that it is the 'use it or lose it'" phenomenon, he says.
However, in a paper still under review, Brown says, the team has also shown the connection thins with age.
"As you get older, the bandwidth gets slower and slower," he says.
MRI scans measure fibre thickness
For the study, participants were placed in an MRI scanner and the researchers measured the thickness of "fibres" that carry inputs from the cortex to the basal ganglia.
Brown says the technology allows researchers to "track millimetre by millimetre which direction fibres in the grey matter are travelling," and determine the number (or thickness) of fibres connecting one region to another.
These measurements were done when the participants were not making decisions. They were also required to undertake a series of tasks that required them to make decisions either quickly or slowly.
They found those with the stronger connections in the brain were more able to move flexibly between a fast response and a more accurate slow response.
The study was based on only nine participants, however, the researchers used a previous independent study, which had included MRI scans, to verify their findings.
'Train the brain'
Brown says their work could help in tracking cognitive decline in aging.
"People who have a disease of aging often have their symptoms exacerbated by the slowing that comes with aging," he says.
"If you can understand the slowing, we might be able to separate the effects and better understand what is happening."
He says there is a view that older people are slow and cautious because they choose to be so.
However, these latest findings would suggest that as brain connections thin, the person is "stuck in a regime where response is always slow and cautious."
In current work, Brown says they are trying to force older participants to be faster at decision-making.
"We are seeing if you can train the brain to use these tracks more efficiently," he says.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Emotional Trauma in the Womb

Emotional Trauma in the Womb
The caller complained, “I’ve been sad all my life. I’ve been to many therapists and none have been able to help me get rid of my sadness. Do you think you can help me?”
Since I have seen many similar cases like this before, I told the caller, “I have a good hunch on what is going on. Come on over and lets see if I can help.” After briefly treating the person, the sadness was gone and it has stayed that way ever since. I have treated hundreds of these situations where individuals have been able to experience release of seemingly hopeless issues. What has made the difference?
There is a growing body of research showing that babies in the womb feel, taste, learn, and have some level of consciousness. One study had babies in the womb receiving “vibroacoustic stimulation” (Gonzalez-Gonzalez et al., 2006). That is a fancy way of saying sound waves were transmitted. For comparison purposes, there was also a control group that did not receive the treatment. After they were born, the babies who had received the stimulation were again given the same treatment. The result was that these babies recognized the signal and tended to calm down after receiving the signal. The researchers concluded that fetal life is able to learn and memorize with this capacity lasting into neonatal life (post-birth).
In other research, Anthony DeCasper and William Fifer created a nipple that was connected to an audio device (Kolata, 1984). This nipple test was given to 10 newborn babies. If a child sucked in one way they would hear their mother’s voice. Sucking in a different pattern would cause the child to hear another woman’s voice. The researchers found that the babies sucked in a way to hear their mothers. The same experiment was done using the sound of the mother’s heart beat and that of a male voice. The result was that the babies sucked in such a way as to hear the mother’s heart beat more often than the male voice.
DeCasper later did another test where he had sixteen pregnant women read a children’s book. They read the book out aloud twice a day for the last 6.5 weeks of their pregnancy. Once born, the babies were given the nipple test previously mentioned where they could listen either to their mother reading the original children’s book that was used or another book. The babies sucked to hear the original children’s book. What DeCasper concluded was that a prenatal auditory experience can influence auditory preferences after birth.
An author and well known obstetrician, Christiane Northrup (2005) shares that if a pregnant mother is going through high levels of fear or anxiety she creates a “metabolic cascade.” Hormones known as cytokines are produced and the mother’s immune system is affected, including her child’s. Chronic anxiety in the mother can set the stage for a whole array of trauma based results such as prematurity, complications of birth, death, and miscarriage. The opposite is also true. When the mother is feeling healthy and happy, she produces oxytocin. This is often called the molecule of belonging. The presence of this component creates feelings of bonding and strengthens immunity in the baby. Neurotransmitters moving inside the mother’s body creates a chemical and physical imprint on the baby’s brain and body. The message imprinted is that there is safety and peace. The baby feels secure and taken care of.
Can a baby learn while in the womb? The research seems to point in that direction. In terms of mental health, can this be a clue to psychological issues adults exhibit? In some cases, I think so. I feel this way, not because I have done peer-reviewed research on the matter, but because of the hundreds that I have treated for their fetal life traumas. They experienced significant or total reduction of their negative and dysfunctional issues. Many of these patients had previously exhibited spontaneous and abrupt feelings of anger, fear, sadness, loneliness, hyper-vigilance and even co-dependent enablement.
The next time you experience one of these emotions and you cannot figure out where it came from perhaps it came before your physical birth. You may have had a detached mother or a scared one. You could have had a mother that did not want to get pregnant and resented the father. Maybe your mother was depressed and lonely. Hopefully, you had a happy and content mother who nurtured you in her heart and enjoyed having you in her life.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What are some ways I can improve my memory?

Our brains evolved to code and interpret complex stimuli into sophisticated models of the world we live in, so it makes sense to feed our minds as diverse a set of data as possible. Memory makes use of various "triggers," known as mnemonics. These include:
• images
• colors
• structures
• sounds
• smells • tastes
• touch
• positions
• emotions
• language
To make your mnemonics most valuable:
• Use positive, pleasant images. The brain often blocks out unpleasant ones.
• Use vivid, colorful, sense-laden images — these are easier to remember than drab ones.
• Use all your senses to code information or dress up an image. Remember that your mnemonic can contain sounds, smells, tastes, touch, movements and feelings as well as pictures.
• Give your image three dimensions, movement and space to make it more vivid. You can use movement either to maintain the flow of association, or to help you to remember actions.
• Exaggerate the size of important parts of the image.
• Use humor! Make up jokes using facts and figures you need to recall. Funny or peculiar things are easier to remember than pedestrian ones.
• Make up rhymes such as the one we all learned in elementary school, "30 days hath September…"
• Symbols (red traffic lights, pointing fingers, road signs, etc.) can code complex messages quickly and effectively.
Once you've mastered mnemonics, the following guidelines can help improve your memory at any age:
1. Attention and Intention. Pay attention to what you're learning, and decide to remember it. We learn and retain information best when we have a strong motivation for committing the material to memory.
2. Relate to what you know. How does the new information relate to concepts with which you're familiar? Decide whether to emphasize memory devices, visualization, or reciting. Storage seems to increase if we pronounce the names of the items out loud—especially if they are grouped rhythmically. Grouping items into threes or fours also seems to aid recall.
3. Become the teacher. Grasp the basic idea and explain it to someone else in your own words.
4. Organize. Make notes, and remember that 7 items is the maximum your short-term memory can hold at one time. Categories with 7 or fewer items will work best.
5. Visualize. Your brain thinks in both words and pictures, so give it both: diagrams and charts, as well as pictures of what you need to know, such as a log cabin with Lincoln's birth date above the door.
6. Talk to yourself. Reciting as you read and reviewing notes out loud increases attention and motivation, and creates a stronger neural trace of memory by utilizing more senses.
7. ASAP review. If you go over what you've learned for just five minutes immediately after you've learned it, your retention will be far higher than if you skip this valuable step.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Did Twittering Begin in the 1700's ?

Maybe a new method to record and share life events in a concise format is not so new after all?
In reviewing volumes of 18th- and 19th-century diaries, Cornell University communication professor Lee Humphreys found many terse records about daily life – and many in a style similar to Twitter.
Diary entries ranged from dinner menus to reports of deaths, births, marriages and travel.
One example: “April 7. Mr. Fiske Buried. April 27. Made Mead. At the assembly,”– From the 1770 diary of Mary Vial Holyoke of Salem, Mass.
Diarists of that era wrote under the constraints of small notebooks that allotted only a few lines per date entry. Their work was intended to be semi-public and shared with others.
“We tend to think of new media as entirely new and different,” says Humphreys, who has studied social media for five years. “But often we see people using new media for old problems.”
In researching Twitter messages for 18 months, Humphreys has been coding tweets, with the help of undergraduate research assistants, by content in such areas as work, health, home and religion. She plans to continue work on the project and will analyze the results over the summer.
Humphreys said she supports the plan of the Library of Congress to archive all public tweets tweeted since March 2006.
“Tweets capture a moment in history in a really interesting way.”
Humphreys cautions that, as with centuries-old diaries, there is a limit to what we can learn from 21st-century tweets.
“We know Twitter tends to be used by urban, younger populations, so it’s not representing everybody, and no culture can be reduced to the texts that it produces,” she says.
“So as great as it is to have these diaries and these tweets, we recognize them as incomplete representations of society. It’s easy to see that with the diaries, but it’s just as important to see that with Twitter.”
Source: Cornell University

Monday, June 7, 2010

Aggression and Violent Video Games

Study proves conclusively that violent video game play makes more aggressive kids

By Ekert Alert

AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson has made much of his life's work studying how violent video game play affects youth behavior. And he says a new study he led, analyzing 130 research reports on more than 130,000 subjects worldwide, proves conclusively that exposure to violent video games makes more aggressive, less caring kids -- regardless of their age, sex or culture.
The study was published today in the March 2010 issue of the Psychological Bulletin, an American Psychological Association journal. It reports that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive thoughts and behavior, and decreased empathy and prosocial behavior in youths.
"We can now say with utmost confidence that regardless of research method -- that is experimental, correlational, or longitudinal -- and regardless of the cultures tested in this study [East and West], you get the same effects," said Anderson, who is also director of Iowa State's Center for the Study of Violence. "And the effects are that exposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in both short-term and long-term contexts. Such exposure also increases aggressive thinking and aggressive affect, and decreases prosocial behavior."
The study was conducted by a team of eight researchers, including ISU psychology graduate students Edward Swing and Muniba Saleem; and Brad Bushman, a former Iowa State psychology professor who now is on the faculty at the University of Michigan. Also on the team were the top video game researchers from Japan – Akiko Shibuya from Keio University and Nobuko Ihori from Ochanomizu University – and Hannah Rothstein, a noted scholar on meta-analytic review from the City University of New York.
The team used meta-analytic procedures -- the statistical methods used to analyze and combine results from previous, related literature -- to test the effects of violent video game play on the behaviors, thoughts and feelings of the individuals, ranging from elementary school-aged children to college undergraduates.
The research also included new longitudinal data which provided further confirmation that playing violent video games is a causal risk factor for long-term harmful outcomes.
"These are not huge effects -- not on the order of joining a gang vs. not joining a gang," said Anderson. "But these effects are also not trivial in size. It is one risk factor for future aggression and other sort of negative outcomes. And it's a risk factor that's easy for an individual parent to deal with -- at least, easier than changing most other known risk factors for aggression and violence, such as poverty or one's genetic structure."
The analysis found that violent video game effects are significant in both Eastern and Western cultures, in males and females, and in all age groups. Although there are good theoretical reasons to expect the long-term harmful effects to be higher in younger, pre-teen youths, there was only weak evidence of such age effects.
The researchers conclude that the study has important implications for public policy debates, including development and testing of potential intervention strategies designed to reduce the harmful effects of playing violent video games.
"From a public policy standpoint, it's time to get off the question of, 'Are there real and serious effects?' That's been answered and answered repeatedly," Anderson said. "It's now time to move on to a more constructive question like, 'How do we make it easier for parents -- within the limits of culture, society and law -- to provide a healthier childhood for their kids?'"
But Anderson knows it will take time for the creation and implementation of effective new policies. And until then, there is plenty parents can do to protect their kids at home.
"Just like your child's diet and the foods you have available for them to eat in the house, you should be able to control the content of the video games they have available to play in your home," he said. "And you should be able to explain to them why certain kinds of games are not allowed in the house -- conveying your own values. You should convey the message that one should always be looking for more constructive solutions to disagreements and conflict."
Anderson says the new study may be his last meta-analysis on violent video games because of its definitive findings. Largely because of his extensive work on violent video game effects, Anderson was chosen as one of the three 2010 American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientist Lecturers. He will give a lecture at October's New England Psychological Association (NEPA) meeting in Colchester, Vt.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Learning and Dreaming

Learning While You Dream

Why do we dream? It’s a question dream analysts and sleep researchers have been studying for years. Now new research suggests that some dreams may actually result from the brain’s effort to keep learning, even as we sleep.
In a study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, 99 volunteers trained for an hour on a virtual maze, trying to find their way through the complicated, three-dimensional puzzle as quickly as possible. Then half the volunteers were allowed to sleep for 90 minutes. The other half stayed awake, reading or relaxing. During the resting period, the subjects were interrupted or awakened and asked to describe their thoughts or dreams.
After the resting period, the participants were asked to again tackle the maze. Those who hadn’t napped showed no improvement or did even worse after the break. Nappers who were rested but didn’t report any maze-related dreams did better but showed only marginal improvement.
However, four nappers who reported dreaming about the maze showed a startling improvement, cutting their completion time in half. The difference in scores before and after sleeping was 10 times higher for the maze dreamers than those who hadn’t dreamed about the task, according to the findings published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.
Even though the number of dreamers was small, the researchers noted that the gap in learning between the dreamers and nondreamers was so wide that the finding was highly statistically significant.
Notably, the dreamers had all performed poorly on the test prior to dreaming about it. That suggests that struggling with a task might be the trigger that prompts the sleeping brain to focus on the subject and work on getting better, explained the lead author, Robert Stickgold, a cognitive neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School.
“It’s almost as if your brain is rummaging through everything that happened today and deciding that you’re not done with it,” Dr. Stickgold said. “The things that really grip you, the ones you decide at an emotional level are really important, those are the ones you dream about. The things you’re obsessed with are the ones that your brain forces you to continue to process.”
The study subjects who dreamed about the maze didn’t dream about trying to complete it over and over. Instead, they simply dreamed about it in a variety of ways. One person said he dreamed about the music that played along with the task. Another dreamed about seeing people along checkpoints in the maze and remembering a bat cave he had once toured. Another dreamed of searching for something in a maze. The lesson may be that dreams don’t necessarily have to make sense or be obvious to the awake mind in order to have a learning benefit.
“It might be that sleep is the time when the brain is tuned to find those types of association you wouldn’t notice during waking,” Dr. Stickgold said. “It does this by focusing on weak associations. If that’s the case, the dreams you have in REM sleep might be so bizarre for exactly the same reasons. It’s not that the dreams make no sense. They make wacky sense.”
More study is needed to fully understand the power of dreams in learning. The researchers are planning a new study that “spiffs up” the maze tests using colors and images in a way that most likely will trigger an increase in dreaming among the study participants.
Whether someone can ultimately harness the power of dreaming to improve learning is an open question, but Dr. Stickgold does have a suggestion for students or others trying to master a task or study subject.
“If you’re a student and you want to do better on the test, you might need to dream about it,” Dr. Stickgold said. “The question is, ‘How do I get myself to dream about it?’ The answer is to get excited about it. That seems to be what you dream about.”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Improving Your Emotional Health

How can you improve your emotional health?

First, try to recognize your emotions and understand why you are having them. Sorting out the causes of sadness, stress and anxiety in your life can help you manage your emotional health. The following are some other helpful tips.

Express your feelings in appropriate ways. If feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety are causing physical problems, keeping these feelings inside can make you feel worse. It’s OK to let your loved ones know when something is bothering you. However, keep in mind that your family and friends may not be able to help you deal with your feelings appropriately. At these times, ask someone outside the situation--such as your family doctor, a counselor or a religious advisor--for advice and support to help you improve your emotional health.

Live a balanced life. Try not to obsess about the problems at work, school or home that lead to negative feelings. This doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be happy when you feel stressed, anxious or upset. It’s important to deal with these negative feelings, but try to focus on the positive things in your life too. You may want to use a journal to keep track of things that make you feel happy or peaceful. Some research has shown that having a positive outlook can improve your quality of life and give your health a boost. You may also need to find ways to let go of some things in your life that make you feel stressed and overwhelmed. Make time for things you enjoy.

Develop resilience. People with resilience are able to cope with stress in a healthy way. Resilience can be learned and strengthened with different strategies. These include having social support, keeping a positive view of yourself, accepting change, and keeping things in perspective.

Calm your mind and body. Relaxation methods, such as meditation, are useful ways to bring your emotions into balance. Meditation is a form of guided thought. It can take many forms. For example, you may do it by exercising, stretching or breathing deeply. Ask your family doctor for advice about relaxation methods.

Take care of yourself. To have good emotional health, it’s important to take care of your body by having a regular routine for eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep and exercising to relieve pent-up tension. Avoid overeating and don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Using drugs or alcohol just causes other problems, such as family and health problems.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What Is the Memory Capacity of the Brain?

What is the memory capacity of the human brain? Is there a physical limit to the amount of information it can store?

Mr. Osborne, may I be excused? My brain is full,” a student with a particularly tiny head asks his classroom teacher in a classic Far Side comic by Gary Larson. The deadpan answer to this question would be, “No, your brain is almost certainly not full.” Although there must be a physical limit to how many memories we can store, it is extremely large. We don’t have to worry about running out of space in our lifetime.
The human brain consists of about one billion neurons. Each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than a trillion connections. If each neuron could only help store a single memory, running out of space would be a problem. You might have only a few gigabytes of storage space, similar to the space in an iPod or a USB flash drive. Yet neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.
The brain’s exact storage capacity for memories is difficult to calculate. First, we do not know how to measure the size of a memory. Second, certain memories involve more details and thus take up more space; other memories are forgotten and thus free up space. Additionally, some information is just not worth remembering in the first place.
This is good news because our brain can keep up as we seek new experiences over our lifetime. If the human life span were significantly extended, could we fill our brains? I’m not sure. Ask me again in 100 years.

Paul Reber, professor of psychology Northwestern University

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cognition Improved by Mindfulness Meditation

Some of us need regular amounts of coffee or other chemical enhancers to make us cognitively sharper. A newly published study suggests perhaps a brief bit of meditation would prepare us just as well.

While past research using neuroimaging technology has shown that meditation techniques can promote significant changes in brain areas associated with concentration, it has always been assumed that extensive training was required to achieve this effect. Though many people would like to boost their cognitive abilities, the monk-like discipline required seems like a daunting time commitment and financial cost for this benefit.

Surprisingly, the benefits may be achievable even without all the work. Though it sounds almost like an advertisement for a "miracle" weight-loss product, new research now suggests that the mind may be easier to cognitively train than we previously believed. Psychologists studying the effects of a meditation technique known as "mindfulness " found that meditation-trained participants showed a significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills (and performed significantly higher in cognitive tests than a control group) after only four days of training for only 20 minutes each day.

"In the behavioral test results, what we are seeing is something that is somewhat comparable to results that have been documented after far more extensive training," said Fadel Zeidan, a post-doctoral researcher at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and a former doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where the research was conducted.

"Simply stated, the profound improvements that we found after just 4 days of meditation training are really surprising," Zeidan noted. "It goes to show that the mind is, in fact, easily changeable and highly influenced, especially by meditation."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Phone Psychotherapy

Obtaining therapy via teleconference is just as effective as face-to-face sessions, according to a new research by Stephane Guay, a psychiatry professor at the Universite de Montreal.

"Previous studies have shown that phobia therapy via teleconferencing was just as efficient as face to face contact," says Dr. Guay, who is also director of the Trauma Studies Centre at the Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital's Fernand-Seguin Research Centre. "We wanted to see if the process could also be used for post-traumatic stress treatment."

Until recently, telemedicine was limited to doctors using the technology to communicate with peers who would weigh-in on x-rays results or supervise a surgery. With teletherapy, patients could theoretically consult experts from the other side of the globe.

As part of this study, 17 post-traumatic stress victims from the Outaouais region underwent 16 to 25 sessions via teleconference with Montreal therapists. A control group consisted of patients receiving face-to-face therapy.

The teletherapy participants, however, still needed to visit a hospital equipped with the necessary equipment and supervised by medical personnel. "It would be ethically indefensible for them to stay home," says Dr. Guay. "Post-traumatic stress therapies require that a patient relive certain traumatic events and should they become uncomfortable it is mandatory that someone be there to intervene."

The teletherapy group and the control group equally benefited from their therapy. "The same number of patients in both groups saw a significant decrease in their post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety symptoms," says Dr. Guay. "In fact, 75 to 80 percent overcame their chronic post-traumatic stress."

Patients were later evaluated and none were affected by distance to their therapist and none expressed discomfort about the technological aspects of the procedure. "In fact, comments were more in favor of tele-therapy," says Dr. Guay. "It seems patients appreciate a certain distance from their therapist."

Teletherapy could be increasingly used to provide access to treatments requiring specialists who are unavailable in remote regions. While Dr. Guay says teletherapy can't be used for all types of rehabilitation, it would lend itself well to the treatment of depression, phobias and eating disorders.

Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins
University of Montreal

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dancing Babies

Babies Are Born To Dance According To New Research

Researchers have discovered that infants respond to the rhythm and tempo of music and find it more engaging than speech.

The findings, based on the study of infants aged between five months and two years old, suggest that babies may be born with a predisposition to move rhythmically in response to music.

The research was conducted by Dr Marcel Zentner, from the University of York's Department of Psychology, and Dr Tuomas Eerola, from the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Music Research at the University of Jyvaskyla.

Dr Zentner said: "Our research suggests that it is the beat rather than other features of the music, such as the melody, that produces the response in infants.

"We also found that the better the children were able to synchronize their movements with the music the more they smiled.

"It remains to be understood why humans have developed this particular predisposition. One possibility is that it was a target of natural selection for music or that it has evolved for some other function that just happens to be relevant for music processing."

Infants listened to a variety of audio stimuli including classical music, rhythmic beats and speech. Their spontaneous movements were recorded by video and 3D motion-capture technology and compared across the different stimuli.

Professional ballet dancers were also used to analyse the extent to which the babies matched their movement to the music.

The findings are published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Man Who Tastes Shapes

The Man Who Tastes Shapes

By: Keith Varnum

Some people see, taste, hear and feel things the rest of us don' t. James Wannerton tastes words: "New York is runny eggs. London is extremely lumpy mashed potatoes." Carol Steen sees every letter with a color: "Z is the color of beer, a light ale."
For Carol Crane, music is felt: "I always feel guitars on my ankles and violins on my face." Other people experience smells when exposed to shapes, or hear sounds inside taste. And for some, numbers have color, sounds have smell, and words have flavor. Music is not only heard, it's seen and tasted--the list goes on.

Neurologist Richard Cytowic explores this surreal world of " synesthesia" in his book, The Man Who Tasted Shapes. " Synesthesia means joined sensation, and some people are born with two or more of their senses hooked together," explains Cytowic.
The most common form of synesthesia is when a person see letters in different colors instead of seeing black ink letters as black. Although people differ from each other in what colors the letters are, the colors usually remain the same for each individual throughout their life.

Depending on what food they taste, other synesthetes experience taste as a shape, like a triangle or circle. Another person sees orange when feeling pain.
For New York artist Carol Steen, synesthesia is inspiration. She sees shapes and colors when listening to music or receiving acupuncture-images that she transforms into works of art. "It's like putting on sunglasses and being able to see the world through the sunglasses," she says. Once, when Steen injured her leg while hiking, all she saw was a world bathed in orange.

And, Carol Crane does more than simply hear a concert. She physically experiences each instrument within a different part of her body.

Still another person hears a sound that tastes like pickles. For as long as he can recall, words have triggered the part of Wannerton's brain that responds to tastes and flavors. "I can remember being in a big school assembly hall listening to the Lords Prayer," he says, "and it was while listening to that, I used to get flavor after flavor coming in. It was mostly bacon."

Wannerton says his synesthesia causes him some discomfort in his personal life. "I've had girlfriends with names I couldn't stand saying. Tracey is a very strong flavored name and it's flaky- pastry. Whenever I was in her company, that's what I thought of constantly." And at the end of the day, he suffers from sensory overload. But still he doesn't want a cure. "I've had it since I can remember, and taking it away--I wouldn't like the thought of that," he says.
What's going on inside the synesthete's brain?

Dr. Vilyanur Ramachandran, a neurologist who studies quirks of the brain, was scanning the brain of McAllister, a man who sees music. During the imaging, the music being played stimulates not only McAllister's audio cortex, but also his visual cortex. "The visual area lit up in him," says Ramachandran, "so you know there was neurological activity in the visual region of his brain even though he was only listening to music." McAllister describes it as a "Fantasia-like experience: explosions of color all over the place. A bright flash of lavender getting dimmer and dimmer; now we're going over a pink staircase, some lavender violins. It looks very beautiful."

This is all the more surprising since McAllister is blind! He lost his sight when he was 12, the result of a degenerative eye disease. But he never lost his synesthesia.
Are we all born with joined sensation?

Though scientists can prove synesthesia exists physiologically, they still don't know what causes it. Some researchers think cross-wiring in the brain produces the phenomenon. Another theory is that everyone is born with synesthesia-that we, as infants, experience the world as a jumble of interwoven sensations. Then, as most of us mature, our physical senses slowly become distinct and sharply defined, like images being brought into focus by a camera lens. With synesthetes this doesn' t happen.

For some, synesthetic perceptions seem to exist outside the body. Carrie Schultz describes how she sees electric guitar riffs in purple swirls that envelop her.
For others, the awareness is internal, in their "mind's eye." When Glenda Larcombe hears a truck backing up--making a beep- beep-beep sound--she sees the beeps as a series of red dots. The mingling of senses is often difficult for synesthetes to describe. Larcombe, for instance, said the red dots she sees when she hears beeping are not part of her actual vision. "It's not like I would see a red dot right in front of me-it's in my mind's eye" she says in an interview. She also reports feeling her interviewer's voice, "like a wave, like water, with yellow and orange."
Ex-journalist, Page Getz says "God is blue." She describes headache pain as a kind of greenish-orange, music by the rock group Nirvana as having the taste or sensation of Dr Pepper, and the color after sex as static silver. She quit her job as a journalist because her editors' word changes often disrupted what she saw as a sentence's natural chromatic progression.

Everyone's got blended senses to a degree Psychologist Carol Mills says this sensory-blending ability might be a normal part of all adult brains. "It may go on in all of us even if we don't have synesthesia," said Mills. "For example, if I give you a very high-pitched note and a series of colors and ask you to match one, you are going to pick a light color. If I give you a low bass note, you are probably going to pick a dark color. The difference is when a synesthete hears a low note, they see dark. When they hear a high note, they see a light color."

No firm figures exist for how common synesthesia is. The best estimates range from 1 in 200 to 1 in 20,000.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Are We Teaching Attention Skills?

Are we teaching attention skills?
By Jessica Garrett, PhD

We know the human brain is capable of remarkable plasticity. New research suggests that the brain continues developing into adulthood. One of the last regions of the brain to develop is the pre-frontal cortex.

Recent research also suggests that ADD and ADHD have a basis in the brain. In particular the pre-frontal cortex and the motor cortex seem slower to mature in the brains of people with ADHD. Diet, exercise, and a lot of stimulant drugs are used to cope with the symptoms of ADD & ADHD. Stimulants in particular can be a god-send to people and families coping with ADD/ADHD. But are these drugs used in concert with learning SKILLS and STRATEGIES for focusing attention and other executive functioning skills.

Let's back up a step. Executive functioning is the name we give to all the "parenting" tasks accomplished by the brain -- specifically the pre-frontal cortex. This includes planning, thinking flexibly, thinking abstractly, acquiring rules, initiating appropriate actions and inhibiting inappropriate actions, and selecting relevant sensory information. I think of the pre-frontal cortex as the most "adult" portion of the brain, not only because it doesn't complete it's development until well into young-adulthood, but also because these tasks of executive functioning seem particularly "adult."

These executive functioning tasks are some of the tasks that kids with ADD/ADHD have most difficulty with. But here's the thing: all kids have trouble with these things until they LEARN HOW TO DO THEM. What three year old can think abstractly? Not a one. What 8 year old doesn't occasionally behave inappropriately (can I get a fart joke?)? These are things we teach kids as their brains develop. It's a back-and-forth between the development of the brain's capabilities and the demands of the environment. If we never work those attentional muscles, they will not develop. This isn't to say that we should expect any kid to be able to, for example, plan an elaborate project without any support. But it does mean that we should help them break the task into manageable pieces and support them until they can do it themselves. In the words of the great educational psychologist, we should scaffold their thinking (okay...those aren't exactly Vygotsky's words. He was Russian, after all. But that's the gist). We should treat them as cognitive apprentices (Vygotsky, again) or thinkers-in-training. That's for all kids, including, maybe especially, those with ADD/ADHD.

If we reconceptualized the deficits of ADD/ADHD as areas that needed more training (planners-in-training? concentrators-in-training?), would we change how we treated the condition? I think we would.
In fact, I suspect that by allowing our executive-functioners-in-training to rely too strongly on drugs to alleviate the symptoms of their problem, we're denying them the opportunity to develop those skills that will allow them to be adult thinkers -- successful executives of their brain.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010


There is a site that I think is worth checking out for all Psych students as well as non Psych students. It's called PsyBlog at This site contains very informative and smart articles on just about anything related to psychology and behavior and written in clear simple language. You can get free email updates and recently PsyBlog has added itself to Facebook. Give it a look and I think you'll find it entertaining as well as informative.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mid Life Crisis: An Outdated Myth

Mid-life Crisis: An Outdated Myth?
by Clara Moskowitz

The stereotype that many middle-aged people get depressed and must perk up their lives with sports cars and affairs may be an outdated myth, scientists say. In fact, these days many people often feel more fulfilled in their middle and later years, data shows.
The term "mid-life crisis" was coined 40 years ago by psychologist Elliot Jacques, who reasoned that people's quality of life generally declines after age 35 (at the time, the average lifespan was about 70 years). Jacques suggested that some extreme reactions to looming mortality were to be expected at around this time of life.
But psychologist Carlo Strenger of Israel's Tel Aviv University says that's no longer true, and that studies show mid-life can be one of the happiest periods of people's lives.
"At this point we have surveys of around 1,500 [middle-aged] people," Strenger told LiveScience. "Most of them actually say that they are better off and happier and more balanced than they were when they were 20 years younger. It's quite surprising."
Though the research has so far been confined to Western cultures, Strenger thinks the same trends, as well as similar stereotypes, may apply to other cultures.Strenger says that common notions of what mid-life is supposed to be like are stuck in the past, when life-expectancy was lower, people's health, especially in later years, was much worse, and there was less emphasis on education and self-awareness. "People are so used to thinking of mid-life as basically a period of loss that it often does become a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said. 'But some people, you really see that they begin to blossom, they begin to be more fruitful. They do things on a larger scale." Nowadays, when people are in their 40s and 50s, they have matured, learned to take some of life's hiccups in stride, learned more about themselves and the world around them, and so are uniquely poised to take advantage of the next phase of their lives.
"When you are 50, statistically you have as many adult years ahead of you as you have behind you," Strenger said. "It really takes time to internalize what that really means. It would mean that this whole lifetime that you have behind you, you have ahead of you, and the question is what you want to do with it."
In fact, this may be the time for many people to finally tackle projects or dreams that they've been putting off. They might have a better chance of succeeding because their choices will be based on knowledge and experience, rather than youthful blind ambition.
"Give yourself the chance to truly reassess your choices and to see how you can now use your self-knowledge and live a much more meaningful life than you've lived before. Mid-life can be the moment where you can truly realize your dreams because you know yourself much better."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Night Journey

I pause in the night
And listen to the sounds
That call me to take a journey.

The heartbeat that moves the earth
Is the same that fills my body
With the resonance of a deep drum,
Beating and beating.

My breathing takes on the rhythm
Of a song that moves me closer to my destination
Through time and space and yet to travel so far and not move
Defies my own beliefs and confirms them at the same time.

Like the child who plays in a world of make believe,
I venture into a place where I can create, destroy and change,
But above all observe.

It feels like spirits gently guide me
And I am given the opportunity to experience
Each breath like it was my first. Maybe on some level it is.

With my wife at my side I reach for her hand
In silence and I invite her to join me.
Immediately the mysterious becomes the obvious as we both sit
Underneath a darkened sky,

Basking underneath the stars.
I close my eyes and smile with contentment
Of this moment, this place, this life.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Researchers Identify Universal Emotions

Here's a piece of research that might leave you tickled: laughter is a universal language, according to new research. The study, conducted with people from Britain and Namibia, suggests that basic emotions such as amusement, anger, fear and sadness are shared by all humans.

Everybody shares the vast majority of their genetic makeup with each other, meaning that most of our physical characteristics are similar. We all share other attributes, too, such as having complex systems of communication to convey our thoughts, feelings and the intentions of those around us, and we are all able to express a wide range of emotions through language, sounds, facial expressions and posture. However, the way that we communicate is not always the same - for example, people from different cultures may not understand the same words and phrases or body language.

In an attempt to find out if certain emotions are universal, researchers led by Professor Sophie Scott from UCL (University College London) have studied whether the sounds associated with emotions such as happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust and surprise are shared amongst different cultures. The results of their study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, Economic and Social Research Council, University of London Central Research Fund and UCL, are published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They provide further evidence that such emotions form a set of basic, evolved functions that are shared by all humans.

Dr Disa Sauter, studied people from Britain and from the Himba, a group of over 20,000 people living in small settlements in northern Namibia as part of her PhD research at UCL. In the very remote settlements, where the data for the present study were collected, the individuals live completely traditional lives, with no electricity, running water, formal education, or any contact with people from other groups.

Participants in the study listened to a short story based around a particular emotion, for example, how a person is very sad because a relative of theirs had died recently. At the end of the story they heard two sounds - such as crying and of laughter - and were asked to identify which of the two sounds reflected the emotion being expressed in the story. The British group heard sounds from the Himba and vice versa.

"People from both groups seemed to find the basic emotions - anger, fear, disgust, amusement, sadness and surprise - the most easily recognizable," says Professor Scott, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow. "This suggests that these emotions - and their vocalizations - are similar across all human cultures."

The findings support previous research which showed that facial expressions of these basic emotions are recognized across a wide range of cultures. Despite the considerable variation in human facial musculature, the facial muscles that are essential to produce the basic emotions are constant across individuals, suggesting that specific facial muscle structures have likely evolved to allow individuals to produce universally recognizable emotional expressions.

One positive sound was particularly well recognized by both groups of participants: laughter. Listeners from both cultures agreed that laughter signified amusement, exemplified as the feeling of being tickled.

"Tickling makes everyone laugh - and not just humans," says Dr Disa Sauter, who tested the Himba and English participants. "We see this happen in other primates such as chimpanzees, as well as other mammals. This suggests that laughter has deep evolutionary roots, possibly originating as part of playful communication between young infants and mothers.

"Our study supports the idea that laughter is universally associated with being tickled and reflects the feeling of enjoyment of physical play."

Previous studies have shown that smiling is universally recognized as a signal of happiness, raising the possibility that laughter is the auditory equivalent of smiles, both communicating a state of enjoyment. However, explains Professor Scott, it is possible that laughter and smiles are in fact quite different types of signals, with smiles functioning as a signal of generally positive social intent, whereas laughter may be a more specific emotional signal, originating in play.

Not all positive sounds were easily recognizable to both cultures, however. Some, such as the sound of pleasure or achievement appear not to be shared across cultures, but are instead specific to a particular group or region. The researchers believe this may be due to the function of positive emotions, which facilitate social cohesion between group members. Such bonding behaviour may be restricted to in-group members with whom social connections are built and maintained. However, it may not be desirable to share such signals with individuals who are not members of one's own cultural group.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lessons from Geese

As each goose flaps its wings it creates uplift for the birds that follow. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.
If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.
It pays to take turns doing the hard work tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.

The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement (to stand by ones heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.

When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.
If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Humor in the Mist of Crisis

For almost 27 years I worked as a therapist, working with children, families and couples. During this time I have heard many stories from people involving disappointment, pain, depression, anger, etc. but the universe has a sense of humor and often presented itself during my sessions with my clients. For example, one evening I was meeting with a family that was being torn apart by the 14 year old daughter’s behavior which consisted of stealing, some drug abuse, and failing school grades. The parents, especially the father wanted the daughter to be sent to a boarding school and the mother as well as the daughter expressed anger and defiance to the father. During the peak of this heated session, the power in the building went off and all the lights went black. The room we were in was small and had no window so both the parents and the daughter got up to trying to find the door when they all ended up bumping in to each other and eventually just hung on to each other, at that moment the lights came back on and this family had their arms around each other for a moment just stared at each other and then started laughing. I just remained seated and allowed them that moment. The energy in that room changed instantly and when the family sat back down the father spoke about his love and concern for his daughter and as he spoke the daughter reach her arm out to him and touch him as he spoke. If the lights had not gone out there would have been a very chance this young girl would have either be sent to a boarding school or worst, continued her defiant behaviors and continued to be self destructive. But thanks to a failed breaker circuit, a father and daughter found each other again in the darkness and I’m happy to say continued to have a healthy father daughter relationship there after.

Some of the most profound insights about ourselves and others comes from humor. It as if we allow those defenses such as anger, fear, disappointment, or envy is released by the power of laughter. I have seen so many changes in people who allowed themselves to see the humor in their lives. We take so many things seriously, we worry, become obsessed, even neurotic at times over things that usually could be resolved if we just take the time to stop, breath and think it through. We are emotional creatures trapped in our own constraints of anxiety and worry, yet we have the capacity to laugh and see humor in ourselves. Erica Long once said, "Humor is one of the most serious tools we have for dealing with impossible situations." Humor allows us to keep things in perspective. When we immerse ourselves in a crisis, we are unable to differentiate the feelings about the crisis from the internal feelings of personal identity.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

10 Interesting and Revealing Facts About Freud

Sigmund Freud is one of the most famous thinkers in psychology history. While many of his ideas and theories are not widely accepted by modern psychologists, he played a major role in the development of psychology. Learn more about him in these ten interesting and revealing facts about his life.

1. Sigmund Freud Was the Oldest of Eight Children

Freud was born as Sigismund Schlomo Freud on May 6, 1856. His father Joseph was a 41-year-old wool merchant who already had two children from a previous marriage. Freud's mother, Amalia, was twenty years younger than her husband. The failure of his father's business forced the Freud family to move from their home in Freiberg, Moravia to Vienna.
Freud has seven siblings, yet he often described himself as his mother's special favorite - her "golden Siggie." I have found that people who know that they are preferred or favored by their mothers give evidence in their lives of a peculiar self-reliance and an unshakable optimism which often bring actual success to their possessors," Freud once suggested (Grubin, 2002).

2. Sigmund Freud Was the Founder of Psychoanalysis

It isn't often that a single school of thought can be attributed to a single individual. In Freud's case, his theories served as the foundation for a school of psychology that would quickly rise to become a dominant force during the early year's of the science of the mind and behavior. The 1899 publication of his book The Interpretation of Dreams3 established the basic groundwork for the theories and ideas that formed psychoanalysis4. By 1902, Freud was hosting a weekly discussions at his home in Vienna. These informal meetings would eventually grow to become the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.

3. Freud Was Initially an Advocate and User of Cocaine

Before the harmful effects were discovered, cocaine was often used as an analgesic and euphoric. It was even used in common household products, including soda pop and throat lozenges. Freud developed an interest in the potential antidepressant effects of cocaine and initially advocated its use for a variety of purposes. After the addictive and harmful side effects of cocaine became known, Freud's medical reputation suffered somewhat as a result.

4. Sigmund Freud Developed the Use of "Talk Therapy"

While many of Freud's theories are criticized or rejected outright by today's psychotherapists, many of them still utilize the famous psychoanalyst's methods to a certain extent. Talk therapy has become an important part of many different therapeutic techniques. Using talk therapy, the therapy provider looks for patterns or significant events that may play a role in the client’s current difficulties. Psychoanalysts believe that childhood events and unconscious feelings, thoughts and motivations play a role in mental illness and maladaptive behaviors.

5. Freud's Daughter, Anna, Was Also a Famous and Influential Psychologist

Anna Freud8 began her career influenced by her father's theories. Far from living in her father's shadow, Anna Freud made important contributions of her own to psychology. She founded child psychoanalysis and summarized the ego's defense mechanisms9 in her book The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense (1936).

6. Freud Became a Doctor In Order to Marry the Woman He Loved

When Freud was 26, he fell madly in love with a 21-year-old woman names Martha Bernays and they became engaged two months later. As a poor student still living with his parents,Freud's science lab job did not pay enough to support a family. "My sweet girl, it only pains me to think I should be so powerless to prove my love for you," Freud wrote to Martha.
Six months after they met, Freud gave up his scientific career and become a doctor. He spent three years training at the Vienna General Hospital and was rarely able to see his fiance who had moved to Germany. After four years of waiting, Freud and Bernays were married on September 14, 1886. The two went on to have six children.

7. Freud Probably Never Really Said "Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar"

While the famous quote is often repeated and attributed to Freud, there is no evidence that he ever actually said it. Freud was a lifelong cigar smoker, smoking up to twenty a day according to his biographer Ernst Jones. As the story goes, someone once asked Freud what the cigar he so often smoked symbolized. The response is meant to suggest that even the famous psychoanalyst believed that not everything held an underlying, symbolic meaning. In reality, the quote is most likely the invention of a journalist that was later mistakenly identified as a quote by Freud.

8. Sigmund Freud Visited the United States Only Once in His Life

In 1909, American psychologist G. Stanley Hall14 invited Sigmund Freud to talk about psychoanalysis at Clark University. While he initially declined the offer, Freud was eventually persuaded by Hall's persistence. Freud traveled to America15 with his colleagues Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi.
After meeting up with A.A. Brill and Ernst Jones, the group spent several days sightseeing in New York before traveling to Clark University where Freud delivered a series of five lectures on the history and rise of psychoanalysis. "As I stepped onto the platform," Freud described, "it seemed like the realization of some incredible daydream: Psychoanalysis was no longer a product of delusion--it had become a valuable part of reality" (Wallace, 1975).

9. Sigmund Freud Was Forced to Leave Vienna by the Nazis

His books were burned along with those by other famous thinkers. "What progress we are making," Freud told a friend. "In the Middle Ages they would have burnt me; nowadays they are content with burning my books." Freud and his daughter Anna were both interrogated by the Gestapo before his friend Marie Bonaparte was able to secure their passage to England. Bonaparte also tried to rescue Freud's four younger sisters, but was unable to do so. All four women later died in Nazi concentration camps.

10. Sigmund Freud Had More Than 30 Surgeries to Treat Mouth Cancer

Freud had been a heavy cigar smoker all his life. In 1939, after his cancer had been deemed inoperable, Freud asked his doctor to help him commit suicide. The doctor administered three separate doses of morphine and Freud died September 23, 1939.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Play It First

Miles Davis once said, “I’ll play it first and tell you what it is latter”. Although he was speaking about his music, he was in a sense reminding us about how to live. So many of us look at our lives as set of planned events, we write our menus for the day and quietly live our lives in quiet predictability. We find either disappointment or frustration when the day doesn’t occur the way we planned it. We carry our daily planners or smart phones around with us, feeling secure knowing that we will be reminded where to go and what to do. I will admit that I too carry a Blackberry and check my email and messages feeling assured that I’m able to feel connected, just in case something needs to contact me. Perhaps my sense of importance needs reassurance like the most of us but at the same time I know the need for spontaneity calls me and when I answer, it defines explanation. I guess we can live our lives and create those lists, reminders, and hold ourselves to the promises that we will follow them or create lists and reminders with the understanding that “life happens” and usually things in our lives happen for a reason. Everyday we experience things that we had no idea would occur when we woke up. From the smallest occurrence to a major event that may change us forever. The most predicable thing in our lives is the unpredictability nature of our lives. This is the nature of being human, like children who know all too well, respond to the events around them without trying to control it, becomes their playground. So get up tomorrow morning and try not plan or anticipate your day and tell yourself,

” Today I’ll play it first and tell you what it was latter.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Rules for Being Human

When you were born, you didn't come with an owner's manual; these guidelines make life work better.

1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it's the only thing you are sure to keep for the rest of your life.

2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called "Life on Planet Earth". Every person or incident is the Universal Teacher.

3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of experimentation. "Failures" are as much a part of the process as "success."

4. A lesson is repeated until learned. It is presented to you in various forms until you learn it -- then you can go on to the next lesson.

5. If you don't learn easy lessons, they get harder. External problems are a precise reflection of your internal state. When you clear inner obstructions, your outside world changes. Pain is how the universe gets your attention.

6. You will know you've learned a lesson when your actions change. Wisdom is practice. A little of something is better than a lot of nothing.

7. "There" is no better than "here". When your "there" becomes a "here" you will simply obtain another "there" that again looks better than "here."

8. Others are only mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another unless it reflects something you love or hate in yourself.

9. Your life is up to you. Life provides the canvas; you do the painting. Take charge of your life -- or someone else will.

10. You always get what you want. Your subconscious rightfully determines what energies, experiences, and people you attract -- therefore, the only foolproof way to know what you want is to see what you have. There are no victims, only students.

11. There is no right or wrong, but there are consequences. Moralizing doesn't help. Judgments only hold the patterns in place. Just do your best.

12. Your answers lie inside you. Children need guidance from others; as we mature, we trust our hearts, where the Laws of Spirit are written. You know more than you have heard or read or been told. All you need to do is to look, listen, and trust.

13. You will forget all this.

14. You can remember any time you wish.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Welcome to Psychology

Psychology is the study of the mind, along with such aspects of mind as perception, cognition, emotion, and behavior. In some ways, it has only been around since the late 1800's, when people like Wilhelm Wundt, William James, and Sigmund Freud separated it from its various mother disciplines such as biology, philosophy, and medicine. But in other ways, it has been around as long as human beings have been discussing human beings. I suspect that cavemen and cavewomen probably sat around the fire talking about the same things we do: How come their kids are weird, why can't men and women get along better, what's with those folks from the next valley, how come old Zook hasn't been the same since that rock hit him, and what do dreams really mean.
Today, psychology strives to be a science. Science is the effort to study a subject with an explicit promise to think as logically and stick to the empirical facts as tightly as is humanly possible. Other sciences -- chemistry, physics, biology, and so on -- have had great success this way. Our cave-person ancestors would be astounded at our understanding of the world around us! But the subject matter of psychology (and the other human sciences) is harder to pin down. We human beings are not as cooperative as some green goo in a test tube! It is a nearly impossible situation: To study the very thing that studies, to research the researcher, to psychoanalyze the psychoanalyst.
So, as you will see, we still have a long way to go in psychology. We have a large collection of theories about this part of being human or that part; we have a lot of experiments and other studies about one particular detail of life or another; we have many therapeutic techniques that sometimes work, and sometimes don't. But there is a steady progress that is easy to see for those of us with, say, a half century of life behind us. We are a bit like medicine in that regard: Don't forget that it wasn't really that long ago when we didn't have vaccines for simple childhood diseases, or anesthesia for operations; heart attacks and cancer were things people simply died of, as opposed to things that many people survive; and mental patients were people we just locked away or lobotomized!
Some day -- sooner rather than later, I think -- we will have the same kinds of understanding of the human mind as we are quickly developing of the human body. The nice thing is, you and I can participate in this process!