PsychNews: Oct. 17 – 23

1. The Persuasive Power of Swearing

    “To see whether swearing can help change attitudes, Scherer and Sagarin (2006) divided 88 participants into three groups to watch one of three slightly different speeches. The only difference between the speeches was that one contained a mild swear word at the start:

    ‘…lowering of tuition is not only a great idea, but damn it, also the most reasonable one for all parties involved.’

    The second speech contained the ‘damn it’ at the end and the third had neither.

    When participants’ attitudes were measured, they were most influenced by the speeches with the mild obscenity included, either at the beginning or the end.”

2. How Porn Can Hijack Your Brain

    “’The addictiveness of Internet pornography is not a metaphor,’ explains psychiatrist Norman Doidge in The Brain That Changes Itself. Porn users are seduced into pornographic training sessions that meet all the conditions required for plastic change of brain maps, namely, rapt attention, reinforcement, and dopamine consolidation of new neural connections.”

3. Women’s Grey Matter Grows After Giving Birth

    “A small study published by the American Psychological Association contradicts the long-held notion that motherhood addles a woman’s brain.

    Neuroscientists from the respected Yale University in the U.S. scanned the brains of 19 new mothers in the weeks after they had given birth.

    The results showed that the amount of grey matter – brain cells that crunch information – had increased by a small but significant amount by the time the women were three to four months into motherhood.”

4. Do Dogs Dream?

    “Many people believe that dogs do dream. Most dog owners have noticed that at various times during their sleep, some dogs may quiver, make leg twitches or may even growl or snap at some sleep-created phantom, giving the impression that they are dreaming about something. At the structural level, the brains of dogs are similar to those of humans. Also, during sleep the brain wave patterns of dogs are similar that of people, and go through the same stages of electrical activity observed in humans, all of which is consistent with the idea that dogs are dreaming.”

5. Hire Happy People!

    “Want your customers to have a better experience? Instead of trying to train your employees to smile, just hire happy people.

    Apparently, you don’t have to be an expert in reading faces to tell the difference between a real smile and a ‘social smile.’ The latter is what facial coding experts call the smile we use when it is socially appropriate to smile but we aren’t really filled with delight. In a social smile, we form a smile with our mouth but far fewer facial muscles are engaged. In his new book About Face, Dan Hill (who actually IS an expert in facial coding) reports:

      ‘Participants watched previously videotaped interactions that, unknown to them, had been staged between a hotel check-in clerk and a would-be guest. The variable was that for some check-in enactments the actress playing the clerk was invited to feel, then project, genuinely positive feelings toward the guest (true smiles). In other cases, the actress was instead told she had to smile (social smiles). Observers of the respective videos find the service performed with a truer smile far more satisfying.’

6. The Power Of Loss

    The Frontal Cortex blog has a fantastic piece on ‘loss aversion’ – the cognitive bias where try to we avoid losses more than we try to obtain gains – and its origin in the Allais Paradox.

    The crucial thing about loss aversion is it is not about just losing things – it’s also about the perception that we might be losing something, regardless of the actual impact on our resources.

    For example, people tend to be less keen to undergo surgery when it is described as having a 20% death rate than when described as having a 80% survival rate, even though both mean exactly the same thing.”

7. How Prozac sent the science of depression in the wrong direction

    “Prozac is one of the most successful drugs of all time. Since its introduction as an antidepressant more than 20 years ago, Prozac has been prescribed to more than 54 million people around the world, and prevented untold amounts of suffering.

    But the success of Prozac hasn’t simply transformed the treatment of depression: it has also transformed the science of depression. For decades, researchers struggled to identify the underlying cause of depression, and patients were forced to endure a series of ineffective treatments. But then came Prozac. Like many other antidepressants, Prozac increases the brain’s supply of serotonin, a neurotransmitter. The drug’s effectiveness inspired an elegant theory, known as the chemical hypothesis: Sadness is simply a lack of chemical happiness. The little blue pills cheer us up because they give the brain what it has been missing.

    There’s only one problem with this theory of depression: it’s almost certainly wrong, or at the very least woefully incomplete. Experiments have since shown that lowering people’s serotonin levels does not make them depressed, nor does it worsen their symptoms if they are already depressed.”

8. See No Shape, Touch No Shape, Hear a Shape? New Way of ‘Seeing’ the World

    “Scientists at The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital — The Neuro, McGill University have discovered that our brains have the ability to determine the shape of an object simply by processing specially-coded sounds, without any visual or tactile input. Not only does this new research tell us about the plasticity of the brain and how it perceives the world around us, it also provides important new possibilities for aiding those who are blind or with impaired vision.

    Shape is an inherent property of objects existing in both vision and touch but not sound. Researchers at The Neuro posed the question ‘can shape be represented by sound artificially?’ ‘The fact that a property of sound such as frequency can be used to convey shape information suggests that as long as the spatial relation is coded in a systematic way, shape can be preserved and made accessible — even if the medium via which space is coded is not spatial in its physical nature,’ says Jung-Kyong Kim, PhD student in Dr. Robert Zatorre’s lab at The Neuro and lead investigator in the study.

    In other words, similar to our ocean-dwelling dolphin cousins who use echolocation to explore their surroundings, our brains can be trained to recognize shapes represented by sound and the hope is that those with impaired vision could be trained to use this as a tool. In the study, blindfolded sighted participants were trained to recognize tactile spatial information using sounds mapped from abstract shapes. Following training, the individuals were able to match auditory input to tactually discerned shapes and showed generalization to new auditory-tactile or sound-touch pairings.”

Reminds me of a video:

Watch the full documentary here.

9. Why Laughter Is Contagious

    “How many times has it happened that when one person starts laughing, it takes no time till everybody else in the group starts rolling too? And now, researchers have found clues behind this common phenomenon and have explained why laughter is so contagious.

    Sophie Scott at University College London measured the brain activity of 20 volunteers in a functional MRI scanner while she played them laughter, squeals of triumph and moans of fear and disgust. She also played a neutral, artificial sound that would have no specific meaning to the subjects. It was found that all the emotive sounds triggered a response in the brain’s premotor cortical, the area that controls the movement of facial muscles.

    Inside the brain scanners, though, the subjects were not actually using these muscles. To Scott, that indicates the brain is wired with “mirror circuits” that prime us to copy another’s behaviour when we recognise their emotions.

    The brain response was more pronounced for the sounds of laughter and triumph than the vocalisations of negative emotions, suggesting that the urge to copy is greatest when we hear another’s delight or amusement.”

10. Being Suicidal: What it feels like to want to kill yourself

    “In considering people’s motivations for killing themselves, it is essential to recognize that most suicides are driven by a flash flood of strong emotions, not rational, philosophical thoughts in which the pros and cons are evaluated critically. And, as I mentioned in last week’s column on the evolutionary biology of suicide, from a psychological science perspective, I don’t think any scholar ever captured the suicidal mind better than Florida State University psychologist Roy Baumeister in his 1990 Psychological Review article , “Suicide as Escape from the Self.” To reiterate, I see Baumeister’s cognitive rubric as the engine of emotions driving deCatanzaro’s biologically adaptive suicidal decision-making. There are certainly more recent theoretical models of suicide than Baumeister’s, but none in my opinion are an improvement. The author gives us a uniquely detailed glimpse into the intolerable and relentlessly egocentric tunnel vision that is experienced by a genuinely suicidal person.”

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