Happy Fourth of July 2020

July 3, 2020

Understand that this title is a wish, not a statement bearing on the reality of the current situation. For HM, this is by far the least happy July 4 he has ever experienced. A large part of this unhappiness is with the Coronavirus pandemic, or more specifically, with the manner in which the President and some of his supporters have responded to this pandemic. He has called it a hoax, a claim he periodically returns to. Very early he said that there was a perfect test for the virus that was readily available. This test was neither perfect nor available.

This pandemic required an intelligent response and intelligent leadership from the country’s chief executive. Neither was forthcoming. Fortunately, there were governors, medical personnel, and scientists who did their best to fill in this vacuum. Governor Cuomo of New York, in particular, turned a nightmare scenario into a manageable state, although the pandemic still exists and is dangerous. It was governors who led the responses, with responsible governors producing manageable solutions. Unfortunately, too many other governors did little and the pandemic spread.

As a nation, the United States has suffered more deaths than any other nation. Two competitors, Russia and Brazil, are managed by autocratic leaders. But as far as HM knows, the United States along with Russia and Brazil are the only countries that have not produced some initial containment of the virus, as the virus is rapidly spreading in certain parts of the United States. Social distancing and the wearing of masks are two practices that should be followed by everyone. But Trump does not wear a mask. And they hold rallies violating the practices of wearing masks and social distancing. Pence claims that the right to assemble is guaranteed in the Constitution. But only morons argue that these assemblies should not include practices that would safeguard the health of the participants.

There are lessons to be learned from this pandemic, and these lessons should not be ignored. The economic health of the country should not depend on rampant materialism led by narcissists. We are running on treadmills, when there is no need. Rather than fearing the loss of jobs from technology, technology should be employed to reduce the work hours and improve the quality of life for all citizens. There should not be a minimum wage; there needs to be a livable wage.

Changes need to be made in our economy so that we do not need to be put on life support systems when there are tragedies that reduce employment. There will likely be a second wave, and perhaps a third wave of this pandemic. People should not be forced to perform dangerous jobs to live under this pandemic. And there is a need to be prepared for future pandemics. There are also likely disruptions from the weather and global warming. We need to care for everyone in our society, and if we do so, we’ll all benefit.

Currently the one shining light on our county is the movement for racial harmony. Unfortunately, this required a video of a police officer murdering a minority for attempting to pass a counterfeit bill. Many other murders committed by law enforcement officers were brought to light. Fortunately, there were many demonstrations and continuing demonstrations for civil rights that had large components of non-colored participants.

This country needs to be drawn together, but Trump is pandering to his base of white supremacists and nazis. Unfortunately, this base seems to consist of a hard 40% of the population. This basis will constitute a serious problem, even if we somehow manage to get Trump out of the White House.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What If…

July 3, 2020

It is interesting to speculate what would have developed if either a variant of Homo Sapiens had evolved or if Homo Sapiens had a different value system, so that other humans were valued more than earthly riches. Rather than exploring for riches they were exploring as anthropologists, but not as anthropologists with the bias that they were superior to the subjects they studied.

So they encountered this native species in the new world that was meaningfully embedded in a symbiotic relationship with nature. They valued this relationship and the natives who had settled this land valued the science and technology of these explorers. They worked together in a symbiotic relationship so that nature was enhanced rather than exploited. What a wonderful world that would be today.

It was realized that there was a very large agricultural potential in these new lands, but that human labor was required. There was a large source of this labor available in Africa. But rather than capturing and enslaving this source of labor it was recruited. Incentives were provided so that people would willingly move to this new land for a better life. And when they arrived here they found that it was indeed a better life.

The damages to our environment are being realized today and there is some concern whether it is too late to cope with these damages. The damages caused by slavery have continued to the present day.

This is an alternative future that could have been realized if we valued humans as humans and we valued humans more than riches and physical wealth.

Given the size of the universe and the possibility of multiple universes, this scenario might have been realized, possibly more than once.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Capital and Ideology — Second Problem

July 2, 2020

The title is identical to the title of a new book by Thomas Piketty. He is to be congratulated for this exhaustive and highly technical analysis. It covers the history of capital and ideology from its earliest stages to the present day. HM found two problems with this book: The first problem was that the role of technology was ignored. This problem was addressed in the preceding post. The second problem is that PIketty chose the wrong dependent variable. That problem is addressed in this post.

Piketty chose gross domestic product, that is the value of goods and services produced. There have been prior healthy memory blog post regarding the problem with gross domestic product. He certainly should be forgiven for this, as GDP is perhaps the best known measure of produced goods. But a better measure has been proposed and developed, Gross National Happiness (GNH). There have been prior HM posts on this topic. Readers would do well to go to the wikipedia and search for Gross National Happiness. You will find that the term “Gross National Happiness” was coined in 1979 during an interview by a British journalist for the Financial Times at Bombay airport when the then king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, said “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product”. View the video when you go there.

It should be immediately apparent that one problem with the GDP regards how equitably it is distributed. And GDP can be supplemented with measures capturing how well it is distributed. But still the measure is of material wealth, when personal happiness is more relevant. This topic was discussed in the HM posts on the discussions between Paul Ekman and the Daili Lama. Communistic and capitalistic societies thought that better production would promote greater personal satisfaction and happiness, but it did not.

Unfortunately, too many people pursue materialistic wealth and pursue it far beyond personal well-being. They use it as a scorecard as to how well they are doing. Donald Trump provides the principal example of this. In addition to himself he uses it to evaluate everyone. It is fortunate that Putin came along to save Trump from his bankruptcies. But Trump, and other narcissists constantly are seeking the approval and admiration of others. They assume greater debt for the purpose of impressing others. They go to college, not to pursue any intellectual interests, but to get their ticket punched to a middle class lifestyle and possibly higher. A previous HM post documented that confident, fulfilled rich people feel no need to impress others and spend for personal security and for pleasures and properties they personally enjoy.

Rather than judging themselves on whether their personal lives are worthwhile and fulfilling, narcissists judge themselves on the basis of the financial value of their properties and the judgment of their peers. So they will take a job with the biggest paycheck, rather than one that pays less, but would be more personally fulfilling.

Citizens need to be polled annually on their personal happiness and fulfillment, and how their personal happiness and fulfillment could be fostered.

During the colonial period, Benjamin Franklin was curious about the following issue. There were Native Americans who moved to live with the colonists, and there were colonists who went to live with the Native Americans. What Franklin was curious about was the finding that these Native Americans who had moved to live with the colonists frequently returned to their native villages. But rarely did the colonists who had moved to live with the Native Americans return.

When HM toured the lands where Native Americans lived in the west, he marveled about the vastness of the land. He also learned how the Native Americans lived in harmony with the environment and lived to foster the well-being of the environment. They were appalled at the way these settlers cared nought for the environment and destroyed nature in their wake.

With the exception of the small number of settlers who moved to the new world for religious reasons, the vast number of settlers to both North and South America came for the purpose of exploiting the land and becoming rich. They held nature in contempt and regarded these Native Americans as ignorant savages. So they were blind to the warning that natural resources are limited and can be polluted, so they need to be regarded with respect.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Capital and Ideology—First Problem

July 1, 2020

The title is identical to the title of a new book by Thomas Piketty. He is to be congratulated for this exhaustive and highly technical analysis. It covers the history of capital and ideology from its earliest stages to the present day. HM found two problems with this book: It chose the wrong dependent variable to assess progress. And it did not do justice to the role of technology. This posts discusses the role of technology.

In reading about past generations it becomes obvious that the lives of many were uncomfortable. HM cannot think of a previous time in which he would have preferred to live. This is true, even if relatively well-off. HM remembers when he was vacationing in Japan and was visiting a palace of one of the Shogun’s. Even though it was a palace, it was a flimsy building and it was obvious that it would have been quite cold in the winter. So HM asked how did the Shogun stay warm during the winter. The answer was with sake and his concubines. At that point HM decided he would prefer to live in his current studio apartment with it’s temperature control and electronics. He also was aware that the lives of these shoguns were at risk most of the time.

HM did his doctoral dissertation during the days of typing. He needed to type his drafts and then send them to a professional typist who would also produce the final version of the dissertation. All this activity was manual. Research needed to be done at libraries with card catalogs needed to access printed versions of material of interest in both books and journals. Data processing was done on mainframe computers. Jobs were submitted and we waited for outputs to see if additional work was required.

When HM became a professional research psychologist all these activities were manual. One would go through many successive versions, each correcting and updating previous versions. This was all manual and slow.

The development of personal computers made it possible for us to do all these activities at our desks. Eventually we could send and share documents electronically. And we could do this across continents.

HM became incensed when he read an article saying that today’s generation was worse off than HM’s baby boomer generation when the costs of inflation were considered. The problem here is the same as the problem with PIketty’s book in equating a monetary measure to define being well-off. HM would much prefer living in the technology of today.

What disturbs HM is the way today’s generation is using technology. With Coursera and other sources, one can get an entire education, both undergraduate and graduate, on-line for free. Of course, there are charges for actually getting degrees. But HM is especially impressed by autodidacts who educate themselves. These are true lovers of knowledge rather than the typical college student who studies primarily to get a middle-class lifestyle.

HM finds it extremely frustrating seeing how the potential of technology is being ignored and abused. Social media are the rage so one can interact with others just for their opinions. Be aware that opinions are like a—holes in that everybody has one. They should be spending time with authoritative sources rather than being preoccupied with “likes” and staying plugged in.

There is a large fear that technology will produce unemployment. This should not be the case. No one should lose jobs due to technology. Jobs should be redefined and the number of hours being worked decreased, so that people can pursue other “growth” pursuits. Everyone should receive a guaranteed level of income.

There should be no problem financing all this provided the pie is cut up fairly. Billionaires have only one life to live. The increase in the quality of life rapidly drops off after so many billion dollars. So there should be progressive taxation on both income and wealth.

There was also an interesting idea in the utopian futuristic novel by psychologist, B.F. Skinner, Walden Two. In Walden Two, the more unpleasant the job, the higher the wage. This provided encouragement to perform unpalatable labor.

The future could be bright, provided wealth is fairly distributed and that obscene wealth does not capture politics and produce authoritarian regimes.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Calls for Racial Justice Gained Steam with Empathy

June 30, 2020

The title of this piece is identical to the title of an article by Jamil Zaki in the Health & Science Section of the 23 June 2020 issue of The Washington Post. The subtitle asks the question, what kept people from supporting these movements before?

A key answer to this question comes from research on the perverse relationship between power and empathy. Empathy is people’s ability to share and understand each other’s experience. Empathy is not a hard-wired trait, but a skill . The right experiences, habits and practices can increase our empathic capacity, the same way we can get stronger by going to the gym. But there is s dark side to this idea: Other experiences can cause our empathy to atrophy, similar to a muscle we don’t use.

Power and privilege can sap our ability to understand others. In a series of studies, psychologist Michael Kraus and his colleagues measured people’s socio-economic status, as well as their ability to decipher emotions in pictures and in-person interactions. People higher in status were less accurate about other people’s feelings. Recent work has replicated these results and also found that high-status individuals make more errors when trying to take other people’s perspective.

Kraus and his colleagues have documented the empathic failures that come with privilege. Higher-status individuals display less interest when talking with strangers and report less concern for the suffering of others. These gaps play out in racial contexts as well. In another study, Kraus found that high-income white Americans overestimate racial economic equality more than black Americans or low -income white Americans.

These findings were bleak enough to make one journalist conclude, “power causes brain damage.” But powerful people are not incapable of empathy and should not be let off the hook from working at it. Like other skills, empathy takes practice, and people practice it when they are motivated to do so. Individuals who are relatively underprivileged realize they need others to succeed whereas people with power often deicide they can go it alone. Consistent with this idea, lower-status individuals pay more attention to faces, people and social cues than those with high status.

People without power often have to understand the perspective of high-power groups, which is the default in media, culture and work. By contrast, high-status individuals don’t have to understand others perspective to survive. This is one way privilege works its way into our minds. Not only are privileged people exempt from material struggles, they can comfortably ignore everyone else’s.

In some cases, powerful individuals have incentives not to understand. Genuinely peering into others’ worlds might force them into ugly realizations that they contribute to and benefit from injustice. To avoid that discomfort, they might turn down their empathy even further. In one series of studies, psychologists reminded members of high-power groups—such as white Americans—of their group’s responsibility for past violence—for instance, against Native Americans. Participants responded by dehumanizing victims to avoid guilt.

This is one irony of power: It expands the change a person could make while narrowing the aperture of whom they truly see. But this is not inevitable. When powerful people choose to empathize, they become more cooperative and more invested in justice. In one particularly relevant series of studies, Emile Bruneau and his colleagues asked members of low-power groups to “perspective give,” sharing their stories, and high-power individuals to perspective, paraphrasing what they’d heard. These dialogues increased connection and positive regard between groups—not by ignoring existing power structures but by reversing them.

In the past few weeks, many people have opened their eyes to suffering they had previously ignored. Much credit for this should go to activists and organizers who have made it harder to look away. Can increase in concern about racial injustice last? Empathy is a powerful psychological spark, but it often extinguishes quickly to support long-term change. As emotional stories leave our collective consciousness, people move on. Suffering continues, but those in power no longer see it.

Rather than depending on empathy to last, another strategy would be to leverage the care and energy of this moment into structural change—for instance, commitments to diversity leadership in education, business, and government. Rather than depending on people in power to listen more intently, change might come when we ensure the people who have previously been kept out of power have more chances to speak and be heard.

There are other posts on the work of Jamil Zaki.
Go to healthymemory.wordpress.com
and enter Zaki into the search block

Stimulating Societal Success

June 29, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

What is known that can assist in dealing with problems such as climate change and energy conservation? One approach might be to address emotional mores.

For liberals, issues such as climate change, recycling, and species conservations are perceived as moral issues. They invoke moral feelings when they’re being considered. Liberals are proud of recycling. They’re compassionate toward the species that will suffer from environmental harm. If we add to this difference the truism that people tend to be more willing to accept short-term costs for a goal when they’re feeling morally involved in an issue, the tendency of liberals to favor environment-friendly police its would make good sense. To them, the cost is worth it, partly because their moral emotions prevent them from primarily focusing on immediate gains.

If this view is correct, it should be possible to alter conservatives’ attitudes toward environmental policies by rousing moral emotions within them and linking these states to a relevant cause. Stanford sociologist Robb Willer along with University of Toronto psychologist Matthew Fenberg examined this possibility. They designed a morality-based pro-environmental message, but rather than couch it in terms of the moral principle of “do no harm”—the way liberal environmentalists typically do—they framed it in terms of research showing that conservatives view purity as much more morally important than do liberals, suggesting that they’re more likely to be grateful for and appreciate things in untarnished conditions. The corresponding environmental message encouraged people to protect natural habitats from “desecration” so that future generations could experience the “uncontaminated purity and value of nature.”

Willer and Feinberg had self-identified conservatives read this purity-framed environmental appeal or a more typical “do no harm” one. The conservatives who’d read the purity vision reported more positive attitudes toward legislation want to protect the environment than did those who read the other version. In fact, the conservatives who read the purity-toned message ended up also reporting a greater belief in global warming even though information on climate change was not included in the original message. We can see here the contagious effect of moral emotions perceptions and decisions about the future.

These data are encouraging, but what about data dealing with actual behavior?
Here is what was accomplished in a study regarding electricity conservation by an electrical company. This utility offered customers $25 to sign up to have blackout device hooked up to their air conditioners. This device automatically set cooling temperatures. The names of people who signed up for this device were made public, so people could check to see whether their neighbors had signed up for the device.

The results were impressive. Participation in the blackout prevention more than tripled, and this new strategy was cost effective for the utility. The researchers calculated that the utility would have had to increase the money they offered people to enroll in the program by $145 each in order to get a similar rate of compliance. A few sheets of paper versus $170 per person to achieve the same positive outcome.

Follow the Danes

June 28, 2020

When looking for a country to follow, perhaps the best candidate is Denmark. The Danes habitually rank near the top of the happiest societies on earth. Denmark also ranks near the top for forward-looking environmental policies. The people of Denmark have developed tax policies that encourage both lower energy use and the development of new, green technologies. Of course, both of these require people to contribute more money in the present in the form of taxes, but offer the potential for greater shared gains in years to come.

The Danes believe that learning empathy and compassion is as essential for future success and happiness as is learning math or literature. It’s view is backed by solid research. Danish schools often incorporate empathy lessons and exercises as part of their regular curriculum. By teaching children how to mentally put themselves in others’ shoes, to work cooperatively, and to support one another when needed, the students enter adulthood with a greater desire and ability to act compassionately.

Another way to use social emotions to foster a society’s long-term success is to frame policies or actions in ways that evoke moral emotions and concerns. To the degree that societal issues of pressing concern can be framed in moral terms, doing so will offer increased persuasive power as long as the people empowered to make choices share the same moral code. Sometimes making an issue seem morally relevant requires tailoring the message to a group’s existing moral tenets.

Is Giving Pleasurable?

June 27, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

To answer the question in the title of this post, one could simply ask people. It is not surprising that such research has provided a positive answer. But one can always ask are people answering in this way because it is perceived as the way to respond.

Researchers have addressed this question by looking deep into the brain using an MRI scanner. Economist William Harbaugh and his colleagues measured people’s brain responses as they engaged in two types of giving: mandatory versus volitional.

At the start of the session, Harbaugh gave each participant $100 while introducing them to a charitable organization focused on helping the hungry. He explained that while in the scanner, they’d see proposed transfers of part of their $100 to the charity’s account. Most times they’d be able to decide if they wanted the transaction to go through—a volitional decision. Other times it would happen automatically, like a mandatory tax. During each transaction the team focused their scans on reward centers in the brain, where increasing activity reflects increasing pleasure. Although the reward centers showed more activity with voluntary than mandatory giving, they registered pleasure with either type. Giving of any kind made people feel happier.

The pleasure giving brings need not be restricted to money. Eudaemonic behaviors—activities whose rewards stem from social connection, empathy, gratitude, and the like—activate the same neurological reward centers in the brain as does any type of pleasurable reward, but unlike activation of these centers due to selfish pleasure seeking, prosocial activation is associated with a greater depression and loneliness over time. Apparently as feelings of gratitude, compassion, and self-affirmation make us moe likely to give to others, than giving itself is experienced as pleasurable, not as effort.
This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

To answer the question in the title of this post, one could simply ask people. It is not surprising that such research has provided a positive answer. But one can always ask are people answering in this way because it is perceived as the way to respond.

Researchers have addressed this question by looking deep into the brain using an MRI scanner. Economist William Harbaugh and his colleagues measured people’s brain responses as they engaged in two types of giving: mandatory versus volitional.

At the start of the session, Harbaugh gave each participant $100 while introducing them to a charitable organization focused on helping the hungry. He explained that while in the scanner, they’d see proposed transfers of part of their $100 to the charity’s account. Most times they’d be able to decide if they wanted the transaction to go through—a volitional decision. Other times it would happen automatically, like a mandatory tax. During each transaction the team focused their scans on reward centers in the brain, where increasing activity reflects increasing pleasure. Although the reward centers showed more activity with voluntary than mandatory giving, they registered pleasure with either type. Giving of any kind made people feel happier.

The pleasure giving brings need not be restricted to money. Eudaemonic behaviors—activities whose rewards stem from social connection, empathy, gratitude, and the like—activate the same neurological reward centers in the brain as does any type of pleasurable reward, but unlike activation of these centers due to selfish pleasure seeking, prosocial activation is associated with a greater depression and loneliness over time. Apparently as feelings of gratitude, compassion, and self-affirmation make us moe likely to give to others, than giving itself is experienced as pleasurable, not as effort.

What Does a Lonely Brain Look Like?

June 26, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

In 2003 a team led by UCLA psychologist Naomi Eisenberger wanted to answer the question raised in the title of this post. They had an MRI scanner and needed to make someone feel lonely inside the scanner. So they adapted a typical playground slight to the virtual world. This game is known as cybermall, involves three “people” who appear on a computer screen: the true participant and two fake others (whom the true participant believes to be real.) Here are the rules of play: when the visual ball gets thrown to someone, that person has to pass it to one of the two other players. Social exclusion happens when two other players on the screen begin to thrown the ball only to each other. Although this might not appear to be a big deal, in experiment after experiment it has been shown to make those who are excluded feel alone and devalued. Only a computer monitor and two buttons are needed to play the game and people can do it alone inside the scanner.

Those who were excluded in the game showed increased activity in brain areas known to respond to physical pain. This means that loneliness feels physically painful. It actually hurts. But pain isn’t its worst effect. Loneliness ravages the mind and body over time in ways science is only now beginning to understand.

For decades Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo has been studying the detrimental effects of isolation, and these effects are alarming. When combined with findings showing the growing prevalence of loneliness, there is the distinct possibility of a looming public health crisis. Persistent loneliness produces double the mortality risk of obesity. It’s equivalent to smoking in terms of increasing the odds of an early death. It impairs immunity and increases inflammation, both of which are linked to maladies such as heart disease and diabetes. The chronic stress that accompanies loneliness also disrupts, elevates blood pressure, and causes depression over time.

DeStono writes “The link between loneliness and depression is so strong that feelings of isolation can cloud people’s mood even when their social lives improve. For example, those who have been lonely for a year but then regain social connections still show deleterious effects. The experience of that earlier loneliness continues to darken their mood and worldview for months. Put simply, loneliness shapes our future. It can even do so by spreading within social networks. Feeling isolated in the moment has been shown to increase people’s expectations that loneliness will continue. These expectations, in turn, tend to distort their views of others’ willingness to accept them, making them turn ever more inward. And as they turn inward, others with whom they might normally interact begin to feel lonely too.”

DeStono argues that individual achievement needs to be balanced with social connection. Using socially oriented emotions provides the answer. While directly helping us to achieve our personal goals, regularly practicing them will reduce our loneliness along the way by strengthening our ties to others, which will itself indirectly also bolster self-control. These emotions offer a double shot when it comes to obtaining success.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma and Tit for Tat

June 25, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

A famous game for studying the risks and benefits associated with cooperation comes from a slight alteration of a famous game known as the prisoner’s dilemma. In the usual version of the game two prisoners must make choices during individual interrogations about whether to keep quiet or sell their partner out. It is focused on how much people can lose depending on whether people act to keep a promise or selfishly break it. The same rules apply, however, if we reframe the game in terms of who wins. Should two people combine their resources by working together to make a product (that is, they cooperate), let’s say each can earn $300 when they sell it. On the other hand, if the partners choose to compete, they’ll earn $100 apiece instead since they’ll now need more individual resources. If one unfairly competes, should he promise to work with his partner, but then stakes out on his own after using joint resources—he can earn $500 and leave the other partner nothing.

If they both choose to compete, they end up worse off than if they both choose to cooperate: $100 each versus $300 each. So the only way to ensure joint success and satisfaction is to accept a smaller, shared gain. If they choose to work in what appears to be their immediate self-interest, they eventually end up with less.

It might seem that the question of whether competition or cooperation is better remains unanswered. Solving this conundrum required adding an additional element to the equation: time. Using self-control to forestall bigger gains and cooperate only makes sense if the smaller gains of competition versus the bigger gains of cooperation over the long run.

Political scientist Robert Axelrod found a clever means of solving this conundrum. He used computer simulations to create “people” and made them play rounds of the prisoner’s dilemma day and night using different strategies: forgive past transgressions, be vengeful, or be trustworthy are just a few of the strategies he tried. He then charted each “person’s” success over hundreds of transactions.

The winning strategy that resulted in the greater accumulation of points was a deceptively simple one: tit for tat (TFT). Although it begins by being cooperative, it quickly adjusts its decision based on another’s reputation. For example, if a potential partner treated another fairly, the second partner would return the favor during the next interaction with the former; it would cooperate. If the first partner acted selfishly, it would follow suit and cheat the next time they met. Although TFT did not emerge victorious in every round, it was the strategy that fared the best on average. Although players acting more selfishly jumped ahead initially, their gains waned over time as others began to shun them. In contrast, players who chose to cooperate when it was wise to do so accumulated the most resources over many, many rounds of the simulation, and ultimately, that’s what drives evolutionary adaptation: a robust solution.
The conclusion is that morality is self-control’s true raison d’être. When gratitude, compassion, or self-affirmation makes us behave nobly, it does so to ensure that we’ll attract others to us —others who will support and work with us to achieve success. By making us value the future, these states also make us willing to work to benefit our own future selves.

Self-affirmation and Perseverance

June 24, 2020

In the very first post in the series of posts on the book Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride HM expressed his misgivings about the term pride. Pride has too many negative connotations, one being that it is the first of the seven deadly sins. It is not the best term. The best term is self-affirmation. It avoids all the negative connotations of pride.

The chapter on pride is titled Pride and Perseverance. It should have been titled self-affirmation and perseverance. A proud person might avoid certain situations because that person might feel that the outcome might hurt his pride. But self-affirmation avoids that situation. Self-affirmation motivates one to confront problems and challenges. Self-affirmation leads to perseverance and it is perseverance that leads to success.

It is wrong to tell anyone that all they need is the will to succeed. Success requires perseverance. It is also important that there are many factors involved in success, and one of those factors is luck. So it is a crime to argue that success is guaranteed.

But there is much research indicating that most all of us can accomplish much more than we think we can, that we have much more potential than we realize. There is much research proving this point. Enter “growth mindsets” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com to read just some of this research. Growth mindsets foster perseverance.

Meditation

June 22, 2020

Meditation provides the best means of fostering compassion and other desirable states. Destono devotes much attention to meditation and its importance. But it does not appear that Destono meditates himself. Fortunately, HM does meditate and will provide information on how he meditates.

For some time, HM practiced getting in the recommended postures for meditation and tried to meditate. All these attempts met in failure because he felt uncomfortable. He could not tolerate this for even a short period of time. So he tried sitting in a chair. Although he could tolerate sitting in a chair, still he was not successful in reaching a meditative state.

HM wondered what are quadriplegics or other people with physical problems supposed to do. Are they precluded from meditating?

HM developed a style of meditation lying down. In doing further research he discovered that the reason for not meditating lying down is that people tend to fall asleep.

But HM does not fall asleep while meditating. The reason is that meditation requires the active focusing of attention, which precludes sleep. If you feel sleepy do not meditate. You need to realize that you need to be alert to meditate.

HM begins by doing the relaxation response. The relaxation response lowers blood pressure, and has other beneficial health and psychological effects.

Here are some suggestions as to how to start. This from the website of the Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine.

Elicitation of the relaxation response has the following essential steps:

Repitition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or muscular activity.
Passive disregard of everyday thought that inevitably comes to mind and then return to your repetition.

Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system, such as “one,” “peace,” “The lord is my shepherd,” “Hail Mary full of grace,” or “shalom.”
Close your eyes.
Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves,thighs, abdomen. shoulders, head, and neck.
Breath slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale.

Our minds are constantly busy. There is almost always something running through them. The goal here is to shut down this mind traffic and focus only on your breath and focus word, sound, or phrase. This can be frustrating because undesired words and thoughts will keep occurring. Becoming frustrated is a common response, but frustration precludes the relaxation response. One must gently brush these unwanted thoughts aside and continue quieting your mind with your breath and phrase. When successful you should experience a remarkable sense of peace. This is quite pleasurable, so continue for at least ten minutes (but don’t look at a watch or clock) or as long as you want.

For busy working people, it is difficult to do more, and this small amount of time meditating daily enhances both your mental and physical health.

There are many posts on this topic that can be foundry entering “relaxation response” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com

You should also go to http://www.relaxationresponse.org

After HM retired he added loving kindness meditation. He did this for one reason. This particular form of meditation produced remarkable responses from the brain when done by expert meditators. It also builds vagal tone. He begins with the relaxation response and when he feels it is time he transitions to loving kindness meditation. HIs total time meditating is about an hour.

You can find posts on the topic by using the search term at healthymemory.wordpress.com

or you can search for this topic at duckduckgo.com

Compassion

June 21, 2020

This post is based on content from David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride. Compassion, like the other components of the toolbox is their ability to make us willing to sacrifice to aid others can be coopted to help our future selves.

Berkeley psychologists Breines and Chen recruited more than one hundred students for a study on standardized test performance and sat them down to complete two sets of problems taken from the verbal portion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). After the students completed the first set, Beines and Chen handed out an answer key and allowed participants to score their own exam. As the problems were especially difficult, the average score was 40%. Nobody was pleased with their result; everybody wanted to do better in the next round. Brains and Chen then offered study materials to the students so that any who wished could use them to improve their performance on the second set of GRE problems.

At this point, before any studying could begin, compassion came into play. One-third of the students received a message that it was common for people to have difficulty with tests like the one they had just taken, and thus they shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. They should treat themselves with compassion, not criticism, in response to their test performance. Another third were told that they shouldn’t feel badly about themselves because they were actually intelligent, as proven by their having gotten in to Berkeley. The final third was told nothing at all.

Students who were encouraged to treat their initial sub performance with understanding and forgiveness subsequently increased the time they spent studying by 30%, compared with students in the other two groups. And the additional time spent studying was a strong predictor of performance on the next exam. It wasn’t the case that the self-compassion led students to believe that they would perform better; their predictions for success on the second exam weren’t any higher that those of students in the other groups. Rather, feelings of compassion made them more willing to accept the costs of studying in the moment in the hopes that their future rewards would be worth it.

Compassion has similar effects on procrastination. A study involving more than two hundred college students revealed a strong link between compassion toward oneself and progress toward academic goals. Students who typically had lower levels of self-compassion procrastinated more and, as expected, had poorer academic outcomes.

Self compassion among athletes also can be seen in increased perseverance. Those who more regularly report forgiving and empathizing with themselves for failures, as opposed to criticizing themselves, show great initiative when it comes to future practice. A similar trend holds even among non-athletes; those who tend to treat themselves with compassion typically show a greater motivation for exercise. This relationship holds when it comes to most any healthy behavior. For example, smokers who report higher levels of self-compassion succeed more often when trying to quit. Whether we consciously realize it or not, compassion nudges us toward many types of decisions and behaviors that help us in the future.

The vagus nerve is extremely important as any state that enhances its activity—or vagal tone, as it’s usually termed—should guard against stress. Research conducted by University of Toronto psychologist Jennifer Stellar on compassion shows that there is a strong link between compassion and vagal tone. When she induced people to feel compassion by exposing them to others who needed help, the amount of compassion they felt was directly tied to vagal activity: those who felt more compassion showed elevated vagal tone.

This link between compassion and vagal tone suggests that people who regularly cultivate this emotion should experience some resilience in the face of stress. Research at the University of North Carolina by psychologist Karen Bluth found that a tendency toward self-compassion strongly predicted both a lowered stress response and a stronger sense of well-being.

Author DeStono provides the following two strategies for cultivating self-compassion: One centers on getting clear-eyed about your own habitual style of self-talk. When you reflect on past failures write down what you’re thinking, or even better, verbalize and record your internal dialogue. This real-time record is much less vulnerable to subsequent interpretative biases. As such, it will offer important insight into whether and how you feel self-compassion.

The other, related tactic, is to set aside a time once a week or so to reflect on past failure where the effort to succeed was high, and then to forgive it. Choosing to condemn such failures—if that’s what the first exercise reveals to be a typical response—will only foster shame and anxiety about future ones—two emotions that will themselves continually chip away at self-control. Using these strategies to uncover your own style and then, if needed, to cultivate self-compassion to change it will do just the opposite. Training our minds to make self-compassion the default response will not only increase self-control and grit growing forward, it will also help make our bodies resilient in the face of stress.

Gratitude Does a Body Good

June 20, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section of a book by David DeStono titled How Gratitude Can Help Us Help Ourselves. The author writes, “given gratitude’s ties to self-control, it should come as no surprise that it can benefit your health as well as your work and your wallet. This is because many health-related decisions are inter— temporal in nature. Smoking may be very enjoyable in the here and now, but there’s no doubt where it leads. The same with eating junk food or watching television instead of exercising.”

Feeling grateful can give our minds the boost it needs to resist temptations than can harm our health. Increased gratitude is associated with less use of alcohol and tobacco. It also helps motivate us to eat well and exercise to improve our health. The author writes that perhaps the biggest benefit of gratitude in the health domain is its effortlessness. Traditional routes to self-control can be quite taxing on our body as well as on our mind. Even when these traditional routes work, they cause stress. Gratitude heals and supports the body and mind while simultaneously helping us make healthier decisions.

Researchers also have found evidence linking elevated gratitude to higher levels of good (HDL) cholesterol and lower levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol, which likely result from a combination of lifestyle choices in exercise and diet. Even inflammatory biomarkers, another important indicator of disease progression, are associated with gratefulness. The more regularly people feel grateful, the less inflammation they show, pointing to this emotion’s buffering effect against stress.

These health benefits of gratitude also extend to the mind. People who feel grateful more frequently showed decreased anxiety and depression as well as increased optimism. These benefits all likely explain gratitude’s positive effect on sleep. Mendes’ work along with that of others confirms that more feelings of gratitude during the day lead to a more calm and blissful sleep at night for the grateful person and for his partner; better sleep for one means less restlessness to disturb the other.

Robert Emmons, a psychologist at the University of California at Davis and his research team followed two hundred participants over nine weeks to see whether encouraging people to feel more grateful in their daily lives would benefit their health and outlook. Every few days he asked half the people in his experiment to write down and reflect upon recent incidents for which they were grateful. These did not need to be major life events; they could be kindnesses as small as someone stopping to give you directions or a driver letting you get in front of her. He asked the other half to write down a few recent events in their lives of any type. The consequence was that there now were two groups of people who were reflecting on their lives but only one that was specifically counting their blessings.

After nine weeks it was clear that those who’d begun to cultivate more gratitude in their lives benefited from it. They not only exercised more—something that clearly requires self-control for most of us—but also reported better health measures as fewer symptoms of illness (runny nose, upset stomach, sore throat) and the general feeling of well-being. Here again gratitude’s dual nature can be seen in its heightening of perseverance in health-related behaviors and its lowering of stress.

How Gratitude Can Help Us Help Ourselves

June 19, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

The immediately previous post showed how gratitude can build self-control when giving to others. In helping others we also help ourselves down the line. It is equally true that gratitude can help us help ourselves by directly helping our own future selves. Gratitude functions like a constant nudge to value the possibilities the future holds.

The author cites Mischel’s classical study where children who managed not eating a marshmallow immediately received a bonus marshmallow later. What makes this study interesting is the future research that showed that these children were more successful in education and in their future lives.

To see if gratitude might increase patience researchers conducted a study in which participants needed to decide whether to accept $17 immediately and forgo $100 a year later. There were two types of people in this experiment: happy and grateful. To identify these two groups they had their subjects reflect on events from their lives that made them feel grateful or laugh out loud (happy) right before they indicated their financial preferences.

The results were interesting. Whereas people who were feeling rather neutral showed the usual impatience, those feeling grateful were significantly more future-oriented. It took $31 to tempt them to forgo the future $100 reward compared with the $17 neutral ones were willing to accept. Those feeling happy showed a level of impatience indistinguishable from that of neutral people. They’d take the pleasure $18 could buy them now rather than wait a year for $100. Prof DeStono notes that this finding reveals the importance of distinguishing between the effects of specific emotions when it comes to self-control. Merely feeling good didn’t make people more patient. Neither did inducing any old emotions that distract them from their desires. It was something specific to the class of emotions to which gratitude belongs—the one focused on building and interpersonal bonds.

So if cultivating gratitude enhances self-control in our lives, it is important to see whether it provides a constant buffer agains the temptation for immediate gratification in day-to-day experiences.

For example, consider high school students. Those who are regularly more grateful should have better social lives, better GPAs, and better spending habits, as saving money, getting grades, and forging strong relationships all arise from patience and sacrifice that stand to benefit us in the years ahead.

Jeffrey Froh, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley attempted to study these factors to see why some students at a large high school on Long Island were doing better than others. He surveyed more than one thousand students, collecting data on their GPAs, levels of gratitude, depression, materialism, life satisfaction, focus, and social integration. What he found is exactly what you’d expect if gratitude supported self-control. On the social side, gratitude was a strong predictor of teens’ social bonds and their life satisfaction. Those who regularly experience more gratitude had higher-quality relationships, great joy in spending time with friends and family, and felt more supported by their communities. They also felt less depressed and envious of others.

As for academic success being more grateful in daily life was associated not only with higher grades, but also with more frequent experiences of enjoyment in the pursuit of academic goals.

DeStono writes, “The more a future goal is valued, the more we typically enjoy working toward it. We don’t feel the urge to pull away, as our mental calculations continue to suggest that the short-term sacrifices are worth it. As a result we may not even feel that the effort needed to persevere toward a goal is a sacrifice at all.

Gratitude

June 18, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled How Gratitude Can Help Us Help Ourselves.

At a psychological level, gratitude isn’t about the past; it’s about the future. It pushes people to work in the moment to benefit what is to come. It’s an extremely active state, not a passive one. It influences decisions about what to do next.

Here is the difference between feeling grateful and feeling indebted. Damn, now I have to get you something. Sometimes receiving a gift or a favor makes your heart swell with gratitude; other times it can lead to an annoying sense of responsibility. How you value the gift or favor is the deciding factor. What unifies experiences of gratitude is the receipt of something one desires that comes at a cost to someone else.

We’re grateful when we feel others have invested in us, which makes us willing to return the favor in the future. Sociologist George Simmer captured it best when he likened gratitude to the moral memory of humankind; it doesn’t let you forget you owe someone something. Whether you’re paying people back for their “investment” in you with money, time, or effort, gratitude nudges you to forestall or divert your own gains in the moment in the service of building or maintaining beneficial relationships for the long term. Dr. DeStono urges us to think of it this way. A failure to show gratitude is often taken as an affront by someone who went out of their way to do something nice for you. And as affronts accrue, relationships die. That’s why even if people don’t truly feel grateful, there is a social norm to fake it: to say “thank you” and appear appreciative. But the real power of gratitude doesn’t come only from its expression; it comes from its shaping of behavior.

If gratitude encourages cooperation through self-control, there is a straightforward prediction. When people feel grateful, they should devote more effort to help someone else, even if that help entails less than pleasant actions. So, how can one research this topic? If you want to know how gratitude affects people, you can’t just ask them. Work by Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson has shown that not only are people poor at accurately predicting what they’ll feel in response to future hypothetical situations, they’re even worse as guessing how those feelings will affect their decisions. So asking someone what they’d do if they felt grateful is a scientific dead end. Examining how an emotion impacts decisions requires getting people to feel that emotion in real time and then seeing what they do when true costs and benefits—time, money—are on the line. But how do you make people feel grateful in the confines of a research lab?

The researchers realized that for people to feel grateful they first had to get stuck with a problem; they had to own it. Only after that when they were feeling the despair, could some elicit gratitude by swooping in to help them out of their predicament.

The researchers brought people into the lab two at a time and sat them down in adjacent cubicles. One of the two was an actual participant, the other a confederate. They were set to work completing a computerized task that was designed specifically to be long and boring. At the end of the task, people were led to believe that their score would appear on the computer monitor for the researcher to record. The only catch was that, unbeknownst to the participants, the computer they were working on was rigged to crash right as it was supposed to be calculating the final score. When it did so, there was an audible groan or expletive that brought the participant’s plight to the researcher’s attention. Here she’d inform the participant that unfortunately he’d have to redo the onerous task in its entirety. This pronouncement usually brought on more groans or expletives.

The participants believed that they were stuck and they were in for another twenty minutes of effortful tedium. The person sitting in the next cubicle was a confederate of the researchers. Her computer didn’t have technical issues and on getting up to leave she stopped, looked at the true participant and said something along the lines of “Yikes! That’s terrible. My computer didn’t crash. I wonder why yours did? Hmm.” She looked at her watch and said, “I do have to run to my campus job, but let’s see if I can help figure this out. I’m pretty good with computers.” Then she’d start playing with the cords and keyboard, during which time she would surreptitiously hit a key to start a countdown for the computer to come back to life. When it did, one could usually see the gratitude on people’s faces. And to back it up, the relieved souls almost always reported feeling a good deal of gratitude when their emotions were subsequently measured.

The grateful participants left the lab and headed to the building exit. But before they got there, they came upon the person who had helped them fix their computer a few minutes before. This confederate, who now appeared to be collecting data for a class project of her own, would ask the approaching participants if they could help her out. She needed people to complete a bunch of psychological tests. If they agreed, she’d sit them down to work in a room, saying the more time they were willing to devote to completing the tedious tests, the more help it would be. When they were done all they had to do was leave their work in a folder.

The researchers compared the amount of time grateful people spent working to help the confederate compared with that spent by people in the control group (who were in a neutral emotional states as they did the same experiment without their computer crashing), there was, not surprisingly, a dramatic difference. Those who felt gratitude made more effort to help their benefactor, they spent 30% more time working on the tests. Moreover gratitude was directly linked to perseverance in a dose-dependent way. It wasn’t simply knowing that someone had previously helped them that led people to work harder. Rather, it was the level of gratitude they felt in response to that a help; as their level of gratitude increased, so did their efforts and time on the task.

Although the researchers were pleased with the results, they still had a nagging worry: it was possible that people helped the confederate not because they were grateful, but simply because they felt they owed her a debt. To check whether it was truly gratitude rather than a sense of indebtedness, they ran the experiment again but with one key change. Now the person who asked the participants for help as they were leaving the building wasn’t the person who had previously offered to help in the lab bout a complete stranger (an actor working for the researchers). Still the effect was replicated.

Adam Grant of the Wharton business school has researched the important role giving plays in success. In his analysis of givers versus takers—people who are willing to devote time and effort to help others versus those who benefit from help but refuse to return the favor he found that on most every metric of success givers, over the long haul come out on top. As in most cases there can be too much of a good thing; giving repeatedly and unconditionally can make one a doormat. But outside of this aberrant case, generosity ensures that you’ll be valued and paid back in spades. One major benefit of gratitude is that it offers perhaps the fastest and easiest route to instill a readiness to give—one that does not rely on force of will and resists being subverted by motivated, selfish reasoning.

EMOTIONAL SUCCESS

June 17, 2020

The title of this book is identical to the title of an important book by David DeStono. The subtitle is “The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.” The title of the Introduction is “Self-Control, Success, and the Road Not Taken.” Prof. DeStono writes, “Best-selling books such as Willpower, How Children Succeed, and Grit all promise insight into how perseverance and patience can affect our lives for the better. Not to be outdone, magazines from the Atlantic to People routinely feature articles on the benefits of self-control and how to obtain it.”

The author continues, “I don’t mean to criticize this emphasis on self-control and valuing the future. To the contrary, I think we need it. And while the idea of self-control benefits isn’t new—we can see it extolled in moral tales and treatises going back for centuries—what is new is that this idea has moved from philosophy and theology into empirical proof. The benefits of self-control aren’t a matter of opinion anymore; they’re quantifiable. And what can be quantified can, in theory, be maximized. The million-dollar question, of course, is How? How can self-controlled be enhanced?”

Continuing further, “It’s here that I fear we have gone astray. For almost fifty years we’ve been developing science-based strategies meant to help us reach our goals. Yet, on average, we are no better at delaying immediate gratification than we were in the 1960s. If anything, our impatience and desire for immediate satisfaction are on the rise. As individuals and as a society, we’re spending more on impulse buys and conveniences rather than saving for a rainy day or retirement. We’re diverting our attention to games or social media on our smartphones rather than focusing it on learning and honing skills we need. We’re satisfying our sweet tooth and, as a result, expanding our waists simply to gain momentary pleasures at a great cost to future well-being. And, at a more macro level, many of us are resisting choices such as spending a bit more for clean or renewable energy that, though somewhat costlier in the moment, will help avoid greater problems down the road. In short, we’re planning less for the future, not caring as much about what that future will bring. And while it’s undoubtedly true that each of these examples of impatience and shortsightedness stems from many factors, underlying them all is a growing bias toward pleasure in the moment.

Prof. DeStono provides these statistics. On any given day most people fail to stick with their daily goals about 20% of the time. When busy, tired, or stressed, this percentage climbs quickly. When decisions involve important goals that truly matter to people, the success rate is worse. Only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are kept throughout the year, while 25% fail in the first week.

When we’re forced to choose strategies for success, we tend to favor the cognitive one, the stoic approaches characterized by reason, deliberation, and force of will. To stand firm in the face of challenges and temptation, we’re told to what we psychologists term executive function. This is the part of the mind that manages and controls “subordinate” processes such as memory, attention, and feelings. It is the boss that gives the orders that the rest of the mind is supposed to follow. Executive function allows us to plan, reason, and use willpower to keep focus, accept sacrifices, and ignore or suppress emotional responses that might get in the way of reaching our long-term aspirations. And cognitive strategies such as these, the ones based on reason and analysis as opposed to emotions, are believed to maintain the perseverance required to succeed.

Unfortunately, these cognitive strategies do not always succeed. Prof. DeStono writes, “This one-to-one mapping of reason to virtue and emotion to vice doesn’t reflect reality, however. It sets up a false choice. Prof. DeStono asserts and provides evidence, the mind has emotions, because more often than not, they help us. They’re adaptive. They nudge, or sometimes thrust, our decisions in ways meant to help us achieve our goals, not to thwart them.

Prof. DeStono writes, when it comes to long-term success, the “right” emotions are principally these: gratitude, compassion, and pride.” HM was surprised to see “pride” included in this list. After al,l pride is one of the seven deadly sins. In fact, it is the original and most deadly of these sins. This is from the Book of Proverbs, pride goeth (goes) before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Prof. DeStono recognizes this problem and argues that there are two senses of the word pride, one pejorative and one honorific. HM would recommend choosing another word. Apparently Prof. DeStono uses pride because he regards it as an emotion. Actually, there is no agreed definition for emotion. HM would have much preferred if he used the term self-esteem rather than pride. The reader can judge for herself when we return to this topic in later posts.

In Dark Days, Kindness Can Help All of Us

June 16, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Steven Petrow in the Health & Science section of the 9 June 2020 issue of the Washington Post. As the title implies, especially in these current times kindness towards others, and ourselves, has been shown to help balance seesawing emotions, which we all have these days, and even possibly improve some health outcomes. Actually there is ample evidence that kindness is beneficial to both psychological and physiological health.

Petrol writes, “ even as it feels like darkness and struggle are ratcheting up, people are reaching out to others to help, even if they don’t dominate the news. For example, in Atlanta fraternity men from historically black colleges cleaned up neighborhood streets after a night of protest and violence. The day before the city’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said, “We are better than this.”

In Columbus, Ohio, the local newspaper reported, “Random acts of kindness break out amid protests, with individuals who’d just met on Facebook providing masks, protective eyewear ad first-aid kits to protestors.

In Cleveland, Ricky Smith, the founder of Random Acts of Kindness Everywhere brought his “message of positivity” to help “people think outside of themselves and help others.”

A man on the street in downtown Washington opened his door to dozens of marchers fleeing as riot police bore down firing chemicals. He provided a refuge through the night so they wouldn’t be arrested for violating curfew.

Petrol also writes of the “viral nature of kindness” Ramona DeFelice Long, who lives in Newark, De told him that when her mother, a former nurse, died of the novel coronavirus in April, she asked that “people perform an act of kindness to a nurse” in lieu of sending flowers. One person sent lunch to the emergency room unit in a small hospital and another sent a gift card to a struggling neighborhood medical professional with a family.

Rose Arce, a Latina documentarian, says she has been deeply affected by the recent turn of events, but she remains an advocate for “kindness, [which] is also about empathy and understanding, about recognizing the plight of the person next to you and offering emotional support and advocacy in a moment of anger or despair.” Kindness builds bridges, two-way bridges.

He writes of his conversations with Jamil Zaki, a Stanford University psychology professor who studies kindness. “There’s lots of evidence that our experiences, our choices, our habits, our practices go a long way to predict how empathetic we become. In researching his book, “The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World,” he says he learned that empathy or kindness is a skill that we can build. “Doing so is a crucial project for us, both as individuals and as a culture.” Now more so than ever.

Petrol notes, “Spreading kindness does not mean ignoring the need to protest injustice and cruelty and demand that the world be made fairer, better. Zaki and other experts say it can be another tool to help create a more just and loving and world, and to keep ourselves from being overcome by anger and despair.

There have been many healthymemory position Zaki and his book. Just enter
“Jamil Zaki” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

On the Meaning of Mindfulness

June 14, 2020

This is the ninth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is identical to the title of a section by Alan Wallace.

While mindfulness (sati) is often equated with bare attention [that is not correct; instead] bare attention corresponds much closely to the Pali term manaskira,which is commonly translated as “attention” or “mental engagement.” This refers to the initial split seconds of the bare cognizing of an object, before one begins to recognize, identify, and conceptualize, and in Buddhist accounts is not regarded as a wholesome mental factor. It is ethically neutral. The primary meaning of sati, on the other hand, is recollection, non-forgetfulness. This includes retrospective memory of things in the past, prospectively remembering to do something in the future, and present-centered recollection in the sense of maintaining unwavering attention to a present reality. The opposite of mindfulness is forgetfulness, so mindfulness applied to the breath, for instance, involves continuous, unwavering attention to the respiration. Mindfulness may be used to maintain awareness (manasikara), but nowhere do traditional Buddhist sources equate mindfulness with such attention…

When mindfulness is equated with “meta-attention,” or the monitoring of awareness it can easily lead to the misconception that the cultivation of mindfulness has nothing to do with ethics or with the cultivation of wholesome states of mind and the attenuation of unwholesome states. Nothing could be further from truth. In the Pali Abhidhamma, where mindfulness is listed as a wholesome mental factor that clearly distinguished wholesome from unwholesome mental states and behavior. And it is used to support wholesome states and counteract unwholesome states.

The cultivation of the ability to monitor awareness is valuable in many ways, and there’s a rapidly growing body of research on its benefits for both psychological and physiological disorders. But it’s incorrect to equate that with mindfulness, and an even greater error to think that’s all there is to vipassana (insight meditation designed to experientially realize key features of reality that liberate the mind from its afflictive tendencies). If that were the case, all the Buddha’s teaching on ethics, samadhi (focused, sustained attention and the meditative practices that are designed to develop attentional skills), and wisdom would be irrelevant. All too often, people who naively assume that monitoring attention is all there is to meditation reject the rest of Buddhism as “claptraptrap” and “mumbojumbo.” The essential teachings are dismissed rather than one’s own erroneous preconceptions

Monitoring awareness as calm, nonreactive awareness of one’ meditative object plays a crucial role in shamatha practice, which alleviates afflictive mental states as craving, aversion, dullness, agitation, and doubt….Monitoring awareness is not a complete practice, and by itself, it can be helpful and yet very limiting.

Monitoring awareness and developing conscious awareness were discussed in an earlier post “Experiencing Emotion.” This is a valuable, but sometimes overlooked, skill that deepens and extends the meaning of mindfulness.

Mindfulness

June 13, 2020

This is the eighth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman.

Dalai Lama (Translated.) The more skilled you are in being attentive, the greater you are able to watch out and catch it.

Ekman: Yes.

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) In the Buddhist meditation practices, one key method for cultivating this awareness is the development of mindfulness. The second one, which is thought to be more specific to the cultivation of this monitoring, is applying constant awareness to the actual processes of thought, just observing you mind and the thoughts as they arise, and being aware of what arises in the present.

Ekman: Let me be certain I understand the distinction. One practice deals with knowledge. Knowledge would be to understand that you should focus on the act, not the actor. Knowledge would be that it is dangerous to you and to the other person if you shift from removing the obstacle to punishing the person for having put the obstacle there. This is all knowledge. Now, a lot of people do not have that knowledge. We can teach knowledge much more easily than we can teach the second practice, which develops the skill of being aware of momentary experience.

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) True. Similarly, knowledge about the benefits of compassion can be taught.

Ekman: The knowledge can be taught. But learning the skill of monitoring awareness—of being in the moment, to be aware of the spark before the flame—is not easy. You need both. You need knowledge and you need skill. Knowledge you can even get just from reading a book. [Ekman adds here]. I came to realize later in our discussion that although you can learn about this type of knowledge from a book, for that knowledge to become so ingrained as to form the mental framework from which you see the world, it requires many, many hours of meditative practice.
This skill you cannot get from a book—you need to practice again and again. The two are different, but related matters that are essential for a balanced life.

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) Very true. The way the term “mindfulness is used in modern Buddhist literature is slightly different. The way it is used in the Tibetan tradition is the mindfulness of that knowledge, not the monitoring of awareness.

Ekman: Just knowledge?

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) Yes. The Sanskrit term is sati and the Tibetan term is drenpa, which literally mean “memory, recollection.” Mindfulness is bringing to the present of the awareness of things you have learned.

Ekman: But in order to do that, you have to have self-monitoring, a meta-consciousness. You need to be aware of the present. What is the term for developing that skill?

Jinpa: That is what Alan Wallace calls “meta-attention,” or monitoring awareness.

Meta-attention or monitoring awareness will be discussed in the next post titled,”On the Meaning of Mindfulness.

ON ONE-ON-ONE INTERACTIONS

June 12, 2020

This is the seventh post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is identical to the title of a section by Robert W. Levinson.

In our studies of dyadic interactions in intimate relationships, we have found that discussing areas of disagreement are wonderful stages for studying how people express and regulate their emotions. After all, it is really because humans are a social species that they have this profound need not to let their emotions run amok, but rather to adjust them to fit the demands of the situation and the comfort level of others.

We have found that married couples who are able to maintain physiological calm while discussing problems in their relationship are much more likely to have satisfying marriages and to stay together over time. Often in marriages, one partner assumes the role of the “thermostat,” monitoring the temperature of the interaction and applying corrections as needed. These corrections take the form of helping the partner to regulate his or her emotions (typically the woman assumes the role of thermostat in male-female relationships) and stay in an emotion comfort zone where ideas can be discussed productively without getting too hot (intense) or too cold (withdrawn).

Matthieu Ricard is an individual renown for his ability to serve as the thermostat in these interactions. Even when dealing with a very hostile and difficult partner, he had a calming effect that allowed the discussion to proceed in a constructive way. In the discussion of a difficult topic with another individual there was no mutual smiling. Matthieu remained very calm physiologically, but the other fellow showed a very fast heart rate and high blood pressure. Over the course of fifteen minutes his blood pressure and heart rate went down, he began to smile, and he said to me afterward, “There’s just something about him—I could not fight with him.

Ekman: What do you make of that? Could it be that when you encounter someone who has a highly cultivated emotional balance, and Matthieu is very well balanced emotionally, you feel that you have encountered someone unlike anyone you have known, and that they have a calming influence on you? How do you explain that?

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) One factor here is the well-known cliche that you cannot clap with only one hand. There is also a recognition in the Buddhist tradition—in fact, it is a quality attributable to Buddha—that without using weapons or powerful instruments, through the weapon of loving-kindness alone, he was able to subdue his foes. Loving-kindness and compassion has this natural capacity to subdue and tame. It would also depend upon the actual content of the conversation.

In the early 1970s, there was a British gentleman by the name of Felix Green. He was one of the very few Westerners who was able to visit Tibet and China—China many times, several times.

Jinpa: Green had a large amount of motion picture film footage of Tibet. He was a friend of Chou En-lai, the Chinese prime minister at the time. He was convinced that life under the Communist rule in Tibet was perfect, the people inside Tibet were happy, and everything was fine. He wanted to come and show the footage to His Holiness (the Dalai Lama). Before he met His Holiness, he was received by the Tibetan officials. The officials warned His Holiness that this person had believed the Communist view of Tibet, with only limited personal knowledge, with one-sided information about the situation. “Please be careful” and “He is dangerous,” they said. His Holiness met him over a period of three days. They started talking and looked at the footage, and by the time he left, Green had completely changed!

His Holiness ’s understanding of this phenomenon was that this was the power of truth. Green had incorporated a foregone conclusion, a particular perception, but as he came to recognize the actual situation, it changed him.

Ekman: Another way that people differ is in their susceptibility to changing a belief. There are people who are fanatical or zealous who are highly resistant to change.

Dalai Lama: True.

Experiencing Emotion

June 11, 2020

This is the sixth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The following is taken from a section titled Experiencing Emotion.

Emotions can be triggered automatically in under a quarter of a second—very fast—totally opaque to consciousness.

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) In Buddhist psychology we make distinctions between the sensory level of conscious experience and what is referred to as the mental level—the level of thought, emotions, and so on. Emotions like fear are the emotions that are much more immediate and spontaneous, when they are operating at the sensory level or whether there is a role for the mental level of consciousness involved.

Ekman: The characteristics of an emotion are: There is a signal; an automatic, very quick appraisal of what is happening that gives rise to the impulse to become emotional; you have to develop a skill to get consciousness involved.

Still another characteristic is that emotions have a set of sensations. We are not always aware of those sensations. I have developed exercises for developing conscious awareness that you are becoming or are emotional. These are to be used not in place of, but in addition to meditation. One of them is an exercise to increase your sensitivity to the sensations in your body so that those sensations will ring a little bell, so that you will be aware of “getting”— you know the phrase?—“hot under the collar.” The most dramatic difference in the sensations is anger verses fear. In anger, blood goes to your hands. It is preparing you to hit. In fear, it goes to the large muscles in your legs.

Dalai Lama: So preparing to run.

Ekman: Yes, right. That does not mean you will run, or that you will hit. But evolution has prepared you in this way. And you can learn to be sensitive to the difference in how your body feels when you are afraid as compared to angry.

This section is especially relevant to HM. He has an anger problem. If he is going to be in a situation where he knows that he will likely become angry, he calls on his defenses to protect him from expressing this anger. But if, unexpectedly, he encounters a situation he becomes angry without being able to put up his defenses. This is embarrassing and can do serious harm to important relationships. The central problem here is that the anger explodes below the level of consciousness. He might not even be aware that he is making a fool of himself until somebody tells him he is becoming emotional. If he manages to become self aware, he can apologize and say that he lost his head.

Now he is looking into the exercises Ekman has developed for developing conscious awareness that you are becoming, or are, emotional. These would be used in addition to meditation. One of them is an exercise to increase sensitivity to the sensations in the body so that those sensations will ring a little bell, so one is aware of “getting” “hot under the collar.”

It occurs to HM that technology could also assist here. If sensors could be attached to the body to assist in becoming aware that anger is occurring, that would be quite helpful.

On Nirvana

June 10, 2020

This is the fifth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title is of a section written by Geshe Dorji Damdul a monk who serves as a translator and consultant on Tibetan scholarship for the Dalai Lama.

Westerners often misunderstand the Buddhist view of nirvana—the goal of becoming free of all emotions, the goal of enlightenment in Buddhism—and confuse it with a Buddhist view of how people should lead their lives, that they should never feel an emotion. Essentially, nirvana is a state of mind, in which one achieves freedom from pain and unsatisfactory nature and states (samsara).

Buddhism points to ignorance as the ultimate cause of all samsara. Of all ignorances, the worst ignorance is to conceive of the self and others as independent entities rather than understanding that we are all interdependent—in other terms, we all arise from “dependent origination.” It is this ignorance that triggers the evolution of all afflictive, or disturbing, emotions, which in turn give rises to negative actions, known as karma, and then ripens into manifest pain and agony. Thus, nirvana is not to be thought of as some external divine place, but the purified state of mind in which you are free of all negative emotions. [Ekman adds, “From a Western viewpoint, I would say that this state of mind allows you to be free of enacting emotions in a way that is harmful to yourself and others and that interferes with building cooperative relationships.]

Nirvana has four characteristic features: (1) a state of cessation of disturbing emotions from one’s mind; (2) absolute peace, a state of total tranquility of disturbing emotions; (3) exuberant satisfaction, which is free of all forms of dissatisfaction; and (4) definite emergence, when one will no longer relapse to an unenlightened state.

The Filter of Moods

June 9, 2020

This is the fourth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is the title of a section under the Chapter EAST AND WEST.

Ekman: Before we go much further, I think it is important to consider how emotions differ from moods. Unless we do so, we may not always know whether we are talking about emotions or moods as they are easily confused. I recall seven years ago, when I first met you and described this distinction, you told me it did not exist in the Tibetan view of mental states, and that you found it very useful. As I describe it in more detail, I hope you will continue to find it of interest.

I believe moods get us into a lot of trouble, even more so than some of our emotions. One difference between emotions and moods is a person’s understanding of what triggers each of them. He or she may not know what triggers an emotion when it first begins, but afterward can almost always easily figure it out. The person may not think he or should have become angry, but knows, at least afterward, what set it off. By contrast, when someone is in an irritable mood, he or she may never know what triggered it.

Dalai Lama: Would you not say that they can reinforce each other? Because of a bad mood, you would be much more prone to an explosion of particular emotions? For example, yesterday, your mood was not good. At that time, if your friend comes, you may lose your temper. But then, the next day, your mood is calm. Then, you see, yesterday’s appearance completely changes. So much depends on your own mental attitude, your outlook. According to our experience, that is clear.

Ekman: Yes. That’s one of the problems with moods.

Dalai Lama: Similarly, when you have a strong emotional experience, that can affect your mood.

Ekman: Yes, you are right on both. When you are in an apprehensive mood we are looking to be afraid. We are responding to the world with fear more than anything else, often misperceiving the world. It is as if we need to be afraid when we are in an apprehensive mood, just as we need to get angry when we are in an irritable mood.

Most scientists believe the moods typically occur for reasons that the person experiencing the mood does not understand—perhaps generated by neurohormonal changes not directly tied to an event in our environment. However, there are certain events that can trigger a mood: for example, if you are sleep-deprived, you are more likely to get either irritable or giddy and to laugh at things you would never laugh at.

Daila Lama: (Translated) Can the causal relation go the opposite way? Because you are in a very excited state, sleep does not come easily?

Ekman: (Laughs). Here I am speculating. And I do not want to distinguish when I’m talking on the basis of facts that have some scientific basis, when I’m taking on the basis of theory that all those who study emotion would agree with, from when I’m talking on the basis of just my own ideas. I may be right, but I don’ believe anyone else has yet considered the matter; the idea that when a person is sleep-deprived he or she may become giddy is my own speculation.

Science, Religion, and Truth

June 8, 2020

This is the third post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is the title of a section under the Chapter EAST AND WEST.

Dalai Lama: In the past, the circumstances were such that science was applied toward material development, not toward mental things. In the West, traditionally, religion means Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Those are traditions of, mainly, faith. There is not much emphasis on investigation. Science demands trying to find the reality through investigation, through experiments. According to that, we can say that science has nothing to do with religious faith.

Ekman: No. it does not.

Dalai Lama: Science, in the past, was mainly involved with material development. So, you see, in that domain, science has nothing to do with religious faith.

Ekman: Yes. Yes.

Dalai Lama: In individual cases some scientists are very religious-minded. But their profession, their professional field, has nothing to do with religion. Now, I think, society is now facing a new crisis, or a new problem; it is mainly an emotional problem. Therefore, science begins to deal with that. So modern science—their exploration or their sort of interest or their concern not only matters, but also emotions. I think that is the way. Is it not?

Ekman: Yes. …Scientists are now beginning to look outside of Western thinking to see what they could learn and study scientifically that might be relevant. A growing number of scientists are interested in what we can learn from Buddhist thinking on this.

Dalai Lama: Now, “soft” science and “hard” science—what is the demarcation?

Ekman: It used to be a clearer demarcation. “Hard” sciences were the natural and biological sciences. “Soft” sciences were the social and behavioral sciences. Now cognitive neuroscience crosses the two, because it is using some very biological measures—brain measures, blood chemistry measures—to look at psychological phenomena.

I measure the movement of facial muscles—you cannot get harder science—but I do it to study emotions. We cannot see an emotion; the facial movement is just a display, but we can learn a lot if we can measure that display precisely. Many scientists today, certainly in cognitive neuroscience, and even in fields like emotion and memory in psychology, are using very objective methods, some of them biological, some of them not.
There is the greatest disregard among some scientists for findings on the basis of what people tell you in a questionnaire. I think what people tell you is very interesting; it may not be what they really think, or what they know may only be part of what they actually are and do, so it has limits, but it is not without merit. Studies that only use questionnaires are considered to be very “soft.”

Dalai Lama: In the west, there is not much of a tradition of investigation in religion. Whereas, in the nontraditional religions, in India, particularly in Buddhism, it was different—they experiment or investigated in the traditions.

The reality is that science is not all anti religious. Simply, it is trying to know the reality, to find out the reality through investigation, through experiment? Not by, with. That is not anti religion. Even the pope—the new pope is a very intelligent person, a very wonderful person—emphasizes that faith and reason must go together. Actually, he mentions he started this idea with some of his followers: If people have faith without reason, then people would not get the feeling of relevance of religion to their life, so reason must be there.

But only reason, no faith, like some scientists—they are great scientists, but mentally unhappy. (Laughs). So faith is also necessary. [Neuroscientist Clifford Saron, of the University of California-Davis Center for Mind and Brain], commented, “Scientists have faith in their method and hypothesis—it’s full of faith—just not necessarily faith in God. That is the way; I think that way. So even Christians are now compelled to realize the importance of reason. As far as Buddhism is concerned, there is no problem. We have the courage to say, True investigation is something. If our findings—through investigations, through experimentation—Buddhist ideas, then we have the liberty to reject old ideas. That is the Buddha’s own words.

Two Traditions

June 7, 2020

This is the second post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is the title of a section under the Chapter EAST AND WEST.

Ekman: You have written that we must train our minds to observe. Would you agree that both how we train our minds and how we can motivate people to want to undertake such training can be addressed scientifically?

Dalia Lama: (Translated). No one denies the existence of emotion, feeling, or mind. In daily life, we have emotion. It is there. Science and technology are concerned, basically, with physical comfort. When it comes to difficulties or problems with emotions, then, technology cannot do much. I think injecting some drugs, to reduce your anxiety, they are temporary. So now the time has come to explore the trouble, which is faced by our emotional mind, the method or means to tackle this wicked, mischievous nature of mind.

Ekman: Television teaches everyone the message, “If I become rich, I become famous, I’ll become very happy.” Very few people find out that that is untrue because most people do not get rich. (Daily Lama laughs.)
How can we reach people who want happiness but have been misled by television to think the path to it involves fame and riches and power? How do we convince them with the message that this is a false path? Can you think of any way that scientists can help correct this misperception?

Dalai Lama: For the last almost a hundred years, the whole concept of material development was that it would solve all our problems. The real problem is poverty. But we didn’t realize that solving poverty doesn’t provide inner peace. I can give one example—the Chinese case, I think Deng Xiapong felt once people are rich, then all problems reduce. He even extended it to no matter what method you adopt, the goal, so long you get rich, is okay. In the seventies he started, or developed, a movement. He said, It doesn’t matter what color the cat is as long as it catches mice. So, the implication, even through the wrong method [capitalism], you can get rich. (Laughs). So now today in China, they are getting richer—and more corruption. Poor people suffer more. And rich people, many are not happy.

Ekman: Yes.

Dalai Lama: For many people simply, they think if your are rich, you will have plenty of money and then they suppose all their problems are solved. Or if you have power, then no problem. That is not the case. Rich people, powerful people very famous people have been mentally very unhappy. It is obvious. Hatred and other emotions create more problems.

Ekman: Yes.
Dalai Lama: In the eighteenth century, nineteenth century, the early part of the twentieth century, no government says what is the importance of peace of mind. only say: economy, economy, economy/ Why” Because poverty is urgent. So, therefore, people everywhere, putting every effort, including our education, into eliminating poverty. No?

Ekman: Yes.

Dalai Lama: Also, on the television, all you see, is about improvement of the poverty: to improve the economy, prosperity. But, you see, people, at least those people, who are no longer much worried about their physical needs, now they are experiencing problems, but mainly at the mental level. That mental unrest brings a lot of suffering on humanity. Therefore, how we have to think or explore another field, and that is mental health. We cannot change mental health overnight.

Scientists have focused on what is relevant to material welfare. Now [scientists] begin to realize, there is possibility, to develop proper healthy mental attitudes, which [are of] benefit when we are facing our problems. You, as a scientist, you do that—and you should do that.

EMOTIONAL AWARENESS

June 5, 2020

The title of this post is the title of an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The subtitle is “Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance. The Dalai Lama is the leader of Buddhism in Tibet. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and, in 2007 he as awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given to a civilian by the U.S. government. Paul Ekman is a distinguished psychologist with special expertise in facial expressions and emotion. He has long known and worked with the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama spends a very large percentage of his time traveling the world lecturing, and joining in symposia. On a weekend in April 2006 he sat down with Ekman for eleven hours of intense discussion on 24 pages of questions about emotion and compassion that Ekman had written. Some additional questions emerged from that conversation. Two addition sessions were added that included additional experts were shared over a period of 15 months for a total of 39 hours. This book is a summary of those discussions.

This summary consists of statements by individual speakers that were followed by statements of other speakers. So these were interactive discussions that HM will summarize. Although the Dalai Lama is quite fluent in English, sometimes he would digress into Tibetan and the Tibetan would be translated for him. This appeared to happen when he was reviewing his meditations as those meditations are likely in Tibetan.

To the best of HM’s knowledge, the Dalai Lama is unique among religious leaders in that he does not require any beliefs for someone to call himself a Buddhist. Someone asked the Dalai Lama about a friend who wanted to be a Buddhist but who didn’t believe in reincarnation. This is rather strange as reincarnation plays a central role in the Buddhist religion. The Dalai Lama said that no beliefs were required. All that was needed was to be responsive to humankind and human suffering and to meditate. So only practices are required, not beliefs. Truth is not stated. Rather, one learns via meditation, but what is most important is brotherhood with fellow humans. The Dalai Lama encourages his priests and monks to pursue educations in science. He uses science to inform religion, in contrast to other religions who claim that science is wrong if it contraindicates beliefs.

The Dalai Lama notes, “And Buddha himself gives us liberty to investigate his own word, and he clearly stated, ‘My devotees, my devotees should not accept my word out of faith, or out of devotion, rather than investigation and experiment.’ That gives us liberty, you see, to investigate any object. Therefore, I thought a scientific approach and the Buddhist approach is not constrained by a literal reliance on the scripture] is the same. Investigate. Experiment. So, then I felt, you see, no problem.”

HM has spiritual needs and for a long time these needs were frustrated. He was unable to join any established church because when he engaged in critical thought he found inconsistencies and problems with their beliefs. He thought that God had given him a brain and wanted him to use it. But doing so led to the identification of problems with these beliefs and most religions regarded their beliefs as being central to their religion.

There is a wide range of practices observed by different sects of Buddhism. Some sects are highly commercial and sell futures and a variety of practices to gain income. Then there are Zen Buddhists who are highly contemplative and spend time pondering such koans as “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

The Dalai Lama is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism who lives in exile in India. He shows how Buddha himself was not interested in beliefs. Rather the interest was in practices to make us into better human beings. And these practices are largely suggestive. You can adapt those you find helpful and ignore others. And the clergy is encouraged to pursue scientific education. So these Buddhists, rather than confronting science, use science to enhance their practices.

The Dalai Lama has worked with David Richardson in having his monks and priests participate in studies on meditation. HM learned from these discussions, that not only has the Dalai Lama contributed to research on meditation, but that there is a substantive amount of research on Buddhist psychology. Some of this research is already seeing clinical applications. HM will be spending future time reviewing this research.

Tattoo Regret

June 4, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Katherine Ellison in the Health and Science Section of the 2 June 2020 issue of the Washington Post. The author is writing about her son when she writes that his tattoo took less than 20 minutes, but that regret set in within hours.

HM is a baby boomer and getting tattoos was rare for his generation, with the exception of some extreme groups. But for some strange reason, it has been growing in popularity. A 2015 Harris Poll found that a nearly half of millennials and more than one-third of the Gen Xers had at least one tattoo compared to 13 percent of the baby boomers.

Getting rid of tattoos is both painful and expensive. The author’s son needed several sessions of laser treatments at a cost of $1,000 a treatment.

As a general rule, the higher the level of the job or profession, the larger the barrier a tattoo will have to winning that position. As a former employer, HM will explain why he would not want to hire someone with a tattoo.

The question that HM asks himself is that although the applicant may like the tattoo and the tattoo might be “cool” in today’s environment, why does this individual not think that this tattoo is something he might regret in the future. From his perspective, the here and now is all important, and the future is only a marginal consideration, if one at all.

HM is looking for a candidate who is future oriented, both in terms of the candidate and the organization in which he is seeking employment. Readers of the healthymemory blog should be aware of the heavy emphasis placed on growth mindsets for the memory health of the individual. Growth mindsets are also important for the growth of the organization to which the candidate aspires.

So HM would interview the candidate as a courtesy and would try to keep an open mind. But the possibility of him giving a favorable review to this candidate is virtually nil.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Five Myths of Fear

June 3, 2020

The title of this post is the same as the title of an article by Eva Holland in the Outlook section of the 31 May 2020 issue of the Washington Post.

Myth No. 1 is Phobias stem from traumatic incidents.
Although it is possible that traumatic incidents can produce phobias, it is no longer the dominant explanation. One study in Behavior Research and Therapy suggested that the children who experienced “significant injury’ from childhood falls are less likely to develop a fear of heights later in life. Now researchers trace phobias to a complex interplay of nature and nurture. Our genetics can predispose us to anxiety disorders, and the behavior of people around us can condition us into fearfulness. According to a 2016 study by researchers at York University parental behavior before and during their children’s vaccinations was the biggest contributor to preschooler’s “needle fear.”

Myth No. 2 is Nightmares can’t hurt you.
Although the Mayo Clinic in its advice on “nightmare disorder,” tells parents to “remind your child that nightmares aren’t real and can’t hurt you” and the Stanford Children’s Health calls night terrors “harmless,” there is evidence to the contrary.

Nightmares were implicated in an incident of a mysterious illness, later called “sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome” that killed more than 100 people in the United States in the 1980s. The victims, mostly young, male, and healthy, and many of them Hmong refugees who had fled the war in Southeast Asia, all died in their sleep. A medical examiner at the time said, “In each case we asked ourselves what they had died from and the answer was ‘nothing.’ Some scholars believe that a deep belief in the power of nightmares, combined with trauma, caused psychological distress that had a physical effect.

Other research has documented nightmares’ other, less dramatic ramifications. When we have a bad dream in which a family member or a spouse wrongs us, for instance, our newly negative perceptions of them can linger into waking hours, according to a 2013 study in Social Psychological Science. Nightmares, and the stress response to them, have also been linked to flare-ups of migraines and asthma attacks.

Myth No. 3 is Predators can smell your fear.
In spite of some statements from presumably authoritative sources, the answer is clearly “no.” Prey animals like deer and rodents (as well as colony-based creatures like bees and ants) emit “alarm pheromones,” airborne chemical cues that warn others of a threat. However, this communication only works within species. Humans have this ability too, emitting fear chemicals in our perspiration. By studying test subjects’ responses to sweat from people running on a treadmill, and from those skydiving for the first time, Stony Brook University researchers found that the fear-response system in our brains unconsciously gears up when it detects the fear pheromone. This enhances our vigilance, and serves as a silent, invisible warning system. In that sense, we can detect fear on one another—but we can’t distinguish between fear sweat and exercise sweat.

Myth No. 4 Fear is a weakness.
Our culture teaches us to despise cowardice and to see acts driven by fear as evidence of some larger character flaw. “Fear is the path to the dark side,” says Yoda. Self-help guides, such as Goop’s “How Fear Holds Us Back (and How to Conquer It),” insist that fear is to be resisted and opposed.

But fear is natural and necessary, a vital tool for survival. The proof is in the experience of a truly fearless woman, known as Patient S.M., whose amygdala, a structure in the brain that triggers our fear response, was destroyed by a rare genetic disease. Researchers reported that she handled snakes without trepidation and didn’t startle at sudden noises. Her lack of fear was an obstacle for self-preservation or learning from negative experiences. After she was attacked at knifepoint on a walk one evening, she returned to the same park the very next day. When in 1968 a UCLA psychiatrist removed the amygdalae from a group of monkeys and then released them into the wild, they were all dead within two weeks—from drowning, starvation or attacks by other monkeys. Fear can sometimes be irrational, embarrassing or inconvenient— but it is also a necessity.
HM adds that fear is a weakness only if it disrupts your normal life. For instance, there is no reason for a city dweller to be concerned about a fear of snakes. Moreover, should he ever find himself in an environment containing snakes, a fear of snakes could provide a reasonable precaution.

Myth No. 5. We must face our fears to defeat them.
For some individuals, this could take a considerable amount of time. The only fears we need to face are those that impact our daily lives or professions. When such is the case the fears should be confronted and there are treatments and procedures for dealing with these fears.

Otherwise, it is a waste of time and mental energy to deal with irrelevant fears. HM suggests that this mental energy could be better spent meditating or developing growth mindsets.

Meditation to Build Vagal Tone

June 1, 2020

Dr. Fredrickson conducted a study with her students in her Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory. Study participants visited her lab at the University of North Carolina. Each had their vagal tone measured while they sat and relaxed for a few minutes. At the end of this initial laboratory testing session, participants were instructed how to logon to the study website each evening to record their emotions and social connections of the day. A few weeks later, by random assignment which participants would learn loving-kindness meditation and which were not were determined. All continued to monitor their day-to-day emotions and social connections using this website. Months later, weeks after the meditation workshop ended, one by one all participants were invited back to the lab, where their vagal tone was again measured under the same resting conditions as before.

Dr. Fredrickson writes, “In May 2010, I had the immense honor of presenting the results of this experiment directly to His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. A handful of scientists were invited to a private meeting to brief His Holiness on their latest discoveries about the effects of mind training. After briefly describing to His Holiness the functions of the vagus nerve and the concept of vagal tone, I shared what my team and I had discovered in this most recent study: that vagal tone—which is commonly taken to be as stable an attribute as your adult height—actually improves significantly with mind-training. Here is your evidence-based reason for hope: No matter what your biological capacity for love is today, you can bolster that capacity by next season.

For it was those study participants who had been assigned at random to learn loving-kindness meditation who changed the most. They devoted scarcely more than an hour of their time each week to the practice. Yet, within a matter of months, completely unbeknownst to them, their vagus nerves began to respond more readily to the rhythms of their breathing, emitting more of the healthy arrhythmia that is the fingerprint of high vagal tone. Breath by breath—loving moment by loving moment—their capacity for positivity resonance matured. Moreover, through painstaking statistical analyses, we pinpointed those who experienced the most frequent positivity resonance in connection with others showed the biggest increases in vagal tone. Love, literally made people healthier.”

Enter “Loving Kindness Meditation” into the search blot at
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Vagal Tone

May 31, 2020

This post is based, in part, on content taken from Love 2.0 a book by Barbara L. Fredrickson. The key conduit connecting our brain to our body is our tenth cranial nerve, the vagus nerve. She writes, “It emerges from your brain stem deep within your skull ,and although it makes multiple stops at various internal organs, most significantly it connects the brain to the heart. Our heart rate shoots up when we feel insulted or threatened.” This registers the ancestral fight-or-flight response. And it’s the vagus nerve that eventually soothes the racing heart, by orchestrating (together with oxytocin) the equally ancestral calm-and-connect response.

Dr. Fredrickson continues, “Keeping in mind that love is connection, you should know that your vagus nerve is a biological asset that supports and coordinates your experiences of love. Completely outside your awareness, your vagus nerve stimulates tiny facial muscles that better enable you to make eye contact and synchronize your facial expressions with another person. It even adjusts the minuscule muscles of your middle ear so you can better track the other person’s voice against any background noise. In ten exquisitely subtle yet consequential ways, your vagus nerve increases the odds that the two of you will connect, upping your chances for positivity resonance.”

The strength of our vagus nerve, our biological aptitude for love, can be measured by measuring the heart rate in conjunction with the breathing rate. Sensors are placed on the lowest ribs measure our breathing rate as revealed by an expandable bellow that encircles the rib cage. This pattern is called vagal tone. Similar to muscle tone, the higher the vagal tone, the better. When your breathing in, a fast heart rate is an efficient heart rate. Each successive heartbeat during an inbreath circulates more freshly oxygenated blood throughout your brain and body. But when you’re breathing out, a fast heart rate is not that helpful because your supply of freshly oxygenated blood is waning. The vagus nerve steps in here by gently applying the brake on your heart when you exhale, slowing your heart rate down a small degree. In turn, your vagus nerve can gently let up on the brake while you inhale, letting your naturally high heart rate resume to grab all the oxygenated blood it can get, thus creating a subtle yet healthy pattern of cardiac arrhythmia: Your heart rate speeds up a bit when you inhale and slows down a bit when you exhale. This is the pattern that reflects your vagal tone, the strength or condition of your vagus nerve. It characterizes the nimbleness with which your primitive, non conscious brain holds the the reins of your galloping heart.

Unfortunately, the measurement of vagal tone is complicated and requires the use of a computer. Fortunately, there are proven measures we can use to increase our vagal tone without our having to measure it.

In the healthy memory post on Dr. Rediger’s book Cured he writes: “moments of ‘micro-connection” can deliver hits of the potent love cocktail, spool up the parasympathetic, and keep it fueled up and running. Our brains release a cocktail of hormones when we experience feelings of love and connection. How exactly this cocktail is mixed (which hormones specifically are dumped into your blood stream) depends on what kind of experience you’re having. Dr. Rediger writes, “Attraction, romantic love, platonic love, and social connection all have their own specific mixture, but most involve some combination of dopamine, testosterone, estrogen, vasopressin, and most importantly, oxytocin. Oxytocin, first isolated in new mothers nursing their babies, is often called “the love drug” because it’s both activated by, and helps to create connection, attraction, love, and bonding.” Beyond helping to make and deepen relationships, it has health benefits. Oxytocin is known to be a kind of anti-stress tonic, countering the effects of fight or flight and stress hormones. It is also both anti-inflammatory and parasympathetic in its effects.

The vagus nerve controls the release of the “love medicine” in our bodies. Vagus is Latin for wandering, and in line with its poetic name, the vagus wanders everywhere through your body. It exits the brain stem at the base of your skull dip in your neck. It runs quite close to the carotid artery.

Dr Fredrickson has found that “moments of ‘micro-connection” can deliver hits of the potent love cocktail, spool up the parasympathetic, and keep it fueled up and running. Our brains release a cocktail of hormones when we experience feelings of love and connection. The vagus nerve controls the release of the “love medicine” in our bodies. Vagus is Latin for wandering, and in line with its poetic name, the vagus wanders everywhere through your body. It exits the brain stem at the base of your skull dip in your neck. It runs quite close to the carotid artery. You can get as close as you can to your vagus nerve by pressing your finger to the pulse point on your neck. From the spot under your fingers, it shoots down to your heart and beyond, where it regulates heartbeat and dozens of other vital functions. Should you have any doubts about how deep and rapid the connection is between the mind and the body, the vagus is that literal link between the two—a thick, humming power line that runs from your brain to your gut.

Eighty% of the vagus nerve pulls information up into the brain. The other 20% sends information down into the body. This means that a great deal of sensory information is being collected for your brain and that decisions are then made in the brain and sent out all over the body. It’s a rapid, constantly flowing system (the network of glands that release hormones through all your body, and immune system to constantly adjust and respond to all the collected information.)

Oxytocin

May 30, 2020

This post is based on content taken from Love 2.0 a book by Barbara L. Fredrickson. Oxytocin is commonly known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone.” Technically it is a neuropeptide acting not just within our bodies, but also within our brains.

Evidence of oxytocin’s power to shape social lives first surfaced in Europe, where laws permitted the use of a synthetic form of oxytocin, available as a nasal spray for investigational purposes. In one study 128 men from Zurich played what is called the trust game with genuine monetary outcomes. These men were assigned at random to the role of “investor” or “trustee.” Each participant was given an equivalent pot of starting funds. Investors made the first move. They could give some, all, or none of the allocated funds to the trustee. During the transfer of funds, the experimenter tripled their investment while letting the trustee know how much the investors had originally transferred. Trustees made the next move. They could give some, all, or none of their new allotment of funds (the investors tripled investment plus their own original allocation) back to investors. The structure of the game puts investors, but not trustees, at risk. If an investor chose to entrust the other guy with his investment, he risked receiving nothing in return if the trustee chose to selfishly keep the entire monetary gain for himself. But if the trustee was fair, they could each double their money.

Prior to playing this game, using a double-blind research, participants received either oxytocin or an inert placebo by nasal spray. The effect of this single intranasal blast of oxytocin on the outcome of the trust game was dramatic. The number of investors who trusted their entire allotment to their trustee more than doubled. Related research using this same trust game showed the the mere act of being entrusted with another person’s money raises the trustee’s naturally levels of oxytocin, and that the greater the trustee’s oxytocin rise, the more of his recent windfall he sacrificed back to the investor. So the neuropeptide oxytocin steers the actions of both the investor and the trustee, shaping both trust and reciprocity. These findings suggest that through synchronous oxytocin surges, trust and cooperation can quickly become mutual.

Since this original study was published in Nature in 2005, variations on it have abounded. We now know, for instance, that Oxytocin doesn’t simply make people more trusting with money, it also makes them far more trusting—a whopping 44% more trusting—with confidential information about themselves. It is interesting that this simple act of sharing an important secret from you life with someone you just met increases your naturally circulating levels of oxytocin, which in turn raises you confidence that you can trust that person to guard your privacy. Fortunately, additional research shows that oxytocin does not induce trust indiscriminately, making people gullible and open to exploitation. The effects of oxytocin on trust turn out to be quite sensitive to interpersonal cues, like those subtle signs that tip you off if another may be the gambling type of irresponsible in other ways. So if oxytocin spray were aerated through you workplace ventilation system, you’d still maintain your shrewd attunement to subtle signs that suggest whether someone is worthy of your trust.

Oxytocin serves as a lead character in the mammalian calm-and-connect response, a distinct cascade of brain and body responses best contrasted to the better known fight-or-flight response. Rather than avoid all new people out of fear and suspicion, oxytocin helps you pick up on cues that signal another person’s goodwill and guides you to approach them with your own. The author notes, “Because all people need social connections, not just to reproduce, but to survive and thrive in this world, work, oxytocin has been dubbed ‘the great facilitator of life.’”

The author writes, “It too, can jump the gap between people such that someone else’s oxytocin flow can trigger your own. A biochemical synchrony can then emerge that supports mutual engagement, care, and responsiveness.”

She continues, “The clearest evidence that oxytocin rises and falls in synchrony between people comes from studies of infants and their parents. When an infant and a parent—either mom or dad—interact, sometimes they are truly captivated by each other, and other times not. When an infant and parent do click, their coordinated motions and emotions show lots of mutual positive engagement. Picture moms or dads showering their baby with kisses, tickling their baby’s tiny fingers and toes, smiling at their baby, and speaking to him or her in that high-pitched, singsong tone that scientists call motherise. These parents are super attentive. As they tickle and coo they’re also closely track their baby’s face for signs that their delight is mutual. In step with their parent’s affectionate antics, these attentive babies babble, coo, smile and giggle. Positivity resonates back and forth between them. Micro-moments of love blossom. “

The author concludes, “It turns out that positive behavioral synchrony—the degree to which an infant and parent (through eye contact and affectionate touch) laugh, smile, and coo together—goes hand in hand with oxytocin synchrony. Researchers have measured oxytocin levels in the saliva of dads, moms, and infants both before and after a videotaped, face-to-face parent-infant interaction. For infant-parent pairs who show mutual positive engagement, oxytocin levels also come into sync. Without such engagement, however, no oxytocin synchrony emerges.
Positivity resonance, then, can be viewed as the doorway through which the exquisitely attuned biochemical tendencies of one generation influence those of the next generation to form lasting, often lifelong bonds.”

Brain Coupling

May 29, 2020

This post is based on content taken from Love 2.0 a book by Barbara L. Fredrickson. There were pervious healthy memory posts taken from her first book, Positivity. Neuroscientist Uri Hasson of Princeton University conducted research on the topic of brain coupling. Hasson and his team have found ways to measure multiple brains connecting through conversation. This is expensive research that requires the use of brain scanners. They use them with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They recorded the story of one research participant along with the fMRI. Then they recorded the brain activity of a listener using the fMRI.

The brain scans were respectively time-locked. Coupling refers to the degree to which the brains lit up in synchrony with each other matched in both space and time. Of course, more than one study was conducted. But the body of research indicates that when we are listening to someone, our brain is coupling or responding in synchrony to the speaker.

So more than just sound waves and verbal information are being transferred. Our respective brains are coupled.

This is a short post, but the results are so profound that time should be devoted to pondering.

Love Shows Its Resilience

May 28, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title of an article by Lisa Bonos in the Style section of the 26 May 2020 issue of the Washington Post. The remainder of the title is “study finds.” A recent Monmouth University poll found that most people in relationships are satisfied with them, despite the expected stresses that might come from, say, working from home together, losing a job, managing kids at home or preventing your family from getting the virus.

One of the authors of the study, psychology professor Gary Lewandowski, said, Relationships aren’t perfect—there are always some underlying issues, but on average, the relationships we’re in are pretty good.

The survey was conducted from April 30 to May 4, among a sample of 556 American adults in relationships. Here are the findings:

74% of Americans with a romantic partner say their relationship has not fundamentally changed since the coronavirus outbreak. 10% said it was a lot better, and 7% said it was a little better. Only 4% said it was worse, and 1% a lot worse.

Argument frequency and sex lives have changed for the better, but only slightly. Less that 2 in 10 of those in relationships said they had fewer arguments with their partner, while 1 in 10 said they got into more of them—and 7 in 10 said there has been no difference. Only 9% said that their sex life had improved. 5% said it has gotten worse, with 77% saying it is about the same.

About half said their relationships would get stronger by the time the outbreak is over, and just 1% said their relationship will be worse. 46% said their relationship will not have changed at all.

About three-quarters of married couples said their relationship has not changed for better or worse since the coronavirus outbreak began, while just under two-thirds of unmarried couples said the same.

59% said their relationship has had no impact on their daily stress level.

The authors of the study concluded, “Overall, these results suggest that the global pandemic may not be as bad for relationships as many have feared. Our relationships may become stronger and even more important than they already were.”

HM thinks this is especially good news as it really is not known how long this pandemic will last, and that additional waves of this pandemic are expected.

Note: Astute readers will note that percentages do not add up to 100%. Unfortunately, HM is constrained by what is in the article. Fortunately any discrepancies do not discredit the conclusions from this survey.

Will We All Live Happily Ever After?

May 27, 2020

Daniel Dreszner spends an entire chapter in The Toddler in Chief addressing this question when the answer to this question is quite simple.

If Trump is not re-elected, then much work will need to be done to repair all the damage Trump has caused. He has done enormous damage to the country, and he has also virtually destroyed the Republican Party. Effective democracies need an opposition party to monitor the majority party, to fine-tune policies, and to propose viable alternative policies.

It is also very likely, if not inevitable, that if Trump is not elected he will claim that the election was rigged and spread false news supporting this alternative. There might be a problem getting Trump out of the White House. This is his traditional response when he does not achieve his desired outcome. He also faces multiple criminal charges when he exits the White House. Worst of all, there might be armed resistance to his leaving the White House. Let us all hope that this can be achieved without violence.

If Trump’s exit is successfully achieved, then not only will the damage from the past four years need to be undone, but much legislation is required for this new environment we find our democracy in. If done properly, there can be substantial improvements.

And international relations will definitely improve, which can lead to a more peaceful and harmonious world.

But if Trump is re-elected or manages by stealth or force to remain in power, that will be the end of American democracy. This opinion is not unique to HM. Individuals much more knowledgeable than HM have expressed this opinion.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When Caregivers Give Up

May 26, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. It begins with a selection from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Without strong guidance, a very active child’s energy can easily turn toward aggressive or destructive behavior. To avoid this, you need to establish clear and logical rules and enforce them consistently.

The following is from an article by Asawin Suessaeng and Lachlan Markay in the Daily Beast, October 20, 2017: “Inside the White House, aides have grown calloused to the chaos. That the president managed to turn a simple question over a botched military operation into a week-long feud with a grieving military family, all while sullying his chief of staff’s public image, didn’t register as particularly eventful given the preceding nine months of drama.”

The following is from an article by Michael Scherer and Alex Altman in Time, May 17 2017: “‘It’s exhausting,’ says a midlevel aide. ‘Just when you think the pace is unsustainable, it accelerates. The moment it gets quiet is when the next crisis happens.’
Staffers are frustrated by leaks about staff turmoil coming from Trump’s extended circle of allies. But Trump has so far resisted attempts to impose order, insisting on long stretches of unstructured time to watch television and call allies.”

The following is from an article by Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen in Axios, February 23, 2018: “West Wing aides privately admit they have no earthly idea what Trump will do about anything—whether it be guns, immigration, their own careers, or the fate of Chief of Staff John Kelly…
Some aides feel the place is unraveling, that they can’t trust their colleagues, that they don’t know what’s going on, that there’s no path upward.

The following is from an article by Andrew Restuccia and Nancy Cook in Politico, April 20, 2018: In the past two months, President Donald Trump has repeatedly surprised many of his own closest advisers with the timing or substance or major public pronouncements: a potential troop withdrawal from Syria, steep new tariffs on key imports and the possibility of rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
This week, it happened again,with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley—a Cabinet member—left dangling after Trump decided not to proceed with new Russia sanctions she’s already mentioned on national television.
These episodes have often left Trump’s staff scrambling to get more information, moderate the president’s position or change his mind altogether.
While people close to the president say Trump has always been mercurial, some of the president’s allies attribute the recent pace of public disconnects to the departure of loyal aides who were skilled at translating his impulses, at keeping all the relevant White House Agency stances on key issues—and, perhaps more importantly, at keeping all the relevant White House and agent staffers in the loop on big decisions.
‘There’s nobody there that can say to him, ‘Mr. President, you can’t do that,’’said one former White House official.’”

The following is from an article by David Ignatius titled, “Trump Can’t Win at Foreign Policy the Way He Wins at Golf, Washington Post, July 24, 2108. Now it is well-know that Trump wins at golf by cheating: “The Helsinki summit showed that Trump thinks he’s his own best foreign policy adviser. The formal interagency process that traditionally surrounds such big events all be disappeared for the U.S.-Russia encounter, with no full National Security Council meetings to prepare for Helsinki and none last week to discuss the results.
‘I don’t think there is an interagency process now,’ cautioned one prominent Republican foreign policy expert. ‘Trump glories in not listening to advisers. He trusts his instincts, as uninformed as they sometimes are.”

Potpourri; or a Toddler Sampler

May 25, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. It begins with a selection from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Preschoolers are very eager to take control. They want to be more independent than their skills and safety allow, and they don’t appreciate their limits. They want to make decisions, but they don’t know how to compromise, and they don’t deal well with disappointment or restraint.

The following is from an article by Devlin Barrett,Josh Dawsey, and Rosalind S. Helderman in the Washington Post, February 28, 2018: “Behind the scenes, Trump derisively referred to Sessions as “Mr. Magoo,” a cartoon character who is elderly, myopic and bumbling, according to people with whom he has spoken.”

The following is from a piece by Gabriel Sherman in Vanity Fair, October 9, 2017: “Kelly has developed a Mar-a-Logo strategy to prevent Trump from soliciting advice from members and friends. (In February 2017 Trump turned his dinner table into an open-air Situation Room when North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile). Sources briefed on Kelly’s plans said he will attempt to keep Trump “out of he dining room.”

The following piece is by Steve Benen on MSNBC, June 14, 2019: “It appears the president, according to his own version of events, has helped choose design elements of the new Air Force One.
The natural question, of course,is, ‘How does he find the time?’ The answer, by all appearances, is that Trump isn’t as busy as he probably should be, so he tackles tasks like these in between consuming hours of television.
And perhaps that’s for the best. White House aides have told a variety of reporters that the key to keeping Trump out of trouble is keeping him busy and distracted. The more he is focused on paint colors, the less time he’ll have for more dangerous pursuits.”

The following pieces are from an article by Juliet Elperin, Josh Dawson, and Dan Lamothe in the Washington Post, July 1, 2019: “Trump, who had already ordered up a flyover by military aircraft including Air Force One and the Navy’s Blue Angels has pressed to expand his “Salute to America” event further with an F-35 stealth fighter and the involvement of Marine Helicopter Squadron One, which flied the presidential helicopter, according to government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. He also pushed to bring military tanks to the site of his planned speech at the Lincoln Memorial, prompting National Park Service officials to warn that such a deployment could damage the site, these individuals said…
Trump has demonstrated an unusual level of interest in this year’s Independence Day observance, according to three senior administration officials. He has received regular briefings about it from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and has weighed in on how the pyrotechnics should be launched, how the military should be honored and more, according to people briefed on the discussions.”

The following is from an article by Peter Nicholas in the Atlantic, July 3, 2019: “Trump has pined for a national military parade since at least July 2017, when he watched French soldiers marching in Paris on Bastille Day. Speaking privately with French President Emmanuel Macron a couple of months later in New York at a United Nations General Assembly meeting, Trump mentioned the display, turned to his delegation, and said, ‘I want horses”! I want horses! a former French official tole me, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the conversation”

Too Much Screen Time

May 24, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. It begins with a selection from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Most media use is passive. Sitting and watching TV all the time, for example, does not help your child acquire the most important skills and experiences she needs at this age, such as communication, creativity, fantasy, judgment, and experimentation.

The following piece is from an article by Katie Rogers and Maggie Habermas in the New York Times, July 24, 2018: “On the first couple’s recent trip overseas, Melania Trump’s television aboard Air Force One was tuned to CNN. President Trump was not pleased.
He argued at his staff for violating a rule that the White House entourage should begin each trip tuned to Fox—his preferred network over what he considers the ‘fake news’ CNN—and caused ‘a bit of a stir’ aboard Air Force One.

The following piece is from an article by Mark Landler and Julie Hirschfeld Davis in the New York Times, March 23, 2018: “Aides said there was no grand strategy to the president’s actions, and that he got up each morning this week not knowing what he would do. Much as he did as a New York businessman at Trump Tower, Mr. Trump watched television, reacted to what he saw on television and then reacted to the reaction.”

The following is from an article by Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman in the New York Times, December 22, 2018: “By all accounts, Mr. Trump’s consumption of cable television has actually increased in recent months as his first scheduled meeting of the day slid back from the 9 or 9:20 a.m. by Reince Priebus, his first chief of staff, to roughly 11 many mornings. During ‘executive time,’ Mr. Trump watches television in his residence for hours, reacting to what he sees on Fox News. While in the West Wing, he leaves it on during most meetings in the dining room off the Oval Office, one ear attuned to what is being said.”

The following is from an article by Peter Nicholas in Atlantic, April 14, 2019: “For decades, presidents and vice presidents have held regular one-on-one lunches with no aides present. The ritual helps build trust and, because only two people are at the table, prevents leaks, veterans of past White Houses said.
Trump ditched that tradition. Instead he has invited to the lunches both his and Pence’s top aides. At the meals in the small dining room off the Oval Office, Trump keeps a big-screen TV tuned to cable news. Aides who have walked in have seen Trump yelling the TV as he sits with Pence and their deputies over plates of chicken and cheese-burgers. When he sees something on the screen that he dislikes, Trump on occasion will interrupt the lunch and summon aides to discuss a response, people familiar with the lunches said.

The following is from an article by Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan in Axios, March 28, 2018: President Trump often gets agitated—and stirred to action—by random things he hears on TV or from shoot-the-bull conversations with friends.
Why it matters: It drives staff nuts because they are responding to nothings that are either inaccurate, highly distorted or flat-out don’t exist.”

The following is from an article by Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush, and Peter Baker in the New York Times, December 9, 2017: “ To an extent that would stun outsiders, Mr. Trump, the most talked-about human on the planet, is still delighted when he sees his name in the headlines. And he is on a perpetual quest to see it there. One former top adviser said Mr. Trump grew uncomfortable after two or three days of peace and could not handle watching the news without seeing himself on it.
During the morning aides monitor ‘Fox and Friends’ live or through a transcription service in much the same way commodities traders might keep tabs on market futures to predict the direction of their day.
If someone on the show says something memorable and Mr. Trump does not immediately tweet about it, the president’s staff knows he may be saving Fox News for later viewing on his recorder and instead watching MSNBC or CNN live—meaning he is likely to be in a foul mood to start the day.

Knowledge Deficits

May 23, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. It begins with a selection from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: If we were to single out the major intellectual limitations at this age, it would be your child’s feeling that everything that happens in his world is the result of something he has done…Reasoning with your two-year-old is often difficult. After all, he views everything in extremely simple terms.

The following is from a piece by Jake Tapper on CNN, April 2019: “…two sources told CNN, the President told border agents to not let migrants in. Tell them we don’t have the capacity, he said. If judges give you trouble, say, ‘Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.’
After the President left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving that direction and if they did what the President said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told.”

The following is from an article by Daniel Lippman in Politico: “Several times in the first year of his administration, resident Donald Trump wanted to call Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the middle of the afternoon. But there was a problem. MIdafternoon in Washington is the middle of the night in Tokyo—when Abe would be fast asleep.
Trump’s aides had to explain the issue, which one diplomatic source said came up on ‘a constant basis,’ but it wasn’t easy…
‘He wasn’t great with recognizing that the leader of a country might be 80 or 85 years od and isn’t going to be aware or in the right place at 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. their time,’ said a former Trump NSC official. ‘When he wants to call someone, he wants to call someone. He’s more impulsive that way. He doesn’t think about what time it is or who it is,’ added a person close to Trump…
Trump’s desire to call world leaders at awkward hours is just one of many previously diplomatic faux pas Trump has made since assuming the presidency, which go beyond the telephone etiquette to include misconceptions, mispronunciations and awkward meetings. Sometime the foibles have been contained within the White House. In one case, Trump while studying a brief’s map of South Asia ahead of a 2017 meeting with India’s prime minister, mispronounced Nepal as ‘nipple’ and laughingly referred too Bhutan as ‘button,’ according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting.

The following is from an article by Helene Cooper in the New York Times, December 23, 2018: “Less than two hours after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis went to the White House on Thursday to hand a resignation letter to President Trump, the president stood in the Oval Office and dictated a glowing tweet announcing the Mr. Mattis was retiring ‘with distinction’ at the end of February.
But Mr. Trump had not read the letter. As became apparent to the president only after days of news coverage, a senior administration official said, Mr. Mattis had issued a stinging rebuke of Mr. Trump over his neglect of allies and tolerance of authoritarians. The president grew increasingly angry as he watched a parade of defense analysts go on television to extol Mr. Mattis’s bravery, another aide said, until he decided on Sunday that he had had enough.”

The following is from an article by Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta in the Washington Post, December 2, 2018.: “When former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn’s staffers prepared a presentation for Trump about deficits, Cohn told them no. It wouldn’t be necessary, he said, because the president did not care about deficits, according to current and former officials.
Trump also repeatedly told Cohn to print more money, according to three White House officials familiar with his comments.
‘He’d just say, run the presses, run the presses,’ one former senior administration official said, describing he president’s Oval Office orders. ‘Sometimes it seemed like he was joking, and sometimes it didn’t…
Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has told others about watching television with Trump and asking the president how much the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff earns. Trump guessed $5 milion, according to people who were told the story by Kelly, startling the chief of staff. Kelly responded that he made less than $200,000. The president suggested he get a large raise and noted the number of stars on his uniform.”

Poor Impulse Control

May 22, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. It begins with a selection from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: From the child’s perspective, these are the terrific twos because they are so excited about all the new things they are able to do developmentally. It’s as if they are saying, ‘Look what I can do!’ As a result, all toddlers get frustrated at anyone or anything limiting their ability to do what they wish to do, even if they are not capable of it. This lack of independence leads to immediate and intense frustration and loss of control.

The following is from an article by Ashley Parker, Seung Min Kim, and Philip Rucker in the Washington Post, April 12, 2018: Senior U.S. officials describe a president who is operating largely in impulse, with little patience for the advice of his top aides. “A decision or statement is made by the president, and then the principals—Mattis or Pompeo or Kelly, come in and tell him we can’t do it,” said one senior administration official. “When it fails, we reverse-engender a policy process to match whatever the president said.”

The following is from an article by Josh Dawsey in Politico, October 9,2017: Trump would impulsively want to fire someone like Attorney General Jeff Sessions; create a new, wide-ranging policy with far-flung implications, like increasing tariffs on Chinese steel imports; or end a decades-old deal like the North American Free Trade Agreement. Enraged with a TV segment or frustrated after a meandering meeting, the president would order it done immediately.
Delaying the decision would give Priebus and others a chance to change his mind or bring in an adviser to speak with Trump—and in some cases, to ensure Trump would drop the idea altogether and move on…
Trump would sometimes lash out at Priebus for not doing what he wanted immediately though, several officials said.”

The following is from an article by Sonam Sheth in Business Insider, September 6, 2019: “No one knows what to expect from him anymore, one former White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations about the predisent, told Insider.
They added: His mood changes from one minute to the next based on some headline or tweet, and the next thing you know his entire schedule gets tossed out the window because he’s losing his s—-.”

The following is from an article by Josh Dawsey in Politico, May 1, 2017: “Trump’s advisers have at times tried to curb his media appearances, worried he will step on his message. ‘They were not helpful to us,’ one senior administration official said. ‘There was no point to do all of them.’
White House officials siad privately were was no broader strategy behind the interviews. GOP strategists and Capitol Hill aides were puzzled by it all. ‘I have no idea what they view as a successful media hit,’ said one senior GOP consultant with close ties to the administration. ‘He just seemed to go crazy today,’ a senior GOP aide said.”

The following article is by Josh Dawsey, Eliana Jonson, and Josh Meyer in Politico, May 15, 2017: Several advisers and others close to Trump said they wouldn’t be surprised if Trump gave information he shouldn’t have [to Russia dignitaries in the Oval Office].
One adviser who often speaks to the president said the conversation was likely freewheeling in the Oval Office, and he probably wanted to impress the officials.
“He doesn’t really know any boundaries. He doesn’t think the implications of what he’s saying.”

Short Attention Span

May 21, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. It begins with this excerpt from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for You Baby and Young Child: Around ages two and three, children naturally are very active and impulsive and have a short attention span. All children occasionally seem overactive or easily distractible—for example, when they’re tired, excited about a shiny something ‘special,’ or anxious about being in a strange place or among strangers.”

The following is from an article by Susan Glasser in Politico, May 19, 2017: When European diplomats meet these days, they often swap stories about Trump—and how to manage their volatile new ally. “The president of the United States has a 12-second attention span,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a former senior official in April after meeting Trump in the Oval Office. Not only that, this person told me, the president seemed unprepared and ill-informed, running the conversation to North Korea and apparently unaware that NATO was not a part of the ongoing North saga.

The following is from an article by Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker in the August 4 issue of the Washington Post: Trump had little time for in-depth briefings on Afghanistan’s history, its complicated political or its seemingly endless civil war. Even a single page of bullet points on the country seemed to tax the president’s attention on the subject, said senior White House officials. “I call the president the two-minute man,” said one Trump confident. “The president has patience for a half-page.”

The following is from Bob Woodward’s recounting in his book Fear of Gary Cohn complaining to White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter: Things are just crazy here. They’re so chaotic. He’s never going to change. It’s pointless to prepare a meaningful, substantive briefing for the president that’s organized, where you have a bunch of slides. Because you know he’s never going to listen. We’re never going to get through it. He’s going to get through the first 10 minutes and then he’s going to want to start talking about some other topic. And so we’re going to be there for an hour, but we’re never going to get through this briefing.

The following is from an article by Oliva Nuzzi in New York, March 28, 2018: How do you devise messaging for Trump, who will blow up the strategy without warning with a single early-morning tweet?” One hour you’ll be talking about immigration reform. The next you’ll be talking about the NFL. The next you’ll be talking about gun policy. The next you’ll be talking about tax cuts. And then, you know, circle back around to who lied on Morning Joe that day,” a second former White House official told New York, comparing the experience in the press shop to being, “on speed.”

The following is from an article by Philip Rucker in the Washington Post, January 21, 2019: At times Trump evinced less rage than a lack of interest. Sims recounts one time when Ryan was in the Oval Office explaining the ins and outs of the Republican health-care bill to the president. As Ryan droned on for 15 minutes, Trump sipped on a glass of Diet Coke, peered out at the Rose Garden, stared aimlessly at the walls and finally, walked out.
Ryan kept talking as the president wandered down the hall to his private dining room, where he flicked on his giant flat-screen TV. Apparently, he had had enough of Ryan’s talk. It fell to Vice President Pence to retrieve Trump and convince him to return to the Oval Office so they could continue their strategy session.”

The following is from Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube, NBC News, March 28, 2019: In his new role, Coats was responsible for walking a president he hardly knew through his daily intelligence briefing. He quickly found his boss had a short attention span for the information he was providing, current and former administration officials said. Coats struggled with how to respond when Trump veered off on unrelated tangents or bluntly disagree with the intelligence he was presented—as he often did, the current and former senior administrations officials said.
Coats found it particularly hard to hide his exasperation with Trumps insistence in the weeks after taking office that Obama had wiretapped him during the 2016 campaign, according to the officials. Over and over again Trump raised the issue and over and over Coats told him he wasn’t wiretapped, officials said, but the president didn’t want to hear it.
“It was a recurring thing and began early on,” a senior administration official who observed the exchanges said. “You could tell that Coats thought the president was crazy.”

Temper Tantrums

May 20, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. The chapter begins with a quote from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child.
When he oversteps a limit and is pulled back, he often reacts with anger and frustration, possibly with a temper tantrum or sudden rage….At this age, he just doesn’t have much control over his emotional impulses, so his anger and frustration tend to erupt suddenly….It’s his only way of dealing with the difficult realities of life. He may even act out in ways that unintentionally harm himself or others. It’s all part of being two.

The following is from an article by Josh Dawley in Politico, May 10, 2017: “He had grown enraged by the Russian investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one advisor said.”

The following is from an article by Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker in the Washington Post, June 23, 2017: “Trump’s grievances and moods often bleed into one another. Frustration with the investigation stews inside him until it bubbles up in the form of rants to aides about fair cable television commentary or as slights aimed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein.”

The following is from an article by Sam Stein, Lachlan Markay, and Asawin Suebsaeng in the Daily Beast, July 19, 2017: Multiple Trump administrations officials detailed to The Daily Beast how senior staffers have a long-standing practice of assuring Trump of the quantity of his major accomplishments (of which he has barely any legislative and some administrative) and placating him by flagging positive media coverage, typically from right-wing outlets. This is, in part, a means to avoid further upsetting a president who is already prone to irrationally taking out his anger and professional frustrations on senior staff and who also has a penchant for yelling at the TV.

The following is from an article by Robert Costa, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker in the Washington Post, October 9, 2017: One Trump confident likened the president to a whistling teapot, saying that when he does not blow off steam, he can turn into pressure cooker territory.

The following is from an article by Julie Hirschfield Davis in the New York Times, July 16, 2018: Some of Trump’s own advisers privately said they were shocked by the president’s performance, including his use of the phrase “witch hunt” to describe he special counsel investigations while standing beside Mr. Putin.
Aboard Air Force One back to Washington, Mr. Trump’s mood grew foul as the breadth of the critical reactions became clear according to some people briefed on the flight. Aides steered clear of the front of the plane to avoid being tapped for a venting session with Mr. Trump.

The following is from a piece by Michelle Kosinski and Maegan Vazquez on CNN, June 4, 2018: A call about trade and migration between US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron soured last week after Macron candidly criticized Trump’s policies, two sources familiar with the call told CNN.
“Just bad. It was terrible,” one source told CNN. “Macron thought he would be able to speak his mind, based on the relationship. But Trump can’t handle being criticized like that.”

The following is from an article by John Walcott in Time, February 5, 2019: What is most troubling, say these officials and others in government and on Capitol Hill who have been briefed on [intelligence briefing] episodes, are Trump’s angry reactions when he is given information that contradicts positions he has taken or beliefs he holds. Two intelligence officers even reported that they have been warned to avoid giving the President intelligence assessments that contradict stances he has taken in public.

This last quote is terrifying when you think the damage Trump can wreak even absent his control of the nuclear trigger.

Quotes from Prominent Trump Supporters

May 19, 2020

These quotes come from a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief.

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: “There are parts of Trump that are almost impossible to manage.
Trump White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon: “I’m sick of being a wet nurse for a 71 year old.”
US Senator Bob Corker: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center.”
GOP campaign consultants Karl Rove: “Increasingly it appears Mr. Trump lacks the focus or self-discipline to do the basic work required of a President. HIs chronic impulsiveness is apparently unstoppable and clearly self-defeating.”
Newsman CEO and longtime Trump friend Christopher Ruddy: “This is Donald Trump’s personality. He just has to respond. He’s been so emotional…It takes a toll on him, and the way he deals with it is to lash out.”
Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson: “I’ve come to believe that Trump’s role is not as a conventional President who promises to get certain things achieved to the Congress and then does. I don’t think he’s capable of sustained focus, I don’t think he understands the system.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “What was challenging for me coming from the disciplined highly process-oriented ExxonMobil corporation [was] to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says,”This is what I believe.”
US Representative Ryan Costello: “The notion that a shutdown creates more pressure on Dems is toddler logic.”
U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham: “The president’s been—he can be a handful—that’s just the way it is.”
U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger: This is so beneath the office you hold, It’s childish, and yet it’s getting really old.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan: “I’m telling you he didn’t know anything about government….I wanted to scold him all the time.”
Governor Chris Christie: “He acts and speaks on impulse. He doesn’t always grasp the inner workings of government.

Dresser writes, “But between April 2017 and December 2019, I have recorded well over one thousand instances in which an ally or subordinate or Donald Trump has described the President as if he were a toddler. The rate is greater than one toddler depiction per day. That seems like a lot.”

What HM cannot understand is how these people, knowing what they know, allow Trump to continue as president given the harm he is wreaking on the country and the world.

The Toddler in Chief

May 18, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner. The subtitle of this book is What Donald Trump Teaches Us About the Modern Presidency. The introduction to this book begins with a quote from American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child:
At the age of two, children view the world almost exclusively through their own needs and desires. Because they can’t yet understand how others might feel in the same situation, they assume that everyone thinks and feels exactly as they do. And on those occasions when they realize they’re out of line, they may not be able to control themselves.

There will be a series of posts on this book. It follows the posts on narcissism nicely, for narcissists are essentially exhibiting the behavior of a two year old child. It should be noted that the “twos” are known as the terrible twos, since at this age the child is virtually exclusively self-centered, and lashes out when frustrated. The author writes, “On television, commentators ranging from Don Lemon to P.J. O’Rourke have characterized the President as a two-year-old brat. Protestors and editorial cartoonists depict Trump as a giant man-baby. Within the first few months of his presidency, even conservative columnists such as David Brooks and Ross Dothan were explicitly comparing Trump to a child. In the fall of 2017, the Atlantic’s David Graham wrote, ‘How does the presidency work when the President’s aides treat him like a child? The immediate answer is, not very well.’”

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote, “‘Though we often hear the mantra ‘this is not normal,’ what the President is doing actually is normal. For a 2-year-old.” The author writes, “If you want to understand this White House, turn off Wolf Blitzer and pick up Benjamin Spock.”

The author writes, “President Trump, his family and biographers have all made it clear that the 45th President is not the most mature of individuals. Trump himself told his biographer, ‘When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same. The temperament is not that different.’ Trump’s sister Maryanne told the Washington Post during the 2016 campaign that a her brother was ‘still a simple boy from Queens.’ Admittedly, a fourth-grader is older than a toddler, but the fact remains that Trump and his family agree that his psychological makeup has remained unchanged from when he was a very small boy. Most of the biographers and biographies of Trump make a similar point: Trump has experienced little emotional or psychological development since he was a toddler. Tim O’Brien, the author of TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, warned Politico after Trump’s election that ‘we now have somebody who’s going to sit in the Oval Office who is lacking in a lot of adult restraints and in mature emotions.’

Continuing the author writes, “The last and most powerful argument supporting the Toddler-in-Chief thesis, however, is laid out in the rest of this book. It is not only Trump’s political opponents who frequently liken him to an immature child. His closest political allies and subordinates draw the same comparison. This is the strongest rebuttal to the claim that those comparing Trump to a toddler are simply partisan hacks. Individuals with a vested interest in the success of Donald Trump’s presidency nonetheless describe him as a small boy in desperate need of a time-out. They have done so repeatedly and persistently since his inauguration.”

Many more healthy memory blog posts will be based on this important book. They timely follow the many posts on narcissism. In reading Drezner’s book the similarity between two year olds and narcissists is striking. Like two-year olds, narcissists also want to be the center of attention, praised and admired, and have all their needs and wants catered to. So the narcissist-in-chief can readily serve as the toddler-in-chief.

What Can Be Done About the Narcissim Epidemic

May 17, 2020

The authors of The Narcissim Epidemic: Living in an Age of Entitlement, Twenge and Campbell offer a wide range of solutions to the problem of narcissism. They address changes that need to be made structurally by government and different industries. Given that neither HM nor his readers would be capable of implementing these changes, this post will deal with activities to be done by the individual. These changes will lead to a more satisfying and fulfilling life. It should be clear from the posts that narcissism is not fulfilling and leads to unhappiness.

Let’s begin by discussing the Chief Narcissist, Donald Trump. There was a previous post, Trump vs. a Buddhist monk, which argued that the monk is a happier than Donald Trump. His meditations produce this happiness. But what about the multiple billionaire Donald Trump? He is the president of the leading country in the world, but is he happy?

He doesn’t act happy. At the smallest slight he attacks people with nicknames and insults like an elementary school bully. There are many examples of this, but perhaps the best was his response to why his administration had taken no effective actions for the coronavirus epidemic in February. Trump had played a campaign video that purported to show his activities against the virus. Unfortunately, there was nothing in it about the month of February. When a reporter asked about this gap, Trump responded about January, when the reporter responded that the question was about February as it was obvious that the administration had done nothing during February, Trump’s response was that this reporter was a horrible person and told her so to her face. Now a response like this from any adult would be quite remarkable, but from the President of the United States?

Trump is proud of his wealth and he judges people by the amount of wealth that they have. But this is a losing quest, there will always be people who either are wealthier or who soon will be wealthier than you. Moreover, Trumps wealth is in question. He refuses to release his taxes. Moreover, he had suffered so many bankruptcies that American banks would no longer lend him money. So where did the money come from for all the building projects he had underway? The answer came from one of his sons, who said that the Russians had loaned him the money. The reality is that Putin owns Trump, and that Trump getting financing from the Russian mob goes way back (see the healthy memory blog post “House of Trump House of Putin”).

Narcissim’s fundamental problem is a sense of entitlement that comes from self-esteem (HM disagrees with the book’s authors on this point, read that post to understand why).
Research has shown that self-esteem is harmful. One example being a reluctance to try new things because it might make them look bad. Rather than self-esteem, use the terms self-affirmation or self-confidence, meaning that people can accomplish much more than they think they can, provided they persevere.

There is no “we” or “us” in narcissism, it is all about me or I. People need to think about others, and have empathy for their problems. They need to work well and share with others. They need to be concerned about the welfare of their fellow humans. These practices yield benefits to one’s own mental and physical well being.

A recurring theme in this blog is that growth mindsets are needed for a healthy memory. One should constantly be learning new topics and skills. This provides memory health, by engaging System 2 processing (thinking) in lieu of a heavy reliance on default (System 1) processing.

Doing so will lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying life that results in a cognitive reserve that largely reduces the risks of Alzheimers and dementia. Another prediction for narcissists is that they are at a high risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Entitlement

May 16, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. The authors write, “College professors often comment that today’s students feel they deserve special treatment. In 2005, a Harvard professor noted that, 20 years ago, ‘When a few students were sick and missed an exam…they use to be apologetic and just grateful that I would even offer a makeup. These days I have kids who think it’s no big deal to miss a test if they have any conflict and then they think they should decide when I give the makeup.’ Some students say, ‘I need an A in this course,” as if an A were an entitlement rather than something to be earned. Others expect to get good grades just for paying tuition, even telling faculty members, ‘You work for me.’ The most entitled have decided that they get good grades by arguing, saying things like, ‘I’m not leaving you office until you change my grade to an A.’”

The authors continue, “A survey of college students published in 2008 confirmed these perceptions. Two-thirds of students believed their professor should give them special considerations it they explained they were trying hard (apparently just for trying). One-third believed they deserved at least a B just for attending class. And—perhaps most incredible—one third thought that they should be able to reschedule their final exam if it interfered with their vacation plans.”

Joan a financial aid counselor at a satellite campus of the University of North Carolina writes that students often tell her, “I don’t want loans; I want financial aid,” and she has to explain that financial aid consists of more than outright gifts of money. One student came into her office and announced, “I was just at the Cashier’s Offie to pick up my refund check, and they said I didn’t have one. I want to know who the slacker is around here.” When Joan looked at the file, she found that the student had not even filed a financial aid application. When confronted with the truth that she was the “slacker,” the student said, “My parents are so stupid—they were supposed to do that for me.”

The authors write, “Entitled people are also unwilling to see the world through another person’s eyes and find it difficult to empathize with another’s misfortunes. When you are entitled, all your focus is directed toward your own experience, you own outcomes, your own needs. This is an obvious recipe for disaster in a romantic relationship, but it doesn’t bode well for work relationships, either. Engagement is also linked to a fundamental lack of respect for other people. The entitled person considers his needs paramount, and the others’ needs minor.”

Regarding the employee problem, the authors write, “In business, entitlement often boils down to an equation: less work for more pay. Plenty of workers today want that, but they also want more flexibility, balance, meaning, and praise for their work. ‘If you just expect them to stand behind a register and smile, they’re not going to do that unless you tell them why that’s important and then recognize them for it,’ say John Spano, a human resources director at a theater chain. Bob runs a business that staffs industrial and clerical jobs in Minneapolis and answers the authors’ survey. ‘It’s not uncommon for an employee to call my office before I arrive for the day to inform me, their employer, that they are too tired to go to work and must get more sleep. They really see nothing wrong with staying home from work to sleep.’” One employee who did this three times in one week was fired, only to call a few months later wanting another job.”

A major problem with entitlement is that entitled people don’t see reciprocity as a two-way street. They see favors as a one-way on-ramp that leads to them. The result is that the whole concept of reciprocity gets diminished and life gets a little harder and more isolated for everyone. The authors write that “Reciprocity is the gel that binds society together, and entitlement dissolves that glue.”

Antisocial Behavior

May 15, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. The title of this post is identical to the subtitle of a chapter. The chapter title is The Quest for Infamy and the Rise of Incivility.

The authors write, “Narcissists are not necessarily aggressive all the time—unprovoked, they just act like everyone else. But they do lash out when someone else takes them down a notch. Brad Bushman and Roy Baumeister conducted a series of experiments in which college students wrote essays and received rigged feedback, which was ostensibly given by another student. The feedback said, “This is one of the worst essays I’ve read!” Eighty % of those high in narcissism were more aggressive than non-narcissists after receiving this insult. Narcissists weren’t aggressive toward someone who praised them, but an insult set them off. The narcissistic reaction is often out of proportion to the provocation.

The ABC News show 20/20 filmed several participants going through Bushman and Baumeister’s experiment. One student, call him Nick the Narcissist, scored in the 98th percentile on narcissism and laughed as he administered strong noise blasts. Afterward he was shown the video of himself and told he could choose whether it was aired. Nick said, sure, air it. Brad Bushman took him aside and explained that he might not want to look like a highly aggressive narcissist on national television. Nick said he thought he looked great, and wanted to be on TV. Perhaps the TV producers could at least digitize his face, Bushman suggested. Nick said incredulously, no way! He added it was too bad they couldn’t show his name and phone number too. The authors write, “This is one of the keys to understanding narcissists: they don’t really care if they look like jerks; they just want to be famous.”

Narcissists are also aggressive when someone tries to restrict their freedom: “Who are you to tell me what I can or can’t do?” An aggressive response to freedom restriction was painfully demonstrated in 2007 when several Philadelphia schoolteachers were allegedly attacked by students, one when he ordered a student to turn down her music, and another when he ordered a student to stop making prank phone calls on a classroom phone. Four teachers were seriously injured in separate incidents, and three of the student attackers ended up in jail for assault.

There is a relationship between narcissism, self-esteem, and aggression. High self-esteem and high narcissism produces a high level of aggression. For people with low self-esteem the level of aggression is almost identical regardless of their level of narcissism.

The authors write, “Given the upswing in the narcissistic values of American culture since the ‘90s, it may be no coincidence that mass shootings became a national plague around the same time. However, if the rise in narcissism were the only explanation, school shootings would have started earlier—perhaps in the late 1970s and ‘80s when the narcissism epidemic was just getting going. However, these types of social behaviors need to get attention before most people think about perpetuating them. Before school shootings received extensive media attention in the late ‘90s, people didn’t think of shooting a group of their fellow students as a way to get fame. Columbine and the other late ‘90s shootings provided a script for how to commit a mass killing at school, and demonstrated that these shootings could be linked to fame. If you ask students today, “How do you commit a mass killing at a school?” they know what to do. Before Columbine, few students would have thought about it. As American culture has grown more enamored with celebrity and fame, and now that mass killing in schools is seen as a direct avenue to fame and attention, the frequency of mass killings has increased dramatically. Fistfights that got wide exposure have shown a similar pattern.”

Materialism

May 14, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. Materialism harms others and society like many of the correlates of narcissism. But it is also harmful to the individual in the long run. The author of The High Price of Materialism,Tim Kasser, has spent his career studying the consequences of valuing money and things. Materialistic people are less happy and more depressed on average than other people. People who simply aspire to have more money suffer from poor mental health; they also report more physical health problems such as sore throats, backaches, and headaches. And they are more likely to drink too much alcohol and use illegal drugs. Apparently, striving for financial success makes people miserable. One reason is that it is very hard to get ahead for more than a short while in the materialism game. Both fashion and style change so rapidly that only the very wealthy—or those willing to carry enormous amounts of debt—can keep up. Beyond the brief feeling of excitement you get when buying a hot new product and showing it to your friends, the pleasures of materialism are fleeting. Although lots of things are fun to buy, not so many are fun to own. The authors write, “The boost to narcissism that you get from beating the Joneses lasts only until they get their own new BMW or home cinema.

Materialism is also a stumbling block in the relationships of narcissists. Narcissistic partners often say that the narcissist’s interest in material good interferes with the relationship. Guys will say, she’s more interested in stainless-steel appliances, fancy handbags. and Manolo Blank shoes that our relationship. Gals will say he’s more interested in huge flat-screen TV, Rolex watches, and expensive suits.

Narcissists also sort their friends according to material standards. One woman bragged to a group of friends that she had bought not one but three Coach diaper bags, and added that she waited to share this news until after the departure of friends who were not fashion-coward enough to appreciate her taste. Her advice for those yet to deliver their babies was to bring gift bags to bribe the nursing staff.

Throughout history people have aspired to be rich, but now wealth seems much more materialistic. Today, anyone can get into Harvard it they’re smart enough, when just a few decades ago the vast majority of Ivy Leaguers were white men from the East Coast with the right connections. There were rags-to-riches as well in previous eras, but there was more awareness and acceptance that these were unusual. The authors write, “Not long ago, low-income teenagers aspired to middle-class dreams, for example a three-bedroom house in the suburbs. These days, disadvantaged youth are more likely to say they want a mansion like the one they saw on MTV.”

The authors write, “The rich are also treated with an aspirational reverence—somewhat like the gods were to the Greeks, except that many people fervently hope they can soon join their ranks. A recent Forbes magazine cover promised details on “The Lives of the Very Rich,” including sections titled “Masters of the Universe” and Marrying its Money.” ‘Masters of the Universe’ tops the hype meter.
Aspirational reverence should be reserved from those with genuine accomplishment of for humanitarian endeavors, not for wealth, and especially inherited wealth.

Vanity

May 13, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. The authors write, “Americans growing obsession with appearance is a clear symptom of a narcissistic culture in love with its own reflection. True to the Greek myth, narcissists believe they are more attractive than other people (even though, objectively, they’re not).” Carly Simon sings in her song “You’re So Vain”, “You had one eye on the mirror as you watched yourself.” Narcissists like watching themselves on videotape, and report gaining self-confidence from gazing at their reflections in a mirror. The Narcissistic Personality Inventory contains items such as “I like to look at myself in the mirror,” “I get upset when people don’t notice how I look when I go out in public,” and “I like to show off my body.” Vanity often occurs with self-centeredness, which causes so many of the negative behaviors associated with narcissism. Amanda Knox, who was accused of murdering her roommate, wrote in her jailhouse diary, “When I have an hour outside time I sit with my face in the sun so that I can get a tan. I have received letters from fellow inmates and admirers telling me that I am hot and they want to have sex with me.”

Students at San Diego State participate in an “Undie Run” at the end of fall semester every year. Picture from the 2007 event, posted on a public website, show an expanse of well—toned undergraduate flesh posing for the camera, including three young women wearing briefs that say “Take my Photo” on her rear. In the picture, they stand with their buns on the camera, pointing at the slogan. And to think that some people question the value of a college education!

But forget about college. A 2008 survey found that 1 out of 4 teen girls has sent a nude or nearly nude picture of herself via the Internet or cell phone. Sometimes these images are meant for one person, but often end up circulating to hundreds of other teens.

The authors write, “One of the dark sides of the cultural emphasis on physical appearance is the increase in eating disorders. Many people with eating disorders suffer from the “vulnerable” subtype of narcissism, which is often accompanied by anxiety and depression. The combination of self-admiration with the social pressure to look physically attractive—both of which are present in the current cultural climate—are a recipe for creating eating disorders.

Men are not immune to new high standards for appearance. Men’s skin care is one of the fastest-growing segments in the multi-billion-dollar grooming industry, and with sales up almost 50% in 2005 alone. This is especially true for younger generations, who “get their bodies waxed, work out, style their hair, and go to tanning salons.” When HM was an adolescent, the main and only concern was using Clearisil to remove pimples from one’s face.

And plastic surgeons are experiencing vast increases in wealth from plastic surgery.
The authors ask, “Why the rise in the obsession with appearance? Much of today’s desire for physical beauty springs from the fountain of self-admiration. For narcissistic people, good looks are just another way of gaining attention, status, and popularity.”

What Wealthy People Do To Get That Way

May 12, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. To answer this question the authors cited the work of Thomas Stanley and William Danko, who are authors of The Millionaire Next Door. The authors initially believed millionaires would have expensive tastes and habits. However, after some research, the found that this wasn’t true. They set up a meeting with people worth at least $10 million. They set up a table with fancy food and wine they thought the millionaires would like. But when they offered a glass of high-end wine to one, he turned it down flat. He said, “I drink two kinds of beer. Free and Budweiser.”

These millionaires Stanley and Danko studied were frugal. Many drove used cars, spent very little, and saved large sums of money. Stanley and Danko identified seven key factor in these millionaires. At least two are directly at odds with narcissism. First, the authors found, millionaires live well below their means. Second, Millionaires “believe that financial independence is more important than displaying high social status. So rather than running after status, these wealthy people wanted to achieve actual wealth and independence. The narcissistic culture asks, “Why be wealthy if you can’t show it off?” But many millionaires believe that having wealth gave them a sense of freedom, a feeling that far outweighed the fleeting pleasure of looking wealthy.

Twinge and Campbell write, “The findings presented in The Millionaire Next Door are counterintuitive. Americans see people with fancy cars and clothes and assume they must be rich. In reality, it is often safer to assume that they are in debt. The credit crunch that paralyzed the economy in the late 2000s is, at base, the conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. Narcissism works on the pleasure principle—it looks great and gets what it wants, but it hurts other people and even the self in the long run. In contrast, the reality principle isn’t flashy or self-promoting, but it does leads to actual wealth.

Media Transmission of Narcissim

May 10, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. Reality TV stars and other celebrities play an important role in the spread of narcissism. In the epidemiology of viruses, some people are known as super spreaders. Celebrities and the media they dominate are super spreaders of narcissism. Through gossip magazines, movies, commercials, and reality TV, Americans get a regular infusion of the narcissism virus. They create a world in which being narcissistic is cool.

A journalist wrote in an online survey, “I interviewed hundreds of well-known actors and actresses over a 10-year period, and this is basically how the interviews went: “I think…I believe… I am…My passion is…I’d like to think what I do makes a difference in the world…Me…Me…More Me…Major Me…did I mention Me? I am a role model to so many…I am, in fact, God incarnate. [They], and not only the mega-stars, were so self-absorbed, so self-obsessed, that my attendance at the interview wasn’t totally necessary. They blurted out their Me—ness unprompted.”

Another headline-making realm with more than its share of narcissists is sports. Skier Bode Miller, who failed to finish in events and nearly fell in a third one in the 2006 Winter Olympics, said, “I just did it my way. I’m not a martyr, and I’m not a do-gooder, I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here. He admitted to not training as much as he should have, but he claimed he had a good reason: “My quality of life is the priority. It’s been an awesome two weeks, I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level.”

The authors report, “An increasing number of Americans not only admire fame from afar but fervently wish to enter the circle of celebrity themselves. In 2005, 51% of 18-to 25-year olds said that “becoming famous” was an important goal of their generation—nearly five times as many as named “becoming more spiritual” as an important goal. A 2006 poll asked children in Britain to name “the very best thing in the world.” The most popular answer was “being a celebrity.” “Good looks” and “being rich” rounded out the top three, making for a perfect narcissistic triumvirate. “God” came in last.

When one of the authors asked a teenage girl, “What do you want to be when you’re older?” She replied, “Famous.” “For what?” she was asked. The teen responded, “It doesn’t matter, I just want to be famous.”

Joshua Gamson, a sociology professor at the University of San Francisco said, “It’s as if being famous has become a right. One of the rights to being an American is the right to become famous—at least for an hour, maybe a day.”

In 2005, 31% of American high school students said they expected to become famous someday. Obviously, there is going to be an enormous number of disappointed students. Let us hope that some do not become desperate enough to take the route of an active shooter shooting their way to fame.

The Trap of Narcissism

May 9, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. Now the question is if narcissism doesn’t lead to success, and comes with so many costs, why is anyone narcissistic?

One reason is that narcissists’ have greater visibility, so many people believe that narcissists are phenomenally successful. Narcissists seek attention and they’re really good at getting on TV (or looking snazzy at the local bar, or showing off at the gym). It’s an example of what we psychologists call the availability heuristic—believing that things happen more often when they come to mind more easily. For example, many people think flying on planes is dangerous because they can easily remember the image of a horrific plane crash, even though driving a car is actually far more dangerous statistically. The authors write that successful narcissists are a little like plane crashes; they are spectacular, they get noticed, and they can be a disaster.

The authors write, “This phenomenon is easily seen in the media. Donald Trump, who puts his name on everything he builds, has his own TV show, named a university after himself (there was a Trump University, it has failed), and picks fights with talk show hosts, is a great example who is both successful and appears to be narcissistic. We know about Donald Trump’s success because he is relentlessly self-promoting. It is hard to miss The Donald in the media, and he is rich (actually readers of this post should know that Trump was bankrupt but Putin financed his developments, which is why he is hiding his tax returns)—but there are other real stable tycoons you’ve never heard of because they are not self-promoters and don’t want to be in the limelight. Many other successful people are not self-promoting. For example. Warren Buffet, the billionaire investor gave most of his fortune to charity and drives around Nebraska in a Lincoln with license plates that say THRIFTY. Tom Hanks, who has won two Best Actor Academy Awards, is known in the film industry for being a genuinely nice person, as was Paul Newman, who donated millions to charity. You don’t have to be a narcissist to be successful, but Americans can think of lots of successful narcissists because they’re always grabbing the limelight. [It should to be noted that this book was published before Trump ran for President]

Then how is narcissism bad? The authors note that narcissism shares several things in common with other destructive behaviors. “First, it felt good. It’s fun to gamble, binge drink, have an illicit sexual relationship, eat glazed donuts, or take notepads from the office. Second, destructive behaviors usually have short-term benefits and long-term costs. When you gamble, you get the fun and excitement of going to the casino and playing cards. But you also risk the long-term costs of losing all your money, destroying your marriage, and losing your self-respect. When you binge drink, you have the benefits of giddy fun, but the longer-term cost of vomiting, a massive hangover, and the inability to show up at work. Last, destructive behaviors often make other people suffer. When someone cheats in a relationship. much of the cost is paid by the uninvolved spouse and children. Consumers all pay the cost of employee theft in terms of higher prices. The risky mortgage rewards the homeowner and the lender in the short term, but hurts everybody in the long run when the owner can’t pay the bill. “
In short, narcissism harms many people specifically, and society in general.

Creating a Narcissistic Child

May 8, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. Four psychologists studied the relationship between parental styles and children’s narcissistic personality traits. In one study, 9-to-13-year-old children completed a measure of narcissism and reported their parents’ behaviors once and then again 12 to 18 months later. Children whose mothers were both warm and psychologically controlling, like a helicopter parent, later scored the highest on narcissism. In another study, narcissistic young adults reported that their parents were indulgent. Narcissists were more likely to agree that “Looking back, I feel my parents sometimes put me on a pedestal,” “When I was a child my parents believed I have exceptional talents and abilities,” “When I was a child my parents praised me for virtually everything I did,” and “When I was a child my parents rarely criticized me.”

Two other studies asked teens and young adults to report how closely their parents monitored them as adolescents. The narcissistic respondents were more likely to say that their parents didn’t really know where they went at night. The general picture of parenting that leads to narcissistic kids closely resembles the modern parent: overindulgent, praising, and putting the child in charge. The authors conclude, “None of this is good news for the parent whose kid wears a bib saying “I’m the boss.”

The authors write that today many parents are uncomfortable being authority figures. They would rather have their child like them than respect them, and would rather be the child’s friend that a stern parent. They say that this trend began in the 1970s with books like PET: Parent Effectiveness Training, which argued that parents didn’t really know more than their kids—saying adults know more, they wrote, is akin to the belief that some racial groups are superior to others. Although the book does state that parents should not let their children do whatever they want, it was the first among many parenting manuals that encouraged equality between parents and children.

Many children now make household decisions, something that was unheard of just a few decades ago. Even preschoolers help make family purchasing decisions, important purchasing decisions. An educational consultant knows a family in which the five-year-old boy chose the family’s new car.

Overpraising is another problem, one which stems largely from the belief that self-esteem is important. Consequently, trophies are awarded just for participating. The authors write, “Praising children when they do good work or behave well is fine—in fact, that approach works better than punishing children for behaving badly. But in the past few decades, American parenting has moved to a different model, heaping praise for the littlest achievement and even, sometimes, for poor performance. Thinking that you’re great when you actually stink is a recipe for narcissism, yet this is what many patents and teachers encourage in children every day in the name of self-esteem (self-esteem again, instead of self-confidence, or self affirmation).
Continuing, the authors write, “Excessive praise has even been built into our education system. Although 20% fewer students in 2006 (versus 1976) did 15 or more hours of homework a week, twice as many reported getting an A average in high school. In other words, students now getting better grades for doing less work.

Polly Young-Eisendrath describes in her book, The Self-Esteem Trap, how treating a child as “special” leads to young adults who are self-absorbed but fragile in the face of hard work and negative feedback. They feel entitled to high-status occupations but quickly become discouraged when they aren’t highly successful right away.

Narcissism and Success

May 7, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. The authors write, “Narcissists love to win, but in most settings they aren’t that great at actually winning. College students with inflated views of themselves (they think they are better than they actually are) make poorer grades the longer they are in college, and they are more likely to drop out. Another study found that students who flunked an introductory psychology course had the highest narcissism scores by far, and those who made A’s had the lowest. The authors conclude, “Apparently the narcissists were wildly unrealistic about how they were doing and persisted in their lofty illusions when they should have dropped course (or perhaps done something radical, like study).”

So overconfidence backfires, The authors write, “narcissists are lousy at taking criticism and learning from mistakes. They also like to blame everyone and everything except themselves for their shortcomings. They lack motivation to improve because they believe they already have it made: when you were born on home plate, why run around the bases? Overconfidence itself can lead to poor performance. If you think you know all the answers, there’s no need to study. Then you take the test and fail. Oops.”

In another series of studies, people answer general knowledge questions like “Who founded the Holy Roman Empire?” Then they rated their confidence in their answers and were given the chance to place a monetary bet on the outcome. Unknown to the participants, these were “fair bets”, so someone who was 99% confident in their answer would make less money than someone who was only 60% sure. This is similar to horse racing, where the favorites have smaller pay-offs(a 1-to-25 pony pays off more than the 1-to-2 sure thing), or football, where there is a “point spread” of each game. The performance of Narcissists on the questions was the same as everyone else’s, but they were more confident of their answers and bet too much and too often. Narcissists also showed their trademark decoupling from reality: they started saying they would do better than others, but they actually did worse. Nevertheless the narcissists were undaunted and continued to claim that they had outperformed others on the test and would do well in the future. The authors conclude, “At least for a short period of time, narcissists were able to live in a fantasy world where they thought they were successful. They were even able to maintain these beliefs in the face of failure. Narcissism is a great predictor of imaginary success—but not of actual success.”

Narcissists have a high risk tolerance. They are optimistic because they are so confident they are right and that things will go well. So narcissists are successful when investing in bull markets, when their overconfidence and willingness to take risks pays off. In a simulated stock market study, narcissists did better than others when the market was headed up. But their superior performance disappeared as to their higher tolerance for risk. The authors write, “This, in part, is what happened to the mortgage market during the early 2000s: Both buyers and lender were narcissistically overconfident and took too many risks. When many buyers couldn’t pay their overly optimistic mortgages, the market turned downward eventually taking much of Wall Street with it. In the short term, narcissism and overconfidence pay off in spades, but when failure came it was even more spectacular than usual. In the end, the financial crises was the worst since the Great Depression. The authors failed to note that narcissists did not time the market and lost their shirts and other articles of clothing in the crash. And they deserved losing these articles of clothing because narcissism was a critical force in moving the market to false levels.

Business professors Arijit Chatterjee and Donald Hambrick studied CEO narcissism and company outcomes for more than 100 technology companies. They found that the more narcissistic the CEO of a company was, the more volatile the company’s performance. It appeared that narcissistic leaders were using dramatic, highly public corporate strategies. For example, they might buy up a smaller competitor or start a new “cutting-edge” business venture. When those strategic decisions paid off, the company did really well; when they didn’t, it was a disaster. In contrast, less narcissistic leader produced a more study performance. Given that volatility in performance is considered a negative in the valuation of companies (in economics, volatility is seen as “risk”) narcissistic CEOs are not ideal.

The authors write, “Narcissists are also not popular bosses. Employees rate narcissistic managers as average in problem-solving skills but below average in interpersonal skills and integrity, two qualities considered very important for management. Another study found that while narcissists saw themselves as excelling at leadership, their peers thought they were below average.”

The authors note, “Enron—the company made of “the smartest guys in the room” that cooked its books and subsequently imploded—is a microcosm of the downfalls of narcissism.” Malcolm Gladwell argues in his essay, “The Talent Myth.” “Enron was the Narcissistic Corporation—a company that took more credit for success than was legitimate, that did not acknowledge responsibility for its failures, that shrewdly sold the rest of us on its genius.”

Passing 74

May 6, 2020

Meaning that today HM is entering his 75th year. One might think that when one has lived this long, he has seen everything. But that is not the case. COVID-19 is new and is, by far, the worst pandemic he has ever experienced. We are not coping well with this pandemic, due in large part to Trump declaring it was a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats to destroy him. When he finally had to concede that the pandemic was real, he said that he had a test for the disease, he called it a beautiful test, that anyone could have just for the asking. Well there was no test and the absence of the test has seriously hindered the tracking of this disease and impacts when we might be able to return to a normal life.

Trump further exacerbated the situation by saying it was the responsibility of the states. He eventually declared a national emergency but did not lead the emergency as he was supposed to do. He said it was the problem of the states. The result of this was to put the states in competition not only with each other, but also with FEMA in competing for needed resources. This not only made this important task extremely difficult, it also made it more expensive.

Trump’s only interest in the pandemic is the likely risk it poses for his re-election campaign. Consequently, his focus is not on dealing with the pandemic, but rather in deflecting any blame off himself and onto others. This is nothing new. If someone does know of anytime that Trump has accepted blame for anything, please comment.

HM engages in ikigai, the Japanese term referring to living a life with purpose, a meaningful life. His purpose, in addition to living a fulfilling life with his wife, is to learn and share his thoughts and knowledge with others. HM does this primarily through his blog healthymemory, which focuses on memory health and technology.

HM’s Ph.D is in cognitive psychology. That field has transitioned to cognitive neuroscience, a field of research and a term that did not exist when HM was awarded his Ph.D. HM is envious of today’s students. However, he is still fortunate enough to be able to keep abreast of current research and to relay relevant and meaningful research from this field to his readers.

What is most disturbing is the atmosphere of fear and hate that prevails today. It is ironic that technology, which had, and still has, a tremendous potential for spreading knowledge, now largely spreads disinformation, hatred, and fear.
HM understands why this is the case, but, unfortunately, he does not know how to counter it.
The problem can best be understood in terms of Kahneman’s Two System View of cognition. In Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of cognition, System 1, intuition, is our normal mode of processing and requires little or no attention. Unfortunately, System 1 is largely governed by emotions. Fear and hate are System 1 processes. System 2, commonly referred to as thinking, requires our attention. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1. When we encounter something contradictory to what we believe, the brain sets off a distinct signal. It is easier to ignore this signal and to continue System 1 processing. To engage System 2 requires attentional resources to attempt to resolve the discrepancy and to seek further understanding. System 2 involves thinking. System 1 is automatic and requires virtually no cognitive effort. Emotions are a System 1 process, as are identity based politics. Politics based on going with people who look like you requires no thinking yet provides social support.

Through brain imaging, the field of cognitive science has identified what is termed default processing, or default mode processing. As the name implies, this is the default mode for the brain, which is virtually identical to System 1 processing. One must think to get out of this default mode and that takes mental effort, which too many people do not want to expend. Consequently, someone like Donald Trump is elected.

It is common knowledge that Donald Trump is a narcissist, meaning that he comes first and everything is about him. Unfortunately, HM has come to the conclusion that the United States is suffering from a narcissism epidemic. Narcissists vote for Trump because they regard him as a fellow narcissist.

Previous healthy memory posts have emphasized the enormous potential of technology. Today people, especially young people, are plugged in to their iPhones. Unfortunately, the end result is superficial processing. They get information expeditiously, but they are so consumed with staying in touch with updated information, that they have neither time nor attention left for meaningful System 2 processing. Unfortunately, technology, specifically social media, amplifies these bad effects, thus increasing misinformation, hatred and fear. Countering these bad effects requires implementing System 2 processes, that is thinking. A massive failure to do this enables Trump to build his politics on lies spreading hatred and fear.
As has been written in many previous healthy memory posts, System 2 processing will not only benefit politics, but will also decrease the probability of suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Personally, all this is upsetting. But HM believes it is essential to love one’s fellow humans. He tries to deal with this via meditation. Progress is both difficult and slow, but it needs to be done. Hatred destroys the one who hates. So HM continues a daily struggle to be a better human being.

This post began on 17 October 2009. HM thinks that there is valuable information on all posts, and encourages readers to review old posts. HM will endeavor to provide new information in all upcoming posts. Readers will find that some points are repeated, but one can take the number of repeats of information as a rough index of the importance of that information.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Self-Esteem

May 5, 2020

The second point on which HM disagrees with Twenge and Campbell in their book The Narcissim Epidemic is the concept of self-esteem. They make a distinction between narcissism and self-esteem, and HM believes that this distinction is ill-founded. Twenge and Campbell are psychologists as is HM. It was psychologists who argued for the importance of self-esteem to mental health. They regarded competition as bad because competition produced losers and losing reduced self-esteem. They promoted sports for which everyone would win. And for sports like baseball, all players on all teams would be given trophies. We psychologists need to accept responsibility for causing this damage to society and to personal development.

One of the first problems noticed about self-esteem, is that children, and possibly adults, would be reluctant to try new things because they might fail and that would injure their self esteem. The problem with self-esteem is the problem of entitlement. People assume they are entitled because they have high self-esteem. This is the fundamental problem with the concept.

Of course, everyone needs a sense of value, but rather than term this as high self-esteem, call it self-confidence or self-affirmation. This means that we think that we can accomplish objectives and learn new skills as long as we apply ourselves. Unfortunately, too many people have been told that they can accomplish anything as long as they apply themselves. This is grossly wrong. Chance, luck, is important in most cases. For a variety of reasons opportunities are missing. But people should be self-confident that they can accomplish much more than they think they can. The importance of growth mindsets play an important role in healthy memory posts. Just enter the term “growth mindsets” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com and see all the hits you get. We need to set for ourselves a series of goals. Being self-confident you can accomplish a goal and work to achieve it. When that goal is achieved, set another goal and so forth and so on. This way we are able to bootstrap ourselves up to personal success and, more importantly self-fulfillment. High self-esteem assumes a sense of entitlement and leads to disappointment and a false sense of entitlement.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Narcissim Epidemic

May 4, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by psychologists Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. & Keith Campbell. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. This is the first post in a series of posts on this topic. It has become apparent to HM that there is a narcissism epidemic of which he was unaware. It accounts for the large homes being developed in his neighborhood and the election of Donald Trump. As readers should be aware HM has been completely stumped as to how someone as ill-suited for the office of the President of the United States could be elected, by the Electoral College, not by the popular vote. Due to this epidemic of narcissists, Trump’s election was virtually pre-ordained.

Psychologists usually assess narcissistic personality traits in individuals using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which was developed in the 1980s by Robert Raskin and Howard Terry at the institute of Personality Assessment and Research at the University of California at Berkeley.

The authors make a distinction between the personality trait of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The authors state: Being highly narcissistic or a narcissist is not the same as having a diagnosed disorder or a pathological level of narcissism. To be diagnosed with NPD, someone has to meet at least five of nine specific criteria describing a long-term behavior involving grandiosity, a lack of empathy, and a need to be admired. It is likely that there are psychiatrists who would make this diagnosis. There is a previous healthy memory post based on a book titled, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President”. That book presents a protocol for assessing the mental health of both the president and the vice-president. It is a tad ironic that physical exams are mandatory, but mental examinations are not. It would seem like the latter is more important that the former.

Although the authors have done an exemplary job, HM has some quibbles with their work. He regards their tracing of the history of narcissism to be incomplete. Although they do cite Nathaniel Brandon’s first book “The Psychology of Self-Esteem,” they fail to mention Brandon’s relationship to Ayn Rand and her philosophy of objectivism. Their relationship was more than intellectual; they were also romantically involved. During the sixties, when HM was in high school, Ayn Rand made appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. HM watched these appearances and read a couple of her novels. Understand that objectivism is an extreme right-wing philosophy. Her ideas, although not adopted by HM, were carefully considered. But when HM’s face cleared up, so did his mind and he categorically rejected the philosophy of objectivism.

Unfortunately, currently there are politicians who have not rejected this philosophy, and this is highly disturbing. Remember Kahneman’s distinction between Type 1 and Type 2 processing. Type 1 processing is fast and efficient and has much in common with default mode processing. Type 2 processing is what we call critical thinking and requires cognitive effort. A common theme in this blog is that system 2 processing requires mental effort and is key to the thwarting of Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is also key to a healthy memory and an effective democracy. HM finds the thinking of politicians who have adopted Rand’s philosophy defective. Were critical, effortful thinking pursued, the flaws in objectivism would be obvious, but it requires less mental effort to avoid criticizing and instead adding to and supporting current beliefs.

So in addition to the many problems and evils to be discussed regarding narcissism, it is also central to fostering an unhealthy memory and cognitive decline.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why HM is Interested in Narcissim

May 3, 2020

The next series of posts will be on the book, The Narcissim Epidemic: Living in an Age of Entitlement. There have been many healthymemory posts on Trump. These posts have documented how Trump is a danger to not only the United States, but also the world. HM has be puzzled by the appeal of Trump. He has wondered how people can vote for Trump giving his unseemly behavior and his glaring ignorance and ineptitude.

There is no question that Trump is a narcissist. There might be some psychiatrists who question whether his narcissism is a psychiatric disorder. HM is not a psychiatrist, and he is a cognitive psychologist not a clinical psychologist, yet it appears to him that Trump spends most of his time in an alternative reality. The best example of this was what happened when he gave an address at the United Nations General Assembly. He was giving his usual spiel that he gives at his rallies. The members of the UN broke out into laughter and this obviously surprised Trump.

So HM decided it was time to read Living in an Age of Entitlement by Drs. Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell. They claim that there is a narcissism epidemic. The book provides strong support for their contention. HM found it tough not only reading the entire book, but then needing to write posts on the book. Narcissists are disgusting individuals, and there is indeed an epidemic. The authors discuss whether it is a pandemic that the world is suffering.

So the disgusting truth is that Trump, the supreme narcissist, was elected by narcissists. It is comforting to note that he did not win the popular vote, but was elected by the outdated and incompetent Electoral College, that did not do what it was supposed to do, to prevent an obviously incompetent individual from being elected president.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

System 2 Processing and a Healthy Democracy

May 1, 2020

The immediately preceding post stressed the importance of System 2 Processing to prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia, and to live a more fulfilling life. As the title of this post implies, System 2 Processing is necessary for a healthy democracy.

To briefly review the previous post, this blog has many citations of Kahneman’s Two System Theory of Cognitive Processing. System 1 is our most common mode of processing. It is fast and efficient. Unfortunately, this speed is paid for at a cost. The failure to think critically can be disastrous in more important decisions. Cognitive neuroscience, which conducts brain imaging studies, has a term for mental activity which is the typical norm, called, accordingly, default mode processing. This mode can be identified in brain images. The default network of interacting brain regions is known to have activity highly correlated with each other and distinct from other networks in the brain. These regions are negatively correlated with attention networks in the brain. Normal conversation and well performed tasks are System 1 activities. Thinking and learning are System 2 processes, and they involve cognitive effort. Most of the time spent on social media involves System 1 processing primarily.

A successful democracy also requires System 2 processing. Trump works only through System 1 processing. System 1 processing is emotional. He targets hate groups, illegal immigrants, and others and proposes simplistic solutions. He is also a hypocrite. The simplest and best solution to illegal immigration is to severely fine and even imprison people who hire illegal immigrants. Foremost among these people is Donald Trump. He likes to hire illegals because they are easy to exploit. So it is clear that Trump supporters are not doing any System 2 processing

Many laborers are strong Trump supporters. But Trump’s common mode of developing is to abandon the project and leave the workers unpaid. He is no friend of labor; he is an exploiter of labor. So any laborer who supports Trump is dong little, if any, System 2 processing.

Previous posts, see the House of Trump, the House of Putin show a long time relationship with Russia. His credit was so bad in the United States, that no lender would lend him money. Yet Trump kept building expensive properties. His son said he could do this because Russia had no problem lending him money. Previous posts have argued that Trump needs to explain where his funds came from. He refuses to do so, and the reason he hides his taxes, is that they would reveal how he is compromised with Russia.

Now we come to the Coronavirus. Although a majority of respondents think Trump is doing a poor job only several percentage points indicate that many do support Trump’s job. First of all, Trump has done his best to defund or underfund all scientific enterprises. The Obama administration also left a plan for dealing with this epidemic, but Trump had the plan destroyed. In the first days he denied that there was a pandemic and accused this pandemic of being false news generated by the Democrats to keep him from being elected. When he did admit that there was an epidemic, he said that there was a test, a beautiful test for the disease that was readily available. It was not, and as of the writing of this post, it is still not available. The lack of this test is a very large, if not the largest, shortcoming damaging the fight against this pandemic.

Eventually, Trump said he was taking charge and was the general fighting this disease. But he has been an ineffective general, and it can be argued that he has done more damage than good. Rather than lead the fight as a general should do, he says that this is for the states to handle. Now the declaration of a national emergency is done to put the federal government, the President, in charge of the battle. The National War Powers Act gives the President the power do this, but although he has activated the National War Powers Act he has not used it. Consequently states are competing against each other and FEMA trying to get necessary equipment. This not only slows delivery, but greatly increases costs.

Yet a large percentage of people believe he is doing a good job. This is based on the lies he is telling them. No System 2 processing is being done that would correctly indicate that Trump is lying.

This absence of System 2 processing where it is needed could lead to Trump’s reelection. And that would likely be the end of American democracy.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For Alzheimer’s, An Elusive Cure

April 30, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Christie Aschwanden in The Health & Science Section of The Washington Post. The article states, “For a decade over 200 leads have failed. Today, experts say the disease is more complex than first believed.” The defining features for a diagnose of Alzheimer’s are neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque. The cure they are seeking are drugs that prevent or remove these substances from the brain.

What is not mentioned in this article, and is rarely mentioned in any article, is that autopsies have revealed many people with brains full of these defining features, but who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms. Now it is these behavioral and cognitive symptoms that are what is important, not the defining features of plaques and tangles. These people, who clearly would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, never suffered any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.

The reason provided for these people was that they had built up cognitive reserves that defended them from adverse effects of the defining features of Alzheimer’s. There are previous healthy memory blog posts on this important finding. Alzheimer’s and Amyloid Plaques was posted on July 6, 2011. That article stated that amyloid plaque was a necessary but not a sufficient factor for Alzheimer’s. On May 8, 2011 a second healthy memory blog post titled Glial Cells and Alzheimer’s Disease addressed this issue.

But the single, most important post was on August 28, 2011, The Myth of Alzheimer’s. The Myth of Alzheimer’s is a book by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D. & Ph.D., and Daniel George, M.Sci. Dr. Whithouse had spent many years looking for a medicinal cure or preventative for Alzheimer’s. He was highly compensated for his work, and could have continued working on this topic. But he became convinced that this research would never yield fruit. He continued researching Alzheimer’s, but stopped his research looking for a medicinal prevention or cure. It is nine years later and researchers are continuing research, but have realized that the disease is more complex than first believed, so they are pursuing multiple medicines. It is clear why this research is continuing as financial rewards would be enormous, especially if multiple medications are needed.

Although cures are not in the offing, it appears that the preventive measures are clear. The preventive measures involve developing a cognitive reserve. People who have developed a cognitive reserve have been mentally active throughout their lives. This blog has many citations of Kahneman’s Two System Theory of Cognitive Processing. System 1 is our most common mode of processing. It is fast and efficient. Unfortunately, this speed is paid for at a cost. The failure to think critically can be disastrous in more important decisions. Cognitive neuroscience, which conducts brain imaging studies, has a term for mental activity which is the typical norm, called accordingly default mode processing. This mode can be identified in brain images. The default network of interacting brain regions is known to have activity highly correlated with each other and distinct from other networks in the brain. These regions are negatively correlated with attention networks in the brain. Normal conversation and well performed tasks are System 1 activities. Thinking and learning are System 2 processes and they involve cognitive effort. Most of the time spent on social media involves System 1 processing primarily.

The healthy memory blog recommends growth mindsets throughout one’s lifetime. Continue to think critically, and learn. In addition to increasing the odds against Alzheimer’s or dementia, it also provides for a richer, fuller life with a healthy memory. A healthy memory among the citizenry is important to a democracy.

The Post article does mention that some of the most promising approaches to addressing Alzheimer’s are nonpharmaceutical. The NIA is sponsoring 86 studies of non drug interventions that may help, including exercising, diet, cognitive training and sleep.

A study conducted in Finland and published in 2015, found that a program of physical activity, cognitive stimulation, a Mediterranean diet including fish offered some protection against cognitive decline. Participants were at a risk for dementia, but none had it. After two years, the risk of exhibiting cognitive decline was his 30% higher in the control group than in the one assigned to the lifestyle interventions. But what is needed is a lifestyle change, not just an intervention, although an intervention apparently does achieve some benefit.

It should be clear that System 2 cognitive processes are essential, but a healthy lifestyle is also essential. HM has a personal friend who, on the basis of his cognitive activity, one would think would be the last person to suffer Alzheimer’s. However, he had trained himself to sleep only 4 hours a night, so he could enjoy more waking time. But it appears that this was a poor tradeoff.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What We Should Learn from the Current Coronavirus Pandemic

April 28, 2020

This is the final post motivated and based on the the excellent book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease.

The first thing HM learned was that it is likely that there will be more pandemics. Indeed, if normal activities are resumed prematurely for the current virus, this virus will return to potency. Even if it doesn’t, we learned that pandemics can have three stages. It also appears that for some reason, viruses are becoming more sophisticated and more communicable, so the new normal might involve being constantly vigilant and constantly prepared.

Perhaps the most important thing we should have learned is that politicians who do not listen to the advice of scientists do not belong in office. For too long, Trump ignored scientists and came up with the conspiratorial theory that it was Democrats promoting false news to discredit his presidency.

We might very well experience additional damage from Trump’s ignorance and that is global warming. That can have catastrophic damages sooner than anticipated. There is a clear scientific consensus on this genuine problem. Republicans say that there are conflicting opinions. Trump thinks that scientists propose global warming to get big bucks for their research. Actually, there is an industry and it is a lucrative one. And that is the generation of contrary opinion so that too many Republicans can argue that there are diverse opinions. The big bucks are in generating contrary opinions for the purpose of certain industries and certain politicians. Since HM has a Ph.D, he probably could earn big bucks generating this trash.

There have been many previous healthymemory posts on the need for government supplied health insurance for all residents of the country. These posts have mentioned that the United States is the only advanced country that does not provide this assistance. In all cases, costs are lower with government provided insurance and the health care is better.

A large social support network is needed for these pandemics. And provisions need to be provided so that when people are forced from their jobs, their financial obligations are pushed to the right until they are able to reassume them.

Of course, we also need to have financing for the development of vaccinations and all the services that are needed for pandemics, to include the professionals and the equipment and personal protective equipment they need.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stress Management Advice

April 27, 2020

This is the penultimate post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Dr. Taylor offers the following advice for the general public.

Stay informed about how to keep safe. Seek out information from a credible source such as the WHO or CDC, or local health agency. Follow guidelines of the public health agencies. This might involve staying at home or avoiding public gatherings. Be wary of unsubstantiated rumors. Remember that media tend to sensationalize things by focusing on the bad news (people who become sick) and neglecting the more mundane good news (the many people who didn’t get sick). Limit your exposure to websites or TV programs that fuel your fears. HM recommends that you avoid these websites or TV programs not only for pandemic information, but for all information.
Keep things in perspective. For centuries people have survived hardships. Most people are resilient; most people bounce back and adapt to changes. Do not dwell on worst-cast scenarios. Remember, things will get better.
Stay healthy. A healthy lifestyle, including proper diet, exercise, sleep, and rest, is a good defense against illness. Avoid alcohol and other intoxicating substances. Practice good hygiene, such as hand washing and covering coughs, it will minimize the spread of infection to you and others. Get vaccinated. A healthy body can have a positive impact on your thoughts and emotions, enabling you to make better decisions and help you deal with the flu’s uncertainties. Take time to relax. Maintain your normal routine as far as you can.
Build resilience. Resilience is the process of adapting and coping in the face of adversity. Draw on skills that you have successfully used in the past to cope with life’s challenges. Use those skills to help manage your concerns of the flu’s uncertainties. (There are many healthy memory blog posts to do this. Just enter “resilience” into the search block as healthymemory.wordpress.com)
Have a plan. Having a plan to cope with hardships can lessen your anxiety. In case health officials recommend that you stay at home, keep at least a two-week supply of non-perishable, easy to prepare, food, water, and other important household and other supplies, including medical supplies. Consider options for working from home. Plan on how you might care for sick family members. Establish an emergency family communication plan. Plan on how you might spend your time if schools or businesses are closed. Plan to stay at home if you are ill.
Communicate with your children. Discuss the flu in an open, age-appropriate manner with your children. Address your children’s concerns. Remember that children take their cues from adults; if they see that you’re upset then they will become upset. As far as possible, try to maintain your children’s routines and schedules. If you do notice that your child’s behavior has changed significantly at home or at school, discuss the situation with them.
Keep connected. Maintaining social networks can be a valuable way of sharing feelings and relieving stress. You can stay connected via social media if health authorities recommend that you limit face-to-face social contacts. But remember to take breaks from thinking and talking about stressful things in your life.
When to seek help. Some degree of fear or anxiety about the flu is normal, but sometimes people need help to cope with stress. Look for warning signs such as the following: (1) Persistent anxiety, worry, insomnia, irritability, or depression, (2) avoiding social contact to the point where you have become isolated, (3) persistently checking one’s body (taking your temperature) or persistently seeking reassurance about your health from doctors, friends, family, or the Internet, (4) engaging in excessive or unnecessary hygiene precautions, such as wearing a facemask at home or repeatedly washing your hands when there is no need to do so, or (5) abusing alcohol or drugs, or overeating, as a way of coping with stress.
Where to seek help. If any of the warning signs apply to you, then you may benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist, family physician, or counselor. Sometime a consultation can be conduced via the Internet. Consulting with a healthcare professional can help ou devise a plan for coping with stress.
HM stresses the value of meditation. There is an enormous number of healthy memory posts on this topic. Just enter “meditation” into the search block at
healthymemory.wordpress.com. But first enter “Relaxation Response” into this search block.

Improving Risk Communication

April 26, 2020

This is the eighth post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in that book.

Frightening people into changing their behaviors is widely used in health promotion campaigns. However, there is concern that such messages might induce widespread anxiety, which can create problems of its own. Some commentators argue that risk communications should contain a balance of assuring and fear-inducing information. Other commentators argue that the public should be presented with the worst-case scenario. According to Sandman, a risk-communication consultant, the government must help the public to “visualize what a bad pandemic might be like.” Regarding the 2009 Swine flu pandemic, Sandman asserted that “the CDC’s biggest failure was in not doing enough to help people visualize what a bad pandemic might be like so they can understand and start preparing for the worst.”

Sandman argues that in terms of preparedness planning: (1) People need to be educated as to how they can protect themselves rather than being treated as passive individuals who have little to do except wash their hands and use facemasks, and (2) people need to err on the side of caution.

Fear appeals can be effective in achieving persuasive goals, but their effectiveness depends on a variety of factors, including features of the message and the target audience. Important factors include the severity of the perceived threat in relation to what the person believes can be done to cope with the threat.

Adherence to the guidelines presented in a fear-evoking message is expected to occur if (1) the threat is perceived as severe, (2) an effective coping response is to be available, and (3) the person believes he is capable of executing an effective coping response.

Sometimes fear appeals can be counterproductive. Telling people that they are at risk of contracting a disease increases their vigilance to disease cues. This can increase the chance of correctly identifying infection and taking appropriate action. But it also increases the chance that people will misinterpret benign bodily sensations as indications of disease and therefore become unduly anxious and needlessly seek medical attention and potentially over-taxing the healthcare system.

A distinction also must be made between monitors and blunters with respect to fear-evoking messages. Monitors are actively seeking information, whereas blunters tend to disregard the messages they do hear. Fear evoking messages are effective in conveying the seriousness of the risk. In contrast, blunters are more likely to distract themselves from such messages. Blunters may benefit from messages that involve logical appeals, which were less likely to trigger avoidance than fear-evoking messages.

Psychological distance also influences perceived risk.

Spatial distance. This is the physical proximity of the disease to the person.
Temporal distance. This refers to two temporal parameters: How soon the threat might arrive, and the temporal origin or newness of the threat. The greater the newness, the greater the perceived threat.
Social distance. This is defined by the nature of social relationships. The closer the people, the greater the fear.
Probability distance. The perceived probability of an event is influenced by a range of factors, including the cognitive process known as the availability heuristic (Tversky & Kahneman). That is, the greater the ease of recalling something, the greater is the perceived the probability of occurring in the future. Consistent with this, research conducted by White and his colleagues found that the frequency with which a person encounters a virus’s names associated with greater perceived danger.

Conspiracy Theories

April 25, 2020

This is the seventh post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in that book.

What is unique and ironic about the coronavirus epidemic is that it was spread the President of the United States, Donald Trump, and echoed by his propaganda network, Fox News. The claim was that the coronavirus pandemic was a hoax, false news, being spread by the Democrats to defeat Trump in the November election. Doing this plus not doing the activities that needed to be done to defeat the virus, did inestimable damage not just to the health of the country, but to the entire country. So the conspiracy was caused by a narcissistic President, who is paranoid, and is rarely in touch with reality.

As for typical conspiracies, Dr. Taylor offers the following possibilities:

Suspiciousness, magical thinking, and the tendency to believe in the paranormal.
Narcissism (an inflated view of oneself that requires external validation) and the need to feel unique that can be fulfilled by believing that one has special knowledge about conspiracies.
Worry about one’s health and mortality, for people who believe in medical conspiracy theories.
Gullibility, lower media literacy (poorer ability to critically analyze the source and contents of news stories as indicated, for example, by the tendency to believe in fake news), lower intelligence, lower education, and poorer skills in analytical thinking.
Rejection of conventional scientific findings or theories (the theory of evolution) in favor of pseudoscience (the belief that prayer is effective in curing terminal disease).

The Behavioral Immune System

April 24, 2020

This is the sixth post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in that book. The concept of the behavioral immune system (BIS) focuses on basic motivational aspects of disease avoidance, whereby emotional states such as disgust are important. The concept of BIS provides important insights into the social consequences of disease avoidance mechanisms.

PVD is assessed by the Perceived Vulnerability to Disease Scale (PVDS), which consists of two correlated dimensions: (1) Perceived vulnerability to infection disease (perceived infectability), and (2) avoidance and discomfort in situations in which a person is liable to be infected. The PVDS is a short (5-item) questionnaire that has performed well on tests of reliability and validity. Consequently it is a promising means of identifying people at risk for adverse emotional reactions in response to the threat of pandemic infection.

The BIS is especially useful in understanding societal reactions to the threat of infection, particularly discrimination against out-groups (foreigners) and people who appear to be in poor health or appear to have been associated with an infectious agent. As predicted by the concept of the BIS, when threatened with infection, people may react with xenophobia and may stigmatize particular groups. Stigma and discrimination can be an added source of distress to people struggling to cope with pandemic infection.

The author states that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can reduce PVD. As has been suggested in previous posts meditation provides another technique for reducing a person’s stress proneness and negative emotions. There are many healthy memory posts on meditation. Just enter “meditation” in the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

There are many posts on “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” that can be extremely. Just enter this title into the search block referenced above.

Also enter “mindfulness” to learn of other beneficial posts.

Cognitive-Behavioral Models of Health Anxiety

April 23, 2020

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Health anxiety refers to the tendency to be alarmed by illness-related stimuli. It ranges on a continuum from mild to severe, and it can be a state or trait. A trait is a relatively enduring tendency.

Some people have very low levels of health anxiety. This lack of concern about health risks can be maladaptive. Excessively low health concerns can be associated with unrealistic optimism bias. People unconcerned about infection tend to neglect to perform recommended hygienic behaviors, such as washing their hands and tend to be non adherent to social distancing.

Excessively high health anxiety is characterized by undue anxiety or worry about one’s health, meaning a disproportionate concern given one’s objective level of health. Compared to less anxious people, people with excessively high levels of health anxiety tend to become unduly alarmed by all kinds of perceived threats and overestimate the likelihood and seriousness of becoming ill.

Excessive health anxiety is common, with an estimated lifetime prevalence of 6% in the community. Cognitive-behavioral models propose that excessive anxiety about one’s health is triggered by the misinterpretation of health-related stimuli including: (1) bodily changes or sensations which may or may not be indications of disease (fatigue, muscle aches), (2) direct health-related observations of other people (observing other people coughing or sneezing, or observing others becoming alarmed about being ill), (3) more abstract forms of health-related information, such as warnings from one’s doctor, advice from friends or family members, and information from social and mass media.

Interpretations of health-related stimuli are influenced by memory processes such as recollection of past experiences, and by long-standing beliefs. Learning experiences, such as being hospitalized as a child, can lead some people to mistakenly believe that their health is fragile. People with excessive health anxiety tend to believe that all bodily sensations or bodily changes are potential signs of disease. In a survey of American college students conducted in the early stages of the 2009 Swine flu pandemic, 25% wrongly believed that Swine flu could be transmitted via water sources, 18% wrongly believed that Swine flu could be spread by insect bites, and 9% wrongly believed that Swine flu could be transmitted by eating cooked pork.

Selective attention to bodily states is influenced not only by internal factors, but also by external stimuli. People are more likely to detect bodily sensations if they are in environments in which there are few or no distractions, as compared to an environment with numerous stimuli the attract the person’s attention.

People’s interpretations influence whether or not they seek treatment, and whether they seek appropriate treatment. People can hold erroneous beliefs about what is an effective treatment. Some people believe that they only need symptomatic relief, which may be insufficient if the underlying disease needs to be treated.

Cognitive-behavior models suggest that excessive health anxiety can be addressed by targeting dysfunctional beliefs and maladaptive behaviors. Consequently, people need to be well read on the causes of these dysfunctional beliefs and maladaptive behaviors.

Personal Traits as Emotional Vulnerability Factors

April 22, 2020

This is the fourth post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D. , The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. There is no single theory for understanding the various emotional and other reactions to pandemics. However, there are several mutually complementary domains of their research that are relevant. The first factor is negative emotionality, also known as neuroticism.

People scoring high on this trait tend to frequently experience aversive emotions such as anxiety, irritability, and depression in response to stressors. Negative emotionality is a risk factor for various kinds of mood and anxiety disorders. Negative emotionality is also associated with anxiety about one’s general health. These people tend to misinterpret bodily sensations as indications of serious disease. During the 2003 SARS epidemic negative emotionality predicted the level of distress experienced by health care workers who were responsible for caring for patients with suspected SARS. A study of college students found that negative emotionality predicted the level of distress in response to the threat of Avian flu infection.

Negative emotionality is a higher-order trait that is made up of several narrower traits, including two conceptually overlapping traits: trait anxiety and harm avoidance. People scoring high on trait anxiety tend to view the world as dangerous and threatening. Harm avoidance and trait anxiety are both correlated with anxiety disorders, mood disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, somatoform disorder and with health anxiety. Trait anxiety also predicted the evil of SARs.

Meditation provides another technique for reducing a person’s stress proneness and negative emotions. There are many healthy memory posts on meditation. Just enter “meditation” in the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

There are many posts on “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” that can be helpful. Just enter this title into the search block referenced above.

Psychological Reactions to Pandemics

April 21, 2020

This is the third post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Stevens writes that contemporary methods for managing pandemics are largely behavioral or educational interventions, vaccination adherence programs, hygienic practices, social distancing, in which psychological factors play a vital role. “Excessive emotional distress associated with threatened or actual infection is a further issue of clinical and public health significance. Psychological factors are also relevant for understanding and addressing the socially disruptive behavioral patterns that can arise as a result of widespread, serious infection.”

During this pandemic many people are becoming fearful, some intensely so. The psychological “footprint” will likely be larger than the medical “footprint”. So it is likely that the psychological effects will be more pronounced, more widespread, and longer-lasting than the purely somatic effects of infection. In the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, the “epidemic of fear” was worse than the epidemic itself in terms of the number of people affected. Excessive public fear of Ebola arose in the United States even though there was little or no risk of contagion.

People differ in how they react to psychosocial stressors such as the fear of a pandemic. Reactions are diverse, ranging from fear to indifference to fatalism. At one end of the spectrum, some people disregard or deny risks, and fail to engage in recommended health behaviors such as hygiene and social distancing. At the other end of the spectrum, many people react with intense anxiety or fear. A moderate level of fear or anxiety can motivate people to cope with health threats, but severe distress can be debilitating.

Mental disorder can be triggered or exacerbated by pandemic-related stressors, including mood disorder, anxiety disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a pandemic unfolds, some people adapt to the threat and become less anxious. But in some cases the psychological effects can be severe and long-lasting. Research on the SARS outbreak showed that the psychological effects are not always short-lived, and the emotional reactions can be severe and persistent. A longitudinal study found that 44% of SARS patients developed PTSD. In a survey of Beijing hospital workers during the SARs outbreak, about 10% developed PTSD symptoms. Respondents who had been quarantined, worked at high-risk sites such as SARS wards, or had friends to close relatives who contracted were 2-3 times more likely to have PTSD symptoms than people without these exposures.

For many SARS patients, psychological distress, including PTSD, persisted after the infection had been treated, in some cases for years after patients had recovered from the physical effects of the SARS virus. What made SARS especially distressing was that it was (1) a novel infection with an unknown course and treatment, (2) infection was managed with social isolation, and (3) there were fears of spreading this poorly understood infection to others. These results raise concerns about the long-term psychological consequences of the current coronavirus pandemic.

There are immunologically induced psychological reactions. These are psychological reactions that are the direct physiological consequence of infection. People infected by viral or bacterial agents may experience a syndrome called sickness behavior. Symptoms include nausea, fatigue, sleep disturbance, depression, irritability, and mild cognitive impairment. This sickness behavior is triggered by pro inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-6, and interleukin-1beta. Immune reactions can involve neuroinflammation, which may lead to sickness behavior.

Research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology has shown that negative emotions and stressful events can lead to some degree of suppression of the immune system, thereby enhancing susceptibility to infection and dampening the beneficial effects of vaccines. A series of studies has shown that immune responses to viral and bacterial vaccines, including influenza vaccines, are delayed, substantially weakened, or shorter-loved in people who are distressed or exposed to stressors. These effects tend to be greater in people who are prone to experience frequent negative moods. Stressors and negative emotions have been found to influence the production of lymphocytes and pro inflammatory cytokines. Pandemic-related stressors may compromise the immune system, thereby making people more vulnerable to infections.

Even if pandemic-related stress and distress do significantly dampen the immune system, psychological interventions such as cognitive based therapy can reduce a person’s stress proneness and negative emotions, thereby offsetting any stress-related immunosuppression.

Meditation provides another technique for reducing a person’s stress proneness and negative emotions. There are many healthy memory posts on meditation. Just enter “meditation” in the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

There are many posts on “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” that can helpful. Just enter this title into the search block referenced above.

Methods for Managing Pandemics

April 20, 2020

This is the second post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics.   The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Four main methods are used to manage the spread of infections: (1) Risk communication (public education, (2) vaccines and antiviral therapies, (3) hygiene practices, and (4) social distancing.

Here are four guidelines on risk communication:

Announce the outbreak early, even with incomplete information, so as to minimize the spread of rumors and misinformation.
It is important to note that Donald Trump not only did not announce the outbreak early, but he also denied there was a risk of an outbreak. He claimed that this was false news created by Democrats who were trying to threaten his re-election. When he finally did announce the outbreak he said that there was a test (a beautiful test he said) to see if someone was infected and that this test was freely available. This test has a yet to be developed. And the absence of this test has made it extremely difficult to track the course of the disease and to design techniques for thwarting or defeating it.

2. Provide information about what the public can do to make themselves safer.

3. Maintain transparency to ensure public trust.
Trump has failed to stay on message. Worse yet, he contradicts the advice from knowledgeable professionals. He has no public trust, only the trust of his supporters who blindly follow him.

4. Demonstrate that efforts are being made to understand the public’s views and concerns about the outbreak
Little, if anything constructive is being done.

5. Evaluate the impact of communications programs to insure that messages are being correctly understood and that the advice is being followed.
Messages are garbled and frequently contradicted by Trump.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine and the prospect of one being developed is far in the future. As for antiviral therapies there are a few pending evaluation.

Commonly recommended hygiene practices include hand washing with soap or hand sanitizer, covering sneezes/coughs (e.g., sneezing into the crook of one’s arms)l hand awareness (refraining from touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth), cleaning household surfaces, and wearing facemasks. Research indicates that the spread of respiratory viruses can be reduced by frequent hand washing. There is insufficient evidence to determine whether efficacy is improved by using viricidals or antiseptics instead of plain soap.

The evidence of the efficacy of the facemask for the general public is mixed, although N95 respirator facemasks might provide some degree of protection against airborne pathogens. Facemarks are more important in limiting the spread of infection in hospital settings.

Regarding acceptability, practices such as covering coughs, hand washing, and using soap are typically acceptable to the general public, whereas masks tend to be less acceptable, particularly in Western counties. An unintended consequence of facemasks is that the sight of people wearing masks might provoke anxiety by serving as reminders of heath-related risks.

Although hand washing is generally acceptable among people as means of reducing the spread of disease, this does not necessarily translate into actual washing behaviors. Despite public health warnings, people routinely fail to adhere to hand washing recommendations, particularly if they are not being observed by others. For example, it is common for people to fail to wash their hands after using the toilet. A British study found that a quarter of rail and bus commuters had fecal bacteria on their hands. According to a systematic review of 96 studies, a mean of 40% of people fail to wash their hands after toilet use.

Social distancing must be applied immediately, rigorously, and consistently to be effective. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing there is no national policy of social distancing. Moreover, there are groups of certain religious people who ignore this practice during worshiping. Where social distancing is observed and enforced, it is working quite well.

The Psychology of Pandemics

April 19, 2020

The title of this book is identical to the title of a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Steven Taylor is a Professor and Clinical Psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia.

The first chapter begins, “Pandemic influenza is one of the leading health threats currently facing the world. The rise of antimicrobial resistance, along with the emergence of new, highly pathogenic viral strains has fueled fears of another global outbreak disease. [Obviously this book was written before the outbreak of the pandemic we are suffering at the time of the writing of this post]. For pandemics in general, the causal elements are manifold and complex. The essential elements are an infectious agent, a host (e.g., a person), and the environment. The host’s resistance as well as psychological factors that influence how the host copes with or reacts to the threatened or actual infection. Environmental factors are numerous and multiform, including factors that promote or hamper the coping strategies of the host.”

Pandemics are large-scale epidemics that afflict millions of people across multiple countries, and sometimes spread throughout the globe. For a virus or bacterium to cause a pandemic it must be an organism for which most people do not have a preexisting immunity, that is easily transmitted from person to person, causing severe illness. Diseases causing pandemics are part of a group of conditions known as emerging infectious diseases, which include newly identified pathogens as well as reemerging ones.

The author writes, “Pandemics are events in which the population’s psychological reactions play an essential role in both the spreading and containment of the disease, and influence the extent to which widespread emotional distress and social disorder occur. When threatened with infection, people vary widely in their reactions. The complexities of their reactions need to be taken into consideration in order to understand the psychology of pandemics.”

He continues, “Pandemics are usually viral in nature, typically arising from animal influenza viruses that spread to humans. It is difficult to predict when the next influenza pandemic will occur.’ He then cites the following passage by Morens, Taubenberger, Folkers, & Fauci in 2010. ‘Despite continuing progress in many areas including enhanced human and animal surveillance and large-scale viral genomic screening, we are probably no better able today to anticipate and prevent the emergence of pandemic influenza than 5 centuries ago, as shown by the completely unexpected emergence of the 2009 novel H1N1 pandemic virus.’

The following passage by Laver & Webster clearly anticipated the current crisis: “The world’s population would have no immunity to this ‘new’ virus. Because of today’s crowded conditions with modern rapid transportation facilities, the epidemic would spread like wildfire, reaching every corner of the globe. Many millions of people would become ill and there would certainly be many deaths. “ The frequent genetic mutation and genetic reassortment of influenza viruses make it difficult, if not impossible, to prevent influenza pandemics from occurring.

From a psychology perspective there are many pandemic-related stressors. Dr. Taylor writes, “Pandemics are frequently marked by uncertainty, confusion, and a sense of urgency. Prior to, or in the early states of a pandemic, there is widespread uncertainty about the odds and seriousness of becoming infected, along with uncertainty, and possible information, about the best methods of prevention and management. Uncertainty may persist well into the pandemic, especially concerning the question of whether a pandemic is truly over. Pandemics can come in waves. Waves of infection are caused, in part, by fluctuations in patterns of human aggregation, such as seasonal movements of people away from and then into contact with one another, as well as other fluctuations in social aggregation. The Spanish flu, for example, came in three waves. Accordingly, there may be uncertainty as to whether a pandemic has truly run its course.”

Dr. Taylor continues, “Pandemics are associated with a score of psychosocial stressors, including health threats to oneself and loved ones. There may be severe disruptions of routines, separations from family and friends, shortages of food and medicine, wage loss, social isolation due to quarantine or other social distancing programs, and school closure. Families may become malnourished if no one in the house is well enough to shop or cook. Socioeconomic factors definitely play a role. Personal financial hardship can occur if a family’s primary wage earner is unable to work because of illness [or social distancing and being unable to work from home]. During the Spanish flu, for example, merchants suffered hardship because of staff absenteeism and because shoppers were either too ill or too frightened to venture out to the stores. The personal financial impact of a pandemic can be as severe and stressful as the infection itself, especially for people who are already experiencing financial hardship.”

There are very large effects on the healthcare system that border on if not causing the system to collapse. Special equipment, such as ventilators, come into a large demand never experienced in nominal conditions. The economic costs range from at least a recession, and, more likely, a depression.

Human networks are the major means of pandemic disease transmission. Influenza is readily spread by inhaling airborne cough or sneeze droplets, and by touching one’s mouth, nose, or eyes after touching formites. Some people disproportionately contribute to the spreading of infection. These people are known as super spreaders. In a prototypic case as few as 20% of infected people may be responsible for 80% of the transmissions. A super spreader is likely to be someone who (1) is not immunized or immunocomprimised and therefore particularly susceptible to infection. (2) does no engaging in basic hygiene (e.g., covering coughs) and therefore likely to transmit influenza, (3) comes into contact with a great many people, through some combination of their social and occupational roles.

Burn Your Boat

April 18, 2020

The title of this post is the same as the final chapter in an essential book published in 2020, Cured, The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing, by Jeffrey Reedier, M.D. He begins this chapter with these quotes from survivors:

I had the feeling that there was no harm, no shame, no judgment if I wanted to be done. But also that if I wanted to, if I chose life, it would be hard work.
Mira Bunnell, metatastatic melanoma

If I had followed the laws of medicine, I should be in the grave fifteen years by now.
Patricia Kaine, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

I accepted the diagnosis, but not the prognosis.
Juniper Stein, ankylosing spondylitis

I know there’s something beyond medicine. They gave me up for dead. And here I am, fifteen years later.
Matt Ireland, glioblastoma multiforme

Remember that if you don’t take charge of your healing, someone else will, and you probably won’t like the outcome.
Jerry White, renal cell carcinoma

The title of the chapter is an illusion to Hernan Cortes, the Spanish explorer and conquistador who arrived on the coast of Mexico near Veracruz, intending to claim the land occupied by the Aztec empire for Spain. He had eleven ships, thirteen horses, and five hundred men. At that time the Aztec empire stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific and was the largest and most powerful Mesoamerican kingdom of all time. Its population numbered over five million. Its fighting force, which was famous for being fierce and unbeatable, was many times larger than Cortes. Moreover, Cortes wasn’t even supposed to be there. His commander had revoked his order to sail to Mexico, but went anyway. He landed on a beach at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. His army was too small for the task and he had no support behind. Cortes burned and sunk the eleven ships so that there was no escape for the soldiers. Either they prevailed or were killed. Fortunately for them and Cortes, but not for the Aztecs, they prevailed. Dr. Rediger uses this true story to stress an all-out commitment if spontaneous recovery is achieved. As has been written previously, there is nothing spontaneous about spontaneous recovery.

Alastair Cunningham, a psychologist, conducted a study in 2002 titled, Fighting for life: a qualitative analysis of the process of psychotherapy-assisted self-help in patients with metastatic cancer. Here are the conclusions from that study:

Conditions associated with poor survival outcomes:

*Inflexibility associated with own self-esteem or fixed worldview
*Skepticisim about self-help techniques, or a limited ability to apply them
*Other activities seemed more immediately appealing.
*Meaning was habitually sought outside the individual, from some external source
*Strong, contrary views about the validity of spiritual ideas
Conditions associated with longer survival

*Strong will to live
*Actual changes in habits of thought and activity
*Relaxation practices, meditation, mental imaging, cognitive monitoring
*Becoming involved in a search for meaning in one’s life.

Here is how Dr. Rediger concludes his book:

“None of use know how much time we have here. There is no key to immortality—not even spontaneous healing lasts forever, What the survivors of incurable illness in this book found was a way to move forward that accept this: that there would be an end, but that in the meantime, they were going to live the best, most authentic and fulfilling lives that they could. They were going to find those big deep changes that made them feel better and more alive and lean into them as hard as they could. If it meant restructuring their lives, they did it. If it meant letting go of limiting relationships, they let them go. They looked at themselves in the mirror and asked, What is the story I’ve been telling about myself, and how is it wrong? None of them embarked on this journey halfway or the idea they could cheer death; they set forth with the mission to claim the life that was theirs for the time they had. In doing so, they healed. They healed the way they treated their bodies. They healed how they responded to the stresses and challenges of life. They healed their toxic or damaging beliefs about the world and what was possible. And finally, they headed the story of who they are, so they could find freedom and the capacity to make lifesaving changes.

One spontaneous recoverer said, “It was foremost a struggle of the mind and spirit. The body followed.”

A Note from HM

There is no way HM can do justice to this outstanding and important book. If these humble posts peaked your interest, please read the book.

Healing Death

April 17, 2020

This post is the fifteenth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Dr. Rediger writes,”There’s something transcendent about facing death and not backing down. In not skirting around it but walking through it—a fire that burns away everything but the most essential parts of you. It becomes clear, suddenly, what you most want, who you are at your core, what you are, what you are meant to do with your time here. It clarifies, like nothing else can, what it means for you to “heal your identify” and create a new story for the rest of your life.”

Continuing, “One way to look at it is that there is a kind of figurative “death” of the false self. Many survivors describe it in these terms, and in fact tell me repeatedly that there illnesses were their greatest gifts, because they liberated their true selves. By dying, they found life. By facing the worst that could happen and moving through it, they excised the “disease of fear” that binds us all and then realized that unexpectedly, they were free to live.”

Heres why Dr. Rediger writes is what death doesn’t mean. “First of all, accepting your own mortality does not mean curling up and waiting to die. It doesn’t mean acquiescing to a prognosis that isn’t true to your specific, unique, and personal situation. Those who experienced spontaneous remission had something important in common, whether their illnesses were chronic or terminal: something inside them said they were people rather than prognosis.”

The prominent evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould who taught at Harvard many years, was diagnosed at age 40 with mesothelioma, an especially deadly form of cancer that affects the abdominal lining. He was told he had 8 months to live. That was the median that the doctors told him he could reasonably expect. Initially, he was devastated. But when he started doing his own research and realized that the “median” only represented some of the possible outcomes. Although there were many cases clustered there, around the middle, but there were many others scattered at both ends of the spectrum.

When he realized that the possibilities were much more fluid than his doctors had suggested, he wrote an essay, a call to arms for others facing such a prognosis. It was titled “The Median Isn’t the Message.” I am not a statistic. I am a human, and my life does not follow a course charted on a medical graph.” Gould decided that there were good rational reasons supporting the idea that perhaps he was on the side of the lengthened life, more than the median. He recovered completely from the mesothelioma and lived another 20 years before dying from unrelated causes.

Here is Dr. Rediger’s final paragraph in this chapter: “There is a level of intensity, of dedication, among those who spontaneously healed, that is unparalleled. The comparisons to great athletes are apt; these are high achievers, the ones who do what we’ve all decided is physically impossible. People who break physical records are people who dedicate themselves completely to their training, pushing themselves as far as they can go—and then farther. In some way, were survivors of incurable diseases doing the same?

By now it should be apparent to readers that there is nothing spontaneous about spontaneous recovery.

You Are Not Your Illness

April 16, 2020

This post is the fourteenth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. One of the examples of this title is the story of two identical twins born with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is typically caused by developmental abnormalities in the womb or oxygen depletion during birth at affects the body’s muscles, movement, and coordination. One sister sought care from Dr. Nemeh who, while a licensed physician, includes practices many would regard as faith healing. Over the course of just a few visits, she began to experience a shift in how she felt about her body. After Dr. Nemeh laid his hands on her body, she felt a surge of energy, leaped out of her chair, and ran out of the room. She’d never run anywhere before in her life.

Her identical twin came along with her, sat quietly in her wheelchair during the interview, listening. She witnessed the remarkable transformation of her sister’s body and life but refused to see Dr. Nemeh herself. She told Dr. Rediger that she didn’t feel worthy of his attentions; she was certain that any attempt she made to improve herself would fail. She felt too defective and, therefore, unworthy.

Here’s another example provided by Dr. Rediger:
“We’ve already seen how intertwined beliefs, physical health, and healing are and how our own individual perception shape—from the ground up—how we understand the world around us. Two people can be sitting next to each other in Central Park, for example, but be living in two completely different universes. The first felt oppressed by the constant of traffic or frightened by the rapid beat of helicopter blades overhead. People approaching seem menaciing—what do they want? The person sitting right next to them will notice other things: a mother lovingly placing a blanket over her baby in a stroller, a couple holding hands and speaking as if only they exist, a shower of leaves raining down from a tree, red and gold in the sunlight. Two different worlds. Extend these radically perceptions across a period of years and imagine how different the biology of those two people’s physical bodies might be.”

Here’s a study showing how truly amazing the science of perception is: “a team of maids working at the same hotel, with the same general job responsibilities, were separated into two groups. One group was told that their usual work duties constituted “exercise”—that it actually satisfied the Surgeon General’s recommendations for daily exercise. The other group, a control group, was told nothing. Over the course of the study, the women in the first group became measurably fitter (weight, waist-to-hip ratio, BMI, normalized blood pressure), while the other group experienced no change at all. Perception—in this case, the belief that a certain activity was “exercise”—had the power to change the body.”

As we age, we may begin to think of ourselves as decrepit or diminished; we may fixate on our losses. But this negativity, which is perfectly natural, is also extraordinarily harmful. Research by Ellen Langer at Harvard and Becca Leby at the Yale School of Public Health is discovering that having genuinely positive views about growing older improves your health and extends your life, even more so that exercising or quitting smoking. Plus, negative thoughts about aging put you at risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that the chronic stress generated by negative self-deceptions wears down the hippocampus, the small, seahorse-shaped portion of the brain that is responsible for your memories, emotions, and even the beating of your heart.

Jerry was a cancer patient who had undergone many unsuccessful treatments. He decided to go off any treatments and focus entirely on the meditation and and guided imagery he’d been practicing for the past year. This involved engaging in intensive visualizations that attempted to “communicate from the conscious left-brain hemisphere to the subconscious right brain by use of imagery.” Jerry was trying through intensive visual meditation to send signals to his body—signals from his conscious self to a deeper coordinating intelligence within him, capable of altering the functioning of his immune system. His chosen meditation: to light up the antigens on each and every cancer cell, illuminating them like beacons, so that a his own immune system cells—the nature killer cells, macrophages, and T cells—could find and excise them.

Dr Rediger writes that he apparently did! Three months after he abruptly quite treatment and took on his meditative practice, his doctor examined him and declared “NED”: no evidence of disease.

Dr. Rediger writes the war metaphor, fighting and beating a disease works for many, but not all people. Another individual thought of her illness as messages from her body, an attempt to communicate with her. For her, listening and responding to that message was key.

Healing Your Identity

April 15, 2020

This post is the thirteenth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in that book. Dr. Rediger is a psychiatrist, and this is a chapter where it is quite clear that he is a psychiatrist.

Drs.Vincent Felitti and Richard Anda identified ten types of childhood stress and trauma that they called adverse childhood experiences or ACEs. Here is the list

Physical abuse
Sexual abuse
Emotional abuse
Physical neglect
Emotional neglect
Exposure to domestic violence
Household domestics abuse
Household mental illness
Parental separation or divorce
Incarcerated household member

These adverse childhood experiences can result in serious emotional damage that can be carried throughout one’s life. Dr. Rediger brings in the concept of a default mode network (DMN). As the name implies, the default mode is the mode to which the brain defaults when it is not actively thinking. Dr. Redger says that for him, moving beyond childhood trauma and making sure his body wasn’t locked into a cycle of chronic fight or flight also meant getting out of his default mode network.

He writes, “New experiences are one way to do this; any time you get out of your daily routine and experience something new, your brain exits the DMN, and you get out of your default mode of operating. It’s an enormous opportunity both for changing your thought patterns and changing your health. When you get out of the the DMN, you have the chance to create and reinforce new neural pathways that can override existing ones.

The concept of the DMN should not be new to regular readers of the healthy memory blog (e.g, “Default Network, System 1 Processing, and Alzheimer’s Disease.) Enter “Default Network” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com
to find that post.

That post identified similarities between the default mode network and Kahneman’s System 1 Processing. Kahneman’s System 1 processing is important in that HM thinks that too heavy a use of System 1 processing at the expense of System 2 processing, which is active thinking, increases the risk for AD.

The simplest distinction between the two terms is that Kahneman is a cognitive psychologist and his two process view of cognitive processes comes from cognitive psychology. The default mode network comes from cognitive neuroscience. Default mode activity is identified via brain imaging. Although they might not be identical, that distinction awaits further research, it is clear that there is considerable overlap between the two.

In addition to brain atrophy, AD patients have abnormal high levels of proteins in different brain regions. In the medial temporal lobe, the accumulation of tau protein leads to neurofibrillary tangles. In cortical regions, such as the parietal cortex in early AD, the accumulation of amyloid-B protein leads to amyloid plaques. The neurofibrillary tangles in the medial temporal lobe and amyloid plaques in cortical regions can be assumed to disrupt neural processing in these regions.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “There is an influential hypothesis that there is a causal relationship between default network activity that leads to deposition of amyloid that results in atrophy and disrupted metabolic activity, which impairs long-term memory in AD patients. The regions in the default network are active when participants are not engaged in a task and include the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, the inferior prefrontal cortex and the medial parietal cortex. In AD patients, amyloid deposition occurs in the same regions, which suggests the default network activity may lead to amyloid deposition. Dr. Slotnick suggests that perhaps higher levels of amyloid deposition, which occurs in late AD patients, is necessary to produce atrophy in the frontal cortex.

Dr. Slotnick continues, “If high amyloid deposition is a causal factor in developing AD, older adults with low levels of amyloid should be at decreased risk for developing this disease. There is some evidence that cognitive engagement throughout life may reduce the amyloid level in the brains of healthy older adults as a function of cognitive engagement, and this was compared to the cortical amyloid levels . Participants rated the frequency which they engaged in cognitively demanding tasks such as reading, writing, going to the library, or playing games at five different ages (6, 12, 18, 40, and their current age). Healthy older adults with greater cognitive engagement throughout their lifetime, as measured by the average cognitive activity at the five ages, had lower levels of amyloid in default network regions. Moreover, the healthy older adults in the lowest one-third of lifetime engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to AD patients, and the healthy older adults in the highest one-third of lifetime cognitive engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to young adults.

Dr. Rediger is arguing that another reason for exiting DFM and reviewing and forgetting ACEs, is that it will facilitate the healing of your identity, which, in addition to the other factors he identifies in his book, might facilitate a spontaneous remission.

The Power of Placebo

April 14, 2020

This post is the twelfth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in that book.

The placebo effect is real. Today, going into any of kind research study on the efficacy o the drug, the expectation is that, on average, a full 35% of the participants will experience a strong placebo response. They will receive what is essentially a sugar pill but experience the same effects as those taking the real medication. The efficacy of a drug needs to be assessed against the placebo response. It needs to be significantly higher (in a statistical sense) than the response to the placebo or the drug should not be approved. This 35% is an average. The ranges is between 10% and 90%, depending on the specific illness and the particular medication or treatment being tested.

Knee arthroscopy is a common knee surgery that is performed seven hundred thousand times a year in the United States. Alone this surgery makes up $4 billion of health-care spending in this country. It’s often used to perform a repair on the meniscus, the padding of cartilage that sits on both sides of the kneecap and that provides a smooth cushion for the joint. Meniscus tears are widespread and cause pain with movement, so doctors frequently recommend arthroscopy to repair it. But when researchers ran studies to compare the outcome between an arthroscopy and a faux arthroscopy (in which the surgeon makes an incision during “surgery” but repairs nothing so that the patient only believes he had the surgery), it was revealed that there was no difference between the actual surgery and the sham surgery. In both groups, people reported relief of symptoms to the same degree. In other words, you don’t need a knee arthroscopy to improve your range of motion and mitigate pain. You just need to believe that you had one.

At Harvard, Ted Kaptchuk, the preeminent researcher on placebo, has looked into the way placebo works along the same neurotransmitters as certain medications, and he has also begun to isolate certain genetic profiles that are, for some reason, more prone to responding to placebo. He concludes the placebo is an incredibly powerful force, often underestimated and misunderstood. His studies have proven over and over that placebo can cause real measurable physiological changes in the body including heart rate, blood pressure, brain chemistry, and even diseases of the nervous system like Parkinson’s. As powerful as he observes placebo to be, he relies on the boundaries of controlled studies to make his assertions and stops short of suggesting that placebo can turn around disease. He concludes, “Though placebos may provide relief, they rarely cure.”

A drug Krebozen studied was an anticancer medication administered to a cancer patient. Three days after the patient got his first injection, the doctor found him up and out of bed, breathing easily, walking around the ward, joking with nurses. The doctor noted in written reports that the tumors had “melted like snowflake on a hot stove.” The patient was sent home ten days later.
A couple of months later there were news stories about Krebozen not being an anticancer miracle drug, but a fake quack remedy. When the patient read this, he suffered an immediate and severe relapse. His tumors swelled and his health plummeted.

His doctor told him that the reports were wrong, and that he’d just received a new, retooled, “double strength” version of the serum. This version was supposed to be more powerful.

After one injection, the tumors melted away again. But this time, the doctor had administered a placebo that wasn’t Krebozen. The patient enjoyed two months of robust good health. His tumors were gone and he felt great. Then he read another report that debunked Krebozen. He relapsed immediately and died within days.

The flip side of the placebo effect is the nocebo effect, which appears to be at work here. Like the placebo effect, the nocebo effect is real.

Dr. Rediger writes, “The more I read about placebo, the more I began to believe that the term placebo only captures a fraction of the true effects that belief has on the body. I could no longer accept the standard line in medicine that placebo was a sort of superficial nuisance, an example of the mind fooling the body into simply feeling better for a time. What was apparent to me was that sometimes, the body does get better. And yet we don’t seem to care why.”

Continuing, “All of this led me to wonder: What is the truth behind the shifting and powerful interaction between the mind, body, spirit in a human being? To what degree are our bodies a reflection of the conscious and unconscious beliefs we have absorbed over time? And sound as the physical body be, in a way, a mirror for something we don’t understand yet are trying to learn”

Dr. Rediger goes into the quantum physics of the body. Although this section is very interesting, it is difficult to convey. So should the reader be interested, get the book.

Here is the concluding paragraph of this chapter: “We think of belief systems as being about God—whether or not we believe in one, or what kind of God we believe—or about the world and how it works. But spontaneous healing isn’t about belief in the way we usually think of it—that you have to belong to a certain religion, or pray a certain way, or even whether or not your are a “believer” or a person of faith. What we are talking about here is something deeper, perhaps even unconscious. It’s what you really believe about life, yourself, the universe, and the people around you, both consciously and subconsciously; what you truly believe is possible or impossible. At a deep level, the level where all other beliefs are shaped, what do you believe about your value? The friendliness of the universe or lack thereof? Do you matter? Does your life matter? When it comes to belief and its role in healing, the most important question may be: What do we believe about ourselves?”

Faith Healing and Healing Faith

April 13, 2020

This post is the eleventh on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in this book. The following quote from Albert Einstein serves to introduce the chapter:
It is better to believe than to disbelieve; in so doing you bring everything to the realm of possibility.

This is a long and detailed chapter, and this is a difficult topic to research. There is something about scientific research that readers need to understand, and that is that there is no certainty in science. Ideas and concepts are constantly changing due to new data and new concepts or theories. So in the studies that have been conducted, many studies found no evidence for spontaneous remission. There were some individual studies that appeared to provide strong evidence that as a result of faith, spontaneous remission appeared to have occurred. And he found evidence of spontaneous remission where diet or lifestyle changes had not been made, yet the spontaneous remission appeared to be clear.

This led Dr. Rediger to the following conclusion: “But perhaps each of the previous factors I’d isolated —diet, inflammation, immune function, stress, and even love and connection—all singled on something bigger, some deeper, something more fundamental. Each of these principals had been an important stepping-stone on the road to understanding, but I was beginning to see that the most pivotal factors were unmeasurables—things that had been left to the side by science because they simply could not be quantified in a controlled experiment the way nutrition, inflammation, stress hormones, and even thought patterns could be.”

He reports research on praying to God for oneself and for others. However, Dr. Rediger regards God as an external factor. Pantheists believe that God is omnipresent. This belief places God inside ourselves. So consider Einstein’s quote. But don’t let such beliefs prevent you from consulting and considering traditional medical care.

The Healing Heart

April 12, 2020

This post is the tenth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The title of this post is identical the to the title of a chapter in this book. As part of our autonomic nervous system, the part we can’t consciously control, the sympathetic and parasympathetic work involuntarily; we can’t just think our way into the parasympathetic. Dr. Rediger writes, “You can teach yourself to shift into parasympathetic mode by managing stress, eliminating stress, or changing your lens on stress. But once you’ve shifted into it, the parasympathetic needs fuel in order to run. If the tank is empty, you could drop back out of healing mode soon after standing up from your relaxation response exercise. And what fuels the parasympathetic is basically this: love and connection.”

This does not mean that you have to run around falling in love with everyone you meet. Dr. Rediger writes, “moments of ‘micro-connection” can deliver hits of the potent love cocktail, spool up the parasympathetic, and keep it fueled up and running. Our brains release a cocktail of hormones when we experience feelings of love and connection. How exactly this cocktail is mixed (which hormones specifically are dumped into your blood stream) depend on what kind of experience you’re having. Dr. Rediger writes, “Attraction, romantic love, platonic love, and social connection all have their own specific mixture, but most involve some combination of dopamine, testosterone, estrogen, vasopressin, and most importantly, oxytocin. Oxytocin, first isolated in new mothers nursing home babies, is often call “the love drug” because it’s both activated by, and helps to create connection, attraction, love, and bonding.” Beyond helping to make and deepen relationships, it has health benefits. Oxytocin is known to be a kind of anti-stress tonic, countering the effects of fight or flight and stress hormones. It is also both anti-inflammatory and parasympathetic in its effects.

The vagus nerve controls the release of the “love medicine” in our bodies. Vagus is Latin for wandering, and in line with its poetic name, the vagus wanders everywhere through your body. It exits the brain stem at the base of your skull dip in your neck. It runs quite close to the carotid artery. You can get as close as you can to your vagus nerve by pressing your finger to the pulse point on your neck. From the spot under your fingers, it shoots down to your heart and beyond, where it regulates heartbeat and dozens of other vital functions. Should you have any doubts about how deep and rapid the connection is between the mind and the body, the vagus is that literal link between the two—a thick, humming power line that runs from your brain to your gut.

Eighty% of the vagus pulls information up into the brain. The other 20% sends information down into the body. This means that a great deal of sensory information is being collected for your brain and that decisions are then made in the brain and sent out all over the body. It’s a rapid, constantly flowing system (the network of glands that release hormones through all your body, and immune system to constantly adjust and respond to all the collected information.)

Deep abdominal breathing stimulates the vagus nerve. “Even a deep sigh can activate it briefly—think of brushing your fingers over guitar strings, eliciting a rich, vibrating chord that reverberates for a couple of seconds. When you experience feelings of love and connection, it’s like playing a whole song for your vagus nerve. The level of cortisol in your system begins to drop, and your telomerase is allowed to build back up to a healthy, balanced level. If you can keep on strumming those stings and keep your parasympathetic activated, a host of amazing health benefits will follow.”

Neurosurgeon, immunologist, and inventor Kevin Tracey discovered that the vagus nerve appears to be an “inflammatory reflex” that works in the opposite direction of chronic inflammation, to offset or reverse it’s deleterious effects. When activated, the vagus senses inflammation in the body and relays this information to the brain and central nervous system, which the reflexively powers up the immune system, inhibiting inflammation and preventing organ damage. Research is underway to explore the extent to which stimulation of the vagus can prevent or reverse many inflammatory diseases, including, arthritis, colitis, epilepsy, congestive heart failure, sepsis, Crohn’s disease, headaches, tinnitus, depression, diabetes, and possibly other autoimmune diseases. So how do you activate or stimulate your vagus nerve?

Barbara Fredrickson has immersed herself in research on this topic for over two decades. She’s run many studies showing that what truly tones the vagus is small moments of connection—a form of “falling in love,” if you will—with people who surround you on a day-to-day basis, everyone from your husband or wife to children, to the barista you’re getting to know at your corner coffee shop. It can even be a total stranger you meet on the street.

Just as exercise tones muscles, stimulating the vagus tones it in the same way. Vagal tone refers to the ability to rapidly activate the parasympathetic. The higher vagal tone you have, the more rapidly you can recover from stress and relax into healing mode. Just as doing reps with a hand weight tones the biceps, positive emotions like love tone the vagus.

Fredrickson has written a book Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection.

Meditation

April 11, 2020

This post is the ninth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The following is a quote from the cardiologist Hebert Benson: “We can either change the complexities of life—an unlikely event, for they are likely to increase—or develop ways that enable us to cope more effectively.”

The importance of meditation was brought to the attention of Dr. Benson by practitioners of transcendental meditation. They believed that they could lower their blood pressures, but had no proof. Benson hooked practitioners up to sphygmomanometers and monitored their blood pressures as they entered and sustained a meditative state. They not only lowered their blood pressure, but their heart rates fell. Their breathing became slower and deeper, and their metabolisms slowed and stabilized. Essentially, they were able to manage the part of their nervous systems that allows the body to rest and relax.

Initially critics of the research argued that the drop in blood pressure was small since it fell by only a few points at most during meditative sessions. Benson responded that these were people who meditated daily, practicing and “toning” their meditative abilities the way you would tone a muscle through exercise. Their resting blood pressures were already extremely low—much lower than an average person’s. Their unusually low blood pressures were a direct result of their diligent daily practice of the relaxation response. Benson argued that these people, simply through meditation, could produce a wave of positive physiological changes in the body.

Dr. Benson wrote an important book, The Relaxation Response. There is a healthy memory blog post titled “The Relaxation Response,” as well as many additional posts on this topic. Here are instructions: “Close your eyes. Relax all your muscles, Breathe through your nose, slowly and evenly, in and out, while focusing on a word, phrase, or sound in your mind—a mantra that can keep unwanted thoughts a bay and get us out of the “monkey mind,” or our repetitive thoughts and fears. For the mantra, one could use words that are personally soothing and meaningful, or associated with one’s own particular or religious practice. In his many presentations on the topic, Benson is quick to reassure audiences that unwanted thought will come (HM attests to this)—this doesn’t mean failure. The important thing is to refocus and continue. He recommends keeping the session going on for ten to twenty minutes.”

At the time of this posting there is a coronavirus pandemic. We are supposed to stay in our homes except for exercising outside or trips to the grocery or pharmacist. Being restricted like this can cause interpersonal problems. Advice on coping with psychological difficulties is published. But except for rare exceptions, the relaxation response is not mentioned, and it is the most effective technique. Plus there are additional advantages that follow in this post.

Dr. Benson writes, “We know now that meditation can literally change the shape of the brain. Sara Lazar and other colleagues at Harvard ran an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program and found that it measurably increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus, the part of the brain in charge of memory, feelings, and regulation of emotions. Not only that, but it actually shrank the amygdala, the part of the brain that dispenses fear hormones and triggers the fight-or-flight response.”

Dr. Rediger writes, “when it comes to spontaneous healing our focus is mainly on the autonomic nervous system—the branch that runs the brain to all your essential organs, full of billions of neurons and nerve fibers. This aspect of your nervous system runs silently, not really under your conscious control. Unlike, say, deciding to lift your hand and then lifting it, the organs, blood vessels, glands, and other systems controlled by the autonomic, nervous system are run by the subconscious mind.” Meditation is a means of affecting the autonomic nervous system and the subconscious mind.

Chronic Inflammation

April 10, 2020

This post is the eighth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Lifestyle illnesses—cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and diabetes are the top causes of death and disability in the United States, and they account for 75% of all health-care spending. Two-thirds of all deaths in the United States are caused by these five diseases alone. And what do all these diseases have in common—chronic inflammation.

Dr. Rediger writes, “With inflammation-based lifestyle illnesses, we’ve made incredible breakthroughs in surgery, medications, and technology to mitigate or treat these illnesses when their symptoms flare up in the most painful and immediately life-threatening ways. We can insert cardiac stents when the blood vessels aren’t allowing enough blood through; we can bring down blood sugar when a person is in diabetic ketoacidosis and sliding into coma. We can brilliantly manage all manner of other crises. But to truly prevent and heal illness—to place a guardrail at the top of the cliff rather than just line up ambulances at the bottom—we need to change a whole lot more than that. Chronic inflammation comes from how we think, how we feel, how we live.”

A woman, Juniper, is used as a case study. She had ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a devastating form of arthritis that, as it progressed, would fuse the bones and joint;s of her pelvis before working its way up her spine. In most of the roughly one hundred autoimmune diseases it is suspected that they can be activated by everything from a genetic code, to an environmental toxin, a tick bite, a pregnancy, a food allergy, or another co-occuring illness that somehow trips the switch. But doctors are rarely able to identify the specific cause. Doctors would tell Juniper what her immune system’s cells were doing—harming her by trying to help—but not why they were doing it. How had such an essential, intelligent body system gotten so off track?

Dr. Rediger writes, “Autoimmune diseases and inflammation are inextricably linked. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, there are over a hundred known autoimmune disorders, and as a group, they are all categorized as “inflammatory” illnesses—causing a repeating cycle of inflammation in the body or brain. Chronic inflammation can often pave the way for an autoimmune disease, which then intensifies in the body. The illness breathes heat into the smoldering coals of inflammation, and this ground fire continues to spread through the body, preventing health from taking seed.”

Dr. Rediger writes, “Up to 80% of visits to primary care doctors are stress related, yet most doctors are trained to focus exclusively on disease symptoms and medication management. Multiple studies have demonstrated that half of all outpatient visits, in fact, have no identifiable basis. Chronic stress dramatically increases a person’s risk for developing coronary heart disease (CHD) as well as a wide range of other illnesses, and there’s strong evidence that a single emotional even can trigger a CHD episode. Though the exact biological mechanisms are still being delineated, the road that runs from stress to inflammation to disease is a well-traveled one. And people who recover from “incurable” illness seem to find an off-ramp to exit that highway, turn around, and start driving the other direction.”

He continues, “We’re beginning to see that unmanaged chronic stress wears your immune system down over time, the same way constant unrelenting waves wear down a rocky bluff. Anxious thoughts and feelings, the constant drip of stress hormones into your bloodstream—these internal inflammation triggers are just as powerful, if not more so than a food you’re allergic to or a dangerous toxin in your environment. In numerous studies, the majority of people (80%) who developed autoimmune disease like Juniper’s reported “uncommon emotional stress” just before the onset of their first symptoms.”

Dr. Rediger writes, “One particular startling study even found that chronic stress can alter the very genes of your immune cells. Chronic stress disrupts and rewrites a code like a malware virus wiping a hard drive and replacing it with destructive programming.” These cells are reprogrammed to cause inflammation.

Dr. Rediger writes, “To begin, we need to start opening lines of communication with our bodies. Those who recover from incurable illness often try a lot of different things before they home in on the specific lifestyle changes that start to help them feel better.” A period of trial and error is needed to figure out what modes of eating really worked to make them feel better, more energetic, and more joyful. There is no one “anti-inflammation” prescription you can follow, though you can begin with some common tactics that help most people knock down inflammation and reclaim immune function.

Dr. Rediger writes, “It’s a good idea to start with the basics: move toward a more nutrient-dense diet (nutrient-dense diets are, in general, inherently more anti-inflammatory) and get rid of processed foods and sugar, which can kickstart the inflammatory response. And start to look for your personal stress triggers. They aren’t always what you think. When do you start to feel stress or anxious? What are the major points of friction in your day when you feel overextended, worn down, overwhelmed? Sometimes these may have obvious fixes once you become aware of them—adjusting a routine, asking a partner for more support in a particular area, or even letting go of responsibilities that are simply too much for you during this era of your life. Other times, you may have to engage in a larger life overhaul to eliminate unnecessary stressors and prioritize health. Juniper, and many other who recovered from incurable illness, ended up making radical changes to how they lived their lives that may have helped reboot their immune systems in a more anti-inflammatory mode.”

Juniper took a yoga class. At first the experience was quite painful, but she persevered. She could picture the new yoga poses—which she performed clumsily, shakily—breaking up the calcification on her bones, freeing her skeleton from their vise grip. Moving slowly and painfully into a new pose, she visualized what she hoped would happen: the thick calcifications shattering like plaster and falling away leaving her joints smooth, the bones sliding past one another like they were supposed. This was the goal she was imaging, that would eventually be achieved after many more practices. She was pregnant and for most of the pregnancy, she didn’t have inflammation or pain; it temporarily faded was as the pregnancy progressed.

In the weeks after birth, as the pregnancy hormones faded the pain began to return. She quit her job, moved to LA with her husband and started their own business management firm. She deepened her yoga practice. She pursued Rolfing—a type of bodywork that’s like massage, but deeper. It’s goal is to rework and reorganize the connective tissues of the body—the fascia and ligaments that bind joints together. She went even deeper in her yoga—holding poses longer, lengthening farther into the stretches. She started hot yoga, reasoning that the heat would help warm up her joints and ligaments and allow for a greater range of motion. Macrodosing with with cannabis gook ended off the Rolfing sessions, which could be quite painful.

Eventually, she realized that to try heal, she needed to reorganize her life. She and her husband sold their business and moved to San Diego to focus more on her well-being and the children.

Looking back, she isn’t exactly sure when the pain stopped completely. She didn’t need a new diagnosis from her doctor to know that she was better. She could feel it.

Nutrition

April 9, 2020

This post is the seventh on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The section on nutrition is detailed and complicated. Consequently, there are dangers in trying to summarize it. There is a danger of someone adopting a diet than may be unhealthy or even dangerous for him or her, as there are important individual differences. Consequently, HM is presenting four brief but important points Dr. Rediger offers.

“First, it’s important to understand that unhealthy levels of sugar and salt are hidden in processed foods, sugar often disguised as corn syrup or under other names.

Second, just because something is advertised as ‘healthy,’ as a ‘health food,’ or as containing healthy ingredients doesn’t mean that it is or does. ‘Whole wheat bread,’ for example, is almost always made with enriched flour, which means that it isn’t made from whole wheat.

Third, eating is a way of sharing love and community, and food habits are highly linked to traditions. The goal at the end of this process is improved quality of life rather than less. Life, relationships, and food are complex, so being practical is important.

Fourth, when making nutritional changes, it’s critical to focus on the nutrition you’re giving your body and being grateful for that, rather than focusing on what you can’t have. This shift of focus is critical for beating the mental game, for building a mind-set that works for you rather than against what you are trying to accomplish. It takes some work to educate yourself and figure out the details of this new path, but there is no substitute for true knowledge and real understanding when it comes to what you are putting into your body.”

The Microbiome

April 8, 2020

This post is the sixth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The microbiome is an entire microscopic ecosystem that is living and thriving inside our bodies. Dr. Rediger writes, “It is complex, smart, and influential, to the point that it could be determining your ability to heal…or not.” Trillions of bacteria reside on the outside and inside of the body. Most of them live in the gut, but they are speeded throughout the body, an interconnected web of life that in many ways functions like an additional organ. The vast majority of these bacteria are actually beneficial bacteria. They work for us, digesting food, producing certain vitamins and neurochemicals that our bodies need, and even preventing “bad” bacteria from gaining a foothold. These beneficial microorganisms, which live in symbiosis inside the body, actually account for up to 3% of the body mass. For every human cell in the body, there are one hundred bacteria cells.

Individual microbiomes are as unique as a fingerprint. The microbiome is shaped at birth, when it was colonized by the bacteria in the mother’s birth canal as the baby moved through it. From that time forward, the microbiome has been shaped by the environment, by the foods eaten, the places visited, and the kinds of jobs worked. Every new environment adds to the ever shifting microbiome, ideally making it richer and more diverse. But one thing can massively set back the microbiome: antibiotics.

Although antibiotics are a major leap forward for medicine and a lifesaving intervention, come with their own set of adverse effects. And one of those is that in the process of wiping out “bad” bacteria, they also wipe out “good” bacteria that support healthy immune function. Dr. Rediger writes, “In fact, approximately 80% of the immune system cells are in the gut, and we are finding more and more evidence that a healthy, rich, diverse micriobiome can shape an immune system that is more effective against both external threats like viruses and infections, as well as internal threats like mutating cells that may turn into cancer if not caught.”

Continuing on he writes, “So how do the ‘good bacteria’ in the microbiome pay a role in shaping a healthy immune system? The one hundred trillion bacteria that live in the body come with their own set of DNA. Collectively, the DNA of those bacteria are their ‘genome.’ We are beginning to discover that the human genome, which comes preprogrammed to resist certain diseases and can be taught to resist others through exposure to them or through vaccines, doesn’t actually have enough ‘code’ to protect us from all the disease threats that exist. It’s like we’ve filled up our hard drive already; we just don’t have the space. We rely on the genome of our microbiomes —our gut brains—to store information, tactics, and disease-fighting knowledge for us. Wipe that out by taking too many antibiotics, and it’s like burning a library.”

Continuing still further, “A single round of antibiotics can impact gut bacteria for up to a year. Of course, antibiotics and other immunosuppressive interventions that affect the microbiome—like chemotherapy—are at times necessary, even lifesaving. The trick is using them and using them wisely. And the problem is that instead of taking care of our lives and bodies so that we are less likely to get ill in the first place, we’ve created a trigger-happy culture in medicine that leaps to these sorts of later interventions. The microbiome is essentially an extension of our immune system. And yet, our default approach to treating major illnesses usually involves decimating the microbiome while we do so.

Dr. Rediger concludes, “There are still many deadly blind spots in medicine today, holding us back from lifesaving progress in medicine. And one major holdover blind spot is that we continue to operate on a model of pathology: we fixate on tearing down disease at all costs instead of building up flourishing health and immunity. Since Pasteur’s time, we have developed a philosophy of medicine that is primarily a science of disease rather than a science of health and vitality. We’ve become locked into this mode where destroying the microbe is our only tool—and we all know the adage, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything gets treated like a nail.”

The situation has degenerated to the point that completely antibiotic superbugs have emerged. In early 2017, a Nevada woman developed an infection that failed to respond to any of the increasingly strong antibiotics used by her doctors. And more and more of these incurable infections will be seen as the bacteria we’ve been coexisting with learn to dodge available medications. “Superbugs” are being created.

Dr. Rediger writes, “Spontaneous remissions gives us enormous insight into how we can bolster our immune systems to prevent these diseases from taking hold, or roll back their damage if they already have. As new studies into the immune system emerge, I continue to find how the kinds of things that stimulate natural killer cell activity line up with the kinds of changes that survivors of incurable diseases make before they experience their spontaneous healing. Certain diet changes, such as increasing one’s nutritional level, turn out to support natural killer cell activity, as does reducing (or more effectively managing) stress. Studies even show forgiveness to be linked to a spike in natural cell killers.”

How to Talk to Your Immune System

April 7, 2020

This post is the fifth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Dr. Rediger writes, “Successes in immunotherapy today tell us that the power to overcome incurable illness may very well be locked inside each of us. Immunotherapy is a highly technical, precise way of targeting specific cells in the immune system and making them work against cancer. While you can’t practice immunotherapy yourself at home, you can communicate with your immune system, perhaps even—like so many of those who experience spontaneous healing—to the point of changing the way it functions, turning the tide against the disease.”

The key question is why do our natural killer cells sometimes target and remove mutating cancel cells and other times overlook them? When do they work for us, hunting down pathogens and viral invaders, and when do they turn against us, attacking our own tissues and biological systems?

The nervous system is an intricate network of nerve cells that winds and sparkles through the entire body. There are literally billions of nerve cells, or neurons, that allow us to do everything from lifting a finger to feeling an intense emotion. Nervous system cells are unceasingly sending messages through our body, whisking through the body as fast as electricity.

The immune system and the nervous system are intricately interwoven. They are not separate systems operating independently in different sectors of the body but overlapping networks that can swap information and “talk” to each other.

The nervous system connects directly to the thymus, one of the powerhouses of the immune system which nurtures and deploys natural killer cells and other types of white blood cells into the body on command. What is even more fascinating is the researchers now know that the cells of our immune systems actually have neuroreceptors on them. Neuroreceptors were believe to be limited to the brain and the nervous system until Candace Pert, often called “the mother of psychoneuroimmunology,” discovered the presence of neurotransmitter and neuropeptide receptors on the wall of cells in both the immune system and the brain. These neuroreceptors proved a way for the nervous system to communicate cell to cell. The cells of the immune system, roaming throughout our entire body at all times have that radio channel turned on. They are in direct communication with the nervous system, meaning whatever’s going on in your mind is being broadcast directly into the immune system. It is possible for our emotions to talk to our immune systems—sometimes with dramatic and unexpected results.

One recipient of a spontaneous remission attributed part of his healing to an ongoing, unshakable feeling of being loved by a special person who’d been important to him. Dr. Rediger writes, “Could this powerful feeling of being loved have been broadcast into his immune system, revivifying something deep within him? Whether it comes from a therapeutic session, a loving relationship, deep meditation or focused imagery, love touches and heals something that medications can’t touch.

The Immune System

April 6, 2020

This post is the fourth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Jedd Wolchok, an oncologist and immunotherapy innovator at the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer clinic has said that “spontaneous remissions” are either divine intervention or the immune system. Along with the nervous system, it’s the most complex system in the human body. It’s made up of organs, tissues, and cells that form an intricate and multipurpose web of protection throughout the entire body. It starts with your skin, your saliva, and mucus membranes inside the nasal passages, which stop, trap, and neutralize many pathogens before they even enter the body. It goes as deep as the bone marrow, where white blood cells are born: the intelligent, specialized, rapid, and ruthless soldiers of the immune system, which hunt down and take out everything from invading pathogens to burgeoning cancer cells.

New white blood cells are constantly being born in the bone marrow. From there, they are sent to the thymus—a small organ that sits behind the breastbone—where the grow and mature before fanning out into the bloodstream, fully grown and ready to fight. They move through the body even faster than the blood does, each with its own specific job, can develop hundreds of tiny legs, grip the blood vessel walls, and move millipede-like when they are running to the site of a cut, infection or other breach in the immune system’s barrier, or to the site of an internal emergency like rogue cells that have mutated into something dangerous.

Many symptoms that we might think of as “bad”—and that we are in the habit of medicating away—are actually an important part of the immune system’s pathogen-fighting process. Consider the redness and swelling that appears around a cut or scrape. The redness is caused by the veins and capillaries dilating to allow infection-fighting immune system cells to arrive as quickly as possible to the site. Once at the site, the cells organize themselves into teams—some in charge of cleaning, others repair, and others generating new tissue. This causes swelling as the cells do their work. As long as they are successful in preventing infection from setting in, this type of inflammation is a normal and healthy response that is necessary for healing.

When we get a fever, we tend to immediately try to figure out a way to get rid of it. Until recently, it was standard practice in medicine to recommend controlling a fever with over-the-counter medications called antipyretics. But theories began to emerge that fevers might actually help our immune systems—as long as they aren’t dangerously high.

Fevers, as uncomfortable as they are, are one of the immune system’s many ingenious tools. They help rid the body by producing extra virus-fighting cells to get rid of a cold or flu faster. This finding leads back to Dr. Coley’s discovery over a hundred years ago—that a high fever somehow corresponded with the disappearance of cancer tumors. What Coley had tumbled upon, without completely understanding it, was that when the immune system turned the heat on to kick itself into gear to fight an infection, an unexpected side effect was that it got better at fighting, too. So, when we take medications to suppress a fever in response, we may also be suppressing our immune systems’ efforts to guide us toward recovery.

Not surprisingly, sometimes things go wrong. When lacking the physical and emotional nutrition it needs, the immune can become confused when it deploys to attack a threat; it can overreact or set its sights on the wrong target. Allergies provide an example.

In the case of autoimmune disorders, our immune systems can go haywire. With these diseases, our own body turns on us, attacking what it was sworn to protect. It flags our own cells, tissues, or organs as “foreign” and assaults them. Type 1 diabetes is an example of this: the immune system destroys the cells of the pancreas, making it impossible for the body to produce the insulin it needs to metabolize sugars and survive. Some autoimmune diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes are present from a young age, coded into the DNA of the person who suffers from it. But many other autoimmune disorders don’t appear until much later in life and often don’t have a strong genetic component. Once they appear and begin to progress, most are considered “incurable,” and the focus becomes how to live with the disease and manage it, as opposed to how to cure it. Some of the individuals profiled in this book are those who recovered completely from autoimmune diseases once thought be to incurable—diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis, a devastating and readily progressive form of arthritis that “freezes” the bones of the spine and pelvis.
In all these cases, the individuals stumbled upon a way to reset their immune systems—to wipe out the bad programming that had it attacking its own cells and tissues, and reset completely to normal, healthy immune function.

Building an Effective Immune System

April 5, 2020

This post is the third on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Dr. Rediger writes, “What we want is an immune system with well-nourished cells that are fast, smart accurate, and ready to fight for us. “ It needs to be fully staffed, not depleted and sluggish, sending out sloppy troops that hit the wrong targets or are ineffective. Our immune systems need to have twenty-twenty vision, and be able to see viruses as they enter our bodies and rogue cells that threaten to mutate into cancer.

Unfortunately, many of us are walking around with immune systems that are chronically worn down. They’re sluggish, exhausted, and impeded by poorly managed relationships with stress and nutrition. Missing are key positions in our army of fighter cells, leaving it sparse and thinned out. This leaves us more vulnerable not only to colds and flus, but to cancer, heart, diabetes, and a wide range of serious autoimmune disorders.

Spontaneous remission gives us insight into how we can bolster our immune systems to prevent these diseases from taking hold, or roll back their damage if they already have. As new studies into the immune system emerge, Dr. Rediger continues to notice how the kinds of things that stimulate natural killer cell activity line up with kinds of changes that survivors of incurable diseases make before they experience their spontaneous healing. Diet changes, such as increasing one’s nutritional level, turn out to support natural killer cell activity, as does reducing (or more effectively managing) stress. Studies have shown forgiveness to be linked in natural killer cells.

Dr Rediger writes, “It’s easy to look at these findings and leap to the conclusion that simply changing your meal plan or learning to meditate can spur your natural killer cells into action and turn off your disease like hitting a switch. But what my work with remarkable recoverers has taught me is that it’s not that simple. There are no silver bullets or quick fixes with spontaneous healing. In fact, there is nothing spontaneous about spontaneous remission. In many cases, the stage had been set well before the ‘miraculous’ remission occurred.”

Dr. Rediger continues, “The best way to repair a cracked and ineffective immunological wall is to build health and vitality from the ground up. The body—if you can get out of its way—is a brilliant self-correcting organism that wants to get better. Cases of spontaneous remission, as unique and individual as they are, offer clues on how to get out of your body’s way and give it everything it needs to build and maintain a thriving, smart immune system.”

Here is the story of one individual, Claire, who hd a spontaneous remission. She faced her fear of death. She didn’t know to what she should attribute her remarkable recovery, the mysterious disappearance of her pancreatic cancer. She just knew that at some point between walking out of her surgeon’s office and returning to the hospital years later for an unrelated issue, it had vanished. The profound changes Claire made in her life were not made with the intent to cure herself; she fully expected pancreatic cancer to take her life. Dr. Rediger writes, “The changes made were about living fully and more authentically with the time she had left. They were about confronting fears and other obstacles that had held her back from doing the things she really wanted to do. But perhaps this combination of factors—diet changes, lifestyle changes, and deep emotional and spiritual changes—had in fact altered the terrain of her body like nurtured-rich compost added to thin, barren dirt.”

Dr. Rediger continues, “With cases of spontaneous remission, something shifts that allows the immune system to once again do its job. In several healing centers in Brazil, I’d witnessed a higher-than-usual rate of spontaneous remission. There was something about these healing centers that was allowing these deep fundamental shifts to occur in the immune system so that healing could be unlocked. Perhaps they represented a cluster of cases for a phenomenon that is happening everywhere, invisibly, stalled up by statistics and averages. In Abadiania, for example, people ate nutrient-dense foods. They exercised and meditated, They left behind the stresses of their everyday lives. They turned inward and faced themselves: their fears, their forgotten dreams, their beliefs about themselves and the world they had never before questioned. They reinvented themselves, often completely rearranging the bedrock of their lives.”

Continuing, “Somewhere in these physical, mental, and spiritual transformations that so many visitors experienced—and which were also described by other survivors who emailed me from around the country, with their startling stories of recovery—there may lie the code to spontaneous healing: the precise combination of numbers that have to be punched in together to unlock the door to healing. I suspected that it couldn’t all be boiled down to one single trigger but instead was a serendipitous combination of all the right factors that lined up to create a rare and “miraculous” phenomenon—like an eclipse.”

HM apologizes for publishing this post prematurely.  Even though it is premature, it still should be comprehensible.  The posts that should have preceded it will now follow.

Going to Brazil

April 4, 2020

This post is the second on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Shortly after the author had accepted a dual appointment to McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School and had opened a small private practice he met Nikki, an oncology nurse who works down the road at Mass General when she came in for a joint session with her adult son. He’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and she wanted support in breaking the news to him.

Shortly thereafter she took an indefinite leave of absence from Mass General; her health had declined to the point where she could no longer work. She was exhausted, having difficulty eating, and losing weight. She planned to travel to Brazil, to a tiny town in the countryside called Abadiania, to visit a Brazilian healer. She’d tried everything that Western medicine had to offer to fight her disease, and she’d decided that she had nothing to lose.

Two weeks after she left she called Dr. Rediger from Brazil. She said, “You have to come down here. I’m getting better. I’m seeing things that you wouldn’t believe.” Dr Rediger had to remind himself that the goal wasn’t to come to a conclusion as soon as he stumbled upon an apparent “answer.” The goal was to improve the quality of the questions. And the first question was: What was really happening in Brazil?

The healing centers were tucked away in little towns in rural Brazil. He found a markedly different culture from his own. They operate with a belief system that accepts the belief that a healer could communicate with and channel spirits, or engird, get from another plane—an invisible world that is realer and more important than the visible world that we can see and touch. In their view the physical world is a faint shadow of this deeper, truer world. In this belief system, ineffable qualities like love and the human soul are thought to be extremely powerful forces, especially in regard to illness and healing—illness begins in the soul, and when healing occurs there, the physical body then “catches up” to this new realty.”

“People flocked to these centers from all over the country sometimes selling possessions to afford the trip. The center that was the focus of his trip was the Casa de dom Inacia Loyala, in Abadania. This place was a little different from the others because it attracted people from all over the world. More reports of remission were coming from this population, and at least a few of the ones I’d vetted before coming down looked interesting enough to pursue. This was the place that Nikki had urged him to investigate.”

One of the first people interviewed was Juan, a vigorous older man in his eighties who went to the Casa each year with his family. He was a soybean farmer from another part of rural Brazil, and his hands, worn and polished like wood, showed his years of outdoor work. Decades earlier, he’d been diagnosed by biopsy with glioblastoma multiform, a deadly and fast-moving type of cancer that few people survive—within five-years of diagnosis, only 2 to 5% of patients are still alive. This small percentage drops to zero pretty quickly after that. There is no cure for glioblastoma multiform; treatment is palliative, wirth the intent to make patients comfortable and, if possible, extend their lives a bit. Yet here was Juan, decades after diagnosis, incredibly healthy for his age and radiating a quiet, meditative calm.

When asked to what did he attribute his impossible recovery, he shrugged, and opened his palms. Who could know? He said he started coming to the Casa after his diagnosis. Since then, he’d come every year to sit in the energy room and meditate. He thought of it as an annual tune-up, like an oil change.

When asked what he changed about his life after he was diagnosed, he shook his head and said he didn’t know.

His wife, who’d been sitting next to him during the interview, listening his, suddenly began to cry.

She said, “Everything changed. She described how pre-diagnosis, Juan barely spent any time with her or their children. He was either out working, off drinking, or who knew where. There was a lot of tension a lot of strife. To her, he felt like a boat drifting farther and farther out to sea, on its own course. When he was diagnosed, and death was suddenly staring him in the face, his life and priorities were completely reordered. He seemed, almost overnight, like a different person. She said, “he came home to us. He’s so much more connected to us now.”

Dr. Rediger heard the same thing, over and over again, from interview to interview. everything changed.

Dr. Rediger writes, “In Brazil and elsewhere people were occasionally healing from incurable diseases, either without medical intervention or else with treatment but wildly outperforming the projected outcomes of those treatments. Some essential, unseen shift was occurring across a diverse cross section of individuals and diseases that was allowing their immune systems to somehow rise up and turn the tide against the disease. The “how” of this was what I needed to focus on. If spontaneous remission occurred at all, even occasionally, science should investigate it if I could could scrape away all the surface distractions: the false stories, the dismissiveness of the medical mainstream, and my own fears about how I would be perceived.”

He continues, “I’d launched my investigation into spontaneous remissions in part to begin asking better questions. So my first question was about immune function and why it isn’t more of a priority in medicine today. When someone comes to us with a chronic or incurable disease, why isn’t immune function the first thing we look at?

Cured

April 3, 2020

The title of this post is the first part of an essential book published in 2020. The remainder of the title is The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The author of the book is Jeffrey Rediger, M.D., who is a psychiatrist. His driving interest is in spontaneous remission. Spontaneous means without cause. Dr. Rediger writes that in the history of medicine, we have almost never used the tools of rigorous science to investigate remarkable recoveries from incurable illnesses. He continues, “Common sense would suggest that these are the cases we would most want to study, that perhaps these are the cases we most want to study, that perhaps these people have stumbled upon profound pathways to healing that we would want to understand. And yet the study of spontaneous remission (SR) is almost completely unexplored terrain. We classify people as “flukes” and “outliers” and simply accept the narrative that they’re unexplainable. But I don’t see remarkable recoveries in health as flukes or outliers any more than I see extraordinary performers as flukes and outliers. Serena Williams and Michael Jordan are outliers, sure, but they are also luminous examples of human capacities, and by studying their techniques and their methods we can understand how to improve our own.”

He continues, “we push aside stories of remarkable recovery, which don’t fit into our paradigm of one cause, one cure. I’m willing to bet, based on experience, that most of us in the medical profession have seen instances of remarkable recovery. We don’t know how to think about them, and so, since, they don’t fit into our frame of reference, we pigeonhole and forget them, perhaps considering them occasionally only late at night, while musing with a cup of coffee at the nursing station, or quietly in the space of our own private thoughts. We don’t know how to explain them, we shy away from publishing them for fear of professional ridicule, and we don’t repeat them to the patients we see who are suffering from these very same diseases. We don’t want to give, “false hope.”

Over the past century the reports of spontaneous remission (SR) have increased in both number and frequency. Typically these reports spike after significant conferences, books, or major media stories. In the 1990s, the Institute of Noetic Sciences began gathering together all the instances of spontaneous remission that had been described anywhere in the medical literature. In 1993 they published the database, Spontaneous Remission: An Annotated Bibliography, that documented 3,500 references to spontaneous healing across eight hundred journals. Dr. Rediger writes, “the cases that actually were reported were only the tip of the iceberg. At the first talk I gave where I brought up spontaneous remission and what we, as doctors, might learn from it, I asked the audience of physicians how many of them had witnessed a story of recovery that made no sense from a medical perspective. Hands shot up all around the room. When I asked how many people had written those cases up and polished their observations, all hands dropped.”

Continuing, Dr, Rediger writes, “It wasn’t that spontaneous remission was rare—it was a culture of fear and judgment was holding us back from seeing the scope of it. How many cases were out there that never made it into the medical literature for fear of professional ridicule? As a new medical director at McLean, one of the oldest and most venerable psychiatric institutions, I felt it keenly. I was hesitant to publish my observations or seek support in the medical world. And yet each day, I saw how cases of spontaneous remission dovetailed with the problems cropping up with my patients whether in the medical, psychiatric, or ER setting. Every day, I was seeing patients with the most common yet deadly diseases out there: cancer, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune illness, and lung disease—the top assassins of the Western World. Many of them are increasingly known to have significant lifestyle components. I was starting to believe that if my patients could try half of the strategies that I was seeing people embrace in cases of remarkable recovery, there would be an improvement in general health, not only for suffering individuals, but also for society. But the pressure to remain within the dogmatic confines of my profession was strong, and I had a difficult time shaking it.”

Many posts on this important book will follow. These posts complement previous posts on The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style:
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Applied Meditation

April 2, 2020

The exercises and meditation techniques to this point have been to enhance physical and mental health, and, of course, to build healthy memories. However, you should consider meditating to achieve other ends. Consider debating or having discussions to achieve a specific end. This can be especially difficult if you are trying to convince someone with contrary beliefs or opinions to your beliefs or opinions. Arguing one’s point straightaway is certain to fail, and it risks hardening your counterpart’s opinion against your opinion. Both parties suffer amygdala hijacks.

Perhaps it is most profitable to use the phrase “point of view.” To change someone’s opinions or beliefs, you need to understand these opinions or beliefs. When preparing for a debate it is important to understand, in detail, the positions and arguments underlying the opponent’s position. Meditation with the purpose of mindfulness can be effective, perhaps even necessary, to alter opinions or beliefs counter to one’s own beliefs.

Consider nonjudgmental meditation. The arguments and positions of your adversary need to be considered nonjudgmentally. This means considering these arguments and refraining from the strong temptation to counter arguments. You are trying to understand this adversary’s thinking and how his ideas hang together. There can be strong difficulty in doing so nonjudgmentally. It is unlikely that they will appear to make sense, but perhaps some components might make sense. At a minimum you want to shed your emotional responses to these ideas and logic. The hope is that you can find some agreed upon points and then try to proceed from there.

Remember the post on “The Cult of Trump.” The author, Steven Hassan, was a former member of Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. In another words, he was a Moonie. He eventually freed himself from the mind control of this cult. He found inconsistencies in the Moonie teachings. They continued to grow until he was able of free himself from this cult.

From this experience he developed a skill in deprogramming cult followers. First he establishes empathy between himself and the cult follower. He has the cult follower explain his beliefs and listens patiently. When he finds an opening, which could be regarded as an inconsistency, he raises it and asks the cult follower what he thinks. If the cult follower does not have a problem with it, Hassan allows him to proceed. When he does find an inconsistency that the follower accepts, then he tries to build upon it. This is a very time consuming process.

So you should not expect that your meditating will immediately change your counterpart’s mind. Just be pleased if a cordial level of conversation has been achieved. Perhaps over time, there might be changes in the other’s beliefs. And, indeed, there might be some changes in your beliefs.

But hopefully, hostility has ended, and there have been some useful exchanges of information.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sensitivity to Context

April 1, 2020

Prof. Davidson notes that failing to correctly discern social context can lead to emotional responses that are appropriate in one setting but not in another. It’s appropriate to feel extreme anxiety in dangerous situations but not in other situations; if you can’t tell the difference, you are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prof. Davidson continues, Based on the success of exposure, we can surmise that a general strategy to enhance Sensitivity to Context is to gradually insure yourself to cues that make you anxious or angry:

To help you relax, start with a simple breathing technique from hatha yoga. With your eyes closes, attend to your breathing as you would in mindfulness meditation, counting the duration of each inhalation and exhalation.
Once you have counted for several breaths, lengthen your breathing cycle so it takes you one more second. Keep increasing the lengths as long as you feel comfortable. then maintain these longer breaths for five minutes.
Notice if the inhalation and exhalation are the same length. If one is longer, try to lengthen the other so that they take equal amounts of time. Do this for five minutes and then open your eyes.

Once you feel comfortable with this breathing exercise, move on to context training. Prof. Davidson uses the example of a boss who makes you so anxious that you start sweating just thinking about him, with this anxiety spilling over into your family life. The same principle would work with any source of anxiety or dread:

Make a list of the specific cues and behaviors of your boss that upset you. Maybe he looms over your desk during the workday. Maybes loiters outside your work space at 4:55, watching to see if you leave even a minute early. Maybe he excoriates the reports or other work you turn in. Be specific and vivid and detailed as possible.
Then, in a safe context such as at home on a weekend, gently and gradually bring to mind images associated with your boss. Conjure up exactly how he looks watching you at day’s end. Imagine his face as he reads your work.
Simultaneously, perform the breathing exercise. Continue to do this until you feel comfortable and relaxed imagining your boss’s glowering visage and his habit of hovering over you desk. Spend about fifteen minutes on this exercise.

Prof. Davidson writes, you can expect to experience some benefit after doing this for four sessions, and the hour you invest will be well worth it. By improving your ability to distinguish between the context of your work and home, this exercise should help you distinguish among other contexts, too, and thus display context-appropriate emotional responses. Although there have not been any studies comparing brain activity before and after such training the fact that exposure therapy helps PTSD patients suggest that it works by strengthening connections from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the neocortex.
Prof. Davidson continues, there has been no research explicitly focused on moving people to the Tuned Out end of the Sensitivity to Context continuum, or on ways to weaken connections from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex and neocortex. But if you feel that shifting your set point away from the Tuned In extreme would help you stop tailoring you behavior to each context in a way that feels excessively contrive, I recommend the exercises that cultivate Self-Awareness.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Social Intuition

March 31, 2020

The brain of someone who falls at the Puzzled end of the Social Intuition dimension is characterized by low activity in the fusiform gyrus plus high activity in the amygdala. At the opposite extreme, being Socially Intuitive reflects high levels of fusiform activation and low to moderate amygdala activity, giving you the ability to pick up even subtle social signals. While improving Social Intuition requires pumping up fusiform activity and quieting amygdala activity, reducing hyper intuition requires dialing down fusiform activity and ramping up that in your amygdala.

To increase fusiform activity in order to improve Social Intuition, the first step is to pay attention. To detect social cues, particularly subtle one, you need to focus on what is going on around you: tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, This is basically a matter of practice.

Start with strangers. When you are out in public, pick a couple or a small group of friends and discreetly watch them. Pay particular attention to their faces, which communicate so much social information. Remind yourself to look at other people’s faces when you watch them, and particularly, when you interact with them.
See if you can predict how they will touch each other (or not), how close they will walk together, whether they will look into each other’s eyes while speaking.
Get close enough to overhear them (assuming you can manage this unobtrusively; Prof. Davidson recommends giving it a try in a crowded public place such as a party, a packed department store, or a jammed movie-theater lobby). See if their tone of voice seems to match their body language and facial expression.
If not, then you are probably misunderstanding something. Take note of that, and apply this lesson to the next people you observe.
Once you feel confident that you are able to tell what people are feeling, try it with friends or colleagues.

Now practice paying attention to people’s eyes, which provide the truest signals about emotional state. At http://www.paulekman.com, Paul Ekman offers online training in micro expressions, the fleeting facial expressions that punctuate social interaction.

Voice, posture, and body language also convey social and emotional cues. Specific exercises can increase your sensitivity to these other channels of communication.

1. To enhance your sensitivity to vocal cues of emotion, when you are in a public place such as a subway, a coffee shop, a store where friends are chattering away, or an airport terminal, close you eyes and pay attention to the voices around you. Tune in to specific voices; focus not on the content but on the tone of voice.

2. Describe to yourself what that tone conveys—serenity, joy, anticipation, anxiety, stress, whatever. Test yourself by opening your eyes and observing what comes next. An encounter that ends with one party stalking away was more likely characterized by negative emotions than positive ones.

3. Now try that with posture and body language. As you observe a conversation, note how the speakers orient themselves toward one another, how they sit or stand, what gestures they make.

4. Designate one channel—tone of voice, body language—to be your focus of attention for a full day. As you commute, work, and observe family or friends or colleagues, look for opportunities to remove yourself a bit from the situation, even if only for a minute, so that you can be an observer and not a participant. Practice either steps 1 and 2, or 3, depending on which channel you are focusing on.

5. The following day, switch to the other channel and repeat the exercise.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and Love—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Resilience

March 30, 2020

If setbacks leave you unable to function for long periods of time, it can prevent you from achieving what you want and can make relationships difficult. Trapped in your own emotional morass, you may neglect family, friends, and work. The brain signature of being Slow to Recover from setbacks is fewer or weaker signals traveling from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala, as a result of either low activity in the prefrontal cortex itself or too few or less-functional connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Patients with depression who are Slow to Recover have very weak connectivity there.

Prof. Davidson recommends mindfulness meditation to cultivate greater Resilience. Because it produces emotional balance, mindfulness helps you recover, but not too quickly. Mindfulness weakens the chain of associations that keep us obsessing about and even wallowing in a setback. For example, losing a job might cause your thoughts to tumble from “unemployment” to “no health insurance” to “lose home” to “I can’t go on.” Mindfulness strengthens connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, promoting an equanimity that will help keep you from spiraling down this way. As soon as your thoughts begin to leap from one catastrophe to the next in this chain of grief, you have the mental wherewithal to pause, observe how easily the mind does this, note that it is an interesting mental process, and resist getting drawn into the abyss. Prof. Davidson recommends starting with a simple form of mindfulness meditation such as the mindfulness of breathing, previously described.

Prof. Davidson writes that if mindfulness practice does not move you as close to the Fast to Recover end of the Resilience dimension as you would like, cognitive reappraisal training may help. This technique is a form of cognitive therapy. It teaches people to reframe adversity in such a way as to believe that it is not as extreme or enduring as it could be. So, if you made a mistake at work and were barraged by distressing thoughts about it, you might think that you are not very smart, that you are likely to make the same kind of mistake again, and the the mistake is career ending. These errors in thinking are what cognitive reappraisal aims to correct. Instead of viewing the mistake as representative of your work, you are trained to realize that it was an anomaly and could have happened to anyone. Instead of thinking the mistake reflects something consistent and fundamental about you, you consider the possibility that you made the mistake because you were having a bad day, or didn’t get enough sleep the night before, or because everyone is fallible. By challenging the accuracy of your thoughts, cognitive reappraisal can help you reframe the causes of your behavior and the distress. This type of cognitive training directly engages the prefrontal cortex, resulting in increased prefrontal inhibition of the amygdala, the pattern that exemplifies resilience.

Should you wish to move toward the Slow to Recover end of the Resilience dimension, perhaps to strengthen you capacity for empathy, then you need to weaken connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. There is very little research on how to do this, but one strategy is to focus intently on whatever negative or pain you are feeling as a result of a setback. This can help sustain the emotion, at least for a time, and increase activation of your amygdala. You can also focus on the pain of someone who is suffering, perhaps describing it in writing: Nothing goes right for Aaron. HIs ex-girlfriend is using his credit card, his security job is in jeopardy because he got caught in an Internet sting, and his landlord is threatening. Use these descriptions to focus on the particular pain or suffering that you might feel in response. This exercise is likely to result in more sustained activation of the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, and amygdala, the circuitry that is involved in pain and distress.

Prof. Davidson also offers meditation from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition called tonglen, which means “taking and receiving.” Designed to cultivate compassion, it involves visualizing another person who might be suffering, taking in her suffering, and transforming it into compassion, and it is very effective at increasing empathy. To get started, try this exercise for five to ten minutes, four or five times a week.

Visualize as vividly as you can someone who is suffering. It can be a friend or a relative who is ill, a colleague who is struggling at work, a neighbor whose marriage is ending. The closer the person is to you, the stronger and clearer the visualization will be. (If you re so fortunate as not to know someone who is suffering, try to visualize a generic person, such as a garbage kicker in Delhi, a starving child in Sudan, a cancer patient in a hospice).
On each inhalation, imagine that you take in this person’ suffering. Feel it viscerally: As you breathe in, imagine her pain and anguish passing through your nostrils, up your nose, and down into your lungs. If it is too difficult to imagine physically taking in her suffering, then imagine the suffering leaving her each time you inhale. As you breathe in, conjure an image of pain and anguish leaving her body like fog dissipating under a bright sun.
On each exhalation, imagine that her suffering is transformed into compassion. Direct this compassion toward her: As you exhale, imagine the breath flowing toward her, a gift of empathy and love that will envelop and enter her, assuaging her pain.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style:
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Attention

March 29, 2020

The focused extreme of the Attention dimension is the result of enhanced activation in brain regions, including the prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex, that constitute a circuit for selective attention. The prefrontal cortex is critical for maintaining attention, while the parietal cortex acts as the brain’s steering wheel, pointing attention to particular places and thereby focusing attention on a specific target. At the unfocused extreme, the prefrontal cortex is underachieving and attention is stimulus driven: Whatever occurs around you draws your attention. You veer from one stimulus to the next with no internal rudder to guide your attention. Improving focus requires increasing activity in the prefrontal and parietal cortices.

To improve focus he recommends mindfulness meditation. Follow the instructions in the Self-Awareness section for mindful breathing. Once you feel comfortable you can move on to focused-attention meditation, which is also known as one-pointed concentration.

In a quiet room free of distractions, sit (or recline with your eyes open. Find a small object such as a coin, a button on your shirt, or an eyelet on your shoe. It is important that the object of attention be visual, rather than your breath, your body image, or other mental objects.
Focus all your attention upon this one object. Keep your eyes trained on it.
If your attention wanders, calmly try to bring it back to that object.

Do this daily, initially for about ten minutes. If you find that you are able to maintain your focus most of that time, increase your practice about ten minutes per month, until you reach one hour.

If you feel your attention is excessively focused and wish to broaden it in order to take in more of the world, then open-monitoring or open-presence meditation can nudge you toward that end of the Attention dimension. In open-monitoring meditation, your attention is not fixed on any particular object. Instead, you cultivate an awareness itself. He recommends beginning with a focused-attention meditation practice such as breath meditation, which will give you a basic level of attentional stability and make open-monitoring meditation easier. The basics are:

Sit in a quiet room on a comfortable chair, with your back straight but the rest of your body relaxed. Keep you eyes open or closed whichever you find more comfortable. If your eyes are open, gaze downward and keep your eyes somewhat unfocused.
Maintain a clear awareness of and openness to your surroundings. Keep your mind calm and relaxed, not focused on anything specific, yet totally present, clear, vivid, and transparent.
Lightly attend to whatever object happens to rise to the top of your consciousness, but do not latch on to it. You want to observe the thinking process itself, perhaps saying to yourself, Oh, I notice the the first thing I am thinking of as I sit down to meditate is…
Give your full attention to the most salient current object of consciousness focusing on it to the exclusion of everything else but without thinking about it. That is, you are simply aware of it, observing it as disinterestedly as possible, but do not explore it intellectually. Think of an object of attention as if if were an image in a frame in a museum, or in a movie, with no strong relevance to you.
Generate a state of total openness, in which the mind is as vast as the sky, able to welcome and absorb any stray thought, feeling or sensation like a new star that begins shining. When thoughts arise, simply let them pass through your mind without leaving any trace in it. When you perceive noises, images, tastes, or other sensations, let them be as they are, without engaging with them or rejecting them. Tell yourself that they can’t affect the serene equanimity of you mind.
If you notice your mind moving toward another thought or feeling, let it do so, allowing the newcomer to slip into consciousness. Unlike Attention-strengthening forms of meditation, you do not try to shoo away the “intruding” thought, but allow your mind to turn to it. The key difference from the breath-focused meditation described previously is the in open-monitoring meditation were is no single focus to which the attention is redirected if it wanders. Rather, you simply become aware of whatever is in the center of attention at any moment.
Turn to this new object of attention as you did the first.
Do this of five to ten minutes.

In a study done by Prof. Richardson’s group using EEG found that when people practice open-monitoring meditation it modulates their brain waves in a way that makes them more receptive to outside stimuli—that is, they experience phase-locking, a signature of Focused Attention

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Self Awareness

March 28, 2020

Prof Davidson writes, individuals with high levels of Self-Awareness (emotional or physical) have greater activation in their insula while those with little Self-Awareness have decreased activation. Ultrahigh levels of insula activity seem to be associated with the hyperawareness of every little change in heart rate or respiration that sometimes occurs in panic disorder. To move toward the Self-Aware end of this dimension you need to increase insula activation; to dial it back, you need to decrease it.

As a result of research on panic disorder we know something about how to decrease insula activity that makes us too Self-Aware. The best-validated treatment for panic disorder is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Here patients learn to reframe or reappraise the significance of internal bodily cues. So if you experience chest pain or another sensation that you interpret as a danger signal, tell yourself you have many sensations that are perfectly innocuous, and in all likelihood this one is, too. This kind of cognitive reframing, by reducing insula activity, often reduces panic symptoms substantially.

An alternative is to decrease the rest of the brain’s reactivity to the insula’s signals. The idea is to alter your relationship to your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations so that you do not become entangled into an endless, self-reinforcing loop (heart skips a beat; I’m having a heart attack; heart rate spikes, repeat) and leap to the conclusion that some aspect of what you are feeling foretells doom. The trick is to keep your mind from ruminating in response to these internal cues. Rather than target the excessive Self-Awareness that comes from the insula, the idea is to reduce activity in the amygdala and the orbital frontal cortex, which form a circuit that assigns emotional value to thoughts and sensations. By reducing this circuit’s activity, the brain can start perceiving thoughts, emotions, and sensations less judgmentally and less hysterically, so that we are not hijacked by our internal chatter. You’re still very Self-Aware, but it’s not debilitating.

One of the most effective ways of reducing activation in the amygdala and orbital frontal cortex is through mindfulness meditation. In this form of mental training, you practice observing your thoughts, feelings, and sensations moment by moment and nonjudgmentally, viewing them simply as what they are: thoughts, feelings, sensations; nothing more and nothing less.

Prof. Davidson writes that the best mindfulness instruction he knows comes in a course of mindfulness-based stress reduction. You can find courses by checking out the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness Web site at
http://www.umassmed.edu/content.aspx”id=4152.

Should you want to give mindfulness meditation a try before taking a formal course, you can begin on your own with awareness of breathing.

1.Choose a time of day when you are the most awake and alert. Sit upright on the floor or a chair, keeping the spine straight and maintaining a relaxed but erect posture so you do not get drowsy (HM has found that the reason for this erect posture is to keep you from getting drowsy. HM has had many hundreds, if not thousands of hours of meditation in a reclining position in which he did not fall asleep.)

2. Now focus on your breathing, on the sensations it triggers throughout your body. Notice how your abdomen moves with each inhalation and exhalation.

3. Focus on the tip of the nose, noticing the different sensations that arise with each breath.

4. When you notice that you have been distracted by unrelated thoughts or feelings that have arisen, simply return your focus to your breathing.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Outlook

March 27, 2020

One way to strengthen connections between the prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum is the technique developed by Giovanni Fava, of the University of Bologna in Italy. It is called well-being therapy and is designed to enhance the components of well-being—autonomy, environmental mastery, positive interpersonal relationships, personal growth, purpose in life, and self-acceptance—well being therapy has been shown to move people toward the Positive end of the Outlook dimension, enabling them to sustain positive emotions. Although before-and-after brain scans have not been done, from everything we know about the brain circuitry underlying these components it’s a good bet that well-being therapy strengthens the prefrontal cortex and its connections with the ventral striatum.

Every day for a week, do these three exercises:

Write down one positive characteristic of your self and one positive characteristic of someone you regularly interact with. Do this three times a day. Ideally, you’ll write down a different trait each time, but if you’re stuck on how “helpful” your office colleague is, that’s okay.
Express gratitude regularly. Pay attention to times you say “thank you.” When you do, look directly into the eyes of the person you are thanking and muster as much genuine gratitude as you can. Keep a journal; at the end of the day, note the specific times you felt a genuine, even if brief, connection with another person during the act of expressing gratitude.
Complement others regularly. Keep an eye out for opportunities to do so, such as a job well done at work, a beautiful garden a neighbor created, or even a stranger’s gorgeous coat. Look directly into the eyes of the person you are complementing. In your journal, note the specific times you felt a genuine connection with someone you complemented.

After a week of this, spend a little time reflecting on what changes you noticed in your Outlook style. In all likelihood, you will find that positive emotions stick around a little longer and that your sense of optimism and possibility swells. Just as with physical exercise, you’ll probably need to find a practical maintenance routine. Once your Outlook has become as Positive or Negative as you wanted, it is important to sustain a level of exercise that is sufficient to maintain your set point in an optimal zone for you.

If your goal is to shift toward the Negative end of the dimension, then your goal is to lower activity in the nucleus accumbens or ventral striatum, or both, or weaken connections between them. If you feel that you are too Pollyanish, carrying a Positive Outlook to unrealistic extremes, then you should envision potential negative outcomes. If considering an expensive purchase, spend time reflecting on the possible negative outcomes of that choice. If you are tempted to buy a new car even though your current one runs fine, write down all the things that might go wrong with it or detract from its allure: the fact that its value drops by thousands of dollars as soon as you drive it off the dealer’s lot: how much more careful you will feel you need to be while driving or parking so you do not get even a tiny scratch on it (something you have stopped worry about with your current car); how the monthly payments will force you to curtail spending on other things you enjoy.

These are just some suggestions as to the kind of negative thoughts you need to generate.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Changing Your Brain by Transforming Your Mind

March 27, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The title of this post is similar to the title of the last section of the book, How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them.

We can change where we sit on each of the dimensions of emotional style. Fortunately, emotional styles vary across individuals or the world would be a very boring place indeed. However, should you want to change your current location on one or more of the dimensions of emotional style you can do so. Moreover, you can adapt your emotional style for different occasions, say work or home. The next posts will address techniques for modifying each of the dimensions:
Outlook
Self-Awareness
Attention
Resilience
Social Intuition
Sensitivity to Context

You will also see how you are actually changing your brain by transforming your mind.
There will be a separate post for each dimension. Understand that there is no requirement to do these techniques. But the option is provided so you have the avenue to explore.

Also understand that the guidance and instructions provided in Davidson and Begley is much more extensive.

Compassion Meditation

March 26, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them.

In 2007 Prof. Richardson’s group recruited forty-one volunteers for a study that would teach a technique to improve well-being. Volunteers were randomly divided into two groups: a compassion meditation group and a cognitive reappraisal group. The compassion meditation group was told to begin by visualizing a loved one—specifically, a loved one at a time in her life when she was suffering. With this image clearly in mind, they next concentrated on the wish that her suffering end, silently repeating a phrase such as “May you be free from suffering; may you experience joy and ease” to help them focus on the task. They were to try to feel the compassion emotionally and not to simply think about it cognitively. After doing this for a loved one, to expand the circle of compassion little by little, to yourself, then to someone you recognize but do not really know, then perhaps a neighbor or a person who works in the same building as you but whose life you know little or nothing about, then to a difficult person (someone who pushes your buttons and makes you angry), and finally to all of humankind. Using an online instructional program, this group practiced compassion meditation thirty minutes a day for two weeks.

Participants in the cognitive reappraisal group also began by visualizing the suffering of someone they love but were told to “reframe” the suffering. Reframing is a technique in which you adopt different beliefs about the causes of your behavior or of the circumstances of your life. In this case, you see that suffering might not be as extreme as other forms of suffering and that it could end up okay, or you focus on the fact that there are huge differences in the magnitude and severity of adversity. They were further taught to not attribute negative things to stable qualities in themselves but to see that suffering can occur as a result of external circumstances. For instance, the reason someone might be unable to find a life partner is not because of anything inherent in himself, but because his work keeps him from getting out and meeting people—the latter being something we can control and that we can change. The cognitive reappraisal group also received their instruction online, also for thirty minutes a day for two weeks.

Before the training began brain scans were performed of all participants. While a participant was lying in the MRI tube, pictures of human suffering were presented, such as a child who had been badly burned or a family in a horrific car crash. The researchers focused on the amygdala, which is known to be involved in feelings of distress. Perhaps counterintuitively, they predicted that after compassion training, this region would not be as active in response to images of suffering. The reason is that activity in the amygdala is associated with distress. Feeling distress interferes with the desire to help—the hallmark of compassion—because if you are in pain yourself, you have little reserve for others’ pain. In addition, they predicted that the prefrontal cortex would become more activated because, as the site of higher-order cognitive functions, it holds within its intricate circuitry the neuronal representation of the goals of compassion training—to alleviate suffering in others.

At the end of the two weeks of training, they again recorded brain activity with the fMRI while the volunteers looked at images of suffering. Those who had undergone training in compassion meditation showed striking changes in brain function, particularly in the amygdala: Participants in the compassion group tended to show less activation there in response to the images of suffering after the compassion-meditation training than they did before training. Might this be a habituation effect, a lab version of “compassion fatigue” people feel when they see one human tragedy after another? Not according to the control group, the people who underwent training in cognitive appraisal, amygdala activity in response to images of suffering was just as high as before their training.

The decrease in amygdala activation after compassion training had real-world effects, also. After their two weeks of training, each participant played an economic decision-making game designed to measure altruistic behavior. One might expect that someone who is not feeling much distress—as shown by low amygdala activity—in response to someone else’s “suffering” would not be moved to alleviate that suffering. But the opposite was the case. Participants who had undergone training in compassion meditation, and whose amygdala acuity in response to images of suffering had decreased, were more more like to fork over some money. On average, these folks forked over 38% more money that those who had undergone cognitive reappraisal training.

The conclusions regarding compassion meditation were:
it nudged practitioners toward the Positive end of the Outlook dimension
it strengthened connections between the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions important for empathy
Compassion meditation also likely facilitates Social Intuition.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

March 25, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them. There have been previous posts on mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), which can be searched for in the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

MBSR was developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn who learned meditation from a Zen missionary. Prof. Davidson writes, “MBSR is the most widely taught secular form of meditation in academic medical centers throughout North America and Europe. Developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, the eight-week course teaches people to engage in mindfulness, the form of meditation in which you practice nonjudgmental, moment-to-moment awareness. Let HM take the three parts of that description in reverse order. By “awareness,” I mean that while sitting in a quiet place, you focus on whatever sensations your body is experiencing or whatever thoughts and emotions you mind is generating. You might start by feeling the pressure of the chair. Or the tension in your legs. Or how your elbow feels compared with your shoulder. Then you might move on to notice that as you conduct the mental inventory of your physical sensations, a thought about what to make for lunch pops into your mind. Or you notice that your brain feels suddenly quiet. The ‘moment-to-moment’ part describe how you take each sensation or thought as it comes. Finally, the ‘nonjudgmental’ part is key. If your legs feel tense, you do not scold yourself for having difficulty relaxing; your reaction is closer to ‘Huh, tense legs; interesting.’ Similarly, for any thoughts and emotions, you do not intentionally pursue a thought as you ordinarily might (Hmmm, lunch. I need to buy more mayo. Maybe I should have just a salad. I really need to eat less. Why am I thinking about this when I should be meditating? I’ll never get this.) If those thoughts arise, you observe them disinterestedly, as if from the perspective of a dispassionate observer, but do not take them to heart. They’re just the interesting exudations of your brain’s synapses and action potentials.”

By 2011, dozens of clinical trials had shown that MBSR can relieve psychological distress in breast cancer survivors, reduce side effects in organ-transplant recipients, relieve anxiety and depression in people with social anxiety disorder, and help people cope with chronic pain.

Prof. Davidson solicited volunteers, some of whom would learn a technique of stress reduction that was derived from Buddhist meditation, and some would be placed in a ‘wait-list’ control group,which meant undergoing the same assessments as their coworkers learning stress reduction, but not actually taking the classes. Which group some wound up in would be totally random. After the study was over, people in the wait-list control group would be given the opportunity to learn MBSR. The course consisted of one two-and-a-half session each week for eight weeks.

Before the first class baseline data was gathered on all the participants. Brain electrical activity was measured with EEG, focusing on the prefrontal cortex because that’s where left-right asymmetry is associated with positive or negative emotions and greater or lesser Resilience. Questionnaires were also administered that assessed how much anxiety and stress people felt, by asking them whether they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “I worry too much over trivial things” and “I often have disturbing thoughts.”

Anxiety symptoms fell about 12% among the people who took the MSBR class but increased slightly among the wait-list control group. The MSBR group also shows a significant shift toward greater left-side frontal activation: Compared with what it had been before the course, the level of left-side activation had tripled after four months. The control group had less left-side activation at the end of the study than they had at the start. Blood samples showed that meditators produced 5% higher levels of antibodies to a flu vaccine, an indication that their immune systems responded more effectively than those of the control group. Participants who showed a large brain response to MBSR also showed a larger response to the flu vaccine. Prof. Davidson believes that positive emotions (being Fast to Recover end of the Resilience style and he Positive end of the Outlook style) boost the immune system, among other beneficial effects on bodily health.

Prof. Davidson writes, “We all have habitual ways of responding to emotional challenges, and these habits are complicated products of genetics and experience. Mindfulness training alters these habits by making it more likely that one neuronal pathway rather than another will be used. If the habitual response to a setback had been for neuronal signals to travel from the frontal cortex, which figures out the meaning of the experience, to the limbic system, where the amygdala attached an intense negative emotional valence to that experience, then mindfulness can create a different neuronal pathway. The same experience is still processed by the frontal cortex, but the signals do not reach the amygdala (or at least fewer of them do). Instead, they peter out, like a bad mood evaporating during a day when everything seems to go right, The result is that what had been a stressful experience or setback no longer triggers a feeling of anxiety, fear, or fatalistic capitulations. The habitual path traveled by neuronal signals has changed—much as water that had always followed one path along a stream can be diverted to a different course after a sudden storm, for instance, carving a new channel. Mindfulness meditation carves new channels in the stream beds of the mind.

More specifically, mindfulness trains the brain in new forms of responding to experience and thoughts. Whereas the thought of how much you need to accomplish tomorrow (driving children to school; going to an important meeting for work, etc.,) used to trigger a panicky sense of being overwhelmed, mindfulness sends thought through a new culvert. You still think about all you have to do, but when the sense of being overwhelmed kicks in, you regard that thought with dispassion.)

Physical and psychological benefits can be found with other types of meditation. The relaxation response provides the easiest means of getting into meditation and has significant benefits by itself. Enter “relaxation response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog. The post “An Update of the Relaxation Response” documents the many benefits of this type of meditation.

More on Neuroplasticity

March 24, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them.

Pascal-Leone says, “Plasticity is an intrinsic property of the human brain. The potential of the adult brain to ‘reprogram’ itself might be much greater than has previously been assumed. This is what he and his colleagues concluded in 2005. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to break the bonds of its own genome, which dictates that one region of the brain will “see” and another will “hear,” that one spot on the somatosensory cortex will feel the right thumb and another the left elbow. Although this genetically guided blueprint is fine for most people under most conditions, but not for all of us all the time like when we lose our sight or suffer a stroke, or when we dedicate ourselves to mastering the violin. Nature has endowed the human brain with a malleability and flexibility that lets it adapt to the demands of the world if finds itself in. The brain is neither immutable nor static but continuously remodeled by the lives we live.

The brain can change the function of particular structures in response to the sensory and motor demands placed on it. Intense motor training induces the brains of stroke patients to reorganize in a way that allows healthy regions to substitute for disabled ones; intense musical practice expands regions responsible for the sensitivity of fingering digits. The absence of visual signals induces the visual cortex to process sounds or touch instead. In these cases the cause has been external to the brain—sensory or motor signals arriving with greater intensity (violinists, stroke patients in rehab) or not at all (the blind and the deaf).

The next post discusses signals that come from the brain itself? That is, its own thoughts.

Emotional Style and Physical Health

March 23, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and Live—And How You Can Change Them. The research to be discussed is quite complex and would take many pages to describe accurately. So a top level review will be provided to understand the important relationship between emotional style and physical health. A reading of the referenced text is needed for the complete characterization.

The research involve 20 undergraduates who had participated in earlier studies who had been found to have dramatically lopsided frontal activity, either extreme left-sided prefrontal activation or extreme right-sided prefrontal activation. Blood samples were taken and analyzed for natural killer (NK) cells, a type of white blood cell that constitutes a major component of our innate immune system. They attack tumors and kill tumor killing cells that have been infected by viruses. The frontal asymmetry pattern that characterizes a more positive emotional style—left frontal activation—was associated with higher NK cell activity. Participants with high left frontal activation had upwards of 50% higher activity than those with high right frontal activation. Since twenty is a daily small number of participants, this study was repeated several years later, with essentially the same results: greater left frontal activity brings greater NK cell activity.

Another study examined whether there was an association between prefrontal activity and the immune response to a vaccine. The findings indicated that people with great left-frontal activation, associated with a more positive emotional style, had the strongest immune response. The antibody levels of the most extreme left-siders averaged four times that of the most extreme right-siders. The greater the antibody level, the less likely the chance of catching the flu.

A study on the heart-brain connection. This study employed a “threat of shock” procedure. Participants were put into a MRI tube and had simple geometric shapes projected on the ceiling. One shape meant that they might receive an electric shock, while the other meant that all would be well. A mild shock was administer for 20 milliseconds, which felt like the zap you experience if you’ve ever touched a fully charged nine-volt battery with your tongue.

There were large differences in the pattern of activation when people saw the “shock alert” symbol compared with the “don’t worry” symbol. As the heart readings came in—contractility, or the strength with which the heart beats, it could be seen that, at least for some participants, emotions reached down into the chest and wreaked havoc. Contractility is influenced by the sympathetic nervous system, which is the key constituent of the fight-or-flight response and has been implicated in stress and distress. The stronger the brain activation in three key regions—a sector of the right prefrontal cortex, the insula, and the amygdala-the stronger the cardiac contractility. In response to the threat cue, some people had little change in their contractility while others had a dramatic change. More than 40% of the person-to-person variation in cardiac contractility was accounted for by how strongly the insula and the prefrontal cortex responded to the shape that was the harbinger of threat. This heightened brain activity was racing down the highways of the sympathetic nervous system making the heart pump harder. Prof. Davidson concludes “such changes in emotional style are likely to be consequential for health when they are played out over a long period of time.”

Prof. Davidson continues, “The brain circuits that underlie Emotional Styles have extensive two-way connections with the immune system, the endocrine system, and the autonomic nervous system. Through traffic in one direction, from brain to body, the mind influences our health. This suggests that knowing someone’s Emotional Style may be as important to a health-care provider, in terms of assessing health risks, as knowing whether the patient smokes, and that altering your Emotional Style can be beneficial to physiological systems and thus overall health. Through traffic in the other direction, from body to brain, changes in our patterns of movement can affect how our mind processes emotional information. That has implications beyond warning Botox users that paralyzing some of their facial muscles runs the risk of limiting their emotional range. It also suggests that the body can become an ally in transforming emotion, meaning practices that emphasize the body, such as hatha yoga, have the potential to modulate emotion. This research is barely off the ground, but there are tantalizing hints about how this body-to-brain connection might work.”

Mind Over Matter

March 22, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The title of this post is identical to the heading in an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley. The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them.

Brain-imaging studies show that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by activity in two regions: the orbital frontal cortex, whose main function is to notice when something is amiss; and the striatum, which received input from the orbital frontal cortex as well as the amygdala. Together the orbital frontal cortex and striatum form what is called the worry circuit. In people with OCD it is buzzing with activity.

Rather than just drugging his patients (antidepressants including Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft), neuropsychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz got the idea of using a technique he employed in his own Buddhist meditation practice. Called mindfulness, or mindful awareness, it involves observing your own thoughts and feelings from the perspective of a nonjudgmental third party. In The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, the Buddhist monk Nyanaponika Thera described it as attending “just to the bare facts of a perception as presented either through the five physical senses or through the mind…without reacting to them by deep, speech or by mental comment.” In the case of his OCD patients, mindfulness meant learning to experience an OCD symptom without reacting emotionally, and learning to realize that the feeling that something is amiss is just the manifestation of overactivity in the OCD circuit. A patient would think, My OCD circuit is producing another obsessive thought. I know it is not real but just static from a faulty circuit. After mainly hours learning this technique, patients were better able to resist OCD messages, reporting that their disease no longer controlled them. Neuroimaging also showed that activity in the orbital frontal cortex, the core of the OCD circuit, had fallen dramatically compared with what it had been before mindfulness-based therapy. Thinking about their thoughts in a new way had altered patterns of brain activity.

Prof. Richardson writes, “This finding is crucial to my belief that we can similarly alter the patterns of brain activity underlying Emotional Style, so let me offer one more example of how mental training can accomplish this. Clinical depression is characterized by overactivity in specific regions of the frontal cortex, the seat of reasoning, logic, analysis, and higher thought, in particular regions associated with anticipation—perhaps the cause of the endless rumination that grips people suffering from depression. There is, in addition, often under activity in parts of the limbic system (the brain’s emotion center) associated with reward and pleasure. That would seem odd if you thought of depression as being marked primarily by an overwhelming sense of sadness, which presumably would show up as heightened activity in the limbic system. In fact, however, people with depression report that they experience what’s called flat affect—an inability to experience soaring flights of joy, certain, but also the absence of feelings such as curiosity or interest in the world.”

In the 1960s cognitive-behavior therapy use a form of mental training that focuses on teaching patients to respond to their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in a healthy way and to reappraise dysfunctional thinking.

Scientists at the University of Toronto found that cognitive-behavior therapy has a powerful effect on the brain activity underlying depression. The therapy reduced activity in the frontal cortex and raised activity in the limbic system. Patients ruminated less and no longer felt emotionally dead inside. Their depression lifted, and in most cases stayed lifted: Rates of relapse with cognitive-behavior therapy are much lower than with medication, which in any case seems to be more effective than a placebo for anything but the most severe depression.

Prof. Davidson concludes this section as follows: “In short, the revolution in neuroplasticity has shown that the brain can change as a result of two distinct inputs. It can change as a result of the experiences we have in the world—how we move and behave and what sensory signals arrive in our cortex. The brain can also change in response to purely mental activity, ranging from meditation to cognitive-behavior therapy, with the result that activity in specific circuits can increase or decrease.”

Can Emotional Style Change?

March 21, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them. The immediately preceding post ended “The brain signatures of each dimension of Emotional Style seem so fundamental to our being, it’s easy to assume they are innate, as characteristic of a person as his fingerprints or eye color, and equally unlikely to change.”

This assumption will be examined in the subsequent post.
Here is that examination. The nature nurture debate has a long history. The debate concerned how much of a person’s life is determined by genes versus experience. The new field of epigenetics should have ended that debate. Critical to the role of genetics is which genes are read out from the genome. If the gene is not read out, the gene cannot be expressed. So what determines whether a gene will be read out? That is determined by nurture, or the experience of the individual. So the nature nurture debate should have ended. As nothing can be ethically be done about nature, all the focus should be on nurture.

There is a wide variety of evidence showing the effects of epigenetic using both human and infra-human subjects. There is a suicide brain bank in Quebec, the Quebec Suicide Brain Bank to be specific. Samples from 36 brains were studied, one-third of which who had suffered abuse in childhood, one-third from suicides who had not been abused, and one-third from non-suicides. Analyzing the human brains the researchers found that , compared with non-suicide brains, the brains of people who had taken their own lives and had suffered child abuse contained significantly more methylation “off” switches on the gene for the glucocorticoid receptor. This was the gene that the research team had discovered was methylated in rats raised by neglectful mothers. When this gene is silenced the stress-response system is on a hair trigger, making it extremely difficult to cope with adversity. Abnormal activity in the stress-response system had long been linked to suicide.

Prof. Richardson writes, “The presence of a methyl group sitting on a piece of DNA is called an epigenetic change. It does not alter the sequence of the gene, denoted by he well-known strings of A’s, T’s, C’s, and G’s, but it does alter whether the gene will be expressed. And it may explain puzzles like the low concordance for schizophrenia between identical twins. At birth, identical twins are very similar epigenetically; if a particular gene is silence in one twin, it is usually silenced in the other. But as we go through life, it turns out, we accumulate epigenetic changes. Either through random chance or because of experiences we have—something akin to being nurtured by a parent, perhaps, but almost certainly many others that reach down into our very DNA—our genes take on more and more epigenetic marks, silencing some genes that had previously spoken and lifting the gag order that others may had been under.”

Prof. Richardson cites research on the emotional development of children that reinforces this point.

The Attentive Brain

March 20, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them. Prof. Davidson writes, “It is nothing short of miraculous that we can focus attention at all, given the profusion of information that enters the brain every moment, to say nothing of the countless thoughts that pop into consciousness. Our ability to focus even some of the time is a monumental triumph of attention, allowing us to select some external or internal objects for conscious awareness and ignore the rest.”

We have two related mechanisms for focusing attention. One is to enhance the strength of signals in the attended channel: that is, we can increase the strength of the visual signals carrying the image of the characters we are reading relative to the strength of the visual signals carrying the images of , say, our hands holding this iPad. The second mechanism is to inhibit the signals in the ignored channels. We use both strategies. When trying to converse with a companion in a noisy restaurant, we turn up the internal volume of his voice while simultaneously inhibiting sounds from the surrounding tables. Infants have a capacity for selective attention, being able to focus on their mothers’s faces and ignore distractions from other sensory sources.

Prof. Davidson writes, “Two forms of attention are relevant to Emotional Style: selective attention and open, nonjudgmental awareness. Selective attention refers to the conscious decision to selectively focus on certain features of the environment and ignore others. This capacity is a key building block for other dimensions of Emotional Style, since the failure to selectively attend can make it impossible to be Self-Aware or Tuned In. Open, nonjudgmental awareness reflects the ability to take in signals from the external environment as well as the thoughts and feelings popping up within our brain, to broaden our attention and sensitively pick up on the often subtle cues that continuously impinge upon us—but to do so without getting stuck on any one stimulus to the detriment of others.”

There is a test to assess Emotional Style with respect to selective attention and open, nonjudgmental awareness called the Tellegen questionnaire. At the Focused extreme of the Attention dimension, the prefrontal cortex exhibits strong phase-locking in response to external stimuli. At the unfocused extreme the prefrontal cortex shows little phase locking.

Prof. Davidson writes, “Emotion works with cognition in an integrated and seamless way to enable us to navigate the world of relationships, work, and spiritual growth. When positive emotion energizes us, we are better able to concentrate, to figure out the social networks of a new job or new school, to broaden out thinking so we can creatively integrate diverse information and to sustain our interest in a task so we can persevere. In these cases cases emotion is neither interrupting nor disrupting us; it is facilitating. A feeling permeates virtually everything we do. No wonder, then, that circuits in the brain that control and regulate emotions overlap with those involved injunctions we think of as purely cognitive. There is no clear, distinct dividing line between emotion and other mental processes; they blur into each other. As a result, virtually all brain regions play a role in or are affected by emotion, even down to the visual and auditory cortices.

These facts about the neural organization of emotion have important implications for understanding why our perceptions and thoughts are altered when we experience emotions. They also help to explain how we can use our cognitive machinery to intentionally regulate and transform our emotions as we shall soon see. But they raised a question. The brain signatures of each dimension of Emotional Style seem so fundamental to our being, it’s easy to assume they are innate, as characteristic of a person as his fingerprints or eye color, and equally unlikely to change.”

This assumption will be examined in the subsequent post.

The Outlook Brain

March 19, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them.

It was discovered in 1982 that greater activity in the left prefrontal cortex underlies positive emotions, while greater activity in the right prefrontal cortex is associated with negative emotions. Early research was spent trying to identify the specific aspects of positive emotion that are lacking in people suffering from depression. Depressed people have little drive to accomplish goals. Sometimes they do not even notice, let alone perk up, when they encounter something novel, the way other people notice a new batch of flowers in a neighbor’s yard or a new coffee bar that just opened down the street. They also lack persistence. Many depressed people are aware that they have plans and to-do lists, but they lack the tenacity required to carry them out.

Depressed people do respond positively to humorous film clips. They report as much positive emotion in response to these clips as non depressed participants, so they are able to experience joy. They key difference between depressed and healthy people is how well they can sustain positive emotion, as opposed to how much they feel. So they feel the positive emotion but do not sustain it.

Prof Richardson and his staff conducted a study with twenty-seven people suffering from clinical depression and nineteen healthy volunteers. The goal was to measure brain activity while people looked at emotionally evocative pictures projected onto the ceiling of an MRI tube. All the pictures depicted something joyous, or at least something designed to bring a faint smile to the lips—children playing and clearly enjoying themselves, adults dancing, people eating food that looked good enough to make a mere observer salivate.

For each image the volunteers got one of two instructions: either to simply view the pictures as they normally would, with no attempt to modify their emotional response, or to try to enhance and sustain the positive emotion the picture induced for as long as possible (or up to 20 seconds) after the image vanished from the screen.

A clear pattern emerged from the data on all volunteers, depressed and healthy. When the volunteers first saw the pictures depicting happy situations, activation in what we think of as the brain’s reward circuit shot up. This circuit is centered on a region in the ventral striatum, which is located below the cortical surface in the middle of the brain and has been shown in other studies to become active when people anticipate receiving rewarding or pleasurable stimuli. What becomes active during such experiences is a cluster of neurons within the ventral striatum called the nucleus accumbens, a region critical for motivation and generating a sense of reward. It also happens to be packed with neurons that either release or capture the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays a role in positive emotion, motivation, and desire; and endogenous opiates, which provide the famous runner’s high. Levels of activity in the nucleus accumbens were similar in depressed and non depressed volunteers looking at the smile-inducing pictures. Everyone was able to feel an initial uptick of sympathetic joy, but this did not last. Although healthy people were able to maintain an emotional high for the entire session, in depressed patients the positive feeling evaporated within minutes.

Prof. Davidson concludes, “These findings indicate that activity in the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex underly the ability to sustain positive emotion. The greater the activity in the nucleus accumbens—activity sustained by signals from the prefrontal cortex—the further toward the Positive end of the Outlook dimension on which someone falls. Lower activity in this region underlies a Negative outlook.

The Brain Basis of Emotional Style

March 18, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has revealed that the more white matter (axons that connect one neuron to another) lying between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, the more resilient that person is. Signals from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala, and from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex determine how quickly the brain will recover from upsetting evidence. But we know that the brain is fully able to increase connections between regions. In later posts it will be explained what you can do for these particular prefrontal-to-amygdala connections. It is eminently possible to raise one’s baseline activity in the left prefrontal cortex. How to do so will be explained in subsequent posts. Along the two extremes of the Resilience continuum people who are slow to recover, and are having great difficult bouncing back from adversity, have fewer signals traveling from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala. Those who are fast to recover from adversity and are extremely resilient show strong activation of the left prefrontal cortex in response to setbacks and have strong connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. By damping down the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex is able to quiet signals associated with negative emotions, enabling the brain to plan and active effectively without being distracted by negative emotion, in another words a high degree of resilience.

Timothy was a high-functioning autistic boy. His extremes of being puzzled and having low social intuition reflected clear differences in brain activity and connectivity. Although he was very intelligent and able to understand language and speak, his speech was quite monotonous and lacked the modulations called intonation contours—the stresses and changes in pitch, tone, and pacing that convey emotion. For example, when volume and pitch both increase, you can be pretty sure that your interlocutor is angry. When pace slows, volume decreases, and pitch flattens, the speaker is likely sad. Timothy’s voice sounded like a robot’s. From studies of children, adolescents like Timothy, Prof. Davidson concludes that the lack of social intuition and the resulting failure to grasp what is socially appropriate comes with low levels of activation in the fusiform and high levels of activation in the amygdala.

Oxytocin is a molecule that reduces activation in the amygdala. When oxytocin is spritzed into the noses of people, which allows it to go directly to the brain, it reduces activation in the amygdala. This suggests that quieting the amygdala is the mechanism by which oxytocin induces feelings of commitment and attachment, and quieting the amygdala by other means accomplishes the same ends, including laying the groundwork for the Socially Intuitive brain.

The ability to distinguish a familiar from an unfamiliar context comes from the hippocampus. The hippocampus is famous for its role in processing memories: It seems to act as a holding pen for short-term memories, getting some of them ready for transfer to long-term storage. In a recent study of rhesus monkey, it was found that the anterior hippocampus, the portion closest to the amygdala, is also involved in regulating behavioral inhibition in response to different contexts. People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder often have abnormal hippocampal function. PTSD can be thought of as a disorder of disrupted context. The anxiety and terror that people with PTSD feel is quite appropriate in certain contexts, such as a battleground, but the problem is that they experience these feelings in non traumatic contexts.

Prof Davidson writes, “Differences in the strength of the connections between the hippocampus and other brain regions, particularly the prefrontal cortex, underlie difference in Sensitivity of Context. The hippocampus communicates regularly with the brain’s executive—function areas in the prefrontal cortex. Stronger connections from the hippocampus to these regions increase sensitivity to context, while weaker connections underlie insensitivity to context.

A key region of the brain for self-awareness is the insula, which is located between the temporal and frontal lobes. It contains what is called a viscerotopc map of the body. This means the visceral organs—heart, liver, colon, sexual organs, lungs, stomach, kidneys—are each mapped to a specific spot within the insula The insula serves as the brain’s monitoring station for everything below the neck and within the body. The insula also sends signals to the organs, instructing the heart to beat more quickly or for the lungs to inhale more rapidly. In addition to the insula, the somatosensory cortex is also involved in perceiving internal sensations. Higher insula activation is associated with greater awareness not only of physical sensations but also of emotions.

To summarize, individuals with high level-awareness of Self-Awareness have great activation in the insula, while those with low levels of Self-Awareness have decreased activation.

The Outlook Brain and the Attentive Brain will be discussed in subsequent posts.

The Emotional Life of Your Brain

March 17, 2020

The title of this post is identical the to the title of an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them. Through research Professor Davidson has identified the following six dimensions of emotional style:

*Resilience: how slowly or quickly you recover from adversity.
*Outlook: how long you are able to sustain positive emotion.
*Social Intuition: how adept you are at picking up social signals from the people around you.
*Self-Awareness: how well you perceive bodily feelings that reflect emotions.
*Sensitivity to Context: how good you are at regulating your emotional responses to take into account the context you find yourself in.
*Attention: how sharp and clear your focus is.

One of the standard classification systems in psychology is the “big five” personality traits: openness to new experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Professor Davidson asserts.

*Someone high in openness to new experience has strong Social Intuition. She is also very self-aware and tends to be focused in her attention style.
*A conscientious person has well- developed Social Intuition, a focused style of Attention, and acute Sensitivity to Context.
*An extraverted person bounces back rapidly from adversity and thus is at the Fast to Recover end of the Resilience spectrum. She maintains a positive Outlook.
*An agreeable person has a highly attuned Sensitivity to Context and strong Resilience; he also tends to maintain a positive Outlook.
*Someone high in neuroticism is slow to recover from adversity. He has a gloomy, negative Outlook, is relatively insensitive to context and tends to be unfocused in his Attention style.

Unlike personality, Emotional Style can be traced to a specific, characteristic brain signature. To understand the brain basis of agreeableness, for example, we need to probe more deeply into the Emotional Styles comprising them.

Davidson writes, “While the combinations of Emotional Style that add up to each of the big five personality traits hold true, there will be exceptions. Not everyone with a given personality will have all the dimensions of Emotional Style that I described, but they will invariably have at least one of them.”

*Someone high in openness to new experience has strong Social Intuition. She is also very self-aware and tends to be focused in her Attention style.

*A conscientious person has well-developed Social Intuition, a focused style of Attention, and acute Sensitivity to Context.

*An extraverted person bounces back rapidly from adversity and thus is as the Fast to Recover end of the Resliience spectrum. She maintains a positive Outlook.

*An agreeable person has a highly attuned Sensitivity to Context and strong Resilience; he also tends to maintain a positive Outlook.

*Some one high in neuroticism is slow to recover from adversity. He has a gloomy, negative Outlook, is relatively insensitive to context, and tends to be unfocused in his Attention style.

We can look at traits that all of us think of when we describe ourselves or someone we know well. Each of these can be understood as a combination of different dimensions of Emotional Style.

*Impulsive: a combination of unfocused Attention and low Self-Awareness.

*Patient: a combination of high Self-Awareness and high Sensitivity to context. Knowing that when context changes, other things will change, too, helps to facilitate patience.

*Shy: a combination of being Slow to Recover on the Resilience dimension and having low Sensitivity to Context. As a result of the insensitivity to context, shyness and wariness extend beyond contexts in which they might be normal.

*Anxious: combination of being Slow to Recover, having a negative Outlook, having high levels of Self-Awareness, and being unfocused (Attention).

*Optimistic: a combination of being Fast to Recover and having a positive Outlook.

*Chronically unhappy: a combination of being Slow to Recover and having a negative Outlook, with the result that a person cannot sustain positive emotions and become mired in negative ones after setbacks.

In 1992 Davidson made two promises to the Dalai Lama: he would personally study meditation, and would try to make research on positive emotions, such as compassion and well-being, a central focus of psychology as research on negative emotions had long been.

Davidson writes, “My research on meditators has shown that mental training can alter patterns of activity in the brain to strengthen empathy, compassion, optimism, and a sense of well-being—the culmination of my promise to study meditation as well as positive emotions. And my research in the mainstream of affective neuroscience has shown that it is these sites of higher-order reasoning that hold the key to altering set patterns of brain activity.”

The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style

March 16, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.”The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them. It is important to understand that there is no average emotional style. Nor should one say that there is a preferred emotional style. Different emotional styles exist for different people. Of course, it is possible that someone might not like their emotional style, in which case they can change them, and this book will tell you how. In this post the different styles will be discussed so you can identify your emotional styles.

Your Resilience style: When you suffer a setback, do you usually shake it off easily, or do you suffer a meltdown? When faced with an emotional or other challenge, can you muster the determination to continue on, or do you feel helpless and simply surrender. Should you have an argument with your significant other, does it cast a pall over the remainder of the day, or are you able to recover quickly and put it behind you? Do respond to setbacks with energy and determination, or do you give up? People at one extreme of this dimension are Fast to Recover from adversity; those at the other extreme are slow to recover, crippled by adversity.

Your Outlook style: Do you seldom let emotional clouds darken your sunny outlook on life? Do you maintain a high level of energy and engagement even when things don’t go your way? Or do you tend toward cynicism and pessimism, struggling to see anything positive? People at one extreme of the Outlook spectrum can be described as Positive types; those on the other as Negative.

Your Social Intuition style: Can you read people’s body language and tone of voice like a book, inferring whether they want to talk or be alone, whether they are stressed o the breaking point or feeling mellow? Or are you puzzled by or blind to the outward indications of people’s mental and emotional states? Those at one extreme on this spectrum are Socially Intuitive types; those at the other end, Puzzled.

Your Self-Awareness style: Are you aware of your own thoughts and feelings and attuned to the messages your body sends you? Or do you act and react without knowing whey you do what you do, because you ask why you eve engage in introspection and wonder why you seem oblivious to the fact that you are anxious, jealous, impatient, or threatened? At one extreme of this spectrum are people who are Self-Aware; at the other, people who are Self-Opaque.

Your Sensitivity to Context style: Are you able to pick up the conventional rules of social interaction so that you do not tell your boss the same dirty joke you told your husband or try to pick up a date at a funeral? Or are you baffled when people tell you that your behavior is inappropriate? If you are at one extreme of the Sensitivity to Context style, you are Tuned In; at the other end, Tuned Out.

Your Attention style: Can you screen out emotional or other distractions and stay focused? Are you so caught up in your video game that you don’t notice the dog crying to go out, until he makes a mess on the floor? Or do your thoughts flit from the task at hand to the fight you had with your spouse this morning or the anxiety you feel about an upcoming presentation for work? At one extreme on the Attention spectrum are people with a Focused style; at the other, those who are Unfocused.

Professor Richardson writes, “Everyone has elements of each of these dimensions of Emotional Style. Because there are so many ways to combine these six dimensions, there’re countless Emotional Styles; everyone is unique.” People differ by a factor of thirty in the level of their prefrontal cortex activity associated with happiness and approach or with fear, disgust, anxiety, and withdrawal.

A Wealth Tax

March 15, 2020

This post is motivated by an article by Michael Birnbaum titled, “Warren, Sanders want a wealth tax. Swiss suggest their model for America” in the 4 March 2020 issue of the Washington Post. Economists advising Sanders and Warren point to Switzerland’s wealth tax as a successful one. And some deep-pocketed Swiss say their wealthy American peers should consider Switzerland’s system.

Peter Kurer, a former chairman of UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, and now head of the country’s second-largest phone and Internet provider, said, “Rich people can live with a wealth tax. There are many wealthy people in the United States who don’t pay any taxes at all, and this spoils social peace.”

“Hitting the wealthy based on their assets is an old practice here, dating to Switzerland’s origins as a unified confederation in the mid-19th century. In the country’s highly decentralized system, where most tax decisions are put directly to voters, wealth taxes have reaffirmed again and again by citizens, a sign of broad support.”

“Here in Solothurn, a German-speaking state about 50 miles west of Zurich, the wealth tax is so popular that residents opted to increase it by nearly a third in a Feb. 9 referendum, while also trimming corporate rates in a kind of compromise. Each of Switzerland’s 29 states gets to to pick its own tax rates, though all must have a wealth tax.”

Roland Helm, Solothurn’s top finance official, who presided over the tax compromise as a state councilor from the center-right Christian Democratic party said, “For the people, it’s normal that those who have more rich than others have to pay more than others. It’s a part of justice.”

In Europe, only Spain, Norway, Belgium, and Switzerland impose wealth taxes. France scrapped its wealth tax in 2018, after tens of thousand of millionaires were estimated to have left. But Americans are liable for US taxes regardless of where they reside. So the wealthy who left the United States could, along with their offspring, be prohibited from re-entering the US. They would be in permanent exile until they paid their taxes. There are many Russian billionaires affiliated with Russian mobs, who would like to enter the United States, but are prohibited. The US is a highly desirable country in which to reside or visit, so precluding tax owing citizens from reentering the country would provide a strong disincentive for owing taxes.

It important to make a distinction between earned wealth and inherited wealth. Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates have amassed fortunes by generating new businesses that benefited the economy. Warren Buffet generated a fortune through wise investing. These fortunes can be justified. It is interesting that Warrant Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates do not believe in leaving their wealth to their children. They believe that doing so would not be in the general interest of their children. Bill and Melinda Gates work developing a charitable corporation that uses operations research to find those populations and areas of the globe that are most needing of assistance. Warren Buffet is transferring his wealth to their foundation. Inherited wealth can be, and frequently is, pernicious.

At this point, please allow a digression to the royalty and peerage of Great Britain. At one time the King or Queen and the peerage controlled virtually all the wealth in the country. Over time, that has greatly decreased. But what was the justification for royalty and the peerage? It was by thuggish acquisition and warfare. Their aires inherited their wealth and power.

One can make an analogy between British royalty and the peerage to Americans who inherit wealth. This introduces distortions and inequities into the countries. In the United States

In 2010 the Top 1% had 35.4% of the wealth
The top 5% had 63% of the wealth
The top 20% had 88,9% of the wealth
And the bottom 80% had 11.1 % of the wealth

And the situation has become more unequal in 2020.

So why should this be a concern? As the share of the nation’s wealth going to the wealthy rises, the share going to everyone else falls. What else falls? The freedom that wealth can buy, and the power that wealth can buy. Technically, we may still have one person, one vote (but given the menacing Electoral College, not for Presidential elections). But the effect of one person on elections has gone way down.

Thomas Piketty makes a distinction between productive wealth and reinvestment wealth. Productive wealth is the wealth generated by work, by producing and selling things or services, and the kind of wealth Adam Smith talked about.

Reinvestment wealth is generated by receiving returns on investments and then reinvesting the returns over and over. This kind of wealth grows exponentially, like compound interest. The more you have, the more you invest, and the more you invest, the more you have.

Most inherited wealth is reinvestment wealth. Read the healthy memory blog post “The Piketty Insight on the Accelerating Wealth Gap” to understand why this is undesirable.

The most effective way and addressing this glaring inequality is to gradually chip away the inequality with a wealth tax.

Altruism: Doing What is Right

March 14, 2020

This post is based on content in a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. In 2003, a team of University of Massachusetts researchers led by Carolyn Schwartz reported that altruism, or what some call social interest, was associated with better life adjustment, better marital adjustment, and less hopelessness and depression. Both giving and receiving help from others predicted better mental health, although giving help to others was a stronger predictor. The researchers found that social interest moderated life stress and predicted physical health status. They developed the theory that the association between social interest, better mental health, and reduced stress may be related to a shift in attention from the self to others, enhanced self-confidence and self-acceptance, a reframing of one’s own disease experience, and a greater perceived meaning in life.

The authors write that altruism also appears to foster resilience among children who have survived highly stressful environments. In Israel, longitudinal study of physically abused children, Hanita Zimrin and colleagues found that those children who adapted well over time were more likely to assume responsibility for someone else, like a sibling or pet, than were those who fared poorly. In Emily Werner’s classic study of children living in poverty on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, children who helped others in a meaningful way (by assisting a family member, a neighbor, or some community member) were most likely to lead successful lives as adults.

The flip side of altruism is narcissism. Narcissistic individuals see themselves as the center of things, and constantly believe that they deserve more attention, understanding, and assistance than others. David Brooks in his book The Road to Character cites a survey by the Gallup Organization that “asked high school seniors if they considered themselves to be a very important person. In 1950, 12% said yes. In 2005, an astounding 80% said yes. Jean Twenge and colleagues in a book titled the Narcissism Epidemic reported that today’s young people score 30% higher on a test called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory than their peers did 20 years ago.

To put this in the context of resilience, the relationship is the more altruistic the more resilient. And the more narcissistic, the less resilient. In other words, focusing on others, enhances resilience. Focusing on oneself can virtually eliminate resilience. A good example of this is Donald Trump. He has been consistently diagnosed for having the narcissistic personality disorder. Trump’s focus is entirely on himself. It is quite obvious that Trump puts himself before the country he is supposed to be leading. And he has virtually no resilience. He takes offense at extremely small matters, and responds with nicknames and insults one would expect from a schoolyard bully.

Practical Applications: Learning to Face Fear

March 13, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. The authors write, “Fear is ubiquitous. No one escapes its grip. Fear even strikes individuals who are widely admired for their courage. South African dissident Nelson Mandela reported that during his years of imprisonment and struggle against oppression, ‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’”

With regard to learning and practicing the skills necessary to master the fear, West point instructor Col. Thomas Kolditz advises us to focus on our breath: “Of all the autonomic responses to the adrenalin rush—including heart rate, respiration, skin conductivity, and muscle tension—the one that we can best control consciousness is respiration. Deep controlled breathing is largely incompatible with the other elements of the fear response. Physical relaxation can get to the point where mental relaxation, and therefore outward focus, be re-established and maintained.”

Most people find it easier to face fear in the company of other people, especially those whom they know and trust. This helps in various ways. It may increase our ability to make a realistic approach of the feared situation. It may also reduce physiological stress responses, such as elevated heart rate and blood pressure, hyperventilations, and stomach “butterflies.” People tend to feel more confident and are better able to cope with problems by finding constructive solutions rather than avoidance with supportive friends or colleagues by their side.

Spiritual insight can fight fear. One practitioner writes, “I see fear as energy. I try to come into the body and feel where it is lodged, and breathe into it and allow it to flow. If it is not moving, I turn to my spiritual practices, which include chanting, meditation, body movement and yoga, to help the stuck energy move. Once it is moving, the essential self underneath—the inner spirit—is more accessible and the fear has no more power over me. Making the decision to face my fear rather than repress or run from it is half the battle. I believe we all have the capacity to do this; however, we need to know that we have the choice.

In his book Mindfulnesss in Plain English, the Buddhist monk Bhante H. Gunaratana notes that mindfulness and meditation require attention to reality. He writes: Meditation is running straight into reality. It does not insulate you from the pain of life but rather allows you to delve so deeply into life and all its aspects that you pierce the pain barrier and go beyond suffering…

In order to observe our fear, we must accept the fact that we are afraid. We can’t examine our own depression without accepting it fully. The same is true for irritation and agitation, frustration and all those other uncomfortable emotional states. You can’t examine something fully if you are busy rejecting its existence.

To deal with Fear Gunaratana writes, “Observe the fear exactly as it is. Don’t cling to it. Just watch it rising and growing. Study its effect. See how it makes you feel and how it affects your body. When you find yourself in the grip of horror fantasies, simply observe those mindfully. Watch the pictures as pictures. See memories as memories. Observe the emotional reactions the come along and know them for what they are. Don’t try to repress the memories or the feelings or the fantasies. Just step out of the way and let the whole mess bubble up and flow past. It can’t hurt you. It is just a memory. It is only a fantasy. It is nothing to fear,”

Thich Nhat Hanh, a famous Buddhist monk who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his role in the Vietnam War Paris Talks, recognizes that all of us are afraid. He writes, “Fear is always there within us: the fear of getting old, the fear of getting sick, the fear of dying, the fear of being abandoned by our loved ones. It is very human to be fearful and to worry about it.”

But he also understands that hiding from fear is not the answer. “If you try to run away, instead of confronting or embracing your ill-being, you will not look deeply into its nature and you will never have the chance to see a way out. That is why you should hold your suffering tenderly and closely, looking directly into it, to discover its true nature to find a way out.”

He continues, “The Buddha advised us to invite these fears to the upper level of our consciousness, recognize them and smile at them. To do so was the daily practice for monks and nuns in the time of the Buddha, as it is for monks and nuns now. Every time your fear is invited up, every time you recognize it and smile at it, your fear will lose some of its strength. When it returns to the depth of your consciousness, it returns as a smaller seed. That is why the practice should be done even day, especially when you are feeling mentally and physically strong.

There are many healthy memory posts on meditation and mindfulness. Just enter “meditation” or “mindfulness” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com
If you are not familiar with the relaxation response, it might be good to begin with the “relaxation response”

The Neuroscience of Extinction

March 12, 2020

This post is based on a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest on Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. The process of overcoming a learned fear is called extinction. It involves the brain structures that were discussed in earlier posts on this book (amygdala, prefrontal cortex (PFC), and hippocampus). To extinguished a fear-conditioned memory, a person must be exposed to the fear-inducing stimulus in a safe environment, and the exposure needs to last long enough for the brain to form a new memory. The new memory conveys that the fear-conditioned stimulus is no longer dangerous in the present environment. Brain imaging suggests that extinction may involve a strengthening of the capacity of the PFC to inhibit amygdala-based fear responses.

One therapy, flooding or direct exposure, requires prolonged exposure to the memory of the traumatic event. The therapy consists of “extended exposure to moderate or strong fear-producing cues. In their imagination, patients are asked to recount the traumatic experience with eyes closed and in as much detail as possible, describing sights, sounds, smells, and sensations, as well as what they were thinking and feeling. These sessions are recorded, and the client listens to the recording repeatedly on subsequent days. In the in-vivo component, clients “gradually confront safe situations that evoke moderate levels of anxiety and then follow up with confrontation of more fearful situations.

As extinction involves new learning, and the protein molecule known as the NMDA receptor is critical to learning, Barbara Rothbaum and colleagues gave the NMDA receptor partial agonist D-closerine (DCS) with exposure therapy. DCS is a drug that activates the NMDA receptor which then enhances learning of the new memory. This study supported the conclusion that these treatments fostered the desired extinction. Unfortunately, this type of treatment has not always resulted in success, but the prospect of augmenting extinction-based therapies, like prolonged exposure, with medications that affect learning is positive.

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) also involves confronting fear. It uses the Socratic method of teaching, in which the teacher poses questions and the student, by answering them, learns new ways of understanding. CPT focuses on emotions such as anger, humiliation, shame, guilt, and sadness, which trauma survivors often experience in addition to fear and anxiety. It is not uncommon for trauma victims to believe that they could have done something to prevent the traumatic or acted more heroically to minimize harm, even if in reality such actions would have been impossible. They tend to blame themselves and to imagine that others blame them as well. For example, a crime victim may have unrealistic beliefs such as, “I shouldn’t have gone to the ATM that night.” A therapist using CPT asks questions aimed at helping the patient to arrive at the more realistic conclusion that he or she could not have predicted that a robber would chose that particular ATM on that particular evening, and that the fault lies with the thief, not with the victim.

One does not necessarily have to undergo therapy to transform or extinguish a fearful memory. It takes courage, but one can try to confront the fearful event and through repetitions extinguish the fear. So the best response to falling off a horse might be to get back on.

The Neuroscience of Optimism

March 11, 2020

This title of a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney has a chapter titled Optimism. This post is on the neuroscience of optimism section in this book.

The three brain regions that play a central role in optimism are : the prefrontal cortex; the amygdala; and reward systems including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), ventral-segmental area, and the nucleus accumbens. The prefrontal cortex is the brain’s executive center; it is essential for guiding behavior, regulating emotions, and understanding the difference between potential rewards and punishments. It is also necessary for imagining the future and setting goals, which are functions directly related to optimism. The prefrontal cortex enables us to engage in optimistic processes such as hoping for the best and imagining a bright future, anticipating and preparing to meet a challenge, and making plans to achieve and enjoy success.

The second brain area involved in optimism is the amygdala. The amygdala plays a role in triggering “raw emotions” such as fear or excitement. In this way the amygdala plays a role in our ability to experience positive emotions. There is evidence that the amygdala plays an important role in imagining future emotional events including positive events.

The reward circuitry—the ACC, ventral-segmental area, and nucleus accumbens also appear to play a role in optimism. These are associated with the rewarding effects of social attachment, eating, sex, and other pleasurable stimuli. Not surprisingly, reward circuitry is generally active when we are engaged in behaviors we enjoy. Acute stress tends to reduce activity in these circuits. The neurotransmitter associated with reward is dopamine. Alice Isen and her colleagues have found that dopamine improves cognitive flexibility and perspective-taking. These researchers, along with others, believe that the broadened perspective and flexible cognitive style that accompany positive emotions may be related to increased dopamine.

Psychologist Tali Sharot along with colleagues instructed subjects to imagine both positive (winning an award) and negative (ending a romantic relationships) future events while undergoing fMRI in order to understand how the brain generates the positive bias that characterizes optimism. When participants imagined a positive future event, activation of the amygdala and the ACC increased. The greatest activation of these regions occurred in participants with the highest scores on a measure of dispositional optimism, the LOT-R (Life Orientation Test-Revised).

Richard Davidson and his colleagues have found that optimism is associated with high activity in the left prefrontal cortex with prolonged engagement of subcortical reward circuitry. On the other hand, depression has been associated with low prefrontal activity and inability to sustain reward circuitry activation. Heller and his colleagues have said that the ability to savor and sustain positive emotion is “critical to daily function well-being and to health.

The authors conducted research in which fMRI was used to examine emotional responses to negative stimuli among three groups of women: 14 women who have been sexually assaulted and developed PTSD, 14 who had been sexually assaulted and had not developed PTSD, and 14 who had never been assaulted. Each participant was shown 60 emotionally negative pictures during the study. Immediately before viewing each negative picture, participants were given one of three instructions: to “enhance,” to “diminish,” or to “maintain” their emotional response to that picture. Non traumatized healthy controls were best able to decrease their emotional response to negative pictures as measured by subjective ratings and degree of PFC activation. Unexpectedly, the trauma-exposed resilient group had greater PFC activation following the “enhance” instruction than did the trauma-exposed PTSD group. The authors conclude that these findings suggest that the ability to focus effortfully on negative emotional responses and engage cognitive/linguistic ares of the brain in order to manage, diminish or extinguish the negative emotion may be an important component of resilience.

The authors offer these four ways to become more optimistic:

Focus attention on the positive things around us.

2. Intentionally think positive thoughts and do not dwell on negative thoughts.

3. Reframe the negative and interpret events in a more positive light.

4. Behave and take action in ways that build positive feelings.

Optimism

March 10, 2020

This title of a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney has a chapter titled Optimism: Belief in a Brighter Future. It begins, “Optimism ignites resilience, providing energy to power the other resilience factors. It facilitates an active and creative approach to coping with challenging situations….Optimism is a future-oriented attitude, a confidence that things will turn out well.” They believe that good things will happen to them, and that with hard work, they will succeed.

Shelly Taylor and other psychologists have identified two styles of optimism: dispositional optimism, which is also called trait optimism, pervades the individual’s outlook and tends to be stable from one situation to another; and situational optimism, in which the individual may feel hopeful and expect a favorable outcome in one situation but not in another. Even under adverse circumstances these people manage to build on whatever small glimmer of optimistic thinking the can find.

The authors make the point that blind optimism does not work. They note that optimism as a resilience trait does not mean blindly ignoring life’s problems or viewing the world through “rose-colored glasses.” Realistic optimists pay close attention to negative information that is relevant to the problems they face. However, they do not remain focused on the negative. They tend to disengage rapidly from problems that appear to be unsolvable; they know then to cut their losses and turn their attention to solvable problems.

Diane Coutu discusses the importance of playing close attention to negative information in the context of business success: “That’s not to say that optimism doesn’t have its place: In turning around a demoralized sales force, for instance, conjuring a sense of possibility can be a very powerful tool. But for bigger challenges, a cool, almost pessimistic, sense of reality is far more important…Facing reality, really facing it, is grueling work. Indeed, it can be unpleasant and emotionally wrenching.”

Psychologist Sandra Schneider writes that realistic optimism is qualitatively different from the blind variety: “A realistic outlook improves chances to negotiate the environment successfully, whereas an optimistic outlook places priority on feeling good. But are realistic and optimistic outlooks necessarily in conflict?” She points out that in many cases, optimism and realism don’t conflict, but “there remain ‘optimistic biases’ that do involve self-deception, or convincing oneself of desired beliefs without appropriate reality checks.” Justin Kruger and David Dunning write that it tends to lead to “an underestimation of risk, an overestimation of ability, and inadequate preparation.”

Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf is a most remarkable case. She believed that her own brand of optimism was the product of years of deprivation. After suffering what was called “brain fever” when she was 19 months old, she suffered five years suffering “outbursts of passion”, screaming, daily (and sometime hours) temper tantrums and fits of violent and uncontrollable behavior. Fortunately in 1887 a most remarkable individual entered her life, Anne Sullivan. She taught Helen to understand letters and words, traced her hand and then to read Braille. Her progress was so rapid and extraordinary that within a few years she became a “phenemon,” reaching widespread publicity and meeting with world dignitaries, including Alexander Graham Bell and President Grover Cleveland.

After four years of study at the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, she applied to Radcliffe College. Keller was informed only a day or two before the entrance exam that the mathematic portion would be given in a style of Braille unfamiliar to her, so that she had to learn an entirely new set of symbols over night. She wrote,”I do not blame anyone. The administrative board of Radcliffe did not realize how difficult they were making my examinations, nor did they understand the peculiar difficulties I had to surmount. But they unintentionally placed obstacles in my way, I have the consolation of knowing that I overcame them all.”

A portion of her essay “Optimism” follows:
“Most people measure happiness in terms of physical pleasure and material possession. Could they win some visible goal which they have set on the horizon, how happy they would be! Lacking this gift or that circumstance, they would be miserable. If happiness is to be so measured, I who cannot hear or see have every reason to sit in a corner with folded hands and weep.”

and

“A man must understand evil and be acquainted with sorrow before he can write himself an optimist and expect others others to believe that he has reason for the faith that is in him. I know what evil is…I can say with conviction that the struggle which evil necessitates is one of the greatest blessings. It makes us strong, patient, helpful men and women. It lets us into the soul of things and teaches us that although the world is full of suffering it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism then does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good that it may prevail. I try to increase the power God has given me to see the best in everything and everyone, and make that Best a part of my life.”

One could easily call Helen Keller the most resilient person who has ever lived, so she constitutes proof that optimism does increase resilience. Barbara Fredrickson has developed what she calls the broaden and build model of positive emotions. She differentiates the functions of negative and positive emotions and notes that negative emotions such as anger, fear, and disgust help us to survive by preparing us for danger. They do this by activating the sympathetic nervous system, which increases physiological arousal. This “fight-flight” reaction narrows your visual focus and tends to restrict our behavior to those that are essential for attacking or fleeing.

Fredrickson also notes that positive emotions, in contrast, have been shown to reduce physiological arousal and to broaden our visual focus, our thoughts, and our behavior. Experiencing positive emotions results in an accompanying broadening of attention and behavior. Consequently, their thinking tends to become more creative, inclusiive, flexible, and integrative. Experiments have shown that inducing a positive mood (by showing participants a funny movie, or reading them a funny story) increases people’s scope of attention, their ability to solve problems actively, and their interest in socializing, and in strenuous as well as leisurely activities. So by broadening attention and action, positive emotions can contribute to our creativity, physical health, relations with family and friends, our ability to acquire new knowledge, and our psychological resilience.

There are many healthy memory post on optimism. The can be found by entering “optimism” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

Bouncing Back

March 9, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. The complete title is “Bouncing Back is a Choice—but the Choice is Easier for Some.” Many of us have learned that stress is bad. But when stress can be managed, it tends to be very good and even necessary for health and growth. The mind and body weaken without it. So if we can learn to harness stress it can serve as a catalyst for developing greater strength and even greater wisdom.

But the authors acknowledge that building resilience and bouncing back is easier for some than for others. People who are either temporarily or permanently unable to think clearly or regulate their moods will have difficulty putting into practice the advice in their book. For example, someone who is experiencing an episode of major depression will be handicapped by the sadness and sense of hopelessness, lack of energy, and loss of interest in life that characterize this disorder. Another example is someone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury may have particular difficulties with cognitive strategies and/or emotional challenges. The authors advise people with these kinds of serious conditions who want to practice the skills associated with resilience to work with a professional who is trained in dealing with their specific condition.

Even for those who do not suffer from these problems, the path to bounce back is steeper for some than for others. Those with resources such as financial security, a high level of education, an interesting and rewarding career, and strong social networks are able to leverage these resources, whereas people who lack resources may fall into what psychologist Stevan Hobfoll calls a “loss spiral.” A family that loses its home in a hurricane will have no place to live, while another family has the option to move in with relatives, and yet another family will be fortunate enough to own a second house.

The authors conclude, “When we advocate for resilience, we believe that most of us can choose to fight back after a trauma and attempt to right ourselves. However, we must emphasize with some people who lack access to support and resources that make it easier, or even possible, to do so. This does not mean that those with scarce resources should give up, but rather recognize that they will have a more difficult road to travel. Understanding these limitations may allow us to be more patient with ourselves or with others who are striving to recover from trauma.”

Nevertheless there are practices and ways of thinking and living that help inoculate us from trauma, so that we are resilient and bounce back quickly. These practices and ways of thinking will be presented in the following posts based on this book.

Neuroplasticity

March 8, 2020

This post is based on portions of a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. There have been many previous healthymemory posts on this topic. Neuroplasticity refers to “the ability of the nervous system to respond to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, function, and connections.”

For many years the brain was thought of as a fixed organ, but neuroplasticity means brain plasticity. Brain structure is highly plastic, and like muscles in the body, the brain can be strengthened or weakened depending on how it is used. When cells in the brain are actively used, they transmit their messages more efficiently and form more connections with other cells. However, when brain cells are not stimulated, they die and are pruned away. The well-known adage, use it or lose it, applies to the brain in spades.

Since the mid-1990s, brain changes in professional musicians have been identified and related to the instruments they play. Researchers have found that in professional players of string instruments (violin, viola, cello, and bass) “the cortical representation of the digits of the left hand (the fingering hand) was larger” than in control subjects, whereas the right hand (which holds the bow and is not involved in fingering) did not display such differences. Ruger, Lindenberg, and Schlaud studying brain activity in string players as well as keyboard players and non musicians found differences in the structure of not just gray-matter motor areas, but also in the white-matter fibers that connect brain areas. In string players these were larger in the right hemisphere (controlling the left hand), but inn keyboard players they were large in both brain hemispheres Choi and his colleagues studied wind instrument players and found enlargement in areas of the brain responsible for lip movement. Moreover, the greater the number of years of musical training, the more pronounced the brain changes.

Research on mindfulness-based stress reduction, a practice related to the mindfulness meditation, is part of some traditional Eastern religions. Omar Singleton and his colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the brains of volunteers before and after an eight-week program of mindfulness-based stress reduction, “defined as the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.” They found an increase in the size of certain brain regions that produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, that are critically involved in regulating arousal, attention, mood, reward, and learning. Moreover, these volunteers scored higher on an assessment of psychological well-being after the eight-week program.

Each of us has, to some degree, the power to change the structure and function of our brain. As noted by well-known author Deepak Chopra, MD and Harvard neuroscientist Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D., “Neuroplasticity is better than mind over matter. It’s mind turning into matter as your thoughts create new neuronal growth. Activity is the key. By repeatedly activating specific areas of the brain, we can strengthen those areas.

Why Sleep Researchers Oppose Daylight Saving Time

March 7, 2020

The short answer is that it results in poor quality sleep, and readers of the healthy memory blog should be well aware of the importance of sleep to a healthy memory. Now for the more detailed reasons.

Phyllis Zee, a sleep researcher at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago says that time changes mess with sleep schedules, a potential problem when so many people are already sleep deprived. About 1 in 3 adults sleep less than the recommended seven-plus hours a night. More than half of U.S. teens don’t get the eight-plus hours on weeknights. One study in the U.S. found that in the week following the spring switch to daylight saving time, teens slept about 2.5 hours less than the previous week. Many people never catch up during the subsequent six months. Research suggests that chronic sleep deprivation can increase levels of stress hormones that boost heart rate and blood pressure, and of chemicals that trigger inflammation.

It has also been shown that blood tends to clot more readily in the morning. These changes underlie evidence that heart attacks are more common in general in the morning, and may explain studies showing that rates increase sightly on Mondays after clocks are moved forward in the spring, when people typically rise an hour earlier than normal. That increased risk associated with the time change is mainly in people already vulnerable because of existing heart disease, says Barry Franklin, director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at Beaumont Health hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. Studies suggest that these people return to their baseline risk after the autumn time change.

There are numerous studies linking the start of daylight saving time in the spring with a brief spike in car accidents, and with poor performance on tests of alertness, both probably caused by sleep loss. Research includes a German study published this year that found an increase in traffic fatalities in the week after the start of daylight saving time, but no such increase in the fall.

Circadian biologists believe ill health effects from daylight saving time result from a mismatch between the sun “clock,” our social clock—work and school schedules—and the body’s internal 24-hour clock. Ticking away at the molecular level, the biological clock is entrained—or set—by explosion to sunlight and darkness. It regulates bodily functions such as metabolism, blood pressure and hormones that promote sleep and alertness. Disruptions to the body clock have been linked with obesity, depression, diabetes, heart problems, and other conditions. Circadian biologists say these disruptions include tinkering with standard time to move the clock ahead one hour in the spring. A mismatch of one hour-daily is enough for ill effects, especially if it lasts for several months, said Till Roennberg, a circadian rhythm specialist at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

Federal law allows states to remain on standard time year-round, but only Hawaii and Arizona have chosen to do so.

Epigenetics

March 6, 2020

This post is based on portions of a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. A common question that arises when discussing many topics is the nature nurture issue. That is how much of a person is determined by that person’s genes and how much by the environment. That is a naive question that is difficult to answer for two reasons. One is that there is natural confound here, and that is how to distinguish the effects of genetics and the environment. IQ measurements can be separated mathematically into a genetic component and an environmental component. Although this can be done mathematically it cannot be done empirically as these two components are confounded.
There is a true anecdote illustrating this confound. It tells of two sisters who are identical twins, yet one is academically and socially successful, whereas the other has the autistic spectrum disorder.

Epigenetics is the study of how genes are read out or expressed. It matters not if you have fantastic genes, but the information in these genes is not manifested. A variety of internal and external environmental events, such as stress, social support, and fear, can trigger biochemical reactions, such as methylation, that then turns genes on or of. Moreover, these processes are dynamic and potentially reversible. So when a gene is “turned on” it directs the making of gene products, such as proteins. But, when a gene is “turned off” these gene products are no longer produced.

Zang has conducted studies showing that if a mother rat provides only low levels of licking and grooming to her pups, which is analogous to neglectful parenting in the rat world, the pub will exhibit increased susceptibility to stress throughout their lives. But attentive maternal care, as reflected by high levels of licking and grooming, can contribute to later stress resilience. These effects of maternal licking and grooming appear to be mediated, at least in part, by epigenetic changes in gene expression. Research conducted in Michael Meaney’s laboratory has shown that variations in maternal care have been associated with variations in expression of glucocorticoid receptors and hippocampal sensitivity to stress. According to Nestler, similar epigenetic effects of maternal care, as well as other lifetime experiences, on later vulnerability or resilience to stress are likely to “hold up in humans.”

The authors write, “A variety of environmental events, including stress, social interactions, and drug use, can cause epigenetic changes in gene expression. Although much remains to be learned, the rapidly expanding field of epigenetics may soon help us to better understand the origins of stress vulnerability and discover ways to manage it. It may also help us to better understand resilience and the mechanisms by which training can enhance factors associated with resilience (e e.g. exercise, social support, cognitive reframing). And as noted by psychopharmacologist Steven Stahl, “psychotherapy can now be conceptualized not only by its classic psychodynamic principles, but also indeed as a neurological problem capable of inducing epigenetic changes in brain circuits, not unlike the ultimate actions of psychotropic drugs.”

Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges

March 5, 2020

The title of this post is the same as the title a book written by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. This post is the first of a series of posts based on this book. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, threats and even significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stresses.”

Here are the key brain regions with respect to resilience:

The amygdala, which is associated with fear and alarm; it plays a central role in fear conditioning and in triggering raw emotions and the “fight or flight” response.

The prefrontal cortex, which is commonly referred to as the brain’s “executive center,” facilitates planning and rational decision-making; it helps regulate emotions and acts to keep the amygdala ( the “fear and alarm center”) in check.

The hippocampus, which plays a critical role in learning, forming new memories, and regulating the stress response; more so than many other brain structures, it is vulnerable to the effect of chronic stress.

The anterior cingulate cortex, which plays an important role in our ability to focus attention, detect and monitor errors and conflicts, assess the importance of emotional and motivational information, and regulate emotions; it is connected both to the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala.

The anterior insula, which is located in the fold of the cerebral cortex that marks the boundary between the frontal and temporal lobes; it is involved in functions related to emotions, and aids in the brain’s awareness of the body’s internal physical state.

The nucleus accumbens, sometimes referred to as the “pleasure center,” plays a central role in the brain’s reward circuitry; in association with the ventral segmental area, it mediates the experience of reward and punishment, and is associated with the pleasurable effects of food, sex, and drug abuse.

The limbic system refers to the inner portion of the brain—located beneath the cortex—which is involved in emotion, memory and other functions. It includes the amygdala, hippocampus, and a number of other structures and regions. Although the limbic system is neither a system nor a structure, the term provides a useful shorthand for referring to this area of the brain.

The autonomic nervous system is composed of two parts. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS mobilizes the body under conditions of stress. The PNS conserves resources and maintains functioning under normal stressful conditions. During healthy functioning, it is beneficial for the SNS to have a robust response to stress and challenge, but also for the SNS to return to baseline rapidly after the stressful event is over. Another major system is the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis), which responds to stress with a complex set of reactions involving the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.

Here are the different hormones and neurotransmitters that are involved in the stress response and resilience:

Cortisol is a stress hormone released through activation of the HPA axis. It produces energy by converting food into fat and glucose (a form of sugar). It also temporarily bolsters the immune system.
Epinephrine, also known as adrenalin, is part of the SNS. It is erased by the adrenal glands under conditions of stress and accelerates heart rate, constricts blood vessels and dilates air passages as part of the SNS fight-or-flight response.

Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, is also part of the SNS. It facilitates alerting and alarm reactions in the brain and is critical for responding to danger and for remembering emotional and fearful events.

Serotonin is involved in the regulation of mood, as well as sleep, appetite, and other functions.

Dopamine is associated with pleasurable feelings and plays a key role in the reward systems of the brain. For this reason, it is an important factor in cravings and addictive behaviors.

Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is associated with decreasing anxiety and hastening return to baseline after the nervous system reacts to stress.

Oxytocin is associated with maternal behaviors, pair bonding, social communication, trust, social support, and anxiety reduction.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) acts in support the nervous system through the repair of existing neurons an growth of new ones.

Resilience

March 3, 2020

This post is based on a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity. As we leaned in the post Longevity, resilience is a strong contributor to a longer life. Resilience also increases the success of our activities during this longer life.

There are a variety of factors contributing to resilience, but this post is focusing on those we can control. Ann Masten, a psychologist at the Center for Neurobehavioral Development at the University of Minnesota, calls the power of resilience “ordinary magic.” She thinks it is magic anyone can use. Nimbi Hutnik’s team at London South Bank University says resilience, although a complex mix of biology, psychology, and environment, has the potential to be taught. It is worth noting that exercises in mental resilience can be learned, and can be used to promote health and well-being..

Hooper writes, “The capacity to be super resilient may be there even in us normal people, but we need guidance and support to find it, maybe from psychotherapy, maybe from friends. We need help to be optimistic, encouraged to take control, and empowered to be responsible. We need a certain amount of self-love. A touch of narcissism is good! We need to stand up for ourselves so we are not mistreated at work or in relationships, we need to be assertive without devaluing others, and have a self-image that is positive without being conceited, This mixture of personality traits will drive you forward. Some of them can be constructed, if you do not have them naturally.”

HM adds, being super resilient is certainly desirable, but plain old vanilla resilience can be quite good. HM also adds that meditation is extremely useful in the pursuit of resilience.

Look forward to more posts on this important topic.

Longevity: How Long Will We Live

March 2, 2020

 

This post is based on a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity. The longest lived person on record is Jeannae Calment who died in 1917 at the age of 122. It is recorded that she did smoke, but only one or two cigarettes per day. Her diet was rich in olive oil and chocolates (1 kilo per week).

Blue Zones is the name for areas were centenarians tend to cluster. The people on Okinawa’s western edge are the longest lived people in the world. Not surprisingly these people have been well studied for clues to their remarkable lifespan. Their diet is high in tofu, fresh vegetables, and fresh fish. Their social structure is tight-knit and supportive. Their lifestyle includes activities such a bashofu (a traditional form of fabric weaving) plus the habit of hara hachi, which is a Confucian practice of eating only until you are 80% full.

There are other blue zones such as Sardinia, in the Italian Mediterranean, and the Nicola peninsula of Costa Rica, and the Greek island of Ikaria.

There is one Blue Zone in the United States the city of Loma Linda, in California. HM’s sister-in law lives there. Men in Loma Linda have a life expectancy of 88, and women a year more. The town has been extensively settled by members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Seventh Dayers don’t drink or smoke (smoking is banned in the town) and most are vegetarians. According to the scientist at the New England Centenarian Study, this is the baseline lifespan for the rest of us if only we ate well and took better care of ourselves.

Mental resilience is another important factor. According to the biographer of Jeannae Calment, she was biologically immune to stress. She had a saying, “If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.” She also ascribed her longevity to her calm approach to stress.

There is a common Japanese expression, sho ga nai, which means “nothing can be done about it.” A variant, shikata ga nai, is similar meaning “it cannot be helped.”

If you’re counting on your genes carrying you well into old age, stop counting. Genetics do play a factor, but not as large as many think. Moreover, specific genes have been identified that contribute to aging, but each of these genes has a small effect, and there needs to be a large group to achieve a noticeable effect. The have also identified a disease-associated gene, but there have been long living individuals who managed to outlive this gene.

The reader can draw their own conclusions from this post. HM would suggest living as healthy a life style as one can tolerate. Maintain healthy social interactions. Shun stress and foster resilience. Meditation should be extremely useful in shunning stress and fostering resilience. There is a very large number of posts on meditation. Just enter “relaxation response” in the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com. Follow this with entering “meditation” in the search block.

Happiness

March 1, 2020

This post is motivated by a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity.

Here is a famous poem by E.A. Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
‘Good-morning,’ and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

The following taken from Voltaire, Notebooks

“We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one.”

So happiness appears to be an elusive concept. Actually, happiness is easy to achieve provided that one has an appropriate frame of mind. Take people with the locked-in syndrome, for example. In the extreme form of the locked-in syndrome, the sufferers have no means of interacting with the external world.

But Jean-Dominique Bauby was still able to blink his eyes after suffering a devastating stroke, He managed to write the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by blinking his eye. This book was made into a highly recommended motion picture. He died shortly after this book was published.

Brain imaging has identified living individuals who were locked in and had no means, even eye-blinking. This finding was extremely depressing. Yet, to the best of HM’s knowledge, none of these individuals requested that their lives be ended.

Hooper relates the stories of several individuals who are classified as being locked in as their means of interacting with the world are severely limited, yet who are happy in their lives. One of these individuals said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that my brain’s default setting is happiness.” Others, while not attributing their happiness to their brain setting, showed resilience in adapting to their condition.

It is likely that the majority of humans believe that wealth paves the road to happiness, although that was certainly not the case with Richard Cory; and there are wealthy people who do commit suicide.

Researchers Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers found that as income increases, so does happiness, although it increases at increasingly smaller amounts. This kind of measure of happiness is called lifetime evaluation.

A more accurate technique for measuring happiness is called experiential sampling. In this method, you buzz people randomly on their mobiles throughout the day, and ask them, “How happy are you right now, on a scale of 1 to 10. Using the experimental sampling measure there is no increase beyond $75,000. As that study was done a few years ago, that amount has obviously increased. The point is that what is commonly regarded as a good salary hits the effective maximum. In other words, a million dollars a year does not make you happier. This study’s done by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton of Princeton University that analyzed 450,000 experimental response from 1000 US citizens.

Yet there are billionaires still motivated to earn more and more billions. As these people can live only one life, and their extend families can only extend so far, one wonders why. Apparently, it is simply a matter of ego. These people do give money, but it is usually black money given to politicians or to organizations that support politicians that will fight tax increases and any laws they fill will restrict their growth of income. They also want to restrict and control the lives of fellow citizens so that they march to the drummer they want these citizens to march to.

One would think that via philanthropy, they can increase the well-being of others. Excellent examples of these people are Warrant Buffet, one of the world’s foremost capitalists, and William and Melinda Gates, who are using both their wealth and operations research to maximize the effects of their giving. Both Buffet and the Gates are against inherited wealth because they do not think it is good for their children. It is also not good for the health of the country. Inherited wealth has a pernicious effect.

There are also people who achieve happiness by working directly for the public and the needy. There is a post on this blog, Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk that argues that the Buddhist Monk is the happier of the two.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Focus

February 29, 2020

Be true to the thought of the moment and avoid distraction. Other than continuing to exert yourself, enter into nothing else, but go to the extent of living single thought by single thought.”

—Yamamoto Tsunetomo (c. 1710)

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity. Michael Easterman is a cofounder of the Boston Attention and Learning Lab at Boston University. He says, “The science shows that when people are motivated, either intrinsically, i.e., they love it; or extrinsically, i.e., they will get a prize, they’re better able to maintain consistent brain activity, and maintain readiness for the readiness for the unexpected.” Motivation means this consistency doesn’t fall off over time.

In one experiment, participants were shown a random sequence of photographs of cities and mountain scenes, one every 800 milliseconds, while in an fMRI brain scanner. They needed to press a button whenever they saw a city scene (which occurred 90% of the time) and avoid pressing the button when a mountain scene appeared (the remaining 10%). Sometimes the trials were rewarded, In these cases participants earned 1 cent for each city scene they responded to, and 10 cents for not responding to a mountain scene. They were also penalized for getting it wrong. Other trials had no reward or penalty. The results of their brain activity showed that without the motivation of reward, the participants acted as “cognitive misers”: they didn’t bother engaging the brain’s attentional resources until their performance had dipped. [‘cognitive miser] is a term that has been used many times in this blog; enter “cognitive miser” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com to see how many times and where] Until, in other words, they had dropped out of the zone. When they were motivated by reward, however, the participants were “cognitive investors,” happy to engage their brain and concentrate in order to stay focused on the task.

In 2015, Yi-Yuan Tang, Michael Posner at the University of Oregon, and Britta Holzel at the Technical University of Munich published a review of the evidence in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. They concluded that more than twenty years of research into meditation supports the idea that it is beneficial for physical and mental health, and that it improves cognitive performance. Basically, it improves brain power.

Joshua Grant at the University of Montreal scanned the brains of Zen practioners who had racked up more than a thousand hours of practice. These seasoned meditators show less activity in a few areas of the the brain than non meditators: in the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. These are areas are respectively concerned with (among other things) awareness of pain, the processing of emotions such as fear, and memory storage. But some parts of the brain process pain were thicker in the meditators. There is no contradiction here: meditators process the pain but let it bother them less.

Meditative practice leads to changes in the structure of the brain. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the insula, a deep fold in the cerebral cortex, two areas of the brain known to be key to our ability to focus attention, both grow in people who meditate. These regions, along with parts of the front midline of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus, are activated during cognitive tasks. For example, the ACC aids in the maintenance of focus by preventing other systems of the brain from barging in and demanding attention. Hooper writes, “When we are performing tasks that have been practiced over and over such as adjusting the sails on a trimaran or changing gears in a racing car, the autonomic nervous system plays a big part in carrying them out. That’s the part of the nervous system that acts automatically, performing functions such as regulating the heart rate and digestion. When we are in an effortless state of flow this occurs below the level of conscious awareness, and the ACC and the insula together help the autonomic nervous system achieve it.

There is a very large number of posts on meditation in the healthy memory blog. Just enter “meditation” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com. It might be a good idea to first enter “relaxation response” as the relaxation response provides the entry into more advanced meditation techniques.