Archive for November, 2017

A Mind Undisturbed

November 30, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Goleman and Richardson’s book, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” A key node in the brain’s stress circuitry, the amygdala, shows dampened activity from just thirty or so hours of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) (enter MBSR into the search box of the Healthymemory Blog to learn more about MBSR). Other mindfulness training shows a similar benefit, and there are hints the these changes are trait like: they appear not simply during the explicit instruction to receive the stressful stimuli mindfully but even in the “baseline” state, with reductions in amygdala activation as much as 50%. More daily practice seems to be associated with lessened stress reactivity. Experienced Zen practitioners can withstand higher levels of pain and still have less reaction to this stressor. A three-month meditation retreat brought indicators of better emotional regulation, and long-term practice was associated with greater functional connectivity between the prefrontal areas that manage emotion and the areas of the amygdala that react to stress, resulting in less reactivity. An improved ability to regulate attention accompanies some of the beneficial impact of meditation on stress reactivity. And finally, the quickness with which long-term meditators recover from stress underlines how trait effects emerge with continued practice.

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Altered Traits and the Deep Path

November 29, 2017

The deep path of meditation focuses on deep exploration of the mind toward a profound alteration of our being. An altered trait is a new characteristic that arises from a meditation practice that endures apart from meditation itself. Altered traits affect how we behave in our daily lives, and not just during or immediately after we meditate. The concept of altered traits has been a lifelong pursuit of Goleman and Davidson, authors of “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body,”

For Goleman and Davidson, the most compelling impacts of meditation are not better health or sharper business performance but, instead, a further reach toward our better nature. The research indicates that the deep path markedly boosts science’s models of the upper limits of our positive potential. The further reaches of the deep path cultivate enduring qualities like selflessness, equanimity, a loving presence, and impartial compassion, traits which we should all regard as positive traits.

Goleman and an Davidson wrote an article titled, “The Role of Attention in Meditation and Hypnosis: A Psychobiological Perspective on Transformations of Consciousness. Transformation of consciousness was their term for altered states, which they regarded as a psychological or neural shift. They contended that hypnosis, unlike meditation, produced primarily state effects, and not the trait effects that meditation did. At the time this article was written the fascination was not with traits but rather altered states. As Goleman and Davidson said, “after the high goes, you’re still the same schmuck you were before.”

Goleman and Davidson say that this basic confusion is still too common. Some people focus on the remarkable states attained during a meditation session, particularly during long retreats, and pay little attention to how, or even if, those states translated into a lasting change for the better in their qualities of being after they’ve gone home. Their point is that valuing just the heights misses the true point of practice: to transform ourselves in lasting ways day to day. The Dalai Lama has said, “The true mark of a meditator is that he has disciplined his mind by freeing it from negative emotions.”

Goleman and Davidson articulated the hypothesis: The after is the before for the next during. To elaborate, “after” refers to enduring changes from meditation that last long enough beyond the practice session itself. “Before” means the condition we are in before we start meditating. “During” is what happens as we meditate, temporary changes in our state that pass when we stop meditating. Repeated practice of meditation results in lasting traits—the “after.” Research in the book and in subsequent posts provide scientific support for meditation producing the “after.”

A Few Words About Buddhism

November 28, 2017

A reasonable response after reading the preceding posts is, if Buddhism is so great, what do they have to show for it. This is a variant of “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” First of all there are many different sects of Buddhism. They range from the highly ascetic Zen Buddhism, to highly commercialized sects that can be readily found in Japan. It should also be realized that, like other religions, there is a wide variance in the practice of the religion. What is particularly disturbing is how the Burmese, who are predominately Buddhist, have been persecuting the Rohingya, who are Moslem. They are killing them. Killing fellow humans is, or should be, anathema to Buddhists. Self-immolation, rather than fighting, was the preferred reaction in Viet Nam.

The Dalai Lama is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. But as was said in a previous post, the Dalai Lama is not interested in making converts to Buddhism. However, he is interested in making a better world, and he thinks meditation and mindfulness will help in accomplishing this goal. The data in “Altered Traits” supports his thinking.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

Flourishing

November 27, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Goleman and Davidson’s “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” Aristotle posited the goal of life as a virtue-based eudaemonia, a quality of flourishing, a view that continues under many guises in modern thought. Aristotle said that virtues are attained in part by finding the “right mean” between extremes; courage lies between impulsive risk-taking and cowardice, a tempered moderation between self-indulgence and ascetic denial.

He believed that we are not by nature virtuous, but all have the potential to become so through the right effort. This effort includes what we would call today self-monitoring, the ongoing practice of noting our thoughts and acts. For the Stoics, one key was seeing that our feelings about life’s events, not those events themselves, determine our happiness. This is a fundamental insight at which Siddhartha, the Buddha, arrived. We find equanimity by distinguishing what we can control in life from what we cannot. That creed finds an echo in the popularized Twelve Step version of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Goleman and Davidson write, “The classical way to the ‘wisdom to know the difference’ lay in mental training. Greek philosophers saw philosophy as an applied art and taught contemplative exercises and self-discipline as paths to flourishing. Like their peers to the East, the Greeks saw that we can cultivate qualities of mind that foster well-being.

Goleman and Davidson write “In the Greco-Roman tradition, qualities such as integrity, kindness, patience, and humility were considered keys to enduring well-being. These Western thinkers and Asian spiritual traditions alike saw value in cultivating a virtuous being via a roughly similar transformation of being. In Buddhism, for example , the ideal of inner flourishing gets put in terms of ‘bodhi’ (in Pali and Sanskrit), a path of self-actualization that nourishes ‘the very best within oneself.’”

University of Wisconsin psychologist Carol Ryff, drawing on Aristotle among many other thinkers, posits a model of well-being with six arms:

*Self acceptance, being positive about yourself, acknowledging both your best and not-so-good qualities, and feeling fine about being just as you are. This takes a non-judgmental self-awareness.

*Personal growth, the sense you continue to change and develop toward your full potential—getting better as time goes on—adopting new ways of seeing or being and making the most of your talents. ‘Each of you is perfect the way you are,’ Zen master Suzuki Roshi told his students, adding, ‘and you can use a little improvement’—neatly reconciling acceptance with growth.

*Autonomy, independence in thought and deed, freedom from social pressure, and using your own standards to measure yourself. This, by the way, applies most strongly in individualistic cultures like Australia and the United States, as compared with cultures like Japan, where harmony with one’s group looms larger.

*Mastery, feeling competent to handle life’s complexities, seizing opportunities as they come your way, and creating situations that suit your needs and values.

*Satisfying relationships, with warmth, empathy, and trust, along with mutual concern for each other and a healthy give-and-take,

*Life purpose, goals and beliefs that give you a sense of meaning and direction, Some philosophers argue that true happiness comes as a by-product of meaning and purpose in life.

Ryff sees the qualities as a modern version of eudamonia—Aristotle’s “highest of all human good,” the realization of you unique potential. Goleman and Davidson write,”…different varieties of meditation seem to cultivate one or more of these capacities. More immediately, several studies have looked at how meditation boosted people’s ratings on Ryffs own measure of well-being.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fewer than half of Americans report feeling a strong purpose in life beyond their jobs and family. Healthy memory blog readers should remember that ikigai is the Japanese term for having a purpose in life. Many healthy memory blogs have emphasized its importance.

It was found that after a three-month meditation retreat (540 hours total), those participants who had strengthened a sense of purpose in life during that time also showed a simultaneous increase in the activity of telomerase in their immune cells, even five months later. Telomerase protects the length of telomeres, the caps at the ends of DNA strands that reflect how long a cell will live.

Another study found that eight weeks of a variety of mindfulness practices seemed to enlarge a region in the brain stem that correlated with a person’s well-being on Ryff’s test. But Goleman and Davidson caution that only fourteen people were involved in the study, so it needs to be replicated with a larger group before becoming more than tentative conclusion.

In yet another study, people practicing a popular form of mindfulness reported higher levels of well-being and other such benefits for up to a year. The more everyday mindfulness, the greater the subjective boost in well-being. Again the authors caveat this study by saying that not only was the sample size small, but also a brain measure rather than self-evaluations would have been more convincing.

Goleman and Davidson write, “Studies such as these are often cited as “proving” the merits of meditation, particularly these days, when mindfulness has become the flavor du jour. But meditation research varies enormously when it comes to scientific soundness—though when used to promote some brand of meditation, app, or other contemplative “product,” this inconvenient truth goes missing.”

The authors promise that they have used rigorous standards to sort out fluff from fact. They want to determine what science actually does tell us about the impacts of meditation.

Altered Traits and Neuroplasticity

November 26, 2017

There have been many healthy memory blog posts on neuroplasticity, which is a topic of continuing attention. The first evidence of neuroplasticity was of a negative effect. Bruce McEwen produced evidence of how stressful events produce lingering neural scars. The research used a tree shrew, a small creature, but the research had a gigantic effect. The thinking, or rather dogma of the day, was that the neural system was fixed and could not change. It was research by Marian Diamond and her psychologist colleagues that documented that enriched environments increase the size of rats’ brains. Previous research had focused on the nature vs nurture issue. Genes defined nature and the environment defined nurture. Arguments abounded about whether intelligence and many other topics of interest were affected more by nature or more by nurture. The truth is that there is an interaction between nature and nurture. Traits altered by meditation are further examples of neuroplasticity at the positive end and post-traumatic stress disorder at the negative end.

Goleman and Davidson’s interests go beyond the merely healthy spectrum to an even more beneficial range of wholesome traits of being. Extremely positive altered traits, like equanimity and compassion, are a goal of mind training in contemplative traditions. They use the term altered trait as shorthand for this highly positive range.

Neuroplasticity provides a scientific basis for how repeated training can create those lasting qualities of being they encountered in a handful of exceptional yogis, swamis, monks, and lamas, Their altered traits fit ancient descriptions of lasting transformation at these higher levels.

Goleman and Davidson write, “A mind free from disturbance has value in lessening human suffering, a goal shared by science and meditative paths alike. But apart from lofty heights of being, there’s a more practical potential within reach of every one of us: a life best described as flourishing.

This post is taken from Goleman and Davidson’s “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.”

Altered Traits

November 25, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson. The subtitle is “Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. The following is taken from the Coda of the book: “We are inspired by the vision of the Dalai Lama. He encourages us all to do three things: gain composure, adopt a moral rudder of compassion, and act to better the world. The first, inner calm, and the second, navigating with compassion, can be products of meditation practice, as can executing the third, via skillful actions. Exactly what action we take, though, remains up to each of us, and depends on our individual abilities and possibilities—we each can be a force for good.”

We view this “curriculum” as one solution to an urgent public health need: reducing greed, selfishness, us/them thinking and impending eco-calamities, and promoting more kindness, clarity, and calm. Targeting and upgrading these human capacities directly could help break the cycle of some otherwise intractable social maladies, like ongoing poverty, intergroup hatreds, and mindlessness about our planet’s well-being.”

To be sure, there are still many, many questions about how altered traits occur, and much more research is needed. But the scientific data supporting altered traits have come together to the point that any reasonable scientist would agree that this inner shift seems possible. Yet too few of us at present realize this, let alone entertain the possibility for ourselves.

The scientific data, while necessary, are by no means sufficient for the change we envision. In a world growing more fractured and endangered, we need an alternative to mind-sets snarky and cynical, views fostered by focusing on the bad that happens each day rather than the far more numerous acts of goodness. In short, we have an even greater need for the human qualities altered traits foster.

We need more people of good will, who are more tolerant and patient, more kind and compassionate. And these can become qualities not just espoused but embodied.”

The philosophy espoused here is eudaemonism, which is a system of ethics that bases moral values on the likelihood that good actions will produce happiness. The exact opposite is hedonism, which is hardly an ethical theory, and maintains that pleasure is the highest good and proper aim of human life. There are several problems with hedonism. One is to take care of oneself and to screw everyone else. Poor health often is concomitant with pleasure. There also constraints on the amount of pleasure one can tolerate. Eudaemonism is unconstrained, promotes health, benefits others, and results in happiness. The hope is that eudaemonism is within us human beings and that meditation and mindfulness are activities that foster eudaemonism.

Understand that the goal here is not to convert people to Buddhism. The Dali Lama uses science to inform Buddhist ideology and practices. He sends monks to study science. Most religions at onetime had contemplative practices like meditation, and some still do. Rather than citing words by rote, prayer should be a meditative practice. It is important to realize that all religions, Buddhism included, have been created by human beings. What is spoken from the pulpit should not be taken uncritically. Rather, one needs to assess not only whether it corresponds with the stated doctrine and literature of the religion, but also whether it corresponds to a loving, just, and forgiving God.

Obviously, this book deserves many posts. Coleman and Davidson apply rigorous standards to assessing the data, so the conclusions above are justified. The primary criticism might well be that they are overly optimistic. Nevertheless, they are well worth pursuing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

Thanks to Daniel Goleman

November 24, 2017

Fortunately Daniel Goleman’s graduate fellowship to Harvard, where he went to study clinical psychology included a year’s study abroad should his studies require it. He managed to extend the study abroad to two years where he went to India. India was the root source of the meditation practices he wished to study.

What he accomplished in India was remarkable. Here he was in a new culture, dealing with new languages, and with a topic that was complex and hard to penetrate. You need to read his book, “The Meditative Mind: The Varieties of Meditative Experience” to appreciate the complexity of this topic, but he managed to build roadmaps routing the way between these complex topics. This book is not recommended unless you have an interest in eastern religions. They are complex and if not impenetrable, difficult to penetrate.

Fortunately, the technique most recommended in this blog is the Relaxation Response as developed by Herbert Benson, M.D. This involves focusing on your breath and a self-selected simple mantra. This builds focal attention and has both mental and medical benefits that have been discussed in previous blog posts.

Goleman reviews meditation as practiced in different religions to include Hindu Bhakti, Jewish Meditation, Christian Meditation, Sufism, Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, Indian Tantra and Kundalini Yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, and Zen. As you can see not all religions that employ meditation are in the east. Contemplative practices have been employed in many if not most religions. All these religions recognize the proneness of humans to less than desirable thoughts and behaviors. The goal of these practices, regardless of the religion, is to bring humans up to a higher standard to behave well not only with respect to the individual, but also with respect to our fellow human beings.

The father of American psychology, William James recognized the importance of attention. He wrote in his Principles of Psychology the importance of bringing back a wandering attention over and over again as it is the very root of judgment, character, and will. It is essential. An education that would improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.

William James, who was the most prominent nineteenth century psychologist, was keenly interested in religion, both Eastern and Western. He befriended the Indian 
Swami Vivekananda who toured America after speaking at the First World Congress of Religions in 1893. Religion and the occult fascinated James. His book “Varieties of Religious Experience” is still a classic on the psychology of religion. Unfortunately, the scientific bent of modern psychology has lead the great majority of Western psychologists to ignore the teachings of their Eastern counterparts.

Fortunately, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson are refocusing interest in these teachings of our eastern counterparts.

Happy Thanksgiving 2017

November 23, 2017

Today is the day to give thanks for our blessings. Foremost among them is our memory. Memory provides the basis for all cognitive processes. We want to support it with healthy living and grow it with growth mindsets. We need to actively use our minds throughout out lives.

Thanksgiving is also the time to think of others. Tomorrow there will be a post on a book by Daniel Goleman titled “The Meditative Mind.” He is also the author of Emotional Intelligence. Then there will be eighteen posts on a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson titled “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Our Mind, Brain, and Body.” It also can change how we interact with our fellow human beings to promote a better world.

Revenge, Sweet, but Not Healthy

November 22, 2017

This post is based on an article titled “Revenge” by Jennifer Breheny Wallace in the Health Section of the 14 November 2017 Washington Post. She wrote, “People are motivated to seek revenge—to harm someone who has harmed them—when they feel attached, mistreated or socially rejected. Getting an eye for an eye, Old Testament-style, is thought to bring a sense of catharsis and closure. Unfortunately, a growing body of research suggests it may have the opposite effect.

Evolutionary psychologists think we are hard-wired for revenge. Absent laws and prisons, our earliest ancestors relied on the fear of retaliation to keep peace and correct injustices. Michael McCullough, a professor of psychology at the University of Miami says, “Acts of revenge not only sought to deter a second harmful act by a wrongdoer, but also acted as an insurance policy against future harm by others, a warning signal that you’re someone who will not tolerate mistreatment.”

In modern life, betrayal and social rejection still hurt. According to research reported in the Journal of Personality Psychology the desire to repair that pain and improve our mood may be one of the things that motivates us to seek revenge.

In one experiment 156 college students wrote a short essay to be submitted for comments. Then the essays were randomly given either positive or negative feedback. Next all participants were given a test that measured their emotional state, and then offered a chance to retaliate by sticking pins into a voodoo doll that represented the grader of the essay. Not surprisingly getting revenge felt good such that the moods of the ones given negative feedback were as high as the moods of those given positive feedback.

In another study, 167 participants were invited to play a video game where some players were snubbed by others. Rejected players were given the chance to seek revenge by increasing the volume in the other player’s headphones. But before they could retaliate, some participants received what they were told was a cognition enhancing drug (which was a placebo) that would steady their mood for 60 minutes. Although most wronged players turned up the volume, those who took the placebo, who presumably thought they wouldn’t be given a mood boost for doing so, were less likely to retaliate because we think it will make us feel better, according to David Chester who studies the psychological and biological processes involved in human aggression at Virginia Commonwealth University.

According to new research by Chester revenge may provide a lift, but the positive effects appear to be fleeting. “Revenge can feel really good in the moment,” he says, “but when we follow up with people 5 minutes to 10 minutes and 45 minutes later, they actually report feeling worse than they did before they sought revenge.”

University of Psychology Professor Timothy Willson and colleagues conducted a study on the “paradoxical consequences” of revenge. Research participants played an investment game where they were told that they could earn money if they all co-operated but that if one player betrayed the group, that person would earn more and the other players would earn less. This is called the “free-rider paradigm.” The game was staged so that players were double-crossed and some were given the chance to retaliate. When asked by researcher how they imagined they would feel after seeking revenge, the players predicted it make them feel better. However, when surveyed afterward, those who had retaliated reported feeling worse than players who didn’t get the opportunity to punish and so had “moved on.” Wilson theorizes that seeking revenge when we were wronged and can make an event appear even larger. He says, “by not retaliating, we’re able to find other ways of coping, like telling ourselves that it wasn’t such a big deal.

Ruminating about getting even by stewing over what the person did to you and what you would like to do in return can interfere with day-to-day well-being and happiness. Psychotherapist Beverly Engel says, “When someone persists in revenge fantasies, over time they can develop anxiety and remorse as well as feelings of shame. These feelings can also take up important cognitive resources, depleting you of time and energy that could be better spent on healthier, more constructive ways of dealing with anger, such as learning to accept the injustice, putting yourself in the other person’s shoes or acknowledging that you, too, may have hurt someone in similar ways.”

With respect to valuable relationships McCullough says “what the angry mind ultimately wants is a change of heart from the transgressor.” He cites studies showing the when a victim receives an explanation and an apology, the desire for revenge decreases. Similarly research suggests that doctors who apologize to patients when they have made a mistake may decrease their risk of a lawsuit.

McCullough also says that sometimes the most helpful thing a wronged party can do is to create conditions that make it easier for the person who hurt you to be honest about what they did and to take responsibility. He says, “You’re not giving the person a free pass, but it may be in your best interest to stay open to an apology and to help pave a road that would allow the offender to make it up to you.”

He concludes, “Revenge may make you feel better for a moment. but making the effort to repair a valuable relationship can pay bigger dividends over a lifetime.”

Socrates and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

November 21, 2017

Socrates asked, “How is not this the most reprehensible ignorance, to think that one knows what one does not know?”

There are two parts to the Dunning-Kruger effect.  The first refers to the cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority.  The second part refers to a cognitive bias for highly skilled individuals to underestimate the relative competence of unskilled individuals and assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.

So people who truly know a topic are aware of what they don’t know. But people who think they know a topic can be woefully ignorant of what they don’t know. So knowledgeable people typically qualify there answers. This was the problem President Truman had with economists. They would tell him on one hand there was x, but on the other hand there was y. Truman asked for one-handed economists. It is hoped that he never found one.

There is reason to think that the Dunning-Kruger effect has been magnified in this current era of technology. Life has become an open-book test. All one has to do is to look something up. But true knowledge requires thinking, and thinking takes time and effort. It is not analogous to downloading a file from the computer.

One of the best examples was the response a woman, who was wearing her technology and was well-plugged in to the question of what she thought about Obamacare. She responded that it was terrible and should be repealed. However, when she was asked about the Affordable Care Act, she thought it was wonderful. She did not caveat either response.

First of all, we need to be aware of faux news. So we need to evaluate the source and soundness of everything we see or hear. We should also consider other information that either supports or refutes the new information.

But even for topics we think we know, we need to explore the other side and follow not only the reasoning, but also data. In the case of governments offering health care to all its citizens, every other advanced country does so, and they do so with single payer government systems. Moreover, their medical systems are not only more effective, they are also significantly cheaper. This seems to be a glaring source of ignorance in the United States.

Readers might also consider reading or rereading the healthy memory blog post “Ignorance.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

Understanding Cognitive Enhancement

November 20, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the subtitle of an article titled “Better Minds Ahead” by Joe Dawson in the October 2017 issue of Observer, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science. The article provides a summary to the session at the Integrative Science symposium at the 2017 International Convention of Psychological Science, which was held in Vienna.

Daphne Bavelier, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Geneva, conducts research on the effects of action games. Early experiments showed vision improvements such as contrast sensitivity and visual acuity in long-time action gamers as well as experimental short-term gamers. Playing these games for as few as 30 hours per week produced these effects. Moreover, these effects persisted for months after the experiment and video-game playing ended.

Subsequent research suggested that action-game players were not just better at the skills specific to game play, such as vision, but also were better at more cognitive skills. These cognitive skills were driven, at least in part, by improved attentional control.

Other research has shown that young laparoscopic surgeons who play video games, and especially action video games, perform better in the simulators in terms of being faster and not making more errors than most season laparoscopic surgeons on the team. In these games, players must switch tasks and divide their attention. They monitors errors in skill and judgment. They must also plan goals and revise them on the fly. It appears that the combination of demands is what produces the kind of cognitive enhancements seen in relation to commercially available action games.

Arthur Kramer, the senior Vice President for Research and Graduate Education at Northeastern University, has studied the relationship between exercise and cognition for 25 years. Some of the first clues about the effects of exercise were produced by brain scans. Certain regions changed in volume in both long-term exercisers and in intervention groups. Size, white matter, and connectivity measurements all indicated that exercise has lasting effects on the brain. Exercise also seems seems to show benefits in many tests and also in several cognitive tasks. In 2003 meta-analysis of randomized control trial exercise and cognition studies, Kramer and Stanley Colcombe found that exercise positively affects cognition with an effect size of nearly half a standard deviation.

Kramer said, “Fitness interventions have been assessed in early Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment patients, multiple sclerosis patients, Parkinson’s patients and in breast cancer patients. In each case, there have been benefits.”

Kramer wants to do further work trying to establish the limits of cognitive enhancement, assuming there are limits, and determining which interventions and lifestyle choices work best for different individuals.

Illini Singh, a researcher of neuroscience, ethics, and society at the University of Oxford is focused on the present and potential future use of “smart drugs.” Although there are reports about taking drugs for increased attention, focus, mood modulation, or executive function, science has yet to produce convincing evidence that most common “smart” drugs—Ritalin, Adderall, and Modafinl, provide benefits in nonclinical populations. There is a large placebo effect Singh said “what you hear most is that students say they feel more awake,” but this is because these drugs are stimulants.

HM weighs in that drugs are for clinical situations. Inevitably, there are undesirable side effects to drugs, so they should only be used as a last resort.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

Grand Delusions: Why We all Believe the Weirdest Things

November 19, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Dan Jones in the 18 November 2017 issue of the New Scientist.

Delusions are irrational, and they are idiosyncratic, in that the belief is not widely shared. Moreover, the idiosyncratic nature of delusions makes them isolating and alienating in a way that believing, say, a conspiracy theory does not. Delusions also tend to be much more personal than other irrational beliefs, and they usually conform to one of a handful of themes. Despite being diverse and idiosyncratic, delusions cluster into a few core themes.

Persecutory Delusions: beliefs that others are out to harm you. This is the most common type of delusion, affecting between 10% and 15% of people.

Referential Delusions: beliefs that things happening the world—from news headlines to song lyrics—relate directly to you. Persecutory and referential delusions often go hand in hand.

Control Delusions: beliefs that your thought or behaviors are being manipulated by outside agents. Such delusions are common in schizophrenia.

Erotomania Delusions: beliefs that someone who you don’t know, typically a celebrity, is in love with you.

Grandiose Delusions: unfounded beliefs the you are exceptionally talented, insightful or otherwise better than the hoi polloi.

Jealous Delusions: irrational beliefs that your partner is being unfaithful. This is the type of delusion most commonly associated with violence.

Somatic Delusions: erroneous beliefs about the body. In Ekbom’s syndrome, people believe they are infested with parasites. People with Coward delusion believe they are dead or don’t exist.

Misidentification Delusions: beliefs that changed identity. A classic is Capers delusion, where people believe that a loved one has been replaced by a doppelgänger.

An everyday reason that people hold implausible beliefs is a tendency to jump to conclusions on the basis of limited evidence.The proneness to do this can be measured with a simple experiment. Imagine two jars containing a mix of black and orange beads: one contains 85% black beads and 15% orange, and the other has the reverse proportions. You select a bead from one, without know which it is. Let’s say the bead is orange. You are then asked whether you would like to make a call on which jar you are taking the heads from, or whether you want to draw another bead to help work it out. It is prudent to examine a few beads at least as it is quite possible to draw two orange beads from a jar with mostly black, and vice versa. Yet about 70% of people being treated for delusion make a judgement after seeing just one or two beads. Only 10% of the general population are as quick to jump to conclusions, but the more prone you are to delusional thinking, the fewer beads you are likely to sample before making your decision.

This jumping-to-conclusions bias might seem stupid, but it isn’t s a sign of low intelligence, according to clinical psychologist Phillipa Garety at KIng’s College, London. Instead, she invokes Kahneman’s System 1, System 2 model of cognition. System 1 is the default mode of processing that occurs automatically. System 2, commonly referred to as thinking, takes mental effort. One of System 2’s responsibilities is to monitor System 1 for errors, but that requires mental effort. The more analytic a person is, the more System 2 is engaged. Dr Garety kindly terms people more prone to System 1 processing as “intuitive.” She says, “It’s not that people with a jumping-to-conclusions bias don’t understand or can’t use evidence. They’re just overusing System 1 at the expense of System2.” Her latest study confirms the these “intuitive thinkers” are also more prone to clinical delusions.

The following 21 questions constitute the Peter’s Delusion Inventory, which is the most widely used measure of delusion proneness. Give yourself one point for each “yes” and zero points for each “no” then tot up your score

Do you ever feel as if people seem to drop hints about you or say things with a double meaning?
Do you ever feel as if things in magazines or on TV were written especially for you?
Do you even feel as if some people are not what they seem to be?
Do you ever feel as if you are being persecuted in some way?
Do you feel as if there is a conspiracy against you?
Do you feel as if you are, or destined to be someone very important?
Do you ever feel that you are a very special or unusual person?
Do you ever feel that you are especially close to God?
Do you ever think people can communicate telepathically?
Do you ever feel as if electrical devices such as computer can influence the way you think?
Do you ever feel as if you have been chosen by God in some way?
Do you believe in the power of witchcraft, voodoo, or the occult?
Are you often worried that your partner may be unfaithful?
Do you ever feel that you have sinned more than the average person?
Do you ever feel that people look at you oddly because of your appearance?
Do you ever feel as if you had no thought in your head at all?
Do you ever feel as if the world is about to end?
Do your thoughts every feel alien to you in some way?
Have your thoughts been so vivid that you were worried other people would hear them?
Do you ever feel as if our own thoughts were being echoed back o you?
Do you ever feel as if you are a robot or zombie without a will of your own?
If your score is 1-5 you are less prone to delusions than most. Your thinking style is probably more analytical than intuitive.

If your score is 6-7, Congratulations. You are normal. The average score is 6.7 with no difference between men and women.

If your score is 8-21 you are more prone to delusions than most. You are likely to think intuitively and jump to conclusions.

Brain Implant Boosts Human Memory by Mimicking How We Learn

November 18, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a News piece by Jessica Hamzelou in the 18 November 2017 issue of the New Scientist. The team doing the research says,
“Electrical shocks that simulate the patterns seen in the brain when you are learning have enhanced human memory for the first time, boosting performance on tests by up to 30%.” Dong Song of the University of Southern California says, “We are writing the neural code to enhance memory function. This has never been done before.”

The device mimics brain signals associated with learning and memory, stimulating similar patterns of brain activity in the hippocampus via electrodes. This device was implanted in 20 volunteers who were already having electrodes placed in their brains to treat epilepsy.

The first stage was to collect data on patterns of activity in the brain when the volunteers were doing a memory test. The test involved trying to remember which unusual, blobby shapes they had been shown 5 to 10 seconds before. This test measures short- term memory. People normally score around 80% on this task.

The volunteers also did a more difficult version of the test, in which thy had to remember images they had seen between 10 and 40 minutes before. This measures working memory.

Then the team used this data to work out the patterns of brain activity associated with each person’s best memory performances. The group then made the device electrically stimulate similar brain activity in the volunteers while they did more tests.

A third of the time, the device stimulated the participants brains in a way the team thought would be helpful. Another third of the time, it stimulated the brain with random patterns of electricity. For the remaining third of the time, it didn’t stimulate the brain at all.

Memory performance improved by about 15% in the short-term memory test and around 25% in the working-memory test when the correct stimulation pattern was used, compared to no stimulation at all. Some improved by 30%. Random stimulation worsened performance. Song says the “It is the first time a device like this has been fond to enhance an aspect of human cognition.”

Chris Bird of the University of Sussex, UK thing that such a device may be useful for treating medical conditions. However the prosthesis wouldn’t be able to replace the hippocampus entirely. He says, “The hippocampus is quite a large structure and they are only recording from a very small area.’

Now the team is working on ways to enhance other brain functions. Song says,”The approach is very general . If you can improve the input/output of one brain region, you could apply it to other brain regions. Good candidates for this are skills localized to particular parts of the brain, such as sensation of the outside world, vision, and how we move. Enhancing these might improve a person’s hand-eye coordination. However, cognitive functions like intelligence involve many brain regions working together so wouldn’t make good targets.

There are individuals like Kurzweil who think that their brains can be uploaded to silicon, or that direct connections can run between computers and the brain. What these individuals are ignoring is that communications must be in the language of the brain. The research presented here shows what must be done to communicate and exchange information to the brain.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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 Importance of Mind-set

November 17, 2017

This post is based on article by Sharon Jayson in the Health Section of the 4 July 2017 issue of the Washington Post titled, “Want to slow down your aging process” Mind-set can be key, oldest seniors say.

For elders, staying vital may be about more than physical or mental agility. Research has found that society’s focus on youth culture and negative stereotypes about aging prompt memory loss and stress. However, older adults who want to dispel notions of becoming feeble have growing ranks to emulate.

Warren Barger, who is 95 earned five gold medals and set a new national high-jump recored in the 95-99 age bracket at competitions held in Birmingham, Alabama. He says that his secret of life is to wake up every morning with something to do. Healthy memory blog readers should recognize this as what the Japanese call ikigai. Warren says that he thinks that some people are old because they allow themselves to get old. When people ask him how I’m able to do what I can do, he says that he never quits trying. Warren is a former insurance salesman and church music director, who plays golf and pickleball once a week and badminton twice a week. He mows his lawn, volunteers weekly at his church, and sings in the senior choir.

David Weiss, an assistant professor of sociomedical science and psychology at the Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University published a study that found that those who don’t accept the inevitability of aging can “counteract the detrimental and self-fulfilling consequences of negative age stereotypes.” He says the his research looks at why no one wants to be old. “They want to set themselves apart from the negatively viewed age group. They just want to distance themselves from stereotypes: ‘I’m just not like the stereotype. I’m different.’ Adults who believe that age is just a number showed better memory performance, but adults who believed aging is set in stone and fixed had fixed had a decrease in memory performance and a stronger stress reaction.” Readers of the healthy memory blog should recognize this as having a growth mindset about which many healthymemory blog posts have been written.

Social psychologist Becca Levy of the Yale School of Public Health said that her studies have found an increase in negative age stereotypes over the past two centuries. She said, “Part of it is due to media and marketing. An ageist culture produces many more negative stereotypes.”

Research published this year by Sarah Barber, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco University found that people blamed routine forgetfulness on their age—as in saying they had had a “senior moment”—because popular wisdom reinforces stereotypes of age-related memory decline. The negative stereotypes about aging made older adults over-attribute every day memory losses we all have to age.” Readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware that memory failures are part of being human. They occur throughout our lives, and it is a mistake to attribute them to aging. Read the healthy memory blog posts, “The Myth of Cognitivee Decline” and “More on the Myth of Cognitive Decline.”

Remember Dr. Ruth (Weistheimer) of television fame? She advises older people to “do as many things that are enjoyable to them as possible and to not sit at home and say “I’m too old to be out there.”

Carl Reiner, the 95-year old writer, comedian, director, and creator of the 1960s-era “The Dick Van Dyke Show” has written his 22nd book, “Too Busy to Die.” He is working on two more books, which are expected to be published at Thanksgiving. Reiner and his longtime friend Mel Brooks, who turned 91 on June 28, have dinner at Reiner’s house most evenings unless the comedic genius behind such classics as “Blazzing Saddles” and “The Producers” is away on business.

So, the key to successful aging is mind-set, having a growth mind-set, and having a reason to get up in the morning, ikigai, having a purpose in life. To this end HM recommends a book by Victor J. Stretcher titled “Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything.” You’ll find many healthymemoty blog posts based on this book. .

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

How to Convert Terrorists

November 16, 2017

This post is based in part on a Feature Article in the19 August 2017 issue of the New Scientist titled, “Anatomy of terror: What makes normal people extremists?” by Peter Byrne. Anthropologist Scott Atran of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Resolution of Intractable Conflicts asks the question, “What makes someone prepared to die for an idea? He suggests that the answer comes in two parts. Jihadists fuse their individual identity with that of the group, and they adhere to “sacred values.” He writes that sacred values are values that cannot be abandoned or exchanged for material gain. They tend to be associated with strong emotions and are often religious in nature, but beliefs held by nationalists and secularists may earn the label too.

Atran argues that individuals in this state are best understood, not as rational actors but as “devoted actors.” “Once they’re locked in as a devoted actor, none of the classic interventions seem to work. However, there can be openings. Although a sacred value cannot be abandoned it can be reinterpreted. Atran relates the case of an imam he interviewed who had worked for ISIS as a recruiter, but had left because he disagreed with their definition of jihad. For him, but not for them, jihadism could accommodate persuasion by non-violent means. As long as alternative interpretations are seen as coming from inside the group, they can be persuasive within it. Atran is now advising the US, UK, and French governments on the dynamics of jihadist networks to help them deal with terrorism.

Atran says that the key to combating extremism lies in addressing its social roots, and intervening early before anyone becomes a “devoted actor.” Until then there are all sorts of things that can be done. He says that one of the most effective countermeasures is community engagement. High-school football and the scouts movement have been effective responses to antisocial behavior among the disenfranchised children of US immigrants, for example.

Perspectives need to be changed. Tania Singer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany thinks brain training could achieve similar effects. Neuroscientists have identified two pathways in the brain by which we relate to others. One mobilizes empathy and compassion, allowing us to share another person’s emotions. The second activates theory of mind, enabling us to see a situation from the other’s perspective. Her group recently completed a project called ReSource in which 300 volunteers spent nine months doing training first on mindfulness, and then on compassion and perspective training, and corresponding structural brain change were detectable in MRI scans.

Tania Singer notes that compassion evolved as part of an ancient nurturing instinct that is usually reserved for kin. To extend it to strangers, who may see the world differently from us, we need to add theory of mind. The full results from ReSource aren’t yet published, but Singer expects to see brain changes associated with perspective-taking training. She says that “only if you have both pathways working together in a coordinated fashion can you really move towards global cooperation.” By incorporating that training into school curricula, she suggests, we could build a more cohesive, cooperative society that is more resilient to extremism. To all of this, healthy memory say “Amen.’

Previous healthy memory posts have argued that had the prisoners held at Guantanomo been treated differently, an understanding could have been developed that would provide the basis for a new and more compelling narrative for these supposed terrorists. Once they had been converted, mindfulness training such as that in the ReSource program might have been highly effective.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

Richard Thaler Wins the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2017

November 15, 2017

Assiduous readers of the Healthymemory blog should recognize the name from previous healthy memory blog posts. Richard Thaler is a behavioral economist. Early in his career he met up with the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman formulated Prospect Theory. Most economic models are normative. That is they describe what a rational human should do if behaving optimally. Prospect Theory explained what people actually do. The theory states that people make decisions based on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the final outcome, and that people evaluate these losses and gains using certain heuristics. The model is descriptive: it describes what people actually do. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in 2002 primarily for Prospect Theory. Unfortunately Amos Tversky had passed away and was not eligible for the prize.

Prospect Theory was the beginning of behavioral economics. In addition to describing how people actually behave in the economic realm, it develops techniques to nudge people in making good decisions. For example, making what is regarded as the best decision in a list of alternatives the default decision greatly increases the number of people who choose that option. For example, if making deductions for a pension is the default decision, that is the option most likely to be chosen.

Although it is good to know what the theoretical optimal decisions are, if the interest is in public policy, it is important to know what people will actually do. The field of behavioral economics is still young and there is much to be done. But they are working on how best to understand what people will do to better understand how to influence them to make decisions that will benefit them, individually, and society as a whole.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

Placebos Can Enhance Creativity

November 14, 2017

There have been many posts on the benefits of placebos, so it should be no surprised that they can enhance creativity. The research report can be found at PLOS One, doi.org/gbwkrd. The article was written by Liron Rosenkratz, Avraham E. Mayo, Tomer IIan, Yuval Hart, Lior Noy, and Uri Alon and published 11 September 2017.

The research participants were randomly assigned to a control group (n=45),that rated an odorant, or a placebo group (n=45) who were treated identically but who were also told that the odorant increases creativity and reduces inhibition. Participants completed a recently developed automated test for creativity, the creative foraging game (CFG), and a randomly chosen subset (n=57), also completed two manual standardized creativity tests, the alternate uses test (AUT) and the Torance Test (TTCT). In all three tests participants were asked to create as many original solutions and were scored for originality, flexibility, and fluency.

The placebo group showed higher originality than the control group both in the CFG and in the AUT, but not in the Torrance Test. The placebo also found more shapes outside the standard categories by a set of 100 CFG in a previous study.

The authors concluded that the findings indicate that a placebo can enhance the originality aspect of creativity. This strengthens the view that placebos can be used not only to reduce negative clinical symptoms, but also to enhance positive aspects of cognition. Furthermore, they found that the impact of placebo can be tested by CFG, which can quantify the multiple aspects of creative search without need for manual coding. This approach opens the way to explore the behavioral and neural mechanisms by which placebo might amplify creativity.

So these results encourage much more research into creativity. Placebos should also be used in the workplace, in the schools, and in individual pursuits. Placebo pills can be purchased on Amazon. And placebos are effective, even when people are aware that they are placebos. Research has shown that placebo pills improve symptoms in people with irritative bowel syndrome and chronic pain, even when the people know they are shams.

The placebo effect argues for a positive outlook and a can-do attitude.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

Brain Changes After Socio-affective and Cognitive Training

November 13, 2017

This post is based on an article titled “Structural plasticity of the social brain: Differential change after socio-affective and cognitive mental training” by Sofie l Valk et al. in Science Advances 04 Oct 2017, Vol 3. no.10, e1700489., dos.org/cdw7.

The objective of this study was to investigate whether targeted mental training of different cognitive and social skills can induce specific changes in the brain. They employed a 9-month mental training intervention from a large sample of adults between 20 and 55 years of age. Training protocols specifically addressed three functional domains: mindfulness-based attention and interoception, socio-affective skills (compassion dealing with difficult emotions and prosocial intervention), and socio- cognitive skills (cognitive perspective-taking on self and others and metacognition).

MRI-based cortical thickness analyses were done to see if the different training modules indicated different changes in the brain.

Training of present-moment focused attention mostly led to increases in cortical thickness in prefrontal regions. Socio-affective training induced plasticity in frontoinsular regions. Socio-cognitive training included change in inferior frontal and lateral temporal cortices.

So module-specific structural brain changes correlated with training-induced behavioral improvements in the same individuals in domain-specific measures of attention, compassion, and cognitive perspective, respectively, and overlapped with task-relevant functional networks.

The longitudinal findings indicated structural plasticity in well-known socio-affective and socio-cognitive brain networks in healthy adults based on targeted daily mental practices.

The authors rightly concluded, “These findings could promote the development of evidence-based mental training interventions in clinical, educational, and corporate settings aimed at cultivating social intelligence, prosocial motivation, and cooperation.

These findings should be replicated with school age populations. If similar results are obtained, such training should be part of the appropriate public school curricula.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

A Surprising Prediction from Some Knowledgeable Individuals

November 12, 2017

There have been many healthymemory blog posts on the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from head blows suffered playing football. Sportscaster Bob Costas, Tony Kornheiser, Michael Wilbon, and Christine Brennan were headliners at the University of Maryland’s 12th Shirley Povich Symposium. This panel touched on something that would have been difficult to imagine 14 years ago: a future without football.

Costas said that the most substantial—existential—the existential issue—is the nature of football itself. “The nature of football is this: Unless and until there is some technology which we cannot even imagine, let alone has been developed, that would make this inherently dangerous game not marginally safer but acceptably safe, the cracks in the foundation are there. The day-to-day issues, serious as they may be, they may come and go. But you cannot change the basic nature of the game. I certainly would not let, if I had an athletically gifted 12- or 13-year old sone, I would not let him play football.”

Costas rejected those who are quick to dismiss football’s concussion crisis as part of a “left-wing conspiracy to undermine something that is quintessentially American.” Costa said, “The truth is the truth,” referencing the memoir “Truth Doesn’t Have a Side,” by Bennet Omalu, the researcher credited with discovering CTE.” Costa continued, “Some of the best people I’ve met in sports have been football people, but the reality is that this game destroys people’s brains…That’s the fundamental fact of football, and to me is the biggest story in American sports.”

Kornheiser suggested that football eventually will go the way of horse racing and boxing, two other sports that once were wildly popular. “It’s not going to happen this year, and it’s not going to happen in five or 10 years, but Bob is right: At some point, the cultural wheel turns just a little bit, almost imperceptibly, and parents say, ‘I don’t want my kid to play.’ And then it becomes only the province of the poor, who want it for economic reasons to get up and out, and if they don’t find a way to make it safe—and we don’t see how they will—as great as it is, as much fun as it is…the games not going to be around. It’s not.”

The preceding was taken from as article by Scott Allen in the Sports Section of the 9 November 2017 issue of the Washington Post.

HM has argued previously that the game might be changed by making certain adjustments. One would be to put weight restrictions on the participants so that very large individuals would not have an advantage. There would also be restrictions against hard hitting in blocking or tackling. This might even lead to a faster more exciting version of the game. Players might prefer this version because it minimizes the possibility of disabling injuries. And fans might enjoy a faster, more sophisticated version of the game. The popularity of this game would depend on what really attracts people to watch. A fast moving sophisticated game, or the violence of the game.
© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

Suggestions for Improving Our Primary and Presidential Elections

November 9, 2017

HM feels guilty about providing explanations of problems without offering solutions for them. One suggestion is to submit anyone who is running for national office for background investigations. They would need to be cleared for Sensitive Compartment Information (SCI). Presidents will be dealing with Sensitive Compartmented Information, and the information members of Congress can receive is limited if they do not have this clearance.

Remember early in his presidency when Trump had Russian visitors in the Oval Office with American news media excluded. Russian news media were there and they supplied the photographs. There was video of the meeting where Trump was gushing over his Russian visitors trying to please and impress them. Later recordings had Trump bragging about firing FBI Director Comey. He also released classified information to the Russians to impress them. This release of this classified information also resulted in the compromise of intelligence from an ally. The next day the pronouncement was made that Trump had not done anything wrong. This statement was based on a technicality that the President can declassify information, and that was how he was protected. A normal individual would have lost clearance and possibly served jail time.

HM has reviewed individuals for SCI clearances. He would not have recommended granting clearance to anyone who expressed admiration of Putin. Putin is a former KGB agent who is the de facto leader of a ruthless oligarchy. He would also have not recommended granting clearance to anyone as emotionally unstable as Trump. He has a textbook case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and it gets worse from there.

The second recommendation is in setting rigorous standards for debates. The Republican debates were modeled after professional wrestling. The Republicans were happy because the ratings were high. Trump’s boorish and childish behavior, calling people names, precluded any rational debate on the issues. Rational debates would have resulted in the nomination of a candidate well-qualified for the office.

The Democrats made a mistake in agreeing to debate Trump. First of all, they should have made Trump’s releasing his tax returns as a precondition for a debate. Secondly, they should have demanded standards of decorum for the debate.

Civility must be brought back into politics. People who like professional wrestling should stick to professional wrestling and stay out of politics.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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 Cognitive Science Tells Us About Trump

November 6, 2017

The immediately preceding post reviews three effects from Cognitive Science that explain much of what and why Donald Trump does. The first is the Dunning-Kruger Effect which states people tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. And this is because people who are unskilled in the domain suffer a dual burden: not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. It is clear that Trump could not pass a high school civics test. He is a president who has no idea how government works. He thought he could get things done by firing and threatening to fire people. It worked on his show so he is surprised that it does not work in government. There are three independent branches of government. He has control of only one. He is also the leader of the Republican Party. But party members cannot be ordered to do something; they must be convinced that it is in their and their constituents interest. To do this requires some knowledge of the laws and policies he is advocating. He is very short on knowledge, and his opinions vary over time

He has also said that he does not need advisers, that he knows what needs to be done and he’ll do it. He had his cabinet members sing his praises for what he had done when he had not done anything. This is something that is done in North Korea, not the United States. The President needs to understand many different and complex topics. That he thinks he can operate on his own without advisers shows the depth of his ignorance. He needs advice, good advice, but he is woefully unaware of his own ignorance.

Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition is also relevant here. System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes. Trump rarely, if ever, uses System 2. Indeed, one doubts that he is capable of System 2 processing. He works almost exclusively in the emotional, System 1, domain. So he is unaware when he contradicts himself. It is somewhat ironic, but this is also the basis of his success. Too many citizens never use System 2 processes and work almost exclusively on what they feel in their guts. In this sense, they are simpatico with Trump.

Then there is classical conditioning that Pavlov found with his salivating dogs. He paired the ringing of a bell with the presentation of food. The dogs became conditioned, so that they salivated just upon hearing the bell. Whomever or whatever Trump does not like he attacks with names that become conditioned to the targets of his attacks. “Crooked Hillary,” “Little Marco,” “faux news.” These terms continue to be used over and over. This is how “Big Lies” work.

These factors make Trump the worst president this country has ever suffered, and we can only hope and pray that our country will survive.

Should anyone wonder why this post, which is apparently political, is in the healthy memory blog is because System 2 processing is essential for a healthy memory. It is also important for an effective democracy.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

Hillary’s High Negatives

November 3, 2017

Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote. Unfortunately, she lost the Electoral College and hence, the presidency. It is interesting that the primary justification for the Electoral College was to prevent a political unknown who did not understand how government worked from being elected. Well, that happened, so it seems that the justification for the Electoral College is gone. So let’s go to a popular election where all citizens’ votes count. There is no justification for the votes of citizens in lowly populated states counting for more than votes of citizens in highly populated states. The argument that politicians will not campaign there is irrelevant. They should campaign where most voters reside. Every state gets two senators so small states already have a disproportionally heavier weight in Congress.

The continual drumbeat throughout the election was that Hillary had high negatives. Now some voters did resent Hillary trying to drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. They are certainly entitled to their opinion, but the failure to modernize will ultimately have disastrous effects. But many seemed to have a seething rage and could not articulate why. A explanation can be found by adding one psychological effect to the Dunning-Kruger Effect and Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition that were discussed in the immediately preceding post. The following is repeated from the immediately preceding post, ““people tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. And this is because people who are unskilled in the domain suffer a dual burden: not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.” Here is how Dunning explained in “Politico” why so many people seemed untroubled by Trump’s ignorance or gaffes. “Many voters, “especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognize those gaffes as missteps.” He noted that the problem was not simply that voters were ignorant, “it is that they are often misinformed—their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship…”

According to Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition, System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.

So the answer to why are so many people willing to believe is that they believe fake news because they wanted to and because it was easy. Ideally we might assume that people want to seek out information that is true, but this is a basic misunderstanding of the human psyche, which feels more comfortable with familiar information or stories that confirm their biases. Kahneman refers to this as “cognitive ease,” the process by which we avoid and resist inconvenient facts that might make us have to think harder. It is much, much easier to bask in a flow of information that tells us that we have been right all along and confirms our view of the world. So many of these facts are so outlandish that it is hard to understand how they can possibly be believed. Cognitive ease is further confounded by the Dunning-Krueger Effect, as more and more false information simply increases the feeling that one truly knows and this can and does build into the construction of alternative (false) realities.

HM’s personal favorite faux belief about Hillary was that she was running a sex ring using children in Washington. Someone even showed up at the place where this sex ring was supposedly being run with a rifle and shot at people.

The other relevant psychological effect is classical conditioning. Most people have heard about Pavlov’s salivating dogs. By pairing a bell with food, the dog’s learn to salivate at the sound of the bell alone. By pairing something bad with the name “Hillary Clinton” negative connotations and denotations are planted in the mind. Hence, high negatives are created. As System 1 is emotional and not cognitive it provides an explanation of negative feelings that could not be articulated. Social media, aided and abetted by Russia had an especially large effect here.

The final paragraph from the preceding post is also relevant here. Social psychology also plays an important role here. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes the power of tribalism in shaping our ideas. He wrote in “The Righteous Mind,” Once people join a political team they get ensnared in its moral matrix. They see confirmation of their grand narrative everywhere, and it’s difficult—perhaps impossible—to convince them that they are wrong if you argue with them outside the matrix. Political Scientist Don Kinder writes that political opinions become “badges of social membership.”

A majority of citizens did vote for Hillary, but they were not rewarded with her winning the presidency. This is especially unfortunate as many believe that she was the most qualified candidate who ever ran for the presidency. And these people could actually articulate their reasons.

Should anyone wonder why this post, which is apparently political, is in the healthy memory blog is because System 2 processing is essential for a healthy memory. It is also important for an effective democracy.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.