Archive for March, 2019

The Role of Artificial Intelligence

March 31, 2019

This is the fourth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Companies like Facebook and Google use artificial intelligence (AI) to build behavioral prediction engines that anticipate our thoughts and emotions based on patterns found in the vast amount of data they have accumulated about users. Users of likes, posts, shares, comments, and Groups have taught Facebook’s AI how to monopolize our attention. As a result, Facebook can offer advertisers exceptionally high-quality targeting.

This battle for attention requires constant innovation. In the early days of the internet the industry learned that a user adapts to predictable ad layouts, skipping over them without registering any of the content. There’s a tradeoff when it comes to online ads. Although it is easy to see that the right person is seeing the ad, it is much harder to make sure that the person is paying attention to the ad. The solution to the latter problem is to maximize the time users spend on the platform. If users devote only a small percentage of attention to the ads they see, then they try to monopolize as much of the users’ attention as possible. So Facebook as well as other platforms add new content formats and products to stimulate more engagement. Text was enough at the outset. Next came photos, then mobile. Video is the current frontier. Facebook also introduces new products such as Messenger and, soon, dating. To maximize profits, Facebook and other platforms hide the data on the effectiveness of ads.

Platforms prevent traditional auditing practices by providing less-than-industry-standard visibility. Consequently advertisers say, “I know half my ad spending is wasted; I just don’t know which half. Nevertheless, platform ads work well enough that advertisers generally spend more every year. Search ads on Google offer the clearest payback, but brand ads on other platforms are much harder to measure. But advertisers need to put their message in front of prospective customers, regardless of where they are. When user gravitate from traditional media to the internet, the ad dollars follow them. Platforms do whatever they can to maximize daily users’ time on site.

As is known from psychology and persuasive technology, unpredictable, variable rewards stimulate behavioral addiction. Like buttons, tagging, and notifications trigger social validation loops. So users do not stand a chance. We humans have evolved a common set of responses to certain stimuli that can be exploited by technology. “Flight or fight” is one example. When presented with visual stimuli, such as vivid colors, red is a trigger color—or a vibration agains the skin near our pocket that signals a possible enticing reward, the body responds in predictable ways, such as a faster heartbeat and the release of dopamine are meant to be momentary responses that increase the odds of survival in a life-or-death situation. Too much of this kind of stimulation is bad for all humans, but these effects are especially dangerous in children and adolescents. The first consequences include lower sleep quality, an increase in stress, anxiety, depression, and inability to concentrate, irritability, and insomnia. Some develop a fear of being separated from their phone.
Many users develop problems relating to and interacting with people. Children get hooked on games, texting, Instagram, and Snapchat that change the nature of human experience. Cyberbullying becomes easy over social media because when technology mediates human relationships, the social cues and feedback loops that might normally cause a bully to experience shunning or disgust by their peers are not present.

Adults get locked into filter bubbles. Wikipedia defines filter bubbles as “a state of intellectual isolation that can result from personalized searches when a website algorithms selectively guesses what information a user would like to see.

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Brexit

March 30, 2019

This is the third post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” The United Kingdom voted to exit the European Union in June 2016. Many posts have been written regarding how Russia used social media, including Facebook, to push Trump in the voting so that he won the Electoral College (but not the popular vote which was won by his opponent by more than 3 million votes).

The Brexit vote came as a total shock. Polling data had suggested that “Remain” would win over “Leave” by about four points. Precisely the opposite happened, and no one could explain the huge swing. A possible explanation occurred to Roger. “What if Leave had benefited from Facebook’s architecture? The Remain campaign was expected to win because the UK had a sweet deal with the European Union: it enjoyed all the benefits of membership, while retaining its own currency. London was Europe’s undisputed financial hub, and UK citizens could trade and travel freely across the open borders of the continent. Remain’s “stay the course” message was based on smart economics but lacked emotion. Leave based its campaign on two intensely emotional appeals. It appealed to ethnic nationalism by blaming immigrants for the country’s problems, both real and imaginary. It also promised that Brexit would generate huge savings that would be used to improve the National Health Service, an idea that allowed voters to put an altruistic shine on an otherwise xenophobic proposal.” So here is an example of Facebook exploiting System 1 processes that was explained in the immediately preceding post.

Roger writes, “The stunning outcome of Brexit triggered a hypothesis: in an election context, Facebook may confer advantages to campaign messages based on fear or anger over those based on neutral or positive emotions. It does this because Facebook’s advertising business model depends on engagement, which can best be triggered through appeals to our most basic emotions. What I did not know at the time is that while joy also works which is why puppy and cat videos and photos of babies are so popular, not everyone reacts the same way to happy content. Some people get jealous, for example. ‘Lizard brain’ emotions such as fear and anger produce a more uniform reaction and are more viral in a mass audience. When users are riled up, they consume and share more content. Dispassionate users have relatively little value to Facebook, which does everything in its power to activate the lizard brain. Facebook has used surveillance to build giant profiles on every user.”

The objective is to give users what they want, but the algorithms are trained to nudge user attention in directions that Facebook wants. These algorithms choose posts calculated to press emotional buttons because scaring users or pissing them off increases time on site. Facebook calls it engagement when users pay attention, but the goal is behavior modification that makes advertising more valuable. At the time the book was written, Facebook is the fourth most valuable company in America, despite being only fifteen years old, and its value stems from its mastery of surveillance and behavioral modification.
So who was using Facebook to manipulate the vote? The answer is Russia. Just as they wanted to elect Trump president. Russia used the Ukraine as a proving ground for their disruptive technology on Facebook. Russia wanted to breakup the EU, of which Great Britain was a prominent part. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs has found that Russia is responsible for 80% of disinformation activity in Europe. One of Russia’s central goals is to break up alliances.

Zucking

March 29, 2019

This is the second post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Roger writes, “Zuck created Facebook to bring the world together.’ What he did not know when he met Zuck, but that he eventually discovered was that Zuck’s idealism was unbuffered by realism or empathy. Zuck seems to have assumed that everyone would view and use Facebook the way he did, not imagining how easily the platform could be exploited to cause harm. He did not believe in data privacy and did everything he could to maximize disclosure and sharing. Roger writes that Zuck operated the company as if every problem could be solved with more or better code. “He embraced invasive surveillance, careless sharing of private data, and behavior modification in pursuit of unprecedented scale and influence. Surveillance, the sharing of user data, and behavioral modification are the foundation of Facebook’s success. Users are fuel for Facebook’s growth and, in some cases, the victims of it.”

The term “behavioral modification” is used here in a different sense than how it is usually meant. Typically behavioral modification is used to modify or eliminate undesirable behaviors, such as smoking. Although sometimes this involves the use of painful stimuli, there are effective techniques that avoid aversive stimuli.

The behavioral modification involved in Zucking can best be understood in terms of Kahneman’s two process view of cognition. The two process view of cognition provides a means of understanding both how we can process information so quickly and why cognition fails and is subject to error. There are several two systems views of cognition, all of which share the same basic ideas. Perhaps the most noteworthy two system view is that of Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahenman.

System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process typically requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions.

System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through.

Zuck’s behavioral modification involves System 1 processing almost exclusively. System 1 is largely emotional and involves little, if any thinking. “Likes” are largely emotional responses. People like something because it is something they agree with and invokes a favorable emotional response. Similarly, when someone accesses a site, it is most likely a site that they like and have a favorable response.

Facebook collects the data to send users to sites that they like and are interested in. Most of this processing occurs at a non conscious level so users are not conscious that they are being manipulated. But they are being manipulated which can lead to poor decisions. Moreover, they are directed to like-minded individuals, so there is minimal chance that they will know about different opinions and different ideas.

This behavior that is being modified is all beneficial to Facebook. Facebook wants to keep users on Facebook as long as possible. This results in increased ad revenues for Facebook. The critical resource here is attention. And Facebook’s procedures are extremely effective at capturing and keeping attention.

© 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.

Zucked

March 28, 2019

The title of this post is the first part of a title of an important book by Roger McNamee. The remainder of the title is “Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Roger McNamee is a longtime tech investor and tech evangelist. He was an early advisor to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. To his friends Zuckerberg is known as “Zuck.” McNamee was an early investor in Facebook and he still owns shares.

The prologue begins with a statement made by Roger to Dan Rose, the head of media partnerships at Facebook on November 9, 2016, “The Russians used Facebook to tip the election!” One day early in 2016 he started to see things happening on Facebook that did not look right. He started pulling on that thread and uncovered a catastrophe. In the beginning, he assumed that Facebook was a victim and he just wanted to warn friends. What he learned in the months that followed shocked and disappointed him. He learned that his faith in Facebook had been misplaced.

This book is about how Roger became convinced that even though Facebook provided a compelling experience for most of its users, it was terrible for America and needed to change or be changed, and what Roger tried to do about it. This book will cover what Roger knows about the technology that enables internet platforms like Facebook to manipulate attention. He explains how bad actors exploit the design of Facebook and other platforms to harm and even kill innocent people. He explains how democracy has been undermined because of the design choices and business decisions by controllers of internet platforms that deny responsibility for the consequences of their actions. He explains how the culture of these companies cause employees to be indifferent to the negative side effects of their success. At the time the book was written, there was nothing to prevent more of the same.

Roger writes that this is a story about trust. Facebook and Google as well as other technology platforms are the beneficiaries of trust and goodwill accumulated over fifty years of earlier generations of technology companies. But they have taken advantage of this trust, using sophisticated techniques to prey on the weakest aspects of human psychology, to gather and exploit private data, and to craft business models that do not protect users from harm. Now users must learn to be skeptical about the products they love, to change their online behavior, insist that platforms accept responsibility for the impact of their choices, and push policy makers to regulate the platforms to protect the public interest.

Roger writes, “It is possible that the worst damage from Facebook and the other internet platforms is behind us, but that is not where the smart money will place its bet. The most likely case is that technology and the business model of Facebook and others will continue to undermine democracy, public health, privacy, and innovations until a countervailing power, in the form of government intervention or user protest, forces change.

Free Exchange | Replacebook

March 27, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a piece in the Finance & Economics section of the 16 February 2019 issue of “The Economist.” The article notes, “There has never been such an agglomeration of humanity as Facebook. Some 2.3bn people, 30% of the world’s population engage with the network each month.” It describes an experiment in which researchers kicked a sample of people off Facebook and observed the results.

In January, Hunt Allcott, of New York University, and Luca Braghiere, Sarah Eichmeyer and and Matthew Gentzkow, of Stanford University, published results of the largest such experiment yet. They recruited several thousand Facebookers and sorted them into control and treatment groups. Members of the treatment group were asked to deactivate their Facebook profiles for four weeks in late 2018. The researchers checked up on their volunteers to make sure they stayed off the social network, and then studied the results.

On average, those booted off enjoyed an additional hour of free time. They tended not to redistribute their liberated minutes to other websites and social networks, but instead watched more television and spent time with friends and family. They consumed much less news, and were consequently less aware of events but also less polarized in their views about them than those still on the network. Leaving Facebook boosted self-reported happiness and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety.

Several weeks after the deactivation period, those who had been off Facebook spent 23% less time on it than those who never left, and 5% of the forced leavers had yet to turn their accounts back on. And the amount of money subjects were willing to accept to shut off their accounts for another four weeks was 13% lower after the month off than it had been before.

In previous posts HM has made the point that our attentional resources are limited, and that they should not be wasted. HM has also recommended quitting Facebook and similar accounts. Of course, this is a personal question regarding how each of us uses πour attentional resources. They key point is to be cognizant that our precious attentional resources are limited and to spend them wisely and not waste them.

© 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.

We Need to Take Tech Addiction Seriously

March 26, 2019

The title of this post is the same as an article by psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee in the 19 March 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The World Health Organization has recognized Internet gaming as a diagnosable addiction. Dr. Dodgen-Magee argues that psychologists and other mental-health professionals must begin to acknowledge that technology use has the potential to become addictive and impact individuals and communities. Sometime the consequences are dire.

She writes that the research is clear, that Americans spend most of their waking hours interacting with screens. Studies from a nonprofit group Common Sense Media indicate that U.S. teens average approximately nine hours per day with digital media, tweens spend six hours and our youngest, ages zero to 8, spend 2.5 hours daily in front of a screen. According to research by the Nielsen Company, the average adult in the United States spends more than 11 hours a day in the digital world. Dr. Dodgen-Magee claims that when people invest this kind of time in any activity, we must at least start to ask what it means for their mental health.

Both correlational and causal relationships have been established between tech use and various mental-health conditions. Research at the University of Pittsburgh found higher rates of depression and anxiety among young adults who engage many social media platforms than those who engage only two. Jean Twenge found that the psychological development of adolescents is slowing down and depression, anxiety and loneliness, which she attributes to tech engagement are on the rise. Multitasking, a behavior that technology encourages and reinforces is consistently correlated with poor cognitive and mental-health outcomes. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have published the first experimental data linking decreased well-being to Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram use in young adults. Dr. Dodgen-Magee concludes that our technology use is affecting our psychological functioning.

The author has been examining the interplay between technology and mental health for close to two decades. She finds that while technology can do incredible things for us in nearly every area of life, it is neither all good nor benign.

The author writes that when the mental-health community resists fully exploring the costs associated with constant tech interaction, it leaves those struggling with compulsive or potentially harmful use of their devices few places to turn. She continues that recently a woman scheduled a consultation with her because she was concerned about her inability to focus. She was a self-described Type A personality who found herself simultaneously interacting with three or four screens for nearly 20 hours a day, determined to stay on top of every demand. When it came time for her biannual revision of an important procedural manual, she couldn’t focus on the single tasks for the time to do it effectively. She is not the only individual with this problem.

She writes that consequently our attention spans are short. Our ability to focus on one task at a time is impaired. And our boredom tolerance is nil. People now rely on the same devices that drive so much of our anxiety and alienation for both stimulation and soothing. While, for many people, these changes will never move into the domain of addiction, for others they already have. In a recent Common Sense Media poll, 50% of adolescents reported already feeling that their use had become addictive and 27% of parents reported the same.

She writes, “If Americans were interacting with anything else for 11-plus hours a day, I feel confident we’d be talking more about how that interaction shapes us. Mental-health professionals must begin to educate themselves about the digital pools in which their clients swim and learn about the impact of excessive technology use on human development and functioning. It is too easy for therapists to assume that everyone’s engagement with the digital domain looks just their own and to go merrily from there. We would serve our client well by understanding the unique way in which many platforms encourage addictive pattens and behaviors. We should also create non-shaming environments in which they can candidly explore how their tech use impacts them.

It’s time to put our phones down and begin an informed conversation about how technology is impacting our mental health. Our clients’ health and the well-being of our communities may depend on it.”

Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk

March 25, 2019

What does this title mean? What are the criteria for comparing Donald Trump to a Buddhist Monk? In terms of financial wealth there is certainly no comparison. In terms of power there is no comparison. But what about happiness and personal satisfaction?

Previous posts have suggested that Trump suffers from the psychotic condition known as delusional order. In other words, he lives in his own reality and ignores objective truth. And whenever he confronts objective reality that he does not like, he lashes out. So if someone does something that displeases him, he lashes out with personal insults. Whenever he encounters news or someone says something that threatens his personal reality, he denies it. So he claims that there is false news and that the investigations involving him are witch hunts.

Now consider the Buddhist monk. He lives humbly and eats a small, healthy diet. He spends his time meditating, praying, and providing helpful services to his fellow humans. He tries to love all his fellow humans, even those who are obvious enemies who would want to hurt him. He works to control his thoughts and emotions. Through this he achieves peace within himself and good feelings towards his fellow humans.

Although it might not be immediately apparent, the Buddhist Monk is living a happier and more fulfilling life than Trump. Trump’s objectives are to keep acquiring personal wealth, which is a matter of ego satisfaction. This a never ending quest to win every encounter, which is impossible. Trump has no empathy towards his fellow humans. Even his charity was a scam to benefit him.

It is almost a virtual certainty that physical examinations would reveal that the monk is healthier than Trump, and that a psychological examination would reveal that the monk is happier and leads a more fulfilling life than Trump (Trump being the nominal leader of the United States notwithstanding).

© 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.

Living with the Modes

March 24, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of the final chapter in book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” This chapter contains some key points.

You might notice that you typically operate in one mode for short-term interactions and another for long-term interactions. It might make sense to operate in Adaptor Mode for immediate problems or social interactions, and in Mover Mode, when dealing with long-term problems or social interactions. Or one might find that different circumstances indicate different modes. For example, a person comfortable with Mover Mode at work may be most comfortable in Adaptor Mode at home, and a person who typically operates in Stimulator Mode with friends may find that Perceiver Mode works better with a mate.

It is also important to realize that the fact of operating in a particular mode does not guarantee that you will be effective in it. Effectiveness depends, in part, on how much you know about the relevant material (and hence how well you can classify and interpret the situation using your bottom brain) and how well you can formulate and carry out plans (and hence how well you can respond to an anticipate unfolding events, using your top brain—relying in part on information from your bottom brain).

At a minimum it is hoped that these Top Brain, Bottom Brain posts will provide some personal insights, and that it will help in interacting with others in different situations and in forming groups and teams. Of course, these posts cannot do justice to the book that they are drawn from, so please read the book by Kosslyn and Miller should this topic peak your interests.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

March 23, 2019

This is the seventh post in series of post based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” The MBTI is the bane of most psychologists. Once people know that you are a psychologist, it is not unlikely that they will expound on the marvels of the MBTI. Moreover, it is used in some Intelligence Agencies. According to one estimate, about 2.5 million people a year take the test. So HM never resists the opportunity to set people straight on the MBTI.

The MBTI is scored on four dichotomous dimensions:

Extraversion vs. Introversion, which focuses on what sort of activities energize a person: Extraverts draw energy from interacting with others and are dampened down when they spend a lot of time alone; the opposite is true for introverts.

Sensing versus Intuition, which focuses on what a person prefers to pay attention to: Sensing types are very concrete, preferring factual material that is predigested and handed to them instead of material that requires them to abstract and organize meaning to distill underlying principles; the opposite is true for intuitive types.

Thinking versus Feeling, which focuses on decision-making preferences: Thinking types are logical, systematic and relatively detached when making decisions; feeling types are more inclined to rely on emotional considerations and to strive for overall “harmony.”

Judging versus Perception, which focuses on preferences for how to act in the world at large: Judging types like to plan and organize; perceiving types prefer to be open to new possibilities as they arise.

On the face of it these dimensions seem reasonable, and it is clear why this test has intuitive appeal.

But

The test was not developed by psychologists, statisticians, or any type of professional. Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myer Briggs began to develop this test during WW2 as a tool to help women discover which wartime jobs would be most comfortable and appropriate for them. The test MBTI was the tool. Here are the problems:

It is not based on science; instead, it largely grew out of Jung’s theory of psychoanalysis, which he formulated on the basis of intuition and clinical observations.

Some of the assumptions that underlie the test appear to be contradicted by scientific findings. For example, the MBTI is scored as if “intuition” is distinct from “feeling”—but much evidence now indicates that emotion often underlies hunches.

When items are analyzed so that the underlying factors can be discovered, the results do not correspond to the four dimensions posited by the theory.

When scores are analyzed, they do not cluster around the middle of the dimensions.

in spite of the fact that the test developers stressed that their test is designed to assess preference and not abilities, researchers have examined whether scores predict performance—and they do not consistently do so. Moreover, when they do predict performance, this may be a consequence of the correlation between the MBTI scores and other measures.

Numerous researchers have found that the test has poor reliability. Test takers often get a different score when they take the test a second time.

In addition to the MBTI the authors of “Top Brain, Bottom Brain” also debunk a view of personality that focuses on the anatomical distinctions between the left and right halves of the brain. Although there are differences, under normal circumstance the two halves do interact, and way too much has be made of this theory.

Social Prosthetic Systems

March 22, 2019

This is the sixth post in series of posts based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” When we don’t have the ability or skill to do something we need to do, we should turn to someone (or something) else for help. Sometimes there is a reluctance to ask for help. The authors recommendation is to overcome a reluctance to ask for help. Then the question is to whom, exactly, should we reach out to. The answers can be found in the principles of what the authors call social prosthetic systems, a name coined by drawing an analogy to physical prosthetic systems. Should we lose a leg, we would rely on a prosthesis to walk. The prosthesis makes up for shortcomings allowing one either to accomplish a task or to better accomplish a task or achieve an objective. Whenever we use a calculator we are using a cognitive prosthesis.

The authors note that the Internet has evolved into what can be called the mother of all cognitive prosthesis—the place many of us turn, typically via Google and other search engines to find facts, directions, images, translations, calendars, and more. We store personal data and cherished memories in the cloud, from which they can easily be retrieved. James Gleick, author of “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood”, calls the many billions of pages that constitute the Internet “the global prosthetic brain.”

The authors note that this statement is not quite correct. The Internet is a vast memory, but less useful as a tool of reasoning—especially when emotion is involved. Despite its informational power, the Internet is of limited use when we need wise advice to help us navigate a thorny situation. The main cognitive prosthesis we rely on for such help is not software or machines, but other people: individuals who can help us extend our intelligence and discover and regulate our emotions. In the lingo of the healthy memory blog, these social prosthetic systems are part of Transactive Memory. There is an entire category of posts labeled Transactive Memory. Transactive Memory is memory that cannot be accessed directly from our brains. Paper, technology, and our fellow humans constitute Transactive Memory. So these Social Prosthetic Systems are part of Transactive Memory.

As the senior author defined it in his first paper on the idea, social prosthetic systems are “human relationships that extend one’s emotional or cognitive capacities. In such systems, other people serve as prosthetic devices, filling in shortcomings in an individual’s cognitive or emotional abilities.” The authors note that with the possible exception of a committed hermit, every person belongs to one or more of these systems.

The authors present an example of our being in an emotionally fraught situation—on the verge of breaking up with a spouse or partner. “Your partner complains that you work too much, and you feel trapped between the requirements of your job and your desire to maintain the relationship. You would probably not want to seek the counsel of someone who typically operates in Stimulator or Adaptor mode. A person operating in Stimulator Mode might simply offer a knee-jerk reaction, perhaps giving you the first idea that springs to mind (“Maybe you just need to explain why your job is so important to you”) and a person operating in Adaptor Mode might try to minimize the issue (“Life has its ups and downs—if you wait awhile this will probably get better”). So that would leave you with the choice of counsel from someone who typically operates in Mover Move or Perceiver Mode. And that choice would depend in part on your goals for the outcome. If you wanted strategic help on how to handle the situation, the theory suggests the person in Mover Mode would be the most appropriate (perhaps suggesting ways to achieve more work/life balance by avoiding work on weekends). But if you wanted reflection on how you were actually feeling, and on what you wanted and needed, the person who typically operates in Perceiver Mode might be more helpful (listening as you try to sort out why you feel so torn). Putting this together, you might want to seek counsel from two separate people to garner the benefits of both kinds of input. Thus informed, you could more wisely make decisions.

Personal Examples of the Adaptor Mode

March 21, 2019

This is the fifth post in series of post based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” Elizabeth Taylor was a consummate actress who was highly successful as an actress. But when it came to personal relationships, she behaved as if she regularly operated in the Adaptor Mode.

When Taylor was eighteen, she married Conrad Hilton, Jr. He had a reputation as an obnoxious and abusive drunk. He was given to extreme mood shifts and was a notorious womanizer. Taylor married Hilton in 1950 and in January 1951, less than one year later, he became Taylor’s ex-husband number one.

After dating several men, in 1952 Taylor married Michael Wilding, an English actor who had been married before and was subject to dramatic shifts of mood. They had two children, but she quickly grew dissatisfied with him and began seeing other men, one of whom was Michael Todd, who had been married twice and whose volatile temper was legendary. He was killed in a plane crash before they had a chance to marry. Eddie Fisher was her next husband whom she married in 1959. On the set of the movie Cleopatra, released in 1963, Taylor became involved with Richard Burton. Burton was an alcoholic, philanderer, and abuser—the worst qualities of Taylor’s previous husbands. They married in 1964. By 1973, Taylor had had enough. She separated from Burton and they divorced the next year. In October 1975 they got back together and walked down the aisle again. In 1976 Taylor left Burton for the last time. She had two more marriages. both of which ended in divorce, and what the authors say was a degree of happiness—though not necessarily late-life wisdom.
One can regard Taylor as an excessive adaptor.

Thus far all personal examples of the modes are of famous people. In the absence of further examples of adaptors the authors created a character named Nick: a man in his late twenties they designed to illustrate what it means to think and act in the Adaptor Mode.

On the way to work,when he becomes stuck in traffic he relaxes and listens to his iPod. He doesn’t think to call his foreman to let him know that he’s stuck in traffic. His bottom brain does not lead him to see the broader implications of his current situation (its effects on other people such as his foreman), nor does he take advantage of the time to use his top brain to make plans about things that really matter to him. The authors write, “Instead the immediate situation is driving his agenda, as we expect is typical of people who are operating in Adaptor Mode. His top brain is not formulating complex or detailed plans that would guide his thought or behavior; instead, he waits for external guidance about what to do next.”

At work his foreman gives him a special assignment, he wants him to take a new apprentice under his wing. Nick knows what this will entail babysitting. There are plenty of other electricians with more experience who could handle the job. The authors note that the foreman has not asked Nick; he’s ordered him, and although Nick might win the battle if he pushed back hard (the foreman values him as one of the best workers), he decides it’s not worth it. He reasons that the order is not totally unreasonable, good relations with the boss count for a lot.

Nick is agreeable and usually does what the other person wants rather than what he would like to do. His childhood dream was to become a firefighter. He could enroll in an EMT course, join a volunteer fire company, or apply for the fire academy. This would be difficult, but he could probably manage while still keeping his day job and remaining a good dad.

But pursuing his old dream required detailed, long-range planning. Right now, it seems too much to undertake. Overall, life is pretty good as it is. Why rock the boat?

This section ends as follows: “Being in Adaptor Mode has some clear advantages. When you relax, you really relax—you don’t fret about the future or obsess about the past. Moreover, because you very likely are easy to get along with in this mode, other people often enjoy your company. The downside, according to our theory, is that you can be buffeted by the world around you—and that can be detrimental. As psychologists showed long ago, animals that have some control over their environment experience less stress (and fewer ulcers) than animals that are always on the receiving end, having no such control.”

If you have not tested yourself to see if you are classified in the Adapter Mode, go to the the first post in this series “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.”

Personal Examples of Stimulator Mode

March 20, 2019

This is the fourth post in the series of posts based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” During the Vietnam War Abbie Hoffman was the Cofounder of the Youth International Party (Yippies). Hoffman organized marches, sit-ins, and demonstrations and by October 1967 was deeply involved in planning two days of actions at the Lincoln Memorial and outside the Pentagon. Preparations included obtaining a permit, which set a limit of 32 hours for the demonstrations. By the time that deadline arrived, organizers had achieved their primary objective, national coverage of their cause. Many began to leave, but Hoffman and others stayed on into a second morning—and were arrested. The authors note that this was pointless as the protest had already succeeded, and counterproductive for Hoffman, whose time would have been better spent planning the next action, not trying to free himself from the criminal justice system. The authors write, “With his long and intensive involvement in protests, Hoffman had repeatedly experienced the potential consequences—but he behaved like someone who did not engage in bottom-brain thinking as deeply as he should have.”

In 1968 Hoffman played a major role in planning demonstrations using his top brain. In the weeks leading up to the Democratic national convention Hoffman oversaw production of tens of thousands of leaflets, posters, and buttons urging antiwar protestors to join him in Chicago for the convention. He helped coordinate news coverage. He reached out to speakers and musicians and he presided over weekly meetings.

His work paid off: Thousands were on hand that August 28, when the Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey as their presidential candidate. With the world’s journalists present, Hoffman had his biggest platform yet and a chance to make a powerful statement. But he did not think of the consequences for writing the F-word in lipstick on his forehead when he dressed that morning. But the consequence was one that many would predict. Police arrested him for thirteen hours. Hoffman missed the demonstration that would become one of the iconic protests of the 1960s, and he stood trial as one of the Chicago Seven, which was a long court ordeal that effectively removed him from the leadership of the movement.

When he emerged from hiding as a fugitive he wrote, “It’s mind boggling, but being a fugitive I’ve seen the way normal people live and it’s made me realize just how wrong I was in the past. I’ve grown up too. You know how it is when you’re young and not in control. I’d like to go back to school and learn how to be a credit to the community…Age takes its toll but it teaches wisdom.” The authors conclude, “In his later years, Hoffman showed signs of having developed the ability to think in Perceiver Mode at least some of the time.”

The authors write, “What better contemporary example could we use to illustrate the characteristics of operating in the Stimulator mode than Sarah Palin, onetime vice presidential candidate, former governor of Alaska, and continuing presence in American culture?” Palin moves through life, formulating and carrying out plans. But it appears that, like Hoffman, she often does not adequately register the consequences and adjust her plans accordingly. As a vice-presidential candidate she presented a folksy, budget-cutting fiscal conservative and demanded instant attention. Voters who were wary of politicians who waste taxpayer dollars applauded this governor who had pared Alaskan state construction spending, sold the the gubernatorial debt, and refused to be reimbursed for her hotel stays.

However during the campaign, she and her family accepted $150,00 worth of designer outfits and accessories from Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdale’s. She indulged in an expensive makeup consultation—a spending spree that stood in stark contrast to her image as a Kmart-shopping mom.

In March 2010 she posted on her Facebook page pictures of gun crosshairs that “targeted” Democratic members of Congress for defeat. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was one on whom she had place gun crosshairs. On 8 January Rep. Giffords was tragically shot and seriously injured. She is still recovering from her injuries. Palin is one of the favorite targets for the satire of the Capitol Steps.

If you have not tested yourself to see if you are classified in the Stimulator Mode, go to the the first post in this series “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.”

Personal Examples of Perceiver Mode

March 19, 2019

This is the third post in series of posts based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” The chapter begins, “The nineteenth century poet Emily Dickinson illustrates well the characteristics of operating in Perceiver Mode—the mode of thinking and behaving in which people deeply engage in observing and analyzing their surroundings and circumstances (using the bottom brain) but tend not implement complex or detailed plans (using the top brain). She lived day to day with no career ambitions, sometime entertaining friends, but mostly reading and writing poems that she made little effort to have published.

She was a devoted gardener, and she loved her time with flowers, bees, and butterflies, from which she drew insights that informed her poetry. She wrote poems about the brain. This is poem number 632, she did not title her works.

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—

The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
As Sponges—Buckets—do—

Science was not Dickinson’s abiding passion. She found her greatest themes observing nature, in the changes of season and day, in the cycles of life and death. This would characterize someone for whom the Perceiver Mode was the typical way of thinking and behaving. Of the hundreds of poems Dickinson wrote about the natural world, the authors found the following poem one that nicely captures both her talent and her wisdom, presumably gleaned through deep utilization of her bottom brain.

Nay—Nature is heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Seas—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is—
To her simplicity.

The authors write, “If the Theory of Cognitive Modes is correct, then people who typically think and behave in Perceiver Mode will not ordinarily seek publicity. Still, some have achieved prominence without aggressively seeking it. History has shown that spiritual and religious figures who have helped make sense of human existence can attract large followings. Although they do not engage in self-serving campaigns, their ideas compel others.

The Dalai Lama fits that description (There are thirty-one healthy memory posts on the Dalai Lama).

The authors write, “One could argue that a person who typically thinks in Perceiver Mode is better suited to bringing a deeper perspective to human existence than is usually offered by someone who generally thinks in one of the other three modes.”

The Dalai Lama writes in “Compassion and the Individual”:
“It is possible to divide every kind of happiness and suffering into two main categories: mental and physical. Of the two, it is the mind that exerts the greatest influence on most of us. Unless we are either gravely ill or deprived of basic necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role in life. If the body is content, we virtually ignore it, The mind, however, registers every event, no matter how small. Hence we should devote most of out serious efforts to bringing about mental peace.

From my own limited experience, I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.”

If you have not tested yourself to see if you are classified in the Perceiver Mode, go to the the first post in this series “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.”

Personal Examples of the Mover Mode

March 18, 2019

This is the second post in series of posts based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.”

On June 6, 2001 Michael Bloomberg announced the he would run for Mayor of New York city. He had no political pedigree. He had built Bloomberg LP, a media and financial giant, and was a billionaire. He had a comfortable life, prestige, and was well situated. Why would he run for mayor with all the attendant problems that go with public office? It appears that he was disposed in this context to think in Mover Mode. Given his business success, this certainly was nothing new for him. Remember that the mover mode is the mode of thinking and behaving in which people formulate and implement plans (using the top brain) and note the consequences of doing so (using the bottom brain), and adjust their plans accordingly. The authors write, “From his modest childhood in a suburb off Boston, Bloomberg consistently demonstrated such behavior: achieving Eagle Scout status as a young teen; excelling as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University; performing well as a student at Harvard Business School; and standing out during his early years in business, as a trader at Solomon Brothers.”

The authors continue, “We can conjecture that Bloomberg learned not just from his successes but also from his setbacks. Caught in the brutal cross fire of a leadership war inside Solomon Brothers, he was demoted after thirteen years to the tech support department—a humiliating fall from grace. But Bloomberg did not withdraw into self-pity (people in Mover Mode typically are not easily discouraged). Instead, he dedicated himself to a new challenge, the then frontier of financial computing. It was that experience that led him in 1981, to found Bloomberg LP—the company that revolutionized the delivery of financial information.

His next challenge was to consider running for the Presidency of the United States.

The Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, provide additional examples of people operating in the mover mode. Almost everyone knows that they developed and flew the first powered controlled heavier than air flight. What is less known is that these two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, achieved their breakthrough without benefit of a high school education or formal training of any kind.

Their father stimulated their fascination with flight when he gave them a toy helicopter, based on a design by a French aeronautical pioneer. It was constructed of cork, bamboo, and paper and was powered by a twisted rubber band. They played with it until it broke, but were unfazed when it did. They began building their own helicopters, improving each successive model with the knowledge gleaned from the previous ones. Although they were still in grammar school, the boys already exhibited behaviors characteristic of Mover Mode thinking. They embraced challenges and were not deterred by failure. Failures were not ends but valuable lessons in the progression to success.
After stints as self-taught printers, newspapermen, and repairers and builders of bicycles, they took on the challenge of powered flight. They believed, along with the German inventor Otto Lilienthal that the monumental hurdle was control, and not power. So their early work focused on gliders, specifically how to steer and bank them.

So the Wright brothers initially flew unmanned gliders. They continued their work with gliders. When 1902 drew to a close, the were ready to add a motor. The authors write, “You can see a pattern here: The brothers consistently devised and implemented plans (top brain), adjusting those plans on perceived outcomes (bottom brain)—these are typical Mover Mode behaviors.

Orville wrote, “The first flight lasted only about 12 seconds, but it was nevertheless the first in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by it own power into the air in full flight, had sailed forward with a reduction of speed, and had finally landed at a point as high as that from which it had started” This was the humble beginning of aviation. We can all see how far we have gone.

If you have not tested yourself to see if you are classified in the Mover Mode, go to the immediately preceding post “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.”

Top Brain, Bottom Brain

March 17, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller. The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” This book presents a new and useful way of thinking about our brains, that can not only increase how effectively we use our brains, but can also help us get along better with others.

The Theory of Cognitive Modes is built on conclusions arising from decades of research that have remained inside scientific circles. To the knowledge of the authors this book is the first time that these findings have been systematically brought to a mainstream audience.

The theory is built on three fundamental ideas:

The first is that the top part and the bottom part of the brain do different jobs. The top brain formulates plans and puts them into motion, and the bottom brain classifies and interprets incoming information about the world. For example, the bottom brain allows you to recognize a friend you see across the room and realize that she might be able to give you good advice about a problem at work; the top brain formulates one plan to walk over and another plan about how to broach the topic.

The second fundamental idea is that the two parts of the brain always work together; the top brain uses information from the bottom brain to formulate its plans (and to reformulate them as they unfold over time). The two parts of the brain are a single system.

The third idea is that different people may rely to greater or lesser extents on the two parts of the brain. Some tend to use both parts deeply, some favor the bottom brain, some favor the top brain, and some don’t typically lean too hard on either part.

The different ways that people rely on the two parts of the brain define four basic cognitive modes: general ways of thinking that underlie how a person approaches the world and interacts with other people. Each of us has a typical cognitive mode, which affects how we relate to others and how we deal with situations we encounter.

The theory has four cognitive modes:
The mover mode has a deeply utilized bottom and a deeply utilized top.
The perceiver mode has a deeply utilized bottom and a minimally utilized top.
The stimulator mode has a deeply utilized top and a minimally utilized bottom.
The adaptor mode has a minimally utilized bottom and a minimally utilized top.

A test follows that allows you to understand where you fall on these dimensions.

Twenty statements will follow which you use to rate yourself on a 5 point scale where 1 is disagree and 5 is agree.

When I look at a garden, I usually notice the patterns of plantings.
If I like a piece of furniture, I want to know exactly where it will fit in my home before I buy it.
I prefer to make plans about what to do before I jump into a situation.
In a museum, I like to classify paintings according to their style.
I try to examine items in a store very carefully.
I like to assemble all the necessary tools before I begin a project.
I prefer to call ahead to a hotel if I may not get there until late in the day.
As a rule, I try to react appropriately to my environment.
I like to examine the surfaces of objects in detail.
When I first turn on the TV, I like to identify specific people on the screen
I effortlessly note the types of dogs that I see.
I like to think about what to expect after I make a decision.
I like to look at people’s faces and try to classify where their ancestors came from.
I think of myself as someone who plans ahead.
Before I buy a new shirt, I think about whether it will go with my other clothes.
When I hear music, I like to identify different instruments.
I take the time to appreciate paintings when I go to an art exhibition.
I enjoy making plans.
In the morning, I often think hard about what I’ll need to do that day.
I prefer to examine objects closely enough to see how color changes on their surfaces.

To get your score:
Add up your ratings for items 2,3,6,7,8,12,14,15,18, and 19.
This is your top brain score.
Then add your ratings for items 1,4,5,9,10,11,13,16,17, and 20. This is your bottom brain score.

Summary of top brain scores
47 or higher Very strong tendency to use top-brain processing deeply.
38-46 Tendency to use top-brain processing deeply
Ave 37.5
28-37 Tendency not to use top-brain processing deeply
27 or less Very strong tendency not to use top-brain processing deeply

Summary of bottom brain processing

43 or higher Very strong tendency to use bottom-brain processing deeply
34-42 Tendency to use bottom-brain processing deeply
Ave 33.5
24-43 Tendency not to use bottom-brain processing deeply
23 or less Very strong tendency not to se bottom-brain processing deeply

Summary of the Four Processing Modes

Mover Mode. According to the theory, you often operate in Mover Mode if you scored over the average for both top and bottom-brain processing.

Perceiver Mode. You often operate in Perceiver Mode if you scored over the mean for bottom-brain processing, but at or below the mean for top-brain processing

Stimulator Mode. You often rely on Stimulator Mode if you scored over the mean for top-brain processing, but at or below the mean for bottom-brain processing.

Adaptor Mode. You often operate in Adaptor Mode if you scored at or below the mean for both top-brain and bottom-brain processing.

Specific examples will be provided for each mode in the following four posts. Then the concluding posts will elaborate further on this concept.

Good Advice from the Danes

March 15, 2019

This post is based on an article in the Washington Post by Marie Helweg-Larsen titled (in the electronic version) “Angry? Worried? Stressed Out? Just say ‘pyt” Danes are regarded as being among the happiest people in the world. The article notes that they also happen to have a lot of cool words for ways to be happy.

One is “hygge,” which is often mistranslated to mean “cozy,” but it really describes the process of creating intimacy. But the word “pyt” was recently voted the most popular word by the Danes. Pyt does not have an exact English translation. It’s more a cultural concept about cultivating healthy thoughts to deal with stress.

Pyt sounds something like “pid.” It is usually expressed as an interaction in reaction to a daily hassle, frustration, or mistake. It most closely translates to the English sayings, “Don’t worry about it,” “stuff happens” or “oh, well.”

If you break a glass in the kitchen, you would just shrug and say, “pyt.” If you see a parking ticket lodged under your windshield wiper and, as you become hot with anger, just shake your head and murmur, “pyt.”

It’s benefit comes from accepting and resettling. It provides a reminder to step back and refocus rather than overreact. Instead of assigning blame, it’s a way to let go and move on.

The author, who is a Danish psychologist writes, “ You might say “pyt” in response to something your did—“pyt, that was a dumb thing to say”—or to support another person—“pyt with that, don’t fret about your co-worker’s insensitivity.”

Pyt can reduce stress because it is a sincere attempt to encourage yourself and others to not get bogged down by minor daily frustrations. One Danish business leader has suggested that knowing when to say “pyt” at work can lead to more job satisfaction.”

The author notes that there’s a rich strain of psychological research devoted to understanding how we interpret and react to other people’s actions.

Study after study show that we are happier and live longer when we have fewer daily hassles. And in some cases, what constitutes a hassle might be tied to how we interpret what’s happening around us.

Pyt can also help people avoid the tendency to blame others. Say you’re late to an appointment and there’s a person in front of you who’s driving slowly. This can feel irrationally personal.

However, research shows that we get angrier when we explain someone’s behavior by pointing to their incompetence, intentionality, or poor character.

If you say “pyt,” you’re deducing that it’s not worth letting someone else’s actions, which are out of your control, bother you; It’s “water off a duck’s back.” You can also see other strategies, such as thinking about situational constraints—maybe the driver was ill—or considering whether this will be an issue in two hours, two days, or two weeks.

Of course, ‘pyt’ should not be said in response to being seriously wrong. Nor should it be used when you ought to take responsibility, nor should it be used as an excuse for inaction.

Danes who teach positive psychology have also written about how applying pyt to too many aspects of our life isn’t healthy, especially if they concern your core needs or values.

Other activities, such as walking in nature, doing yoga or meditation, exercising, keeping a journal, or engaging in creative work, can also facilitate letting go

And you can also get a pyt button. Danish teachers use pyt buttons to teach students how to let go. Teachers find that it can help children cope with smaller frustrations such as losing a game, or losing a pencil. It teaches children that everything can’t be perfect.

These are important skills. Research shows that perfectionism is related to worry and depression, whereas self-compassion and social support can help prevent perfectionism from leading to negative outcomes.

The pyt button has become popular recently among Danish adults. They can either make one at home or buy one that, when pressed, says “pyt pyt pyt” and “breathe deeply, it will all be okay” in Danish.

Enter “pyt button” in your browser search block to find where to get your own pet button.

Another factor contributing to the Danes being among the happiest people of the world is that they have government provided healthcare. Moreover, the costs of this healthcare is less than US costs, and the care that the Danes receive is better than the US. Of course, this is true of every advanced country other than the US. It is like these other countries are wearing shoes and the US is still barefoot.

© 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.

Some Thoughts About Donald Trump

March 14, 2019

If you’ve read the preceding posts about emotional intelligence based on Daniel Goleman’s book, you’ve already read some hints that Trump’s behavior might be governed in some part by deficiencies in his brain. Trump does not behave like a president, and he is an embarrassment to the United States. When HM and his wife go on a cruise, they try to pass as Canadians. Trump behaves like a schoolyard bully. He uses degrading nicknames and fires back at whatever he regards as an insult or a failure to pay him proper respect. He does not speak the truth because he lives in his own reality that determines what he regards, at the moment, as the truth. He has no regard for facts, because what is true already exists in his mind. He disregards science and ignores the best intelligence system in the world.

If Trump’s actions are, at least in part, due to deficiencies in his brain, then he warrants sympathy, or maybe even pity. Unfortunately, he also warrants fear for a variety of reasons. Foremost is his control over nuclear weapons. He also is destroying international relations. He has already caused an enormous deficit and knowledgeable economists predict economic failures due to his policies.

Although Trump might warrant sympathy, the same cannot be said of the Republican Party, where the Republican Congress has ignored their constitutional responsibility to keep watch on the President. Instead, they have protected him and lied about the effectiveness of his policies. All genuine Republicans have left the party. Those who remain are either members of Trump’s base, viz., Nazis or White Supremacists, or want to maintain positions of power so they can enrich themselves.

It has been noted that Trump is likely to try to stay in power even if he loses the next election. He constitutes a genuine threat to the rule of law and our democracy.

The Republican Party died, a causality of the stupidity pandemic. What a shame. The loss of the GOP. The loss of the party of Lincoln.

© 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.

Social Emotional Learning

March 12, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Goleman is a strong advocate of the movement in social/emotional learning (SEL), school-based programs that teach the whole spectrum of emotional intelligence abilities. This topic has been addressed in a previous healthy memory blog post (see “Schooling the Emotions”). The best programs run from kindergarten through high school, and teach these abilities at every age in a developmentally appropriate way.

All the emotional intelligence skills develop in the curriculum of life, from childhood on—but SEL gives every child an equal opportunity to master them. That’s why Goleman co-founded the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning at Yale (CASEL) (Now at the University of Illinois at Chicago).

The brain is the last organ in the body to become anatomically mature. When you see the changes from year to year in how a child thinks, behaves, and reacts, what you’re really looking at is how their brain is developing. For example, when it comes to creativity, children are fabulously open and imaginative, especially young children. But there are two stages of brain growth that change this. The first is called the five-to-seven shifts, where the emotional circuitry comes under stronger prefrontal control. So children are better able to control their impulses, and to coordinate their imaginative efforts, to say nothing of them being better behaved.

At puberty there’s what is called a sculpting of the brain, a huge loss of under-used neurons. We are born with many more neurons that we use later in life, and the principal is use-it-or-lose-it (this is not the same as a steady deterioration. This occurs during puberty. This is not the same as a steady deterioration throughout life. Neurogenesis still creates new neurons daily, throughout our lives).

Social Emotional Learning programs are designed to give children the near lessons they need as their brain grows. This is what developmentally appropriate means.

On the wall in every SEL program there’s picture of a stoplight with its red, yellow, and green lights. It says, “When you’re getting upset, remember the stop light, stop! Calm down ad think before you act.” Stop is behavioral inhibition: activate the left prefrontal circuitry that can manage your amygdala impulses. Calm down shows that you can change your state to a better one. Think before you act teaches a critical lesson: you can’t control what you’re going to feel, but you can decide what you do next. Then, yellow light—think of a range of things you might do and what the consequences would be, and pick the best alternative. And green light: try it out and see what happens. This is drilled into kids. And this kind of lesson, along with all the others in the SEL program actually works.

Roger Weissberg, the psychologist who directs CASE analyzed data at over 200 SEL programs that were compared to schools without them, involving a total of 270,000 students. He found that , on average, SEL programs reduce anti-social behavior like misbehaving in class, fights, or substance abuse by about ten percent. The biggest gains are seen in the schools that need it the most.

Moreover, academic scores went up by eleven percent. Goleman suspects that this has to do with a large part of how the hypothalamic pituitary, amygdala (HPA) axis arousal interferes with cognitive efficiency and learning. If you’re a kid who’s preoccupied by worry, anger, distress, anxiety, or whatever stress causes in you, you’re going to have a diminished capacity to pay attention to what the teacher is telling you. But if you can manage those emotional upsets, your working memory, the capacity of attention to take in information increases. SEL teaches you how to manage these disruptive feelings—not just through lessons like the stop light, but through learning how to get along better with others kids (a major source of turbulent feelings). This lets you be a better learner.

For us adults at work, this identical skill set will make us better performers. And it’s never to late to develop further strengths in emotional intelligence.

Developing Emotional Intelligence

March 10, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Every day the brain generates 10,000 stem cells that split into two. One becomes a daughter line that continues making stem cells, and the other migrates to wherever it’s needed in the brain and becomes that kind of cell. That destination is often where the cell is needed for new learning. Over the next four months, that new cell forms about 10,000 to created new neural circuitry.

The state of the art in mapping this neural circuitry coming out of labs like Richard Davidson’s have massive computing power. Innovative software tools for brain imaging can track and show this new connectivity at the single-cell level. Neurogenesis adds power to our understanding of neuroplasticity, that the brain continually reshapes itself according to the experiences we have. If we are changing a habit like trying to get better at listening, then that circuitry grows accordingly. However, when we are trying to overcome a bad habit, we’re up against the thickness of the circuitry for something we’ve practiced and repeated thousands of times. Goleman asks, “So what are the brain lessons for coaching or for working on our own to enhance an emotional intelligence skill?”

Number one, is to get committed. Mobilize the motivating power in the left prefrontal areas. If you’re a coach, you’ve got to engage the person, get them enthused about achieving the goal of change. Here it helps to draw on their dreams, their vision for themselves, where they want to be in the future. Then work from where they are to what they might improve to help them get where they want to go in life. Change this section from the third person to the second person for self instruction.

Be very practical. Don’t take on trying to learn too much all at once. Operationalize your goal at the level of a specific behavior. Make it practical, so you can know exactly what to do and when. For example, say someone has a bad habit of multi-tasking and essentially ignoring others, which undermines the full attention that can lead to rapport and good chemistry. You have to break the habit of multitasking. So the person might make up an intentional learning plan that says something like: at every naturally occurring opportunity-when a person walks into your office, stand, or you come up to a person—you turn off your cell phone and your beeper, turn away from your computer, turn off your daydream or your preoccupation and pay full attention. That gives you a precise piece of behavior to try to change. Goleman continues, “So what will help you with that? Noticing when a moment like that is about to come and doing the right thing. Doing the wrong thing is a bit that you have become an Olympic level master at—your neural working has made it a default option, what you do automatically. The neural connectivity for that is strong. When you start to form the new better habit, you’re essentially creating new circuitry that competes with your old habit in a kind of neural Darwinism. To make the new habit strong enough, you’ve got to use the power of neuroplasticity—you have to do it over and over again.

If you persist in the better habit, that new circuitry will connect and become more and more powerful, until one day you’ll do the right thing in the right way without a second thought. That means the circuitry has become so connected and thick that this is the brain’s new default option. With that change in the brain, the better habit will become your automatic choice.

For how long and how many times does an action have to be repeated until it’s hard-wired? A habit begins to be hard-wired the first time you practice it. How often you have to repeat so that it becomes the new default of the brain depends in part on how strong the old habit is that it will replace. It usually takes three to six months of using all naturally occurring practice opportunities before the new habit becomes more natural than the old.”

Mental rehearsal is another practice opportunity that can occur whenever you have a little free time. Mental rehearsal activates the same neural circuitry as does the real activity. Olympic athletes spend off-season running through the moves in their brain. This counts as practice time. It increase their ability to perform when the real time comes.

Goleman writes that Richard Boyatwzis has used this method with his MBA students at the Weatherhead School of management at Case Western University. He’s followed these students into their jobs as much as seven years later and found the competencies they had enhanced in his class were still rated as strong by their co-workers.

The Dark Side

March 9, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Goleman begins, “Psychologists use the phrase the dark triad to refer to narcissists, Machiavellians and sociopaths.” As for examples, look no further than President Trump. He has hit the trifecta here. Goleman continues, “These types represent the dark side of emotional intelligence: such people can be very good at cognitive empathy, but lack emotional empathy—not to mention empathic concern. For instance, by definition the sociopath does not care at all about human consequences of their manipulation, and has no regrets about inflicting cruelty. Their feelings of any kind are very shallow; brain imaging reveals a thinning of the areas that connect the emotional centers to the prefrontal cortex.”

Goleman outlines deficits in emotional intelligence. Sociopaths have deficits in several areas key to emotional intelligence: the anterior cingulate, the orbitofrontal cortex, the amygdala, and insula, and in the connectivity of these regions to other parts of the brain. It is possible that deficits such as these can account for much of Trump’s behavior.

Gender Differences

March 8, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” On average, women have better emotional intelligence than men. However, this is on average. Think of two bell curves. The curves for men and women would overlap but they would be displaced and the averages would differ. There are many men with higher emotional intelligence than women, but there are more women with higher emotional intelligence than men.

The neuroscientist Tania Singer has brain data that relates to these trends. She was looking at two emotional systems, one for cognitive empathy and another for emotional empathy. Singer has found that women tend to be more highly developed in the mirror neuron system, and so rely on it more than men do for signals of empathy. In contrast, men tend to have a burst of the mirror neuron system and then go into a problem-solving mode.

Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University provides another way of looking at male-female differences in EI. She says that there’s an extreme female brain which has lots of mirror neuron activity and is high in emotional empathy. In contrast, the extreme male brain excels in systems thinking and is poor at emotional empathy. These brain types are at the far extremes of a bell curve, with most of us somewhere in the middle. However, he does not mean that all men have the male brain, nor all women the female brain. Many women are adept at systems thinking, and many men excel at emotional empathy.

Ruth Mallow of the Hay Group in Boston has looked at gender differences on the “Emotional and Social Competence Inventory.” Her analysis found that while, in general, you find gender differences among the various competencies, when you only look at the pool of star performers (people in the top ten percent of business performance) those differences wash out. Across the board, the men are as good as the women are as good as the men.

Franz de Waal, the famed researcher on primate behavior at the Yerkes National Primate Center in Atlanta has made many interesting observations. Among them is the following: When a chimp sees another chimp in distress—either from an injury or a loss of social status—the first chimp mimics the behavior of the distressed chimp, which is a primal form of empathy. Many chimps will then go over and give some solace to the upset chimp such as stroking it to help it calm down. Female chimps offer this kind of solace more often than male chimps do—with one interesting exception. The alpha males, who are the troupe leaders, give solace more often than do female chimps. It seems that one of the basic functions of a leader is to offer appropriate emotional support.

The Varieties of Empathy

March 7, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Goleman notes that there are three kinds of empathy. One is cognitive empathy. I know how you see things. I can take your perspective. Managers high in this kind of empathy are able to get better than expected performance from employees because they put things in terms that people can understand. Executives higher in cognitive empathy do better in foreign postings, because they pick up the unspoken norms of different cultures more quickly.

Emotional empathy is a second kind of empathy: I feel with you. This is the basis for rapport and chemistry. People who excel in emotional empathy make good counselors, teachers, client managers, and group leaders because of the ability to sense in the moment how others are reacting.

Empathic concern is the third kind of empathy: I sense you need some help and I spontaneously am ready to give it. Those with empathic concern are good citizens in a group, organization, or community, who voluntarily help out as needed.

Empathy is the essential building block for compassion. We have to sense what another person is going through, what they’re feeling, in order to spark compassion in us. A spectrum runs from total self-absorption (where we don’t notice other people) to noticing them and beginning to tune in, to empathizing, to understanding their needs and having empathic concern. Next comes compassionate action, where we help them out.

Distinct brain circuitry seems be involved in different varieties of empathy. Tania Singer, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany studies emotional empathy. Singer sees the role of the insula as key to empathy (this is one of the neural areas that is crucial to emotional intelligence) The insula senses signals from our whole body. When we’re empathizing with someone, our mirror neurons mimic within us that person’s state of mind. The anterior area of the insula reads that pattern and tells us what that state is.

Singer has found that reading emotions in others means, at the brain level, first reading those emotions in ourselves; the insula lights up when we tune into our own sensations. She’s done fMRI studies of couples where one partner is getting a brain scan while seeing that theater partner is about to get a shock. At the moment the partner sees this the part of his or her brain lights up that would do so if he or sh were actually getting the shock, rather then just seeing the partner get it.

The recommended route to developing greater empathy abilities, involves getting feedback on what the other person actually is thinking—to verify or correct our hunches. Another means for boosting empathy has people watch a video or film without the sound and guess the emotions being depicted onscreen, checking their guesses against the actuality. Giving the neural circuits for empathy feedback on how the other person actually feels or thinks helps this circuitry learn.

The Social Brain Online

March 5, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Here the question is how do social brains interact when we’re sitting looking at a video monitor instead of directly at another person? There was a major clue about the problems ever since the beginning of the internet, when it was just scientists emailing on what was called ARPAnet. The problem was, and still is, flaming. Goleman writes, “Flaming happens when someone is a little upset—or very upset—and with their amygdala in firm control, furiously types out a message and hits “send” before thinking about it—and that hijack hits the other person in their inbox. Now the more technical term for flaming is cyber-disinhibition, because we realize that the disconnect between the social brain and the video monitor releases the amygdala from the usual management by the more reasonable prefrontal areas.”

Online the social brain has no feedback loop: unless you are in a live, face-to-face teleconference, the social circuitry has no input. It doesn’t know how the other person is reacting so it can’t guide our response—do this, don’t do that—as it does automatically and instantly in face-to-face interactions. Instead of acting as a social radar, the social brain says nothing—and that unleashes the amygdala to flame and cause a hijack.

A phone call gives these circuits ample emotional cues from tone of voice to understand the emotional nuance of what you say. But email lacks all these inputs.

One reason personal connection is so important for online communication has to do with the social brain/video monitor interface. When we’re at our keyboard and we think a message is positive, and we hit send, what we don’t realized at the neural level is that all the nonverbal cues, facial expression, tone of voice, gesture and so on, stay with us. There’s a negativity bias to email: when the sender thinks the email was positive, the receiver tends to see it as neutral. When the sender thinks it’s neutral, the receiver tends to interpret it as somewhat negative. The big exception is when you know the person well; that bond overcomes the negativity bias.

Clay Shirky, who studies social networks and the web at New York University, tells an example of a local bank security team that had to operate 24 hours a day. In order for them to operate well, it was critical that they use what he calls a banyan tree model, where key members of each group get together and meet key members of every other group, so that in an emergency they can contact each other and get a clear sense of how to evaluate the message the group was sending. If someone in the receiving group knows that person well, or has a contact there whom he can ask about the person who sent the message, then the receiving group can better gauge how much to rely on it.

Goleman says that one enormous upside of the web is what you might call brain 2.0. Shirky points our, the potential for social networking to multiply our intellectual capital is enormous. It’s sort of a super-brain, the extended brain on the web. In the healthy memory blog, this is termed transactive memory.

Goleman writes that the term group IQ refers to the sum total of the best talents of each person on a team, or in a group, contributed at full force. What Goleman does not say is that the group can be more than the sum of its parts due to beneficial interactions within the group. He does note that one factor that makes the actual group IQ less than its potential is a lack of interpersonal harmony in the group. Vanessa Druskat of the University of New Hampshire has studied was she calls group EQ—things like being able to surface and resolve conflicts among the group, high levels of trust and mutual understanding. Not surprisingly, her research show that groups with the highest collective emotional intelligence outperform the others. Goleman notes the when you apply this to groups working together online, one core operating principle is that the more channels that come into the social brain, the more easily attuned you can be. So, when you video-conference, you have visual, body and voice cues. Even if it’s a conference call, the voice is extraordinarily rich in emotional cues. In any case, if you’e working together just through text, it’s best when you know the other person well, or at least have some sense of them in order to have a context for reading their messages, so you can overcome the negativity bias. Best of all is leaving your office or cubicle and getting together to talk with the person.

The Social Brain

March 4, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Dr. Daniel Siegel is the Director of the MIndSight Institute at UCLA. Mindsight is the term he uses for the mind’s ability to see itself. His research makes a strong case that the brain circuity we use for self-mastery and to know ourselves is largely identical with that for knowing another person. In other words, our awareness of another person’s inner reality and of our own, are in a sense both acts of empathy. Dr. Siegal is a founder of the field of interpersonal neurobiology, which emerged only as science discovered the social brain. (Enter “Siegel” into the search block of the healthymemory blog https://healthymemory.wordpress.com/

The social brain includes a multitude of circuitry, all designed to attune to and interact with another person’s brain. When researchers started to study two brains in two people while they interacted open a wealth of discoveries.

One of the discoveries was mirror neurons that activate in us exactly what we see in the other person: Their emotions, their movements, and even their intentions. This discovery likely explains why emotions are contagious. Psychologists had known about this contagion for decades because of experiments in which two strangers come into a lab and fill out a mood checklist. They then sit in silence, looking at each other for two minutes. Afterward, they fill out the same checklist. The person in that pair who’s most expressive emotionally will transmit his or her emotions to the other person in two silent minutes. This is done via mirror neurons (and other areas like the insula, which maps sensations throughout the body), via what amounts to a brain-to-brain connection. This subterranean channel means there is an emotional subtext in every one of our interactions that is extremely important to whatever else goes on.

Consider the study where people were given performance feedback—some negative, some positive. If they were given negative performance feedback in a very warm, positive, and upbeat tone, they came out of there feeling pretty good about the interaction. If they were given positive feedback in a very cold, judgmental tone, they came out feeling negative, even about the positive feedback. So the emotional subtext is more powerful that the overt, ostensible interaction that we’re having.

This means that we are constantly impacting the brain states in other people. In Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Model, managing relationships means, that we’re responsible for how we shape the feelings of those we interact with—for better or for worse. So relationship skills have to do with managing brain states in other people.

So, who sends the emotions that pass between people, and who receives them? For groups of peers, the sender tends to be the most emotionally expressive person in the group. But in groups where there are power differences, in the classroom, at work, in organization’s generally, it is the most powerful person who is the emotional sender, setting the emotional state for the rest of the group.

In any human group, people pay the most attention to, and put the most importance on, what the most powerful person in that group says or does. There are many studies that show if the leader of a team is in a positive mood, that spreads an upbeat mood to the others and that collective positivity enhances the group’s performance. Should the leader project a negative mood, that spreads in the same way and the group’s performance suffers. This result has been fun for groups making business decisions, seeking creative solutions, and even erecting a tent together.

The emotional contagion happens whenever people interact, whether in a pair, a group, or an organization. It’s most obvious at sporting events or theatrical performances, where the entire crowd goes through the identical emotion at the same time. This contagion can happen because of our social brain, through circuitry like the mirror neuron system. Person-To-Person emotional contagion operates automatically, instantly, unconsciously, and out of our intentional control.

“There was a study done of doctors and patients during a psychotherapy session. The interaction was videotaped and physiology monitored. The patients reviewed the tape, identifying moments when the doctor empathized with them—when they felt heard and understood, in rapport with the doctor, versus feeling really disconnected, thinking “My doctor doesn’t get me, doesn’t care about me.” In those moments when patients felt disconnected there was no connection in their physiology either. But at those moments when the patient said, “Yes, I felt a real connection with the doctor,” their physiologies moved in tandem. There was also physiological entrapment, with the doctor and patient’s heart rates moving in tandem.

That study reflects the physiology of rapport. There are three ingredients to rapport. The first is paying full attention. Both people need to tune in fully to the other, putting aside distractions. The second is being in synch non-verbally. This synchrony is orchestrated by another set of neurons, called oscillators, which regulate how our body moves in relationship to another body. The third ingredient of rapport is positive feeling. It’s a kind of micro flow, an interpersonal high. Goleman would expect you’re seeing prefrontal arousal for both people. These moments of interpersonal chemistry, or simpatico, are when things happen at their best, no matter the specifics of what we’re doing together.

An article in the Harvard Business Review calls this kind of interaction a “human moment.” How do you have a human moment at work? You have to put aside whatever else you’re doing and pay full attention to the person who’s with you. That opens the way to rapport, where emotional flow is in tandem. When your physiology is in synchrony with someone else you feel connected, close, and warm, You can read this human moment in terms of physiology, but you can also read it experientially, because during those moments of chemistry we feel good about being with the other person. And that person is feeling good about being with us.”

Optimal Performance

March 3, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Goleman writes that “the relationship between stress and performance has been known for a century in psychology. It’s called the Yerkes-Dodson Law.” It’s likely that Yerkes and Dodson were unaware of this relationship. They were describing the relationship between motivation and performance. The relationship is an inverted U. Performance is poor at low levels of motivation and at very high levels of motivation. It is at moderate levels where performance is best.

At this point it would be good to review a previous healthy memory blog post, titled “How Our Bodies Respond to Stress.” Two stress hormones are cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). These two hormones are released by our adrenal glands during times of stress, but they serve different roles. Cortisol helps turn sugar and fat into energy and improves the ability of the body and brain to use that energy. Cortisol also surpresses some biological functions that are less important during stress, such as digestion, reproduction, and growth. On the other hand, DHEA is a neurosteroid, which is a hormone that helps the brain to grow. Just as testosterone helps the body grow stronger from physical exercise, DHEA helps the brain grown stronger from stressful experiences. DHEA also counters some of the effects of cortisol. For example, DHEA speeds up wound repair and enhances immune function.
We need both these hormones. Neither is a “good” or “bad” stress hormone. But the ratio of these two hormones can influence the long-term consequences of stress, especially when stress is chronic. Higher levels of cortisol can be associated with worse outcomes, such as impaired immune function and depression. In contrast, higher levels of DHEA have been linked to a reduced risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease neurodegeneration, and other diseases we typically think of as stress-related.

The ratio of DHEA to cortisol is called the growth index of a stress response. A higher growth index helps people thrive under stress. It predicts academic persistence and resilience in college students, as well as higher GPAs. A higher growth index was associated with greater focus, less dissociation, superior problem-solving skills, and fewer post-traumatic stress symptoms during and after military survival training.

It is also useful to remember the posts based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” The key to good stress is that it is interpreted as being beneficial rather than harmful.

The goal is to be at the peak of the Yerkes-Dodson arc. This is the zone of optimal performance. Ideally one wants to experience what Mihaly Csikszenmentmihalyi terms “flow.” Flow represents a peak of self-regulation, the maximal harnessing of emotions in the service of performance or learning. During flow we channel positive emotions in an energized pursuit of the task at hand. Our focus is undistracted, and we feel a spontaneous joy, even rapture.

The flow concept was developed from research where people were asked to describe a time they outdid themselves and achieved their personal best. People described moments from a wide range of domains of expertise, from basketball and ballet to chess and brain surgery. No matter what the activity, the underlying state they described was one and the same.

Goleman continues, “the chief characteristics of flow include fast unbreakable concentration: a nimble flexibility in responding to changing challenges; executing at the top of your skill level; and taking pleasure in what you’re doing— joy. That last hallmark strongly suggests that if brain scans were done of people while in flow we might expect to see notable left prefrontal activation; if brain chemistry were assayed, we would likely find higher levels of mood and performance enhancing compounds like dopamine.

This optimal performance zone has been called a state of neural harmony where the disparate areas of the brain are in synch, working together. This is also seen as a state of maximum cognitive efficiency. Getting into flow lets you use whatever talent you may have at peak levels.”

At this point HM needs to intercede and provide a reality check. Although flow is a desired state, it is rarely reached. Consider that people who have mastered a domain of expertise and who operate at the top of their game typically have practiced a minimum of 10,000 hours and are often world class in their performance. Tellingly, when such experts are engaged in their skill, whatever it may be, their overall levels of brain arousal tend to become lower, suggesting that for them this particularly activity has become relatively effortless, even at its peak.

We have ample opportunity to observe these experts at athletic events. There might be rare occasions where an individual might appear to be in flow, but they are indeed rare. Professional athletes repeatedly fail and make errors. HM does not play golf and has difficulty understanding why others play golf. He does enjoy watching professionals play golf. But it seems like they are constantly making errors and ending up in undesirable areas. If HM could make the money successful professional golfers make, he would play golf. But as a normal hacker, he cannot understand where the pleasure is in the game.

There are times that one sees a skier skiing down the slopes in what appears to be a state of flow. But then he falls and the medics show up to take him off the course.

Goleman does discuss the benefits of regularly practicing methods that enhance concentration and relax us physiologically. There are voluminous healthymemory blog posts on the relaxation response, meditation, and mindfulness techniques. Use the search block on the healthy memory blog to find this posts.

He gets back on track by writing, “Anything that truly relaxes you helps, like playing with kids or taking the dog for a walk, or whatever is going to get you in a relaxed state. The more you can break the cycle of the right prefrontal capture by the amygdala, the more you’ll be to activate the beneficial circuitry of the left prefrontal cortex.

Managing Stress

March 1, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” The stress manager can be found in the prefrontal cortex, which holds circuitry that can inhibit amygdala-driven impulses that help us maintain emotional balance. The left prefrontal area also contains circuits active during positive states like enthusiasm, energy, and engagement.

Richard Davidson, the director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin has done research on the left versus right prefrontal areas. His research group has found that when we’re in the grip of a hijack or under the sway of distressing emotions, there are relatively high levels of activity in the right prefrontal cortex. When we’re feeling great the left prefrontal area lights up. People who have more activity on the left than right are more lively to have more positive emotions. Those with more activity on the right are prone to having more negative emotions.

Davidson has also done research on what he calls emotional styles, which are really brain styles One motional style tracks how readily we become upset: where we are on the spectrum for a hair-trigger amygdala—people who easily become upset, frustrated, or angered—versus people who are unflappable.

A second style looks at how quickly we move from our distress. Some people recover quickly once they get upset, while others are very slow. At the extreme of slowness to recover are people who continually ruminate or worry about things. They are suffering, in effect, from ongoing, low-grade amygdala hijacks. Chronic worry keeps the amygdala primed, so you remain in a distress state as long as you ruminate. To learn more about emotional styles, and there are six of them enter “emotional style” into the search block of the healthy memory blog. There is also information on how emotional styles can be changed.

Goleman offers a few strategies to cultivate greater strength of activity in the left prefrontal areas that generate positive emotions. One is to take regular time off from a hectic, hassled routine to rest and restore. Schedule time to do nothing: walk your dog, take a long shower, whatever allows you to let go of leaning forward into the next thing in your on-the-go state.

Daniel Siegel has an elegant analysis of the brain area involved in mindfulness. In the most popular form of mindfulness you can cultivate an ever-hovering presence in you experience and in the moment, and awareness that is non-judgmental and non-reactive to whatever thoughts or feelings arise in the mind. It’s a very effective method for decompressing and getting into a relaxed and balanced state. To learn more about Daniel Siegel and his work, enter Daniel Siegel into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

Mindfulness-Based Stress /reduction has been developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Enter Jon Kabat-Zinn or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction into the search block of the healthy memory blog to learn more about Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Davidson has done brain studies before and after the mindfulness program. Before, most people’s emotional set point was tipped to the right, indicating they were hassled. After eight weeks of mindfulness, they had begun to tip back to the left. Their own reports made clear that with this shift toward the more positive zone of emotions their enthusiasm, energy, and joy in their work surfaced. Davidson concluded that mindfulness seems a good choice for strengthening the dominance of critical zones in the prefrontal cortex, and the biggest bang for the buck from mindfulness in terms of shifting the brain’s emotional set point comes at the beginning of the practice. Although you don’t have to wait for years to feel the improvement, you probably need to continue practicing daily to maintain the shift.

Traditionally ,people end their daily mindfulness session with a period of loving thoughts toward other people. This is the practice of lovingkindness. This intentional generation of a positive mood enhances vagal nerve tone, the body’s ability to mobilize to met a challenge and then to recover quickly. The vagus nerve regulates the heartbeat and other organ functions, and plays a major role in calming down the body when we get distressed. Better vagal tone enhances our ability to arouse ourselves to meet a challenge and then to cool down rather than staying in high gear. To learn more about loving kindness meditation go to
https://healthymemory.wordpress.com and enter “loving kindness” into the search block.

Having good vagal tone helps us not just to recover from stress, but also to sleep better and guard against the negative health impacts of chronic stress in life. The key to building better vagal tone is to find a method we enjoy, and practice it daily like a workout for the vagus nerve. The methods include everything from simply remembering to count slowly to ten when you are starting to get ticked off at some, to systematic muscle relaxation, to meditation.

It should also be mentioned here that there is an upside to stress. In fact that is the title of a book by Dr. Mcgonigal, who is a health psychologist at Stanford University. The subtitle of the book is “Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” (Enter “Mcgonigal” in the search block of the healthy memory blog (https://healthymemory.wordpress.com)

Goleman writes, “There are many kids of meditation each using a different mental strategy: concentration, mindfulness, and visualization to name a few. Each meditation method has specific impacts on our mental states. For example, visualization activates centers in the spatial visual cortex, while concentration involves the attention circuitry in the prefrontal cortes but not the visual area. A new scientific field, contemplative neuroscience, has begun mapping exactly how meditation A versus meditation B engages the brain, which brain center it activates, and what the specific benefits might be. An early book in this area is Goleman and Davidson’s “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” There are many healthy memory blog posts on this book.