Archive for the ‘Human Memory: Theory and Data’ Category

Schooling the Emotions

March 24, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of the last chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” The chapter begins with calling the roll for a class in Self Science at the Nueva School. Each student responds not with “here” or “present” but with a number from 1 to 10. 1 means low spirits and 10 high spirits. They explain their ratings and low numbers can warrant considerable discussion.

The subject in Self Science is feelings—your own and those that erupt in relationships. The nature of the topic demands that teachers and students focus on the emotional fabric of a child’s life—a focus that is determinedly ignored in almost every other classroom in America. The strategy includes using the tensions and traumas of children’s lives as the topic of the day. Teachers speak to real issues—hurt over being left out, envy, disagreements that could escalate into a schoolyard battle. As Karen Stone McOwen, the developer of the Self Science Curriculum and founder of Nueva, put it, “Learning doesn’t take place in isolation from kid’s feelings. Being emotionally literate is as important as instruction in math and reading.”

The chapter includes a discussion of the Cooperation Squares game, in which students team up to put together a series of square-shaped jigsaw puzzles. The catch: their teamwork is all in silence, with no gesturing allowed. The class is divided into three groups, each assigned to a different table. Three observers, each familiar with the game, get an evaluation sheet to assess, for example, who in the group takes the lead in organizing, who is a clown, who disrupts.

One group finishes quickly; a second group starts slowly at first, but then finishes; the third group struggles. The teacher offers some encouragement: “Those of you who have finished can give one specific hint to those who are still working. A suggestion is made and the puzzle is solved.

During a discussion mulling over the object lessons in teamwork that were learned an argument breaks out as to what gesturing is and whether it is allowed. The argument begins to get somewhat loud and the teacher says “This isn’t a criticism—you cooperated very well, but Tucker, try to say what you mean in a tone of voice that doesn’t sound so critical. The discussion as to how best to be positive in making a point and in providing advice.

Students in Self Science learn that the point is not to avoid conflict completely, but to resolve disagreement and resentment before it spirals in and out-and-out fight. Assertiveness as distinct from aggression or passivity is taught at Nueva from third grade on. It emphasizes expressing feelings forthrightly, but in a way that will not spiral into aggression. Writing this, HM had the thought that, perhaps, Self Science should be taught in the US Congress. Self Science has been effective in the inner city. On second thought, yes, perhaps in the inner city, but not in the US Congress.

Dr. David Hamburg, a psychiatrist and president of the Carnegie Corporation, which has evaluated some pioneering emotional-education programs, sees the years of transition into grade school and then again into junior high or middle school as marking two crucial points in a child’s development. From ages 6 to 11 school is a crucible and a defining experience that will heavily influence children’s adolescence and beyond. A child’s sense of self-worth depends substantially on his or her ability to achieve in school. A child who failed in school sets in motion the self-defeating attitudes that can dim prospects for an entire lifespan. Among the essentials for profiting from school are an ability to postpone gratification, to be socially responsible in appropriate ways, to maintain control over their emotions, and to have have an optimistic outlook—in other words, emotional intelligence.

Puberty, because it is a time of extraordinary change in the child’s biology, thinking capacities, and brain functioning, is also a crucial time for emotional and social lessons. As for the teen years Hamburg observes that “most adolescents are 10 to 15 years old when they are exposed to sexuality, alcohol and drugs, smoking and other temptations.”

Hamburg notes that as students are entering middle school just on the cusp of adolescence, there is something different about those who have had emotional intelligence classes: they find the new pressures of peer politics, the upping of academic demands, and the temptations to smoke and use drugs less troubling than do their peers. They have mastered emotional abilities that, at least for the short term, inoculate them against the turmoil and pressures they are about to face.

The following stop light is used in self science for impulse control:
Red light 1. Stop, calm down, and think before you act.
Yellow light 2. Say the problem and how you feel.
3. Set a positive goal.
4. Think of posts of solutions.
5. Think ahead of the consequences.
Green Light 6. Go ahead and try the best plan.


* Improvement in recognizing and naming own emotions.
* Better able to understand the causes of feelings
* Recognizing the difference between feelings and actions


* Better frustration tolerance and anger management
* Fewer verbal put-downs, fights, and classroom disruptions
* Better able to express anger appropriately, without fighting
* Fewer suspensions and expulsions
* Less aggressive or self-destructive behavior
* More positive feelings about self, school, and family
* Better at handling stress
* Less loneliness and social anxiety


* More responsible
* Better able to focus on the task at hand and pay attention
* Less impulsive; more self-control
* Improved scores on achievement tests


* Better able to take another person’s perspective
* improve empathy and sensitivity to other’s feelings
* Better at listening to others


* Increased ability to analyze and understand relationships
* Better at resolving conflicts and negotiating disagreements
* Better at solving problems in relationships
* More assertive and skilled in communicating
* More popular and outgoing friendly and involved with peers
* More sought out by peers
* More concerned and considerate
* More “pro-social” and harmonious in groups
* More sharing, cooperation, and helpfulness
* More democratic in dealing with others

Some might argue that teachers are already overloaded. How can more demands be place upon them? The answer is that increasing emotional intelligence will not only make them better and more effective students, but is also likely that these lessons will also have beneficial effect for many families.


The Cost of Emotional Illiteracy

March 23, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” To get a sense of the cost of emotional illiteracy just watch the news or read the newspaper, and ask yourself, how many incidents were the result of a lack of emotional intelligence?

We have been, and we still are suffering from an emotional malaise. Consider children. Too many children are plagued by the following problems:

*Withdrawal or social problems: preferring to be alone; being secretive; sulking a lot; lacking energy; feeling unhappy; being overly dependent.

*Anxious and depressed: being lonely; having many fears and worries; needing to be perfect; feeling unloved; feeling nervous or sad and depressed.

*Attention or thinking problems: unable to pay attention or still daydreaming; acting without thinking; being too nervous to concentrate; doing poorly on schoolwork; unable to get mind off thoughts. Perhaps it is ironic that the new technology has contributed to thinking problems. Plugged in children are checking to see if they’re liked. They’re flitting from topic to topic; superficially processing and rarely engaging in detailed thinking.

*Delinquent or aggressive: hanging around kids who get in trouble; lying and cheating; arguing a lot; being mean to other people; demanding attention; destroying other people’s things; disobeying at home and at school; being stubborn and moody; talking too much; teasing a lot; having a hot temper.

Goleman writes, While any of these problems in isolation raises no eyebrows, taken as a group they are barometers of a sea change, a new kind of toxicity seeping into and poisoning the very experience of childhood, signifying sweeping deficits in emotion competencies. The emotional malaise seems to be a universal price of modern life for children.

Urie Bronfenbfrenner, the eminent Cornell University developmental psychologist who did an international comparison of children’s well being said: “In the absence of good support systems, external stresses have become so great that even strong families are falling apart. The hecticness, instability, and inconsistency of daily family life are rampant in all segments of our society, including the well-educated and well-to-do. What is at stake is nothing less than the next generation, particularly males, who in growing up are especially vulnerable to such disruptive forces as the devastating effects of divorce poverty and unemployment.

Bullying is a recognized problem. Moreover, technology has provided yet another means of bullying. This bullying has resulted in suicides of the bullied parties. Not all angry children are bullies; some are social outcasts who overreact to being teased or to what they perceive as slights or unfairness. The one perceptual flaw that unites such children is that they perceive slights where none were intended, imagining their peers to be more hostile toward them than they really are.

Depression should not just be treated, but prevented in children. Even mild episodes of depression in children augur more severe episodes later in life. Of course, every child gets sad from time to time; childhood and adolescence are like adulthood, time of occasional disappointments and losses large and small with attendant grief. The need for prevention is not for these times, but for those children for whom sadness spirals downward into a gloom that leave them despairing, irritable, and withdrawn—a far more severe melancholy.

The cost to children goes beyond the suffering caused by depression itself Kids learn social skills in their peer relations such as what to do if you want something and aren’t getting it, seeing how other children handle the situation and then trying it yourself. But depressed kinds are likely to be among the neglected children in a school, the ones other kids don’t play with much.

Depression can be short -circuited by stopping depressionogenric ways of thought. Just as with adults, pessimistic ways of interpreting life’s defeats seem to feed the sense of helplessness and hopelessness at the heart of children’s depression. Research has found that children are more prone to melancholy toward this pessimistic outlook before they become depressed. This provides a window of opportunity for inoculating them against depression before it strikes.

There was a study of low-level depression, which is depression not severe enough to say it was beyond ordinary unhappiness, at a high school in Oregon. Seventy-five of the mildly depressed students learned to challenge the thinking patters associated with depression, to become more adept at making friends, to get along better with their parents, and to engage in more social activities they found pleasant. By the end of the eight-week program, 55% of the students had recovered from their mild depression, while only about a quarter of equally depressed students not in the program had begun to pull out of their depression. A year later a quarter of those in the comparison group had gone on to fall into a major depression as opposed to only 14% of students in the depression-prevention program. The eight session program seemed to have cut the risk of depression in half.

Steven Asher, a University of Illinois psychologist has designed a series of “friendship coaching” sessions for unpopular children. He identified third and fourth graders who were least liked in their classes. Asher gave them six sessions in how to “make playing games more fun” through being friendly, fun, and nice.” To avoid stigma, the children were told that they were acting as “consultants” to the coach, who was trying to learn what kinds of things make it more enjoyable to play games. This mini course in getting along had a remarkable effect: a year later the children who’re coached—all of whom were selected because they were the least liked in class—were now solidly in the middle of classroom popularity.

Problems such as eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse need to have special programs.

Goleman argues for no more wars on such problems. Rather a final common preventive pathway to prevention is needed. In a five-year project sponsored by the W.T. Grant Foundation, a consortium of researchers studied the research and distilled the active ingredients that seemed crucial to successful programs. The emotional skills include self-awareness, identifying, expressing, and managing feelings; impulse control and delaying gratification; and handling stress and anxiety. A key ability in impulse control is knowing the difference between feelings and actions, and learning to make better emotional decisions by first controlling the impulse to act, then identifying alternative actions and their consequences before acting. Many competencies are interpersonal: reading social and emotional cues, listening, being able to resist negative influences, taking others’ perspectives, and understanding what behavior is acceptable in a situation.

The next post will provide an answer to the question, “What would an education in emotions look like?”

Temperament Is Not Destiny

March 22, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Goleman writes, “The clearest answer to this question comes from the work of Jerome Kagan, the eminent psychologist at Harvard University.” For those who do not want to continue reading this post, the answer is that temperament is most definitely not destiny. For those who want to understand why this is the case, please continue reading.

Kagan posits that there are at least four temperamental types—timid, bold, upbeat, and melancholy—and that each is due to a different pattern of brain activity. There are likely innumerable differences in patterns of brain activity, each based on innate differences in temperamental endowment, each based on innate differences in emotional circuitry; for any given emotion people can differ in how easily it triggers, how long it lasts, and how intense it becomes. Kagan’s work concentrates on the dimension of temperament that runs from boldness to timidity.

Mothers have been bringing their infants and toddlers to Kagan’s Laboratory for Child Development for decades. Kagan and his coresearchers noticed early signs of shyness in a group of twenty-one-month old toddlers brought in for experimental observations. In free play with other toddlers, some were bubbly and spontaneous, playing with other babies without the least hesitation. However, others were uncertain and hesitant, hanging back, clinging to their mothers, quietly watching the others at play. Almost four years later, when these same children were in kindergarten, Kagan’s group observed them again. Over the intervening years none of the outgoing children had become timid, while two thirds of the timid ones were still reticent.

Kagan believes that the difference between the timid and the bold lies in the excitability of a neural circuit centered in the amygdala. Kagan proposes that people who are prone to fearfulness are born with a neurochemistry that makes this circuit easily aroused, so they avoid the unfamiliar, shy away from uncertainty, and suffer anxiety. Those who have a nervous system calibrated with a much higher threshold for amygdala arousal, are less easily frightened, more naturally outgoing, and eager to explore new places and meet new people.

When young men and women who were quite shy in childhood are measured in a laboratory while exposed to stresses such as harsh smells, their heart rate stays elevated much longer than for their outgoing peers. This is a sign that surging norepinephrine is keeping their amygdala excited and, through connected neural circuits, their sympathetic nervous system aroused. Kagan found that timid children levels of reactivity across the range of sympathetic nervous system indices, from higher resting blood pressure and greater dilation of the pupils, to higher levels of norepinephrine markers in their urine.

Moving to the upbeat-melancholy continuum, some people’s emotions seem to gravitate toward the positive pole. These people are naturally upbeat and easygoing, while others are dour and melancholy. This dimension of temperament—ebullience at one end, melancholy at the other—seems linked to the relative activity of the right and left prefrontal areas. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, someone who has appeared in many previous healthymemory blog posts, discovered that people who have greater activity in the left frontal lobe compared to the right, are by temperament cheerful; they typically take delight in people and in what life presents them with.

The encouraging news from Kagan’s studies is that not all fearful infants grow up hanging back from life—temperament is not destiny, Kagan’s research team found that some of the mothers held to the philosophy that they should protect their timid toddlers from whatever was upsetting; others felt it was more important to help their children learn how to cope with these upsetting moments, and so adapt to life’s small struggles. The protective belief seems to have abetted fearfulness, probably by depriving the youngsters of opportunities for learning how to overcome their fears: The “learn to adapt” philosophy of childrearing seems to have helped fearful children become braver.

Kagan’s conclusion: “It appears that mothers who protect their highly reactive infants from frustration and anxiety in the hope of effecting a benevolent outcome seem to exacerbate the infant’s uncertainty and produce the opposite effect.

Some children, though shy by temperament, who were more emotionally competent, spontaneously outgrew their timidity. Being more socially skilled, they were far more likely to have a succession of positive experiences with other children. For example, even if they were tentative about speaking to a new playmate, once the ice was broken they were able to shine socially.

Even innate emotional patterns can change to some degree. A child who comes into the world easily frightened can learn to be calmer, or even outgoing, in the face of the familiar. Fearfulness—or any other temperament—may be part of the biological givens of our emotional lives, but we are not necessarily limited to a specific emotional menu by our inherited traits. Our emotional capacities are not a given; with the right learning, they can be improved. The reasons for this lie in how the human brain matures.

Psychotherapy can be systematic emotional relearning. It stands as a case in point of the way experience can both change emotional patterns and shape the brain. One of the most dramatic demonstrations of this point comes from a study of people being treated for obsessive-compulsive disorders. Hand washing is one of the more common compulsions which can be done so often, even hundreds of times a day, that the person’s skin cracks. PET scan studies show that obsessive-compulsives have greater than normal activity in their prefrontal lobes. Half of the patients in the study received the standard drug treatment, fluoxetine (better known by the brand name Prozac), and half behavior therapy. During the therapy they were systematically exposed to the object of their obsession or compulsion without performing it; patients with hand-washing compulsions were put at a sink, but not allowed to wash. At the same time they learned to question the fears and dreads that spurned them on—for example the failure to wash would mean that they would get a disease and die. Gradually, through months of such training, the compulsions faded, just as they did with the medications. A PET scan test showed that the behavior therapy patients had as significant a decrease in the activity of a key part of the emotional brain, the caudate nucleus as did the patients successfully treated with the drug fluoxetine.

Several brain areas critical for emotional life are among the slowest to mature. The sensory areas mature during early childhood, and the limbic system by puberty, the frontal lobes—seat of emotional self-control, understanding, and artful response, do not fully mature until the mid twenties.

One of the most essential emotional lessons, first learned in infancy and refined throughout childhood, is how to soothe oneself when upset. This art of soothing oneself is mastered over many years and with new means, as brain maturation offers a child progressively more sophisticated emotional tools. The frontal lobes, so important for regulating limbic pulse mature into the mid-twenties. Another key circuit that continues to shape itself through childhood centers on the vagus nerve, which at one end regulates the heart and other parts of the body, and at the other sends signals to the amygdala via other circuits, prompting to secrete the catecholamines, which is the prime fight-or-flight response. A University of Washington team that assessed the impact of childrearing discovered that emotionally adept parenting led to a change for the better in vagus-nerve function. John Gotten, the psychologist who led the research explained, “Parents modify their children’s vagal tone”—a measure of how easily triggered the vagus nerve is—“by coaching them emotionally: talking to children about their feelings and how to understand them, not being critical and judgmental, problem-solving about emotional predicaments, coaching them on what to do like alternatives to hitting, or were better able to suppress the vagal activity that keep the amygdala priming the body with fight-or-flight hormones—and so were better behaved.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Trauma and Emotional Relearning

March 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” The primary topic of this chapter is the frequently discussed and written about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a disorder of the limbic system. The main symptoms of such learned fearfulness, including the most intense kind, can be accounted for by changes in the limbic circuitry focusing on the amygdala. Some key changes are in the locus ceruleus, a structure that regulates the brain’s secretion of two substances called catecholamines: adrenaline and noradrenaline. The neurochemicals mobilize the body for any emergency; the same catecholamine surge stamps memories with special strength. This system becomes hyperactive in PTSD, secreting extra-large doses of these brain chemicals in response to situations that hold little or no threats, but somehow are reminders of the original trauma.

The locus ceruleus and the amygdala are closely linked, along with other limbic structures such as the hippocampus and hypothalamus; the circuitry for the catecholamines extends into the cortex. Changes in the circuits are thought to underlie PTSD symptoms, which include anxiety, fear, hyper vigilance, being easily upset and aroused, readiness for fight or flight, and the indelible encoding of intense emotional memories. One study found that Vietnam vets with PTSD had 40% fewer catecholamine-stopping receptors than did men without the symptoms, suggesting that their brains had undergone a lasting change, with their catecholamine secretion poorly controlled.

Other changes occur in the circuit linking the limbic brain with the pituitary gland, which regulates the release of CRF, the main stress hormone the body secretes to mobilize the emergency fight-or-flight response. The changes lead this hormone to be overselected—particularly in the amygdala, hippocampus and locus ceruleus—alerting the body for an emergency that is not there in reality.

A third set of changes occurs in the brain’s opiod system, which secretes endorphins to blunt the feeling of pain. It also becomes hyperactive. This neural circuit again involves the amygdala, this time in concert with a region in the cerebral cortex. The opioids are powerful numbing agents, like opium and other narcotics that are chemical cousins. When experiencing high levels of opioids, people have a heightened tolerance for pain.

Something similar seems to occur in PTSD. Endorphin changes add a new dimension to the neural mix triggered by preexposure to trauma: a numbing of certain feelings. This seems to explain a set of “negative” psychological symptoms long noted in PTSD: anhedonia and a general emotional numbness, a sense of being cut off from life or from concern about others’ feelings. Those close to such people may experience this indifference as a lack of empathy. Another possible effect may be dissociation, which includes the inability to remember crucial minutes, hours, or even days of the traumatic event.

The neural changes of PTSD also seem to make a person more susceptible to further traumatizing. A number of studies with animals have found that when they were exposed even to mild stress when young, they were far more vulnerable than unstressed animals to trauma -induced brain changes later in life. This seems to be a reason that, exposed to the same catastrophe, one person goes on to develop PTSD, and another does not: the amygdala is primed to find danger, and when life presents it once again wth real danger, the alarm rises to a higher pitch.

All these neural changes offer short-term advantages for dealing with the the grim and dire angers that prompt them. However, these short-term advantages become a lasting problem when the brain changes so that they become predispositions, like a car stuck in high gear. The amygdala and its connected brain regions take on a new set point during a moment of intense trauma.

Dr. Judith Lewis Herman is a Harvard psychiatrist whose groundbreaking work outlines the steps to recovery from trauma. The first step is regaining a sense of safety, presumably translates to finding ways to calm the too-fearful, too easily triggered emotions circuits enough to allow relearning. Typically this begins with helping parties understand that their jumpiness and nightmares, hyper vigilance and panics, are part of the symptoms of PTSD. The understanding makes the symptoms themselves less frightening.

The sense in which PTSD patients feel “unsafe” goes beyond fears that dangers lurk all around them: their insecurity begins more intimately in the feeling that they have no control over what is happening in their body and to their emotions. This is understandable, given the hair-trigger for emotional hijacking that PTSD creates by hyper sensitizing the amygdala circuitry.

Medication offers some way to restore patients’ sense that they need not be so at the mercy of the emotional alarms that flood them with anxiety, keep them sleepless, or pepper their sleep with nightmares. Unfortunately, today’s medications preclude doing exactly what they would like to achieve. For now, there are medications that counter only some of the needed changes, notably the antidepressants that act on the serotonin system and beta-blockers like propanol, which block the activation of the sympathetic nervous system.

Patients also may learn relaxation techniques that give them the ability to counter their edginess and nervousness. A physiological calm opens a window for helping the brutalized emotional circuitry rediscover that life is not a threat and for giving back to patients some of the sense of security they had in their lives before the trauma occurred.

Another step in healing involves retelling and reconstructing the story of the trauma in the harbor of that safety, allowing the emotional circuitry to acquire a new, more realistic understanding of and response to the traumatic memory and its triggers. As patients retell the horrific details of the trauma, the memory starts to be transformed, both in its emotional meaning and in its effects on the emotional brain. The pace of this retelling is delicate; ideally it mimics the pace that occurs naturally in those people who are able to recover from trauma without suffering PTSD. In these cases there often seems to be an inner close that “doses” people with intrusive memories that relive the trauma, intercut with weeks or months when they remember hardly anything of the horrible events.

To summarize, psychotherapy serves as an emotion tutorial.

The Family Crucible

March 20, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Goleman writes that research has shown that the three most common emotionally inept parenting styles are:

*Ignoring feelings altogether. Such parents treat a child’s emotional upset as trivial or a bother, something they should wait to blow over. They fail to use emotional moments as a chance to get closer to the child or to help the child learn lessons in emotional competence.

*Being too “laissez-faire.” These parents notice how a child feels, but hold that however a child handles the emotional storm is fine—even, say, hitting. Like those who ignore a child’s feelings, these parents rarely step in to try to show they child an alternative emotional response. They try to smooth all upsets, and will, for instance, use bargaining and bribes to get their child to stop being sad or angry.

*Being contemptuous showing no respect for how the child feels. Such parents are typically disapprovingly harsh in both their criticisms and their punishments. They might for instance, forbid any display of the child’s anger at all, and become punitive as the least sign of irritability. These are parents who angrily yell at a child who is trying to to tell his side of the story, “Don’t you talk back to me!”

The default method of parenting most parents adopt is how they were raised. Unfortunately this propagates many poor parenting methods yielding low emotional intelligence. Effective parenting requires a fairly good grasp of the rudiments of emotional intelligence. Reading Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence” provides the base knowledge, but being emotionally intelligent also requires substantial practice. As will be come apparent, even if parents know what to do, it can be quite demanding.

A child’s readiness for school depends on the most basic of all knowledge, how to learn. A report from the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs makes the point that school success is not predicted by a child’s fund of facts or precocious ability to read so much as by emotions and social measures. The report lists seven key ingredients of this crucial capacity—all related to emotional intelligence.

Confidence. A sense of control and mastery of one’s body, behavior, and world; the child’s sense that he is more likely than not to succeed at what he undertakes, and that adults will be helpful.
Curiosity. The sense that finding out about things is positive and leads to pleasure.
Intentionality. The wish and capacity to have an impact, and to act upon that with persistence. This is related to a sense of competence, of being effective.
Self-control. The ability to modulate and control one’s own actions in age-appropriate ways; a sense of inner control.
Relatedness. The ability to engage with others based on the sense of being understood by and understanding others.
Capacity to communicate. The wish and ability to verbally exchange ideas, feelings, and concepts with others. This is related to a sense of trust in others and of pleasure in engaging with others, including adults.
Cooperativeness. The ability to balance one’s own needs with those of others in group activity.

Two examples of getting the emotional basics follow: one is how to and one is how not to:
“Say a two-month-old baby was up at 3 A.M. and starts crying. Her mother comes in and, for the next half hour, the baby contentedly nurses in her mother’s arms while her mother gazes at her affectionately, telling her that she’s happy to see her, even in the middle of the night. The baby, content in her mother’s love, drifts back to sleep.”
“Now a comparable baby, who also awoke crying in the wee hours, is met instead by a mother who is tense and irritable, having fallen asleep just an hour before after a fight with her husband. The baby starts to tense up the moment his mother abruptly picks him up, telling him, “Just be quiet—I can’t stand one more thing! Come on, let’s get it over with.” As the baby nurses his mother stares stonily ahead, not looking at him, reviewing her fight with his father, getting more agitated herself as she mulls it over. The baby, sensing her tension, squirms, stiffens, and stops nursing. “That’s all you want?” his mother asks. “Then don’t eat.” With the same abruptness she puts him back in his crib and stalks out, letting him cry until he falls back to sleep exhausted.” Goleman notes, “Of course, most babies get a least a taste of both kinds of interaction. But to the degree that one or the other is typical of how parents treat a child over the years, basic emotional lessons will be imparted about how secure a child is in the world, how effective he feels, and how dependable others are. Erik Erikson put in terms of whether a child comes to feel a “basic trust” or a “basic mistrust.”

All the small exchanges between parent and child have an emotional subtext, and in the repetition of these message over the years children form the core of their emotional outlook and capabilities. A little girl who finds a puzzle frustrating and asks her busy mother to help gets one message if the reply is the mother’s clear pleasure at the request and another if it’s a curt “Don’t bother me—I’ve got important work to do.” When such encounters become typical of child and parent, they modify the child’s emotional expectations about relationships. They mold the child’s emotional expectations about the relationships, outlooks that will flavor her functioning in all realms of life for better or worse.

It is clear that a mother loving and wanting a child is key to developing an emotionally intelligent child. This is also true for the father. The absence of this love and desire to have a child, and the absence of a father make this difficult. It is one matter to be pro life, but perhaps more important to be pro quality life.

During the first three or four years of life are a period when the toddler’s brain grows to about two thirds its full size, and evolves in complexity at a greater rate than it ever will again. During this period key kinds of learning take place more readily than later in life—emotional learning foremost among them. During this time severe stress can impair the brain’s learning centers, damaging the intellect.

Child abuse results in the extinction of empathy. Goleman writes that what is perhaps most troubling about abused toddlers is how early they seem to have learned to respond like miniature versions of their own abusive parents. The next post will discuss Trauma and Emotional Relearning.

Mind and Medicine

March 19, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” There are two extreme views regarding the mind and medicine. One view, and it is unfortunate that there are physicians who hold this view, is that there is no relationship between the mind and medicine. The other extreme is that the mind controls all and medicine is unnecessary. Actually, this extreme view is the view adopted by some religions such as Christian Scientists, that prayer and meditation, not the mind, provides the basis for treating all illnesses. As the reader will see, the truth lies somewhere in between.

The truth is that there are links between the immune system and the central nervous system, and the field that studies this, psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a leading-edge medical science. It’s name acknowledges the links: psycho, or mind; neuro, for the neuroendocrine system (which subsumes the nervous system and hormone systems); and immunology, for the immune system.

Some surgeons will cancel scheduled surgeries for people who are panicked by the prospect of surgery. Every surgeon knows that people who are extremely scared do terribly in surgery. They bleed too much, they have more infections and complications, and they have a harder time recovering. Patients do much better if they are calm.

A study of anger in heart patients was done at Stanford University Medical School. All the patients in the study had suffered a first heart attack, and the question was whether anger might have a significant impact of some kind on their heart function. While the patients recounted incidents that made them mad, the pumping efficiency of their hearts dropped by 5 percentage points. Some patients showed a drop in pumping efficiency of 7% or greater. This is a range that cardiologists regard as a sign of myocardial ischemia, a dangerous drop in blood to the heart itself.

Another study by Dr. Redford Williams of Duke University found that those physicians who had had the highest scores on a test of hostility while still in medical school were seven times as likely to have died by the age of fifty as were those with low hostility scores. This is a stronger predictor of dying your than were other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Anxiety, the distress evoked by life’s pressures, is perhaps the emotion with the greatest weight of scientific evidence connecting it to the onset of sickness and course of recovery. Yale psychologist Bruce McEwen noted a broad spectrum of effects: compromising immune functions to the point that it can speed the metastasis of cancer; increasing vulnerability to viral infections; exacerbating plaque formation leading to atherosclerosis and blood clotting leading to myocardial infarction; accelerating the onset of Type 1 diabetes and the course of Type II diabetes; and worsening or triggering an asthma attack. Stress can also lead to ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract, triggering symptoms in ulcerative colitis and in inflammatory bowel disease. The brain itself is susceptible to the long-term effects of sustained stress, including damage to the hippocampus, and so to memory.

There are also medical costs of depression. In patients with chronic kidney failures who were receiving dialysis, those who were diagnosed with major depression were most likely to die within the following two years; depression was a stronger predictor of death than any medical sign.

Heart disease is also exacerbated by depression. A study of 2832 middle-aged men and women tracked for twelve years, those who felt a sense of nagging despair and hopelessness had a heightened rate of death from heart disease. For the 3% who were most severely depressed, the death rate from heart disease compared to those with no feelings of depression was four times greater.

As there are medical costs to pessimism, there are medical advantages to optimism. For example, 122 men who had their first heart attack were evaluated on their degree of optimism or pessimism. Eight years later, of the 25 most pessimistic men, 21 had died; of the 25 most optimistic, just 6 had died.

There is medical value from relationships. Two decades of research involving more than 37,000 people show that social isolation, the sense that you have nobody with whom you can share your private feelings or have close contact—doubles the chance of sickness or death. A 1987 report in “Science” concluded that isolation is as significant to mortality rates as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and and lack of physical exercise. Goleman takes care to note that solitude is not the same as isolation; many people who live on their own or see few friends are content and healthy. Rather, it is the subjective sense of being cut of from people and having no one to turn to that is a medical risk.

Goleman argues that for medicine to enlarge its vision to embrace the impact of emotions, two large implications of the scientific findings must be taken to heart:

HELPING PEOPLE BETTER MANAGE THEIR UPSETTING FEELINGS—ANGER, ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, PESSIMISM, AND LONELINESS IS A FORM OF DISEASE PREVENTION. The data show that the toxicity of these emotions, when chronic, is on a par with smoking cigarettes, helping people handle them better could potentially have a medical payoff as great as getting heavy smokers to quit. One way to do this that could have broad public-health effects would be to impart most basic emotional intelligence skills to children, so that they become lifelong habits. Another high-payoff preventive strategy would be to teach emotion management to people reaching retirement age, since emotional well-being is one factor that determines whether an older person declines rapidly or thrives. A third target group might be so-called at-risk populations—the very poor, single working mothers, residents of high-crime neighborhoods, and the like—who live under extraordinary pressure day in and day out, and so might do better medically with help in handing the emotional toll of these stresses.
MANY PATIENTS CAN BENEFIT MEASURABLY WHEN THEIR PSYCHOLOGICAL NEEDS ARE ATTENDED TO ALONG WITH THEIR PURELY MEDICAL ONES. While it is a step toward more humane care when a physician or nurse offers a distressed patient comfort and consolation, more can be done. But emotional care is an opportunity too often out of the way medicine is practiced today; it is a blind spot for medicine. Despite mounting data on the medical usefulness of attending to emotional needs, as well as supporting evidence for connecting between the brain’s emotional center and the immune system, many physicians remain skeptical that their patients’ emotions matter clinically, dismissing the evidence of this as trivial and anecdotal, as “fringe, or worse as the exaggerations of a self-promoting few.

Managing with Heart

March 18, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” A new competitive reality is putting intelligence at a premium in the workplace and in the marketplace. Shoshone Zuboff, a psychologist at Harvard Business School pointed out to Goleman, “corporations have gone though a radical revolution within the 20th century, and with this has come a corresponding transformation of the emotional landscape. There was a long period of managerial domination of the corporate hierarchy when the manipulative, jungle-fighter boss was rewarded. But that rigid hierarchy started breaking down in the 1980s under the twin pressures of globalization and information technology. The jungle fighter symbolizes where the corporation has been; the virtuosic in interpersonal skills is the corporate future.”

All the deleterious effects of agitation on thinking discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts operate in the workplace too: When emotionally upset, people cannot remember, attend, learn, or make decisions clearly. One management consultant, likely many management consultants, have said, “Stress makes people stupid.”

A discussion of the importance of emotional intelligence to three issues of the workplace will be presented: being able to air grievances as helpful critiques, creating an atmosphere in which diversity is valued, and networking effectively.

The worst way to motivate someone is through personal attacks rather then complaints that can be acted upon. One of the more common forms of destructive criticism is a generalized statement like “You’re screwing up,” delivered in a harsh, sarcastic, angry tone that provides neither a chance to respond nor any suggestion of how to do things better. The person receiving it feels helpless and angry. From the point of emotional intelligence, such criticism displays an ignorance of feelings it triggers in those who receive it, along with the devastating effect these feelings will have on their motivation, energy, and confidence in doing their work.

This destructive dynamic was found in a survey of managers who were asked to think back to times they blew up at employees and, in the heat of the moment, made a personal attack. The angry attacks had effects much like they would in a married couple: the employees who received them reacted most often by becoming defensive, making excuses, or evading responsibility. Sometimes they stonewalled in that they tried to avoid all contact with the manager who blew up at them. If these employees had been subjected to the emotional microscope of John Gottman used with married couples that was described in the blog post “Intimate Enemies,” they would no doubt have been shown to be thinking the thoughts of innocent victimhood or righteous indignation typical of husbands or wives who feel unfairly attacked. If their physiology were measured, they would probably also display the flooding that reinforces such thoughts. Yet these managers were only further annoyed and provoked by these responses. Goleman suggests that this would be the beginning of a cycle in the business world that ends in the employee quitting or being fired. This is the business equivalent of a divorce.

J.R. Larson, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana, notes that “most problems in an employee’s performance are not sudden. They develop slowly over time. When the boss fails to let his feelings be known promptly, it leads to his frustration building up slowly. Then, one day, he blows up about it. If the criticism had been given earlier on, the employee would have been able to correct the problem. Too often people criticize only when things boil over, when they get too angry to contain themselves. And that’s when they give the criticism in the worst way, in a tone of biting sarcasm, calling to mind a long list of grievances they have kept to themselves, or making threats. Such attacks backfire. They are received as an affront, so the recipient becomes angry in return. It’s the worst way to motivate someone.”

Harry Levinson, who is a psychoanalyst turned corporate consultant, gives the following advice on a critique, which is intricately entwined with the art of praise:

“*Be specific. Pick a significant incident, an event that illustrates a key problem that needs changing or a pattern of deficiency, such as the inability to do certain parts of a job well. It demoralizes people just to hear that they are doing “something” wrong, without knowing what the specifics are so they can change. Focus on the specifics, saying what the person did well, what was done poorly, and how it could be changed. Don’t beat about the bush or be oblique or evasive; it will muddy the real message. This, of course, is akin to the advice to couples about they “XYZ” statement of a grievance: say exactly what the problem is, what’s wrong with it, or how it makes you feel, and what could be changed.”

Levinson points out, “Specificity is just as important for praise as for criticism. I won’t say the vague praise has no effect at all, but it doesn’t have much, and you can’t learn from it.”

“* Offer a solution. The critique, like all useful feedback, should point a way to fix the problem. Otherwise it leaves the recipient frustrated, demoralized, or unmotivated. The critique may open the door to possibilities and alternatives that the person did not realize were there, or simply sensitize her to deficiencies that need attention—but should include suggestions about how to take care of the problem.”

“*Be present. Critiques, like praise, are most effective face to face and in private. People who are uncomfortable giving a criticism—or offering praise—are likely to ease the burden on themselves by doing it as a distance, such as a memo. But this makes communication too impersonal, and robs the person receiving it of an opportunity for a response or clarification.

“* Be sensitive. This is a call for empathy, for being attuned to the impact of what you say and how you say it on the person at the receiving end, Managers who have little empathy are most prone to giving feedback in a hurtful fashion, such as the withering putdown. The net effect of such criticism is destructive: instead of opening the way for a corrective, it creates an emotional backlash of resentment, bitterness, defensiveness, and distance.”

The key to dealing with diversity is to see value in diversity. Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the United States, if not is greatest strength, is the diversity of its population. It is a country of immigrants coming from many different cultures. Unfortunately, too many people see diversity as a problem or a challenge rather than an opportunity. Efforts to restrict immigration are not only hypocritical, as with the exception of the first Americans, the native Americans, we are all immigrants, but also harmful to our continued growth and productivity. Such people are selfish with the attitude of we’ve got ours, so screw you. They are likely highly prejudiced against people who do not look like them or worship as they do.

Prejudices are a kind of emotional leaning that occurs early in life, making these reactions especially hard to eradicate entirely, even in people who as adults feel it is wrong to hold them. There is a healthy memory blog post, “Implicit versus Explicit Prejudice” which discusses implicit biases. There is also a website that provides tests for implicit biases. There are tests you can take to measure your implicit bias. Do not be discouraged if you score high on certain biases. These are implicit biases that might well be the result of your experiences and learning when you were young. If your explicit behavior does not reflect any biases, then you can reward yourself for overcoming your biases. However, be very careful. We humans are very good at fooling ourselves, and we have many subterfuges for hiding biases. Moreover, it is irrelevant whether we regard ourselves as being bias free. This judgment is better made by other people, preferably people who are the source of your biases. The bottom line here is to work to rid ourselves of all bias. Bias is bad personally and to our country, and the world. We need to work toward zero tolerance for intolerance.

There is a relationship between diversity and networkingy effectively. Networking effectively entails being knowledgeable about the skills and areas of expertise of your coworkers. Clearly any racial, ethnic,or religious biases will degrade or destroy networking effectively. Peter Drucker, the business maven who coined the term “knowledge worker” noted that with knowledge work, “teams become the work unit rather than the individual himself.” This implies that emotional intelligence, the skills that help people harmonize, are central to networking effectively.

Group intelligence has been discussed in previous healthy memory posts. This idea of a group intelligence comes from the Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg and his graduate student Wendy Williams. They developed this concept when they were seeking to understand why some groups are far more effective than others. When people come together to work as a group, each brings different talents. Goleman writes that “while a group can be no “smarter” than the sum total of all these specific strengths, it can be much dumber if its internal workings don’t allow all of these specific strengths, it can be much dumber if its internal workings don’t allow people to share their strengths.” Although HM certainly agrees with the second part of this statement, he strongly disagrees with the first part. The group can be smarter than the sum of its parts. Synergy is the term to describe this.

The first step in networking effectively is to find as much as you can about potential collaborators. Try to develop personal relationships to learn what they know, what they can do, and what they can contribute. Even if the individual or group does not seem to have relevance, one can invite individuals or groups to meetings to see if they have any ideas as to what they can contribute.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Intimate Enemies

March 17, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Intimate enemies refers to married couples having marital problems. Marital therapists have long noted that by the time a couple finds their way to a therapy office they are in this pattern of engage-withdraw with the husband complaining about her “unreasonable “ demands and outbursts, and the wife lamenting his indifference to what she is saying. In effect, there are two emotional realities in a couple, his and hers. The roots of these emotional differences, although they may be partly biological, can also be traced back to childhood, and to the separate emotional worlds boys and girls inhabit while growing up. One study of children’s friendships found that three-year olds say about half their friends are of the opposite sex; for five-year-olds it’s about 20%, and by age seven almost no boys or girls say they have a best friend of the opposite sex. Until teenagers start dating, these separate universes intersect little.

Boys and girls are taught very different lessons about handling emotions. In general, parents discuss emotions—with the exception of anger—more with their daughters than with their sons. Girls are exposed to more information about emotions than are boys; when parents make up stories to tell their preschool children, they use more emotion words when talking to daughters than to sons. When mothers play with their infants, they display a wider range of emotions to daughters than to their sons; when mothers talk to daughters about feelings, they discuss in more detail the emotional state itself than they do with their sons—though with the sons they go into more detail about the causes and consequences of emotions like anger.

Two researchers who have summarized the research on differences in emotions between the sexes, Leslie Brody and Judith Hall, propose that because girls develop facility with language more quickly than do boys, this leads them to be more experienced at articulating their feelings and more skilled than boys at using words to explore and substitute for emotional reactions such as physical fights. They note “boys, for whom the verbalization of affects is de-emphasized, may become largely unconscious of their emotional states, both in themselves and in others.

At age ten, roughly the same % of girls and boys are overtly aggressive, given to open confrontation when angered. However, by age 13, a telling difference between the sexes emerges: girls become more adept than boys at artful aggressive tactics like ostracism, vicious gossip, and indirect vendettas. By and large, boys simply continue being confrontational when angered, oblivious to these covert strategies. This is just one of the many ways the boys, and later men, are less sophisticated than the opposite sex in emotional skills.

Harvard’s Carol Gilligan notes that differences between boys and girls at play point to a key disparity between the sexes: boys take pride in a lone, tough-minded independence and autonomy, while girls see themselves as part of a web of connectedness. So boys are threatened by anything that might challenge their independence, while girls are more threatened by a rupture in their relationships. Deborah Tannen pointed out in her book “You Just Don’t Understand,” these differing perspectives mean that men and women want and expect very different things out of a conversation, with men content to talk about “things,” while women seek emotional connection.

A psychologist at the University of Texas, Ted Huston, who has studied couples in depth, observes, “To the wives, intimacy means talking things over, especially talking about the relationship itself. By and large, the men don’t understand what their wives want from them. Huston found that during courtship men were much more willing to spend time talking in ways that suited the wish for intimacy of their wives-to-be. But once married, as time went on the men—especially more traditional couples, spent less and less time talking in this way with their wives, finding a sense of closeness simply in doing things like gardening together rather than talking things over. Men tend to be somewhat Pollyannaish about the state of they marriage, while their wives are attuned to the trouble spots.

There are implications of this emotional gender gap for how couples handle the grievances and disagreements that any intimate relationship inevitably spawns. Specific issues such as how often a couple has sex, how to discipline children, or how much debt and savings a couple feels comfortable with are not what makes or breaks a marriage. Rather, it is how a couple discusses such sore points that matter for the fate of their marriage. Simply having reached an agreement about how to disagree is key to marital survival; men and women have to overcome the innate genre differences in approaching rocky emotions. Failing this, couples are vulnerable to emotional rifts that eventually can tear their relationship apart. These rifts are far more likely to develop if one or both partners have certain deficits in emotional intelligence.

John Gottman,a University of Washington psychologist, runs a laboratory that analyses the emotional glue that binds couples together, and the corrosive feelings that can destroy marriages. Couples conversations are videotaped in his laboratory and then subjected to hours of microanalysis designed to reveal the emotional currents at play. This mapping of the faults lines that may lead a couple to divorce makes a convincing case for the crucial role of emotional intelligence in the survival of a marriage. While couples talk sensors record the slightest flux in their physiology, a second-by-second analysis of their facial expressions detects the most fleeting and subtle nuance of feeling. After the session each partner comes separately to the lab and watches a video tape of the conversation, and narrates his or her secret thoughts during the heated moments of the exchange. Dr. Gotten is able to predict which couples will divorce within three years with 94% accuracy.

There are important differences between complaints and personal criticisms. In a complaint, one person states specifically what is upsetting, and criticizes the other’s action, not the person, about how it made the person feel. “When you forgot to pick up my clothes at the cleaner’s it made me feel like you don’t care about me.” This is an expression of basic emotional intelligence: assertive, not belligerent or passive. But in a personal criticism the grievance is used to launch a global attack on the person. For example, “You’re always so selfish and uncaring. It just proves I can’t trust you to do anything right.” This kind of criticism leaves the person on the receiving end feeling ashamed, disliked, blamed, and defective—all of which are more likely to lead to a defensive response than to steps to improve things.

The two arms of the fight-or-flight response each represents ways a spouse can respond to an attack. The most obvious is to fight back, lashing out in anger. That route typically ends in a fruitless shouting match. But the alternative response, fleeing, can be more pernicious, particularly when the “flight” is a retreat into stony silence. Stonewalling is the ultimate defense. The stonewaller just goes blank, in effect withdrawing from the conversation by responding with a stony expression and silence. Stonewalling showed up mainly in marriages that were heading for trouble; in 85% of these cases it was the husband who stonewalled in response to a wife who attacked with criticism and contempt. As a habitual response stonewalling is devastating to the health of a relationship: it cuts off all possibility of working out disagreements.

Gotten uses the term “flooding’ for the susceptibility to frequent emotional distress: Flooded husbands or wives are so overwhelmed by their partner’s negativity and their own reaction to it that they are swamped by dreadful, out-of-control feelings. People who are flooded cannot hear without distortion or respond with clear-headedness; they find it hard to organize their thinking and fall back on primitive reactions. They want things to stop, or to run or, sometimes to strike back. Flooding is a self-perpetuating emotional highjacking.

The technical description of flooding is in terms of heart rate rise from calm levels. At rest, the women’s heart rates are about 82 beats per minute, men’s about 72. Flooding begins at about 10 beats per minute above a person’s resting rate; if the heart reaches 100 beats per minute (as it can easily do during moments of rage or tears), then the body is pumping adrenaline and other hormones that keep distress high for some time. The moment of emotional highjacking is apparent from the heart rate: it can jump 10, 20, or even as many as 30 beats per minute within the space of a single heartbeat. Muscles tense; it can seem hard to breathe. There is a swamp of toxic feelings, an unpleasant wash of fear and anger that seems inescapable. This is clearly a dangerous point for a marriage.

Men are the vulnerable sex. Women, on average, do not mind plunging into the unpleasantness of a marital squabble nearly so much as do the men in their lives. Husbands are prone to flooding at a lower intensity of negativity than are their wives. More men than women react to they spouse’s criticism with flooding. Once flooding, husbands secrete more adrenaline into their bloodstream, and their adrenaline flow is triggered by lower levels of negativity on their wife’s part; it takes husbands longer to recover from flooding.

Men are more likely to be stonewallers and women are more likely to criticize their husbands in their assumed roles as emotional managers. There seems to be a fundamental incapability here. So what can be done?

In general, men and women need different emotional fine-tuning. For men, the advice is not to sidestep conflict, but to realize that when their wife brings up some grievance or disagreement, she may be doing it as an act of love trying to keep the relationship healthy and on course (but there may be other motives here). When grievances simmer, they build and build in intensity until there’s an explosion: when they are aired and worked out, it takes the pressure off. But husbands need to realize that anger or discontent is not synonymous with personal attack—their wives emotions are often simply underlines, emphasizing the strength of feelings about the matter.

Men also need to be on guard again short-circuiting the discussion by offering a practical solution too early on—it’s typically more important to a wife that she feel her husband hears her complaining and empathizes with her feelings. Neither party should make personal attacks.

When discussions or arguments become heated, it might be wise to agree to break off the discussion or argument now, and to resume it at a later time.

The Social Arts

March 16, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Before developing interpersonal skills, toddlers must first reach a benchmark of self-control, the beginnings of the capacity to damp down their own anger and distress, their impulses and excitement—even if that ability usually falters. Attunement to others demands a modicum of calm in oneself. Tentative signs of the ability to manage their emotions emerge around this same time: toddlers begin to be able to wait without wailing, to argue or cajole to get their way rather than using brute force—even if they don’t always choose to use this ability. At least occasionally, patience emerges as an alternative to tantrums. Signs of empathy emerge by age two. Handling emotion in someone else, the fine art of relationships, requires the ripeness of two other emotional skills, self-management and empathy.

People skills are the social competences that make for effectiveness in dealings with others. Deficits lead to ineptness in the social world or repeated interpersonal disasters. It is precisely the lack of these skills that can cause even the brightest to founder in their relationships. They come off as arrogant, obnoxious, or insensitive. Goleman concludes, “These social abilities allow one to shape an encounter, to mobilize and inspire others, to thrive in intimate relationships, to persuade and influence, to put others at ease.”

Emotions are contagious. Goleman writes, “We transmit and catch moods from each other in what amounts to a subterranean economy of the psyche in which some encounters are toxic, some nourishing. This emotional exchange is typically at a subtle almost imperceptible level; the way a salesperson says thank you can leave us feeling ignored, resented, or genuinely welcome and appreciated. We catch feelings from one another as though they were some kind of social virus.”

Goleman continues, “We send emotional signals in every encounter, and those signals affect whom we are with. The more adroit we are socially, the better we control the signals we send; the reserve of polite society is, after all simply means to ensure that no disturbing emotional leakage will unsettle the encounter (a social rule that, when brought into the domain of intimate relationships, is stifling). Emotional intelligence includes managing this exchange; ‘popular’ and ‘charming’ are terms we use for people whom we like to be with because their emotional skills make us feel good. People who are able to help others soothe their feelings have an especially valued social commodity; they are the souls others turn to when in greatest emotional need. We are all part of each other’s tool kit for emotional change, for better or worse.”

In a simple experiment two volunteers filled out a check list about their moods of the moment, then simply sat facing each other quietly while waiting for an experimenter to return to the room. Two minutes later the experimenter came back and asked them to fill out a mood checklist again. The pairs were purposely composed of one partner who was highly expressive of emotion and one who was deadpan. Invariably the mood of one who was more expressive of emotions had been transferred to the more passive partner.

Here’s how Goleman explains this transmission. “The most likely answer is that we unconsciously imitate the emotions we see displayed by someone else, through an out-of-awareness motor mimicry of their facial expression, gestures, tone of voice, and other nonverbal markers of emotion. Through this imitation people re-create in themselves the mood of the other person—a low -key version of the Stanislavsky method, in which actors recall gestures, movements, and other expressions of an emotion they have felt strongly in the past in order to evoke those feelings again.”

The degree of emotional rapport people feel in an encounter is mirrored by how tightly coordinated their physical movements are as the talk. This index of closeness it typically out of awareness. One person nods as the other makes a point. Or they both shift their chairs at the same moment, or one leans forward as the other moves back. This synchrony seems to facilitate the sending and receiving of moods, even when the moods are negative. In one study of physical synchrony, women who were depressed came to a laboratory with their romantic partners and discussed a problem in their relationship. The more synchrony between the partners at the nonverbal level, the worse the depressed women’s partners felt after the discussion. They had caught their girlfriend’s bad moods. So, whether people feel upbeat or down, the more physically attuned their encounter, the more similar their moods will become.

Psychologists Hatch and Gardner have identified the following four separate abilities as components of interpersonal intelligence:

*Organizing groups—the essential skill of the leader, this involves initiating and coordinating the efforts of a network of people. This is the talent seen in theater directors or producers, in military officers, and in effective heads of organizations and units of all kinds. On the playground, this is the child who takes the lead in deciding what everyone will play, or becomes team captain.

*Negotiating solutions—the talent of the mediator, presenting conflicts or resolving those that flare up. People who have this ability excel in deal-making, in arbitrating or mediating disputes; they might have a career in diplomacy, in arbitration or law, or as middlemen of managers of takeovers. These are the kids who settle arguments on the playing field.

*Personnel connection—the talent of empathy and connecting. This makes it easy to enter into an encounter or to recognize and respond fittingly to people’s feelings and concerns—the art of relationship. Such people make good “team players,” dependable spouses, good friends or business partners; in the business world they do well as salespeople or managers, or can be excellent teachers. Children get along well with virtually everyone else, easily enter into playing with them, and are happy doing so. These children tend to be best art reading emotions from facial expression and are most liked by their classmates.

*Social analysis—being able to detect and have insights about people’s feelings, motives, and concerns. This knowledge of how others feel can lead to an easy intimacy or sense of rapport. At its best, this ability makes one a competent therapist or counselor—or if combined with some literary talent, a gifted novelist or dramatist.

The Roots of Empathy

March 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Empathy builds on self-awareness. The more open we are to our own emotions, the more skilled we will be in reading feelings. Empathy comes into play in a vast array of life arenas, from sales and management, to romance and parenting, to compassion and political action. Its lack is seen in criminal psychopaths, rapists, and child molesters.

Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard psychologist, and his students devised a test of empathy, the PONS (Profile of Nonverbal Sensitivity), a series of videotapes of a young woman expressing feelings ranging from loathing to motherly love. The scenes range from a jealous rage to asking forgiveness, from a show of gratitude to seduction. The video has been edited so that in each portrayal one or more channels of nonverbal communication are systematically blanked out; in addition to having the words muffled, in some scenes all other cues but the facial expression are blocked. In others, only the body movements are shown, and so on, through the main nonverbal channels of communication, so the viewers have to detect emotion from one or another specific nonverbal cue.

The tests of over seven thousand people in the United States and eighteen other countries, the benefits of being able to read feelings from nonverbal cues included being better adjusted emotionally, more popular, more outgoing, and—perhaps not surprisingly—more sensitive. Generally speaking women are better than men at this kind of empathy. People whose performance improved over the course of the 45 minute test—a sign that they have a talent for picking up empathy skills—had better relationships with the opposite sex. It should be no surprise that empathy helps with romantic life.

Empathy is independent from academic intelligence. In tests with 1,011 children, those who showed an aptitude for reading feelings nonverbally were among the most popular in their schools, and the most emotionally stable. They also did better in school even though on average their IQs were not higher than other students. Apparently high empathic ability smooths the way for classroom (or simply makes teachers like them more).

Developmental psychologists have found that infants feel sympathetic distress even before they fully realize that they exist apart from other people. Just a few months after birth, infants react to disturbances in those around them as though they were their own, crying when they see another child’s tears. After one year or so, they start to realize the misery is not their own, but someone else’s.

Eventually toddlers begin to diverge from one another in their overall sensitivity to other people’s emotional upsets. Research has shown that a large part of the difference in empathic concern had to do with how parents disciplined their children. Children were more empathetic when the discipline included calling strong attention to the distress their misbehaving caused someone else. They also found that children’s empathy is also shaped by seeing how others react when someone else is distressed; by imitating what they see, children develop a repertoire of empathic response, especially in helping other people who are distressed.

Psychiatrist Daniel Stern is fascinated by the small repeated exchanges that take place between parent and child. He believes that the most basic lessons of emotional life are laid down in these intimate moments. Of all such moments, the most critical are those that let the child know her emotions are met with empathy, accepted, and reciprocated, in a process Stern calls attunement.

Prolonged absence of attunement between parent and child takes a tremendous emotional toll on the child. When a parent consistently fails to show any empathy with a particular range of emotions in the child—joys, tears, needing to cuddle—the child begins to avoid expressing, and perhaps even feeling, the same emotions.

The lifetime emotional costs of a lack of attunement in childhood can be great—and not just for the child. A study of criminals who committed the cruelest and most violent crimes found that the one characteristic of their early lives that sent them apart from other criminals was that they had been shuttled from foster home to foster home or raised in orphanages. These life histories suggest emotional neglect and little opportunity for attunement.

The following comes from a section in the chapter titled ‘LIFE WITHOUT EMPATHY:THE MIND OF THE MOLESTER, THE MORALS OF THE SOCIOPATH
“A psychological fault line is common to rapists, child molesters, and many perpetrators of family violence alike; they are incapable of empathy. This inability to feel their victim’s pain allows them to tell themselves lies that encourage their crime. For rapists, the lieu include “Women really want to get raped” or “If she resists, she’s just playing hard to get;” for molesters, “I’m not hurting the child, just showing love” or “This is just another form of affection;” for physically abusive parents, “This is just good discipline.”

On the other hand, empathy provides the roots for altruism and ethics. This underscores research showing that the most important relationship for a child is its relationship with its mother. The mother needs to want and love the child. The absence of this desire and love bodes ill for the future of the child. Delinquency, criminal behavior, drug abuse, and children who live purposeless live are the result. These are lost lives. Rather than pro-life, the goal should be pro-quality life. Unless a loving substitute is found, an abortion is likely beneficial for the child. A merciful God would save the soul of the child for a loving and caring mother.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Master Aptitude

March 14, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” When emotions overwhelm concentration working memory is swamped. Working memory is where all information relevant to the task at hand is held. This information can be as mundane as the digits that comprise a telephone number, or as complicated as the intricate plot lines a novelist is trying to weave together. Working memory is the executive function that makes possible all other intellectual efforts, from speaking a sentence to tackling difficult logical propositions. The prefrontal cortex executes working memory and that is where feeling and emotion meet. When the limbic circuitry that converges on the prefrontal cortex is in emotional distress, one casualty is the effectiveness of working memory. We can’t think straight.

Here the role of positive motivation needs to be considered. The marshaling of feelings like enthusiasm and confidence enhance achievement. Studies of Olympic athletes, world-class musicians, and chess grand masters find their unifying trait is the ability to motivate themselves to pursue relentless training routines.

The added payoff for life success from motivation, apart from other innate abilities, is seen in the remarkable performance of Asian students in American schools and professions. A review of the evidence suggests that Asian-American children may have an average IQ Advantage over whites of just two or three points. Yet on the basis of the professions, such as law and medicine, where many Asian-Americans end up, as a group they behave as though their IQ were much higher—the equivalent of an IQ of 110 Japanese-Americans and of 120 for Chinese-Americans. It seems that for the earliest years of school, Asian children work harder than whites. Sanford Dorenbusch, a Stanford sociologist who studies more than ten thousand high school students, found that Asian-Americans spend 40% more time doing homework than did other students. Dorenbusch writes, “While most American parents are willing to accept a child’s weak areas and emphasize his strengths, for Asians, the attitude is that if you’re not doing well, the answer is to study later at night, and if you still don’t do well, to get up and study earlier in the morning.”

Goleman concludes, “To the way that our emotions get in the way of or enhance our ability to think and plan, to pursue training for a distant goal, to solve problems and the like, they define the limits of our capacity to use our innate mental abilities, and so determine what we do in life. And to the degree to which we are motivated by feelings of enthusiasm and pleasure in what we do—or even by an optimal degree of anxiety—they propel us to accomplishment. It is in this sense that emotional intelligence is a master aptitude, a capacity that profoundly affects all other abilities, either facilitating or interfering with them.

Although it is likely that most healthy memory blog readers are aware of the Marshmallow Test, its implications are important enough for it to be mentioned now. The first studies were done by psychologist Walter Mischel during the 1960s at a preschool on the Stanford University campus. The test involve placing a marshmallow before a four year old. The child was told that the researcher was going to leave for 15 to 20 minutes, but if they child could save the marshmallow until he retired, she would be rewarded with another marshmallow. Some children managed to resist and got the second marshmallow reward, and some didn’t. The ramifications of this study did not become clear until 12 to 14 years later. Those who had resisted temptation at 4 were now, as adolescents, more socially competent: personally effective, self-assertive, and better able to cope with the frustrations of life. They were less likely to go to pieces, freeze, or regress under stress, or become rattled and disorganized when pressured; they embraced challenges and pursued them instead of giving up even in the face of difficulties. The children who had grabbed the marshmallow were just the opposite.

The children who were able to delay gratification were also much better students. But, perhaps what was most astonishing were SAT scores. The third of the children who at four grabbed for the marshmallow most eagerly had an average verbal score of 524 and a quantitative scorer of 528. The third who waited the longest had average scores of 610 and 652, respectively—a 210 difference in total score.

Foul moods foul thinking. Being anxious about a test degrades both study and performance on the test. People who are adept at harnessing their emotions use anticipatory anxiety about an upcoming test to motivate themselves to prepare well for it, thereby doing well.

A mildly elated state called hypomania seems optimal for writers and others in creative callings that demand fluidity and imaginative diversity of thought. Here it is important to remember the inverted U shape relationship between motivation and performance. One wants to get to the peak of the inverted U. If euphoria gets out of control to become outright mania (not hypomania) as in the mood swings of manic-depressives, the agitation undermines the ability to think cohesively.

Good moods enhance the ability to think flexibly and with more complexity. One was to help someone think through a problem is to tell them a joke. Laughing, like elation, seems to help people think more broadly and associate more freely, noticing relationships that might have eluded them otherwise—a mental skill important not just in creativity, but in recognizing complex relationships and foreseeing the consequences of a given decision.

A great motivator is optimism. Optimism means having a strong expectation that, in general, things will turn out all right in life, despite setbacks and frustrations. Seligman defines optimism in terms of how people explain to themselves their successes and failures. People who are optimistic see a failure as due to something than can be changed so that they can succeed next time around, while pessimists take the blame for failure, ascribing it to some lasting characteristic they are helpless to change.

Optimism is central to growth mindsets, which are much advocated in this blog. Enter “growth mindsets” into the search block of the healthy memory blog for relevant posts.

Goleman terms Flow as the neurobiology of excellence. Flow is the state defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi known to athletes as the zone where excellence becomes effortless, crowd and competitors disappearing into a blissful, steady absorption in the moment. Goleman writes “flow represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing emotions in the service of performance and learning. In flow the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. Yet flow (or a milder micro flow) is an experience almost everyone enters from time to time, particularly when performing at their peak or stretching beyond their former limits. It is perhaps best captured by ecstatic lovemaking, the merging of two into fluidly harmonious state.”

Goleman writes that “there are several ways to enter flow. One is to intentionally focus a sharp attention on the task at hand; a highly concentrated state is the essence of flow. There seems to be a feedback loop at the gateway to this zone: it can require considerable effort to get calm and focused enough to begin the task—this first step takes some discipline. But once focus starts to lock in, it takes on a force of its own, both offering relief from emotional turbulence and making the task effortless.”

Entry to this zone can also occur when people find a task they are skilled at, and engage in it at a level than slightly taxes their ability. Csikszentmihali told Goleman, “People seem to concentrate best when the demands on them are a bit greater than usual, and when they are able to give more than usual. If there is too little demand on them, people are bored. If there is too much for them to handle, they get anxious. Flow occurs in that delicate cone between boredom and anxiety.”

Flow is a desirable state to achieve. However, the master aptitude is optimism. With optimism one proceeds to develop growth mindsets. This leads to successful lives and healthy memories.

Passion’s Slaves

March 13, 2018

Passion’s Slaves is the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Since the time of Plato a sense of self-mastery, of being able to withstand the emotional storms that the buffeting of Fortune brings rather than being “passion’s slave,” has been praised as a virtue. The ancient Greek word for it was “sophrosyne.” Page DuBois, a Greek scholar translates it as “care and intelligence in conducting one’s life; a tempered balance and wisdom.” The Romans and the early Christian church called it “temperantia”, temperance, the restraining of emotional excess. The goal is balance, not emotional suppression. Aristotle observed, what is wanted is appropriate emotion, feeling proportionate to circumstance. The passions discussed in this post are anger and rage, worry and anxiety, and depression and melancholy.

Anger and Rage

The design of the brain means that we very often have little or no control over when we are swept by emotion, nor over what emotion it will be. However, we can have some say on how long an emotion will last. Consider the anatomy of rage. Say you are cut off in traffic by a driver. You think, “He could have hit me! That bastard—I can’t let him get away with that!” Your knuckles whiten as you tighten your hold on the steering wheel, which you regard as a surrogate for strangling his throat. You body mobilizes to fight not run—leaving you trembling, beads of sweat on your forehead, your heart pounding, the muscles in your face locked in a scowl.”

Compare that sequence of building rage with a more charitable line of thought toward the driver who cut you off. “Maybe he didn’t see me, or maybe he had some good reason for driving so carelessly, such as a medical emergency.” Such thoughts tempers anger with mercy or at least an open mind, short-circuiting the buildup of rage. Aristotle’s challenge is to have only appropriate anger reminds us, is that more often than not, our anger surges out of control. Benjamin Franklin put it well: “Anger is never without a reason, but seldom a good one.” There are different kinds of anger. The amygdala is a main source of the sudden spark of rage we feel at the driver whose carelessness endangers us. On the other end of emotional circuitry, the neocortex, most likely foments more calculated angers, such as cool-headed revenge or outrange at unfairness or injustice.

Rage seems to be the most intransigent of al the moods. Researcher Diana Tice found that anger is the mood people are worst at controlling. Anger is the most seductive of the negative emotions; the self-righteous inner monologue that propels it along fills the mind with the most convincing arguments for venting range. Unlike sadness, anger is energizing, even exhilarating. Anger’s persuasive power might explain why some views about it are so common: that anger is uncontrollable, or that it should not be controlled, and venting anger in “catharsis” is to the good. A contrasting view holds that anger can be prevented entirely. However, a careful reading of research findings suggests that all these common attitudes toward anger are misguided if not outright myths.

The train of angry thoughts that stokes anger is also potentially the key to one of the most powerful ways to defuse anger: undermining the convictions that are fueling the anger in the first case. The longer we ruminate about what has made us angry, the more “good reasons” and self-justification for being angry we can event. Brooding just fuels anger’s flames. Seeing things differently douses those flames. Tice found that reframing a situation more positively was one of the most potent ways to put anger to rest. Timing matters. The earlier in the anger cycle, the more effective. Anger can be completely short-circuited if the mitigating information comes before the anger is acted on.

The second way of de-escalating anger is cooling off physiologically by waiting out the adrenal surge in a setting where there are not likely to be further triggers for rage. This is a common way of dealing with anger according to Tice’s research. One such fairly effective strategy is going off to be alone while cooling down. People go for a drive or a walk. Of these two, the second is preferable. Exercise also works. Relaxation methods such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation, perhaps because they change the body’s physiology from the high arousal of anger to a low-arousal state, and perhaps too because they distract from whatever triggered the anger. [enter “Relaxation Response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant posts].

However, a cooling-down period will not work if that time is used to pursue the train of anger-inducing thought, since each such though will trigger more cascades of anger.

Distractions like TV, movies, reading and the like work, but not shopping or eating.

Ventilation does not work. In fact there is a ventilation fallacy. Ventilation may feel satisfying, but it is counterproductive. Tice found that ventilating anger is one of the worst ways to cool down: outbursts of rage typically pump up the emotional brain’s arousal, leaving people feeling more angry not less.

Worry and Anxiety

Worrying is at the heart of all anxiety. The reaction that underlies worry is the vigilance for potential for potential danger that has, no doubt been essential for survival over the course of evolution. When fear triggers the emotional brain, part of the resulting anxiety fixates attention on the threat at hand, thus forcing the mind to obsess about how to handle it and ignore anything else. Worry is a rehearsal of what might go wrong and how to deal with it. The purpose of worrying is to come up with positive solutions for life’s perils by anticipating dangers before they arise.

Worrying becomes a problem with chronic repetitive worries that go on and on never getting nearer to a positive solution. Goleman writes that a “close analysis of chronic worry suggests that it has all the attributes of a low-grade emotional hijacking. Worries that seem to come from nowhere and are uncontrollable generate a study hum of anxiety, are impervious to reason and lock the worrier into a single, inflexible view of the topic of worry. When this cycle of worry intensifies and persists, it crosses over the line into a full-blown neural hijacking, the anxiety disorders: phobias, obsessions and compulsions, panic attacks.

For each disorder worry fixates in a distinct fashion: phobic anxieties rivet on the feared situation; obsessive disorders fixate on preventing some feared calamity; panic attacks can focus on fear of dying or on the prospect of having the anxiety attack itself.

Researchers have observed that anxiety comes in two forms: cognitive, or worrisome thoughts, and somatic, the physiological symptoms of anxiety, like sweating, a racing heart, or muscle tension. Insomniacs are suffering from anxiety attacks. Their main problem preventing them from sleeping were intrusive thoughts. No matter how sleepy they were, they could not stop worrying. The one technique that worked in helping them get to sleep was getting their minds off their worries, focusing instead on the sensations produced by a relaxation method. In summary, the worries could be stopped by shifting attention away.

Unfortunately, most worriers seem unable to do this. These worriers get a partial payoff from worrying that reinforces the habit. It seems that there is something positive in worries: worries are ways to deal with potential threats. When the work of worrying succeeds, it is to rehearse what those dangers are, and to reflect on ways to deal with them. But Goleman writes that worry doesn’t work that well. “New solutions and fresh ways of seeing a problem do not typically come from worrying, especially chronic worry. Instead of coming up with solutions to these potential problems, worriers typically simply ruminate on the danger itself, immersing themselves in a low-key way in the dread associated with it while staying in the same run of thought. Chronic worriers worry about a wide range of things, most of which have almost no chance of happening; they read dangers into life’s journey that others never notice.”

Still chronic worriers report that worrying helps them, and that their worries are self-perpetuating. So why should worry become what seems to amount to a mental addiction? Borkovec notes that the worry habit is reinforcing in the same sense that superstitions are. Since people worry about many things that have a very low probability of actually occurring, to the primitive limbic brain there appears to be something magical about it. “Like an amulet that wards off some anticipated evil, the worry psychologically gets the credit for preventing the danger it obsesses about.”

Borkovic discovered simple steps the can help even the most chronic worrier control the habit.

The first step is self-awareness, catching the worrisome episodes as near their beginning as possible. Borkovec trains people in this approach by first teaching them to monitor cues for anxiety, especially learning to identify situations that trigger worry, or the fleeting thoughts and images that initiate the worry, as well as the accompanying sensation of anxiety in the body. With practice people can identify the worries at an earlier and earlier point in the anxiety spiral. People also learn relaxation methods that they can apply at the moment they recognize the worry beginning, and practice the relaxation method daily so they will be able to use it on the spot. [Much has been written about relaxation in the healthy memory blog. Enter ‘relaxation’ into search block of the healthy memory blog.]

Goleman offers the following precaution: “for people with worries so severe they have flowered into phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or paid disorder, it may be prudent—indeed a sign of self-awareness—to turn to medication to interrupt the cycle A retraining of the emotional circuitry through therapy is still called for, however, in order to lessen the likelihood that anxiety disorders will recur when medication is stopped.

Melancholy and Depression

The single mood people put most effort into shaking is sadness: Tice found that people are most inventive when it comes to trying to escape the blues. Melancholy like every other mood has its benefits. The sadness that a loss brings has certain effects: it closes down our interest in divisions and pleasures, focuses attention on what’s been lost, and saps our energy for starting new endeavors, hopefully for the time being. It causes a reflective retreat from life’s pursuits, and leaves us in a state to mourn the loss, mull over its meaning, and make the psychological adjustments and new plans to continue with out lives.

Although bereavement is useful, a full-blown depression is not. In a major depression, love is paralyzed: no new beginnings emerge. The very symptoms of severe depression place a life on hold. For most people psychotherapy can help as can medication.

The far more common sadness that at its upper limits becomes a “subclinical depression” is sometimes referred to as melancholy. This is a range of despondency that people can handle on their own, if they have the internal resources. Unfortunately, some of the strategies most often resorted to can backfire, leaving people feeling worse than before. One such strategy is staying alone. However, more often than not this only adds a sense of loneliness and isolation to the sadness.

Tice found the most popular tactic for battling depression is socializing. Going out to eat, to a ball game or movie. Doing something with friends or family. This works well if the effect is to get the person’s mind off his sadness.

One of the main determinants of whether a depressed mood will persist or lift is the degree to which people ruminate. Worrying about what’s depressing us seems to make the depression all the more intense and prolonged. In depression, worry takes several forms, all focusing on some aspect of the depression itself, such as how tired we feel, how little energy or motivation we have, or how little work we’re getting done. Typically this reflection is not accompanied by any concrete course of action that might alleviate the problem.

Cognitive therapy aimed at changing these thought patterns has been found in some studies to be on a pair with medication for treating mild clinical depression, and superior to medication in preventing the return of mild depression. Two strategies are particularly effective. One is to learn to challenge the thoughts at the center of rumination. The other is to purposely schedule pleasant, distracting events.

Tice found that aerobic exercise is one of the more effective tactics for lifting mild depression, as well as other bad moods. A caveat here is that the mood-lifting benefits of exercise work best for the lazy, those who don’t work out very much. For those with a daily exercise routine there is a reverse effect on mood: they start to feel bad on those days when they skip their workout. Exercise seems to work well because it changes the physiological state the mood evolves: depression is a low-arousal state, and aerobics pitches the body into high arousal. Relaxation techniques, which put the body into a low-arousal state work for anxiety, a high-arousal state, but not so well for depression.

Tice reports that a more constructive approach to mood-lifting is engineering a small triumph or easy success: tackling some long-delayed chore around the house of getting to some other duty they’ve been wanting to clear up. Lifts to self-image were also cheering, even if only in the form of getting dressed up or putting makeup.

One of the most potent antidotes is cognitive reframing. For example, stepping back and thinking about the ways a relationship wasn’t so great, and ways you and your partner were mismatched, seeing the loss in a more positive light is an antidote to sadness.

This post offers some tips for dealing with emotional problems. Should problems persist and become chronic, please see professional help. Should you ever fear that you are a danger to yourself or others, SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP IMMEDIATELY. If necessary, go to an emergency room.

Know Thyself

March 12, 2018

Know Thyself is the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Since that chapter was written, there have been significant advances in the study of the emotions, some of which have been reported in this blog. Lisa Feldman Barrett’s book “How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain” was revolutionary. Relevant blog posts can be found by entering “Lisa Feldman Barrett” into the search box of the healthy memory blog. The following is taken directly from the post “How Emotions Are Made”:

Dr. Barrett calls this view the theory of constructed emotions.  These emotions are constructed on the basis of our interoceptive environments.  She presents a convincing argument that our emotions are built upon our interpretation of our internal environments, that is analogous to the manner in which we develop an understanding of the external world.

Readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware that we do not experience the external world directly.  Rather we develop concepts and models on the basis of what our senses receive from the external world.  In other words, emotions are based on what we feel, that is how we interpret what we receive from our interoceptive environment.  Emotions are interpretations of our interoceptive conditions.  In other words we learn our emotional concepts in an analogous manner to how we learn about the external world.  We have an energy budget and this budget affects feelings of hunger and other bodily conditions.

Dr. Barrett provides a personal anecdote to illustrate how constructed emotions work.  When she was a graduate student a fellow male graduate student asked her out at the end of the day.  Although she had no feelings for this guy, she was tired and thought it would be a good way to kill the evening.  While they were dining, she thought she was beginning to fall for him.  Nothing further happened and she went home and fell asleep exhausted.  The next morning she woke up with the flu and remained in bed for several more days.  Apparently she had misinterpreted her interoceptive environment.  What she had originally interpreted as incipient feelings of love, were really incipient feelings of the flue virus.

After that relevant digression, we return to Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence.”

Metamood is a term psychologists use to refer to awareness of one’s emotions, and metacognition refers refers to an awareness of thought process. Self-awareness is not an attention that gets carried away by emotions, overreacting and amplifying what is perceived. Instead, it is a neutral mode that maintains self-reflectiveness even amidst turbulent emotions. The awareness of emotions is the fundamental emotional competence on which others, such as emotional self-control. build. Self-awareness means being “aware of both our mood and our thoughts about the mood.” Self-awareness can be nonjudgmental or judgmental to include, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” “I’m thinking good things to cheer up,” or “Don’t think about it.”

The psychologist John Mayer describes three distinctive styles for attending to and dealing with their emotions.

*Self-aware. Aware of their moods as they are having them, these people understandably have some sophistication about their emotional lives. Their clarity about emotions may undergird other personality traits: they are autonomous and sure of their own boundaries, are in good psychological health, and tend to have a positive outlook on life. When they get into a bad mood, they don’t ruminate and obsess about it, and are able to get out of it sooner. In short, their mindfulness helps them manage their emotions.

*Engulfed. These are people who often feel swamped by their emotions and helpless to escape them, as though their moods have taken charge. They are mercurial and not very aware of their feelings, so that they are lost in them rather than having some perspective. As a result, they do little to try to escape bad moods, feeling that they have no control over their emotional life. They feel overwhelmed and emotionally out of control. Such people definitely need to practice mindfulness and meditation, and perhaps consider seeking professional help.

*Accepting. While these people are often clear about what they are feeling, they also tend to be accepting of their moods, and so don’t try to change them. There seem to be two branches of the accepting type: those who are usually in good moods and so have little motivation to change them, and people who, despite the clarity about their moods, are susceptible to bad ones but accept them with a laissez-faire attitude, doing nothing to change them despite their distress—a pattern found among, say, depressed people who are resigned to despair. This latter group should be aware that there are techniques for changing and controlling their moods, should they want to.

It is possible not to have feelings. Psychiatrists call it alexithymia. These people lack words for their feelings. They seem to lack feelings altogether, although this may actually be because of they inability to express emotion rather than from an absence of emotion altogether.

Although no one can as yet say for sure what causes alexithymia, Dr. Sifneos, who coined the term, proposes a disconnection between the limbic system and the neocortex, particularly its verbal centers, which fits well with what we are learning about the emotional brain.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Emotional Intelligence and Destiny

March 11, 2018

The title of this section is identical to the title of a section in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Goleman notes that when a study of 95 Harvard students from the classes of the 1940s was done, the men with the highest test scores in college were not particularly successful compared to their lower-scoring peers in terms of salary, productivity, or status in their field. Neither did they have the greatest life satisfaction, nor the most happiness with friendship, family, and romantic relationships.

A similar study was done with 450 boys, most of whom were sons of immigrants; two thirds from families on welfare who grew up in Somerville, Massachusetts. At that time this was a “blighted slum” a few blocks from Harvard. A third of the boys had IQs below 90. But IQ had little relationship with how well they had done at work or in the rest of their lives. Although 7% of men with IQs under 80 were unemployed for ten or more years, so were 7% of men with IQs over 100. As there always is, there was a general link between IQ and socioeconomic status at age 47. But what made the greater difference were childhood abilities such as being able to handle frustrations, control emotions, and get along with other people.

A different study was done of 81 valedictorians and salutatorians from the 1981 class in Illinois high schools. Although this group continued to achieve well in college receiving excellent grades, by their late twenties they had climbed to only average levels of success. Ten years after graduating from high school only one in four were at the highest level of young people of comparable age in their chosen professions, and many were doing much less well.

So what is the difference? What is missing from these people with high IQs. Goleman writes, “People with well-developed emotions skills are also more likely to be content and effective in their lives, mastering the habits of mind that foster their own productivity; people who cannot marshal some control over their emotional life fight inner battles that sabotage their ability for focused work and clear thought.”

Howard Gardener, a psychologist at the Harvard School of Education has developed the concept of multiple intelligences. Gardner told Goleman, “The time has come to broaden our notion of the spectrum of talents. The single most important contribution education can make to a child’s development is to help him toward a field where his talents best suit him, where he will be satisfied and competent. We’ve completely lost sight of that. Instead we subject everyone to an education where, if you succeed, you will be best suited to be a college professor. And we evaluate everyone along the way according to whether they meet that narrow standard of success. We should spend less time ranking children and more time helping them to identify their natural competencies and gifts, and cultivate those. There are hundreds and hundreds to succeed, and many, many different abilities that will help you get there.”

Gardner’s model pushes way beyond the concept of IQ as a single, immutable factor. IQ is a limited notion of intelligence that is out of touch with the true range of skills and abilities that matter for life over and beyond IQ.

The number of different intelligences varies, the more research that is done. So if you read a particular number of intelligences, remember that number is pending further research. One of these types of intelligence is interpersonal intelligence which he writes, “is the ability to understand other people: what motivates them, how they work, how to work cooperatively with them. Successful salespeople, politicians, teachers, clinicians, and religious leaders are all likely to be individuals with high degrees of interpersonal intelligence, a correlative ability, turned inward. It is the capacity to form an accurate, veridical model of oneself and to be able to use that model to operate effectively in life.”

Prior to Gardner, E.I. Thorndike, an eminent psychologist who was also influential in popularizing the notion of IQ in the 1920s and 1930s, proposed in a “Harper’s Magazine” article that one aspect of emotional intelligence, “social intelligence—the ability to understand others and “act wisely in human relations”—was itself an aspect of a person’s IQ. Apparently Thorndike was not sufficiently eminent, as this view did not prevail. The research of Robert Sternberg led him back to Thorndike’s conclusion: that social intelligence is both distinct from academic abilities and a key part of what makes people do well in the practicalities of life,

Psychologists Salvoes and Mayer elaborated the definition of emotional intelligence into five main domains:
Knowing one’s emotions—self-awareness.
Managing emotions
Motivating oneself
Recognizing emotions in others
Handling relationships.

Harmonizing Emotions and Thought

March 10, 2018

The title of this section is identical to the title of a section in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” The hub of the battles or cooperative treaties struck between head and heart, thought and feeling are the connections between the amygdala (and related limbic structures) and the neocortex. This circuitry explains why emotion is so crucial to effective thought, both with respect to thinking clearly and in making wise decisions.

Working memory is the memory we hold in conscious thought. The prefrontal cortex is the brain region responsible for working memory. However, circuits from the limbic brain to the prefrontal lobes mean that the signals of strong emotion—anxiety, anger, and the like—can create neural static, sabotaging the ability of the prefrontal lobe to maintain working memory. This is why we say we “can’t think straight” when we are emotionally upset. Continual emotional distress can create deficits in a child’s intellectual abilities, and cripple the capacity to learn.

If subtle, these deficits are not always tapped by IQ testing. However, they do show up through more targeted neuropsychological measures, as well as in the child’s continual agitation and impulsivity. In one study, primary school boys with above-average IQ scores we still doing poorly in school. Neuropsychological tests found that they had impaired frontal cortex functioning. They were impulsive and anxious, often disruptive and in trouble. This suggested faulty prefrontal control over their limbic urges. In spite of their intellectual potential, they were at highest risk for problems like academic failure, alcoholism, and criminality—not because their intellect is deficient, but because their control over their emotional life is impaired. The emotional brain controls rage and compassion alike. These emotional circuits are sculpted by experience throughout childhood. We leave those experience utterly to chance at our peril.

Dr. Antonia Damaiso, a neurologist at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, has made careful studies of just what is impaired in patients with damage to the prefrontal-amygdala circuit. Their decision-making ability is terribly flawed. Still they show no deterioration at all in IQ or in cognitive ability. In spite of their intact intelligence, they make disastrous choices in business and their personal lives. They can even obsess endlessly over a decision so simple as when to make an appointment.

Dr. Damaiso argues that their decisions are bad because they have lost access to their emotional learning. The prefrontal-amygdala circuit is a crucial doorway to the repository of the likes and dislikes we acquire over the course of a lifetime. Cut off from emotional memory in the amygdala, whatever the neocortex mulls over no longer triggers the emotional reactions that have been associated with it in the past. Be it a favorite pet or a detested acquaintance, the stimulus no longer triggers either attraction or aversion. These patients have “forgotten” all such emotional lessons because they no longer have access to where they are stored in the amygdala.

This research has lead Dr. Damasio to the counter-intuitive position that feelings are typically indispensable for rational decisions; they point us in the proper direction, where dry logic can then be of best use.

So it is a mistake to do away with emotion and put reason in its place, as Erasmus recommended. We need to find the intelligent balance between the two. The old paradigm held an ideal of reason freed from the pull of emotion. The new paradigm urges us to harmonize head and heart. And to do that well in our lives means we must first understand what it means to use emotion intelligently.

The Seat of all Passions

March 9, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a section in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” In humans the amygdala (from the Greek word for “almond’) is an almond -shaped cluster of interconnected clusters perched above the brainstem, near the bottom of the limbic ring. There are two amygdalae, one on each side of the brain nested toward the side of the head. Our amygdalae are relatively large compared to that of any of our closest evolutionary cousins, the primates.

The amygdalae and the hippocampi (there is also a hippocampus on each side of our brains) were the two key parts of the primitive “nose brain” that gave rise to the cortex and the neocortex. These limbic structures do much or most of the brain’s learning and remembering; the amygdalae is the specialist for emotional matters. If the amygdalae is severed from the rest of the brain, the result is a striking inability to gauge the emotional significance of events; this condition is sometimes called “affective blindness.”

Here please indulge a digression by HM to one of the projects he did as a graduate student. It involved conducting surgeries and implanting electrodes into the amygdalae of rats. These rats were deprived of water for 24 hours and then given an opportunity to drink. An electric current was applied to the amygdalae of some rats when they drank the water. The control rats were not shocked. The following day, the rats that had been shocked refused to drink, whereas the control rats, of course, drank. If you find this study troublesome, so does HM. But it did provide definitive evidence regarding the role of the amygdalae.

A fellow human had his amygdalae surgically removed to control severe seizures. He became completely uninterested in people, preferring to sit in isolation with no human contact. Although perfectly capable of conversation, he no longer recognized close friends, relatives, or even his mother, and remained impassive in the face of their anguish at his indifference. Absent the amygdalae, all recognition of feeling as well as any feeling about feelings is lost. Life without the amygdalae is life stripped of personal meanings.

All passion depends on the amygdalae. Animals that have their amygdalae removed or severed lack fear and rage, lose the urge to compete or cooperate, and no longer have any sense of their place in their kind’s social order; emotion is blunted or absent. As the amygdalae were not destroyed in HM’s rats, the stimulated rats returned to normal.

Tears, an emotional signal unique to humans, are triggered by the amygdala and a nearby structure, the cingulate gyrus. Being held, stroked, or otherwise comforted soothes these same brain regions, and stops the sobbing. Absent amygdalae, there are no tears of sorrow to soothe.

Goleman writes, “the workings of the amygdala and its interplay with the neocortex are at the heart of emotional intelligence. When impulsive feeling overrides the rational—the newly discovered role for the amygdala is pivotal. Incoming signals from the senses let the amygdala scan every experience for trouble. This puts the amygdala in a powerful position in mental life, something like a psychological sentinel, challenging every situation, every perception, with but one question in mind, the most primitive: “Is this something I hate? That hurts me? Something I fear?” If so—if the moment at hand somehow draws a “Yes”—the amygdala reacts instantaneously, line a neural tripwire, telegraphing a message of crisis to all parts of the brain.”

“When it sounds an alarm, it sends urgent messages to every major part of the brain: it triggers the secretion of the body’s fight-or-flight hormones, mobilizes the centers for movement and activates the cardiovascular system, the muscles, and the gut. Other circuits from the amygdala signal the secretion of emergency dollops of the hormone norepinephrine to heighten the reactivity of key brain areas, including those that made the senses more alert, in effect setting the brain on edge. Additional signals from the amygdala tell the brainstem to fix the face in a fearful expression, freeze unrelated movements the muscles had underway, raise heart rate and blood pressure, slow breathing. Others rivet attention on the source of the fear, and prepare the muscles to react accordingly. Simultaneously, cortical memory systems are shuffled to retrieve any knowledge relevant to the emergency at hand, taking precedence over other strands of thought.”

The extensive web of neural connections of the amygdalae allows them, during an emotional emergency, to capture and drive much of the rest of the brain—including the rational mind.

Research by LeDoux showed that sensory signals from the eye or ear travel first in the brain to the thalamus, and then—across a single synapse—to the amygdala; a second signal from the thalamus is routed to the neocortex—the thinking brain. So the amygdala can respond before the neocortex, which mulls information though several levels of brain circuits before it fully perceives and finally initiates its more finely tailored response.

LeDoux concluded, “Anatomically the emotional system can act independently of the neocortex. Some emotional reactions and emotional memories can be formed without any conscious cognitive participation at all.” LeDoux conducted an experiment in which people acquired a preference for oddly shaped geometric figures that had been flashed at them so quickly that they had no conscious awareness of having seen them at all. Nevertheless, our cognitive unconscious will still have formed an opinion as to whether we like it or not, not just the identity of what we’ve seen. Goleman notes that “our emotions have a mind of their own, one which can hold view quite independently of our rational mind.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Our Two Minds

March 8, 2018

There are two fundamentally different ways of knowing to construct our mental life. The rational mind is the mode of comprehension of which we are typically conscious. It is more prominent in awareness, thoughtful, able to ponder and reflect. There is another system of knowing which is alongside it. It is the emotional mind. The emotional mind is impulsive and powerful, if sometime illogical. This emotional/rational dichotomy resembles the folk distinction between “heart” and “head.” Knowing something “in your heart” is a different order of conviction that is somehow a deeper kind of certainty than thinking with your rational mind. In “Emotional Intelligence” Goleman writes, “There is a steady gradient in the ratio of rational-to-emotional control over the mind; the more intense the feeling, the more dominant the emotional mind becomes and the more ineffectual the rational. This is an arrangement that seems to stem from eons of evolutionary advantage to having emotions and intuitions guide our instantaneous response in situations where our lives are in peril—and where pausing to think over what to do could cost us our lives.”

Goleman continues, “These two minds, the emotional and the rational, operate in tight harmony for the most part, intertwining their very different ways of knowing to guide us through the world. Ordinarily there is a balance between emotional and rational minds, with emotions feeding into and informing the operations of the rational mind, and the rational mind refining and sometimes vetoing the inputs of the emotions. Still, the emotional and rational minds are semi-independent faculties, each, as we shall see, reflecting the operation of distinct, but interconnected, circuitry in the brain.”

Most of the time these minds are well coordinated with feelings being essential to thought, and thoughts to feelings. However, when passions surge the balance tips: it is the emotional mind that captures the upper hand, swamping the rational mind.

To understand the potent hold of emotions on the thinking mind it is useful to understand how the brain evolved. Human brains, with their three pounds or so of cells and neural juices, are about triple the size of those in our nearest cousins in evolution, the nonhuman primates. Over millions of years of evolution, the brain has grown from the bottom up, with its higher centers developing as elaboration of lower, more ancient parts. The growth of the brain in the human embryo roughly retraces this evolutionary course.

The most primitive part of the brain for all species that have more than a minimal nervous system is the brainstem surrounding the top of the spinal cord. This root brain regulates basic life functions like breathing and the metabolism of the body’s other organs, as well as controlling stereotyped reactions and movements.

The emotional centers emerged from the brainstem. Millions of years later in evolution, from these emotional areas the thinking brain or “neocortex” evolved. The fact that the thinking brain grew from the emotional reveals much about the relationship of thought and feeling: there was an emotional brain long before there was a rational one.

New, key layers of the emotional brain came with the arrival of the first mammals. Because this part of the brain rings and borders the brainstem, it was called the ‘limbic’ system, from “limbus,” the Latin word for “ring.” This new neural territory added emotions proper to the brain’s repertoire. When we are in the grip of craving or fury, head-over-heels in love or recoiling in dread, it is the limbic system that has us in its grip.

The limbic system refined two powerful tools, learning and memory, as it evolved. These advances allows an animal to be much smarter in its choices for survival, and to fine-tune its responses to adapt to changing demands rather than having invariable and automatic reactions.

About 100 million years ago, the mammalian brain took a great growth spurt. Piled on top of the thin two-layered cortex-the regions that plan, comprehend what is sensed, coordinate movement—several new layers of brain cells were added to form the neocortex. In contrast to the ancient brain’s two-layered cortex, the neocortex offered an extraordinary intellectual edge.

Our neocortex, so much larger than in any other species, has added all that is distinctly human. It is the seat of thought; it contains the centers that put together and comprehend what the senses perceive. It adds to a feeling what we think about it—and allows us to have feelings about ideas, art, symbols, imaginings.

This new addition to the brain allowed the addition of nuance to emotional life. Limbic structures generate feelings of please and sexual desire. The addition of the neocortex and its connections to the limbic system allowed for the mother-child bond that is the basis of the family unit.

So the neocortex provided the basis for sophisticated interactions among humans.
However, problems can emerge when the neocortex loses the upper hand. Consider a nuclear war. Here it would be clear that the neocortex had lost the upper hand to the emotional mind. And it is possible that the neocortex justified the launching of a nuclear war and the extinction of homo sapiens. Such irony!

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

If Emotion is so Central to Human Nature, Why Can it Be Harmful?

March 7, 2018

The answer is the same as why some of us tend to be overweight. In earlier stages of human development when starvation was commonplace, it was advantageous to eat foods that would load the body with fat. That time has passed and there is no longer a need to load the body with fat.

So in spite of social constraints, passions overwhelm time and time again. This is due to the basic architecture of mental life. The basic neural circuitry of emotion that we are born with is what worked best for the last 50,000 human generations not the last 500 generations. Goleman writes in his book “Emotional Intelligence,” “The slow deliberate forces of evolution that have shaped our emotions have done their work over the course of a million years; the last 10,000 years—despite having witnessed the rapid rise of human civilization and the explosion of the human population from five million to five billion—have left little imprint on our biological template for emotional life.” Given this explosive increase in population, the need for emotional intelligence has greatly increased. Unfortunately, our appraisal of every personal encounter and our responses to it are shaped not just by our rational judgments or our personal history, but also by our distant ancestral past. “In short, we too often confront postmodern dilemmas with an emotional repertoire tailored to the urgencies of the Pleistocene.”

Goleman continues, “All emotions are, in essence, impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that evolution has instilled in us. The very root of the word emotion is “motere”, the Latin verb “to move,” plus the prefix “e-“ to connote “move away,” suggesting that a tendency to act is implicit in every emotion. That emotions lead to actions is most obvious in watching animals or children; it is only in “civilized” adults that we often find the great anomaly in the animal kingdom, emotions—root impulses to act—divorced from obvious action.”

Emotions have distinctive biological signatures:

*Anger— blood flows to the hands. This makes it easier to grasp a weapon or strike at a foe. Heart rate increases and crush of hormones such as adrenaline generates a pulse of energy strong enough for vigorous action.

*Fear—Blood goes to the large skeletal muscles, like the legs, making it easier to flee. This makes the face blanch as blood is shunted away from it (creating the feeling that blood “runs cold”). Simultaneously, the body freezes, if only for a moment, perhaps allowing time to gauge whether hiding might be a better reaction. Circuits in the brain’s emotional center trigger a flood of hormones that put the body on general alert. This makes it edgy and ready for action. Attention fixates on the threat at hand to better evaluate what response to make.

*Happiness—Here the main biological change is an increased activity in a brain center that inhibits negative feelings and fosters an increase in available energy, and a quieting of those that generate worrisome thoughts. There is no particular shift in physiology but a quiescence, which makes the body recover more quickly from the biological arousal of upsetting emotions. This configuration offers the body a general rest, as well as readiness and enthusiasm for whatever task is at hand and for striving toward a great variety of goals.

*Love—Tender feelings and sexual satisfaction entail parasympathetic arousal, which is the physiological opposite of the “fight or flight” mobilization shared by fear and anger. The parasympathetic pattern dubbed the “relaxation response,” is a bodywide set of reactions that generates a general state of calm and contentment, facilitating cooperation. [Entering “relaxation response” into the search block for the healthy memory blog will produce many posts on the relaxation response, to include how to induce the relaxation response, and the many benefits of the relaxation response]

*Surprise—The lifting of eyebrows in surprise allows the taking in of a larger visual sweep and also permits more light to strike the retina, allowing more information about the unexpected event, making it easier to figure out what is going on and concoct the best plan for action.

*Disgust—An expression of disgust looks the same around the world and sends the identical message: something is offensive in taste or smell, or metaphorically so. The facial expression of disgust—the upper lip curled to the side as the nose wrinkles slightly—suggests a primordial attempt, as Darwin observed, to close the nostril against a noxious odor to to spit out a poisonous food.

*Sadness—A main function of sadness is to help adjust to a significant loss, such as the death of someone close or a major disappointment . It brings a drop in energy and enthusiasm for life’s activities, particularly diversions and pleasures, and, as it portends an approaching depression, slows the body’s metabolism. This withdrawal creates the opportunity to mourn a loss or frustrated hope, grasp its consequences for one’s life, and, as energy returns, plan new beginnings. This loss of energy might have been kept saddened and vulnerable early humans close to home, where they were safer.

IQ versus Emotional Intelligence

March 6, 2018

Obvious questions here are what does the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) lack and what does Emotional Intelligence include. In his book “Emotional Intelligence” Goleman asks, “What factors are at play, for example, when people of high IQ flounder and those of modest IQ do surprisingly well?” He argues that “the difference quite often lies in the abilities called here emotional intelligence, which include self-control, zeal, and persistence, and the ability to motivate oneself. And these skills, as we shall see, can be taught to children, given them a better chance to use whatever intellectual potential the genetic lottery may have given them.”

Goleman goes on to argue that a pressing moral imperative lies beyond this possibility, noting that there are times when the fabric of society seems to unravel at ever-greater speed, when selfishness, violence, and meanness of spirit seem to be rotting the goodness of our communal lives. The importance of emotional intelligence hinges upon the link between sentiment, character and moral instincts. Goleman argues that there is growing evidence that fundamental ethical stances in life stem from underlying emotional capacities. Impulse, for one, is the medium of emotion; the seed of all impulses is a feeling bursting to express itself in action. Those at the mercy of impulse, lacking self-control, suffer a moral deficiency. “The ability to control impulse is the base of will and character. By the same token, the root of altruism lies in empathy, the ability to read emotions in others; lacking a sense of another’s need or despair, there is no caring. And if there are any two moral stances that our times call for, they are precisely these, self-restraint and compassion.”

So what are emotions for? Sociobiologists point to the preeminence of heart over head when they conjecture why evolution has given emotion such a central role in the human psyche. They say that our emotions guide us in facing predicaments and tasks too important to leave to intellect alone such as danger, painful loss, persisting toward a goal despite frustrations, bonding with a mate, building a family. Sociobiologists say that each emotion offers a distinctive readiness to act; each points us in a direction that has worked well to handle the recurring challenges of human life. These eternal situations were repeated and repeated over our evolutionary history. The survival value of our emotional repertoire was attested to by its becoming imprinted in our nerves as innate, automatic tendencies of the human heart.

Goleman writes, “A view of human nature that ignores the power of emotions is sadly shortsighted. The very name “Homo sapiens,” the thinking species, is misleading in light of the new appreciation and visit the place of emotions in our lives that science now offers. As we all know from experience, when it comes to shaping our decisions and actions, feeling counts every bit as much—and often more—than thought. We have gone too far in emphasizing the value and import of the purely rational—of what IQ measures—in human life. For better or worse, intelligence can come to nothing when the emotions hold sway.”

Emotional Intelligence

March 5, 2018

HM needs to apologize to his readers. “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ” by Daniel Goleman was published more than 20 years ago. HM did not read it because he was already convinced of the title that emotional intelligence can matter more than IQ. Moreover, HM would have gone further and argued that in most cases emotional intelligence matters more than IQ. A tenth anniversary edition was published in 2005, but HM still didn’t read it.

HM has finally read it and has discovered that the research on emotional intelligence is very rich, and that he was not adequately familiar with it. Moreover, there is much information and many tips as to how one can improve emotional intelligence. The healthy memory blog has many posts on mindfulness and meditation. These are essential for gaining control of one’s attention and emotions. However, these are general exercises. Emotional intelligence has much information as to how one can improve one’s own emotional intelligence, and how emotional intelligence can be fostered among fellow humans.

HM will do his very best to disseminate as much useful information as he can in his posts. However, he realizes that he is not up to this, and although he will do his best, he will still fall short of the mark. So he strongly recommends that you get this book and read it for yourself. Moreover, this is not a book to read and then set aside. It needs to be studied continuously throughout one’s life.

These frequently repeating shooting incidents that are occur throughout the United States and its schools are very worrisome. Coverage of these events is extensive, and solutions have been offered, but HM has yet to hear emotional intelligence in these discussions. This is unfortunate as emotional intelligence is of special importance.

To make this point, please indulge HM in relating a bit of personal history. In the fourth grade, he had many friends, but one was quite special and he spent many free hours together and with others. However, when they moved into the fifth grade they somehow became estranged. Two former close friends became enemies. Enemies to the extent that HM engaged in one of only a few fights. This occurred on the school ground after school. HM was winning at the beginning of the fight, but his former friend eventually achieved the advantage. Fortunately for HM, at this point a teacher intervened and stopped the fight. They remained estranged. It was not until many, many years later that HM asked himself why his friend had changed. HM started to think that perhaps his friend’s family was having problems such as his parents breaking up that caused the change in his personality, and that he had failed to realize this and had failed to come to his assistance. Rather than offering help, he became an enemy and ended up fighting.

At these shooting incidents the mental status of the shooter is at issue. The lack of emotional intelligence is never mentioned. There are likely many others at school, who are short on emotional intelligence and who are leading destructive lives. Then there are the remaining students, faculty, and staff who should witness events and note how certain students are being excluded. So it is not just one individual, but an entire school system that could do with some training and instruction in emotional intelligence. Increases in emotional intelligence will also benefit individuals in helping them live more enjoyable productive lives.

So many posts will follow, but it is still strongly recommended that you purchase, read, and continue to study Goleman’s outstanding work on emotional intelligence.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Rape Conviction Vacated Four Decades After Plea

March 4, 2018

This post is based on an article by the same title by Justin Juvenal in the Metro Section of the 2 March 2018 issue of the Washington Post. On the advice of his grandfather Roy L. Watford, then 18, pleaded guilty to the rape of a 12 year old girl. Having a weak case the prosecutors offered a plea deal that spared him prison time. Watford said he was innocent, but his grandfather worried about him not taking the deal, because he faced the possibility of a life sentence if convicted at trial. Watford said he was innocent, but took the plea deal on the advice of his grandfather.

Although Watford was spared prison, the conviction dogged him for the past four decades, making it difficult for him to find steady work and limiting his ambitions. He said he has gone from job to job and has trouble earning more than the minimum wage.

The victim testified she set out on her bike in Portsmouth on 14 Sep 1977, to find Watford, whom she knew from the neighborhood. She said she knocked on the door of an abandoned home and when it opened, she saw one of Watford’s two brothers inside. Then someone threw a blanket over her head. She testified that the blanket remained over her head as three men raped and sodomized her on a bare mattress inside the home. The woman said she did not see Roy Watford that day and could not say whether she heard his voice during the assault.

Detectives collected a vaginal swab from the victim that contained sperm, and pieces of the mattress and her jeans that appeared to contain biological material. All three Watford brothers were eventually charged in the assault. One of the brothers was found “not innocent” in juvenile court, and the charges were dropped against the other brother.

DNA testing did not exist at the time of the crime. The first conviction based on DNA profiling happened in 1986. In 2005, then-Gov Mark R. Warner ordered fresh DNA tests in thousands of Virginia criminal cases from 1973 to 1988, including Watford’s, after a bevy of biological samples was discovered in the case files of a deceased former analyst for the state’s department of Forensic Science. The DNA samples associated with the crime did not include Watford’s DNA. If it were not for Governor Warner, Watford will likely still have been labeled with the “Guilty” conviction. On the other hand, had his DNA been tested shortly after DNA profiling was accepted, the correction in the justice system could have been done much earlier.

The court wrote in its opinion that Watford “has proved by clear and convincing evidence.” his petition for what is known as a writ of actual innocence, which requires a high bar of evidence in Virginia.

The state opposed the motion, saying the evidence was not strong enough to exonerate Watford.

Not strong enough? The victim knew Watford and neither saw nor heard his voice at the crime. And Watford’s DNA was not among the globs of DNA taken from the crime scene.

HM finds it infuriating how reluctant the state is to recognize and correct its errors. It appears that the state is interested in “wins,” doing anything they can get away with, and fights to have any of its “wins” taken off the score board.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Being Married Seems to Reduce the Risk of Developing Dementia

March 3, 2018

This post is based on an article in the Health & Science Section of the 5 November 2017 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “Your spouse may drive you crazy at times, but new research suggests that your marriage may keep you from losing your mind.”

According to a report in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, the risk of dementia was significantly lower for married people than for adults who remained single their entire lives. Researchers also found that husbands and wives fared better than widowers and widows.

The analysis included over 800,000 people who had participated in 15 previously published studies. Most of the volunteers came from Sweden, with the rest living elsewhere in Europe, the United States, Asia or Brazil. Nearly 30,000 of them had some form of dementia.

The report authors offered several reasons to suspect that marriage might help keep the brain in good working order.

As social engagement is associated with a reduced risk of dementia, people who are married spend more time in the company of another person. So it is likely that years of interacting with a husband builds up a cognitive reserve. A cognitive reserve has been proposed for the many individuals who die with their brains full of the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, which are the defining characteristics of Alzheimers, who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Married people also tend to be healthier. The report authors think that this might be because their spouses nag them to eat their vegetables, quit smoking and take prescribed blood pressure medications. They also surmised that better physical health could translate into better brain health by reducing the risk of factors such as heart disease and stroke.

Nine of the studies compared dementia risk in married people and those whose spouses had died. Here the risk of dementia was 2% to 41% higher for widows and widowers. Overall, the added risk associated with being widowed was 20%.

Six of the studies compared the dementia risk in people who were married and in people who were lifelong singles. Singles consistently faced a higher risk ranging from 7% to 90% more. Overall, the added risk for those who had never married was 42%.

These results can be compared with other risk factors. People who are sedentary are about 40% more likely to develop dementia than people who are physically active. Smokers and people with high blood pressure are about 60% more likely to develop dementia than people who don’t smoke or don’t have hypertension.

Seven studies compared dementia risk in those who were married and those who were divorced. There was no difference between these two groups.

The healthy memory blog recommends maintaining growth mindsets, mindfulness and meditation, exercise, a healthy diet and lifestyle, and a happy marriage. These factors should not only reduce, if not eliminate the risk of dementia, but they will provide for a more satisfying live.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Certain Books May Boost Baby’s Brain

March 2, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Lisa S. Scott in the Health Section of the 2 January 2108 issue of the Washington Post. The author is Dr. Scott an associate professor of psychology at the University of Florida.

Researchers see clear benefits of shared book-reading for child development. It is good for language and cognitive development, increasing vocabulary and pre-reading skills and honing conceptual development.

Shared book-reading also probably enhances the quality of the parent-infant relationship. It encourages reciprocal interactions between parents and infants. Not least of all, it gives infants and parent a consistent daily time to cuddle.

Research has found that both the quality and quantity of shared book-reading in infancy predicted later childhood vocabulary, reading skills and name-writing ability. So the more books parents read, and the more time they spend reading, the greater the developmental benefits in their 4-year-old children. But Dr. Scott writes that there’s still more to figure out about whether some books might naturally lead to higher-quality interactions and increased learning.

Dr Scott and her colleagues followed infants across the second month of life. They found that when parents showed babies books with faces or objects that were individually named, they learn more, generalize what they learn to new situations and show more specialized brain responses. This is in contrast to books with no labels or books with the same generic label under each image in the book. Early learning in infancy was also associated with benefits four years later.

The books that parents should read to 6- and 9-month-olds will probably be different from those they read to 2-year olds, which will probably be different from those they read to 4-year olds who are getting to read on their own.

HM would urge parents to continue reading to their children. HM’s wonderful mother read him “Peter Pan”, “Tom Sawyer’, and a Clair Bee book “Touchdown Pass.” This was when HM was four and five years old. She read many other books to him, but these three are his strongest memories. HM was impressed how these inkblots could contain such stories. Those experiences awoken a strong enthusiasm for reading which has continued his entire life and which shall continue until he passes on.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Active Social Life May Be a Secret to Brain Health

March 1, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Judith Graham in the Health Section of the 2 January 2108 issue of the Washington Post. This title should not be news to readers of the healthy memory blog post, but this article provides additional evidence to buttress further this already established fact. Ms. Graham begins by telling a story about her 103-year-old friend Edith Smith who talks about her friends. One is Katie who is 93 and whom Smith met during a long teaching career with the Chicago Public Schools. She said that every day they have a good conversation and that Katie is still driving and lives in her own house.

Then there’s Rhea, 90, whom Smith visits regularly at a retirement facility, and Mary, 95, who doesn’t leave her house anymore so Smith fixes her a basket of jelly and little things she makes and sends it over by cab about once a month. And there are Smith’s fellow residents at a Chicago senior home she recognizes with a card and a treat on their birthdays. When asked to describe herself Smith says that she is a very friendly person. This is likely one reason this 103-year-old has an extraordinary memory for someone her age.

The article goes on to report a recent study highlighting a notable link between brain health and positive relationships. Emily Rogalski at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine has been examining “Superagers” for nine years. Superagers are men and women older than 80 whose memories are as good or better than people 20 to 30 years younger. Every couple in the group fills out surveys about their lives and gets a battery of neuropsychological tests, brain scans, and neurological examination, along with other evaluations.

Thirty-one older men and women with exceptional memories, mostly from Illinois and surrounding states are participating in the project. Previous research showed that a SuperAgers have distinctive brain features: thicker cortexes, a resistance to age-related atrophy. and a larger left anterior cingulate (a part of the brain important to attention and working memory).

Rogalski thinks that brain structure alone doesn’t fully account for Superagers’ unusual mental acuity. She said, “It’s likely there are a number of critical factors that are implicated.

In a new study, researchers asked 31 SuperAgers and 19 cognitively normal older adults to fill out a 42-item questionnaire about their psychological well-being. The SuperAgers stood out in one area: the degree to which they reported having satisfying, warm, trusting relationships.

This finding is consistent with other research linking positive relationships to a reduced risk of cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment,and dementia. These researchers still haven’t examined how SuperAgers sustain these relationships and whether their experiences might include lessons for others.

Smith is one of nine people who welcome new residents to her retirement community and make them feel at home. She said “Many older people tell you the same story over and over. And sometime all they do is complain and not show any interest in what your have to say. That’s terrible. You have to listen to what people have to say.”

The administrator of the Bethany Retirement Community, where Smith lives, calls Smith a “leader in the community. She’s very involved, She keeps us in line. She notices what’s going on and isn’t afraid to speak out.

William “Bill” Gurolnick, 86, another SuperAger, realized the value of becoming more demonstrative after he retired from a sales and marketing position in 1999. He explained, “Men aren’t usually inclined to talk about their feelings, and I was a keep-things-inside kind of person. But opening up to other people is one of the things that I learned to do.”

Gurolnick helped found a men’s group, Men Enjoying Leisure, which now has nearly 150 members and has spawned four similar groups in the Chicago suburbs. Every month, the group meets for two hours, including one hour they spend discussing personal issues—divorce, illness, children who can’t find jobs and more.

These stories are both informative and inspirational.

Olympics and the Brain

February 27, 2018

This post is motivated by an article by Susan Svrluga titled “How gray matter helps Olympians go for gold” in the Metro Section of the 26 Feb 2018 issue of the Washington Post. This article addresses the question “What do neurologists and others who study the brain see when they watch the world’s best athletes in this Winter Olympics? And the answer is “many see brains propelling people to extraordinary things, allowing them to spin and flip without dizziness, to adapt quickly, to anticipant challenges—or, sometimes, to choke.”

Kathleen Cullen, a professor of biomedical engineering and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hearing and Balance said, “Iike watching really talented, amazing athletes. It’s beautiful to see what the body can accomplish…particularly beautiful. I’m thinking about the computations required to do it.” She explained that a snowboarder flying through a double McTwist or a skater spinning out a triple Lutz or Axel possesses a brain that built models for those intricate maneuvers. What makes Olympic athletes unique is the ability to create really complex models of self-motions and movement they expect as they complete these very sophisticated routines. Moreover, they can recalibrate on the fly. Their ability to adapt to the unexpected during the routine is not something the average person can do.

Professor Cullen studies the neural mechanisms that encode motion. She studies the ways the brain uses information from the vestibular in the inner ear—the “sixth sense” that gives people a sense of where they are, how they’re moving through space, and other sensory mechanisms to help navigate the world.

She said that the sense of vision is very slow. If your slipping on ice and waited for the visual system to tell you you’re slipping, it would be game over. But if the incoming sensory information from the inner ear is different than what the brain expects, that a can be sensed within milliseconds. This helps snowboarders when they’re flying through the air; the brain received moment-to-moment updates about where the head is and from the muscles about where arms and legs are relative to the rest of the body, all of it arriving within milliseconds. Then the brain compares the information it has learned to expect with the snowboarder’s actual motion, so that it can send an appropriate signal to the spinal cord to rapidly adjust balance within milliseconds.

HM has long wondered how these figure skaters can spin without getting dizzy. He feels dizzy after he spins because fluid in the inner ear continues to move, giving the sensation of continued motion. Figure skaters who twirl on the ice teach themselves to counter that natural sensation. She can train herself to use an object after spinning as an anchor to let herself know how she is moving. But after years of repetition in practice the brain learns to better interpret the information coming from the inner ear; it recognizes, in effect, that a sensation of spinning is false when when the body has actually stopped spinning. Professor Cullen says that the abilities to build and recalibrate these models is really impressive.

Nathaniel Sawmill, a neuroscience at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute said the a figure skater who is pitching backward intentionally during his routine, the challenge is resisting the reflex that normally prevents a skater from falling over. Those reflexes are hard-wired in the spinal cord and the brain stem, and trying to override them doesn’t happen perfectly at first. But over time, with repetition they are able to do it.

Dr. Sawmill continued, “Motor skills might seem relatively basic, but there are amazing feats of learning that are really a great scientific puzzle, and a challenge to understand how we do these incredible things. Even the most amazing robot is nothing compared to humans playing sports.”

Jam Ghajar, director of the Stanford Concussion and Brain Performance Center, where they train athletes to improve performance, said “Great athletes brains need to be able to predict what is going to happen and adapt quickly. With Olympic athletes, it’s incredibly important to get their timing, and react to a bump in the snow or a patch of ice at high speed.

Christopher Fetsch, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins says, “That’s what really sets Olympic athletes apart, not their bodies so much as their brains’s speed and flexibility in taking sensory information and translating it into muscle movements. In our day-to-day lives, we make countless small conscious decisions like this. But in the Olympics the stakes are much higher, the world is watching, but the processing going on in the brain is very similar. In these athletes, it has been honed to perfection to perform a particular skill.

Vikram Chib, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins, studies how our brains process incentives and how that influences performance, sees potential parallels between the lab and the Olympics. In his research, when people are paid to do certain tasks, performance increases along with incentive—until the reward gets too big. Then the researchers see the opposite effect. When the subjects see a potential $100 reward, a scan shows “their brain lights up: I have $100 to gain. But when subjects actually do the task, researchers see activity in another part of the brain.”The brain activity looks like they are thinking they have $100 to lose, and performance deteriorates. So when a gold medal is at stake, Chib said, athletes who can keep their minds off the possibility of losing are those more likely to perform well and win.

Ghajar said there’s another thing than can help give athlete an edge that has nothing to do with training in the gym. It’s simple: rest. “A major part of brain performance is getting enough sleep.”

This information led HM to think of another athletic activity that requires complex computations by the brain and the coordination with motor movements. That activity is done by the batter in baseball. The computations done to place a small bat on a small ball that need to be done in an extremely small amount of time are most impressive. Moreover, pitchers change the speed and directions of the ball. Nevertheless, batters mange to accomplish this feat sufficiently often that an interesting game results. HM remember a major league player describing his eye exercises he was doing to improve his hitting. But if the exercises affected only the eyes, and not the brain and subsequent motor activity, then it is doubtful that they would be helpful.

All these activités promote healthy brains and memories. But there is one popular sport that damages brains. Does this make sense? The purpose of athletics is to promote health and teamwork. If the reader wonders what this is all about, the reader should enter CTE into the search block of the healthy memory blog. CTE stands for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. HM is an alumnus of Ohio State University. Nevertheless, he thinks they should close down football. For an educational institution to promote an activity that damages the brain is unconscionable.

To be fair, we should also consider injuries that occur at the Winter Olympics. Broken limbs can be tolerated, by what about paraplegia and quadriplegia. Olympic athletes are highly skilled and appear to be able to protect themselves doing acrobatics. But what about people who are learning? It is difficult to believe that severe injuries do not occur. HM would like to see statistics on this. HM would also like to see how these skills are taught, and if there are any protective measures taken during training.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Love at First Sight is Really Just Lust or Even a False Memory

February 26, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title and an article by Jessica Hamzelou in the News section of the 6 January 2018 issue of the New Scientist. One in three people say they have fallen in love as soon as they laid eyes on someone. A study, however, suggesst that the phenomenon does not exist.

Florian Zsok and his colleagues at the University of Zurich conducted a series of experiments in which volunteers saw new people for the first time. Each volunteer filled in a survey and was asked how they felt about the people they saw or met.

The first experiment was designed to mimic online dating. 282 volunteers were shown pictures on the internet of six people of the gender they found attractive, and then were surveyed on their feelings about them. About half the volunteers were in relationships. They were also asked about the early days of those relationships. A similar experiment involved showing 50 volunteers nine pictures.

Zsok and his team also studied the reactions of 64 people who met each other face-to-face, either at a bar, doing speed dating, or at a food-based event designed to allow people to meet in groups of four.

Of the 396 volunteers across all parts of the study, 32 reported experiencing love at first sight (“Personal Relationships,” However, none of these people matched. Zsok says, “There was no reciprocated love.”

The analyses of the surveys showed that people are most likely to report love at first sight when they find someone physically attractive. We tend to associate a range of positive attributes to good-looking people. This phenomenon is called the halo effect. Zsok says, “This might help explain why people think they are falling love with someone at first sight.

Anna Machin, of the University of Oxford says, “What you feel is lust at first sight and is largely subconscious. Love is an attachment that comes later. It is more complex and involves conscious reflection on a relationship.”

Zsok says, “ In reality, it is unlikely that people ever form this kind of connection upon meeting one another. People like this romantic idea, but you have to read between the lines.”

Then the question is why do so many people feel like it has happened to them? Machin says, “People often misremember the early sates of what is now a successful relationship. It’s an unconscious attempt to underpin a relationship. Telling someone 20 years down the line that you loved them at first sight is a loverly thing to say to maintain a relationship.”

I Know How Hard It Can Be to Bounce Back When Everyday Things Fall Apart

February 22, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Andrew Reiner in the Health Section of the 6 February 2018 issue of the Washington Post. This article is about resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from obstacles that hinder one from doing what he wants to do. Although this article offers some useful tips, it makes no mention of the best technique for improving resilience, mindfulness meditation. It is amazing not only because the author is missing the main method of improving resilience, but also that the editor of the health section did not call attention to this glaring omission. Obviously these are two people who should be reading the healthymemory blog.

Go to and you will find a researcher, Richie Davidson, who has devoted his career trying to understand why some people have difficulty overcoming the slings and arrows of adverse fortune and in helping them becoming resilient and overcoming adversity. The central technique is mindfulness meditation.

There are many healthy memory blog post on resilience (enter “resilience” into the search block of the healthy memory blog). One blog post, “Resilience”, discusses resilience as one of the six dimensions of Davidson’s Emotional Style. Another blog post, Improving Resilience, presents a specific technique for improving resilience.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why Do 95% of Defendants Accept Plea Offers?

February 21, 2018

This article is based on an article in by Jeffrey D. Stein titled, “Why an innocent person would accept a plea deal” in the Outlook section of the 14 April 2017 issue of the Washington Post. Jeffrey Stein is a public defender. He writes that his conversation with his clients almost always begins in jail. Usually the prosecution extends a plea offer within a few days and tells the suspect that the offer will expire in a week. A week is rarely a sufficient amount of time to conduct the necessary research about the crime.

He writes that he lays out options for the client. He could go to trial, but that might mean waiting in jail for months, if not years, before a jury hears the case. Of course, if the client can post bail, then he would not need to wait in jail. The other option is to accept the plea offer. Stein notes that in some cases the sentencing difference between accepting and losing at trial can be a matter of decades. This reality answers the question in the title of this post.

But does plea bargaining affect the correct administration? According Registry of Exonerations, 15% of all exonerates, people convicted of crimes later proved to be innocent—originally pleaded guilty. That share rises to 49% for people exonerated for manslaughter, and 66% for those exonerated of drug crimes.

He writes, “The final stage happens in court. Your client has signed the paperwork admitting to something you believe in your gut that he did not do. Maybe he acted in self-defense. Maybe he was standing near the actual perpetrator and were presumed guilty by association because of the color of his skin. Maybe he was the victim of an honest misidentification.”

“The judge turns to you and asks, ‘Does either counsel know of any reason that I should not accept the defendant’s guilty plea?” You hesitate. You want to shout:’Yes, your honor! This plea is the product of an extortive system system of devastating mandatory minimums and lopsided access to evidence. My client faced an impossible choice and is just trying to avoid losing his life in prison.”

“But you stand by your client’s decision, which was made based on experiences and emotions only they can know: You reply: ’No’ your honor.’”

Obviously, the author of this article is a conscientious public defender who has adequate time to work for the client. However, even conscientious public defenders are usually overworked and have neither the time nor the resources to provide the defense they would like to provide.

So, it is usually better to provide your own attorney even if it forces you into debt and perhaps even bankruptcy. That is the price of justice.

Frequently during the police interrogation innocent defendants will confess their guilt. Interrogations can go on for extremely long periods of time even if they are not physically abusive. To get out of the interrogation, the person confesses guilt, knowing he is not guilty and assuming this will come out during the investigation. This is not very likely to happen.

So, as has been frequently mentioned in this blog, the primary problem with the legal system, is that it provides little justice.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

End of Days: Is Western Civilization on the Brink of Collapse?

February 20, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Laura Spinney in the Features section of the 20 January 2018 issue of the New Scientist. This post will feature the role of cognitive science in answering this question. The article notes that cognitive scientists recognize two broad modes of thought— a fast, automatic, relatively inflexible mode, and a slower, more analytical, flexible one. Healthy memory blog readers should recognize Kahneman’s System 1 System 2 model of cognition. System 1 is fast. Most of our normal discourse is System 1. System 1 comes natural to us. It is also the seat of our emotions. System 2 corresponds to what we normally regard as thinking. System 2 is conscious and makes demands on our attentional resources. An important role of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.

According to the article David Rand, a psychologist at Yale University, argues that populations might actually cycle between the two over time. HM believes, or hopes, that Dr. Rand is being misconstrued. Were either mode of processing to become exclusive, our species would quickly vanish. However, one mode of processing might dominate. A good example of this is occurring in the Trump administration. Not only is science not being used, it is being ignored, or being made difficult to access, or even destroyed. So much damage is being done to the United States that if it is not soon stopped, democracy is seriously threatened.

The problem in the United States has been the ascendancy of the dominance of System 1 processing. System 2 processors are attempting to fight this ignorance and reset System 2 processing into its appropriate role. The problem with Trump was evident before he was elected. See the healthy memory blog post, “Donald J. Trump, Alleged Incapacitated Person.” A lawyer James A. Herb, Esq. filed a lawsuit that strongly supported that Trump should not be allowed to be President. After Clinton won the popular vote, he refiled the lawsuit for the Electoral College. The justification for the Electoral College is to prevent someone who is clearly incapable for the office becoming President. Obviously, the Electoral College failed to perform its function. He filed it again after Trump became President documenting that Trump was indeed unfit. Again his lawsuit fell on deaf ears.

Jonathan Cohen, David Rand’s fellow collaborator, said that a long-standing puzzle regarding societies heading for ruin is: “why did they keep up their self-destructive behavior even though the more analytical people must have seen the danger ahead.” The answer is that the forward thinking System 2 processors were not steering the train.
Let us hope that the System 2 processors regain control of the US train.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

You Think You’re Clairvoyant?

February 18, 2018

The title of this post is the first part of the title by Adam Bear, Rebecca Fortgang, & Michael Bronstein in the Health Section of the 16 January 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The last part of the title is “but your brain is just tricking you.” The three authors are Ph.D. candidates at Yale University.

The article begins, “Have you ever felt as thought you predicted exactly when the light was going to turn green or sensed that the doorbell was about to ring? Imagine the possibility that these moments of clairvoyance occur simply because of a glitch in your mind’s time logs. What happened first—your thought about the doorbell or its actual ringing. It may have felt as if the thought came first, but when the two events (ringing of doorbell, thought about doorbell) occur close together, we can mistake their order. This leads to the sense that we accurately predicted the future when, in fact, all we did is notice the past.

They developed a scale that measures delusion-like ideas. The scale asked participants in this study question such as: “Do you believe in the power of the occult?” Do you ever feel as if you could read other people’s minds?” and “Do you ever feel that you are a very special or unusual person?”

To measure the kind of timing errors that might lead people to mistakenly think they predicted an event that they had already observed, they had participants play a game in which they were asked to quickly predict which of five white squares were about to turn red. Research participants could either indicate that they didn’t have time to finish making a prediction before the red square was revealed, or claim that they did complete their prediction before this event occurred.

The square that turned red from trial to trial was selected randomly. So the researchers knew and the participants could not, that it was impossible to correctly predict the red state with better than 1-in-5 odds. The participants who were more likely to report an implausibly high number of accurate predictions were also more likely to endorse delusion-like ideas in broader contexts. The researchers took measures to ensure that the participants weren’t simply lying to them about their accuracy in the game.

There has been other research where people recalled what they had previously predicted about real events that occur in the world. Their previous predictions were known, so lies could be checked. Nevertheless, it was not uncommon for people to remember that they had correctly predicted, when the had predicted erroneously. It appears that our minds try to protect our egos by informing us we had predicted events, when we have not. So be careful to not let your mind fool you, and at the same time keep your ego intact. You’ll be a better person for it.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Anne Treisman Has Passed Away

February 16, 2018

She died Feb 10 and was 82. Many readers are probably wondering who is Ann Treisman. That is a shame as she is one of the leading researchers in human cognition. Early in her career she worked with the British psychologist Donald Broadbent exploring attention, its limitations, and how we cope with these limitations. They studied how the mind can tune out music, laughter, and distracting conversations to focus on a single conversation. This is called the “cocktail party problem.” Her research addressed how we can focus on individual objects in the world and still retain a general sense of our surroundings.

She developed feature integration theory with Gary Gelade, that holds that an object in the world is first perceived not as a unified whole but as a series of discrete features, including color, shape, size, and orientation. It is attention that unites all these features, as the mind focuses on one object and the another. Different portions of the brain respond to different features of an object. In a matter of milliseconds, each feature—the orientation of a tree branch, its green color, its motion in the wind is bound together in a single perception. Attention must be paid for this to occur.

Her research involved both hearing and sight and now informs everything from airport package inspection to the design of classrooms and traffic signals. A former colleague of Treisman’s, Lynn C. Robertson, said, “Dr. Treisman’s theory changed the way we understood our brains and our perception as well as what goes into memory and our whole cognition. We think we see with our eyes, but we actually see with our brains.”

Speaking on the implications of feature integration theory Dr. Treisman said, “The implication was that in some ways we create our experience than it’s being determined directly by a camera-like process. Perception is more like a controlled hallucination than like an automatic registration of stimuli.”

In 1976 she married Daniel Kahneman. Readers of the healthy memory blog should be familiar with Daniel Kahneman and his two process theory of cognition. Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize for his development of Prospect Theory with Amos Tversky. Unfortunately, Tversky could not also be given the award as he had already passed away at the time the award was decided. Together Kahneman and Tversky founded the field of behavioral economics.

Dr. Treisman was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama in 2013 for “a 50-year career of penetrating originality and depth that has led to the understanding of fundamental attentional limits in the human mind and brain.” Together with Kahneman they held positions at the University of British Columbia and Berkeley, where they collaborated and shared a lab, before moving to Princeton.

HM was privileged to hear the invited addresses they gave at the University of Michigan.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Rising Inequality Hurts Everyone, Even the Rich

February 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Christopher Ingraham in the Business Section of the 11 February 2017 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “Over the past 40 or so years, the American economy has been funneling wealth and income, reverse Robin Hood style, from the pockets of the bottom 99% to the coffers of the top 1%. The total transfer, to the richest from everyone else, amounts to 10% of the national income and 15% of the national wealth.

It’s part of a massive concentration of wealth and income among the rich that has put the United States at levels of inequality not seen in this country since before World War II. It’s a trend that economists such as Thomas Piety believe will continue unchecked in the coming decades with the top 1% of American capturing a quarter or more of the national income by 2030.”

Research suggests that the inequality depresses economic growth, leaving less for society to divvy up—regardless of how its members decide to do so. Research has also discovered that inequality, particularly the light level seem today in the United States, promotes criminal behavior. Regardless of whether you’re in the bottom 99% or the top 1% these effects can take a chunk of your paycheck. The article notes “Leading economists and economic organizations are coming around to the idea that to maximize income and wealth for everyone—including those at the top—there have to be meaningful checks on income and wealth inequality.

The following is in bold in the article, “Inequality hurts economic growth especially high inequality (like ours) in rich nations (like ours). The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development a collective of the world’s 35 wealthiest nations including the United States found that rising inequality in the United States from 1990 to 2010 knocked about 5% points off cumulative GDP per capita over that period. Similar effects were seen in other rich countries.

The OECD found, “The main mechanism through which inequality affects growth is by undermining education opportunities for children from poor socioeconomic backgrounds lowering social mobility and hampering skills development. Children from the bottom 40% of households are missing out on pricey education opportunities. That makes them less productive employees, which means lower wages, which means lower overall participation in the economy.”

What might be surprising is that while this is obviously bad news for poor families, it also hurts those at the top. For if you’re a billionaire owner of a retail or manufacturing company, you want people to be able to afford the stuff you’re selling. It is not because of any altruistic impulses that Henry Ford offered his workers high wages, but because he wanted them to buy his cars.

Inequality is not necessarily bad. A 2015 World Bank paper that a certain amount of inequality boosts per capita GDP in developing economies by allowing wealth entrepreneurs to invest more. This effects is reversed in advance economies like our own, because of the detrimental effects on education attainment mentioned above.

Even in advanced countries, not all inequality is harmful. A report by the International Monetary Fund found the inequality could be beneficial to growth at low to moderate levels. Using the Gini coefficient, where 0 means that everyone has the same income and 100 means just one individual has it all, inequality spurred growth in the counties with index values below 27. Too bad for the US where our current Gini index is somewhere around 41, which is well beyond the threshold where inequality because harmful.

To quickly summarize inequality harms overall growth by decreasing per capita income, damaging health and well-being, decreasing disposable income, or enticing middle-class individuals to incur debts they can’t pay.

Of course, this is of no interest to the Trump administration. They are not interested in research studies and instead are relying on Trump’s gut feeling. Moreover, Trump’s tax cut exacerbated the problem of wealth discrepancy and increased the size of the national debt.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Most Admirable Multi-Billionaires

February 12, 2018

Two who come immediately to mind are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. These two (actually three, Melinda Gates is on Bill’s team) are giving away their fortunes, but they are not passing their fortunes on to their children. They think children inheriting their parents’ fortunes is not only bad for their children, but it is also unfair to other children who are not so fortunate. They reason that they have already given their children enough of a chance to succeed.

Ted Turner has pledged half of his fortune after he passes away and is trying to convince other multi-billionaires to do the same. He is meeting with some success, but others just tell him to pass.

It is difficult to understand why multi-billionaires want to acquire more wealth. There is only so much that they can personally consume and enjoy. Many become philanthropists and find this rewarding. It also benefits their personal health. So it is some consolation knowing that greedy multi-billionaires will likely shorten their lives compared to how long they could have lived had they been philanthropic.

It is clear that the goal of some multi-billionaires is to increase their wealth and personal power. This is certainly true of the Kochs and the Mercers. They are giving to websites, networks, and politicians to increase their wealth and personal power. As mentioned earlier, Fred Koch founded the John Birch Society, which was violently anti-communist. How could his descendants be supporting Putin’s support of Donald Trump? The apparent reason was that the Soviet Union was Communist. Russia, however, has been transformed by a former KGB agent into a kleptocracy. Now a kleptocracy is something they can understand. It is clear that Putin wanted Trump to win and that Russia devoted considerable resources, likely enough to tip the electoral college to Trump.

Originally, Republicans were enraged that the Russians had corrupted our election. They wanted to get to the bottom of this and supported Republican Mueller in his investigation. However, now their tune has changed. They are attacking fellow Republican Mueller, the FBI, and the Justice Department to either stop or discredit Mueller’s investigation. The only way that HM can understand this behavior is to think that Republicans have effectively been bought by the Kochs and Mercers. They might not be smart enough to realize that the end goal is a kleptocracy. HM wonders if they’ll continue to react this way if further investigations into Trump’s finances show that he is heavily in debt to Putin and the Russian Mafia, and that Trump is, in effect, Putin’s bitch.
HM is just wondering here, and this is just a conjecture.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The True Meaning of Freedom

February 11, 2018

Ask most Americans what they like most about the United States and they’re likely to say it’s a free country. But some people regard freedom from a personal perspective; they are blind to the freedoms of other people. The most blatant example of this is slavery, which lasted way too long. But diversity is also important, and the United States is a diverse country. And too many people are either blind, callous, or self-righteous when they trample on the freedom of other people.

Prohibiting abortion is perhaps the most blatant example of the disregard for the beliefs of others. As was mentioned in previous healthy memory blog posts, unloved children impose costs on society besides the personal costs of being forcefully brought into this world unloved. It seems that a major activity in which some religions engage in is being judgmental. Google “Judge not that ye be not judged,” and you’ll find citations from the bible. You’ll also find different interpretations from ministers and religious scholars to justify their being judgmental. Some will express alarm at the Islamic concept of sharia. They would likely argue that here there should be a separation of church and state, but some influenced parishioners to vote for Trump so he would appoint Supreme Court justices that would overturn Roe v. Wade making getting abortions more difficult. This is hypocritical, Churches are exempt from taxation, but is this proper when they do engage in political activities? These same churches exert pressure on congress to preclude birth control support to poor countries where a primary problem is overpopulation. These religions exacerbate problems and create unnecessary pain and suffering.

Consider what Dr. Frances writes on this topic in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” :
“Jesus was one of history’s most forgiving people—but he could not tolerate religious hypocrisy. Here is a sampler from his many denunciations: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.” “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” “You hypocrites! These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Jesus could accept abortion and he could accept homosexuality, but he could not accept the hypocrisy and lack of charity so baldly displayed by the radical religious right. Faced with Jerusalem versions of Trump, Jesus unceremoniously kicked them out of the temple. He declared that “passage to heaven would be as difficult for a rich man as a camel going through the eye of a needle.”

It is informative to contrast the two political conventions. The Democratic convention had themes of love, diversity, and helping people. The Republican Convention featured fear, hate, and the admiration of Trump. Apparently the majority of Evangelicals attended the Republican convention, and apparently they voted heavily for Trump.

So Americans need to remember that freedom is wonderful, but an important part of one’s personal freedom is the respecting of the freedom of fellow citizens. On both a personal and national level, being judgmental is bad.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Jesus Would Tell His Flock to Vote Righteously, Not Radical Right

February 10, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD. This is one of the best sections in the book.

Francis begins, “And how does Trump measure up to Christ? ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet are summed in this single command: You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ Trump is a serial adulterer, a business thief, a tax cheat, and a greedy coveter of epic proportions. He brags about being above the law of both God and man in these most remarkable words: ‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.’ Trump hasn’t directly killed anyone, but his attempt to deprive health care could kill millions and his promotion of global warming may wind up killing tens, or even hundreds, of millions.

So, how then could Trump win the evangelical vote by a surprisingly wide four-to-one margin and win the white Catholic vote by two-to-one? Dr. Francis writes,”This was no tribute to Trump’s religious purity—rather it was the work of cynical Christian leaders who had sold their souls to Trump in a shady backroom deal. They would influence tens of millions of religious voters to support him in exchange for his support for their hard-line positions against abortion and gay rights. The wheeling and dealing was remarkable testimony to the political skills, as well as religious hypocrisy, of many Christian leaders in the United States. Thirty pieces of silver never exchanged hands, but the teachings of Jesus Christ were surely cast by the wayside.

Jesus didn’t care a fig about abortion or homosexuality. In his time, abortion was legal and widely practiced—but he never once condemned it in all his many preachings. Homosexuality was also accepted and widely practiced—and again Jesus never once condemned it in all his many preachings. Jesus was the champion of the underdog against fat cats like Trump. Christ honored the humble and the weak: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ ‘For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.’ He would never horse-trade the needs of the poor and the oppressed to further a ‘fundamentalist’ religious agenda and billionaire-inspired right-wing causes.’

Anyone who believes that Jesus could ever support a man like Trump needs lots more Bible study.”

Here is an explanation as to why Jesus didn’t care a fig about abortion. In his infinite wisdom he knew that the most important factor in the development of a healthy child into a healthy adult is that the child be wanted and loved by its mother. There is more than ample data regarding children who have not been loved and wanted by their mothers. One can be fairly confident that most unfortunate events caused by humans have been caused by humans who did not experience this necessary motherly love. If his followers behaved as he desired, they would love their children or place them in the hands of someone they were confident would provide this love. But biological life is irrelevant Souls are what is important here, not biological life. He knew that if a child were aborted that his Father would surely not forget the aborted child’s soul. That soul would be placed into a new life that would have a fortunate future.

HM has evangelical friends who did not vote for Trump and who find the support of any Christian for Donald Trump a profound embarrassment.


How Could Trump Triumph—Part Four

February 9, 2018

Dr. Francis, the author of “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” is an amazing scholar. Nevertheless, he comes up short when trying to explain the success of Trump. He mentions Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition but fails to understand its relevance to the Trump problem. Kahneman’s Two Process Theory was summarized in his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  Kahneman posits that we have two basic processing systems.  System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking. There was a previous healthy memory blog post, “Donald Trump and Daniel Kahneman’ that provides the basis for understanding how Trump could triumph.

As for Donald Trump’s appeal to bigots, it is natural and resounds soundly to their beliefs.  But what about his appeal to people who are not bigots, but are dissatisfied with the ways things are and want change?  He promises change, and they respond.  The problem is that they respond, but do not invoke System 2 processes.  System 2 is supposed to monitor System 1 for processing errors.  Basically System 2 is supposed to respond to erroneous System 1 Processes and start thinking.

System 2 processes require using one’s attentional processes, exerting cognitive effort. People who don’t do this are what is termed cognitive misers. The simplest explanation of how Trump triumphed is an epidemic of cognitive miserliness. Add to this that emotions are processed using System 1. So emotions, anger, fear are processed directly bypassing System 2. Responding with one’s gut is a System 1 response. Trump appealed directly to fear and anger, gut to gut.

The healthy memory blog post, “Donald J. Trump Incapacitated Person” tells of a lawsuit by a lawyer, James A. Herb, Esq. that attempted to preclude Donald Trump from being elected, and documented how Trump was an incapacitated person and should not be President. The problems that people are recognizing now, were clearly identifiable then. He refiled the suit before the Electoral College voted as the ostensible purpose of the Electoral College is to preclude clearly unqualified people, such as Trump, from becoming President. Obviously the Electoral College failed to do so. As the Electoral College is not performing as planned, it should be abolished and every voters’ vote should count in the election. After Trump became President, he filed the suit again citing actions since becoming President that clearly indicated Trump was an incapacitated person who should not be President.

All this went unnoticed because System 2 processes were not invoked. His many lies and contradictions went unnoticed again because people failed to invoke their System 2 processes.

A real existential threat Trump presents is the possibility of a nuclear war that could wipe out much of the world.

So, in short, Trump triumphed because of cognitive miserliness due to a lack of mental effort, and the failure of the Electoral College to fulfill the function it was supposed to perform.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Could Trump Triumph — Part Three

February 8, 2018

The question posed in this post is identical to a chapter title in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD.
“Radical right-wing populism comes from the top. The John Birch Society was started in 1958 by twelve rich guys, including Fred Koch, the father of radical right-wing patrons Charles and David Koch. Its program was so kookily extreme that William F. Buckley Jr. denounced it as “far removed from common sense” and fought any role it had it might have in the Republican Party.” A previous healthy memory blog post titled “Why the Right Lost Its Mind” reviewed an important book by conservative Charles Sykes titled “How the Right Lost Its Mind” as to how the Republicans lost their minds and have been taken over by the Kochs and the Mercers. After the death of William F. Buckley, the radical right reemerged. Dr. Francis writes,”Today’s Republican platform, prejudices, and policies are derived almost plank for plank from the Bircher doctrine. The Koch brothers have been the most influential moving forces in turning extremist doctrine into mainstream Republican policy—and selling it to the common people it helps fleece. They (and their buddy billionaires) have spent tens of billions of dollars creating fake grassroots organizations, political think tanks, an army of political operatives at the state and local level, and training camps for conservative lawyers and judges. These enormous efforts promote science denial, tax breaks for the wealthy, deregulations, pollution, global warming, and minority bashing. Unholy alliances have been formed with the tobacco industry, the National Rifle Association, and extremist religious leaders. Fake populism’s biggest success story is the Koch-conceived, Koch funded Tea Party—which first conquered the Republican Party, then seized the White House.”

This group is expert at perverting populist ideology for their own, cynical and sinister, elitist ends—protecting their power and privilege by playing the “divide and conquer” game. Brilliant political propaganda skillfully co-opts the underclass it is screwing. The legitimate grievances of poor whites, who receive an ever-shrinking slice of the American economic pie, are redirected against blacks, Latinos, women, and immigrants. The elites keep their rich spoils (and their loopholes) by stoking inchoate fears and tribal feuds, and offering trickle-down crumbs. Attacks on “big government” protect the elite from the one institution that might umpire a fairer distribution of wealth. Radical right-wing demagoguery feeds upon and promotes all our social delusions—-using them as disguise for robbing the public purse.”

The John Birch Society was strongly anti-communist, anti-communist to the point where they left the bounds of reality. For example, they accused President Eisenhower of being a communist. So in addition to the efforts of William F. Buckley, they contributed to their own self destruction. What HM had been having difficulty understanding was why the right was bonding with Russia. It took a long time to realize that at that time the Soviet Union was a communist state. Former KGB agent Putin is no longer a communist. He has created a kleptocracy. Now a kleptocracy is something multi-billionaires craving even more wealth and power can cotton to. Their goal is to convert our American democracy into a kleptocracy. This explains why Republicans have no problems with Russia helping Trump get elected. And it explains why they are doing everything they can to either stop or discredit the special prosecutor. There is no relationship between today’s Republican Party and the truly Grand Old Party of the past. The Grand Old Party no longer exists. The Republican Party was sold out and bought. This realization explains a great deal.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Could a Trump Triumph? —- Part Two

February 7, 2018

The question posed in this post is identical to a chapter title in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD.

Many people were disturbed as to how an advanced country like Germany could be taken over by the Nazis. Theodor Adorno conducted a survey in the Unites States that revealed that many Americans also have the characteristics of what he called, “the Authoritarian Personality.” These characteristics include strongly defending conventions; being submissive to those above, and domineering to those below; devaluing intellectual activity; overvaluing power and toughness; blaming others; being cynical; and believing conspiracy theories and superstitions. People with this “Authoritarian Personality” obey, rally together and sometimes become powerful and dominating leaders. They respond aggressively to outsiders especially when they feel threatened. By acting tough, Trump displays his own (and plays to his followers) authoritarian inclinations.

It is clear that Trump’s base consists of people with this Authoritarian Personality. This was quite clear to his response to the demonstrators in Charlottesville. He said that there were good people demonstrating with the neo-nazis. He is reluctant to disavow support from the nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. And it is clear why. They constitute the majority of his solid base.

Trump is the ultimate confidence man. There’s the statement “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Trump says our world is broken and that he and he alone can fix it. Francis writes, “But the transparency of Trump’s deceptions did not discourage his faithful followers from accepting that he is truthful and that the reporters he hates are the “most dishonest people on earth.”

“In a fearful and uncertain world, Trump is ever the clever confidence man, cynically trading on the overconfidence that is an inherent part of human psychology. He embodies within himself and unconsciously exploits in others, the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” There have been several healthy memory blog posts on the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” These Cornell psychologists have shown that people with less ability at any given task are more likely to overestimate their own skill and underestimate the skill of others. In effect people are massively ignorant of what they don’t know. They flaunt their ignorance and show contempt for the individuals who have expertise that the ignorant people need. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t correct your ignorance. If you don’t know when you are making a mistake, you’ll keep making it. Francis quotes Shakespeare, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man know himself to be a fool.”

It is next to impossible to campaign against this ignorance. There are ample contradictions in what Trump says himself to discredit him, but his supporters fail to notice these contradictions. And they have contempt for people with the relevant knowledge to deal with the problems we face.

Francis wrote “Trump understood that people who feel desperate, anxious, angry, and helpless are not in a mood to listen to rational arguments. His fear mongering pitch is that we are now living in the worst of worlds, in the worst of times; that there are even worse dangers ahead; that enemies lurk on all sides; and that we can trust him to keep us safe. He daily succeeds in passing off a fusillade of “alternative facts’ because frightened people are ready to accept them. Human irrationality in the face of stress has a long past and may, unfortunately, also enjoy a great future.”

“In the no-holds-barred U.S. political wars, bold untruth has become the most powerful of all political weapons. Ultraright-Wing talk radio, conspiracy theory internet sites, and Fox News spew forth a constant spate of alternative facts and extreme opinions that are often outright lies and always anything but ‘fair and balanced.’ They follow the chilling advice of Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels: ‘It would not be impossible to prove, with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas in disguise.’”

How Could a Trump Triumph? — Part One

February 6, 2018

The question posed in this post is identical to a chapter title in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD. There needs to be multiple parts to this post.

Let’s begin with the campaign theme, “Make America Great Again.” The implicit assumption here is that America is no longer great. However, by all indications America was great having been brought back from an economic crisis by President Obama. When he became president, we were on the verge of a depression. He rescued us from that fate where all objective indicators indicated that the United States was already great again, if, indeed, it had ever fallen from greatness. The free nations of the world admired the United States and looked to it for leadership. However, dictatorial oligarchies like Russia, looked at the United States as a rival that needed to be defeated.

It is true that some people were unhappy. But HM would argue that in democracies, people are usually unhappy. This is true even when one’s favored party is in power. It is unlikely that they’re doing everything individuals want. There are also shortfalls due to the economy and what the government can deliver. HM has been unhappy his entire voting life regardless of which party was in power. All other advanced countries are way ahead of us with respect to medical care, many advanced countries offer less costly educational opportunities, and yet other advanced countries offer more freedoms. The term “American Exceptionalism” is frequently invoked to explain why we are different. HM argues that “Stupidity” can be readily and more accurately substituted for “Exceptionalism.”

It is true that since 1970 real wages in the United States have declined. When HM was in elementary school it was unusual for women with children to work. Now working spouses have become the norm. The question here is why have so many married women joined the workforce. Do they have to or do they want to? After all, there are still women who prefer to be full time mothers. But a very large number would be extremely unhappy if they were denied careers.

Middle-aged whites without a college degree (Trump’s most solid base) feel that a they are worse off then their parents. When they think that African-Americans and Latinos are somewhat better than they are, they become angry. So an ethnic factor exacerbates the problem. And, indeed, election time presents an opportunity to correct the situation. But it appears that whites who are not college educated do not widely read, if, indeed, they read at all. Otherwise, they would have realized that Trump’s solution was faulty. The loss of jobs was attributable primarily to automation. Other industries like coal were going out of fashion. Moreover, breaking trade agreements will likely have an adverse effect on the economy. So Trump will likely make the jobs problem worse, not better. Time will tell.

The preceding accounts were from the text. But more recent research questions the belief that job or income losses led to Trumpism. A 2016 study of 125,000 American adults by Gallup’s Pablo Diego-Rosell found that Trump voters had slightly higher incomes than others and were no more likely to be unemployed or exposed to competition from trade and immigration.

Terrorism is a factor exploited by Trump. Since 9/11, an average of only 9 people a year in the United States died from terrorist acts by radical Islamists; while each year more than 250,000 die from medical mistakes, 50,000 from drug overdoses, 37,000 from car accidents, and 33,000 from guns (not wielded by terrorists). Nevertheless, people are worried about terrorists. HM was in high school during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He remembers saying good-bye to his classmates at the end of a school day wondering, along with his classmates, whether we would ever see each other again. In those days, nuclear annihilation was a distinct possibility. At worst, terrorism is a minor nuisance. Even the detonation of a dirty bomb pales in comparison to nuclear annihilation. However, whenever people see a terrorist event on television, they feel threatened. Moreover, most mass killings are the result of the number of guns readily available, and not Islamists. Nevertheless, Trump capitalized greatly on these fears. He went beyond terrorists to immigrants in general.

The world is changing rapidly, and many people have difficulty coping with this change. It’s almost like stop the world, I want to get off. So the campaigning on the theme of “Making the World Great Again” promises a return to the quieter, good old days, if they, indeed, ever truly existed.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hitler Trump Comparison

February 5, 2018

The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 5 of “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD.

“Hitler, like Trump, never won a popular election—his best performance at the polls garnered only 44 % of the vote. Hitler, like Trump, had only the greatest contempt for democratic tradition, a free press, the courts, intellectuals, human rights. Hitler, like Trump, regarded truth as negotiable, lies as effective weapons, and morality as excess baggage. Hitler, like Trump, was a conspiracy theorist who surrounded himself with subservient “yes men,” unwilling or unable to challenge his misconceptions and misjudgments. Hitler, like Trump, was a world-class narcissist. Hitler like Trump, was despised and underestimated by the political establishment, who felt he could be used and manipulated to their own purposes. Hitler, like Trump, defied the political establishment and remained true (only) to himself. Hitler, like Trump, felt disrespected and treated unfairly, and had many scores to settle. Hitler, like Trump, claimed infallibility, that he was smarter than his generals and advisors, and that his gut instincts were the nation’s best guide. Hitler, like Trump, exploited the fear, anger, and resentments of his people. Hitler, like Trump, promoted tribalism and reviled minorities as dangerous vermin.”

At this point readers are likely thinking that Dr. Francis is being unfair. Surely Hitler was unlike Trump in some ways. Dr Francis obliges, “For sure, Hitler was unlike Trump in some ways. He was much smarter, better read, more mature, better organized, less ignorant of history, more self-disciplined, less distractible, better mannered, more plausible—and, so far, much more bloodthirsty, ruthless, and deadly.”

Twilight of American Sanity

February 4, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important book by Allen Francis, MD. The subtitle is “A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump.” The book begins with the following epigraphs:

The iniquity of the fathers will be visited on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.

As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

The title of the Prologue
Trump Isn’t Crazy, We Are

followed by this quote from FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
Insanity in individuals is somewhat rare. But in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.

Dr. Francis holds the distinction for being the author of the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He writes, “Trump’s amateur diagnosticians have all made the same fundamental error. They correctly note that the disorder’s defining features fit him like a glove (grandiose self-importance; preoccupations with being great; feeling special; having to hang out with special people; requiring constant admiration; feeling entitled lacking empathy; and being exploitative, envious, and arrogant.) But they fail to recognize that being a world-class narcissist doesn’t make Trump mentally ill. Crucial to the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the requirement that the behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment.” But Dr. Francis does concede that Trump is a bad person. Psychiatrists do have this requirement that the individual must be personally suffering distress to have a diagnosis of mental illness. By doing this, psychiatrists are making their job much easier. Unless a personal realizes they have a problem, the chances of treating it are remote. So to have the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but not being diagnosed as being mentally ill is actually worse, as there is virtually no hope of this individual being successfully treated for this disorder.

Dr. Francis goes on to state that there are three harmful unintended consequences of using psychiatric tools to discredit Trump. “First, lumping him with the mentally ill stigmatizes them more than it embarrasses him. Most mentally ill people are well behaved and well meaning, both of which Trump is decidedly not. Second, medicalizing Trump’s bad behavior underestimates him and distracts attention from the dangers of his policies. Trump is a political problem, not one for psychoanalysis. Instead of focusing on Trump’s motivations, we must counter his behaviors with political tools. And, third, were Trump to be removed from office, his successors (Pence and Ryan) would probably be much worse—more plausible purveyors of his very dangerous policies.” Although what Dr. Francis writes is true of domestic policies, he does not adequately consider the risks Trump presents with respect to foreign policies, control of the military and the nuclear football.

Dr. Francis continues, “But what does it say about us, the we elected someone so manifestly unfit and unprepared to determine mankind’s future? Trump is a symptom of a world in distress, not its sole cause. Blaming him for all our troubles misses the deeper, underlying societal sickness that made possible his unlikely ascent. Calling Trump crazy allows us to avoid confronting the craziness in our society—-if we want to get sane, we must first gain insight about ourselves. Simply put, Trump isn’t crazy, but our society is.”

More posts on this important book will directly follow.

Effortless Thinking: The God Shaped Hole in Your Brain

January 18, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Graham Lawton in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.”

Lawton writes, “If God designed the human brain, he (or she) did a lousy job. Dogged by glitches and biases, requiring routine shutdown for maintenance for 8 hours a day, highly susceptible to serious malfunction, a product recall would seem to be in order. But in one respect at least, God played a blinder: our brains are almost perfectly designed to believe in God(s).

Lawton’s article is seriously flawed as he conflates God with religion. He notes that conflict, misogyny, prejudice, and terrorism all happen in the name of religion. This is true, but religions are human creations. HM finds that most criticisms of God are actually criticisms of religion. The God shaped hole in the brain that he rather thoroughly documents can be real.

Pascal made a very effective argument to believe in God called Pascal’s Wager.
The argument is put into the context of cost benefit analysis. Suppose one does not believe in God, and God exists. This could be extremely costly.

However, suppose one does believe in God, but God does not exist. This part of Pascal’s Wager is unique to HM, or so he likes to think. Then, so what? One would be dead and would never know of the mistaken belief. But during that person’s life, he had the comfort of believing in another existence.

Religions are not required for someone to believe in God. Indeed, there are many reasons to avoid them. One can develop a personal relationship with God via prayer and meditation. After all, as Mr. Lawton wrote, there is already a hole in our brains for it.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Effortless Thinking: The Fake News That Takes us All In

January 17, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Kate Douglas in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.”

Confabulation is common in dementia when people fabricate stories to fill gaps in memory. It is also possible to demonstrate confabulation in the laboratory. Researchers asked research participants to pick the favorite of two images, and then surreptitiously swapped it for the other before asking the participant why she liked it best. Researchers found that people often launched into a justification of why they chose the image they had actually spurned.

Michael Gazzaniga, who pioneered confabulation research in the 1960s dubbed the part of the brain that creates such narratives “the interpreter.” He argues that this interpreter is behind our unified sense of self. The interpreter integrates information from different parts of the brain. It rationalizes decisions we make based on subconscious processing that is not accessible to our conscious mind. Kahneman calls this processing System 1 processing. And it fills in the gaps when the information coming from the outside world doesn’t fit with our expectations. The interpreter creates narratives that help us make sense of our world.

It is clear that we have evolved a “drive for sense-making.” We derive pleasure from joining the dots between disparate information to create simple stories that explain our complex world. So we find it difficult to accept information that doesn’t fit into our world view. Ms. Douglas writes, “It can lead to fantastic confabulations too: religion, for example, may be the result of trying to make sense of a bunch of cognitive glitches. No wonder we are so susceptible to conspiracy theories and fake news.”

We should be aware of the tendency concocting stories as System 1 processes that need to be checked with Kahneman’s effortful System 2 processes. If one cannot readily reject or acknowledge the information, one should adopt an agnostic stance and make no decision unless more information becomes available.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Effortless Thinking: It Pays to Resist Revenge’s Sweet Taste

January 16, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Graham Lawton in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.”

According to popular wisdom, revenge is a dish best served cold. When we get a hunger for it, we feel satisfied once we’ve had our fill.

We could see why if we take a good look at what’s going on in our brain. According to criminologist Manuel Eisner of the University of Cambridge, brain scanning reveals the neural pathways of the revenge process. An initial humiliation fires up the brain’s emotional centers, the amygdalae and hypothalamus. They inform the anterior insular cortex, which evaluates whether we have been treated unfairly. If it has, the prefrontal cortex steps in to plan and execute retaliation. Finally, the brain’s pleasure center, the nucleus accumbens, swings into action to judge whether the revenge is satisfactory.

Revenge appears to be a universal human trait and the list of wrongs that need to be avenged are common across societies. It includes homicide, physical injury, theft, sexual aggression, adultery and repetitional damage to oneself, loved ones, or members of one’s tribe.

Unfortunately, it is easy to get revenge wrong. Too little and you reveal that you are worth exploiting. Too much and you risk starting a tit-for-tat cycle of revenge. Since we often make such misjudgments, it is likely why we have evolved an instinct for forgiveness too. Evolutionary psychologists see this as part of the same cognitive tool, to minimize any fallout from revenge. Once it is enacted mutual forgiveness follows, and the relationship is reset, for the time being at least.

See the healthy memory blog post, “Revenge, Sweet, but Not Heathy” for some helpful ideas on patching up relationships.

Effortless Thinking: Adapting Our Need to Feel Part of a Gang

January 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Graham Lawton in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.”

Tribalism is a deep-rooted evolutionary instinct. For thousands of years, our ancestors lived in small nomadic bands of mostly related individuals in frequent conflict—and occasional alliance—with neighbors over scarce resources. Tribes made up of individuals prepared to fight for a common good had a competitive edge over those that weren’t, so tribalism was selected for by evolution. We are one species, but we instinctively and effortlessly identify with smaller groups.

Research has shown that tribalism and the hostility it engenders are easy to induce. More than 60 years ago, Muzafur Sharif at the University of Oklahoma took 22 adolescent boys to Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma. This was a psychology experiment although it had all the trappings of a traditional summer camp. The boys had been divided into two groups, each unaware of the other’s existence. They were given cooperative tasks to perform, quickly bonded and developed hierarchies and cultural norms. Towards the end of the week, the experimenters engineered a fleeting encounter between the groups. Even though the boys had been chosen for their similarities, hostilities flared. The camp descended into a sort of tribal warfare, with derogatory insults, land grabs, nocturnal raids, flag burning and, eventually, a mass brawl. Hostilities only ended when the experiment introduced a common enemy in the form of fictitious vandals.

There have been many experiments showing that the flimsiest and most transient badges can trigger people to divide themselves into “us” and “them”—even the color of randomly assigned T-shirts will suffice.

Tribalism can be good or bad. It can be a useful motivating force; rivalry between scientific teams working on the same problem, for example. It also underlies some deeply unedifying behaviors to include racism, xenophobia, and homophobia. Nevertheless. there is hope that boundaries between “us” and “them” are fluid. This needs to be recognized and fluidity encouraged where indicated.

Effortless Thinking: We’re All Suckers for a Celebrity

January 14, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Graham Lawton in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.”

According to the article’s author, there is a prestige bias. He writes, “According to biologists, this prestige bias is an evolved feature of human cognition that goes back to the time when our ancestors were nomads living in small bands.” We are social learners, meaning that we copy the behavior of other people rather than figuring out everything from scratch. People who copy successful individuals can acquire useful, survival-enhancing skills. Doing so required sustained and close contact with the skilled. Psychologist Francisco Gil-White says the best way to do this is to “kiss up.” Pay them complements, do them favors, sing their virtues and exempt them from certain social obligations. Those of our ancestors who kissed up to talented individuals advanced their own interests, making them more likely to survive and reproduce. Unfortunately, evolution has favored sycophants.

Unfortunately, this can backfire in the modern world. Today we don’t just judge the prestige of people we encounter directly, but also those whom we only know vicariously. We follow our natural tendency to watch others and conform. If certain people are routinely fawned over, we assume that they are skilled and prestigious individuals who would be wise to kiss up to ourselves.

Lawton writes, “Prestige exerts such a strong pull on the human mind that the construction and perpetuation of hierarchies is hard to resist. In lab experiments people find it easier to understand social situations where there is a clear pecking order, and express preferences for hierarchies, even if they are at the wrong end of them. “

Lawton advises that we should be more discerning about whom we place at the top. If we base prestige on skill and genuine achievement, then those we kiss up to won’t be the only ones to benefit. This is especially true as many of the prestigious rich and famous provide very poor role models. So special care is needed in selecting proper role models.

Effortless Thinking: Why Stereotyping is an Evolutionary Trap

January 13, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Kate Douglas in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.”
Ms. Douglas writes,”We are born to judge others by how they look: our brains are hardwired with a specific face-processing area.” Even shortly after birth, babies would rather look at a human face than anything else. In their first year, they become more discerning; they are more likely to crawl towards friendly looking faces than those who look a bit shifty. When we reach adulthood we are snap-judgement specialists who jump to conclusions about a person’s character and status after seeing their face for just a tenth of a second. Unfortunately, we shun considered assessments of others in favor of simple shortcuts. For example, we judge a baby-faced individual as more trustworthy, and associate a chiseled jaw with dominance.

Although all this is unfair, it does make good evolutionary sense. Our species is ultra-social, so being able to assess quickly whether someone is friend or foe and whether they have the power to help or hurt us is important survival information. Psychologist Alexander Todorov points out that there is a problem as more often than not our first impressions are wrong. He suggests that the reason is that poor feedback and the fact that we meet many more strangers than our prehistoric ancestor, both likely play a part.

Another problem is that we don’t just stereotype faces one at a time. We are just as quick to categorize groups of people, and then discriminate against them as a result. Research by Susan Fiske and her colleagues has shown that a group stereotypes are also based on levels or trustworthiness and status. They label them “warmth” and “competence.” The researchers have plotted these two categories on a two-by-two grid, each quarter of which is associated with a particular emotion: pity, disgust, pride, or envy.

In the top quadrant are what they term High status competitors. The examples they provide are Jews, rich people and professionals. These people tend to trigger feelings of envy.

In the bottom quadrant are what they term Low status non-competitors. The examples they provide are housewives, elderly people, and those who are disabled. These people tend to trigger feelings of pity.

In the left quadrant are what they term Low status competitors. The examples they provide are welfare recipients, homeless people and immigrants. These people trigger tend to feelings of disgust.

In the right quadrant are what they term High status non-competitors. The examples they provide are our in-group and close allies. These people tend to trigger feelings of pride.

So we tend to dehumanize groups we judge to be lacking in warmth, and react violently to those with high status. Fisk says, “Historically, many genocides have been directed towards groups that fall into the envy quadrant.” Even our relatively positive reactions have downsides: we may pity those of low status, but react by patronizing them, and the pride we feel towards our own group can spill over into nepotism.

Even if we consciously reject stereotypes, the culture we live in does not, and experiments suggest that we are likely to share its biases. Research has shown that even people who show no overt signs of racism can still subconsciously dehumanize black people. Go to

Ms. Douglas concludes with this advice: “The best way to escape this evolutionary trap is to really get to know people from outside your echo chamber. Working together on a joint project is ideal because relying on someone forces you to look beyond simplistic first impressions. And don’t trust social stereotypes—even your own national stereotype. The evidence suggest that we are not even accurate when it comes to judging ourselves.” HM puts extra emphasis on that last point.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Effortless Thinking: Beware the Voice of Your Inner Child

January 12, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Graham Lawton in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.” The article begins, “The wind is alive, heat flows and the sun moves across the sky—childish intuitions shape our world, and can skew views on things like climate change.”
By the time children enter school, they have filled their minds with utter nonsense about how the world works. The job of science education is to unlearn these “folk theories” and replace them with evidence-based ones. Lawton writes, “For most people, it doesn’t work, and even for those who go on to become scientists, it is only partially successful. No wonder the world is so full of nonsense.”

Folk theories have been documented across all domains of science. In biology, children often conflate life with movement, seeing the sun and wind as alive, but trees and mushrooms as not being alive. They also see purpose everywhere: birds are “for” flying, rocks are for animals to scratch themselves on, and rain falls so flowers can drink. In physics, children conclude that heat is a substance that flows from one place to another, that the sun moves across the sky, and so on. For most everyday purposes, these ideas are serviceable, but they aren’t true.

Children cling to these folk theories even when they grow up. And when they encounter difficult concepts, they cling even harder. Many intuitively see evolution as a purposeful force that strives to endow animals and plants with the traits they need to survive. These folk theories do get knocked back as we move through education, but they never go away. Psychologist Andrew Schulman says, “They can be suppressed by a more scientific world view, but cannot be eradicated altogether. Intuition can be overridden but not overwritten.”

Shulman’s group revealed this resilience by presenting people with a variety of statements about the natural world and asking them to say which were true and which false. Some were designed to be intuitively true but scientifically false, such as “fire is composed of matter”; others were intuitively false but scientifically true, such as “air is composed of matter”. People who got the correct answer still took significantly longer to process intuitively false but scientifically true statements. This was true even in the case of those who had been scientists for decades.

Similar results come from brain scans. When people watch videos that are consistent with the laws of physics but intuitively wrong—such as light and heavy objects falling at the same rate—the error-detecting parts of their brains light up, suggesting that they are struggling to reconcile two competing beliefs. The error-detecting parts of their brains lighting up are evidence for System 2 processes checking and correcting System 1 processes. The persistence of folk theory is revealed in people with Alzheimer’s disease too. Tests of their science knowledge show that they often revert to folk theories as their higher executive functions decline. These higher executive functions that decline are System 2 processes. Earlier healthy memory blog posts have suggested that the infrequent use of System 2 processing might have led to their cognitive decline.

The article concludes, “The upshot is that scientific thinking is hard-won and easily lost, and that persuading most people of the validity of things like evolution, climate change, and vaccination will always be an uphill struggle.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Effortless thinking: Why Life is More than a Zero-sum game

January 11, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Graham Lawton in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.”

In a classic zero-sum situation, resources are finite and your loss is my gain. Lawton writes, “Many situations in life follow this pattern—but not all. Unfortunately, this subtlety tends to pass us by. At best, seeing competition where none exists can blind us to opportunity. At worse, it has very unpleasant consequences.”

Dan Meegan, a neuroscientist at the University of Guelph in Canada says, “Zero-sum thinking was an evolutionary adaptation to to a time when we lived in small bands of hunter-gatherers. Under those circumstances, resources such as food and mates were finite and often scarce, so more for one person meant less for another.” However, today, things can be different. System 2 processes need to be invoked to assess whether or not something is a zero-sum game.

A good example is international trade. Treaties between nations are usually designed to be win-win: the more trade that happens, the more resources there are for everybody. The basis for this is “comparative advantage,” whereby trade benefits even less productive countries provided they concentrate their efforts of the good they are most efficient at producing (this is complicated. Google “comparative advantage example” for an explanation). Still the bias persists. People find it hard to believe that a trading “win’ for a foreign partner doesn’t lead to a loss for them. This is one reason why free trade is politically unpopular among people it would benefit. Donald Trump is one of the people who can’t understand why a win for a foreign partner is not a loss for the United States. These trade deals are quite complicated. It takes many experts from each side examining the deal to see if it advantageous to them. Moreover, there will be disagreements even among the experts. But eventually a consensus is achieved by both sides and a trade agreement is reached. Trump has no use for experts, as it just “knows.” So he tends to break trade agreements that were beneficial to both sides. In doing so he injures both the United States and its trading partners, in effect damaging world trade.

Another problem is the misperception that discrimination is a zero-sum game. As early as 2011, during President Obama’s first term, there were signs that many white Americans perceived growing “anti-white prejudice” despite overwhelming evidence that whites still enjoyed privileged access to jobs, education, and justice. Research indicated that this was at least party based on the misperception that discrimination is a zero-sum game—that less of it against minorities necessarily means more against white people. This misperception played a large part in the disaster of the election of Donald Trump. The article concludes, “With so much riding on it, just being aware of zero-sum thinking could go a long way to improving social relations.”

What the article doesn’t mention is the desire of people to perceive themselves as being better than other people. Unfortunately, many people regard this desire as a God-given right. Even when objectively their group is better off than other groups, they regard the improvement of other groups as a threat to them. Here System 2 processing needs to be invoked to reject this perception as bigotry and to appreciate the good in the improvement in other groups.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Effortless thinking: Thoughtlessly thoughtless

January 10, 2018

The Cover Issue of the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist is titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.” This issue features many articles on effortless thinking and its costs. The lead article in this issue was written by Graham Lawton and has the same title at this post. Lawton writes, “You might even argue that our predilection for fake news, conspiracy theories and common sense politics suggest we are less inclined to think than ever. Our mental lassitude is particularly shocking given that we pride ourselves on being “Homo sapiens,” the thinking ape. How did it come to this?”

Lawton continues, “The truth is, we are simply doing what people have always done. The human brain has been honed by millions of years of evolution—and it is extraordinary, However, thinking is costly in terms of time and energy, so our ancestors evolved a whole range of cognitive shortcuts. These helped them survive and thrive in a hazardous world.”

Lawton continues, but does not mention Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition.  This theory was expanded upon in Kahneman’s best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.

The cognitive shortcuts Lawton mentions are essentially System1 processes. They are fast, efficient, and do not make attentional demands. And they work. Consequently, humankind existed in a fairly primitive state for a very long time. System 2 processes are supposed to monitor System 1 processes for errors. Cultural advances occur when System 2 processes are invoked result in better thinking and better ideas. Unfortunately, civilizations have tended to abandon System 2 processing with resulting declines. The formulation of science provided new System 2 processes that are responsible for the advanced age we live in. Unfortunately, not all enjoy this new age, and there is a regression to System 1 processing that is causing disruptions in advanced societies. Hostility is being expressed towards knowledgeable individuals, who are regarded as elites, and uncomfortable facts are regarded as fake news.

These System 1 processes that come to us almost effortlessly can get us into a lot of trouble. Lawton writes, “The first step to avoiding these pitfalls is to identify them. To that end, we bring you the “New Scientist” guide to sloppy thinking…”

This guide is a fairly extensive sequence of articles that will be addressed in the following healthy memory blog posts.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Effortless Thinking: Why We’re All Born to be Status Quo Fans

January 9, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Graham Lawton in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.”

The article begins, “There are no right answers in the world of politics—but whether we’re drunk or just pressed for time, the less we think, the further to the right our answers are.”

When researchers in the US loitered outside a bar in New England about their political views, they found that the drunker the customer, the more right wing their leanings. This wasn’t because right-wing people drink more, or get pissed more easily. Wherever people stood on the political spectrum when sober, alcohol shifted their views to the right.

The researchers, led by Scott Eidelman at the University of Arkansas, point out that alcohol strips away reasoning to reveal the default state of the mind. This is why they chatted with drunks: they were using drunkenness to test the hypothesis that low-effort, automatic thought promotes political conservatism.

The researchers also found that they could push people to the right by distracting them, putting them under time pressure, or simply telling them not to think too hard. However, participants who were asked to deliberate more deeply shifted their political thinking to the left. Similar effects have been seen with the three core components of conservative ideology: preference for the status quo, acceptance of hierarchy, and belief in personal responsibility. The researchers say that all three come naturally to the human mind. We think that way without trying, without even noticing. In contrast, more liberal views require effortful deliberation.

Our political views are shaped by many factors, including personality, upbringing, and education. As early as the 1950s, however, psychologists probing the appeal of fascism found that right-wing ideology was associated with dislike of ambiguity and cognitive complexity. The relationship between IQ and political leanings is complex. Broadly speaking, people with lower-than-average IQs tend to be lefties. This is likely due to economic self-interest. People of moderately above-average intelligence lean right for the same reason. But the top 20% swing left again, although highly intelligent people are also over-represented in the libertarian camp.

Nevertheless, dislike of—or lack of training in—analytical thinking is strongly associated with preference for the status quo. Conversely, people who are politically liberal tend to think more analytically than their conservative peers, and having studied science is strongly associated with progressive views.

The author concludes, “Whether you think our intuitive conservatism is good or bad probably depends on your personal politics, With around 85% of the world population’s largely untrained uncritical thinking, preference for the status quo is the clear winner. Nevertheless, progressive change does usually happen eventually.”

HM reminds readers of Kahneman’s System 1 System 2 distinction. System 1 is intuitive and occurs easily without cognitive effort. System 2, which involves reasoning and thinking requires cognitive resources and is effortful. Since System 2 involves cognitive effort, people who do not use System 2 can be called cognitive misers.

The problem of getting people to think critically has become much larger given the rapid changes in society and technology. Many are overwhelmed and take comfort in the old ways of thinking and doing things. Unfortunately, both society and technology are rapidly changing, and these changes need to be adapted with critical thinking.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this problem was the election of Donald Trump. Here is an individual who sees no need to think or to consult with experts because he already “knows” everything. But it is clear that he does not know how government is supposed to work and finds the Constitution to be an annoyance. It appears that his supporters are gradually recognizing his failures. But they have been obvious from the start for people using their System 2 processes. The many lies and contradictions make it obvious that he cannot be believed or trusted. So the problem is an overwhelming number of cognitive misers and a shortfall in System 2 processors.

At least one earlier healthymemory blog post predicted that people who voted for Trump will have a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s, than people who engaged in System 2

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Additional Worries About Trump

January 7, 2018

This post is taken largely from the article by Philip Zimbardo and Rosemary Sword titled “Unbridled and Extreme Present Hedonism” in “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President” edited by Bandy Lee, M.D., M. Div.

Trump’s unbridled and extreme present hedonism should already be obvious to all. And the analyses by Zimbardo and Sword have many similarities with the other mental health experts. This post will hit some of the additional points made in this chapter. Zimbardo and Sword write, “ In presenting our case that Donald Trump is mentally unfit to be president of the United States, we would be remiss if we did not consider one more factor: the possibility of a neurological disorder such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.” Donald Trump’s father, Fred, suffered from dementia believed to be Alzheimer’s disease (a definitive diagnosis requires an autopsy for Alzheimer’s). They compared videos of Trump and others from the 1980s, 1990’s, and early 2000s to current videos. They found (a significant reduction in the use of essential words; an increase in the use of adjectives such as very, huge, and tremendous; and incomplete run-on sentences that don’t make sense and that could indicate a loss of train of thought or memory) are conspicuously apparent. This observation is not unique to Zimbardo and Sword.

HM has heard this from different individuals who have a longstanding knowledge of Trump. Joe Scarborough is one of these individuals. Moreover, Scarborough thinks that Trump has gotten dramatically worse since he was inaugurated. Scarborough said, “During the campaign, he would do things that were offensive to us [that energized his base], but that’s not like hitting your hand with a hammer. What he’s doing now is not in his self-interest. Then you start saying how well is he (Scarborough points to his own head] when he’s doing things that any sane rational person would know would hurt him politically?

For a long time, perhaps too long, psychiatrists employed the Goldwater rule to justify why they were avoiding commentary on Trump. The Goldwater rule has precluded psychiatrists from commenting on individuals whom they had not personally analyzed. This was done because of comments some psychiatrists had made about Barry Goldwater during his run for president. As he was a reserve general officer in the Air Force and had made such statement as “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” some psychiatrists were concerned.

What is not as well know is the Tarasoff doctrine. This was formulated with the principles of Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California 17 Cal. 3d 425 (1976). According to this doctrine “it is the responsibility of mental health professionals to warn the citizens of the United States and the people of the world of the potentially devastating effects of such an extreme present-hedonistic world leader, one with enormous power at his disposal. On the whole, the mental health professionals have failed in their duty to warn, in a timely manner, not only the public but also governmental officials about the dangers of President Donald Trump. Articles and interviews intent on cautioning the masses prior to the election fell on deaf ears, perhaps in part because the media did not afford the concerned mental health professionals appropriate coverage, perhaps because some citizens discount the value of mental health and have thrown a thick blanket of stigma over the profession, or perhaps we as mental health professionals did not stand united. Whatever the reason, it’s not too late to follow through.”

During the election, many thought, or hoped, that Trump was crazy like a fox, that he was a genius who knew how to manipulate crowds, but once in office, he would morph into a competent president. Well, that has not happened, and the prognosis is that matters will get even worse.

Delusional Disorder

January 6, 2018

This post is largely based on a chapter by Michael J. Tansey, Ph.D. titled “Why ‘Crazy Lie a Fox’ versus ‘Crazy like a Crazy’ Really Matters.” That chapter is in “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President” edited by Bandy Lee, M.D., M. Div.

Delusional Disorder is a “stealth” disorder because such individuals can seem perfectly normal, logical, high functioning, and even charming so long as the delusion itself is not challenged. Delusional disorder is described as “one of the less common psychotic disorders in which patients have delusions that differ from the classical symptoms of schizophrenia. Psychosis is defined as “a condition in which there is profound loss of contact with external reality.” Although in schizophrenia the disconnection tends to be highly visible and all-encompassing, the delusional disorder is neither bizarre or readily apparent to the outside observer:

*Delusions are beliefs that exist despite indisputable, factual evidence to the contrary.
*Delusions are held with absolute certainty, despite their falsity and impossibility.
*Delusions can have a variety of themes, including grandeur and persecution.
*Delusions are not of the bizarre variety but, rather, seem like ordinary figures of speech except that each world is meant literally:e.g., “I alone am the chosen one invincible, extraordinary beyond words, the very best of the best in every way.”
*Delusional people tend to be extremely thin-skinned and humorless, especially regarding their own delusions.
*Delusions are central to the person’s existence, and questioning them elicits a jolting and visceral reaction.
*Delusional disorder is chronic, even lifelong, and tends to worsen in adulthood, middle age, and beyond.
*Words and actions are consistent and logical if the basic premise of the delusion is accepted as reality.: “Because I am superior to all, it follows that I would never apologize because I am never wrong.”
*General logical reasoning and behavior are unaffected unless they are very specifically related to the delusion.
*The person has a heightened sense of self-reference (“It’s always all about me”), and trivial events assume outsize importance when they contradict (“Your are a con man, and not a great businessman”) or, conversely support the delusional belief “These adoring crowds recognize that I am extraordinary beyond measure.”), making trivial events, whether positive or negative, hard to let go of and move past (“Have I mentioned my greatest electoral landslide?”).

Dr. Tansey uses delusional disorder to make sense of Trump’s CIA address (CNN videos, 2017), which contain three staggering statements that lead us to think “He can’t possibly mean that. In the tenth minute he declared he was “a thousand % behind” the CIA. Moreover, he blamed the “fake media” for fostering the belief that he had been critical of the CIA. His own statements document that he was extremely critical of the CIA.

Later in the speech he described his disappointment that, as he began his inaugural address, it was raining, but then he claimed, with a finger to the sky, “God looked down and said, “We’re not going to let it rain on your speech.” He then insisted that the rain stopped immediately and it became “really sunny” before it poured right after he left.” The video taken of Inauguration Day clearly shows that the drizzle started as Trump began to speak, and that it never got sunny. It never subsequently poured. Dr. Tansey asks whether Trump believed every word he was saying? If the answer is yes, this would be compelling evidence of underlying delusional disorder leaking through the veneer of normality.

The third statement was his insistence that the inaugural ground were packed “all the way to Washington Monument.” Despite his consistent badgering of the Park Service, aerial shots clearly showed that the audience was thousands fewer than Obama’s in 2009, and did not come even close to the Washington Monument.

Note the role the polygraph plays here. If it fails to detect lies, when Trump is clearly lying, this is physiological evidence of delusional disorder.

Perhaps what is most frightening about Trump, is the admiration he has repeatedly and openly expressed admiration for Kim Jong-un, Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, and especially Vladimir Putin. Dr. Tansey concludes there is considerable evidence to suggest that absolute tyranny is Donald Trump’s ultimate desire.


January 5, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter by Lance Dodge, M.D. in “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President” edited by Bandy Lee, M.D., M. Div.

The chapter begins, “‘Crazy like a fox or just crazy?’ This question has surrounded Donald Trump since his campaign for president. The question is whether a person who is repetitively immoral—who cons others, lies, cheats and manipulates to get what he wants, doesn’t care whom he hurts as long as he is gratifying himself—whether such a person’s indifference to the feelings of others for personal gain is just being clever: crazy like a fox. Or are these actions a sign of something much more serious? Could they be expressions of significant mental derangement?”

Dr. Dodge’s answer is an emphatic “Yes.” He goes on to explain the psychological condition called sociopath and why it is such a severe disturbance. The word “sociopathy” is sometimes used interchangeably with “psychopathy,” though some have defined the words a bit differently. Sociopathy is also a major aspect of the term, “malignant narcissism” which is brought synonymous with the official (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or DSM) psychiatric diagnostic term, “antisocial personality disorder.” All refer to a disturbance in an individual’s entire emotional makeup (hence the term “personality” disorder in the DSM).

Children must develop ways to manage emotional distress: anxiety, confusion, disappointment, loss, fear, all while they are growing in their capacity to think, and sorting out what is real and what is their imagination. Most of us develop systems to do this, to tolerate and control our emotions, understand and empathize with the people around us, and tell the difference between reality and wishes or fears. But this does not happen to people with early, primitive emotional problems seen in sociopathy. They do not tolerate disappointments; instead, they fly into rages and claim that their upsetting reality isn’t real. They make up an alternative reality and insist that it is true. This is a delusion. When it is told to others, it is basically a lie. Successful sociopaths might not look very “crazy.” This capacity to lose touch with reality shows up when they are stressed by criticism or disappointment. When they are less stressed,they explain their loss of reality with rationalizations or more lies.

Here are some signs and symptoms of sociopathy:

Lack of Empathy for Others; Lack of Remorse; Lying and Cheating
Trump’s mocking of the disability of a handicapped reporter, sexually assaulting women, a history of cheating people he’s hired by not paying them what he owes, creating the now forced-to-disband Trump University. Readers should be able to provide more examples.

Loss of Reality
Trump’s alternative facts. His claim that President Obama is not an American and that he wiretapped Trump’s building. That his loss in the vote total in the general election was caused by illegal aliens. That he had the largest inauguration crown in history. Readers are encouraged to provide their own examples.

Rage Reaction and Impulsivity
The firing of the FBI Director James Comey after hearing his testimony before Congress. Launched more than 50 missiles within 72 hours of seeing a disturbing news. Issued illegal executive orders. Again, feel free to list your own examples.

Dr. Dodge concludes, “Mr. Trump’s sociopathic characteristics are undeniable. They create a profound danger for America’s democracy and safety. Over time these characteristics will only become worse, either because Mr. Trump will succeed in gaining more power and more grandiosity with less grasp on reality, or because he will engender more criticism producing more paranoia, more lies, and more enraged destruction.

Pathological Narcissism and Politics

January 4, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President” edited by Bandy Lee, M.D., M. Div.

The subtitle to this chapter is A Lethal Mix. The author is Craig Malkin, Ph.D. He writes, Pathological narcissism begins when people become so addicted to feeling special that, just like with any drug, they’ll do anything to get their “high,” including lie, steal cheat, betray and even hurt those closest to them.”

Dr. Malkin says that at the heart of pathological narcissism, or narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is that he calls Triple E:

*Entitlement, acting as if the world and other people owe them and should bend to their will.
*Exploitation, using the people around them to make themselves feel special, no matter what the emotional or even physical cost to others (battering away at their self-esteem)
*Empathy-impairment, neglecting and ignoring the needs and feelings of others, even of those closest to them because it is their own need to feel special that matters.

Exploitation and entitlement are linked to almost every troubling behavior pathological narcissists demonstrate: aggression when their ego is threatened, infidelity, vindictiveness, extreme envy, boasting, name-dropping, denial of any problems of wrongdoing—even workplace sabotage..

Dr. Malkin notes that as people become more addicted to feeling special, they grow ever more dangerous. Here pathological narcissism often blends with psychopathy, a pattern of remorseless lies and manipulation.

Unlike NPD, psychopathy is marked not by impaired or blocked empathy but a complete absence of it. Moreover, some neuroimaging evidence suggests that psychopaths do not experience emotions the same was non-psychopaths do. The emotions centers of their brains simply fail to light up when they confess shameful events such as cheating on a spouse or punching a friend. Nor do the emotion centers of the bran respond when they see pictures of people in pain or suffering anguish.

NPD and psychopathy together form a pattern of behavior called malignant narcissism. This is not a diagnosis but a term coined by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm and elaborated on by personality disorder expert, Otto Klineberg, to describe people so driven by feeling special that they essentially see other people as pawns in their game of kill or be killed, either metaphorically or literally. Kim Jong-un, Hitler, and Vladimir Putin all fall into the category of malignant narcissist.

Donald J. Trump, Alleged Incapacitated Person

January 3, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a chapter in “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President” edited by Bandy Lee, M.D., M. Div. The subtitle of this chapter is “Mental Incapacity, the Electoral College, and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, and the author is a lawyer James A. Herb, Esq. He wrote that “Donald J. Trump became an ‘alleged incapacitated person’ on October 4, 2016 when I filed a petition to determine his mental incapacity in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.’” He claimed legal standing to commence such a proceeding as an adult and a resident of Florida, and based on the fact that Trump’s apparent lack of mental capacity to function could impact me and possibly the whole world, in addition to him.

The day before the election, the court dismissed his incapacity proceeding. After Election Day (and before the date for the Electoral College to meet and vote), he asked that the court reconsider its decision, arguing that the issue of whether Trump was mentally incapacitated was not moot, given that the president is selected by members of the Electoral College, and not by a direct of the electorate, so perhaps the Electoral College could save us.

He argued that it was the original intent of the Framers of the Constitution, as explained in Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist No. 68, March 12, 1788, that the electors were to provide wisdom and judgment (beyond that held by the general public). Clearly, they had not done so. Here was an erratic behaving individual who knew little he needed to know to be President. Moreover, the popular vote was 3 million votes for someone who had been both a Senator and the Secretary of State. If they had done what should have been expected of them, they would have made Hillary Clinton President. By failing to do so, they left the health of the United States in the hands of someone who not only put the United States at risk, but also the other citizens of the world.

But the court did not change its holding. Still there was hope. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment. Herb filed a second petition on 30 January 2017 after his first tend days in office. In these first ten days, Trump had espoused at least two delusional beliefs. One was the size of the crown at his inauguration. The other was than Secretary Clinton had won the popular vote only because between three million an five million illegal votes had been cast.

During his first ten days Trump issued executive orders that demonstrated his mental inability to comprehend the following: what is and is not legal (the immigration ban); what he can and cannot do without getting funding approval from Congress (building a border wall with Mexico) and what is and is not in the best interest of our country’s security (Steve Bannon is in, and certain Cabinet-level officers are out). He alienated Mexico; alienated nations across the world with his immigration ban; displayed an inability to vet issues and actions with appropriate parts of the U.S. government before taking action; and displayed a total inability to anticipate (or even consider) the impact of his statements and actions.

His petition asserted that in order for him to continue as president, he needed the mental capacity to:
*separate fact from fiction;
*think through an issue or matter before speaking or taking action;
*be able and willing to learn about issues;
*apply coherent decision making to fact;
*communicate coherently
*be consistent (without facilitating or “flip-flopping) with statements he makes;
*comprehend likely results from saying certain things or taking certain actions;
*differentiate between acceptable decisions and horrendous decisions;
*be willing to understand, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution, including its provisions that related to the functioning of he executive branch and the rights of citizens under the Bill of Rights.
*keep himself from committing high crimes and misdemeanors as the term appears in the U.S. Constitution, Art.II, Sec.4, regarding impeachment;
*deal reasonably and effectively with other people.
*understand basic democratic principles, including; the importance of a free and fair election (and the importance of not claiming it is “rigged” before it has occurred); the undemocratic nature of intending to jail his election rival; and the danger of propounding, multiple conspiracy theories against him; and
*be stable (i.e., not having mental instability) in his thoughts and speech.

He asserted that the statements of Trump support a determination that he suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, which would make him incapable of continuing as president, and that he:

*had a grandiose sense of self-importance;
*is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, and brilliance;
*believe that he is special and unique;
*requires excessive admiration;
*has a sense of entitlement (has unreasonable expectation of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his expectations);
*is interpersonally exploitative (takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends).
*lacks empathy. being unwilling or unable to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others; and
*shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

He also asserted that the statements of Trump support a determination that he suffers from histrionic personality disorder, which would make him mentally incapable of continuing as president, and that he:

*has had interactions with others that are often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior;
*displays rapidly shifting and shallow expressions of emotions;
*has a style of speech the is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail;
*shows self-dramatization, theatrically, and exaggerated expression of emotion; and
*is suggestible (easily influenced by others or circumstances).

There is no point in going into the details of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, as it would require heavy Republican participation. However, what is difficult to understand is why there is not heavy Republican participation. Trump is no Republican. Reagan must be thrashing about on his grave.

Republicans have been noted for two strong themes:
one is not to conciliate the Soviet Union or Russia
the other is an aversion to budget deficits.
Trump idolizes Putin and everything Russian. The various investigations are indicating how deep this relationship actually goes.
The new tax bill will create gargantuan deficits.

One questions how long the Republican Party will survive.


January 2, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important book. The subtitle of this book is “27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President”. The editor of the book is Bandy Lee, M.D., M.Div. She was the organizer of the Yale “Duty to Warn” Conference. This conference was organized as a result of the worries, concerns, and yes, even fears, that mental health professionals have about Donald Trump serving as President of the United States. The following excerpts are from the Prologue of the book:
“Assessing dangerousness is different from making a diagnosis: it is dependent on the situation, not the person. Signs of likely dangerousness due to mental disorder can become apparent without a full diagnostic interview and can be detected from a distance and one is expected to err, if at all, on the side of safety when the risk of interaction is too great.”

“Only in an emergency should a physician breach the trust of confidentiality and intervene without consent, and only in an emergency should a physician break Goldwater rule. We believe that such an emergency now exists.”

The Goldwater rule was passed by the American Psychiatric Association during the election between Barry Goldwater and Lyndon B. Johnson, it said that psychiatrists should not comment on an individual unless they had personally examined the individual.

A sampling of some the chapters from the book are being summarized so the general warning from the book can be understood.

Perhaps the most comprehensive chapter was not written by a medical professional, but by a lawyer James A. Herb, Esq. the title of his chapter is “DONALD J. TRUMP, ALLEGED INCAPACITATED PERSON.” He writes, “Donald J. Trump became an ‘alleged incapacitated person’ on October 4, 2016 when I filed a petition to determine his mental incapacity in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. I claim legal standing to commence such a proceeding as an adult and a resident of Florida, and based on the fact that Trump’s apparent lack of mental capacity to function could impact me and possibly the whole world, in addition to him.”

Not surprisingly the day before the election the court dismissed his incapacity proceeding. After Election Day (and before the date for the Electoral College to meet and vote, he asked the court to reconsider its decision, arguing that the issue of whether Trump was mentally incapacitated was not moot, given the the president is selected by members of the Electoral College.) So perhaps the Electoral College could save us. He provides an explanation that the Electoral College was created to preclude an unqualified candidate such as Trump from becoming President. Obviously the court did not change its holding.

He still held out hope that the Twenty-fifth Amendment would save us. He filed a second petition on 30 January 2017 after Trump’s first ten days in office. In these first ten days Trump had espoused at least two delusional beliefs. One was the size of the crowd at his inauguration. The other was that Secretary Clinton had won the popular vote only because between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes had been cast.

Read for yourself in the next healthy memory blog post his justification for his filings to see if he did have a compelling and comprehensive justification for Trump not being President.

The next post is titled “Pathological Narcissism and Politics” by Craig Maikin, Ph.D. Pathological narcissism is the most common diagnosis given Trump.

Then the next post is titled “Sociopathy by Lance Dodge, M.D.

The following post is titled “Delusional Disorder by Michael J. Tansey, Ph.D . For what it’s worth, and noting that HM is not a clinician, HM agrees with this diagnosis. People suffering from a delusional disorder actually believe their lies. A test for this disorder involves using a polygraph while the person is lying. People with a delusional disorder will not register a lie on the polygraph.

The post titled “Additional Worries About Trump” is taken largely from an article by Philip Zimbardo and Rosemary Sword titled “Unbridled and Extreme Present Hedonism.”
One of the additional worries is that Trump’s mental status is on a noticeable decline. There is no justification for thinking he will improve. The likelihood is that his condition will degenerate.

Do not be concerned about differences in diagnoses. The exact diagnosis is not important. Moreover, mental illness does not necessarily incapacitate a president. Previous presidents have suffered mental problems. The issue is whether the president presents a risk to the nation. Here there is only strong agreement among the authors.

The final post is titled “A Proposed Solution.” This solution calls for a panel. The panel would consists of three neuropsychiatrists (one clinical, one academic, and one military), one clinical psychologist, one neurologist and two interns.  Both the current President and Vice-President would be examined. These examinations would be continued to be done on an annual basis. Should the panel find that the examinee was putting the country at risk, he should be removed under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.

Getting Rid of Negative Stereotypes About Aging

December 30, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Judith Graham in the Health Section of the 7 November issue of the Washington Post. Here is the key opening sentence: “Seniors whose view of aging is primarily positive live 7.5 years longer than other seniors.”

According to reports from the “Reframing Aging Initiative,” although people may hope for good health and happiness, they tend to believe that growing older involves deterioration and decline.” Unfortunately, dismal expectations can become self-fulfilling as people start experiencing changes associated with growing older such as aching knees or problems with hearing. If these negative stereotypes have been internalized, confidence may be ended, stress responses activated, motivation diminished (“I’m old, and it’s too late to change things”) and a sense of efficacy impaired (“I can’t do that”).

Studies show that older adults who hold negative stereotypes tend to walk slowly, experience memory problems, and recover less fully from a fall or fracture. But seniors whose view of aging is primarily positive live 7.5 years longer than other seniors.

Positive images of aging can be enhanced and the effects of negative stereotypes can be reduced. At a recent meeting of the National Academies of Sciences’ Forum on Aging Disability and Independence the following suggestions were offered:

Become aware of implicit biases such as the sight of an older person using a cane triggering associations with dependency and incompetence. To identify implicit bias, pay attention to your automatic responses. For example, if you become upset at the sight of wrinkles when looking into a bathroom mirror, acknowledge this reaction and ask yourself, “Why is this upsetting?”

Replace stereotypes. Instead of assuming a senior with a cane needs your help, you might ask, “Would you like assistance?” This question respects the individual’s autonomy.

Embrace new images. This involves thinking about people who don’t fit the stereotype. This could be older athletes and older people who are doing something you admire.

Individualize it. The more we know about people, the less we’re likely to think of them as a group characterized by stereotypes. What unique challenges does an older person face? How are these challenges coped with day to day.

Switch perspectives. This involves imagining yourself as a member of the group you’ve been stereotyping. What would it be like if strangers patronized you and called you “sweetie” or “dear” for example.

Make contact. Interact with the people you’ve been stereotyping. Visit and talk with that friend who’s now living in a retirement community.
The following recommendations come from HM. Belie these stereotypes by the way you live. Don’t be a physical or cognitive couch potato. Stay physically and cognitive active. Learn new information, master new skills. Continue to grow. Meditate with the theme that you are not growing older, you are growing better.

You might also want to visit the following website:

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

We’ve Finally Seen How the Sleeping Brain Stores Memories

December 29, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a post by Jessica Hamzelou in the 7 October 2017 issue of the New Scientist. To do this research needed to find volunteers who were able to sleep in an fMRI scanner. They needed to scan 50 people to find the 13 who were able to do so. These volunteers were taught to press a set of keys in a specific sequence. It took each person between 10 to 20 minutes to master this sequence.

Once they learned this sequence they each put on a cap of EEG electrodes to monitor the electrical activity of their brains, and entered an fMRI scanner, which detects which regions of the brain are active.

There was a specific pattern of brain activity when the volunteers performed the key-pressing task. Once they stopped, this pattern kept replaying in their brains as if each person was subconsciously reviewing what they had learned.

The volunteers were then asked to go to sleep, and they were monitored for two and a half hours. At first, the pattern of brain activity continued to replay in the outer region of the brain called the cortex, which is involved in higher thought.

When the volunteers entered non-REM sleep, which is known as the stage when we have relatively mundane dreams, the pattern started to fade in the cortex, but a similar pattern of activity started in the putamen, a region deep within the brain
(eLife, Shabbat Vahdat, the team leader at Stanford University, said that the memory trace evolved during sleep.

The researchers think that movement-related memories are transferred to deeper brain regions for long-term storage. Christoph Nissen at University Psychiatric Services in Bern Switzerland says, “this chimes with the hypothesis that the brain;’s cortex must free up space so that it can continue to learn new information.

The title of this post is identical to the title of a post by Jessica Hamzelou in the 7 October 2017 issue of the New Scientist. To do this research needed to find volunteers who were able to sleep in an fMRI scanner. They needed to scan 50 people to find the 13 who were able to do so. These volunteers were taught to press a set of keys in a specific sequence. It took each person between 10 to 20 minutes to master this sequence.

Once they learned this sequence they each put on a cap of EEG electrodes to monitor the electrical activity of their brains, and entered an fMRI scanner, which detects which regions of the brain are active.

There was a specific pattern of brain activity when the volunteers performed the key-pressing task. Once they stopped, this pattern kept replaying in their brains as if each person was subconsciously reviewing what they had learned.

The volunteers were then asked to go to sleep, and they were monitored for two and a half hours. At first, the pattern of brain activity continued to replay in the outer region of the brain called the cortex, which is involved in higher thought.

When the volunteers entered non-REM sleep, which is known as the stage when we have relatively mundane dreams, the pattern started to fade in the cortex, but a similar pattern of activity started in the putamen, a region deep within the brain
(eLife, Shabbat Vahdat, the team leader at Stanford University, said that the memory trace evolved during sleep.

The researchers think that movement-related memories are transferred to deeper brain regions for long-term storage. Christoph Nissen at University Psychiatric Services in Bern Switzerland says, “this chimes with the hypothesis that the brain;’s cortex must free up space so that it can continue to learn new information.

Regular Walking May Help Older Adults Live Longer

December 28, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Rachael Rettner in the Health Section of the 24 October 2017 issue of the Washington Post.

A new study finds that regular walking may help older adults live longer, even if they don’t walk enough to meet exercise guidelines. Adults up to age 64 should get at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity per week. But only half of those adults, and 42% of people ages 65 to 74, meet these recommendations.

This new study was based on data from nearly 140,000 US adults in their 60s, 70s and 80s, and followed them for 13 years. The respondents were asked how much time they spent exercising per week and which types of activity they engaged in.

The results showed that those who reported walking regularly but not enough to meet the exercise guidelines were less likely to die during the study period than those who didn’t get any physical activity. The researchers found that those who didn’t get any exercise were 26% more likely to die during the study period than were those who walked less than two hours per week. The findings held even after the researchers took into account factors that could affect the link, such as smoking, obesity, chronic conditions (including diabetes), and time spent sitting.

The researchers wrote in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “…doctors should encourage patients to walk, even if less than the recommended amount, especially as they age, for health and longevity. Walking has been described as the ‘perfect exercise’ because it is a simple action that is free, convenient, and does not require any special equipment or training, and can be done at any age.”

Not surprisingly the study also found that walking for a length of time that meets or exceeds physical activity guidelines was linked to even more benefits. Those who walked 2.5 to 5 hours a week were 20% less likely to die of any cause, 30% less likely to die of respiratory disease and 9 % less likely to die of cancer during the study period, compared with those who walked for less than two hours a week.

The researchers concluded, “This study shows that engaging in walking is associated with increased longevity and has the potential to improve the public’s health significantly.

And HM reminds you that it also fosters healthy memories regardless of age.

How the Cognitive Reserve Works

December 22, 2017

There have been many previous healthy memory posts informing its readers that there are people who die with brains filled with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, but who never exhibited any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s. About one-third of the people who die without cognitive problems have had the plaques and tangles that define Alzheimer’s Disease. It is believed that intellectual stimulation builds this cognitive reserve. HM has advanced the notion that it is specifically Daniel Kahneman’s System 2 processing that largely builds this cognitive reserve.

The question is what is the cause or causes of this cognitive reserve? Jeremy Herskowitz at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and his colleagues studied brain samples from 41 people. They had either beta-amyloid plaques but not symptoms, plaques and symptoms, or no plaques or symptoms. The team took close-up pictures of the samples, then used software to trace the physical shape of the brain cells and their connections or synapses. This technique allowed the team to visualize the first neuron of a pair that make up a synapse. This neuron sends out small buds known as spines which connect with projections from other neurons. Each synapse exists where a spine links to a projection. The spines of people who were Alzheimer’s resistant were longer than those from the other groups (Annals of Neurology,

Synapses are where signals pass from one neuron to another. Herskowitz says “the longer spines might make the synapse more effective in this role. Or new spines might be growing outwards to generate more synapses to replace those destroyed by plaques and tangles.” Herskowitz goes on to say,”It’s possible that the spines are reaching out to maintain the synaptic connections. They are putting themselves out there to catch a new one.”

Michael Valenzuela at the University of Sydney says that this finding may not be the only explanation. Brain imaging studies suggest that people who are resistant to Alzheimer’s may compensate for damage by using different parts of their brain. It should also be noted that these explanations are not mutually exclusive. They could both be operative.

The news here is that we have reasonable explanations as to what accounts for this cognitive reserve. However, it has long be expected that this cognitive reserve is built by cognitive activity. HM further postulates that it is System 2 processing of Kahneman’s ilk that is primarily responsible for the cognitive reserve.

So live a healthy lifestyle, stay cognitively engaged, and foster growth mindsets for a health memory.

This post is based on an article by Claire Wilson titled “Elongating your brain cells could ward off Alzheimer’s in the News & Technology section of the 25 November 2017 issue of the New Scientist.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Who is the Greatest Liar?

December 20, 2017

Psychologist Bella DePaulo has spent the first two decades of her career studying liars and their lies. She thought she had developed a sense of what to expect from them. Then along came President Trump, She says “His lies are both more frequent and more malicious than ordinary people’s.

At the University of Virginia she asked 77 college students and 70 people from the nearby community to keep diaries of all the lies they told every day for a week. They handed them in with no names attached. The researchers categorized each lie as either self-serving (told to advantage the liar or protect the liar from embarrassment, blame or other undesired outcomes), kind (told to advantage, flatter or protect someone else), or cruel (told to hurt or embarrass someone).

The Fact Check at the Washington Post has been tracking every false and misleading claim and flip-flop made by Trump during his first year as president. The inclusion of misleading statements and flip-flops is consistent with the definition of lying the researchers gave to their participants: “A lie occurs any time you intentionally try to mislead someone.” She notes that in the case of Trump’s claims, though, it is possible to ascertain only whether they were false or misleading and not what Trump’s intentions were. And while the subjects of her research self-reported how often they lied, Trump’s falsehoods were tallied by The Post.

Dr. DePaulo categorized the most recent 400 lies that The Post had documented through Mid-November in the same way the researcher had categorized the lies of the participants in their study.

The college students in the previous research told an average of two lies a day, and the community participants told one. A more recent study of the lies 1,000 U.S. adults told in the previous 24 hours found hat people told an average of 1.65 lies per day; the authors noted that 60% of the participants said they told no lies at all., while the top 5% of liars told nearly half of all the falsehoods in the study.

In Trump’s first 298 days in office he made 1,628 false or misleading claims or flip-flops by The Post’s tally. That’s about six per day, far higher than the average rate in the previous studies. Of course, reporters have access to only a subset of Trump’s false statements—the ones he makes publicly. That rate has been accelerating starting in early October. The Post’s tracking showed that Trump told a remarkable nine lies a day, outpacing even the biggest liars in previous research.

Dr. DePaulo notes that the flood of deceit is not the most surprising finding about Trump. Usually people lie to make themselves appear better. These lies are self-serving. Sometimes people lie to be kind. That is they do not want to hurt or offend the recipient of the lie. And sometimes people lie to be cruel and hurt people.

Here is how these different types of lies break down for Trump, Community Members, and College Students.

Self-serving Trump (64.8%) Community Members (56.7%) College Students (45.5%)
Kind Trump (9.8%) Community Members (24.4%) College Students (25.7%)                    Cruel Trump (50.2%) Community Members (2.4%) College Students (0.8%)

More than half of Trump’s lies are to hurt people or to get back at them for some perceived wrong. More than 90% of this lies are self-serving or vindictive.
Some of Trump’s lies are both self-serving and vindictive. For example, “Senator Bob Corker ‘begged me’ to endorse him for reelection in Tennessee. I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out.

Polls have reveal that fewer than 40% of Americans see Trump as honest. This roughly corresponds to what is regarded as Trump’s base. Remember that the default we humans have is to believe. This is a reasonable default to believe unless there is reason to not believe.

How can Trump’s base still believe in him? As has been mentioned in previous healthy memory blog posts these people are System 1 processors virtually exclusively. System 1 processing is fast, can be regarded as intuitive, and is highly emotional. System 2 processing is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes. One of the roles of System 2 processing is to detect errors in System 1 processing, which is something that does not happen in Trump’s base.

Less than 40% should not be something to worry about, Unfortunately due to gerrymandering and the electoral college, the will of the majority of Americans is ignored. Remember that Trump lost the general election. Trump is not a true Republican; still too many Republicans support him because they like to have power. Were these Republicans to value Country first rather than Party first, the country would not be in its present danger.

Dr. DePaulo’s research was taken from her article titled “I study liars. I’ve never seen one like President Trump.” in the Outlook section of the 10 December 2017 issue of the Washington Post.

What makes Trump especially dangerous as President is that he has been diagnosed as having a delusional disorder. The delusional disorder is a “stealth” disorder because such individuals can seem perfectly normal, logical, high functioning and even charming as long as the delusion itself is not challenged. Having the delusional disorder Trump is not aware that he is lying. He exists in an alternative reality wherein he is infallible and what he says is true. If he was hooked up to a lie detector, his lies would not be detected, because he does not believe he is lying. Someone with such a disorder should not be the president. The quickest way this could be done is with the Twenty-fifth Amendment. The Republicans would have to do this, but if they recognized that he is not a true Republican and that they need to be country rather than party first, this hazard could be quickly removed.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Study: Richest 1% Own 40% of the Country’s Wealth

December 19, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the titled of a Wonkblog piece by Christopher Ingraham in the 7 December 2017 issue of the Washington Post. Here is the current breakdown of wealth in the United States

Population    % of Wealth
Top 1%             40%
Next 4%           27%
Next 5%           12%
Next 10%         11%
Second 20%      8%
Middle 20%      2%
Fourth 20%       0%
Bottom 20%     -1% (negative net worth)

In 2010 Michael Norton and Dan Ariely surveyed more than 5500 people to find out how they thought wealth should be distributed in the United States

Population    % of Wealth
Top 20%         32%
Second 20%   22%
Middle 20%   21%
Fourth 20%   13%
Bottom 20%   11%

Now here is a summary of how wealth is distributed around the world. It shows how much of their domestic wealth the top 1% owns in their respective countries,

Country            % of Wealth
United States       40%
Germany               25%
France                   18%
United Kingdom 18%
Canada                  16%
Finland                  12%

So the distribution of wealth in the United States is frighteningly unequal.
It is both unhealthy and dangerous.
The next tax bill exacerbates this problem.

Here is a relevant simile.

Money is like manure. It needs to be spread around.

The Quality of Life Lessons We Should Learn from the Allegations Against Paul Manafort

December 18, 2017

This post is based on an article by Michelle Singletary titled “The financial lessons we should learn from the allegations against Paul Manafort in the 1 November 2017 issue of the Washington Post. Ms. Singletary notes that the American economist Thorstein Veblen, in his book, “The Theory of the Leisure Class” coined the term “conspicuous consumption” to describe wealthy people who broadcast their wealth and attempt to boost their reputations by purchasing things. He wrote, “conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentlemen of leisure.”

Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were living very comfortable lives. But they risked their comfortable lives to achieve even more wealth and apparent prestige. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 Million. Here’s what his indictment says:
“Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income. Manafort, without reporting the income to his tax preparer or the United States spent millions of dollars on luxury goods and services on himself and his extended family through payments wired from offshore nominee accounts to United States vendors. Manafort allegedly withdrew money from offshore accounts to purchase multimillion-dollar properties. Some of his spending also allegedly included the purchase of four Range Rovers that cost a total of $210,705 and a Mercedes-Benz for $62,750; landscaping at a Hamptons property; and improvements to a house in Palm Beach, FL. Manafort also allegedly spent $934,350 on antique rugs at a store in Alexandria, VA; close to $850,000 on clothing at a men’s store in New York between 2008 and 2014; and another half-million dollars at a clothing store in Beverly Hills, CA.”

Ms. Singletary notes a Princeton University economics researcher, Ori Heifetz, who examined the need for people to flaunt their financial status. In a 2004 paper he wrote, “In the signaling game we call life, when deciding upon a course of action, we consider not only the direct effects of our choice, but also the indirect (or social) effects resulting from society observing our choice. Ms. Singletary elaborates on this point, “It matters to man it signals they’ve arrived at some destination point of social standing. It’s a sign of success. People like to tell themselves their BMWs, Mercedes, or Range Rovers are far superior to other vehicles. But on the Consumer Reports 2017 list of the 10 most reliable cars, half are priced under $30,000.”

Perhaps the most obvious examples of conspicuous consumption are Rolex watches. There was a time when one could justify spending a large amount on an Accutron watch, because it kept better time. But a Rolex is bought to impress, as it is no more accurate than inexpensive watches. However, to a cynical psychologist like HM, a Rolex watch reveals an underlying sense of inferiority, and perhaps, an unconscious desire to be mugged.

This post makes the same argument as the preceding post, “It Should Be Life Quality Not Household Income.” Ms. Singletary quotes from the Book of Proverbs, “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” Eudaemonia and ikigai provide a road to true happiness that hedonism does not.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It Should be Life Quality Not Household Income

December 17, 2017

Being at the forefront of the baby boomers, HM becomes extremely agitated when he reads of how bad the more recent generations have it. The argument usually consists of adjustments of median income, and that this is not keeping up with previous generations. Monetary income is used to quantify life quality. This is extremely shortsighted and wrong.

Do any of these new generations wish they could have been in the good old days of the baby boomers? If they do, then they are fools. Personal computers were not available to say nothing of the internet and mobile computing. Would anyone in these new generations be willing to part with their smartphones? Medical care, automobiles, and other technologies have markedly improved.

Many baby boomers had to register for the draft and fight in the Viet Nam war. They had the privilege of possibly having their names added to the wall on the Mall. Of course, if one was wealthy, it was quite possible to find a physician who would provide the basis for a medical deferment.

Unfortunately, dollars are equated with happiness and life satisfaction. The Gross Domestic Product is the most common means of assessing life satisfaction, if not happiness. A healthy economy requires the GDP to grow. We are placed on a treadmill to continue working to buy more material goods. This is the rat race that is only occasionally mentioned.

There have been several healthy memory blog posts on the expectations HM was given when he was in elementary school. He learned that advances in technology would allow a large increase in leisure time. At that time women with children rarely worked. Now everybody is working longer hours. Why? There is a fear of technology taking away jobs. Why? Why can’t technology be used to increase leisure time and to make life more enjoyable?

A previous post, Flourishing, described what Aristotle and other wise people, both ancient and contemporary, wrote about what constitutes the good life. Rather than hedonism, the goals should be eudaemonia and ikigai, having a purpose in life other than having a job to earn money to engage in a futile effort to achieve happiness. Follow the wisdom of the Dalai Lama and go to

There are metrics for Gross National Happiness that are more relevant to happiness than are gross domestic products. (Enter “Gross National Happiness” into the search block of the healthymemory blog to find relevant posts.)

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

More on the Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

December 16, 2017

That is from the book written for the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman, “A FORCE FOR GOOD: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World.” Five healthy memory blog posts have already been written. Several more months could be spent on posts summarizing more wisdom from the book. Instead chapter titles and headings from the remainder of the book will be written here in the hope that they will persuade to you read the book on your own.

The first two parts, that have been reviewed are titled Part One: A World Citizen and Part Two: Looking Inward.

Part Three is titled Looking outward
Representative titles and headings follow;
Compassion Takes Action
Constructive Anger
The Strength of Altruism
The Empathy Gap
Structural Unfairness
Economics as if People Mattered
Rethinking Economics
The Secret of Happiness
Action for Happiness
Doing Good While Doing Well
Care for Those in Need
Helping People Help Themselves
Women as Leaders
Barefoot College
Heal the Earth
Radical Transparency
Trade-offs, Innovations—and Education
Rethinking Every Thing
How Did That Get Here?
A Century of Dialogue
Beyond Us and Them
The Power of Truth
Harmony Among Religions
Toward a Century of Dialogue
Put-Ups and Win-Wins
Educate the Heart
Mind Training
Reinventing Education
Social and Emotional Learning
A Call to Care
Part Four is titled Looking Back, Looking Ahead
The Long View
Are Things Getting Better or Worse?
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Thinking in New Ways
A Theory of Change
Plant the Seeds for a Better World
Act Now
Take It to Scale
The Human Connection
Think, Plan, Act

Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

December 15, 2017

With the Dalai Lama’s encouragement Richard Davidson founded the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM). Part of its mission is to study the best routes to compassion. A kindness curriculum is being tested at a preschool there. Preschoolers recite together a kindness pledge: “May all I think, say, or do not hurt anyone and help everyone.”

If the children do something kind for someone, they earn a “seed of kindness” planted on a big poster of a “kindness garden.”

They have a practice they call “belly buddies.” Children put a favorite stuffed animal on their bellies, then lie down and quiet themselves by paying full attention to the buddy rising and falling as they breathe in and out. The kindness curriculum includes a variety of methods like these, all aimed at helping the preschoolers learn to be more calm and quiet. This exercise should also prepare the children for the meditations they will do when they are older.

These preschoolers, four- and five-year-olds, are at the cusp of a development phase when kids are known to become more selfish, self-focused, and egocentric. In a test of the kindness program’s effects, the preschoolers were given a challenge after a semester.

Each child received some “cool” stickers (kids at this age are passionate about stickers) and was asked to allot the stickers to several envelopes: one with their own picture on it, one with a picture of their best fiend, the third with a child they did not know, and the fourth with a sick child.

Over the semester, a comparison group of preschoolers who did not participate in the program became more selfish in their sticker allotments—but not the kids in the kindness curriculum. So this usual trend in five-year-olds toward selfishness can be offset. Moreover, this shift toward a warmer heart is not just for children.

The website for this center is provided above. It is certainly worth checking out.

Partnering with Science

December 14, 2017

The title of this post is identical to a chapter in “A FORCE FOR GOOD: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for our World” has been written for the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman. The Dalai Lama sees science as but one way of grasping reality, limited by its methodologies and assumptions, like another way of knowing. The Dalai Lama said, “Scientists themselves have emotions that create problems. If we get helpful finding from science about how to create greater well-being and lessen destructive emotions, it’s more convincing and it will also help the scientists.

When Goleman was a pre-doctoral traveling fellow in South Asia, he studied a fifth-century text that provided a sampling of “ancient Indian psychology.” He was amazed at the precision with which this text delineated specific methods to shift our emotional and mental states (not to mention achieving transcendental states, which even today are largely off psychology’s map in the West.) So it is not only the Buddhist religion that offers relevant practices for western psychology, but eastern psychology itself has valuable science for the west.

The Dalai Lama has met many distinguished scientists on his visits to the West, and there have been many western scientists who have traveled to India to meet the Dalai Lama.

When Kiley Hamlin, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia was showing the Dalai Lama a video of a three-month-old preferring a nicer triangle (the triangle was shown as being nicer in the video) to the mean square (which was shown as being a meanie in the video). She concluded, “The very young already like goodness and enjoy being helpful and compassionate.”

Although pleased the Dalai Lama did not take this presentation uncritically. The Dalai Lama responded, “Thinking in terms of statistics, you’ve shown only one child. That is the average response?”

Hamlin reassured him that this test had been replicated with hundreds of children and in cultures around the world.

The Dalai Lama nodded in approval—but still queried, “And was their economic level taken into account?

Hamlin confirmed that they had found the same in children from poorer families and from wealthy ones.

In addition to his travels to meet scientists in the west, regular conferences are held at the Dalai Lama’s residence in India where scientists present their research to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama says that he’s collecting “ammunition,” findings to support his message in his public talks—and with the press.

The Dalai Lama’s Approach to Religion

December 13, 2017

To be sure, the Dalai Lama’s understanding of the power of compassion comes from his deep spiritual reflections of human suffering and relief from that suffering. However, as a world leader, the Dalai Lama puts aside religion, ideology, or any faith-based belief system in seeking a foundation for this compassionate ethic. He notes that, for centuries, religion provided an ethical base—but with the spin-off of philosophy from theology, postmodernism, and the “death of God.” many people have been left with no absolute foundation for ethics. Moreover, so often the talk about ethics polarizes people who get hijacked by extreme voices, particularly when the discussion revolves around religious belief.

Those who cause the troubles we hear about in the daily news all too often invoke as justification one or another religion—whether Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, or any other. The Dalai Lama says, “then there are those narrow-minded believers who say all creatures are the same but emphasize their own faith, forgetting the larger perspective.”

He observes that “their actions show that ‘deep inside’ they do not take their own religion’s moral values seriously and so distort or carefully select some textual sources while ignoring others, to serve their own needs. If we lack basic conviction in the value of compassion, then the effect of religion will be quite limited.”

Religions have had thousands of years to promote ethics—and have often failed, he says. Besides, while selflessness and kindness are ideals found in most faith-based teachings, these virtues also exist in nonreligious ethical systems. He continues”there are countless people in the world who are concerned for all humanity and yet who do not have religion. I think of all the doctors and aid workers volunteering in such places as Darfur or Haiti or wherever there is conflict of natural disaster. Some of them may be people of faith, but many are not. Their concern is not for this group or that group but simply for human beings. What drives them is genuine compassion—the determination to alleviate the suffering of others.”

He seeks a morality of compassion that all agree upon: “My concern is the seven billion human beings alive now, including one billion nonbelievers.”

A Force for Good

December 12, 2017

The Dalai Lama envisions a force for good. That force begins by countering the energies within the human mind that drive our negativity. To change the future and not repeat the past, The Dalai Lama tells us, we need need to transform our own minds—weaken the pull of our destructive emotions to strengthen our better natures.

Absent that inner shift, we remain vulnerable to knee-jerk reactions like rage, frustration, and hopelessness. These only lead us to the same old forlorn paths.

With a positive inner shift, we can more naturally embody concern for others—and so act with compassion, the core of moral responsibility. The Dalai Lama says that this prepares us to enact a larger mission with new clarity, calm, and caring. We can tackle intractable problems, like corrupt decision-makers and tuned out elites, greed and self-interest as giving motives, the indifference of the powerful to the powerless.

By beginning this social revolution inside our own minds, the Dalai Lama’s vision aims to avoid the blind alleys of past movements for the better. He cites the message of George Orwell’s cautionary parable “Animal Farm:” how greed and lust for power corrupted the “utopias” which were supposed to overthrow despots and help everyone equally, but in the end re-created the power imbalances and injustices of the very past they were supposed to have eradicated.

The Dalai Lama sees that the seeds we plant today can change the course of our shared tomorrow. Some may bring immediate fruits others may only be harvested by generations yet to come. But our united efforts, if based on this inner shift, can make an enormous difference.

The life journey that led the Dalai Lama to this vision has followed a complex course, but we can pick up the final trajectory to this book from the moment he attained a sustained global spotlight.

That global spotlight began when the Dalai Lama earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He was a new breed of celebrity. He was neither thrilled by fame and money nor overly eager for exposure in the world press. His very being seems to tell us you are not the center of the universe—relax your anxieties, drop your self-obsession, and dial down those me-first ambitions so you can think about others too. He immediately gave away the cash award that goes with the Nobel Prize. His main concern was who would be the most worthy recipients.

He refuses to be sanctimonious about himself and laughs at his own foibles. He flavors compassion with joy, not dour and empty platitudes.

Goleman notes that these traits are no doubt grounded in the study and practices the Dalai Lama has immersed himself in since childhood and and still devotes himself to for five hours each day (four in the morning and another hour at night). “His self-discipline in cultivating qualities like an investigative curiosity, equanimity, and compassion undergird a unique hierarchy of values that gives the Daily Lama the radically different perspective on the world from which his vision flows.”

The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

December 11, 2017

Previous posts on the Dalai Lama have focused primarily on the benefits of different types of mindfulness and meditation. Their focus has been primarily on science. “A FORCE FOR GOOD: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for our World” has been written for the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman. It outlines the Dalai Lama’s ideas on how to improve this world. This vision is worthy of your attention and the following posts will try to extract his ideas within the limitations of blog posts. You are strongly encouraged to read the book itself. There is also a website associated with this book, It is certainly worthy of repeated visits.

The following is taken from the Introduction to the book, which is written by the Dalai Lama:
“As a human being I acknowledge that my well-being depends on others and caring for others’ well-being is a moral responsibility I take seriously. It’s unrealistic to think that the future of humanity can be achieved on the basis of prayer or good wishes alone; what we need is to take action. Therefore, my first commitment is to contribute to human happiness as best I can. I am also a Buddhist monk, and according to my experience, all religious traditions have the potential to convey the message of love and compassion. So my second commitment is to foster harmony and friendly relations between them. Thirdly, I am a Tibetan, and although I have retired from political responsibility, I remain concerned to do what I can to help the Tibetan people, and to preserve our Buddhist culture and the natural environment of Tibet—-both of which are under threat of destruction.

The goal of happier human beings living together and supporting each other more fully in a more peaceful world is, I believe, something we can achieve. But we have to look at it taking a broad view and a long-term perspective. Change in ourselves and in the world in which we live may not take place in a hurry; it will take time. But if we don’t make the effort nothing will happen at all. The most important thing I hope readers will come to understand is that change will not take place because of decisions taken by governments or at the UN. Real change will take place when individuals transform themselves sided by the values that lie at the core of all human ethical systems, scientific findings, and common sense. While reading this book, please keep in mind that as human beings, equipped with marvelous intelligence and the potential for developing a warm heart, each and every one of us can become a force for good.

Loving Kindness Meditation

December 10, 2017

Loving-Kindness meditation falls into the class of analytic meditation. Although for many readers Dr. Herbert Benson’s relaxation response will be sufficient, if you want to try a type of analytic meditation, HM strongly recommends loving-kindness meditation. There are several reasons for this. One is that HM finds this meditation personally fulfilling. Another is that researchers have been astounded at the recordings and images of the brain from highly experienced meditators while they are doing this meditation. The third reason is that the world is much in need of love and kindness. Loving-kindness is wanting others to be happy. You should be comfortable doing the relaxation response before trying loving-kindness meditation.

This is taken from Kathleen McDonald’s “How to Meditate.” Be comfortable. Relax your body and mind and let all thoughts and worries subside. Mindfully observe your breath until you are calm and your awareness is focused in the here-and-now. You should think that you are doing this meditation for the benefit of yourself and others: to generate more positive, loving energy in your mind and to send it out to others, to the world.

Start by imagining living beings around you: your mother is on your left, your father on your right, and other relatives and friends are around you and behind you. Visualize in front of you those who dislike or who have hurt you. And extending in every direction, right to the horizon, are all other beings. Feel as if they are there, all in human form, sitting quietly, like you. If it is difficult to visualize all beings, think of as many as you can comfortably. Stay relaxed—don’t feel crowded or tense, but imagine that a sense of harmony and peace pervades everyone.

Consider how nice it would be, for yourself and others, if you were able to love all these beings. Contemplate that everyone wants to be happy and to avoid suffering, just as you do. They are all trying to make the best of their lives, even those who are angry and violent.

Now generate a feeling of love in your heart. You can do this by thinking of someone you love and letting your natural good feelings for this person arise. You might like to imagine your love as a warm, bright light, not physical, but pure, positive energy glowing in your heart.

Before you can love others you need to love yourself as you are, with your personal faults and shortcomings, and recognizing you have the potential to free yourself from all your problems. So, really wish yourself all the happiness and goodness there is. Imagine the the warm energy in your heart expands until it completely fills your body and mind.

Now meditate on your love for others. Start with your family and close friends sitting near you. Say in your mind words such as “May you be happy, may all your thoughts be positive and all your experiences good. May your lives be long and peaceful . Continue in this manner. Imagine the warm luminous energy generating from your body touching them and filling their bodies and minds, bringing them the happiness they wish for. Don’t worry if you don’t actually feel love; it’s enough to say these words and think these thoughts. In time the feeling will come.

Then think of some people you are not so close to and extend the same wishes as before.

The hard part comes last. Turn your attention to the people in front of you, those you are having difficulty with or for whom you have extreme dislike. Contemplate that they also need and deserve your love. Wish them to be free of the confusion, anger, and self-centeredness that drive them to act the way they do. Really want them to find peace of mind, happiness, and finally enlightenment. Think and try to extend the same wishes as in the case of the preceding groups.

Conclude the session by thinking that you definitely have the potential to love everyone, even those who annoy or hurt you and those you don’t even know. Generate a strong wish to work on your own anger, impatience, selfishness and the other problems that prevent you from having such love. Keeping your mind open and trying to overcome ego’s prejudiced attitudes will leave much space in your heart for pure, universal love—and thus happiness for yourself and others—to develop.

Kathleen McDonald likes to dedicate her meditations. In this case, she says, “Finally, dedicate the positive energy of your meditation to all beings, with the wish that they find happiness and enlightenment.

For another version of the loving-kindness meditation, go to the healthy memory blog titled, “SPACE.”

Analytical Meditation

December 9, 2017

This is the advanced deep path meditation. Usually stabilizing meditation (see previous post) is preliminary to analytic meditation. This type of meditation is for the purpose of developing insight or correct understanding of the way things are, and eventually to attain special insight (Sanskrit: vipashyana) into the ultimate nature of all things. Analytical meditation brings into play creative intellectual thought and is crucial to our development: the first step in gaining any real insight is to understand conceptually how things are. This conceptual clarity develops into firm conviction which, when combined with stabilizing meditation, brings direct and intuitive knowledge.

It is doubtful that most readers will want to get into this level of meditation, and fortunately, there are many benefits to just using the relaxation response. However, others might want to try this and see if it is for them. This can lead to retreats and a high level of involvement.

Should you be interested in exploring analytical meditation a good book is “How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald. In addition to covering the basics, here is what she covers:

Meditations on the Mind which include meditation on the breath, meditation on the clarity of the mind, and meditation on the continuity of the mind.

Analytical Meditations which include Meditation on Emptiness, Appreciating our Human Life, Meditation on Impermanence, Death Awareness Meditation, Meditation on Karma, Purifying Negative Karma, Meditation on Suffering, Equanimity Meditation, Meditation on Love, Meditation on Compassion and Giving and Taking, Dealing with Negative Energy.

Visualization Meditations which include Body of Light Meditation, Simple Purification Meditation, Meditation on Tara, the Buddha of Enlightened Activity, Meditation on Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, Inner Heat Meditation.

And should you be interested in Prayers and Other Devotional Practices
Prayers, Explanation of the Prayers, A Short meditation on the Graduated Path of Enlightenment, Meditation on the Buddha, Meditation on the Healing Buddha, Meditation on the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, Prayer to Tara, Vajrsattva Purification, The Eight Mahayana Precepts, Prostations to the Thirty-five Buddhas.

P.S. HM finds parts of this post, which were taken from Kathleen McDonald’s book disturbing. “For example, This type of meditation is for the purpose of developing insight or correct understanding of the way things are, and eventually to attain special insight (Sanskrit: vipashyana) into the ultimate nature of all things.” Readers of this blog should be know that HM advises never be 100% certain of everything. For critical thinking there always needs to be room, however small, for doubt. So to claim eventually to attain special insight into the ultimate nature of things is a bit of an overshoot. So to meditate to develop insight or correct understanding of the way things are can be an aspirational goal. It is important to understand that there are different ways of knowing, and it is a mistake to pursue only one way. Science is a way of knowing. Contemplative practices of religions are a complementary way of knowing. These are two ways of knowing that complement each other. Unfortunately too many fail to realize this. HM thinks that the Dalai Lama is the first religious leader to use science to inform religious beliefs. He sends his priests to learn about science as he thinks this is essential to effective religious leadership

Stabilizing Meditation

December 8, 2017

This type of meditation is used to develop concentration and eventually to achieve calm abiding, a special kind of concentration that enables one to remain focused on whatever object one wishes, for as long as one wishes, while experiencing bliss, clarity, and peace. Concentration and calm abiding are necessary for any real, lasting insight and mental transformation. In stabilizing meditation, we learn to concentrate upon one object, the breath, the nature of one’s own mind, a concept, a visualized image—without interruption.

Dr. Herbert Benson’s relaxation response is an example of stabilizing meditation. Here is the protocol:
Step 1:  Pick a focus word, phrase, image, or short prayer.  Or focus only on your breathing during the exercise.
Step 2:  Find a quiet place and sit calmly in a comfortable position.
Step 3:  Close your eyes.
Step 4:  Progressively relax all your muscles.
Step 5:   Breathe slowly and naturally.
Step 6: Assume a passive attitude.  When other thoughts intrude, simply think, “Oh,                          well,” and return to your focus.
Step 7:  Continue with this exercise for an average of 12 to 15 minutes.
Step 8:   Practice this technique at least once daily.

Amazing benefits can be achieved with this type of meditation. Read the healthy memory blog “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update” to review some of the benefits.
Stabilizing meditation must first be achieved before going into deep path meditations.

Lists of Paramitas

December 7, 2017

Paramitas means completeness or perfection. Lists of paramitas are virtuous traits that mark progress in contemplative traditions. Among the paramitas of the yogi’s discussed in “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body” are generosity, the giving away of material wealth or of oneself, and ethical conduct, not harming oneself or others and following guidelines for self-discipline.

Additional traits are: patience, tolerance, and composure. These imply a serene equanimity. The Dalai Lama told an MIT audience, “Real peace is when your mind goes twenty-four hours a day with no fear, no anxiety.”

The authors note that there are intriguing dovetails between scientific data and the ancient maps to altered traits. An eighteenth-century Tibetan text advises that among the signs of spiritual progress are loving-kindness and strong compassion toward everyone, contentment, and “weak desires.” The authors note that these qualities seem to match with indicators of brain changes that have been tracked: amped-up circuitry for empathic concern and parental love, a more relaxed amygdala, and decreased volume of brain circuits associated with attachment.

A Tibetan tradition proffers a view that we all have a Buddha nature, but we simply fail to recognize it. In this view, the nub of meditative practice becomes recognizing intrinsic qualities, what’s already present rather than the development of any new inner skill. According to this perspective, the remarkable neural and biological findings among the yogis are signs not so much of skill development, but rather the quality of recognition.

This is an interesting question to ponder. The authors point to an increasingly robust corpus of scientific findings showing, for example, that if an infant watches puppets who engage in an altruistic, warmhearted encounter, or ones who are selfish and aggressive when given he choice of a puppet to reach for, almost all infants choose one of the friendly ones. They say this natural tendency continues through the toddler years.

HM wonders if these same results are found with infants who are unloved. And if it occurs through the toddler years for unloved toddlers.

The authors note that historically meditation was not meant to improve our health, relax us, or enhance work success. They note that although these are the kinds of appeal that has made meditation ubiquitous today, over the centuries such benefits were incidental, unnoticed side effects. This was unfortunate, because the benefits that have made meditation popular today are very real, and can be achieved using the relaxation technique espoused by Dr. Benton for only 20 minutes a day.

What the Yogi’s are able to accomplish require many thousands of hour of meditation in the deep mode.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Two Remarkable Yogis

December 6, 2017

Two remarkable yogis receive considerable attention in Goleman and Richardson’s book, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” Matthieu Ricard is not only a remarkable yogi, but one who also holds a Ph.D. in Biology. Initially yogis were reluctant to serve as research participants in Dr. Davidson’s lab. But once Matthieu assured his peers their participation might be of benefit to people, a total of twenty-one yogis agreed. Matthieu helped design the experimental protocol for the lab.

The next yogi to come to the lab was Mingyur Rinpoche, who was also the one with the most lifetime hours of practice 62,000 hours when he entered the lab. When he meditated on compassion there was a huge surge in electrical activity in his brain recorded by EEG. The fMRI images revealed that during meditation his circuitry for empathy jumped in activity by 700 to 800 percent compared to its level at rest. When he left the lab and went on a retreat as a wanderer for four and a half years the aging of his brain slowed. He was 41, but his brain resembled the norm for 33 year-olds.

It is appropriate to remember here what the goal of Siddhartha was on his way to becoming Buddha. His concern was how to deal with human suffering. Ultimately his finding was simple. Suffering is a matter of how the mind interprets conditions. Meditation is a set of techniques for controlling the mind so that one finds peace and rarely suffers.

Mingyur Rinpoche wandered for four and half years. He controlled his mind so that he wandered in a state of bliss. He did not suffer, was content and enjoying his existence. This was the goal that Buddha succeeded in achieving. And the techniques are there for all who want to use them.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Meditation as Psychotherapy

December 5, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of Chapter 10 of a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson. The subtitle is “Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. Meditation was not originally intended to treat psychological problems. However, in modern times it has shown promise in the treatment of some disorders, particularly depression and anxiety disorders. A meta-analysis of forty-seven studies on the application of meditation methods to treat patients with mental health problems found that meditation can lead to decreases in depression (especially severe depression), anxiety, and pain. They were about as effective as medications, but had no side effects. To a lesser degree, meditation can reduce the toll of psychological stress. Loving-kindness meditation may be especially beneficial to patients suffering from trauma, especially those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Mindfulness as been melded with cognitive therapy to produce Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). MBCT has become the most empirically well-validated psychological treatment with a meditation basis. This integration is having a wide impact in the clinical world. Empirical tests of applications to an ever larger range of psychological disorders are underway. Although there have been occasional reports of the negative effects of meditation, the findings to date point to the potential promise of meditation-based strategies. The enormous increase in scientific research in these areas makes for an optimistic future.

Mind, Body, & Genome

December 4, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” None of the many forms of meditation studied in this book was originally designed to treat illness. Nevertheless, today the scientific literature is replete with studies assessing whether these ancient practices might be useful for treating illnesses. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR; see the healthy memory blog post “Improving Selective Attention” for more information) and similar methods can reduce the emotional component of suffering from disease, but not cure the maladies. But mindfulness training— as short as three days—results in a short-term decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are the molecules responsible for inflammation. With extensive practice this seems to become a trait effect, with imaging studies finding in mediators at rest lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, along with an increased connectivity between regulatory circuitry and sectors of the brain’s self system, especially the posterior cingulate cortex.

For experienced meditation practitioners, a daylong period of intensive mindfulness down regulates genes involved in inflammation. The enzyme telomerase, which slows cellular aging, increases after three months of intensive practicing of mindfulness and loving-kindness (Go to the healthy memory blog post SPACE to find a description of loving-kindness meditation).

Long-term meditation may lead to beneficial structural changes in the brain. Current evidence is inconclusive as to whether such effects emerge with relative short-term practice, like MBSR, to only become apparent with longer-term practice. Taken together, the hints of neural rewiring that undergird altered traits seem scientifically credible, although further studies for specifics are needed.

Lightness of Being

December 3, 2017

This post is based on a chapter in a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson titled, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” When we let our mind wander, we hash over thoughts and feelings (often unpleasant) that focus on ourselves, constructing the narrative we experience as our “self.” The default mode circuits quiet during mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation (Go to the healthy memory blog post SPACE to find a description of loving-kindness meditation). In early stages of meditation this quieting of self-esteem entails brain circuits that inhibit default zones. In later practice the connections and activity within those areas wane.

The quieting of the self-circuitry begins as a state effect seen during or immediately after meditation. However, with long-term practitioners it becomes an enduring trait, together with decreased activity in the default mode itself. This resulting decrease in stickiness means that the self-focused thoughts and feelings that arise in the mind have much les “grab” and decreasing ability to hijack attention. This is what is meant by “lightness of being.”


December 2, 2017

This title is the same as a title in a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, “Altered Traits:  Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.”  William James, the founder of American psychology wrote: “The faculty of bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character and will; an education which should improve this faculty would the the education par excellence.”

At its root meditation retrains attention, and different types boost varying aspects of attention. MBSR strengthens selective attention, while long-term vipassana (analytic meditation will be described later in the series of posts) practice enhances this even more. Five months after a three-month shamantha retreat meditators had enhanced vigilance, the ability to sustain their attention. But the beginnings of this enhancement also showed up after just seventeen minutes of mindfulness in beginners. This was no doubt a transitory state for the newcomers, and a more lasting trait for the experienced meditators. The same practice-makes perfect maxim likely applies to some other quickie meditation: just ten minutes of mindfulness overcame the damage to concentration from multi-tasking—at least in the short term; only eight minutes of mindfulness lessened mind-wandering for a while. About ten hours of mindfulness over a two-week period strengthened attention and working memory. This also led to substantially improved scores on the graduate school entrance exam. Although meditation boosts many aspects of attention, these are short-term gains; more lasting benefits require ongoing practice.

Primed for Love

December 1, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Goleman and Richardson’s book, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” Learning about compassion does not necessarily increase compassionate behavior. From empathizing with someone suffering to actually reaching out to help, loving-kindness/compassion meditation increases the odds of helping. There are three forms of empathy: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and empathic concern. People frequently empathize emotionally with someone’s suffering but then tune out to soothe their own uncomfortable feeling. However, compassion meditation enhances empathic concern, activates circuits for good feelings and love, as well as circuits that register the suffering of others, and prepares a person to act when suffering is encountered. Compassion and loving-kindness increase amygdala activation to suffering while focused attention on something neutral like the breath lessons amygdala activity. Loving-kindness acts quickly, in as little as eight hours of practice; reductions in usually intractable unconscious bias emerge after just sixteen hours. The longer people practice, the stronger these brain and behavioral tendencies toward compassion become. The authors conjecture that the strength of these effects from the early days of meditation may signal our biological preparedness for goodness.

A description of loving kindness meditation can be found in the previous healthy memory blog post SPACE. More will be written about loving kindness meditation later in this series of posts.

A Mind Undisturbed

November 30, 2017

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

A Few Words About Buddhism

November 28, 2017

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


November 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Altered Traits and Neuroplasticity

November 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Altered Traits

November 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thanks to Daniel Goleman

November 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revenge, Sweet, but Not Healthy

November 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Socrates and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

November 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Understanding Cognitive Enhancement

November 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Grand Delusions: Why We all Believe the Weirdest Things

November 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brain Implant Boosts Human Memory by Mimicking How We Learn

November 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Importance of Mind-set

November 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How to Convert Terrorists

November 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Richard Thaler Wins the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2017

November 15, 2017

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Placebos Can Enhance Creativity

November 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Brain Changes After Socio-affective and Cognitive Training

November 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Surprising Prediction from Some Knowledgeable Individuals

November 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

HM has argued previously that the game might be changed by making certain adjustments. One would be to put weight restrictions on the participants so that very large individuals would not have an advantage. There would also be restrictions against hard hitting in blocking or tackling. This might even lead to a faster more exciting version of the game. Players might prefer this version because it minimizes the possibility of disabling injuries. And fans might enjoy a faster, more sophisticated version of the game. The popularity of this game would depend on what really attracts people to watch. A fast moving sophisticated game, or the violence of the game.
© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Suggestions for Improving Our Primary and Presidential Elections

November 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What Cognitive Science Tells Us About Trump

November 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hillary’s High Negatives

November 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Law is Medieval

October 25, 2017

This post is based on an article by Oliver Roeder on the FiveThirtyEight website on 17 Oct 2017 titled “The Supreme Court is Allergic to Math.”

In 1897, before he took his seat on the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered a famous speech at Boston University, advocating for empiricism over traditionalism: “For the rational study of the law…the man of the future is the man of statistics and the master of economics. It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV.” HM believes that if Oliver Wendel Holmes were alive today, he would also argue for an understanding of psychology and cognitive science. Much has been learned about how and why we humans perceive, think, and act. Unfortunately there is a poor fit between this knowledge and the law because the law is medieval.

The article notes that this problem was on full display this month, when the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that will determine the future of partisan gerrymandering. The issue here is how to measure a map’s partisan bias and to create a standard for when a gerrymandered map infringes on voters’ rights. A proposed measure is called the efficiency gap. To calculate it, you take the difference between each party’s waster votes for winning candidates beyond what the candidate needed to win—and divide that by the total number of votes case. The aim here is to measure the extent of partisan gerrymandering. Now a threshold needs to be established for deciding when gerrymandering is agreed upon, and that is a reasonable basis for argument. And other metrics can be proposed for measuring gerrymandering. But the only intelligent way of assessing gerrymandering is through a statistic. But apparently, this is too much for some justices mental capacities. HM is asking himself why the term feebleminded was recalled while reading this. This is no esoteric statistical technique. And, indeed, statistical measures provide the only supportable means of addressing this problem. Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed attempts to quantify partisan gerrymandering: “It may be simply my educational background, but I can only describe i as sociological gobbledygook.” To be fair to Chief Justice Roberts, the fault may well lie in the educational system. Previous healthy memory blog posts have argued for teaching some basic statistics before graduating from high school. One cannot be a responsible citizen without some basic understanding of statistics, much less someone deciding questions on the Supreme Court.

Another instance of judicial innumeracy was the Supreme Court’s decision on a Fourth Amendment case about federal searches and seizures. In his opinion Justice Potter Stewart discussed how no data existed showing that people in states that had stricter rules regarding admission of evidence obtained in an unlawful search were less likely to be subjected to these searches. He wrote, “Since as a practical matter, it is never easy to prove a negative, it is hardly likely that conclusive factual data could ever be assembled.

But as the author’s article, Oliver Roeder, wrote “This, however, is silly. It conflates two meanings of the word “negative.” Philosophically, sure, it’s difficult to prove that something does not exist: No matter how prevalent gray elephants are, their number alone can’t prove the nonexistence of polka-dotted elephants. Arithmetically, though, scientists, social and otherwise, demonstrate negatives—as in a decrease, or a difference in rate—all the time. There’s nothing special about these kinds of negatives. Some drug tends to lower blood pressure. The average lottery player will lose money. A certain voting requirement depresses turnout.

Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, calls this the “negative effect fallacy. This is just one example of an empirical misunderstanding that has proliferated like a tsunami through decades of judges’ thinking, affecting cases concerning “free speech, voting rights, and campaign finance.

Some are suspicious that this allergy to statistical evidence is really a more of a screen—a convenient way to make a decision based on ideology while couching it in terms of practicality. Daniel Hemel, who teaches law at the University of Chicago said: [Roberts] is very smart and so are the judges who would be adjudicating partisan gerrymandering claims—I’m sure he and they could wrap their minds around the math. The ‘gobbledygook’ argument seems to be masking whatever his real objection might be.’

Reluctantly, one comes to the conclusion that there is no objective truth in the law. The corpus of law can be regarded as a gigantic projective test, analogous to the Rorschach Test. Judges can look into the law and see in it what they want to see. Rarely is a decision unanimous. And frequently decisions break down along the strict constructionist philosophy. But the Constitution should be viewed as a changing and growing document as democracy advances. Strict constructionists feel compelled to project themselves back in time and interpret the words literally as written. HM wonders why they would want to go back to a time when slavery existed, women could not vote, and blacks were counted as fraction of a human being. As long as time travel is involved, why not try to think of what they would have been written in light of today’s knowledge. After all, today’s high school science student knows more science than Benjamin Franklin did, who was the most distinguished scientist of his day. And the disciplines of psychology, cognitive science, and inferential statistics did not exist.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Mature Sports Fan

October 22, 2017

The baseball season is into the playoffs and many fans are disappointed in the performance of their teams. Sports writers and commentators are providing their analyses of what went wrong and what needs to be done to get better results next year. The objective of this post is to provide some perspective on this business.

Perhaps the most common complaint is that the players were insufficiently motivated, and they did not want it enough. Given that their livelihoods are at stake, it is doubtful that any fan is more motivated than the players on the field. Moreover, the problem can actually be that the players are too motivated. Motivation is what can be termed a “Goldilocks” variable. That is, the most effective level of motivation, is that it is not too low, or too high, but just right. So a moderate level of motivation is optimal. When the level becomes too high both mental and physical skills can lock up and produce poorer performance.

A 300 hitter is regarded as a good hitter in baseball. This would mean that the hitter is successful 30% of the time and a failure 70% of the time. So expectations of even the best players are modest. But fans tend to think that their good players come through in the clutch. Well, they come through only a minority of the time. Fans tend to remember the successes and forget the failures. A common remark made by announcers is that it is likely after making a good play in the field, the player will lead off the hitting order when he comes in from the field. Well, this happens one out of nine times. It is just that it is remembered when it happens, but overlooked when it does not.

Always remember that these players are human beings. Batters fail more often than they succeed and even the best pitchers have bad days. And it is also the case that a pitcher can pitch a phenomenal game, but make one bad pitch and the game is lost.

Returning to batting, scoring requires sequences of events, none of which are high probability. Even if a batter hits a home run, there is the question of how many runners are on base. The home run can have a value of from one to four. So runners need to get on base and the probability of any one runner getting on base is less than half.

So no matter how good a team is, there is a strong element of luck that determines whether a win will result. Then there need to be many wins and the values of these wins change in the post season.

Washington fans are disappointed as they were eliminated in the first post season series. They feel like they deserve better. Well, they do not and this loss is felt even more profoundly by the players.

So many Washington fans feel that they are cursed. Boston fans talked about the curse of the Bambino, and it was only last year that the Chicago Cubs won a World Series. Be assured that there are no curses. When people are asked to generate random numbers, they fail to generate long strings of particular numbers. What are perceived as curses are actually manifestations of the way that probability works.
It is painful to watch the faces of fans when they lose. They appear to be hurting and hurting badly. Fans live vicariously through their teams. They need to have their own lives. Do not live vicariously through your teams, get a life of your own.

For a healthy memory it is important to have interests and goals of one’s own. So actually participate in sports. Athletics are not required. Educational pursuits are praiseworthy. Hobbies that allow one to grow and develop skills and knowledge can be personally rewarding. Be an autodidact and learn how to teach yourself. You’ll find resources in the healthymemory blog to help you do so.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

More Memory and Problem Solving Techniques

October 8, 2017

Part of this post is based on the book by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. titled “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra).” It is difficult to learn and remember nonsensical material. So you need to look for meaning in what you’re trying to learn. Suppose you were trying to learn a list of words and you noticed that the words belonged to specific categories. When you recall the list you should group your recall by these categories. This makes meaningful chunks for you to remember. So rather than recalling a list of, say eighteen items, you would recall them by chunks, say six categories each of which included three items. Note that this chunking is effectively reducing the number of items to recall from eighteen to six.

Suppose the list consisted of eighteen unrelated words. Your recall strategy should still be to chunk the items into smaller groups. If you can’t find meaning you can simply rehearse the items in these chunks. Chunking effectively reduces the total number of items to be recalled.

You should note that there is an entire category of healthy memory posts called mnemonic techniques. These are specific techniques for making material more meaningful and easier to learn.

Remember the distinction between information that is available in memory and information that is accessible in memory. Information that is accessible in memory can be readily recalled. However, information can be available in memory but cannot be accessed at the moment.

When HM was in college and bought used books, they usually had sections highlighted in them. He wonder how these previous owners used this highlighting. If they just reread the highlighted material, they might fool themselves into thinking that they would remember the material for the test. It is quite possible that although this information was available in memory, the student might not have been able to access the material during testing. So even if the test is going to be multiple choice, you should force yourself to actively recall the material. And to increase your probability of success, actively recall the material many times.

HM never highlighted sections or made notes directly in the book. He would review the book, to assure himself that he was not missing anything, but would actively recall the material he thought would be on the test. Understand he was not memorizing verbatim the text, but rather the meaning and important points of the text.

HM made it through his entire education up to and including his Ph.D without ever pulling an all nighter for a test. All nighters make absolutely no sense. One needs to be alert and at one’s best when taking a test. Moreover, sleep is required for memories to consolidate. So sleep itself is required for test preparation.

Generally speaking cramming is a lousy technique. Research has shown the advantage of spaced over massed practice. So it is good to try to recall material at multiple intervals, with increased spacing between the intervals.

Here are Steps provided by Dr. Oakley for building a powerful chunk
1.  Work a key problem all the way through on paper.
2.  Do another repetition of the problem, paying attention to key processes
3.  Take a break. Study other aspects of the subject or simply do something different. You need to give yourself your diffuse mode (see the immediately preceding post) time to internalize the problem
4.  Sleep. Before you go to sleep, work the problem again. If you get stuck, listen to the problem. Let your subconscious tell you what to do next.
5.  Do another repetition.

Much of this book addresses procrastination. Now there is a ton of material on procrastination and will power in the healthy memory blog. Just enter those terms in the search block of the healthy memory blog.

As was already mentioned, the Mnemonic Techniques category has many posts on techniques and methods for improving memory. That same category also has posts on mindfulness and meditation, which are also techniques that should enhance focus which is essential to effective memory.

But as always, HM cannot do full justice to this book. So reading the original is always recommended.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Two Modes of Learning

October 7, 2017

This post is based on the book by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. titled “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra).” Since the beginning of he twenty-first century, neuroscientists have been making important advances in understanding two different types of networks that the brain switches between. These are the highly attentive states and the more relaxed resting states. The thinking processes related to these two different modes are the focused mode and the diffuse mode. We frequently switch back and forth between these two modes in our day-to-day activities. We’re in either one mode or the other and are not consciously in both at the same time. The diffuse mode seems to be able to work quietly in the background on something we are not actively focusing on. The diffuse mode is the default mode when we are not actively focusing on something. When we are in the focused mode actively focusing on something we may also flicker for a moment to diffuse-mode thinking.

Focused-mode thinking is essential for studying math and science. It involves a direct approach to solving problems using rational, sequential, analytical approaches. The focused mode is associated with the concentrating abilities of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is located right behind our forehead. When we turn our attention to something the focused mode is on.

Diffuse-mode thinking is also essential for learning math and science. It is associated with “big-picture” perspectives and allows us to suddenly gain a new insight on a problem we’ve been struggling with. Diffuse-mode thinking is what happens when we relax our attention and let our mind wander. This relaxation can allow different areas of the brain to hook up and return valuable insights. The diffuse mode is “diffused” throughout the brain. Dr. Oakley writes that “Diffuse mode insights often flow from preliminary thinking that’s been done in the focused mode (The diffuse mode must have clay to make bricks.”)

Of course, to begin to solve a problem we need to focus on it. However, even early in problem solving switching to diffuse mode thinking might help in bringing additional thoughts to the problem. But then we need to focus on the problem to solve it. Sometimes the solution comes readily to mind, but sometimes the solution evades us as we continue to focus. When stuck, relax and switch to the diffuse mode. The problem solving process can involve many iterations between focused and diffused processing. Knowing when and how frequently to switch develop as our problem solving skills mature.

Sometimes problems cannot be solved during one sitting. Nevertheless, our brains keep working on the problem, and sometimes they suddenly pop into consciousness. This can happen long after you think you have given up on the problem. This is HM’s favorite type of problem solving and it’s called incubation. There are stories of mathematicians and scientists going years without being able to solve an important problem and it suddenly pops into mind.
However, it is important not to rely too heavily on incubation. Continue to return to the problem and try to solve it.

Focused problem solving in math and science is frequently more effortful that focused-mode thinking involving language and people. This is likely because humans have not involved over the millennia to manipulate mathematical ideas, which are usually more abstractly encrypted than those of conventional language. Dr Oakley writes “Obviously we can still think about math and science—it’s just that abstractness adds a level—sometime a number of levels—of complexity.

Dr. Oakley also warns of the Einstellung effect. Here an idea you already have in mind, or your simple initial thought, prevents a better idea or solution from being found. She writes that the Einstellung effect is a frequent stumbling block for students. She continues, “This is precisely why one significant mistake students sometime make in learning math and science is jumping into the water before they learn to swim. …they blindly start working on homework without reading the textbook, attending lectures, viewing online lessons, or speaking with someone knowledgeable. This is a recipe for sinking.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How to Excel at Learning

October 6, 2017

This post is based on another book by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. titled “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra).”  Note that the title of this post is different from the title of the book, the reasoning being that this book provides excellent material for learning in general—not just for math and science.

The immediately preceding posts were based on another book by Dr. Oakley, “Mindshift.” After she graduated from high school she enlisted in the army because they would actually pay her to learn another language. She did so well studying Russian that she won an ROTC scholarship. She graduated with honors and found herself commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. She was suddenly expected to become an expert in radio, cable, and telephone switching systems. She went from being on top of the world as an expert linguist, to being thrown into a new technological world where she was as stunted as a stump.

She was made to enroll in mathematically oriented electronics training where she finished at the bottom of the class, and was then sent off to West Germany, where she said she became a pitiable communications platoon leader. She saw that officers and enlisted members who were technically competent were in demand.

She didn’t see a future for herself in the army, but neither did she see much of a future as someone with a degree in Slavic languages and literature. She used the GI Bill to retrain her brain and learn math and science. She writes that it wasn’t easy and that the first semesters were filled with frightening frustration. She writes that she felt like she was wearing a blindfold.

Eventually she began to catch on. She found that part of her original problem was she had been putting her effort forth in the wrong way—like trying to lift a piece of lumber while standing on it. She began to pick up little tricks about not only how to study but also when to quit. She learned that internalizing certain concepts and techniques could be a powerful tool. She also learned not to take in too much at once, and allowed herself plenty of time to practice even if it meant that her classmates would sometime graduate ahead of her because she wasn’t taking as many courses each semester as they were.

She found that as she gradually learned how to learn math and science, things became easier, and just as with studying language, the better she got, the more she enjoyed what she was doing. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and then a master’s in electrical and computer engineering. Eventually she earned a doctorate in systems engineering, with a broad background that included thermodynamics, electromagnetic, acoustics, and physical chemistry. The higher she went, the better she did.

As was mentioned in the first paragraph, this book is for anyone who wants to learn more effectively. Students find that they can do okay in other subjects, but they run into trouble when they hit math and science. Actually, they have poor methods of studying, but they manage to get by without realizing that their studying is deficient until the encounter math and science. Nevertheless, the methods presented in this book will increase learning efficiency regardless the topic.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


October 4, 2017

“Mindshift” is outstanding book by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. The subtitle is “Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential.” Growth mindsets are a central theme of the healthymemory blog. Basically, a mindshift is a shift in the focus of a growth mindset.

This concept of mindshift assumes special importance in today’s world, where workers fear being replaced by robots, and in the changing nature of jobs and the need to update skills for jobs.

Dr. Oakley has an interesting and relevant life story. Her father was in the military and she moved constantly doing her childhood. Her father wanted her to attend college and study math and science. Unfortunately, the only thing she was certain about was that she did not like math and science and did not think that she had any aptitude in math and science. However, she did like studying languages so she began studying French and German. At the time there were no available college loans so she enlisted in the military where she could get paid to study a language. So she studied Russian and learned the language.

When she got out of the army, she could not find any interest in her Russian skills. The jobs were in engineering and science and required advanced mathematical skills. So she moved into a new area for which she thought she had no aptitude. However, she found through diligent work that she was able to learn these subjects, and as she became proficient in these subjects, she found that she enjoyed them. So today she is a professor of engineering, firmly planted in the world of math and science. Along with Terrence Sejnowski, the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute, she teaches the most popular online course in the world—“Learning How to Learn”—for Coursera/UC San Diego.

She writes that a “mindshift” is a deep change in life that occurs thanks to learning, and that is what this book is about. She relates true and inspirational stories of how people change themselves through learning—and who bring seemingly obsolete extraneous knowledge with them that has enabled our world to grown in fantastically creative and uplifting ways.

Diverse examples are provided. Some mindshifts were motivated by necessity. In others, successful people changed their mindsets to pursue new interests and different directions. Readers will be inspired by these examples and by what we know from science of learning to help us grow to achieve our fullest potential.

A recurring theme in the healthymemory blog is to have a growth mindset and to continue to learn to the end of our lives. MIndshift provides additional means for pursuing this end. Not only are instructions on learning how to learn discussed, but available resources for growth mindsets and mindshifts are provided.


© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Ikigai Fosters Healthy Aging

October 3, 2017

This post is based on an article by Judith Graham in the Health Section of the 26 September 2017 issue of the Washington Post titled “Healthy Aging.” Ikigai is a topic that has been addressed in many healthy memory blog posts. It is a Japanese word meaning to have a purpose in life.

Ms. Graham writes, “Over the past two decades dozens of studies have shown that seniors with a sense of purpose in life are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, disabilities, heart attacks or strokes, and more likely to live longer than people without this kind of underlying motivation. “

The article continues by summarizing a report in JAMA Psychiatry that older adults with a solid sense of purpose tend to retain strong hand grips and walking speeds, which are key indicators of how rapidly people are aging. Seniors with a sense of purpose may be more physically active and take better care of their health. Patrick Hill, an assistant professor of psychology and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis says, “Purposeful individuals tend to be less reactive to stressors and more engaged, generally, in their daily lives, which can promote cognitive and physical health.”

Now the question becomes how to achieve ikigai. Obviously taking care of a loved one qualifies. Doing important volunteer is another. And we can create our own sources of ikigai. If there are any degrees that need to be completed, they can be completed. Or you can start work on a new degree. A formal education system is not needed. Goals can consist of learning new bodies of knowledge using the internet and the public library. This healthy memory blog is a source of ikigai for HM.

Ikigai is important for everyone, not just the aging. The healthy memory blog post “Loneliness” discussed the problem of loneliness among the young and means of dealing with it. One means was to find a project you can be devoted to can achieve ikigai to the point that you’ll no longer feel lonely.

This what Steve Cole at UCLA writes about loneliness, “finding a sense of purpose and meaning in life can overcome the negative effects of loneliness. If you think of lonely people as having a world view of threat and hostility, this study suggests that you can attack this underlying psychology by becoming engaged in help others, trying to make the world a better place. I’m kind of excited about that as an obliques attack on loneliness.” All of this fits in with with the work of Victor J. Stretcher, which he describes in his book, “Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Changes Everything.” There have been many healthy memory posts based on this book.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Walking to Work or Doing the Vacuuming Can Extend Your Life

October 2, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an In Brief News piece in the 30 September 2017 issue of the New Scientist. One in 12 early deaths could be prevented with 30 minutes of physical activity, five days a week. And you don’t need to be sweating in a gym. Walking to work and household chores also count. So concludes the world’s largest study of physical activity, which analyzed data from more than 130,000 people in 17 countries. The study lasted seven years and participants were followed-up at least twice over the this period to record information about cardiovascular disease and death.

Scott Lear of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada and his colleagues found that 150 minutes of activity per week week reduced the risk of early death by 28% and rates of heart disease by a fifth.

If these goals were met, 8% of early deaths over seven years would be prevented (The Lancet, James Rudd at the University of Cambridge says, “Exercise truly is the best medicine for reducing the odds of an early death.”

HM fears he sees too many people exercising too hard. He was gladdened by this study as he follows the philosophy of famed pitcher Satchel Paige who said that he liked to get the juices jangling.

Also see the healthy memory blog post “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus.” Walking for 40 minutes three times a week increased the volume of that memory important organ, the hippocampus. This also increased serum Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps support the survival of existing neurons and encourages the growth and differentiation of new neurons and synapses.


© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Progress in Developing a Way to Diagnose CTE

October 1, 2017

Much of this post is based on an article by Rick Maese titled “Breakthrough may lead to ability to diagnose CTE in living football players in the Sports section of the 27 September 2017 issue of the Washington Post.

There have been many previous posts, including the immediately preceding one, on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE by researchers from Boston University and the VA Boston Healthcare System studied the brains of 23 former football players who were diagnosed with CTE, in addition to those of 50 non-athletes who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and 18 non-athlete controls. They found significantly elevated levels of a protein related to inflammation called CCL11 in the group of ex-players compared with non-athletes. Dr. Ann McKee, the neuropathologist credited with some of the most high-profile CTE diagnoses was encouraged but cautioned that more research is needed. Until this discovery the diagnosis needed to be performed on cadavers. Now the diagnosis can be made on the living. The hope is that research into the prevention and treatment of the disease can begin to move forward.

Let us indulge in the fantasy that CTE can be cured and consider what the ramifications of that might be. The NFL might be encouraged to continue playing the game as it is currently played and treat players who developed CTE. Their fear is that changing the game could reduce fans and revenues.

But for everyone else, the basic problem would remain. The immediately preceding post discussed children. Why we would ever consider putting them at risk? The same goes for players in secondary schools. Then there is the college game. The college game is also concerned with revenues. It is ironic that institutions whose goal is to foster the development of brains and minds engages in activities the puts the brain and mind at risk. However, one gets the impression that at some schools the brain and mind might well take second place to football. At the University of Alabama, for example, the outside linebacker coach earns more than the president of the university.

The immediately preceding post suggested that the game could be modified to reduce or eliminate head injuries. Football is a fast game that can involve sophisticated offenses and defenses. It seems that the game could be changed so that these features could be maintained and head injuries severely reduced if not eliminated by reducing the hits and the violence. These changes could also reduce the need for linemen to increase their weights to over 300 pounds to be eligible for athletic scholarships. As the number of colleges who actually realize substantial profits for the game is fairly small, this could be the route to go. And perhaps HM is too pessimistic in thinking that it is the violence that has the basic appeal and that professional football could also change.

Much hope is being placed in equipment changes. Unfortunately, in the past this seems to have encouraged harder hitting rather than safer play.
© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Football Before Age 12 Can Lead to Behavior Issues

September 30, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Rick Maese in the Sports section of the 20 September 2017 Issue of the Washington Post.
A study published recently in the medical journal Translational Psychiatry reported that those who participated in football before age 12 were twice as likely to have problems with behavior regulation, apathy, and executive functioning when the get older. Executive functioning includes initiating activities, problem solving, planning, and organizing. The younger football players were three times more likely as those who took up the sport after age 12 to experience symptoms of depression.

One of the authors of this study, Robert Stern is the director of clinical research at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center, said “Perhaps that is a window of vulnerability…It makes sense that children whose brains are rapidly developing should not be hitting their heads over and over again. ”An interesting result was that the findings were not affected by the number of concussions the former players reported, meaning the danger posed by football can’t be boiled down simply to big hits to the head. Research is increasingly focusing on the effects associated with the accumulation of smaller hits that a player might more easily shake off during a game or practice. Stern said, “Concussions are a big deal when it comes to short term problems, and it has to be dealt with. But the dialogue out there needs to now start focusing on these repetitive hits that are part of the game and their potential for long term problems.”

Another study was done by researchers from the Wake Forest School of Medicine. They followed a group of 25 players, ages 8 to 13, for a single season, measuring the frequency and severity of helmet impacts. The players underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests before and after the season, and they showed significant changes in the brain’s white matter. White matter affects learning and brain functions, modulating the distribution of action potentials, acting as a relay and coordinating communication between different brain regions.
None of the participants in that study showed signs or symptoms of concussions, and the players who suffered more hits saw more significant changes to the brain.

The healthy memory blog has many posts on chronic traumatic encephalopathy. At the professional level the damage caused by playing football is costly, and apparently the brain is adversely affected at very young ages.

Football is a very interesting and complicated game, but modifications of the game could make it much safer. This might not be possible at the professional level, because the violence is a big part of the appeal of the game. However, these modifications should be made for young people. Colleges and universities should also consider modifications to make the game safer. It is ironic that institutions whose purpose is education and building healthy brains pursue a sport that damages brains.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity

September 25, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Eyelet Sneezy, and Maarten Bos in JACR, volume 2, number 2, Published online April 3, 2017.

This article reports two experiments that examine whether the mere presence of someone’s smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity. In the first experiment participants were assigned to one of three phone location conditions: participants in the desk condition were instructed to place their phones face down in a designated location on their desks; participants in the pocket/bag condition carried all of their belongings into the testing room with them and kept their phones wherever they naturally would; participants in the other room condition left all their belongings including their phones in the lobby before entering the testing room.

Two tasks were used to measure available cognitive capacity. The Automated Operation Span Task was used to measure the capacity of working memory. A 10-item subset of Raven’s Progressive Matrices was used to assess the amount of fluid intelligence.

Working memory capacity was highest when the smartphones were left in another room. The pocket/bag and desk conditions did not differ significantly between each other. However, for the fluid intelligence task, the having the smartphones in the other room performed best followed by the pocket/bag condition, and the desk condition.

Experiment 2 assessed whether self-reported ratings of smartphone dependence moderated the effect of smartphone salience on cognitive capacity. The three conditions of phone location (desk, pocket/bag, other room) were repeated. Half the participants were told to keep the power on for their phones, and half were told to completely turn off their devices.

All participants completed a battery of questions intended to assess individual differences in the use of and connection to one’s smartphone. This experiment did not measure fluid intelligence only the working memory span test. Phone locations affected available cognitive capacity at average and high levels of smartphone dependence, but not at low levels of smartphone dependence.

So the salience of smartphones does adversely affect cognitive capacity except for people who had low levels of smartphone dependence. The rule seems to be out of sight out of mind unless you have a low level of smartphone dependence.



Modifying Behavior

September 24, 2017

This is the final chapter in The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. This final chapter is devoted to providing advice on modifying behavior to reduce distractions and to improve the performance of your mind,

Here are the questions Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen say we should ask ourselves:

How might I increase my metacognitive view of how my own mind performs in a given situation, and in what ways are my actions not in line with how I should behave based on my goals and an understanding of my situation, and in what ways are my actions not in line with how I should behave based on my goals and an understanding of my limitations?
How might I change my physical environment to reduce accessibility of potential distractors?
How might I assess whether I am self-interrupting because of boredom, and how might I make the task more interesting to stave off boredom?
How might I recognize when my actions are driven by anxiety about missing out on something in my virtual world, and what steps can I take to reduce the anxiety?

McGill University professor Daniel Levitan urges people to check electronic communications at certain times during the day.. More specifically he writes, “If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. You social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day. Email, too, should be done at designated times. An email that you know is sitting there, unread, may sap attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it, distracting you from what you’ve been doing. What might be in it? Who’s it from? Is it good news or bad news? It’s better to live your email program off than to ear that constant ping and know that you’re ignoring messages.

Something none of these writers address, at least in this volume, are the social ramifications of your change in behavior. It is advisable to discuss what you’ve learned in this book and that you are determined to deal constructively with a destructive mind. Your should encourage your friends to alter their habits. After all, they will benefit also. Somehow the rudeness of disrupting a social interaction to respond to an alert or message became acceptable. In point of fact, it is rude. The person is saying, wait, this is probably more important than you. Also dinners should be for eating and for conversing with others at the table. Participants who are not physically present have not earned the right to participate.

There is a question as to how best inaugurate these changes in behavior. First, notify your friends as discussed above, so they will not become angry with you. Then the question is whether you should ease into these behaviors of adopt them cold turkey. The latter might be more difficult, but it is easier to explain yourself to your friends. Also your agony should be shorter, if not more severe, at least initially.

The chapter also includes some ideas based on research studies for planning restorative, stress-reducing breaks, each of which will take only a few minutes.

*Exercise—even for only twelve minutes—facilitates brain function and improves attention.
*Train your eyes using the 20-20-20 rule: every twenty minutes take a twenty second break and focus on objects twenty feet away. This changes your focal distance from inches to many feet and requires blood flow to brain areas that are not related to constant attention.
*Expose yourself to nature. Consider using at least part of your break to get away from technology and spend a few minutes in a natural setting. Research has shown that just ten minutes in a natural environment can be restorative; even viewing pictures of nature can be restorative.
*Daydreaming, staring into space, doodling on paper, or any activity that takes you away from performing a specific task activates the “default mode network”—a network of interacting brain areas that most often indicate that you are daydreaming, thinking creatively, or just mind wandering—which is restorative for attention.
*Short ten-minute naps have been shown to improve cognitive function. Longer naps work, too as seen in a study of pilots who improved their reaction time after taking a thirty-minute nap.
*Talking to other human beings, face to face or even on the telephone, reduces stress and has been shown to improve work performance.
*Laugh! Read a joke book, look at comic strips, read a funny blog. A Loma Linda University study found that older adults who watched a funny video scored better on memory tests and showed reduced cortisol and increased endorphins and dopamine, meaning less stress and more energy and positive feelings.
*Grab something to drink and a small snack.
*Read a chapter in a fiction book. Recent research shows major brain shifts when reading immersive fiction.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Boosting Control

September 23, 2017

Boosting Control is the penultimate chapter in The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. It begins with this quote from the father of American psychology, William James: “And the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”

Gazzaley and Rosen begin by discussing traditional education. They note that the most widely implemented approach is the current system of didactic classroom instruction delivered by a teacher lecturing to a group of students. They write, “Although this long-established, globally adopted, traditional education system varies in its details by geography and historic time period, a common feature is the emphasis on rote memorization via formalized and structured lessons follow by assessments of attained knowledge using formalized testing.“ They note that there seems to be a tension between this traditional model that has largely focused on the delivery of information content and the goal of developing core information-processing abilities of the brain. They do not believe that the objectives of an education system should be directed solely at the transfer of content to young minds. They argue that it is also critical that developing minds build strong cognitive control abilities that allow them to engage flexibly in dynamic and challenging environments. They state that even alternative educational systems that aim to foster real world outcomes may not be developing cognitive control capabilities. There is convincing evidence that superior cognitive control is associated with successful academic performance, but that little is known about whether traditional education actually builds the fundamental information-processing abilities of our brains that underlie cognitive control. They raise the question of whether traditional education is truly an effective form of cognitive enhancement that has the power minimize our control limitations. Put simply, does the current education system help the young Distracted Mind?

The authors point to the Tools of the Mind program developed by psychologists Elana Bodrova and Deborah Leong. It is based on theories and insights into how a system of activities can be designed to boost cognitive control. More details can be found at
The authors also see the need to think increasingly about education as a lifelong process; we have the potential to enhance our cognitive control at any age. “Educational programs across the lifespan directed at boosting and maintaining cognitive control should be the rule, not the exception.” Healthy memory blog readers should recognize this as being in step with the philosophy of the healthy memory blog.

In the section on meditation the authors write, “Accumulating evidence convinces us that there is a strong signal that meditation engineers improvements in cognitive control, and of course there are many reasons beyond improvements in cognitive control, and of course theater are many reasons beyond that encourage us to recommend engagement in mindfulness practices. They caveat this by stating that many studies have methodological limitations. These methodological limitations and the reasons for not being concerned about them were discussed in the immediately preceding post, “The Somewhat Tarnished Gold Standard.” HM believes that meditation is the best means of increasing attentional and cognitive control. Enter “relaxation response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to learn more about meditation and the benefits of meditation.

There is a section on cognitive exercise (brain games). On the whole, this review is quite favorable. Different games are effective to differential degrees so it is helpful to do some research on specific games. However, HM warns against using these as a prevention to dementia. Although they might help, memory health is a matter of a commitment to cognitive growth, a healthy lifestyle, and meditation. The same point can be made with respect to video games. They can be helpful, but they do not provide a 100% solution.

There are obvious activities that should not be overlooked. There is a theory that contends that interactions with nature can be beneficial. This theory is called attention restoration theory (ART). In 2007, thirty-eight University of Michigan students, armed with a map and tracked by GPS, tool a one-hour walk through either a tree-lined arboretum or a traffic-heady urban center. Before and after these walks they performed a working memory test. A 2008 paper described a significant improvement in their working memory performance after the nature walk, but not after the urban walk. Similar beneficial effects of nature exposure have been shown to occur in children with ADHD and young adults with depression, and amazingly even in response to just viewing nature pictures. In this context, readers might want to review the healthy memory blog post “Awe.”

There is also much data documenting the benefits of physical exercise. This does increase oxygen to the brain, which is definitely beneficial. However, HM also recommends mental exercise that is accomplished by invoking System 2 processing through lifelong learning, meditation, and other activities that have been reviewed.

The authors also review neurofeedback. HM argues that these same benefits and more can be achieved through meditation absent the neurofeedback hookups.

There is a category of healthy memory posts titled Mnemonic Techniques. These are specific techniques for improving memory. Additionally they provide a means of cognitive exercise that enhances memory health. Try some of them. You also should read “Moonwalking with Einstein” to learn what can be accomplished using these techniques.

It is unlikely that there will ever be a cure or preventative vaccine for Alzheimer’s or dementia (See the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimers). However, following the activities in the healthy memory blog could well increase the likelihood that you will die without experiencing any of the physical or cognitive symptom’s even if you die with the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque that are the defining feature of the disease.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.




The Somewhat Tarnished Gold Standard

September 22, 2017

This post is exclusively HM’s. It is being introduced here before the final two posts on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. The final two posts provide guidance on how to cope with the distracted mind. The authors do a well-intentioned but naive review of research and attempt to rank methods with respect to their level of confidence. This post provides some background for understanding research results and conclusions that should be generally valuable.

Randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded studies called randomized controlled trials or RCTs are the Gold Standard for research. This is a good standard to employ when it is feasible. But it is not always feasible, and attempts to apply it can lead to erroneous conclusions.

Here is an example where the Gold Standard was applied with no adverse consequences. This was the test of the Salk Vaccine for polio. HM was in the second grade at this time. Some test participants were given the Salk Vaccine and others were given a placebo. HM did not know whether he had been given the vaccine or a placebo, nor did the people administering the vaccine. We were assigned randomly, there were placebo controls, and the people administering did not know if we were being given the vaccine or the placebo (number were assigned to identify the conditions, but the administrators did not know what the numbers meant.

Now suppose participants assigned themselves. Here everything falls apart and valid interpretations are not possible.

Now suppose the Gold Standard was employed, but negative results, no evidence that the vaccine worked, were achieved. Does this allow the conclusion that the vaccine does not work? In statistics, you cannot prove a negative. The procedure is to decide to reject the null hypothesis with a certain degree of confidence. It is conceivable that the dose was too small. Another test might be warranted using larger doses.

Suppose the test involved a medication that was self-administered, and the Gold Standard was rigorously applied. What could possibly confound the results? Well the question is how well did the participants self-administer the medication? Differences in the results could be the result of an artifact caused by their being differences in adherence to self administration in the two groups.

The efficacy of meditation has been tested. HM has been pleasantly surprised by the positive results when the training was short and the training period fairly limited. In a study in which a group instructed to meditate is compared to a group instructed to do something else, there is the following possible problem: if participants have been randomly assigned to the groups, some who have been assigned to the meditation group might not believe in meditation and have a negative attitude to training and the entire project. This is different from RCTs in which the participants are passive and the treatment is administered to them.
When HM was a graduate student there was a hotly contested debate regarding whether humans could learn to control their autonomic nervous systems. HM thought this was ridiculous as there were practitioners of certain religions, Buddhism for example, who were able to control their heart rates and reduce them to frighteningly low levels. So HM thought the issue was resolved. But research was being done at colleges in which students were given biofeedback and examined as to whether they could learn to control their heart rates. Since this research failed, these researchers effectively accepted the null hypothesis, and ignored evidence from the millions of humans who were effective controlling their autonomic nervous systems.

HM is a strong advocate of mindfulness meditation. This increases the control of our attentional processes, which gives us increased control of our mind and emotions. The research question is not whether it works, but how much meditation of different types is useful. There is more than ample research indicating the benefits of the relaxation response discussed in healthy memory blogs.

So for RCTs to yield valid results, the experimental design and sample sizes should be adequate. Research participant compliance is another issue. Moreover, there is a much more important issue to which the research community at large has yet to consider. This issue comes from epigenetics: it is not just genes, but what is read out from the genes that is important. Nurture affects what is read out from the gene, so two individuals with identical genes can differ in how these genes are expressed. So identical twins can differ radically. One outstanding example involved two identical twin sisters. One was popular and a successful student. The other was socially withdrawn and a poor student. These twins were raised in the same family. Medications for people with identical genes could still have different effects. So under what conditions, are RCTs are still applicable? Herbert I. Weinberg has raised this issue in his book, “Willful Ignorance: The Mismeasure of Uncertainty.”

Yet another factor for consideration is the distinction between between near and far conclusions. Practically all results and conclusions should be regarded as near studies. Studies showing the cognitive benefits of games provide a useful example. If cognitive tests reveal a difference between people playing games and people who don’t, one can only make conclusions about these immediate benefits. Conclusions about the far effects of these games, say in the prevention of dementia, are questionable extrapolations. How long do these games have to be played? These conclusions await further research.

Now there are good data (see the healthymemory blog post “Cognitive Activity and the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease”) indicating that cognitive activity helps build cognitive reserve which reduces the risk of dementia. Now the brain is always active, even when we sleep. So the question is what types of cognitive activity? HM has strongly argued that effortful processing, what Kahneman terms System 2 processing.

HM is mildly depressed when physical activity is emphasized, and cognitive activity relatively ignored. Sure physical activity is beneficial along with living a healthy lifestyle. But a main effect of physical activity is to increase oxygen flow to the brain. However effortful System 2 processing, activates many pathways in the brain and creates new links. Practically all learning initially involves System 2 processing, and as long as different and new ideas are being considered or new material is being learned, more pathways are activated and new links are made. HM argues it is this that enables the overcoming of the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that are the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mental, Emotional, and Physical Health

September 21, 2017

This is the twelfth post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. A study performed by Dr. Rosen’s lab of 1,143 teens, young adults, and adults assessed symptoms of psychiatric disorders, daily media and technology use, preference for multitasking, anxiety about missing out on technology use, and technology-related attitudes. Symptoms of psychiatric disorders were predicted by some combination of daily technology use and preference for multitasking even after factoring out the impact of anxiety about missing out on technology and technology-related attitudes.

Another study from Dr. Rosen’s lab led by Dr. Nancy Cheever investigated the effect that technology use, or rather, lack of use, has on anxiety. 163 college students were brought into a lecture hall, with half being told to turn off their phone and store it and all other materials under their seat while remaining quiet and simply doing nothing. The other half of the students were given the same general instructions about storing materials out of sight and doing nothing, but they had their smartphones taken away and replaced with a claim check for later retrieval. 10 minutes later and then twice more during the hour—plus session, each student completed a paper and pencil measure of anxiety. The prediction was that the students holding a claim check for their phone would become anxious, and they did, but no more so than students whose phone was turned off and stored under the desk. They found that the heaviest users of their smartphones—those who were younger and grew up with technology—showed increased anxiety after just ten minutes of not being able to use their phone, and their anxiety continue to increase across the hour as compared to those who used their phone less.

Once we fall asleep, our brain activity goes through four phases from light sleep to deep sleep, which is followed by rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that signifies we re dreaming. In a normal night’s sleep, this process repeats four times, with REM sleep getting longer as the night wears on. During sleep the brain performs a variety of housekeep chores that are called “synaptic rejuvenation” including pruning and memory consolidation. This serves to remove unimportant connections and enhance important ones. Moreover, our nighttime brain flushed out toxins tat are by-products of daytime neural activity, which if not removed can have deleterious effects on neurons in the brain.

Photopigment cells in the retina at the back of our eyes help control the release of melatonin. To produce white light, technology screens must emit light at multiple wavelengths, including blue short wavelengths. The photopigment cells signal our brains that it is time to be alert when exposed to blue light. So using technology in the bedroom right before sleep, we are bombarding our eyes with blue light that signals awake time rather than red light that signals it is time to go to sleep. Moreover, blue light is far stronger when one is looking at a small screen held close to the face.

Meta analysis of sixty-seven studies of the impact of screen time on children and adolescents found that screen time, particularly in the last hour prior to sleep, is related to sleep problems, primarily resulting in fewer nightly hours of sleep and poorer sleep quality. Studies have shown that 46% of college students awaken at night to answer text messages, and 40% awaken to answer phone calls, resulting in 46 minutes less nightly sleep. The authors conclude, “With the vast majority of teens using a variety of technologies prior to sleep as well as awakening during the night to address smartphone alerts, it is like that their brains are not getting the nightly housekeeping that was previously mentioned, which can lead to mental difficulties.

A study of more than 2,000 fourth and seventh graders found that children who slept near a small screen device had nearly 21 minutes less sleep than those children who did not sleep in close proximity to a phone or tablet, and those who slept in a room with a television set reported 18 fewer nightly minutes of sleep.

Additional research in Dr. Rosen’s lab using a series of measurement tools to assess sleep quality, executive functioning, anxiety about missing out on electronic communications, and daily smartphone use discovered four paths to a predicted poor night’s sleep. Poorer executive functioning (the ability to make good decisions) predicted both more smartphone use, and poorer sleep quality and anxiety about missing out predicted more smartphone use and more nighttime awakenings both leading to poorer sleep. So the authors conclude that “both our ability to make smart nighttime choices as wall as our anxiety about what we might miss out in our virtual worlds during sleep combine to disrupt our sleep, which then leads to poorer thinking skills and more nighttime interruptions. This is indeed a downward spiral that results in disrupted mental functioning.”

Some research has examined the impact of sleep duration and quality for workplace adults. One study of US managers and employees found that those who used their smartphones for work at night after 9 p.m. showed impaired cognitive control at work the following day, which was reflected in reduced attention to work and increased depletion of working memory resources. A study of Belgian adults found that having the Internet in the bedroom resulted in similar negative effects in cognitive control.

So disrupting sleep further disrupts the distracted mind.



September 20, 2017

This is the eleventh post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. There have been several posts on the deleterious effects of technology on relationships. To find some of these enter (Turkle) in the search block of the healthy memory blog. Turkle sums up her view on the negative impact that technology has on our attention and our important relationships by saying, “As we distribute ourselves we may abandon ourselves.” Regarding parenting she says, “Young people must contend with distracted parents who with their Blackberries and cell phones may be physical present but ‘mentally elsewhere.’” See the healthy memory blog posts “Cyber Babies” and “Frankenstein and the Little Girl” for more on this topic.

HM marvels that when he attends professional conventions, for which the ostensible purpose is to have scholars travel to a spot and gather together, but finds them sitting alone or in groups working their smartphones. During a lecture a considerable number in the audience will be playing with their smartphones.

Parents take their children to the park only to spend the entire time reacting to alerts and notifications on their phones instead of engaging with their children in all-important free-play activities. Spouses who once watched television together and discussed what they saw and learned, now use a second screen while they attempt to divide their attention among their tablet, phone, or laptop, the content on the televisions, and their loved one. Evidence is starting to indicate that our relationships with each may be one peril of our distracted minds. A 2014 Pew Internet & American Life project report found that one in four cell phone owners in marriage felt that “their spouse or partner was distracted by their cell phone when they were together.

Most have experienced dinner where the table is littered with smartphones. A game has been created called “cellphone stack” where everyone at the table places their phone in the center of the table, one on top of the other, and whoever looks at their device before the check arrives must pay the entire bill.

A research team studying the ‘IPhone Effect” compared partners who did not place their own mobile device on the table or hold one in their hands with those who did and found that conversations between these strangers in the presence of a device were rated as less satisfying and were reported as generating less empathic concern. Another similar study found that “simply the presence of a cell phone and what it might represent (i.e., social connections broader social network, etc.,)” can be similarly distracting and have negative consequences in a social interaction. The authors ask, “If our distracted mind can negatively affect social connections and feelings of closeness just by being in the presence of modern technology during a short conversation with a stranger, what does that imply about how it can impair our real relationships?”

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



September 19, 2017

This is the tenth post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen.

A study of more than 200 employees at a variety of companies studied the facts that predicted employee stress levels. Although having too much work to do was the best prediction, it was only slightly stronger in predicting exhaustion, anxiety, and physical complaints than outside interruptions, many of which were electronic in nature. Gloria Mark summarized one study that “working faster with interruptions has its cost: people in the interrupted conditions experienced a higher workload, more stress, more time pressure and effort. So interrupted work may be done faster, but at a price. Clive Thompson, in a New York Times interview, summed up research results on workplace interruptions by asserting that “we humans are Pavlovian; even thought we know we’re just pumping ourselves full of stress, we can’t help frantically checking our email the instant the bell goes ding.”

Open offices settings further exacerbate this problem. Approximately 70% of US offices—including Google, Yahoo, Goldman Sachs, and Facebook, have either no partitions or low ones that do not make for quiet workplaces. Research has shown that open offices promote excessive distractions. HM personally testifies regarding the disruptive effects of these distractions. A content analysis of 27 open-office studies identified auditory distractions, job dissatisfaction, illness, and stress as major ramifications of this type of workplace.

The bottom line is that being constantly interrupted and having to spend extra time to remember what we were doing has a negative impact on workplace productivity and quality of life. One 2005 study, before the major increase in smartphone usage, estimated that when office workers are interrupted as often as eleven times an hour it costs the United States $558 billion per year.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



September 18, 2017

This is the ninth post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. Safety is another casualty of the distracted mind.

Ira Hyman and his colleagues at Western Washington University designed a creative situation to illustrate the effects of distraction. They had a clown, fully clothed in a bright purple and yellow outfit, with large shoes and a bright red bulbous nose, pedal a unicycle around a large open square that is crossed often by most campus students. The researchers interviewed more than 150 students who walked through the square and noted if they were walking alone or with someone else, and if they were using a cell phone or listening to music with ear buds. When asked if they saw anything unusual, only 8% of cell phone users reported that they saw the clown. This is compared with one in three students walking alone without technology or listening to music wearing ear buds and more than half of the students who were walking in pairs without using technology. When asked directly if they saw a clown, only one in four of the cell-phone using students reported seeing it compared with half of single walkers, 61% of music listeners, and 71% of walking pairs. Whatever was happening between the user and his or her phone appears to have inhibited the ability to identify a somewhat unusual happening in the immediate neighborhood.

According to one report in Scientific American, data from a sample of 100 US hospitals found that while in 2004 an estimated nationwide 559 people had hurt themselves by walking into a stationary object while texting, by 2010 that number topped 1,500 and estimates by the study authors predicted the number of injuries would double between 2010 and 2015. A recent study by Corey Basch and her colleagues at several universities tracked more than 3,700 pedestrians crossing Manhattan’s most dangerous intersections and discovered that nearly 30% focused their attention on their mobile device while crossing during the “walk” signal, and one in four were even looking at their phones while crossing during the “don’t walk” signal.

Researchers at the University of Washington and Seattle children’s hospital found similar results in their study of more than 1,000 pedestrians. They discovered than 30% were doing something other than just walking while crossing an intersection, including listening to music and texting. The texting pedestrians took an additional few seconds to cross the street and were nearly four times more likely to show at least one unsafe crossing behavior than those who did not have their head down looking at they phone.

In one experimental study, college students were asked to cross the street in a virtual environment either talking on the phone, listening to music, or texting. Those who were texting and or listening to music were more likely to be hit by a simulated car, which the authors attributed to the conflict between the cognitive demands of crossing the street and paying attention to vehicles and the demands of paying attention to the text message conversation or their music. There is an interruption cost, but perhaps a deadly one in this case.

Little will be written here on driving while distracted. There have already been at least eleven posts on this topic (Enter “Strayer” in the healthy memory blog search box to find some). Suffice it to say, do not do it. Driving while talking on a cell phone is comparably to driving while drunk, and texting is even much more dangerous. Hands free laws are irrelevant. The attentional demands here are what is dangerous.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.




The Impact of Constantly Shifting Our Attention on Higher Education

September 17, 2017

This is the eighth post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. In one study by Dr. Rosen’s research team observed hundreds of middle school, high school, and university students studying something important for fifteen minutes in the environment where they normally study. Minute by minute observations showed that the typical student couldn’t stay focused on work for more than three to five minutes. Students were asked to provide their grade point average (GPA) on a four point scale. The predictors of a lower GPA from these extensive data were: percentage of time on task studying strategies, total media time doing a typical day, and preferences for task-switching rather than working on a task until it was completed. Moreover, by examining the websites that students visited during their fifteen minute sample, they uncovered a fifth predictor of a lower GPA. Only one website visited predicted a lower GPA: Facebook. It did not matter whether students visited it one or fifteen times. Once was enough to predict lower grade performance.

In another experiment by Laura Bowman and her colleagues at Connecticut State University, students were randomly assigned to three groups to read a book chapter and then take a test. One group simply read the chapter and took the test. The second group first completed an instant messaging conversation with the experimenter and then read the chapter and took the test. The third group started to read the chapter, were interrupted with the same instant messaging conversation, which was delivered in pieces at various times during reading, and then took the test. All three groups performed equally well on the test. But the third group took substantially longer even when the time spent instant messaging was removed. This result leads to two conclusions. One is that interrupted studying takes significantly more time. And the second conclusion answers why it takes more time. Each time one switches back to the primary task, time is lost switching and reorienting to where in the task one was when interrupted. In addition, working memory may also be compromised, as distractions degrade the fidelity of the information they are trying to maintain during the learning process.

Another study validating the negative impact of classroom multitasking interrupted students during a short video lecture and required them either to text the experimenter or post material on social media, under two conditions: one new text or post every minute, or one new text every thirty seconds. The control group simply watched the video, which was followed by a test. The results found that more texting or social media posting resulted in poorer lecture notes and lower test scores than the control group. A negative linear trend emerged in both lecture notes and test scores, where the highest scores and best notes demonstrated by those students who did not receive any interruptions, followed by lesser scores and notes of students who were interrupted every minute, and, not surprisingly the worst scores and notes of students who were interrupted every thirty seconds.

Several research studies have shown even more far-reaching effects of technology use by college students. One study showed that those students who used cell phones and texted more often during class showed more anxiety, had lower GPAs, and were less satisfied with life than students who used phones and texted less frequently. A different study of more than 770 college students discovered that students who used more interfering technology in the classroom also tended to engage in more high-risk behaviors, including using alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and other drugs, drunk driving, fighting, and having multiple sex partners. So it appears that college students who use inessential technology during either class sessions or while studying face difficulties on both an academic and personal level.