Pleasure or Displeasure
“People routinely mispredict how much pleasure or displeasure future events will bring.” according to Tim Wilson and Daniel Gilbert, two happiness researchers.
Who is happier? Lottery winners or accident victims?
In 1978 three psychology researchers decided to study the difference in the happiness of lottery winners and that of accident victims compared to a random sample of regular individuals. Their study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is now considered one of the founding texts of happiness studies. The results were a surprise to them and to most of us. Winning the lottery not only failed to lift the spirits of the winners but it resulted in less enjoyment of daily activities. The sample of regular individuals rated themselves just as happy as the lottery winners but they got more pleasure from regular activities than the winners. However, even the accident victims believed they would be happier than the lottery winners in a few years.
Just not as we expected!
It is not just winning the lottery that does not make us happier but a whole range of activities that don't turn out as we expect. Studies show that getting a raise or having kids do not have the expected effect. It has been found that many women find caring for their children less pleasurable than napping or jogging and only a little bit more satisfying than washing the dishes.
The "Hedonic Treadmill" and "The Happy Peasant"
One explanation for this state of affairs is the so-called “hedonic treadmill” hypothesis, which claims that people rapidly adjust to improved circumstances. Another hypothesis is that people are relativists and are interested in having more than those around them. Perhaps it is genetics, or that malcontents strive harder, or it is simply adaptation - people adapt to winning millions or to living on a Euro a day.
People do not always know what will give them lasting satisfaction.
Daniel Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard, has pointed out some of the ways that people misjudge their own satisfactions. We feel we’ll be happier with more variety, yet, we get more pleasure from the same thing over and over again. We will pay more to keep our options open, but we’re more satisfied when we commit to a particular choice. We anticipate being thrilled by events that, when they actually occur, leave us flat. Our economic growth and increased consumption has not increased our satisfaction.
Happiness is not the only thing!
Many people place their hopes on higher incomes, just as many countries do on higher G.D.P., and yet both end up disappointed. Happiness is good but it is not the only thing. There is more to life than subjective happiness. As John Stuart Mill, the English philosopher stated, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied” .
For all you gals - use it or lose it!
I always like to have some good news for all you beautiful gals. I got into Yoga and a healthy active life style many moons ago because of all the evidence that exercise prevented premature aging and disease in men. Now I hope that all you women can take heart from all the women's studies evidence and not take the superficial path of esthetic surgery and medication.
The slight extra effort pays off in the long run. I have taken the trouble to sight the studies, not to bore you, but to assure you that the evidence is extremely convincing and keeps pointing in the same direction - as my dear godfather used to say: Use it or lose!
Women health studies
Higher levels of physical activity help with the prevention of physical impairment and cognitive decline, together or separately, not only for men but also for women. Physical inactivity is one of the best predictors of poor aging in women.
Physical exercise for women
A higher quantiity of physical exercise has already been shown to improve conditions such as osteoarthritis, hip fractures and falls, heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, diabetes, obesity and low fitness. Newer studies show the same effects for women and also demonstrate a reduced risk of cognitive decline.
Skeptics claim that of course the healthier people are the ones that exercise to begin with. However, new studies have randomly assigned inactive people to exercise programs and others to a placebo control group. The results show that physical exercise increased the chances of remaining healthy.
A Harvard School of Public Health study reported that among the 13,535 nurses who were healthy when they joined the study in 1986, the physically active ones were still active more than a decade later when they were in their 70's.
In a metanalysis of 52 studies of exercise and colon cancer, researchers concluded that those who were most active were 21 percent less likely to develop the disease, perhaps because activity stimulates the bowel. The risk of breast cancer, is 16 percent lower among physically active women. Exercise may protect postmenopausal women against many different cancers, such as of the endometrium, pancreas, colon and esophagus, by keeping their weight down.
Aerobic exercise is a valuable protector of the heart and blood vessels. It maintains the heart's resistance to work, decreases blood pressure and raises the 'good' HDL-cholesterol. Because of these positive effects of exercise active women have fewer heart attacks and strokes.
Studies of women ages 50 to 79, who walk quickly for 30 minutes a day five days a week, and do some vigorous exercise, reduced their risk of heart attacks and heart disease. Women who walked about one hour a day were 40 percent less likely to have a stroke than women who did not walk an hour a week.
Activity has even been shown to lower the risk of developing diabetes in women of normal weight. A study of 68,907 healthy female nurses found that those who didn't exercise had twice the risk of developing diabetes, and those who who didn't exercise and were obese had 16 times the risk when compared with the normal-weight active women.
Another study of prediabetic men and women that assigned them to modest physical activity (at least 2.5 hours a week) found exercise more effective than the drug metformin at preventing full diabetes.
As you age, one of the greatest benefits of regular physical exercise will be its ability to prevent or delay your loss of cognitive function. A new study of healthy men and women over 55 found that those who were physically active more than three times a week were the least likely to lose cognitive capacity.
An Australian study randomly assigned 170 volunteers with memory problems to a 180 day program of physical activity or to a control group. The exercise group resulted in “a modest improvement in cognition.” Other studies confirm that exercise helps older people maintain short-term memory, which enables them to plan, schedule, multitask, and store information and eventually use it effectively.
So - Use it or Lose it!
1 in 4 depressed during pregnancy
About 1 in 4 women get depressed during pregnancy and many are afrtaid to take any antidepressant medication. Now it seems that acupuncture can help even though it does not help with normal depression.
A recent study
A controlled study conducted by Stanford University on 150 depressed pregnant women tested the effect of acupuncture specific for depressive symptoms compared to acupuncture in general and to massage.
After 2 months, the benefits of depression specific acupunture were significant compared to the controls. Because the results were as effective as medication, it means that women do not have to just rely on drugs to alleviate their pregnancy depression.
Many women find Yoga practice helps them feel good during pregnancy; however, I do not know of any empirical data as of yet to back up my anecdotal observations.
A controversial set of lectures
I came across this very intersting series of lectures by Dr. Andy Thomson about the parasitic qualities of religion. His lectures develop a theme that has been developing over the last decade about our human cognitive architecture and its weaknesses, especially for irrational beliefs. The way Dr. Thomson presents his argument helps us to understand the traps we easily fall into by dint of our evolutionary tendencies.
Dr. Andy Thomson
His hypotheses have helped me to understand more about my own behaviour as a young man. Dr. Thomson has also expressed some very interesting ideas about the function of depression. I will share that theme with you in a future blog post.
DSM V Future Manual
We are expecting the latest word about whether we are mentally well or ill - DSM V. A preview version will appear tomorrow. I am talking about the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders created and published by the American Psychiatric Association. I am a member of the American Psychological Association so I am biased. Psychiatry and psychology represent two different perspectives on human behaviour and the mind. Psychiatry favours a biological model while psychology favours a multiperspectival model. The authors of the DSM hold to a disease model. This "medical model" has its strengths especially when there is consensus as to what is a "problem" in simple cause-effect relationships.
Which model should we use - the medical?
However, the "medical model" has many limitations. Some of the more obvious ones are:
- relying on "categories", "ideals", and "objectivity"
- not recognising sufficiently internal (subjective) experiences
- insufficient importance given to the role individuals play in their own development
- lack of recognition for the contribution of culture or context in behaviour.
Or the psychological?
Psychology, on the contrary proposes many models of human behaviour that attempt to consider multiple influences from genetics, development, psychodynamics, cognition, culture and society, just to name a few. The resulting perspective is much more fluid and does not consider behaviours as normal or diseased. Human behaviour seems to be too complex to contain in one simple model.
Hope and trepidation
Because of the importance that the DSM has in the psychiatric and pharmaceutical fields, I await the publication tomorrow with hope and trepidation.
Seeing into our Minds
Scientists can now see into the mind and 'thoughts' of a brain-damaged man. By using new brain scanning technology they were able to determine that a patient in a vegetative state could understand and respond to their requests.
Brain Activity in Disorders of Consciousness
The study which, appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, demonstrates that with the help of brain scans it can be determined if someone, thought to be unaware of the external world, is aware or not. The study showed that some of those apparently in a coma, are actually awake, but without self-awareness, due to their brain damage. The above study reported that,
"One patient was able to use our technique to answer yes or no to questions during functional MRI; however, it remained impossible to establish any form of communication at the bedside."
Published at www.nejm.org February 3, 2010 (10.1056/NEJMoa0905370)
India's ancient language
Boa Sr, the last speaker, of one of India's ancient language has died at the age of 85 on Andaman Island.
"Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese"
Prof. Anvita Abbi, of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India who directs the "Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese" said that her death was highly significant because - Bo - one of the world's oldest languages had come to an end. "India had lost an irreplaceable part of its heritage", she said.
An "anthropologist's dream"
The Andaman Languages are thought to originate from Africa. Some may be 70,000 years old. The Andaman islands are often called an "anthropologist's dream" and are one of the most linguistically diverse areas of the world.
How to Create a Myth
Our society is pervaded with unsubtantiated beliefs, slogans and myths. These myths are most annoying in areas that can easily avail themselves of reliable evidence to. Areas such as nutrition, alternative therapies, pharmaceuticals, and science articles in the media are too often innacurately reported or misleadingly represented at a great cost to us the layperson.
Modern medicine was one of the first disciplines to embrace empirically determined evidence as a basis for practice. Slowly evidence-based practice is entering into other domains such as psychology, psychiatry, and business administration. However it takes great effort to overcome the prejudice of what appears to be intuitively correct.
I have recently discovered Ben Goldacre's blog - Bad Science . Ben writes a column by the same name in the Guardian newspaper. You can see his qualifications on google. He has written a book with the same title that I heartily recommend. It focuses on the UK, but most of the topics covered describe the pitfalls of irrationality in a society innundated with a discourse that pretends to rational science, especially in the media. You may consider reading his book as a first vaccination against bad science wherever you may encouner it. I subscribe to the evidence-based approach in empirically testable domains like the ones I mentioned above.
Marriage has been described as an institution that brings together two people,
"under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions. They are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part" - George Bernard Shaw
Wives as breadwinners
A report from the Pew Research Center called “the rise of wives” based on a study of Census data, found that a third of the time the wife is better educated than her husband. Wives are now the primary breadwinner in 22 percent of couples in the USA. The strange result is that the evidence shows a positive effect - lower divorce rates and happier unions.
More egalitarian relationships
“Women are more likely to pick men who support a more egalitarian relationship,” said Stephanie Coontz, author of “Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”
She pointed to herself as an example. “In my marriage, I have more education and, because he’s retired, more income,” she said. “I picked him not because I needed a meal ticket, but because I liked the fact that he respected me and had no problem sharing the responsibilities of daily life with me. More and more women now are able to make those choices.”
Lower divorce rates
Divorce rates in the United States have fallen as women have made economic gains. There were 23 divorces per 1,000 couples in the late 1970s, and now fewer than 17 divorces per 1,000 couples. Apparently, the more economically independent and educated a woman, the more likely she stays married. Lynn Prince Cooke, at the University of Kent, U.K., found that American couples who share employment and housework are less likely to divorce.
Independent women are more selective
Sociologists say that financially independent women are more selective in marrying, and can negotiate with more power. The result is a marriage that is more equitable to both husbands and wives. There are new challenges with the new gender roles. Women earn more and men take on more caring. Sometimes men have a hard time adjusting to a woman’s greater power. However, women, struggle in giving up power at home and hang on to controlling domestic tasks.
Still not equal
All is not equal. Linda Duxbury, professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University said that, “In many ways women are their own worst enemies — we want men to do it, but we want to tell them how they should do it.” Women still do about two-thirds of the housework, according to a National Survey of Families and Households. But men do contribute to housework twice as much as they used to and they spend triple the time caring for children.
The article below is excerpted from the American Psychological Association help center. I thought you might find it interesting to learn directly what the psychology profession believes about the positive impact of exercise on stress.
Exercise fuels the brain's stress buffers
Exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress, according to research into the effect of exercise on neurochemicals involved in the body's stress response.
Preliminary evidence suggests that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. But little work has focused on why that should be. So to determine how exercise might bring about its mental health benefits, some researchers are looking at possible links between exercise and brain chemicals associated with stress, anxiety, and depression.
So far there's little evidence for the popular theory that exercise causes a rush of endorphins. Rather, one line of research points to the less familiar neuromodulator norepinephrine, which may help the brain deal with stress more efficiently.
Work in animals since the late 1980s has found that exercise increases brain concentrations of norepinephrine in brain regions involved in the body's stress response.
Norepinephrine is particularly interesting to researchers because 50 percent of the brain's supply is produced in the locus coeruleus, a brain area that connects most of the brain regions involved in emotional and stress responses. The chemical is thought to play a major role in modulating the action of other, more prevalent neurotransmitters that play a direct role in the stress response. And although researchers are unsure of exactly how most antidepressants work, they know that some increase brain concentrations of norepinephrine.
But some psychologists don't think it's a simple matter of more norepinephrine equals less stress and anxiety and therefore less depression. Instead, they think exercise thwarts depression and anxiety by enhancing the body's ability to respond to stress.
Biologically, exercise seems to give the body a chance to practice dealing with stress. It forces the body's physiological systems - all of which are involved in the stress response - to communicate much more closely than usual: The cardiovascular system communicates with the renal system, which communicates with the muscular system. And all of these are controlled by the central and sympathetic nervous systems, which also must communicate with each other. This workout of the body's communication system may be the true value of exercise; the more sedentary we get, the less efficient our bodies in responding to stress.
Thanks to Rod K. Dishman, PhD, of the University of Georgia, and Mark Sothmann, PhD, of Indiana University's School of Medicine and School of Allied Health Sciences.
Yoga for Prisoners
Prisoners in New Delhi AFP yesterday.who attend Yoga classes will be freed early because it is believed that the Yoga practice improves self-control and lessens aggression according to
Yoga Controls Anger
For every three months spent doing Hatha Yoga a prisoner will get 15 days off their sentence, said the inspector general of prisons.
"Yoga is good for maintaining fitness, calming the behaviour, controlling anger and reducing stress," said Sanjay Mane.
"When a prisoner attends yoga sessions and fulfils some other conditions, he will be considered for a remission if his jail superintendent recommends his case."
Apparently 400 prisoners are in the pilot programme at Gwalior city jail.
Mind in Indian Buddhist Philosophy
No other classical tradition, East or West, offers a more complex account of mental phenomena than Buddhism. Buddhists do not associate mental phenomena with the activity of a substantial, independent, and enduring self or atman. Buddhist theories of mind center on the doctrine of no-self (anatma), which claims that human beings are reducible to their physical and psychological constituents.
1500 years of analysis
Indian Buddhist analyses of the mind span a period of some fifteen centuries, from the Buddha (ca. 450 B.C.E.) to late Mahāyāna Buddhism (500–1000 C.E.). Philosophical accounts of mind emerge from the Abhidharma traditions (150 B.C.E. to 450 C.E.), while their roots are found in the Buddha's teachings of the no-self.
See things as they really are
The Buddha declared that we ought to regard any sensation or form of consciousness, “past, future, or present; internal or external; manifest or subtle...as it actually is...: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am’” (Majjhima Nikāya I, 130).
The denial of a permanent self, and the refusal to treat persons as referring to anything real or permanent, is an integral part of the Buddhist view of consciousness.
This Buddhist view is very attractive to modern Psychologists who tend to consider the Self as a construction, not an essence taht is in any way permanent.
The posit¡ve thinking debate
The debate about the value of positive thinking rages on in the USA, the land of Norman Vincent Peale and Mary Baker. Positive Psychology, the latest entrant into this debate here receives a well deserved rebuttal from Ms. Ehrenreich. She rightly points out that defensive pessimism and critical thinking are just as necessary, and perhaps more so, for human welfare than optimism. What do you think? Read her comments with care.
One of the most prominent skeptics of positive thinking is Barbara Ehrenreich, whose best-selling book “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America,” claims that thinking positively does little good in the long run, and may do harm. I feel that her comments are important to consider if we wish to understand what actually happens in the area of positive psychology.
Happier people are more likely to believe anything
A study in the November issue of Australasian Science found that people in a negative mood are more critical of, and pay more attention to, their surroundings than happier people, who are more likely to believe anything they are told.
Negative moods trigger more careful thinking
“Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world,” Joseph P. Forgas, a professor of social psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, wrote in his study.
Positive thinking did not prolong their lives
In the September 2007 issue of the journal Cancer, Dr. David Spiegel at Stanford University School of Medicine reported that although group therapy may help women cope with their illness better, positive thinking did not significantly prolong their lives.
The field of positive psychology began in 1998 when, Martin Seligman, the president of the American Psychological Association at the time, looked for reliable scientific research on positive emotion. Dr. Seligman concluded, “it’s certain you can change pessimism into optimism in a lasting way.” Dr. Seligman is not pleased with Ms. Ehrenreich’s book and says “Where Ehrenreich and I agree — we’re both trying to separate wheat from chaff... We just differ on what we think is wheat and what we think is chaff.
Optimism and improved recovery?
James C. Coyne, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in his recent study, found no correlation between optimism and improved recovery. he said, “Being optimistic is secondary to having health and resources.” “It’s easy to show an association between optimism and subsequent health,” he said, “but if you introduce appropriate statistical controls — if you take into account baseline health and material resources — then the effect largely goes away.
Positive emotions vs positive thinking
Barbara L. Fredrickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina and researcher in positive emotions considers positive thinking and positive emotion as two distinct phenomena. “Positive thinking can sometimes lead to positive emotion, but it won’t always,” she said. “It’s like the difference between wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Life is Good’ and actually feeling deep in your bones grateful for your current circumstances.
Ms. Ehrenreich wants to encourage realism by, “trying to see the world not colored by our wishes or fears, but by reality.
How Gullible are We?
Are you naturally gullible? Do you believe what the TV, the newspapers, and even blogs tell you? Or are you naturally critical? All our minds seem to have the same first reaction to new information. What is it?
René Descartes believed that understanding and believing are separate processes. He argued that first people pay attention and take in some information, then they decide if they believe or disbelieve it. Descartes' view seems to be correct, or at least it seems to be the way we would like it to work.
Baruch Spinoza believed something quite different. He claimed that we believe all new information. He thought we could change our minds, but because it takes more effort to investigate and critique information we just believe it until it is pointed out to be untrue..
Spinoza's view is unattractive because it suggests we have to spend our energy looking for falsehoods, whether by word of mouth, TV, the internet or any other medium .
Daniel Gilbert and his colleagues tested these two theories in a series of experiments to determine how we treat new information (Gilbert et al., 1993). In their experiment participants read statements about two robberies then sentenced the robbers to prison. Some statements made the crime seem worse, e.g. the robber had a gun, or to lighten it, the robber had to feed his starving children. But, only some of the statements were true. They were told that all the true statements were in green type, while the false ones in red. During the experiment half the participants were distracted while reading the false statements and the other half were not.
If Spinoza was correct then those who were distracted while reading the false statements wouldn't have time to discern that the statements were written in red and not true, and thus would be influenced by it when giving the jail term to the criminal. If Descartes was right the distraction would make no difference because they wouldn't have time to believe or not believe and it wouldn't make any difference to their sentencing.
What have we discovered ?
When the false statements made the crime seem worse, the interrupted participants gave the criminals almost twice as long in jail, 11 years instead of 6. The uninterrupted group managed to ignore the false statements. Consequently their jail terms had no significant differences on whether false statements made the crime seem worse or less serious.
Therefore, only when people had time to think could they behave as though the false statements were actually false. On the contrary, without sufficient time, people simply believed what they read. Gilbert and colleagues concluded that Spinoza was right. Believing is not a two-stage process. Understanding is believing; you believe the new information until you use your critical faculties to change your mind. Thus it is easier to believe than to not believe.
First You Believe
Gilbert's study also in part explains some other common behaviours of people:
- Attribution bias: people's assumption that a person's behaviour reflects their personality, when in fact it only reflects the situation.
- Truthfulness bias: people generally assume that others are telling the truth, even if and when they are lying.
- The persuasion effect: distraction increases the persuasiveness of a message.
- Hypothesis testing bias: when testing a theory, people tend to look for information that confirms it rather than trying to prove it wrong.
Spinoza's claim that understanding is believing could explain some of the these biases as a result of our tendency to believe first and not ask questions until later. Take the attribution bias: when you meet someone who seems nervous you probably assume they are a nervous personality. It seems an obvious inference to make. It may not occur until much later that they were nervous because they were waiting for important test results.
Gilbert agreed that this seems like bad news. If people believe everything they see and hear, we may have to control what they see and hear.
The Benefits of the Spinoza Bias
Too much cynicism is not a good thing. You would then only believe things for which you had hard evidence. Everything else would be in a state of limbo until investigated. If we had to go around checking all of our beliefs all the time, we'd never get anything done and perhaps miss out on a lot of great opportunities.
If you follow Spinoza's model, you can believe new information as a general heuristic, then investigate the suspect information later. Yes, you will often believe things that aren't true, but it's better to believe too much and be tricked once in a while, than to be too cynical and miss out on so much that is actually true.
Perhaps I am being gullible. Perhaps we are all too gullible and too lazy to use our critical minds. What do you think?
Even to Ourselves
The stories we tell about our mental processes are logically appealing but fatally flawed more often than not.
We all have our own theories about how our minds work. Unfortunately evidence based psychology demonstrates that our theories are often wrong. The differences between how we think our minds work and how they actually work can be quite startling, especially when we try to judge others. What we think are important factors in others often are not at all, while what we think is unimportant can make all the difference.
Social Psychology Study
In their classic study Nisbett and Bellows (1977) asked 128 women to judge if a person called Jill matched the requirements to work in a crisis centre. 'Jill', was a creation of the investigators, consisting of 3 pages of information: an interview transcript, answers to a questionnaire and a letter of recommendation.
The information presented to the women about Jill was the same except for 5 crucial factors which changed amongst the participants. The women were told that:
- Jill has an attractive appearance or nothing about her looks
- Jill's academic qualifcations are good or nothing about her studies
- Jill had had a car accident before or not
- Jill spilled coffee on the interviewer's desk or not
- Jill would meet the women subjects soon or not
This meant that each woman saw a different combination of items in Jill's profile.They were then asked to judge Jill on how much:
- sympathy she would have for others,
- the women would like her,
- flexibility she would have in problem solving,
- intelligence she had.
The women were then asked to rate how much each of the above factors influenced their rating on a scale of 1 to 7. The experimenters wanted to see whether the womens' judgements were controlled by factors they thought influenced them. In other words, do people know how their own minds work?
The women turned out to be surprisingly poor at predicting the ratings of sympathy, likeability and flexibility and the effect of each on their own judgements. For example the women thought if Jill was good-looking she would be more sympathetic to others. But, it had the opposite effect; if Jill was described as good-looking the women thought others would find her less sympathetic.
They thought that the car accident would make Jill more likeable, but it made her less likeable. They thought the coffee-spilling would make her seem less flexible in problem solving; but those same women rated Jill as more flexible. And so on.
The interesting thing
All the women were wrong to the same degree. All the women probably used similar 'common sense' theories about how the mind works, which were mostly wrong. The results suggest that most of us have similar 'theories' about the way the mind works, from our culture or we worked it out from 'common sense'. The only area in which the women were accurate was intelligence. The women thought they could rely on the academic records to judge Jill's intelligence and, they could.
The weakness of introspection
This study shows how poor we are at understanding what will affect our judgement of another's personality, besides intelligence. People might know what they like, but they usually don't know why they like it. Similar results are repeated in other studies showing our lack of understanding of who we're attracted to, how we solve problems and where our ideas come from.
These results are a real challenge to psychologists like myself. The most important decisions in our lives, like choosing how we spend our time and with whom we spend it, are challenged. The stories we believe about ourselves are appealing, but are wrong more often than not.