Friday, 31 August 2012

Audio: Law of Attraction Hypnosis Session

I hope you enjoy the audio. Any comments welcome as ever. 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Exposure to Violence Has Long-Term Stress Effects Among Adolescents

Children who are exposed to community violence continue to exhibit a physical stress response up to a year after the exposure, suggesting that exposure to violence may have long-term negative health consequences, according researchers at Penn State and University College London.

"We know that exposure to violence is linked with aggression, depression, post-traumatic stress symptoms and academic and cognitive difficulties in the short term, but little is known about the long-term effects of such exposure," said Elizabeth Susman, Jean Phillips Shibley Professor of Biobehavioral Health, Penn State. "Our data show that the stress reaction to violence exposure is not just immediate. There's an effect that endures."

The scientists recruited 124 adolescents, ranging in age from 8 to 13 and living in small city and rural communities, to participate in the study.

"Most studies of the effects of exposure to violence look at children who live in inner cities and urban communities," said Melissa Peckins, biobehavioral health graduate student, Penn State. "Our study is unique because we focused on children who live in small towns, so they are not children you would normally expect to be exposed to a lot of violence. Also, these were healthy children without a history of reported maltreatment."

The researchers gave each of the adolescents a questionnaire, which identified their lifetime exposure to violence and exposure within the past 12 months. They then gave the adolescents the beginning of a story and asked them to complete it in front of two mock judges, whom they were told were evaluating their responses and performances for later comparison to those of other children the same age. Following the story-completion task, adolescents were also given a serial subtraction task.

"The story completion task and mental arithmetic task are commonly used to elicit a stress response in laboratory settings," Peckins said. "Our hypothesis was that children who have been exposed to more violent events in the past year will have an attenuated response to the laboratory stressor -- even 12 months after the incidence -- compared with children who experienced fewer violent events."

The team measured the children's stress responses by comparing the cortisol levels present in samples of their saliva collected before and after the stress test was administered.

"In males, we found that as exposure to violence increased, cortisol reactivity decreased, so cortisol reactivity was attenuated; it was a habituation effect," Peckins said.

The finding was not present in females. The results were published online in a recent issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"In enduring stressful conditions, we may have adapted evolutionarily to suppress our cortisol levels because higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream can lead to negative health consequences, such as autoimmune disorders, lowered immunity, arthritis and atypical depression. This may explain why cortisol reactivity was lower for males," Susman said. "However, there is a theory that females may react to stressful situations by talking about it, which may be their way of reducing the negative effects of cortisol in the bloodstream. If parents and other adults are available to discuss episodes of violence with children, it might help the children, especially females, to reduce their cortisol levels."

In the future, the team hopes to examine the role of duration of exposure to violence and time elapsed after exposure to violence on cortisol reactivity.

Other researchers on this project were Samantha Dockray, research fellow, University College London, and Jacey Eckenrode, graduate student in biobehavioral health and Jodi Heaton, administrative assistant, biobehavioral health, both at Penn State.

The National Institute of Mental Health, the General Clinical Research Center of the National Institutes of Health and Penn State supported this work.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

7 Myths About Getting Old

Our country is getting grayer. The number of senior citizens in the U.S. has increased in the past decade to the point where baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — now account for a quarter of the population. And life expectancy, along with what doctors describe as our “active lifespan,” is predicted to increase by another two years in the next decade. There are also more seniors in the workforce as boomers elect to continue working past retirement age, although this is due in part to the recent economic downturn, as well as the financial shortcomings of Social Security. The welcome presence and valuable contributions of elderly Americans is helping to debunk some common myths regarding seniors and the aging process. Here are seven such myths that have been disproved.

1. Old People Are Either Grumpy or Depressed
The grumpy old man is a caricature we can’t help but laugh at, even as we ourselves continue to grow older and turn into that man. But interestingly, the age group that is most prone to stress and depression is the 20-something demographic, whereas many studies confirm that people actually become happier as they age. Older adults understand how much less stressful life is when you “don’t sweat the small stuff” and are adept at letting go of disappointment and regret. As people age, they also often make a conscious effort to participate in life-affirming activities and to be among people who lift their spirits.

2. Growing Old Means Getting Sick
The human body does slow down as it ages. However, sickness, especially serious sickness, is not part of the aging process. In fact, a recent study of a group of seniors by the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center showed that more than 40% of those who lived to be 100 did not suffer from age-related sicknesses until they reached the age of 80. And 15% of those studied had no age-related illnesses at all by the time they hit 100.

3. Senility Is Inevitable

Senility is a broad, ultimately unhelpful term used to stereotype the behavior of senior citizens. At best, it may describe the symptoms of dementia, a non-specific syndrome that actually affects people of all ages. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that predominantly, but not exclusively, develops in old age. After the age of 65, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years. However, dementia is often misdiagnosed as part of the aging process, when in fact symptoms of dementia can be caused by medications, malnutrition, alcohol abuse, and thyroid, kidney, and liver disorders. While it is true that one in eight older Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, dementia is not an inevitable result of getting old.

4. Old Folks Don't Have Sex

Well, OK. After the age of 75, you’re going to slow down just a bit, no matter what Hugh Hefner would have you believe. But getting older doesn’t mean you stop having sex entirely. Seniors can have healthy sexual relations as long as they wish. Given the fact that regular exercise and a healthy diet benefits the libido, and in turn, sexual relations make for a healthier, less stressful life, shouldn’t folks interested in (ahem) longevity make every effort to keep getting it on in their golden years?

5. Seniors Are Incapable of Learning Anything New

When it comes to experience, seniors are a great learning resource for younger people. And thankfully, there’s nothing about the aging process that impairs a senior-aged person’s ability to learn something new as well. The brain is not wired to retire, but to instead welcome new challenges and explore new ideas. The number of senior-aged entrepreneurs in the workforce attests to this, as well as the number of innovative leaders over the age of 55 in the worlds of business, technology, and especially the creative arts.

6. Older Workers Are Less Productive And Can't Keep Up

There is a stereotype that exists in the business world that pegs older workers as being slower, less productive, and unable to keep up with their younger co-workers. But older workers are often more efficient with their time, and have higher standards and a stronger work ethic in place than some of their younger counterparts. Add to that a willingness to embrace and become comfortable with developing technologies, as well as listen and learn, and a senior can be a formidable member of any business’s team.

7. Memory Loss Is Inevitable

How many times have you listened to a grandparent recount, in great detail and entirely from memory, an incident from their childhood, something that occurred 50 or 60 years ago? Growing older does not cause memory loss. However, physiological changes can affect the speed with which memories are retrieved. And just like any other muscle, the aging brain does need regular exercise in order to stay healthy. Brain exercises, like crosswords and Sudoku, as well as physical exercise, a good diet, and a lively social life, including visits from and interactions with the grandchildren, will help keep the aging mind fit.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Facebook Addiction

Is this the future world epidemic? How many people do we know that this applies to??

Friday, 24 August 2012

Reverse Psychology

I love reverse psychology, as I'm sure anyone who has ever worked with children does. You want them to want to do something - you tell them they cannot do it. It never fails to entertain me...and it works equally well upon adults at times. But how does this famous psychology work? Why does it work? And when does it work best? 
By the way - please don't like this article... 
You're probably familiar with reverse psychology: it's when you try to get someone to do something by telling them to do the opposite.
In theory people don't like to have their freedom restricted so they rebel. But what does the psychological research tell us? Do people really react to restrictions on their freedom by wanting the restricted object more?
Under some circumstances, the answer is yes, as these two experiments demonstrate:
"...two-year-olds who are told not to play with a particular toy suddenly find that toy more appealing. [...] Students who are told they have their choice of five posters, but then are told one of them is not available suddenly like that one more..." (from the excellent textbook Social Psychology and Human Nature)
Warning labels can have the same perverse effect:
"...warning labels on violent television programs across five age groups (ranging from 9 to 21 years and over) were more likely to attract persons in these groups to the violent program than information labels and no label." (Chadee, 2011)
The idea is that when you are told you can't have or do something, the following three things happen:
  • You want it more.
  • You rebel by reasserting your freedom.
  • You feel angry at the person restricting your freedom.
In other words you are immediately turned back into an irritating teenager.
Forbidden fruit
Reverse psychology works best with people who are contrary or resistant. In contrast agreeable people are likely to go along with you anyway so you don't need to use it.
Watch out, though, people hate being manipulated. If they sense you are trying to get them to do something by telling them to do the opposite, a form of reversereverse psychology may operate. So they end up doing what you tell them, just to spite your attempts to control them.
Reverse psychology is a tricky customer both in real life and in the psych lab. Researchers have found it difficult to pin down exactly when reverse psychology works and when it doesn't. Here are a few factors likely to increase psychological reactance:
  • The more attractive and important the option that's being restricted, the greater the psychological reactance.
  • The greater the restriction of freedom, the greater the psychological reactance.
  • Arbitrary threats produce high reactance because they don't make sense, which makes people more rebellious.
In real life reverse psychology likely works best when used subtly and sparingly on people who are resistant to direct requests.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Investing Badly? Blame Your Chimp Brain

Why is investing so difficult? Have you ever wondered why you’ve always wanted to be a great investor, but have always found it so hard? You start off with the best of intentions, yet you often seem to be carried away by a torrent of emotions. It seems very hard to understand what is going on inside your mind.
Hopefully this article can help. I’ve just been reading a fascinating book called The Chimp Paradox, by Dr Steve Peters. Never heard of him? Well, he is the psychiatrist for the British cycling team, and is the guy credited for making the difference for some of Britain’s Olympic gold medallists.

What Peters has done is take the latest findings from the blossoming science of the brain, and explains it in simple, easily-understandable terms.

Three brains are worse than one

The premise of this book is that humans have not one, but three brains, which the author calls the Human, the Chimp, and the Computer.
The Human is the rational, logical brain. It interprets information by searching for the facts and establishing the truth. It thinks ahead and sets things in perspective. It is, to all intents and purposes, ‘the real you’. It is what differentiates us from apes, and it is what created modern society, with its social etiquette, rules and laws.

In contrast, the Chimp is the emotional brain. It interprets information with feelings and impressions. It thinks about everything emotionally. It often makes guesses and fills in the details with hunches, paranoid feelings or defensive thoughts. It is the brain that developed as monkeys evolved, and thus is designed for survival in the jungle, rather than for today’s modern world.

And thirdly, the Computer is a storage area for thoughts and behaviours, which it uses to act in an automatic way.

The relevance to investing

What has this got to do with investing? Well, I must admit Dr Peters never mentions investing in his book. But then neither does he mention Olympic cycling. The point is that he has revealed the conflict that goes on in our heads every day of our lives. And this is of key importance if you want to understand the psychology of investing.

In short, the way we behave, and also the way we invest, is really a battle between the Human and the Chimp.

While the Human brain tells the investor to look at the long term, to buy shares which are oversold, and to remain calm whatever the circumstances, the Chimp brain has a tendency to panic during any fluctuation, and will scream “sell!” when a share falls in price, and “buy!” when it rises in price.

That’s why you must never listen to your emotions when you are investing. What is happening is your emotional Chimp brain is shouting louder than your Human brain. The Chimp rapidly jumps to opinions, is prone to paranoia and can think catastrophically.

When a share you have invested in falls in price, your Chimp goes into overdrive. “The share is going to crash!” screams your monkey. “Sell out while you still can!”

Yet your Human is saying “Don’t worry. This is just short-term fluctuation. The reasons why you bought this share haven’t changed.”

Many people end up listening to their Chimp and selling, only to see the share price subsequently recover. Like most dumb, Chimp-ruled investors, they sell at the bottom, and buy at the top.

Manage your Chimp

So what can be done to change your behaviour? Well, you need to control your Chimp. But, I’m afraid, that’s not as easy as it seems, because your Chimp is five times stronger than the Human. If it is down to simple will power, then the Chimp will always win.

Instead, you need to manage your Chimp. First you need to exercise your Chimp. This means letting it sound off, either by talking to a friend, or just talking through its worries by yourself. Let your Chimp talk through all the arguments about selling your shares. Keep on going until the Chimp is tired.

Then, you need to box the Chimp. You can do this by telling the Chimp truths that it can accept. Explain the Human logic of the situation. “Shares will always fluctuate — that doesn’t mean you always have to sell. Be patient, and the value will out. Let’s have a little perspective on this….” Eventually the Chimp will listen to these truths and will settle down. If it does, then you have won your battle with your emotional mind.

I’m afraid there is only room in this article for a very brief taster of what is in Steve Peters’ book. If you want to learn more about how to control your inner Chimp, you will need to read the book itself.

But if you want a single take-home message, it is that, all too often, investors are dominated by their Chimps. Learning to master your emotional mind won’t win you an Olympic gold, but it might just make you a more successful investor, and a better person, to boot.

Full Article:

Monday, 20 August 2012

7 Common Dreams and What They Mean

While some people, including medical researchers, believe dreams are a benign, meaningless byproduct of sleep, many medical experts, psychologists, and psychiatrists, not to mention poets, musicians, and visual artists, believe dreams hold the key to our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Sometimes, our dreams are complex, weird, and impossible to describe once we’re awake. But then there are common dreams that many people experience, including dreams of being chased, of falling, or of being naked in public. But what exactly is the meaning behind these familiar dreams? Here are seven common dreams with interpretations we sourced from dream analysts, psychotherapists, and self-proclaimed psychics.

1. Teeth Falling Out

Nothing you dream about is meant to be taken literally. So the dream that your teeth are falling out, a dream common among children as well as adults, is a symbolic representation that might mean a few different things. Some believe that this dream indicates you said something that you should have kept to yourself. Others believe this dream expresses a fear of growing old, or becoming a more mature adult and taking on a new level of responsibility.

2. Being Chased

Who doesn’t love a good chase scene? When we dream we’re being chased, the feeling can be exhilarating or terrifying, depending on who we think is chasing us. Often in such a dream, we have no idea, we just know we’d better bolt or else we’re going to get caught and then who knows what will happen? The basic interpretation of this dream says that in your waking life, you are avoiding something that you need to confront, like a situation at work, for instance, or a heart-to-heart with a friend or family member. Or the dream might mean that you are afraid that something from your past is going to catch up with you. Or maybe you should just quit watching Jason Bourne movies before bed.

3. You're Back in School

The saying goes something like, “Life is just like high school with money.” If you find yourself dreaming that you’re back in high school, only this time, your schoolmates are a combination of co-workers, Jason Bourne, and your mother, take heart; your unconscious mind may be telling you that if you pay attention in real life, you will succeed. At the same time, the dream might indicate that lately, you’ve been feeling uncertain and unprepared, either for the demands of your job or personal life. Now if in the same dream, your teeth fall out, it’s time to call a psychoanalyst.

4. Flying

Dreams where you fly like a bird or Superman generally indicate you’re feeling confident and happy in your waking life. Some cultures offer fussier interpretations, depending on whether you’re flying as yourself or have turned into a bird or some kind of mythological winged creature. We should note, however, that people who consume codeine products may dream that they are flying or have left their body and are observing themselves from above, which is a little more unnerving than dreaming that by flapping your arms you can avoid the Monday morning traffic jam.

5. Naked

Sigmund Freud wrote in his book On Dreams, “The dream is not senseless, not absurd … it is a psychic phenomenon of full value, and indeed the fulfillment of a wish.” So how would Freud explain the very common dream where the dreamer is in public, at work or at some formal occasion, and is partially or entirely naked? This is one of those dreams where, when you wake up, you are forever grateful it was just a dream! Psychoanalysts believe this is a dream about feeling inadequate and unprepared for an upcoming event, or life in general. However, some cultures believe this dream means you’re going to come into money, through a lottery or some other kind of gambling. Dream you’re naked? When you wake up, check your stock portfolio or go buy a Powerball ticket!

6. Falling

The sensation of falling from a great height isn’t pleasant, unless you have a parachute. Dreams where you are falling from the sky or from out of a window can simply mean you feel you’re failing (or “falling”) in your personal or professional life. Feelings of isolation or that you lack emotional support can also inspire this common dream.

7. Lost

The psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote, “I know that if we meditate on a dream sufficiently long and thoroughly … something almost always comes of it.” Dreams where you are lost, perhaps within the halls of a school filled with lockers or outside on the streets of a strange city are pretty straightforward in their symbolism and indicate you’ve been feeling confused and insecure. Like all of the dreams we’ve described, the dream of being lost can mean many more things, depending upon what’s going on in your conscious life. If you’re experiencing stress at work or are getting ready to make some life changes, try meditating upon your dreams to see if they are trying to tell you something helpful.

Courtesy of our friends at Online Psychology Degree

What do you think of these dream 'translations'? Do they match your own experiences/ideas?

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Video: New Therapies: Hypnosis

Thursday, 16 August 2012

5 Ways You Don't Realize Movies Are Controlling Your Brain

So there was a mass shooting during a Batman movie and, goddamn it, it turned out the killer owned a Batman mask and called himself "The Joker." By now, several talking heads have come to the conclusion that the movie somehow triggered the massacre, or whatever. You know the game at this point -- sadly, we've seen this whole cycle play out more than once.

As always, this knee-jerk reaction by old, scared talking heads will predictably result in most of our audience scoffing and saying that movies can't influence people to do anything, because movies are make-believe and every non-crazy member of the audience knows how to separate fact from fiction.

Well, the thing is ... that is equally wrong. But not for the reason the talking heads think.

5. No, You Can't Separate Fact From Fiction

You've seen Braveheart, right? You know that's based on a historical event -- the movie makes it clear that Mel Gibson's character, William Wallace, was a real guy who really lived in Scotland back in the horse and castle days. You also know that Hollywood spiced things up for the movie -- the real Wallace probably never assassinated a dude and then jumped his horse off a balcony in slow motion.

So if you don't mind, just quickly tell me which parts were fiction. Without looking it up.

Like the evil king they were fighting -- was he a real historical figure, too? What about Wallace's palooka friend, Hamish? Or the crazy Irish sidekick? Were those real guys? That part where Mel Gibson's main ally (Robert the Bruce) betrayed him and sided with the English in that big battle (aka the turning point of the entire story)-- did that really happen? What about the bit at the end, where Wallace has sex with that princess, revealing that the future king of England would actually be Mel Gibson's son? That's the most historically important thing in the whole film, surely that was true, right?

You don't know, do you? But who cares, right? It's not like that impacts your life at all. It's just historical trivia. OK, now consider this: After Jaws hit theaters, we nearly drove sharks to extinction with feverish hunting, to the point that their populations may never recover.

Every single person who saw that movie knew that it was fiction, and that those characters were just actors. They probably knew that, in real life, there isn't a shark big enough to eat your boat. But, when the genius scientist character in the movie agreed that killing the shark was the only way to prevent dead tourists, we assumed that part was true. The same as we assumed you could really blow up an oxygen tank by shooting it.

So, we killed all the sharks, based on what the make-believe movie told us.

Ah, but that's one oddball isolated incident. Hey, did you know that after Top Gun, Navy aviator recruitment skyrocketed by as much as 500 fucking percent? Or that the number of kids taking martial arts classes exploded after The Karate Kid? Or that the popularity of the CSI TV shows has resulted in a glut of students going into forensic sciences? Or that I could cite examples of this until you hit your monthly bandwidth cap? How many of you left Fight Club thinking you knew how to make napalm? Which of us haven't forced a baby to do that wanking motion after watching The Hangover?

I know what some of you are already saying: "So, what, because some gullible people do what movies tell them, that means a Batman movie made that guy shoot up the theater? So I suppose watching Bridesmaids made us all start shitting in sinks."

No. You're intentionally reaching for examples where it doesn't happen, and ignoring all of the ones where it does -- even if some movie straight up told you to become a mass murderer, it'd be working against a lifetime of society pounding the opposite message into your brain. The point of this article isn't to pin violence on movies. The point is that it's much bigger than that. Because ...

4. Stories Were Invented to Control You

This isn't some paranoid conspiracy theory -- it's a fundamental part of how human culture came about. Ask yourself: Why do we go watch superhero movies? After all, variations of these stories about brave, superhuman heroes predate recorded history. We used to tell them around campfires before written language even existed.

They were created as a way to teach you how to behave.

Thousands of years ago, when your ancestors were living in tribes and hunting gazelles for food, nobody knew how to read. Even if they could, paper wasn't a thing, parchment was rare and precious. They had no written historical records, they had no educational system that could devote years to teaching history to the kids.

This was a problem. Once humans started forming civilizations, the guys in charge didn't just need the next generation of children to know how to fish and hunt, they needed citizens who would fall in line and fight for the tribe. That meant the kids needed to understand the big picture: why preserving the tribe is important, why we hate the tribe across the river, why our tribe is better than that tribe, why it's important to go off and fight in the next war no matter how scared you are.

Now, to do this, they could either A) bore the kids to death with a years-long recounting of the history of the tribe, which nobody has probably written down anyway or B) tell them a cool story. They could tell the thrilling tale of Kolgor the Valiant who, when the evil neighboring tribe came to slay all of the women and children, stood alone and fought bravely through the night, with four arrows in his chest, until the enemy retreated in terror. You want to be like Kolgor, don't you, little one? Otherwise, he will have died in vain.

Clearly "B" is the one that is going to stick in the kid's brain. It doesn't matter that the story is either fiction or grossly exaggerated -- it gets the job done, it makes the kid conform to be the kind of citizen the tribe needs him to be. This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- your tribe may very well be better than the one across the river, your real history is probably full of real heroes whose sacrifices were just as important as, if less romantic than, Kolgor the Valiant's. The tribe didn't go with the fictional version because they were liars, they went with it because it was the only way for the "truth" to survive.

So while we use the word "myth" these days to mean "a lie that needs to be debunked," often the myths were simply more efficient versions of the truth. They're easier to remember, they don't take as long to tell and they eliminate a lot of the messy ambiguities that can confuse the point. Also, they won't bore the listener to tears.

The point is, this is why stories were invented -- to shape your brain in a certain way. A guy named Joseph Campbell wrote whole books about it, you should read them. These basic stories, these myths of the hero overcoming the odds, the great man who sacrifices himself for the greater good -- they're what make civilization go. In a society, the people and the buildings and the roads are the hardware, mythology is the software.

And while your ancestors had their heroes that they heard about around the campfire, you have Batman, and Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter. And yes, the movies you watched this summer serve the same purpose as those ancient myths. Sometimes this is super obvious (clearly Rocky IV and The Day After Tomorrow are trying to cram a message into your brain with the subtlety of a sweatpants erection). But what's the message behind James Bond? Or Iron Man?

"There isn't one!"

That literally isn't possible.

3. The Writer of a Story Always Has an Agenda

Quiz Time: What do these hugely popular hero characters all have in common?

Luke Skywalker
Frodo from The Lord of the Rings
Harry Potter
Finn from Adventure Time

Got it yet? They're all orphans.

That's kind of weird, right? Do you think that's a random choice? Do you think the writer just flipped a coin? Or do you think there's an emotional button that is being pushed there, the writer reaching around the logical part of your brain and triggering something inside you without you knowing it?

That sounds devious, but those little subconscious tricks are Fiction Writing 101 (we covered a bunch of them here). It's a scary power to entrust someone with, if you think about it. Especially if you, as the audience, don't pay close attention to what they're doing. You leave the theater a different person than you were when you came in. It's a difference in millimeters, sure, but you're going to watch a thousand hours of the stuff in the course of a year. It builds up.

"What, so you're trying to tell me there's some hidden agenda behind the Transformers movies? It's freaking robots punching each other!"

No, there is no intentional hidden agenda (well, maybe a little), but there is certainly a set of assumptions that the filmmakers are passing on to you. In the case of Transformers, the assumption is that combat is beautiful and exciting, that military hardware is sexy, that destruction is gorgeous and fun and completely free of consequence. And, most importantly, that the solution to all conflict is to be more masculine, powerful, aggressive, confident and destructive than the bad guys.

"But the people already think that! These movies are just giving us what we want!"

Right, but why do you want that? You think you came out of the womb thinking that military hardware was cool? If you grew up in a real war zone, and didn't have movies and TV, would you have the same opinion?

I'm not saying Michael Bay is a secret tool of the military industrial complex trying to brainwash you into supporting the next war, no more than the makers of Jaws were trying to wipe out the sharks -- they were just trying to make a scary movie, and Michael Bay is just a dude who likes explosions. It doesn't matter why the message is there -- it soaks into your brain either way. This is what everyone misses when debating this stuff -- one side says, "Hollywood is trying to brainwash you!" and the other side says, "Michael Bay isn't smart enough to brainwash an armadillo!" and they're both missing the point.

This is why, when some people point out how racist the Lord of the Rings stories are (i.e., orcs are evil by virtue of being born orcs, dwarfs are greedy because they are dwarfs, Aragorn is heroic due to his "blood"), it's both correct and unfair. It's correct because, yes, that is the way Tolkien's universe is set up -- nobody in the stories hesitates to make sweeping generalizations about a race, and they're always proven right when they do. Frodo's magical sword didn't glow in the presence of enemies, it glowed in the presence of a certain race (orcs). Go write a movie about a hero with a gun that glows in the presence of Arabs. See what happens.

But it's also unfair, because Tolkien clearly didn't sit down and think, "I'm going to increase the net weight of racism in the world in order to firmly establish white dominance! And I'll do it with elves!" He was just writing what he knew. Of course a guy born in 1892 assumed that Nordic races were evolved and graceful, that certain other races were born savages and that midgets love axes. Hell, he could have been the least racist person he knew, and he'd still be the equivalent of a Klansman today. Whether or not the agenda was intentional is utterly irrelevant.

I can't emphasize this enough -- there is no conspiracy. Yeah, you'll occasionally have a movie like Act of Valor that is transparently intended to boost military recruitment, but 99 percent of the time, the movie's "agenda" is nothing more than a lot of creative people passing along their own psychological hang-ups, prejudices, superstitions, ignorance and fetishes, either intentionally or unintentionally. But they are still passed on to you, because that's what stories are designed to do. Michael Bay feels a certain way about women, and about the role of women in the world, and you will leave his movie agreeing with him just a little bit more than when you came in.

2. You Were Raised -- and Educated -- by Pop Culture

Quick quiz: If you get arrested by the cops, how many phone calls are you legally allowed?

One, right? "I want my one phone call" -- somewhere there's a suspect saying that exact phrase to his arresting officer. He may even insist that it's in the Constitution.

And this is when the cop has to explain that it's an urban legend, and that he'd already know that if he read Cracked. This criminal, and you, only believe the "one phone call" rule because you saw it in movies and cop shows.

In fact, pretty much everything you know about the criminal justice system came from actors on a glowing rectangular screen. Have you ever been called for jury duty? Did you sit through the morning training session where they have to carefully explain that real trials are not like TV shows?

That's why movies are so effective at shaping your personality: because you subconsciously assumed that large parts of these fictional stories weren't fiction. Sure, you knew True Lies was a silly Schwarzenegger action movie, and you knew that, in real life, nobody could really ramp a dirt bike off a Washington, DC, skyscraper. But you didn't know that the city doesn't even have skyscrapers at all. Even though the movie was fiction, you didn't doubt that part, because you had no reason to.

Now take this one step further, and think about how many other aspects of your life you've only experienced via Hollywood. If you're from a rural area, how do you know what it's like to live in the city? Or vice versa? If you've never been to Paris, where does your mental image of it come from? Some of you reading this very article loved The Sopranos because its depiction of the mob was so much more "realistic" than all those stylized movies that came before it. How do you know it's more realistic? What are you comparing it to? All those real mobsters who come over at Thanksgiving?

The reality is that vast piles of facts that you have crammed into your brain basement were picked up from pop culture, and for the most part, you don't realize that's where the information came from. This is called source amnesia, and I've talked about it before -- you know that giraffes sleep standing up, but you've long forgotten whether you heard that fact in school or in a tour at the zoo, or saw it in a cartoon. Either way, you will treat that fact as true until something comes along to counter it -- this is the entire reason MythBusters is still on the air.

OK, so who cares if gas tanks don't really explode when you shoot them? So what if a lot of your interesting party trivia isn't accurate?

What, you don't think this same principle goes for the important stuff?

When you went on your first date, you had a picture in your mind of what that should look like -- how both of you should behave, what type of activities couples do together, which one of you should pay, etc. Where did that picture come from? Did you take a dating class in elementary school? Did your parents sit you down and tell you? Bullshit. You saw it in a TV show, or a cartoon, a solid decade before you were even old enough to drive.

If your parents were poor, where did you get your idea of how rich people live? Where did you get your concept of what success looks like -- how successful people dress, or what they drive, or how they decorate their apartment? Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood -- the only reason you've heard of Armani suits is because the 1980 movie American Gigolo launched the brand. The reason you think smoking is cool is because you've seen a thousand handsome, smooth leading men smoke cigarettes.

In other words, fictional stories shaped your entire world. You will instinctively reject this idea because you hate the thought that anyone but you has made you who you are. But every single point of data will prove you wrong.

"Bullshit! I just watch movies and TV shows for fun! It's escapism, it lets me turn off my brain and relax while things explode behind Samuel L. Jackson!"

Right, but why does that relax you? Why have you been trained to feel a release of stress when you see a bad guy explode? Why do you prefer that world over your own?

Let me put it another way. "Escapism" and "fantasy" are fun because they let us leave this boring old world and go to a world that we would prefer to live in. And we are defined as a people by those fantasies -- after all, we will spend our whole lives trying to make the real world look like the fantasy. Science fiction came first, space travel came later.

Mythology still drives us, and defines us. Now stop and ask yourself who we've entrusted to write it for us.

Which brings us to the heart of this whole matter ...

1. Everything in Your Brain Is a Story

Let me ask you this:

Why was it so easy to rally Americans around the idea of winning World War II, to the point that we were willing to ration and sacrifice and send an entire generation off to war, when it's so hard to get us worked up about other things like curing cancer or fixing global warming?

I'll come back to it in a moment.

So, knowing the history of stories and all that stuff I talked about above, it makes sense that our brains are built to try to process everything we see as a story. We want all of our information packaged this way -- it's the way data has been fed to us for the last thousand generations, it's how you've been absorbing it since the first time your parents read you a bedtime story. And every story needs to have two elements: a defined set of good guys and bad guys, and a neat structure with a beginning, middle and end.

The fact that we need everything fed to us like this, and have trouble getting interested in a situation without it, actually makes solving some problems almost impossible.

For instance, the answer to my question above is that we cared about World War II because it was a story: it had villains (Hitler and the rest), it had heroes (the Allies), it had a distinct beginning, middle and end. Cancer doesn't have any of that -- there's no one guy we can blame for cancer, and "winning the war" against it is actually a series of tiny incremental advancements that may never result in "victory." Global warming is even worse, because there it looks like the villain is us.

So as a society, our entire process for figuring out and solving problems involves clumsily trying to make a story out of them. When we follow a complicated subject like politics, we need that distinct hero and villain, so we'll ignore the shortcomings of our guy and amplify the shittiness of their guy, to make them fit that mold. When we hear about a war, it's almost impossible to think of it in terms of multiple factions all acting in self-interest -- we need one side we can root for, usually under the guise of the underdog young rebels overthrowing the evil old empire (i.e., the Arab Spring).

Likewise, we lose interest if our news story doesn't have a clear beginning, middle and end (in the biz they call this the "narrative bias"). Are American troops still in Afghanistan? How is that going? Do you even know? When's the last time you checked? We were all on board for the first act of the story (the 9/11 attacks) and the second act (the military goes in and deposes the Taliban), but then the third act (the troops come home to victory parades and everything is back to normal) never came. So, we just kind of forgot about it.

Now here's the key: This innate urge to shoehorn every single piece of information into a story format is very well known to the people who run political campaigns, or write advertisements, or cover news stories. So, when there is a crisis, they know you need a bad guy. No problem can simply be the result of a flawed system or a bunch of factors that are nobody's fault (or, God forbid, the result of anything we did -- we're just the audience!). No, there has to be a villain we can pin it on.

That's why, to this day, we're still trying to figure out who "caused" the economic collapse, as if we'll find a cabal of a dozen shady bankers in a room who made off with all our money, rather than a flawed system that millions of investors and consumers drove into the ditch because of a steadfast refusal to think five minutes into the future. Look at the last few wars again -- we can't get past the idea that terrorism will end if we just blow the shit out of the bad guys. Why? Because that's the way it works in the movies. In Star Wars, when the Emperor died, all evil died with him. The same with Sauron, and Voldemort. If we kill/imprison all the drug kingpins, the drugs will go away. Right? Guys?

You can find this in your personal life, too. If something goes wrong at the office, somebody has to get blamed. Everyone goes into ass-covering mode, because they know the bosses will need a villain in their story. When you take on some personal project (a new job, losing weight, whatever), you expect the same three-act structure that you'd see in a movie (see problem, take it on, experience your darkest moment, eventually triumph), and you get depressed when it doesn't happen (that "triumph" part often never shows up). Why are people always so obsessed with the apocalypse? Because every story has an ending, and the idea that the human "story" can just drag on forever, aimlessly, never progressing toward any particular goal, is just unimaginable. We can't process it.

And our expectations of what these real world stories look like, and how they should play out, are programmed into us by pop culture.

So, yes, for the fucking love of God, movies matter. TV shows matter. Novels matter. They shape the lens through which you see the world. The very fact that you don't think they matter, that even right now you're still resisting the idea, is what makes all of this so dangerous to you -- you watch movies so you can turn off your brain and let your guard down. But while your guard is down, you're letting them jack directly into that part of your brain that creates your mythology. If you think about it, it's an awesome responsibility on the part of the storyteller. And you're comfortable handing that responsibility over to Michael Bay.

It's just something to keep in mind, that's all.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Dr Steve Peters: Olympic Sports Psychology

After the huge success of the British Olympic team at London 2012, could it be that psychological approach had a great deal to do with it? Is this the future of top level sport? In this Independent article the psychiatrist Steve Peters talks to Alasdair Fotheringham.

"Some of the riders are aware of the danger of allowing the Olympics to haunt them." That is the psychiatrist Steve Peters' graphic description of how the prospect of the London Olympics this summer is affecting some athletes in the long, slow build-up to what could be the most critical event of their lives. However, it is a fairly safe bet that if anybody can vanquish those ghosts, it is Peters.

As Britain's cycling success has grown and grown, so Peters' work with track racing's two most high-profile athletes, Victoria Pendleton and Sir Chris Hoy, has become relatively well known. After all, when Pendleton calls Peters "the most important person in my career", or Hoy says that "without Steve I don't think I could have brought home triple gold from Beijing", people tend to take notice.

At the 2012 Games, it will be Peters' job as British Cycling's "head coach" – as he is known inside the team, pun fully intended – to make sure the riders who will spearhead Britain's medal hopes are as successful as possible.

At the London Olympic test event the weekend before last, just as at almost every major GB track engagement since before Athens 2004, Peters' slight, silver-haired figure could be seen, hovering on the wings of the British contingent. Given that he was one of the four-man core management team in Beijing for the all-conquering GB cycling squad, and given the success of his work in other sports – "around 10 right now," he says – one imagines his presence alone is reassuring to the riders.

This summer, Peters will be in the same velodrome in Stratford, east London, in the same role. But he recognises that the stakes will be way higher than usual for his charges, higher than any before. Hence the "ghosts".

"People look to the Olympics as a special event," Peters says, "and it's quite self-evident to say that London is going to create an enormous spotlight on our particular athletes. For most of the athletes in Olympic disciplines, they've got one shot every four years and that's quite critical compared to other sports, where there are tournaments going on every week."

So intense is the pressure that Peters has created special "coping strategies" that are designed to handle both failure and success in London.

"We have a policy in place for those who are possibly doing a swansong in London," he says, "and what options they have after the Olympics. But we also have safety nets in place for those who don't perform so well, or for those who perform really well and then you have this dive after the Olympics, which is what we saw after Beijing."

Peters' work has already helped to ensure that, despite the British team having done so well in Beijing, there has been no collective increase in their fear of failure.

"Not at all. What we've done as a team is say, 'Wipe out the past, it's a level playing field'," he explains. "Don't forget, in cycling they've changed some of the events and limited us to one athlete per event. We cannot achieve what we did in Beijing" – eight gold medals, four silver and two bronze – "it's not possible. So therefore we're coming to do our best and deliver what we can."

Cycling has its own psychological pressures, Peters says, "because [imagine] you're a cyclist and miss other sprinters making a breakaway move. There's a lot of tactical stuff. But a 100-metre sprinter just looks at his own start, his own lane. The rest don't bother him."

"And in snooker" – Peters works with the former world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan – "missing an easy ball means you may have to sit there listening to your opponent clinking away at the balls. The pressures in each sport are totally different and each cyclist has very different concepts of what pressure is. There is no single recipe book."

Talking of books takes us neatly round to the one that Peters has just published, The Chimp Paradox. Put in a nutshell, this is the mind-management programme that lies at the heart of much of Peters' work, in which the irrational, emotional side of a personality is depicted as a chimp. Peters' book teaches you how to "train" your chimp, despite it being stronger than the rational "you".

One fan is Sir Chris Hoy. However, Peters is at pains to point out that there is "nothing on sport in this book".

"What I normally do with athletes," he says, "as I do with anybody who comes to me, is [to say to them], 'Can we understand what's going on in your head, what sort of machine are we working with? So the book asks you to 'discover' your machine and then it's a question of where you want to apply it. That's the same for everybody.

"And clearly I do not want to give away anything before the Olympic Games, on how I deal with elite sport. That was never going to happen."

The Chimp Paradox is refreshingly free of psychobabble, making it very accessible. This is something Peters says is probably due to his background in education.

"I've been a lecturer at Sheffield University for 20 years now," he says, "and when you're teaching doctors it's very important to get your ideas across simply and effectively so they can use them in a practical way."

Peters says he has "cheated a bit by simply saying there's a chimp and a human", because in fact there are between six and 10 different bits of the brain that "think". But that would be too hard to explain. "The chimp, on the other hand, is a concept everybody can grasp and which is usable."

If Peters is giving away nothing about how he treats athletes prior to London 2012, he does reveal the areas in which he operates with them. It's what he calls the "15 per cent" that makes the difference between a good athlete and a brilliant one who might, say, win three gold medals at one Games, à la Hoy.

"If people are functioning at an 85 per cent level of their capacities," he says, "they tend to be happy and complacent and say, 'I'm doing really well, I'll skip the last 15 per cent.' But that's where the trivial details [that make the difference], such as being slightly overweight, tend to be.

"But I would say there are some very astute people around, and Chris Hoy is one of them, who recognises there are mental areas where he could improve. So he comes along and he says to me, 'Give me the extra 15 per cent. I want to be at 100'."

Hoy, Peters says, was far from falling apart at the seams when he first met him. "This was a man who was fully with it. But he recognised he could get an extra bit out of my training by using mental skills. He learnt those skills, he moved from 85 per cent to 100."

Peters also points out that this does not mean his athletes become obsessive through working with him. "It's perhaps the opposite. Normally at 100 per cent they're more relaxed."

You could say that the "chimp concept" sounds a shade childish. Peters agrees that it sounds amusing, not to mention unthreatening, but says that is intentional, if only to a degree.

"The model I've invented is fun, but... it has a very serious side. My intention [in the book] is to give some quality of life to a lot of people who are struggling to get that. But I don't want it to come across as if this is some amazing concept that I've produced and if you don't use it then there's something wrong with you."

The success of Peters' "Chimp Paradox" with Britain's cyclists, however, is a rather convincing argument in his favour. This summer, if London 2012 works out as planned, Peters may well find he has created another.

'The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness', by Dr Steve Peters, is published by Vermilion, priced £11.99

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Video: Michael Shermer Out of Body Experiment

Out of Body Experience Video:

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Advantages of Daydreaming

“Advantage Miss Brean. Championship Point.”
The spectators hold their breath, waiting for the reigning Queen of Wimbledon to save herself from an unexpected and humiliating defeat. Surely, her 15-year old opponent, this wild card child with a devastating backhand volley, the perfect figure, flawless complexion and really beautiful hair, won’t be able to hold her nerve! Slowly, carefully, the older player tosses the ball into the air, draws back her arm, positions her racket and Wham! The ball zings across the court and skims over the net, spinning wide of the young girl opposite. Jacy reaches out, every sinew stretched towards the round yellow object and.... 

“Jacy Brean! What’s the square root of 945?” Startled by this unwarranted intrusion, I find myself back in the classroom with an empty exercise book in front of me. Miss Sheehan is not amused. “Write out one hundred times, ‘I must not daydream during double maths!’” 

From as far back as I remember my life has been divided into three main states of consciousness. When I’m asleep, when I’m working and when I’m daydreaming. The first two activities together account for...oooh, 33 percent of my time. The rest of my time, if I’m honest, has been spent in a parallel universe. 

But I’m getting better. Motherhood, the need to earn a living and do the normal things of life – such as eating – have forced me to ‘get real’, a state of consciousness to which I used to be a total stranger but where, for the most part, I now reside. I’ve not stopped daydreaming completely, though. After all, daydreaming has its uses. While waiting in a queue at supermarket checkouts, I’m actually galloping across the desert on a beautiful Arab stallion; when confronted by a dull and over-talkative acquaintance, I’m mentally preparing for the next assault on Everest; and train journeys fly by when I’m auditioning for my latest West End play. Last time this happened, Judi Dench took so long over her soliloquy, she made me miss my stop! 

Daydreaming is such a wonderful way to escape the problems and tedium of day to day life, I’m surprised more people don’t indulge. But there you have it – the world is separated into practical people who concentrate on realities and actually achievesomething, and people like me whose successes are merely imagined.

People from all walks of life have imagination, of course, but daydreaming goes beyond the normal ability to envision situations. It puts the dreamer centre stage where he or she can actually feel the relevant emotions, as though living in a novel or film. Such virtual experiences can help a person to develop empathy and to explore outcomes to real-life problems. And, according to a recent study by Daniel Levinson, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA*, people whose minds wander during tasks may be more intelligent, with greater ‘working memory’ which enables them to do two things at once. 
But there’s a downside. Spending most of one’s time on ‘another planet’ may prevent us from confronting issues in the here and now. It can distance us from others and result in an unrealistic, overblown view of ourselves and our abilities. Does every XFactor hopeful really have what it takes, or are they merely chasing the ‘dream’? Sadly, you only have to watch the initial auditions to see how few competitors possess the necessary talent – talent invariably honed by the finalists through years of sweat, tears and training. 

Lack of concentration can be embarrassing too. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve offended by chuckling after they’ve told me their dog/cat/grandmother’s died! It’s not that I’m heartless, mind – just that I lose track between setting sail for Fiji and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

And, while daydreaming may seem harmless on the whole, much depends on their content. A craving for riches, for example, can lead to gambling, fraud or other dubious practices. Romantic fantasies may revolve around another person’s partner, resulting in broken hearts, homes and families. Or they may lead us to follow a glamorous but highly competitive career to which we may not even be suited. 

A few years ago, I asked a group of friends whether they daydreamed. All did. One girl had the very natural dream of marriage and children, the proverbial cottage with roses round the door. One (rather aggressive) young man imagined battling with a faceless opponent over a parking space – an incident that led to violence and a highly dramatic court case. 

During the discussions, my best friend, Lynda arrived and listened intently without adding any revelations of her own. But then, no one could imagine Linda daydreaming, she was far too down-to-earth. “Of course I do!” she exclaimed. “Really?” we asked, by now completely agog. “What about?” Linda’s eyes narrowed with concentration, as we awaited her pronouncement. Finally, she remembered her most cherished fantasy:
“Tax rebates.”

*Published in Psychological Science See also:

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Shooting at the Batman Premier: Profile of Rampage Killers

This excellent article comes from Harry J Enten and discuses the disturbing recent shooting at a Batman Premier in Colorado, taking an in-depth look at the statistics that surround similar events.  

The latest senseless rampage to shock America will never be forgotten. This country still remembers the 1999 Columbine school shootings, for example. Indeed, you wouldn't be alone if the murder spree, apparently carried out by PhD student James Holmes, triggered memories of other mass killings like Columbine.

Holmes' loner personality is very familiar for that of a mass shooter. The suspect also falls in line with the 95% of rampage killers since 1949 that were men.

But beyond these basic descriptions, how does Holmes fit into the history of rampage killers?

What I've done is gathered some basic statistics to try and determine how Holmes is like and unlike past mass murderers. I looked at 165 mass killers from 1949 to the present day. It's definitely possible that I missed some murders though I believe I have a solid baseline.

I have tried to contain my analysis to murders with multiple victims, at least one of whom died, and that were not the result of domestic strife, gang violence, robbery, terrorism or serial killings. That description of rampage killings and much of my data in the years to 1999 comes from a 2000 New York Times study.


If your memory is like mine, you might have thought that most mass killings were carried out by young people, such as James Holmes. That's actually a misconception. The plurality of all murders, 36.6%, are committed by men between the ages of 18-24, like the 24 year-old Holmes, but most rampage killings are not.

Only 17.6% of mass killers are between the ages of 18 and 24 years old. Mass murderers do make up a larger share among the population at large in the 18 to 24 and 25- to 34-year-old demographic, but the plurality, 35.8% of rampage killers, are actually 35- to 49-year-olds. This percentage is well above the 20.5% of the entire population that is 35-49 years-old. Few mass murderers are above the age of 50.

Overall, the median age for rampage killers is 33 years old compared to the 27 years old median for all murders, which are both lower than the median age United States population of 37.

Place of Shooting

Part of the reason you might think rampage killers are relatively young is because nightmares like Columbine stick with you. The truth is that 18.8% of rampage killings were committed by non-faculty at a school. While some of these heinous acts were committed by grad students, 50% were completed by those 17 or younger and 75% by 25 years old and younger. Many of these students believe they were bullied or were outcasts.

A higher 29.7% took place at person's place or former place of work. The median age for these work-place rampage killings was 39, which is right around the now 41-year-old median age of the American worker. Some workplace killings, but by no means a majority, were part of the infamous chain of unrelated postman killings. Many were workers who thought they had been unjustly passed up for a promotion or fired.

More than half (51.5%) of mass murders were at neither a workplace or a school. Holmes fits into this group, but again he is younger than most killers. The median age for rampage killers that don't commit their crimes at school or work is 35 years old. Many of these murderers, like Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, had a clinically diagnosed mental illness such as schizophrenia.

While we might have visions of mass murderers committing suicide before authorities can capture them, most do not. Of the 165 killings in this dataset, only 65, or 39.4%, took their own lives in the immediate aftermath of the rampage. This number has not gone up or down significantly with time. Age does not seem to impact a shooter's willingness to take their own life either.

Just under half (46.9%) of rampage murders who kill at the workplace took their own lives compared with 36.2% of school or other shootings, but that difference is not statistically significant because of the relatively small sample size. Either way, Holmes' surrender to the police fits in the majority for both mass killing overall and where he is alleged to have carried out the shooting.
Year trend

One clear trend in the data is that these sort of rampage killings seem to, for whatever reason, occur at a greater frequency than ever before. There have been six mass killings in 2012 alone. This trend would make sense if the number of overall murders was also rising, but that's not happening.

It turns out that murders have mostly been on the decline since the early 1990s, despite a rising population. Rampage killings, on the other hand, reached their peak in the late 1990s when the overall number of murders were reaching their lowest point since 1970. In fact, 75% of mass killings since 1960 have taken place in the past 24 years.

What's the cause? That's a big topic of debate. Twelve years ago, the New York Times looked at the data and believed that the rise in killings in the mid-to-late 1990s was because of a relaxation of gun laws. Gun rights proponent and academic John Lott disagreed claiming that the Times simply did not include a lot of data prior to 1995. My own finding concurs that the Times missed data, but that the gap between murders and mass murders from the mid-to-late 1990s onward still exists.

A host of explanations could explain this gap from missing data to relaxed gun laws to luck and everything in-between. More research is needed.

There will be much discussion over James Holmes in the months ahead. The unspeakable crimes he is alleged to have committed was a rare occurrence, but tends to fit the mold of such killings. Holmes was a male who is slightly younger than most assailants, but not overly so. He did not go to school or work at the place of the shooting and surrendered to police.

The big question that will be asked in the weeks and months to come is why are mass shootings maintaining their levels while the overall murder rate is at its lowest level in decades?

Monday, 6 August 2012

Gender and Friendship

Many studies have documented the differences in friendship among men and friendship among women (Bell, 1981; Block, 1980; Fasteau, 1991; Lenz & Myerhoff, 1985; McGill, 1985; Pogrebin, 1987; Rubin, 1985; Sherrod, 1989; Stein, 1986). One of these authors goes so far as to claim that, "there is no social factor more important than that of sex in leading to friendship variations" (Bell, 1981, p. 55). Gender seems to be a main organizer of friendships, and most studies identify three major patterns: (1) friendship between women, (2) friendship between men, and (3) cross-gender friendship. In this article I will briefly review this literature and will also look at friendships between people with and without disabilities.

Women's Friendships

Women typically describe their friendships in terms of closeness and emotional attachment. What characterizes friendships between women is the willingness to share important feelings, thoughts, experiences, and support. Women devote a good deal of time and intensity of involvement to friends. Friendships between women, more so than between men, are broad and less likely to be segmented.
That is, women usually make a deep commitment to their female friends and their friendships usually cover a broad spectrum, while men's friendships tend to be segmented and centered around particular activities (Gouldner & Strong, 1987; Lenz & Myerhoff, 1985; McGill, 1985; Pogrebin, 1987).
History does not celebrate female friendships, and there is a long standing myth that the greatest friendships have been between men. The male friendship is usually portrayed as the most unselfish and perhaps the highest form of human relationship, while women's friendships have been devalued and seen as frivolous and superficial (Bell, 1981; Block, 1980; Fasteau, 1991; Rubin, 1985). A group of women friends is not seen as a team of colleagues, but as the "girls" trooping off to gossip, exchange recipes, and talk about trivia of fashion, cooking, or dieting over tea. Studies indicate that many of these stereotypes about women's friendships still exist.

Men's Friendships

The great friendships recorded in history have been between men, and friendships among men have often been romanticized and idealized. Men's friendships have typically been described in terms of bravery and physical sacrifice in providing assistance to others. Hardly ever do these historical accounts celebrate interpersonal relationships characterized by closeness and compassion for other men. Bell claims that, "This has been so because masculine values have made those kinds of feelings inappropriate and highly suspect--they were unmanly" (1981, p. 75). Despite this historical romanticization of the male friendship, researchers have found that men have significantly fewer friends than women, especially close friendships or best friends (Bell, 1981; Block, 1980; Fasteau, 1991; Smith, 1983).Although the majority of men may not have close friends they do not conduct their lives in isolation. Block (1980) found that most of the men in his study had a variety of same-sex relationships. These include what Block calls "activity friends," such as a weekly tennis partner or drinking buddies; "convenience friends" where the relationship is based on the exchange of favors; and "mentor friends" typically between a younger and an older man.
While women's friendships are usually defined as self-revealing, accepting, and intimate, men usually shy away from intimacy and closeness. Authors identify at least three barriers to close friendships among men: competition between men, traditional masculine stereotypes about "real men," and fear of homosexuality (Fasteau, 1991; McGill, 1985; Miller, 1983).
In a discussion of gender differences in friendship, Sherrod (1989), points out that although men rate their friendship as less intimate than do women, at least in terms of self-disclosure and emotional expressiveness, men's friendships nevertheless serve to buffer stress and reduce depression in the same way that women's friendships do. Sherrod also reports that when men do achieve a high level of intimacy with other men, they usually follow a different path than women, one that emphasizes activities and companionship over self-disclosure and emotional expressiveness.

Friendships Between Men and Women

Studies indicate that male-female friendships are less common than same-gender friendships. This is especially true for married people or couples, where friendships across the gender line are much less common than among single people (Bell, 1981; Block, 1980; Rubin, 1985). Most studies indicate that this is primarily due to possessiveness and jealousy that often characterizes sexual relationships and coupled life (Block, 1980; McGill, 1985; Rubin, 1985).
In his study, Bell (1981) discusses what he describes as an emerging "new pattern" in cross-gender friendship: "Men turn more to women for close relationships, and relationships with other men are less stressed as the only 'real' friendships" (Bell, 1981, p. 112). Rubin (1985) found similar trends. Some of the men in her study describe how a friendship with a woman provides them with nurturance and intimacy, that generally is not available in their friendships with other men. The women in Rubin's study share this view and most of them agree that in their friendships with men, they are the ones who listen and nurture. The vast majority of women, however, report that their friendships with men are less intimate than their relationships with other women. For their most intimate friendships, women turn to each other.

Gender Patterns in Friendships Between People With and Without Disabilities

There are at least two reasons why friendships between people with and without disabilities are seen as important for the person with the disability. First, it is generally assumed that such relationships will serve as the basis for some of the social, emotional, and practical support people with disabilities need in order to become truly integrated into the fabric of everyday community life. Second, many people regard social relationships with ordinary community members as the measure, or even the ultimate goal, of people's integration into community life (Hutchison, 1990; Knoll & Ford, 1987).
As with friendships in the general population, friendships between people with and without disabilities are also organized by gender relations, but instead of three major gender patterns, one pattern seems to be most common: friendship between nondisabled women and people (men and women) with disabilities. Friendship patterns that include nondisabled men seem to be less common.

Women and People with Disabilities

Although there are no conclusive studies available to determine the gender patterns in friendships between people with and without disabilities, the literature indicates strongly that women tend to be overrepresented as friends of people with disabilities (Hutchison, 1990; Kishi, 1988; Krauss, Seltzer, & Goodman, 1992; Peck, Donaldson, & Pezzoli, 1990; Voeltz, 1980, 1982). The expectation that friends of people with disabilities will provide practical, emotional, and social support is probably one reason why women are more inclined to enter such friendships than men. The differences in men's and women's orientation toward friendships in general indicate that women would be more likely than men to provide such support. Women approach friendships in a way that is characterized by acceptance, intimacy, and support. Further, women have traditionally been assigned the role of helper, nurturer, and caretaker. Therefore, establishing a friendship with a person with a disability falls within the realm of women's traditional roles, as well as within the tradition of female friendships.
As part of a qualitative study of women in caring roles, I interviewed and observed nondisabled women in friendships with people with disabilities. The women in this study usually highlighted the emotional aspects when they described their friendships with both women and men with disabilities. These friendships were often characterized by an unusual amount of support provided by the nondisabled women, and the considerable amount of work it usually requires to spend time with their friends. These characteristics set these friendships apart from friendships in the general population, where friendships are likely to have a closer resemblance to the culturally dominant ideal of friendship as a reciprocal relation between equals.
Within friendships in general, reciprocity is viewed as a balance of contribution and benefit; both parties feel that their contribution to the relationship is fairly balanced by what they get out of it. In their account of friendships between women with disabilities and non-disabled women, including the friendship between themselves, Fisher and Galler (1988) write:
Although this marketplace image of social life has been criticized on the grounds that the intimate feelings shared by friends transcend such trade-offs, some desire for reciprocity seems to have played a part in the friendships of all the women we spoke to--as well as in our own (p. 179-180).
The friends in my study also strive for some level of reciprocity in their friendships. Creating such a balance, however, is difficult for people with severe disabilities who need a significant amount of support from their friends.
Most of the women in this study have made a broad commitment to their friends with disabilities. Most of their friends have few means to reciprocate the support other than love, affection, intimacy, and emotional comfort. Because these are qualities women seek and value in their friendships, women will be more likely than men to recognize these as important contributions, which makes it easier, at least for some people with disabilities, to create a balanced friendship with women.

Men and People With Disabilities

Nondisabled men seem to be less likely than their female counterparts to establish friendships with people with disabilities. There are, of course, nondisabled men who have close friendships with people with disabilities (Perske, 1988), but these seem to be the exception rather than the rule. In my study, I found a number of barriers that hinder the establishment of friendships between nondisabled men and people with disabilities, especially the expectation that nondisabled friends will provide emotional support or personal care to their friends with disabilities.Unlike women, men usually have little practice in providing such tending-type assistance. In addition, the taboos around emotional and physical closeness within male friendships can make it difficult for men to provide such assistance to their male friends with disabilities. The fear many heterosexual men have of being thought of as homosexual may also be at work here, as may the fear of being suspected of sexual abuse of a woman friend with disabilities.
During participant observations in human service organizations I encountered a small number of nondisabled men who have established friendships with people with disabilities. The overwhelming majority of these friendships are between men. Like with the women, most of the nondisabled men met their friends through involvement in the field of disabilities. In most instances the nondisabled man is a current or former staff member in service programs serving their friend with the disability.
A large proportion of these nondisabled male friends are nontraditional in some sense, and some of them openly challenge the conventional masculinity. For example, more than half of these men are homosexual, and one of the heterosexual men is very active in the peace movement and fights against militarism and other forms of traditional masculinity. Part of this study took place during the "Desert Storm" operation in the Persian Gulf, and this man was among the leaders in the opposition against this military operation in his community.
Most of the friendships between men with and without disabilities have characteristics similar to friendships between men in the general population. These are typically friendships that center around particular activities, like going to sports events. If the man provides assistance to the friend with the disability, the support is most often of practical nature. The most common support is to provide the friend with transportation to certain events such as church or to sports events. These friendships are usually not broad based or characterized by emotional intimacy. Sometimes a woman introduces the men to each other, and women are often instrumental in keeping the relationship going.


Gender is a major organizer of friendship, both in the general population and in friendship between people with and without disabilities. However, when the gender patterns are compared it becomes apparent that friendship between people with and without disabilities do not follow normative friendship patterns. Instead of the culturally normative pattern where friendships are mostly confined within gender, people with disabilities (males as well as females) who do have friends, tend to have nondisabled women friends.
I have argued that the social organization of friendships between people with and without disabilities is highly gendered, in such a way that women will be more likely, than men, to establish such friendships. When women establish a friendship with a person with a disability they are following a long tradition of women's relationships characterized by caring and nurturance. By the same token, the social construction of friendships between people with and without disabilities creates a number of barriers for nondisabled men in establishing such friendships.

By  Rannveig Traustadottir

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Video: How Hypnosis Helped an Olympic Gold Medalist

How hypnosis and mental attitude helped Billy Mills win gold at the 1964 Olympic games in Tokyo.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Night Terrors Solved by Past Life Regression This is a fascinating piece my Stephanie Riseley detailing the sorts of night terrors/nightmares that can be solved by Past Life Regression. Issues in 'past lives' causing problems in current lives is as baffling as it is interesting, but if the treatment is solving these issues then clearly it is something worthy of consideration.

(What are Night Terrors?)

When Martha, an elegant forty-year-old mother of two from Encino, called she told me that she had “potty mouth” dreams. They embarrassed her because she “swears like a sailor” in her sleep, and she wakes up her children. She’d tried talking therapy, drugs, but nothing had helped her. Another client, a beautiful twenty-four-year old, said she’d had “night terror” dreams all her life; she woke up just screaming in terror, not knowing what she why she was so afraid. After years of trying to get to the source of her problem, her psychiatrist suggested she try a past life regression. Both women did the preliminary work before we did their regressions.

In the first regression, Martha saw her own birth, and was surprised at how much she didn’t like her own mother – all she wanted was to be held by her father. The first regression led her to a life in Sweden, where she refused to forgive her “wife,” and died alone. She then “connected” with her “spirit guide” in the In Between, and asked if he could show her the source of the swearing, and he said “Next time.”

When “next time” came, she “went back in time” to the ‘50s in the San Fernando Valley. “I recognize the terrain,” she said. “It’s the Valley all right. But the houses are just being built. I’m an eight-year-old boy, and it feels as if I’m in the Land of Lost Boys. All we do is run wild, and play all day. It’s so fun! (Very weird for me, because I actually grew up in the ‘50s… in the Valley of the “play all day outside” kids.)

I said, “Go find your parents.”
But she said, “No! I want to go to Bobby’s house.”
I said, “Who’s Bobby?”
“Bobby’s my best friend.” And then she was silent. “Oh, my God! Bobby is my dad! No one calls him Bobby now. He’s Robert.”

So she went to his parents, (her own grandparents in this life!), and she grew up with Bobby, and even double dated with the “girl” who would become her own mother. And he/she didn’t like her then. He graduated high school in 1966, and was drafted into the Vietnam War.

“What’s happening now?” I asked.
“I’m with my men… something’s weird with my feet. I have moldy feet. I’m carrying a machine gun. It’s wet, hot – we’re in the jungle. I don’t know why we’re here. There’s a village up ahead. We shouldn’t be here. There’s only old women and children here. No reason.” Then she grabbed her neck. “I’ve been killed!”
What happened?
“This old lady sliced my throat open! With a machete!”
“Okay,” I said, “now take a minute. Is she still alive? Look around.”
“No! My guys killed her, too.”
“Now, look her in the eye. I want to bow to her as if you were Asian, and ask her forgiveness. You came into her village armed, and she had no choice but to protect it. Ask her forgiveness.”

She asked the woman to forgive her/him and that released a lifetime – and past life – of anger and guilt. The dreams never came back again.

What’s amazing to me is that she was born to her old best friend, Bobby. And because Martha, now a mother herself, saw how it was her own attitude toward her mother that made their relationship difficult, she was able to heal that relationship as well.

For another client, Julia, her dreams had been so terrifying that she’d be nervous about going to sleep. Nothing had helped relieve symptoms, and finally her psychiatrist suggested she come see me. When she “went back in time,” she was in the Middle East somewhere – she wasn’t sure if it was Assyria, Egypt, or it might have been Persia – but she was from the ruling class. She saw herself sitting by an exquisite pool, in a hanging garden. She was a young woman who was about to be married to the ruler’s son. When I asked, “Do you recognize him from anyone you know in this lifetime?”

She said, “It’s Jared!” And that’s her fianc√© in this lifetime. In the “next pivotal experiences,” she saw that she’d married, and had two beautiful children and that her husband was now the ruler. She felt loved and happy. On a great feast day, she said, “Something’s happening. Everyone’s screaming. The men on the horses have broken through the gates of the city.” From whatever neighboring tribe or city they came from, they were clearly out for revenge, because they grabbed her, raped her, and forced her husband to watch. And then they forced her to watch as they murdered her husband and children. She actually didn’t need to see any more of the regression, because she’d seen it again and again in her dreams – but she never had that dream again. And now, three years later, she and Jared are still engaged, still happy and looking forward to having those two children join them once again.