Saturday, 29 September 2012

Night Owls Vs Early Risers: A Difference in Intelligence?

If only my mother had read this article during my school years...

Some people are night owls, and others are morning larks. What makes the difference may be their levels of general intelligence.

Virtually all species in nature, from single-cell organisms to mammals, including humans, exhibit a daily cycle of activity called circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm in mammals is regulated by two clusters of nerve cells called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) in the anterior hypothalamus. Geneticists have by now identified a set of genes that regulate the SCN and thus the circadian rhythm among mammals.

However, humans, unlike other mammalian species, have the unique ability, consciously and cognitively, to override their internal biological clock and its rhythmic outputs. In other words, at least for humans, circadian rhythm is not entirely a matter of genetics. Within broad genetic constraints, humans can choose what time to go to bed and get up. Humans can choose to be night owls or morning larks.

While there are some individual differences in the circadian rhythm, where some individuals are more nocturnal than others, humans are basically a diurnal (day-living) species. Humans rely very heavily on vision for navigation but, unlike genuinely nocturnal species, cannot see in the dark or under little lighting, and our ancestors did not have artificial lighting during the night until the domestication of fire. Any human in the ancestral environment up and about during the night would have been at risk of predation by nocturnal predators.

In the 10-volume compendium The Encyclopedia of World Cultures, which extensively catalogs all human cultures known to anthropology, there is no mention of nocturnal activities in any of the traditional cultures. There are no entries in the index for “nocturnal,” “night,” “evening,” “dark(ness),” and “all-night.” The few references to the “moon” are all religious in character, as in “moon deity,” “Mother Moon (deity),” and “moon worship.” The only exception is the “night courting,” which is a socially approved custom of premarital sex observed among the Danes and the Finns, which are entirely western cultures far outside of the ancestral environment.

Extensive ethnographies corroborate these observations and suggest that people in traditional societies usually rise shortly before dawn and go to sleep shortly after dusk, to take full advantage of the natural light provided by the sun. “Daily activities begin early in a Yanomamö village,” and “despite the inevitable last-minute visiting, things are usually quiet in the village by the time it is dark.” Among the Maasai in Kenya, “the day begins about 6 a.m., when the sun is about to rise,” and “most evenings are spent quietly chatting with family members indoors. If the moon is full then it is possible to see almost as well as during the day, and people take advantage of the light by staying up late and socializing a great deal.” Among the Ache in Paraguay, “after cooking and consuming food, evening is often the time of singing and joking. Eventually band members drift off to sleep, with one or two nuclear families around each fire.”

There is thus no indication in any of the ethnographic evidence that any sustained nocturnal activities occur in traditional societies, other than occasional conversations and singing, in these tribes. It is therefore reasonable to infer that our ancestors must also have limited their daily activities to daylight, and sustained nocturnal activities are largely evolutionarily novel. The Hypothesis would therefore predict that more intelligent individuals are more likely to be nocturnal than less intelligent individuals.

An analysis of a large representative sample of young Americans confirms this prediction. Net of a large number of social and demographic factors, more intelligent children grow up to be more nocturnal as adults than less intelligent children. Compared to their less intelligent counterparts, more intelligent individuals go to bed later on weeknights (when they have to get up at a certain time the next day) and on weekends (when they don’t), and they wake up later on weekdays (but not on weekends, for which the positive effect of childhood intelligence on adult nocturnality is not statistically significant). For example, those with a childhood IQ of less than 75 ("very dull") go to bed around 23:41 on weeknights in early adulthood, whereas those with a childhood IQ of over 125 ("very bright") go to bed around 00:29.

Full Article:

Weekday night
Weekend night
Weekday morning
Weekend morning

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Brain and Religious Experience

The article, “Religious factors and hippocampal atrophy in late life,” by Amy Owen and colleagues at Duke University represents an important advance in our growing understanding of the relationship between the brain and religion. The study, published March 30 in PLoS One, showed greater atrophy in the hippocampus in individuals who identify with specific religious groups as well as those with no religious affiliation. It is a surprising result, given that many prior studies have shown religion to have potentially beneficial effects on brain function, anxiety, and depression.
A number of studies have evaluated the acute effects of religious practices, such as meditation and prayer, on the human brain. A smaller number of studies have evaluated the longer term effects of religion on the brain. Such studies, like the present one, have focused on differences in brain volume or brain function in those people heavily engaged in meditation or spiritual practices compared to those who are not. And an even fewer number of studies have explored the longitudinal effects of doing meditation or spiritual practices by evaluating subjects at two different time points.
In this study, Owen et al. used MRI to measure the volume of the hippocampus, a central structure of the limbic system that is involved in emotion as well as in memory formation. They evaluated the MRIs of 268 men and women aged 58 and over, who were originally recruited for the NeuroCognitive Outcomes of Depression in the Elderly study, but who also answered several questions regarding their religious beliefs and affiliation. The study by Owen et al. is unique in that it focuses specifically on religious individuals compared to non-religious individuals. This study also broke down these individuals into those who are born again or who have had life-changing religious experiences.
The results showed significantly greater hippocampal atrophy in individuals reporting a life-changing religious experience. In addition, they found significantly greater hippocampal atrophy among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again.
The authors offer the hypothesis that the greater hippocampal atrophy in selected religious groups might be related to stress. They argue that some individuals in the religious minority, or those who struggle with their beliefs, experience higher levels of stress. This causes a release of stress hormones that are known to depress the volume of the hippocampus over time. This might also explain the fact that both non-religious as well as some religious individuals have smaller hippocampal volumes.
This is an interesting hypothesis. Many studies have shown positive effects of religion and spirituality on mental health, but there are also plenty of examples of negative impacts. There is evidence that members of religious groups who are persecuted or in the minority might have markedly greater stress and anxiety as they try to navigate their own society. Other times, a person might perceive God to be punishing them and therefore have significant stress in the face of their religious struggle. Others experience religious struggle because of conflicting ideas with their religious tradition or their family. Even very positive, life-changing experiences might be difficult to incorporate into the individual’s prevailing religious belief system and this can also lead to stress and anxiety. Perceived religious transgressions can cause emotional and psychological anguish. This “religious” and “spiritual pain” can be difficult to distinguish from pure physical pain. And all of these phenomena can have potentially negative effects on the brain.
Thus, Owen and her colleagues certainly pose a plausible hypothesis. They also cite some of the limitations of their findings, such as the small sample size. More importantly, the causal relationship between brain findings and religion is difficult to clearly establish. Is it possible, for example, that those people with smaller hippocampal volumes are more likely to have specific religious attributes, drawing the causal arrow in the other direction? Further, it might be that the factors leading up to the life-changing events are important and not just the experience itself. Since brain atrophy reflects everything that happens to a person up to that point, one cannot definitively conclude that the most intense experience was in fact the thing that resulted in brain atrophy. So there are many potential factors that could lead to the reported results. (It is also somewhat problematic that stress itself did not correlate with hippocampal volumes since this was one of the potential hypotheses proposed by the authors and thus, appears to undercut the conclusions.) One might ask whether it is possible that people who are more religious suffer greater inherent stress, but that their religion actually helps to protect them somewhat. Religion is frequently cited as an important coping mechanism for dealing with stress.
This new study is intriguing and important. It makes us think more about the complexity of the relationship between religion and the brain. This field of scholarship, referred to as neurotheology, can greatly advance our understanding of religion, spirituality, and the brain. Continued studies of both the acute and chronic effects of religion on the brain will be highly valuable. For now, we can be certain that religion affects the brain--we just are not certain how.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Does The Internet Ruin Memory?

A new book on memory chronicles how we increasingly rely on technology like flash drives and less on personalized memories. Austen Rosenfeld on whether that makes us less human.

A tourist takes a picture of the Empire State Building on his iPhone, deletes it, then takes another one from a different angle. But what happened to that first image? The delete button on our cameras, phones, and computers is a function we use often without thinking, yet it remains a bizarre concept. Most things in the world don’t just disappear. Not our discarded plastic water bottles. Not the keys to the apartment. Not our earliest childhood memories.
“It is possible that every memory you have ever experienced that made its way into your long-term memory is still buried somewhere in your head,” Michael S. Malone writes in his new book The Guardian of All Things: The Epic Story of Human Memory. It is both a blessing and a curse that we cannot voluntarily erase our memories, Men in Black style. Like it or not, we are stuck with our experiences. It’s just one of the many ways that human beings differ from digital cameras.
Yet, humans are relying more and more on digital cameras and less on our own minds. Malone tells the story of how, over time, humans have externalized their internal memories, unhinging themselves from the experiences they own. The book is a chronological history—from the development of parchment paper, libraries, cameras, to microchips—about how we place increasing trust in technology.
Is it a good thing for electronic devices and the Internet to store our memories for us? When we allow that to happen, who do we become? Will our brains atrophy if we chose not to exercise them? Malone, who is a Silicon Valley reporter, shows us the technological progress, but backs away from deeper philosophical questions. His love for breaking news—the very idea of breakthrough—is apparent, but he fails to address the more distressing implications.
The biology of human memory is largely mysterious. It is one of the remaining brain functions whose location neuroscientists can’t place. Memory neurons are distributed all over the brain, hidden in its gray wrinkles like money behind couch cushions. “What a lark, what a plunge,” opens Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, as Clarissa tosses open her French windows and is transported into her remembered past. “Live in the moment” is a directive we often hear these days in yoga class, but our ability to weave in and out of the past is what makes life interesting and also difficult for humans.
The Neanderthal brain was powerful, but lacking a high-capacity memory, “forever trapped in the now,” according to Malone. The stories, images, and phrases that we turn over in our minds while lying awake in bed were different for them. Neanderthals could receive the stimuli of the world––colors, sounds, smells––but had limited ways to organize or access that information. Even the term Homo sapiens sapiens–––as opposed to the Homo sapiens neanderthalensis––reveals how our brains work differently from our ancestors. Translated from the Latin, it means knowing, knowing man. Not only do we know, but we know that we know. Our self-consciousness, that ability not only to make memories but to recall them, is what defines us.
Short-term memories are created by the synthesis of certain proteins in a cell and long-term memories are created by released magnesium, clearing the way for calcium. Each memory is then imbedded like handprints in concrete. This is what we know about the physical process of memory making. Why a person might remember the meal they ate before their parents announced a divorce, but not the announcement itself, remains a scientific mystery.
The advent of language is intrinsically linked to memory, and many early languages were simply mnemonic devices. They served as a method for sharing memories, an early form of fact-checking that also expands the lifetime of a memory. The Library of Alexandria is an example of a population’s desire to catalog a communal memory and situate it safely outside their own transient bodies. From stone, clay tablets, papyrus, parchment, vellum, and rice paper, changing media for chronicling memory also change memory-making itself.
The ancient Romans even had a discipline called Ars Memorativa, or the art of memory. They honored extraordinary acts of memorization, just as they honored extraordinary feats in battle, and Cicero excelled at this. Memorization was an art that could be honed using geometric patterns, imaginary structures and landscapes.
The invention of computer memory changes everything. We now have “Moore’s Law,” the notion that memory chips will double in performance every 18 months. Memory receptacles continue to decrease in size while our memories accumulate daily. Because of growing access to the Internet, Malone argues that individualized memory matters less and less. Schoolchildren today take open-book tests or with a calculator. “What matters now is not one’s ownership of knowledge, but one’s skill at accessing it and analyzing it,” he writes. However, something is lost when we easily consult the oracle for answers. We have unlimited access to a wealth of information, yet little of it belongs to us.
Human beings have a notion of self, a subjective world particular to us, thanks to our highly complicated and individualized brains that Malone compares to “the roots and branches of a tree.” We own our own hardware, and we all remember differently. The Internet offers us access to information, but it is really a part of the external world of colors and sounds that even Neanderthals could receive. A world in which all our memories are stored on electronic devices and all our answers can be found by Googling is a world closer to the Neanderthal’s than to a high-tech, utopian future. I don’t remember when I first learned the word déjà vu but I do remember the shirt I wore on the first day of 9th grade. Memory is a tool, but it can also teach us about what we think is important. Human memory is a way for us to learn about ourselves.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Video: All Kids Are Born Genius But...

Friday, 21 September 2012

Psychology of Human Behaviour

According to Sigmund Freud, (1856-1939), human beings are just mechanical creatures, whom he views as prisoners of primitive instincts and powers, which we can barely control. He states that our purpose is to control these instincts and powers.

His Life

Living from 1856 to 1939, numerous scientific discoveries took place during his life. When Freud was still young, Darwins 'The Origins of Species" was published, and Fechner came up with the underlying basics of psychology.

Developments such as these had a tremendous effect on Freud's thoughts, yet the German, Helmholtz, was probably the person who had the greatest influence on Freud's way of thinking by drawing up the law of preservation of energy. This discovery is most likely the reason Freud started looking at people as a closed system of psychic energy that is floating between the conscious and the unconscious part of the human spirit.

The iceberg

"The soul is like an iceberg; it contains a conscious part and an unconscious part."

Freud explained these concepts by comparing the human spirit to an iceberg. The visible part of the iceberg (spirit) is the conscious part, which consists of everything we know and remember and the thinking processes through which we function.

The unconscious part is made up of everything we have ever learned or experienced, including that which has been "forgotten". A part of these forgotten things are really gone, but the largest part of the unconscious has just been shut out, because it would be annoying to be consciously reminded of it.

The influences of Helmholtz are also visible at other points. According to Freud, the material in the unconscious contains psychic energy. This psychic energy is constantly trying to get into the conscious part, while the conscious part keeps using energy to suppress undesirable discoveries. An expression of unknown powers is, for example, slips of the tongue. These expressions show that our unconscious was not strong enough to keep these powers outside the conscious part.

Id, Ego and Superego

Now we are going back to the theory of the id, the ego and the superego. The spirit of a newborn child just has an id, the instinctive incentives and reflexes that the human beings have developed during the last centuries. The only function of the id is to respond to the incentives. The ego develops itself from the id and from the discovery that the behavior of the id can have tedious results. The superego, a result of a person's socialization, is basically just the conscience, which mediates between needs of the id and the ego. When you are getting older, you start to develop more and more values.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

10 Things You Must Give Up To Move Forward

If you want to fly and move on to better things, you have to give up the things that weigh you down – which is not always as obvious and easy as it sounds.
Starting today, give up…
  1. Letting the opinions of others control your life. – People know your name, not your story.  They’ve heard what you’ve done, but not what you’ve been through.  So take their opinions of you with a grain of salt.  In the end, it’s not what others think, it’s what you think about yourself that counts.  Sometimes you have to do exactly what’s best for you and your life, not what’s best for everyone else.
  2. The shame of past failures. – You will fail sometimes, and that’s okay.  The faster you accept this, the faster you can get on with being brilliant.  Your past does not equal your future.  Just because you failed yesterday; or all day today; or a moment ago; or for the last six months; or for the last sixteen years, doesn’t have any impact on the current moment.  All that matters is what you do right now.  Read Awaken the Giant Within.
  3. Being indecisive about what you want. – You will never leave where you are until you decide where you would rather be.  It’s all about finding and pursuing your passion.  Neglecting passion blocks creative flow.  When you’re passionate, you’re energized.  Likewise, when you lack passion, your energy is low and unproductive.  Energy is everything when it comes to being successful.  Make a decision to figure out what you want, and then pursue it passionately.
  4. Procrastinating on the goals that matter to you. – There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.  Follow your intuition.  Don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do.  When there is love and inspiration, you can’t go wrong.  And whatever it is you want to do, do it now.  There are only so many tomorrows.  Trust me, in a year from now, you will wish you had started today.
  5. Choosing to do nothing. – You don’t get to choose how you are going to die, or when.  You can only decide how you are going to live, right now.  Every day is a new chance to choose.  Choose to change your perspective.  Choose to flip the switch in your mind from negative to positive.  Choose to turn on the light and stop fretting about with insecurity and doubt.  Choose to do work that you are proud of.  Choose to see the best in others, and to show your best to others.  Choose to truly LIVE, right now.
  6. Your need to be right. – If you keep on saying you’re right, even if you are right now, eventually you will be wrong.  Aim for success, but never give up your right to be wrong.  Because when you do, you will also lose your ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  7. Running from problems that should be fixed. – We make life harder than it has to be.  The difficulties started when… conversations became texting, feelings became subliminal, sex became a game, the word ‘love’ fell out of context, trust faded as honesty waned, insecurities became a way of living, jealously became a habit, being hurt started to feel natural, and running away from it all became our solution.  Stop running!  Face these issues, fix the problems, communicate, appreciate, forgive and LOVE the people in your life who deserve it.
  8. Making excuses rather than decisions. – Life is a continuous exercise in creative problem solving.  A mistake doesn’t become a failure until you refuse to correct it. Thus, most long-term failures are the outcome of people who make excuses instead of decisions.
  9. Overlooking the positive points in your life. – What you see often depends entirely on what you’re looking for.  Do your best and surrender the rest.  When you stay stuck in regret of the life you think you should have had, you end up missing the beauty of what you do have.  You will have a hard time ever being happy if you aren’t thankful for the good things in your life right now.  Read The Happiness Project.
  10. Not appreciating the present moment. – We do not remember days, we remember moments.  Too often we try to accomplish something big without realizing that the greatest part of life is made up of the little things.  Live authentically and cherish each precious moment of your journey.  Because when you finally arrive at your desired destination, I guarantee you, another journey will begin.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Science of Stress

Dermatologists know that stress can cause hair to fall out, acne to break out, and many other problems. These manifestations of stress can cause even more anxiety. Stress causes cortisol levels to increase within the body, which increases oil production, which causes acne breakouts. Getting more exercise, obtaining proper rest, and caring for skin are three basic steps to counteract these problems.

Ever notice how you always get a pimple before a big date? It's not a coincidence! Dermatologists have found when you're stressed out, your body releases a hormone called cortisol.'I swear, my kids are giving me gray hairs! And I'm cursed! I always get a pimple on my nose before a party!' Is it all in your head? Maybe not! There actually may be some science to those old wives tales.

"When cortisol levels increase, oil production increases and sometimes that will cause acne in patients that have never even had acne before," Flor Mayoral, M.D., a dermatologist in South Miami, Fla., told Ivanhoe.

As if acne wasn't bad enough, stress can cause your hair to fall out too! "When people are stressed out, your body also responds by taking a time out, and we really do not need hair," Dr. Mayoral explains.

Men and women can develop alopecia -- bald spots of hair in the beard or scalp -- when they're under stress.

Nervous habits like twirling your hair can also pull hairs out, causing bald spots.

"And then when the hair grows back, sometimes it grows in as gray hairs," Dr. Mayoral says. So it's true ý stress does cause gray hairs! Another nervous habit can turn ugly'

"When they're not thinking about it, they are picking at their nail and they actually damage the growth plate of the nail and the nail grows in with a ridge in the middle of it," Dr. Mayoral says.

Stay ahead of stress by taking better care of yourself during tough or hectic times. "Sometimes people meditate to help them deal with stress," Dr. Mayoral says. "Exercising is a wonderful way to deal with stress. It releases endorphins and it helps people relax."

Also, avoid hot showers and use detergent-free soap. See your dermatologist if the condition persists, but don't get stressed! After all, that will only make it worse!

Dr. mayoral says when adults suddenly develop acne, it is usually in response to stress. Physical stress like disease, injury or pregnancy, can also cause these stress-related hair and skin reactions.

STRESS AND SKIN: Stress stimulates the body to release a hormone called cortisol, which promotes the release of oil by the skin. This increase in oil is what encourages acne to develop. Ways to help minimize the effect of stress on skin include avoiding extra hot showers, applying moisturizer after bathing, and using sunscreen.

STRESS-REDUCING TIPS: There are some easy, practical things humans can do to reduce the amount of stress in their lives. (1) Be realistic and don't try to be perfect, or expect others to be so. (2) Don't over-schedule; cut out an activity or two when you start to feel overwhelmed. (3) Get a good night's sleep. (4) Get regular exercise to manage stress -- just not excessive or compulsive exercise -- and follow a healthy diet. (5) Learn to relax by building time into your schedule for reading or a nice long bath. 

(Or what about hypnosis?)

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Hypnosis To Find A Lost Item

Hypnosis can be used for a great many things, as this blog is testament to, but one of the things that doesn't get much publicity is using hypnosis to find lost and forgotten things...
The below is a section taken from an article in the Star Advertiser by Diane Ako, who went to see the hypnotherapist, and good friend of mine, John Brent Koffman at his Honolulu clinic Body And Mind (BAM).

I lost a file at work recently. It wasn't costly or confidential, but it did represent some hours of research that I did not feel like recreating.

I looked around my desk a few times over several weeks. I looked at home. I couldn't find it.
I was complaining to a friend, Brent, about these forgetful episodes. Again, I'm usually very good about certain things, and keeping track of my things is one of them.

His superpower is to hypnotize people, so he offered to do that for me to retrace my steps and find the file. Sure, I said. Let's try.

If you've never done hypnosis, here is how it goes. You sit or lie down comfortably while he speaks to you in a calming voice. First he asks you to imagine a comfortable scene, and then he counts you down from ten to one. You get sleepier as you count down. It feels like the wave of relaxation that sweeps over your body just before you fall asleep.

Then he asked me to think about the day, in detail, of when I took possession of the file - before, during, and after. I wasn't to think too hard about the answer, but just say what came to me. Sometimes I couldn't remember the answer, and we just moved on. It felt like looking at a hazy dream.

At the end of the half hour, I still hadn't recalled where I put the file. He still said I did a good job with some very detailed recall from a date two weeks ago, and that my brain would continue to sift through the subconscious data and maybe come up with the answer later. He likened it to how you might not remember someone's name right away, but it'll come to you later out of the blue.

We parted ways and I went back to work. Not five minutes later, I decided to check a certain place on my desk that I hadn't thought to look before. There it was! Brent is amazing!

I went into the session with faith and optimism that it would work. I came out a little bummed that I hadn't recalled the location of the lost folder, but believed him when he said I would continue subconsciously thinking about it. I just didn't think it would come to me so quickly!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Why Do I Like The Music That I Like?

Why do I like the music I like? What does your taste in music say about your personality?

I've often wondered why certain songs induce shivers up my spine, whilst others have absolutely no effect. After thinking long and hard about why this might happen, I came up with the following ideas, described below. I’d love to hear your opinions and insights on this subject too and look forward to reading them in the 
comments section below.

Sometimes we like songs because they reflect our current mood or stage in life

song that has lyrics that are so applicable and true to your life, is more likely to send shivers up your spine. It’s the shivers linked to the excitement and adrenaline rush. For others they may get tears coming to their eyes. I believe this could be the result of someone else “getting it” and expressing what often, we find hard to express ourselves. In a way, by listening to someone else express what we are feeling, we express it 

A song without lyrics can also have a similar effect if the emotions in your life right now are strongly reflected by the emotions that the music evokes.
With songs that reflect our current mood or stage in life, at some point, we’ll move on to a new mood or life stage, and that song will cease to remain quite that meaningful to us. Instead it become a nostalgic song that reminds us of a certain time we once lived through.
Sometimes we like songs because they resonate with our personality
Music that never ceases to move you, no matter what mood you’re in, or what stage of your life you’re at, is more likely to be music that is in line with your personality.
I think that the music-linked-emotions that excite you consistently, reveal what you admire or strive towards in life. Let me explain what I mean with a few examples:
  • If you’re moved by epic film music which builds up dramatically to a shiver-inducing climax, it may indicate that your personality is drawn towards the “build-up”; the dramatic climb towards success.
  • If you love music with a strong regular beat, perhaps it could mean that in life, you like things to have regular routine. Regular and strong, like the beat of a drum. It also reminds us of the beat of the heart, and being alive, so I would suggest that listening to such music helps us feel “more alive”, whether we need this boost because we’re usually quite restrained, or whether we live life to the full already and it expresses this part of ourselves well.
  • If you’re moved by soft and gentle music, it may indicate that you yourself are a gentle soul. If you admire gentleness in music form, I think it’s quite likely that you will admire gentleness in people too.
  • If you’re moved by vocal harmonies (eg choir music): I think this symbolizes the beauty of teamwork; of people working together and of social integration. It could imply that one of the things you particularly admire in life is the social side of things.
  • If you adore angry-sounding punk music, perhaps this helps you express latent anger you have, so listening to this kind of music makes you feel better and lighter for having gotten it “off your chest” through others.
  • If you quite enjoy melancholic  tracks, perhaps there is a side of you that quite enjoys wallowing sometimes in the feeling of “poor me..” or for others, maybe it helps them get the melancholia out of their system through listening to it expressed in others.
  • If you are really drawn to instrumental solos, I think what this says about you depends on the instrument.
    Piano music: Although it depends on what kind of piano music you like, usually I would associate it with soft, gentle sounds, with a meaning which is quite similar to the “soft and gentle music” explanation above. A piano piece is also pure in that it is made of just one instrument. Perhaps it could mean that you admire things in their pure state. It is also an instrument played solo. Perhaps this could reflect a side of you which can enjoy being an independent lone wolf at times.
    Acoustic guitar: This has a folky feel, often with quite a simple sound (just guitar and voice). The sound is soft and gentle, and often a little subdued (as opposed to the heavy beats of dance music or the shouts of punk music), reflecting these qualities in your personality.
    Loud electric guitar: I associate a loud electric guitar with enthusiasm and quite intense feelings.
  • If you love loud music (whichever type it is) I think this helps heighten your own emotions, whatever they may be, so it shows a joy of being able to express yourself, and a joy of basking in the *feeling*. Sometimes it can be a desire to express a side of yourself you wish you had (eg the teenager that cranks up the volume on a song he believes gives him the image he thinks is cool and attractive, even if it isn’t in line with who he really is).
I really believe that everything we like and respond to in life has more significance that it may seem. The above are just my hypotheses based on the fact that they fit with a lot of the people I know.  What do you think the music you like says about you? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Mistakes Introverts Make

Article by Sophia Dembling from The Introvert's Corner

We are all so very wonderful and yet--I'm sorry, but it must be said--we are not perfect. This blog has focused mostly on staking out turf in our culture for introverts, but now it's time to consider some things related to our introversion that might be interfering with our relationships and accomplishments. Many or most of us have probably made some of these mistakes at one time or another. I certainly have.

Isolating: Sure, some people need more social interaction than others, but we all need some. Too much isolation is not healthy. I know it's time to leave the house when I start feeling gloomy in my solitude, or like I'm getting weird. Weird is subjective, but when going to the supermarket feels like a major excursion, when I start worrying that I may have lost the ability to converse, when I get furious at near-strangers in my online social networks, I know it's time to for face time. I call a friend, do lunch, attend a party...anything to get my social gears cranking again. It needn't be anything deep and meaningful. Just a little something to reconnect me.

Not returning phone calls: Yes, we hate the phone, and it's OK to ask that people respect and honor this. But that doesn't give us carte blanche to ignore phone calls. When someone you care about calls--even if you let it go to voicemail to deal with later--you really should respond at some point. If necessary, drop an e-mail and schedule the call. Otherwise, pick up the phone and dial. You can do it.
OK, if someone obstinately refuses any other form of communication and insists on frequent time-sucking phone calls, then you get some leeway to make your point. Otherwise, be nice. (I learned this lesson after hurting the feelings of a very dear friend.)

Plunging into the deep end: As much as we prefer deep conversation, plunging straight into your worldview over the onion dip at a party can be off-putting to others. Start shallow and ease into the deep if the conversation continues. If you're looking for friends, remember that insta-friendships are rare, and rushing the conversation isn't a shortcut. Friendships build incrementally, and they start with small talk.

Letting your mouth run away with you: Ah, the dreaded babble. It happens. Lots of us chatter when we're nervous. Shy introverts might be prone to this. It's like running down a hill; once you get started, it's hard to slow down. But it also might happen when the subject is something you are particularly passionate about. Either you get caught up in your own enthusiasm, or you burrow deep into your own knowledge and forget to check audience reaction.
If you suddenly realize you've careened into a long monologue, take a breath and look around. Do people appear rapt? Then continue. Do they look slightly pained? My favorite line at that point is, "But don't get me started...." Cue laughter, everything's fine.

Confusing introversion and fear: We all must do things we don't like. That's life. But if you find that you can't bring yourself to do certain things-return a phone call, attend a gathering, join a conversation-then what you're feeling may be fear, not introversion. Fear is a useful emotion, of course, with deep evolutionary roots. But if it interferes with your life and you find yourself regretting things not done, maybe it's time to rummage around in your psyche (one of our favorite activities!) to figure out what you're scared of and how to change that.

Judging: Some introverts insist that parties are pointless, chit-chat is a waste of time, and extroverts are shallow. I neither share nor endorse those opinions. Parties can be joyous, and community ritual has been important throughout history. Chit-chat connects us and greases the gears of society. And while I'm sure some extroverts are shallow, as I'm sure some introverts are (thinking deeply about yourself only does not make you a deep person), a blanket dismissal of extroverts is bigoted and, well, shallow.
Just 'cause I don't like something doesn't mean it's bad.

Sophia's book, The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, is available on Amazon

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Video: The Power of Nightmares

Friday, 7 September 2012

Dreams FAQ

What is a dream? How is the word "dream" defined?
The word "dream" has four interrelated meanings that follow one from another. When we put them altogether, we know what a dream is.

First, a "dream" is a form of thinking that occurs when (a) there is a certain, as yet undetermined, minimal level of brain activation, and (b) external stimuli are blocked from entry into the mind, and(c) the system we call the "self system" (the "I," the "me") is shut down. This may seem overly complicated, but it is worded this way because we don't just dream during sleep, but also on some occasions in very relaxed waking states when we "drift off" and suddenly realize we have been dreaming. Two careful studies have shown that people are awake (by EEG criteria) during these episodes. (The fact that we don't need to be asleep in order to dream may have some important implications. For example, it favors a "cognitive" theory of dreams over theories that talk about neurophysiological or neurochemical changes during sleep that supposedly produce dreams.

Second, a "dream" is something we "experience" because the thinking is very real and makes use of our senses -- especially seeing and hearing; because usually we are the main actor; and because a dream is sometimes very emotional (but not always).

Third, a "dream" is what we remember in the morning, so it is "a memory" of the dreaming experience.

Fourth, a "dream" can also mean the spoken or written "report" we give to others about that experience, which is the only way anyone else can ever know about another person's dreams (because they can't be seen by others or told about by us while they are happening).

So, to sum it all up, we can think of a "dream" as a report of a memory of a cognitive experience that happens under the kinds of conditions that are most frequently produced in a state called "sleep." But if you want it to be more simple, you can think of dreams as the little dramas our minds make up when the "self" system is not keeping us alert to the world around us.

Why do we dream? Do dreams have a function or "purpose"?
No one knows for sure. Click here for further discussion.

How often do we dream, and when?
Most people over the age of 10 dream at least 4 to 6 times per night during a stage of sleep called REM (for Rapid Eye Movements, a distinguishing characteristic of this stage of sleep). During REM periods our brains become as active as they are during waking, although not all parts of the brain are reactivated (the parts of the brain that are reactivated in REM are discussed in Chapter 1 of Domhoff's The Scientific Study of Dreams (2003)). REM periods vary in length from 5 to 10 minutes for the first REM period of the night to as long as 30-34 minutes later in the night. It thus seems likely that dreams can be a half hour or more in length.

There is also evidence that we can dream in non-REM sleep in the hour or two before waking up, when the brain has become more activated than it was earlier in the night. That's why we said that we dream "at least" 4 to 6 times per night.

But there are further qualifications that need to be added. Sometimes we can have dreamlike moments during waking if we are in a relaxed state of mind and not noticing anything in our surroundings, as demonstrated in two different studies of people awake in slightly darkened rooms who were signaled at random intervals to say what was going through their minds. And the investigators knew these people were awake because their brain wave activity was being monitored via EEG. So, it may be that we dream any time that the following conditions are met: (1) an adequate level of brain activation; (2) a shutting out of external stimuli; and (3) a shutting down of the self-awareness system that helps focus our minds when we are awake.

One final note: We said that these findings refer to "people over the age of 10." That's because two important studies suggest that children under age 10 only dream in about 20% of their REM periods (again, see Domhoff, 2003).

In summary, we can dream in REM or non-REM sleep, and perhaps even during waking, but we also can have REM sleep without dreaming.

Do all dreams contain a hidden meaning?

That question doesn't have a definitive answer. Some people would say yes, and we'd have no way of proving them right or wrong. Some dreams may well contain "hidden" meanings in the form of metaphors or symbols, but an awful lot of dreams are just mundane "doodles" taken from the events of our lives.

I keep having this one dream that repeats over and over. Should I be concerned?

No, most people have recurring dreams of one kind or another. Furthermore, there's much more repetition in dream content than most theorists realize. For further information on the "repetition principle" in dreams, click here.

I had a dream that I was being chased or attacked. What's going on?

No one knows for sure, but if it is any solace, almost everyone has such dreams.

Are dreams influenced by fears or stress? Any other factors?

Most definitely. Dreams often express our current concerns and preoccupations; we call this "the continuity hypothesis." If you are nervous about studying for finals, you may have nervous dreams on the same topic. Dreams are not always about negative preoccupations, though. If you have a crush on someone, it is likely that you will dream about them; if you love basketball, you're more likely to dream about it than someone who doesn't follow the sport.

Do drugs influence dreaming?

At the least, they often make dreams more vivid and scary, as seen best when L-dopa is given to those suffering from Parkinson's Disease. However, there are no large-scale studies showing if and how specific drugs may influence dream content. For an interesting pilot study on how an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) affected the dreams of a young woman suffering from anxiety attacks, along with references to past studies, click here.

Do animals dream too?

We can never know for sure. All we can measure is whether or not they have REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is more or less associated with dreams. All mammals have REM sleep, but that doesn't prove that they dream. Humans don't always dream during REM (and what's more, some dreams happen outside of REM). For more information, look up the following informative article by David Foulkes:

Foulkes, D. (1983). Cognitive processes during sleep: Evolutionary aspects. In A. Mayes (Ed.), Sleep mechanisms and functions in humans and animals: An evolutionary perspective (pp. 313-337). Wokington, UK: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Do blind people dream? If so, what are their dreams like?

Yes, blind people dream, and it is a testimony to the highly visual nature of most people's dreams that this question gets asked. For a paper that provides information on the dreams of one group of blind people, along with references to most of the literature on blind people and dreams, click here.

What are the dreams of children like?

If sleep lab studies where children are awakened throughout the night can be trusted -- and we think they can -- then children's dreams are less frequent and more bland than popular stereotypes suggest. But children are probably pretty good dreamers by the 5th grade. To see some samples of dreams from children of various ages, look in the DreamBank. To read a study of the dreams of 7th grade boys and girls, click here.

Are dreams collected in a sleep lab very different from those remembered at home (presumably because people are "on guard" in the lab)?

We once thought so, but several studies showed otherwise, and then we did a reanalysis of some of Hall's early data on the question that showed very little difference. Click here to read the analysis.

I've been writing down my dreams. What's a good way to study them that doesn't involve scary statistical analysis or flaky stuff about symbolism?

Calvin S. Hall developed a good and simple method based on themes. Click here to read an article about it.

Why don't I remember more dreams?

There's no one final answer so far, just several little ones. Keep reading to learn more.

Why are dreams so forgettable?

It seems likely that all of us forget 95-99% of our dreams for the very ordinary reason that we sleep right through them and aren't paying attention to remembering anything. One dream researcher suggests that it's similar to when you are doing something that doesn't take much concentration, such as driving on an open road, so you are not paying attention to what you are doing.

Can you predict who will recall a lot of dreams and who won't?

In studies that compare people who recall several dreams a week with those who recall one a month or less, the biggest difference is that the people who recall have a greater interest in dreams and therefore a greater motivation to pay attention to them. For some reason, these people have decided that their dreams are worth remembering. Sometimes it is because they had one that seemed to come true, or one that fascinated them. The main reason we know "interest" and "motivation" are important is the high recallers say on surveys that they think dreams are important. But we also know it because some low recallers are stimulated to recall when they read about dreams or take a class on them.

Are there other mental or personality factors that influence rate of recall?

Some low recallers seem to be less good at tasks involving visual imagination, such as when they have to look at a picture of a building made of blocks and then construct one out of blocks that are sitting in front of them. There may be other "cognitive skills" relating to the ability to imagine things that are important, too, but the research is not yet completely convincing on this point.

As far as personality factors, which many people might think to be the main factor, studies using several personality tests don't show either large or consistent relationships. Nor is there any evidence that some people are too "defensive" or "repressed" to remember their dreams. Several studies are pretty convincing on that point.

What does it mean if someone recalls an excessive number of dreams, or no dreams at all?
In extreme cases of excessive dream recall, or no dream recall at all, there may be chemical imbalances at work. We think we know this because some medications lead people to report to physicians that they are remembering more dreams, and that the dreams are very vivid and realistic, and sometimes very scary.

In extreme cases of no recall, still another thing may be going on. These people may be dreaming very little or not at all. That probably sounds unlikely to most of you who heard growing up that everyone dreams at least during the four or five Rapid Eye Movement (REM) periods of the night. But the people who did that research in the 1950s and early 1960s may have jumped the gun a little because they hadn't studied the full range of people. Based on recent studies, including one using low recallers who were very low on visuospatial skills, it now seems probable again that some people don't dream.

Moreover, some people who suffer lesions in specific parts of the brain are known to lose their ability to dream for varying periods of time. These unusual cases show that it is possible to have the usual amount of REM sleep -- about 20-25% of the night -- and not dream. And to be mentally healthy without ever dreaming.

Young children don't seem to recall many dreams. Why is that?

There's evidence, based on over 1,000 awakenings during REM sleep in a laboratory setting, that children under age 9 just don't dream that much. Some people claim that their young children dream a lot, based on verbalizations they make during sleep, but this may just be "sleeptalking." We all have several little awakenings of a few seconds each night that we don't remember in the morning, and that may be when preschool children are doing some of the mumbling that is mistaken for dreams.

Can you recommend some good sources for learning more about dreams and dream recall?
David Cohen, Sleep and Dreaming, Pergamon Press, 1979
G. William Domhoff, Finding Meaning in Dreams, Plenum Press, 1996, chapter 3.
David Foulkes, Children's Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness, Harvard University Press, 1999.
Mark Solms, The Neuropsychology of Dreaming, Erlbaum Associates, 1997.

What about non-scientific, "popular" sources?
Sorry, but we know of no "popular" books that are informative and accurate on this topic.

Can dreams predict the future?
No. We haven't seen any solid scientific evidence to support any age-old parapsychological claims about dreams, such as precognition, clairvoyance, or telepathy. Click here for a detailed account of the problems with paranormal research.

Can you die when you dream?

No; or rather, you're no more likely to die while dreaming than any other time. The rumor that "if you die in your dreams, you'll really die" is completely false. In fact, some "dying" dreams can actually be pleasant; see the following reference for more information:

Barrett, D. (1988). Dreams of death. Omega: Journal of Death & Dying, 19, 95-101.

Where can I find a list of dream symbols and what they mean?

There are many such lists, but we don't trust them. This is not to say that dreams don't have symbolic meaning; rather, everyone has their own set of symbols. We cannot endorse any claims by those who think they can analyze a single dream (or dreamer) on the basis of the objects contained therein. For an excellent article that traces the origins of dubious American "dream code" books back to the second century A.D. in Italy and Greece, see the following reference:

Weiss, H. B. (1944). Oneirocritica Americana. Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 48, 519-541. Reprinted in M. F. DeMartino (Ed.). (1959). Dreams and Personality Dynamics (pp. 29-44). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

What do you think about the idea that there are symbols in dreams?
If you mean symbols that have one set meaning or foretell the future, we don't think there are such symbols (see above). Nor do we think that symbols provide a "disguise" for forbidden wishes, as Freud claimed. If there are symbols in dreams -- and that's a big "if" because there are as yet no convincing studies -- they are probably based on the same types of "figurative thought" used in waking life to create metaphors ("cross that bridge when you come to it," "don't burn your bridges") and slang ("she's a fox," "he's an ass"). For a serious paper by Hall that criticizes Freud's theory of dream symbols and presents a metaphoric theory that attempts to explain some -- and only some -- dream elements, click here

What's your best guess as to a comprehensive theory that explains dreams?

No one has developed a "perfect" theory yet. For Calvin S. Hall's cognitive theory of dreams from 1953 -- which is a very good start -- click here. For our more recent and comprehensive neurocognitive theory of dreams, click here.

What's your take on Freud and Jung's theories?

They were creative and plausible for their time, and they showed that dreams are a psychological phenomenon that has meaning, but systematic research does not support their specific claims. For a summary of our view, click here.

What about the activation-synthesis theory; i.e., that dreams are just the reaction to brainstem activation, and therefore without inherent meaning?

We very much doubt this theory based on a variety of findings. Click here for a critique of activation-synthesis theory (among others).

What do you think of Patricia Garfield's ideas about "Universal" dreams?

Not much. For Bill Domhoff's detailed critique of her 29 categories, click here.

Is there anything to Ernest Hartmann's claims about "contextualizing images" in his book on Dreams and Nightmares (1998)?

We think much more research is needed on the idea with a more reliable coding system than is being used now. This is especially so for the coding of emotions in dreams. Click here for a detailed critique of Hartmann's methods.

Enjoy reading about dreams? Here are some more articles from this blog:

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

What Is Shock?


The most important distinction to make between the different forms of shock, is between psychological (or mental) shock and physiological (or circulatory) shock:
  • Psychological shock can occur after a physically or emotionally traumatic experience but it effects your state of mind (although this can give you symptoms such as palpitations and feeling faint, it doesn’t usually lead to serious physical collapse).
  • Physiological shock is a dramatic reduction in blood flow that, if left untreated, can lead to collapse, coma and even death.

The most common symptoms of shock include:
  • A fast, weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Feeling faint, weak or nauseous.
  • Dizziness.
  • Cold, clammy skin.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing.
  • Blue lips.
Causes and risk factors

There are various types of shock with varying causes.

Psychological shock:
This may be caused by:
  • Hearing bad news, such as the death of a loved one.
  • Being involved in a traumatic event, such as an accident.
  • Being the victim of crime, violent or otherwise.

While psychological shock is less likely to kill you than physiological shock, its effects can persist for years and cause immense disruption.

Mild shocks leave you feeling stunned for a while, absorbed in your thoughts and unable to focus on anything else. After a while, though, the brain gets the event in perspective and normal life resumes.

However, especially if the shock is more profound, some people find it harder to return to normal, and may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This tends to affect people in one of three ways:
  • Intrusion - the event is constantly replayed in the mind.
  • Avoidance – the person feels numb, retreats from normal emotions and activities, and may use alcohol and drugs as a form of 'self-medication'.
  • Increased arousal – the person is left angry, and prone to irritable behaviour.
It's essential that PTSD is recognised and treated properly because the earlier it's treated, the greater the chance it can be cured.
Physiological shock:

This type of shock can be caused by:
  • Severe bleeding.
  • Pulmonary embolus (a blood clot in the lungs).
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Spinal injury.
  • Poisoning.
There are also specific types of physiological shock, with very particular symptoms.
Cardiogenic shock:
Cardiogenic shock occurs when the heart is severely damaged - by a major heart attack, for example - and is no longer able to pump blood around the body properly, causing very low blood pressure. This develops after about eight per cent of heart attacks.

It can be difficult to treat, but drugs may be given to make the heart beat stronger. This may be enough to bring someone through the worst until the heart can mend itself, but cardiogenic shock is still fatal in as many as eight out of ten cases.

New treatments to 'revascularise' or restore blood flow to the heart muscle are improving survival rates.
Septic shock:

This occurs when an overwhelming bacterial infection causes blood pressure to drop. It's fatal in more than 50 per cent of cases.

Although it’s caused by bacterial infection, treating septic shock with antibiotics is far from simple, because the bacteria release massive amounts of toxin when they are killed off, which initially makes the shock worse.

It must always be treated in hospital where the correct drugs and fluid support can be given.

One type of septic shock is toxic shock syndrome - a rare but severe illness caused by certain strains of the bacteriaStaphylococcus aureus.
Anaphylactic shock:

Anaphylactic shock is a severe allergic reaction. Common triggers include bee and wasp stings, nuts, shellfish, eggs, latex and certain medications, including penicillin.

Symptoms include:
  • Burning and swelling of the lips and tongue.
  • Difficulty breathing (like in an asthma attack).
  • Red, itchy or blistered skin, sneezing.
  • Watery eyes.
  • Nausea.
  • Anxiety.
Anaphylaxis requires urgent treatment in hospital. People at risk should always carry an emergency anaphylaxis treatment kit that includes adrenaline.
Treatment and recovery

If you're with someone who goes into shock, prompt treatment can make all the difference:
  • Lay the person flat and raise their legs by at least 25cm to help restore blood pressure (note that in anaphylactic shock, if the person is conscious but having trouble breathing, it's better to sit them up).
  • Stop any bleeding by applying direct pressure over the wound or a tourniquet on extreme limb injuries (it's harmful to stop the blood flow to a limb for more than 10-15 minutes).
  • Administer anaphylaxis treatment if necessary.
  • Loosen tight clothing.
  • Keep the person warm with layers of blankets (not a hot water bottle).
  • Don't give them anything to eat or drink because of the risk of vomiting.
  • Call an ambulance as soon as possible.
By Dr Trisha Macnair