A psychologist explains why materialism is making you unhappy


Source: https://www.vox.com/2014/12/24/7447727/materialism-psychology



Materialists lead unhappier lives — and are worse to the people around them. And it seems that social media might be fueling materialistic attitudes, too. This is all according to a fascinating interview the American Psychological Association posted in 2014 with Knox College psychologist Tim Kasser, whose research focuses on materialism and well-being.

Here are the best bits.

Materialists are sad, terrible people:

We know from research that materialism tends to be associated with treating others in more competitive, manipulative and selfish ways, as well as with being less empathetic …

[M]aterialism is associated with lower levels of well-being, less pro-social interpersonal behavior, more ecologically destructive behavior, and worse academic outcomes. It also is associated with more spending problems and debt …

We found that the more highly people endorsed materialistic values, the more they experienced unpleasant emotions, depression and anxiety, the more they reported physical health problems, such as stomachaches and headaches, and the less they experienced pleasant emotions and felt satisfied with their lives.

People become more materialistic when they feel insecure:

Research shows two sets of factors that lead people to have materialistic values. First, people are more materialistic when they are exposed to messages that suggest such pursuits are important … Second, and somewhat less obvious — people are more materialistic when they feel insecure or threatened, whether because of rejection, economic fears or thoughts of their own death.

Materialism is linked to media exposure and national-advertising expenditures:

The research shows that the more that people watch television, the more materialistic their values are … A study I recently published with psychologist Jean Twenge … found that the extent to which a given year’s class of high school seniors cared about materialistic pursuits was predictable on the basis of how much of the U.S. economy came from advertising and marketing expenditures — the more that advertising dominated the economy, the more materialistic youth were.

Materialism is linked to social media use, too:

One study of American and Arab youth found that materialism is higher as social media use increases … That makes sense, since most social media messages also contain advertising, which is how the social media companies make a profit.

Many psychologists think that materialists are unhappy because these people neglect their real psychological needs:

[M]aterialistic values are associated with living one’s life in ways that do a relatively poor job of satisfying psychological needs to feel free, competent and connected to other people. When people do not have their needs well-satisfied, they report lower levels of well-being and happiness, as well as more distress.

Check out the whole interview at the APA’s website.


Plagued by Bad Dreams? Here’s What It Means (and How to Fix It)

CREDIT: Getty Images

Lots of bad dreams are your cue to grab more autonomy, connect to others and engage in confidence building.

Source: Plagued by Bad Dreams? Here’s What It Means (and How to Fix It)

By Wanda Thibodeaux, Copywriter, TakingDictation.com 

Occasional bad dreams are part of life. (There was the dream I had about getting hit by a bus, for example.) Still, if you’re having bad dreams consistently, you might want to take some Star Wars Jedi advice and rethink your life. That’s because new research suggests there’s a connection between feeling crappy during the day and having nightmares.

The experiments and results

Led by Netta Weinstein, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Cardiff in the United Kingdom, researchers worked on the basis of three core psychological needs. These included autonomy (the ability to have control over your decisions), competence (feeling like you can do a good job or understand) and relatedness. People who have these needs met generally feel satisfied with life, while people who don’t have them met often suffer issues like depression or anxiety. The big question for Weinstein and her team thus was whether there was a connection between these needs being met and how many bad dreams people have.

The team used two separate experiments to gain insights. First, they surveyed 200 people (131 women) aged 18 to 33 about life satisfaction/frustration, asking them to report their most common reoccurring dream. They then had 110 people keep a dream diary and fill out psychological questionnaires over three days. By using two studies, the team was able to look at how meeting psychological needs influenced dream themes and dream emotions both in the long- and short-term.

Weinstein and her team found that people who didn’t have their psychological needs met as well were in fact more likely to have dreams with negative themes (e.g., being attacked, falling) and feelings. They interpreted dreams more negatively, as well.

The researchers admit there’s still more work to do to prove direct causation between unmet needs and bad dreams, and they note some limitations of the study, such as recall bias. Still, the researchers say the work suggests that what we experience on a daily basis really does reflect in what we see when we slumber. The theory is that we dream bad dreams because we’re still trying to process and find solutions for what’s challenged us through the day. This follows the popular hypothesis that dreams in general are a way for the brain to keep looking at our experiences and make more sense of them.

The significance for business leaders

Weinstein’s work is particularly noteworthy for professionals because not having needs met might create a vicious cycle that could spell disaster for your job or entire career: The worse your daily experiences are (or at least, the worse you perceive them to be), the more bad dreams you might have. That said, each bad dream you have can activate your fight-or-flight stress response. Experts have found it takes a full 20 minutes for the hormones associated with this response to fade away and your body to return to a calm state. That can mean it’s agonizingly difficult to fall back to sleep quickly and that, through the night, you lose out on quite a bit of rest. That fatigue can add up and lead into work relationship problems, poor productivity and difficulty making even simple decisions–your sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness all tank. Then the cycle starts all over again.

How to protect yourself

Assuming that Weinstein is correct and that unmet needs help shape bad dreams, the most basic answer is to do everything you can to make yourself feel connected, capable and in control. For example,

  • Reach out to others–invite someone to lunch, call a friend, etc.
  • Perform small acts of kindness for others.
  • Give others your undivided attention during conversations and practice active listening.
  • Make good eye contact.
  • Keep a list of your accomplishments to remind you how far you’ve come and what you’ve done.
  • Make daily to-do lists to help yourself see all the jobs you’re able to get through–finishing small jobs gives you a small dose of dopamine, which keeps you happy and motivated.
  • Acknowledge and accept praise instead of downplaying it.
  • Educate yourself about both general facts and your rights.
  • Identify specific goals you’d like to reach and outline specific strategies for each.
  • Ask for time to think before you say yes or no–don’t answer based solely on initial feelings or pressure.
  • Spend less time on social media so you don’t end up comparing yourself and feeling depressed.
  • Speak up politely (but unapologetically) when it’s appropriate.
  • Take time alone to stay in touch with who you are and what you want.
  • Stay organized physically and with your technology. Be good about clearing away digital and real clutter.
  • Listen to, read or watch inspiring media. (TED Talks work great!)
  • Do something creative.
  • Utilize therapists, counselors, clergy or others you trust–they can help you understand and work through a huge range of difficulties.
  • Consciously remove yourself from toxic situations you cannot fix whenever possible.

As you can see from this list, you have plenty of options to find and maintain a positive groove. The biggest thing to remember is that you are your own biggest influencer. No matter what life throws at you, you always have a choice about how to respond.

New Research Suggests We Have No Control Over Our Thoughts

Source: New Research Suggests We Have No Control Over Our Thoughts

By Rosie McCall


If you weren’t conscious, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Or, at the very least, you wouldn’t be aware you were reading this article. Consciousness is responsible for all our thought, experiences, and feelings. Without it, we would have no free will, no sense of self, and no awareness of our surroundings. To quote Descartes, “I think, therefore I am”.

But what if this assumption is wrong?

What if you were told that free will and personal responsibility are just social constructs? That our consciousness has no control over our beliefs, feelings, thoughts, and perceptions of the world?

That’s the conclusion made by two scientists, David Oakley from University College London and Peter Halligan from Cardiff University. Their theory, published in Frontiers in Psychology, takes into consideration research into neuropsychological and neuropsychiatric disorders and recent cognitive neuroscience studies.

According to Oakley and Halligan, “the contents of consciousness are generated ‘behind the scenes’ by fast, efficient, non-conscious systems in our brains. All this happens without any interference from our personal awareness, which sits passively in the passenger seat while these processes occur.”

“Put simply, we don’t consciously choose our thoughts or our feelings – we become aware of them.”

The pair use Victorian biologist Thomas Henry Huxley’s metaphor of a train to clarify their idea. The relationship between the mind and the brain, they say, is like that between a steam whistle and an engine. The steam whistle acts in response to the work of the engine, but has no influence over it. Similarly, consciousness is the product of the brain. It cannot control it.

The current consensus among experts is that consciousness can be split into two elements. The first is a sense of personal awareness. The second is a personal narrative, i.e. the combination of thoughts, beliefs, emotions, memories, and sensations we are bombarded with constantly. Oakley and Halligan argue that this personal narrative is a fraction of the emotions, experiences, thoughts, and beliefs produced in the brain during non-conscious processes.

So what, then, is the point of consciousness?

According to Oakley and Halligan, it’s a communication tool. A sense of self and personal history allows us to communicate to others what we have perceived and experienced. This ability to communicate is imperative to our survival and gives humankind an evolutionary edge.

There’s also the question of free will. Without an active consciousness, can we be held personally responsible for our actions?

Yes, say Oakley and Halligan.

“Just because consciousness has been placed in the passenger seat, does not mean we need to dispense with important everyday notions such as free will and personal responsibility.”

“In fact, they are embedded in the workings of our non-conscious brain systems. They have a powerful purpose in society and have a deep impact on the way we understand ourselves.”

A neuroscientist reveals the crucial difference between feelings and emotions

Source: A neuroscientist reveals the crucial difference between feelings and emotions

Do you also have a problem with emotions and feelings? Getting them confused, or thinking they are two words for the same experience?

Do you also sometime surprise yourself with utterly childish behavior? You thought you were this adult, but suddenly, out of the blue you miserable, everyone makes you miserable and you feel you have failed at life.

Welcome to the club. You are not alone, and thankfully there are some clever people around to explain ourselves to ourselves.

For the first time ever, I understand the difference between feelings and emotion.

I learned the nitty gritty of this important distinction from a Ted Talk given by Dr. Alan Watkins, founder of Complete Coherence.

His talk is about understanding why you feel what you feel so that you can take control and not feel like a victim. We have to understand that no one can make us feel anything, we create that ourselves.

A neuroscientist by background and an international expert on leadership and human performance. Watkins takes us through the key phases of human development and explains why poor emotional control is holding us back.

In his talk he comes to a point in our development, round about midlife, where we experience what is called “the disease of meaning”. We suddenly wake up to the realization that we have followed all the rules, and yet we are unhappy. Why? Watch the video and see him eloquently give us the answer.

Here’s the key point.

Emotions and feelings not the same. Emotions are energy in motion – composite biological signals like a fast beating heart or sweaty palms. Watkins says we all have emotions every single moment of every single day but we don’t necessarily feel it. Feelings are the awareness in our minds of the energy. So the energy is there, but we don’t necessarily feel it and that’s where we are stuck: we have not really learned to understand our own emotional life.

It gets even more interesting.

If we want to transform our lives, we have to understand that ultimately emotions will predict our health, personal sense of well being, success, fulfillment, motivation and decisions. If you don’t know anything about them, then life is a little bit of a lottery.

Your Brain on Art

Your Brain on Art: The Emerging Science of Neuroaesthetics Probes What Art Does to Our Brains

If you’ve followed debates in popular philosophical circles, you’ve surely heard the critique of “scientism,” the “view that only scientific claims are meaningful.” The term doesn’t apply only in defenses of religious explanations, but also of the arts and humanities—long imperiled by sweeping budget cuts and now seemingly upended by neuroscience.

We have the neuroscience of music, of literature, of painting, of creativity and imagination themselves…. What need anymore for those pedants and obscurantists in their ivory tower academic cubicles? Sweep them all away for better MRI machines and statistical programs! Who, gasp the opponents of scientism, would hold such a philistine view? Maybe only a straw man or two.

For those in the emerging field of “neuroaesthetics,” the goal is not to vivisect the arts, but to observe what art—however defined—does to the brain. Neuroaesthetics, notes the Washington Post video above, theorizes that “some of the answers to art’s mysteries can be found in the realm of science.” As University of Houston Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal puts it in the video below, “the more we understand the way the brain responds to the arts, the better we can understand ourselves.” Such understanding does not obviate the mystery of art as, the Post writes in an accompanying article, “the domain of the heart.”

The spectacle of performing artists, writers, and musicians wearing skullcaps covered with wires while in the midst of their creative acts may look ludicrous to us layfolk. The University of Houston takes this research quite seriously, however, appointing three visual artists-in-residence to work alongside many others on Professor Contraras-Vidal’s ongoing neuroaesthetic projects, which also include dancers and musicians. In addition to studying artists’ brains, the NSF-funded project has recorded “electrical signals in the brains of 450 individuals as they engaged with the work of artist Dario Robleto in a public art installation.”

The Post summarizes some of the possible answers offered by this kind of research: arts such as dance and theater stimulate our desire to experience intense emotions together in a group as a form of social cohesion. Seeing live performances—and surely even films, though that particular art form is slighted in many of these accounts—triggers a “neural rush…. With our brain’s capacity for emotion and empathy, even in the wordless art of dance we can begin to discover meaning—and a story.” This brings us to the importance our brains place on narrative, on movement, the “logic of art” and much more.

For better or worse, neuroaesthetics is—at least at an institutional level—in some competition with those branches of philosophy classically concerned with aesthetics, though often the two endeavors are complementary. But using science to interpret art, or interpret the brain on art, should in no way put the arts in jeopardy. Serious scientific curiosity about the oldest and most universal of distinctively human activities might instead provide justification—or better yet, funding and public support—for the generous production of more public art.

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Meet the nocebo effect, the placebo effect’s evil twin that makes you feel pain

A fascinating new study finds patients report worse side effects when a drug costs more money.

from: https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/10/9/16435802/nocebo-effect-medicine-placebo

The placebo effect is one of the most mystifying phenomena in medicine. When we expect a pill to make us feel better, it does. If we see others get better while using a medicine, we will too.

Doctors even see a placebo response in patients who are told they are on a placebo. And the more invasive, expensive, and drastic the placebo intervention, the greater the healing effect. Fake surgeries — where doctors make some incisions but don’t actually change anything — make people feel better than placebo pills alone.

But the placebo effect has an evil twin: the nocebo. It can kick in when negative expectations steer our experience of symptoms and create side effects where none should occur.

This means, incredibly, that you can get side effects from a sugar pill. And sometimes these side effects are so severe that patients drop out of clinical trials, as a 2013 paper in Nature Reviews explains. A review of fibromyalgia drug trials revealed that 72 percent of people who left the trial did so because they felt severe side effects while on placebo.

Or take statins, the most prescribed class of drug in America. They work to lower blood cholesterol and help prevent heart attacks. But people commonly report muscle aches while on the drug. Sometimes the aches are painful enough that people stop taking the drugs, which then puts them at risk for heart disease. Recent evidence suggests that the muscle aches might be a big nocebo.

There’s been a lot of recent fascinating scientific work trying to find ways to maximize the placebo effect, so that doctors can squeeze out the maximum therapeutic benefit from drugs. But scientists are also learning there are ways to minimize or maximize the nocebo effect too.

A fascinating recent study in Science shows one possible way: When patients are led to believe one drug is less expensive than another, they’re also less likely to report painful side effects.

How expensive-looking packaging can alter perception of side effects

In the new experiment published in Science, participants were told they were taking part in a study to test out a new anti-itch cream. They were also told the anti-itch cream had the side effect of making people more sensitive to heat.

The experimenters wondered: Could they manipulate the power of the nocebo effect, and make participants feel more or less pain after using the cream by priming them with an expectation?

In placebo studies, more expensive, involved procedures in which participants are aware of the higher cost and complexity tend to produce a higher placebo response. The researchers here wondered if the same applied to nocebo.

Half the participants were led to believe the drug was expensive. How: It came in a sleek blue packaging and was called “Solestan” — reminiscent of the expensive brand-name drugs you may see advertised on TV.

The other half of the participants were led to believe they were testing an inexpensive generic cream called “Imotadil-LeniPharma Creme,” which came in ugly orange-and-white packaging. It’s giving me a rash just looking at it.

A survey found that the participants did, indeed, rate the blue-packaged drug as costing more than the one in the stripped-down packaging. But in reality, both creams were the same placebo schmear, which contained no active drug whatsoever.

To test the side effect question, the researchers spread some cream on the participants’ arms. Then they hooked up that patch of skin to a device that delivered some mild heat. To fool the participants, they also hooked up another patch of untreated skin to the same machine. But they only turned up the heat on the patch of skin that had the cream. This trick was to ensure that the participants believed they were experiencing the side effect.

Then the trials began. Participants in both the expensive and inexpensive cream groups were exposed to the exact same levels of heat. The scientists kept asking: How much did that hurt?

There was a big, clear, unmistakable difference. The participants who had the “expensive” cream thought it hurt a lot more.

And what’s more: The effect increased over time. The more participants used the “expensive” cream — the more trials they underwent in the study — the more pain they felt.

How is this possible?

Like the placebo effect, the nocebo effect is influenced by expectations. And that’s what the researchers think is happening here. People guess a more expensive medication should be more potent and lead to more skin problems.

“The most likely explanation is that participants infer that expensive medication contains a more potent and effective agent and, consequently, produces more side effects,” the researchers conclude.

What researchers have realized in the past two decades is that the placebo and nocebo effects don’t just change how we talk about symptoms. Neuroscience studies find evidence that they actually change the way we perceive pain in the brain. And that’s what the researchers in this latest Science paper found too. An fMRI scan of the participants’ brains and spinal cords (which processes our pain response) provided evidence that not only were these participants saying they felt more pain, but they were experiencing it differently too.

Given the real therapeutic power of the placebo effect, there’s been a small but growing thread of research looking into whether it can be harnessed to help treat diseases. It’s surprisingly promising. Through placebo conditioning, it may be possible to maintain the same level of drug effectiveness while taking less of the drug. Overall, this research forces doctors to consider that the context in which medicine is given can make a big difference in how people feel.

But it’s still hard to know the best way to harness the placebo effect and downplay the nocebo effect. This Science study shows the healing power of the placebo isn’t limitless — because where placebo lurks, nocebo may lurk too.


The Neurobiology of Feeling Safe


Source: The Neurobiology of Feeling Safe

by | Oct 1, 2017 | Magazine

The important role of “safety” in our life is so intuitive and so relevant that it is surprising that our institutions neglect it. Perhaps our misunderstanding of the role of safety is based on an assumption that we think we know what safety means. This assumption needs to be challenged, because there may be an inconsistency between the words we use to describe safety and our bodily feelings of safety. In the Western world, we tend to place higher value on thoughts than on feelings. Parenting and educational strategies are targeted toward expanding and enhancing cognitive processes while inhibiting bodily feelings and impulses to move. The result is a corticocentric orientation in which there is a top-down bias emphasizing mental processes and minimizing the bottom-up feeling emanating from our body. In many ways, our culture, including educational and religious institutions, has explicitly subjugated feelings of the body to the thought processes emanating from the brain.

Historically, this was clearly articulated in Descartes’s (1637) statement“Je pense donc je suis” (I think, therefore I am). Descartes did not state “Je me sens donc je suis” (I feel, therefore I am). Note that I used the reflexive form of the verb “to feel.” In French, when “feel” is used as a reflexive verb, it emphasizes that feelings reside inside the person. However, in English, the meaning of the verb “to feel” is ambiguous, meaning either the sensory feelings associated with physically touching an object or the subjective experience associated with an emotional response.

Arguments regarding the relative contributions of cognitions and feelings have been at the core of historical questions related to how human behavior and emotional experience can be understood, modified, and optimized. Only during the past 50 years have emotion and investigation of subjective states of feeling become an accepted research domain within psychology. Prior research and its influence on educational (and parenting models) and clinical treatment models emphasized the cognitive pathway with the objective of nurturing cognitive functions and containing subjective feelings. This focus emphasized objective, measurable indices of behaviors and cognitive functions while dismissing subjective reports of feelings.

This has been an excerpt from The Neurobiology of Feeling Safe by Stephen Porges.

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