Tag psychology

{ Empathy Is a Choice …* } Research Says: Empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be

{ Empathy Is a Choice ...* } Research Says: Empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be | rethinked.org

“Arguments against empathy rely on an outdated view of emotion as a capricious beast that needs to yield to sober reason. Yes, there are many situations in which empathy appears to be limited in its scope, but this is not a deficiency in the emotion itself. In our view, empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be.” 

In a recently published article, psychologists Daryl CameronMichael Inzlicht, and William A. Cunningham dispute the notion that empathy is a limited commodity, making the much more compelling argument that empathy is a choice.

We believe that empathy is a choice that we make whether to extend ourselves to others. The “limits” to our empathy are merely apparent, and can change, sometimes drastically, depending on what we want to feel.

The co-authors highlight several studies which show that the absence of empathy is linked to extrinsic and context-specific factors. By disproving the idea that our failures of empathy are linked to inherent limits in our capacity for the emotion, these studies offer an inspiring and compelling case for choosing to empathize.

. . . * 

Two decades ago, the psychologist Daniel Batson and colleagues conducted a study that showed that if people expected their empathy to cost them significant money or time, they would avoid situations that they believed would trigger it. More recently, one of us, Daryl Cameron, along with the psychologist Keith Payne, conducted an experiment to see if similar motivational factors could explain why we seem more empathetic to single victims than to large numbers of them.

Participants in this study read about either one or eight child refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan. Half of the participants were led to expect that they would be asked to make a donation to the refugee or refugees, whereas the other half were not. When there was no financial cost involved in feeling empathy, people felt more empathy for the eight children than for the one child, reversing the usual bias. If insensitivity to mass suffering stemmed from an intrinsic limit to empathy, such financial factors shouldn’t have made a difference.

. . . *

Some kinds of people seem generally less likely to feel empathy for others — for instance, powerful people. An experiment conducted by one of us, Michael Inzlicht, along with the researchers Jeremy Hogeveen and Sukhvinder Obhi, found that even people temporarily assigned to high-power roles showed brain activity consistent with lower empathy.

But such experimental manipulations surely cannot change a person’s underlying empathic capacity; something else must be to blame. And other research suggests that the blame lies with a simple change in motivation: People with a higher sense of power exhibit less empathy because they have less incentive to interact with others.

. . . *

Likewise, in another recent study, the psychologists Karina Schumann, Jamil Zaki and Carol S. Dweck found that when people learned that empathy was a skill that could be improved — as opposed to a fixed personality trait — they engaged in more effort to experience empathy for racial groups other than their own. Empathy for people unlike us can be expanded, it seems, just by modifying our views about empathy.

C H O O S E   E M P A T H Y   . . . *

Source: Empathy Is Actually a Choice via New York Times, published July 10, 2015

what we can learn about learning from { synesthesia } …*

Synesthesia: Hearing Colors, Tasting Sounds.

I have always been fascinated with synesthesia – a neurological condition present in 2-4% of the population (with a 6:1 female to male ratio) where one perceives information coming in through one sensory modality in an additional sensory modality. For example, when one type of synesthete hears auditory tones, she perceives vivid colors, specifically corresponding to each tone. One of my friends from college is a grapheme-color synesthete. For these types of synesthetes, numbers and letters evoke colors. While she goes by “Emily” in spoken tongue, she prefers “Temily” in written text because the color is more pleasing.

gallery_deardish-synesthesia-gallery

For my neuroscience course, I read a paper about the potential evolutionary benefits to synesthesia called Survival of the Synesthesia Gene: Why Do People Hear Colors and Taste Words? by David Brang and V.S. Ramachandran. The authors proposed that synesthesia is caused by an excess of neural connections in the brain. Furthermore, measures of brain activity suggest that individuals are truly experiencing the sensation of a color connected to a grapheme at the bottom-up processing level, rather than applying colors with our higher level cognition.

Synesthesia and creativity…*

Currently, a number of different avenues of research suggest that, yes, there are clear evolutionary benefits to being a synesthete. An interesting hypothesis is that synesthesia enhances creativity, particularly because the cross-activation of different sensory modalities may facilitate greater ability related to metaphor.

Research has confirmed that there is an increased incidence of synesthesia among artists and synesthetes have reported that these abilities are facilitative of creative endeavors. From a layman’s perspective, this makes sense. If you have heightened and more nuanced sensory perceptions of your world, you will be able to perceive things that others cannot, and is art not the act of seeing things in a different, unique way? As Oscar Wilde once said, No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist. The authors presented research showing enhanced sensory processing abilities specific to synesthetic modality. Individuals who experience colors have heightened color perception, those who experience tactile sensations have increase tactile acuity, and so forth.

MHG_175_Synesthesia_thumb

Synesthesia and Memory …*

Another potential benefit of synesthesia involves memory. Synesthetes have better memories than the average person, likely due to the aiding of their synesthetic experience. As a learning scientist, this is fascinating because it matches with research related to multimodal learning, whereby we are better at learning things when we experience them in more than one mode because it provides multiple memory traces to the information in our brains.

 …*

I love studying abnormal psychology, because by looking at unique conditions, we are able to better understand how the average brain works. Research on synesthesia demonstrates the importance of experiencing the world in as many sensory ways as you can, and brings more credence to work on using multiple modalities in education.

{ Empathy & The Dramatic Arc } How Stories Can Change Our Behavior By Changing Our Brain Chemistry …*

“It seems like there may be a universal kind of story structure. So stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds but in doing that they change the way our brains work and potentially change our brain chemistry. And that’s what it means to be a social creature–is to connect to others, to care about others–even complete strangers. And it’s so interesting that dramatic stories cause us to do this.” – Paul Zak  

In this short animated video, Paul Zak, a founding pioneer in the nascent field of neuroeconomics, shares results from his lab where he and his colleagues found that stories that follow Gustav Freytag’s Dramatic Arc could “change behavior by changing our brain chemistry.”

Monitoring the brain activity of hundreds of study subjects watching a video with a simple narrative, Zak found increases in the levels of the neurochemicals oxytocin and cortisol, which are associated with empathic responses. Most remarkable, however, was the discovery that this response also resulted in study subjects taking action, in this case through donating money they had just earned to a charitable cause related to the story they watched and even to fellow subjects. Zak’s conclusion that there could be a universal story structure that functions to connect us to each other might not be surprising to storytellers, but seeing it supported by neuroscience is a tale worth repeating. 

Source: Empathy, Neurochemistry, and the Dramatic Arc via Aeon

Watch Walter Mischel Discuss the Marshmallow Test & Strategies for Delaying Gratification…*

“The successful delaying of gratification is very much about how you represent the object of desire.” – Walter Mischel

Looking for some last minute strategies for self-regulation before sitting down to your Thanksgiving meal? You’re in luck, here’s a great short video from the RSA featuring Walter Mischel discussing his motivation for creating his now famous Marshmallow Test sets of experiments and some of his findings on delayed gratification, willpower and self-control.

source: RSA – What Marshmallows Can Tell Us About Self Control

Interested in the Mind & Human Potential? Check Out The Psychology Podcast with Scott Barry Kaufman …*

Screen Shot from The Psychology Podcast with Scott Barry Kaufman homepage

Exciting new resource alert for knowmads and psychology enthusiasts: The Psychology Podcast with Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman:

Where we give you insights into the mind, brain, behavior and creativity. Each episode will feature a guest who will stimulate your mind, and give you a greater understanding of your self, others, and the world we live in. Hopefully, we’ll also provide a glimpse into human possibility!

What intrigues me most about this new podcast is its focus on diversifying the landscape of psychologists whose work gets reported and discussed. In the words of Barry Kaufman:

I feel like there are SO MANY podcasts that keep featuring the same guests over and over again, when there are so many awesome people out there doing work in psychology who rarely get appreciated or noticed. Sure, I’ll be having some of the more well known guests on my show. But I will also be featuring lots of folks who deserve a voice.

Head over to the website to listen to the first three episodes featuring Robert Greene on mastery and social intelligence; Gabriele Oettingen on daydreaming and mental contrasting for goal-fulfillment; and Annie Murphy Paul on learning and growth mindset.

Daniel Goldstein: Harness the Power of Belief & Imagination to Hack Your Decision-Making …*

Last week I posted a TED talk given by psychologist Dan Gilbert on why our day to day decision-making so often fails to facilitate our long-term goals. Gilbert makes the point that a major obstacle to aligning our present behaviors to the pursuit of our goals is that we tend to vastly underestimate how much we will change in the future, what he calls the “end of history illusion.” Yesterday I watched this talk from behavioral economist Daniel Goldstein which provides a very intriguing insight into how we might bridge the gap between our present and future selves: harnessing the power of our beliefs and imagination.

“There’s a philosopher, Derek Parfit, who said some words that were inspiring to my co-authors and I, he said that we might neglect our future selves because of some failure of belief or imagination. That is to say, we somehow might not believe that we’re going to get old, or we might not be able to imagine that we’re going to get old some day. On the one hand it sounds ridiculous, of course we know that we’re going to get old, but aren’t there things that we believe and don’t believe at the same time? So my co-authors and I have used computers—the greatest tool of our time, to assist people’s imagination and help them imagine what it might be like to go into the future.” – Daniel Goldstein

imagine, believe & rethink …

Martin Seligman – An Overview of Positive Psychology …*

Taking a quick break from writing about my experiences with the Positive Psychology interventions given by Martin Seligman in his book, Authentic Happiness, to share this TED talk he gave in 2004, fittingly titled: The new era of positive psychology. In this talk, Seligman provides context for the development of Positive Psychology while sharing a compelling overview of many of the ideas discussed in his books.

watch, learn & rethink …* 

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished” – The Psychology of Your Future Self …*

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.” – Dan Gilbert

In this short TED talk, psychologist Dan Gilbert examines some of the prevalent misconceptions that we have about change over time in our lives and which often lead to poor decision-making. Gilbert highlights what he calls the “end of history illusion,” which refers to the fact that people of all ages vastly underestimate how much change they will experience in the future.

All of us are walking around with an illusion, an illusion that history, our personal history, has just come to an end. That we have just recently become the people that we were always meant to be and will be for the rest of our lives. 

As Gilbert demonstrates with various studies, this disconnect between how much we predict we will change and how much we actually do change touches upon nearly all aspects of our lives–from our personality, our values to our preferences. I really enjoyed this talk and its deeply growth mindset oriented message. When change is the only constant in human experience, when we can accept that we are never fully “finished,” it frees us to embrace the learning process, to admit that we are not who we strive to be…yet. And in striving to bridge that yet, we are able to keep learning and growing throughout our lives, each day becoming slightly fuller and richer versions of ourselves.

embrace change & rethink …

Dan Gilbert: The Psychology of Your Future Self

What If Instead of Prioritizing the Relief of Suffering We Also Focused On the Understanding & Building of Happiness?

In times of trouble, does the understanding and alleviating of suffering trump the understanding and building of happiness? I think not. People who are impoverished, depressed, or suicidal care about much more than just the relief of their suffering. These persons care–sometimes desperately–about virtue, about purpose, about integrity, and about meaning.” -Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness

I am currently in the discovery phase of the Positive Psychology cycle of my rethinked*annex project–reading the books and getting a deeper sense of the discipline. There is a lot of information to unpack, so this is the first of several posts in the coming week about what exactly Positive Psychology is, how it came to be, and what type of impact it might provide. I am deeply excited by the potential of an empirical science that attempts to help us thrive and live meaningful, joyful and fulfilling lives. Positive Psychology was made even more special once I discovered that it started as a wonderful “what if?” and as a challenge to the status quo. In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman walks his readers through his thought process leading up to his founding Positive Psychology as an official field of study in 1998. Noting that “psychology has badly neglected the positive side of life” and that, “For every one hundred journal articles on sadness, there is just one on happiness,” he decided to do something about it.

{ QUESTIONING THE STATUS QUO } 

THE PROBLEM – 

For the last half century psychology has been consumed with a single topic only–mental illness–and has done fairly well with it. Psychologists can now measure such once fuzzy concepts as depression, schizophrenia, and alcoholism with considerable precision. We now know a good deal about how these troubles develop across the life span, and about their genetics, their biochemistry, and their psychological causes. Best of all, we have learned how to relieve these disorders. By my last count, fourteen out of the several dozen major illnesses could be effectively treated (and two of them cured) with medication and specific forms of psychotherapy. But this progress has come at a high cost. Relieving the states that make life miserable, it seems has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority. But people want more than just to correct their weaknesses. They want lives imbued with meaning, and not just to fidget until they die. Lying awake at night, you probably ponder, as I have, how to go from plus two to plus seven in your life, not just how to go from minus five to minus three and feel a little less miserable day by day. 

THE SOLUTION – 

My most grandiose aim […] is to correct the imbalance by propelling the field of psychology into supplementing its hard-won knowledge about suffering and mental illness with a great deal more knowledge about positive emotion, as well as about personal strengths and virtues.

{ DEFINITION } 

So what exactly is positive psychology? Seligman defines it thus:

Positive psychology has three pillars: First is the study of positive emotions. Second is the study of the positive traits, foremost among them the strengths and virtues, but also the “abilities” such as intelligence and athleticism. Third is the study of the positive institutions, such as democracy, strong families and free inquiry that support the virtues, which in turn support the positive emotions.

I will unpack and get into more details about how Seligman classifies positive emotions, positive traits and positive institutions in next week’s post.

{ REFLACTION } 

This week, I am beginning Tal Ben-Shahar’s Even Happier: A Gratitude Journal For Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, which is the companion workbook/playbook to Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment and which is a way to put into practice some of the findings and insights from Positive Psychology:

Engaging in reflection and action –what I have called “ReflAction”–brings theory to life. I have adopted the practice of reflaction in my academic classes and public workshops, and I recommend that all teachers and students in any field who are concerned with real learning do the same. 

What a splendid term reflaction is, and it so brilliantly captures what I am attempting to do through the rethinked*annex project. The playbook is divided into 52 chapters, one for each week, and grouped around various themes (see my picture of the table of contents below.) This week’s theme is “Being Grateful.”

Ben-Shahar starts by giving a brief overview of the findings of Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough’s studies on gratitude, which demonstrated that “putting aside a minute or two every day to express gratitude for one’s life has far-reaching consequences:”

Compared with the control group, the grateful group not only became more appreciative of life in general but also enjoyed higher levels of well-being and positive emotions: they felt happier, more determined, more energetic, and more optimistic. They were also more generous and more likely to offer support to others. Finally, those who expressed gratitude also slept better, exercised more, and experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness. 

He then recommends a daily gratitude exercise to be completed every day:

Each day this week, write down at least five things for which you are grateful. The key when doing this exercise is to remain mindful, not to take this exercise for granted. One way of remaining mindful is by visualizing or reexperiencing whatever it is that you are writing down. For example, as you write down “parents,” see them in your imagination; if you write down “conversation with partner,” try to reexperience the same feelings you had while conversing with your partner. 

What If Instead of Prioritizing the Relief of Suffering We Also Focused On the Understanding & Building of Happiness? | rethinked.org

The Science of Happiness: Exploring the Roots of A Happy & Meaningful Life …*

The Science of Happiness: Exploring the Roots of A Happy & Meaningful Life ...* | rethinked.org

 

Rethinkers * delight, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center is offering a free MOOC on the Science of Happiness, co-taught by Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas this coming September.

“The Science of Happiness” is the first MOOC to teach the ground-breaking science of positive psychology, which explores the roots of a happy and meaningful life. Students will engage with some of the most provocative and practical lessons from this science, discovering how cutting-edge research can be applied to their own lives. Created by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the course will zero in on a fundamental finding from positive psychology: that happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social connections and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good. Students will learn about the cross-disciplinary research supporting this view, spanning the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and beyond.

What’s more, “The Science of Happiness” will offer students practical strategies for nurturing their own happiness. Research suggests that up to 40 percent of happiness depends on our habits and activities. So each week, students will learn a new research-tested practice that fosters social and emotional well-being—and the course will help them track their progress along the way.

September is still far off, but Forbes is predicting that this course may be poised to make history in online education, becoming the world’s most popular MOOC ever! Sign up now.

{ RETHINKED*ANNEX }

If you can’t wait till September to start learning about Positive Psychology and experimenting with various interventions to create a happier and more meaningful life, you’re in luck! As you may remember, today is the kickoff of the Positive Psychology part of the rethinked*annex project in which I experiment on a personal and individual level with some of the tools and methodologies that we think, play and write about here on rethinked …* In my two previous cycles of rethinked*annex, I experimented with Design Thinking and Integrative Thinking. 

{ READING LIST } 

I’ve updated my original reading list a tiny bit, mainly because I’ve had Tal Ben-Shahar‘s books on my bookshelves for at least the past five years and have yet to implement a single tip in a lasting way.

{ JOIN ME ? } 

If you’re interested in dabbling in Positive Psychology and testing it out for yourself, I would be delighted to collaborate and form a support/accountability group. We could set up Google Hangouts and discuss the books, ideas and interventions. Leave me a comment or shoot me an email at elsa@rethinked.org.

learn, experiment & rethink …* 

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