Posts tagged ‘brain’

September 24, 2014

Fascinating Study on Reading e-Books vs. Paper Books

books_peI came across a fascinating report on how reading “real” books is better for our brains than reading e-books.  As someone who has both books and an e-reader, I found it very true in my own life that reading a paper book seems more contextually easy to remember, than when reading with my e-reader.  I’ve changed the way I use an e-reader over time, for more short stories and news, while still enjoying my long form paper books for thoughtful reflection and focus.

But perhaps it’s only me!

From the article “Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books” here’s a quote:

“A 2014 study found that readers of a short mystery story on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback. Lead researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University concluded that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”

Our brains were not designed for reading, but have adapted and created new circuits to understand letters and texts. The brain reads by constructing a mental representation of the text based on the placement of the page in the book and the word on the page.

The tactile experience of a book aids this process, from the thickness of the pages in your hands as you progress through the story to the placement of a word on the page. Mangen hypothesizes that the difference for Kindle readers “might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading.”

So don’t throw out your paper books yet!  They are good for your brain!

To read the entire article please go to this link:

September 19, 2014

Antidepressants rapidly alter brain architecture, study finds []



A single dose of a popular class of psychiatric drug used to treat depression can alter the brain’s architecture within hours, even though most patients usually don’t report improvement for weeks, a new study suggests.

More than 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. use these drugs, which adjust the availability of a chemical transmitter in the brain, serotonin, by blocking the way it is reabsorbed. The so-called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, include Prozac, Lexapro, Celexa, Paxil and Zoloft.

The findings could be a first step toward figuring out whether a relatively simple brain scan might one day help psychiatrists distinguish between those who respond to such drugs and those who don’t, an area of mystery and controversy in depression treatment.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, used a magnetic resonance imaging machine to compare connections in the gray matter of those who took SSRIs and those who did not. They were particularly interested in what goes on when the brain is doing nothing in particular.

“We just tell them to let their minds wander and not think of anything particularly dramatic or upsetting,” said neuroscientist Dr. Julia Sacher, a co-author of the study published online Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

They created 3-D maps of connections that “matter” to gray matter: interdependence, not just anatomical connection. They relied on a discovery in the late 1990s that low-frequency brain signaling during relative inactivity, such as daydreaming, is a good indicator of functional connectivity.

When more serotonin was available, this resting state functional connectivity decreased on a broad scale, the study found. This finding was not particularly surprising — other studies have shown a similar effect in brain regions strongly associated with mood regulation.

But there was a two-fold shock: Some areas of the brain appeared to buck the trend and become more interdependent. And all the changes were evident only three hours after the single dosage.

“It was interesting to see two patterns that seemed to go in the opposite direction,” Sacher said. “What was really surprising was that the entire brain would light up after only three hours. We didn’t expect that.”

Click on the link below to continue reading the article on the LA Times website:

July 11, 2014

Do People Only Use 10% of Their Brains? []

by Hannah Keyser /

2013 poll surveying over 2000 Americans found that 65 percent thought that this statement is true. And yet, the simple and unequivocal answer is: No. Despite a myth so prevalent that it is easily accepted as a pivotal plot point in movies or a motivational tactic or even justification for psychic claims, everyone uses 100 percent of their brain.

There are a number of logical refutations of this myth—why would big brains evolve if they’re nothing but dead weight?—but outright proving its fallacy is relatively easy with modern technology. PET and fMRI scans show that even when we’re sleeping, our entire brain is active on some level.

But even before imaging techniques allowed scientists to definitively debunk this myth, how did it arise in the first place? And why has it held on into the era of such increased understanding of how the brain works?

Although it’s impossible to prove as the exact origin of the myth, there is a traceable misappropriation of a vague claim that seems to be the first written mention. In 1907, prominent philosopher and psychologist William James wrote in The Energies of Man that “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.” He meant—probably—that we all had untapped potential within us, a likely, although hardly inflammatory, assertion. Twenty-nine years later, in the introduction to Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People, Lowell Thomas wrote, presumably referencing that quote, “Professor William James of Harvard used to say that the average man develops only ten per cent of his latent mental ability.”

Again, there’s no overt neurological claim—mental ability does not mean brain mass—but from here the sentiment seems to have spun off; versions of it found use in the science fiction and spiritual communities. It didn’t help matters that in the 1920s and ’30s, prominent psychologist Karl Lashley attempted to isolate regions of the brain by removing areas of the cerebral cortex in rats. When he found they were still able to learn and remember specific tasks, it contributed to the idea that there are large swatches of “inactive” brain mass.

Decades later, the myth has persevered because of the attractive possibilty it seems to present. It absolves us for not reaching our full potential, offers a persistent insecurity for self-help gurus to appeal to, and provides a pseudo-scientific explanation for the limits of human comprehension.

June 26, 2014

Field Guide to the Conspiracy Theorist: Dark Minds []

By John Gartner, Ph.D., published on September 01, 2009 – last reviewed on January 13, 2012 /

Alex Jones is trying to warn us about an evil syndicate of bankers who control most of the world’s governments and stand poised to unite the planet under their totalitarian reign, a “New World Order.” While we might be tempted to dismiss Jones as a nut, the “king of conspiracy” is a popular radio show host. The part-time filmmaker’s latest movie, The Obama Deception, in which he argues that Obama is a puppet of the criminal bankers, has been viewed millions of times on YouTube.

When we spoke, Jones ranted for two hours about FEMA concentration camps, Halliburton child kidnappers, government eugenics programs—and more. When I stopped him to ask for evidence the government is practicing eugenics, he pointed to a national security memorandum. But I found the document to be a bland policy report.

Jones “cherry picks not just facts but phrases, which, once interpreted his way, become facts in his mind,” says Louis Black, editor of the Austin Chronicle, who knows Jones, a fellow Austin resident. When I confronted Jones with my reading of the report, he became pugnacious, launching into a diatribe against psychologists as agents of social control.

Conspiracy thinking is embraced by a surprisingly large proportion of the population. Sixty-nine percent of Americans believe President John F. Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy, and 42 percent believe the government is covering up evidence of flying saucers, finds Ted Goertzel, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University at Camden. Thirty-six percent of respondents to a 2006 Scripps News/Ohio University poll at least suspected that the U.S. government played a role in 9/11.

We’re all conspiracy theorists to some degree. We’re all hardwired to find patterns in our environment, particularly those that might represent a threat to us. And when things go wrong, we find ourselves searching for what, or who, is behind it.

In his 1954 classic, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, historian Richard Hofstadter hypothesized that conspiracy thinking is fueled by underlying feelings of alienation and helplessness. Research supports his theory. New Mexico State University psychologist Marina Abalakina-Paap has found that people who endorse conspiracy theories are especially likely to feel angry, mistrustful, alienated from society, and helpless over larger forces controlling their lives.

Jones insists he had a “Leave It to Beaver childhood.” I couldn’t confirm such an idyllic past. When I asked if I could interview his family or childhood friends, he insisted his family was very “private” and he had not kept in touch with a single friend. When I asked if I might look them up, he became irritated. He doubted he could “still spell their names,” and besides, I’d already taken up enough of his time. “I turned down 50 or 60 requests for interviews this week,” he wanted me to know.

The number sounded wildly inflated. Conspiracy theorists have a grandiose view of themselves as heroes “manning the barricades of civilization” at an urgent “turning point” in history, Hofstadter held. Jones has a “messiah complex,” Black contends. Grandiosity is often a defense against underlying feelings of powerlessness.

Even well-grounded skeptics are prone to connect disparate dots when they feel disempowered. In a series of studies, Jennifer Whitson of the University of Texas and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern demonstrated that people primed to feel out of control are particularly likely to see patterns in random stimuli.

Might people be especially responsive to Jones’ message in today’s America, marked by economic uncertainty and concerns about terrorism and government scandals? “There is a war on for your mind,” Jones insists on his Web site, He calls his listeners “infowarriors.”

Information is the conspiracy theorists’ weapon of choice because if there’s one thing they all agree on, it’s that all the rest of us have been brainwashed. The “facts” will plainly reveal the existence of the conspiracy, they believe. And while all of us tend to bend information to fit our pre-existing cognitive schema, conspiracy theorists are more extreme. They are “immune to evidence,” discounting contradictory information or seeing it as “proof of how clever the enemy is at covering things up,” Goertzel says.

Conspiracy theories exist on a spectrum from mild suspicion to full-onparanoia, and brain chemistry may play a role. Dopamine rewards us for noting patterns and finding meaning in sometimes-insignificant events. It’s long been known that schizophrenics overproduce dopamine. “The earliest stages of delusion are characterized by an overabundance of meaningful coincidences,” explain Paul D. Morrison and R.M. Murray of the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London. “Jumping to conclusions” is a common reasoning style among the paranoid, find Daniel Freeman and his colleagues, also at the Institute of Psychiatry.

Indeed, there are no coincidences in Jones’ world. In a scene from The Obama Deception, Jones dives “into the belly of the beast,” the hotel where purported conspirators will be meeting. As he begins a telephone interview, the fire alarm goes off. “The bastards have set us up,” he says.

Jones says that he has been visited by the FBI and the Secret Service but can’t discuss the interviews. It may be that federal agents, in fact, wanted to evaluate whether he is a threat to the president. There’s no reason to believe he is—but the same can’t be said of his listeners. In 2002, Richard McCaslin, carrying an arsenal of weapons, entered the Bohemian Grove, a campground in California that annually hosts a meeting of the political and business elite. He told authorities he had been planning his commando raid for a year, after (he says) hearing Jones claim that ritual infant sacrifice was taking place there.

The “war”continues. In a video promoting The Obama Deception, Jones urges, “We know who they are. We know what they are. We know what has to be done.”

John Gartner is an author and PT blogger. Read his blog now: The Roving Psychologist.

Connect the Dots

How susceptible are you to conspiracy beliefs? Rate your agreement with the statements below, from 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree.

  1. For the most part, government serves the interests of a few organized groups, such as business, and isn’t very concerned about the needs of people like myself.
  2. I have trouble doing what I want to do in the world today.
  3. It is difficult for people like myself to have much influence in public affairs.
  4. We seem to live in a pretty irrational and disordered world.
  5. I don’t trust that my closest friends would not lie to me.

Answer key: 5-11: weakly, 12-18: moderately, 19-25: strongly (Adapted from a scale developed by Patrick Leman)

June 18, 2014

Is There a Brain Region Associated with a Belief in Social Justice? []

by Annalee Newitz /

socialjusticeSome people believe that we could live in a just world where everybody gets what they deserve. Others believe that’s impossible. Now, neuroscientists say they have evidence that the “just world hypothesis” is a cognitive bias that’s connected with a specific part of the brain.

This does not mean there is a “social justice center” in your brain. What neurologist Michael Schaefer and colleagues discovered is that there is a slightly different pattern of electrical impulses shooting through the brains of people who believe in a just world. They asked people whether they believed in a just world, then put them in an fMRI machine and then asked them to ponder scenarios where people broke from social norms or conformed to them.

Previously, other neuroscientists had identified brain areas that become active when people perceive norm violations. So the group knew that if those areas were lit up in the fMRI, all they were seeing was a response to norm violations in general. But what they found was that a few additional brain regions became active in people who believe in a just world. So they now believe there could be some physiological component to a belief in social justice.

Here’s the researchers’ abstract:

Previous studies identified a network of brain regions involved in the perception of norm violations, including insula, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and right temporoparietal junction area (RTPJ). Activations in these regions are suggested to reflect the perception of norm violations and unfairness. The current study aimed to test this hypothesis by exploring whether a personal disposition to perceive the world as being just is related to neural responses to moral evaluations. The just-world-hypothesis describes a cognitive bias to believe in a just world in which everyone gets what he or she deserves and deserves what he or she gets. Since it has been demonstrated that ACC, RTPJ, and insula are involved in the perception of unfairness, we hypothesized that individual differences in the belief in a just world are reflected by different activations of these brain areas. Participants were confronted with scenarios describing norm-violating or -confirming behavior. FMRI results revealed an activation of dorsal ACC, RTPJ, and insula when perceiving norm violations, but only activity in insula/somatosensory cortex correlated with the belief in a just world. Thus, our results suggest a role for insula/somatosensory cortex for the belief in a just world.

I can see the dystopian science fiction possibilities erupting out of your brains already. Imagine a terrifying Neurofascist regime, which uses neural pacemakers to prevent the “social justice” part of your brain from activating when you see soldiers killing people, or when you see innocent people being arrested. The possibilities are endless.

The science fictional possibilities are endless, that is. In terms of real-life science, this is just a tiny shred of evidence that could mean a lot of things.

Read the full scientific paper via PubMed

March 20, 2012

How Electro-Shock Therapy Affects the Brain and Depression []

by Emily Allen / Daily Mail

Scientists have finally discovered how one of psychiatry’s most controversial treatments can help patients with severe depression.

Researchers at Aberdeen University have discovered that ECT – or electro-convulsive therapy – affects the way different parts of the brain involved in depression ‘communicate’ with each other.

They found that the treatment appears to ‘turn down’ an overactive connection between areas of the brain that control mood and the parts responsible for thinking and concentrating.

This stops the overwhelming impact that depression has on sufferers’ ability to enjoy normal life and carry on with day-to-day activities.

This decrease in connectivity observed after ECT treatment was accompanied by a significant improvement in the patient’s depressive symptoms.

The ECT treatment, which is 75-years-old, involves an electric shock being passed through the cortex of a severely-depressed patient to ‘cure’ them.

Its graphic portrayal in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next won Jack Nicholson an Oscar.

The controversial treatment was introduced in 1938 by an Italian neurologist Ugo Cerletti, who was allegedly inspired by watching pigs being stunned with electric shock before being butchered in Rome.  The animals would go into seizures and fall down, making it easier to slit their throats.

At the time psychiatric orthodoxy held – wrongly – that schizophrenia and epilepsy were antagonistic and one could not exist in the presence of the other.

Deciding to try the stunning technique on his patients, Dr Cerletti found electric shocks to the head caused his most obsessive and difficult mental patients to become meek and manageable.

Later the treatment was found to be effective in treating severe depression but its mode of action has remained until now a complete mystery.

The study involved using MRI to scan the brains of nine severely depressed patients before and after ECT, and then applying entirely new and complex mathematical analysis to investigate brain connectivity.

Professor of Psychiatry at the university Ian Reid, who is also a consultant psychiatrist at the Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen, said: ‘We believe we’ve solved a 70 year old therapeutic riddle.

‘ECT is a controversial treatment, and one prominent criticism has been that it is not understood how it works and what it does to the brain.

‘For all the debate surrounding ECT, it is one of the most effective treatments not just in psychiatry but in the whole of medicine, because 75 per cent to 85 per cent of patients recover from their symptoms.

‘Over the last couple of years there has been an emerging new perspective on how depression affects the brain.

‘This theory has suggested a ‘hyper-connection’ between the areas of the brain involved in emotional processing and mood change and the parts of the brain involved in thinking and concentrating.

‘Our key finding is that if you compare the connections in the brain before and after ECT, ECT reduces this ‘hyper-connectivity’.

‘For the first time we can point to something that ECT does in the brain that makes sense in the context of what we think is wrong in people who are depressed.’

Although ECT is extremely effective, it is only used on people who need treatment quickly: those who are very severely depressed, who are at risk from taking their own lives, and perhaps cannot look after themselves, or those who have not responded to other treatments.

Professor Reid said: ‘The treatment can also affect memory, though for most patients this is short-lived.

‘However if we understand more about how ECT works, we will be in a better position to replace it with something less invasive and more acceptable.

‘At the moment only about 40 per cent of people with depression get better with treatment from their GP.

‘Our findings may lead to new drug targets which match the effectiveness of ECT without an impact on memory.’

Professor Christian Schwarzbauer, chair in neuroimaging at Aberdeen, who devised the maths used to analyse the data, said: ‘We were able to find out to what extent more than 25,000 different brain areas ‘communicated’ with each other.

‘The method could be applied to a wide range of other brain disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, or dementia, and may lead to a better understanding of underlying disease mechanisms and the development of new diagnostic tools.’

The team’s findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more:

February 4, 2012

Science Uncovers Genes Governing Male and Female Behaviors []

by Cassie Murdoch /

We tend to think of the differences between men and women in broad, comprehensive terms. Women are more nurturing, men are more aggressive, and on and on. Of course we rationally understand that these traits are influenced by our sex hormones, but on a deeper level we seem to regard the differences in our behavior as somehow fixed. But now new research is showing that, in fact, there are very specific genes that regulate male or female behaviors, and they can be turned on and off at will—which could drastically alter the way we think about what drives us to be who we are.

The connection between sex hormones and behavior has long been understood, but the relationship between hormone levels and gene expression in our brains was less clear. To better understand it, the research, which was conducted by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, aimed to locate a number of genes that are influenced by testosterone and estrogen and in turn dictate specific sets of male and female behaviors in mice.

To do this, lead researcher Dr. Nirao Shah and his team analyzed sex differences in gene expression in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that is involved with sensing hormones. They managed to locate 16 genes that were expressed differently in males and in females, and showed that the different expressions were regulated by the sex hormones.

But what they also found is that they could isolate parts of classic male and female behaviors and pinpoint them as being governed by their own particular genes. It’s fascinating to think of all of our sex-specific quirks as connecting back to specific genes that can be turned on and off.EurekAlert offers a useful analogy for understanding the relationship between the hormones and genes. If you think of your brain as a house that’s wired into the power grid, then,

A sex hormone is similar to the main breaker that connects the house to the utility pole and regulates electricity to the entire house. Individual genes influenced by sex hormones are like the light switches in each room, making it possible to turn the lights on in the kitchen while leaving the bedroom dark.

Shah explains how this plays out in the mice:

It’s as if you can deconstruct a social behavior into genetic components. Each gene regulates a few components of a behavior without affecting other aspects of male and female behavior.

In other words, by flipping the switch, you could turn off a mouse’s sex drive, willingness to spend time with their young, and even their desire to pick fights—while leaving every other behavioral element unaffected.

Imagine how crazy it would be if we could do that in humans. Don’t like it that your boyfriend gets into fights at the bar? Just flip the switch. For now, Shah says that understanding the genes that drive male and female behavior can guide researchers to find the genetic basis for other complex social behaviors. And along the same lines, it could prove very useful in locating which genes are involved in diseases where a gender difference exist, such as autism, which affects four times as many males as it does females.

As good as all that sounds, there is something a bit unnerving about contemplating your genes as a collection of switches that govern your behaviors. On some level it would be a dream to be able to turn behaviors off and on at will—it would revolutionize the way we interact, but, on the more terrifying side of things, it would also totally change our conception of what makes us who we are. Fortunately, manipulating them is a complicated process. So it looks like we have a while until we’re all going to need to start popping pills to fine tune ourselves. That’s a relief, because for most of us managing the hormones we already have is a big enough job.


January 25, 2012

This is what your brain on drugs really looks like []

by Robert T. Gonzalez /

Scientists this week published a study that reveals what the human brain looks like under the influence of psilocybin, the hallucinogenic chemical found in magic mushrooms.

The study has turned a few heads, and raised some interesting questions. What does the human brain look like during a mushroom trip? Come to think of it, what sort of activity do scientists see in the brains of people after they smoke a joint, or once they’ve downed a few beers? Let’s take a peek at what your brain really looks like on drugs — illicit and otherwise — and what scientists stand to learn from collecting this kind of information.

The results of the mushroom study were published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt and his team. The researchers recruited thirty people to participate in the investigation, all of whom were experienced with the use of hallucinogenic drugs. The study was designed to monitor the changes in brain activity that emerge during the transition from a normal, sober state of consciousness to one influenced by the effects of the psychedelic compound psilocybin. This was accomplished by recording subjects’ brain, both before and after the intravenous administration of 2 milligrams of psilocybin (i.e. the psilocybin was injected directly into the subject’s blood stream via a vein). Two mg of psilocybin delivered intravenously is comparable to 15mg delivered orally — what the researchers describe as “a moderate dose.”

Your Brain on Shrooms


Shown here are the effects of psilocybin that the researchers observed. Regions labeled in blue indicate a decrease in brain activity. This activity was measured via two variations of a common neuroimaging method called functional magnetic resonance imagine (or fMRI for short), which works by monitoring blood flow in the brain. (It bears mentioning that while the rest of the images of brain activation in this post were also detected via fMRI, other neuroimaging techniques do exist, includingCT scanningmagnetoencephalography, andpositron emission tomography, to name a few.)

Many people have either had or heard of mind-bending experiences attributable to psilocybin — so if you or someone you know has experimented with mushrooms, the fact that the researchers’ observations reflected adecrease in brain activity during a trip will probably strike you as odd. What’s going on here, man?

“Psychedelics are thought of as ‘mind-expanding’ drugs, so it has commonly been assumed that they work by increasing brain activity,” explained Nutt in an interview with Nature’s Mo Costandi. “Surprisingly, we found that psilocybin actually caused activity to decrease in areas that have the densest connections with other areas.”

Did you catch that? The most important thing to take away from this study isn’t the fact that brain activity decreased, it’s where the activity decreased. The greatest dips in activity were observed in regions of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the anterior and posterior cingulate cortices (ACC and PCC, respectively). And as if that wasn’t enough, the researchers’ findings also suggest that psilocybin takes its disabling effects one step further by disrupting connections between the mPFC and PCC.

You can think of your mPFC, PCC, and a third region of your brain called the thalamus, astransportation hubs that coordinate the flow of information throughout your brain. Decreased activity within and between the brain’s hubs, conclude Nutt and his colleagues, allows for “an unconstrained style of cognition.”

What the hell does that mean? Costandi fleshes things out for us, with a little help from Aldous Huxley :

In his 1954 book The Doors of Perception, novelist Aldous Huxley, who famously experimented with psychedelics, suggested that the drugs produce a sensory deluge by opening a “reducing valve” in the brain that normally acts to limit our perceptions.

The new findings are consistent with this idea, and with the free-energy principle of brain function developed by Karl Friston of University College London that states that the brain works by constraining our perceptual experiences so that its predictions of the world are as accurate as possible.

The observations by Nutt and his colleagues come together quite nicely with a model of “unconstrained cognition.” There is, however, one small snag: the team’s findings directly contradict those observed in previous studies.

“We have completed a number of similar studies,” explains Franz Vollenweider, a neuropsychopharmacologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, “and we always saw anactivation of these same areas” [emphasis added].

So why don’t the researchers’ findings match up? The short answer is: don’t know; needs more research. But that doesn’t mean we can’t hypothesize. For example, in Vollenweider’s study, test subjects were administered psilocybin orally, and their brains were imaged an hour later. In Nutt’s study, however, the psychedelic compound was administered intravenously, and the brain scans were performed immediately.

According to Keith Laws, a neuropsychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, previous studies have shown that the decreases in brain activity observed by Nutt and his colleagues are also linked to the anticipation of unpleasant experiences. Being dosed with psilocybin intravenously, muses Laws, was probably a pretty stressful experience, even for experienced drug users. “I suspect,” Laws explains, “that [Nutt and his colleagues] measured something to do with anxiety.”

Click here to read the rest of the article…

January 25, 2012

Being Narcissistic Stresses Dudes Out []

by Anna North /

It turns out it’s hard out there for a narcissist — at least if he’s a guy. A new study has found that men who are full of themselves may actually be stressed out by their own narcissism.

In a study published in PLoS One, researchers David Reinhard, Sara Konrath, William Lopez, and Heather Cameron gave 106 undergrads (79 women, 27 men) a 40-item Narcissistic Personality Inventory, in which they had to pick either narcissistic responses (“If I ruled the world it would be a better place”) or non-narcissistic ones (“The thought of ruling the world frightens the hell out of me”). They subdivided the results into unhealthy narcissism — characterized by “entitlement” and “exploitativeness” — and healthy narcissism — associated with qualities like leadership and self-sufficiency (also vanity, though it’s unclear why that’s healthy). They also tested the subjects’ saliva (using a technique amusingly called “passive drool”) for cortisol, a hormone related to stress response. The researchers found that men with high levels of unhealthy narcissism also had higher cortisol levels. Unhealthily narcissistic ladies had higher levels too, but the effect was much smaller.

Higher levels of cortisol mean narcissistic dudes have a more active stress response, which could lead to cardiovascular problems — the study authors note that “future work might examine [whether] high narcissism in earlier life predicts poor health outcomes in later life.” Though hanging out with a narcissistic person is certainly stressful, it’s not obvious why narcissists themselves would be freaked out. Reinhard et al, however, note that previous research has shown that “narcissists are susceptible to a host of unrealistic self-views that are difficult and stressful to continuously maintain.” Translation: convincing yourself that you’re the most important person in the world is actually a lot of work. So why is this more stressful for men? The study authors write,

Perhaps females can escape more severe physiological consequences of narcissism because there are different expectations for their roles in society. Female gender roles promote behaviors that encourage women to value relationships and to seek and gain social support, which may lower their risks for chronic [stress]. In fact, female narcissism might be associated with different kinds of exploitative strategies than male narcissism. Perhaps female narcissists use “feminine” roles to their advantage and obtain both social and financial resources more indirectly.

Study coauthor Sara Konrath adds, “Given societal definitions of masculinity that overlap with narcissism — for example, the belief that men should be arrogant and dominant — men who endorse stereotypically male sex roles and who are also high in narcissism may feel especially stressed.” This isn’t carte blanche for ladies to act like assholes — they still might stress out the people around them. But the study’s findings may point to a sort of poetic justice for male narcissists — acting like they’re hot shit all the time may cause them pain, and even usher them into an early grave. Which seems like a pretty good argument for recognizing that the world doesn’t revolve around you.

Narcissism’s Gender Gap: Toxic Trait Stresses Men More [LiveScience]
Expensive Egos: Narcissistic Males Have Higher Cortisol [PLoS One]


January 20, 2012

Remembering things that never happened []

by Tiffany O’Callaghan /

Despite knowing better, many of us cling to the notion that memory is a reliable record and trawling through it can be similar to flipping through an old photo album. But what about the memories – sometimes vivid in nature – of things that never were?

Examining the false stories that we can create for ourselves is the aim of a new initiative led by artist Alasdair Hopwood. As part of a residency at the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unitled by Chris French at Goldsmiths College, University of London, Hopwood aims to explore what false memories reveal about our sense of identity.

To do this, he has created the False Memory Archive, a collection of people’s fabricated recollections either jotted down after talks he has given or submitted online at the project’s website. At a discussion of the project at Goldsmiths this week, Hopwood recounted how he had hoped to get 50 submissions over the course of his year-long residency funded by the Wellcome Trust. A very low estimate, he soon learned: “We got 70 in the first week.”

Our appetite for understanding and improving memory is tremendous, and French is hopeful that the false memory project will raise awareness about the intricacies of remembering. “People have so many misconceptions about the way memory works,” he says. In part, that’s because memories are so infrequently challenged. The few times they are, he says, are in the courts, after anomalous claims – like seeing aliens or the Lochness monster – or, he adds with a wry smile, in romantic relationships.

For Hopwood, examining the ways we deceive ourselves through memory is perhaps a natural progression. He has worked with fellow artists as part of the WITH Collective on projects that expose and poke fun at the many ways we style our public selves. “Identity is not fixed,” he says. Instead, it shifts depending on the company we are in, and even the format of the interaction – be it social media or in person.

We’re extraordinarily preoccupied with sculpting our identities, as the glut of self-help books and pseudoscientific methods for personal development demonstrates. Through the WITH Collective, Hopwood has pushed this to the preposterous in a series of whimsical, biting and often hilarious “solutions” offering people alternate realities to claim as their own. In these fictitious scenarios, people can avail themselves of “traumaformer” for example, a “product” that conjures up a more traumatic past for the purchaser, or shift the blame to someone else with “scapegoad”. For the sexually curious but timid, there’s also “homoflexible”: “We perform your fantasies/fears for you, as you, so you don’t have to,” the site boasts.

These past projects have all been gleefully tongue in cheek, “cheerful antagonism” as Hopwood describes it. Yet these satirical takes on modern living have been cast in new light as his understanding of memory has grown, and with it his fascination for false memory in particular.

Hopwood has already been intrigued by the detailed and often bizarre recollections pouring in, but he isn’t yet sure what will come of this project – whether the false memories should be left to speak for themselves, or if they will inspire works of visual art or a combination of both. “I don’t want to make a work that is overtly illustrative,” he says.

An accomplished satirist, whatever Hopwood makes of these misleading memories, the results should certainly be hard to forget.

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