What Causes Weird Phobias & What Can We Do About Them

I’m ashamed to say that when my husband told me he was terrified of cooked eggs, I mocked him and made jokes, from pretending that there was an egg in something he had just bitten into and waving my egg-based dishes under his nose.

I thought that his reactions of horror were a little exaggerated. There are plenty of foods I don’t like but I’m certainly not terrified at the thought of a kidney bean. It turns out that my reaction was wrong – and I still feel pangs of guilt for it. The fact is, my husband has a phobia. He doesn’t just hate eggs, they cause him trauma. He probably won’t read this as even the word egg is vile to him.

He won’t go to cafes due to the risk that a pan his breakfast has been cooked on had previously contained an egg. He has been physically sick at the smell of cooking eggs. If food he had ordered contained even a sliver of egg, he would not touch the entire dish, even parts that weren’t touching it.

Many people will be able to relate to his experience – or mine. It’s possible to have a phobia of anything, despite many believing only the obviously scary things – think spiders, flying, snakes – constitute a real, genuine fear. My sister has a fear of patterns; particularly dotted but any kind of repetitive pattern. Anything with hectic shapes, lines, dots or colours whether a piece of art, wallpaper or packaging terrifies her.

Other ‘weird’ phobias can include arachibutyrophobia, the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. Octophobia is the fear of the number eight and hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is, ironically, the fear of long words. Celebrity phobias include Billy Bob Thornton’s ‘crippling’ fear of antique furniture, Kylie Minogue’s phobia of clothes hangers, Matthew McConaughey’s fear of revolving doors, and Khloe Kardashian’s horror at belly buttons.

My husband was satisfied at the feeling of vindication when he found out the name of his own phobia, which is ovophobia. Where do these phobias originate? Are they just innate? Or are they linked to childhood experiences that may have been forgotten, but which triggered a connection to the item of fear?

When does a fear become a phobia?

Fear is a normal part of human life. But it becomes a phobia when this fear is overwhelming and debilitating. Someone with a phobia will have an extreme or unrealistic sense of danger about a particular situation, sensation, animal, or object. It might not make sense to other people, because the focus of the phobia isn’t obviously dangerous.

Phobias come under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, and can cause physical symptoms such as:

  • unsteadiness, dizziness and lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • sweating
  • increased heart rate or palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • trembling or shaking
  • an upset stomach

My husband recently recalled, after years of trying to figure his egg fear out, that he was always terrified of visiting a relative’s house as a toddler. This relative had a booming voice, slammed his fist on the table without warning and threatened to lock him in the coal shed, as well as saying that there was a monster living inside the sink.

His mum recalls how she could feel both him and his brother physically sweating with fear while on her knee and the one consistent thing that was in that kitchen was fried eggs being cooked. It’s clear that he associates that smell of eggs and the sight of them with frightening times as a child. It makes perfect sense why that phobia has manifested itself into something like this.

According to Clinical Partners, who specialize in the treatment of phobias, around 5% of children and 16% of teenagers in the UK suffer from a phobia, with most phobias developing before the age of 10.

Children and teenagers with phobias often feel ashamed about their fears and keep them secret from their friends in case they are teased. This will be the same for adults in a workplace or social setting. I’m frightened of patterns, bananas, beards or the colour yellow is hardly a comfortable ice breaker.

And yet, working alongside a new colleague with a beard or all memos coming on yellow paper would be triggering for those suffering with said phobias; making for a very uncomfortable environment both for the sufferer and the colleagues who have no idea they’re causing alarm.

Clinical Partners explains: ‘Phobias arise for different reasons but a bad experience in early years can trigger a pattern of thoughts that result in a powerful fear of a situation – for instance if your child falls ill after having an injection, they may develop an ongoing fear to injections, which can get worse over time.

‘Children may also “learn” to have a phobia – for instance if a close family member is afraid of spiders and the child witnesses them screaming when they see one, they may also develop that fear.’ There are a lot of environmental factors at play here but for the less common phobias, we have to dig deeper to try and work out the source.

There is no guarantee that discovering that source will erase your phobia but if the phobia is seriously impacting your life to the point where you can’t work, go out, become ill and even fear dying, it’s a valid starting point to understand the root of it.

CBT and talking therapies are available for this. Start by talking to your GP; phobias are a recognized condition and for many, a gradual but very carefully carried out exposure to the item of fear by a professional can be an important first step.

For my husband, his knowledge of what caused his phobia is enough. He isn’t desperate to get over his fear of eggs and doesn’t want to spend weeks and months of treatment just to potentially be ok with an egg yolk dribbling onto his bacon.

But for others, treatment is vital in order to get to a place where the phobia is not ruling their life. What can the rest of us do? Showing compassion and understanding – and never poking fun – is key. It’s a hard and embarrassing thing to confess, so don’t break a person’s confidence by waving a peeled banana under the nose of someone who is scared of them.

At the same time, you don’t have to wrap a person with a phobia in cotton wool and treat them any differently; simply be conscious of their fear and check your own actions to ensure that you are not inadvertently causing them discomfort.

Phobias are very real and sometimes we don’t know where they originate from or why they affect us so much. It’s a condition we have been programmed to underestimate, but given the mental health impacts they can lead onto, we need to all be more accepting that people can be and are terrified of things we don’t understand.

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Source: What causes ‘weird phobias – and what can we do about them? | Metro News

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Don’t Wish for Happiness. Work for It

In his 1851 work American Notebooks, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, “Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase, and is never attained.” This is basically a restatement of the Stoic philosophers’ “paradox of happiness”: To attain happiness, we must not try to attain it.

A number of scholars have set out to test this claim. For example, researchers writing in the journal Emotion in 2011 found that valuing happiness was associated with lower moods, less well-being, and more depressive symptoms under conditions of low life stress. At first, this would seem to support the happiness paradox—that thinking about it makes it harder to get. But there are alternative explanations. For example, unhappy people might say they “value happiness” more than those who already possess it, just as hungry people value food more than those who are full.

More to the point, wishing you were happier does not mean that you are working to improve your happiness. Think of your friend who complains about her job every day but never tries to find a new one. No doubt she wishes she were happier—but for whatever reason, she doesn’t do the work to improve her circumstances. This is not evidence that she can’t become happier, or that her wishes are bringing her down.

In truth, happiness requires effort, not just desire. Focusing on your dissatisfaction and wishing things were different in your life is a recipe for unhappiness if you don’t take action to put yourself on a better path. But if you make an effort to understand human happiness, formulate a plan to apply what you learn to your life, execute on it, and share what you learn with others, happiness will almost surely follow.

In contrast, self-awareness—to be attentive to our own thinking processes—leads to new knowledge and breakthroughs. One recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that self-awareness allows us to recognize emotional cues and distractions and to redirect our minds in productive ways. In essence, studying your own mind and pondering ways to improve your happiness takes inchoate anxieties and mental meandering and transforms them into real plans for life improvement.

Rumination is to be stuck; self-reflection is to seek to be unstuck. The trick, of course, is telling the difference. Say you have just experienced a breakup. If you go over the painful circumstances again and again, like watching a looped video for hours and days, this is rumination. To break out of the cycle and begin the process of self-reflection, you’d have to follow the painful memory with insightful questions. For example: “Is this a recurring pattern in my life? If so, why?” “If I could do it over again, what would I do differently?” “What can I read to help inform me more about what I have just experienced and use it constructively?”

Self-reflection moves feelings of unhappiness from our reactive brains to our executive brains, where we can manage them through concrete action. The action itself is crucial. There is an old joke about a man who asks God every day to let him win the lottery. After many years of this prayer, he finally gets an answer from heaven: “Do me a favor,” says God. “Buy a ticket.” If you want happiness, reflecting on why you don’t have it and seeking information on how to attain it is a good start. But if you don’t use that information, you’re not buying a ticket.

Easier said than done, I realize. When we are happy, we are primed for action; unhappiness often makes us want to cocoon. The way to fight this is to do the opposite of what you want to do: When you’re unhappy, don’t curl up and watch a sad movie. Exercise, call a friend in need, and read up on happiness instead. You will be reprogrammed for action.

Once you’ve reflected (not ruminated), learned, taken action, and reaped the happy rewards, it’s time to make sure the benefits are not temporary—that you don’t fall back into simply wishing. The key is sharing your new knowledge with other people.

Teaching arithmetic problems to others has been shown to improve people’s ability to solve them, and in my experience, the same is true for the study of happiness: Sharing knowledge cements it in your own mind. One of the most important assignments I give my graduate students is for them to talk about the science and art of happiness at every party they go to. This ensures that they have the ideas clear enough in their heads to explain them to others. (It also makes them more popular.)

Further, when we share knowledge about how to become happier, we persuade ourselves every bit as much as we do others. It is a well-known phenomenon in psychology that asking people to argue in favor of something can be a great way to get them to believe it. Sharing the secrets to happiness will also make you happier, because doing so is an act of love. And as we have all learned, love is generative: The more you give it, the more of it you get.

I tremble at the thought of contradicting Hawthorne and the Stoics. But it is not true that pursuing happiness must lead to a “wild-goose chase,” or that thinking about happiness makes it more elusive. Like everything else in life that is worthwhile, pursuing happiness requires intellectual energy and real effort. You simply have to do the work. The good news is that the work will be joyful, and the results quite wonderful.

By: Arthur C. Brooks
Arthur C. Brooks is a contributing writer at The Atlantic, the William Henry Bloomberg professor of the practice of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, a professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School, and host of the podcast The Art of Happiness With Arthur Brooks.

Source: How to Have a Happiness Breakthrough – The Atlantic

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How To Use Psychology To Stop Your Impulsive Online Shopping

Combine a pandemic that’s kept us cooped up indoors with an unusually cold winter and what do you get? A perfect recipe for some highly questionable online impulse purchases. Maybe you can’t stop hunting for a cocktail dress to wear at those summer weddings you may-or-may-not attend.

Or maybe you suddenly find your AmazonBasics kitchenware lacking in comparison to the celebrity chefs you’ve taken recipe inspiration from. Either way, if you feel like your online shopping has been more out of control than usual, you’re not alone: Consumer spending on e-commerce platforms shot up 44% over the past year, according to information from the U.S. Commerce Department.

Financial experts will tell you that if you want to curb unnecessary spending, you need to unsubscribe from marketing emails, block websites, and delete your credit card information from your browser. It’s sound advice that does the trick for many — but sometimes these tips can backfire or simply not go far enough. (Not to point any fingers, but this author may or may not have accidentally memorized her own credit card number from manually typing it in too many times.)

So if you’re a fellow member of the credit card memorization club who’s still spending more online than you’d like to, then you may need to replace easy hacks with more long-lasting habits rooted in behavioral psychology.

“I don’t think [easy hacks] are nearly as helpful as understanding why you’re doing it in the first place,” says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and certified financial planner. Here’s what to know about the psychology behind impulsive shopping and how to use that knowledge to create better habits.

Be conscious of your decision-making process

Most people would like to consider themselves rational beings, making decisions without letting their emotions get in the way. But behavioral economists have some harsh truth: that simply isn’t true. And when it comes to shopping, external players are actually encouraging you to act irrationally.

“Marketers are experts at triggering you emotionally to get you to spend your money,” Klontz says. In the digital age, where everywhere you click is seemingly a never-ending maze of email alerts and carousel ads, it can be downright impossible to avoid getting wound up, worrying you might miss out on a great deal.

“When we become emotionally charged, we become rationally challenged,” Klontz says. “Our prefrontal cortex becomes impaired.”

The prefrontal cortex is the area of your brain responsible for decision-making, and engaging it to get ahead of what triggers you to spend requires vigilance. Luckily, while the prevalence of online shopping can hinder peoples’ ability to think rationally, it also offers benefits that you can’t take advantage of in-store. Tricks like letting your cart sit for 24 hours or disabling alerts from stores can force us to reflect on whether or not it’s a good spending decision.

But managing your decision-making works best when you can individualize the experience. One way to do this is to take stock of what tends to be your go-to categories for impulsive spending and create specific parameters for what makes a purchase justifiable. For example, if shoes are your vice you might ask yourself: Can I wear them with X amount of outfits? Do I already have a similar pair that serve a similar function? Will they last for more than one season? And so on.

If you can honestly answer whatever questions you decide are important with qualifications that make spending the money worthwhile, then you’ll be less likely to cave when presented with the opportunity to make an impulsive purchase.

Train your brain to prioritize long-term gains…

What does buying a brand new KitchenAid mixer have to do with your ancestors foraging for berries to keep from starving? A lot, actually.

“So much of what we do around money and life relates back to what I call our ‘cave person’ brain,” Klontz says.

No, we don’t need to stockpile months’ worth of resources to protect our clan from outside threats, but the biological drive that motivates these survival behaviors appears to have a hand in the way people make shopping decisions.

Animals — including humans — have reward centers in their brains that respond to the “feel good” hormone dopamine when they acquire something they want or achieve a goal. Using that heightened sense of reward to your advantage by reorienting your priorities from buying something new to meeting more essential long-term financial goals could be the key to curbing unnecessary spending.

Klontz suggests those who find themselves overspending take stock of their overall financial health first and set goals from there: “Most people aren’t paying themselves first. That’s where the problem arises.”

Many financial advisors encourage people to follow the 50-30-20 breakdown: put 50% of your net income toward living expenses, 30% toward discretionary spending (aka fun money), and 20% into savings. If that last category isn’t up to par or you aren’t contributing a substantial amount to a retirement plan, Klontz says it should be your top priority before any unnecessary lifestyle upgrades.

But working to build a strong savings can still satisfy our natural inclinations to gather and protect — it just requires training. According to research from Santa Clara University, while a small portion of people have a genetic predisposition to save more due to a stronger link between their short-term and long-term thinking processes, the majority of us can get there by gradually rewiring our brain to prioritize long-term outcomes over short-term gains. The researchers found, for example, that when people were given tools to help them pre-commit to put more money in their savings accounts months in advance, they were more likely to accomplish the task and feel more positive about saving rather than spending.

Financial goal-setting apps that track your saving progress like YNAB, Mint or a good old-fashioned spreadsheet can help you start to change the way you think about saving from a chore-like must-do to a goal you can continually look forward to.

… And earn your present-day rewards

If your financial house is in order, you’re meeting that 20% savings threshold and you still have money leftover, then “frankly, I don’t care what you do with the rest,” Klontz says.

But if you want to avoid accumulating a bunch of junk you won’t actually use — even if you have the money for it — then connecting the goal of saving for a big purchase to meeting goals in your personal or work life can deliver a powerful dopamine response more satisfying than making daily “trips” to Amazon.

Here’s how it works: Say you want to buy a $250 memory foam mattress topper, an upgrade to your current set-up that will get plenty of use. At the same time, you have to give a major presentation at work in two weeks that requires extra attention each day to prepare for it. If you set aside $25 every day you work on the project, you can time an exciting purchase alongside the completion of the presentation. The delayed gratification and association between a higher level of effort with a higher reward can train you to prioritize long-term satisfaction over a short-term thrill.

Another option is to keep a list of spending ideas that come to you throughout the day — but don’t go browsing for them yet. When you browse or even let something sit in your cart for a few days, Klontz says you’re more likely to be blasted with advertisements and price change alerts specifically designed to trigger feelings of scarcity, which can influence people to make choices they usually wouldn’t.

Instead, jot down every potential purchase that comes up throughout the week and pick a dedicated day to comb through them to decide if you want to fork over the cash. Putting some distance between when the idea strikes you and when you actually hit ‘buy’ allows you the time to think through spending decisions and compare which items on your list will be most valuable to you.

If your finances are secure, there’s no need to deprive yourself of a fun splurge every now and then. It’s just about knowing how to keep yourself in check when faced with tempting offers.

By Kenadi Silcox

Source: How to Use Psychology to Stop Your Impulsive Online Shopping | Money

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Why Your Most Important Relationship Is With Your Inner Voice

As Ethan Kross, an American experimental psychologist and neuroscientist, will cheerfully testify, the person who doesn’t sometimes find themselves listening to an unhelpful voice in their head probably doesn’t exist. Ten years ago, Kross found himself sitting up late at night with a baseball bat in his hand, waiting for an imaginary assailant he was convinced was about to break into his house – a figure conjured by his frantic mind after he received a threatening letter from a stranger who’d seen him on TV. Kross, whose area of research is the science of introspection, knew that he was overreacting; that he had fallen victim to what he calls “chatter”. But telling himself this did no good at all. At the peak of his anxiety, his negative thoughts running wildly on a loop, he found himself, somewhat comically, Googling “bodyguards for academics”.

Kross runs the wonderfully named Emotion and Self Control Lab at Michigan University, an institution he founded and where he has devoted the greater part of his career to studying the silent conversations people have with themselves: internal dialogues that powerfully influence how they live their lives. Why, he and his colleagues want to know, do some people benefit from turning inwards to understand their feelings, while others are apt to fall apart when they engage in precisely the same behavior? Are there right and wrong ways to communicate with yourself, and if so, are there techniques that might usefully be employed by those with inner voices that are just a little too loud?

The psychologist and neuroscientist Ethan Kross: ‘Avoiding our emotions across the board is not a good thing, but let’s think about distance instead.’

Down the years, Kross has found answers to some, if not all, of these questions, and now he has collected these findings in a new book – a manual he hopes will improve the lives of those who read it. “We’re not going to rid the world of anxiety and depression,” he says, of Chatter: The Voice in Our Head and How to Harness It. “This is not a happy pill, and negative emotions are good in small doses. But it is possible to turn down the temperature a bit when it’s running too high, and doing this can help all of us manage our experiences more effectively.”

According to Kross, who talks to me on Zoom from his home in a snowy Ann Arbor, there now exists a robust body of research to show that when we experience distress – something MRI scans suggest has a physical component as well as an emotional one – engaging in introspection can do “significantly” more harm than good. Our thoughts, he says, don’t save us from ourselves. Rather, they give rise to something insidious: the kind of negative cycles that turn the singular capacity of human beings for introspection into a curse rather than a blessing, with potentially grave consequences both for our mental and physical health (introspection of the wrong sort can even contribute to faster ageing).

Does this mean that it’s not, after all, good to talk? That those in therapy should immediately cancel their next appointment? Not exactly. “Avoiding our emotions across the board is not a good thing,” he says. “But let’s think about distance instead. Some people equate this word with avoidance and repression. But I think of it as the ability to step back and reflect, to widen the lens, to get some perspective. We’re not avoiding something by doing this, we’re just not getting overwhelmed.”

Those who are able to quieten their inner voice are happier; their sense of relief can be palpable

According to one study, we talk to ourselves at a rate equivalent to speaking 4,000 words per minute (by way of comparison, the American president’s State of the Union address, which usually runs to about 6,000 words, lasts more than an hour). No wonder, then, that listening to it can be exhausting, whether it takes the form of a rambling soliloquy, or a compulsive rehashing of events, a free-associative pinballing from one thought to another or a furious internal dialogue.

But if such noise can be paralysing, it can also be self-sabotaging. What we experience on the inside can blot out almost everything else if we let it. A study published in 2010, for instance, shows that inner experiences consistently dwarf outer ones – something that, as Kross notes, speaks to the fact that once a “ruminative” thought takes hold of us, it can ruin even the best party, the most longed-for new job.

Why do some people have a louder or more troubling inner voice than others? “That’s harder to answer,” he says. “There are so many ways it can be activated, some genetic, some environmental.” What is certain is that these experiences cannot be discounted: “The data is overwhelming when it comes to the connection between anxiety and physical health conditions.” Those who are able to quieten their inner voice are happier; their sense of relief can be palpable.

‘Our thoughts don’t save us from ourselves,’ says Ethan Kross.

What is interesting about the science involved in all this is how it both backs up, and goes against, intuition. Much of Kross’s book is devoted to what he calls the “toolbox” of techniques that can be used to dial down chatter, and while some of these seem to contradict all that we think and feel – “venting”, for instance, can do a person more harm than good, because talking about negative experiences with friends can often work as a repellent, pushing away those you need most – others confirm that when we act on certain instincts, we’re right to do so.

To take one example, if you are the kind of person who slips into the second or third person when you are in a flap (“Rachel, you should calm down; this is not the end of the world”), you really are doing yourself some good. What Kross calls “distanced self-talk” is, according to experiments he has run, one of the fastest and most straightforward ways of gaining emotional perspective: a “psychological hack” that is embedded in “the fabric of human language”. Talking to yourself like this – as if you were another person altogether – isn’t only calming. Kross’s work shows that it can help you make a better impression, or improve your performance in, say, a job interview. It may also enable you to reframe what seems like an impossibility as a challenge, one to which, with your own encouragement, you may be able to rise.

Some of his other techniques are already well known: the power of touch (put your arms around someone); the power of nature (put your arms around a tree). Activities that induce “awe” – a walk in the mountains, say, or time spent in front of a magnificent work of art – are also useful, helping with that sense of perspective. Writing a daily journal can prove efficacious for some (something that felt terrible one day physically becoming old news the next), while neat freaks like me will be thrilled to discover that what he calls “compensatory control” – the creation of exterior order, better known as tidying up – really does have an impact on interior order. Reorganise your sock drawer, and you may find that your voice quietens.

Research shows, too, that superstitions, rituals and lucky charms can be useful, though most of us will draw the line at, say, taking our milk teeth with us when we fly, as the model Heidi Klum is said to (she keeps hers in a tiny bag, which she clutches during turbulence). Placebos have been found to work on chatter, just as they do in the case of some physical illnesses. In one study in which Kross was involved, a saline nasal spray acted as a kind of painkiller for the inner voice: data from brain scans showed that those who’d inhaled it, having believed they were inhaling a painkiller, displayed significantly less activity in their brain’s social-pain circuitry compared with those who knew they had inhaled only a saline solution.

No wonder, then, that Kross believes children should be taught the science behind all of these ideas, and in the US he has already begun working with teachers to make this happen: “We want to find out if knowing this stuff influences how they regulate themselves.” Does he make use of the toolbox? (Physician, heal thyself.) “We should probably ask my wife,” he laughs. “But yes, I do, absolutely. I’m human, too.” In particular, he is “very selective” when it comes to friends from whom he seeks “chatter support”.

Everyday feelings of sadness are elevated for many, but there is also a lot of resilience – we often underestimate that

Kross finished his book long before the outbreak of the pandemic, let alone the storming of the Capitol. But as he observes, it could hardly be published at a more opportune moment. “This is the perfect chatter episode for society: a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, political uncertainty, widespread groupthink.” His most cited paper to date looked at the harmful implications of social media, often “a giant megaphone” for the inner voice – Facebook expressly asks its users: “What’s on your mind?” – and an environment that he thinks we need to learn to navigate with more care.

As for the pandemic, though, he is less pessimistic than some about the effects it is likely to have long-term on mental health. “We are already seeing signs that depression and anxiety are spiking,” he says. “Everyday feelings of sadness are elevated for many, and then there are more full-blown episodes. But there is also a lot of resilience, and we often underestimate that. A lot of people are doing quite well. They’re managing this hardship in an adaptive way. I am an optimist. We will return, I think, to a nicer place, though how quickly that will happen, I only wish I could say.”

Which technique should the pandemic-anxious deploy? “Well, one that I personally rely on is temporal distancing,” he says. This requires a person to look ahead: to see themselves determinedly in the future. Studies show that if you ask those going through a difficult experience how they will feel about it in 10 years’ time, rather than tomorrow, their troubles immediately seem more temporary. Does this really help him? “Yes, it does. I ask myself how I am going to feel a year from now, when I’m back in the office, and I’m seeing my colleagues, and travelling again, and taking my kids to soccer – and it gives me hope.”

It is, as he says in his book, a form of time travel: a mental Tardis that, if only we can manage to board it, may make everything from a bereavement right down to a silly argument seem less brutal, just a little easier to bear.

Chatter: The Voice in Our Head and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross is published by Vermilion (£20). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

Rachel Cooke

By: Rachel Cooke

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if you ask those going through a difficult experience how they will feel about it in 10 years’ time, rather than tomorrow, their troubles immediately seem more temporary

I’m not so sure about this. When I had a major depressive episode with crippling anxiety about 20 years ago I spent the better part of 18 months living (in my head) in this fantasy version of the future where none of the things mattered. Wha…Jump to comment

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One of the mistakes humans often make is to assume all thoughts are words. A person without access to or knowledge of any kind of language will not be without thought. Nor will that lack of language make them unintelligent. Words form a paper thin layer on top a complex set of emotional networks. Some of our most powerful and enduring responses to stimuli have no need of any kind of language.
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Scientists Show What Loneliness Looks Like In The Brain

This holiday season will be a lonely one for many people as social distancing due to COVID-19 continues, and it is important to understand how isolation affects our health. A new study shows a sort of signature in the brains of lonely people that make them distinct in fundamental ways, based on variations in the volume of different brain regions as well as based on how those regions communicate with one another across brain networks.

A team of researchers examined the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data, genetics and psychological self-assessments of approximately 40,000 middle-aged and older adults who volunteered to have their information included in the UK Biobank: an open-access database available to health scientists around the world. They then compared the MRI data of participants who reported often feeling lonely with those who did not.

The researchers found several differences in the brains of lonely people. These brain manifestations were centered on what is called the default network: a set of brain regions involved in inner thoughts such as reminiscing, future planning, imagining and thinking about others.

Researchers found the default networks of lonely people were more strongly wired together and surprisingly, their grey matter volume in regions of the default network was greater. Loneliness also correlated with differences in the fornix: a bundle of nerve fibers that carries signals from the hippocampus to the default network. In lonely people, the structure of this fibre tract was better preserved.

We use the default network when remembering the past, envisioning the future or thinking about a hypothetical present. The fact the structure and function of this network is positively associated with loneliness may be because lonely people are more likely to use imagination, memories of the past or hopes for the future to overcome their social isolation.

“In the absence of desired social experiences, lonely individuals may be biased towards internally-directed thoughts such as reminiscing or imagining social experiences. We know these cognitive abilities are mediated by the default network brain regions,” says Nathan Spreng from The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) of McGill University, and the study’s lead author. “So this heightened focus on self-reflection, and possibly imagined social experiences, would naturally engage the memory-based functions of the default network.”

Loneliness is increasingly being recognized as a major health problem, and previous studies have shown older people who experience loneliness have a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Understanding how loneliness manifests itself in the brain could be key to preventing neurological disease and developing better treatments.

“We are just beginning to understand the impact of loneliness on the brain. Expanding our knowledge in this area will help us to better appreciate the urgency of reducing loneliness in today’s society,” says Danilo Bzdok, a researcher at The Neuro and the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, and the study’s senior author.

This study was published in the journal Nature Communications on Dec. 15, 2020. It was partially funded by a grant to Spreng and Bzdok from the U.S. National Institute on Aging.


Story Source:

Materials provided by McGill University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. R. Nathan Spreng, Emile Dimas, Laetitia Mwilambwe-Tshilobo, Alain Dagher, Philipp Koellinger, Gideon Nave, Anthony Ong, Julius M. Kernbach, Thomas V. Wiecki, Tian Ge, Yue Li, Avram J. Holmes, B. T. Thomas Yeo, Gary R. Turner, Robin I. M. Dunbar, Danilo Bzdok. The default network of the human brain is associated with perceived social isolation. Nature Communications, 2020; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-20039-w

Cite This Page:

McGill University. “Scientists show what loneliness looks like in the brain: Neural ‘signature’ may reflect how we respond to feelings of social isolation.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 December 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/12/201215082059.htm>.

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If you’re sick of feeling lonely and you want to know how to get rid of it, you’ve come to the right place! In this video, we will talk about the 7 steps you can take to overcome loneliness and to prevent it in the future. Check out the whole mini course here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list… – – – – – – – – – Join us on Patreon and get access to our Exclusive Newsfeed, our Naturalist Lifestyle Data Bank, more Mindful Moments, Coaching Sessions and much more. Patreon is a website that allows you to join our community and support our work directly. https://bit.ly/33939FC – – – – – – – – – Click the links below to check out our other videos about loneliness: Video #1: Why do we feel lonely? – Understanding Loneliness https://youtu.be/M74gIRMSMPI Video #3: 5 Traps Of Loneliness You Must Avoid! https://youtu.be/VoL_21lM4fQ Video #4: Guided Meditation To Connect To Your Powerful Source https://youtu.be/xjxtFCPV8EA Video #5: Guided Meditation For Loneliness – Feeling Connected https://youtu.be/poRk_yJSomI Video #6: How Loneliness Impacts Your Health https://youtu.be/z34RRUkTUFk – – – – – – – – – – Subscribe To Our Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCw1e… WATCH NEXT: our YouTube Shorts: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list… Mindful Moments meditation playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list… How To Overcome Loneliness playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list…

What Happens To The Brain When We Experience Nostalgia

The term “nostalgia” was coined by Swiss physician Johannes Hofer derived from two Greek words, “nostos” and “algos” — meaning “suffering” and “origins”.

Nostalgia, unlike screen memory, does not relate to a specific memory, but rather to an emotional state. This idealized emotional state is framed within a past era, and the yearning for the idealized emotional state manifests as an attempt to recreate that past era by reproducing activities performed then and by using symbolic representations of the past.

Memory is really a sort of networking and synthesis and abstraction of all these experiences of our life. It’s what makes us humanly unique. It’s our autobiography. So nostalgia is a sense of being able to contact and read the book again.

According to Joseph Ledoux (an eminent neuroscientist working on emotions, fear and anxiety) nostalgia has something to do with how memory and emotions are stored in the brain.

Concept of Flashbulb memory:

But when a memory is stored at a time of emotional arousal, the imprint is more powerful, possibly due to the neurotransmitters, that the brain secretes in that moment. As per LeDoux’s conjecture, the process of forming the mental imprint of an event may be closely linked to what is known as “flashbulb memory.

In 2007, NYU psychologist Elizabeth Phelps identified the brain circuitry involved in the creation of flashbulb memories. Her team took scans of people’s brains as they recalled the events of September 11, 2001, and saw that the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center, was lit up. Her work uncovered that the closer one was to the event, the stronger the recollection and the easier it was to retrieve.

To stockpile information into our brain, we rely on a critical structure called the hippocampus. Without it, we would be blank slates with no past. This C-shaped region of the brain is highly connected to the emotional region of the brain, the amygdala.

During an experience these two structures work together and combine information from the different senses. Consequently, an experience becomes intertwined with feelings.

So when a strongly emotional event, say, like our fifth birthday party, occurs, the amygdala is helping us perceive that emotional content and our hippocampus is processing the events that occurred—the cake, the presents and all these specific details of things that compose that birthday night. We probably don’t remember much details anymore but are just nostalgic about what a terrific time we had.

Neuroimaging Studies:

fMRI studies have examined the neural substrates of listening to music that
evokes emotions such as tenderness, peacefulness and nostalgia, showing that experiencing these high valence/low arousal emotions activates various brain regions, including:

  1. Hippocampus (HPC)
  2. Parahippocampus
  3. Ventral striatum (VS)
  4. Ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC)
  5. Subgenual/rostral anterior cingulate cortex
  6. Somatosensory cortex
  7. Medial motor cortex
  8. Precuneus
  9. Medial orbitofrontal cortex

The music that many of us loved as a teenager means more to us than ever—but with each passing year, the new songs on the chartlist sound like noisy nonsense.

So, why do the songs that we heard when we were teenagers sound sweeter than anything we listen to as an adult?

This is because these songs hold disproportionate power over our emotions.

Memories are meaningless without emotion—and aside from love and drugs, nothing spurs an emotional reaction like music. Brain imaging studies show that our favorite songs stimulate the brain’s pleasure circuit (Nucleus Accumbens, Ventral Tegmental Area etc), which releases an influx of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other neurochemicals that make us feel good. The more we like a song, the more we get treated to neurochemical bliss, flooding our brains with some of the same neurotransmitters that cocaine chases after.

Olfactory Nostalgia:

The smell of chlorine wafts through the air. Suddenly, we recall childhood summers spent in a swimming pool. Or maybe it’s a whiff of apple pie, or the scent of the same perfume our mom used to wear. Our noses have a way of sniffing out nostalgia.

After a smell enters the nose, it travels through the cranial nerve through the olfactory bulb, which helps the brain process smells. The olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. As a member of the limbic system, the olfactory bulb can easily access the amygdala, which plays a role in emotional memories. Olfactory bulb has a strong input into the amygdala, which process emotions. The kind of memories that it evokes are good and they are more powerful. This close relationship between the olfactory bulb and the amygdala is one of the reason odors cause a spark of nostalgia.

References:

  1. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Advance Access published June 8, 2015
  2. How the brain stores sad, glad and bittersweet recollections December 25, 2014 by Luba Ostashevsky
  3. Neuron 84, 1–10, November 19, 2014 ª2014 Elsevier Inc
  4. Smells like nostalgia: Why do scents bring back memories? by Meghan Holohan

3K viewsView 9 UpvotersRelated QuestionsMore Answers BelowWhat combination of chemicals are released in the brain when one feels nostalgic? Why do I feel nostalgic weeks before something bad happens? How exactly does the feeling of nostalgia work? How long does it take for something to trigger that specific feeling in our brain? Why do I feel nostalgic about my childhood even if I am just 14? I’m 17 yet feel nostalgia for when I was 15 and 16; is getting nostalgic this young and for such recent times normal, and what can I do about it?

Ambrose Husser, 10 years US Army. 6 years u.s. lifeguard. Amateur biologist in physicist Answered April 30, 2019 · Author has 55 answers and 7.8K answer views

We define ourselves in large part with our past experiences. So when we look at our past we look at what makes us who we are. The future often brings fourth a feeling of fear and apprehension.

You must always be careful to never dwell on the past.This will lead to depression and never fixate on the future or you will live in stress fear and apprehension.

What combination of chemicals are released in the brain when one feels nostalgic? Why do I feel nostalgic weeks before something bad happens? How exactly does the feeling of nostalgia work? How long does it take for something to trigger that specific feeling in our brain? Why do I feel nostalgic about my childhood even if I am just 14? I’m 17 yet feel nostalgia for when I was 15 and 16; is getting nostalgic this young and for such recent times normal, and what can I do about it? Why do we feel nostalgic? How can one fight nostalgia? Why do I constantly feel nostalgic? I feel like I’m wasting my life and it’s nearly over, but I’m 13. Do people like to feel nostalgic? What made you feel nostalgic recently? Why do I love the feeling of nostalgia? What do 1144 and 818 mean in a twin flame journey? What happens (scientifically) when you get heartbroken? What happens in the human brain after crying? Is it common for people to feel intense nostalgia through smell?

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What happens to the brain when it recalls good times. The first 1000 people to use the link will get a free trial of Skillshare Premium Membership: https://skl.sh/johnnyharris13 Check out Nathaniel Drew’s Video on Nostalgia: https://youtu.be/hHE1cJF3OZs I launched a Patreon. If you want to support my videos, head here: https://www.patreon.com/johnnyharris For anyone who likes smarter travel, Iz and I started a company: https://brighttrip.com/?ref=5 Subscribe to my channel: https://goo.gl/1U8Zy7 My Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/johnny.harris/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JohnnyHarris Tom Fox made the music for this video: https://tfbeats.com/ I also get music from Artlist: https://bit.ly/2XfAE6C And Music Bed http://share.mscbd.fm/johnnywharris Iz’s Channel: https://www.youtube.com/iz-harris We sell our drone prints: https://backdropstock.com/collections… And we send an email once a month with a Spotify playlist. Sign up if that sounds cool: https://www.izharris.com/newsletter Gear I use: https://www.izharris.com/gear-guide Camera: https://geni.us/xK9Al Favorite Lens: https://geni.us/VrAWNG Second Favorite Lens: https://geni.us/Hcgdrb Travel Tripod: https://geni.us/Sf0bA Drone: http://geni.us/glWJhq Johnny Harris is a filmmaker and journalist. He currently is based in Washington, DC, reporting on interesting trends and stories domestically and around the globe. Johnny’s visual style blends motion graphics with cinematic videography to create content that explains complex issues in relatable ways. He holds a BA in international relations from Brigham Young University and an MA in international peace and conflict resolution from American University. Vox: https://www.vox.com/authors/johnny-ha… Spotlight: http://byupoliticalscienceblog.com/20… XYNTEO Interview: https://xynteo.com/insights/latest/po… Bonnier Talk: https://vimeo.com/232416596 Neiman Lab: https://tinyurl.com/ybjbvb7h Emmy Nomination: https://tinyurl.com/y9gjgel2 Storytelling Tips: http://chase.be/blog/5-storytelling-t… Craig Adams Podcast: https://open.spotify.com/episode/4cS0… So Money Podcast: https://tinyurl.com/ycjbl4p5

Improve Your Cognitive Health with This Brain-Training App

Your brain can be a great indicator of your overall health. These days, with so many of us confined to self-isolation and offices going fully remote, there’s no shame in feeling a little brain drain. But don’t let the doldrums get you down and harm your health.

CogniFit Premium Brain Training is designed to detect risk factors for alterations in cognitive functioning using neuropsychological assessments. Whether you’ve been feeling a bit slower lately or you just aren’t as motivated as you used to be, CogniFit can help you identify why. Millions of users already use CogniFit to identify possible cognitive alterations and deficiencies so they can create a personalized brain training regimen for their needs.Through validated tasks to evaluate 23 cognitive skills, CogniFit helps measure, train, and properly monitor mental fitness and its relation to neurological pathologies.

The intuitive app lets you personalize your training by choosing your preferred programs and the age group you’re in, so it can provide better insights. CogniFit’s exercises and brain games help stimulate cognitive functions and improve brain plasticity while providing real-time monitoring on the evolution of your skills and compares the results to age group norms.

Through validated tasks to evaluate 23 cognitive skills, CogniFit helps measure, train, and properly monitor mental fitness and its relation to neurological pathologies. The intuitive app lets you personalize your training by choosing your preferred programs and the age group you’re in, so it can provide better insights. CogniFit’s exercises and brain games help stimulate cognitive functions and improve brain plasticity while providing real-time monitoring on the evolution of your skills and compares the results to age group norms.

By: Entrepreneur Store Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

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Apparently, alcohol, not getting enough sleep, no physical activity, smoking, high-fat or high-sodium foods, or being lonely could add to early cognitive decline. So if you want to be a member of the brainiacs’ club in your 70s or just remember your grandson’s birthday, you’d better start exercising in your 30s and put down those cheeseballs rolled in bacon (at least every now and then!).

In any event, there are methods to actively strengthen your cognitive abilities. Life-long learning, reading books (The Medical Futurist believes especially science fiction stimulates the brain) or playing mind-games all help. According to a study at the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, mental stimulation like reading can help protect memory and thinking skills, especially with age. The authors of the study suggest that reading every day can slow down a late-life cognitive decline, keeping the brain healthier and higher functioning for longer.

As part of our From Chance To Choice campaign, which through the HOW TO series aims to show methods and tools to take more control over our own health in the long term, we would like to suggest you some technological solutions, apps and games, to help keep your brain as fit as possible from early on.

Gameplay focuses and controls our attention, taps into our innate strengths, thrills us utterly and compels us to greater resilience in the attainment of more powerful and useful skills. That’s why gamified apps are perfect for improving and maintaining cognitive abilities.

Recently, several start-ups have started to experiment with bringing challenging offline games to digital brain-training apps. These usually stick to the same format: collections of mini-games you can play on any device with the purpose of improving comprehension, focus, and self-confidence, nicely drawn graphs to show how you’re developing over time; and optional subscriptions for extra games and features. So, here are our four favorites!

Source: https://medicalfuturist.com

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Social Connection Could Protect Against Depression Best

1

In a new study, researchers have found a set of factors that could help prevent depression in adults. They named social connection as the strongest protective factor for depression and suggested that reducing sedentary activities such as TV watching and daytime napping could also help lower the risk of depression.

The research was conducted by a team from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, but until now researchers have focused on only a handful of risk and protective factors, often in just one or two domains.

This study provides the most comprehensive picture to date of modifiable factors that could impact depression risk. To that end, researchers took a two-stage approach.

The first stage drew on a database of over 100,000 participants in the UK Biobank to systematically scan a wide range of modifiable factors that might be linked to the risk of depression, including social interaction, media use, sleep patterns, diet, physical activity, and environmental exposures.

The second stage took the strongest modifiable candidates to examine which factors may have a causal relationship to depression risk.

This two-stage approach allowed the researchers to narrow the field to a smaller set of promising and potentially causal targets for depression.

The team found an important protective effect of social connection and social cohesion.

These factors are more relevant now than ever at a time of social distancing and separation from friends and family.

The protective effects of social connection were present even for individuals who were at higher risk for depression as a result of genetic vulnerability or early life trauma.

On the other hand, factors linked to depression risk included time spent watching TV, though the authors note that additional research is needed to determine if that risk was due to media exposure per se or whether time in front of the TV was a proxy for being sedentary.

Perhaps more surprising, the tendency for daytime napping and regular use of multivitamins appeared to be linked to depression risk, though more research is needed to determine how these might contribute.

The study demonstrates an important new approach for evaluating a wide range of modifiable factors and using this evidence to prioritize targets for preventive interventions for depression.

One author of the study is Karmel Choi, Ph.D., an investigator in the Department of Psychiatry and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

By: Knowridge Science Report

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Isolation Has Profound Effects on The Human Body And Brain. Here’s What Happens

1

Imagine being confined to a small, dark room, with no social interaction whatsoever for 30 days. Not many people would jump at this opportunity.

But, in November 2018, a professional US poker player Rich Alati bet US$100,000 that he could survive 30 days alone and in total darkness.

He was kept in a small, completely dark room with nothing but a bed, fridge and bathroom. Even with all the resources he needed to survive, Alati couldn’t last the month. After 20 days he negotiated his release, taking a payout of US$62,400.

There are countless negative effects that social isolation and extreme isolation can have on our minds and bodies. Alati was no exception, reporting that he experienced a range of side effects, including changes to his sleep cycle, and hallucinations.

But why is isolation so difficult for humans to withstand?

One of the reasons that living in isolation is difficult is because humans are social creatures. Many people that have lived in isolated environments – such as researchers stationed in Antarctica – report that loneliness can be the most difficult part of the job.

Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli adventurer and author who survived weeks alone in the Amazon, said that loneliness was what he suffered from most and that he had created imaginary friends to keep himself company.

Loneliness can be damaging to both our mental and physical health. Socially isolated people are less able to deal with stressful situations.

They’re also more likely to feel depressed and may have problems processing information. This in turn can lead to difficulties with decision-making and memory storage and recall.

People who are lonely are also more susceptible to illness. Researchers found that a lonely person’s immune system responds differently to fighting viruses, making them more likely to develop an illness.

The impacts of social isolation become worse when people are placed in physically isolating environments. For example, solitary confinement can have negative psychological effects on prisoners – including significant increases in anxiety and panic attacks, increased levels of paranoia, and being less able to think clearly.

Many prisoners also report long-term mental health problems after being held in isolation.

Natascha Kampusch – an Austrian woman who was kidnapped at the age of ten and held captive in a cellar for eight years – noted in her biography that the lack of light and human contact mentally weakened her.

She also reported that endless hours and days spent completely isolated made her susceptible to her captor’s orders and manipulations.

Alone in the dark

The effects of isolation can become even more pronounced if you experience it in total darkness, causing both physical and psychological consequences. One impact of being in complete darkness is that it can wreck your sleep cycle. Two of the key mechanisms for sleep cycle regulation, the hormone melatonin and the brain’s suprachiasmatic nucleus, both rely on light to function.

Daylight reduces our levels of melatonin, helping us feel awake. Daylight also helps the suprachiastmatic nucleus to reset our waking time if our sleep cycles start to drift. Without daylight, our 24-hour circadian rhythm can change.

This explains why people exploring cave systems, for example, may find that their sleep-wake cycle becomes disrupted. This means that the time they feel like going to sleep doesn’t stay in a regular pattern and can shift each day.

Disruptions to our circadian rhythm can also make us feel depressed and fatigued. This has also been linked to increased cancer risk, insulin resistance and heart disease, as well as other physical problems such as obesity and premature ageing.

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People placed in isolation may also experience hallucinations. The lack of stimuli causes people to misattribute internal thoughts and feelings as occurring in the outer environment. Essentially, hallucinations happen because of a lack of brain stimulation.

In fact, Alati revealed he began experiencing hallucinations by his third day in isolation, ranging from seeing the room fill up with bubbles, to imagining that the ceiling had opened up to show him a starry sky.

People in total isolation may also feel that there is a ghostly presence or someone watching them.

While the impact of total isolation can be severe, the good news is that these effects are reversible. Exposure to daylight can normally correct sleep-wake patterns – though this might take weeks, or even months in some cases, before it’s fully adjusted.

Reconnecting with other humans can reduce loneliness and help restore us to good mental and physical health. However, some people who have been held in social isolation against their will may develop long-term mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

But some people who have faced the challenge of being alone for an extended period of time may show personal growth – including emotional growth, feeling closer to family and friends, and having a better perspective on life – as a result of their experience.

After 20 days willingly spent in total isolation, even Alati said he’s changed – reporting that the experience gave him a greater appreciation for people and life, better attention and focus, and overall feeling happier than before.The Conversation

By: Sarita Robinson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Central Lancashire

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Women Typically Do Mental Tasks Better In Warm Rooms Heat Affects Cognition And Equality

people, technology, work and corporate concept - business team of women with tablet pc computer at o

Women perform better on math and verbal tests at higher temperatures while men perform better at lower temperatures, according to a laboratory study on German students. The research also found that the gain in cognitive performance for women is higher than the loss in men’s as the temperature rises. As the room temperature rose, men’s performance declined and women’s performance improved.

Their findings open the doorway to develop more thoughtful regulations and norms regarding office temperatures, school temperatures, testing environments, teamwork, and dress-codes.

A 2012 review of studies found that women are 1.74 times more likely to be dissatisfied with the temperature than men, especially at the cooler end; they are also more sensitive to extreme deviations from a neutral temperature. Typically, women prefer 24-25 degrees centigrade and men prefer 21-22 degrees centigrade. A report in Nature shows that office temperatures are usually biased toward men. These insights raise important questions – Is the ambient temperature in offices and schools really appropriate? Are room temperatures unfairly biased toward men’s preferences at the cost of women’s productivity and satisfaction? Are office temperature decisions sexist? Are clothing restrictions or dress-codes an obvious hurdle to overcome this problem?

Turns out, cold workplaces and learning/testing centers may be putting women at a significant yet preventable disadvantage.

Women are 1.74 times more likely than men to be dissatisfied with temperature, especially when it’s cold and they perform mental activities better at higher temperatures. Is the temperature hampering women’s productivity? Studies say… Click To Tweet

The study: Cognitive performance and temperature based sex-differences

Researchers Tom Y. Chang and Agne Kajackaite (2019 study) found that, within an indoor temperature range of 16 to 33 degrees celsius, women perform better at the warmer end. Their study assessed 542 German students (41% female) with an avg. age of 24 years (median age 23 years) on 3 tasks testing 3 different aspects of cognitive performance: Verbal ability, Mathematical ability, and Cognitive reflection. In line with real-world demands on performance, researchers incentivized the tasks with reward money which was later converted into a final payoff at the end of the experiment.

To measure verbal ability, participants were tasked to create as many German words as they could from a string of 10 jumbled letters: “ADEHINRSTU”. Participants earned more money for longer words.

Researchers tested mathematical ability with a series of mental additions of 5 double-digit numbers (ex: 21 + 56 + 43 + 30 +75).

For cognitive reflection, they asked participants to answer 3 counter-intuitive logical questions (ex: “If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?”). Cognitive reflection is a test of one’s ability to override a wrong gut-feeling-based solution and rectify it with logical evaluation.

Women performed better than men on both verbal and mathematical ability tests at the warmer end but worse at the colder end. They attempted more problems and correctly solved more problems too. Men performed better on both at lower temperatures. At about 31-32 degrees celsius, men and women performed equally at the math test, but at 16 degrees, they performed worse than men. After 21 degrees, women’s verbal ability scores surpassed men’s scores. Researchers did not find any such temperature difference in their performance on the cognitive reflections task.

There are a few more nuances – the decrease in men’s math and verbal performance was less dramatic than the increase in women’s performance. For example, on the mathematical task, a 1-degree ambient temperature increase led to 1.76% higher correct-solves for women and only a 0.63% decrease in solve-rate for men. This particular trend has a practical insight for offices and standardized exam centers for SAT and GRE – the decrease in men’s performance is smaller in magnitude than women’s gain in performance. And by extension, moving closer to an ambient temperature preferred by women could lead to a collective gain in performance as opposed to a collective loss for men-friendly temperatures.

There are limitations to these changes in cognitive performance. While math and verbal tasks are affected by ambient temperature, cognitive reflection isn’t. Cognitive reflection tests a person’s ability to solve problems where the intuitive answer is different from the objectively correct answer. To successfully answer a cognitive reflection task, a person has to override a system 1 (quick gut-feeling) answer with a system 2 (logical) answer. Daniel Kahneman famously described system 1 as the cognitive system which relies on high-speed intuition, gut-feel, conditioning, and inherent biases while system 2 as a more careful, slow, and logically evaluated system.

A famous example of cognitive reflection is – “A bat and a ball cost 1 dollar 10 cents. The bat costs 1 dollar more than the ball. What is the cost of the ball?” Most people tend to quickly jump to the answer “10 cents.” But, the correct answer is 5 cents. 5 cents (ball) + 1 dollar & 5 cents (bat) equals 1.10 dollars. Most people get stuck on the intuitive answer of 10 cents because they compute the difference between the 2 givens – a bias where they ignore a system-level problem in favor of a component level relationship. Such biases can reduce the validity of one’s interpretation & inferences based on the givens. Since biases tend to be rigid and habitual, superficial changes in temperature, which could affect cognitive resources, might not be potent enough to override them.

While the cognitive abilities of the sample were fairly homogenous, the study only looked at University students from Berlin. There is extensive diversity in work-environments between job types, geographies, and economies. The current study extends the literature on gender differences across a spectrum of contexts and psychological variables such as violence, honesty altruism, and co-operation.

To really apply this finding in the real-world, researchers would need to further address aspects of ambient temperature such as overall physical comfort, humidity, seasonal differences, base-line insulation of typical work clothing, etc.

Explanation and related research

The answer to why higher temperatures make women better at math and verbal tasks is unknown but there are a few explanations. One possibility is that overall comfort affects cognitive performance and warmer temperatures are more comfortable for women. An earlier study demonstrated a positive correlation between clothing comfort and exam scores: comfortable clothing was associated with higher scores in a statistics exam and uncomfortable clothing was associated with lower scores. They did this study in a naturalistic context like giving an actual exam and letting participants choose their clothing. In a study on 11 males, cognitive performance was not affected by thermal and mechanical discomfort but the type of task affected perceived discomfort. Their perceived discomfort increased with easier tasks. This supports the idea that the loss in men’s cognitive performance is faint compared with the gain in women’s performance.

Professional dress-codes should consider thermal comfort for all genders to maximize their productivity and satisfaction. Some clothing restrictions may be putting people at a cognitive disadvantage. Click To Tweet

The interesting thing about this temperature-cognitive performance link is that, in the 2019 study, women reported more correct answers as well as more accurate answers at higher temperatures. The authors believe women answered more questions because they put in more effort. This increase in effort is, probably, facilitated by overall comfort. One interpretation of this temperature-cognition link is that women are willing to work harder than men at higher temperatures and effort mediates this relationship. While this study did not consider physical comfort as the main factor to study, there are rudimentary findings from other studies that support this conclusion.

Previous research shows that women prefer a slightly higher indoor temperature (by 1 to 3 degrees Celsius) than men and the 2019 study was consistent with this trend – women preferred higher temperatures than men. At around 32 degrees men and women both feel bored and drowsy and this relationship follows an inverted-U shape: Lower and higher temperatures than 32 degrees are linked with lower boredom and lower drowsiness. A 2018 review of studies found a mixture of significant and insignificant differences between men’s and women’s temperature preferences. So there may be a larger role of thermal comfort based on the choice of clothing, degree of control, ambient stress than pure averaged out preferences, especially for women. For example, women tend to value thermal comfort more than auditory comfort like background noise – the comfort generated by the right temperature and clothing may be more valuable than the discomfort of noise and that facilitates performance.

According to Sami Karjalainen, it would be wiser to choose the ambient temperature (or thermostat settings) in favor of women because they will perform at their cognitive peak and a temperature chosen by females is most likely to be acceptable by males. Another key point here is that 80% of women’s acceptable range of temperature is 2 degrees narrower than that of males. So given this evidence, informed decisions about temperature controls should focus on meeting women’s needs.

The choice of room temperature in professional contexts should be in favor of women because their choice is likely to work for men but not vice versa, according to studies. Click To Tweet

Newer research (2020) offers more insights into how sex-differences in temperature play out – American men and women who live alone prefer the same temperature. However, more women lower the temperature before sleeping than men. This could mean that women are more sensitive to temperature differences and value temperature control.

Workplaces can be a source of major stress and dissatisfaction and that affects overall productivity. We know nature and natural elements affect employee well-being and productivity and many offices have chosen to implement “biophilia” to benefit employees. Similar strides can be made for an employee’s thermal comfort.

Research on the effect of temperature on cognition has important consequences such as designing and creating policies for gender-fair and inclusive workplaces and examination environments. Especially when gender biases exist in work-place environments and learning/testing environments.

A naive conclusion would be – “if you want a productive mixed-gender work culture, make sure you give enough control over the thermostat and make an informed trade-off: performance, preference, and over-all gains against dislike and over-all losses.” The ambient temperature may have an additive effect on cognitive performance in the work-place and academia, as well as on decision making in choosing a job.

Another area of application is air-conditioned transportation: Cabin temperatures for female pilots and bus temperatures for female drivers. Any environment which demands cognitive activity, effort, motivation, and working memory is a potential area of applying this research. By extension, low temperatures may compromise women’s productivity and a male-friendly temperature work-environment might create an additional disadvantage for women.

It’s too premature to generalize these insights, but if you do want to fight over the room’s temperature, you can divert your attention to this body of research. One reason why it’s premature is that there seems to be an upper limit of indoor heat which is beyond thermal comfort for men and women that reduces productivity. Another reason is implementing a change in temperature. Should the temperature be fixed at a perfect balance where men and women are satisfied, productive, and cognitively sharp? If yes, there may be an indirect trade-off: Fixed temperatures, as opposed to variable temperatures, could have negative effects on long-term health as research suggests that variation in temperature can predict better health in the future.

So what’s the takeaway?

  • Men perform better at low temperatures and women perform better at higher temperatures.
  • As the temperatures increase, the gain in women’s performance is greater than the loss in men’s performance.
  • Women are more sensitive to temperature changes and are more dissatisfied with cold environments.
  • Too hot a temperature and people will assess themselves to be less productive than they would with a neutral temperature and that may be a source of dissatisfaction in work-environments.

Proposed exploratory solutions for a gender-equal environment

  • Give more control over temperature to women as men are likely to be satisfied with it without a loss in performance.
  • Design environments that address the apparent drop in productivity for women at low temperatures before evaluating peak and low performance.
  • Focus on adjusting the temperature to create a gender-friendly professional environment so women are more satisfied with the temperature.
  • Allow more flexibility in professional attires and dress-codes so that women (and everyone else) can choose their optimal thermal comfort based on individual needs.
  • Address women’s temperature needs before conducting studies and evaluations about sex-differences in cognitive abilities and field performances.
Aditya Shukla Cognition Today

Hey! Thank you for reading; hope you enjoyed the article. I run Cognition Today to paint a holistic picture of psychology. Each article is frequently updated with new research findings. I’m an applied psychologist from Pune, India. Love sci-fi, horror media; Love rock, metal, synthwave, and pop music; can’t whistle; can play the guitar.

Source: https://cognitiontoday.com

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