The Push For Equity In Education Hurts Vulnerable Children The Most

America has always had an uneasy relationship with brilliance. Cultural tropes, like the mad scientist or the nerdy computer whiz, show both a respect for high accomplishment and an anxiety about how smart people fit into society.

This cultural uneasiness is most apparent in the educational realm. Schools recognized the existence of students with high academic aptitude by providing them with gifted programs and advanced classes. Outside of school hours, many sponsor honor societies or academic competitions. And the old tradition of publicly recognizing a graduating class’s valedictorian remains strong.

However, the educational industry has never let these programs shake the field’s commitment to egalitarianism. The spending on education in the United States is disproportionately directed towards struggling children. Sometimes this policy is explicit, such as earmarking billions of federal dollars annually for special education and little or nothing for advanced academics.

Other policies implicitly support struggling learners more than students who excel, such as the No Child Left Behind Act and its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which encouraged states to reward schools that help struggling students reach basic proficiency levels. These laws, though, did not incentivize or reward schools for helping students reach high levels of academic accomplishment. As a result, the numbers of high achievers stagnated.

Equity over excellence

This truce of carving out a few advanced programs and classes from a system concentrated on educating the lowest performing students worked reasonably well for decades. However, that arrangement was shattered within the past few years in the United States as districts and states embraced “equity” initiatives with the goal of achieving equal outcomes across individuals as well as groups. The policies inevitably sacrifice bright and high achieving students to the social goals of activists.

The push to hobble high performing students in order to achieve equity can take many forms. In Oregon, the state legislature eliminated the requirement that students pass a high school exit exam to demonstrate proficiency in reading, mathematics, and writing for two years until the state can re-evaluate its graduation requirements. The reason: the testing requirement was “inequitable” because higher percentages of black and Hispanic students were failing the test.

The impetus to eliminate tests that show differing levels of academic success is also apparent in admissions tests. At the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a magnet high school in Virginia often touted as the best high school in the country, admission is no longer based on high test performance. Instead, a new system assigns seats at the prestigious school so that each region in the school district is evenly represented, and then all students that meet basic criteria (a 3.5 middle school grade-point average) are entered into the lottery.

The result is a student body that is more racially diverse (from 73 percent Asian to 53 percent Asian, from one percent black to seven percent, and from three percent Hispanic to 25 percent Hispanic), but much less academically elite. Magnet schools in Philadelphia and Boston also revamped their admissions procedures to de-emphasize tests and to improve the admission chances for Hispanic and black students.

Reducing or eliminating the impact of admissions tests is not unique to high schools. Concerns about equity have also caused universities to make college admissions tests optional for applicants. College admissions tests show well-known differences in average scores, and applying the same admissions standard to all groups will inevitably admit higher scoring groups at higher rates than lower scoring groups. This mathematical reality makes admissions tests a target of equity advocates.

The test-optional movement has been underway for many years, mostly at small liberal arts colleges. Making standardized tests optional seems like a good idea to counteract the unequal admissions rates across groups. However, research shows that it does not improve the socioeconomic or racial diversity of a student body. It does, however, raise a college’s reported test score average (because low performing applicants choose not to report scores), which improves the school’s rankings. Test-optional universities also increased tuition at higher rates than universities that required test scores. None of these developments help disadvantaged students.

The test-optional movement accelerated recently during the COVID-19 pandemic and in response to growing concerns about equity. The movement to drop testing requirements reached its greatest success when the regents of the University of California system voted to make admissions tests optional for applicants—despite their own faculty making a strong recommendation against a test-optional policy.

Even this move towards lowering standards was not enough. Advocacy groups sued the University of California system, which settled the lawsuit by agreeing to ban the consideration of any test scores in the admissions process. This outcome was exactly what university president Janet Napolitano had previously proposed and what many California politicians had wanted for years. What an amazing coincidence!

Even when admissions tests remain in place, institutions often apply different admissions standards across racial groups in order to improve the diversity of the student body. A prominent example of this can be found in the lawsuit alleging anti-Asian discrimination in Harvard admissions.

According to the plaintiff’s expert analysis of Harvard admissions data conducted by economist Peter S. Arcidiacono, an Asian student with a 25 percent chance of admission to Harvard would have their chances of admission increase to 36 percent if they were white and had the same academic qualifications. Hispanic students with the same academic qualifications have a 75 percent probability of admission. An equivalent black student would have a 95 percent chance of admission.

In other words, what is an iffy one-in-four chance of admission for an Asian student is almost a sure bet for a black student with the same admissions qualifications. Among admitted black students, 45 percent had academic qualifications in the bottom half of all applicants, while only eight percent of admitted Asian students had similar academic qualifications. The admission rate for a student with academic qualifications in the top 10 percent of all applicants is 4.25 times higher for black applicants, 2.61 times higher for Hispanic applicants, and 1.37 times higher for white applicants than for Asian applicants.

Differing admissions standards across racial groups also occurs for law schools and medical schools. Indeed, it is likely that admissions standards vary for different racial and ethnic groups at most American institutions of higher education, except for open enrollment institutions. Data for any particular university is often unavailable, though.

When differing standards are not equitable enough, one proposal to advance equity is to eliminate admissions standards completely. That is what the journalism school at UNC Chapel Hill did when eliminating the minimum GPA for admission to its programs (previously a 3.1 college GPA was required). A more revolutionary change is the proposal for the NCAA—which governs college athletics—to remove its minimum high school GPA and test scores for student athletes.

The minimum standard is a sliding scale, but for Division I universities, a 2.3 high school GPA in core subjects is a required minimum. Students with this GPA must earn an SAT score of at least 980 points. Students with lower test scores can compensate with a higher GPA in high school core classes. A student with a 3.0 high school GPA in core subjects, for example, needs to obtain an SAT score of only 720 points to play intercollegiate sports. For most college students, these standards are easily met; but for advocates of equity, even these standards are too high because a disproportionate number of African American students fail to reach them.

Back in the K-12 world, another popular strategy for achieving “equity” in education is to eliminate advanced classes and programs, such as gifted programs or accelerated classes. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio eliminated the city’s gifted program. In Charlottesville, Virginia, the standards for being labeled as “gifted” were lowered so much that 86 percent of school children qualified for the label, and the district eliminated any specialized classes for high performers.

California’s proposed K-12 math guidelines states, “… we reject ideas of natural gifts and talents …” and encourages a lockstep math sequence for all students to take the same classes through the end of 10th grade. Lest any students try to escape from a lockstep program, the guidelines explicitly discourage grade skipping individual students, even though there is absolutely no evidence showing negative effects of grade skips.

Avoiding—not solving—the problem

The problem of disproportionate representation of different racial and ethnic groups in educational programs is fundamentally caused by the achievement gap among groups. It is a mathematical fact that when groups differ in their average scores, then the percentage of group members exceeding a cutoff will be higher for groups with a higher average and lower for groups with a lower average. If all groups had equal average academic performance, then students in elite academic programs would much more resemble the demographics of the general student population.

What all these “equity” strategies have in common is that none of them achieve their equity goals by improving the academic performance of low-performing groups. Instead, “equity” almost invariably requires hiding deficiencies of low-performing groups, lowering standards, or eliminating or watering down programs that encourage excellence. These proposed policies are, at best, stopgap solutions. At worst, they hide the problem and allow it to fester.

Instead, solving the equity problem permanently would require closing the achievement gap by lifting the performance of lower-performing groups. The causes of achievement gaps among groups are hotly debated in the educational world. What is not debated is that meaningfully increasing the performance of low-performing groups will not be easy. There are some experts who have proposed policies and practices to increase achievement in low-performing groups.

School psychologist Craig Frisby, for example, has found that successful schools that teach large proportions of minority students focus on core achievement, provide strict discipline, and base policies on the science of learning—and not on trendy sociopolitical ideas.

Some projects to increase achievement of Hispanic and African American students have had promising results in increasing the number of these students who qualify for gifted programs. Another reason for optimism is that achievement gaps are narrower in the 21st century than they were in 1971, according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress reading and mathematics tests. (However, achievement gap sizes have stagnated since 2012.)

Equity advocates seem unwilling to do the long, hard work of improving the academic performance of the very children they claim to be concerned about—black, Hispanic, and low-income children. Instead, the equity policies are generally a quick fix that makes the demographic makeup of an academic program more palatable while allowing the underlying problem to remain.

Indeed, many of the newly popular equity policies imply that equity advocates have given up on increasing the achievement in low-performing groups. Anyone who thought that struggling students could perform as well as high-achieving groups would not try to lower or eliminate admissions standards, force students into lockstep programs, water down the curriculum, or eliminate advanced academic programs. All of these equity strategies are prime examples of what George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” and they are coming from a postmodern ideology that claims to protect and fight for marginalized students.

Unintended consequences

The students that are most hurt by equity policies are the ones that the activists claim to be helping. Wealthy students who have a gifted program eliminated from their school have parents who can transfer them to a private school or pay for after-school educational opportunities. However, the child from a poor family does not have this option. They are stuck in their neighborhood public school, unchallenged and ignored.

Likewise, a policy that eliminates or de-emphasizes standardized tests closes off the easiest pathway to a challenging educational program for bright students from low-income families and under-privileged backgrounds. When many selective grammar schools and the 11+ admissions examination were eliminated in the UK, the percentage of students from working-class backgrounds who attended prestigious schools decreased. In other words, eliminating the standardized test favored the wealthy and well-connected.

In the college admissions scene, eliminating admissions tests benefits the moderately talented from wealthy families because they have more resources to make their child into an attractive applicant. Students from wealthy families can afford to have an impressive list of extracurricular activities, and these parents can manipulate other components of a college admissions application, such as grade-point averages (e.g., by pressuring a teacher, or transferring a child to a school with lenient grading standards).

Even admission preferences for student-athletes often benefit the wealthy. When was the last time an elite college’s sailing, lacrosse, or water polo teams consisted of students from working-class backgrounds?

Other equity policies hurt poor students in profound ways, even if a child does not qualify for an advanced academic program. When standards are lowered in a school district, or the curriculum becomes politicized, then the basics are neglected. A school year consists of a finite amount of time, and it is impossible to teach every topic.

When politicized classes are required (as has happened with California’s new ethnic studies high school requirement), foundational knowledge must be de-emphasized. Students trapped in ideological classrooms have less instruction time to develop strong skills in the core subjects of math, reading, and science, thereby stunting their academic and employment prospects in the future.

No help from the educational establishment

Don’t expect the educational establishment to fight against equity initiatives. For example, the only American advocacy organization in gifted education, the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), has committed itself to social justice orthodoxy. In June and July of 2020, NAGC released multiple statements committing itself to diversity and equity, as a response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. What George Floyd had to do with gifted programs was never explained. No matter! NAGC has recently reaffirmed that it intends on incorporating equity in all its future work.

As a result, NAGC is paralyzed when gifted programs come under attack. The organization has done nothing to respond to the proposed California math guidelines, and it did nothing to mobilize support for gifted programs in New York City. The best it could do was issue a feeble statement on the day of Mayor de Blasio’s announcement saying that NAGC was “deeply disappointed.”

Simply put, bright students cannot count on education bureaucrats to fight for their educational needs. Most people with power in the education industry are already committed to social justice causes. This is apparent, for example, at the college level. In a 2019 Pew Center poll, 73 percent of Americans were against race having any influence in college admissions decisions. Even 56 percent of voters in California last year preferred race-neutral procedures in college admissions.

Yet, college administrators consistently buck public opinion on this point and implement racial preferences (often covertly) and vigorously fight for affirmative action in the courts. Fighting an anti-Asian discrimination lawsuit to preserve its affirmative action practices has cost Harvard University over $25 million in legal expenses. K-12 controversies tend to be less prominent, but in many parts of the country, the commitment to “equity” and other leftist values is common in many school districts.

With gifted programs under attack and no professional advocates to fight for them, bright students are at the mercy of the winds of politics. A few weeks after de Blasio announced that gifted programs would be eliminated, Eric Adams was elected as New York City mayor. During the campaign, Adams had promised to reinstate gifted programs (though the details are unclear). Bright children corralled into slowly-paced math courses in California will likely not be so lucky if the proposed mathematics guidelines are implemented in their district. The progressive worldview is entrenched in Californian politics, and that seems unlikely to change.

It is too early to tell how a shift in the political winds will impact other students. In the recent Virginia elections, education was a top issue for many voters, and there seems to be a backlash against critical race theory in schools in that state and other parts of the country. However, gifted programs rarely rally the voters because they tend to serve a small percentage of students and are easily branded—sometimes correctly—as elitist. Thus, gifted programs are unlikely to be a sole source of populist sentiment.

A new 6–3 conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court gives affirmative action opponents hope in eliminating race considerations from college admissions and the varying admissions standards for different racial groups. Until a case reaches the court, though, it is unknown whether the justices will be willing to overturn more than four decades of consistent precedent supporting affirmative action in higher education.

Lessons from history

While the focus on “equity” may be dismaying for advocates of excellence and individual merit, America has been down this path before. When the cultural zeitgeist of the 1960s and 1970s prioritized equity, academic standards and performance decayed. In the early 1980s, the nation’s political class—not the education establishment—led a pivot towards encouraging high achievement in America’s schools. This was most clearly seen in the 1983 report A Nation at Risk, which stated:

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.

The 1980s saw the birth of the accountability movement, higher academic standards, and massive growth of the Advanced Placement program. As happened a generation ago, the focus on equity will likely diminish as political leaders and the American people become dissatisfied with the mediocrity that results from an emphasis on equity.

Unfortunately for bright students stuck in lockstep academic programs, the change in political priorities may come too late—if it comes at all to their state or community. Implementation of newly popular equity policies will hinder the learning of many students before those policies are weakened or reversed. Perhaps one day the mad scientist trope will be replaced by the stereotype of the unchallenged gifted child, wiling away years of boredom in the classroom. At least the activists can feel good about the mediocre equity they have achieved.

Russell T. Warne

By: Russell T. Warne

Russell T. Warne is associate professor of psychology at Utah Valley University. He is the author of In the Know: Debunking 35 Myths About Human Intelligence and Statistics for the Social Sciences.

Source: The Push for Equity in Education Hurts Vulnerable Children the Most

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Five Ways Nostalgia Can Improve Your Well-Being

Some recent studies suggest that experiencing nostalgia about our past can make us happier and more resilient during times of stress.

I often find myself nostalgic for days gone by—especially my young adulthood. Thinking about days when I could go backpacking with a friend on a moment’s notice or dance the night away at my wedding, without the constraints of child care or a limited energy supply, gives me a bittersweet feeling—a mixture of joy, sadness, and longing.

While I find nostalgia pleasant overall and even inspiring, doctors and psychologists did not always consider it a good thing. Staying “stuck in the past” was often associated with being unable to adjust to new realities, like when soldiers were nostalgic for their faraway homes and experienced loneliness and dread. Not that long ago, some considered nostalgia to be a mental illness, akin to melancholy, which could lead to anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.

But more recent findings on nostalgia suggest it can be good for us, increasing our well-being, making us feel connected to other people, and giving us a sense of continuity in our lives. And it seems to come on naturally when we need to weather life’s difficulties. Rather than being a problem, nostalgia can help bring happiness and meaning to our lives.

Here are some of the ways nostalgia can benefit us, according to science.

Nostalgia makes us feel socially connected

Nostalgia about our past often includes recalling important people in our lives—people who cared about us and made us feel like we belonged. Certainly, my own nostalgic musings are centered around times when I was with the people and places I love. So, it’s not too surprising that recalling these special times would make us feel more connected to others, in general.

In one study, researchers found that people who were asked to write about an event from their past that made them feel “sentimental longing for the past” felt loved and supported, and this, in turn, helped buffer them against loneliness. Another study found that when people felt nostalgic about times in their lives when they interacted with members of an “out-group”—for example, teenagers recalling fun times with older adults—they felt less prejudice toward that group.

Nostalgia also seems to help us maintain our relationships. For example, one study found that inducing nostalgia helped people feel more optimistic about relationships in general and more willing to connect with friends. Another study found that when induced to feel nostalgia, people (especially those who find connecting with others easier) felt more able to offer emotional support to the people in their lives.

Nostalgia helps us find meaning in life

A sense of meaning in life involves knowing that your existence matters and that your life has coherence or purpose. It’s something we all strive for in one way or another.

Fortunately, research suggests nostalgia can be an important resource for increasing meaning, by highlighting central moments in our lives and giving us a sense of continuity.

In one study, researchers compared nostalgia to two seemingly related forms of thinking about one’s life: recalling a positive past event or imagining a desired future. Focusing on an event that made them nostalgic led people to feel their lives had more meaning compared to imagining a desirable future. And, compared to both other reflections, feeling nostalgic reduced people’s need to search for meaning in their lives—they already felt life had meaning.

In another study, people either listened to music that brought them back to a particular time or read lyrics to old songs. These nostalgic activities not only made them feel loved and socially connected but also increased their sense of meaning in life. And, when people read an essay that encouraged them to think that life had no meaning—which said, “There are approximately 7 billion people living on this planet. So take a moment to ponder the following question: In the grand scheme of things, how significant are you?”—they naturally turned to feelings of nostalgia for relief from that sense of meaninglessness.

These findings and others suggest that nostalgia not only heightens your sense of meaning in life, but can act as a buffer when you experience a loss of meaning. And it may help you move forward in life, too. As one study found, nostalgia can increase your motivation to pursue important life goals, because it increases meaning—not just because it puts you in a better mood.

Nostalgia can make us happier

Though it does seem to do just that—to boost our mood. Even though nostalgia is by definition a blend of positive and negative emotion, the positive tends to outweigh the negative, meaning we feel happier overall.

In one very recent study, 176 university students were randomly assigned to a six-week nostalgia program where they were asked weekly to write about a past event that brought on “a sentimental longing for the past” (while a control group wrote about past events that were ordinary). Afterward, they reported on their levels of positive and negative emotions and how much the writing provided a sense of social connection, meaning, or connection to their past self. At different points in time, they also reported on their life satisfaction, feelings of vitality, and well-being.

The researchers found that nostalgia was generally beneficial, leading people to experience more positive emotions, life satisfaction, and well-being, as well as fewer negative emotions—at least three weeks into the program. These benefits mostly disappeared after that—except for people who started the experiment already engaging in nostalgia regularly. For them, going through the nostalgia program brought them greater life satisfaction and fewer negative emotions up to a month later, possibly because the program was a better fit for them.

A lot of the benefits on happiness may be connected to nostalgia’s effects on social connection and meaning. But it could also be that nostalgia helps us see ourselves in a truer, more authentic light.

Nostalgia puts us in touch with our authentic selves

When thinking nostalgically about our past, we are the prime protagonists in our own life stories. Perhaps because of this, nostalgia helps us to see our lives as continuous and coherent, providing us with a sense of authenticity.

In one study, when primed to feel nostalgic by writing about a time in their past, people saw their past self as an authentic representation of themselves. This, in turn, reduced their focus on meeting the expectations of others versus following their own, intrinsic expectations of themselves. In other words, it helped them be their authentic selves.

The researchers also studied how threats to one’s sense of self might make people engage in more nostalgia. Half of the participants read this text: “Many people feel that they have two sides to themselves. One side is the person that they show to other people; the other side is their true self—that is, the person who they truly are deep down.” Then, they wrote about times in their lives when they’d found it hard to reveal their real selves to others.

The other half of the participants wrote about their daily routines and when those routines were disrupted. Then, both groups reported on their positive and negative emotions, as well as feelings of nostalgia.

Findings showed that people who focused on threats to their self-concept experienced more negative emotions, and in turn felt more nostalgic. This suggests that nostalgia helps put us in touch with our “real selves” and protects us against threats to our authenticity.

Perhaps for this reason, engaging in nostalgia can lead to personal growth. At least one study found that feeling nostalgia made people feel more positively about themselves, which, in turn, made them more open to experiencing new things, expanding their horizons, and being curious—all signs of psychological health.

Nostalgia may help people who feel disillusioned or depressed

Perhaps because of these potential benefits, people tend to engage in nostalgia when they are feeling down, lonely, or disillusioned. Many studies have found that nostalgia seems to protect people from negative mind states, bringing about a kind of emotional homeostasis.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that nostalgia is always good or can’t have a downside. If nostalgia makes us spend too much time thinking about our past, it may prevent us from recognizing the joy in our lives right here and now. And, since we tend to engage in nostalgia when negative things occur, it could become an avoidance strategy that keeps us from dealing with present problems in more effective ways.

Encouraging groups of people to feel nostalgic could also have negative consequences. For example, one study found that nostalgia made people more likely to believe political claims, regardless of their veracity. Inducing nostalgia could be an advertising ploy used to affect consumer behavior, which could lead to poor choices, too.

Still, chances are that nostalgia is more a blessing than a curse, and a winning strategy for feeling better about ourselves. It can increase our connection to others, our sense of meaning in our lives, our authenticity, and our happiness. So, why not tune into nostalgia now and then? It may just help you meet the challenges of the moment.

Source: Five Ways Nostalgia Can Improve Your Well-Being

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Does Having Kids Make You Happy?

1Research has found that having children is terrible for quality of life—but the truth about what parenthood means for happiness is a lot more complicated.

Few choices are more important than whether to have children, and psychologists and other social scientists have worked to figure out what having kids means for happiness. Some of the most prominent scholars in the field have argued that if you want to be happy, it’s best to be childless. Others have pushed back, pointing out that a lot depends on who you are and where you live. But a bigger question is also at play: What if the rewards of having children are different from, and deeper than, happiness?

The early research is decisive: Having kids is bad for quality of life. In one study, the psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues asked about 900 employed women to report, at the end of each day, every one of their activities and how happy they were when they did them. They recalled being with their children as less enjoyable than many other activities, such as watching TV, shopping, or preparing food.

Other studies find that when a child is born, parents experience a decrease in happiness that doesn’t go away for a long time, in addition to a drop in marital satisfaction that doesn’t usually recover until the children leave the house. As the Harvard professor Dan Gilbert puts it, “The only symptom of empty nest syndrome is nonstop smiling.”

After all, having children, particularly when they are young, involves financial struggle, sleep deprivation, and stress. For mothers, there is also in many cases the physical strain of pregnancy and breastfeeding. And children can turn a cheerful and loving romantic partnership into a zero-sum battle over who gets to sleep and work and who doesn’t.

As the Atlantic staff writer Jennifer Senior notes in her book, All Joy and No Fun, children provoke a couple’s most frequent arguments—“more than money, more than work, more than in-laws, more than annoying personal habits, communication styles, leisure activities, commitment issues, bothersome friends, sex.” Someone who doesn’t understand this is welcome to spend a full day with an angry 2-year-old (or a sullen 15-year-old); they’ll find out what she means soon enough.

Read: It isn’t the kids. It’s the cost of raising them.

Children make some happy and others miserable; the rest fall somewhere in between—it depends, among other factors, on how old you are, whether you are a mother or a father, and where you live. But a deep puzzle remains: Many people would have had happier lives and marriages had they chosen not to have kids—yet they still describe parenthood as the “best thing they’ve ever done.” Why don’t we regret having children more?

One possibility is a phenomenon called memory distortion. When we think about our past experiences, we tend to remember the peaks and forget the mundane awfulness in between. Senior frames it like this: “Our experiencing selves tell researchers that we prefer doing the dishes—or napping, or shopping, or answering emails—to spending time with our kids … But our remembering selves tell researchers that no one—and nothing—provides us with so much joy as our children.

It may not be the happiness we live day to day, but it’s the happiness we think about, the happiness we summon and remember, the stuff that makes up our life-tales.” These are plausible-enough ideas, and I don’t reject them. But other theories about why people don’t regret parenthood actually have nothing to do with happiness—at least not in a simple sense.

One involves attachment. Most parents love their children, and it would seem terrible to admit that you would be better off if someone you loved didn’t exist. More than that, you genuinely prefer a world with your kids in it. This can put parents in the interesting predicament of desiring a state that doesn’t make them as happy as the alternative. In his book Midlife, the MIT professor Kieran Setiya expands on this point.

Modifying an example from the philosopher Derek Parfit, he asks readers to imagine a situation in which, if you and your partner were to conceive a child before a certain time, the child would have a serious, though not fatal, medical problem, such as chronic joint pain. If you wait, the child will be healthy. For whatever reason, you choose not to wait. You love your child and, though he suffers, he is happy to be alive. Do you regret your decision?

Read: How adult children affect their mother’s happiness

That’s a complicated question. Of course it would have been easier to have a kid without this condition. But if you’d waited, you’d have a different child, and this baby (then boy, then man) whom you love wouldn’t exist. It was a mistake, yes, but perhaps a mistake that you don’t regret. The attachment we have to an individual can supersede an overall decrease in our quality of life, and so the love we usually have toward our children means that our choice to bring them into existence has value above and beyond whatever effect they have on our happiness.

This relates to a second point, which is that there’s more to life than happiness. When I say that raising my sons is the best thing I’ve ever done, I’m not saying that they gave me pleasure in any simple day-to-day sense, and I’m not saying that they were good for my marriage. I’m talking about something deeper, having to do with satisfaction, purpose, and meaning. It’s not just me.

When you ask people about their life’s meaning and purpose, parents say that their lives have more meaning than those of nonparents. A study by the social psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues found that the more time people spent taking care of children, the more meaningful they said their life was—even though they reported that their life was no happier.

Raising children, then, has an uncertain connection to pleasure but may connect to other aspects of a life well lived, satisfying our hunger for attachment, and for meaning and purpose. The writer Zadie Smith puts it better than I ever could, describing having a child as a “strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight.” Smith, echoing the thoughts of everyone else who has seriously considered these issues, points out the risk of close attachments:

“Isn’t it bad enough that the beloved, with whom you have experienced genuine joy, will eventually be lost to you? Why add to this nightmare the child, whose loss, if it ever happened, would mean nothing less than your total annihilation?” But this annihilation reflects the extraordinary value of such attachments; as the author Julian Barnes writes of grief, quoting a friend, “It hurts just as much as it is worth.”

By Paul Bloom

Source: Does Having Kids Make You Happy? – The Atlantic

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More Contents:

. “A review of the relationship among parenting practices, parenting styles, and adolescent school achievement” (PDF). Educational Psychology Review. 17

 “Parenting Style as a Moderator of Associations Between Maternal Disciplinary Strategies and Child Well-Being”

“The Influence of Parenting Style on Academic Achievement and Career Path”Day, Nicholas (10 April 2013). “Parental ethnotheories and how parents in America differ from parents everywhere else”. Slate. Retrieved 19 April 2013.[verification needed]

“The Terrible Twos Explained – Safe Kids (UK)”Kenneth R. Ginsburg. “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds” (PDF). American Academy of Pediatrics. Archived from the origina

Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus

The ability to focus is an important driver of excellence. Focused techniques such as to-do lists, timetables, and calendar reminders all help people to stay on task. Few would argue with that, and even if they did, there is evidence to support the idea that resisting distraction and staying present have benefits: practicing mindfulness for 10 minutes a day, for example, can enhance leadership effectiveness by helping you become more able to regulate your emotions and make sense of past experiences. Yet as helpful as focus can be, there’s also a downside to focus as it is commonly viewed.

The problem is that excessive focus exhausts the focus circuits in your brain. It can drain your energy and make you lose self-control. This energy drain can also make you more impulsive and less helpful. As a result, decisions are poorly thought-out, and you become less collaborative.

So what do we do then? Focus or unfocus?

In keeping with recent research, both focus and unfocus are vital. The brain operates optimally when it toggles between focus and unfocus, allowing you to develop resilience, enhance creativity, and make better decisions too.

When you unfocus, you engage a brain circuit called the “default mode network.” Abbreviated as the DMN, we used to think of this circuit as the Do Mostly Nothing circuit because it only came on when you stopped focusing effortfully. Yet, when “at rest”, this circuit uses 20% of the body’s energy (compared to the comparatively small 5% that any effort will require).

The DMN needs this energy because it is doing anything but resting. Under the brain’s conscious radar, it activates old memories, goes back and forth between the past, present, and future, and recombines different ideas. Using this new and previously inaccessible data, you develop enhanced self-awareness and a sense of personal relevance. And you can imagine creative solutions or predict the future, thereby leading to better decision-making too. The DMN also helps you tune into other people’s thinking, thereby improving team understanding and cohesion.

There are many simple and effective ways to activate this circuit in the course of a day.

Using positive constructive daydreaming (PCD): PCD is a type of mind-wandering different from slipping into a daydream or guiltily rehashing worries. When you build it into your day deliberately, it can boost your creativity, strengthen your leadership ability, and also-re-energize the brain. To start PCD, you choose a low-key activity such as knitting, gardening or casual reading, then wander into the recesses of your mind.

But unlike slipping into a daydream or guilty-dysphoric daydreaming, you might first imagine something playful and wishful—like running through the woods, or lying on a yacht. Then you swivel your attention from the external world to the internal space of your mind with this image in mind while still doing the low-key activity.

Studied for decades by Jerome Singer, PCD activates the DMN and metaphorically changes the silverware that your brain uses to find information. While focused attention is like a fork—picking up obvious conscious thoughts that you have, PCD commissions a different set of silverware—a spoon for scooping up the delicious mélange of flavors of your identity (the scent of your grandmother, the feeling of satisfaction with the first bite of apple-pie on a crisp fall day), chopsticks for connecting ideas across your brain (to enhance innovation), and a marrow spoon for getting into the nooks and crannies of your brain to pick up long-lost memories that are a vital part of your identity.

In this state, your sense of “self” is enhanced—which, according to Warren Bennis, is the essence of leadership. I call this the psychological center of gravity, a grounding mechanism (part of your mental “six-pack”) that helps you enhance your agility and manage change more effectively too.

Taking a nap: In addition to building in time for PCD, leaders can also consider authorized napping. Not all naps are the same. When your brain is in a slump, your clarity and creativity are compromised. After a 10-minute nap, studies show that you become much clearer and more alert. But if it’s a creative task you have in front of you, you will likely need a full 90 minutes for more complete brain refreshing. Your brain requires this longer time to make more associations, and dredge up ideas that are in the nooks and crannies of your memory network.

Pretending to be someone else: When you’re stuck in a creative process, unfocus may also come to the rescue when you embody and live out an entirely different personality. In 2016, educational psychologists, Denis Dumas and Kevin Dunbar found that people who try to solve creative problems are more successful if they behave like an eccentric poet than a rigid librarian. Given a test in which they have to come up with as many uses as possible for any object (e.g. a brick) those who behave like eccentric poets have superior creative performance. This finding holds even if the same person takes on a different identity.

When in a creative deadlock, try this exercise of embodying a different identity. It will likely get you out of your own head, and allow you to think from another person’s perspective. I call this psychological halloweenism.

For years, focus has been the venerated ability amongst all abilities. Since we spend 46.9% of our days with our minds wandering away from a task at hand, we crave the ability to keep it fixed and on task. Yet, if we built PCD, 10- and 90- minute naps, and psychological halloweenism into our days, we would likely preserve focus for when we need it, and use it much more efficiently too. More importantly, unfocus will allow us to update information in the brain, giving us access to deeper parts of ourselves and enhancing our agility, creativity and decision-making too.

By: Srini Pillay

Srini Pillay, M.D. is an executive coach and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group. He is also a technology innovator and entrepreneur in the health and leadership development sectors, and an award-winning author. His latest book is Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. He is also a part-time Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and teaches in the Executive Education Programs at Harvard Business School and Duke Corporate Education, and is on internationally recognized think tanks.

Source: Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus

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Srini Pillay, M.D. is an executive coach and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group. He is also a technology innovator and entrepreneur in the health and leadership development sectors, and an award-winning author. His latest book is Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. He is also a part-time Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and teaches in the Executive Education Programs at Harvard Business School and Duke Corporate Education, and is on internationally recognized think tanks.

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Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications

Stimulus-Driven Reorienting Impairs Executive Control of Attention: Evidence for a Common Bottleneck in Anterior Insula

Functions of the human frontoparietal attention network: Evidence from neuroimaging

Bottom-up saliency and top-down learning in the primary visual cortex of monkeys

The extent of processing of noise elements during selective encoding from visual displays

Testing the behavioral interaction and integration of attentional networks

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wo Polarities of Attention in Social Contexts: From Attending-to-Others to Attending-to-Self

Selective attention and serial processing in briefly presented visual displays

Can Lucid Dreaming Help Us Understand Consciousness

The ability to control our dreams is a skill that more of us are seeking to acquire for sheer pleasure. But if taken seriously, scientists believe it could unlock new secrets of the mind

Michelle Carr is frequently plagued by tidal waves in her dreams. What should be a terrifying nightmare, however, can quickly turn into a whimsical adventure – thanks to her ability to control her dreams. She can transform herself into a dolphin and swim into the water. Once, she transformed the wave itself, turning it into a giant snail with a huge shell. “It came right up to me – it was a really beautiful moment.”

There’s a thriving online community of people who are now trying to learn how to lucid dream. (A single subreddit devoted to the phenomenon has more than 400,000 members.) Many are simply looking for entertainment. “It’s just so exciting and unbelievable to be in a lucid dream and to witness your mind creating this completely vivid simulation,” says Carr, who is a sleep researcher at the University of Rochester in New York state. Others hope that exercising skills in their dreams will increase their real-life abilities. “A lot of elite athletes use lucid dreams to practice their sport.”

And there are more profound reasons to exploit this sleep state, besides personal improvement. By identifying the brain activity that gives rise to the heightened awareness and sense of agency in lucid dreams, neuroscientists and psychologists hope to answer fundamental questions about the nature of human consciousness, including our apparently unique capacity for self-awareness. “More and more researchers, from many different fields, have started to incorporate lucid dreams in their research,” says Carr.

This interest in lucid dreaming has been growing in fits and starts for more than a century. Despite his fascination with the interaction between the conscious and subconscious minds, Sigmund Freud barely mentioned lucid dreams in his writings. Instead, it was an English aristocrat and writer, Mary Arnold-Forster, who provided one of the earliest and most detailed descriptions in the English language in her book Studies in Dreams.

Published in 1921, the book offered countless colourful escapades in the dreamscape, including charming descriptions of her attempts to fly. “A slight paddling motion by my hands increases the pace of the flight and is used either to enable me to reach a greater height, or else for the purpose of steering, especially through any narrow place, such as through a doorway or window,” she wrote.

Based on her experiences, Arnold-Forster proposed that humans have a “dual consciousness”. One of these, the “primary self”, allows us to analyze our circumstances and to apply logic to what we are experiencing – but it is typically inactive during sleep, leaving us with a dream consciousness that cannot reflect on its own state. In lucid dreams, however, the primary self “wakes up”, bringing with it “memories, knowledge of facts, and trains of reasoning”, as well as the awareness that one is asleep.

She may have been on to something. Neuroscientists and psychologists today may balk at the term “dual consciousness”, but most would agree that lucid dreams involve an increased self-awareness and reflection, a greater sense of agency and volition, and an ability to think about the more distant past and future. These together mark a substantially different mental experience from the typically passive state of non-lucid dreams.

“There’s a grouping of higher-level features, which seem to be very closely associated with what we think of as human consciousness, which come back in that shift from a non-lucid to a lucid dream,” says Dr Benjamin Baird, a research scientist at the Center for Sleep and Consciousness at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “And there’s something to be learned in looking at that contrast.”

You may wonder why we can’t just scan the brains of fully awake subjects to identify the neural processes underlying this sophisticated mental state. But waking consciousness also involves many other phenomena, including sensory inputs from the outside world, that can make it hard to separate the different elements of the experience. When a sleeper enters a lucid dream, nothing has changed apart from the person’s conscious state. As a result, studies of lucid dreams may provide an important point of comparison that could help to isolate the specific regions involved in heightened self-awareness and agency.

Unfortunately, it has been very hard to get someone to lucid dream inside the noisy and constrained environment of an fMRI scanner. Nevertheless, a case study published in 2012 confirmed that it can be done. The participant, a frequent lucid dreamer, was asked to shift his gaze from left to right whenever he “awoke” in his dream – a dream motion that is also known to translate to real eye movements. This allowed the researchers to identify the moment at which he had achieved lucidity.

The brain scans revealed heightened activity in a group of regions, including the anterior prefrontal cortex, that are together known as the frontoparietal network. These areas are markedly less active during normal REM sleep, but they became much busier whenever the participant entered his lucid dream – suggesting that they are somehow involved in the heightened reflection and self-awareness that characterize the state.

Several other strands of research all point in the same direction. Working with the famed consciousness researcher Giulio Tononi, Baird has recently examined the overall brain connectivity of people who experience more than three lucid dreams a week. In line with the findings of the case study, he found evidence of greater communication between the regions in the frontoparietal network – a difference that may have made it easier to gain the heightened self-awareness during sleep.

Further evidence comes from the alkaloid galantamine, which can be used to induce lucid dreams. In a recent study, Baird and colleagues asked people to sleep for a few hours before waking. The participants then took a small dose of the drug, or a placebo, before practising a few visualisation exercises that are also thought to modestly increase the chances of lucid dreaming. After about half an hour, they went back to sleep.

The results were striking. Just 14% of those taking a placebo managed to gain awareness of their dream state, compared with 27% taking a 4mg dose of galantamine, and 42% taking an 8mg dose. “The effect is humongous,” says Baird.

Galantamine has been approved by Nice to treat moderate Alzheimer’s disease. It is thought to work by boosting concentrations of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine at our brain cell’s synapses. Intriguingly, previous research had shown that this can raise signalling in the frontoparietal regions from a low baseline. This may have helped the dreaming participants to pass the threshold of neural activity that is necessary for heightened self-awareness. “It’s yet another source of evidence for the involvement of these regions in lucid dreaming,” says Baird, who now hopes to conduct more detailed fMRI studies to test the hypothesis.

Prof Daniel Erlacher, who researches lucid dreams at the University of Berne in Switzerland, welcomes the increased interest in the field. “There is more research funding now,” he says, though he points out that some scientists are still sceptical of its worth.

That cynicism is a shame, since there could be important clinical applications of these findings. When people are unresponsive after brain injuries, it can be very difficult to establish their level of consciousness. If work on lucid dreams helps scientists to establish a neural signature of self-awareness, it might allow doctors to make more accurate diagnoses and prognoses for these patients and to determine how they might be experiencing the effects of their illness.

At the very least, Baird’s research is sure to attract attention from the vast online community of wannabe lucid dreamers, who are seeking more reliable ways to experience the phenomenon. Galantamine, which can be extracted from snowdrops, is already available as an over-the-counter dietary supplement in the US, and its short-term side-effects are mild – so there are currently no legal barriers for Americans who wish to self-experiment. But Baird points out that there may be as-yet-unknown long-term consequences if it is used repeatedly to induce lucid dreams. “My advice would be to use your own discretion and to seek the guidance of a physician,” he says.

For the time being, we may be safest using psychological strategies (see below). Even then, we should proceed with caution. Dr Nirit Soffer-Dudek, a psychologist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, points out that most attempts to induce lucid dreaming involve some kind of sleep disturbance – such as waking in the middle of the night to practice certain visualizations. “We know how important sleep is for your mental and physical health,” she says. “It can even influence how quickly your wounds heal.” Anything that regularly disrupts our normal sleep cycle could therefore have undesired results.

Many techniques for lucid dream induction also involve “reality testing”, in which you regularly question whether you are awake, in the hope that those thoughts will come to mind when you are actually dreaming. If it is done too often, this could be “a bit disorienting”, Soffer-Dudek suggests – leading you to feel “unreal” rather than fully present in the moment.

Along these lines, she has found that people who regularly try to induce lucid dreams are more likely to suffer from dissociation – the sense of being disconnected from one’s thoughts, feelings and sense of identity. They were also more likely to show signs of schizotypy – a tendency for paranoid and magical thinking.

Soffer-Dudek doubts that infrequent experiments will cause lasting harm, though. “I don’t think it’s such a big deal if someone who is neurologically and psychologically healthy tries it out over a limited period,” she says.

Perhaps the consideration of these concerns is an inevitable consequence of the field’s maturation. As for my own experiments, I am happy to watch the research progress from the sidelines. One hundred years after Mary Arnold-Forster’s early investigations, the science of lucid dreaming may be finally coming of age.

How to lucid dream

There is little doubt that lucid dreaming can be learned. One of the best-known techniques is “reality testing”, which involves asking yourself regularly during the day whether you are dreaming – with the hope that this will spill into your actual dreams.

Another is Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming (Mild). Every time you wake from a normal dream, you spend a bit of time identifying the so-called “dream signs” – anything that was bizarre or improbable and differed from normal life. As you then try to return to sleep, you visualise entering that dream and repeat to yourself the intention: “Next time I’m dreaming, I will remember to recognise that I’m dreaming.” Some studies suggest that it may be particularly effective if you set an alarm to wake up after a few hours of sleep and spend a whole hour practising Mild, before drifting off again. This is known as WBTB – Wake Back to Bed.

There is nothing particularly esoteric about these methods. “It’s all about building a ‘prospective’ memory for the future – like remembering what you have to buy when you go shopping,” says Prof Daniel Erlacher.

Technology may ease this process. Dr Michelle Carr recently asked participants to undergo a 20-minute training programme before they fell asleep. Each time they heard a certain tone or saw the flash of a red light, they were asked to turn their attention to their physical and mental state and to question whether anything was amiss that might suggest they were dreaming. Afterwards, they were given the chance to nap, as a headset measured their brain’s activity.

When it sensed that they had entered REM sleep, it produced the same cues as the training, which – Carr hoped – would be incorporated into their dreams and act as reminders to check their state of consciousness. It worked, with about 50% experiencing a lucid dream.

Some commercial devices already purport to offer this kind of stimulation – though most have not been adequately tested for their efficacy. As the technology advances, however, easy dream control may come within anyone’s reach.

By:

David Robson is a writer based in London. His next book, The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Transform Your Life (Canongate), is available to preorder now

Source: Can lucid dreaming help us understand consciousness? | Consciousness | The Guardian

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