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Marijuana Does Not Cause Schizophrenia New study on marijuana use finds little evidence that the drug causes schizophrenia.→ Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick"
Remembering Sandy Hook Research in ACT shows that social connection and caring requires enough perspective taking and empathy to feel what it is like to be someone else and enough psychological flexibility not to run away when that is hard. Horrific events such as the Sandy Hook disaster challenge us to do this instead of looking away, but the suffering of those who died demands nothing less.read more
19 Reasons Why Willpower Fails You, And What To Do About It Willpower is an essential ingredient in achieving, overcoming, and becoming -- so why does it so often fail us? Here are 19 science-based reasons why will and will alone isn't enough, with suggestions peppered in along the way about what we can do about it.read more
Spanking Children Promotes Antisocial Behaviour and Slows Mental Development 90% of studies on spanking agree that it's bad for children.→ Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick"
This column will change your life: don't blame the lazy. It may not be their fault Willpower is something you might have less of thanks to luck or upbringing, not a magic power that lazy people refuse to useAs we stumble again into the season of overindulgence – that sacred time of year when wine, carbs and sofas replace brisk walks for all but the most virtuous – a headline in the (excellent) new online science magazine Nautilus catches my eye: "What If Obesity Is Nobody's Fault?" The article describes new research on mice: a genetic alteration, it appears, can make them obese, despite eating no more than others. "Many of us unfortunately have had an attitude towards obese people [as] having a lack of willpower or self-control," one Harvard researcher is quoted as saying. "It's clearly something beyond that." No doubt. But that headline embodies an assumption that's rarely questioned. Suppose, hypothetically, obesity were solely a matter of willpower: laying off the crisps, exercising and generally bucking your ideas up. What makes us so certain that obesity would be the fault of the obese even then?This sounds like the worst kind of bleeding-heart liberalism, a condition from which I probably suffer (I blame my genes). But it's a real philosophical puzzle, with implications reaching far beyond obesity to laziness in all contexts, from politicians' obsession with "hardworking families" to the way people beat themselves up for not following through on their plans. We don't blame people for most physical limitations (if you broke your leg, it wouldn't be a moral failing to cancel your skydiving trip), nor for many other impediments: it's hardly your fault if you're born into educational or economic disadvantage. Yet almost everyone treats laziness and weakness of will as exceptions. If you can't be bothered to try, you've only yourself to blame. It's a rule some apply most harshly to themselves, mounting epic campaigns of self-chastisement for procrastinating, failing to exercise and so on.But who says it's correct? The philosopher John Rawls is often interpreted as saying it isn't. The fair society, he famously claimed, was the one we'd have constructed if we'd been behind a "veil of ignorance" – without knowing if we'd be born rich or poor, strong or weak, good at maths, or sports, or nothing. "We do not deserve our initial place in the distribution of native endowments, any more than we deserve our initial starting place in society," Rawls wrote. You don't deserve praise for being born sighted rather than blind, or growing up wealthy. Do we really deserve praise for having, or blame for lacking, "the superior character that enables us to make the effort to cultivate our abilities"? Two rival notions of willpower do battle among psychologists these days. One is that it's a learned skill. (You can, for example, teach children distraction techniques to resist temptation.) The other is that it's a depletable resource: if forced to use lots in one domain – resisting impulse purchases because you're poor, say – you'll have less left over elsewhere. Either way, it's something you might have less of thanks to luck or upbringing, not a magic power that lazy people inexplicably refuse to use.None of which means effort should never be rewarded, or that it isn't sometimes strategic to make people – including yourself – feel bad: guilt's a great motivator. But when people fail to act in their own interests, moralising might not be justified. I'd start a movement to campaign for the rights of the lazy and weak-willed, but I suspect I'd have trouble signing people up.oliver.burkeman@theguardian.comFollow Oliver on TwitterPsychologyHealth & wellbeingOliver Burkemantheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
Strobe glasses improve hockey players' performance Professional hockey players who trained with special eyewear that only allowed them to see action intermittently showed significant improvement in practice drills, according to a study with the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. The eyewear features lenses that switch between transparent and opaque, producing stroboscopic visual conditions, much like a strobe light in your favorite dance club.
On Buddhism as a Different Kind of "Religion" There has been much debate whether Buddhism is primarily a religion or a philosophy. As religions go, Buddhism is unusually science-friendly ... more so than any of the traditional Abrahamic Big Three. It is more insightful yet as a philosophy, and one that accords remarkably well with science, especially biology.read more
No math gene: Learning mathematics takes practice What makes someone good at math? A love of numbers, perhaps, but a willingness to practice, too. And even if you are good at one specific type of math, you can't trust your innate abilities enough to skip practicing other types if you want to be good.
Recognising the true potential of technology to change behaviour Technology could successfully change behaviours where decades of campaigns and legislation have failedWith the quantified self already walking among us and the internet of things within easy reach, digital technology is creating unprecedented opportunities to encourage, enable and empower more sustainable behaviours.If we are to unlock the power of technology we must be more ambitious than simply digitising analogue strategies or creating another communications channel.The true potential of technology lies in its ability to do things that nothing else can do. In behaviour change terms, the potential to succeed where decades of education programmes, awareness campaigns and product innovation have failed; to make a difference where government policy and legislation has had limited impact.Using behavioural insights, it is possible to highlight the bottlenecks, drop out points and achilles heels of traditional behaviour change efforts "” the reasons why we have failed in the past "” and apply the unique possibilities of technology to these specific challenges.Overcoming our limitationsAs human beings we are fallible to the point of being feeble. As irrational, habit-bound creatures, driven by the need for immediate gratification we are blighted by inherent limitations that make behaviour change hugely challenging. Naturally weak-willed and lacking in self-control, we are rendered docile in the face of the unconscious cognitive processes, social dynamics and external contextual cues that are the true determinants of 'our' behaviour.Luckily, the history of the human race is almost defined by its ability to invent stuff that bolsters its feeble capabilities. That stuff is, of course, what we generically refer to as 'technology'. And in the same way that the internal combustion engine and the light bulb allow us to overcome our relatively feeble powers of motion and perception, so digital technology can be directed to overcoming our relatively feeble powers of reasoning, self-control, motivation, self-awareness and agency"”the factors that make behaviour change so difficult.Herein lies the true potential of technology: not in the laboratory or the workshop, but in an understanding of the behavioural dynamics that define the human condition, both generally and within the context of a specific user-group, market segment or community.Maintaining behaviour change momentumHuman beings are inherently lazy and self-consciously changing our behaviours requires great effort and energy. As such, the initiation of a change effort might be relatively easy to trigger, but the maintenance and consolidation of that change is where the real challenge lies.Technology has immense and unique potential to make an impact in this area. Gamification can make otherwise tedious efforts enjoyable and less cognitively taxing. Social media can amplify social comparison and norming effects or amplify the effectiveness of public commitments.Quantified feedback is a highly effective motivational trigger. Tangible progress serves as positive reinforcement that generates further motivation, supports the maintenance of new behaviours and allows new habits to form.By definition, computers are designed to process large amounts of data and have the capacity to analyse, visualise and communicate that data in highly engaging ways. In combination with goal setting, feedback can be made highly specific and personal and considerably more effective as a result.For example, counting the number of unsmoked cigarettes and comparing that to, for example, a component of the car you will buy with the money you save after quitting for six months is considerably more effective than simply noting the amount of unsmoked cigarettes or even the amount of money saved.The intention/action gapDue to our relatively limited cognitive capacity, our memories are prone to error. In a behaviour change context this can be aggravated by a tendency to accidentally-on-purpose forget things in order to avoid exerting effort. In other circumstances we allow habits to hound good intentions out of conscious awareness and default to routine behaviours.Timely, context-sensitive reminders to, for instance, grab your gym kit as you leave for work or pack the re-usable carrier bags into the car before a shopping trip would help overcome these cognitive slips.Emotion has a central role in human decision-making and behaviour. Unfortunately, our behaviour change intentions tend to be driven by our more rational psychological components and can be very easily subverted by the more powerful, less rational emotional ones.Technology has a huge potential for positive impact in this context as a form of 'self-binding'"”a mechanism that ties you to rational intentions in the face of emotional interference.The concept of self-binding originated in Greek mythology with the story of Odysseus and the Sirens. Knowing in advance that his rationality would be subverted by the siren song, and that he would perish as a result, Odysseus ordered his men to bind him to the ship's mast as a pre-emptive measure.Sailing past the Sirens, his inability to yield to the seductive song triggered a bout of temporary insanity, but the self-bind implemented his rational intentions nonetheless. This is perhaps one of the clearest expositions, and most effective solutions, to the perennial challenge presented by the intention-action gap.Bereft of any emotion, technology can be relied up to echo, remind, reinforce and (in some cases) enforce the intentions that you made when in a fully rational state.In the context of sexual health, where high jinx and alcohol is often the primary cause of unprotected sexual encounters, self-made reminders can be timed to coincide with the time of night that you are most vulnerable to temptation.Lying to ourselvesCognitive dissonance represents one of the more powerful behaviour change mechanisms we have at our disposal. Cognitive dissonance is the psychological tension that results when our behaviour contradicts our opinions, attitudes or values. This tension is highly uncomfortable and only dissolved when one or other of the components changes and harmony between the components is restored.However, as human beings we are highly adept at lying to ourselves and, in particular, twisting our interpretation of reality to fit our attitudes and opinions and therefore avoiding cognitive dissonance.So for instance, light and intermittent smokers diffuse the cognitive dissonance caused by the fact that they smoke - yet consider smoking disgusting - by reframing their behaviour as social smoking.The opportunity here lies in the fact that behaviour tracked by technology, as opposed to experienced subjectively or tracked via self-reported data, is much more difficult for our psychological defence mechanisms to distort. As such, we are left with no choice, but to change our actual behaviour in order to diffuse the tension caused by cognitive dissonance.Join the community of sustainability professionals and experts. Become a GSB member to get more stories like this direct to your inboxSustainable livingBehaviourPsychologySustainabilitytheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
What Causes People to Donate After Disasters? Technology has made it easy for people to give donations following natural disasters. When reports of floods, typhoons, hurricanes, and earthquakes makes news, there are websites available for people to give money. People can even use their phones to donate money by text message. read more
Scientists improve human self-control through electrical brain stimulation If you have ever said or done the wrong thing at the wrong time, you should read this. Neuroscientists have successfully demonstrated a technique to enhance a form of self-control through a novel form of brain stimulation.
Scientists, practitioners don't see eye to eye on repressed memory Skepticism about repressed traumatic memories has increased over time, but new research shows that psychology researchers and practitioners still tend to hold different beliefs about whether such memories occur and whether they can be accurately retrieved.
Study breaks blood-brain barriers to understanding Alzheimer's A study in mice shows how a breakdown of the brain's blood vessels may amplify or cause problems associated with Alzheimer's disease. The results suggest that blood vessel cells called pericytes may provide novel targets for treatments and diagnoses.
License to Sin: How to Dodge a Devilish Self-Control Loophole Giving yourself permission to sin means you can get what you want, but at what cost?→ Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick"
Let's talk about the gender differences that matter – in mental health | Daniel and Jason Freeman Supposed differences between the brains of men and women are uncritically reported, while a very real disparity is ignoredGender differences have been much in the news lately. It's a topic that exerts a powerful attraction, beguiling scientists and lay people alike. Are men and women really so dissimilar that they may as well come from different planets? And where there are differences, what are the causes? Everyone, it seems, has a view.Those of the opinion that the abilities – and thus the responsibilities – of women and men are innately different have been encouraged by research recently published by a team at the University of Pennsylvania. Asserting that "males have better motor and spatial abilities, whereas females have superior memory and social cognition skills", the authors suggest that the explanation lies in the different ways in which the brains of men and women are wired. And as usual with such research, it's assumed that differences discovered with a brain scan are innate.These findings merely reiterate a wearyingly familiar stereotype: the one in which women can't read maps or play football properly and men are somehow unable to hold a decent conversation or remember to do the washing up. The problems with the study have been skewered in these pages by Robin McKie. Suffice to say here that the conclusions drawn from the Pennsylvania data are flawed. But besides the lavishly uncritical coverage in much of the media, what is so galling is the fact that this kind of thing often obscures a more nuanced discussion of some absolutely critical gender differences. For example, though we seem content to speculate over which sex is more adept at "multi-tasking" or "spatial awareness", when it comes to mental health differences a baffling silence has prevailed. And yet our analysis of the international epidemiological data indicates that in any given year rates of psychological disorders are 20-40% higher in women than men, with the discrepancy especially marked for common problems such as anxiety, depression and insomnia.It's true that men have more problems with alcohol and drugs, but this doesn't balance out the difference. And it's also true that men are more likely to kill themselves, though in fact it is women who make more suicide attempts – the discrepancy arises from the fact that men typically use methods more likely to lead to death, such as firearms or hanging, while women overdose. And although it's often said that the differences in overall rates of mental health problems are simply due to the fact that women are more likely to report such problems, there's much more to it than that.So, given the scale of the additional distress these figures imply for women, why aren't we talking about it?One reason may be the uncomfortable social and political questions these statistics raise. There is some preliminary research to indicate that biological factors may play a part, but at present the evidence – which we review in our book The Stressed Sex – is far stronger for the influence of life events. Being judged on one's appearance and the degree to which one conforms to a largely unattainable physical "ideal", shouldering the burden of responsibility for family, home and career, growing up in a society that routinely valorises masculinity while belittling femininity, and having to run the gauntlet of Everyday Sexism – all of these factors are likely to help lower women's self-esteem, increase their level of stress and leave them vulnerable to mental health problems.And that's without taking account of the effects of sexual abuse, a trauma that's frequently implicated in later psychological illness and one that as many as one in twenty girls are estimated to have suffered.What are the chances of genuine sexual equality when even the editor of the Sunday Times is unable to persuade her bosses that featuring semi-nude women on page three of the Sun isn't a great idea. In her words: "I think it's demeaning to women ... It is not good when you're raising girls and they see women being objectified in that way." Or when girls are deemed unsuited to study science at school? In one depressingly eloquent example of such sexism, researchers in the US found that science faculty staff judged a person's aptitude for a laboratory manager job on the basis of their gender. A dummy application with a man's name on the front fared much better than the same application with the name changed to that of a woman. "Female" candidates were deemed less competent – identical skills and experience notwithstanding. (This bias, incidentally, was shown by male and female recruiters alike.)As such, it's not a shock that three quarters of young women in the US believe that true equality in the workplace is still a long way off.Perhaps more than ever, the effect of these pressures is evident at a very young age. A recent survey of 1,300 females aged 7 to 21, for instance, discovered that 80% of 11–16-year-olds say they shave or wax their legs, more than 60% wear make-up to school and 40% shave or wax their bikini line and/or wear a padded bra. Among 7–11 year-olds, almost two thirds paint their nails, 50% use make-up and a third wear high heels.But conformity doesn't seem to bring contentment: a third of those questioned were unhappy with their looks. For the over-16s, the figure rose to more than 50%. Many of the respondents reported that they'd experienced sexual harassment. And around one in four of the 16-18 age group admitted that they were unhappy – which fits with many other studies showing that it's in the teenage years that girls overtake boys in rates of depression and anxiety. For many young women, matters don't improve as they reach their twenties. In one recent study more than 40% of women aged 16 to 30 reported struggling with loneliness, isolation, problematic relationships, lack of qualifications, debt, poverty and poor housing. Over a third felt that they couldn't cope – a predicament that we know can easily develop into mental illness.We shouldn't be surprised. In an unequal society, why should we expect stress, pressure, and ultimately mental illness to be shared fairly between the sexes? Rather than pursuing spurious biological justifications for sexism, let's focus our energies on tackling that inequality and ensuring that women's mental health receives the attention, research and resources it merits.Daniel Freeman is a professor of clinical psychology and a Medical Research Council Senior Clinical Fellow in the department of psychiatry, University of Oxford. Jason Freeman is a psychology writer. On Twitter they are @ProfDFreeman and @JasonFreeman100. They are the authors of The Stressed Sex: Uncovering the Truth about Men, Women, and Mental Health PsychologyMedical researchWomenMental healthHealthDaniel FreemanJason Freemantheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
Why do children believe in Santa but not Harry Potter? | Nathalia Gjersoe Research into children's belief in Santa Claus reveals just how sophisticated their reality judgments usually areNathalia Gjersoe
APA Policy States that Academic Boycotts Violate Academic Freedom and Disrupt Scientific Exchange
Medical mystery solved An international team has identified a new disease related to NKH, a finding that resolves previously baffling cases, including the death of a Colorado girl.
Data show health disparities among states The rate of residents gaining health coverage is greatest in the states embracing the federal health care law than in those whose leaders have resisted it.
Marines who suffered brain injuries doubled risk of PTSD Up to a fifth of U.S. service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have come home with a blast-related concussion or post-traumatic stress disorder, or both.