Some of the Latest Psychological Research
Although the focus of this site is not on psychology, but
on how to use the brain more effectively, psychological research
is not irrelevant to that goal. So with that in mind I visited
various medical and scientific journals and magazines (or at
least their online versions to discover and report on what's
been going on. Here's what I found...
Politics is Nasty
It seems that we are less empathetic to other's suffering
if their politics disagree with our own, according to a study
published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association
for Psychological Science.
As reported on Science Daily;
We can look beyond someone having a different gender or
being from a different country, but if you're a Democrat and
someone else is a Republican, that person seems extremely different.
"Political values are emotionally charged. People get really
fired up," says Ed O'Brien of the University of Michigan,
who cowrote the study with Phoebe C. Ellsworth.
Researchers chose subjects who were out in the cold of winter
waiting for a bus. They had them read a story about a man or
woman getting lost without food, water, or proper clothing when
hiking in the winter. The lead character in the story was also
described as "either a left-wing, pro-gay rights Democrat
or a Republican proponent of traditional marriage."
Subjects then answered a series of questions about how cold,
hungry or thirsty they thought the hiker was, and about their
own political views as well. Another group of subjects, who were
in a warm indoor setting, were given the same task. From Science
"People who had the same politics as the fictional hiker
judged the hiker to be cold like them, as previous research predicts.
But if the hiker had different politics, subjects weren't affected
by their strong feelings; cold outdoor participants didn't think
the dissimilar hiker was any colder than did warm indoor participants."
I would like to add a thought here: If, because of our political
differences, we cannot help but be biased against having empathy
for a man lost in winter, what does this suggest about our ability
to rationally discuss anything with those of differing political
opinions? Biases almost certainly enter even the selecting of
what to believe as facts depending on the source we learn them
You may have heard the saying that there are no atheists in
foxholes, meaning they all turn to God when in fear of death.
Well, many atheists would dispute that, and certainly many go
through great danger and remain non-believers until death. But
recent research suggests that despite their conscious beliefs
on the matter, atheists become unconsciously more receptive to
religious belief when they are thinking about death.
Researchers first tested conscious attitudes after "death
priming," which involved having participants (except those
in the control group) write about their own death. For religious
people this strengthened their beliefs. For atheists the opposite
happened; they became even more skeptical of religious ideas.
But when unconscious attitudes were measured there was a different
effect. According to an article in Science Daily;
The techniques used to study unconscious beliefs include
measuring the speed with which participants can affirm or deny
the existence of God and other religious entities. After being
primed by thoughts of death, religious participants were faster
to press a button to affirm God's existence, but non-religious
participants were slower to press a button denying God's existence.
At some level atheists apparently became less confident in
their disbelief when thinking about death. Fear of death seems
to prompt the seeking of comfort in the possibility of an afterlife
and/or in other religious beliefs, even if it only does so at
an unconscious level.
When Are We Most Creative?
You might think you are most creative when you are most alert
and awake, but some psychological research suggest otherwise.
According to an article in Scientific American;
A recent study by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks suggests
that innovation and creativity are greatest when we are not at
our best, at least with respect to our circadian rhythms...
Numerous studies have demonstrated that our best performance
on challenging, attention-demanding tasks - like studying in
the midst of distraction - occurs at our peak time of day...
Insight problems involve thinking outside the box. This
is where susceptibility to distraction can be of
benefit. At off-peak times we are less focused, and may consider
a broader range of information. This wider scope gives us access
to more alternatives and diverse interpretations, thus fostering
innovation and insight. Indeed, Wieth and Zacks found that participants
were more successful in solving insight problems when tested
at their non-optimal times.
Other research has resulted in similar findings.
Apart from the psychological research, there is personal experience
to confirm this. many of us come upon our most creative ideas
when sleepy or day dreaming. The use of brainwave entrainment
recordings to put one in an "alpha" brainwave state
helps some people become more creative as well. Normally you
have brainwaves predominantly in the alpha range (8 to 14 hertz)
as you relax and close your eyes--often just before sleep.