What do we hear when we dream?

While people talk a lot about what they see in their dreams, and the visual language of dreams is well-studied by psychologists, what we hear when dreaming is rarely discussed or scientifically explored. Recently though, researchers at Norway's Vestre Viken Hospital Trust and the University of Bergen conducted a small study to quantify the auditory experience of dreamers. Why? Because they wanted to "assess the relevance of dreaming as a model for psychosis." Throughout history, they write, psychologists have considered dreamstates to be a model for psychosis, yet people experiencing psychosis usually suffer from auditory hallucinations far more than visual ones. Basically, what the researchers determined is that the reason so little is known about auditory sensations while dreaming is because, well, nobody asks what people's dreams sound like. From their scientific paper in PLOS ONE:

The participants reported auditory impressions in 93.9% of their dreams on average. The most prevalent auditory type was other people speaking (83.9% of participants’ dreams), followed by the dreamer speaking (60.0%), and other types of sounds (e.g. music, 33.1%). Of altogether 407 instances of auditory impressions in the 130 dreams, auditory quality was judged comparable to waking in 46.4%, indeterminate in 50.6%, and absent or only thought-like in 2.9%....

The internal generation of auditory sensations, most notably of speech, may be a typical, integrated characteristic of dreaming. The findings on auditory impressions in dreams contribute to making clear the comparative phenomenology that models of common underlying mechanisms in dreaming and psychosis must account for.

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Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life

I came across Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life when I took my kids to the California Science Center in Los Angeles in 2009 and found it in the gift store. It was written by philosopher Roger-Pol Droit, a researcher at the Centre de Recherche Scientifique and, as the title indicates, contains 101 mental and perceptual exercises you can perform on yourself.

In his introduction, Droit says the purpose of the experiments is to "provoke tiny moments of awareness," and to "shake a certainty we had taken for granted: our own identity, say, or the stability of the outside world, or even the meanings of words." Most of the experiments require about 20 minutes or less to complete, and often involve nothing more than merely thinking about something.

Some of the experiments you'll probably want to try when you are alone at home (like calling your name repeatedly for 20 minutes, or repeating some other word to drain it of its meaning), but others can be performed anywhere (like imagining that the world was "created from nothing, just an instant ago" and will vanish "like a light going out" in 20 minutes).

Some of the experiments you can't really plan in advance; they'll happen by accident, like when you wake up without knowing where you are -- a magical experience I love having, but Droit explains how to make the best use of this five-second-long "delicious lightness of a mystery without menace" the next time it happens: "What you do not know, for a tiny interval of time, is what the place is called, where it is, and you you are doing there. Read the rest

Tips from a fellow who has been social distancing for 50 years

For 50 years, Billy Barr has been the only resident of Gothic, Colorado, an abandoned silver mining town. He's not a hermit though. According to NPR, Barr says he "occasionally interacts with skiers who pass through, he talks to his sister on the phone, and he works for the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory nearby, which gets flooded with scientists in the summer." Below are a few of Bill Barr's tips on social distancing. You should read the rest though because Barr is very funny. From NPR:

1. Keep track of something.

Each day, Barr tracks the weather for a number of groups including the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. He started measuring snow levels in the 1970s, mostly because he was bored [...]

2. Keep a routine.

Barr starts early. He wakes up around 3:30 a.m. or 4 a.m., and stays in bed until about 5 a.m.

"Up until a week or two ago, I would listen to the news every morning so that I could start every day either totally depressed or furious. That's always a good way to start the day," he said [...]

4. Embrace the grumpiness.

Sometimes, Barr said, it's kind of satisfying to be grumpy about something.

"Tips From Someone With Nearly 50 Years Of Social Distancing Experience" by Rae Ellen Bichell (NPR)

image: courtesy of Billy Barr Read the rest

Watch Johnny Carson joke about the toilet paper shortage

No, that isn't a deepfake. In 1973, the stock market crashed and an Arab oil embargo resulted in a gas crisis. With that as the context, a (false) rumor of a toilet paper shortage emerged and spread like wildfire via news outlets before it was further fueled by Johnny Carson (who later apologized). It's a fascinating story of shortage psychology and panic buying. From Priceonomics:

In November of 1973, several news agencies reported a tissue shortage in Japan. Initially, the release went unnoticed and nobody seemed to put much stock in it -- save for one Harold V. Froelich. Froelich, a 41-year-old Republican congressman, presided over a heavily-forested district in Wisconsin and had recently been receiving complaints from constituents about a reduced stream of pulp paper. On November 16th, he released his own press statement -- “The Government Printing Office is facing a serious shortage of paper” -- to little fanfare.

However, a few weeks later, Froelich uncovered a document that indicated the government’s National Buying Center had fallen far short of securing bids to provide toilet paper for its troops and bureaucrats. On December 11, he issued another, more serious press release: “The U.S. may face a serious shortage of toilet paper within a few months...we hope we don’t have to ration toilet tissue...a toilet paper shortage is no laughing matter. It is a problem that will potentially touch every American.”

In the climate of shortages, oil scares, and economic duress, Froelich’s claim was absorbed without an iota of doubt, and the media ran wild with it.

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People perceive coffee to taste differently in different sizes and shapes of cups

The size and shape of a coffee cup has a factor in how people think the coffee in it tastes, reports Mental Floss.

[R]esearchers showed 309 online participants images of eight different coffee mugs and asked them to rank the mugs on how aromatic, bitter, or sweet they would expect the coffee inside it to be. Participants hailed from China, Colombia, and the United Kingdom. Across the board, they said they expected that coffee in narrower cups would be more aromatic and taste more bitter, and they agreed that coffee in mugs with a wider diameter would taste sweeter.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash Read the rest

Smokers do not like cigarettes that have "minutes of life lost" ruler printed on them

In 2016 researchers created a variety of "dissuasive cigarettes" to find out which kind was the biggest turn-off. "A 'minutes of life lost' stick was the most aversive of the stimuli tested," reported the researchers.

From Weird Universe (which has a photo of the cigarettes described below):

One of these cigarettes had a “smoking kills” warning printed directly on it. Two others were unpleasant colors: "slimy green" and "faecal yellow-brown." The fourth was printed with a graphic depicting "15 minutes of life lost."

Photo by Mathew MacQuarrie on Unsplash Read the rest

You will be helped! Research using real-world situations fails to replicate the "bystander effect"

For decades, the "bystander effect" (previously) has been a bedrock of received psychological wisdom: "individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present; the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that one of them will help." Read the rest

Using the Challenger Disaster to illustrate the 8 symptoms of groupthink

When Yale research psyhcologist Irving Janis coined the term "groupthink" in 1972, he identified eight symptoms of the pathology: the "illusion of invulnerability"; a "belief in the inherent morality of the group"; "collective rationalization"; "out-group stereotypes"; "self-censorship"; the "illusion of unanimity"; "direct pressure on dissenters" and "self-appointed mindguards." Read the rest

Explainer video: How to influence others

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is Robert Cialdini's absolute classic book outlining six principles that you can use to convince people to do things and/or defend yourself against coercion. I hadn't seen this 2012 animated explainer video above narrated by Cialdini and Steve Martin, not the comedian but rather co-author of Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.

(via Laughing Squid) Read the rest

The Decoy Effect, a psychological trick that can influence what you buy and who you vote for

The Decoy Effect is a simple but powerful trick that marketers use to influence you to buy something that is bigger or more expensive than you need or want. I fall for this every time I go to the movies and think I'm going to buy the medium popcorn but end up getting the large because it costs just a few cents more. The medium popcorn is the decoy that nudges you to buy the large. But social psychologists have also studied the Decoy Effect outside retail environments. From the BBC News:

The decoy effect might also influence our voting in elections, and recruitment decisions. In these kinds of situations, the “decoy” may appear by accident rather than having been deliberately placed in the selection, but if you do come across two candidates who are similar, but one is slightly superior to the other, it will heighten your regard for them compared to the other competitors...

On a more positive note, scientists in the UK have also started to consider whether the decoy effect might be used to encourage people to make healthier life choices. Christian Von Wagner, a reader in behavioural science and health at University College London, for instance, recently explored people’s intentions to undergo a vital – but unpleasant – screening for colorectal cancer. He found that given the choice between arranging an appointment for the screening or not having the procedure at all, many people chose not to go. But if he also presented them with a third option – an appointment at a less convenient hospital with a longer waiting time, ie, the decoy – the uptake was greater.

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How to build empathy with robots

Trying to see the world through someone else's eyes is a great way to build empathy and understanding between people. Turns out, this approach -- when taken literally -- also works with robots. Researchers from the University of Bourgogne, University of Trento, and their colleagues used a head-mounted display to put people "inside" a robot and then studied their "likeability and closeness towards the robot."

"We have demonstrated that by 'beaming' a participant into a robot we can change his or her attitude towards the robot," says University of Trento psychologist Francesco Pavani.

"By 'beaming', we mean that we gave the participants the illusion that they were looking through the robot's eyes, moving its head as if it were their head, look in the mirror and see themselves as a robot."

"Unlike exercises in which the participants couldn't t move the robot's head or do that in a coordinated manner with other body movements, in our study the experience of walking in the shoes of a robot led the participants to adopt a friendlier attitude, to perceive them as socially closer."

From the abstract of their scientific paper published in Scientific Reports:

When participant’ and robot’s head movements were correlated, participants felt that they were incorporated into the robot with a sense of agency. Critically, the robot they embodied was judged more likeable and socially closer. Remarkably, we found that the beaming experience with correlated head movements and corresponding sensation of embodiment and social proximity, was independent of robots’ humanoid’s appearance.

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Oregon now excuses students for "mental health days"

Oregon governor Kate Brown signed a bill that excuses public school students for taking "mental health days" just as they are excused for other illnesses. The bill was spearheaded by youth activists. From the Associated Press:

(Eighteen-year-old Hailey) Hardcastle, who plans to attend the University of Oregon in the fall, said she and fellow youth leaders drafted the measure to respond to a mental health crisis in schools and to “encourage kids to admit when they’re struggling.”

Debbie Plotnik, vice president of the nonprofit advocacy group Mental Health America, said implementing the idea in schools was important step in challenging the way society approaches mental health issues.

“We need to say it’s just as OK to take care for mental health reasons as it is to care for a broken bone or a physical illness,” she said.

(Image: "Conceptual illustration of mental health" by Quince Media, (CC BY-SA 4.0)) Read the rest

Eminent psychologists condemn "emotion detection" systems as being grounded in junk science

One of the more extravagant claims made by tech companies is that they can detect emotions by analyzing photos of our faces with machine learning systems. The premise is sometimes dressed up in claims about "micro-expressions" that are below the threshold of human detection, though some vendors have made billions getting security agencies to let them train officers in "behavior detection" grounded in this premise. Read the rest

A "Fake News Game" that "vaccinates" players against disinformation

Bad News is a free webgame created by two Cambridge psych researchers; in a 15-minute session, it challenges players to learn about and deploy six tactics used in disinformation campaigns ("polarisation, invoking emotions, spreading conspiracy theories, trolling people online, deflecting blame, and impersonating fake accounts"). Read the rest

People more likely to return lost wallets if there's cash inside

You might think that when someone finds a wallet on the street, they're less likely to return it if there's cash inside. But you'd be wrong. According to a new three-year study across multiple countries, people are more inclined to return wallets stuffed with money. The more cash, the more likely they'll turn it over to the rightful owner. From the New York Times:

“The evidence suggests that people tend to care about the welfare of others and they have an aversion to seeing themselves as a thief,” said Alain Cohn, a study author and assistant professor of information at the University of Michigan. People given wallets with more money have more to gain from dishonesty, but that also increases “the psychological cost of the dishonest act...."

Christian Zünd, a doctoral student and co-author, said a survey they conducted found that “without money, not reporting a wallet doesn’t feel like stealing. With money, however, it suddenly feels like stealing and it feels even more like stealing when the money in the wallet increases...."

The researchers surveyed people to see if they expected bigger rewards for returning more money; they didn’t.

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How con artists use the Ouija board effect for their scams

In 1851, Michael Faraday secretly measured the muscle movements of Ouija board users who believed that the planchette was under ghostly control. According to Faraday, the users were unconsciously moving their muscles and but truly thought a spirit was pushing the planchette. A few decades later, physiologist William Carpenter dubbed this the "ideomotor effect." To this day, the ideomotor effect is a powerful phenomena and one that scammers have used to sell bogus "scientific" instruments. From the Wellcome Collection:

For example, in 2014, James McCormick, a British businessman, was convicted of selling fake bomb detectors to various international police forces. McCormick’s devices were marketed as using principles similar to dowsing, with extreme life-or-death stakes. The operator was supposed hold the device, called the ‘ADE 651’, like a wand, and allow its subtle movements to direct them towards dangerous substances.

The devices themselves have been determined to be entirely non-functional. But thanks in part to the ideomotor effect, they could easily feel functional, especially if the operator were confident in their legitimacy.

Since the late 1990s, non-functional detection devices with names such as ‘Sniffex’, ‘GT 200’ and ‘Alpha 6’ were sold by various scammers to governments throughout the world, including those of Iraq, Egypt, Syria, India, Thailand and Mexico. The World Peace Foundation of Tufts University, which tracks corruption related to international arms trading, estimates that fake bomb detectors generated more than $100 million in profit between 1999 and 2010.

"The psychology of Ouija" (Wellcome Collection via Daily Grail)

Vintage image: SFO Museum Read the rest

Experiencing awe is linked to decreased inflammation

In the Savvy Pscychologist, clinician Ellen Hendriksen of Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, looks at the profound psychological and physiological impacts of feeling awe, whether it comes from looking up at the expansive night sky or hearing an incredible musical performance. She reflects on scientific evidence that awe makes us "feel small" and humble, nicer, and expands our worldview, all of which seem like fairly obvious effects. But Hendriksen also points to a recent curious study published in the journal Emotion showing that "awe is linked to decreased inflammation." The University of Toronto researchers had examined whether amusement, compassion, contentment, joy, love, pride, and awe resulted in "lower levels of a marker of inflammation called interleukin-6, or IL-6, which has been linked to diseases as diverse as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and diabetes." From the Savvy Psychologist:

Why on earth might standing on a mountaintop connect with our levels of inflammation? One hypothesis is that proinflammatory cytokines like IL-6 lead to physical and social withdrawal—curling up in your den and resting speeds recovery from illness or injury more quickly than pushing through. By contrast, awe triggers the opposite: an urge to explore and experience more. It’s unclear whether awe reduces inflammation or reduced inflammation makes us seek out awe, but either way, the two seem to be linked.

"Awe: The Most Incredible Emotion and Its Spectacular Effects"

Here's the scientific study: "Positive affect and markers of inflammation: discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines" (Emotion)

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