A great interactive visualization of the weird ways that we perceive time

Reuters published this interactive article Why time feels so weird in 2020 in early July. That was about a month ago, as of this writing; it was also about halfway through the bizarro time vortex hell year known as 2020. Between social media and quarantine, our shared temporal existence has become increasingly warped and disproportionate, but I'm pretty sure that's how the timeline works, anyway. Or at least, for now.

And that confusion is precisely the focus of the article:

The global coronavirus pandemic has heightened our awareness that time is subjective. For some people who enjoy working from home, the days have whizzed by. For others desperate to travel or visit a loved one, time has slowed to a crawl.

Clocks were invented to help us track the passage of time - and yet in some moments when staring at a clock, we’re made aware of just how long a second can feel.

Click through for some cool visualizations that explore the gaps between our personal relativity and the actual demonstrable passage of time. It might not change the strangeness of our world, but it's kind of comforting to know that you're not crazy, that our human brains just don't know how to function in a linear temporal existence.

Why time feels so weird in 2020 [Feilding Cage / Reuters]

Image: Public Domain via NeedPix Read the rest

Money-saving gifts make recipients feel ashamed according to researchers

People hate gifts when the giver tells them it will save them money, according to a study in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. On the other hand, being told a gift will save them time, makes the like it.

In the experiment, researchers gave $5 Starbucks gift cards to 200 college students. Half of the gift cards included the message, "I know you've been stressed for money lately. I hope you'll enjoy this gift card in hopes that it will save you some money." The other half said, "I know you've been stressed for time lately. I hope you'll enjoy this gift card in hopes that it will save you some time."

From Ohio State News:

Those who received gift cards intended to save them money had more negative emotions than those who received the cards intended to save them time. In addition, those who received the money-saving cards said they thought the gift-givers believed they were higher-status than themselves.

If there was any bright spot for the people who sent the money-saving gift card, it was that their friends were just as likely to redeem the card as those who received it as a time-saver, Donnelly said.

Photo by Rebecca Aldama on Unsplash Read the rest

How Maria Konnikova used her psychology background to be a champion poker player

I'm almost finished reading Maria Konnikova's new book, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win.  It's an enthralling and funny first-hand account of her transition from a person who didn't know how many cards were in a deck into a professional, tournament-winning poker player.

Maria is one of my favorite nonfiction authors.I've interviewed her about her other two books, The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It...Every Time and Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, both of which I recommend highly.

The Atlantic has an excerpt from The Biggest Bluff:

I enter a $60 daily tournament at Bally’s. It’s small, only two tables’ worth of players, but I feel a certain pride in watching the numbers dwindle to a single table, then eight, seven, six, until finally, I find myself in the final four. And it’s hard for me to contain my excitement when I flop a set (three of a kind) of nines, an excellent hand if ever there were. There’s a bet before me, and I joyously shove all my chips into the middle. This is it. All my learning is paying off. I will finally have my first tournament cash. I get called by a player who is hoping the dealer completes his flush, and to my horror, the flush hits. I’m out, and devastated.

I almost leave it all right then and there. This game is so damn unfair. But there’s the knowledge, somewhere deep down, that it’s to confront that very seeming unfairness that I turned to poker in the first place; I resolve to play on.

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We are all part of the biggest psychological experiment in history

During the COVID-19 pandemic, 2.6 billion people were under a mandate to stay at home. According to psychologist Elke Van Hoof of Free University of Brussels-VUB, [the lockdown] "is arguably the largest psychological experiment ever conducted." What impact will COVID-19 have on the planet's mental health? The scientific study of psychological resilience is not a new field. But COVID-19 is fairly unique in the range of stressors it triggers, from the death of loved ones to isolation, devastating financial loss, and uncertainty about what comes next. Meanwhile, we actually aren't all "in the same boat." In Scientific American, Lydia Denworth surveys the real-time research on what we can learn from all this about resilience and how to increase it for the next time. From Scientific American:

Individual resilience is further complicated by the fact that this pandemic has not affected each person in the same way. For all that is shared--the coronavirus has struck every level of society and left few lives unchanged--there has been tremendous variation in the disruption and devastation experienced. Consider Brooklyn, just one borough in hard-hit New York City. Residents who started the year living or working within a few miles of one another have very different stories of illness, loss and navigating the challenges of social distancing. How quickly and how well individuals, businesses and organizations recover will depend on the jobs, insurance and health they had when this started, on whether they have endured hassle or heartbreak, and on whether they can tap financial resources and social support.

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder as practice for COVID-19

People who live with obsessive-compulsive disorder, especially those who have learned to manage it with cognitive-behavioral therapy tools, may actually be psychologically well-prepared for this pandemic. The techniques those of us with OCD practice to handle anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and all-consuming compulsions are well-suited to dealing with worries of infection and the endless what-ifs about what lies ahead. Those fortunate enough to have been treated for OCD with cognitive-behavioral therapy, often in combination with medication, are usually pretty comfortable being uncomfortable. (If you're suffering and not being treated, please seek help; you really can feel much better.) From the International OCD Foundation:

Accept anxiety instead of wishing it away and making it worse. No one enjoys anxiety and it’s normal to wish you weren’t anxious. But when you label your anxiety as “bad” and try to get rid of it, your brain then misinterprets the anxiety as a problem and dumps more stress chemicals into your body to help you manage this “threat.” The result? You feel more, not less, anxious.

Instead, accept that it’s likely you will continue to feel anxious during the pandemic, and that this is okay. Anxiety is uncomfortable, but it’s not going to hurt you, and if you tell yourself you can handle being anxious, your brain is less likely to get confused and think anxiety is a threat. Accepting anxiety, not being afraid of being afraid, is how to keep it manageable.

Tell yourself you can handle uncertainty, because you can. This situation is scary because there are so many unknowns.

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To find something you misplaced, imagine its feel and texture

If you misplace something, say a pair of headphones, think about its surface texture and the way it feels rather than what it looks like. This will help you remember where you last left it, says Jason Fischer, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

From Well and Good:

The study reached this conclusion by asking participants to identify items in a sea of clutter. Those who looked for a given object by remembering tactile traits—like hardness or softness—won at the impromptu game of I Spy about 20 percent faster than their counterparts who focused only on visual traits like color and shape. “What makes the finding particularly striking from a vision science standpoint is that simply knowing the latent physical properties of objects is enough to help guide your attention to them,” Dr. Fischer tells Medical Xpress. “It’s surprising because nearly all prior research in this area has focused on a host of visual properties that can facilitate search, but we find that what you know about objects can be as important as what you actually see.”

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Scientists: Saying "fuck" and other bad words really can decrease your feeling of pain

Repeating the word "fuck" actually can reduce your experience of pain, according to a new study by Keele University researchers. The psychologists ran an experiment in which subjects underwent a cold pressor test, a common method to pain threshold and tolerance by immersing your hand in freezing cold water for a minute. (See above video for actor Brian Blessed's demonstration, unrelated to this current research.)

According to the researchers' scientific paper, their data "replicate previous findings that repeating a swear word at a steady pace and volume benefits pain tolerance, extending this finding to pain threshold."

Don't think any old word will help though. They found no benefit when their subjects exclaimed made-up words like “fouch” and “twizpipe."

"Swearing as a Response to Pain: Assessing Hypoalgesic Effects of Novel 'Swear” Words" (Frontiers in Psychology) Read the rest

Astronaut and artist Nicole Stott has advice for us about social distancing

Nicole Stott is a talented artist and retired astronaut who spent more than 100 days living in space on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. Stott is one of several astronauts who in recent days has been asked to share their advice on isolation and social distancing.

"Nothing beats that first hug after landing," Stott says.

From the New York Times:

[In the video above, Stott] reflects on the three months she spent on the International Space Station, far from her husband and 7-year-old son. Living on the space station, being alone on a spacewalk, watching lightning storms crisscross the planet — all these experiences taught her that we’re all inherently connected, even when we’re physically far away.

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How to think positively and why it's so hard to do that

Our brains are wired so that when a situation is framed as something bad, it's "stickier" in our minds than if it's presented in a positive light. If you see a glass as half empty, it's really really hard to start thinking about it as half-full. That was very beneficial to our evolutionary ancestors but not so much today, although politicians and marketers take advantage of this all the time to manipulate us. UC Davis behavioral scientist Alison Ledgerwood studies the power of framing, and how we can learn to see the bright side of things.

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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

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