Why Do We Treat Dogs Like Our Children? Because They Are

Do you have your precious pup as your iPhone background? Would you rather spend hours gushing about your dog Gus than delving deep into politics? Are your parties for your pets more extravagant than the Real Housewives’ parties for their children? Turns out you’re not alone.

Kelton Research, a market research company, wanted to scientifically examine why we treat Fido as more than our friend but as a certified member of our family. They surveyed over 1,000 dog owners and found that a whopping 81% of those asked describe their dogs as members of their family, equal in status to biological children. We not only see our dogs as our children, but ourselves as their parents as a majority (54%) of Americans refer to themselves as pet “parents” rather than pet “owners”.

a1

We’ve all heard that we look like our dogs: Females with longer hair prefer dogs with long floppy ears; Obese people are more likely to raise plumper pets than their skinnier contemporaries. It turns out our love of pets is more than skin deep as more than 1/3 of dog owners even refer to their dachshunds as their “son” or “daughter”. Crazily enough, 10% of dog parents even celebrate Father’s and Mother’s Day. Hopefully their “children” will give better presents than the ones they leave on their morning walks.

Ever wonder why your parents have more pictures of their Pomeranian on their mantels than you and your siblings? The average pet parent has over 7 photographs of their beloved canine on display at all times. Remember your parents buying wallet-sized copies of your hideous elementary school pictures? Turns out that 71% of pet owners have at least one picture of their pup that they keep with them at all times.

a1

The love for our dogs transcends our mobile photo albums and infiltrates our daily conversations. Stuck in a disastrous first date with nothing to talk about? Simply gush about your furry child! Over 79% of people divulge that they talk more about their dogs than politics while 55% would rather talk about their pets than their human friends. Furthermore, 48% of people agree that they spend more time talking about their pets than their professions while, surprisingly, 57% of people surveyed confess that they spend more time discussing their pet-lives than their sex-lives.

The lines between our chihuahuas and children are becoming increasingly blurred. According to the survey, 81% of pet owners know and celebrate their dog’s birthday with the same fervor of suburban soccer moms. Surprisingly, 74% of those asked dished that they like to share a meal with their furry friend with dinner being the most popular. No doggy bags needed!

a1

So why have our pets turned us into perfectionist parents? Turns out it may be due to a void left by our own biological children. Young people in the United States and abroad would prefer to have a fur-baby instead of an actual baby due to financial reasons. Young people are not the only ones caught up in dog-fever however as baby boomers are blossoming into empty-nesters. While middle aged couples cannot replace their adult children with more biological ones, they can easily go to their neighborhood adoption center and pick up a pup in need of a family. As humans we have an instinct need to nurture and dogs give us the opportunity to do so without the full responsibility of raising a walking, talking human.

They say that dogs are a man’s best friend. Chances are whoever invented that quote never had a Fido to call their own as we all know, and feel, that dogs are much, much, more than that. They are a member of our family and since they can’t talk back or ask us who we are dating at every Thanksgiving dinner, they are more than likely to be our favorite family member.

Advertisements

Travelling As A Cure For Depression: Should You Ditch Your Prozac for a Passport?

We all know about the fight or flight response: when faced with certain doom or uncertainty our brains go into instinctive mode, giving us only two options. When life smacks us hard in the face we can either smack it back or run to the comfortable lay-z-boy couches of our therapist. But what happens when the “flight” takes on a literal meaning, when people travel thousands of miles to escape the demons in their own heads?

a1

It’s Natural to Think Escaping to Nature Will Solve Everything

In these modern times, with the popularity of Instagram and social media behemoths, once distant places are at the tips of our fingers. You can’t help but to not be jealous when you see post of beautiful beaches or read articles titled “we quit our boring jobs to travel the world!” Psychologists want you to know, however, that the luscious green landscapes featured in Travel + Leisure will not lead you to greener pastures in your own life.

As humans, we tend to blame unwanted situations on external events: I failed my calculus final because I was sick, not because I didn’t study! I am single because all men are afraid of commitment, not because I don’t use mouthwash! The same goes with feelings of depression: we are more likely to think that we are melancholic because we are stuck in a mundane routine of working a 9-5 desk job in a middle-of-nowhere town where the most exciting events consist of corn fairs, not because of a chemical imbalance in our brains.

“The tendency is to attribute the cause of suffering to something outside of yourself: your job, your family, your relationship, and so on,” describes Mary V. Seeman, MDCM, DSc, Professor at the University of Toronto. “So you travel to get away from the supposed causes only to find that the depression is inside.”

a1

Travelling Can Lead You to an Even Greater Breakdown

You need to book a cheap but fast flight ticket, book a hotel close to the city center under $200, research sites to see, things to do, what to eat. Going abroad? You need to learn to say “please” “thank you” and “where is the nearest bathroom” in a new language. Travelling with friends? You need to make sure that Joe and Jane will get along the whole time. Travelling alone? You need to scout out public transportation, cultural differences and where you can drink without looking like a loser.

Travelling brings on all kinds of stress- stress we seem to willfully ignore until we arrive at our destinations. Some like to travel spontaneously, which can rebound when unknown stressors such as flight delays, bad weather and baggage loss rear their ugly heads. Psychologist Joseph Cilona warns his depressed patients that “travel has the potential to make things worse or better for those struggling with depression and [they should] be very conscious of your intentions by planning thoughtfully and thoroughly.”

Don’t forget that even if you travel, it’s not all about getting the perfect shot for your gram. Yes, a picture may say a thousand words, but if in your head your thoughts are a million a minute you can have a serious mental breakdown. Dr. Seeman elaborates stating:

“All the problems of traveling will bother people with depression more than usual: the annoyances, the inconveniences, the lack of sleep, the loss of familiar surroundings, the interruption of routines, the happy faces, and the forced socialization. Jet lag will be worse. Loneliness will be worse. New people will seem more of a drag.”

a1

Don’t Forget That You Always Have to Come Back Home

We travel for one of two reasons: we either are running toward something or running away. More often than not with depression we are running away from our what we think is the root of our sadness missing the forest for the trees. I remember so vividly breaking down in tears before boarding my flight from London to Toronto to go home during my first trip abroad. I had no job, no money and insurmountable student debt. What was left for me at home besides problems and questions I had no answers for?

And I know you’ve been there too. We take relief in setting our phones to airplane mode, not having to heard the incessant dings of work-related emails or obnoxious Facebook posts from our old high school friends. One day we are feeling high, dining on escargot in the middle of Paris, France and the next day were back eating Shake ‘n Bake in Paris, Texas. In fact, traveling for long periods may even make depression worse as Seeman explains: “All of the old demands will return, plus needing to catch up with work left undone. [With] the possibility of jet lag and the realization that the next vacation is very far away, a depressed person will probably feel it all more than a ‘happy’ person.”

a1

Should I Just Forget About My Cousin’s Wedding in Hawaii Then?

While yes, travelling can amplify feelings of depression in individuals, taking short breaks once in a while can help with stress and putting life into perspective. Remember that the difficulties with travelling while depressed lie in the before and after stages: planning and returning home from paradise. If one takes the time to plan thoroughly for the adjustments before and after travel then your trip will be a welcomed break instead of a total breakdown.

Planning before travel is the easy part: you can spend days on Lonely Planet researching hotels, sights, and food or you can even pay for someone to do it for you. The difficulties arise when we come back and have to deal with our life problems. Fortunately taking time to travel gives us the chance to think about our lives and strategize how to tackle depression. Dr. Seeman states that: “the vacation may have allowed [them] time to think about next steps and new purposes, so there may be a new determination to get help.” Of course therapy, meditation and counseling can help.

Remember that depression is a nuanced and complex emotion- one that can’t be cured by a miracle pill or a miracle plane ticket. Unless you take a good look at where depression comes from at home, it will always be along for the ride.

Someone Used Science to Find the Saddest Radiohead Song

Fitter happier?

We all know that Radiohead is perhaps not the cheeriest of all bands, but is it really possible to quantify just how sad Thom Yorke’s musings are?

Data analyst Charles Thompson put himself up to task to do just that. The Radiohead audiophile used metrics from Spotify and lyric data from Genius to map which songs are the most depressing according to his own “gloom index”.  He maps his results on what he accordingly monikered “Data Driven Depression“:

b

Radiohead albums ranked from happiest (or least depressing) to the all-out bawling are as follows:

  1. King of Limbs
  2. In Rainbows
  3. Hail to the Thief
  4. Pablo Honey
  5. Kid A
  6. The Bends
  7. OK Computer
  8. Amnesiac
  9. A Moon Shaped Pool

And for all the lovers of sad songs (and not the Elton John song) here’s the saddest Radiohead songs according to Thompson:

10. Videotape  

9. Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief

8. High and Dry 

7. Dollars and Cents 

6. Exit Music (For a Film) 

5. Pyramid Song

4. Let Down  

3. Motion Picture Soundtrack 

2. Give Up the Ghost

And drum roll for the saddest song,

True Love Waits

This shouldn’t come as any surprise to any devoted Radiohead fan as the long awaited song, which was finally released last year after years of being played live, as the slow haunting melody pairs with equally lachrymose lyrics to make even the most burly man cry.

So how did Thompson find these ten songs to be the most depressing of dozens of sad songs? Turns out it is easier than you think.

Songs have a musical property called valence which describes a song as happy or sad. Spotify measures each song’s valence and describes their measures as follows:

“[a] measure from 0.0 to 1.0 describing the musical positiveness conveyed by a track. Tracks with high valence sound more positive (e.g. happy, cheerful, euphoric), while tracks with low valence sound more negative (e.g. sad, depressed, angry).”

Once Thompson was able to find the valence measures for each song ranking the songs became easy. For songs that had the same valence score he used the lyrics of the song to determine which is more depressing. The song found to have the most sad lyrics? High and Dry, which only registered as the 8th saddest Radiohead melody.

Thompson’s data not only proves that it is possible to quantify the emotions of music but also elucidates that great songs can be great despite their gloom and doom. Nobody can deny the excellence that is Exit Music (For a Film) which I will now listen to on repeat for the next few days.

Need more sad songs? Here are some of my favorite to listen to on a bad day (or if you’re me to listen to in the car, shower, and everywhere):

And my personal favorite Radiohead sad song:

 

 

Why Are We So Obsessed With Celebrities?

a

If you’re anything like me right now you’re hunkered down in front of your television waiting for the celebrities to arrive at the Oscar’s red carpet wondering who is going to wear the most expensive dress, who is going to look like a total mess and whether or not Jennifer Lawrence is going to fall. If you’re also like me you always wonder why you actually care about these people whom you will never meet, have nothing in common with and make at least 5 million more in yearly salary than you. So why are we so obsessed with celebrities and the idea of becoming famous?

a

Celebrities Provide an Escape

They say there are two guarantees in life: death and taxes. While some try their hardest to get out of their taxes, death is one part of life that presently we cannot escape. According to the Terror Management Theory of psychology, we have an internal conflict between wanting to live and not wanting to die. This conflict creates terror in which we can quell by making our lives the most meaningful and valuable. Think of it as a more scientific YOLO.

While we may not be able to travel around the world, date the most beautiful people and have houses the size of hotels, celebrities can. Celebrities have the possibility to lead the most meaningful and valuable lives due to their salaries and passion for their jobs and therefore can offset the terror of death more easily than you or I. That’s not to say that celebrities aren’t afraid to die, but can enjoy life more than someone who can barely afford rent and student loan payments.

Seeing celebrities jet set to distant places and wearing clothing that costs more than a car is enough for us common folk to see that there is more to life than death. Celebrities inspire us to travel, to pursue our dreams, and even change our looks in order to increase our own self esteem. When we see our favorite stars on the cover of a magazine at an exotic beach it provides us with an escape from our own dreary lives and takes us away from the reality that we all will one day die.

a

Celebrities Seem More Scandalous Than Us

When Amber Heard alleged that Johnny Depp had beat her during their marriage shock waves were sent throughout not just Hollywood but the entire world. There were camps that protested that Jack Sparrow could not possibly do such a thing and slut-shamed Amber against pictures, videos and other evidence supporting Heard’s claims. And Depp isn’t the only scandalous celebrity. Donald Trump, Brad Pitt, Tiger Woods all shocked the world with scandals of being misogynistic, hurting their children, and adultery. But why are we always so shocked?

In psychology there is a phenomenon called the Halo Effect in which  when a person is good at one thing, we believe them to be good at everything. If someone is better looking or better dressed, we have a cognitive bias in which we automatically assume they are more trustworthy or better people. If someone is more intelligent, we expect them to be good at every kind of subject. If celebrities are good actors and handsome, then we expect them to be not only good people, but to be good at everything as well.

This is why when we hear that a celebrity is less than a good person we become so shocked and we feel as if we have been duped. Often times we forget that celebrities are people too and are susceptible to the same fallacies as you and I. When a star commits a crime or isn’t as perfect as we expect it reminds us that they are human, something we cannot readily comprehend.

a

It’s Easier to Become a Celebrity Now More Than Ever

With the advent of YouTube, Twitter and the increasing salaciousness of reality television it is easier than ever to become famous. One person can create videos playing video games and get 50 million subscribers, one person can make a fool of themselves on The Bachelor and become the prime guest on Jimmy Kimmel.

Seeing stars become famous gives us even more hope in leading a fulfilling life and combating the terror management theory. It gives us inspiration that we too can become famous ourselves, make money and have more interesting life events.

The increase in social media also makes celebrities more accessible to you and me. You can contact a celebrity directly on Twitter, comment on their videos, and, if you’re lucky, direct message them for a response on Instagram. Being able to communicate with celebrities that seem more than human not only makes it seem that they are like us, but that we are like them and can have similar lives.

a.jpg

When Obsession Goes Too Far

Our obsession with celebrities have reached a new high that psychologists have felt the need to create an actual disorder: Celebrity Worship Syndrome. There are six classifications of CWS in which people even become stalkers of celebrities:

  1. Simple Obsessional- Makes up 70-80% of stalking cases in which people want to have a personal connection with a celebrity
  2. Love Obsessional- People develop a love for a star in which they have never met
  3. Erotomanic- These stalkers believe that celebrities are actually in love with them
  4. Entertainment-Social- A low level of obsession, this occurs when people use celebrities to socialize with others such as creating fan clubs
  5. Intense Personal- Intermediate level of obsession in which people believe that stars are their soul mate
  6. Borderline Pathological- Most severe level that includes intense stalking, trying to buy items of celebrities and causes the person to be unable to have normal social interactions.

While it is easy to become wrapped up in the glamour of celebrity it is important to realize that the men and women you see on television are just that: men and women. They may be good at acting, singing, or just being rich (and some of them are not) but underneath all the makeup, plastic surgery and PhotoShop they really are just like us. We should use celebrities not as inspiration to become like them, but to be better versions of ourselves.

 

Blogger Recognition Award!

a

Rules for the Award:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their profile  ✔
  2. Write a post to show your award ✔
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog started ✔
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers ✔
  5. Select 15 other bloggers you want to give this award to ✔
  6. Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them & provide the link to the post you created ✔

 

I would like to thank the Catalysts for Change for nominating me for the Blogger Recognition Award! Check out the blog for inspiring posts on mental health and sexual abuse.

I started my blog in order to meld my two passions in life: writing and psychology. I am hoping to one day in the future combine the two into a career and am blogging to exercise my writing muscles until that happens.

Two pieces of advice:

  • At a writing seminar the speaker imparted on me not to write about what you know, but to write about what you love. While psychology may not be the most popular topic to blog about, it is what inspires me the most and I couldn’t think about writing on anything else. If you write about what you love then people will love your posts
  • I’ve only been blogging for a month, so all I can say to you guys is quality is better than quantity and never stop blogging!

My Nominees:

  1. Idealistic Rebel 
  2. Discovering Sooz
  3. Amongst All Else
  4. Woman Determined
  5. Mike Kuplevatsky
  6. CalicoJack
  7. Lindsay Davis
  8. Mindfump
  9. mapcando
  10. reallifeusblog

 

Thank you to all of my followers, likers and visitors for joining me on my journey to becoming a  better writer! I will have more original content for you soon.

Why Does the Media Portray Mental Illness as a Superpower?

a

Last night was the premiere of Legion, a television show detailing the life of David Haller (the son of X Men’s Charles Xavier) a diagnosed schizophrenic living in a mental hospital. Fans of the comics will know that David possesses many superpowers, many of which form from his deranged mental state.  While we may not know how exactly Legion’s superpowers will unfold in the new series, this is not the first time media has likened mental disorders to superpowers.

In the newly released Split, it is revealed that Kevin’s (who suffers from dissociative identity disorder) last personality is that of a superhuman who can climb up walls and is immune to bullets. In the critically panned Lucy, Scarlett Johansson’s character can throw men three times her size against a wall using only her brain. Batman becomes his own superhero through his inability to move on from his parents’ untimely deaths and the debilitating depression that accompanied it.

The trend of utilizing mental disorders as a means of developing a sympathetic superhero is not only dangerous as in undermines the real experiences of those suffering with cognitive difficulties, but represents a real lack of understanding of the 43.8 million Americans that experience a mental illness every year. Romanticizing chemical imbalances, trauma, and the 200 different forms of mental disease as having superhuman abilities only helps to keep real stigmas of these disorders alive and well in a society in which physical sickness prevails over psychological sickness.

So where does our obsession with the mentally impaired being blessed with some sort of superhuman ability originate? Americans have wrongly deduced for decades that humans only utilize 10% of our brains and that somewhere deep in the 90% of our gray matter we have superhuman abilities beyond common deduction and reasoning. This is the premise of the film Lucy in which the titular character has ingested an experimental drug that allows her to use the other 90% of her brain, which results in her obtaining psychokinetic powers.

a.jpg

Scarlet Johansson in Lucy 

This myth is just that: a myth. Scientists have disputed this sentiment, repeatedly insisting that we use 100% of our brains. Think of a person who has had a stroke or has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. We can see the debilitating effects of brain damage, but it is far less than 90% of total brain mass. This means that they, and all of us, rely on more than 10% of our brains just to execute daily functions.

The closest iteration of a superhuman in the flesh is that of a savant. Darold Treffert, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin Medical School defines savant syndrome as “a rare, but extraordinary, condition in which persons with serious mental disabilities, including autistic disorder, have some ‘island of genius’ which stands in marked, incongruous contrast to overall handicap.” The most famous savant, ironically, is the fictitious Raymond Babbitt, the focus of the 1988 film Rain Man. Babitt displays remarkable abilities in math and memory but at the cost of social skills, language development, and sensory processing.

The problem with Rain Man is not in its portrayal of autism (psychologists have lauded the film for its authenticity) but rather in its representation. Rain Man, released close to thirty years ago, was one of the first films to address autism spectrum disorders, and surely the most successful film to document the effects of the condition. According to Treffert, only 10% of those on the autism spectrum actually possess savant-like qualities. He acknowledges the dangers of this representation by stating: “There is a danger of walking away from the movie with the impression that all autistic persons are savants and that all savants are autistic.”

a

Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man

The popularity of the film undercuts the struggles that those with autism experience on a daily basis. Rain Man asserts that the cognitive disabilities associated with autism can be offset by special god-like abilities in memory, when in reality the majority of sufferers do not experience these. This allows for the public to underestimate the social disparities in autistic children and adults and therefore underestimate the devastating effects of the disorder themselves.

This concept that the media helps to downplay the suffering of the mentally handicapped is not only restricted to Rain Man, but in other films that depict psychological illness as a superhuman feat. This is most troubling in films that associate supervillains with mental disorders. One such film is the aforementioned Split in which Kevin (who suffers from DID, or split personalities) abducts three young girls. The film tries to build sympathy by characterizing Kevin as a soul that has lost control due to his disorder, but raises red flags in the mental health community by doing so.

a

James McAvoy in Split

Split, by portraying a character who is mentally ill as a perpetrator of violence only helps to promote the unsubstantiated stigma that those with mental disorders are dangerous. Horror films including Psycho, Halloween, and The Silence of the Lambs all chronicle mentally handicapped individuals as murderers, and even more dangerously, suggest that their violence is the product of their disorders. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that only 3-5% of all violent acts can be attributed to the mentally ill. Conversely, those diagnosed with severe mental illness are 10 times more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than the general population.

With all of this being said, it is clear to see that the media lacks fundamental education on mental illness in their depictions of the mentally handicapped as harnessing deep rooted superpowers. Not only does the media not take an initiative to actually learn about the human brain and the disorders that arise from brain abnormalities, but it puts forth harmful stigmas and capitalizes on the differences between the mentally impaired and “normal” individuals without psychiatric diagnoses.

If there is one thing that Hollywood gets correct when alluding to the mentally ill as having super powers it is the fact that the mentally ill are stronger than us. They may not possess the ability to fly at super speeds, pick up and throw cars as if they weigh as light as a feather, or save cities from danger, but they are far more emotionally strong. It takes true strength to leave your house and to ignore the stares that accompany schizophrenic outbursts. It takes true power for a depressed person to get out of bed and face the day when their brains are screaming at them to get back to sleep. It take true skill to see the mentally ill just as they are: as human.

Try It Tuesday: Is Laughter Yoga the Best Medicine?

ly6

We all know the saying “fake it till you make it” and this is the concept behind laughter yoga, the newest and perhaps most unique form of relaxation out there. In a session of laughter yoga a group of yogis gather around to laugh at each other through some interesting  (aka weird) exercises in order to make you feel happy. No matter what the exercise, you have to force yourself to laugh (though the exercises should make you laugh themselves) in order for your body to perceive that you are calm and elated. Laughter yoga operates on the theory that fake laughter brings all of the beneficial effects of real laughter. According to the Laughter Yoga University (which I am sure is more accredited than Trump University):

“The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits.”

So what are the physiological and psychological benefits of laughter yoga? Scientists can agree on 5:

  1. Good mood- Laughter releases endorphins that help the brain to calm down and become more relaxed
  2. Healthy exercise beats stress- Laughter yoga does encompass some of the hallmark stretches and breathing exercises as seen in regular yoga which means that it is in fact exercise
  3. Health benefits- Research has shown that yoga reduces stress and strengthens the immune system
  4. Quality of life- Laughter is a positive energy and will help you attract positive people in improve your life
  5. Positive attitude in difficult times- Laughter helps to create a positive state of mind to deal with negative situations

Well those all sound good to me, so I decided to try it out for myself. I decided to watch a laughter yoga video (there weren’t any classes in my area) and stumbled upon this gem on YouTube which you all can watch for yourselves.  The video depicts a training session held by Robert Rivest who is a certified laughter yoga instructor.

ly1

One of the exercises in Rivest’s video. Pointing you finger at your hand is one of the funniest things in the world in the context of laughter yoga.

The Video

The video itself lasts for about 22 minutes and details numerous exercises that are included in a laughter yoga session. The video begins with some standard yoga breathing exercises and then becomes something you have to see to believe. Though the video is punctuated with more breathing exercises, that is the only similarity to actual yoga. Instead of downward dog, there’s rowing laughter in which you sit in a boat and pretend to row. Instead of child’s pose, you actually act like a child playing on a merry-go-round. Here are some of the best, most absurd, exercises:

  • Peek-a-boo laughter in which you laugh behind your hands and then play peek-a-boo with a fellow yogi
  • Cowboy laughter in which you laugh while spinning a pretend lasso and jumping up and down
  • Credit card bill laughter when you laugh while reading all the money you wasted on Starbucks
  • Hot soup laughter in which you spill hot soup on yourself but laugh about it instead of seeking medical attention
  • Finger tickle laughter which involves tickling other people’s fingers to get them to laugh
  • Hot sand laughter where you pretend that you are walking on hot sand and that your third degree burns are funny
  • Bumble bee laughter which involves you buzzing around like a bumble bee while laughing and looking for your next victim to sting
  • Volcano laughter where the group gets together to form one giant volcano but instead of spewing lava spews laughter

Throughout all of these exercises in order to get the group back to baseline Rivest make them chant “very good, very good, yay!” while clapping. There are literally no avenues in which you cannot be or feel happy in this program.

ly2

Rivest’s laughter yoga is ‘mmm mmm good.

Did it Work?

I was actually very surprised at how calm and relaxed I felt after completing the exercises. While laughter yoga focuses on utilizing fake laughter, I found myself genuinely laughing at how ridiculous every exercise was, but hey that’s the name of the game. It still makes me laugh just writing about it, which is a good sign.

When I first began watching the video and performing the yoga I had a mild headache which disappeared after a few minutes of laughter. By the end of all of the different laughs, I felt very peaceful which seems antithetical given that I had just forced myself to laugh and be hyper for the past twenty minutes.

The biggest surprise was that the end results felt a lot like actual yoga. You would think that meditative yoga would lead to different thoughts and feelings than laughing and acting ridiculous, but I found the two to be quite similar. Laughter yoga left me feeling just as relaxed as traditional yoga poses but without the shame of being inflexible.

On a side note, the yoga, in addition to its relaxing effect, made me feel a little sleepy. I would have hypothesized that the exercises would provide more energy due to all the laughter but it seems as if the relaxing effects were more prominent. It reminds me of how sleepy I get when watching late night comedy shows (team Coco all the way). Is there a deeper reason for the existence of late night?

Will it Work For Me?

If you take laughter yoga seriously (an oxymoron I know) then yes, you should feel the same results. Even if you go into it thinking that the exercises are flat out absurd you should still find yourself laughing along due to this absurdity. It is also true that laughter is contagious so if you practice laughter yoga in person with others you are sure to feed off of their energy and feel happiness without even trying. When Rivest asked the participants in the video how the yoga made them feel here are there responses:

  • “glorious”
  • “victorious”
  • “full of love”
  • “relaxing”
  • “very happy”
  • “open”
  • “peaceful”

I am sure that if you give laughter yoga a chance then you will feel some of these emotions as well.

ly5

Rivest’s rowing laughter exercise. They’re gonna need a bigger boat.

What Does the Research Say?

Because laughter yoga is a relatively new practice, there have only been a handful of studies investigating the health benefits. One study out of Bangalore India found that participants of laughter yoga had a significant drop in heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol (a stress hormone). They also found that positive emotions increased by 17% and negative emotions decreased by 27%. A study conducted in the United States also saw that self efficacy (the ability to organize and carry out actions) increased in participants of laughter yoga.

Final Thoughts

Laughter yoga may seem ridiculous, but it was designed to be this way. I am sure we can all attest to feeling better after a good chuckle, so why not try to recreate this feeling for a longer period of time? Trying out laughter yoga surely will not hurt you, but it can leave you with some good stories, and laughs, to tell your friends.

How Liberals and the GOP Can See Eye to Eye: The Art of Political Persuasion

In his inaugural address Trump declared to unify our country stating that “A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.” Since his signature on the disruptive executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim countries dried, he has ushered in what some politicians believe is the most divisive political climate since the Civil War. Protests have ensued with no end in sight as most Americans declare the order unconstitutional, un-American and, frankly, illogical given that virtually no refugees have committed terrorist attacks on the United States. Perhaps the most surprising reactions from Americans have originated from Republicans in their unwavering support of the clearly inhumane order. Top Republicans, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence, even reversed their stances on the ban as both previously classified the concept of a ban as unconstitutional:

a1

a2

Liberals have tried to reason with their conservative brothers, citing the fact that these people are fleeing from terrorism, not causing it, as well as by using examples of Anne Frank and survivors of the Holocaust who were denied asylum by the United States after World War II (including Trump’s top adviser/ son-in-law Jared Kushner’s own grandparents). The problem with this is that the morality of conservatives and liberals differ so greatly to the point that trying to tug at the heart strings of Republicans is a waste of breath and cleverly drawn protest signs.

Psychologists have recently begun to study the deep divisions between the GOP and everyone else in the world through the Moral Foundations Theory. This theory states that there are five moral judgements that act as the foundation for the formation of moral beliefs and judgements. They include: harm/care foundation (concerned with one’s suffering and need to alleviate suffering), fairness/cheating foundation (concerned with justice, equality and discrimination), loyalty/betrayal foundation (prioritizes one’s in group over all other groups), authority/subversion foundation (respect for higher-ranked individuals) and sanctity/degradation foundation (concerned with sacredness, impurity and avoiding disgust-inducing behaviors).

Researchers have been able to effectively apply the Moral Foundations Theory to political ideology worldwide. Conservative parties rely on the foundations of loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation in order to make moral judgements in policy. Their admiration for the current executive order arises from the fact that they prioritize and value American’s over immigrants, see Trump as a high ranking official that knows what he is doing and deserves respect, and that immigrants and refugees are dirty people that will dirty our own country.

Conversely, research has shown that liberals rely on the foundations of harm/care and fairness/cheating in their development of political ideations. To democrats the immigration ban is unconstitutional because it infringes not only on the Constitution but defiles these moral foundations. Liberals want to welcome refugees into our country in order to alleviate their suffering and cite the fact that America is a country built on immigrants and that it is only fair to extend immigration policies that benefited our ancestors to a new generation.

While liberals and conservatives are wired differently in terms of morality, new research has shown that these moral foundations can be used to our advantage in political persuasion. Matthew Feinberg, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, has painstakingly researched the behaviors of Democrats and Republicans, including how they interact with one another. Recently, Feinberg has published studies on how to use the concepts of moral foundations to elicit political persuasion. His solution? You have to appeal to the other groups morals.

 

“Some existing research suggests the plausibility of moral reframing as a strategy for political persuasion,” writes Feinberg in his paper From Gulf to Bridge: When Do Moral Arguments Facilitate Political Influence? “A variety of studies shows that messages are more persuasive when they match the traits of the target.”

This means that in an effort to persuade conservatives to see their side on a variety of issues liberals must find a way to frame their arguments that hits one of their moral foundations of loyalty, authority, or sanctity. Olga Khazan, a writer for The Atlantic provides a good statement that encompasses republican morals in a persuasive statement against the ban:

“These refugees and immigrants are just like our family members who came to America in years past to seek a better life. All our ancestors wanted was to live the American dream, and that’s why today’s immigrants and refugees have chosen to come to America, so they too can live that same American dream that brought our families here. That dream is what our nation was founded on, it is what brought our grandparents and great-grandparents to this great land, and it is the great success story that these immigrants want to be a part of.”

 On the other hand, if conservatives want to persuade liberals to see that this immigration ban is in fact good for our country then they must try to steep their argument with ideas that include care and fairness.Arguing that refugees can take needed resources away from American children, elders and the sick may soften some liberal tensions about the ban.

But do these alternative arguments really work in political persuasion? Feinberg tested whether statements tailored to either a conservative or liberal audience can shift their perceptions of public policy in two separate studies.

The first of the two studies delved into public perception of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Both liberals and conservatives were asked to gauge their support for universal health care after reading a short article that framed the policy in terms of fairness (a liberal moral foundation) or purity (a conservative moral foundation). Arguments in the articles either heralded the ACA as an instrument of fairness (that health care is a universal human right) or that it combated impurity (by the avenue that sick people are dirty and impure).

Amazingly, conservatives that read the article positioning Obamacare as a way to rid America of the sick and impure showed more support than conservatives that read a paragraph arguing that health care is a human right and should be allowed to all out of fairness. This effect was not just limited to conservatives as liberals showed opposite results. More liberals supported the ACA when it was described as being fair than as a way to help sick people.

a3

Feinberg expanded upon this study to include debate over traditional conservative viewpoints. Similar to the first study, both democratic and republican participants were asked to measure their support after reading an article of information, this time in regards to increasing military spending. Traditionally, conservatives in the United States are for amplified military spending while liberals would rather see the billions of dollars on other governmental programs such as Medicaid.

Again, arguments were framed as either appealing to the fairness moral foundation of liberals or the conservative moral foundations of loyalty and authority. One paragraph described increasing spending as a way of increasing the size of the military to include disadvantaged and poverty-stricken individuals saving said individuals from inequality issues(promoting fairness),  while the other paragraph ensured a tone of loyalty and authority by describing our military as a means for unification and keeping America the “greatest nation in the world.”

Unsurprisingly, Liberals were significantly more supportive of increased military spending when it was posited as a means of helping the poor than the condition in which the spending was justified to keep America great. Conservatives on the other hand, were more likely to show support after reading the article that was framed in terms of loyalty than after the article rooted in fairness.

a4

These studies support the fact that differing parties can persuade others on individual issues if they can effectually engage their audience. Feinerg concludes in his paper that:

“Research has shown that while liberals are unmoved by arguments in favor of a conservative policy that are grounded in the more conservative moral foundations, their support for the conservative position increases after reading messages grounded in the more liberal foundations, and this research also demonstrates the reverse when it comes to liberals persuading conservative targets.”

The 2016 election proved to be like no other election as individual actions became the center of attention rather than their proposed legislation. We can all famously remember Trump attacking Clinton for her email “scandal” while the message of Clinton’s advertisements largely revolved around the revolting behavior Trump showed throughout the election cycle. Debates seldom saw talk of any actual policy but rather became a boxing match: the heavyweight GOP elephant vs the spry lightweight donkey. So how can we persuade people of opposing parties when they care more about candidates than policy?

Luckily, Feinberg continued his research to include this past tumultuous election.  In a yet unpublished study, the researchers adapted the concept of moral reframing to Trump and Clinton supporters. This study revolved around the liberal moral foundation of fairness and the conservative moral foundation of loyalty out of sake for brevity.

The first study conducted centered on the public perception of our now President Donald Trump. Participants, who identified as conservative, were presented with arguments against Trump with one framed in the context of loyalty and one in the context of fairness.  Information regarding Trump’s lack of loyalty pointed to the fact that he had dodged the draft during the Vietnam War and implications that Trump is using the presidency to advance his own fiscal gains from his businesses. Fairness arguments against Trump included his quotes that discriminated against Muslims that would prevent them from being treated fairly as well as the opinion that his statements against Mexicans, African Americans, women, the disabled and practically anyone who isn’t a rich white male are discriminatory and would foster prejudice throughout America. The subjects were asked to rate Trump on warmth, acceptance as President, and likelihood to vote for him.

Similar to the first study conducted a year prior, the conservatives who read the statements against Trump rooted in loyalty registered him as less warm, said that they would not accept him as President, and stated that they were less likely to vote for him than the conservatives who read the arguments regarding fairness.

Hilary Clinton was not immune to the study as it was replicated for a second audience of Democrats, this time with arguments of fairness and loyalty being made against the former First Lady. In terms of fairness, researchers argued that Clinton accepted money from Wall Street Bankers to give speeches while millions of Americans experienced poverty during the recession. The loyalty arguments framed Clinton as less loyal by bringing up her involvement in Benghazi and that she failed our military (a huge prospect of loyalty to conservatives as pointed out in the previous study).

Liberals who were presented with information regarding Clinton as less fair described Clinton as less warm, but had no effect on whether they were less likely to accept her as President or whether they would vote for her in the election compared to liberals who were presented with the loyalty arguments.

Feinberg’s multiple research studies exist as proof that conservatives and liberals can be persuaded by each other if they reach out on issues that exist within the parameters of their morals. But in our tortuous political climate it is being made clearer day by day that our ability to sit down and argue peacefully with opposite parties is dwindling down to nothing, put into effect by our candidates who could not do the same no doubt. When conservatives cannot accept factual arguments, liberals become upset and succumb to protesting in an effort to get their view point across.

If we are to truly unite, as Trump emptily promised, we must see the differences in our judgements and appeal to those, as seen in Feinberg’s research. Conservatives must learn to see factual statistics not as attacks on authority but as a way to keep our nation great. Liberals must not automatically judge conservatives as unfair but try to see their concerns for safety and loyalty as viable. If not, we will surely be in perpetual limbo of protests and attacks, stuck in the same boxing match between elephant and donkey.  And when a TKO happens, we will all feel it.

Is It Berenstein or Berenstain? The Mandela Effect and Creation of False Memories

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Is it the Berenstain Bears or Berenstein Bears? Did Curious George really not have a tail? Wasn’t it called Sex in the City and not Sex and the City?

All of these misperceptions constitute what is called the Mandela Effect, which is gaining in popularity as more and more people share their memories about possessions from childhood on social media. Every day more and more people are realizing that their recollections of books, television shows and historical events are in fact incorrect, despite having strong memories of the contrary. So how can so many people have untrue memories and how can a majority of people share these alternative reminiscences?

The first theory, and the most popular floating around on social media, is the aforementioned Mandela Effect. Coined by paranormal enthusiast Fiona Broome, the Mandela Effect conspires that some of us are actually living in a parallel universe where our realities are slightly different from one another. In other words, the books are called Berenstain in universe A and Berenstein in universe B. The fact that we can interact with persons from the supplementary universe can be easily explained, according to Broome, by a time traveler moving across these distinct worlds.

Broome first theorized this wacky concept after realizing in 2010 that Nelson Mandela did not in fact die in prison in the 80’s but was still alive. After sharing her experience with others, she quickly recognized that others shared in her memory of Mandela passing thirty years prior to his actual death, with others holding the same detailed memories about his funeral and even protests that ensued after. The effect has quickly grown to include changes to spellings of well-remembered brand names and altered logos, all of which can be “explained” by someone intentionally tampering with history.

Why somebody would travel across parallel universes to only meddle with children’s books is unknown, but there is an eerie feeling that sinks in when you look back and see things that seem so lucid but yet are disproven by facts and pictures. Psychologists and anyone with a half-sane mind can see through the logic of the Mandela Effect and have instead researched the concept of false memories.

me2

Which Curious George do you remember?

 A false memory can be summarized as:

“A mental experience that is mistakenly taken to be a veridical representation of an event from one’s personal past. Memories can be false in relatively minor ways (e.g., believing one last saw the keys in the kitchen when they were in the living room) and in major ways that have profound implications for oneself and others (e.g., mistakenly believing one is the originator of an idea or that one was sexually abused as a child).”

The concept of false memories first became apparent due to false eye-witness testimony. Often times a witness’ account of a crime can be disproven by forensic evidence even though the witness fully believes what they remember was the correct iteration of the misconduct. In one dramatic case, a school teacher was convicted of 115 accounts of sexually abusing children in her preschool class. She served four years in prison before a council of 50 scientists refuted her conviction saying that the children had generated false memories involving their teacher.

So how do these false, and oftentimes dangerous, memories flood our consciousness? As much as we would like to believe, our brains are not perfect computers. We are constantly processing sensory information and committing such material into short term memory, meaning that some of our memories get lost or replaced by new memories. Unsurprisingly, most of the memories traditionally associated with the Mandela Effect concern our childhoods.  The Berenstein Bears and Curious George series are seldom read after age eight, that is, unless you have a real penchant for anthropomorphic cartoon characters.

In addition, as we age our brains learn to process information faster by looking at patterns across varying stimuli. Semantics and reading are areas where these shortcuts are used daily. The more often we see specific words or spellings, the more likely we are to apply them to arbitrary concepts. For example, many remember the cereal “Froot Loops” as “Fruit Loops” simply because we have seen the word “fruit” in more capacities than the fictitious word “froot.” One explanation for more people reminiscing about Berenstein than Berenstain is the fact that we have seen the spelling “stein” more often in names such as Albert Einstein and in words such as “beer stein”.

me5

It should be noted that most memories that we confuse are not of particular importance. At the end of the day do we really care what the name of Sarah Jessica Parker’s TV show was? Emotions are integral to the development of important memories and we can easily remember events that hold emotional significance. There is a type of memory coined a flashbulb memory in which events that hold extreme emotional impact are imprinted into our brains like a photograph. One example of a flashbulb memory is that the majority of Americans can accurately recall where they were and what they were doing when they were first informed about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In studying false memories psychologists have even found ways to implant false memories, playing on these concepts of semantics and emotions. One proponent of memory implantation was Carl Sagan, a cosmetologist, who wrote that “memory can be contaminated. False memories can be implanted even in minds that do not consider themselves vulnerable and uncritical,” in his tome The Demon-Haunted World.

In determining that semantics plays a critical role in false memories, Elizabeth Loftus, a researcher at the University of Washington, devised an experiment where participants watched a video of a car crash. After viewing the film, half of the participants were asked how fast the cars were travelling when they “smashed” into each other while the other half of participants were asked about the speed of the collision when the cars simply “hit” each other. Both groups were asked to return for further questioning a week later to recall their perceptions of the video.

Unsurprisingly, the subjects whose question was posited with the word “smashed” were more likely to assert falsely that there was broken glass at the scene of the accident. Virtually none of the partakers in the “hit” group stated that they remembered broken glass. Because the word “smash” is commonly associated with broken objects, the members of this group were more likely to create false memories in which broken glass was prominently featured in the film. “Hit” does not have the connotation of items being destroyed and therefore did not allow for the fabrication of a false memory.

me4

Is there a dash in Kit Kat?

Loftus continued her research on false memory to include how emotions play a role in the ease of implanting fake memories. In one study, Loftus asked family members of participants to provide stories about three events that occurred during the subject’s childhood that were banal. In addition to these three stories, the experimenters fabricated a story in which the subject was lost in a mall at the age of five, an event that can be quite tragic for a toddler. In fact, the story was ordered in a way to induce emotion from the participant. The story begins with the child being lost for an extended period of time, the child then crying because of it, and then the subject being comforted by an elderly lady and reunited with their family.

When asked which of the four stories they remembered, 29% of contributors recalled the false memory as true. Amazingly, 25% of those who recalled the emotional trauma of being separated from their family insisted that the event did in fact occur even after being told by researchers that they had fabricated the story. This not only substantiates the fact that emotions play an integral role in the creation of correct memories but opens the doors to the fact that trauma can invoke false memories, as in the case where the children falsely remembered being assaulted by their teacher.

While it may be hard to believe that some of your precious childhood memories may not be real, false memories can be found and induced anywhere. Next time you see something that doesn’t look quite like you remember it don’t automatically assume that it is because a time traveling wizard crossed dimensions to change the Kit-Kat logo, but know that your brain is working to keep important memories at the forefront. But if you do believe that you’re living in an alternate reality, you might want to check to see if your brain is working right..

Will Islam Ever Be An American Religion?

In the wake of the controversial refugee ban from seven Muslim countries as well as political reactions to the mosque shooting in Quebec, one statement has reared its ugly head: Islam is not American.

“Islam is not thought of as American religion,” said Zareena Grewal, a professor of religious studies at Yale University. “However much Muslim-Americans wish that to be true.”

Currently Islam is the second most practiced religion in the world with over 1.3 billion followers, eclipsed only by Christianity as the most popular belief system. 3.3 million of those 1.3 billion followers reside in the United States according to a Pew Center report. With more Muslims making their way to the United States it begs the questions: What needs to happen for Americans to accept Islam? Will Americans ever accept Islam?

In order to find the answer to these questions we must look at the statistics behind the growing population of Muslims as well as disparities in American perceptions of the religion.

Islam Will Eventually Replace Christianity as the Most Popular Religion in the World

The Pew Research Center released estimates stating that Muslims will outnumber Christians worldwide by the year 2070, due largely in part to Muslims having higher fertility rates than their Christian brothers.

i1

“We can be quite confident that Muslims are going to grow rapidly in the decades ahead,” stated Conrad Hackett, demographer and lead author of the  Pew report.

Projections included in the report state that Islam will grow an estimated 73% in one generation while Christianity will only grown 35% in that same time interval. The large growth of Muslims will undoubtedly impact the United States as Muslims in Africa and Asia will turn to Western civilization for education, food and a healthy lifestyle.

“The very rapid growth of population, combined with limited opportunities even for the educated young people, but particularly for less educated ones, has created social and therefore political tensions and that has fueled things like immigration to Western countries, political upheaval,” says David Voas a professor of population studies at England’s Institute for Social and Economic Research.

A greater influx of Muslims will certainly place more pressure on Americans to accept Islam as a main religion. By 2050 the Muslim population will more than double to 2.1% and, for the first time in history, will outnumber Jews in America.

Christianity, on the other hand, will not fair as well as Islam in the near future. Research scientists predict that Christianity will lose approximately 106 million followers to unaffiliated religious groups including atheists and agnostics.

The rise of Islam and the fall of Christianity will eventually force a dialogue between Americans as more and more of our friends, coworkers and family members will ascribe to the relatively unknown religion. When that dialogue will occur, however, is yet to be determined.

Most Americans Oppose Islam Without Even Knowing What It Is

In a separate Pew report, a majority of Americans (55%) professed to not knowing a significant amount of information about Islam:

i1

Additional studies conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute reveals that more than 6 out of 10 surveyed Americans recall never having had a conversation with a single Muslim in their lifetime.

What makes these statistics amazing is the fact that 61% of Americans report having an unfavorable view of Islam according to a survey conducted by Shibley Telhami, a researcher at the University of Maryland:

i1

So where does this cognitive dissonance arise from? How can so many Americans have an unfavorable opinion about a religion that they know nothing about? How can businesses declare themselves “Muslim free-zones” without most never having met a Muslim? How can anybody firebomb a mosque without even knowing what is being practiced inside? How can a group of hundreds of people protest, asking “how many of you Muslims are terrorists?” without being aware that Islam is a religion that promotes peace and love?

This is because the only knowledge Americans have of Muslims comes from the 9/11 attacks. Most rural, white republicans fall within the above statistics of not being acquainted with any Muslim personally, causing these people to glean information from the media rather than going out and meeting any Muslims themselves.

Unsurprisingly, anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked sharply after 9/11 as this was the first introduction for many Americans to the world of Islam. The recent political climate, in which politicians associate Islamic groups with terrorism and assert that Islam is a political system and not a religion, has re-sparked attacks against Muslims. The FBI reports a 67% increase in attacks from 2015 to 2016 due largely in part to politics. In fact, the number of hate crimes against Muslims is currently at its highest since the 9/11 attacks.

i1

Tolerance and brotherhood towards Muslims can only be accomplished by Americans when the media ceases to report a connection between Islam and violence. In addition to this, more personal connections to Muslims will override any exaggerated and false claims in the news. Speaking of which:

Americans Who Have Personal Relationships With Muslims View Islam as More Favorable

The slim amount of Americans who have had the pleasure of interacting with Muslims have significantly more favorable views on the religion of Islam according to the same report by Shibley Telhami:

i1

These Americans have been able to develop the empathy necessary to distinguish a traditional Muslim from their extremist counterparts, and to see the terrorists as just that: extremists. This empathy is even strong enough to cross party lines.  Whereas most republicans do not hesitate in labeling Muslims as terrorists, a majority of those who have had the opportunity to interact with Muslims can see this as simply untrue.

The influx of Muslim immigrants over the past century has already had an effect on the public perception of Islam. More and more children and young adults are interacting with Muslims and immigrant offspring in schools across the nation, leading to a visible disparity between the perceptions of the religion between younger and older adults. According to a survey conducted by YouGov, only 31% of 18-29 year-olds see Islam as more violent than other religions compared to an overwhelming 63% of Americans aged 65 and older:

i1

As American schools and universities become more diverse, the favorability of Islam is sure to increase as well. The personal anecdotes regarding Muslims that accompany relationships with school peers and friends are sure to last with young adults throughout their lifetimes, thus leading to more acceptance nationwide in the future.

What Does the Future of Islam Look Like for America?

It is clear from all of these statistics that Islam and Muslims are not going anywhere. Despite his best efforts, Donald Trump cannot stop the immense growth of Islam worldwide and within our borders. It is a special time in American politics, a time of ultra-conservatism and a time of dominance for a political party that has always been staunchly anti-Muslim. While four years seems like a lifetime at this point, looking at the data regarding young people should give us solace. Young people are more welcoming of diversity: racially, sexually and religiously. As they say, young people are the future. Remember that in this past election voters 18-25 voted overwhelmingly democratic:

i1

Not to mention they are out there protesting on the streets at this very moment for Muslims. No statistics and data are necessary to see that young people are more tolerable and accepting of Islam, making for a brighter future for not just Islam but all mankind.

x1