Date: January 21, 2016
Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science
Summary: A new study reveals that prairie voles console loved ones who are feeling stressed — and it appears that the infamous ‘love hormone,’ oxytocin, is the underlying mechanism.
A new study reveals that prairie voles console loved ones who are feeling stressed — and it appears that the infamous “love hormone,” oxytocin, is the underlying mechanism. Until now, consolation behavior has only been documented in a few nonhuman species with high levels of sociality and cognition, such as elephants, dolphins and dogs.
Prairie voles are particularly social rodents, causing them to be the focus of many studies. This led James Burkett and colleagues to explore their potential for empathy-motivated behaviors.
The researchers created an experiment where relatives and known individuals were temporarily isolated from each other, while one was exposed to mild shocks. Upon reunion, the non-stressed prairie voles proceeded to lick the stressed voles sooner and for longer durations, compared to a control scenario where individuals were separated but neither was exposed to a stressor.
Measurements of hormone levels revealed that the family members and friends were distressed when they could not comfort their loved one.
The fact that consoling behavior occurred only between those who were familiar with each other — including non-kin members — but not strangers, demonstrates that the behavior is not simply a reaction to aversive cues, the authors note.
Since the oxytocin receptor is associated with empathy in humans, Burkett et al. blocked this neurotransmitter in prairie voles in a series of similar consolation experiments. Blocking oxytocin did not cause family members and friends to alter their self-grooming behavior, yet they did cease consoling each other.
These findings provide new insights into the mechanisms of empathy and the evolution of complex empathy-motivated behaviors.
- J. P. Burkett, E. Andari, Z. V. Johnson, D. C. Curry, F. B. M. de Waal, L. J. Young. Oxytocin-dependent consolation behavior in rodents. Science, 2016; 351 (6271): 375 DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4785
August 1, 2015
Lisa Feldman Barrett has an interesting piece up in yesterday’s New York Times that I think is worth some attention here. Barrett is the director of the The Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory, where she studies the nature of emotional experience. Here is the key part of the article, describing her latest findings:
The Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory (which I direct) collectively analyzed brain-imaging studies published from 1990 to 2011 that examined fear, sadness, anger, disgust and happiness. We divided the human brain virtually into tiny cubes, like 3-D pixels, and computed the probability that studies of each emotion found an increase in activation in each cube.
Overall, we found that no brain region was dedicated to any single emotion. We also found that every alleged “emotion” region of the brain increased its activity during nonemotional thoughts and perceptions as well . . .
Emotion words like “anger,” “happiness” and “fear” each name a population of diverse biological states that vary depending on the context. When you’re angry with your co-worker, sometimes your heart rate will increase, other times it will decrease and still other times it will stay the same. You might scowl, or you might smile as you plot your revenge. You might shout or be silent. Variation is the norm.
This highly distributed, variable, and contextual description of emotions matches up quite well with what scientists have found to be true of conceptualization—namely, that it is a situated process drawn from a plurality of bodily forces. For instance, compare Barrett’s findings above to what I wrote about concepts in my paper on concepts and capacities from June (footnote references are in the paper):
In short, concepts are flexible and distributed modes of bodily organization grounded in modality-specific regions of the brain; they comprise semantic knowledge embodied in perception and action; and they underwrite the organization of sensory experience and guide action within an environment. Concepts are tools for constructing in the mind new pathways of relationship and discrimination, for shaping the body, and for attuning it to contrast. Such pathways are recruited in an ecologically specific way as part of the dynamic bringing-to-apprehension of phenomena.
I think the parallel is clear enough, and we would do well to adopt this more ecological view of emotions and concepts into our thinking. The empirical data is giving us a strong argument for talking about the ecological basis of emotion and conceptuality, a basis that continues to grow stronger by the day.
July 24, 2015
By Emma Louise Backe
For any practicing or aspiring anthropologist, fieldwork is the defining, almost qualifying practice of the discipline. As an undergraduate studying sociocultural anthropology, we read the seminal journals of Bronislaw Malinowski, followed by foundational ethnographic research from around the world. Even though the field has ostensibly moved beyond the “exotic”—no longer wholly consumed with discovering new indigenous communities or uncovering a culture untouched by capitalism and globalization—students are still encouraged to conduct their fieldwork in remote, isolated, and, yes, tacitly exotic locations. As my professor lectured during my Anthropology Senior Seminar at Vassar College, you have to conduct your first fieldwork abroad if you want to be taken seriously as an anthropologist. The implication was that if you don’t go somewhere distant and strange, you won’t experience the same level of cultural difference, linguistic estrangement, physical hardship, and existential negotiation that molds the student into a consummate ethnographer. Fieldwork, rather than being a praxis for cultural research, has rather become the test for one’s anthropological training and credentials. Yet, throughout my undergraduate degree, we never discussed the emotional or physical challenges of fieldwork—it was always framed as this transformative, clarifying experience during which the theory we worked so assiduously to grasp could finally be applied. It was understood that everyanthropologist inherently falls in love with their site, integrates into their chosen community, and concludes their fieldwork with a sense of kinship and satisfaction at the rich ethnographic data and knowledge they have been able to accumulate. This silence surrounding the very real personal challenges of fieldwork can, however, be detrimental to a student’s first foray into fieldwork.
After graduating from college, I almost immediately joined the Peace Corps as a community health volunteer in Fiji. I felt certain that my anthropological training had adequately prepared me for my service in the South Pacific, where I was expected to learn the language, integrate into the community, and develop programs based off of local needs-assessments and desire. After spending my Pre-Service Training at a home stay in a remote, mountainous fishing village, I moved to my site in an equally remote town on the Eastern Coast of Viti Levu, one of the bigger islands the country consists of. Throughout my service, in an attempt to adapt to the culture and be accepted into my community, I found myself emptying out my identity to make space for a new “Fijian” version of myself. I struggled with how to translate my personality into my adopted social space, while simultaneously struggling with health issues from the moment of my arrival. Because of my anthropological training, and the ideologies that undergird Peace Corps, I took responsibility for any programmatic failures or difficulties I had connecting with my local partners. If I wasn’t able to befriend a neighbor, I felt that it was my fault—I wasn’t being sensitive or reflexive or open enough, there must be a flaw in my personality. I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to members of the Peace Corps staff, for fear that my struggles would reflect poorly on me as a volunteer. Similarly, I was anxious to contact my anthropological mentors, afraid that my seeming challenges to connect with my Fijian counterparts meant that despite all my education and devotion to the discipline, I was not personally adept at cultural integration. This concern was perhaps the most devastating and depressing aspect of my service.
These anxieties, frustrations and feelings of guilt are ones that anthropologists share. As Amy Pollard has written for Anthropology Matters, many of the anthropology students she interviewed about field work experienced feelings of loneliness and isolation, stress, stress, regret, feelings of powerlessness or captivity to your site, disappointment, fear, frustration, guilt, depression coupled with self-hate for feeling depressed during fieldwork, and embarrassment at perceptions of poor success or lack of productivity. Despite these struggles, “Some students reported feeling they should not talk about how difficult they had found fieldwork because other people would perceive them as weak” (Pollard 2009). This feeling of weakness stems from the misapprehension that anthropological training inures you to feelings of culture shock or the other mental health crises others might experience during prolonged periods of time in new cultural habitats. Indeed, as Rachel Irwin writes,
For multiple reasons, researchers admitting to fear or depression during fieldwork may be ridiculed or dismissed as ‘cowardly anthropologists’. I was once strongly encouraged to conduct fieldwork in a remote village rather than a larger town, so that I could be a ‘courageous anthropologist’. Chiefly, I would argue that this is closely linked to a sense of academic bravado and competitive virility. I was given the idea that there is something inherent about studying anthropology that protects one against ‘culture shock,’ and that anthropologists are naturally better at negotiating unfamiliar situations than other sojourners. As such, anthropologists can feel a certain ‘culture shock’ within their own academic community, because their experiences of culture shock ‘in the field remain unacknowledged, and they are feeling something that they believe they ought not feel. (2007)
When anthropologists actively avoid discussing the feelings of anxiety, depression and desperation associated with their fieldwork, they do a disservice to the next generation of aspiring anthropologists. Even though ethnography relies upon qualitative research methods, anthropologists inevitably enter their field site with certain expectations about the questions they want answered, the traditions they intend to explore, the in-depth interviews they hope to conduct. If, for any number of mitigating and complicating reasons and factors, you aren’t able to accomplish these goals, it precipitates yet another watershed of shame and regret that you simply weren’t good enough. Because anthropologists are participant observers, their bodies and identities are essentially the very tools of their practice. Therefore, personality clashes or the development of stress or fear under certain situations place the onus of culpability on the researcher. As an anthropologist, a “failure of fieldwork” is essentially conflated with a failure of yourself. In so doing, “A large number of students felt profound shame over their sense of failure in the field […] For some, going home early was a source of great shame” (Pollard 2009). When I left my Peace Corps service early, after months of illness and the impending signs of depression, it felt like I was abandoning the aspirations I had to become an anthropologist, despite the fact that the majority of my fellow volunteers were struggling with similar programmatic and personal issues. After spending so many years planning my trajectory toward becoming an anthropologist, this belief that my emotional struggles somehow disqualified me as an anthropologist only further tangled the crisis of identity I had undergone during my service. And I didn’t know how to talk about it because I felt completely alone.
Upon returning to the United States, I was covered in scars from persistent skin infections and stress hives, my hair had fallen out, and my mood was ragged. I experienced many of the symptoms of depression, including sleeplessness and moodiness; sometimes interactions or objects would trigger uncontrollable feelings of sadness or anger. I had difficulty being around people and I walked everywhere draped in a cloak of self-loathing. For my friends and family members who haven’t traveled widely or spent long periods abroad, they couldn’t understand why I believed that my difficulties in Fiji were solely my fault. When I sought out therapists to talk through my lingering misgivings, they praised me for my strength and courage, when what I wanted was not to be coddled, but to understand why I hadn’t “worked” in my community, when it felt like I had spent all my energy trying to integrate. Many friends and acquaintances also did not want to hear that I hadn’t had a positive experience—in their minds, Fiji was nothing more than a tropical paradise and it seemed feckless to explain my humanitarian, existential misgivings about it. This was not reverse culture shock per se, yet I was at a loss about how to recuperate and heal, mentally as well as physically, let alone negotiate my anthropological path moving forward. I was simply afraid that I wasn’t cut out to do fieldwork.
During this period of uncertainty, I turned to video games. In the past, I’ve also used video games as a coping mechanism. After suffering from a traumatic brain injury my freshman year, I suffered from sometimes crippling dissociation and self-doubt about my cognitive abilities. My neurologist was unhelpful, and the only option I was offered to heal was to sit and wait for my brain to stop bleeding. Brain injuries are unique in that they often invoke crises of identity. With so much forthcoming research on the connection between the frontal lobe and personality, I experienced an acute crisis of self after my brain contusion. Offered with no other recourse or resilience methods, video games helped coax me back to a space of equilibrium. In both cases, playing video games provided a viable alternative to being social. If I felt disconnected from the world around me, or anxious about having to explain why I had come home early, I could retreat to RPG’s. Video games can put you in touch with a wide online community, thereby facilitating social contact for those who might otherwise feel stress or anxiety at the prospect of socializing with strangers. For me, I felt powerless to help myself—video games were an active way to use my time and process my emotions. Rather than passively consuming other forms of media, such as movies or television shows, video games provide you with tangible goals, objectives that, when achieved, provide players with a sense of success and achievement. As Romeo Vitelli wrote for Psychology Today, “By setting specific tasks and allowing young people to work through obstacles to achieve those tasks, video games can help boost self-esteem and help children learn the value of persistence. By providing immediate feedback as video game players solve problems and achieve greater expertise, players can learn to see themselves as having skills and intelligence they might not otherwise realize they possess” (2014). During a period of such acute self-doubt, it was extremely satisfying to be posed with challenges and obstacles that at first seemed insurmountable, but that could be accomplished through patience, creativity and skill-building.
Video games became a refuge for my cultural concerns as well. Games like BioShock: Infinite (2013) and Dishonored (2012) were dystopian alternatives to human history, new life worlds I could explore and inhabit through a sense of play and constant discovery. I was particularly drawn to games with robust storytelling mechanics, where the developers and programmers had clearly invested a lot of time and attention to the minutia of the world, encouraging players to interact with minor characters, read books and notes scattered around the stages, and learn about the internal mythologies, politics and social dynamics that informed the action of the game. I no longer felt powerless, but had a degree of agency to determine the kind of player I wanted to be. In Dishonored, like other games such as Infamous (2009), your actions as a player determine the internal stability of the virtual play space. Even though I had spent months working on community health empowerment, with few visible signs that my efforts were making any difference, I could immediately see how acts of benevolence positively impacted the city of Dunwall. In recent games, many of the avatars that players inhabit are also saddled with their own traumatic experiences which are explored throughout the game. Booker DeWitt of Bioshock: Infinite has a dark past, and other characters, like Bruce Wayne’s Batman throughout Arkham Asylum, City and Origins, are constantly battling their own demons, whether invented or embodied as supervillains. To a certain extent, I was able to project my internal monsters onto the villains in the games, channeling my anger and frustration in a way that felt both productive and cathartic. I could go to bed at night feeling as though I had accomplished something, and had something in the morning I could look forward to. In the absence of other motivations, and paralyzed by fear about the future, this sense of purpose saved me.
New literature has begun to indicate the salutary psychological effects of video games. Studiessuggest that video games may have beneficial effects on cognition, motivation, emotion and sociality; some psychologists have even begun to recommend video games as a form of therapyfor patients with mental health issues, including depression. Contemporaneously, programmers and developers are working on video games as tools to cope with mental health issues. Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest (made famous due to its involvement in the #Gamergate controversy) was created to explore what life was like living with depression; other forms of e-literature build interactive stories around the expression of grief and mourning. Whereas several years ago, critics and concerned parents worried that video games like Grand Theft Auto were producing violent, unempathetic adolescents, practitioners are beginning to understand that the process of play may actually serve a positive psychological function. On a related note, The Mary Sue recently published “Coping With Anxiety and Depression Through Fiction” (2015), a poignant piece outlining the ways in which Guardians of the Galaxy’s character development and musical composition helped the writer overcome anxiety attacks and obtain a sense of emotional stability. Marie-Pierre wrote about rewatching episodes of Star Trek to maintain her equilibrium during fieldwork and Peter Olthoff remarked on the therapeutic efficacy of geek culture. Whether it’s a space opera, a society ravaged by an infection of zombies, or a fantastical universe populated by dragons, elves and other mythological beings, video games help transport you to another world, not necessarily as a form of escapism, but rather as a creative space to process your own lived reality.
As it turned out, the rediscovery of video games upon my return led me back to anthropology. I read about ground-breaking games like The Last of Us (2013) and its place within the larger resurgence in zombie-lore. Through my research, I discovered the work of Louise Krasniewicz, a UPenn Anthropology professor who built a class around The Walking Dead. I was lucky enough to sit down for coffee with Dr. Krasniewicz to discuss her approach to geek anthropology, but after running through our recent favorite shows and theories about monstrosity, we inevitably turned to the topic of fieldwork. Emboldened by our conversation, I opened up to her about my experience in Fiji, my doubts as an anthropologist, and my misgivings about the negative consequences of prolonged sojourns in new cultural territory. Expecting reproach or judgement, my story was instead met by a laugh from her. “Welcome to your first time doing fieldwork! It’s horrible for everyone!” she replied. She then went on to recount her own experience conducting fieldwork in upstate New York—hardly the “exotic” destination one would expect for an Ivy League professor—and how difficult the process was emotionally. Even within her native country, where she spoke the language and shared similar cultural assumptions, she struggled to find a community and sense of connection with her interlocutors. Yet, despite her ethnographic challenges, she went on to become a successful anthropology professor. She did not interpret the issues with immersion as her failure as a practitioner, as I had during my experience in Fiji. While many anthropologists have written about the role of emotion during ethnography, such as James Davies and Dimitrina Spencer’s book Emotions in the Field: The Psychology and Anthropology of Fieldwork Experience (2010), and phenomenological anthropologists encourage attention to the ways we physically and emotionally react to our surroundings, I don’t believe that there has been enough discussion about the emotional labor of fieldwork, both to prepare students and acknowledge that the anthropologist is not wholly culpable for “failure” in the field.
In professional fields that deal with emotionally draining issues, such as gender-based violence, there is a heavy emphasis on self-care for activists. An advocate may experience vicarious trauma if they work with survivors of sexual violence day after day, sometimes leading to emotional fatigue and burn-out. For humanitarian researchers conducting interviews with refugees, internally displaced populations, or war-torn communities still reeling from horrific acts of violence, program managers ensure that the interviewers have sufficient support and counselling mechanisms to decompress and work through the emotional labor of their work. The same practices can and should be applied to anthropology. Indeed, as Amy Pollard points out, “Students reported finding it difficult to let go of the traumas of fieldwork, because the writing-up process meant they were continually having to relive them” (2009); their recuperation process may be only further stymied by the culture of silence that pervades discussions about what occurs in the field. Students of anthropology recognize and perhaps relish in the hardships they will encounter during ethnographic research, but if they are given no inkling of the possibility that they won’t always jive with their chosen community or culture, they will have no coping mechanisms or strategies for resilience. Larissa Begley writes of her experience in Rwanda, “As anthropologists, we are part of the narrative we create. Our fieldwork does not exist detached from our own emotions and our lives. We impact on those we study and they impact on us. It is because of this dialectical relationship we have with the ‘field’ that we must recognize the impact that fieldwork can have emotionally, psychologically and physically on us” (2009). Just because we are academically prepared to live in a different culture, doesn’t mean we have the emotional methodologies to succeed.
How do you translate your personality into a new cultural space while also being sensitive and flexible? Rachel Irwin writes that, “Depression, in the form of culture shock, occurs when the firm grounding in one’s own symbolic world is lost” (2007)—this symbolic world and one’s own identity is thrown into flux when you enter and attempt to become a part of a new cultural space. There are bound to be growing pains and types of people you don’t always get along with. I realize now that I didn’t have to suppress my identity in the process of incorporating into Fijian culture. I wish I had read Jessika Tremblay’s post on “10 Tips For Surviving Anthropological Fieldwork” before my service, especially her recommendations on not taking things so personally and “harnessing the power of your introversion” (2014). I know that there were nights in Fiji I retreated to my house to decompress and write, but felt guilty if I was skipping one of the nightly kava sessions held on my compound. If anthropology is to continue to grow as a discipline, we need to ensure that students are prepared for fieldwork, equipped to be both emotionally vulnerable while mentally sustainable. A vital part of self-care is an institutional support system, one that the anthropological community can strive to cultivate. If we are concerned with cross-cultural psychiatry, we should be equally in tune with the mental health of our comrades. You can never predict how fieldwork will change you, and it’s important to maintain a disposition of self-reflexivity, yet the process of discovery should not necessarily come at the cost of self. We need to turn, yet again, within our own community to analyze our professional and personal predispositions, and clarify how we can support one another through the process.
Backe, Emma Louise (2014). “Geeking Out With Louise Krasniewicz.” The Geek Anthropologist.http://thegeekanthropologist.com/2014/11/07/geeking-out-with-louise-krasniewicz/
Begley, Larissa R. (2009). “The other side of fieldwork: experiences and challenges of conducting research in the border area of Rwanda/eastern Congo.” Anthropology Matters, Vol. 11, No. 2. http://www.anthropologymatters.com/index.php/anth_matters/article/view/17/23
BioShock Infinite (2013). Irrational Games.
“Coping with Anxiety and Depression Through Fiction” (2015). The Mary Sue.http://www.themarysue.com/anxiety-and-depression-through-fiction/
Davies, James & Dimitrina Spencer (2010). Emotions in the Field: The Psychology and Anthropology of Fieldwork Experience . Stanford University Press.
Dishonored (2012). Arkane Studios.
Granic, Isabela et al. (2014). “The Benefits of Playing Video Games.’ American Psychologist, Vo. 69, No. 1, pp. 66-78. https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/amp-a0034857.pdf
Infamous (2009). Sucker Punch Productions.
Irwin, Rachel (2007). “Culture Shock: Negotiating Feelings in the Field.” Anthropology Matters, Vol. 9, No. 1. http://www.anthropologymatters.com/index.php/anth_matters/article/view/64/123
Olthoff, Peter (2015). “The Many Roles of Popular Culture in Therapy.” The Geek Anthropologist. http://thegeekanthropologist.com/2015/07/17/the-many-roles-of-popular-culture-in-therapy/
Petronzio, Matt (2014). “Your Next Psychologist May Prescribe ‘Legend of Zelda’.” Mashable.http://mashable.com/2014/10/23/video-games-for-therapy/
Pollard, Amy (2009). “Field of Screams: Difficulty and Ethnographic Fieldwork.” Anthropology Matters, Vol. 11, No. 2. http://www.anthropologymatters.com/index.php/anth_matters/article/view/10/10
Renaud, Marie-Pierre (2015). “Note From the Field: Go Home To A Starship.” The Geek Anthropologist.http://thegeekanthropologist.com/2015/02/26/notes-from-the-field-go-home-to-a-starship-2/
The Last of Us (2013). Naughty Dog.
Tremblay, Jessika (2014). “10 Tips For Surviving Anthropological Fieldwork.” Netnographic Encounters.http://netnographicencounters.com/2014/04/07/10-tips-for-surviving-anthropological-fieldwork/
Quinn, Zoe (2014). Depression Quest. http://www.depressionquest.com/
Vitelli, Romeo (2014). “Are There Benefits to Playing Video Games?” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/media-spotlight/201402/are-there-benefits-in-playing-video-games
Eighteen vials were rocking back and forth on a squeaky mechanical device the shape of a butcher scale, and Mark Lyte was beside himself with excitement. ‘‘We actually got some fresh yesterday — freshly frozen,’’ Lyte said to a lab technician. Each vial contained a tiny nugget of monkey feces that were collected at the Harlow primate lab near Madison, Wis., the day before and shipped to Lyte’s lab on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center campus in Abilene, Tex.
Lyte’s interest was not in the feces per se but in the hidden form of life they harbor. The digestive tube of a monkey, like that of all vertebrates, contains vast quantities of what biologists call gut microbiota. The genetic material of these trillions of microbes, as well as others living elsewhere in and on the body, is collectively known as the microbiome. Taken together, these bacteria can weigh as much as six pounds, and they make up a sort of organ whose functions have only begun to reveal themselves to science. Lyte has spent his career trying to prove that gut microbes communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages in the brain.
Inside a closet-size room at his lab that afternoon, Lyte hunched over to inspect the vials, whose samples had been spun down in a centrifuge to a radiant, golden broth. Lyte, 60, spoke fast and emphatically. ‘‘You wouldn’t believe what we’re extracting out of poop,’’ he told me. ‘‘We found that the guys here in the gut make neurochemicals. We didn’t know that. Now, if they make this stuff here, does it have an influence there? Guess what? We make the same stuff. Maybe all this communication has an influence on our behavior.’’
Since 2007, when scientists announced plans for a Human Microbiome Project to catalog the micro-organisms living in our body, the profound appreciation for the influence of such organisms has grown rapidly with each passing year. Bacteria in the gut produce vitamins and break down our food; their presence or absence has been linked to obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and the toxic side effects of prescription drugs. Biologists now believe that much of what makes us human depends on microbial activity. The two million unique bacterial genes found in each human microbiome can make the 23,000 genes in our cells seem paltry, almost negligible, by comparison. ‘‘It has enormous implications for the sense of self,’’ Tom Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, told me. ‘‘We are, at least from the standpoint of DNA, more microbial than human. That’s a phenomenal insight and one that we have to take seriously when we think about human development.’’
Given the extent to which bacteria are now understood to influence human physiology, it is hardly surprising that scientists have turned their attention to how bacteria might affect the brain. Micro-organisms in our gut secrete a profound number of chemicals, and researchers like Lyte have found that among those chemicals are the same substances used by our neurons to communicate and regulate mood, like dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These, in turn, appear to play a function in intestinal disorders, which coincide with high levels of major depression and anxiety. Last year, for example, a group in Norway examined feces from 55 people and found certain bacteria were more likely to be associated with depressive patients.
At the time of my visit to Lyte’s lab, he was nearly six months into an experiment that he hoped would better establish how certain gut microbes influenced the brain, functioning, in effect, as psychiatric drugs. He was currently compiling a list of the psychoactive compounds found in the feces of infant monkeys. Once that was established, he planned to transfer the microbes found in one newborn monkey’s feces into another’s intestine, so that the recipient would end up with a completely new set of microbes — and, if all went as predicted, change their neurodevelopment. The experiment reflected an intriguing hypothesis. Anxiety, depression and several pediatric disorders, including autism and hyperactivity, have been linked with gastrointestinal abnormalities. Microbial transplants were not invasive brain surgery, and that was the point: Changing a patient’s bacteria might be difficult but it still seemed more straightforward than altering his genes.
When Lyte began his work on the link between microbes and the brain three decades ago, it was dismissed as a curiosity. By contrast, last September, the National Institute of Mental Health awarded four grants worth up to $1 million each to spur new research on the gut microbiome’s role in mental disorders, affirming the legitimacy of a field that had long struggled to attract serious scientific credibility. Lyte and one of his longtime colleagues, Christopher Coe, at the Harlow primate lab, received one of the four. ‘‘What Mark proposed going back almost 25 years now has come to fruition,’’ Coe told me. ‘‘Now what we’re struggling to do is to figure out the logic of it.’’ It seems plausible, if not yet proved, that we might one day use microbes to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders, treat mental illnesses and perhaps even fix them in the brain.
In 2011, a team of researchers at University College Cork, in Ireland, and McMaster University, in Ontario, published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that has become one of the best-known experiments linking bacteria in the gut to the brain. Laboratory mice were dropped into tall, cylindrical columns of water in what is known as a forced-swim test, which measures over six minutes how long the mice swim before they realize that they can neither touch the bottom nor climb out, and instead collapse into a forlorn float. Researchers use the amount of time a mouse floats as a way to measure what they call ‘‘behavioral despair.’’ (Antidepressant drugs, like Zoloft and Prozac, were initially tested using this forced-swim test.)
For several weeks, the team, led by John Cryan, the neuroscientist who designed the study, fed a small group of healthy rodents a broth infused with Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a common bacterium that is found in humans and also used to ferment milk into probiotic yogurt. Lactobacilli are one of the dominant organisms babies ingest as they pass through the birth canal. Recent studies have shown that mice stressed during pregnancy pass on lowered levels of the bacterium to their pups. This type of bacteria is known to release immense quantities of GABA; as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA calms nervous activity, which explains why the most common anti-anxiety drugs, like Valium and Xanax, work by targeting GABA receptors.
Cryan found that the mice that had been fed the bacteria-laden broth kept swimming longer and spent less time in a state of immobilized woe. ‘‘They behaved as if they were on Prozac,’’ he said. ‘‘They were more chilled out and more relaxed.’’ The results suggested that the bacteria were somehow altering the neural chemistry of mice.
Until he joined his colleagues at Cork 10 years ago, Cryan thought about microbiology in terms of pathology: the neurological damage created by diseases like syphilis or H.I.V. ‘‘There are certain fields that just don’t seem to interact well,’’ he said. ‘‘Microbiology and neuroscience, as whole disciplines, don’t tend to have had much interaction, largely because the brain is somewhat protected.’’ He was referring to the fact that the brain is anatomically isolated, guarded by a blood-brain barrier that allows nutrients in but keeps out pathogens and inflammation, the immune system’s typical response to germs. Cryan’s study added to the growing evidence that signals from beneficial bacteria nonetheless find a way through the barrier. Somehow — though his 2011 paper could not pinpoint exactly how — micro-organisms in the gut tickle a sensory nerve ending in the fingerlike protrusion lining the intestine and carry that electrical impulse up the vagus nerve and into the deep-brain structures thought to be responsible for elemental emotions like anxiety. Soon after that, Cryan and a co-author, Ted Dinan, published a theory paper in Biological Psychiatry calling these potentially mind-altering microbes ‘‘psychobiotics.’’
It has long been known that much of our supply of neurochemicals — an estimated 50 percent of the dopamine, for example, and a vast majority of the serotonin — originate in the intestine, where these chemical signals regulate appetite, feelings of fullness and digestion. But only in recent years has mainstream psychiatric research given serious consideration to the role microbes might play in creating those chemicals. Lyte’s own interest in the question dates back to his time as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh in 1985, when he found himself immersed in an emerging field with an unwieldy name: psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI, for short. The central theory, quite controversial at the time, suggested that stress worsened disease by suppressing our immune system.
By 1990, at a lab in Mankato, Minn., Lyte distilled the theory into three words, which he wrote on a chalkboard in his office: Stress->Immune->Disease. In the course of several experiments, he homed in on a paradox. When he dropped an intruder mouse in the cage of an animal that lived alone, the intruder ramped up its immune system — a boost, he suspected, intended to fight off germ-ridden bites or scratches. Surprisingly, though, this did not stop infections. It instead had the opposite effect: Stressed animals got sick. Lyte walked up to the board and scratched a line through the word ‘‘Immune.’’ Stress, he suspected, directly affected the bacterial bugs that caused infections.
To test how micro-organisms reacted to stress, he filled petri plates with a bovine-serum-based medium and laced the dishes with a strain of bacterium. In some, he dropped norepinephrine, a neurochemical that mammals produce when stressed. The next day, he snapped a Polaroid. The results were visible and obvious: The control plates were nearly barren, but those with the norepinephrine bloomed with bacteria that filigreed in frostlike patterns. Bacteria clearly responded to stress.
Then, to see if bacteria could induce stress, Lyte fed white mice a liquid solution of Campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning in humans but generally doesn’t prompt an immune response in mice. To the trained eye, his treated mice were as healthy as the controls. But when he ran them through a plexiglass maze raised several feet above the lab floor, the bacteria-fed mice were less likely to venture out on the high, unprotected ledges of the maze. In human terms, they seemed anxious. Without the bacteria, they walked the narrow, elevated planks.
Each of these results was fascinating, but Lyte had a difficult time finding microbiology journals that would publish either. ‘‘It was so anathema to them,’’ he told me. When the mouse study finally appeared in the journal Physiology & Behavior in 1998, it garnered little attention. And yet as Stephen Collins, a gastroenterologist at McMaster University, told me, those first papers contained the seeds of an entire new field of research. ‘‘Mark showed, quite clearly, in elegant studies that are not often cited, that introducing a pathological bacterium into the gut will cause a change in behavior.’’
Lyte went on to show how stressful conditions for newborn cattle worsened deadly E. coli infections. In another experiment, he fed mice lean ground hamburger that appeared to improve memory and learning — a conceptual proof that by changing diet, he could change gut microbes and change behavior. After accumulating nearly a decade’s worth of evidence, in July 2008, he flew to Washington to present his research. He was a finalist for the National Institutes of Health’s Pioneer Award, a $2.5 million grant for so-called blue-sky biomedical research. Finally, it seemed, his time had come. When he got up to speak, Lyte described a dialogue between the bacterial organ and our central nervous system. At the two-minute mark, a prominent scientist in the audience did a spit take.
‘‘Dr. Lyte,’’ he later asked at a question-and-answer session, ‘‘if what you’re saying is right, then why is it when we give antibiotics to patients to kill bacteria, they are not running around crazy on the wards?’’
Lyte knew it was a dismissive question. And when he lost out on the grant, it confirmed to him that the scientific community was still unwilling to imagine that any part of our neural circuitry could be influenced by single-celled organisms. Lyte published his theory in Medical Hypotheses, a low-ranking journal that served as a forum for unconventional ideas. The response, predictably, was underwhelming. ‘‘I had people call me crazy,’’ he said.
But by 2011 — when he published a second theory paper in Bioessays, proposing that probiotic bacteria could be tailored to treat specific psychological diseases — the scientific community had become much more receptive to the idea. A Canadian team, led by Stephen Collins, had demonstrated that antibiotics could be linked to less cautious behavior in mice, and only a few months before Lyte, Sven Pettersson, a microbiologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, published a landmark paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that showed that mice raised without microbes spent far more time running around outside than healthy mice in a control group; without the microbes, the mice showed less apparent anxiety and were more daring. In Ireland, Cryan published his forced-swim-test study on psychobiotics. There was now a groundswell of new research. In short order, an implausible idea had become a hypothesis in need of serious validation.
Late last year, Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiologist at the California Institute of Technology, gave a presentation at the Society for Neuroscience, ‘‘Gut Microbes and the Brain: Paradigm Shift in Neuroscience.’’ Someone had inadvertently dropped a question mark from the end, so the speculation appeared to be a definitive statement of fact. But if anyone has a chance of delivering on that promise, it’s Mazmanian, whose research has moved beyond the basic neurochemicals to focus on a broader class of molecules called metabolites: small, equally druglike chemicals that are produced by micro-organisms. Using high-powered computational tools, he also hopes to move beyond the suggestive correlations that have typified psychobiotic research to date, and instead make decisive discoveries about the mechanisms by which microbes affect brain function.
Two years ago, Mazmanian published a study in the journal Cell with Elaine Hsiao, then a graduate student at his lab and now a neuroscientist at Caltech, that made a provocative link between a single molecule and behavior. Their research found that mice exhibiting abnormal communication and repetitive behaviors, like obsessively burying marbles, were mollified when they were given one of two strains of the bacterium Bacteroides fragilis.
The study added to a working hypothesis in the field that microbes don’t just affect the permeability of the barrier around the brain but also influence the intestinal lining, which normally prevents certain bacteria from leaking out and others from getting in. When the intestinal barrier was compromised in his model, normally ‘‘beneficial’’ bacteria and the toxins they produce seeped into the bloodstream and raised the possibility they could slip past the blood-brain barrier. As one of his colleagues, Michael Fischbach, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said: ‘‘The scientific community has a way of remaining skeptical until every last arrow has been drawn, until the entire picture is colored in. Other scientists drew the pencil outlines, and Sarkis is filling in a lot of the color.’’
Mazmanian knew the results offered only a provisional explanation for why restrictive diets and antibacterial treatments seemed to help some children with autism: Altering the microbial composition might be changing the permeability of the intestine. ‘‘The larger concept is, and this is pure speculation: Is a disease like autism really a disease of the brain or maybe a disease of the gut or some other aspect of physiology?’’ Mazmanian said. For any disease in which such a link could be proved, he saw a future in drugs derived from these small molecules found inside microbes. (A company he co-founded, Symbiotix Biotherapies, is developing a complex sugar called PSA, which is associated with Bacteroides fragilis, into treatments for intestinal disease and multiple sclerosis.) In his view, the prescriptive solutions probably involve more than increasing our exposure to environmental microbes in soil, dogs or even fermented foods; he believed there were wholesale failures in the way we shared our microbes and inoculated children with these bacteria. So far, though, the only conclusion he could draw was that disorders once thought to be conditions of the brain might be symptoms of microbial disruptions, and it was the careful defining of these disruptions that promised to be helpful in the coming decades.
The list of potential treatments incubating in labs around the world is startling. Several international groups have found that psychobiotics had subtle yet perceptible effects in healthy volunteers in a battery of brain-scanning and psychological tests. Another team in Arizona recently finished an open trial on fecal transplants in children with autism. (Simultaneously, at least two offshore clinics, in Australia and England, began offering fecal microbiota treatments to treat neurological disorders, like multiple sclerosis.) Mazmanian, however, cautions that this research is still in its infancy. ‘‘We’ve reached the stage where there’s a lot of, you know, ‘The microbiome is the cure for everything,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘I have a vested interest if it does. But I’d be shocked if it did.’’
Lyte issues the same caveat. ‘‘People are obviously desperate for solutions,’’ Lyte said when I visited him in Abilene. (He has since moved to Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.) ‘‘My main fear is the hype is running ahead of the science.’’ He knew that parents emailing him for answers meant they had exhausted every option offered by modern medicine. ‘‘It’s the Wild West out there,’’ he said. ‘‘You can go online and buy any amount of probiotics for any number of conditions now, and my paper is one of those cited. I never said go out and take probiotics.’’ He added, ‘‘We really need a lot more research done before we actually have people trying therapies out.’’
If the idea of psychobiotics had now, in some ways, eclipsed him, it was nevertheless a curious kind of affirmation, even redemption: an old-school microbiologist thrust into the midst of one of the most promising aspects of neuroscience. At the moment, he had a rough map in his head and a freezer full of monkey fecals that might translate, somehow, into telling differences between gregarious or shy monkeys later in life. I asked him if what amounted to a personality transplant still sounded a bit far-fetched. He seemed no closer to unlocking exactly what brain functions could be traced to the same organ that produced feces. ‘‘If you transfer the microbiota from one animal to another, you can transfer the behavior,’’ Lyte said. ‘‘What we’re trying to understand are the mechanisms by which the microbiota can influence the brain and development. If you believe that, are you now out on the precipice? The answer is yes. Do I think it’s the future? I think it’s a long way away.’’
“Ariel Salleh: The Vicissitudes of an Earth Democracy
Even as we face the global crisis, an Earth on fire, the role of water goes unacknowledged. Yet it is water that joins Humanity and Nature, mind and body, subject and object, men, women, queers, children, animals, plants, rocks, and air. Water carries the flow of desire, nourishes the seed, sculpts our valleys, and our imaginations. As water joins heaven and Earth, it steadies climates. But the Promethian drive to mastery, militarism, mining, manufacture, steals water, leaves deserts in its wake. More than peak oil, we face peak water. What kind of ecotheory will turn this Anthropocene around? Who embodies the deep flow of resistant affect that Adorno and Kristeva find in non-identity? Can the universities give us theory that is guided by this logic of water? Or are our canons and cognitions still too embedded in the commodities and objects of fire? While life on Earth falls into Anthropocenic disrepair, a global bourgeois culture promotes ad hoc action as policy and pastiche as style. Timothy Morton’s recent essay ‘The Oedipal Logic of Ecological Awareness’ is provocative in this respect. In response, we ask: What does the hybrid politics of ecological feminism say about affect and the dissolution of old binaries like Humanity versus Nature? How does its embodied materialism translate into an Earth Democracy? Whose affective habitus can nurture nature’s agency – indigenes, mothers, peasants? Whose common labour skills reproduce the unity of water and land?
Eileen Joy: Post/Apocalyptically Blue
This talk is an attempt to think about depression as a shared creative endeavor, as a trans-corporeal blue (and blues) ecology that would bind humans, nonhumans, and stormy weather together in what anthropologist Tim Ingold has called a meshwork, where “beings do not propel themselves across a ready-made world but rather issue forth through a world-in-formation, along the lines of their relationships.” In this enmeshment of the “strange strangers” of Timothy Morton’s dark ecology, “[t]he only way out is down” and art’s “ambiguous, vague qualities will help us to think things that remain difficult to put into words.” It may be, as Morton has also argued, that while “personhood” is real, nevertheless, “[b]oth the surface and the depth of our being are ambiguous and illusory.” And “still weirder, this illusion might have actual effects.” I want to see if it might be possible to cultivate this paradoxical interface (literally, “between faces”) between illusion and effects, especially with regard to feeling blue, a condition I believe is a form of a deeply empathic enmeshment with a world that suffers its own “sea changes” and which can never be seen as separate from the so-called individuals who supposedly only populate (“people”) it.”
24/10/2014 – 12h57
por Marina Lopes, do Porvir
A falta de água pode servir de gancho para discutir sobre gestão de recursos hídricos e consumo consciente
Nos últimos meses, as discussões sobre a água e o consumo consciente ganharam espaço em razão do período de seca nas regiões sudeste e nordeste e com a crise no abastecimento que atinge o estado de São Paulo, maior metrópole do país. Atualmente, o Sistema Cantareira, principal responsável por abastecer a região, opera com apenas 3% do volume dos seus reservatórios. Diante desse cenário, como o professor pode discutir o tema em sala de aula? O Porvir conversou com alguns especialistas e reuniu uma lista com dicas de recursos digitais que podem auxiliar os educadores.
Segundo o geógrafo Wagner Costa Ribeiro, da Universidade de São Paulo, a escola precisa mudar a forma como trata sobre os recursos hídricos nacionais. “A criança e o adolescente não podem ter o mito da abundância da água reforçado.” Para ele, o Brasil tem um nível bastante elevado, mas essa água está distribuída de maneira desigual. “Ela é abundante na escala nacional, mas é muito escassa em locais como a região metropolitana de São Paulo”, apontou Wagner.
O especialista acredita que a crise vivida na cidade representa um problema de gestão, já que nos últimos anos não foram adotadas medidas voltadas para a ampliar os sistemas de captação, diminuir perdas durante o armazenamento e estimular reuso da água. “Infelizmente, nada disso foi realizado. Em um período mais seco, não temos ações de contingência”, afirmou.
O momento de crise, onde parte da população fica sem água nas torneiras durante horas ou até dias, pode servir para despertar a discussão sobre o uso da água. “A ideia é que o consumo consciente seja um hábito trabalhado desde a infância”, defendeu Denise Conselheiro, coordenadora do Edukatu, rede de aprendizagem sobre consumo consciente. Segundo ela, isso garante que as próximas gerações tenham essas práticas muito mais incorporadas ao seu dia a dia.
De acordo com a representante do Edukatu, para falar sobre esse tema na escola, o professor deve recorrer ao uso de atividades lúdicas e a uma linguagem divertida. “A abordagem precisa ser diferente”. Além disso, é preciso trazer as questões sobre o uso da água para o cotidiano do aluno, como o risco de desperdício dentro da própria escola.
Uma sugestão de atividade, apresentada por Wagner Costa Ribeiro, da USP, é de pedir para os alunos levarem a conta de água para escola. Na sala de aula, o professor pode comparar o consumo de cada família com a média geral da turma. A partir daí, ele consegue discutir maneiras de promover o uso racional dos recursos hídricos. No ensino médio, ele também pode acrescentar o debate sobre o modelo de gestão hídrica adotado na cidade.
A partir de buscas em sites como a Escola Digital, o Portal do Professor (MEC) e o Edukatu, o Porvir reuniu algumas dicas de recursos digitais que podem auxiliar os professores a falarem sobre o tema. Confira a lista:
Água em números
Com a linguagem de um infográfico animado, o vídeo apresenta dados da distribuição de água no planeta, consumo e desperdício em situações do dia a dia. A animação mostra que um buraco de três milímetros no encanamento, por exemplo, pode desperdiçar 3.200 litros de água por dia.
Etapa: ensino fundamental e médio
Fonte: Escola Digital
Como prevenir a seca
Produzido pela equipe do site Planeta Sustentável, o infográfico apresenta alternativas para o uso racional da água. A arte também divide o consumo de acordo com o segmento – agricultura, indústrias ou uso doméstico. Segundo os dados apresentados no infográfico, o setor agrícola é responsável por 70% do consumo global.
Etapa: ensino fundamental e médio
Fonte: Escola Digital
Quadrinhos sobre a água
A história em quadrinhos fala sobre a importância da água e como ela está distribuída no planeta. A partir dos diálogos entre os personagens, o aluno pode perceber que a água existe em abundancia no globo, mas apenas uma pequena parte dela é própria para o consumo.
Etapa: ensino fundamental
Fonte: Escola Digital
Atividades sobre o uso da água
Disponíveis para download, o conjunto de atividades reúne jogos e testes sobre o tema água. O material tenta conscientizar o aluno sobre a importância de promover o uso racional dos recursos hídricos.
Etapa: ensino fundamental
Fonte: Portal do Professor
Atividades sobre a importância da água
O recurso digital reúne materiais que falam sobre a importância da água no meio ambiente. Além disso, as atividades também tratam sobre a constituição hídrica do planeta e como ela é disponibilizada para o consumo humano.
Etapa: ensino fundamental
Fonte: Portal do Professor
Como a água chega até as nossas torneiras?
A imagem ilustra o caminho que a água percorre, desde quando é retirada da natureza, até o momento em que chega às torneiras de uma casa. Também é possível ver alguns processos de armazenamento de água nas estações de tratamento.
Etapa: ensino fundamental
Fonte: Portal do Professor
Percurso da Água no Edukatu
No Edukatu o professor conta um percurso de aprendizado inteiro dedicado ao tema água. O material está disponível em duas fases: na primeira, ele apresenta recursos digitais que ampliam o conhecimento sobre a temática de forma lúdica; na segunda parta, é apresentado para o educador a proposta de desenvolver um projeto de intervenção no ambiente escolar, podendo incluir ações de conscientização sobre o uso racional da água.
(obs: para ter acesso ao material, o professor deve realizar um cadastro no site)
Etapa: ensino fundamental e médio
* Publicado originalmente no site Porvir.
Suspected Ebola patient Finda “Zanabo” prays over her sick family members before being admitted to the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center on Aug. 21, 2014, near Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
As the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has spiraled out of control, affecting thousands of Liberians, Sierra Leonians, and Guineans, and threatening thousands more, the world’s reaction has been glacially, lethally slow. Only in the past few weeks have heads of state begun to take serious notice. To date, the virus has killed more than 2,600 people. This is a comparatively small number when measured against much more established diseases such as malaria,HIV/AIDS, influenza, and so on, but several factors about this outbreak have some of the world’s top health professionals gravely concerned:
- Its kill rate: In this particular outbreak, a running tabulation suggests that 54 percent of the infected die, though adjusted numbers suggest that the rate is much higher.
- Its exponential growth: At this point, the number of people infected is doubling approximately every three weeks, leading some epidemiologists to projectbetween 77,000 and 277,000 cases by the end of 2014.
- The gruesomeness with which it kills: by hijacking cells and migrating throughout the body to affect all organs, causing victims to bleed profusely.
- The ease with which it is transmitted: through contact with bodily fluids, including sweat, tears, saliva, blood, urine, semen, etc., including objects that have come in contact with bodily fluids (such as bed sheets, clothing, and needles) and corpses.
- The threat of mutation: Prominent figures have expressed serious concerns that this disease will go airborne, and there are many other mechanisms through which mutation might make it much more transmissible.
Terrifying as these factors are, it is not clear to me that any of them capture what is truly, horribly tragic about this disease.
The most striking thing about the virus is the way in which it propagates. True, through bodily fluids, but to suggest as much is to ignore the conditions under which bodily contact occurs. Instead, the mechanism Ebola exploits is far more insidious. This virus preys on care and love, piggybacking on the deepest, most distinctively human virtues. Affected parties are almost all medical professionals and family members, snared by Ebola while in the business of caring for their fellow humans. More strikingly, 75 percent of Ebola victims are women, people who do much of the care work throughout Africa and the rest of the world. In short, Ebola parasitizes our humanity.
More than most other pandemic diseases (malaria, cholera, plague, etc.) and more than airborne diseases (influenza, swine flu, H5N1, etc.) that are transmitted indiscriminately through the air, this disease is passed through very minute amounts of bodily fluid. Just a slip of contact with the infected party and the caregiver herself can be stricken.
The images coming from Africa are chilling. Little boys, left alone in the street without parents, shivering and sick, untouchable by the throngs of people around them. Grown men, writhing at the door to a hospital, hoping for care as their parents stand helplessly, wondering how to help. Mothers and fathers, fighting weakness and exhaustion to move to the edge of a tent in order to catch a distant, final glimpse of a get-well video that their children have made for them.
If Ebola is not stopped, this disease can destroy whole families within a month, relatives of those families shortly thereafter, friends of those relatives after that, and on and on. As it takes hold (and it is taking hold fast), it cuts out the heart of family and civilization. More than the profuse bleeding and high kill rate, this is why the disease is terrifying. Ebola sunders the bonds that make us human.
Aid providers are now working fastidiously to sever these ties themselves, fighting hopelessly against the natural inclinations that people have to love and care for the ill. They have launched aggressive public information campaigns, distributedupdates widely, called for more equipment and gear, summoned the military, tried to rein in the hysteria, and so on. Yet no sheet of plastic or latex can disrupt these human inclinations.
Such heroic efforts are the appropriate medical response to a virulent public health catastrophe. The public health community is doing an incredible job, facing unbelievable risks, relying on extremely limited resources. Yet these efforts can only do half of the work. Infected parties—not all, to be sure, but some (enough)—cannot abide by the rules of disease isolation. Some will act without donning protective clothing. Some will assist without taking proper measures. And still others will refuse to enter isolation units because doing so means leaving their families and their loved ones behind, abandoning their humanity, and subjecting themselves to the terror of dying a sterile, lonely death.
It is tempting, at these times, to focus on the absurd and senseless actions of a few. One of the primary vectors in Sierra Leone is believed to have been a traditional healer who had been telling people that she could cure Ebola. In Monrovia a few weeks back, angry citizens stormed a clinic and removed patients from their care. “There is no Ebola!” they are reported to have been shouting. More recently, the largest newspaper in Liberia published an article suggesting that Ebola is a conspiracy of the United States, aimed to undermine Africa. And, perhaps even more sadly, a team of health workers and journalists was just brutally murdered in Guinea. It is easy, in other words, to blame the spread on stupidity, or illiteracy, or ritualism, or conspiracy theories, or any number of other irrational factors.
A man checks on a very sick Saah Exco, 10, in a back alley of the West Point slum on Aug. 19, 2014, in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
But imagine: You are a parent whose child has suddenly come ill with a fever. Do you cast your child away and refuse to touch him? Do you cover your face and your arms? Stay back! Unclean! Or do you comfort your child when he asks for you, arms outstretched, to make the pain go away?
Imagine: You live in a home with five other family members. Your sister falls ill, ostensibly from Ebola, but possibly from malaria, typhoid, yellow fever, or the flu. You are aware of the danger to yourself and your other family members, but you have no simple means to move her, and she is too weak to move herself. What do you do?
Imagine: You are a child of 5 years old. Your mother is sick. She implores you to back away. But you are scared. What you need, more than anything, is a hug and a cry.
Who can blame a person for this? It is a terrible, awful predicament. A moral predicament. To stay, comfort, and give love and care to those who are in desperate need, or to shuttle them off into an isolation ward, perhaps never to see them again? What an inhumane decision this is.
What makes the Ebola virus so terrifying is not its kill rate, its exponential growth, the gruesome way in which it kills, the ease of transmission, or the threat of mutation, but rather that people who care can do almost nothing but sit on the sidelines and watch.
* * *
Many have asked whether Ebola could come here, come West. (The implication, in its way, is crass—as if to suggest that we need not be concerned about a tragedy unless it poses a threat to us.) We have been reassured that it will never spread widely here, because our public health networks are too strong, our hospitals too well-stocked. The naysayers may be right about this. But they are not right that it does not pose a threat to us.
For starters, despite the pretense, the West is not immune from absurd, unscientific thinking. We have our fair share of scientific illiteracy, skepticism, ritualism, and foolishness. But beyond this, it is our similarities, not our differences, that make us vulnerable to this plague. We are human. Every mechanism we have for caring—touching, holding, feeding, playing, warming, comforting, caressing—every mechanism that we use to bind us to our families and our neighbors, is preyed upon by Ebola. We cannot seal each other into hyperbaric chambers and expect that once we emerge, the carnage will be over. We are humans, and we will care about our children and our families even if it means that we may die in doing so.
The lesson here is a vital one: People do not give up on humanity so very easily. Even if we persuade all of the population to forgo rituals like washing the dead, we will not easily persuade parents to keep from holding their sick children, children from clinging to their ailing parents, or children from playing and wrestling and slobbering all over one another. We tried to alter such behaviors with HIV/AIDS. A seemingly simple edict—“just lay off the sex with infected parties”—would seem all that is required to halt that disease. But we have learned over the decades that people do not give up sex so readily.
If you think curtailing sex is hard, love and compassion will be that much harder. Humans will never give this up—we cannot give this up, for it is fundamental to who we are. The more that medical personnel require this of people without also giving them methods to manifest care, the more care and compassion will manifest in pockets outside of quarantine. And the more humanity that manifests unchecked, the more space this virus has to grow. Unchecked humanity will seep through the cracks and barriers that we build to keep our families safe, and if left to find its own way, will carry a lethal payload.
The problem is double-edged. Ebola threatens humanity by preying on humanity. The seemingly simple solution is to destroy humanity ourselves—to seal everything off and let the disease burn out on its own. But doing so means destroying ourselves in order to save ourselves, which is no solution at all.
A medical worker in a protective suit works near Ebola patients in a Doctors Without Borders hospital on Sept. 7, 2014, in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images
We must find a method of caring without touching, of contacting without making contact. The physiological barriers are, for the time being, necessary. But we cannot stop people from caring about one another, so we must create, for the time being, mechanisms for caring. Since we will never be able to beat back humanity, we must coordinate humanity, at the family level, the local level, and the global level.
The only one way to battle a disease that affixes itself parasitically to our humanity is to overwhelm it with greater, stronger humanity. To immunize Africa and the rest of the world with a blast of humanity so powerful that the disease can no longer take root. What it will take to beat this virus is to turn its most powerful vehicle, our most powerful weapon, against it.
Here are some things we can do:
Donate to the great organizations that are working tirelessly to bring this disease under control. They need volunteers, medical supplies, facilities, transportation, food, etc. Share information about Ebola, so people will learn about it, know about it, and know how to address it when it comes. And inform and help others. It is natural at a time of crisis to call for sealing the borders, to build fences and walls that separate us further from outside threats. But a disease that infects humanity cannot easily be walled off in this way. Walling off just creates unprotected pockets of humanity, divisions between us and them: my family, your family; that village, this village; inside, outside.
* * *
One final thing.
When Prince Prospero, ill-fated protagonist of Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death,” locked himself in his castle to avoid a contagion that was sweeping his country—a disease that caused “profuse bleeding at the pores”—he assumed mistakenly that the only reasonable solution to his problem was to remove himself from the scene. For months he lived lavishly, surrounded by courtiers, improvisatori, buffoons, musicians, and wine, removed from danger while the pestilence wrought havoc outside.
As with much of Poe’s writing, Prospero’s tale does not end well. For six months, all was calm. He and his courtiers enjoyed their lives, secure and isolated from the plague laying waste to the countryside. Then, one night during a masquerade ball, the Red Death snuck into the castle, hidden behind a mask and a cloak, to afflict Prospero and his revelers, dropping them one by one in the “blood-bedewed halls.” Prospero’s security was a façade, leaving darkness and decay to hold “illimitable dominion over all.” The eventual intrusion that would be his undoing foretells of a danger in believing that we can keep the world’s ills at bay by keeping our distance.
If we seek safety by shutting out the rest of the world, we are in for a brutally ugly awakening. Nature is a cruel mistress, but Ebola is her cruelest, most devious trick yet.
Date: September 16, 2014
Summary: What motivates consumers to make ethical choices such as buying clothing not made in a sweat shop, spending more money on fair-trade coffee, and bringing their own bags when they go shopping? According to a new study, ethical consumption is motivated by a need for consumers to turn their emotions about unethical practices into action.
What motivates consumers to make ethical choices such as buying clothing not made in a sweat shop, spending more money on fair-trade coffee, and bringing their own bags when they go shopping? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, ethical consumption is motivated by a need for consumers to turn their emotions about unethical practices into action.
“Advocates of ethical consumerism suggest that consumers should consider the environmental and human costs of the products they choose, but unfortunately only a small number of people in North America consume ethically on a regular basis while most consumers just look for good deals and ignore the social impact of the products they buy. Why are some consumers willing to spend time, money, and energy on making more responsible choices?” writes author Ahir Gopaldas (Fordham University).
After analyzing dozens of websites of advocacy groups and companies driven by ethical mission statements, and conducting at-home interviews with people who identify as ethical consumers, the author identified three common emotions driving ethical behavior — contempt, concern, and celebration.
Contempt happens when ethical consumers feel anger and disgust toward the corporations and governments they consider responsible for environmental pollution and labor exploitation. Concern stems from a concern for the victims of rampant consumerism, including workers, animals, ecosystems, and future generations.Celebration occurs when ethical consumers experience joy from making responsible choices and hope from thinking about the collective impact of their individual choices.
Advocates of ethical consumerism should consider the role of emotions in motivating consumers to make more responsible decisions. For example, anger can motivate consumers to reject unethical products and concern can encourage consumers to increase charitable donations, while joy and hope can lead consumers to cultivate ethical habits such as participating in recycling programs.
“This research has critical implications for advocacy groups, ethical brand managers, and anyone else trying to encourage mainstream consumers to make more ethical choices. It is simply not enough to change people’s minds. To change society, one must also change people’s hearts. Sentiments ignite passion, fuel commitment, and literally move people to action,” the author concludes.
- Ahir Gopaldas. Marketplace Sentiments. Journal of Consumer Research, 2014; 000 DOI: 10.1086/678034
Date: August 12, 2014
Summary: Whether or not humans are the only empathic beings is still under debate. In a new study, researchers directly compared the ‘yawn contagion’ effect between humans and bonobos — our closest evolutionary cousins. By doing so they were able to directly compare the empathic abilities of ourselves with another species, and found that a close relationship between individuals is more important to their empathic response than the fact that individuals might be from the same species.
Whether or not humans are the only empathic beings is still under debate. In a new study, researchers directly compared the ‘yawn contagion’ effect between humans and bonobos (our closest evolutionary cousins). By doing so they were able to directly compare the empathic abilities of ourselves with another species, and found that a close relationship between individuals is more important to their empathic response than the fact that individuals might be from the same species.
The ability to experience others’ emotions is hard to quantify in any species, and, as a result, it is difficult to measure empathy in an objective way. The transmission of a feeling from one individual to another, something known as ’emotional contagion,’ is the most basic form of empathy. Feelings are disclosed by facial expressions (for example sorrow, pain, happiness or tiredness), and these feelings can travel from an “emitting face” to a “receiving face.” Upon receipt, the mirroring of facial expressions evokes in the receiver an emotion similar to the emotion experienced by the sender.
Yawn contagion is one of the most pervasive and apparently trivial forms of emotional contagion. Who hasn’t been infected at least once by another person’s yawn (especially over dinner)? Humans and bonobos are the only two species in which it has been demonstrated that yawn contagion follows an empathic trend, being more frequent between individuals who share a strong emotional bond, such as friends, kin, and mates. Because of this similarity, researchers sought to directly compare the two species. Over the course of five years, they observed both humans and bonobos during their everyday activities and gathered data on yawn contagion by applying the same ethological approach and operational definitions. The results of their research are published today in the peer-reviewed journal PeerJ.
Two features of yawn contagion were compared: how many times the individuals responded to others’ yawns and how quickly. Intriguingly, when the yawner and the responder were not friends or kin, bonobos responded to others’ yawns just as frequently and promptly as humans did. This means that the assumption that emotional contagion is more prominent in humans than in other species is not necessarily the case.
However, humans did respond more frequently and more promptly than bonobos when friends and kin were involved, probably because strong relationships between humans are built upon complex and sophisticated emotional foundations linked to cognition, memory, and memories. In this case, the positive feedback linking emotional affinity and the mirroring process seems to spin faster in humans than in bonobos. In humans, such over-activation may explain the potentiated yawning response and also other kinds of unconscious mimicry response, such as happy, pained, or angry facial expressions.
In conclusion, this study suggests that differences in levels of emotional contagion between humans and bonobos are attributable to the quality of relationships shared by individuals. When the complexity of social bonds, typical of humans, is not in play,Homo sapiens climb down the tree of empathy to go back to the understory which we share with our ape cousins.
- Elisabetta Palagi, Ivan Norscia, Elisa Demuru. Yawn contagion in humans and bonobos: emotional affinity matters more than species. PeerJ, 2014; 2: e519 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.519
Date: June 26, 2014
Summary: Ground-breaking experiments have been conduced to uncover the links between language and emotions. Researchers were able to demonstrate that the articulation of vowels systematically influences our feelings and vice versa. The authors concluded that it would seem that language users learn that the articulation of ‘i’ sounds is associated with positive feelings and thus make use of corresponding words to describe positive circumstances. The opposite applies to the use of ‘o’ sounds.
A team of researchers headed by the Erfurt-based psychologist Prof. Ralf Rummer and the Cologne-based phoneticist Prof. Martine Grice has carried out some ground-breaking experiments to uncover the links between language and emotions. They were able to demonstrate that the articulation of vowels systematically influences our feelings and vice versa.
The research project looked at the question of whether and to what extent the meaning of words is linked to their sound. The specific focus of the project was on two special cases; the sound of the long ‘i’ vowel and that of the long, closed ‘o’ vowel. Rummer and Grice were particularly interested in finding out whether these vowels tend to occur in words that are positively or negatively charged in terms of emotional impact. For this purpose, they carried out two fundamental experiments, the results of which have now been published in Emotion, the journal of the American Psychological Association.
In the first experiment, the researchers exposed test subjects to film clips designed to put them in a positive or a negative mood and then asked them to make up ten artificial words themselves and to speak these out loud. They found that the artificial words contained significantly more ‘i’s than ‘o’s when the test subjects were in a positive mood. When in a negative mood, however, the test subjects formulated more ‘words’ with ‘o’s.
The second experiment was used to determine whether the different emotional quality of the two vowels can be traced back to the movements of the facial muscles associated with their articulation. Rummer and Grice were inspired by an experimental configuration developed in the 1980s by a team headed by psychologist Fritz Strack. These researchers instructed their test subjects to view cartoons while holding a pen in their mouth in such a way that either the zygomaticus major muscle (which is used when laughing and smiling) or its antagonist, the orbicularis oris muscle, was contracted. In the first case, the test subjects were required to place the pen between their teeth and in the second case between their lips. While their zygomaticus major muscle was contracted, the test subjects found the cartoons significantly more amusing. Instead of this ‘pen-in-mouth test’, the team headed by Rummer and Grice now conducted an experiment in which they required their test subjects to articulate an ‘i’ sound (contraction of the zygomaticus major muscle) or an ‘o’ sound (contraction of the orbicularis oris muscle) every second while viewing cartoons. The test subjects producing the ‘i’ sounds found the same cartoons significantly more amusing than those producing the ‘o’ sounds instead.
In view of this outcome, the authors concluded that it would seem that language users learn that the articulation of ‘i’ sounds is associated with positive feelings and thus make use of corresponding words to describe positive circumstances. The opposite applies to the use of ‘o’ sounds. And thanks to the results of their two experiments, Rummer and Grice now have an explanation for a much-discussed phenomenon. The tendency for ‘i’ sounds to occur in positively charged words (such as ‘like’) and for ‘o’ sounds to occur in negatively charged words (such as ‘alone’) in many languages appears to be linked to the corresponding use of facial muscles in the articulation of vowels on the one hand and the expression of emotion on the other.
- Ralf Rummer, Judith Schweppe, René Schlegelmilch, Martine Grice. Mood is linked to vowel type: The role of articulatory movements.. Emotion, 2014; 14 (2): 246 DOI: 10.1037/a0035752
Date: June 25, 2014
Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:Patients with persistent ringing in the ears — a condition known as tinnitus — process emotions differently in the brain from those with normal hearing, researchers report. Tinnitus afflicts 50 million people in the United States, and causes those with the condition to hear noises that aren’t really there. These phantom sounds are not speech, but rather whooshing noises, train whistles, cricket noises or whines. Their severity often varies day to day.
Patients with persistent ringing in the ears — a condition known as tinnitus — process emotions differently in the brain from those with normal hearing, researchers report in the journal Brain Research.
Tinnitus afflicts 50 million people in the United States, according to the American Tinnitus Association, and causes those with the condition to hear noises that aren’t really there. These phantom sounds are not speech, but rather whooshing noises, train whistles, cricket noises or whines. Their severity often varies day to day.
University of Illinois speech and hearing science professor Fatima Husain, who led the study, said previous studies showed that tinnitus is associated with increased stress, anxiety, irritability and depression, all of which are affiliated with the brain’s emotional processing systems.
“Obviously, when you hear annoying noises constantly that you can’t control, it may affect your emotional processing systems,” Husain said. “But when I looked at experimental work done on tinnitus and emotional processing, especially brain imaging work, there hadn’t been much research published.”
She decided to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans to better understand how tinnitus affects the brain’s ability to process emotions. These scans show the areas of the brain that are active in response to stimulation, based upon blood flow to those areas.
Three groups of participants were used in the study: people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss and mild tinnitus; people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss without tinnitus; and a control group of age-matched people without hearing loss or tinnitus. Each person was put in an fMRI machine and listened to a standardized set of 30 pleasant, 30 unpleasant and 30 emotionally neutral sounds (for example, a baby laughing, a woman screaming and a water bottle opening). The participants pressed a button to categorize each sound as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
The tinnitus and normal-hearing groups responded more quickly to emotion-inducing sounds than to neutral sounds, while patients with hearing loss had a similar response time to each category of sound. Over all, the tinnitus group’s reaction times were slower than the reaction times of those with normal hearing.
Activity in the amygdala, a brain region associated with emotional processing, was lower in the tinnitus and hearing-loss patients than in people with normal hearing. Tinnitus patients also showed more activity than normal-hearing people in two other brain regions associated with emotion, the parahippocampus and the insula. The findings surprised Husain.
“We thought that because people with tinnitus constantly hear a bothersome, unpleasant stimulus, they would have an even higher amount of activity in the amygdala when hearing these sounds, but it was lesser,” she said. “Because they’ve had to adjust to the sound, some plasticity in the brain has occurred. They have had to reduce this amygdala activity and reroute it to other parts of the brain because the amygdala cannot be active all the time due to this annoying sound.”
Because of the sheer number of people who suffer from tinnitus in the United States, a group that includes many combat veterans, Husain hopes her group’s future research will be able to increase tinnitus patients’ quality of life.
“It’s a communication issue and a quality-of-life issue,” she said. “We want to know how we can get better in the clinical realm. Audiologists and clinicians are aware that tinnitus affects emotional aspects, too, and we want to make them aware that these effects are occurring so they can better help their patients.”
- Jake R. Carpenter-Thompson, Kwaku Akrofi, Sara A. Schmidt, Florin Dolcos, Fatima T. Husain. Alterations of the emotional processing system may underlie preserved rapid reaction time in tinnitus. Brain Research, 2014; 1567: 28 DOI: 10.1016/j.brainres.2014.04.024
Quarta-feira, 18/06/2014 às 11:57 por David Butter
Quem diria: o pior da Copa é a torcida da seleção brasileira. Não falo da torcida dos bares, das casas e das ruas, de fora dos estádios por falta de condição, gosto ou oportunidade, mas da torcida das arquibancadas. – digo “torcida” por falta de outro termo.
Não, não andamos vendo a vergonha e o banzo circulando de cabeça baixa por aeroportos ou estradas, como imaginavam antes da competição os profetas da catástrofe, e sim pelas cadeiras das arenas “padrão Fifa”. Há algo de triste em quem passa por essas cadeiras: uma modorra atravessada de impaciência e melancolia.
Pois a torcida brasileira desta Copa é, até agora, uma torcida reativa. Até no seu canto mais efusivo (“Sou brasileiro/Com muito orgulho/Com muito amor”), a torcida de estádio parece estar respondendo a alguma ofensa não-enunciada. É como se o brasileiro entrasse xingado e cuspido nas arenas, e não extraísse disso mais do que a força para dizer: “Eu gosto do que eu sou”.
A torcida brasileira desta Copa não tem canções: tem musiquinhas que caberiam melhor numa festa de firma: expressões vagas de solidariedade e espírito coletivo – praticamente um convite às vaias e aos muxoxos. “Está ruim o salgado”, “que banda horrível é esta”, “aqueles pães-duros economizaram no uísque”: enxergo no torcedor desta Copa o “Mauro da Contabilidade”, um Jekyll chatíssimo que, nas confraternizações de fim de ano, converte-se num Hyde mais chato ainda.
E os Mauros todos converteram nisto a atual “experiência” de ser ver um jogo da seleção: um investimento individual de tempo (e dinheiro) em troca de algum retorno. A seleção “presta serviços” aos torcedores-consumidores; é uma seleção-bufê, um atração para eventeiros. Cantar qualquer coisa além do cânone santificado pela imprensa e pela publicidade não está no “briefing”.
(Ao fato: a torcida do México berrou por cima da torcida brasileira em Fortaleza. A ponto de me parecer que, para um jogo em Guadalajara, a seleção mexicana deveria encarar o empate como um tropeço.)
O hino se esgota antes da bola rolar. Não há tempo para concursos, nem festivais. Não existe, tampouco, era de ouro de cantoria para se espelhar. O que pode entoar de novo e de firme a torcida brasileira? Funk, sertanejo, paródia obscena, qualquer coisa mais viva, e menos encaixável num anúncio de banco ou sobe-som de telejornal – jogo as opções ao alto, por desespero de causa.
Surpreenda o Brasil, Mauro. Rasgue o abadá. Seja menos convencional uma vez na vida. Tenha algo a contar para seus filhos, algo diferente de “Os mexicanos/chilenos/argentinos me calaram”.
Date: March 13, 2014
Source: University of California – Santa Barbara
Summary: Shame on you. These three simple words can temporarily — or, when used too often, permanently — destroy an individual’s sense of value and self-worth.
Shame on you. These three simple words can temporarily — or, when used too often, permanently — destroy an individual’s sense of value and self-worth.
“In modernity, shame is the most obstructed and hidden emotion, and therefore the most destructive,” said Thomas Scheff, professor emeritus of sociology at UC Santa Barbara. “Emotions are like breathing — they cause trouble only when obstructed.”
When hidden, he continued, shame causes serious struggles not only for individuals but also for groups. In an article published in the current issue of the journal Cultural Sociology, Scheff examines the ubiquity of hidden shame and suggests it may be one of the keys to understanding contemporary society.
According to Scheff a society that fosters individualism (ours, for example) provides a ripe breeding ground for the emotion of shame because people are encouraged to “go it alone, no matter the cost to relationships,” he said. “People learn to act as if they were complete in themselves and independent of others. This feature has constructive and creative sides, but it has at least two other implications: alienation and the hiding of shame.”
Scheff noted that while shame is no less prevalent now than in previous years or decades or generations, it is more hidden. “Shame is a biological entity like other emotions, but people are more ashamed of it than they are of the others,” he said. “The hiding of emotions is more widespread in modern societies than in traditional ones.”
In exploring the connection between shame and aggression, Scheff cites research conducted by sociologist Neil Websdale, author of “Familicidal Hearts: The Emotional Styles of 211 Killers.” Familicide, the act of one spouse killing the other as well as their children and often himself or herself, stems from unacknowledged shame, Scheff said. “It’s about humiliation and hiding behind aggression or violence,” he explained. “The most interesting thing about the study is there’s a group of non-angry people — a minority — who lose their job and feel humiliated. So they pretend they’re going to work every day but are really planning the killing. Websdale describes them as ‘civic respectable.’
“Our society — our civilization — is civic respectable,” Scheff continued. “You’re not to be angry and you’re not to be ashamed.”
The problem with that kind of thinking, however, is that shame is, in reality, a very useful emotion. “Shame is the basis of morality,” Scheff said. “You can’t have a moral society without shame. It provides the weight for morality. There are a hundred things in your head about what you should or shouldn’t do, but the one that hits you is the one that has shame behind it.”
Scheff suggests that shame — or the reaction to it — can manifest itself in larger acts of aggression, such as wars and other military conflicts. “Especially for leaders, both shame and anger are carefully hidden behind a veil of rationality,” he writes in the article. “The Bush administration may have been deeply embarrassed by the 9/11 attack during their watch and their helplessness to punish the attackers. The invasion of Iraq on the basis of false premises might have served to hide their shame behind anger and aggression.”
While some people are more susceptible to the effects of shame, for others the emotion is more manageable. “Those lucky rascals who as children were treated with sympathetic attention from at least one of their caregivers feel more pride — accepted as they are — and, therefore, less shame and rejection,” Scheff said.
So how does one resolve hidden shame? The answer, according to Scheff, is to have a good laugh. “That is, laugh at yourself or at the universe or at your circumstances, but not at other people. Most of the laughing we do in comedy is good. No matter the actors, we are really laughing at our own selves that we see in their foolishness.”
- T. Scheff. The Ubiquity of Hidden Shame in Modernity. Cultural Sociology, 2014; DOI: 10.1177/1749975513507244
By Stuart Forsyth
Human beings are emotional creatures whose state of mind can usually be observed through their facial expressions.
A commonly-held belief, first proposed by Dr Paul Ekman, posits there are six basic emotions which are universally recognised and easily interpreted through specific facial expressions, regardless of language or culture. These are: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.
New research published in the journal Current Biology by scientists at the University of Glasgow has challenged this view, and suggested that there are only four basic emotions.
Their conclusion was reached by studying the range of different muscles within the face – or Action Units as researchers refer to them – involved in signalling different emotions, as well as the time-frame over which each muscle was activated.
This is the first such study to objectively examine the ‘temporal dynamics’ of facial expressions, made possible by using a unique Generative Face Grammar platform developed at the University of Glasgow.
The team from the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology claim that while the facial expression signals of happiness and sadness are clearly distinct across time, fear and surprise share a common signal – the wide open eyes – early in the signalling dynamics.
Similarly, anger and disgust share the wrinkled nose. It is these early signals that could represent more basic danger signals. Later in the signalling dynamics, facial expressions transmit signals that distinguish all six ‘classic’ facial expressions of emotion.
Lead researcher Dr Rachael Jack said: “Our results are consistent with evolutionary predictions, where signals are designed by both biological and social evolutionary pressures to optimise their function.
“First, early danger signals confer the best advantages to others by enabling the fastest escape. Secondly, physiological advantages for the expresser – the wrinkled nose prevents inspiration of potentially harmful particles, whereas widened eyes increases intake of visual information useful for escape – are enhanced when the face movements are made early.
“What our research shows is that not all facial muscles appear simultaneously during facial expressions, but rather develop over time supporting a hierarchical biologically-basic to socially-specific information over time.”
In compiling their research the team used special techniques and software developed at the University of Glasgow to synthesise all facial expressions.
The Generative Face Grammar – developed by Professor Philippe Schyns, Dr Oliver Garrod and Dr Hui Yu – uses cameras to capture a three-dimensional image of faces of individuals specially trained to be able to activate all 42 individual facial muscles independently.
From this a computer can then generate specific or random facial expressions on a 3D model based on the activation of different Actions Units or groups of units to mimic all facial expressions.
By asking volunteers to observe the realistic model as it pulled various expressions – thereby providing a true four-dimensional experience – and state which emotion was being expressed the researchers are able to see which specific Action Units observers associate with particular emotions.
It was through this method they found that the signals for fear/surprise and anger/disgust were confused at the early stage of transmission and only became clearer later when other Action Units were activated.
Dr Jack said: “Our research questions the notion that human emotion communication comprises six basic, psychologically irreducible categories. Instead we suggest there are four basic expressions of emotion.
“We show that ‘basic’ facial expression signals are perceptually segmented across time and follow an evolving hierarchy of signals over time – from the biologically-rooted basic signals to more complex socially-specific signals.
“Over time, and as humans migrated across the globe, socioecological diversity probably further specialised once-common facial expressions, altering the number, variety and form of signals across cultures.”
The researchers intend to develop their study by looking at facial expressions of different cultures, including East Asian populations whom they have already ascertained interpret some of the six classical emotions differently – placing more emphasis on eye signals than mouth movements compared to Westerners.
23 de outubro de 2013
Christiana Figueres, chefe do IPCC, ficou emocionada ao falar sobre impacto das alterações nas futuras gerações em conferência em Londres
Secretária-executiva do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas da ONU (IPCC), a costa-riquenha Christiana Figueres fez uma defesa apaixonada das negociações em torno de um novo acordo global para combater o problema em conferência nesta segunda-feira em Londres. Em seu discurso durante o evento, Figueres reclamou da lentidão nas conversas, mas mostrou-se otimista quanto à possibilidade de em 2015 ser assinado um acerto que obrigue o cumprimento de metas de redução da emissão de gases do efeito estufa pelos principais países poluidores do mundo a partir de 2020.
– Sempre fico frustrada com o ritmo das negociações, nasci impaciente – disse Figueres. – Estamos avançando muito, muito devagar, mas estamos indo na direção certa e é isso que me dá coragem e esperança.
E Figueres manteve o tom apaixonado depois do discurso. Abordada por um repórter da rede britânica de TV BBC, que lhe perguntou sobre o impacto das mudanças climáticas, ela ficou emocionada e chegou a chorar.
– Estou comprometida com (a luta contra) as mudanças climáticas por causa das futuras gerações e não por nós, certo? Nós estamos partindo daqui – disse. – Simplesmente sinto que é totalmente injusto e imoral o que estamos fazendo com as futuras gerações. Estamos condenando elas antes mesmo de elas nascerem. Mas temos uma escolha sobre isso, esta é a questão, temos uma escolha. Se (as mudanças climáticas) forem inevitáveis, então que sejam, mas temos a escolha de tentar mudar o futuro que vamos dar às nossas crianças.
May 22, 2013 — Until now, little was scientifically known about the human potential to cultivate compassion — the emotional state of caring for people who are suffering in a way that motivates altruistic behavior.
A new study by researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that adults can be trained to be more compassionate. The report, published Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, investigates whether training adults in compassion can result in greater altruistic behavior and related changes in neural systems underlying compassion.
“Our fundamental question was, ‘Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset?'” says Helen Weng, lead author of the study and a graduate student in clinical psychology. “Our evidence points to yes.”
In the study, the investigators trained young adults to engage in compassion meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique to increase caring feelings for people who are suffering. In the meditation, participants envisioned a time when someone has suffered and then practiced wishing that his or her suffering was relieved. They repeated phrases to help them focus on compassion such as, “May you be free from suffering. May you have joy and ease.”
Participants practiced with different categories of people, first starting with a loved one, someone whom they easily felt compassion for, like a friend or family member. Then, they practiced compassion for themselves and, then, a stranger. Finally, they practiced compassion for someone they actively had conflict with called the “difficult person,” such as a troublesome coworker or roommate.
“It’s kind of like weight training,” Weng says. “Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”
Compassion training was compared to a control group that learned cognitive reappraisal, a technique where people learn to reframe their thoughts to feel less negative. Both groups listened to guided audio instructions over the Internet for 30 minutes per day for two weeks. “We wanted to investigate whether people could begin to change their emotional habits in a relatively short period of time,” says Weng.
The real test of whether compassion could be trained was to see if people would be willing to be more altruistic — even helping people they had never met. The research tested this by asking the participants to play a game in which they were given the opportunity to spend their own money to respond to someone in need (called the “Redistribution Game”). They played the game over the Internet with two anonymous players, the “Dictator” and the “Victim.” They watched as the Dictator shared an unfair amount of money (only $1 out of $10) with the Victim. They then decided how much of their own money to spend (out of $5) in order to equalize the unfair split and redistribute funds from the Dictator to the Victim.
“We found that people trained in compassion were more likely to spend their own money altruistically to help someone who was treated unfairly than those who were trained in cognitive reappraisal,” Weng says.
“We wanted to see what changed inside the brains of people who gave more to someone in need. How are they responding to suffering differently now?” asks Weng. The study measured changes in brain responses using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before and after training. In the MRI scanner, participants viewed images depicting human suffering, such as a crying child or a burn victim, and generated feelings of compassion towards the people using their practiced skills. The control group was exposed to the same images, and asked to recast them in a more positive light as in reappraisal.
The researchers measured how much brain activity had changed from the beginning to the end of the training, and found that the people who were the most altruistic after compassion training were the ones who showed the most brain changes when viewing human suffering. They found that activity was increased in the inferior parietal cortex, a region involved in empathy and understanding others. Compassion training also increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the extent to which it communicated with the nucleus accumbens, brain regions involved in emotion regulation and positive emotions.
“People seem to become more sensitive to other people’s suffering, but this is challenging emotionally. They learn to regulate their emotions so that they approach people’s suffering with caring and wanting to help rather than turning away,” explains Weng.
Compassion, like physical and academic skills, appears to be something that is not fixed, but rather can be enhanced with training and practice. “The fact that alterations in brain function were observed after just a total of seven hours of training is remarkable,” explains UW-Madison psychology and psychiatry professor Richard J. Davidson, founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and senior author of the article.
“There are many possible applications of this type of training,” Davidson says. “Compassion and kindness training in schools can help children learn to be attuned to their own emotions as well as those of others, which may decrease bullying. Compassion training also may benefit people who have social challenges such as social anxiety or antisocial behavior.”
Weng is also excited about how compassion training can help the general population. “We studied the effects of this training with healthy participants, which demonstrated that this can help the average person. I would love for more people to access the training and try it for a week or two — what changes do they see in their own lives?”
Both compassion and reappraisal trainings are available on the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds’ website. “I think we are only scratching the surface of how compassion can transform people’s lives,” says Weng.
Other authors on the paper were Andrew S. Fox, Alexander J. Shackman, Diane E. Stodola, Jessica Z. K. Caldwell, Matthew C. Olson, and Gregory M. Rogers.
The work was supported by funds from the National Institutes of Health; a Hertz Award to the UW-Madison Department of Psychology; the Fetzer Institute; The John Templeton Foundation; the Impact Foundation; the J. W. Kluge Foundation; the Mental Insight Foundation; the Mind and Life Institute; and gifts from Bryant Wanguard, Ralph Robinson, and Keith and Arlene Bronstein.
- H. Y. Weng, A. S. Fox, A. J. Shackman, D. E. Stodola, J. Z. K. Caldwell, M. C. Olson, G. M. Rogers, R. J. Davidson.Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering. Psychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612469537
ScienceDaily (Aug. 30, 2012) — Leaders often use rousing speeches to evoke powerful emotions, and those emotions may predict when a group will commit an act of violence or terrorism, according to new research published in the journal Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression.Analysis of speeches delivered by government, activist and terrorist leaders found that leaders’ expressions of anger, contempt and disgust spiked immediately before their group committed an act of violence.
“When leaders express a combination of anger, contempt and disgust in their speeches, it seems to be instrumental in inciting a group to act violently,” said David Matsumoto, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University.
As part of a five-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Minerva Initiative, Matsumoto and colleagues studied the transcripts of speeches delivered by the leaders of ideologically motivated groups over the past 100 years. The analysis included such speeches as Osama bin Laden’s remarks leading up to the bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The researchers analyzed the pattern of emotions conveyed when leaders spoke about their rival group and examined speeches given at three points in time before a specific act of aggression. They compared the results with the content of speeches delivered by leaders whose groups engaged in nonviolent acts of resistance such as rallies and protests.
Among leaders of groups that committed aggressive acts, there was a significant increase in expressions of anger, contempt and disgust from 3 to 6 months prior to the group committing an act of violence. For nonviolent groups, expressions of anger, contempt and disgust decreased from 3 to 6 months prior to the group staging an act of peaceful resistance.
Matsumoto says the findings suggest a leader’s emotional tone may cause the rest of the group to share those emotions, which then motivates the group to take part in violent actions.
“For groups that committed acts of violence, there seemed to be this saturation of anger, contempt and disgust. That combination seems to be a recipe for hatred that leads to violence,” Matsumoto said.
Anger, contempt and disgust may be particularly important drivers of violent behavior because they are often expressed in response to moral violations, says Matsumoto, and when an individual feels these emotions about a person or group, they often feel that their opponent is unchangeable and inherently bad.
“Understanding the preceding factors that lead to terrorist attacks and violent events may help predict these incidents or prevent them occurring in the first place,” Matsumoto said. “Studying the emotions expressed by leaders is just one piece of the puzzle but it could be a helpful predictor of terrorist attacks.”
This study was one of the first seven projects funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Minerva Initiative. The Initiative was established in 2008 to fund social science research on areas of strategic importance to U.S. national security policy.
- David Matsumoto, Hyisung C. Hwang, Mark G. Frank.Emotions expressed in speeches by leaders of ideologically motivated groups predict aggression.Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 2012; : 1 DOI: 10.1080/19434472.2012.716449
Quase humanos (Veja)
Neurocientistas publicam manifesto afirmando que mamíferos, aves e até polvos têm consciência e esquentam debate sobre direitos dos animais
Chimpanzé alimenta um filhote de tigre dourado, em mini zoológico na cidade de Samutprakan, Tailândia: percepção de sua própria existência e do mundo ao seu redor (Rungroj Yongrit/EFE)
Os seres humanos não são os únicos animais que têm consciência. A afirmação não é de ativistas radicais defensores dos direitos dos animais. Pelo contrário. Um grupo de neurocientistas — doutores de instituições de renome como Caltech, MIT e Instituto Max Planck — publicou um manifesto asseverando que o estudo da neurociência evoluiu de modo tal que não é mais possível excluir mamíferos, aves e até polvos do grupo de seres vivos que possuem consciência. O documento divulgado no último sábado (7), em Cambridge, esquenta uma discussão que divide cientistas, filósofos e legisladores há séculos sobre a natureza da consciência e sua implicação na vida dos humanos e de outros animais.
Apresentado à Nasa nesta quinta-feira, o manifesto não traz novas descobertas da neurociência — é uma compilação das pesquisas da área. Representa, no entanto, um posicionamento inédito sobre a capacidade de outros seres perceberem sua própria existência e o mundo ao seu redor. Em entrevista ao site de VEJA, Philip Low, criador do iBrain, o aparelho que recentemente permitiu a leitura das ondas cerebrais do físico Stephen Hawking, e um dos articuladores do movimento, explica que nos últimos 16 anos a neurociência descobriu que as áreas do cérebro que distinguem seres humanos de outros animais não são as que produzem a consciência. “As estruturas cerebrais responsáveis pelos processos que geram a consciência nos humanos e outros animais são equivalentes”, diz. “Concluímos então que esses animais também possuem consciência.”
O que é consciência?
PARA A FILOSOFIA
Filosoficamente, é o entendimento que uma criatura tem sobre si e seu lugar na natureza. Alguns atributos definem a consciência, como ser senciente, ou seja, sentir o mundo à sua volta e reagir a ele; estar alerta ou acordado ou ter consciência sobre si mesmo (o que, para a filosofia já basta para incluir alguns animais “não-linguísticos” entre os seres com consciência).Fonte: Enciclopédia de Filosofia de Stanford
PARA A CIÊNCIA
A ciência considera como consciência as percepções sobre o mundo e as sensações corporais, junto com os pensamentos, memórias, ações e emoções. Ou seja, tudo o que escapa aos processos cerebrais automáticos e chega à nossa atenção. O conteúdo da consciência geralmente é estudado usando exames de imagens cerebrais para comparar quais estímulos chegam à nossa atenção e quais não. Como resumiu o neurocientista Bernard Baars, em 1987, o cérebro é como um teatro no qual a maioria dos eventos neurais são inconscientes, portanto acontecem “nos bastidores”, enquanto alguns poucos entram no processo consciente, ou seja, chegam ao “palco”.
Estudos recentes, como os da pesquisadora Diana Reiss (uma das cientistas que assinaram o manifesto), da Hunter College, nos Estados Unidos, mostram que golfinhos e elefantes também são capazes de se reconhecer no espelho. Essa capacidade é importante para definir se um ser está consciente. O mesmo vale para chimpanzés e pássaros. Outros tipos de comportamento foram analisados pelos neurocientistas. “Quando seu cachorro está sentindo dor ou feliz em vê-lo, há evidências de que no cérebro deles há estruturas semelhantes às que são ativadas quando exibimos medo e dor e prazer”, diz Low.
Personalidade animal – Dizer que os animais têm consciência pode trazer várias implicações para a sociedade e o modo como os animais são tratados. Steven Wise, advogado e especialista americano em direito dos animais, diz que o manifesto chega em boa hora. “O papel dos advogados e legisladores é transformar conclusões científicas como essa em legislação que ajudará a organizar a sociedade”, diz em entrevista ao site de VEJA. Wise é líder do Projeto dos Direitos de Animais não Humanos. O advogado coordena um grupo de 70 profissionais que organizam informações, casos e jurisprudência para entrar com o primeiro processo em favor de que alguns animais — como grandes primatas, papagaios africanos e golfinhos — tenham seu status equiparado ao dos humanos.
O manifesto de Cambridge dá mais munição ao grupo de Wise para vencer o caso. “Queremos que esses animais recebam direitos fundamentais, que a justiça as enxergue como pessoas, no sentido legal.” Isso, de acordo com o advogado, quer dizer que esses animais teriam direito à integridade física e à liberdade, por exemplo. “Temos que parar de pensar que esses animais existem para servir aos seres humanos”, defende Wise. “Eles têm um valor intrínseco, independente de como os avaliamos.”
Questão moral – O manifesto não decreta o fim dos zoológicos ou das churrascarias, muito menos das pesquisas médicas com animais. Contudo, já foi suficiente para provocar reflexão e mudança de comportamento em cientistas, como o próprio Low. “Estou considerando me tornar vegetariano”, diz. “Temos agora que apelar para nossa engenhosidade, para desenvolver tecnologias que nos permitam criar uma sociedade cada vez menos dependente dos animais.” Low se refere principalmente à pesquisa médica. Para estudar a vida, a ciência ainda precisa tirar muitas. De acordo com o neurocientista, o mundo gasta 20 bilhões por ano para matar 100 milhões de vertebrados. Das moléculas medicinais produzidas por esse amontoado de dinheiro e mortes, apenas 6% chega a ser testada em seres humanos. “É uma péssima contabilidade”, diz Low.
Contudo, a pesquisa com animais ainda é necessária. O endocrinologista americano Michael Conn, autor do livro The Animal Research War, sem edição no Brasil, argumenta que se trata de uma escolha priorizar a espécie humana. “Conceitos como os de consentimento e autonomia só fazem sentido dentro de um código moral que diz respeito aos homens, e não aos animais”, disse em entrevista ao site de VEJA. “Nossa obrigação com os animais é fazer com que eles sejam devidamente cuidados, não sofram nem sintam dor — e não tratá-los como se fossem humanos, o que seria uma ficção”, argumenta. “Se pudéssemos utilizar apenas um computador para fazer pesquisas médicas seria ótimo. Mas a verdade é que não é possível ainda.”
A inteligência dos polvos
* * *
“Não é mais possível dizer que não sabíamos”, diz Philip Low (Veja)
Neurocientista explica por que pesquisadores se uniram para assinar manifesto que admite a existência da consciência em todos os mamíferos, aves e outras criaturas, como o polvo, e como essa descoberta pode impactar a sociedade
Estruturas do cérebro responsáveis pela produção da consciência são análogas em humanos e outros animais, dizem neurocientistas (Thinkstock)
O neurocientista canadense Philip Low ganhou destaque no noticiário científico depois deapresentar um projeto em parceria com o físico Stephen Hawking, de 70 anos. Low quer ajudar Hawking, que está completamente paralisado há 40 anos por causa de uma doença degenerativa, a se comunicar com a mente. Os resultados da pesquisa foram revelados no último sábado (7) em uma conferência em Cambridge. Contudo, o principal objetivo do encontro era outro. Nele, neurocientistas de todo o mundo assinaram um manifesto afirmando que todos os mamíferos, aves e outras criaturas, incluindo polvos, têm consciência. Stephen Hawking estava presente no jantar de assinatura do manifesto como convidado de honra.
Low é pesquisador da Universidade Stanford e do MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), ambos nos Estados Unidos. Ele e mais 25 pesquisadores entendem que as estruturas cerebrais que produzem a consciência em humanos também existem nos animais. “As áreas do cérebro que nos distinguem de outros animais não são as que produzem a consciência”, diz Low, que concedeu a seguinte entrevista ao site de VEJA:
Estudos sobre o comportamento animal já afirmam que vários animais possuem certo grau de consciência. O que a neurociência diz a respeito?Descobrimos que as estruturas que nos distinguem de outros animais, como o córtex cerebral, não são responsáveis pela manifestação da consciência. Resumidamente, se o restante do cérebro é responsável pela consciência e essas estruturas são semelhantes entre seres humanos e outros animais, como mamíferos e pássaros, concluímos que esses animais também possuem consciência.
Quais animais têm consciência? Sabemos que todos os mamíferos, todos os pássaros e muitas outras criaturas, como o polvo, possuem as estruturas nervosas que produzem a consciência. Isso quer dizer que esses animais sofrem. É uma verdade inconveniente: sempre foi fácil afirmar que animais não têm consciência. Agora, temos um grupo de neurocientistas respeitados que estudam o fenômeno da consciência, o comportamento dos animais, a rede neural, a anatomia e a genética do cérebro. Não é mais possível dizer que não sabíamos.
É possível medir a similaridade entre a consciência de mamíferos e pássaros e a dos seres humanos? Isso foi deixado em aberto pelo manifesto. Não temos uma métrica, dada a natureza da nossa abordagem. Sabemos que há tipos diferentes de consciência. Podemos dizer, contudo, que a habilidade de sentir dor e prazer em mamíferos e seres humanos é muito semelhante.
Que tipo de comportamento animal dá suporte à ideia de que eles têm consciência?Quando um cachorro está com medo, sentindo dor, ou feliz em ver seu dono, são ativadas em seu cérebro estruturas semelhantes às que são ativadas em humanos quando demonstramos medo, dor e prazer. Um comportamento muito importante é o autorreconhecimento no espelho. Dentre os animais que conseguem fazer isso, além dos seres humanos, estão os golfinhos, chimpanzés, bonobos, cães e uma espécie de pássaro chamada pica-pica.
Quais benefícios poderiam surgir a partir do entendimento da consciência em animais? Há um pouco de ironia nisso. Gastamos muito dinheiro tentando encontrar vida inteligente fora do planeta enquanto estamos cercados de inteligência consciente aqui no planeta. Se considerarmos que um polvo — que tem 500 milhões de neurônios (os humanos tem 100 bilhões) — consegue produzir consciência, estamos muito mais próximos de produzir uma consciência sintética do que pensávamos. É muito mais fácil produzir um modelo com 500 milhões de neurônios do que 100 bilhões. Ou seja, fazer esses modelos sintéticos poderá ser mais fácil agora.
Qual é a ambição do manifesto? Os neurocientistas se tornaram militantes do movimento sobre o direito dos animais? É uma questão delicada. Nosso papel como cientistas não é dizer o que a sociedade deve fazer, mas tornar público o que enxergamos. A sociedade agora terá uma discussão sobre o que está acontecendo e poderá decidir formular novas leis, realizar mais pesquisas para entender a consciência dos animais ou protegê-los de alguma forma. Nosso papel é reportar os dados.
As conclusões do manifesto tiveram algum impacto sobre o seu comportamento? Acho que vou virar vegano. É impossível não se sensibilizar com essa nova percepção sobre os animais, em especial sobre sua experiência do sofrimento. Será difícil, adoro queijo.
O que pode mudar com o impacto dessa descoberta? Os dados são perturbadores, mas muito importantes. No longo prazo, penso que a sociedade dependerá menos dos animais. Será melhor para todos. Deixe-me dar um exemplo. O mundo gasta 20 bilhões de dólares por ano matando 100 milhões de vertebrados em pesquisas médicas. A probabilidade de um remédio advindo desses estudos ser testado em humanos (apenas teste, pode ser que nem funcione) é de 6%. É uma péssima contabilidade. Um primeiro passo é desenvolver abordagens não invasivas. Não acho ser necessário tirar vidas para estudar a vida. Penso que precisamos apelar para nossa própria engenhosidade e desenvolver melhores tecnologias para respeitar a vida dos animais. Temos que colocar a tecnologia em uma posição em que ela serve nossos ideais, em vez de competir com eles.
‘The Outsourced Self,’ by Arlie Russell Hochschild
By JUDITH SHULEVITZ – Published: May 25, 2012
There’s one mistake I worry readers will make about this book, so let me correct it right away: “The Outsourced Self” is not a work of journalism. Though it isn’t exactly not one, either. I guess you’d call it popular sociology, but I think of it more as an act of mourning. Arlie Russell Hochschild’s look at how we meet some of our most personal needs with the aid of paid strangers doesn’t try to be exhaustive; goes light on figures and statistics; and, when itemizing the most outrageous advances in the market for love and care, never lapses into that magazine journalist’s tone of wry amusement.
THE OUTSOURCED SELF
Intimate Life in Market Times
By Arlie Russell Hochschild
Illustrated. 300 pp. Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company. $27.
By the time her book went to press, her reporting was probably outdated, anyway. Who can keep up? Love coaches, wantologists, therapy apps: these former absurdities are now normal. The next phase will surely include “sparking,” in which dating Web sites match customers according to DNA-based immunological profiles. As the chief psychologist at the eHarmony laboratory tells Hochschild, all he needs to do is figure out how to collect cheek swabs.
In any case, Hochschild isn’t really interested in the extremes of the outsourced life. She wants to know what it feels like to be caught in the middle of it. An ethnographic sociologist rather than a quantifier of social trends, Hochschild elicits thoughtful reflections from ordinary people. Then she uses those reflections to chart the confusing intersections between commerce and private life that we all have to navigate now that the purveyors of personal assistance have built strip malls on nearly every acre of our inner selves. Hochschild’s great subject is “emotional labor,” which we usually think of as the psychic work we do, voluntarily, for ourselves and our intimates, to keep our relationships and communities alive. But emotional labor, for her, is also the psychic work we do for pay, so that both we and our clients can gloss over the nakedly transactional aspect of the services on offer. Or it’s the work we do to tamp down our guilt and shame about contracting out undertakings we think we ought to do ourselves. Yet another form of emotional labor involves toggling between all the different kinds of emotional labor without being fazed by the self-alienation and contradictions involved.
In “The Outsourced Self,” Hochschild talks to love coaches, wedding planners, surrogate mothers, nannies, household consultants and elder-care managers, but also, and with deep empathy, their clients. A majority of these people are middle-aged or near middle age; the main thing is, they’re not young, which means they are not yet used to a virtualized and monetized social existence and can still express doubts about it. Most are women, who have long been the main providers of care, love and charity. Hochschild’s consumers buy hyperpersonal services because they lack the family support or social capital or sheer time to meet potential mates, put on weddings, whip up children’s birthday parties, build children’s school projects, or care for deteriorating parents. Or these folks think they just couldn’t perform such tasks as well as the pros. The providers sell their services because the service economy is where the money is, or because they take pleasure in helping others. Everybody worries about preserving the human element in the commercial encounter. Very few succeed.
Evan Katz is a love coach who teaches would-be online daters “How to Write a Profile That Attracts People You Want to Meet.” One of his clients is Grace (virtually all names have been changed), a divorced 49-year-old engineer who wants to search for love as methodically as she solves an engineering problem. Katz tells her “to show the real you through real stories.” When Grace comes up with a story about learning humility by scrubbing toilets at a Zen monastery, he reels her back in: “That might be a little too out there.” On a mass medium like the Internet, the best “real you” is average, not quirky: “Everyone needs to aim for the middle so they can widen their market,” Katz says. He encourages daters to rate themselves from 1 to 10, and not to aim higher than their own rating. On the other hand, he worries that daters will objectify themselves and others so zealously they’ll equate dating and shopping: “They want to quickly comb through the racks and snap their fingers, next . . . next . . . next. . . . You can be too efficient, too focused on your list of desired characteristics, so intent on getting the best deal that you pass over the right one.” Luckily, Grace escapes that trap when she agrees to go out with a tattooed, bald musician who doesn’t fit the criteria on her list, and falls in love.
Hochschild has a gentle, nonjudgmental style, but some of her interviews read like long, sad sighs. Occasionally, they bring to mind novels and movies about the British class system. Like Kazuo Ishiguro in “The Remains of the Day” or Robert Altman in “Gosford Park,” Hochschild can make us feel the gulf between employers, who imagine that relations between themselves and their emotional delegates are mutually beneficial, and the employed, who grasp that the cash they take is meant to make them invisible. “I’ll be in a room bustling about and they won’t be aware I’m there,” says Rose, a “household manager” who functions as a housekeeper, baby sitter and personal assistant for a wealthy family in Westchester County. When she substitutes for Norma, her employer, at Norma’s children’s bake sales, the mothers ignore her: “A lot of those mothers know me but talk to me only to ask about Norma.”
The most haunting of Hochschild’s tales throb with pain, as when she tracks the flow of mother love from the third world to the first, a form of global commerce entered into out of desperation on all sides. She interviews surrogate mothers in India, destitute women who rent out their wombs to bargain-basement fertility clinics that feel like baby-manufacturing assembly lines. These modern-day handmaidens struggle with the social stigma attached to their work, despite its comparatively high pay, as well as with their own surging love for the fetuses growing inside them. Many do not achieve the requisite detachment. Hochschild contrasts their stories with that of a well-meaning American couple who can’t afford the price of fertility in the United States, and don’t feel they have other options. The wife, though herself of Indian descent, can’t figure out the rules governing her meeting with her Indian surrogate. She knows that Indians don’t touch others as readily as Americans do, but, she explains:
“I didn’t want her to think of me as this big rich American coming in with my money to buy her womb for a while. So I did touch her at some point, I think, her hair or her shoulder. I tried to smile a lot. . . . She didn’t look at ease. It was not the unease of ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this,’ but more the unease of the subordinate meeting her boss.”
Less harrowing, but still a poignant account of a missed opportunity for connection, is the story of Maricel, a Filipino nanny, and her employer, Alice. Deeply loved by both Alice and Clare, Alice’s child, Maricel still feels bereft. Alice, a hard-working Google software designer, thinks Maricel is so good with Clare — “cheerful, relaxed, patient and affectionate” — because she was raised in a warm village culture where “they put family and community first.” Actually, Maricel’s mother, who lost three babies before Maricel was born, never let herself get attached to her daughter and sent her out to a neighbor for care; when the girl happened to be home, the mother disciplined her harshly by pinching her leg. After an early bad marriage, Maricel came to America to make money for her two children. Too busy making ends meet to have paid much attention to her children when she lived with them, she now regrets never having told them she loved them. Contrary to Alice’s fantasy about Maricel’s third-world warmth, Maricel learned the virtues of demonstrating affection from watching “Oprah,” and from her own terrible need for human contact. She lavishes love on Clare because the little girl is her only companion in Alice’s cold, silent house.
“The unforgiving demands of the American workplace impose penalties that reach far beyond the American home,” Hochschild observes. One such penalty falls on children like Maricel’s; they are more likely to fail in school and lurch into a life of crime. But Hochschild thinks that our rush to hand off “emotional labor” hurts us first worlders as well. “My clients outsource patience to me,” a personal assistant tells her. “And once they get in the habit of doing that, they become impatient people.” Could it be, Hochschild asks, “that we are dividing the world into emotional types — order-barking, fast-paced entrepreneurs at the top, and emotionally attuned, human-paced mediators at the bottom?”
If outsourcing the labors of love discomfits or even damages us, why do we do it so much? One reason is that women aren’t home as much as they used to be — not just mothers, but also all the other women who once held communities together: “Today, 70 percent of all American children live in households where all the adults work. So who now would care for the children, the sick, the elderly? And who would provide, as 19th-century middle-class homemakers were said to do, ‘the sunshine of the home’? Mothers were trying hard, but they were also out billing customers, stocking shelves, teaching classes and treating patients. And so were the once-available maiden aunts, grandmothers, friends and ‘give-you-a-hand’ neighbors.”
So does Hochschild deplore feminism? No. But she does think it has been “abducted,” as she has put it in an essay published elsewhere, by the logic and demands of the marketplace — what she provocatively calls “the religion of capitalism.” Feminism has coincided with a drastic lengthening of work hours and a steep decline in job security, and in America those stressors have not been alleviated by social supports like paid family leave and universal child care, at least not in comparison with most other Western nations. As a result, too many bonds of family and community are left untied by anxious, overworked couples, too many familial functions have to be subcontracted, and too many children perceive themselves as burdens. (One of Hochschild’s finest essays, also published elsewhere, is called “Children as Eavesdroppers”; it describes how children listen closely to their parents’ haggling over child care, and conclude that they are unwanted.) Feminists once dreamed that the work of mothering would be properly valued, maybe even reimbursed, once some portion of it had been redistributed to fathers. Instead, a lot of it is being handed off to strangers — although, to be fair, American men do more than they used to.
On the other hand, the natural bonds of family and “village,” as Hochschild rather nostalgically calls the vanished world of secure communal ties, aren’t necessarily all she cracks them up to be. I was struck by how many of her interview subjects were abused or neglected as children. Gloria, a 23-year-old hotel executive from a broken family, would rather pay for a therapist to keep her marriage going and, when she has children, for sleep coaches and potty trainers and chauffeurs, than rely on friends or family members: “Most families are places of deep injury. . . . Friends are very entangling.” A man with seven children who works 60-hour weeks yet rarely misses a child’s sports event invests in an expensive and officious parenting-evaluation service called Family360, just to make sure he’s as good a husband and father as he can be: “My own father never came to one school event in my entire boyhood . . . not one. . . . I was an all-American in college. He never saw me at the N.C.A.A. championships.” An elder-care manager gives love in abundance to other people’s parents perhaps in part to quash the memory of being beaten by her father and not protected by her mother.
So maybe it’s not so terrible to have packaged care available when the unpackaged kind just won’t do. What is tragic is feeling forced to buy the packaged kind because work is too demanding and the workplace is too inflexible and the loss of face that goes with being a stay-at-home mom or dad, or nurse to a dying parent, is just too galling. Hochschild’s big contribution here, though, is to tally the subtler costs of outsourcing: the “depersonalization of our bonds with others,” the failure to enjoy the process of finding love or planning a wedding, the missing out on one’s children’s childhoods — all the little nontragedies that add up to a thinner, sadder life.
Judith Shulevitz is the author of “The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time.”
ScienceDaily (Oct. 31, 2011) — Cancer doctors want to offer a sympathetic ear, but sometimes miss the cues from patients. To help physicians better address their patients’ fears and worries, a Duke University researcher has developed a new interactive training tool.
The computer tutorial includes feedback on the doctors’ own audio recorded visits with patients, and provides an alternative to more expensive courses.
In a study appearing Nov. 1, 2011, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the research team found that the course resulted in more empathic responses from oncologists, and patients reported greater trust in their doctors — a key component of care that enhances quality of life.
“Earlier studies have shown that oncologists respond to patient distress with empathy only about a quarter of the time,” said James A. Tulsky, MD, director of the Duke Center for Palliative Care and lead author of the study.
“Often, when patients bring up their worries, doctors change the subject or focus on the medical treatment, rather than the emotional concern. Unfortunately, this behavior sends the message, ‘This is not what we’re here to talk about.'”
Tulsky said cancer doctors have many reasons for avoiding emotionally fraught conversations. Some worry that the exchanges will cause rather than ease stress, or that they don’t have time to address non-medical concerns.
Neither is true, Tulsky said, noting his research shows that asking the right questions during patient visits can actually save time and enhance patient satisfaction.
“Oncologists are among the most devoted physicians — passionately committed to their patients. Unfortunately, their patients don’t always know this unless the doctors articulate their empathy explicitly,” Tulsky said. “It’s a skill set. It’s not that the doctors are uncaring, it’s just that communication needs to be taught and learned.”
The current gold standard for teaching empathy skills is a multiday course that involves short lectures and role-playing with actors hired to simulate clinical situations. Such courses are time-consuming and expensive, costing upwards of $3,000 per physician.
Tulsky’s team at Duke developed a computer program that models what happens in these courses. The doctors receive feedback on pre-recorded encounters, and are able to complete the intervention in their offices or homes in a little more than an hour, at a cost of about $100.
To test its effectiveness, Tulsky and colleagues enrolled 48 doctors at Duke, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham, NC, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The research team audio-recorded four to eight visits between the doctors and their patients with advanced cancer.
All the doctors then attended an hour-long lecture on communication skills. Half were randomly assigned to receive a CD-ROM tutorial, the other half received no other intervention.
The CD taught the doctors basic communication skills, including how to recognize and respond to opportunities in conversations when patients share a negative emotion, and how to share information about prognosis. Doctors also heard examples from their own clinic encounters, with feedback on how they could improve. They were asked to commit to making changes in their practice and then reminded of these prior to their next clinic visits.
Afterward, all the doctors were again recorded during patient visits, and the encounters were assessed by both patients and trained listeners who evaluated the conversations for how well the doctors responded to empathic statements.
Oncologists who had not taken the CD course made no improvement in the way they responded to patients when confronted with concerns or fears. Doctors in the trained group, however, responded empathically twice as often as those who received no training. In addition, they were better at eliciting patient concerns, using tactics to promote conversations rather than shut them down.
“Patient trust in physicians increased significantly,” Tulsky said, adding that patients report feeling better when they believe their doctors are on their side. “This is exciting, because it’s an easy, relatively inexpensive way to train physicians to respond to patients’ most basic needs.”
Although the CD course is not yet widely available, efforts are underway to develop it for broader distribution.
In addition to Tulsky, study authors include: Robert M. Arnold; Stewart C. Alexander; Maren K. Olsen; Amy S. Jeffreys; Keri L. Rodriguez; Celette Sugg Skinner; David Farrell; Amy P. Abernethy; and Kathryn I. Pollak.
Funding for the study came from the National Cancer Institute. Study authors reported no conflicts.