Arquivo da tag: Psicologia

Doomsday Clock Set at 3 Minutes to Midnight (Live Science)

by Megan Gannon, News Editor   |   January 22, 2015 01:25pm ET

Of gods and men: Societies living in harsh environments are more likely to believe in moralizing gods (Science Daily)

Date: November 10, 2014

Source: National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)

Summary: New research finds that cultures living in harsher ecosystems with limited resources are more prone to a belief in moralizing, high gods. The results indicate that other cross-disciplinary factors, including as political complexity, also influence this belief.


Just as physical adaptations help populations prosper in inhospitable habitats, belief in moralizing, high gods might be similarly advantageous for human cultures in poorer environments. A new study from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) suggests that societies with less access to food and water are more likely to believe in these types of deities.

“When life is tough or when it’s uncertain, people believe in big gods,” says Russell Gray, a professor at the University of Auckland and a founding director of the Max Planck Institute for History and the Sciences in Jena, Germany. “Prosocial behavior maybe helps people do well in harsh or unpredictable environments.”

Gray and his coauthors found a strong correlation between belief in high gods who enforce a moral code and other societal characteristics. Political complexity–namely a social hierarchy beyond the local community– and the practice of animal husbandry were both strongly associated with a belief in moralizing gods.

The emergence of religion has long been explained as a result of either culture or environmental factors but not both. The new findings imply that complex practices and characteristics thought to be exclusive to humans arise from a medley of ecological, historical, and cultural variables.

“When researchers discuss the forces that shaped human history, there is considerable disagreement as to whether our behavior is primarily determined by culture or by the environment,” says primary author Carlos Botero, a researcher at the Initiative for Biological Complexity at North Carolina State University. “We wanted to throw away all preconceived notions regarding these processes and look at all the potential drivers together to see how different aspects of the human experience may have contributed to the behavioral patterns we see today.”

The paper, which is now available online, will be published in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. To study variables associated with the environment, history, and culture, the research team included experts in biology, ecology, linguistics, anthropology, and even religious studies. The senior author, Gray, studies the intersection of psychology and linguistics, while Botero, an evolutionary ecologist, has examined coordinated behaviors in birds.

This study began with a NESCent working group that explored the evolution of human cultures. On a whim, Botero plotted ethnographic data of societies that believe in moralizing, high gods and found that their global distribution is quite similar to a map of cooperative breeding in birds. The parallels between the two suggested that ecological factors must play a part. Furthermore, recent research has supported a connection between a belief in moralizing gods and group cooperation. However, prior to this study, evidence supporting a relationship between such beliefs and the environment was elusive.

“A lot of evolutionists have been busy trying to bang religion on the head. I think the challenge is to explain it,” Gray says.

“Although some aspects of religion appear maladaptive, the near universal prevalence of religion suggests that there’s got to be some adaptive value and by looking at how these things vary ecologically, we get some insight.”

Botero, Gray, and their coauthors used historical, social, and ecological data for 583 societies to illustrate the multifaceted relationship between belief in moralizing, high gods and external variables. Whereas previous research relied on rough estimates of ecological conditions, this study used high-resolution global datasets for variables like plant growth, precipitation, and temperature. The team also mined the Ethnographic Atlas– an electronic database of more than a thousand societies from the 20th century– for geographic coordinates and sociological data including the presence of religious beliefs, agriculture, and animal husbandry.

“The goal became not just to look at the ecological variables, but to look at the whole thing. Once we accounted for as many other factors as we could, we wanted to see if we could still detect an environmental effect,” Botero says. “The overall picture is that these beliefs are ultimately shaped by a combination of historical, ecological, and social factors.”

Botero believes that this study is just the tip of the iceberg in examining human behavior from a cross-disciplinary standpoint. The team plans to further this study by exploring the processes that have influenced the evolution of other human behaviors including taboos, circumcision, and the modification of natural habitats.

“We are at an unprecedented time in history,” Botero says. “Now we’re able to harness both data and a combination of multidisciplinary expertise to explore these kinds of questions in an empirical way.”


Journal Reference:

  1. C. A. Botero, B. Gardner, K. R. Kirby, J. Bulbulia, M. C. Gavin, R. D. Gray. The ecology of religious beliefsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1408701111

Mudança climática (Folha de S.Paulo)

7/11/2014

Eduardo Giannetti

Em “Reasons and Persons”, uma das mais inovadoras obras de filosofia analítica dos últimos 30 anos, o filósofo Derek Parfit propõe um intrigante “experimento mental”. A situação descrita é hipotética, mas ajuda a explicitar um ponto nevrálgico do maior desafio humano: limitar o aquecimento global a 2°C acima do nível pré-industrial até o final do século 21.

Imagine uma pessoa afivelada a uma cama com eletrodos colados em suas têmporas. Ao se girar um botão situado em outro local a corrente nos eletrodos aumenta em grau infinitesimal, de modo que o paciente não chegue a sentir. Um Big Mac gratuito é então ofertado a quem girar o botão. Ocorre, contudo, que quando milhares de pessoas fazem isso –sem que cada uma saiba dos outros– a descarga de energia produzida é suficiente para eletrocutar a vítima.

Quem é responsável pelo que? Algo tenebroso foi perpetrado, mas a quem atribuir a culpa? O efeito isolado de cada giro do botão é por definição imperceptível –são todos “torturadores inofensivos”. Mas o resultado conjunto dessa miríade de ações é ofensivo ao extremo. Até que ponto a somatória de ínfimas partículas de culpa se acumula numa gigantesca dívida moral coletiva?

A mudança climática em curso equivale a uma espécie de eletrocussão da biosfera. Quem a deseja? Até onde sei, ninguém. Trata-se da alquimia perversa de inumeráveis atos humanos, cada um deles isoladamente ínfimo, mas que não resulta de nenhuma intenção humana. E quem assume –ou deveria assumir– a culpa por ela? A maioria e ninguém, ainda que alguns sejam mais culpados que outros.

Os 7 bilhões de habitantes do planeta pertencem a três grupos: cerca de 1 bilhão respondem por 50% das emissões totais de gases-estufa, ao passo que os 3 bilhões seguintes por 45%. Os 3 bilhões na base da pirâmide de energia (metade sem acesso a eletricidade) respondem por apenas 5%. Por seu modo de vida e vulnerabilidade, este grupo –o único inocente– será o mais tragicamente afetado pelo “giro de botão” dos demais.

Descarbonizar é preciso. Segundo o recém-publicado relatório do painel do clima da ONU, limitar o aquecimento a 2°C exigirá cortar as emissões antropogênicas de 40% a 70% em relação a 2010 até 2050 e zerá-las até o final do século. Como chegar lá?

A complexidade do desafio é esmagadora. Contar com a gradual conscientização dos “torturadores inocentes” parece irrealista. Pagar para ver e apostar na tecnologia como tábua de salvação seria temerário ao extremo. O protagonista da ação, creio eu, deveria ser a estrutura de incentivos: precificar o carbono e colocar a força do sistema de preços para trabalhar no âmbito da descarbonização.

Denying problems when we don’t like the political solutions (Duke University)

6-Nov-2014

Steve Hartsoe

Duke study sheds light on why conservatives, liberals disagree so vehemently

DURHAM, N.C. — There may be a scientific answer for why conservatives and liberals disagree so vehemently over the existence of issues like climate change and specific types of crime.

A new study from Duke University finds that people will evaluate scientific evidence based on whether they view its policy implications as politically desirable. If they don’t, then they tend to deny the problem even exists.

“Logically, the proposed solution to a problem, such as an increase in government regulation or an extension of the free market, should not influence one’s belief in the problem. However, we find it does,” said co-author Troy Campbell, a Ph.D. candidate at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “The cure can be more immediately threatening than the problem.”

The study, “Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief,” appears in the November issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (viewable athttp://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/107/5/809/).

The researchers conducted three experiments (with samples ranging from 120 to 188 participants) on three different issues — climate change, air pollution that harms lungs, and crime.

“The goal was to test, in a scientifically controlled manner, the question: Does the desirability of a solution affect beliefs in the existence of the associated problem? In other words, does what we call ‘solution aversion’ exist?” Campbell said.

“We found the answer is yes. And we found it occurs in response to some of the most common solutions for popularly discussed problems.”

For climate change, the researchers conducted an experiment to examine why more Republicans than Democrats seem to deny its existence, despite strong scientific evidence that supports it.

One explanation, they found, may have more to do with conservatives’ general opposition to the most popular solution — increasing government regulation — than with any difference in fear of the climate change problem itself, as some have proposed.

Participants in the experiment, including both self-identified Republicans and Democrats, read a statement asserting that global temperatures will rise 3.2 degrees in the 21st century. They were then asked to evaluate a proposed policy solution to address the warming.

When the policy solution emphasized a tax on carbon emissions or some other form of government regulation, which is generally opposed by Republican ideology, only 22 percent of Republicans said they believed the temperatures would rise at least as much as indicated by the scientific statement they read.

But when the proposed policy solution emphasized the free market, such as with innovative green technology, 55 percent of Republicans agreed with the scientific statement.

For Democrats, the same experiment recorded no difference in their belief, regardless of the proposed solution to climate change.

“Recognizing this effect is helpful because it allows researchers to predict not just what problems people will deny, but who will likely deny each problem,” said co-author Aaron Kay, an associate professor at Fuqua. “The more threatening a solution is to a person, the more likely that person is to deny the problem.”

The researchers found liberal-leaning individuals exhibited a similar aversion to solutions they viewed as politically undesirable in an experiment involving violent home break-ins. When the proposed solution called for looser versus tighter gun-control laws, those with more liberal gun-control ideologies were more likely to downplay the frequency of violent home break-ins.

“We should not just view some people or group as anti-science, anti-fact or hyper-scared of any problems,” Kay said. “Instead, we should understand that certain problems have particular solutions that threaten some people and groups more than others. When we realize this, we understand those who deny the problem more and we improve our ability to better communicate with them.”

Campbell added that solution aversion can help explain why political divides become so divisive and intractable.

“We argue that the political divide over many issues is just that, it’s political,” Campbell said. “These divides are not explained by just one party being more anti-science, but the fact that in general people deny facts that threaten their ideologies, left, right or center.”

The researchers noted there are additional factors that can influence how people see the policy implications of science. Additional research using larger samples and more specific methods would provide an even clearer picture, they said.

###

The study was funded by The Fuqua School of Business.

CITATION: Troy Campbell, Aaron Kay, Duke University (2014). “Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(5), 809-824.http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037963

Change your walking style, change your mood (Science Daily)

Date: October 15, 2014

Source: Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

Summary: Our mood can affect how we walk — slump-shouldered if we’re sad, bouncing along if we’re happy. Now researchers have shown it works the other way too — making people imitate a happy or sad way of walking actually affects their mood.

Man walking (stock image). Subjects in this study who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style. Credit: © connel_design / Fotolia

Our mood can affect how we walk — slump-shouldered if we’re sad, bouncing along if we’re happy. Now researchers have shown it works the other way too — making people imitate a happy or sad way of walking actually affects their mood.

Subjects who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style, according to the study published in theJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.

CIFAR Senior Fellow Nikolaus Troje (Queen’s University), a co-author on the paper, has shown in past research that depressed people move very differently than happy people.

“It is not surprising that our mood, the way we feel, affects how we walk, but we want to see whether the way we move also affects how we feel,” Troje says.

He and his colleagues showed subjects a list of positive and negative words, such as “pretty,” “afraid” and “anxious” and then asked them to walk on a treadmill while they measured their gait and posture. A screen showed the subjects a gauge that moved left or right depending on whether their walking style was more depressed or happier. But the subjects didn’t know what the gauge was measuring. Researchers told some subjects to try and move the gauge left, while others were told to move it right.

“They would learn very quickly to walk the way we wanted them to walk,” Troje says.

Afterward, the subjects had to write down as many words as they could remember from the earlier list of positive and negative words. Those who had been walking in a depressed style remembered many more negative words. The difference in recall suggests that the depressed walking style actually created a more depressed mood.

The study builds on our understanding of how mood can affect memory. Clinically depressed patients are known to remember negative events, particularly those about themselves, much more than positive life events, Troje says. And remembering the bad makes them feel even worse.

“If you can break that self-perpetuating cycle, you might have a strong therapeutic tool to work with depressive patients.”

The study also contributes to the questions asked in CIFAR’s Neural Computation & Adaptive Perception program, which aims to unlock the mystery of how our brains convert sensory stimuli into information and to recreate human-style learning in computers.

“As social animals we spend so much time watching other people, and we are experts at retrieving information about other people from all sorts of different sources,” Troje says. Those sources include facial expression, posture and body movement. Developing a better understanding of the biological algorithms in our brains that process stimuli — including information from our own movements — can help researchers develop better artificial intelligence, while learning more about ourselves in the process.


Journal Reference:

  1. Johannes Michalak, Katharina Rohde, Nikolaus F. Troje. How we walk affects what we remember: Gait modifications through biofeedback change negative affective memory bias. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 2015; 46: 121 DOI: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2014.09.004

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola (Slate)

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesSuspected 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.

Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesA 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.

Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesA 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.

Benjamin Hale is associate professor of philosophy and environmental studies at the University of Colorado–Boulder. He is vice president of the International Society of Environmental Ethics and co-editor of the journal Ethics, Policy & Environment.

Dogs can be pessimists, too (Science Daily)

Date: September 18, 2014

Source: University of Sydney

Summary: Dogs generally seem to be cheerful, happy-go-lucky characters, so you might expect that most would have an optimistic outlook on life. In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others, new research shows.

English bulldog puppies. Some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others. In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others, research from the University of Sydney shows. Credit: © B.Stefanov / Fotolia

Dogs generally seem to be cheerful, happy-go-lucky characters, so you might expect that most would have an optimistic outlook on life.

In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others, research from the University of Sydney shows.

“This research is exciting because it measures positive and negative emotional states in dogs objectively and non-invasively. It offers researchers and dog owners an insight into the outlook of dogs and how that changes,” said Dr Melissa Starling, from the Faculty of Veterinary Science. Her PhD research findings are published in PLOS One today.

“Finding out as accurately as possible whether a particular dog is optimistic or pessimistic is particularly helpful in the context of working and service dogs and has important implications for animal welfare.”

Dogs were taught to associate two different sounds (two octaves apart) with whether they would get the preferred reward of milk or instead get the same amount of water. Once the dogs have learnt the discrimination task, they are presented with ‘ambiguous’ tones.

If dogs respond after ambiguous tones, it shows that they expect good things will happen to them, and they are called optimistic. They can show how optimistic they are by which tones they respond to. A very optimistic dog may even respond to tones that sound more like those played before water is offered.

“Of the dogs we tested we found more were optimistic than pessimistic but it is too early to say if that is true of the general dog population,” said Dr Starling.

However it does mean that both individuals and institutions (kennels, dog minders) can have a much more accurate insight into the emotional make-up of their dogs.

According to the research a dog with an optimistic personality expects more good things to happen, and less bad things. She will take risks and gain access to rewards. She is a dog that picks herself up when things don’t go her way, and tries again. Minor setbacks don’t bother her.

If your dog has a pessimistic personality, he expects less good things to happen and more bad things. This may make him cautious and risk averse. He may readily give up when things don’t go his way, because minor setbacks distress him. He may not be unhappy per se, but he is likely to be most content with the status quo and need some encouragement to try new things.

“Pessimistic dogs appeared to be much more stressed by failing a task than optimistic dogs. They would whine and pace and avoid repeating the task while the optimistic dogs would appear unfazed and continue,” said Dr Starling.

“This research could help working dog trainers select dogs best suited to working roles. If we knew how optimistic or pessimistic the best candidates for a working role are, we could test dogs’ optimism early and identify good candidates for training for that role. A pessimistic dog that avoids risks would be better as a guide dog while an optimistic, persistent dog would be more suited to detecting drugs or explosives.”

Dr Starling has been working with Assistance Dogs Australia, a charity organisation that provides service and companion dogs to people with disabilities, to investigate whether an optimism measure could aid in selecting suitable candidates for training.

The research not only suggests how personality may affect the way dogs see the world and how they behave but how positive or negative their current mood is.

“This research has the potential to completely remodel how animal welfare is assessed. If we know how optimistic or pessimistic an animal usually is, it’s possible to track changes in that optimism that will indicate when it is in a more positive or negative emotional state than usual,” said Dr Starling.

“The remarkable power of this is the opportunity to essentially ask a dog ‘How are you feeling?’ and get an answer. It could be used to monitor their welfare in any environment, to assess how effective enrichment activities might be in improving welfare, and pinpoint exactly what a dog finds emotionally distressing.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Melissa J. Starling, Nicholas Branson, Denis Cody, Timothy R. Starling, Paul D. McGreevy. Canine Sense and Sensibility: Tipping Points and Response Latency Variability as an Optimism Index in a Canine Judgement Bias Assessment. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (9): e107794 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0107794

Number-crunching could lead to unethical choices, says new study (Science Daily)

Date: September 15, 2014

Source: University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Summary: Calculating the pros and cons of a potential decision is a way of decision-making. But repeated engagement with numbers-focused calculations, especially those involving money, can have unintended negative consequences.


Calculating the pros and cons of a potential decision is a way of decision-making. But repeated engagement with numbers-focused calculations, especially those involving money, can have unintended negative consequences, including social and moral transgressions, says new study co-authored by a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Based on several experiments, researchers concluded that people in a “calculative mindset” as a result of number-crunching are more likely to analyze non-numerical problems mathematically and not take into account social, moral or interpersonal factors.

“Performing calculations, whether related to money or not, seemed to encourage people to engage in unethical behaviors to better themselves,” says Chen-Bo Zhong, an associate professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the Rotman School, who co-authored the study with Long Wang of City University of Hong Kong and J. Keith Murnighan from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Participants in a set of experiments displayed significantly more selfish behavior in games where they could opt to promote their self-interest over a stranger’s after exposure to a lesson on a calculative economics concept. Participants who were instead given a history lesson on the industrial revolution were less likely to behave selfishly in the subsequent games. A similar but lesser effect was found when participants were first asked to solve math problems instead of verbal problems before playing the games. Furthermore, the effect could potentially be reduced by making non-numerical values more prominent. The study showed less self-interested behavior when participants were shown pictures of families after calculations.

The results may provide further insight into why economics students have shown more self-interested behavior in previous studies examining whether business or economics education contributes to unethical corporate activity, the researchers wrote.

The study was published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Journal Reference:

  1. Long Wang, Chen-Bo Zhong, J. Keith Murnighan. The social and ethical consequences of a calculative mindset. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 2014; 125 (1): 39 DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2014.05.004

Why are consumers willing to spend more money on ethical products? (Science Daily)

Date: September 16, 2014

Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Inc.

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.

Journal Reference:

  1. Ahir Gopaldas. Marketplace Sentiments. Journal of Consumer Research, 2014; 000 DOI: 10.1086/678034

The Climate Swerve (The New York Times)

CreditRobert Frank Hunter

 

AMERICANS appear to be undergoing a significant psychological shift in our relation to global warming. I call this shift a climate “swerve,” borrowing the term used recently by the Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt to describe a major historical change in consciousness that is neither predictable nor orderly.

The first thing to say about this swerve is that we are far from clear about just what it is and how it might work. But we can make some beginning observations which suggest, in Bob Dylan’s words, that “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.” Experience, economics and ethics are coalescing in new and important ways. Each can be examined as a continuation of my work comparing nuclear and climate threats.

The experiential part has to do with a drumbeat of climate-related disasters around the world, all actively reported by the news media: hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts and wildfires, extreme heat waves and equally extreme cold, rising sea levels and floods. Even when people have doubts about the causal relationship of global warming to these episodes, they cannot help being psychologically affected. Of great importance is the growing recognition that the danger encompasses the entire earth and its inhabitants. We are all vulnerable.

This sense of the climate threat is represented in public opinion polls and attitude studies. A recent Yale survey, for instance, concluded that “Americans’ certainty that the earth is warming has increased over the past three years,” and “those who think global warming is not happening have become substantially less sure of their position.”

Falsification and denial, while still all too extensive, have come to require more defensive psychic energy and political chicanery.

But polls don’t fully capture the complex collective process occurring.

The most important experiential change has to do with global warming and time. Responding to the climate threat — in contrast to the nuclear threat, whose immediate and grotesque destructiveness was recorded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — has been inhibited by the difficulty of imagining catastrophic future events. But climate-related disasters and intense media images are hitting us now, and providing partial models for a devastating climate future.

At the same time, economic concerns about fossil fuels have raised the issue of value. There is a wonderfully evocative term, “stranded assets,” to characterize the oil, coal and gas reserves that are still in the ground. Trillions of dollars in assets could remain “stranded” there. If we are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustaining the human habitat, between 60 percent and 80 percent of those assets must remain in the ground, according to the Carbon Tracker Initiative, an organization that analyzes carbon investment risk. In contrast, renewable energy sources, which only recently have achieved the status of big business, are taking on increasing value, in terms of returns for investors, long-term energy savings and relative harmlessness to surrounding communities.

Pragmatic institutions like insurance companies and the American military have been confronting the consequences of climate change for some time. But now, a number of leading financial authorities are raising questions about the viability of the holdings of giant carbon-based fuel corporations. In a world fueled by oil and coal, it is a truly stunning event when investors are warned that the market may end up devaluing those assets. We are beginning to see a bandwagon effect in which the overall viability of fossil-fuel economics is being questioned.

Can we continue to value, and thereby make use of, the very materials most deeply implicated in what could be the demise of the human habitat? It is a bit like the old Jack Benny joke, in which an armed robber offers a choice, “Your money or your life!” And Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over.” We are beginning to “think over” such choices on a larger scale.

This takes us to the swerve-related significance of ethics. Our reflections on stranded assets reveal our deepest contradictions. Oil and coal company executives focus on the maximum use of their product in order to serve the interests of shareholders, rather than the humane, universal ethics we require to protect the earth. We may well speak of those shareholder-dominated principles as “stranded ethics,” which are better left buried but at present are all too active above ground.

Such ethical contradictions are by no means entirely new in historical experience. Consider the scientists, engineers and strategists in the United States and the Soviet Union who understood their duty as creating, and possibly using, nuclear weapons that could destroy much of the earth. Their conscience could be bound up with a frequently amorphous ethic of “national security.” Over the course of my work I have come to the realization that it is very difficult to endanger or kill large numbers of people except with a claim to virtue.

The climate swerve is mostly a matter of deepening awareness. When exploring the nuclear threat I distinguished between fragmentary awareness, consisting of images that come and go but remain tangential, and formed awareness, which is more structured, part of a narrative that can be the basis for individual and collective action.

In the 1980s there was a profound worldwide shift from fragmentary awareness to formed awareness in response to the potential for a nuclear holocaust. Millions of people were affected by that “nuclear swerve.” And even if it is diminished today, the nuclear swerve could well have helped prevent the use of nuclear weapons.

With both the nuclear and climate threats, the swerve in awareness has had a crucial ethical component. People came to feel that it was deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to engage in nuclear war, and are coming to an awareness that it is deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for our children and grandchildren.

Social movements in general are energized by this kind of ethical passion, which enables people to experience the more active knowledge associated with formed awareness. That was the case in the movement against nuclear weapons. Emotions related to individual conscience were pooled into a shared narrative by enormous numbers of people.

In earlier movements there needed to be an overall theme, even a phrase, that could rally people of highly divergent political and intellectual backgrounds. The idea of a “nuclear freeze” mobilized millions of people with the simple and clear demand that the United States and the Soviet Union freeze the testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons.

Could the climate swerve come to include a “climate freeze,” defined by a transnational demand for cutting back on carbon emissions in steps that could be systematically outlined?

With or without such a rallying phrase, the climate swerve provides no guarantees of more reasonable collective behavior. But with human energies that are experiential, economic and ethical it could at least provide — and may already be providing — the psychological substrate for action on behalf of our vulnerable habitat and the human future.

Is empathy in humans and apes actually different? ‘Yawn contagion’ effect studied (Science Daily)

Date: August 12, 2014

Source: PeerJ

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.


Scientists have found that differences in levels of emotional contagion between humans and bonobos are attributable to the quality of relationships shared by individuals. Credit: Elisa Demuru
 

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.


Journal Reference:

  1. 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

Treating mental illness by changing memories of things past (Science Daily)

Date: August 12, 2014

Source: Elsevier

Summary: Author Marcel Proust makes a compelling case that our identities and decisions are shaped in profound and ongoing ways by our memories. This truth is powerfully reflected in mental illnesses, like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addictions. In PTSD, memories of traumas intrude vividly upon consciousness, causing distress, driving people to avoid reminders of their traumas, and increasing risk for addiction and suicide. In addiction, memories of drug use influence reactions to drug-related cues and motivate compulsive drug use.

 

“Memory reconsolidation is probably among the most exciting phenomena in cognitive neuroscience today. It assumes that memories may be modified once they are retrieved which may give us the great opportunity to change seemingly robust, unwanted memories,” explains Dr. Lars Schwabe of Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany. Credit: Image courtesy of Elsevier

In the novel À la recherche du temps perdu (translated into English as Remembrance of Things Past), Marcel Proust makes a compelling case that our identities and decisions are shaped in profound and ongoing ways by our memories.

This truth is powerfully reflected in mental illnesses, like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addictions. In PTSD, memories of traumas intrude vividly upon consciousness, causing distress, driving people to avoid reminders of their traumas, and increasing risk for addiction and suicide. In addiction, memories of drug use influence reactions to drug-related cues and motivate compulsive drug use.

What if one could change these dysfunctional memories? Although we all like to believe that our memories are reliable and permanent, it turns out that memories may indeed be plastic.

The process for modifying memories, depicted in the graphic, is called memory reconsolidation. After memories are formed and stored, subsequent retrieval may make them unstable. In other words, when a memory is activated, it also becomes open to revision and reconsolidation in a new form.

“Memory reconsolidation is probably among the most exciting phenomena in cognitive neuroscience today. It assumes that memories may be modified once they are retrieved which may give us the great opportunity to change seemingly robust, unwanted memories,” explains Dr. Lars Schwabe of Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany. He and his colleagues have authored a review paper on the topic, published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry.

The idea of memory reconsolidation was initially discovered and demonstrated in rodents.

The first evidence of reconsolidation in humans was reported in a study in 2003, and the findings have since continued to accumulate. The current report summarizes the most recent findings on memory reconsolidation in humans and poses additional questions that must be answered by future studies.

“Reconsolidation appears to be a fundamental process underlying cognitive and behavioral therapies. Identifying its roles and mechanisms is an important step forward to fully harnessing the reconsolidation process in psychotherapy,” said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

The translation of the animal data to humans is a vital step for the potential application of memory reconsolidation in the context of mental disorders. Memory reconsolidation could open the door to novel treatment approaches for disorders such as PTSD or drug addiction.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lars Schwabe, Karim Nader, Jens C. Pruessner. Reconsolidation of Human Memory: Brain Mechanisms and Clinical Relevance. Biological Psychiatry, 2014; 76 (4): 274 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.03.008

Climate change has created a new literary genre (Washington Post)

 July 11

Dan Bloom is a climate activist who graduated from Tufts University in 1971 and now blogs about cli-fi issues.

The Jet Star roller coaster is seen in the ocean at dawn as it was left by Hurricane Sandy, in Seaside Heights, New Jersey (Michael Reynolds/EPA)

Is climate change due for an “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” moment? The 1852 bestseller helped transform abolitionism into a mainstream cause. Now, “cli-fi” is trying to do the same for environmentalism.

The emerging genre is a cousin of sci-fi. But its books are set, NPR writes, “in worlds, not unlike our own, where the Earth’s systems are noticeably off-kilter.” And it’s gaining both fans and writers.

The climate-change canon dates back to the 1962 novel ”The Drowned World” by British writer J. G. Ballard. In it, polar ice-caps have melted and global temperatures have soared. Presciently, some coastal American and European cities are under water.

But Ballard’s work didn’t pinpoint humans as the cause of Earth’s precipitous decline. It wasn’t until the mid-2000′s that authors started grappling seriously with our role in impending environmental catastrophe.

In 2004, Michael Crichton released “State of Fear,” a novel about eco-terrorists. Ian McEwan followed up in 2010 with “Solar,” a story about a jaded physicist who tries to solve global warming. And in 2012, Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” gracefully explored how one town is reshaped by a changing ecosystem. As ‘The New York Times wrote in its review of the book:

How do we live, Kingsolver asks, and with what consequences, as we hurtle toward the abyss in these times of epic planetary transformation?

Perhaps the best-known “cli-fi” work is Nathaniel Rich’s “Odds Against Tomorrow,” released in 2013. That book sold more than 100,000 copies and drew major media attention.

In it, a near-future New York is submerged when a Category 3 hurricane hits. As Rich was editing the final proofs, Sandy submerged much of the East Coast, a strange moment of life imitating art.

*   *   *

Rich and others say that fiction can stir emotion and action in a way scientific reports and newscasts don’t.

“You know, scientists and other people are trying to get their message across about various aspects of the climate change issue,” Georgia Institute of Technology professor Judith Curry told NPR. She went on:

“And it seems like fiction is an untapped way of doing this — a way of smuggling some serious topics into the consciousness” of readers who may not be following the science.

That means finding characters or stories that resonate. And it also means getting rid of jargon and cliches. In Rich’s 300-page book, for example, the word “climate change” doesn’t appear once.

“I think the language around climate change is horribly bankrupt and, for the most part, are examples of bad writing, really,” Rich told NPR last year. “I think we need a new type of novel to address a new type of reality … which is that we’re headed toward something terrifying and large and transformative. And it’s the novelist’s job to try to understand, what is that doing to us?”

A growing number of YA books also attack this topic, including Mindy McGinnis’s “Not a Drop to Drink,” Staci Lloyd’s “The Carbon Diaries 2015″ and Joshua David Bellin’s “Survival Colony 9″. Even the post-apocalyptic  “Hunger Games” trilogy hints at a climate-ravaged earth.

Academia has begun paying attention to the trend, too. Several U.S. and British universities are now offering literature courses on cli-fi novels and movies. And the professors who teach those classes say students are moved by the literature they read. According to the ‘New York Times’:

Stephen Siperstein … recalled showing the documentary “Chasing Ice,” about disappearing glaciers, to a class of undergraduates, leaving several of them in tears. Em Jackson talked of leading groups on glacier tours, and the profound effect they had on people. Another student, Shane Hall, noted that people experience the weather, while the notion of climate is a more abstract concept that can often be communicated only through media — from photography to sober scientific articles to futuristic fiction.

“In this sense,” he said, “climate change itself is a form of story we have to tell.”

The genesis of climate change activism: from key beliefs to political action (Climatic Change)

Climatic ChangeJuly 2014Volume 125Issue 2pp 163-178,

The genesis of climate change activism: from key beliefs to political action

Connie Roser-RenoufEdward W. MaibachAnthony LeiserowitzXiaoquan Zhao

 Download PDF (660 KB) – Open Access

Abstract

Climate change activism has been uncommon in the U.S., but a growing national movement is pressing for a political response. To assess the cognitive and affective precursors of climate activism, we hypothesize and test a two-stage information-processing model based on social cognitive theory. In stage 1, expectations about climate change outcomes and perceived collective efficacy to mitigate the threat are hypothesized to influence affective issue involvement and support for societal mitigation action. In stage 2, beliefs about the effectiveness of political activism, perceived barriers to activist behaviors and opinion leadership are hypothesized to influence intended and actual activism. To test these hypotheses, we fit a structural equation model using nationally representative data. The model explains 52 percent of the variance in a latent variable representing three forms of climate change activism: contacting elected representatives; supporting organizations working on the issue; and attending climate change rallies or meetings. The results suggest that efforts to increase citizen activism should promote specific beliefs about climate change, build perceptions that political activism can be effective, and encourage interpersonal communication on the issue.

Saving the world should be based on promise, not fear (The Guardian)

For 30 years I banged on about threats. But research shows we must to be true to ourselves – and to the wonder in nature

Monday 16 June 2014 20.41 BST

Le Conte Glacier, alaska

Le Conte Glacier, Alaska: ‘Almost everyone I know in this field is motivated by the love and ­enchantment nature inspires.’ Photograph: Ernest Manewal/Purestock/Super

If we had set out to alienate and antagonise the people we’ve been trying to reach, we could scarcely have done it better. This is how I feel, looking back on the past few decades of environmental campaigning, including my own.

This thought is prompted by responses to the column I wrote last week. It examined the psychological illiteracy that’s driving leftwing politics into oblivion. It argued that the failure by Labour and Democratic party strategists to listen to psychologists and cognitive linguists has resulted in a terrible mistake: the belief that they can best secure their survival by narrowing the distance between themselves and their conservative opponents.

Twenty years of research, comprehensively ignored by these parties, reveals that shifts such as privatisation and cutting essential public services strongly promote people’s extrinsic values (an attraction to power, prestige, image and status) while suppressing intrinsic values (intimacy, kindness, self-acceptance, independent thought and action). As extrinsic values are powerfully linked to conservative politics, pursuing policies that reinforce them is blatantly self-destructive.

One of the drivers of extrinsic values is a sense of threat. Experimental work suggests that when fears are whipped up, they trigger an instinctive survival response. You suppress your concern for other people and focus on your own interests. Conservative strategists seem to know this, which is why they emphasise crime, terrorism, deficits and immigration.

“Isn’t this what you’ve spent your life doing?” several people asked. “Emphasising threats?” It took me a while. If threats promote extrinsic values and if (as the research strongly suggests) extrinsic values are linked to a lack of interest in the state of the living planet, I’ve been engaged in contradiction and futility. For about 30 years. The threats, of course, are of a different nature: climate breakdown, mass extinction, pollution and the rest. And they are real. But there’s no obvious reason why the results should be different. Terrify the living daylights out of people, and they will protect themselves at the expense of others and of the living world.

It’s an issue taken up in a report by several green groups called Common Cause for Nature. “Provoking feelings of threat, fear or loss may successfully raise the profile of an issue,” but “these feelings may leave people feeling helpless and increasingly demotivated, or even inclined to actively avoid the issue”. People respond to feelings of insecurity “by attempting to exert control elsewhere, or retreating into materialistic comforts”.

Where we have not used threat and terror, we have tried money: an even graver mistake. Nothing better reinforces extrinsic values than putting a price on nature, or appealing to financial self-interest. It doesn’t work, even on its own terms. A study published in Nature Climate Change tested two notices placed in a filling station. One asked: “Want to protect the environment? Check your car’s tyre pressure.” The other tried: “Want to save money? Check your car’s tyre pressure.” The first was effective, the second useless.

We’ve tended to assume people are more selfish than they really are. Surveys across 60 countries show that most people consistently hold concern for others, tolerance, kindness and thinking for themselves to be more important than wealth, image and power. But those whose voices are loudest belong to a small minority with the opposite set of values. And often, idiotically, we have sought to appease them.

This is a form of lying – to ourselves and other people. I don’t know anyone who became an environmentalist because she or he was worried about ecological impacts on their bank balance. Almost everyone I know in this field is motivated by something completely different: the love and wonder and enchantment nature inspires. Yet, perhaps because we fear we will not be taken seriously, we scarcely mention them. We hide our passions behind columns of figures. Sure, we need the numbers and the rigour and the science, but we should stop pretending these came first.

Without being fully conscious of the failure and frustration that’s been driving it, I’ve been trying, like others, to promote a positive environmentalism, based on promise, not threat.

This is what rewilding, the mass restoration of ecosystems, is all about; and why I wrote my book Feral, which is a manifesto for rewilding – and for wonder and enchantment. But I’m beginning to see that this is not just another method: expounding a positive vision should be at the centre of attempts to protect the things we love. An ounce of hope is worth a ton of despair.

Part of this means changing the language. The language we use to describe our relations with nature could scarcely be more alienating. “Reserve” is alienation itself, or at least detachment: think of what it means when you apply that word to people. “Site of special scientific interest”, “no-take zone“, “ecosystem services”: these terms are a communications disaster. Even “environment” is a cold and distancing word, which creates no pictures. These days I tend to use natural world or living planet, which invoke vivid images. One of the many tasks for the rewilding campaign some of us will be launching in the next few months is to set up a working group to change the language. There’s a parallel here with the Landreader project by the photographer Dominick Tyler, which seeks to rescue beautiful words describing nature from obscurity.

None of this is to suggest that we should not discuss the threats or pretend that the crises faced by this magnificent planet are not happening. Or that we should cease to employ rigorous research and statistics. What it means is that we should embed both the awareness of these threats and their scientific description in a different framework: one that emphasises the joy and awe to be found in the marvels at risk; one that proposes a better world, rather than (if we work really hard for it), just a slightly-less-shitty-one-than-there-would-otherwise-have-been.

Above all, this means not abandoning ourselves to attempts to appease a minority who couldn’t give a cuss about the living world, but think only of their wealth and power. Be true to yourself and those around you, and you will find the necessary means of reaching others.

• Twitter: @georgemonbiot. A fully referenced version of this article can be found at monbiot.com

For the next generation: Democracy ensures we don’t take it all with us (Science Daily)

Date: June 25, 2014

Source: Yale University

Summary: Given the chance to vote, people will leave behind a legacy of resources that ensures the survival of the next generation, a series of experiments by psychologists show. However, when people are left to their own devices, the next generation isn’t so lucky.

Given the chance to vote, people will leave behind a legacy of resources that ensures the survival of the next generation, a series of experiments by psychologists show. However, when people are left to their own devices, the next generation isn’t so lucky. Credit: © Sunny studio / Fotolia

Given the chance to vote, people will leave behind a legacy of resources that ensures the survival of the next generation, a series of experiments by Yale and Harvard psychologists show. However, when people are left to their own devices, the next generation isn’t so lucky.

“People want to do the right thing; they just need a little help from their institutions,” said David Rand, assistant professor of psychology at Yale and a co-author of the study appearing June 25 in the journalNature.

The experiments shed light on the psychology underlying issues such as Social Security funding or resource conservation, in which the interests of future generations are at stake.

The study builds upon “public goods” economics experiments that consistently show that people are willing to forego immediate reward if convinced the group as a whole will benefit. But Rand and Harvard colleagues Martin Nowak, Oliver Hauer, and Alexander Peysakhovich wanted to know if people would be willing to sacrifice resources if the benefit accrues not to individuals in a group, but to people not yet born.

In their experiments, they broke subjects into groups of five and gave them 100 units to spend. In one experiment, each individual could take out up to 20 units, but if the group as a whole used more than 50 units, all successor groups would get nothing. If a given group showed restraint, a line-up of successor groups — new generations each consisting of five new people — would be given the same choices.

The good news was that more than two out of three people were willing to take only 10 units — the sustainable “fair share” allotment — for their own use and preserve resources for the next generation. The bad news was that the minority of selfish individuals consistently destroyed the resource for future generations. Even one or two people in the group taking more than their “fair share” was enough to push the group over the 50 unit threshold, exhausting the resource. In 18 experiments in which individuals were free to extract more than 10 units, only four groups left enough resources to support a second generation, and by the fourth generation, all resources were exhausted.

The results changed dramatically when democratic principles were introduced. All five members of the group voted for a number of units to take. The median vote was then taken out for all group members. In this scenario, all groups passed on enough resources to sustain future generations. Even when researchers made the sacrifice more costly — reducing the “sustainable” level of units available to the group to 40 or even 30 — a majority of groups passed resources down through generations.

Problems arose in a third scenario when only three of five members voted on how many units to take. The results of the vote were not binding for the other two subjects. Here sustainability failed, because a selfish person not bound by the vote could over-consume and destroy the resource.

The latter results would be equivalent to Kyoto protocols, a non-binding attempt to get nations to reduce carbon emissions, the authors noted.

“You are wasting your time if voting results are not binding on everyone,” Rand said.

While voting may be potentially challenging for global-level international agreements, it is much more promising for local- or national-level sustainability policies, note the researchers. In a final analysis of real-world data, Rand and colleagues show that democratic countries of the world have made most advances toward sustainability, even when accounting for factors such as wealth, population size, economic output, and inequality.

Journal Reference:
  1. Oliver P. Hauser, David G. Rand, Alexander Peysakhovich, Martin A. Nowak.Cooperating with the futureNature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13530

Pope Francis and the psychology of exorcism and possession (The Guardian)

Endorsement of exorcism by the Vatican will do nothing to prevent future tragedies like the death of Victoria Climbié

Chris French

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Last week it was reported that Pope Francis had formally recognised the International Association of Exorcists, a group of 250 priests spread across 30 countries who supposedly cast out demons. The head of the association, Rev Francesco Bamonte, announced that this was a cause for joy because, “Exorcism is a form of charity that benefits those who suffer.” While Pope Francis, who frequently mentions Satan, no doubt agrees with this sentiment, this granting of legal recognition to the concepts of possession and exorcism has come as something of a shock to those who do not share this world view.

Belief in possession is widespread both geographically and historically and is far from rare in modern western societies. A YouGov poll of 1,000 US adults last year found that over half of the respondents endorsed belief in possession and 20% remained unsure. Only 11% said categorically that they did not believe people could be “possessed by the devil”.

Is it possible that the pope is right and demons can sometimes take control of their victims’ behaviour? Are exorcists really bravely battling against the most powerful, evil forces imaginable? Or are possession and exorcism best explained in terms of psychological factors without any need to postulate the existence of incorporeal spiritual entities? I would argue that the available evidence strongly supports the latter interpretation.

There can be no doubt that some forms of behaviour that would once have been seen as evidence for possession by demons or evil spirits would now be recognised as being caused by neuropathology. Hippocrates, in The Sacred Disease, declared that epileptic convulsions were caused by brain malfunction, not evil spirits. Belief in possession was still widespread some 400 years later, however, when Jesus encountered an individual believed to be possessed but who was, in fact, clearly suffering from epilepsy.

Another condition that would often have been interpreted in a similar manner is Tourette’s syndrome. Interestingly, the first recorded description of a case of Tourette’s may be in Malleus Maleficarum (or Witch’s Hammer) published in the 15th century by Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kraemer. This notorious book served as a guide for identifying witches and the possessed and included a description of a priest whose tics were thought to be a result of possession by the devil. Although the symptom that people most readily associate with Tourette’s syndrome is vocal outbursts of foul language, this symptom is in fact quite rare, affecting only around 10% of sufferers. Having said that, this is probably the main symptom that, in times gone by, would have led to suspicion of possession.

There are several other neuropathologies (eg certain forms of schizophrenia) that might also have been interpreted as possession in less enlightened times (and sadly sometimes still are) but it is not plausible to explain all cases of apparent possession in neuropathological terms. It should also be borne in mind that the type of phenomenon that would be the main focus for the International Association of Exorcists is but one example of situations where an individual appears to have been taken over by some agent, resulting in a dramatic change in behaviour, mannerisms, voice and even, allegedly, memories.

Other examples would include mediums “channelling” communications from the dead; shamans inviting possession by the gods, ancestors or animal spirits; individuals apparently reliving past-lives, having gone through a process of hypnotic regression; and volunteers during hypnosis stage shows apparently taking on the identities of celebrities, animals or even aliens.

The controversial diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) is yet another example of this phenomenon, though many commentators, myself included, believe that it is not in fact a genuine psychiatric disorder but is instead a product of dubious forms of therapy.

The sociocognitive approach, as outlined by Nick Spanos in his posthumously published book, Multiple Identities and False Memories, has the potential to explain all the phenomena listed in the previous two paragraphs without the need to invoke disembodied spiritual entities. Essentially, this approach argues that all of these phenomena reflect learned patterns of behaviour that constitute particular recognised roles within specific cultural contexts.

Although it may not always be immediately obvious, there are often benefits to enacting the role of being possessed. Indeed, in many societies, certain forms of possession are welcomed. For example, glossolalia, or “speaking in tongues”, is encouraged in many western Christian societies and is interpreted as possession by the Holy Spirit. During glossolalia, the individual produces vocalisations of meaningless syllables. Although these may sound superficially like a foreign language, analysis shows them to have no true linguistic structure whatsoever. Glossolalia can sometimes involve dramatic behaviour such as convulsions, sweating and rolling eyes but can also be much more subdued. The actual form the glossolalia takes is entirely determined by the expectations of the particular religious community involved.

For less positive forms of possession, the benefits of taking on this role may be harder to identify but they still exist. As Michael Cuneo describes in his excellent book, American Exorcism, the phenomena of alleged possession and exorcism are much more widespread in the US than is officially recognised. For many people, the idea that all of their previous socially and morally unacceptable behaviour was not in fact their fault but due to possession by demons is appealing. Furthermore, once those demons have been exorcised, the repentant sinner is now welcomed back into the loving arms of his or her community.

Anthropologists have pointed out that in some cultures, those with little or no social influence can let off steam and vent their true feelings towards the more powerful members of their society while “possessed” without having to face any repercussions. They are not held to be responsible for their actions, the possessing spirit is. It is notable that historically in Europe, it was women who were much more likely to be “possessed” than men.

Of course, we must not forget that the outcome for the person who is labelled as “possessed” can sometimes be far from positive. To give one notorious example, the parents of 23-year-old Anneliese Michel and two West German priests were convicted in 1978 of causing her death (they received suspended sentences). They had starved the young epileptic as part of a horrendous 11-month exorcism. She weighed just 68 pounds (5 stone or 30 kilograms) at the time of her death. The Guardian has noted that belief in possession has been a factor in several child abuse cases in the UK, including the tragic death of Victoria Climbié in 2000.

The official recognition of such pre-Enlightenment beliefs by the Vatican will do nothing to prevent future tragedies of this kind.

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Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time (IO9)

19.jun.2014

Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time

Anesthesia was a major medical breakthrough, allowing us to lose consciousness during surgery and other painful procedures. Trouble is, we’re not entirely sure how it works. But now we’re getting closer to solving its mystery — and with it, the mystery of consciousness itself.

When someone goes under, their cognition and brain activity continue, but consciousness gets shut down. For example, it has been shown that rats can ‘remember’ odor experiences while under general anesthesia. This is why anesthesiologists, like the University of Arizona’s Stuart Hameroff, are so fascinated by the whole thing.

“Anesthetics are fairly selective, erasing consciousness while sparing non-conscious brain activity,” Hameroff told io9. “So the precise mechanism of anesthetic action should point to the mechanism for consciousness.”

The Perils of Going Under

The odds of something bad happening while under anesthetic are exceedingly low. But this hasn’t always been the case.

Indeed, anesthesiology has come a long way since that historic moment back in 1846 when a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital held a flask near a patient’s face until he fell unconscious.

But as late as the 1940s, anesthesia still remained a dicey proposition. Back then, one in every 1,500 perioperative deaths were attributed to anesthesia. That number has improved dramatically since that time, mostly on account of improved techniques and chemicals, modern safety standards, and an influx of accredited anesthesiologists. Today, the chances of a healthy patient suffering an intraoperative death owing to anesthesia is less than 1 in 200,000. That’s a 0.0005% chance of a fatality — which are pretty good odds if you ask me (especially if you consider the alternative, which is to be awake during a procedure).

It should be pointed out, however, that “healthy patient” is the operative term (so to speak). In actuality, anesthesia-related deaths are on the rise, and the aging population has a lot to do with it. After decades of decline, the worldwide death rate during anesthesia has risen to about 1.4 deaths per 200,000. Alarmingly, the number of deaths within a year after general anesthesia is disturbingly high — about one in every 20. For people above the age of 65, it’s one in 10. The reason, says anesthesiologist André Gottschalk, is that there are more older patients being operated on. Anesthesia can be stressful for older patients with heart problems or high blood pressure.

Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time

(Tyler Olson/Shutterstock)

But there are other dangers associated with anesthesia. It can induce a condition known as postoperative delirium, a state of serious confusion and memory loss. Following surgery, some patients complain about hallucinations, have trouble responding to questions, speak gibberish, and forget why they’re in the hospital. Studies have shown that roughly half of all patients age 60 and over suffer from this sort of delirium. This condition usually resolves after a day or two. But for some people, typically those over the age of 70 and who have a history of mental deficits, a high enough dose of anesthesia can result in lingering problems for months and even years afterward, including attention and memory problems.

Researchers speculate that it’s not the quality of the anesthetics, but rather the quantity; the greater the amount, the greater the delerium. This is not an easy problem to resolve; not enough anesthesia can leave a patient awake, but too much can kill. It’s a challenging balance to achieve because, as science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker has pointed out, “Consciousness is not something we can measure.”

Rots the Brain

Deep anesthesia has also been linked to other cognitive problems. New Scientist reports:

Patients received either propofol or one of several anesthetic gases. The morning after surgery, 16 percent of patients who had received light anesthesia displayed confusion, compared with 24 percent of the routine care group. Likewise, 15 percent of patients who received typical anesthesia had postoperative mental setbacks that lingered for at least three months—they performed poorly on word-recall tests, for example—but only 10 percent of those in the light anesthesia group had such difficulties.

To help alleviate these effects, doctors are encouraged to talk to their patients during regional anesthesia, and to make sure their patients are well hydrated and nourished before surgery to improve blood flow to the brain.

But just to be clear, the risks are slight. According to the Mayo Clinic:

Most healthy people don’t have any problems with general anesthesia. Although many people may have mild, temporary symptoms, general anesthesia itself is exceptionally safe, even for the sickest patients. The risk of long-term complications, much less death, is very small. In general, the risk of complications is more closely related to the type of procedure you’re undergoing, and your general physical health, than to the anesthesia itself.

The Neural Correlates of Consciousness

Typically, anesthesia is initiated with the injection of a drug called propofol, which gives a quick and smooth transition into unconsciousness. For longer operations, an inhaled anesthetic, like isoflurane, is added to give better control of the depth of anesthesia.

Here’s a chart showing the most common applications for anesthesia (via University of Toronto):

Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time

It should really come as no surprise that neuroscientists aren’t entirely sure how chemicals like propofol work. We won’t truly understand anesthesia until we fully understand consciousness itself — a so-called hard problem in science. But the neuroscience of anesthesia may shed light on this mystery.

Researchers need to chart the neural correlates of consciousness (NCCs) — changes in brain function that can be observed when a person transitions from being conscious to unconscious. These NCCs can be certain brain waves, physical responses, sensitivity to pain — whatever. They just need to be correlated directly to conscious awareness.

As an aside, we’ll eventually need to identify NCCs in an artificial intelligence to prove that it’s sentient. And in fact, this could serve as a viable substitute to the now-outdated Turing Test.

Scientists have known for quite some time that anesthetic potency correlates with solubility in an olive-oil like environment. The going theory is that they make it difficult for certain neurons to fire; they bind to and incapacitate several different proteins on the surface of neurons that are essential for regulating sleep, attention, learning, and memory. But more than that, by interrupting the normal activity of neurons, anesthetics disrupt communications between the various regions of the brain which, together, triggers unconsciousness.

Cognitive Dissonance

But neuroscientists haven’t been able to figure out which region or regions of the brain are responsible for this effect. And indeed, there may be no single switch, particularly if the “global workspace” theory of consciousness continues to hold sway. This school of thought holds that consciousness is a widely distributed phenomenon where initial incoming sensory information gets processed in separate regions of the brain without us being aware of it. Subjectivity only happens when these signals are broadcast to a network of neurons disbursed throughout the brain, which then start firing in synchrony.

Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time

(New Scientist)

But the degree of synchrony is a very carefully calibrated thing — and anesthetics disrupt this finely tuned harmony.

Indeed, anesthetics may be eliciting unconsciousness by blocking the brain’s ability to properly integrate information. Synchrony between different areas of the cortex (the part of the brain responsible for attention, awareness, thought, and memory), gets scrambled as consciousness fades. According to researcher Andres Engels, long-distance communication gets blocked, so the brain can’t build the global workspace. He says “It’s like the message is reaching the mailbox, but no one is picking it up.” Propofol in particular appears to cause abnormally strong synchrony between the primary cortex and other brain regions — and when too many neurons fire in a strongly synchronized rhythm, there’s no room for exchange of specific messages.

Rebooting the Global Workspace

There’s also the science of coming out of unconsciousness to consider. A new study shows it’s not simply a matter of the anesthetic “wearing off.”

Researchers from UCLA say the return of conscious brain activity occurs in discrete clumps, or clusters — and that the brain does not jump between all of the clusters uniformly. In fact, some of these activity patterns serve as “hubs” on the way back to consciousness.

“Recovery from anesthesia, is not simply the result of the anesthetic ‘wearing off’ but also of the brain finding its way back through a maze of possible activity states to those that allow conscious experience,” noted researcher Andrew Hudson in a statement. “Put simply, the brain reboots itself.”

Relatedly, a separate study from 2012 suggested that post-surgery confusion is the brain reverting to a more primitive evolutionary state as it goes through the “boot-up” process.

Quantum Vibrations in Microtubules?

There’s also the work of Stuart Hameroff to consider, though his approach to consciousness is still considered speculative at this point.

He pointed me to the work of the University of Pennsylvania’s Rod Eckenhoff, who has shown that anesthetics act on microtubules — extremely tiny cylindrically shaped protein polymers that are part of the cellular cytoskeleton.

Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time

Jeffrey81/Wikimedia Commons

“That suggests consciousness derives from microtubules,” Hameroff told io9.

Along with Travis Craddock, he also thinks that anesthetics bind to and affect cytoskeletal microtubules — and that anesthesia-related cognitive dysfunction is linked to microtubule instability. Craddock has found ‘quantum channels’ of aromatic amino acids in a microtubule subunit protein which regulates large scale quantum states and bind anesthetics.

I asked Hameroff where neuroscientists should focus their efforts as they work to understand the nature of consciousness.

“More studies like those of Anirban Bandyopadhyay at NIMS in Tsukuba, Japan (and now at MIT) showing megahertz and kilohertz vibrations in microtubules inside neurons,” he replied. “EEG may be the tip of an iceberg of deeper level, faster, smaller scale activities in microtubules. But they’re quantum, so though smaller, are non-local, and entangled through large regions of brain or more.”

Indeed, brain scans of various sorts are definitely the way to go, and not just for this particular line of inquiry. It will be through the ongoing discovery of NCCs that we may eventually get to the bottom of this thing called consciousness.

More:

The history of anesthesiaBite Down on a Stick: The History of AnesthesiaThere was a time when all the pain alleviation involved in surgery was a little cotton wool in the…Read more

Anesthesia unlocks a more primitive level of consciousness – If you’ve ever been put under anesthesia, you might recall a disoriented, almost delirious…Read more

‘Free choice’ in primates altered through brain stimulation (Science Daily)

Date: May 29, 2014

Source: KU Leuven

Summary: When electrical pulses are applied to the ventral tegmental area of their brain, macaques presented with two images change their preference from one image to the other. The study is the first to confirm a causal link between activity in the ventral tegmental area and choice behavior in primates.

The study is the first to show a causal link between activity in ventral tegmental area and choice behaviour.. Credit: Image courtesy of KU Leuven

When electrical pulses are applied to the ventral tegmental area of their brain, macaques presented with two images change their preference from one image to the other. The study by researchers Wim Vanduffel and John Arsenault (KU Leuven and Massachusetts General Hospital) is the first to confirm a causal link between activity in the ventral tegmental area and choice behaviour in primates.

The ventral tegmental area is located in the midbrain and helps regulate learning and reinforcement in the brain’s reward system. It produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in positive feelings, such as receiving a reward. “In this way, this small area of the brain provides learning signals,” explains Professor Vanduffel. “If a reward is larger or smaller than expected, behavior is reinforced or discouraged accordingly.”

Causal link

This effect can be artificially induced: “In one experiment, we allowed macaques to choose multiple times between two images — a star or a ball, for example. This told us which of the two visual stimuli they tended to naturally prefer. In a second experiment, we stimulated the ventral tegmental area with mild electrical currents whenever they chose the initially nonpreferred image. This quickly changed their preference. We were also able to manipulate their altered preference back to the original favorite.”

The study, which will be published online in the journal Current Biology on 16 June, is the first to confirm a causal link between activity in the ventral tegmental area and choice behaviour in primates. “In scans we found that electrically stimulating this tiny brain area activated the brain’s entire reward system, just as it does spontaneously when a reward is received. This has important implications for research into disorders relating to the brain’s reward network, such as addiction or learning disabilities.”

Could this method be used in the future to manipulate our choices? “Theoretically, yes. But the ventral tegmental area is very deep in the brain. At this point, stimulating it can only be done invasively, by surgically placing electrodes — just as is currently done for deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s or depression. Once non-invasive methods — light or ultrasound, for example — can be applied with a sufficiently high level of precision, they could potentially be used for correcting defects in the reward system, such as addiction and learning disabilities.”

 Journal Reference:
  1. John T. Arsenault, Samy Rima, Heiko Stemmann, Wim Vanduffel. Role of the Primate Ventral Tegmental Area in Reinforcement and MotivationCurrent Biology, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.04.044

The Change Within: The Obstacles We Face Are Not Just External (The Nation)

The climate crisis has such bad timing, confronting it not only requires a new economy but a new way of thinking.

Naomi Klein

April 21, 2014

(Reuters/China Daily)

This is a story about bad timing.

One of the most disturbing ways that climate change is already playing out is through what ecologists call “mismatch” or “mistiming.” This is the process whereby warming causes animals to fall out of step with a critical food source, particularly at breeding times, when a failure to find enough food can lead to rapid population losses.

The migration patterns of many songbird species, for instance, have evolved over millennia so that eggs hatch precisely when food sources such as caterpillars are at their most abundant, providing parents with ample nourishment for their hungry young. But because spring now often arrives early, the caterpillars are hatching earlier too, which means that in some areas they are less plentiful when the chicks hatch, threatening a number of health and fertility impacts. Similarly, in West Greenland, caribou are arriving at their calving grounds only to find themselves out of sync with the forage plants they have relied on for thousands of years, now growing earlier thanks to rising temperatures. That is leaving female caribou with less energy for lactation, reproduction and feeding their young, a mismatch that has been linked to sharp decreases in calf births and survival rates.

Scientists are studying cases of climate-related mistiming among dozens of species, from Arctic terns to pied flycatchers. But there is one important species they are missing—us. Homosapiens. We too are suffering from a terrible case of climate-related mistiming, albeit in a cultural-historical, rather than a biological, sense. Our problem is that the climate crisis hatched in our laps at a moment in history when political and social conditions were uniquely hostile to a problem of this nature and magnitude—that moment being the tail end of the go-go ’80s, the blastoff point for the crusade to spread deregulated capitalism around the world. Climate changeis a collective problem demanding collective action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Yet it entered mainstream consciousness in the midst of an ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.

This deeply unfortunate mistiming has created all sorts of barriers to our ability to respond effectively to this crisis. It has meant that corporate power was ascendant at the very moment when we needed to exert unprecedented controls over corporate behavior in order to protect life on earth. It has meant that regulation was a dirty word just when we needed those powers most. It has meant that we are ruled by a class of politicians who know only how to dismantle and starve public institutions, just when they most need to be fortified and reimagined. And it has meant that we are saddled with an apparatus of “free trade” deals that tie the hands of policy-makers just when they need maximum flexibility to achieve a massive energy transition.

Confronting these various structural barriers to the next economy is the critical work of any serious climate movement. But it’s not the only task at hand. We also have to confront how the mismatch between climate change and market domination has created barriers within our very selves, making it harder to look at this most pressing of humanitarian crises with anything more than furtive, terrified glances. Because of the way our daily lives have been altered by both market and technological triumphalism, we lack many of the observational tools necessary to convince ourselves that climate change is real—let alone the confidence to believe that a different way of living is possible.

And little wonder: just when we needed to gather, our public sphere was disintegrating; just when we needed to consume less, consumerism took over virtually every aspect of our lives; just when we needed to slow down and notice, we sped up; and just when we needed longer time horizons, we were able to see only the immediate present.

This is our climate change mismatch, and it affects not just our species, but potentially every other species on the planet as well.

The good news is that, unlike reindeer and songbirds, we humans are blessed with the capacity for advanced reasoning and therefore the ability to adapt more deliberately—to change old patterns of behavior with remarkable speed. If the ideas that rule our culture are stopping us from saving ourselves, then it is within our power to change those ideas. But before that can happen, we first need to understand the nature of our personal climate mismatch.

› Climate change demands that we consume less, but being consumers is all we know.Climate change is not a problem that can be solved simply by changing what we buy—a hybrid instead of an SUV, some carbon offsets when we get on a plane. At its core, it is a crisis born of overconsumption by the comparatively wealthy, which means the world’s most manic consumers are going to have to consume less.

The problem is not “human nature,” as we are so often told. We weren’t born having to shop this much, and we have, in our recent past, been just as happy (in many cases happier) consuming far less. The problem is the inflated role that consumption has come to play in our particular era.

Late capitalism teaches us to create ourselves through our consumer choices: shopping is how we form our identities, find community and express ourselves. Thus, telling people that they can’t shop as much as they want to because the planet’s support systems are overburdened can be understood as a kind of attack, akin to telling them that they cannot truly be themselves. This is likely why, of the original “Three Rs”—reduce, reuse, recycle—only the third has ever gotten any traction, since it allows us to keep on shopping as long as we put the refuse in the right box. The other two, which require that we consume less, were pretty much dead on arrival.

› Climate change is slow, and we are fast. When you are racing through a rural landscape on a bullet train, it looks as if everything you are passing is standing still: people, tractors, cars on country roads. They aren’t, of course. They are moving, but at a speed so slow compared with the train that they appear static.

So it is with climate change. Our culture, powered by fossil fuels, is that bullet train, hurtling forward toward the next quarterly report, the next election cycle, the next bit of diversion or piece of personal validation via our smartphones and tablets. Our changing climate is like the landscape out the window: from our racy vantage point, it can appear static, but it is moving, its slow progress measured in receding ice sheets, swelling waters and incremental temperature rises. If left unchecked, climate change will most certainly speed up enough to capture our fractured attention—island nations wiped off the map, and city-drowning superstorms, tend to do that. But by then, it may be too late for our actions to make a difference, because the era of tipping points will likely have begun.

› Climate change is place-based, and we are everywhere at once. The problem is not just that we are moving too quickly. It is also that the terrain on which the changes are taking place is intensely local: an early blooming of a particular flower, an unusually thin layer of ice on a lake, the late arrival of a migratory bird. Noticing those kinds of subtle changes requires an intimate connection to a specific ecosystem. That kind of communion happens only when we know a place deeply, not just as scenery but also as sustenance, and when local knowledge is passed on with a sense of sacred trust from one generation to the next.

But that is increasingly rare in the urbanized, industrialized world. We tend to abandon our homes lightly—for a new job, a new school, a new love. And as we do so, we are severed from whatever knowledge of place we managed to accumulate at the previous stop, as well as from the knowledge amassed by our ancestors (who, at least in my case, migrated repeatedly themselves).

Even for those of us who manage to stay put, our daily existence can be disconnected from the physical places where we live. Shielded from the elements as we are in our climate-controlled homes, workplaces and cars, the changes unfolding in the natural world easily pass us by. We might have no idea that a historic drought is destroying the crops on the farms that surround our urban homes, since the supermarkets still display miniature mountains of imported produce, with more coming in by truck all day. It takes something huge—like a hurricane that passes all previous high-water marks, or a flood destroying thousands of homes—for us to notice that something is truly amiss. And even then we have trouble holding on to that knowledge for long, since we are quickly ushered along to the next crisis before these truths have a chance to sink in.

Climate change, meanwhile, is busily adding to the ranks of the rootless every day, as natural disasters, failed crops, starving livestock and climate-fueled ethnic conflicts force yet more people to leave their ancestral homes. And with every human migration, more crucial connections to specific places are lost, leaving yet fewer people to listen closely to the land.

› Climate pollutants are invisible, and we have stopped believing in what we cannot see.When BP’s Macondo well ruptured in 2010, releasing torrents of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, one of the things we heard from company CEO Tony Hayward was that “the Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” The statement was widely ridiculed at the time, and rightly so, but Hayward was merely voicing one of our culture’s most cherished beliefs: that what we can’t see won’t hurt us and, indeed, barely exists.

So much of our economy relies on the assumption that there is always an “away” into which we can throw our waste. There’s the away where our garbage goes when it is taken from the curb, and the away where our waste goes when it is flushed down the drain. There’s the away where the minerals and metals that make up our goods are extracted, and the away where those raw materials are turned into finished products. But the lesson of the BP spill, in the words of ecological theorist Timothy Morton, is that ours is “a world in which there is no ‘away.’”

When I published No Logo a decade and a half ago, readers were shocked to learn of the abusive conditions under which their clothing and gadgets were manufactured. But we have since learned to live with it—not to condone it, exactly, but to be in a state of constant forgetfulness. Ours is an economy of ghosts, of deliberate blindness.

Air is the ultimate unseen, and the greenhouse gases that warm it are our most elusive ghosts. Philosopher David Abram points out that for most of human history, it was precisely this unseen quality that gave the air its power and commanded our respect. “Called Sila, the wind-mind of the world, by the Inuit; Nilch’i, or Holy Wind, by the Navajo; Ruach, or rushing-spirit, by the ancient Hebrews,” the atmosphere was “the most mysterious and sacred dimension of life.” But in our time, “we rarely acknowledge the atmosphere as it swirls between two persons.” Having forgotten the air, Abram writes, we have made it our sewer, “the perfect dump site for the unwanted by-products of our industries…. Even the most opaque, acrid smoke billowing out of the pipes will dissipate and disperse, always and ultimately dissolving into the invisible. It’s gone. Out of sight, out of mind.”

* * *

Another part of what makes climate change so very difficult for us to grasp is that ours is a culture of the perpetual present, one that deliberately severs itself from the past that created us as well as the future we are shaping with our actions. Climate change is about how what we did generations in the past will inescapably affect not just the present, but generations in the future. These time frames are a language that has become foreign to most of us.

This is not about passing individual judgment, nor about berating ourselves for our shallowness or rootlessness. Rather, it is about recognizing that we are products of an industrial project, one intimately, historically linked to fossil fuels.

And just as we have changed before, we can change again. After listening to the great farmer-poet Wendell Berry deliver a lecture on how we each have a duty to love our “homeplace” more than any other, I asked him if he had any advice for rootless people like me and my friends, who live in our computers and always seem to be shopping for a home. “Stop somewhere,” he replied. “And begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.”

That’s good advice on lots of levels. Because in order to win this fight of our lives, we all need a place to stand.

Read more of The Nation’s special #MyClimateToo coverage:

Mark Hertsgaard: Why TheNation.com Today Is All About Climate
Christopher Hayes: The New Abolitionism
Dani McClain: The ‘Environmentalists’ Who Scapegoat Immigrants and Women on Climate Change
Mychal Denzel Smith: Racial and Environmental Justice Are Two Sides of the Same Coin
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Earth Day’s Founding Father
Wen Stephenson: Let This Earth Day Be The Last
Katha Pollitt: Climate Change is the Tragedy of the Global Commons
Michelle Goldberg: Fighting Despair to Fight Climate Change
George Zornick: We’re the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Cheap Date
Dan Zegart: Want to Stop Climate Change? Take the Fossil Fuel Industry to Court
Jeremy Brecher: ‘Jobs vs. the Environment’: How to Counter the Divisive Big Lie
Jon Wiener: Elizabeth Kolbert on Species Extinction and Climate Change
Dave Zirin: Brazil’s World Cup Will Kick the Environment in the Teeth
Steven Hsieh: People of Color Are Already Getting Hit the Hardest by Climate Change
John Nichols: If Rick Weiland Can Say “No” to Keystone, So Can Barack Obama
Michelle Chen: Where Have All the Green Jobs Gone?
Peter Rothberg: Why I’m Not Totally Bummed Out This Earth Day
Leslie Savan: This Is My Brain on Paper Towels

You should be ashamed — or maybe not (Science Daily)

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. Credit: © Mitarart / Fotolia

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.”

Journal Reference:

  1. T. Scheff. The Ubiquity of Hidden Shame in ModernityCultural Sociology, 2014; DOI: 10.1177/1749975513507244

Black boys viewed as older, less innocent than whites, research finds (Science Daily)

Date: March 6, 2014

Source: American Psychological Association (APA)

Summary: Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research. “Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said the lead author.

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said author Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. The study was published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers tested 176 police officers, mostly white males, average age 37, in large urban areas, to determine their levels of two distinct types of bias — prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes.

To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as “It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.” To determine officers’ dehumanization of blacks, the researchers gave them a psychological task in which they paired blacks and whites with large cats, such as lions, or with apes.

Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized blacks were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against blacks — conscious or not — was linked to violent encounters with black children in custody, according to the study.

The authors noted that police officers’ unconscious dehumanization of blacks could have been the result of negative interactions with black children, rather than the cause of using force with black children. “We found evidence that overestimating age and culpability based on racial differences was linked to dehumanizing stereotypes, but future research should try to clarify the relationship between dehumanization and racial disparities in police use of force,” Goff said.

The study also involved 264 mostly white, female undergraduate students from large public U.S. universities. In one experiment, students rated the innocence of people ranging from infants to 25-year-olds who were black, white or an unidentified race. The students judged children up to 9 years old as equally innocent regardless of race, but considered black children significantly less innocent than other children in every age group beginning at age 10, the researchers found.

The students were also shown photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and asked to assess the age and innocence of white, black or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. The students overestimated the age of blacks by an average of 4.5 years and found them more culpable than whites or Latinos, particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes, the study found. Researchers used questionnaires to assess the participants’ prejudice and dehumanization of blacks. They found that participants who implicitly associated blacks with apes thought the black children were older and less innocent.

In another experiment, students first viewed either a photo of an ape or a large cat and then rated black and white youngsters in terms of perceived innocence and need for protection as children. Those who looked at the ape photo gave black children lower ratings and estimated that black children were significantly older than their actual ages, particularly if the child had been accused of a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Phillip Atiba Goff, Matthew Christian Jackson, Brooke Allison Lewis Di Leone, Carmen Marie Culotta, Natalie Ann DiTomasso. The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2014; DOI: 10.1037/a0035663

Money makes people right-wing, inegalitarian, UK study finds (Science Daily)

Date: 

February 6, 2014

Source: University of Warwick

Summary: Lottery winners tend to switch towards support for a right-wing political party and to become less egalitarian, according to new research on UK data.

Evidence on Switchers: The Percentage of People Who Switched Right (Conservative), and Previously Did Not Vote Conservative, After a Lottery Win Source: BHPS Data, Waves 7-18. Credit: Source: BHPS Data, Waves 7-18; Graph courtesy of University of Warwick

Lottery winners tend to switch towards support for a right-wing political party and to become less egalitarian, according to new research on UK data by Professor Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick and Professor Nattavudh Powdthavee of the London School of Economic and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne.

Their study, published as a new University of Warwick working paper under the title “Does Money Make People Right-Wing and Inegalitarian: A Longitudinal Study of Lottery Wins”, shows that the larger the win, the more people tilt to the right. The study uses information on thousands of people and on lottery wins up to 200,000 pounds sterling. The authors say it is the first research of its kind.

The authors believe their paper has wide implications for how democracy works. Professor Oswald said he had become doubtful of the view that morality was an objective choice. “In the voting booth, monetary self-interest casts a long shadow, despite people’s protestations that there are intellectual reasons for voting for low tax rates.”

“We are not sure exactly what goes on inside people’s brains”, said Nick Powdthavee, “but it seems that having money causes people to favour conservative right-wing ideas. Humans are creatures of flexible ethics.”

The authors believe their paper has wide implications for how democracy works. Professor Oswald said he had become doubtful of the view that morality was an objective choice. “In the voting booth, monetary self-interest casts a long shadow, despite people’s protestations that there are intellectual reasons for voting for low tax rates.”

The authors’ paper comments that: “The causes of people’s political attitudes are largely unknown. One possibility is that individuals’ attitudes towards politics and redistribution are motivated by deeply ethical view. Our study provides empirical evidence that voting choices are made out of self-interest.”

Using a nationally representative sample of lottery winners in the UK – the British Household Panel Survey – the researchers have been able to explore the observed longitudinal changes in political allegiance of the bigger winners to the smaller winners. The effect is also sizeable. Winning a few thousand pounds in the lottery has an effect on right-wingness that is just under half of completing a good standard of education (i.e. A-levels) at high school.

The lottery winning effect is far stronger for males than females. The authors are not sure why.

The study has nobody who wins millions and millions. “We’d certainly love to be able to track the views of the rare giant winners”, said Professor Oswald, “if any lottery company would like to work with our research team.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Andrew Oswald, Nattavudh Powdthavee. Does Money Make People Right-Wing and Inegalitarian: A Longitudinal Study of Lottery WinsUniversity of Warwick, February 2014

Memória humana é capaz de ‘reescrever’ o passado com experiências atuais (O Globo)

JC e-mail 4889, de 06 de fevereiro de 2014

Cientistas descobrem que nossas lembranças não são como vídeos, que armazenam perfeitamente as informações

Nossa memória viaja no tempo e arranca fragmentos do presente para inseri-los no passado. Essa foi a constatação de um novo estudo elaborado pela “Northwestern Medicine Feinberg School of Medicine”, de Chicago, nos Estados Unidos. O trabalho constatou que, em termos de precisão, ela está longe de se assemelhar às câmeras de video, que armazenam perfeitamente as informações. Assim, nossa memória reescreve o passado com as informações atuais, atualizando suas lembranças com novas experiências.

O estudo é o primeiro a mostrar especificamente como a memória humana relaciona tão fortemente o presente ao passado. Ele indica o ponto exato no tempo em que uma informação, de forma incorreta, é implantada em uma memória existente.

Segundo a autora do estudo, a pós-doutora em ciências sociais médicas Donna Jo Bridge, para nos ajudar a sobreviver, a memória se adapta a um ambiente em constante mudança e nos ajuda a lidar com o que é importante agora.

– Nossa memória não é como uma câmera de vídeo. Ela reformula e edita eventos para criar uma história adequada à realidade atual – ressalta Bridge à BBC News. Essa “edição” acontece no hipocampo.

Para a realização do experimento, 17 pessoas estudaram 168 objetos dispostos em uma tela de computador, com variadas imagens de fundo. Os cientistas observaram a atividade cerebral dos participantes, assim como o movimento dos olhos.

As imagens traziam cenas como o fundo do oceano ou a vista aérea de terras agrícolas. Em seguida, os pesquisadores pediram aos participantes para que eles colocassem o objeto no local original, mas em uma nova tela de fundo. O que se verificou foi que os objetos sempre eram colocados em um local incorreto.

– Eles sempre escolhiam o local que já haviam selecionado na etapa anterior. Isso mostra que sua memória original do local foi alterada para remeter a localização que lembravam na nova tela de fundo – disse a cientista.

Os participantes também fizeram testes de ressonância magnética para que fossem observadas as atividades cerebrais. O movimento dos olhos também foi estudado.

– Todo mundo gosta de pensar em memória como alguma coisa que nos permite lembrar vividamente nossa infância ou o que fizemos na semana passada. Porém, a noção de uma memória perfeita é um mito – disse à BBC News Joel Voss, autor sênior da pesquisa e professor assistente de ciências sociais .

Bridge acrescenta que o estudo pode ter implicações para depoimentos de testemunhas, por exemplo.

– Nossa memória é construída para mudar, não somente relatar fatos. Sendo assim, não somos testemunhas muito confiáveis – observou à BBC.

http://oglobo.globo.com/saude/memoria-humana-capaz-de-reescrever-passado-com-experiencias-atuais-11511975#ixzz2sY2I0RZv