1.36 Psychobabble [Stephen Briers]
1.36.1 What’s so wrong with popular psychology?
- The author pointed out that more of us turn to self-help books for answers to lives that feel in need of fixing. The phenomenon indicates our rising levels of insecurity and self-doubt and the stealthy(悄然的，秘密的) psychologising of American culture as a whole. Self-help industry is meme of popular psychology. Meme is defined by Richard Dawkins in his The Selfish Gene as “an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. It is like today’s “Big Data” or “Data Science”……The major selling points of self-help book is to keep things simple and manageable. The social environment is complex. There are innumerable variables contribute to even a simple human activity. According to “chaos theory”, even small local variations can produce a truly bewildering variety of outcomes–so great in fact as to render prediction virtually impossible, even in a closed, deterministic system.
Hui: In the era of “Internet of Things”, everything is connected. A slight move in one part may affect the situation as a whole. The consequence can be amplified/changed through the network. It is getting harder to predict and control. We badly need recipe to simplify this complicating world. At least, myself always wonder. The principle of Occam’s razor advocates the virtue of parsimony. In statistical world, it means when two models provide similar results, always choose the simpler one. However, for our current situation, I agree with the author that even the most economical explanations at our disposal may still be too complicate.
Oscar Wilde: The truth is rarely pure and never simple
In the mysterious world of particle physics, Superstring Theory remains the most promising candidate to provide us with a workable “Theory of Everything”. This is the Grail of modern physics, the theoretical framework that will finally allow physicists to reconcile the uneasy bedfellows of quantum physics and general relativity. However as Brian Greene points out in The Elegant Universe, although the theory looks sound, the maths involved is proving so complex that even the best mathematical brains in the world are currently struggling to make the highly convoluted sums add up.
Hui: I don’t think it is a good example here. The general relativity also looks elegant but is mathematically hard to prove. An example on how the increasing information availability complicates people’s decision making may fit better here.
Hui: I agree that the world is complicated. But what can we do?
1.36.2 Myth 5: No one can make you feel anything
The degree to which we are affected and influenced by other people is actually quite terrifying.
There is evidence that just the very process of thinking things through can turn down the intensity of our emotional responses……prefrontal cortex(前额皮质) helps us regulate our emotional reactions. Keeping a cool head, thinking things through, trying to be objective – all of these things can genuinely help us to some degree.
We have the tendency to conform instinctively to the roles that others create for us (Stanley Milgram的著名电击实验)
People are reluctant to recognise how much of their everyday experience ‘is determined not by their conscious intentions and deliberate choices, but by mental processed put into motion by their environment’. [John Bargh, Psychologist from Yale]……we may think we’re calling the shots, but most of the time we are not even aware of the extent to which we are being unconsciously cued into particular roles by the actions and behaviour of those around us. How we experience the world, and even how we experience ourselves, is largely determined by others.
Various studies have confirmed that people tend to copy each other’s body language, facial expressions, speech patterns and vocal tones. The reason this automatic mimicry is crucial in understanding social influence is because psychologists believe it may be one of the mechanisms that underlie emotional contagion.
It seems likely that by unconsciously copying the behaviour and micro-expressions of people around us we consequently end up replicating their emotions. In fact, research has established that even feelings like loneliness can be catching.
It is not only through the subconscious power of imitation that we are exposed to the emotions of those around us. It turns out that we are neurologically configured to connect up with what others around us are experiencing. In recnet years scientist have discovered specialised mirror neurones in the brain that effectively put us into the other person’s shoes.
We should recognise just how vulnerable and open we are to the invisible and unconscious influence of those around us.
Our spontaneous internal reactions to the people around us and the things that happen to us are an important part of being fully alive.
1.36.3 Myth 6: Think positive ans be a winner!
Independent studies have shown that while for non-depressed people positive affirmations do appear to dampen down levels of responsiveness in the amygdala (effectively the ‘fear center’ of the brain), for depressed people the opposite effect is produced: the amygdala becomes more rather than less active while the affirmations are being rehearsed. Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative mood trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world [Joseph Forgas, professor of social psychology] Hui: There is a reason for everything’s existence. We need both sides and the key is to keep balance as in a million other situations.
Depressed people are also better at sequential decision-making. they accept options less readily which led to longer search and better choices. Depression, by fostering greater persistence many improve performance in certain task.
Hui: I doubt it. 1) how to define better choice? 2) does longer search lead to better choice or increase the likelihood of making better choice? I think the ability of making choice is developed overtime. 3) persistence is personality which is relative stable across time and situation. I can’t imagine depressed people are more persistent or being depressed will make you hold on longer. How they collected the data and do analysis? How they choose samples? Are those samples representative?