Tag Archives: science

Choosing Electric Shocks Over Silent Contemplation

Hell, it turns out, isn’t other people.

According to some recent research, published in well-respected journal Science, a whole bunch of people would rather suffer through a self-administered electric shock than spend a measly fifteen minutes sitting quietly alone in a room by themselves with nothing to do.

As hard as it is to believe, yes, I’m completely serious here. I’m not sure I even could make up something as wacky as this.

 ouch2The authors found that “simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 min was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid.”

Would it, no pun intended, shock you to learn that of those those choosing shock over self reflection, there were many more men than women? If so, maybe you dudes should try and pay a bit more attention to what’s going on around you.

I mean, it’s long been a joke popular with the less-refined comedians that men have the sensitivity and feelings of a particularly large and dense specimen of rock. But still. . .

What are these people so afraid of? Is it being alone with their own thoughts? Possibly being disconnected from their auxiliary brains (or, as most folks know them, smartphones) for a while? Having no one else there to break the silence?

Considering that it was the entire purpose of this paper, the authors of said work do have a few opinions on the subject. (Okay, sure. It sometimes seems as if some of these papers are published merely so we’ll have someone new at whom to point and laugh, but definitely not in this case.)

“Research has shown that minds are difficult to control…and it may be particularly hard to steer our thoughts in pleasant directions and keep them there. This may be why many people seek to gain better control of their thoughts with meditation and other techniques, with clear benefits. Without such training, people prefer doing to thinking, even if what they are doing is so unpleasant that they would normally pay to avoid it. The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.”

So, in essence, what the study authors are saying is that people are so desperate to avoid thinking unhappy thoughts that they would rather subject themselves to electricity shooting painfully through their bodies.

If I can’t be constantly happy and thinking continuous happy thoughts, I’d rather be in pain.

That’s just. . . I mean, dudes. That’s crazy, right?

I can’t be the only one who thinks these people are in desperate need of a psychiatric intervention, can I?

Now, I know — KNOW — I’m not the most psychologically stable person around, dudes, but even I would have no problem sitting alone in a white room for a quarter of an hour. I mean, if all else fails, I’d probably just fall asleep.

Fifteen minutes? Sure. No problem. It’s when we begin to talk longer periods of time in solitary confinement that things start to get more than a little scary.

It makes me wonder if these people have ever managed to mature out of childhood, when a time out was one of the worst punishments that could be inflicted on a little dude.

You don’t have to love yourself (although you should), but at least learn to tolerate yourself.

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Maybe The Handwriting Isn’t On The Wall After All

Our brain must understand that each possible iteration of, say, an “a” is the same, no matter how we see it written. Being able to decipher the messiness of each “a” may be more helpful in establishing that eventual representation than seeing the same result repeatedly.

The same research also notes that there could be a difference in the brains of young learners between those who only know how to print block letters (Hello! I’m mostly one of those. Long story.) and those who learn how to write in cursive.

In dysgraphia, a condition where the ability to write is impaired, sometimes after brain injury, the deficit can take on a curious form: In some people, cursive writing remains relatively unimpaired, while in others, printing does.

In alexia, or impaired reading ability, some individuals who are unable to process print can still read cursive, and vice versa — suggesting that the two writing modes activate separate brain networks and engage more cognitive resources than would be the case with a single approach.

That might not be all that much of a big deal, if it weren’t for the fact that cursive writing is disappearing as a subject being taught to the little dudes and dudettes in school. My youngest, Hyper Lad, really only had cursive for about a single year.

He had to learn the letters, try to put them together, and then was forced to write his spelling sentences in cursive each week for the rest of the year. And, really, that was it.

Now it’s years later and, because he didn’t get cursive reinforced in school and because his dad didn’t get a chance to really learn cursive his ownself, I now have to do the reading for him when it comes to cursive notes written by his oldest relatives. Annoying, but also, apparently, only the smallest of problems relating to not knowing cursive.

It turns out, the benefits of learning both handwriting and cursive will last through childhood and into adulthood. Most adults know how to type and consider it an efficient method for taking notes, certainly above using a messy handwriting. However, the very efficiency of typing could be working against adults trying to assimilate new information.

Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.

All of which means . . . what?

I’m not going to say that you must emphasize handwriting in the young dudes and dudettes, but it’s looking like it might be a good idea.

Heck, even just having them handwrite the really important bits from their notes might offer a significant improvement in their ability to assimilate new information. Definitely something to think about as you sit down for your . . . erm. . . their homework come fall.

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The Handwriting On The Wall

The future of school looks a lot like a computer keyboard. . . but maybe it shouldn’t.

Right now, young dudes and dudettes in elementary school, middle school and high school mostly take notes by hand. Every parent knows the nightmare of not getting the right color composition book and having to rush back to Walmart with a sniffling child and rooting in vain amongst the dregs of the school supplies, knowing the color won’t be there and school starts tomorrow and why won’t he just be quiet and for the love of peter just take the green one because it really doesn’t make a difference.

*ahem* Yeah, I might have some issues there. Moving on.

So, most notes are taken with pencil and paper in grades k-12, but that might not last for long. And that could be a problem as life goes on.

While college students still take some notes with pen and paper, I’m seeing more and more computers or tablets on college student desks as they take notes to the clicking of keys and not the clicking of a ball-point pen. And that technophilia is moving down into the primary school years as well.

The future is wall-to-wall computers and our schools are changing to accommodate that. According to some recent research, that could be a big mistake.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

Which we will discuss tomorrow when I come back with a bit more about the whole handwriting versus typing debate.

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