There Is No Such Thing as Conscious Thought


Philosopher Peter Carruthers insists that conscious thought, judgment and volition are illusions. They arise from processes of which we are forever unaware
There Is No Such Thing as Conscious Thought
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Peter Carruthers, Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park, is an expert on the philosophy of mind who draws heavily on empirical psychology and cognitive neuroscience. He outlined many of his ideas on conscious thinking in his 2015 book The Centered Mind: What the Science of Working Memory Shows Us about the Nature of Human Thought. More recently, in 2017, he published a paper with the astonishing title of “The Illusion of Conscious Thought.” In the following excerpted conversation, Carruthers explains to editor Steve Ayan the reasons for his provocative proposal.

What makes you think conscious thought is an illusion?

I believe that the whole idea of conscious thought is an error. I came to this conclusion by following out the implications of the two of the main theories of consciousness. The first is what is called the Global Workspace Theory, which is associated with neuroscientists Stanislas Dehaene and Bernard Baars. Their theory states that to be considered conscious a mental state must be among the contents of working memory (the “user interface” of our minds) and thereby be available to other mental functions, such as decision-making and verbalization. Accordingly, conscious states are those that are “globally broadcast,” so to speak. The alternative view, proposed by Michael Graziano, David Rosenthal and others, holds that conscious mental states are simply those that you know of, that you are directly aware of in a way that doesn’t require you to interpret yourself. You do not have to read you own mind to know of them. Now, whichever view you adopt, it turns out that thoughts such as decisions and judgments should not be considered to be conscious. They are not accessible in working memory, nor are we directly aware of them. We merely have what I call “the illusion of immediacy”—the false impression that we know our thoughts directly.

One might easily agree that the sources of one’s thoughts are hidden from view—we just don’t know where our ideas come from. But once we have them and we know it, that’s where consciousness begins. Don’t we have conscious thoughts at least in this sense?

In ordinary life we are quite content to say things like “Oh, I just had a thought” or “I was thinking to myself.” By this we usually mean instances of inner speech or visual imagery, which are at the center of our stream of consciousness—the train of words and visual contents represented in our minds. I think that these trains are indeed conscious. In neurophilosophy, however, we refer to “thought” in a much more specific sense. In this view, thoughts include only nonsensory mental attitudes, such as judgments, decisions, intentions and goals. These are amodal, abstract events, meaning that they are not sensory experiences and are not tied to sensory experiences. Such thoughts never figure in working memory. They never become conscious. And we only ever know of them by interpreting what does become conscious, such as visual imagery and the words we hear ourselves say in our heads.

So consciousness always has a sensory basis?

I claim that consciousness is always bound to a sensory modality, that there is inevitably some auditory, visual or tactile aspect to it. All kinds of mental imagery, such as inner speech or visual memory, can of course be conscious. We see things in our mind’s eye; we hear our inner voice. What we are conscious of are the sensory-based contents present in working memory.

In your view, is consciousness different from awareness?

That’s a difficult question. Some philosophers believe that consciousness can be richer than what we can actually report. For example, our visual field seems to be full of detail—everything is just there, already consciously seen. Yet experiments in visual perception, especially the phenomenon of inattentional blindness, show that in fact we consciously register only a very limited slice of the world. [Editors’ note: A person experiencing inattentional blindness may not notice that a gorilla walked across a basketball court while the individual was focusing on the movement of the ball.] So, what we think we see, our subjective impression, is different from what we are actually aware of. Probably our conscious mind grasps only the gist of much of what is out there in the world, a sort of statistical summary. Of course, for most people consciousness and awareness coincide most of the time. Still, I think, we are not directly aware of our thoughts. Just as we are not directly aware of the thoughts of other people. We interpret our own mental states in much the same way as we interpret the minds of others, except that we can use as data in our own case our own visual imagery and inner speech.

You call the process of how people learn their own thoughts interpretive sensory access, or ISA. Where does the interpretation come into play?

Let’s take our conversation as an example—you are surely aware of what I am saying to you at this very moment. But the interpretative work and inferences on which you base your understanding are not accessible to you. All the highly automatic, quick inferences that form the basis of your understanding of my words remain hidden. You seem to just hear the meaning of what I say. What rises to the surface of your mind are the results of these mental processes. That is what I mean: The inferences themselves, the actual workings of our mind, remain unconscious. All that we are aware of are their products. And my access to your mind, when I listen to you speak, is not different in any fundamental way from my access to my own mind when I am aware of my own inner speech. The same sorts of interpretive processes still have to take place.

Why, then, do we have the impression of direct access to our mind?

The idea that minds are transparent to themselves (that everyone has direct awareness of their own thoughts) is built into the structure of our “mind reading” or “theory of mind” faculty, I suggest. The assumption is a useful heuristic when interpreting the statements of others. If someone says to me, “I want to help you,” I have to interpret whether the person is sincere, whether he is speaking literally or ironically, and so on; that is hard enough. If I also had to interpret whether he is interpreting his own mental state correctly, then that would make my task impossible. It is far simpler to assume that he knows his own mind (as, generally, he does). The illusion of immediacy has the advantage of enabling us to understand others with much greater speed and probably with little or no loss of reliability. If I had to figure out to what extent others are reliable interpreters of themselves, then that would make things much more complicated and slow. It would take a great deal more energy and interpretive work to understand the intentions and mental states of others. And then it is the same heuristic transparency-of-mind assumption that makes my own thoughts seem transparently available to me.

What is the empirical basis of your hypothesis?

There is a great deal of experimental evidence from normal subjects, especially of their readiness to falsely, but unknowingly, fabricate facts or memories to fill in for lost ones. Moreover, if introspection were fundamentally different from reading the minds of others, one would expect there to be disorders in which only one capacity was damaged but not the other. But that’s not what we find. Autism spectrum disorders, for example, are not only associated with limited access to the thoughts of others but also with a restricted understanding of oneself. In patients with schizophrenia, the insight both into one’s own mind and that of others is distorted. There seems to be only a single mind-reading mechanism on which we depend both internally and in our social relations.

What side effect does the illusion of immediacy have?

The price we pay is that we believe subjectively that we are possessed of far greater certainty about our attitudes than we actually have. We believe that if we are in mental state X, it is the same as being in that state. As soon as I believe I am hungry, I am. Once I believe I am happy, I am. But that is not really the case. It is a trick of the mind that makes us equate the act of thinking one has a thought with the thought itself.

What might be the alternative? What should we do about it, if only we could?

Well, in theory, we would have to distinguish between an experiential state itself on the one hand and our judgment or belief underlying this experience on the other hand. There are rare instances when we succeed in doing so: for example, when I feel nervous or irritated but suddenly realize that I am actually hungry and need to eat.

You mean that a more appropriate way of seeing it would be: “I think I’m angry, but maybe I’m not”?

That would be one way of saying it. It is astonishingly difficult to maintain this kind of distanced view of oneself. Even after many years of consciousness studies, I’m still not all that good at it (laughs).

Brain researchers put a lot of effort into figuring out the neural correlates of consciousness, the NCC. Will this endeavor ever be successful?

I think we already know a lot about how and where working memory is represented in the brain. Our philosophical concepts of what consciousness actually is are much more informed by empirical work than they were even a few decades ago. Whether we can ever close the gap between subjective experiences and neurophysiological processes that produce them is still a matter of dispute.

Would you agree that we are much more unconscious than we think we are?

I would rather say that consciousness is not what we generally think it is. It is not direct awareness of our inner world of thoughts and judgments but a highly inferential process that only gives us the impression of immediacy.

Where does that leave us with our concept of freedom and responsibility?

We can still have free will and be responsible for our actions. Conscious and unconscious are not separate spheres; they operate in tandem. We are not simply puppets manipulated by our unconscious thoughts, because obviously, conscious reflection does have effects on our behavior. It interacts with and is fueled by implicit processes. In the end, being free means acting in accordance with one’s own reasons—whether these are conscious or not.


Briefly Explained: Consciousness

Consciousness is generally understood to mean that an individual not only has an idea, recollection or perception but also knows that he or she has it. For perception, this knowledge encompasses both the experience of the outer world (“it’s raining”) and one’s internal state (“I’m angry”). Experts do not know how human consciousness arises. Nevertheless, they generally agree on how to define various aspects of it. Thus, they distinguish “phenomenal consciousness” (the distinctive feel when we perceive, for example, that an object is red) and “access consciousness” (when we can report on a mental state and use it in decision-making).

Important characteristics of consciousness include subjectivity (the sense that the mental event belongs to me), continuity (it appears unbroken) and intentionality (it is directed at an object). According to a popular scheme of consciousness known as Global Workspace Theory, a mental state or event is conscious if a person can bring it to mind to carry out such functions as decision-making or remembering, although how such accessing occurs is not precisely understood. Investigators assume that consciousness is not the product of a single region of the brain but of larger neural networks. Some theoreticians go so far as to posit that it is not even the product of an individual brain. For example, philosopher Alva Noë of the University of California, Berkeley, holds that consciousness is not the work of a single organ but is more like a dance: a pattern of meaning that emerges between brains.

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Can Intelligence Buy You Happiness?


New research suggests that IQ leads to greater well-being by enabling one to acquire the financial and educational means necessary to live a better life.

Can Intelligence Buy You Happiness?

In his classic 1923 essay, “Intelligence as the Tests Test It“, Edwin Boring wrote “Intelligence is what the tests test.” Almost a century of research later, we know that this definition is far too narrow. As long as a test is sufficiently cognitively complex and taps into enough diverse content, you can get a rough snapshot of a person’s general cognitive ability— and general cognitive ability predicts a wide range of important outcomes in life, including academic achievement, occupational performance, health, and longevity.

But what about happiness? Prior studies have been mixed about this, with some studies showing no relationship between individual IQ and happiness, and other studies showing that those in the lowest IQ range report the lowest levels of happiness compared to those in the highest IQ group. In one study, however, the unhappiness of the lowest IQ range was reduced by 50% once income and mental health issues were taken into account. The authors concluded that “interventions that target modifiable variables such as income (e.g., through enhancing education and employment opportunities) and neurotic symptoms (e.g., through better detection of mental health problems) may improve levels of happiness in the lower IQ groups.”

One major limitations of these prior studies, however, is that they all rely on a single measure of happiness, notably life satisfaction. Modern day researchers now have measures to assess a much wider array of indicators of well-being, including autonomy, personal growth, positive relationships, self-acceptance, mastery, and purpose and meaning in life.

Enter a new study conducted by Ana Dimitrijevic and colleagues, in which they attempted to assess the relationship between multiple indicators of intelligence and multiple indicators of well-being. They relied on the following definition of intelligence: “the ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, and to overcome obstacles by taking thought.” This definition covers several more specific notions of intelligence, such as emotional intelligence.

The researchers administered a battery of intelligence and well-being measures to 288 adults employed within various departments of a large dairy production company in Belgrade. What did they found?

Intelligence and Well-Being

The researchers found that both IQ and emotional intelligence were independently correlated with well-being.* IQ was positively correlated with personal relationships, self-acceptance, personal growth, mastery, and purpose in life.** Emotional intelligence was correlated with the same well-being measures, but was additionally related to a sense of autonomy in life.

Zooming in on the IQ test, the most predictive subscale for well-being was a measure of non-verbal fluid reasoning, which requires pattern detection and abstract reasoning (constructing generalizable principles from minimal information). Some people argue that this form of reasoning is strongly related to general intelligence.

Once socioeconomic status (SES) was taken into account (reflecting higher education and income), however, there was no relationship between IQ and well-being. According to the researchers, this suggests that IQ leads “to greater contentment with oneself and life primarily by enabling one to acquire the social status and financial means which ensure better opportunities and quality of life.” Of course, this does not mean that IQ is simply a measure of SES; IQ was positively correlated with well-being. However, it does suggest that the extent to which IQ is related to happiness depends to a large extent on the opportunities (e.g., financial, educational) you have to utilize your IQ.

What about emotional intelligence? The emotional intelligence tests that were most predictive of well-being were the two higher, more “strategic” branches– Understanding and Managing Emotions. The person who scores higher in these facets of emotional intelligence are better able to comprehend the emotional signals coming from others, and to regulate and manage their own and others’ emotions so as to further their own and others’ personal and social goals.

Emotional intelligence had a direct effect on well-being, and this association remained strong even after controlling for SES. What’s more, of the two measures of intelligence– IQ and emotional intelligence– emotional intelligence was the strongest predictor of well-being, outweighing not only IQ, but also a person’s SES and age. This finding suggests that emotional intelligence– particularly the capacity to manage one’s emotions toward optimal personal goal attainment– is a form of intelligence that can help people live a more fulfilled life regardless of their economic circumstances.

Why Is Intelligence Associated with Well-Being?

I think intelligence matters for a fulfilling life for a number of reasons. For one, a higher IQ is a gateway to better education. Those with higher IQ scores are much more likely to score well on standardized tests of achievement, and academic performance is often the first hurdle necessary to continue up the ladder of occupational opportunities.

Also relevant here is the association between IQ and openness to experience. Those with a higher IQ tend to score higher in a number of facets of openness to experience, including intellectual engagement, intellectual creativity, introspection, ingenuity, intellectual depth, and imagination. This tendency for deeper cognitive processing is critical for dealing with a lot of life’s up and downs. While trauma is inevitable in life, research shows that we can grow from our traumas if we have a healthy form of rumination in which we reflect on the deeper meaning of the event and can use that cognitive processing to perceive greater opportunities for ourselves and others.

Regarding emotional intelligence, since having a fulfilling life often requires accomplishing the goals you have set out for yourself, it makes sense that being able to manage your emotions in the service of a larger goal will be associated with well-being and self-actualization.

Perhaps the most important analysis will turn out to be how IQ and emotional intelligence interact. There is some evidence that in certain contexts, emotional intelligence can amplify the effectiveness of a high IQ, and high emotional intelligence can even compensate for a lower IQ. Future research should definitely look more closely at the interaction between these two important aspects of human intelligence.

Of course, it’s possible that the findings operate in reverse causation, and being happier increases intellectual skills. Most likely, both directions are at play in the correlations found in the study. Clearly more research will need to look at the association between intelligence and well-being over time.

At any rate, I’m pleased to see that this line of research is being conducted. I believe a great responsibility we have as a society is to ensure that all people– regardless of their IQ score– are able to self-actualize and lead a life of self-acceptance, autonomy, meaning, and positive social relationships.

* It should be noted that IQ and emotional intelligence were moderately correlated with each other. This suggests that both tests are tapping into a common set of processes (e.g., executive functioning, working memory, etc.), even though IQ and emotional intelligence also involve a partially different set of skills.

15 Common Traits of People With True Integrity


Trust and integrity are the foundations of a good relationship.

While anyone can say they are reliable in a job interview or on a first date, how do you know if they are in fact a person with genuine integrity?

When determining if the people in your life are truly trustworthy, here are 15 habits integral to people with genuine integrity.

1. Trustworthy

Trust goes beyond just agreeing to keep a secret or watching your cat for the weekend. Being trustworthy means they can be counted on no matter what.

2. Accountable

We all make mistakes, but a person with genuine integrity knows when to take the blame. If a mistake was made, then they will be the first to admit if they had a hand in it.

3. Reliable

Along with accountability, reliability is another big clue to someone’s integrity. No one likes someone who promises big but doesn’t deliver. Integrity means following through and being reliable.

4. Sharing the Spotlight

This is particularly important in the office.

If you’re working on a project with a team, but only one person takes the credit, you know you won’t want to work with them in future.

It can seriously sour both the office environment and the home if your partner or colleague doesn’t share any credit.

If your co-worker gives your fellow teammates a shoutout that’s important.

If they work well in a team and share the responsibility, that’s also a sign that they are genuine and responsible.

5. Humble

A little humility goes a long way, but if you have someone in your life who is constantly avoiding praise or compliments, remind them of how important and valuable they are, and that it’s ok to accept the praise.

You can judge someone’s integrity based on how they handle compliments.

On the other hand, someone without a lot of humility might not be able to keep their ego in check.

6. Working to Find a Solution

Even people with the best moral compass and a stringent code of ethics will find themselves in an argument or disagreement at one point or another. It’s human nature.

However, people with integrity don’t spend their time arguing their side. Instead, they will work to find a solution and compromise.

7. Genuine

Finding a genuine person might be a little like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Being genuine means being sincere in everything you do. When a person of integrity gives you a compliment, you know they genuinely mean it.

Or if they ask how you are, you know they genuinely care. Genuine people are also direct. Calling it like it is, not maliciously, but simply being frank, is a good measurement of someone’s character.

8. Generous

You can tell a lot about a person based on how they talk to the server at a restaurant. Genuine people don’t treat the waitstaff as second-class citizens.

But you can also tell a lot about someone based on how they tip, donate to a cause in need, or discuss money among friends and family. Generosity and genuineness tend to go hand in hand.

9. Lending a Helping Hand

Beyond donating to the local food pantry or the Red Cross, genuine integrity means naturally lending a helping hand if it’s needed.

Someone who doesn’t mind giving their time, perhaps even more than their money, obviously cares deeply for other people.

10. Kindness

People with integrity know that being kind to others is priority number one.

If they see someone is having a rough day, they will go out of their way to make them feel better. People with integrity are always ready with a kind word or smile.

11. Raising Others Up

Sometimes you come across people who love to tear others down. Everyone needs someone who supports them, but those with integrity go the extra mile.

Genuine individuals want you to succeed so they will hold you to your goals and help you achieve them.

12. Valuing Other’s Time

The last thing you need is someone who doesn’t value your time. People with integrity will always have time for you or will fit you in their schedule when they can.

It’s more than just being reliable; genuine integrity means respecting people’s time and showing up to appointments and dates promptly.

13. Intuitive

Do you have that friend who seems to be able to read your feelings no matter how well you try and cover them up? It’s because they’re intuitive, and it’s a valuable trait to have.

Intuitive people don’t just know how you’re feeling; they can sense when something’s up or when you’re upset, and most importantly will do whatever they can to make you feel better.

People with integrity use their intuition wisely, strengthening relationships and helping to mediate uncomfortable situations.

14. Believing People

Not only can genuine and reliable people be trusted, but they also trust and rely on other people. For people with integrity, you’re in their good graces unless you give them a good reason not to be.

They will take someone at their word and leave it at that. If you owe them money, they won’t hammer you. If you tell them something, they will take you at your word.

15. Seeing The Best in Others

Along with taking people at their word, there is something to be said for the way people with integrity view others.

You might know one or two people who can see the best in people rather than the worst, sometimes even to a fault.

This a trait that not many have, but those who do are well worth keeping in your life because they can often offer a different if sometimes, challenging perspective.

If you’re trying to determine if someone has real integrity, if they can be relied on, and if they are kind of person worth having in your life, look for these 15 traits.

These habits come second nature to genuine and trustworthy people, and if you have someone in your life who has integrity, count yourself lucky.

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Source: Higher Perspective

Former Facebook exec says social media is ripping apart society


‘No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth.’

Chamath Palihapitiya speaks at a Vanity Fair event in October 2016.

Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world. Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people take a “hard break” from social media.

Palihapitiya’s criticisms were aimed not only at Facebook, but the wider online ecosystem. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

He went on to describe an incident in India where hoax messages about kidnappings shared on WhatsApp led to the lynching of seven innocent people. “That’s what we’re dealing with,” said Palihapitiya. “And imagine taking that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want. It’s just a really, really bad state of affairs.” He says he tries to use Facebook as little as possible, and that his children “aren’t allowed to use that shit.” He later adds, though, that he believes the company “overwhelmingly does good in the world.”

Palihapitiya’s remarks follow similar statements of contrition from others who helped build Facebook into the powerful corporation it is today. In November, early investor Sean Parker said he has become a “conscientious objector” to social media, and that Facebook and others had succeeded by “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” A former product manager at the company, Antonio Garcia-Martinez, has said Facebook lies about its ability to influence individuals based on the data it collects on them, and wrote a book, Chaos Monkeys, about his work at the firm.

These former employees have all spoken out at a time when worry about Facebook’s power is reaching fever pitch. In the past year, concerns about the company’s role in the US election and its capacity to amplify fake news have grown, while other reports have focused on how the social media site has been implicated in atrocities like the “ethnic cleansing” of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic group.

In his talk, Palihapitiya criticized not only Facebook, but Silicon Valley’s entire system of venture capital funding. He said that investors pump money into “shitty, useless, idiotic companies,” rather than addressing real problems like climate change and disease. Palihapitiya currently runs his own VC firm, Social Capital, which focuses on funding companies in sectors like healthcare and education.

Palihapitiya also notes that although tech investors seem almighty, they’ve achieved their power more through luck than skill. “Everybody’s bullshitting,” he said. “If you’re in a seat, and you have good deal flow, and you have precious capital, and there’s a massive tailwind of technological change … Over time you get one of the 20

and you look like a genius. And nobody wants to admit that but that’s the fucking truth.”

Emotional resilience: 10 crucial habits


There are few character traits more valuable and underrated than resilience.

Strength, bravery, intelligence, will—while all these qualities may be great to have, there is one common element they all share, and that’s resilience.

Emotional resilience is your ability to pick yourself up after you fall down.

Resilience keeps your nose in the book and your will alive, even when everyone around you has given up.

Emotional resilience is the difference between wanting a dream and turning that dream into reality.

And while some people naturally have a vat of resilience to pull from, the rest of us have to build it.

Here are 10 ways you can start building your emotional resilience and becoming a stronger version of you:

1) Find Your Purpose

So many of us go through life on a kind of prolonged autopilot. We go from one stage of life to another—school, work, marriage, family—without truly asking ourselves: what do we want to do in life?

Your career and your partner can act as substitutes for your purpose while you search for one, but if you never find the thing that fills you with single-minded commitment, then you will never truly want to push yourself as far as you can go.

2) Look on the Bright Side

We get it—life is tough, and staying positive and optimistic can be one of the greatest struggles you might ever go through.

Life can beat you down and make you feel like the smallest thing in the world, and there are times when you need to retreat and heal.

But that can’t be your only response. You have to stand back up after every hardship, and the best way to do that is by looking on the bright side.



Even if all the odds are against you, find the positivity, the possibility of a happy ending, and use that mental image to pull yourself forward.

3) Find Others

Humans are social creatures, and it’s no surprise that those with strong bonds and communities are those that have traditionally thrived.

Sticking to yourself might seem like the best option, especially if you have a history of being let down and even betrayed.

But you won’t be able to achieve the resilience you need if you have no one to lean on except yourself.

Accept your own weaknesses and limitations, and find others you can draw strength from in your times of need.

4) Never Stop Evolving

Your contribution to the world is the legacy you will leave behind. So what will your contribution be?

Just your presence, your effort, your kindness? Or will you leave behind something more unique, something that truly marks your place in the history you want to set?

It isn’t enough to just “be” if you want to stay relevant and resilient. You have to “be” the best version of yourself you can be, and that means evolving and developing your skills. Focus on your skills, build your strengths, and become a force that only you can be.

5) Set Goals

There is nothing more chaotic than a crisis, and for most people, a crisis is enough to rock their entire world.

Even the most resilient people will find themselves overwhelmed at times by the worst crises in their lives, but the difference between a resilient individual and someone who isn’t is their response to the crisis.



And that response? Set goals. Find your next step, and get to it as fast as you can. Start clearing the chaos before the chaos clears you.

6) Take Care of You

We all know stress. Some of us run away from it, some of us slam ourselves against it until it goes away.

But one way or another, stress has the tendency to make us forget about ourselves. Eating healthy, getting enough exercise, sleeping enough every night: all of these habits can go out the window when you are stressed, and that makes the situation even worse.

Always take care of you before anything else.

7) Adapt to Change

One rule of life is that nothing ever stays the same. It can be heartbreaking and tough when a great situation is forced to change, but refusing to adapt to that change can make or break who you are as a person.

Accept the inevitability of change, and get ahead of the curve before it leaves you behind.

8) Believe In Yourself

Believing in yourself is a key force you have in overcoming the stress of life’s greatest obstacles.

Even if the odds are stacked against you, saying to yourself that you are capable of what you need to do is enough mental motivation to get you through to the next stage.

9) Be Active, Not Reactive

Some of us wait for problems to occur. If you have a great situation going, you might be tempted to relax and let yourself enjoy the moment.

But don’t enjoy the moment too long: as stated earlier, everything in life will change. Problems that you never expected will come up out of nowhere, and your capacity to overcome them will rely on how much you prepared for it.

Don’t wait for problems to come up; start solving them before they happen.

10) Learn How to Solve All Problems

And finally, the most resilient individuals know that problems can pop up around every corner.

The better you equip yourself with problem-solving skills, the easier it will be to get through even the most alien situations.

And don’t stick to the same solution every time: be creative, be innovative, and find new ways to tackle old issues.

The more creatively you learn how to solve problems, the more resilient you will be when the worst days come by.

Can Introverts Be Happy in a World That Can’t Stop Talking?


Acceptance is key to the well-being and authenticity of introverts.
Can Introverts Be Happy in a World That Can't Stop Talking?

The subtitle of Susan Cain’s bestseller “Quiet” is “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The idea that introverts can still flourish despite the cultural message of the “extravert ideal” clearly resonated with a lot of people.

However, until recently, the science of well-being really didn’t support this idea. Study after study looking at the link between personality and well-being kept pointing to the conclusion that extraverted people tend to experience higher levels of happiness than do those who are introverted. But in recent years, a number of more nuanced studies have challenged this strong conclusion, and suggests that there is much more to this story than meets the eye. As we’ll see, it is very possible to thrive and flourish as an introvert, even in a world that can’t stop talking.

We’ll take a closer look at these new studies, but first things first: what is introversion?

What is Introversion?

There are a number of different conceptualizations of introversion floating around the internet, so let me clarify how introversion is treated in the scientific literature. In modern day personality research, extraversion is considered one of the main factors of personality. Extraversion comprises a constellation of characteristics– such as being outgoing, sociable, expressive, and assertive– that are all linked by a high sensitivity to rewards in the environment. Therefore, introversion lies simply on the other end of this pole, and is characterized by being more reserved and quiet, and a lower threshold of sensitivity to rewards in the environment.

That’s it. There are a lot of common misconceptions about introversion, however, such as the idea that introverts are necessarily shy (that’s only the case if introverts also score high in the personality trait neuroticism) or are more likely to be creative and imaginative (that’s only the case if introverts also score high in the personality trait openness to experience). Personality neuroscientist Colin DeYoung explains it as follows:

“People who score low in Extraversion are not necessarily turned inward; rather, they are less engaged, motivated, and energized by the possibilities for reward that surround them. Hence, they talk less, are less driven, and experience less enthusiasm. They may also find levels of stimulation that are rewarding and energizing for someone high in Extraversion merely annoying or tiring (or even overwhelming, depending on their level of Neuroticism). Their reserved demeanor is not likely to indicate an intense engagement with the world of imagination and ideas, however, unless they are also high in [openness to experience].”

The New Science of Introversion

With that out of the way, we can now dive deep into the “new” science of introversion. I refer to it as the new science to distinguish it from the earlier conclusions that were much more black-and-white (extraversion = happiness). As early as 2001, the literature started to observe a substantial subset of “happy introverts” in their samples.

One recent line of research suggests that there are multiple personality pathways to well-being. In this series of studies, I teamed up with Jessie Sun and Luke Smillie to take a more finely grained look at the multiple aspects of personality and the multiple dimensions of well-being (not only happiness but also important sources of well-being such as meaning, self-acceptance, autonomy, and personal growth). We found the following five aspects of personality were most predictive of a wide range of indicators of well-being: enthusiasm, low withdrawal, industriousness/grit, compassion, and intellectual curiosity. Therefore, regardless of one’s overall levels of introversion, if one of these other paths to well-being is cultivated, it is still possible to be a very happy introvert.

Another line of research led by Rowan Jacques-Hamilton investigated the costs of sustained extraverted behavior in everyday life. I highlighted the word “sustained” because it turns out this is a really important caveat. Prior research had shown that no matter one’s placement on the extraversion-introversion continuum, those who more naturally acted extraverted were more likely to feel authentic in the moment. Consistent with that finding, Jacques-Hamilton and his colleagues found that asking participants to “act extraverted” for one week in everyday life had “wholly positive” benefits for positive emotions and reports of authenticity for the sample overall.

However, the important nuance is that more introverted people displayed weaker increases in positive emotions, experienced increased negative emotions and tiredness, and experienced decreased feelings of authenticity over the course of the experiment. This research highlights the costs of repeatedly acting out of character, and also the costs of being forced to act of character (the experimenters explicitly instructed the participants to act in a certain way).

This has deep implications for the well-being of introverts who live in cultures where extraversion is highly valued and emphasized as the ideal way of being. C. Ashley Fulmer and her colleagues investigated the relationship between extraversion and happiness and self-esteem across 7,000 people from 28 societies and found that the positive relationship between extraversion and happiness and self-esteem was much greater when a person’s level of extraversion matched the average level of extraversion of their society. This research suggests that person-environment fit matters quite a bit when looking at the relationship between introversion and well-being. The researchers proposed a “person-culture match hypothesis” that argues that culture can function as an important amplifier of the positive effect of personality on self-esteem and happiness.*

Importantly, not all of these studies are quantitative. The qualitative approach offers a way to more deeply understand the lived experience of introverts. In an important qualitative analysis of introverts in the context of medical school in the United States (a context in which extraverted behaviors are frequently rewarded), Ralph Gillies and colleagues found that self-identified introverts mentioned feeling at times like misfits, questioning a need to change their identity to succeed in medical school, and being judged as underperformers. Here are a few reports from the self-identified introverts in the study:

  • “One of the issues that people may have with introverts in general is that they just don’t know what’s going on with them. I know more than a few people who have said that I was intimidating or seemed standoffish, just because I didn’t talk much. Just because we aren’t constantly talking and letting everyone know everything that’s going on inside our heads we come across as the weird ones.”
  • “After reading Dale Carnegie’s book on how to influence people, I felt the writer was telling me that I would have to change my personality/identity in order to make positive changes in other people’s lives.”

The researchers offered some recommendations for how medical school can be more welcoming and appreciative of introverts, such as pausing between a question being asked and the initial response and differentiating between anxious and introverted behaviors. Critically, some of the introverts in the study expressed immense relief and validation after viewing Susan Cain’s TED talk on the potential strengths of introverts.

All of this research suggests that perhaps the biggest key to being a happy introvert is simply self-acceptance; not forcing oneself to repeatedly act out of character, or to think of oneself as merely deviations from an “ideal” personality. This conclusion is strongly supported by a just published study in the Journal of Happiness Studies by Rodney Lawn and colleagues.

The Australian researchers had people indicate their placement on the extraversion-introversion continuum, and then asked them to indicate their ideal placement on the same continuum. It was clear that there was a distinct cultural preference for extraversion. They found that a whopping 96% of people believed that extraverted characteristics were more valued than introverted characteristics in their society, and 82.2% of the participants also believed it was necessary to display extraverted characteristics in going about their daily life. What’s more, the majority of participants (53.6%) wanted to be more extraverted, and those who were more introverted were particularly likely to want to be more extraverted. These findings are consistent with prior work showing that in the West, 87% of people explicitly express a goal of becoming more extraverted.

But the story doesn’t stop there. Lawn and colleagues found that the introverts in their sample who were comfortable with their introversion showed higher levels of authenticity than did those who wanted to be more extraverted, and were able to achieve a level of well-being that came close to the level experienced by extraverts. These findings suggest that simply making a change in one’s judgment about one’s placement on the extraversion-introversion continuum can have a profound effect on well-being and authenticity. As the researchers note,

“Introverts who can learn to be more comfortable with their place on the introversion-extraversion continuum, for example, better thrive in our schools, universities, and workplaces despite the fact that in the West these institutions are often geared toward extraverted behavior. We speculate that introverts might learn to become more comfortable with their own introversion in these environments by focusing on eudaomonic concepts such as maintaining a positive attitude toward oneself, and cultivating good character and practicing more self-acceptance, and developing their ‘signature strengths‘.”

My advice: if you can’t change your environment, you can always change how you view yourself. Don’t let anyone make you feel less than simply because you are different. Embrace the unique strengths you can bring to the table, and you are more likely to be happier, healthier, and feel more authentic in your everyday life. You, too, can be a very happy introvert.

Psychologists’ face off reveals humans can recognise 5,000 people


The scientists asked volunteers to spend an hour recalling as many faces as they could from their private lives, covering old school friends, work colleagues, past partners and colleagues.
The scientists asked volunteers to spend an hour recalling as many faces as they could from their private lives, covering old school friends, work colleagues, past partners and colleagues.

The next time an old friend meets your greeting with a quizzical who-are-you stare, you’re right to take offence: new research suggests the average person can recognise 5,000 different faces.

Psychologists at the University of York embarked on the study after realising that for all the work scientists have done on faces, they had never nailed down, even roughly, the number of faces the average human knows. They say it is the first evidence-based estimate of this figure.

Through a series of recall and recognition tests on volunteers, the researchers discovered that the human ability to recognise faces varies enormously. The study found that people know between 1,000 and 10,000 faces of friends, family members, colleagues and celebrities, with most racking up about 5,000.

“We were quite surprised by how high the top end was,” said Mike Burton, a professor of psychology who led the research at the University of York. About 2% of the population are thought to experience “face blindness” or prosopagnosia.

“We’ve studied faces for years and years and the main thing we always find is that there’s a huge difference between our ability to recognise familiar versus unfamiliar faces. People are surprisingly bad at checking a real face against a photo ID, and yet we recognise friends and colleagues over a huge range of conditions,” said Burton.

“The brain is doing something different with familiar and unfamiliar faces and that has been at the heart of our science for a long time. But we realised we were missing something if we didn’t know how many familiar faces people do recognise.”

The scientists asked volunteers to spend an hour recalling as many faces as they could from their private lives, covering old school friends, work colleagues, past partners and colleagues. They then moved on to famous faces: actors, musicians, sports stars, politicians and so on. By recording how the volunteers’ recall rates slowed down, the psychologists estimated when they would run out of faces.

In the next part of the study, the volunteers were shown thousands of photographs of famous people and tested on how many they recognised, even if they could not name the person. The scientists only counted an individual as recognised if the volunteer knew them from two different pictures.

The researchers arrived at the 5,000 figure by combining the results from both parts of the study. While the number may seem high, given that humans evolved in small groups, it may simply reflect the social importance of recognising friends and foes and vast number of faces we are now exposed to. Details of the work are published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Given the social lives of our ancestors, the ability to recognise thousands of individuals might seem like overkill,” said Rob Jenkins, a psychologist at University of York and co-author on the study. “But there are plenty of examples of overkill in nature. The venom of some spiders can kill a horse, even though the spider presumably has no ambitions to eat the horse.” Equipped with such impressive facial recognition skills, it may be that we have little choice but to remember so many.

Burton said the research could ultimately improve automatic face recognition technology. Today’s best systems are good at spotting “strangers” but cannot outperform a human when it comes to recognising people the person is familiar with. “If we want to make the next step, we’ll need to start copying that,” said Burton.

Loneliness: The Truth Behind Your Fear of Being Alone


What Your Fear of Loneliness Is Really All About

“When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.”
― Elizabeth GilbertEat, Pray, Love

There’s a campaign happening now in the UK meant to tackle loneliness and its effects on the general population. Everyone knows that London can feel quite lonely, even when surrounded by people. My attempt here is to solve the cause of the lonely feeling, not the effect of it. Of course, calling someone can work, also going to a pub and having a drink might get you closer to someone.

There are so many apps these days that can be used to combat this awful feeling of being lonely. But in my opinion, the feeling of loneliness itself is not awful, but the meaning we give it. I think that loneliness stems out of the fear of being alone, of being with yourself, your true self. It’s easy to identify with the person everyone sees in you, but when you are alone, who are you?

What Your Fear of Loneliness Is Really All About

That’s a question most of us, including me, are dodging because we’re afraid of the answer. We’re afraid that we might find out that we’re not good enough, strong enough, pretty enough or capable enough.

That fear is so terrifying that we’d do almost anything to not feel it, including hanging out with people who may not do us any good. Some might think that it’s better to spend their time doing something that does not necessarily bring them joy but it’s anyway better than being alone. Also, this loneliness may keep us in toxic romantic relationships, where the predominant feeling is attachment and worry, where people are not happy but they just go with the flow or settle because “probably there’s nothing better out there anyway”.

In fact, we’re scared that someone else might see the real us and they won’t accept us, because why would they? We know what we really feel inside and we know how broken we are. Most of us settle for a comfortable relationship, one that usually becomes a partnership of buying a house and raising children, while one or both feel the need to go outside the relationship to fulfill all their needs.

The fact that the rate of divorce is getting higher and higher is because it became accepted nowadays, but that doesn’t mean that relationships until 30 years ago were happier. I used to get asked the question: do you think it’s better to stay in a toxic relationship or divorce? I’d say option number 3, having a loving, meaningful, honest relationship where love only grows for the rest of your life. The only reason why we’re settling for the first 2 options and we don’t keep looking for number 3 is that we just don’t know any better.

How many times did you hear someone say: “true love does not exist”, or “Love is never enough”. Of course, it’s not, especially because that’s not love.

What is Loneliness?

When a relationship only keeps going because of habit, attachment, and fear of loss, why do we expect them to feel good? Because we don’t know any better. I’ve never studied this in school, probably neither did you. But when you forget to love yourself, you cannot love anyone else. It’s something that comes from inside of you, so how could you ever give something to someone else if you don’t have that for yourself? I know that some people wish that this weren’t true because they don’t feel that much about themselves.

They see the failures that they are therefore they cannot love themselves. Who can ever love a failure? I think that the answer is obvious: God. I’m not talking about the God presented to you by religion, but that Force that lives inside of you and that you’re probably not forgotten everything about. When you connect with that Force, you cannot feel lonely ever, because you’re never alone. My suggestion is just to take a step back and stop running away from the fear because it’s, in fact, the fear of fear itself that is causing all your problems. Take a look at yourself and think: Is it really that bad? Am I really that bad?

Whatever you think you did, forgive yourself.

There’s nothing worse than being separated from what is in fact, your true nature. Once forgiveness starts, the healing will start as well. Don’t run away from it and don’t be afraid of it, you are not alone and you have never been. You just didn’t know any better, at the time it sounded like a good idea, so you went with it. I promise you, once you reconnect with your Self, you will not need anyone in your life.

Also, that’s when they will come because you won’t make everything about your pain anymore, you will be their bedrock and they will love you for it. But first and foremost, love yourself, because without that all you’re giving is emptiness and sadness. 

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Why we won’t get to Mars without teamwork


Source:
American Psychological Association
Summary:
If humanity hopes to make it to Mars anytime soon, we need to understand not just technology, but the psychological dynamic of a small group of astronauts trapped in a confined space for months with no escape.

If humanity hopes to make it to Mars anytime soon, we need to understand not just technology, but the psychological dynamic of a small group of astronauts trapped in a confined space for months with no escape, according to a paper published in American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association.

“Teamwork and collaboration are critical components of all space flights and will be even more important for astronauts during long-duration missions, such as to Mars. The astronauts will be months away from home, confined to a vehicle no larger than a mid-sized RV for two to three years and there will be an up to 45-minute lag on communications to and from Earth,” said Lauren Blackwell Landon, PhD, lead author of “Teamwork and Collaboration in Long-Duration Space Missions: Going to Extremes.”

Currently, psychological research on spaceflight is limited, especially regarding teams. Applying best practices in psychology, the authors offered insights into how NASA can assemble the best teams possible to ensure successful long-duration missions.

Astronauts who are highly emotionally stable, agreeable, open to new experiences, conscientious, resilient, adaptable and not too introverted or extroverted are more likely to work well with others. A sense of humor will also help to defuse tense situations, according to the authors.

The long delay in communication to and from Earth will mean that crews will have to be highly autonomous as they will not be able to rely on immediate help from Mission Control. The authors said this will be an ongoing challenge and having defined goals, building trust, developing communication norms and debriefing will help alleviate potential conflict.

The researchers also advised the use of technology to monitor the physiological health of astronauts to predict points of friction among team members, due to lack of sleep, for example.

“Successfully negotiating conflict, planning together as a team, making decisions as a team and practicing shared leadership should receive extensive attention long before a team launches on a space mission,” said Landon.

The paper is part of a special issue of American Psychologist, focusing on the psychology of teams and teamwork. The issue was guest edited by Susan McDaniel, PhD, University of Rochester Medical Center, and Eduardo Salas, PhD, Rice University.

Story Source:

Materials provided by American Psychological Association.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lauren Blackwell Landon, Kelley J. Slack, Jamie D. Barrett. Teamwork and collaboration in long-duration space missions: Going to extremes.. American Psychologist, 2018; 73 (4): 563 DOI: 10.1037/amp0000260

What your emojis say about you


Whether you like it or not, cartoon faces, stomping flamenco dancers and applauding hands have now entered your social life, albeit digitally.

 

While they once may have been novel or cute, the sea of emojis now available to you across digital platforms are the perfect punctuation to express your joy, laughter and sadness when messaging others.
“Hey, how are you?” is no longer a plain sentence. It’s now regularly accompanied by a round circle smiling back at you.
In a new paper published Tuesday in the journal Trends on Cognitive Sciences, a team of psychologists argue that as our daily interactions become more digital, scientists will benefit from studying them further. In particular, due to the growing use of emojis helping us get the same satisfaction from digital interactions as if we were communicating in person.
The researchers from Edge Hill University in the UK believe emojis enable non-verbal communication, such as gestures and facial expressions, in today’s digital world.

Defining meaning

Just look at the tears of joy emoji, the well-known yellow face with squinted eyes and tear drops flying out. On seeing that teary yet happy face, you know that the person sending it to you thinks something is funny enough to cry with laughter.
Words alone may not have gotten their sentiment across.
“Different regions of the brain light up when you’re looking at emojis compared to not looking at emojis,” said Linda Kaye, senior lecturer in psychology, who led the analysis.
“We see something neurologically different, implying they function as non-verbal,” she said.
Source of emojis: Emojione
In the real world, the use of hand gestures and expressions play a vital role in the way we communicate with someone. It helps them understand our meaning while subtly providing a window into our persona, such as how empathetic or approachable we are, according to Kaye.
When you can’t see the person you’re communicating with, an emoji is an effective option. “It’s how you emotionally express,” said Kaye. And your choice of emoji can dramatically alter the meaning of the sentence it’s included in and how you should respond.

Imagine receiving this message from your best friend: “I tripped and hit my head on the cupboard” followed by that iconic laughing face. Their words let you know that person is not hurt, and is fact now mocking their clumsiness.
The same sentence followed by closed eyes slanting down with a downturned lip, the classic sad face, will illicit quite a different reaction — or at least it should.
No emoji at all would convey the literal meaning of the statement and likely illicit the same response as the sad face, due to the nature of someone telling you that they are injured. But the fact that the person is upset about this may not be as clear — the use of an emoji clarifies how the person is feeling.
“It changes the meaning of how someone should interpret the text,” said Vyvyan Evans, professor of linguistics at Bangor University in the UK, and author of upcoming book “The Emoji Code.” He was not involved in the new analysis. “Emoji facilitates more effective communication.”
Whether you like emojis or not, it’s likely you will have used them at some point. Kaye believes that as emojis are more widely used, they can reveal someone’s true opinion on something, for example during scientific surveys, to ensure their messages “aren’t ambiguous,” she said. “We could be using them more in psychological experimentation,” added Kaye.
Many museums, companies and even transport networks are already resorting to a mild version of this, like the use of a scale of smiley faces ranging from happy to sad, instead of numbers, when asking for feedback on their services. The response to them can have more psychological insight than regular words or numbers, Kaye believes.

The psychology of emojis

In a 2016 study, Kaye identified some personality traits linked to people’s use of emojis.
Differences in emoji use by language

According to the Swiftkey 2015 Emoji Report:

  • French speakers use four times as many heart emoji than other languages
  • French is the only language where a ‘smiley’ does not top the list for its use
  • Arabic speakers used four times the average rate of Flowers and plants emoji
  • Russian speakers use three times the average rate of romantic emoji
  • Australia’s emoji use includes double the average amount of alcohol-themed emoji, 65% more drug emoji than the average
  • Americans lead for the use of a random assortment of emoji & categories, including skulls, birthday cake, fire, tech, LGBT, meat etc
One key finding was that the people using them tend to be more agreeable in nature. This has a similar truth among people who more often use facial expressions or varying intonation when face to face.
“It makes sense as these are probably people in the real world who are more smiley to people,” said Kaye.
Another factor her team identified was that people who commonly used emoji were more socially receptive and empathetic, making them more approachable. “It says something about how we’re understanding each other and how we’re likely to interact with people,” said Kaye.
When probing deeper into the specifics during the study, people who were more aware of how they come across to others were less likely to use sad emojis.
“We found that self-presentation was negatively related to using sad emojis,” said Kaye. “The more people are self-aware, the less they use these emojis.”
But when taking this all into account, age, of course, has a role to play. Younger members of the population have had digital communication permeate their daily lives from an early age. The findings also apply more greatly to social networking sites and communication apps, but not email.
“[Emails] are considered more professional,” said Kaye.
The previous research found that almost 80% of people included in the study used emojis when texting, while 76% used them on Facebook and just 15% used them in email contexts.
But as more apps and sites invade our lives, this psychological insight could evolve, as including emojis in messages may no longer be a choice.
Evans believes that embracing emojis is the only option if people want to interact productively in the future. “Someone who is not using them is not an effective communicator and therefore not effective an inducing an emotional response,” he said.
Kaye highlighted the example of dating sites, such as Match.com, where survey results show greater success at finding a match among people who use emojis more regularly in their online messaging. The same survey also found emoji users were more likely to want to get married — and there are limits to the acceptable level of emoji use.
“This is something that now exists and people need to use them,” he said. “That’s just the way it is now.”
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