TED Talk: How to make stress your friend

Stress is not our enemy. Kelly McGonigal says if you believe stress is bad for you, then it increases your risk of death by 43%. Those also stressed who do not believe it to be bad, do not die anymore than others with low amount of stress. (Gosh, I love the power of the mind.) Blood vessels of the stress-is-bad believers constrict but not so for the stress-is-good, which might be why they have cardiac event. I do have a love affair with being in this state, so it is probably good that I share this belief that it is a good thing as it prepares me for life.

Something I do quite a bit is talk to others when I am stressed. That Oxytocin is involved in stress responses, so reaching out to others helps the recovery of the event.

 

TED Talk: Demise of Guys

For a few weeks The Demise of Guys by Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan has occupied a corner of my attention. It started when a friend posted about the Reddit AMA: I am a published psychologist, author of the Stanford Prison Experiment, expert witness during the Abu Ghraib trials. AMA starting June 7th at 12PM (ET). I even bought the Kindle ebook and read it in a couple days.

The idea is according to the site (linked above):

We took an inter­est in this topic because we noticed an alarm­ing trend: in record num­bers, guys seem to be flam­ing out aca­dem­i­cally, wip­ing out socially with girls, and as they mature fail­ing sex­u­ally with women.

This seems to describe me. I was lucky to graduate high school and college mostly by exploiting loopholes. I have never had a girlfriend. I was in my late 20s when I started dating. Even then I am not often very excited about it.

The alleged causes in the video were video games, online activity, and porn. By my calculations I have played around 20,000 hours of video games, twice the level of concern. My time online easily exceeds 40,000 hours. (That is only assuming 50 hours a week * 50 weeks a year since 1996. That 50 hours a week average seems low to me.) The book focused on the video games and porn.

In Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life, Steven Johnson made an interesting point that receptors for dopamine, a reward for almost accomplishing something, and oxytocin, a reward for social connections and establishing trust, occupy close areas. Activities like playing video games can activate dopamine, but doing so while alone ignores the oxytocin and too much of it is bad for the brain. Physical contact, just like the rhesus monkey choosing between the cloth fake mother and wire+milk, is good for us.

Playing video games were just one of many later activities adopted to escape being around others. If anything, then video games were an avenue that made me more social not less. It gave me something to talk to with other guys. That avoiding girls by being with guys is supposedly the problem. I also might go to their house or them come to mine to play. Without it, I probably would have been more alone. Reading, LEGOs, soccer, exploring the woods, and even biking were all activities whereby I achieved getting away from other people. Really, spending significant time away from other people was always a goal of mine.

I would like to see a debate between Susan Cain of Quiet and Philip Zimbardo.

If the below video does not work, then try Philip Zimbardo: The demise of guys?

TED Talk: Trust, morality – and oxytocin

I heard about “eight hugs a day” months ago. I have brought it up in conversation a dozen times since. Glad the video is finally out.

Where does morality come from — physically, in the brain? In this talk neuroeconomist Paul Zak shows why he believes oxytocin (he calls it “the moral molecule”) is responsible for trust, empathy, and other feelings that help build a stable society.

Some interesting points:

    • Countries with high numbers of trustworthy people are more prosperous.
    • In an experiment, the more money a person received (trust), the more money they would voluntarily return (trustworthiness). Oxytocin increased with trust.
    • Massage, dancing, praying increase oxytocin.
    • A con works by schemer demonstrating he or she trusts the victim which produces trustworthiness.
    • Trust key to society and species survival.
    • Using social media produces increases in oxytocin.
    • Give eight hugs a day to make yourself happier.

If the below video does not work, then click Trust, morality – and oxytocin.

Community

Are people in the United States more insular? Is technology getting in the way of us being able to communicate? Why is technology breaking up marriages according to NPR? The line which stood out to me is:

But opportunity is a key predictor of infidelity, and social media have increased opportunity exponentially.

Just 10 minutes before this aired on NPR, I was talking to George about my Dorm, Major, or Race post. The biggest factor as to the friends we make is opportunity. Kids going to a public K-12 school become friends with those in their neighborhood because that is who they are around all the time. Kids going to a college where they are unlikely to have easy access to high school friends means the kids become friends with those people they are around all the time. I proposed to George changes in who people consider their friends has more to do with where people spend time than a decrease in the need to be social.

Those of us who spend most of our time online will be friends with those people interact with online. Those of us who spend large amounts of time in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, or grocery stores get to know the other regulars and employees approximating friendship. Hobbyists getting together become friends precisely because they  spend so much time. Humans are social creatures so we spend time with others wherever we spend time. Even those isolated from the general public in prison develop ties with the other prisoners around them. Wherever we spend our time is the source of our new friends.

Every time we choose to spend time with specific people we choose to strengthen neural connections with those people. Physical contact like a hug which triggers the neurotransmitter oxytocin making us feel bonds to that person. Seeing *hug* or /hug may not deliver the same effect, but I suspect it delivers something similar. It may be just enough that we like the feeling.

Compared to hanging out in the neighborhood, social media provide richer opportunities. Being “friends” through social media result a win-win effects without taking as much effort on both parties. The risks are also lower for social media friends. Your friend across the street might judge you for the embarrassing thing you did out in the street, but your Facebook friends only know if someone blabs about it. So much easier to make and hold these relationships compared to what we go through locally.

Knowing the people who live in nearby buildings is useful. Positive social bonds means in ambiguous situations the assumptions will be positive rather than negative. The more neighbors who think positively about me, the less likely they will assume bad things about me. (Like that I look like a scary Muslim.)  As a knowledge worker I often put too much value on the person with ideas I like over the physical body to help me accomplish actions. I do occasionally need help doing things I cannot think my way through.

TED Talk: Social Bacteria

We have 10x bacteria cells on or in our bodies as human cells. By far most of those protect us. Soap which kills 99% of bacteria kills both the good and the bad. This video by far gives an idea as to how cool bacteria can be.

Bonnie Bassler here says bacteria use produce chemicals which attach to receptors to communicate with each other to know when they have enough presence to do their joint action called quorum sensing. The human brain acts similarly. Vasopressin, oxytocin, dopamine, adrenaline, cortisol, etc. all influence brain cells with the right receptors. Really most if not all human cells are operate in unison by chemicals attaching to receptors. Of course, our cells are super-specialized descendants of bacteria, so why not use a known efficient communication method?

It seems like bacteria intending to attack a human would have been selected for two contradictory points:

  1. Large enough numbers to overwhelm the body.
  2. Small enough numbers to prevent white blood adapting and increasing their own numbers to fight off the infection.

Interrupting the quorum sensing used by bacteria to delay the attacks ought to violate that second selection point. If so, then this might create selection pressure for bacteria which launch their attacks with smaller numbers. This might be even better for us?

I also like how she gave credit to her team of people who did the real work.