Later On

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Archive for June 7th, 2022

The Vagus Nerve Influences Nearly Every Internal Organ. Can It Improve Our Mental State, Too?

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Christina Caron’s interesting article (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times begins:

In recent years, the vagus nerve has become an object of fascination, especially on social media. The vagal nerve fibers, which run from the brain to the abdomen, have been anointed by some influencers as the key to reducing anxiety, regulating the nervous system and helping the body to relax.

TikTok videos with the hashtag “#vagusnerve” have been viewed more than 64 million times and there are nearly 70,000 posts with the hashtag on Instagram. Some of the most popular ones feature simple hacks to “tone” or “reset” the vagus nerve, in which people plunge their faces into ice water baths or lie on their backs with ice packs on their chests. There are also neck and ear massages, eye exercises and deep-breathing techniques.

Now, wellness companies have capitalized on the trend, offering products like “vagus massage oil,” vibrating bracelets and pillow mists, that claim to stimulate the nerve, but that have not been endorsed by the scientific community.

Researchers who study the vagus nerve say that stimulating it with electrodes can potentially help improve mood and alleviate symptoms in those who suffer from treatment-resistant depression, among other ailments. But are there other ways to activate the vagus nerve? Who would benefit most from doing so? And what exactly is the vagus nerve, anyway? Here’s a look at what we know so far.

The term “vagus nerve” is actually shorthand for thousands of fibers. They are organized into two bundles that run from the brain stem down through each side of the neck and into the torso, branching outward to touch our internal organs, said Dr. Kevin J. Tracey, a neurosurgeon and president of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Northwell Health’s research center in New York.

Imagine something akin to a tree, whose limbs interact with nearly every organ system in the body. (The word “vagus” means “wandering” in Latin.)

The vagus nerve picks up information about how the organs are functioning and also sends information from the brain stem back to the body, helping to control digestion, heart rate, voice, mood and the immune system.

For those reasons, the vagus nerve — the longest of the 12 cranial nerves — is sometimes referred to as an “information superhighway.”

Dr. Tracey compared it to a trans-Atlantic cable.

“It’s not a mishmash of signals,” he said. “Every signal has a specific job.”

The vagus is the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. Unlike the sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with the body’s “fight or flight” response, the parasympathetic branch helps us rest, digest and calm down.

Scientists first began examining the vagus nerve in the late 1800s to investigate whether stimulating it could be  . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

7 June 2022 at 5:08 pm

The art of listening

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I’ve been thinking about various trances in which people (including me) live. You cannot detect a trance while you are in one — that’s the nature of a trance: a lack of conscious awareness of the reasons for your actions. That’s most evident in a hypnotic trance, but we easily can enter other trances. For example, a person deeply engaged in drawing an object is in a productive trance. In that case, the trance overlaps with the state of mind known as “flow,” but we often enter a trance without realizing we’ve done it, and some trances are not good for us.

For example, designers of shopping malls and high-end stores spend considerable thought, effort, and testing to design an environment that induces a buying trance in customers — the goal is to make someone who walks through the store drift into buying things without a lot of conscious thought. The tools used are appearance (unmarred beauty close at hand), layout (the route encouraged, the setting of displays), the sound (comforting music with a kind of hush — nothing to “awaken” one), the odors (fragrances lightly improve the air), the attitude (the sales staff quietly deferential so that customers feel a sense of power, having the ability and right to do as they wish — and specifically, the ability and right to own what they wish: they merely have to indicate the item they want and everything is taken care of for them as they hand over their credit card).

Similarly, casinos in general and slot machines in particular work to create a trance that induces a person to gamble and to continue gambling reflexively, without being conscious of time passing.

Another example: some suffer from an eating trance. As they look at foods or enter a food-rich environment, they begin eating without conscious decision. I detected this in myself some time ago . Whenever I walked through the kitchen, I would find something that I could have a bite of. It was automatic (as I discovered when I noticed the habit and tried to break it).

A more useful trance is when you are driving a familiar route and realize suddenly that you don’t know where along the route you are, even though you have been driving competently, responding to traffic and other drivers, but with no real conscious awareness — generally thinking of other things as you drive.

Trances can be relatively long-lasting or quite brief. When I started reading M M Owen’s article in Aeon on the art of listening, I thought of an exchange I had recently about people’s inability to remember the name of someone whom they’ve just met. It occurred to me that it is as if, during the introductions, they enter a trance in which they do not listen as the person states their name. I call it a trance because there is no conscious decision involved — they simply (and quickly) enter a state of mind in which they do not listen to the name and, even if they physically hear it, do not admit it into their conscious mind and memory.

The habit of the trance can be quickly broken if a person’s income and welfare depend on remembering the names of the people they meet. I discovered this when I became a director of admissions. When remembering — that is, actually paying attention to — a person’s name when introduced became important to succeeding in the job, I suddenly was able to remember names. The importance of the person to me broke through the trance.

So perhaps the art of listening is the avoidance of a trance of not-listening.

I’ll note that Owen’s article is directly relevant to Covey’s 7 Habits — specifically to Habit 5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” More on that in this post.

See also this post on what science tells us about listening.

Owen writes:

Writing in Esquire magazine in 1935, Ernest Hemingway offered this advice to young writers: ‘When people talk, listen completely… Most people never listen.’ Even though Hemingway was one of my teenage heroes, the realisation crept up on me, somewhere around the age of 25: I am most people. I never listen.

Perhaps never was a little strong – but certainly my listening often occurred through a fog of distraction and self-regard. On my worst days, this could make me a shallow, solipsistic presence. Haltingly, I began to try to reach inside my own mental machinery, marshal my attention differently, listen better. I wasn’t sure what I was doing; but I had crossed paths with a few people who, as a habit, gave others their full attention – and it was powerful. It felt rare, it felt real; I wanted them around.

As a culture, we treat listening as an automatic process about which there is not a lot to say: in the same category as digestion, or blinking. When the concept of listening is addressed at any length, it is in the context of professional communication; something to be honed by leaders and mentors, but a specialisation that everyone else can happily ignore. This neglect is a shame. Listening well, it took me too long to discover, is a sort of magic trick: both parties soften, blossom, they are less alone.

Along the way, I discovered that Carl Rogers, one of the 20th century’s most eminent psychologists, had put a name to this underrated skill: ‘active listening’. And though Rogers’s work was focused initially on the therapeutic setting, he drew no distinction between this and everyday life: ‘Whatever I have learned,’ he wrote, ‘is applicable to all of my human relationships.’ What Rogers learnt was that listening well – which necessarily involves conversing well and questioning well – is one of the most accessible and most powerful forms of connection we have.

he paucity of my listening powers dawned on me as a byproduct of starting to meditate. This is not to make some claim to faux enlightenment – simply to say that meditation is the practice of noticing what you notice, and meditators tend to carry this mindset beyond the yoga mat, and begin to see their own mind more clearly. Among a smorgasbord of other patterns and quirks, what I saw was a self that, too often, didn’t listen.

The younger me enjoyed conversation. But a low, steady egoism meant that what I really enjoyed was talking. When it was someone else’s turn to talk, the listening could often feel like a chore. I might be passively absorbing whatever was being said – but a greater part of me would be daydreaming, reminiscing, making plans. I had a habit of interrupting, in the rather masculine belief that, whatever others had to say, I could say better for them. Sometimes, I would zone out and tune back in to realise that I’d been asked a question. I had a horrible habit, I saw, of sitting in silent linguistic craftsmanship, shaping my answer for when my turn came around – and only half-listening to what I’d actually be responding to.

The exceptions to this state of affairs, I began to see, were situations where there existed self-interest. If the subject was me, or material that might be of benefit to me, my attention would automatically sharpen. It was very easy to listen to someone explaining what steps I needed to take to ace a test or make some money. It was easy to listen to juicy gossip, particularly of the kind that made me feel fortunate or superior. It was easy to listen to debates on topics where I had a burning desire to be right. It was easy to listen to attractive women.

On bad days, this attentional autopilot constricted me. On topics of politics or philosophy, this made me a bore and a bully. People avoided disagreeing with me on anything, even trivial points, because they knew it would balloon into annoyance and a failure to listen to their reasoning. In my personal life, too often, I could forget to support or lift up those around me. The flipside of not listening is not questioning – because, when you don’t want to listen, the last thing you want to do is trigger the exact scenario in which you are most expected to listen. And so I didn’t ask my friends serious questions often enough. I liked jokes, and I liked gossip; but I’d forget to ask them the real stuff. Or I’d ask them things they’d already told me a week ago. Or forget to ask about their recent job interview or break-up.

This is where bad listening does the most damage: it signals to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 June 2022 at 2:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Psychology

How money changes the way you think and feel

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This article by Carolyn Gregoire is one I’ve linked to in another post, but it really deserves its own post. Its from February 2018, but the findings still hold. The article begins:

The term “affluenza”—a portmanteau of affluence and influenza, defined as a “painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste, resulting from the dogged pursuit of more”—is often dismissed as a silly buzzword created to express our cultural disdain for consumerism. Though often used in jest, the term may contain more truth than many of us would like to think.

Whether affluenza is real or imagined, money really does change everything, as the song goes—and those of high social class do tend to see themselves much differently than others. Wealth (and the pursuit of it) has been linked with immoral behavior—and not just in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street.

Psychologists who study the impact of wealth and inequality on human behavior have found that money can powerfully influence our thoughts and actions in ways that we’re often not aware of, no matter our economic circumstances. Although wealth is certainly subjective, most of the current research measures wealth on scales of income, job status, or socioeconomic circumstances, like educational attainment and intergenerational wealth.

Here are seven things you should know about the psychology of money and wealth.

More money, less empathy?

Several studies have shown that wealth may be at odds with empathy and compassion. Research published in the journal Psychological Science found that people of lower economic status were better at reading others’ facial expressions—an important marker of empathy—than wealthier people.

“A lot of what we see is a baseline orientation for the lower class to be more empathetic and the upper class to be less [so],” study co-author Michael Kraus told Time. “Lower-class environments are much different from upper-class environments. Lower-class individuals have to respond chronically to a number of vulnerabilities and social threats. You really need to depend on others so they will tell you if a social threat or opportunity is coming, and that makes you more perceptive of emotions.”

While a lack of resources fosters greater emotional intelligence, having more resources can cause bad behavior in its own right. UC Berkeley research found that even fake money could make people behave with less regard for others. Researchers observed that when two students played Monopoly, one having been given a great deal more Monopoly money than the other, the wealthier player expressed initial discomfort, but then went on to act aggressively, taking up more space and moving his pieces more loudly, and even taunting the player with less money.

Wealth can cloud moral judgment

It is no surprise in this post-2008 world to learn that wealth may cause a sense of moral entitlement. A UC Berkeley study found that in San Francisco—where the law requires that cars stop at crosswalks for pedestrians to pass—drivers of luxury cars were four times less likely than those in less expensive vehicles to stop and allow pedestrians the right of way. They were also more likely to cut off other drivers.

Another study suggested that merely thinking about money could lead to unethical behavior. Researchers from Harvard and the University of Utah found that study participants were more likely to lie or behave immorally after being exposed to money-related words.

“Even if we are well-intentioned, even if we think we know right from wrong, there may be factors influencing our decisions and behaviors that we’re not aware of,” University of Utah associate management professor Kristin Smith-Crowe, one of the study’s co-authors, told MarketWatch.

Wealth has been linked with addiction

While money itself doesn’t cause addiction or substance abuse, wealth has been linked with a higher susceptibility to addiction problems. A number of studies have found that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 June 2022 at 12:36 pm

Lovely Mallard Corretto with a Vie-Long horsehair brush and the RazoRock Baby Smooth

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Grooming Dept Mallard Corretto has a wonderful fragrance — “Coffee, Brandy, Plum, Berries, Honey, Cacao Dust, Vanilla, Patchouli” — and lather, the latter today due in part to my Vie-Long horsehair shaving brush, which did a very nice job.

Three passed of the Baby Smooth delivered the eponymous result, and a splash of Diplomat finished the job with a fresh and spicy fragrance.

The tea today is Murchie’s Earl Grey Cream: “a blend of fine Ceylon, Darjeeling and Keemun teas, lightly scented with real oil of bergamot and sweet vanilla.”

Written by Leisureguy

7 June 2022 at 9:08 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

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