Loneliness is the brain telling you to be more social

    In one study from 2009, researchers used fMRIs to test whether lonely brains were more sensitive to threats. Twenty-three participants were placed in an MRI and shown a series of pictures, some of them pleasant, such as money and a rocket lifting off, and others unpleasant, including human conflict. They found that lonely brains respond less positively to pleasant images than non-lonely brains, and more strongly to images of violence and unpleasant social situations. Loneliness spurs the brain into a hyper-vigilant state, unable to relax. The lonely brain doesn’t passively take the world in, but actively interprets it as an unfriendly place.

    Hawkley found that lonely individuals take longer to fall asleep, wake up more during the night, and sleep less deeply. “The lonely person’s feeling of not being safe, socially safe, could contribute to disrupted sleep,” she says.

    [Source: Nautilus]

    How learning works according to the latest cognitive science

    Your willpower might be unlimited

    The common idea is that willpower is limited. After 4 hours studying mathematics, you  are likely to feel like entering a coma-like state on your couch and binge on Netflix. 

    However, Carol Dweck and team believe otherwise:

    It appears ego depletion may be just another example of the way belief drives behavior. Thinking we’re spent makes us feel worse, while rewarding ourselves with an indulgence makes us feel better. It’s not the sugar in the lemonade that produces the sustained mental stamina, but rather the placebo effect at work.

    Maybe willpower is an emotion?

    Michael Inzlicht, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and the principal investigator at the Toronto Laboratory for Social Neuroscience, believes willpower is not a finite resource but instead acts like an emotion. Just as we don’t 'run out' of joy or anger, willpower ebbs and flows based on what’s happening to us and how we feel. Viewing willpower through this lens has profound implications.

    Are you addicted to your cell phone?

    A superb illustrated read about your (and mine) smartphone addiction. You should read it all, it's on Nautilus


    Pro tip: reward yourself “variably” when doing an analog (i.e not tech) activity such as seeing friends or walking outside. By variably I mean don't reward for a 1:1 ratio. The deal with Facebook is that you scroll aimlessly and then at some point you're going to get a notification but you don't know when. This motivates you to scroll more than if they gave you a reward (notification) every time you scrolled. 

    Most people can't give a convincing alibi if accused of a crime

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    This excerpt is from this paper and was tweeted by Rolf Degen

    How to make someone fall in love with you

    Eric Barker from a June 2014 Time article

    Two factors appeared to exercise the greatest influence on personal relationships: the location of the apartments and the distances between them. The most important factor in determining who would be emotionally close to whom was the distance between their apartments.

    What underlies this? Obviously, you have to meet, but there’s something else going on: repeated exposure.

    As marketers know very well (and anyone looking for love should learn about marketing), repeated exposure makes us like almost anything.

    You're actually a terrible lie detector, but here's how to get better

    Art Markman for Fast Company:

    So if you're in a high-stakes situation, it makes sense to try and be more vigilant about whether you're hearing the truth. But even then, many of us look for the wrong signals. In fact, researchers have found that when we consciously try to catch someone in a lie, we get much worse at it. Our unconscious lie-detection instincts are more reliable than our conscious ones.

    Oddly enough, I really thought the inverse was true. 

    The Strange Brain of the World’s Greatest Solo Climber

    There is a guy named Alex Honnold, he free solo climbs mountains and his brain is not wired like ours. J.B. MacKinnon for Nautilus:

    Honnold is history’s greatest ever climber in the free solo style, meaning he ascends without a rope or protective equipment of any kind. Above about 50 feet, any fall would likely be lethal, which means that, on epic days of soloing, he might spend 12 or more hours in the Death Zone. On the hardest parts of some climbing routes, his fingers will have no more contact with the rock than most people have with the touchscreens of their phones, while his toes press down on edges as thin as sticks of gum. Just watching a video of Honnold climbing will trigger some degree of vertigo, heart palpitations, or nausea in most people, and that’s if they can watch them at all. Even Honnold has said that his palms sweat when he watches himself on film.

    So obviously, they put his brain through an fMRI and: 

    ‘Maybe his amygdala is not firing—he’s having no internal reactions to these stimuli,’ says Joseph. ‘But it could be the case that he has such a well-honed regulatory system that he can say, ‘OK, I’m feeling all this stuff, my amygdala is going off,’ but his frontal cortex is just so powerful that it can calm him down.’

    The article is interesting throughout. 

    James Gleick on our anxiety about Time, the origin of the term “type A,” and the curious psychology of elevator impatience

    Maria Popova back at it again with a great review of a book written in 2000 when smartphones, Facebook and the like did not yet exist. Here's a quote from the book:

    We have a word for free time: leisure.

    Leisure is time off the books, off the job, off the clock. If we save time, we commonly believe we are saving it for our leisure. We know that leisure is really a state of mind, but no dictionary can define it without reference to passing time. It is unrestricted time, unemployed time, unoccupied time. Or is it? Unoccupied time is vanishing. The leisure industries (an oxymoron maybe, but no contradiction) fill time, as groundwater fills a sinkhole. The very variety of experience attacks our leisure as it attempts to satiate us. We work for our amusement."

    Words for emotions we didn't know we had

    It’s a funny thing about house guests. While they’re in your home and you’re tripping over the extra shoes and suitcases that are suddenly littered about your living room, you start dreaming about how nice it will be when they leave. Yet, after they do, your place often feels too empty. To the Baining people of Papua New Guinea, Smith writes, this feeling is so prevalent that it gets a name all to itself: awumbuk, or the feeling of ‘emptiness after visitors depart.’

    Melissa Dahl, for New York Magazine, has had an interesting talk with Tiffany Watt Smith, who's writing a book about emotions. She recounts the conventional wisdom that is to name your emotions, so as to help you understand them.

    Her book, The Book of Human Emotions, is basically a list of very specific emotions that are different from the major ones (fear, happiness, etc.). 

    Why it's so irritating when people use periods in their texts

     Nicolas DiDomizio, writing for Mic

    'When using [a period] in a text message, it's perceived as overly formal,' Collister wrote. 'So when you end your text with a period, it can come across as insincere or awkward, just like using formal spoken language in a casual setting like a bar..

    "Text [messages] and many other online forms of communication are intended to be brief, and adding a period which signals 'the end' is for many users a conscious choice and can communicate a message like, 'I'm really done talking about this,'" she said.


    The problem with goals

     Collective wisdom tells us to set goals and reach them.

    But what happens then? And what if such a dogmatic view can lead to counterproductive results? And what if, because of these goals, we miss out on auxiliary discoveries that may turn out to be better? 

    Here's an example, from Kottke:

    One illuminating example of the problem concerns the American automobile behemoth General Motors. The turn of the millennium found GM in a serious predicament, losing customers and profits to more nimble, primarily Japanese, competitors. As the Boston Globe reported, executives at GM's headquarters in Detroit came up with a goal, crystallized in a number: 29. Twenty-nine, the company announced amid much media fanfare, was the percentage of the American car market that it would recapture, reasserting its old dominance. Twenty-nine was also the number displayed upon small gold lapel pins, worn by senior figures at GM to demonstrate their commitment to the plan. At corporate gatherings, and in internal GM documents, twenty-nine was the target drummed into everyone from salespeople to engineers to public-relations officers.

    Yet the plan not only failed to work-it made things worse. Obsessed with winning back market share, GM spent its dwindling finances on money-off schemes and clever advertising, trying to lure drivers into purchasing its unpopular cars, rather than investing in the more speculative and open-ended-and thus more uncertain-research that might have resulted in more innovative and more popular vehicles.

    Be sure to read Nathan Bashaw's Hardbound story on goals. He tells the tale of Ken Stanley, a guy who wanted to create software that evolves random images into meaningful pictures — moving from a weird dot to something that'd look like an eye, for instance.

    The software, Picbreeder, never did what Ken wanted it to do, so he opened Picbreeder to the public and saw that humans evolved images in a much smarter way. 

    One day, he started with a picture that looked like an alien and it finally became a car (you'll understand what I say if you read the Hardbound story linked above).  

    He realised then that great discoveries are possible but only if we abandon the need to control what they will be. 

    It's something that you may have thought of intuitively. It keeps happening with scientific discoveries, time and time again (the telephone, for instance).

    Daniel Kahneman Explains The Machinery of Thought

    Daniel Kahneman Explains The Machinery of Thought

    How successful people make themselves luckier

    How successful people make themselves luckier

    Why first-person shooters are so enjoyable

    Why first-person shooters are so enjoyable

    Why Airline Food Sucks

    Why Airline Food Sucks

    How you move gives a lot away. Maybe too much, if the wrong person is watching. We think, for instance, that the way people walk can influence the likelihood of an attack by a stranger. But we also think that their walking style can be altered to reduce the chances of being targeted.
    Some interesting ideas. Notably, if you consider that the brain only controls movement, then fear and apprehensiveness will definitely be “readable” from your walk. 
    Have you ever been sitting in a bar, an airport, a library, or browsing in a bookstore when a stranger tried to start a conversation with you? Did you feel awkward or on your guard? The conversation itself is not necessarily what caused the discomfort. The discomfort was induced because you didn’t know when or if it would end. For this reason, the first step in the process of developing great rapport and having great conversations is letting the other person know that there is an end in sight, and it is really close.

    Establishing artificial time constraints is one of the 10 techniques for building quick rapport with anyone by Robin Dreeke, the head of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program. 


    When a student sits down at a test, he knows how to cheat, in principle. But how does he decide whether or not he’ll actually do it? Is it logic? An impulse? A subconscious reaction to the adrenaline in his blood and the dopamine in his brain? People cheat all the time. But why, exactly, do they decide to do it in the first place?

    Why do we cheat?

    The New Yorker’s Maria Konnikova explores various research related to this subject. 

    Ex-racists explain their conversions

    Ex-racists explain their conversions

    Five cognitive distortions of people who get stuff done

    Five cognitive distortions of people who get stuff done


    Fixed vs. growth mindsets. 

    Paul Mederos explains how to design for the growth mindset. 

    Enclothed Cognition is the idea that the clothes that you are wearing change your behaviour. 

    A fascinating short video by Dave McRaney, the guy behind You Are Not So Smart.

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