Tag: The American Psychological Association

It’s all too much, or it could be!

This year, 2020, has been unlike any other year.

I am not saying anything new but just reiterating what has been said before: 2020 is going to go down as the year from hell! And I don’t think that is too strong a word!

Part of it are the news stories that sweep the world: Covid-19; Brexit; Climate change; up until yesterday what was President Trump going to do in his last few weeks; etc; etc.

Also part of it is the way that news and more news and, yes, more news is flashed around the globe. Most of it bad news as we all know that bad news sells!

Finally, part of it is the new world of social media especially messaging on a smartphone. President Trump isn’t the only one to communicate greatly via Twitter.

Now, speaking personally, I couldn’t have got through this year without Jeannie and our dogs.

Pure bliss!

But, nevertheless, something has changed and Mark Satta has written an article that tries to explain things.

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Three reasons for information exhaustion – and what to do about it

By Mark Satta, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Wayne State University.

November 18th, 2020

An endless flow of information is coming at us constantly: It might be an article a friend shared on Facebook with a sensational headline or wrong information about the spread of the coronavirus. It could even be a call from a relative wanting to talk about a political issue.

All this information may leave many of us feeling as though we have no energy to engage.

As a philosopher who studies knowledge-sharing practices, I call this experience “epistemic exhaustion.” The term “epistemic” comes from the Greek word episteme, often translated as “knowledge.” So epistemic exhaustion is more of a knowledge-related exhaustion.

It is not knowledge itself that tires out many of us. Rather, it is the process of trying to gain or share knowledge under challenging circumstances.

Currently, there are at least three common sources that, from my perspective, are leading to such exhaustion. But there are also ways to deal with them.

1. Uncertainty

For many, this year has been full of uncertainty. In particular, the coronavirus pandemic has generated uncertainty about health, about best practices and about the future.

At the same time, Americans have faced uncertainty about the U.S. presidential election: first due to delayed results and now over questions about a peaceful transition of power.

Experiencing uncertainty can stress most of us out. People tend to prefer the planned and the predictable. Figures from 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes to 20th-century Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein have recognized the significance of having certainty in our lives.

With information so readily available, people may be checking news sites or social media in hopes of finding answers. But often, people are instead greeted with more reminders of uncertainty.

As Trump supporters denounce the 2020 election results, feelings of uncertainty can come up for others. Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto via Getty Images

2. Polarization

Political polarization is stressing many Americans out.

As political scientist Lilliana Mason notes in her book, “Uncivil Disagreement: How Politics Became Our Identity,” Americans have been increasingly dividing politically “into two partisan teams.”

Many writers have discussed the negative effects of polarization, such as how it can damage democracy. But discussions about the harms of polarization often overlook the toll polarization takes on our ability to gain and share knowledge.

That can happen in at least two ways.

First, as philosopher Kevin Vallier has argued, there is a “causal feedback loop” between polarization and distrust. In other words, polarization and distrust fuel one another. Such a cycle can leave people feeling unsure whom to trust or what to believe.

Second, polarization can lead to competing narratives because in a deeply polarized society, as studies show, we can lose common ground and tend to have less agreement.

For those inclined to take the views of others seriously, this can create additional cognitive work. And when the issues are heated or sensitive, this can create additional stress and emotional burdens, such as sadness over damaged friendships or anger over partisan rhetoric.

3. Misinformation

Viral misinformation is everywhere. This includes political propaganda in the United States and around the world.

People are also inundated with advertising and misleading messaging from private corporations, what philosophers Cailin O’Connor and James Owen Weatherall have called “industrial propaganda.” And in 2020, the public is also dealing with misinformation about COVID-19.

As chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov put it: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

Misinformation is often exhausting by design. For example, a video that went viral,Plandemic,” featured a large number of false claims about COVID-19 in rapid succession. This flooding of misinformation in rapid succession, a tactic known as a Gish gallop, makes it challenging and time-consuming for fact checkers to refute the many falsehoods following one after another.

What to do?

With all this uncertainty, polarization and misinformation, feeling tired is understandable. But there are things one can do.

The American Psychological Association suggests coping with uncertainty through activities like limiting news consumption and focusing on things in one’s control. Another option is to work on becoming more comfortable with uncertainty through practices such as meditation and the cultivation of mindfulness.

To deal with polarization, consider communicating with the goal of creating empathetic understanding rather than “winning.” Philosopher Michael Hannon describes empathetic understanding as “the ability to take up another person’s perspective.”

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As for limiting the spread of misinformation: Share only those news stories that you’ve read and verified. And you can prioritize outlets that meet high ethical journalistic or fact-checking standards.

These solutions are limited and imperfect, but that’s all right. Part of resisting epistemic exhaustion is learning to live with the limited and imperfect. No one has time to vet all the headlines, correct all the misinformation or gain all the relevant knowledge. To deny this is to set oneself up for exhaustion.

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That last section, What to do?, is full of really sensible advice. In fact, the American Psychological Association has an article at the moment that appears to be freely available called Healing the political divide.

I intend to read it.

It finishes up saying:

Scientists must strive to share their research as broadly as possible. And they don’t have to do it alone. Organizations like More in Common work to conduct research and communicate findings to audiences where it can have the greatest impact.

Advocacy is essential as well. Other countries that have made strides in addressing the political divide relied heavily on government-led reconciliation efforts. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for example, in South Africa, has been fundamental in addressing disparities and conflict around Apartheid.

Were the United States to consider similar, government-backed efforts, psychologists must be part of the call to do so. And the behavioral expertise of the field would be central to success.

“The collective mental health of the nation is at risk,” says Moghaddam. “Just as we should rely on epidemiological science to tell us when there is a vaccine ready for mass use, we have to rely on psychological science to guide us through these mental health issues.”

And following an election that, for many, has felt like the most polarized of a lifetime, this piece seems critical. “ This is what our profession is all about,” says Moghaddam.

Good advice especially if you can take time off just losing oneself in nature.

Dawn behind nearby Mt. Sexton. Taken from our deck on the 21st August, 2019.

Enough said!

The emotions of our most beloved animal friend: our dog.

Exploring the range of emotions felt and displayed by our dogs.

Like so many bloggers, I subscribe to the writings of many others. Indeed, it’s a rare day when I don’t read something that touches me, stirring up emotions across the whole range of feelings that we funny humans are capable of.

Such was the case with a recent essay published on Mother Nature Network. It was about dogs and whether they are capable of complex emotions. Better than that, MNN allow their essays to be republished elsewhere so long as they are fully and properly credited.

Thus, with great pleasure I republished the following essay written by Jaymi Heimbuch.

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Are dogs capable of complex emotions?

Exactly what emotions do dogs feel, and are they capable of all the same emotions as humans? (Photo: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)
Exactly what emotions do dogs feel, and are they capable of all the same emotions as humans? (Photo: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

Joy, fear, surprise, disgust, sadness. These are the basic emotions dogs feel that are also easy enough for humans to identify. But what about more complex emotions?

Many dog owners are convinced their dogs feel guilty when they’re caught misbehaving. In the same way, many owners are sure their dogs feel pride at having a new toy or bone. But it gets tricky when you assign these sorts of emotions to a dog. These are definitely emotions felt by humans, but are they also felt by dogs?

(see footnote)

Why we question the presence of complex emotions is wrapped up in the way we get to those emotions. The American Psychological Association explains, “Embarrassment is what’s known as a self-conscious emotion. While basic emotions such as anger, surprise or fear tend to happen automatically, without much cognitive processing, the self-conscious emotions, including shame, guilt and pride, are more complex. They require self-reflection and self-evaluation.”

Essentially we’re comparing our behavior or situation to a social expectation. For instance, guilt comes when we reflect on the fact that we’ve violated a social rule. We need to be aware of the rule and what it means to break it. So, can dogs feel guilt? Well, exactly how self-reflective and self-evaluative are dogs?

Among humans, children begin to experience empathy and what are called secondary emotions when they are around 2 years old. Researchers estimate that the mental ability of a dog is roughly equal to that of an 18-month-old human. “This conclusion holds for most mental abilities as well as emotions,” says Stanley Coren in an article in Modern Dog Magazine. “Thus, we can look to the human research to see what we might expect of our dogs. Just like a two-year-old child, our dogs clearly have emotions, but many fewer kinds of emotions than found in adult humans.”

In other words, if 18-month-old children can’t yet experience these emotions, and dogs are roughly equal to them in cognitive and emotional ability, then dogs can’t feel these self-reflective emotions either. At least, that’s what researchers have concluded so far.

Is that guilt or fear?

This little puppy might feel guilty for chewing on clothes, or he could just be worried about getting in trouble. The two aren't the same emotion. (Photo: InBetweentheBlinks/Shutterstock)
This little puppy might feel guilty for chewing on clothes, or he could just be worried about getting in trouble. The two aren’t the same emotion. (Photo: InBetweentheBlinks/Shutterstock)

The evidence for primary emotions like love and happiness in dogs abounds, but empirical evidence for secondary emotions like jealousy and guilt is sparse. And this is partially because it’s difficult to create tests that provide clear-cut answers. When it comes to guilt, does a dog act guilty because she knows she did something wrong, or because she’s expecting a scolding? The same expression can come across as guilt or fear. How do we know which it is?

Scientific American explains it further:

“In wolves, it is thought that guilt-related behaviors serve to reinforce social bonds, as in primates, by reducing conflict and eliciting tolerance from other members of the social group. The same could be true of dogs, though their social groups would primarily include humans. The problem is that the display of the associated behaviors of guilt are not, themselves, evidence of the capacity to emotionally experience guilt… It may still be some time before we can know for certain whether dogs can experience guilt, or whether people can determine if a dog has violated a rule prior to finding concrete evidence of it.”

Guilt, and other secondary emotions, are complicated. That’s exactly why cognitive awareness and emotional capacity in dogs is still a topic under study. In fact, it’s an area that has grown significantly in recent years. We may discover that dogs have a more complex range of emotions than we’re aware of today.

Dogs are highly social animals, and social animals are required to navigate a range of emotions in themselves and those around them to maintain social bonds. It wasn’t so long ago that scientists thought that dogs (and other non-human animals) didn’t have any feelings at all. Perhaps our understanding of dog emotions is simply limited by the types of tests we’ve devised to understand their emotions. After all, we’re trying to detect a sophisticated emotional state in a species that doesn’t speak the same language.

There’s a lot we don’t know

Dogs experience a range of emotions, but researchers are still trying to figure out exactly what those emotions are. (Photo: Hysteria/Shutterstock)
Dogs experience a range of emotions, but researchers are still trying to figure out exactly what those emotions are. (Photo: Hysteria/Shutterstock)

Marc Bekoff makes the argument for leaving the possibility open. In an article in Psychology Today he writes, “[B]ecause it’s been claimed that other mammals with whom dogs share the same neural bases for emotions do experience guilt, pride, and shame and other complex emotions, there’s no reason why dogs cannot.”

Keeping the possibility open is more than just an emotional animal rights issue. There is a scientific basis for continuing the research. A recent study showed that the brains of dogs and humans function in a more similar way than we previously thought.

Scientific American reports that “dog brains have voice-sensitive regions and that these neurological areas resemble those of humans. Sharing similar locations in both species, they process voices and emotions of other individuals similarly. Both groups respond with greater neural activity when they listen to voices reflecting positive emotions such as laughing than to negative sounds that include crying or whining. Dogs and people, however, respond more strongly to the sounds made by their own species.”

Until recently, we had no idea of the similar ways human and dog brains process social information.

So do dogs feel shame, guilt and pride? Maybe. Possibly. It’s still controversial, but for now, there seems to be no harm in assuming they do unless proven otherwise.

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Footnote: At this point in the MNN article there was a link to a series of gorgeous photographs of dogs. If you dear readers can wait, then I will publish them this coming Sunday. If you can’t wait, then go here!