17 May 2009

Star Girl

I admit, with all that talk about psychology I'm a still a little bit of a renegade.
I break the rules. I'm shameless: no matter how many times I read a psychology textbook debunking the Zodiacs, I am still passionate about astrology. It's ingrained in my way of thinking, I've been studying it for years, probably since I was 10. I'm ready to have a debate with any psychologist that astrology may not be a science but it should not be so easily dismissed.

During my readings, I've come across details that are frightening. For example, this jewel about the Rooster Man's love behavior. I have yet to meet a male Rooster who doesn't manifest unconscious sadistic tendencies to protect themselves from their anxieties and self-doubts.
When reading about a person's chart, I like to concentrate on their Chinese birth year, month and hour. And I also combine those descriptions with their Western Moon, Venus, Mars and Sun signs. The combination reading is usually pretty detailed and insightful. There is nothing vague about it. Recently I've touched on the Indian Moon Nakshatras and I see some truths in my sign, Hasta. Also fascinating are the different Decans for each star sign. For example, I'm a First Decan Libran. From which I particularly appreciate this sentence:

These natives must guard against defining themselves in terms of a significant other and strive to "be their own person," which will raise self-esteem and make them no less loveable in the process.

Absolutely nothing vague about this description. Unfortunately, that is indeed a flaw I have. I need a backbone when it comes to my romantic relationships! But anyway yesterday I found a jewel of a description.
It's me to a T.

Here it is:

Here is an aristocratic Rabbit. This native's manners are delicate and studied. Diplomacy for him is an ethic and behind his frail appearance hides a prodigious inner strength that analyses each one of your attitudes to find your weak points. This subject is unpredictable and never reveals his game. He's also an aesthete.

Ah yes, my frail appearance has indeed misled a lot of unscrupulous people in the past and this to their eventual detriment.
Meanwhile, I pride myself on my unpredictability although sometimes I tend to also confuse myself with it so it's not always a good thing! I never know what I'm going to do next. (Incidentally that is a trait corresponding with my being born on the Hour of the Tiger, Tigers are unpredictable.)
As for me never revealing my game, well there are very few people I fully trust. I can count them on three fingers, if that.

16 May 2009

Sadness - The Origin of Human Emotion

I'm working on an assignment relating to the brain's cortical structures such as the medial prefrontal cortex and its involvement, together with subcortical structures like the amygdala and the hippocampus, in the realm of emotion and emotion regulation.

I was struck by a passage that I read in a text written by Jonathan H. Turner. It's about the conceptualisation of sadness in terms of brain activity. It offers a social explanation for the role of sadness. It's also about the evolutionary role of sadness for survival. I've highlighted in bold those passages I'm fond of.

...One answer is that sadness is simply a by-product of depression of neurotransmitters, neuroactive peptides, and, as recent imaging studies reveal, underactivation of the subgenual prefrontal cortex (Drevets et al. 1997).

Another answer is that sadness is a very effective mechanism of social control.
For example, guilt and shame are often the outcome when a person senses that they have made others unhappy or sad by not meeting expectations; and so moral codes and comformity to them are built, not just on positive and negative sanctions, but also upon more complex sanctioning practices that avoid the full mobilization of anger.
Sadness is a very effective negative sanction because [..] it does not contain the volatitily of anger-based negative sanctions; and it is effective as a direct sanctioning technique by others, while at the same time, it often evokes sadness in the person who feels that they have failed to meet others' or their own expectations [..]. Thus guilt, shame, and other emotions in which sadness is a dominant componant are probably more than a by-product of suspension of other emotional responses; sadness is a key to social control revolving around negative sanctioning that avoids the volatility of anger and fear, although these latter emotions are part of a complex second-order emotions like shame and guilt. Moreover, sadness is also a signal to others that the individual is in need of social support. By reading signals of sadness, others become aware that a person requires attention and positive emotions. In fact, sadness is a good example of how humans read emotions nonverbally, because we respond most actively to body signals that a person is unhappy. There was probably selection for this kind of response, since, if a group-living animal with strong bioprogrammers for such living is to sustain solidarity, it must be able to read and respond to cues that [other] individuals are not mobilized to put energy into solidarity-maintaining rituals.
- Jonathan H. Turner, On the origins of human emotion: a sociological inquiry into the evolution of human affect, Stanford University Press, 2000

I supposed that people who are adept at dissimulating to others that they are sad often do not receive the social support that they need. It is ironic that such people may believe themselves to be self-sufficient and well-adapted but in fact by refusing to overtly manifest their sadness, they are arguably behaving in a way contrary to what survival dictates.

Meanwhile, I find it interesting how humans, at least those who are pro-social, are wired to interpret any form of 'low activity', 'low social presence', 'withdrawing' in any other individual, as a sign that something is wrong. If they see that an individual is no longer actively engaging in social activities and instead undergoes a period of 'depressed' living, it is then instinctively believed that this person, according to Turner, is unable to mobilize energy into solidarity-maintaining rituals. And in that case, evolutionarily speaking, people tend to think that this person's survival may be threatened and from this realisation stems an attempt by others to support them.

How illuminating!

14 May 2009

Dr. X

I've been involved in some stalking lately.

I'm stalking a lecturer in fact. Mind you, it's only mild, harmless stalking. The Google type.

Besides, this lecturer, he maintains a blog. On Blogger that is.
He's also conveniently the sole person with that good name on Facebook and Twitter. He even has his own web page.

So you see his profiles are all very public and I guess you could coin my stalking 'research'.

It begs the question though, who would do that? Stalk their own lecturer, I mean. Unless they were infatuated...
Please believe me, I'm not. Not a single attraction there. No, it's something else altogether. I've a one track mind about a novella concept that I've toyed with for over a year. And well...let me explain.

I have my reason for being interested in this guy.

What fascinates me is his psychology research interests.
They are frighteningly similar to mine: the neuroscience of social behavior, studies on intergroup relations and prejudice, psychophysiology of emotions... It's disturbing. Disturbing it is, because in addition to this similarity, according to his blog, he seems to show a vivid interest in film analysis, music [lyrics] and culture. It aroused my curiosity instantly because these are the two areas that I've focused on in the last 5 years: film studies and psychology. Meanwhile, because of my background, I have also had an almost personal (arrogant) interest in culture and intergroup relations. Finally in my blog, I often present lyrics and lyrics translations. So overall, my intuitive gut feel when I viewed his blog, is that we must share a common outlook on the world, at least in some ways. I realise he's much more educated and that his blog is a wealth of well integrated research on many subjects that I'm mostly ignorant about. Still, I maintain that there are common interests.

As an aside, the combination film/psychology is not unusual, not only in terms of personal interests but also in the creative industry.
For example, I've read of many successful writers and directors who had studied psychology (note the distinction: they are psychology graduates, not 'psychologists'). The french thriller "Hidden" was written by psychology graduate Michael Haneke. And beyond this, film analysis does borrow from psychoanalysis.

I'm digressing. So this lecturer shares some of my interests. So what. This similarity shouldn't be given salience. I mean many people also like cinema and music so why shouldn't any old social neuroscientist also enjoy watching and analysing film and posting music lyrics? What's so curious about them if they do?

Why, you ask? Because this lecturer gave me full marks in my psychophysiology proposal. That's the scary proposal I wrote recently and which I mention here. This guy gave me full marks for a 40% third year psychology assignment. Far out, I've never had that happen to me. How does that happen?

I'm modest but still, I honestly don't think it was the best work I ever did. Ok, I liked it, but that's only because I love that research subject, I still gasped when I saw my mark and wondered whether there had been an oversight. Maybe because I have mildly low self-esteem, I've been attributing the mark to something else (alongside my hard work). I think, having considered everything, that he must have really liked the proposal, that it struck a common chord there and that he felt good (understood?) reading it. Of course he did, it's the type of work he enjoys and it was well written, I might add. I noticed he made a mention in happy red (red ink can often look angry... but that was happy red) that his lab was looking at similar issues. I was excited to know that. Very excited.

If, one day, I need professional feedback for the concepts in my novella, I will turn to him. I know he would be thrilled. He likes science fiction. Right now, though, I'm too shy. So I prefer to remain incognito for a while.

Maybe I could even make him into a character in my novella.
I'll call him Dr. X.

In one of his Blog posts, my lecturer laments the lack of academic references to his research papers by researchers whose work he values and who he wishes would also find interest in his own material. He communicates that he often feels that he doesn't exist and that all the work he has done in the last 15 years has been for nothing.

That post was written last year so hopefully he got over those dark thoughts since then. Either way, it made me very sad. I could not reconcile that someone whose professional work and values I put on the highest pedestal, could somehow feel, even in a moment of online melancholy, that they didn't exist.

Anyway Dr. X, don't worry. I'll make you eternal.