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The cabbage roll epiphany: Our best chance at depolarizing the United States
If ever there was a food that holds a lesson for building bridges in a fractured America, it's the cabbage roll.
- Dr. Kurt Gray of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill unpacks a psychological and political phenomenon: reactive devaluation.
- This negative phenomenon is driving polarization in the U.S.. The good news? It has an equally powerful counterpart: benevolence.
- Understanding how humans create meaning in the world is the key to a more unified and a more rational America.
I hate cabbage rolls and for good reason. They don't taste like much and what they do taste like is bad: boiled cabbage, greasy meat, thin tomato sauce. Cabbage rolls are seldom on the menu at nice restaurants. They do not inspire eyes-closed savoring or 5-star Yelp reviews. Instead, they evoke endless winters, feudal oppression, and culinary fatalism. Despite my loathing of cabbage rolls, I still ate every bite when my grandmother cooked them. It wasn't just that I feared disappointing her, but instead my grandmother's cabbage rolls—bad as they were—somehow tasted better than the sum of their parts.
As I would later reveal by rigorous scientific experimentation, the reason my grandmother's cabbage rolls tasted better was because they were baked with love. "Being baked with love" sounds decidedly unscientific, but studies have revealed how our experience of the world is shaped by social context. Even the most basic of our sensory processes, such as taste and smell, depend on associations and memories. If a passing whiff of shampoo or cologne has ever mentally transported you back to your first love, you know how the world is imbued with meaning.
"The power of perceived malice is not restricted to one side of the aisle but is instead our shared human nature. When Democrats see every one of President Trump's policies as causing them personal pain, they too are guided by perceived animosity."
The meaning of an event is so powerful that it can fundamentally change how it impacts us. One study conducted during the Korean war revealed that many American soldiers declined painkillers after sustaining gruesome gunshot wounds. The reason is because the experience of pain depends on the meaning of wounds. Normally being shot is bad news—it means danger and threat—and so we feel pain, but here it meant salvation. As long as they survived the recovery, being shot meant leaving the battlefield and going back home to the safety of America. Later studies in my own lab reveal that our everyday experience of pain is also shaped by meaning: electric shocks actually hurt less when they seem to be given accidentally, and they hurt more when they seem malicious.
The electric shock study has an important lesson for modern America. If perceived malice can make electric shocks—simple physical events—hurt more, then imagine how it can shape our interpretation of comments on Twitter or governmental policies. If you perceive that someone dislikes you (or your group), then everything they do will be experienced as hurtful, even if they are actually trying to help you.
Consider debates about health care. In 2006, Governor Mitt Romney passed a comprehensive state healthcare reform bill in Massachusetts that mandated insurance coverage and expanded Medicaid. In 2010, President Obama passed "ObamaCare," a comprehensive federal healthcare reform bill that achieved similar goals to "RomneyCare." Despite the similarities between the bills, and despite supporting Romney in 2012, many Republicans remain outraged. Why? There are differences between the bills, but more likely it is because Republicans experienced ObamaCare through the lens of maliciousness, seeing Obama as trying to undermine their rights.
The power of perceived malice is not restricted to one side of the aisle but is instead our shared human nature. When Democrats see every one of President Trump's policies as causing them personal pain, they too are guided by perceived animosity. Social psychologists have a term for a similar phenomenon, reactive devaluation, which is when something seems worse just because your opponent offered it to you. In the original 1988 study, Americans were overwhelmingly in favor of bilateral nuclear arms reduction when they believed the suggestion came from President Reagan but strongly against the exact same policy when it was attributed to Mikhail Gorbachev. This phenomena not only reflects zero sum thinking but is rooted in the idea that your opponent is also your enemy—someone bent on hurting you.
"If my grandmother's love for me can make cabbage rolls more palatable, hopefully understanding that most Americans love their country can make even political disagreement more palatable."
The drivers of political antipathy are deep problems that are not easily fixed, but the solutions are what many scientists, research centers, and global initiatives are studying. Some early findings reveal that exposure to people on the the other side is important. Once you actually talk with political opponents—or better yet—work together with them, people start to recognize their humanity and become more tolerant of disagreement. It is also important to recognize that we all share deep similarities; for example, we may belong to different political opponents, but we are all Americans (especially on the 4th of July). It also helps to stay away from social media, which not only creates echo-chambers, but also rewards people for being outraged. Combining all these elements together into a "tolerance-cocktail" may help address political intolerance.
Although perceived malice can make the world seem more painful, there is a message of hope: Benevolence can also make things feel better. If you know that someone actually cares for you, then you experience events as more positive. In one study, we gave people a piece of candy (the classic American "Tootsie Roll") that (we said) was picked out for them by another person. The fictitious person put in a note with the candy that said either, "Whatever. I don't care. I just picked it randomly," or "I picked this just for you. Hope it makes you happy." The addition of thoughtfulness made the candy taste significantly better and also sweeter.
The power of benevolence is also why my grandmother's cabbage rolls tasted better than I expected. The ingredients may all have been lackluster, but the intention behind them warmed my taste buds. Studies also reveal that the perception of benevolence can also make electric shocks hurt much less. If you know that someone has your best intentions at heart, then an errant electric shock is easily shrugged off. The same is likely true politically: If you know that a congressperson or senator is ultimately trying to help the country, then pain from policies can be better endured.
If my grandmother's love for me can make cabbage rolls more palatable, hopefully understanding that most Americans love their country can make even political disagreement more palatable.
Dr. Kurt Gray is an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
After a decade of failed attempts, scientists successfully bounced photons off of a reflector aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, some 240,000 miles from Earth.
- Laser experiments can reveal precisely how far away an object is from Earth.
- Scientists have for years been bouncing light off of reflectors on the lunar surface that were installed during the Apollo era. But these reflectors have become less efficient over time.
- The recent success could reveal the cause of the degradation, and also lead to new discoveries about the Moon's evolution.
A close-up photograph of the laser reflecting panel deployed by Apollo 14 astronauts on the Moon in 1971.
NASA<p>The technology isn't quite new. During the Apollo era, astronauts installed on the lunar surface five reflecting panels, each containing at least 100 mirrors that reflect back to whichever direction it's coming from. By bouncing light off these panels, scientists have been able to learn, for example, that the Moon is drifting away from Earth at a rate of about 1.5 inches per year.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Now that we've been collecting data for 50 years, we can see trends that we wouldn't have been able to see otherwise," Erwan Mazarico, a planetary scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/laser-beams-reflected-between-earth-and-moon-boost-science" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">told</a> NASA. "Laser-ranging science is a long game."</p>
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)
NASA<p>But the long game poses a problem: Over time, the panels on the moon have become less efficient at bouncing light back to Earth. Some scientists suspect it's because dust, kicked up by micrometeorites, has settled on the surface of the panels, causing them to overheat. And if that's the case, scientists need to know for sure.</p><p>That's where the recent LRO laser experiment comes in. If scientists find discrepancies between the data sent back by the LRO reflector and those on the lunar surface, it could reveal what's causing the lunar reflectors to become less efficient. They could then account for these discrepancies in their models.</p>
Studying the Moon's core<p>More precise laser experiments could also help scientists learn more about the Moon's core. By measuring tiny wobbles as the moon rotates, past laser experiments revealed that the satellite has a fluid core. But inside of that fluid could lie a solid core — one that might've helped to generate the Moon's now-extinct magnetic field.</p><p>However, confirming that hypothesis will require more precise measurements — and the continued success of laser experiments involving the LRO, or reflecting panels installed on the Moon during future missions.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The precision of this one measurement has the potential to refine our understanding of gravity and the evolution of the solar system," <a href="https://science.gsfc.nasa.gov/sed/bio/xiaoli.sun-1" target="_blank">Xiaoli Sun</a>, a Goddard planetary scientist who helped design LRO's reflector, told NASA.</p>
Ever wonder why soft hair can dull a steel razor? So did scientists at MIT.
- Steel is fifty times harder than hair, yet shaving razors dull in a hurry.
- A new study finds much of this is caused by hair cracking razors at points of imperfection.
- The findings may lead to new ways of making razors that last longer.
It surprises me it took this long for a scientist to look at their shaving razors under a microscope.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU1NjY3OS9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTE0MTkwM30.LSp_rimRO6vHeMMlifEbuKjUS9bcvkSaMzRqh8MyHlo/img.gif?width=980" id="a6de5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3778bbe9f14500b64391091a5ea08fa4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
An extremely magnified image of a razor blade cutting hair.
G. Roscioli<p>Lead author Gianluca Roscioli grew his facial hair out for three days before <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-razors-are-dull-within-weeks-according-science-180975534/" target="_blank">shaving</a>. He then brought his razors into the lab to examine them under an electron microscope. While they expected to see even dulling on the blade edge, they instead noticed strange C-shaped chips missing. Intrigued, they attached a camera to the microscope so they could record the blade cutting the <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/your-hair-can-crack-steel-when-it-hits-right-spot" target="_blank">hair</a>. At the same time, they investigated the properties of the razors at the microscopic level.</p><p>This apparatus revealed that, when the razor blade hit the hairs at non-perpendicular angles, small cracks would form in the razor blade. These tended to develop in boundary areas between where the steel was harder and where it was softer due to differences in the properties at each location caused by the manufacturing <a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/2251202-we-just-figured-out-why-shaving-soft-hair-blunts-steel-razor-blades/" target="_blank">process</a>. Over time, these cracks grew into chips. While these chips are too small to see with the naked eye, they were large enough to reduce the blade's effectiveness.</p><p>Roscioli told <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-razors-are-dull-within-weeks-according-science-180975534/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">NPR</a>, "The size of the chips are about 1/10 of the diameter of a human hair."</p><p>The chips can be caused by hair of any thickness and appear to be unavoidable in blades with standard imperfections. </p><p>The finding surprised other scientists, who also quickly accepted the explanation. Professor Suveen Mathaudhu of UC Riverside explained to <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/08/06/898577234/cutting-edge-research-shows-how-hair-dulls-razor-blades" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">NPR</a> that he had expected a larger role in the dulling process to be played by corrosion but that the findings made a great deal of sense. Other scientists expressed how impressed they were by the quality of the images and the difficulty of the study. </p>
How can we possibly use this information?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="ELqsmO1M" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="2295233989512b59279237452c0e0076"> <div id="botr_ELqsmO1M_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ELqsmO1M-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/ELqsmO1M-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ELqsmO1M-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The study determined that part of the reason for this chipping is the imperfections in the steel used to make the blades, specifically, the lack of uniformity in the composition of the steel at the microscopic level. At least partly, these imperfections are due to the nature of the production process and can be reduced through alternative methods. This study's research team is also working on a new material with more structural uniformity as a possible solution.</p><p>These findings may one day lead to longer-lasting razor blades. Given that Americans throw out two billion blades each <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/08/07/landfill-waste-how-prevent-disposable-razor-plastic-pollution/1943345001/" target="_blank">year</a>, such a discovery's environmental impact would be tremendous.</p>
You're always in control of your breath.
- Anxiety is triggered environmentally and emotionally, but a physiological response quickly follows.
- Calming breathing techniques help to tamp down the physiological response of anxiety.
- The following four exercises are known to help calm anxiety and develop focus.
Stressed? Use This Breathing Technique to Improve Your Attention and Memory, with Emma Seppälä<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ac308f8ef7490814bcb4c1841725cf35"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/NrJZu6bGyHg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h3>Alternate Nostril Breathing</h3><p>Emma Seppälä, science director at Stanford Center For Compassion And Altruism Research And Education, says American culture values intensity yet undervalues calmness. We never shut off. While intensity has its place, every animal in nature inherently knows the necessity of rest in order to store up energy for when it's actually needed. Americans are careless with our energy reserves, which is why so many of us are chronically tired, overworked, and stressed out. </p><p>Seppälä knows that breathing changes our state of mind. She recommends a popular yogic breathing technique, <em>nadi shodhana</em>, also known as alternate nostril breathing. </p><p>Place the index and middle fingers of your right hand on your forehead. Use your thumb to close your right nostril while inhaling through the left nostril, then close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through your right nostril. Repeat this for at least two minutes, then sit quietly for another minute or two, breathing normally. </p><p>There are many variations of this technique. My favorite is a four-cycle breath: inhale for a count of four through one nostril, retain your breath for a count of four, exhale for four, hold your breath out for four. If you're new to this breathing technique, retention might initially create more anxiety than it relieves, so try the basic inhale-exhale pattern until you can last for at least five minutes before moving onto breath retentions.</p>
Mind Hack: Combat Anxiety with This Breathing Technique<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0cd55bb6ac6c7dd5daab3c29b7a82843"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/7xalaT2FwS8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h3>Power Breath</h3><p>Game designer and author of "Superbetter," Jane McGonigal, recommends the Power Breath: exhale for twice as long as you inhale. She says this will shift your nervous system from sympathetic to a parasympathetic tone—you'll calm down. Simply sit comfortably, close your eyes, and begin by inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for a count of eight. </p><p>This is also a popular yoga breathing technique. As with <em>nadi shodhana</em>, it can initially kick up rather than diminish anxiety. If you find long exhales challenging, begin by inhaling and exhaling at an even rate: a count of four in both directions. Then try to slowly increase your exhale to a count of five, six, and so on. Longtime practitioners can inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of 50. As with any muscle, you can train your breathing. The benefits are immense. </p>
Breathing Techniques to Help You Relax<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="56511aaa4d1c06cc65077b8daf7670fb"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHpTR2wRc8c?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h3>Focus Word Breathing</h3><p>Lolly, a Mind-Body Specialist at the University of Maryland Heart Center, offers what she calls Focus Word Breathing. Traditionally, this is known as Mantra meditation. Choose a word that has meaning to you—<em>calm</em>, <em>grace</em>, <em>ease</em>—and repeat it during every inhalation and exhalation. As your mind wanders, the word becomes a sort of flagpole that you've mentally planted to bring you back to this moment. </p><p>As a former sufferer of anxiety disorder, I remember how important my thoughts were when having a panic attack. The power of the physiological symptoms increased when I dwelled on negative thoughts. This spiral felt like being sucked into a vortex. By contrast, when I was able to redirect my thinking, the symptoms lessened. </p><p>Mantra meditation never completely worked during an attack. By that point, my physiology had been hijacked. But as a regular practice, this breathing technique is powerful. Think of it as training for the big game of life. You teach yourself to focus on beneficial words. Your attention goes where thinking leads you, but you also have control of your thoughts. By integrating a mantra with breathing, you're priming your mind to focus at will.</p>
How to do Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall) w/ AnaMargret Sanchez<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6ebcd48808f1ef73d5d35b9b4f58e8e8"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YHxoiq1YivE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h3>Deep Belly Breathing</h3><p>This exercise is commonly used by yoga instructors to bring their students into Corpse Pose (Savasana). Place your hands over your stomach while lying down and focus your attention there. Take deep, even breaths into your hands. As with the last technique, focus your mind there. Relax the muscles at your extremities: your toes, fingers, and forehead. Allow yourself to melt into the floor. </p><p>I love doing this breath while in <em>Viparita Karani</em>, otherwise known as Legs Up the Wall posture. The video above explains how to enter this pose; a blanket or pillow under your lower back makes the posture comfortable. Once there, I practice deep belly breathing. This technique always calms me down. I've recommended it to friends suffering from insomnia; they all responded with positive anecdotal feedback. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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