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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.
Several experts have weighed in on our sometimes morbid curiosity and fascination with true crime stories.
- True crime podcasts can get as many as 500,000 downloads per month. In the Top 100 Podcasts of 2020 list for Apple US, several true crime podcasts ranked within the Top 20.
- Our fascination with true crime isn't just limited to podcasts, with Netflix documentaries like "Confessions of a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" scoring high popularity with viewers.
- Several experts weight in on our fascination with true crime stories with theories including fear-based adrenaline rushes to the inherent need to understand the human mind.
Why are we fascinated with true crime stories?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzODA1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MzkwOTAzOX0.7WqeWaf-odtEJV5XB2jdEG1uPU5d6Uaujw6iy6MKMbw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="d99fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4d3cc24145f6a0f324162f1cf1dfe83" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="woman standing in front of crime scene notes true crime stories true crime podcasts" />
Several experts and psychologists weigh in on why we could be so fascinated by violence, destruction and true crime stories...
Photo by Motortion Films on Shutterstock<p>Several experts have weighed in on this topic over the years, as the spike in popularity of true crime media has continued at an astonishing rate.</p> <p><strong>Psychopaths are charismatic.</strong> </p><p>One of the <a href="https://www.scienceofpeople.com/psychopath/#:~:text=Psychopathy%20researchers%20found%20that%20psychopaths,defer%20gratification%20and%20control%20behavior" target="_blank">defining qualities of a psychopath</a> is that they have "superficial charm and glibness", which could explain part of our fascination with podcasts, tv shows, and movies that cover the lives of famous serial killers. </p> <p><strong>Our psychology demands we pay attention to things that could harm us.</strong></p><p>Psychology can play a large role in why we like what we like, and our fascination with true crime stories is no exception. When it comes to potential threats or things that could be threatening to humanity, perhaps we've been conditioned to pay those things extra attention. </p> <p>According to Dr. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist at <a href="http://www.doctorondemand.com/" target="_blank">Doctor on Demand</a> who spoke about the process <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/science-behind-why-we-can-t-look-away-disasters-ncna804966" target="_blank">in an interview with NCB News</a>, seeing destruction, disaster, or tragedy actually triggers survival instincts in us. </p> <p><em>"A disaster enters into our awareness - this can be from a live source such as driving by a traffic accident or from watching a news report about a hurricane, a plane crash or any disaster. This data from our perceptual system then stimulates the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotions, survival tactics and memory). The amygdala then sends signals to the regions of the frontal cortex that are involved in analyzing and interpreting data. Next, the brain evaluates whether this data (awareness of the disaster) is a threat to you, thus judgment gets involved. As a result, the 'fight or flight' response is evoked." </em></p> <p><strong>Could it just be morbid curiosity? </strong></p><p>Dr. Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., and professor at De Sales University explained <a href="https://www.bustle.com/p/why-are-people-so-obsessed-with-true-crime-experts-reveal-the-evolutionary-reasons-why-18138062" target="_blank">in an interview with Bustle</a>:</p> <p><em>"Part of our love of true crime is based on something very natural: curiosity. People reading or watching a true crime story are engaged on several levels. They are curious about who would do this, they want to know the psychology of the bad guy, girl, or team. They want to know something about the abhorrent mind. They also love the puzzle - figuring out how it was done." </em></p> <p><strong>Perhaps it's a way of facing our fears and planning our own reactions without risking immediate harm. </strong></p><p>Psychiatrist Dr. David Henderson spoke with NBC News on this topic, suggesting that we may be fascinated with violence, destruction or crime as a way of assessing how we would handle ourselves if put into that situation.</p> <p><em>"Witnessing violence and destruction, whether it is in a novel, a movie, on TV or a real life scene playing out in front of us in real time, gives us the opportunity to confront our fears of death, pain, despair, degradation and annihilation while still feeling some level of safety. This sensation is sometimes experienced when we stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon or look through the glass at a ferocious lion at the zoo. We watch because we are allowed to ask ourselves ultimate questions with an intensity of emotion that is uncoupled from the true reality of the disaster: 'If I was in that situation, what would I do? How would I respond? Would I be the hero or the villain? Could I endure the pain? Would I have the strength to recover?' We play out the different scenarios in our head because it helps us to reconcile that which is uncontrollable with our need to remain in control."</em></p> <p><strong>Psychologically, negative events activate our brains more than positive events. </strong></p><p><a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0033-2909.134.3.383" target="_blank">A 2008 study</a> published by the American Psychological Association found that humans react to and learn more from negative experiences than we do positive ones. The term "negative bias" is the tendency to automatically give more attention (and meaning) to negative events and information more than positive events or information. </p> <p><strong>A forced perspective may trigger empathy and act as a coping mechanism. </strong></p><p>Viewing destruction (or listening to/watching true crime stories) could be beneficial. How? According to Dr. Mayer (who explained this stance in <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/science-behind-why-we-can-t-look-away-disasters-ncna804966" target="_blank">his interview with NBC News</a>), <em>"the healthy mechanism of watching disasters is that it is a coping mechanism. We can become incubated emotionally by watching disasters and this helps us cope with hardships in our lives…" </em></p> <p><a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/science-behind-why-we-can-t-look-away-disasters-ncna804966" target="_blank">Dr. Stephen Rosenburg points out</a>, however, that this empathetic response can also have a negative impact.<em> "Being human and having empathy can make us feel worried or depressed." </em></p> <p>Dr. Rosenberg goes on to explain that this can also impact the negativity bias.<em> "We tend to think negatively to protect ourselves from the reality. If it turns out better, we're relieved. If it turns out worse, we're prepared." </em></p> <p><strong>Perhaps the adrenaline of fear that comes from listening to or watching true crime can become addicting. </strong></p><p>Similarly to how runners get a "runners high" from exercise or feel depressed when they have missed a scheduled run, the adrenaline that pumps during our consumption of true crime stories <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201508/can-you-be-addicted-adrenaline" target="_blank">can become addictive</a>. </p> <p>According to sociology and criminology professor Scott Bonn, <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/wicked-deeds/201605/the-delightful-guilty-pleasure-watching-true-crime-tv" target="_blank">in an interview with Psychology Today</a>: <em>"The public is drawn to these stories because they trigger the most basic and powerful emotion in us all: fear." </em></p>
Apparently the Catholic Church is a small business.
- Churches and ministries received up to $10 billion in federal assistance during the first round of stimulus.
- The Catholic Church exploited a loophole to be considered a "small business" and received up to $3.5 billion in forgivable loans.
- With stimulus measures ending last week, up to 40 million Americans are in danger of losing their homes.
People wait for Pope Francis to give a short speech followed by the Angelus from the window of his apartment over St. Peter's Square on September 02, 2018 in Vatican City, Vatican.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images<p>Catholic institutions in America employ over <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/03/13/the-new-pope-will-be-one-of-americas-biggest-employers/" target="_blank">one million people</a>, over <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/234488/number-of-amazon-employees/#:~:text=This%20statistic%20represents%20the%20combined,-%20and%20part-time%20employees." target="_blank">200,000 more</a> workers than on Amazon's payroll. Quite a small business.</p><p>The Catholic Church wasn't the only non-taxpaying entity to receive a boon. A campus ministry subsidiary of the Presbyterian Church of America <a href="https://ministrywatch.com/churches-and-religious-non-profits-received-6-10-billion-in-covid-relief-funds/" target="_blank">received between $5-$10 million</a>. Another $5 million went to Willow Creek Community Church, a megachurch whose longtime pastor was <a href="https://ministrywatch.com/a-ministrywatch-analysis-what-happened-at-willow-creek/" target="_blank">accused of sexual misconduct</a> in 2018. </p><p>The First Baptist Church of Dallas <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-ppp-religious/televangelists-megachurches-tied-to-trump-approved-for-millions-in-pandemic-aid-idUSKBN2480CB" target="_blank">received up to $5 million</a>. The church's leader, Robert Jeffress, <a href="https://www.dallasobserver.com/news/top-10-things-first-baptist-dallas-pastor-robert-jeffress-thinks-8326587" target="_blank">believes</a> abortion caused 9/11, gay sex can make you explode, and pedophilia and homosexuality are inherently related. Jeffress also sits on Trump's evangelical advisory board. </p><p>Churches and ministries receiving at least $2 million include ministry group, Jews for Jesus (<a href="https://www.ecfa.org/MemberProfile.aspx?ID=6322" target="_blank">total assets</a>: $39,596,245); evangelical book and music publisher, David C Cook (<a href="https://www.ecfa.org/memberprofile.aspx?id=7737" target="_blank">total assets</a>: $87,871,425); Mariners Church, an Irvine-based megachurch (<a href="https://www.ecfa.org/ComparativeFinancialData.aspx?ID=23142&Type=Member" target="_blank">total assets</a>: $107,026,283); The Summit Church, a North Carolina-based Southern Baptist church (<a href="https://www.ecfa.org/MemberProfile.aspx?ID=44905" target="_blank">total assets</a>: $60,694,442); and Orlando-based Ligonier Ministries (<a href="https://www.ecfa.org/MemberProfile.aspx?ID=5396" target="_blank">total assets</a>: $46,203,410).</p><p>Another <a href="https://ministrywatch.com/ministries-and-churches-receiving-more-than-1-m-in-paycheck-protection-program-funds/" target="_blank">400 ministries received at least $1 million</a> in forgivable loans under the CARES Act. </p><p>To reiterate, up to 40 million Americans may lose their home this year. </p><p>While churches already save <a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/how-to-make-71-billion-a-year-tax-the-churches" target="_self">$71 billion</a> in tax relief every year, both Republican and Democratic proposals allow religious organizations to participate in the next round of stimulus funding. </p><p>Blessed are the meek, unless you have a lobbyist. Then you're just blessed. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
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