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What Girl Talk And Cover Bands Teach Us About the Biology of Surprise
The guile of Girl Talk, to paraphrase a Times article, is its appeal to the ironically inclined. Crunk rap or heavy metal are too lowbrow for the hipster. Not so when the two seamlessly blend in a Girl Talk mash-up. Girl Talk, in case you’ve been living in a cave, is the stage name of Gregg Gillis, a Pittsburgh native and former biomedical engineer. He sells out large stadiums around the world by combining at least two unrelated song – usually from different decades and genres – to create a brand new tune. He has mashed-up Soulja Boy’s "Pretty Boy Swag" with Aphex Twin’s "Windowlicker” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” with Ludacris’ “Move Bitch,” for example.
The grandeur of Gillis’ career is a lesson in why predictability and surprise are central to music. Predictability is important because the brain takes pleasure in matching a mental beat with a real-in-the-world one – the capacity to accurately predict the future has obvious adaptive benefits. This is why repetition is widespread in music. Consider research by the musicologist Dave Huron in collaboration with Joy Ollen:
[They] studied Calypose, Inuit throat singing, Japanese New Ag, Estonian bagpipe music, Punjabi pop, fifteenth-century Chinese guqin, Norwegian polka, Navaho war dance, bluegrass, Macedonian singing, Ghanian drumming, Spanish flamenco, Kalimantan ritual music, Hawaiian slack key guitar, Gypsy music and thirty-five other works… and found that 94 percent of all musical passage longer than a few seconds in duration are repeated at some point in the work.
One-hit wonders remind us that too much repetition is bad. Where they thrive on familiarity they languish in predictability. A good musician, in contrast, introduces a degree of unexpectedness into an otherwise familiar song because some surprise makes for an enjoyable listening experience even though it is initially bemoaned. Huron terms this phenomenon contractive valence, and defines it as "initially negative responses supplanted by neutral or positive responses [that] lead to an overall positive affect."
Girl Talk’s musical acuity is balancing predictability with surprise by using entirely familiar material. The vocal tracks are familiar, making it easy for listeners to sing along. So are the instrumentals; listeners easily keep up with the beats because they’ve heard them before. The surprise is what Arthur Koestler termed “biosociation,” or the bringing together of two apparently incompatible frames (or matrices) of thought. As the Times article puts it: “These are not just a collection of other people’s hooks; Girl Talk has created a new kind of hook that encompasses 50 years of the revolving trends of pop music.”
A good cover band also succeeds by incorporating surprise into an otherwise predictable song. The best covers I’ve heard come from The Bad Plus, a Minneapolis trio that infuses rock classics with avant-garde jazz. They cover famous hits from Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” to the Chariots Of Fire reprise “Titles." Unusual instrumentation combined with a habit of ignoring traditional music elements (or embracing them) renders their covers difficult to recognize. However, after a few listens – after your brain figures out the new patterns – their fresh takes can be more enjoyable than the originals. Just like low expectations amplify unforeseen success (and high expectations make failure even worse), an unexpected good outcome in music is more pleasurable than an expected good outcome.
The role of surprise in music presents an evolutionary paradox. The biological purpose of rewarding accurate predictions with positive feelings and punishing failed predictions with negative feelings has an obvious Darwinian explanation. Why, then, is it sometimes more pleasurable for music to surprise the listener? That is to say, as Huron points out, surprise from a biological perspective is always a bad thing; would it not be maladaptive to experience positive emotions whenever one’s predictions are wrong?
For the limbic system, which controls our flight, fight, and freeze response, the answer is yes. But sometimes imminent danger turns out innocuous, and when this happens we experience the pleasure in the form of relief. Huron uses the example of a wild bear injuring you. If this occurred, your body would immediately release analgesic opiates to dull the pain and focus your attention on escaping the beast. But let’s say the bear turns away and you’re left unscathed. The net result is just the opiate release - and the pleasure that comes with it. Huron hypothesizes that a similar physiological reaction occurs when music surprises us. Music engages the brain like anything else in the world, and the brain takes delight when a dodgy situation turns out to be better than it was initially – much like when your favorite sports team beats a goliath; what begins as a potentially grisly sports match transforms into joy.
Huron also suggests that, in this regard, music is similar to other forms of pleasurable experiences that run counter to innate aversions. For instance, in a 1999 paper Paul Rozin explains that one unique characteristic of humans is our willingness to engage in activities that elicit innate fears: roller coaster riding, watching horror movies, skydiving and hang gliding, for example. Eating is one of these activities. “[I]nnately aversive oral experiences such as coffee, beer, spirits, wine, tobacco, high levels of salt, carbonated beverages, and irritant spices are among the most preferred foods and drinks on the planet.”
(Another interesting connection is the relationship between openness to experience – one of the big five character traits – and one’s willingness to listen to different music or, say, eat chili peppers. In general, the more someone is open to experiences the more likely he is to try different music or food and vice versa. It would be unusual to meet someone who loves skydiving, eating chili peppers, watching scary movies but refuses to listen to music outside his preferred genre or musician.)
Surprise, in conclusion, is the musician’s best friend. Although getting hoodwinked is, biologically speaking, bad, musicians use surprise (consciously or not) as an emotional amplifier. They trick the limbic system by triggering the fight, flight or freeze response only to elicit a sense of relief. This pleasure is what Huron terms contrastive valence. Knowing the future is valuable, but the world becomes a boring place if we eliminate uncertainty altogether. Likewise with music.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?
- Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
- The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
- Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
How masturbation affects your brain...<p>Orgasms are a very common human phenomenon. The physical and mental health benefits have been researched frequently as a result, and yet, there is still so much to be learned about how our bodies and brains react to the chemicals and hormones released during and after experiencing this type of sexual release.</p><p>"The amount of speculation versus actual data on both the function and value of orgasm is remarkable" explains Julia Heiman, director of the <a href="https://kinseyinstitute.org/" target="_blank">Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction</a>.</p><p>Masturbation causes a rush of <a href="https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine" target="_blank">dopamine</a>, which is a chemical that is associated with our ability to feel pleasure. Along with the rush of dopamine that is released during an orgasm, there is also a release of a hormone called <a href="https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html" target="_blank">oxytocin</a>, which is commonly referred to as the "love hormone."<br></p><p>This concoction of chemicals does more than just boost our mood, it also can play a key role in decreasing stress and promoting relaxation. Oxytocin decreases <a href="https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol" target="_blank">cortisol</a>, which is a stress hormone that is usually present (in high volumes) during times of anxiety, fear, panic, or distress. </p><p>According to BDSM and fetish researcher <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/dr-gloria-brame-colbert-ga/278388" target="_blank">Dr. Gloria Brame</a>, an orgasm is the biggest non-drug induced blast of dopamine that we can experience. </p><p>By boosting the oxytocin and dopamine levels and subsequently decreasing our cortisol levels, the brain is placed in a more relaxed, euphoric, and calm state. </p>
Masturbation boosts your immune system and raises your white blood cell count.<p>How do those effects on the brain from reaching orgasm translate to boosting our immune system and making our body healthier?</p><p>The increase of oxytocin and dopamine that causes a decrease in cortisol levels can help boost our immune system because cortisol (well-known for being a stress-inducing hormone) actually helps maintain your immune system if released in small doses. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.health24.com/Sex/Great-sex/incredible-health-benefits-to-masturbating-20181030-2" target="_blank">Dr. Jennifer Landa</a>, a hormone-therapy specialist, masturbation can produce the right kind of environment for a strengthened immune system to thrive. </p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15316239" target="_blank">A study</a> conducted by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen (in Germany) showed similar results. A group of 11 volunteers were asked to participate in a study that would look at the effects of orgasm through masturbation on the white blood cell count and immune system.</p><p>During this experiment, the white blood cell count of each participant was analyzed through measures that were taken 5 minutes before and 45 minutes after reaching a self-induced orgasm. </p><p>The results confirmed that sexual arousal and orgasm increased the number of white blood cells, particularly the natural killer cells that help fight off infections. </p><p>The findings confirm that our immune system is positively affected by sexual arousal and self-induced orgasm and promote even more research into the positive impacts of sexual arousal and orgasm. </p>
Masturbation can ease and prevent pain, which allows you to achieve the restful sleep that helps your immune system stay strong and healthy.<p>The benefits of masturbation have long been debated, but the more research that is done on the topic the more we understand that there are many positive reactions that happen in our bodies and brains when we orgasm.</p><p>Orgasms can help prevent or mitigate pain, which boosts the immune system, preventing cold and flu symptoms. </p><p>According to neurologist and headache specialist Stefan Evers, about one in three patients experience relief from migraine attacks by experiencing sexual activity or orgasm. Evers and his team <a href="https://www.livescience.com/27642-sex-relieves-migraine-pain.html" target="_blank">conducted an experiment</a> with 800 migraine patients and 200 patients who suffered from cluster-headaches to see how their experiences with sexual activity impacted their pain levels. </p><p>The study showed that 60% of migraine sufferers experienced pain relief after participating in sexual activity that resulted in orgasm. Of the cluster-headache sufferers, about 50% said their headaches actually worsened after sexual arousal and orgasm. </p><p>Evers suggested in his findings that the people who did not experience pain relief from migraines of headaches during their sexual activity did not release as large amounts of endorphins as those who did experience pain relief. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.sharecare.com/health/chronic-pain/chronic-pain-affect-immune-system" target="_blank">rheumatologist Dr. Harris McIlwain</a>, people who suffer from chronic pain have immune systems that are simply not functioning at full capacity - therefore, alleviating pain (through orgasm, as an example) can help boost the immune system. </p><p>Orgasms can also promote relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep. Serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are all hormones that are released during sexual arousal and orgasm, and all three are known for counteracting stress hormones and promoting relaxation, which makes it much easier for you to fall asleep.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1233384" target="_blank">several studies</a> showing that serotonin and norepinephrine help our body cycle through REM and deep non-REM sleeping cycles. During these sleep cycles, the immune system releases proteins called <a href="https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity" target="_blank"><span id="selection-marker-1" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span>cytokines<span id="selection-marker-2" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span></a>, which target infection and inflammation. This is a critical part of our immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released throughout our bodies while we sleep, which proves the importance of a good sleep schedule to a healthy immune system.</p>
Masturbation promotes a high-functioning immune system; a healthy immune system prevents cold and flu.<p>The immune system is a balanced network of cells and organs that work together to defend you against infections and diseases by stopped threats like bacteria and viruses from entering your system. While there are many things we need to do to keep our immune systems functioning at optimal levels, masturbation (or other means of achieving orgasm) has proven to have positive effects on the immune system as a whole.</p><p>Just as bad habits (such as an inconsistent sleep schedule or harmful chemicals in your body) can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system. </p>
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.