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Where Does Passion Come From?
What separates the greatest achievers from the rest of us?
I dreaded writing papers in college. I probably spent more time worrying about what I was going to write than actually writing. As much as I tried, I just couldn’t get excited about Kant’s categorical imperative or Plato’s take on justice. Did Kant correctly identify the origins of human morality? Should philosopher kings govern? Who knows. As a philosophy major, I preferred thinking over doing, a mental muse over a physical action.
My problem was obvious enough: the material didn’t excite me. I knew I enjoyed pondering the human condition but the so-called love of wisdom just wasn’t giving me my fix. Fortunately, I eventually stumbled across a few psychology books (empirical studies win over abstract reasoning) and found a passion for cognitive science.
Recently, I’ve become interested in intelligence, creativity and extraordinary achievement. One question that keeps me up is: what separates the greatest achievers from the rest of us? Literature on the subject is in general agreement in one area: it’s an unrelenting obsession that drives them, a willingness to put in 10,000 hours (+/- 5,000 hours) of deliberate practice. But what remains to be identified is where the passion comes from the first place. What made me passionate about cognitive science but not philosophy? Why Kahneman over Kant – Pinker over Plato?
For starters, when it comes to learning an academic subject or practicing a sport, genes matter. As psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman states in his Psychology Today article "Genius, Genes and Gusto: How Passions Find You": “Genes can facilitate the rate of learning to a considerable degree. Case studies and research have repeatedly shown that many accomplished and creative individuals learn the requisite knowledge and skills of their domain faster than less accomplished individuals.” This means that while thousands of hours of deliberate practice is necessary for great achievement, genes can accelerate the rate we acquire knowledge or a skill.
What’s important is that small genetic advantages that assist the rate of learning can be highly consequential overtime. Consider what the scientists Stephen J. Ceci, Susan M. Barnett and Tomoe Kanaya of Cornell University term the multiplier effect. The idea is straightforward: small genetic differences can turn into large advantages that compound over a lifetime. For example, (this is taken from Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated) imagine someone who is slightly above average in
eye-hand coordination, forearm strength, and reflexes. Initially, this individual may take satisfaction in doing slightly better at baseball than his schoolyard peers…. This satisfaction may lead such an individual to practice more, search more aggressively for others willing to play after school and on weekends, try out for teams (not just school teams but also summer league teams), get professional coaching, watch and discuss televised games, and so forth. Such an individual is likely to become matched with increasingly enriched environments for baseball skills…. Factors cascade over time because they multiply the effects of earlier, seemingly weak, factors.
Passion, then, might develop over time from a genetic advantage that gives rise to a superior physical or intellectual skill, which moreover provides an individual with a consistent source of gratification. In turn, this sense of satisfaction reinforces the individual’s willingness to continue to develop his or her skill. The combination of compulsive practice and passion leads to mastery and exceptional achievement.
To be sure, having a genetic boost doesn’t guarantee a multiplier effect. In addition, it’s possible that “events or situations [that] have nothing to do with innate traits could also set off multiplier effects.” But the point remains; genes play an important role when it comes to what we’re good at and what we’re passionate about.
This idea dovetails with a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience conducted by Michael Treadway and David Zald at Vanderbilt University. The scientists gathered 25 volunteers and asked them to perform a button-pushing task. Treadway and Zald gave the participants two options to determine how willing they were to work for a monetary reward: an easy task with a $1 reward or a hard task for a $4 reward. Next, the participants were told that they had a high, medium or low probability of getting paid. The individual tasks, where participants were asked to either press a button 100 times in twenty-one seconds with their non-dominant pinky finger or 30 times in seven seconds with their dominant hand, lasted about 30 seconds. Not exactly fun.
While the participants tackled the tasks, Treadyway and Zald were busy measuring the activity of their dopamine neurons using a brain mapping technique called positron emission tomography (PET). The first thing they found was a greater dopaminergic activity in areas of the brain associated with reward and motivation for participants who were more willing to work hard in exchange for greater rewards. Secondly, they found an inverse relationship between dopamine activity and the insula, a part of the brain that has been associated with laziness. (The insula remains a fairly mysterious piece of cortex). This means, in short, that labor become love for some. For others, it evoked a stale and lackluster sense of motivation acutely captured by the likes of Jim Halpert, Peter Gibbons and Lester Burnham.
This helps us explain why great achievers go through all the pain - it's not pain for them, it's pleasure. As the tennis champion Monica Seles told the New York Times in 1999, “I just love to practice and drill and that stuff.” In other words, when great achievers work on their passion they aren’t doing a job or pursuing a career; they’re fulfilling an inner need – a ‘calling’ they are intrinsically motivated by. What’s important here is that this desire – the rush of dopamine – likely has a genetic basis.
In trying to identify where passion comes from it’s difficult to settle on one explanation. For starters, neuroscientists still have more questions than answers. As Treadyway explains, “At this point, we don’t have any data proving that this 20-minute snippet of behavior corresponds to an individual’s long-term achievement, but if it does measure a trait variable such as an individual’s willingness to expend effort to obtain long-term goals, it will be extremely valuable.”
The rigorous research required to fully understand where passion comes from has yet to be done. But it’s an exciting and promising line of study nonetheless. If nothing else, it reminds me how important my transition from philosophy to cognitive science was. Unlike my essay on Critique and The Republic, I actually enjoyed writing this article. All those clichés are true: do what you love.
Originally posted on my column at CreativityPost.com
Andy Dean Photography/Shuttershock.com
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 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.
Paul Krugman on the Virtues of Selfishness<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7ZtAkm6C" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="828936bf6953080e9018307354c0c02b"> <div id="botr_7ZtAkm6C_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7ZtAkm6C-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> The Nobel Prize-winning economist on the virtues of selfishness.
Evolution Is Moving Us Away from Selfishness. But Where Is It Taking ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cyeqmYCb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6c5efecb56456e9acc25cf36935b1826"> <div id="botr_cyeqmYCb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cyeqmYCb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.
Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?