In-depth research suggests BDSM practitioners can experience altered states of consciousness that can be therapeutic.
- BDSM is an acronym encompassing a variety of sexual practices that include: bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism. The practice of BDSM usually consists of partners taking on specific roles in which one partner is dominant and the other is submissive.
- BDSM practitioners (individuals who frequently engage in BDSM play) can experience various mental health benefits from engaging in their scenes.
- According to the research, subspace is often characterized by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the release of epinephrine and endorphins, and a subsequent period of non-verbal, deep relaxation.
The psychology of BDSM
Many experts have weighed in on the significant mental and physical health benefits of sex:
- Lower blood pressure
- Stronger immune system
- Better heart health
- Improved self-esteem
- Decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Better sleep routines
However, there is an increasing interest in studies that explore the specific mental and physical health benefits of BDSM practices. BDSM practitioners (individuals who frequently engage in BDSM play) can experience various mental health benefits from engaging in their scenes. For example, one study suggests that being dominant in the bedroom can boost your work ethic. Other research in this area has suggested engaging in BDSM activities can boost your mental well-being and increase awareness of your attachment style in partnerships, which can ultimately lead to healthier relationships. Additionally, unhealthy stereotypes and misconceptions about BDSM have also been addressed by experts.
A natural starting point for more research surrounding the mental health impact of BDSM practices is to explore what happens in a person's mind and body when they experience intense sexual activity. While physical reactions (such as arousal and climax) are quite typical, there is something unique that happens to individuals who participate in intense BDSM scenes.
What is "subspace" in BDSM play?
Subspace is defined as a state of transcendence reached by submissives through intense physical or psychological experiences with their partner. This can happen through sensory triggers (the use of paddles, blindfolds, restraints) or through emotional triggers (certain words or phrases, meaningful expressions).
This space, while experienced differently for many, can be described as a nearly-hypnotic feeling that takes over when the submissive partner is highly engaged in their role.
What is "domspace" in BDSM play?
Domspace is defined as an altered, elevated state of mind that Dominants (during BDSM scenes) experience through intense physical or psychological experiences with their submissive partner. This can happen through sensory triggers (using paddles or restraints on your partner) or through emotional triggers (expressing certain words or phrases to your partner, meaningful expressions, the notion that your submissive trusts you enough to be vulnerable with you).
While subspace can be described as a "hazy" or "blurry" trance-like state, domspace is often described (by individuals who experience it) as an intense, euphoric, and focused state of mind.
Are there therapeutic benefits to submission?
Experts weigh in: there may be therapeutic and relational benefits to being a submissive person in BDSM scenes.
Photo by LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS on Adobe Stock
According to the author of the study, Dulcinea Pitagora: "Because the BDSM community has been historically vilified due to stereotypes reinforced by negative media exposure and inadequate education, relatively little is known about the phenomenon of subspace outside of the BDSM community."
There is a proven connection between BDSM interactions and altered states of consciousness.
According to a 2016 study, there is a direct link between BDSM interactions and ASCs (altered states of consciousness) - the significant one, in this case, being that engaging in a submissive role during BDSM play can lead to transient hypofrontality.
Transient hypofrontality, a term coined by Dr. Arne Dietrich, is when the focused, thought-processing part of the brain is "shut off" by external triggers. An example of this is the difference between engaging in a competitive sport and running in a beautiful park. During a competitive sport, your brain will need to make a variety of complex decisions. While you're running a calmer path in a beautiful park, however, your mind can "let go" of that prefrontal engagement and you can experience an alternate (relaxed) state of consciousness. For a submissive, during BDSM scenes, this can result in reduced self-reported stress and increased sexual arousal.
Transient hypofrontality has also been used to describe severe "end-stage" addictions. This ability to "shut off" the thought-processing function in your brain can actually cause "involuntary" cravings for this feeling. This can be why many submissive practitioners become reliant on their BDSM activities.
The study explains, "In order to examine an alignment of transient hypofrontality with subspace, the authors collected additional self-reported data describing experiences of subspace; a comparison of these datasets confirmed that the characteristics of transient hypofrontality were consistent with those of subspace."
Experiencing subspace during BDSM play can activate the sympathetic nervous system.
According to the research, subspace is often characterized by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the release of epinephrine and endorphins, and a subsequent period of non-verbal, deep relaxation. This chain reaction can often lead the submissive in the scene to experience a temporary state of depersonalization and derealization (which are generally experienced as positive and pleasant in this context).
The key to experiencing this trance-like state is having a partner you trust, research suggests.
This state is highly sought after by individuals who identify as submissives in the BDSM context - and the key to achieving this state of being is having a dominant partner you can trust. This type of trust and reciprocal consent can provide an entry to subspace.
"Because the participant who identifies as the sadist, dominant [or top] in a given scene is generally charged with monitoring and protecting their partner, the [submissive] bottom in the scene might be better situated for achieving an altered state of consciousness and transcendence." - Rethinking Kink, 2010
BDSM could be used as a way to heal from trauma and benefit your relationships, experts suggest.
While there is no research to date that has sought to capture the specific experiences of subspace and how they relate to relationships and healing, many experts believe BDSM can in fact provide therapeutic and relational benefits to those who engage in the practices.
"Given the associations between ASCs and subspace described above, the authors' findings on ASCs can be extended to the analogous experience of subspace. The study suggested that symbolic action can have a profound effect on psychological processes and connected trance (a type of ASC) with the healing properties of the trance state."
From 260-year-old ciphers to the most recent Zodiac Killer solution, these unbreakable codes just needed time.
- After 51 years, the Zodiac Killer's infamous "340 code" has been solved.
- Humans have a natural passion for puzzles, making cryptography a lifelong pursuit for some.
- Other famous cracked codes include Poe's Challenge and Zimmermann's Letter.
Humans love puzzles. Thanks to an evolutionary skillset that lets us piece together fragments of information necessary for survival, we've turned biological instinct into a love for games. Sometimes our affection manifests in Candy Crush; other times, in solving uncrackable ciphers.
Numerous unbreakable codes persist. The CIA awaits the brave thinker that will crack the fourth code in its Kryptos monument. The Beale ciphers may or may not reveal $60 million in hidden treasure. Composer Edward Elgar continues to laugh from beyond the grave.
Few codes stand the test of time, however. It took nearly 600 years for researchers to realize the Voynich manuscript was effectively a rip-off copy of Women's Health. The MIT time-lock puzzle was only 20 years old, yet it still took a nifty programmer three years to crack it. And then there's the Zodiac Killer.The recent news that a 51-year-old letter from the infamous Bay Area murderer, whose story was immortalized by David Fincher, has been cracked recently made headlines. While this code will bring no peace to the families of the unknown killer's victims, the solving of this letter reminds us once again that nothing is impenetrable.
How I cracked the Zodiac Killer's cipher
After the Zodiac Killer's first cryptogram was quickly solved in 1969, he followed up with a 340-character puzzle that has baffled cryptographers ever since. Three men worked tirelessly on the letter and finally revealed the encoded message:
I HOPE YOU ARE HAVING LOTS OF FUN IN TRYING TO CATCH ME THAT WASN'T ME ON THE TV SHOW WHICH BRINGS UP A POINT ABOUT ME I AM NOT AFRAID OF THE GAS CHAMBER BECAUSE IT WILL SEND ME TO PARADICE ALL THE SOONER BECAUSE I NOW HAVE ENOUGH SLAVES TO WORK FOR ME WHERE EVERYONE ELSE HAS NOTHING WHEN THEY REACH PARADICE SO THEY ARE AFRAID OF DEATH I AM NOT AFRAID BECAUSE I KNOW THAT MY NEW LIFE WILL BE AN EASY ONE IN PARADICE DEATH
While the San Francisco branch of the FBI has acknowledged the puzzle has been solved, they're not providing any more comments considering the case remains open.
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Gold Bug" was based on a cipher mystery, as Poe himself was fascinated with puzzles. In 1840, he offered a free subscription to Graham's Magazine to anyone who could stump him. He claims to have solved a hundred entries, ending the contest by publishing a challenging code written by W.B. Tyler—who many at the time suspected was a pseudonym.
It wasn't until 2000 that a software engineer decoded the message, which opened up, "It was early spring, warm and sultry glowed the afternoon. The very breezes seemed to share the delicious languor of universal nature..."
Given the numerous typesetting mistakes, recent researchers aren't convinced that Poe actually wrote it. The author will likely remain a mystery, but the code itself is in the books.
An entire team spanning two countries was needed to crack the 260-year-old mystery of the Copiale cipher. Unlike a few lines of prose, this 75,000-character manuscript filled 105 pages written by a group of ophthalmologists. The book was encrypted in German and relied on a complex substitution code that used symbols and letters for spaces as well as text.
Dating from the second half of the eighteenth century, the first 16 pages discuss a masonic initiation ceremony by the Oculists. The strange ritual involves initiates "reading" a blank piece of paper before being given a pair of glasses—those wily eye doctors. After their eyes are washed, the referees then pluck a single eyebrow of each recruit.
Better than college hazing, though still an odd text to keep so secretive. Then again, maybe that was the point.
Slate statue of Mathematician Alan Turing at Bletchley Park
Credit: lenscap50 / Adobe Stock
The Zimmermann Telegram
Not all codes are so playful, or strange. Some are insidious. Such is the case with the Zimmermann Telegram, a note sent from Germany to Mexico in 1917. Intended for the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, the Germans were preparing America's southern neighbors for battle—in the name of Germany. In exchange for weapons and funding, the Mexicans would reclaim Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas upon victory.
The cipher was cracked about a month after interception by Britain's "Room 40." The text read, in part:
"We make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you."
Tensions between the US and Germany were already high; this message pushed America over the edge. A month later, President Wilson overruled his intention of remaining neutral and entered World War I on the side of the Allies.
The Enigma Code
One of the most famous cracks in history is certainly the Enigma Code. If the Zimmermann Telegram helped us get into World War I, the second chapter only ended in our favor thanks to Alan Turing's unforgettable machine.
The Germans were utilizing an enciphering machine to pass messages to its Axis partners. Perhaps learning from past mistakes, they changed the entire cipher system on a daily basis.
Turing responded with his own machinery: the Bombe, Lorenz, and Universal Turing Machine. Thanks to his inventions, alongside tireless efforts by British cryptologists, the Allied forces exploited procedural flaws and operator mistakes by the Germans. The Enigma Code was cracked, saving countless Allied lives and helping turn the tide of the war.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
A 2020 study published in the journal of Psychological Science explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.
- In 2019, researchers at Stanford Engineering analyzed the spread of fake news as if it were a strain of Ebola. They adapted a model for understanding diseases that can infect a person more than once to better understand how fake news spreads and gains traction.
- A new study published in 2020 explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.
- "These findings demonstrate one situation in which misinformation reminders can diminish the negative effects of fake-news exposure in the short term," researchers on the project explained.
Fake news spreads like a virus. In 2019, researchers at Stanford Engineering analyzed the spread of fake news as if it were a strain of Ebola. The researchers adapted a model for understanding diseases that can infect a person more than once to better understand how fake news spreads and gains traction.
Researchers studied how many people are "susceptible" to the disease (or in this case, how many people are likely to believe a certain piece of fake news). The researchers also looked at how many people are exposed to fake news, how they are actually "infected" (believing the story), and how many people are likely to then spread that "infection" (misinformation) on to others.
Much like a virus, this study concluded that over time, being exposed to multiple strains of fake news can wear down a person's resistance and make them increasingly susceptible to believing it. The more times a person is exposed to the same fake news, especially if it is coming from an influential source, the more likely they are to become persuaded, no matter the likelihood of such news being true.
"The so-called 'power-law' of social media, a well-documented pattern in social networks, hold that messages replicate most rapidly if they are targeted at relatively small numbers of influential people with large followings," the researchers explained in the Stanford study.
Previous studies on misinformation have already paved the way to a better understanding
How does misinformation spread?
Credit: Visual Generation on Shutterstock
What is the "continued-influence" effect?
A challenge in using corrections effectively is that repeating the misinformation can have negative consequences. Research on this effect (referred to as "continued-influence") has shown that information presented as factual that is later deemed false can still contaminate memory and reasoning. The persistence of the continued-influence effect has led researchers to generally recommend avoiding repeating misinformation.
"Repetition increases familiarity and believability of misinformation," the study explains.
What is the "familiarity-backfire" effect?
Studies of this effect have shown that increasing misinformation familiarity through extra exposure to it leads to misattributions of fluency when the context of said information cannot be recalled. A 2017 study examined this effect in myth correction. Subjects rated beliefs in facts and myths of unclear veracity. Then, the facts were affirmed and myths corrected and subjects again made belief ratings. The results suggested a role for familiarity but the myth beliefs remained below pre-manipulation levels.
New research into fake news has uncovered something interesting about misinformation
A 2020 study published in the journal of Psychological Science explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.
Fake news exposure can cause misinformation to be mistakenly remembered and believed. In two experiments, the team (led by Christopher N. Wahlheim) examined whether reminders of misinformation could do the opposite: improve memory for and beliefs in corrections to that fake news.
The study had subjects reading factual statements and then separate misinformation statements taken from news websites. Then, the subjects read statements that corrected the misinformation. Some misinformation reminders appeared before some corrections but not all. Then, subjects were asked to recall facts, indicate their belief in those recalls, and indicate whether they remembered the corrections and misinformation.
The results of the study showed that reminders increased recall and belief accuracy. These benefits were greater both when misinformation was recalled and when the subjects remembered that corrections had occurred.
Researchers on the project explained: "These findings demonstrate one situation in which misinformation reminders can diminish the negative effects of fake-news exposure in the short term."
The conclusion: fake-news misinformation that was corrected by fact-checked information can improve both memory and belief accuracy in real information.
"We examined the effects of providing misinformation reminders before fake-news corrections on memory and belief accuracy. Our study included everyday fake-news misinformation that was corrected by fact-check-verified statements. Building on research using fictional, yet naturalistic, event narratives to show that reminders can counteract misinformation reliance in memory reports," the researchers explained.
"It suggests that there may be benefits to learning how someone was being misleading. This knowledge may inform strategies that people use to counteract high exposure to misinformation spread for political gain," Wahlheim said.
What exactly does "questions are the new answers" mean?
- Traditionally, intelligence has been viewed as having all the answers. When it comes to being innovative and forward-thinking, it turns out that being able to ask the right questions is an equally valuable skill.
- The difference between the right and wrong questions is not simply in the level of difficulty. In this video, geobiologist Hope Jahren, journalist Warren Berger, experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, and investor Tim Ferriss discuss the power of creativity and the merit in asking naive and even "dumb" questions.
- "Very often the dumb question that is sitting right there that no one seems to be asking is the smartest question you can ask," Ferriss says, adding that "not only is it the smartest, most incisive, but if you want to ask it and you're reasonably smart, I guarantee you there are other people who want to ask it but are just embarrassed to do so."
A new study shows that naming conventions will change how infants represent objects in their memories.
- Humans begin to encode for categories and individuals at an early age.
- A new study shows that language, specifically naming conventions, plays a role in how infants' memories encode objects either within groups or as individuals.
- Even before we speak our first words, the way words are used around us begin to shape our representation of the world.
The human mind brims with fascinating mental tools. One such tool is our ability to perceive and categorize the world for both groups and individuals. Because we are so accustomed to our minds, that may not seem remarkable but it's quite something. Even more remarkable, we develop this capacity at an incredibly young age.
Children understand, for example, that bunnies have long ears, fast feet, cotton-ball tails, and fluffy coats. But a child also understands that Sir Flops is both a bunny but an individual. He has a star-shaped patch on his rump, likes broccoli more than carrots, and enjoys a good scratch behind the ears. Children manage this distinction before they have acquired an encyclopedia's worth of names and details to check and cross-reference to ensure proper mental categorization. But how?
Drs. Alexander LaTourrette and Sandra Waxman, psychologists at Northwestern University, have proposed that language, specifically naming conventions, determine how infants encode objects into memory—whether as part of a group or as an individual. Their new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests they are on to something.
A parade of boffs
An image showing the stuffed animals introduced during the training phase followed by the new ones introduced in the test phase.
To test their hypothesis, LaTourrette and Waxman did what all good scientists do: set up an experiment. They enlisted the help of 77 infants, each between eleven-and-a-half and twelve-and-a-half months old, and trained them to recognize stuffed animals. They showed the infants a parade of stuffed animals and introduced them with a novel name.
During this training phase, the infants were divided into three groups. The first group, the consistent name group, was introduced to the stuffed animals with a single signifier. For example, even though the stuffed animals were a piglet, kitten, duckling, and panda, each one would be referred to as a "boff."
The second group, the distinct name group, was also presented with the four stuffed animals. But this time, each one was given a unique signifier. The kitten would be called a "boff," but the duckling an "etch," the piglet an "arg," and the panda a "dov."
The third group was enlisted as the control. For this group, each stuffy introduction was paired with a monotone voice. This is because tone, unlike names, has been shown to not facilitate categorization.
The researchers' goal was to determine how each naming convention encoded the stuffed animals within the infants' memories over several training trials. When the stuffies were introduced as a "boff," then the infants' memories should encode them as a unified category. Like in our bunny example above, they would perceive the commonalities of "boffness"—big round eyes, soft fury, and cuddly tummies.
Conversely, when the stuffies were introduced by distinct labels, then the infants' memories should encode for individuation. As with Sir Flops, they would perceive distinguishing features and tag those in their memory for later recall—etch has yellow fur and wings while arg sports pink fur and a snout.
A boff by any other name?
Of course, LaTourrette and Waxman couldn't ask the infants how they remembered their colorful compatriots. So, they utilized a recognition memory test to find out. The researchers reintroduced the infants to the stuffed animals from the previous training alongside a never-before-seen fuzzy friend. The researchers then recorded the children's gazes.
They theorized that if infants stared equally at both "boffs," then they recognized the commonalities between them and had encoded for a category. However, if the infants stared longer at the new toy, that indicated that the infant recognized the original object and was spending time memorizing the new, individualized, object.
That's exactly what they found. Infants from the consistent name group stared at both stuffed animals for equal time, suggesting they recognized the commonalities at the expense of distinctive features. The distinct name group recognized the individuals more readily and turned their attention to the new stuffy. The control group only recognized the more recent stuffed animal.
"Our findings reveal a powerful and sophisticated effect of language on cognition in infancy: the way in which an object is named, as either a unique individual or a member of a category, influences how [twelve-month-old] infants encode and remember that object," the researchers write. "Hearing a consistent name applied to a set of objects focuses infants on the commonalities among them, while hearing distinct names applied to the same objects focuses infants on the uniqueness of each object."
The researchers expressed hope that their research would help cognitive psychologists gain a deeper understanding of how names influence people, from infancy to adulthood, in their conceptual representations. They also hope that this evidence opens further investigations, such as how familiar nouns (rather than novel names) influence infant representations.
They conclude, "Even a single naming episode can have a lasting impact, influencing how infants encode that object, represent it in memory, and remember it later."