Showing all posts tagged: psychology

How crush proof is the average marriage? Maybe not much

16 April 2024

Gabe Trew, owner of Australian market retailer POP Canberra, decided to run a Valentine’s Day competition this year. He invited social media followers to send him, anonymously I believe, stories about the great love crushes of their lives.

Entrants would be in the running to win what was described as a “dream date.” But something strange happened. Two weeks after Valentine’s Day passed, submissions, or romantic confessions, were still rolling in.

Now, nearly two months on, and some five-thousand people, with stories to tell about their secret crushes, have been in contact with Trew. As a result of the promotion, eight couples — people previously staring down the barrel of possibly a lifetime of unrequited love — have come together.

Of those who were united with their crush through the POP Canberra promotion, I’m not sure how many, if any, were married, or in a relationship, immediately beforehand.

But when ABC National Radio show, Life Matters, recently canvassed the subject of crushes, some listeners admitted to holding a torch for someone else, despite being married. And some of these people eventually deal with the dilemma. They end the relationship, or marriage, they’re in, and find it in themselves to tell their crush how they feel. Sometimes, it turned out the light of their life felt the same way. But for others, the path can be fraught with peril:

For Julie, another Life Matters listener, things haven’t worked out so neatly. She’s been dealing with a difficult crush on a friend that has left her feeling confused and distressed. She’s also married, and has been trying to work out how to protect both her relationship with her husband and her friendship with the object of her crush. “I don’t want to hurt my husband. I’m sort of trying to hold on to that,” she says.

While things may have worked out well for some POP Canberra contest participants, it’s not all bad for those who remain where they started. Professor Michael Slepian, an American psychologist, says having the chance to air their secret, albeit anonymously, can be beneficial:

“[Individuals] do want to get secrets off their chest, they do recognise that a secret can burden them … but those opportunities rarely present themselves,” he said. “It [the POP Canberra competition] provides people this outlet that is not normally available to them, to talk about the things they don’t normally get to talk about.”



No one can interpret your dreams except you

12 April 2024

I sometimes write about books, novels, here. Usually Australian fiction, which I make a point to read as much of as possible. I’m currently (still) reading Before You Knew my Name, the 2021 debut of Melbourne based New Zealand author Jacqueline Bublitz. I guess therefore that’s close (in my book, if you’ll excuse the pitiful pun) to being an Australian title.

Perhaps though some people think this makes me worth approaching to write about other sorts of books, non-fiction even. Perhaps that’s why I was recently asked if I would read, and offer some thoughts here, about a recently completed book.

But I declined. It’s not because the title was self-published. As an online self-publisher, I have no problems with initiative based publishing. I’ve long been considering self-publishing a book, a novel myself, if I can ever finish writing it.

What bothered me was the subject matter: dream interpretation. Or, more succinctly, the regarding of objects, happenings, and other things that occur in dreams, as being symbols of some sort, that can be said to have a standard, or universal, meaning. For instance, two thousand people see a blackbird in a dream, and seemingly it means the same thing to each and every one of them.

Yeah, right.

Our dreams are our subconscious brain processing our individual thoughts, problems, concerns, hopes, you name it. How anyone else, another individual whom we’ve never met, is meant to know the significance of these visions we have — assuming we remember them — is beyond me.

As such, I have no interest in endorsing any books on the subject. The world does not need (and here’s hoping the author in question is not reading this) another pseudoscience title clogging the shelves at bookshops.

I have some wild crazy dreams sometimes. If my recollection of them is clear enough on waking, I try and jot down as much detail as possible, and self-analyse what I saw later on. Sometimes discerning a meaning is not hard, once going through the feelings, emotions, events, and of course, the people present, in the dream.

Often though, I’m just left with an intriguing notion to mull for a time, until something in the here and now distracts me.

I wrote back to the author, and told them their type of dream interpretation was not my thing, and wished them all the best with their work. By the way, I’m pretty sure I spotted a blackbird or two in a recent dream, but did not later end up buying a bunch of bananas, or whatever the sight of a blackbird in a dream is purported to mean.


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Loneliness is an affliction of epidemic proportions, a visual essay by Alvin Chang

28 September 2023

Twenty-four hours in an invisible epidemic is an especially poignant edition of visual essay magazine, The Pudding, produced by New York City based journalist Alvin Chang.

The epidemic in question is not Covid-19, though the lockdowns triggered by the pandemic have aggravated another malady: loneliness.

The pandemic exacerbated social isolation, and we’re still not back to pre-pandemic levels. Being alone isn’t necessarily the same as being lonely. But according to a meta-analysis of studies, more people have reported feeling lonely every year since 1976. In short, there really is a loneliness epidemic.

This is case study, Chang looks at the profiles of seventy-two fictitious persons, one of whom is probably similar to you. But look at the profiles of the people who differ from you. Some people are truly living in isolation, and their only interactions — for want of a better word — with others in the course of a day may only be a visit to the supermarket.

I know a number of these people will be introverts, and possibly not so bothered by social isolation, but think of those who are not. This cannot be easy on them.

For another perspective see The Loneliness Project, and also Why You Are Lonely and How to Make Friends, which offers some solutions, by Kurzgesagt.


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The Loneliness Project, stories of loneliness curated by Marissa Korda

11 July 2023

I’m a little late to the party, the Loneliness Project, by Canadian graphic designer and illustrator Marissa Korda, has stopped publishing stories, but previous editions remain online for your reading enjoyment. I have to say I like the way each story is presented as a different apartment building (go to the website and see what I mean).

But the idea people can still be lonely, even though they live among a group of others, albeit separated by the wall of their dwellings, is poignant. Certainly, someone residing alone in an isolated house in a remote region may experience loneliness, but that it may happen in such close proximity to others seems unthinkable, even though of course it happens all the time.

But you don’t need to live alone, and not know your neighbours, to feel lonely. As these anecdotes about loneliness go to show, you can be surrounded by people, and still feel utterly alone.

And perhaps tangentially related, loneliness, particularly among young adults, has seen a rise in the number of friend-finder apps, not dissimilar to the likes of dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble.


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The best self-help book advice distilled into one blog post

25 June 2023

There are a million self-help books in the world, all filled to the brim with suggestions and methods to somehow make your life easier, better, or happier. But if you’re looking for the type of self-help these titles offer, which one — of the multitudes — do you choose?

Chris Taylor, writing for Mashable, may have saved you a lot of time. Time, you know, that can be invested in making desired improvements, instead of being wasted reading novel length books *.

Taylor has put in the hard yards on your behalf, by reading dozens of such books, and distilling the best of their often overlapping wisdom into a single blog post. Talk about breaking the job down into those much lauded baby-steps.

* this also leaves time to read actual novels instead.



Reading fiction books can make more empathic people of us

16 March 2023

Jeannie Kidera, writing for Big Think:

The capacity for empathy — to first identify and then understand and share in someone else’s feelings — is largely held as a virtue these days. Yet, philosophically speaking, there is a bit of a knowledge problem that makes being naturally empathetic a struggle. Why? As poet John Keats put it, “Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced.”

So how can someone else’s perspective and emotions ever become real enough for us to develop empathy? Reading fiction may provide an answer. Research suggests that fictional books may effectively be empathy-building tools, offering us the closest we can get to first-hand knowledge of someone else’s experience.

To read a chapter out of someone’s life story is to truly walk a mile in their shoes.


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The introvert brain is not the same as an extravert brain

13 February 2023

Neuroscientist and author Friederike Fabritius, writing for CNBC:

One Harvard study found that introverts’ brains work differently, and have thicker gray matter compared to extroverts. In people who are strongly extroverted, gray matter was consistently thinner. Introverts also showed more activity in the frontal lobes, where analysis and rational thought take place. Another study that scanned brains of both introverts and extroverts found that, even in a relaxed state, the introverted brain was more active, with increased blood flow.

I never thought of looking at it this way. The thicker their grey matter, the less a person generally talks. The thinner a person’s grey matter, the more they talk, possibly nonstop. Now there’s a topic of dinner table conversation for you.


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What’s wrong with people who don’t eat meat or drink? Nothing

2 January 2023

Despite Australia’s apparent reputation as a nation of big drinkers, forty-six percent of Australians either abstain completely from alcohol, or only consume one drink a month. If the thirteen percent of people who only partake of a tipple two to three times monthly are added, that’s almost sixty percent of the population who barely drink at all.

Yet people who have chosen to give up alcoholic beverages still find themselves under pressure to drink at social gatherings, particularly at this time of the year. This is something I’ve seen in the now ten years since I cut back on alcohol. Today I might have a drink maybe once every two months. While most people appear to be accepting of this choice, I’ve run into a few who aren’t. One or two even seem to feel threatened when the question comes up, but I’m not sure why this should be.

Australia, for instance, is also a nation of coffee drinkers, of which I am one, but I don’t hear of anyone who doesn’t drink coffee, or only has decaffeinated coffee, being put-down. The same goes for people who, say, don’t own a car, or even drive. I think you can even choose to refuse recreational drugs with total social impunity. Why then are some lifestyle choices greeted with virtual indifference, while other cause derision?

I also know people who embrace veganism are sometimes subjected to the same contempt as non-drinkers. Some people choose to eat a non-animal based diet instead of an animal one. So what? What’s in the Australian psyche that results in people who avoid meat or alcohol being derided? It is because those who we perceive to be outliers appear to pose some sort of threat? It is because meat and alcohol are — or were — so ingrained in our way of life, and no one should therefore upset the apparent status quo?

I might be optimistic, overly optimistic maybe, but I think attitudes are changing, albeit slowly. Is it really so hard to live and let live?


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Ten word creative summaries: a secret sentence, a North Star to write by

22 December 2022

A journalist once told me he could summarise any article he was writing with a sentence of no more than ten words. These ten words, or less, outlined the purpose of the piece he was working on, whether it be five hundred words, or fifty thousand.

If he found himself floundering, or stuck, while writing, he’d refer back to his article outline so as to refocus on the task at hand. He ventured that the ten word outline could be applied to any creative endeavour, be it a painting, a sculpture, whatever. If the basic objective of the project could not be described in ten words or less, something was wrong, he said.

I think he was onto something. Let’s look at an example. If I had been making the 2019 film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, instead of Céline Sciamma, my ten word or less outline for the project might’ve been: “a painter falls in love with her subject.” If I realised, as the supposed filmmaker, that I was losing sight of the story, while trying to tie the myriad other elements of the narrative into a cohesive whole, I could go back to my outline for guidance.

American author Austin Kleon has a similar methodology, though he titles it with a little more pizzazz. He refers to his ten word outline as a secret sentence, and sees it as his “North Star”. Should Kleon need guidance while working on a writing project, he looks to his secret sentence:

Since we both write books, I confessed that with each book I usually have a secret sentence that I write down somewhere but don’t show to anybody. That sentence is sort of my North Star for the project, the thing I can rely on if I get lost. The sentence usually doesn’t mean anything to anyone other than me. And sometimes it’s pretty dumb. (When I was writing Show Your Work! the sentence was: “What if Brian Eno wrote a content strategy book?”)

A sort of star to steer by while writing. I like the sound of that.


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Could AI technologies be the end of writers and bloggers?

5 December 2022

For a long time it was believed the inevitable rise of automation technologies would bring about the end of repetitive and labour intensive jobs. Warehouse workers, drivers, and filing clerks would need to re-skill if they weren’t to be left unemployed.

But as digital and AI technologies evolved, the threat of being usurped by a computer moved up the ranks. An article published in The Economist in January 2014 (I couldn’t find an author credit, surely a machine didn’t write it?), warned that white collar professions such as accountants and doctors were also at risk:

Computers can already detect intruders in a closed-circuit camera picture more reliably than a human can. By comparing reams of financial or biometric data, they can often diagnose fraud or illness more accurately than any number of accountants or doctors.

Creatives meanwhile, writers and artists among them, always felt immune from these technologies. After all, how could a computer possibly produce an artwork, or write a book? Well, thanks to the likes of DALL·E and Jasper, we now know it’s possible. But creative output is not the limit of these technologies. They’re also capable of creative and problem solving… thought.

For instance, an application called Consensus, promises to seek answers, or consensus, to deceptively simple questions such as “is drinking coffee good or bad for my health?”, and potentially save hundreds, maybe more, of research hours. The app, once fully developed will be able to accurately scan multitudes of research papers on a particular topic, and deliver a pithy yet informative, summary in response to the query, says Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:

Consensus is part of a constellation of generative AI start-ups that promise to automate an array of tasks we’ve historically considered for humans only: reading, writing, summarizing, drawing, painting, image editing, audio editing, music writing, video-game designing, blueprinting, and more. Following my conversation with the Consensus founders, I felt thrilled by the technology’s potential, fascinated by the possibility that we could train computers to be extensions of our own mind, and a bit overcome by the scale of the implications.

I expect in time AI technologies will be able to research and write the papers apps like Consensus will scan. But while AI apps can create artworks and perhaps write novels, will they really be any better at being creative? Let’s take blog writing as an example. A lot of people blog, but how popular are all these bloggers? We know some are more widely read than others. Their writing might be seen by hundreds of thousands of people, while other bloggers struggle to attract a handful of readers.

Just because, then, a machine writes something, does that mean the work will automatically have a larger audience? Will they cause every last writer on Earth to throw in the towel, and give up? I’m not so sure. Certainly the AI writers will improve, learn as they go, hone their craft, but will that result in more readers than an article written by a person? Maybe. Maybe not. Human and AI bloggers could be evenly matched. Of course, AI blogging apps will be able to research and write articles a lot faster, and that will be an advantage.

They’ll be able to publish an article on a given topic far more quickly than I can, and that work may rank on the search engines and elsewhere before mine. And that will suit some readers, but not all. And then we come to the human side of the process. Will readers be able to interact with the AI blogging app, as they can with human bloggers, through say email or social media? More crucially though, depending on the topic at hand, will an AI blogging or writing app, have the same authority to write as a person?

Could, for instance, an AI app write about raising a family? This is something most people learn about the hard way, by living through it. How could an AI blogging app possibly claim to be better qualified than a person, through “personal experience”, in this regard? How could the app ever gain the crucial trust to write on some subjects? This I suspect remains to be seen. At their core, AI apps are capable of thinking like people. For better or worse. I dare say, unfortunately, they will find a way.


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