Did you know that people in India read an average of 10.4 hours a week? Or that regular readers are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Syndrome? This handy infographic from FeelGood puts a bunch of different interesting facts together in one infograhpic.
There’s new evidence that excessive screen time early in life can change the circuits in a growing brain.
Scientists disagree, though, about whether those changes are helpful, or just cause problems. Both views emerged during the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego this week.
The debate centered on a study of young mice exposed to six hours daily of a sound and light show reminiscent of a video game. The mice showed “dramatic changes everywhere in the brain,” said Jan-Marino Ramirez, director of the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“Many of those changes suggest that you have a brain that is wired up at a much more baseline excited level,” Ramirez reported. “You need much more sensory stimulation to get [the brain’s] attention.”
So is that a problem?
On the plus side, it meant that these mice were able to stay calm in an environment that would have stressed out a typical mouse, Ramirez explained. But it also meant they acted like they had an attention deficit disorder, showed signs of learning problems, and were prone to risky behavior.
A more optimistic interpretation came from Leah Krubitzer, an evolutionary neurobiologist at the University of California, Davis. “The benefits may outweigh the negative sides to this,” Krubitzer said, adding that a less sensitive brain might thrive in a world where overstimulation is a common problem.
The debate came just weeks after the American Academy of Pediatrics relaxed its longstanding rule against any screen time for kids under two. And it reflected an evolution in our understanding of how sensory stimulation affects developing brains.
Researchers learned many decades ago that young brains need a lot of stimulation to develop normally. So, for a long time parents were encouraged to give kids as many sensory experiences as possible.
“The idea was, basically, the more you are exposed to sensory stimulation, the better you are cognitively,” Ramirez said.
Then studies began to suggest that children who spent too much time watching TV or playing video games were more likely to develop ADHD. So scientists began studying rats and mice to see whether intense audio-visual stimulation early in life really can change brain circuits.
Studies like the one Ramirez presented confirm that it can. The next question is what that means for children and screen time.
“The big question is, was our brain set up to be exposed to such a fast pace,” Ramirez said. “If you think about nature, you would run on the savanna and you would maybe once in your lifetime meet a lion.”
In a video game, he said, you can meet the equivalent of a lion every few seconds. And human brains probably haven’t evolved to handle that sort of stimulation, he said.
Krubitzer, and many other scientists, said they aren’t so sure. It’s true this sort of stimulation may desensitize a child’s brain in some ways, they said. But it also may prepare the brain for an increasingly fast-paced world.
“Less than 300 years ago we had an industrial revolution and today we’re using mobile phones and we interact on a regular basis with machines,” Krubitzer said. “So the brain must have changed.”
Krubitzer rejected the idea that the best solution is to somehow turn back the clock.
“There’s a tendency to think of the good old days, when you were a kid, and [say], ‘I didn’t do that and I didn’t have TV and look how great I turned out,’ ” Krubitzer said.
Gina Turrigiano, a brain researcher at Brandeis University, thinks lots of screen time may be fine for some young brains, but a problem for others.
“Parents have to be really aware of the fact that each kid is going to respond very, very differently to the same kinds of environments,” she said.
When we watch a movie, we know what we are seeing isn’t real. Yet, sometimes the scenes are so realistic to keep us in suspense throughout the movie, and we seem to experience first hand the feelings of the protagonist.
The movie is a fiction, but the emotions we feel and the reactions they trigger are real. Undoubtedly, it is a very powerful effect that is now being studied in the context of a newborn science called neurocinema, dedicated to study the influence of movies on our brains.
Do you remember when was the last time you jumped on the chair while watching a horror movie? Now we will find out exactly what happened in the brain and how your body reacted.
Scenes of terror directly activate the primitive brain
Usually, watching a movie, we “unplug” the motor areas of the brain because are useless. But sometimes scenes have a strong enough impact to get us through the inhibition of the motor system to make us react.
We bounce on the chair or we cry, because the scene makes us overcome this brain block going to unleash our instincts. It means that content is so strong, under an emotionally point of view, to make us react immediately for protecting ourselves or alert others that are in danger. In fact, shouting we warn those around us, or the characters in the movie, that there is a danger and must save themselves. It is an atavistic reaction.
And all this happens in a matter of milliseconds, we have no time to process what we’re seeing or modulate our reaction. Basically, we react this way because in those few milliseconds, our brain is not aware that it’s just a movie and we’re safe.
If you think about it, this reaction is not surprising since our brain is programmed to assume that everything we see is real. Therefore, it is very difficult to communicate with the most primitive parts, which are those being activated in these cases, that what we are seeing is a fiction. As a result, the body reacts immediately.
In fact, even if isolated cases, there are people who suffered from post-traumatic stress as a result of watching a movie, a problem more common in children, for whom it is more difficult to distinguish the boundaries between reality and fantasy.
In adults, this disorder may be caused by the excessive identification with the characters. In fact, in the case of horror movies the viewer knows as little as the characters, this is why is much easier for him to identify with them. When this identification occurs, the brain may develop deep scars, almost as much as those caused by a real experience. But that’s not all.
3 changes that occur in our body when we watch a horror movie
The reaction to what we see on the screen is not limited to the brain but extends throughout the body. This because the brain sends an alarm signal activating the autonomic nervous system by increasing the production of cortisol and adrenaline, two neurotransmitters that cause some changes at the physiological level.
1. Heart rate increases. A study conducted on a group of young people revealed that watching a horror movie causes an increase of 14 beats per minute of the heart rate. It was also found a significant increase in blood pressure. In addition, researchers found an increase in white blood cells in the blood and a higher concentration of hematocrit, as if the body were to defend against an intruder.
2. You start to sweat. Skin conductance is one of the first indicators of emotional arousal. In other words, when you are afraid you sweat. Researchers at the University of Wollongong have analyzed the response of a group of people in front of violent and horror movies and noticed how those who are more empathic tend to sweat more when watching these movies, and show no signs of addiction.
3. Muscles contract. Once the primitive brain has detected a threat and given the alarm signal, it is difficult to stop it, especially if the horror scenes follow one after the other and are accompanied by a chilling soundtrack. Researchers at the University of Amsterdam found that in these movies music generates what is known as “alarm reaction”, a simultaneous response of mind and body to a sudden and unexpected stimulus that leads to contraction of the muscles of arms and legs. That’s why when watching a horror movie we always tense our muscles.
But then, why do we continue to watch horror movies?
At this point it is clear that most of us do not enjoy watching a horror movie. Yet despite all, many continue to suffer the “charm” of these obscure characters. Why?
The Arousal Transfer Theory indicates that negative feelings created by these movies intensify the positive feelings we experience when at the end the hero triumphs. Basically, we like these movies because watching them is like getting on an emotional roller coaster.
Another theory hints at the fact that horror or violent movies help us manage our own fear. In practice, these films would have a cathartic effect, helping us develop our most ancient and hidden fears.
Or maybe it could just be a morbid curiosity fostered by our innate need to keep us safe from dangers that can threaten us.
Bos, M. et. Al. (2013) Psychophysiological Response Patterns to Affective Film Stimuli. PLoS One; 8(4).
Mian, R. et. Al. (2003) Observing a Fictitious Stressful Event: Haematological Changes, Including Circulating Leukocyte Activation. Stress: The International Journal on the Biology of Stress; 6(1): 41-47.
Barry, R. J. & Bruggemann, J. M. (2002) Eysenck’s P as a modulator of affective and electrodermal responses to violent and comic film. Personality and Individual Differences; 32(6): 1029–1048.
Jennifer Delgado Suárez
Psychologist by profession and passion, dedicated to to string words together.
Sorry, sorry, I know that was bad. And that puns, in general, are among the most despised forms of humor. But pun-haters, bear with me — there’s a reason I made you suffer through the last couple sentences: In the split second between when you read the pun and when you rolled your eyes, something pretty cool was happening in your brain. As writer Roni Jacobson explained in a recent Scientific American column, new research published earlier this year in the journal Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, sheds some light on how our minds process the complexities of wordplay.
For the study, led by University of Windsor psychologist Lori Buchanan, a team of researchers presented participants with a pun on one side of their visual field, so that it would be processed first by one side of the brain — things viewed on the right go to the left hemisphere, and things on the left go to to the right. Among the puns they used was a variation on the spider joke above, along with this gem: “They replaced the baseball with an orange to add some zest to the game.” (“In honor of M. P. Bryden’s love for the game,” they wrote, referring to a psychologist who studied left-right differences, “our pun examples will be baseball-related when possible.”)
With each pun, Buchanan and her colleagues timed how long it took the participant to catch the wordplay on the screen. Overall, they found, puns in the right visual field sparked a quicker reaction time, suggesting that the left side — of the brain takes the lead when it comes to sorting out puns from straight language. “The left hemisphere is the linguistic hemisphere, so it’s the one that processes most of the language aspects of the pun, with the right hemisphere kicking in a bit later,” Buchanan told Scientific American.
The interaction between the right and left hemispheres “enables us to ‘get’ the joke because puns, as a form of word play, complete humor’s basic formula: expectation plus incongruity equals laughter,” Jacobson wrote. (The concept she’s describing is known as the benign violation theory of humor, the idea that to be funny, a joke has to subvert our expectations of the norm in a way that isn’t harmful or malevolent. A slapstick bit about someone falling down the stairs, for example, wouldn’t be funny if the person got seriously hurt in the process.) “In puns—where words have multiple, ambiguous meanings—the sentence context primes us to interpret a word in a specific way, an operation that occurs in the left hemisphere,” she continued. “Humor emerges when the right hemisphere subsequently clues us in to the word’s other, unanticipated meaning, triggering what Buchanan calls a ‘surprise reinterpretation.’”
For a pun to land, in other words, both sides of your brain have to engage in a little teamwork. And speaking of teamwork, did you hear the one about the baseball team’s new batter? He was a real hit.
In a previous essay I argued that reading serious literature – but not popular fiction – helps your “evolve” and deepen your self-awareness and emotional capacities; and I cited some research that provided evidence of just that. Now, a new study both underscores and adds to those findings and observations.
In my earlier article I wrote, “Delving into serious fiction engages you in the core human issues that everyone grapples with, consciously or unconsciously. The prime one is the question of, “What’s the meaning of life; of my life? And, related issues concerning moral judgment, the impact of social conventions, conflicting paths in life, and so on.”
Related to that, I cited research reported in the New York Times: That reading serious fiction has a demonstrable impact on increasing empathy, social awareness and emotional sensitivity. The study found not only that reading serious fiction increased reader’s emotional awareness and empathy, but that pop fiction did not have the same effect. In my view, those findings illustrate an essential part of becoming more fully human.
And now, a new study has found that reading literary fiction appears to be associated with superior emotion recognition skills. This study found that participants who recognized and were familiar with authors of literary fiction tended to perform better on an emotional recognition test. This association held even after statistically accounting for the influence of other factors that might be connected to both emotion skills and reading more literary fiction, such as past educational attainment, gender and age.
The authors then conducted a second study involving over 300 more participants. It also included a measure of participants’ self-reported empathy levels. This was to check that it’s not simply that people with more empathy are more attracted to literary fiction and also tend to do better at the emotion recognition test. Again, participants who recognized more literary fiction authors also tended to perform better on the emotion test. Moreover, this association remained even after controlling for the influence of differences in participants’ empathy levels.
The authors say they believe the apparent link between reading more literary fiction and better emotion recognition skills emerges because “the implied (rather than explicit) socio-cognitive complexity, or roundness of characters, in literary fiction prompts readers to make, adjust, and consider multiple interpretations of characters’ mental states.”
So – my suggestion is to find a good novel or short story by a writer of serious fiction, delve in, and let yourself grow!
In the realm of consumer behavior research, a successful advertisement must accomplish four basic tasks: 1) Exposure – the consumer must come in contact with the ad message; 2) Attention – the consumer must have thoughtful awareness and consideration of the content; 3) Interpretation – the ad must be accurately understood; and 4) Memory – the ad must be retained in memory in a manner that will allow retrieval under the proper circumstances (Hawkins & Motherbaugh, 2009). Following this model, advertising has a long history of quantifying effectiveness in relation to memory of a specific ad, advertising campaign, or advertised brand (Clark, 1990; McDaniel & Gates, 1999). Various widely accepted theories – including Day-After Recall, the Awareness-Interest-Desire-Action (AIDA) and Defining Advertising Goals for Measured Advertising Results (DAGMAR) models – are based on the fundamental argument that an ad’s memorability (i.e., its ability to sufficiently intrude into a consumer’s consciousness) is measured by degree of recognition (Brierley, 2009; McDaniel & Gates, 1999).
Specifically, the majority of the advertisement-testing measures are based on the assumption that when consumers make purchase decisions they attempt to recall advertising for brands in the relevant category, as well as other brand knowledge. The extent to which this search for advertising information is successful is thought to depend on how well advertising messages have been attended to and learned. Thus, the measure most often used to assess advertising effectiveness is verbatim recall of the message content. This measure is referred to as an explicit measure of memory because it reflects the extent to which people retrieve the content of an explicit message (Brierly, 2009; Lindquist & Sirgy, 2008; McDaniel & Gates, 1999). While there is little dispute that familiarity with the advertising content is a useful indicator of the extent to which the message has been learned, interpreting the impact of advertising – i.e., the subsequent and/or corresponding purchase decision – from a measure of explicit ad recognition can be more complex and problematic (Arens, Weigold & Arens, 2011; McDaniel & Gates, 1999; Young & King, 2008).
Arens, W., Weigold, M., & Arens, C. (2011). Contemporary advertising. (13th ed.). Hightstown, NJ: McGraw-Hill/Irwin
Brierley, S. (2009). The advertising handbook. New York: Routledge.
Clark, E. (1990). The want makers. New York: Viking.
Hawkins, D., & Mothersbaugh, D. (2009). Consumer behavior: Building marketing strategy, (11th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Irwin.
Lindquist, J. D., & Sirgy, M. J. (2008). Shopper, buyer and consumer behavior: Theory, marketing applications and public policy implications. (4th ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Atomic Dog Publishing.
McDaniel, C., & Gates, R. (1999). Contemporary marketing research (4th ed.). Cincinnati: South-Western College Publishing.
Young, C. E., & King, P. (2008). The advertising research handbook, (2nd ed.). Seattle, WA: Ad Essentials.
Documentary filmmaking has long been at the forefront of the digital media revolution. Making a Murderer, directed by Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi is and will be a powerful case study for many phenomena of our interconnected, media-immersed world. Choose the course: Media Literacy and Digital Video Production; Criminal Justice; Sociology; Psychology; or many other fields of […]