Pre-industrial societies are very different from ours. Some of them kill grandparents when they get to a certain age. Individuals are often fluent in ten or more languages. They feast when food is plentiful, but are happy to go without for several days if there is nothing to eat.
Until a few thousand years ago, all humans lived in this way. It is what we evolved to do. This book is a fascinating account of Jared Diamond’s lifetime of observation of pre-industrial people from around the world. It is long, but packed with packed with intriguing stories from tribal societies.
Not surprisingly, Jared Diamond thinks that we have a lot to learn from these people.
Why are women more than twice as vulnerable to PTSD than men? New evidence suggests that oestrogen may play a role in the disorder. Vasiliki Michopulos at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, is researching genetic and biochemical factors which influence anxiety.
“The horrible event may be over, but you’re held hostage by what happened to you.”
“As we discover how PTSD differs between people, we realise treatments should differ too.”
New Scientist No. 3091, 17th September 2016, p.38-41.
James Garvey decided to write this book after attending a lecture by a high-flying Oxford theologian. In the Q & A, he raised his hand and posed a killer objection to one of the points that the speaker had made. His neighbour leaned over to him and whispered “you’ve got him!”
Garvey had won plainly won the argument. Unfortunately, it made no difference whatsoever. The speaker didn’t change his mind. He seemed to consider the question, and then just carried on, ignoring the point that had been made.
The point is that people are not really swayed by rational arguments – even ones that are obviously true. Rather people make up their minds on the basis of emotional factors, and then use rational argument to justify their already fixed ideas.
This sad psychological fact has long been know to advertisers and politicians, who use industrial strength emotional and cognitive manipulation to implant in our minds the opinions they wish us to have. No-one is immune from this manipulation. The only real defence is knowledge, so at least we can be aware of how we are being controlled and directed for the benefit of others.
In The Persuaders, James Garvey takes us on a tour of what he has discovered about the persuasion industry. He’s a philosopher, but there’s plenty of scientific psychology in the book. Required reading for any psychologist interested in democracy and free will.
Meditation and mindfulness are entering the mainstream as psychological techniques for combatting stress and promoting psychological well being. But are the effects wholly positive? Research shows that there can be adverse effects as well as beneficial ones: twitching, trembling, panic, disorientation, psychotic breakdown and other undesirable effects. Japanese soldiers in the second world war used meditation to lose their sense of self, and to “become” the orders that they received. Should society at large be more aware of these possible negative consequences?
New Scientist No. 3021, 16th May 2015, p.28 -29.
This article in the New Scientist asks what makes people risk their own well-being to help strangers. This altruism is often dramatic and impulsive. Why?
“It took Michael McNally about 10 seconds from hearing the crash to run from his house in the Cape Cod village of Marstons Mills to the road outside. When he got there, the car was already burning… He looked inside and saw a young woman in the passenger seat… if she stayed there another minute she would die.”
New Scientist No. 3005, 24th January 2015, p36-39.
This article in the New Scientist offers a psychological explanation for rituals like the Japanese tea ceremony, and religious rituals.
“Collective rituals are public signals that you are committed to the group, which facilitate co-operation with the group and create a sense of shared purpose.”
There is a description of an experiment in which children are copy ritualistic actions more accurately if they have previously been made to feel ostracised.
Another experiment compares two groups of children. One group worked together to make necklaces of beads based upon an invariant ritualised procedure: “first we add a green heart, then an orange square”, and so on. A control group simply made freestyle necklaces. After seven minutes the experimental group expressed greater feelings of affiliation and connection to their group than the controls.
“Children copy apparently aimless sequences of actions more faithfully than ones with a clear goal.”
New Scientist, No. 3004, 17th January 2015, p37-39.