Friday, October 26, 2012

5 Ways You Might Be Out of Touch with Reality

 In a world of disappointments, surprises and unstable situations; the mind has a limitless number of ways to maintain order and a sense of consistency even, occasionally, at the expense of objectivity.

Here are five ways you might be out of touch.This list is fairly random and is not in any way inclusive. (I should add that I am no expert, this information is predominantly from classes I have taken and a few sources who are cited within the entry.)

1) Belief perseverance
While some individuals may fully understand that their belief is untrue and continue to affirm it (often for the benefit of others), belief perseverance is actually a subconscious persistence in initial conceptions, enduring after a belief is discredited.

How to avoid it:
"Pay attention to evidence. Avoid skipping past what you see just because you have already concluded something."

-Changing Minds

2) Confirmation bias
People tend to search for information, however scant it may be, that confirms their preconceptions. This is especially noticeable during election season when our politically-opposite friends are getting their news from entirely different media outlets that serve their views.

How to avoid it? When making claims, try researching from balanced sources and have honest conversations with people who have opposing views. Try to relax. Maintain exposure to alternative ideas. (without hostility, if possible.)

3) Fictitious memories
A false or altered  memory is different than an exaggeration or a deliberate lie. A false memory is an honest belief of an event that simply did not happen. There are several reasons for this. If the original memory is uncomfortable, the brain releases cortisol which inhibits the hippocampus. (a part of the limbic system crucial for retrieving long term memories) Negative memories tend to be disorganized and difficult to objectively recall.

How to avoid it: Two words. Source monitoring. This is essentially taking a step back and discriminating between the emotions of the event and the facts of what happened. (Source-monitoring additionally includes the difference between someone else's account and ones own)

"Source monitoring refers to evaluative processes that attribute mental experiences to either external (perceived) or internal (thought, imagined, or dreamed) sources. Discriminating internal from external sources is essential to avoid false memories of events."
-Cognitive Psychology, Ronald Kellogg (The link just points you back to the book, unfortunately.)

Speaking of memory, this is an awesome article by The University of Arkansas: What's In a Memory? 
If you're interested in this, here's another one by Psychology Today

4) Misinformation effect
This effect often occurs when an individual is distracted or anxious during the event. Parts of the original memory are interfered with irrelevant stories, facts and memories that are also accessed in the hippocampus. Another variety of misinformation is called the sleeper effect which involves forgetting where a piece of information came from, consequently claiming it as a memory when it may not be so.

How to avoid it: There is not a lot of credible information regarding avoiding this phenomenon, but the common sense answer would be to incorporate source monitoring as mentioned above.

5) Encoding Errors
A surprising way the mind dictates order is by eschewing pieces of information altogether. Until it reaches the long term memory, if it doesn't receive enough attention- the brain just doesn't bother.
In order for a short term memory to become a long term memory, it must be elaborately rehearsed to move from the frontal lobe to the hippocampus. Failing to rehearse the item adequately will result in complete or partial forgetting. Contrasting retrieval failure; which is simply the temporary inability to recall a long term memory, (Ever had someones name on the tip of your tongue?) encoding errors inhibit the ability to retrieve the memory correctly at a later time.

How to avoid this: Actively rehearse things that are easy to forget (an acquaintance's name, where you set your keys down, tasks etc.). Writing it down will also help- and you may not even need to refer to the paper. The act of writing it down may be enough rehearsal to commit the item to memory. Distractions, anxiety and exhaustion will increase the risk of forgetting.

While it seems like encoding is a psychological issue, it is also physiological. According to Psychology Today, sleep is a crucial component of maintaining a healthy memory.

If you liked this...

If you are interested in memory and brain structure, check out the Canadian Institutes of Health Research's Map of the Brain

Also, this really cool article about brain scans and memory formation from The Harvard University Gazette

Oh, and here's a boring article from NCBI about a fascinating study. The study instigated memory errors in participants under a functional MRI and then measured the difference between the neural activity of a false memory and a truthful one.