The perks of branching out

Plus, two types of forgiveness.

“We want to defend the world that we care about and that we love. And we want to do this for ourselves and for the people who are yet to come.” —George Marshall, Director of Projects at Climate Outreach

BRAIN WAVES

  • A little of this and a little of that leads to a lot...Practice makes perfect ​​if you want to excel at something. But practicing in a variety of disciplines — rather than specializing in a single one — might yield better results. Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of more than six thousand athletes, including 772 of the world’s top performers. They wanted to answer this question: What explains exceptional human performance? “Does a focus on intensive specialized practice facilitate excellence,” they asked, “or is a multidisciplinary practice background better?” Studying the histories of these highly skilled athletes, they found that intense, specialized practice was associated with initial mastery. But a multi-disciplinary approach, where athletes were dabbling in other types of sports, was associated with long-term excellence. Good news for the dabblers among us.

  • Let’s get emotional. We know that there are both psychological and physical benefits to forgiveness. A new study highlights the two different types of forgiveness: decisional versus emotional forgiveness. “Decisional forgiveness is making the decision to forgive the perpetrator, and not to seek revenge,” writes science journalist Emma Young at the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest. This type of forgiveness seeks to maintain the relationship, while still allowing you to hold a grudge. “In contrast, emotional forgiveness involves getting rid of negative emotions towards the perpetrator and replacing them with positive ones,” she continues. Overall, the researchers found that emotional forgiveness offers people more psychological distance from the offense. Put simply, they were better able to forgive and forget. The results suggest that, as other forgiveness researchers have suggested, the emotional approach might be better for reaping the full benefits of forgiveness.

  • The story you tell. We can’t go back and change the past. We can’t erase trauma and hardship. But what if there was a way to regain control of our personal narratives? Interpreting the stories of our lives — and rewriting them — can change us forever. Listen to learn more.

ON THE PODCAST

Some news: Our annual You 2.0 series returns starting next week! Every week in August, we’ll bring you stories about how to approach the chaos of our lives with wisdom. 

June 26: From rising temperatures to mass flooding, the evidence of climate change seems to be all around us. Yet the consequences still seem unfathomable. This week, an encore of one of our favorite episodes about why it’s so hard for us to wrap our heads around climate change.

Aug 2: Purpose is essential to our well-being. It buffers us against the challenges we confront at various stages of our lives. It provides a sense of stability in uncertain times. Purpose is also something we can cultivate. This week, how a sense of purpose can help us weather life’s biggest storms.

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MIND GAMES

What five-letter English word doesn’t change in pronunciation even when you remove four of its letters?

LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE

I was born on August 1, 25 B.C. I died on August 1, 25 A.D. How old was I when I died?

The Answer:  49. (There was no year zero.)

FROM THE TWITTERATI…

A MOMENT OF JOY

Words of wisdom from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Have an idea for Hidden Brain? A story you want to share with us? Send an email to ideas@hiddenbrain.org. And if you’d like to support our work, you can do so here. Listen to us on Spotify, Apple or your favorite podcast platform.

It’s never too late to learn the ukulele

Plus, a quick tip for being more persuasive

“I think anyone can learn to perform better at what makes them most nervous when the pressure is on.” —Sian Beilock, cognitive scientist and President of Barnard College. 

BRAIN WAVES

  • Music to our ears. It’s been a longstanding belief that there’s a critical period in early childhood in which it’s easier to learn to play a musical instrument. “According to this view, if you wait until your teens or even early adulthood to begin your training, you will have missed a critical window,” writes psychologist Cindi May in Scientific American. A new study challenges this view. “It explores the possibility that environmental and familial factors are the driving forces behind the success of ‘early starters,’” May explains. The study found that it wasn’t necessarily age that made kids quick musical learners. Musical aptitude also had to do with inherited talent, access to instruction, and more time to practice. Good news for your budding career as a rock star.

  • Less is more. In a talk at TEDxLondonBusinessSchool, organizational psychologist Niro Sivanathan discusses the "dilution effect," a judgment bias that explains how too much information can manipulate our thought processes. Sometimes the more information is shared, the more the message gets diluted. For example, Sivanathan conducted a study on how people rate the risk of pharmaceutical drugs. He found that when people read both the major and minor side effects of the drug, they thought of the drug as less risky than when they were only exposed to the major side effects. It can be useful to remember the dilution effect when it comes to decision-making, but it also comes in handy when you’re trying to be persuasive. “So when you introduce irrelevant, or even weak arguments, those weak arguments reduce the weight of your overall argument,” Sivanathan said.

  • Have a laugh. The average four-year-old child laughs 300 times a day. By contrast, it takes more than two months for the average 40-year-old adult to laugh that many times. In this episode, why so many of us fall off a “humor cliff” as we become adults. Listen to learn more.

ON THE PODCAST

June 19: We all know what it's like to feel hundreds of eyes on us: the pressure, the expectations, the anxiety. In this week’s episode, why so many of us crumble under pressure — and what we can do about it.

June 26: From rising temperatures to mass flooding, the evidence of climate change seems to be all around us. Yet the consequences still seem unfathomable. This week, an encore of one of our favorite episodes about why it’s so hard for us to wrap our heads around climate change.

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MIND GAMES

I was born on August 1, 25 B.C. I died on August 1, 25 A.D. How old was I when I died?

LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE

What common mathematical symbol can you place between the numerals 4 and 5 which results in a number greater than four but less than six?

The Answer: A decimal point.

FROM THE TWITTERATI…

A MOMENT OF JOY

A kind email from Ted Lasso.

Have an idea for Hidden Brain? A story you want to share with us? Send an email to ideas@hiddenbrain.org. And if you’d like to support our work, you can do so here. Listen to us on Spotify, Apple or your favorite podcast platform.

Read this. Slowly.

Plus, the resilient power of your psychological immune system

“I have compassion for anybody who kind of finds themselves stuck in a world that makes no sense to them.”  —psychologist Jennifer Bosson

BRAIN WAVES

  • You are what you read. Reading helps us enter entirely new worlds beyond our own, and some evidence suggests it makes us more empathic and understanding, too. In the process of reading literature, we therefore enrich our understanding of other people and of the world – and of ourselves,” writes Robert DiYanni, a professor of humanities at New York University. “We become, in some sense, what we read.” But in our busy lives, it’s easy to rush through a book without absorbing it. DiYanni offers a few tips to savor your reading so you can gain more from it. For example, limit your reading time and set aside time for thinking, too. “When I’m reading something of interest and value, I will often limit myself to one chapter a day, for example, or perhaps 20 or 30 minutes of reading time followed by five or 10 minutes to think, reflect and jot notes and questions,” DiYanni says. “Take time to enjoy the way the writer presents his or her thinking, to reflect on what a work is saying to you, to mull over the insights you glean and to enjoy the writer’s craft and art.” Of course, reading doesn’t always go as planned.

  • Your post-pandemic brain. There’s been a lot written on how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect our long-term mental health. But new research conducted during the first year of the pandemic suggests we may have underestimated our resilience. “On the whole, we were surprised not to find the prolonged misery we had expected,” psychologists Lara Aknin, Jamil Zaki, and Elizabeth Dunn wrote in the Atlantic. Early in the pandemic, the team observed that anxiety, depression, and psychological distress were indeed climbing dramatically, along with the number of people experiencing them. ”But as spring turned to summer, something remarkable happened: Average levels of depression, anxiety, and distress began to fall,” they wrote.  “Some data sets even suggested that overall psychological distress returned to near-pre-pandemic levels by early summer 2020.” Of course, this doesn’t erase the struggles people have faced during the crisis. But the findings speak to the power of our psychological immune system, a host of cognitive abilities that enable us to make the best of even the worst situations. “The pandemic has been a test of the global psychological immune system, which appears more robust than we would have guessed,” the researchers concluded.

  • Why we tell stories. Why is my friend late? How does nuclear fission work? What happens when I sneeze? We all need to understand why certain things happen. Some researchers think the drive to explain the world is a basic human impulse, similar to thirst or hunger. Listen to learn more.

ON THE PODCAST

July 12: What is it like to be the only woman at the (poker) table? Or a rare man in a supposedly "feminine" career? In this favorite episode from 2019, we tell the stories of two people who grappled with gender stereotypes on the job, and consider how such biases can shape our career choices.

June 19: We all know what it's like to feel hundreds of eyes on us: the pressure, the expectations, the anxiety. In this week’s episode, why so many of us crumble under pressure –– and what we can do about it.

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MIND GAMES

What common mathematical symbol can you place between the numerals 4 and 5 which results in a number greater than four but less than six?

LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE

A 3-letter-word has been taken out of each of the following words. Can you figure it out?

RA_ _ _G

_ _ _DER

S_ _ _G

MU_ _ _Y

The Answer: TIN

FROM THE TWITTERATI…

A MOMENT OF JOY

It’s been nice knowing you.

Have an idea for Hidden Brain? A story you want to share with us? Send an email to ideas@hiddenbrain.org. And if you’d like to support our work, you can do so here. Listen to us on Spotify, Apple or your favorite podcast platform.

The case for talking to strangers

Plus, one simple thing we all want.

“It was like magic. I started craving trips to the gym to find out what happened next.” – Katy Milkman, Behavioral Scientist at The Wharton School

BRAIN WAVES

  • Into the Unknown. As kids, we were taught never to talk to strangers. As adults, there may be benefits to doing so. Researchers Paul A. M. Van Lange and Simon Columbus sought to answer the question: Why Is Social Contact, Even With Strangers, So Important to Well-Being? The psychologists identified three reasons we need social contact with strangers. First, “strangers are far less likely to spread private information because they are unlikely to be part of one’s social network.” Second, strangers can offer new and interesting perspectives. And third, the researchers added, “compared with interactions with family or close friends, interactions with strangers may have the benefit of being more likely to provide opportunities, such as suggestions or advice regarding job opportunities, a chance to learn broader skills, or a starting point for beneficial exchange or extension of one’s social network.” Especially after a year of social isolation, talking to strangers can be refreshing.

  • Reassure me! If only we could feel completely confident all the time. But as The School of Life reminds us, everybody longs for reassurance — it’s human nature. “We can count on one thing about anyone we meet: they’ll be beset by a sense of insecurity and, beneath some excellent camouflage, to a greater or lesser extent, of desperation,” says narrator Alain de Botton. “We are all longing for someone to say something soothing to us.” Our brains are simply not good at holding onto reassurance, so we constantly crave it. Reassurance is a gift — a little kindness toward others can make a bigger difference than you might think.

  • Being able to see what’s happening around us can help us make smart decisions. But knowledge — especially knowledge of how others perceive us — can also hold us back, mire us in needless worry, and keep us from achieving our potential. Listen to learn more.

ON THE PODCAST

July 5: You probably made some resolutions this year. Did you decide to read more? Work out more often? Quit smoking? If you’re like most people, you probably abandoned those resolutions by February. Change is hard. In this week’s episode, we talk with behavioral scientist Katy Milkman about how we can use the mind to combat the limitations of the mind. 

July 12: Annie Duke was often the only woman at the poker table, which influenced the way people saw her, and the way she saw herself. Feeling like an outsider can come at a cost, but also can be an advantage. This week, how stereotypes influence our behavior, for better or worse.

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MIND GAMES

A 3-letter word has been taken out of each of the following words. Can you figure out the word?

RA_ _ _G

_ _ _DER

S_ _ _G

MU_ _ _Y

LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE

The Answer:  28. The 6th child is directly opposite the 20th child.

Since 20 - 6 = 14, there are 14 children in half the circle. Thus, there are a total of 28 children in the full circle.

FROM THE TWITTERATI…

A MOMENT OF JOY

Wildlife photography is beautiful, majestic and – occasionally – hilarious. Kudos to the winners of the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

Have an idea for Hidden Brain? A story you want to share with us? Send an email to ideas@hiddenbrain.org. And if you’d like to support our work, you can do so here. Listen to us on Spotify, Apple or your favorite podcast platform.

Think small

Plus, the key to a happier relationship

“Being so inwardly focused on your own anxieties makes it so difficult for you to recognize what the situation really is.” – Vanessa Bohns, social psychologist at Cornell University. 

BRAIN WAVES

  • The blame game. Want to improve your relationship? Perhaps the key is to recognize the outside stressors that may be undermining it. And it’s a lot easier to do this when major events, like the COVID-19 pandemic, are the source of your stress. A new study found that people had happier relationships when they blamed their problems on the pandemic rather than on their partners. “As expected, people generally were more blaming of the pandemic for their current problems than they were blaming of their romantic partner,” says Lisa Neff, one of the study’s co-authors. This habit made for better relationship dynamics. “Individuals who were more blaming of the pandemic were more resilient to the harmful effects of stress,” Neff added.

  • Think small. In last week’s newsletter, we discussed how worry and rumination are disruptive. Worrying keeps you up at night, drains your energy, and can even lead to anxiety and depression. And the way we deal with worry is often counterproductive, says Pia Callesen, a metacognitive therapist and author of Live More Think Less. “Common strategies for controlling anxiety and worry, such as threat monitoring, seeking answers and reassurance, and excessive planning, are unhelpful,” she argues. Callesen says we overthink our worries, which undermines our ability to control the situation and only leads to more worry. One strategy she suggests to combat rumination? Schedule “worry time.” Designate a time of day to indulge your worries, then limit them to that time. Callesen offers more tips to keep your overthinking in check.

  • Ever felt as if someone else was writing your personal narrative? Controlling what you do, shaping how you act? We bring you a surreal tale about a woman who became a reluctant character in someone else’s love story. Listen to learn more.

ON THE PODCAST

June 28: Think about the last time you asked someone for something. Maybe you were nervous or worried about what the person would think of you. Chances are that you didn’t stop to think about the pressure you were exerting on that person. This week, we explore a phenomenon that psychologists refer to as “egocentric bias,” and look at how this bias can lead us astray.

July 5: You probably made some resolutions this year. Did you decide to read more? Work out more often? Quit smoking? If you’re like most people, you probably abandoned those resolutions by February. Change is hard. In this week’s episode, how we can use the mind to combat the limitations of the mind. 

Listen on Apple

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MIND GAMES

A number of children are standing in a circle. They are evenly spaced and the 6th child is directly opposite the 20th child. How many children are there altogether?

LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE

Take the words below and make a pair of synonyms by moving a single letter from one word to the other. (For example, for “Boast - Hip,” you would move the 's' from 'Boast' to 'Hip' creating the synonyms: Boat - Ship.)

Inks - Tiles

Gaze - Freed

Snail - Pike

Snag - Cold

The Answer:  Links - Ties; Graze - Feed; Nail - Spike; Nag - Scold

FROM THE TWITTERATI…

A MOMENT OF JOY

An ode to caffeine…

Have an idea for Hidden Brain? A story you want to share with us? Send an email to ideas@hiddenbrain.org. And if you’d like to support our work, you can do so here. Listen to us on Spotify, Apple or your favorite podcast platform.

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