Eye to eye

Plus, why too much free time can be a bummer.

“Hookup culture has convinced students that they should be embarrassed for having feelings and feel weak for wanting connection.” — Lisa Wade, author of American Hookup: The New Culture Of Sex On Campus.

BRAIN WAVES

  • Eye to eye. Eye contact can be powerful (sometimes too powerful). Now, a new study finds that breaking eye contact can make a conversation more engaging, too. Students at Dartmouth University were brought into a lab, equipped with eye-tracking glasses, and paired up for a 10-minute conversation. Researchers studied the dynamics of their conversation, paying special attention to moments of eye contact and when the students’ pupils dilated in synchrony. “When two people are having a conversation, eye contact signals that shared attention is high —that they are in peak synchrony with one another,'' said lead author Sophie Wohltjen. But the study also found that as eye contact persists, synchrony decreases — which is actually good for the conversation. “Eye contact may usefully disrupt synchrony momentarily in order to allow for a new thought or idea,” said Thalia Wheatley, the study’s senior author. After the students broke eye contact, their synchrony went back up. The study demonstrates how important eye contact can be to a conversation. And breaking eye contact seems just as important as making it.

  • Time out! We could all use more free time. But there’s good news: You might not need as much of it as you think to be happy. According to new research, too much free time leads to more stress and lower well-being. “While too little time is bad, having more time is not always better,” said Marissa Sharif, lead author of the paper. Sharif analyzed data from more than 20,000 Americans who took the American Time Use Survey. These volunteers gave a detailed account of what they did during a 24-hour period, then reported their sense of well-being. More free time made people happier, but that happiness leveled off after two hours. After five hours, well-being actually started to decline. “Our findings suggest that ending up with entire days free to fill at one’s discretion may leave one similarly unhappy,” Sharif said. “In cases when people do find themselves with excessive amounts of discretionary time, such as retirement or having left a job, our results suggest these individuals would benefit from spending their newfound time with purpose.” Purpose? We can get on board with that.

  • Marriage is hard — and there are signs it’s becoming even harder. We examine how long-term relationships have changed over time, and whether we might be able to improve marriage by asking less of it. Listen to learn more.

ON THE PODCAST

Sept 13: Casual sex typically isn't about love. But what if it's not even about lust? Sociologist Lisa Wade studies "hookup culture," and believes the rules and expectations around sex and relationships are different for college students today than they were for previous generations. In this episode, we consider how the pandemic may be changing students' views on hookups and intimacy. 

Sept 20: In our evolutionary past, our group identities were an important source of protection. But they can also be a source of conflict and pain. In this episode, how group identities bring us together, tear us apart, and transform our understanding of the world.

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MIND GAMES

A man pushes his car to a hotel and pays the owner of the hotel. Then he pushes his car away. What was he doing?

LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE

What common English word contains the letters "WSP", in that order, without any letters between?

The Answer:  Newspaper

FROM THE TWITTERATI…

A MOMENT OF JOY

This beaver is going to make an epic salad.

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.

Strike it rich!

Plus, a brief history of psychological science.

“Happiness is a fairly universal goal, but how we pursue it differs.” —  Sonja Lyubomirsky

BRAIN WAVES

  • The spice of life. What does it mean to live a good life? We often look for answers in the search for happiness or meaning. But a new paper by Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia and Erin Westgate of the University of Florida proposes an additional dimension of the good life: what they call psychological richness. The researchers explain, “Unlike happy or meaningful lives, psychologically rich lives are best characterized by a variety of interesting and perspective-changing experiences.” Like studying abroad. Or reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. In a survey, Oishi and Westgate found that people tend to think of psychological richness as something separate from happiness and meaning. “Our conception of richness allows for moments of discomfort and unpleasant emotion," Oishi and Westgate write. This understanding can help us make sense of why some experiences are still worth pursuing, even when they’re difficult or uncomfortable.

  • A brief history of psychological research. Want a crash course in psychology? At ScienceNews, writer Bruce Bower breaks down 100 years of psychological studies — and the often fierce debates that have emerged from them. “Warring scientific tribes armed with clashing assumptions about how people think and behave have struggled for dominance in psychology and other social sciences,” Bower writes. Despite the many questions we still have to answer, Bower also points out that human beings have come a long way in exploring “the science of us.”

  • What’s my purpose? A sense of purpose does more than just keep us focused. It can improve our well-being, resilience — even our physical health. Contrary to the traditional way we view purpose, it isn’t something to be found. It’s something we develop from within. Listen to learn more.

ON THE PODCAST

Sept 6: We all think we know what will make us happy: more money. A better job. Love. But psychologist Sonja Lyubomirskysays happiness doesn't necessarily work like that. This week, we explore why happiness often slips through our fingers, and how to savor — and stretch out — our joys. 

Sept 13: Casual sex isn’t about love. But what if it’s not even about lust? Sociologist Lisa Wade believes that the sexual culture on college campuses today is different from that of previous generations. In this episode, we explore what this culture means for those who choose to participate, and for those who opt out.

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MIND GAMES

What common English word contains the letters "WSP", in that order, without any letters between?

LAST MONTH’S PUZZLE

A girl was ten on her last birthday. She will be twelve on her next birthday. How can this statement be true?

The Answer:  Today is her 11th birthday.

FROM THE TWITTERATI…

A MOMENT OF JOY

Stop everything and check out this live panda cam:

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.

Flip-flopping

Plus, the link between nature and empathy

“Emotions completely transform us as people. So when we're in one emotional state, it's as if we're a different person than we are when we're in a different emotional state.”
George Loewenstein

BRAIN WAVES

  • Change your mind. If you change your mind about something, you might feel embarrassed. Perhaps it means you made up your mind too quickly to begin with. Or that you’re fickle and don’t feel a strong sense of conviction. But these notions aren’t necessarily true, argues Alexandra Plakias, an associate professor of philosophy at Hamilton College. In a piece for Oxford University Press, Plakias writes, “While some changes of heart might happen because of overly hasty belief formation, or beliefs that are motivated by self-interest, it’s also possible that a willingness to take countervailing evidence and arguments extremely seriously leads one to change one’s mind often.” Plakias applies the argument to philosophy, but it’s food for thought for all of us. “One can aim at truth even while reserving judgment on whether one has hit it this time,” she writes.

  • Act naturally. Spending time in nature is good for you — it sharpens our cognition and reduces stress (well, unless you’re this guy). And according to new research, feeling more connected to nature is associated with having more egalitarian views. Researchers wanted to learn how a person’s relationship with nature was associated with their views on social dominance. “If a person can empathize with nature, such as an endangered species, it should not be surprising that they also show kindness to fellow human beings, such as marginalized groups in society,” the authors told PsyPost. In two studies, they found that people who scored high on a measure of connectedness to nature also scored low on a measure of social dominance orientation. For example, people who agreed with statements like, “I often feel a sense of oneness with the natural world” tended to disagree with statements like, “Some groups of people are simply inferior to other groups.” Study author Henry Kin Shing Ng of the University of Hong Kong said that exposure to nature can help enhance social and psychological well-being in people. “When you feel connected with nature, you’ll also feel connected with others and be nicer to them.”

  • Is it just me? 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. A phenomenon known as “egocentric bias” can make it hard to see the world through the eyes of others. Listen to learn more.

ON THE PODCAST

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

Aug 9: In a fit of anger or in the grip of fear, many of us make decisions that we never would have anticipated. We look at situations that make us strangers to ourselves — and why it’s so difficult to remember what these “hot states” feel like once the moment is over.

Aug 16: It's hard to shake the contagious optimism of weddings. But marriage is challenging, and there are signs it’s getting even harder. In this episode, we explore how long-term relationships have changed over time and whether we might be able to improve marriage by asking less of it.

Listen on Apple

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MIND GAMES

A girl was ten on her last birthday. She will be twelve on her next birthday. How can this statement be true?

LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE

What is so special about this phrase below?

Never odd or even.

The Answer:  It’s a palindrome. The phrase reads the same backwards and forwards.

FROM THE TWITTERATI…

A MOMENT OF JOY

This is one cool orangutan.

Gone Fishin’: Our newsletter will be taking a short summer break for the rest of the month. But don’t worry — we’ll be back in your inbox in September. See you soon!

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.

Don’t think about red apples.

Plus, a better way to argue

“Purpose is not synonymous with what the world sees in front of you. It is entirely internally driven. The answer to the question, ‘what is your purpose?’ is not something you can crowdsource... It's an internal quest.” — Anthony Burrow

BRAIN WAVES

  • Don’t even think about it. When you tell yourself not to think about something, it’s hard to think about anything else. Even when we think we’re successful at suppressing a thought, it still lingers in our minds. Researchers at the University of New South Wales Future Minds Lab conducted an experiment. They showed people one of six phrases: “red apple,” “red chili,” “red tomato”, “green broccoli,” “green cucumber,” or “green lime.” Some participants were instructed to avoid imagining that item over a short period of time. They had to press a key to report when the item popped into their head. From there, the researchers showed them a red and green image, and the participants had to report which color was the dominant one. The results? When participants had to avoid thinking about a red apple, chili, or tomato, they were more likely to report red as the dominant color. Even when they thought they weren't actively thinking about the item, it was apparently still on their minds. “This discovery changes the way we think about thoughts of desire and suggests unconscious thoughts can emerge and drive our decisions and behavior,” said lab director Joel Pearson. He added, “using brute force to not think about something — that cigarette or that drink — simply won’t work because the thought is actually there in our brains.”

  • For the sake of argument. From pundits yelling at each other on TV to folks screaming into the void on Twitter, it seems public discourse is broken. “In everyday life, probably because everyone else is yelling, we are so scared to get in an argument, that we’re willing to not engage at all,” says Julia Dhar of Boston Consulting Group. In a TED Talk, Dhar makes the case for disagreement and offers ways to do it respectfully and productively. “The way that you reach people is by finding common ground,” she explains. “It's by separating ideas from identity and being genuinely open to persuasion.” Being able to engage in discourse isn’t just how we learn from others — it’s also how we connect with each other.

  • Some people are good at putting themselves in another person’s shoes. Others may struggle to relate. But psychologist Jamil Zaki argues that empathy isn’t a fixed trait — it’s one that can be strengthened, like a muscle. Listen to learn more.

ON THE PODCAST

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

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.

Aug 9: In a fit of anger or in the grip of fear, many of us make decisions that we never would have anticipated. We look at situations that make us strangers to ourselves — and why it’s so difficult to remember what these “hot states” feel like once the moment is over.

Listen on Apple

Listen on Spotify

MIND GAMES

What is so special about this phrase below?

Never odd or even.

LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE

What 5 letter English word does not change in pronunciation even when you take away 4 of its letters?

The Answer:  Queue

FROM THE TWITTERATI…

A MOMENT OF JOY

A lesson in sharing...

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 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.

Listen on Apple

Listen on Spotify

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.

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