Down the rabbit hole

Down the rabbit hole

I’ve finished my university courses and have graduated… which means I have a lot of time on my hands. I’m giving myself a 2-week break to relax and look for a job. In the meantime, I’ve been spending a lot of time on the internet researching conspiracy theories (WTF are you thinking!- I know) Of course, this isn’t a conspiracy blog and I won’t be getting into specifics… I’m not here to tell you what to believe. But what I’d like to talk about today is the way we deal with challenging ideas.

The further and further I went down the rabbit hole (so to speak), the more my beliefs and ideas were called into question. I started to panic. Ideas that I had held so dear and thought were true were being challenged… and the evidence was quite substantial. What if everything you thought was true was a lie? How would you act? In my case, I’ve been researching and following so-called “conspiracy theories” for quite some time… so I’m used to this. When faced with such horrific ideas about reality, I can’t sleep for a few days, I ruminate and I think to myself, “how am I going to change my life according to this new information?”. Of course, I don’t believe everything I read. But it’s only after much investigation that I submit to the fact that maybe- just maybe- my ideas about the world might be wrong. Maybe everyone isn’t like me- maybe everyone isn’t so good. Maybe there IS an evil cabal that controls the world and wants to destroy you (lol we’re all laughing- it’s funny.. but what if it’s true?!). After a while of crying, ruminating, not being able to sleep, and thinking, comes the last part- acceptance. I get back to my normal life, accept the evil truths, and go back to normalcy. But life can never be the same when your ideas are challenged. You act and think differently.. maybe you choose to listen to different music and watch different programs, hang out with different people, and perhaps, eat differently. When faced with challenging beliefs, we can often face a phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is something everyone does. When faced with ideas that challenge our own beliefs and preconceived notions, it is extremely uncomfortable (like, REALLY uncomfortable). Our brains hate that. The brain needs a consistent and stable state to function properly (much like homeostasis). Our beliefs and ideas determine our lives and what actions we take, so if we were to constantly change opinions, our lives would be chaotic. The brain protects us from that with mechanisms like cognitive dissonance. I think this is an evolutionary adaptation- you can’t be constantly changing your ideas and beliefs, especially after you have internalized them and live according to them. But rarely, when some ESPECIALLY convincing evidence comes into view- we are faced with a decision. When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviours, something must be done to eliminate the dissonance. We can discount the dissonant beliefs, avoid them and lessen them in our mind, or, the hardest part, we can change OUR beliefs to align with the dissonant ones. When you make a decision to avoid cognitive dissonance, accept the new information, and change your beliefs accordingly, your brain faces a traumatic situation. It is hard to do that but I think it is important. The goal of cognitive dissonance is self-preservation. But using cognitive dissonance as a means of self-preservation can actually accomplish the opposite- keeping one in an echo chamber of sorts, unable to adapt to new information, and in a state of denial about the world. At what point does self-preservation become self-harm? When should we confront hard truths and face them head on?

Why is it that people who confront their beliefs head on are seen as “conspiracy theorists” and crazy? Why is someone labelled “crazy” for believing we never went to the moon, or the Illuminati is real, or there is an evil cabal of Satanists at the top that control the banks and the whole world? What if those things were true? Are we in denial?  Just because the information isn’t made popular in media, does that mean it isn’t real? We see people who believe in such things as lunatics… but we have no evidence to contradict them. What if we listened to them, researched their information, and came to find out they were right? Of course, we could also find out they were wrong- which would be a welcome relief.

In life, there will always be information that challenges our beliefs. Instead of going into cognitive dissonance as a protective mechanism, I think all of us should take some time to face those uncomfortable truths and perhaps examine our beliefs and opinions and change them if they need to be changed. It may be uncomfortable in the short term, but in the long run, it allows you to adapt to a changing world and grow as a person- and that is truly a better way of self-preservation.

Anyways, I think I’ve had enough of conspiracy theories for now. Time to relax and watch some movies in my PJ’s.

Take care of yourselves,

-The Wild Psychologist

Advertisements

Breathe- it’s good for you

Breathe- it’s good for you

Um.. okay. Right now you’re thinking “I already am breathing- that’s how I’m staying alive, dumb dumb.” Ok, I get it. We’re all breathing. However, I just found a study that emphasizes what we all already knew was good for us- the importance of breathing.

So what’s the deal then? Well, in this study breathing was found to modulate brain activity and mental function! What exactly does that mean? Well basically, according to this article by the Guardian, “The rhythm of breathing co-ordinates electrical activity across a network of brain regions associated with smell, memory, and emotions, and can enhance their functioning, according to a new study by researchers at Northwestern University. ”

Interestingly enough, breathing controls emotional recognition and memory recall, and this effect is seen more accurately during breathing IN than breathing out. Oh, and the “mode of delivery” is also important here- breathing through the nose showed these effects whereas when the participants in the study breathed through their mouths, their performance on both tasks declined markedly. So what does this tell us? Well, breathing is unconsciously controlled by the brainstem (the good ‘ol brain stem), and our breathing changes in response to emotional stimuli and mental effort, this suggests that our thought processes affect our breathing rate (which, we all knew anyways- I mean, who doesn’t notice the quickening of breath when we are mad or scared?).

This study is so important because it suggests that breathing can impact how well our brains work and our mental function. If breathing has some kind of effect on brain activity, it would make sense that by breathing fast when you’re scared or in a highly dangerous fight-for-your-life situation, this can optimise information processing in the brain so you can think and act appropriately and quickly. Put simply, breathing fast= more air. More air= a better working brain. This makes me think of running; when you run, you breathe faster so your muscles get more oxygen to meet the increased energy needs. This makes intuitive sense that the same would apply to your brain- a more strenuous task or situation (such as fight-or-flight) would require more oxygen to work better. As the article states, “When you breathe in… you are stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala and hippocampus,” says Zelano. “In a panic state, your breathing rhythm becomes faster [and] as a result you’ll spend proportionally more time inhaling,” [This] could have a positive impact on brain function and result in faster response times to dangerous stimuli in the environment.”

Anyways, what I got from this was 1) Breathe through your nose damn it! and 2) breathe- it will keep you alive girlfriend.

Link to original study:

Zelano, C., et al. (2016). Nasal Respiration Entrains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive Function. J. Neurosci., 6: 12448 –12467 [Abstract]