Saturday, October 29, 2016

Happy Halloween 7 mysteries

Here I revised an old post with 7 thoughts about the psychology of some issues.

Seven Lessons from Psychological Science

1. Illusions can be explained. The brilliant demonstrations by Derren Brown reveal how easy it is to deceive us. We quickly believe supernatural activity rather than natural phenomena explain unusual events. In the 1850s, British scientist, Michael Faraday created tests to show how turning tables could be explained by human expectations rather than some spirit force. Other events like spelling prophecies with a glass on an Ouija board have been explained by psychological scientists who show how minds search for patterns and anticipate responses before other parts of  our brain become aware of our actions. To learn more, read The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel Wegner. You can get a summary from former paranormal researcher, Susan Blackmore. Our minds can trick us into thinking some external unseen agent made something happen because of the way our brains function.

2. Mental illness often gets a bad name. At times, the unusual behavior patterns of people accused of being a witch or possessed by a demon have been documented well enough to match known mental disorders such as a seizure disorder.

As to the witches of Salem, one psychologist, Linnda Caporael, has a theory that the phenomena were substance induced. Some symptoms of mental illness are rare so we do not see them often. Attributing hard-to-control behavior to a devil or a demon adds to the negative stereotypes that continue to create barriers for people with a mental illness.

And let's be careful not to demean or mock mental illness in clothing. Mental illness is real and not at all funny.

3. Support systems work. Facing our fears in a group setting with friends and family is a great way to lessen their debilitating effects. We don’t always need a professional psychotherapist to cope with distress. Trick or treat at parties and safe events can be one more family event.

4. Defeat fear and anxiety with incompatible responses Learning to laugh at fearful and anxiety producing stimuli is a great way to fight any fear. It doesn't always work but the principle of pairing fearful stimuli with a different response like laughter does work for some.

 5. Disgust promotes purity. The disgust response is a primal emotional response linked to moral rules about purity and holiness. People have a long history of disgust in response to blood and other bodily fluids. Some forms of sexual expression also invoke disgust. Sometimes people have a hard time coming up with reasons to explain why something is wrong. Moral psychology researchers like Jonathan Haidt call this phenomenon moral dumbfoundness

Unconsciously, people exposed to disgusting stimuli want to wash their hands. It is no surprise that some forms of sexuality were labeled dirty or filthy. Perhaps All Saints Day is an important "clean up" event following some Halloween activities.

6. The Macbeth effect is real. Like the famed Lady Macbeth who cried, “Out damned spot,” people who recalled unethical behavior unconsciously preferred handwipes to other options at the end of the study. Halloween activities that border on the unethical can link to guilt and the need to come clean. Coupled with the disgust-purity lesson we may have a good basis to celebrate November 1st, All Saints Day.

7. Death reminds us of our own mortality. The theory is known as terror management theory. Such thoughts of death promote a sense of greater connectedness to our ingroup (church, kinship, nation) and a stronger disapproval of outsiders. You can predict moral condemnation and reminders of what God hates when this response pattern is stimulated. Just thinking of the theory reminded me of hellfire sermons from childhood. Scary stuff at church for sure.

Seven Benefits of Halloween Celebrations

R. I. P.


Disgust and Morality- Learn more about the psychological foundations of Sanctity and Degradation based on research on the basic human response of disgust and the work of psychological scientist, Jonathan Haidt and colleagues.

Macbeth effect- Learn more about the need to cleanse oneself following an impure or unethical act. It's part of human nature. Here's one link. You will find more studies on moral purity in the research literature. Here's an npr story featuring psychological scientist, Spike W S Lee

Terror Management Theory - interview with leading scientist Sheldon Solomon in Scientific American. The theory explains how people react to an awareness of their own mortality.

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