Author Archives: arichmon

YOLO Generation and Regret

Some would call us the YOLO generation- and anyone with even the slightest knowledge of American pop culture might readily agree. Live hard live good have fun live like it’s your last night! Just do it, Nike tells us! You only live once, twitter hashtags reply! And Ke$ha plays in the background, telling us we need to “make the most of the night like we’re gonna die young!”

Our culture encourages us to live life without regrets, and adores a lifestyle that emphasizes hedonistic pleasures and living in the moment. Regret is negative, we tell ourselves. Why bother with it? After all, regret is just a wasted emotion- we can’t change the past. What’s the point?

An article in Psychology Today seeks to answer that question.

We have all experienced regret. It is a painful cognitive/emotional state that involves feelings of loss and/or sorrow over choices and past decisions that we wish we could undo. However, while regret is a negative emotion, it can also be a helpful one.

Regret can play in important role in several behavioral functions. Chief among them, regret can be very important in making corrective action and avoiding future negative behaviors. By regretting a past choice, we can more easily resolve not to repeat the same action (or series of actions) in the future. In this sense, regret can be extremely valuable in redirecting one’s life path, such as an addict seeking help due to regret over his or her previous actions.

Especially for young people with the rest of their lives ahead of them, regret can also be helpful in other regards, in addition to motivating positive actions. Researcher Neal Roese found that young people ranked regret as the most helpful of all negative emotions in five functions: making sense of the world, avoiding future negative behaviors, gaining insight, achieving social harmony, and improving ability to approach desired opportunities. Essentially, regret can help motivate us to pursue our dreams and ambitions, get a more realistic sense of the world, and avoid repeating previous (unhealthy) mistakes.

Obviously however, regret is not all positive. Excessive fixation and rumination on the past can lead to chronic stress that negatively impacts both mind and body. Self-blame and fruitless regret can be extraordinarily unhealthy, and can be correlated with depression. Additionally, the easier it is to envision a different outcome- and the easier it is to image what you could have done differently to advert it- the more regret we are likely to have. This is a result of the cognitive process of counterfactual thinking. Hindsight is always 20/20.

However, even the negative feelings associated with regret can be mitigated with the help of cognitive techniques. There are several ways to cope with regret, including trying to learn from it, make sure you are not blaming yourself excessively, and reframing the situation in a more positive light.

However ultimately, if there is nothing you can do to change the situation, let it go. Perhaps YOLO did get something right.

Addiction of Gambling

 

You’re in a casino. Las Vegas. It’s packed with all sorts of people frantically pulling down levers at slot machines and sweating over roulette. Neon colors whirl about in the air, cards are shuffled about and laughter mingles with outbursts of frustration. You are surrounded by an onslaught flashing lights and distracting sounds. It’s chaos. And this is intentional.

 

There is a very deliberate method to the madness that is a casino, despite outward appearance it will have been carefully controlled…all for the purpose of making money. Casinos are intentionally devoid of clocks and windows to make customers unaware of time and outside priorities. Festive music and captivating light displays emphasize winnings in an attempt to keep customers hopeful about their own odds of success (which keep them coming back for more even after repeated failure). Free alcohol and cocktails are often given out to make gamblers intoxicated and sloppy. An inebriated customer would also have more trouble navigating their way out of the maze-like design of the casino. The entire place is a trap, constructed encourage people to bet bigger and more often…and eventually lose.

 

But more than just the tailored atmosphere of the casinos themselves, the very act of gambling is addictive. Recently, the DSM-5 changed pathological gambling from a compulsion to an addiction. Neuroscientists have discovered that gambling and drug use can affect the brain in similar ways. The a victory in gambling games flood the brain with dopamine- chemicals that induce euphoria. In a sense, the desire to achieve this “high” can be just as likely to keep chronic gamblers coming back for more just as much as the idea of reclaiming lost money.

 

But pathological gamblers are not satisfied with a single win. Like drug users, gamblers lose sensitivity to the high of victory, and pursue riskier gambling behaviors to obtain their dopamine fix. The act of gambling can also affect the brain circuits in similar ways to a drug addict.

 

For chronic gamblers, medications that have been used to treat substance addictions have proved successful. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches patients to resist unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors has also been a useful treatment. Unfortunately, only 20% of pathological gamblers are estimated to seek help for their addiction.

 

Whether you are betting your money online or in the Vegas strip, gambling is a tempting and dangerous activity. For myself and I’m sure many others, the idea of going to Sin City, Nevada, for my 21st and visiting casinos is an exciting idea. To be honest, if given the opportunity I’m so I’d go. But casinos are a business, and they are very skilled using psychological tricks in order to exploit their customers and make more money. For some, it is all in good fun. A couple dollars lost on a fun trip. But for others gambling can become a serious addiction that can lead to financial ruin. And nobody benefits but the casinos. The house always wins.

 

The Truth about ECT

Picture if you will: an image of electroconvulsive (electroshock or shock treatment) therapy. For many people this image will involve an unwilling or drugged patient, strapped to a table (likely struggling) while a sadistic nurse administers dangerous shocks that result in dramatic screaming and thrashing. The result of this procedure usually leaves the patient in a worse state then they began in- for electroshock therapy is barbaric and obviously ineffective.

 

At least, that is the image Hollywood would like you to have, and one they have worked very hard on maintaining. Countless movies continue to present electroshock therapy as a treatment that is fundamentally abusive and ultimately useless. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Requiem for a Dream, and many others all present this portrayal. In Bollywood, the same is true- electroshock treatment are used a way to torture and hurt people. Unfortunately, it is one that is extraordinarily harmful and can create negative images and stigma towards a legitimate treatment.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHPdtWvL3Mk

 

There are a whole host of inaccuracies in Hollywood’s portrayal of electroshock treatments. The most important one, however, is that ECT actually works. ECT does cause a seizure- electrodes are attached to the head, and a current is passed between them, one which alters brain chemistry and activity. The fact is, between when ECT was first developed (1938) and until the 1950’s the treatment was dangerous. Broken bones and convulsions were not uncommon.

 

However, many advances have been made in the past decades. A muscle relaxant and general anesthetic is administered prior to the electroshock treatment to minimize muscle response during the seizure. Patient’s vitals are closely and carefully monitored. ECT has shown to be effective at easing symptoms of severe depression, bipolar disorder, and catatonia.

 

This is not to say that the treatment is perfect. In some countries (including 14 Asian countries) ECT is administered without appropriate muscles relaxants or anesthesia. In some cases, ECT has been known to cause retrograde amnesia, with some patients experiencing memory loss of events prior to the treatment. Partially because of these valid concerns ECT is usually only administered when other methods have failed. And even then patients are not unwilling, informed consent is always given before the procedure, another fact Hollywood prefers to gloss over.

 

Unfortunately the incorrect version of ECT Hollywood has propagated has a real and dangerous effect…and not just on the general populace. One third of medical students shown Hollywood’s version of ECT held less favorable opinions of the treatment and stated they were less likely to advise it to potential patients. In a 2012 survey 74% of undergraduate psychology students believed ECT to be physically harmful, with as few as 1.2% supporting its use.

 

Hollywood seems to have a fascination with science via electricity beginning with Frankenstein (1931) where Victor Frankenstein breathes life into his monster with electrical devices. Hollywood favors easy drama over scientific facts. The secret long ignored by films is that ECT can be performed safely and humanely and can be effective at alleviating depression and many other disorders that have been unresponsive to other treatments.

A Cogntive Review of “Memento”

Nobody in their right mind would ever accuse Hollywood of being a halfway decent source of scientific information. Understandably so, facts are twisted to service the plot, real science merges absurdly with pseudoscience, and the laws of physics are largely ignored as action heroes perform feats that defy gravity and logic. Which is completely fine- Hollywood is an entertainment business, and nobody comes to an action movie to gain a deeper understanding of the human brain. However, once in a while a movie will be both entertaining and surprisingly accurate.

Memento is a thriller that takes us inside the mind of Leonard Shelby, a hero suffering from amnesia as he single-mindedly pursues the man who killed his wife. Amnesia is great dramatic fodder for Hollywood, although its portrayal is usually improbable at best. Heroes are bopped on the head and wake up remembering nothing of their past- until another head trauma or plot convenience miraculously gives them back their memory. In most movies, amnesia is simply another plot device.

 

However, Memento is different. Unusual for Hollywood, the hero suffers from anterograde amnesia, where he remembers with perfect clarity his life before the attack that left his wife (in his recollection) dead and his brain damaged by blunt force trauma. However, Leonard cannot form any new memories, and spends the entirety of the movie in this state- leaving himself notes on his own body to give himself clues, and forgetting character reveals and betrayals midway through a scene. Several scenes show him frantically jotting down something important on a photograph before his amnesia forces him to forget. The film has a fragmented, twisty feel that actually does a lot of justice to real cases of anterograde amnesia.

 

In Latin, the word for “seahorse” is hippocampus. Located under the medial temporal lobe, the hippocampus is highly involved in long-term memory. It is hypothesized that the hippocampus serves as a “gateway” for new memories- they must travel through the hippocampus before being stored permanently as long-term memories in the brain. Damage to the hippocampus, whether by injury, infection, or chronic alcoholism (Korsakoff’s syndrome) can result in anterograde amnesia. Like in Memento, people with anterograde amnesia may be able to access old memories already laid down in long term storage. However, they will not be able to form new memories, due to failures in encoding and storage. A famous case of anterograde amnesia is patient H.M. – apparently an inspiration for the director of Memento.

 

Before he became a vigilante hunting down “John G”, Leonard was an insurance investigator. In light of his amnesia, it seems unlikely that Leonard would be able to maintain any of the new skills he learned hunting for John G. However, even this can have a cognitive basis. Research has shown that people with retrograde amnesia can retain their procedural memory, which is involved with learning skills and habits. This is because the hippocampus is not involved in procedural memory the same way it is involved in declarative, or autobiographical, memories.

 

On top of being a stellar movie in its own right, Memento has the additional value of being an atypically cognitively solid movie by Hollywood standards. In fact, the most improbable thing seems to be why Leonard wasn’t under hospital care or study, instead of being free to track down a rapist.