Author Archives: lily

Obsessions with Reality TV

One major thing that I have noticed in our modern day society is that we are all infatuated with other people’s lives. Whenever we watch shows or movies on TV, Netflix, Hulu, etc. we tend to get quite caught up with the drama, romance, heartbreak, etc. that occurs within the shows. We sometimes even try and place ourselves in a character’s shoes or pretend that we are living their life. For the purposes of this blog post, I am going to be focusing mainly on reality TV and why we become so obsessed with the way that these people live their lives.

The biggest example that we see on TV would be Keeping up with the Kardashians. Millions and millions of people watch this show and actively get involved in these celebrities lives. I have always wondered why this is. Could it be an escape from reality? A hope for fame? These questions are what inspired me to do some further research on why we choose to become so invested in the lives of others, and why we choose to spend so much time on them. 

Dr. Jana Scrivani, who is a licensed clinical psychologist, explained that “it’s the perfect storm of feeling less connected with the people around us than ever before due to our busy schedules and finding that connection in characters or contestants.” She claimed that by watching these shows, we get a false sense of connection in which we feel that we actually know the people that we are watching on TV.

A cognitive behavioral therapist named Alex Hedger believes that social media also plays a part in our obsession with reality TV. Social media, along with reality TV gives us open access to these reality TV stars and their lives. So, not only are we watching them on TV, but we also have the opportunity to look them up online or through their social media accounts to learn more about them. This gives us a huge opportunity to feel like we know these people in real life or that we are a part of the show, which can give us a good escape from our own reality.

While those psychologists found that this obsession with reality TV is unhealthy, other psychologists such as Dr. Racine R. Henry believed that reality TV can be seen in a more positive light. He believes that if someone is lonely, that they can find comfort in these TV shows. However, he was quick to point out the bad side which is how these shows can make people see what they don’t have. In some shows you may see people with a lot of money who may have very simple and easy problems that are easily fixable. This can cause people to become more upset and realize what they don’t have, rather than what they do have.

So, the next time that you decide to sit down and watch Keeping up with the Kardashians, Teen Moms, or some other form of reality TV show, be sure to keep in mind that it isn’t your life. Keep in mind that while they may seem to have perfect lives, there is a lot that still goes on off of the screen.

Routines and Decision Making

One thing that we tend to hold on to every single day is our routine. No matter where we go or what we do, we tend to try and organize it in some way based off of our routines. One example that is given in this article is that Barack Obama had a closet full of identical suits. His reasoning was to minimize the complexity of his small decisions that way he could focus on the big decisions. Everyone values routines differently, but the main reason we have routines is because decision making can be extremely difficult. Routines help us try to deal with this continuous flow of decision making. Most of us are bad decision makers, partly because we aren’t even sure what we want. The psychologists in this study decided to strip down these problems that we face to try and better understand why we are unable to make decisions. A decision can range from what you’re going to eat for dinner to what you decide to major in.

“Based on such studies, how consistent are we? It turns out we are shockingly inconsistent. In fact, on 20-30% of these problems people tend to give the opposite answer on the two versions of the same question. It’s also incredibly hard work to make the decisions – people typically leave the lab feeling drained.” So, not only are our decisions constantly changing, but it is also very exhausting to make these decisions. We saw this same data in our decision making ZAPS that we did. We saw that depending on the wins, losses, or how the question is worded, we may make a different decision about the same type of situation.

Psychologists have found that routines give us a way to have a natural solution. If we already have a set plan, then we are able to choose to do the things the same way that we were doing them before. Therefore, we don’t have any decisions to make and have a set strategy for how we are going to handle tough situations.

Unfortunately, even though routines are usually a good thing, there are still some downsides to them. By having strong routines, we could potentially get locked into these patterns of thinking and behaving, and ultimately have no escape. Having too much routine could be boring, but for people who have disorders such as OCD, these behaviors can consume their lives. Routines can also be dangerous for someone who is having trouble balancing, and therefore just sticks with their everyday habits which narrows their exploration.

The study also states that “if we feel in control of our lives, routine will be less oppressive.” This relates back to socioeconomic status as well. Since they have very little economic control, people who are of low socioeconomic status tend to search for a broader variety in their routines in order to gain back some of that lost control.

These are just some examples, routine differs between different cultures, behaviors, and other types of people. No matter who you are, it is important for us to be able to focus our attention on the more important things that we really care about and try to allow routine to take over the rest.

Highway Hypnosis: A Century of Highway Zombies


One thing that severely impacts us as drivers is highway hypnosis, which is also known as white line fever. Highway hypnosis is a type of mental state that can occur when driving a long distance. We still respond to external events and sources in a safe and correct way, but we have no recollection of responding to these events. The cause of highway hypnosis tends to be when a person is on the highway for a long period of time. By staring at the open highway for so long, we can become drowsy and in a trance-like state.

Usually, most people can say at this point that they have experienced highway hypnosis. For example, sometimes when I am on my way to my classes at the University of Mary Washington in the mornings, I can sometimes find myself arriving there with no memory of actually driving to the school. I believe that because I am so tired in the mornings, it is causing me to zone out while I am driving here since I know the way so well. However, I have seen this happen in other situations too. One time, I was heading to work on a day off from school, but instead I ended up driving to school because I was so used to going to school at that time every day. So, because my body was in such a routine, I ended up driving to UMW with no recollection of driving there even though I didn’t need to be there that day.

In the article that I read by Carmine Grimaldi that was posted on The Atlantic, she discusses how dangerous highway hypnosis really is. She claims that since the 1920s, highway hypnosis has been causing disasters on the roads and highways. Grimaldi also talks about how throughout the years driving has been made as mindless and comfortable as possible. Things like air conditioning, radios, and automatic transmission have become regular features in vehicles, and perhaps making everything a bit too easy. This ease can cause people to become easily distracted and unfocused, due to the fact that everything feels so natural.

Grimaldi also talked about the phenomenons that occurred in the 1950s. Drivers were having trouble remembering routes that they had memorized before, while others were recognizing highways that they had no recollection of seeing before. This played into people feeling that they had been transported miles and miles ahead in the blink of an eye due to this lack of recollection. One thing that was even more dangerous and strange was that people were beginning to have strange visions. One man reported that he saw a tiger that was stalking the light beams of his car. He then had to swerve off the road to avoid the “tiger.” Another man reported hitting someone, but when the police arrived they couldn’t find a body. In 1956, a newspaper reported that accidents involving only one car were the cause of a third of all highway deaths.

All of this evidence shows us just how dangerous highway hypnosis can be. Highway hypnosis can cause us to see things that aren’t really there. It causes us to zone out and become less reactive and unaware to important situations. Due to this, car accidents are more likely to occur, causing more danger and harm to people.

Split-Brain Patients

In this meme, I am showing the common misperception that people have when learning about split-brained patients. Often, we are confused by this concept of being split-brained which causes us to jump to conclusions. We instantly see a brain that is a bit abnormal compared to what we usually see and assume that this abnormality can be applied to us. We forget that in order to relate to the different concepts of being split-brained, you must have a severed corpus callosum. Today, the surgery that had previously caused this severing of the corpus callosum is no longer done. This surgery was done in the past to try and treat epilepsy, but after seeing all of the different side effects that came along with the surgery and how it affected the brain, this surgery is no longer conducted.

As we know and have learned throughout this course, our left hand and left visual field are controlled by our right hemisphere. With that being said, our right hand and right visual field are controlled by our left hemisphere. When we conduct an experiment with a split-brain patient, we use different combinations of their left and right hands with their left and right visual fields. By alternating these factors, we are able to see what sorts of things that split-brain patients can and can’t do without the use of their corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is what passes information between the left and right hemispheres, so without this link the left and right hemispheres are much more limited in what they can accomplish. The left hemisphere and right hemisphere are now independently responsible for what they produce, rather than being able to access information from both sides and working together to help brain functioning.

While conducting the experiment, we found quite a bit of different data.  When the left hand and left visual field are paired, the split-brain patient does not know what word they saw, but they are able to retrieve the object. When the left hand and right visual field are paired, the split-brain patient is able to see the word, but unable to retrieve the object. When the right hand and left visual field are paired, the split brain-patient did not know what word they saw and were unable to retrieve the object. Finally, when the right hand and right visual field are paired, the split-brain patient is able to both see the word and retrieve the object.

When reviewing this data, we are able to notice some key points about the left and right hemispheres. We notice that when the right hemisphere is working on its own by using the left hand and left visual field, they are unable to remember what they saw. This is the opposite for when the left hemisphere works on its own by using the right hand and right visual field. This is because the left hemisphere is superior in dealing with language. You could expect the right hemisphere to be better at grabbing or touching what they saw, even though they couldn’t recall seeing it. The split-brain patient could even draw the word that they saw, but this may be difficult if the patient is usually right-handed.

In conclusion, I made this meme to address the issue we see with people who learn about split-brain patients. We tend to believe that these things can happen to our brain, when in reality our corpus callosum is intact. Thankfully, this surgery can no longer be conducted, so we do not need to worry about our corpus callosum being severed and halting the flow of information between our two hemispheres.


Class Lecture

Split-Brain ZAPS

Cognitive Neuroscience Class Lecture