Excellent article by Judith Shulevitz at The New Republic The Lethality of Loneliness: We now know how it can ravage our body and brain.
She employs an origin story of the importance of being interconnected with a social group, and the panic and danger of being ejected from one’s tribe. In her version, she indicates that we relatively weak human set up watch systems to look for danger–I don’t know that this would be necessary. We rapidly communicate danger when any one of us comes under attack–we scream and make other noises that alert our group, to the extent that we are part of a social group. I think this description is of high relevance to the compulsion many people feel to be part of a religious group and also of the agony of being ostracized from one’s group, for instance by excommunication. Here’s an excerpt:
[N]atural selection favored people who needed people. Humans are vastly more social than most other mammals, even most primates, and to develop what neuroscientists call our social brain, we had to be good at cooperating. To raise our children, with their slow-maturing cerebral cortexes, we needed help from the tribe. To stoke the fires that cooked the meat that gave us the protein that sustained our calorically greedy gray matter, we had to organize night watches. But compared with our predators, we were small and weak. They came after us with swift strides. We ran in a comparative waddle.
“The very fact that [loneliness] can affect the genes like that—it’s huge,” Suomi says. “It changes the way one thinks about development.”
So what would happen if one of us wandered off from her little band, or got kicked out of it because she’d slacked off or been caught stealing? She’d find herself alone on the savanna, a fine treat for a bunch of lions. She’d be exposed to attacks from marauders. If her nervous system went into overdrive at perceiving her isolation, well, that would have just sent her scurrying home. Cacioppo thinks we’re hardwired to find life unpleasant outside the safety of trusted friends and family, just as we’re pre-programmed to find certain foods disgusting. “Why do you think you are ten thousand times more sensitive to foods that are bitter than to foods that are sweet?” Cacioppo asked me. “Because bitter’s dangerous!”
One of those alone-on-the-savanna moments in our modern lives occurs when we go off to college, because we have to make a whole new set of friends. Back in the mid-’90s, when Cacioppo was at Ohio State University (he is now at the University of Chicago), he and his colleagues sorted undergraduates into three groups—the non-lonely, the sort-of-sometimes lonely, and the lonely. The researchers then strapped blood- pressure cuffs, biosensors, and beepers onto the students. Nine times a day for seven days, they were beeped and had to fill out questionnaires. Cacioppo also kept them overnight in the university hospital with “nightcaps” on their heads, monitoring the length and quality of their rest. He took saliva samples to measure levels of cortisol, a hormone produced under stress.
As expected, he found the students with bodily symptoms of distress (poor sleep, high cortisol) were not the ones with too few acquaintances, but the ones who were unhappy about not having made close friends. These students also had higher than normal vascular resistance, which is caused by the arteries narrowing as their tissue becomes inflamed. High vascular resistance contributes to high blood pressure; it makes the heart work harder to pump blood and wears out the blood vessels. If it goes on for a long time, it can morph into heart disease. While Cole discovered that loneliness could hasten death in sick people, Cacioppo showed that it could make well people sick—and through the same method: by putting the body in fight-or-flight mode.
A famous experiment helps explain why rejection makes us flinch. It was conducted more than a decade ago by Naomi Eisenberger, a social psychologist at UCLA, along with her colleagues. People were brought one-by-one into the lab to play a multiplayer online game called “Cyberball” that involved tossing a ball back and forth with two other “people,” who weren’t actually people at all, but a computer program. “They” played nicely with the real person for a while, then proceeded to ignore her, throwing the ball only to each other. Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans showed that the experience of being snubbed lit up a part of the subjects’ brains (the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) that also lights up when the body feels physical pain.
I agree with this Salon article that it is counterproductive to write off the Tea Party as irrational. It is much more productive to work harder to understand the Tea Party’s thought process. Here’s an excerpt:
While each of the Newest Right’s proposals and policies might be defended by libertarians or conservatives on other grounds, the package as a whole—from privatizing Social Security and Medicare to disenfranchising likely Democratic voters to opposing voting rights and citizenship for illegal immigrants to chopping federal programs into 50 state programs that can be controlled by right-wing state legislatures—represents a coherent and rational strategy for maximizing the relative power of provincial white elites at a time when their numbers are in decline and history has turned against them. They are not ignoramuses, any more than Jacksonian, Confederate and Dixiecrat elites were idiots. They know what they want and they have a plan to get it—which may be more than can be said for their opponents.
In Jonathan Haidt’s most recent book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, he makes a compelling argument that all of our become blinded when we get caught upon in tribal politics. His suggestion is that we need to work hard to unplug from the moral matrix in order to better understand the “other.” It’s a tall order in these times of great hostility and crisis, but I believe that Haidt is correct, that it is the only way out of this mess.
This, from Blue Street Journal:
Social Psychologist Geoffrey Cohen found that Democrats will typically support a policy proposal that severely restricts entitlements (something typically favored by Republicans) if they think it was proposed by members of their own party. Additionally, Republicans will typically support an extremely generous entitlement program if they think it was proposed by Republicans. In contrast, if a Democrat or Republican thinks that a policy was proposed by the opposing party, they will tend to reject it no matter what it says. This was tested in a lab study where participants were asked to read the policies for themselves. Democrats were led to believe that the policy they were reading was proposed by a Democrat, even though it was actually proposed by a Republican. Republicans were placed in the same scenario, but with a Democratic policy they believed was proposed by a Republican. In both situations, the participants tended to agree with the policy they believed was affiliated with their own party and rejected the policy they believed was affiliated with the opposing party. A second group of Democrats and Republicans rejected the very same ideas that the first groups accepted when they believed that they were proposed by members of the opposing party. This demonstrates that people tend to accept political ideas based on party affiliation rather than the actual content of the ideas.
Recently, I finished reading Lawrence Wright’s new book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollwood, & the Prison of Belief, about Scientology. It’s a lucid history and examination of the movement. [More . . . ]
PLOS offers another bit of evidence that political preferences might have their genesis at low-level cognitive processes:
Liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk, and they support recent evidence that conservatives show greater sensitivity to threatening stimuli.
Here are more attempts to tie political persuasion to lower level phenomena.
My relationship with the Boy Scouts of America was not the most pleasant. I was an oddity, to be sure. I think I was at one time the only—only—second class scout to be a patrol leader. Second class. For those who may not have been through the quasi-military organization, the way it was structured in […]
The 2012 Missouri primary had several important lessons to impart. The first, which I may have discussed in previous election years, is that the way to bring the “correct” voters to the polls is to have an apparently innocuous but important candidate or issue and a loud, contentious issue or candidate that only seems to matter to one side.
In this primary cycle, there was a preponderance of hotly contested Republican seats, and a very dangerous, never advertised Tea Party constitutional amendment. Republicans came out to vote overwhelmingly, and the Amendment passed resoundingly.
The full body of the amendment is at the bottom of this article.
Basically on the ballot it read as if it was just reinforcing the first clause of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
- In reality, it says that people have the right to worship the (singular, Christian) Almighty God (but not all those others) including to pray whenever their conscience dictates (such as during science classes).
- Public meetings can now be started with exclusionary prayers as long as the officiant is invited by someone.
- I have not yet figured out how the mandatory publishing of the Bill of Rights in schools will be twisted, but I expect as a precedent to posting the Ten Commandments adjacent (as an alleged inspirational source)
- Students cannot be punished for refusing to do assignments that might conflict with their faith (evolution, geology, astronomy, etc).
So I expect Missouri to soon be incurring legal fees on the order of replacing several major bridges, or (more likely) in lieu of funding science education for a decade.
[More (Including the language of the Amendment)]