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What Brain Science Tells Us About How to Win the Battle Against False Narratives and Divisiveness

Neuroscientist Amishi Jha explains why three built-in biases in the human brain are contributing to false narratives, divisiveness, and incivility across the United States, and how mindfulness in action can help boost our collective resilience.

The post What Brain Science Tells Us About How to Win the Battle Against False Narratives and Divisiveness appeared first on Mindful.

Original author: Amishi Jha
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What Brain Science Tells Us About How to Win the Battle Against False Narratives and Divisiveness

Images of the US Capitol overrun with rioters, and the aftermath of a walled-in iconic building guarded by razor wire and armed soldiers—remind me of a phrase from my undergraduate days: The personal is political. This 1960’s era slogan captures the interconnection between our private experiences and political systems and structures. My own sense of anger, moral injury, threat, fear, and overwhelm in the days after the Capitol siege are deeply intertwined with our national politics. And as we turn the page as a Nation, it’s worth understanding how the brain’s default tendencies, our built-in brain biases, have contributed to the rise in false narratives and divisiveness. To overcome this national predicament, we must overcome these brain biases. Unfortunately, as my lab’s research has found, this is difficult to do, especially when the very cognitive resources needed to do so are in short supply.  

At the University of Miami, my research team and I study the impact of mindfulness training on high demand groups like soldiers, first-responders, and elite athletes. We research questions about their psychological and cognitive resilience, as well as their ability to perform at their best when circumstances are extraordinarily stressful. The bad news is that over high stress intervals, their mood sours, cognition fails, and performance suffers as they go on autopilot. The good news is that mindfulness training protects against these effects and helps them bounce back. 

Findings like these, lead me to ponder the role of mindfulness in boosting the resilience of our nation. But first, let’s discuss what we’re up against—the built-in features of the human brain that may contribute to the spread of false information and divisiveness in our country.

Cognitive Biases and the Human Brain

1. The brain has a truth bias: The moment you understand something you read or hear, your brain believes it’s true. This is why the moment just after is so critical. This is when your brain does the cognitive work of assessing if new information should be “un-believed”.

2. The brain has a novelty bias: Attention is captured by novel, surprising, fear-inducing information delivered on your social media feeds and generated in your mind. Novelty’s ballistic and automatic pull on your attention can happen without your awareness, over and over again.

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6 Questions to Help Build Emotional Intimacy in Your Relationship

You and your partner finally carve out time to be alone together. You go on a date, take a weekend away together, or maybe just take 45 minutes to walk around the neighborhood. But then, as you enter into this precious time reserved for connection, you stare blankly at each other wondering, “Shouldn’t we have more to talk about?”

It’s a predicament experienced by couples at all stages: newlyweds, those who have lived together for years, those who have been together for decades.

So how can you reignite the spark of conversation? Here are six of our favorite questions to help bring you and your partner closer together.

1. What’s really going on with you?

This is an invitation to take your conversation one level deeper, an invitation for your partner to talk about their challenges, struggles, and victories you may not know about.

2. What’s something that you feel proud of?

Lost in the hectic flow of everyday life is the ability to talk about small but meaningful accomplishments at home, at work, or in family life. The benefit of asking this question is understanding. It helps you and your partner see each other’s contributions more clearly and witness your passion for the things you care most about.

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You Are Not Your Moods

There are various factors that determine why you get into a mood and how you get out of one. Before we explore that, it helps to understand the difference between an emotion and a mood. An emotion is shorter in duration, higher in intensity—like a spike of energy. A mood happens over more time. “You can be grumpy all day, but you can’t really be in a rage for the same period,” says Philip Gable, assistant professor of psychology at University of Delaware.

How are moods different than emotions?

“Emotions have been called ‘action potentials’ because they alert you and they energize you towards taking some kind of action based on your appraisal,” says Zindel Segal, Distinguished Professor of Psychology in Mood Disorders at the University of Toronto. “Moods,
on the other hand, are the states of mind that are fed by continually thinking, problem solving, and ruminating, and they work to keep emotions in place.” You can think of emotions and moods on a continuum: An emotion is a brief spike of energy and information; a mood can last a day or two. If a mood sticks around longer than that, there may be a clinically relevant problem, like anxiety or depression.

What makes an emotions or a mood?

Usually they happen in response to a trigger. “An emotion is an episode of noticeable affect triggered by an appraisal or stimulation from something in your environment,” says Segal. The trigger could come from food, caffeine, a stressful job, a kind word, sunshine, or listening to music. Triggers can also be extremely subtle because they’ve become automatic. “Our triggers can become routinized,” says Segal. “And so, we may not notice them as a trigger. We may just notice that we’re having an emotional reaction.”

How do triggers become routinized?

When we identify our emotions as being closely related to our “selves,” entwined with our identities, there’s not enough space around them to notice them for what they are: information that arrives, rests, and passes. “All emotions run through self because it’s the sense of self-relevance and self-reference that determines how strong an emotion is and how much of an alarm it’s going to send to you,” says Segal. If you’ve closely identified with the emotion, you might not notice that it’s happening—it’s become automatic, routine.

How can you unhook from a mood?

It starts with creating space for reappraising the situation. “The way that mindfulness works is that it doesn’t diminish the emotion,” says Segal. “Mindfulness helps to de-identify with the experience. We see emotions and moods as moving and shifting over time. They become something that’s happening in the mind rather than happening to me. In this way, there’s less of a tendency to fully identify with them and maybe a bit more of a nudge towards investigating them, seeing what comes next,” says Segal. Mindfulness gives you space around your emotions, which can be very valuable for choosing to respond wisely.

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Create a Journaling Habit that Works for You

Paying attention is a powerful practice, the key to presence, and the foundation for mindfulness. As we slow down and tune our senses to what we see, hear, taste, touch, or smell, we release thought and find the spaciousness to relax and deepen into the present moment. Combined with the benefits of mindfulness, a journaling practice can make an impact on your mental health and overall well-being.

Journaling is not about being a good writer, or even a prolific one. Whether it’s gratitude journaling, bullet journaling, mindful journaling, creative or expressive journaling, stream of consciousness journaling, or keeping a diary, journaling has been recognized to provide multiple mental, physical, and emotional benefits. Research has suggested that the benefits of journal writing include:

In addition to these benefits, journaling can be a tool to enhance your state of awareness, increase personal wisdom and insight, encourage feelings of gratitude, assist in self-reflection, and boost your creativity. You can journal for three minutes or for 15 minutes, every day or once a week, use pen and paper, or type on a device. For many, journaling serves as a healing practice, a private sanctuary. It’s also a mental compost bin, processing your experiences without judgment, obligation, or expectation. 

To start a journaling practice, you need four things: 

Your “why”Your “how” Your “when” Your willingness to let go of perfectionism

Your “why” consists of your goal or purpose with journaling. What do you hope to create or change with a journaling practice? What do you need or want? Do you want more gratitude in your life? More mindfulness? Peace? A mental compost bin? A creative outlet? Do you want to have more personal insight and reflection? A place to jot down personal lists or goals? Paying attention to your “why” will help you keep your practice going. 

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