Find of the Day: 24 August 2016

Color and our emotions have an incredibly complex relationship. Recent research, for example, shows that our emotional state affects what colors we see: sad feelings actually hamper our ability to see some colors. For designers, the implications are huge: if color can change how we eat, sleep, and function, how should it be used? And can the way users express themselves with color actually reveal warning signs about their well-being?

A pair of researchers are studying just that. Harvard scientist Andrew Reece and Christopher Danforth—the co-director of the Computational Story Lab at University of Vermont—recently set out to see whether computer learning could detect depression based on a seemingly inane source of information: Instagram.

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There have been few clinical trials on the effects of microdosing, so much of the body of evidence is anecdotal. However, pre-eminent researchers in the field of psychedelics aren’t surprised by the glowing reports. David Nutt, director of the Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, has carried out groundbreaking imaging studies of the brain on LSD and magic mushrooms.

“These drugs change cortical functions, making them more fluid and less rigid. At least big doses do – that’s what our imaging studies tell us – and maybe low doses to a lesser extent,” he says. “This may help certain brain areas work in more flexible and expansive ways that might give better outcomes.”

It’s a view echoed by David Nichols, professor of pharmacology at Purdue University, Indiana, and an expert in psychedelics. He says it’s “quite possible” that low doses of LSD could have a stimulant effect by activating dopamine pathways in the brain. Like Adderall and Ritalin, it may excite the cerebral cortex, which controls high-order cognitive functions such as perception and sensation.

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How do you make decisions? Some people want to find the absolute best option (“maximizers”). Others, known as “satisficers,” have a set of criteria, and go for the first option that clears the bar.

While wanting the best seems like a good thing, research from Swarthmore Collegefinds that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers.

This is true for two reasons. First, people who want the best tend to be prone to regret. “If you’re out to find the best possible job, no matter how good it is, if you have a bad day, you think there’s got to be something better out there,” says Barry Schwartz, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and author of The Paradox of Choice.

Maximizers are also prone to measuring themselves against others. “If you’re looking for the best, social comparison is inevitable,” says Schwartz. “There’s no other way to know what the best is.” Envy quickly makes people miserable.

This happiness gap raises the question: Can maximizers learn to become satisficers? Can you learn to settle for good enough?

Possibly, but it takes some work. “What I believe is that it’s changeable and that it’s not easy to change,” says Schwartz. In the link are some ways to make the shift.

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History is peppered with famous artists, actors and musicians who were highly intelligence and creative, and experienced significant mood swings. Some are quite notorious for their outbursts; painter Vincent Van Gogh and the composer Beethoven are two examples. Writers like Virginia Woolf and Silvia Plath also seemed to suffer from their exceptional level of creativity, where episodes of unstable behavior were common.

Sadly, if these great artists were alive today, they would most likely be coerced into taking pharmaceutical drugs to “temper” their moods. Unfortunately, this scenario doesn’t require any great stretch of the imagination, considering almost seventy-nine million Americans take some form of psychiatric drug — including over a million children under the age of five. But at what cost?

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