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Brain and Behavior

Are We Rational Animals?

Aristotle held the belief that man is a rational animal. A growing body of research suggests otherwise.

Rational: of or based on reasoning (from Webster’s New World Dictionary).  This ambiguous definition is similar to what is given by many people when asked to define rational.  This type of definition is virtually worthless as it becomes open to a plethora of interpretations.  In order to teach and express the importance of rational thinking it is imperative to precisely define the concept.

What is rationality?

Rationality is concerned with two key things: what is true and what to do (Manktelow, 2004).  In order for our beliefs to be rational they must be in agreement with evidence.  In order for our actions to be rational they must be conducive to obtaining our goals.

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Brain and Behavior

5 Steps to a More Resilient You

Resiliency is what makes some people able to bounce back after a particularly traumatic or difficult time or stressor in one's life, while others fall apart. It is a component of positive psychology, in that researchers try and figure out what makes resilient people different than others. And then seeks to help others learn some simple skills that may be able to help build resiliency in one's own life.

There are no secret short-cuts to building greater resilience in your life. Most skills you can learn to help build resiliency are things that are going to take lots of time and lots of practice.

Practice is one of the things people often forget when it comes to changing one's behavior or one's life. You didn't become this way overnight. It took years -- and in some cases, decades -- for you to learn to be the way you are today. Therefore it's naturally going to take some time -- usually months, at least -- in order for you to change things about yourself. This includes building resiliency.

Here are five steps to help you get started on building more resiliency in your life.

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Brain and Behavior

An Interview with Author Tim Farrington

This week I have the honor of interviewing Tim Farrington, the acclaimed novelist of Lizzie's War, "The California Book of the Dead," "Blues for Hannah," as well as the New York Times Notable Book of 2002, "The Monk Downstairs."

Guess what? He's one of us! And he articulates his journey through the hell of depression in a beautifully crafted memoir of sorts called "A Hell of Mercy: A Meditation on Depression and the Dark Night of the Soul." Since that topic surfaces often on Beyond Blue, I thought I'd ask Tim to share his thoughts on both (depression and the dark night) with us.

Hi Tim, and welcome!

1. Let me skip to the end (sorry, I like to eat dessert first), when you write "It is in surrender, in the embrace of our own perceived futility, paradoxically, that real freedom comes." I wholeheartedly agree with you there. I like to call those periods my "Exodus Moments" -- when I am somehow able to cross the Red Sea from anxiety to freedom. But for those readers not familiar with your journey, can you them the Reader's Digest version of your story?

Tim: I was raised Catholic, the oldest of four children. My father was a Marine Corps officer who served in Korea and Vietnam, and my mother was an actress and drama teacher, so I had plenty to reconcile right from the start. I had several years of Catholic school in the classic Catholic experience, including a good dose of the terror of hell and sin, and nuns with sticks, but I was also blessed in having an aunt who was a nun, and I spent a lot of happy hours at her convent and got to know the human and fun-loving side of religious vocation as well.

I was an altar boy right around the time the mass switched from Latin to English after Vatican II, and thought about being a priest for a while when I was a kid. In my teens, though, I got into Buddhism, philosophy, and literature, and went through a long period of alienation from Christianity. But I was definitely looking hard for meaning.

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ADHD Tip: Write About It!

How many times have you returned home because you forgot something essential like your wallet? Instead of completing a big project, have you started organizing your files? Have you forgotten an important engagement altogether?

For someone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), these are typical occurrences. Some of the most common symptoms of ADHD are being forgetful and having a tough time concentrating.

These moments tend to happen regularly and affect all areas of people's lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s something small, such as misplacing your keys, or something big, such as forgetting to finish a work project or research paper.

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Best of Our Blogs: January 28, 2011

There is a ton of things that can touch us in a week. In one day alone, I can easily get lost in every day activities and not only in what happens to us and around us, but what happens within us.

One of my greatest fears is that I will allow too much outside noise to silence the most important one. My own.

As I reflect on another week past, I recall the President's State of the Union address, a conversation with a friend, a dream I had beckoning me in the morning, an episode of The View where Michael Jackson's sister Rebbie Jackson talks about her daughter's bipolar disorder diagnosis. It's so much to digest that I can easily lose sight of the way I'm feeling right now. I can too easily forget what I'm doing, how I'm interacting with those around me and my goals for the day.

The wave of overwhelm is too close around the corner. Do you feel that way too?

What grounds me is using each activity as an opportunity to make it a mindful one. As I read each of our top posts below, I meditate on one word at a time and experience what each blogger is saying. I try to use them as mini-breaks from the chaos of our contemporary life. I hope you will find them engaging and relaxing to read too. In it, I hope you will uncover some wisdom, a few jewels and a change in perspective that you can hold onto and carry with you throughout the weekend. Be mindful. Breathe. And enjoy.

Want Better Relationships? Get Curious

(Mindfulness & Psychotherapy) - When a friend's upset or a child's sad, it's easy to want to jump in and solve their problems right away. But advice is rarely what our loved ones want or need. This post beckons us to do something different. Instead of thinking of the right thing to say, try bringing an attitude of curiosity toward your relationships.

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Brain and Behavior

Phrenology: Examining The Bumps of Your Brain

The next time you say, “so and so should have her head examined,” remember that this was literally done in the 19th century.

Phrenology, as it became known, is the study of brain function. Specifically, phrenologists believed that different parts of the brain were responsible for different emotional and intellectual functions. Furthermore, they felt that these functions could be ascertained by measuring the bumps and indentations in your skull. That is, the shape of your skull revealed your character and talents.

Viennese doctor and anatomist Franz Josef Gall originated phrenology, though he called it cranioscopy. He was correct in saying that brain function was localized (this was a novel idea at the time), but unfortunately, he got everything else wrong.

When Gall was young, he noticed a relationship between people’s attributes and behaviors and the shape of their heads. For instance, he observed that his classmates who had better memories had protruding eyes.  This inspired him to start forming his theories and collecting anecdotal evidence. It’s this type of evidence that is the foundation of phrenology.

The problem? Phrenologists would simply dismiss cases that didn’t support their principles, or just revise their explanation to fit any example.

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Brain and Behavior

Don’t Fall for Infidelity

I'm annoyed by infidelity.

What's gotten me so annoyed to write about it are radio advertisements I hear for a website that encourages people to cheat on their spouse or significant other, acting as though it were a common or even normal experience.

Infidelity -- or cheating, as people often refer to it -- is neither common nor normal. If you've come to the fork in the road where you've cheated or are considering cheating on your partner, it's time to acknowledge another reality -- your primary romantic relationship is in trouble. Serious trouble.

You can go down the easy road and cheat -- because, after all, somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of people in relationships do. Or you can acknowledge something is going on with your relationship and work to fix it. Cheating is never a sign of a healthy relationship after all.

And if you can't fix it, you'll do the honorable thing -- leave the relationship first. Before cheating.

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Motherhood and Depression: An Interview with Tracy Thompson

Today's interview is with Tracy Thompson, the author of "The Beast: A Journey Through Depression" and "The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children, and Struggling with Depression." She has won numerous mental health awards, including one from NAMI for her "lasting contributions to mental health issues."

Question: The first two sentences of your book are brilliant: "Motherhood and depression are two countries with a long common border. The terrain is chilly and inhospitable, and when mothers speak of it at all, it is usually in guarded terms, or in euphemisms."

You're obviously on my team of those moms fighting against the stigma of mental illness. But even I shy away at times -- like when someone will joke about another mom being "so schizophrenic" -- of telling people how strongly I feel against discrimination. If I'm in a good and confident place, I'll blab about my psychiatric history. And then I retreat, thinking "oh no, now David won't have anyone to play with," and then I blab again, and so it goes. What about you? Do you openly talk about your depression to the moms you interact with on a daily basis?

Tracy Thompson: Do I blab about my psychiatric history? No. Do I talk freely? Yes. By which I mean that when the context is appropriate, I'll speak up. Recently a friend told me she hadn't heard from her brother in months. She assumed he was sulking about something. I said, "Make sure he's not depressed."

Or there will be a story in the news about some psychiatric patient that people will be talking about, and I'll have a chance to say, "No, psychotropic drugs like that are not addictive." And then people will say, "What makes you an expert?" and I'll say, "I'm not an expert on everything but I do know about this from experience." This is especially true when the subject is PPD, because new moms (especially first-time mothers) can be made to feel so incredibly guilty about having it, and an amazing number of medical personnel are still ignorant about it.

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Introducing Adventures in Positive Psychology

I'm pleased to introduce our newest blog, Adventures in Positive Psychology with Joe Wilner, MA, focused on the topic of positive psychology. You’ve probably heard a thing or two about positive psychology in the past decade, because of its focus on helping people to better understand themselves and their lives to increase happiness. Sure, life can be challenging sometimes and many face a mental health concern. But that’s no reason you...
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Best of Our Blogs: January 25, 2011

Almost a decade ago, I had a conversation with a friend that made me both infuriated and grateful. I don't know how it started, but somehow we got to talking about depression.

Essentially, he told me that depression was a made up disorder that helped put money in the pockets of mental health professionals. He didn't see the need for medication and thought people should just buck up and be happy instead of feeling sad.

Having a grandfather who suffered from depression, I was certain that depression was not only real, but a serious illness. And I was not only disturbed by his reaction, but angry. Although it's been 10 years since the conversation, I often think about it. I'm not as upset as I was before. Although I still don't agree with his statement, I do think it came from a place of being naive.  He just didn't have the type of awareness and experience that I had grown up with.

Maybe I had taken for granted how much mental illness and mental health, in general, impacted my life. I was grateful that I had the experience, both with the conversation with a friend who made me aware of this and also for the affect mental health has had on my life.

It's something I often think about. Looking back, I realized that I would not have gotten a degree in Counseling Psychology and I would not be working here. It's amazing how much mental health has impacted me. How has it impacted yours? (We asked our Facebook friends and they shared their answer with us here.)

When Your Subconscious Mind Acts Like a Scared Parent

(Neuroscience & Relationships) - Are painful emotions from your past unknowingly sabotaging your relationships and your life? When your subconscious begins to act like a scared, non-trusting parent, it's time to take action. This post will help you do what's necessary to get your life back on track.

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Brain and Behavior

ECT’s Final Days?

We may be witnessing electroconvulsive therapy's final days. This week, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel will review whether there's enough evidence to downgrade electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) devices into the Class II medical device category -- that is, a medical device that carries only "medium risk." Like a syringe.

That's right, a device that can send electricity directly into your brain is being considered to be placed in the same medical device category as a syringe. And guess who doesn't mind that reclassification? Why, the American Psychiatric Association, of course -- they are right on board with this re-classification (PDF).

Currently ECT devices are classified as Class III devices -- high risk. Yet they have never undergone the very basic safety and efficacy the FDA requires for all Class III medical devices and medications. Why not?

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Eugenics & The Story of Carrie Buck

Psychology has a fascinating and rich history, filled with amazing advances. But it wasn’t all progress. Psychology has a painful past — with many victims.

One of the most devastating times in psychology was a movement called eugenics, a name coined by Sir Francis Galton in 1883. The goal of eugenics was to improve the genetic composition of the population: to encourage healthy, smart individuals to reproduce (called positive eugenics) and to discourage the poor, who were considered unintelligent and unfit, from reproducing (negative eugenics).

One of the main methods to discourage reproduction was through sterilization. While it seems ludicrous now, many people, both abroad and in the U.S., agreed with the principles of eugenics.

In fact, state governments soon started establishing sterilization laws. In 1907, Indiana was the first state to legalize sterilization.

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