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Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

When people discover an unusual pain or rash on their body, Dr Google is probably first on the scene. Quick access to medical information can be helpful, but one byproduct of online self-diagnosis is a gasp of horror in response to the possible diseases associated with a person’s symptoms. A minor bruise easily turns into days of worry and a visit to the doctor’s office. The question is: Could googling your symptoms do more harm than good?

In 2020, a group of researchers in Germany tested this question by looking for the psychological side effects of self-diagnosis. They studied what would happen when people used Google to check their symptoms, and then examined whether health-related apps would produce similar results. To do this, the researchers first had to create symptoms for the 147 people in their study, so they came up with a task that would quickly produce uncomfortable bodily sensations. …


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Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

When a letter is lying on the sidewalk, there are two types of people who can find it. There are those who will pick it up and post it in the nearest mailbox, and there are those who will notice it and walk straight past as if it didn’t exist. As long as people don’t heartlessly kick or destroy the letter, they can belong to either group without necessarily being evil. But psychologists have used this lost-letter experiment to investigate people’s levels of altruism.

In a lost-letter experiment, researchers will drop stamped and addressed envelopes on sidewalks across a town or city. By counting the number of letters returned by passersby to the address on the envelope, they gain an insight into how willing people are to help a stranger’s letter get to its rightful home. The higher the rate of return in a particular neighborhood, the more altruistic its residents are considered to be. …


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Photo by JK on Unsplash

Some of my best writing happens in hotel bars and unfamiliar cafes. When I’m traveling, my brain just seems to click and flow better. But what explains these strange creative bursts? How and why does travel broaden the mind?

Travel can both help you relax and get you out of your comfort zone. These two effects might sound contradictory, but getting out of your comfort zone is a great way to calm your mind by distracting it from your everyday worries. …


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Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

There is still no peace in the war over free will. Philosophers and scientists regularly talk past each other, and it can be difficult to know exactly what someone means when they say “free will is an illusion!” or “free will is real!”. People start with different definitions of what it means to be free, which naturally leads discussions deep into a rabbit hole.

Many long and painful debates have focused on what people are thinking when they use the phrase “free will”. So you first need to decide what you think it means to be free. Do you feel as though you have a mind plus a brain, and that your mind makes a decision which your brain then implements as an action? Would it shock you if scientists could read your unconscious brain activity to predict some decision you were going to make — “you” being your conscious mind — before you had made that decision yourself? …


A poor night’s rest can cause your brain to overreact

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Photo: Kinga Cichewicz/Unsplash

Some consequences of a bad night’s sleep are obvious — fatigue, difficulty concentrating, a yearning for bed. But some other effects, such as a weaker drive to be social the next day, are frequently overlooked because they’re unexpected or misunderstood. In a study published late last year, a team of scientists from the University of California, Berkeley focused their attention on another hidden problem of limited sleep: anxiety.

It turns out there is a close relationship between how long people sleep and how they experience the world. The longer people go without sleep, the more distressed they begin to feel. Sleep disturbances are also a common symptom of major mood disorders such as depression.


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Photo by Megan te Boekhorst on Unsplash

Some consequences of a bad night’s sleep are obvious — fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and a yearning for bed are just a few. But some other important consequences, such as a weaker drive to be social during the day, are frequently overlooked. Scientists have recently focused their attention on another hidden problem of limited sleep: anxiety.

There is a close relationship between how long people sleep and how they experience the world. The longer people go without sleep, the more distressed they begin to feel. Sleep disturbances are also a common symptom of major mood disorders such as depression.


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Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Regrets are part of being human. It’s practically impossible to get to the age of 30 and look back on your life without cringing slightly in response to at least one memory. It’s time to take a long hard look at some of those memories that you’ve forced into the recesses of your mind. You need regrets in your life because they’re a natural consequence of taking risks—we make mistakes when we try something new. So here are three strategies for managing feelings of regret without trying to prevent them entirely. …


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Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

It’s now 2020, and black people are still underrepresented in the medical field. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, black people make up only 7.4% of all United States medical school students in the 2019–2020 academic year, despite making up approximately 13% of the U.S. population. While they’re just a small fraction of students and doctors, they fare worse for many health outcomes as patients.

Racial bias may explain part of the problem for black patients. A study in 2016 suggested that black people are less likely to be given pain medications than white people, and that many white medical students and physicians harbor false beliefs such as “Blacks have stronger immune systems than whites” and “Blacks’ skin is thicker than whites’.” Beliefs such as these can lead doctors to underestimate how much a black person may be suffering and ultimately reduce the quality of their treatment recommendations. …


What the research says about ‘fake it til you make it’

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Illustration: George Wylesol

During difficult times in your life, perhaps you’ve been told to “take a deep breath” or “try to smile more.” Anxious about that big presentation at work? Just “stand up tall with confidence, and everything will be fine.”

But to what extent is this kind of advice actually helpful? Can that forced smile trick your brain into believing that you’re happy, and can that upright posture give you a feeling of confidence? Is it possible to change how you think or feel through physically changing your body?

The answer is yes.

But first, take a deep breath

Your body and mind are inextricably linked. So it follows that the way you breathe with your lungs can affect your mental state and the way you process stress with your brain. …


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Photo by Gabriel Gurrola on Unsplash

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions must be the promise to eat healthier food. We all aim for “less sugar” and “fewer fries” but we also know how difficult it is to trade these delicious snacks for healthier carrot sticks when both are available. We experience a battle between our short-term and long-term selves: our short-term selves beg for the fries because they taste so good, while our long-term selves argue in favor of the carrot sticks because we want to live longer with better fitness.

Perceptions of how delicious a particular food tastes aren’t entirely explained by the food itself. Our brains are storytellers that build associations and assumptions based on past experiences. This often means that we overgeneralize patterns in a way that doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. For example, consumers naturally believe that the more unhealthy a food is, the more tasty it is. …

About

Erman Misirlisoy, PhD

Neuroscientist writing about brains, behavior, & health. “Understand more, so that we may fear less” — Marie Curie. Sign up at The Brainlift: erman.substack.com

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