Why Conformity Is The Norm

Have you ever thought one thing and done another? Have you ever changed your mind when in a group that had different ideas?

I know I have and it made me feel like a wimp.

Being an HSP means that my positions are not the norm, and I am always seeking ways to bridge the difference. Often that cannot be done and I feel bad when that is the case.

I am an introvert but I still care about people and relationships. So where does the need to conform against our best instincts come from?

Our Brains Help Us Cop Out

According to an article in Spero Forum, researcher Vasily Klucharev of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, conducted a study which demonstrated that

“when people hold an opinion differing from others in a group, their brains produce an error signal.”

“If you make an error, if means that something [wrong is going on]. And, whenever we experience an error, it means this error signal pushes us to change behavior,” Klucharev said. “And, we see it looks like we quite automatically produce this signal when our opinion is quite different from other people.”

“The researcher examined two brain areas,” said Klucharev. “The first, a zone of the brain popularly called the ‘oops area,’  becomes extra active signaling an error; while the ‘reward area”‘is less active, making people think they made a mistake.”

This explains why people are likely to conform and why in doing so they are responding to what their brain is telling them even if their instincts or “better nature” tells them something else.

This research tells us a lot.  It explains why:

  • people act against their better judgment
  • people are afraid of differences
  • people are afraid of what they perceive to be dangerous mindsets
  • people are more afraid of being different that the pain of giving up their authenticity.

Conformity’s Survival Value

Conformity has been necessary for us to survive. The human race would not have developed without the willingness of individuals to sacrifice their differences to create cultures that supported their survival need. You can say therefore that conformity has served our survival.

Our brains have developed in a way that supports our survival as well. As a result it has supported our conforming to group norms because groups have been the basis of an individual’s survival. Children know only too well how they must conform if they are to survive since they are unable to survive on their own.

The Down Side Of Conformity

This research also suggests that we can have difficulty when our brain’s error signals conflict with a need for change. Our brains may fight our intentions even when they serve our best interests. We may then suffer from ambivalence and procrastination.

Sometimes when we do not understand what is going on, we will feel bad about ourselves when in fact there is nothing wrong with us. Our brain is supporting our survival among others whether those others are right or not. Our group is our group.

Can We Become Mindful About Conformity?

It is not helpful to fight our brain’s attempts to protect us, not is it helpful to fight necessary change. Therefore we need to become extremely mindful about what we allow group norms to become because there are serious consequences if those norms are destructive.

Whatever group norms we choose need to be considered temporary to allow for changing circumstances. When group norms can become flexible as needed then our brain’s desire to protect us will not fight our needs for change.

Is that too much to ask for?

For More Information:

Can You Identify These 5 Different Types of Loyalty in Your Life Or Our World?


Suffering The Human Blind Spot

Suffering The Human Blindspots - HSP Health Blog

I am human and I have a blind spot.

We all do.

It has been called a lot of things: reactiveness, shortsightedness, mindlessness, ignorance.

The labels really do not matter, because labels do not help us understand ourselves better.

In fact, if we react to the labels, they may make our situation worse.

What Is Our Blind Spot?

Like all other animals, we are all vulnerable. Our brains are organized to discern and respond to threats. When we are not being vigilant, we are pleasure seeking creatures.

Most of the time we operate in one or the other way of being, trying to minimize threat and maximize pleasure.

We, therefore, turn the world into one or the other: a source of potential harm or potential pleasure.

Our vision and brains can keep us stuck in the vicious cycle of going back and forth between pain and pleasure.

Our minds categorize everything according to our desire to minimize pain and maximize pleasure.

This is why wise people tell us that our desires can create problems for us.

It is not so much that our desires are a problem, it is what we do about them.

What We See Is What We Get

Our vision is the beginning of our perceptual system.

Our vision system is one of the largest systems of the brain. It sorts everything in our environment and processes the information.

It is not clear at what point visual inputs turn into cognition. However, it is clear that our visual system is the beginning of our perception.

Our visual system may be more important than we realize. According to MyBrainWare, vision is responsible for 70% of what we learn. That is a lot of our learning!

Our visual cortex is thought to be a part of the brain which plays an important role in visual cognition. It stores information, which we then retrieve as we interact with our environment.

Scientists believe that once we identify something, we respond to most things in our environments based on our expectations which derive from past conclusions about something in our environment.

The way our vision and brain is structured, it would seem that we are not naturally open to new views and perceptions. Perhaps our brains do not want to rethink every conclusion on a moment to moment basis.

Perceptions And Identity

Changing perceptions is, therefore, difficult.

When we form an opinion or conclusion, that information is stored. In a way you could say that we own what we perceive.

It is probably also true that we personalize our perceptions. They become my perceptions.

My perceptions eventually turn into my identity.

They have become solidified.

Are Perceptions Fixed?

Our perceptions when they become fixed become our way of relating to the world.

We take in perceptions, create a model for the world, and then act on that model.

Our perceptual model becomes our reality and we treat it as fixed.

It is likely that our perceptions will remain fixed until we put them under the microscope.

We need to examine and be open to changing our views because our perceptual model does not take into account an ever changing world.

That is its blind spot, its achilles heel and ours.

Culture And Perception

How role does culture have in all of this?

It seems to me that if we want to be open to changing our perceptions, we need time to do so.

When we are willing to go slowly and reconsider our perceptions with care, then we have the ability to continually refresh the perceptions that are the basis of our actions.

However, when we act quickly we inevitably acting based on past concluions. Therefore, we are reinforcing those perceptions and  any biases and prejudices they contain.

Therefore, if you want serious change, you really need to be open to moving slowly and deliberately.

The Bias In Favor Of The Status Quo

Our perceptions, cultural structures and a high speed culture all serve to reinforce the current system we live in.

The overstimulation and demands for instant gratification serve mindlessness. It is a heroic act to move in the direction of mindful living.

Rethinking our perceptions is just part of life, a necessary and responsible activity as part of our participation in this world. It is how we overcome our blind spot.

When a few brave people venture into being present and mindful, it becomes easier for others.

It is a great way to participate in society in a gracious way and to be compassionate toward ourselves and others.

It is really just doing one’s part.

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Change Your Brain, Change Your Life!

Thoughts really do create our lives.

New research by Fred Travis, Maharishi University of Management in the US, Harald Harung, Oslo University College in Norway, and Yvonne Lagrosen, University West in Sweden on the brains of musicians demonstrates the potentially for highly developed brains that are open, curious, learning, playful and holistic in their thinking.

The study findings were reported in Consciousness and Cognition and Science Daily. The research compared the brains of professional and amateur musicians matched for age, gender and education on a number of brain tests: the Stroop color-word test which measures the ability to direct attention, brainwaves during a variety of paired reaction-time tasks, responses on the Gibbs Socio- moral Reflection questionnaire, and the subjects’ self-reported description of the frequencies of peak experiences.

The study, which evaluated the brains of musicians who were at the top of their profession vs. the brains of amateur musicians, defined success as combination of talent and practice or experience. They found that those who practiced the most had the most success.

As Dr. Fred Travis writes in his report, “The relation of practice to top performance is consistent with what is known with how the brain learns. The term neuroplasticity is used to describe the brain’s ability to adapt and change as a result of training and experience over the course of a person’s life. Through repeated experience we create neural circuits that support smooth, automatic flow of behavior.”

Interestingly, moral reasoning skills were better developed in the more skilled musicians.  Our brains are apparently improved by our working at something over the long term. When we acquire advanced skills in a subject like music, we have developed brain functionong that we can then apply to other areas of our lives with the expected superior results. What you do with your time and thinking becomes strengthened in the brain.

As Dr. Travis says, “If you are a very envious, angry, mean person and that’s the way you think about people that’s what’s going to be strengthened in your brain. But if you are very expanded and open and supportive of others, there will be different connections,” says Fred Travis.

This is very optimistic news for all of us. It suggests that work is good for our brains and supports higher performance and moral reasoning.

I suspect that we need to become very mindful about what we are doing with our brains.  What is the point of using our brains poorly, and then doing affirmations?  Better just to learn how to use our brains well.

Child Abuse Affects The Brain



Article first published as Child Abuse Affects the Brain on Technorati.

The December issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine has reported the findings of a Yale University Study which shows that child abuse, physical and emotional impact many areas of the brain. The study included the results of the self-reported Childhood Trauma Questionnaire and brain scans of 42 teenagers, with equal numbers of caucasian and African-Americans.  Four multiracial teenagers were also included in the study.

The research showed that the volume of gray matter in the brain was diminished in the teenagers who had suffered the abuse or neglect.  The number of regions of the brain affected was substantial:

According to MedPageToday which reported the study findings these are the regions of the brain and some of their functions that are affected:

  • Physical abuse: left dorsolateral and left rostral prefrontal cortices (executive function), right orbitofrontal cortex (emotional regulation and sense of the self), right ventral striatum (emotion and motivation), right insula (emotional intelligence), and right temporal association cortex (memory)
  • Physical neglect: left rostral prefrontal cortex (executive function), right parietal association cortex (spatial perception), and bilateral cerebellum (balance)
  • Emotional neglect: certain portions of the hypothalamus and midbrain, bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex(executive function), bilateral rostral prefrontal cortex (executive function), bilateral dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (cognitive function), right superior frontal gyrus (self awareness ), right orbitofrontal cortex (emotional regulation and sense of the self), bilateral striatum, bilateral amygdala (processing emotions) and hippocampus (emotions and memory), bilateral cerebellum (balance), and left parietal (perceptual difficulties and problems with speech, writing and math), right temporal (visual memory), and left occipital association cortices (integration of visual information).

Girls showed more brain deficits in areas governing emotional processing and boys were more challenged in areas of the brain responsible for impulse control.

It is apparent that substantial and comprehensive brain damage is created as a result of child abuse. When you consider all the brain regions suffering damage from the abuse, it is inevitable that the individual will have developmental difficulties if not worse.  Sense of self, integration of sensory inputs, executive functioning and impulse control are all vital to effective daily functioning and human development.

It might be time to ask ourselves whether it is worth the cost in health bills, law enforcement and social problems as well as lost human capabilities to continue to ignore child abuse.  Better yet, if we eliminated child abuse, what would our world look like?

Awareness And The Unconscious Mind

Blow Your Mind © by kozumel

Neuroscientist David Eagleman has written a great article about our unconscious brain and the limitations of awareness in Discover Magazine.  Our unconscious mind is a source of fear and awe in many people. We cannot control it. Like our bodies, it operates according to rules and processes that we do not understand. It can make us feel vulnerable.

Dr. Eagleman cites numerous examples of how the unconscious mind operates out of our control. I know this first hand because many years ago I was unable to walk and my conscious mind was unable to help me.

In my 20’s I was unaware that I had a genetic predisposition to get blood clots, called phlebitis. Multiple times I became sick with blood clots that went to my lungs. To control the clots doctors performed surgery to limit the ability of the clots to leave legs to take a trip to my heart, lungs or brain, which meant death.

By the time I finally had surgery, I had been in the hospital in bed for a month.  After the surgery when I tried to get out of bed, I fell flat on my face. I was unable to walk. Needless to say, I was upset and afraid.

I started to watch everyone around me to see if I could learn how one walks.  I would notice the knee joint and how it moved, when the leg lifted and touched down and how the foot moved as part of the walking process. Observing walking was unable to help me walk. My conscious mind was unable to help me. Eventually I left the hospital and six months later after much effort was able to walk again.

David Eagleman’s article makes a distinction between the conscious mind and what he calls implicit procedural memory, a type of memory that holds the capability of complex motor functions and a type of memory that we cannot access.  He demonstrates how the skills of implicit memory cannot be learned through conscious processes by the examples of chicken sexers in Japan and plane spotters in Great Britain during World War II.

In both situations, there was a need to train people to do chicken sexing and spotting enemy planes.  Chicken sexers determine the sex of newborn chicks so they can be separated into egg layers and non egg layers. Since the chicks are virtually identical, the Japanese developed the approach of determining the sex from the back vent where the sex organs are.  Some people became very skilled at it, but when they tried to teach the skill, they were unable to do so.  Only when they had a student attempt the vent sexing and gave positive feedback did the student learn.  This teaching approach gave the implicit procedural memory a way to learn.  Eventually the student had the skill, through trial and error and feedback.  The same approach worked in developing plane spotters in World War II.

Apparently our implicit memory does not want our conscious minds messing with it. It is also apparent that there are somethings we learn by mimicking others – which makes our ability to trust important for our ability to learn.

We simply have to trust our unconscious mind. It has worked well for thousands of years, after all.

Migraines Increase Depression Risk

Migraine headache painting © by jelene


Article first published as Migraines Increase Depression Risk on Technorati.

Migraines increase depression risk according to new research conducted at the University of Calgary in Canada according to a report on November 26 in Medical News Today.

The number of people suffering from migraines and depression is substantial. The National Institutes of Health in their Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2009 estimate that there are 36 million migraine sufferers in the United States, one-third of whom are male and two-thirds of whom are female. The Center for Disease Control 2008 health survey estimates that 9% or 27 million people suffer from depression.

According to the Canadian study, the two conditions seem to feed each other. The study’s Lead author, Geeta Modgill, MsC believes that individuals suffering from either migraine or major depressive episodes (MDE’s) need to become aware of the symptoms of the other disease.

The researchers gathered data about 15,254 persons who participated in the Canadian National Population Health Survey. The study process included 6 follow-ups: one every two years from 1994 for 12 years. They found that 15% of of the study participants had MDEs and 12% had bouts of migraine during the 12-year study period. The research and follow-up showed that migraineurs are 60% greater chance of having a major depressive episode and those who had the major depressive episode had a 40% chance of having a migraine headache.

The researchers’ stated goal was to determine whether or not there was a link between the two disorders, since prior longitudinal studies had indicated some type of relationship.  The study does in fact support the perception of a link but does not arrive at any conclusions about causes.

The November 15 study abstract in the journal  Headache states  “The current study provides substantial evidence that migraine is associated with the later development of MDEs, but does not provide strong causal evidence of an association in the other direction. Environmental factors such as childhood trauma and stress may shape the expression of this bidirectional relationship; however, the precise underlying mechanisms are not yet known.”

Studies are being conducted to learn more about the relationship between childhood trauma and these two conditions.  In the meantime, knowing that migraine headaches and major depressive episodes are related can help individuals take preventative measure for their health.

HSP Stress Relief offers additional information about migraines and highly sensitive people.


Scientists Take Steps Toward Dream Reading

~ Dreams Become Reality ~ © by ~ I P O X s t u d i o s ~


Article first published as Scientists Take Steps Toward Dream Reading on Technorati.


The Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry has completed a new study where they take steps toward dream reading. The study shows that dreaming is not an isolated brain function.  The research results were released in the Cell Press journal Current Biology and reported in Medical News Today on October 30, 2011.

Dreams have historically been difficult to study.  Spontaneous dreaming cannot be controlled and systematically studied since each dream is different.  To overcome that obstacle, researchers enlisted the help of lucid dreamers.  According to Dreamviews, lucid dreamers are dreamers who become aware that they are dreaming. The lucid dreamers vary in their dream lucidity and their ability to control their dreams.

The researchers scanned the brains of the lucid dreamers while they slept. The dreamers were expected to dream a series of left and right hand movements separated by a series of eye movements when they entered a lucid dream state during the brain scan.

The scans revealed that in the dreamer’s brains, the sensorimotor cortex was activated with the dreamed hand movements. The researchers were surprised by the result because the sensorimotor cortex is responsible for the execution of movement. This finding means that dreams are not just a mental process. The dreams appear to operate in a holistic way in the human system, engaging with other parts of the brain.

Martin Dresler of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry is interested in investigating brain activity at the moment a dreamer becomes lucid.“The lucid dreamer gains insight into a very complex state: sleeping, dreaming, but being consciously aware of the dream state,” he said. “This may inform us about concepts of consciousness.”

Neuro-imaging techniques are showing us how interrelated and interactive all parts of the brain are.  Perhaps at some future point they will be able to show us more about how our consciousness develops and works.

Study Reveals Bias Toward Optimism

Optimism © by caseywest

Article first published as Study Reveals Bias Toward Optimism on Technorati.

Nature Neuroscience published on October 9, 2011 the findings of a study conducted by researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London on the question of pervasive optimism. The scientists wanted to understand why people maintained optimism in spite of negative information and found that humans have “faulty” processing in their frontal lobes.

The study evaluated the MRI brain scans of 19 volunteers, who were tested on a wide range of 80 negative life events including family tragedies, major illnesses and violence. The volunteers were expected to estimate the probability of the event occurring to them, after which they were given the average probability. All participants recorded their final answers on a questionnaire.

The study showed that participants changed their initial estimates if the averages provided them with optimistic information.  If the average probabilities were worse, the participants made few to no adjustments in their initial estimate. The frontal lobe provided a clue. When participants were given optimistic probabilities their frontal lobe was very active in processing the information.  However, when presented with less favorable information, the frontal lobe was not as engaged. The frontal lobe governs emotions, impulse control and problem solving.

Wellcome Trust’s press release offered this observation from Dr Sharot, one of the study’s researchers: “Our study suggests that we pick and choose the information that we listen to. The more optimistic we are, the less likely we are to be influenced by negative information about the future. This can have benefits for our mental health, but there are obvious downsides. Many experts believe the financial crisis in 2008 was precipitated by analysts overestimating the performance of their assets even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.”

Although many conclusions can be drawn from this study based on one’s inherent optimism of pessimism, pervasive optimism suggests an inherent bias towards our own survival.  It may also suggest that our bias may also be towards problem solving rather than data.  If a participant thinks the less favorable averages are wrong, inapplicable or can be overcome then ignoring the negative average information makes sense.

Human optimism may be why we have come so far against great odds to create what we have.  Although there is no question that inappropriate optimism can be harmful as the study suggests, we are probably better off for being optimistic.

New Study Shows How Winning Affects The Brain

Rock Paper Scissors © by SmartGoat

Article first published as New Study Shows How Winning Affects The Brain on Technorati.

So says a Yale study published in the October 6 issue of Neuron, a journal that investigates genetics and the brain. It has reexamined the reward pathways of the brain that are conventionally associated with the basal ganglia, a center brain region responsible for decisions to act and dopamine which is thought to process rewarding and ineffective actions.When we want to win all parts of the brain become engaged.

This brain study used a multi-voxel pattern analysis to analyze fMRI data to determine patterns in brain function throughout the brain rather than confining the data to the cerebral cortex. This study evaluated subjects playing either matching-pennies or rock-paper-scissors games to determine whether reward and punishment perceptions presented themselves in a particular part of the brain or whether there were other patterns at work.

The scientists discovered that when playing a game to win, the entire brain is active, not part of it.  They also discovered that all parts of the brain showed patterns of response to reward and punishment.

“While it is likely that the basal ganglia and its projections are responsible for the core functions of reward-related processing, many other brain regions are at least provided with this information,” concludes Dr. Timothy Vickery from the Department of Psychology at Yale and lead scientist on this study. “This suggests an imperative to study the effects of reinforcement and punishment in domains where they are not usually considered as important factors — from low-level sensory systems to high-level social reasoning. Such distributed representations would have adaptive value for optimizing many types of cognitive processes and behavior in the natural world.”

What this means is not yet clear. We humans are continually engaging with our environment, and adapting to changes in it.  Over time, our brain evolves strategies for dealing with successes and failures.  However, the study demonstrates that our games and contests may hold greater implication for our identity and social functioning. This study seems to indicate that our brain, even in a competitive activity, operated holistically and that may suggest new ways to understand ourselves.

Sources: Winning Affects the Entire Brain, Medical News Today, October, 7, 2011

ADHD, Autism and Schizophrenia Link

Autism © by hepingting

A study out of Great Britain has shown that there is a link between, ADHD, autism and schizophrenia. Scientist have demonstrated that these diseases have a genetic basis, that there are differences in the brain structure which lead to these developmental disorders.  The study published in The Lancet and reported in Science Daily in September, 2010,  “found that children with ADHD were more likely to have small segments of their DNA duplicated or missing than other children.”

These segments are called copy-number variants.  Copy-number variants are defined by Wikipedia as “are alterations of the DNA of a genome that results in the cell having an abnormal number of copies of one or more sections of the DNA.”  Apparently these segments overlap in ADHD, autism and schizophrenia, which means that ADHD can now be classified as a genetically based disorder like autism and schizophrenia.

Highly sensitive people often have genetically based diseases caused by abnormal fetal development.  Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the stress experienced by the mother during pregnancy as the creation of an HSP with genetic disorders.  Many genetic diseases have existed for a long time in the human race, and as a result they can be inherited as well.

There are many different kinds of copy-number variants or CNV’s some adding or deleting sections of the DNA. Apparently individuals with ADHD had many unusual CNV’s in the DNA.  Changes in chromosome 16 are the cause of many brain disorders according to scientists and it is the presence of changes in this chromosome that have enabled scientists to propose that ADHD shares a genetic basis for its existence with other brain disorders.

Although these finding will call into question theories about ADHD being caused by food allergies or poor eating habits, it does not mean that ADHD sufferers cannot help themselves with healthy eating.  It may be even more important for ADHD sufferers to keep their bodies as toxin free as possible to minimize aggravation to their systems. Meditation, healthy food and herbal supplements may help facilitate a nervous system lifestyle and help bring ADHD problems under control.