As a writer, I’m fascinated with how our brains interpret stories. Not only our personal narratives which we use to make sense of our world and our place in it, but especially the magic that happens when fictional characters enter our head and change our lives. Have you ever read a book where you can’t stop thinking about the main characters afterward? It feels like you lived through whatever that character lived through on the page.
Novelists call this phenomenon “suspension of disbelief.” We know what’s happening isn’t real and isn’t even happening to us, and yet our brains act as though it is. Why does this happen?
Researchers have discovered that our brains use two separate systems for analyzing a narrative, both located in different parts of the brain’s frontal lobe. One is a rapid system that immediately believes what is perceived. That is, you believe the narrative completely as you work to comprehend the story. But this system inhibits the frontal lobe of the brain to keep us from acting on what we are believing at the moment, so we’re not running around the room trying to get away from vampires, zombies or rogue assassins.
A different, slower system judges the probability of the narrative being true or fitting into reality as we know it. That’s right, the judging comes after the believing. This means that we accept the story as true until we actively construct our disbelief (usually after the story is over).
This leaves us humans in a state which researchers call “lie blindness.” It means we are notoriously bad at catching people who are lying. When asked to guess who is lying in a video, test subjects will only guess correctly about 54% of the time. You might as well flip a coin and you’d be right almost the same amount of times.
While this is fascinating (at least to me), you might notice that it didn’t exactly answer the question of what causes this phenomenon. That’s because scientists don’t really know. Is it “lie blindness” that causes us to accept stories at face value or something else?
One theory states that, when reading fictional stories, our brains stop testing the reality of the situation because the reader doesn’t plan to act or change the novel. At first, I disagreed with this theory. I think we actually transfer a portion of our reality testing to the fictional world as we imagine what we would do in the place of the characters. But then, I realized there might be a nugget of truth in the idea that we suspend our belief when we don’t plan to change what we’re reading.
As an author, I can be ruthless with my characters. I kill them, maim them, take away their best friends and shred their security blankets—all in the name of suspense—and it doesn’t bother me a bit. But when I read a novel, the experience is totally different. I cry when the main character loses her father. I bite my nails while she’s running for her life, even though I know she probably won’t die in the end. Somehow, the fact that I change my own stories reminds me they’re not real. When I read someone else’s stories, though, I’m convinced it’s real—at least for that moment.
Yep, there was a reason Jesus told all those parables. God wired us to understand and believe in stories.
What do you think? Do we turn off the reality testing part of our brain when we read fiction? Or do we transfer it to the page?
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/24532534@N02/6425826315″>Glowy brain</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
As a young girl, I was molested. It was certainly not the worst abuse I’ve ever heard of, but it was enough to tie me up in knots inside.
In college, I visited a counselor who told me to keep a daily journal of my feelings. Honestly, I told her that I couldn’t. I didn’t feel anything. Everything inside me was numb.
I knew I was supposed to have feelings. I just didn’t. I never cried, rarely felt happy and couldn’t drum up much anger, even about the abuse.
Although I hadn’t truly met God yet, I decided to pray. I prayed that I would feel some emotion, anything.
Nothing came. For many years.
When I gave myself to God, He started a restoration program in my heart and soul. The emotions came in a flood. Now I can cry at the drop of a hat, I can feel real joy and love and even anger (although I’ve long since forgiven the abuse).
But emotions can sometimes be overwhelming. Some days, I have to remind myself that this is what I prayed for. On those days, I cry like this:
Did you know humans are the only creatures who cry for emotional reasons? Of course, many animals produce what is called basal tears (the kind that keep your eye from drying out) and reflex tears (the kind that clear out irritants like smoke), but none produce emotional tears.
Turns out, emotional tears are made up of different stuff than the others. One study collected and compared reflex tears with emotional tears. The reflex tears were almost completely made of water, but the emotional tears had chemicals such as prolactin, andrenocorticotropic hormones and leucine-enkephalon. Andrenocorticotropic hormones can indicate high stress levels and leucine-enkephalon is an endorphin that reduces pain and works to improve mood. Prolacatin is a hormone known to control breast milk production, which could explain why women cry more (4 times more) often than men since women naturally produce more of this chemical.
Many people have speculated as to the evolutionary reason for tears. Theories range from the aquatic ape hypothesis that says we evolved tears because we lived near the ocean, to the early communication hypothesis that claims tears communicated emotion before we evolved language.
Of course, I believe that God gave us tears for specific reasons. He knew that with our higher brain capacity we would experience emotion on a level that no animal could.
Tears are a gift from our creator—a kind of pressure release valve.
So, if you see me at the movie theater crying because of a sad scene or in church tearing up at a meaningful song, no need to worry about me. I’m just using one of God’s gifts and trying to remember … this is what I asked for.
What do you think? Do you feel better after a good cry? Or do you think it’s better just to push through the emotions without crying?
Hoyt, Alia. “How Crying Works” 02 July 2008. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/crying.htm> 21 January 2015.
Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/worldofoddy/179936072/”>World of Oddy</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of Machiavellianism? Anyone?
Before researching it, I’d heard of the term, but had no idea what it meant. Machiavellianism is a personality trait (some might say a disorder) characterized by the ability to use manipulation for self-serving purposes. I’m thinking this definition might make my six-year-old high on the Machiavellian scale.
This trait was named after Niccolo Machiavelli, whose life was characterized by power seeking behavior and whose book The Prince praised an anything-goes ideal for leadership. In fact, this book is where we get the phrase—the ends justify the means. Machiavelli believed that rulers could be justifiably amoral and ruthless to achieve their political goals.
Along with Narcissism and Psychopathy, Machiavellianism is a part of what psychological researchers have come to call the Dark Triad of personality. What makes Machiavellianism different from the other two parts of the Dark Triad is these people have the ability to control their impulses (more so than Narcissists and Psychopaths) and the ability to make other people do what they want. Those with high Machiavellianism are usually seen as smart and charming, until they get what they want and no longer have a need for your help. So, the next time you meet someone who is charming, think hard about what they might want from you.
Levels of Machiavellianism are measured on a scale from 1-100 using a test called the MACH-IV. Want to take the test? Are you sure? Click here.
As a comparison for your results, I’m a competitive person (which is why I was nervous to take the test), but apparently I’m not very high on the Machiavellianism scale with a score of 37 Mach. When evaluating your score, please pay attention to the note on the score page that tells you the results are not necessarily a representative sample, so just because the results look like a bell curve on the graph doesn’t mean that is a representation of people in general.
If you score higher than you’d like, don’t panic, it’s just a test and not necessarily a measurement of who God made you to be. Every personality that’s brought under submission to God is beautiful–just remember to always use your powers of manipulation for good (and for God).
Reference: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-machiavellianism.htm, http://psychometricsforumblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/a-narcissist-a-psychopath-and-a-machiavellian-walk-into-a-bar/
Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/robert_scarth/138386538/”>Robert Scarth</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
Certainly, God is perfect. Doesn’t He want us to be? Is perfectionism from God?
I’ve got some secret perfectionist tendencies. Most people think I’m laid back—and I am—but that’s not a completely accurate picture of me. Granted, I’m not a perfectionist for perfection’s sake. Usually, it comes out in competition. Like those times where I feel the need to beat the other guy into submission (or in the case of Tae Kwon Do maybe smash a board across his face). Or in writer’s competitions where I might be dissapointed that my scores ranked only in the top 10 and not the top 3.
I see the same drive in my son, especially during football games. His desire to be perfect (and mine too) stems from the need to prove himself, to find self-worth in what he does. Problem is, no matter how perfectionistic we become, we’re not perfect. And “good enough” is a floating standard based on the guy standing next to you.
Many people I know would consider themselves perfectionists. Some even take it to obsessive extremes and move into compulsive disorders. Approximately 8% of Americans (or 16 million people) meet the diagnostic criteria for obsessive compulsive personality disorder. There might even be a gene responsible for this behavior.
Is striving to be perfect (or at least better than the other guy) something that God put in us?
Evolutionists would say this competitive behavior came about through natural selection because of competition over resources. Does this mean we should be growing less competitive in developed nations? In the U.S., most of us have adequate access to basic resources (food and shelter), but it hasn’t seemed to quell our competitive nature.
Perhaps natural selection (notice I didn’t say evolution) has caused humans to become more competitive. Or perhaps God has placed that drive to be better inside of us in order to point us toward something better. Maybe He wanted to emphasize how we don’t measure up, how we can never be perfect, to remind us of Himself—the One who is perfect. The One who gives us our true idenity, our true worth—through His perfection, not ours.
What do you think? Did God give us the desire to be perfect? Or are we just trying to control Him and everything around us? Do you have your own areas of perfectionism?
Photo Credit: ID 26145348 © Leszek Glasner | Dreamstime.com