WIF Mind Games – Psychological Phenomena

Leave a comment

Psychological Phenomena

The human brain is a fascinating and complex organ. Beyond its ability to help us reason, function and think, it plays some crazy tricks on us. All throughout history, humans have experienced things called psychological phenomena – mind tricks that sometimes defy explanation but are experienced by most people. Here are 10 of them, with a description of the phenomenon itself (when it has one!) and an example of it in action with a real, live human being.

10. Cryptomnesia

Why did Brian Williams, noted NBC news anchor, say he was in a helicopter that was attacked in Iraq? Was he lying? Or, was there something deeper at work. For that matter, why did George Harrison write “My Sweet Lord” to sound just like the Chiffon’s hit 1962 song, “He’s So Fine?” Did he plagiarize, or did he not notice the similarity between his song and the other? An argument can be made for the latter in both instances, all because of something called cryptomnesia. The term was invented by doctors Alan Brown and Dana Murphy, after conducting three experiments at Southern Methodist University in 1989. They discovered that people will unknowingly “borrow” the ideas of others, rather than thinking of new ideas. Rather than consciously stealing a song, or making up a story out of thin air, the human brain is capable of taking a story, song or idea and transforming it. In the person’s mind, it becomes new. Original. When really, it’s just a memory.

Studies have shown this phenomenon is pretty common, but it’s pretty hard to tell the difference between it and a lie. So, it’s possible that Brian Williams simply thought he was on that helicopter, or he might have been lying. In the case of George Harrison, however, a judge decided that cryptomnesia really was the culprit, and Harrison was charged with “subconscious plagiarism.” It’s scary when you think about it. How many of our ideas are actually our own, and how many are really memories?

9. Deja Vu

Have you ever visited a new place, only to get the feeling that you’d been there before? That’s called a deja vu, and it happens to almost everybody. Art Markman, Ph.D., explains deja vu as a device our brains use to create a sense of familiarity in a particular situation using source memories as context clues. He says that humans are good at remembering objects, so if we see a person wearing the same t-shirt that we saw our friend wear last week, we don’t get confused that the stranger in the same shirt is our friend. However, we are not great at recalling memories based solely on how objects are arranged. So, if you see a stack of those t-shirts in one store, and then years later go to a completely different store in a completely different city, you might not remember that you saw an identical stack of shirts, but instead feel a sense of familiarity, of knowing, and not know why.

In one extreme case, French psychiatrist Francois-Leon Arnaud wrote about a guy named Louis who lived in the 19th century. Louis was a soldier who suffered from amnesia, then headaches, irritability and insomnia. And, he suffered from almost constant deja vu. Everything he experienced felt like something he’d experienced before. At the time, his doctors diagnosed him with “illusion deja vu,” but today it’s suggested that Louis may have had a memory disorder like recollective confabulation, where people routinely think that all new information is familiar. For us, the occasional deja vu is a creepy and otherworldly feeling, so much that some people think it’s really a memory from a past life.

8. Bystander Effect

The Bystander Effect is a psychological phenomenon that is social in nature. It’s characterized by the unlikeliness of a group of people (the bigger the group, the more likely the phenomenon) to help during an emergency. The most famous example of this is the 1964 murder of young Kitty Genovese, when allegedly she was murdered on the streets of New York and the 38 bystanders who witnessed the murder did nothing to help. A great example of the phenomenon, if true. However, Kitty’s brother, Bill, decided to get to the bottom of what really happened to his sister and it turns out that only a few people actually saw the attack, and one actually shouted for the murderer to stop. Two people claimed to have called the police, though there are no phone records. Bill says that regardless of whether or not people tried to help, his sister’s story is an important lesson to those who might do nothing when they see someone in trouble.

Another disturbing example of Bystander Effect is that of Topsy the Elephant. Topsy killed one man, but was accused of being a “serial man killer,” and was therefore sentenced to death. Originally believed to be one in a long streak of electrocutions in that “War of the Currents,” it’s likely that electrocution was chosen for Topsy because it was more humane than the original form execution, which was hanging. The electrocution of Topsy occurred on Coney Island, in front of Luna Park employees, Edison’s employees, and many other witnesses. Nobody lifted a finger. A gruesome account of the atrocity can be found in in Michael Daly’s book, Topsy.  An Edmund Burke quote comes to mind: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

7. Placebo Effect

If you’ve ever participated in a clinical study (or studied science, for that matter), you know what a placebo is. It’s a pill or other treatment that has no physical effect, but can produce a psychological benefit called the Placebo Effect. In essence, if someone takes a placebo and experiences some sort of benefit, there you have this particular psychological phenomenon. One example of this is the case of MK-869, an experimental antidepressant developed by Merck in 2002. The drug tested exceedingly well at first, and Merck had high hopes for domination in the marketplace. Imagine how disappointed shareholders and analysts were, however, when data showed that while those who took MK-869 did feel better, so did the same amount of people who took the placebo.

This is a pretty common occurrence in the world of pharmaceuticals. In fact, about 50% of developing drugs fail in the trial stage because it’s found that the placebo is just as effective. Some medical professionals even claim that some people react well even when they know they are receiving a placebo. That the ritual of taking medicine or doing something healthy can make the brain think that the body is healing. Maybe there is something to the old adage, “Heal thyself.”

6. McGurk Effect

The McGurk Effect, a crazy psychological phenomenon that has to do with your eyes and your ears (and how they get confused) when perceiving speech. It happens when your brain associates the hearing part of one sound and pairs it with the visual appearance of another sound being spoken, which leads to the brain perceiving a nonexistent third sound. Whoa, right?

It happens especially when you can’t hear the sound that well (like in a crowded room, or when a person is speaking very softly) but you can see the lips move, making you think you “hear” something else. Think about that kid in class who mouthed “elephant shoe” at you. The phenomenon was first explained in 1976 by, not surprisingly, a guy named McGurk who studied how infants perceive language as they develop. It’s best described in video format, and there are a lot of examples out there. Like this one or, obviously, the one embedded above.

 5. Baader-Meinhof

You just heard about a new director from your film nerd friend. Later that day, you look up a movie with your favorite actor in it on IMDd and BAM, it’s that director. Then, you pick up the newspaper and there’s a profile on the same director – the one you had never heard of before. All of a sudden, this guy is everywhere. Is he the next Scorsese, or did your film buff friend plant all these references for you? Neither! You’re experiencing the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

Arnold Swicky, a linguistics professor at Stanford, named this phenomenon Frequency Illusion in 2006, because it was easier than calling it the “When you hear something one time and all of the sudden it’s everywhere syndrome.” He explained that it is caused by two psychological processes. In one, you learn a thing and then, without knowing it, you look for it other places. In the other, confirmation bias tells you that the thing is everywhere overnight, simply because you never noticed it before. The term Baader-Meinhof came about earlier than 2006, on a St. Paul Pioneer Press online forum, where a participant heard the name of the notorious terrorist group two times in the same day. The phrase got meme-ified and later Swicky gave it a medical name.

4. Cognitive Dissonance

You know that getting sunburned can cause skin cancer, but you skip the sunscreen anyway. Or you smoke, even when you know that smoking causes cancer. You’ve got yourself a great example of cognitive dissonance, a phenomenon that occurs when you experience a conflict of attitude, behavior, or belief. Your behavior (skipping the sunscreen) belies your cognition (the fact that you know that you could get skin cancer), creating a state of cognitive dissonance.

This was first studied by Leon Festinger in 1957, when a doomsday cult that believed a flood was going to end the world… well, they didn’t get destroyed by a flood (and neither did the world). He found that people who were on the fence about the flood felt pretty dumb for giving up their houses and jobs and chalked it up to a learning experience, while the devout cult members decided that it was their great faith and sacrifice that saved the world. There are also fun ways to explore this phenomenon, like this Prezi about the cognitive dissonance in Mean Girls.

3. Online Disinhibition Effect

Unless you avoid the internet altogether (and judging by the fact you’re reading this, that’s pretty definitively not the case), you’ve seen the Online Disinhibition Effect in action. It’s your sweet former teacher that turns into a hate-filled rage ball on a Facebook thread. It’s Roseanne tweeting herself into unemployment. It’s the internet user’s tendency to say (or type) things they wouldn’t usually say in real life. This is caused by a number of personality variables that cause a person to deviate from their “normal” behavior. Just like people who feel less shy when online, some people lose a lot more than shyness when they feel a sense of anonymity.

Even on social media, where your name and photo are attached to your profile, it’s possible to minimize authority, loosen your self-boundaries and pretend it’s all a game when nobody is responding to you in person. If only people could just do what we do and pretend their mother can see everything they post online. Hey, if it works, it works!

2. Reverse Psychology

If you’re a parent, you’ve likely used reverse psychology to get your kids to do what you want. For instance, if they don’t want to eat their dinner, and then you tell them they’re not allowed to eat dinner, odds are they will. Reverse psychology relies on reactance, where a person responds negatively to persuasion, and instead responds to the thing that they’re persuaded not to do. Even if you’re not a parent, you’ve likely used it on family members, partners, or coworkers.

Reverse psychology dates back as far as human behavior, with a notable example in the 1700s. Apparently, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, while imprisoned during the Seven Years’ War, ate a whole lot of potatoes. In France, potatoes were frowned on, and only fed to animals. French Parliament even outlawed potatoes in 1748, because they thought that they caused leprosy. When Antoine-Augustin got back to France in 1763 he started thinking about overcoming the bias against potatoes, because he knew they were very nutritious. One story says that he planted a potato patch and hired a guard to protect it, spreading the rumor that he was growing something special in there. Of course, people snuck in to steal the potatoes, and they decided they were a-ok.

1. Overview Effect

The last entry on our list is a psychological phenomenon most of us won’t experience. It’s the Overview Effect – the sensation that astronauts feel when they see the Earth as a whole. Six astronauts were interviewed by Inverse, and the experience of seeing Earth from space made them change how they saw their planet, and their relationship to it. The term Overview Effect was created by Frank White to describe the experience of seeing the Earth as part of something bigger. Makes sense, since when we live on the Earth the Earth is plenty big for us to consider. What would the world be like if everyone could look at the universe in a different way? Read those testimonials from the six astronauts interviewed and you’ll get an idea.

Our brains are strange and wonderful places, capable of greatness and atrocity. An understanding of how the brain works might help us avoid the latter, but it will surely help us strive to the former.


WIF Mind Games –

Psychological Phenomena

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 75

Leave a comment

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 75

…you are supposed to be dead, that is what Mastadon and most of Chicago is lead to believe…

“He wanted to come, seemed to recognize his surroundings, he pointed the way,” Fanny explains her actions.

Once inside the door, Libby just about leapt from his seat screaming and pointing at the wall of books, “Bell, bell!”

“That is what Doctor Steinberg told me he was saying…. Bell, do you mean one of these?”

“Bell!”

Constance goes to the wall, while Martin tries to cajole his friend. Alexander Graham Bell is there, as is the Liberty Bell, no bell peppers, but she makes her way to the Hemingway collection, pulling out For Whom the Bell Tolls, thereby exposing a legal sized manila folder to the light of day. Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises must also come away in order to get the bulky unlabeled envelope out.

Martin sees what she is doing and gallops to her side. Fanny tries to calm the frantic Libby, but cannot, as he leaves the wheelchair on his own, though his atrophied leg muscles fail to hold his weight. Bedlam has broken out with no notice.

“My paper…!” Willard Libby beckons like a shepherd finding that one stray sheep.

“Willard, are you… do you… I mean is that really you, back with us?” Martin is beside himself.

All he can do is cry tears of joy from the kneeling position, holding his face in his hands.

“It must be like coming back from the dead,” Constance is thrilled.

“How about being buried alive?” captive Libby adds to the subject himself. “I was screaming out to you at Steinberg’s House of Pain.”

“I don’t know how much you’ve understood about our conversations, but you are supposed to be dead, that is what Mastadon and most of Chicago is lead to believe, the rest of the world that cares thinks you are still missing. Either way we must keep you under wraps until we can know how to proceed from this point forward.”


Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon


page 71

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 74

Leave a comment

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 74

…the CCPI gang needs a safe place to stash the latest discombobulated version  of Libby…

Whacked-out Willy (his new nickname) had called his office sanctuary ‘the best kept secret’ around and is proud of it.

But someone had found it about three weeks ago, as CCPI discovered, but nothing seemed to be missing and theSafehouse ensuing mess was restored to its previous disorder by Martin. The entire remote wing of the university had been since sealed from regular access. To this very moment, no one knows who broke in.

When it came to finding a safe place to stash the latest discombobulated version of Libby, they need not look any further than his office, a three room suite with its own bathroom. The biggest room by square footage is the 15 x 15 front room, serving as place of work, kitchenette and the den; a windowless covey hole is filled by books from top to bottom, end to end.

Most of those books would be classified as reference, a good number of which are historical in nature, the Civil War in particular. In the fiction section, the complete works of Ernest Hemingway dominate several shelves from the earliest days working for The Kansas City Star to his final days in Idaho; reporter notes in Kansas to The Dangerous Summer in Life Magazine. You get two guesses at who is Libby’s favorite writer, the first one doesn’t count.

“This place is not big enough to care for someone in Willard’s present condition,” Constance interjects, with full knowledge of the Kimbark house being off-limits as well.

“I know some people over at the Hospital, maybe we can get him into a private room psycho_wardon the fifth floor?” Martin proposes.

“Why the 5th floor?”

“That’s the psycho ward.”

“Tell them he’s your brother or something, just make sure that the doctor in charge is someone you can trust.” Connie wants to make sure the scientist is not nabbed again.

At that point Fanny enters Willard’s office suite, pushing none other than Willard in his wheelchair.

“Fanny!?” Her friend had been tending to Libby down the hall.

“He wanted to come, seemed to recognize his surroundings, he pointed the way.”


Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon


page 70

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 72

Leave a comment

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 72

… Eddie’s dream Part 2…

His dream of grandeur is interrupted by murkily black figure presenting him with a pointed proposition, “You can have all of this Eddie, the fame, the adoration of your cousins, you’ll never have to pay for another beer the rest of your life,” his arms extend out for yards revealing a collage of enticing scenes, all for the gratification of a deficient human being.

“What do you ask in return for all these things?” There must be a price to pay, right?

“You will be transported back in time, before the end of the war,” one of Pentateuch’s beloved achievements (Adolf Hitler), “where you will live out a hero’s existence. All of the present day will not happen, no taxi driving around rude people, and no need of bragging or telling tales, no nagging feelings of inferiority.”

Then the other shoe drops.

“But I do require one thing… the mortal soul that you have been given.”

“My soul,” Eddie shivers in the presence of one so powerful.

“Yes, your soul, handed over for my keeping. I NEED TO KNOW NOW, Eddie Dombroski, are you with me or against me!?”

Before he is able to answer that weighty pronouncement, Eddie is violently shaken by his Mrs. Dombroski (Edie), who was wondering why her husband is wandering around the house sleepwalking.

In an instant, he remembers what he had been dreaming and it is disconcerting. He feels like he has been snatched from the jaws of a hungry predator, just short of becoming a meal.

“I must have been hungry,” he replies, knowing that he won’t be sharing this apparition any time, with any one soon.

***REMEMBER THIS WAS A DREAM SEQUENCE***

On the way back to the U of C, the CCPI band of characters…

  1.  lead vocalist Constance Caraway
  2. drummer Fanny Renwick
  3. featuring Martin Kamen on sax
  4. Willard Libby on radiocarbon base
  5. & Eddie Dombroski as the  wacky dee-jay

… make an unscheduled stop on their tour. Perhaps a stop at Argonne will give Libby a jump start.

O contraire. It turns out to be the trigger mechanism for his stillness, causing the incapacitated man to shrink even further into reclusion. Some memories must be too traumatic to overcome.

Just how much of the ordeal does he recall, or when/where is the moment of his last mental connection to the real world? He definitely has a story to tell, merely lacking the mechanism to deliver it. He has no words to put together either oral or written, to expose that 2 ton elephant in the room.


Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon


page 68 (end Ch. 6)

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 69

Leave a comment

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 69

…Constance’s tolerance level for Eddie’s tales is shrinking…

Ear-Ringing

“Eddie!”

Constance calls out mockingly, with their newest jaunt back out to Elgin in mind. Of course he cannot hear, but his ears must be ringing in anticipation of when and where he will be going.

Having returned to the city in daylight last time will make this trip less contentious, though he hasn’t lost his flare for humor, “I charge extra for more people, plus if he needs a wheel chair… you must think I’m a handicap transport?”

“Would you like to join the ranks of the disabled Eddie?” Fanny has a knack for keeping him in line.

Eddie's Cousins-001“Easy Fan,” here he goes, “I’ll have you know that my Cousin Johnnie’s boy has polio and when he has go to Cook County Hospital for his treatments, good ol’ Eddie and his Checker are ‘Johnny on the spot’! That trunk can hold two wheelchairs, patients and all. I remember one day, I think it was January too, the snowdrifts were higher than the roof of my garage and my nephew went into some spaz-attack……….”

“Eddie!”

Constance’s tolerance level for Eddie’s tales is shrinking.

And so they go, on to retrieve Willard Libby from his own personal hell, never mind that the mental health professionals working with him were well-intentioned.

When the Forever Mastadon confederation hatched their scheme of snatch and dump, they counted on Libby being declared hopeless, helpless, any-the-less locked in a padded room for the rest of his days.

They did not want his blood on their hands, so his life was to be spared; not an act of compassion, rather a result of their leader’s eternal guilt. Eternal guilt is akin to eternal regret, the fate that awaits those who do not subscribe to the lordship of that carpenter’s son from Judah (Jesus)

Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon


page 65

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 68

Leave a comment

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 68

…If “they” find out that he (Willard Libby) is still alive, all hell may break loose…

A Newly minted 1951 has brought with it what is referred to as a “January thaw” to the greater Chicago area. Instead of temperatures at or below zero, which only encourages any accumulated snow to stay put, 40+ degrees Fahrenheit is a welcome respite, a peek at what the coming spring will bring, later if not sooner.

The orchestrated sounds, from inside the grand Cadillac Theatre and Palmer House Hotel, have wafted away by now, so it is back to work in the bizarre case of the formerly missing Willard Libby. Constance Caraway Private Investigation has had a front seat to nearly all the newest developments and its amazing fluidity. There is a new twist around every corner and merely keeping everything straight is a chore.

Martin Kamen has been in daily contact with Superintendent Steinberg. He reports that Libby has been elevated from Stage Two Catatonia to garden variety incoherent, making it back to one word accomplishments; “bell” has been deciphered during fits of frustrated attempts at cogent communication.

With little hope of Willard making significant progress, Martin decides that between William and him, they can care for the man just as well, with the help of a nursing school intern or three.

“This all must remain hush-hush Martin, so we’ll have to do this in the dark of night, sometime after “lights out” and before “rise and shine”. You tell me that no one has inquired about his condition?” Connie asks.

“I must admit this to you,” Martin but not before sheepishly qualifying himself, “I had Elgin Hospital issue a death statement about a certain John Doe that had shown up there on December 16th, made all the papers around Cook and DuPage Counties. Just in case I have written an obituary as well.

Related image“I did not want to bother you and Fanny, though we’re not totally in the clear, I know. I also got a message to his Aunt Mary Joseph at Tolentine, letting her know that Willard has been located and that we would keep her informed. She is as elated as a nun can get.”

Mr. Beaker

“She won’t blab will she?” Constance stresses the need for absolute secrecy. “If “they” find out that he is still alive, all hell may break loose — and I mean that quite literally.”

“She seemed more concerned about the death of Ernesto Pacelli; she had found out that he was the Pope’s brother, not exactly a gold star for Tolentine. But she is keenly aware of what’s at stake; she has even taken in Will’s cat, Mr. Beaker.”


Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon


page 65

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 61

Leave a comment

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 61

…Willard Libby’s mental prison continued…

A discombobulated human brain, safely ensconced in a distant mental hospital, begins the near impossible task of putting thoughts back together, spurred on by the visit of a friend. Like Charlie McCarthy without Edgar Bergen, this poor soul is left without an advocate, an audible voice to explain the inexplicable; The Charlie McCarthy Show, sponsored by Coca-Cola, being one of the few forms of entertainment he gets over his room’s loudspeaker every Sunday night.

‘I am getting tired of being treated like a child. They speak at me not to me. If I could speak I would tell them that they are all a bunch of quacks. The drugs they gave me were meant for a raving lunatic, do I look like a raving lunatic? No, but when in doubt there has to be a drug solution. The guys who stole me away from Argonne…….Wolf—Wolfgram I heard him called by name, caused me to become concussed. Couldn’t these cretins figure that out? I am sure I was about to come around once I was thawed out, but noooo, use high voltage to shock me into consciousness. Brilliant! I have a monumental finding to share with the world. Billy said it will cause a revival, a thousand times bigger than his crusades. The Pope should know all about crusades, unless conquering countries in the name of God isn’t kosher. Kosher pickles are the best, I usually have one with my grilled cheese sandwiches; the only food at the University cafeteria that is digestible. Chicago that is where the University is; I don’t have a clue where I am now. Martin will take care of things; he likes the tuna fish casserole.’

Madness or brilliance; there is a fine line between genius and (in)sanity.

Genius


Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon


page 58 (end Ch. 6)