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Online demonstration of Carl Jung’s “synchronicty”


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How cults exploit one of our most basic psychological urges

Sigmund Freud saw all religion and the belief in God as a kind of cultic approach to life. However, Freudian lore suggests that toward the end of his days Freud said he would focus on parapsychology if he could do it all again.  Image – Amazon.com (This image and comment added by earthpages.org and is not part of the original article sourced from http://www.theconversation.com)

Lou Manza, Lebanon Valley College

The new Hulu TV series “The Path” – described by Time as the streaming service’s “best show yet” – centers on a cult-like faith, Meyerism, whose adherents seek fulfillment under the guidance of their leader, Cal.

As pure entertainment, the show seems promising. But as someone who studies human cognition and why people believe scientifically dubious claims, I’m more interested in the real-life versions of Cal – specifically, the needs that leaders of cult-like faiths tap into that make them so attractive to certain people.

The illusion of comfort

An answer to this question can take a variety of forms. One that has gotten a considerable amount of attention over the years is the emotional comfort cults can provide.

California Institute of Technology psychologist Jon-Patrik Pedersen, in attempting to explain why people are drawn to cults, has argued that the human desire for comfort, in the face of fear and uncertainty, leads us to seek outlets that can soothe our anxieties.

In and of itself, the urge to quiet internal demons is not a negative trait. I’d argue that, to the contrary, it’s an effective adaptation that allows us to cope with the stressors, big and small, that bombard us on a regular basis.

However, cult leaders meet this need by making promises that are virtually unattainable – and not typically found anywhere else in society. This, according Pedersen, could include “complete financial security, constant peace of mind, perfect health, and eternal life.”

Beyond exploiting human desire for emotional comfort, cult leaders don’t always have the best intentions when it comes to the mental health of their followers.

Psychiatrist Mark Banschick has pointed out that cult leaders employ mind and behavioral control techniques that are focused on severing followers’ connections to the outside world.

These methods can actually deepen members’ existing emotional insecurities, while encouraging them to become completely reliant on their cult for all their physical and emotional needs. At the same time, they’re often told to sever ties with any friends or relatives who are not part of the group.

Hulu’s new series ‘The Path’ is about a fictional cult group called the Meyerist Movement.
Hulu

This can result in physical and psychological isolation, which actually exacerbates many of the problems, like anxiety and depression, that attracted people to the cult in the first place.

The anxiety and depression can become so overwhelming and feel so insurmountable that the followers feel trapped.

It’s a vicious cycle that can lead to truly tragic consequences, such as the well-documented 1978 Jonestown Massacre, when over 900 people died in a mass murder-suicide carried out under the supervision of cult leader Jim Jones. Then there were the Heaven’s Gate suicides in 1997, when 39 individuals, including cult leader Marshall Applewhite, willingly overdosed on phenobarbital and vodka in the hope of being transported to an alleged alien spaceship flying behind the (real) Hale-Bopp comet.

The case for reason

So just how can one face his or her fears, but avoid the potential danger of cult-like groups?

In a word: rationality.

Seeking reason-based solutions for emotion-focused conditions is by no means a new concept. Unfortunately, rationality is not as intuitively appealing as remedies that simply exploit sentimental cravings.

Sigmund Freud, in his 1927 text “The Future of an Illusion,” argued that religion was a mere mental trick constructed to comfort believers and help them overcome insecurities – even though their acceptance of dogma was irrational. While Freud’s position was focused on mainstream faiths, his highlighting of the emotional comfort central to them is analogous to the role that this element plays in cults.

His solution? Replace religion (or, in the present case, cults) with rational guides for living that deal with problems directly. Are you anxious about your appearance? Eat healthy and exercise regularly. Stressed about relationship problems? Talk directly to your partner in a clear and honest manner to arrive at mutually agreed-upon resolutions.

One could certainly argue that Freud, by highlighting religion’s negative elements, was ignoring the potential positive outcomes correlated with spirituality such as stable relationships, moral grounding and life satisfaction.

But there is no denying that emotions can cloud judgment and result in poor decisions.

For example, Gerd Gigerenzer, a German psychologist who studies decision-making, illustrated the very real consequences of favoring an emotional response over a more data-driven one. In his 2004 analysis of highway fatalities in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, he pointed out how people became afraid of flying in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Many who still needed to travel ended up driving instead of flying in order to reach their destinations.

However, this influx of cars on the road led to approximately 350 more people dying in automobile accidents from October to December of 2001. As Gigerenzer noted, these deaths could likely have been avoided “if the public were better informed about psychological reactions to catastrophic events.”

It’s not easy to simply “use reason over emotion.” The fact that cults continue to exist – and that people continue to play the lottery despite the minuscule chance of winning, or insist on subjecting themselves to unproven cancer treatments such as urine therapy – is a testament to the potency of emotions as behavioral motivators.

Furthermore, this should not be taken as a directive to surrender our emotions, which can enhance human experiences in many ways.

But it’s important to be vigilant, and recognize the value of approaching decisions using logic, especially when emotion-driven choices can lead to negative, life-altering outcomes.

Which of these paths will Cal and his Meyerists pursue? My guess is emotions will win the day. In the fictional world of television, that’s OK.

But for those of us viewing their exploits from our living rooms, perhaps it’s an opportunity to think about our choices, and whether or not our feelings had the final say.

The trailer for ‘The Path.’

The Conversation

Lou Manza, Professor and Department Chair of Psychology, Lebanon Valley College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Those post-binge-watching blues? They might be real

Monita Karmakar, University of Toledo and Jessica Sloan Kruger, University of Toledo

With the release of the fourth season of “House of Cards,” all 13 episodes are available for Netflix subscribers. Some fans might space each episode out over the course of the ensuing weeks. But many will binge-watch – completing the series in a thrilling, draining marathon of being glued to their laptops or TV screens.

And when it’s all over?

Many report feeling sad or anxious once a TV binge-watching session has concluded. In an essay for The New York Times, writer Matthew Schneier reported feeling “anxious, wistful, bereft” as his binge of Aziz Ansari’s popular comedy series “Master of None” neared its end.

A couple of years ago, one binge-watcher interviewed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune said she felt “depression” and “emptiness” after finishing her favorite shows.

On Twitter, others have expressed similar sentiments.

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Are these merely the experiences of a few people who have watched too much TV (and could probably use some fresh air)? Or could binge-watching actually affect your health and well-being?

There’s been limited empirical research on the consequences of binge-watching. So with the advantage of a large sample size, we conducted one of the first forays into studying binge-watching from a public health perspective.

A binge-watching bonanza

According to a survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, watching television is one of the most common leisure time activities in the U.S.

On average, Americans spend about 2 hours and 49 minutes per day watching television, and it accounts for more than 50 percent of their daily leisure activities.

Yet the way Americans consume television is rapidly changing, and binge-watching has become a relatively recent phenomenon.

The rising popularity of on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have made it easier than ever to have uninterrupted access to full TV series, and Collins Dictionary even declared “binge-watch” the word of the year for 2015.

Marketing and social media campaigns have also encouraged binge-watching, with the popular streaming service Netflix calling it the “new normal.”

To date, most of the surveys and research surrounding binge-watching have been conducted by private research firms and companies.

A 2013 survey by Netflix showed that 73 percent of the respondents viewed binge-watching as a socially acceptable behavior. A similar survey by TiVo in 2015 showed that negative perceptions about binge-watching have decreased between 2013 and 2015. About 92 percent of the respondents to the TiVo survey reported that they had binge-watched at some point.

Are binge-watching and mental illness related?

Excessive TV watching has long been associated with health problems. Scientific studies have shown that prolonged television viewing increases the risk of obesity and related diseases such as diabetes.

It’s also been linked to mental health problems like depression. And a recent Texas A&M study revealed that binge-watching is tied to feelings of loneliness and depression. They also found that those who binge-watch lacked the self-regulation to stop, suggesting that binge-watching may be an addictive behavior.

For our study, we surveyed 406 North American adults, recruited from an online data collection platform. We wanted to know more about binge-watchers – particularly their viewing habits, mental health status, and how prevalent and socially acceptable binge-watching was among their friends.

The majority of our respondents defined binge-watching as two to five hours of consecutive video viewing in one day. About 35 percent of the respondents admitted that they binge-watch TV. Not surprisingly, those who self-identified as binge-watchers were more likely to report higher average screen time in the past seven days compared to those who did not identify as binge-watchers. Self-identified binge-watchers were also more likely to report higher addiction to TV (as measured by a validated scale).

The major highlight of our study, however, is that self-identified binge-watchers were more likely to report higher stress, anxiety and depression.

We were ultimately able to demonstrate a relationship between binge-watching, average screen time and mental health status.

However, these results should be interpreted with caution. Our research shows only a correlation and not causation. We don’t know if depression, stress and anxiety are caused by binge-watching, or if it is the other way around. In other words, people might binge-watch as a way to temporarily alleviate preexisting feelings of stress and anxiety.

We also discovered that media influence and social acceptance of binge-watching were found to be significant predictors of self-reported binge-watching.

About 85 percent of the respondents said that they had noticed advertisements or articles encouraging binge-watching, while 74 percent of the respondents reported that they have read articles on binge-watching. An estimated 62 percent of the respondents believed that most people binge-watch and 53 percent of the respondents indicated that most of their friends binge-watch.

Of course, more research is needed to understand the true effects of binge-watching on physical and mental health. In the interim, the next time you load up “House of Cards,” “Jessica Jones” or “Game of Thrones,” it might be a good idea to exercise some caution once the show concludes, and resist the urge to click “next episode.”

The Conversation

Monita Karmakar, PhD candidate in Health Education, University of Toledo and Jessica Sloan Kruger, PhD student in Health Education, University of Toledo

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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