MATTERS OF THE MIND – a series which examines the clinician’s bible for diagnosing mental disorders, the DSM, and the controversy surrounding the forthcoming fifth edition.
There’s an old saying that psychology has two model organisms: the rat and the American college student. As research subjects rats are fine, the problem is that that Americans are, as evolutionary psychologist Joe Henrich and his colleagues recently pointed out, WEIRD. That is, they’re Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic. In fact, most westerners are WEIRD, but Americans are the WEIRDest of all.
In the first scenario, a man and a woman sit across from each other at a romantically lit table in a fancy restaurant texting – looking down and talking to others, maybe each other – but rarely glancing up except to place drink and food orders.
In the second, a mother walks into a diner joining friends for lunch, carrying her 2-year-old. She sets him down at the table, hands him a tablet device, takes out her smartphone, searches messages, and half listens for only occasional moments of adult conversation squeezed in between swooshes across their collective screens.
What ties them together? The distance between them. Both scenarios reflect a new phenomenon of the digital age growing ever more rapidly. It’s called “virtual distance.”
The idea that we can achieve happiness by maximising pleasure and minimising pain is both intuitive and popular. The truth is, however, very different. Pleasure alone cannot not make us happy.
Take Christina Onassis, the daughter of shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. She inherited wealth beyond imagination and spent it on extravagant pleasures in an attempt to alleviate her unhappiness. She died at 37 and her biography, tellingly subtitled All the Pain Money Can Buy, recounts a life full of mind-boggling extravagance that contributed to her suffering.
Have you ever felt as though your sense of awareness was outside of your physical body? That you were looking back at yourself from another place in the same room? If so, you’ve probably had an out-of-body experience (OBE). But not all OBEs are the same.
Research suggests OBEs are more common than one might think, with around 10% of the population having reported at least one such experience in their lifetime.
Have you ever experienced a sudden feeling of familiarity while in a completely new place? Or the feeling you’ve had the exact same conversation with someone before?
This feeling of familiarity is, of course, known as déjà vu (a French term meaning “already seen”) and it’s reported to occur on an occasional basis in 60-80% of people. It’s an experience that’s almost always fleeting and it occurs at random.