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The Nuance

Attention fatigue is a threat to your cognitive and mental health

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Imagine shining a flashlight at a wall in a dark, empty room.

If you walk toward the wall, the light will contract. The closer you get to the wall, the smaller and more concentrated the beam of light becomes. By the time the flashlight is an inch from the wall, you’ll see a tight, bright circle of light surrounded by shadow and darkness.

Your attention is a lot like the beam of that flashlight. You can focus it closely and intensely on something, or you can relax it — allowing it to grow soft and diffuse.

A lot of research…

The science of early memories gives some fascinating answers

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I was almost six years old when the Gulf War broke. International coalition forces waged war in Iraq, and as a result, Iraq attacked Israel with long-range powerful Scud missiles. I vividly remember the sirens. I remember putting on the gas mask that was distributed to all Israelis due to fear of a chemical attack. I remember constantly having to rush to the “sealed room” — my parents’ bedroom, which had its windows sealed with duct tape to protect against a nerve gas attack. I remember an unfinished dinner with my favorite food that was interrupted by sirens. …

The Nuance

Few of us fully appreciate the role of social comparison in our well-being

Photo by Marcel Strauß on Unsplash

For a 2012 study in PLOS One, researchers invited a young woman into a laboratory at Ohio University.

The woman learned that she would be taking part in an “aesthetic judgment” experiment. The researchers took a photograph of her face and then asked her to sit at a table that held two objects: a computer monitor and a mirror.

On the monitor, the woman viewed a series of headshots of what the study termed “attractive professional models” — all of them women. Following this barrage of beautiful faces, the woman’s own photograph appeared on the screen. But it wasn’t just…

It will take time and patience to reemerge from the collective crisis of the pandemic with our mental and physical health intact

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When I met Darren Sudman six years ago, at an event in Palm Springs, I didn’t expect that his story would be one that I would return to time and again as I began examining what makes us thrive and heal after difficult times.

Sudman introduced himself as a former lawyer and a founder of a nonprofit. In 2004, Sudman and his wife, Phyllis, experienced every parent’s worst nightmare: Their three-month-old son, Simon, was found motionless in his crib. …

Tesla CEO Elon Musk just came out as having Asperger’s syndrome. Here’s a primer on the issues with that now-defunct disorder label.

Elon Musk at a SpaceX press conference, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On Saturday Night Live this week, Telsa CEO and Grimes’ paramour Elon Musk came out as having Asperger’s syndrome. During his opening monologue, Musk joked that he was the first-ever SNL host to have the disorder — or at least the first to admit to having it openly.

There’s a couple of issues with that remark. The first is that SNL very much had an openly Autistic host in the past, former cast member Dan Aykroyd. For years, Aykroyd has been vocal about being Autistic and has discussed how his own autistic special interest in the paranormal informed the writing…

Why time seemed slower when you were a kid

Photo: Alvin Mahmudov/Unsplash

If this year feels like it has flown by, there’s a solid scientific reason for that. Most of us spent it locked in our homes, doing the exact same thing day in and day out.

It turns out that our brains love this kind of predictability, neuroscientists at Brown told me. The human brain evolved to keep us in the comfort zone of a predictable routine because that improved our chances of survival in our past environments. For example, a reliable routine that helped us regularly find food kept us alive.

Even before the pandemic, our lives were rather predictable…

Good Question

‘Poignant’ media may help us find answers to life’s big questions

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On my 13th or 14th birthday, I can’t remember which, my dad gave me a boombox and some CDs.

The CDs were Neil Young’s Harvest, and greatest-hits collections from the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and the Steve Miller Band. He told me he’d picked these because they were some of his old favorites — part of the soundtrack of his life in the late 1960s and ’70s when he’d lived in Northern California and Oregon. Even before I’d listened to them, I liked them because he liked them.

I especially liked the Neil Young. It hooked me from the first…

Humans need a balanced social diet of a few meaningful conversations and many casual interactions

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Balance is a celebrated, yet elusive, concept. In work, relationships, hobbies, and even what we choose to put into our bodies, we strive to strike the right proportion of give and take that leaves us feeling fulfilled and not overextended. The idea of balance also applies to social interactions.

In 2019, Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas likened human social networks to nutrition. A healthy social diet, he found in a study, consists of both a variety of interactions — from close friends and family to acquaintances — and time spent alone. People tend…

As restrictions ease and stimulation returns, your capacity will bounce back

Photo: Siora Photography/Unsplash

Early last summer, after stringent shutdown orders were lifted and, cautiously, friends began gathering in outdoor environs, the act of stringing a coherent sentence together was a personal struggle. The verbal equivalent of sea legs, my words felt wobbly and clumsy, and in group settings, I found it easier to observe in silence than contribute in any meaningful way.

Beyond conversation skills, social isolation also dulled many of my other cognitive capacities. My memory wasn’t so hot and conjuring creative or critical thoughts was nearly impossible — which isn’t great when your job requires you to have critical and/or creative…

My Therapist Says

Excavating those ‘little t’ traumas has helped me chip away at the bigger ones

Image: Boce/Getty Images

When I first started going to therapy at 19, I had a pretty good idea of the traumas I wanted to excavate: divorce, parental addiction, eviction — the “big T” traumas that are easy to define in a word.

I used to think the only reason to go to therapy was to talk about trauma like this. I sat in the offices of half a dozen therapists, balling wet Kleenex in my hand and sipping on lukewarm chamomile tea in paper cups, while trying to get them to talk about these big things and changing the subject whenever they wanted…


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