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Video: Paths Between Neurons - Interview
Science popularizer Asya KAZANTSEVA talks about science and anti-science, the pros and cons of cognitive psychotherapy, brain plastic surgery and training of critical thinking. Vladislav Bozhedai, editor-in-chief of the journal "Our Psychology", talked to the famous scientific journalist
All cognitive errors in thinking can be called psychological. But there are entire areas in psychology that are completely pseudoscience. For example, the Hellinger constellation method or neurolinguistic programming
Any science goes through some stages of formation. Alchemists have accumulated quite a lot of data; some of them, which were explained materialistically and tested experimentally, became the basis of the science of chemistry. A similar story is happening now with psychology: we observe how everything can be verified experimentally. Naturally, having originated only at the end of the nineteenth century, psychology moved by touch and did not explain much scientifically.
But there are certainly obvious anti-scientific directions that will never become a science
I graduated from the Department of Higher Nervous Activity, studied how the brain works. Now I have entered the Master's program at the Higher School of Economics, also in neurobiology. I know about many scientific psychological experiments, but how they come to the arrangement or what psychoanalysis is based on - in these things I am not an expert. But I know, for example, that CBT has a fairly testable experimental effect. It is also good in that it is possible to prescribe a certain algorithm for the work of a doctor with a patient. And there are things that are much more intuitive, in which the role of the personality of the psychologist is assigned much more. I admit that psychotherapy is an area in which, even using not entirely scientific methods, the doctor can nevertheless help the patient due to his charisma. The same happens with acupuncture: there are experiments showingthat acupuncture helps with certain types of pain. In this case, it is not so important where the needles are injected. Much more important is how highly the patient rates the doctor's competence and how much he believes in him. If the level of trust is high, internal mechanisms are activated and the patient feels better. It is only natural that this should work with psychological problems too. It is known that when smoking cessation, people who receive psychotherapy quit smoking much more effectively. It is known that when smoking cessation, people who receive psychotherapy quit smoking much more effectively. It is known that when smoking cessation, people who receive psychotherapy quit smoking much more effectively.
Asya KAZANTSEVA - science journalist, popularizer of science. Author of the books “Who would have thought! How the brain makes us do stupid things”and“Someone's wrong on the Internet! Scientific research of controversial issues. " Laureate of the Prize in the field of popular science literature "Enlightener".
Does psychotherapy itself or the fact that someone supports the person have an effect?
We drink with friends in the kitchen and complain about life. Despite the fact that our friends did not undergo psychological training, it still has a beneficial effect. There are studies that have found that sociable people who have many friends and acquaintances are more likely to become centenarians. For seventy years at Harvard, they studied the level of happiness in eight hundred people and found that it depends on a good relationship. Most likely it is the stress hormones: they suppress the immune system, are harmful to the cardiovascular system. A person receiving social support is less susceptible to a strong release of stress hormones in the event of any troubles in life. Psychology, even if not scientifically grounded, can probably play the same role.
Don't you think that cognitive psychotherapy is not so much a helping profession as a “hindering” profession. In the sense that it prevents people from making cognitive errors?
A society that makes fewer cognitive errors will be more prosperous. There are countries that, at the governmental level, are struggling with people's belief in homeopathy. For example, in Australia there is such a consistent position in the fight against medical pseudoscience. In 2015, the Australian Ministry of Health released a major review that homeopathy cannot work more effectively than placebo. At the same time, Australia is known as a country with a high life expectancy. It is clear that the fight against homeopathy is not the main reason for this, but it is logical to assume that a sane society will be more prosperous due to the fact that it spends fewer resources on obviously useless things.
There is a widespread belief that believers are, on average, more prosperous and successful
Studies in different countries show different results. According to separate economic studies, Protestants or Jews are indeed, on average, wealthier than the rest of the country's population. But the reason is not in religion as such, but in a community with high inner connectedness. Community members help each other in business, can rely on each other, which reduces the risk of investing, etc. When people have a set of rules and a community that supports them, it can really contribute to psychological comfort. It is convenient for people when there are clear rules, they save willpower. It's easier to act right when there is no choice. Willpower can be depleted, so it's good to make life understandable when you don't have to strain every moment. When people quit smokingthey spend many months of their willpower on quitting tobacco. As a result, there is a complete failure in all work and social relations, there is simply no brain energy for this.
Are there any scientific methods to help train or conserve willpower?
Roy Baumeister had an experiment in which subjects were taken to a laboratory and asked not to think about a polar bear for five minutes. They were then given an expander calibrated for their muscle strength. The participants in the experiment were asked to compress the spring as long as possible, and how long a person would withstand it was estimated. It turned out that those who were initially exhausted from not thinking about the polar bear gave up faster. Then the subjects were released for two weeks, half of them were given some kind of self-control task for this period (for example, they were asked to monitor their posture or write down what and in what quantities they eat). When the participants in the experiment returned to the laboratory, the task was repeated: they were again asked not to think about the polar bear, and then to compress the spring. It turned out that those who trained willpower for two weeks performed better on tasks.
Is it visible at the tomography level? For example, if a person trained, did their frontal cortex become larger, or are brain neurons more active?
Neuroplasticity does exist. It is known that when people learn to juggle, their bark becomes thicker in areas that are responsible for coordination between vision and movement. A London taxi driver cannot use a GPS for the exam and must memorize 2,500 streets. In those who successfully complete the training, the density of gray matter in the posterior third of the hippocampus increases by a third, that is, the brain changes anatomically. Any action becomes much easier if you repeat it long enough. Once you have formed a habit, you have grown new neural networks, connections between parts of the brain. Short-term memory is when two neurons involved in performing an action are actively tuned in to communicate in the here and now.
You were told the phone number and you remembered it, you put it in your working memory. At this moment, the connection between those neurons that are involved in memorizing a sequence of numbers works better. And when you remember the phone for a long time, you literally have physically grown new connections between those neurons that are responsible for remembering this number. All training is when you first have some paths on the grass between the neurons, and when you remember something firmly, have mastered the skill, you have a well-trodden, barred road with markings and lanterns. How easy it is for us to perform an action is how easy it is for nerve impulses to move from one neuron to another, depending on the number of anatomical connections between these two neurons. There are English words that we remember well, dog or cat, and there are words that we remember vaguely,met many times, but we do not remember exactly the meaning. There are already neural connections about this word that say that you have seen it somewhere, but there are still no networks that accurately connect it with its analog or, even better, with the English context.
When these things are realized, it greatly contributes to the understanding of the learning process, why it takes time and repeated repetition. When you learn to drive, you need to think about where to turn the gear lever every time, and once you've mastered the skill, you don't need to think about it. It is much easier for a nerve impulse to go in a certain way in order to switch the lever correctly than in some new way. For the brain, the most likely pathway for a nerve impulse to pass between those neurons that have already passed a nerve impulse through themselves many times and therefore have grown strong connections between themselves. Multiple repetition is necessary in order to give a task to the same neurons, so that the brain understands that it is necessary to make a strong connection between them. Therefore, it is more effective to study English for fifteen minutes a day for a year,than go to study for five hours, and then again do nothing. So it is with any other skill.
Is it possible to say that people who have a high degree of neuroplasticity are most successful because they are more adaptive? The surrounding situation has changed, and the person has already begun to act in a different way
Well, these are slightly different things - the ability to navigate in new conditions and the ability to grow neural connections in order to cope with already familiar situations. Rather, we are talking about resistance to stress, because stress is a specific hormonal reaction with an adrenaline rush, usually arising when faced with something unusual.
People who tolerate uncertainty more easily are considered to be more successful
There is some logic in this. The best way to deal with stress is not to try to tell yourself “I'm not worried,” but to make the situation more familiar. The first-year student is very afraid of the exam, and in the fourth year he is only slightly worried, because he has already taken the exam many times and nothing terrible has happened to him.
Are there ways to improve neuroplasticity?
If you teach juggling subjects in their twenties and sixties, the brains of young people will rebuild faster at the anatomical level. In this sense, it is logical that people go to get their first higher education immediately after school. This has disadvantages due to the fact that they do not yet know who they want to become. But there are also advantages, because the brain is formed in the right direction. The first higher education may not be in the future profession at all, it should be as complex and fundamental as possible. The main task here is to build up a lot of neural connections and develop skills for working with information.
What comes first in cognitive biases? Thinking errors generate emotions, or does an emotional reaction distort thinking? Or are these things closely related?
Emotions interfere with the ability to think logically - this is obvious. Dan Ariely has a very funny and touching study on how sexual arousal influences decision making: young men were first asked to predict how they would feel about different sexual non-standard practices, such as sex with a twelve-year-old girl, a sixty-year-old woman. Students were asked to rate how inclined they were to engage in less-than-moral behaviors, such as drinking a woman's drink or not using a condom for fear that the girl would change her mind while they went to get one. First, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire, pretending to be excited. And then they were asked to masturbate and fill out the same questionnaire in an excited state. And it turned out that the results differ dramatically. All these good MIT students thoughtthat they are not prone to non-standard practices, that they will never pressure a woman, that they will always use condoms. But only while they have a cold head. And when they watched porn and got aroused, they already agreed to everything, just to get sex. And this despite the fact that the state of sexual arousal is not something unusual for a student. When people try to predict their reactions, they greatly overestimate the degree of their future rationality. Emotions suppress the ability to make rational choices, this is one of those things that you want to consider.that a state of sexual arousal is not unusual for a student. When people try to predict their reactions, they greatly overestimate the degree of their future rationality. Emotions suppress the ability to make rational choices, this is one of those things that you want to consider.that a state of sexual arousal is not unusual for a student. When people try to predict their reactions, they greatly overestimate the degree of their future rationality. Emotions suppress the ability to make rational choices, this is one of those things that you want to consider.
Is it possible to say that people who are not capable of rational thinking are more emotional? And vice versa: a person who has developed the skills of critical thinking makes fewer mistakes, but does not receive spontaneous pleasure from life, cannot surrender to emotions?
Walter Michel conducted the "marshmallow test" back in the seventies. He gave four-six-year-old children a marshmallow and said that it would take fifteen minutes and, if during this time the children did not eat the delicacy, they would get more. The children who waited later had better academic performance. In 2011, scientists again collected these subjects, they were already over forty. Participants were placed in a tomograph and asked to press or not press a button depending on whether they see a male or female face. It was found that people who did not wait for Michel's return forty years ago are more likely to press the button incorrectly. It is more difficult for them to resist the temptation to press the button when they think the answer is correct, when in fact it is wrong. In addition, the work of the brain was also different: in people who waited for the marshmallow and performed the test correctly,the frontal cortex was more active, in which, as we think (with a certain degree of convention), will power is. People who did not wait for marshmallows and pressed the button incorrectly had a more active limbic system, including the zone associated with pleasure, with the expectation of reward. On the one hand, the ability to resist your impulses favors success in life and the logic of making the right decisions. On the other hand, it is not entirely clear whether a person is happy with this. Perhaps, on the contrary, those who give in to their impulses are happier? And then there is a connection between willpower and longevity. Today people die from diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, that is, from those diseases that are highly dependent on lifestyle, on whether a person smokes, whether he or she moves,whether he is overeating with something unhealthy. How is happiness related to willpower? I think that individual factors play a big role here: from what a person will ultimately be happier - from the fact that he finished the project, or when he left it and went fishing.
The eternal problem: to commit violence against oneself or not. The choice of the first strategy will give greater social success, on the other hand, it deprives spontaneity
There are no uniquely beneficial or harmful mutations in evolution. It all depends on the context. The ability not to die from smallpox was important fifty years ago, and it provided a great evolutionary advantage. But when the infection was defeated, the set of genes that contribute to smallpox resistance became completely useless. And so it is with the choice between absolutely rational and absolutely irrational thinking. Rationality sometimes takes on ugly forms. In Hitler's Germany there were a lot of monstrously sane people, completely devoid of the ability for empathy and for moral and ethical standards. Modern Western society encourages rationality, it contributes to both financial success and longevity, but you can imagine some kind of society in which there may be other priorities. When material abundance comes,when all the work is done by robots, then probably people with intuitive thinking will be more successful, they will generate new works of art.
I believe that it is impossible to focus on biochemical psychotherapy in this way. You can not replace psychotherapy with drugs and treat depression without a psychologist! The only consequences are addiction to drugs. People go to consult with psychologists-practitioners because of distrust of the world, because of loneliness, because of lack of support. And medicine can never replace human communication. There are methods that are short-term, and it is they that open up many psychological concepts that psychotherapists and psychologists use in various other approaches. Moreover, many psychological approaches contradict each other, but they exist and have an effective nature of work. A professional must choose for himself a specialization and an approach in which he works, and the client chooses for himself a suitable specialist with the methodology,which suits him and is emotionally close. In my opinion, one should not sacredly believe in the psycho-corrective help of drugs and draw conclusions about the “pseudoscientific” of this or that method.