The Homunculus

Psychology, Anthropology, Evolution

Beware the marshmallow

Posted by Joy Icayan on November 26, 2009

Here’s a video of the marshmallow test if you’ve ever wanted to see how it’s done, or simply want to watch cute kids trying to resist that marshmallow.

The original test was conducted by Stanford professor Walter Mischel in the 1960s, where four year olds were left in a room with a marshmallow, and were promised another one if they could wait for the experimenter who would then be gone for 20 minutes. Mischel followed up on these children years later and found out that those who had been able to wait, or engage in delayed gratification,  did better in their SATs, had fewer aggression problems and were better adjusted in school according to their teachers. Mischel was also able to find a correlation between seconds of delay in eating the marshmallow and ability in handling frustration. They were also less likely to be involved in drugs and were more likely to have higher BMIs.

I was looking for stories of those who actually gobbled up the marshmallow and came across Lehrer’s New Yorker article where he talks of a high delayer and a delayer, both coming from the original group of kids, among other (a bit depressing) things. Moral lesson from the great Mischel himself: allocation of attention, don’t think about the marshmallow. Just don’t.


Delay of Gratification in Children

Don’t! The Secret of Self Control


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On Maguindanao

Posted by Joy Icayan on November 26, 2009

The recent massacre in Maguindanao conducted by at least a hundred armed men on 52 individuals composed of journalists, lawyers, female members of the rival clan, and even passers by has aroused significant outrage in the Philippines and prompted the disturbing questions – of those who committed the murders, was there no one who stood up and said, this is just wrong. Considering the facts now known – the systematic killing/burial in broad daylight, the rapes and the beheadings, where does morality stand?

Former Defense Secretary/presidentiable Gilbert Teodoro said, The massacre was a barbaric act that can be done only by a lunatic person or group, but was it really that? Would it be perhaps even more difficult to accept if the people involved simply acted in the heat of the moment – their moral stands kept at bay, performing their ‘duties’, then going back to take the other roles in their lives, as community members, as fathers and sons? Would it be easier to accept that perhaps there was one, or two, or several dissenting voices, perhaps muffled by the rest? Speaking up does have its consequences as proven by the massacre – that a person seeking to challenge the political reign would get his family killed, his lawyers, his witnesses.

There are no answers to these and not much comfort to the families and friends of those lost. We join the rest of the nation in condemning the act, and the culture of fear and impunity which as made it all possible.

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Live that moment

Posted by Joy Icayan on November 23, 2009

Moment: A specific point in time, especially the present time.

From Steven Maloney, the psychological present lasts three seconds…

And since we live permanently convinced that the past is past and it will be amended, and the future, even the immediate future, will certainly be better and with fewer errors, since we live permanently from and critical of our own past, permanently removed from and in the hope of our oncoming future, the present-time frame of several seconds is the only unconditional manifestation of our ego.

In this sense, our ego lasts three seconds.  Everything else is either hope or an embarrassing incident.  Usually both.

– Miroslav Holub, “The Dimension of the Present Moment”

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forgiveness, for real?

Posted by Joy Icayan on November 19, 2009

The Forgiveness Project details stories of grieved men and women who have chosen to forgive, and sometimes reconcile. These are not victims of minor offenses, but rather various forms of human indignity and brutality, physical/sexual assaults, tortures and genocides etc. Some have even bravely sought out their perpetrators to converse and seek understanding.

Is forgiveness another Oprah phenomenon, or are we truly capable of the genuine kind? A recent study on Bosnia and Herzegovina (During the genocide, Serbs raped and killed hundreds of thousands of Bosnian Muslims),  showed that Bosnians who had high quality contact with Serbs, showed more empathy and positive attitudes towards them. This is also called the contact hypothesis.

Just having read The Brain That Changes Itself (Norman Doidge), while disagreeing with some of the stuff written there, I’m inclined to think forgiveness or a change of attitude/perception involves plasticity in the brain, forming of new connections which need to be reinforced over time if they are to last.  Like how stroke patients relearn skills associated with brain functions that have been damaged, through practice and determination. Forming it as a habit, again. Which is probably why outsiders will never understand, because they operate on a different framework, a framework that has its own rules (some crimes are simply unforgivable), reinforced by internal (biases/attitudes) and external (religion, society) factors.

And which is also probably why some people can relapse from forgiving and why it isn’t always an Oprah story.


The Forgiveness Project

Promoting Forgiveness in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Brain That Changes Itself website

The Forgiveness Project: David’s Story

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we keep the music

Posted by Joy Icayan on October 15, 2009

We have all heard the stories: the man who forgets his past but keeps his music, the old lady with Alzheimer’s who can detect a wrong note when childhood music is played. Music, in Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia has been found out to reach out to patients suffering from catatonia and Parkinson’s. Known to soothe and calm us down, it has also been found to trigger seizures, nightmares, and pain.

So what is it about music? It could be our experiences, or the fact that minor chords can sound so sad. Steinbeck once wrote of his musical therapy, listening to music while in a state of emotional loss, coming out of it quite shaken, cleansed. Whatever it is, our lives seem parallel to the soundtracks we’ve designed to document it.

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Hello Ardi

Posted by Joy Icayan on October 2, 2009

ardiScience writes on the discovery of Ardi, the oldest human skeleton found which predates famous Lucy by at least a million years. Ardi belonging to the species Ardipithecus ramidus lived 4.4M years ago and was female, weighed 110 pounds, and had a small brain. She was found in the Afar desert in Ethiopia, 76 km from where Lucy was also found more than three decades ago.

One of the more surprising findings on Ardi suggest that the species was bipedal but crawled on trees. Since Ardi was found to be living in a wooded area, this finding challenges the earlier notion that bipedalism evolved when hominids left the woodlands for the open grasslands. Anthropologist Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University suggests it all had to do with sex and food.

Most importantly, the dicovery disproves the missing link theory that humans originated from a chimp like ancestor. It suggests that chimpanzees and humans evolved from a common ancestor around six to seven million years ago, and have been evolving independently since. National Geographic News provide an interactive timeline on our redefined evolutionary history, where you can also, uhm, explore Ardi’s body parts.


Ardipithecus Ramidus (free articles!) from Science

Oldest Human Skeleton Found – Disproves Missing Link

Did Early Humans Start Walking for Sex?

Ardipithecus Ramidus Lights the Way

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nostalgia and us

Posted by Joy Icayan on September 23, 2009

I was recently in my old high school, now very much transformed after eight years. I haven’t thought about high school in a while, still the familiar surroundings made me long for those good old days when we’d stare at the window on the third floor of the school building and watch a cow graze under the sun for an hour. Never mind that for me, as for a lot of people, high school was a conflicting time, I was frustrated and sulked often, and there was nothing much to do but stare at cows.

According to Vladimir Lerner, nostalgia comes from two Greek words nostos (home) and agnos (pain) and refers to  “the pain a sick person feels because he wishes to return to his native land, and fears never to see it again.”   Several studies conducted by Wildschut, Tim et al showed many key findings on nostalgia: one of which is that ‘bolsters social bonds, increases positive self-regard, and generates positive affect’. Perhaps this is related to the finding that nostalgia can also arise out of loneliness. We often think of old lovers longingly after a breakup, or the recklessness of our younger (supposedly happier) days when we are feeling down. Nostalgia is common among isolated people or the elderly (remember the neverending during our time… stories from grandparents). Remembering good times with others does make us perceive them, and even ourselves in a better light and helps us focus on positive memories.


Nostalgia: Content, Triggers, Functions.

Nostalgia: Psychology, Psychopathology, Therapy

The Psychology of Nostalgia

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