Falling in love with girls

Sometimes I come across a piece of writing that hits me like a cupid’s arrow.

Here is an apt description of how girls feel about other girls sometimes, something I couldn’t articulate myself:

“We instantly wanted to be each other”, she wrote. By the time we met, we were both young women, both married, both acquired the same name through marriage – Barker. And she wore a gorgeous golden pencil pendant. Little did she know, a lawyer then, that she would become a poet. She would say “heinous” every five minutes or so – I was smitten.

This female fascination is so strong that even now, at the age of 33, I sometimes turn into a 5-year-old and space out. We went to a party in New York late last year and I couldn’t even mutter a “hello” to this woman, whose creative career I’ve been following for years. I couldn’t even look in her direction, she was so gorgeous. So I ended up in my safe space – talking to a bunch of men about literature and linguistics while they filled and re-filled my glass and tried touching my hand and occasionally my waist and told me I was “lovely”. I wasn’t: I was muttering away cliches at them, giggling at whatever they had to say without listening because I was eavesdropping on what she was saying from across the room.

Source: Anna F. More here: Of the everyday (image taken via Of the everyday)

Friday’s 5 cognitive curiosities journal club

Here are my top picks from the neuroscience-mindfulness spectrum for this week.

1. We judge our previous decisions based on new information

From The Journal of Neuroscience

Thinking about thinking (known as metacognition) is hugely important for adaptation, however, little is known about it. The results of this study demonstrate that the information used to make the initial decision differs from the information that is used in metacognitive judgments.

2. Obesity is linked to memory problems

From The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology

Obesity could play a part in the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease. It appears that the relationship is a two-way street: being overweight or obese impacts memory function, then the memories of eating experiences change and thus affect future eating behavioural patterns.

3. There is little or no diagnostic specificity in the fMRI results for mental illness

From Human Brain Mapping

It appears that individuals with mental illness – regardless of the diagnosis – have abnormalities in their limbic system responses to various tasks. The limbic system is associated with emotion.

Put simply, the fMRI of a depressed person isn’t different to the fMRI of a person with a (seemingly) completely different disorder schizophrenia.

This could be a reflection on insufficient sample sizes. It could also be a reflection on the worry of going into an MRI scanner. A number of studies emerged recently showing that we’re possibly misinterpreting the findings of fMRI.

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From Addressing Reverse Inference in Psychiatric Neuroimaging: Meta-Analyses of Task Related Brain Activation in Common Mental Disorders

4. Fat shaming is associated with poor health outcomes

From Obesity

Individuals suffering from obesity who self-stigmatise may be at an increased cardiometabolic risk. Physiological and psychological mechanisms linking weight bias internalisation and metabolic syndrome warrant further research.

One of the researchers commented:

“There is a common misconception that stigma might help motivate individuals with obesity to lose weight and improve their health,” Pearl said. “We are finding it has quite the opposite effect.

When people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress.”

5. Thinking loops lead to emotional loops

From Tara Brach

Tara Brach humorously talks about the relationship between biases, emotion, beliefs and thinking. Emotions can subside in 90 seconds unless we generate cycles of thinking that re-trigger and reinforce them.

Have a great weekend everyone.

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Psychopathy vs control of emotion

I recently learnt that I have the val-val variety of the COMT gene. This piece of information means I respond to stress pretty well – the weight I attribute to it is tiny, but it is also characteristic of the ENTP personality type, so I will roll with it.


Looking at other women freaks me out sometimes – they are so emotional. Everything seems to matter. I feel like I have the full range of emotion, but being around these super intense women sometimes makes me feel like either a man – or a psychopath. I just can’t relate – and it makes me feel isolated. Furthermore, I never thought of myself as being super-empathetic (though I still cannot watch A Christmas Carol even without crying.) So I don’t know what to make of it and am starting to wonder if I am a tad psychopathic.

Controlling emotion, being aware of emotion and using it rather than allowing it to use you is fundamental to getting anything done. I struggle sometimes to understand the difference between controlling emotion, suppressing emotion and being a psychopath. In the words of Robert Frost, the only way out is always through, but sometimes it seems that the drama just passes me by.

So let’s say someone hurls an insult your way.

A number of things can happen:

A. You feel that the only thing you can do is react. [Stupidly reactive]

B. You are in tune with your emotions, you will feel the anger as a response within you. Having this awareness will allow you to then decide: ok, there has been an insult, now I feel angry, but what am I actually going to do? [Zen master]

C. You know that this person’s opinion isn’t everything, so you don’t care, so you don’t get angry. You respond is an entirely calculated way. [? Psychopath]

D. You feel the anger, feel offended, but you are the bigger person, so you delay the response – and think of a way to respond while feeling vulnerable and under attack. [Suppressing emotions]

B and C seem like good options. The problem with C is that most people would regard it as psychopathy. But what if you control your emotions from a cognitive perspective? If you develop a belief that a person’s opinion isn’t important – that’s not psychopathic. And the fact that it diminishes your emotional response to the point of not existing – is also understandable. As a baby you could be afraid of the loud noise that the hoover makes, but when you get a little older – you understand that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and so the fear that had previously made you cry – goes away. Similarly, not every person is entitled to an opinion on every subject. **A conscious decision to not care with good reason is different to being someone who is unable to care, i.e. a psychopath.**