Thursday, December 24, 2009

How Happy are the Forgetful

Hey, it's already Christmas Eve. I said there would be more posts, and this will be the first! Several more massively substantive ones are in the works, and I'm still trying to come up with a couple of holiday season ones for this week. To say the least, I'll be posting a lot more than usual to make up for lost time this and next week.

I could do a healthcare followup, but at this time of the year, most don't want to think about the sad turns that took, since we sacrificed many of the best things we were fighting for just to appease Joe Lieberman (Amongst others) in the Senate, and a large number of people will continue to go without healthcare access and inevitably die because of the compromises made. (It's kind of funny how when compromise comes up in government, it's always from the Democrats, while the Republicans seem to believe they can simply get away with outright obstructing government function now, showing how broken our congressional system is getting, as slanted against the interests of the American people as it now is.) We're turning "healthcare reform" into a giveaway to the insurance industry, propping up a system citizens need to be able to circumvent, as healthcare does not work as a for-profit industry. But of course, like all things noble, the right-wing would have to turn this into a farce, their interests vested elsewhere than the best interests of the people. At this rate, I'm a still pretty skeptical that anything will get passed and that we'll see anything resembling meaningful change due to obstructionists who couldn't care less about healthcare access as a human right. As a sort of federal Xmas gift for the American people, the Senate bill passed its final hurdle this morning - though even Howard Dean has said that it wasn't worth passing as it stood - so we've got something to expand coverage to another 30 million people. Likewise, getting something passed is technically a victory over obstructionists and lays the groundwork for future revision and work on improving our healthcare system, since even in having lost the public option at this point - one of the most important things previously on the table - that's not say we can't bring it back at some point, perhaps if we can elect a congress actually interested in representing the people instead of running the country into the ground for corporate profiteering. (This is me acknowledging that I probably will have to leave this country sometime in the next several years to have any hope of living in a decent first world nation where standard of living is actually considered important - more so than corporate money.) So overall, I'm displeased about what we've ended up with, but at the same time, my feelings are mixed - we're teetering on the brink of what is technically at least some sort of reform despite all the obstructionist efforts to stop it entirely, a lot of non-insurance industry people do still stand to benefit. (We still have to reconcile the House and Senate bills in the spring before we'll see anything cross Obama's desk, but we've got two bills passed now, in the least. And I have a feeling we'll see the right fight to hold onto the House bill's Stupak-Pitts amendment, which seeks to decisively eliminate a woman's right of choice by removing the ability to purchase health insurance that covers abortion. Downright misogynistic.) But it does have to be said that our obsession with corporatism and the idea of corporatism as the "free market" guiding everything winning against humane thought once again is never pleasant to see. That kind of thinking - and seemingly intense disinterest in reform in China - made the Copenhagen climate change summit into a sad farce as well, and I hate to think about how much shrieking we're going to hear about climate change legislation here next year. (Particularly from the crowd convinced that those leaked emails including terms like "trick" and "hide the decline" that global warming deniers want to take as proof that somehow industrial pollution is having no negative effect on the world at all and it's all a big hoax. All people who have no understanding of the science, nor any interest in the objective reality of what's happening in all its complexity - it's sad that these bottom of the barrel conspiracy theories have been brought into the mainstream by today's furious Republicans in this country. They wouldn't be so angry if they actually took the time to understand what it was Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin were trying so hard to get them steamed up about.) Irate, further disillusioned political tangent over.

Time to cut to the chase instead of rambling as much. You're all overdue for another of my science posts. You can't get enough of them. In fact, I'm your only source for science news. (Don't ask me how I know that - I just know.) So it's time to drop a few more brain-factoids on you. Just like that one dream you had. You're weird.

Back in early November, a study was published in the Australian Science journal's November/December issue on the effects of good and bad moods. The study was carried out through inducing happy and sad moods in the research subjects through film viewings and recollections of positive and negative events.

Their findings included that people in negative moods were more attentive to and critical of their surroundings than happier people, who were more inclined to accept things they were told at face value. (You've heard it here first - happy people are suckers. All of them.) The findings also suggested that sadness "promotes information processing strategies best suited to dealing with more demanding situations."

Some of you happy-mongers out there might be yelling, "Hey, come on! Happiness can't be an altogether bad thing at your monitor right now!" Stop it. I can't hear you through the internet. See how happy people are!? Anyway, you should be happy to know that their findings also found that positive moods "promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation, and reliance on mental shortcuts." Good for you. You're more pleasant to be around and all these other good things - though good arguments can be made for unhappiness and creativity, as a post coming in the near future will also discuss. (Noticing the recurring trend of the power of negativity on this blog? Have a cookie.)

Despite these findings on happiness, they also found that "negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking paying greater attention to the external world." It almost seems to suggest that happiness forms sort of a shell around people that helps them filter and somewhat disconnect from the outside world. The rest of us are raw nerves who know exactly what's what. (Or so the findings in this one particular study seem to suggest. Let's all not forget to wear our critical thinking scientific method caps. The last time we forgot them, we decided getting hamsters to smoke cigarettes was a good idea - let us not repeat that tragedy.) Speaking of which, one the experiments that made up the study entailed asking the subjects to judge the truth of various rumors and urban legends, and - as you'd expect from the rest of these findings - those in negative moods were less likely to believe the statements presented to them.

Those in unpleasant moods were also found less likely to make snap decisions based on racial or religious prejudice - apparently happiness is inherently bigoted (Or that hypothetical 'happiness shell' makes you less likely to care about offending someone with your bigotry.), are you learning anything today? - and were also less likely to make mistakes when recalling events they witnessed. The happier you are, the more you forget, shrouded in your warm fog.

The sour were also found to be better at making their case in written arguments, that a "mildly negative mood may actually promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style." Is there no way in which misery cannot better us?

Concluding, study author psychology professor Joseph Forgas (University of New South Wales) stated that "Positive mood is not universally desirable: people in negative mood are less prone to judgmental errors, are more resistant to eyewitness distortions and are better at producing high-quality, effective persuasive messages."

Begrudgingly, I'll give you that it's probably healthiest for us to live a more centered life where we maintain some sort of balance in our moods - what of one we can - as so to enjoy the positives of the ups and downs of daily human existence. But would this blog be anywhere near as sharp, biting, incisive, and impossible to tear yourself away from if not for my unrelenting negativity? I submit that it would not!

See, wasn't some more negative-thinking science exactly what you wanted for Xmas Eve? Don't worry, I'm going to come up with something weird and comical for Xmas Day within these 24 hours. And I've got a good several quality, substantive posts on the way to close the year - and decade! - on a good note here. Look forward to something goofy and likely inevitably slapdash in the next 13-14ish hours and have an enjoyable holiday, readers!

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