Oh I have lost track of all days. This will be a short blog – although the information today was fascinating, it wasn’t quite my preferred topic, and I think I burned out a few neurons along the way. Today, we learned about pathologies of cognition and the neuroscience of social-affective disorders.
In the “social-affective disorders” topic, this was mostly focused on clinical work. We examined fMRI results for conditions like anxiety, depression, psychopathology, and other things that I tend not to encounter in my life as a corporate trainer or organizational development consultant. Well – according to some blogs and sources, I might encounter psychopaths because apparently they do well at work and get promoted a lot due to their social smoothness. So maybe I should say that I don’t knowingly encounter these clinical types.
In the “pathologies of cognition” topic, we discussed how memory, naming and attention are often the first cognitive functions to “go” – like the canaries in the coal mine – when there is a pathology like Alzheimer’s. At that point, I lost focus and I can’t remember the rest of what we talked about whatever it was.
Our two break-out groups were excellent. The first was about positive neuroscience, and how funds are becoming available for neuroscientists who want to study positive emotions and other elements of positive psychology in the brain. The discussion was led by Denise Clegg (MAPP 2008) and we did get into some discussion of just what positive psychology is anyhow. I know that I’ve been struggling with this exact definition, and one element that came out in the discussion was nothing I’d considered before, so I share it here because I’d like to know what others think.
In “psychology as usual”, the interventions and exercises are designed to be done with a clinical population by a highly-trained practitioner. In “positive psychology”, in theory, anyone can use the interventions, and would apply them in the course of their regular work or life function, such as through education as a teacher, through health care as a doctor, through parenting as a mother or father, and so on. This distinction seemed to be very helpful for a few people in the room – what do you think?
For our second break-out group, I chose to go to the discussion on “self-control“. We spent some time defining what it is and isn’t. For example, if the four-year old in Mischel’s marshmallow study decided after one minute that actually he would prefer to eat the marshmallow now instead of waiting, would we say he had a lack of self-control? It got rather philosophical. I also came up with a new (to me) idea that perhaps self-control evolved as a social necessity that allows us to live in groups and get along in our close groups of 150. Perhaps this is part of how we’re “wired” to be social critters. I’m sure this is not a net-new idea – I may have heard it somewhere before. But it was new for me in the moment.
We also learned that the self-control “system” is very sensitive to learning, and may or may not be the same thing as willpower – depends on your definition. I also asked if there was any neurological evidence to Baumeister’s theory that willpower is like a muscle that gets depleted and that you can build it up over time, and I was told no. Our discussion leader was doubtful of this theory, because if you can give someone a gift or redirect their attention, and that restores the willpower, then it doesn’t seem likely that it really gets depleted. Anyhow, it’s an interesting area of potential neuroscience research – though hard to design I would imagine, given all the technological constraints.
Overall, the topic of self-control seems to still lie predominantly in the area of psychology rather than neuroscience – but maybe one day this work will be done?
And a quick note about an upcoming VIA course:
One of the leading positive psychology organizations, The VIA Institute on Character, is offering their next online course on August 16th. Activating Strengths: Exploring Strengths Applications and Interventions is VIA’s in-depth, introductory course — perfect for anyone interested in learning how to apply the latest strengths-based applications to their work. This course includes a variety of learning methods, including lecture, articles, Q&A, videos, and the most popular learning module—Skype group work with other members of the course. The lectures are recorded and sent to all participants, so Activating Strengths is convenient for every schedule and time zone. Classes begin August 16th—don’t miss out! Register here: http://viapros.org/www/en-us/