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Documentaries I Like: POSSESSED

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POSSESSED is a short documentary (21 minutes) by director Martin Hampton, showing the private lives of compulsive hoarders -- people who collect or save things far beyond reasonable limits. It's available online in its entirety (see below), and it's worth a look both for general interest as a documentary, but also for people who are curious about compulsive hoarding -- hoarding being a topic we flossers seem to blog about quite a bit.

The film is not too shocking -- these folks don't seem in imminent danger of death from their hoarding, and there aren't any animals involved -- but it's well worth twenty minutes of your time. Watch the film for a look into the lives of four hoarders who allow cameras into their rather cramped apartments.

POSSESSED from Martin Hampton on Vimeo.

Representative quotes:

"You've got no choice but to buy it. ...It's just so overpowering, the need to own something. It's almost like I recognize that I can't trust myself. The temptation of something is so much that I'm just going to give in to it."

"I don't feel I could actually ever get out of this flat on my own. I mean, I just don't think it's achievable. Actually, if my girlfriend moved to America tomorrow, I'd probably stop. The actual goal of breaking free from the possessions wouldn't be enough to actually get rid of them. The contentment of having them would be enough to just keep them."

(Ed. note: this is from a man who reports spending £5,000 collecting Sony MiniDisc players -- a format that's effectively obsolete.)

"I think...what happened? Because I mean, the clutter -- I see it, but I don't see it, in a way."

If you enjoy this film, you might dig the new show Obsessed on A&E -- it deals with OCD patients of all kinds (including compulsive hoarders) who are going through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. A few episodes are available online, although not the two which feature compulsive hoarders.

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Are Smart People More Likely to Believe Stereotypes?
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A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General finds that people who score higher on one type of intelligence test are more likely to buy into stereotypes. Fortunately, they’re also more likely to discard them.

There are many different kinds of intelligence, each reliant on its own set of skills and abilities. One such ability is pattern recognition, without which we’d have trouble recognizing faces, learning languages, or reading other people’s emotions. Because it’s so central to our cognitive and social functioning, pattern recognition is sometimes used by researchers as a shorthand for overall intelligence.

Researchers at New York University wondered if there was any downside to this kind of intelligence—if a person’s ability to make quick associations could make them more susceptible to harmful generalizations and stereotypes.

To find out, they designed a series of six online experiments to compare more than 1200 participants’ pattern recognition skills with how easily they bought into stereotypes.

In one experiment, the researchers showed participants a collection of men’s faces, along with a description of something each man had done in the past. Some of the men’s actions were good, like sending flowers to someone who was sick. Others were unpleasant.

What the participants didn’t realize was that the researchers had rigged the setup so that one facial feature, either a wide nose or a narrow one, was paired more frequently with bad behavior, essentially inventing a negative stereotype.

After this subconscious introduction, participants were invited to play a trust game with a virtual partner (actually a research bot). The “partner” avatars had subtle differences in the shape and size of their noses.

Sure enough, participants who aced the pattern recognition test were more distrustful of participants with the “bad” kind of nose, whichever type that happened to be. Their ability to jump quickly to conclusions seemed to lead them right into the stereotype trap.

“Superior cognitive abilities are often associated with positive outcomes, such as academic achievement and social mobility,” lead author David Lick said in a statement. “However, our work shows that some cognitive abilities can have negative consequences.”

The news wasn’t all bad. Another experiment tested people’s ability to let go of harmful existing stereotypes—in this case, relating to gender. The researchers subtly exposed participants to information that challenged their beliefs, showing women behaving assertively, for example, or men stepping aside to let others lead.

As it turned out, participants who scored higher on the pattern recognition test were also better at taking in this new information and letting it change their minds. After exposure, they were less likely to buy into harmful gender stereotypes.

“Finding that higher pattern detection ability puts people at greater risk to detect and apply stereotypes, but also to reverse them, implicates this ability as a cognitive mechanism underlying stereotyping,” co-author Jonathan Freeman said in the statement.

“Our findings may help pave the way for future research that leverages pattern detection or other cognitive abilities for reducing social biases.”

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Experts Say Trying to Force Yourself to Be Happy Doesn't Work
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A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that people who accept their difficult emotions are better off in the long run than those who try to force their way into a better mood.

Many psychologists and meditation teachers endorse a practice called radical acceptance. The basic idea is that when something bad happens—say, a dear friend moves away—you have two options. You can either deny or fight that reality, or you can accept it, deal with the loss, and move on. Or, to put it a different way: Pain is inevitable, but suffering, like the kind caused by denial, is optional.

Radical acceptance works because it teaches practitioners to accept reality and hard situations. Could the same framework help with hard emotions like anger, sadness, and grief? 

To find out, psychologists conducted three separate studies. The first was an online survey, in which 1003 people described how they related to their emotions. Participants were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements like "I tell myself I shouldn't be feeling the way that I'm feeling."

The second study took place in the lab and was framed as a mock job interview. The researchers told 156 people that they would be giving a speech extolling their job skills and qualifications. They were told the taped speech would be shown to a panel of judges as part of a mock job application. Then they were given two minutes to prepare. 

The last study invited 222 people to spend two months journaling about tough moments in their lives. Six months later, the researchers surveyed these people to see how they were feeling.

All three experiments yielded the same basic result: People who let themselves feel their feelings were, on average, less stressed, anxious, and depressed than those who tried to avoid or control them. 

"We found that people who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health," senior author Iris Mauss of UC Berkeley said in a statement. 

"Maybe if you have an accepting attitude toward negative emotions, you're not giving them as much attention," Mauss said. "And perhaps, if you're constantly judging your emotions, the negativity can pile up."

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