Archive | February, 2014

Using Your Brain…All of It

20 Feb

It’s a question that may be the ultimate brain teaser – how much of our brains do we actually use?

You’ve probably heard – even from presumably good sources – that human beings only use a small percentage of our brains. Some will say 5 percent. Others say 10, or perhaps 15 percent.

People actually use their entire brain, rather than the oft-quoted small portion of 5- to 10-percent.

People actually use their entire brain, rather than the oft-quoted small portion of 5- to 10-percent.

Is it any wonder, then, that we have heard that the human mind can be greatly enhanced and has the potential to develop ESP, or even mental telepathy? After all, if we are only using 5 percent of our minds, it could be inferred that we could improve the power of our brains to an almost unbelievable level. (Those of you who saw the 1970 film “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” might remember the telekinetic, mutant humans who were able to read minds, create mirages and inflict searing pain on their perceived enemies telepathically.)

But the truth is that none of those tiny percentages that are espoused in terms of how much of our brains we actually use are even remotely close to the truth.

“How much of your brain do you really use? All of it!” says Kelly Bordner, assistant professor of psychology at Southern.

Today, Wise Words looks at the myth that people use only a small portion of their brain. In Part I of this 2-part series, we examined the myth that opposites attract in romantic relationships, at least in the long run. Both subjects were among the psychological and behavioral myths explored in a course offered last fall at Southern.

Part II:

Just like muscle mass can be increased, so can the strength of our brain – just not to super human levels. For example, Bordner says that when we challenge ourselves with new material or learning a new skill, we create new neuronal connections.

“If we only used 10 percent in the first place, there certainly wouldn’t be the need to build new brain mass,” Bordner says. In other words, why bother challenging yourself with complex ideas if you could just tap into the “unused 90 percent of the brain.” And would stroke victims really need therapy to create new pathways in the brain to compensate for the damage sustained in the episode? At the very least, rehabilitation would seem to be a much easier process if you had all that “surplus brain” to work with in generating those new connections.

So, where did this myth originate? Bordner says no conclusive answer has yet been found. Some say it might have started with an interpretation of a quote from William James, who is often credited with being the father of American psychology.

In his book “The Energies of Men,” James wrote: “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.” But he never used a percentage, and could have been talking generically about the benefits of reaching our mental and physical potential.

Others say the myth could have stemmed from taking comments from other philosophers and scientists out of context. Even Albert Einstein has been attributed with having made statements supporting the myth.

But Bordner says there is no evidence in modern science to support the myth.

So, the next time you hear someone say that people only use 10 percent of their brains, you might want to tell them that isn’t the case with anyone you know.

Opposites Attract? — Studies Show Opposite View

12 Feb

They say opposites attract.

And that is absolutely true when you are dealing with…say…magnets. Who doesn’t remember their elementary school science classes when you would watch the “north pole” of one magnet gravitate toward the “south pole” of another. Conversely, two north poles or two south poles would repel each other.

The axiom of opposites attracting might even apply to initial attraction among humans. But when it comes to successful, long-term relationships, the opposite is more likely to be true, according to Kelly Bordner, assistant professor of psychology at Southern.

Finding someone with a similar personality and similar values may just be the prescription for happiness in a long-term relationship.

Finding someone with a similar personality and similar values may be just the prescription for happiness in a long-term relationship.

“It’s likely that the initial difference in personality and temperament leads to interest, excitation and perhaps, attraction,” she says. “But in the long run, despite what people say, opposites don’t attract, they attack.”

Bordner explored this topic, as well as other psychological and behavioral myths, during a course last semester. Her students also examined the roots of the myths, separating fact from fiction, and looking at the implications of what would life be like if the myths were actually true.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Wise Words examines the “do opposites attract” subject today in the first of a 2-part series. The second part will look at the popular notion that we humans only use a small percentage of our brains.

Part I:

The media culture is full of examples of opposites attracting. Fans of the “Big Bang Theory” have watched the on-again, off-again romance between nerdy scientist Leonard Hofstadter and the attractive but more superficial Penny. Yet, if the sit com were real life – granted that’s a reach — Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler would have a better chance of success.

“So, where did this myth originate? Well, no one really knows,” Bordner says. “But if you’re in it for the long haul, look for someone similar to yourself. After all, could you imagine spending the rest of your life bickering with your partner about whether to go out or stay in; whether to save money or spend it; whether to be neat or messy?”

Granted, sometimes a person’s “real personality” may not be evident right away. For example, a persona of bravado may merely be a cover for a deep-seeded insecurity. Some perceptive individuals can see through such a facade right away, but others are initially fooled and that can alter how someone views another, particularly a potential love interest.

“The reality is that these, and countless other quips and familiar ‘facts,’ are far from being true. Through examination of published scientific works and thoughtful discussion, we’ve asked ourselves: How and why did this myth originate? What evidence do we have that it’s (true or) false? What other falsities do I hold onto as a result of this?”

Bordner notes that not everyone shares her belief that deep down, most people seek mates with similar values and characteristics. In fact, most people say they prefer someone with opposite characteristics, according to a recent study published in the journal, Evolutionary Psychology. Yet, that study also shows the opposite is true: people generally prefer those who are similar in personality.

Other research — including a 2003 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — shows that people generally reflect a “likes-attract,” rather than an “opposites- attract” approach to decision making in finding a spouse.

Bordner also points out that the compatibility algorithms used by online dating sites usually use similar values and traits as key indicators.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Coming soon: Do people use only a small part of their brains in everyday life?

 

Safe Surfing in Cyberspace

6 Feb

Those of you who have read Part I and Part II of this 3-part series on cybersecurity may be tempted never to turn your computer on again.
But take heart. While there are villains out there who seek to take control of your machine — and they may even be successful – you are not defenseless against hackers.

Home computer users can significantly reduce the chances of being hacked by taking several steps to protect their machine.

Home computer users can significantly reduce the chances of being hacked by taking several steps to protect their machine.

Part III:

Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department, says several steps can be taken to protect your machine. “Unfortunately, no single solution exists to protect your computer from all of the risks that are out there,” she says. “But securing your computer and your digital transactions should be thought about in layers.”

Here are her suggestions:

  • Layer 1: Operating System – Regardless of the operating system you use (e.g., Windows 7, Windows 8, Mac OS X, etc.), always apply updates when you are notified. Most, if not all updates, are released to patch one or more security vulnerabilities. On your Windows machine, set the updates to happen automatically. On your Mac, when you see your App Store icon indicating that you have new updates to apply, do so immediately.
  • Layer 2: Internet Browser – It is critical that your browser stay up-to-date. “Historically, vulnerabilities in your browser have been a goldmine for hackers,” Lancor says. “Some browsers automatically check for the most recent version and if you don’t have it installed, it redirects you to update your browser before it allows you to access the Internet.” You can usually check if you are updated by going to the “About” page of your browser.
  • Layer 3: Third Party Applications and Plugins – Third party applications are stand-alone programs that work with your system, but are written by someone other than your operating system provider. Third party plugins are software widgets that add a feature to an existing software application. Adobe FlashPlayer, Adobe Reader and Oracle’s Java are examples of third party software. Always update this software, but beware of fake update messages for these and all applications and operating systems. Never click on a link to apply an update. Instead, manually navigate to the corresponding site and apply the update directly from the site.
  • Layer 4: You – This may be the most important layer of security. Many attacks are designed only to have an effect if you are duped into running malware. “As someone who studies this area, I have on several occasions almost been fooled by some very clever and targeted phishing email attacks,” Lancor says. “There was the UPS tracking message that appeared to be sent from Amazon during the holidays and then the very clever looking faux-Facebook email that enticed me into checking out some comments that ‘friends’ wrote on my wall. The friends listed were actual Facebook friends – clearly an attack that was targeted just for me.” The best way to handle these types of attacks is to never click on links in your email – simply navigate to the site manually. In the event that you need to click on the link, always hover over the link in your email and make sure the domain matches the site you are going to visit. Also, update your antivirus software. “If you don’t update your antivirus engine and signature file, your system won’t be protected from the latest known malware  that is out there,” Lancor says.

“The key is to be smart when surfing the Internet and always think like a hacker so that you can protect yourself from having your machine taken over,” Lancor says.

Happy and safe surfing!

Note: Lisa was interviewed Tuesday on WTIC’s (1080 AM) “Mornings with Ray Dunaway” about some of the latest hacking incidents and what people can do to protect their computers.

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