Time Out

Notes from a flaming moderate

Inside/Outside: Time for a New Paradigm?

Research results tell us it's time for a new paradigm.

The more we learn about the way things are, the more we need to think outside the box.

The science of psychology continually amazes me with results that challenge the way we think, and cross the boundaries of conventional categories. Here are some recent research findings, published in peer-reviewed journals. See whether they challenge your assumptions:

Meditation and psychotherapy can change your brain.
Having friends will keep you healthier.
Sleep deprivation will degrade your moral reasoning.
Merely seeing someone who looks sick will rev up your immune system.

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Is it time to reconsider the way we think about some basic categories? Where is the boundary between inside and out, individual and group, body and mind? These are not new issues, but they become more urgent as the data accumulate, and we probably need a new way to think about what we are learning.

Occasionally - rarely- a scientific breakthrough can lead to a "paradigm shift", an entirely new way of conceptualizing reality. Once it was assumed that the sun revolved around the earth - then came Galileo, who shook up our view of the universe - and made us reconsider our own place in it. The dramatic paradigm shift that was evolution continues to this day to cause psychological whiplash in some parts of this country. Einstein's theory of relativity, the splitting of the atom...these and other scientific breakthroughs profoundly changed the way we understand our world and ourselves.

Psychologists are in the change business, and we know that sometimes change occurs suddenly and dramatically, but more often change is incremental: one less cookie can be the start of mindful eating, and one appreciative comment, then one more and one more, can turn a troubled relationship around.

By now, there's more than enough evidence demonstrating that behavior and emotional states are "contagious". They spread through social networks. On the positive side, your happiness, and your acts of kindness influence not only your friends, but also their friends, and so on. This is true, as well, for undesirable conditions such as obesity, and unhealthy behaviors like smoking. Social connections operate in ways that are even more complex than that: In a recent study of adolescents, researchers found the spread of one behavior - poor sleep patterns, influenced the spread of another behavior, adolescent drug use. The clusters of poor sleep and marijuana use extended up to four degrees of separation (to one's friends' friends' friends' friends)!

The more we look, the more integral are the connections we find between parts of ourselves that we normally think of as separate: between inside our bodies, and outside our families, between caring for ourselves and perceiving and judging others - and probably a whole lot more we are yet to discover. We need to seriously think about how one behavior affects our lives on many levels at the same time.

Perhaps we're ready for a paradigm change.

 

Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D., is affiliated with the Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management at the George Washington University.

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