“Unethical amnesia”: subconscious deliberately suppresses memories of dishonesty Memories of past dishonesty is distressing, so the brain shuts them down
CREDIT: TELEGRAPH Henry Bodkin 16 MAY 2016 • 8:20PM
People are prone to repeat dishonest acts because the human subconscious deliberately suppresses memories of unethical behavior, scientists have found.
Fiddling expenses, cheating the taxman and even extramarital affairs are all less likely to be remembered than virtuous acts because of the phenomenon of “unethical amnesia”, according to researchers at Harvard and Northwestern Universities.
Maryam Kouchaki and Francesca GinoPublished in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new study explains how the brain actively adopts strategies to avoid remembering instances of bad behavior in order to avoid psychological distress.
These include “re-coding” previous actions by subconsciously dehumanising the victims of dishonesty.
Additionally, many of the participants in the study were found to be operating a “double-distancing” mechanism, whereby they judged other people’s transgressions more harshly than their own, allowing them to view themselves in a more virtuous light.
Subjects were randomly tasked with writing about either an unethical or an ethical past experience.Their answers were then assessed against characteristics of memory such as clarity of detail and how well the subject remembered their feelings at the time of the act.
The results showed that individuals’ recall of their own past unethical acts were less vivid than memories of their ethical acts.
Participants were also asked to take part in a coin-tossing game where they were able to lie in order to win more money.
Their subsequent recall of the game was far less accurate than that of the dinner they enjoyed together later that day.
This unethical amnesia means people are more likely to act dishonestly repeatedly over time, wrote lead authors Maryam Kouchaki and Francesca Gino.
For some, a certain song or smell makes them feel postively nostalgic while for someone else it reminds them of a love lost.But a new study has shown people can intentionally forget past experiences by changing how they think about the context of those memories.
The findings could help in the development of new educational tools, or even help to diminish harmful memories, especially in people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Theorists have known since the Ancient Greek era the importance of context in retrieving our memories, such as being reminded by a particular person, sight or smell.
But the team from Dartmouth and Princeton wanted to find out about whether memories could be intentionally forgotten.
To do this, they scanned the brains of participants using MRI technology to track the thoughts related to memories’ contexts, while putting a new twist on the traditional psychological research technique of having subjects memorise and recall a list of unrelated words.
In the new study, researchers showed participants images of outdoor scenes, such as forests, mountains and beaches, as they studied two lists of random words.
This is a book about a magician and a con-artist as written by a brain-scientist. The magician gets tangled into a con-artist scam and so ends up on the run from the authorities in a particularly thrilling chase. The brain scientist is trying to help the magician forget about his old life and start a new one, one with no recollections of his past, and this novel is his way of recording the magician’s past.
So it’s not your normal book what with the outline above, the many twists and turns within the plot and it’s story being organised around various academic articles on memory and how the brain works.
Indeed I have to say these articles did somewhat get in the way of the main narrative and could have been edited out but it sort of added to the authenticity of the author being an expert in the field of thoughts so I can understand why they are there. That aside the book was a cracking read with a really good story which always left me guessing as to where it would go next. It was a very clever plot full of humorous metaphors and excellent repartee.
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They say, “Never meet your heroes”. Nothing to do with halitosis apparently. It’s something about your expectations exceeding the reality and tempting disappointment.
Since he first started reading minds on TV over a decade ago, Derren Brown has been an absolute hero to me, almost a god. He inspired my second novel and motivated me to practice prestidigitation and mentalism right up and into the Magic Circle (available for weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, etc.).
I even met him once and though, sadly, nothing magical passed between us, we also didn’t have the opportunity to disappoint each other. And we both were far too polite to mention the halitosis.
What they don’t say is, “Never see your heroes live and working at what they’re supposed to be best at”. Which is why I allowed myself some expectations when I sat down to witness his latest West End show Miracle. A title filled with irony and yet unable to hide the fact the show really needs one.
It’s not that Brown’s effects were transparent, though a couple were surprisingly so. And it’s not that he has lost any of his charisma, though in the second half he does try to ape charismatic faith healers in a theatrical expose that falls short. It’s just that, unlike the preachers he attempts to shame, his heart just doesn’t seem to be in it. Presumably the greed that drives American faith healers, spurs them into passionate reveries, a misapprehended dedication which inspires their followers. Brown attempts to copy these evangelical tirades but then, almost immediately, is betrayed by his own disgust for the characters he’s impersonating as well as a lack of, dare I say it, faith… in his own cause.
Oh darn it. Now I’ve revealed something that was in the show. And he had asked us all so nicely at the beginning, not to tell anyone what we were going to witness.
And honestly, if Brown had produced something truly unique or original or just looked like it took some effort or care, I would be respecting his wishes and be offering you so much exultant, content free, wind. But I got the feeling that his desire for secrecy may have had more to do with a lack of confidence in the production than a desire to surprise and delight further audiences; that if potential ticket buyers knew more, they just might stop coming.
So what’s gone wrong?
Simply, it seems that Brown and fellow genius/mentalist/actor/other hero director Andy Nyman have failed to dress the effects with the care that they used to. What made Brown such a class-leading, unique performer was his ability to build stories around his effects with beautiful logic that created almost entirely credible explanations. Brown’s fans mould themselves in his image, they see themselves as intelligent, thoughtful, and sceptical if not downright cynical – but then they swear by his declared techniques. So if, for example, you put enough subliminal suggestions around an ad writer’s journey to work you will be able to influence him to come up with a precise idea you’ve already predicted. Obvs! If you find a truly compliant person, whittled from a large group through a bunch of psychological games, you can safely play Russian Roulette with them. For sure! If you crowd-source your lottery numbers, the group will come up with the winning combination. Well. The first two anyway. But Miracle just feels cobbled together; like they could no longer be bothered to put the work in.
Even the audience seemed less enrapt by the great man.
“Was there a reason you thought of that particular number?” Brown quizzed a gentleman who had earlier been selected to dream one up.
“Because that’s the one you told me before the show,” the man replied. Brown cringed and repeated several times that that was not the case, sounding rather like the lady who protesteth too much and not the old Brown who might have confidently joined in the fun with a, “how am I going to get away with the ‘no stooge’ thing now?…” or whatever.
In Absolute Magic, Brown’s bible for magicians on the art of magical performance, he insists that, “You must entertain and enthral, and not drift into risible pretension or alienate with an insensitively handled agenda.” Unfortunately, with Miracle, Brown does just that.
In the first half, he clumsily tries to inject an agenda, about the deadening aspects of the mid-life crisis and the reviving qualities of risk, into a number of unoriginal effects. Effects which have either been seen so often the risk appears minimal – such as the game of Russian Roulette involving a spike hidden in one of a number of identical paper bags (an effect so well-trodden Brown preceded it with a montage of YouTube videos of worse magicians getting the trick wrong) – or simply lacking the dramatic build up to mean much or give credibility. When he got an audience member to dine on a broken lightbulb with him, he offered a half-hearted suggestion that taking a risk like this would help her be braver about finding her own way in life. A large part of this was whilst she was off-stage and most of it was said only after the effect was over. I’m sure the Derren Brown who was my hero would have used his miracle making, mesmerising authority to build up the spectator until she really believed she could do this impossible thing, and only then would she cautiously be allowed to put the glass in her mouth. But he barely tried, and she simply, trustingly, put the glass in her mouth, chewed and swallowed it.
Afterwards, as she was ushered to her seat, Brown instructed the audience “Obviously don’t try this at home, you need someone like me to talk you through it.” But that’s it. No theatre, no attempt to create an impossible story around it and would my hero, the old Brown, even suggest that there was anyone like him?
It was in the second half that Brown tried to take on the persona of a faith healer. One girl started crying on stage because she thought she’d been cured from crippling anxiety only to get up on stage and be faced with the full force of it. Brown seemed lost for words. He was at once affecting change for those who would believe and yet trying to peddle an anti-belief message; you are the agent of your own change etc. It’s a familiar tightrope for him and yet, in Miracle, it proved an impossible one.
And there we have it. The conviction that Brown put into his TV work seems to have, hopefully briefly, departed him in Miracle. With that unshakable self-belief gone, he fails to inspire, the experience seems a little empty and one wonders whether this is Brown’s own mid-life crisis enacted on stage.
It’s not easy to watch gods become mortal. Yet, in showing his feet of clay, Brown unconsciously points to the footprints he has left behind. Miracle will remind you that we shouldn’t take for granted the wonders he has created, what astonishments he has wrought and how, over the years, he has taught us all to be a little more sceptical and question what we see. In Miracle we see more vulnerable Derren Brown, we see that he is a human after all, but that, as he reminds us at the beginning of the show, is quite a miracle in itself.
First published in
What if scientists could sneak into your brain while you’re sleeping and erase painful memories — or turn them into happy ones? What sounds like something out of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” could be a reality sooner than you might expect.
Of course, nobody’s saying the technique will be used to help people get over a bad breakup. But it just might change the lives of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In pioneering new research, neuroscientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and ESPCI ParisTech manipulated memories in sleeping mice, using paired electrodes inserted into the brain to turn neutral memories into positive ones.
The new discovery has members of the scientific community buzzing.
“This research demonstrates a remarkable level of mastery over the cognitive machinery that gives rise to memories,” Steve Ramirez, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has conducted landmark research on memory manipulation, told The Huffington Post in an email.
In the experiment, the researchers placed one electrode in the hippocampus, a brain region associated with spatial memory. The other was placed in the brain’s so-called “reward center.”
First, they monitored the brain activity of each mouse as it roamed around an “exploration area.” As the mouse stored memories of different locations in the exploration area, different neurons in the hippocampus lit up, indicating that spatial information was being recorded.
Then, the researchers monitored activity of the hippocampus at night as it consolidated memories of different locations the mouse had visited that day.
They placed an electrode on a neuron that had lit up in one particular corner of the cage earlier that day. When that memory was being processed, the researchers used another electrode to stimulate the brain’s reward center, making the mouse associate that location with some sort of reward, such as food.
How do they know it worked? When the mice woke up, they ran straight to that area of the cage, expecting a reward.
“The learning we induced during sleep was just to change the emotional value of the different locations of the environments,” Dr. Karim Benchenane, a neuroscientist at CNRS and one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post in an email. “Indeed, during waking hours, all the locations were neutral. What we made them learn during sleep is that a particular location is now associated to a reward.”
These results tell us something fascinating about about how the brain works: Our memories seem to be stored in a piecemeal fashion. While one area of the brain holds the factual information of the memories, the emotions associated with the memory are held in a different area.
So what about a human brain? In the future, scientists might be able to go into a person’s brain while they’re sleeping and turn off the emotional element of a negative memory, essentially extracting the trauma from a traumatic experience.
“For humans, you would need a way to detect during sleep the periods during which the traumatic experiences are reactivated,” Benchenane explained. “It is likely that it will be soon possible to do so with fMRI.”
But it’s going to be a while before this technique is used on humans, because of the risks associated with sticking electrodes in the human brain.
Still, the potential for future treatment is promising.
“We’re just scratching the tip of the technical iceberg and definitely have our work cut out for us,” Ramirez said. “Nonetheless, the study gives us a fantastic and novel framework under which to work to achieve these kinds of treatment-related goals.”
The findings were published on March 9 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Crime pays – they only have to pay back £53,000
By SAM WEBB
PUBLISHED: 18:48, 17 February 2014 | UPDATED: 09:16, 18 February 2014
A couple on benefits ran a £280,000 VAT scam on luxury fashion brand Chanel in order to fund a luxury flat in London’s exclusive Chelsea, private schools for their children and gambling at casinos.
Emmanuel and Behnaz Scotts bought items at one of three Chanel stores and later return the goods to a different shop to obtain a refund or an exchange.
The couple, who claimed £32,000 in benefits, posed as wealthy tourists in order to claim back tax on returned goods They also misled staff into supplying VAT export claim forms for goods they had not bought.
Fraudsters: Behnaz Scotts, who ran a VAT scam with her husband Emmanuel. The pair would pose as foreign tourists in order to claim back tax on returned goods
Last week Emmanuel Behnaz was told to repay £27,672 and his wife £25,622 – or they would be handed 15 months in jail – at an Old Bailey confiscation hearing, reports the Evening Standard.
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The idea of summoning the spirits took thrilling hold of the Victorian imagination – and has its adherents now. But the psychology behind spiritualism is more intriguing
As the evenings get darker and the first hint of winter hangs in the air, the western world enters the season of the dead. It begins with Halloween, continues with All Saints’ and All Souls’ days, runs through Bonfire Night – the evening where the English burn effigies of historical terrorists – and ends with Remembrance Day. And through it all, Britain’s mediums enjoy one of their busiest times of the year.
People who claim to contact the spirit world provoke extreme reactions. For some, mediums offer comfort and mystery in a dull world. For others they are fraudsters or unwitting fakes, exploiting the vulnerable and bereaved. But to a small group of psychologists, the rituals of the seance and the medium are opening up insights into the mind, shedding light on the power of suggestion and even questioning the nature of free will.
Humanity has been attempting to commune with the dead since ancient times. As far back as Leviticus, the Old Testament God actively forbade people to seek out mediums. Interest peaked in the 19th century, a time when religion and rationality were clashing like never before. In an era of unprecedented scientific discovery, some churchgoers began to seek evidence for their beliefs.
Salvation came from two American sisters, 11-year-old Kate and 14-year-old Margaret Fox. On 31 March 1848, the girls announced they were going to contact the spirit world. To the astonishment of their parents they got a reply. That night, the Fox sisters chatted to a ghost haunting their New York State home, using a code of one tap for yes, two gaps for no. Word spread and soon the girls were demonstrating their skills to 400 locals in the town hall.
Within months a new religion had emerged – spiritualism – a mixture of liberal, nonconformist values and fireside chats with dead people. Spiritualism attracted some of the great thinkers of the day – including biologist Alfred Russel Wallace and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who spent his latter years promoting spiritualism in between knocking out Sherlock Holmes stories. Even the admission of the Fox sisters in 1888 that they had faked it all failed to crush the movement. Today spiritualism thrives in more than 350 churches in Britain.
The tricks and techniques used by mediums have been exposed many times by people such as James Randi, Derren Brown and Jon Dennis, creator of the Bad Pyschics website.
Last week I spent 40 minutes with a telephone spiritualist who passed on messages from four dead people. Like all mediums, she was skilled at cold reading – the use of probable guesses and picking up of cues to steer her in the right direction. If she hit a dud – the suggestion that she was in the presence of a 40-year-old uncle of mine – she quickly widened it out. The 40-year-old became an older person who felt young at heart. And then someone who was more of an uncle figure. She was also skilled at the Barnum effect – the use of statements that tend to be true for everyone.
Among dozens of guesses and misses, there was just one hit – the correct name of a dead relative. Their relation to me was utterly wrong, as were details of their health. But the name was right and, even though it was a common name among that person’s generation, it was a briefly chilling moment.
Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist and magician, says my response to this lucky guess is typical. People tend to remember the correct details in a seance but overlook statements or events that provide no evidence of paranormal powers.
Wiseman’s work has also shown that we are all extremely susceptible to the power of suggestion. With colleague Andy Nyman, co-creator of Derren Brown’s television illusions, Wiseman used contemporary descriptions of Victorian seances to recreate an encounter with spirits in a disused prison. Over eight seances involving 152 people, volunteers sat around a table in the dark holding hands while luminous painted bells, balls and maracas moved before their eyes. Surveyed afterwards, a fifth of the volunteers believed they had witnessed the paranormal.
“These things are often very simple,” says Wiseman, author ofParanormality. “We had a man creeping around with a stick. We thought when we read the original accounts of how seances were carried out that they wouldn’t fool anyone. We were wrong. A lot this is do with framing. Once you think you have an explanation for an event you don’t have any other ones. Once you think it’s a spirit you don’t look for another explanation.”
During the seance, Nyman, taking the role of the medium, announced that the spirit would raise the table. Soon afterwards he encouraged the spirit by saying “lift the table higher” and “the table is moving now”. Two weeks later a third of the participants recalled wrongly that the table had moved.
“Suggestion builds over time. If you ask people immediately after the event it is not so effective. You don’t want to solidify the memory immediately after the event,” says Wiseman.
The trappings of the seance increase its success. Holding hands prevents participants from disrupting the trickery. Darkness increases sensitivity to sound and movement and makes people more scared – which may, Wiseman says, increase susceptibility.
The seance can be explained by stage magic and human frailty. But what about phenomena such as table tipping and Ouija boards?
Table tipping, or turning, has gone out of fashion but is easy to replicate with four or more people, a small table, dim lights and a relaxed atmosphere. The group place hands on the table and wait. After 40 minutes or so the table should start to move. It soon appears to have a mind of its own, sliding, swaying and even pinning people to the walls.
The reason why household furniture can appear to be possessed was exposed more than 160 years ago by Michael Faraday, the discoverer of the link between magnetism and electricity. In 1852 Faraday was fascinated by the new craze of table tipping – and whether people or spirits were responsible. So he took bundles of cardboard roughly the size of a table top and glued them weakly together. Each sheet got progressively smaller from top to bottom, allowing Faraday to mark their original positions on the card above with a pencil. He then placed the cards on a table and asked volunteers to put their hands on the cards and let the spirits move the table to the left.
This experiment allowed Faraday to see what was moving the table. If it was spirits, the table top would slide out the cards from the bottom up. But if the participants were doing it, the top cards would be the first to move. By examining the position of the pencil marks Faraday showed that people, not spirits, moved the table. He had demonstrated the ideomotor response, the movement of muscles independent of deliberate thought. This also explains table tipping’s sophisticated big brother, the Ouija board.
In a Ouija seance participants place fingers on a glass on a table surrounded by letters and watch as it eerily moves – and occasionally spells out words. Psychologist Susan Blackmore is best known as the proponent of memes, but early in her career she was a parapsychologist. At Oxford she ran the student Psychical Research Society, carrying out experiments using Ouija boards. Time and again the glass spelled words and sentences. Her confidence began to be shaken when she modified the board.
“We turned the letters upside down because surely spirits should see the letters underneath,” says Blackmore, now a sceptic. “And of course it spelt out rubbish. It cannot work unless all the people can see what is going on.”
The ideomotor effect is also at play with the glass. “With a Oujia board, your arm is getting tired and your ability to judge the location of your finger is compromised,” says Blackmore. “When the glass moves you naturally adjust your movements and go along with the glass. To start with it moves hesitantly, but after a while as soon as it starts moving everyone’s hand follows.’
But what about the glass’s ability to spell? That was investigated by the American psychologist Joseph Jastrow in the 1890s. He used a device called the automatograph made of two glass plates separated by brass balls. Any involuntary movement of hands placed on the top plate causes it to move. The movement is recorded by a pencil attached to the device.
When Jastrow asked volunteers to imagine looking at an object in the room the automatograph revealed that their hands involuntarily moved in that direction. Just visualising the door was enough for the hands to drift towards it.
And that’s what’s happening with a Ouija board. If the participants look at a particular letter – because they expect it to follow next – they unwittingly nudge the glass towards it.
If the Ouija board has shed light on unwitting movement, then another technique, channelling of spirits, has questioned free will.
Harvard psychologist Dan Wegner, who died this year, is best known for his work on the rebound effect. Tell someone not to think about white bears and they immediately think about white bears. The more we try to actively suppress a thought, the less likely we are to succeed. But he also investigated automatic writing, where people claim to write without being aware what they are doing.
The most famous automatic writer was Pearl Curran, an American who knocked out more than 5,000 poems, novels and plays while claiming to be channelling the spirit of Patience Worth, a 17th-century Englishwoman.
Automatic writing has traditionally been explained as the action of the subconscious mind. But Wegner argued that the reason lay in the illusion of free will. Most people have a sense of their inner you – the conscious self that makes decisions about day-to-day life. According to Wegner this sense is an illusion. There’s evidence to back up this seemingly unlikely idea.
In the 1960s, neurophysiologist William Grey Walter got volunteers to operate a slide projector while their brain was monitored with electrodes. The participants were told to press a button to change slides. But the button was a fake – the projector was controlled by electrical activity in the brain. The startled volunteers found that the slide machine was predicting their decisions. A fraction of a second before they decided to press the button, the part of the brain responsible for hand movement burst into activity and – through the electrodes – moved the slide on.
Grey Walter showed that there was a fraction of a second delay between the brain making a decision and someone being aware that they were making a decision.
In the 1980s, Benjamin Libert of the University of California , San Francisco,made a similar discovery after attaching volunteers to electrical monitors and sitting them in front of a screen displaying a dot in a circle. The participants were told to flex their wrists whenever they liked, and report the position of the dots at the moment they made the decision to flex. Again, there was a surge in brain activity a fraction of a second before the volunteers were aware they were making a decision.
Wegner’s solution was that our deliberate, thinking brain – the inner me that makes decisions – is an illusion. Instead, the brain does two things when it makes a decision to raise an arm. First it passes a message to the part in charge of creating the conscious inner you. Second, it delays the signal going to the arm by a fraction of a second. This delay generates the illusion that the conscious mind has made a decision.
Wegner argued that automatic writing occurs when something goes wrong with this process. The brain sends the signal to the arm to write – but fails to alert the inner you.
There’s something a little ironic about his conclusion. The early spiritualists believed they were shedding light on the transition of the human spirit from the physical body to the afterlife. Wegner suggests that it’s not just the distinction between mind and body that is false, but the whole concept of the “conscious” decision-making mind is just another piece of trickery played by the brain.
And meanwhile, 150 years after Faraday showed that table tipping was hokum, we continue to frighten one another in the dark.
‘What is remarkable is that the stuff written in books 100 years ago still works,’ says Richard Wiseman. ‘If you think of all the technology and science and education and yet a group of people sitting in the dark can scare the living daylights out of themselves.’
A teaspoon of PEANUT BUTTER helps detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease
Researchers at the University of Florida have found that patients lose sense of smell in their left nostril faster than their right
Peanut butter was used as a ‘pure odorant’ in tests to determine loss of sense of smell
Test subjects had all been diagnosed already, but the study revealed that one day smell may be used to detect early stages of Alzheimer’s
By Helen Briggs
When Louise was three, her mother Zoe, who was then 29, was diagnosed with dementia. She is now 42, and living in a care home unable to walk or talk.
Zoe is one of the 17,000 people in the UK living with “early-onset dementia”, which is defined as cases diagnosed before the age of 65.
For Zoe’s family, the first signs something was wrong came when Louise and her sister were on holiday with their grandmother.
While they were away, another relative noticed Zoe – clearly confused – out in the park searching for her children.
Louise’s grandmother, Julie, says she still misses the everyday moments she can no longer share with her daughter – going shopping or a day at the beach.
“It’s one of the worst diseases going,” she says. “It’s all been wiped away.”
After being in and out of hospital for some time, Zoe was eventually diagnosed with early onset dementia.
Doctors could not say why it had happened to someone so young.
“Right at the outset, when she was first diagnosed, they said unfortunately sometimes these things happen,” says Julie.
“They’re like a one-off and Zoe’s the one-off.”
Zoe managed to live with her daughters at the start of her illness, but soon became too ill to cope.
She now lives in a care home in Ashford, and is on a special early onset ward, where she is by far the youngest person.
Louise was only a baby when Zoe became ill, so has few memories of living with her mother.
But she now raises funds for the Alzheimer’s Society, and recently took part in one of the charity’s Memory Walks. She hopes research will help prevent the same thing happening to another family.
“I can’t help my mum now it’s too late – there’s nothing anybody can do to help her. But if it means I can help other people then it’s worth it.
“It’s also to raise awareness. When I meet new people and I tell them how my life is, and I explain my mum’s got dementia, no-one I’ve met has ever really known what it is and how it affects people.”
The family is also having to cope with dementia striking again.
Julie’s mother Ruby, 85, was found to have Alzheimer’s five years ago, and is now in a care home.
She was diagnosed after slipping out of the house at night and walking several miles along the local canal.
Julie – who has therefore seen both her daughter and her mother battle the disease – now focuses on supporting her granddaughters.
“The miracle we’ve been waiting for, hoping to happen hasn’t happened,” says Julie.
“When the girls were little and asking, ‘Why is mum ill and when will she get better?’ we just had to say, ‘We’re hoping for a miracle’.
“We haven’t got our miracle, so perhaps we can help in other ways.”
Early onset dementia
People diagnosed with dementia under the age of 65 are often described as ‘younger people with dementia’ by health and social care professionals
Other terms used include ‘early onset dementia’, ‘young-onset dementia’, and ‘working age dementia’
In the UK, an estimated 17,000 people under the age of 65 are living with dementia
This number is likely to be an under-estimate, and the true figure may be up to three times higher
To be diagnosed at a young age is very rare
Getting an accurate diagnosis of dementia can take a long time for younger people, often due to lack of awareness that dementia can happen in younger people
Anyone worried about any problems with memory, at any age, should consult their GP
Source: Alzheimer’s Society
“Stop or I’ll Shoot”
The next time you hear this shouted, perhaps you will pause for a moment; if only to appreciate what a beautiful, well rounded and articulate phrase it is. It is a warning honed to perfection, it is how all warnings should be: clear, concise and terrifying enough to scare the bejezus out of a bejesuit.
This book is a warning. I wish it could be as unambiguous as, “Watch Out” or “Duck” or “I’m going to have to work late at the office again dear.” I wish it could be as brief as “Stop,” “Danger,” or that road sign which simply says “!” and waits to accrue its meaning after the event. But at 437 pages, it is a little more complicated – and not the sort of warning that requires the same speedy attention as ones made by a weak bladder.
Unfortunately the same blinding ambition which propelled humanity forward in the exploration and domination of the planet, sprinting ahead in the race to evolve when other species couldn’t be bothered, inclines us to ignore most warnings in favour of learning from experience. Despite having developed our primitive guttural belching in to speech, despite having created the most fantastically complex warning system the planet has ever seen, today eighty percent of communication is still non-verbal and though you know when your boss, parents or teachers are talking, it’s almost impossible to listen to what they’re saying.
“Stop or I’ll shoot!” is more than a warning though. It’s a whole story in just 4½ words; with a clear beginning, middle and end, conflict, drama, life, death, action, resolution. Stories are warnings but somehow we’re more amenable to them, more willing to go along with them. We don’t just listen to a narrative; we ‘suspend our disbelief’, we put our natural scepticism on hold and experience it. We allow ourselves to learn because we’re not being told.
Since long before Aesop, stories have been used as warnings when the clear threat is simply not enough. And we love stories because with each one, we can forget everything for a while and be born again as wide eyed children unwittingly ready to learn life’s important lessons: not to talk to strange wolves in transvestite’s clothing; how true toffs will know if you have a pea in the bed; or how you can sell beef for beans, thieve your way out of poverty, murder the victim of your robbery and still live happily ever after.
But the true power of stories, and why this warning comes as one, lies in your brain. More precisely in a part of your frontal lobes which it took a hungry capuchin monkey to discover. He lived in a lab where, in a doomed attempt to bring a lighter side to vivisection, all the capuchins were given coffee related names. Starbuck had teeth the colour of earwax and halitosis like mustard gas and on the day of his discovery he had been grabbing at snacks all morning. He’d been wired up to brain activity sensors, studying the components that register hunger before, and pleasure in receiving, food. Valuable research for the hunger-inhibiting diet pill trade. After all, we certainly don’t want an epidemic of obese monkeys.
At lunch time, Starbuck’s lab technician stopped for her break and happened to be absently watching the monitors as she reached for her sandwich. Which is when she noticed an amazing thing. As Starbuck watched her, she saw the same brain patterning light up on his monitors as when he had been reaching for food himself. She quickly realised that he was empathising and she could see exactly the parts of the brain where this happened.
From that one sandwich, we not only found that monkeys were capable of empathy, so just how far men have evolved away from monkeys, but also that the brain’s ‘mirror neurons’ extend into the premotor cortex, where we weigh intentions, and our parietal lobe where we register sensation.
Now we know why we wince when we see another person punched. Empathy is hard wired into our brains. We experience just by watching others’ experiences. We tell stories to stimulate the mirror neurons. We watch a film and become the characters, we read someone’s story and for the time we’re in it, the connections within our own brains actually reshape, they begin to mirror the connections in the character’s brain.
So this book, like every story you’ve ever read, heard or watched, will alter the shape of your brain. Whatever you think, this book is guarenteed to change your mind.
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