Jun. 22nd, 2010

merricatk: (no safe places)
I'm fascinated by how our brains work, particularly the difference between how they really work and how we think they work/how we expect them to work. (I was telling my cousin Patrick the other day how I thought they should amend the laws on hit-and-run accidents that involve only property damage. The urge to run when you've hit a tree or a mailbox is perfectly understandable, and I think that as long as the offender turns themself in within an hour, they shouldn't be considered to have broken a law. Of course, I've always thought that adding time to a prisoner's sentence for trying to break out of prison is ridiculous. Breaking out is the natural thing to do. But I digress.)

One thing I've found in my reading is how the part of the mammal brain that experiences physical pain overlaps with the part that experiences emotional pain, particularly the pain of being rejected or excluded. Using the word pain for how someone rejected you isn't metaphorical, it's literal.

We're very quick to separate the physical from the emotional, and to downplay the emotional. Causing someone emotional pain is brushed aside, it's a guilt-free zone. Maybe it wasn't very nice, but nobody was actually hurt. We're all just just strangers on the internet, if you can't take it, you shouldn't post, what do you care what these people think anyway? Nobody's telling you not to write. (They're only hurting you, and threatening to hurt you more if you don't comply.)

What do you care what these people think anyway? I have an answer to that one.

Leary and colleagues have proposed ‘sociometer theory’ to explain why self-esteem appears to be crucial for psychological health [48,49], maintaining that self-esteem is a measure of the degree to which an individual is included or excluded by others. Because of the importance of social ties for human survival, it is important to be able to monitor one’s acceptance or rejection within a social group. In the same manner that a fuel gauge provides a readout of the amount of gas in a car to prevent empty tanks, self-esteem might provide a read-out of a person’s inclusionary status to prevent exclusion [48].

Several studies have provided direct evidence for this theory showing that increasing degrees of rejection are associated with more negative self-feelings and reductions in self-esteem [48,49]. Additionally, being socially ostracized or excluded during a computerized, interactive ball-tossing game (Cyberball) played over the internet, ostensibly with others, causes reductions in self-esteem [50]. Perhaps most surprising, though, is that even when participants are told they are playing with a computer program and that the computerized players are going to stop throwing the ball to them, participants still report lower self-esteem following the game [51]. Similarly, in an fMRI study of social exclusion [24], participants were prevented from playing a ball-tossing game, ostensibly because of technical difficulties, in an ‘implicit exclusion’ condition. Participants watched the others play the game without them, in what looked like exclusion, although participants consciously knew the other players were not excluding them. Nevertheless, implicit exclusion produced dACC activity indistinguishable from explicit exclusion. These studies suggest that the capacity for social exclusion to cause social pain and decrease self-esteem might be so powerful that simply viewing a scene that bears a resemblance to rejection produces these effects. Just as conscious knowledge of a visual illusion does not prevent it from occurring, conscious knowledge that one is not actually being actively excluded does not prevent dACC activity or diminished self-esteem. [For full text, see http://www.neuro-psa.org.uk/download/rejection.pdf] [I had read about this before, in a book I can't recall the title of, but I found the above on Google, by searching physical pain caused by being ignored.] [I also found a link that said that acetaminophen can help with feelings of rejection, because it is a pain reliever and this is an actual, physical pain.]

I have no illusions that this will do anything in regards to people being kinder or gentler to each other online, that it will prevent people from dogpiling, that it will make one person think differently about how they behave. The people who do this are so much in the right, how could it stop them, or even cause them to hesitate? Not to mention how much fun it is. Being part of the mob feels good, that's why we do it. It's like being in the KKK without having to wash the smell of gasoline from your sheets.

I'm posting this for the people who experience it, who are then told the lie that nothing was done to them when they can feel the pain. Listen to me. The pain you're feeling is real. It's the pain of being excluded, and it is all in your head--all in your brain, where the pain receptors are located. It's important to understand that, to know what you're feeling is real, and to know why you feel it. Once you have that, you can decide what to do next.


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