The Nuance

Anger does not look, act, or feel like other negative emotions. Therein lies its power.

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Illustration by Kieran Blakey for Elemental

Writing nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca described anger as “fundamentally wicked” and fit only for suppression. The doctrinal texts of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam tend to take a similarly dim view of anger, which they often list among man’s principal shortcomings.

“Traditionally, anger has been looked at as negative,” says Philip Gable, PhD, an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Delaware.

Gable has studied the way anger influences the brain and behavior. He says that, by and large, people report that the experience of being angry is unpleasant — at least in…


The Nuance

New research may shake up science’s understanding of the brain and consciousness

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Illustration by Kieran Blakey for Elemental

The truck driver’s story sounded far-fetched.

The man claimed that in the middle of his quadruple bypass heart surgery — during which he was fully anesthetized and his eyes were taped shut — he had “come to” and found that he was looking down at his own body and the doctors preparing to operate on it. He described the scene in detail, and he recalled that his surgeon had waved his elbows in the air as if he were mimicking a bird flapping its wings.

Later, when asked about his patient’s peculiar account, the truck driver’s surgeon confirmed that he…


Our paths out of the pandemic

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Photo illustration (Getty Images): Andrew Brookes; Juan Gaertner/Science Photo Library; olaser

More than a year has passed since the novel coronavirus arrived in the United States. In many parts of the country, daily caseloads and deaths remain at or near their pandemic peaks.

But the prospect of a post-Covid future is real and potentially close at hand. The vaccines are here, and they are working. In Israel, where nearly half of the population has received at least one shot, vaccines appear to be limiting infections even more effectively than public health officials had hoped.

But exactly how and when will the U.S. emerge from the pandemic? When can we take off…


The Nuance

Mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other related practices all prioritize this form of ‘self-monitoring’

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Illustration by Kieran Blakey for Elemental

The human brain possesses a remarkable capability that most take for granted and few fully appreciate: It can watch itself work.

With effort, you can observe what your brain is thinking about and also what it’s doing with those thoughts — the feelings, ideas, emotions, and urges it’s producing. This capability falls into a category that psychologists sometimes call metacognition. (Basically, thinking about thinking.) And there’s evidence that practicing this sort of mental self-awareness holds immense therapeutic power.

“Introducing this idea of self-monitoring is one of the first steps in cognitive behavioral therapy,” says Michelle Newman, PhD, a professor of…


The Nuance

‘The chronic stressors that impact our body the most are both unpredictable and uncontrollable. And the pandemic is both.’

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Illustration by Kieran Blakey for Elemental

Among the many customs and precedents upended by the Trump presidency, one of the least important (but fun) was the publication of before-and-after photos showing how the Oval Office had aged its occupant.

Trump’s makeup and hair-dying habits made such comparisons impossible. But Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all looked noticeably older — and, in particular, grayer — by the end of their terms. Side-by-side photos of these presidents are often held up as proof that stress takes a visible toll.

But does stress really age a person more quickly? It’s a question that a lot of…


Gut health could be an important piece in the Covid-19 puzzle

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Illustration: Saiman Chow for Elemental

It’s a mystery that has puzzled the world’s virologists.

The United States and Western Europe — home to many of the planet’s best doctors and hospitals and the most robust public health infrastructures — have been among the regions hit hardest by the novel coronavirus.

Some have speculated that climate, population demographics, government response (or lack thereof), and other factors can explain the high numbers of infections in the developed world. And there is probably some truth to each of these hypotheses. …


The Nuance

Intuition is real and measurable, but often misleading

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Kieran Blakey for Elemental

Intuition is a tough thing to study. Even defining it is tricky. It’s not quite an insight, which is when a solution or some other bit of hoped-for knowledge pops into your head. It’s more like a sixth sense or a feeling — an inclination that you can’t really explain but that seems trustworthy.

Some ingenious researchers have found ways to both capture human intuition and also shed light on its inner workings.

For a 2016 study in Nature Scientific Reports, a team of Italian scientists filmed a series of short videos. In each of the videos, an unidentified person…


The Nuance

There’s new evidence that strong emotion — and, in particular, anger — may allow falsehoods to flourish

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Illustration: Kieran Blakey

On January 8, two days after former president Donald Trump incited a mob attack on the U.S. Capitol, a 57-year-old Texas man tweeted a list of the penalties Trump would incur if he were impeached a second time. The listed penalties included the loss of Trump’s presidential pension, the loss of his Secret Service detail, and the loss of his ability to run again in 2024.

The tweet was reposted on a left-leaning Facebook page, at which point it went viral. The original tweet, which has since been deleted, accrued hundreds of thousands of “likes” and tens of thousands of…


The Nuance

Your self-control can fluctuate, but you probably can’t use it up

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Illustration: Kieran Blakey

January is the month for resolutions, which also makes it the month for self-control. Whether you’re giving up your favorite latte or cutting back on Instagram, avoiding these and other temptations can feel draining. It’s as though you only have so much willpower in your tank, and the more of it you use, the harder it becomes to follow through on your good intentions.

Experts have a name for this phenomenon: ego depletion. The term was introduced in the 1990s by a team of psychologists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. They argued that your “volition” — that is…


The Nuance

It can also enrich your view of the world

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Illustration: Kieran Blakey

For a groundbreaking 2010 study, a team of Canadian researchers explored the associations between bilingualism and Alzheimer’s disease.

At that time, it was known that socially and physically active older adults tended to enjoy a measure of protection from dementia, and the study team was interested to learn if the cognitive demands of bilingualism — the ability of speaking and understanding two or more languages — offered any similar protections.

To find out, they collected data on more than 200 people recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. They found that people who spoke two or more languages developed Alzheimer’s symptoms an…

Markham Heid

I write about health and science. I live in Detroit with my wife and kids. I’m trying to learn German, but my progress so far is nicht gut.

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