Suppose you have an nagging person in your life. They bug you, they irritate you, but they never hit you. Now and then they mock you. If you respond to them in anger, it may start a greater argument, and you might end up being the one criticized by others even though all you wanted to do was defend yourself. Still, if you do nothing, the problem within you only gets worse until you become very angry.
As a kid, I recall such a situation would have no solution if my parent did not intervene. Name calling and mockery was punished, as it should have been. But this was limited to children whose parents forbid such actions and was inapplicable to brats. Ignoring wasn’t a fun option, and while it did build character, let’s just say that I’m not a fan of this approach to building character.
An immediate response to unkindness is usually small – a tit for tat level. You might see one kid smack another and then get smacked back. If, instead, the child is the quiet kind and hopes the problem will go away, their anger may begin to fester until it all comes out in one big burst – much to the surprise of people naive enough to think that the calm before the storm meant no storm was brewing.
Some time ago, I heard that being mocked and called derogatory things activated the same parts of our brain that are activated by other sources of pain, such as being hit. (You’ll have to scour the internet for this doc since I don’t recall the source, sorry.) I can certainly believe this is true or at least draws attention to perhaps the real mechanism, which may be very similar. In any case, we feel upset.
To some degree, this is controllable. We may not be able to control the fact that we feel pain from being hit, but a scrape on the knee at age 18 doesn’t feel quite as life-tragic as when we are only 5-years-old. Words are alittle more controllable because the nerve paths aren’t built in.
When you learn something and memorize it, your brain starts to build a neural pathway to speed up the recollection process. This is a very important fact.
Your native language, as you use it over and over again, will start to become more and more intuitive. What actually is happening is that your brain has built pathways to speed up the recollection of words. (Tangent: This may be why sometimes you might have those awkward moments where you use a word and it “doesn’t sound right” even though you “know” it’s the right word. You’re “knowing” may be from the neural pathways but the “doesn’t sound right” part may come from you no longer traversing the logical information gathering to explain it and now suddenly your brain realizes that in an odd way. But that’s all speculation on my part.)
When you are mocked, your brain makes the conceptual association of yourself with the idea behind the mockery in order for you to understand the statement. This “negative association” is basically an association with path. Mocked enough times, a person will begin to subconsciously “believe” it – or rather, have neural pathways created that perpetually associate themselves with negative feelings (from the mockery). This causes a state of depression. Consequently, it takes a long time from a person to heal from verbal abuse as a child because those negative neural pathways need to be overridden by stronger pathways associating themselves with positive feelings and ideas.
Mental activity (especially subconscious activity) is difficult to explain in a debate, so it’s hard to argue why positive association is necessary and why someone mocking you is doing powerful harm to you. After all, it isn’t visible, and since an unfortunately large percentage of people need to see something visible to believe it, we have a world that criticizes and eyes skeptically these “invisible causes”.
Training of the Mind
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a ready example of how witnessing violence and death has a profound impact on the human mind. Unfortunately, it’s such an extreme example of how violence affects the human mind that many people consider the “non-traumatic” experiences of violence to have NO effect other than establishing a memory. Such experiences include watching videos and clips of violence and death (be they real or in movies) and playing video games. The common mentality is that “if it isn’t happening to me or it isn’t real, it doesn’t affect me”. That is, if a person is not directly experiencing something, then it should have no effect on them. (That’s a huge topic in itself, but I’ll save that for another time.)
The bobo doll experiments are famous in the field of psychology for demonstrating that children replicate what they see, but what about adults? And what about movies? Does everything effect you?
Baseball players (and other athletes) often practice over and over again to train their subconscious mind to perform a particular activity. They do this because their subconscious mind is actually faster at making decisions than their conscious mind. Think about it. The neural network in your mind is gradually tied together with pathways that speed up the reaction time. It’s easier to perform 1+1=2 and 345+912=1257 after you’ve trained your mind to do math (in base 10, of course). To prevent their conscious mind from trying to handle the decision of when and how to reach for that ground ball speeding at them, baseball players chew gum. The chewing “distracts” them so that the subconscious mind can perform the quick reaction.
Imagine someone comes up behind you and dumps water on your head. They do it again and again until finally, before the water is dumped, you cringe in expectation. Your subconscious is often the first to react in cases where you’re “not thinking” about what’s coming next.
As you go through life, often times, your first decision (or the one you choose to go with) is going to be based on more than just who you are naturally born as a person. And it’s also going to be based on more than what you were taught as a child. It will be based on those things but also upon your previous interactions with other humans and upon the other things you witness other humans doing and upon what your mind considers the most satisfactory approach.
What does it mean for your mind to consider an approach “satisfactory”. Perhaps the phrase, “I couldn’t live with myself if I did that” comes to mind. If your mind is based on how you feel in the moment, you’re likely going to take action in a way that your experiences and knowledge tell you will restore that peaceful feeling in a way that “feels right”, whether or not it is a logical, proven approach. If your mind is rational, the most effective solution may be the most expedient or utilitarian.
Where is this going?
Let’s start with a simple example and then get rough.
Suppose you wanted to date a particular individual but they rudely smack down your hopes in public refusal. You have a number of options. You could cower away and find someone else. You could shrug it off and try again. But perhaps a couple years ago, you had seen a movie that demonstrated what the script writer considered to be an effective way of seducing and then raping someone. Illegal as it may be, this idea has been saved within your memories – especially if it was shocking for you at the time. (Shocking events and trauma usually build quick mental pathways.) As fictional as that story was, your brain isn’t necessarily going to recall the title of the movie. The fact is, you were given an idea. It didn’t matter that it was in a “fake” setting; all that mattered was that it seems very much possible in reality.
If you have time to think about an idea in a rational manner, it is usually easier to refuse a bad idea. However, certain events – such as the murder of a loved one or a very embarrassing moment – can captivate us in an emotional state that seeks some kind of resolution, and the brain is full of random facts to contribute to the whirlwind of ideas swirling at the forefront of our mind.
One movie alone may not produce a noticeable change in character for an individual, but this is masked by a number of things. Many people with cancer feel “fine”. Most people don’t know they have it… until the doctor tells them. (If you want a technical answer, I recall reading nearly everyone eventually gets some kind of cancer in their life, but only some types of cancerous cells live long enough to reproduce and spread. The rest die out because the way that they mutated renders parts of them non-functional and may result in self-destruction.)
The most apparent effect of negative mental training is in tolerance. The more a person sees violence, rape, incest, theft, lying, witchcraft, monster-summoning, and other wicked activities, the more a person begins to tolerate these things as not only part of life, but also acceptable to some degree. It permits a kind of “halfway status” whereby the most heinous manifestation of the crime is reprehensible but activities that only partially match it are “acceptable”.
For example, rape is considered a crime. But if two people consent to adultery and one of them later regrets it, the other person may not feel as if they did anything wrong, even though the action and outcome were the same: sadness and suffering in the life of the other person. There is no legal action that can be taken to correct this, however, because the legal system only administers consequences for the initial situation. The fact is, the person who does not feel bad has already committed act. The legal system is unable to prevent this. It can only punish for what comes afterwards.
Let’s hold that thought for a bit and come back.
Video games rewire the mind. Whenever you play a video game long enough, your brain will rewire itself to optimize certain neural pathways and speed up recollection. This is why, when you are the person playing the game, you will usually recall information about your current situation in the game than anyone watching you. It’s also the reason why your brain might feel odd after you quit playing. As a former gamer, I’ve often felt this, regardless of the game. (And, being that it can be rather uncomfortable to me, it’s one of the many reasons I quit.)
Being actively involved in the game (rather than simply watching) has a greater effect on one’s mind. I’ve already spoken about the neural pathways, but let’s also consider what the game teaches.
Some time ago, I recall reading an interaction between a game developer and a gamer. The gamer had purchased the game, downloaded it, and then asked for a refund. The developer asked if the gamer liked the game, and the gamer said that they did and had finished and now wanted their money back. Like the developer, who went on a rant about the difficulties in making the game and the time and effort spent, I found the gamer’s actions not only odd and disrespectful but rather despicable. This person didn’t seem to understand that video games are like carnival rides – you pay your ticket and if you’re happy, you go home. You don’t get a refund. The fact that some companies even offer refunds is more for a pleasing customer experience than a process meant to be exploited. All game companies would go out of business if other gamers were acting as this gamer. But as odd as it was, there’s something to be noted about his mentality. In response to the developer’s ranting, the gamer thought he was in the right and verbally abused the developer! This was quite odd. After all, if you’ve found someone who makes great games, wouldn’t you want to encourage them to make more great games?
The answer was revealed in a recent blog post by Daniel Cook about “Cozy Games”. Cook is a long-time game developer. He’s seen it all. As I can attest, a certain contingent of “hard core” gamers (in this case, those playing M-rated games) have become increasingly mean over the years, and while to some degree, you would think it would be based on age (since many are in their late teens, early twenties), some of the meanest of these gamers I’ve seen were over 30. It’s something in the games. Daniel Cook notes that the kinds of games you make determines the kind of customers and players you attract, and more than that, they treat you the developer likewise. If your game has tasks and activities that reward selfish behavior and stepping on others, this is how they will approach you as a developer. If your game encourages teamwork and sharing, they will approach you the developer in a spirit of teamwork. If your game requires users accomplish difficult objectives and punishes their failures, you end up with angry gamers. (Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, who plays such games long enough (assuming the difficulty is high enough), from my experience, gets frustrated.) This can lead to cussing, cursing, and ultimately “taking it out” on something else outside of the game. This is especially true but not limited to little kids. (A number of people come to my mind.) On the other hand, if your game is gives positive-reinforcement (such as achievements), users will not only want to continue playing, but they may be less inclined to complain about being unable to achieve their goals.
About a decade ago, I wrote a research paper that spoke about the effects of violence in video games. At the time, there wasn’t a significant amount of data to show the negative effects of games on human behavior. Back then, tolerance was the most notable effect, and most research was criticized as being “too inconclusive” or “inapplicable”. Here we are a decade later, and the game industry went exactly as it showed signs of doing. Games like Grand Theft Auto and Blizzard’s League of Legends make hundreds of millions of dollars despite the wickedness they portray, but all of this has been made possible by gradual acceptance and the building of these communities around these negative themes.
Are video game companies entirely at fault? In many ways, yes. They pursued the money route and didn’t want anything to effect their business. They tried to downplay and discredit the research and skew the warning signs. Try figuring out what the rating “E-13” means. The “E” is supposedly for “Everyone” but the “13” is for recommended 13-year-olds. Games like Mario Kart fall into this category. A number of game companies tried avoiding having ratings on their games at all. These days, the ratings system is simply ignored. Game companies flash the rating on their commercials to say “we told you so” but then show gory content in their commercials anyways, regardless of the fact that children may be watching.
On the other hand, people chose to buy video games. It would seem the market determined much of the direction, but I would argue this wasn’t entirely true. Game developers often like action, so they created a limited set of games based on their own likings, and people chose likewise. This is why companies like Nintendo – many of whose games were relatively family friendly – stand out. They gave customers a different, enticing option, and customers went with what they liked.
The game economy is much politics – you get a limited set of choices, and the resulting climate is ultimately based on what people select from that list. Politics and the game economy are, to a large extent, representative of what the populous is willing to buy, taking into account their human desire for something in these areas. The same could be said for movies.
One of the major contributing factors to a person’s decision making is their culture. If something is not acceptable within a society’s sub-conscious, it is less likely to occur, and vice-versa, regardless of what the law says about it. The same can be said for any other psychological environment, such as being among friends and family.
It should go without saying that if a psychological environment – including and especially culture – promotes, encourages, or flaunts bad behavior, people will follow suit. For example, a number of people use the word “bad” to mean “good”, or rather, something that ought to be desired and pursued for the sake of being “cool”/culturally attractive, not because it’s good in the same way as angels and chocolate. This use of “bad” is reinforcing a negative idea. If you love your country, don’t use it.
At the Olympics closing ceremony in Korea, a pop star came out and sang about “bad girls” as if it was a cool thing to be a bad girl. Thousands of people around the world had cheered her on and pushed her up the polls to get to this point, but if people actually idolize the ideal she’s singing about, we’re in serious trouble. Do people actually do this? It’s tempting to say no, but after all that we’ve considered thus far, is it?
Music has a similar effect on the human mind as other inputs – it creates and reinforces neural pathways so that you remember the song. It might be fun to listen to certain music, but the lyrics – be they good or bad – often come along. Furthermore, different sounds have different effects. I’m sure anyone who has listened to music can attest to the way certain songs make them feel. And that’s an interesting thing to note.
The effects of music on the mind are immeasurable, much like the effects video games and movies on the mind are also immeasurable. If you’re hoping for solid “evidence” of the effects of these things on the mind, you won’t find it, but if you still think that the lack of such concrete evidence means this stuff has no lasting effects on human behavior, you need to reread this blog post. That’s about 3000 words thus far. Have fun.
The sounds of music stimulate certain parts of your brain associated with emotions. To the mind, one note is simply a note; two notes is a melody. When a variation occurs – such a raise or lowering in pitch – the resulting is a kind of dance of stimuli in the brain that begins to feel – be it ever so slightly – a emotion being conjured up. I encourage you to try this out. It’s quite interesting. A progression of notes with an increasing pitch usually stimulates a “positive” feeling whereas a progression of notes with a decreasing pitch usually stimulates a “negative” feeling, depending on the rest of the song. When a song has more of one progression than the other, it tends to carry the mood. Distortion – a popular feature of rock music – has a kind of raspy effect on the mind that expresses chaos rather than peace. For some people, listening to rock music eases their mind because their mind is in harmony with the music, so their anger translates outwardly into the music. For other people, distortion can translate inward, resulting in hyperactivity or irrational behavior (such as smashing a guitar onto a stage). Therefore, for the sake of both kinds of individuals – those who need music to synchronize with their minds or those who gain their mood and mental energy from music – their needs to music composed of peaceful, non-distorted sounds as much as music composed of distorted ones.
The sounds of music may not carry as much of a lasting effect on the human mind as lyrics, but again, their is no way to measure this. Lyrics stimulate ideas in the mind without necessarily conjuring up some emotional response, thereby making them more easily to conjure up in situations where the emotions associated with the sounds in the music are not present.
I recall hearing over the radio about research that said children who listen to songs with lyrics about sex and relationships will become sexually active sooner. A number of years later, I found myself working a day job where the radio was on constantly. Many of the popular artists sang about what? Sex and relationships. Country music, pop music, rock, didn’t matter the genre. And the stats about teens having sex in school indicate these things are on the rise. Music alone isn’t to blame, but the music industry is definitely a promoter and an encourager just as much as it’s an indicator of the current cultural climate. It’s difficult to not think about sex when that’s what’s pumping through your radio. So one person’s tastes are shared with another person’s ears, thereby passing on the culture.
Most people deny something is a problem until there’s solid evidence, and even then, many people still deny it until it hurts them. And even then, most people treat the symptoms rather than the causes.
A couple of weeks ago, a young man took an assault rifle and murdered over a dozen people at his high-school in Florida and wounded others. The police and other authorities criticized themselves for not acting sooner on a possible tip that may have prevented the incident. Now companies and parents are pushing back against organizations like the NRA. Some people suggest arming the teachers. And yet, despite all this talk about preventing such as issue from happening again, the reality is that this isn’t the first time.
Some years ago, two boys murdered several of their classmates at Columbine High School. The tragedy made national news, but the cause for the boys’ rampage remained a mystery. The investigators pointed out that the boys possessed the game(s) of Doom – a series known for being one of the early popular first-person shooters. The blame of these video games was met with criticism by fans of the industry, who pointed out that playing such games didn’t turn the vast majority of gamers into killing-machines. Inasmuch as this hyperbole was perpetuated as evidence of the “safeness” of video games, it does rest on some truth: the video games alone might not have been enough to spark such activity. Instead, at the very least, they would have provided the ammunition – the ideas for how to go about such a rampage.
If you work with swords, you will think of yourself as defending and fighting with swords. If you work with guns, you will think of yourself as using guns. This isn’t to say you are necessarily a bad person. It’s simply that you have such an item in your mind, so you may consider it as something for use. If you want to divide a turkey, you will start to think of the various means you think would work for dividing a turkey. For most people, that could be a long cooking knife or a giant fork or even their bare hands.
The boys in all of these incidents had the same thing in common: the culture of the USA. In the United States, soldiers are glorified by the political “right” and abortion and physician-assisted suicide are promoted by the political “left”. Soldiers are people specifically trained to kill other people. Abortion and suicide are both murder. It should be no surprise then that death at the hands of someone else is an acceptable theme in the nation of the United States. Sound too picky?
Across the Pacific Ocean, the pacifistic nation of Japan has its own wonderful problem. Despite being a “first-world” country, Japan has the highest suicide rate in the world (or perhaps the stat is that it has the highest suicide rate for a “first-world” country). Why? After all, people living at the same standard as other “first-world” countries shouldn’t be any more likely to commit suicide if there isn’t some evident national problem. But there is. The culture of death has permeated Japan as it has in the United States, but in a different way. In Japanese culture, when a person felt they were no longer valuable to society, they committed suicide. Consequently, other people could cause indirect murders by simply bashing one’s social worth, causing people of every age to commit murder. Such has certainly been the case with suicides by high school students. Yes, every age is affected. Times may be changing to some degree, but the nation has ultimately taken a toll for this socially-acceptable activity.
In general, society is affected in a number of other ways that all appear as common symptoms. The human body often shows a number of common symptoms that can come from dozens of different causes. Vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, etc. could come from lots of problems, and without knowing or acknowledging the source, we can only treat the symptoms until things become so bad that we ultimately die. A nation is similar. Suggesting that government authorities attempt to solve the problems through legislation and police enforcement is only an attempt to treat the symptoms of the deeper problems that people continue to deny this nation has.
There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of national problems are at a personal level that cannot be resolved by government authorities, legislation, and merely treating the symptoms. Making stricter laws about guns, suicide, and video games isn’t going to repair society. It’ll only cause it to go underground. What will change society is both greater awareness of the effects of mental pollutants and acting to remove them from our lives so that we can think positive, constructive thoughts. Then society will be rebuilt from the inside.
What you do affects others, even if you think you’re doing it only to yourself. The music you listen to and the movies you watch, if they contain destructive, degrading, and immoral content, are both affecting you subconsciously and hurting others around you in ways that, given enough time, will come back to haunt you.
Let’s not let that happen to us, shall we?