BE MINDFUL OF HYPNOSIS
As the author of the book Mindfulness and Hypnosis: The Power of Suggestion to Transform Experience (W. W. Norton, 2011), I suggest there is much to be gained by studying the relation between clinical hypnosis and mindfulness, which Amishi P. Jha wrote about in “Being in the Now.” Just as people experience perceptual shifts, sensory shifts, physiological alterations, cognitive changes, and more during mindful experiences, so do they in response to suggestions given in any similarly focused and responsive state, such as during hypnosis.
The difficult questions mindfulness practitioners must eventually answer are the same ones hypnosis researchers and practitioners have been studying for a much longer time. These include: How does a suggested experience transform into a genuinely “felt” experience? Is everyone capable of focused attention to the same degree? Are there mindful approaches that may generate undesirable effects?
Mindfulness works, but to better understand how, we need more cross-fertilization of ideas and methods between mindfulness and parallel approaches such as clinical hypnosis.
Michael D. Yapko
HAPPINESS NOW OR LATER
I'm wondering if you have a deliberate editorial policy of having adjacent articles contradict each other. In the current issue we have “Being in the Now,” by Amishi P. Jha, closely followed by “Time-Warping Temptations,” by David H. Freedman, which advises us not to live in the now. My life has been very instructive in this regard: When I lived in the now, it was always about doing things that messed me up in the long run; whenever I resisted temptation, invested in the future and stalwartly did not yield to impulse, I missed a lot of fun and never got my long-run payoff. After a lifetime of this, it seems to me that a first approximation to wisdom might counsel that impulses for honest, nondamaging fun should not be resisted (things won't be better later!) but that one should invest in the future if it's something you like doing now and will like better later on.
Meanwhile I hope these articles that contradict each other will continue! They make the reader think.
E. N. Anderson
THE EDITORS REPLY: You seem to have solved the contradiction. Research says we should live in the moment as a rule, as a way of appreciating life as it passes by. Doing so will help us stay calm and be happy, according to work by Jha and others. But when we are faced with a decision that pits immediate impulses against our long-term goals, we should generally not choose what would make us happy immediately, as Freedman explains.
Most of the day, though, we are not faced with such choices, and so we can appreciate the sights, sounds and other sensations of the day, as well as the many immediate joys—such as finishing a project or watching the home team win a game—that do not come in conflict with any long-term goals.
NOT NECESSARILY DEMENTIA
As an enthusiastic reader of Scientific American Mind, I was disappointed to see the magazine peddling inaccurate myths about mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in “Is Cocoa the Brain Drug of the Future?” by Daisy Yuhas [Head Lines]. The article misleadingly states that MCI is a “precursor to Alzheimer's disease.” The fact is that MCI is still a controversial clinical construct. Most unbiased studies show that individuals with the “condition” either stay stable or recover within any given assessment period (no studies appear to have assessed cognition for longer than a 10-year period). Thus, because only a minority of people with MCI progress to dementia, it hardly qualifies as a blanket precursor to Alzheimer's. Currently the best measures of preventing dementia (including Alzheimer's) relate to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, reducing obesity and preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes.
YUHAS RESPONDS: You are quite right that MCI remains a relatively recent and controversial concept. Mayo Clinic researchers created the diagnosis “mild cognitive impairment” to identify elderly individuals in the earliest stages of dementia. Although a minority of those with MCI transition to Alzheimer's disease each year (just 10 to 15 percent), studies have suggested that within a six-year period roughly 60 to 80 percent will develop dementia. It is also true that between 15 and 20 percent of individuals diagnosed with MCI appear to revert back to a healthier state; however, this finding may reflect flaws in methodology. For instance, some diagnoses are based on only one test, which can result in a high rate of false positives.
Nevertheless, it is important to highlight—as you have done—the reality that not everyone diagnosed with MCI will develop Alzheimer's or a similar severe dementia. I regret that the description in my article overstated the relation.
DRIVE LIKE A PILOT
I had to chuckle about #2, “Put your cell phone in the trunk,” on your list of tips in “How to Be a Better Driver,” by Sunny Sea Gold [Head Lines]. Anyone who has learned to fly has heard that you must “aviate, navigate, then communicate” for the very reasons you mention, among others. It seems to me that most people seriously underestimate how much their attention is diverted by taking or making a phone call while driving. I know for certain that mine is, so I ignore my phone when it rings while I'm driving. I'm not even entirely sold on talking GPS in cars for the same reason—they can distract a driver at the wrong time.
As far as #5 goes, I came to the conclusion decades ago that it was safest to assume all other drivers are “out there to kill me,” as psychologist Paul Atchley says. Indeed, I taught our kids to drive with that in mind.
I found “Is Divorce Bad for Children?” by Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld [Facts and Fictions in Mental Health], important to me as a divorced father. There was a reference to people whose parents split up when they were young as having greater relationship difficulties.
When our twin boys were age four, their mother and I divorced, sparing the children, now age 11, from hearing our arguments. We have 50 percent shared custody, which is facilitated by us living in the same town. Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are my custody days, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday are their mother's, and we alternate Sundays. My ex and I get along better now than when we were married, and the children have a balance of time with each parent.
Arkowitz and Lilienfeld made reference to the “noncustodial father” but not to the shared joint custody one. We are alive and well! Don't overlook us!
I was very interested in “Can Training to become Ambidextrous Improve Brain Function?” by Michael Corballis [Ask the Brains]. I'm a professional trumpet player, and for many years I've spent some of my practice time playing left-handed, rather than the usual right. The theory is, if you practice a tough passage left-handed, it will be easier when you go back to your right hand—perhaps because the right side of the brain can now help the left. I hope that it will also open up new synapses and eventually help to stave off dementia.
In the meantime, my left-handed practice has paid off in a very practical way when I have injured my right hand and needed to play gigs left-handed.
In “Shaping Perception,” by Brian Mossop [Reviews and Recommendations, May/June 2013], the name of the author of Drunk Tank Pink is misspelled in two places; his name is Adam Alter. We regret the error.