Worrying About It

We all know people who we would classify as worriers, and we may include ourselves in that category. Most of us start to worry about something that we have to do for the first time, but why is that? Our imagination is the guilty party as we remember something that might have been similar and our memories are distorted by our fears and these feed back into our current worries.

As we get older, we often get more cynical about new experience as we have built up a library of bad ones. The trouble is those memories get worse the more we worry about related things so that in the end we may be worrying about repeating false memories.

Our psychology friends from U Amsterdam have published a paper this week in PLoS one which shows how this comes about (1). They took 48 young students and connected up their wrists to and electricity supply. When the switch was thrown, the participants had an “uncomfortable stimulus’ (not unbearable pain, but just not something that you don't want again).

25 of these were then asked a series of difficult civic questions after which their worry status was estimated from things like skin conductance, and eye blink rate when subjected to a loud noise. The remaining 23 students were asked worrisome questions about further electric shocks.

The results were clear. Those participants whose attention had been draw to worrying about future nastiness in the form of more shocking exposure increased the fear response about future outcomes.

This is clearly an important survival learning response, which our animal friends often apply very rapidly. We being a more naïve species often need to get a bit older to start worrying.

The latest news about the attempts to mess with the freedom of the Internet as outlined by Brin (2) have me extremely worried. Governments all over the world are getting into the censoring/monitoring game and large Internet based companies are getting very proprietorial as well and are tying their customers up in red tape with neat little bows. Democracy and free speech can only be the loser as we rush headlong into systems where power either comes out of the barrel of a gun or  a checkbook.

  1. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0034882
  2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/15/web-freedom-threat-google-brin

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