Research Matters blog: A look ahead

Greetings.

Patchen Barss here, Managing Editor of the Research Matters website and blog. We’ve been at this for a couple of years now, and I thought it might be time to say hello, and thank you for reading.

Even if you’ve been with us for a while, you might still be wondering, “What is Research Matters?” Fair question, given that there isn’t really anything else quite like it. Here’s the deal: Ontario is home to 21 publicly funded universities. Each of those universities has a Vice President of Research. For years, these VPs have met on a regular basis to trade ideas, discuss emerging fields of research and allow each individual institution to become part of a larger community of Ontario researchers.

This community in itself is unusual: universities compete – for funding, professors and students. But big and small universities alike are increasingly finding that their greatest gains come through collaboration rather than competition. Ontario happens to be ahead of the game on this front.

Research Matters emerged from that cooperative culture: it’s a public outreach campaign that serves not just a single community or city, but reaches out to all Ontarians. This might not seem so surprising – after all, the university system relies on Ontario taxes, and universities are therefore accountable to Ontarians. Nevertheless, no region in Canada, and possibly no region in the world, has ever achieved this kind of deep multi-institutional cooperation on a public outreach initiative.

Research Matters has entered its third year. It’s a multi-platform initiative, designed to give as many entry points as possible into Ontario university research. Today, I wanted to tell you specifically about the plans for the Research Matters blog over the coming year.

(At least) once each month, we’ll release a series of daily blog posts based on a certain theme. The themes we’ve chosen all relate to everyday life – to come up with ideas, we combed newspaper sections, bookstore departments and popular magazines. Starting tomorrow, we’re going to kick things of with the theme, “Your Health.” Of course, this being university research, you’ll get more than just fitness and diet tips – we’ll bring you some of the latest ideas, technologies and theories that are shaping how we understand personal health.

In September, the Research Matters blog goes Shopping. In October, we’re going to explore Spirituality and Personal Belief. We’ve got other sections planned on Business, Better Homes and Gardens, Style, Travel, Romance and more.

We hope you find the blog interesting, useful and fun. We hope you’ll stick around and see what we’ve got on offer this year. And if you want to send us a note and let us know what you think, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line at yourontarioresearch@cou.on.ca

Thanks again for reading.

Patchen Barss
Managing Editor

 

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Blog Posts

If you’re happy ...

Cathy Majtenyi | October 22, 2014

Brock University recently launched a series of monthly podcasts covering a wide range of themes. As part of our own package of “Belief” related blog posts, Research Matters is pleased to present this exclusive interview with Brock Associate Professor of Psychology, Michael Busseri. Busseri will join two other colleagues to explore this topic in Brock’s January 2015 podcast, “What gives us a sense of wellbeing?” (Busseri is no stranger to Research Matters, having answered one of the great questions asked of the Curiosity Shop, “Why is the grass always greener on the other side?”)   BU: How do you define wellbeing? MB: Historically there have been two broad traditions. One looks at things like satisfaction, enjoyment, pleasure and not pain. That’s called the Hedonic Tradition. The second tradition is about finding meaning, purpose and growth; that’s called the Eudemonic Tradition. Where the rubber meets the road for most people is the question of, ‘How can I get more of that, whatever it is?’ It all sounds good: who wouldn’t want a meaningful life, a purposeful life, an enjoyable life? One camp says, you know what? Happiness, wellbeing – regardless of the type – is determined by the genetic lottery of life. It’s more like a personality trait. They may fluctuate around that day-to-day, moment-to-moment, but if you check in with them every year and do that for 10 or 20 years in a row you find a lot of stability. The other camp says, well, that might be true for many people but there’s still a significant chunk of individuals who experience radical changes as a result of, unfortunately, largely negative life events: the death of a spouse; the loss of a job; a tragic injury; horrible crime. The impact of that event can last years for some individuals. BU: Can we become happier? MB: Short-term: there’s lots of evidence that people change their wellbeing; moment-to-moment, day-to-day, week-to-week. Longer term: it’s harder to find people who show the golden pattern of continuous increases. Where there are long-term changes in wellbeing, it tends to be on the down side. The ratio is almost two to one. But even those people who experience the lasting decreases – they are rare. We can be talking no more than 10 per cent of the population. The vast majority of us over the long term tend to be stable.   BU: Should we be discouraged or encouraged by those statistics? MB: The argument is, this is actually a positive thing! It shows how adaptive and resilient people are. The high highs, the people who experience lots of positive experiences in our lives are also the individuals who tend to experience lots of lows. In the extreme, we tend to think of these as “manic” individuals. Usually, this idea of huge fluctuations in wellbeing is not something we would recommend. BU: Is there any part of our wellbeing we can control? MB: Most of us want a satisfying and meaningful life beyond simply saying, well, you may win or lose the genetic lottery of life. But we can choose how we spend our time. Moment-to-moment, day-to-day, week-to-week, we can have some influence by choosing certain activities or choosing to spend time with people who are meaningful and important to us. Even if we realize that that boost is going to be temporary, who cares? For those moments that we’re experiencing it, we’re happy! BU: Can we “bank” these happy moments to draw upon when we feel sad? MB: Another controversial issue. Some people have argued that what you experience moment-to-moment gets stored in a separate bank than the part of you that holds the beliefs about your life. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize-winning psychologist, has suggested we talk about this as two “selves.” The “experiencing self” is the you that, moment-to-moment, is experiencing life. The other self is the “story-telling self,” which has beliefs about how your life is going. Often those beliefs don’t align very closely with your experiencing self. It turns out there are cultural myths about wellbeing that influence our stories. One of these is that young adults tend to believe life gets better and better, and older adults tend to believe that life gets worse and worse. Both are myths, but you find these myths around the world. They’re wrong because for most individuals, the “real life story” is one of stability, not one of inclines and declines.

Lucid dreaming depends on ...

Trent University Staff | October 21, 2014

New research by Trent University Oshawa Anthropology professor Roger Lohmann and graduate student Shayne Dahl indicates that cultural learning shapes the kind of awareness and control people can experience while dreaming. “Scouring the ethnographic record on dreaming for hints of lucidity under Professor Lohmann’s guidance, I found something surprising: that lucid dreaming is widely thought to have serious consequences,” said Dahl, who completed his M.A. thesis, “Knowing Means Connecting with the Source of Life: Knowledge and Ethics among Blackfoot Traditionalists” at Trent in 2012. (He is now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto.) “As one of my Blackfoot informants put it, ‘You could die in your dream.’” Lohmann and Dahl’s findings were published in the 2014 collection, Lucid Dreaming: New Perspectives on Consciousness in Sleep. Lucid dreaming – waking consciousness arising during a dream – has been a hot topic of scientific research in recent years. According to Lohmann and Dahl, the common assumption that dreams are products of isolated imaginations has distorted our understanding of lucidity’s variation in form, function, and real-world outcomes. Pop culture portrayals in films such as Avatar and Inception present fantasies where lucid dreaming enables marvelous real-world powers. Many traditional and religious cultural worldviews take the relationship between waking and dream worlds as reality rather than fantasy. Lohmann’s fieldwork in Papua New Guinea among the Asabano people explored how they used dreaming as evidence for and contact with supernatural beings. “Asabano converts often told me that seeing dreams of Jesus or Heaven convinced them that what the missionary told them was true,” said Lohmann. “It struck me that they had to believe their dreams were more than figments of their own imaginations to reach that conclusion, and that I, for example, would not be convinced by the same experience because of my different cultural background.” Similarly, Dahl’s fieldwork in Alberta included encounters with Aboriginal medicine men who practiced lucid dreaming. “Shayne’s field experiences and his search of ethnographic literature brought home to us that lucid dreaming has profound potential for people who think it’s more than just a fantasy. We found that descriptions of lucid dreams are radically different in form, function, and outcome depending on the cultural assumptions of the dreamer,” said Lohmann. Their research revealed evidence that in some cultures, lucid dreaming is unknown, while in others it is a commonly taught skill. In some, lucidity is tacit rather than acknowledged, but people nevertheless believe that they actively undertake goals in their dreams. Lohmann and Dahl found that this implicitly lucid “volitional dreaming” commonly appears in ethnographic accounts of dreaming. In cultures where “generative” theory holds sway, dreaming of something is understood to cause it to happen in the waking world. This leads people to experience lucid dreams as opportunities to create or do magic. By contrast, people who believe dreams are what one sees during “soul travel” use lucid dreams as an opportunity to spiritually visit real places. “Even when we consciously disbelieve our dreams,” Dahl said, “They still affect us at a deeper, emotional level that we can’t easily control with reason.” “All of this shows that cultural dream theories are multiple, that people invoke them in complex ways, and that they are at the very core of what lucid dreaming is and what it makes possible,” said Lohmann. This story was originally published by Trent University on, July 15, 2014. Is has been edited for style, brevity and clarity and appears here with permission.

In money we trust

U of T Staff (With introduction by Patchen Barss) | October 20, 2014

A few years ago, late, late at night, I was tooling around the streets of Ottawa in the back seat of a Jeep being driven by former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge. American economist and Nobel Laureate George Akerlof was riding shotgun. read more »
digital wallet

Phony shoppers

Marianne Koh | September 30, 2014

Cash gave way to magnetic strips, which gave way to chip-and-PIN, which gave way to “tap-and-pay” credit card scanners. Get ready for the next thing. read more »
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