When I go to the doctor with an ache, I always find it really difficult to describe the pain. My doctor always ask questions like “Does it sting? Does it burn? How bad is it on a scale from 1 to 10?”. And honestly, in most cases I just make a wild guess, because I cannot precisely assess my own pain.
In popular media new ground-breaking findings in brain research pop up every now and then, with bold statements like “some of us have fat brains that make us crave for too much food” (www.thesun.co.uk) or “our consciousness houses on a highway underneath our skull” (www.volkskrant.nl). When you read these articles, brain research seems so very simple: you put participants in an fMRI, show them a stimulus, measure their brain activity, analyse which brain areas get activated and draw a conclusion. A piece of cake.
True daredevils would put their lives at risk to make that jump, climb that mountain or run that marathon to get the ultimate kick. Whereas to many it seems foolish, some people do not seem to care whether could be dead in just another moment. It was assumed for a long time that irrationality was the cause, but recent neuroscientific research has discovered that brain developments highly influence risky behavior and that adolescents, like me, form the particular group at risk.
The psychology and neuroscience of the stereotype threat
“Stereotype threat,” a term which originates from the work of Steele and Aronson, has become a widely explored topic in social psychology (Steele, 1999). The stereotype threat explains why certain minority groups at universities underperform in comparison to the majority (Steele, 1999). It opposes the idea that differences in performance of college students between several groups can be explained biologically and therefore avoids the “nature vs. nurture trap” (Derks, 2008). Instead, the stereotype threat theory claims that when a person is viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype, this leads to fear of doing something that confirms that negative stereotype (Steele, 1999). In Steele and Aronson’s article, it is stated that African American college students are well aware of the negative stereotype about their group. Looking at facts, it shows that the dropout rate of African American college students is 20 to 25 percent higher than white students. Moreover, the grade-point average of African-American students is two-thirds of a grade below that of white students. In order to support their hypothesis, they set up a test which reduced the stereotype threat. Most interestingly, this test resulted in a significantly higher performance of African American students; matching the performance of equally qualified white students.
If you ask people what they wish for in their lives, many will answer: “love and being loved”. But what does it mean to love? What happens with your brain when you are in love? Put differently: is love literally all between your ears?