After struggling mightily, and not particularly successfully, to have a thought about this, I broached a Friday after-work happy hour group and asked them what they would say about themselves. To a person, each looked uncomfortable with the mere question. They asked me whether I had anything in mind. Well maybe one thing: I don’t understand why I have nightmares almost every night. Nightmares of frustration. Obstacles in my way that keep me from catching an airplane trip on time. Obstacles that keep me from getting where I’m supposed to be. I wake up almost every morning with a sense of relief – “Thank goodness it was just a dream.” None of my colleagues seemed to spend their nights this way. What possible reason is there for this mental behaviour, night after night, that is clearly so uncomfortable? One happy hour colleague, a developmental psychologist, said: “that’s it - the happy relief you feel at the end. There’s your reinforcement.“ And thus she took away my one idea, by explaining it. It is now one nagging thing that I only partly understand. Or do I?
Elizabeth Loftus is Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Irvine. Among her numerous accolades, she received the 2005 Grawemeyer Award for Psychology and in 2002 was named among the 100 most influential psychologists of the twentieth century by the Review of General Psychology.
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