Our dreams’ weirdness might be why we have them, argues new AI-inspired theory of dreaming — ScienceDaily

The question of why we dream is a divisive topic within the scientific community: it’s hard to prove concretely why dreams occur and the neuroscience field is saturated with hypotheses. Inspired by techniques used to train deep neural networks, Erik Hoel, a research assistant professor of neuroscience at Tufts University, argues for a new theory of dreams: the overfitted brain hypothesis. The hypothesis, described May 14 in a review in the journal Patterns, suggests that the strangeness of our dreams serves to help our brains better generalize our day-to-day experiences.

“There’s obviously an incredible number of theories of why we dream,” says Hoel. “But I wanted to bring to attention a theory of dreams that takes dreaming itself very seriously — that says the experience of dreams is why you’re dreaming.”

A common problem when it comes to training AI is that it becomes too familiar with the data it’s trained on — it starts to assume that the training set is a perfect representation of anything it might encounter. Data scientists fix this by introducing some chaos into the data; in one such regularization method, called “dropout,” some data is randomly ignored. Imagine if black boxes suddenly appeared on the internal screen of a self-driving car: the car that sees the random black boxes on the screen and focuses on overarching details of its surroundings, rather than the specifics of that particular driving experience, will likely better understand the general experience of driving.

“The original inspiration for deep neural networks was the brain,” Hoel says. And while comparing the brain to technology is not new, he explains that using deep neural networks to describe the overfitted brain hypothesis was a natural connection. “If you look at the techniques that people use in regularization of deep learning, it’s often the case that those techniques bear some striking similarities to dreams,” he says.

With that in mind, his new theory suggests that dreams happen to make our understanding of the world less simplistic and more well-rounded — because our brains, like deep neural networks, also become too familiar with the “training set” of our everyday lives. To counteract the familiarity, he suggests, the brain creates a weirded version of the world in dreams, the mind’s version of dropout. “It is the very strangeness of dreams in their divergence from waking experience that gives them their biological function,” he writes.

Hoel says that there’s already evidence from neuroscience research to support the overfitted brain hypothesis. For example, it’s been shown that the most reliable way to prompt dreams about something that happens in real life is to repetitively perform a novel task while you are awake. He argues that when you over-train on a novel task, the condition of overfitting is triggered, and your brain attempts to then generalize for this task by creating dreams.

But he believes that there’s also research that could be done to determine whether this is really why we dream. He says that well-designed behavioral tests could differentiate between generalization and memorization and the effect of sleep deprivation on both.

Another area he’s interested to explore is on the idea of “artificial dreams.” He came up with overfitted brain hypothesis while thinking about the purpose of works of fiction like film or novels. Now, he hypothesizes that outside stimuli like novels or TV shows might act as dream “substitutions” — and that they could perhaps even be designed to help delay the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation by emphasizing their dream-like nature (for instance, by virtual reality technology).

While you can simply turn off learning in artificial neural networks, Hoel says, you can’t do that with a brain. Brains are always learning new things — and that’s where the overfitted brain hypothesis comes in to help. “Life is boring sometimes,” he says. “Dreams are there to keep you from becoming too fitted to the model of the world.”

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Weekly CEO Update: Supporting children and families where a parent has a mental illness

There was a brilliant moment for me this week – and it did not involve discussions about the Federal Budget, although they were very positive too. 

I was invited to speak at a launch of the Framework for Children of Parents with a Mental Illness at one of our member organisations, Central Coast Family Support Services. 

Held on the beautiful Central Coast of NSW, the morning after the Budget, it was an honour to be there with the team and around 50 local service providers at the heart of supporting parents and/or children with mental illness.

In Australia, it is estimated that 21-23% of all children live with at least one parent with a mental illness and some international research tells us that these children have up to 50% chance of developing a mental illness themselves. 

Once upon a time, I was a family therapist working in child and adolescent mental health clinical settings. Back then a child or teenager was sometimes called the ‘identified patient’, despite the ripple effect of their distress within their families. And with clinicians from the adult team in the same organisation we established that there were more than 400 children represented by those adults registered for treatment at the service. 

For too long we have focussed our services on individuals — either the child or the teenager or the parent/s. 

It’s time to focus on services for families.

It’s time to recognise the importance of the connections in families – especially for children and their mental health.

And of course, it’s not a new idea! There have been people working in clinical settings and in psychosocial and social care across the country for years to assist families where the parent has a mental illness, and policies have been developed by governments over time to support this work.

But the event on Wednesday reminded me how important it is that services work together to respond to both the individuals (children and parents) and the family as a whole. We need to learn to think about complexity — because being a parent can be complex.

So let’s think about the individuals: mums or dads, aunties or uncles who live with a mental illness. Are they getting the treatment and support they personally need? Are they being supported as parents?

And let’s think about the children living in families where a parent or their primary carer has a mental illness. What might they need to support their own experience and their own mental well-being, their learning, their peer relationships, their growing bodies, their resilience, their understanding?

I have to stop here and say they the budget announcements gave us hope for expanded services and welcome supports for individuals – both children and parents with a mental illness:

  • New adult mental health hubs in communities across the country.
  • Expanded headspace services.
  • New child hubs so that troubled children can access community-based mental health care.

Even better – a funding commitment to work towards universal mental health screening for parents in the perinatal period so that if they are struggling early with their babies, both can get help early. And continued universal access to preschool to help prepare children for a life of learning and social connection.

Both services for children and services for adults should consider whole families. And as a community of services, the Central Coast has a great opportunity to lead the way here. Their new framework recognises the connection to each other across the service system.

And it is focused on the children’s needs at the centre, but in the context of the family. Perfect timing for National Families Week from 15 to 21 May which coincides with the United Nations International Day of Families.

Have a good weekend.

Leanne Beagley

Join the team at Mental Health Australia: NMHCCF Project Officer

Reporting to the Manager, Consumer & Carer Programs you will be responsible for providing a high standard of project and administration support to deliver a number of projects as part of Mental Health Australia’s contractual responsibilities to the NMHCCF. The position is responsible for assisting with the design, implementation and delivery of projects in accordance with the NMHCCF Workplan. Find out more here.



On Monday I am meeting with the ACT based Primary Health Network, Capital Health Network and in the afternoon I have a meeting of the Mental Health & Life Insurance Roundtable. This is a biannual event that has been held since 2017 with life insurance industry and mental health industry stakeholders. Its purpose is to build the relationship between the two groups and progress common goals with respect to mental health in life insurance. 
On Tuesday I am meeting with Darren Black CEO at OzHelp and also attending the AGM of Pain Australia. Later I am looking forward to hosting a webinar for members with Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler and Shadow Mental Health Assistant Minister Emma McBride about the Federal Budget. 
On Wednesday I have my regular meeting with Dr Ruth Vine, Deputy Chief Medical Officer and then a meeting of the Primary Care Reform Steering Group.
On Thursday we have the Board Finance and Risk Management Committee meeting and later I will host a webinar where Assistant Minister David Coleman discusses the Federal Budget. 
On Friday we have an all-day In-Person Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance Meeting in Melbourne.


Communicate your news, job vacancies, or upcoming events to more than 5,000 people in the mental health ecosystem weekly.

Mental Health Australia members are invited to send us news, announcements, job vacancies, events or other notices for inclusion in the Weekly CEO Update newsletter. To do so, simply fill out this form by COB each Wednesday for your notice to appear in the newsletter the following Friday.

POSITIONS VACANT – Work in mental health with one of our members

R U OK? logo
Mental Health Australia Member Organisation: R U OK?
Job Title: Ambassador Program Manager 
Type of position: Full Time 
Location: Sydney or Melbourne based
Manage and strengthen the R U OK? Ambassador Program consisting of around 100 trained and highly valued volunteers who generously donate their time and energy to share insights, ideas and stories of hope. To express an interest in this role, or find out more email recruitment@ruok.org.au 

Member Profiles

Gidget Foundation Australia
Gidget Foundation Australia is a not for profit organisation that provides programs nationally to support the emotional wellbeing of expectant and new parents.

Wellways Australia
Wellways Australia is a provider with 40 years’ experience, we specialise in mental health, disability support and carer services. We dedicate resources to advocacy, to ensure systems are responsible and equitable, and society is inclusive. 

Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia Workshops
We are pleased to announce that we are holding new workshops on the Framework in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. These free and newly expanded workshops will offer participants an opportunity to learn more about the Framework and hear how services have applied the Framework to their workplace. 
Registrations can be made using the following links:

Due to the developing restrictions in Sydney as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken the precautionary decision to postpone the face-to-face Framework Workshop that was planned, to a date still to be confirmed.

We hope to be able to hold this face-to-face event in the coming weeks or months, and we thank you for your interest and support of the Embrace Multicultural Mental Health Project and the delivery of the Framework. For further enquiries, please contact multicultural@mhaustralia.org

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) and Department of Health updated COVID-19 advice and information

ATAGI have reinforced their recommendations on the use of the COVID-19 vaccine and the Chief Medical Officer has also issued a statement on the ATAGI advice. In response, the Department of Health has updated its vaccine information on the AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as information for vaccine providers, disability service providers, and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Embrace Australia logo (a rectangle with a light and dark purple cultural stripe pattern with "embrace" and stylised outline of the Australian continent in the lower right corner).

National Volunteer Week 2021 Handbook

With one (1) week until National Volunteer Week 2021, please join Volunteering Australia as we acknowledge that it is time to RECOGNISE. RECONNECT. REIMAGINE. volunteering in Australia. To assist, the Volunteering Australia team has developed a Handbook to help this year’s celebrations and ensure your organisation is recognising, reconnecting and reimagining your volunteers and volunteering program. You are also invited to put your hand up and thank the millions of volunteers around Australia with a special smile. The Wave Your Appreciation campaign is back to recognise the great work volunteers do each and every day. 

2021 Suicide Prevention Summit: Starts today

The 2021 Suicide Prevention Summit (co-hosted by Mental Health Academy & Lifeline Australia) starts this Friday. The event is entirely free to attend, and includes 13 hours of learning – accessible both in real-time & on-demand. You can register here.

One month to go: apply to present at RRMH 2021

Presenter applications for the Australian Rural & Remote Mental Health Symposium are open until 4 June. Present your case studies, research and ideas with an audience of like minded professionals at the 2021 Australian Rural & Remote Mental Health Symposium, taking place from 3-5 November in Canberra. Authors or organisations are invited to submit a presentation of no more than 300 words.



Link to the 2021 Federal Budget Summary

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First Flynn’s Walk event in Canberra shines light on veterinarians’ mental health | The Canberra Times

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Hundreds of pet-lovers descended on the Lake Burley Griffin bridge-to-bridge walk on Sunday to have a serious discussion about mental health in the veterinary industry. Flynn’s Walk began in Melbourne in 2018 as a tribute to Dr Flynn Hargreaves who died by suicide while practicing as a vet in London. His friends and family have turned the tragedy into a ray of hope, creating an annual event in multiple cities to raise awareness of vets’ difficult working conditions. “The whole premise is to walk it out and talk it out,” Dr Hargreaves’ mother Jackie Hosking said. Carrie Traynor-Doble, a vet nurse at Greencross Vets, thought she would gather some colleagues to walk around the lake in solidarity with Flynn’s Walk in Melbourne. Word got around to other Canberra clinics and the event was made public. About 350 people came out to walk the loop and stay for a coffee, sweet treat and, most importantly, a conversation about mental health. “It’s just been amazing how much people have gotten behind it,” Ms Traynor-Doble said. She said there was much more to vets’ work than looking after furry animals. “There’s a lot of routine desexings and vaccinations and you are meeting these beautiful new puppies and kittens and we love that. But actually, that kind of adds to the emotional roller coaster because one minute you can be literally cuddling a kitten and then the next minute you’re dealing with a seizuring dog and a crying owner and it’s all hands on deck.” READ MORE: Long hours and high-levels of empathy can lead to burnout and compassion-fatigue, Ms Traynor-Doble said. “You can’t predict when an animal is going to get sick or eat chocolate or get hit by a car or those kind of emergencies … the hours and the lack of routine can really take a toll on your health.” Flynn’s Walk president Jack Levitt, a school friend of Dr Hargreaves, said the years of study followed by low wages in the first years of veterinary work contributed to financial stress. Ms Hosking said her son was an intelligent, caring person who always kept his word. It was an incredible shock when he took his own life aged 27, but the Flynn’s Walk charity has been able to raise funds for RUOK and Love Your Pet Love Your Vet in his memory. “I’m convinced that since Flynn’s Walk started in 2018, there’s been a big shift in acknowledging the problem,” she said. Ms Traynor-Doble said she’s seen improved access to counselling and better working conditions. Mr Levitt said pet owners had an important role to play in supporting vets. “You can be emotional and attached to your animal but we need to acknowledge that there’s a person on the other side of the counter or the console table,” he said. Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:



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Are these delusions and should I be concerned? : mentalhealth

I’m seriously in need of some advice; I’ve always been a super anxious and insecure person- I’m diagnosed with anxiety and I’ve recently been trying to get out of a slump where I can’t leave my house at all during the daytime. I also have ADD, ocd and depression (the last two have gotten better I think) so I’ve always written this off as that.

However, I’ve noticed that I have serious trust issues, even towards people who’ve known me for years and have never done anything to hurt me. My brain manages to twist everything into “they’re going to ruin my reputation, betray me, ruin my life, hurt me” etc, and if it doesn’t happen automatically, I do it on purpose. I’m not sure if that’s a sort of defence mechanism, but I know that I don’t trust any of my friends at all and I get sent into a complete state of panic occasionally because I let something slip that they could use against me. It’s been like this with teachers and doctors for ages too; I’m always expecting them to either physically or mentally hurt me.

Same things happen with diseases- if you look at my profile you’ll see a post I made a few months ago about this- but both things are becoming unbearable. I don’t even trust my best friend anymore and I’m convinced she hates me and is spreading rumours behind my back. The only proof I have to back this up is that she is super bad at checking my messages. It’s not even rational.

If it matters- I’m 18, a girl, and I have some sort of trauma from my past school and teacher. It’s basically what kickstarted my anxiety, and I’ve even gone as far as to say that the teacher combined with my horrible relationship with my parents when I was 11-15 basically ruined my perception of adults and people you’re supposed to trust. I’m also on Ritalin, tho I don’t recall this being a side effect and it’s been going on for longer than I’ve been on the medication.

Does this matter? Am I just being over dramatic or should I bring it up in therapy?

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Tips for talking to men about their mental health

Discover how to approach conversations with care and compassion

When I started my podcast ‘Time To Talk with Alex Holmes’, I found it hard to speak about my own mental health. There were no resources that I could find to help me and, outside of a conversation with one of my best friends, it was difficult to open up and share what was going on inside.

Ultimately, this was an accumulation of fear, shame, and disconnection with myself. I wasn’t in touch with what I was feeling and thinking. I wasn’t living, I was just existing, and it was hurting my ability to see a happy life for myself.

Now, as a mental health guide and trainee therapist, I have built up a few tools to support men (and others) with their mental health. When it comes to men, there are particular factors that come into play, so here are a few ways you can open up a conversation to speak to your loved one about their mental health.

1. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them

Going into conversations, we have a tendency to position ourselves as the injured or suffering party immediately. While a man with poor mental health may not always make life pleasant for those around them, it’s important to toe the line between issuing blame and guilt, and taking a caring approach. Feelings of inadequacy, rejection, low self-esteem, and possibly self-hate, can emanate strongly in men, so it’s a question of trying to simply go in with: “What’s been going on with you today?”

2. Don’t force them to open up if they’re not ready

It’s not fair to force someone to do something they aren’t wholly comfortable with, so trust has to be built first. Some men might not feel as though they can trust people with their feelings, because history has taught them that they can easily be betrayed, and they need to be stoic. Or, it could be that they don’t want to burden you with the weight of what they’re carrying. They might really want to talk about what’s going on, but they don’t trust the feeling of vulnerability. Give them the space to be open to the conversation, and don’t rush. Go for walks together, do a shared activity, or try something new together – that will help you strengthen bonds, and create a space that is safe and trustworthy.

“Encourage vulnerability as a strength”

3. Understand the impact of toxic masculinity

‘Toxic masculinity’ refers to a set of cultural, gendered standards that are detrimental to men’s health and happiness. Social pressures of what it means to be a man can cause men to feel as if they are not advancing in life, not successful enough, or simply not ‘man’ enough. This can present some insecurities, generate recklessness, and also prompt mood swings. Take some time to look into the idea of ‘toxic masculinity’, and make an effort to show the men in your life that it’s OK not to conform.

4. Encourage him to speak to somebody

You may get to the point where you believe he should see someone like myself, a mental health guide, or a counsellor or psychotherapist – and you can offer to help research the options. However, joining men’s groups can also be extremely beneficial. I host a monthly men’s group to get men to check-in with how we’re doing on the first Thursday of every month. Here, we speak about everything from mental wellbeing to health, work, and relationships. Men’s groups are important communities, as they help men share, and have conversations that might not always be a safe topic to cover in front of those they love. It helps reduce shame, and builds camaraderie. Try searching for some in your area.


5. Create a safe space to talk

Feelings of shame and embarrassment can come from being in the presence of certain people, so whether that’s children, a partner, or parents and in-laws, be mindful of the environment that is being created, and make it neutral. Don’t tell him to ‘man up’, or ‘be a real father’ – that will do more harm than good. Encourage vulnerability as a strength, don’t use manipulative techniques to get them to open up, and support them on the path to healing and recovery.

‘Time To Talk’ by Alex Holmes (Welbeck, £10.99) is out now.

To connect with a counsellor to talk about feelings of vulnerability, shame or low self-esteem, visit counselling-directory.org.uk/

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NIMH » Human Mobility and HIV Workshop


Location: Virtual

Sponsored by: NIMH Division of AIDS Research

The world’s displaced populations are at record highs, human trafficking is increasingly a global problem, and migration pressures are increasing for many, particularly those living in the lowest-resource settings. NIMH will convene a two-day virtual workshop on human mobility in diverse global populations from May 24-25, 2021. Topics will include:

  • Methodological approaches to understanding mobility patterns
  • Lessons learned from humanitarian settings
  • Implications for the development of HIV interventions

The workshop will bring together a diverse set of researchers and advocates to share knowledge and lessons learned, evaluate the state of the science, and identify future research directions.


Registration for this free online event is required.

More Information


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Susan Bryant on the importance of speaking about mental health, suicide after husband’s death

It’s been four years since Dr Andrew Bryant, an esteemed gastroenterologist and dad of four, took his own life in his Brisbane office.

Since his death in March 2017, Andrew’s wife Susan has been on a mission to break down the taboo around mental health and suicide.

Susan’s work started just a few days after the death of her husband when she penned an email to family and friends about her husband’s death, and why their family was unashamed of the way he had died.

“Andrew was 54 so I knew I was going to have to tell people how he died and I didn’t want to keep it a secret,” Susan told ABC’s Conversations.

“News travels very quickly … doctors in other rooms had been called in to help … so I knew the rumour mill at the hospital would’ve gone into overdrive.

“I wanted to tell people what happened so there was no misunderstanding or rumours.”

Susan initially sent the email to a handful of her colleagues, and to a handful of Andrew’s colleagues. She then sent it on to a few of the family’s neighbours before her eldest son asked if he could put it on Facebook to explain to his own friends what had happened.

The email was shared thousands of times and hit the media just a few days after Andrew’s death, going viral around the world.

Speaking to Conversations, Susan described her husband as an active, kind person who “always did so much” and had “so many interests”.

“He liked people, he was interested in people,” she said.

The couple had four kids and lived a happy, but “very busy”, life in Brisbane with Susan raising the children at home and Andrew opening a private specialist practice and also working at the hospital.

With their busy life, Andrew was always tired but around Easter in 2017, he began to struggle in a different way and even tried to avoid going on holiday with his family for the long weekend.

“He just seemed very tired and very stressed,” Susan said. “He did manage to come up for Easter and stay a couple of nights but he was really flat and really tired and I just thought, ‘oh he’s really busy.’

“Doctors work such long hours and if you have a private practice you’re basically on call all the time … his normal day was he’d be out before 7am and he would sometimes be home for dinner but often he’d be home after we’d all eaten.”

In the week leading up to his death, Andrew had to miss his son’s birthday dinner — after making it to the doorway of the restaurant he received a call from a patient and had to go — and then had the “on-call week from hell”.

Andrew was called three to four times a night, and at one point he had just arrived home when he was called back the hospital again.

Two days before he died, Andrew sat at the dinner table with his family and started crying about a patient who had died that day.

“He cared a lot about his patients but it was very unusual, I never saw him crying about a patient at home, and he seemed very miserable about everything … to see him in tears was very unusual,” Susan said.

‘Suicide grief is compounded by the most awful guilt’

Andrew took his own life in his office on a Thursday, with police visiting the family’s home to deliver the news.

“I remember saying ‘that can’t be true, he wouldn’t do that’. There was a lot of disbelief around it … it was so out of character,” Susan said.

After the funeral, Susan struggled with the guilt around her husband’s death. “Suicide grief is compounded by the most awful guilt,” she said.

“Even though the rational part (of your brain) says ‘it’s not your fault’ … there’s the other part that says, ‘what sort of wife can let her husband get to the point where he’s suicidal and not do anything about it? And not even notice, or know, he had depression?’

“The guilt is enormous … and the public perception around what’s happened to you, you see it every time someone who doesn’t know you.”

Susan said she’s told people her husband took his own life to see them then “physically take a step back”.

“It is such a difficult thing and so many people have no idea what to say,” she said.

Four years after his death, Susan said she still felt a “huge sense of shock” about her husband’s passing.

“It was just so out of character, for someone who loved life so much as he did, he was the last person you would think that would be way he would die,” she said.

Susan was at pains to explain how difficult life can be for doctors. The suicide rates for doctors are much higher than the general population and poor mental health is also something the profession struggles with.

“The responsibility they have is enormous,” she said.

Susan said one of the most “frustrating” things about her husband’s death was the potential impulsivity of it all.

“Of course I’ve thought long and hard about whether he was thinking about suicide, of course we’ll never know, but a lot of factors lead me to think it was an impulsive decision … that he went to work and he was sitting in his office and decided there and then,” she said.

“Something very spur of moment .. and that part is incredibly frustrating … because if he hadn’t been at that place and alone maybe he could’ve still been alive today.”

Despite their frustrations, Susan and her and Andrew’s four children have continued on with their lives — but things will never be the same.

“Our life will always be before and after that day,” she said.

“Life will never be the same again but you just learn to live with it.”

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Politically polarized brains share an intolerance of uncertainty — ScienceDaily

Since the 1950s, political scientists have theorized that political polarization — increased numbers of “political partisans” who view the world with an ideological bias — is associated with an inability to tolerate uncertainty and a need to hold predictable beliefs about the world.

But little is known about the biological mechanisms through which such biased perceptions arise.

To investigate that question, scientists at Brown University measured and compared the brain activity of committed partisans (both liberals and conservatives) as they watched real political debates and news broadcasts. In a recent study, they found that polarization was indeed exacerbated by intolerance of uncertainty: liberals with this trait tended to be more liberal in how they viewed political events, conservatives with this trait tended to be more conservative.

Yet the same neural mechanisms was at work, pushing the partisans into their different ideological camps.

“This is the first research we know of that has linked intolerance to uncertainty to political polarization on both sides of the aisle,” said study co-author Oriel FeldmanHall, an assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown. “So whether a person in 2016 was a strongly committed Trump supporter or a strongly committed Clinton supporter, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that an aversion to uncertainty only exacerbates how similarly two conservative brains or two liberal brains respond when consuming political content.”

Jeroen van Baar, study co-author and a former post-doctoral researcher at Brown, said the findings are important because they show that factors other than political beliefs themselves can influence individuals’ ideological biases.

“We found that polarized perception — ideologically warped perceptions of the same reality — was strongest in people with the lowest tolerance for uncertainty in general,” said van Baar, who is now a research associate at Trimbos, the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction. “This shows that some of the animosity and misunderstanding we see in society is not due to irreconcilable differences in political beliefs, but instead depends on surprising — and potentially solvable — factors such as the uncertainty people experience in daily life.”

The study was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Thurs., May 13.

To examine whether and how intolerance for uncertainty shapes how political information is processed in the brain, the researchers recruited 22 committed liberals and 22 conservatives. They used fMRI technology to measure brain activity while participants watched three types of videos: a neutrally worded news segment on a politically charged topic, an inflammatory debate segment and a non-political nature documentary.

After the viewing session, participants answered questions about their comprehension and judgment of the videos and completed an extensive survey with five political and three cognitive questionnaires designed to measure traits like intolerance of uncertainty.

“We used relatively new methods to look at whether a trait like intolerance of uncertainty exacerbates polarization, and to examine if individual differences in patterns of brain activity synchronize to other individuals that hold like-minded beliefs,” FeldmanHall said.

When the researchers analyzed participants’ brain activity while processing the videos, they found that neural responses diverged between liberals and conservatives, reflecting differences in the subjective interpretation of the footage. People who identified strongly as liberal processed political content much in the same way and at the same time — which the researchers refer to as neural synchrony. Likewise, the brains of those who identified as conservative were also in sync when processing political content.

“If you are a politically polarized person, your brain syncs up with like-minded individuals in your party to perceive political information in the same way,” FeldmanHall said.

This polarized perception was exacerbated by the personality trait of intolerance of uncertainty. Those participants — of any ideology — who were less tolerant to uncertainty in daily life (as reported on their survey responses) had more ideologically polarized brain responses than those who are better able to tolerate uncertainty.

“This suggests that aversion to uncertainty governs how the brain processes political information to form black-and-white interpretations of inflammatory political content,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Interestingly, the researchers did not observe the polarized perception effect during a non-political video or even during a video about abortion presented in a neutral, non-partisan tone.

“This is key because it implies that ‘liberal and conservative brains’ are not just different in some stable way, like brain structure or basic functioning, as other researchers have claimed, but instead that ideological differences in brain processes arise from exposure to very particular polarizing material,” van Baar said. “This suggests that political partisans may be able to see eye to eye — provided we find the right way to communicate.”

David J. Halpern of New York University and the University of Pennsylvania was an additional study author.

The research was supported by a Brown University seed grant and by National Institutes of Health COBRE Grant P20GM103645.

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Big issues require big commitments, and even bigger dollars – Mental Health Australia welcomes the 2021 Federal Budget

Mental Health Australia has tonight welcomed the 2021 Federal Budget, at a time when the mental health of our nation has never seen such need, nor experienced such a willingness to address the issues and challenges at hand.

“Over the last decade or more, our mental health ecosystem has advocated tirelessly for systemic reform, for change and ultimately for the right to be heard,” said Mental Health Australia CEO Dr Leanne Beagley.

“At the heart of such advocacy has been those with lived experience of mental ill health, and their families and carers. These courageous, persistent and persuasive voices have become critical to ensuring all governments not only listen, but act to improve our mental health system.

“Tonight, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s Budget speech identified a record $2.3 billion will be invested in Australia’s mental health over the next four years.

“There is no doubt this is real action.

“The numbers are big, and the commitments are certainly welcomed, but we also know that to tackle and deliver true national mental health reform will mean big commitments on many fronts, not just in health, and not just at a federal level.

“There are also of course gaps, and there are of course more questions to ask and we will do so over the next days and weeks.

“At Mental Health Australia, where our focus is always on national systemic reform across the entire lifespan and across the care continuum from prevention to acute clinical treatment, we see these Budget announcements as the start of what must become a national wave of true mental health reform.

“After decades of under-investment across the entire ecosystem, new mental health funding can sometimes be like rain after a long drought — it is welcomed but gets absorbed into the dry earth so quickly that it seems to disappear. It’s only when there is consistent rain that a drought truly breaks.”


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Budget 2021 backs jobs, mental health and farmers in Queensland but misses support for social housing and tourism

But like so many others facing the regional rental crisis, the budget has provided no new hope for the central Queensland family-of-seven’s need for long-term accommodation.

“When you’ve got children and looking at remnants of a house packed up in containers and boxes, it’s sad for us,” Ms Bath said. 

The family has been forced to live with relatives while they wait for an affordable rental or social housing.

Ms Bath said she had been approved for social housing about three months ago but has been told there was a nine-year waitlist.  

“I was willing to put seven people in a two-bedroom flat, that’s how bad it is,” she said. 

“Like who has got $650 a week to rent a home?” 

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