Mind Matters — Awake or Sleeping

In 1967, just seven months before his assassination, Martine Luther King, Jr., delivered an historic address to the American Psychological Association Convention. At that time, MLK pointedly urged social scientists to confront “race-based problems plaguing the country.” On the fiftieth anniversary of this keynote, the APA Monitor on Psychology published the reflections of notable psychologists regarding MLK’s remarks. Here are two.

APA president-elect Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD, notes how “Dr. Martine Luther King’s … speech remains relevant today because race and ethnicity continue to matter in the United States. He advocated for research that would produce more understanding for blacks and whites.”

Noting how “social science knowledge is not being used as effectively as it should,” because, says psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum, “we still don’t want to talk about race. You can’t solve a problem if you can’t talk about it.” So indeed, for her, Dr. King’s words still resonate.

These researchers, as well as others interviewed assert that change is possible but that it takes action, attention, and effort.

The field of psychology touches every facet of life, because we, as human beings, affect and are affected by our milieu. Hence, the issues of social justice and discrimination are very much a part of psychological study. As a matter of fact, they are integral to our understanding of perception and bias, both explicit and implicit.

In the Glossary of Psychological Terms, by Richard Gerrig and Philip Zimbardo, the “belief bias effect is a situation that occurs when a person’s prior knowledge, attitudes or values distort the reasoning process by influencing the person to accept invalid arguments.” In other words, in the face of facts, bias has us asleep at the wheel of sound judgment.

The Kirwan Institute of Ohio State University notes that implicit bias, “also known as implicit social cognition … refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” Not only do psychologists study how and why we perceive and act as we do, psychologists also study how we can gain the skills and tools to understand both personal and cultural/institutional biases and to change both behaviors and attitudes.

Even our attitude towards sleep is not without subjectivity. In an APA report on “The Power of Restorative Sleep,” Michael Grandner, Ph.D., director of sleep research at the University of Arizona, says “meeting the biological need for sleep is driven by choices, beliefs, attitudes, opportunities—all of the things health psychologists have been talking about for ages.” Perhaps sleep, like implicit bias, has been given short shrift over the years.

Researchers are discovering that sleep is restorative to brain function and perhaps good sleep habits over the years can protect people from bodily inflammation that leads to diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart problems, and neuro-degenerative disorders.

While quantity is important: at least six hours, preferably seven to eight hours each night, over eight hours may be detrimental for reasons that researchers continue to ponder. However, quality of sleep is also important. Is there time for deep sleep? Uninterrupted by sleep apnea, for example (both yours or theirs!)?

Bryce Mander, Ph.D., of UC Berkeley, notes that disrupting sleep disrupts function everywhere in the body (including the brain, of course!). so the hope is that improving sleep might also improve everything.

Sleep may not fix our implicit biases, but it may help us think more clearly. We can all sleep on that—then may we all wake up.