Two Faces Better Than One?

Here I describe my discovery that seeing faces on TV in the morning improved my mood the next day. The details of the effect suggested that the ideal stimulus is what you’d see during a conversation. For a long time I used the C-Span show Booknotes as the main source of the faces. I watched it on a 25-inch TV. More recently I used my own face in a mirror. It was readily available and perfectly life-size. I listened to a podcast or book at the same time.

A few months ago, Caleb Cooper commented saying that he’d found that looking at two faces every morning seemed to work better than looking at one face. He found that expanded to full screen on a 24-inch monitor (measured diagonally) produced close-to-life-size faces, which is what he wanted.

This interested me for several reasons: 1. It might make the effect stronger. 2. has a big selection, offering control over size.  3. I disliked looking at my face for long times. 4. It seems more naturalistic than looking at my own face.

I’ve been trying this with a 22-inch monitor (which I already had). Perhaps 24-inch would be better. The effect does seem stronger, as Caleb said.

I asked Caleb several questions about his experience.

How did you get started doing this?

I think it started when I read your posts about standing and sleeping.  This led me to read your paper on self experimentation and sleep.  Like you, I often suffered from early awakenings where I would wake up around 2-3 hours early, still feeling tired but having a hard time going back to sleep.

Based on what I learned from you and other sources, I tried out the following; got a pair of blue blocker clip-ons for my glasses which I put on about two hours before bed; ordered an Apollo goLite blue light emitter that I use for about an hour in the morning, I would sometimes take 1/3 mg of melatonin nine hours after waking up, and 3mg half hour before bed, and I started standing on a high difficulty Thera-Band balance pad on one leg while looking into a mirror for 30 minutes in the morning.

What made you think it was worth a try?

Well, why not:)  Most self experimentation can be easily done for practically no cost, while the potential upside is significant.  There’s also satisfying curiosity, expanding self knowledge, gaining mastery over your mind and body…  You had a plausible theory, had collected suggestive data, and I’d already found the appetite suppression effect of the Shagnri-La was very real, so you had a track record of introducing ideas worth paying attention to.

What happened at first?

It felt to me like my sleep modestly improved, sleeping through the night longer and having the energy to get up and go much sooner after waking.  This was awhile ago though, I didn’t keep any data, and I was adding and dropping different things, so my experience doesn’t have a high enough confidence interval for drawing any general inferences.

When did you make those changes?

I’d guess around sixteen months ago.

After you made those changes (“got a pair of BlueBlocker glasses…”) did your mood change?

It improved in as much as waking up feeling rested makes you feel a lot better than trying to get up while still tired.

Tell me something about yourself (job, age, etc.).

I got into medicine through Clinical Massage Therapy.  Being a high school dropout I wanted something I could get into quickly, then sink or swim on my own.  Massage is one of the few fields the university-accreditation complex hasn’t sunk its tentacles deeply into (a mixed blessing; for an autodidact it lets you quickly start a great career, but the field really needs a bifurcated certification track to separate medical massage from relaxational spa massage). I live in the Pacific Northwest, near the site where they developed the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki.  Despite all the lingering nuclear waste, it’s a nice, mid sized metro area. I’m in my mid twenties.

More About Faces and Mood

A friend with bipolar disorder writes:

When I wrote in your blog that I use your discovery daily, it means that every day I look in a mirror for an hour, starting at approximately 6:30 a.m. I have the mirror about 20 inches from my face because I have read that a mirror image is half the size of the object reflected. [Life-size faces appear to work best. Using a mirror means the face you see is perfectly life-size, allowing for distance. TV faces can be larger or smaller than life-size.] To keep from being bored while looking at my face in the mirror, I mostly listen to tapes of C-SPAN programs. Sometimes I listen to music. Once or twice a week I may just think, or plan my day. That does get boring after about 30 minutes.

Sorry, I definitely was exaggerating when I wrote “doctors are amazed”. “My doctors” refers only to my psychiatrist and psychotherapist; at best, they seem “impressed” by my condition. My therapist regularly says that I’m doing “great”(variously referring to social relations, self-awareness, and general functioning) — “especially considering my situation“ and my psychiatrist once exclaimed that my bipolar disorder was in “complete remission”, albeit when we were composing an online personal ad. I do think both of them are at least mildly surprised that I seem to be doing alright on half the standard therapeutic dose of Depakote, and a low dose of Prozac.

There was an actual experience that weakly supports my claim about practitioners having no interest in utilizing your idea. I once asked my therapist to suspend his disbelief, and just imagine that your treatment does work as a strong antidepressant. Then would he mention the treatment to his other patients, or give a talk at a conference, or write up a report, or tell his colleagues? In all cases, he said “no”. Although he agreed that ideas for clinical trials have to come from somewhere, evidently that somewhere was not part of his concern.

I stress that my therapist is compassionate and reasonably intelligent, and he has helped me deal with many important practical problems. And of course in your blog even you have admitted that your idea, on the face of it, sounds way too crazy. It’s to my therapist’s credit that he claims to believe your treatment works to some degree — adding positively, “whatever works for you”. Unfortunately, that addition implies that your treatment is somehow working “psychologically” for me (e.g., as a kind of meditation) rather than working “biologically” in a way that, presumably, would work for most people.

If my doctors were following my particular case as closely as they pretend to, then they ought to be amazed. Instead, my sense is that they see me through the lens of their diagnosis. Without actually dismissing the sheer statistical improbability of my having been off of drugs and without a hospitalization for four years, they do seem to forget that fact when we discuss drug therapy. When I mention those four years, they sometimes play the skeptic, offering up alternative possibilities: it was a fluke, or I was in remission anyway, or something else. I don’t try anymore to persuade anyone, not even family, about the treatment — it’s not worth the effort.

I suppose the bigger picture is that there is little credibility to the testimony of a bipolar person who has experienced psychosis. (Perhaps my case is not helped by dramatic pronouncements of mine such as, “History will judge you. People will wonder, “why didn’t they listen to him?”) Too, I’m not paying my doctors enough to get lengthy consultations. If I were paying enough, and if I made the case with details to my psychiatrist, she might be persuaded that there is a big effect. She has a high opinion of you; in fact, she’s the person who told me of the report in The SF Chronicle (5/30/06) about the SLD diet. And, she gives some credence to Dr. Stoll’s results with omega-3 for treating bipolar. Nevertheless, for what it’s worth, I would stand by my original opinion about her not changing her practice.

More About Faces and Mood

Today I spoke to someone who has been looking at his face in a mirror every morning to raise his mood. “It’s a big effect,” he said. It raises his mood “about 30 points” on a 0-100 scale where 0 = misery, 50 = neutral, and 100 = ecstasy. He starts around 6 am and does it for about an hour. This is close to what I observed with TV faces: one hour of faces at the best time produced about a 30-point improvement.

Thirty points, however wonderful, is not enough to change his life, he said; he would need 60 points for that. He has been in and out of mental hospitals several times and of course mental illness of that severity destroys all sorts of things we need, such as a decent job and friendships. As he looked at the diagram (two causes of depression) on p. 237 of my self-experimentation paper, his situation sunk in on him. It wasn’t just lack of morning faces that was making him depressed; it was also on-going life events.

My guess is that most Americans, asked to rate their mood, would say they are around 50 — neutral. Sure, they procrastinate, and bad traffic bothers them, but on the whole life is okay. But when something awful happens — they lose a job or a spouse, for example — their mood goes way down and takes a very long time to come back up. It is like AIDS. Our mood regulatory system, which requires morning faces to work properly, functions like our immune system to fight off damage and push us back to normal. In most people, unfortunately, that system is broken, just as AIDS sufferers lack a working immune system. So many people have far too much trouble getting rid of crippling bad moods. I suspect that most addictions, including the food addictions behind serious obesity, Internet addiction and video-game addiction, are self-medication to get rid of bad mood. It is the fact that the addictive act pushes a mood of 20 or 30 up to 50 that makes it so attractive. One of my students investigated the connection between depression and drug addiction; in her small sample, the depression always came first.

Earlier post about faces and mood.

Addendum: A February 2007 article in the American Journal of Psychiatry about bariatric-surgery candidates (average BMI = 52) reported this:

The discrepancy between lifetime and current substance use disorders was striking (32.6% versus 1.7%).

In other words, they used to take drugs but they don’t any more — possibly because food has replaced drugs.