Science of the Spirit


Neurotics don't just avoid action: They dislike it

That person we all seem to know who we say is neurotic and unable to take action? Turns out he or she isn't unable to act but simply doesn't want to.

A study of nearly 4,000 college students in 19 countries has uncovered new details about why neurotic people may avoid making decisions and moving forward with life. Turns out that when they are asked if action is positive, favorable, good, they just don't like it as much as non-neurotics. Therefore persuasive communications and other interventions may be useful if they simply alter neurotics' attitudes toward inaction.

These findings come the study "Neuroticism and Attitudes Toward Action in 19 Countries." It is published in the Journal of Personality and was written by Molly E. Ireland, Texas Tech University; Justin Hepler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Hong Li, Battelle Center for Analytics and Public Health; and Dolores Albarracín - the principal investigator of the study-- from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.

"You're so neurotic!" It's a phrase that's tossed about casually, but what exactly is neuroticism? It is a personality trait defined by the experience of chronic negative affect - including sadness, anxiety, irritability, and self-consciousness - that is easily triggered and difficult to control. Neurotic people tend to avoid acting when confronted with major and minor life stressors, leading to negative life consequences.

Comment: Being neurotic isn't something set in stone. There are various contributing factors, like diet and working on the self that can assist with modifying one's attitude toward various situations. Read the following forum thread, as an example, to learn more.

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People selectively remember the details of atrocities that absolve in-group members

Conversations about wartime atrocities often omit certain details. According to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, these omissions can lead people to have different memories for the event depending on social group membership.

"We started thinking about this project around the time when stories began to emerge in the popular media about atrocities committed by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan," says lead researcher Alin Coman, psychological scientist at Princeton University.

"We wanted to scientifically investigate the effect of hearing about these incidents at the level of the American public," Coman notes. "How will people remember these atrocities? Will they tend to suppress the memory to preserve the positive view of their in-group? Will they conjure potential pieces of information to justify the atrocities?"

Obsessive practice isn't the key to success - Here's why

Excerpted from "Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning"

Here's a study that may surprise you. A group of eight-year-olds practiced tossing beanbags into buckets in gym class. Half of the kids tossed into a bucket three feet away. The other half mixed it up by tossing into buckets two feet and four feet away. After twelve weeks of this they were all tested on tossing into a three-foot bucket. The kids who did the best by far were those who'd practiced on two- and four-foot buckets but never on three-foot buckets.

Why is this? We will come back to the beanbags, but first a little insight into a widely held myth about how we learn.

The myth of massed practice

Most of us believe that learning is better when you go at something with single-minded purpose: the practice-practice-practice that's supposed to burn a skill into memory. Faith in focused, repetitive practice of one thing at a time until we've got it nailed is pervasive among classroom teachers, athletes, corporate trainers, and students. Researchers call this kind of practice "massed," and our faith rests in large part on the simple fact that when we do it, we can see it making a difference. Nevertheless, despite what our eyes tell us, this faith is misplaced.

If learning can be defined as picking up new knowledge or skills and being able to apply them later, then how quickly you pick something up is only part of the story. Is it still there when you need to use it out in the everyday world? While practicing is vital to learning and memory, studies have shown that practice is far more effective when it's broken into separate periods of training that are spaced out. The rapid gains produced by massed practice are often evident, but the rapid forgetting that follows is not. Practice that's spaced out, interleaved with other learning, and varied produces better mastery, longer retention, and more versatility. But these benefits come at a price: when practice is spaced, interleaved, and varied, it requires more effort. You feel the increased effort, but not the benefits the effort produces. Learning feels slower from this kind of practice, and you don't get the rapid improvements and affirmations you're accustomed to seeing from massed practice. Even in studies where the participants have shown superior results from spaced learning, they don't perceive the improvement; they believe they learned better on the material where practice was massed.
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Kent Kiehl: What it's like to spend 20 years listening to psychopaths for science

© Donn Dughi/Bettmann/CORBIS
Ted Bundy, shown here in 1978, unwittingly had a role in sparking Kent Kiehl’s interest in psychopaths
Kent Kiehl was walking briskly towards the airport exit, eager to get home, when a security guard grabbed his arm. "Would you please come with me, sir?" he said. Kiehl complied, and he did his best to stay calm while security officers searched his belongings. Then, they asked him if there was anything he wanted to confess.

Kiehl is a neuroscientist at the Mind Research Network and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and he's devoted his career to studying what's different about the brains of psychopaths - people whose lack of compassion, empathy, and remorse has a tendency to get them into trouble with the law. On the plane, Kiehl had been typing up notes from an interview he'd done with a psychopath in Illinois who'd been convicted of murdering two women and raping and killing a 10-year old girl. The woman sitting next to him thought he was typing out a confession.

Kiehl recounts the story in a new book about his research, The Psychopath Whisperer. He has been interviewing psychopaths for more than 20 years, and the book is filled with stories of these colorful (and occasionally off-color) encounters. (Actually,The Psychopath Listener would have been a more accurate, if less grabby title.) More recently he's acquired a mobile MRI scanner and permission to scan the brains of New Mexico state prison inmates. So far he's scanned about 3,000 violent offenders, including 500 psychopaths.
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Psychopaths far more common in human population than people believe, says expert

psychopath whisperer
So you say you once worked for a boss so evil, cunning and completely devoid of any human compassion or empathy that you joked to your co-workers, "This guy's a psychopath!"

Everyone had a good laugh at that. But the joke may have been on you and your coworkers because it is quite possible your boss was/is a psychopath.

In fact, according to Dr. Kent Kiehl psychopaths are far more common in the human population than we think.

He should know. Kiehl is a famous neuroscientist at the Mind Research Network and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and he's spent his entire career getting into the minds of such people -- studying what's different about the brains of psychopaths.

Those are people whose lack of compassion, empathy and remorse is sometimes the mark of a hardened criminal such as a serial killer, but more often than not the psychopath can be the person sitting next to you in class, working alongside you at the office or even sitting next to you at church.
2 + 2 = 4

Investment odds - A different way of thinking

We might assume there's a method of thinking -- we'll call it rational thought -- which is used by most intelligent or wise people, and that it's the way we should all think to get best results. It makes for a nice theory, and there clearly are more and less rational people. But even if we were to identify a specific process of "right thought," the most intelligent person could not use it consistently. In practice we don't have enough time, so we think and make decisions based on all sorts of rapid and less-than-conscious processes in our heads.

To cultivate a better mind, practice a new and useful way of thinking until its habitual, and then train yourself in yet another good one.
For example, we use heuristics or "rules of thumb" that let us quickly size up a situation or judge the validity of a proposition. This process is also called intuition, an educated guess, or common sense. The rules may be chosen, as when a man decides to never throw the first punch, and consciously remembers that rule when the time comes. But most of the time there are a dozen little guidelines that are unconscious but very real, as when an extreme skeptic automatically dismisses anything called "spiritual," or any remedies for illness that are based on anecdotal evidence.

We need this quick and automatic thinking process, even if it isn't perfect. We can't rationally analyze every decision from what to order at the coffee shop to exactly what information to share or withhold from each person we deal with. Even thinking about who to vote for, or whether our assumption that we should be good to others is true, could eat up too much time if we tried to perfectly analyze every aspect. Life moves on, and we don't have the luxury of spending large chunks of it thinking about any one part of it.

Real-time audio reveals children being hit an alarming 18 times a week

crying boy
© unknown
Children who are spanked are more likely to be aggressive toward other children and adults. Over the long term they tend to be more difficult and noncompliant, have various behavior problems, can develop anxiety disorders or depression, and later develop antisocial behavior. They are more at risk to be involved in intimate partner violence, and they are at risk to become child abusers. A new study based on real-time audio recordings of parents practicing corporal punishment discovered that spanking was far more common than parents admit, that children were hit for trivial misdeeds and that children then misbehaved within 10 minutes of being punished.

Experts in the mental health of children have always emphasized that displays of physical aggression typically leads to behavioral problems. Children universally seek to understand their world through the love and nurturing comfort of care-givers, not physical pain by consequence of misbehaving.

Comment: See also:

Research conclusive that spanking children is detrimental as it promotes antisocial behaviour and slows mental development

Smacking hits kids' IQ

Spanking, Hitting Kids in Public Surprisingly Common, Study Finds


How to avoid burnout and why interest is crucial to your success

Study finds interest in the goals you pursue can improve your work and reduce burnout.

Maintaining an interest in the goals you pursue can improve your work and reduce burnout, according to research from Duke University.

"Our research shows that interest is important in the process of pursuing goals. It allows us to perform at high levels without wearing out," said Paul O'Keefe, who conducted the studies as a doctoral student in Duke University's Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, along with associate professor Lisa Linnenbrink-Garcia. "This suggests that interest matters more than we suspected."

The studies, which appear online and in the July print edition of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, examined the notion that your level of interest helps to simultaneously optimize your performance and the resources necessary to stay deeply engaged.

The studies suggest that if people experience activities as both enjoyable and personally significant -- two important components of interest -- their chance of success increases.

"Engaging in personally interesting activities not only improves performance, but also creates an energized experience that allows people to persist when persisting would otherwise cause them to burn out," said O'Keefe, now a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University.

Trauma experienced by parents alters RNA function and can be passed down to non-traumatized children

happiness baby
© Shutterstock
In an article published in the April 2014 edition of Nature Neuroscience, Isabelle Mansuy of the Brain Research Institute at the University of Zurich demonstrated that traumas inflicted upon parents can be transmitted to their children.

"There are diseases such as bipolar disorder, that run in families but can't be traced back to a particular gene," Dr. Mansuy said. The mechanism of transmission for this non-genetic inheritance are, the scientists surmise, short ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules, which are synthesized from deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) by enzymes and are used to produce more RNA molecules.

Comment: For more information read:
Psychological trauma may have cross-generational effects
Trauma can be inherited from parents


How personality increases risk of drug abuse

Alcohol Bottles
© Shutterstock
People with certain personality traits may be at increased risk for drug use problems, and studying personality may help researchers better understand and treat these problems, according to a new review.

Many studies have attempted to link genes to the condition researchers call substance use disorder, but they've largely failed to do so, even though the condition can run in families, said Dr. Sergi Ferré, a senior scientist and section chief at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

That may be because the connection between genes and substance use is not straightforward, and personality traits may serve as a bridge between the two, Ferré said.

Personality traits have already been linked with the risk of having substance use disorder, and with certain circuits in the brain.

"We should [have] many more studies trying to connect those personality traits and genes," Ferré said. "They will allow us to get better clues about the genetic and other factors that predispose to SUD," Ferré said, referring to substance use disorder.

Once researchers understand, from a brain perspective, why people develop drug use problems, they may be able to develop drug treatments that reverse these effects, the researchers said.