Science of the Spirit


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
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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
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People with certain personality traits may 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.

Trauma can be inherited from parents

© Alamy
When people go through a traumatic experience it affects their cells and that change can be passed on to their children.
Traumatic experiences can be inherited, as major shocks alter how cells in the body work and that change can be passed on to children, scientists have claimed.

Psychologists have known for some time that trauma can cause behavioural disorders, such as depression, which can be passed down from one generation to the next.

"There are diseases such as bipolar disorder, that run in families but can't be traced back to a particular gene", said Prof Isabelle Mansuy at the University of Zurich.

Now researchers have found that exposure to high levels of stress alters the production of 'microRNA' molecules, which help regulate genes.

And they were found to be present in sperm, suggesting that they could be passed on to future generations.

Mice exposed to high levels of stress were seen to exhibit depressive symptoms and their metabolism slowed down.

Those behavioural symptoms were also seen in their offspring even though the mice were not exposed to any traumatic stress themselves. The changes were ever found in third generation mice.

Visions of the Impossible: How 'fantastic' stories unlock the nature of consciousness

© Louis Faurer
The greatest taboo among serious intellectuals of the century just behind us,in fact, proved to be none of the "transgressions" itemized by postmodern thinkers: It was, rather, the heresy of challenging a materialist worldview.

- Victoria Nelson, The Secret Life of Puppets (2002)
Consider two impossible tales.

Scene 1. Mark Twain was famous for mocking every orthodoxy and convention, including, it turns out, the conventions of space and time. As he relates the events in his diaries, Twain and his brother Henry were working on the riverboat Pennsylvania in June 1858. While they were in port in St. Louis, the writer had a dream:
In the morning, when I awoke I had been dreaming, and the dream was so vivid, so like reality, that it deceived me, and I thought it was real. In the dream I had seen Henry a corpse. He lay in a metallic burial case. He was dressed in a suit of my clothing, and on his breast lay a great bouquet of flowers, mainly white roses, with a red rose in the centre.
Twain awoke, got dressed, and prepared to go view the casket. He was walking to the house where he thought the casket lay before he realized "that there was nothing real about this - it was only a dream."

What's in a name: Do baby names impact life course?

© unknown
When parents spend hours poring over baby name books they may imagine that their choice will have a major impact on their child's life. But do names make a difference? Two recent books put this idea under the microscope.

Choosing a name for a child is complicated. Not only should it sound right with the family name but future nicknames - good and bad - need to be taken into consideration. A name might honour a favourite grandparent, but it will also have a forgotten meaning to be unearthed in books, and dubious modern associations to be checked on Google.

Dalton Conley and his wife Ellen were halfway through this pleasant but painstaking process when their baby girl was born, two months premature.

"We had narrowed down the selections to a bunch of E- names, but we couldn't ultimately decide," says Conley, who lives in New York. "Then we came up with the idea of, 'Let's just constrain the first degree of freedom. Let's just give her the first letter and then she can decide when she's old enough what it stands for.'"

Being able to forgive yourself for mistakes key to staying healthy

  • Being able to forgive yourself for mistakes key to staying healthy
  • Team say constant stress over small things like traffic should be a warning sign
How we deal with stress has a major effect on our lifespan - and researchers say learning to deal with it more effectively could even increase how long we live.

New York researchers say they have found a link between people likely to forgive themselves for mistakes and damage to their bodies caused by stress.

The key to a long and happy life, they say, is to 'cut yourself some slack'.

Comment: You can read more on self compassion on our forum here and learn more about dealing with stress by regularly practicing the Eiriu-Eolas breathing and mediation program discussed here, available for free here.


Why positive thinking may be harmful for some

© Franck Vervial
Brainwaves of positive and negative thinkers reveal important insight into positive thinking.
For some people, being told to 'think positive' is very hard and may even be doing them harm, according to a new study.

The research examined the neural markers of both positive and negative thinking. In the study, 71 women were asked to look at distressing images and put a positive spin on them (Moser et al., 2014). Women were used exclusively as they are more likely to suffer from high levels of depression and anxiety.

The images included a woman being held by a masked man with a knife to her throat. As expected, people who were generally more positive found this an easier task. However, the researchers noticed something important amongst the natural worriers.

Jason Moser, the study's lead author explains:
"The worriers actually showed a paradoxical backfiring effect in their brains when asked to decrease their negative emotions.

This suggests they have a really hard time putting a positive spin on difficult situations and actually make their negative emotions worse even when they are asked to think positively."
In contrast, those who generally think positively were able to reduce the electronic signature of worry that the brain produces, suggesting positive thinking was working for them.

Comment: For a wider perspective, don't miss:

When the Body Says No: Caring for ourselves while caring for others - Dr. Gabor Maté

Dr. Gabor Maté: "When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection"

When the Body Says No: How Emotions Can Cause or Prevent Deadly Disease

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What's really going on when men call women 'crazy'

© Unknown
I've had to quit telling stories about crazy exes or women I've dated.

The problem was that I started realizing that when my friends and I would talk about our crazy exes or what-have-you, more often than not, we weren't talking about ex-girlfriends or random dates who exhibited signs of genuine mental health issues. Now I did have a few where I would qualify my story with, "No, I don't mean 'we broke up and I can't be bothered to figure out where things went wrong, I mean that she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and was starting to show signs of genuine paranoia," but for the most part, crazy meant "acting in a way I didn't like."

And I didn't realize just how damaging this attitude was in the way I related to women.

Part of my journey toward getting better with women was having to unlearn a lot of old attitudes and habits when it came toward dealing with the opposite sex. I, like most men, grew up in an world where certain attitudes toward women were just "the way things were" and we absorbed them without thinking about them.
Gold Coins

The gambler's fallacy explained?

© The Independent, UK
Gambling addicts are likely to have developed a different pattern of brain activity than non-gamblers which gives them a misguided belief that they can always beat the odds in a game of chance, scientists have said.

A study has identified a region of the brain that appears to play a critical role in supporting the distorted thinking which makes people more likely to gamble because they mistakenly think they have a better-than-average chance of winning.

The researchers found that when this brain region - called the insula - is damaged as a result of brain injury, people become immune to these distortions, such as the classic gambler's fallacy that a run of "heads" means that a "tails" is now more likely, when in fact the 50:50 odds of "heads" or "tails" have not changed.

The findings support the idea that gambling addiction has a neurological basis and so could be treated with either drugs that target certain regions of the brain, or psychological counselling that aims to counter the distortions that result in compulsive gambling, scientists said.

"Based on these results, we believe that the insula could be hyperactive in problem gamblers, making them more susceptible to these errors of thinking," said Luke Clark of Cambridge University, who led the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Future treatments for gambling addiction could seek to reduce this hyperactivity, either by drugs or by psychological techniques like mindfulness therapies... The results give us new avenues to explore for the treatment of gambling addiction," Dr Clark said.

The study was based on psychological tests carried out on a small group of patients in the United States with well defined injuries to certain regions of the brain, notably the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the amygdala and the insula, he said.