Science of the Spirit


Researchers Plant Short-Term Memories into Mice's Brains

Jigsaw Puzzle
© Medical Daily
Forget about reading minds; researchers from Case Western University have developed a way to insert memories into mice's minds.

Ben Strowbridge, a Professor of Neurosciences of Physiology and Biology, and Robert Hyde, a neuroscience post-doctoral student, have discovered how to store diverse types of artificial memories into brain tissue. They believe that their research will allow them the means to study exactly which brain circuits are responsible for creating short-term memories.

Memories are generally grouped into two categories. Implicit memories are the type of memory that uses previous memories to inform a new skill, even when a person is not consciously aware of those memories; these are used when a person rides a bike or other similar tasks. Declarative memories are ones that can be consciously recalled, like names or facts.

The study tried to create declarative memories, like the ones that are used to remember a phone number or email address that someone has just given.

The neuroscientists used isolated rodent tissue to form a memory in which one of four neural pathways was activated. The neural circuits located in the hippocampus maintained the memory of input for 10 seconds. Researchers were then able to identify which pathway was being stimulated by examining brain cell activity.

Does Time Slow Down In Moments Of Intense Concentration?

How does Venus Williams return smashing serves? How does Josh Hamilton hit home runs off 90 mile-per-hour pitches?

It's not just talent: preparing to leap over a hurdle or dunk a basketball makes the brain process information differently. The athlete perceives it as a slowing down of time, say researchers at University College London after a new study.

"John McEnroe has reported that he feels time slows down as he is about to hit the ball, and F1 drivers report something very similar when overtaking," Dr. Nobuhiro Hagura from University College London's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience told BBC News. "Our guess is that during the motor preparation, visual information processing in the brain is enhanced. So, maybe, the amount of information coming in is increased. That makes time be perceived longer and slower."
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Psychopathy: the character trait that predicts risky sexual behavior and hypersexuality in both males and females

The Fisherman and the Syren

Sexual coercion is a mark for both male and female psychopaths. Painting above: Frederic Leighton - The Fisherman and the Syren - c.1856-1858
In one of the largest studies of its kind ever published, US psychologists have found a particular aspect of personality in men and women, predicts what the researchers refer to as 'hypersexuality'.

The 'hypersexual' have more sexual partners than the rest of the population, fantasise more about others than their current partner, and tend to favour more sex without love. They take greater pleasure in casual sex with different partners, and don't need attachment to enjoy lovemaking.

Hypersexuality was found strongly linked with a particular aspect of personality.

Another especially intriguing aspect of this research, conducted on 482 people aged 17-56 years old, was that this personality feature applied equally to both men and women, in predicting hypersexuality.

Psychologists are beginning to concur that it's this unique element of character which most powerfully predicts higher numbers of different sexual partners, as well as impulsive one night stands, and a gamut of risky sexual behaviours.

This character trait is - Psychopathy.
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Too soon? Too late? Psychological distance matters when it comes to humor

Joking around can land us in hot water. Even the professionals often shoot themselves comedically in the foot. Last month, comedian Jeffrey Ross's routine at a roast of Rosanne Barr was censored when he joked about the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. "Too soon!" everyone said.

And yet, it's not quite as simple as certain topics being "too soon" to joke about. Two weeks after 9/11, The Onion was able to successfully publish a satirical issue about the terrorist attacks.

So the question is: When are tragedies okay to joke about -- and when are they not?

According to the "Benign Violation Theory," humor emerges when we perceive something that is wrong (a violation), while also seeing that it is okay (benign). Psychological distance is one key ingredient that can make a violation seem okay and several studies have shown that being removed from a violation - by space, time, relationships, or imagination - enhances humor.

But new research suggests that psychological distance isn't the only feature that matters - the severity of the violation also plays an important role.

"Having some distance from tragedy helps to create a benign violation, which facilitates comedy," observes psychological scientist Peter McGraw, who runs the Humor Research Lab (HuRL) at the University of Colorado Boulder. "But when you become too distant from a mild violation, it's just not funny anymore."


In a new article forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, McGraw and colleagues explore how violation severity (how "bad" it is) and psychological distance (how removed we are) work together to facilitate humor.

In their first study, the researchers looked at the effect of psychological distance in terms of time. In an online survey, participants were asked to describe an event from their lives that either became more funny or less funny as time passed. Participants then rated the event's severity. In line with the researchers' hypothesis, events that became funnier over time were rated more severe than the events that lost their comedic effect, which were seen as mild violations.
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Rats to solve the mystery of depression

A team of Israeli scientists have experimented on rats to see how they cope with stress, and hope the study would contribute to understanding the cause of human depression and suicide.

Results of the study suggest that while exposure to stress in childhood increases the risk of depression, as one might expect, exposure to stress in adolescence may actually provide protection against depression and suicidal behaviour later in life.

Why Dogs Really Do Feel Your Pain: Comforting distressed humans may be hardwired in dogs' brains

© Getty Images
A toddler crying while embracing a foxhound. Dogs may be hard-wired to comfort humans.
Dogs may empathize with humans more than any other animal, including humans themselves, several new studies suggest.

The latest research, published in the journal Animal Cognition, found that pet dogs may truly be man (or woman's) best friend if a person is in distress. That distressed individual does not even have to be someone the dog knows.

"I think there is good reason to suspect dogs would be more sensitive to human emotion than other species," co-author Deborah Custance told Discovery News. "We have domesticated dogs over a long period of time. We have selectively bred them to act as our companions."

"Thus," she added," those dogs that responded sensitively to our emotional cues may have been the individuals that we would be more likely to keep as pets and breed from."

Custance and colleague Jennifer Mayer, both from the Department of Psychology at the University of London Goldsmiths College, exposed 18 pet dogs -- representing different ages and breeds -- to four separate 20-second human encounters. The human participants included the dogs' owners as well as strangers.

A Top Doc Explains Why Kind Love Beats Tough Love When Treating Addiction

Using punishment to try to rehabilitate people who have already suffered years of punishment doesn't work

Dr. Gabor Mate is renowned in Canada for his work in treating people with the worst addictions, most notably at Vancouver's controversial Insite facility, which provides users with clean needles, medical support and a safe space to inject drugs.

Canada's Conservative government has tried to shut Insite down, but the country's Supreme Court ruled late last year that doing so would contravene human rights laws because the program has been shown to save lives.

In Mate's book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, which was a No. 1 bestseller in Canada, he advocates for the compassionate treatment of addiction, a position that is increasingly receiving international attention. Healthland recently spoke with Mate about the causes and consequences of addiction and what to do about the problem.

Maia Szalavitz: How do you define addiction?

Dr. Gabor Mate: Any behavior that is associated with craving and temporary relief, and with long-term negative consequences, that a person is not able to give up. Note that I said nothing about substances - it's any behavior that has temporary relief and negative consequences and loss of control.

When you look at process or behavior - sex, gambling, shopping or work or substances - they engage the same brain circuitry, the same reward system, the same psychological dynamic and the same spiritual emptiness. People go from one to the other. The issue for me is not whether you're using something or not; it's, Are you craving, are you needing it for relief and does it have negative consequences?

Plants cry for help when an attack can be expected

insect egg
© Nina Fatouros
Eggs of insect pests deposited on plants trigger the production of scents by plants that affect different plant community members probably helping the plant to get rid of the pest before it becomes harmful.

These results are reported the journal PLOS ONE by researchers, of the Laboratory of Entomology of Wageningen University and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). The research team, led by Nina Fatouros, tested how parasitic wasps, natural enemies of a common cabbage pest, the large cabbage white butterfly, and gravid butterfly females respond to black mustard, a cabbage relative, emitting scents during the initial phase of herbivore attack, when eggs are laid.

They show that butterfly egg deposition triggers highly specific chemical and structural changes in the plant that attract different parasitic wasps attacking either butterfly eggs or caterpillars but repel egg-laying butterflies. However, egg deposition by a less common pest, the cabbage moth, does not trigger such changes. A specific plant response to butterfly egg deposition might help the plant defending itself before actual damage by hatching caterpillars starts.
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How language change sneaks in

Languages are continually changing, not just words but also grammar. A recent study examines how such changes happen and what the changes can tell us about how speakers' grammars work. The study, "The course of actualization", to be published in the September 2012 issue of the scholarly journal Language, is authored by Hendrik De Smet of the University of Leuven /Research Foundation Flanders. Apreprint version is available online here.

Historical linguists, who document and study language change, have long noticed that language changes have a sneaky quality, starting small and unobtrusive and then gradually conquering more ground, a process termed 'actualization'. De Smet's study investigates how actualization proceeds by tracking and comparing different language changes, using large collections of digitized historical texts. This way, it is shown that any actualization process consists of a series of smaller changes with each new change building on and following from the previous ones, each time making only a minimal adjustment. A crucial role in this is played by similarity.

Fathers who sleep closer to children have lower testosterone levels

 father sleeping  with children
Closer sleeping proximity between fathers and children is associated with a greater decrease in the father's testosterone level, with possible implications for parenting behavior.

The full report is published Sep. 5 in the open access journal PLoS ONE.

Fathers' testosterone levels have been associated with parenting behavior and involvement across species, with higher levels generally associated with lower parental involvement. The authors of the current study, led by Lee Gettler of the University of Notre Dame, studied 362 fathers in the Philippines to determine whether their sleeping arrangements - either sleeping on the same surface as their children, in the same room, or separately - were related to their testosterone levels.