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Understanding personality for decision-making, longevity, and mental health

Extraversion does not just explain differences between how people act at social events. How extraverted you are may influence how the brain makes choices - specifically whether you choose an immediate or delayed reward, according to a new study. The work is part of a growing body of research on the vital role of understanding personality in society.

"Understanding how people differ from each other and how that affects various outcomes is something that we all do on an intuitive basis, but personality psychology attempts to bring scientific rigor to this process," says Colin DeYoung of the University of Minnesota, who worked on the new study. "Personality affects academic and job performance, social and political attitudes, the quality and stability of social relationships, physical health and mortality, and risk for mental disorder."

DeYoung is one of several researchers presenting new work in a special session today about personality psychology at a conference in New Orleans. "DeYoung's research in biology and neuroscience aids in the development of theories of personality that provide explanations for persistent patterns of behavior and experience," says David Funder of the University of California, Riverside, who is the new president of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). "The researchers presenting at this session represent just what personality psychology can achieve and its relevance for important social issues - from how personality affects health to guidance for the new DSM-5."

Personality to understand neural differences

In the new study, DeYoung and colleagues scanned people in an fMRI and asked them to choose between smaller immediate rewards or larger delayed rewards, for example $15 today versus $25 in three weeks. They then correlated their choices and associated brain activity to various personality traits.

Magnify

Search of DNA sequences reveals full identities

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The genetic data posted online seemed perfectly anonymous - strings of the billions of DNA letters from more than 1,000 people in a study. But all it took was a little clever sleuthing on the Web for a genetics researcher to zero in on the identities of five people he randomly selected. Not only that, he found their entire families, even though the relatives had no part in the study - identifying nearly 50 people.

"We are in what I call an awareness moment," said Eric D. Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

The genetic data are from an international study, the 1000 Genomes Project, that is collecting genetic information from people around the world and posting it online so researchers can use it freely. It also includes the ages of participants and the regions where they live. That information, a genealogy Web site and Google searches were sufficient to find complete family trees. While the methods for extracting relevant genetic data from the raw genetic sequence files were specialized enough to be beyond the scope of most laypeople, no one expected it would be so easy to zoom in on individuals.

Dollar Gold

Happiness lies in wanting, not having

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According to a new research report, it turns out that money really can buy happiness after all. Sort of.

This week, the Journal of Consumer Research (JCR) released the findings of a study indicating that society's most materialistic consumers appear to get more happiness from wanting the products of their desires than they actually get from owning them. Moreover, the authors noted that this pleasure of anticipation stems from the belief that the products they don't yet have will change their lives for the better.

"Thinking about acquisition provides momentary happiness boosts to materialistic people, and because they tend to think about acquisition a lot, such thoughts have the potential to provide frequent mood boosts," explains Marsha L. Richins, lead author of the study and the Myron Watkins Distinguished Professor of Marketing at the University of Missouri.

The problem, however, is that the little product-driven mood boosts provided by these thoughts have a very short shelf-life. "The positive emotions associated with acquisition are short-lived," continued Richins. "Although materialists still experience positive emotions after making a purchase, these emotions are less intense than before they actually acquire a product."

Chalkboard

Spoiled kids get worse grades in college

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Much discussion about higher education assumes that the children of wealthy parents have all the advantages, and they certainly have many. But a new study reveals an area where they may be at a disadvantage. The study found that the more money (in total and as a share of total college costs) that parents provide for higher education, the lower the grades their children earn.

The findings -- particularly grouped with other work by the researcher who made them -- suggest that the students least likely to excel are those who receive essentially blank checks for college expenses.

The study -- "More Is More or More Is Less?" -- is by Laura Hamilton, an assistant professor in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts at the University of California at Merced, and was just published by the American Sociological Review (abstract available here), the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association.

Bulb

Rhythms in the brain help give a sense of location, study shows

Scientists have shed light on how mechanisms in the brain work to give us a sense of location

Research at the University of Edinburgh tracked electrical signals in the part of the brain linked to spatial awareness.

The study could help us understand how, if we know a room, we can go into it with our eyes shut and find our way around. This is closely related to the way we map out how to get from one place to another

Scientists found that brain cells, which code location through increases in electrical activity, do not do so by talking directly to each other. Instead, they can only send each other signals through cells that are known to reduce electrical activity.

This is unexpected as cells that reduce electrical signalling are often thought to simply supress brain activity.

The research also looked at electrical rhythms or waves of brain activity. Previous studies have found that spatial awareness is linked to not only the number and strength of electrical signals but also where on the electrical wave they occur.

Book 2

Mind games: Reading classics stimulates brain activity

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© AFP Photo / John D Mchugh
British scientists have proved that reading Shakespeare and other classics can stimulate the mind and has a beneficial effect on brain activity.

Scientists at Liverpool University have monitored the brain activity of a number of volunteers while they were reading works by William Shakespeare, T.S Eliot and others, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Then the original texts were altered and "translated" to simpler modern language and given to the readers again.

The data recorded during reading both versions of the text proved that the more "sophisticated" the language in both prose and poetry the more electrical activity the reader's brain showed.

Scientists tracked the brain activity caused by certain words and saw that unusual words and complicated sentence structures stimulated the brain.

Hearts

Polyvagal Theory, Sensory Challenge and Gut Emotions

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Have you heard about Dr. Stephen Porges' Polyvagal Theory? The theory, already 20 years old, replaces our old notions of how the sympathetic (fight/flight) and parasympathetic nervous systems (rest and recuperation) help to keep us calm, alert and safe. The area covered by Polyvagal Theory is huge. It impacts the way we understand our nervous system, senses, emotions, social self and behaviors. We see diagnoses like autism, sensory modulation disorder, borderline personality and others, in a new light.

Polyvagal Theory claims that the nervous system employs a hierarchy of strategies to both regulate itself and to keep us safe in the face of danger. In fact, it's all about staying safe.

Our "highest" level strategy is a mechanism Porges calls social engagement. It is a phenomenal system - connecting the social muscles of the face (eyes, mouth and middle ear) with the heart. You knew that your heart came alive with social interaction, and it's true! This system is regulated through a myelinated branch of the vagus nerve. In evolutionary terms, this is our most evolved strategy (mammals only) for keeping ourselves safe. We use this all the time to clear up misunderstandings, get help, plead for forgiveness, and so on.

The next mechanism, or strategy, is fight or flight. It's regulated by the sympathetic nervous system. This system is our fall-back strategy when social engagement isn't a good fit. (Think of seeing someone sneaking up on you!) Note that freeze is not a part of fight or flight.

Comment: The proper stimulation of anatomical and social features involved in the polyvagal system through breathing exercises, allows us to balance up and unlock our social engagement capabilities and heal imbalances of the autonomic nervous system which are related with depression, anxiety, trauma, mood problems and others. It is in fact one of the reasons as to why our Éiriú Eolas breathing program has had profound healing effects in its practitioners. Stimulate your polyvagal system right away at eebreathe.com.


Family

Interdisciplinary research shows today's parents hinder the brain development of children

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Our society has officially produced a generation of parents which retard the growth of children in more ways than one. A child's healthy brain and emotional development are being hindered by social practices and cultural beliefs of modern life, according to an interdisciplinary body of research presented recently at a symposium at the University of Notre Dame.

"Life outcomes for American youth are worsening, especially in comparison to 50 years ago," says Darcia Narvaez, Notre Dame professor of psychology who specializes in moral development in children and how early life experiences can influence brain development.

"Ill-advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace in our culture, such as the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms or the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will 'spoil' it," Narvaez says.

Dr. Eileen Montgomery, Naturopathic Physician and child health specialist concurs with the assessments and conclusions of the interdisciplinary research. "This generation of parents believe that vaccines, with all their toxic excipients and preservatives, are more beneficial for a child's health than their mother's breast milk," she stated.

Bad Guys

Suffer the psychopath

© 4RealLeaders
It seems that empathic leadership is increasingly being devalued in organizations. While the great minds of leadership extol the virtues of engaged, supportive "show me that you care" approaches, it appears that many organizations want to embrace a much different set of values.

Psychopathic leadership seems to be the new shiny thing that is taking some public and private sector organizations by storm. In tough economic times, it would appear that the answer lies with having leaders that exude a bullying narcissism instead of empathy and trust.

The question is why?

It's been shown for decades that truly great organizations are led by individuals who care deeply about the people working for them as well as the bottom line. CEO Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines is often held up as an example of this approach to empathic leadership. Stephen Covey, in his seminal 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, taught that great leaders are those who have integrity, character, empathy and lead by principles such as honesty and transparency.

I am perplexed how the psychopaths even get a job interview, let alone the job.

Part of the answer is surely the increasing push to short-termism. The need for an immediate financial or productivity turnaround to satisfy shareholders or government overseers often leads organizations to find someone with a clear, "take charge" personality.

Sherlock

The power of concentration

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© Time Life Pictures/Mansell via Getty Images
A drawing of Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget from 1891 in The Strand Magazine.
Meditation and mindfulness: the words conjure images of yoga retreats and Buddhist monks. But perhaps they should evoke a very different picture: a man in a deerstalker, puffing away at a curved pipe, Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself. The world's greatest fictional detective is someone who knows the value of concentration, of "throwing his brain out of action," as Dr. Watson puts it. He is the quintessential unitasker in a multitasking world.

More often than not, when a new case is presented, Holmes does nothing more than sit back in his leather chair, close his eyes and put together his long-fingered hands in an attitude that begs silence. He may be the most inactive active detective out there. His approach to thought captures the very thing that cognitive psychologists mean when they say mindfulness.

Though the concept originates in ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese traditions, when it comes to experimental psychology, mindfulness is less about spirituality and more about concentration: the ability to quiet your mind, focus your attention on the present, and dismiss any distractions that come your way. The formulation dates from the work of the psychologist Ellen Langer, who demonstrated in the 1970s that mindful thought could lead to improvements on measures of cognitive function and even vital functions in older adults.

Now we're learning that the benefits may reach further still, and be more attainable, than Professor Langer could have then imagined. Even in small doses, mindfulness can effect impressive changes in how we feel and think - and it does so at a basic neural level.