Science of the Spirit
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Eye 1

Think You Know How to Spot a Psychopath? Think Again

woman opening door
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We'd all like to think that we have some sort of sixth sense that will warn us when we're truly in danger, some animal instinct that raises the hair on the backs of our necks, gives us goose bumps and sends us running in the opposite direction.

Retired FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole, Ph.D., is here to tell us the truth about trusting our intuition in perilous situations. In Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us, she outlines how to protect yourself and your loved ones from bad people. Her tips are especially useful if you're thinking of doing some online dating, hiring a contractor/nanny/assistant, or letting your child's coach or another parent give him a ride home.

It's perilous out there, and you could just crawl under the covers (with your entire family) and never come out. Or you can learn from O'Toole's 28 years of experience as an FBI agent, 15 of them as a profiler with the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) - the work popularized by shows like CBS's Criminal Minds. O'Toole worked on such cases as the Green River Killer, the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping and the hunt for the Unabomber. This and other experience interrogating wrongdoers taught her how to read people.
Arrow Up

Groundhog Day: Phil's Myth Stretches Back Centuries

Punxsutawney Phil
© Alan Freed, Shutterstock
Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog.

On Wednesday, a roly-poly rodent named Punxsutawney Phil will be hoisted from his burrow in front of TV cameras and cheering crowds and be called upon to predict the weather. If this famous groundhog casts a shadow, legend has it that winter is here to stay for six more weeks.

Weird tradition, huh?

In fact, relying on rodents as forecasters may date back to the early days of Christianity in Europe, when clear skies on Candlemas Day (Feb. 2) were said to herald cold weather ahead. In Germany, the tradition morphed into a myth that if the sun came out on Candlemas, a hedgehog would cast its shadow, predicting snow all the way into May. When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, they transferred the tradition onto local fauna, replacing hedgehogs with groundhogs.

Groundhog Day is now kept alive by the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, whose members care for Punxsutawney Phil year-round. (Phil lives in an enclosure in the Punxsutawney Memorial Library along with several other groundhogs.) Every year, the Groundhog Club rises early with their charge and takes him to a local hillside, Gobbler's Knob, for the weather-prediction ceremony.
Candle

Near-Death Researcher Believes the Mind Survives Death

Robert Mays has studied near-death experiences for years, and has reached some conclusions.

One is that the mind is "an energetic entity" that separates from the body as people are dying.

"We believe a strong case can be made that the mind survives death," Mays said. "If we take what the near-death experiencers are saying, the mind will go to a place which is very positive. It's what everybody would call heaven."

Mays is a board member of the International Association For Near Death Studies, a nonprofit research organization based in Durham. It has about 850 members worldwide, and its stated purpose is to promote responsible, multi-disciplinary exploration of near-death and similar experiences.

An MIT graduate and retired software engineer at IBM, Mays has been interested in accounts of near-death experiences since he and his wife read Raymond Moody's book, Life After Life, in 1976, and George Ritchie's book, Return From Tomorrow.
Attention

Inside Your Mind, Scientist Can Eavesdrop on What You Hear

Auditory Brain
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By analyzing the brain, scientists can tell what words a person has just heard, research now reveals.

Such work could one day allow scientists to eavesdrop on the internal monologues that run through our minds, or hear the imagined speech of those unable to speak.

"This is huge for patients who have damage to their speech mechanisms because of a stroke or Lou Gehrig's disease and can't speak," said researcher Robert Knight at the University of California at Berkeley. "If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands of people could benefit."

Recent studies have shown that scientists could tell what number a person has just seen by carefully analyzing brain activity. They similarly could figure out how many dots a person was presented with.

To see if they could do the same for sound, researchers focused on decoding electrical activity in a region of the human auditory system called the superior temporal gyrus, or STG. The 15 volunteers in the study were patients undergoing neurosurgery for epilepsy or brain tumor - as such, researchers could directly access the STG with electrodes and see how it responded to words in normal conversation that volunteers listened to.
Pills

Are We Ready for a 'Morality Pill'?

morality pill
© Leif Parsons
Last October, in Foshan, China, a 2-year-old girl was run over by a van. The driver did not stop. Over the next seven minutes, more than a dozen people walked or bicycled past the injured child. A second truck ran over her. Eventually, a woman pulled her to the side, and her mother arrived. The child died in a hospital. The entire scene was captured on video and caused an uproar when it was shown by a television station and posted online. A similar event occurred in London in 2004, as have others, far from the lens of a video camera.

Yet people can, and often do, behave in very different ways.

A news search for the words "hero saves" will routinely turn up stories of bystanders braving oncoming trains, swift currents and raging fires to save strangers from harm. Acts of extreme kindness, responsibility and compassion are, like their opposites, nearly universal.

Why are some people prepared to risk their lives to help a stranger when others won't even stop to dial an emergency number?
Info

How a Mother's Love Changes a Child's Brain

Mum and Kid
© Crazy80frog | Dreamstime

Nurturing a child early in life may help him or her develop a larger hippocampus, the brain region important for learning, memory and stress responses, a new study shows.

Previous animal research showed that early maternal support has a positive effect on a young rat's hippocampal growth, production of brain cells and ability to deal with stress. Studies in human children, on the other hand, found a connection between early social experiences and the volume of the amygdala, which helps regulate the processing and memory of emotional reactions. Numerous studies also have found that children raised in a nurturing environment typically do better in school and are more emotionally developed than their non-nurtured peers.

Brain images have now revealed that a mother's love physically affects the volume of her child's hippocampus. In the study, children of nurturing mothers had hippocampal volumes 10 percent larger than children whose mothers were not as nurturing. Research has suggested a link between a larger hippocampus and better memory.

"We can now say with confidence that the psychosocial environment has a material impact on the way the human brain develops," said Dr. Joan Luby, the study's lead researcher and a psychiatrist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo. "It puts a very strong wind behind the sail of the idea that early nurturing of children positively affects their development."
Einstein

FYI: Will Listening to Mozart Really Make Me Smarter?

Mozart
© DEA/G. Dagki Orti/Getty Images
Mozart

Yes, but no more than listening to Justin Bieber. The misconception that there's something unique about Mozart's ability to increase brainpower began in 1993, with a paper in Nature. Neurobiologists Gordon Shaw, Frances Rauscher and Katherine Ky of the University of California at Irvine found that students who listened to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata demonstrated a temporary increase in spatial-temporal reasoning, as measured by an IQ test.

The public seized on the romantic idea that listening to Mozart would make them smarter, and Don Campbell, a teacher and music educator from Texas, capitalized on the notion with an international bestseller, The Mozart Effect.

But Glenn Schellenberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, says that there is no Mozart effect. Any number of experiences besides listening to music might improve cognition. Most people find the music of Mozart pleasant to listen to, and it might increase dopamine levels in the brain, which is generally thought to improve cognition. But "eating chocolate might have the same effect," Schellenberg says.
Saturn

Primitive Attraction: Magnetized Moon Rock Points to Lunar Core's Active Past

magnetic moon rock
© NASA
CHIP OFF THE OLD ROCK: A piece of lunar sample 10020, a rock that appears to carry the signature of a past magnetic field on the moon.
A lunar sample collected by Apollo astronauts suggests that other-Earthly geophysics drove the moon's churning interior

The moon of today is a static orb with little to no internal activity; for all intents and purposes it appears to be a dead, dusty pebble of a world. But billions of years ago the moon may have been a place of far more dynamism - literally.

A new study of a lunar rock scooped up by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during their Apollo 11 mission indicates that the ancient moon long sustained a dynamo - a convecting fluid core, much like Earth'sthat produces a global magnetic field. The age of the rock implies that the lunar dynamo was still going some 3.7 billion years ago, about 800 million years after the moon's formation.

That is longer than would be expected if the lunar dynamo were powered primarily by the natural churning of a cooling molten interior, as is the case on Earth. The moon's small core should have cooled off rather quickly and put an end to any dynamo-generated magnetic field within a few hundred million years. So researchers may have to explore alternate explanations for how a dynamo could be sustained - explanations that depart from thinking of the lunar interior in terms of Earthly geophysics.

A standard-issue, Earth-like dynamo "would have died out on the moon much, much before 3.7 billion years ago," says Erin Shea, a graduate student in geology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lead author on a study in the January 27 issue of Science. "We have to start thinking outside the box about what generates a lunar dynamo."

Comment: Considering how pockmarked the far side of the moon is, it's interesting that the idea of cometary or meteor impacts is one that is apparently only reluctantly entertained. For more information on this topic see the articles in the left sidebar under "Comets and Catastrophes".

Chalkboard

Low IQ & Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice

race face-off
© ArTono, Shutterstock
There's no gentle way to put it: People who give in to racism and prejudice may simply be dumb, according to a new study that is bound to stir public controversy.

The research finds that children with low intelligence are more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes as adults. These findings point to a vicious cycle, according to lead researcher Gordon Hodson, a psychologist at Brock University in Ontario. Low-intelligence adults tend to gravitate toward socially conservative ideologies, the study found. Those ideologies, in turn, stress hierarchy and resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice, Hodson wrote in an email to LiveScience.

"Prejudice is extremely complex and multifaceted, making it critical that any factors contributing to bias are uncovered and understood," he said.

Controversy ahead

The findings combine three hot-button topics.

Comment: What the study fails to mention is the vulnerability of low IQ individuals to the manipulations of pathological individuals in power. Obviously, these people do not come by their beliefs out of thin air. Their conservatism tends to make them gravitate to what is promoted by those in authority and it is to those quarters that we need to look for the pathology of Xenophobia.

Display

Study: Multitasking Hinders Youth Social Skills

child/ipad
© Getty Images
FaceTime, the Apple video-chat application, is not a replacement for real human interaction, especially for children, according to a new study.

Tween girls who spend much of their waking hours switching frantically between YouTube, Facebook, television and text messaging are more likely to develop social problems, says a Stanford University study published in a scientific journal on Wednesday.

Young girls who spend the most time multitasking between various digital devices, communicating online or watching video are the least likely to develop normal social tendencies, according to the survey of 3,461 American girls aged 8 to 12 who volunteered responses.

The study only included girls who responded to a survey in Discovery Girls magazine, but results should apply to boys, too, Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor of communications who worked on the study, said in a phone interview. Boys' emotional development is more difficult to analyze because male social development varies widely and over a longer time period, he said.
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