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Mon, 08 Feb 2016
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The Intelligent Plant: Scientists debate a new way of understanding flora


Plants have electrical and chemical signalling systems, may possess memory, and exhibit brainy behavior in the absence of brains. Construction by Stephen Doyle.
In 1973, a book claiming that plants were sentient beings that feel emotions, prefer classical music to rock and roll, and can respond to the unspoken thoughts of humans hundreds of miles away landed on the New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction. The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, presented a beguiling mashup of legitimate plant science, quack experiments, and mystical nature worship that captured the public imagination at a time when New Age thinking was seeping into the mainstream. The most memorable passages described the experiments of a former C.I.A. polygraph expert named Cleve Backster, who, in 1966, on a whim, hooked up a galvanometer to the leaf of a dracaena, a houseplant that he kept in his office. To his astonishment, Backster found that simply by imagining the dracaena being set on fire he could make it rouse the needle of the polygraph machine, registering a surge of electrical activity suggesting that the plant felt stress. "Could the plant have been reading his mind?" the authors ask. "Backster felt like running into the street and shouting to the world, 'Plants can think!' "

Books

10 most awe-inspiring neuroscience studies

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© Saad Faruque
New studies demonstrate the deep power of human empathy, debunk right-brain and left-brain personalities, explore neural structures during sleep and way more…
It's been an awe-inspiring few years for neuroscience.

By peering inside the living brain, neuroscientists have made all kinds of incredible discoveries.

Here are ten of my favourite - click the title to get the full story.

1. Connectivity: The Difference Between Men's and Women's Brains

A new study on the brains of 949 young people found striking gender differences in the brain's connectivity between males and females. These may help explain some of the classic psychological differences between men and women.

2. Hidden Caves in the Brain Open Up During Sleep to Wash Away Toxins

A new study published in the prestigious journal, Science, found that the brain may wash away toxins built up over the day during sleep.

The research discovered "hidden caves" inside the brain, which open up during sleep, allowing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to flush out potential neurotoxins, like β-amyloid, which has been associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Info

Babies know what makes a friend

© Dreamstime
Babies know something about friendship from a young age
Babies as young as 9 months old know that friends usually have similar interests, new research suggests.

The new study, published online January in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, shows that babies who are too young to talk still have a set of abstract expectations about the social world.

"Nine-month-old infants are paying attention to other people's relationships," said study co-author Amanda Woodward, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago. "Infants are able to watch two strangers interact in the movie and then make inferences about whether those two people are likely to be friends," said Woodward, referring to a movie showed to the babies during the experiment.

Baby brainiacs

Behind their wide-eyed, innocent facades, babies possess a surprising grasp of how the world works. Infants are born wired with a primitive number sense, have an innate grasp of physics and even know that living organisms should have guts.

They also have expectations about people's interactions. From a young age, babies know that might-makes-right, and want justice meted out to wrongdoers. By a year-and-a-half, many little ones can guess what people are thinking.

But researchers didn't know what babies knew or thought about friendship. Drawing from an assumption many adults hold - that friends have similar interests - Woodward and her colleagues wanted to see whether babies also had a buddies-think-alike intuition.

People

The strange science of how names shape careers: If your name is Dennis, you're more likely to become a dentist

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© Unknown
Can we blame Ron Paul's political ambitions on his last name? Research suggests that people choose - or are unconsciously drawn to - careers that resemble their own names. The effect is stronger for women's first names and men's last names; psychologists hypothesize that women are less attached to their last names because they anticipate taking their husbands'.

In a 2002 paper in the journal Attitudes and Social Cognition, psychologists from the State University of New York at Buffalo, led by Brett Pelham, found that people's first and last names may have an impact on the jobs they end up in, thanks to a phenomenon called "implicit egotism." "The essential idea behind implicit egotism," they write, "Is that people should prefer people, places, and things that they associate (unconsciously) with the self...people's positive automatic associations about themselves may influence their feelings about almost anything that people associate with the self."

Chalkboard

Gifted children get ignored in school despite huge future contribution to society

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© Thomas Hawk
Are exceptionally gifted children being failed by the education system?
The authors of the largest ever study of the profoundly gifted question whether the education system is providing enough support for highly talented young people.

The US study, published in the journal Psychological Science, identified gifted children by their SAT scores, which placed them in the top 0.01% of the population, either in maths or verbal scores (Hill et al., 2013).

The 320 children were tracked from the age of 13, until they were 38, to see how they did in their chosen professions.

Notable careers

As you might expect, the exceptionally gifted children were more likely to gain Master's degrees and PhDs, compared with less gifted children.

Many also went on to have notable careers: they wrote books, composed music, started companies, conducted scientific research, became senior business leaders, and excelled in other worthy occupations.

Even at age 13 it was possible to see in which direction exceptionally children might head:
"...mathematically more able individuals tended to focus on achievement in inorganic fields [e.g. computer science, engineering], whereas verbally more able individuals tended to invest their talent in organic fields [e.g. the arts, social sciences, education]; incorporating motivational dimensions, such as interests in people versus things..." (Hill et al., 2013)

Eye 1

Behind the epidemic of military suicides: New documentary exposes Psychiatry as "The Hidden Enemy" in military mental health

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“We have never drugged our troops to this extent and the current increase in suicides is not a coincidence.” — Lieutenant Colonel Bart Billings
In order to gain acceptance as a medically relevant entity, psychiatry deliberately infiltrated this nation's defense forces and others around the world, practicing pseudo-science on unsuspecting service men and women under the guise of mental health "treatment."

The Hidden Enemy, a comprehensive, years-in-the-making, documentary has been released by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR). It is the first documentary to fully expose psychiatry's use of military personnel worldwide as guinea pigs, subjecting soldiers to devastating psychiatric experiments. In so doing, it provides important insight into the question of why more soldiers are dying from psychiatric treatment than on the battlefield. As Lieutenant Colonel Bart Billings stated, "We have never drugged our troops to this extent and the current increase in suicides is not a coincidence."

The groundbreaking documentary reveals the chilling psychiatric strategy to use the captive population of military communities as guinea pigs for future psychiatric treatments. It was laid out by psychiatrist and Brigadier General J.R. Rees in 1945: "The army and the other fighting services form rather unique experimental groups since they are complete communities and it is possible to arrange experiments in a way that would be very difficult in civilian life."

Phoenix

Meditation is an effective treatment for depression, anxiety and pain

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© c_liecht
Data from 47 different clinical trials finds meditation is as effective as antidepressants.
A medical journal review has found that just 30 minutes daily meditation can improve the symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, included studies with a total of 3,515 participants (Goyal et al., 2014).

All of the research involved active control groups so it was possible to discount the placebo effect.

The placebo effect occurs when people expect to get better - sometimes simply as a result of being in a study - and so they do.

Studies with active control groups, though, can help discount the placebo effect as the treatment can be compared with a group who have similar expectations.

Meditation is more than relaxation

Participants in this review had had at least 4 hours of instruction in a form of meditation, such as mindfulness or mantra-based programs.

Typically, though, participants were given 2.5 hours instruction per week over 8 weeks.

Many of the participants also had physical problems, like lower back pain, heart disease and insomnia, which were likely heavily involved in their depression and/or anxiety.

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Red Flag

6 subtle signs your boundaries are being broken

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When someone has broken a physical boundary, it's usually easy to tell. These boundaries relate to your body, physical space and privacy. For instance, someone might cross your physical boundary when they stand too close or barge into your room without knocking.

However, emotional and mental boundaries tend to be more subtle and tougher to spot. How do you know if someone has crossed these limits?

Here are six telltale signs, along with how to tell someone they've broken your boundary.

Handcuffs

This is your brain on religion: Uncovering the science of belief

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© AP/Andrew Medichini/Shutterstock/Salon
From Pope Francis to Phil Robertson: Why are some people of faith generous — while others are nuts?
As far as I'm concerned, the most interesting question about religion isn't whether God exists but why so many people are religious. There are around 10,000 different religions, each of which is convinced that there's only one Truth and that they alone possess it. Hating people with a different faith seems to be part of belief. Around the year 1500, the church reformer Martin Luther described Jews as a "brood of vipers." Over the centuries the Christian hatred of the Jews led to pogroms and ultimately made the Holocaust possible. In 1947, over a million people were slaughtered when British India was partitioned into India for the Hindus and Pakistan for the Muslims. Nor has interfaith hatred diminished since then. Since the year 2000, 43 percent of civil wars have been of a religious nature.

Almost 64 percent of the world's population is Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, or Hindu. And faith is extremely tenacious. For many years, Communism was the only permitted belief in China and religion was banned, being regarded, in the tradition of Karl Marx, as the opium of the masses. But in 2007, one-third of Chinese people over the age of 16 said that they were religious. Since that figure comes from a state-controlled newspaper, the China Daily, the true number of believers is likely at least that high. Around 95 percent of Americans say that they believe in God, 90 percent pray, 82 percent believe that God can perform miracles, and over 70 percent believe in life after death. It's striking that only 50 percent believe in hell, which shows a certain lack of consistency. In the Netherlands, a much more secular country, the percentages are lower. A study carried out in April 2007 showed that in the space of 40 years, secularization had increased from 33 to 61 percent. Over half of the Dutch people doubt the existence of a higher power and are either agnostic or believe in an unspecified "something." Only 14 percent are atheists, the same percentage as Protestants. There are slightly more Catholics (16 percent).

Butterfly

Reading a novel boosts brain connectivity

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© Liz Poage
Stories leave their mark on the mind both psychologically and neurologically.
A new study in which participants' brains were scanned before, during and five days after reading a novel has found persistent neurological changes (Berns et al., 2013).

The book - Robert Harris' Pompeii - was given to 19 people to read.

They were scanned every day, over 19 consecutive days, to assess the brain's resting state: in other words, what it's doing when it's doing nothing in particular.

The results, published in the journal Brain Connectivity, showed that there were changes in the brain's resting state that persisted after participants had finished reading the novel.

The lead author, Gregory Berns, explained:
"Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity. We call that a 'shadow activity,' almost like a muscle memory."
The heightened connectivity was seen in the areas of the brain associated with receptivity to language: the left temporal cortex. However, these changes in resting brain state were relatively short-lived.