Science of the Spirit


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

magnetic moon rock
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".


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.


Study: Multitasking Hinders Youth Social Skills

© 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.
Eye 1

The Pupils are the Windows to the Mind

© n/a
The eyes are the window into the soul - or at least the mind, according to a new paper published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Measuring the diameter of the pupil, the part of the eye that changes size to let in more light, can show what a person is paying attention to. Pupillometry, as it's called, has been used in social psychology, clinical psychology, humans, animals, children, infants - and it should be used even more, the authors say.

The pupil is best known for changing size in reaction to light. In a dark room, your pupils open wide to let in more light; as soon as you step outside into the sunlight, the pupils shrink to pinpricks. This keeps the retina at the back of the eye from being overwhelmed by bright light. Something similar happens in response to psychological stimuli, says Bruno Laeng of the University of Oslo, who cowrote the paper with Sylvain Sirois of Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières and Gustaf Gredebäck of Uppsala University in Sweden. When someone sees something they want to pay closer attention to, the pupil enlarges. It's not clear why this happens, Laeng says. "One idea is that, by essentially enlarging the field of the visual input, it's beneficial to visual exploration," he says.

However it works, psychological scientists can use the fact that people's pupils widen when they see something they're interested in.
Magic Wand

The Amygdala And Fear Are Not The Same Thing

© Unknown
In a 2007 episode of the television show Boston Legal, a character claimed to have figured out that a cop was racist because his amygdala activated - displaying fear, when they showed him pictures of black people. This link between the amygdala and fear - especially a fear of others unlike us, has gone too far, not only in pop culture, but also in psychological science, say the authors of a new paper which will be published in the February issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Indeed, many experiments have found that the amygdala is active when people are afraid. But it also activates at other times, for example in response to pleasant photographs and happy faces.

The misconception came from how scientists first approached studying the brain. A lot of people came to the amygdala from the study of fear, says Wil Cunningham of Ohio State University, who co wrote the new paper with Tobias Brosch of New York University. "It's a great emotion to study because it's very important, evolutionarily, and we know a lot about fear in animals," Cunningham says. Almost every study of fear finds that the amygdala is active. But that doesn't mean every spark of activity in the amygdala means the person is afraid.

Babies Are Born With "Intuitive Physics" Knowledge, Says Researcher

© Unknown
While it may appear that infants are helpless creatures that only blink, eat, cry and sleep, one University of Missouri researcher says that studies indicate infant brains come equipped with knowledge of "intuitive physics."

"In the MU Developmental Cognition Lab, we study infant knowledge of the world by measuring a child's gaze when presented with different scenarios," said Kristy vanMarle, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science. "We believe that infants are born with expectations about the objects around them, even though that knowledge is a skill that's never been taught. As the child develops, this knowledge is refined and eventually leads to the abilities we use as adults."

In a review of related scientific literature from the past 30 years, vanMarle and Susan Hespos of Northwestern University found that the evidence for intuitive physics occurs in infants as young as two months - the earliest age at which testing can occur. At that age, infants show an understanding that unsupported objects will fall and that hidden objects do not cease to exist. Scientific testing also has shown that by five months, infants have an expectation that non-cohesive substances like sand or water are not solid. In a previous publication, vanMarle found that children as young as 10 months consistently choose larger amounts when presented with two different amounts of food substance.

The Smell of Anxiety Induces Empathy in Humans

New research flying in the face of many popular and not-so-forgiving views about 'human nature' indicates there is an olfactory-based, evolutionary mechanism built into the human genome/soul to feel empathy for the anxiety/suffering of others.

In a fascinating study entitled "Induction of empathy by the smell of anxiety," published in the journal of the Public Library of Science (PLoS) in 2009, researchers discovered "The chemosensory perception of human anxiety seems to automatically recruit empathy-related resources." Smelling chemical signals from the sweat of anxious subjects elicited an empathic response, even when the smell was below the threshold of consciousness in half the subjects.

Empathy, in fact, has concrete and measurable therapeutic effects in others. In 2009, researchers found that practitioner empathy reduced the duration of the common cold in their patients. Conversely, a negative and/or indifferent attitude towards the patient has measurable adverse effects, also known as the nocebo effect.

Comment: By the same token, the same odor might attract a psychopath to his prey.


Toddlers to Tweens: Relearning How to Play

© Tony Avelar/TCSM Illustration: John Kehe/Staff
Relearning how to play. For toddlers to tween, there should be more roughhousing and fantasy feeding development than screen time and hovering parents, say experts.
Havely Taylor knows that her two children do not play the way she did when she was growing up.

When Ms. Taylor was a girl, in a leafy suburb of Birmingham, Ala., she climbed trees, played imaginary games with her friends, and transformed a hammock into a storm-tossed sea vessel. She even whittled bows and arrows from downed branches around the yard and had "wars" with friends - something she admits she'd probably freak out about if her children did it today.

"I mean, you could put an eye out like that," she says with a laugh.

Her children - Ava, age 12, and Henry, 8 - have had a different experience. They live in Baltimore, where Taylor works as an art teacher. Between school, homework, violin lessons, ice-skating, theater, and play dates, there is little time for the sort of freestyle play Taylor remembers. Besides, Taylor says, they live in the city, with a postage stamp of a backyard and the ever-present threat of urban danger.

"I was kind of afraid to let them go out unsupervised in Baltimore...," she says, of how she started down this path with the kids. "I'm really a protective mom. There wasn't much playing outside."

This difference has always bothered her, she says, because she believes that play is critical for children's developing emotions, creativity, and intelligence. But when she learned that her daughter's middle school had done away with recess, and even free time after lunch, she decided to start fighting for play.

"It seemed almost cruel," she says. "Play is important for children - it's something so obvious it's almost hard to articulate. How can you talk about childhood without talking about play? It's almost as if they are trying to get rid of childhood."

Taylor joined a group of parents pressuring the principal to let their children have a recess, citing experts such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that all students have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. They issued petitions and held meetings. And although the school has not yet agreed to change its curriculum, Taylor says she feels their message is getting more recognition.

She is not alone in her concerns. In recent years, child development experts, parents, and scientists have been sounding an increasingly urgent alarm about the decreasing amount of time that children - and adults, for that matter - spend playing. A combination of social forces, from a No Child Left Behind focus on test scores to the push for children to get ahead with programmed extracurricular activities, leaves less time for the roughhousing, fantasizing, and pretend worlds advocates say are crucial for development.

When did clapping start?

Origin of clapping
© Mark Matcho

Why do we applaud a great performance? Why not stand on our heads or click our heels instead? Who started this hand-clapping stuff?

Hear, hear! Huzzah! Bravo! Excellent question. Superb, really. And ultimately unanswerable. As Elwyn Simons, head of Duke University's Division of Fossil Primates, tells AF, "We don't know how far back it goes, not without a time machine. Cavemen and human ancestors - we don't know whether they clapped hands or not. But you don't find primates doing it unless they've been taught to do it. They do clap hands in the wild. It's not to applaud something; it's because they're frightened or want to call attention to food."

Yvette Blanchard, a pediatric physical therapist and researcher at the University of Hartford, says that human clappers are made, not born. "I think it's a learned behavior. What I've seen babies do spontaneously, from excitement, is clasp their hands together. But the motion of clapping, I think that's a learned behavior."

Group Settings Can Diminish Expressions of Intelligence, Especially Among Women

brain w/ people graphic
© n/a
In the classic film 12 Angry Men, Henry Fonda's character sways a jury with his quiet, persistent intelligence. But would he have succeeded if he had allowed himself to fall sway to the social dynamics of that jury?

Research led by scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute found that small-group dynamics -- such as jury deliberations, collective bargaining sessions, and cocktail parties -- can alter the expression of IQ in some susceptible people. "You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well," said Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, who led the study.

The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how the brain processes information about social status in small groups and how perceptions of that status affect expressions of cognitive capacity.

"We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ," said Montague. "Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect."