Science of the Spirit
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Eye 1

The Pupils are the Windows to the Mind

eye/sky
© 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.
Bulb

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.
Family

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.

Family

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.
People

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."
People

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."
Eye 1

Bad Bosses: The Psycho-path to Success?

Patrick Bateman
© Lion's Gate Films
Think you suffer from a "psycho" boss? A small but growing body of global research suggests you might be right.

Call it the "Psycho-path to Success."

Psychopaths -- narcissists guided without conscience, who mimic rather than feel real emotions -- bring to mind serial killers such as Ted Bundy or fictional murderers such as Hannibal Lecter or Dexter, the anti-hero of the popular Showtime TV series. But psychologists say most psychopaths are not behind bars -- and at least one study shows people with psychopathic tendencies are four times more likely to be found in senior management.

"Not all psychopaths are in prison -- some are in the boardroom," said Dr. Robert Hare, a Canadian psychologist who is co-author of the book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work.

Is your boss a 'psycho'?

And British researcher Clive Boddy goes further: He thinks the 2007-2008 financial crisis may have resulted in the growing proliferation of psychopathic personalities in the corner office -- an offshoot of the erosion of single company employment in the last generation.
2 + 2 = 4

When it Comes to Accepting Evolution, Gut Feelings Trump Facts

gut feeling graphic
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For students to accept the theory of evolution, an intuitive "gut feeling" may be just as important as understanding the facts, according to a new study.

In an analysis of the beliefs of biology teachers, researchers found that a quick intuitive notion of how right an idea feels was a powerful driver of whether or not students accepted evolution - often trumping factors such as knowledge level or religion.

"The whole idea behind acceptance of evolution has been the assumption that if people understood it - if they really knew it - they would see the logic and accept it," said David Haury, co-author of the new study and associate professor of education at Ohio State University.

"But among all the scientific studies on the matter, the most consistent finding was inconsistency. One study would find a strong relationship between knowledge level and acceptance, and others would find no relationship. Some would find a strong relationship between religious identity and acceptance, and others would find less of a relationship."
Heart

Toxic Couple Relationships

PART 1 - Five Protective Neural Patterns & Role Scripts

Becoming
© jennifermaingallery.com
"Becoming" by Jennifer Main
Love that turns toxic is neither healthy nor genuine, though the intentions of each partner are often well-meaning.

A couple relationship can be described as toxic when, due to intense emotional reactivity and defensive interaction patterns, it no longer promotes, and instead harms the individual mental, emotional, and physical, well-being and growth of each partner. The relationship is increasingly off balance, a factor that is affected by, and directly affects the individual inner sense of balance, health and safety of each partner.

In contrast, genuine love is an empathic connection that recognizes the authentic other and self as separate and unique beings, even encouraging the individuality of each as essential to the formation of healthy intimacy in a relationship.

Neurological findings in the last decades show that we are wired for certain early protective behaviors in life, and that these become habitual responses automatically activated throughout life, often without conscious awareness. Intense emotional experiences in childhood can alter the structure of the brain and have enduring effects in adulthood.
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