Science of the Spirit

Eye 1

Why are Americans so easy to manipulate and control?

© Alternet
Shoppers, students, workers, and voters are all seen by consumerism and behaviorism the same way: passive, conditionable objects.

What a fascinating thing! Total control of a living organism! - psychologist B.F. Skinner

The corporatization of society requires a population that accepts control by authorities, and so when psychologists and psychiatrists began providing techniques that could control people, the corporatocracy embraced mental health professionals.

In psychologist B.F. Skinner's best-selling book Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), he argued that freedom and dignity are illusions that hinder the science of behavior modification, which he claimed could create a better-organized and happier society.

On Edge: Why do some sounds make our brains go crazy?

© bikeriderlondon / Shutterstock
There are noises that set our teeth on edge, make us recoil, and generally unnerve us. For me, that noise is the sound of someone popping his or her back. Scientists from Newcastle University and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging say heightened activity between the emotional and auditory areas of the brain can explain why the sound of chalk on a blackboard, a knife on a bottle, or a joint popping is so unpleasant.

A new study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, reveals the interaction between the region of the brain that processes sound - the auditory cortex - and the region which processes negative emotions - the amygdala.

The team used brain imaging to show that when we hear an unpleasant noise the amygdala modulates the response of the auditory complex. This heightens activity and provokes our negative reaction.

"It appears there is something very primitive kicking in," says Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, from Newcastle University. "It's a possible distress signal from the amygdala to the auditory cortex."

The team examined the brains of 13 volunteers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see how their brains reacted to unpleasant noises. The test subjects listened to a range of noises while inside the scanners and rated them from most unpleasant - the sound of a knife on a bottle - to most pleasant - bubbling water, giving the research team the ability to study the brain response to each type of sound.
People 2

The Illusion of Transparency: Other people can't read your mental state as well as you think

© KnockOut Photographs
Most people hate public speaking. The very idea starts the palms sweating and the stomach churning.

It makes sense: with everyone's eyes on you, the potential for embarrassment is huge. Crowds, we are told, can sense our nerves.

Or can they? We may feel terribly nervous here on the inside, but what can other people read from our facial expressions, speech patterns and general demeanour?

When this is tested experimentally we find an interesting thing.

Parental bonding makes for happy, stable child

© Tim Schoon, University of Iowa
A University of Iowa study shows infants who develop a close bond with at least one parent – mother or father – experience fewer emotional and behavioral problems in childhood.
Study finds that closeness with either parent has behavioral, emotional benefits.

Parents: Want to help ensure your children turn out to be happy and socially well adjusted? Bond with them when they are infants.

That's the message from a study by the University of Iowa, which found that infants who have a close, intimate relationship with a parent are less likely to be troubled, aggressive or experience other emotional and behavioral problems when they reach school age. Surprisingly, the researchers found that a young child needs to feel particularly secure with only one parent to reap the benefits of stable emotions and behavior, and that being attached to dad is just as helpful as being close to mom.

The study bolsters the still-debated role of the influence that a parent can exercise at the earliest stages in a child's mental and emotional development, the authors contend in the paper, published in the journal Child Development.

"There is a really important period when a mother or a father should form a secure relationship with their child, and that is during the first two years of life. That period appears to be critical to the child's social and emotional development," says Sanghag Kim, a post-doctoral researcher in psychology at the UI who collaborated with UI psychology professor Grazyna Kochanska on the study. "At least one parent should make that investment."

The researchers assessed the relationship of 102 infants (15 months old) with a parent and then followed up with 86 of them when they reached age 8. Separate surveys of the parents and the child were taken at that time. The infants and parents were drawn from a broad spectrum of income, education, and race. All the couples were heterosexual.

The authors also solicited feedback from teachers about the children, which ranged from concerns about inner emotions, such as worry or sadness, to more outward displays, such as disobedience and aggression.
Magic Wand

More than just 'zoning out': Exploring the cognitive processes behind mind wandering

It happens innocently enough: One minute you're sitting at your desk, working on a report, and the next minute you're thinking about how you probably need to do laundry and that you want to try the new restaurant down the street. Mind wandering is a frequent and common occurrence. And while mind wandering in certain situations - in class, for example - can be counterproductive, some research suggests that mind wandering isn't necessarily a bad thing.

New research published in the journals of the Association for Psychological Science explores mind wandering in various contexts, examining how mind wandering is related to cognitive processes involved in working memory and executive control.

Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation

You might be driving home from work, taking a shower, preparing ingredients for dinner and, suddenly - "Eureka!" - you have a new insight into some problem or situation. Anecdotes tell us that people often have these kinds of creative thoughts while engaged in unrelated tasks, but researcher Benjamin Baird and colleagues wanted to subject the phenomenon to scientific scrutiny. The researchers designed an experiment in which they asked participants to perform an Unusual Use Task (UUT), listing as many unusual uses for an item as possible. The participants were then split into four groups - one group was asked to perform a demanding task and a second was asked to perform an undemanding task. The third group rested for 12 minutes and a fourth group was given no break. All participants then performed the Unusual Use Task again. Of the four groups, only the people who performed the undemanding task improved their score on the second UUT test. Participants in the undemanding task reported greater instances of mind wandering during the task, which suggests that simple tasks that allow the mind to wander may increase creative problem solving.
Candy Cane

Twist on 'marshmallow test' shows environment affects self-control

Marshmallow Experiment
© J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester
Evelyn Rose, 4, of Brighton, N.Y., participates in a reenactment of the marshmallow experiment. The study found that children's decisions to delay gratification is influenced as much by the environment as by their innate capacity for self-control. The study was conducted at the University of Rochester Baby Lab.
In the famous "marshmallow experiment" four decades ago, researchers at Stanford University presented more than 600 four-year-olds with a marshmallow and told the kids that if they could resist eating it for an unspecified amount of time (actually 15 minutes), they would get two marshmallows.

Researchers followed up with the participants over the next several years and found that those who were able to wait for the second marshmallow as children tended to enjoy more success later in life, from higher scores on their SATs to lower body mass index.

A new small study that plays on this experiment suggests that the ability to delay gratification might be impacted as much by the environment as by innate self-control.

"Being able to delay gratification - in this case to wait 15 difficult minutes to earn a second marshmallow - not only reflects a child's capacity for self-control, it also reflects their belief about the practicality of waiting," the new study's lead author, Celeste Kidd, a doctoral student at the University of Rochester, said in a statement. "Delaying gratification is only the rational choice if the child believes a second marshmallow is likely to be delivered after a reasonably short delay."

In the study, Kidd and her team gave 28 children, age three to five, a piece of paper to decorate for a create-your-own-cup kit.

Brain's unconscious bias sways decisions

© Dreamstime
If you've ever had to make a snap decision between two unfamiliar choices, you may want to thank your subconscious for making it possible. According to new research, the brain's memory areas link new memories to old associations, providing a roadmap for decision-making we don't even realize we have.

The research, published in the Oct. 12 issue of the journal Science, focuses on the hippocampus, a region nestled deep in the brain that helps consolidate memories. Scientists have long known the hippocampus links memories and integrates them together, but the new study is the first to look at the region's role in biasing the brain toward certain choices.

People are faced with new choices all the time: two new cereals in the grocery store, for example, or two unknown routes on the GPS. Without any previous history to draw on, how do people make these decisions?

Testing the subconscious

Columbia University psychologists G. Elliott Wimmer and Daphna Shohamy decided to find out. They had 28 people complete a series of three tasks while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. First, the participants saw pairs of images flashed up on a computer screen in the fMRI. One image was a picture of either a face, body part or landscape. The other was a circle with a colorful, psychedelic pattern inside.

The same circle was always shown with the same image, so that participants would learn that the two went together. Next, the researchers flashed images of only the psychedelic circles. For half of the circles, participants were told they would get a $1 reward for viewing these.

After the participants had learned to associate certain circle patterns with money, the researchers put up another series of paired images. This time, participants saw either two psychedelic circles or two of the original body part, face or landscape pictures. They were then told to pick one of the two for a chance to win another prize.

Throughout the experiment, the fMRI measured the blood flow to individual brain regions, a way to quantify brain activity in each region.

Evolution may explain why bad news affects women more than men

© Medical Daily
Women are more affected by bad news and can also remember the details better than their male counterparts, according to new research. The study, which is one of the first to look at the body's response to negative media, included 60 men and women who were shown news articles of accidents and murders.

Researchers found that women react to bad news with more stress than men. They say that the reason could be that women are more empathetic and have evolved to be more vigilant and think about situations that threaten them and their children.

Canadian researchers from the University of Montreal gave participants a selection of articles from Montreal's newspapers. Some of the articles were judged to be emotionally neutral, like a story about a film premiere or the opening of a new bridge, and others were more upsetting about events such as murders or accidents.

Researchers took saliva samples from the participants before and after they read the stories to check for any changes in levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The next day, researchers had asked participants recall as many of the news headlines from the day before. They found that while women and men remembered the neutral stories at about the same rate, women were twice as likely as men to remember negative stories.

The beauty of the accused unfairly affects perceptions of their culpability

A study from the University of Granada based on police surveys indicates that in domestic violence crimes in which the woman kills her abuser, if she is more attractive she is perceived as guiltier.

From a social psychology point of view, it has been noticed that physical attractiveness has an influence on how people are perceived by others in labour, academic and even legal fields. On the one hand, this creates the mental association of "what is beautiful is good". On the other hand though, when it comes to domestic violence the results are different.

"One of the most interesting conclusions of the study was that when the woman accused of killing her abuser was attractive, participants attached greater culpability, whereas if considered 'unattractive', this decreases," as explained to SINC by Antonio Herrera, Inmaculada Valor-Segura and Francisca Expósito, the authors of the study published in The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context.

For the purposes of the study, two types of 'mock' stories about legal proceedings were invented in which the defendant was a woman accused of killing her husband. Her defence was that she had suffered prolonged domestic violence and thus acted in self-defence when killing him. In one of the stories the description of the woman coincided with the prototypical battered woman but in the other it did not.

Learning a new language expands the brain

Studying Language
© Medical Daily
Learning a new language makes the brain grow, according to a new study. Swedish scientists studied young recruits at the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy by measuring the brains of participants before and after the language training.

Students accepted to the academy typically go from having no knowledge of a language such as Arabic, Russian or Mandarin to speaking it fluently after 13 months. Recruits at this academy study from morning to evening, weekdays and weekends and the recruits study at a pace quicker than any other language course.

Researchers compared students at the language academy with a control group made up of medicine and cognitive science students at Umeå University. Researchers explained that the non-language students at the university still studied hard, but not languages.

Both groups had undergone MRI scans before and after a three-month period of intensive study. Results of the study show that while the brain structure of the control group remained unchanged, specific parts of the brain of language students grew. Researchers found the hippocampus, which is a deep-lying brain structure that is involved in learning new material and spatial navigation, and some areas in the cerebral cortex grew in size after three months of an intensive language course.

"We were surprised that different parts of the brain developed to different degrees depending on how well the students performed and how much effort they had had to put in to keep up with the course," researcher Johan Mårtensson, of Lund University, Sweden, said in a statement.