Science of the Spirit


When anxiety won't go away

© Unknown
Researchers decode a molecular mechanism that sheds light on how trauma can become engraved in the brain.This release is available in German.
Feelings of anxiety very effectively prevent people from getting into situations that are too dangerous. Those who have had a terrible experience initially tend to avoid the place of tragedy out of fear. If no other oppressive situation arises, normally the symptoms of fear gradually subside. "The memory of the terrible events is not just erased." states first author, PD Dr. Andras Bilkei Gorzo, from the Institute for Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn. "Those impacted learn rather via an active learning process that they no longer need to be afraid because the danger has passed." But following extreme psychical stress resulting from wars, hostage-takings, accidents or catastrophes chronic anxiety disorders can develop which even after months don't subside.

Body's own dynorphin weakens fears

Why is it that in some people terrible events are deeply engraved in their memory, while after a while others seem to have completely put aside any anxiety related to the incident? Scientists in the fields of psychiatry, molecular psychiatry and radiology at the University of Bonn are all involved in probing this issue. "We were able to demonstrate by way of a series of experiments that dynorphin plays an important role in weakening anxiety," says Prof. Dr. Andreas Zimmer, Director of the Institute for Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn. The substance group in question is opiods which also includes, for instance, endorphins. The latter are released by the body of athletes and have an analgesic and euphoric effect. The reverse, however, is true of dynorphins: They are known for putting a damper on emotional moods.
Black Cat

Psychopathy: 'Madness without confusion'

© Unknown
All psychopaths are not killers, but there is still reason to fear them, reveals author Leah Giarratano.

I've specialised in assessing and treating psychological trauma for the past 17 years. Sadly, one can't work in this area without coming to understand the impact of terrible events upon babies and children - upon developing personalities. Some children will survive such events and go on to live happy, fulfilled lives. Others will develop any of a range of psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. And a very small group who are harmed during early childhood will nurture the violence in their minds, fantasising upon it, biding their time, waiting for the opportunity to unleash all of that hate upon others.

The psychopath

I always wanted to meet a psychopath. Until I did.

I spent my doctoral placement in Long Bay Jail, studying inmates with severe personality disorders. It wasn't fun. But at least the experience prompted me to write my first crime novel - Vodka Doesn't Freeze - I used it as a type of catharsis to rid the demons from my mind. Four crime novels later, I've expelled some of the poison, but not so much that my latest book - Disharmony - a young adult, urban fantasy series, doesn't also include a psychopath.

Comment: Leah Giarratano brings up several valid points, but, again, it's important to emphasize the genetic factor of psychopathy, including the fact that many psychopaths are quite difficult to detect and have no interest in committing murder and walk amongst us unnoticed for the most part. Also, their rehabilitation is impossible and useless, something that teaches them to be even better predators. For more information, see these Sott articles:

Political Ponerology: A Science on The Nature of Evil adjusted for Political Purposes
Psychopaths Among Us

Beware the Corporate Psychopath

What is a psychopath?

Surviving the office psychopath


Ouija board helps psychologists probe the subconscious

Ouija board
© Jon Santa Cruz/Rex Features
Beloved of spiritualists and bored teenagers on a dare, the Ouija board has long been a source of entertainment, mystery and sometimes downright spookiness. Now it could shine a light on the secrets of the unconscious mind.

The Ouija, also known as a talking board, is a wooden plaque marked with the words, "yes", "no" and the letters of the alphabet. Typically a group of users place their hands on a movable pointer , or "planchette", and ask questions out loud. Sometimes the planchette signals an answer, even when no one admits to moving it deliberately.

Believers think the answer comes through from the spirit world. In fact, all the evidence points to the real cause being the ideomotor effect, small muscle movements we generate unconsciously.

That's why the Ouija board has attracted the attention of psychologists at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Growing evidence suggests the unconscious plays a role in cognitive functions we usually consider the preserve of the conscious mind.
Better Earth

Finding Right Meditation Technique Key to User Satisfaction

© yellowj / Fotolia
Meditation. A new study highlights the importance of ensuring that new meditators select methods with which they are most comfortable, rather than those that are most popular.
New to meditation and already thinking about quitting? You may have simply chosen the wrong method. A new study published online July 7 in Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing highlights the importance of ensuring that new meditators select methods with which they are most comfortable, rather than those that are most popular.

If they do, they are likely to stick with it, says Adam Burke, the author of the study. If not, there is a higher chance they may abandon meditation altogether, losing out on its myriad personal and medical benefits. Burke is a professor of Health Education at SF State and the director of SF State's Institute for Holistic Health Studies.

"Because of the increase in both general and clinical use of meditation, you want to make sure you're finding the right method for each person," he said. Although meditation has become significantly more popular in the U.S., Burke said, there have been very few studies comparing multiple methods head to head to examine individual preference or specific clinical benefits.

Comment: There is one proven technique that can assist you with managing pain, reducing stress, calming and focusing your mind, creating better links between body and mind and thus improving quality of life, increasing sense of connection with others in your community. It will help you to have improved overall health, a stronger immune system, better impulse control, reduced inflammation, etc. It will also help you to heal emotional wounds; anything that may hinder or prevent you from leading a healthy and fulfilling life.

The Éiriú Eolas technique grew out of research conducted by the Quantum Future Group under the direction of Laura Knight-Jadczyk and Gabriela Segura, M.D. The practice has been thoroughly researched and proven to work by the thousands of people who are already benefiting from this unique program. The effects are cumulative and results and benefits can be seen in only a very short time, sometimes after just one session!

There is a myriad of relaxation techniques out there, but not many of them can attest to having not only immediate effects, but also having a highly practical application. With Éiriú Eolas, there is no need to sit in special postures, or be present in a carefully prepared relaxing atmosphere. The strength of the program comes from its high adaptability to stressful conditions of the modern world. Anyone can do it, be it a student, sitting outside of a lecture hall before the exam, a mechanic needing a break from tackling problems all day, a businessman just before signing an important deal, a mother having to raise three children and worrying if she will have enough money to pay the mortgage, etc.

Visit the Éiriú Eolas site or participate on the forum to learn more about the scientific background of this program and then try it out for yourselves, free of charge.


Brain Region Turns on in Social Situations

Poker Game
© EDHAR, Shutterstock
Playing poker in Vegas is different than playing online. The human brain responds differently when making decisions involving other people versus when playing games against computers, according to research published July 6 in the journal Science.
Interacting with a person really is different from interacting with a computer - and the brain knows it.

Researchers have discovered that a region of the brain known to be important for understanding others' minds only gets active when people have to make decisions about social situations, but not when they have to make similar decisions without other human involvement.

"Basically, it's triggering the brain to play by different rules," said study researcher Scott Huettel, a neuroscientist at Duke University.

Making decisions

A long line of economics and psychology studies have found that humans tend to make different decisions when they're interacting with people than when they're interacting with a computer, Huettel told LiveScience. People are usually very good at weighing social information in decision-making: They focus on key players when making group decisions, they can tell the different between someone employing a strategy and someone acting randomly, and when they need to compare themselves to others, they tend to draw conclusions based on similar people.

Huettel and his colleagues wanted to understand how the brain differs when it has to make decisions in a social context versus a non-social one. To find out, they arranged for 18 volunteers to play a series of simplified poker games with both computers and a human opponent.

In both cases, the decision to make was the same. Participants were given either a high or low card and had to decide whether to bet against their opponent. If their card beat out their opponent's, or if they bluffed with a low card so that their opponent folded, the participant won money. Otherwise, the opponent got paid.

Before the experiments, the participants met their opponent and shook hands, making the situation as obviously social as possible, Huettel said. They were also told which games would be against a person and which were against a computer. The games then took place as participants rested inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI). The fMRI measured blood flow to various brain regions in real time. An increase in blood flow to a specific region is a sign that region is becoming more active.
Alarm Clock

Day Dreaming Good for You? Reflection Is Critical for Development and Well-Being

© HaywireMedia / Fotolia
The long-lost art of introspection -- even daydreaming -- may be an increasingly valuable part of life.
As each day passes, the pace of life seems to accelerate -- demands on productivity continue ever upward and there is hardly ever a moment when we aren't, in some way, in touch with our family, friends, or coworkers. While moments for reflection may be hard to come by, a new article suggests that the long-lost art of introspection -- even daydreaming -- may be an increasingly valuable part of life.

In the article, published in the July issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychological scientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and colleagues survey the existing scientific literature from neuroscience and psychological science, exploring what it means when our brains are 'at rest.'

In recent years, researchers have explored the idea of rest by looking at the so-called 'default mode' network of the brain, a network that is noticeably active when we are resting and focused inward. Findings from these studies suggest that individual differences in brain activity during rest are correlated with components of socioemotional functioning, such as self-awareness and moral judgment, as well as different aspects of learning and memory. Immordino-Yang and her colleagues believe that research on the brain at rest can yield important insights into the importance of reflection and quiet time for learning.

Talking about the war in our heads

© Unknown
Worrying almost destroyed her life.

I could tell Elizabeth was a worrier before she opened her mouth: she had a haunted look and wrung her hands together so compulsively I thought the skin would come off. With a loving, supportive husband, healthy children, a good job, and sufficient income, what did she have to worry about?

Everything, it turned out. In the first session it was a headache she was sure signalled a brain tumor. In the next session, she'd moved on to the polar ice caps melting ("shouldn't we relocate to higher ground?"). Her inner world was a hellish place where incessant worries bound her in a web of doom.

You might not worry like Elizabeth. But most of us suffer from some version of negative thinking. For you it might be complaints about life or self-criticism. Whatever the content, repetitious thoughts create a negative energy that envelopes you. We call this the Black Cloud.

The Black Cloud screens out everything positive. All you can see is what's wrong with life. Pretty soon you can't enjoy anything. Elizabeth couldn't settle in with a good book, take in a movie, or meet a friend for lunch. The Black Cloud also alienates people. Elizabeth's husband was losing patience with her, and her college-bound daughter complained, "When you help me with my applications it feels like you aren't doing it for me - you're doing it to quell your own anxiety about me getting into a good school."

Before she came to me, Elizabeth had tried to solve her problem by thinking positively. "For three days I tried to substitute a positive thought for every negative one. But I ended up feeling like I was just sticking my head in the sand. I don't know why they call it the power of positive thinking - the negative thoughts have all the power."
2 + 2 = 4

How Reverse Psychology Works

© David Rabbit Wallace
"We want to be free! We want to be free to do what we want to do!" ~ Heavenly Blues in the film The Wild Angels

You're probably familiar with reverse psychology: it's when you try to get someone to do something by telling them to do the opposite.

In theory people don't like to have their freedom restricted so they rebel. But what does the psychological research tell us? Do people really react to restrictions on their freedom by wanting the restricted object more?

Why Stress Makes You Miserable

Stressed Brain
© Hyeon Son et al., PNAS (2012)
Neuron boost. Stressed, depressed rats show reduced neuron activity without treatment (left), but are restored to normal activity by the protein neuritin (right).
Stress really does mess with your mind. A new study has found that chronic stress can create many of the brain changes associated with mood disorders by blocking a gene called neuritin - and that boosting the gene's activity can protect the brain from those disorders. The results provide new insight into the mechanisms behind depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, and could offer researchers a novel target for drugs to treat those conditions.

Research has shown that mood disorders take a toll on patients' brains as well as on their lives. Postmortem studies and brain scans have revealed that the hippocampus (the brain's memory center) can shrink and atrophy in people with a history of depression and other mood disorders. People who live with mood disorders are also known to have low levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a growth factor that keeps neurons healthy. They also have low activity in the neuritin gene, which codes for a protein of the same name that may protect the brain's plasticity: its ability to reorganize and change in response to new experiences.

Ronald Duman, a neurobiologist at Yale University, and colleagues wondered if the poorly understood neuritin might play an important -- and heretofore overlooked -- role in depression and other mood disorders. They induced depression in a group of rats by subjecting them to chronic, unpredictable stress. Depriving them of food and play, isolating them, and switching around their day/night cycles for about 3 weeks left the rats with little interest in feeding or enjoying a sweetened drink. The rats also gave up and became immobile instead of swimming when placed in a tub of water - another measure of rodent depression.

How Humans Predict Other's Decisions

Figure one shows the neural activity for the simulation of another person: Reward Signal (red) and Action Signal (green). The action signal shown in this figure (green) is in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. The activity of reward signal (red) largely overlaps with the activity of the signal for the self-valuation (blue) in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
Researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute (BSI) in Japan have uncovered two brain signals in the human prefrontal cortex involved in how humans predict the decisions of other people. Their results suggest that the two signals, each located in distinct prefrontal circuits, strike a balance between expected and observed rewards and choices, enabling humans to predict the actions of people with different values than their own.

Every day, humans are faced with situations in which they must predict what decisions other people will make. These predictions are essential to the social interactions that make up our personal and professional lives. The neural mechanism underlying these predictions, however, by which humans learn to understand the values of others and use this information to predict their decision-making behavior, has long remained a mystery.

Researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute (BSI) in Japan have now shed light on this mystery with a paper to appear in the June 21st issue of Neuron. The researchers describe for the first time the process governing how humans learn to predict the decisions of another person using mental simulation of their mind.