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Sun, 07 Feb 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


What people really look like: Women have cellulite, men have silly buttocks

I've been a massage therapist for many years, now. I know what people look like. People have been undressing for me for a long time. I know what you look like: a glance at you, and I can picture pretty well what you'd look like on my table.

Let's start here with what nobody looks like: nobody looks like the people in magazines or movies. Not even models. Nobody. Lean people have a kind of rawboned, unfinished look about them that is very appealing. But they don't have plump round breasts and plump round asses. You have plump round breasts and a plump round ass, you have a plump round belly and plump round thighs as well. That's how it works. (And that's very appealing too.)

Woman have cellulite. All of them. It's dimply and cute. It's not a defect. It's not a health problem. It's the natural consequence of not consisting of photoshopped pixels, and not having emerged from an airbrush.

Men have silly buttocks. Well, if most of your clients are women, anyway. You come to male buttocks and you say -- what, this is it? They're kind of scrawny and the tissue is jumpy because it's unpadded; you have to dial back the pressure, or they'll yelp.


Body atlas reveals where humans show emotions

© Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen.
Yellow shows regions of increased sensation while blue areas represent decreased feeling in these composite images
Chests puffing up with pride - and happiness felt head to toe - are sensations as real as they are universal. And now we can make an atlas of them.

Researchers have long known that emotions are connected to a range of physiological changes, from nervous job candidates' sweaty palms to the racing pulse that results from hearing a strange noise at night. But new research reveals that emotional states are universally associated with certain bodily sensations, regardless of individuals' culture or language.

Once More With Feeling

More than 700 participants in Finland, Sweden and Taiwan participated in experiments aimed at mapping their bodily sensations in connection with specific emotions. Participants viewed emotion-laden words, videos, facial expressions and stories. They then self-reported areas of their bodies that felt different than before they'd viewed the material. By coloring in two computer-generated silhouettes - one to note areas of increased bodily sensation and the second to mark areas of decreased sensation - participants were able to provide researchers with a broad base of data showing both positive and negative bodily responses to different emotions.

Researchers found statistically discrete areas for each emotion tested, such as happiness, contempt and love, that were consistent regardless of respondents' nationality. Afterward, researchers applied controls to reduce the risk that participants may have been biased by sensation-specific phrases common to many languages (such as the English "cold feet" as a metaphor for fear, reluctance or hesitation). The results are published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Book 2

Can you be too smart for your own good?

I once had a friend whose life was being ruined by a powerful and irrational fear. He went to see his doctor about the physical tremors that he had become convinced were the first stages of a nasty terminal condition. The GP recognized the illness as hypochondria but he decided the usual treatment would not work. You see, my friend was too intelligent for cognitive behavioral therapy.

Now before readers who have themselves tried and benefited from CBT protest, let me explain that I tell this story because it reveals several things about how fraught the concept of intelligence is. In many ways, my friend was very far from intelligent. Most obviously, why on earth did he not consider the possibility that nothing more sinister than his huge caffeine intake was giving him the shakes, which did indeed turn out to be the case? And if he was so smart, why the obviously irrational fear in the first place?

When the GP diagnosed excessive intelligence, he clearly had a very specific form of it in mind. Most of us would call it cleverness: the ability to work through very complex and convoluted chains of reasoning, irrespective of whether it leads to truth or not. Cognitive therapy works by challenging our irrational automatic negative thoughts. But if you're clever, this won't work, because all you do is come up with ever more elaborate rationalizations for why they are in fact rational after all.

Cupcake Pink

Can tear-jerkers turn you liberal? Yes, apparently!


Sentimental films, such as The Rainmaker (pictured), make you more liberal, research suggests
  • Political scientists found that Hollywood movies can change attitudes more than advertising and news reports
  • The researchers noted a leftward shift in attitudes after the participants saw a film with a liberal message
  • Sentimental films make you more liberal, research suggests.

    Political scientists found that Hollywood movies are better able to change attitudes - in a left-wing direction - than advertising or news reports.

    Todd Adkins, of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, said audiences seemed to turn off their critical faculties when they reach the cinema.

    Viewers come expecting to be entertained and are not prepared to encounter and evaluate political messages as they would during campaign advertisements or network news,' he said. More...

    Book 2

    Brain function 'boosted for days after reading a novel'

    © The Independent, UK
    Reading a gripping novel causes biological changes in the brain which last for days as the mind is transported into the body of the protagonist.
    Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading, scientists have said.

    The new research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.

    The changes were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensory motor region of the brain.

    Neurons of this region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is not, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition - for example, just thinking about running, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running.

    "The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist," said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study.


    Tablets take away from activities that promote brain development - linked to behavior problems

    © MarkRandall.com
    Tablet computers are so easy to use that even a 3-year-old can master them.

    And that has some pediatricians and other health experts worried.

    Since navigating a tablet generally doesn't require the ability to type or read, children as young as toddlers can quickly learn how to stream movies, scroll through family photos or play simple games.

    That ease-of-use makes tablets -and smartphones- popular with busy parents who use them to pacify their kids during car rides, restaurant outings or while they're at home trying to get dinner on the table. And many feel a little less guilty about it if they think there's educational value to the apps and games their children use.

    The devices are expected to rank among the top holiday gifts for children this year. Gadget makers such as Samsung have introduced tablets specifically designed for kids and many manufacturers of adult tablets now include parental controls. Those products are in addition to the slew of kiddie tablets produced by electronic toy makers such as LeapFrog, Vtech and Toys R Us.

    But some experts note there's no evidence that screen time - whether from a TV or tablet - provides any educational or developmental benefits for babies and toddlers. Yet it takes away from activities that do promote brain development, such as non-electronic toys and adult interaction.

    People 2

    Researchers: People more likely to tell secrets during post-sex conversation

    © Dreamstime

    The findings of a recent study indicate that people are far more likely to disclose secrets during "pillow talk," or post-sex conversation.

    According to an article that appeared in a recent edition of UConn Magazine, relationship researchers have learned why some people are inclined to feel more trusting post-coitus - and why others might still clam up.

    "When individuals experience orgasm, profound physiological changes occur as a hormone called oxytocin floods their bodies," the article, written by assistant professor Dr. Amanda Denes, indicated. "Increases in oxytocin have been linked to many pro-social behaviors - hence the hormone's nicknames, 'love hormone' and 'trust hormone.'"

    She continued, "While men as well as women experience the post-climax oxytocin surge, testosterone is thought to dampen the effects of oxytocin, which may mean fewer warm, fuzzy feelings post-sex for individuals with more testosterone, such as men."


    The Virgin Birth: Why we believe

    © joyart/Shutterstock
    Here, a copy of William Bouguereau's L'Innocence painting, depicting the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus.
    About three-quarters of Americans believe in the Virgin Birth, according to a recent Pew survey.

    That's not surprising, experts say.

    Belief in Jesus' immaculate conception isn't such a leap once you accept the possibility of miracles and the supernatural. And from a cognitive perspective, the human brain is primed for a belief in God and the supernatural.

    Those polls are "evidence that most people know scientific knowledge is not the only kind of knowledge," said Stacy Trasancos, a popular blogger on science and Catholicism and the author of "Science Was Born of Christianity" (Amazon Digital Services, 2013). "People find it reasonable to believe in the reality of the supernatural."


    Brain connections may explain why girls mature faster

    © Newcastle University
    This is a colored image illustrating the brain connections for one of the 121 subjects (male, 4 years old)
    Newcastle University scientists have discovered that as the brain re-organizes connections throughout our life, the process begins earlier in girls which may explain why they mature faster during the teenage years.

    As we grow older, our brains undergo a major reorganization reducing the connections in the brain. Studying people up to the age of 40, scientists led by Dr Marcus Kaiser and Ms Sol Lim at Newcastle University found that while overall connections in the brain get streamlined, long-distance connections that are crucial for integrating information are preserved. The researchers suspect this newly-discovered selective process might explain why brain function does not deteriorate -- and indeed improves - during this pruning of the network. Interestingly, they also found that these changes occurred earlier in females than in males.

    Explaining the work which is being published in Cerebral Cortex, Dr Kaiser, Reader in Neuroinformatics at Newcastle University, says: "Long-distance connections are difficult to establish and maintain but are crucial for fast and efficient processing. If you think about a social network, nearby friends might give you very similar information -- you might hear the same news from different people. People from different cities or countries are more likely to give you novel information. In the same way, some information flow within a brain module might be redundant whereas information from other modules, say integrating the optical information about a face with the acoustic information of a voice is vital in making sense of the outside world."


    Meditation can 'debias' the mind in only 15 minutes

    © AlicePopkorn
    A new study finds that just 15 minutes mindfulness meditation can help free the mind of biased thinking.
    The research, published in the journal Psychological Science, tested the effects of meditation on a well-established mental bias called the 'sunk cost' bias (Hafenbrack et al., 2013).

    The sunk cost bias refers to the fact that people find it difficult to give up on a goal into which they've already made a large investment.

    Even once the goal has gone stale or proven unworkable, there's a tendency to throw good money (or effort) after bad, simply because a significant investment has already been made.

    "Well," people say to themselves. "We've come this far..."

    The effects of the 'sunk cost' bias can be seen in public projects that go way over budget and in military campaigns which continue long after their objectives have proven unworkable.

    Thinking clearly

    One of the strengths of meditation is that it shifts mental focus into the present moment.

    Comment: Learn about this and other benefits of mindful meditation with Eiriú Eolas here.