Science of the Spirit


How Psychiatry Stigmatizes Depression Sufferers

© Alternet
Viewing depression as a "brain defect" has resulted in the glorification of insipid happiness, particularly among our politicians.

Viewing depression as a "brain defect" rather than a "character defect" is supposed to reduce the stigma of depression, according to the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the rest of the mental health establishment. But any defect can be stigmatizing. What if depression is the result of neither a brain defect nor a character defect?

At one time in U.S. history, Americans actually elected a known depression sufferer as president. In Lincoln's Melancholy, Joshua Wolf Shenk reports that Abraham Lincoln's long-time law partner William Herndon observed about Lincoln that "gloom and sadness were his predominant state." And Shenk reports that Lincoln experienced two major depressive breakdowns which included suicidal statements that frightened friends enough to form a suicide watch. However, in Lincoln's era, when depression was seen as neither a character defect nor a brain defect, Lincoln's depression actually helped him politically more than it hurt him. Lincoln's depression gained him sympathy and compassion, and drew people toward him, as it "seemed not a matter of shame but an intriguing aspect of his character, and indeed an aspect of his grand nature," according to Shenk.
Eye 1

How to tell if there is a psychopath in your life and what to do about it

© AP
Life is a scream: Janet Leigh in Hitchcock's Psycho
You've met a man who seems too good to be true: he's charming, confident and you have endless things in common. But you soon realise things aren't quite as they seem.

He vanishes for days on end and has a string of exes. You should move on, but it's hard to put him out of your mind.

Or perhaps it's your boss who dominates your thoughts. She takes too many big risks at work and treats you like a pawn in her game. Or a friend who's always asking favours of you and borrowing your clothes, then moves into your spare room - and next moves in on your man.

What have they got in common? The tell-tale symptoms of being a psychopath.Most of us have referred to a 'psycho ex' or a 'psycho boss' at one time or another, but few really understand what the term means. Fundamentally. the word psychopath describes people who are utterly selfish, with no concern for others. Life to them is a game, and all that matters is they win.

Memento Mori: How thinking about death can lead to a good life

© Alexander Mair
Thinking about death can actually be a good thing. An awareness of mortality can improve physical health and help us re-prioritize our goals and values, according to a new analysis of recent scientific studies. Even non-conscious thinking about death - say walking by a cemetery - could prompt positive changes and promote helping others.

Past research suggests that thinking about death is destructive and dangerous, fueling everything from prejudice and greed to violence. Such studies related to terror management theory (TMT), which posits that we uphold certain cultural beliefs to manage our feelings of mortality, have rarely explored the potential benefits of death awareness.

"This tendency for TMT research to primarily deal with negative attitudes and harmful behaviors has become so deeply entrenched in our field that some have recently suggested that death awareness is simply a bleak force of social destruction," says Kenneth Vail of the University of Missouri, lead author of the new study in the online edition of Personality and Social Psychology Review this month. "There has been very little integrative understanding of how subtle, day-to-day, death awareness might be capable of motivating attitudes and behaviors that can minimize harm to oneself and others, and can promote well-being."

In constructing a new model for how we think about our own mortality, Vail and colleagues performed an extensive review of recent studies on the topic. They found numerous examples of experiments both in the lab and field that suggest a positive side to natural reminders about mortality.
2 + 2 = 4

Childhood Trauma Increases Chance of Schizophrenia

© Unknown
Researchers at the University of Liverpool have found that children who have experienced severe trauma are three times as likely to develop schizophrenia in later life.

The findings shed new light on the debate about the importance of genetic and environmental triggers of psychotic disorders. For many years research in mental health has focused on the biological factors behind conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and psychotic depression, but there is now increasing evidence to suggest these conditions cannot be fully understood without first looking at the life experiences of individual patients.

The research, conducted by teams at Liverpool and Maastricht University in the Netherlands, is the first of its kind to bring together and analyse the findings from more than 30 years of studies looking at the association between childhood trauma and the development of psychosis. The researchers looked at more than 27,000 research papers to extract data from three types of studies; those addressing the progress of children known to have experienced adversity; studies of randomly selected members of the population; and research on psychotic patients who were asked about their early childhood.

Talking to Yourself Helps you Focus

talking to yourself
© Mail Online
Now a new University of Pennsylvania study shows that wandering along muttering, 'keys, keys, keys' can actually help (normal, sane) people find lost objects
Talking to yourself is supposed to be the first sign of madness - but a new study suggests it has practical uses.

Most of us have ducked away from a 'madman' in the street, only to realise they are in fact using a Bluetooth headset.

Now a new University of Pennsylvania study shows that wandering along muttering, 'keys, keys, keys' can actually help (normal, sane) people find lost objects.

Saying a word helps focus the mind on something people are looking for - and it works more effectively than seeing a written description.

Repeating the word over and over again helps even more.

Memory Foraging: Bee-Like Behavior of the Brain

Memory Foraging: Bee-Like Behavior of the Brain

Memory seeker: Sometimes, when we actively remember something, our attention seems to strategically shift from cluster to cluster of stored information, like a bee flitting from one patch of flowers to another.
(Image adapted from photos by Wolfgang Hagele and John A Beal, Wikimedia Commons)
In search of nectar, a honeybee flies into a well-manicured suburban garden and lands on one of several camellia bushes planted in a row. After rummaging through the ruffled pink petals of several flowers, the bee leaves the first bush for another. Finding hardly any nectar in the flowers of the second bush, the bee flies to a third. And so on.

Our brains may have evolved to forage for some kinds of memories in the same way, shifting our attention from one cluster of stored information to another depending on what each patch has to offer. Recently, Thomas Hills of the University of Warwick in England and his colleagues found experimental evidence for this potential parallel. "Memory foraging" is only one way of thinking about memory - and it does not apply universally to all types of information retained in the brain - but, so far, the analogy seems to work well for particular cases of active remembering.
Magic Wand

Changing Brains for the Better: Article Documents Benefits of Multiple Practices

glowing brain
Practices like physical exercise, certain forms of psychological counseling and meditation can all change brains for the better, and these changes can be measured with the tools of modern neuroscience, according to a review article now online at Nature Neuroscience.

The study reflects a major transition in the focus of neuroscience from disease to well being, says first author Richard Davidson, professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The brain is constantly changing in response to environmental factors, he says, and the article "reflects one of the first efforts to apply this conceptual framework to techniques to enhance qualities that we have not thought of as skills, like well-being. Modern neuroscience research leads to the inevitable conclusion that we can actually enhance well-being by training that induces neuroplastic changes in the brain."

"Neuroplastic" changes affect the number, function and interconnections of cells in the brain, usually due to external factors.

Although the positive practices reviewed in the article were not designed using the tools and theories of modern neuroscience, "these are practices which cultivate new connections in the brain and enhance the function of neural networks that support aspects of pro-social behavior, including empathy, altruism, kindness," says Davidson, who directs the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at UW-Madison.

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The 7 Habits of Highly Frugal People

Stack of Coins
© Natural Society
The book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold over 15 million copies since it was first published in 1989, teaching people all over the world how to live a happier, more successful and more satisfying life. One of the prevailing themes of the book is the fact that to change your life you need to change your attitude because no one else is responsible for what happens to you but you, so you can either complain about the things you don't like in your life or you can set about changing them. Not surprisingly, this directly relates to the state of your finances. This post is a parody to the concepts presented in the book.

If you are tired of living paycheck to paycheck, of having your phone regularly cut off or having to make excuses to skip dinners with your friends if the money has run out before the end of the month then you can use the seven habits of highly effective people to take control of your money situation and live a more frugal lifestyle, and a happier one.

Meditation Makes You More Creative

© byheaven / Fotolia
Certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking.
Certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking. This is the outcome of a study by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato and her fellow researchers at Leiden University, published 19 April in Frontiers in Cognition.

This study is a clear indication that the advantages of particular types of meditation extend much further than simply relaxation. The findings support the belief that meditation can have a long-lasting influence on human cognition, including how we think and how we experience events

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Porn May 'Shut Down' Part of Your Brain

Watching TV
© Petr Malyshev, Shutterstock
Watching explicit films has some surprising effects on brain activity.
Watching pornography would seem to be a vision-intensive task. But new research finds that looking at erotic movies can actually quiet the part of the brain that processes visual stimuli.

Most of the time, watching movies or conducting any other visual task sends extra blood flow to this brain region. Not so when the movies are explicit, the researchers found. Instead, the brain seems to shunt blood - and therefore energy - elsewhere, perhaps to regions of the brain responsible for sexual arousal.

Turns out, the brain may not need to take in all the visual details of a sex scene, said study researcher Gert Holstege, a uroneurologist at the University of Groningen Medical Center in the Netherlands.

"If you look, for example, at your computer and you have to write something or whatever, then you have to look specifically and carefully at what you're doing because if you don't, it means you make mistakes," Holstege told LiveScience. "But the moment you are watching explicit sexual movies, that's not necessary, because you know exactly what's going on. It's not important that the door is green or yellow."