Science of the Spirit


Study examines thoughts and feelings that foster collaboration across cultures

© Unknown
The musician Paul Simon came to fame collaborating with his childhood friend Art Garfunkel, yet launched another chapter with his Graceland album, collaborating with musicians from Soweto. Ratan Tata made his name expanding his family's firms in India, yet in recent decades has reached even greater success helping foreign firms such as Daewoo and Jaguar find new markets.

Whether artists, entrepreneurs, or executives, some individuals are especially able to bridge cultural gaps and leverage foreign ideas and opportunities. Why can some people collaborate creatively all around the world while others succeed only with people quite similar to themselves? Are there psychological characteristics that distinguish global collaborators? Do they form different kinds of relationships?

New research by Michael Morris, the Chavkin-Chang Professor of Leadership at Columbia Business School, finds that mindfulness about cultural assumptions is a key driver. People who are habitually aware of their cultural frameworks tend to develop more affectively trusting relationships with people from other cultures, opening the free flow of ideas that is intrinsic to creative collaboration. The paper, published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, is led by former Columbia Business School doctoral student Roy Y.J. Chua (currently an assistant professor at Harvard Business School) and co-authored by current Columbia Business School doctoral student Shira Mor.

The globalization of business is increasingly creating demand for managers adept at working creatively with people from diverse backgrounds. Researchers have drawn attention to individual differences in cultural metacognition, the proclivity to reflect on and fine-tune one's cultural assumptions when interacting with others. In three studies using different ways of measuring cross-cultural collaboration, Morris's research team found that success can be predicted from an individual's cultural metacognition score, assessed with a survey inventory beforehand.

The first study asked business executives for lists of people from other cultures with whom they have worked over the course of their careers. The researchers then tracked down these associates and surveyed them about many aspects of the executive's management style, including the executive's success in collaborating creatively across cultural lines. These scores of intercultural collaboration success (from the vantage of individuals from different cultures) could be predicted by an executive's cultural metacognition score even when personality and other standard individual differences were controlled.
Magic Wand

Self-control may not be a limited resource after all

So many acts in our daily lives - refusing that second slice of cake, walking past the store with the latest gadgets, working on your tax forms when you'd rather watch TV - seem to boil down to one essential ingredient: self-control. Self-control is what enables us to maintain healthy habits, save for a rainy day, and get important things done.

But what is self-control, really? And how does it work?

In a new article in the September 2012 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researchers Michael Inzlicht of the University of Toronto and Brandon Schmeichel of Texas A&M University argue that the prevailing model of self-control may not be as precise as researchers once thought. Rather than being a limited resource, self-control may actually be more like a motivation- and attention-driven process.

Research on self-control has surged in the last decade and much of it has centered on the resource model of self-control. According to this model, originally proposed by Roy Baumeister and colleagues, self-control is a limited resource - if we exercise a lot of self-control by refusing a second slice of cake, we may not have enough self-control later in the day to resist the urge to shop or watch TV.

Over 100 papers have produced findings that support this model. Research has found, for example, that people who are required to manage their emotions show impaired performance on later tasks, such as solving a difficult puzzle, squeezing a handgrip exerciser, and keeping items in working memory.

But Inzlicht and Schmeichel point out that a newer crop of studies are yielding results that don't fit with this idea of self-control as a depletable resource. Recent studies have shown that incentives, individual perceptions of task difficulty, personal beliefs about willpower, feedback on task performance, and changes in mood all seem to influence our ability to exercise self-control. These results suggest that self-control may not rely on a limited resource after all.

Oxytocin: The hormone that makes us good or evil

Paul Zak ... author of The Moral Molecule
Paul Zak calls oxytocin the ''moral molecule''. He tells Oliver Burkeman how hugging, massage and watching soppy movies could make us better people.

The American academic Paul Zak is renowned among his colleagues for two things he does to people disconcertingly soon after meeting them. The first is hugging: seeing me approach across the library of his club, in midtown Manhattan, he springs to his feet, ignoring my outstretched hand, and enfolds me in his arms. The second is sticking needles in their arms to draw blood.

I escape our encounter unpunctured, but plenty of people don't: Zak's work, which he refers to as ''vampire studies'', has involved extracting blood from a bride and groom on their wedding day; from people who have just had massages, or been dancing; from Quakers, before and after their silent worship; and from tribal warriors in Papua New Guinea as they prepare for traditional rituals.

Comment: Stimulation of the vagus nerve, which the Éiriú Eolas program does wonderfully, also triggers the release of ocytocin. Learn more about the ocytocin releasing effect of the Éiriú Eolas program here.


Babies Can Distinguish Among Races and Genders as Early as 3 Months, Can Racism Be Reversed?

© Medical Daily
Long before they are able to talk, walk, or even sit up, babies are able to distinguish among different races and genders. A psychologist from the University of Delaware has found that babies are able to classify people by race and gender at 3 months; by 9 months, babies have difficulty remembering the faces of people from less-familiar races.

At 3 months, Paul Quinn says that Caucasian infants prefer Caucasian faces over Asian faces, choosing to stare at Caucasian faces for longer periods of time. At 3 months, infants were able to remember faces of different races equally, but that ability disappeared by the time babies were 9 months old.

Researchers measured babies' preferences by noting how long they stare at different objects, since babies of those ages are generally unable to speak. Looking time also demonstrates babies' familiarity with objects. Babies look at things for longer periods of time when they are more unfamiliar with it; when babies see familiar objects, they spend less time looking at them.

Researchers showed infants pictures of people of the four major ethnic groups: African, Caucasian, East Asian, and South Asian. They realized that 3-month-olds were able to recognize faces from all races, not just their own, but that the ability disappeared for 9-month-olds. Researchers wondered if that development could be changed.

Dog killed while saving owner from train

© Unknown
A heartbreaking story out of Kazakhstan: According to reports, a dog was killed while trying to save its owner from an oncoming train.

The suicidal owner had passed out on the train tracks after drinking a bottle of alcohol. According to Russian news site Ria Novosti, the man told authorities that his dog dragged him to safety. The dog wasn't able to avoid being hit.

"Upon seeing the train, the dog started pulling its owner away," said Aida Muldashevam, who investigated the incident. "When train drivers saw the dog on the rail tracks, they used the emergency brake."

Unfortunately, it was too late. The dog was killed instantly, while the owner was taken to the hospital. He had two broken ribs and an injury to his shoulder.

Dogs have a well-deserved reputation for loyalty. At a funeral for a Navy SEAL who died in Afghanistan in 2011, dog Hawkeye lay by the casket during the memorial service. And in a small village in China last year, a dog remained at its owner's grave for weeks. When villagers took the dog back to town, the dog returned to the grave. Villagers eventually decided to build the dog a kennel near its departed friend.

Researchers Plant Short-Term Memories into Mice's Brains

Jigsaw Puzzle
© Medical Daily
Forget about reading minds; researchers from Case Western University have developed a way to insert memories into mice's minds.

Ben Strowbridge, a Professor of Neurosciences of Physiology and Biology, and Robert Hyde, a neuroscience post-doctoral student, have discovered how to store diverse types of artificial memories into brain tissue. They believe that their research will allow them the means to study exactly which brain circuits are responsible for creating short-term memories.

Memories are generally grouped into two categories. Implicit memories are the type of memory that uses previous memories to inform a new skill, even when a person is not consciously aware of those memories; these are used when a person rides a bike or other similar tasks. Declarative memories are ones that can be consciously recalled, like names or facts.

The study tried to create declarative memories, like the ones that are used to remember a phone number or email address that someone has just given.

The neuroscientists used isolated rodent tissue to form a memory in which one of four neural pathways was activated. The neural circuits located in the hippocampus maintained the memory of input for 10 seconds. Researchers were then able to identify which pathway was being stimulated by examining brain cell activity.

Does Time Slow Down In Moments Of Intense Concentration?

How does Venus Williams return smashing serves? How does Josh Hamilton hit home runs off 90 mile-per-hour pitches?

It's not just talent: preparing to leap over a hurdle or dunk a basketball makes the brain process information differently. The athlete perceives it as a slowing down of time, say researchers at University College London after a new study.

"John McEnroe has reported that he feels time slows down as he is about to hit the ball, and F1 drivers report something very similar when overtaking," Dr. Nobuhiro Hagura from University College London's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience told BBC News. "Our guess is that during the motor preparation, visual information processing in the brain is enhanced. So, maybe, the amount of information coming in is increased. That makes time be perceived longer and slower."
Eye 1

Psychopathy: the character trait that predicts risky sexual behavior and hypersexuality in both males and females

The Fisherman and the Syren

Sexual coercion is a mark for both male and female psychopaths. Painting above: Frederic Leighton - The Fisherman and the Syren - c.1856-1858
In one of the largest studies of its kind ever published, US psychologists have found a particular aspect of personality in men and women, predicts what the researchers refer to as 'hypersexuality'.

The 'hypersexual' have more sexual partners than the rest of the population, fantasise more about others than their current partner, and tend to favour more sex without love. They take greater pleasure in casual sex with different partners, and don't need attachment to enjoy lovemaking.

Hypersexuality was found strongly linked with a particular aspect of personality.

Another especially intriguing aspect of this research, conducted on 482 people aged 17-56 years old, was that this personality feature applied equally to both men and women, in predicting hypersexuality.

Psychologists are beginning to concur that it's this unique element of character which most powerfully predicts higher numbers of different sexual partners, as well as impulsive one night stands, and a gamut of risky sexual behaviours.

This character trait is - Psychopathy.
Magic Wand

Too soon? Too late? Psychological distance matters when it comes to humor

Joking around can land us in hot water. Even the professionals often shoot themselves comedically in the foot. Last month, comedian Jeffrey Ross's routine at a roast of Rosanne Barr was censored when he joked about the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. "Too soon!" everyone said.

And yet, it's not quite as simple as certain topics being "too soon" to joke about. Two weeks after 9/11, The Onion was able to successfully publish a satirical issue about the terrorist attacks.

So the question is: When are tragedies okay to joke about -- and when are they not?

According to the "Benign Violation Theory," humor emerges when we perceive something that is wrong (a violation), while also seeing that it is okay (benign). Psychological distance is one key ingredient that can make a violation seem okay and several studies have shown that being removed from a violation - by space, time, relationships, or imagination - enhances humor.

But new research suggests that psychological distance isn't the only feature that matters - the severity of the violation also plays an important role.

"Having some distance from tragedy helps to create a benign violation, which facilitates comedy," observes psychological scientist Peter McGraw, who runs the Humor Research Lab (HuRL) at the University of Colorado Boulder. "But when you become too distant from a mild violation, it's just not funny anymore."


In a new article forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, McGraw and colleagues explore how violation severity (how "bad" it is) and psychological distance (how removed we are) work together to facilitate humor.

In their first study, the researchers looked at the effect of psychological distance in terms of time. In an online survey, participants were asked to describe an event from their lives that either became more funny or less funny as time passed. Participants then rated the event's severity. In line with the researchers' hypothesis, events that became funnier over time were rated more severe than the events that lost their comedic effect, which were seen as mild violations.
Magic Wand

Rats to solve the mystery of depression

A team of Israeli scientists have experimented on rats to see how they cope with stress, and hope the study would contribute to understanding the cause of human depression and suicide.

Results of the study suggest that while exposure to stress in childhood increases the risk of depression, as one might expect, exposure to stress in adolescence may actually provide protection against depression and suicidal behaviour later in life.