Science of the Spirit


Bad to the bone - Some children are just born evil

Eva and Kevin
© Unknown
Eva (Tilda Swinton) and son Kevin (Rocky Duer) in a scene from Lynne Ramsay's "We Need To Talk About Kevin."
Are some children just born evil? Michelle Griffin reports.

A mother sits in a playroom with her young son. The phone rings. When she picks it up, a researcher watching through a two-way mirror asks her to look into her son's eyes and ''show him, in the way that feels most natural for you, that you love him''.

The mother is doing her best to connect, but this little boy won't return her gaze. He looks at her mouth, where the words are coming from, but it's as if he can't understand what she means.

Mark Dadds says some children literally cannot see the love in their mother's eyes. Professor Dadds, a parenting expert from the University of New South Wales, has just published results of his work in the British Journal of Psychiatry and the Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology that suggest the ability to make eye contact is vital in learning how to love other people.

For the past five years, he has been working with children referred to his Sydney clinic for sustained rages, continual aggression, calculated violence and, occasionally, cruelty to animals.

Brains Of Females With Major Depressive Disorder Undergo Molecular-Level Changes

Depressed Woman
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According to findings published online this week in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found molecular-level changes in the brains of women with major depressive disorder which link two hypotheses of the biological mechanisms that lead to depression. The results also allowed the researchers to recreate the changes in a mouse model that could improve future research on depression.

Senior author Etienne Sibille, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the Pitt School of Medicine remarked that despite the fact that women are two times more likely to develop depression with more severe and frequent symptoms compared with men, very little research has focused on women or has been conducted in other female animals.

Sibille said:
"It seemed to us that if there were molecular changes in the depressed brain, we might be able to better identify them in samples that come from females. Indeed, our findings give us a better understanding of the biology of this common and often debilitating psychiatric illness."

Serotonin levels affect brain's response to anger

Happy Serotonin
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Fluctuating levels of the brain chemical serotonin, often brought on when someone hasn't eaten or is stressed, affect brain regions that enable people to regulate anger, scientists said on Thursday.

In a study using healthy volunteers, researchers from Britain's Cambridge University found that when serotonin levels are low, it may be more difficult for the brain to control emotional responses to anger.

Although reduced serotonin levels have previously been linked to aggression, this is the first study to show how this chemical helps regulate behavior in the brain as well as why some individuals may be more prone to aggression.

The researchers behind the work, which was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, hope their findings could help in the search for new treatments for psychiatric disorders where violence and aggression are common symptoms.

Psychologists Discover Oxytocin Receptor Gene's Link to Optimism, Self-Esteem

© iStockphoto/Mads Abildgaard
Researchers have linked the oxytocin receptor gene to optimism, self-esteem and "mastery," the belief that one has control over one's own life - three critical psychological resources for coping well with stress and depression.
UCLA life scientists have identified for the first time a particular gene's link to optimism, self-esteem and "mastery," the belief that one has control over one's own life - three critical psychological resources for coping well with stress and depression.

"I have been looking for this gene for a few years, and it is not the gene I expected," said Shelley E. Taylor, a distinguished professor of psychology at UCLA and senior author of the new research. "I knew there had to be a gene for these psychological resources."

The research is currently available in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and will appear in a forthcoming print edition.

The gene Taylor and her colleagues identified is the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR). Oxytocin is a hormone that increases in response to stress and is associated with good social skills such as empathy and enjoying the company of others.

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4 Forensic Psychology Studies That Can Keep You From Being Stupid

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Forensic psychology might sound like a field of brain studying where men in lab coats standing around pristine laboratories smoking pipes and pondering the brain chemistry of prisoners who dream about hacking their mother to death with a frozen fish. Believe it or not, the strides and studies done in the field don't just apply to people who are legally prevented from being able to use forks. Some of the field's most comprehensive and groundbreaking studies apply to the whole spectrum of the human mind and can prevent non-felony carrying citizens of society from being really dumb.

1. James Cattell's Psychology of Testimony

Confidence seems to have been replaced in this day in age with correctness. It doesn't matter if the crazy thing you are spouting into a microphone, through a television camera or at the few pigeons in the park who can stand to be around you is completely wrong. As long as you are 100 percent sure of your assessment of the world, then being wrong about it doesn't matter. For instance, just look at everything Glenn Beck has ever said. The preceding describes this phenomenon perfectly (I'm sure the pigeon thing is just around the corner).

James Cattell, one of psychology's founding fathers who pushed to have it studied as a major scientific field, conducted a study to test the reliability of testimony by asking Columbia University students a series of questions and rate their degree of confidence in the answer they gave. He found the higher their confidence was in the answer, the greater their inaccuracy making it that much harder to shake their belief in it.

Reflections on Love, Healing, and 9/11

911 falling
© Associated Press/Richard Drew
I find it interesting how people in this day and age talk about a 'shift in consciousness' or 'awakening' into a 'New Age' while after 10 years the biggest lie is still in place. Especially many Liberals and people who themselves believe to be 'aware' and 'conscious', yet they dare not to question 9/11 or speak up about it. I think most people simply don't want the truth, for the truth is a tricky thing. It's a can of worms most people are not willing to open, as it will challenge their beliefs and ideals on a core level. For that reason some folks also seem to be reluctant to speak up and afraid that it may affect their image/social status, career, bank account and anything else they've invested in. (Peer pressure, what will my neighbors, co-workers think?, etc.). Hence, they rather defend/ignore the lie and the lies they tell themselves, consciously or unconsciously. To those I ask: What is your life, career and image really worth if you can't even speak the truth or be yourself? What will you tell your children when they ask you what side of history were you on and what did you do and stand for?

It's the 10th anniversary of 9/11, a lie that has shaped the world in ways that affect EVERYONE. Being silent about it at this point is equivalent of complicity in one of the biggest crimes in history.

What will you do?

Four Things You Need To Know About Addiction

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In 1971 President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs. The motivation? Not the ghettos with their drug dealers, nor the hippies invading Woodstock, the embrace of Rock 'n Roll, free love and getting high. No, it was the rampant addiction among U.S. soldiers in Vietnam that had him concerned. He told Congress this addiction was "public enemy number one," and so the war on drugs began. Years later, First Lady Nancy Reagan rebranded the campaign as "Just Say No."

Forty years ago seems like a lifetime, doesn't it? Back then the perception was that treatment was all about the strength to say "no," and that those who could not shake their addiction simply did not have the willpower; they were weak.

Today we know that genetics, brain chemistry and upbringing all play a role in addiction, and it's commonly accepted as a disease of the brain among professionals. So, does this mean that willpower no longer plays a role in the recovery from alcohol and drug abuse?

Here are four things you need to know about addiction:

Have We Met Before? Direct Connections Found Between Areas of Brain Responsible for Voice and Face Recognition

© MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Direct structural connections exist between the two voice recognition areas (blue and red spheres) and the face recognition area (yellow sphere). In comparison, the connection to the area responsible for more general acoustic information (green sphere) is less strong. The connections appear to be part of larger fibre bundles (shown in grey).
Face and voice are the two main features by which we recognise other people. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences have now discovered that there is a direct structural connection consisting of fibre pathways between voice- and face-recognition areas in the human brain. The exchange of information, which is assumed to take place between these areas via this connection, could help us to quickly identify familiar people in everyday situations and also under adverse conditions.

Theories differ as to what happens in the brain when we recognise familiar persons. Conventionally, it is assumed that voice and face recognition are separate processes which are only combined on a higher processing level. However, recent findings indicate that voice and face recognition are much more closely related.

Katharina von Kriegstein, Leader of the Max Planck Research Group "Neural Mechanisms of Human Communication," found in previous research that areas of the brain which are responsible for the identification of faces also become active when we hear a familiar voice. These activations were accompanied by better voice recognition.

Music to the Ears: Older Musicians Experience Less Age-Related Decline in Hearing Abilities than Non-Musicians

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A study led by Canadian researchers has found the first evidence that lifelong musicians experience less age-related hearing problems than non-musicians.

While hearing studies have already shown that trained musicians have highly developed auditory abilities compared to non-musicians, this is the first study to examine hearing abilities in musicians and non-musicians across the age spectrum - from 18 to 91 years of age.

The study was led by Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute in Toronto and is published online today in the journal Psychology and Aging, ahead of print publication.

Investigators wanted to determine if lifelong musicianship protects against normal hearing decline in later years, specifically for central auditory processing associated with understanding speech. Hearing problems are prevalent in the elderly, who often report having difficulty understanding speech in the presence of background noise. Scientists describe this as the "cocktail party problem". Part of this difficulty is due to an age-related decrease in the ability to detect and discriminate acoustic information from the environment.

Music Changes Perception, Research Shows

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Music is not only able to affect your mood -- listening to particularly happy or sad music can even change the way we perceive the world, according to researchers from the University of Groningen.

Music and mood are closely interrelated -- listening to a sad or happy song on the radio can make you feel more sad or happy. However, such mood changes not only affect how you feel, they also change your perception. For example, people will recognize happy faces if they are feeling happy themselves.

A new study by researcher Jacob Jolij and student Maaike Meurs of the Psychology Department of the University of Groningen shows that music has an even more dramatic effect on perception: even if there is nothing to see, people sometimes still see happy faces when they are listening to happy music and sad faces when they are listening to sad music.