Science of the Spirit


Bullying may alter gene expression, study finds

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Bullying may leave long-lasting scars on kids' DNA in addition to their psyche, new research suggests.

A small study found that bullied kids are more likely to have changes in the expression of a gene involved in mood regulation compared with their identical twin siblings who were not bullied.

"Since they were identical twins living in the same conditions, changes in the chemical structure surrounding the gene cannot be explained by genetics or family environment," researcher Isabelle Ouellet-Morin said in a statement. "Our results suggest that victimization experiences are the source of these changes."

Ouellet-Morin, who is affiliated with King's College London and the Université de Montréal, and her team looked at 28 pairs of identical twins born between 1994 and 1995. Data had been collected on these children through the British Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study. In each of these 28 pairs, one twin had been a victim of bullying while the other had not.


Decision to give a group effort in the brain

© Unknown
A monkey would probably never agree that it is better to give than to receive, but they do apparently get some reward from giving to another monkey.

During a task in which rhesus macaques had control over whether they or another monkey would receive a squirt of fruit juice, three distinct areas of the brain were found to be involved in weighing benefits to oneself against benefits to the other, according to new research by Duke University researchers.

The team used sensitive electrodes to detect the activity of individual neurons as the animals weighed different scenarios, such as whether to reward themselves, the other monkey or nobody at all. Three areas of the brain were seen to weigh the problem differently depending on the social context of the reward. The research appears Dec. 24 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Using a computer screen to allocate juice rewards, the monkeys preferred to reward themselves first and foremost. But they also chose to reward the other monkey when it was either that or nothing for either of them. They also were more likely to give the reward to a monkey they knew over one they didn't, preferred to give to lower status than higher status monkeys, and had almost no interest in giving the juice to an inanimate object.

Calculating the social aspects of the reward system seems to be a combination of action by two centers involved in calculating all sorts of rewards and a third center that adds the social dimension, according to lead researcher Michael Platt, director of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

The orbital frontal cortex, right above the eyes, was activated when calculating rewards to the self. The anterior cingulate sulcus in the middle of the top of the brain seemed to calculate giving up a reward. But both centers appear "divorced from social context," Platt said. A third area, the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACCg), seemed to "care a lot about what happened to the other monkey," Platt said.


What have we learned from December 21, 2012?

From the perspective of being the manager at a spiritual bookstore witnessing the New Age 2012 craze at ground zero in West Los Angeles, I feel it incumbent to take the opportunity to lay out some observations regarding this period in time because all too often, I meet people like this:

Hello and Namasté dear New Agers,

Well... Here we are.
Dec 21st, 2012 has come and gone.

Are you "enlightened" yet?
Was there a "global awakening"?
Are you still in a human suit, marooned in Monkey Land, where governments kill, steal, and oppress? Where cultures distract and ensnare you with lies and myths to coerce your obedience through empty promises, convolution, illusory Left/Right paradigms, and fear?


So, do you realize what it means?
It means these MANY YEARS of flashy "You Create Your Own Reality" and New Age marketing leading up to the "Awakening/ Ascension of 2012″ was a MANUFACTURED LIE. The planets were never going to "align" and there was never going to be a worldwide global enlightenment on Dec 21, 2012.
"Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It's seeing through the facade of pretence. It's the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true."

~ Adyashanti


Trust your gut: Intuition in the context of very structured, multi-step decision-making

The clock is ticking and you still haven't decided what to get that special someone in your life for the holidays. When it comes to those last-minute gift-buying decisions for family and close friends, intuition may be the best way to think your way through to that perfect gift.

When faced with tough decisions, some people like to "trust their gut" and go with their intuition. Others prefer to take an analytical approach.

Boston College Professor Michael G. Pratt, an expert in organizational psychology, says new research shows intuition can help people make fast and effective decisions, particularly in areas where they have expertise in the subject at hand.

When it comes to holiday shopping, it might help to draw on the expertise you've accumulated about your family, and friends.

"We often ask ourselves, 'What does that special someone want for Christmas?' Maybe the better question to ask is 'What do I know about this person?" said Pratt, a professor in the Carroll School of Management. "The chances are you know a lot. You know a lot about your parents and your children, and your close friends. What we've found is that kind of deep expertise helps to support decisions we make when we trust our gut."


Research debunks the IQ myth

After conducting the largest online intelligence study on record, a Western University-led research team has concluded that the notion of measuring one's intelligence quotient or IQ by a singular, standardized test is highly misleading.

The findings from the landmark study, which included more than 100,000 participants, were published today in the journal Neuron. The article, "Fractionating human intelligence," was written by Adrian M. Owen and Adam Hampshire from Western's Brain and Mind Institute (London, Canada) and Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, Science Museum Group (London, U.K).

Utilizing an online study open to anyone, anywhere in the world, the researchers asked respondents to complete 12 cognitive tests tapping memory, reasoning, attention and planning abilities, as well as a survey about their background and lifestyle habits.

"The uptake was astonishing," says Owen, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging and senior investigator on the project. "We expected a few hundred responses, but thousands and thousands of people took part, including people of all ages, cultures and creeds from every corner of the world."

The results showed that when a wide range of cognitive abilities are explored, the observed variations in performance can only be explained with at least three distinct components: short-term memory, reasoning and a verbal component.


Why music moves us

© Russ Toro, LiveScience Contributor
People use the same types of features to capture emotion in both movement and music across cultures, a new study finds
Universal emotions like anger, sadness and happiness are expressed nearly the same in both music and movement across cultures, according to new research.

The researchers found that when Dartmouth undergraduates and members of a remote Cambodian hill tribe were asked to use sliding bars to adjust traits such as the speed, pitch, or regularity of music, they used the same types of characteristics to express primal emotions. What's more, the same types of patterns were used to express the same emotions in animations of movement in both cultures.

"The kinds of dynamics you find in movement, you find also in music and they're used in the same way to provide the same kind of meaning," said study co-author Thalia Wheatley, a neuroscientist at Dartmouth University.

The findings suggest music's intense power may lie in the fact it is processed by ancient brain circuitry used to read emotion in our movement.

"The study suggests why music is so fundamental and engaging for us," said Jonathan Schooler, a professor of brain and psychological sciences at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the study. "It takes advantage of some very, very basic and, in some sense, primitive systems that understand how motion relates to emotion."


Study: Watching porn tied to short-term memory loss

© dpa
Las Vegas - Watching excessive amounts of online pornography can adversely affect a person's short-term memory and decision-making ability.

In the first study of its kind, German scientists linked the brain's ability to complete a task, reason, and understand concepts with people's viewing of pornographic images. The 28 heterosexual men in the University of Duisburg-Essen study were tasked with viewing a combination of pornographic and non-pornographic pictures while also trying to keep their order straight.

The men - an average age of 26 - viewed the pictures and were asked to touch a "yes" or "no" key to indicate whether the mixed sexual and non-sexual images had been seen four slides before. The study found a significantly greater amount of wrong answers from the men who viewed more of the pornographic images.

The men who saw slideshows of clean images scored an average of 80 percent correctly, while men who were viewing the pornographic images only scored 67 percent correctly.

Comment: Porn May 'Shut Down' Part of Your Brain


Teen alcohol and marijuana use can negatively affect brain development into adulthood

Chronic use of alcohol and marijuana during youth is associated with poorer neural structure, function, and metabolism, as well as worsened neurocognitive abilities into later adolescence and adulthood. This may be due to biological and psychosocial transitions occurring during adolescence that impart increased vulnerability to neurotoxic influences. A study of longitudinal changes in fiber tract integrity associated with adolescent alcohol and marijuana use during 1.5 years supports previous findings of reduced white-matter integrity in these youth.

Results will be published in a special online issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.


Study finds that our decision-making skills in stressful situations influenced by cortisol

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A group of scientists from the University of Granada's Group of Neuropsychology and Clinical Psychoneuroimmunology has discovered a connection between levels of the hormone cortisol in a person's saliva and their ability to make good decisions in high-stress situations, highlighting yet another link between mind and body.

The researchers study, titled "Can decision-making skills affect responses to psychological stress in healthy women?"was recently published in the academic journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Cortisol - known to medical professionals as hydrocortisone or simply 'the stress hormone' - is a steroid hormone that is produced in our adrenal glands in response to stress. Cortisol is released in the last step of a cascade of hormones that begins when the brain's hypothalamus triggers a chain-reaction in response to psychological or social stress. The hormone directly affects a number of body systems and functions, including the regulation of blood sugar levels, the build-up of muscle and bone, the suppression and activation of the immune system, and the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

To determine whether 'psychosocial stress' affects a person's decision-making abilities, the researchers exposed a group of 40 female participants to stressful situations using a hi-tech virtual reality system. The participants were asked to perform the so-called Iowa Gambling Task, a psychological card game that is commonly used to study human decision making.


Think yourself well

You can. But it helps to think well of yourself in the first place

The link between mind and body is terrain into which many medical researchers, fearing ridicule, dare not tread. But perhaps more should do so. For centuries, doctors have recognised the placebo effect, in which the illusion of treatment, such as pills without an active ingredient, produces real medical benefits. More recently, respectable research has demonstrated that those who frequently experience positive emotions live longer and healthier lives. They have fewer heart attacks, for example, and fewer colds too.

Why this happens, though, is only slowly becoming understood. What is needed is an experiment that points out specific and measurable ways in which such emotions alter an individual's biology. And a study published in Psychological Science, by Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kok at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, does precisely that.

Dr Fredrickson and Dr Kok concentrated their attentions on the vagus nerve. This nerve (illustrated right, in an early anatomical drawing) starts in the brain and runs, via numerous branches, to several thoracic and abdominal organs including the heart. Among its jobs is to send signals telling that organ to slow down during moments of calm and safety.

How effectively the vagus nerve is working can be tracked by monitoring someone's heart rate as he breathes in and out. Healthy vagal function is reflected in a subtle increase in heart rate while breathing in and a subtle decrease while breathing out. The difference yields an index of vagal tone, and the value of this index is known to be connected with health. Low values are, for example, linked to inflammation and heart attacks.

What particularly interested Dr Fredrickson and Dr Kok was recent work that showed something else about the vagal-tone index: people with high tone are better than those with low at stopping bad feelings getting overblown. They also show more positive emotions in general. This may provide the missing link between emotional well-being and physical health. In particular, the two researchers found, during a preliminary study they carried out in 2010, that the vagal-tone values of those who experience positive emotions over a period of time go up. This left them wondering whether positive emotions and vagal tone drive one another in a virtuous spiral. They therefore conducted an experiment on 65 of the university's staff, to try to find out.

Comment: Éiriú Eolas is a breathing and meditation program designed to stimulate the vagus nerve, so that we can feel calm and in control of our emotions whenever we choose to.