Science of the Spirit


How Psychological Abuse is as Harmful as Physical Abuse

Physical abuse of children carries undeniable marks of pain, but in many cases the hidden scars associated with psychological abuse may be more detrimental in the long run, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics position statement published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Psychological abuse may be the most common form of child abuse and often the hardest to treat, according to the paper.

"This is an area easily overlooked because it's hard to articulate," said Ruth Anan, director of the early childhood program at the Center for Human Development at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.

Many child health experts have grappled with properly identifying and defining the threshold for psychological abuse.

Brains Falter When Rules Change Making Learning More Difficult

© G.L. Kohuth
A cap worn by subjects in a Michigan State University experiment picks up EEG signals at the scalp; the signals are then transmitted via optical cable to a computer where the data is stored for analysis.
For the human brain, learning a new task when rules change can be a surprisingly difficult process marred by repeated mistakes, according to a new study by Michigan State University psychology researchers.

Imagine traveling to Ireland and suddenly having to drive on the left side of the road. The brain, trained for right-side driving, becomes overburdened trying to suppress the old rules while simultaneously focusing on the new rules, said Hans Schroder, primary researcher on the study.

"There's so much conflict in your brain," said Schroder, "that when you make a mistake like forgetting to turn on your blinker you don't even realize it and make the same mistake again. What you learned initially is hard to overcome when rules change."

The study, in the research journal Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, is one of the first to show how the brain responds to mistakes that occur after rules change.

New Pleasure Circuit Identified In Brain, Could Change Addiction Treatments

© Reuters
An article in the August edition of Scientific American by psychologists Morten Kringelbach and Kent Berridge details their discovery of a new pleasure circuit in the brain. The circuit is actually a series of hotspots in the brain that enhance sensations of pleasure beyond mere enjoyment.

The research uncovered that the existing pleasure centers of the brain, which have been established science for decades, actually create desires, not pleasures. Researchers are looking into how the stimulation of the newly discovered hotspots of pleasure can be used to treat mental illness and addiction.

"Higher brain regions receive information from these pleasure and reward circuits to consciously represent the warm glow we associate with joy," the article states.The research is also revealing how the brain processes wanting something, and alternately, how it processes liking something.

This can potentially lead to more effective treatments for people suffering from various addictions. Kringlebach and Berridge have been studying pleasure centers and their affect on addicts for years. They described the role the liking/wanting region of the brain plays in drug addiction for in an article for the academic journal Social Research two years ago.
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Study Shows Why Some Types Of Multitasking Are More Dangerous Than Others

In a new study that has implications for distracted drivers, researchers found that people are better at juggling some types of multitasking than they are at others.

Trying to do two visual tasks at once hurt performance in both tasks significantly more than combining a visual and an audio task, the research found.

Alarmingly, though, people who tried to do two visual tasks at the same time rated their performance as better than did those who combined a visual and an audio task - even though their actual performance was worse.

"Many people have this overconfidence in how well they can multitask, and our study shows that this particularly is the case when they combine two visual tasks," said Zheng Wang, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University.

"People's perception about how well they're doing doesn't match up with how they actually perform."
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The seat of meta-consciousness in the brain

© MPI of Psychiatry
Brain regions activated more strongly during lucid dreaming than in a normal dream.
Studies of lucid dreamers visualise which centres of the brain become active when we become aware of ourselves.

Which areas of the brain help us to perceive our world in a self-reflective manner is difficult to measure. During wakefulness, we are always conscious of ourselves. In sleep, however, we are not. But there are people, known as lucid dreamers, who can become aware of dreaming during sleep. Studies employing magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) have now been able to demonstrate that a specific cortical network consisting of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the frontopolar regions and the precuneus is activated when this lucid consciousness is attained. All of these regions are associated with self-reflective functions. This research into lucid dreaming gives the authors of the latest study insight into the neural basis of human consciousness.

The human capacity of self-perception, self-reflection and consciousness development are among the unsolved mysteries of neuroscience. Despite modern imaging techniques, it is still impossible to fully visualise what goes on in the brain when people move to consciousness from an unconscious state. The problem lies in the fact that it is difficult to watch our brain during this transitional change. Although this process is the same, every time a person awakens from sleep, the basic activity of our brain is usually greatly reduced during deep sleep. This makes it impossible to clearly delineate the specific brain activity underlying the regained self-perception and consciousness during the transition to wakefulness from the global changes in brain activity that takes place at the same time.

To Soothe Chronic Pain, Meditation Proves Better Than Pills

Mind power: Mediation's effects on your brain could ease your pain.
Could honing your meditation technique cure chronic pain? It's worth contemplating.

Chronic pain is estimated to affect over 76 million people, more than diabetes and heart disease combined, and back pain is our country's leading cause of disability for people under 45. And though the pharmaceutical industry seems very adept at introducing one new painkiller after another, the pills don't always help. A new study in the Journal of Neuroscience, however, suggests something else might: meditation. It seems that improving your meditation technique could very well be more effective than painkillers at cutting down on pain, and that could save you hundreds in prescription drug costs.

THE DETAILS: This was a small study that looked at just 15 adults who sat through four 20-minute training sessions on mindfulness meditation. However, before and after the training, the participants' brains were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and during each scan, the researchers put a heating device that induced pain for a five-minute period on each of the meditators' right leg at varying intervals. The brain scans revealed that before meditation, the section of the brain that processes pain was very active, while after meditation training, activity levels were virtually undetectable. Furthermore, after the meditation training, the study participants reported an average 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and an average 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. The study authors noted that morphine and other pain-relieving drugs usually reduce pain perception and unpleasantness by just 25 percent.

Comment: To learn more about the numerous mental, emotional and spiritual health benefits of meditation and breathing exercises visit the Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program website, and try out the entire program here for free.

Read the following articles listed below for additional data on how meditation can help reduce chronic pain:

Brain Scans Show How Meditation Calms Pain
Meditation Better Than Morphine?
Meditative breathing may help manage chronic pain
Demystifying meditation - brain imaging illustrates how meditation reduces pain
Meditation Techniques Have Different Effects
Meditation Reduces the Emotional Impact of Pain
Brief Training in Meditation May Help Manage Pain, Study Shows


Brain Is Biased When Learning New Information

© Alexander Kirch, Shutterstock
Trying to remember if you've seen something before? The brain's processing doesn't happen in a vacuum.
Your brain may be more likely to recognize new things as new when the unknown is already on your mind, according to new research.

The findings suggest that memories are not made or recalled in a vacuum, said study researcher Lila Davachi, a psychologist at New York University. Instead, memories are built with the influence of what your brain has just been exposed to, she said.

"Your previous state of mind can influence the way you see the world and what sort of decisions you make," Davachi told LiveScience.

In fact, the research suggests that the hippocampus, the part of the brain that encodes memories, may have two jobs that it can't perform at the same time: building new memories and recognizing old ones. The time it takes to switch between these two tasks may explain why the brain is better at recognizing new things when it's already in "new thing" mode.

2012 - Collective Awakening or End of the World?

We're half way through 2012. Many prophecies have hinted at this time as The Shift of the Ages and The Time of Transition. If you take a look at the shelves of any spiritual/new age bookstore, you'll see dozens of books with 2012 in the title. It certainly has become a good marketing bit. There are many theories of what 2012 is supposedly all about. From the end of the world to global mass enlightenment. If you type "2012″ into Google, 25,270,000,000 results come up.

Much of it is based on the Mayan Calendar which is presumably ending on 12/21 2012. Many people seem to be fixated on this date. I don't want to get into the technicality of the Mayan Calendar. Lies are mixed with truth and there are all kinds of theories from historians, experts, channeled material and authors who make various claims about this date and the Mayan Calendar, many of them contradicting each other. Instead, I'd like to look into some overlooked issues our world is facing, examining the possibility of a cataclysmic "end time" scenario or a "collective awakening" from a different perspective. But let's backtrack first.
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Roots of sexual objectification: How our brains see men as people and women as body parts

© University of Nebraska-Lincoln
In a new study that examined our cognitive process in how we perceive men and women, participants saw a fully clothed person from head to knee. After a brief pause, they then saw two new images on their screen: One that was unmodified and contained the original image, the other a slightly modified version of the original image with a sexual body part changed. Participants then quickly indicated which of the two images they had previously seen. They made decisions about entire bodies in some trials and body parts in other trials.
Study finds that both genders process images of men, women differently.

When casting our eyes upon an object, our brains either perceive it in its entirety or as a collection of its parts. Consider, for instance, photo mosaics consisting of hundreds of tiny pictures that when arranged a certain way form a larger overall image: In fact, it takes two separate mental functions to see the mosaic from both perspectives.

A new study suggests that these two distinct cognitive processes also are in play with our basic physical perceptions of men and women -- and, importantly, provides clues as to why women are often the targets of sexual objectification.

The research, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found in a series of experiments that participants processed images of men and women in very different ways. When presented with images of men, perceivers tended to rely more on "global" cognitive processing, the mental method in which a person is perceived as a whole. Meanwhile, images of women were more often the subject of "local" cognitive processing, or the objectifying perception of something as an assemblage of its various parts.

The study is the first to link such cognitive processes to objectification theory, said Sarah Gervais, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the study's lead author.

"Local processing underlies the way we think about objects: houses, cars and so on. But global processing should prevent us from that when it comes to people," Gervais said. "We don't break people down to their parts - except when it comes to women, which is really striking. Women were perceived in the same ways that objects are viewed."

In the study, participants were randomly presented with dozens of images of fully clothed, average-looking men and women. Each person was shown from head to knee, standing, with eyes focused on the camera.
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Mind vs. Body? Dualist Beliefs Linked with Less Concern for Healthy Behaviors

© Unknown
Many people, whether they know it or not, are philosophical dualists. That is, they believe that the brain and the mind are two separate entities. Despite the fact dualist beliefs are found in virtually all human cultures, surprisingly little is known about the impact of these beliefs on how we think and behave in everyday life.

But a new research article forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that espousing a dualist philosophy can have important real-life consequences.

Across five related studies, researchers Matthias Forstmann, Pascal Burgmer, and Thomas Mussweiler of the University of Cologne, Germany, found that people primed with dualist beliefs had more reckless attitudes toward health and exercise, and also preferred (and ate) a less healthy diet than those who were primed with physicalist beliefs.

Furthermore, they found that the relationship also worked in the other direction. People who were primed with unhealthy behaviors - such as pictures of unhealthy food - reported a stronger dualistic belief than participants who were primed with healthy behaviors.