Science of the Spirit

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Troubling Study: Psychologists Demonstrate Implanting Non-Believed False Memories

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A recent study has found that people can have memories of events that never occurred implanted in a laboratory setting, even when they know that it never actually happened. Combining these findings with the reality of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) hallucination-inducing technology and you have the potential for both the reliability of our memory and perception to be manipulated and thus become completely unreliable.

In 2010, Giuliana Mazzoni and Lucy Harvey of the University of Hall in the UK along with Alan Scoboria of the University of Windsor conducted a survey of over 1,500 undergraduate students.

These researchers found that almost an entire quarter of the individuals surveyed reported having a memory of an event which they know or believe did not actually happen.

Now a group of psychologists including Andrew Clark, Robert Nash, Gabrielle Fincham, and Giuliana Mazzoni have conducted a three-stage study which was actually able to produce false memories which persisted despite the fact that the participants knew, and no longer believed, they had ever performed the actions.

Critical Thinking: Why You Can't Help Believing Everything You Read

reading book
© Unknown
You shouldn't believe everything you read, yet according to a classic psychology study at first we can't help it.

What is the mind's default position: are we naturally critical or naturally gullible? As a species do we have a tendency to behave like Agent Mulder from the X-Files who always wanted to believe in mythical monsters and alien abductions? Or are we like his partner Agent Scully who was the critical scientist, generating alternative explanations, trying to understand and evaluate the strange occurrences they encountered rationally?

Do we believe what the TV, the newspapers, blogs even, tell us at first blush or are we naturally critical? Can we ignore the claims of adverts, do we lap up what politicians tell us, do we believe our lover's promises?

It's not just that some people do and some people don't; in fact all our minds are built with the same first instinct, the same first reaction to new information. But what is it: do we believe first or do we first understand, so that belief (or disbelief) comes later?

Body of Thought: Five Postures for Creative Thinkers

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© Holgar Eileby
Think outside the box
Literally sitting outside a box, rather than in it, makes you more creative, according to new psychological research.

There are lots of metaphors floating around in creativity. We talk about 'thinking outside the box', 'putting two and two together' and 'seeing both sides of the problem'.

But are these only metaphors or can we boost our creativity by taking them literally? We know our minds interact in all sorts of interesting ways with our bodies, so what if we enacted these metaphors physically?

That's the question Leung et al. (2012) examine in a new study published in the journal Psychological Science. This brings together two of my favourite topics here on PsyBlog: creativity and embodied cognition. Across five studies they tested ways of making people more creative by simply changing postures.
Magic Wand

People with 'balanced time perspective' more likely to call themselves content

Do you look fondly at the past, enjoy yourself in the present, and strive for future goals? If you hold these time perspectives simultaneously - and don't go overboard on any one of them - you're likely to be a happy person.

A new study by San Francisco State University researcher Ryan Howell and his colleagues demonstrates that having this sort of "balanced time perspective" can make people feel more vital, more grateful, and more satisfied with their lives. Their findings are reported online in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

"If you are too extreme or rely too much on any one of these perspectives, it becomes detrimental, and you can get into very destructive types of behaviors," Howell said. "It is best to be balanced in your time perspectives."

While it may seem obvious that people who have a positive attitude about their past, enjoy the present, and focus on goals for the future would be the happiest, Howell said that a sense of well-being depends on the balance between these elements.

"If you're really dominant in one type of perspective, you're very limited in certain situations," he added. "To deal well when you walk into any situation, you need to have cognitive flexibility. That is probably why people with a balanced time perspective are happiest."

Analytic Thinking Can Promote Atheism

Praying Man
© Kevin Carden, Shutterstock
Religious beliefs can be disrupted by analytical thinking.

Deliberate analytical thinking can cause people to believe less in God, according to a new study.

The researchers, who found that religious belief arises from gut feelings, were quick to say their study was not a referendum on the value of religion. Both analytical thinking and the intuitive processing that seems to promote religious beliefs are important, said study researcher Will Gervais.

"Both are useful tools," said Gervais, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of British Columbia. "Ultimately, these studies are looking at cognitive factors that might influence belief or disbelief, but they don't have anything to say about the inherent rationality or worth of religion."

Head versus heart

Psychologists have found that people process information through two distinct systems. One is the analytical system, marked by deliberate, logical processing. The intuitive system, on the other hand, uses mental shortcuts and gut feelings, Gervais said.

Earlier studies have shown that people who tend to go with their gut are more likely to believe in God than analytical types are. Gervais and his UBC colleague Ara Norenzayan reached the same finding by giving people a test to determine whether they were more analytical or more intuitive. For example, one question asked, "If it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?"

The intuitive, go-with-your-gut answer would be "100." But the analytical, do-the-math process gets you the correct answer of five minutes. People who came to the analytical answer also reported less religious belief than those who offered the intuitive response.

The adaptive unconscious makes your everyday decisions

The snap judgment. The song that constantly runs through your head whenever you close your office door. The desire to drink Coke rather than Pepsi or to drive a Mustang rather than a Prius. The expression on your spouse's face that inexplicably makes you feel either amorous or enraged. Or how about the now incomprehensible reasons you married your spouse in the first place?

Welcome to evidence of your robust unconscious at work.

While these events are all superficially unrelated, each reveals an aspect of a rich inner life that is not a part of conscious, much less rational, thought. Today, long after Sigmund Freud introduced the world to the fact that much of what we do is determined by mysterious memories and emotional forces, the depths of the mind and the brain are being explored anew. "Most of what we do every minute of every day is unconscious, " says University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Paul Whelan. "Life would be chaos if everything were on the forefront of our consciousness."

Trouble Sleeping? Blame Aging Brain Cells

Man Yawning
© Corbis
Know an older adult who has trouble sleeping through the night but dozes off every afternoon? Most likely you do, and now researchers have some clues as to why the brain's sleeping clock seems to change with age.

In a study published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, research shows that changes occurring in individual brain cells may play a greater role in changing sleep cycles than previously thought.

Before this study, changes were attributed to weakened brain network activity in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), an area of the brain responsible for setting sleep-wake cycles.

"In fact, the changes at the single-cell level were more severe than the changes at the network level," said Johanna Meijer, PhD, at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, who directed the study.

What does this mean for the elderly? The research may make it easier to find treatments that would allow older adults to maintain a more regular sleep cycle.

Violence puts wear and tear on kids' DNA

© Unknown
Children who have experienced violence might really be older than their years. The DNA of 10-year-olds who experienced violence in their young lives has been found to show wear and tear normally associated with aging, a Duke University study has found.

"This is the first time it has been shown that our telomeres can shorten at a faster rate even at a really young age, while kids are still experiencing stress," said Idan Shalev, a post-doctoral researcher in psychology and neuroscience at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy.

Telomeres are special DNA sequences found at the tips of chromosomes; much like the plastic tips of shoelaces, they prevent DNA from unraveling. Emerging evidence suggests that telomeres are "master integrators," connecting stress to biological age and associated diseases.

Telomeres are known to get shorter each time cells divide, putting a limit on the number of times a given cell can go on dividing. Smoking, obesity, psychological disorders and stress have been found to possibly accelerate that process of telomere loss. In that sense, our telomeres may reflect biological age, not just chronological age.

Previous studies of telomeres and stress had primarily looked at telomeres in adults as they recalled experiences much earlier in their lives.

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

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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.