Science of the Spirit

Eye 1

Common Assumptions About Human Nature Can Disadvantage Us

In my post of 2-17-12 (See: Manipulators Can Make You Feel Crazy) I mentioned that I'd be presenting additional examples about why folks sometimes doubt their gut instincts or harbor misconceptions and therefore allow themselves to be victimized. And just recently, I received an email from someone who realized after-the-fact the kind of person they'd been dealing with but who was still finding it difficult to shed some notions about human nature that probably contributed to the victimization they experienced. This email was very similar to several others I have received in recent months and prompted me to fashion this post.

It's in the very nature of decent folks to find some things unimaginable. And it's also common for all of us to use our own experience and self-reflection to conjecture what the underlying motives of someone else might be when they engage in behaviors that perplex us. For example, we might feel ashamed of ourselves when a thoughtless or insensitive comment we made about someone comes to light. As a result, we might deny we ever said what we did, or attempt to put as positive a "spin" as we can about what we meant by the comment. It's natural, therefore, when we see someone else engaged in some sort of denial or even some "covering their tracks" sort of behavior to presume that their motivation for doing so is the same as ours would be.

Wealthier People More Likely To Lie or Cheat

© unknown
Maybe, as the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested, the rich really are different. They're more likely to behave badly, according to seven experiments that weighed the ethics of hundreds of people.

The "upper class," as defined by the study, were more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiation, cheat to increase their odds of winning a prize and endorse unethical behavior at work, researchers reported today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Taken together, the experiments suggest at least some wealthier people "perceive greed as positive and beneficial," probably as a result of education, personal independence and the resources they have to deal with potentially negative consequences, the authors wrote.

While the tests measured only "minor infractions," that factor made the results, "even more surprising," said Paul Piff, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a study author.

One experiment invited 195 adults recruited using Craigslist to play a game in which a computer "rolled dice" for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate. The numbers each participant rolled were the same; anyone self reporting a total higher than 12 was lying about their score. Those in wealthier classes were found to be more likely to fib, Piff said.

"A $50 prize is a measly sum to people who make $250,000 a year," he said in a telephone interview. "So why are they more inclined to cheat? For a person with lower socioeconomic status, that $50 would get you more, and the risks are small."
Eye 2

Wall Street Species: One Out Of Every Ten Wall Street Employees Is A Psychopath, Say Researchers

Christian Bale
© Lions Gatee/Everett
Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street investment banker and psychopath. Researchers believe as many as 10 percent of people in the financial industry may exhibit the traits of clinical psychopathy.
Maybe Patrick Bateman wasn't such an outlier.

One out of every 10 Wall Street employees is likely a clinical psychopath, writes journalist Sherree DeCovny in an upcoming issue of the trade publication CFA Magazine (subscription required). In the general population the rate is closer to one percent.

"A financial psychopath can present as a perfect well-rounded job candidate, CEO, manager, co-worker, and team member because their destructive characteristics are practically invisible," writes DeCovny, who pulls together research from several psychologists for her story, which helpfully suggests that financial firms carefully screen out extreme psychopaths in hiring.

To be sure, typical psychopathic behavior runs the gamut. At the extreme end is Bateman, portrayed by Christian Bale, in the 2000 movie American Psycho, as an investment banker who actually kills people and exhibits no remorse. When health professionals talk about "psychopaths," they have a broader range of behavior in mind.

A clinical psychopath is bright, gregarious and charming, writes DeCovny. He lies easily and often, and may have trouble feeling empathy for other people. He's probably also more willing to take dangerous risks -- either because he doesn't understand the consequences, or because he simply doesn't care.

Comment: And possibly 9 out of 10 CEOs and government officials are psychopaths.

2 + 2 = 4

Recalling Items from Memory Reduces Our Ability to Recall Other Related Items

memory drawing
© marc
Researchers at the universities of Granada and Jaén, Spain, have discovered why recalling some items from memory reduces our ability to recall other related items. In the field of Psychology, this phenomenon is known as "Retrieval-Induced Forgetting" (RIF), and researchers have determined the cognitive process that causes this phenomenon and its duration.

To carry out this study, the researchers designed a set of memory tasks where the participants had to learn a material and then recall it partially. Memory tasks had different levels of difficulty and included different types of materials; they were presented both to young people (university students) and to elder people (average age: 65 years).

Firstly, participants were asked to learn a list of words grouped by semantic category. Then, participants were presented a set of cues to make them name half the words from half the categories. Then, they were asked to recall all the elements learnt in the first phase. The researchers found that participants had difficulty to remember the elements that had not been practiced in the second phase and were from the same category that had half its items practiced. However, it was easier for them to remember those elements that had not been recalled in the second phase and belonged to categories that had not been practiced.

Does Money Make You Heartless?

Montgomery Burns
As the presidential primary race has unfolded over the last few months, curious Americans have angled for a look at the candidates' wallets - and observed that they are bulging. There's Newt Gingrich, with his $7 million fortune and an up to $1 million revolving line of credit at Tiffany. The relentlessly anti-elitist Rick Santorum disclosed last week that he earns roughly $1 million a year. Mitt Romney built an immense $200 million fortune through his "corporate raider" work at Bain Capital; even Ron Paul, who claimed in one debate that he was embarrassed to show his tax forms because he made so much less money than his rivals, is worth as much as $5.2 million.

This striking wealth among politicians goes beyond the GOP. One of these four men will face off against the now wealthy Barack Obama, whose book royalties alone ran to $2.5 million in 2008. Beyond the Oval Office, there's Congress, whose members have a median net worth of $913,000, compared with $100,000 for the rest of us, according to a recent New York Times report. (Massachusetts' own John Kerry is one leader of the pack, with a fortune that in 2009 was estimated at $167 million.)

Politicians would like us to believe that all this money doesn't matter in a deeper sense - that what matters is ideas, skills, and leadership ability. Aside from a little extra business savvy, they're regular people just like the rest of us: They just happen to have more money.

But is that true? In fact, a number of new studies suggest that, in certain key ways, people with that much money are not like the rest of us at all. As a mounting body of research is showing, wealth can actually change how we think and behave - and not for the better. Rich people have a harder time connecting with others, showing less empathy to the extent of dehumanizing those who are different from them. They are less charitable and generous. They are less likely to help someone in trouble. And they are more likely to defend an unfair status quo. If you think you'd behave differently in their place, meanwhile, you're probably wrong: These aren't just inherited traits, but developed ones. Money, in other words, changes who you are.

Comment: Interesting research on the effects of money and power on normal people who might have a capacity for empathy. Unfortunately, psychopathy and the ponerizing effects of psychopaths in power are left out of the equation.


How Focus Builds Brain Connections


Neurons develop a relationship that facilitates future coordinated activation as a response to being repeatedly stimulated.

This is how networks are constructed.

While it is quaint to consider the beauty of Tiger Woods' golf swing as representing a pinnacle in the development of "muscle memory," the real credit for his performance lies in the memory encoded in the neural networks in his brain that have been refined through years of practice.

But it takes more than simple repetition of a stimulation or activity to create the brain connections that lead to the formation of neural networks. Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, performed a series of experiments in the mid 1990s demonstrating the importance of attention in the formation of neural networks.
Wall Street

The Lorax and What Matters

© Ferd4
Where are we headed?
I was thinking about the state of the world yesterday, having gotten off the phone with my sister. She was once again reminding me that even though she and her husband both work, they barely make it most months and things just keep getting worse. She said that they feel they have no connection to anything, since fewer things just make common sense - that she has no control - that no matter how hard they work, for so many years, the rules keep shifting and the liars keep making more money while normal people drown a little more every day. She's right. The rules have changed and they changed while no one was watching. In fact, I'd say they changed because no one was watching.
Heart - Black

Are Narcissists Better at Reading Minds?

© N/A
Tucker Max
A little while back, I sat Tucker Max -- one of the world's best-known self-proclaimed narcissists -- on my couch and revealed his psychological test results. Unsurprisingly, he scored high (31/40) on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI; you can take the test here). He scored the highest, though, on the exploitative dimension, which has items such as "I find it easy to manipulate people" and "I can read people like a book." I also gave him the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test, which assesses the ability to accurately perceive how someone is feeling based solely on looking at their eyes (you can take the test here). Consistent with his NPI scores, he scored extremely high on this test, getting 33 out of 36 correct.

But then I noticed something else. On the Big Five personality test, he scored extremely low in Compassion, a dimension of Agreeableness. Of course, this will come to no surprise to his fans -- who like him for his humor, not his compassion. In his latest book "Hilarity Ensues", he states right in the acknowledgements, "I'm sure I'm forgetting a ton of people. What do you want from me, compassion and empathy? Have you read my book?" Fair enough. But at least I had empirical support.

You Didn't Thank Me For Punching You in the Face

boys tease girls
On a somewhat serious note today because of a conversation the other day:

I am sure every girl can recall, at least once as a child, coming home and telling their parents, uncle, aunt or grandparent about a boy who had pulled her hair, hit her, teased her, pushed her or committed some other playground crime. I will bet money that most of those, if not all, will tell you that they were told "Oh, that just means he likes you". I never really thought much about it before having a daughter of my own. I find it appalling that this line of b******t is still being fed to young children. Look, if you want to tell your child that being verbally and/or physically abused is an acceptable sign of affection, I urge you to rethink your parenting strategy. If you try and feed MY daughter that crap, you better bring protective gear because I am going to shower you with the brand of "affection" you are endorsing.

When the f*** was it decided that we should start teaching our daughters to accept being belittled, disrespected and abused as endearing treatment? And we have the audacity to wonder why women stay in abusive relationships? How did society become so oblivious to the fact that we were conditioning our daughters to endure abusive treatment, much less view it as romantic overtures? Is this where the phrase "hitting on girls" comes from? Well, here is a tip: Save the "it's so cute when he gets hateful/physical with her because it means he loves her" asshattery for your own kids, not mine. While you're at it, keep them away from my kids until you decide to teach them respect and boundaries.

6-Month-Old Infants Understand Words

Mother and baby
© Alamy
Smarter than you think: Even young babies can demonstrate logic and common sense, according to the new research
While his mother is cooing "Does baybee want his bahbah?" that 6- to 9-month-old infant may just be thinking something along the lines of "Yes, I do want my bottle!" New research indicates that infants as young as 6 months can understand the meaning of many spoken words.

"Kids at this age aren't saying anything, they're not pointing, they're not walking," study researcher Erika Bergelson, of the University of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. "But actually, under the surface, they're trying to put together the things in the world with the words that go with them."

This is the first demonstration that children of this age can understand such words. "There had been a few demonstrations of understanding before, involving words like 'mommy' and 'daddy'," study researcher Daniel Swingley, of the University of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. "Our study is different in looking at more generic words, words that refer to categories," like apple or mouth, which come in different shapes and sizes.