Science of the Spirit


Being able to forgive yourself for mistakes key to staying healthy

  • Being able to forgive yourself for mistakes key to staying healthy
  • Team say constant stress over small things like traffic should be a warning sign
How we deal with stress has a major effect on our lifespan - and researchers say learning to deal with it more effectively could even increase how long we live.

New York researchers say they have found a link between people likely to forgive themselves for mistakes and damage to their bodies caused by stress.

The key to a long and happy life, they say, is to 'cut yourself some slack'.

Comment: You can read more on self compassion on our forum here and learn more about dealing with stress by regularly practicing the Eiriu-Eolas breathing and mediation program discussed here, available for free here.


Why positive thinking may be harmful for some

© Franck Vervial
Brainwaves of positive and negative thinkers reveal important insight into positive thinking.
For some people, being told to 'think positive' is very hard and may even be doing them harm, according to a new study.

The research examined the neural markers of both positive and negative thinking. In the study, 71 women were asked to look at distressing images and put a positive spin on them (Moser et al., 2014). Women were used exclusively as they are more likely to suffer from high levels of depression and anxiety.

The images included a woman being held by a masked man with a knife to her throat. As expected, people who were generally more positive found this an easier task. However, the researchers noticed something important amongst the natural worriers.

Jason Moser, the study's lead author explains:
"The worriers actually showed a paradoxical backfiring effect in their brains when asked to decrease their negative emotions.

This suggests they have a really hard time putting a positive spin on difficult situations and actually make their negative emotions worse even when they are asked to think positively."
In contrast, those who generally think positively were able to reduce the electronic signature of worry that the brain produces, suggesting positive thinking was working for them.

Comment: For a wider perspective, don't miss:

When the Body Says No: Caring for ourselves while caring for others - Dr. Gabor Maté

Dr. Gabor Maté: "When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection"

When the Body Says No: How Emotions Can Cause or Prevent Deadly Disease

People 2

What's really going on when men call women 'crazy'

© Unknown
I've had to quit telling stories about crazy exes or women I've dated.

The problem was that I started realizing that when my friends and I would talk about our crazy exes or what-have-you, more often than not, we weren't talking about ex-girlfriends or random dates who exhibited signs of genuine mental health issues. Now I did have a few where I would qualify my story with, "No, I don't mean 'we broke up and I can't be bothered to figure out where things went wrong, I mean that she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and was starting to show signs of genuine paranoia," but for the most part, crazy meant "acting in a way I didn't like."

And I didn't realize just how damaging this attitude was in the way I related to women.

Part of my journey toward getting better with women was having to unlearn a lot of old attitudes and habits when it came toward dealing with the opposite sex. I, like most men, grew up in an world where certain attitudes toward women were just "the way things were" and we absorbed them without thinking about them.
Gold Coins

The gambler's fallacy explained?

© The Independent, UK
Gambling addicts are likely to have developed a different pattern of brain activity than non-gamblers which gives them a misguided belief that they can always beat the odds in a game of chance, scientists have said.

A study has identified a region of the brain that appears to play a critical role in supporting the distorted thinking which makes people more likely to gamble because they mistakenly think they have a better-than-average chance of winning.

The researchers found that when this brain region - called the insula - is damaged as a result of brain injury, people become immune to these distortions, such as the classic gambler's fallacy that a run of "heads" means that a "tails" is now more likely, when in fact the 50:50 odds of "heads" or "tails" have not changed.

The findings support the idea that gambling addiction has a neurological basis and so could be treated with either drugs that target certain regions of the brain, or psychological counselling that aims to counter the distortions that result in compulsive gambling, scientists said.

"Based on these results, we believe that the insula could be hyperactive in problem gamblers, making them more susceptible to these errors of thinking," said Luke Clark of Cambridge University, who led the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Future treatments for gambling addiction could seek to reduce this hyperactivity, either by drugs or by psychological techniques like mindfulness therapies... The results give us new avenues to explore for the treatment of gambling addiction," Dr Clark said.

The study was based on psychological tests carried out on a small group of patients in the United States with well defined injuries to certain regions of the brain, notably the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the amygdala and the insula, he said.

Here's why materialistic people are less happy and less satisfied

New research explores the fact that materialistic people are more likely to be depressed and unsatisfied with life.
© Drew Bandy
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ~ Epicurus
The study finds that a focus on what you want - and therefore don't currently have - makes it more difficult to appreciate what you already have, according to the Baylor University research.

The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, recruited 246 people at a private university (Tsang et al., 2014).

The researchers tested:
  • how materialist and needy they were,
  • how satisfied they were with life,
  • and their levels of gratitude.
They found that people who were more materialistic also felt less gratitude which, in turn, was associated with lower levels of life satisfaction.

Most people have unwanted, worrying thoughts

© caimacanul/Shutterstock
Frequent, repetitive handwashing may be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.
Anxiety-producing intrusive thoughts - considered to be a common symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD - may actually be widespread in the general population.

A new study found that more than 94 percent of people have unwanted, intrusive thoughts and impulses.

The study involved 19 researchers from 13 countries who surveyed 777 people.

The participants were asked detailed questions to gauge whether they experienced intrusive thoughts, such as a feeling of contamination, an image of their house on fire or a sudden urge to hurt someone.

Such thoughts are considered different from worries and ruminations about past events. The researchers said they found that 94.3 percent of people reported at least one type of unwanted, intrusive thought during the last three months.

When the Body Says No: Caring for ourselves while caring for others - Dr. Gabor Maté

The brain and body systems that process emotions are intimately connected with the hormonal apparatus, the nervous system, and in particular the immune system. Dr. Maté’s insight into the relationship of the mind and the body are presented in: When the Body Says No.
Stress is ubiquitous these days - it plays a role in the workplace, in the home, and virtually everywhere that people interact. It can take a heavy toll on individuals unless it is recognized and managed effectively and insightfully. This is even more true for parents, family members and caregivers of individuals with neuro-behavioural disorders such as FASD, and if left unchecked, accumulated stress goes on to undermine immunity, disrupts the body's physiological milieu and can prepare the ground for a multitude chronic diseases and conditions.

This presentation, adapted for this conference, is based on When The Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, a best-selling book that has been translated into more than twelve languages on five continents.


Babies may be more language-savvy than thought

© Natalia Kirichenko, Shutterstock
A newborn baby in a pink hat and mittens.
Even 2-day-old babies know that some syllables just sound better than others, according to a new study.

Across world languages, certain syllables are more commonly used than others. But why this linguistic preference exists has been a matter of scientific debate. While some researchers have suggested that the preference results from the historical processes that shape languages, or the ease of pronunciation, others hold it may be innate, with the human brain being partial to certain sounds.

Now, the new study suggests that people are indeed born with a preference for some sounds over others.

"We believe that many things are learned, for instance, the vocabulary," said study author David Maximiliano Gómez, a language and cognition researcher at the University of Chile. But there are other aspects of language, such as the syllables people use, that might be innate, he said.

The study, published March 31 in the journal PNAS, shows that babies react to certain syllables very similarly to the way adults do, Gómez told Live Science.

The study was conducted on three groups of 24 Italian babies, ages 2 to 5 days. The children in the study listened to a few kinds of syllables, including "lbif" and "bdif," which are generally less popular among adults, and "blif" and "oblif," which adults more commonly prefer.
Arrow Down

Childhood poverty damages DNA

dust bowl family
© U.S. Library of Congress/Dorothea Lange
A hard-scrabble upbringing can do longterm damage
A rough childhood doesn't just make you grow up faster; it could actually make your body grow old early. In research studying how day-to-day circumstances affect our DNA, researchers have found evidence that social stresses from poverty could wear down children's genes, making them vulnerable to cancer and age-related disorders at an earlier age.

Children in the study were ranked based on their poverty level, having depressed mothers, experiencing harsh parenting, and living in unstable family structures. "We selected 40 of the most and least advantaged kids," Daniel Notterman, the study's principal investigator, told Quartz. All were boys, and all African-American. The study drew its cohort from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), a multiyear survey of 4,500 kids born in urban areas between 1998 and 2000.

When they compared the children, they found that the DNA from those in the economic bottom half looked slightly different from those at the top. The difference was in the repetitive sequence of genetic cipher called a telomere that caps off each strand of DNA. As humans age, each time their cells divide, a little bit of the telomere gets shaved away. Telomeres have been compared to the plastic bits that prevent the ends of shoestrings from fraying - and frayed DNA is bad for your health. "Small telomeres can lead to aging or cancer," says Rekha Rai, a biologist from Yale who studies telomere shortening and DNA damage.

Why we all love numbers

© Associated Press/Denis Poroy
We share a sensitivity to numbers
We cannot help but react to numbers, but why are odds masculine and evens feminine? Why were Levi's 501s and WD-40 given those names? And is number 3 really 'warm' and 'friendly'? Alex Bellos does the maths

Jerry Newport asks me to pick a four-digit number.

"2761," I say. "That's 11 x 251," he replies, reciting the numbers in one continuous, unhesitant flow. "2762. That's 2 x 1381. 2763. That's 3 x 3 x 307. 2764. That's 2 x 2 x 691."

Jerry is a retired taxi driver from Tucson, Arizona, who has Asperger syndrome. He has a ruddy complexion and small blue eyes, his large forehead sliced by a diagonal comb of dark-blond hair. He likes birds as well as numbers, and when we meet he is wearing a flowery red shirt with a parrot on it. We are sitting in his living room, together with a cockatoo, a dove, three parakeets and two cockatiels, which were listening to, and occasionally repeating, our conversation.

As soon as Jerry sees a big number, he divides it up into prime numbers. This habit made his former job driving cabs particularly enjoyable, since there was always a number on the licence plate in front of him. When he lived in Santa Monica, where licence numbers were four and five digits long, he would often visit the four-storey car park of his local mall and not leave until he had worked through every plate. In Tucson, however, car numbers are only three digits long. He barely glances at them now. "If the number is more than four digits I'll start to pay attention to it. If it's four digits or less, it's roadkill. It is!" he remonstrates. "Come on! Show me something new!"