Science of the Spirit
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Near-death experiences change the brain

© Patrick Bernath/CNW/Air Transat
Meleni Tesic, flight director, First officer Dirk De Jager and Capt,. Robert Piche hold a news conference in Montreal four days after their plane crash-landed in the Azores in August, 2001.
On Aug. 24, 2001, Air Transat Flight 236, bound for Lisbon from Toronto, rain out of fuel over the ocean. For 30 minutes, the 306 passengers and crew on board lived with the realization that their plane could crash — and they could all die.

The plane eventually crash-landed in the Azores and all survived (80 were hospitalized), but the experience became seared in the survivors' brains.

Now brain imaging shows the trauma literally changed the survivors' brains.

Brain imaging of eight of those passengers, conducted nine years later, revealed the memories of that terrifying experience remained crystal clear and lit up distinct areas of the brain related to memory, emotion and visual processing.

The event also appears to have heightened their reactions to other negative life events.

This traumatic incident still haunts passengers regardless of whether they have PTSD or not," lead researcher Daniela Palombo, a post-doctoral researcher at the Boston University School of Medicine, told the Toronto Star.

"They remember the event as though it happened yesterday, when in fact it happened almost a decade ago (at the time of the scans)."

The neuroimaging study — believed to be the first examination of a group of people who all experienced the same trauma — was published online in the journal Clinical Psychological Science (CPS)

"Research on highly traumatic memory relies on animal studies, where brain responses to fear can be experimentally manipulated and observed," Brian Levine, senior scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and senior author on the paper, said in a press release. "Thanks to the passengers who volunteered, we were able to examine the human brain's response to traumatic memory at a degree of vividness that is generally impossible to attain."

People

Reliance on culture and social learning main determinant of human behavior and can persist in lineages for millennia

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Why do people in different parts of the world eat different foods? Two ASU researchers have found social learning is responsible.
For more than a century, scientists have debated why people in different parts of the world eat different foods, follow different social norms and believe in different origin stories.

Is the variation in behavior a result of the environments that we have inhabited or the effect of cultural history and traditions that may have persisted over millennia?

At stake is understanding whether human uniqueness is driven by our large brains and intelligence, allowing us to adapt to different environments, or by our unprecedented reliance on social learning or culture.

In research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, ASU researchers Sarah Mathew and Charles Perreault find that the main determinant of human behavior is social learning, which is contrary to established assumptions of current thinking in cognitive sciences, psychology and human behavioral ecology.

"Because humans are an unusually smart species, it is tempting to think that individuals figure out on their own the stuff they need to live in different environments," Mathew said. "But we show that humans do much of what they do because it's how their parent generation did it."

Nebula

May the force be with you: Researchers find evidence of human bioenergy field

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The universe is full of mysteries that challenge our current knowledge. In "Beyond Science" Epoch Times collects stories about these strange phenomena to stimulate the imagination and open up previously undreamed of possibilities. Are they true? You decide.

Biochemist John Norman Hansen, Ph.D., at the University of Maryland has found evidence of what he believes is a bioenergy field around humans. Such a field has been speculated about and alluded to in spiritual traditions for thousands of years, but now scientific investigation has indicated such a field does exist.

Dr. Hansen conducted hundreds of experiments with dozens of subjects, and his results are consistently replicable. Other scientists have also replicated his results, including Willem H. van den Berg of the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the Johnson Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and physicist William van der Sluys at Gettysburg College, who published their study in the Journal of Scientific Exploration on March 15.

2 + 2 = 4

Mood disorders: More alike than distinct?

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Patients with bipolar disorder (BP) and those with major depressive disorder (MDD) may have more in common than previously thought, new research suggests.

These patient groups performed similarly on a cognitive task, and both groups were slower and less accurate than healthy control participants.

2 + 2 = 4

The powerful opportunities that come with making a mistake

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Just as it is human nature to make mistakes, it is human nature to beat yourself up afterwards. Of course, this does not mean this is productive way to cope. A human's imperfect nature makes it easy to feel regret for things we have done and makes us more susceptible to feelings of shame and guilt.

There's just one thing you must always remember; your mistakes do not define you. One of the best ways to overcome the feelings of shame and guilt that often accompany a mistake is to look at them as opportunity for learning and growth. Let's examine the eight reasons why mistakes are actually opportunities.

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Children have an innate sense of restorative justice

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Children as young as three show a natural inclination towards restorative justice fed by a strong concern over the welfare of victims, say researchers.

A new study, published today in Current Biology, reveals three and five-year-olds are sensitive to harm to others and given a choice would rather restore things to help the victim than punish the perpetrator.

The researchers say the findings, based on experiments with 112 three-year-olds and 79 five-year-olds in Germany, provide insights into the roots of justice in human society.

Previous studies have shown children are more likely to share with a puppet that helps another individual than with one who behaves badly.

They also prefer to see punishment delivered to a doll that deserves it than one that doesn't. By the age of six, children will pay a price to punish fictional and real peers. Preschoolers can also be encouraged with threats of punishment to behave more generously.

Bulb

Best learning techniques involve practicing, playing with ideas and solutions over time

When I was growing up, family dinners were often interrupted by a mad search through the encyclopedia. During our discussion some question would invariably arise and my dad or one of us would get up from the table and come back with a World Book volume containing the answer.

The practice fueled my curiosity and more than a few Trivia Crack victories.

I'm still in the habit today. Something will come up during our dinnertime conversation and I or my daughter or husband will seek out the answer. But, this time, it doesn't come from a book. It comes from Google. And that may not be the best way to learn.

New research by Gordon Pennycook and Nathaniel Barr indicates that Google is giving us the answers even before we think through the questions or problems ourselves.

Instead of actually analyzing a problem or tapping into our own intelligence to answer questions or come up with new solutions, we are using the smartphone as an "extended mind," Barr says. And that reliance on technology is creating a culture of lazy thinkers.

In fact, the best way to learn new material doesn't come from Google at all. Learning is best done through distributed practice, according to a paper published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest reviewing different learning styles and the research into them.

Comment: For more tips on ways to improve learning, see:


Family

Rationally-based brains are physically different from emotionally-based brains

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Illustration. Rationally-based brains are physically different from emotionally-based brains, according to new research.
Researchers at Monash University have found physical differences in the brains of people who respond emotionally to others' feelings, compared to those who respond more rationally, in a study published in the journal NeuroImage.

The work, led by Robert Eres from the University's School of Psychological Sciences, pinpointed correlations between grey matter density and cognitive and affective empathy. The study looked at whether people who have more brain cells in certain areas of the brain are better at different types of empathy.

"People who are high on affective empathy are often those who get quite fearful when watching a scary movie, or start crying during a sad scene. Those who have high cognitive empathy are those who are more rational, for example a clinical psychologist counselling a client," Mr Eres said.

Butterfly

Being there: How to lend support to someone going through a tough time

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When someone is struggling, we might be at a loss for how to help. We want to reach out. But we're worried we'll do or say the wrong thing. So we don't do anything. Or maybe we have a track record of saying or doing the wrong things. Either way, the result is the same — we keep to ourselves.

Psychotherapist Lena Aburdene Derhally, MS, LPC, worked in oncology for years. She noted that the best way we can support someone who's grieving is simply by being there.

The same is true for most things someone is struggling with — whether your friend is having marital problems, your cousin had a miscarriage or an acquaintance opens up about being overwhelmed.

Jennifer Kogan, LICSW, a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C., stressed the importance of listening with empathy. Empathy is key for meaningful relationships. And it's a skill we can learn. Kogan cited the four attributes of empathy, identified by nursing scholar Teresa Wiseman. Researcher and bestselling author Brené Brown incorporated Wiseman's definition in her own work. Brown writes about empathy in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power.

Light Saber

Possessing an internal locus of control improves our ability to cope with adversity

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For me, one of the hardest facets of stress is relinquishing control. And though there is control in how I personally react and choose to respond to circumstances, there's also a feeling of helplessness; a feeling that control is not completely present.

I don't have complete control over genuine and natural shifts in relationships — the progression of people growing apart. New perceptions affect awareness; they affect how connections are conceived.

I don't have complete control of the past, and all the baggage that comprises such chapters.

I don't have complete control over nodules in my thyroid that may or may not get bigger; that may or may not require a biopsy or further treatment.

I don't have complete control over a competitive job market or a profession that may not lend itself to a stable, sufficient income.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the desire for a sense of control is a profound psychological need.

"If we are in control of our environment, then we have a far better chance of survival," an article on changingminds.org stated. "Our deep subconscious mind thus gives us strong biochemical prods when we face some kind of danger (such as the fight-or-flight reaction)."

Interesting. Though life is renowned for unpredictability, individuals crave a sense of control. Some factors, though, are simply uncontrollable.