Science of the Spirit

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9 red flags for therapists that indicate relationship trouble

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The sound of his chewing is beyond annoying. And let's not get started on how she never ever makes the bed. "These little issues are totally normal in any relationship, and aren't indicative of whether or not your romance will survive," says Melissa Cohen, a couples therapist in Westfield, New Jersey. But, according to Cohen and many other relationship experts, there are several warning signs they notice during sessions that signal bigger problems—and threaten the viability of their patients' relationships. Ready to assess the strength of your union? Here are 9 big red flags to look out for.

1. Your conflicts include criticism and contempt.

Instead of saying, "Please unload the dishwasher" it sounds more like this: "Do you have some sort of mental condition? Or are you just too stupid to remember to do what I asked?" Notice how the criticism is not about the task—it's about the person. Any version of "What is wrong with you?" basically attacks the other person's character, which, when done regularly, can chip away at the relationship. As for the contempt part, that means you feel superior to you partner. Often, this can sound like, "Why do I have to do everything around here? You do nothing to help out." Contempt is also expressed non-verbally: eye-rolling, sneering, or imitating the person's mannerisms. And contempt just causes more conflict.

If you are stuck in a cycle of negativity, Cohen suggests that you make five positive comments to offset one negative comment. "If, say, you criticized your husband about his terrible driving, force yourself to make at least five endearing comments throughout the rest of the day to smooth things over," she says.

2 + 2 = 4

Emotions are action-requiring neurological programs, revisited

When I wrote The Language of Emotions, I had not yet found a concise definition of emotions anywhere, so I sort of tap-danced around the issue and dove into my own empathic view of emotions as unique messengers that carry specific gifts. But I read a wonderful book last year that presented the perfect definition: emotions are action-requiring neurological programs — and I relied upon this definition in my newest book, The Art of Empathy. It is an absolutely magnificent frame through which to view emotions!

This definition comes from neuroscientist Antonio Damasio's book, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. It's a good, though quite involved read, in which Damasio lays out some theories of consciousness, based on his work as a research scientist. How does a brain create a mind? How does the mind create a self? What are the connections between wakefulness, consciousness, mind, and self? Can you be awake but not conscious? (Yes, for instance, in epileptic "absence" seizures, where you can be walking around but have no conscious awareness of anything you're doing, and no memory of anything you did during the seizure.)


2 + 2 = 4

Having kids can make parents less empathetic

Emotional investment in children can make people feel like they don't have as much space to care about anyone else.

Throughout my wife's pregnancy, it seemed like everyone who already had kids was eager to tell us about the
changes parenting would bring to our lives. Some were mundane but a little scary (losing the opportunity to shower every day), others profound and hopeful (a powerful new sense of purpose).

At any rate, most of them were right—just a few weeks into her life, our daughter has already changed me in many ways. Some new experiences seem par for the course—feeling less annoyed by crying kids on planes, embarrassingly tearing up to dad-themed commercials—but other changes have surprised me. I've grown more suspicious of strangers, for example. I've mentally rehearsed potential sidewalk conflicts. I've researched nearby boxing gyms, as though by becoming stronger or more threatening, I could somehow keep her safe.


Confirmation bias: Study finds people unlikely to change their minds and adapt despite new information being presented

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A fresh study has confirmed that people are reluctant to change their minds and adapt their views, even when new information has been presented. This holds true even if they stand to lose money.

The research from the University of Iowa is based on previous studies indicating that people are particularly likely to stick to their original viewpoint when they've had to write their beliefs down - a phenomenon known as the 'explanation effect', which also affects future actions.

In the study, Tom Gruca, a professor of marketing at the Tippie College of Business, tried to find evidence of something called 'confirmation bias' - the tendency to give preference to existing information or beliefs, rather than considering alternative possibilities. He says equity analysts working on financial markets are particularly prone to this bias, with those who issue written forecasts being especially vulnerable to falling into the trap, despite having access to new data to influence them.

Gruca believes the findings are particularly relevant to market research, and that they may be used to better predict trader behavior in future.


The psychology of solidarity - from Paris to Gaza

People gather around the Monument a la Republique at the Place de la Republique square on November 17, 2015 in Paris, to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks of November 13

When looking out towards other parts of the world it's much less stressful, much less cognitively demanding, to see victims rather than people who more or less resemble yourself.

This week I have been watching a spread of global responses to the Paris murders. As a therapist what has been most illuminating to me has been watching the various corporations, Amazon, Facebook and Uber to name a few, and many other powerful nations show solidarity with France through changes to their website or otherwise.

I don't personally know anyone in Paris but it must be comforting on some very basic level to be reminded that you are not alone, that what you are experiencing is being felt, and even understood, by others - and that suffering is being met with acknowledgment and an empathic response. A response that serves to indicate to Parisians that the world "gets" what is happening. It's perhaps this alignment that leaves a little less space for alternate realities and provides a little less room for uncertainty - although I'm sure both must persist.


Telepathic five-year-old gets tested by scientists


Passion for books: Ms Sanguino, 32, later posted the videos of Ramses (pictured in a book shop) on the Internet, where they caught the eye of Dr Diane Powell, a former faculty member at Harvard Medical School

A five-year-old savant who is apparently displaying signs of telepathy is being studied by scientists after his mother posted videos online showing him reciting random numbers 'written in secret'.

Ramses Sanguino - who is already learning seven languages and solving complex mathematical equations - was filmed seemingly demonstrating telepathy at his home in Los Angeles, California.

In the footage, the youngster, who has a 'high functioning' form of autism, correctly recounts the value and suits of playing cards, as well as numbers that were reportedly penned out of sight.


Evidence suggests that meditation alters cancer survivors' cells

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For the first time, scientists have found clear biological evidence that meditation and support groups can affect us on a cellular level.

We're often told that being happy, meditating and mindfulness can benefit our health. We all have that one friend of a friend who says they cured their terminal illness by quitting their job and taking up surfing - but until now there's been very little scientific evidence to back up these claims.

Now researchers in Canada have found the first evidence to suggest that support groups that encourage meditation and yoga can actually alter the cellular activity of cancer survivors.

Comment: Learn about the numerous mental, emotional and spiritual health benefits of meditation by visiting the Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program website, try out the entire program here for free.


Frankincense may infuse users with mild euphoria

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Arabian incense burner.
A group of researchers using hard science put frankincense to the test: Does this ancient, fragrant smoke give feelings of exaltation to the practitioners of the many religions in whose rites it has been used for millennia? Further, they asked, could extracts of frankincense or Boswellia be used by pharmacologists to create drugs that would fight depression and anxiety?

Another researcher published an article in October on anti-inflammatory and other health benefits of frankincense, a precious resin from the Boswellia tree that has been traded for more than 5,000 years. Both he and the researchers looking into the mental-health benefits say more study is needed.


Gabor Maté: How to build a culture of good health

Physical well-being depends on more than keeping our bodies fit. Emotions and the people who come into our lives matter just as much.

© Pablo Iglesias
"I never get angry," says a character in one of Woody Allen's movies. "I grow a tumor instead." Much more scientific truth is captured in that droll remark than many doctors would recognize. Mainstream medical practice largely ignores the role of emotions in the physiological functioning of the human organism. Yet the scientific evidence abundantly shows that people's lifetime emotional experiences profoundly influence health and illness. And, since emotional patterns are a response to the psychological and social environment, disease in an individual always tells us about the multigenerational family of origin and the broader culture in which that person's life unfolds.



Tech addiction: Photos depict how modern technology is 'stealing souls'

Addiction to technology "is placing the screen as an object of 'mass subculture', alienating the relation to our own body, and more generally to the physical world."

Antonie Geiger is a 20-year-old photographer from France who has perfectly outlined how our electronics are sucking the life out of us. They consume out attention tricking us into thinking it is about affection and all the while distracting us from living our present physical lives.

When we are not grounded in the present moment we are disconnecting. Since many of us are on a path of seeking connection we need to remember to keep our electronic tools in balance with our interpersonal connections.