Science of the Spirit


Vegetative patient shows brain activity watching Hitchcock film

© AFP Photo DDP / Nigel Treblin Germany out
A man who has been in a vegetative state for 16 years showed neural activity while watching a Hitchcock film. Researchers say that for the first time, they've discovered that "a patient with unknown levels of consciousness can monitor their environment."

It has been assumed that about one in five patients who appear to be entirely vegetative may actually be conscious, but researchers had not been able to prove that was the case until recently.

A research team at the University of Western Ontario, led by post-doctoral researcher Lorina Nacia, has developed a sensitive method to test whether any neural activity is taking place during a film sequence. The study is described in a report approved in August.

The researchers needed a clip short in length, 7-8 minutes, for the duration that a person can be placed in an MRI. They discovered that Alfred Hitchcock's short "Bang! You're Dead" fit the bill. It has a story sequence with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and is about a child who carries a loaded revolver around town.

Reading slowly can benefit your brain and reduce stress

© Frida Sakaj
Members of a Wellington, New Zealand, club gather weekly to read slowly.
At Least 30 Minutes of Uninterrupted Reading With a Book or E-Book Helps

Once a week, members of a Wellington, New Zealand, book club arrive at a cafe, grab a drink and shut off their cellphones. Then they sink into cozy chairs and read in silence for an hour.

The point of the club isn't to talk about literature, but to get away from pinging electronic devices and read, uninterrupted. The group calls itself the Slow Reading Club, and it is at the forefront of a movement populated by frazzled book lovers who miss old-school reading.

Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn't make it through a book anymore.

Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the "slow-food" way or knitting by hand.

Comment: Another great way to reduce stress, increase concentration, and deepen empathy is to practice the deep breathingand mediation techniques shown in the Éiriú Eolas program, which may be learned here.


Imprinted brain theory links autism and schizophrenia

Imprinted Genes
© moswyn/iStockphoto
'Imprinted' genes may affect a baby's behaviour and could be involved in the development of autism or schizophrenia.
A Danish study has provided support for a controversial theory that says autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia are opposite ends of a spectrum, with normal brain function somewhere in between.

The 'Imprinted Brain Theory' postulates that these mental disorders are a result of a 'battle of the sexes', with epigenetic effects subtly controlling certain genes, expressed as a baby develops, to favour the survival of either the mother or the father's genes.

Published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study has found relationships between a baby's size and its risk of getting schizophrenia or autism, which fit with the theory.

Parental Tug-of-War

The theory concerns 'imprinted' genes. These genes are very unusual because they are expressed differently depending on whether they come from the mother or the father. This contrasts with the vast majority of genes for which parental origin makes no difference to their activity.

"There are about 70-80 genes that are thought to be genetically imprinted in humans." says Dr Sean Byars, lead author of the Danish study who is now at the University of Melbourne.

It's thought that imprinted genes affect things like the size of the baby. For example, it is in the father's interests for babies to be big, as they are more likely to survive and pass on his genes.

For the mother, though, a baby that is too large may deplete her resources, and could jeopardise her chance of future pregnancies. This will reduce her genes' chances of being passed on through future children, explains Byars.

Many imprinted genes are thought to act in the placenta, with some from the father favouring larger babies while some from the mother favour smaller ones. What the baby actually ends up with is usually a balance between the two parent's needs.

Reconnecting children with the outside world

Our children are spending 20 hours a week staring at screens, writes Sandra Thompson. High time to get them outside with the mud, bugs, flowers and slime ...

With children spending an average of almost 14 hours a week in front of the television and six hours in front of their computers, any effort to get them outside and closer to nature must surely be encouraged.

Not only is immersion in nature it crucial to mental, physical and emotional development, it ensures that our children feel connected to the natural world - and increases the likelihood of future generations wanting to protect our habitats and wildlife.

Comment: Learn more about the healing benefits of being outside, both for children and adults:


Amount of gray matter in parietal cortex can impact risk-taking

New research suggests the physical composition of the brain influences the individual tolerance of risk.

Australian researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to perform a whole-brain analysis and discovered the volume of the outer layer of our brain, or gray matter, is related to a person's willingness to take risks.

Specifically, Dr. Agnieszka Tymula, an economist at the University of Sydney, and international collaborators posit the amount of gray matter in the right posterior parietal cortex can serve as a biomarker for financial risk-attitudes.

Men and women with higher grey matter volume in this region exhibited less risk aversion.

"Individual risk attitudes are correlated with the grey matter volume in the posterior parietal cortex, suggesting existence of an anatomical biomarker for financial risk-attitude," said Tymula.

This means tolerance of risk "could potentially be measured in billions of existing medical brain scans."

But she has cautioned against making a causal link between brain structure and behavior. More research will be needed to establish whether structural changes in the brain lead to changes in risk attitude or whether that individual's risky choices alter his or her brain structure - or both.

Your perception of life's daily hassles affects long-term health

The stress from little daily hassles can kill you just as easily as that from serious life events, finds a new study of its impact on health.

The research found that when older men experienced a high level of daily hassles they were at an increased risk of dying early just as if they'd experienced more serious life events, like losing a loved one (Aldwin et al., 2014).

Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University, who led the research said:
"We're looking at long-term patterns of stress - if your stress level is chronically high, it could impact your mortality, or if you have a series of stressful life events, that could affect your mortality."
The study looked at both everyday hassles, like work stress or family arguments, along with more devastating events like the loss of a spouse.

While both types have an effect on the chances of dying, their data showed that each was independent of the other.

Some people may be hit by traumatic life events, but this may not be translated into everyday hassles because of the way they deal with stress.

Aldwin continued:
"It's not the number of hassles that does you in, it's the perception of them being a big deal that causes problems.

Taking things in stride may protect you."

Comment: As the author says, what matters most is our ability to manage our emotional reactions to stress. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to meditate. Research has shown that people experience significant benefits after practicing meditation after only a few days. An excellent method to use is the Éiriú Eolas program which is available here for free.

This program naturally stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system using controlled breathing exercises and is the modern revival of an ancient breathing and meditation program which is being acclaimed around the world as THE TOOL that will help you to:
  • Relax from the stresses of everyday life
  • Gently work your way through past emotional and psychological trauma
  • Release repressed emotions and mental blockages
  • Rejuvenate and Detoxify your body and mind


Chinese doctors discover 24-year old woman with missing cerebellum

© (L)Feng Yu et al. (R) Wikipedia
MRI reveals that there is no recognizable cerebellar structure in the woman’s brain (Feng Yu et al). Right: A picture of a MRI scan of the human head
No cerebellum: this is the diagnosis for a Chinese woman who has reached the age of 24 without knowing her dizziness and nausea had really serious roots. This discovery adds her to a club of just nine known survivors who have lived without "little brain."

A casual visit to the hospital turned into a shock for a 24-year-old Chinese woman, who has been suffering from inability to walk steadily for all her life and from nausea and vomiting that started a month prior to the visit. Doctors at the Chinese PLA General Hospital of Jinan Military Area Command in Shandong Province, East China found out she had a large part of her brain literally missing, which they characterized as "an extremely rare condition" in a case study, published in a recent edition of the scientific journal Brain.

The results of computed tomography (CT) and Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed that the patient had complete absence of the cerebellum - an explanation for her otherwise mysterious "mild mental impairment and medium motor deficits." The space where this part of the brain is supposed to be was filled with cerebrospinal fluid, which protects the organ - both mechanically and immunologically.

As the woman's mother reported, she grew up in a family of five "normal" siblings and parents with no brain disorders. But the girl never entered school, as she couldn't speak intelligibly until the age of six. She also never ran and jumped - in fact, she started walking on her own only being seven years old. However, nothing prevented the woman from leading a normal life - she is married and has a daughter. Astonishingly, her pregnancy and delivery were described as "uneventful".

Spanking undermines trust and compassion

© Peter Dazeley / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images
Spanking erodes developmental growth in children and decreases a child's IQ, a recent Canadian study shows.

This analysis, conducted at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, offers new evidence that corporal punishment causes cognitive impairment and long-term developmental difficulties.

Debates around physical punishment typically revolve around the ethics of using violence to enforce discipline. This inquiry synthesized 20 years of published research on the topic and aims to "shift the ethical debate over corporal punishment into the medical sphere," says Joan Durant, a professor at University of Manitoba and one of the authors of the study.

Residents adopt puppies left behind by dog who died saving commuters in India

sacrifice_ dog
© Unknown
A dog is being hailed as a hero after reportedly jumping into a seemingly ordinary puddle, which, hidden to the six people not far behind him, contained a live wire.

The incident occurred at 8:45 p.m. on Sept. 3. Several people had just disembarked from the Gummidipoondi-Chennai Central local train.

The Times of India describes that as six men came out of Central station, they paused; in that moment, a stray dog barked and jumped into a puddle, after which he instantly became lifeless.

Seconds later, the commuters realized that the pool of water, which they had been about to step into, contained a live wire snapped from an electrical line.

According to the Times of India, the dog had barked to keep the commuters from approaching the dangerous puddle; when they paid no attention to his bark, the dog took its final leap, leaving the humans "stunned by what they saw as an act of supreme sacrifice."

As Dawn Williams, general manager of Blue Cross said, "On Wednesday night, a broken high voltage wire fell in a pool of collected rainwater inside the railway premises. The frantic dog kept barking but people shooed it away. It dashed ahead, jumped in the water, and gave up its life."
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A wife's happiness is more crucial than her husband's in keeping marriage on track, Rutgers study finds

A new Rutgers study finds that a happy wife means a happy life.
When it comes to a happy marriage, a new Rutgers study finds that the more content the wife is with the long-term union, the happier the husband is with his life no matter how he feels about their nuptials.

"I think it comes down to the fact that when a wife is satisfied with the marriage she tends to do a lot more for her husband, which has a positive effect on his life," said Deborah Carr, a professor in the Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Science. "Men tend to be less vocal about their relationships and their level of marital unhappiness might not be translated to their wives."

Carr and Vicki Freedman, a research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, co-authored a research study published in the October issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family on marital quality and happiness among older adults.

The study, done by the two Big Ten universities, differs from previous research, according to Carr, because it examines the personal feelings of both spouses to determine how these marital appraisals influence the psychological well-being of older adults. Researchers analyzed data of 394 couples who were part of a national study of income, health and disability in 2009. At least one of the spouses was 60 or older and on average, couples were married for 39 years.