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Treating anxiety & depression with mindfulness

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Mindfulness dates back to ancient Buddhism, and involves living in the moment and focusing on the present thoughts, emotions, and sensations.
According to a new study out of Lund University in Sweden, mindfulness can be just as effective as your typical therapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which necessitates focusing on negative thoughts and having a discussion, as well as running experiments, on them.

The study, led by Professor Jan Sundquist, was held at 16 primary health care centers in southern Sweden. The researchers trained two mindfulness instructors at each health care center during a six-day training course. Participants of the study, who suffered from depression, anxiety, or severe stress, were gathered into groups of 10 for structured group mindfulness treatment. The patients also received a private training program, and were asked to record their exercises and thoughts in a journal. For eight weeks, all 215 of them went through mindfulness therapy, then answered questions about their depression and anxiety. The researchers found that self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety had decreased during the treatment period.

Comment: Meditation is a tool that can regulate and reduce stress levels in addition to increasing calm and relaxation in the body, mind and spirit. Meditation also brings the practitioner into the present moment, allowing the opportunity for a greater sense of being. To learn more about the benefits of meditation visit the Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program.

Read more about Better living through mindfulness:

Bulb

Curiosity prepares the brain for better learning and long-term memory

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Do we live in a holographic universe? How green is your coffee? And could drinking too much water actually kill you?

Before you click those links you might consider how your knowledge-hungry brain is preparing for the answers. A new study from the University of California, Davis, suggests that when our curiosity is piqued, changes in the brain ready us to learn not only about the subject at hand, but incidental information, too.

Neuroscientist Charan Ranganath and his fellow researchers asked 19 participants to review more than 100 questions, rating each in terms of how curious they were about the answer. Next, each subject revisited 112 of the questions - half of which strongly intrigued them whereas the rest they found uninteresting - while the researchers scanned their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

During the scanning session participants would view a question then wait 14 seconds and view a photograph of a face totally unrelated to the trivia before seeing the answer. Afterward the researchers tested participants to see how well they could recall and retain both the trivia answers and the faces they had seen.

Ranganath and his colleagues discovered that greater interest in a question would predict not only better memory for the answer but also for the unrelated face that had preceded it. A follow-up test one day later found the same results - people could better remember a face if it had been preceded by an intriguing question. Somehow curiosity could prepare the brain for learning and long-term memory more broadly.

The findings are somewhat reminiscent of the work of U.C. Irvine neuroscientist James McGaugh, who has found that emotional arousal can bolster certain memories. But, as the researchers reveal in the October 2 Neuron, curiosity involves very different pathways.

Comment: Curiosity's Evil Twin Can Drive You Insane

Dollar

Monkeys aren't fooled by luxury prices

Price and Quality
© zhrkznn/iStockphoto
Unlike humans, monkeys don't assume high price means better quality.
Monkeys do not share our irrational preference for more expensive, branded goods over cheaper equivalents, researchers have found.

A study in capuchin monkeys, published today in Frontiers in Psychology, showed that unlike humans, they are less swayed by price and more likely to choose based on personal preference.

Co-author Professor Laurie Santos, from Yale University, says the work stems from an interest in economic biases in primates.

"We got interested in trying to look at what parts of human cognition are evolutionarily old, and we were particularly interested in some of our more irrational biases to try to see where those came from," Santos says.

The capuchin monkeys in the study had been previously trained in a 'token market', so they knew how to use tokens to purchase flavoured ice blocks from the experimenter.

They also knew that some flavours were more expensive than others, in that a single token would buy them less of one particular flavour than of another flavour.

After this training, the researchers placed the monkeys in the situation where the flavoured ice blocks were freely available, without any need for tokens, and the monkeys were allowed to choose whichever flavours they liked.
Bulb

Humans are capable of precognition on a subconscious level

science head
Over the past few decades a significant and noteworthy amount of scientific research has emerged contributing to the notion that human precognition could very well be real, and that we all might possess this potential -amongst various other extended human capacities. Thanks to the research by various scientists presented in this article, extended human capacities are beginning to exit the realm of superstitious thinking, delusion and irrationality and find their way into the world of confirmed phenomena. Claims of precognition or "future telling" have occurred "throughout human history in virtually every culture and period." (source- PDF)

It's not hard to see why we are so fascinated with these concepts, they are embedded in popular culture today throughout various outlets such as movies -which can sometimes be counter productive given the fact that they are merged with fictional stories and events. Similar to the extraterrestrial phenomenon, the validity of these concepts seems to shrink due to the fact that they are "just movies." Although the stories that accompany these types of phenomena in movies is probably largely factious, the concepts do hold some validity. Let's examine the truth behind precognition and claims of "future telling."

Comment: For more on unconscious processing see Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow or our forum thread on the same topic.

Blue Planet

Tree hugging is good for your health

I'm sure most people have heard of the term "tree-hugger," often a nickname given to people who care about the environment and the planet. But did you know that hugging trees can actually improve your health? As a matter of fact, you don't even have to hug a tree to reap the numerous health benefits, just being around trees and plants in nature is enough.

In a book that was published by author Matthew Silverstone entitled, "Blinded By Science" the evidence confirming the healthful benefits of trees includes the effects they have on various issues like depression, concentration levels and even the ability to alleviate headaches. This practice has been going on since ancient times so it's not just a new discovery.

Comment: More insightful information on the healing effects of forests:

Family

Sons' intelligence linked to fathers' criminal history


Sons whose fathers have criminal records tend to have lower cognitive abilities than sons whose fathers have no criminal history.
Sons whose fathers have criminal records tend to have lower cognitive abilities than sons whose fathers have no criminal history, data from over 1 million Swedish men show. The research, conducted by scientists in Sweden and Finland, indicates that the link is not directly caused by fathers' behavior but is instead explained by genetic factors that are shared by father and son.

The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"The findings are important because cognitive ability is among the most important psychological predictors of many important life outcomes, including socioeconomic success and health," says lead researcher Antti Latvala of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the University of Helsinki in Finland.

Research looking across generations in families has shown that children of parents who engage in "antisocial" behaviors -- such as rule-breaking, aggressive, or violent behavior -- are at greater risk for various negative outcomes, including criminality, psychiatric disorders, substance use, and low academic achievement. And research has also shown that individuals who engage in antisocial behaviors tend to have poorer cognitive abilities than those without antisocial tendencies.
People

Is American society becoming more narcissistic?

Narcissus
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Narcissus
It has been exactly one hundred years since Sigmund Freud penned his pivotal essay "On Narcissism." It's easy to wonder how the father of psychoanalysis might react to society today, especially the millennials who came of age around the year 2000 and have been dubbed the "Me Me Me Generation." The social media-focused culture of selfies, Twitter, and Facebook is often criticized for making Americans, younger ones in particular, more self-absorbed and entitled.

But are we, in fact, more narcissistic than we were a few decades ago? Are millennials more narcissistic than previous generations? Or are we too lightly employing that word, which describes a mental illness diagnosis?

"I don't think people are usually referring to a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) when they toss around the term 'narcissism' today," says Aaron Pincus, Penn State professor of psychology.

"Narcissism has both normal and pathological forms of expression," he explains. "Most of the recent media coverage has focused on what I refer to as normal narcissism. It's normal for individuals to see themselves in a positive light and to seek out self-enhancement experiences such as successful achievements and competitive victories."

Comment: To become more informed on the subject of narcissism read:

Narcissism Victim Syndrome - a new diagnosis?

You can also review the following articles to gain a better understanding of the 'nature of the beast':

The narcissistic family diagnosis and-treatment

5 things you didn't know about Narcissistic personality disorders

Do Narcissists Dislike Themselves "Deep Down Inside"?

Hurting you isn't something narcissists do by accident

Bulb

How various brain areas interact in decisions, and how not to be a slave to our destructive emotions

The value of a piece of chocolate cake can change. Someone who happens to be on a diet is more likely to choose a fruit dessert and judge the calorie-laden cake as unhealthy. Previous studies have shown that a specific network in the brain is active when a person must decide between various choices that vary depending on context. They emphasize the interaction between neurons in two brain areas of the prefrontal cortex - the controlling area on the front side of the brain.

Prefrontal cortex shows increased activity in all decisions

Sarah Rudorf and Todd Hare of the Department of Economics of the University of Zurich were able to show those areas of the brain that are most active in the process of decision making in their new study. Their results indicate that the neuronal interactions between the so-called dorsolateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortex not only play a central role when a person needs to decide between several options, but also are decisive in general for flexible decision making. This contradicts the belief that increased activity in the prefrontal cortex only occurs when self-control is required when deciding between conflicting preferences.

Comment: Watch the following excellent talk by Daniel Goleman, who puts an emphasis on emotional intelligence and shows how skills such as self-awareness, emotional-mastery, empathy, and social effectiveness have a great impact on career success and better social interactions. He also explains the importance of "thinking with the prefrontal cortex", and thus avoiding "amygdala hijack" - a state that can destroy all the previous efforts and achievements.



Cult

The 'crazy-making' aspects of fundamentalist Christianity

Pat Robertson
© Jeff Wells
Pat Robertson
I am thirty years old and I am struggling to find sanity. Between the Christian schools, homeschooling, the Christian group home (indoctrinating work camp), and different churches in different cities, I am a psychological, emotional, and spiritual mess.
- A former evangelical Christian

If a former believer says that Christianity made him depressed, obsessive, or post-traumatic, he is likely to be dismissed as an exaggerator. He might describe panic attacks about the rapture, moods that swing from ecstasy about God's overwhelming love to suicidal self-loathing about repeated sins, or an obsession with sexual purity. A symptom like one of these clearly has a religious component, yet many people instinctively blame the victim. They will say that the wounded former believer was prone to anxiety or depression or obsession in the first place - that his Christianity somehow got corrupted by his predisposition to psychological problems. Or they will say that he wasn't a real Christian. If only he had prayed in faith or loved God with all his heart, soul and mind, if only he had really been saved - then he would have experi­enced the peace that passes all understanding.

Comment: Previous research has shown that religious faith has been shown to actually shrink the brain.
Protestants who did not identify themselves as born-again were found to have less atrophy in the hippocampus region than did born-again Protestants, Catholics or those with no religious affiliation. Frequency of worship was not found to have a bearing on results, while participants who said they had undergone a religious experience were found to have more atrophy than those who did not.

Although the brain tends to shrink with age, atrophy in the hippocampus has been linked with depression and Alzheimer's disease.


Family

Book review: The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and treatment

© Jossey-Bass Publishing
If you are confused about your own people pleasing tendencies, need for external approval, and even your own feelings, I suggest you read The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman.

In their work as therapists, the authors discovered an unusual trend - patients with traits similar to adult children of alcoholics, but no evidence that their parents were substance abusers. Moreover, many of the patients did not recall any overt abuse as children. So why then were these patients exhibiting the dysfunctional psychological, interpersonal, and work traits of abuse survivors?

The answer was a different type of dysfunctional family. Coined by the authors as the narcissistic family, what these patients all had in common was that as children, the needs of their parents took precedence over their needs. This is in contrast to healthy families, who put the needs of their children first. Without further explanation, this discovery might not seem wholly worthy of the label 'dysfunction'.

So to explain, a basic goal for most families is to raise healthy children who will one day become independent adults. In a healthy family, parents work to accomplish this task by assuming responsibility for their children's emotional and physical needs. Over time, parents gradually teach their children to be independent by allowing them to assume responsibility for meeting their own needs in a developmentally appropriate manner. Thus, the primary work of children is to learn to become independent adults. Along the way, they learn to identify and act on their feelings, wants and needs. Parents take care of their own needs or seek help from adults. As a bonus, the children have also learned how to be good parents through the process of observational learning.

In narcissistic families, this basic goal becomes skewed and the meeting of parental needs becomes of primary importance for the family. This twist generally takes place some time after infancy, as the authors point out that most children of narcissistic families were well cared for as babies. In fact, it is mostly likely to occur some time after the child begins to differentiate him or her self from the parents and begins to assert their own needs. This normal developmental process is difficult for parents who are most concerned with fulfilling their own needs as a result of job stress, physical or mental disability, or lack of parenting skills, to name a few reasons. To compensate, the parents fight back, ignoring the child's needs and at the same time forcing the child to respond to their own by withholding attention and affection until they do so. In this way, the children's emotional needs go unattended and they are deprived of the opportunity to experience gradual independence and learn about themselves. Instead, they learn to wait to see what their parents expect and then react, negatively or positively, to those expectations.

Comment: When pleasing others is done out of fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of humiliation, fear of punishment or other negative feelings it usually arises from people who have/had overly critical parents. Typically, a need to please and care for others is a healthy trait to have. In the narcissistic family dynamic, it is twisted and distorted to serve the needs of the parents. In that environment, a child must conform to the wants and needs of the parent and does not develop their own individuality or learn to express their OWN emotions or needs.

These dynamics are perfectly mirrored by people in society who look to assuage their fear in the wrong places, motivated by them, seeking some sense of security.
Human relationships are plagued by fear. This cycle all too often begins in our first relationship with our parents. Too self-absorbed to recognize what their child truly requires of them, many parents betray their own child's weakness and dependency on his caregivers - his emotional need for comfort, security, trust, and the loving acceptance of those closest to him. Having missed out on these important periods of growth, this boy, now a parent himself, may come to feel threatened by the emotional needs of his own child, becoming dependent on his own children and spouse to provide what he never had. The vicious cycle spirals on, and in turn, his own children learn to stifle their needs, deny their own feelings, and live as hollow reflections of the needs of their father. When a child must meet the emotional needs of a parent, and not the other way around, the parent-child relationship is inverted. Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert Pressman call this the 'narcissistic family dynamic', and the problems it causes are directly relevant to the vast geopolitical problems the world currently faces.

Such children, like their parents, seek some source of comfort, some sense of security, but not knowing where to look and what to look out for, they often find it in all the wrong places: their own children, their lovers, their work, some religious or political cause. As much as they may deny it, they are motivated by the very fears they experienced as children - afraid of being alone, not belonging, uncertain, unloved, confused, abandoned. They find shelter from the pain in some literal or symbolic arms of embrace, yet it is incomplete in some way, like the 'security' of a sinking ship or of a castle built on foundations of sand. Not wanting to let go, and face that pain again, they shore up their defenses - a rallying of troops to give 'the people', their own fragmented personalities, a sense of security. But such a cover-up is built upon and dependent on lies, things half-seen through the lens of denied and distorted emotion. We may be denying that we are in a relationship with a psychopath, someone who, despite the abuse and mental torture they subject us to, offers us some sense of comfort and stability in life. Or we may deny our own betrayal of our loved ones' emotional needs: the child we criticize and deform according to our own twisted ideals or the lover we demand to be someone they are not.

I find it fascinating how these dynamics of a single human soul mirror so well the delusions of the many. Just as we rally our mental forces to hold onto that equilibrium we desperately fear losing, we rally our military forces to protect us from enemies that do not exist, covering up problems at home that dwarf those projected 'out there'. How does this come to be? So far in this series, I've described psychopaths - individuals devoid of conscience, incapable of remorse, and hungry for power - and their infiltration of corporations and politics - two seats of power in the modern era.

Manipulating mass emotion, particularly fear, is their modus operandi. It's commonly said that politicians exploit fear, but what is missing from this truism is an understanding of exactly what motivates them to do so, why they're so good at it, and the extent to which they go about doing so. Psychopaths understand human behavior, often better than we understand ourselves. In the last article I quoted a diagnosed psychopath, Sam Vaknin, describing how he used emotional abuse and insults to break down his victims. It was just one example of the special psychological knowledge possessed by psychopaths, refined after a lifetime of observing and interacting with 'others' whose foreign emotional reactions strike them as so comical and ridiculous. When this special knowledge is translated onto the global stage, you get geopolitics and all the propaganda and lies that accompany it.

Ponerology 101: The Truth Behind the War on Terror
Additional narcissism resources

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