Science of the Spirit


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

© Ralph Orlowski / Reuters
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

© Giovanni Cancemi/Shutterstock
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.

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Frankincense may infuse users with mild euphoria

© flickrhivemind
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.

People 2

Study finds our beliefs and behaviors influenced by shared social connections

© Andrew Yates / Reuters
Attitudes are contagious. People tend to copy each other's opinions. This is not a new idea, but only now have scientists begun to use computer models to try and understand the mechanism which facilitates this. And they say it has to do with large groups.

Apparently, the larger the group, the more "contagious" an idea is, up to the point where one's memory can become shared with someone who has never had the experience, but with whom the first person shares social connections, Stony Brook University researchers have found.

The need for such research was to advance not only our understanding of how memory and perceptions are formed, but how they are shared; and more importantly, what other life processes this model could be applied to, such as habits, fashion and various fads.

"In large social networks, our model demonstrated that information is 'contagious' in much the same way that behavior seems to be contagious," Christian Luhmann and Suparna Rajaram found. "These results suggest that information transmission is a critical mechanism underlying the social transmission of behavior."


Taking breaks throughout workday can increase productivity

How many times do you sit down to get work done and find yourself "working" and yet getting little completed?

Do you set aside big chunks of time to get work done, only to end up feeling like you've barely made a dent in it? Do you have that one task that always seems to get pushed off to the next day? Do you end your workday feeling drained rather than satisfied with what you've accomplished?

This is a sign that you aren't taking enough breaks -- or aren't taking them effectively. We prize this idea of being busy, and see taking a break or getting distracted as a problem.

In reality, rest and relaxation are tools our bodies and minds are trying desperately to get us to use.

Most of us are aware that taking breaks from physical activity is necessary to recuperate and prevent injuries. Taking breaks in our mental work is equally helpful, and can be a great boost to our productivity as well.


2 + 2 = 4

Healing sex addiction triggers: Five tools for sobriety

If you are a recovering alcoholic or drug addict with solid support and a lot of motivated willingness to get well, you can make it through the rest of your life without taking another drink or abusing an addictive drug. Similarly, compulsive gamblers can live a full and happy lives without ever re-entering a casino, betting on the stock market, or playing fantasy football. But for those who struggle with addictions to otherwise highly life-affirming activities like eating and sex, recovery can at times be a daily battle. After all, compulsive eaters in recovery must still eat on a regular basis. And recovering sex addicts, even if they've previously had enough sex to populate China, usually still want (and deserve) to have a healthy sexual and intimate life in recovery.

However, as mentioned in a previous posting to this site, triggers toward addictive sex are relatively unavoidable. Recovering sex addicts inevitably run into attractive people, see sexual acts depicted in movies and on TV, spot their friend's Victoria's Secret catalog on the coffee table, etc. To be honest, triggers toward sexual addiction are almost infinite in both number and variety, and there is not much that recovering sex addicts can do about that beyond learning to recognize when they are feeling triggered and, equally importantly, how to respond in healthy rather than addictive ways.

Comment: For more on how how sex, and more importantly the obsessive preoccupation with it can turn into addiction and affect the brain, check out these articles.