Science of the Spirit


Writing by hand benefits the brain: The lowdown on longhand

My Catholic school third grade teacher was extremely tough on me. Her biggest gripe was my handwriting, which looks more like an EKG scan than penmanship. For years, I harbored not-so-fond memories of her, but now I know that her strictness about penmanship was actually helping my brain develop. Recently, scientists have shown that longhand writing benefits the brain.

Today, cursive writing is becoming a lost art as note taking with laptops becomes more and more prominent in classrooms. But what we are losing is much bigger than a few scratches on a page - we are losing a robust way of learning.

Comment: Read more about the benefits of longhand (handwriting):


Lies and distrust a part of life at age seven

Trust and deception
© Hallgerd/iStockphoto
Trust and deception: Children learn not to always trust what someone else tells them by the age of seven.
We are not born with the ability to lie and distrust, but appear to acquire these 'skills' at around seven years of age, researchers have found.

The team of child psychologists and game theorists published their results today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In their study, a group of 69 children ranging in age from three to nine were engaged in two separate games designed to test their ability to think and act strategically in a social situation.

"One of my areas of interest is in children's ability to protect themselves from misinformation from other people, so I'm naturally interested in children's strategic thinking about other people," says co-author Dr Melissa Koenig, associate professor of child psychology at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota.

The researchers found that children seem to acquire the ability to act strategically based on their assessment of other people's motivations, and learn that they don't always need to trust or tell the truth, at around six or seven years of age.

In the first game -- called 'sender-receiver' -- a piece of candy is hidden in one of two boxes. The sender knows the location of the candy but the receiver does not. The sender points to one of the boxes, not necessarily the box containing the candy. The receiver then selects a box.

If the receiver finds the candy, they get to keep it, and if not, the sender gets the candy, so the sender has an incentive to deceive the receiver if they think the receiver will believe the deception.
Life Preserver

Many nurses unprepared to meet dying patients

A study of more than 200 students has shown that many nurses in training feel unprepared and anxious when faced with the prospect of meeting patients during end-of-life care.
Most nurses in their work care for patients who are dying. A study of more than 200 students has shown that many nurses in training feel unprepared and anxious when faced with the prospect of meeting patients during end-of-life care.

Scientists from the Sahlgrenska Academy have interviewed 222 nursing students at the University of Gothenburg, the University of Skövde and the Ersta Sköndal University College. The interviews dealt with their thoughts about caring for dying patients, their ideas about how to support and meet the patient in dialogue, and their own feelings when faced with dying patients.

Beyond understanding

The interviews showed that even though many students view death as a natural part of life, many find the idea of death to be frightening, and beyond understanding.

"Death awakens feelings of helplessness, insecurity and insufficiency in most nursing students. Some find it natural to talk about death, while others consider it to be the worst thing that can happen and have difficulty coping with the need to talk about it," says Susann Strang, scientist at the Sahlgrenska Academy.

Power trips cloud thinking, lead to illusions of superiority and control

man in suite cloudy head
n life and in fiction we see power "going to the head" of a leader or other person in a position of authority over others. We've all watched this happen in our experience. Some of the most common effects are feelings of superiority and the poor treatment of subordinates.

We also see the more dangerous aspects of power trips, such as when those in power make mistakes on a large scale due to what we might consider their arrogance. The heads of large corporations ignore common sense or advice and make big moves that prove disastrous, for example. The underestimating of the costs of wars by political and military leaders is another example.

Comment: Most of these heads of state and corporations are actually psychopaths. They have risen to positions of power because that is what they crave and they will do anything to achieve their aims, no matter the cost to society. In most of these cases, these are not 'mistakes' or 'underestimating' the costs of war because they could not care less.Their arrogance and feelings of superiority often lead to their demise, but during their monstrous reign and fall they force the society of normal humans to suffer the devastating consequences of their actions.
Psychopathy and the CEO: Top executives have four times the incidence of psychopathy as the rest of us
Psychopaths run the world

How much does power really affect our thinking though? It's a question that recent research has looked at. More specifically, researchers have asked if power creates illusions of control. Does it cause the holder to overestimate his or her ability to control or affect outcomes? The answer seems to be a definite yes. To some extent we actually lose our ability to realistically assess matters and our ability to control events when we are put in a position of power.

Telepathically linked: Scientist transmits message into the mind of a colleague 5,000 miles away using brain waves

The researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) headsets which recorded electrical activity from neurons firing in the brain to convert the words ‘hola’ and ‘ciao’ into binary. In EEG, electrical currents in the brain are linked with different thoughts that are then fed into a computer interface
Brain-wave sensing machines have been used to 'telepathically' control everything from real-life helicopters to characters in a computer game.

Now the technology has gone a step further by allowing someone in India to send an email to his colleague in France using nothing but the power of his mind.

The researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) headsets to record electrical activity from neurons firing in the brain, and convert the words 'hola' and 'ciao' into binary.

Comment: For fascinating discussions covering all things remotely "paranormal" check out SOTT Blogtalk Radio:

Into the Mystic: Interview with Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Into the Supernatural: Interview with Parapsychologist Stephen Braude


Put stress to sleep

As focus and fear turns to the amount of craziness and chaos in the world continuing to explode, it gets harder to stay sane in an insane world - or not get sick trying. Plus, we've all got our own problems to deal with personally. Simply put, stress is the "gift that keeps giving" until it's unwrapped. In that sense, it's benevolent. I think that's why it stays in what we call the subconscious until it is brought forth. Until your body/mind considers it safe to unwrap. Someone once said, "Hell is the possibility of sanity." In a manner of speaking, it's a good type of hell, because it puts you back as the CEO of your life, despite the outside world's demands for "happy insanity." And it can be as temporary as a minor setback if we're actually allowed to get through it - but, we are compelled early on to avoid it, "be happy," suppress, distract, entertain it away, rationalize, deny, fix it immediately, wrap a bow around it...

Comment: Face life with Éiriú Eolas, a stress relief program


New study throws into question long-held belief about depression

© Thinkstock

Comment: Watch out, this is highly misleading. I guess they realized the mouse wasn't depressed when he didn't respond to emo music? We just love how science acts like they've made a big breakthrough in neuroscience when they test something on a mouse. Not the same.

New evidence puts into doubt the long-standing belief that a deficiency in serotonin - a chemical messenger in the brain - plays a central role in depression. In the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience, scientists report that mice lacking the ability to make serotonin in their brains (and thus should have been "depressed" by conventional wisdom) did not show depression-like symptoms.

Donald Kuhn and colleagues at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center and Wayne State University School of Medicine note that depression poses a major public health problem. More than 350 million people suffer from it, according to the World Health Organization, and it is the leading cause of disability across the globe.

In the late 1980s, the now well-known antidepressant Prozac was introduced. The drug works mainly by increasing the amounts of one substance in the brain - serotonin. So scientists came to believe that boosting levels of the signaling molecule was the key to solving depression. Based on this idea, many other drugs to treat the condition entered the picture. But now researchers know that 60 to 70 percent of these patients continue to feel depressed, even while taking the drugs. Kuhn's team set out to study what role, if any, serotonin played in the condition.

Pathology of the overconfident: Self-deceived individuals more likely to be promoted over the more accomplished

Over confident people can fool others into believing they are more talented than they actually are, a study has found.

These 'self-deceived' individuals could be more likely to get promotions and reach influential positions in banks and other organisations. And these people are more likely to overestimate other people's abilities and take greater risks, possibly creating problems for their organisations.

The study by researchers from Newcastle University and the University of Exeter, has also found that those who are under confident in their own abilities are viewed as less able by their colleagues.

The findings, which are published in the journal PLOS ONE, are the first time a link has been found between a person's view of their own ability and how others see their abilities, and could partially explain financial collapses and other disasters.

Comment: Pathological individuals are drawn to institutions like banks and the military because they are able to exercise power and control over others. Those with high levels of narcissism and psychopathy flock to areas where they are experts, heroes, or are able to climb high up the career ladder. These disorders 'want' adoration.

The successful pathological
Social status and incompetence: Why are people overconfident so often?


Scientists discover how to manipulate memories and erase fear

© MorgueFile
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have made an astonishing breakthrough: they believe that they now have the ability to erase feelings of fear or anxiety.The researchers discovered which brain circuits attach emotions to memories but, more importantly, they worked out how to reverse this link.

Traumatic experiences can have a profound and negative effect that leaves people emotionally scarred for life, but neuroscientists believe that it may now be possible for them to erase residual feelings of trauma. This could benefit those suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder and remove the need for strong medication.

The findings of the study, which was published this week in the journal Nature, suggested that feelings of fear were erased in previously traumatised mice, and researchers think that it may be possible for the same technique to be used in humans.

"In our day to day lives we encounter a variety of events and episodes that give positive or negative impact to our emotions," said Susuma Tonegawa, Professor of Biology and Neuroscience at the Riken-MIT Centre for Neural Circuit Genetics."If you are mugged late at night in a dark alley you are terrified and have a strong fear memory and never want to go back to that alley.

"On the other hand if you have a great vacation, say on a Caribbean island, you also remember it for your lifetime and repeatedly recall that memory to enjoy the experience.

"So emotions are intimately associated with memory of past events. And yet the emotional value of the memory is malleable. Recalling a memory is not like playing a tape recorder. Rather it is like a creative process.

"The circuits seem to be very similar between human and mice when it comes to memory formations and the emotions of memories. So a similar technology could be available for humans."

Are we more narcissistic than ever before? The answer is yes!

There was once a young man named Narcissus who was so vain that he fell in love with his own reflection in the water and died. In some versions of the mythological tale from Ancient Greece, Narcissus was transformed into a flower that today carries the name narcissus, or daffodil.

Like the flower, narcissism has continued to flourish in modern culture. "Selfie" was awarded word of the year in 2013 by the Oxford Dictionary. Capturing an image of oneself - once the purview of despondent artists - has become an international pastime. Even politicians rode the trend taking selfies at memorial services. Celebrities continued to be, well, celebrated as well. Miley Cyrus ended 2013 as the most searched person on Google, with Drake and Kim Kardashian coming in at the number two and three spots. Between them they have more "followers" than the population of an average country. And, as both Miley Cyrus's career trajectory and research findings suggest, the importance of fame is more prominent than ever before.