Science of the Spirit


Another reason to not mix work and family: Money makes parenting less meaningful

Money and parenting don't mix. That's according to new research that suggests that merely thinking about money diminishes the meaning people derive from parenting. The study is one among a growing number that identifies when, why, and how parenthood is associated with happiness or misery.

"The relationship between parenthood and well-being is not one and the same for all parents," says Kostadin Kushlev of the University of British Columbia. While this may seems like an obvious claim, social scientists until now have yet to identify the psychological and demographic factors that influence parental happiness.

New research being presented today at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) conference in Austin offers not only insight into the link between money and parental well-being but also a new model for understanding a variety of factors that affect whether parents are happier or less happy than their childless counterparts.

Money creates conflicting goals

Fascinated by research suggesting that parenting is linked to lower well-being, Kushlev and his adviser Elizabeth Dunn sought to determine which aspects of life might influence how much pleasure and pain people got out of being parents. They specifically looked at the influence of wealth on meaning in parenthood.

Empathy works! Caring for animals may correlate with positive traits in young adults

Young adults who care for an animal may have stronger social relationships and connection to their communities, according to a paper published online today in Applied Developmental Science.

While there is mounting evidence of the effects of animals on children in therapeutic settings, not much is known about if and how everyday interactions with animals can impact positive youth development more broadly.

"Our findings suggest that it may not be whether an animal is present in an individual's life that is most significant but rather the quality of that relationship," said the paper's author, Megan Mueller, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and research assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. "The young adults in the study who had strong attachment to pets reported feeling more connected to their communities and relationships."
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How to handle manipulators

© Unknown
In an earlier column addressing toxic friendships, I briefly described the "social exchange" theory of friendship development: Friendships and other relationships involve their own versions of economic systems, in that we make investments in them using "relationship acumen" akin to "financial acumen."

This may sound callous, but the truth is that few of us are willing to invest time and energy into activities or relationships that do not promise some measure of return. In business, we hear about the metric called Return on Investment, or ROI. When the expected return outweighs projected costs - in terms of cash, publicity, good will, exposure, leverage, or a host of different currencies - it is much more likely that the investment will be made.

Friendships also involve an ROI analysis, even if we don't consciously crunch any numbers or measure our expectations for outcome. Friendships are often established on the basis of shared interests, proximity, or similarity between acquaintances. We slowly open ourselves up to a growing relationship with another person with whom we feel some affinity.
Better Earth

8 ancient beliefs now backed by modern science

The Earth may not be flat nor is it the center of the universe, but that doesn't mean old-world intellectuals got everything wrong. In fact, in recent years, modern science has validated a number of teachings and beliefs rooted in ancient wisdom that, up until now, had been trusted but unproven empirically.

A full 55 pages of Arianna Huffington's new book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, are dedicated to these scientific breakthroughs that often confirm the power of ancient psychology and contemplative practices. On an intuitive level, we've known for centuries that these lifestyle practices can help us lead happy, healthy and balanced lives. But now, with the support of hard science, we can embrace these pieces of ancient wisdom and start really living them.

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Some of the key elements seem to be the capacity to live for a greater goal, to share it with others, and to SEE reality as it is (which also involves acquiring knowledge about the lies behind conventional medical treatments, cultural programming, and the world at large).

This is why we often recommend the Éiriú Eolas program, a series of very simple exercises that you can practice at any time and place. Its benefits stem from the stimulation of the vagus nerve.

And what does the vagus nerve do?
- Vagus nerve's role in regulating inflammation
- Vagus Nerve Controls Intestinal Inflammation
- Nerve stimulation for severe depression changes brain function

The vagus nerve stimulation has also been proven to improve social relationships, altruistic tendencies, and social bonding.

You can find out more visiting the Éiriú Eolas website.

If you are one of the many people who have difficulties meditating with "an empty mind", this program might help you. It contains a series of affirmations that keep you focused and appeal to the creative side in all of us, the thirst for knowledge about oneself and the world, and allows for emotional release, which helps work toward a more fulfilling life and a happiness that is based on knowledge.

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Criminal minds are different from yours, brain scans show

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CT scans of a human brain.
The latest neuroscience research is presenting intriguing evidence that the brains of certain kinds of criminals are different from those of the rest of the population.

While these findings could improve our understanding of criminal behavior, they also raise moral quandaries about whether and how society should use this knowledge to combat crime.

The criminal mind

In one recent study, scientists examined 21 people with antisocial personality disorder - a condition that characterizes many convicted criminals. Those with the disorder "typically have no regard for right and wrong. They may often violate the law and the rights of others," according to the Mayo Clinic.

Brain scans of the antisocial people, compared with a control group of individuals without any mental disorders, showed on average an 18-percent reduction in the volume of the brain's middle frontal gyrus, and a 9 percent reduction in the volume of the orbital frontal gyrus - two sections in the brain's frontal lobe.

Springtime suicide peak still puzzles scientists

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Springtime does not necessarily bring relief to people with depression. In fact, suicide rates around the world peak in spring.

On an average day, 105 Americans lose their lives to suicide. And counterintuitively, more of these lives are lost when the weather is warm and the sun shines bright.

Folk wisdom holds that winter is the most common time for suicides, with depressive symptoms exacerbated by cold, dark weather. Another myth suggests that suicides spike around the holidays, when struggling people feel left out of the cultural cheer.

In fact, studies dating back to the late 1800s find that suicides peak in the spring and are lowest in winter. One 1995 study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine examined monthly suicide rates in 28 countries and found that in 25 in the Northern Hemisphere, suicides were most common in May and ebbed in February.

Similar findings occur in the Southern Hemisphere - in South Africa, for example, suicides peak in the southern spring, in September and October, according to a 1997 study in the journal Psychiatry Research.

The reason for this seasonality is unknown, but there are hints. Some researchers think weather or the ebb and flow of sociality drives the trend; others blame inflammatory processes that increase in spring.

Sleep deprivation: The 10 most profound psychological effects

© EdMilson de Lima
Lack of sleep may feel horrible, but what is it really doing to the mind and brain?
American Randy Gardner holds the record for the longest ever scientifically documented intentional period without sleep. Without the aid of stimulants, he managed to stay awake for 264.4 hours, or 11 days and 24 minutes. Part of his motivation was to show that sleep deprivation wasn't that bad for you. He was wrong: it is bad for you.

In fact he suffered paranoia, hallucinations, moodiness and a whole host of psychological problems, many described below. It's just he did not notice many of the problems: that's how sleep deprivation gets you.

Here are 10 of the most profound psychological effects of sleep deprivation, on top of the fact that it feels horrible.

1. Sleepy brains work harder

Since brains that are sleep deprived aren't as efficient, they have to work harder.

This has been demonstrated in brain imaging studies which show the brains of the sleep deprived desperately pumping energy into the prefrontal cortex, trying to overcome the effects of sleep deprivation.

Psychological manipulation using cognitive dissonance

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The study of psychology results is useful knowledge about how we think and act, which (we hope) can be used to make our lives better. But the knowledge gained can also be used to manipulate people. The various forms of psychological manipulation are usually subliminal, meaning they happen without the conscious awareness of their use by the target. I've reported on these techniques before, and will continue to do so.

My goal isn't to provide you with tools to do nasty things, but to make you aware of tricks that might be used on you. Also, this information is just plain interesting. So with that in mind, here is what you need to know (or might like to know) about cognitive dissonance and how it is used for psychological manipulation.

Fear of math: How much is genetic?

© Brittney Bush Bollay
A new study finds two ways that genetic factors are important in the fear of math.
The fear of math has a genetic component, according to a new study to be published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (Wang et al., 2014).

The avoidance of mathematical problems and equations by children and adults isn't just down to bad early experiences with math or poor teaching.

To reach this conclusion, the study looked at the math anxiety of twins to tease out the genetic component. Zhe Wang, lead author of the study, explained the results:
"We found that math anxiety taps into genetic predispositions in two ways: people's cognitive performance on math and their tendency toward anxiety."
In other words people are anxious about math not just because they are generally anxious people and they're anxious about everything, but also because of genetically poor math/thinking skills.

Transgenerational memories passed down through DNA

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New research from Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA.

During the tests they learned that that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences - in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom - to subsequent generations.

According to the Telegraph, Dr Brian Dias, from the department of psychiatry at Emory University, said: "From a translational perspective, our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.

Comment: Also see: Memories may be stored on your DNA