Science of the Spirit


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.

Paranormal activity caught on video in Old Licking County Jail, Ohio

In the quest for knowledge in regards to the afterlife, one of the things I have noticed is that most paranormal activity happens in places where there was a lot of pain and negativity. Places which have been imprinted by the the living that once dwelled there and now haunt the location.

In one such place, Old Licking Country Jail, paranormal investigators uncover some strange occurrences on the second floor cell block, the horrifying results will shock you. Resonance Paranormal begin with some of the historic presentation from our tour guide about Carl Etherington who is known to haunt this area. Newark was a corrupt town who's economy depended on illegal sales of alcohol. Carl was a "dry agent" who visited Newark to help clean up the city. However, he got involved in a fight with an ex-police officer (who had quit his job to get involved with more profitable alcohol sales and brothels).


How unwanted negative thoughts could be treated by changing memories

Cutting-edge research explores how memories can be modified after recall.

Hope for effectively treating unwanted negative thoughts may come from new techniques that can alter vivid, long-established memories.

Unwanted negative thoughts are core components of problems like addictions and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In PTSD, people suffer from frequent intrusions of traumatic memories from, for example, a car crash or other violent event.

In addictions, people's behaviour is strongly influenced by memories of drug-taking and these motivate their future actions.

These are more extreme versions of the everyday occurrence of having flashbacks to embarrassing moments, or other painful episodes we've experienced.

Comment: Not only unwanted thoughts and trauma, but our life narratives, which are in part based on older interpretations of memories consolidated in a less complete understanding, can be 'reconsolidated': Writing to Heal.

Also, see the forum for discussion of Timothy D. Wilson's - Redirect: The surprising new science of psychological change


In our digital world, are young people losing the ability to read emotions?

© Stephen Nowicki
Students in the study looked at photos and were tested on their ability to recognize the emotions of those pictured.
Children's social skills may be declining as they have less time for face-to-face interaction due to their increased use of digital media, according to a UCLA psychology study.

UCLA scientists found that sixth-graders who went five days without even glancing at a smartphone, television or other digital screen did substantially better at reading human emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices.

"Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs," said Patricia Greenfield, a distinguished professor of psychology in the UCLA College and senior author of the study. "Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues -- losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people -- is one of the costs. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills."

The research will be in the October print edition of Computers in Human Behavior and is already published online.

8 strategies that help with unwanted negative thoughts

negative thoughts
© Shifteye
Research shows that thought suppression doesn't work, so how can you cast out irritating repetitive thoughts?

It's one of the irritations of having a mind that sometimes bad thoughts get stuck going around in it.

It could be a mistake at work, money worries or perhaps a nameless fear. Whatever the anxiety, fear or worry, it can prove very difficult to control.

The most intuitive method for dealing with it is using thought suppression: we try to push it out of our minds.

Unfortunately, as many studies have shown, thought suppression doesn't work. Ironically, trying to push thoughts out of mind only makes them come back stronger. It's a very frustrating finding, but one that's been replicated experimentally again and again.

So, what alternatives exist to get rid of thoughts we'd rather not have going around in our heads?

In an article for American Psychologist, the expert on thought suppression, Daniel Wegner, explains some potential methods for tackling persistent unwanted thoughts (Wegner, 2011). Here are my favourite:

Comment: Strategies 2, 5 and 6, besides being the most effective against negative thought, are all encompassed by the Eiriu Eolas program. Suggestion 8 is also good. The Pennebaker writing exercises are an excellent format.

Magic Wand

A telling sign of our times: Number of 'suicide tourists' goes up in Switzerland

suicide tourists
A pilot study in the Journal of Medical Ethics has found that the number of so-called "suicide tourists" coming to Switzerland for assisted suicide services doubled between 2008 and 2012. During that time period, 611 foreigners committed assisted suicide with the help of Swiss organisations.

Of those, 268 came from Germany, 126 from Britain, 66 from France, 44 from Italy and 21 from the United States, the study said. Overall, foreigners seeking assisted suicide in Switzerland between 2008 and 2012 stemmed from 31 countries.

The pilot study set out to determine the age, gender and country of origin of people who travelled from other countries to Switzerland to seek assisted suicide services, as well as what diseases they were suffering from, using the databases at the University of Zurich's Institute of Legal Medicine. It also sought to examine what effects suicide tourism may have on changes to existing regulations in foreign countries.

Difficulty assessing effort drives motivation deficits in schizophrenia

Individuals with schizophrenia often have trouble engaging in daily tasks or setting goals for themselves, and a new study suggests the reason might be their difficulty in assessing the amount of effort required to complete tasks.
Individuals with schizophrenia often have trouble engaging in daily tasks or setting goals for themselves, and a new study from San Francisco State University suggests the reason might be their difficulty in assessing the amount of effort required to complete tasks.

The research, detailed in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, can assist health professionals in countering motivation deficits among patients with schizophrenia and help those patients function normally by breaking up larger, complex tasks into smaller, easier-to-grasp ones.

"This is one of the first studies to carefully and systematically look at the daily activities of people with schizophrenia -- what those people are doing, what goals are they setting for themselves," said David Gard, an associate professor of psychology at SF State who has spent years researching motivation and emotion. "We knew that people with schizophrenia were not engaging in a lot of goal-directed behavior. We just didn't know why."

Comment: The reader might be interested in reading the following articles:

Schizophrenia and gluten sensitivity - Is there a connection?

Jumping DNA in brain may be cause of schizophrenia


The toxic influence of a psychopath: Abusive leadership infects entire team

Supervisors who are abusive to individual employees can actually throw the entire work team into conflict, hurting productivity, finds new research led by a Michigan State University business scholar.

The study, conducted in China and the United States, suggests the toxic effect of nonphysical abuse by a supervisor is much broader than believed. Published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology, it's one of the first studies to examine the effect of bad bosses in employee teams. Teams are increasingly popular in the business world.

Lead investigator Crystal Farh said supervisors who belittle and ridicule workers not only negatively affect those workers' attitudes and behaviors, but also cause team members to act in a similar hostile manner toward one another.

"That's the most disturbing finding," Farh said, "because it's not just about individual victims now, it's about creating a context where everybody suffers, regardless of whether you were individually abused or not."



Networking: Enhanced communication key to successful teamwork in dynamic environments
From management consulting projects to research and development laboratories to hospital trauma centers, organizations of all types are increasingly creating teams whose members have diverse professional backgrounds. While the allure of these cross-functional teams is their ability to use their diverse knowledge to solve complex problems, not all such teams are able to reach their full potential.

According to new research led by Christian Resick, PhD, an associate professor of management in Drexel University's LeBow College of Business, these teams need to master the art of "information elaboration" discussions. Only through openly exchanging relevant information and ideas, seeking clarification on perspectives offered by others, and discussing and integrating this information and feedback, will specialized cross-functional teams be able to capitalize on their diverse knowledge resources and achieve success, particularly when their projects are dynamic or face disruptive challenges. Together with co-authors Toshio Murase and Leslie A. DeChurch of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Banner Health's Kenneth R. Randall, Resick published a paper entitled, "Information Elaboration and Team Performance: Examining the Psychological Origins and Environmental Contingencies," in the July 2014 issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.