Science of the Spirit
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Psychological manipulation using cognitive dissonance

© Unknown
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.
Chalkboard

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.
People

Transgenerational memories passed down through DNA

DNA
© unknown
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

Family

Stress undermines empathic abilities in men but increases them in women

definition of stress
© Getty Images
Stressed males tend to become more self-centered and less able to distinguish their own emotions and intentions from those of other people. For women the exact opposite is true. Stress, this problem that haunts us every day, could be undermining not only our health but also our relationships with other people, especially for men. Stressed women, however, become more "prosocial," according to new research.

These are the main findings of a study carried out with the collaboration of Giorgia Silani, from the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste. The study was coordinated by the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Unit of the University of Vienna and saw the participation of the University of Freiburg. This is the main finding of a study just published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, carried out with the collaboration of SISSA in Trieste.
People

Contagious yawning may not be linked to empathy; still largely unexplained: What are your observations?

While previous studies have suggested a connection between contagious yawning and empathy, new research from the Duke Center for Human Genome Variation finds that contagious yawning may decrease with age and is not strongly related to variables like empathy, tiredness and energy levels.

The study, published March 14 in the journal PLOS ONE, is the most comprehensive look at factors influencing contagious yawning to date.

The researchers said a better understanding of the biology involved in contagious yawning could ultimately shed light on illnesses such as schizophrenia or autism.

"The lack of association in our study between contagious yawning and empathy suggests that contagious yawning is not simply a product of one's capacity for empathy," said study author Elizabeth Cirulli, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the Center for Human Genome Variation at Duke University School of Medicine.

Contagious yawning is a well-documented phenomenon that occurs only in humans and chimpanzees in response to hearing, seeing or thinking about yawning. It differs from spontaneous yawning, which occurs when someone is bored or tired. Spontaneous yawning is first observed in the womb, while contagious yawning does not begin until early childhood.

Why certain individuals are more susceptible to contagious yawning remains poorly understood. Previous research, including neuroimaging studies, has shown a relationship between contagious yawning and empathy, or the ability to recognize or understand another's emotions. Other studies have shown correlations between contagious yawning and intelligence or time of day.
People 2

Charm or manipulation?

In his new book, Stephen Bayley argues that this is one verbal skill we all should learn

Mention "charm" and everyone gets interested. Often, people get annoyed. You can win friends with charm, but this most delightful subject can also be a reliable way of starting an argument.

Yesterday, I shared a BBC lift with Polly Toynbee to our shared destiny at the Today studio. When I told her my subject, she brightened up and said that the very brainy Isaiah Berlin always made people feel as intelligent as he was.

Was Berlin patronising or charming? He was perhaps a bit of each. Charm makes other people feel good about themselves. And who doesn't want to feel better than they did heretofore? You know you have been charmed if you are enjoying someone's company. And want more of it.
Hourglass

The science of older and wiser

© The New York Times
INFLUENTIAL: Joan and Erik Erikson devised a theory on human development.
Since ancient times, the elusive concept of wisdom has figured prominently in philosophical and religious texts. The question remains compelling: What is wisdom, and how does it play out in individual lives? Most psychologists agree that if you define wisdom as maintaining positive well-being and kindness in the face of challenges, it is one of the most important qualities one can possess to age successfully - and to face physical decline and death.

Vivian Clayton, a geriatric neuropsychologist in Orinda, Calif., developed a definition of wisdom in the 1970s, when she was a graduate student, that has served as a foundation for research on the subject ever since. After scouring ancient texts for evocations of wisdom, she found that most people described as wise were decision makers. So she asked a group of law students, law professors and retired judges to name the characteristics of a wise person. Based on an analysis of their answers, she determined that wisdom consists of three key components: cognition, reflection and compassion.
Info

Outside the body our memories fail us

OBE Experiment
© Staffan Larsson
Swedish actor Peter Bergared took up the role of a fictional, very eccentric examiner in an experiment by Henrik Ehrsson and colleagues at Karolinska Institutet.
New research from Karolinska Institutet and Umeå University demonstrates for the first time that there is a close relationship between body perception and the ability to remember. For us to be able to store new memories from our lives, we need to feel that we are in our own body. According to researchers, the results could be of major importance in understanding the memory problems that psychiatric patients often exhibit.

The memories of what happened on the first day of school are an example of an episodic memory. How these memories are created and how the role that the perception of one's own body has when storing memories has long been inconclusive. Swedish researchers can now demonstrate that volunteers who experience an exciting event whilst perceiving an illusion of being outside their own body exhibit a form of memory loss.

"It is already evident that people who have suffered psychiatric conditions in which they felt that they were not in their own body have fragmentary memories of what actually occurred", says Loretxu Bergouignan, principal author of the current study. "We wanted to see how this manifests itself in healthy subjects."

The study, which is published in the scientific journal PNAS, involved a total of 84 students reading about and undergoing four oral questioning sessions. To make these sessions extra memorable, an actor (Peter Bergared) took up the role of examiner - a (fictional) very eccentric professor at Karolinska Institutet. Two of the interrogations were perceived from a first person perspective from their own bodies in the usual way, while the participants in the other two sessions experienced a created illusion of being outside their own body.

In both cases, the participants wore virtual reality goggles and earphones. One week later, they either underwent memory testing where they had to recall the events and provide details about what had happened, in which order, and what they felt, or they had to try to remember the events while they underwent brain imaging with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Magic Wand

OOBEs: The woman who 'can leave her body at will': Student sheds light on the strange brain activity


Researchers came across a psychology graduate who admitted she could have voluntary out-of-body experiences before she fell asleep. The 24-year-old revealed she is able to see herself floating horizontally in the air above her body, rotating and can sometimes watch herself from above (illustrated).
People have long been fascinated by out-of-body experiences - are they just tricks of the mind or do they have some sort of spiritual significance?

Now new research has shed light on what it terms as 'extra-corporeal experiences' by studying the brain activity of a Canadian woman who claims she can drift outside her own body at will.

Scientists believe the left side of several areas of the brain associated with kinaesthetic imagery (the perception of the sensation of moving) are responsible for the sensation of being able to leave your body and float above it - and that more people might have similar experiences than thought.

Researchers at the University of Ottawa came across a psychology graduate who admitted she could have voluntary out-of-body experiences before she fell asleep.
Key

Why we hold grudges about little injuries but forgive big ones

Why do people forgive the guy who burned their house down, but still hate that one relative who had a nasty tone while thanking them for a birthday present? Here's why we nurse grudges about small things, but forgive the big ones.

We seem to have a kind of pettiness built into our nature. We will watch soppy movies about the redemption of murderers, or long tv series about gleeful serial killers, but have a character in a movie litter and we want them in prison. Our real lives are not exempt from this. We can nurse a grudge against someone who gave us a dirty look for years. When someone we love screams at us, we forgive them in a few days.
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