Science of the Spirit


Early life stress can leave lasting impacts on the brain

stress effect on brain
© Jamie Hanson and Seth Pollak
Different forms of early life stress, such as child maltreatment or poverty, impacted the size of two important brain regions: the hippocampus (shown in red) and amygdala (shown in green), according to new University of Wisconsin–Madison research. Children who experienced such stress had small amygdalae and hippocampai, which was related to behavioral problems in these same individuals.
For children, stress can go a long way. A little bit provides a platform for learning, adapting and coping. But a lot of it - chronic, toxic stress like poverty, neglect and physical abuse - can have lasting negative impacts.

A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers recently showed these kinds of stressors, experienced in early life, might be changing the parts of developing children's brains responsible for learning, memory and the processing of stress and emotion. These changes may be tied to negative impacts on behavior, health, employment and even the choice of romantic partners later in life.

The study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, could be important for public policy leaders, economists and epidemiologists, among others, says study lead author and recent UW Ph.D. graduate Jamie Hanson.

Tree hugging is good for you

It has now been confirmed by science that hugging trees can beneficially affect human health by altering vibrational frequency.
tree hugging
© Flickr/Andrea Willa
Hugging a tree may have gained popularity as a maligned hippy practice, but it has now been validated by science to be incredibly beneficial for both people and the planet. Contrary to popular belief, hugging - or even just being in the vicinity of - a tree can boost one's health in several ways.

In a recently published book by author Matthew Silverstone, Blinded by Science, evidence confirming trees and their healthful benefits includes their effect on mental illnesses, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), concentration levels, reaction times, depression, and the ability to alleviate headaches.

How to stop absorbing negative emotions

© wakingtimes
Emotions such as fear, anger, frustration, and immobility are energies. And you can potentially 'catch' these energies from people without realizing it. If you tend to be an emotional sponge, it's vital to know how to avoid taking on an individual's negative emotions, or even how to deflect the free-floating negativities in crowds.

Another twist is that chronic anxiety, depression, or stress can turn you into an emotional sponge by wearing down your defenses. Suddenly, you become hyper-attuned to others, especially suffering with similar pain. That's how empathy works; we zero in on hot-button issues that are unresolved in ourselves.

From an energetic standpoint, negative emotions can originate from several sources: what you're feeling may be your own; it may be someone else's; or it may be a combination. Here is how to tell the difference and strategically bolster your positive emotions so you don't shoulder negativity that doesn't belong to you.
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Big boys don't cry BUT deep down they're more emotional than women, reports new study

They like to show a hard exterior but that emotion is just waiting to come out
* The study found that men felt twice as emotional than women when shown heart-warming video clips

* Emotions were measured by tracking physiological reactions

* Despite showing stronger emotions, men reported feeling less emotional than women

He might like you to believe he's as hard as nails, but don't be fooled by your man's tough exterior.

Enlightening new research has found that men are in fact more emotional than women.

The experiment found that when men and women watched the same heart-warming videos, it was the men who experienced stronger physiological reactions.

But true to type, when asked about their emotions, the women admitted feeling more emotional than the men did.

The research which was carried out by psychology research institute, Mindlab, and commissioned by the Royal Mail, dispels the myth that men don't experience the same range of feelings as women.

Neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis who led the study said, 'Gender stereotypes about men being stoic and women being emotional are reinforced by our day to day consumption of media and our social interactions.

Musical training improves cognitive function in math, language and executive tasks

© Will-travel
People with musical training make better choices and their brains process information more efficiently.
Musical training can boost the executive brain function of both adults and children, according to new research. Both the brains and behaviour of adult and child musicians were compared with non-musicians in the study by researchers at the Boston Children's Hospital. Fifteen musically trained children and 15 adult professional musicians were recruited and matched with non-musicians on a number of variables, like family income, IQ, parental education and so on.

They found that:
"Adult musicians compared to non-musicians showed enhanced performance on measures of cognitive flexibility, working memory, and verbal fluency.

Musically trained children showed enhanced performance on measures of verbal fluency and processing speed..." (Zuk et al., 2014)
Collectively these skills are known by psychologists as 'executive functioning'. High levels of executive functioning are what allow people to make good choices, effective plans and be flexible when situations change.

New way to boost self-control found

© B Calkins/Shutterstock
What if by reframing the consequences of your choices, you could stay away from that tempting plate of cookies? Researchers have found it's possible.
The way the consequences of choices are presented can help people boost their self-control and delay gratification, researchers say.

These new findings could help in areas wherever delaying gratification is needed, such as diet, exercise, finance, addiction, crime and politics, scientists added.

Willpower can help people delay gratification and avoid less valuable rewards that are available immediately to get more valuable rewards later. However, using self-control to delay gratification can be exhausting, and often fails.

"I became interested in studying self-control before applying to graduate school, when I worked as a homeless outreach specialist in New York City," said lead study author Eran Magen, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

"I met a lot of people living through hard times who wanted to get better, but clearly stumbled along the way. It became very clear to me that the ability to make choices that are good for us in the long term is clearly important for a good life, not just for homeless people, but for regular people living regular lives."

As Magen pursued his doctorate, he reviewed prior studies investigating decision-making. "I noticed questions were always asked in the same format - 'Do you want X now or a bigger Y later?'" Magen said. "I felt there was something missing there. Intuition led me to explore what happened if we asked, 'Do you want to receive X now and not receive a bigger Y later, or do you want to receive a bigger Y later but not receive X now?' My intuition was that people might often choose the bigger reward later."

58 Cognitive biases that screw up everything we do

© wikipedia
We like to think we're rational human beings.

In fact, we are prone to hundreds of proven biases that cause us to think and act irrationally, and even thinking we're rational despite evidence of irrationality in others is known as blind spot bias.

The study of how often human beings do irrational things was enough for psychologists Daniel Kahneman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, and it opened the rapidly expanding field of behavioral economics. Similar insights are also reshaping everything from marketing to criminology

Hoping to clue you - and ourselves - into the biases that frame our decisions, we've collected a long list of the most notable ones.

Comment: What's missing from this list is a description of the normalcy bias which, if left unchecked and unrecognized, could have devastating effects for many in the chaotic times ahead.

Magic Wand

Research shows it is possible to develop real life skills while lucid dreaming

© Unknown
You probably won't gain any IQ points, but you really can learn while you sleep, and in more than one way...

You might recall that years ago that there were "sleep learning products" being sold. The basic idea was that if you listened to recordings of things while you slept you could absorb what you heard and integrate it into your knowledge. Thus you might listen to language recordings to learn a new language as you slept. But did it work?

The research done so far says no, you can't really learn from recordings while sleeping. It is possible that people who had some "success" with this technique learned things as they fell asleep and while waking up, but probably not while actually sleeping. That kind of learning is just too complex and it seems it requires consciousness.

Why being in a group causes some to forget their morals

© A Lads Club Escapette
Three reasons good people do bad things.
When people are in a group they are more disconnected from their moral beliefs, according to new neuroscientific research.

The results come from a study which compared how people's brains work when they are alone compared with when they are in a group (Cikara et al., 2014).

The study was inspired by a trip to Yankee Stadium in New York made by Dr Mina Cikara, now an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

On the trip her husband was wearing a Red Sox cap (for non-US readers: the Red Sox are a rival team from Boston).

Comment: It is not the first time this phenomenon and others related to it have been analised with detail by those who might not have our best interests at heart. For more information see our forum discussion Gustav Le Bon -The Crowd: Study of the Popular Mind.
The Crowd; study of the popular mind

Although the book was written 116 years ago in 1896, the author, Gustave Le Bon, was obviously a brilliant mind with a mastery of his subject and the ability and dedication needed to produce a concise and systematic study of the psychology and persuasion of the popular mind.


Clinically Dead? The blurred line between life and death

Door to Heaven
© Sensay/Shutterstock
Sometimes, the line between life and death can seem blurred. In one recent case, a woman was erroneously declared dead after having a heart attack and wound up freezing to death in a body bag in the morgue. Another woman gave birth to a baby three months after she technically died. Then, there was a case of a skier who became submerged under freezing water for hours, but was revived and suffered no brain damage.

These and other cases reveal how hard it can be to distinguish the living from the dead. With the advent of mechanical ventilators, the clear-cut definition of death has now given way to other, more clinical definitions.

But these terms, such as "brain death" and "circulatory death," can create ambiguity about who is dead and who isn't, experts say.