Science of the Spirit
Map

Family

Study of twins finds nature and nurture play equal parts in psychological makeup

Image
© Shutterstock
The effect of genetics versus the environment is around 50/50, a new study finds. When it comes to personality, intelligence, health and many other factors, nature and nurture play their part equally.

To reach this conclusion, scientists have reviewed almost every twin study conducted in the last 50 years. The research included data from 14,558,903 pairs of twins, measuring 17,804 individual traits across 2,748 separate publications.

Dr Beben Benyamin, one of the study's authors, said:
"There has still been conjecture over how much variation is caused by genetics and how much is caused by environmental factors — what people call nature versus nurture.

We wanted to resolve that by revisiting almost all the genetic twin studies conducted over the past 50 years, and comparing all of them together.
Dr Benyamin explained the study's results:
"...there is overwhelming evidence that both genetic and environmental factors can influence traits and diseases.

What is comforting is that, on average, about 50 per cent of individual differences are genetic and 50 per cent are environmental.

The findings show that we need to look at ourselves outside of a view of nature versus nurture, and instead look at it as nature and nurture."

Smoking

Smokers don't vote and mistrust politics

A University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research shows a new dimension to the marginalization of smokers: people who smoke are less likely to vote than their non-smoking peers.

"One on hand, the result is intuitive. We know from previous research that smokers are an increasingly marginalized population, involved in fewer organizations and activities and with less interpersonal trust than nonsmokers. But what our research suggests is that this marginalization may also extend beyond the interpersonal level to attitudes toward political systems and institutions," says Karen Albright, PhD, assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, and the paper's first author.

The data comes from the Colorado Tobacco Attitudes and Behaviors Study (C-TABS), a questionnaire administered by Arnold Levinson, PhD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center, director of the University Health Smoking Cessation Program, and the paper's senior author.

Through random digit dialing, the study reached 11,626 people who completed a telephone survey querying a range of demographic, social, and behavioral factors. Questions included smoking behaviors and whether the respondent had voted in a recent election. Overall, 17 percent of respondents were smokers. Holding all other variables constant (included variables of socioeconomic status that were strongly associated with smoking), daily smokers were 60 percent less likely to vote than nonsmokers.

The study is the first to link a health-risk behavior with electoral participation, building on the work of a previous Swedish study that found an association between smoking and political mistrust. Voting is a direct behavioral measure of civic and political engagement that at least partly reflects trust in formal political institutions.

Comment: Maybe smokers are just smarter and cannot that easily be hoodwinked by our corrupt political system:


Mr. Potato

Let the kids learn through play

Image
© Bjorn Lie
Twenty years ago, kids in preschool, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing: building with blocks, drawing or creating imaginary worlds, in their own heads or with classmates. But increasingly, these activities are being abandoned for the teacher-led, didactic instruction typically used in higher grades. In many schools, formal education now starts at age 4 or 5. Without this early start, the thinking goes, kids risk falling behind in crucial subjects such as reading and math, and may never catch up.

The idea seems obvious: Starting sooner means learning more; the early bird catches the worm.

Comment: For more on how school affects children, see this Sott articles:
We don't need no education: Seven sins of compulsory schooling


Eye 1

Psychopaths and society

© Winnipeg Free Press
After a conventional mid-Western childhood and up through university, my first encounter with a serious mental aberration was in the US Army in Germany when I worked for an Army captain, the likes of whom I had never seen. He was a pathological liar, and repeatedly claimed to be a "tough son-of-a-bitch" or a "mean son-of-a-bitch." The gentleman was erratic and abusive toward lower ranks, was indecisive in action until given direction by higher authority, but maintained a correct attitude toward senior officers who publicly commended him based more on his appearance and speaking ability than on any performance. I seriously thought he must be crazy. Our Colonel, whom had previously spoken highly of the Captain, caught the Captain in a serious operational dishonesty, and it was "Good-bye, Captain!" In the next eleven years I worked for three more very similar personalities in the military and in industry.

Years later in the 1970s there were a series of psychopathic serial murder cases (Ted Bundy, Dean Corll, John Wayne Gacy) but I did not relate my experiences with military officers and industrial mangers to serial murderers. It was not until the 1990s that there were several cases of widely publicized corporate fraud (Bernie Ebbers at WorldCom, Jeff Skilling at Enron) and the perpetrators were identified as corporate psychopaths. This was the type personality that I had observed decades earlier and I now have professional confirmation that I have worked for four different psychopathic-type personalities.

Comment: Chances are you crossed paths with a psychopath today. Check out:


Butterfly

Acceptance of reality is key to ending the suffering of emotional pain

All of us experience pain. This pain might stem from losing a loved one, losing a job, ending a relationship, being in a car accident or undergoing any other kind of trauma or situation.

Pain is inevitable. It is part of being human. Often, however, we add to our pain and create suffering, according to Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, in her book Calming the Emotional Storm: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Manage Your Emotions & Balance Your Life.

In the book, Van Dijk focuses on four sets of skills in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which was developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. Van Dijk shares insights on everything from validating our emotions to being more effective in our lives to getting through a crisis to improving our relationships.

We create suffering by not accepting reality. For instance, we say things like "It's not fair," "Why me?", "This shouldn't have happened" or "I can't bear it!" writes Van Dijk, a mental health therapist in Sharon, Ontario, Canada.

Our instinct is to fight the pain, she writes. Normally, this instinct is protective. But in the cases of pain, it backfires. We might avoid our pain or pretend it isn't present. We might turn to unhealthy behaviors. We might ruminate about our suffering, without doing anything about it. We might turn to substances to forget the pain.

Instead, the key is to accept your reality. "Acceptance simply means that you stop trying to deny your reality and you acknowledge it instead," Van Dijk writes.

Comment: While it is often painful to have the veil of our illusions lifted, we cannot truly move forward or begin the healing process until we acknowledge the reality of the unpleasant situations in which we may find ourselves. Only then can we begin to take necessary steps to open a door to new possibilities.

The Necessity of Disillusionment


People

Are you a perfectionist? Having high standards can make you antisocial, says study

Image

Study has identified three types of perfectionists, who set high standards and like to be organised and precise - 'self-orientated', 'socially-prescribed' and 'other-orientated'.
Having a perfectionist on your team at work might well be considered a positive when you're striving to do a good job.

But beware - they could have a dark side.

Researchers have found that the type of perfectionist who sets impossibly high standards for others also tends to be narcissistic, antisocial, and more likely to make jokes at the expense of others.

These people, described by psychologists as 'other-oriented' perfectionists, care little about social norms and also struggle with intimacy, the study of 229 people by the University of Kent found.

Evil Rays

Parental anxiety is contagious and can be passed to children

This mental health problem can pass between family members unless precautions are taken.

Anxiety is 'contagious' and can be passed from parents to children and the other way, a new study finds.

The 'catching' nature of anxious thoughts and behaviours exists over and above the effects of genetics.

That's the conclusion of a new study of twins conducted by researchers in the UK.

Professor Thalia Eley, who led the study, said that anxious parents should avoid passing it on to their children through their behaviour:
"Our research shows that even if you have had to cope with high levels of anxiety yourself, it is not inevitable that this will follow in your children.

There are many things that can be done at home to prevent or reduce anxiety in children and adolescents.

Whilst a natural tendency when your child is anxious is to try to protect them, it can be more helpful to support them in taking small age-appropriate risks.

This will teach them that the world is generally a safe place and they can manage situations that initially seem stressful, developing their sense of mastery and in turn promoting resilience."
Anxiety, one of the most common mental health problems, is already well-known to have a strong genetic component.

Comment: There are many ways to alleviate anxiety, and knowing that your behavior affects not only you but those nearby may be an additional motivating factor to try some helpful techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, or improving your diet.

The effects of anxiety on your brain and what you can do to help yourself


Heart

Rather than eat sweets empathic rats will save their buddies from drowning

© Shutterstock
White lab mice
Rats are once again in the news. About a month and half ago I published an essay called "The Emotional Lives of Rats: Rats Read Pain in Others' Faces" in which I discussed research that showed that rats are able to read the pain that other rats are suffering. This study adds to an ever growing list of research projects showing that rats have evolved rather rich cognitive and emotional capacities including showing regret (please see "Rats Regret What They Didn't Do: Behavioral Neuroscience") and displaying empathy and freeing trapped rats from being restrained (please see "Empathic Rats Free Known Trapped Rats From Being Restrained"). In the latter experiment (please see Ben-Ami Bartal, I., Decety, J., & Mason, P. 2011. Empathy and pro-social behavior in rats. Science(link is external) 334, 1427-1430) the rats would even free other rats rather than selfishly feast on chocolate. In response to these studies I've received comments such as, "Oh really, I didn't know that" and "Wow, who would have thought rats would display empathy for others?" We also know that rats like being tickled (please see "Rats Like Tickling: Why Is the Animal Welfare Act So Lame?") and laugh when being tickled.

Comment: It may be in our biology to care for one another, but we also seem to be biologically inclined to find rats disgusting:
In a recent global survey, Curtis asked people in five places—India, the Netherlands, Britain, the West African country of Burkina Faso, and Athens International Airport—to describe what disgusts them. The results revealed some regional variations: "Lower castes" and "kissing in public" aroused disgust in India, whereas the British were particularly repulsed by dead sparrows and cruelty to horses; politicians and dog saliva revolted the Dutch, while airport travelers named everything from "wet people" to being eaten alive by insects. Yet it was the common threads that intrigued Curtis. Every region considered feces disgusting, while vomit, sweat, spittle, blood, pus, and sexual fluids inspired nearly universal loathing, closely followed by body parts and animals such as pigs, rats, maggots, worms, lice, and flies.
Perhaps only those who can see beyond these biological limits can appreciate a science of animal consciousness, or consciousness at all. Check out:


Question

What are the psychological effects of being in space?

© NASA/Bill Ingalls
Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko left Earth on March 27 to spend a year on the International Space Station for a mission meant to determine how long-term spaceflight affects the human body.
On March 27, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko were launched into space, embarking on a mission at the International Space Station that will assess how a year in zero-gravity affects the human body. Scientists have already established that spending four to six months — the average duration of these expeditions — can cause changes in the eyes, muscle atrophy, and loss of bone density, but what else happens? How does a year isolated in space affect their behavior, their psychology, when cabin fever easily strikes some of us who voluntarily spend a weekend at home?

No human has ever spent a year in space, and because of that, the answer to those questions is still forthcoming. Both Kelly and Kornienko have each spent about six months on their own space missions and returned psychologically unscathed, qualifying them to go on this year-long journey. To become qualified, however, both astronauts were required to undergo rigorous — and somewhat mysterious — mental health training, building on the their innate, strong psychological foundation.

People 2

It's okay to cry your eyes out

"Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do." - C.S. Lewis
Crying is our emotional connection with the world. This simple act is often seen as a weakness when it actually demonstrates the strength in us. It allows us to celebrate the positive and helps us to let go of the negative things in our lives.

There are three types of tears:
  • Continuous tears that keep the surface around the eye moist in order to protect against infection.
  • Reflex tears that flow when something irritates the eye area.
  • Emotional tears that have a different chemical make-up and can be a natural painkiller.

Comment: Why Cry? Evolutionary Biologists Show Crying Can Strengthen Relationships