Science of the Spirit
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Receiving gossip about others promotes self-reflection and growth

Gossip is pervasive in our society, and our penchant for gossip can be found in most of our everyday conversations. Why are individuals interested in hearing gossip about others' achievements and failures? Researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands studied the effect positive and negative gossip has on how the recipient evaluates him or herself. The study is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

In spite of some positive consequences, gossip is typically seen as destructive and negative. However, hearing gossip may help individuals adapt to a social environment, illustrate how an individual can improve, or reveal potential threats.

Design of the study

The first study asked participants to recall an incident where they received either positive or negative gossip about another individual. Participants were then asked questions to measure the self-improvement, self-promotion, and self-protection value of the received gossip information. Individuals that received positive gossip had increased self-improvement value, whereas negative gossip had increased self-promotion value. Negative gossip also increased self-protection concerns.
People 2

Coping with voices in the schizophrenic brain

stressed woman
"I don't believe in anything. That's my cardinal rule. I do it for my mental health. If I believe in God, then I start talking to God and God starts talking to me. As soon as I start believing in something, then it talks to me. So, I don't believe in anything."

Sara, whose name we changed to protect her identity, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 19 during her senior year at New York University. She had not experienced any trauma as a child - no abuse, no bouts of depression, nothing that would raise any red flags. She led a more or less happy life. But in high school she experimented with drugs, and upon travelling abroad around the same time, she experienced intense culture shock.

This series of events may have been Sara's personalized recipe for mental illness, cooked up with all the flavors of her unique position in life, her temperament, and her family's history. Her mind became a prison; she felt as though people were constantly laughing at her. She could no longer distinguish fantasy from reality. She assumed she wouldn't go back to school.

Comment: Unfortunately under the western medical model, admitting to hearing voices is the first step on the pathway to a lifetime of drugging with anti-psychotics and all the side effects that come with them. With the proper professional support, working through and learning from hallucinatory experiences is a step in the right direction. Also, never discount the role of diet in mental illness.
See:

Gluten Intolerance Tied to Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia and Gluten Sensitivity - Is There a Connection?

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Music therapy reduces depression in children and adolescents

Children
© Shutterstock
Music therapy can be used to treat depression in children.
Researchers at Queen's University Belfast have discovered that music therapy reduces depression in children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems.

In the largest ever study of its kind, the researchers in partnership with the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust, found that children who received music therapy had significantly improved self-esteem and significantly reduced depression compared with those who received treatment without music therapy.

The study, which was funded by the Big Lottery fund, also found that those who received music therapy had improved communicative and interactive skills, compared to those who received usual care options alone.

251 children and young people were involved in the study which took place between March 2011 and May 2014. They were divided into two groups - 128 underwent the usual care options, while 123 were assigned to music therapy in addition to usual care. All were being treated for emotional, developmental or behavioural problems. Early findings suggest that the benefits are sustained in the long term.
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Reminiscing can help boost mental performance

Engaging brain areas linked to so-called 'off-task' mental activities (such as mind-wandering and reminiscing) can actually boost performance on some challenging mental tasks, a new research led by a neuroscientist shows for the first.

© Elenathewise / Fotolia
"The prevailing view is that activating brain regions referred to as the default network impairs performance on attention-demanding tasks because this network is associated with behaviors such as mind-wandering," said Spreng. "Our study is the first to demonstrate the opposite – that engaging the default network can also improve performance."
To solve a mental puzzle, the brain's executive control network for externally focused, goal-oriented thinking must activate, while the network for internally directed thinking like daydreaming must be turned down to avoid interference - or so we thought.

New research led by Cornell University neuroscientist Nathan Spreng shows for the first time that engaging brain areas linked to so-called "off-task" mental activities (such as mind-wandering and reminiscing) can actually boost performance on some challenging mental tasks. The results advance our understanding of how externally and internally focused neural networks interact to facilitate complex thought, the authors say.

"The prevailing view is that activating brain regions referred to as the default network impairs performance on attention-demanding tasks because this network is associated with behaviors such as mind-wandering," said Spreng. "Our study is the first to demonstrate the opposite - that engaging the default network can also improve performance."
Butterfly

Resting and reflecting on what you have previously learned improves future learning

reflection under tree

Resting and reflecting has a powerful effect on strengthening memories and future learning.
When people allow themselves to rest and reflect on things they have previously learned, they also become better at learning in the future, a new study finds.

While it's now established that resting the mind strengthens past memories, the new research shows that it can also be beneficial to future learning.

Dr. Alison Preston, who led the research, said:
"We've shown for the first time that how the brain processes information during rest can improve future learning.

We think replaying memories during rest makes those earlier memories stronger, not just impacting the original content, but impacting the memories to come."
Handcuffs

A 'stiff upper lip' is killing British men

fine
© Vice / Dan Evans
It's a hereditary condition - men raised by men unable to communicate emotionally, the symptoms of what we now know as PTSD becoming synonymous with masculinity. This is wildly fucked up when you stop to consider it.

A traumatic event in one's childhood is capable of inspiring exactly three things: shitty debut novels, self-absorbed blog posts, and dark jokes that make your friends feel weird around you. Case in point, the last conversation I had with my father, who'd been off work with the flu for a couple of weeks.

"How are you feeling, dad?" I asked.

"Better," he replied. Then he stood up and made his way to the bathroom to die.

A big part of me hopes that, vision fading and lips turning blue, my dad's final thought before submitting to the cold grip of extinction was a gleeful, Haha, I got you, you little shit. If that final word really was the last in his lifetime of unwavering sarcasm, it was - for my money - the single greatest burn I've ever heard.

Three weeks later, I celebrated my tenth birthday. A few months after that, I took home the title of "funniest pupil" in a classroom awards ceremony. Deflecting my grief into something that made others laugh felt much better than breaking down crying several times a day - which, in reality, was what I wanted (and probably) needed to do. People latch onto any kind of positivity after something so painful, and I guess I found validation in the laughter of my peers. Plus, let's face it, no one wants to be the kid constantly crying about their dead dad. That guy is always a total fucking buzzkill.

When the coroner was finished rooting around inside the vessel that had, for 51 years, housed my one-time Mensa member father (he was too tight to renew his subscription after the first year), a fatal heart attack was recorded, and off went dad to his fiery conclusion in the Loughborough crematorium. But the post-mortem also revealed significant scar tissue indicative of a previous attack sometime in the months or years previously. That was news to us all. Apparently, near-fatal chest pains weren't something that he deemed worthy of professional consultation. Classic dad!
Footprints

Improve your mood by changing the way you walk

children walking

Change in walking style can influence your mood
It's well-known that when we're in a good mood, our style of walking tends to reflect how we feel: we bounce along, shoulders back, swinging our arms in style.

Sometimes, just from our gait, it's more obvious to other people how we feel than to ourselves.

Now, a new study finds that it also works the other way around: people who imitate a happy style of walking, even without realising it, find themselves feeling happier (Michalak et al., 2015).

Comment: Another way to enhance well-being is to walk in nature as often as possible:
Nature walks improve mental well-being, lower stress and depression

Question

Is Meditation really worth it? Totally!

First of all, understand that "meditation" is a catchall term for a lot of different mental activities, many of which have nothing to do with sitting cross-legged on the floor and saying om.

"There are thousands of different types of meditation," says Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and author of Words Can Change Your Brain. But while meditative practices come in all shapes and styles, Newberg says nearly all of them have at least one thing in common: They involve focusing your attention, a habit that's been marginalized by our smartphone-tethered lifestyle of digital distraction.

"That focusing could be on a word or object or physical motion," Newberg explains. "But regardless, the type of focusing involved in meditation activates the brain's frontal lobe, which is involved in concentration, planning, speech and other executive functions like problem solving." Studies have shown meditation can bolster all of these mental tasks. But the greatest benefits may spring from the interplay between your brain's focus centers and its limbic system - a set of structures that manage your emotions and regulate the release of stress and relaxation hormones.
Info

New technique helps find hidden consciousness in coma patients

Brain Networks
© Srivas Chennu
These are brain networks in two vegetative patients (left and middle), alongside a healthy person (right). The vegetative patients were both unresponsive, but the one in the middle had brain activity similar to that of a healthy person.
Some patients who are in a coma may be aware of their surroundings even though they can't visibly communicate with others, and now, scientists have found a new way to help identify these patients.

Consciousness is one of the most mysterious phenomena. Scientists still don't know exactly how the brain activity gives rise to consciousness, but they have been able to find some differences between a conscious brain and an unconscious one. Such insight could help researchers design tests for the minority of comatose patients who may be "aware" but who are unable to show it.

In a new attempt to tackle this issue, researchers looked at 32 comatose patients and 26 healthy people. Some of the comatose patients were diagnosed as "minimally conscious," meaning there was some evidence that they may have retained some awareness of their surroundings (for example, the patient could follow simple commands, such as squeezing a finger). But others were diagnosed as "vegetative," which means they were thought to have lost all conscious awareness, even though they could breathe on their own or open their eyes.
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Scientists sniff out unexpected role for stem cells in the brain

© Belluscio Lab, NINDS
Adult-born cells travel through the thin rostral migratory stream before settling into the olfactory bulb, the large structure in the upper right of the image.
For decades, scientists thought that neurons in the brain were born only during the early development period and could not be replenished. More recently, however, they discovered cells with the ability to divide and turn into new neurons in specific brain regions. The function of these neuroprogenitor cells remains an intense area of research. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that newly formed brain cells in the mouse olfactory system -- the area that processes smells -- play a critical role in maintaining proper connections. The results were published in the October 8 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

"This is a surprising new role for brain stem cells and changes the way we view them," said Leonardo Belluscio, Ph.D., a scientist at NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and lead author of the study.

The olfactory bulb is located in the front of the brain and receives information directly from the nose about odors in the environment. Neurons in the olfactory bulb sort that information and relay the signals to the rest of the brain, at which point we become aware of the smells we are experiencing. Olfactory loss is often an early symptom in a variety of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

In a process known as neurogenesis, adult-born neuroprogenitor cells are generated in the subventricular zone deep in the brain and migrate to the olfactory bulb where they assume their final positions. Once in place, they form connections with existing cells and are incorporated into the circuitry.

Dr. Belluscio, who studies the olfactory system, teamed up with Heather Cameron, Ph.D., a neurogenesis researcher at the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health, to better understand how the continuous addition of new neurons influences the circuit organization of the olfactory bulb. Using two types of specially engineered mice, they were able to specifically target and eliminate the stem cells that give rise to these new neurons in adults, while leaving other olfactory bulb cells intact. This level of specificity had not been achieved previously.
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