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Butterfly

Mindfulness program for children shown to regulate stress and improve learning

A new social and emotional program with mindfulness techniques, called MindUp, has been shown to successfully help children become more caring and optimistic, improve their math scores and lower their stress levels.

The program, founded by Oscar-winning actress Goldie Hawn, was recently analyzed by researchers at the University of British Columbia.

During the program, children were given lessons on mindfulness techniques, in which they were instructed to intentionally focus on the present - while avoiding making judgments - through a series of breathing, tasting, and movement exercises.

Experts from across multiple disciplines - a neuroscientist, developmental pediatrician, developmental psychologists, and education experts - came together to examine the program's effectiveness.

They discovered that the fourth and fifth graders who participated in MindUp became better at regulating stress, were more optimistic and helpful, and improved their math scores. They were even better liked by their peers than children in another program that taught caring for others but without a mindfulness component.

Comment: Mindfulness meditation has been shown to produce changes in the brain structure. Researchers have found that participants in mindfulness meditation exercises had increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.

One of the best breathing and meditation techniques, which can easily be taught to children is the Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program.


Flashlight

Pulling all-nighters? How memory affects the sleep cycle

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© Kiselev Andrey Valervich/Shutterstock
Want to ace that test tomorrow? Here's a tip: Put down the coffee and hit the sack.

Scientists have long known that sleep, memory and learning are deeply connected. Most animals, from flies to humans, have trouble remembering when sleep deprived, and studies have shown that sleep is critical in converting short-term into long-term memory, a process known as memory consolidation.

But just how that process works has remained a mystery.

The question is, does the mechanism that promotes sleep also consolidate memory, or do two distinct processes work together? In other words, is memory consolidated during sleep because the brain is quiet, allowing memory neurons to go to work, or are memory neurons actually putting us to sleep?

In a recent paper in the journal eLife, graduate students Paula Haynes and Bethany Christmann in the Griffith Lab make a case for the latter.

Haynes and Christmann focused their research on dorsal paired medial (DPM) neurons, well-known memory consolidators in Drosophila. They observed, for the first time, that when DPM neurons are activated, the flies slept more; when deactivated, the flies kept buzzing.

These memory consolidators inhibit wakefulness as they start converting short-term to long-term memory. All this takes place in a section of the Drosophila brain called the mushroom body, similar to the hippocampus, where our memories are stored. As it turns out, the parts of the mushroom body responsible for memory and learning also help keep the Drosophila awake.

"It's almost as if that section of the mushroom body were saying 'hey, stay awake and learn this,'" says Christmann. "Then, after a while, the DPM neurons start signaling to suppress that section, as if to say 'you're going to need sleep if you want to remember this later.'"

Understanding how sleep and memory are connected in a simple system, likeDrosophila, can help scientists unravel the secrets of the human brain.

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Heart

The power of vulnerability

© on.ted.com/Brown2012
We live in a culture of scarcity. We are never good enough: never rich enough, never beautiful enough, never safe enough, never certain enough. The greater the uncertainty in the world, the less tolerance we have for vulnerability in our lives.
We associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love. Vulnerability is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.


Comment: Also check out Benefits of hugging, Isolation and addiction, Men and woman process emotions differently.


Hearts

The physiological benefits of hugging

© preventdisease
Hugs make you feel good for a reason and it's not just the loving embrace that gives us that warm feeling in our hearts. It's much more. It affects the entire body to such an extent that many scientists claim it is equivalent to the effect of many different drugs operating on the body simultaneously. Even seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch can help people deal with their emotions with clarity and more effectively.

1. REDUCE WORRY OF MORTALITY
In a study on fears and self-esteem, research published in the journal Psychological Science revealed that hugs and touch significantly reduce worry of mortality. The studies found that hugging -- even if it was just an inanimate object like a teddy bear -- helps soothe individuals' existential fears. "Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance," lead researcher Sander Koole wrote in the study.

Comment: See also: Hugging as form of social support protects people from getting sick


Music

Different notes for different folks: How music makes the brain happy

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© Snowbrains.com
I still remember when I first heard the song by Peter Gabriel, "Solsbury Hill." Something about that song - the lyrics, the melody, the unusual 7/4 time signature - gave me chills. Even now, years later, it still can make me cry.

Who among us doesn't have a similar story about a song that touched us? Whether attending a concert, listening to the radio, or singing in the shower, there's something about music that can fill us with emotion, from joy to sadness.

Music impacts us in ways that other sounds don't, and for years now, scientists have been wondering why. Now they are finally beginning to find some answers. Using fMRI technology, they're discovering why music can inspire such strong feelings and bind us so tightly to other people.

"Music affects deep emotional centers in the brain, " says Valorie Salimpoor, a neuroscientist at McGill University who studies the brain on music. "A single sound tone is not really pleasurable in itself; but if these sounds are organized over time in some sort of arrangement, it's amazingly powerful."

How music makes the brain happy

How powerful? In one of her studies, she and her colleagues hooked up participants to an fMRI machine and recorded their brain activity as they listened to a favorite piece of music. During peak emotional moments in the songs identified by the listeners, dopamine was released in the nucleus accumbens, a structure deep within the older part of our human brain.

"That's a big deal, because dopamine is released with biological rewards, like eating and sex, for example," says Salimpoor. "It's also released with drugs that are very powerful and addictive, like cocaine or amphetamines."

There's another part of the brain that seeps dopamine, specifically just before those peak emotional moments in a song: the caudate nucleus, which is involved in the anticipation of pleasure. Presumably, the anticipatory pleasure comes from familiarity with the song - you have a memory of the song you enjoyed in the past embedded in your brain, and you anticipate the high points that are coming. This pairing of anticipation and pleasure is a potent combination, one that suggests we are biologically-driven to listen to music we like.

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See also: Singing together encourages social bonding


Hearts

Addiction rooted more in social isolation than chemical dependency

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It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned - and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction, by our teachers, and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my book 'Chasing The Scream - The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs' to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong - and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.

If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.

Comment: If the root of addiction lies with a lack of meaningful social connection, then it's both sad and ironic to see addiction so rampant in an age of social media that supposedly helps to keep us all more connected. Perhaps this would explain why a third of Americans would give up sex for their cell phone? Too much time and many friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram may be keeping people from developing the social skills necessary to have meaningful friendships and lasting relationships.


Bulb

Expectation is important: Seeing is not always remembering

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People may have to "turn on" their memories in order to remember even the simplest details of an experience, according to Penn State psychologists. This finding, which has been named "attribute amnesia," indicates that memory is far more selective than previously thought.

"It is commonly believed that you will remember specific details about the things you're attending to, but our experiments show that this is not necessarily true," said Brad Wyble, assistant professor of psychology. "We found that in some cases, people have trouble remembering even very simple pieces of information when they do not expect to have to remember them."

2 + 2 = 4

Men and women process emotions differently

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© MCN, University of Basel
Red and yellow indicates the more active areas of the brain when images are rated as highly stimulating. Green indicates the areas that specifically become more active in women.
Women rate emotional images as more emotionally stimulating than men do and are more likely to remember them. However, there are no gender-related differences in emotional appraisal as far as neutral images are concerned. These were the findings of a large-scale study by a research team at the University of Basel that focused on determining the gender-dependent relationship between emotions, memory performance and brain activity. The results will be published in the latest issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Comment: Men and Women May Respond Differently to Danger, Study Finds


Eye 1

How psychopaths see sex and why

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By definition, the psychopath doesn't have successful relationships. Actually, the truth is more about capacity than quality. With the psychopath, there is an absence of emotional connection and true empathetic feeling. The psychopath simply isn't capable of trusting and depending on another individual. To sit with them and assess them as I have in forensic settings, it's as if you're talking with someone who's part-human, part-ice. Though they engage in sex and relationships, their experience of sex is vastly different from their non-psychopathic peers.

First, let's quickly review the most disturbing traits of the psychopath. According to the Antisocial Personality Questionnaire (Blackburn & Fawcett, 1999), primary psychopathy is characterized by hostility, extraversion, self-confidence, impulsivity, aggression, and mild to moderate anxiety. Though the psychopath may commit illegal crimes, a psychopath can go through life wreaking harm on others and yet never commit an actual crime. The traits of the psychopath are deeply troubling when applied to sex and relationships.

Cult

Why the Dalai Lama is wrong to think meditation will eliminate violence

© Unknown
This quote by the Dalai Lama is going viral on the internet, "If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation." Marianne Williamson shared this quote via her Facebook account and it received a tremendous reception. Google the quote and you will find tens of thousands of web sites, Facebook pages and twitter feeds where it has appeared. Needless to say, the enthusiasm over the Dalai Lama's statement is profound. It has struck a cord for sure.

His words reflect the more widespread belief that spiritual practices can provide grounding for more ethical and wise action. One could substitute meditation in the quote with yoga, prayer, chanting or sacred dancing and people would generally agree that these types of things will inspire compassion, kindness and generosity. Through meditation one can hopefully gain a better realization of the interconnectedness of all things. Many believe, or at least hope, like the Dalai Lama, that this renewed sense of awareness will inspire us to take action against injustice in the world.

While for much of my life I've also shared this popular sentiment I've now come to see it much differently. Based on years of research and writing as well as personal practice of yoga, meditation and Chi Kung I've discovered some very strong flaws in the Dalai Lama's argument. Furthermore, I actually see these types of statements are very irresponsible as they mislead the public about the causes and solutions to violence. The real conversations about these very challenging issues that need to take place could potentially be minimized by these types of statements.