Science of the Spirit


Academic Achievement: You inherit more than just intelligence from your parents

Why the heritability of educational achievement is about much more than just intelligence.

© theirhistory
The heritability of academic ability isn't just down to intelligence, but a whole range of factors, according to new genetic research.

The study of 13,306 twins found that while intelligence was the most heritable trait, a number of cognitive and behavioural factors predicted academic achievement (Kraphol et al., 2014).

Exam grades were also affected by personality, well-being, self-efficacy (confidence in your own abilities) and behaviour problems.

Behaviour problems, self-efficacy and personality aren't just down to the environment: they are also partly inherited.

Overall, the study found that 62% of differences between children on their exam results at around 16-years-old could be explained by heritable traits.

Trying to share our 'epic' moments may leave us feeling left out

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Man climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro
We might love to reminisce and tell others about our extraordinary experiences - that time we climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, got to taste a rare wine, or ran into a celebrity on the street - but new research suggests that sharing these extraordinary experiences may come at a social cost. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Extraordinary experiences are pleasurable in the moment but can leave us socially worse off in the long run," says psychological scientist and study author Gus Cooney of Harvard University. "The participants in our study mistakenly thought that having an extraordinary experience would make them the star of the conversation. But they were wrong, because to be extraordinary is to be different than other people, and social interaction is grounded in similarities."

Cooney, who conducted the research with co-authors Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University and Timothy D. Wilson of the University of Virginia, was interested in exploring the downstream consequences of extraordinary experiences based on his own encounters with others:

"We all appreciate experiences that are fine and rare, and when we get what we want, we're always eager to tell our friends. But I've noticed that conversations always seem to thrive on more ordinary topics," Cooney explains. "This made me wonder if there might be times when extraordinary experiences have more costs than benefits, and whether people know what those times are."

The Power of Charisma-- It can actually inhibit higher brain function in "believers"

This article is an outgrowth of my continuing interest in the ties between psychopathy, authoritarianism, domination, hierarchy, patriarchy and top-down power
Religious Speaker
© State Library and Archives of Florida
Speaker at a Pentecostal revival - Tallahassee.
If a fundamentalist religious person even thinks another person is a charismatic leader or healer, he or she inhibits his pre-frontal cortex-- the executive, higher level thinking part of the brain.

That's what I take from a study titled The power of charisma--perceived charisma inhibits the frontal executive network of believers in intercessory prayer.

A religious person, anticipating a person who has a reputation as a charismatic-- a trait usually held by smarter, more successful psychopaths, psychopaths and narcissists-- literally shuts down his or her highest brain functions in the charismatic's presence. (Certainly not all charismatic people are charismatic, but it is a common trait of high functioning psychopaths and narcissists.)

That doesn't happen in the brains of non-believers.

Let's talk about the etymology and meanings of Charisma and Charismatics. The word charisma is derived from the Greek word charismata, which means "a gift of grace.

How learning Russian can make you better at math

Classroom Math
© AP Photo/LM Otero
Chekov makes you better at calculus
At first glance, Russian seems to have no more connection to mathematics than any other language. But Barbara Oakley, author of the book A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If
 You Flunked Algebra), says it was learning Russian that helped her finally grasp math at age 26 - and eventually become an electrical engineer and education author.

Oakley wrote a piece for Nautilus explaining how, after a childhood of flunking through math classes, she was finally able to grasp and retain the skill. With Newton's second law of f =ma, for example:
I practiced feeling what each of the letters meant - f for force was a push, m for mass was a kind of weighty resistance to my push, and a was the exhilarating feeling of acceleration. (The equivalent in Russian was learning to physically sound out the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet.) I memorized the equation so I could carry it around with me in my head and play with it. If m and a were big numbers, what did that do to f when I pushed it through the equation? If f was big and a was small, what did that do to m? How did the units match on each side? Playing with the equation was like conjugating a verb.
The trick was to approach math the way she had approached Russian: she memorized an equation the way she had memorized Russian verbs, and then tested them in every possible - and impossible - tense and conjugation. With equations, she tested what happens when you change the values in different scenarios.
Snakes in Suits

New study reveals: Power can corrupt even the honest

When appointing a new leader, selectors base their choice on several factors and typically look for leaders with desirable characteristics such as honesty and trustworthiness. However once leaders are in power, can we trust them to exercise it in a prosocial manner?

New research published in The Leadership Quarterly looked to discover whether power corrupts leaders. Study author John Antonakis and his colleagues from the University of Lausanne explain, "We looked to examine what Lord Acton said over 100 years ago, that 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'"

To investigate this the authors used experimental methods to distinguish between the situational and individual component; and determine if power corrupts or if corrupt individuals are drawn to power.

Comment: No discussion about 'leaders in power' would be complete without an understanding of the vital issue of psychopathy.

To understand the ramifications of psychopaths wielding power in society, check out the book "Political Ponerology".

"Political Ponerology is a study of the founders and supporters of oppressive political regimes. Lobaczewski's approach analyzes the common factors that lead to the propagation of man's inhumanity to man. Morality and humanism cannot long withstand the predations of this evil. Knowledge of its nature and its insidious effect on both individuals and groups - is the only antidote."

Black Cat 2

Study suggests neurobiological basis of human-pet relationship

fMRI identifies differences in response of mothers' brains to images of their child and their dog
It has become common for people who have pets to refer to themselves as "pet parents," but how closely does the relationship between people and their non-human companions mirror the parent-child relationship? A small study from a group of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers makes a contribution to answering this complex question by investigating differences in how important brain structures are activated when women view images of their children and of their own dogs. Their report is being published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

"Pets hold a special place in many people's hearts and lives, and there is compelling evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that interacting with pets can be beneficial to the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of humans," says Lori Palley, DVM, of the MGH Center for Comparative Medicine, co-lead author of the report. "Several previous studies have found that levels of neurohormones like oxytocin - which is involved in pair-bonding and maternal attachment - rise after interaction with pets, and new brain imaging technologies are helping us begin to understand the neurobiological basis of the relationship, which is exciting."

Social networks can strengthen knowledge-sharing

Contrary to the notion that social networks are time-wasters, they could improve project management and the spread of specialized knowledge in the healthcare sector and possibly other large organizations.
Contrary to the notion that social networks are time-wasters, they could improve project management and the spread of specialized knowledge in the healthcare sector and possibly other large organizations, according to new research from Missouri University of Science and Technology.

In their analysis of how information is shared on social networks, three Missouri S&T researchers explain how the creation of a specialized network could improve the way information is shared via web-based knowledge management systems (KMS). Many large organizations use knowledge management systems to capture, retain and communicate project results and staff knowledge. Such systems can also prevent knowledge drain and provide training as "lessons learned" following specific occurrences and the resolution of particular problems the staff face, the Missouri S&T researchers say.

In their paper titled "Improving Knowledge Sharing in Healthcare Through Social Network Analysis," published recently in the International Journal of Collaborative Enterprise, Drs. Elizabeth Cudney, Steven Corns and Suzanna Long of Missouri S&T's engineering management and systems engineering department examine a process for creating a social network to improve information- and knowledge-sharing for a large healthcare organization.
People 2

Social relationships, not individual achievements touch people's lives the most

When you look back over your life, which moments have given you the most pain - and which the most pleasure?

Some might guess it's individual achievements, like getting a promotion, or individual failures, like failing an exam.

In fact, research suggests that it's the highs and lows of social relationships that provide the highest highs and lowest lows that people experience across their lives.

Comment: Since our relationships with others form such an important part of our lives, being able to form intimate and meaningful relationships becomes of paramount importance. Engaging the vagus nerve is one of the best ways to help improve social communication and bonding. Vagus nerve stimulation releases hormones such as prolactin, vasopressin and oxytocin. These are anti-stress and social-bonding hormones. Oxytocin is known as the 'cuddle hormone', so it is no wonder that the vagus nerve has been called the 'nerve of compassion'. In fact, the vagus nerve is intertwined with neural networks involved in pro-social and empathetic communication, involving muscle groups that are related in care-taking. Oxytocin is intimately involved in the experience of trust and love.

The breathing and meditation techniques of the Éiriú Eolas program are geared towards stimulating the vagus nerve. You can get a copy of the program at, but you can also find an online version there where you can learn the techniques.


Pain words stand out more for those experiencing it

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Ache, agony, distress and pain draw more attention than non-pain related words when it comes to people who suffer from chronic pain, a York University research using state-of-the-art eye-tracking technology has found.

"People suffering from chronic pain pay more frequent and longer attention to pain-related words than individuals who are pain-free," says Samantha Fashler, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Health and the lead author of the study. "Our eye movements -- the things we look at -- generally reflect what we attend to, and knowing how and what people pay attention to can be helpful in determining who develops chronic pain."

Chronic pain currently affects about 20 per cent of the population in Canada.

The current study, "More than meets the eye: visual attention biases in individuals reporting chronic pain," published in the Journal of Pain Research, incorporated an eye-tracker, which is a more sophisticated measuring tool to test reaction time than the previously used dot-probe task in similar studies.

Curiosity puts brain in state to learn

Child's curiosity
© DNHanlon/iStockphoto
Tapping into a child's curiosity may trigger the brain's reward centre to help them learn.
Being curious fires up the brain's reward circuits, enhancing your ability to learn, MRI scans reveal.

The finding, reported in the journal Neuron, provides the first scientific evidence to help explain why it is easier learn about something that you're interested in, than if you're bored stiff.

Importantly, it seems that the enhanced learning ability is not limited to the thing that excites your curiosity: the curious state enables you to better learn about unrelated things too, says study co-author Professor Charan Ranganath of the University of California, Davis.

"Our results suggest that when people are in a state of curiosity it induces a motivational state and that actually helps you suck in other information as well," he says.

The researchers say their findings could point to ways to enhance learning in the classroom and may help understand memory problems in elderly people.

The study looked at 19 university students aged between 18 and 31. The students were asked trivia questions. When they didn't know the answer, they were asked to rate how curious they were about the answer on a scale from 1 to 6.