Science of the Spirit


Genetic variant enhances how people react to funny, sad situations


People with a specific gene variant, which affects the way the brain chemical serotonin works, smile and laugh (stock image) more often than those without. And data from the experiments indicated that people with the short variations of the gene showed greater positive emotional expressions in general.
  • Study looked at short and long alleles, or variants, of gene 5-HTTLPR
  • This is involved in the regulation of a chemical known as serotonin
  • Research found the short allele amplifies emotional reactions during both good and bad environments
Whether you're prone to bouts of giggling is genetic, according to a new study.

People with a specific gene variant, which affects the way the brain chemical serotonin works, smiled and laughed more while watching cartoons or amusing films. And data from the experiments indicated that people with the short variations of the gene showed greater positive emotional expressions in general.

In the study by Northwestern University in Illinois, the researchers looked at short and long alleles - or variants - of the gene 5-HTTLPR. This is involved in the regulation of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in depression and anxiety.

While previous research has found that those with the short version were more sensitive to negative emotions than those with the long version, this study found they were more responsive to the emotional highs of life as well. 'Having the short allele is not bad or risky,' said researcher Dr Claudia Haase. 'Instead, the short allele amplifies emotional reactions to both good and bad environments.
'People with short alleles may flourish in a positive environment and suffer in a negative one, while people with long alleles are less sensitive to environmental conditions.'

Comment: Genes predispose some people to focus on the negative

Quenelle - Golden

Interview with Sandra L. Brown on psychopathy and pathological love relationships

Jenna Stauffer and Sandra L. Brown on Psychopathy and Pathological Love Relationships

Sandra L. Brown, M.A., is the founder of The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction & Public Pathology Education. She is a former psychotherapist, community educator on pathological love relationships, clinical lecturer and trainer, TV and radio guest, and an author. Her books include the highly popular How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved, the award winning Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of Inevitable Harm With Psychopaths, Sociopaths & Narcissists, as well as the clinically relevant Counseling Victims of Violence: A Handbook for Helping Professionals.

Sandra is recognized for her pioneering work in women's issues related to relational harm from dangerous and pathological partners. She specializes in the development of Pathological Love Relationship training for other professionals and the development of survivor-based support services. The Institute is the only formal Model-of-Care approach for survivors and offers the largest available array of products and services related to this population.

Her books, CD's, DVD's, and other training materials have been used as curriculum in drug rehabs, women's organizations and shelters, women's jail and prison programs, school and college-based programs, inner city projects, psychology and sociology programs, and distributed in almost every country of the world. Her books have been translated into several languages.

Comment: See also:

Magic Wand

Creativity and the cerebellum's surprising role

© Reuters
How do scientists capture the euphoric flights of creativity? The answer to this question led to surprising, some might say shocking, evidence of the human brain's capacity for invention, and quite possibly reinvention. The cerebellum, long considered a drudge-like region of the brain, performs its own unique dance in the creative process, say researchers from Stanford's School of Medicine and the (Hasso Plattner Institute of Design). Their new study also suggests that trying too hard can block, rather than increase, the inspirational flow.

You can't exactly command people to alight on an original thought or two while they lie on a cold, hard MRI bed. Considering this problem, Dr. Manish Saggar, a co-author of the study and instructor at the, figured it would be best to simply trick people into revealing their imaginations. With this in mind, he borrowed an idea or two from Pictionary, a game that requires players to draw instead of say words, when designing his experiment.

After selecting a few verbs, Saggar and his colleagues tracked the brain activity of 14 men and 16 women who drew the words while lying in an MRI chamber. For each word, participants improvised an illustration in the allotted time of just 30 seconds — time enough for a decent brain scan but not enough time for anyone to get bored. For comparison, participants also drew a quick zigzag line, an action requiring fine-motor control but minimal creativity. When finished, participants rated the difficulty of drawing each word.

When the experiment concluded, the researchers gathered all the drawings and rated each on five-point scales of appropriateness (the accuracy of depiction) and creativity (elaborateness and originality of design).

Comment: Creativity explained


Hallucinations and delusions more common than thought

© The University of Queensland.
Professor John McGrath, lead researcher on the paper, of the Queensland Brain Institute at The University of Queensland.
Hallucinations and delusions in the general population are more common than previously thought.

An international study led by The University of Queensland and Harvard Medical School found that hearing voices and seeing things others cannot impacts about five per cent of the general population at some point in their lives.

Queensland Brain Institute researcher Professor John McGrath said the study, involving more than 31,000 people from 19 countries, was the most comprehensive ever completed.

"We used to think that only people with psychosis heard voices or had delusions, but now we know that otherwise healthy, high-functioning people also report these experiences," Professor McGrath said.

"Of those who have these experiences, a third only have them once and another third only have two-to-five episodes across their life. These people seem to function reasonably well.

"So it's incredibly interesting that not only is hearing voices more common than previously thought, but it's not always linked to serious mental illness."

The study was a population-based survey which involved approaching randomly selected members of the community, sitting down with them and conducting a very detailed interview about their mental health.


VIDEO: The five stages of the awakening


Comment: Ads for Silver Shield Xchange notwithstanding, enjoy this insightful video which well describes some of the processes entailed in 'waking up' - and working through - these times we're living in.


Simple techniques that can help alleviate anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses. Anxiety is a normal reaction to many situations, but can become excessive (as in obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 43 million Americans were diagnosed with some type of mental illness in the past year.

While there is no true quick fix, there are a few things you can do to make living with anxiety easier:


Whether you talk quietly to yourself or sit down and have a conversation with a loved one, talking through your anxiety can help you get through it. Seeking the help of a professional is sometimes best, especially if you need help taking hold of your anxiety disorder. Focus your energy on controlling your anxiety rather than giving in to it.

Comment: For more information on ways to alleviate anxiety and stress, see:


Ecstasy could help alleviate anxiety for terminally ill patients

Ecstasy pills, which contain MDMA as their main chemical, are pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration
California scientists are testing whether the illegal psychoactive drug commonly known as Ecstasy could help alleviate anxiety for terminally ill patients, the trial's principal funder said on Tuesday.

At least a dozen subjects with life-threatening diseases like cancer, and who are expected to live at least 9 months, will participate in the double-blind trial over the next year in Marin County, said Brad Burge, spokesman for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

Comment: It seems only right in the dying process, that one should have a say in lessening their fear, anxiety and depression.


Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, it changes your brain

Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was one of the first scientists to take the anecdotal claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans. What she found surprised her — that meditating can literally change your brain. She explains:

Q: Why did you start looking at meditation and mindfulness and the brain?

Lazar: A friend and I were training for the Boston marathon. I had some running injuries, so I saw a physical therapist who told me to stop running and just stretch. So I started practicing yoga as a form of physical therapy. I started realizing that it was very powerful, that it had some real benefits, so I just got interested in how it worked.

The yoga teacher made all sorts of claims, that yoga would increase your compassion and open your heart. And I'd think, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm here to stretch.' But I started noticing that I was calmer. I was better able to handle more difficult situations. I was more compassionate and open hearted, and able to see things from others' points of view.

I thought, maybe it was just the placebo response. But then I did a literature search of the science, and saw evidence that meditation had been associated with decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life.

At that point, I was doing my PhD in molecular biology. So I just switched and started doing this research as a post-doc.

Comment: More information about Meditation and Its Benefits:


Curiosity: Making a choice to look deeper into everyday things to see their true significance

We all want to be happy; according to the Dalai Lama, it is "the very purpose of our life."

Yet despite the incredible advancement of modern-day technology and society, few of us are happy. A 2013 Harris Poll found that only one in three Americans say they're very happy.

Perhaps this is because the majority of our time is spent in unsatisfying work, repetitive daily routines, and nights passively watching a twittering screen.

But we don't have to settle for unhappy lives. We're all capable of achieving happiness and more meaning in life if we adopt the right attitudes and behaviors. Perhaps the most important attitude is curiosity.

Curiosity — a state of active interest or genuinely wanting to know more about something — allows you to embrace unfamiliar circumstances, giving you a greater opportunity to experience discovery and joy.

2 + 2 = 4

The power of uncertainty

We can't escape uncertainty so we may as well learn to embrace it and in so doing we open a door to possibilities...
I dislike uncertainty as much as the next person, perhaps even more. My reaction to it can cause deep anxiety that negatively impacts my health, wealth and overall enjoyment of life. Yet, despite uncertainty's bad rep, I have learned that: a) no matter what we tell ourselves or how we arrange our circumstances, we can never be free of it, and b) learning to embrace it can lead to incredible possibilities that I didn't even know was on my radar. As long as we are living, breathing beings we will always live with uncertainty. Knowing how to manage and respond to it can make all the difference between a rich, fulfilling life and one that is always fraught with the anxiety of what "bad" things could happen.

Comment: One way to begin to practice getting skilled being in the present is developing situational awareness and preparing for as many future as best we can.
Situational Awareness - Observe, Orient, Decide, Act
Preparedness is the ultimate act of optimism