Science of the Spirit


Going through Hell: Belief in a punitive afterlife linked to lower well-being, study finds

Those who believe some people face eternal torment in the afterlife tend to be less satisfied with their current life and less happy, according to a new study published in PLoS One.

"Although religiosity is consistently tied to greater well-being, little research has examined which elements of religious belief offer mood benefits, which do not, and which may in fact be detrimental," Azim F. Shariff of the University of Oregon and Lara B. Aknin of the Simon Fraser University in Canada wrote in their study.

The researchers first analyzed data from the Gallup World Poll, World Values Survey, and European Values Survey to compare the "differences in subjective well-being between 63 countries against national rates of Heaven and Hell beliefs."

These international surveys were conducted on hundreds of thousands of individuals, and allowed the researchers to account for potentially confounding variables like religious attendance, GDP per capita, and unemployment.

Shariff and Aknin found that both the belief in Heaven and the belief in Hell were significant, but divergent, predictors of happiness at the national level. Countries that had higher rates of happiness had lower rates of belief in Hell and higher rates of belief in Heaven.

10 psychology studies every lover should know

Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction." ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

© Bhumika Bhatia
Brain map of love, the role of kissing, how couples come to look similar, what kills a relationship and more…
From the initial moment of attraction to growing old together, here are 10 psychology studies that all lovers should know.

1. Falling in love takes one-fifth of a second

It takes a fifth-of-a-second for the euphoria-inducing chemicals to start acting on the brain when you are looking at that special someone.

Brain imaging studies of love suggest that 12 different areas of the brain are involved.

When looking or thinking about a loved one, these areas release a cocktail of neurotransmitters across the brain, including oxytocin, dopamine, vasopressin and adrenaline.

The brain gets a similar 'hit' from love as it does from a small dose of cocaine.
2 + 2 = 4

Mathematical beauty activates same brain region as great art or music

© O'Doherty et al.
Medial orbitofrontal cortex
People who appreciate the beauty of mathematics activate the same part of their brain when they look at aesthetically pleasing formula as others do when appreciating art or music, suggesting that there is a neurobiological basis to beauty.

There are many different sources of beauty - a beautiful face, a picturesque landscape, a great symphony are all examples of beauty derived from sensory experiences. But there are other, highly intellectual sources of beauty. Mathematicians often describe mathematical formulae in emotive terms and the experience of mathematical beauty has often been compared by them to the experience of beauty derived from the greatest art.

In a new paper published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to image the brain activity of 15 mathematicians when they viewed mathematical formulae that they had previously rated as beautiful, neutral or ugly.

The results showed that the experience of mathematical beauty correlates with activity in the same part of the emotional brain - namely the medial orbito-frontal cortex - as the experience of beauty derived from art or music.
Magic Wand

Just breathe - Ancient practice of pranayama can help you detoxify, shed excess weight and boost overall vitality

Forget the detox pills, fasts and other painful cleansing techniques - instead, take a cue from the yogis of India and look to the breath. Using yogic breathing techniques, we can effortlessly detoxify, burn fat and increase metabolism. With the basic act of bringing in more oxygen, vitamins and minerals are more easily absorbed, white blood cells multiply and the lymphatic system is enhanced. Through the exhale toxins are removed from the bloodstream, which revitalizes the organs and clarifies the intellect. Techniques range from a few deep breaths before a meal to more complex practices. Either way, by using this free detoxification method daily, we can easily (and economically) cleanse the body and mind.

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Eye 1

Marianne Williamson and the Elephant in the Living Room

There is one topic that stands like the proverbial elephant in our collective living room, and it's still unacknowledged, ignored or misunderstood by many people. It's the underlying issue for our society and the world's problems. This is the topic of Psychopathy, especially Psychopaths in positions of power, and how it affects our world and society at large. More and more research and studies have been published that prove the existence of this 'intra-species predator', yet it's still being avoided and not sincerely studied and looked at by the many well-meaning people who work actively at trying to make this world a better place. They focus on the symptoms, but not the underlying causes.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a talk in Topanga Canyon by Marianne Williamson who is running for Congress. I was reluctant to go, knowing that it was futile to try and change the political system through the system. I've written about it before: "Voting, Cognitive Dissonance and Fear of the Unknown" as well as "The Illusion of Choice". However, considering that I like some of her past work and we used a clip of her talk at a festival in our film "Love, Reality, and the Time of Transition", I decided to go see what she had to say...

How willful blindness keeps everyone living a lie‏

Abby Martin speaks with Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur and author of the upcoming book 'A Bigger Prize' about how the notion of willful blindness inhibits humanity's ability to grow, and how the concept of competition is more damaging than we've been indoctrinated to believe.
"Have you ever tried to pass on information so earth-shattering that you felt if people simply knew, everything would change? But instead of acting on it, they chose to bury their heads in the sand. That reaction is called willful blindness, and this notion occurs all around us, every day, from something as small as ignoring an extramarital affair, to corporate accidents like the BP oil spill, and even mass atrocities, like the rise of the Third Reich."

Be happier by spending more money on others

© Sirozha/Shutterstock
A round-up of recent research finds spending money on others can satisfy basic psychological needs and boost happiness.

If you want to feel happier - and who doesn't - what should you do with that $20 you have in your pocket?

The evidence is clear, according to a new research paper: You should use it to help someone in need.

Psychologists Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin, along with Michael Norton of Harvard Business School, report that the benefits of helping others "are evident in givers old and young in countries around the world, and extend to not only subjective well-being, but also objective health."

Writing in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, they demonstrate this counter-intuitive thesis by describing a series of studies, many of which they conducted themselves.

The benefits of helping others "are evident in givers old and young in countries around the world, and extend to not only subjective well-being, but also objective health."

The researchers begin by summarizing their own 2008 study, in which participants were given either $5 or $20 to spend by the end of the day. Half were instructed to buy themselves something; the others used it help out somebody else.

Same-sex parenting does not harm children, research review finds

queer family
Are two mothers better than one?

Children who are raised by same-sex parents do just as well in social development, education and emotionally as those raised by heterosexual couples, an Australian review of the research finds.

In Australia 11% of gay men and 33% of lesbians have children - figures which will likely increase as barriers are reduced.

The review of the research was conduced by Deb Dempsey and commissioned by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (Dempsey, 2014).

The research certainly does not support the view that children brought up by same-sex parents are harmed as a result.
Apple Green

Children do as you do, not what you say, so do what is good and right for them: Infants don't instinctively see plants as food

Infants as young as six months old tend to expect that plants are food sources, but only after an adult shows them that the food is safe to eat, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The findings show that, after watching an adult put part of a plant and part of a man-made object in her mouth, infants at 6- and 18-months of age preferentially identify the plant as the food source.

"Plants are often peripheral to modern life, but they were central to fundamental problems of determining what is food and what is fatal across evolutionary time," says psychological scientist and study author Annie Wertz of Yale University. "Humans relied on gathered plant resources for food, but many plants are toxic and potentially deadly."

So how do babies learn what's good to eat and what's not?

"Young children's decisions about what to eat are, famously, not determined by simply copying adult behavior," Wertz and co-author Karen Wynn note.

Wertz and Wynn hypothesized that, instead of imitating an adult's behavior outright, children tend to go for specific types of entities - in this case, plants - but only when an adult does so first. They tested their hypothesis in four experiments.

Full-term 18-month-olds were presented with a realistic-looking artificial plant and an obviously man-made artifact, each of which had dried fruits attached. The infants watched an experimenter take one fruit off each object - the plant and the artifact - and place it in her mouth as if eating it.

Comment: This experiment touches on several important issues. First, it means that on an instinctual level infants don't immediately recognize plants as a possible food source. And for a good reason, since plants, even the ones we eat on a daily basis, contain many anti-nutrients and toxins. This experiment also shows how important it is for parents to teach their children about the types of food that carry the greatest benefit for their health. And plant food isn't one of them. In fact, human beings appear to thrive on a high fat/low carb diet.


Why we're more creative when we're tired, and 9 other surprising things about how brains work

One of the things that surprises me time and time again is how we think our brains work and how they actually do.

On many occasions, I find myself convinced that there is a certain way to do things, only to find out that actually that's the completely wrong way to think about it. For example, I always found it fairly understandable that we can multitask. Well, according to the latest research studies, it's literally impossible for our brains to handle two tasks at the same time.

Recently, I came across more of these fascinating experiments and ideas that helped a ton to adjust my workflow towards how our brain actually works (instead of how I thought it does).