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Stay or stray? Stats hint at different sexual styles

© chaddlin/iStockphoto
Pinky promise: The longer your ring finger is compared to your index finger, the higher statistical likelihood of promiscuity.
Scientists say they have found the first evidence to back theories that people fall into two broad categories -- promiscuity or faithfulness -- when it comes to sex.

Why humans seem to be an exception among mammals on the matter of sexual relationships has long been a puzzle.

Other mammalian species are emphatically polygamous or monogamous as a group.

But as everyone knows anecdotally, Homo sapiens do not fall into one neat category or the other.

Everyone knows of couples that are sexually faithful, but also of those that are not.

What has been lacking are the statistics to show these differences, which is a key step to explaining them.

Now a team of UK scientists say they have found just that.

"We observed what appears to be a cluster of males and a cluster of females who are more inclined to 'stay,' with a separate cluster of males and females being more inclined to 'stray' when it comes to sexual relationships," says study co-author Rafael Wlodarski, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford.

In their study, published today in the journal Biology Letters, Wlodarski and colleagues compared two potential indicators of sexual behaviour.

One source was an online questionnaire on sexual habits, completed by 585 North American and British respondents between the ages of 18 and 63, who on average were nearly 25.

The other was data obtained from 1314 British men and women -- an investigation based on something known as the '2D:4D' ratio.

Magic Hat

Illusions that keep humanity trapped in the matrix

© unknown
For a magician to fool his audience his deceit must go unseen, and to this end he crafts an illusion to avert attention from reality. While the audience is entranced, the deceptive act is committed, and for the fool, reality then becomes inexplicably built upon on a lie. That is, until the fool wakes up and recognizes the truth in the fact that he has been duped.

Maintaining the suspension of disbelief in the illusion, however, is often more comforting than acknowledging the magician's secrets.

We live in a world of illusion. So many of the concerns that occupy the mind and the tasks that fill the calendar arise from planted impulses to become someone or something that we are not. This is no accident. As we are indoctrinated into this authoritarian-corporate-consumer culture that now dominates the human race, we are trained that certain aspects of our society are untouchable truths, and that particular ways of being and behaving are preferred.

People 2

New research discovers how easily individuals can be framed for crimes by planting false memories

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Is it possible that you could one day be convinced to confess to a crime you never committed - because you don't remember you didn't commit it?

How could you not know that you didn't commit a crime? Perhaps because your mind was altered to prohibit you from remembering that you're innocent.

If that sounds confusing or bizarre, this will only add to the bizarre, confusing nature of such an event: New research suggests that this very thing may have already happened, and the implications are profound.

A press release from the Association for Psychological Science said that new research published in the organization's journal, Psychological Science, discovered evidence from some cases of wrongful conviction that suspects can be questioned by authorities in a way that could lead them to falsely believe in, and confess to, crimes they didn't really commit.

The organization said the new research is providing "lab-based evidence for this phenomenon, showing that innocent adult participants can be convinced, over the course of a few hours, that they had perpetrated crimes as serious as assault with a weapon in their teenage years."

Researchers said data suggests that participants in such cases had come to internalize stories they were told, then provided illustrative detail about them even though they were contrived.

Butterfly

Building resilience helps us to recover from life's difficulties

Nature teaches us a lot about what it takes to survive in the world. If only we'd listen.

As I watch the snow fall outside my window, I can't help but be impressed. This perfect snow clumps on the tree branches, building a forest of white.

But branches can only take so much weight. What happens when the snow becomes too much?

This is where nature's amazing architecture comes into play. Nature has a simple solution to the weight of the world - and it's one we can all learn from.

The branches fill up with snow. When it becomes too much, the branch gently bends, relieving itself of the snow and its weight. The branch, we could say, is practicing resilience.

Nature has considered all the possibilities of life, and built in mechanisms to ensure that things survive. It brings snow to the trees, and the trees bend to the weight of snow, allowing no real harm to come to them.

Nature has built these same mechanisms into us, too. We just don't always recognize or use them.

Comment: Two other excellent ways to improve resilience are the practices of mindfulness and meditation. Both have been shown to be able to transform health and well-being psychologically as well as physically. A highly beneficial meditation technique is the Éiriú Eolas program which can be learned quickly, and has immediate positive effects. There is no need to sit in special postures, or be present in a carefully prepared relaxing atmosphere. The strength of the program comes from its high adaptability to stressful conditions of the modern world.

Face life with Éiriú Eolas, a stress relief program


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.

Comment: See also:


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.