Science of the Spirit


Why time flies as we age - 'It flew by!'

We all heard it from our parents growing up and thought it sounded preposterous at the time: "What happened to last year? It flew by!" they would yell to each other at champagne-soaked New Year's Eve parties. That's because when you're a kid, time seemed to move incredibly slowly. My birthday is only a month from Christmas but I remember when I was 7 that those four weeks felt like eons - now it's all I can do to even bother celebrating my birthday, since it feels like I still have tinsel in my hair.

While we can't put our finger on an exact year when "time speeds up" it happens to most of us - and for real reasons. The first, and largest, is due to what psychologists call the Habituation Hypothesis. For very good reason, our brains want to conserve energy (compared to other animals, human brains use a lot of calories to run). So, once we have gotten used to something - a route to work, doing the dishes or getting dressed in the morning, for example - we start to do it on autopilot, and cease noticing many of the small things that make one day different from another. This makes time seem to pass much more quickly, since fewer unique moments are being recorded by your brain.

When you are a small child, everything is new, and most days are a learning experience, so your brain is rarely on "auto" and you notice much more, leading to time seeming much slower. The more attention that is paid to each moment, the slower time seems to pass (which makes sense, if you think about it).

There are physical reasons time perception changes too: Dopamine levels drop as we age, which affects our sense of time. And heart rate even has an impact. According to a 2013 research paper in the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, "...variations in prospective timing are caused by two factors: the pulse rate of an internal pacemaker and the amount of attention directed to the passage of time."

Shared pain brings people together

What doesn't kill us may make us stronger as a group.
What doesn't kill us may make us stronger as a group, according to findings from new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research suggests that, despite its unpleasantness, pain may actually have positive social consequences, acting as a sort of "social glue" that fosters cohesion and solidarity within groups:

"Our findings show that pain is a particularly powerful ingredient in producing bonding and cooperation between those who share painful experiences," says psychological scientist and lead researcher Brock Bastian of the University of New South Wales in Australia. "The findings shed light on why camaraderie may develop between soldiers or others who share difficult and painful experiences."

Bastian and colleagues Jolanda Jetten and Laura J. Ferris of the University of Queensland examined the link between pain and social bonding in a series of experiments with undergraduate students.

In the first experiment, the researchers randomly assigned 54 students to perform either a painful task or a similar, relatively painless, task in small groups. The students submerged their hand in a bucket of water and were tasked with locating metal balls in the water and placing them into a small underwater container. For some, the water was painfully cold, while for others the water was room temperature.

A second task required the students to either perform an upright wall squat (which is typically painful) or to balance on one leg, with the option of switching legs and using balance aids to avoid fatigue.

Intelligence predicts effectiveness of a psychopath's mask of sanity: New research

© University of Huddersfield
Carolyn Bate has had her psychology dissertation accepted by academic journal Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology
A breakthrough by a talented University of Huddersfield student has shown for the first time that people with psychopathic tendencies who have high IQs can mask their symptoms by manipulating tests designed to reveal their personalities. It raises the possibility that large numbers of ruthless risk-takers are able to conceal their level of psychopathy as they rise to key managerial posts.

Carolyn Bate, aged 22, was still an undergraduate when she carried out her groundbreaking research into the links between psychopathy and intelligence, using a range of special tests and analysing the data. She wrote up her findings for the final-year project in her BSc Psychology degree. Not only was she awarded an exceptionally high mark of 85 per cent, her work has also been accepted for publication by the peer-reviewed Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology - an unusual distinction for an undergraduate.

Carolyn, who has now graduated with First Class Honours, said that her project was triggered when she read about research which showed that while one per cent of the population were categorised as psychopaths, the figure rose to three per cent in the case of business managers.

"I thought that intelligence could be an explanation for this, and it could be a problem if there are increased numbers of psychopaths at a high level in business. The figure could be more than three per cent, because if people are aware they are psychopathic they can also lie - they are quite manipulative and lack empathy. This could have a detrimental effect on our everyday lives," said Carolyn, who added that some researchers have suggested that episodes such as the Wall Street Crash could be blamed on the numbers of psychopaths among decision makers.

She points out that, despite the media's invariably lurid use of the term, there are various categories of psychopath and they are not all prone to physical violence.

"The ones who are at the top of businesses are often charming and intelligent, but with emotional deficits, as opposed to psychopaths who are quite erratic and tend to commit gruesome crimes and are often caught and imprisoned."

Sufficient intelligence to fake their emotional response

To test her ideas, Carolyn assembled 50 participants, mostly from among students, who underwent a series of tests - conducted in strict confidence - beginning with an appraisal of IQ levels using a standard procedure. Then they completed the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, which established which participants had either Factor One or Factor Two psychopathic tendencies.

Comment: From the article "Beware the Corporate Psychopath":
The best advice if you suspect that you're dealing with a psychopath?

Avoid contact as much as possible, document everything, follow-up on all details and keep superiors in the loop. It's tempting to trust people who appear to be too good to be true, but remember that often they are.
The concept of psychopathy is crucial in understanding our world. To understand the ramifications of psychopaths wielding power in society, check out the book "Political Ponerology".


What depression does to your brain: Hyper-connected cognitive and emotional networks

© Alyssa L. Miller
Young adults who have experienced depression have hyper-connected cognitive and emotional networks, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago scanned the brains of 30 adults between the ages of 18 and 23 while they were in a resting state (Jacobs et al., 2014).

The participants had previously experienced depression but were otherwise healthy and not taking any medication.

Their fMRI scans were compared with those of 23 controls who had not experienced serious depression.

They found that people who'd experienced depression had hyper-connectivity in areas of the brain which have been associated with rumination.

Rumination involves running personal problems over and over in your head without coming up with a solution.

Comment: Meditation has been shown to help with ruminating thoughts. Try the Eiriu-Eolas breathing and meditation program (for free) here for more relaxed, wakeful inner attention.


What is keeping your kids up at night? Turning off electronics helps everyone sleep better

© Joel Benjamin
Sleep, or lack thereof, and technology often go hand in hand when it comes to school-aged kids.
Sleep, or lack thereof, and technology often go hand in hand when it comes to school-aged kids. Nearly three out of four children (72%) between the ages of 6 and 17 have at least one electronic device in their bedrooms while sleeping, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey. Children who leave those electronic devices on at night sleep less -- up to one hour less on average per night, according to a poll released by the foundation earlier this year.

Dr. Jill Creighton, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Stony Brook Children's Hospital says the key to a successful school year starts with Z's. So parents, how can you power down your kids at night and make bedtime easier? Dr. Creighton shares her tips. "First -- develop a nighttime routine," says Dr. Creighton. Whether it's a bath, reading a book or listening to soothing music, these actives will have a better impact on your child to help them relax before going to sleep.

Second -- Power off! "The hour before bed should be a no-electronics zone," says Dr. Creighton. Studies show that the light from backlit electronics (like tablets, smartphones and video games) can disrupt our ability to fall -- and stay -- asleep. Dr. Creighton says designate a spot in your home for electronics to be plugged in, then have your kids start their bedtime routine by plugging in one hour before lights out. Ban hand-held devices from the bedroom. "The burst of light from a phone (even if it's just to check the time) can break a sleep cycle," says Dr. Creighton. "A regular alarm clock is best."

Comment: To be consistent it would also help to turn off any wireless routers, as wireless radiation is interpreted by our bodies, as light.

See also:
Mobile phone radiation wrecks your sleep

Comment: For more information on the importance of healthy sleeping habits check out the Cassiopaea forum thread :Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival

Also see:
Take control of your sleep, before it takes control of you
Missing sleep may hurt your memory
A bad night's sleep could age your brain by five YEARS
Your lack of sleep makes your brain more vulnerable to toxins


Sit down, shut your eyes, and meditate

© Getty images
Meditating isn't easy. Instead of sitting on the floor cross-legged for half an hour, you probably want to be tweaking your fantasy football team, working through your Netflix cue, crossing things off the to-do list. Yet, new studies show that meditating could be just as good for you as those obviously relaxing and productive activities, plus offer surprising, cool mind, body, and health benefits. Take a few minutes a day to focus on one thing - a mantra, a word, or your own breath; basically, anything but that to-do list - and you'll benefit in these ways.

Comment: There is one proven technique that can assist you with managing pain, reducing stress, calming and focusing your mind, creating better links between body and mind and thus improving quality of life, increasing sense of connection with others in your community. It will help you to have improved overall health, a stronger immune system, better impulse control, reduced inflammation, etc. It will also help you to heal emotional wounds; anything that may hinder or prevent you from leading a healthy and fulfilling life.

There is a myriad of relaxation techniques out there, but not many of them can attest to having not only immediate effects, but also having a highly practical application. With Éiriú Eolas, 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. Anyone can do it, be it a student, sitting outside of a lecture hall before the exam, a mechanic needing a break from tackling problems all day, a businessman just before signing an important deal, a mother having to raise three children and worrying if she will have enough money to pay the mortgage, etc.

Visit the Éiriú Eolas site or read and participate on the forum to learn more about the scientific background of this program and then try it out for yourselves, free of charge.


Famous Milgram 'electric shocks' experiment drew wrong conclusions about evil, say psychologists

Milgram Experiment
© The Independent, UK
Experiment in obedience was flawed, according to new research.
For more than 50 years, anyone seeking proof that humans are capable of evil need only refer to the electric shocks administered by volunteers in the famous Milgram Experiment.

Now psychologists have found that the study, which showed how ordinary people will inflict extraordinary harm upon others, if someone in authority gives the orders, may have been completely misunderstood.

Instead of a latent capacity for evil, we just want to feel good about ourselves. And it is Professor Stanley Milgram's skill as a "dramatist" which led us to believe otherwise.

In his 1961 Yale University experiment, Milgram asked volunteers to give what they thought were electric shocks of increasing strength to people who were trying but failing to learn a task. The "students" were actors, but the volunteers believed the set up was genuine.

In the best known variant of the study, some two thirds of people continued all the way up to the maximum 450-volt level.
Light Saber

Why good people do bad things: psychological traps to avoid

Orange Is The New Black
© Barbara Nitke for Netflix
In Orange Is The New Black, Piper Chapman ends up in prison for carrying drug money for her girlfriend.
It's an old story: The star executive who gets caught waist-deep in a fraud scandal; the finance phenom who steals millions by skimming off the top.

What causes these smart, successful people to get wrapped up in illegal activities and unethical behavior? Dr. Muel Kaptein of the Rotterdam School of Management tackled this question in a paper about why good people do bad things.

These major crimes usually escalate from smaller offenses or lapses in judgment that are rationalized by a slew of psychological reasons.

We've collected 27 insights from Kaptein that explain a few of the various reasons why good people lie, cheat, and steal.

Tunnel vision

Setting and achieving goals is important, but single-minded focus on them can blind people to ethical concerns.

When Enron offered large bonuses to employees for bringing in sales, they became so focused on that goal that they forgot to make sure they were profitable or moral. We all know how that ended.

 Michael Dobrushin
© Associated Press
Michael Dobrushin (left) was charged by federal prosecutors as part of a scheme to cheat Medicare out of $163 million.
The power of names

When bribery becomes "greasing the wheels" or accounting fraud becomes "financial engineering," unethical behavior may be seen in a more positive light.

The use of nicknames and euphemisms for questionable practices can free them of their moral connotations, making them seem more acceptable.

Comment: The only way around these ethical traps is self-knowledge, plus a solid understanding of how psychopaths influence those around them.
  • Authoritarians! New study shows that nice people are more likely to cause harm to others
  • Knowing Me, Myself, And I: What Psychology Can Contribute To Self-Knowledge
  • The Pathocrats

Heart - Black

Psychologists have uncovered a troubling feature of people who seem nice all the time

Watch out for the nice ones!
In 1961, curious about a person's willingness to obey an authority figure, social psychologist Stanley Milgram began trials on his now-famous experiment. In it, he tested how far a subject would go electrically shocking a stranger (actually an actor faking the pain) simply because they were following orders. Some subjects, Milgram found, would follow directives until the person was dead.

The news: A new Milgram-like experiment published this month in the Journal of Personality has taken this idea to the next step by trying to understand which kinds of people are more or less willing to obey these kinds of orders. What researchers discovered was surprising: Those who are described as "agreeable, conscientious personalities" are more likely to follow orders and deliver electric shocks that they believe can harm innocent people, while "more contrarian, less agreeable personalities" are more likely to refuse to hurt others.

Infected by psychopathy: Research finds crowdsourcing is vulnerable to malicious behavior

New research has found that malicious behaviour is the norm in crowdsourcing competitions - even when it is in everyone's interest to cooperate.

Crowdsourcing provides the ability to accomplish information-gathering tasks that require the involvement of a large number of people, often across wide-spread geographies, expertise, or interests.

However, researchers from the University of Southampton and the National Information and Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) found that a significant feature of crowdsourcing - its openness of entry - makes it vulnerable to malicious behaviour.

They observed such behaviour in a number of recent popular crowdsourcing competitions, through analysis based on the 'Prisoner's Dilemma' scenario, which shows why two purely 'rational' individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interest.

Comment: From Adventures With Cassiopaea - Chapter 35:
Nash's theory inspired the most famous game of strategy of all social scientists called The Prisoner's Dilemma, which goes as follows: Imagine that the police arrest two suspects and interrogate them in separate rooms. Each one is given the choice of confessing, implicating the other, or keeping silent.

No matter what the other suspect does, each suspect's outcome - considered alone - would be better if he confessed. If one suspect confesses, the other ought to do the same and thereby avoid the harsher penalty for holding out. If one of them remains silent, the other one can confess, cut a deal for turning state's evidence, and the one who remains silent gets the whammy. Confession, or "cooperation," is the "dominant strategy." Since each is aware of the other's incentive to confess, it is "rational" for both to confess.

And here we come to the realization of the power of the psychopath and how Game Theory is being "used" against us. You see, the psychopath, having no conscience, does not have the ability to "imagine" the consequences of the noncooperation in terms of being able to "feel" it. Without this ability to imaginatively feel the consequences, he is virtually fearless, and can therefore direct his behavior according to his own fantasized outcome with no regard whatsoever to reality, remembered experiences, the imagined experiences of others, and so forth. That is to say, for the psychopath, rationality is determined by virtue of the idea that it is self-serving to the max. "Rationality" is the assumption that everyone else is looking out for number 1, and to hell with everybody else.

NEVER confessing, thus becomes the psychopath's "dominant strategy."

The reader will probably immediately see the dynamic of human relations involving a psychopathic personalities and a "normal" human. Psychopaths, having no conscience, always play their dominant strategy which is totally "rational" without the influence of emotions conjured up by imagination. They do not modify their behavior or choices based on emotion or consideration for the feelings or motivations of others. They will implicate the normal person in the "prisoner's dilemma," and will refuse to confess their own guilt, because they simply have no ability to perceive hurting another as morally reprehensible. This is the psychopath's "dominant strategy." They will never, in such a situation, consider cooperation.

Normal people, on the other hand, having conscience and emotion, will make choices based on imagination reinforced by emotion. In some cases, in the prisoner's dilemma, they will refuse to confess out of loyalty to the other, never realizing that the other might be a psychopath who has not only refused to confess his own guilt, has undertaken to make a deal for himself by implicating the other. Some people may even confess in order to "save" the other person from suffering pain, never realizing that they have been manipulated into this role by a psychopath who is all the while saying "Yes, he did it! I am innocent!" when, in fact, the truth is the exact opposite.

It's easy to see that in any interaction between a psychopath and a normal person with full range of emotions, the psychopath will always "win."