Science of the Spirit


Bothersome intrusive thoughts won't go away? Get more sleep!

intrusive thoughts
© Shifteye
Going to bed too late and sleeping too little is associated with experiencing persistent negative thoughts, according to new research.

Even amongst 'evening types' who prefer to sleep later anyway, the study found they had had more repetitive anxious thoughts than those who kept regular hours.

The research, published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research, asked 100 adults about their sleeping patterns and gave them tests of persistent negative thoughts (Nota & Coles, 2014).

The tests assessed how much people:
  • worried,
  • obsessed,
  • and ruminated.
The results found a link between persistent negative thoughts and going to bed late.

Comment: Alternatively, since the study is correlational, it can't tell us if the poor sleep patterns cause the negative thoughts in the first place. It could be that people who experience these intrusive thoughts (for some other reason) just happen to go to sleep later (perhaps as a result of the negative thoughts, or some common cause). But the clinical data suggests that regularizing sleep patterns can help. So if you're experiencing such thoughts, try it out. And if you're not, try it anyway! The benefits from good sleep are legion:

Magic Wand

Treating anxiety & depression with mindfulness

© Shutterstock
Mindfulness dates back to ancient Buddhism, and involves living in the moment and focusing on the present thoughts, emotions, and sensations.
According to a new study out of Lund University in Sweden, mindfulness can be just as effective as your typical therapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which necessitates focusing on negative thoughts and having a discussion, as well as running experiments, on them.

The study, led by Professor Jan Sundquist, was held at 16 primary health care centers in southern Sweden. The researchers trained two mindfulness instructors at each health care center during a six-day training course. Participants of the study, who suffered from depression, anxiety, or severe stress, were gathered into groups of 10 for structured group mindfulness treatment. The patients also received a private training program, and were asked to record their exercises and thoughts in a journal. For eight weeks, all 215 of them went through mindfulness therapy, then answered questions about their depression and anxiety. The researchers found that self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety had decreased during the treatment period.

Comment: Meditation is a tool that can regulate and reduce stress levels in addition to increasing calm and relaxation in the body, mind and spirit. Meditation also brings the practitioner into the present moment, allowing the opportunity for a greater sense of being. To learn more about the benefits of meditation visit the Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program.

Read more about Better living through mindfulness:


Curiosity prepares the brain for better learning and long-term memory

Do we live in a holographic universe? How green is your coffee? And could drinking too much water actually kill you?

Before you click those links you might consider how your knowledge-hungry brain is preparing for the answers. A new study from the University of California, Davis, suggests that when our curiosity is piqued, changes in the brain ready us to learn not only about the subject at hand, but incidental information, too.

Neuroscientist Charan Ranganath and his fellow researchers asked 19 participants to review more than 100 questions, rating each in terms of how curious they were about the answer. Next, each subject revisited 112 of the questions - half of which strongly intrigued them whereas the rest they found uninteresting - while the researchers scanned their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

During the scanning session participants would view a question then wait 14 seconds and view a photograph of a face totally unrelated to the trivia before seeing the answer. Afterward the researchers tested participants to see how well they could recall and retain both the trivia answers and the faces they had seen.

Ranganath and his colleagues discovered that greater interest in a question would predict not only better memory for the answer but also for the unrelated face that had preceded it. A follow-up test one day later found the same results - people could better remember a face if it had been preceded by an intriguing question. Somehow curiosity could prepare the brain for learning and long-term memory more broadly.

The findings are somewhat reminiscent of the work of U.C. Irvine neuroscientist James McGaugh, who has found that emotional arousal can bolster certain memories. But, as the researchers reveal in the October 2 Neuron, curiosity involves very different pathways.

Comment: Curiosity's Evil Twin Can Drive You Insane


Monkeys aren't fooled by luxury prices

Price and Quality
© zhrkznn/iStockphoto
Unlike humans, monkeys don't assume high price means better quality.
Monkeys do not share our irrational preference for more expensive, branded goods over cheaper equivalents, researchers have found.

A study in capuchin monkeys, published today in Frontiers in Psychology, showed that unlike humans, they are less swayed by price and more likely to choose based on personal preference.

Co-author Professor Laurie Santos, from Yale University, says the work stems from an interest in economic biases in primates.

"We got interested in trying to look at what parts of human cognition are evolutionarily old, and we were particularly interested in some of our more irrational biases to try to see where those came from," Santos says.

The capuchin monkeys in the study had been previously trained in a 'token market', so they knew how to use tokens to purchase flavoured ice blocks from the experimenter.

They also knew that some flavours were more expensive than others, in that a single token would buy them less of one particular flavour than of another flavour.

After this training, the researchers placed the monkeys in the situation where the flavoured ice blocks were freely available, without any need for tokens, and the monkeys were allowed to choose whichever flavours they liked.

Humans are capable of precognition on a subconscious level

science head
Over the past few decades a significant and noteworthy amount of scientific research has emerged contributing to the notion that human precognition could very well be real, and that we all might possess this potential -amongst various other extended human capacities. Thanks to the research by various scientists presented in this article, extended human capacities are beginning to exit the realm of superstitious thinking, delusion and irrationality and find their way into the world of confirmed phenomena. Claims of precognition or "future telling" have occurred "throughout human history in virtually every culture and period." (source- PDF)

It's not hard to see why we are so fascinated with these concepts, they are embedded in popular culture today throughout various outlets such as movies -which can sometimes be counter productive given the fact that they are merged with fictional stories and events. Similar to the extraterrestrial phenomenon, the validity of these concepts seems to shrink due to the fact that they are "just movies." Although the stories that accompany these types of phenomena in movies is probably largely factious, the concepts do hold some validity. Let's examine the truth behind precognition and claims of "future telling."

Comment: For more on unconscious processing see Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow or our forum thread on the same topic.

Blue Planet

Tree hugging is good for your health

I'm sure most people have heard of the term "tree-hugger," often a nickname given to people who care about the environment and the planet. But did you know that hugging trees can actually improve your health? As a matter of fact, you don't even have to hug a tree to reap the numerous health benefits, just being around trees and plants in nature is enough.

In a book that was published by author Matthew Silverstone entitled, "Blinded By Science" the evidence confirming the healthful benefits of trees includes the effects they have on various issues like depression, concentration levels and even the ability to alleviate headaches. This practice has been going on since ancient times so it's not just a new discovery.

Comment: More insightful information on the healing effects of forests:


Sons' intelligence linked to fathers' criminal history

Sons whose fathers have criminal records tend to have lower cognitive abilities than sons whose fathers have no criminal history.
Sons whose fathers have criminal records tend to have lower cognitive abilities than sons whose fathers have no criminal history, data from over 1 million Swedish men show. The research, conducted by scientists in Sweden and Finland, indicates that the link is not directly caused by fathers' behavior but is instead explained by genetic factors that are shared by father and son.

The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"The findings are important because cognitive ability is among the most important psychological predictors of many important life outcomes, including socioeconomic success and health," says lead researcher Antti Latvala of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the University of Helsinki in Finland.

Research looking across generations in families has shown that children of parents who engage in "antisocial" behaviors -- such as rule-breaking, aggressive, or violent behavior -- are at greater risk for various negative outcomes, including criminality, psychiatric disorders, substance use, and low academic achievement. And research has also shown that individuals who engage in antisocial behaviors tend to have poorer cognitive abilities than those without antisocial tendencies.

Is American society becoming more narcissistic?

It has been exactly one hundred years since Sigmund Freud penned his pivotal essay "On Narcissism." It's easy to wonder how the father of psychoanalysis might react to society today, especially the millennials who came of age around the year 2000 and have been dubbed the "Me Me Me Generation." The social media-focused culture of selfies, Twitter, and Facebook is often criticized for making Americans, younger ones in particular, more self-absorbed and entitled.

But are we, in fact, more narcissistic than we were a few decades ago? Are millennials more narcissistic than previous generations? Or are we too lightly employing that word, which describes a mental illness diagnosis?

"I don't think people are usually referring to a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) when they toss around the term 'narcissism' today," says Aaron Pincus, Penn State professor of psychology.

"Narcissism has both normal and pathological forms of expression," he explains. "Most of the recent media coverage has focused on what I refer to as normal narcissism. It's normal for individuals to see themselves in a positive light and to seek out self-enhancement experiences such as successful achievements and competitive victories."

Comment: To become more informed on the subject of narcissism read:

Narcissism Victim Syndrome - a new diagnosis?

You can also review the following articles to gain a better understanding of the 'nature of the beast':

The narcissistic family diagnosis and-treatment

5 things you didn't know about Narcissistic personality disorders

Do Narcissists Dislike Themselves "Deep Down Inside"?

Hurting you isn't something narcissists do by accident

Alarm Clock

SOTT Talk Radio #94: Remembering Georges Gurdjieff: Interview with William Patrick Patterson, part 2

This week on SOTT Talk Radio we were joined again by author William Patrick Patterson to further discuss the life and teachings of Fourth Way philosopher Georges Gurdjieff. Listeners can hear the first part of our interview with Mr. Patterson here.

Mr. Patterson is the founder/director of The Gurdjieff Studies Program and has led groups, as well as given seminars and talks, throughout the United States for many years. He has written nine books on the teaching, including Struggle of the Magicians, and has directed, written and narrated the award-winning video trilogy The Life & Significance of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, and the just-released video Introduction to Gurdjieff's Fourth Way: From Selves to Individual Self to The Self. Mr. Patterson's latest book is Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff: The Man, The Teaching, His Mission.

Here's the transcript:

How various brain areas interact in decisions, and how not to be a slave to our destructive emotions

The value of a piece of chocolate cake can change. Someone who happens to be on a diet is more likely to choose a fruit dessert and judge the calorie-laden cake as unhealthy. Previous studies have shown that a specific network in the brain is active when a person must decide between various choices that vary depending on context. They emphasize the interaction between neurons in two brain areas of the prefrontal cortex - the controlling area on the front side of the brain.

Prefrontal cortex shows increased activity in all decisions

Sarah Rudorf and Todd Hare of the Department of Economics of the University of Zurich were able to show those areas of the brain that are most active in the process of decision making in their new study. Their results indicate that the neuronal interactions between the so-called dorsolateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortex not only play a central role when a person needs to decide between several options, but also are decisive in general for flexible decision making. This contradicts the belief that increased activity in the prefrontal cortex only occurs when self-control is required when deciding between conflicting preferences.

Comment: Watch the following excellent talk by Daniel Goleman, who puts an emphasis on emotional intelligence and shows how skills such as self-awareness, emotional-mastery, empathy, and social effectiveness have a great impact on career success and better social interactions. He also explains the importance of "thinking with the prefrontal cortex", and thus avoiding "amygdala hijack" - a state that can destroy all the previous efforts and achievements.