Science of the Spirit


Social connections and bonding: Everything we think we know about addiction is wrong

What causes addiction? Easy, right? Drugs cause addiction. But maybe it is not that simple.

Comment: Listen to the SOTT editors discuss the nature and mechanics of addiction along with real solutions: The Health and Wellness Show - Addictive behaviors
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Magic Wand

Dream-enhancing with wild herbs

Do you remember what you dreamt about last night? How about the night before?

For thousands of years, we humans have placed a ton of value on the content of these bedtime reveries, deriving inner wisdom and even premonitions from them. Dreaming feels like a birthright, an extra sense that allows us to process both rationally and spiritually while our body rests up.

They are one of behavioral science's biggest mysteries, with no agreed-upon theory of their origin and specific purpose. For some, dreams occur nightly, but others never experience them at all.

One thing is for sure - many who don't dream wish they did.

Comment: Study confirms dreams occur even if they aren't remembered
In general, adults recall 1 to 3 dreams per week on average. If they are awakened right after the REM stage of sleep, in which most dreaming occurs, they can remember their dreams up to 90 percent of the time. Studies suggest that some people are more likely to recall their dreams than others (including women, those who are open-minded and sensitive, and people who have the ability to become highly absorbed in an imagined or aesthetic experience). But some people go years without remembering any dreams, and a few have no recollection of ever dreaming.


Sing rather than talk to babies to keep them calm

© Medical News Today
Researchers found singing to babies kept them calm twice as long as talking to them, regardless of whether they used baby talk.
When an infant shows signs of distress, a parent's first instinct may be to engage in baby talk in an attempt to calm them down. But according to a new study, singing may be a much more effective strategy.

Published in the journal Infancy, the study found that when infants listened to music, they remained calm for significantly longer than when they listened to speech - even when the speech was baby talk.

It is well established that music can have a strong impact on us physically and emotionally. When listening to a song, we often nod our head or tap along to the beat - behaviors researchers say display our "entrainment" by music.

But study co-author Prof. Isabelle Peretz, of the Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language at the University of Montreal in Canada, notes that infants do not usually demonstrate such behaviors when listening to music, "either because they lack the requisite physical or mental ability."


Ice-breaker effect: Singing can get groups of people to bond quickly

Psychologists compared the development of relationships between strangers joining singing groups to other adult education classes Getty Images
We have long known the power of a good sing-along. Now, research from the University of Oxford has shown that singing is a great ice-breaker and can get groups of people to bond together more quickly than other activities can.

The new study, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, looked at how people attending adult education classes grew closer over seven months. The conclusion - singing groups bonded more quickly than creative writing or craft classes.

Dr Eiluned Pearce, from Oxford's Department of Experimental Psychology led the research. She said: "One of the key differences between humans and other primates is that we can exist in much larger social groups. Singing is found in all human societies and can be performed to some extent by the vast majority of people. It's been suggested that singing is one of the ways in which we build social cohesion when there isn't enough time to establish one-to-one connections between everyone in a group.

"We wanted to explore whether there was something special about singing as a bonding behaviour or whether any group activity would build bonds between members."

Comment: Studies have shown that group singing has calming benefits and that singing can also improve cognitive function.


Research finds phobias may be related to genes passed down from ancestors

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Memories can be passed down to later generations through genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors, according to new research that may explain how phobias can develop.

Scientists have long assumed that memories and learned experiences built up during a lifetime must be passed on by teaching later generations or through personal experience.

However, new research has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA.

Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, found that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences - in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom - to subsequent generations.

The results may help to explain why people suffer from seemingly irrational phobias - it may be based on the inherited experiences of their ancestors.

So a fear of spiders may in fact be an inherited defence mechanism laid down in a families genes by an ancestors' frightening encounter with an arachnid.

2 + 2 = 4

How to cope when chronic pain creates anxiety—With tools to calm & soothe

A toolkit of ways to calm and quell anxiety when you live in chronic pain

When you have chronic pain it's natural to feel anxious, especially when that pain is severe, unpredictable, and as a consequence, your life so filled with uncertainty and fears. But if anxiety becomes equally chronic, whether an ongoing feeling of unease or profound panic, it can truly hamper your efforts to manage the unmanageable.

Anxiety worsens pain, your ability to cope with that pain, and can also magnify feelings of loneliness, and depression, that so frequently come with chronic illness. Although everyone experiences anxiety or sometimes feels fearful, if you feel anxious, panicky or filled with fear much of the time, talk to your doctor, and try the tools herein.

Comment: To Soothe Chronic Pain, Meditation Proves Better Than Pills
New proof that our emotions cause physical pain


Get angry! If you want to change your life

This is the time of year that people declare what they want to change in their lives. Unfortunately the real-time decisions you make will likely be based on emotion and will supersede those you logically made on New Years. When the time comes to make the change, your emotions will trick you into finding a great rationalization for ignoring your stated intention.

The good news is you can counteract this process with emotional awareness. You have to recognize what you are feeling in the moment and then make a conscious shift to feel something else.

First you need to recognize if you are feeling discomfort, boredom, confusion, fear or worry when you consider making the change. Then you need to shift to a stronger emotion that will allow you to step through the pain and take the steps toward change.

In other words, you have to want the change badly enough to overcome the discomfort, boredom, confusion, embarrassment, and worry that pops up to stop you along the way.

The intensity of your desire to change, whether based on a positive or negative emotion, correlates to the likelihood you will complete the process.



What dreams may come: End of life dreams may be comforting

© missty / Fotolia
This is the first study to interview patients about their end-of-life dreams and vision experiences in the last weeks of life.
It's not uncommon for people to have extraordinary dreams or visions in the final weeks of their lives. Accounts of pre-death visions span recorded history, but have been absent from the scientific literature. Now new research suggests that end-of-life dreams are comforting and may improve quality of life.

Accounts of pre-death visions span recorded history, but have been absent from the scientific literature. A recent study in the Journal of Palliative Medicine by Associate Professor James P. Donnelly, PhD, and colleagues found that end-of-life dreams and visions (ELDVs) are an intrinsic and comforting part of the dying process.

"These dreams and visions may improve quality of life and should be treated accordingly," says Donnelly, associate professor of counseling and human services and director of measurement & statistics for the Institute of Autism Research at Canisius College.

People 2

Are you an introvert or just a covert narcissist?

© getty imagesAndr Krger / EyeEm/Getty Images
Something introverts really like to do, it seems, is read and talk about their own introversion. A commenter on a recent Science of Us post on the four kinds of introversion summed matters up quite nicely: "Gosh, introverts are just so FASCINATING! — Introverts." This tendency, you could argue, may arise simply because introverts like spending a lot of time in deep reflection, getting lost in their own thoughts — and some of those thoughts, naturally, are going to be about themselves.

But at what point does self-reflection cross the line into self-preoccupation? As it turns out, there are some striking similarities between the popular understanding of introversion and a psychological characteristic called covert narcissism: It's all the entitlement and grandiosity most people associate with narcissism, minus the bluster. Maybe you know someone like this: They tend to believe they're being underestimated or overlooked, like their amazing qualities are forever going unnoticed by everyone else. They often take things too personally, especially criticism, and sometimes feel a little resentful when other people bother them with their problems.

Green Light

Kids need less class time and more play time in school

I have published a number of pieces over the last year or so on the importance of allowing young children to play in school rather than sit for hours at a desk laboring over academic tasks. Here is a new post making the case for why less class time — and more play time — will actually lead to a better education for kids, however counter-intuitive that may sound. It was written by Debbie Rhea, an associate dean of the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences and director of the LiiNk Project at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. The LiiNk Project is described in the post.

Comment: Let the kids learn through play