Science of the Spirit


Affluent people less likely to reach out to others in times of trouble?

Affluent People
© Credit: iStockphoto/Rob Friedman
While chaos drives some to seek comfort in friends and family, others gravitate toward money and material possessions, a new study finds.
Crises are said to bring people closer together. But a new study from UC Berkeley suggests that while the have-nots reach out to one another in times of trouble, the wealthy are more apt to find comfort in material possessions.

"In times of uncertainty, we see a dramatic polarization, with the rich more focused on holding onto and attaining wealth and the poor spending more time with friends and loved ones," said Paul Piff, a post-doctoral scholar in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper published online this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

These new findings add to a growing body of scholarship at UC Berkeley on socio-economic class -- defined by both household income and education -- and social behavior.

Results from five separate experiments shed new light on how humans from varying socio-economic backgrounds may respond to both natural and human-made disasters, including economic recessions, political instability, earthquakes and hurricanes. They also help explain why, in times of turmoil, people can become more polarized in their responses to uncertainty and chaos.

For example, when asked if they would move across the country for a higher-paying job, study participants from the lower class responded that they would decline in favor of staying close to friends, family and colleagues. By contrast, upper class participants opted to take the job and cut ties with their community.

Although the study does not provide a definitive reason for why the upper class, when stressed, focuses more on worldly goods than relationships, it posits that "material wealth may be a particularly salient, accessible and preferred individual coping mechanism ... when they are threatened by perceptions of chaos within the social environment."

Each experiment was done with a different group of ethnically and socio-economically diverse participants, all of whom reported their social status (household income and education) as well as their level of community mindedness and/or preoccupation with money.
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Familiar music soothes people with brain damage

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Familiar music soothes
Listening to a favourite song might boost the brain's ability to respond to other stimuli in people with consciousness disorders, a new study has revealed.

Music has been shown to have a beneficial influence on cognitive process in healthy people and those with brain damage.

For the study, Fabien Perrin at the University of Lyon, France, and colleagues recorded brain activity in four patients - two in a coma, one in a minimally conscious state, and one in a vegetative state, while they were read a list of people's names, including the subject's own name.

The list was preceded either by the subject's favourite music that was chosen by family and friends or by "musical noise".

While one patient listened to The Eagles' Hotel California, another was played the Blues Brothers' Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.

Birds hold 'funerals' for dead

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Some birds, it seems, hold funerals for their dead.

When western scrub jays encounter a dead bird, they call out to one another and stop foraging.

The jays then often fly down to the dead body and gather around it, scientists have discovered.

The behaviour may have evolved to warn other birds of nearby danger, report researchers in California, who have published the findings in the journal Animal Behaviour.

The revelation comes from a study by Teresa Iglesias and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, US.

They conducted experiments, placing a series of objects into residential back yards and observing how western scrub jays in the area reacted.

The objects included different coloured pieces of wood, dead jays, as well as mounted, stuffed jays and great horned owls, simulating the presence of live jays and predators.

Neuroscience Of 20-Somethings: 'Emerging Adults' Show Brain Differences

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Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls.
In the opening scene of Lena Dunham's HBO series Girls, the Horvaths tell their 24-year-old daughter Hannah that they will no longer support her - or, as her mother puts it: "No. More. Money." A recent college graduate, Hannah has been living in Brooklyn, completing an unpaid internship and working on a series of personal essays. The Horvaths intend to give Hannah "one final push" toward, presumably, a lifestyle that more closely resembles adulthood. Hannah protests. Her voice quavers. She tells her parents that she does not want to see them the following day, even though they are leaving town soon: "I have work and then I have a dinner thing and then I am busy - trying to become who I am."

Across the United States - and in developed nations around the world - twenty-somethings like Hannah are taking longer to finish school, leave home, begin a career, get married and reach other milestones of adulthood. These trends are not just anecdotal; sociologists and psychologists have gathered supporting data. Robin Marantz Henig summarizes the patterns in her 2010 New York Times Magazine feature:
"One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation."
These demographic shifts have transformed the late teens through mid twenties into a distinct stage of life according to Jeffrey Arnett of Clark University, who calls the new phase "emerging adulthood." Arnett acknowledges that emerging adulthood is relevant only to about 18 percent of the global population, to certain groups of twenty-somethings in developed nations such as the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Japan and Australia. To make some broad generalizations, people living in the rest of world - particularly in developing countries - are much more likely to finish formal education in their teens and marry by their early twenties.

Presentation: The Living System, Evolution, the Purpose of Life and the Sixth Extinction

In this first part of her fascinating presentation at the World Trade Center, Barcelona on October 15th 2011, Laura Knight-Jadczyk gives an overview of the Cassiopaean experiment and introduces the science behind the origins of life on planet earth and the theory of "rational design".

Watch parts 2 and 3 at the links below.

Part 2

Part 3
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People Merge Supernatural and Scientific Beliefs When Reasoning With the Unknown, Study Shows

Reliance on supernatural explanations for major life events, such as death and illness, often increases rather than declines with age, according to a new psychology study from The University of Texas at Austin.

The study, published in the June issue of Child Development, offers new insight into developmental learning.

"As children assimilate cultural concepts into their intuitive belief systems - from God to atoms to evolution - they engage in coexistence thinking," said Cristine Legare, assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study. "When they merge supernatural and scientific explanations, they integrate them in a variety of predictable and universal ways."

Legare and her colleagues reviewed more than 30 studies on how people (ages 5-75) from various countries reason with three major existential questions: the origin of life, illness and death. They also conducted a study with 366 respondents in South Africa, where biomedical and traditional healing practices are both widely available.
Eye 2

Conservative estimate: 'One In 100 Children Is A Psychopath'

Around one in 100 children in the UK could be a psychopath, research suggests.

Displaying similar characteristics to the protagonist in the novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, they are liable to lie, cheat, manipulate and commit acts of remorseless cruelty.

Appealing to their sense of fair play and conscience is a waste of time because they lack empathy.

So too are standard punishments such as "time out" which involves brief periods of isolation such as sitting in a corner or on a "naughty chair".

Psychologists are only now starting to recognise that psychopathic children, described as callous-unemotional (CU), form a distinct sub-group.
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Scientists Proclaim Animal and Human Consciousness the Same

A remarkable thing happened at The First Annual Francis Crick Memorial Conference held at the University of Cambridge, July 7 in U.K. A group of prominent neuroscientists signed a proclamation declaring human and animal consciousness alike. Called The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, it states:

We declare the following: The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.

To many pet parents and animal lovers, the conference only confirms what they already believed through their own observations and interactions with animals - albeit, not with the credibility of scientific research.

Stephen Hawking - considered the greatest mind in physics since Albert Einstein - was the guest of honor at the signing ceremony. The declaration was authored by Philip Low and edited by Jaak Panksepp, Diana Reiss, David Edelman, Bruno Van Swinderen, Philip Low and Christof Koch, all well-respected neuroscientists. The signing was memorialized by 60 Minutes.
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Consciousness as the key to our mental traits

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In The Ravenous Brain Daniel Bor explores consciousness and suggests that its level of activity is linked to several psychiatric conditions.

It is a long-standing philosophical conundrum: is consciousness somehow separate from the physical world or merely an illusion conjured up by our complex brains? It took his father's stroke to convince Daniel Bor which side he was on.

Bor, who had previously been considering a PhD in the philosophy of mind, opted instead for one in the neuroscience of consciousness. To see his father "robbed of his identity because a small clot on his brain had potently wounded his consciousness" hammered home all too well that the mind really is the output of nothing more than a small sac of jelly.

But what an amazing sac of jelly it is. In The Ravenous Brain, Bor takes us on a tour of the fascinating world of consciousness research. He engages in "technological telepathy", taking part in a conversation where he communicates his thoughts using only an MRI brain scanner.

He also introduces us to conjoined twins with linked brains, an autistic synaesthete who can memorise the digits of pi up to 22,514 decimal places and chimpanzees that practise sophisticated mind games.

As well as providing a primer in the most popular current theories of consciousness, Bor introduces one of his own. This is that consciousness evolved to facilitate information processing, and thus learning and innovation.

Psychopaths not mentally ill and should be held entirely responsible: Canadian study

Canadian criminal psychopaths
© QMI Agency/Handout
Composite photo of Canadian criminal psychopaths (L to R): Michelle Erstikaitis; Paul Bernardo; Col. Russ Williams.
A new Canadian study suggests that psychopaths are not mentally ill and should be held entirely responsible for their violent and manipulative actions.

Researchers from universities in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan studied 289 murderers, rapists and other violent offenders, and concluded "psychopaths are executing a well-functioning, if unscrupulous strategy."

Psychopaths, with their trademark ruthless, risk-taking and often violent behaviour, "may have evolved to exploit others."

The theory rests in part on the victims of psychopaths.

Mental disorders "disrupt" the mechanism that stops people from hurting their families. But the violent offenders researchers spoke to, who were diagnosed as psychopaths, tended not to hurt family members.

"On average, psychopathy is associated with less harm to genetic relatives - that's exactly what you'd expect of healthy people," lead author Daniel Krupp, of Queen's University, told QMI Agency.

They are preserving their genetic material, he said.