Science of the Spirit


How memory rewrites the past

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How accurate are your memories?

Do you remember what your mom looked like when you were 4?

Are you sure?

A study published today in the Journal of Neuroscience sheds new light on when memories remain stable and when they get overwritten with new information.

Lead author Donna Jo Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow in medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and colleagues guided 17 participants through an experiment involving remembering where objects were placed on a computer screen with different backgrounds.

Participants were asked to try to remember where an object was on the original background and place it in the same spot on a new screen. Time after time, they got it wrong.

Then, when they were shown the object in three different locations on the original screen and asked to place it where they first saw it, they couldn't do that, either. They put the object where they themselves had placed it.

But, when researchers changed the experiment slightly, results improved: Researchers told the participants to put the object in a new location -- NOT the original spot. Somehow, this triggered the subjects to remember the original location.

Humans display four, rather than six, basic emotions

Human Emotions
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Psychologists have long been investigating the connection between facial expressions and emotions. A theory first offered by Paul Ekman, says that there are six primary emotions that are globally recognized and easily construed through specific facial expressions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

According to new research published in the journal Current Biology, scientists at the University of Glasgow have discovered that there are only four basic emotions: happiness, sadness, fear/surprise and anger/disgust.

In a unique approach, the study team looked at the 'temporal dynamics' of facial expressions, thanks to a unique system developed at the University of Glasgow. They studied the array of different muscles inside the face involved with conveying different emotions, called 'Action Units,' in addition to the time-frame over which each muscle was triggered.

The scientists determined that while the facial expression signals of happiness and sadness are clearly unique across time, fear and surprise share a typical signal - the wide open eyes - at the start of the signaling mechanics. Likewise, anger and disgust share the wrinkled nose.

It is these first signals that could possibly represent simpler danger signals. Later in the signaling mechanics, facial expressions transfer signals that differentiate all six 'classic' facial expressions of emotion, the researchers said.

"Our results are consistent with evolutionary predictions, where signals are designed by both biological and social evolutionary pressures to optimize their function," said study author Rachael Jack, a psychologist at the Scottish university.
Magic Wand

Why meditating is better than taking pills

Finding peace and stillness within yourself is CRUCIAL to your body's health. 90% of all diseases and illnesses are either caused or aggravated by stress, and meditation is a great way to restore balance in your body. A shift in consciousness causes a shift in biology, and when you are peaceful and calm during meditation, you release chemicals such as seratonin, oxytocin, and dopamine which help stabilize the immune system. Did you know that meditation is scientifically proven to:
  • Overcome stress (University of Massachusetts Medical School, 2003)
  • Boost your creativity (ScienceDaily, 2010)
  • Improve your sex life and increase your libido (The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2009)
  • Cultivate healthy habits that lead to weight loss (Journal Emotion, 2007)
  • Improve digestion and lower blood pressure (Harvard Medical School)
  • Decrease your risk of heart attack (The Stroke Journal, 2009)
  • Help overcome anxiety, depression, anger and confusion (Psychosomatic Medicine,
  • Decrease perception of pain and improve cognitive processing (Wake Forest University School of Medicine, 2010)
  • Increase your focus and attention (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2007)
  • Increase the size of your most important organ - your brain! (Harvard University Gazette, 2006)
  • Reduce risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease (American Heart Association, 2012)

Comment: Read the following articles to learn more about the numerous benefits of meditation. In addition try out the Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program here and start restoring balance in your mind, body and spirit!

Meditation and Its Benefits
A Little Meditation Goes a Long Way
Meditation can help unclutter the mind
Meditation Makes You More Creative
Brain Scans Reveal Why Meditation Works
Meditation Techniques Have Different Effects
Meditation Can Cut Heart Attacks by as Much as Half
Meditative breathing may help manage chronic pain
Meditation Improves the Immune System, Research Shows
The fascinating ways meditation transforms your brain - and why it makes you feel better


For infants, stress may be caught, not taught

New research shows that babies not only pick up on their mother's stress, they also show corresponding physiological changes.

"Our research shows that infants 'catch' and embody the physiological residue of their mothers' stressful experiences," says lead researcher Sara Waters, postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Francisco.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"For many years now, social scientists have been interested in how emotions are transmitted from one person to another," says senior author Wendy Berry Mendes, the Sarlo/Ekman Associate Professor of Emotion at UCSF. Indeed, research in the social sciences has shown that emotions can be "contagious" and that there is emotional synchrony between romantic partners.

Waters, Mendes, and colleague Tessa West of New York University, wanted to extend this research by looking at emotional synchrony in the context of another close relationship: that between mother and child.

"Our earliest lessons about how to manage stress and strong negative emotions in our day-to-day lives occur in the parent-child relationship," Waters explains.

Written all over your face: Humans express 4 basic emotions rather than 6

Human beings are emotional creatures whose state of mind can usually be observed through their facial expressions.

A commonly-held belief, first proposed by Dr Paul Ekman, posits there are six basic emotions which are universally recognised and easily interpreted through specific facial expressions, regardless of language or culture. These are: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

New research published in the journal Current Biology by scientists at the University of Glasgow has challenged this view, and suggested that there are only four basic emotions.

Their conclusion was reached by studying the range of different muscles within the face - or Action Units as researchers refer to them - involved in signalling different emotions, as well as the time-frame over which each muscle was activated.

This is the first such study to objectively examine the 'temporal dynamics' of facial expressions, made possible by using a unique Generative Face Grammar platform developed at the University of Glasgow.

The team from the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology claim that while the facial expression signals of happiness and sadness are clearly distinct across time, fear and surprise share a common signal - the wide open eyes - early in the signalling dynamics.
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Caring for animals may correlate with positive traits in young adults

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Young adults who care for an animal may have stronger social relationships and connection to their communities, according to a paper published online today in Applied Developmental Science.

While there is mounting evidence of the effects of animals on children in therapeutic settings, not much is known about if and how everyday interactions with animals can impact positive youth development more broadly.

"Our findings suggest that it may not be whether an animal is present in an individual's life that is most significant but rather the quality of that relationship," said the paper's author, Megan Mueller, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and research assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. "The young adults in the study who had strong attachment to pets reported feeling more connected to their communities and relationships."

Intuitions of our immortality: Visions of life before conception

New research suggests children have a strong sense they existed before they were conceived.

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Very early on, it seems we develop a feeling that we existed before our bodies came into being.
We've all ruminated about the possibility of life after death. But what about the notion of life before birth - or even conception?

While Christian theology denies such a thing is possible, the concept that life precedes physical fertilization is a given for people who believe in reincarnation. But is such an idea learned? Or is it based on an innate feeling about our own immortality?

Newly published research that analyzes answers given by two groups of children - one urban, one rural - suggests the latter. It finds youngsters intuitively believe that their own existence, at least in the form of feelings and wants, pre-dated their conception.

"Even kids who had biological knowledge about reproduction still seemed to think that they had existed in some sort of eternal form," lead author Natalie Emmons, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Boston University, told the institution's news service. "And that form really seemed to be about emotions and desires."

Oxytocin forms social bonds but also preserves trauma

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Oxytocin, also known as the "love molecule," is an appropriately many splendored thing. The naturally occurring brain chemical helps form sexual arousal, bonds between parents and children and even encourages generosity. On the other hand, oxytocin also reinforces social bonds at the expense of strangers - research indicates that oxytocin encourages ethnocentric favoritism.

A new study published in today's Nature Neuroscience states that oxytocin, so crucial to strengthening social bonds, can also strengthen traumatic memories and raise future fear and social anxiety. Confirming the suspicion of notebook-scribbling bedroom poets everywhere, loving and being hurt, in terms of brain chemistry, are closely related.

The researchers at Northwestern University found that oxytocin activates part of the brain to intensify the memory in stressful situations, a significant finding, as oxytocin is being tested as a possible anti-anxiety medication.

"Oxytocin is usually considered a stress-reducing agent based on decades of research," said Yomayra Guzman, a doctoral student at Northwestern and the study's lead author. "We showed how it enhances fear rather than reducing it and where the molecular changes are occurring in our central nervous system."

Top 5 ways to spot a liar

Abby Martin speaks with BTS producer Manuel Rapalo about the top five characteristics of a liar, including body language and verbal signals, using past presidents as prime examples.


The light and dark side of the love hormone

When it comes to love and intimate relationships, one neurohormone gets more press than anything else. Its name is oxytocin, and it often gets called the "love hormone" (N.B. sometimes it acts like a hormone and sometimes it acts like a neurotransmitter, which is why I call it a neurohormone). Your brain/body releases oxytocin to strengthen relationships. Oxytocin gets released during light caresses, sex, when someone shows they trust you, and sometimes even simply with talking. When released, oxytocin increases feelings of attachment for another person, as well as feelings of trust. It also decreases feelings of stress, fear and pain. Sounds pretty good to me. But unfortunately it's not all rainbow sprinkles and unicorns for everyone. Turns out that if you didn't have a good relationship with your parents then it's harder to harness the positive effects of oxytocin.

One recent study looked at women and their response to hearing a baby cry (I assume the researchers had a recording of a baby crying and didn't actually make a baby cry each time they ran the experiment). These women were also given puffs of oxytocin while being asked to intermittently squeeze a bar or relax their grip (Bakermans-Kranenburg et al 2012). It turns out their response to oxytocin differed by their relationship with their parents. Women who had not been disciplined harshly as children relaxed their grip when they heard the baby cry, presumably as preparation to comfort the baby in a gentle way. However, women who had been disciplined harshly as children did not relax their grip. This demonstrates that your experience with your parents shapes your oxytocin system. If the relationship contained harsh discipline then future oxytocin does not automatically create conditions for warm gentle interactions.