Science of the Spirit

Cardboard Box

Got too much junk? Study reveals possible explanation for hoarding

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When Paul Hammond, a resident of Mobile, Alabama, started collecting used cars and appliances to sell for scrap metal, he probably did not suspect that his habit would one day turn into a serious hoarding issue and land him in jail.

But, over the years, random items kept piling up in his yard, and Hammond just was not getting rid of them. After numerous complaints from the neighbors, who accused him of turning his property into a junkyard, county authorities got involved and cited him for criminal littering. They also threatened to put him in jail if he did not clean up.

When Hammond's brother came to visit him for the Fourth of July several years ago, he saw about 90 cars, about 50 refrigerators and 100 lawn mowers in the yard. The brother quit his job for four months to help Hammond get rid of the stuff. But the county officials were not happy with the job the men did and they put Hammond in jail for five days.

Comment: Decision-Making Brain Activity in Patients With Hoarding Disorder


Techniques to endure the discomfort of painful emotions

We can pretend our painful feelings don't exist. We can ignore them. We can judge and resist them. And so many of us do, because we think that this will soften the blow. This will help us bypass the discomfort of our hurt, sorrow, agony, anger, anxiety. We assume the feelings will just go away (and they might, but only temporarily).

It might not even be a conscious, willful decision. Avoidance might be a habit we picked up throughout the years, and now feels like an old sweater. Comfortable. Reliable. Our go-to security blanket. When we're cold, we automatically put it on.

But unaddressed pain persists.

Comment: See also:


Dulling our pain may also reduce empathy - study

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Looking at photos of starving refugees or earthquake victims can trigger a visceral sense of empathy. But how, exactly, do we feel others' agony as our own? A new study suggests that seeing others in pain engages some of the same neural pathways as when we ourselves are in pain. Moreover, both pain and empathy can be reduced by a placebo effect that acts on the same pathways as opioid painkillers, the researchers found.

"This study provides one of the most direct demonstrations to date that first-hand pain and pain empathy are functionally related," says neurobiologist Bernadette Fitzgibbon of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who was not involved in the new research. "It's very exciting."

Previous studies have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to show that similar areas of the brain are activated when someone is in pain and when they see another person in pain. But overlaps on a brain scan don't necessarily mean the two function through identical pathways—the shared brain areas could relate to attention or emotional arousal, among other things, rather than pain itself.

Social neuroscientist Claus Lamm and colleagues at the University of Vienna took a different approach to test whether pain and empathy are driven by the same pathways. The researchers first divided about 100 people into control or placebo groups. They gave the placebo group a pill they claimed to be an expensive, over-the-counter painkiller, when in fact it was inactive. This well-established placebo protocol is known to function similarly to opioid painkillers, while avoiding the drugs' side effects.

Then, the team asked the participants to rate the amount of pain they felt from small electric shocks and gauge the pain they thought someone in an adjacent room felt from the same type of shocks. Those receiving the placebo pill reported less pain and rated other's pain as lower than participants who received no pill at all. When the researchers watched the participants' brains with fMRI, activation in brain areas that included both the empathy network and the pain network were dampened by the placebo, strengthening the idea—suggested by previous fMRI studies—that the two are driven by the same underlying processes in the brain.

Comment: Polyvagal theory: The biological fingerprint for compassion and empathy


Mini Meditators: Schools are teaching kids to meditate so that they'll be more focused and less stressed

For those of us older than 30 and not from southern California, meditation was not part of our childhood curriculum. If we engaged in deep breathing, it was because we were running too fast, not because we were part of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program.

But meditation in classrooms is sky-rocketing. Youth meditation programs have popped up in England, the US, Canada, and India. Research shows that it is helping to reduce stress and decrease rates of depression. It may also improve academic results though this area of research is less developed.

Last year Educational Psychology Review looked at evidence from 15 peer-reviewed studies examining whether meditation improved children's well-being, social competence and academic performance. It found that school-based meditation is beneficial in the majority of cases, with 61% of the results being statistically significant. The majority of effects were small, though a third were medium or strong. They ranged from kids reporting fewer feelings of anxiety and stronger friendships, to teachers seeing more settled classrooms.

Comment: Similar meditation programs are being implemented in schools across the nation. Allison Gaines Pell, head of the Blue School in New York City says 'Educators see the benefits of meditation. It's a device that helps kids prepare for the work of school; intellectual work, work on friendships, finding solutions to problems.' In addition recent studies have shown school meditation programs to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. Listed below are examples of meditation and it's beneficial application for children:

Ornament - Red

Baby psychopaths? Preferring a red ball over a human face may predict callous/unemotional traits

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There are many possible signs that can help you spot a psychopath -- they may not yawn when others do, they might stay eerily calm in dangerous situations, and for all of their charm and charisma, they tend to have few (if any) close friends.

These subtle clues can help you identify an adult psychopath, but is it possible to tell whether a child is on the road to becoming one later in life? Actually, it might be. A newly devised test purportedly spots signs of antisocial behavior in infants and toddlers.

Comment: The full text of the study is available here. Here is the abstract of the paper:
Children with callous-unemotional (CU) traits, a proposed precursor to adult psychopathy, are characterized by impaired emotion recognition, reduced responsiveness to others' distress, and a lack of guilt or empathy. Reduced attention to faces, and more specifically to the eye region, has been proposed to underlie these difficulties, although this has never been tested longitudinally from infancy. Attention to faces occurs within the context of dyadic caregiver interactions, and early environment including parenting characteristics has been associated with CU traits. The present study tested whether infants' preferential tracking of a face with direct gaze and levels of maternal sensitivity predict later CU traits.

Data were analyzed from a stratified random sample of 213 participants drawn from a population-based sample of 1233 first-time mothers. Infants' preferential face tracking at 5 weeks and maternal sensitivity at 29 weeks were entered into a weighted linear regression as predictors of CU traits at 2.5 years.

Controlling for a range of confounders (e.g., deprivation), lower preferential face tracking predicted higher CU traits (p = .001). Higher maternal sensitivity predicted lower CU traits in girls (p = .009), but not boys. No significant interaction between face tracking and maternal sensitivity was found.

This is the first study to show that attention to social features during infancy as well as early sensitive parenting predict the subsequent development of CU traits. Identifying such early atypicalities offers the potential for developing parent-mediated interventions in children at risk for developing CU traits.


Why do you work so hard to participate in the rat race?

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "A man in debt is so far a slave." Money has no intrinsic value yet we spend our days damaging our health and spirit in order to obtain it. Why do we sacrifice our well-being for it? Is it the cliché that "we just want to provide a better life for our kids than we had?" Is it just way of the civilized world? The most important question to ask, however, is what power do we have to change this way of thinking and living? The reality is simple: money is a vehicle for social control. Debt makes us good, obedient workers and citizens.

The traditional workweek started in 1908 at The New England Cotton Mill in order to allow followers of the Jewish religion to adhere to Sabbath. With the passage of The Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, the 40-hour workweek became the norm. Data from the 2013 American Community Surveyshowed that the average commute time in America is about 26 minutes each way. According to a Gallup poll, the average workweek in America is 34.4 hours, however, when only taking into account full time workers, that average shoots up to 47, or 9.4 hours per day during a 5-day workweek. Keeping averages in mind then, between commuting, working and figuring in an hour for lunch (usually less), that puts us at approximately 11 hours and 40 minutes for the average full time worker. If you have a family with young kids, just add in another few hours for homework, baths, etc.

Treasure Chest

The value of a mess: Kids become competent at household chores when they learn from their mistakes

You should let your kids totally botch household chores from an early age.

Excerpted from The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey. Out now from HarperCollins Publishers.

A friend told me recently after she'd had a car accident that left her unscathed but chastened that in the midst of the crash, she'd realized she needed to make lists of all the small details her family would need to know if she was not there to take care of them. Her son needed to know that his soccer clothes had to go into the laundry Sunday so he'd have what he needed for Monday's practice. Her daughter needed to know which fabrics can go in the dryer and which cannot and what happens when wool sweaters sneak into the dryer by mistake. The kids should know how to fix the toilet when it clogs, and reset the water pressure tank after a power outage, and change a fuse, and winterize the lawn mower, and the million other things she'd taken care of herself rather than burden her kids with.

Snakes in Suits

Corporate mindfulness is B.S.

Mindfulness has become a household word. Time magazine's cover of a youthful blond woman peacefully blissing out anchors the feature story, 'Mindful Revolution.' From endorsements by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Goldie Hawn, to monks, neuroscientists, and meditation coaches rubbing shoulders with CEOs at the World Economic Forum in Davos, it is clear that mindfulness has gone mainstream.

But is the mindfulness boom really a revolution? If it is, what exactly has been overturned or radically transformed to garner such grand status?

Wall Street and corporations are still conducting business as usual, special interests and political corruption goes unchallenged, public schools are still suffering from massive underfunding and neglect, the concentration of wealth and inequality has reached record levels, mass incarceration and prison overcrowding has become the new social plague, indiscriminate shooting of Blacks by police and the demonizing of the poor remains commonplace, America's militaristic imperialism continues to spread, and the impending disasters of global warming are already rearing their ugly heads.

To consider only the corporate sector: with over $300 billion in losses due to stress-related absences, and nearly $550 billion in losses due to a lack of "employee engagement," it is unsurprising why it has jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon. Such losses in production and efficiency threaten the logic of profit-making. For capitalism to survive, as Nicole Ashoff points out in The New Prophets of Capital, "people must willingly participate in and reproduce its structures and norms," and in times of crisis, "capitalism must draw upon cultural ideas that exist outside of the circuits of profit-making." Mindfulness is one such new cultural idea serving this purpose.

However, those celebrating the mindfulness boom have avoided any serious consideration of why stress is so pervasive in corporations and society. According to New York Times business reporter David Gelles, author of Mindful Work, "Stress isn't something imposed on us. It's something we impose on ourselves." The New York Times recently featured an exposé on the toxic, sociopathic work culture at Amazon. A former employee was quoted as saying that he saw nearly everyone he worked with cry at their desk. Would Gelles offer his advice with a straight face to these employees of Amazon, telling them that they have imposed stress on themselves, that they could have chosen not to cry?

Comment: Corporate mindfulness is just a current rehashing of the 'positive thinking' found in business enterprises of yesteryear. A 'mindfulness' that doesn't utilize an application of discovery of the core sources of our stressors is purposeless and reinforces denial of reality rather than helping us face it. There is a distinction between further exploiting people with navel gazing practices and purposeful means of reducing stress in order to see and deal with the world. One such way is Éiriú Eolas.

Arrow Down

Long-term harm results from early academic training for pre-schoolers

Many preschool and kindergarten teachers have told me that they are extremely upset—some to the point of being ready to resign—by the increased pressure on them to teach academic skills to little children and regularly test them on such skills. They can see firsthand the unhappiness generated, and they suspect that the children would be learning much more useful lessons through playing, exploring, and socializing, as they did in traditional nursery schools and kindergartens. Their suspicions are well validated by research studies.

A number of well-controlled studies have compared the effects of academically oriented early education classrooms with those of play-based classrooms (some of which are reviewed here(link is external), in an article by Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Geralyn McLaughlin,and Joan Almon).[1] The results are quite consistent from study to study: Early academic training somewhat increases children's immediate scores on the specific tests that the training is aimed at (no surprise), but these initial gains wash out within 1 to 3 years and, at least in some studies, are eventually reversed. Perhaps more tragic than the lack of long-term academic advantage of early academic instruction is evidence that such instruction can produce long-term harm, especially in the realms of social and emotional development.

Comment: The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues
If children were given ample opportunities to play outdoors every day with peers, there would be no need for specialized exercises or meditation techniques for the youngest of our society. They would simply develop these skills through play. That's it. Something that doesn't need to cost a lot of money or require much thought. Children just need the time, the space, and the permission to be kids.

Let the adult-directed learning experiences come later. Preschool children need to play!


Understanding controlling people and how to protect yourself

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The need to control others may not make a lot of sense to you. If you're a live-and-let-live person, you'd never want to control someone else. Even if you're a perfectionist, you stay on your own case all day, not necessarily someone else's.

But controllers are out there. They want to micromanage what you say, how you act, even what you think quietly in your own mind. It could be your boss, your spouse, or even your parent. You can't be yourself around them. They insist on being your top priority and want undue influence over your life. They might push your buttons to get an emotional reaction out of you because they want to exploit it as weakness. They have no respect for you or your boundaries.

Comment: Often controlling people will instinctively prey on those who are vulnerable because they have not learned what healthy boundaries are and how to set limits on these toxic people: