Science of the Spirit


Brain scans reveal two different types of extroverts

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There are two types of extroverts, each with distinct brain anatomies.

There are two different types of extroverts — 'agentic' and 'affiliative' — each with distinct brain structures, new research finds.

Agentic extroverts are 'go-getters': the kind of outgoing people who are persistent, assertive and focused on achievement.

The other kind of extroverts have a softer side.

Affiliative extroverts tend to be more affectionate, friendly and sociable.

Both types of extroverts share distinct brain anatomy as well as displaying distinct differences, the new research finds.

Dr Tara White, the study's first author, said that extroverts in general are keen to share:
"These are people just sharing with you how they tend to experience the world and what's important to them.

The fact that that's validated in the brain is really exciting. There's a deep reality there.

This is the first glimpse of a benchmark of what the healthy adult brain looks like with these traits."

Scanning extroverts

For the study, researchers scanned the brains of 83 people to look for similarities and differences in key areas of the brain.

They found that both types of extroverts had more gray matter in the medial orbitofrontal cortex.

Comment: To learn more about extroversion, check out this link discussing Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration.

People 2

No surprise there: Study reveals men more narcissistic than women

Women are just as vain and self-absorbed as men, but men are more willing to exploit others out of a sense of privilege.
Men are more narcissistic than women, on average, a new study finds. Data from almost half a million people collected across 31 years found that men score higher on narcissism across age groups and generations. The results are published in the journal Psychological Bulletin (Grijalva et al., 2015).

Dr Emily Grijalva, the study's lead author, said:
"Narcissism is associated with various interpersonal dysfunctions, including an inability to maintain healthy long-term relationships, unethical behavior and aggression. At the same time, narcissism is shown to boost self-esteem, emotional stability and the tendency to emerge as a leader. By examining gender differences in narcissism, we may be able to explain gender disparities in these important outcomes."
The largest gaps between the genders were found in entitlement. This suggests men are more likely to feel privileged and to exploit others.

Comment: If male psychopaths outnumber female psychopaths, their extreme narcissism could conceivably account for the "relatively small overall difference". Non-psychopaths - black, brown or white, male or female - have more in common with each other than they do with psychopaths of their own race or gender.


Eight classic signs of borderline personality disorder

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Borderline personality disorder is thought to affect between 1% and 6% of the population.

It is more common in women than men.

The most telling sign of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a long history of instability in personal relationships.

This is partly caused by unstable and impulsive emotions.

At one time people with borderline personality disorder can idolise someone else, and soon after they hate them.



Boosting your brain: Why reading and writing on paper beats digital screens

Research shows that writing leads to an increase in conceptual understanding, application and retention.

My son is 18 months old, and I've been reading books with him since he was born. I say "reading", but I really mean "looking at" - not to mention grasping, dropping, throwing, cuddling, chewing, and everything else a tiny human being likes to do. Over the last six months, though, he has begun not simply to look but also to recognise a few letters and numbers. He calls a capital Y a "yak" after a picture on the door of his room; a capital H is "hedgehog"; a capital K, "kangaroo"; and so on.

Reading, unlike speaking, is a young activity in evolutionary terms. Humans have been speaking in some form for hundreds of thousands of years; we are born with the ability to acquire speech etched into our neurones. The earliest writing, however, emerged only 6,000 years ago, and every act of reading remains a version of what my son is learning: identifying the special species of physical objects known as letters and words, using much the same neural circuits as we use to identify trees, cars, animals and telephone boxes.

Comment: Why Does Writing Make Us Smarter?


Conformity 'doubly hard' to beat

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Breaking the stranglehold of conformity only takes a few outliers.
Even when people try to be different from each other, they may end up conforming with the majority around them, a new model suggests.

Breaking the stranglehold of conformity only depends on a few extreme outliers, say the authors of a new paper published today in the Royal Society journal Open Science.

"Conformity is 'doubly hard' to beat -- it can obviously happen when people imitate one another, but it can also set in even when folks are trying to be distinct," says mathematical social scientist Professor Joshua Epstein of Johns Hopkins University.

"You have to be creative if you want to resist it, reverse it or interrupt it."

Epstein says previous attempts to model conformity in social systems have focused on how it results from some kind of imitation.

In their model, he and colleague Dr Paul Smaldino of the University of California, Davis did something different. They allowed for people wanting to be a bit different from the average.

Each individual in the model had a starting position -- it could be a political view or a fashion statement -- that was measured in standard deviations from the mean.

And they had a preferred position, which might be different from this starting position. As the model ran, an individual would move in the direction of their preferred position (towards or away from the mean). But as each individual moved, this changed the mean and also changed the movement of all other individuals.

"There's this constant feedback between people's positions and their objectives."

The amazing thing was that the end point of this process was that all positions collapsed in to the average position.

"If all they [people] care about is moving in the direction of the goal, they all end up in the same darn position," says Epstein.

"It is a very counter-intuitive result ... Nobody had really thought that you could get conformity out of people trying to be distinct."

Epstein says this could help explain phenomenon such as fashion cycles.


As economy declines, smart people are learning habits of frugality

There's a big movement towards frugality afoot these days. It probably has something to do with our declining economy, record unemployment levels, and the increasing price of food, but only the wisest families are paying attention to these things. The rest of the folks are blithely going on as they always have, wondering why on earth they keep spending more money each week at the store.

If you are just beginning to move towards a thriftier lifestyle, you might be looking at the big picture. You could be asking yourself things like, "How can I save money on my car?" or "How can I pay less for that new laptop?" These are all fine things to do - paying less is great, but shopping for a bargain is actually not the key to a frugal lifestyle.

Living a life of thrift and frugality is all about the little habits. It's about your mindset. Saving money on enormous expenditures is great, but it is the small daily actions that add up and change your life.
Truly frugal people absolutely LOVE saving money. Embrace these daily habits and make them your own. You'll soon see an incredible difference in the way you look at pretty much everything.

Comment: Comment: The global economy is on a shaky footing, despite government propaganda to the contrary. Improving your skills for self-reliance now, while you still have the chance is a wise course to follow.


What is it about American society that is so depressing? What we are not being told about suicide and depression

Shouldn't researchers examine societal and cultural variables that are making us depressed and suicidal?

For nearly two decades, Big Pharma commercials have falsely told Americans that mental illness is associated with a chemical brain imbalance, but the truth is that mental illness and suicidality are associated with poverty, unemployment, and mass incarceration. And the truth is that American society has now become so especially oppressive for young people that an embarrassingly large number of American teenagers and young adults are suicidal and depressed.

In November of 2014, the U.S. government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued a press release titled Nearly One in Five Adult Americans Experienced Mental Illness in 2013. This brief press release provides a snapshot of the number of Americans who are suicidal, depressed, and mentally ill, and it bemoans how many Americans are not in treatment. However, excluded from SAMHSA's press release—yet included in the lengthy results of SAMHSA's national survey—are economic, age, gender, and other demographic correlates of serious mental illness, depression, and suicidality (serious suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts). It is these demographic correlates that have political implications.


'Mind reading' neurones help predict behaviour of others

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A new study on rhesus monkeys sheds light on co-operative behaviour.
Scientists have discovered a group of neurones that enable one monkey to predict what another monkey is about to do - the first-known instance of neurones calculating another animal's behaviour.

The discovery may be fundamental for understanding social behaviour and could lead to better treatments for conditions like autism spectrum disorder.

US neuroscientists got pairs of monkeys to play a game based on classic game theory known as 'the prisoner's dilemma.'

Their findings are published today in the journal Cell.

Decisions... decisions

In the game, the monkeys sit side by side facing a computer screens. They can choose either to cooperate (signified by pressing a hexagon on their screen) or to be selfish (by pressing a triangle).

Although they are well aware of each other's presence, neither monkey can see the other's facial expressions, nor can they see the choice the other monkey makes as they make it, explains study co-author neuroscientist Dr Keren Haroush of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA.

Their reward depends on their combined choices. If one monkey chooses to be selfish and the other to cooperate, the selfish monkey wins hands down, getting six drops of juice as a reward while the other (cooperative) monkey gets only one drop.

But if they both choose the selfish option they get just two drops each. Both deciding to cooperate, however, wins them each four drops of juice.

"The only follow-up was at the end of the trial: once they had both made their selections, they got to see what the other one chose." says Haroush.

Not only could they see the choice the other monkey made, they could also hear the drops of juice that it got as a reward.

Magic Wand

Our model of the world gives us the capacity for wonder

The awe and wonder of childhood
My son recently asked me if it was possible that we lived on a speck of dust in a much larger universe. He explained that he had just watched Horton Hears a Who again and it had him thinking. I, ever eager to promote the impossible, said I don't see why not. And he walked about blissfully conjuring the possibilities.

What is it about fantastic speculation that makes it so compelling a past time? Many of us read science fiction, or watch documentaries about aspects of our world that we will never experience, and yet we love it. We love to hear that there may be parallel universes or ways to go back in time. I recently read an article (link is external) in National Geographic magazine that argued that we may live in the center of a black hole, created in a multiverse, where black holes that experience just the right conditions expand into universes like our own—as if they were flowers. I felt like I had taken mescal after reading that article. I walked around for a week just smiling at everything.

But why?

To my knowledge, no other species cares if we live inside or outside of a blackhole. No other species considers it interesting that quantum probability requires something to collapse the wave function (like consciousness) or else that there are many worlds, infinite and ever increasing parallel universes in which every possibility happens. All of these theories are like drugs—like mind-expanding mushrooms that open Huxley's doors of perception. They each carry with them such a fantastic vision of reality that we are forced to rethink our place in the universe and thereby the limits of who we are as individuals, as a species, and as life itself.

What is it that makes this capacity for wonder possible?

The answer lies in part in how we understand ourselves.

Comment: As our model of the world and our self-conception is linked, it becomes clearer that if we want to have a more valid picture of ourselves and the world we inhabit, we need to be willing to keep learning throughout our lives. That includes being willing to seek out truth, questioning the world view we have been presented with by our families and culture, and to be able to look at ourselves daily and understand our own psychological processes. We may find that our world is quite different than we imagine - and that knowledge can be life-changing.


Rumination makes bad events feel closer

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How do emotions affect our psychological sense of time?
Ruminating about something bad that happened to you can make it feel like the event happened 'just yesterday', say researchers.

Their new study gives insight into a concept known as 'psychological distance', and could help in the treatment of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

"If you're constantly having intrusive unwanted thoughts about an emotional event it really makes it feel like it's just happened yesterday, or last week," says research team member, Dr Tom Denson of the University of New South Wales' School of Psychology.

Previous research has found that when we remember events or places that are associated with particular feelings we experience them as having a certain psychological distance.

"Depending on our emotional state we tend to see things as either closer or further away," says Denson.

For example a country which is home to enemies we fear may seem closer than it actually is.

But how do emotions affect our psychological sense of time?