Science of the Spirit

2 + 2 = 4

The powerful opportunities that come with making a mistake

Just as it is human nature to make mistakes, it is human nature to beat yourself up afterwards. Of course, this does not mean this is productive way to cope. A human's imperfect nature makes it easy to feel regret for things we have done and makes us more susceptible to feelings of shame and guilt.

There's just one thing you must always remember; your mistakes do not define you. One of the best ways to overcome the feelings of shame and guilt that often accompany a mistake is to look at them as opportunity for learning and growth. Let's examine the eight reasons why mistakes are actually opportunities.


Children have an innate sense of restorative justice

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Children as young as three show a natural inclination towards restorative justice fed by a strong concern over the welfare of victims, say researchers.

A new study, published today in Current Biology, reveals three and five-year-olds are sensitive to harm to others and given a choice would rather restore things to help the victim than punish the perpetrator.

The researchers say the findings, based on experiments with 112 three-year-olds and 79 five-year-olds in Germany, provide insights into the roots of justice in human society.

Previous studies have shown children are more likely to share with a puppet that helps another individual than with one who behaves badly.

They also prefer to see punishment delivered to a doll that deserves it than one that doesn't. By the age of six, children will pay a price to punish fictional and real peers. Preschoolers can also be encouraged with threats of punishment to behave more generously.


Best learning techniques involve practicing, playing with ideas and solutions over time

When I was growing up, family dinners were often interrupted by a mad search through the encyclopedia. During our discussion some question would invariably arise and my dad or one of us would get up from the table and come back with a World Book volume containing the answer.

The practice fueled my curiosity and more than a few Trivia Crack victories.

I'm still in the habit today. Something will come up during our dinnertime conversation and I or my daughter or husband will seek out the answer. But, this time, it doesn't come from a book. It comes from Google. And that may not be the best way to learn.

New research by Gordon Pennycook and Nathaniel Barr indicates that Google is giving us the answers even before we think through the questions or problems ourselves.

Instead of actually analyzing a problem or tapping into our own intelligence to answer questions or come up with new solutions, we are using the smartphone as an "extended mind," Barr says. And that reliance on technology is creating a culture of lazy thinkers.

In fact, the best way to learn new material doesn't come from Google at all. Learning is best done through distributed practice, according to a paper published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest reviewing different learning styles and the research into them.

Comment: For more tips on ways to improve learning, see:


Rationally-based brains are physically different from emotionally-based brains

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Illustration. Rationally-based brains are physically different from emotionally-based brains, according to new research.
Researchers at Monash University have found physical differences in the brains of people who respond emotionally to others' feelings, compared to those who respond more rationally, in a study published in the journal NeuroImage.

The work, led by Robert Eres from the University's School of Psychological Sciences, pinpointed correlations between grey matter density and cognitive and affective empathy. The study looked at whether people who have more brain cells in certain areas of the brain are better at different types of empathy.

"People who are high on affective empathy are often those who get quite fearful when watching a scary movie, or start crying during a sad scene. Those who have high cognitive empathy are those who are more rational, for example a clinical psychologist counselling a client," Mr Eres said.


Being there: How to lend support to someone going through a tough time

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When someone is struggling, we might be at a loss for how to help. We want to reach out. But we're worried we'll do or say the wrong thing. So we don't do anything. Or maybe we have a track record of saying or doing the wrong things. Either way, the result is the same — we keep to ourselves.

Psychotherapist Lena Aburdene Derhally, MS, LPC, worked in oncology for years. She noted that the best way we can support someone who's grieving is simply by being there.

The same is true for most things someone is struggling with — whether your friend is having marital problems, your cousin had a miscarriage or an acquaintance opens up about being overwhelmed.

Jennifer Kogan, LICSW, a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C., stressed the importance of listening with empathy. Empathy is key for meaningful relationships. And it's a skill we can learn. Kogan cited the four attributes of empathy, identified by nursing scholar Teresa Wiseman. Researcher and bestselling author Brené Brown incorporated Wiseman's definition in her own work. Brown writes about empathy in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power.

Light Saber

Possessing an internal locus of control improves our ability to cope with adversity

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For me, one of the hardest facets of stress is relinquishing control. And though there is control in how I personally react and choose to respond to circumstances, there's also a feeling of helplessness; a feeling that control is not completely present.

I don't have complete control over genuine and natural shifts in relationships — the progression of people growing apart. New perceptions affect awareness; they affect how connections are conceived.

I don't have complete control of the past, and all the baggage that comprises such chapters.

I don't have complete control over nodules in my thyroid that may or may not get bigger; that may or may not require a biopsy or further treatment.

I don't have complete control over a competitive job market or a profession that may not lend itself to a stable, sufficient income.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the desire for a sense of control is a profound psychological need.

"If we are in control of our environment, then we have a far better chance of survival," an article on stated. "Our deep subconscious mind thus gives us strong biochemical prods when we face some kind of danger (such as the fight-or-flight reaction)."

Interesting. Though life is renowned for unpredictability, individuals crave a sense of control. Some factors, though, are simply uncontrollable.


Understanding the five-step series of fear / defense responses

When a person or animal experiences a dangerous situation, each will typically react with an inborn fear/defense mechanism, such as the well-known "fight or flight."

In a new article, published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, researchers offer a detailed framework of the "defense cascade," a five-step series showing different types of fear/defense responses.

Although both humans and animals react to fear in similar ways, animals are able to return to their normal mode of functioning once the danger has passed.

However, "Humans often are not, and they may find themselves locked into the same, recurring pattern of response tied in with the original danger or trauma," said researcher Dr. Kasia Kozlowska, a child and adolescent psychiatrist from the Children's Hospital at Westmead, Australia.

Comment: According to Dr. Peter Levine, the reason that animals in the wild do not experience ongoing trauma from dangerous encounters is that they have a spontaneous capacity for self-paced termination of the state of immobility induced by fear responses. When an animal comes out of the frozen state, it usually shakes and trembles, literally shaking off the state of immobility. However, when humans perceive they are in danger, their bodies assume specific defensive postures necessary for protection which are powerfully energized to meet extreme situations. When activated to this level and then prevented from completing the course of action - as in fighting or fleeing - our systems move into freeze or collapse, and the energized tension remains stuck in the muscles. In turn, these unused or partially used muscular tensions set up a stream of nerve impulses ascending the spinal cord to the thalamus and then to other parts of the brain signaling continued presence of danger and threat.

Fortunately, there are methods that can help to release stored trauma. Dr. Levine describes exercises that can help with the process in his book In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. Another excellent method is the Éiriú Eolas breathing and meditation program that helps to effectively manage the physiological, emotional, and psychological effects of stress and helps to clear blocked emotions.

Heart - Black

Masculinity is killing men: The roots of men and trauma

We begin the damaging process of turning boys into men long before boyhood ends.
"The three most destructive words that every man receives when he's a boy is when he's told to 'be a man,'" —Joe Ehrmann, coach and former NFL player

If we are honest with ourselves, we have long known that masculinity kills men, in ways both myriad and measurable. While social constructions of femininity demand that women be thin, beautiful, accommodating, and some unattainable balance of virginal and fuckable, social constructions of masculinity demand that men constantly prove and re-prove the very fact that they are, well, men.

Both ideas are poisonous and potentially destructive, but statistically speaking, the number of addicted and afflicted men and their comparatively shorter lifespans proves masculinity is actually the more effective killer, getting the job done faster and in greater numbers. Masculinity's death tolls are attributed to its more specific manifestations: alcoholism, workaholism and violence. Even when it does not literally kill, it causes a sort of spiritual death, leaving many men traumatized, dissociated and often unknowingly depressed. (These issues are heightened by race, class, sexuality and other marginalizing factors, but here let's focus on early childhood and adolescent socialization overall.) To quote poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "tis not in death that men die most." And for many men, the process begins long before manhood.

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Electricity can make you see hovering shapes

© Tiago Sousa
There is a term for the little glowing shapes that temporarily appear when you rub your eyes or bang your head - phosphenes. In the 1930s, a German scientist found ways to make them appear via the use of electricity, and later the use of drugs.

Phosphenes can be caused by all kinds of things. The simplest ones are the little points of light that appear whenever you rub your eyes. Things get a little more complex when you take a hit to the head. Smacks to the visual cortex tend to result in people "seeing stars."

In the 1930s, one scientist found a more reliable, and less bruising, way to produce phosphenes. An electrical engineer by training, he found he could use electromagnetic waves to stimulate the brain. By varying the frequency of the waves by less than ten percent he found he could produce a "great number" of forms.

Eventually, he came up with fifteen different shapes that most people were likely to see. They could be variations on circular shapes, like radials, concentric circles, or spirals. They could also lines arranged in patterns like lattices, waves, and poles. (Personally I think he's being too vague when he gets to the eighth group, which he just classifies as "odd figures.")


How to be assertive without being aggressive

Have you ever been told you need to be more assertive? Do your needs get bulldozed or do you often capitulate to keep the peace? Sure, we would all love to be more self-confident, but there's a fine line between being firm about our needs and being petulant. How do we tell the difference?

If you're like me you're ready to live your truth, but you don't know where to start. I grew up in the South, in an authoritarian household. Women in my family weren't given a say in anything — I mean quite literally women remained silent at the dinner table while the men spoke. Women were considered silly, frivolous things that should neither be financially independent or self-reliant.

Fifteen years and three degrees later, I still find it difficult to find my voice — especially with new people. It could be something as simple as telling the movers I want my sofa against the south wall, not facing the fireplace. I don't spit it out, they put it in the wrong place, and then I just figure "I'll move it later." If I order the wrong thing at a restaurant, I may not bother the waitress to change it. With work, I tend to do the grunt tasks that others shrug off and if someone needs to work the weekend, I'm your woman.

I wish that I could set myself on a direct course for happiness and stop feeling waylaid by the needs of others. I'm taking my name off the sign-up sheet for thankless living, how about you?