Science of the Spirit
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Books

Want to get smarter? Avoid best-selling books

good reading habits
© Thinkstock
Dig past the bestsellers.
If you read what everyone else reads, soon you'll start thinking like everyone else

We all know we should read more. Few of us do.

Well, last year I made reading a priority and ended up reading 161 books cover-to-cover. I reasoned that if reading was the key to getting smarter, I wouldn't let anything get in my way.

What I learned most from my year of reading surprised me because it wasn't found in any particular bit of knowledge in any of the books I read. The big lesson was a simple heuristic: Avoid most best-selling books. These books are not fertile ground for learning and acquiring knowledge. In fact, most are forgotten within a year or two. Why learn something that expires so quickly?

Well let's start with this question: Why do we read best-sellers in the first place? You know you want to read. You know you should read. But often, you have no idea what to read. When you don't know what to do in life, you often look to others. This is social proof, and it's a powerful force, especially in situations of uncertainty.

If you read what everyone else is reading, it's going to feel good. You're even going to get some positive reinforcement out of it when you talk to your friends about your latest read. Maybe they've read it, too. Or at least they've heard of it and have the sense that it's a worthwhile endeavor. You'll seem hip and in the know.

But this is a horrible way to build knowledge.

Comment: If you want to build a knowledge base that gives you the tools for navigating this pathological world, you can do no better than this book list.

Family

Preschool teacher depression linked to behavioral problems in children

© Gabe Palmer / Alamy
The study identified one contributing factor to this link: a poor-quality atmosphere in the child care setting that exists as a result of the teacher's depressive symptoms.
Depression in preschool teachers is associated with behavioral problems ranging from aggression to sadness in children under the teachers' care, new research suggests.

The study identified one contributing factor to this link: a poor-quality atmosphere in the child care setting that exists as a result of the teacher's depressive symptoms. In this study, "teacher" refers to both classroom instructors and in-home child care providers.

Researchers conducted the study using data from a large national study that collected family information primarily from low-income, single-mother households.

"We were interested in that sample because we thought that children of low-income single mothers might experience a more emotionally vulnerable home environment, and we wanted to see if the role of teachers affected their psychological health," said Lieny Jeon, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in human sciences at The Ohio State University.

Behavioral problems in young children -- in this case, 3-year-olds -- can result in later issues that include lower academic achievement and a lack of social skills, according to previous research. The problems rated in this study included externalizing behaviors such as aggression, anger and a lack of control, as well as internalizing behaviors: depression, anxiety, sadness and withdrawal.
Info

Firstborn siblings are more conservative, new study finds

Siblings Playing
© Sokolova Maryna , Shutterstock
Does birth order matter for personality?
Oldest siblings may be the conservatives of the family, according to new research from Italy.

The new study finds that the eldest child of a family is more likely to be conservative than the second-born, which supports a controversial theory that has been kicking around the social science community since at least 1928. The question of whether and how much birth order really shapes a person's personality remains open and contentious, however.

"We suggest that differences in conservatism between firstborns and second-borns stem from different strategies of optimizing the parental resources children can gain in the family system," study researcher Daniela Barni, a psychologist at the Catholic University of Milan in Italy, told Live Science.

Birth order controversy

Barni and her colleagues were investigating a question with a long history in psychology. The idea that a person's birth order can influence his or her entire life came from Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychiatrist who lived at the same time as Sigmund Freud. Adler theorized in 1928 that firstborn children are more conservative - in the sense of being resistant to change and preferring order and conformity - than their younger siblings, because the eldest child has had the experience of being toppled from his or her throne by the sudden arrival of a tiny competitor.

In 1997, psychologist Frank Sulloway expanded on the theory in his book, Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1997). Sulloway suggested that firstborns are used to being dominant and prefer to uphold the status quo, while second-borns, looking for a unique niche to fill in their families, take a path of rebellion. Firstborns also stick to a conservative path in order to align themselves with their parents, Sulloway argued.
Magic Wand

When feeling anxiety don't try to calm down - get excited!

excited and carry on
Human beings, being human, get anxious. We all do, except psychopaths. An estimated 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety of some form at any given time. Some of us get really, really anxious, like Scott Stossel, a writer and editor at the Atlantic whose memoir of a lifelong and often paralyzing struggle with the condition is about to be published. For those of us to whom anxiety is a more occasional visitor, the condition can be crippling.

There's a reason for performance anxiety, of course; it focuses the mind, and without it some of us would never complete anything. But there are real costs, as well: Anxiety has been shown to sap our working memory and information processing, the very capacities we need to perform well in any task that requires thinking. "Anxious negotiators make low first offers, exit early, and earn less profit than neutral state negotiators," writes Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School. "Similarly, anxious individuals seek out and rely more heavily on advice, even when the advice is obviously bad, because they do not feel confident in their own ability to make good judgments."
Info

Effects of childhood bullying last at least 40 years

© Twentyfour Students
First ever study of long-term effects of childhood bullying.
The first ever long-term study of the mental scars that bullying leaves finds its effects are still detectable 40 years later.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, come from the British National Child Development Study which includes 7,771 children who were born during one week in 1958 (Takizawa et al., 2014). When they were 7 and 11-years-old, their parents were asked whether they were being bullied. Of the children in the study, 28% were bullied occasionally and 15% were bullied frequently. The children were then followed up until they were 50-years-old. The study's lead authors, Dr Ryu Takizawa, explained the findings:
"Our study shows that the effects of bullying are still visible nearly four decades later. The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood."
The effects of being bullied were seen across a wide range of psychological measures, including:
  • A higher risk of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
  • Poorer cognitive functioning.
  • Lower quality of life.
  • Lower life satisfaction.
  • Less likely to be in a relationship.
Hourglass

New brain cells erase old memories

Neurogenesis interferes with past learning in infant and adult mice.
© Jason Snyder
Newly-generated neurons (white) that integrated into the hippocampus, shown in this false-colour micrograph, had seemingly counterintuitive effects on memory.
For anyone fighting to save old memories, a fresh crop of brain cells may be the last thing they need. Research published today in Science suggests that newly formed neurons in the hippocampus - an area of the brain involved in memory formation - could dislodge previously learned information1. The work may provide clues as to why childhood memories are so difficult to recall.

"The finding was very surprising to us initially. Most people think new neurons mean better memory," says Sheena Josselyn, a neuroscientist who led the study together with her husband Paul Frankland at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada.

Humans, mice and several other mammals grow new neurons in the hippocampus throughout their lives - rapidly at first, but more and more slowly with age. Researchers have previously shown that boosting neural proliferation before learning can enhance memory formation in adult mice2, 3. But the latest study shows that after information is learned, neuron growth can degrade those memories.
Info

People missing brain wiring form unique neural connections

Brain
© Image courtesy of Ivanei Bramati (D'Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR), Rio de Janeiro 22281-032, Brazil)
People born without a corpus callosum can still communicate between brain hemispheres. In yellow, the aberrant midbrain bundle that connects the right (in blue) and left (in red) brain hemispheres.
Severing the main connection between a person's brain hemispheres usually makes communication from one side to the other impossible, yet people who are born without this neural bridge have found a way around the problem, a new study suggests.

People who are born without a corpus callosum - the bundle of white matter that connects the left and right sides of the brain - develop alternate connections, the research shows. These connections may be what allow these individuals to perform tasks requiring both hemispheres, scientists say.

The findings reveal how plastic the brain really is, said Fernanda Moll, a researcher at the D'Or Institute for Research and Education in Brazil and co-author of the study published today (May 12) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This is something that has been unexplained - how people born without a corpus callosum can maintain a lot of communication that requires both hemispheres," Moll told Live Science.
Clipboard

Having a sense of purpose may add years to your life

© Vitaly Krivosheev / Fotolia
Feeling that you have a sense of purpose in life may help you live longer, no matter what your age.
Feeling that you have a sense of purpose in life may help you live longer, no matter what your age, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research has clear implications for promoting positive aging and adult development, says lead researcher Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada:

"Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose," says Hill. "So the earlier someone comes to a direction for life, the earlier these protective effects may be able to occur."

Previous studies have suggested that finding a purpose in life lowers risk of mortality above and beyond other factors that are known to predict longevity.
Music

The language of music in tree rings

Artist Bartholomaus Traubeck has custom-built a record player that is able to "play" cross-sectional slices of tree trunks. The result is his artpiece "Years," an audio recording of tree rings being read by a computer and turned into music, much like a record player's needle reads the grooves on an LP. It gives us not only a sense of nature's message, but a perspective on a unique arrangement of sounds that would be impossible to interpret through any other medium.

People 2

Why we finish other people's sentences

© iStock
If you complete your partner's sentences, or answer your BFF's questions before she asks them, you're not alone. In fact, new research shows that our brains are almost constantly predicting what other people are going to say.

And, when someone successfully anticipates someone else's words, their brains seem to be in sync, the researchers note in their study published today in the Journal of Neuroscience.

When you think you know what someone is going to say, your brain may signal the auditory cortex to expect certain sound patterns. What's more surprising, though, is that the speaker's brain is going through a similar function: If the speaker knows what she is saying is predictable, her brain activity lines up with the listener's.
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