Science of the Spirit


Bully in the next bedroom - are we in denial about sibling aggression?

"I'm so scared of my brother. He pushes me, shouts at me and sometimes even hits me. Whenever I argue with my mum, he will just gang up on me and make me feel so tiny." Girl, aged 12-15

"My sister is so mean to me. She tells me I'm stupid and makes up all these horrible things about me. Mum and Dad don't do anything to stop it. I cry almost every night and am so angry with everyone. Sometimes I want to disappear." Boy, aged 11 or younger

"My sister has been picking on me for years now and it makes me feel so bad about myself. She calls me fat and ugly and tells me I don't deserve to have friends." Girl, aged 12-15
Siblings routinely pick on one another, but when does bickering become bullying - and what can parents do about it?

Sibling relationships can be difficult, and never more so than in childhood. But society often regards the scrapping and squabbling, the play fighting and not-so-playful fighting as a normal part of growing up.

"The public brushes off aggression between siblings as just rivalry," says Corinna Tucker of the University of New Hampshire.

Tucker is the lead author of a new study on the issue for the journal Pediatrics. Almost a third of the 3,600 children questioned said they had been the victim of some sort of sibling aggression in the past 12 months. The included a range of acts from theft and psychological abuse to physical assault, either mild or severe. In comparison, research suggests that up to a quarter of children are victims of schoolyard aggression every year.

Corinna Tucker uses the term "sibling aggression" in her study, but psychologists are increasingly reaching for a familiar label for the bad stuff that goes on between brothers and sisters - bullying. This is defined by experts as intentional acts of aggression, repeated over a period of time, where an individual or group is in a position of power over someone.

So sibling relationships would seem the perfect breeding ground for bullying, since children live together for a long period of time and there is usually an intellectual and physical power imbalance. Although there might not be an outright malevolence, there is often reason for jealousy.

American Psychiatric Association associates pedophilia with sexual orientation - but claims it is an error

Did the American Psychiatric Association (APA) change the classification of pedophilia to a "sexual orientation" or did the American Family Association (AFA) make a false accusation to stir up fear among Christians?

As it turns out, neither.

Charisma News originally reported the AFA's shocking revelation that the APA's latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) now classifies pedophilia as a sexual orientation or preference instead of a disorder.

Our investigation into the report and statement reveals that the AFA and its American Family Radio Network talk show host Sandy Rios were not fear mongering. Text associated with the DSM did indeed use the words "sexual orientation."

In response to media calls, including queries from Charisma News, the APA admitted there was an error in the DSM and announced plans to correct its manual to make it clear that it does not classify pedophilia as a sexual orientation.
Black Magic

The psychological power of Satan

© Thinkstock
Some believe, some do not
How a belief in "pure evil" shapes people's thinking

Justice Antonin Scalia and Keyser Soze agree: the greatest trick the devil could ever pull is convincing the world he didn't exist. Fortunately for them, the devil does not seem to be effectively executing this plan. Some 70 percent of Americans, according to a 2007 Gallup Poll, believe in his existence. This personification of evil has implications beyond the supernatural, influencing how we think about what it means for people to be "pure evil." And as we prepare to playfully celebrate the wicked and depraved on Halloween night, it's worth pausing to reflect on some of the psychological and behavioral consequences of these beliefs.

Evil has been defined as taking pleasure in the intentional inflicting of harm on innocent others, and ever since World War II social psychologists have been fascinated by the topic. Many of the formative thinkers in the field - Kurt Lewin, Stanley Milgram , Solomon Asch - were inspired by their experiences with, and observations of, what appeared to most people at the time to be the indisputable incarnation of pure evil. But what many saw as a clear demonstration of unredeemable and deep-seated malice, these researchers interpreted as more, in the words of Hannah Arendt, banal. From Milgram's famous studies of obedience to Zimbardo's prison study, psychologists have argued for the roots of evil actions in quite ordinary psychological causes. This grounding of evil in ordinary, as opposed to extraordinary, phenomena have led some to describe the notion of "pure evil" as a myth. A misguided understanding of human nature deriving both from specific socio-cultural traditions as well as a general tendency to understand others' behavior as a product solely of their essence, their soul, as opposed to a more complicated combination of environmental and individual forces.

Comment: For more information on the "ordinary psychological causes" see

Moral Endo-skeletons and Exo-skeletons: A Perspective on America's Cultural Divide and Current Crisis
Political Ponerology: A Science on The Nature of Evil adjusted for Political Purposes


The strange and mysterious history of the Ouija board

In February, 1891, the first few advertisements started appearing in papers: Ouija, the Wonderful Talking Board, boomed a Pittsburgh toy and novelty shop, describing a magical device that answered questions "about the past, present and future with marvelous accuracy" and promised "never-failing amusement and recreation for all the classes," a link "between the known and unknown, the material and immaterial." Another advertisement in a New York newspaper declared it "interesting and mysterious" and testified, "as Proven at Patent Office before it was allowed. Price, $1.50."

This mysterious talking board was basically what's sold in board game aisles today: A flat board with the letters of the alphabet arrayed in two semi-circles above the numbers 0 through 9; the words "yes" and "no" in the uppermost corners, "goodbye" at the bottom; accompanied by a "planchette," a teardrop-shaped device, usually with a small window in the body, used to maneuver about the board. The idea was that two or more people would sit around the board, place their finger tips on the planchette, pose a question, and watch, dumbfounded, as the planchette moved from letter to letter, spelling out the answers seemingly of its own accord. The biggest difference is in the materials; the board is now usually cardboard, rather than wood, and the planchette is plastic.

Though truth in advertising is hard to come by, especially in products from the 19th century, the Ouija board was "interesting and mysterious"; it actually had been "proven" to work at the Patent Office before its patent was allowed to proceed; and today, even psychologists believe that it may offer a link between the known and the unknown.

The real history of the Ouija board is just about as mysterious as how the "game" works. Ouija historian Robert Murch has been researching the story of the board since 1992; when he started his research, he says, no one really knew anything about its origins, which struck him as odd: "For such an iconic thing that strikes both fear and wonder in American culture, how can no one know where it came from?"
Black Magic

Back from the dead: Reversing walking corpse syndrome

open grave
© Scott MacBride/Getty
Dead? Not just yet
One moment you are alive. The next you are dead. A few hours later and you are alive again. Pharmacologists have discovered a mechanism that triggers Cotard's syndrome - the mysterious condition that leaves people feeling like they, or parts of their body, no longer exist. With the ability to switch the so-called walking corpse syndrome on and off comes the prospect of new insights into how conscious experiences are constructed.

Acyclovir - also known by the brand name Zovirax - is a common drug used to treat cold sores and other herpes infections. It usually has no harmful side effects. However, about 1 per cent of people who take the drug orally or intravenously experience some psychiatric side effects, including Cotard's. These occur mainly in people who have renal failure.

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Stupid people are everywhere. And, as we all know, no class, race, sex, occupation, political affiliation, country of origin, or degree of wealth has a monopoly on stupidity. Stupid people cause profound damage to individuals and to society at large. But, for the most part, stupid people operate in a kind of anonymity. Consequently, we are frequently ambushed by them and pay the often hefty price.

I say stupid people operate in anonymity not because we all don't know stupid people, but because stupid people don't have a huge literature identifying them. There are countless books written on how to be smarter, how to improve critical thinking skills, how to learn faster and how to develop acumen in all sorts of fields of endeavor.

There are books on the traits of highly successful people and on the classification of various intellectual skills. But where is the Field Guide to Stupid People, the reference source we need to identify and avoid - as much as is possible - the often irreparable harm such people can inflict? Such a book doesn't exist. Or at least I thought it didn't.

All that changed a few months ago when I was in Paris, roaming through the English language section of my favorite Parisian bookstore, Galignani.

Lying: False denials are harder to remember than false descriptions

© Flickr/Dyanna Hyde
"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." ―Mark Twain
Lying is easy, anyone can do it - it's remembering which lies you've told and to whom, that's the tricky part.

And what a person remembers later depends on exactly how they lie, according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Research and Memory Cognition.

In their research, Vieira and Lane (2013) compared two types of lies, (1) a brief denial and (2) a false description.

Twenty-four participants were asked to remember a series of simple objects. Then, the items were listed again, with some that weren't seen before, and they were told to either lie or tell the truth about whether they'd seen it before.

Either way - truth or lie - they had to describe the object, so that sometimes this description was made up.

Crying wolf: Who benefits and when?

A crisis at work can bring out the best in colleagues, often inspiring more cooperation and self-sacrifice. A new study from Indiana University and the University of Guelph has found that the benefits are not shared equally, with higher-ranking group members having the most to gain by perceived threats to the group.

"Sociologists have known for a long time that groups tend to come together when they face adversity," said social psychologist Stephen Benard, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at IU Bloomington. "What our research highlights is that there is a downside to our tendency to stick together when things are tough -- powerful group members can exploit that tendency to distract us from competing with them."

The study, "Who cries wolf, and when? Manipulation of perceived threats to preserve rank in cooperative groups," was published in the online journal Proceedings of the Library of Science One in September. Pat Barclay, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at University of Guelph in Canada is the co-author.

'Minicomputers' live inside the human brain

Human Brain
Here computer-simulated images of pyramidal neurons in the cerebral cortex, revealing branching dendrites now shown to carry out sophisticated computations rather than just acting as passive wiring.
The brain may be an even more powerful computer than before thought - microscopic branches of brain cells that were once thought to basically serve as mere wiring may actually behave as minicomputers, researchers say.

The most powerful computer known is the brain. The human brain possesses about 100 billion neurons with roughly 1 quadrillion - 1 million billion - connections known as synapses wiring these cells together.

Neurons each act like a relay station for electrical signals. The heart of each neuron is called the soma - a single thin cablelike fiber known as the axon that sticks out of the soma carries nerve signals away from the neuron, while many shorter branches called dendrites that project from the other end of the soma carry nerve signals to the neuron.

Now scientists find dendrites may be more than passive wiring; in fact, they may actively process information.

"Suddenly, it's as if the processing power of the brain is much greater than we had originally thought," study lead author Spencer Smith, a neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,said in a statement.

Sense of belonging increases meaningfulness of life

Research finds that a sense of belonging increases meaningfulness of life.
A new study finds that when social relationships provide an all important sense of belonging, people feel life has more meaning (Lambert et al., 2013).

The effect was revealed in one experiment in which participants were asked to close their eyes and think of two people or groups to which they really belonged. Then they were asked about how much meaning they felt life had.

This group was compared with two others where participants (1) thought about the value of other people and (2) the help that others had provided them.

Compared with these two conditions, participants who had been thinking about the groups they belonged to felt the highest levels of meaning in life.

So, belonging to a group provided meaning over and above the value of others or the help they could provide.

It's more than just bonding, therefore, but really feeling like you are fitting in with others which is associated with higher levels of meaningfulness.

Just the reverse effect has been shown in previous studies. People who feel excluded from social groups tend to feel that life has less meaning.